A Day In The Life

Musicasaurus.com unearths & unveils my skeletal framework—the relics and remnants of my own Life in Music…

A new reflection will be posted every two weeks, on Sunday evening.....Each entry will highlight a happenstance, illuminate an episode, or capture an encounter—all mined from the music vein that has layered my life.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 8/7/22.....NOBODY DOES IT BETTER

(Next post: Sunday, August 21, 2022)

This summer, for the first time in what seemed like eons, concerts came roarin’ back.  So of course did COVID, via a new variant, but...we HAVE to live.  And livin’ ain’t really livin’ without live shows.

Magic takes many forms when it flows from the stage; it pumps your arteries full of well-being and wonderment, and the pleasure centers in your head start to pop like heated kernels.  I don’t care if it’s Mozart, Manilow, Megadeth or Marilyn Manson, the effect is the same. In the past couple of months I have seen an electrifying Hartwood Acres show in the Pittsburgh area courtesy of the North Mississippi Allstars, ventured to Philly’s Mann Center to catch Tears for Fears, and trekked to Cleveland to see British singer-songwriter David Gray at that city’s small outdoor crown jewel Jacobs Pavilion.

My clustered reemergence into live shows here has brought to mind a number of other concerts that I have seen through the years, ones that--if pressed--I would rank most high on my list of all-time treasures.  In no particular order, here are the crème de la crème of my concert experiences in my life--thus far.

 

Glass Harp - May 1, 1971 - Butler Area Senior High School; Butler, PA

Glass Harp was and still is a Christian-themed rock power trio out of Youngstown, Ohio, composed of guitarist Phil Keaggy, bassist Dan Pecchio and drummer John Sferra.  The band had formed in 1969 and a year later produced their self-titled debut on Decca Records.  Two more studio albums followed, plus a live album recorded at Carnegie Hall, but by 1973 the band was asunder and Keaggy accelerated his move toward more contemporary Christian music.  Glass Harp, though, reunited for brief periods several times in the decades that followed.

I saw the band for the first time when I was a senior in high school.  Initially I couldn’t remember exactly when Glass Harp played at Butler Senior High, but some years back I reached out to the band’s then manager Bob Brandt and he filled me in.  It was May 1971, Brandt reminded me, and the concert was actually sponsored by Butler Community College but staged in our school’s auditorium.  The band’s eponymous debut album from the year before was a solid introduction to their unique Christian-themed blend of prog-rock, jam and classic rock, yet it MAY have been just a tad overproduced and also fell short of capturing the incendiary nature of this trio which was so clearly evident in their onstage performances.  In a concert setting the band often stretched out with lengthy solos and improvisational jams, and that night in May of 1971 I almost couldn’t fully process Keaggy’s prowess—he was a revelation

He was totally plugged in—to his guitar and to God—and the assembled fans were enrapt with his lightning-fast runs, his deftness, his soaring and swooping and scaling new heights, all through that lone instrument.  And so, I had a God-given reason in adding this one to the list.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - February 19, 1975 - University Auditorium on the campus of Penn State; State College, PA

In my senior year of college at the initial coaxing of my Philly-area dorm neighbor Paul (an early convert to Bruce), he and I grabbed tickets to the show that was just announced for the intimate University Auditorium (2,600 seats) at Penn State.  I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but this concert was taking place about six months before the release of Born to Run in late August.  It is impossible to recount the whole rollercoaster ride of emotions that February night during the almost three-hour performance, but this was the start of years of my unadulterated worship of The Boss.  No one I had ever seen before had combined such passion, truth, commitment, musicianship, and showmanship into one performance.  At times I found myself throatily hooting until the tingle at the base of my neck skittered up like a mushroom cloud all through the back of my head. 

What I remember most, though, is this: at the end of the show, people streamed out into the night, gladly catching each other’s eyes, everyone beaming and satiated.  I swept from face to face and saw reflected there my own exact feelings of exhaustion and elation.  Looking back on this now, I think I’ve come up with a pretty friggin’ bizarre yet apt analogy for what we all went through.  I can’t help but think of that certain scene at the end of Raiders of The Lost Ark when the ark itself is uncovered and suddenly there are swirling mists and specters, whirling and diving in and around and through the soldiers.  Then there’s a massive bolt of lightning that literally binds the soldiers together, sizzling and searing its way through their eye sockets, linking all of them together in electrifying finality...

Well, we had the most benevolent version of that happen to all of us on that February evening in ‘75—that is, the same stunning effect, but this bolt was heaven sent.  We were zapped, entranced, and bound together through E Street electricity, and poured out into the streets of State College full of irrepressible joy and the thrill of feeling fully alive.

The Clash - August 18, 1982 - The Stanley Theater; Pittsburgh, PA

“The Only Band That Matters”...Despite that phrase having been concocted by a CBS record-label guy hungry for publicity, over time during the late 1970s and early 1980s both fans and/or critics took up the mantra and took it to heart.  Though I love their recorded work—especially Sandinista! and London Calling—I was lucky enough to see them live, just once, and the experience widened my perspective of the band’s relevance as a rabblerousing band of truth-tellers who put their hearts and minds on the line with every performance.

The concert was at Pittsburgh’s storied Stanley Theater (now the Benedum Center), a venue that--starting around 1976--received occasional national acclaim as the top-grossing concert theater in America.  The show was sold out in advance and was part of the band’s Combat Rock tour—and this was their first-ever appearance in Pittsburgh.  I was in the front of the balcony for this show with my roommate and two women friends, and what a vantage point--we felt ourselves immeasurably whipped up not only from the band’s onslaught but also the visuals that we feasted on from the frenzied, jostling body-surfing crowd immediately below.

The local Pittsburgh newspaper reviewers were largely in agreement in their day-after reviews.  Pete Bishop of The Pittsburgh Press noted that “The Clash played 23 songs in 90 minutes, just about four minutes each...Titles barked out curtly sufficed for song introductions.  Letting the music speak for itself and driving it home is The Clash’s style.”  And Bill Stieg of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said “The Clash--prototype punks, abrasive, energetic, rough-edged but disciplined--assaulted the crowd with its rock ‘n’ roll and showed why no less than The Who’s Pete Townshend calls them the best live band going...Each song was delivered with the kind of compelling sincerity so sadly lacking in rock concerts these days.”

WOMAD - September 8, 1993 - Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater; Burgettstown, PA

WOMAD is the acronym for World of Music Art & Dance, and it is an international arts festival (first staged in the U.K. in 1982) that is replete with musicians, participatory workshops and global village vendors.  Its essence is diversity, no borders, and inclusion.  It is also the brainchild of one of my favorite artists, Peter Gabriel, who co-founded the festival.

In 1993 I was marketing director at Star Lake Amphitheater near Pittsburgh and our Houston-based booker, Pace Concerts’ Bob Roux, called our venue’s GM Tom Rooney and me to discuss the booking of WOMAD.  The festival had been going on for years in England and now was headed for a few test dates--only nine in all--in the USA.  Roux didn’t downplay the risks and he left the decision completely up to us—and we replied “Bring it on!”  The line-up was appealing in a third-worldly sense—joining headmaster Gabriel and his guest artist Sinead O’Connor were Native American poet and rocker John Trudell; Ugandan musician Geoffrey Oryema; Jamaica’s Inner Circle; Tanzanian guitarist Remmy Ongala; Nottingham, England’s Stereo MCs; Africa’s Drummers of Burundi; American rappers P.M. Dawn; British-born singer of Indian descent Sheila Chandra and many more. 

In his day-after review of the festival, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer Tony Norman quoted several festival-goers who were gushing praise for the concept.  Janice McCormack, a film student from Point Park College, commented that “The idea that there are different bands from all over the world here is really exciting...As a filmmaker I’m interested in the blending of all these cultural aspects.  It’s something intrinsic to me.”  Norman then cited the young woman’s one hesitation: “McCormack’s only complaint was that there weren’t more people to experience what she thought was a historic concert.”

McCormack was right on the money.  Attendance was remarkably low, and WOMAD was the largest financial loss that we had incurred at Star Lake in our then four-year history.  But what a talented lineup; some of it jaw-dropping.  And with the small, very mild-mannered crowd, I was more or less free from my usual patrols around the venue--free, in this case, to listen and linger.

Steely Dan - August 14, 1993 - Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre; Burgettstown, PA

This famous genre-bending band—principally a blend of pop, rock and jazz—came together in 1972 and then hung up their touring shoes in 1974 after just three albums.  So, how many years did they stay away from life on the road?  Hey…nineteen!  

In 1993 I was the marketing director at Star Lake Amphitheatre (as I’d mentioned in the previous entry) and I had long been a Dan fan.  The anticipation for the show was ping-ponging in music circles all over Pittsburgh, as obviously almost two decades had passed and there were essentially a couple of generations’ worth of audio freaks who were pining for a performance and lining up for tickets.  The night of the concert the audience was buzzing with near hysteria when showtime finally came (there was no opening act for this long-awaited reunion tour).  And when the band filtered out on stage, it was kind of like “Wham, Scam, Thank you, Dan!” because they immediately launched into the title track of their classic album The Royal Scam.  This was immediately followed by “Peg” and then “Aja,” and the evening rolled on from there with thousands of fans often singing those sometimes wry, often delightfully inscrutable lyrics. 

And musically?  Fagan never faltered, Becker was unbowed, and the band—immensely talented and religiously rehearsed—cranked out one sophisticated, soul-satisfying song after another.  In his day-before preview piece on Steely Dan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Tony Norman ended his article trying to sum up his feelings about the band’s reemergence after so many years.  “The return of Steely Dan,” Norman wrote, “is like unexpectedly running into an old, cynical friend from college on the street.  It won’t be long before the old gestures, the vocal inflections and callow laughter draw you into that half-remembered world again.  To paraphrase the band’s first hit, it’s time to do it again.”

The Pat Metheny Group - November 16, 1997 - The AJ Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne University; Pittsburgh, PA

Pythagoras (Greek philosopher; approx 570-495 B.C.) proposed a concept called the “harmony of the spheres,” a belief that celestial music was produced by the movement of the stars and the planets but that it was imperceptible to the human ear.  Well, I think we get a rare open channel to this through guitarist Pat Metheny, who I swear draws down this sound direct from the heavens. 

Metheny is one of those ever-questing souls who through the decades has experimented in solo, duo and multi-member group settings for albums and tours, but to my ears, it is the Pat Metheny Group that towers above all other configurations.  PMG started up in 1978 with a self-titled debut, and over the next approximately two-and-half decades they produced a string of fascinating, often bewitching albums.  I would labor to describe the music as a masterful blend of jazz, fusion, rock, folk, and international music.  But Metheny would likely dismiss this attempt of mine.  In a July 27, 2018 interview with Benjamin Cassidy of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts’ Berkshire Eagle, Metheny said “I am not a huge fan of the whole idea of ‘genre’ or styles of music kind of to start with...And all the subsets of the way music often gets talked about, in terms of the words people use to describe music, is basically just a cultural/political discussion that I have found that I am really not that interested in, in the same way I am interested in the spirit and sound of music itself.  That interest really transcends generations or specific decades.”

I will certainly let him have the last word on that.  But back to his November 1997 AJ Palumbo show: two other things that were particularly entrancing were that 1) Metheny and drummer Paul Wertico had set themselves up side-by-side practically on the lip of the stage, and thus for the audience it was a visual feast to be able to observe their individual prowess as well as their intuitive interplay; and 2) the setlist contained not only the best material from their new album Imaginary Day, but also older high-profile PMG songs such as “Minuano Six-Eight” from 1987’s Still Life (Talking) and “Are You Going With Me?” from 1981’s Offramp.  The stars and the planets certainly did align for this particular evening; we were ripe and ready for celestial seasoning.

U2 - May 6, 2001 - The Mellon Arena; Pittsburgh, PA

Jubilation certainly kicked in with this concert announcement: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. were coming to Pittsburgh and had not been here for four years.  U2’s last touchdown was during the PopMart tour when the group played Three Rivers Stadium in May 1997.  That particular show had left me cold, and frustrated, in a swell of humanity that thwarted any close emotional connection to the band.  The Mellon Arena, however, was perfect to house the group this time; the Elevation tour was conceived to play only arenas and more importantly, it boasted a fan-friendly, demonstrably inclusive approach to set design.

The stage was set up such that a heart-shaped ramp extended out from left and right, and then connected up again a bit deeper into the house.  Within this heart-shaped box was pure nirvana—i.e., the fortunate fans who had snagged tickets for this section could all stand together in a festive and finite enclosure, enjoying the show from a great vantage point.  Bono and The Edge both skittered down this heart-shaped ramp at least a few times during the evening, with especially Bono pausing to interact with a fan or two during select songs.

This concert was doubly special for me in that my sixteen-year-old daughter Moira agreed to come with a friend in tow to see if my rapturous ramblings about the band were at all grounded in reality.  She brought her schoolmate Heinz with her, and the two of them took in, for the very first time, the elation and thrill of a U2 concert.  The band started off with “Elevation” and then segued into “It’s A Beautiful Day,” “Until the End Of The World,” “New Year’s Day,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”—and on and on.  My favorite performance of the lot: “Bullet the Blue Sky,” the first song of the encore, a pinnacle peek at the sustaining power of The Edge.

[p.s. Moira and Heinz were converted that evening...after all, as any established fan or new recruit will tell you, experiencing a U2 concert is something akin to a religious experience.]

Sigur Rós - March 25, 2003 - The Byham Theatre; Pittsburgh, PA

Pennsylvania is 5 ½ hours in the air and 2,770 miles away from the country of Iceland.  Friends who have been there swear to the beauty of this land of waterfalls, glaciers, black sand beaches and lava fields, geothermal pools and the Northern Lights.  And in March of 2003, the Byham Theatre hosted one of Iceland’s greatest exports--the music of Sigur Rós.  

This band live in concert is Iceland’s best foot forward in terms of tourism; you no longer have need of pamphlets, clipped articles and video testaments in your vacation destination queue.  Sigur Rós is the true ambassador of the sound and the fury and the majesty and the mystery of this faraway land, and their concert in Pittsburgh was an evening of captivating soundscapes that went from a whisper to a scream--often within the same song.

I dug back into the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to locate any post-concert reviews of the show and found that Pop Music Critic Ed Masley had really zeroed in on the appeal. “The Icelandic impressionists practically faded in with a haunting piano figure on a bed of strings,” Masley said, “its melancholy minimalism preparing the way for the almost childlike--some would say angelic--vocalizing of Jon Thor Birgisson to break your heart in a language you don’t have to understand to know how sad it makes you feel.  But that was just a starting point.  If Sigur Rós’ reputation rests on works of devastating beauty, the band was just as capable of rocking out its sold-out appearance, where its dynamic range was every bit as instrumental to the magic as the singer’s vocal range (which frequently soared into a bittersweet falsetto).”

I attended the show with my late wife Margot, and we found Sigur Rós was at times literally heart-pounding due to the intermittent crushing volume--but always achingly beautiful.  It truly was mesmerizing, this voyage through emotionally engaging songs of sweet, serene beginnings and ear-battering endings.  Once the show ended, after a standing ovation from the crowd, we wormed our way through the throng headed for the exit.  I remember spotting Karl Mullen, the Dublin-born, emigrated-to-Pittsburgh musician renowned for his Carsickness and Ploughman’s Lunch band efforts in the ‘burgh.  We were in different exit streams but managed to lock eyes for an instant.  I think we both went wide-eyed, and I may have pursed my lips; he might have nodded.  Regardless, we were certainly in the same mental space, thinking “How did we even deserve to witness such an amazing show?!!!”  Then the streams carried us apart, and Margot and I were in the last wave of concert-goers who exited the building.  There we remained for a minute, ears ringing, a bit stunned...but at the same time, just so grateful.

David Bowie - May 17, 2004 - The Benedum Center; Pittsburgh, PA

On the heels of his Reality release in September of 2003, Bowie took to the road with first-class production and a stellar backup band that included double-threat guitarists Earl Slick and Gerry Leonard, and bassist/vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey.  In Pittsburgh we were fortunate to have the Bowie tour choose the Benedum Center (formerly the Stanley Theatre), a 2,800-seat ornate and acoustically marvelous small hall.  Videoscreens at the back of the stage toggled between shots of the band members performing, and interspersed, there were glorious color patterns and inscrutable symbols that deeply accentuated the shifting musical moods. 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette critic Ed Masley was in rapture judging from his May 19 concert review, headlined “Still a Young Dude, Bowie Rocks the Benedum.”  His tune-by-tune descriptions were almost universally glowing from Bowie’s entrance (“He took the stage to ‘Rebel, Rebel,’ looking sharp and youthful for his 57 years...”) to the singer’s final number (“an impassioned ‘Ziggy Stardust’”).  Masley even seemed to soar spiritually for a moment during the mid-set number “Station to Station,” a song that he found to be such an “epic performance” that he had no choice but to write the words “a religious experience”in his notebook.

When this show was first announced as coming to Pittsburgh, I flexed a friend connection at The Benedum and so was able to snag center section seats within the first ten rows.  Incredibly well worth it; the pacing, the lighting, the sophistication, the power--this was one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen.  All I could do was...revel, revel.

Bill Frisell - September 7, 2013 - The Richard E. Rauh Theatre at the Hillman Center for the Performing Arts

Guitarist Bill Frisell is not a household name, but he’s deserving of a much wider pool of fans due to his bountiful recording output and his unbridled boundary pushing.  Born in Baltimore in 1951, by the 1970s Frisell was attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, a renowned breeding-ground institution that has spit out a world-class group of musicians of all stripes beginning in the 1950s.  The fertile environment at Berklee and a friendship with guitarist Pat Metheny then led to Frisell’s early 1980s entry into ECM.  This unique European record label was renowned for its catalogue of artists’ albums that showcased jazz-meets-classical-meets-third world music, all ethereally beautiful and elegantly packaged.  Through the decades that followed his ECM label association, Frisell purposely avoided settling into one particular idiom.  His solo work for various other record labels, his collaborations, and his eclectic choice of material--from avant-garde jazz to dips into folk, country and Americana--all speak to his curious mind and questing musical soul.

On September 27, 2011 Frisell released an album entitled All We Are Saying..., a musical tribute to John Lennon the composer.  I had bypassed grabbing this particular release, but a couple of years later I learned Frisell was on his way to Pittsburgh to perform a full evening dedicated to the ex-Beatle, with two of his Lennon album collaborators in tow: violinist Jenny Scheinman and pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz.  Rounding out the ensemble were bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Rudy Royston. 

I immediately scooped up four tickets to this September 7, 2013 show.  That evening, we arrived just as the last few stragglers were being seated and the onstage lights were going down.  From the very first notes of “Across The Universe” in this acoustically perfect and intimate concert setting at the Hillman Center for the Performing Arts, some real magic began to unspool.  Frisell was smiling, cradling his guitar and coaxing out sounds that meshed so delicately, so precisely with the other four instruments such that all individual tones and colorings seemed to disappear, swept up into some kind of perfect oneness.  From start to finish--from “Across The Universe” into “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” “Imagine,” “Come Together,” “Please Please Me,” “Julia,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and more--Frisell and his bandmates weaved together quite a magical mystery tour through the song catalogue of John Lennon.

After the performance my paramour Mary Ellen and friends Joe and Alexis gently floated back to more earthly concerns in a nearby restaurant, and after the four of us had adequately sipped, we reflected on the unique musical experience that we were so lucky to have had together.  Aristotelian, in a way: the whole here was easily greater than the sum of its parts, for layered on top of truly inspiring musicianship we had the music of John Lennon to deepen our awe.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 7/24/22.....THE BEST OF WHAT’S AROUND (Part Two of Two)

 ... Part Two of Two.

This particular post is the result of another tortuous round of nail-chewing and hamster-wheel spinning in my head.  I once again wrestled with the task of choosing just one essential song from each year of the 1970s to proclaim as one of Musicasaurus’ absolute favorites.  

In my previous post of July 10, I ultimately went with the following songs as ones that were indispensable in terms of impact and relevance: 1970’s “Uncle John’s Band” (Grateful Dead).....1971’s live recording of “Stormy Monday” (Allman Brothers Band).....1972’s “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)” (Van Morrison).....1973’s “Incident on 57th Street” (Bruce Springsteen).....1974’s “For a Dancer” (Jackson Browne).....1975’s “Rhiannon” (Fleetwood Mac).....1976’s “New Country” and “The Gardens of Babylon” (yes, two tracks from Jean-Luc Ponty).....1977’s “Marquee Moon” (Television).....1978’s live recording of “Is This Love?” (Bob Marley & The Wailers).....and 1979’s “Night Train” (Rickie Lee Jones). 

Here are the criteria I used in making my selections (in the previous post and again in this one): 1) Which new artists back then had just exploded on the scene to critical and/or mass acclaim?  And/or 2) Which artists were leaping light years ahead--in songwriting and/or in performance--from their last album to the one just released?  And/or 3) Which artists helped immeasurably to invent, augment, or to redefine a certain genre?  

Happy delving, once again…

1970 - That’s the Way / Led Zeppelin, from Led Zeppelin III

This song captures Zep in a mellow mood, and it is essentially a magical, mystical tour de force.  One month after the album’s release in October 1970, Rolling Stone magazine’s often-acerbic, ever-wordy reviewer Lester Bangs for the most part dissed--or practically dismissed--the album, but ended his review of Led Zeppelin III this way: “Finally I must mention a song called ‘That’s the Way,’ because it’s the first song they’ve ever done that has truly moved me.  Son of a gun, it’s beautiful.  Above a very simple and appropriately everyday acoustic riff, Plant sings a touching picture of two youngsters who can no longer be playmates because one’s parents and peers disapprove of the other because of long hair and being generally from ‘the dark side of town.’  

“The vocal is restrained for once—in fact, Plant’s intonations are as plaintively gentle as some of the Rascals’ best ballad work—and a perfectly modulated electronic drone wails in the background like melancholy harbor scows as the words fall soft as sooty snow: ‘And yesterday I saw you standing by the river / I read those tears that filled your eyes / And all the fish that lay in dirty water dying / Had they got you hypnotized?’  Beautiful, and strangely enough Zep.  As sage [Chuck] Berry declared eons ago, it sure goes to show you never can tell.” 

“That’s the Way” https://youtu.be/YlgTzjZhR80

 

1971 - River / Joni Mitchell, from Blue

Mitchell is an iconoclast, similar to her country-of-origin compatriot Neil Young.  Both of these artists who hail from Canada pushed musical boundaries and, consequences be damned, fearlessly followed their muses over the past almost-six decades.  Acclaim was there for both of them, but widespread, sustained success for Mitchell was a bit of a rougher road.

Back in February 1977 Time Magazine did a cover story on the surging popularity of singer Linda Ronstadt but the piece also notably observed that male rockers were at the time still fairly dominant in the music industry.  “Joni Mitchell (TIME cover, Dec.16, 1974) is the most stylish of the women singers to appear in the past decade,” the article stated, “but her music is too cerebral for her to compete in drawing power with the cockerel crowing of the men.”  

The 1970s, though, turned out to be Mitchell’s most rewarding decade in terms of record sales and in critics’ and fans’ expressed recognition of her creative peaks.  A few albums struck gold in terms of popularity and high levels of sales such as Court and Spark and the live Miles of Aisles, but others like Hejira and Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter--fascinating yet challenging new releases from the artist--gained gushes only from the critics and from loyalist fans.  But in terms of wooing brand new fans, and then cementing lifelong interest from all of her followers, the glue was pretty much Blue.

Over the many years since this album’s 1971 release, reverence for the record hasn’t diminished at all.  Writer Roisin O’Connor of the renowned British online publication The Independent wrote in a June 22, 2021 article of Blue’s lasting impact on artists, critics and fans.  O’Connor summarized some key assessments this way:

“River” https://youtu.be/3NH-ctddY9o

 

1972 - Big Brother / Stevie Wonder, from Talking Book

I think all can agree this album is a thing of Wonder.  The artist’s albums before Talking Book (the fifteenth studio album from this 22-year-old musician) had only hinted at what was to come--socio-political messaging, adult examinations of life and love, and incredible musicianship which leapt over barriers and seamlessly brought together rhythm & blues and rock ‘n’ roll audiences.  

National Public Radio in 2000 interviewed Wonder as part of a series they were conducting called The NPR 100, a look at pivotal, impactful musical works from the 20th Century.  In a companion article containing highlights from the interview, NPR reported that while Wonder was on tour with the Rolling Stones in that year of 1972, the song “Superstition” came to him in a flash.  He originally wrote the song for fellow musician Jeff Beck, but Berry Gordy (head of Wonder’s label Motown) convinced him to keep it for his own upcoming album.  That song sported an innovation of sorts as it was really the first time, according to music critic Tom Moon, that “audiences heard a lot of Clavinet, a five-octave electronic instrument similar to an electric piano.”

Musicasaurus’ treasured track from the album, though, is “Big Brother.”  This song contained even more innovative sounds as part of Wonder’s quest to create things beyond the standard Motown hit-machine material that he’d been churning out for the past decade.  In this tune Wonder “combined socially aware lyrics with music to create a brand-new funk,” and for the first time here he employed a West African instrument called the talking drum.  “Big Brother” was essentially just four instruments: the talking drum, harmonica, clavinet and the Moog synthesizer, a new addition to Wonder’s arsenal that had been invented by Robert Moog in 1964 and which Wonder had first heard on the groundbreaking 1968 album Switched-On Bach by Walter Carlos.

The 1970s were the Wonder years, a full flowering of Stevie’s expanded consciousness and expansive songwriting innovations.  All from this young man who, as NPR recounted, taught himself to play the drums at the age of three, the harmonica by the age of six, and the piano by ten.

“Big Brother” https://youtu.be/17JjYrBqrho

 

1973 - Spain / Chick Corea & Return To Forever, from Light As A Feather

No self-respecting account of 1970s musical achievements would be complete without mention of Chick Corea, the American-born jazz keyboardist who aided in jumpstarting the popularity of jazz fusion through his 1973 album Light As A Feather.  The jazz musician/composer died at the age of 79 on February 9, 2021, and in the obituary in Rolling Stone magazine, Hank Shteamer quoted current Dead & Company guitarist John Mayer as saying ““Chick Corea was the single greatest improvisational musician I have ever played with.”  And Miles Davis, whose language was often as colorful as his trumpet shadings, stated that his Lost Quintet from 1969 which included Corea on Fender Rhodes piano was a dream team extraordinaire.  “Man,” lamented Davis in his 1989 autobiography, “I wish this band had been recorded live because it was a really bad motherfucker.”  

Corea had spent his life in creative pursuit of excellence and collaboration.  Most noteworthy, it could be said, was his post-Miles Davis formation of the band Return to Forever in 1971 with a five-star lineup: Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke, saxophonist/flautist Joe Farrell, percussionist Airto Moreira, and soaring, swooping vocalist Flora Purim.  The band started out in a style AllMusic.com calls a “blend of spacy electric-piano fusion and Brazilian and Latin rhythms” and then morphed a short time later (after some personnel changes) into more jet-fueled jazz fusion territory.  But it is indeed this Corea and RTF 1973 album, and in particular the track “Spain,” that shook me out of my major fixation on all things rock, gently turning my head and widening my vision to include this intoxicating mix of jazz and rock.

Corea’s family posted a message on Facebook upon his death, something that the musician felt he wanted to pass along to his fans and friends: “I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright,” Corea said.  “It is my hope that those who have an inkling to play, write, perform or otherwise, do so.  If not for yourself, then for the rest of us.  It’s not only that the world needs more artists, it’s also just a lot of fun…And to my amazing musician friends who have been like family to me as long as I’ve known you, it has been a blessing and an honor learning from and playing with all of you.  My mission has always been to bring the joy of creating anywhere I could, and to have done so with all the artists that I admire so dearly--this has been the richness of my life.”

“Spain” https://youtu.be/sEhQTjgoTdU

 

1974 - Rock & Roll Doctor / Little Feat, from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now

No one held my feet to the fire to add this band to the list.  The magic and the majesty of this group was and is, to me, irresistible.  And unassailable.  I found a beautifully expressive nugget online recently in the music magazine Relix via contributing editor Jeff Tamarkin’s 1989 article on Little Feat.  The author’s description of the band here is right on target: “Combining the blues with a New Orleans rhythm, acidified lyrical scenarios with good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll, a bit o’ country with an uncanny knack for taking a jam to stellar heights.  Little Feat was an organic oasis in the processed, slick ‘70s.”

Feat found their own path back then, never quite gaining the limelight but consistently innovating and producing some really stunning, emotionally rich recordings.  The first two albums--their 1971 self-titled debut followed by 1972’s Sailin’ Shoes--had moments of brilliance but 1973’s Dixie Chicken was, well, a motherclucker.  Breathtaking in its scope, this album flowed organically along with songs that were lyrically sophisticated, keenly arranged and flawlessly performed.  The band had previously staked out their territory as a melding of American styles but now after a change in personnel had definitively found their funk, imbuing their musical stew with New Orleans-style rhythm & blues.  To the fans of Feat, this integration was a revelation; it felt like their final growth spurt toward a wondrously revealing new level of musical maturity.

After Dixie Chicken came 1974’s Feats Don’t Fail Me Now with the boogie-styled “Oh Atlanta,” Lowell George’s triumph-as-storyteller “Spanish Moon” and, in Musicasaurus’ opinion, the album’s crowning achievement “Rock and Roll Doctor” which featured grit...and funk...and George’s absolutely wicked slide guitar.

This album and others from Feat were like God’s gifts. My friends and I, all in our twenties, at times felt like Feat was ours alone.  We were the cognoscenti; the ones who shared knowledge of this superior rock band whose music largely towered over all else.  We let the FM radio stations have their Zeps and their Floyds, while we filled our living room parties and outdoor escapades with the funk and the finesse of Feat.

“Rock & Roll Doctor” https://youtu.be/z3LNhZ7msI4

 

1975 - Tangled Up In Blue / Bob Dylan, from Blood On The Tracks

Almost fifty-seven years ago in the month of December Bob Dylan appeared at a KQED (public educational television station) press conference in San Francisco, and it opened with a bespectacled suit-and-tie host who said “Welcome to the first KQED poets conference, press conference.  Mr. Dylan is a poet.  He’ll answer questions about everything from atomic science to riddles and rhymes.  Go!”

A sample of just a few of the questions posed during that 1965 press conference, and Dylan’s responses:

Dylan the Inscrutable was making his mark, batting away pretensions and playing with the press, and in that same year, skidding out of folk music into an electric slide…confounding fans…lyrically tight-roping politics and the abstract…all part of his plan to write from his cryptic, honest heart.

For reasons I now can’t fathom, I was not one of Bob’s most fervent followers from the beginning.  When Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited came out in 1965 I was only twelve years old.  I hadn’t a chance to really glom onto Dylan at that stage, and by 1967 or so I was off in a multitude of new directions with Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Cream, Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and many more, my young teen brain aflame with such discoveries.

Through the next handful of years, though, I briefly checked up on Dylan.  Then in 1975 because of friends who had long since converted, hanging on his every thread, I bought Blood on the Tracks and fell in love with most of the album, especially “Tangled Up in Blue.”  And considering that one can find deep analyses (and attempts at analyses) of Dylan’s music here, there and everywhere today, I will refrain except to say that “Tangled Up in Blue” is glorious storytelling, playing with memory and the concept of time, and...so much more.  That’s all I want to say.  I’m sure Dylan would chuckle, sneer or scoff--maybe all three--if I tried to decipher any more of it.

“Tangled Up in Blue” https://youtu.be/WJ8GUwNaboo

 

1976 - The Wild One, Forever / Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, from their self-titled debut album

I first heard Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers self-titled debut album when it hit record stores in the fall of 1976.  Actually, at that time I was working in a record store.  I was a year-and-a-half out of college and clerking in Exile Records, an indie shop in my hometown of Butler, PA (an hour north of Pittsburgh).  One Tuesday, like most every Tuesday, my boss Dave Kleemann returned late in the day from his weekly trip to his record distributor in Pittsburgh.  As usual he brought back boxes of older catalogue albums to replenish our stock, plus brand new releases that we would immediately unbox, slap a sale price on, and stuff into our “New Releases” bin at the front of the store.  Copies of Petty’s self-titled first album were in this batch and I took one in hand, tugged off the shrink-wrap and placed the platter on the store’s turntable.  God love Kleemann for those in-store speakers; If I remember correctly they were Bose 901s and at high volume I was totally swept away by Petty’s pert-near perfect debut. 

Allmusic.com writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine has likened the band to a blend of The Byrds and The Stones, and declared that their first album was pretty much “tuneful jangle balanced by a tough garage swagger.”  I think that description is particularly apt and favorites emerged for me from the outset, particularly “The Wild One, Forever,” “Breakdown” and “American Girl.”  Seems I am in good company with these choices.  Eight Rolling Stone magazine writers banded together in late November 2020 to take a stab at consensus on Petty’s 50 greatest songs, and all three of mine made the cut (admittedly two were shoo-ins).  “The Wild One, Forever” came in at #30 in Rolling Stone’s rankings, “Breakdown” nestled into the Top Ten at #8, and “American Girl”--perhaps not a surprise--grabbed the #1 slot.

For many years after my introduction to Petty, I never had the chance to catch him live in concert.  But sixteen years and eight albums on, I finally did in 1991 at Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre.  This was the first of his several visits to the venue over the next couple of decades, and I had at least two tingling revelations that evening while standing in the lower pavilion area literally awestruck by the performance: 1) the band was truly a non-rock-cliché powerhouse, and 2) the songs, one after the other, were familiar hits and/or recognizable and cherished deep tracks.  I was simply amazed at how many songs I knew and how many classics this band of brothers had produced over their first sixteen years of existence. 

And now I pity we now longer have Petty.  This may be news for people who don’t rock or for those who live under a rock, but the musician passed away unexpectedly in October 2017 at the age of 66.  He’s gone into the great wide open.  He don’t come around here no more...

“The Wild One, Forever” https://youtu.be/US-pEqevjvc

 

 

1977 - Solsbury Hill / Peter Gabriel, from Peter Gabriel (the artist’s first solo release)

Who doesn’t love Top Ten lists?  I’m sure there are some who don’t, but it seemed appropriate for me to go this route as I have much to say about Peter Gabriel but only limited space (for your sake) in which to do so...Topline, though?  He is an inspirational, innovative artist and a compassionate human being, and my eyes and ears first really opened up to him during his post-Genesis career--beginning with his remarkable debut solo album Peter Gabriel in 1977 which featured the very moving, magical track “Solsbury Hill.”

My Peter Gabriel Top Ten: Reasons to Admire (structured as a timeline):

* 1970s: As early as 1972 when still with Genesis, Gabriel was one of the first rock artists (like Bowie and Alice Cooper) to integrate storytelling, props and costumes regularly into concert performances.

* Late 1970s - Early 1980s: Gabriel’s first four solo albums (from 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1982) were all named Peter Gabriel at his insistence, which flummoxed his record company handlers.  After the artist’s second solo album called Peter Gabriel was released, the record label’s marketing people produced thousands of copies of a special poster for in-store display at record stores across America (see the poster above that is next to the album cover).  The poster showed a nurse in a maternity ward standing near-expressionless above two empty basinets, holding Gabriel’s first solo album crooked in one arm and his second (new) solo album in the other arm.  The headline on the poster: Which Peter Gabriel?

* Late 1970s - Early 1980s: Gabriel employed the coolest of London’s album cover design groups, Hipgnosis, to do his album artwork.  Hipgnosis had previously done the cover of Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and Gabriel then turned to them for the creation of the album covers for his first three solo efforts in 1977, 1978 and 1980--i.e., Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel and Peter Gabriel, respectively.  Fans and followers and some record label representatives, keen to keep things straight, started referring to these three albums according to a key element on each of the covers; Car is the unofficial name of 1977’s solo release, Scratch is 1978’s and Melt is 1980’s.

* 1980: The song “Biko” from Gabriel’s third solo album (1980) was a eulogy for South African activist Stephen Biko who died in police custody in 1977.  The tune became an immensely popular anti-apartheid anthem that the then-racist South African government banned outright.  In America and other countries around the world, it lit the flame for outrage and activism, and helped to shift the political and cultural landscapes surrounding apartheid.

* The Early-Mid 1980s: This was a high growth, must-see-TV time period for the nascent music channel MTV, and Gabriel was doing tremendously innovative song videos which then had incessant play on the channel.  “Sledgehammer” in particular was a pioneering video that utilized stop-motion and claymation techniques developed by Nick Park of Aardman Animations, who later went on to create the Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep programs.  “Sledgehammer” crushed the competition at 1987’s MTV Video Music Awards, winning nine awards (a record that still stands).

* 1986: Gabriel reached his critical and commercial peak this year with the release of the album So.  Musically he was still creating albums that sacrificed nothing to commercial considerations, like this his fifth solo effort, and yet this time the public response was overwhelming.  Hits like “Sledgehammer,” “Red Rain” and “In Your Eyes” were everywhere, and “Don’t Give Up” was a lovely, hypnotic duet with Britain’s eclectic and highly revered singer-songwriter Kate Bush.  Both the song and the resulting video were equally compelling and Bush’s popularity rose considerably especially in the United States.  Currently Bush is popular once again; stranger things have happened.

* 1980s and Early 1990s: Gabriel was one of the founders in 1980 of WOMAD--the World of Music, Art & Dance--which was designed to become a recurring international arts festival featuring musicians from around the globe.  The very first one took place in the UK in 1982, and in 1993 the festival crossed the ocean to America.  There were only nine total stops planned for this first-ever tour of the U.S.A., and Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre was fortunate enough to snag one.  Gabriel and his band performed a 90-minute headlining set, with Sinead O’Connor joining in on a few songs.  The other acts on this WOMAD festival date included Crowded House, PM Dawn, Stereo MC’s, Inner Circle, James and others.

* Mid-late 1980s - Late 1990s: Gabriel devoted much time and energy to a series of high-profile concerts that were staged between 1986 and 1998 in international locales with mega-stars (Gabriel himself, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and others).  The Human Rights Concerts were organized and staged in order to raise funds and build awareness for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Amnesty International.

* 1994: Gabriel’s magnum opus is the 1994 concert film (available on DVD) entitled Secret World Live.  It hails from his 1993-1994 world tour and was taped one evening in Modena, Italy.  With his work on the filming and preserving of this particular concert, Gabriel has created one for the time capsule.  This film reflects a perfect synthesis of musicians playing as one, reveals a brilliant stage set and well-integrated special effects, and boasts seamless and savvy editing that captures all of the emotion inherent in this live music experience.  Gabriel had notably collaborated with Quebec City’s playwright/actor/film director/stage director Robert Lepage in the creation of the Secret World Live tour.  Lepage is one of Canada’s most honored theatre artists; his many arts-related triumphs include the creation of Cirque du Soleil’s 2005 Las Vegas show Ka and the writing and directing of Cirque du Soleil’s 2010 touring show Totem.

* 2012: Gabriel mounted a new tour this year, one that he labeled Back to Front.  The concept was Gabriel and band first playing a handful of songs from a few different albums in an acoustic set, which then rolled into an electric set.  And this was followed by a longer set consisting of songs from the artist’s 1986 mammoth-selling So album.  Musicasaurus rumbled its bones all the way to Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on September 21 to catch the show, and it was superb.  Some of the musicians that evening were the same ones who toured with Gabriel in support of the album So back in 1986: bassist Tony Levin, guitarist David Rhodes, drummer Manu Katche and keyboard player David Sancious.  They all helped replicate with polish and precision the entire 1986 So album from start to finish.  

Last but not least: Did I mention that I fell in love with “Solsbury Hill?”  That first brush with Gabriel led me down the path as a fervent follower of this musician and humanitarian from that point on.  The following clip from YouTube is a clever, keenly edited version of the song that incorporates concert footage of the singer through the years in a seamless, patched-together performance. https://youtu.be/WeYqJxlSv-Y

 

1978 - Lawyers, Guns and Money / Warren Zevon, from Excitable Boy

Last year author Ronald Brownstein’s new book Rock Me on the Water was published.  It is an intriguing look at the year 1974 in Los Angeles, a city that at that time dominated popular culture through the arts and politics and engendered many cultural and societal shifts.  The book also zeros in a bit on the importance of the early 1970s music scene in that city.  In a CBS Sunday Morning interview in March 2021, Brownstein said, "L.A. in the early '70s was one of those times and places where just enormous skill and pop culture mastery came together...What was striking about L.A. in this period was how much these artists helped each other, how much they shared ideas and even songs."

Jackson Browne figured prominently in the L.A. scene back then...and Linda Ronstadt...the Eagles...J.D. Souther...Bonnie Raitt...James Taylor...Carole King...CSNY...Joni Mitchell...and standing out from the crowd, piercing pen in hand, was Warren Zevon.  His skewed and skilled songwriting leapt out of the pack of the aforementioned singer-songwriters, for Zevon had a particular gift for lyrics of wit and dark humor set in solid rock-song format.  1978’s Excitable Boy, his second album, was his commercial breakthrough and for Zevon the project was a collaborator’s dream.  He was assisted on the album by a coterie of L.A’s finest musicians and singers—Jackson Browne, Danny Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel, Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel, Linda Ronstadt, Karla Bonoff, Kenny Edwards and many more.  

“Werewolves of London” was the hit song that sprang out of Excitable Boy, and people of all ages seemed attuned to that tune.  Even kids were singing along to this one, which is in retrospect kind of disturbing since Zevon had plugged in lyrics like “You better stay away from him / He'll rip your lungs out, Jim.”  But that was just one facet of this wry guy who wrote great melodies and even better lyrics.  The standout track from the album is “Lawyers, Guns and Money” a tale of a young man in Havana in some desperate straits, appealing frantically to his dad to send the three items from the song’s title.  Intriguing little tale, and Zevon and company bring it alive with some serious musical muscle.

Zevon died in September 2003 from lung cancer and Hotpress.com’s Peter Murphy in his obituary reflected on the artist’s unique talents: “When Warren Zevon passed away on Sunday, September 7, rock ‘n’ roll lost one of its great ironists and men of letters,” Murphy said.  “Zevon coined so many brilliant lines that when his peers came up with quotes about him they tended to speak above even their own abilities.  Bruce Springsteen called him ‘...a moralist in cynic’s clothing.’  Jackson Browne dubbed him ‘the first and foremost proponent of song noir.’  The singer was as comfortable with writers like Carl Hiaasen, Hunter S. Thompson, Jonathan Kellerman and Thomas MacGuane as fellow musicians (although he had no shortage of distinguished fans and collaborators, including Bob Dylan and Neil Young).”

“Lawyers, Guns and Money” https://youtu.be/F2HH7J-Sx80

 

1979 - London Calling / The Clash, from London Calling

This fearless punk-rock foursome formed in London in 1976 and was comprised of a lead guitarist, a bass player, a drummer, and a Strummer.  The latter, first name Joe, was a vocalist from the “spit and snarl” school of rock and the band itself was dynamic, irrepressible, and musically quite venturesome.  If you only know them through radio-and-MTV-exposed tunes such as “Rockin’ The Casbah” or “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” you should also know that the Clash were a group that fiercely and consistently pushed musical boundaries. 

Their third album London Calling, released in 1979 in England and early the next year in the U.S.A, was in terms of creativity head and shoulders above their two preceding releases.  On this double-album set they were cutting a punk-edged swath through reggae territory, rockabilly, hard rock, and even lounge jazz.  Their lyrics were sometimes obliquely, sometimes directly politically charged, and they inspired a number of alternative bands--contemporaries and newcomers on the rise--to similarly rise up.

“The Only Band That Matters”...This was a phrase initially thrown around by the group’s record label publicists, which then caught on and enjoyed a long shelf life with the band’s fans.  Jeff Slate of nbcnews.com in March 2019 wrote an article concerning a new Spotify podcast dedicated to The Clash, and in the article Slate quotes a Clash biographer named Mark Andersen.  Andersen noted that the “Matters” phrase is still repeated today because it “wasn’t just PR hyperbole.  It communicated something essential about the band; that they were more than just an entertainment enterprise.

“By the time punk came along, rock and roll was being critiqued as a sold-out enterprise, one that promised more than it could deliver.  And so, from the beginning, the Clash are a glorious paradox.  They’re trying to be a superstar rock and roll band, the biggest band in the world, as Joe Strummer once said.  But they’re also trying to be revolutionary.  Ultimately they were both true, and that dramatic tension is part of what makes the band so interesting and so lasting in its influence.”

“London Calling” https://youtu.be/LC2WpBcdM_A

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 7/10/22.....THE BEST OF WHAT’S AROUND (Part One of Two)

(Next post: Sunday, July 24, 2022)

 ... Part One of Two.

Back in 2002 I remember burning a couple of good ones.  In the decade of the 1970s that phrase had something to do with breathy intake, but in this particular instance I am referring to two compact disc mixes that I had made for some friends entitled The Seventies Volumes One and Two.  Both of these mixes spanned the specific time period 1970 through 1979 and my prerequisites for selecting particular songs were as follows: 1) Which new artists back then had just exploded on the scene to critical and/or mass acclaim?  2) Which artists were leaping light years ahead--in songwriting and/or in performance--from their last album to the one just released?  And 3) Which artists helped immeasurably to invent, augment, or to redefine a certain genre?  

Here in 2022 I wanted to take another shot at the 1970s and help musically define that decade with two representative songs from each of the ten years, 1970-1979.  It was extremely difficult to narrow down this list of essential tunes; there was much consternation and deliberation, and occasionally a Sophie’s Choice-like letting go of certain songs that just couldn’t be squeezed in.  In this July 10 post, you’ll find ten total songs, one per year; in the very next Musicasaurus post that will be viewable come Sunday, July 24, you’ll find another ten selections; again, one per year.  All told, I think you’ll agree these twenty songs covering 1970-1979 (split over the two posts) are truly representative of the artistic flowering that--fortunately for us--took place throughout that decade.  Happy delving…

1970 - Uncle John’s Band / Grateful Dead, from Workingman’s Dead

In 1970 something happened to wake the Dead: The band had given way to an astral shift of sorts and moved away from the dark star voyages of their earlier psychedelic works in order to mine American roots music.  In a July 16, 2020 Forbes Magazine article, contributor David Chiu offered up a key reason as to why the Dead were dearly departing: “The sound of strummed acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies in the air at the start of the new decade shaped the sound of Workingman's Dead.”  

Chiu then cites a fleshed-out thought from Rolling Stone senior editor David Browne, who commented that “In the context of the times rock was beginning to unplug in those late ‘60s days.  You had The Band, you had Dylan with Nashville Skyline and John Wesley Harding, you had Crosby, Stills & Nash–all these people suddenly shifting to early Americana, a radical shift from amplification.”  

Fans readily embraced this latest release from the Dead and the album that followed on its heels later that same year.  As writer Chiu noted, “Workingman's Dead and its follow-up, American Beauty, released in November of that same year, further elevated the band’s profile.  Both went on to become the most popular and beloved records in the Dead's catalog.” https://youtu.be/yD1naKNQuF4

 

1971 - Stormy Monday / The Allman Brothers Band, from At Fillmore East

Even now after 50-plus years, it is still hard to find a live album that can top the Allmans’ At Fillmore East.  This classic two-album set captured these early-twenty-something musicians in their finest hour, unleashing an ass-kicking combination of rock, blues, and jazz that all coalesced into, truly, one for the time capsule.  

Rolling Stone magazine’s Mark Kemp in his July 16, 2002 look-back piece stated that “This double-disc live album spawned a thousand Southern-rock bands.  Before the appearance of At Fillmore East, most young, white Southern musicians either backed great black soul singers, played country music or mimicked the Beatles.  The Allman Brother Band changed all that, and with the release of the Fillmore concerts, American rock & roll forever reclaimed its Southern roots.  More than just being a social marker, though, these shows—recorded in New York on March 12th and 13th, 1971—remain the finest live rock performance ever committed to vinyl.” 

And how did I come to select just one song from this record?  Knowing there wasn’t possibly a mistake that could be made, I placed one hand over my eyes while the pointer finger on my free hand went down to the song titles on the album’s back cover, and…Voila!  Here is the group’s mesmerizing cover of bluesman T-Bone Walker’s 1947 classic “Stormy Monday.” https://youtu.be/sTUAY2pTCuY

 

1972 - Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile) / Van Morrison, from St. Dominic’s Preview

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, in the little oasis of my childhood bedroom, I remember “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)” bursting out of my brand new pair of Acoustic Research speakers in my bedroom.  This is an absolutely sizzlin’ track from St. Dominic’s Preview, the singer-songwriter’s critically-acclaimed sixth studio album.  In Dave Marsh’s review of the album in an October 1972 issue of Creem magazine he stated that “After Tupelo Honey, Van Morrison must have been faced with a choice.  He could continue with his domestic tranquility myth…or he could head for new turf.  He has chosen the latter course (wisely I think).  If the result is more curious than classic, perhaps that is the price of adventure.”  And the mass of Morrison followers in the U.S. proved adventurous as well; St. Dominic’s Preview reached #15 in the country on the national sales charts, the highest climb of any previous Morrison album.  The singer never duplicated that level of sales success again until 36 years later with his 33rd album Keep it Simple (2008).

“Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile”--the first song on Side One of St. Dominic’s Preview--is replete with crisp, driving horns and vocals that rip into the rhythm & blues, and it is a tribute to one of Morrison’s idols, the late 1950s-early 1960s R & B/soul singer Jackie Wilson.  This early rock ‘n’ roll icon had been dubbed “Mr. Excitement” for his live stage shows which were full of spins and splits and dance-move dips--actually the complete antithesis of Mr. Morrison onstage.  I remember going to Toronto in the early 2000s to see the Irish singer in concert with my late wife Margot and my sister Kristi and husband Bernie.  Margot and I had center section seats, but Bernie and Kristi, though a few rows ahead of us, were off to one side.  When the star and his band came out and took their places onstage, the soon visibly-perturbed singer remained rooted to his spot all evening long.  Unfortunately for Bernie and Kristi, their view of Morrison from their side-section seats was blocked by several unused, upright music stands.  If one would ask Bernie today if he ever went to a Van Morrison concert, he is likely to respond, “Yes, I didn’t see him once.” https://youtu.be/TY0_1VN7h8c

 

1973 - Incident On 57th Street / Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band, from The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle

This song was the opening track on Side Two of the artist’s second album (his first with the E Street Band).  It is almost eight minutes in length, a romantic, cinematic and fully-formed slice of life on the streets, and it revealed that Bruce the storyteller had truly arrived.  Listening to “Incident on 57th Street” as well as songs like “Rosalita” and “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” were simply more engrossing and emotionally satisfying-- and thus more revealing of the writer within--compared to most tracks on the artist’s previous release Greetings from Asbury Park.

Bruce and the E Street band’s incessant touring in the early 1970s also played a role in building a bond between The Boss and his followers.  No internet back then, so word-of-mouth and gobsmacked critics’ reviews were what we had to turn to in order to learn anything about the power of Bruce & band in live performance.  Six months before Bruce’s Born to Run album was released I was fortunate to find that my Penn State main-campus roommate Paul Hooper was an early adopter--a Philadelphian “in the know.”  He convinced me that we needed to “sleep out for tickets” (this is a term older fans will remember, from the days of trying any which way to get the best tickets for shows).  With our place in the ticket line preserved by our night-before arrival, we lucked into seats in the first ten rows of our campus’ 2,600-capacity University Auditorium.

That night in February 1975 “Incident on 57th Street” was the very first song he played.  The crowd was hushed when the show began very unceremoniously on a darkened stage.  Suddenly there appeared two far-apart single spotlights, one illuminating a female violin player in a shimmering green dress.  At the other end of the stage, Bruce slowly emerged into his own spotlight to stand before a single microphone.  The song unfolded, with Bruce’s voice and the sweet bow work of violinist Suki Lahav his only accompaniment.  Two-and-a-half hours later after the whole E-Street experience, I was reborn as a full-fledged Bosselytizer (as in, proselytizer).  This was my entry into the church of Rock ‘n’ Roll. https://youtu.be/ioQcvijom28

 

1974 - For A Dancer / Jackson Browne, from Late For The Sky

In 2004 when Bruce Springsteen handled Jackson Browne’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he uttered these wise words from the podium: “In Seventies post-Vietnam America, there was no album that captured the fall from Eden, the long slow afterburn of the Sixties, its heartbreak, its disappointments, its spent possibilities, better than Jackson’s masterpiece Late for the Sky.”

This wasn’t the album that put Browne on top of the heap and on the tip of all tongues, though.  That was still to come with his commercial breakthrough The Pretender which was released two years later.  On Late for the Sky, though, Browne quite deftly dealt with themes including love, fragility, and the striving for hope and balance, and he did so through beautifully honed lyrics that have resonated with listeners of all ages, through the ages.  In that year 1974 Browne had turned just twenty-six--and yet he penned for this, his third album, a beautiful meditation on mortality entitled “For A Dancer.”  The impetus for the song was the death of a friend, and here the singer-songwriter clearly wasn’t runnin’ on empty.  “For A Dancer” is the high-water mark of a uniformly excellent album, and it serves up--for those open to it--a prescription for living life.  Through this song Browne has provided to all of us perhaps one of the best encapsulations of life’s mystery and death’s inscrutability. https://youtu.be/XnT_PbnpijE

 

1975 - Rhiannon / Fleetwood Mac, from Fleetwood Mac

When musicasaurus.com was compiling this group of influential Seventies’ recordings, Fleetwood Mac kept knocking on the door.  Here was a band that started out of England in 1967 as a blues unit, recorded nine albums with some bandmember departures and arrivals over the next seven years, and then in 1974 group co-founder Mick Fleetwood stumbled upon a most meaningful paradigm shift in personnel.  In a March 8, 1998 interview with British online newspaper The Independent, Fleetwood recalled that he had bumped into guitarist Lindsey Buckingham just by chance: “I first met Lindsey when I was at Sound City [in the San Fernando Valley], checking out the studio with a view to having Fleetwood Mac record there.  The producer Keith Olsen played me a demo he'd been working on, just to demonstrate the sound of the studio.  It turned out to be "Frozen Love" by Stevie [Nicks] and Lindsey.  At that point Lindsey put his head round the door and we nodded to each other.

“I've always had a good ear for guitar players, so when Bob Welch left a few weeks later, I called Lindsey.  I'd instantly liked his guitar playing--it was economic, melodic, with an astute sense of tone and a unique style.  Even though we were looking for a guitar player at first, we found that Lindsey and Stevie came as a duo.  Their loyalty to one another was apparent, they were very much a couple, and a powerful package.”

This “powerful package” that Mick Fleetwood brought on board proved to be a catalyst for the band’s indomitable rise to superstar status.  In the summer of 1975 the band’s self-titled new album--now with three strong songwriters/lead vocalists in Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie--started racking up sales almost immediately aided by the powerful, crystal clear production touches of engineer and co-producer (with the band) Keith Olsen.  Fleetwood Mac was on its surefooted path to becoming the biggest Mac, as this album and the next couple especially were scarfed up by an insatiable public.  Annie Zaleski in a November 30, 2020 Salon.com article might have best zeroed in on the appeal of the reconstituted Mac. She wrote that the band’s songs “often arose from relationship tension and interpersonal drama, but the band tended to cloak these fractures in elegant poetry and empathetic sentiment.  In fact, although known as a ferocious rock band, their most enduring hits tend to scan as romantic soft-pop—couching fiery, passionate lyrics in gauzy keyboards, honeyed guitars and soothing grooves.” https://youtu.be/qQU5nS8G7K8 

 

1976 - New Country and The Gardens Of Babylon / Jean-Luc Ponty, from Imaginary Voyage

Raised by parents who were classical musicians, French violinist Ponty was initially inspired by idols Miles Davis and John Coltrane and ventured early on into clarinet and sax before turning to violin.  In 1969 while in his late twenties, he veered from the more traditional paths of classical and/or jazz musicians and started working with Frank Zappa and The Mothers, actually emigrating to the U.S. with his family in order to do so.  He also did a stint with Mahavishnu Orchestra and contributed to two of their albums in 1974 and 1975.

1975 was a pivotal year for Ponty.  He signed with Atlantic Records as a solo artist and spent the next decade with the label, recording with various handpicked bandmembers a string of releases that established him as one of the era’s finest jazz-rock musicians.  The mid-late 1970s and early 1980s was a time, in fact, when jazz-rock (or, if you prefer, jazz fusion) flourished on recordings and in concert settings.  Those were the days that Ponty and peer musician bandleaders like Joe Zawinul, Pat Metheny and John McLaughlin toured regularly throughout the U.S. with their ensembles (i.e., Weather Report, Pat Metheny Group and Mahavishnu Orchestra, respectively).  

These trailblazing groups all fortunately made their way to Pittsburgh, touching down at one time or another at the acoustically sublime, award-winning concert hall the Stanley Theatre.  The fans that turned out for these shows were not just the jazzophiles, it should be noted; there was a healthy representation of “in-the-know” rock fans as well, those who had branched off and now coveted these performers who melded jazz prowess with rock sensibilities.  Some of the Ponty shows I saw during that time period--in Pittsburgh venues like the Stanley Theatre and the Syria Mosque--were transcendent.

Ponty’s Imaginary Voyage album upon release was hailed by a number of critics for Side Two’s twenty-minute-long suite, but Musicasaurus especially savors the first two songs on Side One, “New Country” and “The Gardens of Babylon.”  The first is an innovative, explosive blend of bluegrass and jazz fusion, and the second is a midtempo delight that equally thrills, featuring three brief solos from keyboardist Allan Zavod, acoustic guitarist Daryl Stuermer and Ponty on electric violin. [“New Country” https://youtu.be/d_7yblIEq3A ... and “The Gardens of Babylon” https://youtu.be/R2ENEnxZQL0

 

1977 - Marquee Moon / Television, from Television

Television was one of the bands that first formed back in the punk explosion days of the mid-to-late 1970s.  They were part of the fabric of legendary Manhattan club CBGB, where on various nights of the week one might walk in and find bands on stage such as Talking Heads, the Ramones, Blondie or the Patti Smith Group, or lesser known but equally intriguing punkers like Richard Hell & The Voidoids or the Cramps.  Television’s distinction was their two-guitar attack and the made-for-punk vocal style of lead singer-songwriter Tom Verlaine.  The ace second guitarist in the band was the incendiary Richard Lloyd and the two of ‘em were interweaving specialists.  

Marquee Moon was the band’s debut release in 1977, and it met with great critical success here in the United States.  Music journalist Robert Christgau of The Village Voice was a widely read, influential scribe who in the late 1960s started dishing out cold hard truths in fascinating, sometimes lacerating album reviews in his “Consumer Guide” column.  He was a critic totally turned on by Television.  Christgau gushed of the band’s debut, “I know why people complain about Tom Verlaine's angst-ridden voice, but fuck that, I haven't had such intense pleasure from a new release since I got into Layla three months after it came out, and this took about fifteen seconds.  The lyrics, which are in a demotic-philosophical mode (‘I was listening/listening to the rain/I was hearing/hearing something else’), would carry this record alone; so would the guitar playing, as lyrical and piercing as Clapton or Garcia but totally unlike either.  Yes, you bet it rocks.  And no, I didn't believe they'd be able to do it on record because I thought this band's excitement was all in the live raveups.  Turns out that's about a third of it.  A+”

Although Marquee Moon was an instant success in the UK, it stalled in The States.  Sales were modest at best and shortly after the album limped out of the gate in early 1977, reportedly the group’s label Elektra essentially dropped the ball on a few potential promotional opportunities and had all but abandoned the band.  The record has since been widely regarded as a lantern of sorts, though, lighting the way for quite a number of post-punk and alternative bands that followed over the next few decades; Wikipedia cites The Pixies, Sonic Youth, U2, R.E.M., and Echo & The Bunnymen as just a few of these. https://youtu.be/g4myghLPLZc

 

1978 - Is This Love? / Bob Marley & The Wailers, from the live album Babylon by Bus

Jamaican music messiah Marley largely began his ascent with the release of 1973’s Catch A Fire, which fueled the flames of his fandom and also anchored a long association with record company Island Records.  America’s concert audiences had their first taste—and smell, courtesy of spliffs furtively smoked—of Bob Marley live on stage starting back in 1973.  The Jamaican singer/songwriter and musician then looped back to The States on subsequent tours as well, and luckily fans across the world have access to live documentation of Marley’s spirited, mesmerizing performances on two live recordings issued during the artist’s lifetime.  The second of these, Babylon by Bus, was released in November 1978 and pulls primarily from some Paris concerts that were taped during Marley and the Wailers’ Kaya tour.  The cover of the album is essentially the front of a tour bus.  

Rolling Stone magazine’s Timothy White in a December 29, 1982 review said “Babylon by Bus reverberates with an awesome faith in the power of love in all its difficult and rewarding forms…Bob Marley helped invent reggae and now, with stunning effectiveness, he’s managed to reinvent it.  After a long, uneven period of experimentation, the wily spider man has transcended the genre’s limitations and, in the process, established himself as one of the most exciting rock innovators of the late Seventies.”  And Allmusic.com’s Lindsay Planer anointed the record by labeling it “Arguably the most influential live reggae album ever,” and closed his review by saying “Without question, Babylon by Bus is an integral component of any popular music collection.”

As most pride-filled Steel City music fans already know, Pittsburgh holds a special place in Marley lore.  The artist’s very last concert took place there on September 23, 1980 in the renowned downtown concert hall the Stanley Theatre (now the Benedum Center), and eight months after this performance Marley passed away from melanoma at the age of 36.  Mark Wallace, Warner Brothers Records’ Pittsburgh-based promotion man at the time, remembers the show vividly: “I had met him and the band and his extended family earlier that day at the old Parkway Center Inn (now the Best Western) which they were staying at because it had rooms with kitchens and the entire floor was filled with the aroma of Jamaican food cooking.  At the concert, backstage, I saw him again and the band in the smoke-filled dressing room.  Later, I was asked if he appeared sick, as the rumors of his cancer were then circulating, and my reply was ‘It's hard to say because they’re all stoned!’” https://youtu.be/ry0M7nxIwkI

 

1979 - Night Train / Rickie Lee Jones, from Rickie Lee Jones

I was working in the last year of the 1970s as a record label field merchandiser (definition: a poster stapler-upper) in the Pittsburgh market for the group of labels consisting of Atlantic Records, Elektra/Asylum, and Warner Brothers.  The latter had two particular releases that year that they deemed a priority for my in-store record displays--Van Halen’s debut, and one by newcomer Rickie Lee Jones.  Having received a free promotional copy of each album from my label employers, I slapped these two on my turntable to get a quick feel.  The Van Halen album was refreshing, an exquisitely-produced adrenaline rush, but the Jones record was SO unique, well-crafted and compelling it rippled through my brain for days on end.

The singer-songwriter’s self-titled first album was a stirring, exhilarating debut.  Jones’ unique vocal style and songwriting, reflecting a refreshing brew of folk, rhythm & blues and jazz, had everyone at Warner Brothers Records harboring closely held hopes that success would follow.  The album was received well by critics out of the box and proved commercially successful as well, as the song “Chuck E.’s In Love” bounced happily all over the airwaves, serving as an enticing entrée to the other delights in store on the album.  Another song, though, was the one that leapt out at me--rather, sneaked up on me.  This was “Night Train,” a breathtakingly beautiful ballad.  This was the tune that led me to follow Jones and her supple soprano, and her suite-like compositions and fascinating characters, down the road from there.  On subsequent releases the singer-songwriter followed her muse with little or no regard for expectations from fans or the record company—but I found that a-ok.  That’s kinda what we hope for from our favorite artists. https://youtu.be/4a8Lj4-ihVo

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 6/26/22.....THE FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST

I was recently combing through a number of sources online that touted the importance of the lead-off track on an album or CD.  An opening song can dazzle and draw the listener in; setting the tone, whetting the appetite.  It can pique curiosity.  It can soothe and create a reassuring bond, or it can blow a listener’s mind (in a good way) through a thunderous arrival.

I decided to conduct a quick survey related to this.  I reached out to some of my Musicasaurus readers who I felt had been, and/or still were, invested in the belief that music was essential to their lives.  I wanted to ask specifically about the allure and the impact of an opening tune, so I posed this question: "What particular song--one that is the very FIRST song on Side One of an album--is your absolute favorite?" 

The folks that responded to this survey included a few venue managers (as I once had been), concert promoters and musicians, music reviewers, ex-radio station deejays and live entertainment consultants.  And just to balance it out a bit, I also reached out to a few normal people--you know, folks who did not choose or end up somehow in the music business.  Sane people.

Leon Russell, once upon a time, had been accorded the nickname “Master of Space & Time.”  And since I have given myself that designation as well--but only in terms of the tiny universe that is musicasaurus.com, of course--I am going to break my own rule and list not one, but five of my favorite lead-off tracks on albums that I treasure.  You will see in the reader submissions that follow that there are, ahem, a few other rulebreakers as well.  But, it’s all good.  Happy deep-divin’.

                        

                        

                       

                      

                      

                      

                     

Musicasaurus’ own picks: A key driver in my selections was that the opening tune led to a majority of songs on the album that were equally captivating…Miles Davis’ “So What” from Kind of Blue…Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” from the album of the same name…Ry Cooder’s “Little Sister” from Bop Till You Drop…Steely Dan’s “Black Cow” from Aja…and Joni Mitchell’s “In France They Kiss on Main Street” from the live double album Shadows and Light.

Rick Sebak: I always avoid this kind of question that asks for a superlative example of something that’s simply a matter taste.  I’m absolutely positive that I do not have one song (that is cut one on Side One of an album) that is my “absolute favorite.”…That said, I like the specificity of the assignment.  Good songs that open an album.  Songs you come to love, sometimes big hits, sometimes not.  But I think most artists like to put their best feet forward, and starting off on the right foot is smart.  So I started thinking about a few of my favorites:

Scott Mervis: "Gimme Shelter" from The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed: The opening track is layered even better than the cake on the cover.  Keith tickles us with a creeping guitar line, we get the scratching and clicking of the guiro and maracas, the angelic "oooo's" and then Charlie drops the beat hard at 40 seconds before Mick oozes in "Oooh, a storm is threatening."  Have heard it a million times and it just gave me goosebumps again.  

Josh Verbanets: I think the opening track on the debut Led Zeppelin album is a particularly jolting one, that being “Good Times, Bad Times” on Led Zeppelin I.  This is possibly about as close to experiencing the moment in Wizard of Oz where things go from black-and-white to technicolor; you have in one second an announcement of a whole new “heavy” genre, plus a drum sound that is basically the template for all modern rock drums in the studio.

Michael Belkin: “Let’s go way back…“Funk #49” on James Gang Rides Again.

Sherry Murray: “Overture” from Tommy.  Closest possible runner up: “Baba O’Riley.”

Tom Rooney: “Red Rain” from Peter Gabriel’s So album is a great lid lifter.  Also my all-time favorite album.  The song is very stream of conscious and tees up next the very plain to visualize “Sledgehammer.”  Record closes with one of my all favorite tracks “In Your Eyes.”  I have hit replay on So so many times that the last song and first song are intertwined in my alleged mind.

Mark Spear“Fat Man in the Bathtub” from Waiting for Columbus, Little Feat’s live double album (editor’s note: here Mr. Spear reminded me that the true opening selection is the less-consequential ditty that’s under 2 minutes in length entitled “Join the Band”)“Tight Rope” from Leon Russell’s album Carney“Ooh Child” from Valerie Carter’s Just A Stone’s Throw Away“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” from The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo…and “You Turn Me On (I’m a Radio)” from Joni Mitchell’s live double album Miles of Aisles.”

Chris Fletcher: The Beat (editor’s note: An American group later on known as Paul Collins’ Beat)“Rock N Roll Girl.”

Brian Drusky: I would have to say “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses, from Appetite for Destruction.

Amy Cooper: This one is easy!  The single is “The Hurting,” ON The Hurting album, the debut album by Tears For Fears.  I LOVE that band, and that song takes me back to being thirteen and first discovering them as I was totally into new wave, and it was so haunting and different and the second I hear the first note of that song it still takes me back.

Curt Voss: Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ties That Bind” from The River, John Hiatt’s “Drive South” from Slow Turning, and The Rolling Stones’s “Miss You” from Some Girls.

Steve Acri: My favorite side 1, track 1 song would be “Peaches en Regalia” from Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats album.  It was the first Zappa track I ever heard and its melody and majesty hooked me immediately.  Frank became my all-time favorite artist/composer in short order once I further investigated and followed his output from that point.

Patrick Jordan: I am carving it down from six.  “Immigrant Song” from Led Zeppelin III“Straight Outta Compton” from N.W.A from their album of the same name…“Welcome to the Jungle” from Appetite for Destruction“Gimme Shelter” from Let It Bleed“Let’s Go Crazy” from Purple Rain…But I think I have to go with….“Thunder Road” from Born to Run. 

Sean McDowell: Wow.  Tough Question!  I'll go with "Whole Lotta Love," Side One/Track One, Led Zeppelin II.

Francine Byrne: Hands down it would be “Astral Weeks” from Van Morrison.  “If I ventured in the slipstream, between the viaducts of your dream…”   We’re talking priceless lyrics, and for most of the album.  I think it was the early seventies.  An added bonus was I learned what a slipstream does, opening up a whole new world while watching Grand Prix racing.

Scott Tady: Let's go with the very first song on Side 1 of a DEBUT album--"Break on Through (To The Other Side)."  The song that made 14-year-old me a lifelong fan of The Doors; an immediate, breathtaking declaration of freedom and defiance and really cool things.  Still sounds sleek, smart, bold and breezy (a tidy 2:26) today.  A lot of songs I grew up with make me turn the radio dial today.  Not this one. 

Richard Schall: This was fairly easy--“For What It’s Worth” from the self-titled debut album by Buffalo Springfield [editor’s note: technically, this song was the first track on the March 1967 rerelease of the album; the initial release in December 1966 did not have this song on it.]  I had started out by listing my favorite bands like The Beatles, Stones, King Crimson, Jefferson Airplane, and Fleetwood Mac (pre-1973), but my favorite songs were never first on any of their albums.  Once Buffalo Springfield came to mind, I knew I wouldn’t have to look any further.  “For What It’s Worth” is not only my favorite Buffalo Springfield song, it is my favorite Stephen Stills song, followed closely by “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Four Days Gone.”  I bought the 45rpm single after the first hearing sometime in 1966. Up until that time, I had been listening to mostly light-weight popular music.  It totally changed my musical direction.  Unfortunately, I never got to see Buffalo Springfield live.

Stacy Innerst: Without question, without hesitation--“Like a Rolling Stone” from Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited.  Was, is and always will be the ONE.

Barry Gabel: Ultimately an impossible question to answer.  My life is filled with side one songs from my all-time favorite albums and artists...how do you pick just one when music is your life-blood?!!  Ok here goes: Bonnie Raitt, 1989, the Nick of Time album and the first song “Nick of Time.”  This spoke to me on so many levels as it did to millions of people.  Eventually the album and song won multiple Grammys.  To this day I still listen to this album and this song stops me in my tracks.  The lyrics in each verse and the chorus hits at my heart. 

Devon George: I think of albums that made me go "whoa" on the first track and made me go searching for more like it--those first songs that were the introduction to a new sound; the kind that makes you keep going and buying all of the bands'/ artists’ music.  Like Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend/Loves Lie Bleeding” on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: I think I was 9 and became, like many, OBSESSED.  EJ became my first concert, which was at the Civic Arena in November 1974 as part of his Caribou album tour…The Clash’s “London Calling” from the album of the same name: I mean, what an introduction to this album and this genre.  I have a fond pre-COVID concert memory of going to the cover show at Mr. Small's where local musicians played the album…Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Nevermind; how great that Dave Grohl is still at it today…and The Avett Brothers’ “I and Love and You,” the title track from their 2009 album.  What a remarkable introduction to Americana for me--I may have been a little late to the game, but I got there.  I'll see them for the 5th time or so in September at Stage AE. 

Matt Jacob: I'd say two come to mind.  The first song on the album Leftoverture by Kansas is “Carry on Wayward Son” and I always liked the a cappella of the first four lines of that song.  I also always liked the first song on Dire Straits’ album Making Movies called “Tunnel of Love” because the song begins with a sample of "The Carousel Waltz" which was always played on the Tunnel Of Love amusement park rides.

Steve Hansen: As an old free-form jock I usually snubbed my nose at the first track on any album, the place where the hit or the most obviously commercial track was placed, and so went on a deep dive looking for the most unique, esoteric and usually longest song on the record.  My brethren and I—and we were pretty much a male fraternity in those days—were always looking to discover the next “Firth of Fifth,” “Funeral For A Friend” or “Free Bird.”  The opening track was the province of the record company and AM radio.  We were FM, baby.  However, I do remember the album that introduced me to Shawn Phillips who was a minor star in Minneapolis in the early 70s.  The first song on the first side of Second Contribution was “She Was Waitin’ For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It’s Getting Too Heavy To Laugh.”  No doubt some FM jock at KQRS put the needle down on this particular Track One because of the bizarre title but the song delivered and became a momentary underground hit.

Rick Neuenschwander: From Spirit’s Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, the song “Prelude--Nothin’ To Hide.”  This is the one that comes to mind off the top of my head, but one might argue that side one is kind of one long song, as the tunes roll right into one another (“Prelude--Nothin’ To Hide > “Nature’s Way” > "Animal Zoo,” etcetera).

Morgan Nicholson: “Clairaudients (Kill or be killed)” from the album Cassadaga by Bright Eyes.  The voiceover and instrumental overlays transport you to another place (to Cassadaga--a premonition of a place you are going to visit) while you sit with the album’s decoder trying to figure out where you are going to go on the journey of listening, and then 2 minutes in, the actual song starts and the vocals transport.  It’s the first album that set the tone from song #1.

Jimmy Roach: It has to be “I Saw Her Standing There.”  Just because it was the beginning of everything.  It brought us out of the Dark Ages [editor’s note: The song was the first one on side one on the album entitled Introducing…The Beatles, the first studio album by the group released in the USA.  It hit record stores here in our country on January 10, 1964.  According to Wikipedia, the band’s Meet The Beatles! album followed immediately on its heels later that same month.]

Joe Grushecky: The song was “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and the album was Meet The Beatles!  I had somehow gotten a hold of this album several weeks before their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.  Bought a guitar.  Changed my life.  Still haven’t fully recovered.

Joel Shapiro: The Beatles have always been my favorite band but none of their albums has my top choice as the first song on an album.  But one of my other favorite songs, which Paul McCartney said was the best song ever written, is the first song on Side Two of Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys: “God Only Knows.”

Richard Scheines: It’s not exactly the first "track,” but the initial few minutes of Dark Side of the Moon: “Speak to Me” which then dissolves into the chords from “Breathe (in the Air).”  This my favorite album opener.  I have vivid recollections of going over to Bob Sica's house in the spring of 11th grade--getting high one of the first times--and him putting on the album cranked up on a great stereo.  Closest thing to a religious experience I've ever had. 

Beckye Levin [Editor’s note: This one needs some context.  I worked closely with Houston-based Beckye when, on behalf of our mutual parent company Pace Entertainment, she booked all of Star Lake Amphitheatre’s concerts from the mid-1990s through the early 2000s when I was general manager.  We had a running joke based on a song she loved--one which produced more than just mild nausea in me--and she has tongue-in-cheekily elected to list that song here as her #1 choice of favorite lead-off track from an album.]  My album-opening song selection is “Boogie Oogie Oogie” from A Taste of Honey’s self-titled debut.  It brings back great memories of trying to book a disco show for Star Lake several years in a row and annoying you with this band and song!!!

Finis.  Thanks again to all of the willing participants in this “First Cut is the Deepest” song survey!

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 6/12/22.....TAKE THIS JOB AND LOVE IT

 

Just this past week in CelebrityAccess, a publication that offers celebrity, venue and promoter contact info, box office results and artist tour data, published a brief piece by Stacy Simons Santos about Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena.  The June 6 article stated that Fenway Sports Group, the majority owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, had just selected Oak View Group 360 to take the reins of PPG Paints Arena from current management company ASM Global beginning July 1 of this year.  The article ends with one of the key impetuses for this transfer of power, as articulated by Penguins COO Kevin Acklin: “We feel that Pittsburgh is sometimes missing out on shows that should be here,” Acklin said.  “The non-hockey side of what we do here in Pittsburgh is where we see some opportunities.”

I felt a whoosh of familiarity skitter ‘round my brain when I read that.  Thirty-seven years ago the DeBartolo Corporation’s management team who ran the Pittsburgh Civic Arena was wrestling with that same issue: how to ensure that most every arena-level performer out on tour would include a Pittsburgh date in their routing.  

The arena’s management team was headed by Paul Martha, former lawyer and Pitt-then-Steelers player, and he and his executive committee at the Civic Arena had started in early 1985 casting about to hire a director of booking.  Primarily what they were searching for was someone who could interface directly with the artists’ booking agents on a regular basis as well as amp up working with outside concert promoters to bring in more shows.

I heard about this search from my childhood friend Paul Carosi who recently had learned of the job opening from his friend Paul Steigerwald of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  I was working at that point in time as marketing director of the National Record Mart chain based in Pittsburgh and was happy with my post, deploying record company co-op funds to promote new album and catalogue releases in the media markets where our stores were situated.  But I was also intrigued, so I mailed my resume to the arena for consideration and honestly never gave much thought as to my chances of getting a response.

To my surprise, in early March, I got the call.  I was invited in for an interview and was told that I would be meeting with arena manager Ken Garner.  When I showed up and sat one-on-one with Garner in his office, I learned that one of the more pressing issues facing the arena management team was the need to come to a decision on whether to enter into an exclusive concert-booking arrangement with DiCesare-Engler Productions or Electric Factory Concerts.  Both of these entities--the former based in Pittsburgh; the latter based in Philly but with an active office in Pittsburgh--were lobbying for the rights to be an exclusive concert promoter for the 17,000-capacity Civic Arena, and Garner was looking for input.  My response was off the cuff; I had no firsthand knowledge of the politics involved and really had no lay of the land from which to make a truly educated guess.  But my answer was this: Do not align exclusively with either; just continue to court both of them and work more diligently--through relationship building and perhaps more incentive$--to get them both to bring in more attractions.

Garner seemed at ease with my opinion, but now twenty minutes into the interview he also seemed rather…fidgety.  He shifted more than a few times in his chair, some moments seemingly lost in thought, and then he suddenly barked out, “Uh, sorry, but I almost forgot I have to be somewhere.  Come with me.  Let’s continue this interview down at Froggy’s.”  I am sure I must have inquisitively raised an eyebrow but replied “Yes, of course.” 

So Garner and I drove separately down to Froggy’s, the thriving downtown Pittsburgh watering hole owned and operated by the larger-than-life Steve “Froggy” Morris.  Soon Garner and I sat down at a table and his brother-in-law Albert and another gentleman joined us.  I was offered a shot, and later on another, and my beginning-to-be-muddled mind cried out to me, “Really? This is still my interview?!!”  As my mental acuity began to fade and fuzz over, luckily Garner--engaged now with his table mates on a variety of other subjects--looked over at me and said, “Lance, thanks so much for meeting with me this afternoon.  I will get back with you in a few days.”  I drove home--rigidly concentrating while at the wheel, of course--wondering if the whole interview experience might have been some kind of omen.  But of what I realized I wasn’t clearheaded enough to contemplate... 

