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 6/4/23....ON THE ROAD AGAIN 

(Next post: Sunday, June 18, 2023)

Weather-wise the City of Pittsburgh seems to settle for overcast and downright gloomy a lot of the year which undeniably takes its gradual toll on our collective spirit.  But after spring has sprung and we’re less nestled in, and things outside have started poppin’ to life once again, we heed a call of the wild and especially, feel a lure to the open road.

There is something about getting behind the wheel with freedom in front of you--setting out to visit a friend who’s within a day’s drive, or burning rubber to catch a killer concert one evening in another city, or hittin’ the highway because a favorite outdoor habitat is beckoning from afar.

And when it’s time to hit that road, there are certain songs that lend themselves to our own particular journeys.  Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900), an American essayist and novelist who befriended and co-authored a novel with Mark Twain, said this on the subject of road trips: “There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it.”  And those words ring especially true because from the outset of any voyage large or small that I’ve undertaken, I have found music to be essential to clearing away the cobwebs of routine, reorienting my focus to the journey just unfolding.

Two instances come to mind.  The first was on a drive from Pittsburgh to Toronto in the fall of 1980, heading up there for solo exploration of the city and its cultural offerings.  I remember leaving Pittsburgh very, very early one morning in my beat-up Vega hatchback, armed with a fresh cassette mixtape that I then plugged into the player just as the first streaks of daylight started to part the darkness.  The first song on the tape was an instrumental by an African musician and this particular tune effortlessly amped up my awe of the blossoming sunrise.  The song was “Baobab Sunset” by Manu Dibango, the African saxophonist who blended jazz with his native Cameroonian music.  A perfect accompaniment to the unfolding of the day...

The second instance of “perfect” road trip music for me occurred in 2003 when I boarded a train in Pittsburgh to journey to NYC to see the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theater.  Early on, with earbuds on and my iPod loaded, I settled back in my window seat to watch the rail yard whisk by, followed by tangles of brush and dilapidated buildings and, eventually, wide open fields that once in a while ran all the way back to mountains in the distance.  The tune that had started my voyage was a ten-minute instrumental entitled “San Lorenzo,” the first song on the 1978 self-titled release by ECM recording artists the Pat Metheny Group.  That song by itself is a voyage, and it eased me into complete harmony with the worlds going by my window...

And now, more songs that have proved roadworthy for others.  Almost a decade ago, back in 2014, I had reached out to a few Musicasaurus readers about their own favorite “road trip” tunes.  These were folks that I knew were lovers of music, ones who had been--at one time or another--actually in the music business in some capacity.  When you read about their song selections, see if their driving impulses match your own...Enjoy.  [NOTE: links to hear all of the contributors’ selections are at the very bottom of this post.]

* “Jessica" by the Allman Brothers Band.  ---  Susan Drapkin (Pittsburgh) / former employers have included Pittsburgh concert promoter Next Big Thing, and Live Nation Pittsburgh in the management of local sponsorship sales

* My favorite road trip song from my college days would be "Dead Flowers" by the Rolling Stones, or really anything off of the Sticky Fingers album.  Not particularly a happy song, but one I always found myself listening to when driving through rural areas. ---  Josh Verbanets (Pittsburgh) / musician; group member, Meeting of Important People

* Back in 1973 Doug Horner, Keith Hepler, Doug Ritzer and I crammed into Doug's blue Dodge Dart to cruise along Route 66 to California.  We listened to NRBQ cassettes the entire way across the country.  "Ridin' in My Car" by NRBQ always reminds me of the carefree days when we drank beers with locals at a bar in the middle of a Montana pasture and slept under the pines in Lake Tahoe on our way to San Francisco and Beserkley.  ---  Paul Carosi (Pittsburgh) / designer and developer of the website Pittsburgh Music History (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/)

* “Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon, from the days I lived in warm and sunny California.  Warren played once for the Valley Media sales staff when I worked for that company.  He opened the set with "Werewolves of London" and so when the weather breaks in the ‘burgh it's the first song I play, howling with the windows down!  ---  George Balicky (Pittsburgh) former Senior Vice-President at National Record Mart and record-retailer music biz veteran

* “Revival" by The Allman Brothers...Just a joyful musical exploration.  "People can you hear it...love is in the air."  Oh yeah, we hear it.  That's the love of freedom, so powerfully expressed on an open road with the top or windows down and the radio cranked.  I vividly recall blasting "Revival" one summer drive in my convertible down some Ohio backroads traveling at breakneck speed.  ---  Scott Tady (Beaver, PA) / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times

* “Little Red Corvette” by Prince.  ---  Kathy Wallace (Pittsburgh) / employment history includes sales-related positions in Pittsburgh market radio and television, and sponsorship sales with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ organization 

* The song that I might choose for the open road would be “Windy”, or “4 on 6”, or how about “Road Song”--all recorded by the great Wes Montgomery. ---  Joe Negri (Pittsburgh) / jazz guitarist, composer and educator (also, for all time, “Handyman Negri” on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)

* I used to always play "Ol' 55" by the Eagles (the Tom Waits composition) when I hit the road.  Also, the Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky” is road worthy.  ---  Stacy Innerst (Pittsburgh) an award-winning painter, children’s book artist, illustrator and educator who also has been known to dabble in drumming

* “Green Onions” by Booker T and the M.G.s...A long time ago I remember getting in the family car to go on a trip and “Green Onions” was on the radio.  My dad always insisted on leaving early in the morning while it was still dark and to hear a song like this--mysterious, soulful, and even profound in an inexplicable way to a young kid--added to the anticipation.  We were going somewhere, moving, in transit, and Booker T was our guide.  ---  Rege Behe (Pittsburgh) / freelance journalist and former music writer at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

* There was synchronicity in your request; the day I got it, I was driving around cranking a certain album, and “Panama” from Van Halen is THE ultimate road song. ---  Russ Rose, aka Whip (Pittsburgh) / 102.5 WDVE on-air talent 

* “A Night to Remember” by Shalamar. ---  Billy Price (Pittsburgh) / singer-songwriter and east coast blue-eyed soul man

* “American Girl” by Tom Petty...Well, maybe Matchbox Twenty’s “How Far We've Come.”  This was harder than I thought!  ---  Beckye Levin Gross (Houston, Texas) / former booker with Pace Music Group (ultimately Live Nation); currently Director of Strategic Accounts at UnifiedCommunications.com

* I gotsta, gotsta name three songs.  My happy traveling song is “25 Miles” by Edwin Starr—he also has my favorite anti-war song in “War”.  And my moody, melancholy song is “Carefree Highway” by Gordon Lightfoot.  My nighttime, caffeine driven, driving-at-3:00-AM marathon trip song is “Highway Song” by Blackfoot.  ---  Tom Rooney (Pittsburgh) / former executive director of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group

*“Master of Puppets” by Metallica.  Great song to crank!  It makes me want to drive really fast!  ---  Val Porter (Pittsburgh) / longtime 102.5 WDVE on-air talent and a member of the station’s acclaimed morning show

* “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones.  ---  Charlie Brusco (Atlanta, GA) / Pittsburgh-area native and former Atlanta-based concert promoter; currently heads up the Atlanta office of artist management company Red Light Management; also manager of Styx

* “Are You Experienced?” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  ---  James “JY” Young / lead vocals/guitarist for Styx

* “Freeway Jam” by Jeff Beck. ---  Ricky Phillips / bassist for Styx

* Truly, and you’re not going to believe this, my choice is Canned Heat's "On The Road Again.”  It has been reissued...It was originally recorded in 1969, and is NOT the version that the radio played for the last 45 years; it’s a really groovy extended version now available, and YES, neither of us were at Woodstock (I was 13 in '69, my Cindi was 11), but the two of us play this reissued Canned Heat song ON CD, in our car or in the rental car!  ---  Sean McDowell (Pittsburgh) / legendary on-air talent on 102.5 WDVE from 1993-2019

* That’s easy.  “Low Rider” by War.  ---  Donnie Iris (Pittsburgh) / musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader (Donnie Iris and The Cruisers)

* Either of these: Lyle Lovett’s “The Road To Ensenada” or his “L.A. County.”  ---  Bob Klaus (Durham, North Carolina) / original marketing director of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre (1990); currently general manager of Durham Performing Arts Center

* If there's going to be singing involved, my choice is Eddie & The Hot Rods’ "Do Anything You Wanna Do.”  It has it all...searching for adventure, celebrating rebellion...plus musically, a killer chorus, great chords, a drum section you can pound out on the steering wheel.  And it sounds better the louder you sing it--even if you're 52 and your rebelling days are mostly behind you.  Two more: The Tom Robinson Band’s “2-4-6-8 Motorway”, and “Depth Charge” from Los Straitjackets.  ---  Chris Fletcher (Pittsburgh) / former publisher/editor of Pittsburgh Magazine (1993-2002); currently Organizational Advancement Manager with The Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation

* Peter Wolf’s "Nothing But The Wheel.”  I also like Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" but the Garret Hedlund version is way better.  ---  Marylynn Uricchio (Pittsburgh) / formerly the Seen/Style Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

* I love “Windows Are Rolled Down” by Amos Lee.  The title pretty much sums up the song!  ---  Scott Blasey (Pittsburgh) / Musician and lead singer for The Clarks

* Nothing out of the ordinary for me.  I'll take the Allmans'"Ramblin' Man" (with the best guitar solo ever) or the Eagles’"Already Gone."  Essential American songs that make you hit the pedal a little harder.  If I want something to update that playlist I'm taking it from the new War on Drugs albumLost in the Dream.  Think it's going to be great summer driving music.  ---  Scott Mervis (Pittsburgh) / pop music critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and editor of the newspaper’s Weekend

* It’s a toss-up between Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” and B.B. King and Eric Clapton’s “Riding With The King.”  ---  Wilson Rogers (Wilmington, North Carolina) / Former general manager of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre during the 1990 inaugural season; most recently a Live Nation executive vice president 

* If I had to narrow one of the richest veins of writing--be it musical, literary or cinematic--down to its one song essence I'd choose “Diamonds On My Windshield” by Tom Waits.  It's a three-minute, non-stop cross-country trip fueled by weeds, whites and wine--and the beat.  And can you even write about the road without a beat?  Of course, “Diamonds On My Windshield” is pretty much the antithesis of a top down, sun-drenched anthem.  That's the very definition of “Fun, Fun, Fun” by the Beach Boys.  But if the road I'm on is taking me to my happy place then I'd have to go with the one-two punch of “Save Me San Francisco” by Train and “San Francisco Days” by Chris Isaak.  ---  Steve Hansen (Pittsburgh) / former on-air talent on WDVE Pittsburgh’s “Jimmy & Steve” morning program (1980-1986); currently an independent writer/producer


Baobab Sunset - Manu Dibango https://youtu.be/u-KqS-2IcEo

San Lorenzo - The Pat Metheny Group https://youtu.be/O9mEoXfN91I

Jessica - Allman Brothers Band https://youtu.be/vTOozRAJ8dU

Dead Flowers - Rolling Stones https://youtu.be/Avrv8t_nEI0

Ridin’ in my Car - NRBQ https://youtu.be/lReK7eO27Io

Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon https://youtu.be/qae25976UgA

Revival - Allman Brothers Band https://youtu.be/otlhY5HR6tY

Little Red Corvette - Prince https://youtu.be/D_2a_a2j5jc

Windy - Wes Montgomery https://youtu.be/fVF8ushvqzk

4 on 6 - Wes Montgomery https://youtu.be/9PD2Q7TXmvU

Road Song - Wes Montgomery https://youtu.be/ABFAz5orvWA

Ol’ 55 - Eagles https://youtu.be/86sb1AFl8Rs

Blue Sky - Allman Brothers Band https://youtu.be/JSMubgZoL58

Green Onions - Booker T. & The M.G.s https://youtu.be/0oox9bJaGJ8

Panama - Van Halen https://youtu.be/2wHU5ocfFsA

A Night to Remember - Shalamar https://youtu.be/XuFre4QM7uM

American Girl - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers https://youtu.be/SIhb-kNvL6M

How Far We’ve Come - Matchbox Twenty https://youtu.be/5d7EbtLb8ok

Twenty Five Miles - Edwin Starr https://youtu.be/elS2-rFe_Vc

Carefree Highway - Gordon Lightfoot https://youtu.be/Lfo0XBrGgI0

Highway Song - Blackfoot https://youtu.be/PbNrJWgG_24

Master of Puppets - Metallica https://youtu.be/E0ozmU9cJDg

Gimme Shelter - Rolling Stones https://youtu.be/QeglgSWKSIY

Are You Experienced? - Jimi Hendrix Experience https://youtu.be/C2XL4P9HRH4

Freeway Jam - Jeff Beck https://youtu.be/u6jHlW414sQ

On the Road Again - Canned Heat https://youtu.be/mgBHRYtt-Y4

Low Rider - War https://youtu.be/qMkwuz0iXQg

The Road to Ensenada - Lyle Lovett https://youtu.be/B9yPFqIK2ME

L.A. County - Lyle Lovett https://youtu.be/KGIsPLB9Ua4

Do Anything You Wanna Do - Eddie & The Hot Rods https://youtu.be/zJI5pH-gGmQ

2-4-6-8 Motorway - The Tom Robinson Band https://youtu.be/g-ZU_-OUM3Q

Depth Charge - Los Straitjackets [could not at this time be located on YouTube]

Nothing but the Wheel - Peter Wolf https://youtu.be/w8A4drSh_Dw

Silver Wings - Garret Hedlund https://youtu.be/yTdPHZRhYI4

Windows are Rolled Down - Amos Lee https://youtu.be/m08eW3ubq0g

Ramblin’ Man - Allman Brothers Band https://youtu.be/Wa4DCp6cl2U

Already Gone - Eagles https://youtu.be/vKPPmNGGKrQ

Lost in the Dream (the album) - The War on Drugs (the whole record was recommended as ripe for plucking songs for the road; to sample, here’s a track entitled “Disappearing”) https://youtu.be/hvoMww-dkyw

Sailin’ Shoes - Little Feat https://youtu.be/6pZj91KImqc

Riding with the King - B.B. King & Eric Clapton https://youtu.be/RYJIc9bjENk

Diamonds on my Windshield - Tom Waits https://youtu.be/tHhO6bSQnSU

Fun, Fun, Fun - The Beach Boys https://youtu.be/VF_o-N0fhZ0

Save Me San Francisco - Train https://youtu.be/zftcZYdOl3Y

San Francisco Days - Chris Isaak https://youtu.be/JSI8VdOIGJQ






While recently combing through a bit of past feedback about my Musicasaurus blog, I found a recollection of a concert-goer who had a harrowing experience at a show.  Bernie Caplan of Pittsburgh, PA, now largely retired but forever a music freak, had submitted to me a short tale of seeing Jeff Beck live in concert some years ago at Duquesne University’s AJ Palumbo Center.

Bernie’s memory of that experience had been jogged when he took notice of a song mix on Musicasaurus which contained a Jeff Beck tune: “Jeff Beck on the mix reminded me of a one & only story,” Bernie said.  “I never counted the number of shows that I’ve seen but it's higher than the number that I remember.  I went to see Jeff Beck at the Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh in late 1989 with my concert buddy Bobby.  We were dead center and five rows back.  I can't remember the first song but I looked over at Bob and he was already inserting ear plugs.  Now ear plugs were never an option for me.  There have been many concerts that were too loud and/or being mixed by a deaf roadie, but I always hung in there until...Beck broke out into ‘Going Down.’  Now I have never had heart problems but I was convinced that I was going Fred Sanford.  My heart was pulsating through my chest cavity as if the alien was breaking through. As my heart pounded quicker, I realized that it was actually playing along with Beck.  Every note and every increase in the bass was in sync.  Either I was having a heart attack or what I ate for dinner had turned into a Jeff Beck tape that became electrified.  I was a frickin’ walking juke box playing Jeff Beck. 

“As I slowly turned to look at Bob, I noticed that his eyes were popping out of his head like a scared frog.  His color wasn't far removed from a frog’s either.  I tried to ask him if he was okay but when I opened my mouth, it was like trying to breathe on a 90mph rollercoaster.  (I remember losing track of where I was and thinking that if I ever got out of there, I would be sent to a rehab center for bass abuse; people would come to see me and I would open my mouth and ‘Going Down’ would begin to play.)  I grabbed Bob's arm and we very slowly stood up and weaved our way into the aisle.  We gingerly walked to the lobby where Bob and I didn't say a word.  We never went back to our seats or talked much about the ‘experience.’  Some things are just best forgotten.” 

Uncomfortable situations are not uncommon for concert-goers of any era, really; you hope for the best and bound through the turnstiles with great anticipation, but sometimes the experience ends up a mild disappointment or, for the wrong reasons, a show you’ll never forget.

Here are a few tales from Musicasaurus readers from the southwestern PA area who sent me their own reflections on shows that were nerve-wracking...or discomforting...or even potentially perilous.  And--because I am admittedly a one-note guy--I have headlined each remembrance with a musical reference, i.e., a song title that serves to sum up each individual’s particular story of distress.

LEAVING ON A JET PLANE: Joe Negri / jazz guitarist, composer & educator who will forever be known as “Handyman Negri” on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

Pittsburgher Negri’s particular situation involved his participation in a CD release performance in New York City with singer/musician Michael Feinstein.  This was in 2010 and coincided with the release of their new collaborative album entitled Fly Me to the Moon.  “The CD release performance of that recording was scheduled to take place in NYC at approximately 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening at a book store on Broadway,” Negri explained.  “The date involved just Michael and myself on guitar.  My wife Joni and I were to leave Pittsburgh quite early for New York.  I think we had a 10 a.m. flight.  Well, the delays started appearing: The flight was delayed for an hour...then another hour...I started trying to get us on another flight but to no avail.  The hours passed and before you know it was afternoon and we're still walking the halls of Greater Pittsburgh Airport.  

“Finally at about 3:00 or thereabouts we departed for La Guardia Airport.  I think we landed sometime after 4:00, found our limo driver (thank goodness) and began our trek into Manhattan.  It was a harrowing and hectic journey--I remember at one point closing my eyes because I just couldn't stand to look at the traffic and the way the limo driver was weaving in and out of it.  Long story short: At about 5:15 we pull up to the bookstore on Broadway...make a mad dash in…upstairs to the auditorium...a large crowd was already in their seats…and it was show time.  

“We were still in our traveling clothes.  I was able to dash to the bathroom and splash some water on my face.  A good friend Howard Alden had brought me a guitar, one that I had never seen let alone played.  I didn't even have time to tune it, let alone play it a bit, and I didn't have a clue as to what Michael had planned for the program.  The next thing you know we're on stage and it's show time.  It went beautifully, and the audience was very pleased.  I had a few anxious moments trying to adjust to the strange guitar, but eventually got with it and found my groove.  It was quite a day and quite an experience, one my wife and I and Michael will never forget.”


DON’T STAND SO CLOSE TO ME: Scott Blasey / Musician and lead singer for The Clarks

Blasey reported that he had a concert experience that was both terrifying and enlightening--within sixty seconds of each other.  This psychic one-two punch happened on September 11, 1980 when he and a friend went to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena to see Ted Nugent, who was crisscrossing the country on his Intensities In 10 CitiesTour.  “It was festival seating and Humble Pie opened the show,” Blasey recalled.  “We were about twenty feet away from the stage inside a mass of freakiness that I'd never encountered before.  Everything was cool until the lights went down for Ted.  People started pushing to get up front and it got really crowded.  The audience began to sway and we had no choice but to sway with them because everybody was packed so tightly together.  I was just a young, skinny teenager and I thought for sure I was going to be trampled underfoot like those kids at the Who concert the year before.  It seriously scared the shit out of me.  

“Just then the lights came up and Sweaty Teddy swung across the stage from a vine dressed in a loincloth.  Let me repeat that, he swung across the stage, on a vine, in a loincloth.  It was the most rock-n-roll thing I've ever seen.  He tore into ‘Stranglehold’ like a man possessed.  I was transfixed.  I was still scared, but I was completely in awe.  We watched the first two songs from there and then moved back and found some seats, where the sweet smell of...y'know, popcorn, filled the air.”


CHUG-A-LUG: Scott Tady / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times

Tady remembers a show he attended on June 19, 1987 in the basement of the Syria Mosque in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.  The lineup consisted of three bands: Steppenwolf, Alvin Lee and opener Roger McGuinn.  “For some reason it was BYOB, and so you had all these biker dudes swigging from MD 20/20 and bottom shelf liquor,” Tady recalled.  “Tables were covered in bottles.  The show started late, and the crowd was restless.  They respected McGuinn, but hearing him croon ‘Chestnut Mare’ wasn't what the ‘Born to Be Wild’ crowd was craving.  A Yuppie tried dancing to ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ until he felt a meaty hand on his shoulder and heard, ‘Sit down, son.’  Can't say I was physically threatened at any point, but that was one of my first shows and I remember being rather nervous.  I learned not to make eye contact.  Have a good time, but get out alive!”


I’M ONLY SLEEPING: Russ Rose, aka Whip / deejay on 102.5 WDVE

Back in the early ‘90s part of Rose’s job at the station was to cover shows around town, setting up the WDVE van outside the particular venue and then handing out station promotional items like stickers and T-shirts.  “So I went to a lot of shows that I enjoyed,” explained Rose, “but also a few that weren't my style.  Emerson Lake & Palmer was at the AJ Palumbo Center in 1993, and I had to go do my 'DVE thing at the show.  Since I was also doing overnight shifts at the time, I walked around in a perpetual state of exhaustion.  As ‘luck’ would have it, I wound up with front row center tickets for the show, which I have to admit, was not my style.  I had a hard time keeping my eyes open at this show, and about 15 unbearable minutes into Emerson's droning Moog solo on ‘Lucky Man’ I fell asleep in my seat, all of 5 feet from Greg Lake staring down at me in my WDVE T-shirt.  My date nudged me and said that falling asleep from boredom right in front of the band was a bad idea.  I had to agree, and we left to sit in the van.  As the fans left the show I took an ear beating from one of them that 'DVE should play more ELP as they are more important to music than Beethoven.  HEY--I might have been tired, but I wasn't stoned!” 


SCARY MONSTERS (AND SUPER CREEPS): Steve Acri / lifelong music enthusiast who formerly worked for National Record Mart and subsequently audio-video companies

Acri didn’t waste any time choosing a troubling concert experience to send my way.  “That’s an easy one,” Steve told me.  “OzzFest at Star Lake, 1997.  I took my son who was eleven.  Fortunately we were seated well within the covered pavilion so as to not be so directly affected, but experiencing the hail of partially filled cups and bottles, chunks of the lawn turf, and anything else that might be launchable was very harrowing.  It was especially bad in between sets.  Trying to get from the pavilion to the concourse made you a target.  You literally ran the gauntlet.  I truly was concerned for our safety.  In addition (or perhaps because of), there was an almost palpable sense of evil in the air.  A lot of not-nice people around.  Headliners were Black Sabbath and Marilyn Manson.  I’m not the kind to stereotype, but if ever there was justification in doing so, this was it.  Probably needless to say, we were like hockey players and got the puck outta there before the gates of hell opened.”


LIGHTNING CRASHES: Tom Rooney / Former executive director of Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group


Rooney reminisced about Jimmy Buffett, one of the true homerun kings of Star Lake Amphitheatre (now known as The Pavilion at Star Lake).  The singer-songwriter who gained monstrous fame (all the while simply looking for his lost shaker of salt) pretty much owned the 1990s, racking up 15 total shows that decade with 13 of them sell-outs.  In 1994, the first of many years that Buffett did a two-night engagement with both shows selling out in advance, Mother Nature decided to flip the bird to all 22,683 Parrotheads who had flocked to the first night’s show.  Rooney, head of Star Lake at the time, explained what happened on the evening of Friday, June 10: “Lightning made a direct hit on our venue’s main transformer rendering a sold-out show in darkness before Jimmy Buffett 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...I still remember the local fire departments showing up with their trucks to provide lights for the parking lots.”


BORN PORN IN THE USA: Val Porter / longtime 102.5 WDVE on-air talent; currently Music Director and a member of the station’s morning show

Porter had an unusual concert experience that has, to my mind, few parallels in terms of a big reveal.  One of her duties as a WDVE on-air talent was to make some announcements on stage prior to the beginning of select shows that fit her station’s musical format.  On October 19, 1997 Mötley Crüe came to Pittsburgh and literally rocked the arena--even before they hit their first note.  Porter looked back on the incident and labeled it her most memorable moment on stage.  “It was the tour in which Mötley Crüe were causing trouble at just about every stop,” she said.  “I went on stage before the band came out in order to do announcements about upcoming shows and no smoking, and that sort of thing.  Well, the crowd goes crazy when I get up there.  And I’m thinking ‘Yeah!  A real rock crowd ready for a big show!’  As I’m walking off the stage someone said ‘Be glad you don’t know what was going on up there.’  Then someone else offstage said the same thing.  When I got back to my seat, I was told that while I was up on stage they were showing a very graphic porno on the very large screen behind me.  And that’s why the crowd went crazy.  A friend told me that the screen was so big I looked like an ant in front of it.” 


CRUSH ON YOU: Jeff Sewald / former music journalist and a writer/filmmaker who in 2020 co-authored The Life and Deaths of Cyril Wecht: Memoirs of America's Most Controversial Forensic Pathologist

Sewald squeezed out a memory from his days in high school.  During his summer break in 1978 he attended a concert by the aptly nicknamed “Motor City Madman” Ted Nugent.  It did not go well.  “As a friend and I waited amid the throng that had amassed outside Pittsburgh's Civic Arena...all hell broke loose,” Sewald said.  “It was a ‘festival seating’ event, which meant that, if you were quick and agile (and didn't get trampled to death beforehand), you might just get to see your favorite artist from the best seats in the house at cheap-seat prices, which was only $8.00 at the time.  

“When the time came, for some reason, the arena management elected to open only some of the doors and, when they did, the humanity assembled outside the hall pushed forward en masse trying to squeeze through only a handful of entryways.  People were knocked to the ground and many were screaming, while others--including one immensely fat, pimpled-faced guy--simply lowered their shoulders and shoved.  I managed to keep my balance and maneuver my way through one opened door, but my friend wasn't so lucky.  He got pinned up against the outside edge of a door that was only partially opened and, as the mass of bodies pressed toward the hall, was in danger of being cleaved in two by that very door.  With no way to fight the tide of sweaty flesh and get back to him, I was helpless.  Finally, a security guard grabbed my friend by the shirt and yanked him free of the door's edge--saving if not his life, then at least his sternum and ‘family jewels.’  

“As if the experience of getting into the arena wasn't bad enough, during the show, some fans in the sections nearest the top of the dome began tossing M-80s into the crowd on the floor.  The house lights went on and a warning was issued--to no avail.  ‘The Nuge,’ in typical Nuge fashion, refused to stop playing, even for a moment.  Years later, Ted would tell me in an interview that pushing a crowd to the very edge of disaster was ‘the ultimate’ for a rock performer.  Even then, only in my early 20s, I thought, ‘I'm getting too old for this.’” 






Back on December 4, 2022 I posted a story of my very first concert experience in 1967.  I had traveled from my hometown of Butler, PA to The Big City--yes, Pittsburgh--on the evening of November 22nd to see a packaged show headed up by The Beach Boys.  The multi-artist concert had been booked into the Penn Theatre and a bunch of us Butler fourteen-year-olds, members of our local YMCA’s Gray-Y club, were provided access to tickets and group transportation by our cool, twenty-something club leader.  He had sold his bosses (and our respective parents) on the idea, and then benevolently took the reins and made it happen. 

The show was advertised as featuring local KDKA-AM radio personality Clark Race as emcee, national comedy trio the Pickle Brothers, the Soul Survivors, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Buffalo Springfield and headliner the Beach Boys.  The Soul Survivors actually ended up a no-show, but from the cheesy high jinx of opening act the Pickle Brothers all the way through the ebb and flow of the Beach Boys’ songs about sun, surf and sand, we were absolutely enthralled.  No longer concert virgins, we became sated with the sights and sounds of the musical performances and the audience’s roaring reception...

As I researched that long-ago show for my December 2022 post, I came across something surprising.  When digging into Buffalo Springfield’s past, I encountered one site that had a curious reference in it.  There was a simple one-line listing of the date and place of Springfield’s Pittsburgh November 22, 1967 appearance at Penn Theatre, but below it there was an additional line that had a different venue listed--same date--which said “KDKA-TV studios.”  Wha-a-a-a?  I tried Googling down different avenues hoping to come up with information on this, and finally found an answer when combing through old print publications of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Press via newspapers.com.


I found only one article that fully explained how Buffalo Springfield could seemingly be in two places at once on November 22, 1967.  Post-Gazette columnist Win Fanning had, later in November, written a preview article about a recently completed KDKA-TV music special that was soon to air.  The television show was entitled “Clark Race...With It” and it was designed to feature nationally-known, up-and-coming musical acts--and the first artist performing on the program was Buffalo Springfield.  I gleaned from all of this that the group had been booked not only at the Penn Theatre for their evening set but had also been corralled by KDKA to perform in a taping earlier that afternoon in the station’s Gateway Center studios.  And as it turned out, both the Buffalo Springfield and Strawberry Alarm Clock performed that afternoon as part of the making of KDKA’s “Clark Race...With It” television special.  

Here is Win Fanning’s opening paragraph in his preview piece about this November 1967 telecast, and it emphatically set the stage for an exciting viewing experience: “As a guide for an exploration of the ‘new sounds of youth’ in the field of popular music, it would be difficult indeed to come up with a more logical choice than Clark Race.  The KDKA-Radio, and sometime KDKA-TV, Pied Piper backs up this observation in spades as the host of a half hour color special to be telecast on Channel 2 this Friday starting at 8:30 pm.  The show, ‘Clark Race...With It,’ was produced in the station’s Gateway Center studios with guest stars Bobby Vinton, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Aretha Franklin and the Buffalo Springfield.  The pace is fast, the photography simply superb and the narration serves excellently to introduce the spirit and sound of today’s music.”

Fanning was right about the cachet of Clark Race.  He was a powerhouse media personality in Pittsburgh radio, as Post-Gazette writer Adrian McCoy noted in her July 28, 1999 obituary on Race.  “Clark Race's radio career dovetailed perfectly with the golden era of pop music in the late '50s and throughout the '60s,” McCoy said.  “He became one of the most influential and popular local disc jockeys, with a keen ear for what makes a hit record.”  

He had started out his radio career in Albany, New York and then in 1959 was wooed by Westinghouse Broadcasting to come to Pittsburgh--at age 26--to join the on-air staff of KDKA-AM.  It wasn’t long before Race, in terms of radio ratings, had conquered Everest.  McCoy drove this point home in her obit, saying “At its peak, Mr. Race's show captured more than 50 percent of the audience--a rating that is unheard of today.  There was no formula, no Top 40: he simply played what he thought listeners would like.”

Throughout the 1960s, Race was a whirligig of media moves and exploits.  As noted in a February 6, 2011 post by Ron Ieraci on the website Old Mon Music (oldmonmusic.blogspot.com), “Race brought the music of black artists to his mainstream audience.  His playlist mixed pop, rock, soul, country and standard hits, and featured local artists like Lou Christie, the Vogues, the Electrons, the Racket Squad and Bobby Vinton.”  He also mightily contributed to the breaking (on a national level) of songs like “Lightning Strikes” by Lou Christie, “Roses Are Red” by Bobby Vinton, and the Royal Guardsmen’s “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron.”  He was even invited at one point by Fab Four manager Brian Epstein to go to London to meet The Beatles along with a fellow deejay from New York, Murray the K.

Beyond the world of local radio, Race mined opportunities on a national level as well.  He auditioned for parts in major network television programs and at the end of 1966 came close to snagging a host’s role of a new-to-1967 ABC game show called “Everybody’s Talking.”  He lost out eventually to another media maven--Lloyd Thaxton, who got the slot--and the program ended up lasting less than a year.  Race was more successful, though, in pursuit of roles on established series.  He earned small speaking roles at various points during the 1960s, among them appearances on the NBC drama “Run For Your Life” starring Ben Gazzara, ABC’s western “Iron Horse” starring Dale Robertson, and CBS’ “The Wild, Wild West.”  He also once guested on the Merv Griffin Show and the David Susskind Show.


Back in Pittsburgh, Race’s popularity on KDKA-AM coupled with his inner drive and love of music led him to extend his reach over to the TV side.  In 1963 he became the host of KDKA-TV’s Saturday afternoon “Dance Party”--fashioned after Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand”--and he presided over everchanging groups of local teens gyrating on a studio dancefloor.  Popular musical acts of the day like the Supremes, Buddy Holly and Chubby Checker also appeared on the program, performing on what later had become the television station’s evening news set.  According to McCoy in her Post-Gazette piece, the program was an immediate hit.  “For area teenagers,” she said, “it was considered a status symbol to be seen on ‘Dance Party.’"  However the show lasted only three years, ending in 1966--perhaps a victim, noted McCoy, of a rising trend in local TV: a shift away from locally produced TV programming.

Though “Dance Party” was only briefly a success, Race later on continued on the TV side to create and produce pilot programs in the hope that one would catch fire and be greenlighted.  The Post-Gazette’s Win Fanning in his August 22, 1967 TV column offered up this telling blurb: “Clark Race, the KDKA deejay, has made a variety show pilot tape now being appraised by the Group W brass.  The half-hour in color features Clark as emcee, with guests Bobbie Gentry, The Fifth Dimension (a group) and the Baja Marimba Band.  No air date has been set.”  Three months later on Saturday, November 11 the program did air, however for some reason--according to an updated Win Fanning blurb on October 21--The Fifth Dimension were out and The Letterman were in.

