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 10/18/20.....YOU REALLY GOT ME

(Next post: Sunday, November 1, 2020)

The above photo of Van Halen is one I hastily snapped in 1978 in the low-lit, warehouse-sized back room of the Oasis Records & Tapes superstore in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh. 

I was in my first year of employment back then as a field merchandising specialist working for the Cleveland branch office of Warner-Elektra-Atlantic (WEA) Corporation though continuing to reside here in Pittsburgh.  Ninety-five percent of my job was doing album displays in area record stores but occasionally I’d be dispatched to a specific store to participate in and help facilitate a “fan meet-and-greet” event with a new, emerging artist that had been deemed a label priority.

Van Halen was one such artist.  This was my first official meet-and-greet in my new role as a WEA employee, and as the fans in fairly large numbers continued to enter and then queue up inside the front of the store, Van Halen wisely chose to enter through the back door once they arrived.  That’s when I grabbed this quick photo before the foursome continued on into the public areas of the store out front…

That was my one and only true exposure to the band, but with the passing of Eddie Van Halen on October 6th, I wanted to reach out to a few other Pittsburghers who have had experiences with and/or meaningful reflections about this exceptional guitarist and the band he co-founded with his brother Alex…RIP, Eddie.

  Mark Wallace was on 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 a Warner Brothers Records promotion position based in Pittsburgh (1977 through 1990).  Wallace currently resides in Tampa, Florida and is an English teacher and part-time radio deejay.

“I believe it was the September 2, 1978 show, the band’s first time in Pittsburgh as a headlining artist at the Civic Arena,” Wallace said, dusting off his memory bank.  “I had an on-air interview set up with WDVE for that afternoon.  I do not remember the deejay but I had Eddie and I think Alex with me for it.  In the conversation about the show that night, when the deejay asked what the fans should expect, Alex said that they were ‘going to rock the fuck out of it.’

“In 1978, at least at WDVE, there was no automatic 7-second delay; the deejay had to hit a button to keep something from airing.  Too late.  The station’s general manager, the program director and the music director came flying into the studio.  Depending upon whose truth it was, the deejay’s version was that he hit the button and it didn’t work; everyone else said bullshit—which was my thought; the word had just caught the deejay by total surprise.

“The general manager asked everyone to leave and to the program director said ‘Don’t ever play their stuff on-air’ (but the PD and I were good; WDVE did go on to play all of our cuts from that first album).  Maybe about four years later in a Wheeling, West Virginia show, this time at WOMP, the Top 40 station—the same story, again.”

Wallace recalled that in his time as a Pittsburgh-based Warner Brothers promotion person he “covered” four Van Halen concerts, meaning, squiring the band around for pre-concert interviews, hanging out and being visible backstage on behalf of the band’s record label on the night of each show, etc.  His assessment of the guys during this late ‘70s through early ‘80s time period of the original four members: “Eddie was cool—awesome, actually—and Alex was a pain in the ass.  Michael Anthony tried hard to be cool but wasn’t, and David Lee was David Lee.  Period.”

  Sean McDowell, a twenty-six year veteran of WDVE in the afternoon deejay slot from 1993 through 2019, also had some remembrances that shine a light on the David Lee Roth era(s) of the band.

“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?!’

“I saw them at the Civic Arena in late ‘78 or early '79 and met them after the show in their dressing room.  David Lee Roth and Alex Van Halen left almost immediately and didn't talk to any of us ‘Radio types.’  But Eddie Van Halen and Michael Anthony were decent guys and actually conversed with us for a while.  Years later I met David Lee Roth in ‘93 or '94 when I had just started at WDVE.  He was REALLY fucked up on the air during our interview; he was doing a solo gig at Graffiti later that night.  He was an arrogant rock star lead singer, which I had expected. 

“When Van Halen played at Star Lake in July 2015, we were there and David Lee Roth was fucking AWFUL!  Kenny Wayne Shepherd was the opening act.  Fast forward about a year later, and I'm interviewing Kenny Wayne re: being the opening act for Van Halen on that 2015 tour.  I asked him ‘How did that tour go?’  Stephen Stills was also in the room; he and Kenny were now working together.  ‘Eddie Van Halen is just the best!’ says Kenny.  ‘We're friends from waaay back.  And Alex is such a fun guy.  I get along great with Eddie's son Wolfie, too.  All the Van Halens are my good friends!’  Then he paused and said, ‘David Lee Roth never said a fucking word to me the entire tour.  Not one!’  So I burst out laughing and Stephen Stills is laughing too, and he says, ‘Hey, I have a David like that in my life!’" 

  Ed Traversari, former concert promoter and partner in DiCesare-Engler Productions which locally presented a number of Van Halen dates through the years, has a special memory related to the band’s one and only stadium date in Pittsburgh—the June 15, 1988 Monsters of Rock tour headlined by Van Halen.

“I have many memories of getting to see Van Halen perform and be amazed at the guitar playing of Eddie Van Halen,” said Traversari.  “However one of the more fun things I got to do one time was when we were about to do the Monsters of Rock concert at Three Rivers Stadium in the summer of 1988.  In advance of the tour starting up, each promoter was asked to have their marketing directors fly to Los Angeles and witness their ‘kick off’ press conference.  So myself along with all the other marketers representing the various promoters across the country were staying at the Sheraton Hotel near Universal Studios. 

“One morning we were all escorted to the King Kong surface lot at Universal Studios by tram to the location of the press conference.  All the bands including Van Halen, Metallica, the Scorpions, Dokken and Kingdom Come (which included Pittsburgh’s own Dan Steigerwald, known as Danny Stag) were there.  It was quite amazing to see them all at one time, all genuinely excited and getting ready to kick off their tour.  Unfortunately the show was a huge financial loss for our company here in Pittsburgh, even though I think we did about 28,000 people, but the show was incredible.  Eddie did things with his guitar that most guitar players can only dream of doing.  He was special and people like that only come along once and a while.  RIP, EVH.”

  Paul Carosi is the locally-based designer/developer of the website Pittsburgh Music History (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory) and he is also a first cousin of Beaver Falls, PA musicians the Granati Brothers.  Carosi reflects back on a key binding tie that Eddie Van Halen established early on with our southwestern Pennsylvania region—a deep, unflagging fondness for the Granati Brothers.  It was Eddie’s empathy with other passionate musicians and to an even greater extent his true generosity of spirit that helped thrust the Granatis into the national spotlight through a coveted opening-act slot on select dates on two Van Halen tours.

Carosi recalled how his cousins, newly signed back in 1979 to the A&M record label, first encountered Eddie: “On a spring day in March of 1979 a van carrying the Granati Brothers pulled into the parking lot of Simplot Stadium Fieldhouse in Caldwell, Idaho (a half an hour’s drive from Boise).  The Granatis had just launched their first national tour the week before, primarily in small venues, in support of their A&M Records album G-Force.  After appearing at three shows with the Fabulous Poodles at L.A.’s Whisky a Go Go, their booking agency Premiere Talent sent them as a last-minute fill-in to open two arena-level shows for another one of their new acts who were just starting up their very first headlining tour—Van Halen. 

“The Granati Brothers won over the audience with their first song, and Eddie’s interest was piqued by the crowd’s reaction.  He had come out of his dressing room to see what was going on.  The crowd cheered the Granatis on, demanding an encore, but the band members felt it would be disrespectful to the headliners if they went back out.  Neil Monk, Van Halen’s manager at the time, urged them on: ‘Great set!  Now go back out there.  You earned it.’  After the show Neil said to them ‘Eddie watched your set.  He wants to know if you’ll do more tour dates with us.’  The next night in Logan, Utah Eddie introduced himself to the Granati Brothers to officially welcome them.  It was the start of the real friendship between Van Halen and the Granatis.”

According to Carosi, the Granatis over the next handful of years kept in touch with Eddie in particular.  Having snagged the opening act slot for a total of 33 arena shows on this first Van Halen headlining tour in 1979, the G boys once again were extended the opportunity in 1981.  Even though A&M Records by this time had dropped the Granati Brothers from their record label, the band—now back to playing club-level sized venues in southwestern Pennsylvania—was still embraced by Eddie.  The Granatis ended up opening for Van Halen on a total of 45 dates on this 1981 Fair Warning Tour. 

In 1985 while in Pittsburgh because wife Valerie Bertinelli was filming a movie, Eddie Van Halen rang up Rick Granati and ended up hanging out with the entire Granati family at their Beaver Falls home where, according to Carosi, “he greeted the family with hugs and kisses before he partook a tasting of David’s and cousin Joe Demuzio’s potent Dago Red.”  Also on tap for that evening, according to Carosi: A trip together to a local bar where Eddie spilled the beans to the Granati Brothers about he and brother Alex just firing David Lee Roth.  The evening ended back at the Granati family house with jam sessions into the wee hours (or based on the amount of wine consumed, perhaps the wee wee hours), and another revelation from Eddie—he sat down at some point at the keyboards in the band’s basement studio and played a brand new song he was working on.  The tune, “Why Can’t This Be Love,” showed up less than a year later in blazing final form on Van Halen’s new recording 5150, which was also the debut of the group’s brand new singer Sammy Hagar…

  To round out our recollections here, Musicasaurus turns to Steve Hansen.  Principally known from his “Jimmy and Steve” morning show days at WDVE from 1980-1986, Hansen is now independently a producer/writer in various fields.

Hansen pointed out to me recently that early on in his life he was never one who particularly desired to play an instrument or form a band, and as such, he really heard a song on the radio as a whole, not the sum of its parts.  He was and still is a devoted devourer of music, though, and with the passing of Eddie Van Halen, he had this to say: “I first heard and viewed Van Halen as a generational rock band.  Eddie played a tasty, mean guitar.  Did I worship him above the band?  Hang on his every riff?  Even know what the hell he was doing that was so revolutionary?  No.  His playing was the stuff of cult guitar magazines.  What I did hear was a killer band that sounded good, looked good and had some great songs…Today I can appreciate the technical brilliance of Eddie Van Halen.  I mourn the passing of one of the greatest guitar players of all time.”

It is interesting to note here that about two years ago when asked by Musicasaurus for his all-time favorite Pittsburgh Civic Arena concert, Hansen had picked—from a possible list, of course, of hundreds and hundreds of shows—Van Halen.  Hansen said at the time, “I think my personal favorite was the 2008 Van Halen show at the Civic Arena—by then called Mellon Arena—the first with David Lee Roth back out front since 1985.  Amazingly, Roth looked like he'd arrived on stage from the planet Idiot-zope, a planet where no one sang in tune, moved with grace or gestured with anything less than a carnival barker's restraint.  The show was amazing because Eddie Van Halen, who was canceling dates and even whole tours during this time, was phenomenal.  Deft, inventive, blazing, harmonic and precise.  All while an insufferable clown mugged just feet away.  I was mesmerized by the dueling spectacles—Eddie reaching for the note that would crack the universe, Roth reaching for a shred of his former showmanship.

“I think it was the last show I ever saw at the Arena.  After watching a lifetime of shows both good and bad it was, fittingly, both.”







Inspiration for the subject matter of a new post on musicasaurus.com can come from unlikely places—and this one came from a vampire movie.

Oh, it wasn’t an old warhorse with Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, or that movie with a miscast Tom Cruise, or even the one with George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino beguiled by suck-ulent vampire queen Salma Hayek.  This movie—2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive, starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton—came from the melting-pot mind of director Jim Jarmusch, whose is quoted on the IMDB website as maintaining his films are not for everyone: “I prefer to be subcultural rather than mass-cultural,” the director said.  “I'm not interested in hitting the vein of the mainstream.”  Nicely put.

At the beginning of the film there is an interlude with Hiddleston’s reclusive character Adam, a centuries-old vampire, and a young man from the outside world who periodically procures for him rare items of inestimable value.  In this particular scene, the young man’s bounty includes four guitars—a 1959 white Supro, a 1966 silverblue Hagström, an early 1960s black Silvertone, and a red Gretsch 6120, the first in the line of Chet Atkins’ signature Gretsch guitars.  Adam reverently picks up the Gretsch and says softly “I once saw Eddie Cochran play one of these.”  The young man perks up.  “Wait—you actually saw Eddie Cochran play?!!”  And Adam, catching himself, answers “Yeah…on YouTube.”

I liked this film a lot.  Only Lovers Left Alive is an elegant slow-paced character study, not big on plot but replete with beautifully shot night scenes and sprinkled references to great works of art and intellectual milestones through the ages.  And that guitar scene, for me, was a real bonus byproduct.  It spurred me on later that evening to start thinking about the myriad possibilities of sound that this one instrument is capable of producing.

After all, the guitar is pretty magical.  On ourpastimes.com, a self-described “go-to source for all things games and hobbies,” contributing writer Miles Jarvis in a September 2017 article weighs in on how one might better define the actual sound of a guitar.  Jarvis points out initially, sensibly, that “different styles of guitars sound different; they may be twangy, full-bodied, bright, metallic or harp-like.”  Further affecting the sound are things like amplification and in-studio and/or onstage effects, applied through technique, in which the guitars “may sound over-compressed, lightly compressed, distorted, grunty, tinny, full of reverb, delayed, fuzzy or crunchy.”  

But the real craft of sound creation and the resulting soundscapes rests literally in the hands of the players—the individuals who have a deep devotion to task and the creative wellspring to make their mark in this world through this instrument.  The ones who coax out truly celestial passages…or wring out righteous fire…or hold back but deftly accent…or serve up fleet-fingered runs…or discordantly slash and squeal…

Below is a list of just some of my favorite guitarists plus a representative song from each.  The style and the approach may vary but each of them (in my view!) is quite successful in really reaching the emotional core of their listeners, and this is the type of thing that I am quite thankful for—these fulfilling, minor miracles within songs that end up somewhere between an enriching experience and an awe-inducing encounter.


  Al Di Meola with guest guitarist Paco de Lucia from Di Meola’s second solo album, 1977’s Elegant Gypsy … “Mediterranean Sundance”https://youtu.be/A3m_SQFd3xg


  Tommy Bolin from drummer Alphonse Mouzon’s third album Mind Transplant (1975) … “Golden Rainbows” … https://youtu.be/Kg381P4jCEI


  Terje Rypdal from his 2020 album Conspiracy… “As If The Ghost…Was Me!?” … https://youtu.be/fIkwjYgSNZQ


  Wes Montgomery from his 1966 release Tequila… “Bumpin’ On Sunset” … https://youtu.be/ER8Q504Vro8


  Bill Harkleroad of the band Mallard (ex-members of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band) … from Mallard’s second and final release In A Different Climate (1976) … “Heartstrings” … https://youtu.be/5TE-p6NEjbg


  Bill Nelson of the band Be-Bop Deluxe … from the band’s 1974 debut album Axe Victim… “Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus” … https://youtu.be/eNx7wmmE5Zo


  Allan Holdsworth from the group Gong’s seventh album Gazeuse! (from 1976; retitled Expresso for its U.S. release) … “Expresso” … https://youtu.be/2NEH3UCXklg


  Tom Verlaine (formerly of the band Television) … from his fifth solo album Flash Light (1987) … “Annie’s Tellin’ Me” … https://youtu.be/fXishMjR17A


  Bonnie Raitt from her thirteenth studio release Fundamental (1998) … “Spit of Love” … https://youtu.be/vGlfN-GZ1gI   


  Stevie Ray Vaughan from his fourth studio album In Step (1989) … “Riviera Paradise” … https://youtu.be/KfGBQHM1EzI


  Robben Ford from his 1988 album Talk To Your Daughter… “Help The Poor” … https://youtu.be/bvUcWbiSnrk


  Steve Hunter from his debut solo album Swept Away (1977) … “Swept Away” … https://youtu.be/e95MkDHsYYs


  Larry Carlton from his 2006 release Fire Wire… “Goodbye” … https://youtu.be/4UiwMdbUerg


  Phil Keaggy of the group Glass Harp … from the group’s eponymous debut album (1970) … “Children’s Fantasy” … https://youtu.be/KpJMNWhblH8


  Jeff Beck from his debut solo album Blow by Blow (1975) … “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” … https://youtu.be/xiOPvOBd8IA


  Kaki King from her fourth album Dreaming of Revenge (2008) … “Air and Kilometers” … https://youtu.be/h4b3N_di1MY


  Bill Frisell from his sixteenth studio release The Intercontinentals (2003) … “Listen” … https://youtu.be/73UTaKBTtOU


  Michael Hedges from his second studio album Aerial Boundaries (1984) … “Aerial Boundaries” … https://youtu.be/YaIN13aDbCc


  Kazumi Watanabe from his album Mobo I (1984) … “Walk, Don’t Run” … https://youtu.be/suXnVpj0nBw


  Ralph Towner from the group Oregon’s album Out of the Woods (1978) … “Witchi-Tai-To” … https://youtu.be/gAWkygH_Ig8






Posted 9/21/20.....



Thanks to Stacy Innerst (www.stacyinnerst.com) for the design and creation of the Musicasaurus.com logo and the Tunes for Tables logo.
And...The "Tunes For Tables" fundraising campaign was created and conducted in memory of Margot Gloninger Jones (1952-2007).  With family and friends alike, she was a true knitter of the bonds that hold us together.


Posted 9/6/20.....BITS AND PIECES II

Here is another edition of Musicasaurus.com’s BITS AND PIECES, a roundup of four unrelated stories of interest revolving around—what else?—MUSIC.


In Musicasaurus.com’s August 9th Bits and Pieces post there was mention of Neil Young’s recent suit against the Trump re-election campaign for using the artist’s music in political settings including rallies and related events.  Well, another artist—or rather, his estate—has stepped up to the plate with a similar objection.

USA TODAY and other media outlets broke the news in late August that Leonard Cohen’s estate is considering legal action against Trump’s campaign for playing a cover version of the renowned and revered Cohen song “Hallelujah.”  The song was played during the fireworks display on the National Mall that capped off the last night of the Republican National Convention on Thursday evening, August 27th.

Lawyer for the estate Michelle L. Rice said in a statement to USA TODAY that “We were surprised and dismayed that the RNC would proceed knowing that the Cohen Estate had specifically declined the RNC’s use request, and their rather brazen attempt to politicize and exploit in such an egregious manner ‘Hallelujah.' ”  Rice’s statement concluded with an olive branch of sorts, yet the hand that extended it might have been cloaking an itchy middle finger: “Had the RNC requested another song, ‘You Want it Darker,” for which Leonard won a posthumous Grammy in 2017, we might have considered approval of that song.”



Musicasaurus.com’s August 23rd post entitled “Songs in the Key of Life” contained the results of a quick-question survey I had sent out to a number of different music industry people and media folks.  The two questions I had posed: What music has been a surprise comfort to you during COVID quarantining?  Which artists, which songs?

Cleveland’s Barry Gabel, a longtime Belkin Productions-turned-Live Nation sponsorship and marketing guru, was a bit late to the party and missed the posting deadline.  Subsequently though, he sent me his very worthwhile recommendations for contending with COVID:

What music has been a surprise comfort to you during COVID quarantining?  

I’ve found I’m “comforted” by some of the most inspirational recording artists that nurtured me on my musical journey—artists like Marvin Gaye (What’s Going On), Stevie Wonder (Songs in the Key of Life), Michael Franks (Sleeping Gypsy), and anything by Joni, Jackson and Bonnie Raitt...and oh yeah, Bob Marley. 

Which artists, which songs?

Interestingly enough, I have found new artists are providing me a sense of focus and new energy, just as important now more than ever as the “comfort” artists listed above...I say, if you can’t look forward with a sign of hope that something good is just around the corner, how else can one get excited about tomorrow during such a disheartening time—shit, it’s like I’m Bill Murray in Groundhog Day!

So, give these albums a listen to: 



Since the end of May, protests across the U.S.A. have been roiling our nation sparked by the death of George Floyd.  And chiefly because music is never far from my frontal lobe, I began thinking about cause-conscious musicians and their songs that poignantly deal with the struggle for racial equality.  Floyd’s death in particular led me back to listen to Peter Gabriel’s 1980 anti-apartheid classic “Biko” which addresses the 1977 death of South African activist Stephen Biko while in police custody—and the ripples of change and revolution that spread from there: "You can blow out a candle / But you can't blow out a fire / Once the flames begin to catch / The wind will blow it higher."

My mind also went back to a powerful, thought-provoking 1991 song by a much more obscure singer-songwriter, Garland Jeffries.  Born in Brooklyn in 1943 of Puerto Rican and African American descent, this artist career-wise had a modest hit in 1981 with his remake of the 1960s classic “96 Tears” by the one-hit wonder band Question Mark and the Mysterians.  Jeffries, though, was predominantly concerned throughout his career with exploring his heritage and writing and performing songs with racially conscious themes, and in 1991 he released his eighth studio recording entitled Don’t Call Me Buckwheat.

The title tune was reportedly inspired by Jeffries’ experience at a Shea Stadium ballgame when he got up to hit the concession stands and someone behind him in the crowd yelled “Hey Buckwheat, sit down!”  The album sports a number of race-related songs including “Color Line” and “Racial Repertoire,” but the song that floored me when I cracked open the CD for a first listen was “Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

Musically it is a stirring accomplishment by this artist who deftly blends rock, reggae, soul and blues into his own signature style, but “Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll” is also lyrically quite the achievement.  The song resonates times two, in that it mentions Jeffries’ mixed-race heritage and race discrimination, but also then weaves in a deliciously damning thread that lays bare the blatant appropriation of black music in the 1950s by certain “star” white musicians: “Hail hail rock 'n' roll, comes from r 'n' b and soul / Don't leave me standing in the cold…Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino / Here come Elvis, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee…”  This song is Jeffries’ career triumph in Musicasaurus’ humble opinion; give it a listen here: https://youtu.be/wKfRcIyit98



The September 2020 issue of Rolling Stone magazine features the Fab Four on the cover with the words “The End of The Beatles,” and inside is an article by Rob Sheffield recounting the group’s last-gasp efforts in 1969 and 1970 to produce music in the studio and to balance temperaments within the band.  The latter was to no avail.

The Beatles officially parted ways in April 1970 when Paul McCartney issued a press release stating that he was no longer working with the group.  The next month brought the band’s final release, Let It Be, their twelfth and final studio album.  Accompanying that release was the theatrical film of the same name, a documentary of the band’s most recent recording sessions followed by the boys’ unannounced, 40-plus minute rooftop concert at 3 Savile Row (their record company’s London headquarters). 

In the Rolling Stone piece, Sheffield begins with a close-up look a bit further back, in January 1969.  The scene is the recording studio where ½ of the Beatles are no-shows.  Paul and Ringo are there, ready to rock ‘n’ roll on tape, but George is missing and so is John and his soul mate Yoko.  Paul and Ringo and others in the studio then lament the increasing tensions within the band, and Yoko draws fairly universal criticism from those gathered; she has glommed onto John to such a degree that the two are inseparable, and so Yoko—oh, no!—is at every band meeting and every band recording session.

Sheffield writes, “Paul has to chuckle, thinking about how future generations will look back at this—the Beatles, the greatest of all rock & roll bands, the world’s most legendary creative team, falling apart over such a trivial spat.  Even on a winter morning as gloomy as this one, Paul breaks into a laugh.  ‘It’s gonna be such an incredible sort of comical thing, like in 50 years’ time, you know.  They broke up because Yoko sat on an amp!’ ”

And so here we are, 50 years down the long and winding road, still missing the Beatles and most of us still blaming Yoko.  Rather than dwell any longer on the boys’ breakup, though, I believe we need to take another look at that pivotal year of 1970 and accentuate the positive.  As the Fab Four fizzled out, new artists were going forth into the breach, armed with a wide array of musical talent, looming recording contracts, eager-to-assist record company press, and clamoring music mag writers.

Certainly not all of the following artists/bands went on to fulfilling, lasting careers, and others were seemingly fated to become one hit wonders.  And by NO means do these 28 artists formed-in-’70 get within an inch of the Beatles’ impact and longevity.  But the list does illustrate the breadth and depth of unique talent that bubbled up or burst right into the public consciousness in the vacuum left by those four boys from Liverpool.


  1. Aerosmith – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1973
  2. America – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1971
  3. Asleep At The Wheel – formed in 1970; released their debut album Comin’ Right At Ya in 1973
  4. Clannad – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1973
  5. Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1972
  6. Derek & The Dominos – formed in 1970; released their double-album debut Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs that same year
  7. Dixie Dregs – formed in 1970 as Dixie Grit; renamed Dixie Dregs in 1973; released their debut album The Great Spectacular in 1976
  8. Doobie Brothers – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1971
  9. Earth Wind & Fire – formed under this name in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1971
  10. Electric Light Orchestra – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1971
  11. Emerson, Lake & Palmer – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album that same year
  12. England Dan & John Ford Coley – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1971
  13. Fotheringay – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album that same year
  14. Gentle Giant – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album that same year  
  15. Jefferson Starship – essentially formed in 1970 through a same-year concept album entitled Blows Against the Empire credited to Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship…The first official Jefferson Starship album, Dragon Fly, was released in 1974
  16. The Modern Lovers (featuring Jonathan Richman) – formed in 1970; recorded their self-titled debut album in 1972 which was then released in 1976
  17. King Harvest – formed in 1970; released their debut album I Can Tell in 1971 only in France; their second album Dancing in the Moonlight had a wider release (including the U.S.A.) in 1973
  18. Mark-Almond – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album that same year 
  19. Oregon – formed in 1970; released their second album Music of Another Present Era in 1972 (their first, entitled Our First Record, was not released until 1980 due to the original record label going belly up)
  20. Pure Prairie League – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1972
  21. Queen – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1973
  22. Raspberries – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1972
  23. Sugarloaf – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album that same year
  24. Suicide – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1977
  25. Uriah Heep – formed in 1970; released their debut album Very 'Eavy ...Very 'Umble that same year
  26. Weather Report – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1971
  27. Wet Willie – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1971
  28. Wild Cherry – formed in 1970; released their self-titled debut album in 1976






Posted 8/23/20.....SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE

Musicasaurus.com reached out recently to a number of music industry/media folks to see how they were faring during the reign of COVID-19—specifically, to see which artists and songs were on their playlists as an aid or a comfort in these stress-bomb days of uncertainty.  Were these folks tuning into new artists and new music?  Or simply welcoming back old friends?

Here is the survey question that was sent out to them: What music has been a surprise comfort to you during COVID quarantining?  Which artists, which songs?

And here are their replies…






  MICHAEL BELKIN: President / Live Nation 

Ain’t nothing has been “comforting,” but for whatever reason I found myself exercising to the same band every day for 40/50/60 days.  I listened to The Killers over & over & over; finally a day or so ago the fever broke and I added in The Foo’s, Rage, Bruce, and a few others.


  ED TRAVERSARI: Former concert promoter and partner in Pittsburgh’s DiCesare-Engler Productions (which eventually became part of Live Nation); currently associate professor in the sports, arts and entertainment management department at Point Park University

Based on the music that I have been listening to on Spotify over and over again, it would be mainly these two artists: Bruce Springsteen, especially his Western Stars album, and The Mavericks—songs like “Dance the Night Away,” “Here Comes My Baby,” “What a Crying Shame,” “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” “Harvest Moon,” and “Blue Moon.”


  SEAN MCDOWELL: Former afternoon-shift disc jockey on 102.5 WDVE who retired July 31, 2019 after twenty-six years in that coveted timeslot 

Listening to Motown comforts me!  Especially Marvin Gaye—“What's Going On,” “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” and “Trouble Man.”  Also, Marvin with Tammi Terrell—“You're All I Need To Get By” and “Your Precious Love.”  I put my headphones on, after first engaging in some high quality therapeutic cannabis research, turn on my iPod Touch and soon, the genius of Marvin Gaye and his Motown Records' studio studs The Funk Brothers and Tammi Terrell, they all take me away!  Ain't nothing like the real thing…


  RUSS ROSE: iHeartRADIO on-air talent on Pittsburgh's 105.9 WXDX and 102.5 WDVE, and on Nashville's 105.9 WNRQ

I was listening to my comfort music when I got your email.  "80s my way" is my go-to playlist when I am cutting grass or working around the house lately.  It's my guilty pleasure stuff, too—the usual new wave stuff and post punk like X, Billy Idol, the Police, Flock of Seagulls, Bow Wow Wow, Missing Persons, the Stranglers, etc.  And lots of one hit wonders from that era—Red Riders’ "China," Dexys Midnight Runners, and the Sparks, but no Depeche Mode or R.E.M.  I've heard those bands enough.


  STEVE ACRI: Longtime music fan and avid collector; former record store manager with National Record Mart/Oasis Records & Tapes; currently VP & Director of Procurement for SMARTSolution Technologies

During the pandemic quarantining I have had the opportunity to dive very deeply into my collection for both distraction and enjoyment.  My main artist of choice during this period has been King Crimson.  Over the past few years I purchased the massive multi-disc CD sets that they released for Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red.  They contain the original album mixes, the Steven Wilson remixes and as many live shows from the respective periods that are known to exist.  Absolutely overwhelming at times but, oh so satisfying.  Included is the entire 1974 show from the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, which I was lucky enough to have attended, sitting in the first row in front of John Wetton.  Very few modern artists capture my attention anymore, but this classic stuff I can’t get enough of.  I can’t wait until retirement so I can dedicate more listening time.


  SCOTT TADY: Entertainment Editor, Beaver County Times

Comcast's Indie Channel.  Channel 404 on our cable TV grid, playing emerging acts like Angel Olsen, Tame Impala, Car Seat Headrest, Beabadoobee, KennyHoopla—and hipster ones like Bon Iver, Fiona Apple and Radiohead.  Indie rock has been Covid-19 comfort food.  Angst-y without being anthemic; introspective, vaguely downbeat lyrics and melodies, but still with a glimmer of hope.  It's what I'm feeling in 2020.  Without concerts to attend, and not being a big TV fan, this commercial-free channel has been a constant companion.  It's like radio.  But with pictures!  And band trivia on the screen!  These are the artists that make all we critics' year-end Top-10s, and for once I don't have to binge listen in November.  I'm current on what's critically acclaimed!  (Though the best album of 2020 is the retro-disco one from Dua Lipa). 


  JOSH VERBANETS: Singer-songwriter and musician; band member/Meeting of Important People; one-half of Josh & Gab, a Pittsburgh-based duo specializing in the creation of live performance or live-via-web anti-bullying and/or health & positivity programs geared to kids, teens and families (more information @ www.joshandgab.com). 

In the age of COVID one of the most calming pieces of music I've been listening to is Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” from the Meddle album, right before their Dark Side stardom.  It's clunky and a little corny...but the perfect journey to do late-night yoga to, to try to get the shoulders and chest to open up after a day of uncertainty.


  MORGAN NICHOLSON: Marketing Manager at Live Nation Entertainment

I’m finding more up-tempo songs help bring energy and happiness during these times.  I’ve listened to “Loving is Easy” by Rex Orange County hundreds of times on repeat; I never get tired of it.  I’ll turn it on when I need that extra push riding my bike, when I want to dance in the kitchen with my dog while making dinner, or when I just need to get out of bed for the day.  Overall the song reminds me of the strongest lesson I’ve learned during COVID—my relationship with my community, friends, family, and loved ones is the most important aspect of life.  Those relationships help tremendously during harder times; they remind you of who you are as a person, and make you feel comfortable when your reality of work, travel, or arbitrary daily tasks are gone.


  SCOTT BLASEY: Musician and lead singer for The Clarks

That’s easy.  Julian Velard.  The New York City-based singer, songwriter, pianist has been my go-to artist throughout the pandemic.  Julian is a friend.  We played shows together back in the day.  His piano-based love songs like “A River Away” and “Still In Love” have provided comfort and solace in these trying times.  If you like those songs, take a deep dive into his albums Mr. Saturday Night and If You Don’t Like It, You Can Leave.  You can thank me the next time you see me.


  MARK WALLACE: Former deejay in Pittsburgh on WZUM-AM then WYDD-FM, followed by a Warner Brothers Records regional promotion position; currently an English teacher and part-time radio deejay in Tampa, Florida

I don't know if there is any specifically "comforting" music, but I have found that a lot of the late night shows with “virtual” artists have been cool.  Usually they are artists we have known but with songs that resonate for the pandemic.  For instance, Sheryl Crow’s performance of "Beware of Darkness," at home with just a piano.  I don't know if George Harrison knew back in 1970 that it would be so prescient…And the Rolling Stones doing “Living In A Ghost Town”—very apt, from a previously planned and partly finished album that is not yet quite complete…And the EPIX channel’s two-part mini-documentary Laurel Canyon was awesome.  We all know the societal impact of 60's music but even with that, this doc had some fun info.  For instance: Peter Tork of The Monkees was a nudist and also his house there in Laurel Canyon was party central for the likes of Frank Zappa, Stephen Stills, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Graham Nash, et al., and then the next wave of Jackson Browne, The Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, etc.  It was just a time when these musicians’ music was everywhere, never to be replicated.  Other than these examples, I like anything that I hear on my radio station here in Tampa (our version of Pittsburgh’s WYEP) that is new music, as in H.E.R., the Killers, White Reaper, etc.


  BRIAN DRUSKY: President/Owner of Pittsburgh-based live events company Drusky Entertainment

I’ve been listening to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John and to Luke Combs’ “What You See Is What You Get,” as well as a mixture of pop ‘80s songs on Amazon’s All ‘80s station. 


  TOM ROONEY: Former executive director of Star Lake Amphitheater 1990-1994 and subsequently an executive with parent company Pace Music Group in Houston; currently president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group

Strangely, it’s the individual live music performances from Woodstock.  It feels like the late ‘60s today with all the political turmoil, protesting and civil unrest.  “With A Little Help From My Friends” (Joe Cocker), “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” (from the newly formed CSN), Freedom (Richie Havens), “My Generation” (The Who), “Somebody To Love” (Jefferson Airplane)—all that young raw talent that we would still be promoting for years in arenas, stadiums, amphitheaters and festivals as they appeared more than half a century ago in a totally unsocially distancing setting.  Something consoling about watching those…


  GEORGE BALICKY: Former Senior Vice-President of the National Record Mart retail chain that was headquartered here in Pittsburgh.  In its prime, National Record Mart had more than 160 stores across the USA but fell prey to debt, discounters and downloading, and closed its doors in early 2002.

Due to my "more than I want to" stay at home time, I have gone back to listening to some great music from the past that, for some unknown reason, I haven't listened to for years.  I have found surprising comfort in listening to some classic jazz from the ‘50s and ‘60s.  Some of my favorite songs are “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane, "My Favorite Things" also by Coltrane, “Take Five” (a reference to relax a bit) by Dave Brubeck, “Take The A Train” by Duke Ellington, "‘Round Midnight" by Thelonious Monk, and "Along Came Betty" by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (I have to include a Pittsburgher!).  All of these songs are from legendary jazz albums and, as they say in the jazz world, I'm diggin' it!!!


  CURT VOSS: General Manager / BB&T Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey (a Live Nation amphitheater)

During the quarantine, the surprise comfort has been listening to entire shows of DMB and Phish.  I particularly enjoy the performances from Camden or Philadelphia where I had worked the shows.  I would also recommend listening to Bruce’s DJ stints on his Sirius / XM channel.  The show with Little Steven, Southside Johnny and Bruce was amazing.


  CHARLIE BRUSCO: Pittsburgh-area native now based in Atlanta; artist manager and former concert promoter; currently heads up the Atlanta office of artist management company Red Light Management 

I have found myself going back to a couple of artists that I believe in times like we are going through I have relied on before.  Bruce Springsteen and really just three albums: Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.; The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle and The Rising.  The 1st two are very early Bruce with great songs and imagery that takes me back to my days as a teen of going from Pittsburgh to the Jersey Shore.  The Rising of course is Bruce’s way of getting us through 911 but for me those three albums I find myself going back to for comfort from the madness.  The other things I have been listening to are the Jackson Browne albums The Pretender and Late for the Sky.  I really again feel these albums were part of my time after graduating from college and starting my quest to make it in the crazy world of music and I find Jackson, like Bruce, just has a way with words and music that for me make them possibly my favorite song crafters.  I do feel as with all hard times in my life I tend to gravitate to just a few artists or albums to get me by.


  RICK SEBAK: WQED public television producer and narrator (note that this particular survey question on COVID-time music really struck a chord with Rick, and thus he sent me not one but several paragraphs.  However, there is clearly no such thing as too many musings on music, so his unedited submission is below!)

I think one of the pandemic’s first effects was to make me more “house-aware.”  All of a sudden all kinds of stuff in my house was much more obvious, including my considerable collection of vinyl LPs that were stored primarily in my spare bedroom. I hadn’t bought any vinyl in probably 25 0r 30 years, but I still had a lot—I’m guessing around 2000 discs—although I hadn’t listened to any of it since CDs arrived and my turntable stopped spinning.  Then in the first week or so of lockdown in mid-March, I happened to see an on-line ad for a newfangled bluetooth turntable from COMO Audio, and I fell for it.  I bought the equipment I needed to listen to my old records.  You talk about comfort music?

There were predictable, comfortable classics: Beatles, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Springsteen, Leonard Cohen.  There were several beloved compilations of what folks in the Carolinas call “beach music”: old R&B stuff that you could dance the shag to, songs from artists like the Drifters, The Clovers, The Chairmen of the Board, Wynonie Harris, and Willie Tee.  There were dozens of beat-heavy LP-sized singles with extended dance mixes of hits like Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” and the Staple Singers covering “Slippery People.”  I had great Texas music from Joe Ely, Guy Clark and Lyle Lovett.  There was punk and post-punk from The Clash, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Rachel Sweet, Lene Lovich, Jules & The Polar Bears.  There was early Prince.

But the best part of going through my old vinyl has been re-discovering discs that I had forgotten about from artists that hadn’t made a huge impact. I was impressed and delighted by Robert Kraft & The Ivory Coast’s lively album called Moodswing.  I was happy to find two albums and several of those big singles by the British band The Bluebells, including their excellent song “Cath.”  There were blues classics from Slim Harpo (“Baby Scratch My Back”) and Alberta Hunter (“My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More”) that sounded better than ever.  And I was impressed that I had amassed 8 or 9 LPs (Merchants Lunch and Hard Times among them) from the great North Carolina band called The Red Clay Ramblers and members of that group.

There are other amazing albums (some older than me!) that I don’t remember buying and I’m not sure how they came into my possession, wonderful ones like The Three D’s Sing Songs Of Our American Heritage (“Home On The Range”), The Ink Spots’ Greatest Vol. 3 (“To Make A Mistake Is Human”), and Julie London’s beautiful album called simply Julie (“When The Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along.”)

Then in July, when I masked-up and ventured out to Hidden Harbor in Squirrel Hill, I found that Pete Kurzweg and friends were playing old vinyl in the closed restaurant in their adjacent Independent Brewing on Wednesday evenings, and you can listen and watch live on the Twitch app  (https://www.twitch.tv/independentpgh on Wednesdays from 4pm till 10pm or so.)  So I asked if I could wiggle in to their schedule and I have become a regular every two weeks, hauling in big bags of some of the discoveries from my spare bedroom, comfort music.






Posted 8/9/20.....BITS AND PIECES

Here is musicasaurus.com’s version of Rolling Stone magazine’s Random Notes section: Four unrelated stories of interest revolving around—what else—MUSIC.



On August 4 on reuters.com it was reported that Neil Young had just sued President Trump’s re-election campaign on the basis of copy infringement—playing the rocker’s songs without permission.  According to the complaint filed by Young’s lawyers, two of the artist’s tunes, “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Devil’s Sidewalk,” were played by the campaign at a number of Trump rallies and political events going back as far as 2015. 

Recently, Young was reportedly not happy that his songs were superspreadin’ through the crowd at the June 20 Tulsa rally, and he was equally stony-faced about the Trump campaign blasting out his tunes at the Mount Rushmore gathering on July 3.

According to reuters.com, the campaign has willfully ignored earlier requests from the artist to cease and desist, and Young seeks up to $150,000 per infringement.  In filing the complaint, the lawyers representing Young made it clear that it “is not intended to disrespect the rights and opinions of American citizens, who are free to support the candidate of their choosing.  However, Plaintiff in good conscience cannot allow his music to be used as a ‘theme song’ for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”  Well-l-l-l…can’t say we didn’t expect a closing zinger from this outspoken singer.


I became curious recently about whether there were any rather legit-lookin’ studies that had unearthed how our earthly creature counterparts—i.e., members of the animal kingdom—were affected by music.  A lot of us of course may have had our dogs howl or our cats feign indifference (what else) to particular bits of music blasting out of our home speakers, but I wanted to do a deeper dive into non-pets who are out there in the wild kingdom…

On May 3, 2019 the online editor of BBC Science Focus Magazine Alexander McNamara posted the results of some recent studies into the effect that music has on animals.  Here are just a few of his findings:

MOSQUITOES … Female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that were exposed to Skrillex’s dubstep tune “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” tended to land on their host less often and also then attacked this host a bit later than other mosquitoes that were not exposed to the song.  This recent study also concluded that mosquitoes had less sex—the male and the female typically bond in their courtship ritual only after the male identifies a female by the lower buzzing of her wings, and the two then produce sounds that eventually match up.  These skeeters reportedly were clearly discombobulated by the sounds of this dubstep tune.

PARROTS … A Harvard study from eleven years back yielded findings that indicated parrots are among the best beat keepers of the animal kingdom.  The researchers had turned to YouTube and a host of posts by animal lovers that illustrated their individual pets’ dance moves.  The animals that were capable of copying sounds, especially the human voice, were found to be the most accomplished at matching their own movements to the exact rhythm of the musical selection.  By viewing all of the selected YouTube posts in slo-mo, the scientists concluded that there were at least fourteen different species of parrots with the ability to bop best with the beat.  Lead scientist Adena Schachner concluded “Our data suggests that some of the brain mechanisms needed for human dance originally evolved to allow us to imitate sound.”

COWS … A study from 2001 by the University of Leicester in England on the effects of music on animals centered on a sample herd of one thousand cows.  They were exposed to different tempos of music, each over a twelve-hour period, and the music selections included slower tunes (< 100 beats per minute) by the likes of R.E.M and Beethoven, and faster songs (> 120 beats per minute) from artists including Jamiroquai and The Wonder Stuff.  The findings: The cows that were exposed to the more mellow selections over the particular twelve-hour period produced more milk, a gain in production of 3 percent amounting to 0.73 liters more milk per day.  As the author of the post Alexander McNamara then concluded, “Whatever gets you in the moooo-d.”

CROCODILES … A few years ago a study by the Department of Biopsychology at Bochum, Germany’s Ruhr-Universität Bochum was conducted on crocodiles.  The scientists tested the brains of the crocs by placing these vertebrates in an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine, and the results—their brains’ activations to complex stimuli—were surprisingly similar to those of today’s birds and mammals.  These findings provided more ammunition for the now commonly accepted theory of a definite link between the dinosaurs of old and the birds of today in terms of the evolution of the nervous system.  And that’s not a crock.


I fondly remember my deejay days at Penn State’s main campus between September 1973 and May 1975, and my Saturday night late shift on the air.  WDFM 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 community.  For one of my 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 always was—seated, a Party of One—at the broadcast console.

One thing I learned early on: There was no one else around the radio station at this time of the night; no one who could, uh, relieve me when I had to relieve myself.  No one to sit in my deejay chair and cue up-then-start up the album track on the second turntable when the song on the first turntable was finished playing.  Which is why—like anyone else who ever filled a deejay chair at a 1970s free-form music station—I quickly devised a list of handpicked “bathroom break” songs that were long enough to get the job done (literally).  

The following were some of my “go to” songs for this purpose, and note that I don’t have any one particular favorite in the bunch because under the circumstances labeling any song “my number two” just doesn’t sound right…

* Bruce Springsteen’s “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)…7 minutes and 4 seconds…from The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973)

* The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”…7 minutes and 12 seconds…from the non-singles and B-sides compilation by the band entitled Hey Jude (1970)

* Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica”…7 minutes and 31 seconds…from Brothers and Sisters (1973)

* Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them”…7 minutes and 49 seconds…from Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

* Don McLean’s “American Pie”…8 minutes and 33 seconds (the album version of the song)…from American Pie (1971)

* Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”…9 minutes and 8 seconds…from Lynyrd Skynyrd (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) (1973)

* Grand Funk Railroad “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)"…10 minutes and 9 seconds…from Closer to Home (1970)

* Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”…12 minutes and 10 seconds…from Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (1971)

* Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Voodoo Chile”…16 minutes and 5 seconds…from Electric Ladyland (1969)

* …and, just for the record, I never resorted to playing Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” from the 1973 album of the same name.  “Tubular Bells” was 25 minutes and 30 seconds long—and that was just side one of the album (“Tubular Bells Pt. 2” was on side two).  If I for instance had needed to leave my deejay post for a smoke break and a rapid munchies grab at a convenience store, I could have slapped on side one and vamoosed for a short burst of freedom.  But I never did.  I was a responsible young adult (at least when in the chair).  


Charlie Daniels, the portly North Carolinian country rocker behind the 1973 novelty tune “Uneasy Rider” and the 1979 fiddle-on-fire masterwork “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” died on July 6 at the age of 83.  He was known within the music industry (and well outside those circles) for his patriotic fervor and his unflagging support for causes associated with military veterans and underprivileged children, but it was his Volunteer Jam concerts that I most remember about the man.

Daniels started up his Volunteer Jam concert tradition in Nashville in 1974, a tradition that continued for decades in that location.  In 1999 the performer launched an annual Volunteer Jam tour that played concert venues throughout the U.S. with a year-to-year, multi-artist line-up of southern style musicians and bands including Hank Williams Jr., the Marshall Tucker Band, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special and others.  Daniels and company first descended upon Star Lake Amphitheater (where I worked as general manager from 1995 through 2007) in that first year of the Jam’s nationwide tour, on May 23, 1999.  He and his Volunteer Jam returned the next two years as well, always picking a May play-date at our outdoor venue to take advantage of our region’s “cabin fever” phenomenon; our southwestern PA concert fans, particularly those that craved their doses of southern rock, were always itchin’ to get outdoors in that first good-weather month of May, corralling friends and showing up to party hearty, ready to rock, roll, hoot and holler.

The two things I loved the most about Daniels and his relationship to Star Lake: 

1) He was electrifying on stage and his annual audiences were like an adoration society (after all, this was the guy who, in his 1980 hit “In America,” dared any and all entities outside of the USA to "Just go and lay your hand on a Pittsburgh Steelers fan”).

2)  He sent me for years on end a Christmas card, which I know he also did for a number of other amphitheater general managers during those Volunteer Jam years of touring.  It was signed by Charlie and I treasured it as the only holiday card I ever received from a nationally known recording artist and performer.






Posted 7/26/20.....REVOLUTION

Call out the instigators
Because there's something in the air
We've got to get together sooner or later
Because the revolution's here, and you know it's right
And you know that it's right

We have got to get it together
We have got to get it together now

That’s a slice of Thunderclap Newman from May 1969 when this band of Brits released this flower power-era single to radio stations in their homeland UK.  The tune caught on in America as well and made it all the way to #37 on the “Hot 100” chart of music industry bible Billboard Magazine.  The song was originally going to be called “Revolution” but Liverpool’s Fab Four had beaten Newman to the punch some months before with their own composition by that title, so the name was changed before release.

Here in 2020 there’s certainly something in the air.  The times they are a-changin’ with some causes the same and others just a-rearrangin’, so it seemed like the right moment to excavate some musical bits of “Revolution” here and there for your review.  

The following are five songs that musicasaurus.com has in its current music queue that deal with the concept of revolution in both title and content:

1.) “Revolution” from Donna the Buffalo:

This band from Trumansburg, New York (near Ithaca) produced a short and sweet, gently proselytizing bit of peace and love called “Revolution” for their sixth independently released album from 2000.  On the group’s website you’ll find a self summary of their essence: Donna the Buffalo offers everything you want in a roots band—songs that matter, a groove that makes you dance, an audience that spans generations, and a musical voice that evokes a sense of community.

Also according to their website: Since forming in 1989 the band has played major festivals across the U.S.…opened up for The Grateful Dead…toured with Rusted Root, Del McCoury, Los Lobos and many more…once toured with Ben Cohen (he of Ben & Jerry’s) to heighten awareness of many more corporate dollars being plowed into politics…and founded, in 1991, the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival in Trumansburg which generated funds for an AIDS organization and in subsequent years benefitted arts and education related causes.  This summer was to be the 30thAnniversary Celebration of the festival but of course due to COVID-19 the event’s been pushed back to July 2021.

The band’s bit of messaging tucked into this rhythmic little spin-and-twirler from their 2000 album Positive Friction:

Tell me have, have you seen the revolution
Could it be seeds growing inside of you
Let your heart and this peace be the solution
Take the love that you have
And pass it from side to side

The link to the song: https://youtu.be/hUjfiu_BY-k


2.) “Revolution” from The Beatles:

In 1968 John Lennon wrote “Revolution” and what spurred him to action was the social upheaval that was rocking parts of the world at that point in time—Paris contending with student protests and workers’ strikes; American cities reeling from the turmoil of civil rights and anti-war demonstrations; 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 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 from blowback from fans for this sentiment, particularly the 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 that had blasted from AM & FM radios all through the late summer and early fall.  Lennon’s lyrics on this one: “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 the first of the two versions recorded by the boys yet it came second in reaching the public’s ears (through the White Album).

The lyrics to “Revolution 1” from the White Album:

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out, in
Don't you know it's gonna be 
All right, all right, all right

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're doing what we can

But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don't you know it's gonna be 
All right, all right, all right

You say you'll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead

But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don't you know it's gonna be 
All right, all right, all right
All right, all right, all right
All right, all right, all right
All right, all right

The link to the song: https://youtu.be/OmsXsIv2Ppw


3.) “Talkin' ‘bout a Revolution” from Tracy Chapman:

Cleveland born Chapman was twenty-four when major label Elektra Records released her eponymous debut album in 1988, which in all its stripped-down musical glory riveted a wide swath of the U.S. with its emphasis on songwriting and a bewitching voice that one writer, Gary Younge in the September 27, 2002 U.S. online edition of The Guardian, called “a distinctive, husky contralto that sits somewhere between Macy Gray and Suzanne Vega.”

Before that year of 1988 was over, Chapman also performed at Nelson Mandela’s 70thbirthday concert at London’s Wembley Stadium, electrifying the audience with her clear-eyed passion for society’s underdogs, never more convincingly conveyed than in the song “Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution” from her debut album. 

In that 2002 Guardian interview with Gary Younge, she elaborated on her career-long activism and her songwriting, and “just being another body to show some force and conviction for a particular idea.  Finding out where the need is—and if someone thinks you’re going to be helpful, then helping…Public sympathies shift.  Politics shift.  But the need never changes.”

The lyrics to “Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution” from Chapman’s 1988 debut album:

Don't you know
They're talkin' 'bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Don't you know
They're talkin' about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
While they're standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion

Don't you know
They're talkin' 'bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Poor people gonna rise up
And get their share
Poor people gonna rise up
And take what's theirs

Don't you know
You better run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run
Oh I said you better
Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run

'Cause finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin' bout a revolution
Yes, finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin' bout a revolution, oh no
Talkin' bout a revolution, oh
While they're standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion

Don't you know
They're talkin' 'bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
And finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin' bout a revolution
Yes, finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin' bout a revolution, oh no
Talkin' bout a revolution, oh no
Talkin' bout a revolution, oh no

The link to the song: https://youtu.be/721JQZw6Spg


4.) “Revolution” from The Pretenders: 

I fell in love with Chrissie Hynde the moment I first heard The Pretenders’ late-1979 eponymous debut album.  On the album cover she sported a fiery red jacket and a whole lotta ‘tude, and when I cracked the cellophane and plopped the album down on the turntable, it was all over.  Here was a feisty, sexually charged, confident and commanding singer/songwriter/bandleader that kicked ass.

New York Times writer/reviewer Jon Pareles described Hynde’s overall influence in a May 1994 concert review: “Nearly all the female rockers who emerged in the late 1980's and the 90's owe something to Ms. Hynde.  Her catchy, confident, idiosyncratic songs introduced a character who was both sultry and tough; back when female rockers were rarer, she led a band without flinching or special pleading.”  Pareles also eloquently described that voice—“Her usual tone is a breathy, confiding alto, but with a willful streak; she might swallow the ends of syllables, sustain notes with a head-shaking vibrato or rush through words with a telegraphic curtness.  Higher up, her voice is more girlish, and at unexpected moments she lets loose a long, rippling downward melisma, a touch of sweetness in the strife.”

What sealed my deal through the years, though, were the lyrics that she wrapped her ingenious phrasing around.  In her song “Private Lives” from the group’s 1979 debut, she laid bare the pitfalls of love with lines like “You asked me for advice I said use the door / But you're still clinging to somebody you deplore.”  In “Show Me,” a tune from 1984’s Learning to Crawl album, Hynde writes about welcoming a child into the world and hoping through this to learn, or relearn, the meaning of love: “Welcome here from outer space / The milky way still in your eyes / You found yourself a hopeless case / One seeking perfection on earth / That's some kind of rebirth, so / Show me the meaning of the word…”

The lyrics to “Revolution” from The Pretender’s 1994 album Last of the Independents:

Cats like me and you
Have got laws
That they adhere to
Laws outside the laws
As laid down
By those we don't subscribe to
The world is getting stranger
But we'll never lose heart
We can't just wait for the
Old guard to die
Before we can
Make a new start

Bring on the revolution
(Keep the pressure on)
I want to die for something
Bring on the revolution
I want to die for something
Bring on the revolution
I want to die for something
Bring on the revolution
I don't want to die for nothing

For every freedom fighter
I want to hold on tighter
To the hope and will you gave
You were the brave
You were the brave
And one day
When I hear your children sing
Freedom will ring

When we watch the children play
How the privileged classes grew
And from this day
We set out
To undo what won't undo
Looking for the grand
In the minute
Every breath justifies
Every step that we take
To remove what the powers that be
Can't prove
And the children will
Understand why

Bring on the revolution 
(keep the pressure on) 
I want to die for something 
Bring on the revolution 
I want to die for something 
Bring on the revolution 
I don't want to die for nothing 
Bring on the revolution 
I want to die for something

The link to the song: https://youtu.be/l1Jqwosr10o


5.) "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" from Gil Scott-Heron:

Each year our country’s National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress adds 25 recordings, ones that are considered worthy of preservation for future generations based on their cultural, historical and/or aesthetic significance.  

Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (from the artist’s album Small Talk at 125thand Lenox) was bestowed this honor and added to the Registry in 2005.  This incendiary poem-into-song from 1970 skewers rampant consumerism as well as lambasts the mind-numbing, listlessness-inducing effects of prolonged commercial television viewing.

Cary O’Dell, a member of the Motion Picture, Broadcast and Recorded Sound division of the Library of Congress, said in an induction-era essay that “With its wide-ranging references, both pop and political, encompassing both national affairs and consumer culture, and its not-so-subtle jabs at ‘white America,’ ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ has endured as both a timeless social critique and as a unique musical expression, one in which the founding modern strands and themes of rap and hip-hop can be heard.”

There is a second version of this landmark song that Scott-Heron produced the year after the original recording that now resides in the Registry.  This second version, more fleshed out via a full band versus the original’s congas and bongos approach, resides on the artist’s 1971 release Pieces of a Man and is also included in a compilation album of Gil Scott-Heron’s material that was issued in 1974.

The lyrics to “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised:”

You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
And skip out for beer during commercials, because
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be televised
The revolution will not be brought to you
By Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle
And leading a charge by John Mitchell, General Abrams, and Spiro Agnew
To eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theatre
And will not star Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because
The revolution will not be televised, brother

There will be no pictures of you and Willie Mae
Pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run
Or trying to slide that color TV into a stolen ambulance
NBC will not be able predict the winner
At 8:32 on report from twenty-nine districts
The revolution will not be televised

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young
Being run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process
There will be no slow motion or still lifes of Roy Wilkins
Strolling through Watts in a red, black, and green liberation jumpsuit
That he has been saving for just the proper occasion

"Green Acres," "Beverly Hillbillies," and "Hooterville Junction"
Will no longer be so damn relevant
And women will not care if Dick finally got down with Jane
On "Search for Tomorrow"
Because black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day
The revolution will not be televised

There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock news
And no pictures of hairy armed women liberationists
And Jackie Onassis blowing her nose
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb or Francis Scott Keys
Nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash
Engelbert Humperdinck, or The Rare Earth
The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be right back
After a message about a white tornado
White lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom
The tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight germs that may cause bad breath
The revolution will put you in the driver's seat

The revolution will not be televised
Will not be televised
Will not be televised
Will not be televised
The revolution will be no re-run, brothers
The revolution will be live

The link to the song (which is the second version of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” with identical lyrics but flute, drums and bass in lieu of the original’s congas + bongos) https://youtu.be/vwSRqaZGsPw






Posted 7/12/20.....TROUBLE IN MIND


For some reason throughout most of my life, I’ve run on a fairly even keel.  Annoyances, bumps in the road, full-on challenges—they happen to us all, of course, but I seemed to have been blessed with an even temperament that in most cases has served me pretty well.

Enter COVID-19.  The mid-March exodus from workplace to home for a lot of southwestern Pennsylvanians was at first very surreal when quarantining suddenly became a “thing.”  Then Surreality sort of gave way to Incredulity mixed with Unease, and with a dab of Depression and a dollop of WTF! then added in, we were all off and running, contending with our own personal and professional issues and constantly scouring for news updates on the unfolding gravity of the situation…

Stress is such an unworthy companion.  If one can keep that Ol’ Devil at bay or simply cast Him out before He truly settles in, so much the better.  The dawning of the Coronavirus has brought us all a bundle of stress, and this led me the other night to reflect back on some angst-inducing situations that occurred in my former occupational life as general manager of Star Lake Amphitheater near Pittsburgh.

In a profession that consists of live concert events—i.e., managing a concert facility and all that that entails—there are crises that unfold and others that pop up like microbursts.  Once on the radar screen, these situations are a balancing act and your only tools are ingenuity and decisiveness in equal measure.

I ran Star Lake Amphitheater (now called S&T Bank Music Park) from 1995 through 2007.  In the course of my “normal” duties of managing a core full-time staff and a much larger contingent of seasonal employees each summer, Stress always seemed to whisper within.  And sometimes this queasy beast loomed a lot larger due to an unfolding of events—and below are three examples from my music business past:

1. Every summer for a long stretch beginning in 1997, a crazy train called OzzFest pulled up to the Star Lake station.  First engineered by our parent company Pace to feed its amphitheaters a money-making, rafter-shaking event, the annual OzzFest soon became a must-see attraction for the diehards, the disheveled and the disenfranchised.

OzzFest typically began around 11am and ran a full twelve-hour day with multiple stages around the venue, and vendor and sideshow attractions peppered throughout.  Crazy train conductor Ozzy usually welcomed aboard a multitude of high-volume support acts each year—artists with wholesome-sounding names like Megadeth, Snot, Ultraspank, Slayer, Fear Factory, Disturbed, and Methods Of Mayhem—and our venue was awash in debilitating decibels to the delight of The Great Unwashed.

The mood at the day-long OzzFest always held hints of malevolence.  Over time, the venue’s staff became accustomed to the patterns of the day: Fan friskiness began early on, bolstered by the baking sun and arguably abetted by alcohol as the day progressed.  Then as always, approaching dusk, there was a definite shift in the wind—little vortexes (“trouble spots”) popping up with more frequency in the sea of elbowing, black-garbed humanity.

On the venue’s lower west side there was a clock-face that stood high in one of our large planters in the center of the plaza, and my director of operations and my food-and-beverage manager routinely met me there around 7:00pm on the days of OzzFest.  Though our concessionaire Aramark would have the last word about the proper shutdown time for the beer stands, there would be an earnest discussion between the three of us on the general mood of the crowd, the number of incidents thus far, etcetera.

In my years at the amphitheater, there was only one time that our in-the-shadow-of-the-clock discussion led to a very early alcohol shutdown (our venue’s policy here was usually to cease such sales about an hour or two before the end of any given show).  On that particular OzzFest, and unfortunately memory doesn’t serve as to exactly which one it was, the three of us gathered at the clock at 7:00pm and the expressions we wore walking toward each other told the tale before a single utterance—we needed to play “Taps” for the taps, then and there.  Though the festival wasn’t supposed to fold until 11:00pm or even a bit thereafter, the plug was pulled by Aramark on the spot. 

Over its many stops at Star Lake through the years, OzzFest indeed brought us many law-abidin’ fans who were focused on music as their fuel.  But in this one instance, we had perceived—in our nerve-jangling meeting at the clock—that there were just too many doom clouds on the darkening horizon for us to conduct business as usual.

2. WXDX-FM Pittsburgh (“The X”) started up an annual alternative-music fest in 1998, and from the beginning had managed to put together some powerhouse lineups for their shows.  In the festival’s third year, the station brought on Stone Temple Pilots as the headliner and true to the whiffs of legend that wafted our way beforehand, lead singer Scott Weiland was a rule breaker and alleged partaker. 

At one point late in the day before the band’s headlining set, I was called on the venue radio by my security chief to immediately come backstage.  There I found Scott Weiland standing near one of our venue golf-carts literally in the grip of two Star Lake Amphitheater security guards, one on each arm.  A local township police officer was also on hand.

Weiland looked distracted, discombobulated.  The security guard on Weiland’s right sported a beautiful new shiner, and the police officer recounted a quick tale of Weiland’s efforts to hotwire (with a screwdriver) one of our golf-carts for a joyride around the venue.  When our guards tried to stop him from this cart-jacking, Weiland reportedly unleashed Linda Blair-worthy expletives and then had to be physically removed from the driver’s seat.  He apparently then calmed down and asked the guards to please let loose their grips—and then he sucker-punched the guard to his right.

Instantly back in the grip of the long arms of the law, Weiland fidgeted and mumbled as the police officer asked me the $100,000 Question—Did I want him to be arrested for assault?  All eyes were on me (including the one that could still open, in reference to that guard on the right).  The answer was easy—an apology would suffice, and the spacey yet truculent lead singer would be immediately remanded to the supervision of his own tour manager, with assurances that all off-stage antics like this would cease.  As Weiland walked off with his handler I heard another roar out front from the sell-out crowd of 23,000, all of them greeting the next band who was taking the stage right before the Stone Temple Pilots’ were to begin their headlining set.  

Case closed on this one: We let the wily Weiland wiggle free and justice wasn’t fully served, of course—but clearly this was neither the time nor the place for “an eye for an eye.”

3. Stress can rear its ugly countenance not only on show days…One year during my reign as general manager I received an urgent call from my facility operations manager Shag Wright.  It was a sleepy Wednesday, and we had just finished a stretch of shows and were prepping for another burst of multi-event activity yet to come.  Typically, the days between actual shows at the venue were prime for catch-up: Facility cleanup and maintenance, pushing out paperwork to Corporate, and management team individuals snagging quick meetings with each other about pressing items while in the calm before the next storm.

On that particular Wednesday, Shag called me to say that he’d just been alerted to some troubling news from the local police.  He came to my office and we had a one-on-one conversation; no one else, he said, was being apprised of this situation at this particular moment.  Apparently a fan from the last show who was partying in our parking lots had gone out of the parking lot area and over a grassy hill to relieve himself (a lot of the areas on our amphitheater property that were adjacent to our parking lot perimeter were various wetlands and/or undeveloped terrain).  The fan had stumbled down to the marshy recesses to do his business, and he had spotted a skeleton on the ground by a tiny stream’s edge—and it looked to him like the bones of a small child.

My face must have gone ashen, because Shag very quickly then blurted out that “next steps” were already in motion—an assistant coroner from a nearby municipality was already on his way to the scene so that he could put finality on the findings.  The one good thing at this point in time?  There were no missing persons’ reports anywhere in the area, as far as we could tell.  Still, this was stomach-churning news and we hoped against hope that it wasn’t what we feared...

Shag ran off to meet the assistant coroner and said he’d report back within the hour.  I debated calling our corporate office in Houston, Texas, but decided to hold off just until Shag had returned with more concrete news.  He showed up at my door again about 45 minutes later and thrust himself down on my small couch opposite the desk.  He pushed his ball cap back, and stared at me dispassionately for maybe two seconds.  “We got there,” Shag said, “and the guy put on gloves and just started his poking around, saying ‘Oh my God, I think this MIGHT BE a child’s skeleton!’ ”

I looked at Shag in terror, but he didn’t allow it to take root.  “So I said to the guy”...Shag now smiled...“ ‘Well, if it IS a small child, do they all have one of THESE?!!!’ and I brushed aside the guy’s hands and picked up the thing by its tail—it was a beaver!”

The relief flooded in, and Shag said of the assistant coroner, “I don’t think this guy’s gonna be movin’ up to the top slot anytime soon.”   

Stress, I guess, is a Companion for Life.  We get tested; sometimes even bested.  But try to keep it at bay, I say; things have a way of working out even in the most potentially harrowing of circumstances.  Like this last story illustrates, I guess.  My, uh, tail of the unexpected.







Tom Rooney is a good friend and occupational mentor who I first met during the mid-1980s when both of us worked at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  Rooney was the head of marketing and at another point down the road the arena’s director, so during my time there as the venue’s booker of concerts and other events (1985-1990) I learned quite a bit from him about the live entertainment business.  When Rooney jumped ship in 1990 to manage the new Star Lake Amphitheater that opened up near Pittsburgh, our working relationship continued on when I as well moved over to that outdoor venue the following year to become his marketing director.

We often keep in touch these days, though by the mid-2000s our direct working relationship had ended as Rooney pursued other career paths.  In November 2018, I received a very intriguing phone call from him.  He was reaching out to ask if I might have interest in contributing a chapter to an upcoming book (planned for 2020) that would be detailing the storied history of Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium.  Before I could remind him of something he already knew quite well—that I’m a “one-note” guy inextricably bound to music to the exclusion of most everything else!—Rooney chimed in with “Now, I know sports is not your thing but your chapter would be about the concert history of the venue.  The book project’s producer David Finoli needs one of those to include with all of the sports-oriented chapters that other writers are doing for him—are you in?”

I jumped on board immediately.  As the stadium book project’s lone wolf writer with a music thread, I spent the next few months combing through the venue’s concert history.  Along the way I also managed to rope in comments from a few music industry friends who had their own unique Three Rivers tales to tell.  I then submitted my finalized chapter to Finoli in April 2019.

After some revisions to the timing of the book’s release, Three Rivers Stadium: A Confluence of Champions was published and placed on sale in early April of this year.  Below you will find some excerpts from my chapter that illuminate a bit of the rich, 30-year history of concerts at Three Rivers Stadium—but first you’ll hear from Finoli.

I reached out to him recently to get more background on the project as a whole.  Finoli, a Duquesne University School of Journalism graduate originally from Greensburg, PA, has forever been a passionate fan of Western Pennsylvania sports.  He has penned thirty-one books on the subject, mining the rich histories of our region’s great franchises such as the Pirates, Penguins, Steelers, Duquesne basketball and Pitt football, and much more.

I asked David how he had come up with the idea for the stadium history project.  “Three Rivers Stadium has always been my own personal Field of Dreams,” he said.  “It might not have the aesthetic beauty of PNC Park but the joy of a stadium has always been about the memories inside and not necessarily its physical features.  For most of my generation we saw enough championship moments inside its walls to last a lifetime.  Seeing that the 50th anniversary of its opening was coming up upon us it just seemed like the perfect subject for our next book; 30 years, 30 great memories...and then some.”

Finoli went on to talk about the troupe of writers that he assembled for the book project. “The formation of the Association of Gentleman Pittsburgh Journalists actually came about for a book we did in 2019, Unlucky 21: the 21 saddest moments in Pittsburgh Sports History.  I always enjoyed SABR’s (the Society of American Baseball Research) approach to piecing together a book, putting together several knowledgeable authors and having them write the chapters with their own unique approaches.  I'm a proud graduate of the Duquesne University school of Journalism and knew many talented writers from there who had a passion for sports.  There were also a few I wanted to include who had written outstanding books on the history of sports in Pittsburgh.  It was much better than I had hoped.  

“The name came from a comment writer Chris Fletcher made when we were looking for what to call ourselves, saying sarcastically that 'at least we're all gentlemen.'  I wanted to use the same concept for the Three Rivers Stadium book but we needed to add a couple more authors to the group since we were dealing in areas beyond sports such as concerts which were very prevalent at the stadium.  In my eyes we had the perfect group for this book.”

Finoli’s one setback on the project reared its head shortly before publication of the book in early April—COVID-19.  “So far the online sales have been great,” he said, “but we've had the issue that every other book has had.  With bookstores closed due to COVID-19 we haven’t had a chance to be in the stores and promoting them with author events.  We hopefully will soon get that and give the book a second launch.  It's available at all online book merchants including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com and will be available at Barnes and Noble Bookstores as well as most Western Pennsylvania bookstores within the month now that the stores are open for business again.”


3 – 2 – 1…This isn’t the countdown to the February 2001 demolition of Three Rivers Stadium, making way for the new homes of the Steelers and the Pirates.  It is the number of times that the following bands played at Three Rivers Stadium in its 30-year concert history: Pink Floyd and U2, three times each; Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and Three Dog Night, two times each; and Elton John and Billy Joel—just once, and together on stage, mano a mano, piano to piano.

Three Rivers Stadium is a treasure trove of memories for many Pittsburghers who love live music, whether they were inside the bowel for the biggest touring attractions of the era, or outside the gates with the sights and sounds of past-their-prime rockers and the smells from a thousand and one slabs of ribs.

From August 1970 through July 2000, Three Rivers Stadium hosted approximately forty major concerts, and there’s a story of course (or two, or three) behind every one.  

First Show, Last Show:  The first show at the stadium was on August 24, 1970, the New Orleans Music Festival with headliner Al Hirt, a portly, prolific jazz trumpeter sometimes called the “Round Mound of Sound.”  Over the course of his career Hirt had released fifty-five albums and also won a Grammy in 1963 for the song “Java.”  The Three Rivers concert featured Hirt’s ensemble plus two New Orleans marching bands, and the top price ticket was a whopping $6.50.  The last show at the stadium before the wrecking crews descended was boy band *NSYNC on July 16, 2000, and they drew an audience of approximately 50,000 (I am not quite sure of the audience breakdown, but it may well have been 49,000 teenage girls plus 1,000 parents with 2,000 earplugs).  The ear-popping screams meshed with eye-popping stage effects—pyrotechnics, massive screens—and so this evening of pure pop heaven was a proper “Bye Bye Bye” to Three Rivers Stadium.

The Most Popular Musical Genre:  75% of the concerts at Three Rivers Stadium were classic rock, which is not surprising considering the 1970s—the first decade of shows at the venue—was an incredibly vital period for artistic innovation and acceptance, FM radio growth, and ever ascending album sales.  Through the 1970s at the stadium there were seventeen concerts in all, and fourteen of them were classic rock, including artists such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers Band, the Doobie Brothers, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.

Other Prominent Pittsburghers’ Most Memorable Shows:

ZZ TOP:  Ed Traversari joined Pittsburgh-based concert promoter DiCesare Engler Productions in May 1975, and one of his most memorable shows at Three Rivers happened the following year on June 12.  This was pure raucous ‘n’ roll—Point Blank opened followed by Aerosmith, and then ZZ Top topped it off.  The headliners had dubbed their latest nationwide trek the Worldwide Texas Tour, and they had 8 semi trailers that each bore a different panoramic slice of Texas painted on its side.  Traversari recalls that the trucks had been told to travel from city to city in the exact same order all the time, so that the view made sense to anyone catching a glimpse of the caravan barreling down the highway.

On this tour, ZZ Top also brought along some cows to keep ‘em company.  “They had longhorns and buffalo—or some kind of cattle from Texas—that traveled with them,” Traversari remembers, “and they basically had their own dressing room out near Gate C at Three Rivers Stadium.  We had to lay straw, blankets and other items in there, including some catering the tour person had requested, as these animals waited for their time to be stars on the show.  At some specific point during the concert the show’s roadies would walk the animals up a large ramp on each side of the stage towards the top of the lighting rig, at which time the stadium spotlights flashed them right in the face.  The crowd went as crazy as they did.”

GRATEFUL DEAD:  Scott Mervis is a Pittsburgh-based entertainment writer who has reviewed countless concerts coming to town over the years and he cites the Grateful Dead shows as some of the most memorable—but none more so than the Dead’s final Steel City appearance on June 30, 1995 at Three Rivers Stadium.  “Even in Deadhead circles, it’s considered legend,” recalls Mervis.  “On that hot, humid day, Rusted Root opened for the hometown crowd and it being the last show with singer Jenn Wertz (for many years) it had an emotional charge to it.  The Dead was struggling on that tour, as Jerry Garcia’s health was faltering (he died just over a month later).  They played a normal first set and then took a long break.  

When they emerged for the second set, with the first notes of the Beatles’ “Rain,” the sky opened up like a firehose.  No one minded, no one ran for cover.  Rather, everyone in the stadium danced as the Dead celebrated the cleansing rain by continuing on with ‘Box Of Rain,’ ‘Samba In The Rain’ and ‘Looks Like Rain.’  How many bands have four beautiful rain songs ready to go?  It’s forever known as ‘the rain set.’ ” 

GEORGE STRAIT:  Stoney Richards was already five years into his career on Pittsburgh country music radio station WDSY (Y108) when the George Strait Chevy Truck Country Music Festival rolled into Three Rivers Stadium on June 6, 1999.  Disc jockey Richards was invited to meet one of the supporting artists on the show during an early morning rehearsal on the day of the concert.  

“Although I knew George Strait and his manager Erv Woolsey I had never met that new guy on the bill, Kenny Chesney” Richards recalls.  “Erv invited me to the rehearsal and as I got to the base of the stage there was a lot of commotion—lights being hung, sound being checked.  A tap on the shoulder got my attention as a young man introduced himself as Kenny Chesney.  He said, ‘C’mon and watch.  We’re gonna rehearse something special.’  Chesney’s song ‘She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy’ was his current hit and they were planning on making a big splash of it by having a beautiful model in a pair of jean shorts and a bikini top ride on a tractor—onstage.  

“She was to ride this huge John Deere tractor borrowed from Stan’s Lawn and Garden in Butler, PA,” says Richards, “across the edge of the stage in front of Kenny, then make a U-turn and head back across the stage and down the ramp while huge beach balls were being tossed out into the crowd.  This rehearsal was going well until she had to make that U-turn, and she came so incredibly close to the edge that we all just held our breath—but with an extra swivel of her hips, dang if that tractor didn’t make the turn.  We all screamed, applauded, breathed a sigh of relief and laughed like hell when rehearsal was done.  The expert stagehands mapped out a less precarious route for her when the show went live, and of course it went off without a hitch with the crowd going absolutely wild!”

PORKSTOCK:  Local music promoter Henry DeLuca, well known for a string of successful Roots of Rock and Roll shows in Pittsburgh beginning in 1980, has a favorite Three Rivers Stadium concert.  It is one that played outside the stadium gates on a special stage over two nights in August 1998—Porkstock, a celebration of Pittsburgh radio legend Porky Chedwick. 