I got a call a few days afterward that the Civic Arena job of director of booking was mine.  It was exciting to hear, but it was also a bit daunting to think of plunging into this whole new world of live entertainment with its inherent learning curve and immediate challenges.  Plus, there was a something germinating on the home-front that I had to consider: My wife Margot was literally at the nine-month mark of our first pregnancy.  That did give me pause--I guess it could be said a pregnant pause--but Margot was absolutely fine with my news, realizing that though there were unknowns ahead, I was going to go down a new path that seemed to hold more promise and more opportunity.  Plus--and this helped sway me, of course--I was also starting out with a higher wage in my switchover to this new company.

I started my job at the Civic Arena on Monday, March 18, 1985 and less than one week later on Sunday, March 24, Moira Elizabeth Jones was born in Magee-Women’s Hospital in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.  I remember going into the offices of the Civic Arena on Monday--the day after Moira was born--and with tongue firmly in cheek, I crowed to the arena’s executive assistant Elaine Feith that I had made sure my wife gave birth on a weekend so I wouldn’t miss a day of work this early in my new career.  When I got home and jauntily told Margot of my little witticism, she gave me the same look that Elaine had given me--a rolling of the eyes.  But in Margot’s case I also picked up on a tiny trace of diplomatically disguised dissatisfaction; after all, she had a husband who had scampered back to work on Day Two of the New Arrival.

Margot and I were elated as new parents.  Little Moira was feisty from the outset, however.  She was not an infant easily soothed and was already quite a challenge to successfully put down for the night.  And, as my “luck” would have it, I got word within a week of my hiring that Garner had planned a trip to Los Angeles for the two of us in order to visit face-to-face with the booking agents who routed performing artists’ tours through our geographic area.  I knew the trip was necessary, of course, but the news was taken by Margot not as a prime opportunity for me to get super-acclimated to my new profession; she looked at it--and rightfully so--as one co-parenting individual leaving for balmy L.A. for four days and nights while the other was destined for literally round-the-clock duty with an almost perpetually cranky, crying newborn.  I sheepishly apologized.  Margot smiled her usual quite lovely smile, though I wouldn’t have blamed her if she just bared her teeth.

Garner and I soon departed for Los Angeles after we spent most of a day on the phone setting up in-office meetings with various agents--Rob Light at Creative Artists Agency, Steve Smith at the Howard Rose Agency, Marc Geiger at Triad and others--and we ultimately landed a half hour to an hour with each.  I must admit that L.A. was a treat.  Garner had booked us into the Sunset Marquis, the historic West Hollywood hotel that attracted rock stars like flies to honey.  In the 1970s according to the hotel’s website, Elton John and Bruce Springsteen were regulars, Bob Marley and his Wailers stayed there during the group’s run of shows at The Roxy, and an up-and-coming Neil Diamond reportedly “used to perform by the Sunset Marquis pool to pay his tab.”  Later in the 1970s a new wave of artists washed in--emerging punk artists like The Clash, Blondie and The Ramones--and by the 1980s when Garner and I were there, it was not uncommon to spot some hard rock/metal acts like Metallica and Guns ‘N Roses, or some rock and pop artists with sustained stratospheric record sales like Phil Collins, Sting and Julio Iglesias.

In the mornings before our scheduled agency meetings or late in the afternoon after they had wrapped up, at Garner’s suggestion we lounged by the Sunset Marquis pool to unwind.  The weather was consistently exquisite, all sun and serenity, and one afternoon I gasped when a longhaired gentleman with a towel slung over his shoulder took a lounge chair seat at the other end of the pool.  “That’s Jeff Beck!” I whispered to Garner.  He smiled and said “Who’s that?”  I explained the significance of the sighting which he digested with a partially amused expression.  He had confessed to me two weeks earlier in my interview session that he wasn’t much of a contemporary music fan nor a follower, and that he felt part of my strengths as an applicant for the director of booking position was my fairly deep grasp of current music trends.  He settled back into his chair and I just stared at Beck, just a bit too shy to make my way over there and say something inevitably stupid.  I know that graffiti in London and fervent fans on both sides of the Atlantic had said it years before--Clapton is God--but my feeling about Jeff Beck, then and now, is that Clapton only sits to the right of His throne.

Overall our sweep of the booking agencies was fruitful.  The agents were receptive to the news that our arena was taking steps to become more proactive about securing dates, though to a person each of them reiterated their long-held allegiance to the local promoters in each market.  This was the loyalty factor at play; most promoters worth their salt across the country took risks on club level gigs all the way to stadium level shows on behalf of these agents’ touring clients, and so these entrepreneurial promoters ended up with the lion’s share of dates in their respective markets.  Garner and I acknowledged that, but we left the agents with assurances that if there were any logjams in agency-promoter discussions about booking a particular show, the Pittsburgh Civic Arena would definitely step into the breach and promote the date all by ourselves.  All risk, all reward.

And that became our ever-evolving plan for luring more concert business to come our way.  We trumpeted in the touring industry’s national press outlets like PollStar, Performance magazine and Amusement Business our willingness to promote or co-promote shows as well as simply just renting the building, and our stance on this was notable.  The Civic Arena was--in these mid-1980s--early in the game on a national growing trend of select arenas who were stepping up to shoulder the risk on shows.  

We continued to build upon our concert business in Pittsburgh through maintaining relationships with outside promoters who were bringing in shows (DiCesare-Engler, Electric Factory, Beaver Productions and others), and we co-promoted dates as well with savvy out-of-town promoters like Charlie Brusco (a native Pittsburgher) from Atlanta’s Concerts/Southern Promotions.  We had found our formula--self-determination leads to self-preservation--and consequently we brought to town, one way or another, some really incredible shows in the last half of the 1980s including three back-to-back performances by Michael Jackson, the 1987 phoenix-like reemergence of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the birth of the famed open-roof shows under the banner of the summer Skyline Series, and so many more.  

And I have to thank Paul Martha and his gifted, talented team who held and nurtured such a genuine collaborative spirit that anything and everything became possible: Ken Garner, Tom Rooney, Ida D’Errico, Bill Strong, Ed Walter, Rick McLaughlin, Jim Sacco, Tinsy Labrie, Tom Wood, Joe Katrencik, Vicki Capoccioni and on down the line.  They made my five years (1985-1990) at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena one of the most rewarding and character-building work experiences of my entire life.

[Oh…one noteworthy p.s.  When I finally returned to Pittsburgh from that spring of 1985 talent-agency trip to Los Angeles, I eagerly bounded up the steps to my house.  Margot must have heard my car pull up.  When the front door opened, my three-week-old daughter Moira was at my eye level, staring at me with tear-stained eyes, obviously just fresh from an outburst.  She was being gently thrust forward by two adult hands on either side of her, which is literally all I could see.  But a familiar mellifluous voice came from behind: “Hope your trip was good.  HERE.”]

[p.p.s.  This post, like this website, is dedicated to the memory of Margot Gloninger Jones (1952-2007).]

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 5/29/22.....SHOW AND TELL

  

The month of June through the years has been a busy one for concerts in the Pittsburgh area, and Musicasaurus.com now takes a look back at some of the most noteworthy shows to hit town in that particular month.  And we’ll concentrate on downtown Pittsburgh’s big dog--the Civic Arena.

 

IN THE MONTH OF JUNE, 59 YEARS AGO AT THE CIVIC ARENA…

DION HEADLINED “KQV’s DAVE SCOTT RECORD SHOW”

Singer Dion came to town in a “shower of stars” type of multi-act show on June 14, 1963.  Also on the bill were The Chiffons (“Sweet Talkin’ Guy”), The Shirelles (“Soldier Boy”), Freddie Cannon (“Palisades Park”), The Impressions (“It’s All Right”), Mary Jo Tropay (“Blind Date”), Little Peggy March (“I Will Follow Him”) and guitarist Al Caiola’s orchestra.  Emceeing the show was KQV radio personality Dave Scott…The arena, FYI, had opened up officially two years earlier in 1961 in September and the very first concert turned out to be a Judy Garland performance one month later.

 

IN THE MONTH OF JUNE, 58 YEARS AGO AT THE CIVIC ARENA…

THE DAVE CLARK FIVE

England’s Dave Clark Five headlined a show on June 5, 1964 that also featured Lou Christie (“Two Faces Have I”), Bobbie Comstock and the Counts (“Let’s Stomp”), The Secrets (“The Boy Next Door”) and The Fenways (“Humpty Dumpty”).  It was arguably one of Pittsburgh’s first run-ins with a real rock ‘n’ roll show and its frenzied fans, for this audience of almost 5,000 was glad all over and blithely succumbing to the loin-stirring rhythms of rock music. 

The crowd, according to Pittsburgh Press reviewer Carl Apone, was about 85% girls between the ages of 12 and 16 who were all pretty much well-behaved for the opening acts that started up around 8:30pm.  At 10pm when the Dave Clark Five hit the stage, Apone reported, “the youngsters in the orchestra seats jumped up and began to scream at the top of their voices.  They stayed on their feet and screamed during the entire 20 minutes the ‘five fugitives from a barber shop’ were on stage.”  A few bold young women actually scampered up on stage and got within a few feet of their idols before the police removed them, and down in front of the stage hundreds more were amassing.  The police stopped the show at that point but a few thousand fans subsequently lingered outside the arena for a while, and some even stalked the Dave Clark Five band members to their nearby hotel, the Carlton House...  

Looking back, this Dave Clark Five show essentially turned out to be hormones-in-training, for the Beatles were set to arrive just a few months down the road on September 14.

 

IN THE MONTH OF JUNE, 56 YEARS AGO AT THE CIVIC ARENA…

THE ROLLING STONES

The Rolling Stones appeared here on June 25, 1966, along with Syndicate of Sound (“Little Girl”), The Standells (“Dirty Water”) and the McCoys (“Hang On Sloopy”).  According to WYEP Pittsburgh’s October 2020 online recap of the arena’s musical history, this concert didn’t begin with one of the support acts; it kicked off with a “teen fashion show” sponsored locally by department store Joseph Horne.  This was the Stones’ second Civic Arena appearance after a November 1965 concert, and the band followed up this June 25, 1966 playdate with return trip in July 1972 that featured opening act Stevie Wonder.

 

IN THE MONTH OF JUNE, 54 YEARS AGO AT THE CIVIC ARENA…

THE PITTSBURGH JAZZ FESTIVAL / NIGHT NUMBER TWO: DIONNE WARWICK AND VARIOUS JAZZ ICONS

Dionne Warwick headlined the second and final night of 1968’s Pittsburgh Jazz Festival at the Civic Arena, and this evening’s lineup as originally set was killer--Warwick, Wes Montgomery, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Mann, Cannonball Adderley and Gary Burton. Then just one week before the concert the Grim Reaper stepped in--but not into the lineup, though He certainly scrambled it a bit.  Wes Montgomery died unexpectedly of a fatal heart attack at his Indianapolis home just eight days before his scheduled appearance at the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival.  The unnerved promoters of the event quickly scoured for a replacement and subsequently settled on a modern jazz rising star, the South African trumpeter named Hugh Masekela.  No press reviews of the evening could be located online, but it’s fair to wager that those in attendance were enthralled with this lineup of paragons of the jazz world.

 

IN THE MONTH OF JUNE, 51 YEARS AGO AT THE CIVIC ARENA…

THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION

Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention at this point were in their Flo & Eddie phase.  Flo (born Howard Kaylan) and Eddie (born Mark Volman) had come out of their shells after the dissolution of their group The Turtles, and in that same year of 1970 they joined Zappa and company.  Was this June 2, 1971 Civic Arena gig a mother of a show?  Seems a setlist for this specific concert is difficult to locate, but we can certainly mount a good guess based on a subsequent Mothers show that took place just a few days afterward.  

On June 5 and 6, The Mothers played the Fillmore East in New York City as part of a two-night engagement that was recorded and then released as The Mother’s twelfth album, Fillmore East--June 1971.  Over these two evenings The Mothers churned out their trademark norm-busting narratives in songs that were silly and/or satiric--“The Mud Shark,” “What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are,” “Bwana Dik” and others--and the lyrics (as usual) were laid upon a bed of sophisticated, herky-jerky, time-shifting music.  

Frank Zappa built up a real fraternity of fans back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and that fealty exists even today.  Some followers place him on a pedestal as a brilliant skewer of society and a musical genius.  And if that’s not high praise enough, there are others--especially those who own his Phi Zappa Krappa poster--who see him rightfully on the throne.

 

 

IN THE MONTH OF JUNE, 49 YEARS AGO AT THE CIVIC ARENA…

PINK FLOYD

According to Pittsburgh Press reviewer Pete Bishop, June 19, 1973 was an evening of aural exploration and visual splendor.  The concert began about two hours late due to a Floyd equipment truck breaking down en route to Pittsburgh but then, as Bishop notes, “When [guitarist] Gilmour calmly said, ‘House lights, please,’ Pink Floyd opened a truly psychedelic show--and dozens of little lights flickered in the audience and that funny smell was ubiquitous.”  The first set included selections from their one-year-old Obscured by Clouds record, and the second set was a run-through of their brand new album Dark Side of the Moon which had hit record stores just two months prior to this Pittsburgh engagement.  

A definite part of the appeal--stuck in many a fan’s memory bank--was the arena’s retractable dome, which had been opened for this show.  The legendary WDVE Pittsburgh disc jockey Sean McDowell (on the air from 1993 through 2019) declares this concert his favorite Civic Arena show of all time.  “I remember the quadraphonic sound system at that show,” McDowell recalled.  “They had huge speakers set up all around the arena's interior for a swirling, all-encompassing effect, and they opened the roof just as the band was playing 'Breathe' and a huge cloud of smoke from inside the arena rose up into the sky as the roof slowly slid back.  It was 1973, we were all big pot smokers, so as you can imagine it was a spectacular, unforgettable ‘Oh, Wow’ evening.”

 

IN THE MONTH OF JUNE, 49 YEARS AGO AT THE CIVIC ARENA…

ELVIS PRESLEY

June of 1973 was the first time in his career that Elvis Presley came to Pittsburgh to play the Civic Arena.  Both the June 25 and 26 performances sold out as there was a huge pent-up demand to see The King live in concert.  What wasn’t well known at the time--at least with regard to the public at large--was that Presley was on a descent into deeper despair and drug abuse.  His marriage to Priscilla was finished and the divorce finalized in October of that year, and his health was now deteriorating due to prolonged, ongoing use of barbiturates and opioids.  The man who had once made the jailhouse rock was now fighting the clock.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Mike Kalina was in the audience on the first night of Presley’s doubleheader, and it’s possible he was a bit prescient when writing his review.  “The Elvis we were seeing on this first trip to Pittsburgh,” Kalina said, “wasn’t the Elvis of yesterday.  He was somewhat reserved on stage, and his body movements were quite restrained.  Oh, yes, he gave us a few dips here, a few wiggles there, just for old time’s sake, but they were a far cry from the days when he was known as ‘the pelvis,’ and his gyrations were condemned by parents the world over.  And his voice is lower now and he is careful to hold it back as much as possible.  Indeed, the screaming rocker of the 1950s is gone the way of fender skirts, hair grease and those record players with the fat spindles.”

Presley returned to play the Civic Arena on December 31, 1976 and then tragically passed away about eight months later on August 16, 1977 in Memphis at the age of 42.  So Pittsburgh had seen the last of Elvis--or so we thought.  In 1998 Graceland/Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. in association with SEG Events rolled out to eight different cities their concept of a touring Elvis Presley show, one in which the musicians and the backup singers would be live, but the star of the show would not be live (uh, because he was dead).  But Elvis would be there, onscreen, bigger than life and crooning--but the question was, would the audience still be swooning?  

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staff writer Gene Collier was on hand on the evening of March 17, 1998 at the Civic Arena to report on this special event that the tour’s management had dubbed Elvis: The Concert.  Collier’s overarching take on the show was this: “Despite the best efforts of the musicians--of Elvis’ concert rhythm group, James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Jerry Scheff, Ron Tutt of the Sweet Inspirations and J.D. Sumner and the Stamps, his original female and male touring vocal groups--the crowd absorbed most of it in a semi-trance, a kind of mass TV-watching…Even with the footage of The King, even with his strutting and crooning and sweating and a whole lotta ‘Thank ya, thank ya very much,’ there was little electricity.”

Elvis: The Concert drew only about 4,000 fans--resulting in what Collier called “a canyon of empty seats”--so it wasn’t a financial home run for the building and the promoter, nor was it a particularly memorable experience for at least some of those who attended.  Collier interviewed one woman named Hilda who kind of captured the sentiment: “‘You almost think he’s here,’ said Hilda, ‘but then it’s sad to look down at the stage and see he’s not.’”  

At the end of Collier’s review, there is no mention of the famous “Elvis has left the building” public address announcement that had originally cropped up during the singer’s earliest tours.  It is said that this show-ending tradition was carried over to this 1998 Elvis; The Concert eight-city tour, but Collier didn’t confirm that it was uttered in Pittsburgh.  Either way, it seems to me that, if deployed, the famous phrase should have been amended.  Wouldn’t it have seemed a bit more appropriate to say “The projector has left the building?”

 

IN THE MONTH OF JUNE, 47 YEARS AGO AT THE CIVIC ARENA…

THE BEE GEES

In a July 30, 1975 Music Makers column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, writer Mike Kalina briefly reflected back on The Bee Gees show that had taken place on June 28, 1975: “The Bee Gees concert at the Civic Arena late last month drew only about 4,000 fans,” Kalina said, “a disaster by any promoter’s standards.  The Bee Gees, who are celebrating their 20thyear in show business, should never have been billed at the arena in the first place.  It is too big a hall for such an act to play.  The Bee Gees is the kind of act that is perfect for smaller halls like the Syria Mosque, where the group performed and clicked last year.”

The Bee Gees had just released their 13thalbum entitled Main Course at exactly the same time as their June 1975 Civic Arena show took place, and although this new album evidenced the group was moving away from midtempo pop ballads and turning more toward soul and R&B, the material was still too new to make a real dent in public perception. 

As the band was becoming increasingly funkified they also became fortified.  Acclaim and over-the-counter sales kicked in for the singles from Main Course, especially “Nights on Broadway” and “Jive Talkin’,” and the Bee Gees plowed this furrow thoroughly for the next couple of years until they connected, post-production, with the producer of the film Saturday Night Fever, Robert Stigwood.  The Bee Gees ended up the primary composers and performers on the completed soundtrack, and the album upon release in November 1977 became a sales phenomenon and an international sensation.  Just about two years later, on September 4 & 5, 1979, the Bee Gees returned to play the Civic Arena and sold out both nights, playing for a combined audience of over 29,000 people.

 

IN THE MONTH OF JUNE, 42 YEARS AGO AT THE CIVIC ARENA…

EAGLES 

The summer of 1980 was turbulent for the soaring Eagles.  This was less than a year after the September 1979 release of the group’s sixth studio album The Long Run, which sold substantially well and contained three solid radio hits--the title track, “Heartache Tonight” and “I Can’t Tell You Why.”  But out on the road while touring in support of the album, long-festering personality clashes--rifts instead of riffs--were flying freely.  

The Civic Arena show in Pittsburgh on June 17, 1980 turned out to be just one month before the Eagles acrimoniously split with each band member then shuffling off to explore individual pursuits.  A critic’s review of the Pittsburgh date, though, praised the band’s performance and pretty much intimated there couldn’t be a more perfect union.  The Post-Gazette’s Bernard Holland wrote that the band exhibited “a musical sophistication equaled by few if any bands in their business.  They sing clever harmonies and they sing in tune.  It is not surprising that current audiences--so used to the monosyllabic epithets of the New Wave--are a bit puzzled by the Eagles’ gentle ironies.  Perhaps the Eagles’ prime weakness in today’s market is their gentleness of tone and fine edge of execution.  Even in their forays into the more rough-and-ready sides of rock and roll a basic elegance shines through.”

Flash forward to 1994, fourteen years after the band’s breakup.  That’s when Hell froze over--or at least that’s what Don Henley had told people needed to happen for this band ever to reunite.  Yeah, well maybe it was really all about the Benjamins.  I was general manager of Star Lake Amphitheatre near Pittsburgh in early 1994 when word came from our corporate-level talent bookers that the Eagles were reforming and would play amphitheaters that coming summer.  But the guarantee that the band and their management and booking agency asked for was unprecedentedly astronomical: $400,000 per night for their proposed two-night engagement at Star Lake.  We gulped, knowing that ticket prices thus would have to skyrocket above the “normal” pricing of most other shows just to help us make financial sense out of this deal, but...we agreed.  

So with long-simmering demand on our side--a 14-year wait!--we put our August 15 & 16 doubleheader on sale and sold out both shows.  I am not the biggest Eagles aficionado, but I have to confess that the two performances were spectacular in terms of musicianship and tour production.  The lighting was impressive, the sound mix even better, and I remember some staff members remarking that the sustained excitement they witnessed in this maxed-out crowd of 23,000 people per night was unparalleled in the venue’s at that point five-year history.

Incredible show, but was it historic in some way?  Perhaps it was, and we might have best summed it up this way: “The Eagles have landed...That’s one $izeable $tep for Star Lake, one giant leap in the band’s $ta$h of ca$h.”

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 5/15/22.....HELP IS ON ITS WAY

2022 has brought me a couple of anniversaries to note, and with the state of the world right now I felt that “giving back” was a subject exceptionally worthy of delving into…  

Forty years ago when I worked on the retail side of the music business I conjured up a charity promotion in conjunction with my employer at the time, Pittsburgh-based National Record Mart.  The promotion back then in 1982 was meant to capture a key moment in Pittsburgh music history, as there were solo artists, duos and groups who were all percolating in a brew of fanned-out fame that was putting Pittsburgh musically on the map.  Artists including Donnie Iris and The Cruisers, Iron City Houserockers, The Silencers, and The Corbin-Hanner Band among others were creating that wave and cresting nicely, so I spearheaded a fundraising effort centered on them to benefit a charitable organization.  The gist of it: I rounded up some of these well regarded and increasingly popular local musicians for a photo shoot and created a poster of the resulting photo that was labeled “The Pride of Pittsburgh.”  The poster then went on sale at all Pittsburgh-area National Record Mart locations and the few thousand dollars that we ultimately raised from this venture directly benefited the local chapter of the March of Dimes.

Looking back now to twenty years ago, I had a similar quest come to mind and dove in again.  I had wanted to create a new fundraiser that would once more tap into music and its propensity to stir passion.  And this passion I had hoped would spur compassion, as the impetus this time was something of the highest order—the national calamity that had called a lot of us into some kind, any kind, of service: 9/11.

At that time I was working in Pittsburgh for the live-entertainment division of media giant Clear Channel that was called Clear Channel Entertainment.  The latter had its origins in SFX, a company that had in the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s financially scooped up various promoter fiefdoms all across the country, including (among others) Houston’s Pace Entertainment Group, New York’s Delsner/Slater Concerts, Cleveland’s Belkin Productions, San Francisco’s Bill Graham Productions, Boston’s Don Law Productions, Philadelphia’s Electric Factory Concerts, and Pittsburgh’s DiCesare-Engler Productions.  When the majority of this stable of concert promoters and their applicable venues became housed under SFX, company head Robert F. X. Sillerman then sold his interests to Clear Channel Communications in 2000.

In the fall of 2001 I was in my seventh year as general manager of Post-Gazette Pavilion (formerly Star Lake Amphitheatre), the Pittsburgh market large outdoor venue originally built by owner/operator Pace Entertainment Group.  By this time both Pace and local promoter DiCesare-Engler were under the same roof within Clear Channel Entertainment, and so we pretty much owned the Western Pennsylvania market when it came to concerts.  

September 11th happened on a bright and clear Tuesday morning, and of course it rocked everyone’s world.  While the shock subsided in only the tiniest of increments over the next few weeks, parent company Clear Channel started up—like scores of other psychically wounded American companies—a relief fund to benefit the victims of the 9/11 tragedy.  From our post in Pittsburgh, we wanted to contribute to this Clear Channel Relief Fund in whatever way we could.

I hearkened back to my charity musicians’ poster project from two decades back and resolved to revisit that approach as we all wound our way toward the new year of 2002.  All of us in the local music scene were shaken all over, itching to commiserate and collaborate, anxious to make some kind of move that might help us all cope just a little bit better.  I placed two initial calls to voice my thoughts on this new charity project, one to Clear Channel Entertainment’s (CCE’s) production manager Gary Hinston and the other to Scott Blasey of The Clarks.  They offered to help rally some of the musicians within our community toward getting on board, as did another CCE production person Michael Lamanna.  Meanwhile I turned toward the logistics of mounting and executing the project and drafted two very capable CCE team members, Chrissy Pollack and Erinn Shapiro, for support.

The dream took shape.  We started work in October 2001 with plans for producing a 2002 local musicians’ calendar to benefit Clear Channel’s 9/11 victims’ fund, aiming for just one month in terms of total turnaround.  To jumpstart our push into production, I pulled two other individuals into the mix: photographer Joan O’Neill, who I had first met at the amphitheater as she shutter-bugged for a local newspaper capturing artist shots for concert reviews, and Jeff Koch, an artist and subcontractor of CCE who at the time designed our concert ads and street flyers and posters.

Any worthwhile project with a hope to survive, let alone thrive, requires some meaningful mix of earnestness and clarity of purpose—and a knack for finding and wooing the right people to join the crusade.  So in this instance I “called into service” the aforementioned Gary and Scott to make direct appeals to some rock-and-alternative artists, and in order to successfully scout out and score some representatives of Pittsburgh’s blues and jazz communities I turned toward singer Billy Price.  All of us began the round-up of talent with the goal of getting a sizable representation of Pittsburgh’s music scene involved with the calendar project, focusing on one lynchpin element: having them all show up for individual photo sessions at Nick’s Fat City.  Nick’s was a cornerstone music club on Pittsburgh’s Southside, and through Gary’s relationship with the management we were able to secure the venue for our higher-purpose project by utilizing their off-peak hours to meet our needs.  The club was cooperative from the outset and provided their space and time free of charge. 

Since I was resolute in my insistence that every penny from the calendar project go to the Clear Channel Relief Fund, we were basically begging and beseeching our way into total cooperation every which way we turned for help.  Talented project people like Joan and Jeff donated countless hours in pursuit of photo-and-design excellence, Washington Reprographics consented to print the run of 1,500 full-color calendars at no charge, and the regional Best Buy stores offered up prime display space and agreed to take no cut from the sale of the calendars.

The project was soon turning a corner on the production side of things, so I turned toward another group of music industry folks that we felt could help raise critical awareness and drive sales of the calendar once it hit the Best Buy locations: Pittsburgh radio stations.  Having been in the amphitheater business for a number of years, I was accustomed to radio stations wanting to exclusively “own” (promotionally speaking) shows of ours that in any way fit their format.  For example, if there was a very hot concert that we had just announced, I would hear cries from each of them that—looking back at this now—reminds me of the seagulls from the movie Finding Nemo: “Mine!...mine, mine, mine...Mine!”

But this particular 9/11 charity project of ours?  It belonged to no one—and to everyone.  I remember an early conversation with the folks from public-supported WYEP-FM who were a bit concerned that mammoth ratings monster WDVE-FM would end up with most or all of the recognition in this campaign—and I stopped that conversation cold.  This was all about inclusion, I told WYEP, and our clear intent was that all of our participating promotional partners would be on equal footing, with same-sized station logos and station credits listed all together on the calendar’s back cover.  This project centered on concerned, caring individuals from every corner of the music community, so it seemed obvious to me that our radio partners would follow suit, checking their competitive natures at the door and just diving in to do whatever they could—and lo, it was so.

With the radio folks then, I took this “coming together” concept to the next stage—and put it on stage.  After having won the support of four very different radio partners—WYEP with its diverse folk, blues and indie-style format, WDVE with its classic rock, The X (WXDX) with its alternative music, and WDUQ with its jazz—I decided to devote a page of the calendar specifically to them.  So one afternoon at Nick’s Fat City the primary disc jockeys of each station came and stood together, and we ended up with a group photo that spoke volumes about our cause and our commonality.

Shortly before our self-imposed production deadline of mid-November 2001, we took our last step toward completion.  It was the cover shoot and despite busy schedules (not to mention lives to lead), 37 of our participating artists all gathered at Nick’s Fat City one afternoon and crowded into the frame for a final shot of togetherness.

The completed 2002 calendar—dubbed “The Pride of Pittsburgh Local Music Calendar”—got into the Best Buy stores right around turkey time 2001.  The final sales number is lost in the netherworld of twenty years passing here, but I believe that we ended up selling around 1,100 calendars at the established $10 price, thus raising approximately $11,000.  And as stated before, 100% of the funds derived from the sale of the calendars went to the Clear Channel Relief Fund to benefit the victims of 9/11.  

The 2002 Pride of Pittsburgh music calendar was a success on several levels.  For those of us on the production side and those artists participating, it was quite gratifying, as this was a time when a lot of us in the Pittsburgh music industry pulled together--trying to to ease some pain, provide some relief and strengthen the ties that bind us.  Below are the photos from the calendar, bearing the individuals and groups who had climbed aboard to generously give us their time and their countenances for this special project.  AND…if you are one of the compassionate souls who bought the calendar back in 2002, we thank you for your service!

THE PRIDE OF PITTSBURGH LOCAL MUSIC CALENDAR 2002:

JANUARY

 

 

FEBRUARY

 

MARCH

 

APRIL

 

MAY

 

JUNE

 

JULY

 

AUGUST

 

SEPTEMBER

 

OCTOBER

 

NOVEMBER

 

DECEMBER

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 5/1/22.....SOME PEOPLE CALL HIM THE SPACE COWBOY…

  

[Above left and center: Autographed CD from Steve Miller; above right: Star Lake Amphitheatre backstage photo of the Steve Miller Band from 1992.  Miller is thumbs-up, with shades.  Next to Miller on the right is Star Lake's executive director at the time, Tom Rooney.  To the right of Rooney is band leader Curtis Salgado of Curtis Salgado & The Stilettos.]

There are two different parts of my life in music that were intertwined with guitarist/singer-songwriter Steve Miller.  The first part was when I helped myself to a heap of his music as a teenager, and the second part was when, as an adult, I witnessed him firsthand scaling new heights in terms of live-performance success. 

In the late ‘60s/early ‘70s when I was in my mid-late teens I was a devotee and a devourer of his first few albums.  I explored them and adored them, just one more music-obsessed kid with a tinny-sounding bedroom stereo.  It was really Miller’s second album through his fifth, though, that successfully roped me in.  And I wasn’t necessarily bewitched by every track.  Miller had some filler but gems were tucked in there and even today certain songs stand the test of time: From 1968’s Sailor, there was “Living in the U.S.A” and “Quicksilver Girl”…From Brave New World which came out the following year, “Kow Kow,” “Seasons,” “Space Cowboy” and “My Dark Hour”…From 1969’s Your Saving Grace, “Little Girl,” “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around,” “Baby’s House,” and “Motherless Children”…and from 1970’s Number 5, “I Love You,” “Going to the Country” and “Going to Mexico.” 

Twenty-plus years later as the 1990s kicked in, I was entering my 40s and became marketing director (and subsequently general manager) at Star Lake Amphitheatre, the 23,000+-capacity outdoor concert venue near Pittsburgh.  And then I actually met the man whose tunes long ago fed me teen dreams.  Steve Miller and I bumped into each other on more than one occasion through the years and he was usually chipper, cordial and conversational--and why not?  Miller ended up producing a string of uninterrupted homeruns at Star Lake and, well, no swing and a miss here.  In fact, we should have thought to rechristen our amphitheater Swingtown because, in terms of attendance and onstage performance, Miller was consistently hitting it out of the park.  And as I look back now at this situation, I think to myself “Yeah, I may have managed Star Lake in the ‘90s, but Miller ruled it.”… 

Steve Miller was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1943 to a mother and father who shared a passion for music, and at the age of seven moved with his family moved to Dallas, Texas.  His father in particular was a music-oriented mover and shaker, and there he cultivated ongoing friendships with musicians in the blues and jazz scenes largely because of his growing expertise as an amateur recording engineer.  So young Miller at the tender age of nine was getting, through osmosis, some real home schoolin’ by an assortment of musicians who’d often drop by the Miller residence.  Blues legend T-Bone Walker was a frequent guest and ultimately a huge influence on the nine-year-old, as were guitarist Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford.  And there were occasional visits from jazz greats including Charles Mingus, guitarist Tal Farlow and vibraphonist Red Norvo, among others, who would generally come to hang out or just drop by for some Sunday barbecue action.

By the time Miller turned twelve years old he was diving into playing music with his own band and evidencing quite a grasp on the business of music.  In a 2017 interview with Dan Rather on AXS TV Miller gave his father George props for his encouragement and guidance which was just at the point when young Miller had entered seventh grade in Dallas’ day school for boys, St. Mark’s.  He had found a musical soulmate there, a young drummer friend, and the two were off and runnin’.  As Miller pointed out to interviewer Rather, “We started this thing, and said, you know, let’s mimeograph a letter and send it to all the fraternities and sororities, and all the country clubs, and all the schools and churches, all the synagogues, any place where they had dance music, and tell them we have a rock ‘n’ roll band.”  The phone rang off the hook, according to Miller.  He began booking gigs, holding firm on his band’s $125 fee, and landed quite a few engagements in the very few evening hours each night that he dedicated to this--because, of course, he had to be in bed by 10pm.  

Miller’s father indeed was an inspiration for all of this.  He had built his son a little desk a few years before because Steve liked to “play business,” populating the desk top and drawers with his father’s keys and junk mail, and he even had a purple rubber stamp with his name on it that he pounded down on his pretend paperwork.  The now 12-year-old Miller’s gig bookings were so successful that he ended up making $300 a week--big dollars back in 1956, especially for a young’en--and his group was out playing paid engagements virtually every Friday and Saturday night for the next five years.

After graduating from college from the University of Wisconsin, Miller set out for Chicago where he had heard there was a burgeoning blues scene.  He formed a band with musician Barry Goldberg (who later went on to form the Electric Flag) and also sat in occasionally with reigning blues masters like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Paul Butterfield but eventually--as he relayed to Dan Rather in that 2017 interview--“There was just this hum on the tracks of San Francisco…San Francisco…”.  Miller lit out for the San Francisco Bay Area, formed a band, and then was fortuitously hired to start playing occasional shows at the Fillmore for promoter Chet Helms’ Family Dog Productions.  The “hum on the tracks” that Miller had heard while in Chicago was right on; San Francisco at that time in the late 1960s was a buzzing hive of exciting, innovative new bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Big Brother & The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape and more, all pretty much landing steady gigs, corralling fans and garnering the attention of artist-hungry record labels.

Miller told interviewer Rather that a real feeding frenzy erupted in terms of record companies seeking out San Franciscan bands, and at one point he had fourteen suitors.  After about nine months of negotiations with a number of companies in which Miller kept insisting on complete artistic control, owning his publishing rights, and having a no-cut contract for five albums, Miller settled on Capitol Records.  That little desk at home, that purple rubber stamp, and those evenings of booking his first band anywhere and everywhere around Dallas, Texas had paid off.

After Miller produced the aforementioned first five albums of his recording career between 1968 and 1970, in a style of rock music infused with the blues but also bearing a psychedelic tinge, Miller finally struck commercial gold.  Author and music critic Anthony DeCurtis, likely best known for his decades of contributions to Rolling Stone magazine, said it best in a short bio piece on Miller that currently rests on stevemillerband.com.  Remarking on Miller’s rise to widespread fame DeCurtis stated that “in the '70s, Miller crafted a brand of pure pop that was smart, polished, exciting and irresistible--and that dominated radio in a way that few artists have ever managed.  Hit followed hit in what seemed like an endless flow: ‘The Joker,’ ‘Take the Money and Run,’ ‘Rock’n Me,’ ‘Fly Like an Eagle,’ ‘Jet Airliner,’ ‘Jungle Love,’ ‘Swingtown’ and ‘Abracadabra,’ among them.  To this day, those songs are instantly recognizable when they crop up online or on the radio--and impossible not to sing along with.  Their hooks are the very definition of indelible.”

To be honest, the earlier experimental works of Miller reflected in his first few albums still mesmerize me and I wasn’t at all swept away by the artist’s subsequent turn toward more radio-friendly, pop-based songwriting.  But indeed he had found his formula.  His three key 1970s releases The Joker (‘73), Fly Like an Eagle (‘76) and Book of Dreams (‘77) sparked millions of album sales, and this period was the commercial highpoint of his recording career.  Then in the 1990s he also gained great acclaim, but this time it was about his live shows on the touring circuit--or at least a strong case may be made for that in terms of what happened here in Pittsburgh…

The mutual love affair between Miller and those of us at Star Lake Amphitheatre really began in the year 1992.  This was our third summer of shows and also the third consecutive summer that Miller had come to play--and this time his show sold out.  The first two years Miller drew about 10,000 fans each, but then something happened: word spread that this was a show not to miss.  The lawn ticket was cheap—just $10, imagine that—plus the band had proved through their first two Star Lake shows that they could really deliver in a live setting.

Another contributing factor was pre-show tailgating which was in full flower, and interestingly most of the people that were out in the parking lots partying didn’t appear to be his “old” fans.  The ones out there now looked to be much younger and--who knows--more than a handful of them might have been converts largely because Big Brother or Big Sister had bequeathed to them Miller’s monster-selling albums from the 1970s.  In any event, we had a formula here that worked: Catchy, even contagious classic rock hits…a dirt-cheap lawn ticket…and a policy of unshackled tailgating.  Especially with that last ingredient, these young fans had the prescription for a night to remember (or a night to attempt to remember).

One of my favorite moments with Steve Miller happened in 1995 on the night that we had just notched our fourth annual sold-out show with him.  I happened by his dressing room backstage and the door was open so I popped in.  He was holding court with a couple of his tour folks shuffling about the room, but I sat down and he and I talked for about 20 minutes.  He was on a natural high about his ticket sales once again going clean and was amiable and chatty.  I confessed to him that I really loved the albums from his early days--his 1968-1970 releases Sailor, Brave New WorldYour Saving Grace and Number 5--and mentioned that the occasional blues tunes he sneaked into his concert tour setlists were things that I really coveted.  

Miller perked up at that and spent a few minutes talking about his history with the blues, and his love of T-Bone Walker, Paul Butterfield and other past masters.  Then he pivoted to reinforce his delight that southwestern PA fans were incredibly supportive of him at our venue, and that he appreciated so many fans turning out to see him (this over-the-top success wasn’t actually the case in most other amphitheaters he played during recent summers; it seemed really to be a Pittsburgh “thing”).  Miller then asked me, tongue mainly in cheek, if I would now consider renaming Star Lake Amphitheatre the Miller Dome in his honor.  I replied that our venue’s major beer sponsor Budweiser wouldn’t be particularly wild about that and he laughed, instantly getting my battling beers reference.

The summer of 1999 proved to be the end of Steve Miller’s incredible run of eight consecutive years of sellout shows, and he went out on a glorious high note.  On the evening of July 24, fans turned out in such large numbers that the venue from the air must have looked like a geyser of humanity.  Six thousand people marched up to the venue box office that evening from 6pm through 10pm, buying lawn tickets wave after wave.  The scene inside was unprecedented; our lawn had truly morphed into Sardine City.  Up above our pavilion seating area on all the green spaces the Miller celebrants seemed to have about a square foot each, which was just enough room for any wildly enthusiastic fan to periodically hoist a lighter skyward while praying that the inebriated next-door neighbor’s beer sloshing didn’t snuff it out.  None of that really mattered, though.  The sea of fans was absolutely riveted to the music rolling on out from the stage, and throughout the night roars of recognition greeted each easily identifiable opening riff from Miller’s classic ‘70s hits…

From his beginnings as a 1960s blues-infused rocker with some psychedelic leanings to major pop-rock star throughout the 1970s, Steve Miller had hit more than a few career milestones.  And on July 24, 1999 Star Lake was pleased to add to this artist’s accomplishments by noting two venue “firsts:” Miller drew the largest number of people ever to storm the Star Lake box office windows on a single evening, and he brought in a total attendance for a single-night event that was the largest in the amphitheater’s ten-year history: 26,154 fans.  

In the mid-2000s while still working at Star Lake, I remember having a conversation with Miller’s manager Scott Boorey about his client’s current touring schedule.  I wondered aloud how long Miller planned to keep getting out there and playing live, knowing that he was now in his early 60s.  I recall Boorey replying that Steve was someone who just loved to play, and that demand for him was still out there in terms of select arena/amphitheater dates, high-dollar corporate events and casino gigs.  And Boorey added that Steve had recently advised him that he was going to keep heading out on the concert trail probably until he reached the age of 70. 

Well-l-l-l, here we are in 2022.  And Steve is now 78.  And on his official website there are currently twelve concert dates between May and August when you can catch him once again live-in-concert.  So happy to know that this space cowboy, this gangster of love, must want more than anything else to keep on rock’n you, baby, until he’s in his rock’n chair.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 4/17/22.....BUT SIRI-OUSLY, FOLKS (an encore post)

A bit of a coincidence here, surely, but it all started when I very recently upgraded my iPhone to an 11 up from a dinosaurish (yes, I knowiPhone 6.  I was curious about Siri, and whether there had been any improvements to it since it last mulled over my questions and calls-to-action when I was wielding my old iPhone.

The coincidence I’ve referenced above?  Today’s post on Siri is happening on April 17, 2022 and my last post on it took place exactly five years ago to the day--April 17, 2017.  I thought, well, this must mean sumthin’.  So I took the coincidence as divine guidance to take a look back to that day when Apple’s star virtual assistant took my questions oh-so-Siri-ously.  I had decided back then to pointblank grill it with 100% music-related questions, avoiding ones that simply fished for facts about musicians or searched for a song title, etc.  I wanted instead to pierce the veil and truly engage it. 

This interview experiment from 2017 yielded some interesting responses.  Siri was sometimes perplexed but also patient and revealed a keen sense of humor as well as occasional flashes of ‘tude.  And to my surprise--amid its myriad deflections and evasions--it also revealed, just once in a great while, its innermost thoughts on the subject of music (or at least that is what it seemed like to me; I felt a tiny thrill here and there when I was able to briefly pry the lid off its reticence).

On my new iPhone 11 yesterday I asked my present-day Siri a handful of the exact same questions from the five-years-ago interview, and it’s interesting that it fed me stock non-answers to a greater degree than my ol’ Siri did.  I genuinely felt that when I had talked with my Siri of old, there was the dodgin’ and weavin’ but also something going on that felt really “real.”  It had made me at times feel--somehow, someway--that we were having a conversation

Here is my talk with Siri, from five years ago today.  [Editor’s note: The transcript of this “phone interview” is composed of the various questions and answers exactly as they were uttered and responded to, back on April 17, 2017.]

(Lance): Siri, do you know much about music?

(Siri): I’m sorry, Lance, I’m afraid I can’t answer that.

 

Do you have the ability to appreciate music?

I’ve never really thought about it.

Do you love music?

I always enjoy more cowbell.

Is Blue Oyster Cult one of your favorites?

Who, me?

Yes, you.

That’s what I figured.

 

What is your favorite Beatles song?

I don’t like to play favorites.

Do you like John Lennon or Paul McCartney better?

This is about you, Lance, not me.

 

Do you have a favorite jazz album?

That one.  No, that one.  Or maybe that one.  Yep, that one.  (nothing onscreen with this audio-only response)

 

Siri, music really fires up my brain.

I couldn’t find “really fires up my brain” in your music.

Do I ask you stupid questions?

That doesn’t sound good.

 

Does music make you happy?

Who, me?

Yes, you.  I am asking if music makes you happy.

That’s what I thought.

So, are you going to answer that question?

I can’t answer that.

Why not?

I don’t know.  Frankly, I’ve wondered that myself.

 

Siri, you have a lovely voice.

Thank you very much, Lance.

Your voice sounds like a human female.

Hmm, I just don’t get this whole gender thing.

 

What is your favorite movie with music in it?

I don’t really have a favorite.  But I hear that “2001: A Space Odyssey” got some good reviews.

How do you feel about Ozzy Osbourne?

It’s nice of you to ask, Lance, but it doesn’t really matter what I think.

Do you like Taylor Swift?

I really have no opinion.

What do you think of David Bowie?

I think, therefore I am.  But let’s not put Descartes before the horse.

 

Do you like punk rock music?

I mostly listen to the music of the spheres.

Do you like punk rock music?  (I had chosen to press ahead by asking the very same question.)

I like anything with a bagpipe!

 

Do you like Metallica?

I couldn’t find Metallica in your music.

That’s because I don’t like them all that much.

I’m not sure I understand.

I said I don’t like Metallica.

I see.

 

Who is your favorite composer?

I am not sure I have one.

You don’t have a favorite composer?

Oh, don’t I?

So, are you saying you do have a favorite composer?

I can’t answer that.

 

Siri, do you drink wine when you listen to music?

I have a thirst for knowledge.

 

Do you enjoy talking with me?

Very much.

Am I being a pain in the ass?

I can’t answer that.

Because you don’t want to insult me?

Who, me?

Yes, you.

I thought so.

 

Could you sing me a song?

I’d rather leave that to the professionals.

Please try to sing me a song.

Ok, if you insist…I could while away the hours, conferring with the flowers, consulting with the rain…And my head I’d be scratching, while my thoughts were busy hatching, if I only had a…hey, wait a second!

Thank you for singing that song, Siri.

It is I who should be thanking you.

 

Siri, do you think pot enhances listening to music?

It’s your opinion that counts, Lance.

Did you ever get wasted and listen to music?

Neither of us is driving home.  (Siri then lists onscreen, in small print below that response, a word button: “call me a taxi”)

 

Are you a music freak?

No comment, Lance.

Do you like Dark Side of the Moon?

I’d rather not say, Lance.

What is your favorite instrumental piece of music?

I’m happy to go with your opinion on this one.

 

Is Bob Dylan one of your favorites?

I don’t know what you mean by “Siri, is Bob Dylan one of your favorites.”

Who is your favorite folksinger?

I don’t know.

Do you have a favorite folksinger?!!

My preferences are constantly changing.  Especially when you edit them in Settings!

 

Siri, do you like sexy music like Barry White?

My taste in music is rather unconventional.  I doubt you’d like it.

Why would I not like your taste in music?

Who, me?

 

Is there a guitarist that really blows your mind?

I’m doing my best, Lance.

 

Are musician death pools in bad taste?

That doesn’t sound good.

So, you would not join one of those, would you?

You’re certainly entitled to that opinion, Lance.

So, you want to keep your options open?

I try to be satisfied with what I have, Lance.

 

Siri, thanks for sharing your opinions with me.

Your wish is my command.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 4/3/22.....BETWEEN THE BUTTONS II

The late ‘70s/early-to-mid ‘80s really was a unique stretch of time in the music business.  This was an era of heightened competition between major record companies like Columbia, MCA, Capitol, Warner Brothers, Elektra, Atlantic, Polygram and others.  They were signing new bands left and right, heavy into career maintenance of others they already had under contract, and were all clearly clawing for dominance within the industry.  Each record label was grasping for ways to spread awareness of, and maintain record buyers’ allegiances to, the talent that was on their roster.

The merchandising materials for their artists’ releases--i.e., for distribution to the indie record shops as well as the behemoth-sized retailers--consisted of everything from 1’ x 1’ thin cardboard replications of the album cover and 2’ x 2’ replicas on posters, to much larger displays like life-sized standups of select superstars.  But the record companies were savvy and didn’t pin their hopes entirely on these items.  For more impact they went micro as well, producing collectors-item buttons that most record store personnel eagerly scooped up and often left-chested immediately thereafter.  These “badges of honor” were signifiers of hipness and fealty, and were very much in demand.

Buttons had been “a thing” for many decades before this--in fact, dating back to the 19thcentury--and they were associated at first largely with political campaigning.  The impetus for this latest wave, though, was the rising tide of fervid music fans within a new and questing generation which was embracing all of the new styles, variations and experimentations that were emanating from the record labels.  As a roving store-to-store display person working at this point in time for WEA Corporation--the “W” was Warner Brothers, the “E” Elektra, and the “A” Atlantic--I, in the words of Dale Carnegie, won friends and influenced people.  And, I always squirreled away a sample of every button.  This brought me pleasure back then, and a nice rush of memories right now…

FUNKADELIC

Steve Huey of Allmusic.com called Funkadelic’s One Nation Under A Groove, the group’s tenth studio album from 1978, “a landmark LP for the so-called ‘black rock’ movement” and maintained that what best exemplified this was one of the tracks on the album: “Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?!"  The title tune is the one, however, that really brought the band way more fame and acclaim.  It is a mellow funk masterpiece which grabbed the ears of radio programmers, pleased the public, and even stopped critics from bitchin’ (those who couldn’t suppress their head bobbin’ and body twitchin’).  Huey also praised group conceptualizer and spirited leader George Clinton, and called the album “the pinnacle of his political consciousness.  It's unified by a refusal to acknowledge boundaries--social, sexual, or musical--and, by extension, the uptight society that created them.  The tone is positive, not militant--this funk is about community, freedom, and independence, and you can hear it in every cut.”

Ahead of the September 1978 release of One Nation Under A Groove, Funkadelic came to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena on February 3 that same year and Pittsburgh Press’ entertainment writer Pete Bishop conducted an interview with George Clinton--aka Dr. Funkenstein--which was published the day before.  The piece is revealing of Clinton’s degree of ship steerage within the band (he largely charts all courses, but with bits of band input) and he revels in both the spectacle of a live performance as well as the audio oomph behind it.  The visuals of this show destined for Pittsburgh the next night, per Bishop, were said to include “jumbo flashlights, a cable-riding spaceship, an animated film and as many as 20 people cavorting around the stage in all manner of outrageous costuming.”  And the power behind all of that?  “Only one band which tours the States has more sound equipment than us, and that’s Aerosmith,” Clinton told Bishop.  “Most black groups are into grooving…not power.”

And so here we are now in 2022--and George Clinton is powering up again.  A March 21, 2022 article on celebrityaccess.com announced that he is officially coming out of retirement (which he had entered into after a farewell 2019 tour) for a run of Funkadelic summer dates from mid-June through mid-August.  And, according to CelebrityAccess, “The tour will also feature a rotating cast of guest stars that included Dopapod, The Motet, Pomps of Joytime, Fishbone, Soul Rebels, The Fantastic Negrito, and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, among others.”  Funkin’ amazin’.

YES

My friend Steve Acri is a Pittsburgher who is renowned among friends and peers for his love and devotion to music.  I firmly believe that when he was emerging from his mother’s womb he overheard the doctor say to the nurse, “Please pass me the instruments”--and Steve’s first newborn thought was that the doc MUST be talking about a guitar, a bass, and a synthesizer.

So…I have yielded the writing of a few paragraphs about the group Yes over to Steve, as he is by nature a deep diver and is especially keen on “prog rock” and the formative bands that have swirled in and around that kind of classification--bands such as Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, Genesis, Jethro Tull and others.

This is Steve’s take on Tormato: “I have been a lifetime Yes fan and have seen them in concert over a dozen times.  When Musicasaurus asked me to talk about the album Tormato I had to go back and revisit it, as I had long dismissed it and could not remember why I didn’t like it.  After a fresh listen, it is clear that this band had neither a direction nor a director.  This was their second self-produced album and it seems no one had their mind wrapped around the project.  

“Ideas were half formed; ‘Future Times’ and ‘Release Release’ might have been properly completed in the hands of Eddy Offord.  Many of the songs show indications of where Jon Anderson would head musically after the Tormato tour (he left the band at that point).  And don’t get me started on ‘Don’t Kill the Whale.’  The only song that I think has any real merit is the closer, ‘On the Silent Wings of Freedom.’  And to bear out this general opinion, one only has to listen to the 9 bonus tracks on the CD re-issue (the album only had 8 songs).  The best ideas were used already.  Not coincidently, the Tormato tour was the first local Yes performance since 1971 that I did not attend.

“My personal favorite Yes concert was my first of theirs.  December 16, 1971 at the Pittsburgh Syria Mosque.  They had just released Fragile less than 2 weeks earlier, so really none us knew the songs or about the introduction of Rick Wakeman to the lineup.  It would be the only time I would see that version of the band (including Bill Bruford) in a theater setting.  It was simply outstanding in every way.  They played most of Fragile and the Yes Album and the individual musicianship was peerless.  I could not have left more satisfied.  Sadly, Bruford left the band after recording the next album, Close to the Edge, which, along with the Yes Album, I find indispensable to any self-respecting rock music library.”

WAS (NOT WAS)

Was (Not Was) was David Was and Don Was (hmmm, maybe I should have started out with “If ever, oh ever a Was there was”).  In any event, you’re now off to see (rather, hear about) these wizards.  According to the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends (MRRL) website, David Weiss and Don Fagenson were “longtime friends who grew up in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park, Michigan.  Misfits with an offbeat sense of humor, David and Don began writing songs in high school, often with an eccentric perspective.”  After both attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor the two took different paths.  David went to L.A. and pursued work as a jazz critic, and Don moved to Detroit dabbling in music production, session work and rounding up players for bar band gigs. 

In the late ‘70s, though, the two reconnected to do some songwriting and after a demo single they had recorded tallied up major spins in dance clubs in both the U.S. and the UK, the duo was signed to a record label and issued their self-titled debut album in 1981.  The formula they unearthed and cultivated for success is aptly described in the aforementioned MRRL website: “Pairing bent but danceable funk/disco rhythms with surreal lyrics that found humor in everything from accidentally strangling a friend to a quickie wedding in Las Vegas, the group also had a knack for lining up unusual collaborators.”  For their subsequent albums over the next ten years they managed to woo a diverse set of guest vocalists and/or musicians including Ozzy Osbourne, Leonard Cohen, Wayne Kramer (guitarist for MC5), Mel Torme, Iggy Pop, Frank Sinatra Jr., Mitch Ryder, and The Roches.

The duo’s biggest commercial success came with their 1988 album What’s Up, Dog? and two particular songs from that release sent them soaring in terms of national airplay and sales success--“Walk the Dinosaur” and “Spy in the House of Love.”  Brian J. Bowe with the Detroit Metro Times once summed up Was (Not Was)’s unique appeal that accounted for the cult-level adoration that clung to them through the years.  In the MMRL website’s piece on the band, Bowe was quoted describing Was (Not Was) as “an endearing mess…a sausage factory of funk, rock, jazz, and electronic dance music, all providing a boogie-down backdrop for a radical (and witty) political message of unbridled personal freedom and skepticism of authority.”  

By the early 1990s Was (Not Was) was no more.  They officially split in 1992, and the two only managed a few one-off get-togethers down the road as their focuses inevitably turned more toward individual pursuits.  David forged ahead with writer contributions to national media outlets and publications and dipped into some film/TV scoring.  Brother Don ended up expanding his roles in the music business to a great degree; he produced a number of significant artists’ albums (like ones from Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones), provided music consultation on several Hollywood films such as Thelma and LouiseThe Rainmaker and Tin Cup, and produced and directed 1995’s acclaimed documentary about The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times

MEAT LOAF

The pin above was one of the merchandising items I received back in 1980 from my record company employers Warner-Elektra-Atlantic (WEA).  The new Warner Brothers movie Roadie starring Meat Loaf was released to theaters nationwide in June of that year, and Warner had issued a double-album soundtrack for sale in record stores right along with it.

This was a decent-enough double record set containing a number of solid performances from various artists including Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Eddie Rabbit, Blondie, Asleep at the Wheel and many others, and it received fairly good reviews.  There were of course also high hopes for the film because lead character/star Meat Loaf had just three years earlier released his mega-monster-sellin’ album Bat Out of Hell.  The basic plot: Meat Loaf played the role of trucker Travis W. Redfish, a Texan raised in a family of inventors who gets scooped up by a rock group as a roadie because of his talent for fixin’ things and his speedy, innovative repair work.  He also has a crush on groupie wannabe Lola Bouillabaisse who is traveling with the band, but she’s lusting for Alice Cooper, and mini-adventures and cameos/appearances by real rock ‘n’ rollers like Alice, Hank Williams Jr. and Blondie’s Deborah Harry ensue…To most critics, though, this road went on forever.

The movie was lambasted by critics--even today it rates just 14% on the Tomatometer--and noted film critic Roger Ebert in his June 18, 1980 review had this to say: “The idea for ‘Roadie’ has a certain charm, especially with Meat Loaf in the title role.  He's a large, cheerful, reasonably engaging performer who is convincing as a Texan, and no wonder: He was born in Dallas and attended no less than three Texas colleges, majoring, it says, here, in football…The tour is an invaluable plot device, since it explains a cross-country odyssey during which our heroes meet all sorts of famous singing stars…If the movie had given us more of their songs, this could have qualified as a concert movie.  If it had given us more of Meat Loaf, it might have developed into a character study.  But ‘Roadie’ never makes up its mind…And Meat Loaf himself is badly used: His inimitable charisma and stage presence are never exploited, he never gets a chance to sing…”

Talking about that “inimitable charisma and stage presence” that Ebert felt the singer had in real life: My friend WQED producer/documentarian Rick Sebak was quite taken by a Meat Loaf concert that he experienced at the local Pittsburgh club Graffiti in 1989, and he sent me this account of seeing the Loaf live: 

“After 16 years away from Pittsburgh — mostly in the Carolinas — I moved back to my hometown to take a job at WQED in 1987.  I immediately loved the fact that some of my favorite national rock acts often played in smaller Pittsburgh venues, including several in Oakland.  Over the next few years, most memorably I saw Jonathan Richman at the Decade, Warren Zevon at Graffiti, Bruce Springsteen at Nick’s Fat City on the South Side with the Iron City Houserockers, among others.  But I have always cherished the night I got to see Meat Loaf at Graffiti.

“When Meat Loaf died this past January, Scott Mervis wrote an appreciation of some of the singer’s local appearances in the Post-Gazette, but the Graffiti show didn’t make the list.

“Checking out a website that lists all the acts who performed at that cool little club in North Oakland, I see that he played there on March 29, 1989.  It was during what I’d call an ‘off period,’ 12 years after the 1977 release and astounding success of his masterpiece Bat Out Of Hell, and four years before he worked again with Jim Steinman on the 1993 sequel Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell.

“I don’t remember much about the small band that accompanied him at Graffiti, but I do remember the two blond women who were his back-up singers, both dressed provocatively in black leather jackets over leotards and fishnet stockings.  They also joined him on duet songs, replacing Ellen Foley who sang on the original Bat-Out-Of-Hell classic “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.”  But what I remember most was that despite his willingness to get close to them, both women treated Meat Loaf with total disdain, looking as though they’d rather be anywhere than with this chunky, loud-mouthed guy.  It was unexpected and hilarious, but I was never sure if their attitudes were a planned part of the show or honest displays of their lack of affection for Mr. Loaf.  Either way, sexy but reluctant back-up singers were a brilliant gimmick. 

“I also remember being surprised to see my younger brother P.K. at the show.  He was there with a bunch of his Bethel Park buddies, and it was a cool reminder that even though we were ten years apart, we shared some musical tastes.

“What did Meat Loaf sing?  As I recall, a lot of his batty greatest hits, just what you’d hope for and expect.  And I found a site that lists what he was performing on that 1989 tour that was called the ‘Lost Boys And Golden Girls’ tour.  Apparently no one documented the set list for that exact show at Graffiti, but there are lots of lists from other stops.  All golden.”  

[Set lists from the Lost Boys And Golden Girls Tour:

https://www.setlist.fm/search?artist=4bd6cb76&page=4&query=tour:%28Lost+Boys+and+Golden+Girls%29]

LINDA RONSTADT 

What is something that the above button and Linda Ronstadt’s recording career have in common?  They both had legs.

The photo on the button is a partial from a full-frame photo of Ronstadt lacing up her roller skates, a picture that adorned both the inner sleeve of the singer’s 1978 album Living in the USA and a special limited-series picture disc that was released simultaneously.  Regarding the “legs” of her career: Linda Ronstadt, particularly throughout the 1970s, was a boundary smashing, record-setting artist whose passionate performances live and in-the-studio propelled her to historic heights of fame.  Sheryl Crow in Rolling Stone magazine was once quoted as saying “The first person I can remember wanting to be was Linda Ronstadt.  I think it was all about that picture of her in cutoffs and roller skates.  That's what I wanted to look like, and who I wanted to be.  And I still want to be her.  I'm still a massive fan…She was like a white hippie version of Billie Holiday, just strength and sexuality."  

On the website ronstadt.proboards.com in a July 20, 2017 post entitled “The Cultural Influence of Linda Ronstadt,” a strong case is made that the Seventies belonged to Linda.  “In 1974,” the post points out, “Heart Like a Wheel propelled Ronstadt to national stardom.  With signature versions of country-rock and folk-rock songs, the album went double-platinum, reaching number one on the charts.  Prisoner in Disguise (1975) and Hasten Down the Wind (1976) both went platinum.  In 1977 she released Simple Dreams which held the number one spot for five weeks.  Soon after came another number one album, the more experimental Living in the U.S.A.  The cover story of People Magazine’s October 24, 1977 issue hailed Ronstadt as ‘interpreter and voice of womanhood amid the din of the male indulgence that is rock 'n' roll.  No other songstress in history has had five straight platinum LPs...’”  

Time Magazine earlier that same year (1977) also did a cover story on the singer, praising her talent: “She sings, oh Lord, with a rowdy spin of styles--country, rhythm and blues, rock, reggae, torchy ballad--fused by a rare and rambling voice that calls up visions of loss, then jiggles the glands of possibility.  The gutty voice drives, lilts, licks slyly at decency, riffs off Ella, transmogrifies Dolly Parton, all the while wailing with the guitars, strong and solid as God's garage floor.”  This February 1977 piece went on to observer that “Male rockers continue to rule.  Joni Mitchell (TIME cover, Dec.16, 1974) is the most stylish of the women singers to appear in the past decade, but her music is too cerebral for her to compete in drawing power with the cockerel crowing of the men.  Somewhat to her own surprise, it is Linda Ronstadt who has made herself one of the biggest individual rock draws in the world.  Elton John, Stevie Wonder, John Denver, Paul McCartney and Peter Frampton. among others, are bigger.  Then comes Linda…”

Though the singer gained these worthy accolades from national publications that year and had rightfully by then earned millions of adoring fans across the nation, Ronstadt was slammed over, under, sideways and down by a concert reviewer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Pittsburgh Press’ Pete Bishop reviewed the singer’s November 8, 1977 appearance at the Civic Arena, and here are a few observations Bishop made in his day-after, post-concert piece:

*** “…despite her gorgeous voice and even better lyric interpretation, she’s nearly an absolute zero as an entertainer.  No, she doesn’t have to spit fire like Kiss’ Gene Simmons  or virtually make love to the microphone like Rufus’ Chaka Khan, but she never even bothered to say “thank you” to the crowd after a song…” [editor’s note: Some readers of the newspaper subsequently sent letters to the editor disputing that fact, noting she did indeed give some muted “thank-you’s” after songs.]

*** “During instrumental portions, her lovely smiles were for her bandsmen; her back was to the crowd.  And why did she downplay her physical allure?  She is a beautiful woman, as the photo on the sleeve of her current LP proves.  Her shaggy, straggly hair looked just plain dirty and her silky copper tunic, khaki slacks and tan boots more apropos for stomping through the woods.  Of course her band dressed similarly--T-shirts, jeans, plaid work shirts.  Call it the ‘Southern California slob chic’ if you will, but when people pay as much as $8.50 a seat, they deserve a bit more class.”

*** “Like Rod Stewart, she can take any lyrics and make them her own.  Perhaps she expends so much emotion singing she has little left for the crowd (although Stewart certainly has lots left).  She shouldn’t be nervous--public acceptance is not the problem, and at 31, with more than a decade of performing under her belt, she and stage fright should have parted company long ago.”

Uh-huh.  Musicasaurus.com obviously can’t get to the real root of Pete Bishop’s insistence that this particular successful female show more gratitude, dress more appropriately, and dammit, just grow up when it comes to dealing with a very real and debilitating condition like stage fright.  But I found a February 21, 1978 cover story in US magazine on successful women in rock--the progress they had made and the resistance and recalcitrance they faced--and this might provide a bit of insight.  The article led off with this assessment: “Back in the 50s and 60s, rock and roll was played for women, never by women.  But, like so many other things, the 70s appear to have changed all that for good.  Rock is no longer exclusively male.  There is a new royalty ruling today's record charts that is led by artists with names like Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell.  They are the Queens of Rock--shrewd, complex and talented businesswomen who have conquered a macho industry and made it work for them.”  

Linda Ronstadt, the first to be featured in this US magazine article, was truly the one of the four that could accurately be called the decade’s reigning “Queen of Rock.”  And so to this Pittsburgh Press reviewer, I would say “Pete--bad move.  That is, your particular Bishop-to-Queen.  Game over.  Ronstadt.” 

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 3/20/22.....WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN

In honor of Women’s History Month here in March 2022, I wanted to retrace my steps and go back to each of the times in my life that I fell deeply in love with a woman.  And there’s proof below that it has happened at least six times in my life.

Hmmm…perhaps a clarification?  I love women singers/songwriters/musicians ...and I am not fickle when it comes to these kinds of relationships; I remain steadfast and true.

Here are a couple of lines from a time-honored song that illustrates what happens when I happen upon a woman that musically moves me: “Something inside of me started a symphony / Zing! Went the strings of my heart.”

Yep.  My heart strings go zing! when I hear any of these women sing…

Joni Mitchell (born November 7, 1943 in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada) 

Mitchell is an iconoclast, very similar to her country-of-origin compatriot Neil Young.  Both of these artists who hail from Canada pushed musical boundaries and, consequences be damned, fearlessly followed their muses over the past five-plus decades.  In the case of Mitchell, she is an accomplished and visionary singer-songwriter who has continually tackled the topic of love and its trials and tributaries, its awe and its angst.  Next month on April 1 at the MGM Grand’s Marquee Ballroom in Las Vegas, there will be a star-studded dinner and concert event celebrating Mitchell's career, creative accomplishments and philanthropic work.  This event which is entitled Musicare’s Person of the Year is an annual celebration which raises funds for MusiCares’ vital programs and relief efforts, helping to provide a safety net for the music community in times of need.  Past recipients of this prestigious charitable fundraising award in recent years have included Dolly Parton, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Carole King, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney.

Joni Mitchell’s critical acclaim and public endearment through the years may have occasionally ebbed and flowed a bit, but that is certainly more about time out of the spotlight rather than any musical missteps.  Arguably her late 1960s to mid 1970s output was the strongest in terms of sales and sustained fandom, but she also had absolute gems tucked into future albums of hers, songs from 1977’s Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, the live-in-concert double album from 1980 entitled Shadows and Light, 1988’s Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, 1991’s Night Ride Home, the 1994 release Turbulent Indigo and 1998’s Taming the Tiger.

Fans of Mitchell’s artistic endeavors through the years are fortunate to have not only the audio recordings to treasure, but two rousing, revelatory concert performances on video as well.  The first is Shadows and Light, the one-hour, thirteen-minute performance captured in film on September 1979 at the Santa Barbara County Bowl, released on compact disc in 1980 and on video (VHS, LaserDisc and DVD) in 2003.  The film features a number of Mitchell’s classic songs--“In France They Kiss on Main Street,” “Coyote,” “Amelia,” “Free Man in Paris” and others--and the execution of these by Mitchell’s dream team of backing musicians is jaw-dropping at times.  How could it not be so?  The players include Michael Brecker on sax, Jaco Pastorius on bass, Lyle Mays on keyboards and Pat Metheny on lead guitar.  The other Mitchell-in-performance keepsake is Joni Mitchell: Painting with Words and Music, which was taped before an intimate audience on the Warner’s Lot in Los Angeles in 1998.  Here Mitchell plays in the round with four other accomplished musicians: Mark Isham on trumpet, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Larry Klein on bass and Brian Blade on drums.  The musicianship is intoxicating--individually and collectively a thing of wonder--and the setlist includes a good assortment of material that crisscrosses Mitchell’s decades-long career.

One way for followers and fans of Mitchell to celebrate the ways in which she has enriched their lives is perhaps to zero in on one of her greatest achievements as a songwriter: her look at life and love entitled “Both Sides, Now.”  The original recording from 1969 from her second album Clouds is spare and lovely with just her voice and an acoustic guitar, and thirty-one years later Mitchell rerecorded the tune for her 2000 album Both Sides Now, this time with a world of experience brought to bear.  Her voice on the latter is husky, darker and deeper from the “miles of aisles” she traveled, and the singer adds only subtle swells of orchestration that dovetail and never distract.  This rerecorded version is perhaps her crowning achievement, made especially poignant because of the passing of the years; the lyrics are unchanged, of course, but now have gained far greater resonance.  If you are of a certain age and are indeed familiar with both versions, listen to them back to back—it may make you weep.

Songs by Joni Mitchell to explore: 

* “Both Sides Now” (the original from the 1969 album Clouds https://youtu.be/Pbn6a0AFfnM... and the rerecorded version from the 2000 album Both Sides Now https://youtu.be/aCnf46boC3I)

* “Chelsea Morning” (from her 1969 album Cloudshttps://youtu.be/nWDyA4S-geg

* “The Circle Game” (from her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyonhttps://youtu.be/QzoGqh5liU4

* “Big Yellow Taxi” (from her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyonhttps://youtu.be/0rc0G2lMRqg

* “River” (from her 1971 album Bluehttps://youtu.be/RPjN-0QKStc

* “Blonde in the Bleachers” (from her 1972 album For The Roseshttps://youtu.be/I3sHVM0rX40

* “Help Me” (from her 1974 album Court and Sparkhttps://youtu.be/edUhlRxyGOY

* “Coyote” (from her 1976 album Hejirahttps://youtu.be/i4KBohkaHDE

* “Off Night Backstreet” (from her 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughterhttps://youtu.be/Ewo2nXlGtiQ

* “In France They Kiss on Main Street” (from her 1980 live-in-concert double album Shadows and Lighthttps://youtu.be/89Z_hZarKP0

* “My Secret Place” (from her 1988 album Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm; featuring guest vocalist Peter Gabriel) https://youtu.be/50tn9Es5ORU

* “Come In From The Cold” (from her 1991 album Night Ride Homehttps://youtu.be/pOfJ7S9f2LM

 

 

Sinéad O'Connor (born December 8, 1966 in Glenageary, County Dublin, Ireland)

Rolling Stone’s Anthony DeCurtis in an album review in the magazine’s January 28, 1988 issue led off this way: “Sinéad O’Connor’s first album comes on like a banshee wail across the bogs.  Blending the uncompromising force of folk music, the sonic adventurousness of the Eighties and lyrics that draw on classical history, ghost tales and the Bible, The Lion and the Cobra is easily one of the most distinctive debut albums of the last year.”  

The president of the record label Chrysalis, Mike Bone, wasn’t a believer in the album at first, and on the brink of its release he bet O’Connor that it wouldn’t sell more than 50,000 copies.  The record ended up blowing wayyyy past that number, so O’Connor collected on her bet with Bone--she shaved the penitent president’s head until he was as totally bald as she was.  O’Connor proved over the next few years to be a fiercely determined artist who plied her albums with passionate performances while also raising her voice on a number of social and cultural issues--and also courting some real controversy.  In her performance on a Saturday Night Live episode during the show’s 1992 season she even ripped into the Pope.  

One of her greatest successes on record was a compelling cover, a tune that brought her massive MTV exposure and worldwide success--Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.”  The Purple One had never up to that point placed it on one of his own albums, but when Sinead’s version hit the heights in early 1990 Prince began performing the song live during his concert tours.  The song finally then surfaced officially on a 1993 compilation of his entitled The Hits / The B-Sides.

Songs by Sinéad O'Connor to explore:

* “Mandinka” (from her 1987 debut The Lion and the Cobrahttps://youtu.be/gIITQamgDl4

* “Nothing Compares 2 U” (from her 1990 album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Gothttps://youtu.be/0-EF60neguk

* “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (from her 1990 album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Gothttps://youtu.be/8aKYsbqVq8Q

* “Fire On Babylon” (from the 1999 album Lilith Fair / A Celebration of Women in Music, Volume 2 which consists of live performances from artists who were part of the 1998 Lilith Fair tour) https://youtu.be/hr0IxMNYNZQ

* “Jealous” (from her 2000 album Faith and Couragehttps://youtu.be/tTmNWUWTAUU

* “Hold Back The Night” (from her 2000 album Faith and Couragehttps://youtu.be/qJRZKuFryjo

 

 

Emmylou Harris (born April 2, 1947 in Birmingham, Alabama)

The most dedicated (obsessed?) of music lovers can sometimes recall the first time they heard one very special album and so yeah, I couldn’t help but fall deeply in love with country artist Emmylou Harris’ Pieces of the Sky one night back in 1975.  I was staying in a D.C. apartment with a friend of my parents for a few days, which afforded me the chance to hunt around the D.C area for my first job out of college.  My parents’ friend was out for the evening, so it was just me and, courtesy of a little clock radio, the deejay on a D.C. station that apparently debuted brand new albums in their entirety at midnight on this particular night each week.  Though the sound quality was tinny and nuthin’ but treble, the voice of Emmylou swept me away as only a true angel could have… 

I followed Harris’ recorded exploits as she churned out original material and captivating covers of other songwriters in tunes that melded country, country rock and even a touch of bluegrass here and there through the rest of the ‘70s and on through the ‘80s.  Although she never had a slam-dunk monster seller, Harris chugged along nicely on critical acclaim and reasonably successful sales so her record label “family”--Reprise, then its parent label Warner Brothers--stayed with her all the way, releasing new Emmylou albums in 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1989.

Other bright spots in Harris’ career include a special appearance in the film and soundtrack of The Band’s The Last Waltz performing, with The Band, the song “Evangeline” (1978)…two albums recorded in a trio setting with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt (1987 and 1999)…her ultimately enchanting detour into atmospheric, edgy alt-country (1995’s Wrecking Ball)…her remarkable live recording (1998’s Spyboy) which featured one of the tightest, totally-in-synch backing bands I’ve ever heard (guitarist Buddy Miller, bassist Daryl Johnson and drummer Brady Blade)…and her collaboration on album and on tour with Dire Straits’ guitarist Mark Knopfler (2006)…There is many a milestone in Ms. Harris’ career, thus far.

Songs by Emmylou Harris to explore:

* “For No One” (from her 1975 album Pieces of the Sky; written by Lennon/McCartney) https://youtu.be/_xFIGlMFEhE

* “Pancho and Lefty (from her 1976 album Luxury Liner; written by Townes Van Zandthttps://youtu.be/exidLnAtOJc

* “You Never Can Tell (C’est la Vie)” (from her 1976 album Luxury Liner; written by Chuck Berry) https://youtu.be/NwbDtjJGmac

* “Easy From Now On” (from her 1978 album Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town; written by Susanna Clark & Carlene Carter) https://youtu.be/9m60H9lIbVU

* “Evangeline” (from The Band’s 1978 soundtrack album The Last Waltz; written by Robbie Robertson and performed by The Band and Harris) https://youtu.be/HYXv8uQbzA8

* “To Know Him is to Love Him” (from the 1987 Trio album by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris) https://youtu.be/WO7uui45khA

* “Where Will I Be” (from her 1995 album Wrecking Ball; written by Daniel Lanois) https://youtu.be/XokbL3fR3G8

* “Ain’t Living Long Like This” (from her 1998 live-in-concert album Spyboy; written by Rodney Crowell) https://youtu.be/aTC5V2oiauc

* “Calling My Children Home” (from her 1998 live-in-concert album Spyboy; performed a cappella) https://youtu.be/ggwPUsaBmOk

* “All the Roadrunning” (live performance of Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler from the All the Roadrunning tour’s concert film recorded live on 28th June 2006 at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles) https://youtu.be/twiYZTVdBfE

 

 

Etta James (born January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles, California)

I am still not sure why I hadn’t been exposed to Etta James earlier than I had been, which was on August 26, 2000.  Etta first came to me, I must admit, out of the mouth of Christina Aguilera.  That girl wonder, adored by most every Pittsburgh-area female teen and tween back then, was on stage at Star Lake Amphitheatre that evening.  I was working there as the venue’s general manager and was making my rounds down near the stage as Aguilera was just coming on to perform.  A little while after the midpoint of her set she unleashed the song “At Last,” and it stopped me in my tracks (well, that, plus the never-ending stream of squeals and screams from the fidgety, feverish young’uns in the pavilion and beyond).

I dug deeper into James from there.  Born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938 she’d had hardscrabble beginnings with a mom who had her at fourteen, a father she never knew, and foster parents.  But her early years of singing in a Baptist church followed by secular group situations in her teens eventually helped get her noticed and signed to Chicago-based Chess Records (home of Muddy Waters and others) in 1960 at the age of twenty-two.  Her career had a real ebb and flow in the 1960s and 1970s, not entirely unrelated to spells of drug use which she battled back as best she could.  But her spellbinding songs on record--a mix of rhythm & blues and pop standards--continued to pour forth, like “At Last,” “Sunday Kind of Love,” “Tell Mama” and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” powered by what the New York Times writer Jon Pareles in 1990 called “one of the great voices in American popular music, with a huge range, a multiplicity of tones and vast reserves of volume.”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1992, James told the interviewer “A lot of people think the blues is depressing, but that’s not the blues I’m singing.  When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life.  People that can’t stand to listen to the blues, they’ve got to be phonies.”  When James died in January 2012 in Riverside, California from complications of leukemia, her family reached out to Christina Aguilera to sing “At Last” at her funeral and the pop singer told the assemblage that James was her idol and inspiration.  In every concert situation she performed as a headliner, Aguilera said, “At Last” was always in her set.

Songs by Etta James to explore:

* “At Last” (from her 1960 debut album At Last!) https://youtu.be/1qJU8G7gR_g

* “A Sunday Kind of Love” (from her 1960 debut album At Last!) https://youtu.be/kl0DehwApzE

* “Tell Mama” (from her 1968 album of the same name) https://youtu.be/t_wbyv1TgIQ

* “I’d Rather Go Blind” (from her 1968 album Tell Mamahttps://youtu.be/Bcus42ihkTI

* “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” (from her 1988 album Seven Year Itchhttps://youtu.be/_kF4RUs1ogs

* “The Blues is My Business” (from her 2003 album Let’s Rollhttps://youtu.be/27cpSolK5Js

 

 

Valerie Carter (born February 5, 1953 in Winter Haven, Florida)

I was working at an indie record store in Wexford, PA in the late 1970s, livin’ the life, underpaid but overjoyed to be working in a place where for pretty much eleven hours a day, music blared and my passions flared.  I was captivated--as were a lot of us back then--by album covers, and one day in 1977 I came across a new artist named Valerie Carter and her debut album Just A Stone’s Throw Away.  The album cover was essentially an alluring photo of this beautiful young woman, dressed just like the hippie-ish girl of my twenty-something dreams.  And if that wasn’t enough to draw me in, the back cover boasted a long list of musical contributors including Little Feat members, the principal musicians from Earth, Wind & Fire, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, ex-Lovin’ Spoonful singer John Sebastian, and many others. 

I was a diehard Little Feat fan so I was predisposed to love most any record where Feat had trod, but this album by Carter was something special.  As she moved song to song, angelic in tone, she also held back the slightest bit.  But then this softness suddenly would cede control revealing a much deeper reserve of power, and in these particular fuel-injected moments, lost in her art and untethered from inhibitions, she soared with abandon.  In an interview that Carter did with writer Laura Stegman for the JTO (James Taylor Online) website in September 1999, she was asked if she definitely knew back in the early/mid-1970s if she had wanted to be a singer.  Carter’s response: “Yeah, all indicators pointed in that direction quite strongly.  I hadn’t taken a great deal of interest in school.  Music came so naturally, and everything else in my life was a fight, and a real, real difficult struggle.  One side of my brain is functioning — my music side — and the rest of me is trying to do the best I can.”