Which brings us back to “Clark Race...With It,” the TV special taped on the afternoon of November 22, 1967 featuring two of the acts--Springfield and Alarm Clock--that I saw later that same evening at my first-ever concert.  The afternoon taping was yet another valiant effort by Race to establish a vehicle for the station to consistently entertain and enlighten its viewership about new artists on the horizon and evolving trends in music.  In closing the loop on this look back at Clark Race and his significant impact and contributions to Pittsburgh media, I am 100% now giving the floor to Mr. Fanning. 

The Post-Gazette columnist’s article about this half-hour KDKA-TV music special, after all, says it best: Race’s strong advocacy for respecting the new sounds of youth was laudable, and clearly his efforts helped shine a light on music’s incoming wave in this pivotal year of 1967.  Remember as you now read Fanning’s review that Sgt. Pepper’s was released this same year...the Summer of Love had taken root in San Francisco...and the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine had debuted, in fact, in the same month that this KDKA-TV special aired.  In 1967 there were ruptures in the seams of tradition; a youthquake of social, political and cultural awareness, and action.  Some newspaper columnists like Fanning, though, were doing their best to help demystify it and maybe also help usher it in--even if their articles and columns now seem a bit dated in terms of how they grappled with articulating what was happening and what was to come. 

“‘New Sound’ Topic of Ch. 2 Special” by Win Fanning / November 1967 /Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

"The show is introduced, musically, with a low-keyed rendition of the hauntingly tuneful ‘For What It’s Worth,’ by the Springfield.  The latter, for those who are over the hill--say in their middle 20s--this is a singing-instrumental group of long-haired young men as clean in appearance as their music is attractive to the ear.

“During this opening number, Art Fischer, a New York freelance producer-director, with a major assist by KDKA-TV art director Don Spagnolia, introduces the avant garde psychedelic backgrounds and almost subliminal titles which continue so effectively throughout the program.

“Race points out the new emphasis on lyrics which has been increasingly noticeable, and nicely underscores this by introducing Pittsburgh’s own Bobby Vinton singing ‘I’ll Love You Forever’ and later, ‘Just as Much as Ever.’

“Miss Franklin, a minister’s daughter who received her vocal training in a church choir and still retains much of the spiritual feeling in her interpretations of secular music, offers ‘That’s Life’ as her opener.  Later in the show she presents ‘Respect,’ in the arrangement which has contributed the phrase ‘sock it to me’ to the current show biz theme, i.e. on the Rowan and Martin outings.

“Last to come on the swinging scene are the Alarm Clock (‘is’ the Alarm Clock?) who have obviously undergone a flavor change to come up with ‘Incense and Peppermints,’ a catchy number in a subdued rock ‘n’ roll tempo.  An English aggregation, this group is not quite so esthetically satisfying--to adults, at least--as the Springfields, but they do have an engaging way with a song.

“At the end Piper Race sums up with the explanation that ‘we have showcased an idea...explored the paths of the sight and sound of a young, spirited generation...’ and expresses the hope that the audience has enjoyed the trip.

“I, for one, after yesterday’s preview, have to admit to Jack Reilly, the executive producer, and all others concerned, that I did.

“This is a pilot production for what, hopefully, may become a syndicated Group W show.”

[p.s. This 1967 pilot program, “Clark Race...With It,” unfortunately did not lead to a syndicated music show mounted by Group W (Westinghouse Broadcasting Company), the parent company of KDKA-AM and KDKA-TV.]

[p.p.s. The website oldmonmusic.blogspot.com details Clark Race’s years post-Pittsburgh.  Race left the Steel City after eleven years (1959-1970) and moved to Los Angeles, taking a job in 1971 at KMPC, a radio station owned by Gene Autry.  He also moonlighted the following year by hosting ABC-TV’s game show “The Parent Game,” then left KMPC’s employ for other radio stations including ones in San Francisco and San Diego.  Race then contemplated returning to Pittsburgh.  “Like many radio jocks from the early years,” the Old Mon Music website post points out, “he left the business because the power had switched from the DJs to the programming directors.”  

Back in the ‘burgh in 1986, Race opened a bed and breakfast in nearby Sewickley, PA with his wife Diane.  “It was actually a dream vocation for the pair, who could often be seen tooling around the area,” Old Mon Music noted, “running errands and giving local tours to their guests.”  And, to be expected, Race then had some offers to return to the airwaves but only from oldies stations.  He eschewed those entreaties, however; true to his nature, he was always a champion of new music.  “Race turned them down, not wanting to be caught in that niche,” Old Mon Music said.  “He was listening to Natalie Merchant, Enya and Kenny Rogers, not Bobby Vinton and Lou Christie, in the eighties and nineties.” 

The multi-talented, trailblazing Clark Race passed away in 1999 at the age of 66 from a heart attack, and a prolonged battle with throat cancer.]





Posted 4/23/23....WHAT’S YOUR NAME (part two; the second half)

A post back on 3/26/23 dove into the origin of band names, covering the first half of the alphabet, “A” through “M.” This is the latter half, “N” through “Z.”  Enjoy diving in...and at the end, you’ll be able to catch some Z’s (well, one, of course).

New York Dolls  

Free weekly publication Creative Loafing Tampa Bay (cltampa.com) in a June 3, 2009 story on the resurrection of the New York Dolls provided some insight into the band’s formative years in the 1970s. “They are revered as proto-punks,” CLTB writer Eric Snider explained, “early players on the lower Manhattan scene that produced The Ramones, Television, Talking Heads et al.  Their look fell somewhere between androgynous and full-out drag, and for that they are credited as a major influence on glam-metal.  The Dolls released only two albums during their initial run: 1973's self-titled LP and the following year's Too Much Too Soon.  Both were critical darlings and commercial stiffs.  The band broke up in '75.”  

Tina Benitez-Eves on americansongwriter.com dove into the origin of the band’s name in her April 2023 piece, stating that “A repair shop for toy dolls inspired the name...By the late 1960s, guitarist Sylvain Sylvain (born Sylvain Mizrahi and no relation to designer Isaac) and schoolmate and drummer Billy Murcia were testing out their band The Pox.  After their singer quit, the two transitioned into fashion and launched the clothing line Truth and Soul—even selling pieces to famed fashion designer Betsey Johnson.  At the time, Sylvain also worked at a men’s boutique called A Different Drummer, which was adjacent to the New York Doll Hospital, the toy doll repair shop at 787 Lexington Ave in Manhattan.  Founded by the late Irving D. Chais, the doll hospital remained in operation from 1964 through Chais’ death in 2009.  The doll shop would also inspire the name of Sylvain’s future band: the New York Dolls.”



Oingo Boingo     

Surfing the web for the story behind the unusual band name Oingo Boingo turned up a couple of theories--1) the name comes from fictional characters Oingo and Boingo who were in the Japanese manga series JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure...or 2) the name springs from a Swahili phrase which means “thinking while dancing.”  According to allmusic.com, what we do know for sure is that this American new wave rock band “started not as a traditional group per se, as they were originally put together in the '70s by movie director Richard Elfman, who needed music for a whacked-out, John Waters-esque flick he was working on called Forbidden Zone.  Enlisting his younger brother Danny Elfman (vocals, guitar), Steve Bartek (guitar), and Johnny ‘Vatos” Hernandez (drums), the group originally went by the name Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo before shortening it to Oingo Boingo in 1979.”  

Danny Elfman stayed with Oingo Boingo all the way through the band’s dissolution in 1995, but on the side beginning in the 1980s he dove into composing scores for film and TV as well.  Starting in 1985 with the Tim Burton film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and continuing to present day with Netflix’s Wednesday, Elfman has racked up numerous awards and wide acclaim for his film and television program score achievements: Burton’s BatmanEdward Scissorshands and Beetlejuice;The Nightmare Before Christmas, Good Will Hunting, Milk, the Men in Black series of movies, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, A Civil Action, A Simple Plan, Silver Linings Playbook, the TV theme’s for Desperate Housewives and The Simpsons, and dozens more.


Procol Harum   

Procol Harum was one of the first rock groups in the 1960s to thread classical music into its overall sound, which overall has been described as a blend of art-rock, psychedelia, a bit of prog, etcetera.  Their best material had, for lack of a better word, majesty (cue up “A Whiter Shade of Pale” or “Conquistador” or “A Salty Dog”).  

Fittingly, the band’s name itself has a kind of grandeur.  In an interview with founding band member/vocalist/keyboard player Gary Brooker--conducted on July 27, 2003 at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts by the Acoustic Storm website’s Jeff Parets--the name of the band was the first order of business.  Brooker told his interviewer, “We got named after a cat, a little Burmese Brown...that was its pedigree name: Procol Harum.  It didn’t sound like anything, we didn’t really know what our music was, what box that fit in either.  It didn’t fit anywhere, sort of an ambiguous name like that; it did have sort of a Latin sound to it.  We found out a couple months later that if we had spelled it right, it would’ve meant ‘beyond these things,’ which is just sort of a happy coincidence.  But we’ve always been happy with our name; I suppose every band is.  I’m just glad we weren’t called Strawberry Alarm Clock or something.  It would’ve been a bit embarrassing 35 years later.”


Quicksilver Messenger Service  

This group was part of the mid-to-late 1960s San Fran stew, a melting pot of musicians and groups that put this City by the Bay on the map with the younger generation that was then flowering into power.  There was the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Cold Blood, It’s A Beautiful Day, Santana--and the Bay Area’s kings of psychedelic rock, Quicksilver Messenger Service.  This particular band fronted by two innovative, interweaving lead guitarists was at its best when performing live, and the group’s most coveted release is the 1969 Happy Trails album which captured all the extended riffing, noodling, accenting and soloing in all its ragged glory.  

The name Quicksilver Messenger Service was astrologically inspired, according to guitarist Gary Duncan.  In an undated classicbands.com post of a Gary James interview with Duncan, the guitarist was quoted as saying “Everybody tried to come up with some sort of strange name for some reason.  We had a bunch of different names and finally settled on Quicksilver Messenger Service because we're all the same birth sign.  We're all Virgo, which is ruled by Mercury.  Me and the drummer had the same birth date.  David Freiberg and John Cipollina had the same birth date.  So, between the four of us, there were only two birthdays.  Virgo is ruled by Mercury, which is Quicksilver.  Quicksilver is the winged messenger and Virgo is the sign of the selfless servant.  So, that's where the name Quicksilver Messenger Service name came from.”



Talking Heads’ David Byrne was the one chosen to induct Radiohead at the 2019 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, and there could not have been a more appropriate choice.  UK-based Far Out Magazine, an international publication within the culture sector, posted an online article on October 17, 2021 that described Radiohead’s reverence for The Heads, and how the former’s final choice of a name came about.  "From their incarnation,” said the article’s author Arun Starkey, “Radiohead were initially working under the name ‘On a Friday’...The group chose their first moniker after the day of the week on which they rehearsed.  However, when it came to signing a major record deal, Thom Yorke and the rest realized that the name, in fact, sucked.  In the end, they were told by label reps that they had to ditch the moniker or not get signed.”

The band, on the cusp of their label signing with EMI in late 1991, looked backwards for inspiration. They picked as their new name a song entitled “Radio Head”--a rather obscure one--from Talking Heads seventh album True Stories (1986).  “Talking Heads were one of the most experimental and pioneering groups of the 1970s and ’80s,” Starkey said at the conclusion of his article, “and they had a major impact on forging the creative vision of Radiohead, among countless others...When forced to find a new name or lose everything, Radiohead turned to their trusty heroes.  Given Radiohead’s penchant for the off-kilter and David Byrne’s wacky lyricism, for anyone looking for a band name, Talking Heads lyrics seem like a good place to start.  A brilliant portmanteau, what a critical decision this was.” 


Spandau Ballet   

"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."  Maybe that’s a credo of all of the Warhol acolytes who, through the years since 1969, assumed the publisher’s mantle of Andy’s magazine Interview.  It certainly seems so, judging by the magazine’s April 29, 2015 interview highlighting an upcoming film project by Spandau Ballet.  This musical heartthrob once ruled the airwaves some four decades ago but faded from the limelight, and so the band was quite fortunate in 2015 to be accorded another quarter-hour of fame--as they announced their new tell-all documentary. 

Interview’s Gerry Visco started off his conversation with the band members with an introductory encapsulation of Soul Boys of the Western World, and fortunately for our purposes here he also nails the name origin.  “The film documents the British band’s mercurial career through its formation in 1976 to its breakup in 1990 and subsequent reunion in 2009,” Visco said.  “It is no mere biopic; rather, the focus is on the legacy left by Spandau Ballet’s unique blend of glam-rock and punk fashion as ‘New Romantics.’  Over the course of their career, members Tony Hadley, Steven Norman, John Keeble, and Gary and Martin Kemp have sold more than 25 million albums.  The band’s name comes from graffiti written on the wall of a nightclub bathroom in Berlin.  It refers to Spandau Prison, a former Nazi prison in which war criminals were held after the end of World War II.”  There you have it.  But another source apart from Interview added this twist to the name origin: “Spandau” was the prison, indeed, but the "ballet" portion of the band’s name refers to the spasmodic movements of the prisoners who were hanged there.  [Editor’s aside:  Ugh.  Nice name for a band whose biggest ‘80s hit--the blah, bland ballad “True”--was so oversaturated on MTV and Radio that some viewers and listeners I’m sure pined for a noose.]


Toad the Wet Sprocket  

Toad the Wet Sprocket is a cult-revered, Santa Barbara-based rock group who came together in 1986, dishing out some smart, crisp and catchy pop music while still staying within the boundaries of some wider definitions of alternative music.  When their third album Fear came out in 1991, Seattle grunge was beginning to brim over because of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden who were coming on the scene, but Toad managed to garner some strong radio and MTV play anyway, with songs like “All I Want” and “Walk on the Ocean.”  But geez, that band name...In an August 7, 2018 post on the website stereogum.com, interviewer Michael Tedder asked this question of Glen Phillips, the lead singer of this ‘90s indie-alt-pop band: “There’s a lot of interviews where you guys talk about how much you hate your band name.  Is that still the case?”  And Phillips answered: “Ahh, I mean I don’t love it.  It’s what we are at this point. It was a joke and it’s a good lesson in how you know if you make a joke it might just stay with you, which is fine.”  

Toad cultists are certainly in on the joke but for those not in the know, a blogger named Jack Calhoun fills in the details via his June 10, 2021 post on medium.com: “In a 1975 skit on Monty Python’s BBC comedy show, performer Eric Idle did a bit about a fictitious band named Toad the Wet Sprocket that had just finished a successful European tour despite the loss of their ‘lead electric triangle player, Rex Stardust.’  Idle came up with the band name as a throwaway, never thinking twice about it...More than a decade later, a new rock band was making waves in the suburbs of Southern California.  Preparing to head out on its first tour, the group lacked only one thing: a name.  And so, being witty kids and fans of Monty Python, the band members landed on the one name Eric Idle had been certain no one would ever use: Toad the Wet Sprocket.  

By the early ’90s, Toad the Wet Sprocket had become a staple of rock radio.  Eric Idle, now a resident of Los Angeles, was driving in his car one day when ‘Walk on the Ocean’ came over the airwaves.  ‘I was driving along the freeway in LA,’ he said, ‘and a song came on the radio, and the DJ said, “that was by Toad the Wet Sprocket,” and I nearly drove off the freeway.’”


Uriah Heep  

On the band’s official website uriahheep.com, Martin Popoff provides a brief biography that puts a positive spin (but of course) on the group’s place in the history of rock music: “Among venerable UK rock institutions, with Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull dispersing, we are, perhaps, really, down to just Deep Purple, Yes and Uriah Heep left to uphold the tradition of quality original progressive hard rock forged at the very beginning of a golden era for this music, late ‘60s into the nexus year that was 1970.  At that crossroads, along with Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, Uriah Heep helped invent a decorative and uniquely British form of heavy metal with their debut album, Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble.  The record was offered as self-titled on American shores, but whatever the titling, it was historically massive in the invention of a music format that would rule the ‘70s and only intensify in the ‘80s.  It is from those roots...that Uriah Heep began their ascendance both at home and in the US, culminating in their most enduring works, Demons and WizardsThe Magician’s Birthday and Sweet Freedom, all of which went gold in the States, entering the Billboard Top 40, ensuring years of concert dominance for the band throughout the ‘70s.”

The band had first been operating under the moniker Spice but once they gathered together in late 1969 and started working on their debut album in London’s Lansdowne Studios, a consensus arose about the need for a new name.  Charles Dickens happened to be in the news and top of mind at that time, because of a milestone that was made much of: 1970 was the one hundredth anniversary of the famous English novelist’s passing.  So a noteworthy character, though not a man of great character, Uriah Heep, was plucked from Dicken’s 1850 novel David Copperfield.  The band even gave a further nod to Dicken’s creation through the naming of their debut album, Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble, which hit record stores in the summer of 1970.  In the novel, the unctuous, conniving and calculating Heep once says to David Copperfield “I am well aware that I am the ‘umblest person going.”


Vampire Weekend  

Indie music magazine Under the Radar was the first nationally distributed print magazine to interview Vampire Weekend and thus early on helped to break the band.  The interview took place in 2007 when these four Columbia University upperclassmen were still just peddling CD-Rs of their band’s earliest material.  It would be almost a year until the group released their official debut album on XL Recordings, and this earlier interview helped nail the band’s influences and engender audience appeal: “I think we are all drawn to the pop music of every era,” keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij said.  “We’re into bringing together music that come from disparate origins: things that come from folk traditions—like African guitar turns and punk chord progressions—and things that are more vaulted, like Bach or Tchaikovsky.”  Band leader Ezra Koenig also weighed in.  “Some people will say, ‘You kind of remind me of Paul Simon,’” he said.  “And some people will be like, ‘Yo!’ and then start talking about some super obscure genre of Kenyan pop that I’ve never heard.  Either way, I think people can appreciate our music without knowing or caring about our influences.”

Since you’ve read this far and obviously know and care about the band’s name origins, here is the rather simple tale.  Back in April 2013, in kind of a fun poke at bands they thought were named badly, the Denver Post came up with their top ten list on the subject and Vampire Weekend made the cut.  Post contributor Dylan Owens said, “Unless you really got in on the ground level, odds are the buzz around Vampire Weekend hit you before you could give their name an honest appraisal.  It never hit you that ‘Vampire Weekend’ sounds more a theater promo for the opening night of a Twilight movie than a buttoned-down indie rock band...The band name comes from the self-same title of frontman Ezra Koenig’s college film project, wherein a man named Walcot has to warn the mayor of Cape Cod of a vampire invasion...Koenig abandoned the project soon after, but came back to the name when he and a few of his fellow Columbia U friends decided to form a band.  Love it or loathe it, Koenig and co. have made their band-name bed, and are sleeping in it quite comfortably.”


Weather Report  

Even if you live under a rock, at some point you might have lifted it up, peeked out, and perked up your ears when you first heard Weather Report’s signature tune “Birdland.”  Jazz rock, or jazz fusion, is not everyone’s musical cup of tea, but this particular band was quite an innovative force in that realm--and a freakin’ powerhouse in live performance.  In a revealing 1997 interview with group co-founder Joe Zawinul conducted by music journalist Anil Prasad and posted on innerviews.org, Zawinul is asked for his assessment of the band’s impact.  “We started playing using electronic instruments in a way they had never been used,” Zawinul said.  “It’s just fine music played with different instruments.  Also, the compositional quality of Wayne Shorter and myself, frankly speaking, is unique.  The way we put together quartets and quintets—there was nothing missing.  Weather Report sounds as fresh today as it did then...Dizzy Gillespie once called me to say ‘Man, I just heard one of your records. That’s music, man.’  That really made me feel good because we had some funny backlash from people who said we were selling out because we were using electronic instruments.  It’s such idiocy...An instrument is not important.  It is the way one plays that is important.”

On the incredibly comprehensive website weatherreportdiscography.org tucked into the review of the band’s first album, Zawinul is quoted about how he and the other two founders of the group--saxophonist Wayne Shorter and bassist Miroslav Vitous--struggled to find just the right name for their new band.  “We thought the Wayne Shorter-Joe Zawinul Quintet...sounded ridiculous,” recalled Zawinul.  “So we were in my apartment in New York–Miroslav, Wayne and I–trying to find a name which would say something, especially what people had in their minds all the time.  So we were thinking about Daily News, but that didn’t sound good.  Thousands of names–Audience, Triumvirate, all kinds.  Suddenly, Wayne popped out Weather Report, and we all said, ‘That’s it!'”  Wayne Shorter, in this same section of the website, is also quoted about what unspooled from this brainstorming.  “We were sitting together one evening, talking, and trying to figure out what we would call the band,” said Shorter.  “We didn’t want just an ordinary name, but something that would hit everybody.  So I said what does everybody do at 6 o’clock every evening?  They watch the news.  And what do they want to hear?  The weather!  So I said, ‘How about Weather Report?’  And that was how it got started.” 



My first brush with the British band XTC occurred in 1979 when I was working for WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation as their Pittsburgh field merchandiser, responsible for in-store displays of the WEA group’s new albums.  One morning I unrolled a cylindrical cardboard tube that had been shipped to me by the company and discovered that the posters inside were reproductions of the band’s freshly-released studio album Drums and Wires.  It was a pleasure to plaster the record stores with these, as I flat-out loved this XTC album--not only the cover, but the captivating sounds tucked within.  From Newcity magazine’s website, specifically a March 11, 2022 post on music.newcity.com, I gleaned a bit of info on the start-up of the band: Three musicians--guitarist Andy Partridge, bassist Colin Moulding and drummer Terry Chambers--formed the band in 1972 “as sort of a glam-band outfit inspired by the New York Dolls.”  1979’s Drums and Wires, their third overall UK album but the first to be released in the U.S., contained their breakthrough single “Making Plans for Nigel,” and the band then continued recording and releasing albums pretty regularly through the ‘80s with a couple more in the ‘90s and one in the year 2000.

XTC’s music is described quite well in the aforementioned Newcity article.  The piece’s author Craig Bechtel expressed it this way: “XTC was never really a punk band, and never really post-punk, either.  Given their origins, the group could more accurately be categorized as pre-punk, but the truth is, it was a pop band that harnessed frenetic punk energies and rode the punk wave into new wave and beyond.”  And the origin of their name?  Whatsinabandname.com reports that the band in 1975 were casting about for a final, official moniker and certain suggestions were bounced including The Dukes of Stratosphere, Terry and the Lovemen and The Three Wise Men.  They finally coalesced behind the name XTC, which lead singer Andy Partridge declared had once come to him while he was watching an old Jimmy Durante film called This Time For Keeps.  In the film Durante apparently at one point says or sings--in his inimitable style of zealously overemphasizing his words and phrases--“Dats it.  I’m in ECS-TA-SY!”  Some on the internet, though, wonder aloud if the band’s name really came from the drug ecstasy instead, but XTC had become the band’s name before the drug MDMA was called ecstasy.  



British band Yes formed in 1968 in London with vocalist Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire the driving forces behind pulling in the rest of their chosen talents, guitarist Peter Banks, keyboard player Tony Kaye and drummer Bill Bruford.  They produced their self-titled debut in 1969 and then right on its heels Time and a Word in 1970, both of which bore a couple of cover songs in addition to group-member compositions; the band was still finding its way and shaping its sound.  On the band’s official website yesworld.com where the group’s entire history is delineated, the arrival of the band’s third album is hailed as a truly pivotal moment for the group.  “It was with the release of The Yes Album in April of 1971 that the public began to glimpse the group’s full potential,” the bio reads.  “That record, their first made up entirely of original compositions, was filled with complex, multi-part harmonies.  Loud, heavily layered guitar and bass parts, beautiful and melodic drum parts and surging organ (with piano embellishments) passages bridging them all.  Everybody was working on a far more expansive level than on any of their previous recordings.”

This was the beginning of the prog rock band’s string of successes in chart climbing and fan building--and personnel shifting.  1971’s The Yes Album featured new guitarist Steve Howe who had stepped aboard to replace the exiting Peter Banks ...Fragile came later in 1971 with keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman entering beforehand to replace Tony Kaye...1972 brought the classic album Close to the Edge with drummer Alan White entering the band after the fact, replacing Bill Bruford...and then the group released their live triple-album set, 1973’s Yessongs.  

But back to the beginning before the Yes name, when the band was still a no-name.  The band played their first public show as Yes in August 1968 (a year before their first album was released) and according to yesworld.com, Peter Banks had thrown out the idea for that name and the group thought that “like The Who, it was short enough to ensure top billing.”  The name stuck, of course, but for a bit of whimsy one might want to check out progarchives.com where there are fans of the band posting their own ideas of how the name came about (none of them on the mark).  There was one post claiming it might have come from “the affirmations by Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses” because “the book contains probably the most famous yeses in all of English literature.”  Another fan proffered a theory linking the name to The Beatles’ 1968 movie Yellow Submarine.  He or she believed that the band members had all seen the film “probably tripping their brains out” and were bowled over as the word “yes” flashed multiple times onscreen “in big bold block letters, sometimes with exclamation points” during the tune ‘It’s Only a Northern Song.’”  Well, are these obviously just theories and do they have any merit at all?  Yes, and NO.


ZZ   TOP  

ZZ Top released their sixth studio album on Warner Brothers Records in 1979 and this was the first record of theirs that I had dug into deeply, principally because it was a work project.  I was employed at that time by WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation as a Pittsburgh-market display person, and consequently many a record-store wall and window in November of that year was adorned by me with posters of the Texas trio’s new album Degüello.  Songs like “A Fool for Your Stockings” and “Manic Mechanic” were heavy on my home turntable at the time, and seven years later in 1986 I ended up having a chance to actually meet the band.  As booking director of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena at that point in time, I had booked the band through out-of-town promoter Beaver Productions and we ended up achieving a “first”--THREE sold-out nights at the Civic Arena, April 9, 10 & 11, establishing ZZ Top as the first band in the arena’s then 25-year history to sell out three consecutive evenings.  Somewhere in dusty old copies of music trade publications like PollStar and Performance magazine there is undoubtedly a photo of the three band members holding a plaque commemorating the achievement, with Yours Truly and arena marketing maven Tom Rooney standing in as venue representatives.

On grunge.com, which is a website dedicated to in-depth articles about various niche interests including but not limited to cleaning up the murkiness of historical facts, Nicholas Vrchoticky wrote a piece on January 31, 2023 entitled “The Untold Truth About ZZ Top.”  Here Vrchoticky attempts to set the record straight on the origins of the band’s name: “For a long time, nobody knew exactly how they got their name, so the rumors started to burn while legends grew from their ashes. In an interview Billy Gibbons did with [Austin Public Television station] KLRUthey talk about the myths flying around as of 2008.  Gibbons' favorite is the rumor that says they're named after Zig Zag and Top cigarette rolling papers.  [Houston TV station] KHOU 11 addresses a different rumor that says ZZ Top got their name from a pizza delivery business sign that had some of the letters missing, causing it to spell ZZ Top.  Which is a great way to unveil an epiphany in a stoner film, but not a great way to name a band.

“Gibbons has set the record straight quite a few times now, beginning in a book he published.  The actual story, as Ultimate Classic Rock describes, was actually quite simple.  The band was sitting around their old apartment hang out, when Gibbons looked up at the posters.  Z.Z. Hill and B.B. King stood out as some of his favorite bands, so he mixed the two together but realized how much Z.Z. King sounded like B.B. King.  To switch things up and since B.B. King was at the top of the genre, "Top" became their stand in for B.B. King.  The band then and forever had their name.”





Posted 4/9/23....YOU LEARN


TWENTY YEARS AGO in the fall of 2003 I had my annual call with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Scott Mervis about the just-concluded outdoor concert season at Post-Gazette Pavilion (formerly Star Lake Amphitheatre).  I was the general manager of the facility beginning in 1995 and like many of my previous season-ending discussions, Scott (or another Post-Gazette writer) and I went over the shows and the highlights and lowlights--but this year’s call wasn’t quite as routine as its predecessors.  The difference this time: our show count was way down.

Here is the way Mervis’ October 10, 2003 article started out: “To use a term that’s been tossed around in the baseball playoffs, the Post-Gazette Pavilion played ‘small ball’ with the occasional grand slam in the summer of 2003.  The Burgettstown venue staged the smallest number of shows in its 14-year history with 29, compared to the high of 44 in 1995 and 1996, and drew the third lowest number of fans, with 431,325, compared to the peak of 655,210 in 1999.”  But Mervis then pointed out that this wasn’t necessarily bad or portentous news.  The Clear Channel owned and operated venue, he wrote, “booked its shows wisely.  The average attendance per show, 14,873, was second only to the 1999 mark of 15,600.”

Mervis wasn’t just spinning positive here to achieve balanced reporting; he was right on the money.  I had mentioned to him during our phone call that our Clear Channel Entertainment bookers were beginning to follow a new directive that had for a while been percolating at best in the hallowed halls of our decisionmakers.  It had clearly been time for our company to start shifting our emphasis on booking quantity to one of booking quality.

Prior to 2003 our venue’s bookers had always been walking a bit of a high wire in the preseason.  Their true mission was to nab the major attractions that touring agencies were offering to summer venues like ours, but in the spirit of trying to meet the venue’s need for tonnage--i.e., having a large number of shows to satisfy sponsor and season ticket holders’ expectations--the bookers were also on the lookout for midrange bands and even occasionally the packaged, multi-act shows featuring lower-rung artists.  These latter bookings of long-in-the-tooth acts--ones where we essentially gulped, rolled the dice and prayed--ended up not even approaching a “must-see” level with our concert-going fans, and thus the end result for us was a marginal win or, more often than not, a bottom-line loss on the event’s overall balance sheet.  


There had been a number of shows previous to 2003 that fell into that category of grasping at straws.  On June 12, 1992 we offered up to our southwestern PA music fans a four-act package of bands whose careers by then were admittedly pretty much running on fumes: Blue Oyster Cult, Jefferson Starship, Molly Hatchet and Leslie West.  We believed, though, that this lineup might rekindle a fired-up devotion to classic rock especially at a bargain basement ticket price but, well, no one seemed compelled to care.  

The show turned out to be interminable, and it wasn’t just the fact that we knew we were circling the drain.  The show itself ran until 1:30 in the morning due to, among other things, prolonged arguments between the bands’ grizzled tour managers as to who would play last, or next to last, or next-next to last.  And so at 1:30am over the sparsely attended pavilion and lawn, and consequently then up and over the rolling hills of tiny Hanover Township, floated the lovely strains (and lyrics) of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”  Indeed, looking at our financials the day after, we had reaped what we had sown.


Yet we continued to pursue these kind of past-their-prime multi-artist shows over the years before our 2003 epiphany.  We had a ‘70s Star Party on June 2, 1995 with Three Dog Night, Little River Band, Rare Earth, Edgar Winter and Guess Who, and that night with each artist’s turn on stage we couldn’t help but play “Guess who’s still in the band.”  That, uh, might have had just a little something to do with the meager turnout.  A few years later in August 1998 I remember that we piecemealed together an ‘80s package to fill in a Friday night, this one with a lineup that included Human League and Howard Jones as support acts.  When this August 14 show with headliner Culture Club initially went on sale, it limped out of the gate and all I could do was wonder “Do you really want to hurt us?”

And on August 10, 2001 we presented a Summer Oldies concert trying to lure out to our venue the elderly-but-spry.  The line-up consisted of 1960s hitmakers Tommy James, The Turtles, Gary Puckett, Grass Roots and The Buckinghams, but I recall that we lacked strong radio support from the popular oldies station 3WS, and also that as a rule the older generation didn’t particularly like to leave their comfort zones--whether they be living room couches or familiar haunts closer to home--in order to trek all the way out to the wild and woolly Post-Gazette Pavilion.

Other misfires for us through the years were of a different stripe.  One event that didn’t involve any band beyond its shelf life was one that we imaginatively cobbled together for May 11, 2001.  This was Fake Fest, a daylong affair with different tribute acts.  It certainly looked good on paper: no less than eight tribute bands performing on the main stage one after the other, throughout the afternoon and evening, churning out Rock’s greatest hits.  With this time-honored music from The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Grateful Dead, Kiss and Mötley Crüe, really, who could resist??!!!  But as we eventually found out, resistance was not futile.  Attendance was abysmal--on a level of Pepto Abysmal.

One other misfire of note was June 24, 1995’s Deep Space Spectacular, which our Houston-based parent company Pace had put together and then offered up to all of its venues including ours.  This was a high-concept affair, a full orchestra playing an evening of themes from classic sci-fi films and television programs like the original Star Trek and its next-gen installment, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Star Wars and more.  There was an accompanying laser lightshow too, providing something symbiotic with the sonic--a synchronized lighting plan so that the swooping and swelling sci-fi themes could play against the night sky.  We even found a Star Trek: Voyager actor willing to materialize--the emergency medical hologram also known as The Doctor (actor Robert Picard), who climbed aboard agreeing to an onstage Q & A session and to fan autographs in a side tent.