“Porky was one of the first white DJs in the country to play records featuring African-American singers and musicians,” DeLuca says.  “He was loved not only by his legion of fans, but by the early rock and roll recording artists as well.  Over the years, many musical artists have told me that Porky was the first in the country to play their records, and Porky’s tribute in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame further confirms his national prominence.”  

Porky’s wife Jeannie had called DeLuca in early 1998 and told him that a committee of notable Pittsburghers was planning to stage an event to celebrate Porky’s fifty years on radio, and Jack Hunt (aka Johnny Angel), Three Rivers Stadium management and others in the community all then collaborated to bring this to fruition on August 15 and 16 on a special outdoor stage just outside the stadium. “The entire tri-state area was excited about Porky’s big celebration,” DeLuca remembers.  “The two-day concert included nineteen artists.  Little Richard headlined Friday evening and Bo Diddley closed the show on Saturday—a worthy tribute to a true Pittsburgh rock and roll legend.

“In the end,” DeLuca adds, “we were pleased and proud to know that Porky’s concert proceeds were enough for the down payment on the house that he wanted to buy in Brookline.” 

(Below are links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble that will take you directly to the book):








Posted 6/14/20.....LIVING IN THE PAST

This past January, of course, we collectively reached The Big Two-O, Two-O—fifty years down the road from the time we exited that societal sea change of the Sixties on into the Seventies…

There was a helluva lot going on in 1970, that first year of that brand new decade: The Chicago Seven were found not guilty of conspiracy to riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention…the My Lai massacre was front and center in terms of media coverage…Earth Day came into being…Cigarette advertising was banned on television (to take effect the following year)…The first episode of All My Children aired on ABC TV…Apollo 13 held the nation in thrall for five days in April…the U.S. staged an “incursion” into Cambodia which amped up anti-war sentiments and protests…Kent State happened…the first Ford Pinto came off the production line…the Environmental Protection Agency and PBS were both born…Doonesbury debuted…the first NYC marathon took place…Elvis Presley returned to touring for the first time since 1958…Jimi and Janis died of drug overdoses…and noteworthy individuals who were born that year included Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, actors River Phoenix and Matt Damon, model Claudia Schiffer, comic Sarah Silvermanand Ted Cruz and Hunter Biden.

Music gushed from a wellspring of creativity that year as well.  A lot of recording artists who were signed to labels in the Sixties were a few albums into their professional careers at that stage and were often daringly experimental—and the music they produced back then, in large part, still holds up today.

In honor of these fifty-years-ago accomplishments, Musicasaurus.com has compiled its list of THE TOP TWENTY ESSENTIAL PICKS FROM THE YEAR 1970…ENJOY.

(These are in no particular order)

Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours – Stevie Wonder…..Boy Wonder was only twenty when he released his 15thalbum “Signed, Sealed & Delivered.”  The album was yet again a product of Detroit’s Motown Records, a major black-owned business under the watchful eye (and ears) of founder Berry Gordy Jr.  Stevie’s star was continually on the rise here in 1970, and even cranky critics like the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau had great things to say about Wonder’s latest release, labeling it "still the most exciting LP by a male soul singer in a very long time, and it slips into no mold, Motown's included."  https://youtu.be/6To0fvX_wFA


Déjà Vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young…..The title tune of CSNY’s first collaborative album together, turned up loud on speakers or ear buds, is a delight to this day.  It sounds like nothing else on that album by a quartet of individuals whose creative juices and studio recording skills were cresting and coalescing.  “Déjà Vu” is an almost formless wonder, awash in harmonies and relying on atmosphere and tone and colors rather than traditional rock rhythms.  https://youtu.be/YCs6Tpd5sFQ


Dig A Pony – The Beatles…..This song, composed and sung by John Lennon, is from the band’s Let It Be album which was released in May 1970, a month after the band had broken up.  “Dig A Pony” was recorded live on January 30, 1969 during the group’s infamous rooftop performance in London at 3 Savile Row (where their soon-to-be-kaput multimedia company Apple Corps was headquartered).  https://youtu.be/LpdJE7HG8Ls


Lola – The Kinks…..Not your standard “boy meets girl” song; more like “boy meets…girl?”  This tune from the band’s eighth studio album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One was reportedly banned in Australia because of the controversial lyrics, but the BBC in Britain banned it originally because of their product endorsement policies—so bandleader Ray Davies had to change the word “Coca-Cola” in the opening lines to the generic “cherry cola”  for the initial release of the song to radio.  The version here is the album track, which put the Coke right back in place:  https://youtu.be/LemG0cvc4oU


Express Yourself – Charles Wright and The 103rdStreet Rhythm Band…..Wright was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1940 but left for L.A. in his early teens, and throughout the Sixties he led a revolving-door unit of players under that “103rd Street” banner.  Early on the group had been concentrating on covers, but then set off on defining their own funk-fueled, R&B injected originals.  The band had a penchant for loose, slow-to-midtempo jams and vocal punctuations from Wright that accentuated the funk feel.  “Express Yourself” comes from the band’s album of the same name.  https://youtu.be/F-MQQPlUPEE


The Rapper – The Jaggerz…..Singer/guitarist Dominic Ierace was front man for this Pittsburgh, PA band in 1970 when they released their sophomore album We Went To Different Schools Together.  The tune was a hint of things to come for Ierace, who subsequently plowed into a name change and even more fetching pop/rock in later stints with Wild Cherry and then his own band, Donnie Iris and the Cruisers.  https://youtu.be/1Ye-oQXC6l4


Movin’ In – Chicago…..There are more popular songs on Chicago II, this second album from the band originally called Chicago Transit Authority—i.e., “Make Me Smile,” “Color My World” and “25 or 6 to 4”—but Musicasaurus.com’s preferred pick is the album’s opener “Movin’ In.”  This tune lyrically and musically conveys the band’s sheer love of making music, and exhorts listeners to stay tuned for what is yet to come—more pop/rock magic powered by passionate vocals and a killer, jazz-inflected horn section.  https://youtu.be/pMJH8uB6u0s


Hummingbird – Leon Russell…..Russell’s solo albums, according to Allmusic.com reviewer Jason Ankeny, “couched his charmingly gravelly voice in a rustic yet rich swamp pop fusion of country, blues, and gospel.”  And “Hummingbird” is just one of the highpoints on Russell’s 1970 eponymous debut which also contains “A Song For You” and “Delta Lady” along with lesser known but no less powerful in-studio performances captured for posterity.  https://youtu.be/rokNTY_qLC4


Incident at Neshabur – Santana…..I saw Santana in November 1969 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena when the band was in the opening act slot warming up the crowd for headliner Janis Joplin.  But 23-year-old Carlos almost stole the evening, dressed in black leather from head to toe, looking like and playing like the devil.  I was in heaven…“Incident at Neshabur” is an instrumental track from Santana’s second album Abraxas which was released in September 1970, just ten months down the line from this Pittsburgh concert.  https://youtu.be/338TDhTN7HQ


Rainy Night In Georgia – Brook Benton…..South Carolinian Brook Benton came from gospel roots as his father was a Methodist church choir master in tiny Kershaw County, SC.  In his late teens Benton headed north to New York City and had some singles make some noise on the R&B and Pop national song charts in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.  But it took wrapping his velvet baritone around “Rainy Night In Georgia” in 1970 to propel him to the very top.  The song, originally written and recorded a year earlier by swamp-rock singer Tony Joe White, hails from Benton’s album Brook Benton Today.  https://youtu.be/X7VsQwVSqXw


I Love You – Steve Miller Band…..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 output in 1969 and 1970 is a much better place for listeners to land.  In 1969 the Steve Miller Band issued both Brave New World and Your Saving Grace, and in 1970 pushed out the album entitled Number Five.  The latter is blessed with some fetching rockers with a bit of country and blues mixed in; “I Love You” is one of several songs that featured Nashville’s legendary session player Charlie McCoy on riveting, skittering harmonica.  https://youtu.be/1_lLlSciSUs


Nature’s Way – Spirit…..This L.A. quintet produced four innovative and eclectic recordings between 1968-1970, but shortly thereafter the five original members split acrimoniously.  But those first four releases—which included 1970’s Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus—truly enchanted a number of fervent followers who loved 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 classical, string-laden instrumentals—but all written and recorded with aplomb.  “Nature’s Way,” a sweet dip into ecological waters, appeared on the Twelve Dreams release.  https://youtu.be/qvQa04JP73o


Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell…..The lyric “They paved paradise / put up a parking lot” has become a time-honored phrase to hurl about in matters of ecology, in any questionable marches toward “progress,” etc., etc.—and it all started here in Joni’s composition that was nestled within her third album Ladies Of The Canyon.  The song sparked into life from the simple act of Mitchell throwing open her curtains in a Hawaiian hotel to find beautiful green mountains afar, but then row after row after row of parked cars immediately below.  https://youtu.be/NhxZ8ok3Z2o


Inside – Jethro Tull.....For any readers who may have never caught on to or caught up with Tull, this English rock band who surfaced in ’67 was led by singer/flautist Ian Anderson, spellbinding on record and a hyperactive, high-stepping front man in live performances. The song “Inside” (from the band’s third album Benefit) is a deep cut instead of a well-known FM staple, and it comes right out of the gate charging with a rhythmic attack of flute, guitar and percussion that is beautifully buoyant.  I saw Tull just once in live performance at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in October 1970, though I cannot render an accurate review; at some point in the evening, the light show that I thought I was seeing take place behind the band onstage was actually just in my head.  ‘Nuff said.  https://youtu.be/j1VYRZF8bCs


O-o-h Child – The Five Stairsteps…..This family of soul singers from Chicago—four sons and a daughter of parents Clarence Sr. and Betty Burke—had a string of R&B hits in the late 1960s which culminated with the million-selling single “O-o-h Child” from their 1970 release The Stairsteps.  The band reportedly got its name from mama Betty, who thought these close-in-age siblings looked like stair steps when they stood together in the order of their births.  https://youtu.be/dguz0IsCuKU


Tend My Garden – The James Gang…..A trio of musicians—guitarist Joe Walsh, bassist Tom Kriss and drummer Jim Fox—came together to form the James Gang in Kent, Ohio in 1966, and by 1970 they had switched out Kriss for new bass player Dale Peters in time for their second release, the aptly entitled Rides Again.  This is the album that contains “Funk #49” which lit up FM rock stations across the country and maintained a more than healthy shelf life.  “Tend My Garden” is Musicasaurus.com’s favorite, though.  Listening back to this atmospheric track, one can get a real feel for the Walsh to come; he left the Gang in 1972 for his own project called Barnstorm, launched a solo recording career as well, and then roosted with the Eagles beginning with their 1976 release Hotel California.  https://youtu.be/7Ui2Q11IbAY


Chestnut Mare – The Byrds…..More than a handful of very capable musicians had been in and out of the nest since this L.A.-based band’s formation in 1964.  By the time the group’s ninth album was released in 1970 the core was down to four—founding member guitarist Roger McGuinn, the criminally unheralded guitarist Clarence White, drummer Gene Parsons and bassist Skip Battin.  I saw this particular Byrd formation while attending Clarion State College in the very early 1970s, and was blown away by their musicianship and the sheer power that this foursome put forth…“Chestnut Mare” from the band’s double album entitled Untitled is a ringing, chiming 12-string wonder, an Old West fable of a man in pursuit of a wild horse, with narrator McGuinn both singing and employing spoken word to tell this tale.  Corral some friends and give it a listen.  https://youtu.be/_SdiSjpOdyU


Directly From My Heart To You – The Mothers of Invention…..This song is one of zany ringmaster Zappa’s more straight-ahead blues-rock offerings, and it appears on the album Weasels Ripped My Flesh which has a cover only a Mother could love (the illustration is by idiosyncratic American illustrator Neon Park).  Don “Sugarcane” Harris, an African American violin player who had classical training but veered into rock ‘n’ roll, provides the vocals and the searing yet sweet string work on this mid-tempo blues tune originally penned and performed by Little Richard.  https://youtu.be/KB3HdC-Iums


Into The Mystic – Van Morrison…..Truly possessing one of the most unique voices in contemporary music, Morrison reliably scats, scampers, murmurs, growls and grooves his way through an amassed catalogue of songs that are a uniquely-stamped fusion of rock, rhythm & blues, jazz, blues and Celtic music.  On this track from one of the Belfast-born artist’s best-known if not best-loved albums Moondance, Morrison almost outdoes himself.  “Into The Mystic” was the closing track of side one of the original vinyl release of Moondance, and AllMusic.com’s review describes it as “a song of such elemental beauty and grace as to stand as arguably the quintessential Morrison moment.”  https://youtu.be/pbZf8GY1-Ag


Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today) – The Temptations…..This group from the Motown Records stable of recording artists churned out this powerful bit of postulation in the midst of our Vietnam debacle and a whole lotta social unrest here in the States. The song comes from a cobbled-together collection of the group’s mid-to-late ‘60s hits entitled Greatest Hits II.  Sample lyrics: “Well, the only person talkin' 'bout love thy brother is the preacher / And it seems nobody's interested in learning but the teacher / Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration, aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation / Ball Of Confusion that's what the world is today (yeah, yeah).”  https://youtu.be/iYAEhgLgddk

...AND NOW FOR GOOD MEASURE: Here are twenty OTHER tunes that were bubbling just underneath Musicasaurus.com’s Top Twenty Essential Picks from The Year 1970: 

“War”by Edwin Starr…..“Country Road” from James Taylor…..Dave Mason’s “World In Changes”…..“In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” from The Allman Brothers Band…..“The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel…..“Only You Know and I Know” from Delanie & Bonnie & Friends (including Eric Clapton) …..Pacific Gas & Electric’s “Are You Ready?”…..“Friend of the Devil” by the Grateful Dead …..“Love the One You're With” from Stephen Stills…..“Turn Back the Hands of Time” from Tyrone Davis…..Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who'll Stop the Rain”…..“John Barleycorn (Must Die)” by Traffic…..“I Want You Back” by The Jackson Five…..“Sixty Years On” from Elton John….. Cat Stevens’ “Longer Boats”…..“Spirit In the Sky” from Norman Greenbaum…..“Little Wing” by Derek & The Dominos…..“Spill the Wine” from Eric Burdon & War…..and George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.”






Posted 5/31/20.....FOREVER YOUNG

In Musicasaurus.com’s last post of May 17th we rekindled memories of the legendary Pittsburgh club Graffiti, which for sixteen years (1984-2000) hosted all kinds of burgeoning artists in a perfectly intimate showcase setting.  THIS time we shoot up well beyond the club level to take a look at music festivals—specifically, my remembrances of a couple of slapdash affairs I had attended in my youth.

These were during the very early 1970s and were some of my very first encounters with a music festival experience.  Back then I was in my late teens and in the grip of the ‘60s-into-‘70s societal shifts and generational schisms that were pushing up like magma seeking release.  Music was everything to my friends and me, and risk-taking, boundary-pushing artistry was in full flower, both reflecting change and stoking it. 

Much later in life around the early 1990s I actually started having a hands-on role in music festivals in terms of producing them at a local Pittsburgh-area outdoor amphitheater (Star Lake), but these few experiences in my youth were more fun…and freeform…and formative.

ONE BEAUTIFUL PICNIC…Lake Milton, Ohio…In the Summer of 1971

At the time I lived in my hometown of Butler, Pennsylvania, an hour north of Pittsburgh.  One Beautiful Picnic was a one-day festival in our neighboring state to the west, and the mists of time have dulled my distinct recollection of how we’d even heard about this event in the first place.  It might have been flyers appearing around town, or some other dinosaur-ish method of spreading news of this type in the age before Googling led us all to instantaneous omniscience.

On Sunday, August 22nd my friends and I piled into a van and headed west on the turnpike, ending up in a field with hundreds of like-minded souls in a place called Lake Milton.  The line-up for One Beautiful Picnic included a few regional acts like Youngstown, Ohio’s rock trio L.A.W. but most of the bands on the bill were a bit bigger in scope.  Alice Cooper was the evening’s headliner, with Procol Harum, Chuck Berry, and The Amboy Dukes (featuring Ted Nugent) slated for earlier in the day.  Bob Seger was in the line-up too, playing with a duo called Teegarden & Van Winkle (this was pre-Silver Bullet Band for Bob), and Brownsville Station, an Ann Arbor band, was on the bill as well.  The latter were enjoying some moderate regional success from touring right around then but were still two years away from their breakout success “Smokin’ In The Boys Room.”

Like promoter Bill Graham had been doing on the West Coast for some time, a lot of mid-late 1960s and early 1970s promoters were staging concert events in cities or far afield, mixing and matching the artists and caring not a whit about consistency.  So in these situations an early rock ‘n’ roll pioneer like Chuck Berry was right at home on stage with theatrical shock-rocker Alice Cooper or six-stringer (eventual right-winger) Ted Nugent.

Brownsville Station pulled off a polished set of rock ‘n’ roll that day, and Chuck Berry was electric with his Fifties and Sixties classics like “Johnny B. Goode” and his trademark duck-walking on stage.  Before Berry bounded up on stage, however, there came The Amboy Dukes and a very ready Teddy.

My most vivid memory of the Amboy Dukes’ set was actually during a break between songs, when guitarist Ted Nugent—nicknamed the Motor City Madman for good reason—laid his finger aside of his nose (yep, just like Kris Kringle) and suddenly let fly what looked to be a six-foot streaming arc of nasal discharge.  My friends and I were in shock—had we really just witnessed this?  Nugent was inciting the crowd verbally, of course, with his usual between-song exhortations to “Rock ‘n’ roll!” but this stunt was a showstopper.  Though all the bands that day mounted exciting performances, I’d have to say Nugent won that one by a nose.

One more memory shard remains from that day.  In front of the stage on this Lake Milton field, the audience was a general admission mass of humanity, and our little group was equivalently about 15 rows back.  During Alice Cooper’s set, it dawned on us that this was a particularly visual performance and we were having a hard time seeing over the tops of heads.  One of our gang began to yell “Sit down! SIT DOWN!” and started waving his arms in the appropriate downward motion. 

And then ever so s-l-o-w-l-y others in our immediate area began this chant, picking up on the wave and pushing the message forward.  It seemed that every initially bewildered head that turned around from a tap on the back was wasted but willin’: In just a minute-and-a-half, the hundreds and hundreds of folks in front of us had, in their small buddy clusters, all literally dropped to the ground.  So we finally ceased our barked-out beseeching, high-fived each other, and dropped to sitting positions ourselves, giddy with success. We were simply amazed that our original lone-voiced pleading had rippled and fanned all the way to the front row…

This was a sweet and unexpected victory, but of course it didn’t last long.  Pockets of dunderheads in the crowd began to fist-pump and rise up when Alice launched into his next number, and we all returned to our feet, necks craning, heads weaving—but for a good five minutes there, we had had our Field of Dreams.

THE CHICORA DRIVE-IN MUSIC & FILM FESTIVAL...Chicora, Pennsylvania…In the Summer of 1970 or 1971

How’s that for honing in on a date?  But memory can be a tricky companion and my ticket stub is long since gone (likely laundered out of existence in the pocket of bell bottoms or a paisley shirt).  I believe the Chicora music and film festival started up in 1970, but I can’t recall whether my friends Gary and Dave’s band King Kong played there that first year, or the next.  Whenever it was, I was there—and unlike One Beautiful Picnic, the site of this festival was much closer to home, just 12 miles from Butler.  

The owner of the Chicora Drive-In was an entrepreneurial sort.  He had dreams of things bigger than standard nighttime movie fare, so at some point he had embraced the youth culture and decided that—for a particular Saturday—he was going to book some young, hungry bands for the daylight hours and schedule youth-oriented flicks for the evening’s screenings.  Thus from noon to dusk and dusk ‘til dawn on this chosen Saturday, the Chicora Drive-in became a sanctuary setting for youth-oriented music, hip films and wasted wayfarers.

loved Gary and Dave’s band King Kong.  They were talented musicians and, flaunting the standard guitar-bass-drums line-up, they added a crack horn section and trafficked more in album cuts than pop hits, pulling out great nuggets from emerging artists such as Savoy Brown, Chicago Transit Authority, The Flock, Van Morrison and others.  I had been helping to lug amps and instruments for a fair share of King Kong’s gigs back then, and I felt like this was my own personal contribution toward Rock ‘n’ Roll since I couldn’t hold a candle to these guys musically.  In fact I couldn’t play an instrument at all, but of course craved the excitement of the scene and loved being around creative friends who could play their asses off.

Here at the Chicora festival, it looked like King Kong was getting a decent slot—not too early in the day when attendance was sparse, and not too late in the day when eyelids were heavier and attention spans much lighter.  The festival’s lineup consisted primarily of bands from around Western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio, such as Blue Ash, Freeport, 198, Leatherwood, and our band King Kong.  The stage that the bands played on was actually the roof of the drive-in’s concession stand, and I am pretty damn certain no one had thought of doing any weight-bearing studies in advance.  Luckily there were no collapses or calamities. 

As the sun started to dip a bit below the horizon, King Kong pushed their drum kit forward, plugged in, and started their set.  As the band broke into “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” I hopped up on stage with a few other King Kong roadies and hangers-on, and in front of three microphone stands stage-right we took our place as “official” back-up singers (very nice of the band to have thrown us this bone).  All we were instructed to do was sing the title line whenever it surfaced periodically throughout the song—or perhaps that’s all Gary and Dave had actually permitted us to sing, I can’t recall.  But the thrill of being up on stage was a blood rush to the head and it fueled our fervor. 

The next song we had even less to sing but we held sway, and moved and grooved.  It was “Sympathy For The Devil” by the Rolling Stones, and the four of us in front of those three microphones danced, twirled, clapped and hollered out our “Hoo-Hoooos!” throughout this epic Jagger-Richards tune.  Those couple of syllables, uttered over and over, were just enough to make us feel essential to the song—hey, we were in the band and no longer standing idly by as mere spectators.  We had the pedal down, chippin’ in and rip-roarin’ along on that road to Rock ‘n’ Roll...

By the time King Kong had concluded their set, I pretty much had hit the wall.  Between the heat of the day and the intoxicants afloat at the festival, I was more than a bit dazed and confused.  When the bands were over and the movies had begun, I sat alone in the darkness on the hood of somebody’s car in a quizzical, near-comatose state.  Soon, frustrated at my own frazzled attempts to plumb the true meaning of Yellow Submarine’s Blue Meanies, I knew it was time to head home. 

I had my parents’ car, and though my head felt like I had horse blinders on both sides, I focused as best I could as I wound through the back roads of Chicora toward Butler.  All along the route I was worried that the police would pull me over—for lack of speeding.  I think I was traveling about ten miles under the posted limit the entire way home.







Posted 5/17/20.....PHYSICAL GRAFFITI

Last month brought all of southwestern Pennsylvanians a sad sort of twentieth anniversary—the legendary live music club Graffiti, situated near the corner of Baum and Bigelow boulevards in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, closed its doors forever in April 2000.  The 650-capacity club had been a thriving mecca for nationally touring acts and local/regional favorites since 1984, but after a hellacious 16-year run of presenting the best in live entertainment, the club was shuttered by the sale of the property to a real estate company who wanted the entire space in this former warehouse for luxury automobile sales and storage.

Or, as Graffiti owner Tony DiNardo commented to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shortly after news of the club’s sale surfaced, “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”

How true…Graffiti was an excellent space to see live music, and on this twentieth anniversary of the club’s last gasp, Musicasaurus.com reached out to various folks in the entertainment business—writers, disc jockeys, filmmakers, promoters, musicians, record company personnel—for their ruminations on the most mind-blowing show they ever witnessed in that sacred little jewel called Graffiti:

Rich Engler / Former president of DiCesare-Engler Productions (which became part of Live Nation); currently producing concerts as Rich Engler Presents

I did many, many shows at Graffiti but most memorable was my show with Gregg Allman and his band when he had the number one hit ”I’m No Angel.”

Mark Wallace / Former Warner Brother Records’ promotion man for the Pittsburgh region

Probably right around the time just before the album Tim made The Replacements a “bigger” name—probably around ’84 or ‘85—they did a show at Graffiti.  However, they already had a reputation for, um, uneven live shows; usually intoxicated.  In fact, one epic performance on Saturday Night Live got them banned permanently. 

The band’s bus got to Graffiti between 2 and 3pm on the day of show, and I met them there as the local Sire/Warner Brothers record guy.  We sat at the bar with Graffiti owner Tony DiNardo, chatted with the band’s manager and drank, yes.  They wanted to rehearse, so after about an hour, I had to go home for dinner with my daughters so I gave Tony my Amex card and said to keep a tab open for them. 

I got back to Graffiti at 6:30 and discovered that the tab was now $300, so yeah, lots of booze.  The manager pulled me aside and said “Tommy (Stinson, bassist) is too drunk to play, and can’t do the show.  Can you get something to, uh, bring him around?”  So, I did contact my source for that and got back to the venue between 8 and 9pm (later than I was supposed to, and Tony was not happy).  The show went on, and my (unofficial) tab for the night was close to $500.  That was my first time for “helping” a band play, but not the last. 

Scott Blasey / Musician and lead singer for The Clarks

My favorite show that I saw at Graffiti was the Replacements in the summer of 1987 during the Pleased to Meet Me tour.  Their hijinks were well-known by this point.  Some shows were brilliant displays of rock-n-roll power and passion and some were drunken disasters.  Fortunately I witnessed the former.  I was sweaty and shirtless by the time I left the club.  I walked up the alley towards my car when Tommy Stinson threw open the back doors of the club and yelled to no one in particular, “Who wants to get a pizza?!"

Sean McDowell / Afternoon on-air talent with 102.5 WDVE who retired just this past year after twenty-six years in the deejay chair

Without hesitation: Little Feat, Graffiti 1988.  Craig Fuller was their new lead singer, the guy who sang "Amie" with Pure Prairie League.  And Feat was touring to promote their brand new album Let It Roll.  It was at least 95 degrees in the room that night, a sold-out show, and it was one of the Five Best Shows I've Ever Seen—and I saw Led Zeppelin at Three Rivers AND Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon tour at the Civic Arena both in June 1973 (Floyd opened the roof of the Civic Arena that night).  

Little Feat brought a steaming hot Graffiti crowd to its feet all night long.  And how they got the group out from the downstairs dressing room to the stage without a mob scene was by taking everyone in the band up onto the right balcony, marching them across that balcony, and then directing them down onto the stage!  The room was going fucking insane…And the late Richie Hayward of Little Feat remains one of Rock's Greatest Drummers Ever. I will always remember this show at Graffiti!

George Balicky / Former Senior Vice-President of the National Record Martretail chain that was headquartered here in Pittsburgh

I want to lead off by saying that my favorite concert at Graffiti was The BoDeans, but that's not what this tale is really about.  My most mind-blowing show that I ever attended there was Kenny Rankin.  Now I know most of you are saying "what the..." but I must explain.  First, I am a bit biased because through my years in the music retail business, I got to know Kenny well and he became a good friend.  I remember a Graffiti show of Kenny’s from the summer of 1985 and, while enjoyable, it certainly was not mind-blowing.  In fact, it was rather refined and quiet because Kenny doesn't like any noise when he performs.

So, where does “mind-blowing” enter in?  A few years later, I invited Kenny to National Record Mart's Christmas party at (you guessed it) Graffiti where he agreed to perform.  Let me just say that the fine employees of NRM mixed with many guests from the record business combined with the very fine beverages served by Graffiti caused the atmosphere to be...let's call it...loud and rowdy!  So, Kenny's mind-blowing show lasted about a half of a song when he abruptly stopped playing, wished everyone a Merry Christmas, and walked off the stage.

Scott Tady / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times

Blue Oyster Cult blew my mind in a Graffiti show on Nov. 24, 1987.  MTV had knocked them down a few pegs, so the Long Island rockers were no longer headlining arenas with wild lasers and a life-size Godzilla.  All they could rely on this particular night was the strength of their songs—those sci-fi-laced, dark humored songs with killer hooks.  That was all they needed for a marvelous show.

Side note related to Graffiti:  I emceed several nights of the Graffiti Rock Challenge in the early 2000s after it moved to Mr. Smalls.  Graffiti owner Tony DiNardo gave me books of matches (with the Graffiti logo) to throw into the crowd—swag to pacify people between set changes by local bands.  Problem was, all the adults congregated at the bar for this all-ages event, so I found myself tossing matches to teenagers near the front.  What could go wrong, right?  (Say, what is the statute of limitations for being an accessory to arson)? 

Jack Tumpson / Former owner-operator of concert promotion company Next Big Thing who promoted hundreds of shows in the club in the mid ‘80s and ‘90s

Too many mind-blowing ones to pick from!  Robert Cray, Richard Thompson, Los Lobos, John Prine, k.d. lang, Hot Tuna, to name a few.  And the comedians, Ellen DeGeneres, Richard Belzer, Bobcat Goldthwait, Sandra Bernhard, and Judy Tenuta.  And bands you never heard of like Screaming Blue Messiahs, Polka greats Rotondi, John Lurie and Lounge Lizards.

But maybe the most memorable for true theater was a triple bill in the late 80's—Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, and Thelonius Monster—three hardcore rockers with reputations to match.  The show rocked and the settlement went smoothly.  As the bands were packing up their busses one of the loaders came up to the office and said to the owner Tony "You’ve got to see the dressing room!"  We went down to the dressing rooms to find them a shambles—broken furniture; urination; destruction that looked like a bomb went off.  The Red Hot's bus was in the alley and after a couple of knocks the door opened with Anthony Kiedis spewing profanity and threatening physical violence.  He had obviously been eating more than Chili or Peppers.  After a few tense moments of MF’ing and stare-downs, the calm, cool road manager came out and peeled off hundred dollar bills to make it right.  Kiedis was still yelling and flipping the bird as the bus drove off. 

Steve Hansen / Former on-air talent on WDVE’s “Jimmy & Steve” morning program (1980-1986); currently an independent writer/producer

In the late 80s, there was enough music in Pittsburgh to sustain three thriving, distinct musical cultures.  There was the Decade scene, the Banana scene and the Graffiti scene, each presided by an inspirational guru.  Sadly, Pittsburgh music hasn’t been the same since Graffiti closed in 2000.  It's impossible to separate Tony DiNardo from Graffiti.  The club was an extension of his vast musical and intellectual appetite.  His beautiful canvas and gentle permissiveness encouraged all manner of dreamers who otherwise would never have had the nerve to take the stage.  Full disclosure:  I was one of them.  

Along with Carl Grefenstette I was a part of several musical comedies, including The Last Prom and Night of the Singing Dead.  It was at the latter that I witnessed a moment that will be forever seared into my brain.  As it’s name implies, Night of the Singing Dead celebrates (and occasionally mocks) dead rock stars.  One Halloween weekend the gifted, dearly missed Sweet Pete Loria from The Flashcats was recreating Jimi Hendrix’s Monterey Pop performance.  Pete squirted lighter fluid onto his axe as part of the unrehearsed finale.  Even a quick run-through would have revealed what a monumentally bad idea this was. 

As dancers packed the Graffiti floor, directly in front of the stage, the fire grew uncomfortably large.  Pete dropped the lighter fluid and tried to stomp out the flames but his foot mistakenly came down on the can of lighter fluid.  This caused a shot of highly combustible fluid to pass through the guitar flames, resulting in an even larger flare aimed directly at the packed dance floor.  The only reason you didn’t read about the tragic loss of life in the paper the next day is that the flame was intercepted by a fortuitously placed stage monitor.  Everyone on stage froze for a second at the horror that almost was and then quickly recovered and suffocated the guitar.  The band played on and Graffiti was home to countless more legendary moments.

And today, Burning Man refers to an annual festival in a Nevada desert and not a memorable night at the incomparable Graffiti.  

Rick Sebak / WQED public TV producer and narrator

It’s not a hard question, but I have two answers that come to mind immediately, two outstanding concerts at Graffiti: Meat Loaf and Warren Zevon.  The difficult question is when exactly were they?  So I tried to do some research.

I remember being delighted that I was going to see Meat Loaf in a small venue like Graffiti.  It was one of his “off years,” not a time when he was especially popular or soaring up the charts.  I guessed it was the late 1980s.  The phenomenal success of his album Bat Out Of Hell (1977) was at least a decade earlier, but I still loved the over-the-top emotional intensity, his powerful voice, and the clever ultra-pompous-but-oddly-poetic lyrics of Jim Steinman who’d written all the songs on that album. 

Looking at the log of Graffiti appearances, I found two nights when Mr. Loaf appeared there: March 29, 1989 and October 27, 1990.  I have no way to know which show I saw.  What I remember is that the small band bravely tried to recreate the wall of sound that dominated the hit LP, but it was really a night that highlighted Meat Loaf’s voice.  And he had two good-and-trashy-looking blonde female back-up singers in matching black leather jackets with leotards and fishnet stockings who did what they came to do, but they looked at him with total disdain all evening.  It may have been a brilliant part of the act, but their disgust at Meat Loaf made the whole show more fun and outrageous and memorable. 

Warren Zevon played several dates at Graffiti, but I saw him only once.  His first appearance there was on July 25, 1986, when I was living in South Carolina, so it wasn’t that show.  I moved back to Pittsburgh on July 4, 1987, so I may have seen him on the Sentimental Hygiene Tour on October 17 of that year, but I think it’s more likely I saw him on what he called the Patrician Homeboys Tour on November 25, 1988.  My most vivid memory of the evening is the series of encores that he performed that night, ending with a cover of  “What’s New Pussycat?” that was originally performed by Tom Jones on the soundtrack to the first movie Woody Allen ever wrote.  When Zevon introduced it, he apologized to his drummer who refused to participate in such shenanigans.  He immediately stood up from his kit and left the stage.  The crowd of course loved it and screamed and hollered in appreciation.

Doing this little bit of rock research during the Stay-Home Spring of 2020 forced me to make some unexpected connections to both of these good rock memories.  First, the fact that some scientists hypothesize that the CoVid-19 virus may have origins in bats because the virus’s molecular structure resembles other viral structures found in bats gives new intensity to the ancient expression “bat out of hell” and may require a vicious new version of the song with updated lyrics.  Bat out of hell indeed.

Secondly, reading about Warren Zevon and his fatal fight with cancer reminded me of his song titled “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” from his tenth album called Life'll Kill Ya.  The lyrics are simple and powerful “Don’t let us get sick / Don't let us get old / Don't let us get stupid, all right? / Just make us be brave / And make us play nice / And let us be together tonight.”  It could be the anthem for this pandemic.  Let’s all sing, “Don’t let us get sick.”  https://archive.org/details/wz1999-12-03.sbeok.flac16/wz1999-12-03t06.flac









Seven Mother’s Days ago in May of 2013 I interviewed my 83-year-old mother Alison Guthrie Jones in Butler, Pennsylvania.  We had a late lunch/early dinner out at an Italian restaurant and then retired to her duplex’s sunny dining room, sitting down at a table in front of sliding glass doors that afforded a beautiful view of her tiny patio.  Outside there were two deck chairs, a stocked bird feeder and a hanging basket—the latter a crimson-colored begonia courtesy of a son who loves her.

Alison is a Butler girl, born and raised.  She’s alternately warm, feisty, quick to laugh, at the core very gentle, and now and again a bit impatient with her foibles and forgetfulness.  I figured I was long overdue in getting this woman on record via an interview in musicasaurus.com.

With a tiny handheld recorder, I sat down at the dining room table and essentially surprised her with the request to get some of her thoughts on the subject of music.

I want to ask you some questions; it’s very informal, just pickin’ your brain...
Go ahead. Oh, there’s a blue jay....oh, it flew away.  Go ahead, honey.

Obviously I’ve been into music most of my life, starting at a pretty early age.  But what about you?  Do you remember, as a young person, listening to much music?  Did your parents have a record player?  Did they buy records?  
Oh, yes...We had records by Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman...

And that’s the stuff your parents were listening to?
Well, yes.  What happened was, whenever more and more of these records started coming out my dad bought a radio that a drawer slid out, and we could play our 78s on there.  So they liked the music, yes.  But I guess I played it too loud.  Or at least that’s what my father said...Your Uncle Inky had a barbershop here in Butler, actually in Lyndora, and Markew’s was right beside it.  It was a bar with a jukebox.  Well, sometimes the records were getting old in there and they were putting new ones in, so they gave some of the old ones to Ink, and Ink would give them to me. So I had a lot of records before I even liked much music.

So this was the late 1930s and through the 1940s, and the records were Tommy Dorsey, and things like that?
Yes, and Harry James.  I loved Harry James.

You got married at the age of twenty, in 1950.  Before that, when you were a teenager in high school, what was your social life like?  Did you and your girlfriends drive around, go to dances, drink beer, what?
My girlfriends and I didn’t have beer, but if we were out with our boyfriends, THEY had some...Yes, we did go to dances.  High school dances, one in Lyndora and one down Route 8 towards Pittsburgh, which young people used to go to.

Was there a deejay?
No deejays.  Just a jukebox.

You went to these places, and there were just jukeboxes?
Yes, but then we also went to dances where some of the boys we knew played in a band, and they were really good.  Dances were fun.  I remember after we were married, your father and I were in Erie with Dee Dee and Nick, and we jitterbugged to the music of Bill Haley & The Comets...

You could jitterbug to Bill Haley?
Oh, yes.  Also we went to see some live music—Tommy Dorsey and Stan Kenton in New Castle.  I always wanted to see Sammy Kaye—sing and sway with Sammy Kaye—but I never did.  We loved to dance, but not that stuff like “The Fish”—

You mean “The Swim”?
Yes, The Swim, those later-on dances...We were either slow dancing or jitterbugging back then.  I did go to a square dance once while still in high school, and I almost wet my pants.

My girlfriend Helen invited me....Some older guy grabbed Helen and took her out on the floor, and then some guy grabbed me, but I was laughing so hard that I almost wet myself.  All that spinning and changing partners, and goin’ so fast—it was a riot.

How did you find out about new groups or new releases from singers and musicians that you liked?
We used to go to Trader’s in Butler, and they had booths.  They were a music store down there on Main Street across from the gas company; they had little booths where you could listen to records...I can’t remember when the little records (45s) came out, but that’s where I bought my records.

What kind of music did Dad like?
Blues and jazz...He loved Stan Getz, and especially Ella Fitzgerald.  He had loads of records by her.  I never particularly liked her that well.  He liked her voice; I didn’t...Dad and I liked pretty much liked the same music, though.  In the 80s we started listening to WISH-FM, the Pittsburgh station that played soft rock.  We both liked that, when he retired.

I remember your 45s when I was very young—That song “Party Doll” by Buddy Knox, “Kansas City” by Wilbert Harrison, and the Elvis Presley ones you had...
Oh, you imitated Elvis all of the time.  You pretended you had a guitar.

Was I holding a broom or something?
No, just pretending to have a guitar; you didn’t hold anything.  And you made gyrations, but not the bad ones that Elvis did.  You and your brother used to entertain Aunt Betty and her boyfriend in the living room at our house.  His name was Joe, I think.  You and your brother also used to do comedy routines for all of us.

In the early ‘60s, the Beatles came over to America for the first time and appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.  It might have been those camera shots of female hysteria in the audience, but I remember Dad saying “They’ll never last.”
Well, I’d say they lasted pretty long...You had your haircut in bangs and cut short, you know; like Paul McCartney.

So you liked the Beatles, and other groups that came out in the ‘60s?
I liked The Monkees, too.  I loved the TV show.

The ‘60s unleashed a lot of different artists & styles in music; did you ever get concerned with what I was listening to?
I just didn’t like some of that hard rock stuff you were listening to...I remember I liked Carly Simon when I first heard her, but not James Taylor until much later on...And I started liking Rod Stewart when you gave me a CD of his, and I thought to myself “I’m not going to like this”—but I DID!  I remember you got me backstage to meet Rod Stewart when you worked at the amphitheater.  

That’s right.  Do you remember how that went?
Good.  He said “Hello there.”  And I said, “You know, I am probably the same age as your mother but I still enjoy you.”  Then he left.

He left?
Well, he went to talk to the guy behind me.  I’m sure after their shows these performers are all hyped up and they just want to relax...Somebody did take a picture of Rod and me, but you never got me the picture. 
I didn’t?  I don’t remember anyone taking your picture.

Some friend of yours did, and he was supposed to mail it to you—but you never got me the picture.

Sorry, Mom.
It would have been nice to look at it now.

Hmmm...Your one opportunity to have a photo with a big rock star, and I failed you.
It was tragic! (laughs)

Did you ever meet anybody else out there at the amphitheater?
Well, you got me backstage to meet Judy Garland but she didn’t come out after the show to meet anybody, but she did put on a wonderful show—wait, it wasn’t Judy Garland, it was her daughter.

Liza Minnelli?
Yes, Liza Minnelli.  But what a terrific show she put on....and her dancers and singers, I remember well.  They weren’t all skinny and pretty; they were all sizes, and I thought that was wonderful.  She didn’t just have beautiful girls up there...I saw Cher out there, too.  And she was fantastic.

You probably had great seats, too.  Because you had a son that truly loved you.
That’s right...I didn’t like Barry Manilow, though, when I saw him.  He didn’t have any back-ups; it made it boring.  

I’ve heard that he talks to the audience a lot between songs; true?
He said to the crowd “To all you guys who hated to come here tonight, I know how you feel”...Oh, and I saw Bette Midler.  She was GOOD...Who else did I see?  Let me tell you about one I really loved.

Who was that?
The singer in that Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber show.

Michael Crawford.
Yes...I couldn’t go to that amphitheater concert, but you got us tickets for him at the Benedum Theatre later on, in...the late ‘90s?

You saw Sinatra too, right?
Yes, at the arena.  I think with Sammy Davis Jr.

That’s right...and that was the concert where Dean Martin was supposed to play as well, but he didn’t make it to the Pittsburgh show because of an illness.  That tour with the three of them was called “Ol’ Blue Eyes, Red Eyes and One Eye.”  That wasn’t the official name of the tour, but that’s what we industry insiders called it.
He was probably plastered...Did you ever know if some of these groups were drunk or anything?

No, I never ran into any artists who looked in really bad shape...I do remember Ozzy Osbourne had some struggles before he took the stage at the amphitheater a few times, and there was a doctor backstage who gave him B Vitamin shots just to get him focused enough to go on.
What did she ever see in him?  His wife is pretty, and his daughter is pretty.  I can’t stand him.

I remember in the late ‘60s bringing home a couple of new albums by Cream and Buffalo Springfield...and you overhearing the Buffalo Springfield record and saying “That’s too twangy country.”
I said that?  I really like some of the country music now (looks out the dining room glass door)  There’s that bluejay again.  And the cardinals.  I wonder what’s in that feed I give them...Your Dad and I really liked that one program, “For the World?”  Is that it?  “For the World?”  Whatever it was, we tuned into that...

We Are The World?
Maybe.  I know it was around the same time your dad finished the deck out back.  You called and asked what we were doing, and I told you we were watching the program, and you said that you were pretty sure you wouldn’t find many other parents who were doing the same thing.

Oh, that was the Live Aid concert.  In 1985.
That’s it.  

I remember you liked Neil Young and Leon Russell, but when you first asked me about them, you said “Please play me some of that Neil Simon”...and...“Do you have anything by that Leon Uris?”  
(Mom giggles)

Didn’t you also like the band Chicago?
YES!  They were terrific; you’ve put them on some of your mixes for me...They were good in concert.  Who comes and plays Star Lake Amphitheater these days?

Well, there are more country artists than there used to be, starting around the early 2000s.
One time I went there with Joelle (niece) to see the guy who has the blonde hair and the hat.

Mom, that could be one of a few country stars...
He had a mustache and blonde hair.  And he just stood there.  I was so bored that I thought I’d scream.  He had people playing with him, but he just stood there.

Alan Jackson?
Yes, that was him.  I wanted to see Alabama but never made it out there.

Did you see Tim McGraw?
No, but I like that song he does about his dad.  And I know his wife is absolutely gorgeous, and they have three girls.  But she screams when she sings.  My friends think that, too.  

What was the trip to Star Lake Amphitheater that you remember the most?
Well, who was the guy from Florida?

Uh...Are you thinking of Jimmy Buffett?
Yes, I went to see him twice when you got me tickets.  Anyhow, we were drinking beer so I didn’t care about the music that much.

You might have just summed up the whole Buffett concert experience.
The last time I went I was in my early ‘70s, I think.  Bob and I and another couple went to the concert, and Bob’s friend had a thing for big boobs.  So when we were out in the parking lots walkin’ along, walkin’ along, he was hoping to see some girls pull up their T-shirts.  And finally one girl did.  And he thought that was just wonderful.

One more question, Mom.  Say you had to go to a deserted island to live the rest of your days--what ONE album or CD would you take with you?
Can it be a CD that somebody made?  Like one of your mixes?

Technically, no.  But it IS Mother’s Day today.  If you want to, go ahead.
No, that’s okay...Hmmm...Probably that Michael Crawford album with the girl who sang with him...

Sarah Brightman?  Wasn’t that the “Music of Andrew Lloyd Weber” compilation?
I think so...I think it had a bunch of different songs on it.  But it was just beautiful, and that’s the one I’d take along with me.

I think we’re done, Mom.  Thanks so much for doing this!
Alright, my son.  Thank you.








In the current crippling grip of COVID-19, as people are (mostly) hunkered down and homebound, there’s a lot of reaching out to connect goin’ on…Phone calls.  Texts.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Instagram.  And especially Zoom (so much activity there in fact that it’s hard to keep track of who’s zoomin’ who).

With all of that, there is also an opportunity for some of us to have a few moments here and there for quiet reflection.  And bearing in mind that music can be a healer, a soother and a source of both inspiration and motivation, Musicasaurus.com has now put together a small playlist of songs that revolve around themes of volunteerism…and compassion…and more.  Hope you enjoy the following selections; it’s your call, but I would recommend that you pore over the lyrics first, and then let the music & words together pour out of your iPhone, Sonos system or home stereo.  Immerse and enjoy.

Theme: Volunteerism

The Indigo Girls – “Hammer and a Nail”

The Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray and Emily Saliers were from the outset of their professional musical careers rooted in connection to community and the desire to inspire. They launched into benefit concerts in their Little Five Points neighborhood in Atlanta beginning in the mid-1980s, regularly playing for soup kitchens and meals on wheels types of fundraisers related to those affected by HIV and AIDS.

On their third studio album Nomads Indians Saints from 1990, the folk duo led off the record with a fiery challenge to their fan base through self-admonishment, a tune called “Hammer and a Nail.”  With lyrics that included “I gotta get out of bed and get a hammer and a nail / Learn how to use my hands…” the duo were off and running on a lot of causes including Habitat for Humanity (whose headquarters is in Georgia), Native American environmental issues, LGBTQ organizations, and many more.

Here is “Hammer and a Nail:"

Clearing webs from the hovel

A blistered hand on the handle of a shovel

I've been digging too deep, I always do

I see my fate on the surface

I look a lot like Narcissus

A dark abyss of an emptiness

Standing on the edge of a drowning blue



I look behind my ears for the green

And even my sweat smells clean

Glare off the white hurts my eyes

I gotta get out of bed and get a hammer and a nail

Learn how to use my hands, not just my head

I think myself into jail

Now I know a refuge never grows

From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose

Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose


Had a lot of good intentions

Sit around for fifty years and then collect a pension

Started seeing the road to hell and just where it starts

But my life is more than a vision

The sweetest part is acting after making a decision

I started seeing the whole as a sum of its parts


[Chorus repeats, and then…]


My life is part of the global life

I'd found myself becoming more immobile

When I'd think a little girl in the world can't do anything

A distant nation my community

A street person my responsibility

If I have a care in the world I have a gift to bring


[Chorus repeats one last time.]

“Hammer and a Nail” words AND music….. https://youtu.be/jr3coM2DvPk


Theme: Compassion

John Prine – “Hello in There”

About six years ago for an upcoming Musicasaurus.com post, I reached out to friends in the entertainment business to have them send me a certain song that they felt particularly moved by.  Rick Sebak contributed this bit of praise for Prine: “I can’t remember if I heard Bette Midler’s cover of ‘Hello In There’ before I heard John Prine’s original, but both versions (burned into my memory in college days in the early 1970s) still reach into my mind and heart and make powerful sense.  I think it’s a combination of the simple everyday tone (‘We had an apartment in the city / Me and Loretta liked living there’) and the giant understanding that aging is a difficult business (‘Old trees just grow stronger / And old rivers grow wilder everyday / Old people just grow lonesome’).  

“Every time I hear it, it seems wiser and more truthful.  Now we can watch Prine in concert on YouTube as he sings it in recent years and the poetry is even more powerful.  He wrote the song when he was still in his 20s, but as all of us age, the tune takes on a deeper power, a resonance, and its mighty message makes more and more sense every day.”

Here is “Hello in There” (from Prine’s self-titled 1971 debut album):

We had an apartment in the city

Me and Loretta liked living there

Well, it'd been years since the kids had grown

A life of their own left us alone

John and Linda live in Omaha

And Joe is somewhere on the road

We lost Davy in the Korean war

And I still don't know what for, don't matter anymore



Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger

And old rivers grow wilder every day

Old people just grow lonesome

Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello"


Me and Loretta, we don't talk much more

She sits and stares through the back door screen

And all the news just repeats itself

Like some forgotten dream that we've both seen

Someday I'll go and call up Rudy

We worked together at the factory

But what could I say if he asks "What's new?"

"Nothing, what's with you? Nothing much to do"


[Chorus repeats, and then...]


So if you're walking down the street sometime

And spot some hollow ancient eyes

Please don't just pass 'em by and stare

As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello"

“Hello in There” in words AND music….. https://youtu.be/dcB_ZvyL35o


Theme: Family Farms

Don Henley – “A Month of Sundays”

I bought the Eagles’ first album in 1972 when I was in college, music starved at every moment and thankfully landing a pinch-me opportunity to deejay on Clarion State College’s campus radio station for a few hours each week.  Lead-off song “Take It Easy,” with its road beckoning, rhythmic drive, sure made it easy as a listener to slip into the passenger seat of that one.  

From there the Eagles and their subsequent releases flew under my radar, though I began to gravitate toward the Don Henley-penned (or co-penned) material which through incisive lyrics began to take a political edge in songs that dissected the L.A. luxury-obsessed lifestyle, environmental issues and more.  And when Henley eventually flew the nest to a solo career in the early ‘80s, I found—tucked within his best-selling 1984 album Building the Perfect Beast—a wistful, elegiac song about politics in the Reagan era and the troubles besetting the family farmer.  It is atmospheric and poignantly adept in its first-person lyric approach.

Here is “A Month of Sundays:"

I used to work for Harvester

I used to use my hands

I used to make the tractors and the combines that plowed and harvested this great land

Now I see my handiwork on the block everywhere I turn

And I see the clouds 'cross the weathered faces and I watch the harvest burn


I quit the plant in '57

Had some time for farmin' then

Banks back then was lending money

The banker was the farmer's friend

And I've seen the dog days and dusty days

Late spring snow and early fall sleet;

I've held the leather reins in my hands and felt the soft ground under my feet

Between the hot, dry weather and the taxes and the Cold War it's been hard to make ends meet

But I always put the clothes on our backs,

But I always get the shoes on our feet


My grandson, he comes home from college

He says, "We get the government we deserve"

My son-in-law just shakes his head and says, "That little punk, he never had to serve"

And I sit here in the shadow of suburbia and look out across these empty fields

I sit here in earshot of the bypass and all night I listen to the rushin' of the wheels


The big boys, they all got computers, got incorporated too

Me, I just know how to raise things

That was all I ever knew

Now, it all comes down to numbers

Now, I'm glad that I have quit

Folks these days just don't do nothin'

Simply for the love of it


I went into town on the Fourth of July

Watched 'em parade past the Union Jack

Watched 'em break out the brass and beat on the drum

One step forward and two steps back

And I saw a sign on Easy Street, said "Be Prepared to Stop"

Pray for the independent, little man

I don't see next year's crop

And I sit here on the back porch in the twilight

And I hear the crickets hum

I sit and watch the lightning in the distance but the showers never come

I sit here and listen to the wind blow

I sit here and rub my hands

I sit here and listen to the clock strike, and I wonder if I'll see my companion again

“A Month of Sundays” in words AND music (YouTube has inexplicably been barred from offering this song, so for this particular tune we’ll send you to Spotify; if this particular link is not operative right now, please cut and paste it into your browser to give this tune a listen:  https://open.spotify.com/track/5iaKIDFB45PjpHqmKqAeA7?si=hJY_2VGlRbqk3Zg6ZywJWA  

(p.s.  If you happen to have family farmers and food distribution organizations high up on your list of worthwhile entities to donate to, why not consider sending one or both whatever you can spare at this time:  In Pittsburgh, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank  https://secure.qgiv.com/for/gbfdef2st/info/header_menu_link/?_ga=2.157647484.752946837.1587403597-393211601.1585747311….. and for family farmers here and around the country, Farm Aid  https://give.farmaid.org/give/280365/?utm_source=web&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=Nav%20Menu%20Donate%20Link#!/donation/checkout).


Theme: World Peace

Michael Franti & Spearhead – “Bomb The World”

I encountered Michael Franti live for the first time on June 3, 2016 at “The Point” (Point State Park, at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers which then flow into the Ohio).  The occasion was the park’s outdoor main stage performance that evening of Michael Franti & Spearhead as part of the annual summertime Three Rivers Arts Festival.  The group’s leader had formed this band in 1994 having already blazed a musical trail of songs for change and activism with an earlier outfit called Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.  The latter ensemble existed for just two years (1991-1993) but racked up a lot of critical and cult acclaim for their hip hop-plus-industrial-music approach to musically messaging about society’s ills and injustices.

Franti & Spearhead at the Three Rivers Arts Festival were electric and eclectic, pumping out an appealing, all-ages mix of rock, reggae, Afrobeat and other in-the-groove blends.  Headman Franti spent a good portion of his set worming his way through an appreciative crowd in the midst of a series of songs about positivity, love, and making a difference.  The performance built up such a flow of emotion through the crowd—I’d call it rippling joy—that I truly don’t think I’ve witnessed before or since.

“Bomb The World” is from Franti’s 2003 album Everyone Deserves Music.  This song was born out of post-9/11 events and is a cautionary tale—unfortunately a tale as old as time.

Here is “Bomb The World:"

Please tell me the reason 

Behind the colors that you fly 

Love just one nation 

And the whole world we divide 

You say you're “sorry” 

Say, “There is no other choice” 

But God bless the people them 

Who cannot raise their voice 



We can chase down all our enemies 

Bring them to their knees 

We can bomb the world to pieces 

But we can't bomb it into peace 

Whoa, we may even find a solution 

To hunger and disease 

We can bomb the world to pieces 

But we can't bomb it into peace 


Violence brings one thing 

More, more of the same 

Military madness 

The smell of flesh and burning pain 

So I sing out to the masses 

Stand up if you're still sane! 

To all of us gone crazy 

I sing this one refrain 


[Chorus repeats, and then...]


And I sing power to the peaceful 

Love to the people y'all 

Power to the peaceful 

Love to the people y'all

“Bomb The World” in words AND music ….. https://youtu.be/9Skg9z_nPHg



Steve Earle – “Nothing But A Child”

I first heard Steve Earle in 1988 upon the release of his third album Copperhead Road which compared to his first two records was dialed down in country and ratcheted up in rock.  The title track had been adopted by FM Radio rock stations and it was ubiquitous for a spell, but I leaned in on other gems like the guest appearance of Irish pop-punksters The Pogues on the Celtic-meets-Rock ‘n’ Roll tune “Johnny Come Lately.”

Tucked at the end of the Copperhead Road album on side two was an unexpected treat that was miles apart thematically from side one’s opening salvo, the rollicking title tune.  “Nothing But A Child” was a ballad, and lyrically just a marvel as it spun out a spiritual wish for the world based on the birth of Jesus Christ.  One doesn’t have to be a believer in order to take to heart the messaging here; for me personally, it’s the next to last stanza that particularly resonates.  It takes the example of the birth of Jesus and universalizes it, humanizes it, celebrating the wonder and the potential of each and every brand new soul coming into this world as “every mother kind and every father proud / looks down in awe to find another chance allowed.”

Here is “Nothing But A Child:"

Once upon a time in a far off land

Wise men saw a sign and set out across the sand

Songs of praise to sing, they travelled day and night

Precious gifts to bring, guided by the light

They chased a brand new star, ever towards the west

Across the mountains far, but when it came to rest

They scarce believed their eyes, they'd come so many miles

And the miracle they prized was nothing but a child



Nothing but a child could wash these tears away

Or guide a weary world into the light of day

And nothing but a child could help erase these miles

So once again we all can be children for a while


All around the world, in every little town

Everyday is heard a precious little sound

And every mother kind and every father proud

Looks down in awe to find another chance allowed


[Chorus repeats]

Nothing but a child could wash these tears away

Or guide a weary world into the light of day

And nothing but a child could help erase these miles

So once again we all can be children for a while

“Nothing But A Child” in words AND music….. https://youtu.be/icco9ET8j_g







Posted 4/5/20.....THE PRICE YOU PAY

I recently received an email from music industry analyst and critic Bob Lefsetz that was sent out to all of his e-subscribers at the beginning of this month.  In it he talked about how major live entertainment promoters like Live Nation and AEG are currently triaging over COVID-19 cancellations and postponements, and have pretty much accepted the fact that 2020 will be a financial di$a$ter. 

So, Lefsetz says, they are already planning to collaborate on the biggest festival event in music history, something dubbed the Reunification Concert which will take place in Cabo, Mexico in January 2021.  The festival’s line-up will apparently feature the world’s most popular and revered bands who still have original members alive and kickin’—so ¾ of Led Zeppelin, ¾ of Pink Floyd, ½ of The Beatles, etc., etc).  The ticket price?  Lefsetz reported that because of the multi-day line-up and the off-the-charts appeal of this once in a lifetime affair, there is talk of pricing the tickets at $10,000 apiece.

Yep, musicasaurus just loved this April 1st email from Lefsetz.  And I wasn’t fooled, though his piece was spooled out quite nicely so that the most gullible “out there” might have even latched onto some nuggets as the truth.

But that $10,000 per ticket thing?  Crazy, yes?  Who knows…If something like this Reunification Concert was actually going to happen in some way, shape or form, I wouldn’t put it past the festival organizers to discuss at least their “VIP Experience” packages being priced in the thousands of dollars.

We’ve come a long way, baby, from the days when concert tickets were affordable for all.  This was chiefly in the late 1960s and all the way through at least the 1970s, before the concert industry edged into maturity and became a real business whose partakers—the artists, the promoters and the venues—realized that more and more profit could be wrung out of this live performance art form.

I took a look back at some concerts that I went to in the 1970s…back when the youth of America were first truly energized by and engaged in a widespread, even rabid devotion to all of the new music emerging in our society…back when ticket prices were, certainly by today’s standards, unbelievably inexpensive.

I have listed the shows below and the price I paid for my ticket (ain’t no April Foolin’ here in that department)…

Souther-Hillman-Furay Band – University Auditorium at Penn State – October 28, 1974 

These three name-in-title individuals had all built up significant followings in other bands prior to joining forces.  J.D. Souther was in a late-‘60s L.A. band called Longbranch Pennywhistle with a pre-Eagles Glenn Frey; Chris Hillman was an alumni of The Flying Burrito Brothers and Manassas; and Richie Furay came out of the bands Buffalo Springfield and then Poco.  Good stock, and a great show with this trio of talents out front of an intuitive, sessions-seasoned backup band comprised of Al Perkins on pedal steel, Joe Lala on percussion, Paul Harris on keyboards and Jim Gordon on drums.  The ticket price was $3.50.



10cc and The Hello People – Tomorrow Club in Youngstown, Ohio – November 2, 1975 

10cc was a British band composed of four songwriting multi-instrumentalists who crafted both commercially appealing and quirky, artful pop songs.  Some Butler, PA friends and I motored over to Youngstown, Ohio in November of 1975 to see them at the Tomorrow Club (the venue was the old State Theatre which opened in 1927 as a movie house; by 1974, though, it had morphed into a music nightclub later on becoming the Agora.)

10cc in 1975 was out touring to promote their third album entitled The Original Soundtrack, which contained that six-minute, lush as hell song “I’m Not in Love,” a monster hit on radio in the states after first conquering the UK.  The opening act I remember was rather unique; The Hello People were the brainchild of a New York producer who was into French mime films, and he coaxed some Ohio musicians into adopting face paint and going with wordless mime routines between songs instead of the usual band patter.  The ticket price was $3.50.


Daryl Hall & John Oates – Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh – December 6, 1977

This duo had a strong word-of-mouth reputation in the 1970s for its live shows, arguably because of Daryl Hall’s set of pipes but also because of the muscular, musical backup provided by their sometimes shifting tour personnel.  At the time of this particular concert, H & O had had a couple of bona fide hits—“Sara Smile” and “Rich Girl”—but their tours were still at theater-level.  

That changed beginning in the 1980s with a succession of more popular albums and radio-embraced songs like “Kiss On My List,” “You Make My Dreams,” and others that piled on from the next few releases.  These boys kinda owned the early ‘80s on pop radio stations across the country.  The ticket price was $8.00.


Peter Gabriel – Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh – October 22, 1978 

Gabriel at this point was post-Genesis by about three years and was touring behind the release of his second solo album, the one that his growing fan base eventually referred to as “Scratch” because of the claw mark approach on the cover (Gabriel didn’t mind pissing off his record company, as he actually named his first four solo albums simply “Peter Gabriel,” so the four became known largely by the predominant image on each of their covers.)

The set list that October evening sprang mostly from the artist’s first two solo releases, and his band—including David Rhodes on guitar and towering, bald bassist Tony Levin—were characteristically rooted in Gabriel’s rhythms throughout the evening.  Seeing Gabriel during the late 1970s was a treat for all of us in the growing cult of cool that was amassing; he was still eight years away, though, from exploding into popular culture with his mutha of an album entitled So.  The ticket price was $7.75.


Sea Level – David Lawrence Hall at the University of Pittsburgh – December 8, 1978 

This concert in one of the ballroom-type rooms at the University of Pittsburgh was a mindblower for me.  Having been a huge Allman Brothers fan from their self-titled 1969 debut forward, I glommed right onto Sea Level in 1977 when the band’s first album hit record stores a year after the Allmans’ initial disbanding.  Sea Level had absorbed from the Allman Brothers Band three key players—bassist Lamar Williams, drummer Jaimoe and keyboardist Chuck Leavell (the latter lent his name to the new outfit through a phonetic pun—C. Leavell). 

For me, the standout musician of the group was Georgia-born Randall Bramblett.  He had joined the band for second album Cats on the Coast and wielded sax and piano and soulful vocals; he was the true glue for this amazing amalgam of Southern rock and jazz-tinged sophistication.  The performance that night was equal parts Bramblett-led soul & funk numbers and searing, long-voyage instrumentals, keeping the student audience mesmerized with the musical coalescence rolling out from the stage all night long.  This was a free event for Pitt students which, as a Penn State grad, I believe I crashed—and that’s just not right, but what a great night.


Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh – December 28, 1978 

I was a Penn State senior and an E Street virgin when seeing Bruce for the first time; this was in February 1975 in State College right before Born To Run was released.  I then caught him three years later on the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour in Pittsburgh at the Stanley Theatre.  

At that latter concert, I snuck up front to the edge of the stage with a Santa cap in my hand—this was December, after all—and just as I was swiveling my neck to check whether Security was going to jump me, someone on an aisle seat grabbed my cap and hurled it Bruce’s way.  He pounced and put it on, and a rock photographer friend of mine on the scene caught that moment with his camera.  The glittery letters on Santa’s (now Bruce’s) cap spelled out “Exile,” which was the name of the indie record store I co-managed at the time in Wexford, PA.  The ticket price for this Stanley Theatre show was $7.50.


The Tubes – Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh – April 26, 1979 

This may be obvious to those in the know, but my strongest memories of this concert are of Fee Waybill.  He, Fee, was the lead singer and provocateur of The Tubes, an early purveyor of music blended with satire and outrageous stage antics.  From the mid-‘70s through at least the early ‘80s, The Tubes were a must-see rock extravaganza on the concert scene, with Fee the onstage ringleader of song skits that skewered everything from rampant consumerism, game shows, beach movies, S&M, and more. 

A typical Tubes show also included props, costume changes, and walk-on acrobats and tap dancers, and a lot of this carefully crafted nonsense was aided by the band’s outside choreographer Kenny Ortega, perhaps most famous for his work on the film Xanadu and for his direction of the 1987 film Dirty Dancing.  Tubes’ tunes of note, by the way: “White Punks on Dope,” “Mondo Bondage,” “What Do You Want From Life,” “Prime Time,” “Don’t Touch Me There,” “Talk To Ya Later,” and “She’s A Beauty.”  The ticket price was $7.75.


Alvin Lee – Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh – June 9, 1979

I wish I could call up this show from my memory bank, really, I do.  It’s hazy…I have some shards of guitar, but little else.  Why had I gone to see him?  I know that it wasn’t Lee’s historic (some say histrionic) 1969 Woodstock performance in which he drove himself to Frenzyville peeling off lightning runs on his guitar and incessantly repeating “Goin’ Home!” until we all wished he’d departed a hell of a lot earlier.

But here I was, ten years after, at the Stanley Theatre and I believe it was for these reasons that I bought a ticket to the show:  1) My obsession with Cricklewood Green, a 1970 album from the guitarist’s time spent as front man of the British blues-rock group Ten Years After…2) My reverence for A Space in Time, Ten Years After’s 1971 follow-up release whose signature tune “I’d Love to Change the World” featured alternately dreamy and explosive guitar work…and 3) My delight that Lee unexpectedly departed from his boogie and blues penchant in 1973 to collaborate with American gospel-rock singer Mylon LeFevre on a country-ish blues-rock record entitled On the Road to Freedom.  The ticket price for this Alvin Lee concert at the Stanley Theater was $7.50.







Posted 3/22/20.....HEY NINETEEN


With self-preservation and respect for others top of mind, of course, we are all in one very special place right now—HOME.  Steely Dan long ago did a song called “Hey Nineteen,” and if I had my way, I would tweak their lyrics a bit to say “Hey, COVID-19 / No, we got nothin' in common / No, we can't dance together / No, we can't talk at all / Please DON’T take me along when you slide on down.”

So as we give a collective finger from the couch to COVID-19, here are 19 songs with the theme of HOME…Hunker down, and listen up; this mix may help you get through these uncertain times…

1.Baby’s Callin’ Me Home – The Steve Miller Band…..This song from the Steve Miller Band’s 1968 debut album 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 that came later in 1968, and trod a solo path from there.  Miller and Scaggs, on their independent paths, both reached their respective career highs eight years later with Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle and Scagg’s Silk Degrees.  https://youtu.be/9cK--Mt5iKE


2. Bring It On Home To Me – Sam Cooke…..It’s amazing how many revered, memorable classics this gospel-turned-soul singer cooked up between the start of his hit parade of tunes in 1957 and the end of his life (by shotgun at the hands of a motel manager) in December of 1964.  “Bring It On Home To Me” was almost a top ten hit the USA after it was released in 1962 as the “B side” of one of Cooke’s other singles releases that year, “Having A Party.”  The song can be found also on the 1962 compilation album The Best of Sam Cooke.  https://youtu.be/HE1hf2nhi0s


3. Home – Barenaked Ladies…..This sly, cerebral party band from Canada achieved a wave of USA fan fervor in the 1990s, as their constant touring and legendary live shows which featured the between-song wit and witticisms of frontmen Steven Page and Ed Robertson brought them converts galore.  Their career apex seemed to be 1998’s Stunt album which contained the radio hit “One Week,” but the band had sowed these seeds years before, with the aforementioned relentless touring and the release of cult-building compositions like “Brian Wilson” and “If I Had A $1,000,000.”  “Home” is a sweet, straight-ahead ballad from the Ladies’ seventh studio album Barenaked Ladies Are Me (2006).  https://youtu.be/8IK23JE8KFg


4. Buffalo River Home – John Hiatt….I briefly met singer-songwriter Hiatt somewhere around 1975-1976 when my record store boss in Butler, PA provided the sound system for Hiatt’s college gig at nearby Slippery Rock University.  Hiatt was only on his second unheralded album at the time, but kept plugging away through the ‘70s and ‘80s and as it turned out, more and more musicians, keen on his songwriting, began peeling away a song from him here and there for their own releases.  Hiatt himself finally cracked wider success in 1987 with his eighth release Bring The Family, an album that featured stellar back-up musicians guitarist Ry Cooder, bassist Nick Lowe, and drummer Jim Keltner.  The tune listed here is from Hiatt’s eleventh record Perfectly Good Guitar.  https://youtu.be/wki0-aIj2X8


5. On The Way Home – Buffalo Springfield…..This mid-late 1960s L.A.-based folk rock group lasted only a few years, but essentially gave birth to some great talent that went on to change the face of music forever—Neil Young to a solo career and work with Crazy Horse and CSNY…Stephen Stills to CSN and CSNY and the band Manassas…Richie Furay to Poco…and Jim Messina to Loggins & Messina.  Older music fans will remember that “On The Way Home” was Side One, Track One on the Springfield’s last hurrah Last Time Around which was released in 1968.  This is a Neil Young-penned tune, but is actually sung by Furay.  https://youtu.be/WIdnwwdpKao


6. Carry My Children Home – Emmylou Harris & Spyboy…..This track is from a live set from Harris captured for posterity in 1998 for the album Spyboy, which was named for her fiercely talented backup band of the time that consisted of bassist Daryl Johnson, drummer Brady Blade and (especially) guitarist Buddy Miller.  “Calling My Children Home,” a song originally recorded by bluegrass band the Country Gentlemen in 1978, is in the hands of Harris awe-cappella at its finest.  This is just one milestone of many in Harris’ long and illustrious career of bringing to the masses what her once partner and always mentor Gram Parsons called “Cosmic American Music.”  https://youtu.be/dz-SWm3Gvvs


7. Homeward Bound – Simon & Garfunkel.....These masters of vocal entwinement created a lot of lasting triumphs in the span of just six years (1964-1970) including this composition written by 22-year-old Simon in 1965 while homesick and solo touring all around England.  The album from which it came, 1966’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, was their third one as a duo and their first to reflect their full control in the studio. Sage was all the rage for fans of a certain age; the album was a mainstay on turntables in college dorm rooms from sea to shining sea.  https://youtu.be/JKCVAXhVMkY


8. Feels Like Going Home – The Notting Hillbillies…..The Notting Hillbillies was an offshoot band for Mark Knopfler, which most rock fans likely only know as the singer/songwriter and slick pickin’ guitarist of British band Dire Straits.  Knopfler did just one album with the Hillbillies, 1990’s Missing…Presumed Having A Good Time, from which this track is taken.  The song is a sweet, lump-in-the-throat gospel-like tune, originally written and performed in 1974 by American country singer Charlie Rich (Rich’s big crossover hit “Behind Closed Doors” was also on that same ’74 album which was entitled The Silver Fox).  https://youtu.be/VrTBjHRk8TM


9. Home – Zero 7…..Zero 7 is an English duo who started out in the late 1990s as savvy, intuitive producers of various artists’ albums in studio settings.  The two then embarked on their own artistic endeavors under the moniker Zero 7, and the music that resulted has been variously described as trip hop…electronica…acid jazz…ambient music…and it is all of these things.  Their recordings have also sported guest singers like Australia’s Sia, and on this particular tune from the 2004 album When It Falls, Danish singer-songwriter Tina Dico.  Hypnotic stuff.  https://youtu.be/mVzBM6LpCb8


10. Night Ride Home – Joni Mitchell…..This is the title track of Mitchell’s fourteenth album, and here at the age of forty-eight she weighs in on aging, love and long-held ideals.  The record features at most four musicians per track, but it is also characteristically rich in production and atmospheric arrangement.  Mitchell plays acoustic guitar, billatron, and keyboards; Larry Klein’s on bass; the drummer is Vinnie Colaiuta and the percussionist is Alex Acuna.  https://youtu.be/_EzUQ_e43Zs


11. Go Home, Girl – Ry Cooder– When I first got my hands on Cooder’s Bop till You Drop album in the summer of 1979, there was a heightened urgency to peeling off this record’s plastic wrap and slapping it on the turntable.  I had read that this album was the first from any major record label to be digitally recorded and the resulting sound was mind-blowingly crystal clear, but more importantly, everything I had ever wanted to hear from a roots artist was in these grooves.  Cooder stacked this album with a lot of not widely known R & B and early rock and roll songs, and the execution was soulful, the musicianship breathtaking. “Go Home, Girl” was Cooder’s cover of a song by the influential but commercially unsuccessful singer-songwriter Arthur Alexander, whose roots were equally split between white country music and black rhythm & blues.  https://youtu.be/k63zFZn2JRE


12. Hometown – Joe Jackson…..I was lucky enough back in April 1979 to catch Joe Jackson at the legendary club The Decade in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.  His power pop was infectious and fortunately I didn’t abandon him when he began, after his first two albums, to indulge in reggae and ska, jazz, swing, the blues and other sorts of hues.  In January of 1986 Jackson and his band recorded a live performance in the Roundabout Theatre in New York City for an album that would become Big World (released that same year).  By special invitation Jackson welcomed in an audience who were pre-warned that they should remain absolutely quiet until they were dead certain each performed song of the evening had ended.  Jackson’s reasoning: He wanted to feel the invigorating spirit of playing live but did NOT want crowd sounds and noise that would take him even slightly off focus.  “Hometown” is a song from that album, and is lyrically a damn beautiful slice of nostalgia from the perspective of an adult looking back to a much more meaningful time and place in Life.  https://youtu.be/cVzZH3BzeAY


13. I’m Coming Home – The Spinners…..This R&B vocal quintet first came together in a group setting in a suburb of Detroit in 1954, and though they were with Motown Records beginning in the early 1960s they didn’t really ignite on pop radio stations nationwide until they had signed with Atlantic Records in 1972.  In Philly and under song selection tutelage from songwriter/producer Thom Bell, the group rubberbanded up and down the pop charts through the rest of the ‘70s with a string of infectious pop/R&B selections.  “I’m Coming Home” hails from the group’s fourth studio album Mighty Love (1974) and was actually a finger snappin’, funked up, horn injected overhaul of a popular Johnny Mathis song that had come out the year before.  https://youtu.be/CL8vSbxb0Z4


14. Home – Joe Satriani…..This American guitar slinger is often thought of as a speedster with technical flash to spare.  But here on his self-titled sixth release—the first of his that I really emotionally connected with—Satriani, in the words of Allmusic.com’s reviewer Shawn M. Haney, “explores deeper waters with a haunting yet richly entailed work of stripped-down blues-rock and improvisational jazz.”  The song included here for the Home Mix is an instrumental ballad that takes its sweet time unfurling, and there’s much majesty here.  And the empathetic backup by his handful of assorted rock and jazz musicians really brings this one home.  https://youtu.be/MMMqwIgNhjI


15. Last Train Home – Bryan Elijah Smith…..In 2013 my friend Frank and I saw this artist live in a small, tucked-away club in tiny Thomas, West Virginia called the Purple Fiddle, and I was so enthralled that I reached out to this native of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to lure him up to Pittsburgh for a private party event in May of 2014.  Smith continues to knock me out with his atmospheric blend of alt-country and folk, and his compositions are hypnotic in the way he manages to work in great hooks that blend right in and always serve the song—never overblown and quite often entrancing.  This song comes from Smith’s 2010 album Pour On Me.  https://www.bryanelijahsmith.com/store (scroll down the page until you land on Pour On Me; “Last Train Home” is track #6).