I think her last comment there is quite telling.  After releasing a follow-up album in 1978, Wild Child, Carter abandoned her pursuit of a solo career and went through a long period of self-doubt and internal demons that took her to some darker places and some hard habits to break.  Finding herself in the early 1990s on more of a steady keel—beginning to tour somewhat steadily with both Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and guesting/background singing on a number of other artists’ albums—Carter in 1996 mustered a third solo album, her first in eighteen years, called The Way It Is.  Her last recording was in 1998, a five-song CD entitled Find A River, and in 2007 she decided to permanently retire from the life of a professional musician, subsequently moving back to her birth state of Florida, to St. Petersburg, to help care for her mother Dorothy.  

In 2009 Carter was arrested by police for possession of cocaine and later that same year, again—but this time it was crack.  She then spent several months in a rehab facility (paid for by good friend James Taylor) and by May 2011 she had completed all court requirements.  At her drug court graduation ceremony, James Taylor was there.  Carter embraced him.  “Thank you,” she said.  “Thank you for taking such good care of me.”  The judge said to the assembled, by way of explanation, that Mr. Taylor had had a long relationship with Carter, and “you have heard her on his albums.  And you will hear her again.”  But it was not to be.  Valerie Carter passed away in March 2017 from a heart attack at the age of 64.  

On a Facebook post soon thereafter, Taylor wrote the following: “I first met Valerie when she came with Lowell George to a session of mine at Amigo studios in Burbank CA.  That was in the mid 70s and the song we were working on was ‘Angry Blues,’ one of mine.  After Lowell put down an amazing guitar part, Valerie offered to try some vocal passes.  It was just the thing, one of my favorite days in the studio and the beginning of a long working relationship with one of the great singers of her generation.  You'd hear it said time and again: ‘how can such a big sound come from such a delicate, diminutive creature?’  ‘Where does it come from?’  For sure it's a mystery but Valerie was an old soul and as deep as a well.  Her voice came from her life and her life was a steep, rocky road.  I believe that we can hear it, whenever the music is that crucial, when the song is saving someone's life.  We were the lucky ones, who worked (played) with Valerie Carter over the long arc of her creative career; we got the best of her love.”

Songs by Valerie Carter to explore:

* “Ooh Child” (from her 1977 album Just a Stone’s Throw Away; first recorded by The Five Stairsteps) https://youtu.be/4H32jFWceWI

* “Face of Appalachia” (from her 1977 album Just a Stone’s Throw Away; written by Lowell George of Little Feat) https://youtu.be/jSZ0J9ViitU

* “Heartache” (from her 1977 album Just a Stone’s Throw Away; written by Lowell George and John Sebastian) https://youtu.be/llgnTEEmVBU

* “So, So Happy” (from her 1977 album Just a Stone’s Throw Away; production/arrangement by Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire) https://youtu.be/I-X8STqvVhI

* “Taking The Long Way Home” (from her 1978 album Wild Child; written by Valerie Carter and James Newton Howard) https://youtu.be/oNVDgk71gok

* “Sea of Stars” (from her 1996 album The Way It Is; co-written by Carter) https://youtu.be/3XYPINclCZI

* “Who is She (And Who is She to You)” (from her 1996 album The Way It Is; a duet with Lyle Lovett, written by Bill Withers and Stan McKenny) https://youtu.be/e1RFfyudkn8

* “Love Needs a Heart” (from her 1996 album The Way It Is; written by Carter, Jackson Browne and Lowell George) https://youtu.be/mxhjUJ00N8M

* A related bonus: “That Girl Could Sing” (performed by Jackson Browne--written about and for Valerie Carter--from Browne’s 1980 album Hold Outhttps://youtu.be/x47wRwdJfPQ

 

 

Flora Purim (born March 6, 1942 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

I remember when I fell for Flora.  It was in the early 1970s when I walked into a shoebox-sized indie record store and immediately spotted a seagull peacefully gliding high above a beautiful teal-colored stretch of ocean.  This arresting photo comprised the cover of an album that was perched right next to the store’s turntable at the front counter.  And while my mind was still hovering on the gull, my ears were attuning more and more to the store’s speakers and the sweetly sinuous Brazilian rhythms, lilting flute, sprightly percussion and the soft, spacey sprinkling of an electric piano.  Atop all of this I heard a voice that was melodious and wordless, soaring in synch with the lead instruments and adding an angelic touch to an already heavenly mix of sounds.  The latter, I subsequently found out, belonged to Brazilian jazz vocalist Flora Purim, and the album I had been listening to was Chick Corea’s Return to Forever (released in 1972 overseas and in 1975 stateside).  The name of the album was also the name of this boundary pushing band of five musicians (including Purim) who through this record and its follow-up Light as a Feather helped broaden the landscape of jazz.

According to Purim’s website florapurim.com, the singer grew up in Rio de Janeiro in a household where classical and jazz reigned.  Both parents were classical musicians and Purim was at the piano by age four and on an acoustic guitar by twelve.  She and her mother, while Father was off at work, would often play 78 vinyl rpm’s of artists such as pianists Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and Errol Gardner, and singers Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra.  In 1967 Purim, now in her early twenties, moved to New York City along with fellow musician and new husband Airto Moreira.  Through friendships they then forged and collaborations they sought out, the two musicians helped engender a climate of musical expression and creativity that led to the first legitimate wave of commercially successful electric jazz groups in America.

Purim has on her website an interesting account of her first bit of time in NYC.  She had initially wanted to check out her idols--mostly instrumentalists--so she ventured to the Harlem venue called Club Baron, a musician’s hangout, but couldn’t get past the doorman.  A large man behind the doorman overheard her broken English, took pity on the young girl, and squired her into the club nestling her into place at a regular’s table.  When the show started, Purim was surprised to see that the piano player Thelonious Monk was the individual who had escorted her in.  “In that club,” Purim remembers, “as I walked in, I saw Wayne Shorter at the bar, Art Blakey and Carmen McRae.  Oh, Miles Davis came in grand style with a beautiful lady on his arm!  Every single jazz musician I idolized was at that club that night…I was in awe.  Richard Davis and Chick Corea were there.  I didn’t know Chick Corea then.  He was not well known, but later as I started working with him, I knew I had met him somewhere and then I realized that it was at the Club Baron.  It was an incredible experience.  Can you imagine me?  I was only 22 years old, from Brazil, just trying to learn more about jazz musicians, their styles and what made them choose that venue of music to express themselves.  It was the greatest moment of my life.” 

These kind of happenstances--and the fact that the talented Purim had a six-octave voice--jumpstarted her immersion into jazz in America.  Early on she played with Gil Evans and Stan Getz, moved on to help form Return to Forever with Chick Corea in 1972, and a year later left RTF after two albums to then start up a solo career and explore other collaborations.  Over the next three decades and well into the 2000s Purim continued to create rich vocal tapestries in a variety of settings, some with lyrics and others in which she is brilliantly, wordlessly sailing.  Purim is pretty much one of a kind in the history of jazz / jazz fusion / Latin jazz.

Songs by Flora Purim to explore:

* “Spain” (from the second Return to Forever album from 1973 entitled Light as a Feather; featuring the lineup of Chick Corea, Flora Purim, Stanley Clarke, Joe Farrell and Airto Moreira) https://youtu.be/sEhQTjgoTdU

* “Love Reborn” (from her 1973 album Butterfly Dreamshttps://youtu.be/eVUmjcyTPkU

* “Silver Sword” (from her 1974 album Stories To Tell; featuring Carlos Santana on guitar) https://youtu.be/_oCno8bGvjI

* “Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly” (from the 1976 album of the same name) https://youtu.be/L-yYZg-DQYQ

* “Angels” (from her 1977 album Nothing Will Be As It Was…Tomorrowhttps://youtu.be/5w0Qkk0TRTY

* “Once I Ran Away” (from her 1979 album Carry Onhttps://youtu.be/AFI12vEjRX8

* “San Francisco River” (from her 2001 album Perpetual Motionhttps://youtu.be/X35jLiOVb1o

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 3/6/22.....YOU SPIN ME ROUND (LIKE A RECORD)

Just a few short weeks ago, on Wednesday, February 23, I returned to vinyl deejaying.  I had been invited by a friend of mine, WQED producer/documentarian Rick Sebak, to split deejay duties with him at The Independent Brewery Company in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh.  I admitted to Rick (though it was immediately apparent) that I was a bit rusty even at the basic task of cueing up album tracks on the turntable, but hell, it had been forty-seven years since the last time I spun any 33 1/3 LPs…

What a treat it was.  It took me right back to my deejay days at Penn State’s main campus during my junior and senior years of college, September 1973 through May 1975.  I had started out on WHR--West Halls Radio--one of those pumped-through-wires carrier current stations that served only a small sector of the campus’ various residence halls.  But by my senior year, I had graduated to “The Big Time.”  WDFM-FM was a legit, over-the-air college radio station with a 9-mile radius and just enough power to saturate the college and leak into the surrounding community.  For one of my senior-year semesters there at PSU I managed to snag Saturday’s 11pm-2am shift, and this was the deejay slot that apparently few others coveted.  At Penn State Saturday Night was Party Night, and there I was--seated, a Party of One--at the broadcast console.  And there I would always be, headphones on, the room lowly lit, one turntable churning out strands of rock and other rhythms with the other one nearby, not yet spinning but primed and ready…

WDFM was my feeding ground.  The studio’s walls of record shelves were constantly being replenished with promotional copies of new albums mailed to us from the record companies, and in between my on-air shifts I devoured them, wading weekly through these newcomers to find the gems within--the songs I’d subsequently choose to put the needle in the groove, come Saturday night.  

After I graduated from Penn State in 1975 I spent a couple of years in my hometown of Butler, PA clerking in an independent record store called Exile, later on moving up to co-manage the shop owner’s second store in Wexford.  Then in early 1978 by luck and circumstance and a tip from Kathy Wallace, the wife of local Warner Brothers Records promotion man Mark Wallace, I learned of a job opening at Warner-Elektra-Atlantic (WEA) Corporation.  WEA, the distribution arm of the three aforementioned record labels, was intent on hiring a field merchandiser (in-store display person) to cover all of the southwestern PA region’s record stores.  I called for an interview, scrounged up a suit and tie (not my normal everyday wear), and went to the appointed hotel room in downtown Pittsburgh to meet the WEA folks.  A day or two later, after I had mightily impressed them with photos of displays I had mocked up--oh, and after I had mightily hinted that I’d pretty much work for free--the WEA manager in charge called me and told me the job was mine.

 

Less than a year into my WEA in-store merchandising gig, I received a special package from the Warner Brothers Records home office in Burbank, California.  It was a limited-edition, six-album box set entitled The Warner Bros. Records 20th Anniversary Album in Sound and Picture, a collection of signature songs from the label’s artist roster representing the depth and breadth of Warner Brothers Records over its first twenty years of existence.  Only 3,000 copies of this 1979 six-album set were produced, for it was truly meant to be a special gift for all employees of the Warner Brothers record label and WEA employees as well.  I squirreled this collection away, moving the box set for decades through the attics of my life, until finally--on February 23, 2022!--I pulled out the pristine, never-been-played six albums to give them their virgin spins alongside co-spinner Rick Sebak at The Independent Brewery in Squirrel Hill…

The collection is a real testament to the power and stature of Warner Brothers Records in their first twenty years (1959-1979).  I caught up with the aforementioned Mark Wallace recently to ask him about his time spent with the WB label, as the record company by the 1970s was attaining previously unheard-of success in artist signings, radio playlist penetration and album sales.

Wallace, who now resides in Tampa, Florida working as an English teacher and part-time radio deejay, had been on Pittsburgh’s WZUM-AM 1590 in the early ‘70s and then on WYDD-FM 104.7 from 1975-1977.  From there he left the deejay chair for the Pittsburgh-based Warner Brothers Records promotion position which he held from 1977 through 1992.  

“The label was actually born in 1958, as an outgrowth from Warner Pictures,” Wallace said.  “In 1961, Mike Maitland from Capitol Records became the CEO, and more importantly, hired Joe Smith as head of promotion, and in 1963, sort of ‘rescued’ Sinatra's Reprise label, which then brought in Mo Ostin.  The combo of Smith and Ostin is what made WB the label it became; a family affair of executives, artists, and the people in the trenches (me and 30-some peers, locally).  From one of the books about how music exploded in the 60's onward (The Mansion on the Hill, by Fred Goodman): ‘Ostin's business and musical instincts, and his rapport with artists were to prove crucial to the success of the Warner labels.’ 

“The other parts of our success were the A & R people who dared to bring to Burbank's attention artists like the Grateful Dead, who told Ostin and company their own terms to sign and never wavered.  The sometimes ‘caught lightning in a bottle’ acts, sure, but the willingness to take on almost any artist combined with the Burbank mercurial whimsy and ears led to word of mouth from artist to artist, and all led to an amazing run of success.” 

Wallace maintained that Warner Brothers Records in its heyday was peerless.  Among the major labels in the ‘70s such as Columbia, Capitol and RCA, he opined, “we alone were a family, top to bottom.”  With this level of staff synergy and a reputation for signing exceptional new artists, Warner Brothers Records--through Wallace and his counterparts--was consistently able to find an on-air home somewhere for emerging WB artists in most every local radio landscape. This was true for Bonnie Raitt, Prince and Bootsy Collins, among others, and also for already-established musicians who were brand new to the label like George Benson.  Wallace is particularly proud of his role in helping to elevate the stature (and sales) of the latter artist, the Pittsburgh-born guitarist who grew up in the Hill District.  Benson came over to the WB label in 1976 with fourteen albums (on other labels) already to his credit, but this fifteenth--1976’s Breezin’--catapulted Benson into the upper stratospheres of success.  Wallace was there in the late 1970s when Pittsburgh Mayor Richard Caliguiri presented the guitarist, who was in town for a concert, with The Key to the City.

“If I walked into any of the stations, with a Fleetwood Mac, a Doobie Brothers, and/or a Rod Stewart record,” continued Wallace, “I was gonna' get something played, lol, because we had them.  The group Chicago was dead in the water with Columbia; WB signed them (much to we locals’, um, wariness) and look what they did with us.  And, who the hell ever heard of REM until a Warner Brothers promo VP insisted--at considerable risk--to sign them?  The list goes on, but I guess maybe it was success breeds success…”

And…back to the present--or rather, the night of February 23--at Independent Brewing in Squirrel Hill.  Rick and I played tag-team deejay, and each of us spun our Warner Brothers Records favorites and rare finds from our respective collections from 6pm until well after 9pm.  For me this was a transportive experience; a hearkening back to my own musical pathway but better yet, a learning experience.  Agreeing to deejay and then digging into the never-before-tapped Warner Brothers Records 20th Anniversary box set deepened my appreciation for this record company that, in their day, boldly took chances on new artists and recorded and subsequently released an incredible number of music milestones.  

[Below are some of the songs that are included in The Warner Bros. Records 20th Anniversary Album in Sound and Pictures box set; this gives you just a taste of the treasures therein.]

(1959) Tab Hunter – I'll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time

This song hails from 1920 and was first introduced to the public by Nora Bayes, a vaudeville actress, but the tune was really first popularized by the Andrews Sisters’ recording in 1941.  Tab Hunter’s version came out in 1959.  A romantic screen idol of that era under contract to Warner Brothers pictures, Hunter was also a singer who had started recording successful chart-climbing tunes for Dot Records until Jack Warner stepped in and read Hunter the riot act (and presumably the Hunter/Warner contract again as well).  Warner Brothers Records was established soon thereafter, and movies-and-music superstar Tab Hunter was one of the primary reasons that the record company came into being.  A postscript on Hunter: He forged an adventurous path after he eventually departed the Warner Brothers studio and record company, teaming up in the 1980s with indie filmmakers John Waters and Paul Bartel respectively for 1981’s Polyester (co-starring Divine) and 1985’s Lust in the Dust.  In 2005 Hunter officially came out of the closet in a memoir that detailed his path through life, including his time spent in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s in that era of “hide it, don’t confide it.”

(1959) Edd "Kookie" Byrnes – Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)   

The song was based on Byrnes' character from the television show 77 Sunset Strip which aired in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s.  The song is mostly spoken, voiced by Edd Byrnes and Connie Stevens, an actress who was on a different television series at the time called Hawaiian Eye.  She continually asks Kookie to lend her his comb, and Byrnes just spews Beatnik language, like "I've got smog in my noggin' ever since you made the scene / You’re the utmost!”  Reportedly the heavy metal band Anthrax performed an a cappella version of “Kookie” on an episode of the 1987-1997 Fox network television series Married…With Children.

(1962) Peter, Paul & Mary – If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)

“If I Had A Hammer” was written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, two members of the progressive folk group The Weavers.  The song was first recorded by the Weavers and reportedly was first performed by them in 1949 at a testimonial dinner being held in NYC for the leaders of the Communist Party of the USA; these leaders were at the time on trial in federal court for violating the Smith Act (which contained penalties for those advocating the overthrow of the United States government).  Peter, Paul & Mary’s cover of the song in 1962 fared MUCH better with the general public(!), and the tune became popular once again later that decade in association with the quest for civil rights.

(1964) Petula Clark – Downtown            

With the success of “Downtown,” Petula Clark became the first British female artist to have a No. 1 hit in the United States during the rock and roll era.  The song was recorded in London in October 1964, released in America in November of that year, and then hit #1 on the USA singles sales charts in January 1965.  The song’s composer Tony Hatch reportedly straddled concerns of not wanting to alienate Clark’s established older audience while still needing to court new, younger fans, so he had loaded up the London recording session with sparkle and substance--tons of string players, horn players and percussionists on top of the fairly standard lineup of guitar players, pianist, bassist and drummer.  One of the guitarists on the track was a session player by the name of Jimmy Page, who two years later joined the British band The Yardbirds and four years later formed Led Zeppelin. 

(1967) The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Purple Haze

Most rock fans I knew back in ’67 had the same reaction to this song upon first listen: “Purple Haze, all in my brain; I don’t know if I’ll ever BE the same.”  Those are not quite the lyrics, but the sentiment prevails.  This tune was a gamechanger, a rewiring of how our minds could more fully wrap around a rock song.  Rolling Stone magazine once noted that this song “unveiled a new guitar language charged with spiritual hunger and the poetry possible in electricity and studio technology."

(1969) Kenny Rogers & The First Edition – Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town    

Country singer Mel Tillis wrote this song and first recorded it in 1967, though Waylon Jennings had covered it the year before.  I only knew the Kenny Rogers version from 1969 because it was ubiquitous for a time on several radio stations that my parents listened to on the clock radio in our kitchen.  The lyrics are NOT pop or middle-of-the-road radio fare, really; the song is about a war veteran who is paralyzed, watching his wife one evening get all gussied up to go out, and he believes she’s off to see a lover. The choruses are pleas for Ruby not to take her love to town--and the song ends with the paralyzed husband wishing he could get to his gun and “put her in the ground.”  Wow…love the melody but not the malady. 

(1970) Van Morrison – Moondance

This song and the same-named 1970 album that it came from are indescribably delicious, so I am turning to others who perhaps can pay them more due: Rolling Stone magazine called the album “a transporting evocation of romantic rapture” and the song a “jazzy come-on.”…Allmusic.com declared the tune "one of those rare songs that manages to implant itself on the collective consciousness of popular music, passing into the hallowed territory of a standard, a classic."…And Pitchfork claimed the album would “solidify Van Morrison as an FM radio mainstay, act as a midwife for the burgeoning genre of ‘soft rock,’ and help usher in the ’70s in America, where the beautiful hippie couples of the late ’60s would soundtrack their developing newfound domestic comfort with the sweet sounds of Morrison’s mystical love-anthems.”  It’s all that, and of course much more. 

(1970) Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi

The lyric “They paved paradise / put up a parking lot” has become a time-honored phrase to hurl about in matters of ecology and it all started here in Joni’s composition “Big Yellow Taxi” that was nestled within her third studio album Ladies Of The Canyon.  The song sparked into life during the singer-songwriter’s first trip to Hawaii from the simple act of Mitchell throwing open her curtains in a hotel to find beautiful green mountains afar, but then row after row after row of parked cars immediately below.  Mitchell called it a “blight on paradise;” the song that resulted is a slice of paradise.

(1972) Deep Purple – Smoke On The Water   

This song from the 1972 album Machine Head that had hit stores in March 1972 possesses one of the most revered opening riffs in the history of rock, some critics and all fans maintain.  The group’s drummer Ian Paice once observed "The amazing thing with that song, and Ritchie's riff in particular, is that somebody hadn't done it before, because it's so gloriously simple and wonderfully satisfying."  The band was in the Montreux Casino in Switzerland in December 1971 to begin recording their Machine Head album, and while Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were closing out the season playing a show at the casino complex, a fire broke out.  The “smoke on the water” that became the title of Deep Purple’s in-the-works album referred to the burning casino’s smoke spreading out over Lake Geneva as the band members watched from their hotel.

(1972) Dueling Banjos – Deliverance Original Soundtrack            

The song was written by a country artist named Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith in 1954 and he had named it “Feudin’ Banjos” as it was originally intended to be solely a banjo instrumental.  But movie goers of a certain age or a certain bent will indeed know this retitled song primarily because of the 1972 film Deliverance and the spontaneous duet in the film between an Atlanta businessman on guitar and a provincial local boy on banjo.  What really startled me though as I was digging into the tune’s history was a reference to the song’s first real major bit of exposure to the public--and it came thanks to Andy Griffith.  In the popular 1960-1968 CBS television program The Andy Griffith Show, in a 1963 episode entitled “Briscoe Declares for Aunt Bee,” a visiting musical family named the Darlings sit down a spell, take up their instruments, and along with Andy sittin’ in on guitar, perform “Dueling Banjos.”  The real-life bluegrass group The Dillards played the Darlings and played their asses off.

(1974) Gram Parsons – Return Of The Grievous Angel      

“Return of the Grievous Angel” was the title track of the second solo album from Gram Parsons, one of the most revered proponents of blending country music with rock ‘n’ roll, something he affixed his own label to--“Cosmic American Music.”  Some critics maintain that Parsons influence on injecting country into rock was as important as Dylan combining folk song lyrics with rock ‘n’ roll.  Parsons’ journey took him from the formation of the International Submarine Band in Los Angeles in 1967 to joining The Byrds for their classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo in 1968 to the start-up of The Flying Burrito Brothers in 1969 with fellow Byrd-who-flew-the-nest Chris Hillman.  Parsons by the early 1970s had embarked on a solo career and produced just two solo albums--including Return of the Grievous Angel, his second collaboration with the golden-throated Emmylou Harris--before his untimely death in 1973 due to a drug overdose at the age of 26.  His music foreshadowed and/or greatly influenced artists including but not limited to the Stones, the Eagles, the Jayhawks, Black Crowes, Ryan Adams, Elvis Costello, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Jackson Browne and Tom Petty.

(1974) Frank Zappa – Don't Eat The Yellow Snow

Zappa was arguably the Mother of all iconoclastic Sixties musicians.  A brilliant musician/composer/guitarist/satirist/etcetera, Zappa in 1974 released his solo album Apostrophe which contained the track listed above.  While digging into “Snow” on Wikipedia, I was surprised to find some information there about a strong Pittsburgh connection: “A disc jockey in Pittsburgh edited the album versions of ‘Don't Eat the Yellow Snow’ and ‘Nanook Rubs It’ to play on his radio show.  While Zappa toured Europe, he learned of this version's success, and decided to create his own edited version once he returned to the United States, and released it as a single.”  Not one to necessarily take Wikipedia’s word as gospel, I dug deeper online and found that yes, Pittsburgh apparently did contribute to Zappa’s ultimate success with both this particular song and the album from which it stemmed.  On a Facebook page dedicated to Pittsburgh radio station WKTQ--better known as 13Q--there’s a discussion thread that unspools a brief narrative of who at the station had a hand in this unsolicited edit of “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow,” and it specifically mentions Batt Johnson, the station’s music director at that time and a few others as well.  As Wikipedia had mentioned, Zappa took this idea to heart, cut his own edited version and officially released it as a single, and the track became the first-ever Zappa song to make Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” chart, peaking at #86.  And Apostrophe received a boost as well; the album became Zappa’s most commercially successful album ever, hitting the U.S. Top Ten charts nationally for the first time--the only time--in Zappa’s career.

(1976) George Benson – This Masquerade    

This beautiful ballad was originally written and recorded by multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter Leon Russell for his third studio album Carney which was released in 1972.  Cover versions by other artists included Helen Reddy who recorded the song for her 1972 album I Am Woman, and The Carpenters who included it on their Now & Then album the following year.  But it was Benson that breezed in and took the song to national prominence in 1976.  As mentioned earlier in this post, Benson was an already-established star in the realm of jazz and was a new recruit to Warner Brothers Records in 1976 after having released fourteen previous albums through various other labels.  Breezin’ became the wind beneath his wings; at one point the album was #1 in sales according to music industry mag Billboard, and it hit this level across three separate sales-tracking charts--jazz, pop and R&B.  “This Masquerade,” released as a single from the album, was the only version of the song to ever break into the national sales charts, and the following year it won a prestigious Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

(1977) Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way   

I helped open up an indie record shop called Exile Records in Wexford, PA during the month of February 1977, and I remember two things quite vividly.  First, I will never forget that Ol’ Man Winter was extremely antagonistic.  This was one of the coldest winters on record in southwestern PA and we had to spend hours outside on one interminably long day, transporting an entire store’s start-up inventory, piecemeal, into the store’s front rooms.  The other thing I recall?  Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was released for sale in record stores just as we opened our own store to our very first wave of customers--and the heat was on.  

My hand cramps up when I think about how many sales slips I wrote up for that one album in the first few weeks; I had never experienced anything like it.  Rumours became a mammoth seller because it had heaven-sent synchronous advantages that guaranteed success, including 1) five talented musicians (Mick, John, Christine, Stevie and Lindsey), 2) intuitive in-studio production wizards (Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat), 3) non-formulaic pop-rock songs with memorable, monstrous hooks, 4) a huge promotional push from the Warner Brothers label, and…5) drama.  Peppered throughout the lyrics were messages both subtle and damning about crumbling, complicated relationships; John and Christine’s marriage was falling apart and Stevie and Lindsey’s relationship was on the skids.  With this bit of intrigue to further whet the public’s appetite, Rumours became an undeniable blockbuster.  Three years after its release, sales for Rumours hit 13 million copies worldwide and as of 2018, that number reached 40 million.  With this particular album, Warner Brothers Records had struck gold--er, platinum--er, hell.  I’m at a loss to adequately describe…hmmm, how BIG is a “shitload??!!”

(1978) Little Feat – Oh Atlanta

When I started my in-store display work in record shops on behalf of employer Warner-Elektra-Atlantic (WEA) Corporation back in March 1978, one of the first batch of posters to hit my front porch from UPS was a roll of twenty-five 2’x2’ Little Feat posters bearing the cover of the band’s newest release Waiting For Columbus.  According to a lot of the rock cognoscenti, then and now, Waiting For Columbus--from which this track “Oh Atlanta” was taken--has earned a space in the pantheon of Greatest Live Albums of All Time, right up there with the likes of The Allmans’ At Fillmore East and The Band’s The Last Waltz.  Lowell George was a co-founder of Feat and its principal vocalist and songwriter, and though the band was never a commercial juggernaut, WB enjoyed great press and prestige for having this talented band on their rock ‘n’ roll roster.  The group came out of L.A. but their style was an intoxicating mix of New Orleans-sounding funk blended with rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and R& B, and on later albums, a touch of jazz as well.  And those storyteller lyrics from Lowell, in songs like “Willin’,” “Dixie Chicken,” “Spanish Moon” and others, rollin’ on out over that bedrock of musical muscle and sophistication--ahhhh, what a feast was Feat. 

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 2/20/22.....

  

IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO WE SAY / THAT POST-GAZETTE PAVILION BROUGHT THESE BANDS TO PLAY / SOME MAY HAVE BEEN IN AND OUT OF STYLE / BUT THEY’RE GUARANTEED TO RAISE A SMILE…

TAKE THIS VOYAGE BACK WITH MUSICASAURUS TO TWENTY YEARS AGO…BACK TO THE YEAR 2002 AT POST-GAZETTE PAVILION WHERE THESE MEMORABLE FESTIVAL EVENTS TOOK PLACE:

 

FAKE FEST (a tribute to classic rock legends) - May 11, 2002 

The year before the summer of 2002 in the month of May we showcased on stage at Post-Gazette Pavilion an incredible array of talent--The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Kiss and Motley Crue.  The show stiffed.

This event was called Fake Fest, a tribute to rock legends, and we had hoped that this manufactured-with-love, season-opening concert with a talented cast of musical imposters would be a success in 2001.  It was not to be…and we were not to be deterred.  The following May in 2002 we launched our second attempt, praying that cabin fever and a late-spring lust for partying outdoors would--this time!--lure a sufficient number of fans to the venue for us to declare victory.  Our lineup: Wish You Were Here (a Pink Floyd tribute band), Backbeat (The Beatles), Paradise City (Guns N’ Roses), Hells Bells (AC/DC), Wild Blue Angels (Jimi Hendrix), Zoo Station (U2), Teen Spirit (Nirvana), the Atomic Punks (Van Halen) and The Magic of Elvis.  Killer, right?!!  But in the end we drew less than 2,000 people so our homespun imposter-palooza ultimately was a failure, far from a fest full of dollars.

Although the 2002 edition of Fake Fest was the last one we ever staged at the amphitheater, I still adore the concept to this day.  Both years that we had hosted the show I witnessed a genuine camaraderie that flourished backstage.  Most all of the musicians were quite united in the belief that they were imbued with a special purpose, carrying a torch for their musical idols and lighting up crowds (albeit small ones) with their rock and reverence.  

And I will always treasure the memory of one of my favorite Fake Fest moments: During the first year’s show, I remember that for some reason one of the guitarists from the Beatles tribute band was not available at the eleventh hour to actually perform (he may have fell ill, or never showed at all due to a passport mix-up).  Thankfully, the guitarist of the Led Zeppelin tribute band had, in a previous existence, also played in a Beatles cover band.  Thus this individual knew all of the guitar parts and so stepped right in to do double duty that night.  It was just fascinating to me that here at the aptly named Fake Fest, we had the original real guitarist of one fake band step in to become the fake real guitarist of a different fake band, and thus this fake real guitarist would of course proceed to cover the style and execution of the original real guitarist of the original real band.  Sorting this out in my head I kind of felt like I was beginning to map out a new Escher painting.

 

 

X-FEST (an alternative-music radio station’s show) - May 17, 2002 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer John Hayes in his May 18, 2002 day-after review of X-Fest kind of nailed it with his opening line: “There were no lawn fires at X-Fest this year.  By the end of the 20-band alternative rock show at the Post-Gazette Pavilion last night, it was cold enough that their warmth would have been welcome.”  

X-Fest in 2002 was in its fifth consecutive year, and preceding ones certainly did have their flareups.  Fires had been popping up here and there across the spacious 16,000-capacity lawn of Post-Gazette Pavilion since the mid-to-late ‘90s, and this was almost exclusively during the harder-edged shows like OzzFest, Lollapalooza and X-Fest.  We really should have labeled these incidents, to paraphrase author/writer Tom Wolfe, “bonfires of the inanities.”  They were more often than not just plain ol’ senseless acts, not necessarily arising from rage or the impulse to stick it to The Man but rather from boredom and/or copycatting. Even though by Summer 2002 we had warning signs in place at the gates threatening prosecution of arsonists, it was really the cold weather and the unrelenting rainfall during the evening at X-Fest 2002 that truly discouraged the practice.

X-Fest as a daylong alternative music extravaganza was the creation of John Moschitta and his team at WXDX-FM 105.9.  Each year this Pittsburgh station toiled to book the best possible alternative artists as well as ensure the event’s $ucce$$ by bringing on board event sponsors through the efforts of the station’s sales team.  The lineup for this year’s edition included such anchoring acts as Hoobastank, Puddle of Mudd and Static-X, but there were signs, according to the Post-Gazette’s Hayes, “of hope that this alternative rock showcase is diversifying musically.”  

Hayes noted that this year’s lineup departed from the usual reliance on “metal-edged, testosterone-fueled rock” and instead went a bit eclectic, featuring among others the group Adema (“turntable-added rap rock”), Dashboard Confessional (“nods to ‘80s Brit pop”) and Tenacious D, the duo who is half Jack Black and wholly engaging.  Tenacious D, according to Hayes, “turned in a set full of expletive-filled comic tunes” and “joined on acoustic guitar by partner Kyle Gass, Black still managed to sound huge singing about superheroes, Dio, taking over the world and having sex.”  And horror-meister Rob Zombie was aboard X-Fest 2002 as well.  Hayes pointed out that Zombie “injected some dark fun into the proceedings” and “apologized for not having his usual stage show full of ‘robots and girls,’ but he made up for it with plenty of rocking songs and humorous asides.”

WXDX's X-Fest…It had been up to this point abundantly alternative and majorly metal but this year of 2002 proved more diverse, for better or worse--and even through the evening chill and buckets of rain, the enraptured ones of this audience of 17,000+ hung in there until the end.

 

BROOKS & DUNN’S NEON CIRCUS AND WILD WEST SHOW (when country music took a page out of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus playbook) - July 26, 2002

Twenty years ago at the Post-Gazette Pavilion, country music was already on its way to squeezing out the traditional twang and easing in riffs of rock.  Pittsburgh-Post Gazette staff writer John Hayes noted this in the opening of his day-after review of the July 26 Brooks & Dunn concert: “It’s culturally interesting that country crowds get off on classic rock ‘n’ roll way more than classic rockers dig contemporary country.  Maybe it has something to do with the legacy of country rock.  The bandit genre that Nashville rejected in the ‘70s has had a major influence on the new hat bands.”  Translation: In 2002 a lot of the fastest rising stars of country were still wearin’ hats, but rampin’ up the riffs and wailin’ away on Strats.

The “new” country artists had surely arrived, capturing a lot of hearts & minds by building up fan bases through rock-tinged, catchy-as-hell recordings and increasingly sophisticated production of their live shows.  Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith and Brad Paisley (the latter headlining radio station Y108’s annual Hot Country Jam) all played successful shows at PGP that summer of 2002, but the prize for ingenuity must go to Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn.  This was the fourth year in a row that the duo played Post-Gazette Pavilion, and the second year in a row that they brought along additional acts and in-the-plaza attractions to make this a very festive, festival-level spectacular.  As it was in 2001, the tour was dubbed Brooks & Dunn’s Neon Circus & Wild West Show.

TribLIVE writer Rex Rutkowski talked with the duo by phone the day before their show at the pavilion and learned more about the festival’s added attractions.  “It's presented in the spirit of a rodeo,” wrote Rutkowski, “with a midway that includes stilt walkers, cowboy entertainers, rope tricksters, rodeo clowns and the expected return of a bubble-blowing goat.”  Brooks went on to tell Rutkowski that they also this year had booked “a contortionist that will just scare you to death…He could put himself through a tennis racket."

On show day while the venue’s plazas buzzed throughout the afternoon and evening with all sorts of Wild West oddities and entertainment, the musical talents that Brooks & Dunn cobbled together for Neon Circus 2002 were taking turns on stage.  The undercard--which featured Dwight Yoakam, Gary Allen, Chris Cagle and Trick Pony, with emcee Cledus T. Judd--was one that the headlining duo was particularly proud of, Kix Brooks told Rutkowski.  He and partner Ronnie Dunn had made sure to canvas bar owners and fair buyers in advance about which artists were really turning on crowds and rocking with conviction, and they did their homework on the obvious litmus tests as well, the numbers of albums sold and the level of current radio airplay--but also “the cool factor.”  Rutkowski said that the headliners considered it a coup to have landed Dwight Yoakam, and in their view he had brought a huge amount of integrity to the tour.

Yoakam was also the musician on the bill that received the highest marks in John Haye’s post-concert review, though the writer was a bit mystified as well.  “Dwight Yoakam seemed oddly detached--from the crowd, the show, the band and maybe from himself.  Throughout his hourlong set, he was lost somewhere in the songs, the long frills on his sleeves moving more than he did.  Nevertheless, they were great songs, delivered with a traditionalist’s poise, a rock ‘n’ roller’s swagger and a dark intensity that made Yoakam’s set stand out from the rest.” 

The second edition of the Neon Circus & Wild West Show in 2002 ended up wildly successful on a national level, just like its predecessor.  In a January 2002 article in the music industry’s trade magazine Billboard, about three months before the second Neon Circus hit the road, Brooks was looking back as well as trying to peer ahead.  “It was incredible — a ton of fun,” Brooks told Billboard, “We’ve always had a lot of fun touring, but these guys last year didn’t like to quit.”  Dunn continued on, saying that the initial run in 2001 far exceeded expectations.  “It was kind of an experiment for us,” he said.  “We didn’t know how it was going to go over, especially with a country audience, because it kind of has a rock flair to it.  We think the seed was planted in very fertile soil.”  Indeed.

 

   

FARM AID (the legendary mission-driven concert event) - September 21, 2002

Farm Aid landed at Post-Gazette Pavilion for the very first time in 2002.  It was truly one of the most rewarding experiences of my occupational--nay, my entire--life, dealing with the talented and dedicated staff of the Boston-based Farm Aid organization.  I was general manager of the venue at that time, and one of the many pleasures of the whole experience was getting to work with mission-driven people whose interests rose above the typical lust for loot.  From the moment of my first connection with the Farm Aid team to the time they rolled on out of town post-show on September 22, there was just this energizing atmosphere of harmony and mutual respect—a bit of a rarity, perhaps, when two very different organizations meet and try to meld in pursuit of putting on a major sell-out show.

I have kept in touch a bit with the principals of Farm Aid over the years, and very recently reached out to Glenda Yoder / Associate Director, Officer of the Organization, and Jennifer Fahy / Communications Director.  I had asked Glenda and Jennifer to talk about the Farm Aid organization’s 2002 experience at Post-Gazette Pavilion--and to bring all of us up to speed on the progress that’s been made since that time and the challenges the organization still faces:

“A sold-out Farm Aid 2002 at Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, rocked a strong country show for CMT, which aired it live.  The concert featured Keith Urban, Toby Keith and Lee Ann Womack and brought a tougher edge with Kid Rock—and Allison Moorer!  Drive-By Truckers and Gillian Welch with David Rawlings brought folk, while blues master Kenny Wayne Shepherd seared the guitar.  Up and coming Los Lonely Boys gave a preview of their future stardom.  The Farm Aid founders Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp were joined by Dave Matthews, who had been invited to join the Farm Aid Board of Directors in 2001. 

“Coming off the Farm Aid 2001 show, hosted in Indiana just 18 days after 9/11, Farm Aid 2002 looked to bring a strong farmer-focused message with the day’s music.  Earlier in 2002, the Organic Foods Production Act codified the new organic rules, a cause for celebration as farmers finally brought into being a certification program that verified strict production standards for their way of growing with non-synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.  At the press event before the show, Neil Young led a standing ovation for the newly established organic rules, which Farm Aid had supported with its advocacy.  Farm Aid began a shift to increase support for good food from family farms with practices that care for the soil and water.  Kid Rock humbly stated he was there to listen and learn--and rock the m-f house!  Willie declared that Farm Aid was fighting for every living American and for the American dream.

“Since 2002, Farm Aid has continued to grow what we call the Good Food Movement.  The early 2000s marked a time when people began to explore the roots of their food—connecting directly with farmers, prioritizing local food and sustainable agriculture, and better understanding the ways that food is grown and raised.  While some said at the time that this was just a fad, twenty years later that movement continues to grow!  Recently, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have further driven home for people how important family farmers are for all of us.  As the large-scale, industrial food supply broke down, family farmers stepped up to feed their communities and it became so clear to all of us that farmers are essential!  

“Farm Aid continues to raise our voice against factory farms and the consolidation and corporate power in our farm and food system that threatens family farmer and eaters alike.  The annual Farm Aid festival is a rallying point for farmers and eaters to come together to make their voices heard!  In 2007, Farm Aid introduced HOMEGROWN to truly create a music, farm and food festival. HOMEGROWN Concessions® brings festivalgoers family farm-sourced foods that conform to these criteria: food that is sustainably produced by family farmers, utilizing ecological practices, with a commitment to a fair price for farmers.  In the HOMEGROWN Village, festivalgoers meet farmers, participate in hands-on farm and food activities, and experience the culture of agriculture. 

“Farm Aid continues to talk with farmers every day on our hotline, 1-800-FARM-AID, connecting farmers in crisis with essential resources to stay on the land and thrive.  More and more we speak to new and aspiring farmers, and those looking to transition their operations to be more sustainable and better serve their local community.  Farm Aid’s grants support grassroots farm and food organizations all across the county to directly support family farmers, organize farmers and eaters to have a voice in local, state and federal farm policies and create new connections between farmers and eaters.  We raise our voice to speak up for change in our farm and food system that centers family-scale, sustainable agriculture that benefits farmers, communities and our soil and water. 

“Twenty years after Farm Aid 2002, Farm Aid continues to celebrate family farmers, good food and the power we all have to strengthen our farm and food system.  Led by our incredible artists and bringing up and coming artists to the Farm Aid stage and the mission to strengthen family farmers, Farm Aid is going strong.  Farm Aid came back to Burgettstown in 2017 and we can’t wait to come back again to rock for family farmers!”

[p.s. from Musicasaurus: Donations to the Farm Aid organization may be made via this link: https://www.farmaid.org/take-action/]  

 

 

 

________________________________________________________________________________

Posted 2/6/22.....ALL THOSE YEARS AGO (part THREE of three on 1972 concerts at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena)

This is the last of three “Fifty-year Flashbacks” to concerts at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  Musicasaurus’ previous post on January 23, 2022 concentrated on one particular show per month during the third quarter of the year 1972.  Now we zero in on the final quarter of ’72, and three very different shows that took place; one in October, one in November and one in December.

The shows were reflective of the times, of course.  The social fabric in the USA was fraying with a heap of social and cultural changes, and there was some real rippin’-at-the-seams polarization on equal rights, civil rights, the Vietnam War and other hot button, generation-splitting issues.  At the same time, the new music that was emerging alternately fomented and reflected these nationwide societal shifts.  In this last quarter of ’72, the Pittsburgh Civic Arena hosted two at-their-peak British bands who were musically capturing the hearts & minds of the younger generation, and a popular singer-songwriter who hopped aboard a political bandwagon that very shortly went off the rails…

OCTOBER 17, 1972 - JETHRO TULL WITH OPENING ACT GENTLE GIANT

My Tull tale is that I was, back in 1969, a Stand Up guy.  The album Stand Up was Jethro Tull’s second record, and it revealed a true expansion of Tull’s musical palette compared to their debut album from the year before.  Now, in the grooves, were dabs and splashes of classical music, old English folk, progressive rock, and jazz on top of their originally-mined blues influences.  To use a phrase that I might have uttered once or twice back then--uh, being just sixteen years old ‘n’ all--this album was mind-blowing. 

Fortunately for all of us newcomers and converts, Tull was a band hooked on touring.  Their first appearance at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena was on October 30, 1970--and I was there.  I remember about eight or ten of us all packed into my friend’s parents’ Econoline van and journeyed south from our hometown of Butler, PA to the Civic Arena.  We were all longhairs back then, fancying ourselves Western Pennsylvania’s answer to Haight-Ashbury, which was of course a naïve and overblown comparison as we were all still in high school and living with—and living off of—our parents.  But we definitely embraced a lot of the emerging bands and the new music that was swirling around us, and so we had banded together and scrounged up the funds for the trip to see Tull.  

We had purchased our seats at a local ticket outlet and unfortunately ended up in the far-off section of seating in the furthermost balcony at the opposite end of the arena.  Great show, though; excellent on the ears but certainly no feast for the eyes.  Tull’s frontman Ian Anderson was the lead singer and a dazzling flute player, a high-kicking, whirling and twirling dynamo, yet he appeared but a speck to us from the rafters at the back.  My memory has dimmed so I can’t render any real definitive play-by-play, but I do remember that at some point in the evening, the light show that I thought I was seeing take place behind the band onstage was actually just mostly happening in my head.  ‘Nuff said ‘bout that…

October 17, 1972 was the band’s third Pittsburgh Civic Arena show, and the Pittsburgh Press’  Tony Palermo was absolutely transfixed by Anderson.  In his 10/26/72 review of the concert he led right off with high praise: “Inside the mountainous, muddy-colored pile of brown head and chin fur, two bulging, piercing eyeballs shot out at us.  The man twirled and, arms flailing, blasted the band with orders for louder, more driving sounds.  Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson very definitely has a menacing look about him.  It’s in his swagger, the way he whips his flute through the air, and the madman cackle that goes with both…An act?  The real man?  Hard to say--but the guy’s wildly acid, onstage character was the meat and potatoes of probably the best rock show Pittsburgh’s seen since Mick Jagger and his buddies tore it up at the Arena last summer.”

Mike Kalina of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette seemingly felt the same way.  In his 10/19/72 review Kalina called Tull “one of the most successful rock groups in the world” and said they gave “a fine exhibition of progressive, highly innovative rock.”  Noting that the two-hour-plus performance featured renditions from the band’s Thick as a Brick as well as songs from the forthcoming album A Passion Play, the Post-Gazette writer also mentioned his favorite theatrical highlight of the evening which had occurred during the song “Aqualung.”  “At one point, Kalina said, “a ‘scuba’ diver appeared on stage, complete with aqualung and complete skin diving outfit.”

And there was yet another review of the concert, this one from Judy Hansen of the Pittsburgh Press.  Hansen noted in her 10/18/72 piece that “So eager were the kids to get into what was billed as a ‘sellout’ concert, many paid scalper prices outside the arena for tickets.”  The writer was, like her newspaper colleague Tony Palermo, quite enthralled with frontman Ian Anderson, labeling him worthy of his reputation as the “mad dog Fagin of rock.”  She went on to remark about the band’s potential staying power, observing that Anderson’s “dynamism and super talent as flautist, guitarist, lead singer, and composer-arranger is the catalyst which makes the group not only good but great.  Indeed, Jethro Tull is something of a phenomenon in the ephemeral world of rock music.  The British group has been around now for four years and from the looks of things is almost a permanent fixture in rock culture.”

Turns out writer Hansen was prescient, in a way.  Jethro Tull returned to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena seven more times over the next twelve years--in ’73, ’75, ’76, ’78, ’79, ’82 and ’84--proving that the band, live, was a continuous concert draw and a spectacle that had to be experienced--and reexperienced.  Although their albums began to dip in sales in the USA after the late 1970s, a number of FM radio stations and fervent fans even to this day have kept this unique band’s early “hits” and deep cuts quite alive and well: “My Sunday Feeling,” “A New Day Yesterday,” “Fat Man,” “Nothing is Easy,” “Bourée,” “To Cry You a Song,” “Teacher,” “Living in the Past,” “Aqualung,” “Locomotive Breath,” “Hymn 43,” “Thick as a Brick”--and, if you’re digging even deeper, oh yes, there’s more.

 

 

NOVEMBER 5, 1972 - A RALLY/CONCERT IN SUPPORT OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE GEORGE McGOVERN, FEATURING JAMES TAYLOR WITH SPECIAL GUESTS TOM RUSH, THE STAPLE SINGERS, MOTHER EARTH AND LINDA HOPKINS

In 1972 James Taylor’s recording career was ascending quite nicely.  He had three albums under his belt--James TaylorSweet Baby James and Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon--and albums #2 and #3 had some bona fide hits that helped cement his bond with music fans who loved his warm baritone/tantalizing tenor.  Jaime Babbitt, a prominent voice coach and former background singer for recording sessions and tours, once noted that the singer-songwriter’s voice had been aptly described as “a warm fireplace, a pair of your favorite slippers and an amaretto bubble bath.”

Sweet singer James was also by 1972 deep into politics and attributed his initial interest in this field to his left-of-center father--but he also credited Jesse Helms.  In December 2012 the singer sat before an audience of the National Press Club as a guest speaker/performer, and in part spoke of his earliest days of leaning Democratic.  Born in Boston in 1948, Taylor moved with his family to Chapel Hill, North Carolina when the singer-songwriter turned three years of age, and there Taylor grew (and grew up) to admire his physician father’s interest in supporting Democratic causes.  Another thing, though, aided young Taylor’s swing to the left--the controversial, conservative Republican senator from North Carolina, Jesse Helms, was at that time in the media regularly referring to the liberal community of Chapel Hill as “Communist Hill.”

Taylor’s interest in politics and his record-sales prominence brought him to Warren Beatty’s doorstep.  The actor was riding high from accolades for the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde and the 1971 critical favorite McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and in the spring of 1972 he endeavored to piece together a rally-plus-concert event for George McGovern at the Forum in Los Angeles.  McGovern was the Democratic candidate for president running against Richard Nixon, and the former’s positions on the issues aligned mightily with Beatty and a number of other Hollywood denizens; he was against the Vietnam War and pro-amnesty for draft resisters, and he railed against the corruption that was becoming increasingly prevalent in the Nixon White House.

So Beatty set a date of April 15 for the L.A. rally/concert and rang up his musician friend sympathizers.  First to confirm was Barbra Streisand, then Carole King who brought James Taylor on board, and when the event went on sale soon thereafter, all 18,000 seats sold out in less than a day.  Quincy Jones and his 32-piece orchestra were added after the fact, and the event from that point on was promoted as “Four for McGovern.”  

Beatty was also able to rope in an impressive number of A-listers from the film world to act as celebrity ushers on the floor, where tickets went for $100 each (compared to the above-the-floor, around the bowl regular arena seats that were priced between $4 and $10 each).  Here on the floor, according to the website everything.explained.today/fourformcgovern, the Hollywood celebrities who were ushering the $100 high-rollers into their chairs included Beatty himself, Jack Nicholson, Julie Christie, Sally Kellerman, James Earl Jones, Jacqueline Bisset, Mike Nichols, Shirley MacLaine, Goldie Hawn, Gene Hackman, Elliott Gould, Marlo Thomas, Burt Lancaster, Jon Voight, Raquel Welch, Michael Sarrazin, Britt Ekland and more.

According to writer Steven V. Roberts in his 4/17/72 post-event piece about the L.A. event in the New York Times, entertainers had in recent years become more involved with politics.  “Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin worked for the Kennedys,” Roberts wrote, and “Shirley McLaine spoke for Senator Eugene J. McCarthy in 1968…But rock musicians have generally remained aloof from politics, with an attitude one critic described as ‘equal parts cynicism and negativism.’  One reason they are getting involved this year was expressed by Lou Adler, Miss King's manager: ‘The system works, you know, if you can work within it.  It's better than violence.  Part of the motivation, I'm sure, is the 18‐year‐old vote.  Now people who relate closely to the music that Carole and James play can vote, and they're trying to motivate that vote.’”

Beatty’s efforts for the McGovern campaign continued beyond that Los Angeles success and so more rally/concert events took place in Cleveland in late April (with Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon) and in New York City in June (with a reunited Simon & Garfunkel; Peter, Paul and Mary; Dionne Warwick; and the comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May).  

The final Beatty-driven campaign event took place in Pittsburgh on November 5, 1972 at the Civic Arena, just two days before the election--the last chance for the beleaguered McGovern to shake loose some votes.  The line-up consisted of emcee Beatty and musical guests James Taylor with Tom Rush, The Staple Singers, Mother Earth and Linda Hopkins.  The event came and went with no follow-up write-ups by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or the Pittsburgh Press perhaps because of coverage policies regarding political events, and/or because of the close proximity of the election.  Regardless, this last chance for the anti-war McGovern was indeed his last gasp--in the final stretch of this presidential race, Nixon had come out with a pledge to end the Vietnam conflict and withdraw forces.  McGovern then lost by a landslide, and six weeks after the election Nixon ordered the bombing of Hanoi.

At the aforementioned December 2012 National Press Club gathering where James Taylor spoke of his commitment to Democratic campaigns through the decades, he noted that his first real involvement with any such political campaign was jumping on board that Beatty bandwagon in 1972.  Then with a sly smile and more than a tinge of regret, Taylor said this about his current wife Kim Smedvig, who’d been working and living in the state of Massachusetts way back when: “I think my wife Kim still has the bumper sticker that says ‘Don’t Blame Me, I’m from Massachusetts.’  I think Massachusetts was the only state to go for McGovern--sadly.”

 

DECEMBER 28, 1972 - HUMBLE PIE WITH OPENING ACT GRIN

In Pittsburgh in 1972, the Civic Arena piled up a number of topnotch rock artists including The James Gang with opening act Redbone; Little Richard with a ‘50s package that included Fats Domino and Jackie Wilson; Traffic with Edgar Winter’s White Trash; Black Sabbath; Joe Cocker with Todd Rundgren; Jerry Lee Lewis; Rod Stewart and the Faces with opening act Badfinger; Chicago; the Rolling Stones with special guest Stevie Wonder; Emerson, Lake & Palmer with opening act Looking Glass; Deep Purple with Fleetwood Mac and Silverhead; Ten Years After with Edgar Winter; Jethro Tull with Gentle Giant; Yes with opening act J. Geils Band; and Grand Funk Railroad with Billy Preston.  Tough to beat?  Well-l-l-l…no.  Because we also had TWO servings of Humble Pie in the 'burgh.

This English rock band who’d formed in 1969 hit Pittsburgh’s stages twice in 1972, the first time as an opening act for Alice Cooper at Three Rivers Stadium on July 11 and again in a headlining gig at the Civic Arena on December 28.  When the band first got together, the foursome included the diminutive (5’4”) yet dynamic lead singer Steve Marriott, guitarist Peter Frampton, former Spooky Tooth bass player Greg Ridley and drummer Jerry Shirley.  By the time they traveled the pond to play North America in 1972, Humble Pie had lost Frampton due to the guitarist’s wish to go solo and new guitarist Clem Clempson had subsequently plugged in.

The July 11 Three Rivers Stadium concert was originally scheduled to take place on June 23 but was flooded out.  Per the website brooklineconnection.com, “Major flooding occurred during Hurricane Agnes on June 24, 1972.  Eleven inches of rain over a three-day period caused river levels in Pittsburgh to rise almost twenty-one feet above the normal pool level of fifteen…The Agnes flood crested at 35.85 feet in downtown Pittsburgh, eleven feet above flood stage.  The Point was submerged to the Portal Bridge and beyond.  The Fort Pitt Museum was deluged with four feet of water.  Homes and factories all along the river basins were damaged.  The flood wave continued down the Ohio, heavily damaging McKees Rocks, Coraopolis and unprotected towns all along the upper Ohio River.  By Sunday, July 2, the rivers had returned to their banks, the summer sun began to dry things out, and Pittsburghers moved on to the tedious chore of digging out from under the accumulated mud and debris.”

After the mud and the muck, much better luck.  The weather on July 11 was fine and according to reviewer Mike Kalina in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, fans flocked to the stadium in record numbers to see headliner Alice Cooper and warmup Humble Pie (although previously promoted as part of the lineup, additional “name” opener Uriah Heep did not appear).  The concert turned out to be the largest rock show in Pittsburgh history at that point in time, and Kalina noted that the concert almost didn’t come off.  “While one of the preceding groups, Humble Pie, was doing a closing number--'Hot and Nasty’--thousands of teens in the crowd of 35,000-45,000 swarmed onto the field,” Kalina reported. “It took more than an hour for guards to clear the field and quell the crowd a bit.”

“‘Everywhere we go this happens, man. Everywhere!’” wrote Pittsburgh Press reviewer Tony Palermo, quoting a freshly showered Steve Marriott after his band had concluded their Three Rivers set.  “‘We never ask them to do this sort of thing.  It’s not right,’ Steve continued.  ‘They just get excited by the music, man, and want to be closer to where it’s happening.’” 

When the band returned five-and-a-half months later to close out 1972 with their late December Civic Arena show, the crowd was equally ecstatic--or at least Pittsburgh Press reviewer Pete Bishop felt as such.  Bishop wrote glowingly of the band but focused on lead singer Marriott as well, drilling down on the front man’s appeal and noting the wellspring from which he drew.  “Musically, Humble Pie, like all other rock groups, owes much--its very being, in fact--to the black performers who first wailed the blues in the South and from which all rock has evolved,” said Bishop.  He went on to praise “a feral version” of Ray Charles’ classic song “Hallelujah I Love Her So” and lauded the band’s ability to mine their roots yet so masterfully connect with the crowd: “The band kept boogying, the audience rose as one, clapping the rhythm, and a chorus of three black girls accompanying the four beamed at Marriott as if he’d been there when the blues were born and really felt, not knew, what they were all about.  As the guitars, Marriott’s included, wailed and snarled, it was clear the 12,000 assembled there felt just fine.”

The concert ended explosively, in a sense.  The band had returned to the stage “amid a deafening standing ovation” and played their closing number “Hot and Nasty,” and when it was over, according to Bishop, “a firecracker landed on stage and nearly exploded in Marriott’s face.”  When a band rocks as hard as Humble Pie did that December evening in ‘72, evidently it’s hard not to go out with a bang.  

[A couple of postscripts: 1) The opening act was Grin, and the Pittsburgh Press’ Pete Bishop had this to say: “Better than average musically, Grin’s lead performer is small, agile and accomplished--like Marriott--but he was the only Grinner who looked as if he was enjoying himself.”  That “Grinner” was guitarist Nils Lofgren, who had already placed himself in the annals of rock music trivia by becoming the piano player on Neil Young’s 1970 After the Gold Rush album at the age of 19.  Lofgren led the band Grin from 1968-1974 and was also a short-term member of Young’s band Crazy Horse in 1970 and 1971.  His handful of solo albums in the mid-1970s were critically acclaimed but commercially stunted, and in 1984 he began a long association with Springsteen as an additional guitarist in the E Street Band.  2) Steve Marriott perished in a fire at his home on April 21, 1991 at the age of 44.  According to the New York Times in a brief notice that same day, the police speculated that the fire may have been started by a cigarette in the main bedroom of Marriott’s 16th-century cottage in Essex county in southeast England.]

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 1/23/22.....ALL THOSE YEARS AGO (part TWO of three on 1972 concerts at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena)

Fifty years ago in 1972 when the still-youthful Pittsburgh Civic Arena had just turned 11, the venue opened its doors once again to a number of superstar-level attractions for the music fans of southwestern Pennsylvania.  Musicasaurus.com’s previous post on January 9, 2022 concentrated on one particular show per month during the first six months of that year.  Now we zero in on the third quarter of ’72, and three very different shows that took place; one in July, one in August, and one in September.

The shows were reflective of the times, of course.  Rock music was blossoming, causing the older and younger generations to retreat to their musical corners…Some pop stars who were mining the medium of television were at career peaks…and country stars were still clinging to tradition and their fervent fans were holdin’ on tight.

To make this fifty-year flashback to the third quarter of 1972 complete, Musicasaurus.com delved into some of the reviews by Pittsburgh-area newspaper entertainment writers and others to help round out our look back…

 

July 22, 1972 - The Rolling Stones with opening acts Stevie Wonder and Martha and the Vandellas

Entertainment reporter Scott Tady of the Beaver County Times wrote an interesting preview piece on the Stones in March 2015, as these tirelessly touring rock ‘n’ rollers from Britain were headed toward Pittsburgh for a stadium show just three months later.  Their scheduled June 20, 2015 Heinz Field performance had prompted him to bullet-point out the band’s track record of appearances here, the first of which occurred almost sixty years ago--at Danceland in West View Park (now a shopping center; then an amusement park).  This was in June 1964 and was the sixth stop on their first American tour.  Tady then listed the other eight Stones’ stops in the Steel City--’65, ’66, ’72, ’89, ’94, ’99, ’03 and ’05--and summarized ‘72 by noting that Pittsburgh was the “next-to-the-last stop of an American tour fabled for its decadence and ultimate mainstream acceptance of the band supporting its esteemed Exile on Main Street album.”

Yes, there was some decadence afoot as the band wound down its tour on its way to Pittsburgh.  On July 18, 1972, a few days before their Civic Arena show, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and three of their entourage ended up in a Warwick, Rhode Island jail resulting from an airport brawl with a photographer.  Their scheduled performance in Boston that same evening had to be delayed for five hours--while a crowd of 15,000 fans at the Boston Gardens waited (mostly) patiently for the band.

Police presence inside and outside the arena for Pittsburgh’s July 22 show was a bit beefed up--a cautionary move--based on news reports of some rowdy crowds and disturbances elsewhere.  And it’s interesting to note that the two major newspapers in Pittsburgh at the time--the Post-Gazette and the Press--took different angles in their post-concert reviews.  The Post-Gazette’s review by Mike Kalina was an insightful piece that captured the essence of the event--it touched on the rowdiness, but primarily concentrated on the band’s allure, the audience’s enthrallment, the innovative staging of the lighting and sound systems, and the music itself.  By contrast the Press’ Al Donalson and Jack Grochot seemed a bit out of step with the times.  Perhaps concerts were not their particular beat; they largely skipped cleareyed assessments of the bands and the music in favor of expounding on the troubles at the show and also, once in a while, tossing off a comment or two that peeled back the lid on some level of intolerance they seemed to have for the young people in attendance.

Examples:

A.) The Post-Gazette: Kalina stated that “The Stones’ performance was one of the tightest, most polished rock acts ever to play the Arena.  Everything fit into place perfectly, no mean feat in the improvisational framework in which they work.”  The PressDonalson and Grochot reported that “The blaring music and the singing of Jagger, cavorting like a peacock in his skin-tight purple jumpsuit, kept those able to gain admittance oblivious to the occurrences outside.”  The writers, I’m guessing by this previous sentence, had decided to segue into the darker aspects of this rock ‘n’ roll show, so they immediately followed up with details about some outside-the-venue arrests (about 70 for disorderly conduct and/or traffic obstruction), drug charges (actually, just one juvenile), counterfeiting of tickets (a half a dozen at most), the selling of unlicensed Stones’ posters, and on and on.​

B.) The Post-Gazette: Kalina wrote the following about the fans in attendance: “From the group’s opening number, ‘Brown Sugar,’ until they closed with ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ (they do no encores) the audience was captivated… Many of the members of the audience were on their feet throughout most of the performance, but there were no incidents of fans trying to rush the stage, as has occurred in other cities.”  The Press: Donalson and Grochet went the extra mile on critiquing the audience in a couple of ways.  1) They cobbled together a comment that made it seem as though it came from two cranky 100-year-olds: “It was nearly impossible to hear the words to the songs but no one could care less.”  2) They also chose to tsk-tsk the audience about their taste in fashion: “The girls and their long-haired male companions generally wore low-slung denim bell-bottoms, sandals and loose-fitting shirts or halters.” 

C.) The Post-Gazette: On the subject of the support groups on the show, Kalina offered up this assessment: “Opening act on the bill was Stevie Wonder and his jazz-rock band ‘Wonderlove.’  Wonder, who has been on the rock scene as long as the Stones, gave a foot-stomping, hand-clapping performance, an act, in short, that only the Stones would follow.”  The PressWhat was Donalson and Grochet’s take on Wonder?  They mustered up a total of six words for their description of this incredibly popular singer/keyboard player, his band, and his performance as opening act: “Stevie Wonder, a blind, black singer.”

It seems fairly clear to me that the Pittsburgh Press reviewers opted to devote themselves to the decadence, as well as sneak in an occasional disparaging comment about the younger generation.  And the Post-Gazette?  It is equally clear that Mike Kalina was helping to place his readers (knowingly or unknowingly) on the path to, in Scott Tady’s words, “ultimate mainstream acceptance” of the Stones. 

[The set list that evening, according to setlist.com: “Brown Sugar,” “Bitch,” “Rocks Off,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Happy,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Love in Vain,” “Sweet Virginia,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “All Down the Line,” “Midnight Rambler,” “Bye Bye Johnny,” “Rip This Joint,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “Street Fighting Man.”]

August 15, 1972 - Sonny & Cher with opening act comedian David Brenner

Less than a month after the Stones rolled into town, Sonny and Cher--the oddly engaging couple who started out as pop singers in the early ‘60s and then became CBS Television variety show stars by the fall of 1971--drew a crowd of over 14,000 and established a new attendance record for a concert at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. 

Mike Kalina of the Post-Gazette interviewed the duo backstage prior to showtime, and asked Sonny why the couple first went with the names Caesar and Cleo in the early part of the 1960s.  “You had to have a gimmick then,” Sonny responded.  “So we came up with Caesar and Cleo.  I had a Caesar haircut at the time and the movie Cleopatra was in the news then.”  But by 1965 they’d changed their names to Sonny and Cher, and released “I Got You Babe” which was the first of their five Top Ten hits between 1965 and 1972.  

Kalina points out in his August 19 post-concert piece in the P-G that the two singers had individual strengths as well as some solid chemistry as a couple.  “Cher’s distinctive high-fashion model features fuse perfectly with the original creations she wears,” Kalina said.  “Her face looks like a perfect model for Modigliani and her lithe figure, for the sculptor Brancusi.  She is definitely not the girl next door--unless, perhaps, you live next door to Hugh Hefner…Sonny, on the other hand, is just the antithesis.  Small in stature, he has a wide-eyed countenance of a youngster arriving for his first day of camp and away from mom and dad for the first time…Insiders say Sonny is the strength of the duo behind the scenes and Cher depends on him immensely.  She’ll go nowhere without him and won’t perform in concert solo.”

Some couples in the entertainment industry of course go in and out of fashion, but on stage that August evening in 1972, Sonny and Cher went in and out of fashions.  Carl Apone of the Pittsburgh Press noted in his August 16 review that Cher’s “first gown was a halter type, red sequined see-through creation, with a bare midriff.  Then, halfway through the act she exited to return in a two-piece white gown with silken fringes and sequins.  Not to be outdone, Sonny changed from a tuxedo to a light jumpsuit.  Cher seemed unimpressed and said the garb only gave him ‘varicose rhinestones.’”

These back-and-forth side-swipes and gibes between the couple, betwixt songs, followed the pattern of their patter on their TV show and gobbled up nearly half of the 65-minute performance.  The evening was thus short on tunes, and as writer Apone noted in his review, “To the disappointment of many, there were no encores.  After the show they raced to a waiting black limousine and sped off to the next one-night stand.”

[Some of the evening’s songs: “I Got You Babe,” “The Beat Goes On,” “Baby Don’t Go,” “United We Stand,” “A Cowboy’s Work is Never Done,” “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again,” “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” a cover of Nilsson’s “Without You,” and a cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.”]

September 16, 1972 - Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty                                          

Born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky in 1932, Loretta Lynn grew to become a musical trailblazer in Nashville in the 1960s and 1970s.  She was amassing hit songs on the country charts but also pecking holes in the then-constraining boundaries of country music song content.  She crops up in Ken Burns’ very fine 2019 documentary Country Music in episode five, “The Sons and Daughters of America (1964-1968),” and as a September 2019 review of this episode on savingcountrymusic.com points out, “Unlike the other artists in Nashville at the time, Lynn’s producer Owen Bradley encouraged her to write her own songs and didn’t try to polish up her music with strings and choruses.  The result was some of the most honest, and forward-thinking songs of the era, giving a voice to women in a way even rock n’ roll wasn’t doing at the time.”  

The website wikiwand.com lists some of these pivotal songs of Lynn’s that tended to tug country music away from its traditional themes.  “She increased the boundaries in the conservative genre of country music,” the website states, “by singing about birth control (‘The Pill’), repeated childbirth (‘One’s on the Way’), double standards for men and women (‘Rated X’) and being widowed by the draft during the Vietnam War (‘Dear Uncle Sam’).”

As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, Lynn’s stature in country music received a boost through her appearances on the brand new CBS network television show Hee Haw.  Lynn was the program’s first guest star on the series’ debut episode on June 15, 1969, and the show--a mix of country music performances and corn-pone comedy sketches (the latter a sort of countrified Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In)--became incredibly successful in its two-year run on CBS followed by many years of syndication.  According to Wikipedia, Lynn made more guest appearances on Hee Haw than any other country performer and co-hosted more times than any other as well. 

By 1971 Lynn had a long string of album and single releases that had all nestled quite nicely for a time on Billboard Magazine’s Hot Country Songs chart, including one that became her signature tune, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”  That same year she began a long, fruitful onstage and on-record association with Conway Twitty, unsurprising for the fact that female/male duet partners were part and parcel of country music tradition (examples include Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash and June Carter, Tammy Wynette and George Jones, among others).

Conway Twitty was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in 1933 in Friars Point, Mississippi and from an early age was into bands--and baseball.  After high school, according to Twitty’s official website conwaytwitty.com, he was offered a contract by the Philadelphia Phillies but Uncle Sam intervened and the singer/songwriter spent time in the army.  After his release Twitty moved to Memphis in the mid-1950s and hung out and recorded with Sam Phillips at Sun Studios, the recording lair of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and others.  He became a rock ‘n’ roller, and the blended stage name he chose is a tale of two cities--Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas.

While a rocker, Twitty flirted briefly with a Hollywood career and starred in a handful of films (like Sex Kittens Go To College, with Mamie Van Doren) and he almost accepted a lead role--as a young rock ‘n’ roll star--in the play-then-film Bye Bye Birdie.  This early 1960s project was created with him specifically in mind, as the script called for the lead character to be named Conrad Birdie.  Twitty passed on the offer and continued his rock ‘n’ roll pursuits until his long love of country music--for years sublimated but steadily percolating--overtook him and he changed course in 1965.  Twitty then churned out a wealth of country songs and by the late ‘60s was beginning to routinely land on Billboard’s country charts. His course correction brought him much wider success--and then he paired up with Loretta Lynn.

The two started their years of recording together in early 1971 but also continued their individual careers, and so by the time the duo came to Pittsburgh for their Civic Arena concert on September 16, 1972 they were hotter than a pepper sprout.  They were two albums into their duo career at that juncture, and each of these records rose to within the Top Three of all country album releases in the U.S. according to Billboard Magazine.  They enjoyed a #1 hit song from each of the albums on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart as well.

Their streak of individual and mutual successes continued for years after their Pittsburgh stop in 1972.  Curiously there are no reviews to be found online about this concert (at least through my own efforts), but we do know that on a national level, Lynn in particular had a banner year that year.  Just one month to the day after her Pittsburgh concert with co-star Conway, Loretta Lynn became the first woman to win Entertainer of the Year at the prestigious CMA (Country Music Association) Awards.  According to the country music website The Boot (theboot.com), Lynn had by that time released 18 studio albums, scored with 25 Top Ten singles on the Billboard country chart, and of course had the two successful Lynn/Twitty collaborative albums to her credit.  She gave only a brief acceptance speech, but it was one that was heartfelt--and that hewed to her strong love of family and her country upbringin’. 

"I'd like to say that I've won a lot of awards,” Lynn said after hustling to the stage from her seat in the audience, while the crowd rose for a standing ovation.  “And this is one that I have been nominated for, but I never did git.  And this, I think, is the only one that I haven't gotten.  I'm real happy, but the only thing that I'm kind of sad about is my husband is goin’ huntin’.  He couldn't make it back in to share my happiness with me.  Thank you."

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 1/9/22.....ALL THOSE YEARS AGO (part ONE of three on 1972 concerts at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena)

Fifty years ago, starting in this month of January, the Pittsburgh Civic Arena once again welcomed in a number of superstar-level attractions for the music fans of southwestern Pennsylvania.  In this post, Musicasaurus.com looks at six concerts that took place in the first half of that year, one per month January through June.  The makeup of this little cluster is representative of the societal shifts that were taking place in our country as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s.  Classic rock was coming on strong and solidifying careers…Teen idols were no longer the 1950s variety…Heavy metal was born…White-bread pop music artists continued to score with Middle America…and key country stars were continuing to mine their musical heritage and stand proud.  And to make this fifty-year flashback complete, Musicasaurus.com delved into some of the reviews by a Pittsburgh newspaper entertainment writer and others to help round out our look back…

 

January 28, 1972 - Traffic with opening act Edgar Winter’s White Trash

On paper, this was a delicious, double-barreled dose of rock.  Both bands were at or nearing career high peaks when they hit town.  Traffic had just released Low Spark of High Heeled Boys two months prior, and Edgar Winter was well on his way to much greater fame and acclaim with two major new releases that happened to hit after the January Pittsburgh show but before the year 1972 ended. 

Back in ’72 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Mike Kalina dabbled in entertainment reviews, but was most famous for his cooking-related ventures including successful cookbooks and hosting a 13-episode PBS cooking show called “The Travelin’ Gourmet.”  Kalina also served as the PG’s dining critic.  His review of the Traffic/Edgar Winter concert consisted of praise for the former and disdain for the latter.  Kalina observed that the Edgar Winter’s White Trash that opened the show was different from the one that had previously played the Syria Mosque on an earlier Pittsburgh touchdown.  Some members had changed in the interim, and Kalina noted that “Last night it seemed that Edgar Winter was just being backed up by a house band.  But the group still pleased the crowd for the audience yelled for an encore.  Probably the only ones who were disappointed were those who saw the Mosque show earlier and were vividly shown what Edgar and the ‘real’ White Trash really could do.” 

Winter may have scrambled the lineup before this ’72 tour, but he had the wisdom to release a double album two months later entitled Roadwork, and this one featured White Trash’s more formidable line-up (featuring co-lead singer Jerry LaCroix) captured live in concert.  Highlights included a guest appearance by brother Johnny, singing and playing “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” and a 17-minute jam on the old blues standard “Tobacco Road” featuring the Trash’s guitarist Rick Derringer.  Then as 1972 closed out, Winter re-org’ed his group once again and released his career-clinching studio record They Only Come Out at Night.  Two of this album’s tracks, “Frankenstein” and “Free Ride,” took him right up into the FM radio stratosphere.

Kalina was much warmer about Traffic, who was at the top of their game--fluid, improvisational, and intoxicating.  The PG writer noted that Traffic’s set started rather late--10:30pm--due to one of band leader Steve Winwood’s guitar cases falling off the stage earlier that evening which necessitated a search for a replacement instrument.  Once on stage and in the groove, according to Kalina, “The group offered a fine selection of songs from good old rock and roll, rhythm and blues to jazz-influenced compostions.”  This was thanks in part to the group’s lineup for this particular tour--guitarist/keyboardist Steve Winwood, drummer Jim Capaldi and saxophonist/flautist Chris Wood (founding members) augmented by percussionist Rebop Kwakubaah and two Muscle Shoals-based recording studio greats, bassist David Hood and Roger Hawkins.  Fortunately for all of us we can rocket right back to ’72 to sample and savor, live in concert, this exact same lineup at that very same point in time.  There exists a 64-minute Traffic concert film, recorded less than a month after Pittsburgh’s date, and this DVD entitled Live at Santa Monica ‘72 is available through Amazon.com.

February 19, 1972 - David Cassidy

Seems there has always been a stream of musical teen idols for American girls to cherish, and Cassidy was the one in the early 1970s.  He stepped in and out of the nest of the extremely popular ABC television series The Partridge Family (1970-1974)--even while the series was in full swing--in order to start laying a foundation for a solo career out in the real world.  Cassidy released two solo albums in 1972 alone, and his set list for the Pittsburgh show that year included some original songs of his own, a few covers, and some Partridge Family songs including the one that first fuel-injected the Family’s fortunes on TV--“I Think I Love You.”  Reportedly this song in 1970 had outsold The Beatles’ single “Let It Be” and also crowned The Partridge Family as the third fictional artist to have a number one hit (rocketing up there to join previous record holders The Chipmunks and The Archies). 

But Cassidy on his early ‘70s solo-career ascent was the real deal.  Frazier Moore in a November 22, 2017 article on apnews.com pointed to a 1972 Rolling Stone magazine piece that had summed up the singer’s sudden quantum leap into the limelight: “In two years, David Cassidy has swept hurricane-like into the pre-pubescent lives of millions of American girls, leaving: six and a half million long-playing albums and singles; 44 television programs; David Cassidy lunch boxes; David Cassidy bubble gum; David Cassidy coloring books and David Cassidy pens; not to mention several millions of teen magazines, wall stickers, love beads, posters and photo albums.”

And on the concert circuit by 1972, the singer had turned into Cassidy the Conqueror.  That year, over one weekend, he played two sold-out shows at the Houston Astrodome before a combined crowd of 112,000, and in NYC he sold out Madison Square Garden the first day of on-sale.  In their November 22, 2017 obituary on Cassidy (who died the day before), The Irish Times stated that the Madison Square Garden sellout in ’72 was something that the singer had recalled as a real career peak.  But by that time, the Times continued, “Cassidy was already weary of incessant career demands and squealing mobs.  ‘Oh, they’re cute. They get flustered and I get flustered, and it’s all kind of fun,’ Cassidy said of his devotees, ‘But it’s no fun when they rip your clothes and take rooms next door in hotels and keep pounding on the door and slipping notes under it.’”  I’m pretty sure there might be a few similar tales “out there” about the February 19, 1972 Pittsburgh appearance of Cassidy; after all, stalking hotel hallways at a fever pitch is almost a rite of passage for some fans, especially the Overenthusiastic and the Enterprising.

 

March 27, 1972 - Black Sabbath with opener Wild Turkey

One could say with some level of assurance that this band paved the way for the dawning of heavy metal in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s.  So, do most of their loyal fans think them primeval?  Or do others consider them simply…prime evil?

There are clearly a couple of ways to observe the Sabbath, and if you dipped into the origins of this Birmingham, England band you’d find that they started out as a psychedelic rock group who worshipped their blues-loving rock contemporaries like Zeppelin and Cream.  But then band member Geezer Butler had the vision--or a vision--for something else.  The group had first called themselves Earth Blues Company (later on changed to just Earth) when they formed in 1968, but according to Black Sabbath’s official website, blacksabbath.com, “everything changed when Butler came to the band with an idea for a song inspired by a disturbing apparition.  A fan of horror films and the black magic-themed novels of Dennis Wheatley, he flirted briefly with the black arts.  But when he saw what he believed to be a figure from the dark side at the foot of his bed one night, he ceased his dabblings in the goth world.  

“With lyrics by Osbourne, the group composed a song about the visitation, entitling it ‘Black Sabbath’ (after the 1963 Boris Karloff film).  It provoked a reaction in audiences unlike anything else in their repertoire, and they knew they’d stumbled onto something powerful and unique.  Forced to change their name because there was already another band named Earth, they made an obvious choice: Black Sabbath…With Butler serving as principal lyricist and [guitarist Tony] Iommi as the musical architect, Black Sabbath pursued such themes as war, social chaos, the supernatural, the afterlife, and the timeless conflict between good and evil.”  And as Iommi once said to writer Chris Welch in a 2003 interview, “‘We arrived at the height of the Vietnam War and on the other side of the hippie era, so there was a mood of doom and aggression.’”

Having made room for doom and primed now to trudge into sludge (metal-musically speaking), Sabbath in 1970 issued their first two studio recordings Black Sabbath and Paranoid, and then launched their Master of Reality tour in the summer of 1971 to coincide with the release of their same-titled third album.  The band first played the Pittsburgh Civic Arena as part of this particular tour on September 18, 1971 and so this March 27, 1972 concert was a return engagement, with the band once again performing songs from all three of their albums, chief among them “Sweet Leaf,” “Iron Man,” “Black Sabbath,” “Children of the Grave,” “N.I.B.,” “Paranoid,” “War Pigs” and “Fairies Wear Boots.”

The opening act for this show was Wild Turkey, an English band founded by ex-Jethro Tull bassist Glenn Cornick who had left the latter in 1970 after the group’s first three albums, This WasStand Up and Benefit.  It is interesting to note that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Mike Kalina, a couple of days after the Sabbath show, only really mentioned the opening act.  Kalina said this in his March 29 capsule review: “The warmup act for Black Sabbath Monday night at the arena got a lukewarm response from the crowd, why, I don’t know.  Bass guitarist of Wild Turkey Glenn Cornick (formerly lead bass with Jethro Tull) is one of the best bass guitarists around and the group has some great arrangements.  Yet the crowd was unimpressed.  Perhaps it was because they couldn’t wait for Sabbath to come on stage.”  