All of this was to no avail.  Though we were bullish about the possibility of a strong showing on the first day of ticket sales, we found that all of our time and effort had amounted to throwing our money into a black hole.  Then about a week before the show we thought about asking our Houston bosses if we could deep-six our Deep-Space-Now-Less-Than-Spectacular, but this turned out not to be an option.  The night of the event the weather was fine and the lasers lit the night sky while the orchestra dazzled.  The audience, though, true to predictions was insufferably small.  And when we added up all of the event expenses the next day, we closed the folder on a grand experiment that had propelled us on a journey from deep space into deep shit...

Which brings us back to the belt-tightening on booking shows that literally paid dividends for our venue in 2003, and my post-season interview with Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  Mervis’ headline for the article was “Post-Gazette Pavilion Does More with Less in ’03,” and in his piece he credited a lot of our venue’s success to country music.  “For its high slugging percentage,” Mervis said, “the promoter might want to thank country hunk and former jock Toby Keith, who closed out the season drawing 25,137, the ninth-biggest crowd in the venue’s history.”  [Editor’s note: Little did Mervis know that just one year later Keith would end up setting an all-time attendance record at the venue.  On September 24, 2004 a total of 27,250 fans flowed into--and then pert near overflowed--Post-Gazette Pavilion, beating the previous record holder Steve Miller who drew a staggering 26,154 fans in 1999.]  

Mervis then rounded out his incisive examination of Post-Gazette Pavilion’s 2003 season by citing a few other highlights:

* “Once again the biggest overall draw was the Dave Matthews Band, with two performances totaling 41,850 fans.”

* “Jimmy Buffett’s streak of sell-outs grew to 18, as 23,593 Parrotheads visited ‘Burgettstown Beach.’”

* “OzzFest, featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Disturbed, P.O.D., and Chevelle, sold out for the seventh straight year.”

* “Four out of the five country shows--Kenny Chesney, Brooks and Dunn, Alabama and Toby Keith--were sell-outs.”

* “First-time artists at the venue included ZZ Top, The Blue Man Group, The Doors (21stCentury), Evanescence, John Mayer, DMX, Nas, Lil’ Kim, Chingy, Queens of the Stone Age, The Donnas and Audioslave.”

* “The Post-Gazette Pavilion competed against a handful of major arena tours--including Justin Timberlake/Christina Aguilera, Fleetwood Mac, Dixie Chicks and Tim McGraw--that passed through Mellon Arena.  The summer also saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band breaking in PNC Park before 47,000 fans.”

The last paragraph of Mervis’ article consisted not of a look back but a stated desire to look forward.  He asked me my opinion of the year to come, and not having an un-fogged crystal ball at that point in time I could only tell him what I suspected might be coming our way.  “Jones says to expect return visits from a number of the top draws,” Mervis wrote as his conclusion, “plus the possibility of Sting, Fleetwood Mac and Steve Miller.”  For the record, I was wrong about Fleetwood Mac and Steve Miller.  They were no-shows in 2004.  But I was right about Sting, and his July 10, 2004 concert was one that is still talked about in some circles today--Sting’s special guest who opened the show was Annie Lennox.  And...the show count for 2004 ended up almost exactly the same as 2003’s.  Post-Gazette Pavilion, with lessons learned that less is more, hosted 30 concerts from May 22 through September 24, 2004.





Posted 3/26/23....WHAT’S YOUR NAME

Musicasaurus originally planned to do this post as a look at the origins of band names--and that still IS the plan--but I also found on Quora, the question-and-answer website, a fun related exercise.  Some contributors to Quora came up with names of bands that reflected a fanciful merging of two or three different artists or groups, and some of the results are quite interesting and at times often amusing.  Judge for yourself; dip into this meld of monikers first, and then you’ll see that I have worked my way--halfway, actually--through an alphabetized list of artists with a paragraph in each case on their origin stories...ENJOY.

Part one of two: A FANCIFUL BAND NAME GAME (with all due credit to Quora contributors Richard Ferrara, Seamus Flynn, Brian G. Doctor of Funkology, G.M., Number Six and Eddy Borremans):

[Some leadoff examples to set the tone] Ratt and Poison merge to form Ratt Poison.....Fleetwood Mac joins up with String Cheese Incident to form Mac 'n Cheese Incident.....Nine Inch Nails merges with Tool to form Nine Inch Tool.....and Limp Bizkit and Panic! At the Disco join together to form Limp At the Disco.

* Cream & Sugarland

* Bush and the Presidents of the United States of America

* Bad English Queen

* Yes No Doubt

* Crowded House 3 Doors Down

* Styx & Stones

* Rage Against Florence and the Machine

* Petty Cash

Korn Hole

* The Flaming Lipps Inc.

* Temple Of The Three Dog Night Ranger

* Jon Spencer Davis Group Blues Explosion

* Kajagoogoo Dolls

* The Police Cars

* Van Morrissey

* Simon Le Bon Iver

* Beatallica

* Barry Whitesnake

* The Grateful Dead Kennedys

* Bell Biv DEVO

* Beastie Boys II Men

* Liz Phairport Convention

Rare Earth, Wind & Fire

Alice Cooper in Chains

* Electric Light Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Ian Dury and the New Kids From the Blockheads

* The Boomtown Cats



Here we have an artist’s name that starts with a number, so it is positioned before the alphabetized list of artists begins.  Rumors had dogged 10cc for a while after its formation claiming that they picked a name which, it was said, represents a number close to the average amount of human male ejaculation at the point of orgasm.  But Snopes says “Nope.”  On snopes.com it states the name came from a dream had by Johnathan King, the record producer who signed the band to their recording contract with UK Records.  King said that in his dream he saw on a building’s face a hoarding (British for “billboard”) that said “10cc The Best Group in the World.”  Snopes also in its short post on this subject exercises emission control, because it states that the average amount of semen ejaculated at orgasm by males is actually more like 3 or 4 cc’s (hopefully this correction is a load off everyone’s mind).


Boston’s bad boys came together in 1970.  Drummer Joey Kramer suggested the band’s name should be Aerosmith, a word he had habitually scrawled on his school notebooks in his earlier days, somewhat inspired by the songs and the album artwork of the 1968 Harry Nilsson record Aerial Ballet.  There has, however, been some erroneous outside chatter through the years about the name stemming instead from the Sinclair Lewis novel Arrowsmith--but that doesn’t fly, according to most sources.



This British trio of pop singers Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward racked up a lot of UK-to-the-USA hits in the 1980s after forming at the beginning of that decade.  They’re best known for chart-climbing hits including “Cruel Summer,” “Really Saying Something” and “Venus.”  Their group name is a blend springing from two sources--the Saturday morning kids’ show The Banana Splits and a song they adored by Roxy Music entitled “Pyjamarama,” a single released by the latter in 1973.



This California-based foursome of John and Tom Fogerty, Doug Clifford and Stu Cook had been playing as a unit since 1959, and they might not have enjoyed quite the level of success they attained beginning in 1967 if they had stuck with one of their former names--The Golliwogs.  How they arrived at CCR: “Creedence” came from band member Tom Fogerty’s friend Credence Newball; “Clearwater” was borrowed from a then-popular Olympia Beer TV ad which promoted “It’s the water--the natural artesian water of Tumwater” (a city in Washington state where the beer was brewed); and “Revival” pointed to the band’s tendency to burn through other names before finding THE ONE.  [A parting note of interest here: in just a three-year period, 1969-1971, this group racked up fourteen consecutive Top Ten singles in the U.S.A.]



This indie pop-rock group from Bellingham, Washington first formed in 1997 and cribbed their name from a song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band that had been included on the latter’s 1967 debut album Gorilla.  Bonzo band member Neil Innes’ original inspiration for co-writing and naming the song “Death Cab for Cutie” was a story with that title that he had spied in a pulp fiction magazine.  One can catch the Bonzos performing this song at the end of the Beatles’ classic mind-scrambling movie, 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour.



Co-founder Maurice White was a driving, corralling force as he worked in 1969 and 1970 to complete the lineup of musicians who would then comprise Earth, Wind & Fire.  According to the band’s website earthwindandfire.com, “EWF combined high-caliber musicianship, wide-ranging musical genre eclecticism, and ’70s multicultural spiritualism.”  White was indeed a spiritual soul AND was astrologically inclined.  In 1970 he shed the band’s current name The Salty Peppers--“the smartest move of his young career,” according to the website--and rechristened it Earth, Wind & Fire.  White’s astrological sign Sagittarius had apparently ruled the day, because a primary elemental quality is Fire and seasonal qualities are Earth and Air.  White then squeezed out Air in favor of Wind because he felt the finalized band name rolled off the tongue just a bit better.



This British quartet who had a style combining blues and rock and who also knew their way around a boogie came together in 1971.  According to Foghat’s website, that was the year that two of the members of Savoy Brown, Lonesome Dave Peverett and Roger Earl, split from that band to form the new group.  Foghat ended up conquering FM Radio in the U.S. in 1975 with the release of their fifth album Fool for the City, which spawned “Slow Ride”--a song that rock station deejays all across America must have colluded to play every five minutes (or so it seemed).  Speaking only for myself, after a while the tune gave me foghead.  The band’s nonsensical name came from a Scrabble game that Lonesome Dave and his brother were playing (not sure which of them attempted to get that word to count).



According to Phil Lesh in his 2005 memoir Searching for the Sound, here’s how the band found their name in late 1965: “What on earth to call ourselves?  The dam finally broke when one day Jerry danced in my door all a-sparkle.  We poured over all the reference books in the house.  Including Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.  Coming up empty until Jer picked up an old Britannica World Language Dictionary that Ruth had in the house.  In that silvery elf-voice he said to me, 'Hey, man, how about the Grateful Dead?'  It hit me like a hammer.  It seemed to describe us so perfectly.  I started jumping up and down shouting 'that's it, that's it!'  Our suggestion didn't immediately warm the hearts of all the other guys.  Pig and Bob, I know, thought it was too weird."



According to an Atlantic Records publicist, the name for this group came from lead singer Darius Rucker’s apparent tendency in his college years to give his friends nicknames based on physical attributes.  Rucker attended the University of South Carolina and when he was performing one night in a band at a campus party, two of his college buddies walked in.  One of them had large round eyeglasses that made him look owl-like, and the other had big puffy cheeks that made him look like a blowfish.  Rucker yelled out “Look!  Hootie and the Blowfish!” and after his bandmates’ laughter subsided, the phrase lingered and the group adopted it soon thereafter.  Hootie’s debut album Cracked Rear View on Atlantic Records came out in 1994 and became a monster-seller across the country, aided in fact by the formidable AOR (album-oriented rock) station in Pittsburgh WDVE/FM 102.5.  This station was one of the earliest to champion the new record, helping to ignite its quick climb to massive national success.



Reportedly the manager of fellow Aussie band Midnight Oil, Gary Morris, suggested the name for INXS.  He said, “I saw a commercial for a brand of jam called IXL.  Their ad featured a guy who said, 'I excel in all I do.'  I'd recently seen the English band XTC when they toured Australia, and I loved their name: XTC - Ecstasy.  In that moment, I put all those thoughts together.  The name needed to be letters, but make a word.  I put the IXL jam commercial together with XTC and the concept of a band that was inaccessible and I had it: INXS."



Multiple sources suggest that it was bandmember Jorma Kaukonen who threw this name in the hat when the group was huddled to discuss possible group names in the summer of 1965.  A friend of Kaukonen’s who was into giving out nicknames had called the guitarist “Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane” in a scrambled nod to the blues pioneer Blind Lemon Jefferson.  “You want a silly band name?” Kaukonen reportedly said to his mates, “I got a silly name for you!”  I did uncover another account as to how the name might have come about, from an online article on the band put forth by the Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy of Ohio State University: The name Jefferson Airplane, the article posited, may have come “from a slang term for a used paper match splint to hold a marijuana joint to avoid burning one's fingers.”  Not sure who originally came up with this particular head-scratching origin story, but I hope they didn’t burn their fingers in the process.



The British band King Crimson were almost fully-formed in January 1969 as they began rehearsing in the basement beneath Calatychos Café in southwest London.  On January 22 the name “King Crimson” leapt out of some song lyrics that Pete Sinfield had been working on--his draft of a song he called “The Court of the Crimson King”--and the band members liked it and adopted the name.  The Crimson King was a term that Sinfield had come up with to enable him to spin tales about dark forces in the world--one of the emerging themes in his lyrical pursuits--without simply falling back on the existing standard names for the devil such as Beelzebub.  The band’s first gigs began a few months later and their October 1969 debut album In the Court of the Crimson King--a melding of pop, classical, jazz and rock influences; “a brilliant mix of melody and freakout” as one review had labeled it--is a prog rock classic with fantastical lyrics, Mellotron and much more, starting with the buzz saw opener “21stCentury Schizoid Man” and closing with the majestic 9 ½-minute title track.



Pick your own descriptor here: I’m sayin’ rap-meets-metal, but others have pigeonholed the band as rap-rock, nu metal, hard rock, alternative metal--they’ve even been labeled frat-metal.  Limp Bizkit sprouted up out of Jacksonville, Florida’s underground music scene in 1994, and three years later released their debut album Three Dollar Bill, Y’all.  Lead singer Fred Durst talked about the origin of the band name on Reddit AMA (i.e., Reddit Ask-Me-Anything) and is quoted as saying, “I wanted it to have the same roll off of the tongue as Led Zeppelin, but be so odd that you would have a hard time forgetting it.  I remember things like Gimp Disco, Split Dickslit, Bitch Piglet, and somehow…Blood Fart.  Plus, we never really took our name or purpose very seriously considering the chances of succeeding were slim to none at that point.”  Well, they certainly found success, and later on infamy through their star appearance at Woodstock ’99 where things in this crowd of approximately 220,000 devolved into chaos and confusion--and contusions.  Google up that festival for more info, but let’s just say at the very least that for more than a few people at this concert, Limp Bizkit led to a limp and a med-kit. 



After the group came together in 1966 in Hereforshire County, England they spent some time under a few different band names but when signing to Island Records in 1969 took a novel approach--that is, they took their name from the title of a novel.  According to Campbell Devine, author of the definitive history of the group All the Young Dudes: Mott the Hoople & Ian Hunter, it was the group’s producer and new manager Guy Stevens who keyed in on the 1966 novel Mott the Hoople by L.A.-based writer Willard Manus.  Manus’ novel is centered on an individual named Norman Mott, and he is actually based on a character named Major Hoople from a real-world comic strip called Our Boarding House.  According to Manus, “Hoople” is also a slang word “meaning variously fool, rogue, buffoon and even sucker.  That’s why my character Norman Mott sometimes thinks of himself as a Hoople.”...Though the group Mott the Hoople in 1969 had a new name, a new label (Island) and a well-connected manager, fame eluded them and sales of their first four albums stoked only cult-level interest from the public.  The fifth album changed that.  Fan David Bowie presented the band with a song of his called “All the Young Dudes,” which quickly turned into a full album (same title) produced by Bowie, and so the glam sound of Mott was finally catching on and drawing fans throughout the UK and across the pond in the U.S.






Oxford Academic is Oxford University Press’ platform for serving “the diverse and changing research needs of students, researchers, professors, and practitioners” and self-touts its “commitment to publishing pioneering authors and authoritative content.”  In the November 2018 issue of the Cerebral Cortex Journals–volume 28; issue 11–a study is posted related to brain functions when a person listens to music.  The long and the short of it: LSD “alters the neural response to music in brain regions supporting basic and higher-level musical and auditory processing, and areas involved in memory, emotion, and self-referential processing,” and there are “associated increases in emotionality, connectedness, and meaningfulness in response to music that are commonly observed after the administration of LSD and other psychedelics.” 

Of course I am also picturing in my head that famous anti-narcotics television ad from 1987 where an egg is held up by a man who says “This is your brain.”  He motions to a frying pan, saying “This is drugs.”  Then he cracks the egg and fries it up, saying “This is your brain on drugs.”  I don’t know if that eggs-actly makes sense, and according to Wikipedia, an association called the American Egg Board soon came out against this late-1980s media campaign, stating that they felt eggs were being unnecessarily and arbitrarily linked “with the unhealthiness of drug use.”

Whatever...What IS certain is that LSD as well as other psychedelics alter perceptions and there is a strong response in the brain to the music experience.  A prime example of this was the Trips Festival held on January 21-23, 1966 at Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco.  According to Mark Paytress, author of a deep dive into legendary in-concert moments entitled I Was There/Gigs That Changed the World, 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...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.”

One year after the Trips Festival, across the pond in England, 25-year-old Paul McCartney admitted in a June 19, 1967 ITV interview that he had used LSD four times, lamenting the fact that he’d previously revealed this at the behest of a newspaper reporter.  McCartney made it clear that he had only been trying to answer questions honestly, and that the media was responsible for circulating and regurgitating this tidbit.  Asked if he thought that he was now encouraging his fans to take drugs, McCartney replied “I don’t think it will make any difference.  I don’t think my fans are going to take drugs just because I did.”  The Beatle may have felt assured in that belief, however, a devil’s advocate may point to the overall group’s release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band just one month before.  This don’t-need-to-be-said-but-I’m-sayin’-it immensely popular album included hints, if not outright references to, the subject of drugs–“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” of course bore Lewis Carroll flavors and psychedelic imagery; the song “A Day in the Life” contained the lyrics “I’d love to turn you on;” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” boasted the words “I get high” with said friends. 

The late ‘60s was indeed the full flowering of LSD usage and experimentation.  It was sprouting up in musicians’ lyrics and lifestyles, and some members of their audiences across the country were tuning in, turning on and dropping...acid.  San Francisco in 1967 in particular, with its unstoppable influx of freewheeling, anti-war and pro-free love youth during the aptly named Summer of Love, was a true melting pot–where some inhabitants plainly saw things melting before their eyes.  

In 1968 the British band The Moody Blues released their album In Search of the Lost Chord which featured the song “Legend of a Mind,” a paean to the charismatic and controversial psychedelics guru Timothy Leary.  In a January 22, 2021 loudersound.com article entitled “The Moody Blues: stories of nights in technicolour satin and LSD,” author Henry Yates pointed out that some of the band’s inspiration was assuredly chemically induced.  “Though it’s hard to envisage The Moody Blues waving their freak flag high, let alone tripping on acid,” said Yates, “in fact LSD played a crucial role in their development of the band both musically and personally.”  Both guitarist Justin Hayward and keyboardist Mike Pinder were openly positive of their experiences, with the latter espousing the benefits to their recording process.  “It worked in terms of giving you more colour varieties to add to your sound," Pinder said.  "And you’d notice this more when you were in a meditative state.  And the drugs helped you get to that meditative state.” 

With seven albums released between 1967 and 1972 The Moody Blues became incredibly popular in their home country, but their success rippled then roared overseas as well–those seven albums in the U.S. all went gold.  Bill Graham, our country’s premier concert promoter at the time, brought the band over to The States in 1968 for their first American gigs, one in San Francisco and the other in New York City.  According to Yates, the group then became “massively popular in middle America” by touring the heartland cities as well.  “I had thought that we were doing an arty kind of thing but what we found out was that the people who loved us were working Americans,” Yates quoted Justin Hayward as saying.  “We played all these industrial towns–Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit–and got a really strong, loyal audience.”

Woodstock in 1969 was yet another testament to the growing level of acceptance of psychedelics, in terms of a sizeable swath of the younger generation and their musical heroes.  In an August 6, 2019 article, an interview with Carlos Santana by Rob Tannenbaum of the New York Times, the guitarist talked about his source of inspiration–and consternation–related to his now legendary performance with his band Santana at the Woodstock festival.  The title of the article says it all: “How Santana Hallucinated Through One of Woodstock’s Best Sets (His Own).”  Upon arrival at the site the first person Carlos saw was, in his words, “my brother and friend Jerry Garcia.  He looked like one of those yogis in a cave in the Himalayas.  He had that beatific, everything is all right already look.  For me, he was like assurance, confidence and sanctuary.”  

Garcia then offered up some mescaline principally because Carlos and his band were not slated to perform until very, very late in the evening, and it was just a little after 12:00 pm when Carlos had arrived.  Suddenly just two hours after dropping the tab, Carlos recalled, “there was a face in my face that said, ‘You need to go on right now, otherwise you’re not going to play.’  By this time I was really, really on it, you know?  I just held on to my faith, and what my mom taught me.  I asked, over and over, ‘Just help me stay in tune and on time.’”  Writer Tannenbaum then asked the guitarist if he was truly hallucinating during his set and Carlos replied “Oh totally.  You can tell by my body language.  I’m wrestling with the guitar–not wrestling in conflict, but like a surfer, wrestling to maintain and sustain a balance.  That’s the key to everything in life.  Whether you’re straight or on mescaline, maintain your composure and your balance.”


Musicasaurus wanted to dive a bit deeper into this “composure and balance” aspect that Carlos referenced above, so to round out this post about LSD (and/or other psychedelics) tied to musical experiences, I reached out to a few Musicasaurus readers to share their own stories.  I thank each of them for dredging up the memories of their youthful journeys to the centers of their minds.  The question I had asked: “If you were an individual who in your youth experimented with LSD or another psychedelic, and thus had a memorable experience at a concert OR while listening to a certain band’s album, please submit your recollection.”


Richard was the first person I posed my survey question to.  He reported back to me with this: “In the early 1970s I attended the University of Miami, and I saw a LOT of bands at my school or elsewhere around Miami.”  He then ticked off an impressive list of shows he’d seen: Electric Light Orchestra, Journey with founding members guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Gregg Rolie, and the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble, all at the university; and around Miami in different venues, Santana, It’s A Beautiful Day, Black Sabbath, The Byrds, Fleetwood Mac (it’s Future Games & Bare Trees period), Dylan backed up by The Band, The Beach Boys and The Who.  

When I asked Richard which shows he saw while doing acid, he replied “Could have been all of them.  I saw a lot of bands there on LSD; I was tripping practically every weekend, so much so that I might have even seen a band playing there that really wasn’t there...Okay, let’s see–Blue barrels?  Orange barrels?  Purple Haze?  Oh, yeah, it was windowpane!”  He and his friends, Richard then recounted, would sometimes scoop up a fallen coconut from one of the trees on campus, split it in two and fill the hollowed-out half with Hawaiian Punch, and then dose it with five or six hits of acid.  And of all the concerts Richard saw in his Lucy in the Sky college years, he remembers as one clear favorite a new group who ended up playing in the university’s cafeteria: Mahavishnu Orchestra.  “THIS show was incredible,” Richard recalled.  “Each band member was supremely talented; all were first-rate players, like Billy Cobham on drums, Jerry Goodman on violin and Jan Hammer on keyboards, and the band’s leader, the guitarist John McLaughlin, let all of them shine with individual solos.  Amazing!”  [Editor’s note: Lest you have drawn the conclusion that Richard essentially was living the life of a burnout, he did earn a “C” average his first semester but then made dean’s list the rest of the time at the university.]



“In the early 70's, the Allman Brothers were just starting out and had a show at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh.  About a half-dozen of us dropped acid, and off we went.  The opener was a band also from Macon–Wet Willie–newly signed, similar bluesy rock sound but a bit more soulful.  Great show, and after intermission, the Allmans came on and started with ‘One Way Out’–which to me sounded the same as Wet Willie, so I got up to leave.  My crew asked me: ‘What are you doing?’  My perfectly lucid (not) self said: ‘I've already seen this show.’  Back at our place, I asked: ‘How was that second Allmans' show?’  They put me in another room for the night.”



“On June 20, 1975 I attended the Pink Floyd concert at Three Rivers Stadium.  Although I had tried LSD and mescaline a few times in the past, I was not very experienced with psychedelics and can’t say that I ever had a pleasurable ‘trip.’  The other times I was just mostly paranoid.  I preferred to smoke pot.  But, I digress.  My main intent for this show was to trip.  After hooking up with friends at the stadium gates, we made our way to the floor of the stadium and I began my search for the goods.  Very quickly I found a guy sitting on the floor, openly announcing what he had to offer.  From a roll of what looked like amber-colored cellophane tape with red dots on it, he peeled me off a dose.  I think it cost $3.  I indulged and in fairly short order I was seeing and hearing things in a very altered state.  Soon after, the band started.  I recall being nothing but elated.  I’ve been told I had an ear-to-ear grin.  The band played most of Wish You Were Here (their current album), Dark Side of the Moon and a large portion of the yet-to-be-released Animals.  The highlight to the trip was when a large airplane model stealthily made its way from the top edge of the stadium to the back wall of the stage.  When the plane’s nose hit the wall, a musical crescendo occurred and the brightest lights possible illuminated the stage and most of the stadium.  It was quite the surprise to nearly everyone in attendance, and totally unforgettable.  I was still quite high as I left that night to walk to E. Ohio Street to catch a bus home.  Not sure how I managed that.”



“I honestly don’t remember much about this listening incident, but the album that totally had me was Steve Miller Band’s Sailor.  Not that I ever bought the album but whenever I heard it again it took me right back there…no, not a flashback per se but a fond memory to be sure.” 



“Hunter Thompson once wrote that you can measure the zeitgeist by noting which drugs are popular: psychedelics went out with LBJ and barbiturates came (back) in with RMN.  Despite a reduced market, hallucinogenics never actually went away.  And now, they’re being acknowledged once more as therapeutic!  One old LP gave me a deep and memorable experience: Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland.  Altered-state listening to it took me places in my perceptions that Huxley likely never dreamed of.  Oddly, I can’t remember where I was physically…maybe Slippery Rock, PA or Penn State’s Behrend location up by Erie.  Two caveats for anyone considering such travel: have a knowledgeable guide or at least a babysitter, and listen to music you might not otherwise.  I’ve got Pet Sounds lined up should I ever do it again.”



“Contrary to what I hope is the popular perception of me, I never listened to an album on LSD nor ever took LSD.  I more of a Mr. Natural.  I was also a connoisseur of the Carlos Castaneda series of books (now largely debunked) and thus perceived naturally-growing mushroom psychedelics as the one true path to higher consciousness.  Even then I only partook on two occasions—once on a Christmas Eve when I relived the birth of Christ and once at Winterland in San Francisco on the night of December 31, 1978.  The occasion was the closing of Bill Graham’s fabled Winterland and featured the Blues Brothers, New Riders of the Purple Sage and The Grateful Dead.  I was not a fan of the Dead before that night nor since that night.  But on that night...I TOTALLY got it.  My cosmic energy synched up with the collective vibrations of the room under the spell of the Dead.  We undulated, oscillated, billowed and flowed as one.  Jerry Garcia plucked on my tendons and talons as he wove Sugar Magnolia in and out of my pixilated atomic core.  I was the Dead and the Dead were me.  The spell was broken only when the Dead left the stage at about three in the morning.  Bill Graham then set up a sunrise breakfast buffet and I joined several hundred other famished hippies as we gently returned from the long, strange New Year’s Eve trip we had all taken together.”



“The Grateful Dead, Ithaca, New York, Cornell University in May 1977.  Possibly the most historic Dead concert ever–and I was there, tripping my ass off.  I was wandering around the venue (Barton Hall) right before the show and some hippie walked by saying ‘Blotter!  I got blotter!’  The acid was hit-by-hit spread out on a sheet of paper, and this guy had a paper hole-puncher that he used to punch out five hits of blotter for me and my friends...Decades later during my time as a deejay on WDVE, 102.5 Pittsburgh I interviewed (separately) Donna Jean Godchaux and Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead over the phone, and I told them I was there at Cornell in May ’77.  They both replied ‘WOW...You were there?!!’  This was my claim to fame amongst Deadheads.”



Penguin Random House, the renowned multinational conglomerate publishing company, offers up on its website this encapsulation of writer Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 road trip saga Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: “This cult classic of gonzo journalism is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page.”  

Musicasaurus was reminded of this when this particular submission from Bernie hit my email.  It is a bit lengthy but it also just might be some sort of minor classic, a mini-Fear and Loathing, Florida-style.  So here it is, as submitted...

It might have been ‘71 or ‘72 but there we were, ten people–or it might have been eleven or twelve–taking two cars and driving to Florida for spring break.  Six guys and four ladies–or it might have been seven guys and three ladies.  Anyway, we left with enough weed to get a small army stoned and land in jail for a cool 20 years.  Accompanying the weed and what seemed to be an entire case of Zig-Zag rolling papers, was an assortment of acid, ludes, and mescaline.   

“It's worth noting that a week before the concert and our second day in Florida, we were retained by the Florida Police and Disney security as we were videotaped smoking joints in the overhead tram cars as they traveled out of Fantasy Land.  Fortunately, we had already taken the ride through It's A Small World so when we got escorted out of the park and our weed was confiscated, it wasn't a complete waste.  

“Several days later, we became aware that Humble Pie with Steve Marriott was scheduled imminently to perform at Pirates World, a 3,500-seat open-ended barn that was transformed into a concert venue.  The trip to and from the venue is a little murky as is the number of people from our Freak Flag Traveling Weed Community who attended the show; there might have been two or six of us, with the number probably somewhere in between.  From what I recall we smoked a joint or two before the ride over to the concert–or it might have been a half dozen.  Green mescaline for sure, though, was in my pocket for good measure and away we went.  

“The parking lot was a big field and the crowd consisted of longhaired freaks.  Upon entering the barn (venue) we were greeted not by someone patting us down or asking us to empty our pockets, but by a random guy–not a venue employee–who was right there holding a small fish bowl full of different colored pills.  ‘Help yourself,’ he said, nodding toward the bowl, ‘and have a good time.’  Now, I can't tell you where I ate last Saturday night, but if you put my fellow pill-pushing Good Samaritan in a line-up today I’d be able to pick him out.  Before I asked him about the cost of this ‘medicine,’ I took a nanosecond to think about all the weed I had already smoked and the green mescaline that was just about to kick in at any moment.  As my brain cells were trying to keep up, the generous soul with the fish bowl said, ‘Take a handful; they're free.’

“I scoured through the bowl looking for anything green, assuming that if I took two pills of an unknown substance, my chances of overdosing were lessened if they were the same color.  And right then, because our little group of friends had somehow just scattered, my one buddy and I grabbed a drink to swallow the just-provided music enhancers and then headed up by ourselves to the top of a ridiculously steep set of bleaches.  I was a big fan of Humble Pie as were the 3,500+ fans that had overtaken this barn.  About a third of the way through their set, the band broke out into ‘I Don't Need No Doctor.’  

“At this point the music and I became one, and I was probably closer to needing a coroner than a doctor.  The band was tremendous (or, hmmm...they might have been just okay?).  I don't think anyone around us sat down even for a minute on those damn bleachers the entire night, and I remember thinking that the barn was swaying.  As the show continued, I had my Gibson air guitar at the ready for ‘30 Days in The Hole.’  Minutes later as I heard the first chord of that song, my green meds took me to a higher level and Steve Marriott and I were totally in tune.  

“EXCEPT...I turned to look at my friend as he had just begun to fall in between the bleachers in our row and the one in front of us.  Considering that we were three rows from the top of the bleacher platform, his fall of 30 feet (you know, it might have been 50 feet!) would have ended our evening and our mind-expanding experiences forever.  Without thinking I reached down, grabbed him by his shirt collar, pulled him up, and planted his two feet on the bleachers.  The rest of the show was without incident for us–and a gentler, more mature duo will be without their green meds next week at the Tedeschi Trucks Band concert in Pittsburgh at UPMC Events Center.” 





Posted 2/26/23....A WHOLE NEW WORLD


1973 was an interesting year of transition for me because I voluntarily upended my psyche.

I was a focused but freewheeling nineteen-going-on-twenty-year-old college student in Clarion, PA, and in one fell swoop that year I changed my environment, my bonds of recently forged friendships and my aspirations in life.  From the fall of 1971 through the spring of 1973 I attended Clarion State College majoring in English in the Liberal Arts program, but it occurred to me (or rather had reoccurred to me) early in my second year that my post-graduation career options would likely be limited to teaching positions.  I realistically couldn’t see myself continuing on that path, so I started to research the Journalism B.A. program at Penn State University and soon began the work of credit transfers, etc. for a planned move to PSU’s main campus for the 1973 fall semester.

I believed at the time that this redirection of mine in the latter half of my college undergrad years was a necessity.  The things I loved the most of my swirl of experiences at Clarion College were my communications courses, the ample opportunities for writing I found in certain courses and through journaling, and the intoxication I felt when I netted a deejay shift on the college’s student-run, carrier current radio station WCCB.  Yet Penn State loomed large, a beacon for me because of their journalism major which at the very least began to lessen the anxiety I had over my foggy notions of occupational life after college.

One of the first things I did upon hitting Happy Valley in September 1973 was to sign up for a campus radio deejay slot as I had previously done at Clarion.  This kind of continuity made sense to me; from a very early age, growing up in my hometown of Butler, PA, music had been my mainstay.  It helped to form who I was and then sustained me through the years without fail.  My early Elvis lip-syncs and gyrations with a plastic guitar in my parents’ living room in the late ‘50s eventually led to my out-and-out worship of everything Beatles in the early-mid ‘60s, and by the age of fourteen in 1967 I was already hoovering up from downtown store record bins a myriad of other artists’ brand new albums.  I was also poring over issues of the recently birthed music magazines Crawdaddy and Circus, at the same time searching out and glomming onto likeminded schoolmates whose brains I felt were similarly fixated and fired up.

Later on, entering my college years at Clarion seemed part of a natural flow.  1973 though, was the year I straddled, weaning myself off the liberal arts concentration in one setting and then taking the major plunge into journalism elsewhere.  But the one constant was my drive and determination to continue exploring all things music.  The extra-curricular deejay gig that I secured upon arrival at Penn State was on WHR (West Halls Radio) which was, like Clarion’s WCCB, a pumped-through-wires carrier current station.  WHR, I found, served the campus’ small geographic cluster of residence halls that included the dorm I had just moved into, Mifflin Hall.  