16. Last Train Home – Pat Metheny Group…..Same title as the Bryan Elijah Smith song immediately above, but a completely different tune…Missouri-born Metheny started playing guitar at the age of thirteen and taught at both the University of Miami and Berklee while still a teenager.  His style is an almost indescribable mix of jazz, rock, and folk but that doesn’t capture the idiosyncrasy of his approach to this instrument.  Aligned for a stretch of years with European jazz label ECM, the musician formed the Pat Metheny Group in 1978.  One of the band’s greatest achievements is the almost six-minute instrumental voyage called “Last Train Home,” a song that pulls slowly out of the station and ultimately then fades into the distance.  Allmusic.com reviewer Alex Henderson called this song from 1987’s Still Life (Talking) album “one of Metheny’s most unique offerings ever…which boasts a charming Western theme that brings to mind a peaceful journey across the Arizona desert.”  Or really anywhere at all you’d like to travel, from your couch, in your head; the song is a cinematic scene stirrer that ever so gently skitters across your mind’s eye. https://youtu.be/908kjmbjABI


17. Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) – Paul Young…..English singer Young was an ‘80s superstar in Britain and it spilled over to our shores in large part because of that voice.  Young was twenty-seven when he recorded his debut album No Parlez (1983), and it is tracks like “Whenever I Lay My Hat”—a cover of a Marvin Gaye song—that brought fans of both genders immediately into his camp (aided by the just-emerged MTV music channel here in the States).  There’s a passion on display here in this particular tune that dwarfs the original—and when you can beat Gaye at his own game, that’s sayin’ somethin’.  https://youtu.be/_iFnBRcHJw4


18. Home At Last – Steely Dan…..The album Aja, from which this track is taken, is quite simply quintessential Dan.  And in 1977, it was a clear departure from all of their earlier works in that the wry rock was edged out in favor of pristine production and a near perfect blend of jazz-rock, blues and pop music in longer song settings.  In my days as GM of the amphitheater that is just outside of Pittsburgh (originally called Star Lake), Aja was the album that, time and again, would blast out of the lawn speakers prior to the venue’s gates being opened; the tour’s production folks loved this record in terms of testing out their levels and tweaking their sound settings by way of this crystal clear near masterpiece.  “Home At Last” may in some circles be a lesser-known nugget from the album, but it is no less compelling than the better knowns.  https://youtu.be/NW59IsQkGmA


19. Isn’t It Nice To Be Home Again – James Taylor…..Have a minute?  Or even 55 seconds?  That’s the length of this pretty ditty from Taylor’s 1971 record Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, which followed the artist’s 1970 breakthrough album Sweet Baby James.  This is a mix closing sentiment sure to get you settling into the sofa comfortably—a place you’re really getting used to, I know…  https://youtu.be/98qMVLb7xnc





Posted 3/8/20.....PRIDE (IN THE LOVE OF NAME)

Lynyrd Skynyrd

In 1973 when the debut album from Lynyrd Skynyrd entitled (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) hit record stores, I was already on board as a fan of Southern rock largely because of my four-years-and-runnin’ worship of the Allmans.  I honestly believed, though, that Skynyrd’s 9-minute-long album closer “Free Bird” was just a bit too drenched in guitar frenzy, somewhat overblown, and on radio, certainly overplayed.  Instead, I cottoned to songs like the power ballad “Simple Man” and the rollickin’ “Poison Whiskey.”

And I thought I knew perfectly well how this Jacksonville, Florida band had chosen their name.  Somewhere along the line I heard a backstory that the group had been named for their high school physical education teacher Leonard Skinner, who reportedly was a stickler for the school’s policy on boys’ length of hair.  So it was a tribute of sorts to this disciplinarian bordering on authoritarian, and these young rockers taking his name to mock the establishment was certainly in step with the times.

Very recently, though, I stumbled upon the whole truth behind the band members all coming together to decide upon the Lynyrd Skynyrd moniker, which I guess proves the old adage that one is never too old to lyrn…

While driving to work the other day I was listening to assorted imported playlists and suddenly out of the car speakers popped a 1962 novelty tune by comedian/actor/singer Allan Sherman, one I hadn’t heard in ages.  Written to the tune of Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” from the opera La Gioconda, the Shermanized tale deals with the subject of youths’ letters from camp, based somewhat on his own son’s missives from time he spent at Camp Champlain in Westport, New York.  I listened with a wisp of recognition as the lyrics spilled out: “Hello Muddah, hello Faddah / Here I am at Camp Grenada / Camp is very entertaining / And they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining. / I went hiking with Joe Spivey / He developed poison ivy / You remember Leonard Skinner / He got Ptomaine poisoning last night after dinner…”

I almost hit the brakes.  I was blown away by the Skinner reference which I had never really honed in on before—likely because I may have been ten or twelve years old the last time I heard it crackle out of my parents’ kitchen-counter AM radio in the early ‘60s.

This got me digging deeper into Skynyrd, and I uncovered a May 2018 Rolling Stone magazine online article that had reviewed a brand new documentary about the band that was just at that point hitting some film festivals around the country.  Entitled If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd, the documentary provided my missing lynk: Allan Sherman’s song.  As documented in the docwhen the band was bandying about a final round of group names, original Skynyrd drummer Bob Burns—already enchanted with guitarist Gary Rossington’s high school recollections of coach Leonard Skinner—chimed in that he had just heard the Allen Sherman song on the radio, and amazingly it mentioned that very same name.

One Leonard Skinner a real man, a memorable authority figure…Another Leonard Skinner a fictional creation made to rhyme with “dinner”…A little bit of serendipity…a little synchronicity…and Lynyrd Skynyrd officially came into being.



Hawkwind was a British prog-rock/hard rock band clearly in love with sci-fi themes.  They had their own particular brand of “space rock” that, starting in 1969, spawned a fervent cult following in the U.K. and (to a lesser degree) in the USA.  They enjoyed a fair measure of success throughout the 1970s although band members came and went pretty much from the band’s inception.

In a Chicago Tribune article from November 2015, writer Allison Stewart quotes co-founding member Nik Turner as he reflects on his ouster from the band in 1976.  Turner was kicked out of the group by co-founder/singer Dave Brock, and was irate with the irony surrounding his departure—after all, the band was named after him.  According to Turner, he discovered that “…they’d trademarked the name of the band (without me).  I thought, I have a right to that name.  It was my nickname, because of my pronounced, prodigious habit of spitting and flatulence.  (Because of) my scurrilous habits, and the drawing of attention to them by people, I was known as Hawkwind.”

Getting booted by the band was apparently one expulsion Turner couldn’t control.


Tangerine Dream

Edgar Froese was the fulcrum of Tangerine Dream, the influential, pioneering German electronic music band that rotated players in and out, and reigned on two different fronts chiefly during the 1970s and 1980s.  

From the late 1960s through the following decade Tangerine Dream released groundbreaking soundscapes on albums like 1974’s Phaedra and 1977’s Stratosfear, and during the late ‘70s through the ‘80s produced mesmerizing film scores for Hollywood, including William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, Kathryn Bigelow’s early indie vampires-out-West tale Near Dark, and Tom Cruise’s star-making film Risky Business (providing the electronic pulses for the pulse-quickening scene of a late night train ride by Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay).

Froese passed away in January 2015, and the band posted a message on Facebook that quoted his view of mortality:  “There is no death,” Froese once said, “there is just a change of our cosmic address.” 

Froese first formed the band in 1967 at the Art Academy in Berlin, was early on befriended and influenced by Salvador Dali, and then set the stage—through numerous experimental recordings and avant garde musical performances—for pretty much all electronica music that followed…

About the band’s name:  Numerous stops along the way in online searches reveal the common conception that Froese had misheard a line in the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”  In the song’s opening, Lennon is singing “Picture yourself on a boat on a river / with tangerine trees and marmalade skies”—and Froese reportedly thought Lennon had said “dreams” and not “trees.”  Interestingly, the band’s own website at www.tangerinedream.org leaves this a bit cloudy, stating in the biography (found under the discography tab) “Whether the band's name is from a line of from Lucy in the sky, or from some other source, remains a mystery.” 



10cc was an English rock band (with art school tendencies) that formed in Stockport, England in 1972 and went on to create a quirky yet compelling body of work primarily through the rest of ‘70s.  Notable songs from the two sets of songwriters in the band’s midst—Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, and Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart—include “Wall Street Shuffle” (from 1974’s Sheet Music), the luxurious and layered “I’m Not in Love” (from 1975’s The Original Soundtrack), “Art for Art’s Sake” (from 1976’s How Dare You!), and “The Things We Do For Love” (from 1977’s Deceptive Bends).

According to no less an authority than Snopes.com, there is a claim made by many supposedly in-the-know rock fans that 10cc was named for the amount of semen in the average male ejaculation.  But this is not the case, according to Snopes writer David Mikkelson in a February 2000 post.  Mikkelson points out that Jonathan King, the man who signed the group to his UK Records label and launched their career, had come up with the name.  

King’s remembrance: “I had to give them a name…because I’d signed the record, and I went to sleep that night and had this dream that a band of mine on my label made number one on the album and singles charts simultaneously in America, and the band was 10cc.  So I gave them that name the next morning.  Everybody then decided that this was apparently meant to be the amount of an average male ejaculation.  Which was absolutely far from the truth…There’s a lot of apocryphal stories about names, and unfortunately, most of them are much more amusing than the ugly reality, which in this case is that the name came to me in a dream.”

We may never know the real truth.  It certainly could be King’s account of his fever dream, but there are likely even more proponents with a stiff resolve to believe the other tale.


Ultimate Spinach

Musicasaurus is pretty damn confident that you’ve never heard of this somewhat silly, psychedelic 1960s band from Boston.  And the only reasons that I can recall their name are that 1) I think it’s amusing in a locked-into-an-era kind of way, and 2) guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter was a member of this short-lived assemblage before he relocated to L.A. to help form Steely Dan in 1972.

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 growing their individual music scenes and birthing new bands with exciting new styles.  Spinach was part of the Bean Town scene with other late ‘60s groups like Orpheus and Beacon Street Union, and had a sound that was, according to online independent music magazine It’s Psychedelic Baby, a “unique blend of psych, jazz, rock, Gregorian vocals and Baroque instrumentation.”

In a September 30, 2011 interview in that online magazine with Ultimate Spinach lead singer and songwriter Ian Bruce-Douglas, the at-the-time 65-year-old musician was asked what he could remember about the gigs he played with the band back then.  “Without getting too explicit,” said Bruce-Douglas, “LOTS of hot sex, LSD, peyote, hashish and Cannabis.  I don’t remember too much else!”

And when asked about the formation of the band’s name, Bruce-Douglas had this to say: “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.

.... Musicasaurus will be delving into other band name origins through some later-on posts, but for now I’ll just leave you with a tidbit about a common thread I uncovered.  I found five artists in my last bit of research for this post that all shared the same road to a band name.  I don’t know if they were flat-out lazy or simply lovers of a hands-on approach, but one and all they physically reached out for The Good Book—and here we’re talkin’ the dictionary.

The five who took a dive (whether page-by-page scrutinizers or blindfolded one-shot finger pointers) were the Grateful Dead, Evanescence, First Aid Kit, the Pixies and R.E.M.

More of the name game on musicasaurus.com, further on up the road…





Posted 2/23/20.....DEEP IN THE MOTHERLODE

This time musicasaurus.com’s A DAY IN THE LIFE is a post that will take you in and out of the site; just remember to keep coming back—it’s a worthy two-step…

I got to thinking about the joy of discovery back in the 1960s when the music world was beginning to leapfrog from the leftovers of the WWII generation—crooners like Dean Martin, Brenda Lee, Doris Day, and Tony Bennett—to the coming wave of socially conscious and society upending music that then exploded onto the scene particularly in the last half of that decade.

That era was a great time to be young and alive (editor’s update:  It’s also great to be old and alive).

You can search out tomes of why this quantum leap in music in the ‘60s started up, but indisputably in the mix was the ascent and coronation of the Beatles.  In that span of 1960-1970, the Fab Four evolved from mop-topped boy wonders peddling early rock and R&B covers to a band of peerless songwriters and fearless experimenters, and their unassailable talent fomented changes in society as well as reflected them.

This surge of youth rebellion in the 1960s and the generational schisms that followed shook this country by its buttoned-up shirt collar.  There were anti-war protests, liberated libidos, recreational drugs—a perplexing time for parents but a galvanizing call-up to youth, who felt suddenly emboldened, arguably enlightened, and righteously alienated.

On the individual level I found this time of life to be thrilling, especially as it pertained to the trickle-then-flow of this exciting new music.  Of course there was no web back then but we spun our threads nonetheless, creating inestimable bonds with other teen voyagers who were likewise ravenously exploring this brave new world.  Our glue was the solidarity we felt in sharing the sounds and vision of a changing America, and our news from the front lines came largely from the early rock magazines like Crawdaddy! (springing to life in 1966), Rolling Stone (est. 1967), Creem and Circus (both arising in 1969), all of which faithfully kept us abreast of the newest bands and album releases as the standard bearers of our new reality.

But to this day what especially intrigues me when looking back at that era was the way that certain 1960s bands became game-changers—incubators for superstar hatchlings that then went on to change the face of popular music.  We are zeroing in here on just two groups from Los Angeles; The Byrds who formed in 1964, and Buffalo Springfield who came together in 1966. These bands by themselves produced groundbreaking and influential works—and then individual members scattered to sew some seeds of their own…

The Byrds

There were wellsprings in California that bubbled over with immense talent in the mid-late 1960s, and part of that flock was The Byrds (1964-1973).  

Out of The Byrds flew the following:

David Crosby:  Singer/songwriter and guitarist Crosby left the nest in 1967 to form Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1968 with Stephen Stills (previously of Buffalo Springfield) and Graham Nash (formerly of The Hollies).  


Chris Hillman:  Multi-instrumentalist Hillman (bass, guitar, mandolin) departed The Byrds to form The Flying Burrito Brothers in 1969 and then went on to join Stephen Stills in the start-up of rock ‘n’ roll band Manassas in 1972.  Two years after that, Hillman bought into a record label’s dream scheme to launch a new “supergroup” called the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band with songwriter/singer J.D. Souther and ex-Buffalo Springfielder Richie Furay, but SHF unfortunately fizzled after two consecutive (and commercially unsuccessful) albums.  


Gram Parsons:  Singer/songwriter, guitarist and pianist Parsons spent just a year in The Byrds, turning the band literally and figuratively toward Nashville during the recording process of 1968’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, but then glommed onto the aforementioned Hillman to start up the Flying Burrito Brothers.  Parsons—who died from an accidental drug overdose in 1973 at the unripe old age of 26—was quite influential in the evolution of country rock music.  His music foreshadowed and/or greatly influenced artists including the Eagles, the Jayhawks, Black Crowes, Ryan Adams, Elvis Costello, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and Tom Petty…Also The Rolling Stones, with whom he’d hung out due to a “magnetic attraction” shared with Keith Richards (Keith’s words about that relationship)…And especially Emmylou Harris, with whom he paired up for his 1973 debut album GP and his follow-up record Grievous Angel, an undisputed Americana/country rock classic.


Buffalo Springfield 

These Canadian and American musicians found each other in Los Angeles and banded together for only three years (1966-1968) before splintering and then scattering, most of them to higher altitudes.

Out of the Buffalo Springfield roamed:

Richie Furay:  Upon Buffalo Springfield’s dissolution, singer/songwriter and guitarist Furay rounded up a handful of other area musicians to start up the band Poco in 1968.  Furay stayed with this pioneering country rock band until 1973 and the recording of their fifth album Crazy Eyes, and was then lured into that brief, less-than-supernova assemblage called The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band.


Jim Messina:  Messina—singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer and record producer—left with Furay to form Poco in 1968, and after two albums with that group he went on to team up with singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins in late 1970.  


Stephen Stills:  Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Stills fled to form Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1968 and then detoured for a spell in 1972 to form his own band Manassas.


Neil Young:  In 1968, twenty-three year old Young—singer/songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist and harmonica player—split the Springfield for a long and illustrious career as a solo artist, and he occasionally broke pattern through the years to hook up with Crosby, Stills & Nash and/or his gravelly, grungy sidekick band Crazy Horse.





Posted 2/9/20.....THE SONG IS OVER

(Pictured above, left to right:  John Moschitta, OM, WXDX & WDVE Pittsburgh; David Edgar, Regional SVPP, iHeartRadio Pittsburgh; Mark Fritzges; wife Judy Fritzges; Tall Cathy Schodde, MD, WKST Pittsburgh)

One of my favorite jobs in my mostly carefree mid-twenties was a stint as the Western Pennsylvania region’s Warner-Elektra-Atlantic field merchandising specialist—aka “poster slapper upper.”  I was a display person (tools: staple gun & duct tape; goals: slather record stores) for this three-label distribution company, but it ended after less than two years on the job in December of 1979 due to a regional restructuring.  

Luckily I had made enough of a good impression at one of my company’s largest (by far) clients, the Pittsburgh-based record retail chain National Record Mart.  I wormed my way into a newly created bit of employment there in March of 1980, and as the chain’s new in-store display coordinator, I began working with record label representatives to get enough fresh new artist merchandising materials to keep our stores looking hip and current.

That’s when I first met Mark Fritzges.  A born and bred Pittsburgher, this longtime record company promotion man hit a significant milestone recently as he retired in totally good graces from Atlantic Records in December 2019.  In a topsy-turvy industry like the record biz, which it certainly was back in the ‘70s and ‘80s even before Tech began rearing its upending head, Mark is an anomaly—he held a promotion position with the same record label for forty years

The following are excerpts from an interview with Mark, which he recently managed to sandwich into his currently busy schedule of morning exercise, watching major league baseball programming, and wearing something other than his “traveling shoes.” 

M:  You had been with Atlantic Records for forty years.  That's a long time for any job, let alone one in the record promotion business!  To what do you attribute your longevity? 

MF:  Aside from the fact that my boss had started at Atlantic six months before I did and is still there—which worked to my advantage!—it was just constantly looking at each day separately and trying to make an impression (a difference) each day.  I always taught myself to go to each appointment as if it were a job interview and I was trying to convince the person I was meeting with that they would want to hire me.  I tried to bring my best every time.

M:  I want to ask you about your early days.  What music did your parents listen to, when you were growing up?  Did anything they play around the house influence you at all? 

MF:  It wasn't really my parents that were playing the music.  For the most part they listened to KDKA radio and it was more about the talk shows, like Ed and Wendy King’s "Party Line,” Pens hockey and Pirates baseball.  My older brother listened to the Beatles, the Stones, the Doors, Simon & Garfunkel, Van Morrison, Cat Stevens, Doobie Brothers and Boston with some Monkees thrown in...So basically what you would hear on WDVE today.  My parents did listen to music but really only around the holidays and it was Bing, Dean Martin, the Ray Conniff Singers, Frank Sinatra et al., but nothing that was ever relevant to anything other than Christmas.

M:  What were some of the bands you first listened to? 

MF:  Basically what my brother listened to...I was more of the mind set that I would replace Bob Prince when he retired from broadcasting the Pirates games, so I was more focused on sports when I listened to the radio than the bands.  Although it was obviously a very fruitful time in rock and roll so what I did hear really stuck with me.

M:  When you first started building your own record collection, where did you buy your records?

MF:  I inherited whatever music I had from my brother.  I was more concerned with collecting baseball cards.  You could literally cover the entire face of the card and only expose the chin or the nose or an ear of the player, and I could tell you who was on that card.  I studied them that intently.  My older brother thought I'd devised this amazing way to cheat and know who the player was, but I actually relied on my memory.  No tricks or sleight of hand.  So that didn't leave very much time for me to discover new music.  I didn’t have a favorite record store back then; if any, it was National Record Mart at North Hills Village.

M:  What was the very first concert you went to, and do you have particular favorites through the years?

MF:  I believe the first concert I attended was Aerosmith at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena probably around 1977 or so.  The Who at RFK Stadium in D.C. in 1989 was also a great one.  Atlantic Records had Pete Townshend as a solo artist at the time and I think shortly thereafter we also had Roger Daltrey.  I’m pretty sure that's why I was so involved with that show because we were trying to woo Roger—showing him how visible our company’s promotion team was in covering shows.

Also, the Stones at the Civic Arena was a special night with the Coors opening.  Leon Redbone in Youngstown at the Agora in the early days.  Saw Blackfoot there a few times and the Henry Paul Band as well.  Genesis at Three Rivers Stadium in 1992 when I was sent home from the show because there was some disagreements with Atlantic and the band over I have no idea what, but the manager came up to me and said “Mark, you won't be needed this evening. You can go home.”  Funnily enough, the Pens were playing in the Stanley Cup finals that year and I got home just in time to watch the entire first game.  So it wasn't a lost night. 

Ed Sheeran at the Bowery in New York in the very early days of his eventual hit "The A Team" before anyone really knew who he was.  We had to drag radio programmers to that show and it wasn't easy.  He put on a performance that evening, though, that convinced even the severe doubters—and the rest was history.  Also, all of the hair bands of the 80's were a blast to watch and work with from Twisted Sister to Winger, Ratt, Skid Row, White Lion, Kix and many more that I can't recall right now...What a ride!

M:  When did you get your first real job in the music business? 

MF:  I started an internship at WPEZ/WWSW in the winter of 1977.  I worked in the newsroom writing stories for Jane Clark, WPEZ News Director for her newscasts at 9:50AM, 10:50AM and 11:50AM.  I also would get up at 4:30am on snow days to answer the phones for school closings.  1977 was a historic winter and I spent a lot of early mornings meeting the newsman, John Eld from WWSW, at Brandt Oldsmobile on Perry Highway to get a lift into work (buses didn’t run that early).  I basically worked my way up from intern to Research Director where I called listeners and asked them their musical interests and attitudinal questions.  I also compiled what stations they listened to and this resulted in me breaking out data weekly into a rating service.  This made me indispensable to the sales staff because interestingly enough, my numbers very closely mirrored what the consumer research/ratings company Arbitron was delivering to us on a quarterly basis.  

After that I was promoted to Music Director and finally Assistant Program Director & Music Director after only a three-month run as interim Program Director.  It was at this point that I was the main contact person for the record community and they would call on me weekly.  Then in September of 1980 WPEZ changed from a Top 40 station to a Hot AC (Adult Contemporary) format and I was basically out of a job.  Luckily at this time Bob Clark, the Atlantic rep, was being promoted and he asked me if I would have interest in doing promotion.  I really didn't, but I also didn't have anything else so I interviewed for his job.  I really pursued this intently out of fear—what would I do if I didn't get this opportunity?!  After several weeks and much dread I was hired to be the Atlantic local.

M:  As a record promotion man, how did you weather the technologic shifts in your forty-year tenure?  And how did Atlantic ride that wave and stay successful, as albums died, then CDs, and streaming morphed into now commonly accepted sites like Spotify? 

MF:  It was literally touch and go.  We had encouraged sharing music rights until we realized we were losing billions of dollars to piracy.  At that point we did a lot of drastic things to attempt to recover—including suing our clients for stealing our music.  We had our head in the sand and it cost us dearly.  When I started at Atlantic in 1980 we had 22 regional people in the field.  That has been drastically reduced and continues to decline.  Finally, though, the savior has been streaming.  It is a model that works and has resulted in Atlantic recently having three of its best years in its history.  It's funny as we transitioned from 8-track/vinyl to cassette/vinyl to CD, and now to digital files and vinyl, it all seemed very natural.  I guess I was so busy trying to get the music played that I didn't spend much time contemplating how we were getting there.

M:  Tell me about a few memorable artist encounters you had.  Though I know you squired certain artists around various cities in your territory to meet the programmers of radio stations, a lot of your interaction with artists happened backstage after concerts.

MF:  The backstage meet-and-greets our record label did for radio station personnel, record retail folks and/or contest winners were quite frankly all fairly routine.  At one show in the mid-1980s, though, I had a female flight attendant friend of someone in the small cluster of guests backstage ask a major artist when she could take her shirt off.  The artist’s wife was standing just a few feet away.  That was awkward.  

Another time backstage in the early 2000s I introduced the concert headliners to a small group of radio station staff members and meet-and-greet winners, but I got a band member’s first name wrong.  I paid for that.  The band froze me out from coming to their next set of shows in my territory.  It finally got worked out and everything was fine moving forward.  I ran into that band this past summer and apologized to the artist again for my boo-boo, and he was terrific!

M:  Did you listen to a lot of music at home during your working years?  And do you have a sizable music collection?

MF:  I always thought it was important to keep up.  So I did spend quite a bit of time listening to competitive music.  Always had the radio on in the office and switched between the different stations and formats.  Also spent a lot of time on Spotify listening to music that was starting to bubble up.

And yes, I have quite a bit of vinyl that I compiled when I worked in Radio and also have a pretty fair CD collection.  Although both could stand to be catalogued…

M:  What did you like most about your years with Atlantic?

MF:  I actually liked the travel.  Though after the USAir hub in Pittsburgh closed down in 2004 it was a lot tougher to get to places without connecting.  That resulted in a lot of 3AM wake-up calls to get the 5AM flight to Charlotte or Chicago so that I could get to my first stop in time for a lunch meeting.  

The relationships that I made on the road will last a lifetime.  I have people I would consider friends all over the country.  I am the godfather to a radio program director’s daughter in Phoenix.  I regularly converse with friends in Chicago, Baltimore, Grand Rapids, Tampa, Denver and Boise just to name a few.  I stay in touch with my former staff in the field at Atlantic either by cell or by text.  I have always valued my relationships and they would always be authentic, and there is no way I wouldn't continue to speak to these people the rest of my life.





Posted 1/26/20.....R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.

When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced its class of 2020 on Wednesday, January 15th, some carping by critics almost but not quite drowned out the sound of crickets chirping.  Yes, we have reached the point in these annual RRHOF revelations when most of the once zealous fans of rock music have aged out of caring, or like everyone else are now distracted 24/7 by their apps and news bites, or both.  But a contentious artist pick does still spark an outrage in some fervent corners of this universe.

In his January 15thpiece in the New York Times covering the 2020 pronouncement, Joe Coscarelli starts off by labeling the Hall a “gradually broadening tent.”  I don’t know where Coscarelli sits in the spectrum of RRHOF defenders and detractors, and this Times reporter didn’t give himself away here, but his description diplomatically points to a trend of inducting artists on the margins of rock & roll.

This year’s lightning rod: Whitney Houston.  Houston was one of the six inductees along with Nine Inch Nails, the Notorious B.I.G., Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers and T-Rex.  Coscarelli points out that these latest awardees “cover a wide swath of genres and generations, in line with recent Rock Hall classes,” and then he cites the not-too-far-back inductions of Tupac, Radiohead, the Cure and Janet Jackson.  But the announcement this year of the deceased pop culture queen being ushered in brought some hefty derision—Houston, we have a problem.

Bob Lefsetz, a California-based music analyst and critic who has a mighty successful e-newsletter and blog called the Lefsetz Letter, pounded out his scorn on the same day as the Hall’s announcement.  “What kind of crazy, fucked-up world do we live in where Whitney Houston gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Judas Priest, Soundgarden and Todd Rundgren are not?” Lefsetz spouted.  “One in which the voters have lost all credibility, putting money over art, debasing the rock ethos and history to the point of irrelevance.  Come on, the only thing Whitney Houston has in common with rock is she O.D'ed!”

Lefsetz goes on to point out that reverence for rock should be all about those who broke ground and tested limits, and then—to musicasaurus.com’s utter delight—he quickly name-drops one of my favorite musical high priestesses, Patti Smith. 


For those of you who live under a rock (or don’t live for rock), Smith is a 73-year-old still-quite-engaged poet, author and rock ‘n’ roller, whose first album Horses was released in 1975.  In some quarters, this album is considered a definitive work that influenced peers and progeny in that fertile musical hotbed of New York City circa the mid-70s.  The famed punk nest CBGB started down that particular path around 1974, hosting provocative fresh new talent including Blondie, Talking Heads, Television and the Ramones, and in early 1975 the Patti Smith Group began slaying the club’s appreciative and lusty crowds.

An incendiary mix of spoken word and punk music, Horses was released in December 1975 and the first words out of Patti’s mouth, on the opening track “Gloria” (a cover of a song by Them, Van Morrison’s first group), were “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.”  An endearing opening salvo, if there ever was one…


I didn’t follow Patti religiously through the years but I intermittently admired her quest for knowledge, her immersion in the coolest artistic pursuits, and her choice of lifestyle companions along the way including controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, actor and playwright Sam Shepard, and the eventual husband and father of her children, Fred “Sonic” Smith.  The latter was most notable as guitarist and founding member of Detroit’s MC5, a mid-to-late ‘60s punk progenitor who dished out inflammatory far-to-the-left rants over a bed of hard rock, buzz and distortion.

Along her path, Patti was graced by a hit single co-authored by Bruce Springsteen entitled “Because The Night,” which in 1978 propelled the Patti Smith Group’s Easter album into a much wider audience orbit compared to her first two releases.  In the 1980s though, she semi-retired from music and centered largely on family life near the city of Detroit, birthing and raising a son and a daughter but then reemerging with a brand new recording in 1988 entitled Dream Of Life.

Dream Of Life’s opening track “People Have The Power” was another career landmark for the rock poetess, a stirring call-to-action co-written with husband Fred “Sonic” Smith that nibbled at Rock Radio playlists upon its initial release, but then really gained traction in the hands of another—old friend Bruce Springsteen.  The Boss resurrected and adopted the song sixteen years afterward as the thematic “closer” of a number of Vote For Change concerts in 2004.  I was lucky enough, with wife and daughters in tow, to catch the Vote For Change Philadelphia show on Friday, October 1stat the Wachovia Center, and I uncontrollably beamed as Patti’s anthem roared out over the crowd in the capable hands of not only Bruce and the E-Street Band, but others who had bounded back on stage including R.E.M., John Fogerty and Bright Eyes.

There’s a lot more to Patti’s story, of course, including her life-changing losses of a brother, close friend Mapplethorpe, and husband Fred “Sonic” Smith, but I’ll circle back to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame here and close with a pertinent slice of Patti’s pure eloquence.  In an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, published on the day of her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on March 12, 2007, Patti produced what surely remains as one of the most inspiring tributes to the spirit of rock that an artist has ever attempted to articulate.  Nothing sums up her fierce lust for a righteous life and her passion for rock quite like this:

The New York Times…March 12, 2007


Ain’t It Strange?


On a cold morning in 1955, walking to Sunday school, I was drawn to the voice of Little Richard wailing “Tutti Frutti” from the interior of a local boy’s makeshift clubhouse.  So powerful was the connection that I let go of my mother’s hand.

Rock ’n’ roll.  It drew me from my path to a sea of possibilities.  It sheltered and shattered me, from the end of childhood through a painful adolescence.  I had my first altercation with my father when the Rolling Stones made their debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”  Rock ’n’ roll was mine to defend.  It strengthened my hand and gave me a sense of tribe as I boarded a bus from South Jersey to freedom in 1967.

Rock ’n’ roll, at that time, was a fusion of intimacies.  Repression bloomed into rapture like raging weeds shooting through cracks in the cement.  Our music provided a sense of communal activism.  Our artists provoked our ascension into awareness as we ran amok in a frenzied state of grace.

My late husband, Fred Sonic Smith, then of Detroit’s MC5, was a part of the brotherhood instrumental in forging a revolution: seeking to save the world with love and the electric guitar.  He created aural autonomy yet did not have the constitution to survive all the complexities of existence.

Before he died, in the winter of 1994, he counseled me to continue working.  He believed that one day I would be recognized for my efforts and though I protested, he quietly asked me to accept what was bestowed—gracefully—in his name.

Today I will join R.E.M., the Ronettes, Van Halen and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  On the eve of this event I asked myself many questions.  Should an artist working within the revolutionary landscape of rock accept laurels from an institution?  Should laurels be offered?  Am I a worthy recipient?

I have wrestled with these questions and my conscience leads me back to Fred and those like him—the maverick souls who may never be afforded such honors.  Thus in his name I will accept with gratitude.  Fred Sonic Smith was of the people, and I am none but him: one who has loved rock ’n’ roll and crawled from the ranks to the stage, to salute history and plant seeds for the erratic magic landscape of the new guard.

Because its members will be the guardians of our cultural voice.  The Internet is their CBGB.  Their territory is global.  They will dictate how they want to create and disseminate their work.  They will, in time, make breathless changes in our political process.  They have the technology to unite and create a new party, to be vigilant in their choice of candidates, unfettered by corporate pressure.  Their potential power to form and reform is unprecedented.

Human history abounds with idealistic movements that rise, then fall in disarray.  The children of light.  The journey to the East.  The summer of love.  The season of grunge.  But just as we seem to repeat our follies, we also abide.

Rock ’n’ roll drew me from my mother’s hand and led me to experience.  In the end it was my neighbors who put everything in perspective.  An approving nod from the old Italian woman who sells me pasta.  A high five from the postman.  An embrace from the notary and his wife.  And a shout from the sanitation man driving down my street: “Hey, Patti, Hall of Fame.  One for us.”

I just smiled, and I noticed I was proud.  One for the neighborhood.  My parents.  My band.  One for Fred.  And anybody else who wants to come along.






Here is a collection of cover versions of songs truly worth checking out.  A few are somewhat faithful to the original versions, but the rest range from inventive departures to head-scratching affronts.




“What’s So Funny ‘Bout (Peace, Love, and Understanding)” was originally written by musician Nick Lowe in 1974 for his band at the time, Brinsley Schwarz, but Elvis Costello’s version from his 1979 Armed Forces album is the one widely accepted as the definitive handling of that tune.  https://youtu.be/yYND-Lh2sgo

And here we have TWO notable cover versions by artists worth a mention:

Lucy Kaplansky is a Chicago born, NYC bred folksinger who plied her trade in the Greenwich Village scene for a while in the late 1970s and then took a career turn toward clinical psychology for a decade or so thereafter.  In the 1990s she reemerged, reinvigorated, as an active musician who still records every now and again, and continues to collaborate with her folkie friends John Gorka, Shawn Colvin, Nanci Griffith and others.  On her 1996 album Flesh and Bone (her 2nd), Kaplansky added a dash of downhome hee-haw to Costello’s propulsive version.  https://youtu.be/bKmfquw-iM4

The Clarks, one of Western Pennsylvania’s favorite rock institutions, is a foursome originally formed in Indiana, PA almost thirty-four years ago.  Pittsburgh-based Scott Blasey, Robert James, Greg Joseph and David Minarik, Jr. are still touring and recording today well beyond our borders.  When the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre took place in Pittsburgh in late October 2018, the band immediately pulled together a charity project to help our community begin to heal—an energetic, inspiring and true-to-its-roots version of “What’s So Funny ‘Bout (Peace, Love and Understanding)” that was rush-recorded and placed on sale with ALL proceeds donated to the Tree of Life.  https://youtu.be/MQUxJ4GdlYk




“Purple Haze” was for a lot of us here in America the first blast of the pin-back-your-ears psychedelia that emanated from the honed, London-based power trio Jimi Hendrix Experience.  It was the opening track on the band’s first American album Are You Experienced (1967) which the newborn underground FM radio stations across the USA began to embrace for their restless and clamoring young fanbase. https://youtu.be/WGoDaYjdfSg

England’s alt-rock and goth pioneers The Cure, birthed in 1976 by founder/leader Robert Smith who made despondency a vogue, artfully reinvented the tune in 1993 as part of their collaboration with other bands on the tribute album Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix.  https://youtu.be/KS89YojeFoM




The Doors wrote and recorded “Riders on the Storm”for their sixth album L.A. Woman, released in 1971.  This cushiony, hypnotic seven-minute-long track was reportedly the last song recorded by all four members of the Doors and lead singer Jim Morrison's last one to be released in his lifetime (Google up “bathtub in Paris” if you don’t know the fate of Mr. Morrison).  https://youtu.be/lJZTgynPGT8

Lisa Bassenge is a German jazz singer that website HerzogRecords.com says “entered the jazz scene at the beginning of the 2000s and yet made it unmistakably clear that the jazz concept is too narrow for her.”  Investing her time and talent in the interpretation of pop songs, Bassenge “occupied a new, exciting musical field and let jazz turn somersaults with new ideas.”  Here is her arresting rendition of “Riders” from her 2015 release Canyon Songs:  https://youtu.be/NHS5BkieXaQ




Super Freak” is the long-lasting party favorite from Rick James’ 1981 album Street Songs.  The song is actually a pretty sophisticated blend of styles as pointed out in a song review on allmusic.com by Donald A. Guarisco.  He keenly notes that amidst the irresistible overriding funk, there are elements of pop, soul, gospel, and interspersed hooks that complement the overall groove with new wave synth touches and a killer sax at the song’s conclusion.  Even the Temptations are on board with a cameo, and are called out by James himself—“Temptations, SING!!”  https://youtu.be/QYHxGBH6o4M

Two years after Rick James’ smash hit, a satiric Southern California ensemble named Big Daddy released an album on the Rhino Records label called Big Daddy aka What Really Happened To The Band Of ’59.  This album bore songs that totally upended the originals through a very clever concept: Framing each tune in a late-1950s/early-1960s performance approach.  With “Super Freak,” Big Daddy slowed it down, extracted the funk, and transformed it into a yearning ballad.  It’s simply precious to hear the original lyrics so sweetly crooned, as if sung by crew-cutted teens from the 1950s—“She’s a very kinky girl / The kind you don’t take home to mother / She will never let your spirits down / Once you get her off the street.”  Big Daddy’s total overhaul here is a real gem; a polished perversion of James’ original.  https://youtu.be/kaufhdtVCJ8




One time reigning pop princess Britney Spears released “Oops!...I Did It Again” (the title song of her second album) in 2000, and it titillated tweens and teens worldwide.  https://youtu.be/wsHbHR3Os6U

English folk-rocker Richard Thompson recorded his interpretation of the tune on a live album released in 2003 entitled 1000 Years of Popular Music, and the Brit’s spin on Britney included a medieval-style approach based on weaving in the traditional tune "Marry, Ageyn Hic Hev Donne Yt."  In this live performance on YouTube, Thompson and his dry wit set the stage before launching into this marvelously edgy, almost ominous sounding version:  https://youtu.be/V4WGsMplGxU




“She’s Leaving Home” is from the Beatles’ game-changer from 1967, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  In the recording process the boys didn’t lay a hand on this one in terms of instruments; the song is performed by a small string ensemble with Lennon and McCartney only providing vocals.  This is, in musicasaurus.com’s opinion, one of the sweetest gifts from the Fab Four that ever graced one of their albums.  https://youtu.be/VaBPY78D88g

Larry Coryell, renowned American jazz guitarist whose major influence was Wes Montgomery but whose many exploits took him into fusion as well, covered the Beatle’s classic in a trio setting with bassist Mark Egan and drummer Paul Wertico on 2004’s Tricycles.  Coryell puts his sidemen to the side for this one, and out flows a tender and virtuosic solo acoustic reading of the tune that is almost as quietly stunning as the original.  https://youtu.be/PtBW6UjAMoc




“Dixie Chicken” is a signature song (along with “Willin’”) from the ‘70s-era band Little Feat, and it is the title track from the band’s third album released in 1973.  The width and depth of songwriting and execution by Feat on this album is one that even today inspires genuflection from fans and rock critics alike.  It’s a perfect amalgam of New Orleans funk, rhythm & blues and rock and roll, and the title track is recognized by fervid Featists as perhaps the band’s benchmark.  https://youtu.be/K_njJToRbn8

Then along comes Cheesemaster Jack Jones.  Far be it from musicasaurus.com to disparage the talents of earlier generation’s stars, but the cheese quotient here is undeniable.  Jones was a popular middle-of-the-road pop singer in the 1960s with commercially successful songs like “Wives and Lovers,” “The Impossible Dream,” and “Call Me Irresponsible,” and in the following decade he appeared as well on a boatload of television variety shows (Ed Sullivan’s, Dinah Shore’s, Andy Williams’ and others).  He’s also infamous in carping critics’ circles for doing an entire album in 1972 covering the band Bread (goes great with cheese, yes?) and in 1977 recorded the theme song for the television series The Love Boat.  How he ended up deciding to desecrate Little Feat is beyond my ken, but here it is, from Jones’ 1977 album With One More Look At You:  https://youtu.be/PO4UstVWtVQ




“You Shook Me All Night Long” from the 1980 album Back In Black is one of AC/DC’s rasp ‘n’ roll masterpieces, a staple of rock radio stations even today.  I even remember the song from a sold-out Kenny Chesney concert at Post-Gazette Pavilion in the 2000s, when AC/DC’s version was blasted over Kenny’s sound system prior to the start of the show and 23,000 country fans went absolutely bonkers.  https://youtu.be/Lo2qQmj0_h4

I don’t know why or how bombastic belter Celine Dion and dance-pop/disco singer Anastacia decided to cover the song and squeeze every drop of essence from it, but they did so in a live performance in Las Vegas which ended up on the CD/DVD set Divas Las Vegas / VH-1 Divas 2002.  You can view it on YouTube via the following link, and you’ll also see a few rather unkind remarks in the Comments section, including one from collaboration4237: “When your mom and your aunt are drunk and grab the mic at karaoke”…from Kevin Bartosiewicz: “Sweet Lord, I’ve never cringed for such a sustained period of time”…and from Darth Bane: “I have never needed bleach close by more in my entire life.”  https://youtu.be/21iW_YMLvmU





12/29/19.....COVER ME

As each year winds to an end, Musicasaurus.com becomes more and more a nostalgic beast.  In fact, I am still braying over the fact that we’ve in essence lost a wonderful, once-widespread art form as we inevitably hewed closer and closer to the pathways of technologically delivered tunes.  I’m talking about album cover art.

The album cover was our gateway drug.  The artwork and design sometimes revealed tantalizing clues about the addictive pleasures contained within; other times, it was conceptually befuddling--unadorned of explanation--and that just made us wonder all the more.

So with musicasaurus.com plainly pining away for that old thrill of discovery, I rounded up some readers and posed this question: “When I say the words ‘album cover,’ what is the first thing you think of?  Do one or two come to mind, and why?”

Scott Blasey (Pittsburgh) / Musician and lead singer for The Clarks.....When I hear the words "album cover" I think of Eric Clapton's Slowhand.  It was the first album I bought with my own money.  I was 13 years old and I rode my bicycle to Atkins' Music Store in Connellsville because I loved the song "Wonderful Tonight."  It's a fold-out cover with a big picture of Clapton's signature Strat.  The inside is a corkboard with all these great pictures pinned on it.  I still have it, in alphabetical order right in front of The Clarks' I'll Tell You What Man...





Jim Cunningham (Pittsburgh, PA) / WQED-FM..... The era of the download is so wonderful for its amazing variety.  You can find almost any sort of music anywhere in the world however iTunes and Amazon have wildly devalued the absolutely exquisite cover art of the past 80 years.  Such a shame!  At least the vinyl LP has had a bit of a comeback in the last decade.

I love all the covers of all the Beatles and Rolling Stones albums.  Their Satanic Majesties Request had the special multiple dimension image-shifting cover long gone from subsequent editions.  I vividly remember getting my hands on the Exile On Main Street cover and the Andy Warhol designs for the Stones with Sticky Fingers and Some Girls.

Sgt. Pepper’s still fascinates with all the people who turned up on the cover including avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.  I still have all the inside cut-out art with the mustache and so on.  Abbey Road brings back the warmth of Biekarck's Music Store in Warren, Pa. where I bought it.  I like the Eric Idle/Monty Python spin-off The Rutles too, where the traffic lines seem to have gone all wiggly and the faux George Harrison forgot to wear pants.

All the Pink Floyd covers are so great. Even the compact disc of their hits Pulse is cool with a flashing red light on the spine.  One of these days I'm going to look into replacing the battery which lasted about a year.


Russ Rose (Pittsburgh) / WXDX on-air talent and Creative Director, and Production Director at KISS FM.....Honestly, the first image that popped into my head was the Synchronicity album cover by The Police.  The primary colors of the paintbrush swooshes and many black and white photos were striking.  And I spent a LOT of time examining all the photos for their meaning, and looking for all the variations of that cover—there were 36 different versions of that cover and I wanted to see them all!




Sean McDowell (Pittsburgh) / Afternoon on-air talent with WDVE who retired just this year from the station.....I once interviewed a guy famous for historic rock album covers, Henry Diltz.  He shot the Crosby Stills and Nash "couch" album cover for their debut LP, and he did the Morrison Hotel album cover for The Doors and The Eagles first two album covers.  He has unbelievable stories!  Along with those, I think of historic covers and I think Sgt. Pepper’s, Who's Next and the first Led Zeppelin album.




Steve Hansen (Pittsburgh) / Former on-air talent on WDVE’s “Jimmy & Steve” morning program (1980-1986); currently an independent writer/producer.....The words “album cover” send my mind on a long, strange trip to an other-worldly time.  Even though album covers had been around as long as albums, I doubt that they were thought of as an art form until the Sixties.  It was then, however, that our enhanced focus turned from the music to the thing the music came in.  

And why not?  If you wanted to become one with the music it's only natural that you would search for clues about how the music came to be.  Absent Google or Wikipedia, the Children of the Sixties had only the album cover to go on.  Early on there were liner notes to guide us.  Soon we dispensed with words altogether and found our answers in the visual clues deposited by our generation's Van Goghs:  Hipgnosis (co-founders Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson), Roger Dean and Andy Warhol.  Eventually, need necessitated innovation.  The double album became the perfect spinal workstation for rolling the joints that were causing us to find meaning in album art in the first place.  The circle was complete.  


Joe Grushecky (Pittsburgh) / Musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader (Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers).....The Beatles first US Capitol LP (Meet The Beatles!) changed a lot of lives, didn't it?  I remember seeing it in a Murphy's Five and Dime before they were on the Ed Sullivan show and buying it immediately because it looked so different and exotic from what was popular at the time.  I had heard some rumblings about the boys from Liverpool and had seen a clip of them on the Tonight Show with Jack Parr, so I was extremely curious.  Of course, when I got home and gave it a spin the music exceeded anything I had expected.  That's it.  I'm getting a guitar.



Rich Engler (Pittsburgh) / Former president of DiCesare-Engler Productions (which eventually became part of Live Nation); currently producing concerts as Rich Engler Presents.....King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King.  On November 1, 1969 the album went to # 4 nationally right behind Abbey Road; on Dec 23, 1969 the band broke up.  Still today I can't believe how great they were and let’s not forget the devil screaming on the album cover.  Another one, as mentioned: The Beatles’ Abbey Road, and the classic shot of the band walking across the road in front of that studio.



Joe Negri (Pittsburgh) / Jazz guitarist, composer and educator (also, for all time, “Handyman Negri” on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood).....Fortunately I grew up in a time when album covers were a specialty.  They were works of art filled with wonderful information on the artists and the contents of the album.  So much for the history lesson--we all know those days are gone.  When I think album covers I think of two jazz guitar albums.  The first was a recording of my idol Charlie Christian with the Benny Goodman Sextet.  And the second was a wonderful album called Mellow Guitar featuring the virtuoso seven-string guitarist George Van Eps with strings.





Rick Sebak (Pittsburgh) / WQED public TV producer and narrator.....What album cover comes immediately to mind?  Sgt Pepper's of course.  I guess it was the one that made me realize what an art there was to album covers.  The montage of celebrity photos, the drum, the costumes on the Beatles, then the whole speculation about "Paul Is Dead" and were they looking into his grave?  

I don't want to be too obvious, but R.Crumb's amazing cartoons for Janis Joplin & Big Brother & The Holding Company's album Cheap Thrills with “Piece of My Heart” on it was a milestone for me.  In high school, I loved cartoons and I re-drew that cover for a poster for a school production.  I still am in awe of Crumb and his drawings.

But I've been reminded of so many great covers on the Facebook group page called Cartoon Record Sleeves that was started by the Pittsburgh cartoonist known as Wayno (pictured immediately above, top right).  It's a great collection of covers from the Ramones to Spike Jones.  But it also made me realize how much I love the covers created by singer-songwriter Michael Hurley for his excellent LPs, from Have Moicy! to Hi Fi Snock Uptown.  His cartoon wolves are classic.

But I think the music inside also influences how much we love a cover.  I think of Randy Newman's cover for Sail Away.  And Dylan's Blood On The Tracks.  Oh, and Child Is Father To The Man, the excellent first album from Blood, Sweat & Tears.  All these make me sound like I haven't heard any new music in years.  But CD covers?  Not the same impact.  Although I like the style of the Adele covers.  Like her music, too.






In the realm of recorded music an album coming up on its 50thanniversary is a fairly big deal, especially the formative ones with staying power and a high reverence quotient—like the following, and all of these hail from the year 1969: The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Led Zeppelin’s debut, Flying Burrito Brothers’ Gilded Palace of Sin, Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, The Band’s The Band, MC5’s Kick Out The Jams, Happy Trails from Quicksilver Messenger Service, Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, James Brown’s Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud, King Crimson’s In The Court of the Crimson King, Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, the debut album from Chicago Transit Authority (soon thereafter called simply Chicago), Joni Mitchell’s Clouds, the first album from The Stooges, The Who’s Tommy, the debut album from Crosby, Stills & Nash, Santana’s first release, and many more.

There was understandably quite the clamor back then, especially with the floodgates of rock music in particular having really opened up by this point in the Sixties.  And all of this fed nicely into the societal youthquake that had been building up in this country (and picking at the seams) since at least the midpoint of the decade.

I was certainly in the thick of it as a devout devourer.  Rock music and its various permutations brought me thrills beyond measure and I prided myself on glomming onto the like-minded souls in my high school; we became deep-diving discographers one and all…

But in that same year of 1969 there was the quietly auspicious debut of a record company overseas that I had missed news of completely, a label called ECM whose first release was an album entitled Free At Last by American jazz pianist Mal Waldron.  At the helm in a Ludwidsburg, West Germany studio was the label’s founder, a German-born record producer named Manfred Eicher. 

ECM is an acronym for Editions of Contemporary Music, and founder Eicher back then was beginning a career path in music that he had never really plotted and/or planned for.  But Eicher was following his own muse, which for him was a melding of some musical background—in his youth a student of classical violin and bass—and a deep-set serenity that had seemed to take root from an early age.  As Rootsworld.com writer Michael Stone relates in a 2010 interview with Eicher, the record producer “grew up in the shadow of the Alps, on the eastern end of Lake Konstanz (known in German as the Bodensee)…where the borders of present-day Germany, Austria, and Switzerland converge.”  Here, in this region “known for its sweeping Alpine horizons and ever-shifting patterns of sunlight, clouds, and water,” Eicher spent many a day, in his words, “looking to the mountains, looking around the Bodensee, listening to the birds, the sound of waves.”

This exposure to music, and to nature with its restorative rhythms and its equally awe-inspiring silences, led the artistically inclined 26-year-old Eicher to take out a loan of 16,000 German Marks (in U.S. dollars, $4,000) in 1969 to make his first handful of recordings for his fledgling label.  As Eicher recounted to Rootsworld.com writer Stone, "I just kept making records, without a plan or anything.  I found out that I was a good listener, or so people told me.  And that's how I became a record producer."

By the mid-1970s Eicher had relocated to Oslo, Norway after a serendipitous meet-up with a similarly serene-to-the-core individual named Jan Erik Kongshaug, a recording studio engineer.  Kongshaug had been born in Trondheim, Norway and, like Eicher, had grown up in a musical household and had training and band stints of his own.  He and Eicher also enjoyed shared sensibilities—a steadfast calm at the center, and a patience with the process of capturing artistic expression.  “We had the same attitude toward sound; it was very easy,” Kongshaug opined in a 2010 interview posted on the website All About Jazz.  “We didn’t have to talk.  It just worked, and it sounded nice.”

The above picture is worth a thousand words, if only for the fact that these two individuals created their very own aesthetic through ECM Records.  As producer and engineer, Eicher (left, above) and Kongshaug steadfastly refused to acknowledge any boundaries between musical genres as they studiously approached each recording opportunity.  Over time, ECM Records built up a roster of incredibly gifted musicians, an amalgam of European artists, American artists, and others who flocked to this label haven where the artist’s muse and music were the highest priorities.

The label has also always been noted for its slavish dedication to superior sound quality in the recording, mastering and ultimate reproduction of its artists’ releases.  Musically, the catalogue of ECM which now numbers well above one thousand releases is a bit hard to pigeonhole.  ECM the label does not play host to just jazz…it is not strictly classical or folk…it is not fully third world or entirely other worldly…it IS, though, music as art in full flower.  Some of the more well known artists that have recorded over the years on the ECM label (multiple times) include pianists Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, guitarists Pat Metheny and Terje Rypdal, vibraphonist Gary Burton, multi-instrumentalist Ralph Towner, bassist Eberhard Weber, drummer Jack DeJohnette and many more.

I first found out about ECM through a musical mentor of mine in my hometown of Butler, PA, an ever-curious and industrious friend named Dave Kleemann, who while I was away in college from 1971-1975 opened up an indie record store called Exile Records in our hometown.  Through Dave—who eventually became my boss when I abandoned my just-out-of-college search for a “real job”—I learned firsthand the sheer joy of discovery of landmark ECM albums, especially during the last half of the 1970s as I worked for Dave in Butler and subsequently Wexford, PA where he decided to open up a second store.

As I said at the outset, I was steeped in Rock in my own formative days of high school.  But as time passed and I became aware of the worlds awaiting me on the ECM label, another side of me often gravitated to those particular artists and albums when I was alone with my turntable, wanting to turn inward, craving to connect on a deeper level.

It’s damn hard (I’ve found!) to elucidate the true appeal of ECM, but it has to do with 1) jaw-dropping aural splendor...2) the spaces between the music that are sometimes of equal importance to the notes surrounding them...and 3) the fact that this genre-defying music ultimately strikes a chord deep within the listener—down where you hurt, where you harbor, where you heal and where you feel.

(p.s. Here are four examples of some of the finest recorded works on the ECM label.  Ideally you will set the stage accordingly before listening—home sound system, morning coffee, a mind emptied of things that have yet to be done.  This exploration is worth it.)

From 1974 – Witchi-Tai-To – Jan Garbarek & Bobo Stensen Quartet.....This track hails from the album of the same nameand some reviewers through the decades have labeled it one of the top jazz records of the 1970s.  Norwegian soprano and tenor saxophonist Jan Garbarek and Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson joined bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen for this landmark release, and this track in particular is the standout.  The song is about four-and-a-half minutes in length yet timeless as it builds and builds; it is predominantly piano at the outset until the saxophone wafts into place and wails its way to the song’s summit.  The YouTube link will show a different album visually, but the track IS indeed "Witchi-Tai-To" from the album of the same name.  https://youtu.be/6XVvOcyHDI8


From 1974 – Sand – Ralph Towner.....Acoustic guitarist and pianist Ralph Towner collaborates here with Jan Garbarek (saxes), Eberhard Weber (bass), and Jon Christensen (drums).  The album Solstice from which this song is taken was a bit of a head-turner in that it helped elevate ECM’s overall profile as a bastion of artistic excellence in European-style jazz.  Towner was a prodigy—he played piano at three, and started trumpet at five—and in his twenties he played with the Paul Winter Consort before peeling off to form the group Oregon.  “Sand” is an atmospheric, sitting and gazing at the fjord kind of tune with a haunting mix of twelve-string guitar, sax, cello, bass and drums.  The tune opens dreamily, and then sonic wonders unfurl.  https://youtu.be/z3TfjPMwBj4


From 1978 – San Lorenzo – Pat Metheny Group.....Missouri-born Metheny started playing guitar at the age of thirteen and taught at both the University of Miami and Berklee while still a teenager.  His style is an almost indescribable mix of jazz, rock, and folk but that doesn’t capture the idiosyncrasy of his approach.  Aligned through his early years with European jazz label ECM, Metheny played on albums by vibraphonist Gary Burton and released solo records on the label as well.  In 1978 he formed the Pat Metheny Group and released a self-titled band record that year featuring musicians Lyle Mays (keyboards), Mark Egan (bass), and Dan Gottlieb (drums).  This track “San Lorenzo” opened that album; it is cinematic, majestic, and achingly beautiful in the interplay between all four musicians.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I caught the Pat Metheny Group live in concert several times and thought to myself, “I’ve stumbled into the Church of the Truly Transported.”   The studio version of the song is currently unavailable on YouTube, so here is a live version by the Pat Metheny Group from 1977, the year before the studio version was recorded:  https://youtu.be/hAlyWSAxNZ8


From 2006 – Number One – Manu Katche.....Katche is an accomplished drummer who has toured and recorded through the years with a number of top-level talents including Sting, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Beck, Afro Celt Sound System, Robbie Robertson, Joe Satriani, and Tears For Fears, to name a few.  He edged into bandleader territory in the 2000s and recorded his EMC debut Neighbourhood in 2006 (from which this track is taken).  “Number One” swings with stellar ensemble playing that is fueled by Katche’s punctuating drum style.  The album also features trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and saxophonist Jan Garbarek.  https://youtu.be/TXxu85FvtiA


And…Here are other ECM artists and songs to seek out.  YouTube doesn’t currently deliver ‘em up, so search on Spotify or another streaming service—or perhaps go to your favorite indie record store to see what might be tucked away in the bins…





12/1/19.....Farther On Down The Road 


On the road again
I just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin' music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again 

— Willie Nelson

Willie’s lyrics back in 1980 were prescient in terms of his classic rocker kin, for there are a number of bands right now who are out on the road or plan to be in 2020, and a lot of them are just now breezin’ up to a particular career milestone—fifty years since formation.

Okay, make that wheezin’ up.  For some of the late 1960s/early 1970s bands still slogging along and slugging it out, health issues have begun to elbow their way into a prime seat on the tour bus.  Many years ago Robbie Robertson of The Band, in a candid comment late in the 1978 film The Last Waltz, labeled the road “a goddamn impossible way of life.”  Back then he was speaking of plane accidents (Otis Redding and Buddy Holly) and the plainly accidental (Janis and Jimi), but the phrase holds true now more than ever since that famous first wave of classic rock progenitors are entering their seventies or are certainly on the cusp of it.  Once upon a time, the toll of life on the road came from heady youthfulness and excessive appetites, but now the oldsters’ bottles on the bus are more likely filled with probiotic drinks and any inhaling usually accompanies the morning yoga. 

This past August that little ol’ band from Texas ZZ Top didn’t even get out of the gate when they had to cancel the first four dates of the North American leg of their 50th Anniversary tour.  Drummer Frank Beard had suddenly come down with pneumonia just after the band had returned from a successful tour in Europe.

And then in mid-October, Little Feat dipped into southwestern Pennsylvania with an appearance at Greensburg’s Palace Theatre as part of their 50th Anniversary Tour.  The band had hit the road about seven months before that—still sporting longtime Feat members keyboardist Bill Payne, percussionist Sam Clayton, bassist Kenny Gradney and singer/guitarist Paul Barrere—but then in early October Barrere was swiftly sidelined for treatments for liver cancer, a disease he’d reportedly been battling for at least a couple of years.  Barrere didn’t make the Greensburg show and by the end of that month, he didn’t make it period.

Just recently I saw another 50th Anniversary tour touted in a short article in CelebrityAccess’ online site Encore, this one about the Doobie Brothers who, like ZZ and Feat, have had their long train runnin’ since the very beginning of the 1970s.  The Doobies will do dates all across North American in 2020 and the lineup for this anniversary tour includes co-founding members/guitarists Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons; Michael McDonald, the golden-throated singer/keyboardist who joined the band in 1975 for a spell; and guitarist/fiddler/dobro player John McFee who first climbed aboard in 1978.

On the band’s website, the group members expressed their thoughts about the longevity of their signature songs.  “We have a hardcore fan base that has handed our music down through the years to their children and their children’s children,” said guitarist Simmons.  “Repeatedly, people go to our concerts and come up to us and say, ‘My dad turned me on to you guys years ago, and I’ve loved you guys all this time, and my kids are listening to you now.’”  

So this particular 50th Anniversary Tour seems likely to succeed, drawing in the old faithful as well as next-generation fans following in the faithful’s footsteps.  And all of this 50thhoopla got musicasaurus.com a-wonderin’: The Doobies are a band that has labored over many decades to hold onto fans through a fairly consistent commitment to the road, playing upwards of one hundred shows a year worldwide—so what does the future hold for this ceaselessly touring band of brothers?  I personally believe they’ll still be plying their trade for years to come—and that the next noteworthy trek for this band will be their 75th Anniversary tour.

I’ve tried to imagine what the Doobs will be up to, twenty-five years from now, so I’ve dusted off and shook that black fortunetelling overgrown 8-ball stored in my basement and flashed forward in time.  Let’s take a closer look now at 2045—and we’ll do so through a peek at a letter that will be sent to all directors of assisted living facilities across the country from the Doobie Brothers’ tour manager.  He simply wants to advise the directors of these facilities of how to adequately prepare for the band’s upcoming appearance at each of the venues.

January 5, 2045

Dear Mr. / Mrs. / or Ms.:

Greetings!  I hope you are having a good day.  As you know, the Doobie Brothers are headed to your assisted living facility later this month to perform an evening of music as part of their 75thAnniversary tour.

Well, not an evening of music, really.  More like 5:30pm (when dinner’s done being served) through MAYBE 7pm—is that too late?  We’ve found in other facilities that slumber begins convincingly calling out to most of your residents right around then.  So, let me know.

Here are a few things of note to help all of you at your fine facility “gear up” for this fantastic show!  I know my guys are excited.  Tom and Patrick, who will both turn 97 this year, are chomping at the bit to be out on the road again and headed your way (well, maybe no longer ‘chomping’—‘gumming’ at the bit?).  Please see below:

1. TALK TO YOUR RESIDENTS IN ADVANCE:  It would be best to go door to door on the morning of our show and remind your residents that we are the Doobie BROTHERS.  Don’t just promote us to them as the “Doobies” because we’ve found at other locations a few folks then come to the community room asking when the “Do Be Do Be Do’s” are going to start.  You don’t want these kind of confused expectations taking hold, quite frankly.


LARGE VIDEOSCREEN ON THE BACK OF THE STAGE BEHIND THE BAND IS REQUIRED:  I mention this because, as previously stated, both Tom and Patrick in the band are now 97 years old—and they both have to wear oxygen masks periodically while performing.  They still have their musical chops, but the masks kind of muffle their singing to the point where the audience becomes uncertain of exactly what they’re hearing.  So we need a teleprompter-type of thing to run the lyrics across the big videoscreen in synch with the timing of the guys’ vocals.  You could even have some fun with this and make it a singalong, and maybe do a “follow the bouncing wheelchair” kind of thing onscreen as the tiny chair rolls onto each syllable, and then rolls right off again over to the next one.  This singalong/bouncing wheelchair thing is optional.  We tried this in one other venue recently and it induced some vertigo in certain audience members.  

SECURITY:  For many years, we had specific language in the artist’s contract that advised the venue to have adequate security to protect the artist from people rushing toward the stage.  Note that when you receive the rider, you’ll find that we removed that whole section. There might be some “creeping toward” on our evening with you, but we’ll handle that.

JUST IN CASE IT COMES UP, THIS IS A COVER SONG THAT WE WILL NOT DO:  The song “Bingo”—you know, “There was a farmer who had a dog and Bingo was his name-o”—is verboten with us.  We tried it in another facility and every time the dog’s name was sung, at least a few bewildered audience members stood up, with eyes moistening, and shouted “No, I won!” 

I think I’ve covered most everything…I will send you the contract shortly, and we so look forward to performing at your facility!  See you soon for an evening with the Doobie Brothers on their 75thAnniversary tour…

Warmest Regards,

Doobie Brothers’ 2045 Tour Manager





11/17/19.....I’M SO AFRAID

From the sludge that is—at least, these days—my memory bank, I recently let surface two specific remembrances on the theme of music melding with mayhem.  Both of these instances occurred while I worked at the 23,000-capacity outdoor amphitheater that was originally christened Star Lake upon when it opened its doors in 1990 about 27 miles west of Pittsburgh. 

Though these two memory call-ups are miles apart in substance, they keenly illustrate the pitfalls of working in the live entertainment business where literally anything can happen and often does.  The Eagles sang “Life in the fast lane / surely make you lose your mind” and though lyrically they were detailing an L.A. couple’s descent, this line also aptly applies to the overall concert business.  Things can go so out of control in so many different ways…


Music > Mayhem, # 1.....On July 28, 2001 the annual OzzFest rolled through our region, settling into and selling out our amphitheater just as it had done with each previous visit.  This was OzzFest’s fifth time through, and it no longer surprised the tiny township of 2,700 when almost 27,000 black-garbed and tattooed metal fans tromped their way over the hills of Hanover to descend into Oz.

For some of the fans who attended and for a lot of us who worked at the venue, OzzFest was just plain scary stuff: Wall to wall people...sideshow attractions like the body spray-painting booth and the photo op station with the barely-garbed Goth-lookin’ girls on motorbikes...fans with their eyelids, ears, noses and/or navels pierced…and of course later in the evening, a number of boisterous boys with “beer muscles” milling through the crowd with layers of attitude, snarling for a fight.

Not that the entire audience was like that, mind you.  There were the quote-unquote normal folks who just really loved the music, and they came to see and hear just that.  Every once in a while, you’d see a petrified pair of parents edging their way through a sea of fashion black, nervously nudging their pre-teen toward the restrooms with a look on their puckered faces that all but screamed “We should have told Johnny ‘NO,’ we are NOT taking you to see this Oz character!”  Yeah…if they only had a brain.

If there was a yellow brick road in this particular Land of Oz, it was the one that eventually led to the lawn.  This was the place where 13,000 people converged once the sun went down and the higher-profile bands began hitting the main stage.  It was also here—under cover of darkness—that you could almost sense, somewhere down below, Satan’s eyes starting to dance and his long fingernails beginning to mustache twirl.

The trouble on the lawn would usually begin with arguably impish maneuvers like roasting empty beer cups, newspapers or discarded promotional flyers in small bonfires here and there, but at some point though, all of us on staff would begin to feel a wariness that things were heading toward out of control...

The musical line-up for this fifth annual OzzFest on July 28, 2001 was formidable.  Ozzy was to headline on the main stage around 9:30pm with his old bandmates Black Sabbath, and the festival’s “undercard” this particular evening included Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, Papa Roach, Disturbed, Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society and more.  Sometime shortly after dusk Slipknot took the stage ahead of Marilyn Manson and Black Sabbath.  Up on the lawn, certain pockets of people (the aforementioned roasters and toasters) took a break from their fiery pursuits, and—talk about stooping to the lowest level—they started bending to the ground, scooping up pieces of the lawn and beginning to hurl them indiscriminately skyward.

Sod tossing had been around for a number of the 1990s’ harder-edged shows at the amphitheater, and it had especially plagued events like OzzFest, Lollapalooza and the X-Fest (the local alternative station’s annual “radio show” at our venue).  At shows like this, chunks of lawn could be seen hurtling straight up like a Fourth of July rocket, or arcing up, up and away only to land somewhere else higher or lower on the lawn.  

But at OzzFest 2001 this long lawn tradition found a new trajectory.  Some fans—the devilish, the dimmest, the dumbest—began grabbing some empty fishbowl containers that previously had housed their hops and barley from the beer stands, and they began stuffing sod inside of them.  Once the sod was packed into place, these simpletons began whipping the fishbowls up in the air and into the back of the pavilion seating area.

Through a large portion of Slipknot’s performance, then, these packed fishbowls sailed and assailed the hapless fans who were in the rear pavilion, and as quick as our lawn security team could spot and wrestle down an offender, a new fishbowl flurry would rise up from yet another location on the lawn.

The security guards absolutely did the best they could to try to quell this hell, but faced with these flashpoints throughout the lawn they could only largely react at the first signs of another fishbowl flight.  The lobbing continued through intermission and finally came under control after Marilyn Manson took the stage and, with his manner and his music, he pretty much creeped out everyone to full attention.

Thank God this incident was just a space in time and was not the wave of the future.  As the years went on at the amphitheater, the overall fires and sod tossing at these rougher shows abated.  Someone suggested to me that perhaps the lawn loonies had finally wised up and maybe even grown up, and had put away their fishbowls.  But I ain’t buyin’ that hook, line & sinker; there will always be a certain number of idiots acting out in this world and sometimes despite all countermeasures, they will have their way.  We were just mightily relieved that 2001: A Sodyssey had come and gone.

Music > Mayhem, # 2.....Admittedly the following story may not quite stack up to “mayhem” status—musicasaurus might be being a tad dramatic here—but it was a scary encounter nonetheless.  Ten years before OzzFest 2001 we were just in our sophomore season at the amphitheater and flush with success from a healthy and very packed first season of shows in the summer of 1990.  Thus we adventurously set out in our second season to book all kinds of attractions in an effort to more firmly establish us as the concert venue of choice in the Tri-State Area.

It was July 11, 1991 and we had booked a touring attraction entitled “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.”  Truth be told, we just didn’t know at this stage whether the upscale arts and culture crowd from Pittsburgh would become active and engaged patrons of our facility; after all, we were about 25 miles from the heart of downtown.  And, although there were other outdoor amphitheaters across the country that this kind of audience cottoned to—think Wolf Trap, in Fairfax County, Virginia for instance—we still had a ways to go in that respect.

So amidst the copious heavy metal shows, country concerts, and classic rock offerings, we plugged in this Andrew Lloyd Webber date.  A vocal ensemble with a backing orchestra performing classic songs from Phantom, Cats, and Jesus Christ Superstar, this concert actually proved quite alluring to Upscale Pittsburgh and we experienced early success as the show went on sale and resulted in some quite nice ticket sales.

The evening of July 11thwas just stellar, weather-wise.  I remember thinking that, soon enough, we just might have the Pittsburgh patrons of the arts in the palm of our outstretched hand.  Then early in the evening just as the show was starting, I got a call on my venue radio from the box office manager.  She told me that I must come to the box office right away, as there was a woman in line who would not move until she spoke with someone in management.  As the marketing director of the venue at the time, I often involved myself in matters of patron relations so I sped to the ticket office.

I actually went out in front of the box office so I could speak to the woman directly, and not through the box office’s hard-to-hear window glass (too much of a pane).  I identified myself and asked this affluently resplendent woman and her husband to please step aside with me to a nearby area to talk.

She let me have it.  She laser beamed my eyes with hers, and said, slowly and deliberately, “I want a full ticket refund....plus $400.”  My eyebrow arched and she threw up a finger to halt any further expression.

Then she reached down and snatched one of the shoes from her feet and turned it upside down, waving it slowly in front of me.  “THIS is what happened to me walking from my car to your front gate.  My left shoe no longer has a heel because of the MOON ROCKS that you have in your sorry-excuse-for-a-parking-lot.”

Oh Lord, she had a point.  Some of our rear parking lot surfaces had yet to be rolled and smoothed over—let alone paved—as we were just now in our second year of existence. And, it wasn’t uncommon for amphitheaters like ours to forego certain improvements the first few years, especially costly ones like this that more or less begged to be done in stages over a few years’ time as the venue’s revenue (hopefully) climbed to higher levels.

I was half-thinking of launching into that very explanation when her by now red-faced husband suddenly whispered “Dear, why don’t...”—and The Finger shot up again, this time to nip Hubby in the bud.  Again came the laser beam.  Okay, now it was a friggin’ tractor beam.  “You are going to refund me, and pay for my shoes.”  

Customer service classes often involve role-playing, but I just don’t remember attending “Contending With Crazies” day.  This formerly well-heeled woman was more than a bit intense, and just for a moment, my overly amped imagination saw her taking her other shoe off—the one with the good heel—and driving that thing two inches into my temple.

I decided to, as they say, “cut and run.”  I laced together a couple of quick apologies while pulling out a business card, and then close to stammered “Ma’am, please call me tomorrow at the number on my card.”  Then I darted for the side gate and disappeared into the facility.

That next day on the phone, of course, I ended up giving the woman a full ticket refund.  But I also was able to nix the shoe replacement in favor of getting her free tickets to another arts & entertainment event, this time in downtown Pittsburgh.  The woman accepted the offer but also made it abundantly clear she would never return to our lunar landscape parking lot ever again.

So...was this one particular customer service encounter scarier than all those ruffians at OzzFest who torched the lawn and flung fishbowls?  In this particular instance of the lady with the laser beams, it seemed that Hell hath no fury like a woman shorn—of her expensive shoes.  I can’t decide here…tough choice…so maybe it’s a toss-up.  But not like the sod was.







Years ago, I used to listen to music practically 24/7.  As fits my musicasaurus moniker, I started way back in the late 1950s listening to my parents’ 45 rpm 7” vinyl records called singles, and then I turned more and more to the 3313 rpm LPs (“long playing”) vinyl records called albums.  By the time the 1960s hit midstride, album collection had become my passion.  All the way up to and through the early 1980s I made record stores my second home, staying there for hours at a stretch until my stomach began rumbling for sustenance and my head began hurting from the unceasing internal deliberations over which five or six albums to ultimately take to the cash register.

Then compact discs emerged in the early 1980s and so I shifted to the shiny discs, again spending beaucoup bucks on new releases but also on replacement music—I just had to have that favorite artist & album on disc since my vinyl (and everyone else’s) was receding in the rearview mirror.

Then the gods of Technology started meddling with my focused life.  Back in the turning of the 1990s into the early 2000s I was one who just brushed off Napster, the file sharing service that surfaced and then quickly ended up with a squelched shelf life.  This forerunner to everyday streaming rapidly became the scourge of record companies who dearly wanted to protect their eroding turf of selling consumers only the physical forms of music.  So lawsuits flew and Napster went to sleep with the fishes.

But then iTunes came into prominence with widespread adoption around 2003 and I consequently built up a hellacious library of hundreds and hundreds of songs, feeding my computer with uploaded CD tracks but also spending $0.99-per-song a zillion times a month, only pausing to work, sleep, eat and occasionally floss.

iTunes then eventually gave way to Spotify and other streaming services at the same time that we all inexorably gave over our lives to our phones.  Music became ubiquitous, but really all manner of things—all kinds of apps, news updates, Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram, texts, work and personal emails—were now instantaneously available with a finger swipe.  My ability to focus slowly fizzled, and with the world inside my iPhone clamoring for attention all of my waking hours, I ebbed away from exploring a lot of new music and even lessened my listening to old favorites and long ago playlists.  Too many iPhone allures…and now too little time.

But all is not lost, I have realized just of late.  On my phone—of course!—I came upon a podcast recently that brought me a genuine sense of return to all of the times in my life when a certain bit of a song—a piano splash, a climbing to climax guitar, a singer’s sudden superlative howl—became the sweetest affirmation for me that I had made exactly the right choice in seeking out a particular artist and song.