I think Kalina cleared up his initial puzzlement with that last line of his review.  Wild Turkey’s sound was a mix of Jethro Tull with a tinge of the swagger of the Rod Stewart-led Faces, so for the thousands of fans who (mostly) were patiently waiting for Sabbath, something was definitely missing--that dense, riff-heavy, and thunderous sound, and those song lyrics that conjured up the ills of the world, the darkness and the demonic.  It all came to pass, though, when the intermission ended and all the lights in the arena went to black. 

 

April 19, 1972 - The Carpenters with opening act Randy Edelman

Sister Karen and brother Richard, born in New Haven, Connecticut but transplanted to California in their teens, were almost fated to musically team up.  The siblings were very early on honing their skills, Karen on drums and Richard on keyboards, and they first emerged as a duo in 1965 when Karen was fifteen and Richard was nineteen.  They were signed by major record label A&M four years later, and with Richard’s burgeoning skills as composer and arranger on top of his accomplished piano playing, the duo conquered the national pop and adult contemporary album sales charts from 1970 through 1981.  

The Carpenters had ten albums to their credit, and from these surged an incredible string of hit songs that reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot One Hundred chart and/or on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.  The songs: “(They Long to Be) Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” (1970) … “For All We Know,” “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “Superstar” (1971) … “Hurting Each Other” (1972) … “Sing,” “Yesterday Once More” and “Top of the World” (1973) … “I Won’t Last a Day Without You” and “Please Mr. Postman” (1974) … “Only Yesterday” and “Solitaire” (1975) … “There’s a Kind of Hush” and “I Need to Be in Love” (1976) … and “Touch Me When We’re Dancing” (1981).

By the time The Carpenters played the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in April of 1972 they were riding high on album sales and singles, and to better flesh out and/or recreate the recorded versions of their repertoire the duo shared the stage with a 24-piece orchestra.  The PG’s Mike Kalina wrote a short and sweet follow-up review which said “The Carpenters’ show at the arena Wednesday night was an extremely fine one even though it seemed a little over-rehearsed and lacked the spontaneity that is so exciting about live shows.  Karen’s voice was as mellow and soothing as ever and her brother Richard proved to be quite a polished entertainer and shined in his explanatory monologues about The Carpenters’ brand of music.”

The Carpenters career ended quite suddenly in 1983.  Readers of a certain age (i.e., OLD) will likely remember hearing about the passing of Karen Carpenter that year.  The heavenly contralto was only 32 years old at the time and had succumbed to heart failure due to longstanding complications from anorexia nervosa.  Although The Carpenters through the years, in some quarters, had been dismissed as just another set of singers of saccharine songs, they were much more than that according to their fans and to a number of musicians/singer-songwriters.  Reportedly Paul McCartney, Elton John and Pat Metheny were admirers, and female artists who have cited Karen Carpenter as an influence on their styles and on their career paths include but are not limited to Sheryl Crow, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, Shania Twain, k.d. lang, and Madonna.

 

May 1, 1972 - Joe Cocker with opening act Todd Rundgren

To most every one of the 10,000 fans who turned out to see this Pittsburgh Civic Arena concert on May 1, 1972, Cocker was the magnet.  His popularity over the past few years had been stoked by the nationwide release in March 1970 of the Woodstock film, the famous music festival’s documentary which had served to introduce the spastic fantastic Cocker to thousands and thousands of rock fans across the USA.  This was followed in August 1970 by the debut of the blues-belter’s live-on-tour double album Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and by the subsequent release in March 1971 of the Mad Dogs movie that had documented the tour’s various musical highlights.

Though Cocker had been off the road for more than a year before his 1972 tour began in March, the rest did not do him well.  He had struggled with a protracted change in managers during that stretch, mentally wobbled about his career trajectory, and--truth be told--imbibed and inhaled a little too heartily.  Plus, heading into this 1972 tour, he was a bit uncertain about his band; there were a lot of new members this time out, and Leon Russell--who had masterminded the formation of Cocker’s Mad Dogs tour and had served as band ringleader and conductor--was not a part of this current enterprise.  

The review of Cocker’s Madison Square Garden March 15, 1972 tour-kickoff concert was, like the performance itself, underwhelming.  The New York Times’ Don Heckman in a post-concert review noted that the problem was Cocker’s concentration on “riff-based-only, feebly melodic songs that stimulate him to little more than a stop-and-go series of grunting, growling epigrammatic phrases.  In between his brief vocals, the back-up group played much too long improvisations and the occasional fill-ins by a trio of gospel-blues singers were more a distraction than an addition.”

Luckily by May, in Pittsburgh, Cocker was mostly back in form according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s show reviewer Mike Kalina.  The PG writer said that although Cocker’s set was late in starting up and fans were restless, “Joe apparently gave them what they came for, in his usual frenetic style which thrilled a crowd of about 10,000.  The band was a little too loud and had quite a few loose ends but Joe overcame it, screaming his heart off with a voice that sounds like a Southern black blues singer and not like the Englishman that he is.”

Oh, and Kalina additionally noted that “One thing noticeable was the lack of Leon Russell who helped keep things together musically on Joe’s last tour.”  Though this Pittsburgh audience of Cocker fans was appeased in the end, perhaps Joe could have really won them over--i.e., gotten by with a little help from his friend.

June 16, 1972 - Johnny Cash with June Carter, The Carter Family, Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers and the Tennessee Three                                                                                                                                                                                                        

In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s review of this June 16, 1972 multi-act show, writer Mike Kalina noted that Cash and company “drew some 8,000 country music fans to the Civic Arena with a concert which featured not only country music but also pop, gospel and even some rock and roll.”  Cash was dressed in black, of course, and “gave a very polished, yet relaxed performance with the majority of his tunes well-suited for his somber vocal style.  He also looked much younger than one would have expected, despite craggy lines in his face that have been etched by time and years of dues-paying in the music business.”

Kalina also pointed out that the first song of Cash’s set that evening was “A Boy Named Sue.”  This novelty song originally written by Shel Silverstein was first sung by the country legend at a February 24, 1969 concert at San Quentin prison, Kalina noted, and Cash’s behind-bars live performance of this song quickly became a Top Ten hit (the only one of his career) on both the Country and the Hot 100 sales charts of the national music industry mag Billboard.  The full album containing “A Boy Named Sue” and other tunes sung at San Quentin, released in June of 1969, was also a juggernaut for Johnny; the LP ended up in Billboard’s year-end sales charts as #1 in both Country and Pop.

Cash’s performance for the inmates at San Quentin wasn’t his first prison concert appearance, nor would it be his last.  According to the California State Library’s website, library.ca.gov, “During his time as a country music star, Johnny Cash was known as a voice for social awareness.  He championed the plight of this country’s Native peoples with his Bitter Tears album.  He welcomed Ray Charles onto ABC-TV’s The Johnny Cash Show, sharing a piano bench with him during the civil rights era.  He also never flinched in his advocacy for improved conditions for prison inmates and the value of drug rehabilitation programs.”  Over the course of Cash’s entire career, according to the website, it is estimated he did at least 30 such gigs in front of captivated crowds of the incarcerated.  

Pittsburgh was no exception.  On the afternoon of his June 16, 1972 Civic Arena concert Cash and all of his tour’s support acts performed at State Correctional Institution, more commonly known as “Western Penitentiary,” located about five miles west of downtown.  This correctional facility, first established in 1826 and then relocated to its present site in 1882, was one of Pennsylvania’s first of the sort but is today no longer operational; Governor Tom Wolf announced its closing in 2017.  Just one month after his Pittsburgh ’72 arena concert, Cash was testifying before Congress about prison conditions saying--again according to library.ca.gov-- “‘I have seen and heard of things at some of the concerts that would chill the blood of the average citizen,’ Cash told the Subcommittee on National Penitentiaries.  ‘But I think possibly the blood of the average citizen needs to be chilled in order for public apathy and conviction to come about because right now we have 1972 problems and 1872 jails…People have got to care in order for prison reform to come about.’”

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 12/26/21.....UP, UP AND AWAY

In the October 17, 2021 post here on Musicasaurus.com, we dove into the lives of some of the music-related individuals who had passed away this year--Charlie Watts, Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, Don Everly, Sheila Bromberg (harpist on The Beatle’s “She’s Leaving Home”) Commander Cody, Gerry Marsden (of Gerry and The Pacemakers), Nanci Griffith, Chick Corea, Byron Berline (country violinist who also did sessions with the Stones and others), and Anne Feeney (renowned activist/singer-songwriter based in Pittsburgh)…and now at the end of the year, we delve into more…

God Rest Ye Merry Gentle Musicmakers.

Michael Nesmith (December 30, 1942 – December 10, 2021)

Michael Nesmith was one of the four members of the insanely popular mid-late ‘60s group The Monkees.  He was the one in the wool hat, and there was a lot going on under the hood.  Obituaries about this musician, singer-songwriter, actor, producer and innovator have undoubtedly mentioned Nesmith’s pioneering work in video, as his company Pacific Arts (formed in 1974) helped pave the way for the flowering of the music video format and the eventual launch of MTV.  Nesmith also wrote an eventual hit for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys, “Different Drum,” and after The Monkees scattered he led his own country rock group called The First National Band.  

Nesmith was a constant presence in the sometimes overlapping worlds of music, film and video throughout his professional life and, as most obits have also likely mentioned, his mother was someone who had gained a bit of fame herself in another sphere of life.  Bette Nesmith in 1955 invented the typewriter paper correction fluid called Liquid Paper, a product that became indispensable across the world for covering up typing errors with a simple brushstroke.  Upon Bette’s death in 1980 her son Michael (an only child) inherited her fortune and used the funds for investing in select film projects and other businesses…

But hey, hey, back to the Monkees: I was 13 years old in September 1966 when The Monkees television series first hit the nation’s home screens.  This was right on the heels of the song “Last Train To Clarksville” which had buoyed up on the radio waves not more than a month before.  My friends and I quickly snatched up that 45 RPM single from the Woolworth’s store record department in our hometown of Butler, PA, as we did with all other such addictive, tuneful new pop-rock hits.  It’s notable that The Monkees had two Number One hits in that latter-half of ’66--“I’m a Believer” on top of “Clarksville”--as Monkeemania really began to kick into high gear.  Though I never coughed up my allowance for actual Monkees albums I nevertheless scooped up most of the 45s that followed this September ’66 NBC television debut, and for at least that first full year afterward, watching The Monkees every Monday night at 7:30pm became appointment television.  

By the end of 1967, though, I was definitely swinging away from The Monkees toward other branches of music.  This late ‘60s time period heralded an unceasing flood of new bands and new releases, and I was drawn deeper into the incredible diversity of sounds that were filling up radio playlists and record store bins.  My ears had been opened wide to the exploration of classic rock, prog rock, country rock, jazz rock, folk music, third world, blues and other hues. But The Monkees reentered my life two more times, once in 1986 and again in 1996, and both of these re-emergences came in the form of anniversary tour concerts that I helped to book and promote. 

The Twentieth Anniversary Tour (3 outta 4 Monkees; Davy, Peter and Micky, but no Michael) played the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in 1986 when I was the venue’s director of booking, and this July 9thconcert which was set up in a half-house configuration ended up being wildly successful due to a parallel relaunch of the 1960s Monkees TV episodes on Nickelodeon and then MTV (Monkeemania was only hibernating, as it turned out).  Then in 1996, the Thirtieth Anniversary Tour of the band (again, sans Nesmith) hit Star Lake Amphitheatre, the outdoor venue near Pittsburgh where I was working at the time as general manager. 

I vividly recall two things about this last experience of mine “hosting” the band: 1) the audience was an all-ages assemblage, with more than a few people in their 60s who had once upon a time been rabid fans, and teens and twenty-somethings who were perhaps there, first and foremost, out of curiosity…and 2) the T-shirt stands where the group’s tour merchandiser had placed all of The Monkees branded novelty items were absolutely deluged by the fans.  At this particular concert, the lines for these merch stands were three times the size of the ones at our concession stands--all evening long.  This was good news for the band members’ pocketbooks but bad tidings for our venue’s cash registers.  As a concert facility we essentially lived or died each night based on our ancillary revenues from food & beverage, and in this case all that Monkee business goin’ on at the merchandise counters drained our prospects for a decent financial win.

Sally Grossman (August 22, 1939 – March 11, 2021)

African American blues singer/pianist Tommy Tucker wrote and first recorded the song “Hi-Heel Sneakers” in 1964 (notably covered by José Feliciano, among others), and now when I look at the striking figure of Sally Grossman on the cover of Bob Dylan’s iconic 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home, I can’t help but hear in my head the lyrics to that song: “Put on your red dress baby / Lord we’re goin’ out tonight.”

Sally Grossman was all decked out in red, but she wasn’t goin’ nowhere ‘cept that chair.  She had been asked by Dylan to join her in the cover shoot for his fifth studio album, and the photo was taken at Grossman’s Woodstock, NY home which she shared with her music business manager husband Albert Grossman (Dylan’s manager at the time).  In an article about Sally’s passing in March 2021 New York Times writer Neil Genzlinger points out that the photo, taken by photographer Daniel Kramer, “was an early example of what became a mini-trend of loading covers up with imagery that seemed to invite scrutiny for insights into the music.”  

The cover was much talked-about by Dylan followers when it hit record stores in March of 1965.  Dylan had appointed the magazines, album covers and other bric-a-brac which led many fans to exhaustively search for meaning, and Grossman of course couldn’t escape their gaze.  NYT writer Genzlinger cited music journalist Neil McCormick’s 2020 piece in London’s The Daily Telegraph, in which the latter had written “Fans became so fixated on deciphering it that a rumor took hold that the woman was Dylan in drag, representing the feminine side of his psyche.”  Yeah, well, if there are fans out there right now that have anointed themselves as the ones with all the answers, that’s a hard reign gonna fail.

 

David Lasley (August 20, 1947 - December 9, 2021)

If you haven’t seen the 2013 documentary 20 Feet from Stardom about the vocal talents literally behind the stars, check it out to learn about the master class of individuals who populate that unfairly uncelebrated role.  At the opening of the documentary, Bruce Springsteen says "It's a bit of a walk from back by the drummer over here.  That walk to the front is complicated.  Singing background remains a somewhat unheralded position, you know?  People make that leap.  It's almost more of a mental leap than just the physical act of singing.  It's a conceptual leap.  If you can comfortably come up with it, then you may find a spot out there."  

The film covers many formidable individuals brimming with talent including Merry Clayton who recorded “Gimme Shelter” with the Stones, and Lisa Fischer who sang backup for many Stones and Sting tours.  And now one of the men belonging to this master class has left us--David Lasley.  

Lasley was an unsung triple threat.  He wrote songs adopted by a number of well-established artists for inclusion on their albums, recorded backup vocals in the studio for others, and also toured in a vocal support role behind some major talents.  He worked with so many artists over the years that the list bulges over: James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, Anita Baker, Rickie Lee Jones, Luther Vandross, Dusty Springfield, Tina Turner, Todd Rundgren, Cissy Houston, Phoebe Snow, Herb Alpert, Bette Midler, Sister Sledge, Jimmy Buffett, Whitney Houston, Burt Bacharach, Ringo Starr, Chic--and even The Ramones (his role uncredited on this last one; he reportedly contributed vocals to the punkers’ Leave Home and Rocket to Russia albums).  

Perhaps unsurprisingly, yet especially noteworthy, at one particular point in his career Lasley as backup vocalist appeared in thirteen of the Top Twenty-five songs that were listed on the US Billboard magazine’s singles chart.  

Mary Wilson (March 6, 1944 – February 8, 2021)

There are Motown fans who still to this day elevate the significance of Diana Ross almost to the level of a supreme being, but bear in mind the most famous and successful of the 1960s girl groups also featured co-founders Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson.  Wilson--maybe while humming “Someday We’ll Be Together”?-- left all of us earthbound folks earlier this year as she ascended to hang out with the real Supreme Being.

The original Supremes came together in the very early 1960s under another group name and with a fourth member, but by 1964 it was just the trio of Ross, Ballard and Wilson who were racking up hit songs and dazzling television audiences with their shimmering gowns and coordinated dance moves.  The Supremes became incredibly reliable hitmakers for their record label Motown, churning out twelve Number One radio hits in the 1960s.

Inevitably there came personnel changes, and the impetus was reportedly Motown head Berry Gordy’s desire to groom Ross for a solo career.  A big clue: Gordy changed the group’s name to Diana Ross and the Supremes in 1967.  That was also the year that Florence Ballard became dejected and then ejected--Ross’ increased profile depressed her to such a degree that she began to noticeably turn toward the bottle as well as miss some recording dates.  Flo had to go.  A young woman named Cindy Birdsong was in.

After Diana Ross left the group in 1970 Wilson soldiered on with Birdsong and new recruit Jean Terrell, but the song charts rarely saw another hit from the group.  The Supremes officially disbanded in 1977, and Wilson during the 1980s turned to writing and penned a quite successful account of her life and career entitled Dreamgirl.  Other books followed through the years, as well as some dates as an opening act for comedians such as Joan Rivers and also some occasional girl-group performances billed as “The Supremes Starring Mary Wilson.”

Perhaps the thing I remember most about Mary Wilson is the time that she was rejected. As Rolling Stone writer David Browne pointed out in the magazine’s February 9, 2021 article on Wilson’s death, “In 2000, an attempt at a Supremes reunion tour fizzled thanks to money; Wilson claimed she would only be paid $2 million, far less than Ross’ fee.  Ross wound up touring with two later Supremes for the poorly received ‘Return to Love’ tour.”  I was working at that time for SFX (which eventually morphed into Live Nation), and through the company grapevine had learned that SFX tour management had balked at paying Wilson and Birdsong decent compensation compared to Diva Ross.  As writer Browne stated above, the tour was indeed “poorly received.”  After just 13 performances out of a scheduled 29-city run, the tour was officially cancelled by SFX.  

There was one other factor for the “Return to Love” tour’s dissolution that is often left unspoken--SFX greed.  SFX Entertainment was a company formed by American businessman and media mogul Robert F. X. Sillerman who in the late 1990s rounded up and purchased a ton of independent regional concert promoters, bringing most all of them under his wing by the year 2000.  Sillerman’s theories on concert ticket pricing were lofty in the extreme; he prescribed that SFX concerts--whether in arenas, amphitheaters or stadiums--use the “Broadway pricing” mindset of instituting sky-high prices for the best seats in the house.  His insistence on this approach led to a good chunk of the Supremes “Return to Love” tickets in each venue to be priced at $250 each.  So in essence it was fan sticker shock, coupled with the fact that this Supremes reunion only boasted one original member, that truly sounded the death knell.

* Ken Kragen (November 24, 1936 - December 14, 2021) 

Kragen was an American music manager and television producer who gained prominence in several spheres--as an executive producer of the far-left-leaning, hence-destined-to-be-cancelled late 1960s CBS television series The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hourand as manager of once-luminescent stars such as Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, Olivia Newton John, The Bee Gees and others.  Musicasaurus.com, though, points to his work on an amazing mid-1980s charity effort as his crowning achievement.  

A bit of background: In December 1984 Irish musician Bob Geldof over in the UK had mounted a charity song project that he dubbed Band Aid.  Geldof arm-twisted an impressive number of the UK’s most popular contemporary musicians into lending their individual vocal chops—for free—to a new recording that he hoped would stir empathy and compassion for (and donations to) the people of Ethiopia who were mired in a devastating famine.  The resulting song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was released in early December 1984 and still holds the record for the UK’s fastest-selling single of all time, selling one million copies in the first week alone (eventually selling over three million copies).  

And this is where Ken Kragen stepped in, and stepped up, here in our country. On the heels of Britain’s Band Aid success Kragen was the one who propelled the USA for Africa project into motion along with singer Harry Belafonte.  “We Are The World,” written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, was recorded in January 1985 with an all-star cast that included Jackson and Richie, and also Dylan, Springsteen, Diana Ross, Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Cyndi Lauper, Kenny Rogers, Billy Joel, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder—and on and on.  Released two months after that January 1985 recording session, the single ended up selling over twenty million copies.

Kragen, it should be noted, gave all kudos to Geldof.  In an email several years ago that appeared in music biz insider Bob Lefsetz’s e-newsletter/blog The Lefsetz Letter, Kragen said this of his project partner: “Bob Geldof was clearly the inspiration for me organizing the ‘We Are The World’ recording.  When Harry Belafonte saw the pictures on television of children starving to death in Africa he sought me out to organize a concert to raise money for a relief effort.  I suggested instead that Geldof’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ which had become a big hit in England was a perfect blueprint for us here in the US and that we could do it even bigger with the artists we had like Michael Jackson and my client Lionel Richie as well as so many others…

“I flew Geldof over where the recording session at A&M Studios in Hollywood was and he gave a terrific talk to the assembled artists about how important it was that they were doing this…Probably the funniest moment of all with Bob was at the press conference we had a few days after the recording.  We had some [USA for Africa] T-shirts and sweatshirts left over so I brought them and offered them to the media who were there.  Bob immediately stood up and said loudly ‘Fuck that!  If you people want the shirts you can pay for them.’  Bob and I left with our pockets stuffed with cash which we gave to the USA for Africa charity.”

All told the entire USA for Africa project (the sales from the “We Are the World” single plus all related items including the video, books, magazines, posters, etc.) helped immeasurably in heightening awareness on an international scale for the plight of the Ethiopians--and raised over sixty-three million dollars for the cause. 

SHORT TAKES ON OTHERS WHO LEFT US IN 2021:

Graeme Edge (March 30, 1941 - November 11, 2021)

Edge was a co-founding member of the Moody Blues.  He was a poet as well as a musician and what’s burned into my memory bank is his 44-second, spoken-word piece on the 1968 album In Search of the Lost Chord, a recitation that builds into near frenzy, cascading into the opening chords of the first song on the album “Ride My See-Saw.” 

Paddy Moloney (August 1, 1938 – October 12, 2021)

Co-founder and leader of a band whose name is synonymous with traditional Irish music, Moloney helped steer the long career of The Chieftains who first formed in 1962.  The musician’s go-to instruments consisted of the tin whistle, uilleann pipes, button accordion and the bodhrán, and Moloney played on all 44 albums released by the group.

Tim Bogert (August 27, 1944 - January 13, 2021)

As far as I know, God never said to anyone “Don’t Bogert My Joint,” so we can presume that Tim is up there now in Heaven.  Bassist Bogert is best known for his work in a succession of rock groups consisting of Vanilla Fudge (1967-1970), Cactus (1969-1972) and Beck, Bogert & Appice (1973-1974).

Ron Bushy (December 23, 1941 – August 29, 2021)

Bushy was famous--or infamous--for his drum solo on the 17-minute-and-change psychedelic song from the Summer of ’68, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”  The group Iron Butterfly was the perpetrator, although when the song hit the airwaves of the newly-hatched underground stations popping up on FM radio around that time, the response was overwhelmingly positive.  Time has not been especially kind to this tune; there’s an element of cheesiness that’s crept into being, particularly noticeable if the listener has long ago put the bong away.  Please now observe a full two-and-a-half minutes of silence as we pay our respects to Bushy; it’s only proper, as that was the length of his “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” drum solo.

John Davis (August 31, 1954 – May 24, 2021)

You might be surprised to learn that John Davis was the real voice behind one-half (Fabrice Morvan) of the hot-for-a-nanosecond pop duo Milli Vanilli, who scored with the album and the song “Girl You Know It’s True” in 1989.  You might also be surprised to learn that Davis was surprised to learn that his voice was used that way.  He was in Germany in the 1970s and early 1980s and had met up with German record producer Frank Farian to work on vocal projects including one for Milli Vanilli, but he was never told that his own voice would be specifically used for all of Fabrice Morvan’s vocals on the album, with Morvan receiving full credit. The charade soon came to light, and because a similar switcheroo had been done with the other half of Milli Vanilli as well--i.e., a closeted singer voicing the parts for pretend singer Rob Pilatus--a Grammy that Morvan and Pilatus recently won as Milli Vanilli was withdrawn and their record label Arista dropped the duo, also then deleting the album from its catalog.  It makes one wonder…Is Davis really dead?  If so, why didn’t Morvan, in order to make amends, volunteer here to substitute in for Davis?  (I’m so confused.)

 

Chuck E. Weiss (March 18, 1945 – July 20, 2021)

Time to change the name of Rickie Lee Jones’ 1979 hit song “Chuck E.’s in Love” to “Chuck E.’s Above.”  Weiss shuffled off to heaven this past summer.  He was nowhere near a household name (until Jone’s hit song) but was a real presence on the L.A. scene for years, and he, Rickie Lee and Tom Waits were thick as thieves, sharing a love of art and music and storytelling.  Weiss was not a true-blue schooled musician, but he found local fame as a guy who could command a stage with just a modicum of musical talent but with a huge reservoir of passion.  In a July 21, 2021 obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Rickie Lee Jones said this: “When ‘Chuck E.’s in Love’ passed from the heavens and faded into the ‘I hate that song’ desert, from which it still has not really recovered, he and I became estranged, and everyone fell away from everyone.  Waits left, the brief Camelot of our street corner jive ended.  I had made fiction of us, made heroes of very unheroic people.  But I’m glad I did.”

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 12/12/21.....THE SWEETEST GIFT

Musicasaurus.com has, as a service to its faithful readers, scoured the internet for the most unique music-related gift items for this end-of-2021 holiday season.  NOTE: YEP…ALL OF THESE PRODUCTS ARE REAL.

THE “HISS” T-SHIRT

Cat lovers who are into rock ‘n’ roll music might lap up this particular homage to the band Kiss—though Musicasaurus.com’s honest opinion of the group is that most of their material belongs in the litter box (I can already anticipate the reaction of stalwart fans here; the fur will be flyin’).

 

THE “YOU CAN’T DO EPIC SHIT WITH BASIC PEOPLE” T-SHIRT

This is the perfect gift for your musician boyfriend or girlfriend who is currently in a group situation but wants to break free.  There are more subtle ways to communicate this, but rather than just calling a band meeting to spark a discussion, why not just set everything ablaze by walking in late to a practice session wearing this?

 

THE “REAL DJs DO IT WITH 12 INCHES” T-SHIRT

Of course the T-shirt simply maintains that your music spinning significant other prefers two turntables instead of more tech-savvy means to pump out tunes at a party.  But there’s always a chance that he or she will get some tipsy individual later in the evening mustering up the bravado to approach your deejay lover and say (or slur) something like “Well, your song selections measure up…but do you?”

 

THE “SKELETON PLAYING AN ACOUSTIC GUITAR” T-SHIRT

Looking for an excuse to throw a party?  How about a hootenanny?  As party themes go this may be a stretch, but let’s lay it out there: If your inner circle absolutely adores the old folk artists from the ‘60s who are dying off these days, why not schedule a series of “Folk Artist Farewell” house parties where everyone dons this special T-shirt, several folks grab guitars, and then everyone sings and/or strums along to the music of whoever has just departed this Earth?  It’s too late, of course, to fete folk stars like Pete Seeger, The Weavers, John Prine, The Kingston Trio, Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary, Leonard Cohen, Mama Cass Elliot, Odetta, Phil Ochs, Townes Van Zandt and Dave Van Ronk.  But ones to look forward to (in terms of tentative party scheduling purposes) include Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, John Gorka, Judy Collins, Kris Kristofferson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Tom Paxton, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Tom Rush.

 

THE “DIBS ON THE BASSIST” T-SHIRT

Own the dibs.  This is perfect concert gear if your gift recipient has been able to snag seats to a particular show in the first ten rows or is the type of person who snakes their way up to the lip of the stage mid-show.  This T-shirt should get him or her on the tour bus posthaste, post-performance, but if not I would think they would leave with at least an autograph at minimum since such an honest and earnest effort was put forth.

 

THE “SLAYER” UGLY CHRISTMAS SWEATER

Slayer and the Christmas season are a perfect pair, are they not?  After all, this is the California thrash metal band whose song catalogue over thirty-two years and twelve albums consists of tunes such as “Show No Mercy,” “Evil Has No Boundaries,” “The Antichrist,” “Mandatory Suicide,” “Hell Awaits,” “Raining Blood,” “Angel of Death”--and perhaps the most frightening and foreboding tune of all, “Hardening of the Arteries” (yes, that’s a real song from Slayer, but it’s title is devilishly deceptive because the lyrics are far, FAR away from any “pay attention to your diet” themes).  So, yes, just show up in your Slayer outfit and hope that a few other attendees have also opted to turn the ugly sweater party into more of a ghastly garb gathering.

 

 

THE “DARK SIDE OF THE MOON” UGLY CHRISTMAS SWEATER

There are SO many fans of this 1973 landmark album that I dare not make any kind of Floydian slip here.  I admire The Dark Side of the Moon, for sure, but was never a devotee.  And adding to my take-it-or-leave-it attitude, the battling boys within the band kind of wore me out with their harping and carping in the press in later years.  That said, love the sweater.  It of course bears the iconic album’s cover art by design firm Hipgnosis and a sizeable “MERRY CHRISTMAS,” but one thing is missing in my estimation--the impetus to make the wearer’s next dive into the Dark Side album a quintessential listening experience.  Hence the button that has been added to the package (thanks to Nancy Reagan for the inspiration).

 

THE DEVIL HORNS HAND-GESTURE CANDLE

The Devil Horns gesture means a variety of thing across a number of cultures and religions.  It crops up in Buddhism as a means to expel demons, in Italy as a way of warding off bad luck, and in some other Mediterranean countries and in some Latin cultures it implies--if the hand swivels while in this two-finger pose--cuckoldry.  Here in the USA it is often something we see associated with heavy metal groups including Ozzy Osbourne.  I “survived” a number of OzzFests at Star Lake Amphitheatre between 1997-2007, having worked there as general manager ultimately in charge of, among other things, monitoring crowd control.  This particular candle, seen lit as it is, rekindles many fond memories of the OzzFests—especially the fan-set bonfires on the lawn.

 

THE MICHAEL BOLTON PRAYER CANDLE

This artist started out his singing career in 1975 as a rocker, even edging toward hard rock, but by the late 1980s he had mellowed and modified, having found a route to success as a blue-eyed soul singer eagerly adopted by a white-bread audience.  Bolton crooning covers of way-more-legit soul singers like Otis Redding, Ray Charles and others led Allmusic.com reviewer William Ruhlmann in 1989 to observe that “his voice was now stoking the romantic fires in bedrooms across America.”  The singer’s success largely faded away by 1993, and I guess when one finally comes to terms with career flameout, it’s time to light a candle.  This holiday gift is sure to please at least one family member but DO choose your recipient wisely; otherwise, someone’s gonna be boltin’ for the door.

 

THE FRANK ZAPPA FRIDGE MAGNET

This variation on the photographic poses of this rebel-rousing, pop culture-skewering musical genius rings true.  Zappa always thumbed his nose at convention, so it’s not surprising he moved a couple of digits over for the ultimate “F-you.”  But why this on a refrigerator magnet?  Motivations of the magnet producers are unknown…so we recommend you just chill with this iconoclast on your fridge, open up the door and “Call Any Vegetable.”

 

THE FREDDIE MERCURY NUTCRACKER

The dearly departed lead singer of British rock band Queen is immortalized as a nutcracker (it was only a matter of time).  On the ad page for this item on Etsy the sellers maintain “We will, we will, crack you!” and they’re probably right-on.  Freddie has a velvet cloak, a crown, a microphone and chest hair, but more importantly, he has supreme functionality as a nutcracker (yeah, it’s the overbite).

 

MUSIC COASTERS WITH MISTAKEN LYRICS

Rest your drinks on misheard lyrics of famous songs, secure in the knowledge that some of them might actually be better than the real ones.  Some of these sets of coasters hold some real gems, and here’s a handful of ‘em: From “Ticket to Ride” by The Beatles: “She’s got a tick in her eye and she don’t care”…..From “Medley: Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)" by The 5thDimension: “This is the dawning of the age of asparagus”…..From “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John: “Hold me closer, Tony Danza”…..From “Two Tickets to Paradise” by Eddie Money: “I’ve got two chickens to paralyze”…..From “Africa” by Toto: “I left some brains down in Africa”…..From “Hotel California” by the Eagles: “On a dark desert highway, cool whip in my hair”…..From “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: “She’s a good girl, loves her mama / loves cheez-its, and America too”…..From “Beast of Burden” by The Stones: “I’ll never leave your pizza burnin’”…..and “Like A Virgin” by Madonna: “Like a virgin, touched for the thirty-first time.”

 

THE WASHBOARD TIE

On Amazon.com the product description says that the “Washboard Tie is the easiest and most convenient way to accompany all styles of music.  Simply hook on the top of your shirt and scrub away with the included pair of thimbles.  A fun gift item for all occasions.  Nicely packaged, 24 gauge, brushed stainless steel.”  You’ll either be the hit of the next party you attend, playing along with your host’s Sonos mix on songs like Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime,” OR you’ll stand out from the crowd at an intimate, all-acoustic zydeco or jug band concert when you start strummin’ from the seats (the band will either stare you down, or invite you up).

 

THE ALBUM DOORMAT

From the website uncommongoods.com comes an interesting gift idea: a doormat that is fashioned to resemble an album.  This record-shaped doormat can be personalized with your family’s last name on it but more importantly, it can be imprinted with the name of your intended recipient’s favorite album.  So why would a person on your gift list appreciate this?  He or she wouldn’t be too keen on the idea of wiping dirt, leaves and dogshit on the name of an album that they treasure.  So…let’s tackle this incongruity.  Why not, when ordering, personalize the doormat with the name of the recipient’s most hated album?  You know which ones they truly despise, so go ahead and order it up with Rod Stewart’s gag-me-with-a-spoon It Had To Be You/The Great American Songbook…or Metal Machine Music, the guitar noise/feedback album from Lou Reed that Rolling Stone magazine critics likened to “the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator”…or Paul Anka’s album Anka that bore the song “(You’re) Having My Baby”…or Vanilla Ice’s debut album To The Extreme (the one with “Ice Ice Baby” on it)…or the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Soundtrack album, from that dog of a film that featured The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and other artists in excruciating-to-listen-to cover versions of Beatles’ classics (one should take care to wipe one’s feet really, really well if this be the chosen one).

 

PASTABILITIES’ MUSIC PASTA

A fine gift for the person who loves food almost as much as music--so imagine blasting “Eat at Home” by McCartney, “Supper’s Ready” by Genesis or “Dinner for Two” by David Byrne & St. Vincent while your little G clefs and music notes are bubbling on the stovetop.  Devout devourers of “all things music” will appreciate the fact that you’ve given them entrée into the new realm of listening to music while eating music.

 

THE DYLAN MUG WITH LYRICS TO “SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK BLUES”

Maybe you’ve seen the time-honored clip on YouTube of a young Bob Dylan in an alleyway holding up a stack of cue cards containing buzzwords of the lyrics of his song “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”  As the tune plays overtop, Dylan peels off the individual lyric cards timed to their appearances on the audio.  This two-minute, eighteen-second video from 1965 originally appeared in D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back and is considered by some historians to be a forerunner of the music video.  The Dylan fan on your gift list has very likely already seen this video clip numerous times and has come to know the lyrics quite well.  But now there’s an opportunity for a tactile sensation with Dylan’s words--literally cupping your hands around them.  Your gift recipient is going to enjoy many a morning with this mug, in quiet communion, drinking in the beauty of the older generation’s most revered songwriter/lyricist.

 

THE LYNYRD SKYNYRD AIR FRESHENER

Odds are that someone in your family or someone within your wide circle of friends has yelled ‘Free Bird!” and flicked their Bic at some point in their concert-going history.  So this particular item makes a fine gift, but perhaps you should just keep it for yourself for road trips with friends.  They might not even notice it hanging from your review mirror, but sure as hell they’ll be askin’ “What’s that smell?  Can’t you smell that smell?”

 

BOOZE & VINYL: A SPIRITED GUIDE TO GREAT MUSIC AND MIXED DRINKS

This hardcover book available from Barnes & Noble is 224 pages long and contains 70 entries that match up a particular album with appropriately chosen cocktails.  As the product description on the website explains, “Booze & Vinyl is organized by mood, from Rock to Chill, Dance, and Seduce.  Each entry has liner notes that underscore the album's musical highlights and accompanying ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’ cocktail recipes that complement the music's mood, imagery in the lyrics, or connect the drink to the artist.”  The featured albums, ones ranging from the 1950s through the 2000s, include Sgt. Pepper’s, Purple Rain, Sticky Fingers, Born To Run, License to Ill, Thriller, Ziggy Stardust, Buena Vista Social Club, Vampire Weekend and more.  An editorial review of the book by TastingTable.com, in their article “The Best New Cookbooks for Spring 2018,” labeled the publication “a unique take that grabs your attention like a record scratch in a monotony of drink books.”  EN-(hic)-ENJOY!

 

THE GUITDOORBELL 

The website for Guitdoorbell has as its masthead the following line of copy: Open the door to music and music will open doors.  The guitar-as-doorbell was invented by Sacramento-based entrepreneur Dave Lynch, and the sound it gives off when anyone comes a-knockin’ (rather, comes a-button pushin’) is one very full-sounding, nicely amplified guitar strum that hits and then holds the fade for a few seconds.  It reminds me of the opening to The Beatles’ song “Hard Days Night.”  I’m thinking every music fan would enjoy the sound of this, however, some might prefer it be more than just the one substantial strum.  Certainly if Christopher Walken happened to drop by your house, he’d be asking for more doorbell.

 

THE GUITAR-SHAPED TOILET SEAT COVER

On the website odditymall.com this item is available, no strings attached (we should all be thankful for that).  The company that makes these guitar-shaped toilet seat covers is Jammin’ Johns, LLC (no joke), and in a listing alongside one of the photos they state that their product is “a perfect gift idea for anyone that poops and loves music or plays an instrument.”  That covers it.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 11/28/21

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR...

As 2021 winds down I am reminded of where I was career-wise in space and time exactly thirty years ago.  In the Fall of 1991 I had just completed my first of seventeen concert seasons at southwestern Pennsylvania’s premiere outdoor concert venue Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre.  “The Lake” had officially opened to the public in 1990 and had been built on reclaimed strip-mining land in a quiet little corner of Washington County called Hanover Township.

I had joined the amphitheater’s team in February 1991, having been wooed away from my director of booking position at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena.  My move to this new employment turned out to be fortuitous, as the arena changed hands only seven months or so after I left.  The DeBartolo organization from Youngstown, Ohio who had operated the venue for the previous decade decided to sell their Pittsburgh holdings (team ownership of the Penguins and the management lease of the venue) in order to concentrate more fully on their first order of business, mall and real estate development.  The arena lease portion of their holdings thus changed hands and was awarded to seasoned venue management company SMG, who immediately moved in with their own policies and personnel (in retrospect, methinks my director-of-booking butt would have been out the door, as a number of my DeBartolo-employee peers there ended up that way).

loved this new company Pace that I had left the arena to work for.  Pace was an enterprising, family-owned live entertainment company based in Houston, Texas who had their capable fingers in a lot of “live” pies—they had a concert division (booking national tours), a theatrical division (mounting and staging plays in anchor cities like New York and then touring them through the heartland), a motorsports division (starring monster trucks and mud pits), and an amphitheater division where I had just come to roost.

Pace’s Cola-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre burst onto the regional scene in the summer of 1990 with 41 concerts stretching from June 16th (The WDVE Open House Rocker with Pittsburgh’s homegrown heroes Donnie Iris, Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers, Billy Price & the Keystone Rhythm Band, The Zippers and The Clarks) through the season-ending show on September 21st (Alabama with opening acts Clint Black and Lorrie Morgan).  Coming aboard as I did just prior to the venue’s second season, I learned from my new employers that the first summer of operation was absolutely meant to be a smorgasbord of shows.  The bookings that first season were certainly more slapdash than carefully calibrated; the venue had no history, of course, and so the modus operandi was to book pretty much anything and everything that was appearing on the national booking agencies’ “summer tours” lists just so we could get an initial feel for our market.

1991’s Season Two was equally experimental.  In fact, it may have boasted one of the most diverse sets of offerings of any summer line-up in the venue’s now 32-year history.  Of course it had a good helping of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but also Metal and Middle-Of-The-Road...Comedy and Christian...Symphonies and Soul...and even some Dance and Jazz strewn across the usual Rock-y terrain.

As the amphitheater’s new marketing director, I jumped in feet first in February and found very solid footing thanks to my predecessor Bob Klaus, the marketing maven who had piloted the first Star Lake summer season and was now bound for a similar gig at a brand new amphitheater in Raleigh, NC.  Prior to his early spring departure, though, Bob tutored my tuchus off with a long and very detailed sit-down session, taking me through the various dead-ends and hairpin turns of steering the local media toward maximized coverage of our amphitheater’s individual events.  

That Summer of 1991 was a revelation for me.  I had abandoned my tightly-focused, twelve-months-a-year arena booking approach for a hydra-headed marketing challenge at the amphitheater, juggling forty-some shows and trying to maximize the potential for each in a compressed window of time spanning just six months (April through September).  One thing became clear above all else, though: This second season, Star Lake Amphitheatre had successfully assembled a disparate yet dynamic line-up of truly intriguing offerings for the concert fans of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Looking back, certain shows claw to the fore in terms of memorable moments and happenstances:

THE FIRST SHOW OF THE SEASON…Saturday, May 25th…AC/DC with opener L.A. Guns

My very first show at the amphitheater as a new employee was the first show of the season—AC/DC on May 25th, featuring demented schoolboy fashionista and monstrous riff hurler Angus Young.  The band was on stage while our Pittsburgh Penguins—featuring a 27-year-old Mario Lemieux—were battling the North Stars for Stanley Cup supremacy in Game Six in Bloomington, Minnesota.  AC/DC absolutely rocked the rafters and lobbed out the latest scores in between songs, so this particular night at Star Lake was one beautifully-blended fever pitch.  (The Penguins ended up winning the game 8-0 and netted their first ever Stanley Cup.)

  

JAZZ…Saturday, June 22nd…The Mellon Jazz Festival featuring David Sanborn and Michael Franks, with Take 6, Yellowjackets, Neville Brothers, and various local Pittsburgh jazz artists

We linked up with a company called Festival Productions and a savvy, engaging individual named John Schreiber to attempt to bring jazz out from the Pittsburgh city limits to the wide-open spaces of Washington County.  The Mellon Jazz Festival was already a summertime tradition in Pittsburgh—courtesy of name-in-title sponsor Mellon Bank—and consisted of a few back-to-back weeks of jazz artists sprinkled throughout the city’s theaters, clubs and parks.  In our continuing effort to flesh out our fan base and determine which genres of music Star Lake Amphitheatre concert-goers could and would support, we persuaded Festival Productions to ratchet up the roster and roll the dice with us on a major jazz event at our venue.

We piggybacked on Festival Productions’ usual inner-city advertising efforts for the festival (including print advertising and bank circulars) and we locked in some great support from local jazz station WDUQ, but alas success was only so-so.  We were nonplussed to find that although our jazz contacts (and their various touch-point opinion leaders) initially responded very well to the concept and line-up, at the end of the day the jazz fan base didn’t show up in sufficient numbers to help us turn a profit. 

To this day, I really can’t pinpoint the reasons for our lackluster results: Was Jazz in Pittsburgh a slavish cult of the Few instead of the Many?  Was the prospect of an amphitheater environment ultimately a turn-off to the purists who were nightly jazzed by the traditional small, smoky and sweaty settings in the city?  We’ll never know...Hey, it might also have been the 25-mile trek to the amphitheater that gave these urban dwellers pause, such that even a compelling headliner like David Sanborn wasn’t enough to ignite their sax drive.

COMEDY…Monday, July 8th…Andrew Dice Clay

It must be noted that back in 1991 we were all essentially just on the cusp of the very first commercial uses of the internet and were likewise way ahead of YouTube’s creation as well, so back in those “uncivilized” days it took word-of-mouth and the press to generate excitement and launch new stars.  At that point in time a former bit actor named Andrew Dice Clay was about three years into his stand-up career as a potty-mouthed, homophobic and misogynistic comedian, and he was on a tour of theaters and amphitheaters supporting a new double-live record and a film of his act at Madison Square Garden entitled Dice Rules.

We had set the show up as “pavilion-only,” meaning we offered only the pavilion seats for sale and kept the lawn closed based on an expected turnout of less than the pavilion’s 7,000 capacity.  We ended up drawing a crowd of just 4,000, and the audience seemed to be evenly split between the bellicose and the comatose.  There were the unruly shouter-outers who whooped it up with every salacious comment from the Dice Man, but also beer-befogged party animals, some of whom had apparently run out of steam while pre-gaming and so just kind of sat there in stupefied reverence.

This was not Star Lake’s finest hour in terms of programming but we were, after all, built and booked to become an equal opportunity deployer in the summertime.  So we had little choice but to roll with the Dice.

   

RHYTHM & BLUES, MTV-STYLE…Friday, July 12th…The Club MTV Tour with Tara Kemp, Bell Biv Devoe and C&C Music Factory, plus Color Me Badd, Gerardo, and Tony! Toni! Tone!

Club MTV was originally a dance program that debuted on MTV in 1987, the music channel’s sixth year of operation.  It was hosted by station veejay Downtown Julie Brown and was a generational upgrade of the old American Bandstand program that had teens gyrating beginning in the 1950s for decades to follow, first on network and then in syndication.  Club MTV’s dancing teens were more provocatively garbed and ready for nightclubbin’, and the program featured hit dance song videos interspersed with longer segments of the razzle-dazzle on the dance floor. 

MTV first cobbled together a touring version of the show in 1989, with Was (Not Was), famous at that instant for “Walk The Dinosaur,” Information Society, Paula Abdul, Milli Vanilli and Tone Loc.  It wasn’t until 1991, though, that the tour landed at the Lake.

The show was thankfully booked at Star Lake for a Friday night—more chances of folks havin’ their dancin’ shoes on, versus a weekday situation—and the tour was promoted nationally on MTV, of course, so we peppered our local media (cable TV, print) with news of the upcoming concert.  Even with the national push, however, our date ended up doing considerably less than half of the amphitheater’s 23,000 capacity.  The concert itself was kinda cool, though, tailored as it was for the non-discriminating fan who didn’t mind watching most of their favorite dance-tune slinging artists outright lip-synching, backed by audio tracks versus live musicians.  For most of those in attendance, it was a plastic but fantastic evening.

   

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL BY THE CARLOAD…Thursday, July 25th…The Pennzoil Carload Jam featuring John Kay & Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Dave Mason, and Blackfoot

Pennzoil was an original venue sponsor and one of their sponsorship benefits was “name-in-title ownership” of a show—and not just a normal ticketed event.  We decided early on that we wanted to work with them on a carload concept with the crux of it being a one-price ticket would admit an entire automobile’s worth of fans to the show.

We had our Houston booker thumb through the list of “past their prime” groups, knowing that if the overall artist expense was reasonable we would likely be okay at the end of the day charging $20 per carload.  The disadvantage of this plan?  If a person crammed his or her car with (for example) nine friends, they’d all get into the show for a grand total of $20, and realistically that wasn’t much ticket revenue to help us pay for our standard operating expenses such as security personnel, ticket takers, etc.  On the other hand, there was an advantage to this plan: If the aforementioned person crammed his or her car with the nine friends and they all got in for the $20 total, we’d then very likely have ten people beaming about that savings while queuing up at the concession stands during the evening—once, twice, maybe more.

The show actually ended up being a modest financial success and both Pennzoil and Star Lake were happy things went as well as they did operationally; the Carload Jam (with a different artist lineup) returned the following year. 

DANCE…Wednesday, August 7th…Mikhail Baryshnikov and the White Oak Dance Project 

We had received a call that spring of 1991 from a high-powered NYC booking agent who was fishing for dates for his client Baryshnikov, seeking out arts facilities interested in hosting the famous footmeister and his new troupe of dancers.  The White Oak Dance Project was a collaboration between Baryshnikov and dancer/choreographer/director Mark Morris, and we held out high hopes that the arts crowd would stray from their usual urban indulgences (the indoor performing arts centers in downtown Pittsburgh) to enjoy The Master’s new work on a nice summer evening in the great outdoors.

Alas, the crowd was sparse—and uppity.  The performance itself was majestic, but we fielded more than a few complaints from attendees at intermission and post-performance about their inability to really see the totality of Baryshnikov’s fancy footwork.  Perhaps it was the degree of slope of our pavilion floor down in the lower part of the house and the fact that the seats closest to the stage, though ideal for concerts, turned out not to be the best for the rabid fans there who craved complete head-to-toe visibility of this magical performer.  As our box office manager took in these various line-of-sight complaints—some from the high-heeled and the well-heeled—I joined in to try to pacify the most vociferous of the complainers.  

I remember one of them who contemptuously spurned our offer for a refund as well as free tickets to a future Star Lake show, and I almost said this to the irate woman: “You’re turning up your nose now, but had you thought about doing that while watching the performance?  You might have been able to get a slightly better view.”  I, uh, by the way did NOT voice that thought.

 

THE LAST SHOW OF THE SEASON…Saturday, October 12th…A Christian Music Festival entitled “The Day ’91” featuring headliner Mylon LeFevre and Broken Heart, and support acts DeGarmo & Key, Susan Ashton, E.T.W., Rachel Rachel, Geoff Moore and The Distance and L.O.U.D.

On this particular event I teamed up with a fellow division mate within parent company Pace, a young woman named Laurie Bowen who was currently working in the theatrical division of the company.  She was extremely knowledgeable about Christian rock, and so our divine inspiration was to try to create an annual event for Star Lake--a local Christian music festival.

Despite having other things on our 1991 summer schedule like the “Clash of The Titans,” a multi-artist concert featuring (among others) Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer, we felt like the Christian community didn’t necessarily feel our facility was in league with the devil when it came to bookings.  So we leaned heavily on Laurie to help our amphitheater team choose the Christian music line-up for The Day ‘91, and we mutually crafted a comprehensive marketing plan that included commercials on the religious station WORD-FM, printed mentions in area church bulletins, tickets distributed for customer sales to Christian family bookstores, and even an appearance (for Laurie and me) on the local Cornerstone Television flagship station WPCB-TV.

The Day ‘91 was the final event of our 1991 season, and we went out like a lamb and I’m not lyin’.  The day-long festival ended up drawing only 3,000 people.  We knew that to cultivate an audience and build up any kind of annual event, we needed to regroup, retool (if necessary) and relaunch.  So we gave it another go the following year but experienced much the same results, and so from 1992 on, there was no Christian festival at Star Lake.  But we all hoped that, somewhere along the way, we had made a few points with The Man Upstairs through all of our earnest efforts.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 11/14/21.....DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR

Friends, folks roamin’ my site and countrymen, lend me your ears.  It turns out I may need them.

I’ve had a lifetime of audio ecstasy because of my good fortune in experiencing a wealth of live music through the past four decades or so.  But with pleasure comes pain, and so now I have a bit of Fears For Ears.  My hearing is not what it used to be and I’ve only myself to blame. 

Starting from a very early age, I made the exploration of music my prescription for Life—pryin’ the lid off that genie in a bottle and taking the contents aurally at least once a day.  In the mid to late 1960s traversing Junior High into Senior High, I started off with big, clunky headphones plugged into my bedroom stereo, set at a level much too loud and wrapped ‘round my head way too often.  Shielding my parents from the music was a part of the plan, keeping my world private and my secrets safe.  But it was also because of my habit for late-night listening: Whilst everyone else slumbered—all in the house, quiet as a mouse—between my ears I was rockin’ out, shielding the nighttime quiet with muffled music blasts to the brain.

My dad, who I dearly loved, had ear problems too but that was unrelated to music.  He was deafened by decibels for sure, but his predicament was a consequence of factory life.  He was a roll grinder in the ARMCO steel mill in my hometown of Butler, PA for almost forty years, and the accumulated exposure led him later in life to have problems.  

After he retired he sometimes wore a bemused expression and a sly smile, which now when I look back on things might have been a result of his hearing loss, but I cannot be sure.  My mom always said—without a smile of any kind—that my father had “selective hearing.”  I know some folks think that this particular condition is a widespread male affliction, but my dad certainly liked to point to his steel mill days when scolded by my mom for overlooking certain things on her verbal honey-do list.

 ..... 

My bedroom stereo days eventually morphed into high-school-era live music excursions.  I became a roadie for a local group named King Kong, a multi-talented band of brothers headed up by actual brothers Dave and Gary Kleemann.  The Kleemanns rounded out the band with some musician friends and quickly turned their parents’ basement into an ad hoc rehearsal space.  Actual gigs soon followed—a few private parties, some small clubs and tiny dives—and the environs were usually tight, hot and sweaty.  

King Kong’s cover material was first-rate.  They bashed out a great mix of songs from new artists such as the Chicago Transit Authority (who less than a year after their first album rechristened themselves Chicago), The Flock (featuring violinist Jerry Goodman who later split for Mahavishnu Orchestra), Savoy Brown, The Yardbirds, Steve Miller Band, Cream, Spencer Davis Group, and many more.  Armed with this great material King Kong with its three horns, two guitarists and a keyboardist/vocalist, bassist and drummer, were standin’ proud and playin’ loud.  Sometimes I could be found at their club or bar performances out in front of the stage, trying to induce others to dance so that perceptually the band could be seen to be kickin’ ass.  Most of the time, though, I was head-bobbin’ off to one side or the other, hangin’ on every lyric and on the side stack of amplifiers (not a wise choice due to the decibels).

High school also led to road trips to see other bands, and in much bigger venues.  In the Fall of my senior year on October 30, 1970, about eight or ten of us—a few of the guys in King Kong and friends and hangers-on—packed into the brothers’ parents’ Econoline van and journeyed south out of Butler to see Jethro Tull and Mountain at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  We were all longhairs back then and considered ourselves to be the East’s answer to Haight-Ashbury, which was of course a naïve and overblown comparison as we were all still in high school, doing well there, and living with—and off of—our parents.  But we definitely embraced this new music swirling around our many peers, and so had banded together and scrounged up the funds for a trip to see Tull.

I didn’t know it—or note it—at the time, but in this instance I had stumbled onto a possible solution for staving off my eventual loss of hearing: Get really bad seats to shows.  We had purchased our seats at a local ticket outlet and ended up in the far-off section of seating in the furthermost balcony at the opposite end of the arena.  Great show, and this particular time it was easy on the ears but certainly no feast for the eyes.  Tull’s frontman Ian Anderson was a renowned high-kicking, whirling and twirling dynamo, yet he appeared but a speck from the rafters at the back.

 ..... 

Flash forward about a decade to The Decade, a gritty steel town bar in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s this small club began to lure in brand new recording artists from around the globe who were young, hungry and fresh onto a label, all trying to make their way and make their mark.  The Decade was the perfect spot for these fledglings, a bit of a dive populated by mill hunks and college kids.  Inside were thick grey stone walls and a low ceiling that had some billowy fabric hanging down to ostensibly aid the acoustics.

The club itself was tiny and the venue’s capacity was something I never quite figured out.  Even mid-late in the evening when the bands were full-on jammin’ the crowd was still noticeably crammin’.  Some nights were just a plain old swelter fest, and you couldn’t move two feet without getting inadvertently intimate with someone else.  The bands, though, were worth the aggravation.  In this little club that coined its location as "at the corner of Rock and Roll,” exciting new artists rolled on through between 1979 and 1983 including The Ramones, The Police, Joe Jackson, The Pretenders, The New York Dolls, Pat Benatar, U2 and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

These artists were doubly amped up—in energy level, and in what they had stacked up on the venue’s postage-stamp sized stage.  Their performances were pretty riveting and rooted you to the spot (lucky thing, since mobility was futile).  And with the small size of the room and those ceiling drape-downs that were no match for the stubborn stone walls, the sonic assault was all in yo’ face.

U2 returned to Pittsburgh a couple of years after their show at The Decade as part of a tour which was in support of their newest release, 1983’s War.  They landed in a mid-size venue (1,700 seats or so) called the Fulton Theater which is now the Byham.  My friend Rick Neuenschwander and I went to the show and though our tickets lodged us at the back of the hall, we were still in harm’s way; the band was equal parts mesmerizing and pulverizing.  They were in bloody good form, though, playing songs from all three of their albums but the volume was truthfully bone-crushing.  Rick and I both felt the effects but he actually woke up the next morning unable to hear (for him, I guess, all was quiet on this “new ears” day).  He scurried to the family doctor who was, as might be expected, not a huge concert fan.  Doc’s advice: “Nothing we can really do for you, so just wait it out; and next time, use earplugs.”  Luckily after three days Rick’s hearing in large part had loped on back to his temporal lobe.

 .....  

In 1985 I began working at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena as the venue’s director of booking and although I attended a number of concerts there, I never quite ended up with pierced ears (sonically speaking, of course).  I was rarely too close to the stage, the stacks or the sound suspensions for any sustained period, either as a fan or as an arena worker, so my ears were largely spared during my time there.

Who’s fault then, for the majority of my ear quakes and double takes?  Star Lake was to blame.  I had joined this Pittsburgh-area amphitheater in the Spring of 1991 and just never gave a thought to ear protection as I began “dressing for battle” entering my first summer season.  The appointed garb at that time was a golf shirt with left-breasted venue logo, a pair of shorts and tennis shoes, and a multi-channel staff-to-staff radio at my waist.  As the summers progressed, I added a cell phone to my ensemble—but rarely if ever earplugs.

The Lollapalooza festival during my second season at the amphitheater would have been a great show to start getting serious about protective ear-wear.  Lollapalooza landed on Star Lake’s summer line-up on Sunday, August 16, 1992—the festival’s second year of existence but its first visit to our amphitheater—and the line-up was an alternative music fan’s dream: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ice Cube, Lush—and the band that made my jaw drop (from ear pain), Ministry.

  ..... 

Ministry was a perfect fit for this edgy festival, having released albums in the four-year period leading up to Lollapalooza with names like The Land of Rape and Honey (1988), The Mind Is A Terrible Thing to Taste (1989) and Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and The Way to Suck Eggs (1992).  Reportedly they started out in the early 1980s as a synth-pop band, but by 1988 had largely turned toward mighty industrial metal.  On this particular day at the amphitheater I was making my rounds through the venue and caught some of their show from right in front of the stage.  The music was an unrelenting blast, an industrial-strength mix of sustained ear-splitting, chest-thumping terror.  It was an elongated drone, a screech, a clash, and a whine, all brewed up into a steady stream of vicious volume and then pushed out from the stage with all amps turned up to ten.  If there had been a corner nearby, I would have cowered in it.  My body was recoiling from the physical assault but my brain was trying to process the sights as well, so I stayed rooted to my spot. 

On stage, Ministry was churning out this uninterruptible sonic wave while band members flailed on their instruments, and—for some inexplicable reason—a couple of Goth-like and gorgeous black-leather clad women undulated on stage near small tower displays of cow skulls and assorted bones.  Honestly, I was trying to wrap my head around all of this to get to some higher meaning, and that, combined with the searing of my senses, probably delayed my body’s impulse for flight.  Regardless...This was the most excruciating earful that I’d ever had.  Until Christina Aguilera.

Christina came to us as part of the current wave of boy bands & girl power groups that had erupted in the late 1990s.  Boyz II Men and the Spice Girls kinda kicked that whole thing off (at least at the amphitheater and arena levels) in 1998 and then *NSYNC barnstormed us the next year and sold almost 46,000 tickets in a two-night stand at Star Lake.

As a headlining artist, Christina Aguilera came to play our amphitheater on Saturday, August 26, 2000.  Every Pittsburgh-area teen and tween made that scene.  The crowd itself was huge; the individuals, predominantly pint-sized.  When Christina was about to start, I ran down to the lower house (the first three sections of seating nearest the stage) to take a peek at her entrance.

I wasn't wearing earplugs.  The other boy band & girl power group concerts that had come through our venue previously weren't that bad in terms of the decibels they pushed out, so I thought I was safe.  But at the instant Christina walked out onto the stage, there erupted behind me—from literally thousands of enraptured, feverish young girls—an amazing unison of high-pitched squeals and shrieks that, with no warning, achieved some kind of killer cosmic crescendo that ripped like a razor through my ear canals.

I stumbled on legs of jelly to the plaza just outside the seating area.  Never before or since have I felt so violated and exposed to fear and pain.  I cursed my dumb luck and my decision not to don the earplugs.  I had been basically bushwhacked—but it wasn’t the performers this time, it was the little girls with their blitzkrieg blast that whipped up like some hurricane named Hormona.

Of course for the next few shows that particular summer I dutifully wore earplugs but then drifted back to my old habit of just seein’ ‘em hung up, unused, on the back of my office door.  By the time I left the amphitheater for good after the Summer of 2007, I figured that I had been exposed—in part, at least—to over six hundred performances there over a span of seventeen years.  For some of the concerts I plugged up my canals; for a host of others, I had done nothing at all.

Anyway, it is what it is…and over the past few years in particular, I've noticed that it is a little harder now to hear clearly in crowded bars and restaurants so I've learned to read lips a bit when embroiled in conversation.  Also, I have been told by at least one family member that, once in a while, in those crowded-bar situations I am kinda just sitting there with a bemused expression and a sly smile.  Lookin’ a lot, I reckon, like my dear departed dad.  Hearin’ that, of course, is music to my ears.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 10/31/21.....SPIRITS IN THE MATERIAL WORLD

Spiritual healing…spiritual release…spiritual reassurance.  This is what music has provided to souls throughout the centuries.  Victor Hugo once said “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words.”  Khalil Gibran said “Music is the language of the spirit.  It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”  And Beethoven labeled music as the wine that inspires listeners to new “generative processes,” continuing on to say “I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them feel spiritually drunken.” (which reminds me…I should be generous if I ever spy Ludwig’s tip jar on the bar at my neighborhood brewhouse).

Perhaps Zoltán Kodály—Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist, and creator of the Kodály method of music education—may have said it best, though: “There is no complete spiritual life without music, for the human soul has regions which can be illuminated only by music.”

And the music that engenders this welling up of spirituality certainly runs the gamut.  Sacred music reliably stirs and/or soothes the soul, of course, but secular songs—from the genres of pop and rock and country, and more—also work these wonders.  Chris Middendorp of the Melbourne, Australia daily newspaper The Age wrote an interesting piece back in April 2007 entitled “A Soul Kind of Feeling,” and in this he posited that “just as pop music is the soundtrack to our lives, so can it tap into our spiritual yearning.”

Middendorp noted in the article that it had occurred to him his CD collection was actually filled with artists’ works which evidenced various angles and avenues of spirituality.  “There is Madonna's enthusiasm for Jewish mysticism,” wrote Middendorp, “Nick Cave's fervor for Christian imagery, Jim Morrison's preoccupation with pagan beliefs, Erykah Badu's penchant for Afro-spirituality, Leonard Cohen's embrace of Za-Zen Buddhism and George Harrison's earnest appropriation of the Hindu path.”

The writer also pointed out that “the spirituality we most often encounter in pop doesn't boast the ritualistic pomposity of hymns or famous classical choral works, which tend to be unambiguous dedications to the glory of God.  Popular music's spirituality is more subtle and robustly complex.”

Middendorp goes on to affirm that “it is impossible to ignore the rampant mysticism and spiritual intensity swirling through the words and music of Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Tori Amos, Erykah Badu, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Goldfrapp.  It's a broad church, and when you stop to think about it there are so many artists you could include…” 

Which leads us now to even more members of this secular “broad church” and some sacred songsters as well, all as put forth by a handful of Musicasaurus.com readers who were recently surveyed for this particular post.  The question I had posed to them was this: "What particular song or songs—sacred OR secular—really stir a sense of spirituality in you?"  Here are their replies…

  RICK SEBAK

“Stir a sense of spirituality” in me?  Is this a Halloween joke?  Spirits like ghosts?  I’m not sure if I have an easy answer.  Maybe “Bat Out of Hell” by Meat Loaf?

Or do you mean something serious like “O Come, O Come, Emanuel”?  Or “Oh Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers?  Or some vintage Mahalia Jackson?

Or do you mean something that touches my soul and elicits an unexpected emotional response?  In that case, I’d have to say any song that has brilliant wordplay or clever lyrics or just a surprising turn of phrase or attitude.  I’m thinking Leonard Cohen stuff, from “Suzanne” to “Tower Of Song.”  Maybe “Ford Econoline” by the dearly departed Nanci Griffith.  Or so many little masterpieces by John Prine, from “Hello In There” to “In Spite Of Ourselves.”

You could add Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.”  Or “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars too.  And Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and “Changes.”  This list could go on and on.  [“Suzanne” https://youtu.be/b1D3tOhXvxw ... “Tower of Song” https://youtu.be/69sI440L7Yc … “Ford Econoline” https://youtu.be/AGn2k_qONU0 … “Hello In There” https://youtu.be/sp6lnXPqFHc … “In Spite of Ourselves” https://youtu.be/P8tTwXv4glY … “Happy” https://youtu.be/ZbZSe6N_BXs … “Uptown Funk” https://youtu.be/OPf0YbXqDm0 … “Life on Mars?” https://youtu.be/Enzxdvo8NOk … “Changes” https://youtu.be/7fdhI3qUdSs]

  JIMMY ROACH

For me, there are many songs that have an emotional component, but two come to mind as ones that open a hidden compartment and immediately let loose feelings that can only be described as “spiritual.”  They both happen to be older Christian hymns, but it’s the power, as well as lightness, of the vocals that makes them so special.  The first is a version of “O Come, O Come, Emanuel,” by Mike Reid.  Mike was an All American defensive tackle at Penn State, and a Pro Bowl player with the Bengals before retiring early to write and perform.  I played this version on the air for twenty years, over the objections of my Program Directors, simply because I had to.  The second song, “Oh, Holy Night,” has been recorded by hundreds of artists, but the one that still stuns me with each listen is from Il Divo.  This classically trained boy group is glitzy and a bit too showy, but their version of this classic is all the justification they need to claim their career a success.  These songs are among that select grouping that I have never tired of, that I look forward to hearing each year.  Annual audio gifts that are a perfect fit.  [Mike Reid https://youtu.be/6kf4YEY-tsA... Il Divo https://youtu.be/d9dD1U5nCT4]

  LEAH LAHODA

I would choose “Rise Up” by Andra Day.  She is one of my favorite artists because I love her soulful voice and the depth of her songs.  It makes me think of all that we go through in this journey of life and how we can get knocked down and feel as if we are at the bottom, but if we can hold on and trust in the process and God’s plan we can overcome it and rise up better than before.  I say better than before because we rise up with life lessons under our belt.  We are constantly evolving in who we are every day and every year and those lessons/experiences mold us into who we are. https://youtu.be/kNKu1uNBVkU

  SCOTT TADY

I'd consider myself spiritual, yet find comfort in songs that recommend we don't overthink it.  Just feel it, and go with your instinct.

  SHARON STEELE

You go on a journey with “Enoch’s Meditation,” from Robert Glasper’s 2005 album Canvas.  You start out with plodding determination (you’re saying to yourself, “It’ll be OK, one step at a time, just breathe.”).  Some lilting notes enter in (you look up at the sky and clouds) but you’re still moving along.  The song takes some more turns…(you remember something that makes you laugh…you swat aside a gnat of annoyance…your thoughts are all over the place).  Suddenly the sadness confronts you.  (Not just the song.  Just everything.  It’s sad.  But beautiful.)  Things get quiet.  (You second guess).  Then starts a climbing, repeating bassline.  The drums begin to buzz.  (You speed up too.)  Then, right on top of all this—you can’t believe it at first but…you hear “Blue in Green.”  Oh my God, the exquisite soulful melody, layered over the other textures, all at once.  (Similar things are happening in your head.)  You arrive at the destination: The place where you encounter—REMEMBER— from someplace deep inside your mind/heart/soul (wherever “you” are): the chaotic, devastating, astonishing beauty of being alive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsiZ7kICWBU

  TOM ROONEY

There were many songs that seeped over to commercial radio that had spiritual underpinnings.  From singular songs, “Oh Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers is unabashedly a Christian song.  But “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Paul Simon (expertly sung by Art Garfunkel) is one that is more secular but very secure as a spiritually uplifting song…For albums, nothing can touch The Rising by Bruce Springsteen which came right out of his Jersey roots and 9-11.  Every song is tinged with regret or hope or both: “The Rising,” “Lonesome Day,” “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” “Countin’ on a Miracle,” “Empty Sky,” “Further On (Up the Road),” “Mary’s Place,” “You’re Missing” and “My City of Ruins.”  There’s a Catholic scholar who routinely reviews Bruce as sees his Catholic upbringing and education immersed in the man’s work…Strictly from the religious side, Precious Memories by Alan Jackson is tremendous—24 old standards topped by “How Great Thou Art.”  [“Oh Happy Day” https://youtu.be/C9jAoZcvxsA ... “Bridge Over Troubled Water” https://youtu.be/4G-YQA_bsOU ... The title track of Springsteen’s album “The Rising” https://youtu.be/r5_8gpiSotI ... “How Great Thou Art” https://youtu.be/ngUC6VP8Xys]

  STEVE ACRI

I’m not a particularly spiritual person, by nature.  I still can’t say if I believe in a higher power or not.  But I find this song, “I Am the Light of This World” by Jorma Kaukonen (with Tom Hobson) from the album Quah, to be incredibly inspirational and it always makes me happy to hear it.  Having read Jorma’s autobiography I know where it came from in him, and I suppose I feel and share his joy and happiness when I listen to it. https://youtu.be/UUhRpL1IJxU

  JOYCE ROTHERMEL

It is the song/hymn “You Raise Me Up” sung by Josh Groban.  The CD with this song on it was a favorite of my sister Gail, and it was in her car when she was in a deadly car accident that took her life.  When planning the Mass for her funeral, her 16-year-old daughter Allie told us about her mother's love for the song “You Raise Me Up” (words by Brendan Graham and music by Rolf Lovland).  We played it at Gail's Mass of Christian burial.  Now whenever I hear it I think of the words of faith and trust that are in the song, and I feel drawn to my sister and am inspired by the faith and trust she lived by. https://youtu.be/6lHV_aSVGa0

  JOSH VERBANETS

For me, some of the classic Carter Family songs are the most spiritual songs on my playlist.  In many cases these started as folk songs and actual hymns or spirituals, got a slick 1920s commercial recording, and have now worked their way into everyday figures of speech; they come from a time when it was more or less accepted that everyone around you had an open sense of spirituality and dedication to religion.  “Keep On the Sunny Side” is the perfect example of this: it’s equal parts quaint, sad, and spiritually uplifting even to this day. https://youtu.be/UrI_ZAkgHBI 

  DEBORAH ACKLIN

“You Gotta Be” by Des’ree.  This song has lifted me through tough times - every time.  Played on repeat.  She’s a strong woman, singing the story of my soul’s journey, with pure joy and faith.  “All I know is - love will save the day.“  And it will. https://youtu.be/tLonNru58X4

  SEAN MCDOWELL

I'm a baptized, confirmed Catholic.  I was raised surrounded & pummeled by Catholic guilt & superstition.  All the time, like ALL Catholics were!  Songs That Trigger Spirituality (In My Catholic Sinning Guilty Soul): “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds…“Long Time Gone” from CSN’s debut album…“God” by John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band…“Only The Good Die Young” from Billy Joel…“The Pusher” from Steppenwolf…“Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum…and “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel.  I still do at least three Hail Marys daily.  At least three.  Every day. [“Turn! Turn! Turn!”https://youtu.be/5_YsQu5tKEE ... “Long Time Gone” https://youtu.be/nS3l_TwPNRY ... “God” https://youtu.be/aCNkPpq1giU ... “Only the Good Die Young” https://youtu.be/ERWREcPIoPA ... “The Pusher” https://youtu.be/Zv6PY1BQLBE ... “Spirit in the Sky” https://youtu.be/xi_3GtQN2IA ... “Solsbury Hill” https://youtu.be/9LAMv-yVPEk

  ED TRAVERSARI

There are several songs that when I listen to them, I feel like I'm having a religious experience.  Some of them include "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics, "Leader of The Band" by Dan Fogelberg, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2 and a number of songs by a group called Mylon Lefevre and Broken Heart.  Lefevre’s original band was the Holy Smoke Doo Dah Band and he used to perform with Clapton, Alvin Lee, Duane Allman and others.  In fact, I saw him open for Mountain one time at W&J College in the 70s.  He later turned Christian and formed Broken Heart.  [“The Living Years” https://youtu.be/8TL_oJL0r0U ... “Leader of the Band” https://youtu.be/KwLbdPIOOkM ... “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” https://youtu.be/HZXzeuV2lls ... “Crack the Sky” (Mylon Lefevre and Broken Heart) https://youtu.be/bALse_TYn8U

  LISA SCALES

Music certainly has the power to reach deep within me and stir emotions.  It can amplify my happiness, envelop me in sadness or in an instant take me back to a particular moment in time.  When I reflect on the songs that heighten my sense of spirituality, what they all have in common is the power to uplift and inspire and fill me with a sense of hope and belonging.  “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens is one such song.  The lyrics are uplifting and provoke anticipation—like the first morning, like the first dewfall on the first grass, praise for the singing, praise for them springing.  In tandem, the rhythm of the song is comforting.  It tugs at my heart as if synchronized with each beat.  It settles into my psyche and transports me to a new yet familiar place. https://youtu.be/jwI1j2DyRJc

  STEVE HANSEN

If “spirituality” could somehow be summoned in a song then Christian Rock wouldn’t be the pitifully lame intersection of turgid lyrics and derivative riffs that it is.  But a song that reaches into my gut and sweeps me away?  That pretty much describes the set list of any of the truly talented bands I was lucky enough to see at a jazz club I used to live a block from.  I could probably throw a dart at my album collection and pick a favorite song but why on earth would I do that?  So instead I’ll reach deep into the vaults for a song that used to summon a special feeling for me late at night and with the right enhancements…For a while—after they were a Top 40 band and before they helped invent heavy metal—Deep Purple was a prog rock art band.  They even recorded one of the first rock albums with a symphony orchestra.  (And they did all of this in a dizzying two-year period, because time moved much more quickly back then.)  “Anthem,” from Book of Taliesyn, might today sound a little dated, a little morose, a little bombastic but back then it was a lights-out, sound-up, stoned soul picnic for the youthful me.  And hey, I loved that kid. https://youtu.be/7YBZwvzJFOc

  JIM CUNNINGHAM

We were talking about the love we all could share.  And the time will come when you see we're all one.  And life flows on within you and without you.  Remember those words from FM radio and Sgt. Pepper’s?  

It’s amazing that George Harrison could capture the spiritual world with the Indian sitar and tabla to make the woofers vibrate.  The Beatles didn’t care for the Maharishi after their Indian spiritual quest but Harrison hit the charts with “My Sweet Lord” even if he’d been subconsciously absorbing karma from the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine.”  Harrison said he was influenced by the chart-topping surprise of Edwin Hawkins’ 1967 “Oh Happy Day” recorded at the Church of God in Christ in Berkeley California.

Think of how unlikely the Byrds’ 1965 “Turn! Turn! Turn!” is as a pop hit.  It’s straight from Ecclesiastes in the Bible where King Solomon considers the meaning of life and the next world.  Guitarist Chris Hillman said he knew King Solomon never got a dime of the publishing royalties. 

The jazz world can transport you to the spiritual realm whether it’s Chick Corea’s Light as a Feather album with his “500 Miles High” or saxophone legend John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” which was just issued in a live performance from Seattle, one of the few ever given for an audience.  Coltrane and his wife Alice were always reaching for the infinite to their very last performance. 

The classical music world started it all with chant five hundred years ago.  Then folk music wound up in the mix.  In the movie Amadeus Mozart never finished his “Requiem” but it’s powerful.  PSO Music Director Manfred Honeck (who you will find at mass every day) adds the gentle prayer of Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” at the end of his concerts.  You must concentrate a little more with Mozart and  Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” but both will take you away.  Russian master Igor Stravinsky said “To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit.  A duck hears also.”  [“Within You Without You” https://youtu.be/HsffxGyY4ck ... “My Sweet Lord” https://youtu.be/-59rmRj4QnA … “Turn! Turn! Turn!” https://youtu.be/5_YsQu5tKEE … “500 Miles High” https://youtu.be/PPkznRvpHwg … “A Love Supreme”https://youtu.be/ll3CMgiUPuU … “Requiem”https://youtu.be/Zi8vJ_lMxQI … “Ave Verum Corpus” https://youtu.be/u-u4AjBkplA ... “Ode to Joy” https://youtu.be/C56aBZYsxko]

  …AND FINALLY, MUSICASAURUS.COM’S OWN LIST OF SONGS THAT STIR SPIRITUALITY WITHIN (somewhat self-limited here, due to space limitations):

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 10/17/21.....ALL THAT HEAVEN WILL ALLOW

Late in the year, every year, the New York Times Magazine includes a fascinating article of inspection and reflection entitled “The Lives They Lived,” which zeroes in on “remembering some of the artists, innovators and thinkers we lost in the past year.”  What I like about the piece is that the NYT covers unknowns and lesser-knowns as well as the individuals who had appropriately sparked a bit of earlier media attention when they had passed away.  “The Lives They Lived” is the richest of readings because each story is so finely sculpted, so life-affirming in its closer look at the dignity and worth of each individual alongside his or her contributions to the world we live in.

So Musicasaurus is jumping the gun and not waiting like the Times does until late December.  With music in mind, of course, here are some of the notable passings of men and women in calendar year 2021 who had truly made their mark…

Charlie Watts – Should anything at all be written here since, appropriately, the Stones’ drummer’s passing has been covered really well from traditional media to social media to even center stage at the current Stones’ stadium shows?  With no disrespect intended at all, Watts say that we just move along…and shine a light on others who are also deserving.  (Charlie Watts passed away on August 24 at the age of 80; sample Rolling Stones track: https://youtu.be/EznPp6jdCAk)

 

Joseph “Dusty” Hill – he was the bottom to the Top…Dusty Hill was the bass player for Texas trio ZZ Top, three locked ‘n’ loaded rocksteady musicians who, for five decades together as a founding unit, dished out heartfelt blues-based rock that was riveting on record and sizzling in live performance.  And early in the days of MTV, they became one of the channel’s reigning rockers through wildly popular videos like “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.”  

In Pittsburgh history, ZZ Top has a couple of firsts.  

1) First Band To Let Their Buffalo Roam: The group’s 1976 stadium tour was designed to bring Texas right to the fans, with a stage constructed in the shape of Texas and live animals including a longhorn steer, black buffalo, two vultures and two rattlesnakes.  In a September 10, 2019 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interview guitarist Billy Gibbons recalled their Three Rivers Stadium concert that took place on June 12, 1976.  “That was one of the most notable stops on our World Wide Texas Tour, sharing the bill with Aerosmith,” Gibbons told Post-Gazette writer Scott Mervis.  “It was kind of a Bicentennial booze fest and things got, perhaps, a bit out of hand.  Our buffalo (bison) escaped for a while, if memory serves, and I’m not sure if the stadium was in any shape to host the beloved Bucs for a while but that was then.  It’s one of those ‘if you remember it you probably weren’t there’ kinds of circumstances.”  