In Mifflin on check-in day I met my new roommate Gene Cates, an African American from Pittsburgh who, I quickly determined, was a music fan himself.  Back in Butler in the summer between Clarion and PSU I had consulted with my friend and hometown music guru Dave Kleemann, and upon his recommendation I bought a turntable and speakers made by Acoustic Research (AR).  The sound was pristine.  So the cramped little quarters that Gene and I were now sharing was thus often filled with music, and it was not uncommon for him to return from class and find me lost in Little Feat, or for me to return and find him listening to Hubert Laws.

Gene had turned me on to some new sounds that semester in Mifflin dorm, and I mentally added some must-haves to my album wish-list courtesy of him.  Marvin Gaye’s new album Let’s Get It On was one I liked and luxuriated in, but the bigger find for me was diving into a number of my roommate’s CTI recordings.  The letters “CTI” stood for Creed Taylor Incorporated, and record producer Taylor was the mastermind behind a series of releases featuring jazz luminaries and future greats, and I particularly liked--out of Gene’s stockpile--the albums Afro-Classic and Carnegie Hall by flautist Hubert Laws, Sky Dive from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, and two from saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, Sugar and Don’t Mess with Mr. T.

As I settled into my deejay shifts on WHR that fall, I found even more new music that enthralled me.  The station was already on some record companies’ mailing lists for promotional albums and singles, so there was a flood of stuff to sift through and plunk down on the turntable.  I mainly remember dipping into certain key songs in the piles of 45rpm records that were strewn about the small space that had been accorded to West Halls Radio spinners.  Some of my go-to selections included: “Stuck in the Middle with You” (Stealers Wheel), “Will it Go Round in Circles” (Billy Preston), “Angie” (Rolling Stones), “Free Ride” (The Edgar Winter Group), “Right Place Wrong Time” (Dr. John), “Hocus Pocus” (Focus), “Ramblin’ Man” (Allman Brothers Band), “Daniel” (Elton John), “Your Mama Don’t Dance” (Loggins & Messina), “Higher Ground” (Stevie Wonder), “Diamond Girl” (Seals & Crofts) and “Reelin’ in the Years” (Steely Dan).

Between all my deejaying and digging into WHR’s “stacks of wax” in the fall of 1973, along with periodic record store visits and music magazine reliance, some roomie revelations, and my occasional weekend trips home to reconnect with the zealots there, I was continually and rather blissfully inundated with fresh new sounds from all directions.  I found this first semester at PSU to be ear-adrenalizing.  In fact, during the whole of 1973 there were SO many singer-songwriters and musicians mining their roots and/or feeding off threads and tributaries in order to create their own paths.  It felt very much like recorded music in 1973 was boiling over with ingenuity.

This explosion of creative output and resulting spike in album sales was not lost on the national media powers-that-be.  Both major radio syndication companies and network TV kicked into high gear to create high-profile music programs in 1973.

According to an article on prweb.com dated March 1, 2008, “In February 1973, the King Biscuit Flower Hour launched the first syndicated radio series of the rock era to reach North American radio listeners with live concert performances.  The premiere program featured a triple bill of Blood Sweat & Tears, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and an unknown by the name of Bruce Springsteen, each recorded live in concert just weeks before.  These artists were promoting new albums at the time and the KBFH provided an exciting new and unprecedented opportunity to reach a national radio listening audience.”  King Biscuit Flower Hour, a creation D.I.R. Broadcasting, aired on Sunday evenings for twenty years until 1993.  At its highest peak the program was broadcast on over 300 radio stations across the country including WYDD-FM, 104.7 Pittsburgh.  

Also in February 1973, television producer Burt Sugarman launched a new music variety program called The Midnight Special.  He had recently sold NBC on the concept of a 1:00 am music show that could potentially keep the 11:30pm Tonight Show’s large viewership tuned to their sets, and thus The Midnight Special debuted as a weekly program immediately following the Friday night airing of Johnny Carson.  The official show announcer and frequent guest host was Wolfman Jack, and Helen Reddy had a stint as guest host, from July 1975-March 1976.  Throughout its 1973-1981 run, The Midnight Special showcased the popular artists of the day in predominantly live performances, and once in a while also featured archived performances and comedy acts.

Near the end of 1973, song publisher Don Kirshner left an executive producer/consultant role with ABC Television’s semi-monthly music program In Concert to launch his own syndicated weekly rock show on ABC, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.  The show featured live performances from many A-list music superstars, and the program’s debut on September 27, 1973 featured the Rolling Stones in their first American TV performance in over four years.  Rob Simon of the Paley Center for the Media was quoted on donkirshner.com as saying that Kirshner’s venture, which had an eight-year run 1973-1981, was a “crucial ‘70s bridge between the Ed Sullivan era of the ‘60s and MTV of the ‘80s...Don Kirshner was able to capitalize on many different forms of music that were coming out in the ‘70s.”

Rob Simon’s observation about Kirshner being able to capitalize on the myriad sounds of the ‘70s is a point well taken.  There were so many remarkable recordings in 1973 alone that covered all the strands of rock, yet other genres were ably represented as well including revelatory singer-songwriter confessionals...traditional jazz...jazz fusion...blues...New Orleans funk...reggae... early Americana... alternative...rhythm & blues...and more.  

Below is Musicasaurus’ fashioned list of 1973 landmark albums and a representative track from each.  Here’s hoping that by the end of your review, you’ll concur that 1973 is, still, a year to be reckoned with... 

                   . . .


Greetings from Asbury Park - Bruce Springsteen - “Spirit in the Night” https://youtu.be/hFEeqfqoTSY

Dixie Chicken - Little Feat - “Dixie Chicken” https://youtu.be/yaHEfJApEVM

Holland - Beach Boys - “Sail On, Sailor” https://youtu.be/ZdzC-3UPKbk

Light as A Feather - Chick Corea and Return to Forever - “Spain” https://youtu.be/sEhQTjgoTdU

Sky Dive - Freddie Hubbard - “Sky Dive” https://youtu.be/G2zJnSOWS20

Aerosmith - Aerosmith - “Dream On” https://youtu.be/89dGC8de0CA



In the Right Place - Dr. John - “Right Place, Wrong Time” https://youtu.be/W4PjWgiH-LQ



Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd - “Us and Them” https://youtu.be/GKiLEgAzFDQ

Closing Time - Tom Waits - “Martha” https://youtu.be/VXQwDb7AUmo

The Byrds - The Byrds - “Full Circle” https://youtu.be/79oGn6-7wL4  

Beck, Bogert & Appice - Beck, Bogert & Appice - “Black Cat Moan” https://youtu.be/6qP_t0HySoI

Birds of Fire - Mahavishnu Orchestra - “Thousand Island Park” https://youtu.be/cU6eykMxiZM

Still Alive and Well - Johnny Winter - “Still Alive and Well” https://youtu.be/NdIGrNcXcs4

A Wizard, A True Star - Todd Rundgren - “Just One Victory” https://youtu.be/jitktxIuMOw

Houses of the Holy - Led Zeppelin - “Over the Hills and Far Away” https://youtu.be/Ee33FsDANk0



Aladdin Sane - David Bowie - “The Jean Genie” https://youtu.be/rWL8gzs_gQA

Catch a Fire - Bob Marley & The Wailers - “Stir It Up” https://youtu.be/1hwL3S3Gtzs

The Marshall Tucker Band - The Marshall Tucker Band - “Take the Highway” https://youtu.be/25ALsr5phZo

Fingers - Airto Moreira - “Romance of Death” https://youtu.be/2wgtab2jnnA



There Goes Rhymin’ Simon - Paul Simon - “Learn How to Fall” https://youtu.be/VqlaLXAoJN0

Tubular Bells - Mike Oldfield - “Tubular Bells, Part One” https://youtu.be/BfWJqKIxyGc

Tower of Power - Tower of Power - “What is Hip” https://youtu.be/Pfim3SKTNkw

Sufficiently Breathless - Captain Beyond - “Sufficiently Breathless” https://youtu.be/fIQWu5YbCAA



Fresh - Sly and The Family Stone - “If You Want Me to Stay” https://youtu.be/gZFabOuF4Ps



Queen - Queen - “Keep Yourself Alive” https://youtu.be/5VmEXWpvfhc

New York Dolls - New York Dolls - “Personality Crisis” https://youtu.be/ioixZtoTp00

Tres Hombres - ZZ Top - “Jesus Just Left Chicago” https://youtu.be/L2UTjoVVVb4

Countdown to Ecstasy - Steely Dan - “My Old School” https://youtu.be/s7DYyToslXc

Mott - Mott the Hoople - “All the Way from Memphis” https://youtu.be/PuMOWrRZ0HA



*Innervisions - Stevie Wonder - “Higher Ground” https://youtu.be/zGSxvH5i6XQ

(Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) - Lynyrd Skynyrd - “Poison Whiskey” https://youtu.be/Ncc-GLzJpyc

Let’s Get It On - Marvin Gaye - “Distant Lover” https://youtu.be/edwZRwpkjW0

Goats Head Soup - Rolling Stones - “Dancing with Mr. D” https://youtu.be/r6huPIAdhh0

Brothers and Sisters - Allman Brothers Band - “Come and Go Blues” https://youtu.be/W8w7_Y7w9w8

Maria Muldaur - Maria Muldaur - “Midnight at the Oasis” https://youtu.be/3gKnnb24Eso

Body Talk - George Benson - “Plum” https://youtu.be/jsJu5cTOggI



Over-Nite Sensation - Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention - “Montana” https://youtu.be/Qs0CGOwWmCI

The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle - Bruce Springsteen - “Incident on 57thStreet” https://youtu.be/ioQcvijom28



Spectrum- Billy Cobham - “Stratus” https://youtu.be/_VakN0BA2Vc

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John - “Harmony” https://youtu.be/3GSPvHu9Krg

Selling England by the Pound - Genesis - “Firth of Fifth” https://youtu.be/VZePgiiOrkY

Mystery to Me - Fleetwood Mac - “Hypnotized” https://youtu.be/fDzXbdxeeHI

Quadrophenia - The Who - “Love, Reign o’er Me” https://youtu.be/ZhSdNy1snaU

Head Hunters - Herbie Hancock - “Chameleon” https://youtu.be/WYRrIBqKsJ4

For Everyman - Jackson Browne - “These Days” https://youtu.be/oFYgaarYepw

Laid Back - Gregg Allman - “Queen of Hearts” https://youtu.be/wLsHjRk7n4U

Takin’ My Time - Bonnie Raitt - “You’ve Been in Love Too Long” https://youtu.be/Q43Je3ay2xY

The Adventures of Panama Red - New Riders of the Purple Sage - “Panama Red” https://youtu.be/O9G0emfp87E



Abandoned Luncheonette - Hall & Oates - “She’s Gone” https://youtu.be/87Q042KlxI4

Mind Games - John Lennon - “Mind Games” https://youtu.be/QLeObvcUii4

Back Street Crawler - Paul Kossoff - “Time Away” https://youtu.be/Lu2mOI_YLeU

Brain Salad Surgery - Emerson, Lake & Palmer - “Karn Evil 9: 1stImpression, Pt. 2” https://youtu.be/HPt8zNLw0dU



Band on the Run - Paul McCartney & Wings - “Let Me Roll It” https://youtu.be/ly_G9QBX_f0

Virtuoso - Joe Pass - “Night and Day” https://youtu.be/E5_EQdTZbSs



Andy Pratt - Andy Pratt - “Avenging Annie” https://youtu.be/DZI-DraC0o4

First Time Out - James Montgomery Band - “Son of Jump” https://youtu.be/ZNi5fFcxb00

Closer To It! - Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express - “Happiness is Just Around the Bend”  https://youtu.be/aW40REAxLEc

Paul Butterfield’s Better Days - Paul Butterfield’s Better Days - “Please Send Me Someone to Love” https://youtu.be/EP9q-jkV7O4

It All Comes Back - Paul Butterfield’s Better Days - “Louisiana Flood” https://youtu.be/X_SrBHDAA8c

Carnegie Hall - Hubert Laws - “Windows / Fire and Rain”  https://youtu.be/G0-YSlpP1gA

Kindling - Gene Parsons - “Willin’” https://youtu.be/t2mbXSku7Gw





Posted 2/12/23....CHANGE PARTNERS


I was sixteen years old in May 1969 when Crosby, Stills & Nash released their self-titled debut album which critics adored and longhairs like me the land over freakin’ loved.  The trio’s high harmonies, deftly applied to captivating song structures, were rare in rock at the time.  And then, before the summer was over, there was a Y attached to CSN--and that was a BFD.  Neil Young had been invited to become the group’s official fourth member as part of agreeing to hop aboard the group’s imminent tour, a necessity in an effort to accommodate and augment the upcoming run of performances.  Their second gig turned out to be a real test of fortitude.  The foursome ended up on the stage at Woodstock playing before a crowd of over 400,000 people, and Stills copped to the pressure.  “This is the second time we've ever played in front of people,” the guitarist said to the multitudes, “man, we're scared shitless.”

He needn’t have worried.  Seven months after Woodstock CSNY released their debut album Déjà Vu and thus firmly established themselves as one of the first true supergroups.  These immensely talented and credentialed musicians were inexorably scaling new heights, now drawing upon their storied pasts as members of other bands who had quite deservedly experienced their own bursts of fame and acclaim.  Both Stephen Stills and Neil Young had come from Buffalo Springfield, David Crosby from the Byrds and Graham Nash from the Hollies...

Not all supergroups, however, whether born in rock’s early days or decades down the path, were able to engender the same level of $ucce$$ and fan fervor as CSNY.  In the purest sense of the term, “supergroup” is certainly an apt descriptor of bands like Cream and Blind Faith from the ‘60s, Emerson, Lake & Palmer from the start of the ‘70s and the Traveling Wilburys from the late ‘80s.  But there were also a number of groups through the years that came together with high expectations for widespread success and an enduring fan embrace, yet they were met with yawns of indifference or, worse yet, wholehearted rejection. 

A Los Angeles entertainment / lifestyle-oriented publication, the L.A. Weekly, back in January 2017 debuted an article highlighting “The 20 Worst Supergroups of All Time” as delineated by staff writer Jonny Coleman.  Right off the bat, Coleman wrestled with the terminology.  “It's right there in the name: Supergroups are supposed to be ‘super,’” said Coleman.  “Too often, however, these gatherings of musicians already famous for other projects end up being less than the sum of their parts.  Whether it's a lack of ambition, lack of chemistry or both, many so-called supergroups just leave fans wishing everyone would stop dicking around and get back to their regular gigs.”


Coleman then proceeded to his hit list, emasculating some and eviscerating others, all handled with aplomb.  About the early ‘90s band Damn Yankees: “Whatever you may think of Ted Nugent's politics,” Coleman said, “you have to admit that the man made some pretty good cock-rock in his day.  But by the time he joined forces with Styx's Tommy Shaw and Night Ranger's Jack Blades for this half-assed, late-to-the-game foray into hair metal, he was clearly just goofing around and collecting a check.  Add a thin layer of The Nuge's trademark jingoism to the band's formulaic riff-fests and you've got one of the worst relics of the glam-metal era.”  

About the late 2000s debut of the group Chickenfoot: “Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony joined forces with guitar guru Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith to put out some very forgettable tunes.  ‘Chickenfoot started off with me, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith jamming at my club, Cabo Wabo, in Mexico,’ Hagar once told Classic Rock magazine, which is about as much as you need to know about this project.  Wasted on margies, this probably seemed like a great idea.  If only they had waited until they sobered up to really think it through.”


New Musical Express NME.com, a legendary London publication which originated in print in 1952 and subsequently online in 1996, also got into the act with regard to dissecting and disparaging supergroups.  In the website’s March 5, 2013 article attributed to picture_freelance entitled “The 15 Most Disappointing Supergroups of All Time,” the skewering is abundant.  The NME writer said this of the band Velvet Revolver who formed in 2002 and lasted through 2008: “Touted as the band Guns N’ Roses could have been, the non-Axl Roses recruited Stone Temple Pilots drug fuck-up Scott Weiland as their surrogate frontman for Velvet Revolver and set about pouting and noodling their way to Number One with a grunge pop formula that did neither party justice.”  

And about the band Asia, who formed in 1981: “Imagine how bad a supergroup consisting of old lags from King Crimson and ELP would have been.  Now add in ex-members of Yes.  And all of them trying to hang on to their prog-pop stylings well into the 80s.  Asia, presumably, being where they should’ve been exiled to at birth.”

It’s Musicasaurus’ turn now, though not to heap scorn.  It is true that for some artists who chose a fork in the road that led to a supergroup label, the results were meh and reactions from the public ranged from indifference to serious head-scratching.  Our basic hope in the following roundup is just to shed some light on seven other bands in music history who, in some circles at least, indeed earned the supergroup tag...


According to ultimateclassicrock.com’s September 26, 2017 staff members’ post on “Rock’s Forgotten Supergroups” this particular band could be called “a reverse supergroup.”  Some of the band members of this British collective would soon be branching out to paths of stardom, even superstardom.  The group consisted of, among others, the gruff-voiced and blues infused Long John Baldry, pre-mod Rod Stewart (before his turns in the Jeff Beck Group and Faces, and his solo career), a Nina Simone-like singer with some truly powerful pipes named Julie Driscoll, and the versatile keyboardist Brian Auger.  Even the lesser-knowns in the band went on to greater heights.  Guitarist Vic Briggs later joined Eric Burdon and the Animals, and drummer Micky Waller post-Steampacket most notably played with the Jeff Beck Group on an album, on some solo Rod records, and also continued to do session work.  The talent reservoir called Steampacket lasted a little more than a year. [Sample song: “Can I Get a Witness” https://youtu.be/tCTLAJVt67I]


In the long history of music this may be for most people just a footnote, but what a feat it was--rounding up five talented and successful African American singers in 1966 for the purpose of recording music together.  The five were Solomon Burke (the driving force), Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex and Don Covay, and they called themselves The Soul Clan [editor’s note: Redding died in a 1967 plane crash and was replaced by Arthur Conley; Pickett left the group around the same time and Ben E. King replaced him.]  The collective’s initial goal in recording together on their shared record label Atlantic was to raise significant funds to benefit black communities in the South.  But in 1968 after releasing just one 45rpm record together--“Soul Meeting” on the A side; “That’s How It Feels” on the B side--the group soon fell apart and reportedly a contributing cause was a lack of strong support from the label.

In a same-day New York Times preview piece about the July 24, 1981 reunion show of the group at the Savoy, music critic Robert Palmer touched upon the individual members’ legacies as well.  During the ‘60s these singers were “the kings of soul,” Palmer explained, “that high-voltage amalgam of dance-floor strut and gospel intensity.”  He went on to note that though the Soul Clan produced only the one record, the group has not been forgotten.  “Like the Million Dollar Quartet, a one-time-only 1950's collaboration of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins,” Palmer said, “the Soul Clan was a gathering of a musical aristocracy.” [Sample song: “Soul Meeting” https://youtu.be/rN2h0KdmfPg


In 1969 Cactus grew out of the efforts of former Vanilla Fudge members Tim Bogert (bassist) and Carmine Appice (drummer) to form a new band.  Their original designs were on joining up with Jeff Beck but those hopes were dashed when the guitarist sustained injuries from a motorcycle crash and entered a long recovery.  Bogert and Appice quickly drew into their orbit singer Rusty Day (ex-Amboy Dukes) and guitarist Jim McCarty (ex-Detroit Wheels) and Cactus ended up releasing four albums before the band split up in 1975.  A few critics and some fans at the time had likened the band to Led Zeppelin, which by at least a couple of accounts was possibly close to the mark: 1) The group’s tunes on their self-titled 1970 debut album (including “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” “Parchment Farm” and others) are frenzied hard-rock classics, and 2) According to a loudersound.com April 23, 2018 look-back article by a contributor who goes by the name Sleazegrinder, debauchery was the band’s avocation.  “Both Tim and Carmine were already debauched road kings, hardened from their days with Vanilla Fudge,” Sleazegrinder said.  “But Cactus still made the Fudge look like amateurs in the rockpig sweepstakes.  There were pot busts, nights in jail, and fistfights everywhere.” [Sample song: “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover”  https://youtu.be/oHXhbUjRk8U]


This supergroup comprised of four individuals congealed in 1971, half of them having recently flitted out of Iron Butterfly.  Guitarist Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt and bassist Lee Dorman were joined by ex-Deep Purple singer Rod Evans (notable for his singing on early Purple hit “Hush”) and Bobby Caldwell, who previously had drummed for Johnny Winter.  In the aforementioned ultimateclassicrock.com 9/26/17 article “Rock’s Forgotten Supergroups,” Captain Beyond’s sound is described as “blending prog-rock intricacy with blues-based psychedelia.”  The band produced three albums during their three-year union (1971-1973) and the one particular tune that stood out from the pack and found a home on some FM stations at the time was the sweetly addictive title song from their second album Sufficiently Breathless. [Sample song: the aforementioned “Sufficiently Breathless” https://youtu.be/fIQWu5YbCAA


Talk about an interesting initial formation, KGB was one of several supergroups through the decades that used the first letter of the principals’ last names to brand the band.  The was singer/songwriter Ray Louis Kennedy (composer of songs for the Beach Boys, Dave Mason, The Babys and others), the was keyboardist Barry Goldberg (best known as a co-founder of the blues and R&B band Electric Flag), and the was guitarist Michael Bloomfield (ex-Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Electric Flag).  KGB then enlisted two talented sidemen to round out the band: Ric Grech (ex-Blind Faith) and Carmine Appice (ex-Vanilla Fudge, Cactus and Beck, Bogert & Appice).  

A number of reviews of this supergroups’ two total albums (both released in 1976) were tepid at best, though there were some Bloomfield fans who scarfed them up to see--or rather, hear--what the music was all about.  Bloomfield himself basically denounced the albums as too formulaic and indicated that the record label MCA’s bigwigs were too intrusive and demanding in their quest for a commercially successful record.  The caustic king of criticism Robert Christgau, via his Consumer Guide music review of the band’s first album, heavy-handedly agreed.  He labeled it “heavy horseshit” and graded the album a D+.  Regarding the group’s most recognizable member, Christgau added this: “As for Mike Bloomfield--well, he's deserved better ever since he left Butterfield, and there's obviously no reason to believe he'll ever go out and get it.” [Sample song: “Midnight Traveler” https://youtu.be/XkrnQpaVJqU


This assemblage of first-rate players was a hit with progsters pretty much everywhere.  Both bassist John Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford had been in King Crimson from 1972 through 1974, and after this band’s breakup in that latter year they sought out guitarist Allan Holdsworth (ex-Soft Machine and Gong) and violinist/keyboardist Eddie Jobson (previously with Curved Air > Roxy Music > Frank Zappa) to form this new band.  Allmusic.com reviewer Mike DeGagne pointed out that standout tracks on U.K.’s 1978 debut album showcased the “overall fluency of each member” and showed “no signs of any progressive tediousness that could have easily evolved.”  Bruford and Holdsworth bailed after the debut record but U.K. soldiered on, selecting ex-Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio to replace Bruford and electing not to replace guitarist Holdsworth at all.  After one more studio album and a live record, U.K. disbanded at the end of 1979. [Sample song: “Nevermore” https://youtu.be/GRMXJ9tiW4U


In the early ‘80s British singer Paul Rodgers went from Bad to good: He left the once popular but runnin’-out-of-steam rock group Bad Company in 1982 and then two years later found himself in very good company--in the presence of ex-Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.  Together in 1984 they co-founded the supergroup the Firm, inviting in bandmembers Tony Franklin (formerly a bassist with Roy Harper) and drummer Chris Slade (previously a session player then a founding member of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band).  Though the Firm ended up not as commercially successful as Bad or Zep relative to album sales, it seemed that music critics and ticket buyers were largely in agreement on the live shows.  In Pittsburgh the Firm played the Civic Arena on May 5, 1985 and Post-Gazette reviewer Scott Mervis praised the show.  

“Listening to the Firm is like hearing two radio stations that are blurring into each other’s signals,” Mervis opined.  “You hear the voice of Bad Company interjected with the dreamy guitar strains of Led Zeppelin.  One cannot help but feel nostalgic hearing those precious sounds so deeply etched into the history of metal blues.”  Mervis went on to stress that the band had 100% eschewed their Bad Company and Led Zeppelin material in favor of playing only the Firm’s songs with a few Rodgers and Page solo works thrown in for good measure.  But Mervis’ enthrallment was undampened.  He ended his review this way: “With a glorious past, a riveting concert set and an eye toward the future, the Firm can’t miss.  The singles that are sure to follow will reveal whether or not the band will remain radio-active.”  It did not have the chance to.  After releasing a second album (Mean Business) in 1986, the Firm folded that summer.  According to Rodgers and Page, as reported in Mick Wall’s February 11, 2020 story on the Firm on loudersound.com, this had always been in the cards.  Both of the musicians came into this union feeling that after two albums, they would go their separate ways. [Sample song: “Radioactive” https://youtu.be/Pcg52q6NXqk





Posted 1/29/23....OH WHAT A NIGHT!

[In remembrance of Jeff Beck, who ascended to Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven on January 10, 2023.]

It wasn’t exactly two wise men heading east, but we were following a star.  Frank and I were on a trek to see Jeff Beck...

I got wind in the fall of 2014 of an upcoming theater tour by Jeff Beck and had learned that the musician was overshooting Pittsburgh to land in Greensburg, about 35 miles to the east.  There were apparently no suitably-sized venues available in Pittsburgh for the specific mid-late April time period the guitarist wanted, so my friend Brian Drusky—a concert promoter by trade—instead confirmed Beck for a show in Greensburg at the storied Palace Theatre.

The Palace has been around since the 1920s, first as the Manos Theatre.  It is a well-preserved venue with a capacity just under 1,400, and it consistently has offered the region a variety of musical events and local arts productions as well as serving as the home of the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra.  The concerts, judging by the Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 schedules, were somewhat geared toward an older fan base with fair amount of MOR and country attractions such as Michael Bolton, Don McLean, Kenny Rogers, Oak Ridge Boys and Bill Medley (one half of the Righteous Brothers).  But there were long in the tooth classic rockers in the lineup as well, like Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Huey Lewis and the News, Jefferson Starship, and Dave Mason.

The announcement of Jeff Beck being added to the venue’s 2015 schedule really fired me up, but I unfortunately delayed a bit in getting with Brian to check on the purchase of tickets.  When I did get in touch in early December 2014 he told me that all he had left in his holds were a few opera seats—which was a good thing.  The Palace’s two opera box seating areas were elevated and affixed to the venue’s side walls, and the two tickets I ended up with were in the opera box (house right) that was closest to the stage.  From this perch, one was almost on top of the action; every instrument fingering and every facial expression was therefore pretty ripe for close inspection.

And as it turns out, these beautifully crafted and maintained opera boxes were the originals from the theatre’s construction in the 1920s—so says the venue’s website—with “hand-cast, decorative moldings and hanging velvet swags.”  Come to think of it, the only thing I lacked to top off all that grandeur would have been a pair of opera glasses, but anything that would have brought the ticket price into sharper focus for me wasn’t something I wanted or needed.  The cost: $125.00 per ticket; $250.00 for the pair.

My good friend Frank Fotia who lives in Cumberland, MD was the one I had invited to accompany me in my pilgrimage to see Beck.  I bought the tickets and informed Frank that this was his Christmas present, and that having me go along with him was really just a kind of layered treat upon treat (not sure he bought that).  As for me, I had no problem convincing myself there was nothing wrong with sprinkling a bit of self-serving interest on my holiday generosity.  After all, I absolutely needed to see Jeff Beck live in concert again...



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 with fellow Brits Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.  Deep music aficionados (i.e., those of us whose brains have successfully crowded out the more sensible, essential stuff of Life) know that these three were alumni of the English rock group The Yardbirds, all passing through its ranks on their way to more formidable unions and achievements.  Blues devotee Clapton exited the band after just two years on board (1963-1965), quickly joining John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and eventually forming Cream.  Beck’s tenure in The Yardbirds overlapped with Jimmy Page a bit—1965 to 1966—and then the latter splintered off with the rest of the disbanding Yardbirds in 1968 and went his own way to cobble together Led Zeppelin.

Of the three, Beck was the one who gained the least traction; he was never able to break into much wider acclaim and mass acceptance, at least in terms of record sales.  After his stint with the Yardbirds Beck formed his own group and released a couple of atmospheric late-‘60s albums (Truth and Beck-Ola) with feisty hotshot vocalist Rod Stewart.  The guitarist then lost Rod in 1969 to a new band (Faces) and a burgeoning solo career, and so he consequently brought on new personnel for a second incarnation of The Jeff Beck Group fronted by singer Bobby Tench.  And in 1973 he switched gears again to form Beck, Bogert & Appice, a power trio rounded out by ex-Vanilla Fudge and Cactus members Tim Bogert (bass) and Carmine Appice (drums).

If you seek out that second incarnation stuff from the Jeff Beck Group—1971’s Rough and Ready and 1972’s The Jeff Beck Group—you’ll pick up sometimes subtle hints from Beck’s short but riveting solos as to where he would soon be heading musically.  Blow By Blow and Wired, arguably Beck’s definitive works, were released in 1975 and 1976 respectively.  These two albums were all-instrumental, boundary pushing efforts helmed and all held together in the studio recording process by famed Beatles producer George Martin.  And these were the ones that had my coterie of music friends abso-freakin’-lutely gushing.  Beck seemed liberated here; he was no longer bogged down in his traditional rock-group setting with its more than adequate but not quite inspiring song structures and execution.  He and George Martin created lasting works through these two collaborations, and Beck cemented his status as a guitar innovator and a fearless voyager into breathtaking soundscapes that were an incredible melding of the searing and the serene.

After the George Martin-produced twin successes Beck’s output was relatively spotty—three studio albums in the ‘80s, two in the ‘90s, two in the ‘00s and then one each in 2010, 2016 and 2022—and along the way I somehow lost my zeal for constant monitoring of the man; my worship remained, but only in fits and starts.  The first time I saw Jeff Beck live, which was the only time prior to this Palace Theatre engagement, was thirty-four years ago (1989) at the AJ Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh.  Beck and his band at the time were flip-flopping headliner status night-to-night on an October 26th through December 3rd concert tour dubbed The Fire Meets The Fury; the other act on the bill was Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble.  My expectations were sky high with this double barrel bill, but the problems with Palumbo I’d classify as jumbo: bad, bad acoustics in this glorified gymnasium and, likely not the venue’s fault, a pulverizing decibel level that must have been perpetrated by the tour’s sound man stationed at the mix position, a guy who undoubtedly could have quickly run a Q-Tip through one ear immediately pulling it out the other.

So...there we were on this Sunday evening in April 2015 at Greensburg’s Palace Theatre.  We had our killer vantage point, and leaned forward as opening act Tyler Bryant came on stage and began readying the crowd with his short set.  The 21-year-old Texan turned out to be a fledging guitar god in his own right but I was just waiting, and salivating.  With this being only my second brush with Beck, I was pretty much primed for the pump.

I had read that Beck seemed to have latched onto fresh young talent to comprise this latest touring band—bassist Rhonda Smith, schooled in jazz & funk; rhythm guitarist Nicolas Meier, said to bring some Eastern music and Latin influences to the game; and drummer Jonathan Joseph who previously had toured with artists such as Al Jarreau and jazz fusion band the Yellow Jackets.  Beck walked out to join his mates dressed predominantly in white, nodding and smiling.  Two songs in, Frank and I were mesmerized with the skill and interplay of the four on stage, and especially Beck’s finger picking and his use of the instrument’s vibrato bar to coax out dynamic squeals, bend the pitch, and produce the occasional “dive bomb” effect.  WHOA.

I sat back, settling in, and thought, “Well, this is good.  An all-instrumental master class.”  And then the third song started.  As close as we were to the stage, I was able to see Beck seemingly lock eyes with someone in the wings, and nod.  A moment later a tall, fedora-adorned man in a tucked-in shirt and blue jeans walked out to center stage and grabbed a hold of the microphone stand.  The band then launched into “Morning Dew,” which I immediately recognized as a Grateful Dead staple of especially their late-‘60s live performances, but then also quickly realized that it was a Beck cover from his own album Truth.  On that long ago studio recording from 1968, Rod Stewart had been the vocalist—and here on stage, forty-seven years later, it was soulfully recreated by Jimmy Hall.

I had recognized Hall’s face and knew who he was before Beck had the chance to introduce him.  His original entry into rock music’s limelight came to pass with Wet Willie, a Southern blues-soul-and-rock-‘n’-roll band which got its start in the very early ‘70s in Macon, Georgia.  Macon was the home of Capricorn Records, a label famous particularly for its Southern rock artist roster, and Wet Willie had migrated there from Mobile, Alabama to join the likes of the label’s earliest signings including The Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band and Elvin Bishop.

Wet Willie fit right in with the other Capricorns.  Hall was a charismatic frontman with passion-drenched, gritty and soul-infused vocals, and depending upon the song, he also adeptly contributed harmonica or sax.  The band’s best-known track—a commercial success, one that still pops up occasionally on rock and easy listening stations here and there—is “Keep On Smilin’."

How did this boy from Alabama hook up with Beck the Brit?  They met by chance in 1969 but really started bonding when Wet Willie was plucked as the opening act for Beck’s 1973 tour with Beck, Bogert & Appice.  Beck liked what he heard on stage each night and told Hall that someday they’d work in the studio together.  And they finally did, with Hall appearing on Beck’s 1985 release Flash, supplying vocals for five of the numbers on that album.