The podcast was the BBC Radio 4’s program Desert Island Discs, which quite remarkably has been around since the 1940s. The concept is fairly straightforward—the host asks his or her guest to name eight indispensable recordings (most often music), a book and a luxury item that they would relish in spiriting away to the isle.  In between the guest’s pronouncements and justifications, the host steers things toward a brief discussion of the guest’s early influences, his or her time growing up, and career milestones and twists & turns.  All in all, Desert Island Discs is a keenly packaged interview program, peeling away layers and uncovering passions, musical and otherwise.

The guests run the gamut of hairdressers to historians, politicians to poets, scientists to surgeons, with a number of notables in the arts—like Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, lyricist and original star of the Broadway smash Hamilton, who sat down for his Desert Island Discs interview earlier this month with host Lauren Laverne.

Early in the program Miranda talked about falling in love with theater when he was just fourteen years old and in the 8thgrade, snaring the lead pirate role in his school’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance.  He also pointed to his parents’ viewing habits as defining influences in his formative years.  “My mom took me to see ‘Breaking The Waves,’ ‘Schlinder’s List,’ ‘Leaving Las Vegas’—the heavy stuff,” Miranda says.  “And my dad took me to every Schwarzenegger movie and every musical!  And as I’ve grown up in my own habits I find at the end of the day I’m my dad.  I just need something mindless and fun and/or heartwarming, you know, ‘cause the world’s hard enough.”  (Miranda ends that sentence with a quick laugh).

Soon thereafter Miranda was coaxed to reveal his first desert island pick, and this is where I immediately flashed back to my own myriad moments of rushes up the spine and euphoria skittering across the brain folds, all from listening to a favorite musician or singer who suddenly, unexpectedly, amps up the intensity and the emotional impact. 

This is what happened to Miranda, as he recounts his experiences with the song “Cabaret” from Liza Minelli: “I’ve so many associations with this song.  Mainly I think of my mother in our Subaru growing up, sort of turning the dial all the way to the top and screaming along with Liza, because that’s how I fell in love with musical theater.  I think all of us sort of see what moves our parents, and then as I grew older, falling in love with Liza’s delivery of this incredible Kander & Ebb song, because she holds that note, that ‘When I go, I’m going like Elsie’ just a little longer than she needs to, and the way her voice kind of cracks, but perfectly cracks, on the last ‘ba’ in ‘Cabaret’—it’s really alive, and I get goose-bumps every time I hear it…That last ‘ba’…she gives everything to that ‘ba.’”

Perhaps Miranda has now made you think back to your own discovery (and ongoing rediscovery) of those moments of sheer magic in some of the songs you love…Here are just a few of mine, and it is a representative sampling of live performances and studio recordings covering a few different genres:

* LIVE PERFORMANCE … “Good Morning Heartache” … From Chris Botti’s 2005 performance at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills, California … The song is on CD and DVD, both released in 2006 and both entitled Chris Botti: Live with Orchestra & Special Guests.  Jill Scott is Botti’s guest vocalist on this 1946 composition that Billy Holiday first made famous, and Scott soars through her interplay with trumpeter Botti—especially as these exchanges heat up, around the 4:00 minute mark … https://youtu.be/yIz2yhkql8g

* STUDIO RECORDING … “Bartender’s Blues” … From George Jones’ 1979 album My Very Special Guests, which features Jones in various matchups song to song with the likes of James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, Tammy Wynette, Waylon Jennings and others … Though some critics have derided this album, this was my first exposure to that fluttering wonder of a voice, and “Bartender’s Blues” (a James Taylor composition) really slays me with George on lead and J.T. just doing the harmonies … https://youtu.be/wD6Y8Ae6RE4

* LIVE PERFORMANCE … “Cantaloupe Island” … From the DVD entitled One Night With Blue Note, billed as “the historic all-star reunion concert” recorded at Town Hall in NYC on February 22, 1995 … The players are a who’s who of jazz including Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Tony Williams, Art Blakey, Ron Carter, Stanley Jordan, Jimmy Smith, Stanley Turrentine—it’s a shorter list to say which jazz giants were not there.  “Cantaloupe Island” is riveting principally because of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, who is explosive in his two-minute-long solo turn that begins around 1:20 into the song.  To get the full impact, of course, play the song from the very beginning … https://youtu.be/RNAjQBOP-lU

* STUDIO RECORDING … “O-o-h Child” … From Valerie Carter’s solo debut Just A Stone’s Throw Away (1977), an album masterminded during the recording process by Little Feat’s Lowell George … The song was first recorded in 1970 by Windy City soul band The Five Stairsteps and has been covered by Laura Nyro, Beth Orton, Nina Simone and many others, but in musicasaurus.com’s book the definitive version is Carter’s.  At the opening she sounds a bit like a meek pop princess but soon unleashes—several times throughout, like at 1:20, 1:35 and 1:48 of the tune—a devil of a bluesy wail … https://youtu.be/pxcU4OfdTfg

* LIVE PERFORMANCE … “Bullet The Blue Sky” … From U2’s live album and accompanying concert rockumentary Rattle And Hum … The band members were only in their late twenties when touring America in 1988.  This performance of “Bullet The Blue Sky” reveals guitarist The Edge as already at the peak of his powers, and in a minute-and-a-half solo that starts around the 3:25 mark of the song, he peals off power chords as Bono brandishes a spotlight by his side. The last 30 seconds or so of The Edge’s solo turn here is perfect “rock god” stuff, as the guitarist lets his last chord fade away as you see him s-l-o-w-l-y slither out of the limelight—a cumulatively powerful display of instrumental mastery … https://youtu.be/x6ifY1UV3CM

Musicasaurus.com could list a hundred more of these magic moment testimonials…but let’s loop back to Miranda, and finish up here by completing his desert island picks, the songs that moved mountains for him (and still do) along his own particular path:

  1. Liza Minelli – “Cabaret” 
  2. The Decemberists – “The Crane Wife Part 2” 
  3. Rubén Blades and Seis del Solar – “El Padre Antonio y el Monaguillo Andrés” 
  4. The Pharcyde – “Passin’ Me By” 
  5. Ali Dineen – “What You Know” 
  6. Regina Spektor – “On the Radio” 
  7. Gilberto Santa Rosa – “Déjate Querer”
  8. Outkast – “Rosa Parks” 





10/20/19.....LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY

I spent a good chunk of my occupational years in the amphitheater business—from 1991 through 2007—as marketing director then general manager of Pittsburgh’s premier open-air concert venue that opened its doors thirty years ago in 1990.  Tucked into tiny Hanover Township in Washington County, 25 miles from “the big city,” this amphitheater that debuted under the moniker Star Lake grew over the years to draw hundreds of thousands of concert fans each season.

In March 1990, though—about 2 ½ months before Star Lake was to open—there were still a number of folks around the Pittsburgh area who didn’t quite understand what in the hell an amphitheater was...

Though Cleveland had an open-air venue called Blossom Music Center (originally built in 1968 for that city’s symphony), a lot of Pittsburghers were still in the dark about this, not having travelled westward to personally check it out themselves.

So the Star Lake team found themselves, as Opening Day approached, with continued challenges on how to further educate the Pittsburgh market.  The local public relations company hired by Star Lake suggested a “Frequently Asked Questions” type of press release, which all concerned thought was a good idea—the marketplace would thus be able to have, in advance, a very helpful guide to understanding this new venue that was scheduled to open in just two months’ time.

And so a press release dated March 27, 1990 headlined “The 15 Most Asked Questions About The Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater” was sent out to all southwestern Pennsylvania media before the first scheduled concert at the brand new venue.  Musicasaurus.com recently unearthed a copy of this release and focused in on 9 of the original 15 questions.  Empowered by hindsight, I endeavored to revise these answers to reflect what should have been written in each case, if only we had had the foresight.  If this was a prescient press release, this is what it would have looked like:

1. What is an Amphitheater?

(From the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  Amphitheaters have been around for thousands of years as outdoor arenas for meetings and performances.  In the past several years, amphitheaters have become popular as outdoor music and entertainment centers.  The new Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater will be one of the best concert facilities in the world.  This new $10 million dollar facility will feature the latest in state-of-the-art design and acoustics.  It will comfortably accommodate 20,000 guests; 7,000 in reserved theatre seats within an open-air pavilion and 13,000 on a gently sloping natural hillside.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  Amphitheaters have been around for thousands of years as outdoor arenas for meetings and performances.  For example, the Romans used amphitheaters for gladiatorial games where bare-chested, brawling men fought each other until much blood was spilled. We expect this will be the case at the new Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater on an occasional basis once OzzFest begins to annually stop at our venue starting in 1997.  Also, the amphitheater will comfortably accommodate 20,000 guests; it will also on occasion uncomfortably accommodate 26,000 guests, as the expression “It’s a tiny hiney show” will start to rear its head—which will be management’s justification to expand lawn-ticket capacity for especially the popular tween-appeal shows, attempting to squeeze a lot more arses (the big and the small) into every open bit of green space.


2. Where is the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater?

(From the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  It’s just 25 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh.  Star Lake is located on 328 acres at the intersection of routes U.S. 22 and State 18 at the northern edge of Washington County.  From Pittsburgh, take the Parkway West toward the Pittsburgh International Airport.  Follow U.S. Routes 22/30 towards Weirton to the intersection of U.S. Route 22 and State Road 18.  The amphitheater is just 15 minutes off the Parkway West.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  It’s just 25 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh—if you have strapped on a jet-pack or snagged a low-flying drone instead of getting in your car.  If you have no choice but to drive to one of the venue’s sold-out shows, plan to pack a catheter, five back-issues of Rolling Stone magazine, some Zoloft and a deck of cards, and then take the Parkway West toward the Pittsburgh International Airport.  Follow U.S. Routes 22/30 towards Weirton and spend somewhere between ½ hour and 2 ½ hours of stagnation and/or an angst-inducing crawl toward the intersection of U.S. Route 22 and State Road 18.  And we love to claim that “The amphitheater is just 15 minutes off the Parkway West” but freely admit that this statement probably ranks right up there with “The check is in the mail”…“It’s not you; it’s me”…and “It’s only a cold sore.”


3. When is the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater going to open?

(From the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  The opening concert for Star Lake will be June 17th.  The normal amphitheater season will run from May to September.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  The opening concert for Star Lake will be June 16th, and we will have regional and local artists perform in a “dry run” type of show so that our staff members—especially our parking personnel—get some much-needed practice before the sold-out Billy Joel show that is scheduled for the 17th.  We anticipate that despite this run-through, parking will be a clusterfuck on this first night of Billy Joel’s June 17-18 doubleheader engagement, and decades later the amphitheater will continue to be haunted by this Ghost of Crisis Past.


4. Where can I get tickets for events at the Amphitheater?

(From the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  Tickets can be purchased through the Choice Seat computerized ticket service with over 30 tri-state area outlets including selected Kaufmann’s, Horne’s, Record Outlets and at the Civic Arena Gate #1 Box Office.  Tickets are also available on the day of the show at the Amphitheater Box Office.  You can charge your tickets by phone by calling 412/333-SEAT (412/333-7328).

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  At this moment in time, tickets can be purchased through the Choice Seat computerized ticket service with over 30 tri-state area outlets including selected Kaufmann’s, Horne’s, Record Outlets and at the Civic Arena Gate #1 Box Office.  However, event ticketing is a volatile and topsy-turvy business, so don’t be surprised if at some point Choice Seat closes down and TicketMaster swoops in, Kaufmann’s eventually becomes a Macy’s, Horne’s and Record Outlets both go out of business, the internet majorly displaces ticket outlets and phone sales, web scalpers eat your wallet for breakfast, and the Civic Arena Gate #1 Box Office falls to the wrecking ball.


5. How can I find out who is appearing at Star Lake?

(From the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  Listen for radio and TV commercials and watch for newspaper ads about upcoming concerts and events.  Star Lake will also have a soon-to-be-announced hotline number.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  Listen for radio and TV commercials, and watch for newspaper ads about upcoming concerts and events until such time that newspapers themselves begin to appear not on your doorstep but behind glass-window displays in the Heinz History Center.


6. What kinds of entertainment will be at the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater?

(From the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  Billy Joel will set the standard by performing the grand opening concert at Star Lake with his record-breaking Storm Front World Tour on June 17.  The brightest names in entertainment, including the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, will appear at Star Lake.  From country to pop, from classical to rhythm & blues, from contemporary to jazz--the superstars will all be at Star Lake this summer!  The Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater will also serve as a special events park perfect for fairs, arts festivals, company picnics, trade shows and corporate special events.  More than 40 shows and special events will take place at Star Lake this summer. Watch for “Coming Attraction” announcements in the next few weeks.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  Billy Joel will set the standard by performing the grand opening concert at Star Lake on June 17 in front of the least amount of people attending any sold-out event, as some concert-goers will still be trying to drive into the parking lots as Billy is ending his encore…The brightest names in entertainment will appear at Star Lake such as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, but only four times total and only in the first two summers, because the Well-Heeled and the High-Heeled will soon beat a hasty retreat (away from the dust and out of the heat) back down to the time-honored, climate-controlled Heinz Hall venue in downtown Pittsburgh…More than 40 shows and special events will take place at Star Lake this summer.  Watch for “Coming Attraction” announcements in the next few weeks.  Then watch for “Coming Contraction” announcements in the next few decades—the number of shows will necessarily take a nosedive as the amphitheater will “just say no” to the wildly increasing costs charged by more and more of even the midland level touring artists.


7. Can we bring a picnic with us to the Amphitheater?

(From the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release): Outside food, beverages, coolers, bottles and containers of any kind are not allowed into the facility.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  Because we will be serving our food and drinks to you at “captive audience” prices, we are thinking of starting out this first year by banning you from bringing any food and beer, or wine and spirits, onto the amphitheater grounds at all—which of course means that in the parking lots tailgating will not be tolerated.  But if during the first scheduled show the will of the people makes itself known and unstoppable tailgating cuts a mighty swath into our resolve, we will obviously cave and allow this black-and-gold mentality to nestle in for good.


8. What kind of parking is available at the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater?

(From the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release): There is plenty of secure, well-lit parking located immediately adjacent to the Amphitheater.  

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  There are plenty of insecure parking attendants and well-lit patrons located immediately adjacent to the Amphitheater. 


9. What happens if it rains?

(From the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release): Rain or shine, the show goes on.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  Fans who bought covered pavilion seats are going to be fine, but our advice to those who purchased lawn tickets is as follows:  Well, you could try  Maybe you could  You might want to  You’re screwed.





10/6/19.....DEATH WALKS BEHIND YOU (part two)

Musicasaurus.com is going to hearken back to the subject matter of a not-too-distant post in this A DAY IN THE LIFE section, 9-8-19’s Death Walks Behind You.  That post dealt with the fact that a number of signature artists—our musical elders Dylan, McCartney and Starr, Jagger and Richards, Carole King, Page and Plant, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Daltrey and Townshend, and a host of others—have either just crept into or have already soared significantly into their 70s.  Sad to imagine that the Grim Reaper might be picking a piece of lint off his scythe right now, looking over this list.

Why revisit this post?  Musicasaurus.com missed a few passings of note this summer, including a legendary New Orleans rock-pop-jazz-blues amalgamator, a pioneer of pop-meets-punk (with a rock ‘n’ roll edge), and a film actor who wasn’t really a musician but did ride into glory to the strains of “Born To Be Wild” and also directly inspired a Beatles classic.

DR. JOHN (November 20, 1941 – June 6, 2019) 

When Dr. John passed away in early June, my brother-in-law Bernie Caplan pointed me to a particular Facebook post about the artist from former KDKA-TV public relations director Carolyn McClair.

In Pittsburgh during the 1980s KDKA’s McClair worked closely with live events producer John Schreiber, a member of George Wein’s company Festival Productions that booked jazz talent for festivals and music series events all over the country.  McClair, the day after Dr. John died, posted a poignant recollection/twist-of-fate style remembrance about the man, stemming from her days in Pittsburgh:

“The first time I met Dr. John was in the 80s at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh.  Later in the day, he had a sound check, but first I had to run to the airport to pick up Producer John Schreiber.  While driving to the airport with my daughter, LaNita Adams, we spotted two teenage boys hitchhiking.  We determined they looked safe enough or that the two of us could take the two of them.  The mother in me asked why they were hitchhiking on a busy highway.  One of the boys said he was a piano player and he had a week-long gig at a nearby inn.  He said they were bored and he and his friend were going to the airport to play video games.

“The pianist talked non-stop asking a zillion questions.  Turned out the boys were from New Orleans and they knew Schreiber.  That led to questions about what John and I were doing after the airport.  I told him we were going to a soundcheck with Dr. John.  The kid went wild and begged me to take them with us!  To quiet him down, I told him if he promised to be cool and calm and John said it was okay, we would introduce him to Dr. John.  Schreiber indeed knew him and agreed to let him tag along if he followed my previous instructions.

“The boys quietly watched the soundcheck, but when Schreiber said I could bring him over, all bets were off.  The young pianist dropped to his knees, slid across the floor Tom Cruise/Risky Business-style, grabbed Dr. John’s hands and said, 'I’m Harry Connick, Jr. and this is my producer Tracy.  I love you and I want to record an album with you.' 

“Amused and maybe a little in shock, Dr. John lifted his glasses, stared at the kid, who was still on his knees, and said, 'What an introduction.  We might just do that; now stand up.'  He was so cool.  He seemed to enjoy chatting with this enthusiastic young musician and thanked me for bringing him to meet him.  When I last saw Dr. John in Newport in 2015, he said, 'I think we have a story together.'  I reminded him about Harry and he laughed and said, 'You know we eventually did that album.'  I said, 'Talk about being in the right place as well as the right time.'  We had a good laugh.  I never saw him again, but I will always remember him and his music.”


RICK OCASEK (March 23, 1944 – September 15, 2019)

I met Rick Ocasek once, though he never would have recalled it.  It was July of 1978 in Pittsburgh, and I was backstage at the Stanley Theater 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 Pittsburgh-area record store windows in order to help promote their appearance.

I was twenty-five, and had been hired just four months earlier by Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corporation (WEA), the product distribution arm of three of the dominant record companies at that time.  My title was “field merchandising specialist” as the business cards they had printed up for me maintained, but all this really meant was that I was a poster boy with a less-than-modest paycheck and a beat-up van that luckily could house a shitload of recording artists’ display materials.

My job description included a couple of key tasks, chief among them taking care of the WEA record labels’ priority artists of the day by systematically flooding area record stores with my back-o’-the-van materials and capturing the best in-store positions for my handiwork.  My constant companions on my weekly display routes were a staple gun, scissors & tape, and a stepladder to help me scale new heights.

My other key task involved supporting the various WEA artists’ tour stops in and around the Pittsburgh area through in-store displays, and so on each of these occasions, I lugged posters and 1’ x 1’ album cover reproductions around town to cover the high-traffic stores like National Record Mart, Record Outlet, Flo’s, Heads Together and others to add impetus (however large or small) to ticket sales.

The Cars were booked for Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theater on a Friday night in July, and I was pumped.  The group’s debut album had hit stores just one month before, and I was an instant convert, intrigued by everything from the model behind the wheel on the album cover (an unheralded but photogenic Russian poet/writer/singer named Natalya Medvedeva) to the keenly crafted and produced songs on the record (“My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Just What I Needed,” “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,” “All Mixed Up” and more).  The New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine critic at the time Robert Palmer really zeroed in on the essence of the band when he wrote “they have taken some important but disparate contemporary trends—punk minimalism, the labyrinthine synthesizer and guitar textures of art rock, the ‘50s rockabilly revival and the melodious terseness of power pop—and mixed them into a personal and appealing blend.”

As brief as my backstage encounter was that July evening in ’78—all of about ten minutes, as I recall—I remember Ocasek and another of the band members smiling when they were shown the photo posted above.  I’m not sure if it was my car tire or my hand-scrawled play on words, but their nods of appreciation for my record store window display stoked me beyond belief.  Just what I needed.


PETER FONDA (February 23, 1940 – August 16, 2019)

Fonda was of course part of a Hollywood acting dynasty that included father Henry, sister Jane and eventually, daughter Bridget.  He was not a musician, really, but became a counterculture legend once he hit the screen in 1969 in a film he also produced and co-wrote—Easy Rider.  

Fonda was a rebel, rabble-rouser and a partaker, though, years before that influential film came out.  In August 1965 his friendship with the group the Byrds led him, Roger McGuinn and David Crosby to visit the Beatles in a special hideaway house in Los Angeles.  According to author Bob Spitz who wrote an exceptional book about the Fab Four, The Beatles / The Biography (2005), there was a whole lotta “Lucy In The Sky” goin’ on. 

Beatles manager Brian Epstein had rented a secluded private residence in Benedict Canyon, just off Mulholland Drive.  This was the Beatles’ one chance on their 1965 North American tour to hang and relax, as they had a four-day layover between concerts.  With the hilly terrain and security guards keeping most fans at bay, the Beatles were finally unwinding.  As Spitz writes, “During those lazy days, under picture-postcard skies, the Beatles lounged by the pool, pulling on ‘the fattest joints’ anyone had ever rolled and gorging themselves on a round-the-clock buffet to stem the ‘munchies.’”

Before long, Fonda with McGuinn and Crosby popped by, as well as Eleanor Bron (the boys’ actress co-star from the movie Help!),and Joan Baez.  Meanwhile, according to Spitz, George and John were trying to coax Ringo and Paul into dropping acid.  The former two had tried it before and were game again; this time Ringo succumbed but steadfast Paul did not.

After “Lucy” made the rounds—which included ingestions by the couple of Byrds—George got morose on his dose and settled into a chaise longue between McGuinn and Fonda.  Reportedly George then muttered “You know, man, I feel like I’m gonna die.”  Part of Fonda’s efforts to console the Beatle beside him included his own explanation as to why he could identify with George—Fonda had very nearly died when he was ten from an accidental self-inflicted pistol wound, and he lost so much blood, according to Spitz, that “his heart stopped three times.”  Fonda, now knowing intimately what death or near death was all about, said he was here now, and alive, to say that everything was going to be fine.

Walking by at that moment was John who caught just a snippet of the discussion, and Spitz recounts what happened next as John turned to Fonda: 

“‘What do you mean, you know what it’s like to be dead?’  

“Fonda, more than a bit wasted, stared blankly at him.  ‘I know what it’s like to be dead.’

“‘Who put all that shit in your head?’ John snarled.

“The two Beatles watched half fascinated, half horrified, as Fonda lifted his shirt to display the blotchy wound.  ‘I know what it’s like to be dead,’ he repeated…’”

Exactly one year later the Beatles released their seventh studio album Revolver, which featured a great Lennon composition called “She Said She Said” that bore the beginning lyrics “She said / I know what it's like to be dead / I know what it is to be sad / And she's making me feel like I've never been born.”

So that was Fonda’s contribution to Beatle lore…and I’m guessing he had even helped nudge John on to at least a few more lyrics of lysergic origin down the road.  On Revolver Lennon pushed sonic boundaries as well, with song contributions like “I’m Only Sleeping” and especially “Tomorrow Never Knows.”  It is debatable how much the little tabs really contributed to the Beatles’ amazing creative strides on the works that followed, like Sgt. Peppers which came out the year after; maybe the boys did have a little help from their friends.






When musicasaurus.com thinks back to the summer just passed, it makes me feel like I should look heavenward and heave a sigh or two of gratitude.  Looking upward is one way to see the stars...but I like being in Pittsburgh where the earthbound ones roll into town, shine their light and emit their stardust, and then leave you ever more in awe of the amazing musical talent that tours through our little part of the world.

Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers – July 13 at The Roxian

Pittsburghers were a particularly lucky bunch this year, with another new concert venue debuting this past Spring in McKees Rocks, the borough near downtown Pittsburgh that sits along the south bank of the Ohio River.  The Roxian Theatre, a close to 1,500-capacity hall, originally opened in 1929 as a vaudeville-era venue and featured theatrical productions and films for many decades.  It took a turn toward banquet hall from 1980 through 2003, but by 2007 the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation and other partners/players were stepping in and stepping up to fulfill dreams of revitalization and restoration.  The newly-renovated Roxian officially kicked off its grand opening with a May 15, 2019 performance by Snarky Puppy.  

I missed that puppy, but caught Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers on the evening of July 13th.  Scott Tady of the Beaver County Times did a particularly revealing interview with Hornsby before he rolled into the Roxian, and the musician expressed genuinely fond memories of playing in the ‘burgh: “In the old days, we loved playing the Syria Mosque, a special and unique old-time venue.  More recently, I’ve enjoyed playing at the Carnegie Library (Music Hall); there was a really good show tape from there that used to be available through Nugs.net…Like lots of musicians, I have an affinity for old classic theaters, old movie houses and even school auditoriums that have a funky, soulful feeling and good sound.  Very much like the two aforementioned Pittsburgh venues.”  

Hornsby in concert, seated at the keys for most of the evening, was quite visibly the bandleader.  And his Noisemakers seemed like they were just lovin’ being led, smiling wide when their leader would quickly cue them for a solo turn with a nod or a pointed finger.  Maybe these musicians were just innately talented and intuitive, or perhaps finely chiseled by the road or rehearsals, I don’t know…but the collective really shone and it mattered not a whit that only one song was a hit (the early-in-the-set, retooled version of “Mandolin Rain”).  In the end, this was an evening of jubilant exploration with Hornsby and his outliers collapsing musical boundaries and roaming the outskirts.  (Here’s a live version of “Echolocation” by Hornsby and The Noisemakers, taped during their current 2019 tour in Brooklyn, New York, about three months before hitting Pittsburgh: https://youtu.be/q8-zmsmh9Sw)

James Hunter – Tuesday, June 18 at Moondog’s

There was another quite memorable indoor show this summer, in Pittsburgh’s haven for the blues and other hues, Moondog’s in Blawnox, PA.  The town is an Allegheny County borough (population about 1,500) that hugs the Allegheny River 15-minutes drive from downtown Pittsburgh, where blues club Moondog’s has sat perched on Freeport Road (the town’s main drag) for the past thirty years.

When I heard that James Hunter, a Brit who’s a hellacious blend of rock, rhythm & blues, and soul music, was booked at Moondog’s on Tuesday, June 18th, I started calling friends in the know as well as a few of the Great Unwashed—those in our wider circle who had yet to be initiated into the cult of Hunter.  I had to inveigle these latter folks into commitment mode, but by the end of that evening that Hunter played, the room was brimming with converts.

The James Hunter Six—the guitarist/singer and his band—took the stage that June evening and ripped into their repertoire of under-three-minute rock ‘n soul songs, the kind that spiral up your spine and skitter across your pleasure centers.  Looking down the bar I could see a lot of head-bobbin’ and even a few limbs twitchin’, not only because of the crisp, tight tunes but also because of Hunter’s voice—the thing his album producer describes as “known not only for its natural beauty and grit, but for its honesty.”

My friend Rick and I ran into Ron Esser (the founder and proprietor of Moondog’s) at the end of the bar that evening, and as fans filtered out, Esser told me that at first he didn’t realize who he was trying to book, and in his mind (for a millisecond) he THOUGHT he was calling the agent about booking the Grateful Dead’s longtime lyricist.  Musicasaurus.com loves this momentary lapse of reason on Esser’s part—the Hunter he was first hunting was Robert, not James—but this initial bit of confusion led to one of Moondog’s greatest coups: Snatching up a criminally under-the-radar superstar for an electrifying evening of melded rock, blues and soul.  (Here’s a live taste of Hunter, James not Robert, from a 2009 festival appearance at North Sea Jazz in the Netherlands: https://youtu.be/GJIqVQy_vDA)

Kurt Vile – Sunday July 21 at Hartwood Acres

Since 2011, Pittsburgh’s Bill Deasy (he of The Gathering Field and acclaimed solo works) has been booking the talent for the Allegheny County parks system’s Hartwood Acres and South Park, where local concert-goers can always count on eclectic, if not always electric, performances from May through September.  And they’re FREE.

Deasy summed up the overarching philosophy of the bookings in a Trib Live article back in 2013: “It's so fun to have the opera one week, and Bob Mould the next week,” he said. “How completely random and awesome is that?  And yet a lot of the same people will come to both of those concerts.”

This particular summer musicasaurus.com caught a couple of the Hartwood Acres concerts in July and August, and the Vile experience in particular was illuminating in a mind cleansing way.  I had not previously delved into Kurt Vile’s music except for the catchy “Pretty Pimpin” from a 2015 release of his called B’lieve I’m Goin Down.  

At Hartwood on that July night—amidst great weather and a calm, not oversized crowd—Vile and his band were like the soundtrack to the gentle buzz that was going on in my head as paramour Mary Ellen and I strolled and calmly blanket-dodged, basking in people-watching and for a time, standing in line at one of the food trucks that was parked stage-left.  Vile’s music as a background to our wanderings was hypnotic; his dreamlike pieces unspooled rather than charged ahead, and he and his band mates really mastered the essence of somehow wringing out the real beauty of a sustained chord…This was a magical evening of folk/alternative music—tailor made for reflection and star gazing—at Hartwood.  (Here is the artist’s “Pretty Pimpin” video-- https://youtu.be/y26OdHnif7U--but after this while you’re still in YouTube, explore on to find more Vile recordings including some from his recent teaming-up with Courtney Barnett.) 



Guster – Sunday August 4 at Hartwood Acres

Guster is a pop-alternative band from Boston, Massachusetts and my first exposure to them came through an ears-unheard purchase of their third studio album from 1999 called Lost And Gone Forever.  I was riveted by the smartness of the songwriting and the fetchingly interweaving vocal arrangements through tunes like “Fa Fa,” “So Long,” “Two Points For Honesty” and especially “Happier.”

A few years later in 2003 when my first-born Moira went off to college, I fed her CD mixes through the U.S mail as any self-respecting music-nut papa would have done.  She and her roommates loved the variety in these 18-count song sets and, Moira maintains, the Guster selections were often favorites.

As I was in the midst of writing this post about Guster’s Hartwood Acres appearance this summer, Moira flashed me back to 2007 when she was a senior at Loyola University Maryland and the band happened to be headlining the university’s one-day spring festival event on the Quad.

Moira, if she’d been born a boy, would certainly have been named Chip—as in Chip Off The Ol’ Block.  She had been weaned on music from an early age and following in her father’s footsteps here—as well as bolstered by best friend & college roomie Bridget—Moira staked out front row territory for Guster’s headlining set and then immediately post-performance, starting chatting up the band’s guitar tech who had strode out to center stage to break down the equipment.

The result: Guitar tech Scooter and the band’s drummer/percussionist Brian Rosenworcel ended up coming over to Moira and Bridget’s house a couple of hours afterward, and the backyard party’s ranks swelled with curious neighbors as word spread and a series of beer pong games erupted with Scooter & Bridget versus Moira & Bryan…

I never got that close to Rosenworcel on the evening of August 4th at Hartwood Acres.  The best I can claim is that Mary Ellen and I snaked our way down to the front of the stage, and I managed to grab some quick shots of singer/guitarist Ryan Miller climbing off the front of the stage, going deep into the crowd, accepting a lawnchair from a fan, and then taking it back up to camp out in it for the remainder of a song.

Guster’s performance that evening was inspiring and live Pop-Alternative at its finest, as the band cherry-picked nice nuggets from their catalogue of recordings that spans the mid-‘90s through present day (as an example of their live prowess, here is an in-concert version of the band’s tune “Happier” from a 2004 CD/DVD entitled Guster on Ice: Live in Portland, Maine in which you also get a real sense of their vocal arrangement sophistication: https://youtu.be/kKbKq0bEMVQ).

Anyway, back to Hartwood Acres 2019: They stopped at one point during their set to recount their very unique connection to the city of Pittsburgh.  I will only provide a smidgeon of background on this, which is that in January 2016 Guster played an extremely short set during a snowstorm in an alley in front of a dumpster near the intersection of Sampsonia & Veto on the Northside, and then returned to Pittsburgh five months later to play the Three Rivers Arts Festival.  Along the way between that January frigid pit stop performance and the Three Rivers gig, Guster cultivated a relationship with Pittsburgh Mayor’s Bill Peduto.  And…for all of the details, here is Guster’s guitarist/singer Ryan Miller at the 2016 Three Rivers Festival performance (courtesy of a fan video) to clue you all in…Enjoy! https://youtu.be/qgTzY5s8ceg






Rick Sebak is the one who steered me toward death.  Knowing I am a self-professed one-note guy eternally drawn to the rhythm, one afternoon recently he told me of an article on music he’d run across, this one about the death of rock.

The article appeared on August 31st online in The Week, originally a British news magazine that started up in 1995 and launched a U.S. version in 2001, and which then went online in this country beginning in 2007.  The article’s author Damon Linker is a senior correspondent of TheWeek.com, and obviously felt that the time was nigh to explore the coming tsunami—the nearing demise of a host of our most famous, formative rock stars.

Linker’s piece was entitled “The Coming Death of Just About Every Rock Legend” and he started off by citing a double meaning in the death of rock; first, there is “rock” defined as the popular music genre.  Linker points out that this is certifiably on the wane in terms of cultural impact, and this is especially reflected in album & song sales levels which have been increasingly edged out of prominence over the past twenty years with the rise of rap and hip-hop, country music melding into the mainstream, and unstoppable pop.

Second, as Linker says, “…there’s another sense in which rock is very nearly dead: Just about every rock legend you can think of is going to die within the next decade or so.”  When I went on to read his roundup of all of those who rock who are also fighting the clock, I felt a pang of great sadness.  We are indeed headed for the mourning of a new day.  

Linker laments this “tidal wave of obituaries to come.  The grief and nostalgia will wash over us all.  Yes, the Boomers left alive will take it hardest—these were their heroes and generational compatriots…Behold the killing fields that lie before us: Bob Dylan (78 years old); Paul McCartney (77); Paul Simon (77) and Art Garfunkel (77); Carole King (77); Brian Wilson (77); Mick Jagger (76) and Keith Richards (75); Joni Mitchell (75); Jimmy Page (75) and Robert Plant (71); Ray Davies (75); Roger Daltrey (75) and Pete Townshend (74); Roger Waters (75) and David Gilmour (73); Rod Stewart (74); Eric Clapton (74); Debbie Harry (74); Neil Young (73); Van Morrison (73); Bryan Ferry (73); Elton John (72); Don Henley (72); James Taylor (71); Jackson Browne (70); Billy Joel (70); and Bruce Springsteen (69, but turning 70 next month).”

Alrighty then…Musicasaurus.com readers who are anywhere even near the ages of the intrepid artistic travelers listed above will likely now feel the skittering of the Grim Reaper’s touch on the back of his or her neck.  I have felt that from time to time, of course, but I’ve never wheeled around to lay eyes on the bugger.  I don’t care if it’s the black-robed, chess-obsessed pale dude from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, or the soft-toned, well-dressed Brad Pitt from Meet Joe Black, or even one of the many scythe-bearing hooded soul collectors who populate horror (and horrible) films—I ain’t lookin’.

What CAN we do, all of us who are about to cross the Great Divide at some point way too soon?

We can live in the moment…and make these moments ones that are filled with music.

Musicasaurus.com now offers up some solace through song, digging into just a handful of the seventy-something artists mentioned above, and coming up with an amazing track from each of them for you to sample.  It may end up being a commonly praised milestone from the particular artist’s career, or an overlooked choice nugget buried on an album from yesteryear.  Perhaps you’ll even craft your own playlist from these offerings, hellbent on a heavenly mix.  E N J O Y …

Bob Dylan – “Not Dark Yet” – written by Dylan when he was 56, the song appears on his 1997 album Time Out of Mind.  It is a meditative masterpiece which Clapton, in a Rolling Stone magazine interview from May 17, 2016, says “…is one of the most beautiful songs ever written.  It says everything about growing old and letting go of things.”  This could be one of Dylan's greatest triumphs in terms of poetry and poignancy, but the song's also aided by the album's intuitive producer Daniel Lanois who provides Dylan's front-and-center ruminations with a hypnotizing blend of instruments and pacing.  This is wondrous... https://youtu.be/RZgBhyU4IvQ  


Roger Waters and David Gilmour – “The Great Gig In The Sky” – Waters and Gilmour were 30 and 27 years old respectively when they were in the the Abbey Road studio with engineer Alan Parsons working on 1973’s Dark Side Of The Moon.  “The Great Gig” is all instrumental save for some snippets of muted spoken word at the outset.  The rest of the song is taken by storm by Clare Torry, an EMI Records employee and studio session singer who provides the soul-searing wordless vocals that long ago elevated this song to legendary status with the band’s devotees.  There’s not a Floydian slip anywhere in her performance…The accounts of the song’s origins and the recording process vary, but keyboardist and composer Rick Wright is said to have had death in mind when initially creating the piece, stemming from the band’s often frantic travel schedule on airplane flights and on the highways in Britain and the USA.  Whatever the source of inspiration, the song for some fans speaks to this theme of death in the way that Torry at first wordlessly wails and rails against the universe, eventually then projecting calm acceptance by the song’s conclusion.  https://youtu.be/mPGv8L3a_sY


Brian Wilson – “Til I Die” and “Surf’s Up” – Musicasaurus.com has deep reverence for the 1971 album Surf’s Up principally because the boys had shifted gears from their songs about cars and girls and sun and sand, and had moved into other themes and more sonic experimentation.  Brian by that point was—ahem—going on trips without ever leaving his house, so brother Carl emerged as a strong bandleader and producer, co-writing the album’s lush opener “Feel Flows.”  But the last two songs on the album are Brian’s: “Til I Die” and the title song “Surf’s Up” (co-written by Van Dyke Parks).  Crystalline harmonies and stellar production abound…Wilson was 29 years old at the time. (“Til I Die”) https://youtu.be/eXZ_L6zJn1c  ….. (“Surf’s Up”) https://youtu.be/v75f5W6LgLM


Carole King – “Beautiful” – The artist was only 29 when Tapestry was unfurled for the record-buying public.  “Beautiful” is just one of the gems from this 1971 album and King recalls that it came to her spontaneously and unselfconsciously.  The song of course figures prominently in the 2014 Broadway musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.  https://youtu.be/6ZC17DIsDaQ


Neil Young – “Comes A Time” – This is the title tune of Young’s ninth studio album released in 1978 when the artist was 33 years old.  It’s feel-good & fiddle-fueled, buoyed by the harmony vocals of accompanist singer Nicolette Larson.  Young is of course still coursing along at 73, but Larson’s time came when she succumbed to a combination of liver failure and cerebral edema (an accumulation of fluid in the brain) in 1997.  Larson was 45.  https://youtu.be/qxH_4e7W7hc


 Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – “Dancing With Mr. D” – One has to throw about 120 scribbled slips of paper into a hat, and just pull one out—there are too many major songwriting achievements by this duo.  So…we’ll go with “Dancing With Mr. D” from 1973’s Goats Head Soup album, when Mick & Keef were just turning 30—and maybe mulling their mortality?  “Down in the graveyard where we have our tryst / The air smells sweet, the air smells sick / He never smiles, his mouth merely twists / The breath in my lungs feels clinging and thick / But I know his name, he's called Mr. D / And one of these days, he's going to set you free.”  https://youtu.be/r6huPIAdhh0 


Van Morrison – “Tupelo Honey” – Van the Man was living in Woodstock, NY around the time he was writing songs for his 1971 album Tupelo Honey, but then he headed west to live in Marin County, California and there the record came to life.  It was the fifth solo album from this 26-year-old Irish singer-songwriter who had found his initial calling in rhythm and blues laced with rock, country and jazz-inspired instrumentation. Reportedly Dylan once remarked that the title song had always existed, and that Morrison was just the vessel through which it flowed.  https://youtu.be/QGkQ4mPiyoU 


Ray Davies – “Life Goes On” – Musicasaurus.com appreciates Ray Davies the wordsmith, but also Kink brother Dave, who never got his full due and was largely just thought of as “the guitarist in the band.”  Both of the brothers’ talents are on full display on this all-but-forgotten track on the 1977 album Sleepwalker.  Dave Davies peals off some great riffs here, while big brother Ray—33-years-old and the writer behind the song—sings about making the most out of Life and preparing for the inevitable: “Life goes on, it happens every day / So appreciate what you got before it's taken away / Life will hit you when you're unprepared / So be grateful and take all that you can while you're there / Get that frown off your head, 'cause you're a long time dead / Life goes on and on and on / Life goes on and on and on.”  https://youtu.be/Pu5Ugs4piJg 


Joni Mitchell – “My Secret Place” – Mitchell was well past her folkie beginnings and blazing with experimentation at the age of 45, when she recorded her 1988 album Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.  This track is a duet with Peter Gabriel, recorded in Bath, England at the latter’s in-home studio.  Though the lyrics are about two people moving toward intimacy, it’s a song that cries for high volume on living room speakers—the better to hear the complex yet soothing sonic touches, and the masterful tapestry of the lead vocals and the swirling background harmonies.  https://youtu.be/50tn9Es5ORU


Bryan Ferry – “Kiss And Tell” – Ferry contributed mightily to Roxy Music, but Musicasaurus.com loves his individual releases.  His solo work is characterized by cool romantic croonings and a musical palette dominated by synthesizers, guitars and insistent bass—all nudging the listener toward the nearest dance floor.  1987’s Bete Noire, released when Ferry was 42, featured talented contributors including guitarists David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Johnny Marr (The Smiths).  “Kiss and Tell” is an impossible-to-resist dance tune, but it’s not merely that—the song is slickly produced, churning and hypnotic, and masterfully straddles the line between dance pop and alternative.  https://youtu.be/Yr-GzDb643M


Jackson Browne – “For A Dancer” – Browne at the tender age of 26 wrote this meditation on mortality and may have captured for all time—especially for the rudderless amongst us—a perfect encapsulation of life’s mystery and death’s inscrutability.  Musicasaurus.com could certainly list out some lyrics here, but it’s best—especially if this is one’s first exposure to the tune—to take in the song and its sentiments from start to finish.  “For A Dancer” is from Browne’s 1974 album Late For The Sky.  https://youtu.be/XnT_PbnpijE



Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel – Paul Simon’s “St. Judy’s Comet” and “Learn How To Fall” – After Simon & Garfunkel dissolved as a duo, Simon went solo and arguably reached his zenith as a composer, arranger and performer.  I’m not as enamored by Garfunkel’s solo output though he does command a song and gives it his over-emoting all…Choice cut from Simon:  A tie between “St. Judy’s Comet” and “Learn How To Fall,” both from the 1973 album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, recorded when the artist was 32 years old.  Regarding Garfunkel?  I think we should just move right along here, and that’s “All I Know”… (“St. Judy’s Comet”) https://youtu.be/n0U6Ut8YeEQ … (“Learn How To Fall”) https://youtu.be/VqlaLXAoJN0


Bruce Springsteen – “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” – This song contains the fan-favorite shout-out to blood brotherhood, when Bruce at the start of the third verse sings “When the change was made uptown / And the Big Man joined the band.”  Obviously that moment in “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” may STILL lead to a moistening eye, even though it’s been a little over 8 years since sax man Clarence Clemons departed this world.  Bruce wrote the song for his album Born To Run in 1975 when he was 26 years old.  As of this writing, Bruce is now 69—the age of Clemons when he passed away.  https://youtu.be/g5mxxU2R2sc





8/25/19.....GOIN’ BACK

Musicasaurus.com just can’t let go of a couple of things right now, so I’m goin’ back to 1) the August 11th post’s summer party playlist that illustrated the connecting threads from one song to the next, and 2) Woodstock.

Part One: We’ll start out with seven NEW songs that you can add to the “song threads” playlist that is outlined in the 8-11-19 post in this A DAY IN THE LIFE section.  

Then in Part Two, we’ll take one last look at Woodstock (the 50thAnniversary hubbub has died down and is runnin’ on fumes, so this will be our last-gasp mention before we turn the shovel over).

PART ONE: (Songs to add to the 8-11-19 post’s suggested playlist of songs with connecting threads)

1. Little Wing…..Sting covering Hendrix / …Nothing Like The Sun (1987) – After Sting fled the Police he fired up a solo career, surrounding himself with topnotch musicians and collaborators including, on this second solo effort Nothing Like The Sun, the renowned jazz arranger Gil Evans.  Evans was most acclaimed for his late 1950s/early 1960s work with Miles Davis (Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain) and here he provided Sting with a rich orchestral cushion while ace instrumentalists Hiram Bullock on guitar and Branford Marsalis on saxophone peppered the dream wave.  https://youtu.be/4w-Tgx8voDw

2. Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)…..Anqelique Kidjo covering Hendrix Oremi (1998) – I first became aware of West African singer Kidjo in 1998 upon the release of her fifth album Oremi, which showcases this artist’s unquenchable thirst for pushing boundaries and collapsing traditions.  While the whole album is a “world music” treat full of blended African rhythms laced a bit with American R & B, it is the lead-off tune that will all but peel back your scalp to bare the pleasure centers.  Your limbs might twitch as well.  This is a towering reinvention of Hendrix that has to be heard.  https://youtu.be/36bGFi1U_vw

3. Purple Haze…..The Cure covering Hendrix Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (1993) – British band The Cure formed in 1976, all ghoulish-lookin’ and goth-like.  Their first album came out in 1979 and they climbed the pop charts only on their home turf until the mid-to-late 1980s when they finally pierced mainstream consciousness outside of the UK.  Check out this “one-off” they recorded for the compilation Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix; it’s sublimely spooky and mesmerizing.  I don’t picture anyone doing “air guitar” to this one; I DO see head bobbing and black lipstick smiles.  https://youtu.be/JS68hRFM_QI

4. All Along The Watchtower…..Jimi Hendrix covering Bob Dylan Electric Ladyland (1968) – Even diehard Dylan fans say that Hendrix’s version of “Watchtower” is a triumph of reinvention, a cover that wrestles with the original and practically challenges it to come back out in the open and re-stake its claim.  But lil Bobby Zimmerman may have met his match with this one.  Hendrix turned the tune into a powerhouse of psychedelic-laced rock ‘n’ roll that hit the USA’s Top Twenty as a single released about a month before Electric Ladyland hit record shelves, and the song also became an FM radio staple that, amazingly, sounds as vital today as it did upon first release.  https://youtu.be/TLV4_xaYynY

5. Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again…..Bob Dylan Blonde On Blonde (1966) – This is Dylan in Nashville, with Robbie Robertson and Al Kooper and Nashville studio musicians.  This is one of musicsaurus.com’s favorite Dylan tracks principally because of the rhythm and the flow and Dylan’s vocal tackling.  The lyrics have bright spots and brief snippets of insight though they’re all famously fragmented and plucked arbitrarily; interesting that John Lennon commented on this, posthumously, when Yoko in 1998 released an anthology of Lennon’s demos and unreleased works that contained a song called “Satire #2.”  This track was one of Lennon’s home recordings from 1979, and reportedly includes the line “Stuck Inside of Lexicon with the Roget’s Thesaurus Blues Again.”  https://youtu.be/3kh6K_-a0c4

6. Like A Rolling Stone…..Rolling Stones covering Dylan Stripped (1995) – After these bad boys’ Voodoo Lounge Tour the band released this aptly named album, a collection of live tracks as well as in-studio recordings that were one-take performances with no overdubs.  “Like A Rolling Stone” is a treat, recorded in July 1995 at London’s Brixton Academy, a hallowed concert spot with an intimate capacity of just under 5,000.  If you have seen the Stones sporadically through the ages you know that they can be firing on all cylinders or sloppy but still engaging.  Here on Dylan’s tune Mick is in fine form and the other individuals in the band power through it with conviction—just like a Rolling Stone.  https://youtu.be/BkN6bhp6UZM

7. (You Gotta Walk And) Don’t Look Back…..Peter Tosh with Mick Jagger / Peter Tosh’ Bush Doctor (1978) – Tosh never quite gained the mass recognition that Bob Marley enjoyed, but he was instrumental in the formation of the Wailers in the mid-to-late 1960s along with fellow Jamaicans Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer.  On board for the first two albums (Catch A Fire and Burnin’, both from 1973) Tosh departed the group in 1974 and started a smokin’ solo career two years afterward with the album Legalize It.  In 1978 Tosh released Bush Doctor, having recently signed to the Rolling Stones record label, and Mick Jagger joined Tosh on the vocals of the lead-off track “(You Gotta Walk And) Don’t Look Back.”  It’s a joyous bit of rooster strut reggae.  https://youtu.be/8c-pl5APO5E 

PART TWO (Woodstock):

The original Woodstock Music & Art Fair from 50 summers back is still whirling around my head like one of the copters who shuttled in the bands over that mass of humanity and the roads-turned-parking lots back in August of 1969.  I wanted to swoop in on three less-than-household names who played the festival to give them their due, principally because if they don’t get this shout-out now, it may be the 100thanniversary of the festival—in 2069—when they get their next crack at any rekindled-for-the-moment fame.

No time like the present to do this.  Musicasaurus.com knows that he personally won’t be stimulated at all by the 100th when that rolls around…

Here’s the official line-up of Woodstock 1969, in order of performance:

Friday:  Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie and Joan Baez.

Saturday:  Quill, Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, Santana, Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Leslie West & Mountain, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, The Who and Jefferson Airplane.

Sunday into Monday:  Joe Cocker, Country Joe & The Fish, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter (whose set bridged the gap from Saturday night into Sunday morning), Blood Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na and Jimi Hendrix (whose star-spangled set began around 9am Monday morning).


The three bands we’ll shed a little light on here are Sweetwater, Quill and Keef Hartley Band.  But wait, there’s another unheralded Woodstock individual who graced the stage before any of the performers—Sri Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002) who was born in India and became a prominent religious figure and spiritual master, also bringing the Yoga tradition to America (circa 1966) initially through his friendship with Pop artist Peter Max.

Satchidananda opened up hearts and minds in the West back then, inspiring the very idea of integrative health, and among other achievements he founded the first Yoga magazine in America and opened the first vegetarian health food store in New York City.  

Here literally in the spotlight at Woodstock, he addressed the crowd of 400,000+ with these opening words: “My Beloved Brothers and Sisters: I am overwhelmed with joy to see the entire youth of America gathered here in the name of the fine art of music.  In fact, through the music, we can work wonders.  Music is a celestial sound and it is the sound that controls the whole universe, not atomic vibrations.  Sound energy, sound power, is much, much greater than any other power in this world.  And, one thing I would very much wish you all to remember is that with sound, we can make—and at the same time, break.  Even in the war-field, to make the tender heart an animal, sound is used.  Without that war band, that terrific sound, man will not become animal to kill his own brethren.  So, that proves that you can break with sound, and if we care, we can make also.”  (Musicaurus.com applauds this opening speech as a wonderful tone setter for the three days of peace & music, but cautions that not all of the festival goers who bathed in these remarks likely fully grasped the message; it might have been a bit head-scratchin’ for some, with all that brown acid “upstairs” snaking through their synapses.)

SWEETWATER – Day One – Friday evening, 6:15 – 7pm / August 15th

The band members had gravitated toward each other originally through hangouts at L.A.-area coffee houses in the 1960s, and the group whipped up a song style that incorporated rock, folk and jazz through instruments not borne by most of the emerging rock bands of the day—Sweetwater honed their craft on flute, cello and conga in addition to sporting the traditional guitar-keyboard-bass-drums line-up.  By the time the Woodstock opportunity came about, the band was already opening for major rock acts on tour and appearing on variety television shows including Red Skelton’s program, Playboy After Dark and American Bandstand.  

At Woodstock, the band was plagued by distractions of sound and vision; the stage monitors were faulty, and the band contended with bustling film crew members and a swarm of media photographers all jostling at the lip of the stage.  A greater misfortune for the band was that not one of their songs made it onto the 1970 Woodstock film nor the accompanying soundtrack album.  The band splintered in 1971 with the members straggling off to pursue other musical projects and/or to just open up other doorways in life.

QUILL – Day Two – Saturday afternoon, 12:15 – 12:50pm / August 16th

Quill was a hard-driving, psychedelic and jazz-tinged rock band from Boston with real legs.  For the year or two prior to Woodstock, the band was amassing fans and gaining traction in Bean Town, sometimes outselling the new and ascending bands who were passing through the market on the winds of mounting press and word of mouth.  According to boston.com’s James Sullivan in an August 9, 2009 interview with the band, they “came to the attention of Woodstock organizers a few months before the festival, during a memorable jam with Jimi Hendrix and Stephen Stills at a midtown Manhattan nightclub.  After performing some public-service gigs on behalf of the promoters, the unheralded Quill had the distinction of being the first rock band to take the stage at Woodstock.”

This was on Saturday, the second day of the festival and the first to feature non-folkies.  Quill pounded out a four-song set, but failed to connect with the mass of humanity perhaps due in part to, once again, a troubled sound system.  Sullivan’s boston.com piece points out that at Woodstock the heavy rainstorms often contributed to spotty equipment checks, and the band ultimately learned that the audio tracking of their performance didn’t match up to the footage as shot.  Consequently the group didn’t make it into the movie that emerged from the festival, wiping away the band’s real chance for widespread recognition and success.  

KEEF HARTLEY BAND – Day Two – Saturday afternoon, 4:45 – 5:30pm / August 16th

Hartley was a Englishman who emerged early in the ‘60s rock scene, starting out as a drummer in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (replacing Ringo Starr, who was exiting for The Beatles).  Hartley also played with fellow Brit John Mayall for a spell, and then cobbled together a band of his own which produced a stew of rock and jazz rooted in the blues and punctuated by a crisp horn section of trumpets, saxes and flute.  The band had just recently released their 1969 debut album Halfbreed when they ventured across the pond to tour the States—and their first stop turned out to be the Saturday stage at Woodstock.

According to the official website of Bethel Woods Center For The Arts, the venue-and-museum now gracing the grounds of the original festival, Keef Hartley Band’s manager was less than prescient when approached by the festival’s filmmakers about the taping of his band’s set.  When the camera crew presented their standard release form for the rights to film the group’s performance, the manager insisted on being paid $2,000 in cash on the spot.  That sealed the band’s fate.  There would be no Keef Hartley Band in the Woodstock film nor on the successful soundtrack album that followed.






Being a one note kind of guy and a victim of over-preoccupation with music in my daily life, I think I would sometimes welcome thoughts on any other subject to enter my brain and scrub some of the sidewalls up there, flushing away all those musical cling-ons.

A case in point:  I can be at a party with friends and deep in conversation one-on-one, and then in the background I hear the host’s next tune over the nearby set of Sonos, one that I know and treasure because it happens to also be in my musical collection at home.  Though at that point I am still immersed in my face-to-face with the friend, my brain switches from the conversation to the flood of artistry coming out of those little white speakers and I’m a goner.

My mind wraps around that song and I lose myself in it, all the while maintaining eye contact with my friend but not…hearing…another…word…he or she…says.  I manage a smile or a nod, or even a “Hell, yes! I agree!” to hold up my end of the conversation, subconsciously hoping I can pass as a still-interested party in the exchange…

There.  Now that I have sacrificed at least five friendships that I can think of, I’ll move on to the proposed party mix below.

I was thinking lately that a perfect mix of party music would be full of threads.  Subtle or not so subtle connections between the songs that partygoers—especially the ones who are as steeped in music as I am—could identify and appreciate.  So for certain people at the gathering, it would be “double your pleasure” time: They would on the surface love the songs themselves as separate, stirring works of art, but then feel a special tingle upstairs as the song list rolls by and they’re mentally making the connections that exist from one artist’s song to the next.

You’ll see what I mean.  Below are 24 songs, and for the first 18, the links between them are done in pairs of songs.  Then with 19-20-21 and 22-23-24, we end the “thread mix” with two trios of linked tunes…ENJOY.

1. Once You Get Started…..Rufus featuring Chaka Khan / Rufusized (1974) – A funkin’ great groove and a wailin’, sailin’ triumph for lead singer Khan.  https://youtu.be/bUKVTLWa_fM

2. Down in Hollywood.....Ry Cooder / Bop Till You Drop (1979) – Cooder brings in Khan for a guest vocal appearance on this slow, slinky infectious duet.  https://youtu.be/d4lmMBHlAS4


3. It’s My Life…..The Animals / The Best of The Animals (1966) – Lead singer Eric Burdon’s gritty vocals and the song’s even grittier lyrics made this tune a classic.  Reportedly the first television glimpse for USA viewers came on the Hullabaloo television show in October 1965 when the band sang over taped music in a setting that looked like hunter’s den—where young women had their heads poking out of holes in the wall as if mounted there as animal trophies.  Thankfully it was campy, not creepy.  https://youtu.be/H3GNKUE-d9c

4. Spill The Wine…..Eric Burdon & War / Eric Burdon Declares “War” (1970) – Very shortly after The Animals disbanded in 1969, Burdon joined the California funk band War.  https://youtu.be/NXavy54NiDw


5. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg…..The Temptations / Gettin’ Ready (1966) – David Ruffin leads the charge on this soul/R&B classic backed up by the other Temptations and renowned Motown-label studio musicians The Funk Brothers.  https://youtu.be/crWSG6liT5Y

6. Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone…..David Lindley & El-Rayo X / Very Greasy (1988) – The band is headed up by longtime Jackson Browne guitarist/multi-instrumentalist David Lindley and the song—originally released on Motown Records in 1972 as performed by The Undisputed Truth—was a subsequent huge and enduring hit for The Temptations in 1973.  Lindley’s infectious cover from 1988 is all reggae-splashed funk, a well-conceived far cry from the soulful Temps’ version.  https://youtu.be/Dnbav8hd3jQ


7. Here Comes My Girl…..Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers / Damn The Torpedoes (1979) – One of Petty’s best—hints of the Byrds; rhythmic and anthemic.  The half-singing/half-talking approach on the verses ratcheted up the emotional heft of the song like nothing else.  https://youtu.be/UVC2dTO3b50

8. End Of The Line…..Traveling Wilburys / Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988) – This band of brothers release was a fluke.  Petty, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne (of ELO), Roy Orbison and George Harrison had teamed up to produce a B-side for a Harrison single from the latter’s latest album Cloud Nine, and lucky for us, things congealed into a full-blown album from the five.  https://youtu.be/stxftCSiVBc


9. I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues…..Toots Thielemans / One More For The Road (2006) – This selection is from a tribute album that harmonica virtuoso Thielemans put together featuring all composer Harold Arlen’s songs as vocalized by a handful of special guests.  This track features singer Beth Hart.  https://youtu.be/RVjifqmCZHg

10. I’ll Take Care Of You…..Joe Bonnamassa / Beacon Theatre: Live from New York (2012) – This track from blues-rocker Bonnamassa features guest vocalist Beth Hart in a completely different setting.  Where she had swung with jazz player Thielemans, here she cuts loose with raw, rising passion.  https://youtu.be/Doy72nl9ZU4


11. In Your Eyes…..Peter Gabriel  / So (1986) – A classic from Peter Gabriel, immortalized—for hip film followers—in Cameron Crowe’s 1989 movie Say Anything that had as one of its pivotal scenes a young John Cusack hoisting a boom box, all doe-eyed and lovelorn.  https://youtu.be/78U-WMJ7F3E 

12. Solsbury Hill…..Steve Hunter / Tone Poems Live (2014) – Hunter, a rock guitarist perhaps best known for sharing guitar-hero duties with Dick Wagner on the 1974 live Lou Reed album Rock N’ Roll Animal, was also the guitarist that played on Peter Gabriel’s 1977 solo album which brought us “Solsbury Hill."  This instrumental version by Steve was recorded live-in-the-studio in 2014 with band mates that included longtime Gabriel compadre bassist Tony Levin.  https://youtu.be/QlRw98xX7K4


13. The Pink Panther Theme…..Bobby McFerrin / Son of the Pink Panther soundtrack album (1993) – Italian actor/comedian/director Roberto Benigni starred in this 1993 film that turned out to be swansongs for both director Blake Edwards (who retired) and film-scorer/composer Henry Mancini (who expired).  Amazing jazz vocalist McFerrin arranged and performed this time-honored nugget of popular culture, and it is a truly mesmerizing version.  https://youtu.be/LxFFhfT8dXI  

14. The Peter Gunn Theme…..The Silencers / Rock ‘N’ Roll Enforcers (1980) – The Silencers were a power-pop, New Wave, whatever-you-want-to-call-it band out of Pittsburgh, PA that scored a signing with CBS’ sub-label Precision Records & Tapes around the same time that Donnie Iris and the Iron City Houserockers were bursting onto the national scene as well.  Warren King wields the guitar in this turbocharged version of Henry Mancini’s classic.  https://youtu.be/_4slkIbyOlU


15. Once In A Lifetime…..Talking Heads / Remain In Light (1980) – The quirky, herky-jerky song that asks the important questions in Life.  In an interview with NPR, Byrne once said: "We're largely unconscious.  You know, we operate half awake or on autopilot and end up, whatever, with a house and family and job and everything else, and we haven't really stopped to ask ourselves, 'How did I get here?'"  https://youtu.be/CHatn3_UxEU

16. Once In A Lifetime…..Big Daddy / Cutting Their Own Groove (1991) – And you may ask yourself, “Why does a Talking Heads song now sound like it was plucked from Harry Belafonte’s banana boat?”  Big Daddy, a band of musical satirists in love with the late 1950s & early 1960s, take modern tunes and then dress ‘em and regress ‘em.  You may find yourself liking this one as much as the original.  https://youtu.be/mVbRE_ZzD6o


17. Rock The Casbah…..The Clash / Combat Rock (1982) – The Clash’s record company CBS reportedly coined the marketing tagline “The Only Band That Matters” around the time their double album London Calling was released in the USA in January 1980.  True dat.  This particular gem from Combat Rock was reportedly inspired by the ban on Western music in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  https://youtu.be/0pCFVX6lzHU

18. Train In Vain…..Dwight Yoakam / Under The Covers (1997) – Country singer-songwriter Yoakam takes this train from its roots in London all the way to Nashville, but it’s clearly not a derailment.  This is an intoxicating “take” on the original song by The Clash.  https://youtu.be/q_6WXMJ3saw


19. Cold Shot…..Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble / Couldn’t Stand The Weather (1984) – This was Vaughan’s second album, and he was quickly building a rabid fan base of followers who thought he wasn’t merely a player, but a channeler.  He seemed heavenly inspired especially in his concert performances, and I actually caught him “live” in the late 1970s at a club called the Evergreen Hotel on Babcock Boulevard in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.  Even then, he was blowing away crowds and bringing on believers.  https://youtu.be/2O_ke8MTjfE

20. Let’s Dance…..David Bowie / Let’s Dance (1983) – Stevie Ray Vaughan was brought into Bowie’s sphere when the latter saw his performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1982.  Vaughan’s guitar slinger contributions are more concise here than on his own solo works, of course, but they are no less powerful.  The song itself is a hypnotic meld of rock, disco and soul.  https://youtu.be/kg78UxE-BNA

21. All The Young Dudes..…Mott the Hoople / All The Young Dudes (1972) – Bowie wrote the song expressly for this fellow-Brit glam rock band who were in the throes of lack of success + an abundance of impatience from their current record companies (Island in the UK and Atlantic across the pond).  Bowie’s gift ignited the band—wham, bam, THANK you, glam—and this, their fifth studio album, charted higher and mightier.  https://youtu.be/yNHdPPJGowY


22. The Fever…..Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes / I Don’t Want To Go Home (1976) – The song was written by Bruce Springsteen and recorded in 1973 in the studio sessions that led to Springsteen’s second album The Wild, The Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle, but the song didn’t end up appearing on that release.  Three years afterward Southside Johnny and his Jukes covered it on their 1976 debut album, and it helped boost the band’s career as well as shore up the success of the Jersey sound.  https://youtu.be/rYFVplS3mYY

23. Because The Night…..Patti Smith Group / Easter (1978) – This song started out as a half-formed Bruce tune during 1977’s sessions for recording of the artist’s Darkness on the Edge of Town album, but it was handed over to Patti Smith via the young producer they had in common at the time, Jimmy Iovine.  Patti lyrically fleshed out the tune and included the final product on Easter (there’s an explosive live version of this song by Patti Smith Group available on YouTube, from the artist’s 1978 appearance on the 1971-1988 BBC2 music series Old Grey Whistle Test.  THIS is the way to best experience the power and passion of Patti).  https://youtu.be/0od03LbKM1k

24. Spirit In the Night…..Bruce Springsteen / Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J (1973) – The Boss recorded this song for his debut album that hit stores in early 1973, and worshippers weren’t all that widespread.  People “in the know” though—largely from Jersey and Philly at that juncture—were already fervent fans of Springsteen’s live shows and their word-of-mouth was just really beginning to kick in with the release of this first album.  But this is where it all started, and on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., musicasaurus.com’s favorite track is “Spirit in the Night.”  Cranked up to ten, this song reveals the essence of the evolving Bruce—power, poetry, and above all, passion.  https://youtu.be/hFEeqfqoTSY





7/28/19.....END OF THE LINE

As of this post dated Sunday, July 28, 2019, my friend Sean McDowell has only three days left—a statement I know that lacks a bit of context and thus sounds creepy, maybe even ominous…so allow me to elaborate.

Sean has three days left at 102.5 WDVE-FM, where he’s been the afternoon deejay on since April 1993.  Twenty-six years in the chair there, spinning classic rock and letting his huge body of listeners know—through tantalizing bits of rock trivia delivered in his trademark laidback style—that Rock continues to be alive and well.  His on-air career actually began in 1978 here in Pittsburgh at another radio station, so Sean is a forty-one year Steel City veteran of peddling songs and artist tales and tidbits over the airwaves, and it all ends July 31st when he retires from the business…

Sean’s unflagging passion for rock ‘n’ roll music runs deep and musicasaurus.com, about three years ago, plumbed those depths through a long interview over lunch in a Mount Lebanon restaurant just outside of Pittsburgh.

The following are excerpts from that 2016 musicasaurus.com interview. 

M:  I want to ask you about your early days.  Actually a little bit about your father, Al McDowell.  He was a renowned Pittsburgh broadcaster, of course, and I’m curious to know if he somehow led you toward a path into media when you were younger.

SM:  (smiling) He missed his first day of work because of me.  At KDKA-AM radio—October 17, 1955.  That was the day I was born, so he couldn’t start!  This was his first job in big-time media.  He had been working at WEDO radio in McKeesport and the newspaper there as well.  He was a Pitt guy, and had written for the Pitt News…Eventually he ended up being a TV guy.

My dad was at KDKA-AM until 1965.  He was a union guy, and was fired by KDKA because of his union support.  I think it was that year or 1966 that we had to move to Philly because my father got a job at WFIL-TV.  Once again he got involved in union organizing and he got fired there, and we moved back to Pittsburgh where he got a job at WTAE-TV Channel 4.  He was there until 1986 or 1987.

He retired from WTAE-TV—maybe more like shown the door, actually—but went back to KDKA-AM a few years after that, doing overnight talk on Saturday nights from 12 midnight to 5am.

M:  So your father’s media experience helped shape you a bit; how about your passion for music?  I know you grew up, as did I, in the mid-late ‘60s with all of the social changes erupting, the youth movement, the explosion of new music—was this a breeding ground of sorts for you?

SM:  Absolutely. I grew up with the Stones and Beatles, of course, but also Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, all of that.  But AM radio back then was pretty rich before FM came around.  I loved what AM radio had begun playing—the new music hits that deejay Chuck Brinkman played here in Pittsburgh, and even when my family moved to Philly for my father’s job, I found another AM station there that played the same kind of great stuff.  Motown music, Stax records, the Atlantic-label R&B stuff.  Even today I listen to ‘60s and ‘70s R& B as much as the classic rock stuff I love.

My wife Cindi and I have gone to Detroit to tour the Motown studios, and to Memphis to the Stax Studios.  These places are like meccas for music lovers.  We found so many studios in Memphis to tour, like Sun Studios where Elvis and Johnny Cash recorded, and the first radio station where B.B. King had worked.  

M:  What was the very first concert you went to?

SM:  I vividly remember my first show.  It was The Doors in 1969 in Philadelphia.  And the band was playing at basically some kind of boxing arena on 59thStreet.  Many years later I was interviewing the late Ray Manzarek and also Robbie Krieger of The Doors, and mentioned that my first concert ever was seeing them in Philly.  And they BOTH remembered the venue after all those years.  Manzarek said he remembered the line of security guys—not policeman, but dressed like policemen; maybe friends of the boxing arena owner?—escorting the band through the crowd and up onto the stage that was in the middle of that big square room.  I was only fourteen, and I remember my next-door neighbor’s mother led us into the venue and to our seats like little ducklings.  There were four of us, and we just followed her in, and everywhere around us people were smoking pot, and my friend’s mother kept saying “Don’t look around; don’t pay attention to them.” 

M:  What other concerts are favorites of yours?  Ones that were truly memorable?

SM:  Pink Floyd on their Dark Side of the Moon tour in 1973 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena…The Stones in 1999 at the stadium in Columbus where the Buckeyes play…Led Zeppelin at Three Rivers Stadium in 1973…Stevie Wonder in 2007 at Mellon Arena; an incredible show where he started right off with “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”…Way back, I saw The Eagles when they were an opening act for Jo Jo Gunne at the Stanley Theater here in Pittsburgh in 1972…And I saw the Grateful Dead through the years, but I wasn’t a Deadhead traveler.  If they were in the area, I went to see them.

M:  When did you get your first real job in the media?

SM:  I started my radio career in 1978 at 104.7 WYDD-FM, New Kensington, right out of college.  I was just as raw as could be, only having done some college radio before that, which was, you know, a bag of weed, a six pack and you go on the air and play whatever you want to play.  Our radio station was right there in the cafeteria at the University of Dayton.

So Steve Downs was working at WYDD, and he was a University of Dayton graduate.  I had written him a letter and included a tape of my work, but believe me, nobody ever sent out a worse demo tape than me.  It was 1977, I was 22 years old, and I was horrible—but he hired me…He was the one who gave me my first shot in this business, so I can blame him for this!  Mostly thank him, of course…

I started on the air middays at WYDD.  I was as green as green could be.  But I got better.  Anybody who is my age from Pittsburgh and who remembers WYDD will remember the freeform days of that station, with jocks like Jack Robertson, Steve Downs and another of my heroes, Herschel.  I got there towards the end of that, when consultants were coming into the mix more and more at Radio overall.  When I arrived, they were starting to rein things in; we needed to be more hit focused, they said, and not play so much goofy shit…I was fired after 2 ½ years, around 1980—

M:  Why were you let go?

SM:  They said they were ‘making a change’…But then I got a job at a small Washington, PA station called WYTK for a while and then actually sold cable TV door to door for about 9 months before Chuck Brinkman hired me as a deejay at FM 97 (96.9) in Braddock in 1981.  It was a soft rock kind of station at the time, playing the hits of the day but also softer stuff like England Dan and John Ford Coley.  

I spent 13 years there but FM97 went through a million format and call letter changes—FM97, then WHYW, then WMGY Magic 97, and then WRRK.  A million owners and a ton of turn-over, and then we were all fired on a Friday morning on Feb 3, 1993—all 43 of us who worked there!—when the ownership changed hands and the station was sold…  

I collected unemployment for a while, but then that same year I had a phone call from Gene Romano from WDVE, who had heard about the blowout.  Gene called me and said “Do you want to do part-time at WDVE?”  I said “Sure!”  I had no other prospects… 

I owe a lot to Gene Romano for my chance at ‘DVE.  He brought me in and kept me there, so I will always be loyal to him.

M:  I’ve always liked how you feature “deep cuts” on ‘DVE during your shift.

SM:  Yes, I’m able to pick from the archives and do deep cuts at 4:50 in the afternoon and 6:20 in the evening, but because of the research and methodology now we have to have a more restricted playlist overall to avoid people going somewhere else.  There are so many other places to go now—our own iHeart radio list of choices, Pandora, Spotify.  There weren’t choices like this ten years ago.

M:  Tell me about some of the interviews that you’ve done—and I know you’ve done hundreds.  What were some of your favorites?  It has to be a perk to be able to talk with some of your idols.

SM:  Miami Steve Van Zandt.  He came by when Bruce was in town for the start of the River Tour.  Here’s a picture of him (shows me a phone photo of him with Van Zandt, who’s capped off by a headscarf).  After I posted this, some guy on Twitter said Van Zandt looks like his 88-year-old Italian aunt.  He is such a great guy; I like it that he always remembers me, too.

Interviews aren’t always pleasant or fruitful, but I love to talk with Joe Walsh whenever he’s in town.  And Graham Nash is always good.  Jimmy Page I’ve talked with at least three times in the past.  And I’ve done all of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, except Young.  And Ozzy, about a million times.  Once I had Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler together in an interview, and their Birmingham accents were really thick—very nice guys, but trying to understand them sometimes was like, whew.

I never interviewed the Stones, but I’ve met them.  Backstage at the arena one year.  There were 20-30 people in the room.  The band came in but first everybody had to line up on the two sides of the room—fifteen and fifteen.  Some advance woman with the tour said to us all, “They’ll be here for about three or four minutes.  Don’t move, don’t extend your hands, don’t touch them, and no pictures.  Stand where you are.  The band is going to come in, shake everyone’s hands, but no reaching out to them.  And no pictures.”  So the band came in and Ronnie, Keith and Charlie shook everyone’s hands smiling, and Mick stood in the middle of the room and never came over to either side. Smiled, waved, never shook a hand.

M:  Do you listen to a lot of music around the house, outside of work?

Sean:  Yes, my ‘60s and ‘70s stuff, some ‘80s…I’m not really into television, mostly music…You know, I have never seen a reality TV show.  I know nothing about American Idol.  I know nothing about pop culture…I know the names, that’s it.  Kanye, the Kardashians, Taylor Swift.  I know nothing about country artists except maybe for Kenny Chesney.  But I DO know about the history of rock and roll.  Though earlier today I was beating myself up because I thought it was Freddie King who played that song “Frosty” but it turned out to be Albert Collins.  Oh no, how did I mess that up?!! 

M:  How much vinyl do you have? Do you still have a big collection?

SM:  Well, we all thought vinyl was going to appreciate, but it really sort of didn’t.  I don’t really know how many—4,000 maybe?  Although I have largely moved on to an iPod and don’t use my turntable much anymore.

M:  Sean, I think that’s it…Thanks for sitting with me today.  Last thoughts before we go?

SM:  I would just like to say “thanks” to the people who I followed down this road, who held up the lantern for me to see the way, like Jimmy & Steve, O’Brien & Garry, Scott Paulsen and Jimmy Krenn, Jack Maloy, Terry Caywood…I already mentioned to you Steve Downs from WYDD….and Jack Robertson at WYDD….and people like Herschel, Marcy McFerran, Denise Oliver, and Dwight Douglas who used to be on ‘DVE back in the ‘70s when I was just an idiot kid listening.  They all showed me the way.





Posted 7/14/19.....MY FAVORITE THINGS

From the archives…About seven years ago I polled some radio disc jockeys, those who had made their mark in Pittsburgh broadcast history a while back and others who were still in the chair and on the air.  Musicasaurus.com wanted to know how the people who peddled music for a living, pulling the vast majority of artists & songs from their particular station’s prescribed playlist, felt about their own immersion in music—what artists did they like?  Who were their favorites?  What concerts blew their minds or maybe even changed their lives, if they had to choose one or two or three?  