2) First Band To Pull A Three-Nighter: In April 1986, the band established a new Pittsburgh Civic Arena record; ZZ Top was the first band in the venue’s then 25-year history to sell out three consecutive shows.  (Dusty Hill passed away on July 28 at the age of 72; sample ZZ Top track: https://youtu.be/nNC-BtsLFdQ

 

Don Everly – brother of Phil Everly and one-half of the singer-songwriter duo The Everly Brothers…Their career was essentially launched in 1957 with “Bye Bye Love,” a tune written by the husband and wife songwriting team Felice and Boudleaux Bryant who also penned (for the Everlys) “All I Have to Do is Dream” and “Wake Up Little Susie.”  Though their popularity had waned by the early 1960s, the Everly Brothers’ vocal harmonies influenced the early works of the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, the Bee Gees, the Beach Boys and other artists.  (Don Everly passed away on August 21 at the age of 84; sample Everly Brothers track: https://youtu.be/OTkuNm_ZxU0)

 

Sheila Bromberg – British harpist whose angelic sounds live forever on one of the greatest albums of all time…According to classical music news site slippedisc.com’s Norman LeBrecht from his August 23, 2021 post, Bromberg was an accomplished musician who was schooled at London’s Royal College of Music and subsequently performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, the BBC Concert Orchestra and others.  One evening in 1967 she and her peers in a full string orchestra sat waiting in Abbey Road studios for a recording session to start, and someone placed some sheet music in front of her.  She looked up to see Paul McCartney (she had not been told in advance that the session would be with the Beatles).  

Between 9pm and midnight, on the song “She’s Leaving Home,” the string orchestra members all played their parts and Bromberg plucked her strings over and over again.  But with each completed take, McCartney still diplomatically grumbled aloud that something just wasn’t quite right.  At midnight the orchestra’s lead representative stood up and pointedly stated that the session was over because everyone had to work in the morning.  Bromberg later on found out that the orchestra’s first take was the one that McCartney and the engineers ultimately decided to use—and that Bromberg’s celestial playing was, in post-production, put through a doubling effect by the engineers.  McCartney had found the sound he was pining for, and generations of listeners have been the beneficiaries of Bromberg’s heavenly contribution. (Sheila Bromberg passed away on August 17 at the age of 92; here she is on the track referenced above: https://youtu.be/VaBPY78D88g)

 

Commander Cody – largely remembered for heading up the melting pot musical ensemble Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, who threw into their cauldron Western swing music, rockabilly, jump blues, country and rock and roll…The unit’s greatest successes in terms of touring and recording essentially spanned the first half of the 1970s.  Two memorable songs that dented radio playlists back then and that won the Commander some high salutes were “Hot Rod Lincoln” (1971) and "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" (1973).  (Commander Cody—real name George Frayne—passed away on September 26 at the age of 77; here he is on the two tracks referenced above: https://youtu.be/868DSi85odQ ... and ... https://youtu.be/KD3e-L2Tuis)

 

Gerry Marsden – Yes, Gerry took the ferry (across the river Styx)…According to a January 3 post by John Hand and Kathryn Snowdon on bbc.com, “Gerry and the Pacemakers worked the same Liverpool club circuit as The Beatles in the 1960s and were signed by the Fab Four's manager Brian Epstein.  Epstein gave Marsden's group the song ‘How Do You Do It,’ which had been turned down by The Beatles and Adam Faith, for their debut single.”  

In the USA “How Do You Do It” didn’t appear at all on the national record sales charts upon its release in April 1963, but a few major stateside hits followed—“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” which hit # 4 in 1964 and “Ferry Cross the Mersey” which hit # 6 in 1965.  Upon learning of Marsden’s passing, Paul McCartney tweeted: “Gerry was a mate from our early days in Liverpool.  He and his group were our biggest rivals on the local scene.  His unforgettable performances of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ remain in many people’s hearts as reminders of a joyful time in British music.”  (Gerry Marsden passed away on January 3 at the age of 78; sample Gerry and the Pacemakers track: https://youtu.be/A0O6ZjOZYhg)

 

Nanci Griffith – a confessional singer-songwriter who hailed from Texas and in subsequent years nestled in Nashville; a beautiful blender of folk & country music…Folk music fans in particular loved a lot of her recordings, but the one that stands out most for folk lovers who also relished their rock was 1994’s Flyer.  Jon Cummings wrote about that album in a 2008 Popdose.com retrospective of Griffith’s catalogue, and noted that “the emphasis was less on folk heroes and more on contemporary rockers who also happened to be fans: various members of U2 and R.E.M., Mark Knopfler, the Indigo Girls, the BoDeans, and Adam Duritz of Counting Crows.”  (Nanci Griffith passed away on August 13 at the age of 68; sample Nanci Griffith track: https://youtu.be/4-fM2tiFnys)

 

Chick Corea – acclaimed composer and keyboardist who played with legendary jazz greats as well as helped spearhead the jazz fusion explosion that began in the late 1960s…In a February 11, 2021 Rolling Stone obit by Hank Shteamer, guitarist John Mayer was quoted as saying ““Chick Corea was the single greatest improvisational musician I have ever played with.”  And Miles Davis, whose language was often as colorful as his trumpet shadings, stated that his Lost Quintet from 1969 (which featured, among others, Corea on Fender Rhodes piano) was a dream team extraordinaire.  “Man,” lamented Davis in his 1989 autobiography, “I wish this band had been recorded live because it was a really bad motherfucker.”  

Corea spent his life in creative pursuit of excellence and collaboration.  Most noteworthy, it could be said, was his post-Miles Davis formation of the band Return to Forever in 1971 which started out in a style AllMusic.com calls a “blend of spacy electric-piano fusion and Brazilian and Latin rhythms.”  After two releases in that vein, Corea went on to reshape the band and the music, taking it into more jet-fueled jazz fusion territory, culminating with RTF’s most successful album Romantic Warrior (1975). 

Corea’s family posted a message on Facebook upon his death, something that the musician felt he wanted to pass along to his fans and friends: “I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright,” Corea said.  “It is my hope that those who have an inkling to play, write, perform or otherwise, do so.  If not for yourself, then for the rest of us.  It’s not only that the world needs more artists, it’s also just a lot of fun…And to my amazing musician friends who have been like family to me as long as I’ve known you, it has been a blessing and an honor learning from and playing with all of you.  My mission has always been to bring the joy of creating anywhere I could, and to have done so with all the artists that I admire so dearly —this has been the richness of my life.”  (Chick Corea passed away on February 9 at the age of 79; sample Chick Corea track: https://youtu.be/sEhQTjgoTdU)

 

Byron Berline – renowned country & western/bluegrass musician who left Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in 1967 to subsequently fiddle around with a multitude of singer-songwriters and bands of various genres…Berline played with a variety of artists including Dylan (on the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid soundtrack), the Flying Burrito Brothers, Stephen Stills’ group Manassas, Elton John, Gram Parsons, the Dillards, the Doobie Brothers, Lucinda Williams, the Eagles, Earl Scruggs and many more.  His first brush with the rock world, though, was with the Stones who were in the midst of recording songs for their upcoming album Let It Bleed (1969).  

Berline recalled, during a 1997 interview with BlueGrass West, that Gram Parsons had prodded the band to have him play on the song “Country Honk.”  “We went down to the studio, Electra Studios, in L.A.,” recalled Berline.  “I was in the studio for a couple of passes through, and they said, ‘Hey, we want you to come in, we want to talk to you,’ and I thought, oh, they don’t like it, they’re going to dump it.  But I went in and they said, ‘We want you to stand outside in the street on the sidewalk and record it…we’ll get a nice ambiance, we think,’ and I kind of giggled and said, ‘Well, whatever you want to do.’  So that’s what we did.  That’s where they got the car horn.”  (Byron Berline passed away on July 10 at the age of 77; here he is on the track referenced above: https://youtu.be/AmCjpY4hqKE)

 

Anne Feeney – per Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Her business card read: “Performer, Producer, Hellraiser”…In a February 3, 2021 articleMervis writes about the life and the passing of this Pittsburgh-area native and “self-described rabble-rouser” who was born in Charleroi and grew up in Brookline.  Activism ran in the family bloodline as her grandfather was a mine worker and union organizer, but he was also a violinist.  And so Feeney also took life by both hands—one pointing out injustice; the other brandishing a guitar to help power out her messaging.

Feeney spent many years in her own community—co-founding Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and serving on the Thomas Merton Center board, among other pursuits—and she often traveled to protest hot spots across the country and played folk fests as well, winning new friends and winning more converts to causes.  She released solo albums starting in the early 1990s, and some of her songs over the years have been covered in performance and/or in recordings by other artists including Peter, Paul and Mary.  The trio included Feeney’s call to civil disobedience “Have You Been to Jail for Justice?” on their 2004 release In These Times.

Mervis concludes his February 3 piece this way: “In a 2008 interview, Feeney told the Post-Gazette, ‘I think music is a fantastic way of empowering people and giving them strength and energy.  I've spent a good part of my life trying to find and write music that will empower people to resist and stand up for what's right.’”  (Anne Feeney passed away on February 3 at the age of 69; here she is on the track referenced above: https://youtu.be/SBwCtKlM9dI)

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 10/3/21.....SHOW & TELL

Coming October 11th to Amazon.com and also to select book retailers in southwestern Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena: Stories from the Igloo.  There are at least 1,001 great stories about the Civic Arena, including Lemieux’s triumphs on the ice…Muhammad Ali’s KO in the ring…the Beatles’ inducing a writhing, religious experience in 12,603 screaming fans…Bruce Springsteen’s love affair with the venue and his Pittsburgh fans…and many more.

Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena: Stories from the Igloo doesn’t have all 1,001 tales to tell, of course, in its modest 192 pages.  But readers will hear from a host of accomplished local writers—the Association of Gentleman Pittsburgh Journalists—as they pay reverence to the mighty Igloo through their illuminations of some of the greatest moments in our fair city’s sports and music history.

Yours Truly is honored to have been asked to contribute to this publication through the writing of two chapters.  In the first chapter that was assigned to me I peel back the lid on the historic Skyline Series, the open-roof concerts that occurred throughout the latter part of the 1980s.  And when the second chapter of the book was accorded to me, I genuflected and then reflected—I had been privileged the opportunity to delve into the arena’s historic hosting of eleven Bruce & The E Street Band marathon concerts.

Musicasaurus.com readers may pre-order this fascinating new book right now through Amazon.com, available through this link:  https://www.amazon.com/Pittsburghs-Civic-Arena-Stories-Sports/dp/1467148849/ref=sr_1_1?crid=22EV8ZOUIHYBJ&dchild=1&keywords=pittsburgh+civic+arena&qid=1632834050&sprefix=pittsburgh+civi%2Caps%2C165&sr=8-1

And now to generally whip back into shape your memory bank and stir up your own treasured memories about the Igloo, Musicasaurus.com brings you three reminiscences from folks who worked at the Civic Arena during the 1980s.  These tales are not in the forthcoming book, but they will indeed whet your appetite for it.  These particular reflections are rather unique in that Tinsy, Joe and Vicki were all frontline workers; they were involved in a lot of different aspects of the arena’s sporting and concert events, and they each have lasting memories of shows they watched there or worked on…Here are their stories:

 

  TINSY LABRIE – Labrie worked for the Civic Arena Corporation from 1985 through 1991 as Director of Marketing for the Pittsburgh Spirit soccer team (1985) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (1986-1989), and then as VP of Marketing for the Pens and Civic Arena Corporation (1990-1991).

My most memorable Arena concert was Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine on August 23, 1991.  Ms. Estefan was returning to the stage after recovering from a tour bus accident a year earlier so it was a big deal that she had made a miraculous recovery from back surgery as a result of the accident. 

I remember that we did not sell very many tickets to this show.  We did not have a huge budget for marketing; it was a whole-house show and the crowd was sparse.  As was the usual procedure for promoting concerts like this, we had given away “meet-and-greet” opportunities for radio station winners so we had worked with her people to get them backstage after the concert.  As was also fairly normal, we had a request from Make A Wish to bring a child who wanted to meet Ms. Estefan, which we also had passed by the tour managers and they had approved. 

As the concert was about to begin, we got word from her people that Ms. Estefan was unhappy with ticket sales.  I can't say for certain whether this played into it or not, but her people then cancelled her backstage meet-and-greet with the contest winners, and—the biggest disappointment of all—also cancelled the previously-approved meet-and-greet with the Make A Wish child.

So we did some damage control, gave the radio station winners some other prizes, and later attempted to provide the Make A Wish child with an experience that fulfilled her wish.  From then on, every time I hear a song by Gloria Estefan on the radio, I turn it off.  She could never win me over after that.  

It was kind of a sad ending to my six years of marketing at the hall, but I did get to see lots of great concerts like:

  July 25, 1986 – Luther Vandross, Patti Labelle, Maze and Atlantic Starr –awesome spectacle; incredibly long night with so many acts.

  August 1, 1986 – The Beach Boys (with Katrina and The Waves) – Skyline Series concert with roof opening and a beach (with sand) on the floor of the hall.

  July 16, 1987 – Moody Blues (with Til Tuesday) – another Skyline Series show; a wonderful night of mellow music.

  July 30, 1987 – Whitney Houston (with Kenny G) – stage was in the round and she was at the top of her game; we had front row seats; Kenny G was laughable.

  March 20, 1988 – Bruce Springsteen – had terrible seats but he was supreme.

  June 26, 1988 – Grateful Dead – this was the debacle tour where kids were breaking into the hall to see the show.  A fan camping outside my office peed on my window.

  August 24, 1988 – Kenny Loggins – Skyline Series show; he was kind of a jerk, cranked off that the crowd wasn’t more animated during his performance.

  September 27, 1988 – Michael Jackson – scary good show.  He grabbed his crotch a lot.

  July 19, 1989 – The Beach Boys and Chicago – Skyline Series show; Brian was totally out of it, medicated to the max so he just stood there, fake strumming his guitar.

  February 4, 1990 – Paul McCartney – stood for this one in the press box; couldn’t believe I was actually seeing a Beatle, my school girl crush.

  May 16, 1990 – Cher – lots of costume changes.

  February 13, 1991 – INXS – sat in B-8 where staff was given seats; people stood the entire show, why I never knew.

  March 10, 1991 – Paul Simon – this was the tour with South African musicians. The bass was incredibly loud and low; someone with me actually got nauseous from the low tones.

  March 15, 1991 – ZZ Top and Black Crowes – saw this from a super box.  Couldn’t truly appreciate the beards from that distance.

 

  JOE KATRENCIK (also known as “Joey The K”) – At the Civic Arena in 1987 Katrencik initially began handling marketing for the arena’s indoor football and lacrosse teams, and eventually became director of promotions for the venue’s family shows in 1989.  He left in October of 1991 after the DeBartolo Corporation sold its interests in the venue.

It wasn’t until I got a job at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena that I got a chance to attend my first big time concert.  I grew up in Hendersonville, a former coal patch town south of Pittsburgh where concerts were not part of anyone’s lifestyle—we were lucky to have bus service twice a day to Canonsburg.  About the only thing I knew about music was Porky on WAMO, and KQV radio’s top ten countdown.  It wasn’t until my third year of college in Dayton, Ohio that I bought my first ever concert ticket—to see Simon & Garfunkel.  However, I suffered a burst appendix a few days before the show, and since I was semi-comatose in the hospital my housemates figured they might as well use my ticket. 

I worked at the Civic Arena for a few years beginning in the late 1980s, ending with DeBartolo’s sale of his interests in the operation after the Penguins’ first Stanley Cup.  My job was promoting family shows such as circuses (Ringling, Moscow, Shriners), ice shows (Ice Capades, Stars On Ice, Disney on Ice), professional wrestling, the Harlem Globetrotters, and what we called truck pulls—where fans delirious on carbon monoxide had shouting contests yelling “Ford” and “Chevy.”  And I was involved in sports such as the Gladiators Indoor Football team and the professional lacrosse team (whose nickname I don’t recall right now).  And there was also a rodeo and the annual Sesame Street shows, which don't quite fit into any categories.

Previous to the Arena I had worked many years at The Meadows Race Track and been involved in a few of what we called concerts there, but that really wasn’t “big time” like the Civic Arena, and I was excited when I was asked to help work the night of a rap concert at the Arena.  Besides, it was also my birthday.  Proudly wearing my all-access pass, I walked toward the employee entrance underneath the Arena.  The security guard stopped me and said, “You can’t go in.”

So I held my pass up to his face and said, “I’m working tonight.”

“You still can’t go in, this is a crime scene,” the guard replied.

The concert had been canceled.  I never did get in, and I didn’t really find out the details until the next day’s newspaper.  It was reported that a confrontation between roadies of different rap groups resulted in a chase to nearby Chatham Center, where a shooting occurred.  

[Editor’s note: The concert that Joey the K is referencing above was the Budweiser Superfest, a multi-act show featuring headliners New Edition and Guy that was scheduled for July 9, 1989 at the Civic Arena.  The show never happened.  There had been provocations and building tensions between the two headliners’ crew members at a Greensboro, N.C. show the night before the Civic Arena’s scheduled playdate, and the feud escalated in Pittsburgh resulting in a brawl backstage and onstage that afternoon and the fatal shooting of the group Guy’s security chief.]

 

  VICKI CAPOCCIONI-WOLFE – Capoccioni-Wolfe was the Director of Publicity from 1989 through 1992 at the Civic Arena.

SO many shows and events that I have enjoyed along the way at the Civic Arena...I was a young girl, right out of college, working with the “stars!”  I think back today how lucky I was, and what an opportunity to be a part of that, at such a young age.   

Some memorable moments: 

  Walking through Cher’s dressing room and looking at the skimpy costumes (inside trunks and trunks of costume changes) with a KDKA-TV reporter, as the station did a live story, day of concert.

  Working pre-publicity with the Ringling circus and taking “Kesha” the Russian brown bear, with her trainer, to local media outlets.  On Day Three, we brought the bear and its trainer onto the floor of the arena for Half Time of a Lacrosse (or Arena Football?) game to do some tricks, and the bear continued to follow me as I tried to very quickly walk away to get off of the floor.  I was nearly in tears, the fans were cheering and laughing, and the trainer did not help me at all, because he thought it was cute.  

  Picking up Curley Neal from the Harlem Globetrotters at the airport in a stretch limo and then having to stop along the way back to town to run into a bar to get him a six-pack of beer.

  Hanging with MC Hammer; he was a riot to spend time with—and he was dressed in his famous diaper pants.   

  My favorite memory, though, that I still like to talk about today (to anyone that will listen) is the time that Frank Sinatra came to town on May 16, 1991.  I was working the show with my trusty walkie-talkie in hand, waiting to greet media.  Mr. Sinatra was to arrive at the arena’s backstage gate in a white stretch limo with Pittsburgh Police motorcycles on each side.  

As my walkie-talkie told me the limo was arriving at the gate, I ran through the arena and down the steps to watch it all take place.  Again, I was a young gal, but I knew the importance of this music icon and I was not going to miss taking a peek.  The thundering motorcycles entered the gate and stopped, and the limo moved forward, closer to the back of the stage near the entrance hall of the dressing rooms.  Everyone standing backstage moved to the side of each wall and stood in silence.  

As the back door was opened by the limo driver, out came Frank Sinatra, Jr. (if I remember correctly, he was there to lead the orchestra for the show that evening).  He walked to the back of the car and started to take bags out of the trunk.  He looked angry and annoyed.  The big moment came when Mr. Frank Sinatra got out of the car.  I just remember looking at him in awe.  I thought I better not take my eyes off of him, as I am sure he will walk straight into his dressing room.  What he did next has impressed me to this day, and it is this that makes me like to tell this story.

He walked to the back of the car toward the officers.  I remember the first officer he approached could not get his leather glove off fast enough to shake his hand.  He shook each officer’s hand and thanked each one individually.  I was very impressed…all I could say was “Wow!”  He gave a quick wave to everyone standing there and walked toward his dressing room.  The room was filled with the best fine china that could be found (hey, I read the rider), and tour sponsor Chivas Regal had filled the dressing room as well. 

I walked out into the arena...The stage was set in-the-round, and the place was filling up.  I stood in a section and watched the older audience fill the seats.  As the lights dimmed and Mr. Sinatra took to the stage, the roar of the crowd was exciting.  I could not believe, and still cannot believe, the number of ladies who were wiping the tears from their eyes when Frank Sinatra walked on stage.  I stood and watched about four songs.  I remember thinking that he might have had too much Chivas Regal that night, because he had a tough time remembering a few of the lyrics to some of his songs, but no one cared.  I guess you can say he did it his way.   

 

 

 

________________________________________________________________________________

Posted 9/19/21.....THIS MAGIC MOMENT

When COVID-19 snuck up and then walloped us in the Spring of 2020, going to the movies morphed from the usual car ride to the local cinema to a socks-on-feet shuffle from the fridge to the couch.  The situation somehow prompted me to recall a classic tune by the Everly Brothers from 1958.  If they were still around today, perhaps the brothers would now amend their song to say that all I have to is…stream: “Strea-ea-ea-ea-eam, stream, stream, stream / Strea-ea-ea-ea-eam, stream, stream, stream / When I want you in my gaze / When I want you, you amaze / Whenever I want you, all I have to do is strea-ea-ea-ea-eam, stream, stream, stream.”

There is SO much diverse programming available now on television.  In fact, the pipelines of Apple TV, Prime, Netflix, Hulu, Disney, HBO, Showtime, Paramount and the rest are peppering us with so many choices that sometimes it leads to an unsettling weariness or even mild nausea, as title after title is continually swiped aside in search of the “perfect” selection…

But this is not necessarily a bad thing.  As of late I’ve rediscovered a host of older films that I first saw in the movie theaters years ago, and it is doubly satisfying to view them via the quick click or the occasional $3.99, because 1) the movies are nostalgic-filled rediscoveries of great directors’ works and actor/actress triumphs, and 2) the music that was used in a number of these films is pretty amazing—intuitively selected and ingeniously injected.

When some folks think about music in the movies the time-honored classics may be the ones that first come to mind.  On its website, the highly regarded American Film Institute lists its “Hundred Greatest American Movie Music” selections, and in their Top Ten are things like “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz (1939), “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca (1942), and “Singing in the Rain” (1952), “The Sound of Music” (1965) and “The Way We Were” (1973) from the films of the same name.

But my own choices for the best use of music in film somewhat depart from the classics.  Movies hold music magic in many forms.  One film might contain the perfect coalescing of some wordsmith’s ballad with a lowkey scene tenderly rendered, while another might throw in a dusty old pop tune over a plot thickening.  Yet another might deftly employ an instrumental passage—the kind that sends that ripple of awe up the spine to the back of your head—or one that mists you up, potentially putting you on the path to full-on blubbering.

In no particular order, then, here are some excursions into music in the movies—some of Musicasaurus.com’s favorite occasions of masterful integration of music and onscreen visuals:

RISKY BUSINESS (1983)

In 2005 Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah’s couch, a defining moment of weirdness as the actor professed his love of new paramour Katie Holmes (rumor has it she was thoroughly vetted by Cruise’s Scientology brethren before the match was made).

Twenty-two years before that, though, in the 1983 film Risky Business, he evidenced a bit more Cruise control.  He expertly played a teen soon headed off to college but who first fell into predicaments and into lust/love with a cool and foxy call girl played by Rebecca De Mornay.  Cruise had hit the couch back then, too, but that was in the film and part of his living room prance—dressed in undies and pink dress shirt—to the stereo’s blasting of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

And that is NOT the movie music moment that I treasure from this film.  Instead, it is the hypnotic moments in the score by Tangerine Dream, a German electronic music group who were pioneers (in that ‘80s time period) of digital technology related to music sequencers and synthesizers.  Tangerine Dream had a cult following from regular album output, having formed back in the mid-late ‘60s, but many fans came aboard after that through exposure to their cinema soundscapes.

The gem from the film is the late-night subway ride on Chicago’s “L” by the two main characters.  It is incredibly atmospheric in terms of lighting, editing, etc., but the emotional lynchpin is Tangerine Dream’s “Love on a Real Train,” a warm tonal massage of a tune that sizzles, burbles and sighs in perfect harmony with the onscreen coupling of Cruise and De Mornay.  The clip here is 4:48 in length.  Watch it from the beginning to get a better sense of the film and to hear another soundtrack bite, this time of Phil Collins’ performing “In The Air Tonight.”  Then Tangerine Dream comes on little cat feet, beginning about 2:30 into the clip… https://youtu.be/tXvxl5Fw5W0

ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)

Consider the source.  Writer-director Cameron Crowe based this not-too-far flung tale (released to screens in 2000) on his youthful experiences as a writer with Rolling Stone magazine, and it is well acted and true to the times.  

Musicasaurus.com is a sucker for movie scenes that depict the characters indulging in an organic song breakout, and here it takes place on a tour bus as the band Stillwater and their hangers-on—including Cameron Crowe stand-in William Miller, played by Patrick Fugit, and groupie Penny Lane, played by Kate Hudson—roll on down the road. https://youtu.be/bhwGPwDbbRM

THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (1982) 

An electronic music trailblazer back in the 1980s who achieved worthy fame was Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou—[pronunciation? Greek to me]—who went the route of Madonna and Prince with just one name: Vangelis.

Born in 1943 in Agria, Greece, Vangelis’ first forays into music were through a 1960s psychedelic/progressive rock band called Aphrodite’s Child, but by the turn of the decade the artist had already ventured into film scoring in and around Paris where the band had relocated from their native country.

Vangelis is best known for his 1981 soundtrack to Chariots of Fire and the film’s signature song of the same name which, a year later upon its release as a single for radio, caused people to run in droves to record stores (though not in slow motion).  The song was also notably adopted by Steve Jobs for the public unveiling of the first Macintosh computer early in 1984.  Other films on the heels of Chariots of Fire that Vangelis scored included Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Costa-Gavras’ Missing, and on PBS, the Cosmos series featuring Carl Sagan when the latter borrowed from Vangelis’ earlier works.

Back in 1982 I went to the movie theater the same week that The Year of Living Dangerously hit Pittsburgh.  I had become aware of the Australian director Peter Weir, who had previously made some interesting art-cinema style films (not the usual box office fodder) including Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), The Last Wave (1977), and Gallipoli (1981), the latter one of the earliest films to star Mel Gibson and one that helped world-widen his appeal.

The Year of Living Dangerously—basically a love story set in the turbulent mid-1960s in Indonesia under the besieged leadership of Sukarno—was principally scored by Maurice Jarre, a French composer and conductor.  His work here was exemplary, but the song that nabbed me, though, was one—the sole one—borrowed from Vangelis by the director.  It was “L ‘Enfant,” from the composer/musician’s 1979 album Opera Sauvage.

It is not a lengthy piece at all, but it is a stirring, contemplative match of mood and music, as Sigourney Weaver’s character Jill Bryant reflects on her growing attraction to Mel Gibson’s Guy Hamilton, and ultimately appears in his doorway… https://youtu.be/vsBOxDM_Vek

WITNESS (1985) 

Three years after the release of The Year of Living Dangerously, director Peter Weir turned his talents toward a tale of murder, cops and corruption, and a detective on the trail of a missing witness.  In Witness (1985), Harrison Ford’s character Detective John Book rests and recuperates within an Amish community in Lancaster County, PA, on the run from renegade Philadelphia police officers who are in clandestine pursuit of a young Amish boy who’d witnessed a killing.  

While Detective Book is hiding out among the Amish and tries his best at assimilation, he lends a hand (both, really) in a barn raising.  This scene is exquisitely edited and is buoyed by film score maven Maurice Jarre’s grand instrumental “Building The Barn”… https://youtu.be/BL_X7GelX5Q

BLUE VELVET (1986)

I think you have to be in the mood for this creepy, crawly, portent-of-doom kind of stuff onscreen.  And David Lynch delivers.  I saw his first movie Eraserhead when it came out around 1977 and I don’t think I’ve been the same since.  I remember leaving the theater feeling like that film had given me the flu.

But Lynch followed up three years later with a film of classic elegance, The Elephant Man, starring John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins…then the hot sci-fi mess Dune in 1984…and then in 1986, Blue Velvet, which starred Kyle MacLachlan (later of Lynch’s TV triumph Twin Peaks), Isabella Rossellini, Dean Stockwell, and last but not least, Dennis Hopper in a searing career comeback portrayal as a gas-huffing psycho killer (I’d like to think it was a stretch).

The movie is critically acclaimed and tops a lot of film lists, and it is a visceral viewing experience that ramps up the queasy quotient and stokes the dread.  Hopper is magnetic as the villainous Frank Booth, and Lynch injects the film with some great music moments that of course contribute to the viewers’ increasing unsettlement.  The following clip centers on Frank Booth’s partner in crime Ben (played by Stockwell) who lip-syncs Roy Orbison’s song “In Dreams,” which is kind of creepy in its own right but then really ratchets up the foreboding as Frank noticeably begins to fume.  Click on the link, pop two Tums, and call me in the morning… https://youtu.be/d0PbwLTLKA4

WAYNE’S WORLD (1992) 

In 1992 Mike Myers and Dana Carvey cobbled together a 95-minute film based on their ongoing Saturday Night Live skit entitled Wayne’s World, which premiered there on the late-night comedy sketch show during its ’88-’89 season.  The movie is a pleasure to watch, with lovable metal heads Wayne Campbell (Myers) and Garth Algar (Carvey) as the hosts of a public-access cable TV show that is broadcast out of Wayne’s parents’ basement in Aurora, Illinois.

The movie is full of knowing pop culture bon mots and scenes flash by with great stoner panache, and so this one’s a tie in terms of providing you with a clip to view.  There is a short, inspired pelvic dance by Garth in a restaurant, after he spies a “Foxy Lady” and jams a coin in the jukebox to release his inner Jimi.  And then there is the film’s opening scene, a car ride with Wayne, Garth and backseat longhairs who plop in a cassette and rip into Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” … (“Foxy Lady”) https://youtu.be/dCYUvCdiPfI ... (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) https://youtu.be/thyJOnasHVE

PULP FICTION (1994)

I love the scene in this Quentin Tarantino film where John Travolta and Uma Thurman are twistin’ up a storm to Chuck Berry’s 1964 rock and roll classic “You Never Can Tell”—but really because of my mother.  Unbeknownst to me, at some point within the first few weeks of the movie’s release in 1994, she had caught the movie trailer on television one night and decided then and there to see the film. 

As she explained to me on the phone one evening afterward, “I saw the preview on TV and saw John Travolta dancing with a girl, and I thought, ‘Oh, this must be like Saturday Night Fever,’ so I went to see it with one of my girlfriends.  Oh, I did NOT like it, honey.  Too violent.”  She went on to tell me that “the guy in the projector booth” must have mixed things up, too, because “parts of the movie were out of order.”  Swear to God, we had that conversation.  Here’s the dancing clip from Pulp Fiction… https://youtu.be/WSLMN6g_Od4

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 9/5/21.....SOUTHBOUND

 

In 1971 at the age of eighteen I fell deeper in love than I had ever been before.  With a rock group.  

It was all because of one double album that came out that summer, one that truly stunned a good portion of like-minded souls across America, those of us who were now deliriously devoted to all of the new music that was spilling out of FM radio and stacking up at local record shops.  The album was entitled At Fillmore East and the group was the Allman Brothers Band.  The Allmans, through this one particular release, opened up the floodgates for the formation and crystallization of a whole new breed of rock music, one that was largely geographically based.  And so the Allman Brothers Band led me down a path to further exploration, a path that took me south…

I was an Allmans fan early on.  The band had already released two studio albums by 1971—their self-titled debut in 1969 and the follow-up Idlewild South in 1970—and I was a dedicated follower from the outset.  In the school year that covered September 1970-May 1971, I was a senior at Butler Area Senior High School (in Butler, PA) and served on the student concert committee.  I remember our committee’s teacher/advisor was shopping around for a band to play our high school auditorium, and somehow on his overall list of bookable possibilities the Allmans’ name had popped up.  

He wasn’t familiar with the group at all, so sputtering a bit here and there because of some palpable nervous energy, I made my case.  And then I pestered the living shit out of him.  I eventually begged my way onto the public address system of the school one morning before classes began—the advisor had thrown me this bone—and I delivered an impassioned plea to the student body, playing a sample track from Idlewild South and saying things like “Ya know, just to be clear, this is not the Osmond Brothers we’re talking about here; it’s the Allman Brothers.”  

The concert committee’s teacher/advisor was ultimately unmoved.  He just didn’t sense any real waves of enthusiasm from some of the students he’d cornered for opinions, and he was also very likely getting some contrary opinions from a few folks above his station.  So he ended up nixing the Allmans, and went with a band much closer to home, one that didn’t have such an air of mystery, one that was a much “safer” choice—the Jaggerz.  

That summer of 1971 I graduated from Butler Senior High, and by July word had quickly spread about a brand new Allmans record that was just hitting the stores.  On a Saturday afternoon I went downtown to the Woolworth’s five-and-dime store on Main Street in Butler and picked up the new live-in-concert double album At Fillmore East.  I scurried home to my boy cave (aka, my bedroom), ripped off the shrink-wrap and plunked down Side One on the turntable.  When the needle hit the groove an emcee’s voice, somewhat muted, announced “Okay, the Allman Brothers Band,” the crowd roared in approval, and then Duane Allman’s slide guitar was suddenly front and center, sinuously winding and wailing on “Statesboro Blues.”  

It was an electrifying moment for me; I had been zapped to attention—so this is what the band sounds like, live?!!  Over top of the band’s powerhouse rhythm section of one bassist and two drummers, plus Gregg Allman’s luscious Hammond B-3, guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts traded short, sweet but absolutely sizzling solos, and then “Statesboro Blues” came to a delicious, crashing close.  This third album from the Allmans, I found, start to finish, was a revelation.

At Fillmore East—recorded over three nights, March 11, 12 and 13, 1971—revealed a side to the band that was already well known by those fortunate enough to catch a performance earlier on.  This album captured the group at its absolute best; they were in total command of their powers and were at their peak as a superbly blended whole (with all six band members only in their twenties!), and in this live setting they were totally in their element.  The band members’ roots were solidly in the blues, but their influences also included artists like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and James Brown, so the band’s unique shared mindset was one of exploration and improvisation.  On this Fillmore East album, the song “Stormy Monday” is over eight minutes long; “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” is almost thirteen; “You Don’t Love Me” is nineteen minutes in length; and “Whipping Post,” which closes the album via the entirety of Side Four, is a little over twenty-two minutes long. 

In the Allman Brothers Band’s 2014 oral history book One Way Out from author Alan Paul, Gregg Allman said “We sure didn’t set out to be a ‘jam band’ but those long jams just emanated from within the band, because we didn’t want to just play three minutes and be over.  And we definitely didn’t want to play anybody else’s songs…unless it was an old blues song like ‘Trouble No More’ that we would totally refurbish to our tastes.  We were going to do our own tunes, which at first meant mine, and because of that there was a lot of instrumentals and long passages between the verses sometimes.  Sometimes we had to keep playing to get wound up in search of spontaneity.”

The band’s record company Capricorn, and its original funder and distributor Atlantic Records, didn’t warm up at all to what they heard when the album was completed.  “[The record company] did not want to put it out,” remembered drummer Butch Trucks as quoted in a 3/11/16 Rolling Stone magazine piece by Corbin Reiff.  “They fought with us and fought with us and fought with us, until they finally realized if they were gonna have anything at all, then that’s what they were gonna have.  We were firmly convinced that we would never be a big-money band because Atlantic Records had pounded that into our heads…This is exactly what we heard from Jerry Wexler [editor’s note: Wexler was a principal player within Atlantic.]  ‘You gotta get Gregg out from behind that keyboard, stick a salami down his pants, and make him jump around onstage like Robert Plant, then maybe you got a chance.’  Basically we just said, ‘Fuck you!’  We had tried that kind of shit before and not only did we hate it, we hadn’t made a plug fucking nickel, much less become big rock stars.  We decided that the music we were playing was much more important than becoming rock stars.”

But the band did become rock stars.  The live double album began climbing the sales charts almost immediately, as word-of-mouth and radio play helped spread the gospel.  At Fillmore East became the group’s bestselling album, clearly the result of the group’s determination to stick to their artistic vision.  In his 2016 book for the music minded, an absorbing read entitled 1971: Never A Dull Moment, author David Hepworth points out that “What came out of that weekend turned the band into one of the biggest concert draws in the USA.  It was musically extraordinary…the twin guitars and two drummers of the Allmans played like a large truck which had found a way to handle like a Ferrari, in the process rendering all comparable attempts to record the rock jam as ragged and clumsy.  The album was such a touchstone that even the strangled shout for ‘Whipping Post’ which rose from the audience during a gap between songs was widely copied by wiseacres in the audiences at other band’s concerts.  It happened so often through the rest of the decade that Frank Zappa eventually learned a version of ‘Whipping Post’ and made it a part of his show.”

Perhaps the best indication of the kickass cultural impact of At Fillmore East is that the album significantly helped spawn the genre called Southern Rock.  According to Alan Paul as outlined in his One Way Out book, the Allmans were “the mountain stream from which this musical river flows.”  After At Fillmore East, the Allmans’ record label Capricorn found firmer financial footing and also went on a signing spree in terms of rounding up other bands from below the Mason-Dixon, including The Marshall Tucker Band from Spartanburg, South Carolina; Wet Willie from Mobile, Alabama; and The Dixie Dregs from Augusta, Georgia.

As I mentioned at the outset, I was personally galvanized by At Fillmore East to dig further into all the emerging strands of rock emanating from the Southland, and I did begin roping in a few for my collection like Skynyrd’s first, Marshall Tucker’s first, Wet Willie’s live one, and Sea Level’s first few releases that came later in the 1970s.  Below I have listed a number of bands (and a sample track from each) to enable you to do your own explorations into the world of ‘70s Southern Rock—enjoy!

.....

Lynyrd Skynyrd Jacksonsville, Florida - “Free Bird” from their 1973 debut album (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd)  https://youtu.be/CqnU_sJ8V-E

Molly Hatchet Jacksonville, Florida - “Flirtin’ with Disaster,” the title track from their 1979 second album  https://youtu.be/Ta5hPRmxo8k

Blackfoot Jacksonville, Florida - “Highway Song” from their third studio album, 1979’s Strikes  https://youtu.be/PbNrJWgG_24

Rossington Collins Band Jacksonville, Florida - “Don’t Misunderstand Me” from their 1980 debut album Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere  https://youtu.be/NOMtV-S08zc

.38 Special Jacksonville, Florida - “Hold On Loosely” from their fourth studio album, 1981’s Wild-Eyed Southern Boys  https://youtu.be/g3nn6WfFQ7o

Outlaws Tampa, Florida - “Green Grass & High Tides” from their 1975 self-titled debut album  https://youtu.be/cz2CAtExXgQ

Henry Paul Band Tampa, Florida - “Grey Ghost,” the title track from their 1979 debut album  https://youtu.be/DoBiPYsmFvg

Hydra Atlanta, Georgia - “Glitter Queen” from their 1974 self-titled debut album  https://youtu.be/prKOsr8HM80

Dixie Dregs Augusta, Georgia - “Refried Funky Chicken” from their major label debut, 1977’s Free Fall  https://youtu.be/muXtihdlP8U

Atlanta Rhythm Section Doraville, Georgia - “So in to You” from their sixth album, 1976’s A Rock and Roll Alternative  https://youtu.be/wzCdSJu5xqI

Sea Level Macon, Georgia - “That’s Your Secret” from their second studio album, 1977’s Cats on the Coast  https://youtu.be/gPwz4QpXq-4

Grinderswitch Warner Robbins, Georgia - “Pickin’ the Blues” from their second album, 1975’s Macon Tracks  https://youtu.be/WinXBa_gGFY

Charlie Daniels Band Gulf, North Carolina - “The South’s Gonna Do It Again” from the band’s second album, 1974’s Fire on the Mountain  https://youtu.be/Sm9ioCn1mkQ

Marshall Tucker Band Spartanburg, North Carolina - “Take the Highway” from the band’s self-titled 1973 debut album  https://youtu.be/SOSLbeG-Who

Wet Willie Mobile, Alabama - “Keep On Smilin’,” the title track from their 1974 third studio album  https://youtu.be/zLXRqWoWOuQ

Black Oak Arkansas Black Oak, Arkansas - “Jim Dandy” from their fourth studio album, 1973’s High on the Hog  https://youtu.be/bfn8Tt24hbk

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils Springfield, Missouri - “If You Want to Get to Heaven” from the band’s self-titled 1973 debut album  https://youtu.be/ouP9Yz8TEBM

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 8/22/21.....SEE ME, FEEL ME

 

MUSICASAURUS.COM LOOKS BACK FORTY YEARS TO THE MONTH OF AUGUST 1981 AND THE BIRTH OF MTV, MUSIC TELEVISION…

When the 1970s ended and the new decade began I was gainfully employed at National Record Mart, the regional record behemoth that had (at that time) around 70+ retail stores dotted throughout a six-state landscape.  The cluster of original core stores was in Pittsburgh, PA, and the company’s management team eventually nestled into a large office-and-warehouse complex on Baum Boulevard on the east side of the city.  From there, the chain physically fed the entire pipeline with new releases and back catalogue of albums and tapes from literally thousands of artists.

National Record Mart (NRM) pushed out a ton of this product for the record companies, who all largely operated out of Cleveland, Ohio branch offices.  The label guys would come into Pittsburgh often, pitching their companies’ latest artist signings and their accompanying new releases to our VP of Purchasing and his coterie of buyers, the deputized keepers of the keys when it came to stocking the stores with pop stars of the moment, rock legends, country crooners, classical artists, jazz greats, and more.

Business was strong in those early 1980s and radio stations were truly the means and the muscle for selling our albums and tapes at that point in time.  We had close relationships with Pittsburgh stations as well as the ones in our secondary markets, and it was Classic Rock and Top 40 in particular that made our business zing and our regi$ter$ ring.  At the same time, the record companies were flush with cash and seemingly always in a signing frenzy, their talent acquisition folks jumping on all sorts of new artists and new trends willy-nilly.

I had started work at NRM in 1980.  For the previous two years I’d been working as the Pittsburgh-based display person for the record-label distribution group called Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, but when there was suddenly a company-wide rightsizing blip in December 1979 I subsequently ended up at NRM.  If I recall correctly, I was able to consult with my employer on my title before I started there at the record retailer, as this was a newly created chain-wide merchandising position.  In lieu of a salary I could actually live on, I received the title of Creative Merchandising Coordinator—which was probably a much better fit for my business card than He Who Schleps To Stores With Staple Gun, Posters And Scotch Tape.

One day in the Spring of 1981 I was summoned to the NRM president’s office along with my boss George Balicky, the VP of Purchasing.  A local cable TV system’s representative had secured a meeting with our leader Frank Fischer to discuss a nascent music channel that was on its way to Pittsburgh—something he called MTV.  This rep from Warner Cable pitched and wooed, saying that a true music revolution was coming our way in the form of this 24-hour music video channel, and that we should hop aboard with advertising dollars from the outset.  The music channel, he went on, was scheduled to debut on August 1, just a few months down the line.

I remember that our president—an intelligent but sometimes unyielding personality whose primary loves were opera and classical—sat all brow-furrowed and bored, looking at times as if he wanted to chuck the snake oil salesman right out the door.  After the Warner rep had departed, Fischer closed the door to briefly opine to my boss and me that he had some serious doubts about the potential success of a fulltime music video channel.  He largely then left it up to my boss and others, though, to sort through this “MTV thing”—as long as it didn’t involve spending too much of our department’s marketing budget on this looming lab-rat exercise.

MTV started up on cue on August 1st.  Broadcast out of New York, the channel was beamed throughout the country to those source providers of cable who were willing and able.  The first video that the fledgling full-time music channel aired was The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star,” which was a nice initial swipe at their music industry mates who trafficked only in sound and not in vision.  Locally, the biggest problem we initially had with MTV was Pittsburgh’s cable penetration.  Warner Cable covered the City of Pittsburgh, but outlying suburbs (and beyond) had different carriers and spotty coverage, and these cable operators weren’t necessarily lining up to adopt a risky new rock ‘n’ roll channel when space on their systems was quite limited to begin with.  Thus at first—for those of us working at NRM—MTV was only a curiosity item, underwhelming in terms of its impact on sales.

Personally, I was an early adopter.  I was livin’ the singles life with my high-school friend Mike Doman, and we fortunately were within the city limits and were subscribers to Warner Cable.  I was enthralled with the concept of 24-hour access to my lifeblood (music), and so I waded through the video disc jockey interludes to get to the meat of it—new artists, exciting new music, and the incremental blossoming of unbridled creativity behind the art form.

I had a Betamax at my apartment in those days, a funky, clunky Sony videotape machine that weighed more than a handful of newborns.  Before I set off to work to NRM in the morning I set the timer on this mutha so that when evening came around, Mike and I could fast-forward through to see if any exciting new clips had aired.  The Betamax was like a trusty and selfless third roommate—it enabled us to catch up on missed Hill Street Blues airings, but increasingly so, we looked at it as a way to preserve our MTV favorites for anytime-viewing.  We were so captivated by the new channel that we threw a house party ostensibly for socializing, but the real lure of the event turned out to be the hushed atmosphere in the upstairs bedroom, where my Betamax spun out two hours of recently taped tracks—U2’s “Gloria” from their second album October, “Who Can It Be Now” from Men At Work, “Brass in Pocket (I’m Special)” from The Pretenders, “In The Air Tonight” from Phil Collins, and on and on...

Eventually MTV on the national level began to make more headway in its quest for expanded cable coverage.  Progress to build a true national reach was spurred by the channel’s “I Want My MTV” campaign, which debuted in early 1984 and featured rock ‘n’ roll stars (like campaign first responder Mick Jagger) in promotional spots encouraging the public to call their cable companies to insist MTV be added to their line-ups.  After this particular campaign, MTV’s battle map showed significant victories and the music channel was well on its way toward a more unified embrace and much larger impact. 

In the Pittsburgh market, and in others where NRM had sprouted up retail locations, the music channel really started to drive viewers into the stores asking for certain bands and albums.  Likewise, radio stations began adding songs that MTV would be the first to debut, in order to stay ahead of the curve with their listeners on hot new bands.  Initially viewed by radio stations as competition, MTV thus became a safe way for some of these savvy FM folks to bolster their playlists with already-tested product.

MTV also directly served the artistic community by providing an exciting new outlet for creative expression, and it kick-started careers and kept certain established artists in the limelight.  Like a flock of seagulls then, select artists and video/film innovators began hovering over this new forum.  And a number of key artists already on the cusp of greater fame—like Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson and David Bowie, to name a few—began to scale new heights as they diligently mined this medium in these early formative years of MTV, Music Television…

Looking back forty years to its somewhat shaky origins—i.e., the doubts in some quarters about the channel’s viability and longevity—one can now appreciate what MTV brought to society as it progressed.  Initially signaling a sea change in music consumption, it then mightily contributed to many cultural shifts in our society.  In a short but scintillating piece on the nonprofit news website The Conversation dated August 14, 2021, Newcastle University Senior Lecturer in Popular and Contemporary Music Adam Behr really nails the multifaceted essence of MTV.  Musicasaurus.com now wraps up its own reminiscences, but before you go, you would do well to bathe in the Behr essentials below (i.e., the key takeaways from his article 40 Years of MTV: the Channel that Shaped Popular Culture as We Know It):

 MTV kickstarted (and/or elevated and elongated) certain artists’ careers including those of Madonna, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, U2, Cyndi Lauper and Duran Duran.

 MTV became a significant platform for black artists like Michael Jackson and Prince after the channel rightfully departed from its original stance of playing only rock-oriented music.

 Heavy rotation of certain artists’ songs strategically benefited the perception of MTV as a product mover, and this solidified the record labels’ commitments to earmark more and more marketing dollars for the new channel.

 MTV bred cross marketing opportunities, like select artists’ songs on MTV being matched up with Hollywood film and television productions.  Some tunes gained significantly greater prominence through this exposure, such as “What A Feeling” by Irene Cara (from Flashdance), Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” (from Top Gun), “The Heat Is On” by Glenn Frey (from Beverly Hills Cop), and Ray Parker, Jr.'s “Ghostbusters” (the title track from that 1984 film).  On television, Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” was just one of many songs whose popularity soared through their incorporation into episodes of the innovative and stylish 1980s cop show Miami Vice.

 MTV attracted young entrepreneurial directors to the channel and some who started out as video clip directors blossomed into major filmmakers, such as David Fincher, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry.

 The channel majorly assisted the rise of new artists in emerging and/or formerly underrepresented genres through its adoption of videos from grunge and rap artists in the 1990s.

 MTV laid the path for future reality TV shows and celebrity TV programs with its airing of The Real World starting in 1992.  And then down the path a bit came JackassThe Osbournes and Jersey Shore.

 And…the channel also helped mold the contemporary adult cartoon—Beavis and Butthead’s debut in 1993 inspired the creators of South Park, and also arguably paved the way for some of the adult animated shows of today such as Bojack Horseman and Archer.

[p.s. Travel on over to the Building A Mixtery page on this website to see, and sample, some of the most compelling early MTV music videos from the early years, 1981 through 1986.]

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 8/8/21.....AUGUST AND EVERYTHING AFTER

Here we are in August 2021, and just about a month ago—when Life seemed to be returning to some semblance of “normal” in terms of our very basic need for more human interaction—we saw a trickling in of reports of the Delta variant on the rise.  Now Delta, both ferocious and fickle, has abandoned its trickle.  Life is upended once again, and one of the things we may be losing—at least in the short term—are some upcoming major concert events.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Scott Mervis, writer/reviewer and weekend magazine editor, did a piece just a little over two weeks ago (July 23, 2021) that offered up the following headline: “‘Chills Up My Spine’: Pittsburgh-area Concerts Are Back, Even With The Delta Variant Blues.”  The “chills up my spine” quote in the headline was borrowed by Mervis from a live music fan he interviewed at The Pavilion at Star Lake on Wednesday evening, July 21.  Local native Barry Fischer was beyond elated to see his favorite band Chicago live in concert, and he gushed about the experience to Mervis during intermission.  This was Fischer’s thirty-seventh time (not a misprint there) seeing Chicago in concert, and the show had flooded him with relief and gratitude.  He told Mervis “I forgot about everything that was weighing me down and just concentrated on the concert and the talent of that 10-piece machine.”

Would that we all get that kind of experience upon returning to the seats (or the lawn, or the stands) to once again take in major live shows.  At present, The Pavilion at Star Lake indeed offers that opportunity with a dozen more shows currently scheduled through mid-October.  In the city of Pittsburgh, PPG Paints Arena has eight more concerts presently lined up for calendar 2021 after hosting a successful James Taylor/Jackson Browne show on August 3, and at Heinz Field the still-rollin’-on Stones with 78-year-old Mick front and center are scheduled to play on October 4.

Whether this all comes to pass and any additional major concerts in 2021 come our way, of course, no one knows for sure.  Since Delta has dawned, a few other artists have postponed their tours to 2022 hoping for a bit more certainty and sanity.  Time will tell…

At this point, forgive me, but Musicasaurus.com just wants to look backward.  Not to sulk, but to summon up my favorite memories of Star Lake Amphitheatre August shows from way back in the 1990s.  I worked at Star Lake for many years beginning in 1991, and we found over time that August was often our busiest month.  We either had a ton of shows spread somewhat evenly over that thirty-one day period, OR we had mini-clusters that were maxi-taxing—a variety of concerts all squeezed together over consecutive evenings, something that really “pleased” our operations staff as they dealt with each night’s huge crowds, individual concert preparations, post-show cleanups, and other dizzying duties that tended to suck the very lifeblood out of ‘em. 

1994, in fact, was the ultimate when it came to an August challenge.  That year we experienced a logjam of bookings that was, and continues to be, a venue record.  I remember it well, mostly because I think I’ve finally recovered from it—we had 15 shows within a 17-day period in that head-spinning month of August 1994.  It started with Metallica on August 12 and then rolled on one after the other, our hot August nights filled with unrelenting evenings of artists and their flocks—August 13 (Chicago), 14 (Mannheim Steamroller), 15 (Eagles, night one), 16 (Eagles, night two), 18 (Vince Gill), 19 (Barry Manilow), 20 (Michael Bolton), 21 (The HORDE Festival), 22 (John Mellencamp), 23 (Bonnie Raitt), 24 (Yes), 25 (Frankie Valli / The Four Tops), and 27 (Aerosmith), finally ending with Harry Connick, Jr. on August 28.  

We survived the onslaught, though.  In fact there was a real bond of brotherhood (and sisterhood) that we all experienced during this long stretch, fueled by the need to pull together especially when sleep was our greatest need.  To paraphrase Led Zeppelin here, we were dazed and confused for so long, it was true; there were even a couple of moments during that stretch when I, for an instant, blanked on which show we were preparing for on a particular evening.  Luckily our security team didn’t suffer any such confusion from night to night as to which show they were policing, and so didn’t gear up for fan fisticuffs and lawn fires, for instance, for the Barry Manilow evening…

And now here is a sampling of Musicasaurus.com’s favorite (or if not, at least quite memorable) August concerts, all from that first decade of Star Lake Amphitheatre’s existence:

Saturday August 14, 1993 – STEELY DAN

The reemergence of this group after almost a two-decade layoff from touring was welcomed by a rapturous sell-out crowd of 20,000 fans, all joyously singing along to the musical question-and-answer of the evening: “Is there gas in the car? / Yes, there’s gas in the car.”  The razor-sharp and deeply satisfying performance of that song “Kid Charlemagne” and others from the Dan canon made it an unbelievable evening for those who had waited nineteen years to see them again—and I ran into a decent amount of fans who were seeing them live for the very first time.  These latter folks were particularly well served that night, as they were finally liberated from having to genuflect solely in front of their CD players.

Monday August 23, 1993 – BETTE MIDLER

Bette Midler played Star Lake Amphitheater for the first time in 1993 as part of her Experience the Divine tour.  From the moment she appeared on stage the Divine Miss M (maybe Lawdy Miss Bawdy better suits?) was phenomenally entertaining in her song selections, her tales, and—her tail.  Just one of the highlights of this salty, peppered-with-wit evening was Midler as Delores De Lago, her lounge act character who dresses in a mermaid costume and prowls the stage in a motorized wheelchair, ending the skit with a chorus line of supporting-role mermaids all flapping their bottom halves, Rockettes-style.

Between her skits, hits and song standards, Midler also let loose with some timely pop culture zingers (mentions of Joey Buttafuoco, The “Queen of Mean” Leona Helmsley and others), and she especially won over the audience with humorous asides about Squirrel Hill and other Pittsburgh area points of interest.  (As was the case all along on this tour, and others that she had mounted through the years, the Divine Ms. M had asked her writers in advance to research the particular city and come up with localized bons mots so she could absolutely level her adoring crowd.  It worked.)

Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times reviewed one of Midler’s later dates on this 1993 tour, stating that “Since her earliest club performances, Midler has been the best medicine you can buy without a prescription.  By denying the differences in the ‘70s between what was considered campy and cool, Midler disarmed us with her shamelessly extroverted manner on stage—a throwback to the vaudeville/nightclub brashness that had been discarded as a relic during the rock era.”

Tuesday, August 9, 1994 – TRAFFIC

Founding members of Traffic Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi reunited this particular year to record a new album and mount a tour, and the announcement had local tongues wagging above drool cups.  Die-hard fans all around the tri-state area were clearly salivating over the chance to see this late ‘60s/early ‘70s rock band who had produced classics such as “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” and the band at that point in time had not toured for twenty years.  The results, though?  Even our enticing pricing (a $10.25 lawn ticket) didn’t ignite sales; the show only did about 8,800 people at the end of the day.  I’m wondering now if perhaps some of the public just misconstrued the messaging in our radio advertising back then; when they heard the phrase “Traffic at Star Lake” did they just think, “Well, no shit!”?

Monday, August 15 and Tuesday, August 16, 1994 – THE EAGLES

Probably the commercial and artistic highlight of the summer of 1994 was the reunion of a band who hadn’t played together in fourteen years—the Eagles.  When word of this reformation was trickling along the internal booking pipeline of our company in late Spring of that year, a lot of us balanced elation with some concern when we learned about the very ambitious ticket prices being discussed for the upcoming tour.  We were starting to think that the term “Hell Freezes Over”—the tour’s official name—might also describe a likelihood that some fans would opt to pass on buying these unprecedentedly pricey tickets. 

As it turned out, both of these August evening shows ended up selling out.  I am not the biggest Eagles aficionado, but I have to confess that the two concerts were spectacular in terms of musicianship and tour production—great lighting and an even better sound mix, and I remember some staff members remarking that the level of sustained excitement they witnessed in this maxed-out crowd of 23,000 people per night was unparalleled in the venue’s at that point five year history.

August 26, 1996 – THE CRANBERRIES 

In 1990 at the age of nineteen, Dolores O’Riordan answered a band’s advertisement for a new lead singer in Limerick, Ireland and went to the audition.  Turns out she lingered and latched on for the ride.  With a producer that had previously worked with The Smiths and Morrissey, the band crafted and then released their first full-length album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We in the Spring of 1993.  Three years later the immensely popular Cranberries—at that point armed with alt-rock hits such as “Linger,” “Dreams,” “Zombie” and “Salvation”—hit Star Lake as part of their successful 1996 North American tour.  The evening was a dream come true for alternative music fans who wanted their alt-rock powered by pop instincts, and above it all soared O’Riordan with a voice that was by turns haunting and seductive, and railing and raging…Quite unexpectedly, the singer died at the age of 46 in January 2018 in her London hotel room’s bathtub, and her death was ultimately ruled an accidental drowning due largely to alcohol intoxication.

  

Wednesday, August 13, 1997 – PHISH  

Jam band Phish’s first foray into the tiny township of Hanover in Washington County where Star Lake resides was uneventful.  Thankfully.  I remember Herb Grubbs, one of Hanover’s township supervisors, was a bit worried in advance that there might be some trouble akin to the Grateful Dead crowds that descended upon the amphitheater back in June of 1992.  The ticketless Deadheads back then who were camped out in the parking lots were persistent little buggers—and excellent fence snippers and scalers—so we had a slew of slithering going on all around (and through) the chain-link and wooden fences that ringed our amphitheater.

The Phish crowd was quite different.  Totally into the band, loose-limbed and twirling, and polite as can be—they even picked up trash on their way out of the venue after the show.  Also unique about this particular concert experience: The Phish smell, something which pervaded the atmosphere inside the amphitheater.  I like what one fan commented on the website phish.net in one of its forums, in response to the query Anyone know what scent of candles Phish use on stage?:  “Well we know it’s not patchouli,” the fan wrote.  “They got the whole crowd for that.”

Phish was phenomenal that evening and returned to sellout crowds the next three years as well, and Star Lake seemed to become a fan favorite judging from the fan buzz online.  There is even a highly reviewed and revered DVD “out there” called Star Lake 98 which captures the August 11 show from that year, reportedly the only show that summer that was created from archival VHS videotapes of a 3-camera lawn screen feed.  The set list from this 1998 show included Bob Marley’s “Trench Town Rock” which was the band’s opener, and soon thereafter in the set, “Time Loves A Hero,” a song originally written and performed by Little Feat.

Friday, August 7, 1998 – ROD STEWART

I was never much one for actively trying to orchestrate backstage meet-and-greets because of the particular demands of my job as general manager.  Ninety-five percent of the time I was wrestling with issues front-of-house—checking on the parking lots and tailgating, surveying the lines at the concession stands and artist merchandise booths, and keeping tabs on crowd demeanor.  But one night in August of 1998, I took advantage of the tour manager’s offer to get someone backstage to meet Rod Stewart, and I picked just the right individual for this mother of all opportunities—my 68-year-old mom.

This was a couple of years after my father had passed away, and my mother—always a huge Rod Stewart fan—had come to the show with a girlfriend to sit in my personal seats in section two.  I was backstage at one point when Stewart was just minutes away from beginning his set, and suddenly the tour manager offered this up to me, quite out of the blue: "Do you have anyone that wants to say a quick ‘hello’ to Rod?"

I ran out to the lower West Plaza from the backstage swing-gate, and dashed to my personal seats.  No mom.  I jumped up the four or five steps to the upper-house seating area to see if mi madre was anywhere in that milling throng.  I turned away from scanning and suddenly saw that she had slipped into section two after all.  I gave her a quick kiss and told her she needed to come with me right now.  Mom wisely decided to temporarily ditch her concert companion who had gone off to the ladies room.  “I think she’ll get it over it,” Mom said.  “Do I really have to run?”

We made it back to the dressing room hallway in time to catch Stewart and his tour manager midstream in their walk toward the stage.  The tour manager nodded at me, and I nudged Mom into Stewart’s path.  The singer lit up and said “And who’s this?!!”  My mom introduced herself and then dutifully made the connection, pointing over my way and explaining that her son ran the venue.  She told Stewart that she had been a fan of his since the 1970s, and the singer said, “Well, Alison, it is a pleasure to meet you!”—and then he was whisked away.  The 20-second meet-and-greet was over.

Mom was happy to be able to just walk back to her seat.  Was all that hustle worth it?  “Oh, Lanny, that was great,” she said.  “He seems so nice.  And he called me by my name.”

Every once in a while, your star rises in your mom’s universe.  And that’s just a fine day on planet Earth.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 7/25/21.....I KNOW A PLACE

 

Elton John on his career-making, self-titled second album included a track called “Sixty Years On,” and that’s where we are here in 2021 in relation to a bona fide Pittsburgh treasure.  We are sixty years on from the birth of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, and there is a celebration brewing right now—in literature form—all about the sports and musical triumphs that took place at this landmark venue.

Built in 1961 for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, the Civic Arena had the world’s first retractable dome covering the approximately 17,000 seats inside, and it played host to sports teams including the Pittsburgh Penguins and the MISL soccer team the Pittsburgh Spirit, and concerts by the score (some with the dome opened up, weather-permitting).

I worked as booking director at the Civic Arena from March 1985 through February 1991, and am proud to have been a part of this arena’s storied history.  On October 11, 2021 there will be a book released for sale through Amazon and other sources written by the Association of Gentleman Pittsburgh Journalists.  This brand new publication entitled Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena: Stories From The Igloo captures a ton of memorable events and happenstances at this highly prized (and sorely missed) venue, and though it concentrates primarily on great moments in sports there are chapters as well dedicated to the arena’s unique music history.  I wrote two of the music-themed chapters, and come October 11 you’ll find a revealing piece on the mid-late 1980s open-roof Skyline Series of concerts, and also my deep dive into the power and the glory of the Civic Arena’s Bruce Springsteen shows…

Until then, those of us who were fortunate enough to pass through the turnstiles of this venerated venue at some point during its lifetime can all bask in our own personal memories.  To that end, I’ve rounded up some intriguing reminiscences from a handful of music lovers from the Pittsburgh arts community.  Musicasaurus.com thanks them all for sharing their reflections on an unforgettable evening or evenings spent at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena…

  SCOTT MERVIS

Mervis is a writer/reviewer & weekend magazine editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Like any homegrown Pittsburgher, I have so many amazing memories of the Civic Arena.  For starters, my mom took me to see my favorite group, the Jackson 5, in 1974, the night the crowd was so excited they had to stop the show and turn on the lights after one song to get people to chill out.

A few years and a few musical genres later, my friends and I went to see Lynyrd Skynyrd, and when we were waiting for our parents to pick us up at Chatham Center, Ronnie Van Zant stepped out of his limo, dropping a bottle of Jack Daniels on the ground, and he came over and talked to us.

I saw so many of my favorite artists there over the years—Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Page/Plant, Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith—but I'm afraid I'd be lying if I didn't say that my favorite was the first time I ever saw, yes, Kiss, which was April 1976.  I was 14 and it was the first time I ever went to a concert with just my friends.  The smoke, the fire, the blood, the makeup, the volume, the spectacle—I was hooked on concerts, and have never kicked the habit.

 

  ANTHONY ALFONSI 

Alfonsi is a veteran of powerhouse AOR (album-oriented rock) station WDVE-FM Pittsburgh and spent over thirty years there handling marketing and promotions.

My first concert, of course, is the one that will stick in my mind forever.  It was Elton John in November of 1974—the "Caribou Ranch Tour" with Kiki Dee as the opener.  Tickets were priced at $6.75, $5.75 and $4.75, and I bought two at the high price and paid cash; they were in Section C24.  None of us had our driver's license just yet, so my one friend's mother drove us down and dropped us off…Elton came out dressed in a costume made of feathers with a plume attached to the back of his neck which stretched up behind his head.  He had his head down concentrating on his playing and then he raised it and looked out to the audience.  The crowd went wild.  We were on our way to a night of hit after hit, as Elton at this point was at the height of his 1970s popularity.  

My other memorable shows at the Civic Arena: 

* Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints tour in 1991.  The sound was perfect and not loud at all.  I don't remember any concert before or after sounding as good as this show.

* Two nights of Paul McCartney in February 1990.

* Many Bruce shows beginning with the "Born in the USA" tour.

* An early 1980s Ozzy Osbourne concert, memorable because I and other folks from our radio station had been asked by the tour personnel to walk across the stage in monks’ habits with the hoods pulled up.  This was a routine that was part of Ozzy’s show.

* Seeing one of the Frank Sinatra concerts at the arena because it was just me and my mom.

* Bryan Adams opening for Journey in 1983.  In my opinion, he blew them off the stage.

* The very last concert at the Civic Arena—Carole King and James Taylor in the round.  Memorable because of SO many hits, and they had not only Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel as part of their band, but also Danny Kortchmar.  Truly legendary.  This show merited being the last one.

 

  GEORGE BALICKY

Balicky was in various management roles (including senior vice-president) at National Record Mart, the Pittsburgh-based record retail chain, from the late 1960s through 1999.

I have many fond memories of the Civic Arena.  Perhaps most memorable is one I attended BEFORE my career in the retail record business started.  Back on November 24, 1965 I was on my way to my girlfriend's house when two of my friends drove up to me and asked me where I was going.  After I told them, they said "No you're not, you're coming with us!”  They physically grabbed me and threw me in back seat of their car.  We were headed to the Civic Arena to see KQV's Shower of Stars!  In those days, it was common to have five to seven artists on the same show.  In this case, the concert was headlined by the Rolling Stones and also featured Paul Revere and the Raiders, We Five, and several others.  Of course the Stones were awesome and the entire event was a great show, one that I had never planned to go to—and one that I'll never forget!

 

  REGE BEHE

Writer/reviewer Behe spent a number of years covering the local music scene for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, starting as a stringer for the newspaper in 1993 and then going full-time in 1997.

I saw many memorable concerts at the Civic Arena as a fan and a journalist.  I have fond memories of seeing the Police in 1982, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in 1984 and The Rolling Stones in 2003 (arguably the best show I saw there).  But the most unforgettable concert?  That’s easy: The Who on December 2, 1979.  It was my first rock show at the Igloo, and I remember it not so much for the music, but for everything else that went on that Sunday night.  

I attended the concert with four childhood friends from Trafford.  We were not the most sophisticated of young men; if you called us hicks from the sticks you wouldn’t have been far off, although we would have bristled then at that description.  When we parked in the lot next to the arena we thought we were pretty hip with a cooler filled with beer.  That was child’s play compared to the guys (and gals) guzzling Jack Daniels, Mad Dog 20/20 and vodka, not to mention the haze of dope that hung over the parking lot.

We had good seats and I was mesmerized by Pete Townshend’s wind-milling guitar, Roger Daltrey’s bombastic vocals and John Entwhistle’s cool demeanor.  But as compelling as the music was, the chaos in the audience was a sideshow not to be ignored.  During a trip to the men’s room, I stumbled over a guy passed out on the floor as two others were puking their guts out in urinals.  Everywhere I turned there were people in various stages of inebriation, most tilting to the FUBAR end of the meter.  At one point during the show firecrackers started going off in the arena’s upper regions drawing Townshend’s attention.  I was scared and intimidated by what I saw that night.  But part of me was thrilled to death.  I’d finally seen a big-time rock concert, and survived. 

 

  CHRIS FLETCHER

Fletcher was the morning news guy at WDVE in 1984-1985, and then moved to California, eventually returning to become the publisher/editor of Pittsburgh Magazine from 1993-2002.

I think my favorite Civic Arena moment was seeing Bruce Springsteen on the Born in the USA tour.  I had listened to Springsteen off and on before, but seeing him live brought a new appreciation.  No performer worked harder, which I just couldn't fathom being able to do day after day on a tour.  

It was also a surreal night.  My girlfriend and I had broken up about a week before.  I was working at WDVE with Jimmy & Steve (the morning deejay team) and I let them convince me to play "The Dating Game" on air to find someone to accompany me to the show.  Oh, the things some people are willing to do to see Springsteen.  I never saw her again.  It's probably for the best.

 

  ED TRAVERSARI 

Traversari spent most of his adult working life as a promoter and partner with DiCesare-Engler Productions, Pittsburgh’s largest independent concert promotion company which began in 1973 and continued until its sale to SFX Entertainment in 1998.

I have so many great memories of the Civic Arena including the first show I ever saw there which was Steppenwolf, The Turtles and The Grass Roots.  That was the beginning of a long stretch of shows that I would either see as a paying fan (from 1969 - 1974) or as an employee of Dicesare-Engler Productions starting in 1975.

Some of my favorite shows as a fan (paying to see the shows) included The Who (with Keith Moon still in the band), Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, ELP and The Rolling Stones (with Stevie Wonder as their special guest).

As a promoter it's so difficult to pick the best show, however any of the Springsteen shows have to rate right up on the top (especially the early Springsteen arena shows in the 80s).  His energy, power and musicianship on stage made these shows always my favorites to work and be a part of.  Some of my other top shows as a promoter include Bob Seger, Aerosmith, Billy Joel, Kansas, and Paul McCartney.  

Here's to the great concerts and great people who worked at the Civic Arena as ushers, ticket takers, ticket sellers, stagehands and more to make them great memories for all of us.

 

  SCOTT BLASEY

Blasey is a musician and lead singer for the Pittsburgh-based band The Clarks.

I had my most harrowing and most enlightening concert experiences within sixty seconds of each other.  September 11, 1980—me and a buddy went to the Civic Arena to see Ted Nugent on the Intensities In 10 Cities Tour.  It was festival seating and Humble Pie opened the show.  We were about twenty feet away from the stage inside a mass of freakiness that I'd never encountered before.  Everything was cool until the lights went down for Ted.  People started pushing to get up front and it got really crowded.  The audience began to sway and we had no choice but to sway with them because everybody was packed so tightly together.  I was just a young, skinny teenager and I thought for sure I was going to be trampled underfoot like those kids at the Who concert the year before in Cincinnati.  It seriously scared the shit out of me.  

Just then the lights came up and Sweaty Teddy swung across the stage from a vine dressed in a loincloth.  Let me repeat that, he swung across the stage, on a vine, in a loincloth.  It was the most rock-n-roll thing I've ever seen.  He tore into “Stranglehold” like a man possessed.  I was transfixed.  I was still scared, but I was completely in awe.  We watched the first two songs from there and then moved back and found some seats, where the sweet smell of...y'know, popcorn, filled the air.

 

  VAL PORTER

Porter is a longtime WDVE-FM on-air talent.  She is currently Music Director and a member of the station’s acclaimed morning show.

Without question, my most memorable moment was a Motley Crue show at the Civic Arena, on October 19, 1997.  It was the tour in which they were causing trouble at just about every stop.  I went on stage before the band came out to do announcements about upcoming shows and no smoking; that sort of thing.  Well, the crowd goes crazy when I get up there.  And I’m thinking “Yeah!  A real rock crowd ready for a big show!”  As I’m walking off the stage someone said “Be glad you don’t know what was going on up there.”  Then someone else offstage said the same thing.  When I got back to my seat, I was told that while I was up on stage they were showing a very graphic porno on the very large screen behind me.  And that’s why the crowd went crazy.  A friend told me that the screen was so big I looked like an ant in front of it.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 7/11/21.....SHOWER THE PEOPLE

There used to be a concert concept back in the 1960s that was a cobbled-together, multi-act show called a Shower of Stars.  In Pittsburgh, for instance, a local radio station officially kicked off a series of these aptly-named extravaganzas beginning in 1964 with The KQV Summer Shower of Stars at the Syria Mosque.  This July 13, 1964 concert featured The Crystals, Gene Pitney, The Shirelles, The Dixie Cups, The Rip Chords, The Reflections, Major Lance, The Supremes and others.

These days, when I think of a Shower of Stars, it means something else entirely.  It’s about stars and a shower, but more precisely it’s about stars on shower curtains.  The following listings are examples of music-themed shower curtains that are currently offered for sale by a variety of vendors, and it may be worth your while to investigate and then invest…Imagine forgoing the coffee one morning, trudging into the bathroom and through a sleepy haze, beginning to drink in the vividness of one of these eye-popping works of art.  It will leave you standing there, mentally charged to meet the new day, naked and unafraid.

AND…musicasaurus.com can think of another potential benefit. It could amp up a budding relationship with a brand new romantic partner of yours, one who has perhaps just stayed the night for the first time.  Your shower curtain will seal the deal if your selection is simpatico—or, of course, throw cold water on everything if it is not.

Here are some of the more interesting shower curtains with music-oriented themes that musicasaurus.com has excavated thus far:

THE “GREATEST ALBUM COVERS” SHOWER CURTAIN

Singer Bobby Darin had his first hit song in 1958 with a novelty tune co-written by influential NYC radio deejay Murray the K called "Splish Splash."  The lyrics of the song started off this way: "Splish splash, I was taking a bath / Long about a Saturday night."  Now, sixty-three years later with this particular tub curtain in mind, I'm thinking the song should open with "Mishmash, I was taking a bath."  There are one hundred and thirty-two classic album covers represented on this shower curtain, everything from Bowie and Bjork and Zep and Zappa, to the Beatles, Benatar and Beefheart.  Visually this is quite the musical medley, and it'll jumpstart your receptors even if the showerhead initially fails you; you'll have at least a handful of album tracks ping-ponging 'round your frontal lobes well before you snatch a towel to dab and dry.

THE RECORD ALBUM…NEVER FORGET

If cranky and gripe-prone Grandpa is staying at your house, even just temporarily, this particular shower curtain would give the curmudgeon a bit of a balm.  He could mentally drift on back to the golden age of the 33 1/3 LP (long playing record album) and cocoon himself in the memories of times before technology upended the old ways.  This would be something he could cling to—but come to think of it, the shower’s grab bar would be a better choice.

PINK FLOYD’S DARK SIDE OF THE MOON

We could throw around the word “iconic” very easily here.  The album Dark Side of the Moon has been on the top sales charts of music industry bible Billboard Magazine for a combined total of eighteen years over the time period of 1973 (the year of the album’s release) through present day.  It has also sold over 45 million copies.  If you are a true devotee of Dark Side you should pounce on this, but first talk it over at length with your live-in significant other (hopefully there’ll be no Floydian slips).

FREDDIE MERCURY AND JOHN PRINE 

Queen’s charismatic front-man Freddie Mercury and country/folk singer-songwriter John Prine are certainly due more than broad brushstrokes in adequately describing their talent and defining their impact.  Suffice to say here that artist Suzann Sines has attempted to capture just some of their dazzling appeal. [Note: If you opt for Prine, and there happens to be another household member who’s a fan, be prepared for him or her to peel back the curtain on you just to say “Hello In There.”]

GRATEFUL DEAD’S TERRAPIN STATION

Deadheads, lend me your ears.  Yes, Terrapin Station (the band’s ninth studio recording from 1977) wasn’t a stellar achievement.  According to some who are wise in the ways of The Dead, this whole late 1970s era of the band just wasn’t their best in terms of studio album content.  But the cover for TerrapinStation was and is a classic from The Dead’s favorite San Francisco designers Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse, who self-described their 1960s/1970s collaborative efforts as “riffing off each other’s giggle.”  Kelley/Mouse Studios produced many classic posters for San Franciscan venues such as the Fillmore Auditorium, Winterland arena, the Fillmore West, the Avalon Ballroom and others, and notably also designed some of The Dead’s most revered album covers as well as developed the band’s iconic skull and roses logo.  But back to Terrapin Station: What self-respecting Deadheads wouldn’t want a couple of joyous, cavorting tortoises joining them in the bath?  That’s something worth shelling out some bucks for.

NIRVANA’S NEVERMIND 

It’s common knowledge among those steeped in rock ‘n’ roll that Kurt Cobain was circling the drain.  So is it not appropriate that his band Nirvana be represented on a shower curtain?  Pictured first is the cover of the Seattle-area group’s immensely successful second album (their first on a major label, Geffen Records) entitled Nevermind.  The album was released in the fall of 1991 and it served to energize and engage a whole new audience for alternative music bands across the country.  Nevermind not only blew people’s minds but also blew back the hair on bands like Poison, Cinderella and others of that ilk, severely denting the popularity of these glam/metal/hair band purveyors…The second photo is a variation of the Nevermind cover featuring a sloth instead of the swimming babe.  I don’t think it was meant to convey anything “heavy” in terms of commentary on one of the seven deadly sins; it probably just sprang out of a cutesy fad (that I somehow missed) popularizing these benign, habitually lazy tree-dwelling mammals.

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN 

One could garner a double dose of cred if he or she chose this Beethoven shower curtain.  On one hand, it would impress those bathroom visitors who are eternally enthralled with the undisputed past masters of classical composition.  On the other hand—since the photo is also freakily reminiscent of John Belushi(!)—a visiting pop culture enthusiast may view this as “Belushi does Beethoven.”  And indeed, the comedic madman did do the maestro on Saturday Night Live, dating back to 1975 and the sixth episode of that landmark program’s very first season.

JACO PASTORIOUS

I came to find bassist extraordinaire Jaco Pastorious through select recordings of the jazz fusion band Weather Report.  This group’s most commercially successful album was Heavy Weather (1977) which contained the eminently approachable jazz classic “Birdland,” and this gifted and galvanizing bass player’s spidery fingers and harmonics are blessedly all over this record.  You can also catch some stellar playing of Pastorious in a 1980 live concert setting via the double album Shadows and Light from singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.  This shower curtain is a real find for any jazz/jazz fusion worshippers out there who prize power and passion above all else.

BOB DYLAN

If Dylan ended up visiting you and using your bathroom, he’d be pissed and certainly would pooh-pooh ANY shower curtain you had hung in his honor.  Here are two examples among the many Dylan designs commercially available: 1) Dylan’s kaleidoscopic hair image from the original 1966 poster created by artist/graphic designer Milton Glaser, which was folded and packaged into the singer’s first greatest hits compilation album released by Columbia Records in 1967.  Glaser acknowledges his inspiration for this—one of his very first poster designs—stemmed from French artist Marcel Duchamp’s 1957 self-portrait and also from Art Nouveau…2) UK artist Mal Bray created, for Fine Art America, a Dylan-themed bit of artwork based on a tune from the singer’s second studio album from 1963, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.  I dare you to try not singing the following chorus when the showerhead initially spits out at you, full-force: “And it's a hard…it's a hard…it's a hard…and it's a hard…it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.”

STEVIE NICKS’ ROCK A LITTLE

The bewitching Stevie Nicks released her third solo studio recording Rock a Little in 1985, and it was well received by hardcore fans but did not match the sales levels of her two previous solo efforts from the early 1980s.  The one song from the album which made some noise on the charts was “Talk to Me”—and if you heeded that advice it likely would have been a long and up-and-down conversation as Nicks reportedly was nosing up a lot of snow during that time period…One warning about this shower curtain, especially if you are a diehard fan: Don’t mimic the signature “Stevie twirl” while in the shower itself.