So Hall launched into “Morning Dew” on this April 2015 evening and then with the next song, brought shivers of recognition as he stood center-stage and began singing, “I was borrrrn by the river, in a little tent…Oh, and just like the river I've been runnin’ ever since…It's been a long, a long time comin’…But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will…”  At that point the concert amped up tremendously, buoyed by a palpable emotional convergence: Hall’s gospel-like fervor and Beck’s shadings and accents right behind him, both beautifully in synch on this classic Sam Cooke song that had become, in the ‘60s, a stirring anthem for the American Civil Rights movement.

The rest of the evening was a smartly-paced pleasure, with Hall making appearances in between the instrumentals, bringing life to Beck’s choice covers like Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and the classic “Rollin’ And Tumblin.”  The latter, a 1929 Delta blues tune, was first the province of black elder statesman like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters before being torch-passed to their next-gen white-rocker disciples Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Canned Heat, and many others.

But the epicenter all night long was clearly Beck, whether he was power-chording through the vocal numbers or giving flight to the evening’s instrumentals like his near shredding on “Big Block” and his angelic cries and whispers on both “A Day In The Life” and the evening’s closer “Danny Boy.”  When the applause died down, Frank and I floated out of the Palace.  We had entered agog and departed in the most comforting sort of fog, buzzed and chatting away, reflecting on the fact that this may have been one of the best shows we’d ever seen… 

But don’t just take the word of a couple of rabid fans, because Jimmy Hall himself had a lot to say about the guitar great.  In a May 6, 2015 interview with online arts & entertainment website ArtsATL—right before Beck’s Alpharetta, Georgia performance on May 10—Hall was asked how it felt to be on stage with him.  Reflecting on a 1980 Atlanta show where Beck had invited Hall up from the audience to sing “Going Down” during the encore, Hall said, “It was powerful.  I always say that at that moment—on stage with Jeff Beck—it felt as if I was levitating.”

Then asked by the ArtsATL interviewer Brenda Stepp to use only ONE word to describe Beck’s playing, Hall answered “Transcendent.”  “How so?” asked Stepp.  Hall replied, “His playing lifts people and is transformative.  Every night he lifts the audience with the power and melody and passion of his guitar. His guitar is a voice—a powerful voice.  I know his guitar playing lifts me.”


                                                                               RIP, JB.






Will it go round in circles?  Indeed it will.  Above is my music button display that I painstakingly put together a few years back and, not wanting to give the impression that any one button was necessarily more important than any other, I just started with a swirl which became a sort of a circle which became a spiral, and...well, to paraphrase the Yardbirds, these are now just the shapes of things before your eyes.  And Musicasaurus is going to get all buttoned up here and talk in detail about the first nine pins on parade...ENJOY.



If memory serves, this button was given to me back in the fall of 1980 by CBS record label representative Mike Kraski.  His sales accounts back then included National Record Mart (NRM), the United States’ oldest music retail chain which started out in 1937 as a small used-record shop located in downtown Pittsburgh.  I enjoyed the five years (1980-1985) that I spent at NRM headquarters working under VP George Balicky while handling the chainwide advertising, and in terms of my job performance there I felt I was all buttoned up—but never so much in a fashion sense until record companies started producing these little promotional gems.  Buttons like the Bruce one were all the rage within music circles, and had been since at least the mid-late 1970s.  The Bruce button in particular coincided with the October 1980 release of the singer-songwriter’s new double album The River, and this little pin made its way—as did all other such specialized buttons produced by the various record companies—into the hands of music retailers’ management folks and their instore staff personnel all across the country.  

Springsteen's fifth album The River came between 1987’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and 1982’s Nebraska.  The River was the artist’s only double album, crammed with songs that largely glorified the sound of ‘50s and ‘60s rock music while exploring through his lyrics both the themes of personal struggles and the impact of the legacies of family relationships, economic hardship, and cultural and political shifts.  The album was Bruce’s first to hit #1 on music industry bible Billboard’s Top LP’s & Tapes chart and the song “Hungry Heart” was his first Billboard Top Ten hit, reaching #5 on the national Pop Singles chart.  Bruce and band immediately set out on tour with the release of The River in October 1980, and on YouTube (at least as of now) one can travel back in time to revel in a set of 24 songs filmed at the November 5, 1980 Tempe, Arizona concert.  It’s a captivating look back, one for the time capsule...

Flash forward thirty-six years: in January 2016 Bruce again went down to the river (oh, down to the river he did ride) when he and the E Street Band launched The River Tour featuring all 20 songs from the 1980 release followed by a generous handful of other signature Boss tunes.  I saw this show at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center (now PPG Paints Arena) on January 16, 2016.  It was the tour’s kickoff date, in fact, and as expected it was exquisitely rousing and rockin’.  However, truth be told, I am beyond tempted to favor Tempe.  Being able via YouTube to burrow back to the Bruce of 1980 remembering who he was—and who I was—really tips the scale.



This button was a promotional item that I got my hands on sometime in late 1980 just as, across the pond in Ireland, a quartet of lads released their debut album entitled Boy—and BOY, was this record an ear-opener.  Pitchfork.com contributing writer Joe Tangari in a July 2008 post pointed out that back in the very late ‘70s going into the early ‘80s, “they were still teenagers with an attitude and naïveté that didn't quite dovetail with the rest of the post-punk world.  Even on their earliest recordings, they didn't sound like a band that could be contained by small venues.”  

On April 21, 1981 I was one of the fortunate few who saw them in a small venue, and I keenly recall how their sound—and their raw energy and ebullience—just could not be contained.  The show was held at Pittsburgh’s famed club The Decade in the Oakland section of town.  This was the youthful U2 primed and ready for world conquest; bassist Adam Clayton had just turned 21, singer Bono was 20, and guitarist The Edge and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. were both 19.  The band played material primarily from their six-month-old debut albumand by the end of their eleven-song set they had seemingly run out of tunes.  Their encore consisted of two songs: “A Day Without Me” (from their debut album) followed by the last song of the night which they had already played earlier in the evening as their third song—“I Will Follow.”  This latter tune was described by Pitchfork’s Joe Tangari as “a surging colossus of a song that still ranks among the best tracks in the band's catalog.”



The Blues Brothers were a fabricated but legit-sounding blues band that was born out of a one-off 1976 Saturday Night Live skit, but on April 22, 1978 the concept—and the band—was then fleshed out and firing on all cylinders.  John Belushi as “Joliet” Jake Blues and Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues tore it up on SNL that evening, dressed in black suits, black pork pie hats, white shirts, skinny black ties and Ray Ban Wayfarers.  Backed by stellar musicians including SNL’s sizzling horn section and guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn of Booker T. & the MGs, the group pounded out two tunes, Floyd Dixon’s 1955 recording “Hey Bartender” and Sam & Dave’s 1967 hit “Soul Man.”  These performances galvanized the fictitious Blues Brothers and they were off and running with concert performances as well as, seven months later, the release of a debut album, the monstrously popular live recording entitled Briefcase Full of Blues (the promotional button coincided with the latter’s release).

Rolling Stone magazine, like SNL a cultural touchstone back in the day, lauded the November 1978 release of the Blues Brothers’ debut.  Soon-to-be senior editor of the magazine Timothy White (formerly an editor at music mag Crawdaddy) wrote a glowing January 25, 1979 review, and in it he somewhat played along with the fictional back story of brothers “Joliet” Jake and Elwood.  The siblings were, the story goes, raised in an orphanage, surreptitiously taught music there by the black, steeped-in-the-blues janitor Curtis, and then later on the brothers spent some time in the slammer before forming their band, etc., etc.  White didn’t get too caught up in the fable, however, and deftly zeroed in on the appeal of the music as well.  “I’m here to tell you the straight poop,” White said, “this band’s got a street-smart sound that’s tighter than a toad’s ass.”  He goes on to say that “all stops are pulled out and few sacred cows are spared on Briefcase Full of Blues, a noble group effort adding up to more than thirty minutes of rollickin’ R&B and jump blues.”



The ex-Beatle brought forth a self-titled solo album, his 8th studio release, in February 1979 and the cover is a bit different from the promotional button that accompanied this album’s release.  Instead of Harrison smiling (as on the button), the album’s front cover is a close-up of Harrison’s expressionless gaze bordered by soft-focus greenery evoking the musician’s love of nature.  The album was received by critics as something of a triumph compared to the handful of albums that came after 1970s All Things Must Pass, and this was reportedly a time of great contentment for the musician according to Wikipedia; Harrison had worked on the material for this record throughout 1978, and in that year also had wed and become a father.  

My love of this album literally was sparked by the cover shot.  As Pittsburgh’s instore display person for Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corporation which handled sales and distribution for record labels Warner Brothers, Elektra/Asylum and Atlantic, I often received on my apartment’s front porch regular UPS shipments of tightly-wound rolls of twenty-five 4-feet by 4-feet promotional posters.  These oversized posters often consisted of just a particular artist’s album cover, and in the case of this George Harrison cover, the effect was mesmerizing, seducing and comforting, all in one.  I always wanted to have one of them framed for hanging in my abode—preferably on a wall nearest a door leading out to our garden—but somehow I always lacked the drive to follow through.  Isn’t it a pity.



The Santana button contains the band’s logo which first appeared on the cover of their second album Abraxas (1970).  I don’t recall when I received this particular pin but I do know that I likely came into possession of it sometime between 1978-1985 (my two-year stint at Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, followed by my five years with NRM).  Those were my active years of obtaining, collecting and/or horse-trading recording artists’ buttons and pins, as my working life then was a swirl of encounters with record label representatives and record store managers.  If you happen to be a fan of Santana’s earliest works like their self-titled 1969 debut album but have not kept abreast of the band in lo, these many subsequent years, you might enjoy their 2016 live album Santana IV: Live at the House of Blues.  It is a well-produced, reinvigorating reunion of key late-‘60s/early ‘70s band members including Carlos of course, keyboardist Gregg Rolie, drummer Michael Shrieve, percussionist Michael Carabello and guitarist Neal Schon.  It is available on Blu-Ray as well as on a 2-CD set.]



This is one of the cooler buttons I came across back in 1980.  Some simplicity and mystery there, and indeed I was similarly quite taken with the full album cover of Steve Winwood’s 1980 release Arc of a Diver.  Curiosity then led me to Tony Wright, the once-upon-a-time creative director of Island Records.  Island is the label that brought forth a lot of the band Traffic’s albums, and its roster also included Bob Marley & The Wailers, Third World and a host of other interesting artists.  Wright’s most arresting work in his design of covers includes but not is limited to albums such as Traffic’s Low Spark of High Heeled Boys from 1971 (which is now in MOMA’s permanent collection), Traffic’s Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory (1973), Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Natty Dread (1974), The B-52’s self-titled debut (1979), Marianne Faithfull’s Broken English (1980) and Bob Dylan’s Saved (1980; the original cover showing Jesus Christ’s hand reaching down to touch the hands of his followers).

As cool as the cover of Arc of a Diver was, the album inside was equally enticing.  This second solo album from Winwood turned out to be a long labor of love, and it ended up yet another solid substantiation of his musical talents.  England’s Winwood was only 14 years old when he joined the Spencer Davis Group in 1962 and he co-wrote, and manned the microphone for, that band’s major hits “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man”—and all of this before the musician had turned 20.  His path then led him to help form the revered band Traffic and join (as a brief interlude) the supergroup Blind Faith, and when Traffic ultimately disbanded in 1974 Winwood did session work and contemplated a solo career.  His self-titled first solo album in 1977 was lackluster sales-wise, and a somewhat despondent Winwood had to be coaxed by his label Island Records to churn out a second one.  

After holing up in his home studio in Gloucestershire, England for many months Winwood finally unveiled Arc of a Diver, an album on which the musician handled all vocals and played every single instrument—at least four different analog synthesizers, Hammond B3 organ, Steinway piano, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, bass, drums and drum machine, and percussion.  “People have done albums like that before,” Winwood told Johnny Black, author of a May 28, 2020 lookback article featured on hifinews.com.  “But to me they sound like an overdubbed album.  I worked hard at trying to make it sound like a band.”  According to the hifinews.com article as well, the enchanting opening track on the album “While You See A Chance” was the song that “totally reinvigorated Winwood’s career.”  When Arc of a Diver hit radio stations and record stores in December 1980, the response in America was overwhelming.  The album rose to #3 on the national sales charts in Billboard magazine and achieved platinum status.  Some years later Winwood reflected on this to his biographer Chris Welch and said “That album was a big turning point for me.  It gave me a direction in music and some confidence in my own work.  And it gave me the means to continue.”



I received this button back in 1980 as the new Warner Brothers film Roadie starring Meat Loaf was released to theaters nationwide in June of that year.  Warner also issued a double-album soundtrack for sale in record stores right along with it.  The two-record set was decent enough; it contained a number of solid performances from various artists including Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Eddie Rabbit, Blondie, Asleep at the Wheel and others, and received fairly good reviews.  There were of course also high hopes for the film because lead character/star Meat Loaf had just three years earlier released his mega-monster-sellin’ album Bat Out of Hell.  The basic plot: Meat Loaf played the role of trucker Travis W. Redfish, a Texan raised in a family of inventors who gets scooped up by a rock group as a roadie because of his talent for fixing things and his speedy, innovative repair work.  He also has a crush on groupie wannabe Lola Bouillabaisse who is traveling with the band but she’s lusting for Alice Cooper.  Mini-adventures and rock star cameos/appearances then ensue.  

Most film critics at the time felt that this was a long and winding Roadie.  Even today the movie rates just 14% on the Tomatometer.  In his original review from June 18, 1980, noted film critic Roger Ebert was unimpressed.  “The idea for ‘Roadie’ has a certain charm,” Ebert said, “especially with Meat Loaf in the title role...The tour is an invaluable plot device, since it explains a cross-country odyssey during which our heroes meet all sorts of famous singing stars, including Hank Williams Jr., Roy Orbison, Alice Cooper, Asleep at the Wheel, and Deborah Harry with Blondie.  If the movie had given us more of their songs, this could have qualified as a concert movie.  If it had given us more of Meat Loaf, it might have developed into a character study.  But ‘Roadie’ never makes up its mind.  The movie's so genial, disorganized and episodic that we never really care about the characters, and yet whenever someone starts to sing the performance is interrupted for more meaningless plot development.”



I especially liked buttons of this sort, the ones that didn’t scream out their association with an artist or a band.  I liked a bit more subtlety; ones that might be conversation starters, like this small silver bicycle button produced by Elektra Records in support of Queen’s 1978 album Jazz. The year before the release of Jazz, Queen had truly become one of the world’s most popular bands.  How in the wide world of sports did this happen?!!  It was largely a result of “We Are The Champions,” the foot-stomping, handclapping rock anthem from their sixth studio album News of the World (1977) that had infiltrated and then dominated the public address systems of USA sports stadiums, hockey arenas and Friday night football fields across the U.S.  

Queen’s follow-up album Jazz only helped the band’s world conquest.  There was a double-barreled push to radio stations to play two lead-off singles from the album, “Bicycle Race” and “Fat Bottomed Girls.”  The former tune was one that had the band courting some real controversy, taking a sort of “We will, we will shock you” approach.  Queen staged a bicycle race to take place in London’s Wimbledon Stadium in September 1978, and they filmed it for a promotional video that was to be utilized when the full album was released in November.  The race had a total of 65 contestants.  All women.  All nude.  The resulting video was edited in some countries and outright banned in others, and a poster of the women on their cycles at the starting line was included with the album as part of its release in the UK—but reportedly not in the USA.  Here, because of the skittishness of the band’s record company Elektra, the album only contained an order form for the poster.



This is another button, like Queen’s tiny silver bicycle pin, that was a conversation starter.  It accompanied the release of Jim Carroll’s 1980 album Catholic Boy, which was a riveting debut chiefly because Carroll was already well known—at least to a certain artistic, punky swath of the public and probably most New Yorkers—for his memoir The Basketball Diaries (1978) and for his poetry collections.  Carroll was the son of a NYC bar owner and had excelled at hoops as well as heroin in his high school years.  Later on signed by Atlantic Records on the basis of his notoriety as memoirist and poet, he included a song on Catholic Boy entitled “People Who Died,” which recounted youthful friends who had overdosed, or been murdered, or had succumbed to illness.  The song rocks; in some quarters this tune (and the album overall) is considered a punk classic.  

Culturesonar.com’s Will Wills, in a May 26, 2022 article entitled “Jim Carroll--More Than ‘People Who Died,’” likens the sound of Catholic Boy to those of a couple other punkish, innovative musicians.  Wills labeled Carroll’s effort “classic punk with some blues sprinkled in.  Catchy hooks and power chords, with Carroll’s half-spoken, half-sung lyrics—a call back to Lou Reed but with an Elvis Costello tonal quality.”  Wills also notes that it was the encouragement of Patti Smith that led to Carroll’s dip into music.  Prior to signing with the Atlantic label in 1980 Carroll was already solidly swimming in NYC literary circles, picking up praise from other writers like Jack Kerouac, collaborating with Andy Warhol, and for a time moving in with musician Patti Smith and her boyfriend Robert Mapplethorpe.  But his heroin use was spiraling out of control, and at Smith’s suggestion and subsequent encouragement he moved to California and turned his explorations toward music.  Catholic Boy turned out to be the pinnacle of his success in the field of music, and for years afterward Carroll toggled between periods of recording additional albums while always then returning to his first love, writing.  Wills ends his article with the end of Carroll, saying that he “died in 2009 at age 60 of a heart attack, while ill with pneumonia and hepatitis C.  He was found at his desk, still working on his writings.”





Posted 1/1/23....CAN YOU SEE THE REAL ME?

“The question of what constitutes a ‘real’ band is a complicated one.  Purists might insist that the ‘real’ band is the very first lineup, or whichever subsequent lineup produced their favourite song or album.  But the musicians who played on that beloved record might not even be the same musicians that played those songs live.  Then there are the tribute bands, and bands that are now one or two founding members backed by musicians who could be their grandkids, and multiple live versions of the same band, with each one led by a member of the original group.  It’s a messy world out there.”

The above is an apropos, quite telling characterization of the “messy world” that we live in.  It was the lead-off paragraph for an August 5, 2019 article by Fiona McQuarrie on the website PleaseKillMe.com, and from there McQuarrie goes on in great detail to shed light on a relatively little-known Fleetwood Mac controversy—a strange-but-true identity crisis.  McQuarrie’s piece is riveting.  Entitled “Fakewood Mac: The Unreal Fleetwood Mac, 1974,” the article lays out the onstage/offstage high drama that unfolded when a band of musicians billed and promoted as Fleetwood Mac toured the U.S. that particular year—with no actual members of Fleetwood Mac in the group.

Pittsburgh-based concert promoter Rich Engler remembers this quite well.  At this precise moment in time the relatively wet-behind-the-ears, 28-year-old Engler had just joined in partnership with Pat DiCesare, an older and already established live entertainment promoter in southwestern PA.  DiCesare-Engler Productions was thus born, and Engler was looking to be a bit conservative in his very first booking for the new company.  Little did he know he’d end up with Faux-wood Mac instead of Fleetwood Mac.

In his anecdotal book about his life in the music business, 2013’s Behind The Stage Door/A Promoter’s Life Behind the Scenes, Engler says that he originally thought his booking was a wise first choice.  He had worked with the band before at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland and some colleges and the group, he knew, would draw a decent crowd.  He made sure that the booking agent at the American Talent agency gave him the very first date of this brand new USA tour of Fleetwood Mac, and Engler’s January 16, 1974 playdate at Pittsburgh’s Syria Mosque with opening act Spirit sold out immediately.  But when the promoter showed up at the venue on the appointed date, he was...well, the appropriate word would be nonplussed.  “The night of the show,” Engler recalls, “I was backstage when a group of six British-looking guys walked past me.  One of them approached and introduced himself as Clifford Davis, manager of Fleetwood Mac.  ‘OK, where’s the band?’ I said.  ‘They just walked by,’ Clifford said.  ‘That wasn’t Fleetwood Mac.  Where are Christine and John McVie?’ Engler asked.  ‘Where’s Bob Welch?  I personally know Mick Fleetwood.  Where are they?’  ‘You just saw Fleetwood Mac as they are now,’ Clifford said.  ‘I own the name and this is the band as they are today.  They do all the same songs.’”

Engler exploded.  He insisted that an immediate financial adjustment be made to the deal that he had agreed to, and also maintained he’d run up on stage and reveal to the audience the underhanded switcheroo.  A punch came, and Engler ducked.  A security guard separated the two men and the incensed manager then threatened the promoter with future booking consequences from his agency contacts in New York.  Engler was taken aback, but with his hands now somewhat tied he decided to let things play out.  What happened next can only be called Nonplussed, Part Deux: when the band took the stage and hit the opening chords of their first song “Rattlesnake Shake,” Engler remembers, “The roar from the crowd was deafening.  People were going crazy and they loved it!  Whether the audience was so stoned or just oblivious to the real members of Fleetwood Mac, I’m not sure.”  There were standing ovations periodically through the night, and only a handful of refund requests surfaced post-show.

This tale has a happy ending.  This Pittsburgh date turned out to be a financial success for Engler, his first booking in his new partnership with Pat DiCesare.  But the day after the concert Engler found out that his American Talent booking agent was also totally in the dark about the Fleetwood fakes.  Engler then pressed the agent to reach out to the other promoters down the pipeline.  He felt they needed to know that the Big Mac headed their way was lacking that special sauce, and even though the band in its current form might satisfy some appetites, a slightly more savvy audience just might find it all pretty hard to digest.

p.s. The following year (1975) the real deal was back on the concert circuit.  Mick Fleetwood and the McVies and the rest of the band had finally won a long court battle with shifty, rights-trampling manager Clifford Davis in late 1974.  Around that same time Mick Fleetwood—in need of a new guitar player prompted by the recent departure of Bob Welch—had been checking out Sound City Studios in Los Angeles and house engineer Keith Olsen happened to play for him a song from the 1973 album by Buckingham Nicks.  Fleetwood was soon introduced through Olsen to guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, and shortly thereafter the biggest Mac of them all was born—Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie and John McVie, now joined by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.  

The reconstructed, revitalized band released their self-titled album in July 1975 featuring, among other tracks, “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me,” “Landslide” and “Over My Head.”  The group’s followup entitled Rumours hit stores and airwaves in February 1977 and upon its release, the album became a veritable musical megaton.  The final product was a cosmic convergence of songwriting, musical talent and execution, and recording studio expertise, and the hits and favored FM radio tracks were unstoppable: “Dreams”...“Don’t Stop”...“Go Your Own Way”...“Songbird”...“Gold Dust Woman”...“You Make Loving Fun”...and “The Chain.”  By 1980 the album had sold 13 million worldwide; by 1987, 20 million; by 2009, beyond 40 million.  In the USA alone, by 2012, it stood as the sixth best-selling album in the history of the United States.


The above Fleetwood Mac tale of posers and perpetrators in 1974 is not a rarity in the world of rock ‘n’ roll.  In the December 2022 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, David Browne’s article “Faking the Funk” details the current trials and tribulations of long-suffering Bootsy Collins of Parliament-Funkadelic fame.  Collins has been dogged for years by impersonators who are right out of the school of Wham, Bam, Thank you, Scam—i.e., those less-than-scrupulous individuals who expertly mimic the countenance, manner and moves of a certain celebrity, aiming to bask briefly in the spotlight of their fabricated fame while also raking in a bit of coin or other things of value from the unsuspecting.

Browne observes in his Rolling Stone piece that “Almost as long as there have been rock stars, there have been imposters: not tribute-band impersonators, but con artists claiming to actually be that person and hustling people out of cash or cadging free goods along the way.”  The writer then cites the example of a fake Fab Four who succeeded in pulling off some shows billed as The Beatles in South America in 1964, and from that time period as well, Browne notes that there was an “unscrupulous promoter [who] hired a bunch of ex-bank robbers, bus drivers, and lingerie salespeople to pretend to be the Ronettes and Temptations for a tour in the U.K.”

Browne also touches on a Bowie scam from 1977, when an impersonator who must have been ever so convincing persuaded a woman to leave her husband and “run off to Hawaii with the Thin Fake Duke.”  Other prominent classic rockers from that ‘70s time period such as Steve Miller and the Eagle’s Randy Meisner also fell victim to fakers in a few situations, and Browne points out as well that the rock group Kiss’ drummer Peter Criss was notably plagued.  “The Criss impostor,” Browne says, “told a tabloid that he was a homeless drunk scuffling for change, leading the real Criss to confront the fraud on The Phil Donahue Show.”

Hearkening back to the initial quote from Fiona McQuarrie at the beginning of this post, the definition of a “real” band has indeed become quite complicated.  This is especially true as we move even further into this decade of the 2020s; the heritage classic rock bands of the 1970s in particular are now contending with the allure of the retired life, the physical and mental limitations of aging, and/or the occasional tap on the shoulder by The Man in Black (and I don’t mean Johnny Cash).

There appeared on CelebrityAccess.com recently (12/4/22) a reprint of a Rolling Stone magazine article by—once again—David Browne, and the writer poses a question right in the article’s title: “The Future of Classic Rock Tours: One or Two Surviving Members...Or None?”  The piece kicks off with an interesting twist from a live entertainment agent named CJ Strock, who used his connections to the latter-day Allman Brothers Band management and family representatives to sell a concept of keeping the spirit, if not the flesh, of the Allman Brothers Band alive and well on the concert circuit.  Almost fifty years ago in 1975 when the Allmans released their first retrospective album of hits and standout tracks called The Road Goes On Forever, little did they know that their road would one day not have a single original or past member carrying the torch.

Or at least Strock’s torch.  His idea of securing legitimate approvals and sign-offs from the Allmans’ camp to then create a sanctioned tribute band with no actual members is a rather unique approach.  He even convinced the Allmans’ rights holders to allow his young band of players—officially named “The Allman Brothers Band Presents Trouble No More”—a bit of latitude in vocal stylings and in tweaks to tempo in the execution of the Allmans’ material.  Strock’s thought process here was ostensibly to enable the band to find its own voice to a certain degree within the overall constraints, chiefly to test his theory that new and younger fans might then welcome this sort of tinkering which the older, dyed-in-the-wool Allmans fans likely would not.

CJ Strock’s idea is an extreme example of a music entrepreneur attempting to face what Browne has labeled a real industry dilemma.  Since the heritage classic rock bands are losing members left and right to retirement or infirmities or Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven, the writer wonders what this means for the fans.  “How do you service fans” asks Browne, “who have been following a band for decades and still want to hear the music played live in some form, by somebody?  The classic-rock world—musicians, managers, and promoters alike—has begun grappling with ways in which to keep both the bands and brands alive and profitable in the years and decades to come.” 

It is possible that Strock may be on the right path here.  This concept of perpetuation through new (not original or past) members has worked before.  Browne notes that Strock’s approach takes its cue from big band ensembles like the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.  These orchestras still survive and even thrive on the concert circuit today, as a revolving door of younger players have come and gone through the years to carry on the sounds and the traditions under the banner of the original players.  But Musicasaurus just doesn’t buy Strock’s reasonings and his approach, especially as it pertains to the heritage classic rock bands from the ‘70s who crave longevity yet who also value legitimacy.  Musicasaurus would prefer an authoritative “step up” in this overall concept that would help preserve genuine authenticity.  And this may be the answer, though it is admittedly—regrettably—only a short-term fix: hang on to an original member until it just ain’t possible any longer.  This is a tie that cements past and present, and the emotional weight of this can’t be underestimated in terms of the loyal fans who have followed a particular group from its earliest days.  In Browne’s article, two prime examples of this rose to the fore—Foreigner and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Both of these classic rock bands are down to one original member each, and both are planning to keep on keepin’ on through 2023.

Foreigner, a group consisting of three Brits and three Americans, came together in 1976 in New York City and plowed a path to success beginning with FM radio staples/AM radio hits “Feels Like the First Time” and “Cold as Ice” from their self-titled 1977 debut album.  In 2023 the band begins an 18-month farewell tour principally because of the health issues of sole original band member Mick Jones.  In recent times guitarist Jones has often been hit-and-miss when it comes to performances, and the band members continue to be nothing but supportive of Jones’ up-and-down participation in their live shows.  Browne quotes a band spokesperson who offered to weigh in definitively on the future of the group: “By the time the Farewell Tour wraps up, Mick Jones will have spent almost 50 years leading Foreigner,” the spokesperson said. “He will also be 80 years old and that’s long enough to be on the road!  There are no plans for the band to continue after that.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd, who formed in 1969, has according to Browne “had more than 25 members throughout its career, nearly half of whom have died: During performances of ‘Free Bird,’ a screen displays the names of 13 deceased members, including Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Ed King, and latter-day members like bassist Ean Evans.”  But guitarist Gary Rossington, sole survivor of the original band who recently turned 71, plans to keep going as long as he can.  Rossington’s health challenges are heart related and just last month in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium he sat out the first half of the performance in favor of a hired gun stand-in, but then stepped in for the final half.  “A lot of different emotions, you know,” Rossington told Browne. “I look out and don’t see the original band—it’s strange.  And then I look out and see a replacement for me, which is strange.  Just hearing the songs without me playing on ’em live is very strange.”

But Rossington went on to say he would soldier on, hoping to play more often than not on the band’s upcoming summer co-headlining tour with ZZ Top.  He’s not opposed to Skynyrd someday continuing on without him, but right now he is trying to live in the here and now.  “It’s a tribute band right now, and everybody knows it’s not the original...Everybody who comes to see us is told that during the show, and probably knows before they even get there.  But people still come to hear it live.  In a couple of years it’s supposed to possibly stop, and maybe it won’t.  I just don’t know, because who can predict the future?  We’ll decide then what’s really going to happen.”






It has been six years and four months since Western Pennsylvania native son and singer/songwriter B.E. Taylor left this world, and Christmas has just not been the same ‘round these parts since his passing.  So many people—fans spanning a couple of generations, in fact—are likely still at a bit of a loss as to how to fill the void.  And now this is the seventh Christmas season without him.

B.E. Taylor, for readers unaware, performed holiday concerts in southwestern Pennsylvania (and beyond) that kindled the Christmas spirit with a fiery finesse, one that sent those assembled soaring into the joys of the season.  B.E. was a mesmerizing performer backed by a band of musical brothers, and the shows were legendary among the initiated.  Those who attended became converts, young souls and old souls alike, and when Christmas would roll around again the following year, new fans subsequently adopted what the already converted fans were practicing and preaching: It just ain’t Christmas until B.E. says it’s so.

The piece below—now updated and added to—was originally posted on Musicasaurus in the month and year of B.E.’s passing, August 2016.  But it is in this month of December that the B.E. Taylor Christmas story may best be appreciated.  This time of the year truly sparks more grace, gratitude and giving, as each day the holiday season burns more brightly within us.  So, throw another log on your inner fire, and settle in for this tale of a man of music and faith who helped define a holiday...

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.  If a clod be washed away at sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” – John Donne (1572-1631); Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, originally published in 1624. 

The “any man’s death” part of this famous quotation of Donne’s popped into my head soon after I first heard the news about the August 7, 2016 passing of B.E. Taylor, one of Western Pennsylvania’s most gifted and beloved singer-songwriters/musicians. 

I thought to myself, yes, any man’s death diminishes me—but somehow this one hurt almost like no other.

I looked up the entire quote and dug more into Donne, and then it seemed even more apropos that my mind had first gone to this beautiful phrasing from long ago.  Donne was one of a group of English writers from the 17thcentury who, I learned, were labeled years afterward as “the metaphysical poets” because their works—sonnets, sermons, elegies, and especially poetry—revolved around two principal themes: love and religion.

Aye, that was B.E.  Or rather, those were the two threads that literally made the man. They were intertwined, and he was a man defined.  There was a third thread as well and lucky for all of us, it was music.

William Edward Taylor was born in Aliquippa, PA (less than 30 miles from Pittsburgh), and from an early age fell into the spell cast by the Beatles and Motown.  His mother had gotten into the habit of calling him Billy Edward which thankfully was eventually trimmed to B.E.—a much better “handle” for the rocker that was rising up within.

B.E. had his own band while still in high school, and along with his exuberance and rock-star long hair, he had…the voice.  I have distant memories of seeing B.E. in concert during my own high school years in the late ‘60s going into the ‘70s, but of course it was the early ‘80s when his passion and talent really grabbed the national spotlight.  His band the B.E. Taylor Group was one of several in Western Pennsylvania to emerge into the limelight back then.  This was arguably one of the most fertile periods of homegrown Western Pennsylvania musical talent and a few of these groups were beginning to successfully shoulder open record company doors, at the same time edging onto more and more radio station playlists.  Groups like Donnie Iris and the Cruisers, Joe Grushecky’s Iron City Houserockers and The Silencers (with Frank Czuri and Warren King) were all gaining national traction thanks to more airplay and the nascent MTV that was adding their clips.  B.E. bathed in those waters as well—with “Vitamin L.”

Ironically, this song which became a #1 regional hit and a national chart climber to #66 on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 in 1984 was one of the only ones NOT sung by lead vocalist B.E.  Instead, it was the band’s drummer Joey D’Amico that took the honors on that one.  But, back to the voice

In 1991, in my era of rampant CD collecting and coveting, I ran across local radio station WDVE’s recent music compilation of Pittsburgh-region artists, and B.E. was in that brood.  The song was “You’re Gonna Work It Out” and it was an inspirational, power-throated rock ballad that had me from the opening chords and the first vocal slide-in from the perpetually longhaired, eternally impassioned singer.  I kept this song on “repeat” and never tired of the magic B.E. spun with the able accompaniment of the singer’s fast friend and sidekick Rick Witkowski on track production and guitar.