The latter question is the one I sent out to the willing participants and the responses were widely varied of course.  As Aldous Huxley once said, ““After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

Cris Winter:  Over her Pittsburgh career, Chris has worked for various radio stations—WXXP (Double X), WDVE, 3-W-S and currently WISH 99.7.  

#1 Concert:  David Bowie

“It was the Sound + Vision tour, and the date was June 27, 1990 at Star Lake Amphitheater.  I have loved David Bowie since I was a kid; heck, I had my hair cut like his from the Pin-Ups album when I was in the 7th grade!  My dog was named Bowie.  This was my first time seeing Bowie LIVE.  He was everything I had expected and then some. His playlist was phenomenal, and he dug deep.  I haven't been the same since.”

Also on Chris’ list:  Journey on their Evolution tour in 1979 at the Stanley Theatre…Depeche Mode in 1988 at the AJ Palumbo Center at Duquesne University…Chicago in 1977 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, who were touring to promote their Chicago XI album (this was Chris’ first concert at age 15)…and Daryl Hall & John Oates every blessed time she could catch them, starting in 1977 at the Stanley Theatre.  When Musicasaurus.com originally posted this deejay survey of favorite concerts in 2012, Chris had already seen Hall & Oates forty-seven times.


Steve Hansen:  Steve was one-half of 102.5 WDVE-FM’s immensely popular morning team Jimmy and Steve from 1980-1986.

#1 Concert:  Tom Waits with Charles Bukowski

“It was at the Pitt Student Union on March 12, 1976.  Really, probably the best and most influential show I've ever seen.  Tom Waits in full Nighthawks at the Diner mode.  I'd never heard of Charles Bukowski ‘til then.  Here's someone else's memory of the night: ‘Bukowski brought a beer cooler on stage, downing one can after another without saying a word.  Finally somebody yelled out, “Hey man, say something!”  Bukowski burped in response and began reading.’  I remember Bukowski trading insults with the audience the entire set.  His performance ended when he had to be helped off stage to pee.”

Also on Steve’s list:  U2 at the Decade, April 21, 1981…Joe Grushecky with Bruce Springsteen at Soldiers and Sailors Hall, November 4, 2011…Donnie Iris and B.E. Taylor together in back-to-back shows at the Stanley Theatre on December 31, 1982 and January 1, 1983…and Pittsburgh’s own Silencers (with lead singer Frank Czuri) at the club called 2001 on the Northside sometime in 1982.  Steve’s succinct recollection of this particular evening: “They were 'delayed' from hitting the stage ‘til four in the morning.  Warren King.  Peter Gunn Theme.  A topless girl.  Priceless.”


Mike Frazer:  In Pittsburgh since 1989, Mike was first at Energy 105/WNRJ  which is perhaps better known as its prior incarnation, WYDD.  He then joined 3-W-S where he’s currently in his 29thyear (with the exception of a brief interlude “across the hall” at sister station 104.7 when it was “The Beat.”)

#1 Concert (Mike found it hard to drill down to one selection (understatement):  ALL of the 3-W-S Summer Oldies Celebration concerts at Three Rivers Stadium and Star Lake Amphitheater, AND the WQED/PBS My Music series of shows that were filmed at the Benedum Center, AND all of Henry DeLuca’s Roots of Rock & Roll series of concerts.

Also on Mike’s list:  U2 at Heinz Field, July 26, 2011…Carole King and James Taylor, a “Troubadour Reunion” tour stop, on June 26, 2010 at Mellon Arena…The Rolling Stones at PNC Park on September 28, 2005…and the Beach Boys 50thReunion Tour Concert on May 11, 2012 at the Benedum Center.  Mike’s ecstatic review of the latter: “Seeing them ALL together again (with BRIAN WILSON!!!) on the same stage making music was INCREDIBLE!  Just wish Carl and Dennis had been there too (although they "were" in spirit, and in video!).

Val Porter:  Once an intern at 102.5 WDVE-FM between her junior and senior years at Clarion University, Val found her radio path taking her back to WDVE in 1994, first in part-time mode.  Val is currently Music Director and a member of the station’s acclaimed morning show.

#1 Concert:  Val has a number of shows she says are memorable so in no particular order, they are...Kiss, June 23, 1990 at the newly-opened Star Lake Amphitheater…Paul McCartney opening up the Consol Energy Center (Pittsburgh) on August 18, 2010…Metallica with Kid Rock at Gund Arena in Cleveland on New Year’s Day 2000…Bob Seger at Consol Energy Center on November 19, 2011…and two shows that make her list not entirely because of the artists’ actual performances: 105.9 WXDX’s X-Fest with headliner Green Day at Star Lake Amphitheater on May 25, 1998 where one of the members of Jimmie’s Chicken Shack ran out on stage in full frontal nudity during Green Day’s set…and Mötley Crüe at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena on October 19, 2007.  Val’s comment on this one: “They were horrible, but they caused quite an uproar by showing a porno flick behind me on the videoscreens while I was on stage making announcements.  I had no idea what was going on.  I just thought the crowd was really excited for the show.  It created quite a scandal in the days after.”  

Jim Cunningham:  Morning host on Classical WQED 89.3 currently celebrating his 40thAnniversary year with the station (in 2019).

#1 Concert:  Pink Floyd

“This was their Three Rivers Stadium concert on May 31, 1994.  I heard them in Buffalo not long after they started out in the 70's doing Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun and then on the Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour in Pittsburgh in 1988, but the most fun was David Gilmore's guitar with the flying pig and Dark Side of the Moon all in one evening.”

Also on Jim’s list:  Bob Marley in his last concert at the Stanley Theatre on September 23, 1980 (“Trenchtown Rock in the Iron City!”)…Pittsburgh Symphony Music Director Mariss Janson’s 60th Birthday concert on February 18, 2003 (“a cavalcade of stars with Mistislav Rostropovich, Yefim Bronfman, Gil Shaham and many more, all good friends together on a night that was just happiness”)…Frank Zappa at the Syria Mosque on March 8, 1988…and Andres Segovia at Heinz Hall on March 23, 1983.  Jim recalls this latter experience was like being in a time machine: “He gave his first concerts in 1916 in Madrid and Barcelona.  His playing at Heinz Hall was so soft that some people said they couldn't hear him but it was silk and velvet.  Segovia said he could reproduce the sound of the orchestra with his guitar, inspiring generations to pick up the instrument.”

Steve Rohan:  Steve is a 26-year veteran of Pittsburgh Radio, including 13Q in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s…Magic 97 from 1986-2005…and now with BOB-FM 96.9 starting in 2005.

#1 Concert:  Paul McCartney

“McCartney played in February 1990 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, and I saw the first of the two nights.  As a kid, the first record I bought was by The Beatles…Never got to see them.  So, seeing Sir Paul for the first time, live, was amazing!”

Also on Steve’s list:  The Doors with opener Blues Image on May 2, 1970 at the Civic Arena…Grateful Dead with Rusted Root at Three Rivers Stadium on June 30, 1995…Roy Buchanan with singer Billy Price sometime in the 1970s at the V.I.P Hampton in Pittsburgh…The H.O.R.D.E Festival at Star Lake on August 21, 1994 (with the Allman Brothers Band, Dave Matthews Band and Blues Traveler)…The P.L.E.A.S.E Benefit for the American Red Cross on September 23, 2005 at Mellon Arena (P.L.E.A.S.E. is an acronym for Pittsburgh Lends Emergency And Saving Efforts; the line-up included Donnie Iris, The Clarks, Rusted Root, B.E. Taylor, Joe Grushecky, Bill Deasy, Poverty Neck Hillbillies, Margo B, Good Brother Earl and Crave)…The Rolling Stones, twice, at Three Rivers Stadium (September 6, 1989 and September 29, 1994)…The Outlaws 30thAnniversary Reunion Tour on October 14, 2005 at the Pepsi Roadhouse (the club next to Star Lake Amphitheater)…Stevie Ray Vaughan with Jeff Beck, November 4, 1989 at the AJ Palumbo Center…and Nirvana on September 30, 1991 at the famed local Pittsburgh music club Graffiti.  About this last-referenced show, Steve says “This was grunge in the friendly confines of Graffiti.  Kurt and the boys set owner Tony DiNardo’s dressing room couch on fire after the show.”

Mark Wallace:  Mark was on 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 a Warner Brothers Records promotion position based in Pittsburgh (1977-1990). 

#1 Concert:  Bob Marley and The Wailers

Pittsburgh, Stanley Theatre, September 23, 1980.  This now legendary concert was Marley's last. I had met him and the band and extended family earlier in the 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!’” 

Also on Mark’s list:  Yes at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in 1974, which was especially memorable, Mark maintains, because of guitarist Steve Howe’s playing, on both a 6-string and a 12-string Les Paul, but also on account of the red bud that was part of Mark and his friend’s pre-gaming for the concert…U2 at the renowned small hole-in-the-wall club The Decade on April 21, 1981, where the young foursome actually had to repeat a song from earlier in the evening for their encore because they just didn’t have enough material…Talking Heads at the Stanley Theatre on August 13, 1983, where the sold-out crowd was really into the band.  Mark says of this one, “I believe it was their first concert in the Burgh and with Chris Frantz being from Pittsburgh, it was like a family reunion.  Songs like ‘Burning Down the House’ literally felt like the theater would.  It was a hot, sweaty, boisterous, and fabulous vibe.”…and Bonnie Raitt with opener The Fabulous Thunderbirds on January 24, 1986 at the Syria Mosque.  Mark recalls, “The Mosque was the crown jewel for intimate shows like this one.  I was upstairs in the dressing room and l listened to Bonnie and Jimmy Vaughan jamming together, in between their copious sips from a bottle of Jack Daniels.  Earlier in the day, I took Bonnie to WDVE for an on-air interview and I had my then 4-year-old daughter with me.  To this day, Jessica still remembers how sweet Bonnie was to her.  At Warner Brothers Records, we could never quite figure out how to make Bonnie have a “hit” record and when the first Capitol record Nick of Time won her three Grammys in 1989, even we at the Warner label were so happy for her.  She was one of the sweetest artists I ever met.”





Posted 6/30/19.....HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy—unless you happen to be working at a 23,000-capacity outdoor concert facility.

From 1991 through 2007 I worked at Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheater, where every May through September the venue was a hive of activity with up to 40-some shows peppered throughout the summer schedule.  Even on non-show days, the place was buzzing—the lawn crew salvaging sod where foot traffic had taken its toll; delivery trucks rolling in with concessionaire’s wares; the administrative staff all crunching departmental numbers from the previous show, figuring out the win or the loss according to respective budgets...

When the last show of the season would roll around—even as the final batch of fans were hoisting cups and roaring at the musicians on stage—the core venue staff would already be plotting out the next few weeks’ shut-down procedures, eager to turn the shovel on another long season.

And then our beast of a building would go quiet.  The amphitheater’s thunderous heartbeat, all summer long quickened by thousands storming the turnstiles, would slow to a crawl.  And the worker bees that we hired for the summer as ticket takers, food vendors, ushers and security would all go back to their real lives elsewhere, while our core group of 12 to 14 people—with a mixture of relief and resolve—would shift our focus to shut-down.   

That was the cycle—the ramp-up, the whipsaw summer, and the tear-down—and after a few years of this, the venue had eventually become a rather well-oiled machine in terms of successfully producing a wide variety of very challenging and high-profile events.  

The summer of 1997, our eighth season, was particularly noteworthy.  By the time the dust settled—or better put, by the time the lawn gasped relief—we had hosted 42 total concerts including 11 sell-out shows, and the combined attendance was over 600,000 for the summer.

Certain concerts from that particular year indeed still hang in my head. Here are five of the most memorable ones for me, from that Summer of ’97:

* No Doubt - Wednesday, May 14, 1997

The song “Don’t Speak” was absolutely inescapable on radio stations nationwide throughout 1996.  In fact—in the weird but true category—the song appeared on our family car’s radio every time we passed a small shopping complex called the Galleria just a bit south of the city limits of Pittsburgh near our home.  My wife and young daughters (ages 11 and 9 at the time) were convinced that this meant something—but we never did see lead singer Gwen Stefani toting designer bags around that mini-mall, so we just chalked it up to the supernatural.  

In terms of Star Lake that next year, No Doubt was the first show of the 1997 season and a slam-bang sellout.  Gwen’s star power and the song’s ubiquitous video helped spark ticket sales well over 20,000 for this May ‘97 season-opener—and most of those who snagged tickets, it turned out, were moms with little girls, all pre-teen, wide-eyed and delirious.

This was the band’s first concert tour and 28-year-old Gwen Stefani was electric on stage, and the screams and squeals of the little ones clasping hands with moms, siblings and pint-sized amigas were deafening.  I remember more than a few of the moms in attendance saved their screams for later, though, in phone calls to our administrative offices over the next week or so.  Stefani had let loose with a few F-bombs during the band’s performance and—not so hard to predict—the moms went ablaze while their tots were unfazed.


* Surge Festival - Saturday, May 24, 1997

Our venue operations director Gary Hinston and I, with a few others in our midst, came up with the idea for a local band show that we thought just might draw a decent crowd if held early enough in the summer.  

As we were contemplating who would be on the bill, we of course realized that Rusted Root was well beyond our orbit.  This Pittsburgh band had sold 23,000 tickets at Star Lake in May 1995; were featured on the national tour of the 1996 H.O.R.D.E Festival along with Blues Traveler, Lenny Kravitz and others; and were already headed our way this summer once again, on a co-headlining date with Santana that was set for July 11.

Still, we sensed that the time was ripe for a celebration of local talent on a grand scale.  Three bands in particular were percolating (or better) with popular acclaim and solid record sales, and we felt that a show with this anchor trio had a real shot at drawing eight, maybe even nine thousand fans out to the venue. 

The bands with the buzz?  The Clarks, who had heavy ‘DVE airplay and a fourth album entitled Someday Maybe that was released just six months before...The Gathering Field, with lead singer/songwriter Bill Deasy, who were fueled by a major-label signing to Atlantic Records and a re-release of the band’s self-produced debut album which contained the radio favorite “Lost In America”...and Brownie Mary, a rock quartet fronted by the charismatic Kelsey Barber, who were continually piling up fans from great live shows and were themselves headed for a major label signing that would come within the year.

The event was priced very reasonably at $10.25 per ticket, which tied into WDVE’s radio dial position of 102.5.  The show went on sale, and then never lagged.  With WDVE’s on-air support and a robust sense of pride welling up in the ‘burgh, this multi-act concert went on to sell almost 19,000 tickets.  The day of the show was one long, well-deserved victory prance—a day of wide smiles, high-fives, fist-pumps and fellowship.  

The bands backstage were on Cloud Nine, understandably, and our venue accountant at the time was in a head-spin throughout the evening, tabulating the intake from ticket sales, long concession lines, and parking fees.  Having this show end up a runaway success was certainly $weet, but for me, sweeter still was the camaraderie in full flower backstage while out in front, scores of fans showed their true hometown colors with every celebratory roar for the bands who walked out on that stage.  This was a great day...

* OzzFest - Saturday, June 7, 1997

The original OzzFest had a twin-city birth, two test pilot dates that were held back-to-back in October of 1996.  The first festival was staged in Phoenix, Arizona and the second, the very next day in Devore, California.  These two daylong celebrations of hard rock & metal were deemed a success, and so national concert promoter Pace (Star Lake’s parent company) powered up the Crazy Train and put it on the rails in 1997 to a majority of Pace amphitheaters across the U.S., including Star Lake on June 7.  

Ozzy of course was a ramblin’ shamblin’ man, the figurehead that fueled ticket sales of this eleven-hour fest.  Wife Sharon, on the other hand, had the brains and a bulldog grip on every aspect of the tour.  Later on, on the occasions that she would visit Star Lake during a particular summer’s OzzFest tour, she would find a central spot backstage in one of the production offices or dressing rooms and hold court.  Some people in her purview seemed to quake in her presence, not entirely sure she wouldn’t, if displeased, bite their heads off.  Her husband, of course, preferred bats and doves.

* Lollapalooza - Saturday, July 19, 1997

This touring festival originated in 1991 from the should-be-peeled-back brain of Perry Farrell, lead singer of alternative band Jane’s Addiction and all around space cadet.  Star Lake wasn’t able to woo the festival our way until 1992, as the year before the tour had purposely bypassed Pittsburgh; it was deemed at the time by festival founders to be a market that wasn’t quite hip enough to produce sufficient ticket sales.  

Usually sporting alternative bands, punk outfits, industrial strength metal and at least a smidgeon of rap, Lollapalooza enjoyed critical and commercial success as it wended its way across the USA for the next few years.

By 1997, though, the festival’s seventh consecutive summer of touring, there was a loss in luster and fan fanaticism.  Perry Farrell was abandoning ship and—partial reason only, but still notable—some quizzical fans were still scratching their Mohawk haircuts over the fact that the 1996 Lollapalooza tour had featured Metallica, who was decidedly more mainstream and macho than the usual eclectic, alternative-heavy line-up. 

I remember that night of July 19, 1997—the weather had turned unseasonably cold when the sun dipped below the horizon, and by the time headliner Devo took the stage, the crowd was sparse and largely disinterested.  There was a small cluster of fans up front in the pavilion seating area but I remember thinking, as Devo started up their herky-jerky cover of a Rolling Stones song, that this just might be the end of this annual juggernaut.  It was clearly not just festival fatigue that I was reading on these fans’ faces—they just couldn’t get no satisfaction.

* Fleetwood Mac - Wednesday, September 24, 1997

Here we’re talkin’ the Big Mac, of course; the most commercially viable line-up of this group that had originally formed in England in 1967.  It wasn’t until late 1974 that California duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band after its latest membership shuffle, and this particular injection propelled the band to chart-topping success here, there, and everywhere.

In the Spring before each outdoor concert season truly arrived, our booker from our parent company Pace Music Group would routinely survey the amphitheater general managers about upcoming summer concert opportunities.  The news of Fleetwood Mac’s reformation of their 1970s powerhouse line-up and their pledge to tour together for the first time since 1980 were indeed welcome bits of info.  

We were a bit startled by the ticket prices that were suggested for this amphitheater tour, though.  As was becoming par for the course, this upper echelon band was asking for a LOT of money from each venue, and the only way to try to snag a win with that hefty of an artist price tag was to goose up the ticket prices way beyond “normal.”  So we followed that logic, and still a bit queasy, held our collective breath.

The show was booked, placed on sale, and sold every damn ticket.  Fleetwood Mac’s national publicity machine was a driver, for sure, and the band had (pre-tour) produced a new live-on-a-soundstage CD of largely their hits entitled The Dance.  Then MTV, along with strong radio play and word-of-mouth, laid final waste to any lingering ticket-price resistance; the Mac fans from way back had salivated for much too long and just wouldn’t be denied.

I remember the show to be an audio marvel. The sound system and mix were stellar, and the band on this chilly September evening was on fire.  I remember at one point strolling along “sponsor row”—our corporate boxes near the stage—and I believe I saw every single bigwig from every company that had signed up with us for that summer of shows.  One glassy-eyed reveler leaned over his box railing, beaming at me: “This sure beats that Ozzfest pummel-your-head crap,” he slurred. “But, my son loved that show.”

Yep.  A little something for everyone in that Summer of ’97.





Posted 6/16/19.....HAD TO CRY TODAY

Musicasaurus.com this past week polled some people in the music business and/or in the arts—deejays, musicians, writers, illustrators, promoters, and more—and they all came back with poignant reflections about the song that made them (or makes them) cry…Thanks to all for sharing these personal stories about the power of music…


  Liz Berlin

Founder, partner and touring musician with Rusted Root; co-owner of Mr. Smalls Theatre, Recording And Mastering Studio; and founder/director, Creative.Life.Support

I was driving home from somewhere, listening to WYEP and just as I was pulling in front of my house the DJ came on and announced that Jeff Buckley had drowned and they played “Lilac Wine.”  I was stunned.  I just sat there with my car running in front of my house, just listening to the lyrics: "I lost myself on a cool damp night / I gave myself in that misty light / Was hypnotized by a strange delight / Under a lilac tree”...It felt like he had predicted his own death and was trying to warn us or console us or something.  From what I understand he was celebrating that night about the beginning of recording his next album with his band with a swim in the Mississippi River…  https://youtu.be/5PC68rEfF-o


​  Steve Hansen

Principally known from the “Jimmy and Steve” days at WDVE from 1980-1986; currently an independent producer/writer in various fields

If Gene Pitney and Neil Young are right that only love can break your heart and Cat Stevens is correct that the first cut is the deepest, then I have to go all the way back to my original heartache for the song that makes me cry.  While there were a few other break-up songs along my rocky road to nirvana, my first heart full of soul will always be my most lasting.  But love has no pride and you don’t get to pick what’s on the radio the day you break up.  You just have to hope that the song that will pierce your broken heart every time you hear it for the entirety of your earthly existence is worthy.  Fortunately, “Without You” by Harry Nilsson is.  His five-octave range takes you from the depths of despair to the heights of hopelessness.  His pain mirrored mine, although it paled in comparison to the deeper despair of the song’s writers, Badfinger’s Pete Ham and Tom Evans, both of whom killed themselves due to squabbles over the song’s royalties.  And that will always bring a tear to my eye.  https://youtu.be/8dnUv3DUP4E


​  Mark Wallace

Presently an English teacher and part-time radio deejay in Tampa, Florida, whose music career earlier on in Pittsburgh included disc jockey work on WZUM-AM and WYDD-FM, and then a coveted Warner Brothers Records regional promotion position in the late 1970s

So many songs...I would go with "The Sounds of Silence."  I saw/heard Simon & Garfunkel do that at the Stanley Theatre and that version—like the original album—had an electric 12-string (instead of the acoustic) and my lord, you could hear a pin drop in the audience.  Such a powerful song to begin with, and it being about the time of the 60's turmoil on many levels, it really resonated (literally) with their performance; a true anthem of the 60's.  https://youtu.be/4fWyzwo1xg0


​  Stacy Innerst

Award-winning artist and illustrator for books, newspapers and magazines; recent book illustrations have included The Music in George’s Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue (2016) and Ruth Bader Ginsberg: The Case of RBG vs Inequality (2017)

I have to say I’m not much of a crier (over songs, that is) but if I had to pick one that I associate with tears it would be “Bell Bottom Blues” for this reason: I was playing in an Albuquerque garage band with some older guys when I was in high school.  I was too young to have had my heart broken yet but the guitar player, a seasoned 20 year-old, couldn’t get through our cover of that song without bursting into tears and walking out of the rehearsal.  Too bad because he was a KILLER on guitar.  I still come close to misting up when I hear it.  https://youtu.be/I-q50NkZANE


​  Richard Scheines

Dean, Mariana Brown Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University; music lover; guitar player in local Pittsburgh band The Relics

Mine is "Thanksgiving" by George Winston.  A good friend of mine in high school died tragically right around Thanksgiving in 1979, and when the song came out a few years later, it immediately filled me with nostalgia and took me back to walks with him in the late fall before he died.  Somewhere around the middle of the song I just lost it and sobbed for what felt like an hour.  It was the first time I really released, which is crazy, but it was profoundly helpful and I needed music to get there.  I still fill up every time I hear it.  https://youtu.be/5yhpDzsz2ps 


​  Rich Engler

Former president of DiCesare-Engler Productions which eventually became part of Live Nation; currently head of Rich Engler Presents

“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris.  That’s one of ten I could talk about.  This one is all about the end of a relationship.  https://youtu.be/sD-zTwi3_GU


​  Russ Rose

Also known as Whip, a 105.9 WXDX on-air talent (and more) at iHeartRADIO Pittsburgh

While this song doesn’t make me cry, it does stop me dead in my tracks, stirs up many buried emotions, and transcends time and space when I hear it: Chris Cornell’s cover of “Ave Maria.”  Maybe it is the mix of Chris’ voice with what is a funeral/wedding/Christmas/month of May song from my catholic school youth, but when I hear it I become consumed by emotion of family and friends that are no longer around, and memories of my youth.  I told Chris I wanted it played at my funeral, and he thought that was peculiar of me to have it planned, but he understood.  https://youtu.be/9TMhxz1aGWU


​  Beckye Levin Gross

Currently Director of Business Development at UnifiedCommunications.com in Houston, Texas; former booker of Star Lake Amphitheater in the 1990s and early 2000s under the employ of Houston’s Pace Music Group, which ultimately became part of Live Nation

The song for me is Elvis “If I Can Dream.”  I remember when I heard he had passed away.  We were at the beach house in Galveston.  I was almost 11 years old and I was destroyed.  I thought the world would come to an end.  I laid on the top bunk with a small radio and listened to Elvis song after Elvis song.  For days and weeks and months after, I was crushed.  I would lay in bed at night and listen to “If I Can Dream” over and over again sobbing.  “There must be lights burning brighter somewhere / Got to be birds flying higher in the sky more blue / ...as long as a man / Has the strength to dream / He can redeem his soul and fly.”  https://youtu.be/0q3PpEX4sNk


​  Bryan Sejvar

Director of Programming and Production with 89.3 WQED-FM, and self-recording/producing musician and songwriter

"Nothing Lasts for Long" by The Samples…I've always liked this song, but after a very close relationship ended in college, this song was on repeat for days, with me tearing up (and outright weeping at times), every time I heard it.  As I've grown older, this song still resonates and I have to fight not to tear up whenever I listen to it, especially when I hear it close to an event like the passing of someone close to me.  "Maybe nothing lasts forever... / But the time we had together / They will always be with me."  https://youtu.be/ZzARk0mFVY0


​  Sean McDowell

A 41-year veteran of Pittsburgh Radio overall, and since 1993 an on-air talent with 102.5 WDVE, the region’s powerhouse album-oriented rock station

“The Song Is Over" from Who's Next always brings tears to my eyes.  It’s such a beautiful song to begin with, with Nicky Hopkins’ piano opening, and I think about Keith Moon who was a deeply troubled alcoholic, especially during the ending of the song: "Searchin’ for a note, pure and easy / Playing so free, like a breath rippling by."  And then the band plays this repeating riff like 5 or 6 times, Keith making the rounds on his drums, John Entwistle's bass booming, Nicky Hopkins' piano and Pete's synthesizer all combining for just a killer finish.  https://youtu.be/NuwciCfxumg


​  Dave Blaushild

Currently Senior Environmental Compliance Officer at Fluor Marine Propulsion, LLC and on-air host of select 91.3 WYEP-FM Pittsburgh programs

I could not really think of a particular song that makes me cry.  But I do have a mental list of songs that cause sadness.  I started thinking about social issues, environmental concerns, and our state of political divisiveness and pared it down to three songs: Marvin Gaye’s "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," Bob Marley’s "No Woman, No Cry"' and Gil Scott-Heron’s "Winter In America.”  I chose Gil Scott-Heron’s "Winter In America.”  This song was a release when I was in college, the Vietnam war was winding down, our inner cities were in despair, and the Watergate hearings were going on.  There are a lot of parallels to events today, especially regarding political issues.  These lines in the song stand out to me: "The Constitution / A noble piece of paper / With free society / Struggled but it died in vain / And now Democracy is ragtime on the corner / Hoping for some rain..." and "It’s winter in America / And ain’t nobody fighting / 'Cause nobody knows what to save…"  These lines are as true today as they were in 1973.  Our government is broken and it affects or will affect every aspect of our lives, and we feel helpless to do something about it.  Everybody needs to vote in 2020, so we can do something about it and preserve that “noble piece of paper.”  https://youtu.be/m2zKdIcOV5s


​  Tom Rooney

Former executive director of Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994 and subsequently an executive with parent company Pace Music Group in Houston; currently president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group

“I’ll Follow The Sun” by the Beatles brings back a difficult breakup but also resonates when I have had a job change for the people and places left behind.  They all wash over me every time I hear it.  I would also mention “Arlington” by Trace Adkins for a friend buried there from the Vietnam conflict.  Had the nerve to actually ask Trace to play it once on a string a dates we did with him.  There was a notable silence when he performed the song, then an audible pause at the end, then a standing ovation.  https://youtu.be/28d_A_NuJ7A


​  Scott Tady

Entertainment Editor, Beaver County Times

Grand Funk Railroad’s “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home”)…Hated it growing up.  Too long, too redundant.  But then I interviewed Mark Farner and asked what Grand Funk song mattered the most.  He said this one, hands-down.  Many Vietnam vets told him this was the song that got them through; that got them home.  I hear it much differently now.  I can’t imagine what those soldiers went through, but I appreciate how powerful the yearning for home can be.  When radio plays it,  and conditions are right, this song gets me misty-eyed thinking how much it must have meant to them.  https://youtu.be/fvOPucs7dC0


​  Ed Traversari

Former concert promoter and partner in Pittsburgh’s DiCesare-Engler Productions (which eventually became part of Live Nation); currently associate professor in the sports, arts and entertainment management department at Point Park University

“The Messiah Will Come Again” by Roy Buchanan.  Roy was the first show I ever booked going back to 1973 at Robert Morris University so when I hear Roy say those words “I walked in a lot of places that he never should have been / But I know that the Messiah, he will come again” and then he breaks into his guitar solo, it’s very emotional.  It’s actually the guitar solo that gets me more emotional than the words.  Remember it was Eric Clapton that said “Roy Buchanan can make a guitar cry.”  https://youtu.be/0dr0DwQJiAc


​  Billy Price

American blues & soul singer from Pittsburgh, now residing in Baltimore, who gained national attention through touring and recording with guitarist Roy Buchanan in 1974-1975, and who continued on with Billy Price & The Keystone Rhythm Band, the Billy Price Band, the Billy Price Charm City Rhythm Band and solo projects.

I can’t listen to the record “No Charge” by the gospel singer Shirley Caesar without crying.  Can’t do it.  It’s corny, maudlin, manipulative, unsophisticated, and unsubtle, but it gets me every time.  A kid comes home from school and presents his mother with an itemized bill for chores, for watching little sister, for cutting the grass, for doing homework, etc.  The narrator of the song, the mother, comes back with an itemized list of acts of motherhood ("for the days that I carried you…”) and for each one, assesses the little ingrate “No Charge.”  Even thinking about it now and hearing it in my head, I start choking up just a little.  I wish I could arrest this spontaneous reaction, but I can’t…  https://youtu.be/rRy0qpqHn_4





Posted 6/3/19.....THE ART OF HAPPINESS

My fingers were trembling when I began typing this particular post—not from weariness nor disease (thank God), but from a flashback to my youth.

I have many memories from my teens and twenties of being deliriously, deliciously lost in reverie, rooted with singular focus before many a stacked-to-the-gills record bin in department stores and little indie record shops, and my fingers were always flying.

There was an art to this, the flipping of albums forward from the front of the bin to the very back, with my thumb as stabilizer and my pointer and middle fingers systematically scrambling atop, flicking each album quickly into and out of view so my brain could rapidly process the ones that were new and yet unexplored…

Obviously it was the album cover art that spoke to me, as the first real clue to the potential treasures within.  If the album had a visually arresting illustration or photograph or overall design, my right hand would overrule the flying fingers and pluck the record up and away from the rest so that I could study its cover, turn it around to read the song titles and liner notes, and then agonize within as to whether it should join my nearby small pile of must-haves.  

This particular musicasaurus.com post is all about album covers and the artists and designers behind them, and those of you who had that glorious, time-suspending record store experience of hours in front of the bins may recognize a number of these.  But like me, you may not have dug further beyond that initial brain stimulation back then to determine who the artist was behind a particularly captivating cover—and that’s the purpose of this visual trek through the landscape of album cover art.

Musicians whose own paintings, illustrations, and/or photographs were used as album covers:

Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac – the illustration on the front and back cover of the band’s 1970 album Kiln House…..Christine wasn’t officially in the band yet, but contributed the drawing and played a supporting role on the album.


John Entwhistle, bassist for The Who – the illustration on the cover of the band’s The Who By Numbers (1975).




Joni Mitchell – the paintings and/or illustrations on some of her own albums including Clouds (1969), Ladies Of The Canyon (1970) and Mingus(1979), as well as the cover of her friends’ greatest hits collection, CSNY’s So Far (1974)…..Mitchell was once quoted as describing herself as “a painter derailed by circumstance.”



Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) – the illustrations on the covers of Tea for the Tillerman (1970), Mona Bone Jakon (1970) and Teaser And The Firecat (1971)…..Stevens attended art school early on and first considered a career as a cartoonist, but music successfully lured him into composing and performing.  


John Lennon – the childhood drawings of young Lennon adorn the cover of Walls and Bridges, the solo artist’s fifth studio release (1974).



Bob Dylan – the illustrations for the Band’s first album Music From Big Pink (1968), and two of the artist’s own recordings, Self Portrait (1970) and Planet Waves (1974).



Don van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) – the paintings used for the album covers of Doc At The Radar Station and Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (1978)…..Beefheart was an autocratic, idiosyncratic musician, sculptor and a painter, whose music was often abrasive and always challenging.  Upon Beefheart’s death in December 2010, an NPR obituary written by Rick Karr quotes 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," he 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."

Painters, illustrators, sculptors and/or photographers whose works were borrowed by musicians for their album covers:

Patrick Nagel – Nagel was an American illustrator whose works are linked by critics to the art-deco style of the 1920s and 1930s, and whose fame spread largely from his drawings for Playboy magazine in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Over the course of his career, he became known for his “Nagel women”—sharp-lined, angled views of women that often had black hair, white skin with a vampiric sheen, full-bodied lips and captivating eyes.  Nagel’s paintings ended up on a handful of musical artists’ recordings back then but the one that brought him widespread recognition was his 1982 cover of Duran Duran’s career-cementing sophomore album Rio.





Norman Seeff – Seeff’s career began in medicine in South Africa, but he switched gears (and countries) in 1969, and through his creative impulses and New York connections ended up in the realm of rock and/or celebrity photography.  Above are some of his captivating album cover photographs from the 1970s.



Auguste Rodin – French sculptor Rodin (1840-1917) created “The Eternal Idol” in 1889, and in 1987 Black Sabbath tried to secure the rights to photograph the sculpture and use it as their album cover.  Reportedly permission was not granted so Sabbath employed two naked, body-painted models to recreate it as best they could.




Abdul Mati Klarwein – German painter Klarwein (1932-2002) created some intricate and stirring covers for artists including Gregg Allman, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and Santana.


Albert Hirschfeld – American artist Hirschfeld (1903-2003) was famous for his celebrity caricatures throughout his long career, and it was fortunate that he didn’t draw the line at rock stars.  He did the cover illustration for Aerosmith’s 1977 album—which may be the most memorable thing about Draw The Line, according to critics and more than a few fans.


Paul Gauguin– French post-Impressionist artist Gauguin (1848-1903) had his 1899 painting “Two Tahitian Women” adopted by American jazz singer-songwriter Michael Franks for the cover of his 1982 album Objects Of Desire.


Albert Vargas– Peruvian born Vargas (1896-1982) is best known for his 1940s pin-up girl paintings for Esquire magazine that subsequently adorned the nose of a number of our fighter planes during that conflict.  He was also known for his 1960s-1970s paintings featured in Playboy magazine.  Vargas retired from his art upon the death of his wife in 1974, but then someone pinned him down a few years later to do another pin-up classic, the cover of The Cars’ 1979 release Candy-O.  The model Vargas turned to was 32-year-old Candy Moore, who had matured and detoured from her child actress years in late-‘50s/early ‘60s television programs including Leave It to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show and The Lucy Show.




Andy Warhol– King of Pop Art Warhol may be remembered best by serious rock ‘n’ rollers for his creative kinship with the Velvet Underground and Nico, and the 1967 banana cover he designed for their album.  Warhol also designed the cover of the Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers and in 1986 created a cool, colorful cover for Aretha Franklin’s album Aretha.  Warhol was busy before all that, though, in terms of creating art for albums; above are a few examples of his 1950s work for Kenny Burrell and a few others.



H.R. Giger – Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger, besides inspiring the bane of Ripley’s existence in the Alien films, routinely churned out what Rolling Stone magazine called “disturbing, erotic ‘bio-mechanical’ images” that were either commissioned by or licensed out to musicians, a lot of them purveyors of heavy metal and death metal—but two of his most recognizable feats were for Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Brain Salad Surgery, 1973) and Blondie vocalist Debbie Harry who struck out on her own for a solo release (KooKoo,1981). 



René Magritte  - Belgian Surrealist Magritte’s 1952 painting “La Chambre D’Ecoute” (aka “The Listening Room”) was employed as the cover of the Jeff Beck Group’s Beck-Ola album in 1968…..In 1983, Gladys Knight & The Pips picked the artist’s 1960 painting “Les Mémoires d'un saint” (“The Memoirs Of A Saint”) to become the cover of their newest album Visions…..and back in 1970, the just-formed jazz-rock band Dreams chose Magritte’s 1953 painting “Golconda” as the cover of their debut album (the band’s faces supplanted some of the ones originally in the painting).  If you’re into musical minutia, you might also like to know that four musicians from Dreams went on to much greater renown in the world of jazz and jazz-rock: The Brecker Brothers, saxophonist Michael and trumpeter Randy; John Abercrombie, a talented guitarist who went on to record solo & group efforts on the prestigious ECM European jazz label; and Billy Cobham, a drummer who soon left to work with Miles Davis and then afterward formed the legendary fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra with guitarist John McLaughlin.


Spinal Tap – Intravenus de Milo– Musicasaurus.com loves this bit of medical malpractice foisted upon the Venus de Milo, the famous Greek statue which is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch and dates back to somewhere between 130 and 100 BC.  And, this is my favorite fictional album cover from the fictional catalogue of my favorite fictional band Spinal Tap, the aging British heavy metal group immortalized in Rob Reiner’s 1984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap.  The faux band inspired a number of metal bands in real life, and Tap has actually toured intermittently, playing festivals including Glastonbury in England and an aptly named “One Night Only World Tour” in June of 2009 at London’s Wembley Arena.



M.C. Escher – Escher was a mathematically inspired Dutch graphic artist (1898-1972) working primarily with lithographs and woodcuts who brought illusions of 3D to his 2D drawings while playing with various levels of reality.  His 1943 work “Reptiles” adorns the cover of Mott The Hoople’s 1970 self-titled debut album and his etching “Three Worlds” is on the Beaver & Krause 1970 release In A Wild Sanctuary.  Both covers, I have a feeling, prompted the music-obsessed Stoner Generation of the 1970s to dig a lot further into Escher’s other works like “Relativity” and “Belvedere”—and it likewise set off many a bong hit to try to figure them out. 





Posted 5/19/19.....COME TOGETHER

When you drill down on the concert experience, whaddya have?  A headliner of some stature that is a must-see—and then the opening act or acts who you either delight in because they are simpatico of sound, or who you bail on for a bladder break and a little less lines at the brew stand.

I went to many concerts beginning in the late 1960s and experienced some great matchups early on, like the November 1967 show at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre with the Beach Boys and their openers the Strawberry Alarm Clock and—gasp!—the Buffalo Springfield.  I also saw, under the wing of my friend Dan’s older brother who drove us to the show, a jaw-dropping performance by Janis Joplin and opening act Santana at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in November 1969.

I wondered even back then how certain artists ended up playing as warm-up to the headliners on a given tour, because there were some odd pairings “out there”—like the Jimi Hendrix Experience opening up for the Monkees on a handful of dates in July 1967.  Though some could reflect back and think this was a Monkee maneuver for respectability—adding a cutting-edge artist for cred—the wildly popular foursome from the TV show just fell in love with Hendrix’s onstage aura especially after seeing him play live in June at the Monterey Pop Festival.  According to the website monkeeslivealmanac.com, though, the headliners soon gleaned that the audiences in large part were mystified and miffed, not mesmerized.  The website quotes Micky Dolenz from his autobiography in which he says “The parents were probably not too crazy about having to sit through a Monkees concert, much less see this black guy in a psychedelic Day-Glo blouse, playing music from hell, holding his guitar like he was fucking it, then lighting it on fire…Jimi would amble out onto the stage, fire up the amps and break into 'Purple Haze,' and the kids in the audience would instantly drown him out with, 'We Want Davy!!'  God, it was embarrassing."

Flash forward with me a lot.  It was in the decade of the 1990s when I finally fully realized there was a method to the madness of adding openers to tours, and this came from my experience working at Star Lake Amphitheater, a 23,000-capacity outdoor venue near Pittsburgh where summers were filled with forty-plus shows every season.  Not only did it become clear to me that the headliner-support dynamic was always pretty much structured, pre-tour, by the respective artists’ managements and their booking agencies, I also had the good fortune to witness a ton of shows with all kinds of pairings-up—the Good, the Bad and the Inscrutable.  From the venue’s opening season in 1990 through the summer of 1999, I was at the amphitheater for almost every single show—and there were 408 of them.

That first decade was crammed to the gills.  Especially when it was still a toddler, the amphitheater hosted all sorts of genres—blues, classical, comedy, Christian music, jazz, pop, folk, rock, dance, and more.  Some of these shows gestated into annual events; others were, on Day One of ticket sales, tragically stillborn.  But thankfully we also had the “automatics”—the juggernaut headliners of the early 1990s like Billy Joel, New Kids On The Block, and the Grateful Dead; the mid-decade ascendants like the Dave Matthews Band and Alanis Morissette; and also those who rolled on inexhaustibly through that entire ten-year period like exalted hedonist Jimmy Buffett and crazy train conductor Ozzy Osbourne.

Some artists back then would hit the road with no openers, or trot out on tour with a no-name opener.  Others glommed on to a truly synergistic support act, one that fit the genre nicely or simply had a runaway hit record at that moment in time.  Still others were persuaded by a manager and/or booking agent to pair up with an artist of equal footing in order to form a cool co-headlining situation for the summer.

Here are some of my observations about that first ten years of Star Lake shows, and the magical, sometimes mystifying couplings that were sent out on the road each summer:

Opening Acts for the Jimmy Buffett Concerts:

Not exactly a plethora of household names here: Buffett’s openers back then included Zachary Richard, Fingers Taylor & The Ladyfingers Review, Evangeline, The Iguanas, and Marshall Chapman.  And as best I can recall, Buffett in some years opted not to fill that opening slot, for he knew (as did we) that it didn’t really matter: Weren’t no one comin’ through those entry gates until Buffett took the stage and the first few chords rolled on out from the venue’s loudspeakers upoverand into the parking lots where the Glazed and Confused were partyin’ up a storm.

Opening Acts for the Chicago Concerts:

This band, born in the late 1960s and later embraced by white-bread radio stations who kept the group’s ho-hum hits alive for decades, played every single year from 1990 through 1999—and the reason was Howard Rose.  Rose was the booker and titular owner of a small but formidable booking agency that included Chicago, but also Lionel Richie, Elton John and Jimmy Buffett. The latter artist had every summer venue across the nation salivating to land him for their line-up, so Rose used this annually as a bargaining chip when it came time to book Chicago’s summer dates.

It wasn’t exactly framed or enunciated this way, but the clear message from Rose was this: “You vill take Chicago, und you vill be loving it.”  And so we did.  The fan turnout was expectedly modest most years, falling somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 in attendance, but the shows themselves were usually very good.  Not to mention that the band members backstage were easygoing and unpretentious, and they seemed perpetually grateful to be playing in front of their fans.  Chicago’s openers and/or co-headliners through the years: The Flecktones, Triplets, Moody Blues, Stephen Stills Band, Tony Janflone (Pittsburgh artist), B.E. Taylor (another Pittsburgh artist who opened up for the band twice), Crosby, Stills & Nash, and the Doobie Brothers.

Opening Acts for the Steve Miller Band Concerts:

Here is another ten-year veteran of Star Lake playdates like Chicago, but this artist was one who brought a huge string of sell-outs to the amphitheater.  The phenomenon was somewhat mysterious: All we could figure out was that Big Brother or Big Sister had passed along to their underage siblings more than a few Millers—like Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams—and the groundswell within this crowd of teens then took a mighty hold and multiplied, right after that first show in 1990.

Steve’s openers were decent, usually steeped in classic rock or the blues.  They were also—as were the Buffett openers—inconsequential to ticket sales.  In our particular market, and practically nowhere else in our company’s amphitheater system to any such degree, Miller was the muscle; our very own home-run king.

Chronologically through the years, Miller’s show-openers were: Lou Gramm (ex-lead singer of Foreigner), Eric Johnson (rock guitar wizard), Curtis Salgado & The Stilettos (blues-based, R&B-laced rock), Paul Rodgers (ex-lead singer of Free and Bad Company), The Doobie Brothers, Pat Benatar, Eric Johnson again, Little Feat, and George Thorogood & The Destroyers.  

At this last show in 1999 with Thorogood, Miller’s 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 tickets, wave after wave...Final attendance inside the venue: 26,154.

A Handful of Other Interesting Match-ups of Artists & Support, and Dual Headliners:

Judas Priest & Alice Cooper (8/2/91).....This pairing entitled “Operation Rock ‘n’ Roll” was mounted by our own company’s president, and was an attempt to bring together two arguably different audiences within the classic rock realm—but the fans didn’t flock in sufficient numbers to make this operation a success.  We hemorrhaged greatly.

Crosby, Stills & Nash with Michael Hedges (6/17/92).....Opener Hedges didn’t help sales because he was merely a guitar genius whose fame unfortunately hadn’t spread beyond a small, rabid cult.

10,000 Maniacs with World Party (6/18/93).....This pairing sold out the pavilion’s seating at around 7,000, and was one of a few “pavilion-only” shows we organized to give our fans a close-up and very intimate concert experience—oh, and lest you think it was all about the fan right there, we ALSO knew we weren’t going to sell more than 7,000 tickets so we used this tightened-up, lawn-closed configuration to save on staffing costs.

Midnight Oil, Ziggy Marley and Hothouse Flowers (8/24/93).....An example of “looks good on paper,” especially when thinking we’d draw the college-age crowd.  I guess most of them were behind in tuition and apartment rent.

Pantera with Sepultura and Biohazard (6/26/94).....Our nickname for shows like this were phlegm fests, as the lead singers were usually in a full-throated, lyric-muddying rage.

Santana and Jeff Beck (8/8/95).....Guitar gods alighted in this double headliner show that lit up the night, though not the turnstiles.  Attendance at the amphitheater was not quite half capacity at approximately 11,000 fans.

Santana and Rusted Root (7/11/97)…..This time Santana opted not for a fellow guitar slinger like Jeff Beck, and instead teamed up with Pittsburgh’s born and bred Rusted Root.  Just two summers earlier, Root was actually the headliner of the lid-lifting show of the ’95 concert season and sold out the venue.  Post-Gazettewriter Scott Mervis, in his “20 Most Memorable Moments at the PG Pavilion” article in 2009, recalled Root’s power to turn out fans for that 1995 headlining show: “In the history of Pittsburgh music, no local band had even come close to drawing 23,168 people.  Just a year or two removed from its Graffiti gigs, Rusted Root packed Star Lake with "blissed-out souls" who chanted "Rooot! Rooot!" and danced in the aisles.”

Culture Club, Human League and Howard Jones (8/14/98).....A great night of MTV-era nostalgia with a less-than-desired attendance.  We really, really thought that this cool combination of early-‘80s chartbusters would add up to more than the sum of its parts.  I take issue with Howard Jones when he sings “No One Is to Blame”—it was us.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers with Lucinda Williams (6/23/99).....Williams is a cult favorite and was a symbiotic but not sales-driven selection by Petty’s own camp; they just wanted to put her in front of a large audience for the exposure.  Williams has good nights and bad nights (so say her live appearance followers), and this night was a stellar one for those that did work their way in from the parking lots to peek at the opener.

Paul Simon and Bob Dylan (7/18/99).....This combination of dual headliners worked very well, as we drew an audience of just over 17,000.  Internally, those of us who worked at the amphitheater remember this concert tour as one of the first that our new amphitheater owners SFX had put together to “feed the system” (i.e., to provide more packaged shows to our outdoor venues across the country).  It was also notable for its high ticket prices, which unfortunately became the hallmark of SFX and a questionable legacy for the live entertainment business—but let’s end on a high note here.  Simon and his band were enthralling and Dylan—well, was Dylan.







Above on the left is a picture of Jim Cunningham when he was a disc jockey at the free-form rock station WRRN-FM in Warren, Pennsylvania in the early 1970s.  On the right is Jim later on, with even longer hair.

Jim is the morning host of WQED-FM / Classical 89.3 and is celebrating his fortieth anniversary with the station this year.  I had the privilege of interviewing him recently about his path to WQED and his passions all along the way.

The following are excerpts from that interview.

M:  Jim, you’ve been full-time with WQED radio since July 1, 1979 after becoming a part-time employee in September of the preceding year, so it’s coming up on forty years now.  Has this been a blink of the eye type of thing?  Has the time just whizzed by?

JC:  If you enjoy what you do, you never think about time.  There is something different and interesting everyday so I never really think about time moving forward.

M:  Your title is artistic director…

JC:  Yes.  I started at WQED as a part-time deejay, then full-time on the air, then producer, assistant manager, assistant program manager, program manager, manager, and several other things along the way to becoming artistic director.  A little bit of everything.  It’s wonderful because it is centered on what I love the most, which is the music!

M:  Tell me about your earliest influences in terms of music.  Were your parents partial to it?

JC:  I always liked all kinds of music.  I grew up with it because my dad always had the radio on and my mother played the piano.  I can remember her playing Debussy’s Clair de lune in the basement when I was young.  When I’d wake up in the morning, she’d be down in the basement practicing. 

She played piano for fun, but was also a part of a group called the Philomel Club, local people who were interested in classical music.  And she was a deejay, too, on local station WNAE.  She used to take me there, and I just thought the atmosphere was so cool—reel-to-reel tapes going around, teletype clattering, UPI news, and records.  Thousands of records on the wall of all kinds.  She wrote the scripts for her show which was on two hours each week featuring just classical music.

I also sang in choirs in junior and senior high school, and in the church choir, so singing is really important to me.  My grandfather was a Lutheran minister and he always proudly said, “Lutherans have Johann Sebastian Bach.”  Church music is important in the Lutheran tradition so I hung around the church secretary and the organist who was always there.  I took lessons from him.  He was an amazing “out there” guy who was equally talented as an organist and a harpsichordist, and he built harpsichords.  I always thought it was fascinating to see how an instrument was made; he had one on the floor of his living room and he worked on it sometimes when I was there.  He was interested in all kinds of music, which was impressive, too.  

Also, my family went to Chautauqua every summer when I was young and I heard everything under the sun, from George Shearing to Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Lovin’ Spoonful.  All of that and the orchestra performances.  My parents first met there and were married there, so Chautauqua was very important to my family.  There was always a mixture every summer—an orchestra, soloists, pop music and rock music.

M:  When you first started building your own record collection, where did you go in Warren?

JC:  The Bieckark Music House.  Mr. Bieckark had a music store that also had albums.  I loved that store.  I went to G.C. Murphy’s as well.  I mowed lawns to buy records and as soon as I had mowed enough, I headed to the record stores.  Also, my dad was from Pittsburgh originally and we had family down there, so occasionally when visiting I would go to Heads Together in Squirrel Hill and later on the Listening Post in Shadyside.  There was another place in Oakland as well, Flo’s Records, and a record chain I remember called Peaches that was in the South Hills.

The first albums that were truly important to me were the Beatles’ records.  The bands that mattered the most to me early on were the Beatles and the Stones—and then everything that came along from that, the classic rock era with the Doors and other bands.  Are You Experienced was another album that was mesmerizing to me.

M:  I know that you are an avid collector of music, even today.  That can lead to marital discord, so I’ve heard—okay, experienced!  So, where do you store everything at your house?  In the garage?

JC:  There are a few things in there, but you should never store records there because of the temperature fluctuations.  In the basement I have one big room, the size of a medium-sized bedroom for my albums and CDs.  Before I got married, almost my entire apartment in Green Tree was filled with albums.  My father helped me build wooden boxes to keep them in.  There was some organization at first, but of course things went quickly out of control.

M:  What was your first real radio station experience?

JC:  That was while I was still in high school.  In a small town like Warren at that time, the radio station played a little bit of everything--classical, rock ‘n’ roll, pop music, dinner hour music…FM was developing in the early 70s, so at first the AM and FM were simulcast.  But when a friend of mine Scott Saylor came back from the Vietnam War, he convinced the manager of WRRN that he could make money for him if he did something different with his FM station, like playing rock ‘n’ roll.  Scott said to the station manager, if you let me program it and sell it, this will cover our costs.  

Scott had been on Armed Forces Radio while he was in Vietnam.  He was a tremendous sales person and a music enthusiast and loved listening to rock ‘n’ roll music.  And I had a giant record collection by high school, and so that became an important part of my resume to have my record collection be a part of what was essentially a free-form radio station.  WRRN-FM had a powerful 50,000-watt signal and it reached all the way to Erie; regionally it was much more powerful than the AM station.  I worked for both.  It started with a high-school radio club I was in, plus I knew the WRRN station manager’s son, and from there I became a part-time announcer.  I worked a lot for WRRN-FM when it became that rock ‘n’ roll station.

M:  Was there a certain genre you gravitated to?  Sounds like you were open to most anything…

JC:  That was the wonderful thing about free-form rock.  It was Ravi Shankar followed by Hendrix and then the Beatles, and on and on.  It was put together in a poetic way; the music seemed to flow and fit together, a late-night vibe always…There were so many discoveries then.  One night I was playing Leonard Cohen and it was one of his songs with extremely “blue” lyrics and my father heard it and called me at the station, saying “Do you HEAR what he is SAYING?!!”  My father was worried I would be fired for playing Leonard Cohen’s most erotic material.  

M:  What were some of your favorite concerts back in your youth?

JC:  We went to Pittsburgh a lot.  I went to see the Stones on several occasions; my dad usually drove me down.  I saw them once with my girlfriend and we stayed overnight at my grandfather’s place.  A whole bunch of friends stayed there as well.  I slept on my grandfather’s back porch that night.  

During college I remember going to the Syria Mosque to see Frank Zappa.  He was mixing in some classical music and did excerpts from Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin!  I saw Jefferson Starship, too, at the Mosque.  I was at Bob Marley’s last show of his life at the Stanley Theater.  I saw a great arena show in Pittsburgh with Earth, Wind & Fire.

When I worked at WRRN we went to see a lot of shows, as that was part of the station culture.  I got to see Pink Floyd several times.  The Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo is where I saw the Dark Side of the Moon tour in 1972 or 1973, and I saw Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at Rich Stadium in 1974.  Shows at Rich Stadium were a total crazed cultural experience!  I will never forget seeing Hound Dog Taylor and The Houserockers at an outdoor blues festival there with the other deejays from WRRN.

M:  I want to circle back to your path in radio.  How did you end up at WQED?

JC:  I went to Thiel College in Greenville from 1973 to 1977, and did a student internship at WQED-FM in 1974.  Once out of college in ’77 I worked a year in Warren at station WGRP selling advertising time and working as an announcer.  I got married in the summer of 1978 and that’s when I applied for a job at WQED and got hired immediately as a part-time deejay.

M:  Did you have any learning curve in terms of the inventory you were playing on-air?

JC:  One thing about classical music is you never stop learning.  It’s so deep.  Blues and jazz is the same, and to some extent rock ‘n’ roll, but I guess I felt like I had already learned a lot from album covers and from doing radio in Warren and Greenville, so classical music was just a new part of music to learn—and I’m still learning everyday.

Classical radio listeners want to hear Haydn and Mozart, the core artists, the core sounds, but there is always new music, new people writing music.  We interview composers all the time.  This afternoon I will be interviewing a pianist named Tom Roberts who played on Leon Redbone’s tours.  He is going to have a clarinetist with him, and they are going to play music by Charlie Chaplin for a Chamber Music Pittsburgh show.  So, there’s just an ocean of variety here to explore.

M:  What do you like most about your job?

JC:  Learning.  And the people.  Finding like-minded folks who enjoy it.  You never stop learning.  I interviewed Leonard Slatkin and pianist Garrick Ohlsson recently.  Leonard Slatkin was premiering a piece that he wrote in honor of his parents, who were musicians and heads of music studios in Los Angeles; Warner Brothers Studio was one of them.  All of their friends there were people like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra; they knew everyone in pop music.  I just thought it was fascinating that Leonard Slatkin was sung to sleep by Sinatra.  Who else would be able to make a claim like that?!!  The guy conducting Rachmaninoff and Elgar at Heinz Hall.  Crossed lines like that I think are interesting.

M:  You have a long and enduring relationship with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and its conductors and musicians.  What’s that like?

JC:  Manfred Honeck I couldn’t say enough about.  He is an extremely kind man and interested in people.  Interested in spiritual things, and in making Life better.  Completely unassuming.  Steeped in the traditions as a former member of the Vienna Philharmonic.  He’s at the top of the heap and just an amazing person.

I also spent eight years with André Previn.  Lorin Maazel was astonishing.  Mariss Jansons.  I wish everyone could meet these folks personally!  These maestros, like most of the great classical musicians I’ve met, are incredibly talented but also easygoing, down to Earth, and really trying to make the world better.






If we had done a pretty wide poll of concertgoers back in the 1990s about Star Lake Amphitheater—which of course then name-morphed over the years to Post-Gazette Pavilion >> First Niagara Pavilion >> Key Bank Pavilion—we would have received feedback on the fans’ shows, the number of times they’d gone to the venue, etc., etc….

And I’d wager that if we had asked an open-ended question about the one thing they strongly disliked about the venue, 98% of that feedback would have come back in one word: Traffic.  Or maybe, the word “Traffic” followed by a bunch of symbols: @#*&*%#!!!!!!!!

When I worked at Star Lake Amphitheater back then (as marketer ’91-’94, then as general manager beginning in ‘95), the most headspinning, mindboggling operational challenge was always the traffic.  

I remember running into an acquaintance in a downtown coffee shop one weekend morning sometime back in the early 2000s.  While I waited in line for my half-double decaffeinated half-caf with a twist of lemon (alright, that wasn’t my order, but I always wanted to use that line from the movie L.A. Story), the acquaintance sipped the foam off his brew and asked where I was working now.  When I mentioned that I ran the amphitheater, he said “Oh, I’ve never been out there.  I heard the traffic was horrible at that Billy Joel concert.”  I think I may have gently reached out and touched his arm to make a point.  “You DO know that the Billy Joel show was well over a decade ago,” I said, “the first big show, the first year the amphitheater opened.  You might want to give it another shot.”

Yes, traffic is something that has always loomed large in people’s minds, sometimes to the point of driving them to the brink.  There is something about being in a car…at a crawl…on the highway, still about two miles away from the amphitheater, with a full bladder and brain brimming over with steaming, righteous indignation: “What in the HELL is going on?  WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE DOING?!!”

“These people” refers, of course, to the parking lot personnel.  Talk about a thankless job, these folks were on the front line, the first amphitheater staffers to greet the patrons as they drove into the facility—and instead of smiles and a thumbs-up, our people saw blood vessels on foreheads and a finger up.  

In 1994, the venue’s fifth season, the lines of cars to get into the facility—and conversely to exit the facility—were legendary.  That same year we booked a classic rock band who hadn’t toured in two decades, the much revered late 60s-early 70s band with Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi named Traffic.  As we rolled out news of this particular booking in all of our marketing efforts, some jabs and jokes poured in from a handful of concert fans: “Traffic’s heading to the amphitheater?  I’m sorry—is that news?!!”..... and .....“Traffic at Star Lake for the first time?  BULLSHIT!!!”


To complicate things even further and to truly seal our fate, out on the highway there was Evil afoot: The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.  Looking back at this, I honestly feel PennDOT was worse than Al-Qaeda, SPECTRE, KAOS, Wall Street and every other dastardly criminal enterprise combined.  There was just a single highway coming from Pittsburgh out to the venue—the two-lane Route 22/30—and PennDOT took great pleasure in erecting work zones and lane restrictions on that stretch for well over 75% of our summers of operation.  The effect on the venue was palpable.  We were inflicted with outraged fans and bad PR, everywhere we turned...

But we didn’t exactly just sit on our hands, either.  Later in the 1990s, before the start of a new season, I had an idea about a brand new game for our plaza entertainment areas inside the venue.  We already had a basketball set-up and a football toss as part of our pre-concert fun for fans, but I turned to Shag, our facility operations guru, to develop a brand new offering that would be modeled after the beanbag throw.  The twist was that this game would be a means for traffic-bewitched-and-bothered fans to let off some steam from the snail-like odyssey that they’d just experienced on the way to the show.

We decided the game would be a beanbag toss to knock down three items that were going to be lined up on a countertop about 12 feet away, and each lucky soul who aced the three shots would win a prize.  The three knock-down items?  They were 12” high and 8” in diameter—little orange and white barrels, patterned after their big-sized, badass cousins out on the roadways that PennDOT used to ensnarl traffic and enrage our customers.

We christened this game “The PennDOT Shot,” and when we had it all set up in the East Plaza, we hung up a colorful sign as a backdrop.  By directly acknowledging our nemesis via this fun little game, we hoped our fans would see a bit of humor in the situation and pull out a buck to pelt PennDOT (we knew they’d much rather be barreling down the road unencumbered, but at least here in the East Plaza they could revel in revenge and retribution).  

Our new game was not a hit.  The hoops and the football toss continued to pull in a solid amount of revenue per concert, but the PennDOT Shot never caught on as a moneymaker; perhaps the fans, we surmised, had decided instead to drown their sorrows in suds.  We then retired our tiny barrels after a season or two of disappointing returns.

We did pursue real options as well, of course, to address the traffic situation.  Complicating our plight, though, was the fact that our amphitheater had just one vehicle entranceway/exit—the four-to-five lanes that fed into all of our parking lots that were adjacent to the gates of the venue.  We worked unceasingly with our parking personnel and traffic-duty police officers to eke out the best and fastest flow of incoming and exiting traffic, yet on the largest shows—how else can I say this?—we were screwed.

The worst traffic trauma came on weekdays, between the hours of 5:30pm and 7:30pm, when concert-goers were all headed out to the venue from Pittsburgh after a pit stop at home to shed their work duds.  These fans then got caught up in the larger weekday commuter crush, and so thousands of cars—some concert-bound, some headed home—were all converging on the Pittsburgh parkway and then Route 22/30, headed in the general direction of the amphitheater.  When this wonderful world of wheels then hit the dreaded PennDOT stretch, our fans were forced into some serious brake dancin’—and eager anticipation morphed into vehicular vexation. 

For one of Tom Petty’s heavily attended appearances at the amphitheater, a show that was on a weekday, we tried every which way to ameliorate the traffic on the ingress.  We heavily promoted “Free Parking Before 6:00 PM!” and “Free Food & Beverage Coupons!” in all of our pre-concert radio and newspaper promotions, hoping that fans would respond to these enticements and head out to the venue early for tailgating.  Not a whiff of success here.  The fans either didn’t care, or they were chained to their usual weekday afternoon work schedules and couldn’t readjust the timing to make an earlier concert commute.

And then there was the Lilith Fair in 1997, the very cool concert celebration of women that was conceived, molded and then mounted to a national touring level by Sarah McLachlan.  The buzz was so high on Lilith Fair that we pretty much sold all of the concert tickets in advance, yet we took a gamble on Show Day in allowing a few more cars into our lots so that these folks could buy tickets at the box office (note: Our venue capacity was governed a bit more by the number of cars in the lots, and not so much by the number of people in the venue; with our very sizable lawn, we could cram up there to our heart’s content and squeeze everybody in.)

Our parking plan backfired.  Way more people than expected had hopped on the highway hoping to buy their tickets at the gate, and so we literally, at a certain point in the evening, had to turn cars away from our entrance at the top of the hill.  These late-arrivals—some of whom had already purchased their tickets—could now not enter the parking lots.  There was no more room at the inn, and these people were pissed.  The fans and followers of Lilith Fair, because of the nature of the festival, were mostly women—and now we could hear them roar in numbers too large to ignore (seems I’m always Reddy with a song reference).

We had a bit of a saving grace though, in our neighbor to the south—the Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse.  The folks over there allowed us on occasion to use their parking lot as an “emergency overflow” site, and so we sent a wave or two of the Lilith travelers down there.  These particular parkers were thus able to find an actual spot after all, but it was a bit of a hike over to our property, and so their nice little stroll usually ended at the front counter of one of our customer service booths for some venting, teeth gnashing and tongue lashing.

That was pretty much the worst of it in the first ten years of Star Lake.  In the venue’s second decade (entering the 2000s), we took additional steps in earnest to continue beating back the negative press and making the traffic situation for our fans more bearable.  These measures included paying for an engineering study of the ingress and the egress of traffic flow within our lots and, eventually, deciding to change the mode of collecting our parking fee, moving away from collection at the parking lot entranceway to incorporating the fee into the price of the concert ticket.  This move in particular saved precious time for our fans on the ingress as they subsequently found they could sail right by our parking staff instead of stopping to pay.

In a perfect world, the concert experience should be a fan’s delight, a night of great music and socializing with friends, capturing memories that last a lifetime.  Our amphitheater did try, ya know, to make sure a lifetime wasn’t spent in the car on the way there and on the way in.

I’d say, it’s time to give the amphitheater another chance—even if you just now heard about the traffic at the Billy Joel concert.





Posted 4/7/19.....WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE


Thirty years ago this month the City of Pittsburgh hosted a doubleheader that was one for the books.  This wasn’t a Buccos game at Three Rivers Stadium; it was a back-to-back concert event, and perhaps the term “doubleheader” is not entirely apt—call it the “doubledeadheader.”  

So much has been written about the Grateful Dead that I’m sure you pretty much know the deal.  This historic San Francisco band who officially formed in 1965 inspired a generation of followers, and I mean that latter word in the literal sense: These fans—everyone from indigent hippies to lawyers taking leave—traversed the country for the better part of three decades (1970s through the 1990s), communing with like-minded souls inside the concert venues while scores of others, with their wares and wits about them, scored in the ad hoc parking lot villages outside, trading and transacting. 

Back in 1989 I was VP of Event Development & Director of Booking at the Civic Arena, and the Grateful Dead had just confirmed with us an April 2ndand 3rd stopover in Pittsburgh.  As arena operators, we welcomed this two-night stand because it meant two surefire sell-outs; the Grateful Dead organization would routinely hold back a certain percentage of tickets and sell them through the band’s internal ticketing system to fans across the country, and the rest of the seats would be put up for public sale on TicketMaster, the arena’s official ticketing company.

As I recollect, our operations department personnel did some due diligence in calling around to other venues who had hosted the Dead beforehand, and really, they found no surprises.  We knew that the Deadheads would be flooding into town from all over Creation, hanging out in the parking lots, finding old friends, bartering goods & services, and maybe even ingesting various substances that seemed to be mushrooming in popularity.

Though there was definitely preparation on the part of our arena team and of course discussion and correspondence between the arena and the band’s representatives, there was always floating in the background the possibility that something could go awry.  One thing in particular helped complicate things with this early April engagement of ours; this Dead doubleheader was the band’s ONLY Northeast appearance in that Spring timeframe, and so the word was out to the legions across the land that Pittsburgh was the place to converge.  

Consequently, over that two-night span of April 2ndand 3rd a huge amount of road-trippin’ fans descended upon the City of Pittsburgh and flooded into the arena’s parking lots and vendor villages looking for tickets to the show.  The east parking lot adjacent to the arena’s main gate began to spill over its boundaries, and the ticket seekers then joined the ranks of the many other Deadheads aimlessly milling about—and a host of them then began marching around the arena’s glass-door circumference, holding up pointer fingers and their hastily hand-scrawled “Need one!” signs.

As the second night’s show started, those of us working inside the arena began to hear some thumps on the outer plate-glass windows and glass doors.  It reminded me of the walkers from the classic George Romero films—in this case they weren’t mindless zombies though, just single-minded souls prowling and probing the outer windows and doors, looking for any weak spots and distractible security guards.  Inside, the tension among the staff elevated and a lot of us became deputized on the spot to help watch over some of these potentially volatile areas.

Soon the sounds of breaking glass began to appear here and there—the Deadheads had breached our inner sanctum!  I remember collaring a beaded, bearded young man who had just slipped through a jagged hole left by his enterprising friend the window whacker, and I held onto this surprisingly placid individual until a couple of security guards came to “show him the door.”

Outside on the grounds of the arena, the police were doing their best to disperse the non-ticketed Deadheads but it was a losing battle.  In fact the zombie march around the building and the full-court press on the gates was so alarming to the local constabulary that reinforcements arrived in riot gear, and as often happens in situations like this, sparks flew on both sides and altercations erupted.  Several fans were arrested in front of scores of booing, hissing Deadheads, and like pilot fish on a shark, the local media were everywhere.  

Then...one officer was caught by a television camera, punching an already-restrained Deadhead who was being led up the one or two steps into the back of a police van.  Though the evening eventually settled into a wary peace as the show inside wore on, this particular media footage made the eleven o’clock news and beyond, which prompted everything from City Father cries to ban the Dead, to onlookers’ and aggrieved parties’ accusations of excessive force being used by the Pittsburgh Police.

Along with this police video that packed a punch, one of the most memorable moments of the affair came from Sophie Masloff, our malaproppin’ mayor of Pittsburgh at the time.  Masloff was a 71-year-old woman who was not the most astute follower of pop culture phenomena like the Grateful Dead.  Expressing her outrage at the goings-on, she let it be known that the “Dreadful Dead” was not welcome in this town and that their followers—the “Deadenders,” as she called them—should never return.

Well, the band did return; in fact, the very next year they set their sights on the much larger Three Rivers Stadium.  But before a permit was issued clearing the band’s booking for July 8, 1990, the City of Pittsburgh demanded and received from the promoters assurance of additional dollars to be earmarked for increased security measures…

A few further words about, and from, Mayor Sophie Masloff:  One month after the Grateful Dead’s disastrous April 1989 doubleheader at the Civic Arena, Masloff met with Pittsburgh’s stadium authority board about another sizable rock show headed toward the ‘burgh—The Who, slated for July 16th at Three Rivers Stadium.  The following exchange at this May 25th meeting actually happened, according to the Associated Press.  Here is the account that ran over the AP wire services the next day:

May 26, 1989 / Pittsburgh—Associated Press—Mayor Sophie Masloff was confused Thursday as to who is coming to town for a rock concert this summer.  Masloff, 71, who recently called the Grateful Dead the “Dreadful Dead” and the group’s fans “Deadenders,” asked Three Rivers Stadium officials about an upcoming concert by “The How.”

“Not The How, The Who,” said George Whitmer, the stadium authority’s chairman.

“The who?” Masloff asked.

“Yes,” Whitmer replied.

“Is there a Who group and a How group?” Masloff asked.  “Somebody asked me the other day if The How was coming here.”

“What the hell is The How?” said state Senator Eugene Scanlon, who, like Masloff, is an authority member.

“There isn’t a group called The How as far as I know,” said Gerald Baron of Spectacor Management, which runs the stadium.

(Musicasaurus.com’s parting editorial comment on the above:  Though there in spirit, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were not at this meeting.)






Posted 3/24/19.....FEATS DON’T FAIL ME NOW


I was talking recently with my friend Ed Traversari, currently associate professor of Sports, Arts and Entertainment Management at Point Park University and before that—for almost thirty years of his professional life—a concert promoter whose first pathway into that industry was through Pittsburgh’s DiCesare Engler Productions.  He and I were catching up on the phone and he mentioned he’d been lucky enough recently to catch Little Feat in concert at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee on Friday, March 15th.

It was when Ed said, “You know, this is the band’s 50thanniversary” that my jaw hit my iPhone.  I thought, “JESUS, how could that be?!!”  Woodstock was now 50, of course, and understandably garnering a lot of press—everyone from the nostalgia spinners ecstatic over this summer’s planned revivification to the online trolls set aflame by what they deemed a pure money grab.

This Feat anniversary?  Nowhere near as newsworthy, for certain.  The band even in their heyday had only a cult, not a large community of followers by any stretch.

But the magic and the majesty of this band was and is, to me, irresistible.  And unassailable.  I found a beautifully expressive nugget online in the music magazine Relix from contributing editor Jeff Tamarkin’s 1989 article on Little Feat, and his description of the band in this piece 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.”

The 1970s WAS their decade.  Into that musical melting pot of overarching artistic achievement and the delirious fandom that grew alongside it—re: artists like Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads, Pink Floyd, Queen, Stevie Wonder, Bowie, The Clash and Bruce & The E Street Band—Feat found their own path, never gaining quite the limelight but consistently innovating and producing some of the most stunning, emotionally rich recordings in rock history…

I was in my second semester as a sophomore at Clarion State College when the band’s third album Dixie Chicken was released in February 1973.  Though I’d thoroughly enjoyed bits and pieces of their first two formative releases—1971’s self-titled debut and 1972’s Sailin’ ShoesDixie Chicken was a motherclucker from start to finish.  Breathtaking in its scope, the 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 including rock ‘n’ roll, folk, blues, and country, but suddenly they’d found their funk, imbuing their 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.

Founding Feat member Lowell George had always been at the helm as chief songwriter and wielder of a wickedly sly slide guitar.  He and drummer Richie Hayward along with keyboard player Bill Payne had started the band back in 1969 with bassist Roy Estrada, formerly of the Mothers of Invention.  George had also at that time recently departed the Mothers, and there are various accounts as to why—one story has it that Frank Zappa (the Grand Mother) rebuffed George’s new tune “Willin’” due to its reference to “weed, whites and wine.”  As this particular tale goes, Zappa apparently wouldn’t condone any song about drugs, yet at this stage in the Mothers he was all about nonconformist song structure and unusual sonic snippets, including surrealistic dialogue and even the sounds of human snorts—go figure.

Anyway, the first two albums were basically the Feat as this foursome—George, Hayward, Payne and Estrada.  Going into the recording of 1973’s Dixie Chicken, however, the band lost a member and picked up three new ones.  Estrada had exited, and on came replacement bassist Kenny Gradney, now second guitarist Paul Barrere, and percussionist Sam Clayton.  With this infusion, and Lowell George at the peak of his songwriting prowess, the band had coalesced into a killer unit.

Over the next six years, the band produced a string of albums that kept their coterie of followers totally enrapt.  We felt Feat was ours alone.  We were the cognoscenti; the ones who shared knowledge of a superior rock band whose music 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.

The first time I actually saw Little Feat in concert was in 1978.  I had just nabbed my dream job in March as a traveling record-company merchandiser, and my role was to gather up posters, staple gun, and duct tape to plaster every record store across southwestern Pennsylvania with displays of Warner Brothers, Elektra/Asylum and Atlantic Records’ newest releases.  Within the first few weeks of my new job, a packaged-up roll of Little Feat posters arrived on my doorstep from the branch office; the band had just released their first live album on Warner Brothers, a double, entitled Waiting For Columbus and they were on their way to Pittsburgh to play a concert in support of that record.