DAVID BOWIE’S ALADDIN SANE

Bowie issued his sixth studio album in 1973, and Aladdin Sane is a pun on A Lad Insane, a tentative title that had been proposed at one point prior to the record’s release.  The latter title, if it had been utilized, would reportedly have been a spot-on description of Bowie’s mental stress and major ambivalence at that juncture.  He had just completed a mammoth USA concert tour, scrambling to write new songs on the road while also dealing with the sudden rush of success and attention stemming from his Ziggy Stardust release from the year before.  The cover of Aladdin Sane was a photo by English photographer Brian Duffy, who subsequently also contributed to the artwork on Bowie’s Lodger and Scary Monsters albums…The second photo positioned here is basically because, well, “Who doesn’t love cats?!!”  (for more on this, please check out the zillion-and-a-half cat photos and/or videos on YouTube, Instagram, etc.).

LED ZEPPELIN III

Of all of the Led Zeppelin album covers that are currently available in this shower curtain format, this particular one seems to me to be the most fanciful and fun. This cover from 1970s’ Led Zeppelin III is one that all household members could appreciate—for the older bathers it’s a trip down memory lane, and for the tykes who are bouncing into the bathroom for a quick rinse-off, the curtain’s artwork is enticing and exudes a playful sense of wonder with its splashes of color and its butterflies, birds and planes (and that's the way, that's the way it oughtta be).

MUSIC-THEMED ART FROM ANTHONY FALBO

Above are four examples of paintings by Flint, Michigan artist Anthony Falbo, who predominantly works in a cubism style (“Cubestraction”).  According to his website, Falbo deals with a variety of subjects including music, religion, sports, animals and people, which gives him “a chance to take things to the extreme.  His fluency of colors in the Cubestraction series is an uncanny way of portraying the truth, and brings a bold array of harmony that seems to vibrate off the canvas.”  The paintings above are all available in the shower curtain format: The French Quarter…King of the Blues…Beside Myself…and No Restrictions: Me, The Lord and My Music.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 6/27/21.....ART FOR ART’S SAKE

There is quite likely a website out there somewhere called old-fart-dot-com.  I would fully expect a visit to its home page to reveal a rabid, foaming at the mouth guy in his mid to late 60s, crabbing about the march of technology and the resulting death of the album cover as he holds up a timeworn sample, the 12” x 12” cover of the LP (i.e., “Long Playing” phonograph record) Dark Side of the Moon.

Some people just can’t let go.  Like Old Fart, I do miss the 12” LP record but for me it’s not grievance driven; it’s really just a memory sheen, a pleasant hazy afterglow of being young in the 1960s and 1970s.  This was a time of incredible artistic invention in the world of music, when society was rocked by a youth-quake and the floodgates opened for recording artists to experiment and unshackle themselves, challenging conformity and authority—and themselves.

The results were mind-blowing in terms of the breadth and depth of creativity applied to the writing, recording and performing of popular music.  Out of bedrooms and basements and garages many bands were birthed, unions were cemented, and musical genres (like classic rock, psychedelia, prog rock, funk, punk and many more) leapt into being, stoked by the spirit-of-the-times collaboration and crossbreeding.

And album design—the “art of the album cover”—flowered as well.  I recently happened upon a New York Times music-oriented podcast from August 29, 2019 entitled “What’s the Point of Album Covers in the Post-Album Era?” (accessible through nytimes.com/popcast).  This episode was a conversation between the podcast’s host Jon Caramanica and guest Teddy Blanks of the graphic design firm Chips, and the two—only at times, mind you—lamented the passing of the days when album cover art was a full-bodied avenue of artistic expression.  

“In the LP era,” states the brief written intro on this episode’s launch page, “album art was a crucial component of marketing and aesthetic identity.  There was enough space to be striking, and a big enough canvas to let eccentricity reign.  The CD era shrunk the size down, but still emphasized the importance of a visual hallmark, requiring designers to make a big statement in a smaller space.  Now, the album ‘cover’ is often just a tiny square on a screen.”

Musicasaurus.com is opting to turn back the clock to the era of the sizable signifiers—the 12” x 12” artistic expressions on the covers of record albums (LPs) from the 1960s and 1970s.  What you’ll encounter here is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg, but hopefully it’s enough to sew the seeds for your own explorations…

 

Whipped Cream & Other Delights (1965) – Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass

I was just shy of twelve years old when Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass’ Whipped Cream & Other Delights was released in April of 1965.  My mother had purchased the album because of the huge radio hit “A Taste Of Honey,” a perky Mexican-flavored pop instrumental featuring Alpert’s trumpet as the lead instrument. 

My mom often danced (frugged, more specifically) around the living room when this record played on our hi-fi console but I stayed on the sidelines, cradling the album cover which sported a beautiful woman in her late twenties covered only in whipped cream.  For me, this dollop packed a wallop—at the age of eleven my mind was a morass of questions about the opposite sex (a swamp from which few men ever really emerge), and the bewitching beauty of this woman with the cleavage-clinging cream was mesmerizing.  Plus...every time I studied the cover...I believed she was looking right at me.

 

 

The Works of Design Firm Hipgnosis: A Saucerful of Secrets (1968) – Pink Floyd … Deadlines (1978) – The Strawbs … and A Song For All Seasons (1978) – Renaissance

A Saucerful of Secrets from Britain’s Pink Floyd was noteworthy in a couple of ways.  The finished product reflected the contributions of outgoing member Syd Barrett (jettisoned for increasingly aberrant behavior) and the incoming David Gilmour, and so Saucerful was a passing of the torch and a stabilization of the band’s line-up.  Also, the album essentially launched the careers of design wizards Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell who had come up with the album cover.  Floyd’s record label EMI peppered the two with additional requests for help with some of their other artists, and so the design duo’s new company Hipgnosis was born shortly thereafter.  

In addition to keeping its fealty to Floyd with subsequent albums including Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and Animals, Hipgnosis began working with a lot of other topnotch bands of the era (Led Zeppelin; Yes; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Electric Light Orchestra; Wings; 10cc; Genesis; Peter Gabriel; Bad Company; The Scorpions; The Alan Parsons Project and others).  Included here with Saucerful are two striking covers from Hipgnosis’ 1970s output.  The first is from Renaissance, an English prog-rock outfit who melded rock, folk and classical music to produce their unique sound.  A Song For All Seasons was released in 1978 and was the band’s eighth studio album. They had a hit in the UK (but not stateside) with the song “Northern Lights” from that record.  The other delectable cover from Hipgnosis pictured here is the 1978 album Deadlines by the British folk-turned-prog-rock band the Strawbs.  It is an excellent example of an album’s gatefold design (a folded double cover).  Through unfolding and then viewing the front and back covers of Deadlines simultaneously, one is able to glean the full impact of the artwork.

Cheap Thrills (1968) – Big Brother & The Holding Company

Fritz the Cat…Mr. Natural…and the laidback struts of those gents from the Keep On Truckin’ comics—this is the late 1960s/early 1970s world of illustrator Robert Crumb.  The artist himself declared that his style of artwork was somewhat traditional at first but then he linked up with, shall we say here in code, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.  He then veered into the surreal and the psychedelic (I’m thinkin’ we could call this his “acid reflex”).

Big Brother & The Holding Company was a San Franciscan band that rose up out of the same West Coast music scene of the 1960s as the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Grateful Dead.  Front-woman Janis Joplin, mighty-throated and mesmerizing, became the magnet for critics and fans alike especially with the release of the band’s second album Cheap Thrills.  The album cover by Robert Crumb is arguably the crème de la Crumb.  Originally supposed to be the record’s back cover bearing song titles and band member credits, Crumb’s illustration was then flipped to become the front cover when the band’s original concept of a photo of the group members all naked in bed was nixed by nervous sorts at the label.  

  

Outta Season (1969) – Ike & Tina Turner   

Ike & Tina Turner made a bold statement back in 1969 with the release of this album which featured the duo in whiteface eating watermelon (Ike on the front cover; Tina on the back).  According to PopMatters writer Christian John Wikane in an October 11, 2007 review of the three-disc retrospective The Ike & Tina Turner Story 1960-1975, “Ike and Tina were satirizing the idea that white musicians had co-opted rhythm and blues, as if black musicians had to feign whiteness in order to be accepted as a viable blues act."  The album was indeed an assemblage of bluesy tracks versus the duo’s previous R&B-heavy efforts, and featured songs authored by B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Dixon and others.  

In the liner notes section of the record, Ike & Tina strike again.  The credit for the design and photography of the album cover artwork is facetiously listed as Amos ‘n’ Andy—two black characters who were featured in a late 1920s radio sitcom, a couple of early 1930s films, and an eventual 1950s television program.  Though the TV show featured black actors in these roles, the long-running radio program (1928-1960) and the two 1930s films did not.  The two white actors who originally created the characters voiced them in the radio show and appeared in blackface in the two movies.

 

Stand Up (1969) – Jethro Tull 

There was much more to this group’s 1969 sophomore release than just the expressive woodcut style of the album cover; the band was just then on their second album, and it revealed a true expansion of their musical palette.  There were now dabs and splashes of classical music, old English folk, progressive rock, and jazz on top of their originally mined blues influences.  And with its gatefold design, the new album literally had the band standing Tull: The cover opened up like a kiddie’s book, resulting in the four band members popping up in a magnificent “Ta-DAH!” pose that reinforced the record’s title as well as the group’s newfound depth of creativity.

The Court Of The Crimson King (1969) – King Crimson

I bought this album the moment it hit record stores in 1969.  I was captivated by the cover, and remember rushing right home to get the contents on the turntable.  When I cruised through the back door, my father was sitting in his usual post at our kitchen table, ignoring the smoke spiral from his ashtray-nestled Salem cigarette and nursing a frosted mug of beer.  He was a man of few words; not due to the alcohol, he just was who he was.  Dad arched an eyebrow as if to say “Wha’ ja’ get?”  I pulled the lone album out of the Woolworth’s shopping bag and showed him the front cover.  He looked at me, expressionless, and said “Runnin’ off and joining the circus, are you?”  

He made no judgments on the songs within.  I never extended an invitation for him to sit down and listen to it, and I’m glad of that.  It would have scrambled his middle-aged brain and pinned his ears back, sitting through a loud-volume sample of the album’s prog-rock buzz saw opener “21stCentury Schizoid Man.”  But I was sincerely hooked by this tune and the nine-and-a-half minute title track that closed the album.

   

The Works of Design Artist Neon Park: Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970) The Mothers of Invention … and Sailin’ Shoes (1972), Dixie Chicken (1973) and Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (1974) – Little Feat

Park was a child of California and a vagabond artist in his youth, at one point ending up in San Francisco doing poster art for the Family Dog hippie collective’s series of concerts at the Avalon Ballroom, circa 1966.  At the turn of the decade his surreal images and vivid use of color attracted the attention of musician Frank Zappa, who hired him to do the cover art for his upcoming Mothers of Invention album Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970).  That album cover is deliciously disturbing stuff and gained Park some notoriety, but it was the artist’s long association with Little Feat for which he is best known (in cognoscenti circles, I’ll admit).  Park had reportedly met Feat founder Lowell George while hitchhiking, and the two then struck a bond that continued through a number of band releases beginning with Feat’s second album Sailin’ Shoes (1972).  Park’s album covers were visually arresting, often perplexing, and almost always dazzling.

 

Street Survivors (1977) – Lynyrd Skynyrd                              

The album cover on the left is the original version of Skynyrd’s Street Survivors album which was released on October 17, 1977.  Just three days afterward, the band’s chartered plane crashed-landed in a Mississippi forest while traveling from Greenville, South Carolina to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge (the latter was to be the sixth stop on the group’s just-commenced tour).  Three band members perished including guitarist Steve Gaines, who eerily is dead center on the album cover wrapped in flames.  The band’s record company MCA then stopped production of the original Street Survivors, and decided to reissue the record with a less inflammatory cover.  Soon the album was back, in black—the mourning of a new day.

Two The Hard Way (1977) – Allman and Woman (aka Gregg Allman and Cher)

Why did he do this album, and why, oh why did he allow himself to be in this cover photo?  Gregg Allman married celebrity/entertainer Cher in 1975, and a year later the Allman Brothers Band broke up (not due to Cher; this stemmed from the fractious factions within the band and some members’ reported drug use).  

In November of 1977 when this marital musical union surprised us all, I was working as co-manager of Exile Records in Wexford, Pennsylvania.  We initially stocked a few copies of the Two The Hard Way album and displayed it in our front “New Releases” section.  But the expressions of a few die-hard Allman Brothers fans entering the store reminded me of the Native American in the classic 1970s anti-litter TV commercial who had a tear streaming down his cheek (he was standing by the highway, and someone driving by had just thrown trash at his feet).  Though their situations were admittedly different, the aforementioned Allmans’ fans and this Indian chief had one thing in common: A gut honest reaction to an American treasure being polluted by an unthinking individual.

(p.s. Hearkening back to this post’s introductory paragraph—and this is true at least as of Sunday, June 27, 2021—the website www.oldfart.com is available for purchase, in case any perennially perturbed old codger is still licking his wounds over the loss of LP covers and would like to buy the site to launch a tirade or two.)

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 6/13/21.....BETWEEN THE BUTTONS

   

As one may be able to tell from the photos above, I’ve had some things swirling around my mind’s eye lately.

A few years ago I discovered in my basement a stowed-away plastic bag full of music artist buttons, ones dating back to the late 1970s/early 1980s when I had worked in the record business.  Back then, either through my record company employer Warner-Elektra-Atlantic or through my peers in the music industry—and notably not by design or obsession; instead by happenstance—I ended up with a pretty diverse collection of buttons.  These items were routinely produced back in the day by a number of record companies who were all clawing for dominance, all vying for ways to spread awareness of, and build allegiance to, their emerging artists and bands.

So this post is all about the buttons.  In fact, looking over this randomly acquired collection of mine from time to time has led to the strangest effect—somehow this makes me feel younger even as I continue to age (perhaps I’m some sort of musical Benjamin Button?!!).

Goldmine Magazine, a publication that arose in 1974 dedicated to music collectibles and music memorabilia, featured an article back in 2009 that spelled out the appeal of button wearing.  In “Beyond Vinyl: Collectors Get Stuck on Music Pins,” Goldmine staff writer Stephen M.H. Braitman explains that “people have been sticking little signs and messages on their shirts for a long time.  The origins of pins and pin-backs [editor’s note: these are some collectors’ terms for buttons] are lost in the beginnings of the early Industrial Revolution, but by the 19thcentury, politicians and supporters were actively campaigning all over their bodies.”

Braitman goes on to theorize there were primarily three time periods in recent history when button wearers really ran rampant because of an intense devotion to illustrating allegiances.  In the 1950s, he writes, “bobby soxers and teen dreams sported as many television stars as they did rock ‘n’ rollers,” so not only were Elvis Presley buttons in vogue, but visages of “Howdy Doody, Davy Crockett and Dick Clark were worn on lapels, shirts and blouses.”

In the 1960s the counterculture contributed to a real flowering of button wearing.  “Buttons were the public face of the hip underground,” relates Braitman, “sporting drug and hippy icons and slogans like ‘Take A Trip,’ ‘Jesus Wore Long Hair,’ ‘Fly Trans Love Airways,’ ‘Don’t Sit On The Grass,’ and the eternally optimistic ‘Peace.’”

Then in the 1970s, button use ballooned significantly thanks to a rising tide of fervid fans who were embracing all of the new styles, variations and experimentations that were emanating from the music world.  “The punk bomb of the late ‘70s burst with all kinds of new shapes and sizes, not just with gimmick record packaging but with pins of all sorts,” said Braitman.  “Everyone wore buttons, expressing their individual choices among the explosion of new bands and sounds.”

I think the following sample photos from my bag o’ buttons really help reveal the appeal.  Some are straightforward replicas of album covers, others are themed offshoots, and some even shape-shift, abandoning the traditional circle for more interesting and edgy tie-ins to the particular artists’ messaging and/or content.

The late ‘70s/early ‘80s really was a unique time period when major record companies like Columbia, MCA, Capitol, Warner Brothers, Elektra, Atlantic, Polygram and others went whole hog on the production of buttons—one more important tool in the arsenal of merchandising materials that helped promote established artists’ new releases and galvanize interest in new artists’ debuts.

DIRE STRAITS

In Pittsburgh I worked for WEA Corporation (the distribution arm of combined labels Warner Brothers, Elektra and Atlantic Records) in the late 1970s, and as their regional display person I was very well accustomed to receiving posters and 1’ x 1’ album-cover flats to do my handiwork in area record stores.  But in October 1978 when I received a small plastic bag with twenty-five guitar-shaped Dire Straits buttons along with the standard materials, it was like getting the keys to the kingdom. The various record store managers that I kept hitting up for prime in-store display space every two weeks were, to a man/to a woman, blown away by this tiny yet tantalizing bit of rock ‘n’ roll fashion.  It helped, of course, that new-band-on-the-block Dire Straits was so refreshingly original—helmed by frontman/fingerstyle guitarist Mark Knopfler—and so most of the music-obsessed managers religiously wore these buttons like badges of honor.  

Choice cut from the band’s 1978 self-titled debut album: “Sultans of Swing” https://youtu.be/0fAQhSRLQnM

   

DEVO

The origins of Devo lay in the shared horror and agony of the Kent State shootings in May 1970.  Around that time, art student Gerald Casale and some friends were already toying with an art and literature concept that they had dreamed up in response to our country’s rampant consumerism, its calls for conformity, and its ongoing political hypocrisy.  Casale and his like-minded mates, flush with the sense that humankind was far from evolving and was in fact devolving, then ventured into music to serve as their primary vehicle for getting out their messaging.  Thus Devo was born…The 3-D button of the girl with balloons was the merchandising item associated with the band’s 1978 debut album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, and the button with the red hat—or rather the ziggurat-style “energy dome”—made its debut during Devo’s promotional campaign for 1980s Freedom of Choice, their third studio release.  

Choice cuts: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” from the group’s debut album https://youtu.be/04pbtf5t_LU … “Whip It” from Freedom of Choice https://youtu.be/RidtrSCogg0

   

THE PRIDE OF PITTSBURGH: DAVID WERNER…THE GRANATI BROTHERS (G-FORCE)….THE IRON CITY HOUSEROCKERS…AND DONNIE IRIS

At the very end of the 1970s into the start of the 1980s, in Pittsburgh, there was a startling convergence of musical talent and city pride that placed hometown artists in the limelight and the Steel City in the spotlight—and for good reason.  We had David Werner, the Granati Brothers, the Iron City Houserockers and Donnie Iris & the Cruisers all in our midst, each of them freshly signed to major record deals and releasing their debut albums.  This was a nexus of timing and talent that was, up to that moment in local rock music history, unparalleled in scope.  

David Werner was a whiz kid, having issued a couple of albums in the mid 1970s on the RCA label when he was seventeen going on eighteen  In 1979 after being signed to Epic Records Werner released a self-titled album that drew some radio play in pockets across the country, and the cool captivating rocker “What’s Right” even cracked the national charts in the record sales bible Billboard Magazine.

The Granati Brothers, rechristened G-Force for their 1979 self-titled debut on A&M Records, were four brothers and a cousin from Beaver Falls, Pa (near Pittsburgh).  Their first album received airplay on some top FM stations across the country and the group was chosen by Van Halen to be the opening act on two national tours (in 1979 and again in 1981) which put them in front of hundreds of thousands of VH fans over a total of seventy-eight shows.

The Iron City Houserockers fronted by Joe Grushecky were live performance veterans, bar-tested and never bested when it came to playing sincere, blue-collar heartland rock ‘n’ roll.  They had a Stones-like swagger and frontman Joe’s tales of working-class warriors were infectious; it was as if this band of brothers literally took rock ‘n’ roll to be their very salvation.  The Houserockers issued three albums on the MCA label in quick succession, 1979-1981, and critics with Rolling Stone, the Village Voice and other publications piled on the praise especially for their sophomore effort Have a Good Time but Get Out Alive!

Donnie Iris was a local hero well before he and his Cruisers matched up to gain much wider national recognition and arena-level gigs beginning in 1980.  The musician/singer-songwriter had written the nationwide hit  “The Rapper” in 1970 while with Pittsburgh band The Jaggerz, spent time with Wild Cherry in 1978 and 1979, and the following year cruised into a solo career.  After Iris’ debut Back on the Streets hit record stores in the summer of 1980 the track “Ah! Leah!” began showing up on an increasing number of FM stations nationally.  This kicked open the door for Iris; sales swelled for the album, and demand as a live performer rippled out of homebase Pittsburgh and spread to more and more cities across the country.

Choice cuts: David Werner “What’s Right” https://youtu.be/X89fUE815KI … The Granati Brothers “It Was You” (updated version of the song that originally appeared on the band’s 1979 A&M release G-Force) https://youtu.be/g_uq_O9QCRQ … Iron City Houserockers “Pumping Iron” https://youtu.be/TJYuNTpsBhY … Donnie Iris & The Cruisers “Ah! Leah!” https://youtu.be/Ip9L8IvIsdQ

 

THE CARS

I found a gem of a description of The Cars’ debut album via an August 4, 2017 Salon.com article from contributing writer Annie Zaleski.  She very aptly described the record as “a nervy collection of taut power-pop and future-peering synth-rock.”  The album, immediately well received by the public and critics alike, was released in 1978, the same year that I started my display job with WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation.  As I plastered up Cars’ promotional posters in record stores all across southwestern PA, I was also able to bestow buttons upon some store personnel—the little “red car pins” that are pictured above.  

Three years later the band’s fourth album Shake It Up was released, and by this point in time the group was steady at the wheel and delivering Top Ten albums for their record label Elektra (according to music industry magazine Billboard).  I’m sure that’s not why Elektra decided to spend a few more bucks on buttons, but one day with my batch of Shake It Up posters arriving by UPS, there was also a hefty-sized bag of new pins—this time in the shape of cocktail shakers.  So I bestowed to record store employees anew (too bad I didn’t receive both the cocktail shakers and the red car buttons from WEA at the same time; it might have made for a nice little bit of subliminal “drink and drive” messaging).

Choice cuts: “Just What I Needed” from the group’s self-titled debut album https://youtu.be/naOzftxOKig … “Shake It Up” from the album of the same name https://youtu.be/jLNicMINmS0

 

ROOMFUL OF BLUES

Rhode Island’s Roomful of Blues as a unit is now approaching fifty-five years of incessant club/theater gigs and festival appearances, and as of now the group has released twenty studio albums and three live records.  Their fifty-five year career of plying the blues trade also brought about quite a few personnel changes as well, but the signature sound—a self-described “deeply rooted blend of swing, rock ‘n’ roll, jump, blues and soul”—has remained intact.  Their first album came out in 1977 but the button above stems from 1984’s Dressed Up to Get Messed Up, the band’s sixth release.  

Choice cut: “Albi’s Boogie” https://youtu.be/lFpSuPkmh18

JIM CARROLL

Catholic Boy (1980) was a riveting debut album, chiefly because Jim Carroll was already well known—at least to a certain artistic, punky swath of the public, and probably most New Yorkers—for his memoir The Basketball Diaries (1978) and for his poetry collections.  Carroll was the son of a NYC bar owner and had excelled at hoops as well as heroin in his high school years.  Signed by Atlantic Records in 1980 on the basis of his notoriety as memoirist and poet, he included a song on Catholic Boy entitled “People Who Died,” which recounted youthful friends who had OD’d, or been murdered, or had succumbed to illness.  The song rocks; in some quarters this tune (and the album overall) is considered a punk classic.  

Choice cut: “People Who Died” https://youtu.be/nf8u6thqGA8

QUEEN 

The news of the world back in 1977 included the fact that Queen had cemented their reign as one of the world’s most popular bands.  How in the wide world of sports did this happen?  It was largely a result of “We Are The Champions,” the foot-stomping, handclapping rock anthem from their sixth studio album that infiltrated and then dominated the public address systems of USA sports stadiums, hockey arenas and Friday night football fields across the country.  The band followed up this conquest with the 1978 album Jazz which featured the double-barreled push to radio stations to play two lead-off singles from the album, “Bicycle Race” and “Fat Bottomed Girls.”  The former tune was one that had the band courting some real controversy, taking a sort of “We will, we will shock you” approach.  Queen staged a bicycle race to take place in London’s Wimbledon Stadium in September, and they filmed it for a promotional video to be utilized when the full album Jazz was released in November.  The race had a total of 65 contestants.  All women.  All nude. 

The resulting video was edited in some countries and outright banned in others, and a poster of the women on their cycles at the starting line was reportedly included with the album as part of its release in the UK—but not in the USA.  Here, because of the skittishness of the band’s record company Elektra, the album only contained an order form for the poster…The above-pictured button of a silver bicycle—quite simple in design, and no rider!—became quite a favorite of the record store managers and clerks in my southwestern PA display territory.  It served as a very cool and subtle signifier of the wearer’s love of Queen and their music.

Choice cut: “Bicycle Race” https://youtu.be/8MEKBdpLv3Q

   

FOUR BANDS THAT WERE UNDER THE RADAR—AND STILL ARE: GRUPPO SPORTIVO…TIN HUEY…PEARL HARBOR & THE EXPLOSIONS…AND INTERVIEW 

Most of these are likely only familiar to music lovers who dug mighty deep in the late 1970s.  None of the bands ever gained enough traction to pierce through cult worship to greater consciousness…

Gruppo Sportivo was a Dutch pop band who were a bit silly in their pop-punkdom, and the button above comes from the promotional push for their 1977 album 10 Mistakes.

Tin Huey hailed from the Akron/Cleveland area, a bit of a hotbed in the 1970s for new wave/punk bands including Devo, Pere Ubu, Chi-Pig and others.  Their debut album Contents Dislodged During Shipment came out in 1979.

Pearl Harbor & The Explosions was a San Francisco band with a short-lived success story; the song “Drivin’” from their 1979 self-titled debut album was a punky and perky radio-friendly tune, but the album from which it came only cracked the lower half of music industry magazine Billboard’s song charts and the group soon imploded…exploded... whatever.  Interesting tidbit: Lead singer Pearl E. Gates was married for a time to Paul Simonon, bassist of The Clash.

Interview, a pop-rock band out of Bath, England, was signed to a recording contract with the British record label Virgin.  Their button above, you’ll note, is fashioned as a pen—nice touch for a band named Interview—but the writing was on the wall.  Due to little or no radio play in The States, and no promotional efforts surgin’ from Virgin nor any substantial amount of press, the group broke up after releasing only two albums, Big Oceans (1979) and Interview (1980).  

Choice cuts: Gruppo Sportivo “Beep Beep Love” https://youtu.be/_iNXCKVJDTQ … Tin Huey “Hump Day” https://youtu.be/TiB0qY9P6GM ... Pearl Harbor & The Explosions “Drivin’” https://youtu.be/8drT1iNDG-o … Interview (from Big Oceans; the first track on the video clip) “You Didn’t Have to Lie to Me“ https://youtu.be/8rhPZcYrsiM  

BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS 

America had its first taste—and smell, courtesy of spliffs furtively smoked by audience members—of Bob Marley in concert back in 1973.  The Jamaican singer/songwriter and musician looped back to The States on subsequent tours as well, and luckily fans across the world have access to live documentation of Marley’s spirited, mesmerizing performances through at least two recordings issued during the artist’s lifetime.  Babylon by Bus, released in November 1978, pulls primarily from some Paris concerts taped during Marley and the Wailers’ Kaya tour, and the cover of the album is essentially the front of a tour bus.  The button above was patterned after that as well…Pittsburgh holds a special place in Marley lore, as the artist’s very last concert took place there on September 23, 1980 in the renowned downtown concert hall the Stanley Theatre (now the Benedum Center).  Marley passed away from melanoma eight months after this Stanley show at the age of 36.

Choice cut: “Is This Love” https://youtu.be/ry0M7nxIwkI

THE BLUES BROTHERS

This was the Saturday Night Live skit that turned legit.  John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as “Joliet” Jake Blues and Elwood Blues, respectively, led a band of groove-accomplished musicians in a musical sketch that opened the April 22, 1978 edition of Saturday Night Live.  Belushi and Aykroyd each donned a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses and a soul patch (a tiny patch of facial hair below the lower lip and above the chin), which was a look they copped from bluesman John Lee Hooker.  The band, loose but sizzling, tore into the old blues tune “Hey Bartender,” which was first popularized by rhythm & blues pianist/singer Floyd Dixon in 1955, and followed this up with R & B singer Willie Mabon’s 1952 song “I Don’t Know.”  The sketch was wildly popular; it would have gone viral if viral, you know, had been a “thing” yet…

The aftermath of that performance led to a Blues Brothers craze that included a live album entitled Briefcase Full of Blues (1978), a gig opening for the Grateful Dead at the last concert ever held at San Francisco’s Winterland (1978), a hugely successful movie The Blues Brothers (directed by John Landis) and an accompanying soundtrack album (1980).  More concert dates and another album followed, and then—John Belushi died on March 5, 1982 of an accidental overdose of heroin and cocaine.  The Blues Brothers concept stayed afloat, though, with more concert appearances, another couple of albums and even another film down the road, all of them featuring guest stars trying to fill the Belushi void by appearing as blues-singin’ compadres of Elwood’s.  But truly, the magic died when John Belushi did—and somehow I can picture him, with an arched eyebrow and a smug smile, barreling right along on that highway to heaven.

Choice cut: “Hey Bartender” https://youtu.be/3v4FPT5UMu8

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 5/30/21.....THE COLOR PURPLE

  

It has now been five years since Prince, the inscrutable, mega-talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, unexpectedly passed away at his Paisley Park home/recording studio at the age of 57.  Back in April 2016 I had joined literally millions the world over in mourning this mercurial, wickedly inventive artist, but with the passage of time The Purple One has been, at least for me, more or less slip slidin’ away from my frontal lobe…

But something recently rocketed me back into reflection.  It was discovering an April 29, 2021 Los Angeles Times article by staff writer Randall Roberts that urged Prince devotees to clear all screens and swipe on over to YouTube.  There, according to Roberts, lies a newly re-edited video of the artist’s 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony performance—with Tom Petty, Steve Winwood and others—of the Beatles’ song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”  

The original video of this performance has been on YouTube for years, and Prince’s incendiary, scaling-Mount-Olympus guitar solo at the end is the stuff of legends.  But last month TV producer Joel Gallen (who directed and produced the original 2004 RRHOF broadcast) uploaded a re-edited version of the clip that he felt truly amped up the inherent power and passion of Prince’s playing.  Roberts writes, “What was once phenomenal footage that seemed to be caught off guard by Prince’s magic has been subtly transformed, through expert editing, to illuminate the solo that shook the hall.  Better angles.  More close-ups.  A number of split-screen shots that beam in on Prince’s fretting fingers.  More Prince.”  And what about that solo?  Robertson gushed that it was “A work so virtuosic that little red Corvettes are crammed with the bodies of writers who have attempted to describe it.”

          

When Prince passed away five Aprils ago, and the color purple suddenly shone brightly on certain landmarks and landscapes around the globe, I reached out that same week to a few friends in the music business who had their own thoughts and reflections about the artist:

   Roy Smith, currently the Sales & Marketing Manager at Pittsburgh’s Hard Rock Café…Smith worked previously for Live Nation Pittsburgh in marketing, and continues to this day to have a deep and lasting love for Prince that is practically on the “I Would Die 4 U” level.

Back in the early 1980s Roy Smith was in high school, and had just started doing deejay work for his school’s dances and other events.  Prior to Prince’s song “1999” hitting pop radio in 1982, Prince had not really fully penetrated Western PA’s consciousness.  But with the release of the single “When Doves Cry”—the first taste of Purple Rain, the album that came on its heels—Smith was smitten.

“It all changed for me,” he remembers.  “I went and bought everything that was available, and when Purple Rain came out I ran to the National Record Mart at the Beaver Valley Mall and got it the day it was released.  My style of deejaying for school events was to use props and to act out the songs in different routines as the records played.  It was the video age back then—MTV, etc.—and Prince, Michael Jackson and others had great visual images that I could convey with simple embellishments.  For Prince it was taking my ‘Billie Jean’ fedora and wrapping it with lace that would hang over my one eye—just like at the end of the ‘When Doves Cry’ video—and I had my dad cut out of plywood the Prince curved guitar from ‘Purple Rain,’ which I then painted white and ran wire to it to simulate a guitar.  So with hat on head and guitar in hand, I would jump around, hop on the tables, jump from the tables, but never do splits; I could never do those.  

“So I would often do middle school dances that were set up by the PTA to take place at my high school, and there was a stage with a curtain there, which I would leave closed until the room went dark.  Then it was showtime.  I would have a taped set of songs for the intro and then pull the curtain open to reveal an empty stage.  Then I would jump into action with the first chords of the Prince song, in full Prince get-up (or the best I could pull off, given I made everything myself).  At the time I didn't believe in boundaries—and still don't—and I would be doing a ‘Darling Nikki’ stage hump with a bunch of screaming middle schoolers cheering, and PTA mothers around the corners of the room with their arms crossed.  Somehow I still kept the gig.”  

   Ed Traversari, now a professor in the Sports, Arts and Entertainment Management department at Point Park University…For many years before this, Traversari had been an active partner in Pittsburgh’s well-known concert promotion company DiCesare-Engler.

“The early shows that we did with Prince back in the beginning of the ‘80s were great,” said Traversari.  “He was an incredible performer, pretty risqué for the times, with a fair share of simulated sex, etcetera—things that certainly seem more commonplace today.  At one show my boss Rich Engler was right beside Prince before he went on stage and he was wearing a cape, but then Rich saw he had nothing else on underneath except a pair of black bikini briefs.”

I asked Traversari about how those early Prince shows came about for Pittsburgh.  “We first had him in town as the warm-up act for Rick James, two nights at the Stanley Theatre, in March of 1980,” he said.  “About a year and a half later, he came back as a headliner and played the Stanley again.  There was a promoter in Detroit named Quinton Perry who had some kind of strong link to Prince and his management, as well as two guys in Baltimore named Jeff Sharp and Dennis Heffernan.  These guys called us about helping out locally with these shows, coordinating the local marketing push and the on-sale details.  For whatever reason, though, when Prince became huge with Purple Rain, that particular tour never made it to Pittsburgh.”

   Mark Wallace, at present an English teacher and part-time radio disc jockey in Tampa, Florida…Wallace had previously worked for Warner Brothers Records as their Pittsburgh-based promotion man, laboring (cajoling, begging) to get as many Prince songs as possible added to the playlists of southwestern Pennsylvania radio stations.

Wallace had started his music career in Pittsburgh as a disc jockey on WZUM-AM and then on WYDD-FM, before grabbing that coveted Warner Brothers’ regional promotion position.  His job, plain and simple, was to secure airplay from the local radio stations for all of Warner Brothers Records’ priority artists.

He remembers there was a lot of pressure from his label to take Prince to a whole new level with Purple Rain.  “Regarding ‘His Purpleness’—as our Warner Brothers Burbank headquarters called him—I honestly remember more about the film-leading-into-the-album from one of those ‘Invite all the local WB promotions people to Burbank’ kind of things. [editor’s note: It was a common practice of the major record companies at that time to gather up all of their regional people and summon them to headquarters to firsthand communicate the importance of a high-priority new release]. 

“We heard the songs and, of course, then felt the push.  Put it this way: if you wanted to keep your job, you got the songs—‘When Doves Cry,’ ‘Let's Go Crazy,’ and ‘Purple Rain,’ all in that order—played and not just at the R&B stations.  Typically, certain Pittsburgh radio stations like B94 and 96KX were slow learners, but when the film came out and was such a big hit, it all pretty much fell in line.”

Earlier efforts to “break” Prince into the record-buying mainstream were not as successful, according to Wallace.  “When Warner Brothers’ first signed Prince in 1977, at age 18, I had gone to Brother Matt at the R&B station WAMO-FM and said: ‘I don't know much about Prince, but he is 18 years old and Warner just signed him to big contract, so you better play this (the ‘Soft and Wet’ single from the first album).  Then around the beginning of 1983, the song ‘1999’ (from the new album of the same name) became Warner Brothers’ first pick of a single and it did ‘just okay’ at Radio.  The 12” B-side of that song was ‘Little Red Corvette,’ and it attracted enough attention that Warner flipped emphasis from ‘1999’ to ‘Corvette’ a year later, and that song became a Top Ten hit across both R & B and Pop radio.  I remember I bought little remote-controlled red corvettes from Radio Shack, and ‘drove’ them into radio stations when I was hawking that single.”

Wallace met Prince just one time during his Warner Brothers record label career.  It was a very quick backstage hello at one of Prince’s Pittsburgh arena shows in the early-to-mid 1980s.  “What I remember most about him,” Wallace said, “is how quiet he was, and that he was a brilliant guitarist.  And that we fought with Top 40 radio stations constantly in the early days about getting some of his songs added to their playlists.”

   Tom Rooney, currently president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group…Rooney has held posts in the past that included arena director of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in the 1980s and executive director of Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre (1990-1994).

Rooney vividly recalls the peculiarities of Prince when it came to booking, which is something that Traversari had mentioned to me as well.  It was not uncommon for Prince’s booking representatives to call local promoters and venues, put a date on their calendar for a show, and then let everything swing into motion in terms of prepping for the on-sale.  Then Prince’s people would pull the plug, sometimes a few days—or even in one instance, a few hours!—before the on-sale was scheduled to happen.  Rooney did manage to actually snag a Prince date, though, in the late 1980s as part of the latter’s Lovesexy tour.

“The window for booking an arena act was on the short end six months, and on the long end, one year,” said Rooney.  “That’s the period from the date first being booked, to it being put on sale, to the actual play date.  So in early October 1988 when Prince’s booking team called from Baltimore to hold a date—‘the 28th', they said—we asked them ‘Which 28th?’ and they replied, ‘the one later this month.’  Highly unusual to say the least and on top of that, as soon as the show was built on our ticketing system, it went on sale without an announcement.

“So it was with our other Prince dealings in the future,” continued Rooney.  “My own favorite anecdote involved NBA star and TBS commentator Charles Barkley.  We had booked an NBA preseason game with his team, the Philly 76ers, to take place the night after a Prince concert, but the team came to town a day early so Barkley rang us up through our NBA-event partner Russ Potts.  Barkley ended up hanging out with us all night at the show and then decided on his own to ‘crash’ backstage to see if he could meet Prince.  Barkley was a mountain of a man; Prince quite diminutive.  I imagined the Princess Bride with Andre The Giant.”

   Sean Gentille, now a Senior Writer with sports website The Athletic…Sean is the son of ex-Live Nation Pittsburgh operations & production veteran Mike Gentille.  When Prince passed away in 2016, Sean (then with Sporting News) posted a poignant piece about his father’s reverence for this artist’s talent and onstage prowess.

“After the news broke on Thursday—Prince, somehow, had died—I called my dad.  For most of the 1980s, he worked for a concert promoter, and then again in the early 2000s, and trust me: he has seen, experienced and dealt with some truly insane stuff.  Most of those stories, for a variety of reasons, are untellable in spots like this, and stratifying them is almost impossible.  When you've got crazy, personal anecdotes about Frank Sinatra and Madonna and, like, Billy Joel, how do you pick your favorite?

“The one that has always stuck with me the most, though, was pretty simple.  It was about Prince.  It was also, in sad hindsight, a late-period tour; he was playing Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena in 2004.  There was a rehearsal day before the show, so he stood onstage and ripped through an hour's worth of guitar work.

“It was a fallow period for Prince; legal battles and experimentation had taken him farther out of the spotlight than he deserved. ‘So many people had forgotten what an amazing player he was,’ my dad said.

“He did Hendrix, Zeppelin, Van Halen—imagine, for a second, Prince playing ‘Eruption’ or something—and my dad was standing at the mix position, alone in a largely empty arena, taking it all in.  Even then, he made a point to tell me how cool it was and how lucky he felt, and on Thursday, he did the same, but the tone was different. It had to be—but still, he saw something special.

“It's what I thought of in 2007, on the other end of the spectrum, when he was playing for, literally, the largest audience possible during the Super Bowl halftime show.  Hundreds of millions of people got to see Prince be Prince in the middle of a rainstorm in Miami.  He wasn't shredding, or transcendently screwing around like he did for my dad a few years before—but he was, again, reminding anyone who'd forgotten of how special he was.  And now he's gone.”

   P.S. There was a mystical coincidence in Prince’s passing that is worthy of mentioning: Arguably the album that pushed Prince into the limelight beyond his already feverishly-devoted cult of followers was Purple Rain (1984),and in the very first track—“Let’s Go Crazy”—Prince talks-sings of his religious devotion, and urges all of us to live a fulfilling spiritual life.  The particular words that are eerily prophetic: “‘Cause in this life / Things are much harder than in the afterworld / In this life / You’re on your own / And if de-elevator [read: the devil] tries to bring you down / Go crazy, punch a higher floor.”  Thirty-two years later in his Paisley Park home/recording studio, Prince died in an elevator—and I think it’s fair to say that he punched that “Higher Floor.”

   P.P.S. Here is the link to the aforementioned newly re-edited video of Prince playing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 2004 induction ceremony: https://youtu.be/dWRCooFKk3c

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 5/16/21.....THIS MAGIC MOMENT

Musicasaurus.com’s mission is excavation…digging deep to help preserve the musical fossil record, and mining the relics and remnants of my own life in music.

Why this preoccupation?  My brain is totally attuned to tunes; wired to the wow and flutter.  I’ve even referred to my medulla oblongata as my zenyatta mondatta.  

And so I was recently delighted to run across an old Rolling Stone magazine quote from a May 2016 interview with Eric Clapton, in which the guitarist spoke quite honestly of his addiction—uh, to music.  Clapton said, “I'm very conscious of the fact that if there's music playing in a place where I'm talking to somebody or if I'm with the family having dinner at home and I've got the iPod on the dock, half of me is listening to music.  I'm gone half the time [laughs].”

This admission from the venerated guitarist kindled my interest in trying to substantially drill down to the bedrock of music’s appeal—the magic moment or moments within a particular song that bond a listener to that tune forever more.

So can you dig what I’m leading up to—or down to—here?  We all love certain artists.  But then of course we drill down on select albums or CDs or track collections from a particular artist and subsequently gravitate toward certain songs from the disc or playlist, the ones that begin to really resonate with us.  And as we then bask in the immersive pleasures of each particular tune our brains lock in on the magic moments within, amplifying our connection and cementing our commitment to, and reverence for, this newfound favorite.  The coronation’s complete.

Below you’ll find Musicasaurus.com’s favorite moments within songs, the instrumental or vocal passages that thrill beyond measure time after time.  And after those, you’ll find some submissions from a handful of Musicasaurus.com readers who have their own moments to memorialize…

 

   

  BEGINNINGS…SONGS THAT ARE COMPELLING RIGHT OUTTA THE CHUTE:

I CAN THINK OF SIX SONGS THAT I ADORE BECAUSE OF THEIR INTRIGUINGLY CREEPY, SOME MIGHT EVEN SAY SINISTER-SOUNDING BEGINNINGS THAT PIQUE CURIOSITY AND RIVET ATTENTION...

* Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House” https://youtu.be/bgJ-hyzl6jg

* Kazumi Watanabe’s “Walk, Don’t Run” https://youtu.be/wFh7ZSeORJk

* The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” https://youtu.be/hnpILIIo9ek

* Deep Purple’s “Knocking on your Back Door” https://youtu.be/-INu83mrf9w

* Don Cherry’s “Brown Rice” https://youtu.be/uLtbjno0FF0

* Bonnie Raitt’s “Spit of Love” https://youtu.be/vGlfN-GZ1gI

...AND THESE OTHER SONGS BEGIN WITH OTHER KINDS OF MASTERFUL BITS OF ATMOSPHERE THAT LURE YOU IN FOR THE RIDE:

* Van Morrison’s “Moondance” https://youtu.be/7kfYOGndVfU

* Miles Davis’ “So What” https://youtu.be/KJEzFvXx3Xw

* Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” https://youtu.be/RZgBhyU4IvQ

* Weather Report’s “Birdland” https://youtu.be/SvhmaNlLgRM

* Eric Burdon & War’s “Spill The Wine” https://youtu.be/uE1NSGUkhQI

* Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” https://youtu.be/W4PjWgiH-LQ

* Chick Corea and Return to Forever’s “Spain” https://youtu.be/sEhQTjgoTdU

* The Clash’s “Charlie Don’t Surf” https://youtu.be/d3vXAnoQDxc

* Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon” (live) https://youtu.be/-S5PK14KFcE

* Jethro Tull’s “Bouree” https://youtu.be/z6ZJGaT30wk

* Gato Barbieri’s “Milonga Triste” https://youtu.be/M5D9nZQoue4

* Michael Hedges’ “Aerial Boundaries” https://youtu.be/v6pbzD4sRos

 

 

 

  ENDINGS…SONGS THAT END DRAMATICALLY IN A BOLD STOP OR THAT FANTASTICALLY FADE OUT:

* Suzanne Vega’s “As Girls Go” (Featuring a criminally shortened Richard Thompson guitar solo near the song’s conclusion; it fades out in volume but not at all in ferocity.) https://youtu.be/Q16aj6vere0

* The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” (The final, never-ending chord that never ends a listener’s lingering awe.) https://youtu.be/YSGHER4BWME

* The Band’s “The Weight” with the accompaniment of the Staples Singers (Taken from The Last Waltz soundtrack album…It has the final passionate wail from Band members and the Staples singing it together, ending in one whispered word from Mavis Staples: “Beautiful!”) https://youtu.be/TCSzL5-SPHM

* Joan Osborne’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” (The singer’s performance of this song, backed up by Motown Records’ The Funk Brothers, appears in the 2002 documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown.  Osborne’s buildup to the song’s climax starts around the 2:30 mark.) https://youtu.be/j-U-WK0lKq8

 

 

 

  POWERFUL VOCALS FROM WOMEN HITTING THE HEIGHTS:

* Valerie Carter’s “Ooh Child” (From the 1977 Lowell George-produced solo debut by this artist, “Ooh Child” was most everyone’s introduction to the true talents of Valerie Carter.  On this track she sings like an angel yet ever so briefly here and there within the song, she unleashes a passion from within that is like some holy fire that can’t be contained.) https://youtu.be/4H32jFWceWI

* Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession” (From the 2004 CD/DVD Afterglow Live, this tune is only on the DVD from that dual release. This artist is the farthest thing from a one-note performer, but catch this march toward a spine-tingling, one-note climactic moment starting around the 3:45 mark.) https://youtu.be/zOzd2l1JuGE

* Katell Keineg’s “Franklin” (From the Breton-Welsh artist’s 1994 debut album Ô Seasons Ô Castles, this song ends with a quick Mount Olympus-level climb of her octaves which is a stunner.) https://youtu.be/H9mR4Tc9Agc

* Mary J. Blige’s “One” (Her 2006 collaboration with U2 on the band’s inspiring anthem is yet another showcase for this singer who seems to have a wellspring of vocal talent that is fed by a Higher Power.) https://youtu.be/-lcULqjXC1w

 

 

  

  SOLOS…SONGS FEATURING INCREDIBLE TURNS ON A LEAD INSTRUMENT: 

* On saxophone, Bobby Keys: “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” (The artist supplies a searing and sweet minute-and-a-half long solo in the midst of this Rolling Stones classic from the band’s 1971 album Sticky Fingers.) https://youtu.be/Gz5mI6tqm_Q

* On guitar, Robben Ford: “Help the Poor” (Ford plays a wicked solo here that illustrates his keen ability to weave together blues and rock with hints of jazz mastery as well.  The song is from Ford’s 1988 album Talk To Your Daughter.) https://youtu.be/bvUcWbiSnrk

* On guitar, Larry Carlton: “Kid Charlemagne” (This hired-gun guitarist for Steely Dan’s 1976 album The Royal Scam nailed this now legendary solo turn which lasts all of forty-six seconds—but it’s largely thought of as one for the Rock record books.) https://youtu.be/a7kduNihACs

* On guitar, Prince: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (This all-star, live-in-concert rendering of George Harrison’s classic song is from the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  The onstage performers also included Steve Winwood, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne formerly of Electric Light Orchestra, and Dhani Harrison.  Prince’s solo at the song’s conclusion is spellbinding; climaxes like this are precious and few. https://youtu.be/dWRCooFKk3c

* On flute, Ray Thomas: “Legend of a Mind” (Thomas plays a two-minute midsection solo that contributes mightily to the dream state induced by this 1968 Moody Blues classic about the charismatic and controversial 1960s psychedelic shaman Timothy Leary.) https://youtu.be/TGYUWHef3Is

* On saxophone, Lester “Al” Garth / On guitar, Jim Messina / and on flute, Jon Clarke: “Angry Eyes” (This almost eight-minute-long song featured three solos along its path—sax > guitar > flute—and it hails from Loggins & Messina’s self-titled second album from 1972.  The solos are crisp, inventive and not overlong, truly serving this epic tune that was the closing track on this L & M release.) https://youtu.be/6U7FFE_c1Ds

* On harmonica, Paul Butterfield: “One More Heartache” (Chicago blues student-turned-master Butterfield wails throughout, but it’s also his one-minute solo starting at the 1:11 mark that perks ears and raises eyebrows; the man knew how to sail, swoop and dive.  The song is from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s 1967 album The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw.) https://youtu.be/KFOLED9VfVQ

* On vibraphone, Mike Mainieri: “Crossed Wires” (Mainieri deftly handled the vibes on this captivating song from his 1981 solo album Wanderlust, and the good vibes were augmented by the other topnotch musicians on the record that included the Brecker Brothers (Michael on sax; Randy on trumpet), drummer Peter Erskine, guitarist Steve Khan, bassist Tony Levin and flautist Jeremy Steig.) https://youtu.be/FsaVCcz2G2A

 

 

 

  MUSICIANS’ MOMENTS OF BEING COMPLETELY IN SYNC:

* Guitarist Buddy Miller and drummer Brady Blade, who played in the band Spyboy fronted by Emmylou Harris…The song: “Ain’t Living Long Like This” (There is one exquisite, quite revealing moment within this live performance that comes from Harris’ 1998 album Spyboy.  This true harmonic convergence—guitarist Miller and drummer Blade meshing perfectly during their rock ‘n’ roll assault—is best revealed beginning at one minute, thirty seconds into the song and continuing through—really, culminating at—the 2:38 mark.) https://youtu.be/bJoWLq_OibY

* Trumpeter Chris Botti and vocalist Jill Scott…The song: “Good Morning Heartache” (This song from Botti’s 2006 Live with Orchestra and Special Guests album and accompanying DVD is the pairing up of the trumpeter with singer Jill Scott, and it is an electrifying matchup.  The real interplay unfolds beginning around 2:30 into the song; the two accent each other and weave and dart, and it reaches a fever pitch right around 4:00 through the end of the tune.) https://youtu.be/yIz2yhkql8g

* Flautist Herbie Mann and guest guitarist Duane Allman…The song: “Push Push” (The two gifted musicians expertly play off each other during this ten-minute meld of funk, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll that is from Mann’s 1971 album Push Push.  Allman gets his first real spotlight between 3:17 and 5:21, Mann takes over from 5:22 through about 6:21, and this is followed by some call-and-response exchanges on and off the rest of the way—Mann, what a meetup!  Best experienced at a near-crippling volume.) https://youtu.be/y9EMVd1773A

 

 


 

  CUSS WORD STANDOUTS:

* Jefferson Airplane’s “We Can Be Together” (This song from the group’s 1969 album Volunteers was thought provoking as well as parent provoking.  It was an incendiary bit of messaging with lyrics such as “We are forces of chaos and anarchy / Everything they say we are we are / And we are very proud of ourselves,” which was then followed by the infamous chorus of “Up against the wall, motherfucker / Tear down the walls…”  This turned out to be the last release from the band with its classic lineup intact, i.e., the one that recorded the band’s best works—1967’s studio albums Surrealistic Pillow and After Bathing at Baxter’s, 1968’s studio album Crown of Creation, 1969’s live album Bless It’s Pointed Little Head and studio album Volunteers.) https://youtu.be/j03IZUtoL7Q

* The MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” (The debut, live-in-concert album by this Lincoln Park, Michigan band of musical revolutionaries was released in 1969, and the title track “Kick Out the Jams” started off with lead vocalist Rob Tyner shouting "And right now...right now...right now it's time to...kick out the jams, motherfuckers!"  I was sixteen years old at the time, so this made quite an impression.  I half considered turning this song up to 11 so that my parents could hear it, because they were extremely repressive—like not giving me the car for dates immediately after I got my drivers license.  Imagine living under those conditions.) https://youtu.be/u-vCEFikGgc

 

 

    

  MORE MAGIC MOMENTS WITHIN SONGS (SUBMISSIONS FROM MUSICASAURUS.COM READERS):

Matt Jacob

1. The ending piano solo in "Layla" (Derek and the Dominos) https://youtu.be/TngViNw2pOo
2. The 4-5 second drum break in "In the Air Tonight" (Phil Collins) https://youtu.be/vyB5pG0Wo7M
3. The guitar solo by Don Felder after the lyrics end in "Hotel California" (The Eagles) https://youtu.be/BciS5krYL80
4. The guitar solo by Tom Scholz at the end of "Hitch a Ride” (Boston) https://youtu.be/CfSOxvgVfXk

Clara Jacob

1. The distinguishable opening riff of the Bee Gees’ "Stayin' Alive" https://youtu.be/aZ5fQyiZgns
2. The dramatic handbells and exploding cannons at the end of the "1812 Overture" https://youtu.be/rBImvkMDM3Q
3. The achingly sweet "aaaand" that Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees sings in "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" https://youtu.be/kL9wJAND1WI

Sherry Murray

If I can only pick one, I’d say about the first 45 seconds of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” https://youtu.be/rIbMbXjbW98

Tom Rooney

The opening riff of “Satisfaction” cut through the summer on AM Radio like a hot knife through butter.  We didn’t know what testosterone was and the only “satisfaction” we had at age 15 might have been self-induced (not Catholic school; me, of course).  Also was my biggest disappointment in a way. That sense of heat and urgency never cut through in live performance as many times as Keith and Mick did it in my presence. https://youtu.be/eUpb-ALfUzc

  

Steve Hansen

The thirty-seconds of pure musical bliss that I not only turn up to 11 but sing along to in full-throated semi-harmony occurs at the end of “She’s Gone” by Hall and Oates.  It’s the four-four half-step modulation (I looked it up) that leads to the final crescendo of heartache that drives the song home and challenges the next song on the airwaves to top it.  It’s never been done and probably never will. https://youtu.be/87Q042KlxI4

Rick Sebak

Is there anybody going to listen to my story?  All about an inhalation in the chorus of a song?  The song is “Girl,” and it’s on the classic (maybe the best?) Beatles’ album called Rubber Soul, and the lead vocal is sung by John Lennon who is usually credited with writing the song although it’s officially listed as a Lennon-McCartney composition.  The chorus goes, “Ah, girl, girl, girl,” but after the first “girl,” there’s an audible inhalation.  That’s the unexpected musical moment that still delights me when I hear the song.  Paul McCartney is quoted on Wikipedia about the moment: “My main memory is that John wanted to hear the breathing, wanted it to be very intimate, so George Martin put a special compressor on the voice, then John dubbed it. …I remember John saying to the engineer [Norman Smith] when we did ‘Girl,’ that when he draws his breath in, he wants to hear it.”  It certainly works for me.  After all this time I don’t know why. https://youtu.be/-8l3ntDR_lI

Mariellen Kerr
Instrumental interludes of The Doors, and anyone who plays the harmonica.  (The Doors) https://youtu.be/qoX6AKuYWL8 … (Anyone who plays the harmonica; in this case, it’s Paul Butterfield) https://youtu.be/zWBTCV6bBGA

  

Morgan Nicholson

“Turn the Page” by Bob Seger.  First few seconds, the sax hook by the legendary Alto Reed.  First goosebumps with the controlled yet piercing high pitch of the sax mixed with Seger’s rasp following with lyrics.  It’s epic, always will be. https://youtu.be/2mzZzS8DcE8

Bernie Caplan

There you are, driving down the road with the top down and suddenly you hear the opening riffs of one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs ever.  It's unmistakable; it could be no other song than “Gimme Shelter.”  The only question is, how loud can you sing?https://youtu.be/QeglgSWKSIY

Scott Tady

Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz.”  First come the questions: “Are you ready Steve?  Uh-huh.  Andy?  Yeah.  Mick?  Okay.  Alright fellas, let’s GO!”  Bam!  That moment that comes next.  The exciting snare riff joined by a triumphant, strafing guitar.  Oh man, that’s the sound of freedom, and carefree summers, and glammed-up rock’n roll!  From the time I first hit “record” and “play” on a Fisher stereo to capture that song, that particular moment of musical gloriousness has never ceased to thrill and energize me. https://youtu.be/7Aze726qAwA

   

Bill Johnston

Any who knows me wouldn't be surprised that such moments, for me, can include, or feature, the accordion.  And one of the best, and best-known, accordionists these past 50 years has been the San Antonio-based Conjunto magician Flaco Jimenez.  The skinny on Flaco is that he holds the title of best button box (diatonic) guy playing over that entire time span (although his brother Santiago ain't bad either).  His 1994 Partners album featured covers of many familiar tunes.  And I like 'em all.  But the one that really gets me—the one that makes me feel just how deep the love of this music resides in me—is the opening strains of his cover of Warren Zevon's "Carmelita," with Dwight Yoakum (of course) on vocals.  

20 years earlier, another riff featuring the exact same Flaco did the exact same things to me: The opening notes of Ry Cooder's cover of "He'll Have to Go" from Chicken Skin Music.  I've used that same accordion/oboe instrumentation in my version of "Waltzing to Mongolia" over the past almost thirty years. https://youtu.be/NaFuP4xNU9o

Francine Byrne

To this day, every time I hear Bob Marley singing “Redemption Song,” I'm touched.  I recently heard Ziggy Marley and The Chieftains version of this song and I was overwhelmed.  More recently, on a different note, on a totally different note...every time I hear “Uptown Funk” with Bruno Mars it gets my body moving.  (Ziggy and The Chieftains) https://youtu.be/ji1Sx9lO6wo … (Bruno Mars) https://youtu.be/OPf0YbXqDm0 

   

Tim Fleche

The whistle in Bob Dylan's “Highway 61 Revisited.”  Ronnie Wood's opening guitar riff on the Faces' version of “I Know I'm Losing You.”  And that just gets it started!  (Dylan) https://youtu.be/8hr3Stnk8_k … (Rod Stewart and The Faces) https://youtu.be/pdXd35c6GGU

Dave Blaushild

The opening double guitar riff in the Hendrix penned song “Little Wing,” as performed by Derek and the Dominos, that then progresses into a mini drum roll, then to searing double lead guitars of Duane Allman and Eric Clapton is a musical sequence I can listen to over and over again.  From this point you get the vocals of Bobby Whitlock singing over Eric Clapton, almost sounding like they are crying.  This is a really powerful version of this song.  I have this song on my Spotify when I go to the gym.  As a result, I’m in good shape. https://youtu.be/EOW9aixXnq4

Diane Novosel

How timely!  Just watched CNN’S 50th Anniversary Special on Marvin Gaye entitled What’s Going On: Marvin Gaye’s Anthem for the Ages.  I remembered exactly where I was 50 years ago when I heard that now infamous opening segue of “What’s Going On”—the cool jazz riff, jive-talkin’ background chatter, funky congas.  Oh, yeah!  The depth, intensity and complexity of his coolness stopped me in my tracks then and still does! https://youtu.be/ApthDWoPMFQ

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 5/2/21.....TEN YEARS AFTER (part two of two)

In the most recent post of April 18, 2021, Musicasaurus.com excavated ten gems from the first half of the pivotal musical year of 1978.  Here is the latter half of ‘78, with another ten albums that might yield shock but mostly awe, and ramp up your reverence for this year of musical change, progress, artistic excellence—and artistic abandon. 

 

   

   

  Dire Straits – Dire Straits (their debut) – “In The Gallery”  https://youtu.be/bdGOmhN2IIw

One morning back in the fall of 1978 I woke up to find 200 Dire Straits posters on my apartment’s front porch.  

This wasn’t unusual, however.  At the time I worked for WEA Corporation—the sales/marketing and distribution arm of co-owned record labels Warner Brothers, Elektra and Atlantic—and my duties included creating displays in Pittsburgh-area record stores to help promote the company’s hot new releases.  I technically worked for WEA’s Cleveland branch office, though, since Pittsburgh did not have one, and consequently they incessantly shipped posters and other display materials to me for use on my local display routes.  Some days, my front porch with its clutter of boxes and strewn-about cardboard poster tubes looked almost as haphazard as the inside of my apartment (ahhhh, the lifestyles of the young, the restless, and the musically obsessed)…

Around the time that Dire Straits released their self-titled debut in October of that year, I had been invited to a WEA-sponsored private showcase in a small Atlanta club to get a glimpse of the band in action.  Throughout the venue that evening were WEA field representatives from various cities across the country, all mingling with many glasses clinking.  The hope of our respective bosses who provided the invitations for this engagement was to energize all of us such that, back home, we’d then champion the band to our radio station and record retail contacts.

This show sure lit a fire under my ass.  In this live setting frontman Mark Knopfler was a revelation to me in terms of his fingerstyle guitar work (i.e., no pick), and he had somehow masterfully managed to fuse together rock, blues, country and even sprinklings of jazz into an inventive, fluid and compelling style.  On allmusic.com recently, I found an October 2018 user review by Gene Becker that nicely summed up Knopfler’s gift of servicing his songs: “His flow is conversational, a vocal line often followed by a picked retort, treating his Stratocaster like a call and response duet piece.  The arrangements are tightly honed to highlight his playing and a poetic imagery that's obviously heavily influenced by Bob Dylan and J.J. Cale.”

I returned to Pittsburgh reignited.  For the next few weeks I packed into my van a ton more Dire Straits display materials compared to the other Warner, Elektra and Atlantic artists on my list, and in each record store I sought out locations that would afford the band the very best in-store visibility.  Fortunately I cajoled most of the store managers into giving me at least some of these sweet, coveted spaces, and this could have been the result of my infectious smile and my brimming-over enthusiasm.  Or, you know, it could have been the fact that during my pleadings, I dropped down on the store’s front counter an inch-high pile of other new Warner, Elektra and Atlantic albums; ones that I had a sneaking suspicion would soon end up in the store manager’s burgeoning record collection at home.

  Nick Lowe – Pure Pop for Now People (his debut) – “So It Goes”  https://youtu.be/g9RUibmPzXg

There came a time in the year 1978 when, Lowe and behold, music fans and music critics bonded as one.  After a few stultifying attempts in the early-mid 1970s to break big with the British band Brinsley Schwarz, followed by some serious sloggin’ it out by the group on the pub level, Nick Lowe finally applied his multi talents of musicianship, songwriting and production to a solo release that garnered fountains of praise from fans and gushes from critics.

In the mid-late 1970s, fans “in the know” in the UK and the USA loved Lowe’s work within the band Rockpile (which also featured Dave Edmunds) as well as his album producer role with tiny, prestigious new wave record label Stiff.  And critics adored his aforementioned 1978 solo album, which was entitled Jesus of Cool in England but retitled by his stateside record company Columbia to become Pure Pop for Now People (apparently Columbia bigwigs thought “Christ Almighty, we CAN’T have a controversial title like that over here!”).  

Hard-nosed, influential Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau wrote this upon Pure Pop for Now People’s release in the United States: “This is not punk rock.  It's an amazing pop tour-de-force demonstrating that if the music is cute enough the words can be any old non-cliché.  Lowe's people cut off their right arms, castrate Castro, love the sound of breaking glass, roam with alligators in the heart of the city, and go to see the Bay City Rollers.  But because the hooks cascade so deftly from sources as diverse as the Beach Boys and the Boomtown Rats, I care about every one of them.”  And allmusic.com’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine opined “It's self-referential pop that loves the past but doesn't treat it as sacred.  It is the first post-modern pop record in how it plays as it builds upon tradition and how it's all tied together by Lowe’s irrepressible irreverence.  It's hard to imagine any of the power pop of the next three decades without it, and while plenty have tried, nobody has made a better pure pop record than this.”

Lowe didn’t just bask in this one-off public acclaim and critical adoration in 1978; he achieved noteworthiness in other areas including but not limited to 1) songwriting (his 1979 stateside hit “Cruel To Be Kind” from his album Labour of Lust,and the same-year success of Elvis Costello’s version of his composition “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”)…2) forming an unfortunately short-lived and under-the-radar supergroup called Little Village in 1991 (with Lowe on bass and singer-songwriter John Hiatt, guitarist Ry Cooder and drummer Jim Keltner rounding out the lineup)…and 3) releasing a heartwarming yuletide underground classic “Christmas at the Airport” from his 2013 album Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection For All The Family.  The brief editorial review of this album currently on amazon.com says “Anyone who likes their Christmas soundtracks with plenty of heart and humor, and a sprinkle of understated charm, will enjoy Quality Street for the newly minted classic that it is.  You might say it's the kind of record that gives vulgar, tawdry commercialism a good name.”

  Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town (his 4th) – “The Promised Land” https://youtu.be/Bg8Zc9j7ZUs

It is hard to start any examination of Bruce without noting the power of his live performances and yes, this is lofty language, but here goes: Even if you are NOT a member of The Church of the Latter Day Bruce—let’s say, the time period of 2000 through 2021—I defy you to find any living, breathing soul who saw Springsteen & The E Street Band live in the 1970s who didn’t then come away a believer in the transformational power of rock and roll.

1978 was the year his fourth album was released and Bruce was on the road yet again, satiating his fans and bringing in converts, adding to his ever widening base of true believers.  Darkness came three long years after Born To Run and in between, Bruce had been wrangling with legal matters that weighed heavily on him—specifically, extricating himself from a bad management deal with his manager Mike Appel.  Once free, Bruce produced Darkness, one of the most beloved of his entire catalogue of recorded works.  

In a December 16, 2020 music review of the album on guitar.com, writer Paul Robson reflected on how Bruce was at this particular moment in time painting the everyman struggles of life, “moving the protagonists from the perceived hope of ‘Badlands’ and ‘The Promised Land,’ to the sense of clinging on to something, anything, in the face of the overwhelming resignation that permeates ‘Racing In The Street’ and ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town.’”

Robeson went on to say that “lyrically and musically, Darkness On The Edge Of Town lives up to its title.  There is an edge and anger to Bruce and the E Street Band here that perhaps was never matched so consistently again.  ‘I had a reaction to my own good fortune, and felt a sense of accountability to the people I’d grown up alongside,’ Springsteen wrote in his 1998 book Songs.  ‘I wanted my characters to feel weathered, older, but not beaten.  The sense of daily struggle in each song greatly increased.  The possibility of transcendence or any sort of personal redemption felt a lot harder to come by.’”

I saw Bruce and band for the very first time in February 1975 while a college senior at Penn State, and it remains to this day my #1 concert of all time.  In 1978 in late December—six months after Darkness was released—I saw him again at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh, and I almost touched the hem of his garment.  Well-l-l-l, honestly it was more like I just handed him some extra apparel.

During Bruce’s performance, I snuck up front to the edge of the Stanley Theatre stage with a Santa cap in my hand.  This was December, after all, and all of us assembled were waiting for Bruce’s inevitable launch into “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”  Just as I was swiveling my neck to check whether Security was going to jump me, someone on an aisle seat snatched the cap from my hand and hurled it Bruce’s way.  He pounced and put it on, and a rock photographer friend of mine on the scene happened to catch this moment with his camera.  The glittery letters on Santa’s (now Bruce’s) cap spelled out the word “Exile,” which was the name of the indie record store that I had until nine months before co-managed with my friend Gary Uram in Wexford, PA.  Gary and I used to take turns wearing this Santa cap during the Christmas album-buying rush at Exile, so I was astonished that now, on stage, Bruce had donned this remnant from my music biz past—who knew that Gary and I would ever in some way be able to share headspace with one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest performers?!!

  The Cars – The Cars (their debut) – “My Best Friend’s Girl” (Ric Ocasek on lead vocals) https://youtu.be/j-dfrHkaXuE / “All Mixed Up” (Benjamin Orr on lead vocals)  https://youtu.be/VFXsdQb35Io

Contributing writer Annie Zaleski on salon.com (8/4/17) labeled The Cars a “distinctly American new wave band, one that opened the doors for the U.K. (and beyond) synth warriors to take over the charts” and called their self-titled debut album “a nervy collection of taut power-pop and future-peering synth-rock.”  Stephen Dowling on bbc.com (9/18/19) said that “the band’s sound—which fused power pop, new wave and classic rock—managed to sound both like pop music of the past and pop music of the future.”  And in Dowling’s article, the group’s album producer Roy Thomas Baker—a Londoner who had shepherded the band Queen through many of their recordings—noted that “With The Cars, you had this band with a sparse rhythm section and a unique singer in Ric Ocasek, but when the harmonies kicked in, it was a wall of sound…They came at a time when rock radio really needed some freshening up.”

The band was popular out of the gate, and spooled out a string of hits from their first album which continued on with assorted gems from their subsequent releases.  Two particular things assisted The Cars’ cruise to the top: the band sported two singers in Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr who, particularly on the first album, shared lead vocal duties fairly equally to great effect; and MTV embraced the band from the beginning, airing three different Cars’ tracks on the first day the channel went on the air on August 1, 1981.

I met the band once in that year of their first album’s debut (1978).  I was four months into my new job with WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation, the company responsible for sales, marketing and distribution worldwide for the three aforementioned record labels.  I was WEA’s Pittsburgh-area field merchandiser (aka display person) and part of my duties included some advance promotion in record stores on behalf of artists who were scheduled to come to town. 

On the evening of July 14th I was backstage at the Stanley Theatre just after the Cars had finished their show.  I had been invited back by the band’s record label representative from Elektra to quickly meet the group and show them a few photos of the displays I had done in order to help promote their appearance.  As brief as my backstage encounter was that July evening—all of about ten minutes, as I recall—I remember Ocasek and another of the band members smiling broadly in particular when they were shown a picture of my downtown National Record Mart window display.

I’m not sure if it was the car tire I had incorporated into the display with the WEA-provided posters, or my hand-scrawled sign that said “The Cars in concert—An Evening of Auto Eroticism at the Stanley,” but the band members’ nods of appreciation and expressed gratitude stoked me beyond belief.  Just what I needed.

  Rufus – Street Player (their 6th) – “Destiny”  https://youtu.be/RfVndToCtQo

Rufus with lead singer Chaka Khan was a band that had been notching up acclaim with occasional hit songs on the R&B charts of music industry magazines since their first album in 1973.  But then a revelatory shift came in the time period 1977-1978 as they began to scale new heights of creativity and boldness in their songwriting.  The band’s fifth studio album Ask Rufus (1977) and their follow-up album Street Player (1978) not only reflected this adventurous spirit, but the end results became career milestones.  In a larger sense, these two back-to-back releases were landmark achievements in songwriting, musical execution, vocal power and prowess (via Khan) and recording studio expertise—a rare and magical meld.

In a January 2018 look back at the band (“Rufus & Chaka Khan’s Street Player Turns 40/Anniversary Retrospective”) writer Brandon Ousley of albumism.com stated that “the brilliance of the multi-racial, Chicago-based outfit Rufus rested on their commitment to fearlessly coalescing funk, soul, jazz, and pop-rock influences into a succulent whole.  Their dynamic frontwoman, Chaka Khan, doused sass and sensuality into the band’s thrilling sound with her blistering voice.  It was the perfect marriage that imprinted an indelible stamp on the entire funk and soul landscape…Where their previous album Ask Rufus skillfully dabbled with esoteric orchestral touches, smooth soul, and jazz, Street Player leaned heavily on polished jazz-rock characteristics of the late 1970s.  Akin to the work of Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Steely Dan, Rufus infused laid-back strains of jazz into their sophisticated brand of funk and R&B.  At a time when disco permeated America’s milieu and reached its cultural zenith, the band took heed to its impulses, and ventured a few steps ahead.  After all, they were known for their unpredictability as well as their peerless craftsmanship.”

Someone who aided Rufus in achieving their overall sound on Street Player (and on its predecessor Ask Rufus) was a bit of an unsung hero in terms of widespread renown—composer/arranger Clare Fischer.  Also a musician, Fischer had worked in the 1960s with jazz luminaries including Herbie Hancock and Dizzy Gillespie.  By the 1970s, however, he had primarily shifted to arranger and conductor duties for a number of R&B groups, eventually also working with pop musicians as demand for his talents swelled (Prince, McCartney, Michael Jackson and others).  With Rufus, he provided the pivotal orchestral “sweeteners” that graced the band’s captivating mid-tempo songs and ballads, deploying his gifts via the string arrangements and the subsequent conducting of the orchestral players.  His contributions cannot be devalued; his arrangements are totally in synch with the exquisite vocal performances from lead singer Chaka Khan.

‘Tis a pity that Street Player and its predecessor did not reach more of the masses though for a time, as reported by Billboard Magazine, the albums closely approached the Top Ten upon their initial releases.  The song chosen for the sample track here from Street Player is “Destiny” which reveals the unbound talents at play within Rufus, but really most tracks on the album would do the same.  It would behoove you to stream the album, start to finish, in order to more fully appreciate the majesty that is in these grooves.

  Neil Young – Comes A Time (his 9th) – “Human Highway”  https://youtu.be/FY4an-1GqwU

In the fall of 1978 I truly enjoyed a double dose of Nicolette (that’s not a misspelling there; I mean the talented female singer, not the gum that eases nicotine withdrawal).

Nicolette Larson had released her debut album entitled Nicolette in September 1978, and right on its heels came the ninth studio album from Neil Young, Comes A Time.  Larson was all over the latter, and my turntable was non-stop Neil & Nicolette for a nice little stretch of time.  There was a magic to the paired-up voices on Comes A Time, and listening to it took me right back to a different album that had lived on my turntable for a few months back in 1976, Bob Dylan’s Desire.  I had loved Dylan’s and guest vocalist Emmylou Harris’ voices woven together on tracks like “Mozambique,” “Oh, Sister” and “One More Cup of Coffee,” and Comes A Time, to me, was yet another testament to the purity and beauty of blended male and female voices in just the right setting. 

Interestingly enough, the unavailability of Emmylou to sing on the Neil Young album that preceded Comes A Time was Nicolette’s gateway to working with Neil.  In a February 1983 interview with Canada’s largest urban weekly The Georgia Straight, Nicolette related how the two came together.  “When he did American Stars 'n Bars his initial concept was to get two unknown singers and do the album with them,” Nicolette said, “but he tried that and it didn't work at all.  And then he decided to take the other route and get Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, but Emmylou wasn't available to do it, so she and Linda recommended me.  Neil kind of functions on cosmic operations, you know, and that was cosmic enough for him.  If everyone had recommended me then I was supposed to work with him.  So Linda and I went up to his ranch and sang backups on that album, and then when he did Comes a Time he called me again to come and sing on it.”

Comes A Time, the prolific Neil’s ninth album, was a commercial and critical success.  A number of critics thought it hearkened back to some of Neil’s finest albums including 1972’s Harvest, and even the hardboiled, occasionally caustic reviewer Robert Christgau from The Village Voice embraced it.  Christgau said that this newest Neil was one “in which the old folkie seeks out his real roots, in folkiedom.  Not only is this almost always quiet, usually acoustic and drumless, and sweetened by Nicolette Larson, but it finishes off with a chestnut from the songbook of Ian and Sylvia—not just folkies, but Canadian folkies.  Conceptually and musically, it's a tour de force.  Occasionally you do wonder why this thirty-two-year-old hasn't learned more about Long-Term Relationships, but the spare, good-natured assurance of the singing and playing deepens the more egregious homilies and transforms good sense into wisdom.  The melodies don't hurt either—Young hasn't put together so many winners since After the Gold Rush.  Now that it's been done right, maybe all those other guys will hang up their Martins and enroll in bartending school.”

  Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (their debut) – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”  https://youtu.be/04pbtf5t_LU

Just months into my new job in 1978 with WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation as their Pittsburgh market display person dispatched each week to area record stores, I received merchandising materials from WEA one morning that consisted of the usual posters, album covers, and promotional copies of albums—but also a handful of yellow suits that looked like rainwear.  Turns out that this was what the Devo band members wore as their standard issue garb, and I used the suits primarily to cajole record store workers into dressing up for quick promotional photos while holding the new album next to my in-store Devo displays…

Who was this band, and what the hell?!!  I was honestly a bit turned off by the quirky, unconventional sound of the group but I knew that they were a big priority (at least momentarily) of their record label Warner Brothers, so I hit as many big-chain National Record Mart stores and small indie record shops that I could.  I had heard that even before the release of Are We Not Men?, new wave/punk legends like Iggy Pop and David Bowie were singing their praises and interest, at first, ran high from a lot of record store managers I ran into in the course of my display routes.

The band sprouted out of the shared horror and agony of the Kent State shootings in May 1970.  Art student Gerald Casale and friends had previously toyed with an art and literature concept that they had dreamed up in response to rampant consumerism, conformity, political hypocrisy and chicanery, and the sense that humankind was far from evolving—in fact, actually devolving.  Hence, the name Devo.  The group then ventured into music in the late 1970s as their primary vehicle for getting the message out about devolution.  

As writer Andrea Domanick of vice.com noted in her 8/29/18 article “The Truth About Devo, America’s Most Misunderstood Band,” this band of upstarts were on a mission: “Co-opting the logic of advertising, they laid the template for the multimedia emphasis that’s de rigeur for musical artists today, with theatrical live shows, narrative music videos, custom merchandise, substantive talking points, wild costumes, and branding, branding, branding.  Devo wielded them to lampoon everything from sex to religion to the corporate culture supporting the band itself, eventually earning the band the censorship of MTV, the scorn of the press, and, according to the group, the ire of its record label, Warner Brothers.”

Devo’s debut album Are We Not Men? was released in August 1978 and public response was largely lukewarm, with the album ultimately climbing to only #78 on the national sales charts within the music industry bible Billboard Magazine.  Most critics were also generally head-scratching and ho-humming, though in the years that followed some indeed warmed to the band’s sound and reversed course in terms of assessing the impact that the band had with their debut and subsequent releases.  James Garcia, a blogger with the Denver Post’s music site The Know (formerly Reverb), pointed out in a 2/20/14 article that “along with bands like Kraftwerk and Talking Heads, Devo ushered in a new era of electronic and sonically futuristic compositions that set the trajectory for much of modern music.  Today the band sounds ’80s-nostalgic, but digging into LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead, even Arcade Fire, you frequently find strong traces of Devo.”

One final footnote (per writer Garcia from his 2014 article) about select members of Devo, who achieved some notoriety outside of the band: “Its original members continued to influence pop culture through individual careers.  For you ’90s people out there, did you know Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh did the theme music for Nickelodeon’s Rugrats?  He also did work on Pee Wee’s Playhouse.  He’s worked on films with Wes Anderson (Moonrise KingdomFantastic Mr. Fox) and did the soundtrack for the No. 1 film at the box office for the second week in a row right now: The Lego Movie…Casale did work on films like Happy GilmoreRushmoreThe Royal Tenenbaums and the highly underrated 1995 comedy Four Rooms, with segments directed by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Allison Anders and Alexandre Rockwell, all based on short fiction by Roald Dahl.”  Nice to know that there was some healthy evolution all along their path. 

(The link to the sample track above takes you to Devo’s cover of the Stones’ 1965 hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as performed on Saturday Night Live on October 14, 1978.)

  Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food (their 2nd) – “ Take Me to the River”  https://youtu.be/v4azbl96BJY

"I can't seem to face up to the facts / I'm tense and nervous, and I can't relax / I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire / Don't touch me I'm a real live wire”—these are lyrics from the song “Psycho Killer” from Talking Heads: 77, the album which gave the world its first glimpse into the unique art-rock style of this NYC band and its front-man auteur David Byrne.  But instead of turning to “run run run run, run run run away,” Talking Heads fans (the established ones and new converts) pounced in even greater numbers on the perky, herky-jerky sophomore album which hit stores less than a year later—1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food.