That same year B.E. also found his true calling—quite by accident, according to  his close friend Steve Hansen, former WDVE on-air talent and current independent writer/producer.  “It was truly accidental,” Hansen says.  “B.E. had contributed a song to another station’s Christmas CD that year, and the reception to it was amazing.  He had reworked “Silent Night,” and the response was so great that he came up with the idea of doing a full Christmas album—and putting it out on his own record label Chrishae, which is a commonplace idea now, of course, but was trendsetting at the time.”


B.E. Taylor Christmas was released in 1994, and as Hansen tells it, late in the year B.E. was talked into doing a Wheeling area one-time performance of the album, and again, the response was electric.  This begat the idea of a holiday concert tour, and it was here that B.E. truly arrived at the intersection of love, religion and music.  With his strong Christian faith, and doubly armed with the love of family & friends and a humble appreciation of his own singular gift, B.E. surrounded himself with a stellar band of musical comrades—Rick Witkowski, Jamie Peck, Jeff Jimerson, Hermie Granati and others—and set sail into holiday waters.

The Christmas season tour took off.  And from 1996 onward, B.E. and band were annually packing theater-sized venues in southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and beyond, amassing crowds of all ages and stripes who seemed hungry for connection in terms of bringing a bit of the real meaning of Christmas into their lives.

Or, truth be told, maybe some of them just liked to rock.  B.E.’s stage show consisted mostly of the time-tested Christmas songs like “Joy to The World” and “O Holy Night” and “What Child Is This”—but each was an ingenious, wholly-satisfying spin on the original, infused with the singer’s alternately soaring and soothing vocals powered on by his mates.  The songs, whether ballads or up-tempo re-creations, were creative set pieces—stirring, moving, emotion-filled and masterfully performed.  And between songs, B.E. avoided the usual rock clichés and stage patter—just not in his nature—and engaged the audience with warm, short asides about his family, friends, bandmates, and oh yes, the God’s honest relevance of this most wonderful time of year.

Around September 2009 after having decided to leave the music business and my general manager post at Star Lake Amphitheatre, I scoured the world of nonprofit organizations in the Pittsburgh area and ended up joining public broadcaster WQED as part of their broadcast sales & underwriting team.  That same year in the month of December, B.E. finally realized his goal of trying to capture the essence of his evermore popular Christmas concerts on camera.  On December 14thand 15th, he and his band played their standard two-night sell-out engagement at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall, and videographers and audio folks swelled the numbers of his normal crew, painstakingly recording both nights from which to cull the best performances for an eventual DVD.

B.E. and his wife Veronica called me at WQED a few months into 2010.  I had come to know the two through my prior years of working at National Record Mart, the Civic Arena and Star Lake Amphitheatre, and an inevitable bond had slowly taken root.  I greatly admired them both and looked forward to every opportunity during those years to have our paths cross.  They knew I had left Star Lake so they called to ask if I could arrange a meeting with WQED’s management to discuss the possibility of our public television station airing B.E.’s new video.  

At this point in time the video was still in the “heavy edit” stage although B.E. and Veronica were able to bring in video clips of some already finalized song stretches.  So we all then huddled in the Hillman, WQED’s official conference room—the Taylors, my department head Dorothy Frank and I, and Patty Walker (then the VP/Business & Finance) and Linda Taggart (then Senior Director/On-Air Fundraising).  The latter two, WQED’s management team members responsible for decision-making in this realm of product approvals and programming, were clearly quite interested—and by the end of the meeting, enthralled.  Literally before all of us parted ways that afternoon, they told the Taylors that WQED was IN.

WQED’s management team then took it one step further.  Walker and Taggart promised to submit the completed concert to APT (American Public Television), a subset network of PBS stations who, they said, would most assuredly give serious consideration to airing the video in their respective markets.  The end result?  Beginning in December 2010, a number of other cities’ PBS outlets began airing the seasonal production along with WQED, and slowly but surely B.E’s holiday-with-a-twist became ingrained in their annual year-end schedules as well.

All of this couldn’t have happened to a nicer person—especially one with the vision and perseverance and the talent to bring it to fruition.  I remember talking to B.E. on the phone one day, right after he and Veronica had delivered the finalized B.E. Taylor Christmas: Live at Heinz Hall video to WQED.  I recall frankly gushing about the finished product, and told him—uh, no offense here, PBS—that his concert, stacked up against a lot of other PBS offerings of holiday concerts I’d seen, was truly something special.  Not only was this video a testament to the musicians’ kinship and skill, it was in equal measure a tribute to the emotional power of unselfconscious, sublimely-on-target editing which ultimately brought a seamless, incredibly joyous experience to the viewer.

With B.E.’s passing we lost a native son…a champion for love…a man blessed with an abundance of talent who shared his gift with thousands of people every year for over twenty years running.

I believe I’m speaking for a lot of them when I extend to the heavens a prayer of thanks.  I am only one of countless others in southwestern Pennsylvania and beyond who raised their children on B.E. Taylor Christmas concerts…who took friends each year and turned them into converts…and who went back home after each performance infused with the spirit, reminded to do for others and to be grateful for all the blessings that Life gives to us.

In a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Scott Mervis the day after B.E. passed away in August 2016, close friend of the singer (and band member) Hermie Granati was quoted as saying this: “All the superlatives have been said about his musicianship, but the guy that we knew, when he talked to you, he made you feel like you were the most important person in the room.  Very at ease and very comfortable being himself.  There was a light emanating from Bill, and he pulled everyone into that light.  He wore his faith on his sleeve and he lived it.”  

Sleep in heavenly peace, B.E....

*Sample from B.E. Taylor Christmas, the singer’s first holiday album: “Joy to The World” https://youtu.be/dBItITE0DRg

*Sample from B.E. Taylor Christmas 2, the singer’s second holiday release: “Mary Did You Know” https://youtu.be/40J3k7mFuoY

*Sample from B.E. Taylor Christmas Live at Heinz Hall: “What Child is This?” (this performance is from the DVD; the band includes B.E.’s son BC Taylor on drums and Anthony Rankin on lead guitar)  https://youtu.be/1RWTkDsmMLY





Posted 12/4/22.....FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME

I was born in the relatively small town of Butler, PA in the early 1950s, and as a youngster I found myself--with occasional parental prodding--going to the local YMCA for certain classes and activities.  I smile when I think back to taking swimming lessons there.  The swim instructors gave us accreditation (i.e., none-too-fancy certificates) for powering through specific levels of consecutive pool lengths--starting with a “Minnow” designation for a handful of laps, and then building from there--and I got all the way to the top level which was, if memory serves, 72 laps.  I had a “Whale” of a time on that one...Another recollection--this one prompting not a smile but a mischievous grin--is the time my mother signed my brother and I up for eight weeks of jujitsu classes.  Every Wednesday night for eight straight weeks Larry and I would be dropped off at the stairs to the YMCA’s main entrance, trot up to the doors, and then turn to wave as Mom drove away.  After the first night we decided we didn’t like jujitsu all that much, so instead of actually going inside the Y we took our clutched class money (around $2.00 each) and scampered down the one long block to Main Street to Sun Drugs pharmacy. There we slouched down in a comfortable booth and leisurely enjoyed a hot fudge sundae (me) and a butterscotch sundae (him) before scurrying back to the top of those YMCA front steps in time for Mom’s pickup.  Over that next seven weeks she never suspected a thing.  And luckily, up to this point in my life, I have never had to bloodcurdlingly scream “Hot Fudge Sundae!” in the face of any potential attacker.

My absolute best memory from my pre-teen and early-teen years at the Butler YMCA, though?  Obviously, says Mr. Musicasaurus, it was a concert experience.  And not just any concert--it was my first.

In November of 1967--the year I turned 14--I was a member of one of the YMCA’s boys clubs called Gray-Y, and our club leader (who seemed much older and wiser than we were, for he was in his early 20s) brought up the idea to our group that attending a show in Pittsburgh might make for a nice club outing.  The concert he went on to describe for us was one of those “packaged artists” shows that were popular in touring circles particularly in the 1960s, and this one on Wednesday, November 22 was to be held at the illustrious Penn Theatre (now Heinz Hall).  The show was advertised as featuring local KDKA-AM radio personality Clark Race as emcee, national comedy trio the Pickle Brothers, the Soul Survivors, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Buffalo Springfield and headliner the Beach Boys.

After everyone in our Gray-Y group got the parental go-ahead, our team leader purchased tickets to the earlier of the two performances which was at 7pm.  The night of the concert we arrived at the Penn Theatre en masse and immediately, the sights, sounds and surroundings of this beautiful venue set my brain to ping-ponging.  Our leader checked our ticket locations with a ground-floor usher, and as it turned out, they really should have had an additional written advisory on them: “Proceed to nosebleed.”  

Yep.  We ended up in the next to last row of the balcony, scaling the heights to get there.  But once the lights dimmed and the show started?  We felt like we were even higher.  Many specific memories of this 1967 concert have dimmed with age, of course, but I DO recall how we Gray-Y guys were absolutely gobsmacked by the music emanating from the stage.  Experiencing live music in this kind of setting--people up and down the rows in front of us, some standing, some squealing, some screaming--left us concert virgins wide-eyed and squirming in our seats.  I for one hadn’t experienced anything like this before, feeling so flat-out supercharged.

It is very gratifying in a way to be able to look back--in my case, way back--at a pivotal musical experience like this, and by digging a bit deeper be able to learn so much more about what was happening with these bands at that point in time.  

THE SOUL SURVIVORS (support act)

First off, this group never took the stage that night.  The Soul Survivors didn’t make this Pittsburgh engagement though they were advertised as such, and indeed they appeared on other November dates as part of this Beach Boys tour.  It would have been interesting to see this band live, as their soulful hit song “Expressway to Your Heart” was still lingering on a lot of radio stations’ playlists nationally four months after its initial release in July.  The band members were originally from New York City but found their rise to fame reach its heights in Philly according to The Philadelphia Music Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to preserving and promoting the city’s rich musical legacy.  

According to the Alliance’s website, the band’s monster hit record “was one of the first notable productions by Philadelphia wizards Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in 1967.  Although they were white, the Soul Survivors adopted a convincing R&B sound for their early singles on Crimson.  Gamble and Huff loaded ‘Expressway to Your Heart’ with honking horns and other automotive sound effects, but the record’s principal strength lay in its soulful vocals and pounding beat.”  Gamble and Huff wrote and produced the song and, again according to the Alliance’s website, “it became that duo’s first ‘crossover’ hit and would help to introduce the soon to be popular ‘TSOP,’ ‘The Sound of Philadelphia.’”

The Philadelphia Music Alliance started with its formation in 1986 inducting musicians to be immortalized through its now famous Walk of Fame.  Located along Broad Street’s Avenue of the Arts, The Walk and its ever-expanding series of bronze commemorative plaques “honors Philadelphia area musicians and music professionals who have made a significant contribution to the world of music.”  Based on the non-profit’s yearly inductions history, Philly is a gold mine of ongoing musical talent.  In 1987, the first full year after it had come into existence, the Alliance initially welcomed in artists including Bessie Smith, Bill Haley, Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, Clifford Brown, Dick Clark, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Leopold Stokowski, Marian Anderson, Mario Lanza and Pearl Bailey.  And 2017 was the year that the Soul Survivors were embraced and honored, and they were in great company as well; the other inductees that year included Jill Scott, LaBelle, McFadden & Whitehead, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Sister Sledge.


THE BEACH BOYS (headliner)

According to the website beachboygigs.com, the stretch of November 1967 Beach Boy dates on their self-dubbed “Fifth Annual Thanksgiving Tour” with the Pickle Brothers, the Soul Survivors, Strawberry Alarm Clock and Buffalo Springfield opened up in Detroit, Michigan on November 17 at the Masonic Auditorium.  The ten-day tour then wrapped up on November 26 at the Baltimore Civic Center.  “It was the group’s first tour in their new stage outfits, matching white suits,” the website’s recap article states.  “While arguably an improvement over the archaic striped shirts, the outfits were hardly hip in comparison to the flamboyant stage clothes worn by most rock groups of the time.” 

Besides this onstage fashion update, the year 1967 heralded other changes in the Boys.  Brian Wilson was largely homebound now in Los Angeles doing most of the recording of new band material in his new home studio, and as much as his creativity might still have been soaring, his mental state was headed the other direction.  Among other things he, uh, just might have been taking more than a few trips without ever leaving his house.  Thus the Beach Boys on stage circa November 1967 consisted only of Mike Love, Carl and Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston, with one of their newest backing-band recruits being Daryl Dragon on keyboards.  Again according to beachboygigs.com, Dragon soon took to wearing a sea captain’s hat as a lark and Mike Love nicknamed him, and subsequently introduced audiences to him, as “Captain Keyboards.”  Dragon in the early-mid ‘70s capped off his career (with that cap still on) when he and his soon wife-to-be Toni Tennille formed the hitmaking duo The Captain and Tennille. 

At the November 22, 1967 Pittsburgh show the Beach Boys were pounding out the hits like the seasoned veterans they’d become.  Entering 1967 the Boys already had 11 studio albums under their belt, 9 of which had broken into the Top Ten of Billboard magazine’s Top Two Hundred chart, and 28 singles that got onto the same magazine’s Hot One Hundred chart, with 12 of these piercing its Top Ten.  A lot of ear-caressing harmonies spilled out from the stage and over the adoring audience that night, songs like “Help Me, Rhonda,” “I Get Around,” “Surfer Girl,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” “California Girls,” “Good Vibrations” and others.  The headliners also threw in a few tunes from their most recent album Smiley Smile which had hit stores in September, and waiting in the wings for release in December was the band’s thirteenth album Wild Honey.


On the band’s website strawberryalarmclock.com, in a June 15, 2011 article by MRFARMER, the group members talk about how enamored they were to be a part of this tour with the Beach Boys back in 1967.  “‘Everyone traveled on the Beach Boys’ private plane,’ SAC keyboardist Mark Weitz says. ‘It was an amazing time.’  Then-SAC guitarist Ed King recalls: ‘The tours with the Beach Boys in ’67 and ’68 outshine any other period in my life.’” 

That’s actually quite a mouthful from King, as just a few years after his Strawberry Alarm Clock days ended with that group’s dissolution in late 1971, the guitarist joined the newly-formed Lynyrd Skynyrd and stayed with them for their first three albums, Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd), Second Helping and Nuthin' Fancy.  In the June 15 article as well, King recalled “one amazing moment on the tour: ‘(Beach Boy) Carl Wilson coming over to my room to show me the chords to “God Only Knows.”  The memory ‘far outweighs any Skynyrd experience.’”

The timing of Strawberry Alarm Clock’s linkup with the Beach Boys in November 1967 was fortuitous.  The band’s massively popular single “Incense and Peppermints” was released in May of that year but held onto its popularity (and its national sales chart standings) all the way through the end of November when it crested at the #1 spot.  And the album of the same name bearing this nice, rhythmic slice of pop psychedelia was released the month before the Pittsburgh concert, starting its own run of chart climbing that lasted for the next half a year.  Strawberry Alarm Clock was never able to duplicate this initial level of success.  One subsequent single, a song entitled “Tomorrow” from their 1968 follow-up album Wake Up...It’s Tomorrow, rose to #23 and then faltered, and the group lost even more steam and momentum over the next handful of years.  Their brief ‘60s career earned them--rightly or wrongly--a designation that more than just knocked on the door of One-hit Wonder status.


When talking about this band it is best to start with the birth of the Buffalo.  Here is guitarist Neil Young’s account of it from his 2012 memoir Waging Heavy Peace: In Toronto in the spring of 1966, Young and his bandmate Bruce Palmer were suddenly free of obligations to local band the Mynah Byrds because the group had just at that time splintered apart.  So Young and Palmer scraped together funds and bought a 1953 Pontiac hearse, deciding to head to Los Angeles where the music scene was really beginning to thrive.  Once there they began searching for fellow musician Stephen Stills, a guitarist that Young knew from the latter’s previous occasional music gigs in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Stills was now said to be somewhere in L.A. but the search was proving fruitless.  Young was driving down Sunset Boulevard after finally deciding to abandon the search and head for San Francisco to check out the music scene there, when a car pulled up nearby and Young heard a voice call out to him.  Neil recalls this moment in his memoir: “I looked around out the driver’s window of the hearse.  It was Stills!  We got out and hugged right there on Sunset Boulevard in the middle of traffic.  Horns were honking!  To us it seemed like everybody was celebrating!  Something was happening, but we didn’t know what it was. It was fucking Buffalo Springfield, that’s what it was.”

As it turned out Stills at that time had been crashing with friend Richie Furay at the L.A. home of his and Furay’s manager Barry Friedman, and Stills was just in the beginning phases of starting a band.  Buffalo Springfield came together quite quickly after Young and Stills’ little happy dance in traffic on April 6, 1966.  By the end of that year the group had not only been signed to Atlantic Records by the label’s co-founder and president Ahmet Ertegun, but their self-titled debut album on subsidiary label Atco was released just in time for the Christmas season.  A little less than a year after that in November 1967, the band released their second album Buffalo Springfield Again.  As that record was just starting to hit the stores, the single “Rock and Roll Woman” from that album was continuing to hang in there on a number of radio stations’ playlists.  Buffalo Springfield had some traction now, and having a Top Ten hit the previous spring--“For What It’s Worth”--only added to this groundswell of interest.  The Beach Boys reached out to the band to put them on their “Fifth Annual Thanksgiving Tour” as their opening act.

I can testify to the electricity that ran through me when Buffalo Springfield played at the Penn Theatre on that night of November 22, 1967.  I had been a fan already, having quickly snatched up Buffalo Springfield Again earlier that month.  I was immediately knocked out by the songwriting growth, higher production values, and the more skillful execution of the material as compared to their debut album.  The night I saw them with my Gray-Y friends in Pittsburgh as they warmed up the crowd, what I remember most are the chiming guitars and buoyant thrill of “Rock and Roll Woman,” the exquisite rendition of “For What It’s Worth,” and the extended, sweetly propulsive set-closing “Bluebird.”  The Beach Boys, as it turned out, fell in love with them as well.  According to the website beachboysgigs.com, “The Beach Boys took quite a liking to this group.  In 1968 Bruce Johnston told Ann Moses of New Musical Express, ‘The Buffalo is the only group I’ve seen all the Beach Boys really dig since the Beatles.’  Mike Love later recalled that the Buffalo Springfield ‘was incredible.  We used to go onstage and sit behind the speakers and listen to them.’  The Beach Boys were so taken with Stephen Stills’ song ‘Rock and Roll Woman’ that by 1969 it was briefly part of their act.” 

Six months after the November 1967 Pittsburgh show, Buffalo Springfield was no more.  From the group’s initial formation in early April 1966 through their last gig at Long Beach Auditorium on May 5, 1968, the band held together and produced music for only two years.  

But their legacy lives on in a couple of ways: 1) through their masterful, in some ways groundbreaking studio recordings, in particular the songs from their Buffalo Springfield Again album (released October 1967) and the band’s post-breakup release Last Time Around (released July 1968).  And 2) through the band members who, within this musical brotherhood, significantly sharpened their skills as they both challenged and supported each other in pursuit of individual and group excellence.  This stood them in good stead.  Jim Messina, replacement bassist for Canadian Bruce Palmer who’d been deported for a drug offense in January 1968, contributed to the Last Time Around album and after the band’s breakup became a founding member of country rock group Poco in 1968.  Later on in 1971, he forged a successful musical partnership with singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins and together they co-founded Loggins & Messina...Richie Furay went on to become co-founder of Poco in 1968 with Jim Messina...Stephen Stills formed the supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1968 with David Crosby of the Byrds and Graham Nash of the Hollies, and their landmark self-titled album was released to great acclaim in the summer of 1969...Neil Young launched a very successful solo career--sometimes truly solo; sometimes with talented backing band Crazy Horse--beginning in 1969.  And in the summer of 1969, Young also joined Crosby, Stills & Nash, turning the venerated CSN into the even more formidable CSNY. 





Posted 11/20/22.....IT'S A FAMILY AFFAIR



I recently unearthed an article written by Teresa F. Lindeman that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a little over twenty years ago on January 25, 2002.  It spelled out a sad situation, one that particularly struck a chord with southwestern Pennsylvanians.  The article was entitled “The Day the Music Dies: NRM Workers Bemoan Loss of a Company They Loved and Couldn't Leave.”  In the article’s first few paragraphs, Lindeman quotes former National Record Mart president Frank Fischer who, even years after departing the company, was still a regular visitor to the record chain’s flagship store at 234 Forbes Avenue.  “I was there for the birth,” Fischer had said to Lindeman, and “I might as well be there for the funeral.”

January 2002 was when the flagship store in downtown Pittsburgh concluded its going-out-of-business sale.  And in nearby Carnegie where the NRM offices and distribution center were located, movers showed up to clean out the company’s fixtures and furniture.

Yep.  The end of an era.  National Record Mart was “the oldest music retail chain in the country” according to a Pittsburgh Business Times article from October 8, 2001 and--again according to Lindeman’s account in the Post-Gazette--it had started out as a small used-record shop in 1937 and “the business grew to become the fourth-largest specialty retailer of prerecorded music in the country by the late 1990s, employing 1,200.  Its buyers brought the latest music to the masses--from Frank Sinatra and Perry Como to the Beatles, the Bee Gees, Bruce Springsteen and N'Sync...Kids took sales jobs so they could earn money listening to the latest music.  Some never left.  The common refrain: ‘I grew up there.’”

When I joined National Record Mart in 1980, taking on the role of managing in-store record-company displays and then subsequently moving into advertising & marketing, more than one person in the company’s headquarters at 5607 Baum Boulevard had initially greeted me with “Welcome to the National Record Mart family!”  And perhaps that was because “family” was EVERYTHING.  The company began in the late 1930s when Hyman Shapiro and his three sons--Sam, Howard and Jason--opened their first store called Jitterbug Record Mart.  The Jitterbug name was jettisoned in the early 1940s in favor of National Record Mart, and the three Shapiro brothers from that point on nurtured expansion and growth of their business as demand for recorded music continued its upswing.  By the late 1950s there were 19 stores...by the early 1960s, 25 stores in and around Pittsburgh...by 1975, 38 stores within a four-hour drive of Pittsburgh...by the end of the 1970s, 57 total stores across multiple states...and by the time I had joined the family-run business in the early 1980s, the count stood right around 70.

NRM was eventually sold by the Shapiros to an investment group in 1986, the year after I had left my employment there to take a new job at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  But I kept tabs on my NRM friends over the years that followed, keeping abreast of the internal challenges caused by the new management in place as well as the mounting external forces--things like the unauthorized file-sharing services like Napster, the big box retailers like Best Buy selling music as a loss leader, and NRM’s troublesome debt load.  All these things in combination only served to put more pressure on the company’s assets and bottom line.  On June 21, 2001 as reported in the New York Times’ Company News column, National Record Mart was at that point in time forced into bankruptcy court by suppliers Vivendi Universal, Sony Corporation and others.  The chain--then consisting of the National Record Marts plus the company’s otherwise-branded stores like Waves, the superstore-sized Oasis, Vibes Music and Music X--was thus not long for this world...

Sad, and yet inevitable.  But the glory days of National Record Mart--from its beginnings in 1937 through the next almost-five decades of family ownership--is alive and well in the memories of the employees who worked there.  And it is as well in the minds of the people on the outside who worked directly with NRM--the record company personnel who in their own way contributed greatly to the overall family feel that existed at National Record Mart.

Below are reminiscences from just a few of these people, and I thank them for sharing their insights and their favorite memories from their NRM days.

GEORGE BALICKY...Initially Buyer and Sales Floor Associate; eventually Senior Vice President

I started my career at National Record Mart in 1967.  It was a perfect time to be part of this record retail chain because its growth outside of Pittsburgh was just beginning.  It was also a great time to be part of the music biz as we saw the Summer of Love launch new artists and huge rock festivals like Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock starting to happen.  Album sales soared and easily overtook sales of the single 45-rpm record.  At the time, NRM had around 30 stores mostly in the Pittsburgh area.  We decided to expand and crossed the Pennsylvania border into Ohio.  That was the beginning.  Over the next 35 years, NRM grew to 192 locations throughout the country as well as Hawaii and Guam.  Many younger readers don't know about those glory days of music when you went to your favorite "Record Mart" in the mall to see all the new releases every Tuesday.  I was lucky enough to do it every day for 32 years! 

STEVE ACRI...Store Manager

Between March of 1979 and February of 1984, I was employed by National Record Mart.  The first two-and-a-half years I was the manager of the Oasis store in Monroeville, and later on manager of two NRM stores in Dayton, OH.  During my tenure, my favorite experiences were the in-store appearances by the musical artists.  I worked with Kansas twice, Eddie Money, America, New England, and Rex Smith.  There were probably more but those come immediately to mind.  However, the most memorable of those was at the 1979 NRM store managers’ Christmas party which was held at the Oasis store in Bloomfield.  It was arranged for Charlie Daniels to come and perform for us at the party.  Just him, solo, for about 30 minutes.  It was a lot of fun and Charlie was very nice.  At the conclusion of his performance, one of the guests went to the Charlie Daniels record bin and opened an album for him to sign.  Soon, virtually all in attendance did the same, much to the chagrin of the Shapiro brothers who were the owners of the company and our hosts for the night.  Howard Shapiro, who was the main bean-counter of the three, was apoplectic.  “Who’s paying for all these records?!!” he demanded, to largely deaf ears.  Happily, not another word was uttered about the scene.  And I still have mine.

LORI PORTER (formerly Lori Winterburn)...Initially Store Clerk; eventually Vice President Purchasing & Merchandising

I have so many wonderful memories especially meeting artists but one was very special and of course it was at one of the annual NRM store manager conventions at Seven Springs: the impromptu duet between k.d. lang and Cyndi Lauper.  Warner Brothers Records provided k.d. lang for the Awards Night entertainment, and Columbia Records had Cyndi Lauper there that evening as a guest at dinner. 

Cyndi Lauper sat next to me at dinner when talk started between the record label representatives about her joining k.d. on stage (I'm guessing probably initiated by George Balicky!).  They decided on a song (Patsy Cline's "Crazy") and towards the end of k.d.'s set Cyndi was getting nervous, went to the bar and did a shot, and then got up on stage and the two of them did a duet for the ages. 

It was incredible...two remarkable female talents doing that song unrehearsed and they killed it!  I'll never forget it so thank you, George!!

DONNA WALTERS...Initially Switchboard Operator at NRM headquarters; then Administrative Assistant for VP-level individuals

I guess my favorite memory would be the annual store managers’ convention awards banquet.  It was nice to see the presentation of awards to the managers reflecting all of their hard work throughout the year.  It was topped off with a wonderful Grand Buffet that only Seven Springs could provide!  The assortment of food was amazing and gave us the opportunity to try a variety of foods and desserts.  The bands afterward, and the suite parties after that, were fun ways to be able to interact with people that a lot of us only saw once a year.

JULIA GIFFEN...NRM Box Office/Ticket Distribution; Assistant Store Manager

I worked for NRM from 1975-1980.  I worked at several stores as an assistant manager.  I loved the people that worked for the company.  A cast of characters for sure.  One big happy family.  

I would have to say that working in the ticket office was my favorite job.  Many perks, and Jason Shapiro and his family were the best people to work for.  We were treated as a family.

In 1977 the 40th anniversary of NRM was celebrated with a big show with Edgar Winter and J. Geils Band on the bill.  We attended a fancy dinner with the bands at Arthur’s on Fourth Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh.  We went to the show and got to sit on the side of the stage while the band played.  They put my friend Jean and I on a piano with a bottle of Dom.  Needless to say, it was a very exciting and a surreal night.

I met many famous artists and went to great parties while working there.  I made many lasting friendships and still talk with Gerrie Shapiro, the daughter of NRM’s co-founder Jason Shapiro, to this day.  I had some great times and many good memories from period of my life.  It was a special time I will always cherish.

SCOTT ROLLER...Merchandising and Marketing Coordinator

Zeroing in on a favorite memory of working at NRM in the ‘90s is tough. There were the endless promos [free copies of albums], concert tix and occasional office visits from pop and rock stars.  I remember one time bursting into a heavy, spontaneous sweat when NRM’s product buyers brought my high school pop-star crush Amy Grant to my desk, and she looked at me and said "Do I have anything in my teeth?  I just ate and I don't want to ruin our picture by having broccoli in my teeth.” 

Another favorite memory involves a particular day's drive to the Carnegie office. The city was hit with a blizzard (1993’s 23" of snow), and Corporate said that we had two options: 1) either make the trek to the office and check in with someone at the front door, in which case we could then drive back home and it would count as a paid day of work, OR 2) don't try going to the office at all, and just have the day marked as one of our vacation days.  

NRM buyer John Artale and I lived in the same apartment building, and we decided we were going to do the drive in order to keep our vacation days.  We were one of maybe five vehicles on the road during the entire drive from Shadyside to the Carnegie offices, and we were both terrified and exhilarated by the non-stop swerving, sliding and basic lack of control over my car.  I drove (barely) while Artale DJ'd, and I will never forget this: coming through the Fort Pitt Tunnels, with near white-out flurries, not another car in sight, with k.d. lang's "Constant Craving" blasting on the stereo. 

We wound down the car windows so flurries were blowing into/through the car, had arms out the window, singing along: "CONNnnnnnnnnnnnnnn...CONSTANnnnnnnnnnatttt Craaaaaaving..." as we swerved up/down the Parkway hills, not another vehicle in sight.  Once we were at the bottom of the last hill that winds up to the NRM offices, we put the car's hazard blinkers on and parked it.  We hiked up the hill in two feet of snow, checked in at the office entrance, then slid back down the hill to the car and swerved our way back to Shadyside, cranking music and laughing.  Best drive to work ever! 

JOHN ARTALE...Initially Video District Manager/Audio-Video Buyer; eventually Purchasing Manager and then Director of Purchasing

In the late 1980s New Kids on the Block were scheduled to do an in store at Ross Park Mall.  Being on the cutting edge of contemporary entertainment, as we were, we had NO IDEA how popular they were.  George Balicky even had his kids pass out flyers at school in the attempts of "drumming up some interest."  The Sony record company representative called George to warn him that these kids were a pretty big deal, but having become inured to label guys over the years we all “Yeah Yeah’ed” that away.  

Suffice to say, the mall was swamped, and the mall management were frantic.  We drove out there to try and at least hold back the swarm of young overwrought fans. I will never forget having to put the fence down at the entrance to the store and then watching it undulate with screaming fans to the point where I was in acceptance of an inevitable death by trampling.  The fence held, the NKOTB went out the back door, the screaming stopped, and we steered the remaining shell-shocked fans toward the mall concourse.

It’s always nice to get out of the office for a while.

GERRIE SHAPIRO...NRM Box Office Manager/Ticket Distribution 

My memories about National Record Mart are different because NRM has been woven through my life for 70 years.  From riding the conveyor belts as a child at 234 Forbes Avenue [the flagship store] to managing the largest privately-owned ticket operation. 

During the mid-1970s, when the concert business exploded, my father Jason and uncles Sam and Howard drafted me to run the ticket operation for all the concerts.  I hadn’t a clue what to do but somehow I figured it out.  I had the best team: Janice Wyrostek, Jeannine Seiple, Julie Pappa, Margie O’Neal--and then of course my mom, Hope.  Mom came to work every day and was truly just “one of the girls.”  My brother Frank would come home from wherever he was and work with us in the summer.  We hand counted hundreds of thousands of “hard” tickets and many millions of dollars.  In retrospect, my mother said that those years in the box office were her happiest years and she was furious when the brothers sold the business. 

I suppose I could relate to you my personal encounters with Diana Ross, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger, or the time Springsteen handed me his harmonica after the intro to “Thunder Road.”  But as I sit here smiling and crying, trying to sift through my favorite memories, I keep circling back to the same thing: It was the NRM family.  It was the wonderful people that worked there.  It was a magical time.  I was proud to be Jason Shapiro’s daughter and my uncles’ niece.  I grew up there.  I moved to California in 1996.  Janice and I are still the closest of friends, and by the way, Janice from the ticket office married Larry from the warehouse.  They have three stellar children and a beautiful grandson--and it all started at NRM.  Thanks, Dad :)

p.s. One other notable thing: The Shapiro Brothers never outsourced to bring in people from outside the company.  District managers started out as clerks, then were promoted to assistant store managers, then to store managers, then to district managers...Jimmy Grimes started working there as a teenager, in charge of the green-sleeved 45-rpms in the “Oldies Department.”  He was a true mathematical genius and ended up becoming a vice president of the company...Frank Fischer was a nerdy high school French horn player who also started as a teenager--and he rose to become President...The Shapiros also hired a young woman named Betty Lorey from the Easter Seals Society.  She had zero experience and had a disability.  She worked for the Shapiros for 40+ years and handled all the checkbooks.

p.p.s. My dad passed away at home, with me, in June of 2020.  Thirty-four years after he sold the business.  I am grateful for the countless emails and calls from the NRM family; each person had a special memory of my dad…My email address: shapirogerrie@gmail.com. 