The show took place on April 8that the Leona Theater in Homestead, PA just outside of Pittsburgh.  It was a grand old venue, sadly in a state of disrepair; originally built in 1925 and hosting vaudeville and news reels, by the late 1970s the Leona had become the repository for this new rascal called rock ‘n’ roll.  I don’t remember much about the concert except a) the band was tight and focused, b) my seats were shitty, and c) the back 2 or 3 rows of the theater where I was sitting were threatened by hanging asbestos or some other injurious stuffing that was pushing through the dilapidated ceiling panels.  It wasn’t that many years afterward that the theater was torn down to make way for a convenience store new to the area called Sheetz.

The next time I saw Feat was a decade later in 1988, and lot had changed by then.  The band had split up in 1979 while putting the finishing touches on their seventh studio album Down On The Farm, and Lowell George, who had just started his solo career and a concurrent tour, died quite unexpectedly.  Or perhaps that was to be expected—a brilliant musician and songwriter, George also lived a lifestyle of certain excesses and reportedly this contributed (along with somewhat of a weight problem) to a sudden heart attack while just weeks into his new solo venture.  The band then scattered to the artistic winds, and reportedly a 1986 just-by-chance jam session attended by Bill Payne and Paul Barrere rekindled the spirit.  All of the remaining members reassembled the next year, and in 1988 Feat trod once again over the musical landscape.  They also picked up two new members—Fred Tackett, a multi-instrumentalist who had contributed material and musicianship to the band on a few of their early 1970s studio efforts, and new vocalist Craig Fuller whose main claim to fame had been forming the 1970s-era country-rock band Pure Prairie League and singing lead on their crossover country and pop Top-Thirty hit “Amie.”    

So on July 13, 1988, ten years after experiencing Feat with Lowell at the Leona, I sat enthralled at a small club in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh as Little Feat came roaring back to life under the eerily similar-sounding vocals of Craig Fuller.  Fuller handled the previously Lowell George-led material with aplomb, and new guitarist Tackett helped complete this godsend reemergence of Feat.  The club was called Graffiti, a true local treasure in that the room had great acoustics and intimacy even at capacity, which was said to be 600.  In this sold-out setting, Feat took the stage to the opening roar of the frenzied faithful and proceeded to nail it with the funk, fusion, rock and rhythm & blues of their best material spanning 1971 to 1979.

Feat’s plan here of reuniting and adding Fuller and Tackett, though, was long-term.  Simultaneous to the launch of this tour, the band had released a new album called Let It Roll that featured all new songs that were true band efforts—new member Fuller writing with Barrere, Fuller with Payne, Fuller with Barrere and Payne, etc.  The material was surprisingly strong, much to the relief of my fellow cultists who were initially semi-spooked that the band’s legacy might be marred.  Two songs from the new record received thunderous applause that night—the album’s lead-off track “Hate To Lose Your Lovin’” and especially “Hangin’ On To The Good Times” with lyrics that brought eye-glistening smiles from the 600 and then roars of recaptured bliss: “And though we went our own ways / We couldn’t escape from where we came / So we find ourselves back at the table again / Tellin’ stories of survivors and friends”...

The band’s re-embrace by fans that evening was mirrored across the country, and Feat moved on up to larger venues within the year.  In fact, less than three months after this hot July evening in the small sweaty club, Feat returned to Pittsburgh for a sold-out Syria Mosque show on October 2nd which had 3,700 fans—the already-baptized and the new initiates—reveling in this full-bodied return to glory.

After the band’s triumphant return in 1988, I sort of lost my footing with Feat.  I had strayed from the flock but it was unintentional and gradual.  As the band continued to release albums sporadically through the years and abided some changes—like losing vocalist Fuller in 1993, and that same year bringing on female vocalist Shaun Murphy—I veered off from their path, mostly consumed with raising a family and climbing ladders of opportunity, which meant some things had to take a backseat or even just disappear in the rearview mirror.

I would run across occasional listings of regional appearances by Feat—in line-ups of various festivals and rib-fests, or as openers for more commercially successful bands—but somehow a huge chunk of time had elapsed and I lost track of their newly recorded output as well.  All the while, though, in my CD mixes and my on-line playlists, there they’d be—the tantalizing tracks from the ‘70s, sounding as vital and fulfilling as the first time my turntable’s needle dropped down on the vinyl...

I saw the band live one more time after those galvanizing club-to-theater concerts in Pittsburgh in 1988, and that was with my friend James Frederick at Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in Warrendale, PA (north of Pittsburgh).  It was January 8, 2013 and we were seated about 15 feet away from the lip of the stage.  The band gear was in place with small amp lights on, and the room was abuzz with expectation and clatter.  I had a few minutes then to really survey the crowd of the faithful—boy, something had happened since those shows in ’88.  Why, it looked like Grizzly Adams was at the bar, and Rip Van Winkle had just settled in; fifty shades of grey wherever I turned.  Old people everywhere.  I whispered this to James, and he suggested I go to the bathroom and take a long hard look in the mirror.

The performance that night—with 40-year Feat members Paul Barrere, Bill Payne, Sam Clayton, and Kenny Gradney, and 24-year veteran Fred Tackett—was not disappointing in the least, and I know that blind devotion and nostalgia were coloring my receptors but I gave in willingly.  The real and reoccurring thrill for me that night was watching each of the individual band members watch each other.  As they sailed through the song list, their faces road-worn and craggy, there were subtle but knowing nods between the players and cracks of smiles at the corners of their lips.  Forty years on from the release of Dixie Chicken, this band of brothers was carrying on… 

Little Feat will always be elbowing their way onto my perpetual playlists here at home, and there isn’t really another band born in the 1970s that I consistently go back to in order to pluck amazing ballads (like “Willin’” from Sailin’ Shoes, “Long Distance Love” from The Last Record Album, or “On Your Way Down” from Dixie Chicken)...or a bit of limb-twitchin’ funk (such as the explosive live version of “Spanish Moon” from Waiting For Columbus or “Fat Man In The Bathtub” from Dixie Chicken)...or incredibly fetching rock ‘n’ roll (like “Rock & Roll Doctor” from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now or “Red Streamliner” from Time Loves A Hero).  I really don’t know who else I’d turn to for such consistently awe-inspiring and fulfilling music—big shoes to fill, when it comes to Feat.







Posted 3/10/19.....TURN BACK THE HANDS OF TIME

H…B…Oh, no!  One can’t escape the media push & pull that is happening right now because of Home Box Office’s recent debut of Leaving Neverland, a two-part, four-hour documentary focusing on two men who claim they were sexually abused by Michael Jackson as children.  The program is sparking schisms and searing emotions across the country.

Musicasaurus.com wishes not to make its way into the fray, however, and instead turn back the hands of time to September 1988 when Michael Jackson came to Pittsburgh for the very first time as a successful solo artist.  Jackson’s first visit to the ‘burgh was in 1971 as the diminutive standout star of the all-brothers musical group the Jackson Five, and they played the Pittsburgh Civic Arena on July 30th of that year.  There were four more Civic Arena concerts that followed in the span of time between 1972-1981, all of them still performed as the brotherhood (with only a name change along the way, from the Jackson Five to the Jacksons).

Though Michael had a hugely successful fifth solo effort in 1979 called Off The Wall, the artist never mounted a solo tour until the Fall of 1987, a full five years after the release of his Thriller album which had pretty much jaw-dropped the planet on turntables, in tape decks, on radio stations and finally, on MTV (the video “Billie Jean” from Thriller is credited in some circles with essentially breaking the color barrier on the fledgling two-year-old music television channel back in the Spring of 1983).

On September 12, 1987 Jackson kicked off his Bad tour, so named for the album that had hit record stores like a tidal wave the preceding month.  Between September and November Jackson hit tour stops in Japan and Australia, and then in February 1988 started up his conquest of various North American cities…and we wanted Pittsburgh to be one of them.

I was working as Director of Booking for the Pittsburgh Civic Arena at that time, under our organization’s team leader Paul Martha, president of the Pittsburgh Penguins and head of Civic Arena Corporation, the entity that managed and operated the venue on behalf of long-term arena leaseholder the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation.  Martha’s first step was to immediately dispatch a few key members of our staff to check out the first stateside concert of Jackson’s Bad tour on the evening of February 23rd in Kansas City.  

These scoping-out missions were not an uncommon practice for some arenas in the U.S. back then—having your people directly experience a show of this magnitude in advance of it eventually coming your way—and so a Civic Arena Corporation marketing person and a couple of our operations department team leaders made their way to Kansas City for opening night to check out everything from the tour’s production requirements and stage set-up, to ticketing issues, crowd control procedures, and more.  

Also, Martha and I did a “kiss the ring” visit to the tour early in its run.  Frank DiLeo, a Pittsburgh native from Point Breeze who was Jackson’s manager at the time and a friend of Martha’s, was amenable to having dinner with us in Indianapolis on March 18th, the first night of a doubleheader concert at the city’s Market Square Arena.  The dinner took place late in the evening after the show, at the hotel where Michael and most of the tour personnel were booked to stay.  

The purpose of our dinner, from Martha’s and my perspectives, was to cement relations and to make sure things moved smoothly toward 100% confirmation of multiple nights in Pittsburgh, not just a single engagement.  DiLeo, whom I’d never met, was warm and low-key and spoke in a fatherly tone about his relationship with Jackson.  He had arrived downstairs in the hotel’s restaurant a little later than he had wanted to, and apologized up front by saying he had just needed to check in to make sure Jackson was settled in for the night.  

“Michael is just unwinding,” I remember DiLeo saying, “he has his pajamas on, and he's watching some television with Bubbles.”  Bubbles was Jackson’s sidekick chimpanzee and the two were inseparable, but this was not news; by this point in time the public was well aware of Jackson’s ever-shifting facial appearance and his other idiosyncrasies, but there was not, it must be said, any sexual abuse rumors and charges floating around freely as this really only came to light beginning in the early 1990s.

Ida D’Errico, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the Civic Arena Corporation from 1982-1989, had one of the best insider-view positions of anyone else on the Pittsburgh team when we finally confirmed our multiple-night run of Jackson shows for September 26, 27 and 28, 1988.  Ida was one of the three from the Civic Arena that had gone on the original reconnaissance mission to Kansas City to preview the tour, and she was also an instrumental player once Jackson and entourage settled in for their September shows here in Pittsburgh.

In her own words, remembering back: “It was THE mega concert of our time.  I was fortunate to be assigned to join two other operations staffers, Mike Gentille and Jim Sacco, to advance the opening date in North America 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, the tour’s tech rider had several requirements.  One 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 first night of the three night engagement, 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 (a store owned by the Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation).  Higbee’s had one and were preparing to quickly deliver it to the arena when Kaufmann's called me to say they located a gray one tucked away in their warehouse.  It was quickly wrapped and delivered.  

“Michael sat on that couch for three days wearing his famous silver-buckled black costume.  The leather couch was then picked up by Kaufmann's after the final night’s performance 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 these tour dates and our Civic Arena management team was the promoter of these shows.  I was asked by the DeBartolos 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.’  That stayed intact, too.

“During the planning process leading up to the show, I was contacted often by Michael's manager Frank DiLeo.  On the last night of shows, Frank insisted that he arrange to have a photo taken of me with Michael, along with his long line of many other backstage 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.”

Veni, vidi, vici…He came, he saw, he conquered.  The King of Pop dazzled Pittsburgh over three consecutive nights in September 1988, and that engagement stands as one of the most memorable events in the forty-nine year history of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, from the opening Ice Capades event on September 17, 1961 through the arena’s closing-bell concert by James Taylor and Carole King on June 26, 2010. 





Posted 2/24/19.....ROLLING IN THE DEEP

The following are a number of deep thoughts.  Or at least I’d like to think so.  They are (of course) music-centric and are things I have wondered about recently; random thoughts that have occurred to me that I can no longer suppress nor file away for another day…

Were perpetual road warriors Lynyrd Skynyrd succumbing to deeper and deeper depression over the years, as Bic lighters flickered out of existence and smartphone glow-screens edged into dominance?  Experiencing “Free Bird” in concert—out on that amphitheater lawn, or up in those arena seats—just ain’t been the same since iPhones and I hope the young will remember, a Skynyrd man don’t need them around anyhow.


On December 31, 1984, drummer Rick Allen of the British hard rock band Def Leppard lost his left arm in a car crash in Sheffield, England.  Did the band initially think about breaking up, and calling their final album Def Leppard: Out On A Limb?



Ad agency types missed their chance with these possible corporate tie-ins to certain artists’ songs:  

1) The S.O.S Soap Pad company could have employed some propulsive theme music for their TV ads promoting their steel wool abrasive cleaning pad by licensing a repeating lyric from The Police’s 1979 song “Message in a Bottle”—“I’ll send an SOS to the world.”

2) La Choy, the brand of canned and prepackaged American Chinese food ingredients, could have used a slightly lyrically rejiggered version of Deniece Williams’ 1984 smash hit from the movie Footloose, “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” (really? I need to spell this one out for you?)

3) GLADD is the acronym for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and it works through entertainment, news, and digital media to share stories from the LGBTQ community that accelerate acceptance.  They could have borrowed Jimi Hendrix’s line from “Purple Haze”—“‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy”—as a backdrop to a GLADD public service announcement, and this would have most assuredly gained traction as it’s what some people think the lyric says anyway.


The following is true. In 1981, at a meeting in Los Angeles with CBS Records executives, Ozzy Osbourne bit the heads off two live doves.  Do you think this dissuaded the Byrds from ever touring with the Oz man?


Is it true that some current progressive rock groups are considering paying tribute to classic 1970s prog-rock superstars Emerson, Lake & Palmer, with an album of cover versions called “With a Little ELP from My Friends?”


Frank Zappa was an iconoclast, his late ‘60s/early ‘70s songs peppered with satire, sardonic wit, surreal soundscapes, and herky-jerky musicianship.  I wonder if his public relations people ever suggested he do some charity work to ratchet back parents’ strongly held beliefs that his band was a threat to normality and family values…Maybe a “Mothers Against Drunk Driving” campaign would have helped.


I had a dream one night that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were on-stage playing, and I was in the front row mystified that each of them didn’t look anything like I thought they would.  The next thing I remember in the dream is a friend telling me the original members had broken up, and what I had been seeing onstage in their place was a recently convicted perv, a renowned ‘50s-60s era female opera star, a country legend and a famous psychoanalyst.  So there you have it:  Cosby, Sills, Cash & Jung. 


When I worked in a small independent record store called Exile Records in the mid-1970s, I always thought about organizing and promoting a Necrophiliac Sale in which dead artists’ albums & tapes would be sale-priced for the weekend.  And following that theme, I wanted to stage an “in-store appearance” of a band that same weekend, instructing the members to all lie down together on the floor in the corner of the shop and to feign demise, uttering not a word nor moving a muscle.  I also wanted to run some radio commercials for the sale that ended with the tagline, “This weekend only, pick up on the best of those at rest!”…Never did any of that.


We all love polls.  With one focusing on “The Albums That Sound Best On Drugs,” the clear winner would be Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon.  Note that there is an inherent problem with this, however.  Survey respondents would need to grapple with turning this record over and placing the needle on Side Two while tripping on acid, and here the degree of difficulty would be enhanced by heightened contemplation of the spinning vortex of a hundred tiny universes dotting the revolving surface of Side One.  


Who of us, of age, didn’t scream “Oh, no!” when The Beatles broke up?  Yet we should not leap to crucify Yoko for this nor jump aboard that bandwagon ‘cause I think that wagon’s pretty damn overstuffed.  I DO want to point out a “positive” here, though, in that Yoko recorded perhaps her greatest musical achievement in 1969, a track released that May on the John Lennon/Yoko Ono album Unfinished Music No. 2: Live with the Lions.  The track is called “Two Minutes Silence,” and it is exactly what is says it is.  And yes, you can find it, and cannot listen to it, right here:  https://youtu.be/Ap59l8YzGZo


Feld Entertainment, Inc., the company behind Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, announced at the start of 2017 that the 146-year run of circus dates across America would cease in May of that year, citing dwindling ticket sales, high operating costs and changing public tastes.  Why they didn’t reach out to Insane Clown Posse just mystifies me; this could have been the circus’ salvation for a couple of reasons. 

If the Feld company had begun targeting the disheveled, the disaffected and the disenfranchised—yes, the ICP fan base, a previously ignored segment of the youth market—that might have boosted attendance beyond the usual family draw.  Plus, Insane Clown Posse could have easily been integrated into the traditional “cram in the car” maneuvers in the center ring, but also could have run up and down the general seating sections hawking soda cans of Faygo (and then true-to-form spraying any six-year-old whose mom didn’t immediately cough up the bucks).



Odd Couples or couplings you may have missed (dig further elsewhere, if you don’t believe these): Cher was once married to Gregg Allman.....the Jimi Hendrix Experience was the warm-up act for the Monkees on seven dates of the latter’s 1967 summer concert tour.....and Bing Crosby sang a duet with David Bowie on a television Christmas special.


Over the ten-year period of 1992 through 2001, the following bands appeared as either warm-up acts or as festival fillers for Ozzy Osborne concerts at the Pittsburgh area amphitheater where I worked: Ugly Kid Joe, Prong, Megadeth, Coal Chamber, System Of A Down, Snot, Incubus, Ultraspank, Slayer, Godsmack, Fear Factory, Slipknot, Hed Pe, Methods Of Mayhem, Deadlights, Disturbed, Slaves on Dope and Crazy Town.  What I loved the best about these shows were the handful of parents who showed up and complained to our guest services staff about the coarse language from the stage, the fires out on the lawn, and the staggering amount of drunk people (or was it the amount of staggering drunk people…I forget.).  Our guest services people tried to calm these outraged parents down, but clearly someone had NOT done their homework.


When I saw this particular photo of Ike & Tina Turner, I thought it might have been taken at the house across the street from where the much younger Ralph Northam was partying way back when...But this is actually a photo from the duo’s 1969 release Outta Season which, according to the website PopMatters, “featured the infamous album cover of Ike and Tina in white face, chomping on watermelon.  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."


What was Joe Cocker actually singing at Woodstock, during his electrifying cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends?”  I never knew, as he was a bit marble-mouthed—and then I caught this YouTube clip that spelled it all out for me:  https://youtu.be/eEb8DflQ9lY





Posted 2/10/19.....MONEY (THAT’S WHAT I WANT)

They say that love makes the world go round...but you know, so does sponsorship.

Recently Musicasaurus.com was once again tackling the tar pit that is its life, and by that I mean the Clutter (with a capital “C”) around my house.  I don’t border on hoarder; it’s not that.  I simply never took an ax (or a shredder) to the accumulation of decades of stuff, and so finding a personal little jewel tucked away, I found, is still possible.

One of the things I ferreted out was an amphitheater list from exactly fifteen years ago from the Spring of 2004.  And it had to do with amphitheater sponsorship.

A bit of background first: Fifteen years ago I was the general manager of the Post-Gazette Pavilion (now Key Bank Pavilion), the full-size amphitheater serving Western Pennsylvania that is situated about 30 minutes from Pittsburgh in Washington County.  When the amphitheater was truly crankin’—in terms of the number of summer events—we’d have about 40 shows a summer (essentially from 1990-1999).  By 2004 our show counts were down in the 30s, but we were still profitable and probably all the wiser, in that it’s not the number of shows you have, it’s how many of them are winners and how many are losers.  Putting the brakes on questionable bookings, we found, was not a bad thing at all.

From the beginning of our existence, though, sponsorship was key.  Outdoor venues like ours craved shows to fill the schedule, and the negotiations to land a particular touring artist usually included paying them a whopping guarantee, i.e., some A$tronomical $um.  We would then hope to sell enough tickets to cover all of our costs, yet in a lot of instances it was the ancillary revenue from popcorn, pilsner and parking that really $aved our a$$.

With the artists beating us up with their guarantees, we counted heavily on this revenue from food, beverage and parking to soften the blow and, most often, we’d then turn some level of bottom-line profit.  Over time, though, some pinnacle artists who carried a big negotiating stick (Jimmy Buffett and a few others) essentially picked our ancillary pockets, constructing their deals such that some of our food, beverage and parking revenue would flow to them at the end of the day—hence the importance of venue sponsorship.

This was the one area that was untouched by the touring artists from Day One.  Amphitheaters like ours in those early years loaded up their venues with sponsors of all kinds, and through each successive summer continued to creatively design new sponsor opportunities to keep amassing this local treasure-trove of funds.


Post-Gazette Pavilion (first birthed as Star Lake Amphitheater in 1990) was in its 15thyear of existence in that summer of 2004.  We had a great line-up of shows that year, including Jimmy Buffett, the recently reunited Fleetwood Mac, Sting with Annie Lennox, Projekt Revolution (Linkin Park, Korn and Snoop Dogg), pop queen Jessica Simpson, Dave Matthews Band, the tenth anniversary edition of The Warped Tour, and more.  And we were “mature” by outdoor amphitheater standards by that fifteenth summer, having nurtured and built up an audience, kept pace with R & M (repairs & maintenance) and facility improvements, and uncovered new revenue streams to keep the parent company happy—or at least off our backs.

When I found this amphitheater sponsor list from 2004 it took me back to the heady days of runnin’ the joint, and our unified scramble each Fall, Winter and Spring to renew the previous year’s sponsors and to plow ahead, of course, angling for new money dangling.

The following list reveals just one aspect of venue sponsorship, but it is an important one: On-site visibility.  This might be a stroll down memory lane for some of you “Summer of ‘04” concert-goers as well, since most of these entities lined our plazas and our walkways from the main entry gates on down to the lowest pedestrian points near the stage.  I think this list lets you glimpse the ingenuity involved in securing a diverse group of promotion-minded sponsors—and occasionally it points to the depths we would plumb in order to make a buck (or more precisely, another buck).

The 2004 List of On-Site Sponsors at Post-Gazette Pavilion:

There were twenty-four total on-site sponsor/vendors. Each paid a pretty penny to be with us, and we afforded them the right to show and/or dispense their wares to the strolling concert fans who were either fresh through the gates, taking a breather from the mostly meaningless opening acts, or on their way to relieve themselves of bodily fluids before queuing up once again for more bladder fuel at the concession stands.

The on-site sponsor displays significantly contributed to the fun and festive atmosphere, altogether just one more interesting aspect of the total fan concert experience.

These first twelve will pass without much comment; they were fairly “standard stuff” at the amphitheater back then:  

* Best Buy, sponsor of our second stage in the West Plaza.

* JBL, the audio electronics company who sponsored our sound technician’s mixing tent in front of the second stage.

* Ebay, American Express, WPGH-TV (Fox 53), and the convenience store GetGo who all had 10’ x 10’ tents for literature pass-outs and/or new customer sign-ups.

* Land O’ Lakes and Smith Hot Dogs, who each had large inflatables anchored to the ground for can’t-miss visibility.

* Snyder of Berlin, the Berlin, PA chip company who passed out product and coupons at our “Kid Drop-off Zone” at the top of the roadway entrance to the amphitheater.

* Ticketfast, who handled our ongoing Ticketmaster promotion that allowed early entrance through the facility gates with a special admission pass.

* Wheeling Island, the nearby West Virginia gambling hotspot who sponsored our open-to-the-public deck area in the west plaza.

* And GMC, the automobile dealer association that sponsored our country shows who, in addition to a humungous logo inflatable and a 10’ x 10’ tent, had six of their cars parked onsite in high visibility areas of our east and west plazas.

These other 12 were a bit more interesting, as I reflect back:

* Post-Gazette newspaper stands and vendor stations – The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was our name-in-title venue sponsor, of course, and they provided their own staff to sell—usually for $1.50—a recent edition of their newspaper that was wrapped with a four-page, full-color concert section specifically tailored to that night’s performer line-up.  Some artists grumbled about us giving the Post-Gazette the right to do this; they were under the impression that these Post-Gazette “wraps” would affect their own tour merchandise sales, which was…well, poppycock.

* Bound By Design – They had a 10’ x 10’ tent staffed by their employees who did temporary tattoos (to paraphrase Rick James, “the kind you can bring home to motherrrr.”)

* The Captain Morgan’s Hut – This little plywood building housed a liquor point-of-sale, and right next to it were the company’s gigantic inflatables of a Smirnoff bottle and a Jose Cuervo bottle.  I remember one night James Taylor, in between songs, spied the large liquor inflatables at the same time that he had noticed all of the GMC cars parked in the plazas.  He pointed them out to the audience, and then said over the microphone, “Is this place telling you to drink and drive?!!”

* Dick’s Sporting Goods’ Sports Zone – This company sponsored a basketball toss and a small putting green in two different locations in the plazas, and our employees manning those games—dressed pretty much like Dick’s—were charged with giving out store coupons as prizes.

* f.y.e. – The employees of this national entertainment-media chain sold records and tapes, and distributed store literature from a 10’ x 10’ tent.  At the time, the chain’s parent company owner Trans World Entertainment also owned record stores including Strawberries, Record Town, Coconuts and Camelot, and in 2009—no surprise—f.y.e. reportedly closed over one hundred locations nationally and then fifty-two more in 2012.

* Rick’s Ranchwear – This entity had two stocked-to-the-gills trailers of cowpoke merchandise, one in each of the two main plazas.  They set up only at certain shows, selling their wares to the country crowds at concerts like Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn and Tim McGraw.  The area around these trailers seemed perpetually jammed—and that’s not counting the handful of male security guards who would more-than-occasionally “wander by,” stealing glances at the young women leaving the line sporting their new knee-high boots and brand new hats. 

* Gunslingers – This sponsor had a 10’ x 20’ tent usually with one grunge dude and one motorcycle mama doing tattoos and body piercings.

* Simple Twist of Fate – This hip little entrepreneur sold tapestries, incense and beads, and likely came up with his company’s name while under the influence of the Dylan song, or maybe he had simply twisted up a fatty for inspiration—in any case, his product was popular especially at the jam band shows.

* U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company – This sponsor had a 10’ x 15’ tent for sampling snuff (not the films).  Of course they didn’t peddle this cancerous commodity at kids’ shows like Britney or Backstreet; instead, they served the more adult segments of our Buzzed and our Sloshed—i.e., the crowds at our country music concerts and classic rock shows.

* Jack Daniels – This liquor company had one tremendously oversized inflatable, a big badass bottle of Jack, at five mutually-agreed shows during the concert season (you can bet your bottom dollar they blew up that sucker for Hank Jr. and Skynyrd!).

* Beano’s – This was the deli condiment company and not the fart-suppression firm, just so you know...Their sponsorship deal enabled them to sample their deli condiment products at eight of our shows, cruising in one of our venue golf carts throughout the parking lot areas where people tailgated.  And for two of their chosen eight shows, Beano’s was able to have one of their inflatables inside our facility gates in one of the plazas.  I honestly can’t remember what the inflatable looked like or how large it was; it was probably one mean mister mustardthough.

* Trojan – This sponsor had a 10’ x 10’ tent from which their employees distributed free condoms at mutually agreed shows.  At the conclusion of some of these concerts we would find a number of still-packaged condoms peppered about our lawn and sprinkled throughout the parking lots, and we’d even find a few in our exit lanes—truly the place where the rubber met the road.





Posted 1/27/19.....FUNNY HOW TIME SLIPS AWAY

On January 9, 2019 the online professional entertainment magazine CelebrityAccess ENCORE reported that the original Woodstock Music & Arts Fair is going to be commemorated by the launching of a golden anniversary event.  Official confirmation for this was provided by the original festival’s co-producer and co-founder Michael Lang, who said, “It’s time to put the speculation to rest and officially announce that Woodstock 50 is happening.  

“The original festival in ’69 was a reaction by the youth of the time to the causes we felt compelled to fight for—civil rights, women’s rights, and the antiwar movement, and it gave way to our mission to share peace, love and music.  Today, we’re experiencing similar disconnects in our country, and one thing we’ve learned is that music has the power to bring people together.  So, it’s time to bring the Woodstock spirit back, get involved and make our voices heard.”


The festival has had more than a couple of hiccup rebirths through the years, principally Woodstock ’94 (two, not three days of peace & music in mid-August in Saugerties, New York) and Woodstock 1999 (four days in July on the site of a former Air Force base in Rome, New York).  Both of these large-scale attempts to feed off the brand were unfortunately marred by greed and poor planning.  Neither doled out peace and music in equal measure, as fans were plagued in both instances by, among other things, a lack of security coordination given the size of the gatherings, and an ill (nay, dead on arrival) conceived policy of the promoters at least initially prohibiting food, beverages and alcohol from being brought into the concert areas by fans.  

Who knows…Woodstock 50, headed for Watkins Glen, New York for August 16-18, 2019, may turn out to be quite a paean to peace, love and understanding.  This year’s organizers may be more committed than ever to conjuring up and infusing that spirit of the first festival—but of course we haven’t had that spirit here since 1969…

I did not attend the original Woodstock festival, by the way, even though I was certainly of age to contemplate it.  I had just turned 16 a few months before the festival took place, but within my immediate circle of friends in Butler, PA no one owned a set of wheels to at least start us down that road.  And no one had sympathetic parents either, a father or mother who could brush aside the notion that their child was just going to fill the car with scuzzbucket friends and barrel northward.

So twenty years passed before I had any significant brush with the spirit of Woodstock, and that came—in 1989—in the form of a Woodstock reunion concert that was touring the country that particular summer.  I was employed at the time by the Pittsburgh Civic Arena and held the title of director of booking.  My job was handling the official calendar for the building, placing dates on hold for the Pittsburgh Penguins to annually work out their season home game schedules, and I also worked with a host of live-entertainment promoters who brought us a myriad of events like WWF wrestling, motorsports and truck & tractor pull events, circuses, ice shows—and of course concerts.

The concert business in the mid-late ‘80s was morphing a bit.  Across the country, arena operators were usually standing idly by and waiting for their local-market concert promoters to bring all of the musical artist attractions into town.  In Pittsburgh, we looked at that situation a bit differently.  We were part of an aggressive, proactive organization headed by Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. that held the management lease to the arena (DeBartolo also owned the hockey team), and we realized that we needed to inject ourselves into that concert promotion business to ensure that as many shows as possible came to Pittsburgh and played our venue.

Hence we became promoters as well, and our internal marketing department Civic Arena Corporation Advertising became the face of our new in-house concert promotion company.  Note: We never called Civic Arena Corporation Advertising by its acronym, for it seemed to suggest something smelly in a baby’s diaper.  But appropriately enough, in that summer of 1989, we did lay a bit of a turd with the concert called “The 20thAnniversary Woodstock Reunion Show.”

To be fair, we had had a great number of successes promoting our own concerts at the Civic Arena, including the likes of Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Heart, Chicago, James Taylor, The Beach Boys and many more.  But success sometimes breeds...overreaching.  That summer of ’89 we needed one more show to fulfill our minimum quota for our concert-series sponsor Miller Beer, and it seemed to be rather slim pickin’s in the touring circuit at the time so we grabbed this Woodstock reunion package, selling ourselves internally on its potential viability by saying “It’s WOODSTOCK, man...Twentieth Anniversary!  How bad can it be?!!”

Bad to the bone, as it turned out.  Tickets were placed on sale, and the show limped along on life support.  The line-up wasn’t terrible, really; we had Richie Havens, Melanie, John Sebastian (lead singer of the Lovin’ Spoonful), Country Joe McDonald (of Country Joe & The Fish), and Band of Gypsys (minus Jimi, of course).  We had apparently just overestimated the enduring appeal of Woodstock, and we now knew we were headed for a real financial whacking...

Fortunately, there is an unspoken code of self preservation among promoters and venues that when a show is lagging in sales, with no good fortune in sight, one does what one has to do to protect the bottom line.  In this case, we exercised Promoter Survival Tool # 43 (just made that up, but it sounds official): Cancel one of the artists right before the show so that you save money in the overall expense budget—but also don’t let the general public know this fact in advance so that there’s not a stampede for ticket refunds.  Well…we all loved Melanie, but she drew the short straw.


On Wednesday August 16th, the evening of the 20thAnniversary Woodstock Reunion Show, there was a huddle backstage about the Melanie situation.  It was decided that our arena production manager Mike Gentille would run up immediately before the first artist took the stage to let the crowd know this piece of news.  So at that appropriate moment, Gentille ran up to the microphone and blurted out “Ladies and gentlemen, due to unforeseen circumstances Melanie will not be appearing tonight.  And now, here’s JOHN SEBASTIAN!!!”  Sebastian bounded to center stage, and well into his first song, the crowd was still relentlessly booing over the newsflash about Melanie.  After Sebastian’s set was done, he raced backstage and found Gentille in the dressing room hallway.  Inches from his face, Sebastian screamed “Don’t you EVER do a thing like that AGAIN!!!!”

That happened about the same time we found out that Buddy Miles of the Band of Gypsys had missed his flight to Pittsburgh, and we were told he wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it in time to do the show.  This bit of bad news was relayed to us by the Woodstock Reunion tour manager, and we pleaded with him to get back on the phone with Mr. Miles and insist that he take the very next available flight.  We then set about switching the order of appearance of the artists so that the Band of Gypsys would play last—and then we held our breath.  With the next-to-last artist on stage and literally minutes to spare, Buddy Miles strode through the backstage entrance along with Jimi Hendrix’s brother Leon, the Gypsys’ guitarist.  The show would go on with no more Sturm und Drang.  Buddy had made it, and was a Miles of Smiles.

There was no such relief, however, when our arena accountants prepared the profit/loss paperwork on the show the next morning.  With only a couple of thousand people in attendance, the 20thAnniversary Woodstock Reunion Show was an unqualified non-success...

Woodstock ‘69 was the real deal, and we had found it hard in ’89 to replicate.  Besides the debacle on the financial side of things, the performances were shadows of their former selves; John Sebastian was noticeably off-tune through portions of his set…Country Joe?  He was so-so…and Leon Hendrix could never in a million years even brush up against the hem of his brother’s garment.

Today you can still run into the occasional concert zealot who says that he or she was there at the original Woodstock.  And you sometimes get the immediate, likely well-founded impression that he or she really wasn’t.  Regarding the Civic Arena’s reunion concert, our “Woodstock on fumes,” I know there’s at least a handful of folks who would say they weren’t there—even if they were.





Posted 1/13/19.....ALL THINGS MUST PASS (revisited)

All in all it’s just another pass on the wall…

The above photo is a framed wall collage of some of my favorite backstage passes from time spent in the concert venue business at Star Lake Amphitheater.  Below is a close-up view of a handful of these and the accompanying reasons why the show triggers more than a trickle of memories…

Saturday, June 16, 1990 – The Open House Rocker

When June rolls around this year, it will notably be the 30thanniversary of the opening show at Star Lake Amphitheater (the 20,000+ capacity outdoor venue about 27 miles from downtown Pittsburgh in nearby Washington County).  My time at the amphitheater as marketing director-turned-GM spanned 1991 through 2007, so I missed by one year this cobbled-together kickoff event which launched the very first season.

When amphitheater goers from that first season of 1990 are asked “What was the first show ever at Star Lake?” they invariably point to the sold-out Billy Joel concert of Sunday, June 17.  Joel played that sold-out Monday night as well, but it was the Sunday show that largely remains lodged in people’s memories—like a tumor.  The traffic getting out to the amphitheater and the line of cars trying to get into the venue’s parking lots via the one and only entrance amounted to a horrific nightmare.  Traffic was snarled and car occupants snarling; it was a quagmire that still lives in local legend.

But the Open House Rocker on the night preceding the first Joel concert was, with only 6,000 people in attendance, a different affair.  The venue operators had scheduled this local artists’ show to be before Billy as a “test case” to work out the operational bugs on concession stand staffing, security team deployment, etc.  And though the parking personnel also did their run-through that evening, they just couldn’t prepare for, or even begin to imagine, the problems they’d encounter the very next night as a deluge of 20,000 people (and half as many cars) descended upon the amphitheater… 

Onstage at the Open House Rocker was the bright spot, however.  Donnie Iris and The Cruisers headlined the concert, and also performing that evening were Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers, Billy Price & The Keystone Rhythm Band, The Clarks, and The Zippers.  The latter may not be as well known to Pittsburghers as the first four, certainly; they were a “power-pop bar band” that had a brand spanking new album on MCA records at that point in time.  These days, thirty years later, Iris is still cruisin’, Joe still rockin’, Billy still belting the blues, and The Clarks—with all of their original members intact—are still recording and performing.  The Zippers, though, pulled apart.  Their 1990 MCA release had little success, and the band broke up about a year after that Open House Rocker.

Monday, July 8, 1991 – 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 also 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 spit between the bellicose and the comatose.  There were the unruly shouter-outers who whooped it up with every salacious comment from the Dice Man, and then the beer-befogged party animals who had apparently run out of steam while pre-gaming and so just 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 employer of summertime attractions.  So we had rolled with the Dice, of course (as they say, every dog has its day).

Friday, July 12, 1991 – Club MTV

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 in attendance, it was a plastic but fantastic evening.

Tuesday, August 8, 1995 – Santana and Jeff Beck

For me this tour package was a dream come true.  I am a long out-of-the-closet guitar worshipper simply because of the soundscapes I have discovered through the years, whether it is the original Allmans’ guitar interplay, or Ry Cooder’s sly slide, or Christian artist Phil Keaggy’s heavenly nimbleness, or Norwegian Terje Rypdal’s atmospheric accents.  

With Santana and Jeff Beck, the Star Lake crowd of around 11,000 fans soaked up an evening’s worth of guitar heroics, with Carlos and company performing the band’s classics such as “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va” at encore time, and Beck during his set delivering “Freeway Jam” and “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” from his revelatory record 1975’s Blow By Blow.

Santana and his band even mixed in a couple of covers during their set—Bob Marley’s “Exodus” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic.”  Carlos was reportedly just flat out in awe of the latter’s gifts on guitar, and somewhere along the line in my rock readings I found a revealing quote from him about his hero: “I especially always liked it when Jimi Hendrix would play the song (“Voodoo Chile”) 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.  And I saw Stevie Ray do it one time too.  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.”  

On this August 1995 evening at Star Lake, that’s what we saw and heard—the sacred and the profane, spooling out all evening long through two cosmically inspired, infinitely gifted guitarists.

Sunday, July 18, 1999 – Paul Simon and Bob Dylan

This combination of dual headliners worked very well in terms of attendance with over 17,000 trekking out to Star Lake on this Sunday evening.  This was a bit surprising to me because the ticket prices were fairly aggressive for this late 1990s time period.  I don’t recall the specific pricing, but let’s just say that mucho dinero was required to sit up close anywhere near the stage and from there on back, ticket prices were similarly steep but tiered in sections until the seats eventually gave way to the lawn…

This tiered, boundary-pushing pricing was the “brilliant” idea of SFX Entertainment founder Robert F.X. Sillerman, a shark and a bold, brash entrepreneur who had begun in the mid-late 1990s buying up concert promotion businesses all across the USA, including the Houston-based parent company of Star Lake Amphitheater, PACE.  All of us at the amphitheater were a bit flummoxed by the new rules coming down from SFX, as Sillerman was not someone who had ever worked in the music business before.

The Paul Simon / Bob Dylan pairing was in fact one of the first shows that SFX had put together to “feed the system,” i.e., to provide more shows to the company’s outdoor venues all across the country.  A decent start for sure, but unfortunately the high ticket prices—necessitated in large part by escalating touring artist prices—became the rule versus the exception.  This approach unfortunately became the hallmark of SFX and a questionable legacy for the live entertainment business that is still under debate today.

Oh…what about the concert itself, though?  I looked back to the day-after-show concert review on Monday, July 19, 1999 by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s entertainment writer Scott Mervis, whose first thoughts were about the weird teaming up of Simon and Dylan at the outset, performing and singing together on a handful of songs: “You had to be there to believe how odd it was,” Mervis wrote, “to hear the opening strains of ‘The Sounds of Silence,’ hear Paul Simon's mournful, melodic opening, and then, in the place of the high harmony of Art Garfunkel, hear the raspy croak of Bob Dylan.  If Bob had been Paul's boyhood friend growing up, let's just say the history of pop music, not to mention the '60s, could have been a lot different.  But Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minn., and thank goodness for that.”

On Paul Simon, who performed the first full set:  “Simon, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, opened, unleashing what you could call his United Nations Orchestra, one of the tightest, funkiest, most dynamic ensembles that you'll ever see.  There wasn't a flat note, a missed cue or an inaudible lyric.  Everything was perfect.  The horn section, including Pittsburgher Jay Ashby on trombone, was bright and well capable of playing serious jazz.  The rhythm section, like a certain cereal, had that snap, crackle and pop.”

On Bob Dylan, who closed the show:  “Although he has an even bigger repertoire to draw upon, Dylan and his four horsemen had a hard act to follow, especially with Dylan's even more aloof stage presence and his constant tinkering with his classic melodies.  (What was wrong with ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ the original way?)

“Dylan's set opened like a religious revival with the rousing gospel hymn called ‘Hand of the Lord,’ that recalled his shows at the Stanley Theater 20 years ago.

“Rather than the bright dynamics of Simon's ensemble, Dylan's bar band, featuring Charlie Sexton on guitar, came to grind it out with only guitars, bass and drums. They aren't the cleanest band in the land, but they can play dark and dirge-like for songs like ‘Masters of War’ and ‘Not Dark Yet.’  Or rev up like rolling thunder as they did on ‘Highway 61.’

“The puzzling thing about Dylan is he has this strange need to reinterpret his songs, but he's been on a Never-Ending Tour without ever changing the instrumentation.

“While Dylan might be better off taking a break to regroup, it would be nice to see Simon around a little more often.”





Posted 12/30/18.....WILL I SEE YOU IN HEAVEN

Another year passes…and so of course do singers, songwriters and musicians.  This is a look at those who left us in the calendar year 2018…

Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks – December 6, 2018 at the age of 63

Pete Shelley, along with singer-songwriter Howard Devoto, was a co-founder of The Buzzcocks, a pioneering punk band that formed in Manchester, England in 1976 over a shared love of NYC’s Velvet Underground.  In their own country, the fledging band was enthralled with and greatly encouraged by the rise of snarling agitators the Sex Pistols, who were just beginning their assault on Britain’s staid cultural conventions.

The Buzzcocks brought notoriety to the burgeoning Manchester scene in this mid-late ‘70s period where peers like The Smiths and The Fall were forming, and they also are credited with fomenting punk’s D.I.Y. (“Do It Yourself”) approach to the record business. Their initial release Spiral Scratch from early ’77 was an EP (i.e., a handful of songs and not a full album), and was one of the earliest English punk recordings.  The band had snubbed the major London-based record companies and released it on their own quickly-hatched label instead, and this helped spawn—some critics agree—the ascent of the indie music scene in the U.K.  The term “indie” eventually came to define both a style of songwriting and recording, and a method of publishing and promoting. 


Roy Clark – November 15, 2018 at the age of 85

I first remember Clark from the CBS network’s Hee Haw, which was an incredibly popular television program filled with comedy skits that ranged from corny to corn-pone.  But it also had guitarist Clark and other master musicians nestled in with the revolving list of country music guest star appearances.  The program ran uninterruptedly for 25 years, first on CBS from 1969 through 1971, and then in syndication throughout the nation all the way through 1993.  

I wasn’t a fan during its initial three-year run on CBS because this coincided, for me, with the floodgates of rock ‘n’ roll (and all its permutations) bursting wide open and titillating my coming-into-college-age brain.  But one particular evening in 1971 my car broke down on a weekend trip home to Butler, PA from my first year at Clarion State College.  No spare tire; no cell phone.  So I knocked on the nearest house’s front door somewhere along a snaking passage of rural Route 38, and I was invited in to call my father via their landline.  While I waited for my father to fetch me I got cozy in the living room with my saviors, an elderly couple who were glued to Hee Haw, and if they weren’t exactly knee slapping throughout, they were highly entertained.  This was my first and only exposure to this program in its entirety.

It was much later in life when I looked back at the talent of Clark and the other members of the program’s Million Dollar Band, who provided musical interludes full of prime pickin’ and instrumental wizardry.  Throughout the ‘80s, Clark led this band that featured Nashville greats including Chet Atkins on guitar and Boots Randolph on saxophone, and the lesser known but equally skilled Floyd Cramer on piano and Charlie McCoy on harmonica.

Upon Clark’s passing, country star Brad Paisley said in a tweet, “How many guitar players started with a Roy Clark guitar method book?  How many guitars were sold to people wanting to play because of him?  How many lives were made better because of his wit and joy? 

"Roy Clark shaped my path.  My Papaw introduced me to his music as a toddler.  Every Saturday we’d watch Hee Haw.  My first guitar book was a Roy Clark guitar method.  I practiced his style, then practiced making his facial expressions.

"He was a hero. And so many have the same story."


Marty Balin – September 27, 2018 at the age of 76

Balin was a fascination for me in terms of his voice, which sailed on a bit higher register than some other rock ‘n’ roll singers of the mid-late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and he had a prowess and a passion that, to me, fueled the Airplane.  He was a founder of this legendary band, the Jefferson Airplane, a psychedelic and politically pointed ragtag crew of San Franciscans who swept their followers up into the tide of social upheaval and musical exploration that was firing up the youth culture at that time.

While co-vocalist Grace Slick arguably drew the most attention through her powerhouse performances of songs like “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love” from 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow album, it was Balin who I gravitated to in album cuts such as “Comin’ Back To Me” and “Today,” and also in songs like “She Has Funny Cars,” a more uptempo rocker that demonstrated the band’s adeptness at showcasing two unique-sounding lead vocalists.

But the tunes that I always turn to when I want to ride with the Airplane are performances of “3/5 Of A Mile In Ten Seconds” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” absolutely ripping live versions of these songs that were originally recorded for and placed upon Surrealistic Pillow.  Culled from Fillmore East and Fillmore West concerts in late 1968, these live renditions on 1969’s Bless Its Pointed Little Head shear off the shackles of their in-the-studio recordings and riotously reveal the band members’ formidable talents and propulsive interplay.  This is loose, swinging and thunderous rock that shakes you by the lapels and commands you jump into its slipstream—and on top of it all, Balin is a-wailin’ as if his life depended upon it.

The singer’s full flight with the Airplane wasn’t all that long, however.  The band had formed in 1965 but Balin bailed by 1971, citing (much later on) the emerging differences in the band members’ lifestyle choices—chiefly in matters of consumption, ingestion, etc.  Balin had abandoned the bottle and turned up his nose at the ubiquitous presence of coke both in the band and on the scene, and left to pursue other projects.  

In 1974 he was approached by the Airplane’s Paul Kantner about co-writing a song for Kantner’s newest band project Jefferson Starship, and Balin then wrapped his pipes around this new tune called “Caroline” which turned out to be one of the more arresting tracks on the resulting album Dragonfly.  The success of Kantner’s newest formation led Balin to officially climb aboard the following year, and the band’s 1975 album Red Octopus sported the singer’s self-penned tune “Miracles,” a song that noted New York Times critic Stephen Holden subsequently labeled the singer’s “little masterpiece of pop pillow talk.” “Miracles” became the highest charting single ever for The Jeffersons (both Airplane and Starship).

He may be gone now, but I know I will still revisit his works from time to time…Oh, Marty boy, your pipes, your pipes are calling…


Hugh Masekela – January 23, 2018 at the age of 78

Masekela was a South African jazz musician who is principally known outside of jazz circles as the man behind the Number One pop radio hit from 1968 entitled “Grazing In The Grass.”  He was a man on a mission, or really, several missions—trumpeter and flugelhorn player, bandleader, and political activist.

From South Africa at the age of 21 he set out to study music abroad, and a couple of mentors—Africa’s Miriam Makeba (later on his wife for a time) and the USA’s Harry Belafonte—helped him on that path.  He received a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music and became steeped in the jazz scene of New York City, catching some of his idols in concert such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and Mingus.  Davis in particular had some career advice for Masekela, begging him to ease up on the bebop and find his own path.  “Listen,” Davis told him.  “I'm going to tell you something.  You're going to be artistic because there's thousands of us playing jazz but nobody knows the shit that you know, you know, and if you can put that shit in your shit, then we're going to be listening.”

Masekela thus found his calling—a mix of jazz and soul leavened with South African influences that had permeated his childhood, like the popular urban musical style called mbaqanga.  In the late 1960s the artist appeared at a string of music festivals in the USA including Monterey Pop in 1967 alongside Joplin, Hendrix, Otis Redding and The Who, and that same year also played at Bill Graham’s legendary Fillmore West in San Francisco.

Politics—specifically, crusading against the apartheid of his homeland—coursed through his veins as much as the music.  Exiled by his own government as a young man, Masekela in 1977 released a protest song (“Soweto Blues,” sung by Miriam Makeba) that garnered international attention for the 1976 student anti-apartheid uprising in Soweto.  In 1986 he then wrote and recorded “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela),” an appeal for the release of the revered black leader who by that time had been imprisoned by the white South African government for twenty-four years. This song became a touchstone for the anti-apartheid movement in the latter half of that decade, and contributed to the groundswell of support for Mandela which culminated in his release, finally, in 1990.

Upon the death of Masekela in January 2018, South African President Jacob Zuma said that the musician “kept the torch of freedom alive globally, fighting apartheid through his music and mobilising international support for the struggle for liberation and raising awareness of the evils of apartheid...His contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten.”


Geoff Emerick…December 5, 1945 – October 2, 2018 (age 72)

Emerick was not a musician, but he, along with producer Sir George Martin, helped change the landscape of music for generations that followed—he was the engineer who helmed The Beatles’ game-changing albums of the 1960s.  At the age of 15, Englishman Emerick found employment at Abbey Road Studios in London and was assistant engineer on The Fab Fours’ earliest recordings starting in 1962 including “Love Me Do,” “P.S. I Love You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “She Loves You,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and on down the line…Just before he turned 20, Emerick became the band’s official recording engineer and worked directly with producer Martin and the boys on their seventh studio album Revolver, which heralded a new direction for the band in terms of their sonic experimentation within the studio.

Revolver (August 1966) was the album that, critics agree, substantially elevated the art of studio recording.  Upon its release, the record set musicians’ and wannabes’ tongues wagging all over the UK and throughout the USA.  Just as the group’s early hits such as “She Loves You” sparked kids here, there and everywhere to pick up a guitar and start a band, songs from Revolver like “She Said She Said,” “Yellow Submarine” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” spurred a number of other bands to delve into all of the creative outlets and avenues that the studio could reveal through time spent and an “all things possible” approach to recording.

Yes, Revolver was revolutionary. Bear in mind, this was 1966 and there was no internet, no social media leaks—music fans everywhere simply waited until any new Beatles’ album would hit the stores and then they’d rip off the wrapping, drop the needle on the turntable, and revel in the reveal.  Revolver was the first of The Beatles’ albums to have innovations galore—tape loops, backwards guitar parts, double-tracked vocals, sound effects and samples.  About Emerick’s work on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” author Kenneth Womack (biographer of a two-volume work on Sir George Martin) said “One need only look to his first session as the Beatles’ engineer in 1966, when he worked the session for ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and dared to capture the sound of John Lennon singing like the Dalai Lama on some faraway mountaintop." 

Emerick continued in his linchpin collaborative role with The Beatles and Martin on the undisputed classics Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road,and on significant portions of Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album.  As the ‘70s dawned and the Beatles’ sun had set, Emerick went on to work with some other sonically adventurous artists including McCartney (Band On The Run), Jeff Beck (Wired), Robin Trower (Bridge Of Sighs), and Elvis Costello (Imperial Bedroom), and he labored as well on select albums by Badfinger, Art Garfunkel, Cheap Trick, Supertramp, Split Enz, and many more.

Some honorable mentions of others who have gone on to Rock and Roll Heaven this year:















Posted 12/16/18.....THE GREATEST GIFT

Christmas is nigh and musicasaurus.com thought you might like, here in mid-December, a music-lover’s guide to some holiday gifts that are for the most part delightfully off the mainstream.  ALL of the items below are real and available for purchase, and most of what you’ll see is available through Etsy.  

Pick anything here…and then be glued to those Christmas morning faces when eager hands rip off the wrapping.  At some point you may just find the lion’s share of your recipients starting to mutter those immortal words “It is better to give than to receive.”… 



This is a relationship clincher for sure.  If you are bestowing this mug on your mate, someone who’s guilty as charged, you are essentially dismantling pretense and ripping the covers off the cold hard truth.  And this MAY end up being your loved one’s favorite coffee cup from Christmas Day forward, so get ready for many more mornings of an intense gaze above a steaming mug which bears a message that bares it all.


2.) Guns N’ Roses Christmas Sweater

This had me at “Welcome To The Jingle.”  I am not sure how many folks can really associate the spirit of the holidays with GNR, but some people have an appetite for construction.


3.) The Bladder Pipe

Just the name alone gives me some discomfort, but this medieval bagpipe is handmade to order, constructed of elderberry wood (then varnished) with its attached bag made of rubber and covered with artificial black fur.  You can check it out further through this YouTube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDh4dVlVA28.


4.) Classic Hardcore Punk Albums – Unframed Print

This poster was tailor made for loners’ bedrooms, and reflects the best of this country’s hardcore punk innovators and purveyors from the ‘80s into the ‘90s, including Hüsker Dü, Germs, Minutemen, Circle Jerks, Black Flag and more from original hotbeds such as Southern California; Austin, Texas; Washington, D.C. and New York City.


5.) Rat Taxidermy One-Man Band

The perpetrator calls his business Eerily Beloved (“The Cutest the Dead Can Get! Taxidermy + Oddities”) and is apparently based in Anderson, Indiana. As the pitch on Etsy goes, “This little guy makes the perfect addition to anyone who collects sideshow inspired decor, unusual taxidermy and oddities or cute & creepy things!”  And, should you be wondering where the mice and rats come from before they end up in these freak-show stances and situations, Eerily Beloved explains that “we get all of our mice frozen from a feeder supply that caters to people with carnivorous pets such as snakes and lizards. After we skin them we donate the meat to a local bird of prey sanctuary.  So if you buy a mouse you're also feeding a beautiful hawk or eagle and the little mouse is being memorialized into a cutie that will bring you smiles for years to come!” I’m smiling now…or at least my lips are curling up after re-reading that.


6.) The Doors "People are Strange" Laptop Decal For Macbook / PC 

I don’t know anyone today who doesn’t hail the Lizard King, the bold, bumptious and inscrutable 1960s shaman Mr. Morrison.  But this laptop decal with this particular snippet of lyrics isn’t the most welcoming of messages to put “out there” when you’re in lid-up laptop mode in the coffee shop or in the local library.  Perfect, though, if you don’t want anyone to darken your door.  


7.) Music Shower Curtain – Sloth

A company called Sharp Shirter manufactures these 71” wide x 74” high shower curtains to fit any standard-sized tub or standalone shower space.  And for the sloth-obsessed subculture out there who can’t resist these critters, here’s a nice take on Nirvana’s distinctive cover from their 1991 album Nevermind.  A little grunge to go with the bathtub ring…


8.) Old World Animal Photographs – Dik-dik With Guitar

According to this item’s Etsy description, an artist named Lara Aiken “combines stock photos from the 1800’s and early 1900’s along with animal photos to create wondrous things.  Perfect for mixing into your family photos, as a gift for a friend or to accent any home decor.”  I, for one, am not so sure about that “mixing into your family photos” suggestion, but I guess everybody’s extended family has a real Dik-dik in there somewhere along the line.


9.) Madonna “Virgin My Ass” Compact Mirror

Madonna, especially in the ‘80s, was far from being an immaterial girl.  If your chosen beneficiary is really into this supreme diva as well as overall female empowerment, this compact pocket mirror could be your lady friend’s most treasured holiday present.  


10.) Michael Jackson Vinyl Record Clock

His moonwalking, his criminally smooth forward lean, it’s all here…The King of Pop is immortalized in this 12” x 12” clock that has been crafted out of a vinyl record.



11.) Custom 3D LED Illusion Lamp

For anyone on your list that is multidimensional, here are 3D LED Illusion lamps for home or office that come with eight different color mode options.  You can trumpet your tastes or get your zing through strings; there are at least several instrument options available. 


12.) Weird Strange Vintage Taxidermy Real Frog Musician Playing Bongos 

The seller’s comments and lead-off confession as posted on Etsy: “This is a weird one.  Vintage taxidermy frog musician playing bongos.  Probably from Mexico in the 50s.  If you like strange uncommon items then this is are for you…The frog is stuffed and mounted on a wood platform.  These are part of the strange subculture of stuffed animals playing in bands. The art of anthropomorphic taxidermy has thrived since the Victorian era.”

13.) Cats and Music Notes T-Shirt

I’m fairly certain you have animal advocates in your midst, or at least some pet owners whose level of devotion is off the charts.  This is a music and cat lover’s dream T-shirt, illustrating the nature of these frisky felines to hit the high notes with paw-dropping displays of skill.


14.) Lionel Richie Cutting Board

I am sorry if you know someone who is a hopeless romantic. Sometimes these folks have their shields up to the point of never being able to recognize some real honest-to-goodness schmaltz.  Case in point: Somebody you know is going to love this bit of kitchen kitsch.  This is apparently one way that Lionel Richie decided to face his knife-sharpening critics in the dim twilight of his career—placing his countenance on a cutting board.  Made out of bamboo, this 9” x 13” board is a safe and effective surface for cutting up all sorts of veggies, but also your Jarlsberg, your Brie, etc. (illustrating that the cheesiness extends well beyond the engraved lyric from Lionel).


15.) Sheet Music Canvas – Wall Art

This canvas, measuring 30” high x 60” wide, includes two sheet music stanzas and the title and the lyrics to a given couple’s favorite song. Hung here above the marriage bed, a sacred place of togetherness and love, it’s pretty dominant, even imposing—and so we wonder, what happens one day when they wake up and look over at each other, realizing they can’t stanza no more?


16.) The Ozzy Osbourne Christmas Tree Topper 

What is the measure of a man?  In this case, Ozzy is approximately 9” in height, perfect to perch at the apex of your Christmas tree in place of the more traditional star or angel figure.  I was wondering…In a future redesign of this particular product—as tech advances even more, permitting a host of new interactive features—should there be a chip placed in the Tree Top Ozzy that responds to the happy voices in the family room at Christmas?  When the first few gifts are starting to be passed around the room on the morning of December 25th, I would love to hear Ozzy shout out a wild and robust “SHARIN’!”…(Here is a link for you to check out other rock star Christmas Tree Toppers including Freddie Mercury, Elvis, Prince and David Bowie: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/MaterialGods?ref=seller-platform-mcnav§ion_id=25071656)  





Posted 12/2/18.....I WON’T BACK DOWN

“I could do anything to make this work because the one luxury of this particular exercise was the certainty that anything you did was morally justified.” – Is That It?, the autobiography of Bob Geldof, 1986.

Christmastime’s a comin’, this I know.  But when that holiday spirit kick-starts for everyone is truly an individual thing.  Some people feel it as early as Halloween, just after their little devils are finished door-knockin’ for sugar rushes garbed like a ghost or a goblin.  Others don’t surrender until late November after that other kind of gobblin’.  For me, increasingly, it’s later and later, and I never fully get infused by the spirit until I seek out, usually in early December, my own personal launch mechanism—the YouTube video of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid.  

Band Aid, a call-to-arms coming together in 1984 of Britain’s top musicians and performers to record a charity single, was the brainchild of Irish singer-songwriter Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats and Scottish musician Midge Ure of the band Ultravox.  “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was recorded on Sunday, November 25, 1984 and was rush-released to radio stations in both the UK and the USA.  The speedily written and recorded one-off single, sporting the signature voices of Britain’s most popular recording artists of the day, subsequently exploded on radio on both sides of the Atlantic.  

But it was Geldof who planted the seed.  One evening in early November he needed a break from his mounting frustrations with his band’s new album In The Long Grass and radio stations’ tepid response to the first three singles released from it.  So he turned on the television and, in Geldof’s words, “I saw something that placed my worries in a ghastly new perspective.”  

He watched as a BBC reporter detailed a devastating famine in Ethiopia, and the images haunted Geldof well into the wee hours.  The reporter had used the word “biblical” to describe the severity of the situation. As Geldof writes in his 1986 autobiography Is That It?, this was a “famine of biblical proportions.  There was something terrible about the idea that 2,000 years after Christ, in a world of modern technology something like this could be allowed to happen as if the ability of mankind to influence and control the environment had not altered one jot.  A horror like this could not occur today without our consent.  We had allowed this to happen and now we knew that it was happening, and to allow it to continue would be tantamount to murder. I would send some money, I would send more money.  But that was not enough.  To expiate yourself truly of any complicity in this evil meant you had to give something of yourself.”

And so Geldof began to think about how he might help, struggling musician that he was. By the time he hit work the next day he was, rather tentatively, putting it out there to a few co-workers that he an idea to make a record to benefit Ethiopia.

Mildly encouraged, he rang up his old friend Midge Ure of Ultravox and from there the two began rallying friends, music industry peers at The Rats’ record label, people in publishing, the record sleeve and vinyl manufacturers, potential host recording studios, and others.  Geldof, fearless because of the horrors he’d seen on TV that night, turned his inner willfulness loose.  He’d always been stubborn, and one to press on in difficult situations, and seized by the images still in his head he felt empowered and righteously determined to plow forward.

The pace was picking up, and the challenge daunting in terms of trying from the outset to get all participants in the coalescing project to donate their fees and services. The cost of printing of the record, the percentages to distributors and retailers, the artwork and all of the rest were falling into line, and so Geldof peeled away from this kind of prep to approach the artists, the few that he knew and the rest that he felt were ultimately essential to end up with a successful record and fundraising effort.

“I came to discover that I didn’t really have to sell the idea at all to the artists,” Geldof said.  “If I got through to them direct, the response was always positive.  But if I got through to the managers, their attitude was often negative…It is irritating when managers assume the moral guardianship of their charges.  Often they are simply obstructive in the misguided notion that they are ‘doing their job.’”

The eventual roster of current hit-making artists confirming their desire to record the song, for no remuneration, was impressive—Sting, Bono and Adam Clayton from U2, George Michael from Wham!, Boy George from Culture Club, pop-princess trio Bananarama, Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet, Paul Weller previously of The Jam and now Style Council, Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran, members of Status Quo and Heaven 17, Phil Collins, Paul Young, and almost twenty others.

With November 25th fast approaching, the song’s lyrics and music were patchworked to conclusion by Geldof and Midge Ure, and a willing studio was found.  SARM Studios in Notting Hill agreed to waive all studio time—if all forty of the performers could pile in between the hours of 11am and 7pm to record their parts.  “I had no certainty that anyone would come,” Geldof remembered.  “They said they would, but maybe it was just so I’d leave them alone.  It was an odd sensation watching them all drift in.  It was very low-key.  Most people looked as if they had just got out of bed, which by and large they had.”  Both the final take of the song and footage of the stars milling about and performing their parts (for an eventual music video) were all completed by 7pm…

As Geldof promoted, cajoled, arm-twisted and bulldozed his way along the continuum from idea inception to actual record on the shelf, he suffered no fools and pretty much decimated the opposition.  Just one of example of many: His dealings (prior to the studio recording session taking place) with London’s Daily Mirror.  The newspaper had been running a campaign to raise money for what Geldof describes as “rather melodramatic ‘mercy flights’ to Ethiopia” and because they were already connected to famine relief in some way, Geldof offered them exclusive pictures of the recording session if they promised to give it the entire front page. Here’s how the conversation went:

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was released in early December 1984 and is still the UK’s fastest-selling single of all time, selling one million copies in the first week alone (eventually selling over three million copies).  In America, where MTV glommed onto it, the single reportedly sold over one million copies.  Worldwide, the estimate of total sales topped fourteen million…

Quickly on the heels of Britain’s Band Aid success, America took its own turn in producing a star-studded charity single. “We Are The World,” a song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, was recorded in January 1985 with an all-star cast (dubbed USA for Africa) 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.

Los Angeles-based Ken Kragen, the manager of Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers at that time, was the one who stirred the USA for Africa project into motion along with Harry Belafonte, who was desirous of mounting America’s answer to Band Aid.  In a recent email Kragen had submitted to music biz insider Bob Lefsetz’s e-newsletter, he lauded Geldof as the inspiration for the project—and correctly cast him as a willful provocateur on the right side of justice:

“…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.  Unfortunately he also went in into the adjoining sound stage where a few hundred agents and managers’ spouses and others connected to these artists had congregated to watch on a large projection television we had placed there.  He criticized them for eating the food we laid out for them since it was going to take all night to accomplish the recording session.  A large part of the crowd left as a result before I could get in and rescue things.  Bob had fed the artists at his London recording session with Kentucky Fried Chicken he went out and bought, and he didn’t realize everything at our place had been donated.

“Probably the funniest moment of all with Bob was at the press conference we had a few days after the recording.  We had some 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.”

“We Are The World,” released two months after that January 1985 recording session, ended up selling over twenty million copies and the entire project (with all related items including the video, books, magazines, posters, etc.) raised approximately sixty-three million dollars.

That success, of course, tracks back to Geldof and his late evening epiphany of November 1984 when images of human tragedy and suffering were playing out on his TV screen.  After Band Aid, he went on to originate and orchestrate Live Aida July 13, 1985 dual-city (London and Philadelphia) famine-relief concert of unbelievable scope, once again directly benefiting sub-Saharan Africa and directly injecting a sense of higher purpose into almost two billion people who in part or in full watched this televised concert on two continents.


A final few words…About ten years ago, I giftwrapped a couple of copies of Geldof’s 1986 autobiography Is That It? and presented them to my two daughters on Christmas morning.  The book itself is three hundred and fifty-two pages; the last one hundred and forty or so deal with Geldof’s awakened state, his take-no-prisoners approach to establishing the Band Aid Trust (beneficiary of the November ’84 fundraising song and the July ’85 Live Aid event), his laser-focus on enlisting the bands and skilled supporters of every stripe, and his absolute refusal to be swept aside, turned away, or misdirected from his goal.  It’s required reading for the soul—and so said the brief inscription I wrote inside the cover of each of the books.

This holiday season, take a page from Geldof.  Dream big, become inspired—and realize, if you haven’t awakened to it already, that it can start with just one person.





Posted 11/4/18.....THIS MUST BE THE PLACE


Musicasaurus.com loves to give in to its nostalgic urges…I was reflecting back recently about my best concert experiences over the course of a fairly long lifetime, and in particular the ones that I saw at southwestern Pennsylvania’s legendary venue, the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  

The Civic Arena was originally built in 1961 for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and, remarkably, its roof was designed and built to be the world’s first retractable dome.  This 17,000+ capacity venue played host to sports teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Pittsburgh Spirit (MISL soccer team), and the Pittsburgh Gladiators Arena Football team in the late 1980s, and of course many concerts that dotted the decades (some of them with the dome opened up, weather-permitting).

I worked at the Civic Arena from March 1985 through February 1991. We had an amazing team in place (meaning, all of us involved in that wild thrill ride of staging sporting events and concerts).  I moved on after February 1991 to a job at Star Lake Amphitheater and then on to other occupational adventures from there, but I have always treasured the memories of seeing concerts at that arena through all the phases of my life—and its life.  The Civic Arena was demolished over a seven-month period beginning in September of 2011 to make way for a brand new arena and property redevelopment plan courtesy of Mario Lemieux and the Penguins organization.

A few of my favorites of Civic Arena shows?  The Santana/Janis Joplin concert in November 1969…Michael Jackson (a three-nighter) in September 1988…and U2, on their Elevation Tour, at the venue in May 2001.

I thought it would be interesting to pose a “best concert” question to three individuals who are Pittsburgh radio giants—men who are (or were) immersed personally and professionally in music.  They are: Sean McDowell of WDVE who has now been in local radio deejay slots for almost forty years, Jim Cunningham of WQED-FM who will be celebrating that same distinction in 2019, and Steve Hansen, ½ of the legendary morning radio team Jimmy & Steve from WDVE’s early-80s period.

So, Sean, Jim and Steve, “What was your favorite concert of all time at the Civic Arena?”

SEAN MCDOWELL – Sean is woven into the fabric of WDVE (since 1993).  He is an on-air talent that has provided countless hours of enjoyment to listeners through his incredible knowledge of music and his passion for rock ‘n’ roll. 

My favorite show at the Civic Arena was, without hesitation, Pink Floyd, June of 1973.  It was the "Dark Side of the Moon" tour, they opened the roof at the arena 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.

I vividly remember people around me literally yelling and screaming with amazement as the sky appeared overtop of us and lit-up downtown buildings could be seen, too—all while Pink Floyd continued to play "Dark Side of the Moon,” which at the time was a brand new album and had just been released.

I asked Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason a few years ago if he remembered at all the Pittsburgh concert in June 1973, and he immediately responded "Yes, clearly, they opened the roof at the civic center in Pittsburgh, didn't they?  That was a special night."  He remembered Pittsburgh and the roof opening up!  

I also remember the quadraphonic sound system at that show; they had huge speakers set up all around the arena's interior for a swirling, all-encompassing effect.  It was 1973, we were all big pot smokers, so as you can imagine it was a spectacular, unforgettable "Oh, Wow" evening.

I saw some other artists there over the years who also opened the roof during their performances, but none left such a lasting permanent impression on me as Floyd did.


JIM CUNNINGHAM – Jim is the morning show host for WQED’s classical radio station and an avid advocate/promoter of the arts & culture scene.  Jim celebrates forty years as an on-air talent at WQED-FM, come the Spring of 2019.

Pavarotti:  Concerts are always fun but the best thing is the people you’re with and the meal afterward.  Luciano Pavarotti gave his last Pittsburgh concert at the Arena in 1991 after he’d dropped out of Tosca at the Benedum.  It was presented by the Pittsburgh Opera and WQED.  Even with his large reputation it was a risk financially due to the expense of the show.  The concert was fantastic with one of the last roof openings when Luciano sang his signature Nessun Dorma “None shall sleep!” from Turandot and the cool night air rushed in.  

Pavarotti seemed as wowed as everyone else at the roof opening, clutching his signature white handkerchief looking up at the sky in wonder.  I brought my wife Laurie and my Grandmother Mary Elizabeth who was always a big opera fan.  As a child record fanatic it impressed me that she had a big box set of Metropolitan Opera records with a piece of the Old Met curtain inside the box.

I had the honor of hosting the Pavarotti post-concert reception in the arena’s Igloo Club with a $500/ticket sit down dinner with birthday cake and the Italian folk band I Campagnoli serenading the guest of honor.  I had been told not to recognize Jean Claude Van Damme who was in the audience while in town filming the movie Sudden Impact (which was set at the arena with terrorists upending a hockey game).  He was ”touchy,” someone said.  Of course I couldn’t resist asking the group to give Jean Claude a round of applause.  Did I imagine him frowning?  Ten minutes later he was gone, his dinner uneaten.  Was he bored or mad?  I’ll never know.

Earth, Wind & Fire:  My girlfriend with long blonde hair was with me when I went to see Earth, Wind & Fire in 1975.  It was sold out.  We were standing in a long line waiting to be let in.  My brother Matt was along and friends who worked for WTGP in Greenville.  My roommates at Thiel College Harry Swallow and Rob Clements entertained our group by singing favorites from Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. In a flash the guy next to Linda grabbed her ticket and was gone.  She was in tears.  This concert was sold out but a kindly ticket taker took pity on us and let her in anyway without a ticket.  No sign of the thief at our seats.  

Afterwards Linda said “You’d have left me standing out in the cold by myself if the ticket taker hadn’t been sympathetic.”  A prophetic statement regarding the stability of the relationship...The concert was challenging.  My buddy Craig Fehr had his camera gear stolen.  Earth, Wind & Fire blew us away with Maurice White hitting the high notes and Wade Flemons spinning around at a white piano, smoke, choreography, punchy brass, funky bass and audience sing along on “Shining Star” and “That’s the Way of the World.” 

The Rolling Stones:  I saw Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Prince, and Springsteen, and loved them all but it was the first of several Rolling Stones concerts that is number one in my mind on July 22, 1972.  I was at Warren Area High and working part time at WRRN-FM in Warren Pa.  I remember the day the tickets came in the mail.  You could only order six.  I went with Marilyn and fellow longhaired cheerful rockers Mick Wolf and Joe Biachi. Marilyn worked at Mr. Donut on the all night shift.  She’d been up for 48 hours when we hit the road.  I was working during the day at the radio station and at night running the cash register for Kwik Fill.  I’d been up for 48 hours.  We crashed at my grandparents in Wilkinsburg.  It was brutally hot and sticky.  I slept on the back porch on an old army surplus cot.  An invasion of six Stones fans was a stretch for my grandparents.

My WRRN colleague Scott Saylor and his girl bought tickets, too.  Scott was a Viet Nam vet who’d done Armed Forces Radio and talked the station manager into letting us play way-out album rock like WDVE in its “Love Radio” format period, as long as we sold enough advertising.  WRRN is 50,000 watts and covered Erie.  There wasn’t a playlist but the Stones were on the air all the time that summer.  The band had just released Exile on Main Street in May.  As soon as we could our hands on the albums I remember my fellow deejays and I playing all four sides without stopping in our FM paradise. 

Stevie Wonder opened for the Stones riding high on his radio hit with “Superstition.”  The Stones had been all over the country but Pittsburgh was their next to last stop before the end of the road in Madison Square Garden.  The Pittsburgh show started with “Brown Sugar” through “Tumbling Dice” and Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny.”  “Street Fighting Man” was last.  I still have slides I took with my 35mm camera.  The set was simply big Super Trouper spotlights around the stage in various colors.  Mick Jagger was wearing his blue velvet jumpsuit.  

Wish I could have been there at the Civic Arena for the Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops show with Duke Ellington.  I also missed the 1964 welcome home concert for the Pittsburgh Symphony after they’d toured the world for three months with State Department sponsorship.  I did hear Mariss Jansons when he conducted the world’s largest orchestra in an attempt for the Guinness Book of Records...But nothing tops the greatest rock and roll band in the world, the Stones.  Paint it black, you devil!  Drape black crepe around the former demolition site.  The Igloo is no more.

STEVE HANSEN – Principally known from the “Jimmy and Steve” days at WDVE from 1980-1986, and now independently a producer/writer in various fields, Steve has always been a concert guy.  He was at the Last Waltz at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in 1976—not too shabby for an early concert experience. 

I've seen a lot at the Civic Arena, no doubt. The good (pretty much any Springsteen show, McCartney and, surprisingly, REO), the bad (pretty much any Dylan show, Duran Duran and especially Rod Stewart's lame American Songbook sham), and the ugly (a ghostly Elvis flashed on a screen as his touring band tagged along behind him).  

I've seen performers in the round and in the buff (David Lee Roth's ass-less chaps, Uriah Heep's David Byron's wan, slack upper torso).  I've seen shows in the aisles (when two interlopers took my Who seats and refused to move) and under the stars (the best was when Clapton broke into “Let It Rain” under an open roof during an impromptu storm).  I saw the best opening to a show ever—ZZ Top's white instrument cover disappearing in a snort up a gargantuan nose. I saw the lights go up during a Simon and Garfunkel show—who hadn't accumulated any new audience in 25 years—and realized for the first time just how old my generation had become.

I witnessed the Michael Jackson Bad tour in September 1988, two hours of soulless, sterilized pablum that left me wishing he'd ditch the lame bad boy moves for just one song from the heart.  I felt cheap and used until Prince showed up a month later and bathed me in some raw, sweaty funk.