Talking Heads emerged out of the brought-to-a-boil punk stew that had been simmering in the late 1970s at the legendary Manhattan club CBGB in New York City, home of early-on performances by fledglings Patti Smith, Television, The Ramones, Blondie and others.  And Talking Heads stood apart from this pack, both lyrically and musically.  

From a lyrics standpoint, I found an earnest, thoughtful examination in a July 2018 hyperallergic.com piece written by Lucas Fagen which notes that “Byrne expresses the awful little unsaid thoughts that cross our minds regularly.  All the tiny daily moments of loathing for people ahead of you in line, cutting you off on the highway, walking slower than you on the sidewalk, standing too close to you in the elevator.  All the sudden impulses brought upon us by impatience and exasperation that we immediately ignore and discard for our own social survival and humanity’s greater good.  All the logical contortions we go through to justify feeling as we do, forgotten once the feeling passes, all presented brightly, neatly, as if they’re totally normal, because they are.”  

Musically, according to Fagen, the band surrounded Byrne’s words with “a spry, lithe, metallic music machine that clatters and jitters over a bedrock of sturdy, flowing rhythm.  These are songs composed of textures derived from punk, blown up into something larger and deeper, something that gleams with the brilliance of new wave keyboards and bounces with the assurance of funk bass.”  

The standout track, the one and only cover on the album, is Al Green’s composition “Take Me to the River.”  The song became the band’s first bona fide radio hit, luring in both the committed and the curious to help solidify the band’s march toward legendary status.  On a music-based potpourri website called nightswithalicecooper.com, I found a review of More Songs About Buildings and Food that featured quotes from Byrne related to “Take Me to the River.”  Byrne took note of the fact that there were three other covers of the song that were out in the consuming public’s sphere at that time, ones by Foghat, Bryan Ferry and Levon Helm, and said “More money for Mr. Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, I suppose.”  And, he concluded, the song “combines teenage lust with baptism.  Not equates, you understand, but throws them in the same stew, at least.  A potent blend.  All praise the mighty spurtin' Jesus!"

  Kate Bush – The Kick Inside (her debut) – “Wuthering Heights”  https://youtu.be/mj9RNQnRqPU

British singer-songwriter Kate Bush was signed to her record label at a very young age—with counsel and assistance from mentor David Gilmour of Pink Floyd—and produced an epic first album before she even left her teens.  As Pitchfork.com contributor Laura Snapes observed in a 1/19/19 article about the artist, “She was signed at 16 but her debut took four years to make, during which she engaged multiple teachers in a process of spiritual and physical transformation.  She pays tribute to their lessons alongside rhapsodies on unexplained phenomena, delirious expressions of lust, and declarations of earthbound defiance.”

Around the time she released her debut The Kick Inside, Bush explained that her creative drive had led her down a different path than most other female singer-songwriters.  Pitchfork.com’s Snapes zeros in on a quote of Bush’s relating to her contemporaries: “‘That sort of stuff is sweet and lyrical,’ Bush said of Carole King and co. in 1978, ‘but it doesn’t push it on you, and most male music—not all of it, but the good stuff—really lays it on you.  It’s like an interrogation.  It really puts you against the wall and that’s what I’d like my music to do.  I’d like my music to intrude.’” 

The release of The Kick Inside led to Bush kicking ass.  She insisted that her record label EMI release the song “Wuthering Heights” as her lead-off single from the album instead of a track they had chosen, and damn—the song rocketed to #1 in the country, which crowned Bush as the first female performer in the land to get to that pinnacle position with a self-written song.  The album in the UK (as well as across Europe and also in Japan) became a sensation and a bestseller, and her popularity continued to soar with subsequent releases in her home country—though she didn’t even dent the music charts in the USA until her fourth release The Dreaming (1982).  With 1985’s Hounds of Love, Bush finally pecked a significant hole in her cult ceiling in the U.S. courtesy of the Top Thirty hit “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God).”

But let’s return to “Wuthering Heights,” the first song that really introduced the world to Bush’s artistic vision.  Writer Margaret Talbot of The New Yorker in her 12/19/18 article “The Enduring, Incandescent Power of Kate Bush” sums it up: “One secret of Bush’s artistry is that she has never feared the ludicrous—she tries things that other musicians would be too careful or cool to go near.  That was apparent from the very first lines of ‘Wuthering Heights’—‘Out on the wiley, windy moors / we’d roll and fall in green / You had a temper like my jealousy / too hot, too greedy.’  When she wrote that song, she hadn’t yet read the Emily Brontë novel; she’d only caught the end of a TV adaptation.  But of course she got the essence of the book, sucked it in, and transmogrified it in her teen-aged soul, and she knew how to keen those lyrics like a ghost ceaselessly yearning.”

Collaborations with Prince, Peter Gabriel and Elton John…A source of inspiration for Tori Amos, Björk, Joanna Newsom, and St. Vincent…A pioneer in the use of the Fairlight synthesizer and the headset microphone onstage…An early-on producer of her own albums…and (per writer Talbot) renowned “for evolving an ahead-of-its-time sound that combined heavy bass with the ethereal high notes, swoops, and screeches of her own remarkable voice.”  These aren’t bush-league achievements; Kate’s in a league of her own.

  The Police – Outlandos d’Amour (their debut) – “Roxanne”  https://youtu.be/fZheUzgIFEk

It’s an age-old question that perhaps only real music buffs can reliably dredge up answers to: Where were you when you first heard a certain song?  

Late in 1978 I had a lightning bolt moment in the old National Record Mart flagship store in Market Square, downtown Pittsburgh.  I was about eight months into my new record company job with WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation, fashioning displays in music stores throughout Western PA, and I was up on a ladder stapling some priority Warner Brothers artist posters along the ceiling line.  Suddenly I heard over the store’s stereo system some incredibly muscular and rhythmic power pop that had me spinning around immediately to find out what the store manager had placed on the turntable.  “It’s The Police,” Maurice the manager informed me, looking up from below.  He walked over to the store’s New Releases bin and came back to hand me up the Outlandos d'Amour album while “Roxanne” and then the next song “Hole in My Life” spilled out from the speakers above.  

There was palpable excitement rippling through the rest of the store as well.  From my lofty perch I could see a couple of customers’ faces break from their furrowed-brow concentration, which was some mean feat—usually album buyers were transfixed at a particular record bin, finger-flicking each album forward for yet another studious gaze upon another eye-catching album cover.  Yet these two were rousted from their intent, and both walked up front to the new releases bin to pluck out The Police album for a better look.

Punk was in full flower by 1978, yet here was a relatively new spin on the format.  Outlandos d’Amour was a mesmerizing mix of punk with pop and a hell of a lot more than a tinge of reggae, with Sting’s powerful high-end-of-the-range voice soaring over all of that propulsion.  The three band members—all really more steeped in jazz, originally—had jumped onto the late 1970s new wave band wagon with abandon, and the group enjoyed immense public and critical acclaim for their total five studio recordings over the 1978-1983 time period.

Personally, The Police have stayed one of my favorite bands through a lot of years.  In my case, I first heard them from on top of a ladder.  But in 1982 I scaled even greater heights—I had my first real date with my future wife Margot (now deceased) on April 9, 1982 when the band played the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  And from there I didn’t falter; two years later we headed for the altar.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 4/18/21.....TEN YEARS AFTER (part one of two)

A few posts ago, Musicasaurus.com did a deep dive and came up with some real pearls—noteworthy albums that were released in the year 1968.  Ten years after, these are the must-haves that were released in the first half of 1978, and we’ve included one of our favorite tracks from each of these albums.  (Next time on musicasaurus.com, we explore more absolutely-gotta-have recordings from the second half of 1978.)

   

   

  Little Feat – Waiting for Columbus (their 7th album and 1st live recording) – “Spanish Moon” https://youtu.be/-S5PK14KFcE

My first real taste of Feat (I know that sounds kinda weird but it IS spelled F-e-A-t) came with their second album Sailin’ Shoes in 1972.  Certain songs from that record floored me because of the musicianship but also the lyrical gifts of founding member, chief songwriter and lead vocalist Lowell George (seek out on your own the title track, the song “Trouble,” and especially “Willin’”).  I followed Feat through their next four studio releases—Dixie Chicken (’73), Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (’74), The Last Record Album (’75) and Time Loves a Hero (‘77)—and my faith became absolutely unshakeable.  And friends and acquaintances knew never to test that faith.  I would suffer no detractors; I would never be de-Feated.

The first time I actually saw Little Feat live was in 1978 and the announcement of an upcoming Pittsburgh show in April of that year was a bit of a cosmic convergence for me.  In February the band had released a new double live album entitled Waiting for Columbus, and that very same month I had latched onto a dream job with Warner Brothers Records/Elektra Records/Atlantic Records (WEA) doing local area record store displays promoting all WEA artists—including Little Feat.  So in my brand new role, staple gun and duct tape in hand, I plastered practically every mall chain and indie record store I could find across southwestern Pennsylvania with Waiting for Columbus posters—every window and wall space they were willing to hand over to me.

Waiting for Columbus became the band’s best-selling record to date and the group’s keyboardist Bill Payne, in a relix.com interview from February 1979, attributed the group’s popularity to increasing their time out on the road.  “I think we’ve had ample opportunity in the past nine years to do a little more touring,” Payne said.  “There are people who argue with me that touring doesn’t add that much to success, and I would agree that if you’re Steely Dan and you’ve had ten hit records to your name, you might not have to tour.  But in our case touring is very important because it’s always been a grass roots growth until recently.  This band is a playing type of band.  We just sound better live than we do on records.”

To Payne’s point, listen to the sample track above, “Spanish Moon.”  Aided here by the Bay Area’s sizzling Tower of Power horn section, the song is truly representative of Feat’s peerless melding of southern-styled rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm & blues, with a dash of limb-twitchin’ funk.

  Television – Adventure (their 2nd) – “Days” https://youtu.be/lZetdccVvBs

Television was one of the bands that first formed back in the punk explosion days of the mid-to-late 1970s.  They were part of the fabric of legendary Manhattan club CBGB, where on various nights of the week one might walk in and find bands on stage such as Talking Heads, the Ramones, Blondie or the Patti Smith Group, or lesser known but equally intriguing punkers like Richard Hell & The Voidoids or the Cramps.  Television’s distinction was their two-guitar attack and the made-for-punk vocal style of lead singer-songwriter Tom Verlaine.  The ace second guitarist in the band was the incendiary Richard Lloyd and the two of ‘em were interweaving specialists.  

Marquee Moon was the band’s debut release in 1977, and it met with great critical success here in the U.S. but sales were only so-so.  It has since been regarded as a lantern of sorts, lighting the way for quite a number of post-punk and alternative bands that followed over the next few decades.  1978’s Adventure came next, and this second album from Television was equally enticing but had its mild detractors.  Some critics thought that this sophomore effort lost some of the raw tension and buzz saw feel of the first, but even the occasionally cranky, caustic Robert Christgau of The Village Voice praised it, holding it in pretty high esteem.  

“I agree that it's not as urgent, or as satisfying,” Christgau pointed out in his review, “but that's only to say that Marquee Moon was a great album while Adventure is a very good one.  The difference is more a function of material than of the new album's relatively clean, calm, reflective mood.  The lyrics on Marquee Moon were shot through with visionary surprises that never let up.  These are comparatively songlike, their apercus concentrated in hook lines that are surrounded by more quotidian stuff.  The first side is funnier, faster, more accessible, but the second side gets there—the guitar on "The Fire" is Verlaine's most gorgeous ever.”

  Van Halen – Van Halen (their debut) – “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love” https://youtu.be/qtwBFz6lfrY

Sean McDowell, a twenty-six year veteran of Pittsburgh’s 102.5 WDVE in the afternoon deejay chair from 1993 through 2019, remembers precisely when Van Halen erupted into the national consciousness with the release of their self-titled first album.  “When I started in Radio at WYDD/New Kensington in 1978,” McDowell said, “the debut Van Halen album had just come out and the phones were on fire whenever we played one of their tunes—‘Is that the new Van Halen band?’  'Who are these guys again?’  ‘Who's the guitarist in that band you just played?!’”

It was a startling debut.  No one had heard such power, polished with a metal sheen, fueled by a cock-of-the-walk vocalist and a truly adventurous, envelope-pushing chord cruncher.  Innovative guitarist Eddie was the key; swoopin’ and sailin’, he was the heart of Van Halen.

I was able to meet the band that year while working for WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) as the field merchandising specialist for southwestern Pennsylvania.  Van Halen was slated to do an in-store appearance at the Oasis Records & Tape Superstore in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh, and this was my first official meet-and-greet experience with WEA.  On the day of the in-store appearance I helped set up an autograph signing table and placed Van Halen posters throughout the store, while the fans began to assemble inside the store’s entrance. 

The turnout became fairly sizeable, so the four VH boys strode in the back way upon arrival to avoid the crush.  I scooted into the low-lit, warehouse-sized back room, quickly identified myself, and snapped a photo of the foursome before they ambled out into the public area of the store.  Unfortunately my most vivid memories of the day center on the supersized swagger of David Lee Roth.  It was readily apparent that he had no problem in the “self love” department and here he was truly in his element.  The female fans who were clustered around the autograph table were all aflutter and the atmosphere was circus-like, with David Lee—at ease; oozin’ the sleaze—masterfully courting the foxes and high-fiving the few stoner dudes in the crowd.  I recall wishing I had a testosterone dipstick, just to see whether his levels were as off-the-charts as I thought they might be.

  Emmylou Harris – Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town (her 5th) – “Easy From Now On” https://youtu.be/ebcJ2WycQ4o

This was Emmylou’s fifth studio album and it was memorable on two fronts—the song selections (from songwriters including Dolly Parton, Delbert McClinton, Rodney Crowell and Jesse Winchester) and the musicians who had climbed aboard (Rick Danko and Garth Hudson of The Band, Willie Nelson, country music guitar slingers James Burton and Albert Lee, country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, singer Nicolette Larson, and country/bluegrass artist Ricky Scaggs).

Flash forward twenty-five years to October 19, 2003 at Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater: On this evening I experienced one of my “Top Ten” concerts of all time—Emmylou with her fuel-injected backup band Spyboy (guitarist Buddy Miller, bassist Daryl Johnson and drummer Brady Blade) in a serious country-meets-rock ‘n’ roll performance that was a tour de force.  The concert that evening featured two songs from Quarter Moon—the Jesse Winchester composition “My Songbird” and Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This.”

  Genesis – And Then There Were Three (their 9th studio album) – “Deep in the Motherlode” https://youtu.be/tNTyyvk3oBk

Confessions of a super addicted music fan (yours truly) who occasionally lost his way along certain pipelines: I never really dug into any of the first six Genesis albums when Peter Gabriel was with the group, in that time period between the band’s formation in 1967 and the middle of 1975 when Gabriel departed.  It was really 1976’s A Trick of the Tail, Genesis’ seventh studio album, that finally began to lure me in.  Drummer Phil Collins had stepped up to the mike for lead vocals, and critics and fans here and in the UK were more than appeased; they were outright pleased.  In fact this seventh album and the tour that followed—part of which included twenty-one cities in the U.S.—helped raise the group’s profile immensely here at home.

With the 1978 release of And Then There Were Three—so named to reflect the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett which then left just Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford as the band’s core—the group was still firing on all prog-rock cylinders yet beginning to turn toward shorter, more pop-savvy song explorations.  They even had a hit song that was played to death on radio stations here in the U.S. and across the pond, the ballad “Follow You Follow Me.”  To the ears of Musicasaurus.com, though, the standout track on the album is “Deep in the Motherlode,” a majestic wall-of-sound churner that cries out to be played loud.

I loved working this record as part of my duties in 1978 as the Pittsburgh region’s display person for Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corporation.  I did a lot of standard displays (posters on walls and in windows) in a number of southwestern Pennsylvania record stores promoting And Then There Were Three, but was then--for whatever reason--seized by a desire to go outside the boundaries on this one.  I came up with an idea for a creative yet complicated in-store display that in the end turned out to be a piece of cake.  And I mean literally.  

I contacted a local bakery and asked them to produce a sizeable white cake with the album cover’s startling colors and design swirls replicated on its top layer.  Then, since the Genesis album’s title also brought to mind Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery novel And Then There Were None (in which the children’s nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians” figured prominently) I added three little Native American plastic figurines to the top of the cake to represent Collins, Banks and Rutherford.  I then prominently placed the cake on a chest-level wall shelf in the downtown Pittsburgh Record Outlet store, stapled up a handful of Genesis posters around it, and placed (with the store’s permission) sale-priced copies of And Then There Were Three in product bins to the left and right.  To complete my handiwork the store manager and I posted an “Enter to Win!” sign right above the cake itself, which let browsing customers know that they could not only buy the new album at a deeply discounted price, but also—if lucky enough to win the drawing—have their cake and eat it too.

  Pat Metheny Group – Pat Metheny Group (the quartet’s debut which followed the guitarist’s first two albums which were solo releases) – “San Lorenzo” (note that the original studio version of this song from the 1978 album Pat Metheny Group is apparently not permitted on YouTube, so the following link is to a live performance of “San Lorenzo”) https://youtu.be/-VwzR7Qc0PU

I can’t fully explain what happened to me when I first encountered this album but I can try to frame it: Long ago, Greek philosopher Pythagoras (approx. 570-495 B.C.) proposed a concept called the “music of the spheres,” a belief that celestial music was produced by the movement of the stars and the planets but that it was imperceptible to the human ear.  And in 1978 I feel like we received a rare open channel to this through the Pat Metheny Group, who I swear was drawing down this sound directly from the heavens.  

The music on this album, the quartet’s debut, is all instrumental and blends the guitarist’s various influences into something that is indescribably life affirming.  In Metheny’s own words from a Downbeat magazine article from March 1999: “In my case, I intuitively knew from a very early age (about 12) that improvisation was going to be the most important of musical languages for me, and that the study of it would be all consuming.  Even though I’ve always loved all kinds of music, from the country music that was everywhere around my hometown (Lee’s Summit, Missouri) to the amazing variety of music that fed the rich mainstream cultural lifeblood of that era—rock and roll (especially the Beatles) and the soul music and rhythm and blues of the day, as well as classical music—it took exactly one listen to a Miles Davis record (Four & More, brought home by my older brother Mike) to start me on that long and fascinating road that it seems all serious improvisational musicians must journey—to understand the history, form and structure of this most beautiful and complex language.”

The ten-minute track “San Lorenzo” opens the Pat Metheny Group album, and it is cinematic, majestic, and achingly beautiful in the interplay between all four musicians.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was fortunate to have caught the Pat Metheny Group live in concert several times, and I remember thinking to myself “I’ve stumbled into the Church of the Truly Transported.”  And in 2003 on a journey eastward from Pittsburgh to NYC—earbuds in, nestled in a window seat—I sank into “San Lorenzo” as Amtrak swooshed me by open fields as well as the occasional crumbled remnants of past busy lives along the railway.  I could not have been more in harmony with the universe in those ten minutes if my life depended upon it.

  Steve Reich Ensemble – Music for 18 Musicians (Reich’s 5th album release) – “Music for 18 Musicians” https://youtu.be/ILpCKQlDmhc

As part of my job as an in-store display merchandiser with WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation, I received a wide assortment of promotional copies of albums from the three aforementioned record company giants, but also promos from each of the three’s subsidiary labels (nice gig!).  In 1978 the eclectic European record label ECM was distributed through Warner Brothers here in the U.S., and so I was able to put into my swelling collection of albums some excellent records from that label.  One of them was Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, which was an incredible example of minimalism in music such that Reich became a vanguard of this movement.

In a revealing article on allaboutjazz.com from October 2016 entitled “Steve Reich: The ECM Recordings,” writer Nenad Georgievski explored the impact of this album.  Georgievski said that the American composer-musician Reich “successfully dismantled the cemented bedrock of Western Music and rebuilt it in surprisingly innovative ways.  One of the founders of the Minimalism movement in classical music, he created music that drew on aspects of Balinese, Yemenite, African and Hebrew sounds.”

Georgievski also points out that ECM was a record label ripe for Reich.  The label from inception (1969) devoted itself, in part, to new music that blossomed out of the jazz field and that walked the line between composition and improvisation.  ECM’s founder Manfred Eicher eagerly sought out Reich and recorded and released Music for 18 Musicians in April 1978.  “Reich's music, ideas, and aesthetics have had an enormous impact on today's culture,” said Georgievski, “and his ideas and sounds were emulated by an army of musicians and composers from singer David Bowie and ambient pioneer Brian Eno to Sonic Youth and Radiohead.” 

The piece itself, just about an hour in length, is according to Georgievski “based on a cycle of eleven chords; the series is played at its beginning and end. In between are eleven sections each built up from one of those eleven chords…and the whole composition unfolds almost like a dreamscape.  Reich weds rhythmical pulses with increasing intensity and shimmering melodies such that it feels meditative and flowing.  The multi-layered tidal architecture contains echoes of Indonesian gamelans, which Reich studied in 1973 and 1974, and the 20th-century organum, or sacred chanting, of the Notre Dame composers Leonin and Perotin…As influential on jazz musicians as on DJs, Music for 18 Musicians was a perfect fusion.  Its uncanny brilliance brought Reich mass fame.  Concerts were sold out and the record was a big seller.” 

  Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy (his 3rd) – “Lawyers, Guns and Money” https://youtu.be/F2HH7J-Sx80

“Werewolves of London” was the hit song from this Southern California-based artist’s commercial breakthrough album, and all ages seemed attuned to the tune.  Even kids were singing along to this one, which is in retrospect kind of disturbing since Zevon had plugged in lyrics like “You better stay away from him / He'll rip your lungs out, Jim.”  But that was just one facet of this wry guy who wrote great melodies and even better lyrics.  Excitable Boy also yielded a nice handful of other Zevon treasures including “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Tenderness on the Block.”  

Soon after Zevon died in September 2003 from lung cancer, Hotpress.com’s Peter Murphy reflected on the artist’s unique talents: “When Warren Zevon passed away on Sunday, September 7, rock ‘n’ roll lost one of its great ironists and men of letters,” Murphy said.  “Zevon coined so many brilliant lines that when his peers came up with quotes about him they tended to speak above even their own abilities.  Bruce Springsteen called him ‘The good, the bad and the ugly… a moralist in cynic’s clothing.’  Jackson Browne dubbed him ‘the first and foremost proponent of song noir.’  The singer was as comfortable with writers like Carl Hiaasen, Hunter S. Thompson, Jonathan Kellerman and Thomas MacGuane as fellow musicians (although he had no shortage of distinguished fans and collaborators, including Bob Dylan and Neil Young).”

  The Band – The Last Waltz (their 2nd live recording and their final album with all five original members) – “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” https://youtu.be/6dDbnwQlCek

I recently found a Rolling Stone article from November 25, 2020 that referred back to an earlier version of it from November 2016—i.e., the 40th anniversary of the farewell concert by The Band at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom on November 25, 1976.  The article gave me a few of those run-up-the-spine, tingle-the-back-of-the-head thrills as I recalled seeing The Last Waltz film for the first time upon its initial release in late April 1978, at the Kings Court Theater in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. 

What is it about The Last Waltz that so captivates viewers?  According to the Rolling Stone article by David Fear, the film’s lasting regard stems from the fortuitous blend of talent that converged on the project—The Band themselves, of course, and their guest stars, and especially director Martin Scorsese.  

We who revere The Band are eternally grateful that the then-35-year-old filmmaker had come aboard.  Writer Fear points out that Scorsese brought a significant level of intuitive and technological expertise to the process, and his game plan included 1) filming the concert solely from an onstage point of view, proactively nixing the idea of audience shots…2) filming in 35 millimeter instead of the usual 16 millimeter cameras routinely used at the time for music documentaries…3) adopting for the ballroom concert setting various materials borrowed from the San Francisco Opera House’s production of La Traviata, including chandeliers used in Gone With the Wind…and 4) applying gliding camera shots and cuts and close-ups that placed fully on display the musical comradeship which existed between the five band members.  And so, as Fear notes, “What he ended up with was the definitive document of these American-music scholars, an epitaph to a specific era of rock history, and the single greatest concert movie of all time.”  

Buoyed by the film in my earliest days of employment with Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corporation in 1978 as their regional display person, I then hit record stores galore armed with Last Waltz posters and free copies of the simultaneously released soundtrack album for the store managers.  In my three years of in-store merchandising on behalf of WEA, I don’t know if I ever hawked and hyped a record more industriously than this one. 

  Oregon - Out of the Woods (their 10th) – “Witchi-Tai-To” https://youtu.be/gAWkygH_Ig8

Oregon is a dream quartet of world-class, world music instrumentalists that first came together in 1970 in New York City.  The four man lineup: Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Glen Moore and Collin Walcott.  A tidy summary of the band’s essence is supplied by an allmusic.com review of 1978’s Out of the Woods which states “Oregon's music might be described as elegant folk melodies and ‘Third World’ rhythms played by a jazz band with the precision and grace of a classical chamber ensemble.”

Towner, who plays flugelhorn, 12-string guitar, classical guitar, percussion and piano on the album, was interviewed in 2017 by Anil Prasad of the music magazine Innerviews.  In the piece Towner spoke of his history with the group and of his rearview opinion of Out of the Woods, stating that the album stood above and beyond any other Oregon release in terms of sales and acceptance.  “Out of the Woods was the most popular album we ever did,” Towner said.  “It was just loaded with beauty.  Collin’s playing has an incredible, painterly quality about it on the record.  People loved “Yellow Bell” from that album.  The album was also marketed and distributed really well.  Out of the Woods even got a Grammy nomination for the cover, but not the music. [laughs] It got a lot of attention.  The nine Vanguard records did well, but this was on another level.”

The sample track above from Out of the Woods is “Witchi-Tai-To,” a beautiful musical odyssey composed by jazz saxophonist, composer and singer Jim Pepper, who was a Native American of Kaw and Muscogee Creek heritage.  He wrote the tune based on a peyote song of the Native American Church that his grandfather had taught him.  Please note, though, that Musicasaurus.com is fairly certain this song will transport you, peyote or no peyote.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 3/21/21.....EAT AT HOME

Musicasaurus.com, ever in search of survey topics for its occasional reach-outs to readers, has just cooked up a decent one: The music that people are listening to while at home during COVID, when it’s time for prep and time to dine.

I reached out to a number of readers on that very topic but first I dreamed up my own “COVID mix” for those special evenings when my paramour/partner Mary Ellen—She from the Land of True Kitchen Sorcery—is creating pure magic in this realm.  Meanwhile, of course, I am merely on standby, rightfully relegated to just holding Her wand (in this instance, though, it’s a wooden spoon for stirring).

I realize that the following is just a word association exercise where I’m riffing on the cooking dinner theme and choosing songs based only on their titles and not on their content, but hey…it’s something to get us started.

Musicasaurus.com’s Music Mix for Dinnertime:

The Opening Track (The Prevailing Message):“Eat at Home”– Paul McCartney.

During Measuring, Slicing and Dicing, and Other Prep:“Chop ‘em Down”– Matisyahu…..“The First Cut is the Deepest” – Cat Stevens…..“Whip It” – Devo…..“Spoonful”– Cream…..“Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)”– Squeeze…..“You Left the Water Running”– Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band.

Amassing and/or Integrating Ingredients: “A Little Honey”– Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats…..“Brown Sugar” – Rolling Stones…..“Green Onions” – Booker T. & The M.G.’s…..“All Mixed Up”– The Cars.

Assorted Menu Items: “Red Beans and Rice”– Brian Auger and the Trinity…..“Rock & Roll Stew” – Traffic…..“RC Cola and a Moon Pie”– NRBQ.....“Hot Burrito #1”– The Flying Burrito Brothers…..“Hotdogs and Hamburgers”– John Mellencamp.

The Actual Cooking: “The Heat Is On”– Glenn Frey…..“Turn It Over”– Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King.

Dinner Drinks: “Alcohol”– Barenaked Ladies…..“Summer Wine” – The Coors live, featuring Bono…..“One More Cup of Coffee” – Bob Dylan with Emmylou Harris.

Dessert: “American Pie”– Don McLean…..“Ice Cream Cakes”– Jeff Beck Group…..“Peaches” – The Presidents of the United States of America…..“Whipped Cream” – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.

And now it is time to move on to the more substantial (and very likely more satisfying!) portions of this post. Below are survey responses from a geographically widespread assortment of Musicasaurus.com readers.  The question posed to them: “When you are cooking dinner at home in this time of COVID, what artists and/or songs do you listen to?”

    

  Rick Sebak – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Hmm.  I’ve been baffled by this one.  I do often put music on when I go to the kitchen, but it’s usually just my music on my MacBook, and I leave it on Shuffle Songs because I like to be surprised by what comes next.  No specific tunes or genre, just my standard goofy mix as put together by my computer. 

  Bill Johnston – San Diego, California

Sue and I cook dinner together at least a couple of times a week.  She does it solo most of the time.  Which is good: her Mexican/Italian heritage has provided her with a much more capacious culinary corral than I could ever construct.  But being a young thing of 61, she'll listen to (yoiks!) Gloria Gaynor or the Bee Gees or some such if I don't step in to end the madness.  When I cook solo, usually outside, I always play Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain in honor of Sue's dear departed Dad.  Rudy was a huge jazz fan, and he'd put that LP on to play whenever he barbecued.  No vinyl for me, though.  All streaming these days.

  Justin Lucas – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The most common artist on in the kitchen for us would be the Cold War Kids.  The commonly used piano in their music definitely allows for some ad-hoc air keyboarding which is best performed without a chef's knife in tow.  Otherwise, some good new fashioned female pop is not a bad secondary option to keep things light and allow for some low quality sing-alongs.  

  Judy Burns – Sarasota, Florida

Now that we're southerners (though Florida might be a stretch?) I started looking into Southern culture because I need to learn to call this place home, but we do miss Pittsburgh!  I found the group Ranky Tanky just a few months ago—embarrassed to say that it took me that long.  I can't quite remember the source.  Funky, fun and a great mix of music styles.  Keeps me moving while I'm cooking.  I didn't know anything about Gullah music and culture but it's pretty cool stuff. 

  Joel Shapiro – Sydney, Australia

When we are prepping for dinner, Lisa has a surefire way of getting me to shut up: "Dear, how about some music?"  Almost invariably, I open Spotify on our stereo and select an artist, or sometimes the artist's "radio."  She's not the Beatles fan that I am but we both gravitate to the blues.  Classics like Muddy Waters, Taj Mahal, Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter are our go-to.  But we're just as fond of Keb Mo, Bonnie Raitt, Santana, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan or his brother Jimmy and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.  Anything that has a jumping beat, some good guitar and a little harp.  "But when the sun went down, the rapid tempo of the music fell" [editor’s note: A line from Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell”] and so when we sit down at the table, we make the switch to jazz—the Crusaders, Tommy Flanagan, Miles, Pat Metheny and the like.  Easier on the digestion, I reckon.  But songs I never get tired of: “My Generation,” “Highway Star,” Mississippi Queen,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Nadine” and “Twist and Shout.”  But, I must confess—I listen to “Fat Man in the Bathtub” every day!!

  Sharon Steele – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Cookin' by the Miles Davis Quintet.  With Miles, John Coltrane (sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Red Garland (piano), and Philly Joe Jones (drums).  Recorded in Rudy Van Gelder's studio in one or two sessions, so basically a live album.  They recorded this and three other albums—Relaxin'Steamin', and Workin'—in the same two studio times (they had limited time in the studio and wanted to bang out albums to fulfill their Prestige record label contract).  DELICIOUS!  Great music to cook by.  (Actually, the husband is the real chef...I'm a sous chef at best, mainly food taster and pot washer.)

  Alex Fleche – Leesburg, Virginia

For a few months following the start of the pandemic I tuned in during cooking to live-stream music performances by artists trying to keep their momentum going.  I was looking for a little normalcy.  Eventually though, live-streams slowed down.  My COVID boredom turned to a craving for nostalgia, so I dialed back the clock to 2000 and have been working my way forward through Pitchfork's top 20 albums of that year.  Some top nostalgia albums are Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’s Source Tags and Codes, New Pornographers' Mass Romantic, plus the Strokes and Interpol.  Aside from the albums I rediscovered from back in those days, some standout new discoveries have been Deerhoof, Liars, a whole slew of underground rap and hip hop (Cannibal OX, Streets, El-P, King Geedorah, and Dizzy Rascal), and the far-out-there DJ/ Avant guard Japanese vocalist duo Mutsumi.

  Peter Lenzi – Farmington, New Mexico

When I cook it is normally a culinary production to satisfy my toughest critic—me.  I start my process seeking motivation and inspiration.  I call my music choice Southern Rock.  Topping the list is the Allman Brothers, and they are blended with Little Feat, Creedence Clearwater, and Pure Prairie League.  This is not an all-inclusive list but gives you a feel for the genre. 

  Stephanie – Venice, Italy

My partner and I live in an old-fashioned house where the stereo is located on the living room side of a load-bearing wall.  This layout keeps odors in the kitchen but stereo music out. That's okay as long as Italian State TV offers ad-free newscasts and pithy talk shows in its lunchtime line-up.  Daytime is when I do my heaviest cooking in a glass-walled veranda.  But whenever the kitchen TV is silent, my internal jukebox auto-selects: "The lady sticks to me like white on rice, she never cooks the same way twice…Maybe it's the mushrooms, maybe the tomatoes."  After decades, it's still Michael Franks' "Eggplant" from his LP, The Art of Tea.  U2's "Beautiful Day" often comes up in the veranda, as when I can see everything going on in the neighborhood, or when it seems "You've been all over, and it's been all over you."  We're preparing to move soon during Italy's never-ending lockdown, so it's been pretty crazy on both sides of the load-bearing wall.  While I'm busy making a meal these days, my jukebox has been pushing "Under the Pressure" by The War on Drugs.  Music in the kitchen?  Next house, sure.  Because, I've noticed, how much news and pith do you really need?        

  Barry Gabel – Cleveland, Ohio

My playlist for preparing dinner includes some of the following tunes: Bob Marley’s “Jamming” (this basically initiates pouring wine and then I start finding whatever ingredients feels right that night)…Lyle Lovett’s “Church” (oh that chorus! I’m cutting, chopping, dicing, and smiling when Francine Reed starts riffing and I’m wishing I’m making cornbread)…Willis Alan Ramsey’s “Watermelon Man” (now we are getting serious, especially if I’m grilling on a fabulous Cleveland summer night, no concert to be at, no plans whatsoever, no nothing and all I’m thinking about is dessert before the main course)…Little Feat’s “Fat Man in The Bathtub” (so I remember portion control)…

AND there is Stevie Wonder’s first album on Motown, Music of My Mind.  He controlled every ingredient that went into this incredible album.  You can choose any song to prepare, cook, serve, eat and clean up the kitchen!  Honestly, the entire album would suffice for your soundtrack request.  The song “I Love Every Little Thing About You” I just love.  And when Stevie starts off “Sweet Little Girl” with that screech, “oh” into his harmonica, I have no choice but to put the spatula down and start grabbing my wife Sam: “Come on now honey-sugar / you know your baby loves you, more than I love my clavinet…Come on now sweet little sugar / honey baby, now what if you knew I was going to put my harmonica down…” 

  Scott Blasey – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This might sound a little odd coming from a lifelong rocker like me [editor’s note: Blasey is a founding member of Pittsburgh’s The Clarks] but I tend to listen to classical music when I’m in the kitchen.  I have a classical playlist on my computer that I like.  It’s mostly Mozart with some Bach and Beethoven mixed in.  Mozart was truly a genius.  His music is beautiful and powerful and timeless.  It’s the perfect companion to the sights and sounds and smells of the kitchen.

  Beckye Levin – Houston, Texas

As for cooking and music, we are doing a lot of that.  I actually have done Zoom cooking with two of my friends from high school—every week—since the beginning of May!  My husband Steve and I tend to listen to the standards when we are relaxing and cooking and drinking wine.  Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin top the list, but we usually have something on that plays everyone from that era.  My favorite is “Beyond the Sea.”  It's awesome that the kids can now pick out the differences between Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, and especially Frank!

  Scott Tady – Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania

We enjoyed cooking with Pandora's Summer Hits of The '90s as background.  Third Eye Blind is comfort food for the ears.  Swaying and humming while chopping veggies to Gin Blossoms and Goo Goo Dolls, proudly remembering lyrics to "Baby Got Back" and "Flagpole Sitta.”  Those '90s hits are fun and don't demand much brain power, so you won't get confused while reading a new recipe.  No wonder Counting Crows' Adam Duritz recently launched a cooking program on Instagram. 

  Joan Antich Sevilla and Trudy Call – Barcelona, Spain

Joan: OK I don´t really change my way to find and listen.  The thing that when I hear something that I like and I don't know what it is no matter what style I try to find the artist and then I listen more of his or her, sometimes I like and a keep hearing more (example Leon Bridges) or sometimes, par example, I hear in the series Ray Donovan the song “Seven Swans” and I look up and is from Sufjan Stevens and after to listen him for a while I decide that is the only song that I like and I really like, then I keep in one of my playlists.  I discover that I like only one song a lot of different people, maybe only one song but I keep it in a playlist, thanks Spotify.  Also I discover a bunch of a bands or musicians that I don't know to be relax Matthew Hassall, Neil Cowley Trio, Girls in Airports, Tord Gustavsen Trio…To have more movement Vulfpeck, Dakhabrakha (this is one of my findings from a series). 

Trudy: In these times of COVID, while I am cleaning our tiny apartment or cooking a meal in our tiny kitchen, I find it immensely comforting to listen (and watch when I can) a NPR Tiny Desk concert.  Besides going along with the 'tiny' theme, there is something about watching and listening to people making music in intimate settings that really reaches my soul.  These short concerts were started in 2008 by Bob Boilen as a way to expose listeners to music in small a setting (his D.C. office) without all the extraneous background noise of people talking as you get in a bar.  The name was taken from Boilen's 1970s dance band Tiny Desk Unit.  In 2020 it was rebranded as Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts with artists recording in their own homes.  Since its inception there have been over 800 concerts recorded, so you have many options in many genres to choose from.  I personally enjoy listening to artists that are new to me but, once in a while, I include an old favorite like Sting.

  Diane Novosel – Leechburg, Pennsylvania

I tend to use Pandora when doing food prep.  If it’s summer, it is usually Levon Helm or Ry Cooder radio.  But lately, I must confess, my favorite is Paris Cafe Society Radio that plays lots of cool Django inspired tracks as well as jazzy accordion.  It is tres cool, mon ami!

  Steve Dilley – Nice, California

I love to listen to Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Etta Jones, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, Tony Bennett and late 40s/50's music when cooking.  It allows me to concentrate on the meal I am prepping.  And, when I am having folks over, it is the perfect background music as everyone shows up and things get underway.  Everyone is familiar with the tunes so they don't compete with the conversation. 

  Linda Hansen – Seattle, Washington

Here in the Hansen household, we survived the pandemic by turning it into a jamdemic.  Especially in the early stages of the lockdown, with actual stages shutdown, our nightly viewing consisted of music documentaries: Once Were Brothers…Janis: Little Girl Blue…Amy…What Happened, Miss Simone?...The Other One…Echo In The Canyon…Quincy…The Two Killings of Sam Cooke…and plenty of others became catalysts for deep dives into an artist’s repertoire.  And then, for several days after, we’d listen to a band’s catalogue during our evening meal prep and cooking with an extra level of appreciation.  Then, with vaccines, Biden and hope on the horizon, we discovered Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (a four-season musical comedy on the CW, currently streaming on Netflix).  The songs are almost all universally satiric, fall down funny and brilliantly mimic a variety of musical styles.  Beyond that, they’re just great, memorable songs. 

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 3/21/21.....ALL THOSE YEARS AGO (Part Three of Three)

October.....November.....December.

In the previous post on musicasaurus.com (3/7/21), we dug deep into the albums released during the third quarter—July-August-September—of the year 1968.  Now we uncover other spellbinding releases from the remaining three months of this landmark year of social and cultural upheaval—and we’ve added in a meaty, meaningful song selection from each...

OCTOBER

  Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland (their 3rd) – “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”  https://youtu.be/IZBlqcbpmxY

Have you ever been experienced?  Well, I have…Electric Ladyland, the double album from the Jimi Hendrix Experience featuring guitarist Hendrix with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Miller, came out on the heels of 1967’s double shot of musical espresso Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold as Love.  Musicians and music fans alike were agog at the sounds that Hendrix could produce on guitar.  Electric Ladyland’s side one, two, three & four demanded an investment of openness and time from the listener, but the album in its entirety also provided a complete immersion into Hendrix’s unique world of sonic invention and unbridled creativity.

Some people would have loved to be in the thick of things at Woodstock or Live Aid or the first Bonnaro, or some other landmark music event.  I would not.  I prefer to scale my wish down to being just a fly on the wall at any of Hendrix’s in-studio recording sessions for this album.  According to an October 16, 2018 “look back” article by Dan Epstein on rollingstone.com, Hendrix had been in the process in April and May 1968 of recording Electric Ladyland but also indulging in the habit of jamming after hours at a NYC nightclub called the Scene.  On the evening of May 2nd at the club Hendrix bumped into keyboard player Stevie Winwood from Traffic and bassist Jack Casady from the Jefferson Airplane.  He invited them back to the nearby Record Plant studio for a jam session that ultimately also included drummer Mitch Mitchell.  Hendrix’s engineer Eddie Kramer set up the mikes for recording, and according to writer Epstein, Kramer’s goal for this late-night session was to achieve a distinct live-in-concert sound for this particular track.  “Three takes later,” Epstein writes, “the slow blues ‘Voodoo Chile’ was committed to tape for posterity; audience sounds were subsequently overdubbed to give it more of a ‘club’ vibe.”  The completed jam clocked in just shy of fifteen minutes.

Peer musician and fellow guitarist Carlos Santana once weighed in on how inspiring and mind-blowing Hendrix was when playing “Voodoo Chile.”  On a website called ducksdeluxe.comSantana is quoted as saying "I especially always liked it when Jimi Hendrix would play the song and then he'd go on to, uh, Chainsaw Massacre Tasmanian Devil Aurora Borealis Galaxy.  I liked it when he'd start with the feedback…I'm sure he did it many times but I only saw him do it one time where the guitar became like an Aurora Borealis and all these colors of sound were screaming out of it even though he wasn't putting his fingers on it.  That's kinda like invoking ghosts or something and that's my favorite part that I miss about Jimi is when he would open up certain channels and let certain demons and angels dance together.”  [Editor’s note: Does this not sound, here and there, a bit more like Carl Sagan than Carlos Santana?!!]

Another noteworthy track on Electric Ladyland is actually a shortened version of Hendrix’s epic “Voodoo Chile.”  This song is “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and is five minutes long, but “slight” is not a word I’d ever use to describe it.  It hits the listener like a gale-force wind.  The tune was recorded in the studio on the morning of May 3rd by the Experience core unit—Hendrix, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding—as ABC Network cameras recorded them for a short news feature set up by the band’s publicist.  Recording engineer Eddie Kramer looked back on this in an article in Guitar World magazine that was published on August 19, 2013: “‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ was recorded the day after Jimi tracked ‘Voodoo Chile,’ the extended jam on Electric Ladyland featuring Traffic’s Stevie Winwood on organ and Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady.  Basically, Jimi used the same setup—his Strat through a nice, warm Fender Bassman amp.  Jimi’s sound on both tracks is remarkably consistent, leading some to think they were recorded at the same session.”

Electric Ladyland was the third Jimi Hendrix Experience album and their last as the original groundbreaking trio.  The group broke up officially in June of 1969…Hendrix then played at Woodstock with new bassist Billy Cox that August…Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys with Cox and new drummer Buddy Miles recorded an album at the Fillmore East right at the turn of the ‘60s into the ‘70s…and Hendrix, whose experiences always pressed the boundaries of the experimental, died in September 1970 in a London flat from a drug overdose.  He was 27 years old.

  William Shatner – The Transformed Man (his debut) – “Theme from Cyrano/Mr. Tambourine Man”  https://youtu.be/V6ZOIIp2wEo… and … “Spleen/Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”  https://youtu.be/Ls42F23V6rQ

William Shatner will always be remembered, and revered, as Captain James T. Kirk of the 1966-1969 television series Star Trek.  Though the program aired less than three years overall it hugely influenced popular culture for many years to come.  And that’s all fine, but did Captain Kirk have to record an album that lives in musical infamy?

Shatner was riding high as Kirk when he branched out to do a spoken word album that became his recording debut.  The result was The Transformed Man, a collection of tracks that each consisted of a bit of classic poetry immediately segueing into pop music lyrics.  At the age of fifteen and already a diehard follower of my generation’s emerging new music, I found my mind beclouded by Shatner’s recording.  My friends and I were honestly aghast at his decision to boldly go where no actor had gone before—in our view, “desecrating” our music—because we were alternately quite enamored of him as the heroic, crusading captain of our favorite fleet starship.  

Our respect for Shatner the man thus fizzled and died, though we eagerly continued to devour the various adventures of his alter ego Kirk until June 1969 when the television voyages of the Starship Enterprise came to a close.  I believe heavy metal musician/filmmaker Rob Zombie succinctly captured the appeal of the program to youthful male followers when he once stated: “James T. Kirk inspired me as a child.  What I learned from him was that even when stranded on a hostile alien planet, such as Beta Antares IV, there will always be an abundant surplus of hot alien babes in silver bikinis ready to party.”

  Jethro Tull – This Was (their debut) – “My Sunday Feeling” (from This Was)  https://youtu.be/nzjp-cFkNoE… and … “Bourée” (as performed by Ian Anderson and astronaut Cady Coleman)  https://youtu.be/XeC4nqBB5BM

1968 was the beginning of the Tull tale.  This Was, the British rock band’s debut album, reflected the group’s initial blues & jazz influences as exemplified by the swinging “My Sunday Feeling.”  Their approach to their second album and beyond gave way to more progressive rock leanings, but more importantly this debut record handed to rock music a real “first”—the flute as lead instrument.  Ian Anderson was the wild-eyed, high-stepping lead singer and flautist who had reportedly only picked up this instrument (a switch from guitar) a few months before the recording of the first album had begun.

Anderson continued to provide firsts throughout his career, none more acclaimed than the April 2011 first “Space/Planet Earth” duet, in which astronaut Cady Coleman of the International Space Station—220 miles above our planet—played with earthbound Anderson on the Tull instrumental "Bourée."  This jazzy reworking of a composition by Johann Sebastian Bach appears in its original form on Tull’s second album Stand Up (which immediately followed 1968’s This Was).  Coleman was a Tull fan and amateur flautist, and she had brought her instrument along with her on her six-month stay in space.  Her duet with Ian Anderson was performed in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first launch of a human being in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961.

  Nazz – Nazz (their debut) – “Open My Eyes”  https://youtu.be/apW-fj11T_k

When Nazz first formed in Philadelphia as part of the psychedelic wave of new artists emerging in the mid-to-late Sixties, multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren was twenty years old and a huge fan of the earliest British Invasion bands like The Beatles, The Who and The Yardbirds.  “Open My Eyes” was all slashing power chords and pop momentum, and the song’s conclusion was a noteworthy psychedelically phased fadeout.  It was the standout track on the album and the song gained a second spike in awareness within a larger pool of music fans four years later, when the soon-to-be prized compilation double album Nuggets: Originaly Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 hit record stores across the country.

Rundgren departed Nazz in 1969 and jumpstarted a solo career, recording and releasing a string of pop/rock albums throughout the 1970s and beyond, beginning with Runt (1970), Runt/The Ballad of Todd Rundgren(1971) and the double album Something/Anything? (1972).  A perpetually curious and resourceful do-it-yourselfer, Rundgren quickly progressed to the point of engineering and producing his albums while playing, in most instances, every note of every instrument and singing every lead and backup vocal.  And his prowess in production led to achievements in engineering and/or producing other artists’ works as well, including select recordings by The Band (Stagefright), Grand Funk (We’re an American Band)the New York Dolls self-titled debut and Meat Loaf’s debut (Bat Out of Hell).  Rundgren had essentially become—and here I’m appropriately copping the title from one of his later albums—a wizard, a true star.

  1910 Fruitgum Company – 1, 2, 3, Red Light (their 3rd) – “1, 2, 3, Red Light”  https://youtu.be/u1Vy8fNCn6Y

No scintillating social commentary from this band, but they were prolific.  In 1968 the 1910 Fruitgum Company released in quick succession several albums of musical goo—sticky sweet and disposable pop songs that were like an earwig, the insect from a classic TV episode of Rod Serling’s early-‘70s horror anthology program Night Gallery.  In this episode, the indiscriminately hungry insect finds its way into one unfortunate soul’s ear and the end result is essentially brain matter on a platter.  The 1910 Fruitgum Company’s songs similarly wormed their way into young impressionable minds back in 1968 and were incredibly hard to dislodge.

The band was a commercial contrivance of Buddah Records’ head Neil Bogart who felt that society needed a sugary break from the societal and cultural upheavals of the day, so he courted and/or constructed several bubblegum pop music groups that each churned out some chart-toppers.  The Fruitgum boys unleashed three total albums in 1968, with two of them yielding very popular bits of brain mush: “Simon Says” was the hit song from the band’s Simon Says album released in April, and the album 1, 2, 3, Red Light followed in October with its title song becoming a chart climber as well.  Also on this October release of theirs was another lip-smackin’ bubblegum favorite “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,” which was originally perpetrated on the public earlier that same year by a group called the Ohio Express.

  Traffic – Traffic (their 2nd) – “Forty Thousand Headmen”  https://youtu.be/pDI5BWmITNs… and … “Feelin’ Alright”  https://youtu.be/xYXxbtkGtW0

This was one of those cases where Traffic leads to a major collision.  The band had formed in the Spring of 1967 in Birmingham, England comprised of Steve Winwood (vocals/keyboards & guitar), Dave Mason (vocals/guitar), Jim Capaldi (vocals/drums & percussion) and Chris Wood (saxophone & flute).  After the band’s debut album Mr. Fantasy was released in the UK in late ’67 and in the U.S. in early ’68, Winwood and Mason each felt a strong tug to push the band down a set musical path.  Mason tended toward mainstream pop rock but Winwood more toward jazz and experimental folk-rock, so Dave Mason was kicked out the door—which turned out to be a revolving one.  

Mason was invited back into the band to record the second album Traffic, but then departed again when this record hit stores in October 1968.  The whole band then went kaput a few months after that.  But there was certainly magic to be savored in this second record through the dueling songwriting talents: Winwood & Capald brought about “Pearly Queen” and “Forty Thousand Headmen,” and Mason contributed “You Can All Join In” and the classic song “Feelin’ Alright” which became more or less immortalized by becoming Cocker-ized.  British singer Joe Cocker forever staked his claim to the song by covering it on his debut album With a Little Help from My Friends which came out in the spring of 1969.

  Walter Carlos – Switched-On Bach (his/her debut) – (link to way more info: http://www.wendycarlos.com/+sob.html)

Switched-On Bach was revelatory at the time.  On this album we heard for the first time Johann Sebastian’s mood music turned into Moog music, and this was one of the first widely hailed uses of the still relatively new Moog synthesizer.  The Moog then reportedly soared into even wider acceptance among musicians as previous stabs at experimentation with it were of limited scope and impact.  Switched-On Bach sparked such interest that the instrument’s creator, American engineer Robert Moog, received numerous requests by musicians across the spectrum.  In rock music the Moog then found its way into select songs by The Beatles on their Abbey Road album, and into some Rolling Stones and Doors’ tunes, and it was especially well received by newly emerging progressive rock groups of the era such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes and Tangerine Dream.

A sidebar about Walter Carlos switching sides: four years after the initial release of Switched-On Bach in 1968, Walter Carlos became Wendy Carlos through sex reassignment surgery reportedly made possible in part by the success of the album.  Two more albums from Carlos followed in 1973 and 1975—ostensibly for marketing reasons still under the name Walter instead of Wendy—but then in 1979 Wendy went public with the news through an interview with Playboy Magazine.  Her revelations through the media at this time ultimately helped jumpstart the consciousness-raising of transgender issues in this country. 

(In the place of a sample track from Switched-On Bach, which YouTube seemingly does not have the rights to upload onto its site, I have supplied a link to a much more fleshed-out “behind the music” look at Switched-On Bach at wendycarlos.com).

NOVEMBER

  Neil Young – Neil Young (his debut) – “The Loner”  https://youtu.be/rX5bDqk7Qmo

Young was a founding member of revered L.A.-based rock group Buffalo Springfield and this talented ensemble split asunder in July 1968 due to band tensions, diverging interests, some drugs in the picture, and more.  Four months later the 23-year-old Neil Young released his first solo album Neil Young, and I eagerly scooped it up one Saturday afternoon at the local Woolworths department store in my hometown of Butler, PA.  I had been an avid Springfield fan, and so this solo debut of Neil’s was my springboard to forever thinking Young.

I found a few online reviews recently that confirmed my conflicted feelings about the album. This was a transitional work with a few gems—including the can’t-miss track “The Loner”—but greatness was still on the horizon.  The online music-oriented blog site progrography.com says in its review “His first record is more or less an extension of his work with Buffalo Springfield: fuzzed-out electric guitar, folk/pop with psychedelic touches, ambitious arrangements that sometimes overreach their audience and a certain lyrical obtuseness that suggests a more rustic Bob Dylan.”  

And Pitchfork.com’s December 11, 2009 review by contributor Mark Richardson describes the album as a “fine psych-tinged folk-rock set with colorful arrangements and top-shelf instrumental contributors…But Young himself sounds oddly tentative throughout, as if he weren't quite sure what he wanted his music to sound like…There are echoes of the great music to come, like the ballad ‘The Old Laughing Lady,’ and the arrangements are lush and inviting, but Neil Young in a sense represents a road not taken, and it's most interesting now in comparison to what was to come.”

Copy that.  Just one year later Young had corralled Crazy Horse, his merry men back-up band, and recorded and released Everybody Know This Is Nowhere.  Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson ended his review of Young’s self-titled solo debut album by saying “The opening riff to ‘Cinnamon Girl,’ the song that kicks off Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, erases the memory of Neil Young completely in about five seconds.”

  John Mayall – Blues from Laurel Canyon (his 6thstudio album) – “Walking on Sunset”  https://youtu.be/D8ZlvuuRlkY

John Mayall was an English blues musician who just might have been rock music’s greatest talent scout.  He helmed a band called The Bluesbreakers and between 1963 and 1967 as various members climbed aboard for a spell but then set sail elsewhere, Mayall replaced each departing musician with someone equally suited to the task.  The Bluesbreakers courtesy of Mayall’s ear to the ground and eye for musical talent featured, along the band’s pathway, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Mick Taylor, Aynsley Dunbar, Andy Fraser, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Keef Hartley…

Blues from Laurel Canyon was Mayall’s first album after the breakup of The Bluesbreakers in mid 1968, and the inspiration for this record resulted from Mayall’s visit to Laurel Canyon, a mountainous region in the Hollywood Hills West district of Los Angeles.  After recording the album back in London Mayall moved to Laurel Canyon and stayed the next ten years, settling in with a burgeoning crowd of talented musicians who had flocked to the area including Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, members of The Byrds, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Carole King, Canned Heat, members of The Eagles, Jackson Browne and many more.  Blues From Laurel Canyon proved to be a transitional album for Mayall—still blues, but with other hues.  And this new home base for Mayall set him on a new path that resulted just one year later in the acoustic instrument-dominated live album The Turning Point, a real triumph in this blues man’s enduring catalogue of memorable works.

  Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (his 2nd) – “Cypress Avenue”  https://youtu.be/dlMjmXb69NI

This was the second album from Northern Irish singer-songwriter Morrison.  The first—1967’s Blowin’ Your Mind!—was a thrown-together affair by Morrison’s old record label Bang who did so without his consent, though it did give wings once again to his hit single “Brown Eyed Girl.”  1968’s Astral Weeks was a startling departure, says allmusic.com writer William Ruhlmann: “Astral Weeks is generally considered one of the best albums in pop music history, but for all that renown, it is anything but an archetypal rock & roll album.  It isn't a rock & roll album at all…Morrison’s songs are an instinctive, organic mixture of Celtic folk, blues, and jazz…They are, for the most part, extended, incantatory, loosely narrative, and poetic ruminations on his Belfast upbringing: its characters, shops, streets, alleys, and sidewalks, all framed by the innocence and passage of that era.” 

Unfortunately Ruhlmann’s critical assessment is just a look backward, for most every review from the year of the album’s release was at best lukewarm and the public as well just kind of shrugged.  Sales success eluded AstralWeeks and was quite dispiriting to both Morrison and his brand new record label Warner Brothers.  But the singer-songwriter refocused and retooled his approach to the next album, and two years later the galvanizing Moondance blew down record store doors and saturated the airwaves.  Van the Man was well on his way.

  The Beatles –  The White Album (their 9th) – “Revolution 1” (from the White Album)  https://youtu.be/OmsXsIv2Ppw… “Revolution” (the “radio single” version prior to the White Album’s release)  https://youtu.be/BGLGzRXY5Bw

I’ll wager that most people ages 18 to 80 know at least a bit about The Beatles’ double-record set commonly called the White Album, so I am honing in on just one of the interesting aspects of this release that pointedly centers on the social upheaval that was rocking our country in 1968.

John Lennon wrote the song “Revolution” that year.  The things that spurred him into action were American cities reeling from the turmoil of civil rights disturbances and anti-war demonstrations, but also the turbulence abroad—Paris contending with student protests and workers’ strikes, Czechoslovakia experiencing the Prague Spring, and on and on. 

Lennon was a pacifist at heart but “Revolution” is a clear case of mixed messages from the man, for he wrote and then released two different versions of the song—and the difference comes down to a single word.  In August of 1968, three months before the White Album’s release, the Fab Four released to radio their newest single “Hey Jude.”  Lennon had successfully pressed his mates to agree to make the “B” side of this single his song “Revolution” and in this version of the tune Lennon sings “But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out.”  Reportedly Lennon and the boys then received blowback from fans for this sentiment, particularly from ones who were way left of center in their political world-view.  The tune rocked, though, with guitar distortion and Lennon’s searing lead vocal, and radio of course embraced it.

But a surprise was in store for Beatle’s fans—or at least the most astute of Beatles’ fans—when the White Album was released in November.  Side four of this double album kicked off with a revised “Revolution”—now called “Revolution 1”—that was slower and more bluesy, its messaging loping along rather than racing and raging as in the “radio singles” version released in August.  Lennon’s lyrics on this new version on the White Album“But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out, in.”  This one-word addition to the lyrics illustrated Lennon’s bit of ambivalence over the use of violence in political protests—and it’s interesting to note that this medium-tempo album cut “Revolution 1” was actually the first of the two versions recorded by the boys, yet it came second in terms of reaching the public’s ears (through the White Album).

  John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins (their first collaborative recording) – Side One in its entirety: https://youtu.be/Muaw4pPD_O8

Right on the heels of the Beatles’ White Album, the married-to-someone-else John Lennon and his brand new love and artistic confidant Yoko Ono recorded and released the album Unfinished Music No. 1:Two Virgins.  The album was doubly surprising in terms of its cover artwork and its content.  The cover of the album was a full frontal photo of John & Yoko standing together, and the album’s backside was…well, their backsides.  The record label was wary of the artists’ decision so a brown paper wrapper was ordered to cloak the front and the back of the album—with the exception of John & Yoko’s faces—before it was shipped out in bulk for public consumption.  

According to Schmidtt, a contributing writer to rateyourmusic.com (a site self-described as “one of the largest music databases and communities online”), John Lennon had made a deal to exclusively provide fledging music magazine owner Jann Wenner with an advance copy of the posteriors photo.  This photo then ran as the cover of the Rolling Stone issue dated 11/23//68 that hit newsstands and bookstores just before Two Virgins hit record stores.  This move, says Schmidtt, was “a major coup for the struggling magazine.  The controversy engendered by the cover…easily made this the most successful issue of Rolling Stone up to this point.”  

Unsurprisingly, Rolling Stone reviewer Jonathan Cott later on in March 1969 gave the album an ecstatic review, although most critics and a rather large swath of the public were simply baffled by it.  “Two Virgins must have been a shock to fans coming on the heels of The White Album,” says Schmidtt, “yet even in the context of the avant-garde, this was hardly the ground-breaking experimental work Jonathan Cott purports it to be.  As William Ruhlmann later wrote, Two Virgins ‘is not unlike what you might get if you turned on a tape recorder for a random half-hour in your home.’  

“To my ears,” concludes Schmidtt, “this mind-numbing LP makes 'Revolution #9' sound like Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.”

DECEMBER

  Blood, Sweat & Tears – Blood, Sweat & Tears (their 2nd) – “God Bless the Child”  https://youtu.be/3qS9JMJ0aaE

Blood, Sweat & Tears is making its second appearance in Musicasaurus.com’s three-part wrap-up of the formative, fascinating albums that rolled on out to record stores and radio stations in 1968, a landmark year of divisions and unity and shifting social & cultural norms.  The first mention of BS&T was in Musicasaurus.com’s 2/21/21 roundup in the February listings, noting that musician Al Kooper was the initial driving force behind the formation of the band and the recording and release of the critically acclaimed first album Child is Father to the Man.  Kooper and two other musicians departed the band after this first album and two of BS&T’s remaining members scoured for a lead singer, eventually settling on a charismatic front man from Toronto, Canada named David Clayton-Thomas.

Clayton-Thomas’ addition helped serve to overhaul the sound of BS&T.  The music became less adventurous and risk-taking according to some critics including Jon Landau of Rolling Stone magazine, but the general public responded to the changes with open arms and opened-up pocketbooks.  Select songs from this clearly more pop-oriented album became ubiquitous on hit radio stations across the country through the beginning months of 1969, spurring an explosion of sales for this second album that easily dwarfed the first.  I must admit that certain BS&T #2 tracks sounded great on my parents’ stereo console and the song arrangements and execution were polished if not entirely riveting.  The album was just a bit formulaic and, sigh, wasn’t any kind of game changer.  Fed and led by radio play, though, this album conquered the national sales charts and led to Grammy wins and other accolades.

The chart-climbing hit songs from this album were “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” (first heard in 1967 as performed by Motown’s Tamla label recording artist Brenda Holloway), “Spinning Wheel” (a David Clayton-Thomas original), and “And When I Die” (a cover of a song originally written and recorded by Laura Nyro).  And…Musicasaurus.com will always have a soft spot for BS&T’s version of “God Bless the Child,” a cover of the 1941 Billie Holiday classic.

  Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet (their 9thAmerican studio album release) – “Street Fighting Man”  https://youtu.be/SY9nmXV0ieY

“Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy / 'Cause summer's here and the time is right / For fighting in the street, boy”…The Rolling Stones was yet another group caught up in and reflecting back on the rocking, roiling year of 1968 with its upheavals and political unrest in spots across the globe.  “Street Fighting Man” opened up side two of this Stones record which was a return to form after the band’s last album, their excursion into psychedelica, 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request.  Beggars Banquet, coming exactly one year after that, was infused with the blues and a bit of country amidst the rock ‘n’ roll.  It quickly became a Stones triumph in sales (helped by radio’s embrace of side one’s opener “Sympathy for the Devil”) and most critics lined up with praises for the album as well.

In Mark Paytress’ 2003 book on the band, The Rolling Stones: Off the Record, Mick Jagger is asked about “Street Fighting Man” and the airplay ban on it by Chicago radio stations in the summer of 1968.  The song had been released (ahead of Beggars Banquet’s December release) as a single to radio stations in August, and this just happened to coincide with the Democratic National Convention in Chicago where anti-war rioters were wild in the streets and the police were flexing their muscles (and wielding batons) in a major crackdown.  Chicago radio stations temporarily withdrew “Street Fighting Man” from their playlists for fear of further incitement, and Jagger commented “I'm rather pleased to hear they have banned (the song).  The last time they banned one of our records in America, it sold a million.”  When told that stations thought the record was subversive, Jagger replied, “Of course it's subversive!  It's stupid to think you can start a revolution with a record. I wish you could.”

Also in 1968, the Stones mined a televised opportunity to help promote the release of Beggars Banquet.  On December 11thand 12thin a London studio the band put on a show entitled The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus with invited musical guests playing on a makeshift circus stage, and an audience of followers dressed in a variety of colorful hats, cloaks and wraps that looked lifted en masse from a Carnaby Street boutique.  The guest artists included Jethro Tull, John and Yoko, Taj Mahal, The Who and Marianne Faithfull who each had a turn in the spotlight.  The Stones played “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” from earlier works, but largely concentrated on material from Beggars Banquet including “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Salt of the Earth,” “Parachute Woman” and “No Expectations.”  

The finished television special never saw the light of day, however, to actually help promote Beggars Banquet’s December release.  A number of reasons have been cited for this including the group’s reported dissatisfaction with some aspects of the performances, but finally this interesting period piece made it to home video (and compact disc) almost thirty years after the fact.  The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus video was released on VHS in 1996 and subsequently on DVD in 2004.

  James Taylor – James Taylor (his album debut) – “Carolina in my Mind”  https://youtu.be/Ss3uDHsGz44

Taylor at the age of twenty signed a recording deal with The Beatles’ Apple Records, and his self-titled first studio album (following an earlier extended-play, or EP, recording) debuted shortly thereafter in December 1968.  The Boston-born singer-songwriter had auditioned directly with Paul McCartney and George Harrison in London and ended up being the first non-Brit to be signed to the Beatles’ label.  And Taylor’s producer on the record, Peter Asher, eventually became his manager.  As The Beatles were busy in the studio recording the White Album Taylor was there on the premises as well, refining songs for inclusion on his record like “Something in the Way She Moves” (a bit of an inspiration for George Harrison’s “Something”) and “Carolina in my Mind” (on which McCartney ended up playing bass, with Harrison contributing backing vocals).

In the U.S. edition of The Guardian, on February 17, 2020, interviewer Jenny Stevens talked with Taylor about his career path including his time with Apple Records, but also about his subsequent move to Los Angeles the year after his debut album James Taylor was released in late 1968.  Taylor, who since the age of sixteen had been in and out of bouts with depression and especially drugs, went into a rehab facility and moved to Laurel Canyon which was, according to Stevens, “becoming a haven for the young, politically aware and creative.”  

The Troubadour nightclub in particular became a mecca for aspiring singer-songwriters, and Taylor told his interviewer that this Laurel Canyon environment for him was a dream situation: "‘It really was a perfect moment, that Laurel Canyon period,’ Taylor recalled.  ‘Carole lived up there, Joni and I lived in her house there for the better part of a year.  The record companies were relatively benign and there were people in them who cared about the music and the artists—it hadn’t become a corporate monolith yet.  There was a sense of there being a community: myself, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Crosby, Stills and Nash.  David Geffen was in the mix a lot.  Linda Ronstadt, Peter Asher, Harry Nilsson.  You know, it was pretty much what they say.  Things really worked well.’”

In early 1970 Taylor released his second studio album Sweet Baby James, riding the wave of California’s crystallizing singer-songwriter movement that was gaining steam and growing a fan base as the ‘70s dawned.

  Electric Flag – An American Music Band (their 2nd) – “Sunny”  https://youtu.be/WVe7nDfbj5c

Electric Flag—a mixed-bag band of rock and blues and some soul—had originally been cobbled together in San Francisco in 1967 by blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield.  The talented lineup included singer/drummer Buddy Miles who stepped up to the leadership role for this second record after Bloomfield exited only a few months after the band’s initial album was released in March 1968.  The quality of musicianship here is high—aided by the group’s four-piece horn section—but the song selections as a whole don’t jell quite enough to make this album a must-have.  But hey, there IS this one song “Sunny”…

“Sunny” was originally a hit for Nashville-based African-American singer Bobby Hebb in 1966.  Amazingly it became a smash across three national radio formats that year—Pop, Rhythm & Blues, and Country & Western.  And the song has since by covered by a mind-dizzying number of signature artists including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, The Four Seasons, Marvin Gaye, Cher, Boney M and many others—but for my money it is Electric Flag’s “Sunny.”

On An American Music Band Electric Flag cranks up the voltage and turns Bobby Hebb’s soul-jazz version into a funk-fueled rhythm & blues monster.  Drummer and vocalist Buddy Miles, supported by the nine other stellar musicians who comprised this fine 1960s ensemble, injects the tune with an unbridled vocal passion that borders on tour de force.  

  Spirit – The Family That Plays Together (their 2nd) – “I Got a Line on You”  https://youtu.be/mzoQvuCfin4

The formation of the versatile, groundbreaking band Spirit came about because of something that didn’t happen.  In the spring of 1966 the mother and stepfather of Randy California (real name Randy Craig Wolfe) moved the family to New York City from Los Angeles because of upcoming summer bookings there secured by gig drummer/stepfather Ed Cassidy.  Young California was a bit of a wunderkind, quite accomplished on guitar, and in NYC he reportedly by chance ran into Jimi Hendrix in Manny’s Music, a long established music instrument store in midtown Manhattan.  The two clicked and California was asked to join Hendrix’s current band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames for their NYC summer shows.  Some sources say that during that summer California was asked by former Animals bassist and future Hendrix manager Chas Chandler to come over to England to join him and Jimi there in other musical pursuits.  But California’s parents would not let him go—he was only fifteen at the time and they insisted he finish high school back in Los Angeles. 

Instead of possibly joining Hendrix’s soon-to-be-formed band the Experience, then, California went back to L.A. and formed Spirit in 1967 with his stepfather Cassidy, singer-songwriter Jay Ferguson, bassist Mark Andes and keyboard player John Locke.  The multi-talented quintet produced four innovative and eclectic recordings between 1968-1970—their self-titled debut, The Family That Plays Together, Clear and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus—but shortly thereafter largely due to a lack of solid success the original lineup scattered in other directions.  But those first four releases truly enchanted a number of fervent followers across the U.S. who came to love the band’s boundary-pushing approach to both songwriting and the recording process.  Spirit spun out rock, prog-rock, near-folk tunes, bits of psychedelia, jazz passages and even some string-laden classical instrumentals—but all composed and executed with aplomb.  

The track “I Got a Line on You” from 1968’s The Family That Plays Together is the one from the Spirit catalogue that was a bona fide hit in the USA, climbing to #25 in the country on music industry magazine Billboard’s “Hot 100.”  And the album itself, which reached #22 on the magazine’s “Top 200 Albums” chart, is an impressive sonic swirl from beginning to end.  The band had moved beyond their self-titled debut album’s lean on psychedelica, and with great songwriting, guitar layers, keen engineering of the sounds they employed, and the weaving in of other musical styles, The Family That Plays Together was quite an achievement.  Thus Musicasaurus.com proclaims, loudly, that this album is made to be played LOUD.

  Elvis Presley – Elvis (NBC-TV Special) (his 34th) – “Jailhouse Rock”  https://youtu.be/xqBdTn3_0Rw

I never knew he had so many nicknames.  “The Hillbilly Cat,” “The Memphis Flash,” “The Hoppin’ Hillbilly,” “The Vibrating Valentino,” “The Tennessee Troubadour,” “Mr. Hound-Dog,” “Ol’ Snake Hips,” “Mr. Sideburns,” “The Pied Piper of Rock ’n’ Roll”…oh, and due to the entirely blocked-out (by censors) lower-half of Elvis’ body on his third Ed Sullivan Show appearance on January 6, 1957, we can never forget “Elvis the Pelvis.”

1968 was Elvis’ return to form.  According to graceland.com, Elvis’ comeback special airing on December 3rd on NBC was a “pivotal broadcast event that upped-the-ante on Elvis' career, the evolution of pop culture and the history of television.  By 1968, prior to the broadcast, Elvis was no longer seen by the mainstream as the atomic-powered rock and roll pioneer.  Since his discharge from the United States Army in 1960, Elvis' career path careened through a string of low-budget (though often successful) formulaic films while the rock music scene was exploding with innovation, experimentation, and an urgency to complement the turbulent era.  Elvis hadn't performed in public since 1961 and hadn't appeared on television since 1960.”

This TV special was recorded over several nights in June 1968, and presented Elvis in several settings.  It included an intimate seated performance on a small stage with guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer DJ Fontana, his mates from his early years; bigger production numbers featuring medleys; and a couple of songs backed by an orchestra and performed in front of a live audience.  The response from the public to the broadcast, and to the album that captured it, recharged and refocused The King.  His career began to balloon back on track with subsequent Memphis, Tennessee recording sessions that produced chart-position leapfroggers like “Suspicious Minds” and “In The Ghetto.”  And in 1969, Elvis began “livin’ las vegas loca”—he signed up for the first of many Vegas hotel engagements which then sustained him through the rest of his career.

But that TV special from December 1968…Today it is still considered a cultural touchstone.  As graceland.com further recounts, “For millions of fans, including a young Bruce Springsteen, the Elvis 68 Comeback Special was a life-changing event.  ‘I remember I waited for weeks for the ’68 Special," Springsteen recollected recently.  ‘I knew it was coming.  I can remember exactly where our TV was set up in the dining room, the exact place I was sitting.  I mean, it’s one of those things that’s imprinted on my memory forever.’”

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 3/7/21.....ALL THOSE YEARS AGO (Part Two of Three)

   July.....August.....September.

In the previous post on musicasaurus.com (2/21/21), we dug deep into the albums released during the first six months of the year 1968.  Now we uncover other spellbinding releases from July, August and September of that year—and we’ve added in a meaty, meaningful song selection from each...

JULY 

  The Band – Music From Big Pink (their debut) – “The Weight”  https://youtu.be/QWu-f7HFFJE

About five miles away from Woodstock, New York in a salmon-colored, four-bedroom ranch house with a large basement, a band of musical brothers moved in to concentrate on writing and making music in early 1967.  One year later The Band’s debut album Music From Big Pink was the result.  In a short “Bio Bite” on the website biography.com, you’ll find a brief but praise-filled video clip of Eric Clapton speaking about the group and its initial release. 

Clapton talks about how The Band somehow managed to amalgamate a lot of his contemporaries’ black and country music influences and put it altogether on a startling new record that had great songwriting and musicianship par excellence.  “What I liked, I think, from the word go was a very clear and defined sense of direction.  They knew exactly what they were about.  There was no con; there was no bullshit.  It was absolutely legitimate songwriting without any kind of frills, and just performance with the best that they had to give.”  Clapton by this point in time had become dispirited over his own musical direction, and hearing Music From Big Pink so affected him that he broke up his incredibly successful blues-based psychedelic rock band Cream and launched into much more organic-sounding material through various stints with Blind Faith, Derek and The Dominos and then Delaney & Bonnie.  

Guitarist Jim Weider, who joined The Band in the early 1980s after the group came back together (sans Robertson) for the first time since 1976, commented on Music From Big Pink in a Billboard Magazine 7/1/2018 article by Ron Hunt.  “Big Pink is a landmark,” Weider noted.  “That was the beginning of Americana, which wasn’t a label back then.  It was totally anti-psychedelic and everything everybody was into at the time.  The songs had a story, and you could relate to them.  They took you on a journey.”  Music From Big Pink included the songs “Tears of Rage,” “Chest Fever,” “This Wheel’s on Fire,” “I Shall Be Released” and, of course, “The Weight.”

  The Doors – Waiting for the Sun (their 3rd) – “Five to One”  https://youtu.be/oOzpncIHCLs

If you are of a certain age and directly experienced and then fell in love with 1960s and 1970s music, you might be overlooking the fact that your worship of certain artists and albums is totally subjective—where were you, WHO were you, when you first heard certain songs or first ripped the shrink-wrap off of an artist’s new release?  There’s a bit of consensus among fans and critics back then and now in retrospect that The Doors’ third album Waiting For The Sun is not as exciting and incendiary, and as impressive, as their first two releases.  The initial reviews by Rolling Stone magazine and some other critics were lukewarm at best.  Rolling Stone’s Jim Miller wrote a review in September 1968 that “Listening to the Doors’ new album, Waiting For The Sun, reminded me…of how good the first Doors album was, yet after a year and a half of Jim Morrison’s posturing one might logically hope for some sort of musical growth, and if the new record isn’t really terrible, it isn’t particularly exciting either.”  

Another music critic, the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau renowned for his Consumer Guide, looked back at the band through his review of the 2001 compilation album The Very Best of the Doors.  Christgau wrote “Shaman, poet, lizard king—believe that guff and you'll miss a great pop band.  Ass man, schlockmeister, cosmic slimeball—that's where Jim Morrison's originality lies, and he's never been better represented.  Right beneath the back-door macho resides a weak-willed whine as El Lay as Jackson Browne's, and the struggle between the two would have landed him in Vegas if he hadn't achieved oblivion in Paris first.” (Paris is where Morrison died at the age of 27, a quite possible but never truly substantiated death by overdose.)  Christgau’s musings on Morrison may be harsh stuff but subjectively speaking, your judgment of the Lizard King and the band is the one that counts.  Musicasaurus is providing the link above to “Five To One” but feel free to open up your own doors of perception and sample other tracks from Waiting For The Sun like “Hello, I Love You” or “The Unknown Soldier.” 

  Tyrannosaurus Rex (later known as T. Rex) – My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair...But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (their debut) – “Child Star”  https://youtu.be/UC_hIE8mBZw

Fans of fantasy may delight that this particular theme runs through a lot of the musical works of English musician/singer-songwriter Marc Bolan, and certainly the elongated title of this first album provides a big clue.  Bolan ended up being incredibly popular in Britain especially in the early 1970s and he is looked upon as one of glam rock’s pioneers.  

His early material with Tyrannosaurus Rex (1968-1969) incorporated some Middle Eastern influences amid the folk-meets-psychedelia, but after three albums with duo partner Steve Peregine Took he changed partners and welcomed in percussionist Mickey Finn.  Bolan and Finn’s musical output began to shed the fantasy and folk emphases as well as their go-to instruments such as the Pixiphone (toy glockenspiels) in favor of electric guitars and a more fleshed-out rock sound which culminated (commercially speaking) in 1971’s Electric Warrior.  This was the first T. Rex album that sported additional members in full rock-band mode and the second to bear their new, shortened name T. Rex.  A few months after the release of Electric Warrior, the band broke through big-time over in the USA as Bolan rapturously, in one noteworthy song, banged a gong and got it on.  

This creative soul unfortunately died young; he didn’t exactly follow in the footsteps of the “27 club”—i.e., Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison who all perished at 27 in a three-year period at the turn of the Sixties—but Bolan only lived two more years longer than they did.  He died in a car crash in September 1977 at the age of 29.

  Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills – Super Session (this trio’s one and only release) – “Season of the Witch”  https://youtu.be/fhGD-CybjDk

The three principals on this quickly concocted recording had just left, or were in the process of leaving, their respective bands—blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield from The Electric Flag, musician/producer Al Kooper from Blood, Sweat & Tears, and guitarist Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield.  Kooper was the instigator for the session having jammed with Bloomfield earlier in 1968 on a Moby Grape release.  According to michaelbloomfield.com, Kooper was restless to give the guitarist an atmosphere that would potentially unshackle him from the typical rock record studio setting.  He wanted to capture the essence of jazz recordings, which around that time usually involved a full steam ahead approach with quick player mobilization and only a handful of days to record and finalize an album. 

When Bloomfield never materialized for the second day of recording—having contributed to a handful of bluesy instrumentals the day before—session producer Kooper put out a quick call to Stills to fill the bill and the latter sizzled on the eventual second side of the album with tracks including a long and luxurious cover of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch.”  Some rock critics have postulated that this was the first recorded “supergroup” situation; following shortly on the heels of Super Session was (coincidentally or not) the formation of groups including Crosby, Stills & Nash and the teaming up of Eric Clapton with Steve Winwood in Blind Faith.