BOB KOZLIK...Midwest Regional Marketing Director for Arista Records

The following is my path that led me to work with National Record Mart.  I graduated from Cleveland State University with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and with a Minor in Business Administration.  I had been an intern for a Cleveland City Councilman and then taught for two years at an all-male high school as well as becoming involved with coaching.  I met my wife through a young adult church group.  She was employed at the RCA Records Cleveland Branch office and her brother at that time was a radio promotion man at CBS Records. Through their involvement/contacts I got a manager position at a Camelot Music Store.  

Two years later I got a local marketing position with Arista Records whose president was Clive Davis.  Arista Records was at that time locally distributed by The PIKS Corporation.  I marketed and promoted my label’s artists primarily in the Pittsburgh and Cleveland markets like The Alan Parsons Project, Air Supply, The Outlaws, A Flock of Seagulls, Barry Manilow, Patti Smith and others.  I also formed strong relationships with all my key accounts such as Camelot Records, Stedefords, Galaxy One Stop, and Mobile Records--and of course with Jimmy Grimes and George Balicky at National Record Mart.  A few of my closest forged friendships in the business were with folks like Jon Wallace at PIKS, Billy Ambrose at Polygram and Michael McGonigle at NRM.  I felt that, in a good way, there were "differences” between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  Cleveland was more “spread out” due to the fact it was built on the shores of Lake Erie, while Pittsburgh was more “east coast,” tight, compact, and rollin'.  In closing, it was a great and memorable time. I am grateful for these special and solid experiences and remembrances.  Long Live Rock & Roll.

MARK FRITZGES...Initially Atlantic Records’ Local Promotion Manager 1980-1989, then Senior Vice President, Promotion

Although my primary responsibility was radio airplay, I was very lucky that Atlantic was very aggressive at retail.  The Atlantic promotion reps were responsible for store reports, in-store play materials, and seeding the stores with 45rpm’s on the heels of radio airplay.  Starting in 1980 I worked very closely with Mike Dragas, who did Regional sales for Atlantic.  He would visit the market for a three-or-four-day period where he and I would work together.  I would visit the National Record Mart headquarters/warehouse and the company’s stores with him (he also went to my radio stations with me), and we developed relationships with the NRM advertising/marketing department, the buyers and the warehouse folks.  They were a great source of knowledge for us.

I was able to tap into people there like Lance Jones, a former merchandising rep who had been with the WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation before he joined NRM in 1980.  Since I was a neophyte that particular year, he was instrumental in helping me initially plot my course at the store level.  With Mike Dragas, Lance and I would periodically travel to all the stores in the Pittsburgh area (North Hills, South Hills, Monroeville, Century lll Mall, Oakland, Squirrel Hill, downtown, Oasis on McKnight, and Oasis Route 88 in the South Hills) and meet briefly with the managers, talk about Atlantic’s current projects, and glean from them what was really happening at the store level.  Mike and I would drop off in-store play copies of albums for the managers and discuss our label’s priority artists. 

I remember the “WEA Heavy Hitters” campaign that was centered around baseball (I remember it because I love baseball!), and this chainwide promotion across more than 70 NRM stores featured WEA’s superstar catalogue albums at attractive sale prices.  As part of this Warner-Elektra-Atlantic campaign, Atlantic featured releases from AC/DC, Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes, ELP and CSN&Y, just to name a few.  Remembering back, it was things like this that made it a truly incredible time to be in the music business.

It is the special relationships I came to have with the NRM folks at all levels that bring back the fondest memories--the buyers George Balicky, George Tunder, Doug Smith and Billy Galeza; the warehouse folks like Jim Rogers; the advertising staff of Lance, Judi Klein, and Ken Herman; the ticket gang including Margie and Janis; and store managers like Patty, Carla, Jackie, and Lew…Just too many to mention, and I’m sure I’m forgetting others that were key to helping to make me a better promotion person.

CHUCK GULLO...A&M Records’ Regional Manager then Vice President

National Record Mart was a perfect example of a company whose people are the ones that made it so successful.  My time dealing with National Record Mart goes back many years, having worked with them during my ABC Records days with the Shapiros and Jimmy Grimes, and those early years were always interesting.  However, the later years, when I was regional manager and later Vice President at A&M Records, are my fondest memories of National Record Mart, working with George Balicky, Lori Winterburn and Lance Jones.  All the retail record chains would always support our hits, i.e. The Police, Janet Jackson, Styx and Supertramp, but I could always count on NRM to be there for us with our "baby acts" (developing artists).  The incredible help they gave us to break artists like Bryan Adams, The Go Go’s, Simple Minds (and the list goes on) was unsurpassed.  Again, I go back to the people--it’s always about the people, and NRM had some of the best.

I remember an evening at one of the NRM Conventions when they organized a cruise on the Allegheny River.  They asked me if I could supply an artist to perform, so I did.  We had a great new developing artist, Willie Phoenix.  Willie was performing and doing a great job, until we came to a point on the river where a horrible stench permeated the boat.  It was so strong that Willie had to stop playing.  No one had told me we'd be going right by a slaughterhouse (luckily, Willie was able to continue after that and we all had a great night).

Those years with NRM are a significant part of my life's journey, and I will treasure them for all time.


It’s really hard to boil down 12 years of working for and working with NRM into two paragraphs.  I was 19 years old when I started and the sum total of my life experiences at that time were centered around the street corners of South Side and basketball courts in Mount Washington.  So NRM truly formed me as a professional and a person.  When you asked me about my memories, what flashed back first were the people.  From the first day I walked into the main store and Maurice gruffly directed me to Charles in the basement warehouse, I was taught and supported by an amazing collection of kind-hearted characters.  The Shapiros, Jimmy Grimes, George Balicky, Doug Smith, and our recently lost friend Bill Galeza were among the many lovely people that headline a list too long to include here. 

Two in-store appearances by my label’s artists jump out in my memory.  There was the day I picked up Ozzy Osbourne at the airport and drove him to the in-store at the Oakland NRM.  For a guy best known for biting the heads off of bats, he was quite reserved and polite.  The pandemonium was overwhelming.  Fans were pressing against the storefront glass and there was a belief that someone in line had a gun.  An interesting day at the office to say the least.

The other was my first true Spinal Tap moment.  I had the honor of taking Kansas (loooong after their career peak) to an in-store also in Oakland.  There were more NRM employees in the store than there were fans in line.  The drive back to their hotel was the longest of my life.  

And I can’t leave my memories without mentioning the conventions.  Some of the most fun I’ve ever had that I can’t remember!  Many years ago, someone told me that even though it doesn’t seem it at the time, those days would be the best of my life.  Truer words have never been spoken. 

[A final word from Musicasaurus: This post is dedicated to, and is in honor of, all of the people who spent time within the NRM family, those both inside the organization and those in our orbit, whose passion and talents contributed so much to the company’s success--in business, and in creating and nurturing a genuine family feel.  We include, of course, those that have gone before us, including but not limited to the following: Sam, Howard and Jason Shapiro...Michael Shapiro...Frank Fischer...Jim Grimes...George Tunder...Bill Galeza...Lew Lineman...Dianne Stewart Lineman...Rick Weber...and John “Pappy” Papinchak.]





Posted 11/6/22.....LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY

Thirty years ago the Pittsburgh concert scene was experiencing a bit of a revival.

In a May 15, 1992 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, contributing writer John Hayes stated that “Bad news from the war zones of Wall Street and the Persian Gulf sent last year’s concert touring business into a tailspin.  Pittsburgh’s venues survived the battle relatively unscathed, however, and are arming for another season amid industry predictions of a spectacular 1992.”

These encouraging signs were even evident on the lower rungs of the touring ladder.  Hayes noted that “Stiff competition at the club level continues to fire the buyer’s market,” pointing to the soon-to-debut Nick’s Fat City on Pittsburgh’s South Side which would be entering the booking fray with the already established Metropol/Rosebud complex and the very fine showcase club Graffiti.

Midlevel attractions, too, were well underway.  DiCesare-Engler’s I.C. Light Amphitheater, the 5,000-capacity outdoor venue at Station Square, was by the month of May already touting the cream of their summer crop.  Melissa Etheridge and comedian Billy Elmer were slotted for May-June; Willie Nelson, Paula Poundstone and Santana were due in July; and George Thorogood with Little Feat, Black Crowes and Dolly Parton were all announced for August.

And at the top of the heap relative to the touring industry’s various levels of ticket-moving talent, three major spectacles were bound for Three Rivers Stadium--Genesis (non-Gabriel, of course) on May 26 which Hayes had mentioned in his article; the Guns N’ Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour (with opener Faith No More) on July 26; and U2 with guests Primus and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy on August 25.

The most interesting stratum of talent entering the ‘burgh, though, was the one consisting of artists who were fan-adored in sufficient numbers to potentially fill arenas and amphitheaters.  This has long been the enticing sweet spot for many independent promoters and venue-owning promoters because of 1) the wide-ranging diversity of presumably bankable arena/amphitheater touring attractions, 2) the high volume of artists usually available to tour at this level, and 3) the $ubstantial upside potential for promoters if the shows happened to meet or exceed expectations.

So...we will now travel back three decades and look at the shows which took place at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena (capacity at that point in time approximately 17,000) and Star Lake Amphitheatre (standard capacity around 23,000).  Additionally, we’ll drill down on a few of these arena and amphitheater shows--the ones that were in some way, shape or form particularly noteworthy and/or newsworthy.


January 11 ... John Mellencamp  

January 20 ... Rod Stewart

March 1 ... Neil Diamond

March 2 ... Neil Diamond

March 20 ... Bryan Adams 

March 27 ... Randy Travis with special guests Alan Jackson and Trisha Yearwood

May 8 ... Hammer with special guests Boyz II Men, Jodeci and Oaktowns’ 3.5.7.   

August 11 ... Eric Clapton

August 29 ... Reba McEntire with special guest Vince Gill

October 16 ... Kiss with special guests Faster Pussycat and Trixter

October 24 ... Garth Brooks

November 7 ... Def Leppard

December 16 ... Bruce Springsteen


JOHN MELLENCAMP / January 11, 1992

Fun facts to start out with: As this artist evolved throughout his career, album to album, so did his name.  He debuted in 1976 as Johnny Cougar, a harebrained moniker pushed on him by his manager at that time.  The performer then reduced his name a smidgeon to plain ol’ John Cougar beginning in 1979.  By the start of 1983 he was going by John Cougar Mellencamp, and then finally--coming full circle--he shed the cat and really got back to his roots.  Starting with his eleventh release, 1992’s Whatever We Wanted, he was thereafter referred to only by his birthname John Mellencamp.

The 41-year-old singer-songwriter’s concert at the Civic Arena on January 11, 1992 was the first one of the new year, and he rang it in with a powerhouse of a performance that essentially won over both of the city’s major-paper reviewers of the day.  Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that “Any smoke you saw rising out of the dome of the Civic Arena Saturday night was generated by Mellencamp’s boisterous stage manner, Kenny Aronoff’s drumming and the reckless abandon of a band in peak form...I guess it’s safe to say the show was a classic.”  And Peter B. King of the Pittsburgh Press gushed that “Mellencamp’s band, as usual, played like a controlled volcano.  Never wasting a note, they are one of the very best bands working rootsy, three-chord rock--better, even, than the late E Street Band.”  [editor’s aside: King’s reference here to the “late E Street Band” refers to Springsteen’s decision three years earlier to break from his longtime E Street bandmembers in favor of a new batch of backup musicians.]  

Musicasaurus has seen only a handful of Mellencamp performances over the past few decades but I concur with reviewers Norman and King about the fury and finesse of Mellencamp and his band on certain magical evenings.  I witnessed one of those while working at Post-Gazette Pavilion in the very early 2000s when Mellencamp was touring in support of his Cuttin’ Heads release.  I remember the curtain going up and the ominous strains of “Gimme Shelter” beginning to roll on out over the audience.  Chills skittered up my spine from a double dose of euphoria; here was Mellencamp and his supremely intuitive band roaring to life and setting the tone for the night, with a propulsive, flat-out mesmerizing cover of a Rolling Stones classic.  It was one of those moments at a show where you’re suddenly giddy with joy, and heaven is a place on Earth. 

HAMMER / May 8, 1992

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette freelance writer John Hayes contributed a telling preview piece on Hammer (formerly MC Hammer) on the day of the performer’s May 8, 1992 concert which was just one stop on the massive multi-nation “Too Legit” World Tour.  Entitled “Hammer, Hip-hop & Hype,” the article explored Hammer’s fame which had tentacles spreading out from 1) successful pop-rap albums (he was on his third, at this point); 2) the animated Saturday morning TV series “Hammerman,” wildly popular with budding young hip-hoppers; and 3) the artist’s shrewd, laser-focused self-promotion.  The latter brought about many television appearances, movie cameos and a producer-and-star role in his own film, marketing tie-ins with major companies Pepsi, KFC, Taco Bell and others, and at one point, even his own MC Hammer doll manufactured and distributed by premier toy company Mattel.

The Civic Arena concert was quite a unique spectacle according to Pittsburgh Press reviewer Peter B. King, who confessed “I’ve seen other extravaganzas where the music was a letdown, but not this time.  Directed by guitarist Felton Pilate, the 13 musicians and 20 singers threw down a series of supernatural grooves that conjured up the best of black music--from James Brown to Earth, Wind & Fire to vintage old-school rap.”  Zeroing in on the man himself, King wrote “The star was resplendent in several costumes--including his now-famous baggy silk pants and no-shirt look, revealing a single rope of gold on a weightlifter’s chest.”  Opening the concert were support acts Boyz II Men and Jodeci, and King particularly praised the former’s smooth, patterned-after-Motown onstage style (“relaxed, graceful hand gestures and leg kicks”) and their rich vocal harmonies...Parting observation: Hammer’s choice of Boyz II Men as one of his openers was perhaps prescient.  Just three years later on July 12, 1995 the Boyz descended upon Star Lake Amphitheatre as headliners of their own show and sold out the venue, performing in front of well over 22,000 fans.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN / December 16, 1992

Bruce had performed at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena five times before this December 16, 1992 concert and each time E Street had been right behind him in the form of Clarence and Little Steven and Roy and Mighty Max, and so on...But not this time.  In 1989 Bruce had put his E Street Band on ice and in early 1992 simultaneously released two new albums--Human Touch and Lucky Town--that sported entirely different players (except for carry-over keyboardist Roy Bittan).  These players, not well known outside of their own various recording session gigs, were the ones Bruce subsequently invited to go out on the road and back him up on this 1992-1993 tour.  And there was another peculiarity beyond E Street’s absence.  The original concert date had been set as December 11, but severe weather prompted a last-minute postponement to five days later.  Bruce referenced this at the show, per the website brucespringsteen.fandom.com, when he had just finished the fifth song of his set.  Bruce said “I’m sorry we didn't make it last week…there we were stranded in New Jersey, trees falling, winds blowing…tidal waves coming in…and I said ‘I gotta get to Pittsburgh’...then I looked out my window…fell asleep (chuckles) and I had a dream.”  Then he launched into “Growin’ Up.”

Ultimately the show’s saving graces were its leader and its length.  Although Bruce had bailed on his E Street buddies for this tour he succeeded this evening in igniting the faithful through sheer force of personality, and he maintained momentum right up to and including his then-standard extended encore.  Total time on stage without a break: 3 ½ hours.  The entire show consisted of 28 songs and just before the 21st, the tune right before encore, he play-acted exhaustion (a much-beloved Bruce move).  And so--again, according to brucespringsteen.fandom.com--he began reverently reeling out this wonderful Springstream-of-consciousness: “I drove thousands and thousands of miles just to get here tonight…I came through some real shitty weather just to get here tonight…I came via Sweden, via France, via Italy, via Rome, via London, England, via Dallas, Texas…via Philadelphia, via the great state of New Jersey just to get here tonight…via San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles...and I’m here tonight with one thing in mind…I’m here tonight with one purpose…I’m here tonight because I know you’re downhearted…I know you’re depressed…I know you’re disillusioned…I know your spirit’s low…I know you’re disenchanted…I know there’s 57 fucking channels and nothing on…and I’m here tonight because I’ve got to testify…I’ve got to bring witness...I’ve got to testify…I’ve got something I’ve gotta say…I’ve got to testify…I said I...I…I…I…I…I’m just a prisoner…of rock and roll!”  And then he barreled right into “Light of Day.”


May 23 ... The Cure with special guest The Cranes

May 25 ... Lynyrd Skynyrd with special guest .38 Special

May 30 ... Kenny Rogers with special guest The Charlie Daniels Band

May 31 ... Jimmy Buffett with special guest Evangeline (third year in a row...sellout)

June 12 ... WDVE Electric Lunch Live featuring Blue Oyster Cult, Jefferson Starship ’92, Leslie West and Molly Hatchet 

June 16 ... Allman Brothers Band with special guest Blues Traveler

June 17 ... Crosby, Stills & Nash with special guest Michael Hedges

June 18 ... Chicago with co-headliner Moody Blues

June 20 ... Mellon Jazz Festival ’92 featuring Grover Washington, Jr., Spyro Gyra, Acoustic Alchemy and Kenia

June 21 ... Rush with special guest Mr. Big

June 22 ... Grateful Dead

June 23 ... Grateful Dead 

June 24 ... Travis Tritt with special guests Mary Stuart and Rob Crosby

June 27 ... Neil Young

July 18 ... The Temptations and The Four Tops

July 23 ... Steve Miller Band with special guest Curtis Salgado & The Stilettos 

July 29 ... WDVE Comedy Jam featuring Gilbert Gottfried, Howie Mandel, Scott Paulsen and Jim Krenn

July 31 ... Peter, Paul & Mary

August 2 ... Harry Connick, Jr.

August 4 ... Paula Abdul with special guest Color Me Badd 

August 12 ... James Taylor

August 13 ... Michael Bolton with special guest Kathy Troccoli

August 14 ... The Variety 96 Birthday Bash featuring Richard Marx

August 15 ... Hank Williams, Jr. with special guests The Kentucky Headhunters and Doug Stone

August 16 ... Lollopalooza ’92 featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ministry, Ice Cube and Lush

August 19 ... Dan Fogelberg with special guest Eliza Gilkyson

August 21 ... The Beach Boys with special guest Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes

August 23 ... The Pennzoil Carload Jam featuring REO Speedwagon, The Outlaws and Lonesome Dave’s Foghat

August 24 ... Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band

August 25 ... The Day ’92 featuring Petra, Al Denson, Geoff Moore & The Distance and the Lighthouse Music Band with B.E. Taylor

August 28 ... The B-52s with special guest Violent Femmes

September 4 ... Blues Festival ’92 featuring B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Dr. John and the Fabulous Thunderbirds

September 6 ... 3WS Oldies Festival ’92 featuring Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Ronnie Spector, Tommy Roe, Peter Noone, The Vogues, Jimmy Beaumont & the Skyliners, Pure Gold and Johnny Angel & The Halos

September 7 ... Ozzy Osbourne with special guests Motorhead and Ugly Kid Joe

September 12 ... Clint Black with special guests Mary Chapin-Carpenter and Lee Roy Parnell

September 13 ... Elton John

September 18 ... Tesla with special guest Firehouse


JIMMY BUFFETT / May 31, 1992

Buffett owned the decade of the 1990s at Star Lake, racking up fifteen total shows (thirteen of these sell-outs) between 1990 and 1999, playing in front of a grand total of more than 315,000 people.  This 1992 show was Buffett’s third consecutive appearance at Star Lake.  In Buffett’s first show in 1990 the Parrothead count ended up just shy of 11,000 and in 1991 it climbed to almost 16,000.  In this Year Three, however, Buffett’s fans scooped up all 20,000 available tickets and maxed out the parking lots, giving that whole tailgating scene outside the gates its first truly massive Margaritaville makeover. 

I was hired as the marketing director of Star Lake in 1991 and eventually became GM of the facility in 1995.  I had found out at this 1992 show--Buffett’s first sellout with us--that the parking lot scene, for fans, was definitely the place to be.  That year I started up a habit of jumping into one of the venue’s available golf carts around 2pm, and I would s-l-o-w-l-y motor through this teeming, beaming world of partying Parrotheads.  My intermittent golf cart sweeps frankly became more than just security spins.  I really loved cruising around, checking out all of the unique tailgating setups that dotted the landscape and especially loved returning nods and smiles to the throngs of revelers.  Especially in the afternoon, before the partyers’ brains began to dim along with the daylight, there was just a really great vibe out there.  People would walk up to me as I idled my golf cart for a few minutes to survey a scene, and they’d cheerfully offer me a hat to shield the sun, or a bottle of suntan oil, or sometimes even one of those Hawaiian flower wreaths to place around my neck.  I lost count of how many times I got lei’d out there in the lots.

Parting thought: One notable constant at the Buffett concerts was the inevitable crush at the gates which always happened around 8:20pm, the time that thousands of the evermore Glazed & Confused were perking up to the fact that Buffett had just taken the stage.  In retrospect, these hordes of stumbling, bumbling coconut-bra’ed, floral-shirted fans shuffling toward the ticket takers at the entrance gates looked like a casting call for a potential new AMC spinoff--maybe The Walking Dead: Tropics Edition?  

GRATEFUL DEAD / June 22 & 23, 1992

We loved the fact that The Dead had decided to double-dose us and give us a two-nighter.  Metropolitan Entertainment was the outside promoter of this two-fer at Star Lake, and very detailed, in-person meetings with their representatives were held in advance so that they could demystify the Dead audience for our security heads and other key venue personnel.  Basically they warned us--in a loving way--that fans would come from All Over Creation to this two-night engagement and that we should be on extra-alert for people in the parking lots who would try to find various ways to get into the facility without a ticket.  And So It Came to Pass...The very first night some determined Deadheads indeed began to probe the security lines all around our perimeter, and some of them found that our weakest link was the green wooden fence that shielded our inside-the-venue administration trailer from the outside parking lot areas.  And that was when, one by one, some side-by-side individual green slats that together comprised the long width of our Admin office fence began to “disappear”--only to reappear a few seconds later, hurled overtop of the remaining sections of fence-line.

Up to that point, things had been tense but under control. Our security team members stationed at various points around the entire inside perimeter of our venue were keeping things fairly under control, but they were inordinately busy thwarting some enterprising Deadheads who, with wire cutters and shears, were snipping away at the bottoms of our cyclone fences that surrounded other parts of our facility.  I, though, happened to be up in that area of our Admin office just as those green slats had started sailing.  It was then that I bumped into our parent company Pace’s fresh-in-the-saddle president, Miles Wilkin.  He very recently had been promoted from handling the Pace Theatrical Broadway show division to becoming president of all Pace divisions including amphitheaters, and so he’d just begun his own little tour of all of the individual outdoor facilities.  He was walking down the ramp from the Admin trailer and stopped me to say goodbye.  As a few more security guards appeared, positioning themselves in the growing gaps in the green fence, Wilkin said to me “I am glad that I came to visit your venue. But I think I will come back when you have James Taylor.”

LOLLAPALOOZA / August 16, 1992

I recently unearthed a concert review by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Scott Mervis that detailed his thoughts on the Lollapalooza festival that played Star Lake Amphitheatre July 19, 2003.  This innovative alternative music-and-lifestyle festival had originated in 1991 and had proved successful in amphitheaters for a few years running, but then gradually lost favor with the alternative fanbase and petered out in 1997.  The year 2003 was an attempted relaunch, and as Mervis reported, that Star Lake show was a bit lackluster in appeal and in ticket sales as well.  “Lollapalooza was a scary place in the early days,” Mervis observed.  “Remember the near riot that greeted Ministry?  The shirtless masses jumping the barricades to get closer to buzz band Pearl Jam?...They were the first days of ‘alternative rock,’ when the then-Star Lake Amphitheatre would be packed lawn to lawn with bodies.”  I share Mervis’ nostalgia for the early days of Lollapalooza, especially that year of 1992 when the festival first touched down at Star Lake and I was in my second year of employment there.

The line-up for this 1992 show was an alternative music fan’s dream, with main stage artists Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Ministry, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ice Cube and Lush.  My one main recollection from this festival is cemented in the fissures of my brain for all the days I have left on this Earth.  I hadn’t known all that much about Pearl Jam at that point in time because this Seattle band had released their debut album Ten only twelve months prior, and for whatever reason it was fairly slow to build momentum according to the key national magazines that tracked album sales.  But when I happened to be down in the lower pavilion area checking in with some of our venue sponsors in their box locations, I caught a lot of Pearl Jam’s main stage set and was swept away--uh, almost literally, because as we say in the concert business, “we lost the house.”  In between helping our security personnel escort out of the venue a lot of overzealous scofflaws who were hopping over seat-section railings to get down to the stage area, I stood entranced by this powerful five-man electrifying band.  Their songs, mostly unknown to me, were blisteringly beautiful, passion-filled and pulverizing.  And when the first strains of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” emanated from the stage, that was it.  In that instant I became a lifelong proselytizer for Pearl Jam.  You Vedder, you vet!





Posted 10/23/22.....YOU SEND ME

In my last post on Musicasaurus.com on October 9, 2022, I wrote about my recent visit to Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center to take in the exhibit called GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World.  I have a hangover from this trip, but not the dry mouth and brain fuzz variety.  It’s just that I am hanging on to the highlights of my immersion that day, and it has led me to think further about some key guitar players who were not included in the exhibit.  

The creative team behind GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World had a nigh on impossible task of covering all bases, of course.  I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the discussions when names were beginning to crystalize as finalists.  My only qualifications to even dream of being in that same room?  Five decades of a religious-like fervor for auditory pleasure, beginning with purchases of albums, 8-tracks and cassettes accompanied by voluminous horse trading with equally zealous friends...then plunging into the CD wave...followed by downloading paid-for tunes (uh, mostly paid for)...and then of course streaming.

So, I guess in some way I’ve earned my say.  The following guitarists would get my votes to be included--even highlighted--in any future traveling exhibits of GUITAR: The Instrument That Changed The World.


TOMMY BOLIN (1951 - 1976)

A bit of history: Born in Sioux City, Iowa in 1951, Bolin moved to Colorado in his late teens.  He then plowed into rock ‘n’ roll with a few notable sidesteps into jazz-fusion, but his life was unexpectedly cut short at the age of 25 when he died in a Miami hotel room from a drug overdose while on tour.  Bolin makes Musicasaurus’ list because of what he left behind in his recordings: powerful chords and accents, shadings and colorings, and an economy of style, all because he somehow knew, song to song, when he should hang back and when he should just totally unleash.

Between 1973 and 1976 Bolin went several directions, stinting with the James Gang and then Deep Purple, contributing to some jazz-rock recordings, and then churning out two laudable solo albums before meeting his untimely end in December of 1976.

Tommy Bolin’s Influences: Catching a TV show called Caravan of Stars when he was around six years of age put Bolin in awe of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, and a bit later on he discovered the works of the famous French guitarist of gypsy heritage Django Reinhardt, and Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones.  Through a jazz flute player named Jeremy Steig who had recorded with Bolin’s early-period Colorado rock band Zephyr, the guitarist became enamored of the jazz-rock scene and amidst his solo recording projects, he sat in with and contributed to albums by drummers Billy Cobham (1973’s Spectrum) and Alphonse Mouzon (1975’s Mind Transplant).

Songs to savor: 


MICHAEL HEDGES (1953 - 1997)  

A bit of history: Vincent Demasi, a writer with Guitar Player magazine, wrote in 2006 that Hedges had something in common with Jimi Hendrix, though their styles were miles, sometimes worlds apart.  These two artists, wrote Demasi, “shared a common denominator: They pushed the technical, aural, and artistic boundaries of their instruments light years beyond what had previously been attempted or imagined.  Hedges’ discovery by Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman—who had his ‘head torn off’ by the guitarist’s logic-defying fretboard techniques and multi-layered solo compositions—meant his records were usually relegated to the new age bins.  However, the breadth of Hedges’ artistry was not so easily classifiable.  Shrugging off conventional labels altogether, Hedges jokingly referred to his music as ‘new edge,’ ‘acoustic thrash,’ or ‘heavy mental.’”

Born in Sacramento, California in 1953, Hedges spent his childhood in Oklahoma and ended up in the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where he graduated in 1980 with a degree in composition.  His most acclaimed album, 1984’s Aerial Boundaries on record label Windham Hillhit that sweet spot of fortuitous arrival when the compact disc was taking serious root and truly turning the spade on the snap, crackle, pop of vinyl.  Aerial Boundaries was a revelation on compact disc—crisp, clear and multi-layered—and listeners were agog that the sounds all emanated fromone acoustic guitar.  Not surprising, really; the instrument had a magic man handler whose alternate tunings, slap harmonics, and guitar-body percussive slaps brought a revelatory new sonic experience to people’s ears.

Michael Hedges’ influences: In his areas of study at Peabody, Hedges’ focus was on 20thCentury modernists such as Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varèse, and Arnold Schoenberg, but his musical influences included Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and later on, six-string and twelve-string guitarists Ralph Towner and Pat Metheny.  But his first acoustic guitar hero, and someone he eventually toured with many years later, was Leo Kottke.  

Songs to savor:  


TOM VERLAINE (born 1949)

A bit of history: Verlaine is a New Jersey-born musician who was famously part of a 1970s New York City music scene that was centered around the East Village music club called CBGB.  Founded in 1973 by owner/promoter Hilly Kristal, CBGB was an acronym that stood for “Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers.”  Birthed to offer bands of all styles and stripes an outlet for original music, the club within a year or so became the repository for the emerging punk scene with fledgling artists such as Television (of which Verlaine was a member), the Patti Smith Group, Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads and many more…

After his time with the critically acclaimed but criminally underappreciated (by the masses) band Television, Verlaine embarked on a solo career and continues to this day through his own recordings and collaborations to churn out ragged, jagged wonders on his instrument.  Patti Smith once described his guitar sound as “a thousand bluebirds screaming.”  And his approach is far from the conventions of standard guitar rock—thankfully.

Tom Verlaine’s influences: I dipped into Guitar Player magazine and found a revealing quote from the artist in an interview from January 1993, some months after a Television reunion album had hit record stores.  The article was entitled “The Return of Television” and interviewer James Rotondi asked Verlaine this question: “In your playing I hear shades of everything from ska, reggae, and African music to Link Wray and Pentangle.  What music was in your head when you began writing and playing?”

Verlaine replied: “I hated guitar music for years.  I played piano because when I was a kid, I'd be really transported by symphonies.  My mother would get these supermarket records of overtures or something, and that was music for me.  The only thing I liked on radio were flying saucer songs and stuff.  In the early '60s I hated pop.  I took up sax in about '63, and an older friend of mine had some Coltrane and Ornette Coleman records, and that's the music I liked.  I had a brother who bought Motown, and I thought it was totally twee.  The first rock record I liked was Yardbirds stuff, because it was really wild.  I never listened to guitar music—I thought it was a really twee instrument.  But when I wanted to write songs, I decided that was the thing to play.  For me, even a solo is an accompaniment of some kind, or it just takes the place of a voice.  It's not wrapped up in the same elements or obsessions or desires—maybe that's not fair to say—that most guitar players have.” 

Songs to savor:  


BILL FRISELL (born 1951)

A bit of history: Frisell was born in 1951 in Baltimore but spent formative early years in Denver and then, post-college, moved on Boston’s Berklee College of Music.  I first became aware of Frisell through recordings associated with the European jazz label ECM in the 1980s (solo works of his, and sideman work on albums by Paul Motian, Eberhard Weber, and others).  This was a mere brush-up-against kind of connection for me, however.  Frisell’s guitar style at that time was something that jelled well with ECM’s overall ethereal, breathing-space approach to jazz, but it didn’t convert me let alone draw me in.

Fast forward to 2003 in a Borders Books & Music store in Pittsburgh, where I happened to take a short stack of possible CD purchases to the headphone station.  Frisell’s The Intercontinentalswas one of them.  This particular Frisell CD was a revelation to me, as the music was so pure, unfettered and freeing that I couldn’t categorize it as just jazz, or call it largely Third World-ly, or label it mostly folkish, or…It was just a hypnotic blend of it all.

Turns out that Frisell by the beginning of the 1990s had moved to Seattle and was turning more and more toward a broad and inclusive palette of Americana music.  He had been corralling country, blues, bluegrass and jazz in order to blend and bend them to his will, and the music that came out of his efforts was beautiful stuff.  Here on The Intercontinentals he had invited into his Americana mix a few folk musicians from Brazil, Macedonia and Mali, and the results were positively otherworldly.

Bill Frisell’s influences: What was the first record that Frisell remembers buying with his own money?  “Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys.  And in a March 18, 2018 article by John Kelman on jazzbluesnews.com, the author references a Wire magazine piece in which Frisell talked about the key artists who had inspired him.  “When I was 16, I was listening to a lot of surfing music, a lot of English rock,” Frisell told Wire.  “Then I saw Wes Montgomery and somehow that kind of turned me around.  Later, Jim Hall made a big impression on me and I took some lessons with him.  I suppose I play the kind of harmonic things Jim would play but with a sound that comes from Jimi Hendrix."  Other musicians that Frisell has cited as important to infusing his muse were jazz drummer Paul Motian, American composer Aaron Copland, jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and the guitarist’s own mentor/teacher Dale Bruning.

Songs to savor:  


PHIL KEAGGY (born 1951)  

A bit of history: Two tidbits to start this out: 1) Keaggy’s mother was Irish-Catholic and his father a Lutheran, and together they had a total of ten children.  2) Keaggy began his path into music at the age of ten, choosing the guitar over the drums.  He has one handicap that most guitarists do not--around the age of five he lost the middle finger of his right hand in an accident.   