The best show I didn't see was Prince's 1999 Tour, which I passed on to stay home and watch the M*A*S*H finale, a show that I had never watched up until that point. It wasn't very good.  The Prince concert was.  I bought a VCR shortly after.

But the best Arena show ever?  I'm going to throw in a personal qualifier and make it something other than a Springsteen show, because really, what metric exists that could determine which of his many masterpieces was better than any other?  By that standard I think my personal favorite was the 2008 Van Halen show at the Civic Arena—by then called Mellon Arena—the first with David Lee Roth back out front since 1985. 

Amazingly, Roth looked like he'd arrived on stage from the planet Idiot-zope, a planet where no one sang in tune, moved with grace or gestured with anything less than a carnival barker's restraint.  The show was amazing because Eddie Van Halen, who was canceling dates and even whole tours during this time, was phenomenal.  Deft, inventive, blazing, harmonic and precise.  All while an insufferable clown mugged just feet away.  I was mesmerized by the dueling spectacles—Eddie reaching for the note that would crack the universe, Roth reaching for a shred of his former showmanship.

I think it was the last show I ever saw at the Arena.  After watching a lifetime of shows both good and bad it was, fittingly, both.






We’re now on the cusp of 2019, and musicasaurus.com is getting a bit long in the tooth—not the website, which is only seven years old, but King Saurus Himself.

I’m thinking back to when I was sixteen years old, and almost fifty years have passed.  It’s the blink of an eye, really, albeit one that now needs reading glasses…  

I was a junior in Butler Area High School back in 1969 and music was my number one passion, my friends and I diving deep with all we could get our hands on, all of us equally obsessed.  We pored over music magazines like Crawdaddy!, Rolling Stone, CREEM and Circus, and our trips to the G.C. Murphy’s and Woolworths’ record departments yielded new finds for us that we hustled on home and played to death.  We were a music tribe, one nation under a groove (borrowing that phrase from Funkadelic), united in this exhilarating quest to scoop up new music and excavate deeper meaning.

There was one person in our tribe, though, that kick-started me into total exploration and really fed my head—my friend Gary Kleemann’s older brother Dave. He became our musical guide.  He was a few years older than we were and he absolutely lived and breathed music; the way his eyes widened over new-band discoveries and the way he gushed over his findings, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see G clefs fly out of his nose if he’d been seized by an exceptionally violent sneeze.

As our elder and principal guide, Dave was diplomatic as we searched on our own for new sounds.  For a time, he reigned from his album-strewn bedroom at his parents’ house on North Washington Street in Butler, and when we’d occasionally pop by with a new purchase, Dave would plop it on his new direct-drive turntable and render judgment.  To his credit, when he obviously felt we had made a misguided investment, he was largely benevolent.

In that time period of the late ‘60s into the ‘70s, I was sampling a fair bit of new music and somehow became enamored of Grand Funk Railroad.  It is not something I’m proud of today.  As penance, I feel like I should stand up before all of you in some community-center basement hall:

     * “Hi, I’m musicasaurus.com.” 

     * “Hi, musicasaurus,” you all say in unison.

     * “I was a Grand Funk Railroad fan.” (showing great remorse, but having the inner strength to get it out)

I had bought their first few albums but was a bit gun-shy about touting them to Dave.  I had also seen the band live at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena at the peak of their popularity in 1970, and at that time my blind worship was undimmed by what I should have recognized as pure mediocrity.  I remember just shards of the concert, really—guitarist Mark Farner wringing out none-too-complicated riffs, and drummer Don Brewer doing a slow-paced and senseless forehead-down-to-drumhead interlude as part of an interminably long drum solo.

The band, though, was among the most popular on the planet.  Music critics were not as impressed, and they were largely dissin’ and dismissin’.  Robert Christgau, a noted Village Voice writer, penned in his January 29, 1970 consumer guide column that the group was “creating a stir, apparently because they play faster than Iron Butterfly.  Which I grant is a step in the right direction. I saw them live in Detroit before I knew any of this.  I enjoyed them for 15 minutes, tolerated them for five, and hated them for 40.”

I didn’t see that piece of vitriol when it was published in January ’70, and it likely wouldn’t have dented my devotion anyway. When the band’s fourth album hit later that year in November—a double-record set called Live Album—I scampered off to Woolworth’s to snatch it up before heading over to Dave and Gary’s house.

In Dave’s room, the shrink-wrap came off and Side One was immediately on his turntable.  He smiled as he dropped the needle on Track One, but where would it go from here?  When we were previewing records with him in his upstairs chambers, it was usually the furrowing of his brow that confirmed to us we had another “near miss” or “clear miss” in terms of a new purchase.  After a song and a half of this latest by Grand Funk, Dave wheeled around from looking through a crate of his albums, and just said very softly “This...is...shit.”

“No offense,” he continued, “but there are SO many other records out now that are better than this kind of stuff.”  He turned toward another peach crate on the floor, and pulled out the new double album from Miles Davis, Bitches Brew.  “This came out about six months ago,” Dave said, slipping the record out of its sleeve and placing the disc gingerly on the turntable. 

I sat there hoping to be all agog, but as this jazz-and-rock stew burbled forth at an excruciating volume over the bedroom speakers, I gleaned only confusion from the fusion.  I wanted so much to like it, and managed a “thumbs-up” nod to an expectant Dave, but it was way too free-form for me to wrap my rock ‘n’ roll head around...

But this encounter (and ones like it) helped me to firm up my footing on a path I’d already begun to tread.  When I recall that Miles Davis moment and similar others in Dave’s quarters—with all of us sampling new sounds across a wider-ass spectrum than we’d ever thought possible—the effect was electrifyingly palpable.  We were all afloat in a period of artistic innovation that had, in just a few years’ time, sparked up and fanned out like never before in terms of intensity and reach. 



In 1970 alone, our eager antennas picked up on artists and albums such as the second release from horn-dominated rock band Chicago...The Mothers of Invention’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh...jazz keyboardist Joe Zawinul’s first solo record...Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die...the debut albums from British bands Black Sabbath and Emerson Lake & Palmer, and prog-rockers Curved Air and space-rockers Hawkwind...Van Morrison’s Moondance...Fun House by The Stooges...jazz saxophonist Stanley Turrentine’s Sugar...Joni Mitchell’s Ladies Of The Canyon...My Goals Beyond from fusion guitarist John McLaughlin...The double album The Butterfield Blues Band Live...prog-rockers Van der Graaf Generator...CSNY’s Déjà Vu...Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys...the debut album from Funkadelic...and vibraphonist Gary Burton and pianist Keith Jarrett’s duo release.



Also in 1970, Pink Floyd’s fourth record, Atom Heart Mother...Elton John’s self-titled first American release...the album Benefit from Jethro Tull...jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay...the debut albums from German art-rockers Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream...records from folkies The Incredible String Band, Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Fotheringay...the sophomore albums from the Jackson Five (ABC) and the Allman Brothers Band (Idlewild South)...Burrito Deluxe by The Flying Burrito Brothers...albums from progressive jazz-rock artists Colosseum and Soft Machine...jazz flautist Hubert Laws’ Afro-Classic...Spirit’s Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus...King Crimson’s In The Wake of Poseidon...Santana’s Abraxas...Loaded from The Velvet Underground...Death Walks Behind You from Atomic Rooster...blues-duo Hot Tuna’s first album...and the second record from English prog-rockers Yes.

Perhaps we can brand this musical slice-of-an-era (i.e., the late ‘60s into the early ‘70s) as Youth’s first real feeding frenzy. Artists back then were pushing boundaries such that genre walls were heavily pockmarked if not completely chiseled through, and record companies were bursting with newly-signed talent and buzzing like central hives.  And we as fans and followers fed both those flames, because quite simply, music—in all its permutations—became central to our existence.  

p.s.  Thanks to Dave, and to his brother Gary and my other high-school friends for all of the music and the shared education.  And to Dave in particular, in regard to the evening I brought that Grand Funk record to your room: Thanks for the smiles and putting on the Miles—and I think we’re both happy that I got the Funk out of there.





Posted 10/7/18.....TIME OF THE SEASON



Let’s turn the clock back a quarter of a century on Star Lake Amphitheater (now Key Bank Pavilion) since the outdoor shows out there are now over for the 2018 season.  Back in 1993, the venue’s fourth season, there was a uniquely interesting assortment of genres represented on stage—country music, alternative, classic rock, instrumental schmaltz, jazz, blues, families-with-kids appeal programming, now very moldy oldies, and even a then-ahead-of-its-time Third World music festival. It was a good summer to revel in the artistry on display, especially if you happened to soak all of it in (yeah, that’s not likely, but I, unlike you, had no choice.  My job was working at the amphitheater marketing all of its shows, so every night with my venue radio holstered and my laminated passes ‘round my neck, I trudged through the crowds catching a glimpse, or more, of what was on stage.)

Here is a sample of what I lived and breathed that summer:

Saturday May 22  - Hank Williams Jr. with Aaron Tippin and Lee Roy Parnell.....This began Hank’s four-year run (’93-’96) of season-opening shows at the amphitheater.  His booking agent loved this opening slot because his artist could directly benefit from “cabin fever”—a collective longing for the outdoor concert experience and an urge to party hearty at the very first show of the season.  For those readers who hail from parts outside of Pittsburgh: Our area’s standard weather forecast for the November through April time period is Blah and Blech with a 10% Chance of Reaching for the Razor, but then in May the sun successfully ducks the clouds and dents the gloom, and both moods and temperatures begin to lift.  There are medications for this type of Seasonal Affective Disorder, of course; I recall the Hank fans downed a ton of these 24-ounce cure-alls.

Sunday June 6- Spin Doctors with Screaming Trees.....We determined through some feelers at Radio and Record Retail that this group was buzz worthy and bound for glory, so we appealed to the agent to book his relatively new act at our large venue.  Though conventional wisdom was to book a less-proven band into a small hall, the agent eventually acquiesced and we got the date.  This particular booking was aided by a smaller independent Pittsburgh-area promoter named Jack Tumpson, who ran a concert company called Next Big Thing and who had booked the Spin Doctors into a small venue in Pittsburgh the year before.  Jack helped sell the agent on the concept of that cabin fever fan phenomenon, and we all agreed on a cheap-ass lawn ticket to hedge our bet.  With the help of classic-rock powerhouse 102.5 WDVE and a $10.25 lawn price, the Doctors spun us ticket sales of well over 13,000.

Friday June 11- Kenny G with Peabo Bryson.....This was the first appearance at the amphitheater in Pittsburgh for this musical milquetoast, and what I remember most—aside from the coma-inducing performance—was the stipulation from Kenny G’s booking agent that we include the tour’s national sponsor in all of our concert ads.  I was marketing director of the amphitheater back in ’93 and this was not an unusual request, but I had never heard of this company called “Starbucks.”  As it turns out, the Pittsburgh area was behind the curve of the expansionist plans of the Seattle-based company, and so in ’93 no one around these parts knew who in the hell Starbucks was—but I ended up including their sponsor attribution in our ads nonetheless.  (I’m not sure how Kenny G’s folks landed Starbucks as a tour sponsor, but indeed it seemed simpatico; the husbands & boyfriends who are dragged to this kind of show may start their evening with alcohol, but most assuredly end up with caffeine to shrug off the narcolepsy near the end of the night.)   

Saturday June 19- Mellon Jazz Festival with the Pat Metheny Group.....1993 was the third year in a row that we went out on a limb to see if jazz could draw a significant enough number of purists from the Pittsburgh clubs and pubs out to the amphitheater.  In ’91 we tried a David Sanborn, Michael Franks, Take 6 and Yellowjackets package, and in ’92 we offered up Grover Washington Jr., Spyro Gyra and Acoustic Alchemy as the “meat” of that particular year’s line-up.  Neither show drew enough fans for the venue to turn a profit, so we licked our wounds and limped into Year Three of our jazz experiment with one more try—we placed the Pat Metheny Group at the top of the bill. Even though we had heard that other meaningful jazz headliners were in short supply that summer and we couldn’t really help fortify the Pat package all that much, at some point we just gulped and braced ourselves, and then put the show on sale.  In the end the jazz diehards and cultists showed up as we knew that they would—but not in the numbers we needed.  Though Pat Metheny still today towers over a lot of others in terms of artistic achievement, in that harsh spotlight of ticket sales—simply said—Metheny was weeny.

Sunday June 20- Steve Miller Band with Paul Rodgers.....This was the fourth year in a row for Miller at Star Lake.  There was certainly quite a buzz building around this 1970s rocker, and it seemed to correlate to the degree of buzz in the brains of the youthful tailgaters.  By 1993 Miller was selling out the venue at 23,000 tickets every year he touched down, and each time there was a staggering number of individuals in the parking lot (yes, I mean that both ways).  Though our security guards, ID checkers and local police did their very best out in the parking lot to control the situation, it was always an on-the-edge affair—one of the more pleasant aspects of the workaday life of amphitheater staff.

Wednesday July 21- Lollapalooza featuring Alice In Chains, Arrested Development, Dinosaur Jr., Tool, Primus, Rage Against The Machine, Fishbone and more.....This was the third summer tour for Lollapalooza, the alternative music festival originated by Jane’s Addiction lead singer Perry Farrell in 1991.  That first year the festival whisked right by us, unsure of the sales potential for this cutting-edge event in the Pittsburgh market where there was no commercial (i.e., big league) alternative station. Through some subsequent lobbying of the booking agent responsible for routing the festival nationally, we were able to get it confirmed for that next year of 1992, and continue on for the next five years…

The most memorable part of the very early Lollapaloozas was the Jim Rose Circus, one of the sideshow attractions that travelled with the tour and performed on each venue’s second stage.  This freakishly fascinating ensemble wowed the crowd and even siphoned off curious viewers from the main stage activities.  Leader of the pack Rose would, among other feats, hammer a nail up his nose, staple dollar bills to his forehead, and ask someone from the crowd to put a boot on his head after he poised it above some broken glass. And then there was The Amazing Mr. Lifto who did strongman stunts utilizing his body piercings...(Check out The Jim Rose Circus Wikipedia entry via the following link, and be assured that there’s no need to fact-check this puppy. I’m not sure anyone could have made this up: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Rose_Circus)

Monday August 2- Blues Music Festival ’93.....This was the second year in a row that we had tried the blues and then cried the blues.  The year before, in 1992, we had booked a package of B.B. King, Buddy Guy, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Dr. John, and our initial thought process was to make the ticket prices a bit on the high side because the four-act package was expensive and we needed to make sure we covered our costs.  Result: Only about 3,000 paying customers.  Granted, we had a wildly appreciative crowd; still, it was a genuinely painful night in terms of our pocketbook...

Come 1993, B.B. and Buddy were joined instead by Koko Taylor and Eric Johnson, and we rolled the dice again but took a different tack.  We made the tickets cheaper so that more people would come to the show and spend beaucoup buck$ on all of our parking, popcorn, pop and pilsners.  Result: Only about 3,000 paying customers.  And who the hell knows, maybe 2,994 of ‘em were the exact same people that had come the year before.  Pittsburgh’s blues fans, we found, were fiercely devoted.  But we also learned that their loyalties lagged when confronted with a half-hour drive out to our amphitheater, far away from their comfortable city-scene haunts.  

Saturday August 14- 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.

Wednesday August 18 - Disney Symphonic Fantasy.....Our parent company Pace Music Group had worked with the newly-formed Disney Theatrical Group to mount an evening of musical theatre highlighting various Disney characters in song-and-dance selections from the company’s many film successes, including Beauty and The Beast, Little Mermaid and more.  The tour was designed to play the amphitheaters versus the arenas as another “special event offering” that Pace could crow about—nationally and locally—to its outdoor venue sponsors and season ticket holders.  Though the attendance ended up at only 6,000 paid, it was deemed a decent success for a first-time foray.  Most of the other amphitheaters in the Pace system across the U.S. didn’t do quite as well as we did, however, and so the Disney Symphonique Fantasy never took root as an annual amphitheater event.

Monday August 23 -Bette Midler.....Bette played Star Lake Amphitheater for the first time this particular year, and then trotted back for an encore in 1994.  From the moment she appeared on stage The Divine Miss M (better yet, how about...Lawdy Miss Bawdy?) was phenomenally entertaining in her singing, skits and audience asides.  As is standard, she had been briefed in advance by her writers about the Pittsburgh area so that she could throw out localized bons mots to completely dishevel and level the crowd.

Saturday August 28 -Summer Oldies Party: Grass Roots, Mark Lindsey, Tommy James, Rascals, Turtles, and Pure Gold.....Pittsburgh Oldies station WWSW (3WS) had for quite a few years run a cheap-ticket, fan appreciation Oldies concert at Three Rivers Stadium, and then in 1992 the station downsized it in order to play Star Lake Amphitheater.  The show did very well at our venue, and we were both mystified and perturbed that the station, in the Spring of 1993, suddenly informed us that their annual oldies extravaganza would not continue.  We then had a bit of a spat with them over this discontinuance (perpetually hungry, as we were, for more and more events), so we did the “shun thing” and told them we were going to book our own Oldies Fest show and align with a different radio station to help us promote it.  Boy, did we show them—uh, that we were spiteful and clueless.  This show that we had cobbled together ourselves had a decent enough oldies line-up, but it turned out to be a complete failure without the galvanizing power of 3WS to get behind it and promote it to their fiercely loyal, engaged audience.  Our venue/station good relations resumed by the following summer, but there was never again a full-scale, jam-packed and successful Oldies concert in our Great Outdoors.

Wednesday September 8- The WOMAD (World of Music, Arts & Dance)Festival: Peter Gabriel, Crowded House, PM Dawn, Stereo MCs, Inner Circle, James and more.....Our parent company Pace, ever watchful in those days for new event opportunities, brought this festival to our attention and offered us a chance to host one of the first few American dates of this esteemed U.K.-originated event.  WOMAD was collaboratively conceived by Peter Gabriel and some close arts-minded associates in 1982, and he had his paws all over this amazing assemblage of Third World musicians...  

The show—a combination of performances and music, and arts & dance workshops—was truly ahead of its time in 1993, for the artist line-up amounts to a perfectly assembled Spotify playlist.  Without the web back then to successfully weave our concert news into the Greater Mind’s Eye, we of course went the accepted routes of radio, print, television and street flyers.  Our marketing efforts were just not impactful enough to prevail, however; the bottom-line negative number was of historical proportions, the largest amphitheater loss in the company’s history to date.  It was a very nice scarlet letter to have on our foreheads as we departed for the annual Pace amphitheater summit meetings later that Fall, but luckily no unfair blame was accorded.  It had been one of those roll-the-dice risks that just didn’t pan out, in a time when our business really called for us to test limits and book all sorts of shows.   

Friday September 24 - The Beach Boys.....Twenty-five years ago, the Beach Boys were already in essence tired old guys.  They were all entering their fifties, and had been peddling that surf-sand-and-sun stuff for seemingly centuries.  Friday, September 24th turned out to be a very chilly Fall evening at Star Lake Amphitheater, certainly not ideal for another warmed-over unspooling of this band’s summer sentiments.  The reason I remember the cold that night was because of my late wife Margot, who had found herself backstage with a friend in a Beach Boys meet-and-greet/photo-opportunity prior to the group’s performance.  She was told to huddle close with the other few folks in attendance, so that everyone could squeeze into the shot.  She related to me later that evening that she’d been positioned right next to lead singer Mike Love, and had muttered something almost under her breath as to how cold it was...  

Love immediately wrapped his arms around her and pulled her in tight, smirking “Oh honey, I’ll keep you warm!”  My wife kept her revulsion largely at bay, and semi-smiled for the camera.  Somewhere, maybe lost for eternity, there’s a photo of the lecherous Love in a near-groping of my wife with her priceless, restrained look of bemusement.  My temperature always rises slightly when I think about this incident, but on that cold evening in September ‘93, I very much appreciated she’d been frigid in the face of Love.





Posted 9/23/18.....BEHIND CLOSED DOORS


Backstage encounters with artists run the gamut, as most folks immersed in the live entertainment business know full well…There are “swing-bys” in dressing rooms to say “hello,” hallway happenstances, and even some brushes with greatness that don’t qualify at all as “meeting” the artist.  Over the years at Star Lake Amphitheater (now Key Bank Pavilion) I met a fair amount of folks in that sanctuary of backstage where the artists roam free.  

I’ve bumped into Buffett and Sting in the catering area, visited with Styx and Toby Keith in their dressing rooms, and grabbed the Spice Girls (not literally) for a quickly staged snapshot…I’ve said “hi” to James Taylor who was pacing the dressing room hallway nervous as hell about an approaching thunderstorm…and I’ve met women performers I greatly admired such as Stevie Nicks, Valerie Carter and Alana Davis, the latter part of the 1998 H.O.R.D.E. festival line-up and an amazing singer who deserved more than the ripple of fame she ultimately experienced.

Here are four more artist encounters, a bit more fleshed out to give you a better sense of what can unfold…


Starting in 1990, Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre’s opening season, the Steve Miller Band came to play and then returned every year thereafter for the next decade.  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 at the outset that they could deliver mightily on all of Miller’s FM hits through the years like “Fly Like An Eagle,” “Jungle Love,” “Rock ‘N Me,” “Take The Money And Run,” “Jet Airliner,” “The Joker” and more.

It truly was the summer’s biggest party for a number of years in a row.  Tailgating was in full flower out in the venue’s parking lots, and the way younger brothers and sisters of original Steve Miller fans were finding out that these classic songs—coupled with the cheap ticket and ample tailgating tonic—made for a night to remember (or a night to attempt to remember).

By Miller’s third appearance in 1992, the show was selling out at over 20,000 tickets.  In fact, Miller sold out every concert from 1992 through 2000, and the crowds wouldn’t stop storming the gates.  In 1996 there was an unprecedented “walk-up”—i.e., sales at the venue box office windows—of almost 6,000 lawn tickets.  Inside, the lawn turned into Sardine City.  Fans had about a square foot of space each, which was just room enough to hoist a lighter for the encore while praying your neighbors’ beer-sloshing wouldn’t snuff it out.

At that ’96 show I was called back to say “hi” to Steve Miller by his manager, after the band had heard about the huge walk-up and the 27,000 people in the venue.  Miller was a gracious host in his dressing room, and we chatted a lot about his early records (my favorites, like Brave New World and Your Saving Grace) and about his love for the blues.  Miller was congratulating us on a record attendance, and was feeling quite empowered. “Lance,” he said, “I’ve sold out the last five times I’ve played here, and tonight we hit 27,000—can you rename it ‘The Miller Dome?’ ”  I smiled and played along, telling Steve I’d first have to consult with my soft drink sponsor who was currently paying us multi-six-figures to be called the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater.  He grinned and said “Oh, alright...I was just kidding anyway” (what a joker; not sure about the midnight toker).


Neil Young, much to his minions’ delight, played many times through the years at the amphitheater.  Idiosyncratic and talented beyond measure, Young barreled through many a stellar performance, whether commanding the stage alone with just guitar, harmonica and keyboards in a full evening of career-spanning music, or backed by a powerful band like his 1993 outing with Booker T & The M.G.’s.

On September 3, 1996, Neil rode into town with Crazy Horse, his quintessential accompanists who first came together to fuel Young through the recording of 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina were there at the inception, along with guitarist Danny Whitten. The latter overdosed in 1972, replaced in the saddle by Frank “Poncho” Sampedro around 1975. 

I didn’t actually meet Young at this 1996 concert; let’s call it a “close call.”  All through the evening, the worshipful crowd was ecstatic as Young journeyed into the past, pulling out Crazy Horse chestnuts like “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black),” “Pocahontas” and “Cinnamon Girl.”  Near the end of the concert, I found myself backstage near the one door that the artists use to enter and exit the stage from the dressing room hallway.  Still onstage at that point, the band had turned things up to eleven, taking themselves (and the fans) on an extended guitar freakout that was part of their last number of the evening—either “Cortez The Killer” or “Like A Hurricane” (I cannot rightfully recall).  The song ground to a halt, the lights went up and the crowd roared, weary but seemingly fulfilled. 

Backstage where I was standing, the stage door burst open and this exhausted yet exhilarated foursome stumbled into the dressing room hallway and immediately collapsed back against the walls for support.  I was about six feet away, but my life force wasn’t even a blip; the four were grinning madly, completely lost in their own little world. Molina and Talbot were laughing and panting in equal measure; with his head back against the wall, Sampedro asked the cosmic question nipping at their heels: “What in the HELL kind of spaceship were we just ON?!!!”  Young and the others all broke up again, doubling over and slapping the walls in delight.  With no answers at hand, the foursome scrambled into loose formation, giddily pushing each other along as they baby-stepped down the hallway to their dressing rooms.

Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die...


Crosby, Stills & Nash played at Star Lake on the evening of August 16, 2001.

It had been a perfectly scripted day for us at the venue—the band’s load-in of equipment went smoothly and the tour crew was laidback, and “backstage” was now in its usual comfortable lull between sound check and gates-opening time.  There were beautiful blue skies as evening crept in, and to top it off, we were only expecting a crowd of maybe 8,000 headed our way.  This guaranteed that traffic would be a breeze, with our incoming fans unhurried and likely not the least bit harried.

I was standing backstage leaning against the railing next to the start of the dressing room hallway, talking to Roy Smith who was our venue’s marketing director.  We were discussing the number of complimentary tickets that Roy had used for this CSN show for radio station trade buys and promotional giveaways, and he was assuring me that the tour folks had pre-approved all of these, so once again the Amphitheater Gods seemed to be smiling down on us.  

Suddenly the door of the nearest Artist Dressing Room flew open, and a young boy (3, maybe 4-years-old?) bounded out and plopped down near our feet, squinting in the sunshine.  “I want some ICE cream!” the little boy harrumphed to no one in particular, and as Roy at the railing responded with “I think there’s some in the catering room right there,” David Crosby emerged from the dressing room and caught this exchange.

Crosby walked straight over to Roy and stood about six inches from his face. He hung there in silence for about three seconds, and then muttered the words “Just add water” before puckering his lips—still inches away from Roy—and making a slow sucking-in sound that started out low and then kept rising up and up to a sudden nipped-in-the-bud finish.  “Wa-LAH!” cried Crosby, “INSTANT ASSHOLE!”  He paused for effect:  “Don’t you EVER tell my kid he can have ice cream!”

Crosby turned and walked away, following his son into the catering area.  Roy and I looked at each other, our eyebrows involuntarily up.  Then he shrugged it off, saying “Just trying to help...”

Luckily we were somewhat accustomed to the occasional prima donnas--and davids--in the course of our work, exposed as we were to egos of all sizes and proportions.  It just went with the territory in rock and roll.


I was never much one for actively trying to orchestrate backstage meet-and-greets because of the particular demands of my job.  Ninety-five percent of the time I was wrestling with issues front-of-house—i.e., checking on the parking lots and tailgating, the lines at the concession stands and the artist merchandise booths, and the crowd demeanor.  This was all pretty daunting stuff especially on a sold-out or nearly sold-out show, and it kept me and my staff pretty much rooted to the public spaces in the venue.

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 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 near the stage (another perk of the biz at that time was a pair of excellent seats for the amphitheater general manager to dispense to family, friends or clients for each show).

Stewart was just minutes away from heading for the stage, and suddenly the tour manager offered this up to me out of the blue, as I happened to walk by him in the dressing room hallway—"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 the scoop—she had to come with me right now.  So mom wisely decided to ditch her concert companion who had gone off to the ladies room.  “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 the path to 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 9/9/18.....KEEP ON GROWING



For a period of almost twenty years from the mid 1960s to the early-mid 1980s, I was an explorer and a collector.  Not exactly on the level of someone like Charles Darwin, of course; he famously spent five years (1831-1836) on the British ship HMS Beagle as naturalist and companion to the ship’s captain, exploring remote regions of the globe and gathering up samples of the unique, the strange, and the unknown.

But indeed I was an explorer and collector—just without the sea voyages, and more or less confined to southwestern PA and a couple of state colleges.  My passion and paths of pursuit were of a different ilk, but I amassed a vast amount of specimens as well.  And like Darwin (I suppose) most of these opened up whole new worlds for me.

I’m talking about albums.  Vinyl records that were 12” in diameter and spun at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute on a turntable.  These were my salve and salvation, as I made my not-always-discernible way from teenager to the cusp of thirty-something.

It’s clear to me, however, that my obsession was first fomented by the momentous changes taking place in society in the Sixties like the rise of the counterculture, the hue and cry over civil rights and women’s lib, etc., but for me in particular it was the accompanying evolution of popular music that turned my young head around.  Through junior high and high school peers, and fledging youth-oriented magazines like Circus, Creem and Rolling Stone, I began to unearth previously unheralded worlds of music to explore…

Those times were explosive in music.  The Beatles launched a thousand ships, of course, for those who wanted more than just the dream of being in a band, and the Fab Four’s albums (one after the other) paved the way for experimentation and unbridled creativity, and luckily produced as many iconoclasts as sheep and imitators in their wake.

Album buying became the province of Youth.  By the mid-to-late 1960s, the record departments in chain stores like Woolworth’s and GC Murphy’s were brimming over with new releases from carpe-diem minded record companies who were signing new bands left and right. In junior high I was hitting these kind of places in my hometown of Butler, PA, but in high school (’69-’71) I started venturing to “the big city”—Pittsburgh, about an hour south of us—to visit the independent record stores that were popping up in abundance, meccas for the tuned-in, turned-on and dropped-out like The Free People’s Store and (later on) Flo’s in Oakland, and Heads Together in Squirrel Hill.

My album fixation followed me to my years of higher ed (’71-’75) at Clarion State College (now Clarion University) and subsequently Penn State’s main campus, where I sat on the staffs (and in the deejay chairs) of these two institutions’ radio stations.  Their studio shelves were constantly being replenished with new albums from record companies, and my learning curve as I waded weekly through these literal stacks of wax was arcing up, up and away.  

Along with new American artists who were gaining popularity through their first few albums—like Springsteen, Lou Reed, Steely Dan, Little Feat, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne, The Eagles, and scores more—I was finding treasures from other parts of the world as well.  On these radio stations’ shelves, l discovered new releases from England’s Soft Machine, Osibisa, King Crimson and Steeleye Span, the German fusion band Passport, and the genre-blending jazz-classical-folk instrumental recordings from the Oslo studios of European record label ECM.

After college, my passion for music circuitously led to occupational paths in that realm.  My diploma had marked me as a budding journalist, and though I tried early on to worm my way into radio station gopher jobs, and did one or two freelance pieces for the local newspaper, nothing opened up.  Back in my hometown, my friend Gary Kleemann’s older brother Dave soon gave me a shot at clerking in his independent record store, located about a block-and-half from Butler’s main drag and appropriately called Exile Off Main Street (or more formally, Exile Records).  

Similar to my college radio days, this time in Exile was an incubator for me.  The job didn’t pay a lot but the fringe benefits included listening to albums all day long on the store’s crystal-clear speakers that boomed from the high corners, and “talking music” with all comers, the confident souls who knew exactly the new record they had to have and the tentative ones who would trot out a genre and ask you for suggestions.

Of most value to me, though, was the ongoing tutelage from Dave on the width and breadth of new music being released by the major record labels.  Every Tuesday—restocking day at Exile—he would bring a slew of new releases back from his record wholesaler and we’d crack open these untapped treasures of rock and reggae and jazz and blues and all other hues, and this just stoked my desire to keep collectin’…

My album stash was growing by leaps and bounds. My path over the next handful of years (’76-’84) took me to a co-manager position at a second Exile Records location, one that we opened up in Wexford, PA…then to a job with record company distributor Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corporation as a southwestern PA field merchandiser…and then to employment as merchandiser-turned-marketing director in the Pittsburgh headquarters of the record retailer behemoth National Record Mart.  At my apartment in Pittsburgh, the albums were piling up and I couldn’t keep pace in my search for space.  Each of the aforementioned jobs put me in a position where free promotional copies of albums were plentiful and came in like the tide, and my buying sprees were no longer as necessary.  I was truly in a place where dreams come true.

By 1984, I had well over 1,000 albums in my collection. Having that many was literally a struggle; I remember moving my entire library of albums from my ground-floor bachelor pad to my first living quarters as a newlywed in a second floor apartment. The box-upon-box haul up the stairs was not the chief difficulty; it was the massive wooden shelving unit that previously housed a lot of my collection in the living room of my old apartment. Standing at least eight feet high with a healthy six-foot width, it was hernia-inducing just to look at.  

Worse yet, the monstrosity would simply just not fit through the front door, so my engineering specialist brother-in-law Ed came up with a solution.  He buzzed home for his circular saw, and safety goggles in place, he sliced my bookcase-on-steroids horizontally in two.  This was enough to allow us to haul the two halves up to a roof ledge and get them individually through the large window into our new second-floor living space.  I thanked Ed profusely.  And the lesson I learned that day: There is a price to be paid—occasionally divertible to family members, as luck would have it—for a passion this deeply rooted.

That same year was just about the time that compact discs were moving swiftly from the first wave of early adopter audiophiles to the general population.  I had picked up a Philips compact disc player and I’ll always remember christening it with a newly acquired compact disc issued by the new age label Windham Hill, a compilation of the label’s current recording artists.  Entitled Windham Hill Records Sampler ’84, the CD started off with a song called “Aerial Boundaries” by guitarist Michael Hedges.  I Spinal Tapped my stereo receiver’s volume control (i.e., turned it up to “11”) and sat back, almost floored, by the crystalline beauty and the power of this tune.  

But the inescapable allure was also because of the sound quality.  I knew the handwriting was on the wall for vinyl, at that point in time; technology was moving to all things digital, the record companies were behind it 110% and there was just no turning back to the admittedly warmer sound of those 33 1/3s…

Thus I started to divest of my assets.  Slowly but surely over the years, starting in the mid 1980s, I made trips to Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill and sold off my collection bit by bit, box by box.  I saved only a small pile of personal favorites, and they were attic-banished for years before seeing daylight again about three years ago in a move to a new abode.

I know that some day, though, when I am in the Old Folks’ Home and can no longer recognize my loved ones, I will however still be vividly recalling the sights and sounds of ecstasy on Earth—tearing shrink-wrap off a brand new album…gingerly laying the turntable’s tone-arm and needle down on the outermost grooves of the disc…sitting back cradling the album cover, poring over the liner notes…and waiting to exhale.

p.s. The following 26-second movie clip pretty much sums up my love for albums and music.  I agree 100% with what Albert Brooks says here, but do not endorse the activity his character indulged in that led him to these heartfelt expressions. Suffice to say that his motivating indulgence (not seen in this clip) might strike some as lude and inappropriate. https://youtu.be/TZm3h-PNRR0





Posted 8/26/18.....HEROES

Judging from my recent concert excursions here in August 2018, one would think that my checkered past must have included dropping out of adulthood between the years 2005-2009 to stay in my basement with Guitar Hero, sugary drinks, cheese-and-crackers plates and a cot.  Guitar Hero you may remember was an addictive music rhythm game with a guitar-shaped game controller where the player could easily match up its colored fret buttons with what was illuminated on the game’s note-scrolling screen.

But that wasn’t when, or even how, my passion for guitar took full flower.  It was many years before that as a music-obsessed youth in the 1970s who gobbled up and stockpiled hundreds and hundreds of albums, always in search of that spine-tingling thrill that came from the nexus of a musician’s passion and technique.  And occasionally I would find that thrill in certain instrumental recordings by a handful of fleet-fingered auteurs, pioneering souls who had such a grasp of their stringed instruments that, once I discovered them, I latched on for life…

Witness my concert selections, circa August 2018:  I went to three shows in the space of one week; two were guitarists and the third yet another master of strings.  All three of these artists I’ve followed since the 1970s when they were each truly trailblazers, and those of us fortunate enough to have been swept up in their wake have piled on additional thrills intermittently through the decades. They are guitarists Jeff Beck and Larry Carlton, and electronic violinist Jean-Luc Ponty.


Jeff Beck…Saturday, August 11, 2018

The first of my three-in-a-week live shows was the only indoor experience, at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall which is usually an acoustically trustworthy venue.  This show didn’t disappoint in that vein, and Beck’s penchant for full-throttle performances brought out the decibels both on his metal-like flurries during the faster tunes and on his sweet and aching swoops & slides on the slower material.

For those of you who may only tangentially know this artist, Jeff Beck is one of the true guitar gods of the 1960s, right up there in stature (and age) with fellow Brits Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.  Deep music aficionados (i.e., those of us whose brains have crowded out the more sensible and essential stuff of Life) know that these three were alumni of the English rock group The Yardbirds, all passing through its ranks in the 1960s on their way to more formidable unions and achievements.  

Beck was in several group formations after The Yardbirds, but his outta-left-field masterwork appeared in 1975—the all-instrumental classic Blow By Blow.  This was a boundary-pushing revelation helmed and held together in the studio recording process by famed Beatles producer George Martin.  Through this collaboration, Beck became liberated; he was no longer restrained in traditional rock-group settings with adequate but largely uninspiring song structures and performance styles.  He and George Martin created a lasting work of art, and Beck cemented his status as a guitar innovator and a fearless voyager into breathtaking soundscapes that are incredible melds of the searing and the serene.

Previous to this August 11th evening at Heinz Hall, I had only seen Beck twice before.  In April 2015 his tour bypassed Pittsburgh (due to venue unavailability, according to promoter Brian Drusky) and so the guitarist ended up at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg, PA about 35 miles to the east.  That show, which I had trekked to with best friend Frank Fotia, was amazing from start to finish; the sound mix was impeccable and the musicianship sublime.

Almost thirty years prior, at the AJ Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh in 1989, the experience was far less winning.  Beck and his band at the time were flip-flopping headliner status night-to-night on an October through December concert tour dubbed The Fire Meets The Fury; the other act on the bill was Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble.  My expectations were sky high with this double barrel attraction, but the problems with Palumbo I’d classify as jumbo—bad, bad acoustics that night in this glorified gymnasium, and there was an absolutely pulverizin’ decibel level that must have been perpetrated by the tour’s sound man stationed at the mix position, a guy who undoubtedly could have run a Q-Tip through one ear and took it directly out the other.


Larry Carlton…Sunday, August 12, 2018

This outdoor show was held at Hartwood Acres, a 629-acre county park in Allegheny County PA that contains a mansion for touring, trails for walking/hiking/skiing, a fenced-in tract for dog romping, and more.

On Sunday evenings from June through August every year, our tax dollars bring us free entertainment on a fixed stage area in front of a gently sloping lawn, and a diverse set of artists both homegrown and imported are our collective balm for heading into the workweek that follows.  Carlton headed up a five-piece ensemble that evening—guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and sax—and his solos were standouts in terms of nimbleness and jaw-dropping fluidity up and down the scales.  Some solos were bluesy and intense; others were jazz-tinged, quite moving and mellifluous.

Carlton and I go way back, though I remember and he would not.  But in 1978, the year the guitarist signed with his first major record label (Warner Brothers) and subsequently released a slickly produced, self-assured album of rock instrumentals, I was fresh on the job as a Warner Brothers/Elektra/Atlantic merchandiser for Western Pennsylvania.  My principal role was to pepper the region’s record stores with our company’s posters and album covers of breaking new artists and the labels’ superstars, but once in a while I was dispatched to do a bit of my handiwork in a hotel.

Occasionally our Warner/Elektra/Atlantic promotion personnel who routinely schmoozed and huckstered the important Pittsburgh radio and record retailer VIPs would rent a small social room at an area hotel, bring in a new recording artist, and then invite the freebie-lovin’ radio and record people to a wine-and-cheese “listening party” of the artist’s brand new album.  Larry Carlton was one such artist who received this whisk-into-town opportunity to glad-hand the people who held the keys to airplay and sales success, and my job was to slather the room with posters of the artist’s new album before the meet-and-greet affair began.  

I remember that somehow I was short on posters, so I weaved in some pictures from a magazine that had an ad for Carlton cigarettes, a low tar and nicotine brand popular at the time.  Right before the radio program directors and record retailers started to trickle into the room, the guitarist noticed the cigarette pack pictures that were stapled up around his new album’s posters on the wall, and God love him, he smiled at the connection and appreciated the humor.  I didn’t even think about it at the time, but I may have been a heartbeat away from losing my merchandiser job if the guitarist had woken up on the wrong side of the bed that morning…

You can check out for yourselves the paths that Carlton had ventured down even before that 1978 major-label debut on Warner Brothers Records.  A Californian by birth, Carlton first loped into the lobes of rock music lovers as a session guitar player who cropped up on numerous classic 1970s recordings like Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark, Hejira and Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, and Steely Dan’s Katy Lied, The Royal Scam, Aja and Gaucho.  In addition to his sporadic but enticing solo works through the years, he has also stinted and sometimes then stayed with jazz ensembles such as The Crusaders and Fourplay.


Jean-Luc Ponty…Friday, August 17, 2018

Zing went the strings of my heart when I heard a few months ago that Ponty was coming to Pittsburgh to play a free show at Allegheny County’s South Park Amphitheater.  Digging in online a bit, I learned that the set list for this tour was also going to concentrate on the violinist’s mid-late 1970s works, which was a period of jazz-rock bliss for me; those were the days that formative bands like Weather Report, Pat Metheny Group, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Jean-Luc Ponty all toured through this area, all landing (at one time or another) at the esteemed, award-winning concert hall the Stanley Theater.

At South Park Amphitheater, this was literally the first time I had seen Ponty live in 40 years.  He looked a little frail, now aged 75, but his stage presence was quietly commanding and his solos—and accents, as others in his band soloed—were engaging, pristine and quite powerful.  In delving back into the ‘70s with tracks like “The Gardens of Babylon” and “Imaginary Voyage” Ponty took me back to the joys of discovery…and when he played the title tune of his late-‘70s album Cosmic Messenger, I really had a memory flash.

Cosmic Messenger was released in 1978, that year when I first boarded Warner/Elektra/Atlantic and was deemed Pittsburgh’s “poster boy” of the local team.  I remember lugging tons of the album’s merchandising pieces to record stores all over the ‘burgh, and my Atlantic Records rep at some point announced a gathering similar to the Larry Carlton exercise—snagging a downtown hotel’s social room off of one of the major ballrooms, and inviting radio programmers and record store district managers to the album’s exclusive listening party.  Someone on our local team (I can’t remember who) came up with a “hook” for the gathering, and suggested that instead of wine we offer a specially named drink for the occasion—the Cosmic Messenger.  It was a potent concoction of Amaretto, Kahlúa and Baileys Irish Cream, and I was invited to imbibe along with my fellow hosts and our VIP guests.

I remember much clinking of glasses.  I floated out of that listening party around 7pm as it was winding down, and headed home to quickly pack for a night flight to Cleveland, where the Warner/Elektra/Atlantic (WEA) regional headquarters was located.  A meeting of all of the WEA field merchandisers—myself and my peers from Buffalo, Cincinnati and other Midwest locations—had been set up a few weeks earlier to take place the next morning at 10am at the Cleveland branch office. Feeling amorous from the Amaretto and maybe a tad too confident from the Kahlúa, I called a female friend that I’d been starting to see a bit, and asked her to join me at my house before I departed for the airport.  One thing led to another…bad judgment prevailed…and I missed the flight.

I called my peer from the Buffalo market who had already arrived in Cleveland, and poured out my slurred tale of incompetence.  He promised to let my regional boss know that I had unnamed “unavoidable circumstances” and that I would catch the earliest flight possible the next morning to be at the WEA offices as the meeting was just beginning to get into gear…

I made it to the meeting by a few minutes after 10am.  And forty years hence, the only Cosmic Messenger I’ve partaken of since has been the infinitely more energizing one that Ponty pushed forth from the stage at South Park Amphitheater.





Posted 8/12/18:  IT TAKES TWO



In the May 20, 2018 post here in A DAY IN THE LIFE, I spun a few origin stories about classic songs from a variety of artists such as Neil Young (“After The Goldrush”), The Eagles’ (“Hotel California”), The Vapors (“Turning Japanese”), The Beatles’ (“She Said She Said”), and others.  Along the way to finishing that post, I ran across a few other interesting items while scouring the internet. Since I didn’t use these specific bits in the May 20thpost, I guess you could call them my alternative facts about more song origins… 



Beatles’ fans have pored for decades over Lennon lyrics and McCartney musings, and all of us now know that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is NOT about LSD—at least that’s my acid reflex.  The inspiration instead came from a drawing that young Julian Lennon did in school and brought home to show his parents…“Blackbird,” a song written by McCartney, has a couple of different origin stories goin’ on as well. This song that ended up on the 1968 double album commonly called the White Album has lyrics that include the lines “Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these broken wings and learn to fly / All your life / You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”  

In various publications over the years McCartney has pointed to America’s tempestuous Civil Rights movement as the impetus for this song, but also has thrown out a more literal source—hearing a blackbird’s call one morning in India when he and the rest of the Fab Four were transcendentally meditating with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It could very well be a synthesis of the two…


“Save The Last Dance For Me”

Doc Pomus, originally a blues singer turned songwriter of some classic early rock and roll hits of the 1950s and 1960s, wrote “Save The Last Dance For Me” based on his own experiences at his wedding.  In a wheelchair because of polio, Pomus watched his new wife dance with other guests all evening long, and wrote this 1960 song with a happy ending: “So don't forget who's taking you home / Or in who's arms you're gonna be / So darling save the last dance for me.”

“Space Oddity”

David Bowie wrote and released the song “Space Oddity” in July 1969, and the release of the single to radio stations that month preceded the most famous moonwalk of all (apologies to Michael Jackson) by ten days: Two astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, became the first men on the moon.  A lot of people think there’s a link, but it is only coincidence.  

Instead, Bowie’s inspiration stemmed from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.  In a 2003 interview with Performing Songwriter magazine, Bowie explained that the song “was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing. I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”


“Louie Louie”

This is a song from 1955 that was played in thousands of American garages by pimply kids with guitars and bash kits, spurred on by the hit version from The Kingsmen that aired on radio stations nationwide in 1963.  Since then, the song’s been covered by everyone from Otis Redding, The Kinks, The Mothers of Invention, Motorhead, and Toots & The Maytals, to The Clash, John Belushi, Stanley Clarke and George Duke, and Iggy Pop.  

The Kingsmen’s version in ’63 was reportedly investigated by the FBI because of suspicions that the marble-mouthed lead singer was spouting lyrics that were considered obscenities. The case never ended up in prosecution, though, and the song may have actually had a cussword in it after all; reportedly the drummer drops his drumstick and an F-bomb at the 54-second mark of this 2:45 raucous mini-masterpiece.  

“Ring Around The Rosie”

I grew up in the 1950s and in my pre-school years, I remember holding hands and moving sideways in an unbroken circle with friends, spouting the sing-songy lyrics of “Ring-a-round the rosie / A pocketful of posies / Ashes!  Ashes! / We all fall down.”  And I was crestfallen to learn through an internet search that perhaps the most plausible origin tale of this tune stems from the Middle Ages.  Some—I say, some—scholarly folklore types insist that the song sprang from the occasion of the bubonic plague that raged across Europe and killed millions of people in the 15thand 17thcenturies.  

“Ring-a-round the rosie,” these scholars maintain, refers to a red circular rash that was a common identifier of those stricken, and that the posies likely represented the flowers and/or herbs that the luckless carried with them in hope of warding off the scourge.  And the “ashes!” and “falling down?”  This might well be the final sneezes, coughs, and the drop to the ground.  If this tale be true, God, I was SO naïve at the age of five.



Having spent almost half my life employed by the music industry—beginning as a record store part-timer in 1975; ending as an amphitheater general manager in 2008—I obviously loved being a one-note guy.  Now I’ve found justification for it.

I just laid eyes on a new bit of research mentioned on Consequence of Sound, a Chicago-based online publication that bills itself as “the missing link between mainstream pop culture and the underground.”  COS in an April 7, 2018 post spills the highlights of a new study (first reported on England’s music site NME) that claims concert-going can contribute to longevity—in fact, hitting a show at least once every two weeks can actually add nine years to your life.

The cynic in me bubbled right up, though, when I read that the study was conducted by a Goldsmiths University of London associate lecturer (touted as a behavioral science expert) in conjunction with O2, a massive mobile network operator in the UK and beyond.  In addition to being the name-in-title sponsor of London’s most successful arena, O2 offers its customers access to tickets to 5,000+ concerts in more than 350 venues across the UK each year through a service called Priority Tickets.  Huh.

But back to the findings as reported in the COS article:  “The logic here,” says the article’s author Randall Colburn, “is that live music increases feelings of self-worth, closeness to others, and, especially, mental stimulation, all of which contribute to one’s sense of well-being.  According to the study, there’s a ‘positive correlation between regularity of gig attendance and wellbeing,’ and ‘additional scholarly research directly links high levels of wellbeing with a lifespan increase of nine years.’”

I really have just a few questions at this point:

  1. About this “adds nine years to your life” thing…Can I start seeing a live show every two weeks beginning when I’m 90, so I can live until I’m 99? (To paraphrase Prince a bit, “I’d wanna party like I’m livin’ ‘til ‘99”)
  2. What if you went only to outdoor heavy metal concerts every two weeks?  I know at least a handful of these types of shows do in fact bring people closer together (like someone’s fist to someone else’s face) but the decibels alone, one would think, would scramble your sense of well-being like an egg.
  3. And…What if you went to fifteen freakin’ shows in a two-week period?  I worked at Star Lake Amphitheater in 1994, and we had a pretty unusual logjam of concerts that particular August—15 shows within 17 days.  It started with Metallica on August 12thand then rolled on one after the other, our hot August nights filled with unrelenting evenings of artists and their flocks on August 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 27, finally ending with Harry Connick, Jr. on August 28.  So…I wonder if I accrued any life-prolonging benefits from crammin’ in so many shows in this two-week (and three-day) stretch?  At the time, I’ll tell you, I felt like I was fixin’ to die…


There is one more music-related survey that I found on the COS website, this one dating back to 2016 and a post from COS writer Scoop Harrison. Unlike the rejuvenating jolt that the formerly described survey provided, this one had only sobering news—and not for the fans and followers of music, but for those who make it.

Even though we music lovers benefit from concerts through fan-shared experiences, passions stirred and spirits lifted, the musicians themselves apparently don’t fare so well over the long term.  Author Harrison reported that a survey “conducted by Sydney University found that, on average, musicians die 25 years younger than non-musicians.” The survey had looked at a total of 12,655 musicians who died between the years 1950 and 2014, and researchers found that these folks, on average, passed away at ages somewhere between their late 50s and early 60s.

Certainly we had a depressing stat already in hand before this survey came to light, which is the fact that a number of rock luminaries bought the farm at age 27: Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison of The Doors and a few others.  I doubt this  handful of heroes and hellions majorly skewed the findings, but a couple of those listed point to another disturbing commonality—a penchant for suicide.  According to the survey, the suicide rate among musicians was between two and seven times greater than the average population.

The individual who spearheaded the study, University of Sydney’s Professor Dianna Kenny, was quoted by the media as saying “The music scene celebrates drugs and promiscuity and valorisation of early death, so young musicians who are depressed and suicidal are attracted to these types of environments. They are meeting fellow travellers where they amplify each others suicide, depression, or substance abuse and that gets into an-out-of-control spiral leading to early death.”  (Note to self: Remember to scratch Dianna Downer from any upcoming dinner party guestlists.)






I was thinking fondly of my old flame a few nights ago…and I don’t mean an ex-girlfriend.  I was reflecting back to the concert days of my wayward youth in the 1970s, remembering the flame from my old lighter—the one I hoisted skyward more than a few times joined by thousands of others, all held aloft, as we screamed for encores and “One…more…song!”

Those were the days, my friend, and they did end—but not abruptly. The flickering sea of lighters under night skies and arena roofs very g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y went away over the next several decades, not snuffed but rebuffed; tech eventually muscled out the torch.

Cellphones had arrived, of course, and over time they beat back the standard-bearers—the Bics and the Zippos—to the point where today, Elton’s “Candle in the Wind” has lost all its original luster and Lynyrd Skynyrd is fully resigned to little or no flames for “Free Bird” (though I think the band still glowers at the glow-screens).

These Bics and Zippos, though, were essential concert gear for a long stretch starting in the late 1960s.  The Bic company, founded by two Frenchmen in the mid-1940s who originally only trafficked in ballpoint pens, expanded to pocket lighters in 1971 through the acquisition of a traditional-lighter manufacturer named Flaminaire.  Two years later the first Bic with an adjustable flame was produced and soon thereafter, here in this country, “Flick Your Bic!” TV ads became…ubiquitous.

Zippo was a homegrown product of the USA and in fact was born near here in Bradford, PA, a town about 3-hours drive northwest of Pittsburgh.  The first Zippo pocket lighter—a patented, much-improved redesign of an original Austrian lighter—was invented by Bradford native George Blaisdell and was out in the American marketplace by the mid-1930s. By my recollection, in the 1950s and 1960s at least, everyone from my father to the Marlboro Man brandished a Zippo with its gleaming thin metal case and its snap-back lid on a hinge.  When the 1960s hit and the youthquake rumbled across the land, the lighter started to show up at concerts—but a lot of people aren’t sure exactly when.

Most rock writers and theorizers (maybe even fanboys) do agree that the late 1960s and early 1970s was indeed the time period of the lighter’s emergence on the music scene, and consensus is that the practice debuted here in the States.  Zippos, which were built to be wind resistant in terms of keeping the flame alive, were the ones that first started the lighter’s creep into concerts.  

Chronologically, Woodstock may have been first.  American singer-songwriter Melanie, folk-pop princess of the late 1960s, performed at the famous festival in August 1969 and her experience there led to the 1970 composition “Lay Down (Candles In the Rain)” which appeared on her next album.  The song’s chorus implores “So raise candles high / 'Cause if you don't we could stay black against the night / Oh, raise them higher again / And if you do we could stay dry against the rain.”  Candles are the cooler context for sure, but Melanie was also likely looking out at a veritable sea of lighters in those thousands of points of light.

The Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert followed Woodstock less than a month later, and originally the promoters went with a lineup of mostly heritage acts like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Bo Diddley.  Ticket sales were lagging and literally the day before the September 13, 1969 event, an appeal went out to John Lennon and Yoko Ono to emcee the festival.  Lennon and Ono agreed to come only if, instead of emceeing, they could play onstage with their Plastic Ono Band.  Once the public came to believe the hard-to-swallow radio reports of this eleventh-hour confirmation of a Beatle, the festival quickly sold out.  At the concert, emcee Kim Fowley reportedly beseeched the crowd to light up matches and lighters to help welcome the Plastic Ono Band, and this was probably one of the first incidents of exhortation from the stage to “light it up out there”…

Across the Atlantic in England, the third installment of the Isle of Wight Festival took place in August 1970 and featured both established and emerging artists from both sides of the pond: Jimi Hendrix, Chicago, Joni Mitchell, Supertramp, Pentangle, The Doors, Miles Davis, Lighthouse, Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, Cactus, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Joan Baez, Sly & The Family Stone, Donovan, The Who, Ten Years After, and many more.  Leonard Cohen’s 2am-ish performance on the concluding day of the five-day festival figures prominently in the lore of lighting up—he successfully settled down the combustible, sometimes riotous crowd with calming, monotone storytelling and a request to light a match so he could see everyone out there in the darkness.  This might have been the first time at a rock gathering where the flames were a real show of unity and led to a strong sense of bonding between artist and audience.

The last frequently cited example of the flickering flame becoming elemental to shows is from 1974, and Bob Dylan and The Band’s two-month tour of the U.S. (with two shows north of the border in Toronto and Montreal).  Reviews of the tour were strong; the fans were agog at a reenergized Dylan onstage with his beloved backup musicians.  The show included 4-to-5-song alternating mini-sets that included Dylan + Band, The Band alone, Dylan solo acoustic, then returning to Dylan + Band—and audiences were electrified.  They also often lit up the night, as captured for posterity through a photograph taken on tour that became the cover of Dylan and The Band’s follow-up live album release Before The Flood.

Musicasaurus.com surveyed a few current and/or former music industry friends here and there, in order to get a feel for each person’s brightest concert memories as they pertain to the flame.  Here they are, in no particular order:


Rich Engler and Ed Traversari (Pittsburgh) / Two of the three principals of legendary concert promoter DiCesare-Engler Productions

Rich and Ed (along with company co-founder Pat DiCesare) brought thousands of artists to Pittsburgh in their heyday, from club dates to stadium extravaganzas.  Ed offered up AC/DC as one of his favorite evenings of illumination, and Rich replied back that one of the Led Zeppelin concerts at the Civic Arena—either the one in 1975 or in 1977—was “probably the biggest response I’d seen, with lighters up throughout the evening.”


Bob Klaus (Durham, NC) / Original marketing director of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre (1990); currently general manager of Durham Performing Arts Center

The Rock Superbowl in Orlando at the Tangerine Bowl, August 27, 1978…Eagles onstage playing “Hotel California,” their opening song.


Paul Carosi (Pittsburgh) / Designer/developer of the website Pittsburgh Music History (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/)

The December 1969 concert by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.


Sean McDowell (Pittsburgh) / Longtime on-air talent with WDVE, the powerhouse album-oriented rock station

The Grateful Dead…I was at the legendary Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) concert on May 8, 1977.  Either it was all the lighters I saw being held up around the arena (Barton Hall) or it was the blotter acid we all had taken 2 hours previously.  Anyway, lotsa lights, lotsa colors!  That is one of the most infamous Dead concerts ever.  I’ve told Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Donna Godchaux that I was there at that concert and they were all like, “Whoa.  You were THERE?!!”


Mark Fritzges (Coraopolis, PA) / SVP, Promotion at Atlantic Records

Nothing really stands out in the 60s and 70s; I’m more a concert-goer of the 80s on...I would guess in the early 80s it probably would have been a Crosby, Stills & Nash show at the Civic Arena.  I’m not sure of the exact date, but that might have been the show where David Crosby left the stage very early in the set and never returned.  I remember the lighters illuminating the arena that night (or maybe that was the spotlights trying to locate Crosby?).


Barry Gabel (Cleveland, OH) / SVP Marketing and Sponsorship Sales at Live Nation

Actually I do remember this vividly—Grand Funk Railroad at Madison Square Garden in 1972.  “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)” and a sea of lighters; simply amazing…That was my first arena concert; prior to that I went to Westbury Music Fair or Wollman Rink concerts in the Park.



Tom Rooney (Pittsburgh) / Former executive director of Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group

In 1987 when the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd reformed with kid brother Johnny Van Zant on vocals for brother Ronnie, it was when the band played the Civic Arena and young Johnny placed one of his brother’s trademark hats over the microphone and departed the stage.  They went into “Free Bird” sans singing that the whole Civic Arena then turned into an impromptu light show.  That was repeated at all their tour stops and I see the farewell tour is ongoing this summer…Still to me a band that went down (on a plane) at the very top of their artistry.


Joe Katrencik (Pittsburgh) / Former public relations work—mid-‘80s through mid-‘90s—for the Pittsburgh Civic Arena then Star Lake Amphitheater

As a teen in the 60s I'm not sure whether I or my friends even knew there were such things as rock 'n' roll concerts.  I did go to a wedding once at Canonsburg's Slovak Club where the Joe Gudac combo played a polka version of “Proud Mary,” and seven of my cousins got "lit-up" on highballs. As it was, I didn't go to my first arena concert until 1989 I think - the Pointer Sisters at the Civic Arena where I worked.  I was so excited I forgot my lighter.


Cris Winter (Pittsburgh) / Former on-air talent on WXXP, WDVE, and 3WS; currently on WISH 99.7

It would have to be my first concert: Chicago with Terry Kath October 5, 1977 at the Civic Arena.  It was an AMAZING show!  It was early in the set list as I recall when Terry Kath sang “Colour My World” and I remember the lighters coming out.  I had never seen that in person before!  The music, the sights and the smells (insert smiley face) bring back great memories…Sadly, Terry would be gone a few short months later, but I do remember how incredible he was as a guitarist and on stage and what energy the whole band had. I’m glad I got to see Chicago with the original line up. 


Steve Hansen (Pittsburgh) / Former on-air talent on WDVE’s “Jimmy & Steve” morning program (1980-1986); currently an independent writer/producer

In the 70s one of my musical goals as a DJ was to go through each new release in search of the epic anthem, the next “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” or “Firth of Fifth” or “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  It was usually the longest cut on the album and often the last song on side two.  If it caught on it was destined to be set closer and flame-lighter…But there wasn’t an anthem that could lay a finger on “Free Bird.”  It was like sex on drugs.  Once, at a Bill Graham Day On The Green in Oakland, California, Lynyrd Skynyrd opened for The Who.  Even though it was still light during their set, they were at the height of their power.  When the plodding dirge that opens the song exploded into the soaring guitar riot that ends it, the crowd erupted and 50,000 freak flags started flying in the wind. It’s a moment that I got to witness a few times but none more electric than on that hot summer day in 1977.


Postscript:  I HAD to return to Zippo here before sign-off.  I came across the above photo when looking up the brief histories of lighters for my tale, and was frankly kinda wowed by the look of the illustrious Zippo/Case Museum.  The venue first opened in Zippo’s hometown of Bradford, PA in 1993 as a rather modest building, but then was Willy Wonka’ed in 1997 with this fantastical front.  Yep, that’s a mutha of a lighter—forty feet high—and it has a pulsating neon flame to boot (below it is a pocketknife, also on steroids, as the parent company also owns the Case line of knives).  Reportedly the museum has an exhibition called Zippo Rocks!, a look at Zippo’s role in music through the decades, but—just sayin’—I don’t think any serious music lovers should start reshuffling their bucket list items anytime soon.





Posted 7/15/18:  KING OF THE ROAD


I happened to be out of town the weekend of July 8-10, and it was not until that Monday afternoon that I heard from friends about the Jimmy Buffett hoo-ha at the gates on Saturday evening at Key Bank Pavilion.  Seems like there was a crush—nay, a standstill—at the entrances, and it could have been a security checkpoint issue of some sort (just hazarding a guess here).  Whatever the reason for the logjam, the suds-and-sunbaked crowd started buzzing all over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that evening and on into the morrow…

Not an easy, breezy weekend for the venue with all that Parrothead angst and anger skittering over social media, but really, is the amphitheater totally to blame?  I worked there for a number of years—actually Year Two (1991) through Year Eighteen (2007)—and pretty much all of the Buffett concerts had some kind of temporary but quite hefty back-up at the gates ‘round about the time Jimmy hit the stage.  That unfolding was pretty damn reliable, when I think back on it: Buffett would strike up the band, and that was the dog whistle that caused literally thousands and thousands of tailgating fans to perk up their ears, drain their cups, adjust their coconut bras (mostly the gentlemen), and head on over to the entry gates all at once... 

Buffett, way back in time in the 1980s, did start out playing much smaller venues than the 23,000-capacity Key Bank Pavilion (the former Star Lake Amphitheater>Post-Gazette Pavilion>First Niagara Pavilion).  On the Pittsburgh Music History website curated by Pittsburgher Paul Carosi, there is a listing for Jimmy Buffett playing the Syria Mosque in the Oakland section of town on December 11, 1983.  And according to Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in a Buffett trivia quiz he trotted out in August 2015, that Syria Mosque gig was indeed Jimmy’s first time in the city.

I remember that date well, and not because I was there.  The 1983 Syria Mosque show came up in a conversation I had with Steve Smith of the Howard Rose Agency during the winter of 1986 when I was less than a year into my job as booking director of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  Steve was offering up a Buffett date for our arena’s summer concert series of shows, and quite dispassionately was telling me that this show was a no-brainer.  “You’ll see,” Smith said, “just do this date and you’ll be fine. Buffett’s played there before, his fans spread the word; he comes back again, the audience increases.”  Smith said he’d seen this growth in multiple markets already, and told us to get ready.

So we booked our date with Buffett, bringing his “beach-hammock-and-margarita-mind-blur” ideology to town; in other words, a lazy, hazy then crazy day of summer, set for the evening of June 24, 1986.  Jimmy and his Coral Reefer Band played our side-stage setup with more than 6,000 rabid hedonists packed into the arena’s orange seats, festooned in florals, carousing and caroling to the high heavens (the arena roof was opened up that night).

Buffett came back one more time to Pittsburgh before Star Lake Amphitheater came into being, and that was a return engagement to the Syria Mosque in December of 1989.  Six months later, off the parkway west and 15-20 more minutes down Route 22/30 toward Weirton, Star Lake opened its doors for its first summer season.  Buffett’s booking team members in Los Angeles—the Howard Rose Agency and Jimmy’s manager Howard Kaufmann—were elated that their artist could now move into the Great Outdoors in the Pittsburgh market.  Buffett by the late 1980s had been racking up considerable sales elsewhere where amphitheaters already existed, and on August 10th in Star Lake’s debut season Buffett descended to start to lay claim to the throne…

This first time around Buffett drew almost 11,000 fans to the party. In his second Star Lake stop the very next summer, which was my first season employed at the venue, the artist pulled in 50% more.  And Steve Smith’s words from my arena days were ringing in my ears: Buffett and his merry band—espousing the carefree island life where drive and determination matter not a whit and life pursuits are limited to locating lost shakers of salt—were converting the masses and pumping up the nascent Parrothead movement, Pittsburgh-style… 

What I loved most about the Buffett shows at Star Lake was the venue parking lot, where concert-goers parked campers and vans, beat the heat via hot tubs, built operating replicas of volcanos (those things were smokin’), set up drink-tube contraptions that looked like liquid hookahs, and much more.

I found out quickly through riding on the security golf-cart patrols that one could get lei’ed out there as well.  Grass-skirted girls would ask you to slow down so they could gingerly drop one over your head as a peace offering, reflecting the general vibe of the denizens of this endless expanse of parked cars and colorful commotion—smiles wide, senses deliciously dulled; most life strife set aside for this special evening out.

Inside the venue, along “corporate box row” that arced the stage at the back of the first three sections of fan seating, it was quite the social register.  For Buffett shows, practically all of the venue’s top sponsors and box owners were present and accounted for, the extreme inverse of other situations where the box tickets didn’t mean as much and the people filling the chairs were more likely the receptionist’s nephew’s friend and a doe-eyed date.  At Buffett, the powerbrokers and the box-lease signers were all on display, and collectively they were the ones who kept this precious revenue stream going for the venue year after year, always asking at renewal time, “So, is Buffett coming back?”

Jimmy’s show the third year (1992) began his amazing, unbroken string of sell-outs at the Lake, and in 1994 the artist doubled down—two back-to-back nights were booked for Friday, June 10 and Saturday, June 11 and both sold out in advance.  Buffett’s reign had begun—and then the storm hit.  On the first night of the doubleheader, the skies filled with dark clouds and we had an incident that couldn’t be labeled anything but harrowing.

Tom Rooney, currently president of the Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group based in Pittsburgh, was executive director of Star Lake back then. Rooney recalls, “Lightning made a direct hit on the main transformer rendering our sold-out show in darkness before Jimmy even hit the stage.  We were standing on the backstage deck when we saw the bolt hit and we were all lucky to survive.  We were saved by two things: The Iguanas, the opening act, traveled with a portable generator and Mark Susany, our electrician, ingeniously hooked it up on the main stage and we got (barely) through an unplugged show.  The next day Buffett’s management required a full backup generator for every show, anywhere they played!  And I still remember Star Lake’s local fire departments showing up with their trucks to provide our only lights for the parking lots…”

Through the rest of the 1990s Buffett pretty much continued rollin’ doubles—two-night stands in ’95, ’96, ’97, and ’98—and he has long since cemented his status as the Sell-Out King of the amphitheater.

A few things I learned along the way in all my years as marketing director-turned-general manager of the amphitheater, and hosting the Buffett shows:

And one last account, from my Buffett memory bank:  One time in the late 1990s, I heard a story from my operations manager of a problem one of our ushers had in the lower house, in that aforementioned realm of the venue’s row of corporate boxes.  It seems that a rather spirited (or spirits-filled) concert-goer was trying to slip his way into one of our boxes there, and the usher—in performance of his duties—diplomatically asked the interloper to please step outside of it for a moment.  When the wobbly but determined individual could not produce a ticket for it, the usher calmly explained that the box was the property of the company who had purchased it for the season, and thus the gentleman could not sit in there. This is the rest of their exchange, as relayed to me by my Ops guy:

What a great comeback for the puffed-up Parrothead whose margaritas must’ve got the best of him and brought out the worst in him…And that usher: I regret not seeking him out later on to give him my thanks and a high-five.  Wherever you are today, my friend, thank you—I am still smilin’ over that one all these years later.





Posted 7/1/18:  POWER OF TWO



To attend the wedding of my daughter Maeve’s very good friend, I drove over to Philadelphia (actually, Doylestown, PA) a few weeks back, and I was a happily surprised that the two just-turned thirtysomethings who got hitched—Caroline Dean and Matthew Smith—had plotted out such a moving, fun and quite-left-of-orthodox wedding. This was reflected in the outdoor manor site selection, and the vows and the overall ceremony, but my marvelment really stemmed from the music that was selected by the bride that day, especially the songs chosen for the initial settling in of the wedding guests.

The attendees arrived and leisurely took their seats in the row upon row of crisp white chairs set out on the manor’s lawn.  Behind the last row of seating, in the general area where the bride would eventually appear for her walk up the aisle, there was a musical duo planted—a woman seated at a keyboard and a nearby male counterpart on acoustic guitar and vocals, and they began peeling off some unexpectedly very nice covers of Van Morrison, The Band, and others.  It was refreshing to the ears that schmaltz and wedding tried-and-true was nowhere to be heard—a testament to the cool factor level of this particular couple.

The best moment for me was when Caroline appeared with her father on her arm, way in the back, poised to process up the aisle.  Suddenly the woman on electric piano lilted out some opening chords that triggered a flashback to a song I first heard back in 1967 but hadn’t in many years.  Single notes danced up an ascending scale, and “She’s A Rainbow” flowed out of the duo as Caroline and her father walked up to and into the aisle separating the two throngs of well-wishers.

I beamed, and thought The Rolling Stones!  What an intriguing selection for the father-daughter stroll!  And really, this song in particular with its lyrics “She shoots colours all around / like a sunset going down / Have you seen a lady fairer?”—perfect!

I turned to Mario, one of my favorites of daughter Maeve’s good friends seated to my right, and whispered “This is a much better selection than ‘Sympathy For The Devil,’ wouldn’t you say?”  Mario laughed and didn’t comment beyond that, and I suddenly realized he may have had no idea what song I was talking about.  Oh, these Millennials…can’t blame them, really, but I am going to lay blame at the feet of both streaming and the attention spans of today, in a world where fingertips never flutter far from clutched digital devices.  The result is, there’s largely little time or interest in digging back into the rich histories of a variety of evergreen artists that still mean so much to musically infused elders such as myself…Isn’t it a pity…

But that is—shameless plug coming—one of the reasons that every two weeks, the Building A Mixtery page on this very website spins out ten more tunes of music spanning the 1960s to recent times.  In there, there’s much to explore; some to adore, maybe some you’ll abhor.  But I’m doing my part for the site-visiting oldsters who want to travel back and for the younger people who just might subsequently delve and find delights, given a window into this world.


I somehow missed, in large part, any real fanfare or friend frenzy from the release of The Doors’ self-titled debut album in January of 1967, but I keenly remember midway through that year when an edited version of the album’s centerpiece “Light My Fire” was everywhere.  I remember it first spilling out of my mom’s transistor radio on a sandy beach in Erie, Pennsylvania.  I was nearby on a beach towel, eyes closed and near lobster-kettle hot, 14 years old and desperate to get a tan.  The deejay did a breathless bit of patter and then came the crack of a drum shot and a flurry of notes from an electronic organ that suddenly slowed to accommodate singer Jim Morrison’s cocky confessional, “You know that it would be untrue / You know that I would be a liar / If I was to say to you / Girl, we couldn’t get much higher…”

That song was riveting and inescapable that summer, and although I did not go on to be a real Doors devotee, I did follow along as the band over the next five years churned out some infectious songs of swagger, courtesy of the confidence and charisma of Mr. Morrison.

For those who don’t know, Morrison was (offstage and on) volatile, unpredictable, indulgent and indulging throughout this 5-year stretch of ascending fame, and ultimately he succumbed in 1971 while on a “leave of absence” from the band in Paris, discovered dead in the bathtub by his paramour Pamela Courson.  There’s a shroud over the details, and that added to his legend; Morrison died at 27 (like his contemporaries Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Brian Jones from the Stones) and no autopsy was ever performed and only “heart failure” adorns the official death certificate.

Fast forward to 1983.  My love of music had propelled me into “the business” after college graduation, first easing me into part-time work at hometown record store Exile Records, and eventually, into full-time employment in the early ‘80s at the large six-state record retail giant National Record Mart which was headquartered in Pittsburgh. With my wife-to-be Margot, I had plotted out an overseas vacation for a full two weeks in Norway, Denmark and beyond (thanks to Eurail) and we found ourselves in Paris for a few days near the end of our excursion.

This city was truly intoxicating.  We booked a room at the Hotel D’Harcourt which was two blocks from Notre Dame and less than one from the Seine, and then spent afternoons strolling in the Louvre, whispering in wonderment at Sacre-Couer, and more.  On a “free” afternoon Margot indulged me with pit-stops in various record shops including Lido Musique, where we found tons of European artists alongside mainstream new releases from the Stones, the Pretenders, Supertramp and others...

The real musical high note, though? I got to meet Jim Morrison—or as close to that as I could possibly get.  We squeezed in a visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery (established 1804), where playwrights, statesmen, composers and artists of all walks of life were now in their deepest repose.  We took the Metro out there on a sunny afternoon, and once through the gates, Margot went the way of Chopin, Molière, Proust, Piaf and Colette—and I went in search of the Lizard King.

Yes, the Doors’ lead singer Jim Morrison was buried in Pere Lachaise, and with the cemetery’s “dead celeb” map I found my way to a heavily congested area where the plots thickened.  As I approached the grave site, I spied three figures sprawled out on nearby headstones, just wistfully staring at the small porcelain bust of Morrison that someone had set in place on his grave.  Graffiti was everywhere, along with discarded dead-flower bouquets.  The three saw me coming and half-nodded hello; one was a man in his early twenties, and the other two were women perhaps just a bit younger.  They turned back toward each other and conversed quietly in French.  It seemed I had already been forgotten.  

The man withdrew a small liquor bottle from inside his vest, took a snort, and half-coughed, half-laughed.  One woman sighed and pushed back her hair, staring at the young man who was now mumbling and stumbling over his native tongue, addressing no one in particular; the other girl just nestled more into the marble and closed her eyes.  From out of the mouth of the young man I heard a word-backed wheeze make its way to the surface, and suddenly, in slurred and blurted English, the Frenchman slowly sang “Show me...za way...to za next weez-key barrrrr”....

Margot approached just then from her more literary pursuits around the cemetery, and I convinced her to snap a picture of me graveside as a keepsake.  But first I donned my dark glasses and bummed a cigarette from the Frenchman; it seemed fitting to look at least a tiny bit debauched at the burial place of a rock god who freewheeled (as long as he could) through the boundary-pushin’ ‘60s.