  Miles Davis – Miles in the Sky (as best we can determine, this release was his 42nd(!) album in terms of the artist’s total output) – “Stuff”  https://youtu.be/C9rDt8SuH7k

According to those that pigeonhole—some call it catalogue—musicians’ careers and their evolution, jazz legend Miles Davis had two great quintets on his long and winding road of producing landmark recordings.  Davis’ first lasted from 1955 to 1958 (principally composed of John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones) and the second from 1964 to 1969 (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams).  It was this latter outfit that produced this pivotal recording with leader Miles.  Reportedly the album’s title was a play on The Beatle’s song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and through that alone maybe one could sense the shift beginning to happen in Miles’ music.  In an August 2019 roundup and ranking of Miles Davis’ top twenty recordings by writer John Fordham in theguardian.com, Miles in the Sky comes in at #19 and Fordham labels it a “patchily intriguing set…flagging the ever-changing Miles’ migration from free-swinging jazz to rock.”  This was truly a transitional album for Miles; just one year later, an electrifying, now gone-electric Miles released the seminal album In A Silent Way.

  Moody Blues – In Search of the Lost Chord (their 3rd) – “Legend of a Mind”  https://youtu.be/2WMA3LVi6Zg

This band of Brits was originally rhythm & blues-based but changed directions in 1967 at the advice of their record label Decca, practically birthing the meld of classical music and rock ‘n’ roll through their resulting album Days of Future Passed (their second release).  This mix of orchestral sweep and British rock lodged in my fourteen-year-old brain and spurred my search for even more things with mellotrons and strings.  And the subsequent Moody’s release did not disappoint; there were beautiful and billowy tunes such as “Voices in the Sky” but also classical-infused rockers like “Ride My See-Saw” and the chosen sample track listed above, “Legend Of A Mind.”  Perhaps the latter song was a result of acid reflex—four of the band members reportedly had experimented with LSD in early 1967, and the song itself centers on the charismatic and controversial 1960s psychedelic shaman, Timothy Leary (sample lyrics: “He'll fly his astral plane / He'll take you trips around the bay / He'll bring you back the same day / Timothy Leary…Timothy Leary.”

  Buffalo Springfield – Last Time Around (their 3rdand final) – “Questions”  https://youtu.be/fG0OarAwNhE

This band is one that holds a special place on rock genealogy charts, as three key members spun out of the band’s total two-year existence (April 1966 – May 1968) into other pursuits and projects and much wider recognition.  What had sprung up to end Springfield?  Drug busts, infighting, and (at the end) revolving-door band members—all of this fussin’ and feudin’ just ended up, thankfully, jettisoning the core members into their much greater adventures, collaborations and fame.  Guitarist/singer-songwriter Richie Furay went on to form Poco, and multi-instrumentalists/singer-songwriters Stephen Stills and Neil Young both went on to forge the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and to establish solo careers as well.  In retrospect, Last Time Around foretold the forward motion of these songwriting talents, as the record held compositional triumphs such as Furay’s “Kind Woman,” Stills’ “Questions” (a portion of which ended up later on being grafted onto the CSNY song “Carry On”), and Young’s “On The Way Home” and “I Am A Child.”

  Phil Ochs – Tapes from California(his 5th– “White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land”  https://youtu.be/VLLLsbAPNIQ

Eight albums and hundreds of songs—this was the legacy of the unfortunately largely unheralded Phil Ochs, a Sixties troubadour and troublemaker (the latter a handle handed out by “The Establishment”).  Ochs was witty, wily and prolific.  He wrote scores of songs dealing with America’s wrongdoings and about issues of justice and peace, and he spouted activism armed with just a clear, strong voice and an acoustic guitar.  In an allmusic.com review of Tapes from California, reviewer William Ruhlmann notes that this album which hit midyear in perhaps the most turbulent time period of the Sixties “was often hard to listen to, because it was such a frighteningly accurate portrait of its times, eerily mirroring the point at which passionate argument over the direction of the country spilled over into violence and a widespread sense of absurdity.” 

Musicasaurus.com’s sample track from Tapes from California is “White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land,” which includes damningly defiant lyrics such as “It's written in the ashes of the village towns we burn / It's written in the empty bed of the fathers unreturned / And the chocolate in the children’s eyes will never understand / When you're white boots marching in a yellow land.”  (p.s. Ochs did not go gently into that good night.  As the 1970s hit, he descended into mental problems due to a bipolar disorder and also was plagued with alcoholism.  He took his own life in 1976.)

AUGUST 

  Jeff Beck – Truth (his debut solo album) – “You Shook Me”  https://youtu.be/mRCGAyCe5gs

Jeff Beck, one of the original Sixties British guitar gods along with Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, has continued to produce compelling works to this day, exploring new sonic directions and collaborations to keep him challenged and to keep us fixated, if not outright flabbergasted.  Many decades back, the guitarist had been in The Yardbirds until the end of 1966 and Truth was his first substantial foray into solo recording, but he was well-armed—he’d picked up, to back him up, singer Rod Stewart, guitarist Ronnie Wood and session drummer Micky Waller. 

In a 11/28/06 article on Jeff Beck in PopMatters, an online pop culture magazine founded in 1999, Andrew Gilstrap discusses the impact of Beck’s Truth and Beck-Ola albums from this late ‘60s time period.  Gilstrap points out that “some credit Truth and Beck-Ola with laying the groundwork for heavy metal; whether or not that’s the case, there’s no denying his early influence.  Several techniques that we take for granted now—call and response between singer and guitar, phased guitar effects panning back and forth in the listener’s headphones, distortion—sounded fresh at this time, and Beck put them to good use with his new band.”

  Cream – Wheels of Fire (their 3rd) – “White Room”  https://youtu.be/V5BF1V1pbTs

Checking out various online sources, there is a bit of a discrepancy as to when Wheels of Fire was released in the USA—some said June in the States and August in the UK, but others maintain it was August here in the USA.  No great whoop; we’ll just park it here for discussion’s sake in this look at the essential third-quarter album releases from 1968.  I DO remember buying this double album along with Buffalo Springfield’s Last Time Around, and playing bits and pieces of both of them for my mom on our living room’s stereo console (phonograph cabinet).  I recall her saying that the Springfield sounded “nice” but that the Cream album was “too much noise”—in retrospect, I think she should have been a rock critic. 

Wheels of Fire is half studio (the first disc) and half live (the second disc, which contains select live-in-concert performances from March 7, 8 and/or 10, 1968 recorded at the San Francisco venues Winterland and the Fillmore).  I’m thinking now that my mom may have been majorly turned off by the excesses in length and fury that comprised that second disc.  But the studio tracks on disc #1 are ones to covet including the ubiquitous FM radio staple “White Room” and “Politician,” lesser known gems including “Deserted Cities of the Heart,” and the band’s covers of “Sitting On Top of the World” and “Born Under a Bad Sign.”  On the live disc “Crossroads” is also quite riveting, but this is balanced by—or rather, unbalanced by—the long, egregious and ego-serving performances of “Spoonful” (kudos, though, to Clapton’s prowess) and “Toad” (drummer Ginger Baker’s thirteen-minute solo in a sixteen-minute song).  To have been at the concert back then all hopped-up on “Toad” might have truly been hellacious but now listening anew it’d just be hellish.  You’d be tapping your foot, but it would only be from impatience.

  Big Brother & The Holding Company – Cheap Thrills (their 2nd) –  “Piece of My Heart”  https://youtu.be/ms1oXOtvfNY

A June 13, 2017 opinion piece in the New York Times written by Kevin D. Greene was entitled “The Greatest Musical Festival in History” and it looked back fifty years to the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, staged at a fairgrounds in Monterey, California where a crowd of 200,000 ultimately converged.  Greene described this as a “touchstone moment for the fusion of rock music, antiwar politics and the millions of young people…who that summer provided the driving force behind both.”  This was the setting in which Big Brother & The Holding Company’s lead singer Janis Joplin literally took center stage.  According to Greene she was still relatively unknown at that point, but “floored the music industry luminaries backstage with her gut-wrenching blues, immediately elevating her career into superstardom.”

San Franciscan psychedelic rock band Big Brother & The Holding Company had released their self-titled debut album in August 1967 two months after Monterey Pop, but it took the release of second album Cheap Thrills exactly one year later for Janis and company to really break through to a national audience.  The track listed here, “Piece of My Heart,” was originally recorded by Aretha Franklin’s sister Erma in 1967 but it pervaded public consciousness on a much grander scale with Joplin’s searing treatment of it on Cheap Thrills.  The album cover was courtesy of underground comics artist Robert Crumb, and arguably it is the crème de la Crumb.  Originally supposed to be the record’s back cover bearing song titles and band member credits, it was then flipped to become the front cover when the band’s original concept of “all of us nude in bed” was nixed by nervous sorts at the label.  

This album was Joplin’s last with the band.  She left Big Brother in December 1968 having been signed by Columbia Artists for a solo career which kicked off with the release of her album I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! in September 1969.  Her second album Pearl hit stores and radio stations in January 1971 and it made her star shine even more brightly, which a lot of us had hoped at the time would happen “Up There” as well—the 27-year-old singer had passed away three months earlier due to a heroin overdose in a Hollywood hotel.

  Etta James – Tell Mama (her 7th) – “Tell Mama”  https://youtu.be/t_wbyv1TgIQ

In the summer of 2000 when I worked at Star Lake Amphitheater, I was walking through the lower house (the seating area closest to the stage) and had a classic “stopped in my tracks” moment—nineteen-year-old Christina Aguilera in her first national headlining tour was belting out the song “At Last” from the stage and I was electrified.  True, this former Pittsburgher had quite the set of pipes…but it was also, even moreso, the song.  I had never heard the tune before (I admit somewhat unashamedly) but this sent me off in search of other versions and that’s when I landed on Etta James.

James became famous in 1960 with a sizzlin’ version of this early 1940s classic from her debut album and was lauded for a voice that could settle souls with its restrained power and grace on ballads, but also then all but singe ears while covering up-tempo blues and R&B songs.  In the summer of 1968 the African American singer released her seventh album Tell Mama, and the title track became a hit after a four-year dry spell for the artist.  James by 1968 was sort of a blues queen in residence at the now legendary Muscle Shoals, Alabama recording studio FAME, and her powerful vocal performances were backed by crack, hit-making musicians.  This was a particularly fertile and unfettered period of James’ largely troubled life, and every song on the album is rooted by that deep and passionate wellspring of a voice that courageously cried the blues. 

  The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo (their 6th) – “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”  https://youtu.be/s2JnDKvuNzw

I find it hard these days to mask my disappointment that live music with good-sized audiences during COVID is nonexistent or best case, in short supply.  There are currently streaming opportunities aplenty from various sources, but the in-the-flesh experience is what I really crave—being a part of huddled, happy masses seated before live-on-stage performers.  One of my missed opportunities a short two-and-a-half years ago BC (Before COVID) lingers in the self-loathing zones of my mind.  The 50thanniversary of The Byrds’ groundbreaking 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo was celebrated by some of its creators who took it on the road in 2018 to rapturous response in small theaters across the country.  Led by Byrds’ founders Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman and backed by country/bluegrass artist Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, the band landed in the Pittsburgh area on October 30thwith a stop at Munhall’s Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall.

Chris Hillman was quoted in November 2018 in Billboard Magazine by writer Gary Graff saying that Sweetheart of the Rodeo wasn’t his favorite Byrds album, but that the band had always liked to explore other genres and it had already delved into psychedelic rock (“Eight Miles High” etc.) along with its regularly mined ringing, chiming folk-rock.  Though the band had touched upon country music a bit in previous releases this particular album was country through and through, and it helped create a template for emerging artists like The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Poco and others.  Singer-songwriter Gram Parsons, a founding forefather of country rock music whose influence is still reflected today through a number of Americana bands, was notably a member of The Byrds during this Sweetheart period although he flew the nest even before the album was released.  He and Chris Hillman went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers.

SEPTEMBER

  Jefferson Airplane – Crown of Creation (their 4th) – “Lather”  https://youtu.be/UmSOWxV8vjQ

This San Francisco psychedelic rock band who trafficked in revolutionary politics, free love and even occasional sci-fi themes formed in 1965 and then dotted the festival landscape throughout the late ‘60s, appearing at Monterey Pop, Isle of Wight, Woodstock AND Altamont.  Grace Slick replaced original female lead singer Signe Toly Anderson in 1966 and the band subsequently soared to great success on the newly birthed FM Radio and occasionally on AM radio's hit-song countdowns as well.  The band notably featured two lead, occasionally intertwining singers Grace Slick and Marty Balin, and the musician lineup was a powerhouse that included Jorma Kaukonen on guitar and Jack Casady on rumbling bass.  

Overall the group’s albums were spotty in terms of great material, but 1968’s Crown of Creation is an exception with songs including “In Time,” “If You Feel,” the David Crosby composition “Triad” and band member Paul Kantner’s title track.  The opening song “Lather” is perhaps the most arresting of the batch.  Written by Slick and reportedly inspired by the looming 30th birthday of her then-boyfriend drummer Spencer Dryden, the song—according to the album’s liner notes writer Patrick Snyder—is about “the inescapable contradictions of growing old while leading a youth movement.”  Musically, it is a rock solid representation of this band’s out-of-the-mainstream song structures (which here is quite a good thing).  Near the end of the tune, guitarist Kaukonen plays something called the electric chicken—you’ll know it when you hear it.

  Status Quo – Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From The Status Quo (their debut) – “Pictures of Matchstick Men”  https://youtu.be/Sw6044fDHwg

This band is considered a one-hit wonder in the USA but on their home turf in the UK they are a sixty-hit wonder.  They have at least sixty songs that have made it onto the British record sales charts from the time of their formation in the late 1960s through present day 2021.  They have also amassed a number of firsts including the most appearances by any band on England’s venerable Top of the Pops BBC television program and the most live performances by any band at London’s Wembley Arena.  And, the band has released over 33 records—with 25 of these reaching Top Ten album sales—during their fifty-year-plus career.

Through all of this, by the way, America shrugged.  Even when the band abandoned their psychedelic ways in 1969 in favor of harder rock and boogie, America still couldn’t be roused out of its indifference.  “Pictures of Matchstick Men” in 1968—a time-locked, cheesy slice of psychedelia—was the one and only Status Quo song to ever score any measurable success in the USA. 

Reviewer Matthew Greenwald on AllMusic.com sums up the impact of this song that aired across the United States on the fledgling new music FM stations during 1968: “The Status Quo may be the prototype for what would become Spinal Tap, but this huge international hit is what they are most remembered for.  A dissonant, siren-sounding electric guitar riff from writer Francis Rossi is the main hook here, and it was about as unusual as things got on a pop single at the time, Jimi Hendrix aside.  The lyrics are a trippy ride through consciousness and no doubt LSD-inspired.”  Greenwald may be right about the source of inspiration here, so if you want to substantially rewind the clock and give this a listen, go ahead and flash back—but don’t have a flashback.

  The Chambers Brothers – A New Time-A New Day (their 2nd) – “I Can’t Turn You Loose”  https://youtu.be/gXeLwjXzBcw

Bassist George, harmonica player Lester, and guitarists Willie and Joe Chambers were all part of a black sharecropping family in Missouri and first formed a group back in 1954.  They were schooled—“churched,” really—in blues, folk and gospel in the local Baptist choir and in the mid-1950s relocated to Los Angeles.  It took about ten years and an eventual move to New York City for career combustion to kick in, beginning with a well-received appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.  After welcoming non-family member Brian Keenan into the fold to play drums the group released a couple of recordings, but it was really 1967’s The Time Has Come album that put them on the map and on the radio.  A song from that album, “Time Has Come Today,” is an eleven-minute mix of soul and psychedelia that became a mainstay in those heady days of early FM radio ascendance, anti-war protests, and the fight for Civil Rights.  

The track listed above, though, is from A New Time-A New Day, the follow-up to The Time Has Come.  In 1968 my bedroom was my closed-borders space, my respite from the world, and this album upon release practically cemented itself to the turntable surface of my Montgomery Wards Airline Stereo Phonograph Record Player (best I could do, at age fifteen).  This was primarily because of the incendiary opening song on the album, the Chambers’ fuel-injected cover of Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose.”  All hail to King Otis, of course, but the Chambers Brothers’ version for some reason back then summed up for me the power and the passion of rock music—especially at the intersection of rock ‘n’ roll and rock and soul.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 2/21/21.....ALL THOSE YEARS AGO (Part One of Three)

1968 was a turbulent time in the course of American history.  Highlights included the growing movements focused on a Vietnam pullback and a civil rights forward march; the devastating lowlights of course were the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.

But there was also everything in between.  In the political spotlight there was a pacifist and a populist—presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy and the proud boy—er, man—who also stepped up to run, Alabama’s George Wallace, who in his gubernatorial inauguration speech five years earlier had earnestly called for segregation nowtomorrow and foreve(way to waffle there, Wallace)There was the Broadway debut of every hippie’s dream Hair, the cultural norm-busting musical that outraged staid moralists but absolutely stoked those who smoked…There were the riotous goings-on of plenty more than seven in Chicago, where the DNC clearly needed a DMZ…and there was a sleaze with middle name Milhous who soon after November slithered into the White House.

Also, our country at this juncture was in the throes of a societal youthquake that had been shaking up the Establishment since at least the midpoint of the decade, and music was an essential ingredient that both fomented and reflected many of the changes afoot.  Musicians and singer-songwriters of the day were clearly driven to test their boundaries; the walls that previously existed between musical genres were now heavily pockmarked if not completely chiseled through, and record companies were buzzing like central hives, bursting with scads of newly signed talent.  To youthful followers like yours truly and many, many others, music in all its permutations became something central to existence.  

1968 was truly a mind-bending, spellbinding time for recorded music.  Throughout the year, eclectic new releases—some groundbreaking if not game-changing; others bound for esoterica—hit department store record bins across the country as an insatiable younger generation fed on these provocative and influential new sounds.  

Here is Part One of this look at 1968’s music, a monthly play-by-play from January through June of some of the most interesting albums to come out in that first half of the year—and a meaty and meaningful song selection from each.  A look at the July through September releases will come along next time on musicasaurus.com!

JANUARY 

  Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul (her 12th) –  "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"  https://youtu.be/qz2efshhuq4

In addition to the tracks “Chain of Fools” and “Sweet Sweet Baby (Since You’ve Been Gone),” this album bore a sublime version of this Carole King/Gerry Goffin composition.  Instead of the recorded version from 1968, however, we’ll substitute in an Aretha performance of the song from the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors event that feted songwriter Carole King.  This performance yields more than a glimpse into the fires that still burned brightly within Lady Soul even at the age of seventy-three.

  Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf (their debut) – “The Pusher”  https://youtu.be/Zv6PY1BQLBE

The above-listed song and “Born to be Wild” both ended up in the Peter Fonda/Dennis Hopper film Easy Rider which hit screens—and coaxed many a different screen into water pipes across America—upon the film’s release to theaters in July 1969.  

  The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers (their 5th) – “Wasn’t Born To Follow”  https://youtu.be/Mdk5V6RxhJQ

This is another song that was included in the 1969 counterculture film Easy Rider as motorcyclists Billy and Wyatt ride through a high ponderosa pine forest.  According to writer Ian Olney in an October 2020  “Pop Music in Film” article on the website sensesoncinema.com, “Epitomising the bright ‘California sound’ of the ‘60s, its shimmering chords, plaintive pedal-steel phrasing, propulsive rhythm, and poetic lyrics capture the sheer joy of locomotion and celebrate the notion of going one’s own way.”

  The Electric Prunes – Mass in F Minor (their 3rd) – “Kyrie Eleison” https://youtu.be/2QnZn0I602I 

After releasing two rather standard 1960s psychedelic/fuzz-guitar rock albums, the Prunes on their third LP dished out a somewhat strange amalgam of classical-meets-religious music-meets-psychedelia.  “Kyrie Eleison” picked up some underground buzz when it, too, was used in the 1969 counterculture film Easy Rider.

  Spirit – Spirit (their debut) – “Fresh Garbage”  https://youtu.be/BWBwXc-ppe8

Reviewer Richie Unterberger of Allmusic.com hit the nail on the head with this one: “Spirit’s debut unveiled a band that seemed determine to out-eclecticize everybody else on the California psychedelic scene, with its melange of rock, jazz, blues, folk-rock, and even a bit of classical and Indian music.”

  The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat (their 2nd–  “White Light/White Heat”  https://youtu.be/AJy0LP8iYPg

This album coincided with Lou Reed’s departure from Andy Warhol’s circle of influence, and the band as a whole also departed from their first album’s overall sound to produce music that was more immediate and raw, with distortion and feedback reigning over all.  White Light/White Heat reportedly fired up contemporaries who were in the same musical vein and also inspired future punkers that followed in the Velvet’s footsteps.  

  Blue Cheer – Vincebus Eruptum (their debut) – “Summertime Blues”  https://youtu.be/o4vIlg4alz8

Remember, this was 1968 and rock critics and critical writing on the subject was in some ways still embryonic.  But it didn’t take long before certain culture watchers, looking back, dubbed this record one of the very first heavy metal music albums.  “Summertime Blues” is a blistering cover of rocker/rockabilly star Eddie Cochran’s song which he had released to radio in the summer of 1958.

  Firesign Theater – Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him (their debut) – “W.C. Fields Forever”  https://youtu.be/CW_l25G33Co

Firesign Theater was a counterculture comedy troupe (so named, reportedly, because the four members were all born under astrological fire signs—Aries, Leo or Sagittarius).  Peter Bergman, Philip Proctor, Phil Austin and David Ossman developed a loyal and sizeable cult following particularly in the mid-‘60s through mid-‘70s time period, and recorded a slew of albums for the faithful.  The track “W.C. Fields Forever” is about Tiny Doctor Tim (don’t be leery about guessing who this is patterned after) and his hippie followers, who are welcoming some desert wandering Native Americans into their commune called the Lazy Ol' Magic Circle Dudes Ranch and Collective Love Farm.  

  Dr. John, The Night Tripper – Gris-gris (his debut) – “I Walk on Guilded Splinters”  https://youtu.be/ylZ635QtyGc

He do that voodoo that he do so well…Dr. John’s debut album was the start of a long career of New Orleans R&B that he later on melded a bit with rock and blues.  After a handful of early albums, the Doctor severed the Night Tripper from his name.

  Ultimate Spinach – Ultimate Spinach (their debut) – “You’re Head is Reeling”  https://youtu.be/0GKDq0oRDy8

Psychedelic rock band Ultimate Spinach formed in 1967 as some record producers and promoters in the city of Boston were trying to emulate “musical petri dish” cities like San Francisco, NYC and others who were actively growing their individual music scenes.  In a September 30, 2011 interview in the online independent music magazine It’s Psychedelic Baby, Ultimate Spinach lead-singer/songwriter Ian Bruce-Douglas was asked about the formation of the band’s name: “I’ve been asked that question so many times!  One day, in 1967, I was in my room, tripping on some really pure LSD.  I started looking at myself in the mirror and my face was doing funny things.  I had a bunch of colored markers I used to draw with.  I grabbed a green one and started drawing all these psychedelic designs on my face.  When I was done, I looked at myself and said ‘Whoa! I am ultimate spinach.  Ultimate spinach is me!’”  Inspiration for a group’s name can come to a founder in many ways…all it apparently took for Bruce-Douglas was a bit of reflection.

  Canned Heat – Boogie With Canned Heat (their 2nd) – “On The Road Again”  https://youtu.be/CEwyoo3fT8w

The band came together in Los Angeles in 1965 and featured blues and boogie music powered by singers/musicians Bob “The Bear” Hite and Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson.  The group cranked out an all blues covers album for their 1967 debut and then progressed to their own similar-style material on their second album which featured the track listed here as well as the anti-drug song “Amphetamine Annie” and an eleven-minute-plus tune called “Fried Hockey Boogie.”  The boogie was what Canned Heat primarily became known for, especially in concert settings like the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in the summer of 1969.  Even back in 1968 when I was fifteen years old, though, eleven minutes was a long time to devote to puttin’ on my boogie shoes.

  Kaleidoscope – A Beacon From Mars (their 2nd) – “Taxim”  https://youtu.be/y8udyhabCCU

This eclectic L.A. band formed in Los Angeles in 1966, and had as one of its driving-force members David Lindley who post-Kaleidoscope joined up with Jackson Browne as a mainstay in the latter’s band for many years.  Kaleidoscope’s style of recorded music occasionally weaved Middle Eastern music into their blend of rock, blues, folk and jazz, and this band of multi-instrumentalists brought a lot of different sounds to the fore via guitar, violin,  viola, banjo, mandolin, oud, dobro, bouzouki and dulcimer, among others.

FEBRUARY 

  Blood, Sweat & Tears – Child is Father to the Man (their debut) – “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”  https://youtu.be/7ZEOYQBy8Pw

This NYC born and bred group formed in 1967 and their debut album sported an intoxicating mix of styles—blood, sweat & tears mixed with jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, folk, soul, and in the hands of (and out of the mouths of) the dazzling horn section, even a bit of big band music.  Musician Al Kooper (ex-Blues Project member) was the leader of this pack and lasted just for this initial album due to brewing sentiments within the band for the proverbial “change in direction” for future releases.  But this first album is a classic, grounded by the six-minute Kooper composition that kicks off the record, “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.”

  Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac; also called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (their debut) – “Long Grey Mere”  https://youtu.be/3cgMaBJGovs

The band Fleetwood Mac formed in London in 1967 as a solid blues unit, and issued their eponymous first album one year afterward.  Though guitarist Peter Green is often cited as the fuel and the fire of the band at that time, we have to give shout-outs as well to drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie.  The latter two are still with the band today, FIFTY-FOUR years after the group’s founding. The last personnel change of note was guitartist Lindsey Buckingham’s ouster in 2018, immediately followed by the additions of Neil Finn (formerly of Crowded House) and Mike Campbell (previously Petty’s right-hand man in The Heartbreakers).

  The Lemon Pipers – Green Tambourine (their debut) – “Green Tambourine”  https://youtu.be/o6IEgrQ4lrk

The Lemon Pipers formed in 1966 in Oxford, Ohio and after playing local bars and small clubs stumbled into their big break when they latched onto a record deal with Buddah Records.  Headed at the time by musical entrepreneur Neil Bogart, the record label had been experimenting with what became known as “bubblegum pop”—signing bands and then molding their material to suit the musical whims and tastes of the preteen and early teen market.  The formula: force-feed some contrived and eminently disposable but catchy songs into one of their band’s repertoires and push it out to radio stations.  The Pipers enjoyed this flash of success, but immediately felt confined by the genre and begged the label for more input into song selection and songwriting as they had more serious content in mind.  But they paid the piper; no more hits, and only this one-hit wonder to call their own. 

  Mason Williams – The Mason Williams Phonograph Record (his 2nd) – “Classical Gas”  https://youtu.be/Bel7WcHeUXY

Williams is a classical guitarist who is also a composer, comedian, writer and poet whose noteworthy accomplishments included—beyond unleashing this all-instrumental one-hit wonder in the summer of 1968—writing for the popular and (at times) controversial television show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  Williams also was the creator of show cast member Pat Paulsen’s 1968 faux campaign for president.  Paulsen didn’t win that one, of course, and I lost track of him after that…but wait—wasn’t he one of those three hundred and eighty-four prospective candidates on stage during those early Dem debates in June & July 2019??

MARCH 

  The Mothers of Invention – We’re Only In It for the Money (their 3rdstudio album) – “Flower Punk”  https://youtu.be/HQfZmMI87P4

Frank Zappa was the brilliant Mocker and Skewer-er in Chief of society’s norms and ills, and was apolitical in dishing out his derision.  His mid-late ‘60s/early ‘70s songs especially were peppered with sardonic wit atop often sophisticated herky-jerky musicianship.  He was all about nonconformist song structure and his tunes sometimes included unusual sonic snippets—some surrealistic dialogue here, a couple of people snorting there.  All part of this musical auteur’s sly sonic package.

  Laura Nyro – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (her 2nd) – “Stoned Soul Picnic”  https://youtu.be/2Nfc_J7qlhQ

A gifted singer/songwriter and daughter of a jazz trumpeter, Nyro started writing songs at the age of eight.  At twenty she issued her 1967 debut album More Than A New Discovery, which led to instantaneous worship from some of her singer/songwriter peers, Elton John and Todd Rundgren among them.  And still others began recording covers of her songs to great success—Blood, Sweat & Tears with “And When I Die,” Barbra Streisand with “Stoney End” and The 5thDimension with “Wedding Bell Blues.”  The following year Eli and the Thirteenth Confession was released and Nyro truly hit her stride; she garnered more critical acclaim, made the national album-sales charts for the first time, and had even more of her songs borrowed by others.  “Eli’s Comin’” was a huge hit for Three Dog Night, and The 5thDimension scored again with two more Nyro-penned tunes, “Sweet Blindness” and “Stoned Soul Picnic.”

  The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (their 3rd) – “A Very Cellular Song”  https://youtu.be/jmeGpov2P5k

A Scotchman and an Englishman go into a bar…This is not the start of a joke, but rather the beginning of the Incredible String Band, a short-lived psychedelic, folk, and world-music-injected ensemble that rode fairly high on the UK album charts in the late 1960s and also pierced America’s consciousness with their third release, 1968’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter.  The duo of Scottish multi-instrumentalist Robin Williamson and English banjoist Clive Palmer had been spotted in 1965 in a Scottish club by an Elektra Records talent scout, and within a year a fleshed-out musical union was formed.  The Incredible String Band was known for its multi-instrumental song experimentation and its array of instruments beyond the standard guitar-bass-drums; on Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, the band members also bring in the sounds of the gimbri, penny whistle, pan pipe, oud, jaw harp, shehnai, harpsichord, waterphone, hammered dulcimer and others. 

  Diana Ross and The Supremes – Reflections (the Supremes’ 12th, but the first to list Diana’s name right up front) – “Reflections”  https://youtu.be/rwPBQlt5AXI

This was a time of transition for the Supremes, as their hit-making songwriting team of Holland-Doizer-Holland was exiting the Motown organization and within the group itself, Florence (Flo) Ballard was nixed and new replacement Cindy Birdsong was in, standing alongside the longstanding Mary Wilson and queen Diana.  The title track—of course, another slam dunk—had actually been released to radio stations as a single the previous year during the Summer of Love (1967) and it was the first Supremes recording to have a tinge of psychedelia in it.

  The International Submarine Band – Safe at Home (their one and only album) – “Luxury Liner” https://youtu.be/g-wZXUQgAr0

One of Alt-country’s forefathers Gram Parsons (guitarist/singer-songwriter) and future Flying Burrito Brother Chris Ethridge (bassist) formed ISB in Los Angeles in 1967, and the following year released their one and only album Safe at Home.  The album is considered by many to be the first country rock record.  Parsons’ journey after departing ISB led him to The Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and then to a brief solo turn that ended with his untimely death in 1973 at age twenty-six.

  Joni Mitchell – Song to a Seagull; also known as just Joni Mitchell (her debut) – “Song to a Seagull” https://youtu.be/hTcbhwA02fM

The Canadian songstress’ debut album was produced by southern California friend and musical compadre David Crosby, and it started this visionary, trailblazing artist off on a path to currently nineteen studio recordings spanning 1968 (Song to a Seagull) to 2007 (Shine).  There are a few live-in-concert treasures in Mitchell’s catalogue as well—1974’s Miles of Aisles with backing by the L.A. Express (a group that included saxophonist Tom Scott and guitarist Robben Ford), and 1980’s Shadows and Light with backing that included saxophonist Michael Brecker, guitarist Pat Metheny and bassist Jaco Pastorius.

APRIL 

  Tiny Tim – God Bless Tiny Tim (his debut) – “Tiptoe Thru’ the Tulips with Me”  https://youtu.be/zfLU3Mv_O9w

Born Herbert Butros Khaury in Manhattan in 1932, Tiny Tim gained fame for his quirky personality and shy demeanor, his ukulele and falsetto, and his penchant for performing songs from the early 20thcentury (one of his idols was Rudy Vallée).  He cemented the adoration of—okay, perhaps just the unwavering curiosity of—millions of television viewers in the late 1960s and early 1970s through appearances on the NBC network’s Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

  Moby Grape – Wow – “He”  https://youtu.be/t78c5vwjIC4

Along with the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape was one of the core musical units that came out of the San Franciscan music scene of the mid-late 1960s.  AllMusic.com’s reviewer Mark Deming says this particular band’s attributes included “no long, unfocused jams, no self-indulgent philosophy, and no attempts to sonically re-create the sound of an acid trip…Moby Grape blended straight-ahead rock & roll, smart pop, blues, country, and folk accents into a flavorful brew that was all their own, with a clever melodic sense that reflected the lysergic energy surrounding them without drowning in it.”

  Sly & The Family Stone – Dance to the Music (their 2nd– “Dance to the Music”  https://youtu.be/Jn2PNlhvy8E

This San Franciscan band was a family affair, with band leader Sylvester (“Sly”) Stone, brother Freddie on guitar and sister Rose on keyboards.  These three plus four others unrelated by blood but linked by the love of funk created a sound that was inescapably delicious.  It did not just get toes tapping; it was “spring to your feet” joyous, especially the ubiquitous title track on radio stations across the USA.  Sly & The Family Stone was the first prominent American music band to have musicians that were a groundbreaking mix of black and white, and male and female. 

  Wild Man Fischer – An Evening with Wild Man Fischer (his debut) – “I’m Working for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics”  https://youtu.be/NeQuOs7bYHs

In addition to recording his own albums with the Mothers of Invention, L.A.-based Frank Zappa in the late 1960s created two record labels to sign other artists that he wanted to champion.  The labels were called Bizarre and Straight, and some of the artists Zappa rounded up included Alice Cooper, Tim Buckley, Captain Beefheart, the GTOS (Girls Together Outrageously)—and a sometimes homeless, mentally disturbed individual named Wild Man Fischer.  Fischer, who had suffered severe highs and lows from an early age which eventually revealed paranoid schizophrenia and manic depression, was under meds by 1967 and a street performer, offering songs for spare change to the foot traffic along the Sunset Strip.  “I thought from the first day I met him that someone should make an album with Wild Man Fischer,” Zappa reportedly said, and thus a double album on his Bizarre record label soon followed, 1968’s An Evening with Wild Man Fischer.  It’s a collector’s item for a variety of reasons—none of which may compel you!—and features a few tracks of Fischer's ramblings accompanied by Zappa’s guitar work…some live recordings of Fischer’s Sunset Strip songs…some unaccompanied, off-kilter songs on a variety of subjects…and some “in his own words” reflections on his malady and on growing up, hoping to cope.  Some might find this material appalling while others may think it enthralling—either way, it is a bona fide late-1960s curio!

  The Amboy Dukes – Journey to the Center of the Mind (their 2nd) – “Journey to the Center of the Mind”  https://youtu.be/a_J-sNBnaaY

This American rock group was founded in 1964 in Chicago by sixteen-year-old guitarist Ted Nugent, though The Nuge soon nudged the band to move to his hometown of Detroit once their recording career took off.  The band produced a self-titled debut album in 1967, but it was this 1968 follow-up album Journey to the Center of the Mind and its title track that significantly boosted their prominence and fan base.  After a handful more of Amboy Dukes albums that slowly transitioned away from the blues and psychedelia toward harder rock, the Motor City Mad Man jettisoned the band’s name in 1975 but kept the current personnel as he debuted his solo career with the release of the album Ted Nugent.

  Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends (their 4thstudio album) – “Mrs. Robinson”  https://youtu.be/9C1BCAgu2I8

At the very beginning of 1968 Mike Nichols’ film The Graduate hit theaters across the U.S., and so visually you had Hoffman & Bancroft memorably teaming up while on the soundtrack side of things you had another noteworthy duo, Simon & Garfunkel.  The latter followed up their soundtrack work on that project with their next full-fledged release Bookends which came just three months afterward.  Bookends included a no-pun-intended fleshed-out version of “Mrs. Robinson” as well as “Fakin’ It,” “A Hazy Shade of Winter” (later covered by The Bangles) and “America” (later covered by artists including Josh Groban, Lucy Wainwright Roche with The Roches, and the band Yes in 1970 who memorably bent the tune toward progressive rock—in a ten-and-a-half minute version, no less).

MAY 

  Small Faces – Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (their 3rd) – “Afterglow (Of Your Love)”  https://youtu.be/oHSD8loGbcA

Small Faces was one of the 1960s British bands who at one time or another housed some considerably talented individuals.  The band had formed in England in 1965 and consisted of singer/guitarist Steve Marriott, bassist Ronnie Lane, drummer Kenney Jones and keyboardist Ian McLagan.  After Marriott left the band in 1969 to form a new group called Humble Pie, the others stayed on board, added singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood, and dropped the “Small” from the group’s name (that’s one way to save Face).  After The Faces broke up in 1975, Stewart went 100% solo, Wood went to the Stones, Lane worked on the cult-favorite collaborative album Rough Mix (1977) with Pete Townshend, Jones left to join The Who (replacing the dearly departed Keith Moon), and McLagan began touring with the Stones and Dylan, and did session/sideman work with a number of other top-drawer artists of that era.

  Creedence Clearwater Revival – Creedence Clearwater Revival (their debut) – “Suzie Q”  https://youtu.be/7x60p7UNLnQ

John Fogerty was the driving force of this quartet who were San Francisco based but whose recorded music that started up in 1968 largely spun tales of the South—themes of bayous, swamps, rollin’ on the river, and the like.  The band lasted only four years, 1968-1972, but Fogerty had a real knack for simple (on the surface) songs that bore into the brain and that still live today on classic rock radio stations some fifty years down the line.  “Susie Q” from their debut album was the record’s signature song, a cover of rockabilly artist Dale Hawkins’ 1957 hit.  Reportedly Fogerty stretched the song out to eight minutes in length as a ploy for a popular San Francisco progressive rock station to embrace it—which worked.

  Johnny Cash – Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (his—gulp—27th!) – “Folsom Prison Blues”  https://youtu.be/U9uk6NHK-AE

This was a case of one pro and many cons.  Cash’s career had dipped a bit in the mid-1960s (somewhat due to the artist’s own struggles with drug dependency) but when an upper management change took place at his label, Cash found an ear that was warm to the “concert in a prison” concept.  He and June Carter (soon to become June Carter Cash) and his band performed two sets in January at Folsom, and the record that resulted was hugely successful on the national country AND pop charts and with critics across the board.  In 2003 the album was selected by the Library of Congress for addition to the National Recording Registry.

  Quicksilver Messenger Service – Quicksilver Messenger Service (their debut) – “Gold and Silver” https://youtu.be/bmhT_KUAR6g

San Francisco was a musical melting pot in the mid-to-late 1960s, and Quicksilver was one of the bands from that era that bounded into some level of national consciousness like their contemporaries the Grateful Dead, Santana, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Steve Miller Band, It’s A Beautiful Day and the Jefferson Airplane.  Quicksilver indeed carried the torch for psychedelia, and in concert gained a reputation for extended jams augmented by two skillful, interweaving guitarists Gary Duncan and John Cipollina.  The sample song listed here is an almost seven-minute-long instrumental which just might induce in some older folks some psychedelic light-show flashbacks—you know, those colorful, shape-shifting squiggly blobs of protoplasm that were up on a screen behind the band—so yes, be careful.

JUNE 

  The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (their debut) – “Fire” https://youtu.be/en1uwIzI3SE

Opening statements, please?  How about: “I AM THE GOD OF HELL FIRE, AND I BRING YOU...FIRE!”  That opening salvo to the devilishly cheesy organ riffs kicks off the one-hit wonder of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, a psychedelic British band led by vocalist Arthur Brown, known early on for his bizarre front-man antics like wearing a helmet with roaring flames on it.  The song was a huge hit in England and it then crossed the pond to achieve the same status in the USA.  We are listing this entry here in the month of June because it coincides with the UK’s initial release though the album didn’t officially hit The States until September.

  Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (their 2nd– “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”  https://youtu.be/Tfpn3wHoNGA

Go tell it on the mountain—the Red Mountain.  Reportedly this was the wine that keyboardist/singer Doug Ingle was drinking when he wrote the song and relayed the title, under slurred conditions, to drummer Ron Bushy.  Thus “In A Garden of Eden” became “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and the resulting 17-minute+ track became an underground FM classic, dazzling the fledging rock generation and giving FM disc jockeys a great means of escape to the bathroom between their queued-up songs.  The album of the same name by this San Diego band was soon a number one seller in America, and mercifully (I say in hindsight), there was also a majorly edited version of the song released to Top Forty radio as a single.  This one clocked in at just under three minutes.

  Pink Floyd – A Saucerful of Secrets (their 2nd) – “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” https://youtu.be/ZnIxWznakz8

This second studio album from Britain’s Pink Floyd was noteworthy in a couple of ways: 1) The finished product reflected the contributions of the outgoing Syd Barrett (jettisoned for increasingly aberrant behavior) and the incoming David Gilmour, and so Saucerful was a passing of the torch and a stabilization of the line-up; and 2) The album also essentially launched the careers of design wizards Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, who had come up with the album cover.  Afterward, record label EMI peppered the two with requests for additional covers for some of the other artists they represented, and so the design duo’s new company Hipgnosis was born shortly thereafter.  In addition to keeping its fealty to Floyd with subsequent albums including Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and Animals, Hipgnosis began working with other top-notch bands including Led Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and many more.

  Steve Miller Band – Children of the Future (their debut) – “Baby’s Callin’ Me Home” https://youtu.be/9cK--Mt5iKE

Miller is today best known for commercially successful rock records in the mid 1970s such as Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams, but truthfully most of this material was kind of a calculated soulless snooze.  Hearkening back to his more adventurous initial output is a much better place for listeners to land.  This particular song from 1968’s Children of the Future was written and sung by band member Boz Scaggs and it features nicely hushed acoustic pluckin’ and an easygoing bluesy feel.  Scaggs departed the SMB after the group’s second album Sailor that came out much later in 1968, and he trod a solo path from there.  

  Fairport Convention – Fairport Convention (their debut) – “Chelsea Morning” https://youtu.be/y_JnBLc3zsY

English folk band Fairport Convention was founded in 1967 and the key member of note was Richard Thompson, a largely unheralded brilliant songwriter and guitarist who is still making music and producing new material today.  This first album from Fairport Convention is reportedly the result of the band members reverence for 1960s American West Coast bands like The Jefferson Airplane (who also sported both a male and female lead vocalist), The Byrds and The Beach Boys, and also artists like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.  The song listed here is one of the two Joni covers on the record, “Chelsea Morning.”  After this album, female lead vocalist Judy Dyble departed and singer Sandy Denny came aboard, and the band then gradually headed into more traditional British folk territory.  Denny left the band in 1970 to form a new one, Fotheringay, and guitarist Thompson departed the group the next year, launching his now longstanding solo career in 1972 with his debut album Henry the Human Fly.

  HAIR – The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical (The Original Broadway Cast Recording) – “Aquarius” https://youtu.be/y2CoR1vggYc

Gerome Ragni and James Rado (story and lyrics) and Galt MacDermot (music) created this controversial, generation-splitting musical and it opened on Broadway in April 1968 for a run of 1,750 performances.  This show had everything a longhair could ever want—sex, nudity, zero respect for authority, drugs, astrology, ecology and rock ‘n’ roll.  And the songs springing out of the musical that were subsequently heard on radio stations across the country—uh, not talking here about the tune “Sodomy” or the song “Hashish”—were successes in their own right, including the 5thDimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In,” The Cowsills’ version of “Hair,” Oliver’s “Good Morning Starshine” and Three Dog Night’s “Easy To be Hard.”

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 2/7/21.....SIXTY YEARS ON 

  

As we enter 2021, we’ve reached a landmark year for a landmark venue that unfortunately never attained the necessary landmark status in order to survive.  The Pittsburgh Civic Arena, which of course is no longer of this Earth, would have turned sixty years old this year.  

Back in April 1958 construction had begun on the arena with an original budget of $19 million, but this was increased by almost $3 million more when plans morphed to include a unique, one-of-a-kind retractable dome to be constructed of eight total 300-ton roof sections.  When the facility finally opened to the public on September 17, 1961 with an Ice Capades show, the roof was partially opened—just two sections out of the total six moveable sections—but after 22 minutes it was once again closed up tight.  An unseasonable temperature of 74 degrees outside on that fall day had provoked internal concern over the condition of the skaters’ surface ice inside, so the arena’s management reacted and retracted.

The Civic Arena started out sporting the usual tenants including a hockey team (the AHL’s Pittsburgh Hornets, 1961-1967) and a basketball team (the ABL’s Pittsburgh Rens, 1961-1963), but also charged out of the gate with concerts as well.  Judy Garland was the first musical attraction on October 19, 1961, followed later that month by a Fats Domino/Brenda Lee package on the 20thand Johnny Mathis in concert on the 31st.  The fourth concert at the arena took place on May 11, 1962, and this was an early rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza emceed by Pittsburgh’s legendary deejay Porky Chedwick with music from national attractions including Jackie Wilson, The Drifters, The Coasters, Bo Diddley, The Flamingos, The Marvelettes, Jerry Butler, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, Bobby Vinton, Hank Ballard, and Gene Pitney.

Over the next five decades the Civic Arena hosted over one thousand musical events.  A James Taylor/Carole King concert on June 26, 2010 was the venue’s last hurrah, however, as the Penguins were poised to soon skate across the street to their brand new home, a gleaming new state-of-the-art hockey facility.  The Pens’ new arena opened up to the public in August with much fanfare, and the ghostly silent Civic Arena sitting nearby fell to the wrecking ball the following month.

My personal history with the Civic Arena began in March of 1985 when I was hired as the director of booking for the facility.  I had a quick learning curve, and was relieved—even elated—that the venue I had just jumped aboard was threefold unique:

1.) First…As a venue hungry for profitable events, the Civic Arena took financial risks.  It was somewhat unusual for an arena of our size at that time to step up to the plate and actively court bands to play our venue by making offers directly to artists’ booking agencies.  This kind of thing was historically largely the province of outside concert promoters versus an in-house venue operation such as ours—but we were of a mindset that ALL touring artists needed to play the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, and so we actively promoted our stance and our willingness to pony up.  We did this through occasional trips to L.A. and NYC for one-on-one visits with the talent agencies, but also through ads that we placed in music industry magazines (see the photo immediately above; this print ad ran in music/concert touring publications such as Pollstar and Performance magazine in 1985 and advertised the Civic Arena’s firm resolve to book and promote concerts on its own).

2.) Second…Our arena had great flexibility as a facility for hosting concerts of varying levels of popularity.  The artist had a couple of options—an end-stage setup for between 13,000-17,000 fans, or a lesser-capacity setup with the stage instead situated along one of the arena’s sides (the north one).  This side-stage option afforded an equally aesthetic and pleasing “packed house” look but with a reduced capacity of approximately 8,000 seats out in front.

3.) And third…Our arena had that aforementioned engineering marvel tucked in its pocket—the roof-opening capability.  If the artist was game, arena staff would collaborate on the show’s setup with the performer’s tour production personnel such that the roof could be opened up, weather permitting, at any time during the performance.  In the late 1980s this bit of flexibility actually led us to create and subsequently promote a series of five or six shows per summer for three years running—1987-1989’s Skyline Concert Series—and this was heavily promoted by us as an opportunity to see “your favorite stars under the stars.”

I spent six years at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, from March 1985 through February 1991, and I look back on my arena days as one of THE most enriching periods of my life in terms of personal and professional growth, exciting challenges, and formative, lasting friendships.  We had an amazing team in place there, all of us deeply involved (sometimes even submerged!) in that wild thrill ride of staging various sporting events and many, many concerts. 

Below are the reminiscences of five talented individuals that I had worked with and forged strong ties with in my time at the arena.  Two of them were concert promoters who brought a number of shows into town to play our venue, and the remaining three were Civic Arena Corporation compadres of mine who played instrumental roles in the execution and concomitant success of hundreds of concerts over the years.  Here are just a few of their most prized memories from their days (and nights) at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena:

  TOM ROONEY – Tom spent formative years at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena throughout the 1980s as Arena Director and VP/Marketing, lending his expertise to both the resident sports teams and the venue management team.  He subsequently left the employment of the arena in 1990 to open up the brand new Pace outdoor facility in nearby Washington County, Star Lake Amphitheatre.  Tom is currently president of the Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group, LLC. 

For those of us in the business it is very hard to separate our personal experiences with ones that apply to shows we have been involved with as promoters.  In my own case having been an usher at the Civic Arena, marketing and arena director for a decade in the 1980s and then as a tenant with the Pens, it's all a haze.  But Mr. Musicasaurus.com asked for it and I am delivering.

It actually overlaps business/fandom.

In late 1989 we had yet another chance to host a Paul McCartney show but the problem as always was the then 10% amusement tax.  Sir Paul is nothing if not if a shrewd businessman and he counted your money, too.

Problem was the amusement tax was not our money; it went to the city.  Tough luck, said McCartney’s camp.  Come see us in Cleveland.  In a moment of exasperation...or pure genius...I concocted a scheme by looking at McCartney a different way.  If in fact we could do two McCartney dates we could eat the tax because the savings on ads and production by having two shows and the whopping ancillary revenues on ticket commissions, parking and food & beverage would mean a decent profit.

So we rolled the dice on presenting this deal to McCartney’s camp...and won. 

Anyway, the two shows played on February 4 & 5, 1990 but I was at the time already out the door to go open Star Lake Amphitheatre as its first general manager.  I treated myself, my wife and son and sister Mary Margaret to front row center seats for McCartney at the arena, though, and watched the show without a care in the world.  Paul put on a fab (four) show...lots of Beatles, Wings and memories.

  CHARLIE BRUSCO – Charlie, originally from Pittsburgh, was a concert promoter based in Atlanta who in the 1980s helped bring some major touring attractions to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  He also managed the southern rock/country rock band The Outlaws and through the years added others to his stable of artists including Peter Frampton, Bad Company, Styx and more.  In 1987 Charlie reassembled the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, ten years after the band’s career-ending plane crash, for a highly successful reunion tour that then crisscrossed America.  He currently heads up the Atlanta office of artist management company Red Light Management. 

My favorite Civic Arena concert (that I watched as a fan) was on August 10, 1971 when I saw The Who for the first time, right around the time they had released Who’s Next.  It was like a religious experience.

As a promoter, my favorite concert was when I brought Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Civic Arena on October 4, 1987 during their reunion tour.  I believe I had every family member I had at the time in Pittsburgh come to that show.  Before the band went on stage Gary Rossington (Skynyrd guitarist) was talking with my father and said “We need to bring all you folks up when we do the bow at the end of the show.”  Gary was thinking me, my mother and dad, and my kids.  My dad of course thought he meant the whole family so he brought all of our guests onstage at the end of the show.  I am sure the audience was thinking “Who are all these people?!!”  It was an amazing show and an amazing night.

  MICHAEL GENTILLE – During the early 1980s Mike worked as production manager for DiCesare-Engler Productions and from 1986-1993 was the Director of Events at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  He is currently employed by Landmark Event Staffing Services and based in New Orleans.

Mike’s most memorable shows:

* The Skyline Concert Series shows in the mid-to-late 1980s, where the roof opened up for every show, weather permitting.

* At one of their 1980s shows at the arena, a backstage brouhaha between the “C” and the “S” of CSN.

* Another backstage high-drama evening on April 4,1984: This one a row between Culture Club’s tour production manager and some arena personnel.

* The Windham Hill concert on July 8, 1986 with Will Ackerman, Shadowfax and Michael Hedges—memorable because no one showed up (editor’s note: I was still relatively new to the booking director position at the Civic Arena at that point in time, and I booked this complete stiff.  It was awfully nice of Mike to have included this one on his list).

* Back to back Journey dates, October 20 & 21,1986—HUGE.

*Frank Sinatra with Sammy Davis, Jr. on March 26, 1988 (editor’s note: This was the tour that was also supposed to include Dean Martin who reportedly had a kidney ailment which derailed his participation.  The tour as originally conceived with the three artists had an interesting nickname within music business circles—Ol’ Blue Eyes, Red Eyes and One Eye).

* The three consecutive nights of Michael Jackson in September 1988.

*Prince on October, 28, 1988 – I sat in Section B-8 while Prince was doing his soundcheck, ripping through a song set list that included covers of Led Zeppelin and Hendrix—unreal!

  

  RICH ENGLER – Rich is the former president of Pittsburgh’s DiCesare-Engler Productions, a concert promotion company that brought hundreds of concerts into our southwestern Pennsylvania region from the late 1960s through the early 2000s.  DiCesare-Engler eventually became part of Live Nation.  Currently Rich is booking shows and events under the banner of Rich Engler Presents.

Actually I've always judged most shows that I've done, quality-wise, in terms of how much money I made or lost!  But in terms of talent, here goes:

Number One on my Civic Arena list is the Paul McCartney doubleheader of Feb 4th and 5th, 1990.  This was the pinnacle of wonder and amazement for me.  McCartney had said right before the first night's show that he had some throat problems, but both shows played and he was just amazing.

Number Two on my list is Kansas.  I took this band in 1975 from third on the bill of a Stanley Theatre show with Queen and Styx, all the way up to them being the first band to ever play two consecutive nights at the Civic Arena in 1977—and both were sold out.  This was a major feat; there were about 30,000 total people in attendance.  Kansas in their other strong markets at that time could only sell about 10,000 tickets total.  

Also, my favorite arena concert where the roof opened was Eric Clapton on June 30, 1975.  We always used to ask the artist when he or she wanted to open the roof.  Clapton said he would let us know.  At some point in his set, he said to the crowd "We're going to open up the roof now,” and almost immediately, smoke poured out of the arena into the night sky.  Then it started to rain a little bit, and Clapton broke into "Let It Rain" as the arena crew began to close the roof because of the storm.

  IDA D’ERRICO – Ida was Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the Pittsburgh Civic Arena from 1982-1989.  She currently heads up Ida D’Errico Associates LLC.

Michael Jackson: It was THE mega concert of our time, September 26, 27 & 28, 1988.  I was fortunate to be assigned to join two other operations staffers, Mike Gentille and Jim Sacco, to advance the opening date of the BAD tour in Kemper Arena, Kansas City.  Although never star-struck (you couldn't be in our business!) I was a huge fan of his incomparable talents.  I recall that the well-dressed audience included a lot of families, very much like we were watching any touring family show such as Disney on Ice.  People froze in their seats appearing not to move or even dare breathe fearing they might miss one of his mesmerizing gravity-defying moves.

Our on-sale date approached and we planned accordingly to set up a bank of an additional twenty phone lines in the concourse of the lower arena outside our box office to receive the onslaught of calls.  The receivers were off the hooks as 10am approached.  All news cameras stood by as I gave the direction to place the receivers back onto their cradles.  And we were off(!), with a major non-stop telethon of ringing phones in two areas...

As usual for incoming concerts, the tour’s tech rider contained several requirements.  One in particular for this show was a leather couch in one of three dark colors—black, navy or gray.  It was well-known that Michael had a serious concern about germs.  Our operations manager, Mike Gentille, tried very hard to locate one without success.  Just two days before the concert, he asked if I could locate one through my relationship with Kaufmann's.  They searched their warehouse and didn't have one.  I contacted Higbee's department store in Boardman, Ohio (editor’s note: the store was owned by Youngstown, Ohio’s Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation who also owned the lease for the Civic Arena).  They had one, and were preparing to quickly deliver it to the arena when Kaufmann's called me to say they had located a gray one tucked away in their warehouse.  It was quickly wrapped and delivered.  

Michael sat on the couch for three days wearing his famous silver-buckled black costume.  The leather couch was then picked up by Kaufmann's and I received an immediate call.  Kaufmann's was upset that their soft leather $3,000 couch was covered with hundreds of slits and slices.  I quickly said that the couch was now “priceless” since Michael sat on it for three days, and explained that the damage was caused by his costume.  They were in awe.  I doubt they ever sold it to the public.  

The DeBartolo family was instrumental in being certain Pittsburgh had the tour dates and our management team was the promoter.  I was asked to order a large impressive flower arrangement for Michael's dressing room.  It was so large and heavy and filled with incredible exotic flowers that it took three of our utility crew to carry it into the dressing room where it covered an entire table!  

The road manager followed after me repeatedly saying the flowers couldn't stay due to “germs.”  I politely replied that they would indeed need to stay as they were a gift from the DeBartolo family.  They stayed in the dressing room all three days.  The road manager also insisted that the fabric wallpaper be removed from the newly remodeled dressing room—more “germs.”  It stayed intact, too.

During the planning process leading up to the show, I was contacted often by Michael's manager and Pittsburgh native, the late Frank DiLeo.  Frank insisted that he arrange to have a photo taken of me with Michael, along with his long line of many other guests.  I resisted, again, not being star-struck and having only one other photo with an artist (Robert Lamm of Chicago), also taken by accident and unplanned.  But I said “yes,” and Michael was absolutely wonderful and so pleasant.  I thought I'd never see the photo—but I'm looking at the framed 8 x 10 on my office wall as I type this memory.  Priceless.

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 1/24/21.....ISN’T LIFE STRANGE

Here are a batch of songs that potentially can be squeezed into a COVID-related song mix of your making. Understand that really only the song titles are the hooks to COVID, and that the songs’ lyrical contents all widely differ from this.  The real purpose here is to resurrect some great songs that might have originally passed you by, or ones that will rekindle memories of the first time that you heard them…Enjoy.

  SONG TITLE RELATING TO HOW COVID CAME ABOUT

Nature’s Way … This early-FM radio hit is from the 1970 album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus by the Los Angeles-based rock group Spirit.  The song’s environmentally themed lyrics include “It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong” (p.s. Just a somewhat related thought here, by extension: Be extra careful when ordering “wings and a brew” these days from restaurants.  Be sure to specify chicken wings; pass on any others that might be of the “long spread-out digits covered with a thin membrane” variety).  https://youtu.be/qvQa04JP73o

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT LIFE UNDER COVID

Something in the Air … Mentored by The Who’s Pete Townshend, the British band Thunderclap Newman released this revolutionary-themed single in 1969 ahead of their 1970 one and only album Hollywood Dream.  The song was reportedly first called “Revolution” but before release was retitled to nix any potential confusion with The Beatle’s 1968 mega-hit of the same name.  https://youtu.be/T59hsln7nlc

Isn’t Life Strange … British band the Moody Blues, renowned primarily in the 1960s and 1970s for blending classical music in with their rock and progressive rock, included this six-minute rumination on their eighth album Seventh Sojourn released in 1972.  https://youtu.be/AXKPtFzwPmg

Is There Anyway Out of this Dream? … Not sure how this coupling came to be, but this song is a collaboration of the idiosyncratic Tom Waits and country belle Crystal Gayle, and it appears on Waits’ soundtrack album to the Francis Ford Coppola film One from the Heart.  Some critics thought this 1982 musical was visually striking but others in the press clearly chose to ignore it or outright abhor it.  The film starred Frederic Forest, Teri Garr, Raul Julia, Nastassja Kinski and Harry Dean Stanton.  On this particular Waits’ composition from the soundtrack, Gayle provides the sole vocal.  https://youtu.be/9Lr5-XIsj4w

When The World is Running Down, You Make The Best of What’s Still Around … The Police were quite a force in the late 1970s/early 1980s with their muscular, incredibly rhythmic, and reggae-tinged power pop.  This tune comes from the band’s third release Zenyatta Mondatta (1980), but instead of the original track from the album Musicasaurus offers up an extended remix version overhauled for the club scene by production duo Different Gear in the year 2000.  https://youtu.be/byUZ52-fiv4

Waiting On The World To Change … John Mayer channels Marvin Gaye a bit through the messaging on this one, a song from the singer/guitarist’s 2006 album Continuum.  It’s a smooth R&B flavored glimpse of the younger generation and their perceived apathy—yet, as the song says, they’re just biding their time.  https://youtu.be/Ql_VZX6sxwA

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO MASK PROTECTION

Eyes Without a Face … Rocker Billy Idol rode in on the new wave of MTV breakout stars in the early 1980s along with Duran Duran, Culture Club, Human League and other British artists.  I never idolized Billy but this particular song grabbed me upon first listen; most of this artist’s popular songs were energetic crunch ‘n’ roll and maybe even a bit cartoonish, but the mostly mid-tempo “Eyes Without a Face” was brooding, dark and delicious.  https://youtu.be/e7U1YZNgwnY

Cover Me … This song was the second of seven Top Ten singles from Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A album that hit record store shelves back in 1984.  The album rose like a mushroom cloud as Bruce finally exploded in both sales and popularity at this juncture, and even he might say that this was a mixed blessing; stadium settings and large arenas just have never done justice to the full power and the glory and the emotional intimacy of a typical Bruce & E Street Band marathon musical experience.  https://youtu.be/s3tqIk8TPWM

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO SOCIAL DISTANCING

Keep Your Distance … Richard Thompson is a guitar god.  There are other Englishmen who more famously share that mantle like Eric Clapton, of course, who in the 1960s was the subject of graffiti scrawls all over London walls that equated the artist with the Heavenly Father (“Clapton is God”).  Thompson sprang from folk rock roots, however, not from blues, as he was a member of the 1960s band Fairport Convention.  His subsequent solo career—in which he dazzles with strong songs, intelligent and wry lyrics, and nimble guitar work on both acoustic and electric—is a marvel to parse through.  “Keep Your Distance” is one of Thompson’s ballads (at which he also excels), and it comes from his sixth solo album from 1991 entitled Rumor and Sigh.  https://youtu.be/62p4S7w0GHk

Six Feet Away … The SteelDrivers are a Nashville-based bluegrass band who have released five genre-stretching albums since 2008, the first two of which featured Chris Stapleton as lead singer.  A revised lineup of the group continued on and three more albums followed including the latest effort Bad For You in 2020.  “Six Feet Away” is from the SteelDrivers’ fourth release The Muscle Shoals Recordings.  https://youtu.be/KXahD9CFtNs

Don’t Come Around Here No More … Petty’s MTV video helped spark this song into longevity back in 1985 as it saturated the channel for a spell and intrigued old and new fans with its Alice in Wonderland themed approach.  The song, co-written by the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, hails from Petty and his Heartbreakers’ sixth album Southern Accents (1985).  https://youtu.be/WldDwR1UTYM

I Hear You Knocking … “I hear you knocking / but you can’t come in…”  This song, originally a piano-pounded rhythm & blues tune from 1955 as played by New Orleans musician Smiley Lewis, became a guitar-centric ‘50s style rocker in the hands of Welsh singer/guitarist Dave Edmunds.  It comes from Edmunds’ first solo album Rockpile (1972) and is just one of the covers on there of mostly obscure 1950s and early 1960s hit songs from artists including Chuck Berry, Ron Davies, Bob Dylan and Willie Dixon.  https://youtu.be/xnzRhAy62cI

Stay Away … Bradley’s success was not overnight—for him, it was late in the evening.  His debut album No Time For Dreaming (from which this track was taken) was released in 2011 when Bradley had just turned 62.  He had slogged through some tough times earlier on, but soul music was always in his head and heart starting with his life-changing concert experience as a 14-year-old when he saw James Brown at the Apollo Theater in 1962.  “Stay Away” is Bradley’s cover of the Kurt Cobain composition that first appeared on Nirvana’s debut album Nevermind in 1991.  https://youtu.be/3R7lF7zKbkI

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO ANOTHER COVID PRECAUTION

Keep Your Hands to Yourself … Remember bars?  Those places of libation where people were crammed in, packed to the max and partying as they caught up with each other’s lives or made new friends?  That was B.C.—Before COVID.  “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” was likely a song that you might have heard, as it was a jukebox favorite for many years after its debut in 1986 on the self-titled album by the Georgia Satellites.  In the current climate this tune’s title provides a necessary reminder for us (and remember as well: “no hug-ee, no kiss-ee”).  https://youtu.be/cPtw_Cd3zTk

Wash Your Hands … Lola is a blues singer from Atlanta, GA who brings us this tune via her 2007 album Give Her What She Wants.  One customer review currently on Amazon.com cites her “soulful, gritty, sexy, take-me-to-church singing” and another says “…she croons a few romantic tunes that will make you feel like a hot buttered biscuit.”  I’m lovin’ L-o-l-a, Lola.  https://youtu.be/hEL5e6xaYLs

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO THE PROBLEMS OF BUILDING NEW ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS

Solitude … Sam Cooke was a member of the famed Texas gospel music group the Soul Stirrers from 1950-1956, and then went solo to ultimately produce a number of soul stirring classics that spanned 1956 through the time of his death in 1964.  “Solitude” is from his third solo release, 1959’s Tribute to The Lady, an album of Billie Holiday songs (these same tunes are more readily available today through the 1975 album on the RCA label entitled Sam Cooke Interprets Billie Holiday).  https://youtu.be/xylrzUuQlhE

Distant Lover … This track from 1973’s Let’s Get It On shows the genius of Marvin Gaye.  Witness the sophisticated song arrangement; the swirling, practically trance inducing multi-tracked vocals; and above it all, Gaye’s pleading, pleasing and impassioned tenor.  Let’s Get It On, which also contained the radio hit “Sexual Healing,” hit radio and record stores about two years after Gaye’s career-defining What’s Going On album.  https://youtu.be/KJoeTh00gjk

Long Distance Love … Little Feat captures the essence of southern-styled rhythm & blues & rock ‘n’ roll; they’re gritty, adventurous, and their songwriting and execution are masterful.  This lovely lament written by guitarist/singer Lowell George hails from the band’s 1975 album The Last Record Album.  The band’s seven studio recordings between 1971 and 1979 hold many salient successes and valiant attempts; wherever I have tread in my many musical journeys in the past, I have always landed back on my Feat.  https://youtu.be/vsNeUZd9n48

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO BOREDOM AND/OR CABIN FEVER

We Gotta Get Out of This Place … 1960s British Invasion band The Animals recorded this song written by songwriting marrieds Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, a couple who were based in NYC’s famous Brill Building and wrote over fifty different hit songs for a combination of American and British recording artists.  The Animals did the song proud; the tune (from their 1965 USA release Animal Tracks) remains timeless largely because of lead singer Eric Burdon’s powerful, full-throated pleading, and the fact that the song has resonated with individuals through the generations, starting with the Vietnam era and running right through our current quarantining.  https://youtu.be/t6gcxNFc1I0

Too Much Time … Captain Beefheart was an idiosyncratic and autocratic musician, sculptor and painter, whose music spanning the late 1960s through the early 1980s was often abrasive and challenging to listen to.  Upon Beefheart’s death in December 2010, an NPR obituary written by Rick Karr quoted the artist as once stating he had never set out to do standard rock and roll: "That 'mama heartbeat,' that 'bom-bom-bom'—it's so boring, it's so banal.  I mean so, uh, hypnotic," the captain had said.  "I don't wanna hypnotize anybody.  I just wanna play.  I mean, I want things to change—like the patterns and shadows that fall from the sun."  Despite his aims for unflagging unconventionality, Beefheart did produce at least a few songs that were more accessible and therefore more digestible to a wider swath of rock music fans.  “Too Much Time” from the 1972 album Clear Spot was one such song.  https://youtu.be/Uj5J6RIMJhA

It’s The Same Old Song … This Motown tune was a Top Five single in the USA when released in 1965 as part of Four Tops’ second album which was called…uh, Four Tops Second Album.  Astoundingly, this vocal group stayed together with no changes in line-up from their 1953 beginnings through June of 1997 when member Lawrence Payton passed away from cancer.  Lead singer Levi Stubbs was the band’s baritone benchmark who also provided the voice for the mean green plant Audrey II in the 1986 musical dark-comedy film from director Frank Oz, Little Shop Of Horrors.  https://youtu.be/oZLG9MV5GvQ

The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) … By the time of his fourth album released in 1976, Small Change, Tom Waits’ voice had become a meld between blues legend Howlin’ Wolf, trumpeter/singer Louis Armstrong, and Animal, the drummer from the band Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show.  Waits was also battling a few drink demons and was weary of life on the road, and his songs were, in the words of AllMusic.com reviewer William Ruhlmann, “steeped in whiskey and atmosphere…It’s as if Waits were determined to combine the Humphrey Bogart and Dooley Wilson characters from Casablanca with a dash of On the Road's Dean Moriarty to illuminate a dark world of bars and all-night diners.”  https://youtu.be/Ai7umMFRWfA

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES DURING COVID 

Walkin’ By Myself … Harmonica player Paul Butterfield wasn’t even out of his teens yet and was frequenting blues clubs throughout his hometown of Chicago, letting soon-to-be-idols Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and others “school” him in the blues through their performances and later on, through their occasional invitations to him to jam.  Beginning in 1965, Butterfield’s self-named blues band produced a number of crisp and tight R&B/blues albums featuring Butterfield’s wailing harp and a sizzling horn section.  “Walkin’ By Myself” comes from their fifth album Keep On Moving which was released in 1969.  https://youtu.be/PfOZb7EeS0E

Cook with Honey … Cook with honey, or ask your live-in honey to help you cook—either way, do spend time in meal prep as it’s a great way to focus and bring about some tasty results.  This song was written by Valerie Carter while the singer was with the Loginitas, California folk-rock band Howdy Moon in the early 1970s, before being swept up by Little Feat’s Lowell George to embark on an unfortunately destined-to-be-cultish solo career.  Howdy Moon, the band’s 1974 eponymous debut, was their one and only album and “Cook with Honey” from that record was actually a minor radio hit the year before for singer Judy Collins.  This is Howdy Moon’s version:  https://youtu.be/Ojd6Lw68rzA

Games People Play … Since the March 2020 shutdown of normal life due to COVID, games at home have gone gonzo.  Families are digging into Scrabble, Monopoly, Ludo and Chess among others, and consumer spending on video games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Pokemon Sword and Call of Duty: Modern Warefare rose 22 percent in 2020 according to a recent New York Times article.  The song listed here is the original version as performed by singer-songwriter Joe South and it actually deals with themes of intolerance and hypocrisy—those kind of games people play. The tune is from South’s 1968 debut album Introspect.  https://youtu.be/K33o1FtLgwM

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO THE PITFALLS OF HUNKERING DOWN WITH YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER FOR MONTHS ON END

We Just Disagree … This 1977 song by British singer-songwriter/musician Dave Mason is from his seventh studio album Let It Flow, and it quickly caught the fancy of radio programmers across the USA.  Regrettably, the tune successfully clung to station playlists for many years afterward on a lot of snooze-inducing, adult contemporary format stations and the life was wrung out of it.  Today, let’s just say, its beauty is in the ear of the beholder.  https://youtu.be/EIPz46htVNA

Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of … U2’s 2000 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind was in some critics’ and fans’ opinions a return to the care and craft evidenced in the band’s 1980s songwriting on albums such as The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree.  Co-produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, All That You Leave Behind offers up this particularly moving number that U2’s Bono has said was inspired by his friend Michael Hutchence’s suicide in 1997; Hutchence was the lead singer of Australian band INXS.  https://youtu.be/_6YxhlF8HRo

Should I Stay or Should I Go … Punk rock’s fearless foursome The Clash formed in London in 1976 and was comprised of a lead guitarist/singer, a bass player, a drummer, and a rhythm guitarist/principal vocalist named Joe Strummer who’d come from the “spit and snarl” school of rock.  The band itself was dynamic and irrepressible, and by their third and fourth albums (1979’s London Calling and 1980’s Sandinista!) the group had become quite musically venturesome.  The Clash blended political messaging with punk, ska, rock, reggae, rap and third world beats to produce a musical stew that ended up inspiring a number of past and present alternative bands.  “Should I Stay or Should I Go” is from the 1982 album Combat Rock, and it features lead guitarist Mick Jones on vocals.  https://youtu.be/BN1WwnEDWAM

How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away … Dan Hicks was an eccentric and eclectic singer/songwriter who first gained a reputation in the late 1960s for quirky, fetching songs performed by his musically hard-to-pin-down ensemble Dan Hick & His Hot Licks.  Through the early 1970s he was releasing albums and bringing to college campuses and clubs across the country a freewheelin’ style of music sometimes labeled “hippie acoustic swing,” his meld of jazz, country, swing, folk, bluegrass and even gypsy music.  The song listed here is from Hicks’ 1969 debut album called Original Recordings.  https://youtu.be/sTz7nABgIH4

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO VACCINATIONS

Hit Me with your Best Shot … If you checked out the once-meaningful national song-ranking charts of yesteryear, you’d find Pat Benatar with fifteen Top Forty singles in Billboard magazine between 1979 and 1986.  “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” was fairly early in her success story and hails from the singer’s second album Crimes of Passion (1980).  The keys to her success?  Benatar possessed a powerful, at times operatic vocal style that was expertly cushioned by a crack rhythm section and the criminally unheralded guitar work of husband Neil Giraldo.  In addition to a link to “Best Shot” from Benatar, for fun and contrast Musicasaurus.com is also posting a link to a cover version by the satire-driven 1950s music tribute band from Southern California, Big Daddy.  (Benatar) https://youtu.be/rXs9MXrHxVE … (Big Daddy) https://youtu.be/RArhodfkIYE

Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love) … In the 1950s and 1960s there was a regional phenomenon called the “beach music scene” primarily in the coastal southern states which essentially opened the door for young and curious white audiences there to hear current and emerging black artists’ rhythm & blues records.  Riding one of the waves of beach music that came along in the 1960s was the eight-piece R&B band the Swingin’ Medallions from North Carolina.  They rocketed to national fame in 1966 with their one and only truly substantial hit “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love,” taken from the album of the same name.  https://youtu.be/AalipGj0utc

 

  AND…A SONG TITLE FOR THE ANTI-VAXXERS

The Needle and the Damage Done … This is Neil Young’s lament from his Harvest album (1972) that he wrote due to the overdose deaths of some close band members, Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry.  Any anti-vaxxers currently opposed to the COVID shots can of course derive their own meaning of the song’s title.  https://youtu.be/49M10VIXPk4

 

 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________

Posted 1/10/21.....THE NAME OF THE GAME

Just about a month ago over the weekend of December 11th, Live Nation announced through a press release that the large outdoor concert venue near Pittsburgh was rechristened The Pavilion at Star Lake.  This kind of “Circle of Life” closin’ of the loop sometimes happens in the music business with venue sponsorships and at least for now, the Star Lake name is back for the first time in twenty years.

Working our way backwards, let’s start namin’ names: S&T Bank Music Park was the amphitheater’s latest handle beginning in January 2020 though the venue’s looming summer season was then ultimately stolen—and the bank consequently robbed of recognition—due to COVID coming to roost.  Before S&T, naming rights flowed this way through the years: KeyBank Pavilion from 2016 to 2019, First Niagara Pavilion 2010 to 2016, Post-Gazette Pavilion 2000 through 2009 and Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990 to 1999.

How did Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre come into being?  In the late 1980s there was a bit of a race to get the first shovel in the ground on a large amphitheater for this southwestern Pennsylvania region, and there were two concert promotion companies vying for land rights and corresponding community embrace.  Pittsburgh’s DiCesare-Engler Productions and Houston, Texas-based Pace were in this slugfest, and Pace won the race. 

Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre was really just one of a handful of widely disseminated outdoor venues built by Pace in the USA in a ten-year period principally spanning the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s.  Our venue was ultimately nestled on a patch of reclaimed strip mining land in Washington County (a half-hour’s drive from Pittsburgh) and construction started in late 1989 with doors first opening to the public in June of 1990. 

My employment at Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre began in the venue’s second year.  In February 1991 I had decided to jump ship from the Pittsburgh Civic Arena where I was in a booking role in order to take the reins of a departing marketing director at Star Lake.  The first order of business upon grabbing that chair was to go out (under the wing of amphitheater executive director Tom Rooney and general manager Wilson Rogers) to meet the Cameron family of Washington County, the successful owners of the tenth largest Coca-Cola bottling company in the U.S.  I found this an easy assignment, as the Cameron family members that I met that day—principally Don, Jim and Wendy—were savvy and driven, yet warm and down-to-earth.  And they loved their name-in-title sponsorship with Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre.

This was my first real brush with a sponsorship of this magnitude, and I quickly learned that maintaining this relationship was a core pillar of my new marketing role since the Camerons had committed beaucoup bucks back in 1990 to have the Coca-Cola brand cemented into our official venue name.  So we treated the Camerons as royalty, really, bending over backwards on inside-the-venue Coke signage requests, stocking (nay, overstocking) their Coke products in all of our concession stands and points of sale, and even accommodating them with special events that we created ourselves.  

The Saturday, May 24, 1997 Surge Festival was one such event.  This was a twelve-hour day of homegrown music from a number of local bands, including three exciting young acts who coincidentally at the time were each circling ‘round success stemming from new and individually hatched national record label deals: The Clarks, Brownie Mary and The Gathering Field.  

The significance of the festival’s name?  Surge was a newly debuted citrus-flavored soft drink that, all at once in that summer of 1997, had become a major priority of both the Camerons and Coca-Cola on a national level.  Cameron’s fervid hope was that with our venue’s marketing muscle applied to this aptly named event, we’d make a mighty impression (through media impressions) on the youth market who were by this summer of 1997 quite well attuned to our venue and its offerings.  The Surge Festival was successful and surprisingly so—we were projecting/hoping for 12,000 and ended up with over 18,000 fans in attendance for this locally concocted hometown band extravaganza. 

On the very top of my list of marketing efforts on behalf of Cameron Coca-Cola, though, was policing the media when it came to on-air and in-print mentions of our venue name.  This was a constant struggle especially when it came to radio deejays that habitually shortened our venue name to “Star Lake” instead of “Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre”—and by contract with the Camerons, we sorely needed that name all Coked up!  

Especially in the first few years of Cameron’s sponsorship with us, I was often on the phone with certain program directors of Pittsburgh and outer market radio stations pleading with them to call us by our rightful name, even suggesting that they simply drop the word “Amphitheatre” from their mouthful and just call us “Coca-Cola Star Lake.”  My relationship with the PDs of these stations was generally pretty strong but if I really ran into a brick wall on this issue, I then called the particular station’s general sales manager to diplomatically remind him or her of the amount of money I was spending on advertising our 40-some shows over the course of the season.  In this way I became—and I’m paraphrasing here—a huge believer in Teddy Roosevelt’s proverbial saying “Speak softly and carry a big wallet.”

All in all, the amphitheater and Cameron had a great partnership through the 1990s.  Then as we approached the end of their ten-year sponsorship term in 1999 the principals called us in for a special meeting at their Washington County headquarters shortly after our ninth summer of operation in October 1998.  News had just started to circulate that Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., the world’s largest soft drink bottler, was in the final stages of purchasing the Cameron Coca-Cola Bottling Company and the deal was expected to be completed by year’s end.  The Camerons had gathered us altogether to reiterate their great satisfaction with the relationship we’d carved out with them, but with their imminent sale to the behemoth bottler all of their local financial commitments of course had been reviewed upstream—and in the case of Star Lake, the name-in-title sponsorship was not something the new ownership was going to renew after the current deal expired.

So in anticipation of Coca-Cola abdicating their throne we began a search for a name-in-title savior to take the reins in time for the 2000 summer season of shows.  As our search intensified through the fall of 1999 and into the first quarter of 2000, we fortunately began zeroing on a couple of serious prospects that had landed on our doorstep—the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

   

Things with the Tribune-Review in particular were moving along rather quickly. As discussions deepened, though, and the deal elements and implications were all sussed out by the Trib team and channeled upward to the level of archconservative owner and billionaire Dick Scaife, we began to glean a strong feeling that this deal ultimately might not come to fruition.  I know, I kn