Posted 6/17/18:  MONKEE MAN


I was 13 years old in September 1966 when The Monkees hit the nation’s TV 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 (i.e., the 45 RPM single) from the Woolworth’s store record department in downtown Butler, PA, as we did with all other such bright and tuneful new pop-rock hits.

“Last Train To Clarksville” fit right in—we were literally stacking up a ton of new sounds at that point, our new 45s piled up high in the corners of our parents’ bookcases or on our bedroom dresser tops, where they laid splayed next to their oversized, fleshed-out and more fully-formed big brothers, the 33 1/3 LPs (record albums).  

This latter half of 1966 was especially revelatory in terms of the kinds of songs that were muscling their way to the top of radio playlists.  Frank Sinatra, Brenda Lee, Ray Conniff and others of the old guard seemed to be losing in the squeeze play brought on by the newer, more exciting sounds that were jostling for prominence in increasing numbers.  That Summer and Fall, for instance, brought Number One hits from The Stones (“Paint It Black”), The Beatles (“Paperback Writer”), The Troggs “(“Wild Thing”), The Lovin’ Spoonful (“Summer In The City”), ? and The Mysterians (“96 Tears”), and The Beach Boys (“Good Vibrations”).

It’s notable that the Monkees had two Number Ones in that latter-half of ’66, as multimedia Monkeemania kicked into gear.  Though I never coughed up my allowance for actual Monkees albums, I nevertheless scooped up the 45s that followed their 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.

My brother and I were glued to their antics.  In the living room, come 7:30, we often still had our “TV trays” in place. These were the tiny individual fold-open trays-with-legs that would accommodate a plate and a beverage on top, and we frequently parked these in front of the television set well before dinnertime, which more often than not saved us from the fate of family togetherness.  Yes, instead of insisting on head-healthy, full-family dialogue at dinner every evening, my parents sometimes opted to huddle up as a pair at the kitchen table, feeling not a whit of compunction about handing their young boys’ impressionable minds over to the television teat from which we sucked up all sorts of silliness.

Monday nights my mom might venture in when the Monkees—moving from drummed-up schtick to drum stick—would hit the opening chords to one of their songs. Then she’d shimmy a bit here and there, maybe even frugging through the living room, remarking to my brother and me that she had heard the same song just a bit earlier that day on the radio. My dad—a mill worker who largely only listened to Sinatra, Stan Getz and Ella Fitzgerald, and who often opined that this new music (including the Beatles!) would never last—rarely crossed the line of demarcation between his kitchen perch and the TV room when this Monkee business would begin to unfold.

I moved on from the Monkees fairly quickly after that first year, continuing to dig deeper and wider into this world of emerging new music.  I began religiously collecting albums and following certain artists’ careers, and this became my full-time preoccupation...

It wasn’t until twenty years later, in 1986, that the Monkees re-entered my life quite suddenly.  I was thirty-three years old and the director of booking at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. My primary job was to work with outside concert promoters such as DiCesare-Engler, Electric Factory and Beaver Productions to bring artists into the Pittsburgh market, and specifically into our venue.  By 1986 (just my second year on the job) we had also established ourselves as a venue with a reputation of willingness to book our own shows—meaning, if an outside promoter got cold feet about bringing an arena-level band into town, we would step in and step up to the plate to take the risk and play the show ourselves (by way of explanation: In the music business at that time, the artists all basically received a guaranteed amount of money to play a concert for a given promoter, regardless of whether the show ultimately ended up selling ten thousand tickets or ten tickets period.)

Phil Citron, an agent from the booking agency William Morris, called me one day in that Spring of ’86 and said that Pittsburgh-based promoter DiCesare-Engler balked at booking one of the dates for the upcoming 20thAnniversary Tour of The Monkees.  Citron said that earlier in the year, MTV had aired the 1960s Monkees’ episodes in a compressed marathon situation to unexpectedly wild response from viewers, and that right now the cable channel Nickelodeon was 99.9% sure they were going to add those old shows as a daily airing.  Despite this fact, the agent went on, DiCesare-Engler planned to pass on playing a date in Pittsburgh.  

I told the agent that our arena would definitely step in as promoter of this concert, as I had the hunch that something this crazy just might work.  So after I internally sold the idea to my venue management, the agent and I struck a deal that made sense for both of us: Our venue would commit to a $20,000 artist guarantee and, if Nickelodeon indeed began to air the 1960s episodes on a daily basis prior to our concert date, the guarantee would then automatically go up to $25,000, which is what the agent really wanted in the first place.

Thus a date of The Monkees Reunion Tour—featuring Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, but not fourth and final member Michael Nesmith who had other commitments—was confirmed for the Civic Arena for July 9th, 1986. The show ended up being a huge hit, so much so that the band then returned to play the arena just three months later on October 8th. A few of my avid concert-goer friends were surprised when they heard the news of the return engagement, but they were also a bit oblivious to the level of sustained Monkee chatter going on “out there.”  With our arena’s promotion and advertising, and the national daily airings of The Monkees on Nickelodeon, lots of folks—in numbers we came to very much appreciate—were very much still goin’ ape-shit over these revivified retro boys…

In 1996—ten years FURTHER down the road—I was working at the large amphitheater called Star Lake, located about a half-hour’s drive from Pittsburgh. I had moved from the arena’s booker’s chair to one that swiveled me from marketer to eventual general manager in the Great Outdoors.  In that Spring of ’96 as our parent company’s Houston-based booker Beckye Levin was scouring a list of possible summer tours, she came upon a certain anniversary tour opportunity.  “Hey, hey it’s the Monkees,” she said (or something close to that) when she called.  “Do you want to take a chance on this show?  They’re calling it the 30thAnniversary Tour, and it’s going to play quite a few other amphitheaters from what I hear.”

I told her my arena Monkee tale from ten years prior, and we agreed to see if lightning would strike twice in Pittsburgh.  Beckye soon confirmed the show for us for Friday night July 12th.

As that summer’s season of shows approached, I attended a weekend party with friends and somehow became the Monkee butt.  My friend Barb Neuenschwander was especially wound up when she found out in conversation that I had booked a band that was now three decades away from their initial popularity.  “Why in God’s name did you book the Monkees?!!” she exclaimed loudly, fueled by incredulity and alcohol.  Unfortunately her mantra was picked up by others at the party as the night wore on.  At first I smiled at the ribbings but honestly got a little perturbed over the mounting howls.  “They’ll see,” I remember thinking to myself, “I shall be redeemed.”

When the day of the concert arrived and the venue’s parking lots opened up late that afternoon, almost immediately we had fan clusters popping up just outside the admission entrances.  When it was time to open the gates we began welcoming in what appeared to be a graying population of long-lost Monkees fans, a lot of whom looked like they had never left their houses since the band broke up in 1970.  Where HAD these people been, especially the last seven years?  Even though the venue at that point had been open since 1990, there seemed to be amphitheater first-timers galore streaming through our turnstiles.  It was as if they had time-capsuled their Monkees’ records and their Tiger Beat magazines and swore off everything the day that music died, only to finally shake off the hibernation blues when the TV antennas on their roofs beamed down word of this 30thAnniversary Tour. 

There were young folks in attendance as well, though.  Some of this age group even came dressed in 1960s garb, either scattering a few moths in their parent-closet deep-diving, or hitting just the right thrift store on the way to the show.

We only had one significant problem that evening to speak of…Much to our chagrin, this mixed crowd of young and old was laser-focused on the band and we had abysmal sales at our food-and-beverage concession stands all night long.  Instead, the fans flocked to the merchandising tents where Monkees T-shirts, sweatshirts, and albums were stacked high for purchase.  Before the headliners even took the stage the merchandise booths were picked clean as a monkey carcass, and those fans who went away empty-handed and crestfallen likely went on to barter with others in the crowd all night long.

The attendance?  We ended up with a paid-ticket total of around 6,000 fans that evening.  Not a major embarrassment nor a financial failure, but certainly not a roaring success (we weren’t standing around the Monkees minions beating our chests).

A sad and related final note from that summer of 1996: My father who was only 69 years old had passed away in June after his second (and what turned out to be final) open heart surgery in October of the previous year.  He was far from heart healthy, and I can’t really say that his passing was unexpected.

The funeral in that last week of June went as well as it could.  Afterward, family and friends were invited to a nearby church hall where we had food and soft drinks, thus offering up a place where stories could be shared and more personal condolences could be expressed. My mom seemed to weather it well but I could tell that she was tiring, so as the crowds started to dim I gently advised her to head back to her house, and told her I’d join her there after coordinating a bit of clean-up.

I remember to this day my entry into my parents’ house.  I had my arms full of church food leftovers, and nudged the back door open with my knee.  The door swung open and my mom was sitting in a chair at the small kitchen table, with her head in her hands, sitting very still.  I swung the bags down onto the counter and turned toward her.

“Mom”, I said in a hushed tone, “Are you okay?”  My head was filling with that deep spread of sadness as I looked at this woman who had lost her husband, sitting hunched over, face in her hands. “What’s the matter?” I asked.

With her face still buried, she slowly said “Oh, I’m alright, I guess...but why did you have to book the Monkees?”

I literally stepped backward and went “Whawwww…” as my mom then looked up at me. She was smiling just a bit.  “Barb told me to say that,” she said.

Relief flooded into me that my mom wasn’t—at least at this particular moment—bent over with grief and entirely drained from the day.  She had apparently been able to tap her inner fun-loving spirit in a church hall conversation with my aforementioned friend Barb, and the two had conspired (I surmised) to pull this bit of Monkee business on me.  Mom was okay…and I was glad to have her “back” if even for a few moments that evening.  It gave me hope.

I put the church food away and flashbacked for a second to my more youthful mom, dancing through the living room to the tinny TV sounds of “Last Train To Clarksville.”  And Barb? Her day of reckoning would come—hmmm, maybe bar her from even buying VIP Parking at the amphitheater?  She’d learn that she had clearly monkeyed with the wrong guy.





Posted 6/3/18:  TO THE ISLAND

When Life turns a bit chaotic, you tend to have a few thoughts about chucking it all—and certainly if it isn’t the chaos that’s currently upending you, it’s the routine that plumb numbs you.  So between this push and pull perchance you begin to dream, “What if I left it all behind?”

One day recently in the grip of such a funk, I began to think about the attractive nature of the “desert island” scenario, where one could essentially be stripped of stress by reducing Life to a party of one.  Indeed if this possibility of a pure escape from the modern world opened up to me, I’d be certain to be prepared for it by following the golden rule of all potential castaways: Make sure you have your Top Ten albums with you.

So, let’s get started: I imagine myself on a large ship traveling the tropical seas and suddenly there is a titanic happenstance of one kind or another, and soon I’m cast adrift on an old oak barrel, bobbing away from the doomed and drowning mother ship. The only thing I’ve clasped onto in my frenzy to leave the sinking vessel is a handful of albums wrapped in watertight plastic (of course).  But then what to my wandering eyes should appear but a miniature island toward which I then steer...

As I stagger exhaustedly up onto the shoreline clutching my prized records, my first thoughts are not about food or shelter.  They are: “Why in the hell did I bring albums when an iPhone would have been a much smarter bet?” 

I let that anger subside, however, and set about defining my mission: Finding some way to build a turntable, amplifier, and speakers, and also to then find some kind of power source.  Then I think to myself, Nawww, that’s too tall an order. I soon find myself kneeling, and praying to a God who I fervently hope is just and musical—er, merciful.  

Suddenly…down the beach a bit…I see a speck of hope on the shoreline.  Face furrowed, tottering along, I soon come to realize that an amplifier, stereo speakers, cords and connectors, a supply of battery packs and a turntable have all washed up on shore, encased in plastic wrap and seemingly in excellent condition! (okay, take the leap with me here; you would NOT have been happy had I gone through some kind of Rube Goldberg rant about hollowed-out logs, water buckets, vines and pulleys, a flat circular stone, and a single needle from a porcupine fish).

So this bit of washed-up good fortune sews it up for me, and I’m now set for playing the soundtracks to my new Life.  I am so lucky to have death-gripped my Top Ten before the boat went under…and in no particular order—because I just could not do such a thing—here they are:  The Beatles’ Abbey Road, the Stones’ Sticky Fingers, Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, the Clash’sSandinista!, Joni Mitchell’s For The Roses, Rufus’ Ask Rufus, the Pat Metheny Group’s self-titled release, Van Morrison’s Moondance, and Bruce Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle.

But…I actually have more than these ten. Something would have possessed me to grab a handful of others before I set sail, and some of them I would now count on as additional insurance, as life preservers of a sort—albums that would help me meet my needs and provide me various forms of comfort, relief and even protection:


Oh, here it is…Jimmy Buffett’s Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes…Yes, I know that this album selection seems to be a bit obvious, but it is perfect for perhaps the first full sun-drenched day of my new life on the island, when I need a bit of transitional listening material to start my new voyage into solitude.

As far as the song selection on this 1977 release, I’d stay way the hell away from “Margaritaville.” To some folks that song may bring rafts of pleasure, but I’m paddling right on by that bit of Kon-Tiki Bar music.  It is the title tune I’m after, and it would pave my way to an initial attitude adjustment as I then delve into Island Life.  https://youtu.be/cmHb_wXZU1U


Well, as is obvious, I would have no laptop, no tablet, no phone, and thus of course no means of accessing television—which I think would be a good thing.  Even fantasizing for a millisecond about rolling up a tree stump to sit in front of the tube would lead to regret and not a little nausea.  Having crash-coursed into this Island Life, would I not revel in the fact that I had fully escaped that vile and pernicious slime (Zappa’s line; not mine) once and for all?!!

Some television programming is vital and redeeming.  But having a Pandora’s Box situation with an actual functioning television set on the island would be ill-advised.  I would fear the worst—that the only clear reception under starry skies at night would be limited to shows like The Real Housewives of Orange County…Ghost Whisperer…Maury…ManimalHere Comes Honey Boo Boo…and the occasional “television special” like Geraldo Rivera’s The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault (truly Must Not See TV).

But playing some songs on my turntable related to television would bring a welcome whiff of nostalgia, so I think that I would unpack my long-ago covertly purchased copy of Television's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1: From the 50s and 60s. This would serve nicely in jetting me back to childhood bliss for three minutes or so, first listening—appropriately—to one particular song from this collection of 65 timeless TV tunes: The theme from Gilligan’s Island.  I would revel in the memories of watching, as a boob tube-entranced 11-year old, my favorite cast of castaways Gilligan, the Skipper, Thurston Howell III and his wife “Lovey,” The Professor, Mary Ann—and of course the other female in the series who had me cuckoo for coconuts in my hormonal pre-teen years, the original spicy girl, Ginger.  https://youtu.be/-fqXcKFg08w


The psychedelic lunatic-fronted band, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, produced one self-titled album in England in 1968.  The song “Fire” from that album is the one that I would use as a good luck charm, as I stare down at my twigs-and-shoots pile on the beach while holding a couple of poised flint stones in my hands.

There has to be some incendiary magic in this particular tune’s opening strains, when whack job Arthur Brown roars “I AM THE GOD OF HELL FIRE, AND I BRING YOU...FIRE!”  The devilishly cheesy organ kicks in, and then—chiefly because I’m “home alone”—I’d start to do some wildly uninhibited arms-at-face-level dance moves, trying to summon up enough fire spirits to be able to flint-spark that blaze into being.  https://youtu.be/h56bfUxY0PM


Ah yes, here it is; the Tom Waits album…Waits started off his career as a wondrous singer-songwriter in the early ‘70s with songs like “Martha,” “Ol’ 55,” “(Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night,” and other delights.  Somewhere along the recording trail, though, his voice turned into the drummer Animal from the Muppets band, a very croaking and scary kind of thing.  

I would cue up the song “The Earth Dies Screaming” from his 1992 Bone Machine release and blast it late at night when worried that predators might come near the campfire.  This is sure to give them pause—either scare the bejesus out of them, or lull them into thinking that one of their beastly comrades had already staked out his turf.  https://youtu.be/wnYkY3SpCRQ


In the event that I needed a morning to just assail the universe and do some primal screaming on the beach, I would lean on Ozzy.  The track “Crazy Train” from the 1981 release The Blizzard of Ozz would be a rousing start, and my only lament would be that I didn’t have MORE of these types of tunes available to plunk down on the turntable.

What would have been perfect to pack would have been an album of representative tracks from a number of artists who played on Ozzy’s national OzzFest tours (the multi-band outdoor festivals he started doing in 1997).  I can’t say that I know even most of these artists intimately, but judging by their names I am sure there would be primal-scream nuggets here aplenty: Prong, Megadeth, Every Time I Die, Snot, Ultraspank, Slayer, Fear Factory, Methods of Mayhem, Hatebreed, Slaves on Dope, and Disturbed.  Talk about a head-clearing listening experience; this could be the perfect sonic colonic.  https://youtu.be/RMR5zf1J1Hs


Out of my albums kitbag I would draw something that was two-fold useful—Barry Williams Presents: One Hit Wonders Of The 70s.  Included on the album are a couple of songs that would work wonders…

“Sometimes When We Touch” by Dan Hill would come in handy if I were to wake up one morning and spot off the coastline a ragtag ship of windblown, wayward Somali pirates.  I would quickly lug my stereo system down to the beach, point the speakers out to sea, and full-tilt blast that song out across the water, hoping to the heavens that music is truly a universal language that transcends cultures.  I then pray for the desired effect—befuddlement turning quickly to flat-out nausea, and then a swift turn of the rudder.  https://youtu.be/MOC3j5sUfPM

The other song would be a lifesaver as well.  If at some point in my island food foraging I mistakenly eat some seeds or berries that turn out to be poisonous (a la Alexander Supertramp, as chronicled in Into The Wild), I would just cue up Terry Jacks’ “Seasons In The Sun.”  Hard on the ears but effective on the upchuck.  https://youtu.be/bWdQbxNEFEs


Have mercy, I have needs like everyone else.  Being alone on the island, without human companionship and its attendant physical benefits, I MUST be prepared for the inevitability of seeking solace in the arms of…well, whatever fills the bill.  

And if I feel myself starting to look longingly at any of the island’s animal inhabitants—a gibbon here, a tapir there—I’m just going to have to get myself in the mood or I won’t go through with it.  Barry White will help with that.  I will start by playing the song “I’ve Got So Much To Give” (https://youtu.be/3ltFkK5GcxA) from his 1973 debut album, lay some bedroom eyes on one of my animal friends, and then for an encore, spin a song from Barry’s third album:  “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything.” (https://youtu.be/VyfD5kW_VWI


One album I’ve always kind of liked is Heart’s Little Queen from 1977.  And this is the one album I would bring to the island that I wouldn’t actually place on the turntable.  Instead I would tuck it under one arm as I wade out into the surf, guiding a crude raft of vine-wrapped logs toward the open sea.

This would be the moment when Island Life would become just too unbearable and I would be utterly determined to escape the shoreline tides and break free to the wide ocean shipping lanes beyond…

And the Heart record?  This would be my chance to call up my deepest emotions in the manner of all good castaways, for if the album somehow got dislodged by rocky seas and was swept off my makeshift raft, I would just catch my breath in helpless fashion and then scream “Wilsons!  I’m sorry!  WILLLLLLSONNNNNS!”


Out on that raft for days on end, I would surely be dehydrated and near death.  But just in the nick of time, I believe, I’d be picked up out of the water by a passing cruise ship.  I’d be too woozy to focus on very much, but would whisper sleepy gratitude to the high-fiving, highly relieved crew members who would be poring over me with warm blankets and medical attention.  

When I would finally “come to” in the ship’s medical center, I’d sit up and wrap myself in a blanket and walk the decks to get a better sense of my surroundings.  And that’s when I would gently push open the double doors to the ship’s Grand Ballroom to find a large banner slung across the top of the darkened stage:  “WELCOME TO THE REO SPEEDWAGON MUSIC CRUISE...Four Nights & Five Days of Fun and Festivities”…

I can tell you there would be a sound of a splash off the starboard about ten seconds later.  Back to the island it would be, for me—or at least a merciful end in the open seas.





Posted 5/20/18:  BEGINNINGS

Musicasaurus.com takes a trek into the sometimes murky, perhaps even obfuscated world of song origins, inspirations and executions…

WICHITA LINEMAN – Glen Campell – 1968

This song to me was a breath of fresh air on Pop Radio in the late ‘60s.  The tune was written by Jimmy Webb, a songwriter who was ascending and building a track record, having just scored with the Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up And Away” and Glen Campbell’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.”  Even after the latter song became ubiquitous on the airwaves, Webb still hadn’t actually met Campbell.  They matched up again when Campbell called looking for a second song, and coincidentally Webb had just written a new tune that afternoon.

Webb says that he had a lot of “prairie gothic” images in his head when writing “Wichita Lineman,” and he wanted a song about the common working man, a blue-collar individual, dedicated to his craft but with an everyman poetic longing for the girl he’s missing.  According to Webb, Billy Joel years later summed it up as “a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts.”  

The song has three verses but the last is a guitar solo (with a slight vocal refrain), so really there are only two chances in this three-minute piece to evoke feeling, foster understanding, and try to capture the essence of a workingman whose rivers may run deeper than most of ours.  Webb spools it out and scores, because Campbell conveys.


AFTER THE GOLD RUSH – Neil Young – 1970

I was only sixteen when the album After The Gold Rush came out and the title song entranced me, with its unadorned piano and flugelhorn and its three verses leading the listener from some medieval pageantry to present day, when apparently there is a nuclear blast, to the future when “the chosen ones”—humanity’s “silver seed”—are whisked away to a safer place out in space.

The song has been covered a lot through the years; notable recorded versions include those of Thom Yorke from Radiohead, k.d. lang, the Flaming Lips, James Taylor, Michael Hedges, Freddie Hubbard, Restless Heart, Patti Smith, Natalie Merchant, R.E.M., and the trio of Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton.  When this trio was recording songs for their second album together, 1999’s Trio II, they chose “After The Gold Rush” and Parton reportedly asked Ronstadt and Harris if they knew what the song meant, and got shrugs.  The women rang up Young, and according to Parton, he said he did not know.  “We asked him, flat out, what it meant, and he said ‘Hell, I don’t know.  I just wrote it.  It just depends on what I was taking at the time.  I guess every verse has something different I’d taken.’”

Neil cleared this up a bit—at least in terms of where the idea came from—in his 2012 book of reflections Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie’s Dream.  In 1970 Young had just finished a tour with his go-to (between CSNY commitments) band Crazy Horse, and had returned to his home in Topanga, California.  Young’s friend, actor Dean Stockwell, stopped by with a screenplay that he wanted Young to read.  It was called After The Gold Rush.  “He had co-written it with Herb Berman,” Young recounts in the book, “and wanted to know if I could do the music for it.  I read the screenplay and kept it around for a while.  I was writing a lot of songs at the time, and some of them seemed like they would fit right in with this story.  The song ‘After The Gold Rush’ was written to go along with the story’s main character as he carried the tree of life through Topanga Canyon to the ocean.

“One day Dean brought an executive from Universal Studios to my house to meet me. It looked like the project was going to happen, and I thought it would be a really good movie.  It was a little off-the-wall and not a normal type of Hollywood story.  I was really into it.  Apparently the studio wasn’t, because nothing more ever happened.”

Stockwell’s screenplay—a non-linear, end-of-the-world scenario that had offbeat characters and California sinking into the sea—never got the green light.



HOTEL CALIFORNIA – Eagles – 1976

I never knew that this song was brimming with such evil potentiality.

Nor did I know that the album held other clues of Satanism.

But there they were, the words on my computer screen, digging deep, muckraking…

Ramp up just a small allowance for credibility and you’ll find that the Eagles’ Hotel California is Beelzebubbling over.  On the inner album (gatefold) cover there is—perhaps—Satanic High Priest Anton LaVey perched in the balcony, arms stretched.  And on the back cover, internet chatter says that the janitor in the background is not someone who’s mopped up—it’s a corpse that’s been propped-up. One online comment I found claimed the man was a human sacrifice for LaVey, an offering from the band members. 

Maybe it’s not fair that the Eagles have been bedeviled by such rumors.  I even found a book that dedicates a chapter to Hotel California and its flagrant flaunting of Satanism.  Backward Masking Unmasked was evangelic pastor Jacob Aranza’s 1983 published work about the backward Satanic messages in rock songs, and in a chapter entitled “Which Way Are The Eagles Flying?” he discusses the hellbent tendencies of the band to indulge in subtle persuasion.  He labels the album a tribute to the Lord of the Underworld, and maintains that there is indeed a backwards-masked message in the title tune: “Yes, Satan organized his own religion.”

Lyrics like “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”“This could be Heaven or this could be Hell”…and “They stab it with their steely knives / but they just can’t kill the beast” all support the pastor’s contention that these particular Eagles traded soaring for diving to the depths.  And the line “We haven’t had this spirit here since nineteen sixty-nine” was a purported reference to the year that the Spirit of Christ was cast out of the hotel upon the formation of a California-based Satanic cult.

Henley has a more earthbound interpretation. Referring to the title track, the drummer/singer/cofounder of the band was quoted as saying that the song “sort of captured the zeitgeist of the time, which was a time of great excess in this country and in the music business in particular.”  Let’s go with that. 

Here are a few other short tales of song inspiration and inception, from the frankly untested, non-vetted waters of the internet…

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART – Bonnie Tyler - 1983

I don’t know how this could have escaped me, but the song I couldn’t seem to escape from in 1983—“Total Eclipse of the Heart,” by Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler—had according to some sources a vampiric theme.  Written by bombastic songwriter Jim Steinman, who Meat Loaf had dined upon for successful late-‘70s songs like “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” and “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad,” “Total Eclipse” includes lyrics like “Once upon a time there was light in my life, but now there's only love in the dark.”  Hard to peg if this truly an ode to the undead, or as Amanda Petrusich postulated in her August 17, 2017 New Yorker piece, “Perhaps Steinman’s narrative is purposefully nonsensical, an homage to the ways in which we gabble and rant when deeply wounded. Tyler, like Meat Loaf, seems to instinctively understand that the best way to animate a Steinman song is to sing it like a crazy person—red-faced, flinging your arms every which way, single-handedly sucking each molecule of oxygen from the room.”



British pub rockers The Vapors solidified their one-hit wonder status in 1980 with this tune that climbed fairly high up on the USA’s Billboard Magazine “Hot 100” chart (to #36) and was also huge in Australia where it held the #1 slot for two weeks straight.  The meaning of the song, according to band lead singer/songwriter David Fenton, has long been misconstrued.  Fenton has said that it is simply a song about the angst of Youth, losing a love, and “turning into something you didn’t expect to.”  There you have it, from the source himself—doubters, get a grip. 


WALK THIS WAY – Aerosmith – 1975

According to some online sources, inspiration for this song came to the band as they took a break from recording their breakthrough third album Toys In The Attic, opting to hit a late night showing of the Mel Brooks’ movie Young Frankenstein.  It was reportedly bug-eyed actor Marty Feldman—starring as Dr. “Fronk-en-steen’s” assistant, Igor—who made a memorable impression on the band as in the film he entreats the castle’s visitors to “Walk this way.”


I SHOT THE SHERIFF – Bob Marley & The Wailers – 1973

In 2012 a girlfriend of Bob Marley (there were many) made the claim that the reggae singer’s lyrics in this 1973 composition refer to Marley’s frustration over his woman’s use of birth control:  “Sheriff John Brown always hated me / For what, I don't know: / Every time I plant a seed / He said kill it before it grow / He said kill them before they grow.”


IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA – Iron Butterfly – 1968

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 was the number one seller in America in the year 1969, and mercifully (I say in hindsight), there was also a majorly edited version of the song released to Top Forty radio as a single, and this one clocked in at just under three minutes.


SHE SAID SHE SAID – The Beatles - 1966

The Beatles were holed up in Beverly Hills, California in a rented house for a week or so in August 1965, escaping for a time from the madness and fan mania brought on by their tour of the U.S.  Outside the house, the band was besieged by unwanted curiosity seekers and rabid well-wishers and media, but they managed to spirit in a few folks to spend some quality time—on drugs. As the story goes, on the evening of August 24th two of the Byrds (Jim McGuinn and David Crosby) nestled in along with actor Peter Fonda.  LSD was passed around (reportedly only McCartney abstained) and in the collective head trip that followed, Lennon was apparently continually weirded out by the repeated mutterings of the shades-wearing Fonda, who kept tugging up his shirt and pointing to his accidental childhood shotgun wound, saying “I know what it’s like to be dead.”  Lennon had the presence of mind to remember this bit of weirdness as he then weaved it into the very innovative and haunting “She Said She Said” from the band’s landmark Revolver album that hit record stores one year later in August of 1966. 


YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET - Bachman-Turner Overdrive – 1974

This song from Canadian rockers BTO came out on their third album Not Fragile, and it was the clear winner on the record—and in fact, was the band’s career-best—in terms of chart success. The song was written during the band’s hunkering-down to record the Not Fragile album, and it was at first purely a labor-of-love joke aimed at bandmember Randy Bachman’s brother Gary who had a speech impediment (the lyrics memorably included the line “B-b-b-baby you just ain’t seen n-n-n-nothin’ yet”).  When the song content of the album was nearing completion, the album’s producer Charlie Fach begged Bachman to include this fleshed-out prank because it stood in contrast to the traditional rockers on the record.  Gary eventually shed the stuttering problem through speech therapy, but may have likely still felt his b-b-b-brother was a b-b-b-bit of an ass to do this in the first place.






PLEASE NOTE!  Musicasaurus.com is on the run this part of the month, so there are no new posts until Sunday evening, May 20th in this DAY IN THE LIFE section...The subject will be on song origins--will this suffice to entice?  If so, see you then...



Posted 4/22/18:  I’LL TAKE YOU THERE

(Next post:  Sunday evening, May 20, 2018)

A few years ago in a Barnes & Noble one work-avoidance Saturday afternoon, I came upon a book in the music section (where else?) that I hadn’t spotted before: I Was There / Gigs That Changed The World.  It was a book by a Brit, Mark Paytress, a writer who has authored works on Bowie, Marc Bolan of T. Rex, Siouxsie & The Banshees and others while contributing as well to English music magazines like Mojo and Q.

Paytress says in the introduction, I Was There lifts the lid on a century’s worth of classic performances, legendary in-concert moments, included here for their historical significance, era-defining importance, or simply their you-just-had-to-be-there rep.”  Some of the 101 entries here are particularly below-the-radar, like some of the Britain-based selections including a London 1976 concert by punk-rock/performance art band Throbbing Gristle, but as the author says in his introduction,“…as you’ll discover as you begin turning the pages of this book, there really is no such thing as a definitive list.  So if your favourite show isn’t here, you’re by no means alone.”

One of the nicest touches about this collection of 101 music events is that Paytress injects a world view, so not only do we see Live Aid, Woodstock, Monterey Pop and other mega-events pop up on these pages, but a number of defining moments from elsewhere around the globe as well.

Here are five that I’ve picked from the litter—the ones from I Was There that I wasn’t there for (but wished I had been):

The Moondog Coronation Ball – March 21, 1952 at the Cleveland Arena in Cleveland, Ohio

If this wasn’t the birth of rock and roll itself, it certainly was the birth of the utterance.  Local Cleveland deejay Alan Freed of WJW is generally regarded as the originator of the term “rock and roll,” which he used to describe the rhythm & blues “race records” (songs by predominantly black artists) that he had begun to spin for the station beginning in 1951.

At some point, Freed changed the name of his radio show to Moondog’s Rock ’n’ Roll Party and he used his rising popularity with white teen listeners to put together and promote the Moondog Coronation Ball, likely the first rock and roll concert in the country.  Top black acts at the time such as The Dominoes, Paul Williams and Tiny Grimes were booked to perform, and the evening of the show a crush of fans descended upon the venue, some bearing tickets and a lot, well, not.  

Inside the venue this mixed-race crowd was clamoring and clambering, trying to score and save seats or even just find a spot to plant their feet.  Outside, there were thousands of additional adrenalized fans vying for entry, and the arena’s doors and windows soon bore the brunt of it…The concert was cancelled by fire department officials shortly after the first act had begun, and as author Paytress points out in his brief event snapshot of this coronation ball, “‘rock ‘n’ roll’ had its first headlines.”


The Trips Festival – January 21-23, 1966 at Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco

According to Paytress, this event was the first full-scale “acid test” party, though Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters (famous ‘60s progenitors of LSD-fueled gatherings) had been dose-si-do-ing young and willing San Franciscans for months beforehand.

The “happening” was priced at $2 per day or $5 for the three-day affair, and it offered the mind-boggled attendees video on large screens, light shows and slide shows, exhibitors ‘round the room including counterculture booksellers and paraphernalia salesmen, and of course music, supplied here by the Grateful Dead and Big Brother And The Holding Company (featuring then 23-year-old Janis Joplin).

The crowd over the three days amounted to around 10,000 people. In Paytress’ words, Saturday evening (the second night) was when everything jelled: “The audience, some in Indian headgear, others in hooped Breton shirts, others still bare-chested and dancing ecstatically, their eyes closed in blissful abandon, weaved in and out of the technicolour shadows.  Hell’s Angels grinned.  Allen Ginsberg wandered guru-like.  

“One man, head-to-toe in bandages and with only his eyes visible, wore a sign around his neck that read: ‘You’re in the Pepsi Generation and I’m a pimply freak.’  The Grateful Dead and Big Brother provided the ‘psychedelic symphony’ promised on the posters.  By the third and final night, the cops had been dosed and were now more interested in playing with model aircraft than in policing the event.”


The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream – April 29, 1967 at Alexandra Palace in London

This was a multi-artist, multi-arts, psychedelic style gathering that was created as a benefit event for the sixth-month-old alternative newspaper IT (International Times) which was already getting furrowed-brow scrutiny from the local authorities.

The Dream had a pretty stellar line-up of musicians.  Heading the bill was Pink Floyd, who were just about six months away from releasing their debut album Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.  Rounding out the show were The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (remember “Fire,” not-the-Bruce-tune?), Soft Machine, The Move, Pete Townshend, Champion Jack Dupree and Savoy Brown, and then a lot of lesser-knowns, of which my favorite (in name only) is the band that had somehow decided to name itself Utterly Incredible Too Long Ago To Remember Sometimes Shouting At People.

The event’s set-up team went with three stages, two that held the musical performances and a center one that featured poets and poetesses, dance troupes, jugglers and more.  Strolling through the activity centers that evening were attendees including Andy Warhol and John Lennon, and the vibe was peaceful and the crowd harmonious, according to event co-founder/poster designer Mike McInnerney.

“I loved this idea of taking over a space so that it becomes something else at night,” said McInnerney, “and Ally Pally was an amazing place for such an event—and appropriate, too, being a palace.  It was a Utopian feeling.  There’s no question it felt very genuine.  You were sharing things with other people.  It was no longer about being an audience that had come to see the star on stage.  It was simply the idea of being there, being with a tribe of like-minded people.” 


The Stax/Volt Tour – March 17 through April 2, 1967 in Britain, Paris, etc.

Around 1965 the Memphis record label Stax, who’d been churning out riveting, southern-tinged soul and rhythm & blues songs since the start of the decade, started to occasionally put its stable of recording artists out on the road.  I Was There author Paytress points out that this combination of R & B singers and precision back-up (in the form of the label’s “house musicians” Booker T. & The M.G.’s and horn section The Mar-Keys) was key to this label’s well-deserved ascendancy throughout the 1960s.

Stax’s recording studio was a haven and a bit of a harbinger.  Here, unlike outside its doors in Memphis and throughout the South, there was full integration starting with the house band itself—keyboardist Booker T. and drummer Al Jackson, Jr. were black, and guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn were white.  Booker T. & The M.G.’s released songs of their own that made the charts, but were principally lauded (within The Biz) as absolute groove kings who could kick alive most any visiting vocalist’s material to make the song a hit.

The 1967 overseas tour, around thirteen dates in all, was revelatory according to Paytress.  The passion of the individual singers, the soulful and rhythmic arrangements infused with the blues, and the crisp, tight back-up by Booker T.’s foursome and the Mar-Keys all coalesced in, says the book’s author, “a masterclass in package tour dynamics of a kind that was rarely witnessed again.  Even the musicians were taken aback as their performances grew stronger, and the scenes ever more hysterical, with each successive show.”

Wish I’d have been there at one of these performances, start to finish, as Booker T. & The M.G.’s opened up with a few instrumentals (including “Green Onions” and “Red Beans and Rice”)…followed by a short set from horn masters the Mar-Keys…then songs from Arthur Conley (“Sweet Soul Music”)…Carla Thomas (“B-A-B-Y”)…Eddie Floyd (“Knock On Wood”)…the electrifying Sam and Dave (“Hold On, I’m Comin’”)…and closing the show, Otis Redding (covers of Sam Cooke’s “Shake” and The Stones’ “Satisfaction,” and signature songs “Respect,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and “Try A Little Tenderness”).

Nine months or so after this European tour, Otis Redding—at the peak of his popularity and rightfully cruising into pop superstardom—died in a plane crash back in The States at the age of 26.



Rick Wakeman – May 30 & 31, 1975 at Empire Pool (indoor arena) at Wembley, London

Wakeman, an English musician who easily could have gone the route of concert pianist as a youth, opted instead to indulge his progressive rock leanings just as the band Yes was casting about in 1971 for a new keyboard player.  With great compositional skills and a battery of keyboards, Wakeman gave the band Yes incredible depth and a range of choral colors and orchestral heft, as they churned out studio albums #4 through #6, Fragile (’72), Close to the Edge (’72) and Tales from Topographic Oceans (’73). 

The reason I have listed his Empire Pool concert here?  Well-l-l…because I’m flat-out zonked at the man’s ambition.  Wakeman by 1975 had issued three separate solo albums, which were all thematic and nestled somewhere between grand and grandiloquent—The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  And it was this latter album that the enterprising Wakeman wove into one of the most elaborate stage productions of the era.

According to Paytress, the musician’s management wanted to steer him into the 5,300-seat Royal Albert Hall but Wakeman insisted on Wembley Arena (then called Empire Pool).  The arena had a major ice show already scheduled for a week or so after the date Wakeman wanted—in fact, the venue’s ice rink set-up was already in place—but this didn’t deter the artist in the least.  Wakeman, who had hi$ own $take in thing$ related to the project, decided to put the whole damn show on ice.  Literally.

In the book, Wakeman is quoted as saying “Most of the skaters were flown in from around the world.  We flew the PA—the first to be net-hung—in from America and put together a huge cast.  I had a 45-piece orchestra, 48 singers in two choirs, 50 skaters, 50 knights, a seven-piece band, a narrator and heaven knows what else.”

One night Wakeman’s cape was caught up in one of the elevated keyboards early in the show, and he was hanging in mid-air.  Another night the dry ice machines kept pumping (despite attempts to turn them off) such that some of the cast, the lower tier of the orchestra and in fact the bottom seating level of the arena disappeared behind the machine-bred cloud cover.  

And then there was the night of the suicide—er, the knight of the suicide.  Wakeman remembered it this way:  “In the final battle, there were 25 knights opposite each other, poised to simultaneously kill each other and disappear into the dry ice.  On the last night, I was told that one of the knights was ill.  ‘Doesn’t matter,’ I said.  “There are loads of knights.’  But of course when we finished the piece, there was this one knight still looking around for someone to kill him.  The conductor looked at me helplessly.  But this guy was brilliant.  He wandered aimlessly, then had a stroke of genius and committed suicide.  Pure entertainment!”






I’ve posted before about my display days with WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic), the mighty, multi-label distribution arm of a record company conglomerate.  But this era bears revisiting, as that two-year period in which I cultivated record store relationships and exercised my art was one of the best free-floating experiences of my young working life...

I started with WEA in early 1978 and my role as their regional in-store merchandiser was to be their Man On The Street—to visit all kinds of record stores, inveigling prime display space from the managers to make certain that WEA was predominantly represented.  To paraphrase (and mangle) a lead lyric from Elektra recording artist Queen, my adopted mantra was “WEA the champions.”  Out there in the realm of Record Retail, I honed my skills of persuasion & poster placement such that I gained, and maintained, a great deal of in-store space dedicated to my company.

I worked out of my apartment because there was no WEA office in Pittsburgh.  The closest branch office was in Cleveland, and so I answered to the bosses there as well as—to some degree—the Pittsburgh-based label promotion reps for Warner Brothers, Elektra and Atlantic.  These label reps all had on-going and ever-changing priorities in terms of the records they were trying to secure airplay for in the Pittsburgh radio market.  My job was to back up those priorities at the retail level, and secure prime in-store display space in as many regional outlets as humanly possible.

This job was an open road filled with freedom. I plotted out my own travel schedules, hitting the Pittsburgh stores each week, but also—every other week—scheduling day trips east to Greensburg...then southwest into Wheeling...and on another given day, northwest into Youngstown.  There was no shortage of stores to cover; this was an explosive period for record sales nationally, and the labels could do no wrong as they pushed out of the womb a ton of new artists as well as cranked out a continuing line of releases from their superstar level bands.

Without a local WEA office, my apartment in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh became the repository for all of the labels’ display materials.  Everyday I had shipments of posters, artist stand-ups, album covers and other materials shipped to my door, and I crammed all of that into my small bedroom—and the hallway, and parts of the living room, and in the unused pantries in the kitchen, and...The stuff never stopped coming.

My passion for the job knew no bounds.  I had zeal and zest and no time for zzz’s. There were more stores than I could possibly attend to in any given week, but my plotting-out of the periodic visits worked very well, and I managed to build up relationships with the store managers at the same time I was ratcheting up WEA’s presence in their domains.

When I first got the job, I was driving a Chevy Vega hatchback and I started routinely dumping into it a veritable shitload of display stuff.  With my WEA Cleveland bosses and the local Warner, Elektra and Atlantic label reps all pushing me for prime positioning at Retail, I simply made sure that I had—in my overstuffed Vega—materials from every one of their artists.  

I remember cruising along the highways, with the back of the car and the entire back seat filled to the brim, and as I took to the bends in the road, the ends of a few cardboard poster tubes would occasionally give my right cheek a nice little sideswipe caress.  Even with this piloting predicament I soldiered on, completely content to wile away the hours listening to mix tapes and enjoying the occasional loud, solo sing-along with my car’s cassette deck. On one such trip I stumbled upon the perfect soundtrack song for my crammed conditions—“The Weight.”  Pointedly paraphrased, the lyrics I thought up (but didn’t sing, to be honest) were like my own prayer in the making:  “Take a load off Lanny / Take this load for free / And don’t put the load, put the load back on me…”

My trusty Vega eventually turned on me.  A trip to Wheeling in the hatchback turned out to be a clutch-burning disaster; there were signs earlier that day that my car was balking at the load and the distance, but I ignored it and hit the highway anyway.  When the Vega gasped and ground to a halt, I called AAA to the tune of $200, and sullenly endured an all-too-chipper tow truck driver all the way back to Pittsburgh.


That put the kibosh on my car, and so I said adios to the vexing Vega.  I of course had no further means of making display deliveries all around the compass points, and so with my circuit blown I had no choice but to scrounge for another vehicle.  The very next day I took out a loan to buy a friend’s used, two-tone blue van (as someone once said, you load sixteen tons and that’s what you get—another day older and deeper in debt.)

Secure in my new—well, newer—vehicle, I scouted out even more stores to convert to the ways of WEA, and my favorites became the under-the-radar, independently owned establishments.  These were usually off the beaten path, far from the malls and inhabiting a retail space two sizes too small, but they had character—and characters.  A typical sight in some?  A longhair behind the counter plopped on a stool, looking in need of sleep, or caffeine, or a reverse lobotomy.  Dazed and Confused?  Maybe...But these were also true music junkies, and they sparked to Life when I’d walk in with an armful of “promo copies”—the free albums that I was given by the label promotion reps to bestow upon the store personnel.  

Warner, Elektra and Atlantic—especially Warner—had their share of non-mainstream records to complement the more commercial rock and pop offerings, and they all also provided distribution for a few much smaller independent record companies.  Back then, Warner distributed Sire Records, an indie label who trafficked in emerging new wave and punk rock bands like The Ramones, The Dead Boys, Talking Heads, and Richard Hell & The Voidoids (if there was ever any doubt that the latter was indeed a punk band, its debut from around that time sure cleared up any further speculation with songs like “Blank Generation” and “Love Comes In Spurts”).

The independent record store managers and clerks loved these free promo copies, especially the off-kilter releases.  They also loved to just talk music, and were therefore generally a bit more interesting and passionate compared to some of the run-of-the-mill mall store managers who worked for the bigger record chains.


The independents also had more interesting “product” in their stores.  A few of these indie shops sold, in addition to records & tapes, a wide array of paraphernalia for smokers.  (Sidebar:  Hmmm...clerk on a stool...lookin’ drowsy and not far from drool...but, I digress.).  These particular shops usually displayed their smoking wares in glass cases that oftentimes also served as their front counters, so that somebody plunking down their favorite new album for purchase might also see the enticing glint of a shiny new roach clip beckoning from below. 

The glass case content was usually very artfully arranged, a dotted landscape of rolling papers, pipes and screens, bongs, joint-rolling contraptions, and even “throw-them-off-the-scent” bottle sprays that purported to rid one’s auto of certain smells.  I am not sure how much these stores sold of those particular materials in comparison to their recorded music, but back in the 1970s at least, there seemed to be a consensus—just in certain circles, of course—that things go better with toke.

Though all of us at WEA loved the musical passion of these indie store owners and they certainly contributed to our sales success, no one moved product like National Record Mart (NRM).  This was the Pittsburgh-based record retail giant who at the time had amassed about 70 stores touching six different states.  The Pittsburgh headquarters/warehouse of NRM was on Baum Boulevard just east of downtown Pittsburgh, and occasionally I’d be dispatched there by my bosses to help out with album inventory assignments, etc.—but my main mission, of course, was to be out on the road and plastering the NRMs with our posters and propaganda.

The NRMs were the stores where I could really shine in terms of display space and free rein. After multiple visits with posters and promo copies in tow, I had managed to earn the “hot spots” in most stores—large front window space, key end-of-aisle positions, and more.  I also always took my sweet time in each store—never lookin’ to hit and run; never cravin’ an earlier end to my display day. I always made time for the managers and the staff to catch up with their news, and to talk about new releases, take stock of my competitors’ actions and antics, etc.—and then I worked up my WEA wonders on the walls and in the windows.

During my two years with WEA—early 1978 through the end of 1979—I forged many great relationships, some of which are still intact today.  Plus it was a damn exciting time to be plugged into music on a personal and professional level.  Most gratifying?  The work, of course—being able to unbridle my one true passion and then funnel it into something fun and fundamentally rewarding.  

In closing...Here’s a random sampling of on-and-off-the-wall displays from my two years of climbing that particular ladder of success (staple gun and roll of posters in hand):

  1. In a downtown Pittsburgh NRM store...I fashioned a “pre-concert” display for The Cars, who were coming to the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh.  Commandeering prime window space, I filled it with car tires and threw a banner overtop which proclaimed “The Cars in concert...An Evening of Auto Eroticism at the Stanley!”
  2. In the NRM store in McKeesport, PA...Perplexed by the lack of traditional display space in this store, I finally looked to the heavens for an answer—and found that the dropped-ceiling tiles were all 2’ x 2’s, perfect for replacing with my styrofoam-backed 4’ x 4’ posters of the Rolling Stones’ album cover Some Girls.  Another record label merchandiser found out and almost hit the ceiling—but he couldn’t, ‘cause it was mine.
  3. In the Record Outlet store in downtown Pittsburgh...I created a huge wall display for Genesis’ new album And Then There Were Three (the 1978 album released after the departure of Steve Hackett, leaving just Phil Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford in the band).  I had a local bakery produce a huge white cake with the album cover’s startling colors replicated on its top layer, and then I placed three little Indian figures on the icing—And Then There Were Three, indeed.  The cake became part of the album display, surrounded by Genesis posters and sale-priced copies of the record, with an “enter to win” sign letting potential buyers know that they could have their cake and eat it, too.
  4. In various Oasis Records & Tapes stores in the Pittsburgh area...Warner Brothers had shipped me about 10 or 12 life-sized stand-ups of teen idol Shaun Cassidy, in support of his latest album Under Wraps.  So I thematically encircled each of the cardboard Cassidys’ heads in Saran Wrap, particularly pleased to be able to “silence” this wimpy, sugary singer while still fulfilling my company’s display priority.
  5. In the NRM store in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh...Founding Outlaws member Henry Paul had started up his own self-named rock band in 1979 with the debut album Grey Ghost.  This album’s lead track is a tribute song, dedicated to the memory of Ronnie Van Zant and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s fateful 1977 plane crash—so of course I grabbed a grey bedsheet and a horrifically disfigured Halloween mask, and hung my grey ghost amidst the Henry Paul Band posters and album covers in the window display.  Soon thereafter, I was asked by my Atlantic label promotion rep to give up the ghost—he was worried that the band might not appreciate my theatrical touch, and he didn’t want me to end up a victim of a different kind of crash and burn.
  6. Oh, and back to those independently-owned record shops, with the deep-fried but highly engaged store personnel...I often would leave a few extra display items behind for store owners to put up on their own, if they so requested.  At one of these indie stores, I came back on my next appointed round to find that they’d put up a Doobie Brothers 4' x 4' poster behind their wall display of smoking paraphernalia.






Posted 3/25/18:  STAND

The last page of every issue of The Atlantic is dedicated to a usually tantalizing question.  In fact, the ongoing back-page series is entitled “The Big Question.”  For its March 2018 issue, the magazine had posed the following to its readers: “What was the most influential act of protest in history?”  Responses ranged from Rosa Parks to Martin Luther’s 95 theses, but the last entry on the page really fired me up—because, of course, it dealt with music.  Lucia Perri of Guthrie, Oklahoma contributed the following in response to the “most influential act of protest” query:  “The Beatles’ refusal to play for segregated audiences in Jacksonville, Florida in September 1964.  The band’s contracts, signed by its manager Brian Epstein, stated that it would not play to segregated audiences.  Since then, we’ve come together.”

I had not known about the Beatles’ articulated stance on this issue in their earliest days of touring the USA, but God bless ‘em (and Brian Epstein).  This tidbit in The Atlantic made me think—in terms of musicasaurus.com—that reaching out to people in the arts about their favorite protest songs might lead to some interesting selections and reflections—and I was right.


1. Joe Negri (Pittsburgh) / Jazz guitarist, composer and educator (also, for all time, “Handyman Negri” on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)

I became rather captivated with the thought that you presented here.  I suppose the main thrust of protest songs came in the 60’s and later.  I was really not into that period of music.  My focus has always been on jazz and the American Songbook.  That being said though, the song that immediately popped into my head as a true protest song was “Strange Fruit,” originally a poem written by Abel Meeropol (his pseudonym was Lewis Alan).  The song was introduced by Billie Holiday in 1937 and has been covered by numerous people since, for example, Nina Simone, Dee Dee Bridgewater and many more.  The song protested American racism, particularly the lynching of African Americans.  In 2002 the Library of Congress honored it among the top 50 songs.  I also remember songs like Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land is your Land” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  And when I was still at South Hills High School I wrote a song with a classmate of mine called "Buy that Extra Bond.”  It was a few years before the start of WW2.  (“Strange Fruit” https://youtu.be/Web007rzSOI)


2. Scott Blasey (Pittsburgh) / Musician and lead singer for The Clarks

I was deeply affected by the song “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.  I was just a kid at the time of its release but I remember hearing it on the radio and wondering what it was about.  Beyond the powerful lyrics, the music moved me too.  I always loved the melodic change when it goes to the chorus: “Gotta get down to it / Soldiers are cutting us down / Should’ve been done long ago.”  It opened my young, innocent eyes to all of the turmoil going on in our country in the early ‘70s—Vietnam, Watergate.  It’s a great song that still moves me.  (https://youtu.be/l1PrUU2S_iw)


3. Jeff Sewald (Pittsburgh) / Former music journalist; currently an independent filmmaker and writer whose latest completed project was We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Jazz Story Never Told, a documentary exploring Pittsburgh’s significant contributions to the legacy of jazz music in the world

When it comes to protests songs, very few have inspired me.  Most are callow “calls to action” that few ever heed, and they disappear into the ether as soon as the next “protest-able” event occurs.  One, however, stands out as a strong and unambiguous statement of disgust and disdain, and that is Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.” What individuals do you think of when you hear this?  “…Let me ask you one question / Is your money that good / Will it buy you forgiveness / Do you think that it could / I think you will find / When your death takes its toll / All the money you made / Will never buy back your soul…And I hope that you die / And your death’ll come soon / I will follow your casket / In the pale afternoon / And I’ll watch while you’re lowered / Down to your deathbed / And I’ll stand over your grave / ’Til I’m sure that you’re dead.”  (https://youtu.be/U5F4vJrIp1s)


4. Tom Rooney (Pittsburgh) / Former executive director of Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group

“War” by Edwin Starr (1970)…I went to racially blended Perry High in the city.  “War” reflected what many of my classmates thought was the abject unfairness of race and the draft.  Many of the white kids like me went to college.  Many black kids got caught up in the draft of a very unpopular conflict and we saw some of them come home to the “undertaker” referenced in the song.  Chills me to hear Starr’s version today.  (https://youtu.be/kgJ11FW6B3E)


5. Rick Witkowski (Weirton, WV) / Former founding member of the 1970s progressive rock band Crack The Sky, longtime B.E. Taylor group band member, and currently musician/writer/producer working out of his own recording facility, Studio L, in Weirton, WV

Definitely “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young written by Neil.  This song had a major impact on me musically & mentally. I was definitely “anti war” and if not for the high lottery draft number I got, I would have considered moving to Canada to avoid having to go off to fight in a war I didn’t believe in.  When the shootings happened it shook me to the bones & I felt like I needed to do something to speak out about this horrible injustice that occurred practically in my own backyard.  The next thing you know, I think it was within a week or two, I hear “Ohio” on the radio & I ran out & bought the single & learned to play it, note for note on the guitar & brought it to the cover band I was in at the time & we killed it!!  I felt like I was making my voice be heard every time I rocked it!!  (https://youtu.be/l1PrUU2S_iw)



6. Steve Hansen (Pittsburgh) / Former on-air talent on WDVE’s “Jimmy & Steve” morning program (1980-1986); currently an independent writer/producer

Flashback:  My first day of college at Colorado State University.  The freshman journalism prof quizzes the class on the pillars of the Fourth Estate.  Which, in 1967, were print, television and radio.  I thought about raising my hand to ask about records, since so much of my generation’s political education was being conducted to a heavy backbeat.  “Eve Of Destruction,” “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “For What It’s Worth,” “Society’s Child” and “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” were political manifestos that aired several times an hour in tight rotation and which helped fulfill Scott McKenzie’s promise earlier that year that “there’s a whole generation with a new explanation.”  

I was too shy that fall day in 1967 to raise my hand.  But as the decade rolled on I thought about that moment every time I heard “War (What Is It Good For),”  “Ball of Confusion,” “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag” and “Street Fighting Man,” each a Top 40 smash.  Big corporate America’s unwitting role in disseminating the views of the underground left can’t be over-emphasized.  Late Sixties Top 40 radio was a reverse Fox News for youth.  

That said, for the answer to the question of “what is my favorite protest song” I must defer to the great Anne Feeney’s belief that “If I Can’t Dance It’s Not My Revolution” and submit “Fortunate Son” as my answer, a song with more truth in 2:21 than the entire Trump Administration.  (“Fortunate Son” https://youtu.be/rKuLtVXGRp8)



7. Steve Acri (Pittsburgh) / Longtime music fan; former record store manager; currently VP & Director of Procurement for SMARTSolution Technologies

The first protest song I remember hearing, and consequently the one that has stuck with me through my life, is “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire.  It’s a strange paradox in that I found it very memorable and catchy musically, yet troubling and almost scary in its lyrical content.  I was still pre-teen and didn’t really understand fully what was being put forth, but I somehow knew the content was controversial.  I also knew it pissed a lot of people off.  Folks were protesting the protest song!  I later found out that it was written by P.F. Sloan, who also wrote “Secret Agent Man,” another of my faves from the era.  Also, I would be remiss to not mention “Monster/Suicide/America” by Steppenwolf.  Musically great and lyrically still 100% relevant 50 years later.  (“Eve of Destruction” https://youtu.be/cG6_RWJBjhg … “Monster/Suicide/America” https://youtu.be/v9456xD9B-M)


8. Ed Traversari (Pittsburgh) / Former concert promoter & partner in DiCesare-Engler Productions (which eventually became part of Live Nation); currently associate professor in the sports, arts and entertainment management department at Point Park University

I would say my song was "Ohio" by CSNY.  Since the Kent State killings happened in 1970 I was a freshman at RMU and it made an huge impact on me of what was happening at that time both in our military and on university campuses including little RMU in Coraopolis.  When CSNY sang "four dead in Ohio" it really stuck with me as it does to this day when I hear it.  (https://youtu.be/l1PrUU2S_iw)



9. Billy Price (Pittsburgh) / American blues & soul singer who gained national attention through touring and recording with guitarist Roy Buchanan in 1974-1975, and who then formed the Keystone Rhythm Band in 1979

A great one that comes to mind is George Perkins’ “Crying in the Streets,” on the great Memphis label Goldwax.  It came out during the Martin Luther King era but is not about any one protest or cause in particular.  It has a beautiful gospel feeling and is one of those recordings that, once you’ve heard it, it haunts you forever.  (https://youtu.be/JNhVm1yGxS8)



10. Amy Cooper (Pittsburgh) / Director of marketing for PromoWest North Shore/Stage AE 

Two come to mind.  “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” by the Beastie Boys and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister.  (https://youtu.be/eBShN8qT4lkhttps://youtu.be/4xmckWVPRaI)



11. Charlie Brusco (Atlanta, GA) / Pittsburgh-area native, artist manager and former concert promoter; currently manages Poison, Ann Wilson, Collective Soul, Marshall Tucker Band and the Outlaws, among others; and heads up the Atlanta office of artist management company Red Light Management 

Two protest songs talked to me closely as I was in college starting ‘69 summer...“For What It’s Worth” just great feel great lyrics, but even more “Ohio” as I went to high school in Pittsburgh with Allison Krause who was killed at Kent State on May 4, 1970.  I was protesting the day before that at Kent State but had traveled to Ohio State on the day of the shootings.  I went to college at Ashland College that was geographically right between Kent State and Ohio State Universities.  (“For What It’s Worth” https://youtu.be/1eD-8NTwP9I  … “Ohio” https://youtu.be/l1PrUU2S_iw)



12. Scott Tady (Beaver, PA) / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times

My formative years coincided with Bruce Springsteen's 1980s glory days, so like many fans I excitedly purchased his 5-LP "Live/1975-85" box set.  There were so many great tracks on there, including Bruce's cover of Edwin Starr's anti-war song "War."  In the intro, Springsteen referenced the Vietnam era of the original song and applied it to the current context, specifically addressing teenage fans whom he encouraged to load up on knowledge.  This came at a time of saber-ratting in the Reagan Administration, and while it didn't seem like The Draft would be reinstated, I thought Bruce raised a compelling point: "in 1985, blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed."  That "blind faith in your leaders" warning always stuck with me, and has been one of the foundations for why I've been registered as an Independent voter for nearly 25 years.  p.s. On a lighter note, I also drew a lot of strength from the 1986 Beastie Boys protest song "Fight For Your Right (To Party)"!  (“War” https://youtu.be/21y0h049h8o)     



13. Joe Grushecky (Pittsburgh) / Musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader (Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers)

“Ohio” by CSN&Y…I remember how raw the emotions were about Kent State.  I was stunned that the National Guard had opened fire on students.  If you were in the Guard in those days you were avoiding Nam.  End of discussion.  Within days the song came out.  “Four dead in Ohio”—it was electrifying.  Bought it immediately, learned it, and began playing it with my band.  (“Ohio” https://youtu.be/l1PrUU2S_iw(additional note: In case you are unaware, Joe released a protest song of his own with the Houserockers exactly a year ago.  Entitled “That’s What Makes Us Great,” the anti-Trump song features vocal chip-ins from Bruce Springsteen, and you can check it out here on YouTube: https://youtu.be/u81YZDEmXrA)





Posted 3/11/18:  THAT’S LIFE

I fell in love in 1977.  With an album cover. 

I was working at an indie record store in Wexford, PA at that time, livin’ the life—underpaid and overjoyed to be working in a place where for pretty much eleven hours a day, music blared and passions flared.  This was the first year of our store’s existence on the Wexford Flats, and our trickle of curious customers soon turned into a tide of regulars who on average spent 90 minutes per trek in our world of albums & tapes.

Album covers were things to linger over, to study—mentally scrambling to affix reasoning to the particular artwork on the front; flipping the album over to soak up the musician and producer credits on the back.  That’s how, unpacking a shipment of newly arrived albums from our record distributor, I chanced upon Valerie Carter’s debut album Just A Stone’s Throw Away

I was captivated by the cover, first of all—an alluring photo of a beautiful young woman, dressed just like the hippie-ish girl of my twenty-something dreams, with a hat that was part flapper and flower, and an expression that locked my gaze.  The back of the album really told the tale, however, with its right-side top to bottom roster of contributing singers and musicians who apparently had all boarded and banded together to get this young girl’s musical message out to the masses.  For me, the list was a who’s who of artists I loved—four members of Little Feat including Lowell George, a handful of Earth, Wind & Fire, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, singer Deniece Williams, the band Orleans’ front-man John Hall, Toto’s Jeff Porcaro on drums, L.A. jazz session players Ernie Watts (saxophone) and Oscar Brashear (trumpet), and more.

When I cracked open the cellophane on Carter’s debut and dropped the needle on its contents, the mastery and the meshing of talent was immediately apparent—and palpable.  The sound of the record was deep and glorious, pristinely produced by the savvy musician/producer Lowell George, who I found out later on had squired Carter through an earlier band-effort recording, subsequently then taking her under his wing.

I was a diehard Little Feat fan back then so I was predisposed to love most any album where Feat had trod, but with Carter, it was something different: Amidst the swirl of talented musicians and the whip smart song arrangements, Carter’s voice was the overarching thing that stirred something deep within me.  Listening to the album all the way through, I came away, frankly, in wonderment. 

Somehow, as she moved through each song at hand, she was able to adhere to a sense of innocence and emotions held in check, but then this softness sometimes ceded control to reveal much deeper reserves of power—and this is where the real Valerie Carter shone.  In those fuel-injected moments, lost in her art and untied inhibitions, she unleashed an incredible wellspring of passion into those passages…

Carter recorded her debut album, Just A Stone’s Throw Away, in Los Angeles, California when she was 24 years old.  Born in Winter Haven, Florida in 1953, Carter’s father was in the military so the family moved fairly often in her early years.  In an interview that Carter did with writer Laura Stegman for the JTO (James Taylor Online) website in September 1999, Carter talked about how she wound up in California:

“Well, my teenage years were pretty strange.  Probably everybody’s teenage years were pretty strange (laughs).  I left home — my parents were frantic — and I went and stayed with my cousin in New York City.  I grew up in the South in small towns, if you can even call them towns, and I’d never been to a big city in my life.  I looked in the Village Voice for work, and I found this waitress-singer thing in the Village.  I would do folk music sets with this Iranian guy, and in between I would serve meals while these belly dancers came out.  I did that for about seven or eight months, and I learned how to write a little bit.  Then I hitchhiked across country with some friends — because that’s what you did then — and we wound up in San Francisco and started playing coffeehouses.”

Carter soon formed a band while in northern California called Howdy Moon.  The group released a self-titled album in 1974, produced by Lowell George, and also holed up with some regularity at West Hollywood’s famous ‘70s-era rock club the Troubadour.  Carter points to her manager Bob Cavallo—who also managed Laura Nyro, the Lovin’ Spoonful and Little Feat at the time—as being incredibly supportive as time drew near to her 1977 debut album: 

“He handled this ‘candy store’ full of amazingly talented people, very nice people, who were very willing to help out somebody who obviously had some talent but wasn’t honed at all.  Like Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire, and just a really interesting conglomerate of people.  They were all there for me, some in small ways that still were huge to me, and some in very large ways.  They just gave a hundred percent of themselves so I could kind of find my way.”


As thankful as Carter was for the rallying of support from her manager and generous peer musicians, she was also plagued by self-doubt.  About her mentor Lowell George, in the Stegman interview from September 1999, Carter said:

“…Lowell was always so curious about anybody and their music and what they were up to.  And, honestly, I’ve looked back at some of the stuff I did, and I just had so much innocence and such a lack of understanding of who I was.  And my voice is kind of small, you know, real shy, and I don’t even know why he took up his time with me.  I really don’t know.  I look back on it and think it was so incredibly brave of him.  And if he saw something, I wasn’t aware of it.

“I think part of what happened for me is that I felt like I was going to get ‘found out’ back then.  I was thinking, ‘I can’t really do this, but here I am and these people are so talented and wonderful, and I’m just sort of coasting on their heels.’  But then I look back and I think, well why would they have worked with me, and I try to feel ‘validated’ (laughs).”

And this is where I circle back to that first album of Carter’s, 1997’s Just A Stones Throw Away.  It seems apparent to me, listening to it through the years and again just recently, that everyone in her sphere, everyone who lent a hand and much needed support for that record, must have genuinely felt that she had the gift.  In the lead-off track to that album alone; “Ooh Child,” a cover of a 1970 pop/R & B hit from Chicago-area soul band The Five Stairsteps; one can hear Carter’s soaring abandon come to the fore as—sometimes through the lyrics, sometimes through a powerful wail from her inner depths—she sings as if her life depended upon it.  It is a thing of staggering beauty, timeless in every way.

Though Carter stinted with other artists in the mid-‘70s including Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and released a second solo album in 1978, wide success eluded her.  She explained to writer Stegman how she abandoned her aspirations for a solo career in the late 1970s, only to resurface much later on, around 1990, as a background singer:

“I got scared, and I got frustrated, and I got sad.  I dropped out of the whole music thing for a while.  I had personal difficulties with living here in Los Angeles, with a life of music.  I was at an all-time low in my life, and I didn’t quite know what was going to happen.  Eventually, I got some help.  I took a really long time away from friends, away from anything I had ever known around here.

“When I came back I decided that I couldn’t handle trying go out and forge for a record deal and start all of that madness over right away.  I was too delicate.  But what I could do was sing, and that’s what I’ve always been happy doing.  And I knew I could stand behind someone and let the spotlight shine somewhere else.  I could at least express myself through the power of singing.

“So I made a few phone calls to say, ‘I’m ready to come back.’  I called Peter Asher [James Taylor’s manager at the time].  That was one of the first calls, and I didn’t expect anything to come of it.  I didn’t expect anything to come of anything.  I didn’t realize that people are as good as they were and as forgiving of someone who just kind of stepped away from them and from everything having to do with music.  But friends rallied and really supported my wanting to come back...I literally called Peter and just put it out there.  And it came right back.  And I did the same with Jackson [Brown], and the same thing happened, but in a lesser way because Jackson just doesn’t tour as often as James.  And it also happened with Linda [Ronstadt].  They really came through with open arms, and I’ve been nothing but grateful since the day it started.”  

Finding herself on more of a steady track within the music business—touring with Browne and Taylor; guesting on a number of other artists’ albums like Aaron Neville, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond and Shawn Colvin—Carter in 1996 mustered a third solo album, her first in eighteen years.  The album, entitled The Way It Is, was a welcome return to form.  On this album, artists appreciative of Carter’s depth of talent signed on for guest vocal appearances, including Taylor and Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Phoebe Snow and Lyle Lovett (the latter sharing vocal chores on a tune originally co-written by Bill Withers, a gritty bit of insistent funk called “Who Is She (And What Is She to You)”).

Carter’s last recording was a 5-song CD entitled Find A River, released in 1998.  By 2007, she had decided to retire from the life of a professional musician and subsequently moved back to her birth state of Florida, to St. Petersburg, to help care for her mother Dorothy.

In the previously mentioned Laura Stegman interview piece from September 1999 when Carter was still living in L.A., Stegman asked her if she definitely knew back in the early/mid-‘70s if she had wanted to be a singer.  The 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 that last line in particular is quite telling.  In 2009 while living in St. Petersburg, Carter was arrested in August 2009 by police for possession of cocaine.  In October of that year, caught again—this time with crack.  It was Carter’s good fortune to land in the drug court of Judge Dee Anna Farnell, who sees about 1,200 people come before her each year.  The drug court is set up to give out a bit of hope with its justice; if a person is not a convicted felon or a sex offender, and the crime is solely drug possession, the sentence can be served in a rehabilitation facility instead of a jail cell.  And at some later date—after treatment, fines paid in full and drug tests passed —there is a graduation ceremony where the individual’s permanent record simply says “Adjudication withheld.”

James Taylor paid for Carter’s three-month term in a Texas rehab facility shortly after her 2009 arrest, and when May of 2011 rolled around, he was there in drug court at graduation time.  Her slate cleaned, her certificate awarded, Carter embraced Taylor.  “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.”

That was not to be.  Valerie Carter passed away just one year ago, 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...”


(Click the links below to hear some selections from Valerie Carter, an artist most in sync with her life force when immersed in song…self-effacing; ever grateful to friends and family…a woman with an amazing gift that fortunately she shared with us all.)

Additional source material for this blog post:  “Drug Court Grads Have A Friend—James Taylor” – an article by Lane DeGregory, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer – May 25, 2011.





Posted 2/25/18:  ALL THINGS MUST PASS

About twelve years or so ago I was rifling through some files from my former life as marketing director-turned-general manager of Star Lake Amphitheater, the 23,000-capacity amphitheater just 30-minutes drive from downtown Pittsburgh.  I came upon a cache of old amphitheater backstage passes, and as they came spilling out onto my desktop for review, I came upon the sensible realization that they were not doing a damn bit of good hidden from view.

So I bought an oversized picture frame, and one commitment-free Sunday afternoon at the dining room table, I patchworked all of my favorite passes into what amounts to a cool, collector's-item representation of my first fifteen years at Star Lake (1991-2005).

They aren’t quite Oscars on the mantle, but these passes are indeed little tokens of achievement—surviving many summers of shows at the amphitheater, where artists of all kinds pit-stopped for their Pittsburgh-market play in front of hordes of music fans.

The passes brought back a lot of memories…blazing financial wins and humbling failures…solo artist concerts and multi-act festivals…passion-infused, surprising sets from newer bands and rote performances from road-weary elders…

So now, I’ve snapped a few close-ups of just a handful of my backstage souvenirs, laid out here for your inspection—and thanks for indulging me this reflection:


1. Traffic – Tuesday, August 9, 1994 

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 had not toured for twenty years.  Pittsburgh’s deeply rooted rock station WDVE helped us promote the show, and we offered Traffic fans a real deal—$10.25 for a lawn ticket, courtesy of 102.5 WDVE. 

The results?  Our enticing pricing didn’t ignite sales; the show only did about 8,800 people at the end of the day (perhaps the public just missed the point of the radio advertising; when they heard “Traffic at Star Lake” they probably just thought, “Well, no shit.”)


2. Ozzy Osbourne – various concerts through the years 

Ozzy of course first dented public consciousness as the front man for the pioneering metal sludge/hard rock band Black Sabbath, whose eponymous debut album hit record stores way back in 1970.  Many years and psychotic episodes later, Ozzy the solo artist hit Star Lake with his band and a couple of similarly sledgehammer-style support acts in 1992 and 1996.  In 1997, however, the juggernaut called Ozzfest was conceived by our company’s touring division, and this festival then hit the touring circuit of amphitheaters across the country, absolutely slaying in ticket sales.

A typical Ozzfest was a mixture of bands with buzz-saw leanings and chuckle-worthy names like Prong, Crazy Town, Snot, Ultraspank, Methods of Mayhem, and Disturbed.  Notable from an audience perspective, some of the fans who turned up were, especially in the earlier years of the festival, irrepressible arsonists out on the lawn where fires lit up the evening sky, challenging our venue’s security staff to try to keep a lid on the major ugliness unfolding.

I remember about a year ago leafing through an issue of Rolling Stone and finding an article about Black Sabbath’s career-capping reunion tour in 2016—the farewell lap from Ozzy, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler, the three out of four original members from 1970.  At the end of this article (written by Kory Grow), there is a great quote from Ozzy about life on the road, stating it was far different now compared to the band’s first tours of the early 1970s:  “I was the fucking rebel for so many years,” Osbourne is quoted as saying.  “Now I can’t understand why I was going out, getting full of Jack Daniel’s, having a bag of white powder and talking shit till daybreak, thinking that was fun.  I would poke my fucking eyes out if I had to do that now.”


3. The Eagles – Monday, August 15 and Tuesday, August 16, 1994 

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—could also serve to describe the likelihood of some fans deciding not to buy 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 even better sound, and I remember some staff members remarking that the level of passion exhibited by this crowd of 23,000 people per night hadn’t been witnessed at the venue since the facility opened four years earlier.


4. INXS – Saturday, September 27, 1997 

This was a radio station show, meaning that the station itself (instead of the amphitheater) booked all of the talent for this listener appreciation event.  This particular radio show was WBZZ-FM’s, promoted as the “B94 Summer Stretch Concert,” and the lineup was a hodgepodge of acts including Christian singer Amy Grant, a no-Natalie 10,000 Maniacs, and pop band Savage Garden who at the time had a sickly sweet, unstoppable hit waiting in the wings called “Truly Madly Deeply.” 

The headliner was Australia’s INXS, and they rocked this sparse but enthusiastic crowd of less than 7,000.  Lead singer Michael Hutchence had moves like Jagger, but a lot less rooster strut and way more fluidity with the rhythmic, driving force of the band behind him.  This Star Lake performance, as it turned out, was Hutchence’s last on Earth.  Two months after the B94 radio show gig, he was found dead in his hotel room in Sydney, Australia and a coroner’s report labeled it a suicide (things be murky with this; you can dive into the details elsewhere). 


5. Fleetwood Mac – Wednesday, September 24, 1997 

Here was a band that started out of England in 1967 as a pretty pure blues outfit, then lost and added members over nine albums and the next seven years until founder Mick Fleetwood fortuitously fostered a paradigm shift of personnel in 1974.  His band at yet another point of needing an infusion, Fleetwood was checking out L.A.’s Sound City Studios when the studio’s house engineer played him a new song (“Frozen Love”) from California duo Buckingham Nicks.  Fleetwood welcomed in Buckingham who brought Nicks in tow, and starting in 1975 this new configuration became the biggest Mac, with their next two albums (Fleetwood Mac and Rumours) scarfed up by an insatiable public.

By the late 1980s this lineup fractured and split, but then in 1997 the Rumours-era band reassembled for an in-studio live album and tour, and this reenergized ensemble hit Star Lake with much fan anticipation, a high price tag, and head-scratchingly high ticket prices.  I remember September 24th as a chilly night with a warm reception for the reconstituted five-member band.  The concert sold out well in advance and it remains a commercial and critical highpoint of the first ten years of Star Lake's existence.


6. Phish – A string of shows beginning in 1997

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.