I first witnessed Keaggy’s talent--his fire and finesse--in my high school auditorium in Butler, PA sometime between 1969 and 1971.  Glass Harp, a rock trio from nearby Youngstown, Ohio, was the band on stage that evening and gifted guitarist Keaggy, not quite 20 years of age at the time, singlehandedly lit up the audience (in all honesty some might have actually lit up before they entered the auditorium).  Keaggy’s dominance was astounding; his incredible mid-song soloing often s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d into glorious ten or twelve-minute-long passages, and there wasn’t even a hint of gratuitous excess in his playing.  It very much seemed to me that this was a spirit-infused young man channeling a higher power; throughout the evening, he peeled off guitar sounds that ranged from a violin’s sweet ascent to a Messerschmitt’s final dive.

After Glass Harp’s brief initial run at the limelight—just three studio albums between 1970 and 1972—Keaggy’s burgeoning faith fully crystallized and he departed the band, dedicating his life and devoting his career to Christian music.  Over the years the prolific guitarist has released well over 50 albums of electric and/or acoustic, solo and/or band material and there are real nuggets of wonder and awe peppered throughout this song canon.

Phil Keaggy’s influences: In his own words, from an interview available in the “Phil Keaggy Bio & Review” section of the website ChristianMusic.com: "The ‘50s gave me a keen interest in music.  I was born in 1951.  There was Johnny Ray, Elvis, The Everly Brothers and Eddie Cochran, just to name a few.  The ‘60s gave me the influences of The Beatles, Jeff Beck, Clapton, Hendrix, Page and Mike Bloomfield.  As a young player, I tried to fashion my style after these artists and players...Paul McCartney was a huge musical mentor through his recordings, but I also came to love classical as well (Vaughn-Williams, Grieg, Bach, etc.)...Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, I continued to listen to many guitarists such as Julian Bream, John Renbourn, Bruce Cockburn, Anthony Phillips, Larry Carlton, Pat Metheny and Alan Holdsworth.  I always wanted to keep my ears open to new influences.  During all these years, I wrote and recorded my music and went on tour quite a lot.  The '90s until this present time, I find myself enjoying acoustic music the most, though I still play electric on recordings and the occasional band date."

Songs to savor:


RALPH TOWNER (born 1940)

A bit of history: I remember first being exposed to Ralph Towner through a life-changing listening experience in my hometown of Butler, PA.  Towner’s 1975 album Solstice had just been released on the six-year-old ECM record label and my future employer, Exile Records store owner Dave Kleemann, invited a handful of friends over to his house one evening to take a listen.  He dropped the needle on his Bang & Olufsen turntable and hypnotic, all-enveloping sounds from this album flooded through his two Bose 901 speakers.  I felt in the grip of something extraordinary and one track in particular--the 6 ½-minute song “Nimbus”--was a twelve-string and classical guitar marvel, a mix of classical-and-folk-meets-jazz, a study in improvisation and pure propulsion with angelic seasonings.  Allmusic.com’s Michael G. Nastos in his review of Towner’s album wrote “...when Solstice was issued on the ECM label, it took the brilliant guitarist's caché to a much higher level, especially as a composer...Simply put--this music is stunningly beautiful.”

Prior to the release of Solstice, Towner had already been a force of nature in a group of multi-instrumentalists called Oregon.  This band had formed in 1970 after spinning out of the Paul Winter Consort, one of the forerunners of world music (i.e., non-Western traditional music).  Oregon, made up of members Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Glen Moore and Collin Walcott, became renowned for weaving into its compositions the music of other cultures, creating unique tapestries that were innovative and that sounded eternally fresh.  Today, Towner still tours and reveals new works; he has by now released over twenty solo and/or small-group recordings almost exclusively through the ECM label.

Ralph Towner’s influences: Multi-instrumentalist Towner was a prodigy, on piano at age three and on trumpet by five, but it wasn’t until the musician turned 22 years old that he found his true calling.  In a lengthy exchange in 2017 with music journalist Anil Prasad of the online music magazine Innerviews, Towner said he first was exposed to the classical guitar while graduating from the University of Oregon.  “I realized at age 22 that it was something I really wanted to learn,” Towner told Prasad.  “I tried to teach myself and realized that it wasn’t something that was easy to play...I managed to find this great maestro in Vienna named Karl Scheit and went over there to study with him.  All I did was play there in this tiny little room, with snow blowing in the window.  I was eating next to nothing.  I practiced up to 10 hours a day, seven days a week for nine months straight.  I found at the end of that, I could actually play classical concerts.  It became a complete obsession...Something told me I had to really do something that severe in order to play the instrument the way I wanted to.  I guess I have that drive in my nature.”

Towner’s other influences besides mentor Scheit, according to a 1975 Guitar Player magazine piece by Len Lyons, “range from Bill Evans to Baden Powell to Bartok” and also guitarist contemporaries (and friends) John Abercrombie, Mick Goodrick and Bill Connors.  “That’s why the guitar is so amazing,” Towner gushed to Lyons back then, “It’s virtually a different instrument in everyone’s hands.”

Songs to savor:





Posted 10/9/22.....GUITAR TOWN

(Next post: Sunday, October 23, 2022)

I was apparently born with an expressed love for the guitar.  I don’t know because I was newly conscious, of course, but when the doctor said “Nurse, please pass me the instrument,” perhaps I relinquished it reluctantly?

In any event, I have had a lifelong appreciation for the myriad sounds that emanate from this one instrument, especially when it is literally in the right hands.  I have unfailingly gravitated over the years toward those musicians who have bent this instrument to their wills, wringing out everything from squawks and squalls to soothing, celestial caresses.  Whether they’re channeling from The Great Beyond or just plumbing their own depths of creativity, I don’t know.  I just know that the sound of the guitar affords us all some deep-seated delight and even moments of benevolent shock and awe.

For Joe Grushecky, the Pittsburgh-based guitarist, singer-songwriter and bandleader, it was The Fab Four that was instrumental in him developing the path he chose in Life.  Joe once told me that his first coveted album--one that he notes changed a lot of lives--was The Beatles’ first U.S. Capitol album, Meet The Beatles!  “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,” Joe recalled.  “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.”

I never sought out and bought a guitar like Joe, nor did I first glom onto The Beatles.  For me, it was Elvis Presley that first wowed my preteen virginal ears.  Songs like “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog,” “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock” all hit the radio airwaves in the mid-1950s when I was but a pup, and those records--in the form of 45rpm singles--stayed splayed for the longest time in the bottom of our living room bookcase where my parents stashed their occasional must-have purchases.  When I turned six or seven, Mom and Dad were already branching out from Broadway soundtrack albums, Bobby Darin, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ella Fitzgerald, Sinatra and the like, to include R&B artists like Fats Domino--and especially Elvis.  So soon, with a cheap plastic guitar and swiveling hips that were not even a decade old, I was imitating The King and posing for Polaroids in front of our leaves-down (except for company) dining room table.

Of course The Beatles soon kindled my interest in all of the new sounds emanating from the U.K.  I loved the first wave of songs entering American radio playlists by the Stones, Kinks, Animals and Yardbirds, and it was here that I found myself particularly enthralled by the sound of guitars.  By the time I turned fourteen in 1967--the year of Sgt. Pepper’s, Buffalo Springfield Again, The Who Sell OutTen Years After, The Doors, Traffic’s Mr. Fantasy, Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, Hendrix’s Are You Experienced and others--I was outta control.  I became an album-buying fiend, and this galvanized my explorations into the distinctively different guitar styles of both the famous and the fringe.

Flash forward to present day which incidentally, headscratchingly, makes those formative years of mine seem like they were centuries ago.  In May of this year of 2022, I somehow missed a few write-ups by local media about the opening of a new traveling exhibit that had very recently touched down at the Carnegie Science Center.  GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World was announced as nestling into the venue’s PPG Science Pavilion for five months beginning on May 20 and continuing on through October 30.  This was the exhibit’s second time in the ‘burgh with an initial three-month laydown taking place a decade back beginning in June 2012.

The brain trust behind this exhibit is The National GUITAR Museum that, according to its website, “was founded to promote and preserve the legacy of the guitar, and is the world's first museum dedicated to the history, science, evolution, and cultural impact of the guitar.”  The NGM is headed up by Executive Director HP Newquist and its supporters include--again, according to the organization’s website--“curators, designers, museum professionals, and a Board Of Advisors.”  Participating board members who are hands-on in support (and through their careers certainly instrumentally hands-on!) include guitarists Tony Iommi, Steve Vai, Steve Howe, Liona Boyd, Ritchie Blackmore and Joe Bonamassa.  That’s a crew with cred.

A key part of the NGM’s mission dovetails nicely with the Carnegie Science Center’s natural emphases.  On the “Exhibit” tab of the center’s website, it stresses the aspects of STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math), stating that “GUITAR introduces visitors to the science of sound and the science of music through 15 hands-on interactives.”  It’s certainly all there for guitar fanatics and for the technologically curious: electromagnetism...sound waves...frequency... decibel levels...mathematical scales...and engineering design.  

On Wednesday, September 28 I went down to the Carnegie Science Center to get a firsthand look at things.  I was accompanied by the equally curious Joan (pronounced ja-wahn) Antich, the husband of my paramour Mary Ellen’s sister Trudy.  Joan is from the Catalonia region of Spain, and he was in town with his wife to visit with us for a spell.  We are both rabid music fans and certainly the touted STEM aspects of the GUITAR exhibit appealed to us, but we wanted to see for ourselves all that was in store.

Running the risk of idolatry, I asked Joan when we first arrived to take a picture of me behind the entrance’s glass doors in a feigned state of rapture.  This turned out to be pretty close to the mark; once inside, strolling slowly and taking everything in, I felt like my lifelong admiration for the guitar was completely justified.

Here are just some of the highlights of my experience in this cobbled-together world of glass-encased acoustic and electric guitars, dazzling photos of iconic major players, interactive displays and tributes to technological innovators.  GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World remains at the Carnegie Science Center only through the end of this month (October 2022).


(most information here is culled from the individual information cards that are adjacent to each guitar model) 

Gibson Harp Guitar (1903-1920s)

The impetus for developing this particular guitar sprang from an allure that string players had for unique, rich sounding instruments.  But the early 19thcentury luthiers (i.e., makers of stringed instruments) that were first laboring to create a successfully blended instrument couldn’t seem to size it down sufficiently for practical purposes, let alone playability. Then Orville Gibson in 1903 gave it a go, and the melding was a success: “The open strings of a harp gave the instrument a section that could be plucked like a harp, while chords could be fretted on the neck of the more traditional guitar body.  In addition, the strings of the harp would gently vibrate in sympathy with the strings on the guitar, creating additional richness to the overall sound.”  The Gibson company produced four high-end models of the Harp Guitar which ended up selling fairly well; in fact, they became somewhat prized as a home furnishing.  Sales began to ebb, though, as the year 1920 approached, and Gibson pulled the plug.  There are still a few specialty luthiers today who reportedly produce their own versions of the Harp Guitar.


The Sitar Guitar (1967 to present day)

George Harrison is widely credited for introducing the sitar to the American rock music scene through his work on the song “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown”) from the 1965 Beatles’ album Rubber Soul.  This fired up the desire of some American and British musicians to also adopt the sitar for select songs, like The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black,” The First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” and John Fred and His Playboy Band’s “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses).”  But scores of other musicians back then who loved the sound of the sitar couldn’t--or wouldn’t--dedicate the time and effort involved in mastering the instrument.  Danelectro, the company first known for producing Sears guitars, came to the reluctant ones’ rescue.  In 1967 Danelectro manufactured for sale the Sitar Guitar (also called the Electric Sitar), and bands who wanted the relative ease of playing this crossbred instrument instead of the actual sitar were up and running.  The Sitar Guitar, with some modifications including additional strings that provided the essential drone sound, then showed up on songs from a number of artists including The Lemon Pipers (“Green Tambourine”), Steely Dan (“Do It Again”), Redbone (“Come and Get Your Love”), The Box Tops (“Cry Like a Baby”), and other select tunes by the group Yes, the Steve Miller Band, Steve Vai, Todd Rundgren and Eddie Van Halen.  The Sitar Guitar still pops up these days from time to time as well.


Ibanez Iceman (1975 to present day)

After much mimicking of American guitar companies’ models including Fenders and Gibsons, the Japanese company Ibanez produced their first original guitar in 1975 and it was quite different from the run-of-the-mill.  First called Ibanez Artist, the name was changed to Iceman and “the guitar had a dramatically offset body shape accentuated by an elongated lower cutaway and a prominent ‘design tooth’ that protruded from its base.”  Some guitarists cottoned to it such as Steve Miller and Kiss’ Paul Stanley, but the company then in 1983 took what later on amounted to a pause, relaunching again in 1994.  This particular Iceman guitar is a limited edition produced in 2005, and it bears a commissioned illustration by H.R. Giger, a Swiss artist whose unique style of drawings and illustrations was labeled “biomechanical.”  Giger is most famous for his design of the creature in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi landmark film Alien, but he also created album covers for recording artists including but not limited to Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Brain Salad Surgery), Deborah Harry (her solo effort KooKoo)and Dead Kennedys (Frankenchrist).


Visionary Instruments’ TeleVision (2006 to present day)

Bowie back in 1977 included a song on his album Low that had the narrator signaling his intent to move into an empty room with the blinds permanently drawn, essentially shutting out the world.  “I will sit right down,” Bowie had sung, “waiting for the gift of sound and vision.”  We knew he was a genius, but did we know he was prescient as well?  Sound and vision are exactly the gift that the company Visionary Instruments brought to guitars starting in 2006.  After a precise re-engineering of the instrument to ensure an organic integration, the company debuted this model which serves up not only a high standard of guitar sound but a full-color video screen as well.  The musician who utilizes a TeleVision on stage can upload images and video footage to elevate the emotional resonance of a performance, accentuating certain themes or even complementing lyrics, song to song.  The guitarist is also able to run a live video feed instead through the instrument at any point during a show.


The Cochran Boostercaster (2011)

This is not a mere remodeling of a guitar; this is guitar-as-sculpture.  Artist and luthier Tony Cochran is renowned in some art circles for taking existing guitars, and integrating unexpected and quite intriguing fixtures into them as he “transforms each instrument into mechanical devices reminiscent of another age.”  Often his works are labeled “steampunk” because of his penchant to inject elements of the industrial revolution into modern-era guitars. 



On display lining the walls of the exhibit are photos of some of the undisputed masters of the guitar--or at least those that would certainly be more recognizable to the masses than others.


                 Chet Atkins                                       B.B. King                                Chrissie Hynde                              Chuck Berry


                   Jeff Beck                                   Johnny Winter                                 Steve Vai                                   Keith Richards


             Eddie Van Halen                                 Steve Howe                               Buddy Guy                             Pete Townshend    



In her preview piece of GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World that appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper back on May 19, 2022, Amanda Waltz mentioned the one immense item on display that more or less dominates the exhibit.  “While the exhibition includes everything from lutes and ouds to high-tech and experimental instruments,” Waltz wrote, “the centerpiece is the 43.5 feet long, 2,255-pound stringed behemoth certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.  Modeled after the 1967 Gibson Flying V, the guitar--according to the Bullock Texas State History Museum--was built between 1999 and 2000 as a science project at Conroe ISD’s Academy of Science & Technology outside of Houston, Texas.  The National Guitar Museum acquired it in 2011.”

My friend Joan and I were quite impressed with it, though we found that no one else in the exhibit room seemed to be centering on its awesomeness.  No one was taking advantage of trying out a strum or two on this massive beast, and certainly this was something that was encouraged by signage that was situated right next to the display.  Perhaps the dearth of attention to it was because attendance was very, very light on this particular morning of Wednesday, September 28; it was a weekday, and this was, after all, more than four full months after the exhibit first opened to the public.  Regardless, one lone roving Carnegie Science Center worker who was stationed in the exhibit went up to the behemoth when we first entered and gave it a pluck.  The guitar roared to life and the one note was quite loud, even a bit sinister; the tone sustained.  Finally, it ebbed away.  As time went on, and Joan and I slowly followed the flow of exhibits around the edges of the room, there would occasionally once again be this one ominous, overpowering note, suddenly ringing out mightily and then gradually fading away.  And as I glanced over at the gigantic, flat-on-its-back gargantuan guitar with each eruption, I saw that one particular science center employee turn from it and slowly walk away...

I wondered about this expressionless, rather subdued dude as Joan and I left the exhibit.  Maybe he finally just had enough of that pluckin’ job. 








The “Tunes for Tables 2022” fundraiser benefiting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank concluded last night (Sunday, September 25, 2022) just before midnight, and the re$ult$ are in: In this one-week campaign we raised a grand total of $37,315.50 inclusive of the generous gift from the William Talbott Hillman Foundation (in honor of Margot Gloninger Jones (1952-2007), and also--notably--through many donations from people like you.

One hundred and four individuals, in donations large and small, helped us reach that astounding grand total--astounding because of how far this amount of money will go in helping our neighbors in need throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.  This $37,315.50 will enable the Pittsburgh Food Bank to provide up to 186,577 meals. 

And the demand “out there” in the community is undiminished.  For the first time in two years, the need for food assistance has spiked back to pandemic highs.  The reasons are clear: Inflation, the rise in gas prices, and percentage changes in the price of food from last year to this year--meat, poultry, fish & eggs, up 14.2%...dairy, up 11.8%...fruits & vegetables, up 8.5%...and on and on.  And at this point in time, 1 in 7 southwestern Pennsylvanians face hunger and 1 in 5 children are in similar dire circumstances.

I give those of you who donated my sincere thanks, AND those of President & CEO Lisa Scales and her entire team at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.





Posted 9/4/22.....HOW GREAT THOU ART

I have been spending select Wednesday evenings over the past six or seven months with WQED’s Rick Sebak, who has rightfully claimed a throne in the Independent Brewing Company, a tavern & restaurant located in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. In actuality it’s not really a throne, but a favorite barstool he’s chosen from which to spin deliciously varied 33 1/3 LP tracks for the assembled diners and drinkers in this bustling establishment.  The spin sessions also simultaneously go out over twitch.tv, an online site that dubs itself a “home for creators streaming video games, music, sports, and everything else they love with magnetic authenticity.”

All I know is, it’s a blast to co-deejay with Rick.  He pulls together consistently intriguing selections from his collection of albums from yesteryear, ones he obtained back in the beginning of time and others he has plucked more recently from area Goodwill stores where he’s occasionally found some real gems.  On the appointed Wednesdays when I am co-spinner I bring my own arsenal to the turntables as well, albums that I just couldn’t part with each time I lugged my life’s possessions from one home to another over the years.  My significant other Mary Ellen also has some vinyl treasures that I beg to borrow (and not outright steal), and so my wares for Wednesdays have become a nice balance of recognizable radio-friendly material, cultish classics, and outta-left-field esoteric selections.

As Rick and I sit and spin on these Wednesdays my mind is usually on queuing up the next song, but I often find myself lingering on the chosen album’s artwork.  This zeroing in honestly makes me a bit wistful of olden times when listening to music was always accompanied by physical sensations--ripping off the plastic shrink-wrap, carefully removing the album from the inner sleeve, gingerly resting the record on the turntable, and easing down the needle onto the first few grooves.  And then--but of course!--cradling the album cover, engulfed by sound yet sitting quite still, poring over the liner notes and credits but largely just lost in the meanings and mysteries of the artwork on the cover...

Yes, even today, I’m still braying and honking over the fact that we’ve in essence lost a wonderful, once-widespread art form.  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.

There are a lot of Top Ten lists “out there” with regard to favorite album covers, of course, and they run the gamut but are also fairly predictable.  Billboard Magazine (the music industry’s once-dominant “bible” of album and single sales) had Abbey Road, Dark Side of the Moon and Nevermind in their Top Ten as voted on by the magazine’s staff in March 2022.  A Rolling Stone magazine readers’ poll in June 2011 had yielded those same three albums but had also mentioned Sgt. Pepper’s and Sticky Fingers...




In an earlier post about a year ago I had highlighted some of my favorite album covers of all time, including ones from the European record label ECM (like Chick Corea and Return to Forever’s debut)...various covers created by the famous-within-the-industry design firm Hipgnosis (such as Pink Floyd’s Saucerful of Secrets, The Strawbs’ Deadlines and Renaissance’s A Song for all Seasons)...artist Neon Parks’ covers of Little Feat albums (including Sailin’ Shoes and Dixie Chicken)...Jethro Tull’s Stand Up...and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass’ Whipped Cream & Other Delights (note that this last favorite stems from loin stirrings that I had as a twelve-year-old boy in 1965).


This time on Musicasaurus.com I wanted to find out how some southwestern Pennsylvanians in the entertainment industry felt about album covers, and so I asked them to rustle up from their memory banks a few examples of ones that had truly captivated them upon first encounter. This is what they came up with (note: some have been edited due to space constraints).


Joe Negri / 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.


Joe Grushecky / 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.


Stacy Innerst / Artist and illustrator for books, newspapers and magazines; latest release is a book entitled The Sweetest Scoop / Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Revolution.....Art.  That's it.  I used to get the same feeling looking at album covers that I got in an art museum.  The format was big and square, which is still my favorite.  I always looked for the art direction credit on the liner notes because those people were (almost) as important as the music for me.  R. Twerk seemed to show up a lot, on albums like Saturate Before Using by Jackson Browne.  The idea of using a radiator bag as a backdrop was pure genius.  My dad used to hang one on the '56 Fairlane before we crossed the Mojave desert. 



Steve Hansen / Former on-air talent on WDVE’s “Jimmy & Steve” morning program (1980-1986); now 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 [Aubrey Powell with Storm Thorgerson, picture above], 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.  


Scott Tady / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times.....Abbey Road.  Such an iconic image, surrounded in folklore.  Why is Paul McCartney in bare feet?  What’s with John Lennon’s white suit?  Is George Harrison the undertaker?  Think of the many tributes and spoofs, including four very exposed Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I spoofed it once for my Sunday column, and have square beer coasters at home with that cover art.  The same company offering a 24/7 camera on Andy Warhol’s grave has a similar set-up for the Abbey Road crossing.  I can’t imagine 53 years from now that people will be equally excited over a YouTube video.  Album covers are a dying art…and Abbey Road is the Mona Lisa.


Scott Blasey / 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/ Senior Executive Producer at WQED Multimedia and morning program host on 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.  And 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.


Mike Sanders / Concert promoter, Opus One Productions.....Dark Side of the Moon.  Simplicity of the design leaving something to the imagination, the importance of the album, and what it established for Pink Floyd as having important artwork on its album covers.



Steve Acri / Longtime music fan and avid collector; former Oasis record store manager.....The words “album cover” instantly remind me of the first one I can remember seeing as a youth, and that was the soundtrack to the Broadway show Oklahoma!, probably around 1960.  My parents played it often, and the color of the cover was vivid orange.  Hard to ignore.  My own personal favorite is The Beatles’ The White Album, with its stark graphic, glossy finish, embossed lettering, individual numbering, and NO PHOTOS OF THE BAND!  The bonus photos and poster inside, as well as the music itself, were not too shabby either.


Paul Carosi / Designer/developer of the website Pittsburgh Music History (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/).....The album cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s is the first to come to mind.  It was the first rock album that I ever purchased and the artwork and music were game changing.  Musically it was the first concept album.  Picking out all of the various celebrities on the cover provided hours of enjoyment while listening to the groundbreaking music.  Shown were Mae West, W.C. Fields, Bob Dylan, Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando, Aldous Huxley, Edgar Allan Poe, Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy and dozens more.  The album cover was created by Jann Haworth, and Peter Blake won the Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts in 1967. 



Tom Rooney / Former executive director of Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group.....Highway 61 Revisited (1965) by Bob Dylan.  Hey, this wasn’t the Beatles in Nehru Suits or The Animals in matching jackets.  This was a sound that perfectly matched the brooding, cocky picture on the cover of what we’d be expecting from everyone else--other than Mr. Zimmerman who constantly was reinventing himself.  Also, Clouds (1969) by Joni Mitchell, with the beautiful painted self-portrait of Ms. Mitchell with the gold hue, holding a red rose.  This was a very important record for me (had “Both Sides Now” and “Chelsea Morning”) because the poetry floored me as did her haunting album cover.




Sean McDowell / Former longtime on-air talent with WDVE.....I once interviewed on the air 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 had unbelievable stories!  Along with those, I think of historic LP covers and I think Sgt. Pepper’s, Who's Next and the first Led Zeppelin album.



Rich Engler / Former president of DiCesare-Engler Productions (which eventually became part of Live Nation); now producing concerts and working on autobiographical pursuits.....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.



Scott Mervis / Pop Music Critic and Weekend Editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.....My first thought is Hipgnosis for the mind-blowing Pink Floyd covers that went hand in hand with the far-out music.  The British design company not only did Floyd, but Zeppelin, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, ELO, etc.--a lot of covers that you could just sit and stare at while you listened.  I also think about the Doors' Strange Days and Zappa's Hot Rats because my older sister had those records and they freaked me out.




Rick Sebak / WQED public TV producer & 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 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.





Posted 8/21/22.....BIG TIME

This is the Summer to Remember.  Though we didn’t exactly wave goodbye to COVID and its persistent, pesky variant(s), we DID wave off some previously-held major concerns.  Because this summer, we’ve opened our arms once again to an irresistible allure--the unparalleled experience of going to a concert with tens of thousands of like-minded souls.  Stadium shows are baaaaack.

By the end of September we will have had FIVE stadium shows in 2022 in Pittsburgh.  Heinz Field (recently renamed Acrisure Stadium) hosted just one this summer, Kenny Chesney on June 11, but PNC Park’s catcher’s mitt funneled some real sizzlers into the pocket: Billy Joel on August 11; co-headliners Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard with Poison and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts on August 12; Metallica with Greta Van Fleet and opener Ice Nine Kills on August 14; and Elton John on September 16.

All this major-level hoopla has caused Musicasaurus to dust off the fossil records from FIFTY YEARS AGO to take a closer look at the gigantic shows that hit town back in the summer of 1972.  To paraphrase Elton John, I remember when rock was young.  The early 1970s was an era when mammoth rock shows were still in their infancy: 1) parents were wary and their kids were just starting to let their freak flags fly...2) across the country community leaders and security personnel were a bit dazed and confused, at times just a bit unsure of how to properly handle oversized crowds...and 3) the media seemed justifiably flummoxed by the emerging, surging power of the musical youth-quake that was inexorably shaking up societal conventions and norms.

There were two Three Rivers Stadium shows in that year of 1972, Alice Cooper as headliner on July 11 and Three Dog Night as top dog on July 30.  Of the two concerts, the controversial Cooper is arguably the one deserving a deep dive.  There was a highly unusual but essential postponement of the original June 23 playdate, and then literally some trouble afoot when the show actually took place on July 11.  By contrast, the concert by Three Dog Night was unblemished and white-bread in its way; the group was practically “America’s Band” at that point in time with its mainstream appeal, pop music success and cross-format radio dominance.

So...we’ll fairly quickly dissect the Dog and then move on over to Alice. 




This was the immensely popular Dog’s second visit to Three Rivers Stadium in two years.  They had played Three Rivers in November 1971, and national promoter Concerts West brought them back for this encore engagement.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Carl Apone interviewed Terry Bassett of Concerts West for his newspaper’s July 28 preview piece and Bassett--who up to that point in time had booked over 300 Three Dog Night dates--attempted to explain the band’s consistent popularity.  “Rock groups only stay together about a year and a half, then too many run into money and dope problems,” Bassett posited.  “After three years we still have the same seven players.”

True that Three Dog Night was on a roll; by the summer of 1972 they had amassed seven gold albums and six of their singles that were released to radio stations also went gold [that industry term applies to albums and/or singles that sell at least 500,000 units].  Mike Kalina of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted in his day-of-show article on the band that the year before, the group had played in front of more than a million people and grossed $6,000,000 in live performances (a big, big intake of touring dollars at the time).

July 30, 1972 was by all accounts another solid success.  Opening the show was Leon Russell, the acclaimed singer/songwriter-arranger-pianist who Kalina in his July 31 post-show concert review labeled the “Rasputinesque Russell.”  The performer “hammered away at a piano which punctuated his gravelly voiced singing style...He proved comfortable in all the styles he touched on but the audience didn’t become overly receptive until his finale, a combination of ‘Youngblood,’ and ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash,’ which brought the crowd to its feet.”  Of headliner Three Dog Night, Kalina was aflutter.  He noted that the band took the stage after a dazzling fireworks display and praised the group for rolling out their hits as well as interesting covers of pop standards.  “The seven-man group,” Kalina wrote, “was extremely well-knit and every number came off very smoothly.”  He closed his piece by noting that the crowd in attendance was the second largest of the summer’s shows--with the Alice Cooper concert earlier in the month the biggest of them all.

p.s. The band was truly the big dog even after 1972.  In this still evolving era of rock and pop music and its conquest of hearts and minds and radio playlists, the band--according to Wikipedia--garnered TWENTY-ONE Billboard Magazine Top Forty hits between 1969 and 1975. 


JUNE 23, 1972 ... JULY 11, 1972!


When Alice’s tour was originally announced as coming to play Pittsburgh on June 23, the show lineup consisted of Alice Cooper, Humble Pie, Uriah Heep and opening act Two Steves.  But Mother Nature, prickly even back then, interfered.  Rising waters on our three rivers washed away any hope of a show happening that particular evening.  

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

After the mud and the muck, though?  Much better luck.  The weather on the rescheduled date of July 11 was fine and according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Mike Kalina in his July 12 post-concert review, jubilant fans flocked to the stadium to see headliner Alice Cooper, support act Humble Pie and opener Two Steves (Uriah Heep was no longer available to appear).  Kalina started off his piece by noting that on this rescheduled date, Alice’s concert almost didn’t come off.  “While one of the preceding groups, Humble Pie, was doing a closing number," Kalina said, “thousands of teens in the crowd of 35,000-45,000 swarmed onto the field.  It took more than an hour for guards to clear the field and quell the crowd a bit.”

Kalina witnessed the response of the stadium’s security forces firsthand.  “A few minor injuries were reported after fans had swarmed onto the field, into the dugout, backstage, and on to the performing platform,” he said.  “Kids seemed to be everywhere they weren’t supposed to be.  It was a tense situation indeed, but those involved with security at the stadium reacted well and eventually everything was brought under control.  But an aura of tension still pervaded the scene.” 


Because these corrective crowd control measures took a while, though, headliner Alice didn’t take the stage until 11:10pm.  When he did, according to Pittsburgh Press writer Joe Taylor in his July 12 review, he “came to the stage in a convertible Rolls Royce and was clad in a black jumpsuit.  The rest of the group wore bright silk outfits and the psychedelic lights made them glitter like emeralds.”  An interesting entrance and intro to the band, for sure, but Alice then began pulling out his bag of theatrical tricks which in his live performances were already becoming the stuff of legends.  Throughout the show at various stages Alice was strapped into a straitjacket...wore around his neck an 11-foot-long live boa constrictor...and decapitated a blood-filled doll on stage, only then to “pay” for that crime by being hanged on the gallows at the end of the performance.  Alice and his onstage antics coupled with powerhouse tunes like “School’s Out,” “Under My Wheels,” “Be My Lover” and “I’m Eighteen” had lured in an audience so substantial that the Post-Gazette’s Kalina crowned it “the largest rock show in Pittsburgh history.”

Pat DiCesare Productions, the concert’s Pittsburgh-based promoter, later released final attendance numbers: the show had drawn over 36,000 fans.  British daily newspaper The Guardian in a June 1972 article pointed to the sensation that Alice Cooper had become since the band’s late-1960s debut album.  The publication’s Michael White delineated the descriptions of Alice’s onstage performances that were showing up in national press here in the U.S. and across the pond, ones ranging from “‘incredibly imaginative’ and ‘pure entertainment’ to ‘sadomasochistic’ and ‘bubblegum violence.’”  And this indeed was the allure.  “The band’s line is that their acts mirror the violent and sexual fantasies of America,” White said.  “They’re not involved in politics, not involved in the war...But in the years of the war and growing domestic violence they offer a cathartic ‘imitation of violence.’”

White went on to quote band members and the group’s manager Shep Gordon about their raison d'être: “‘People only emphasize the masochistic parts.  We like to think we reflect society, the violence in society,’ says Dennis Dunaway.  ‘Violence and sex is what people want.  They can make what they like of the show, but we want them to react.  They can throw up if they want to as long as they react,’ says Alice.  ‘They applaud when Alice is being hanged.  Why?  Because they’re glad it isn’t them,’ says Shep Gordon.”

At this point one might crave even more insight into how very popular and polarizing this band was back in 1972.  And if that’s the case I would say to you--paraphrasing Jefferson Airplane here--go ask Alice; I think he’ll know.

postscript: The July 11, 1972 Alice Cooper concert obviously thrilled the people in  attendance, but Pittsburgh Press writer Maddy Ross found one person who was quite emotionally moved yet was nowhere near the stadium.  This was an elderly woman in nearby Sewickley who had the “good fortune” to share the same name as the entertainer.

Miss Cooper was on the telephone quite a lot in the few days leading up to the July 11 show.  According to Ross in an interview published in the Press on July 14, calls to the woman had been pouring in and her telephone line was tied up for days with fans of the band who were calling to show their devotion to the singer and praise him.

“‘But I’m just an old spinster,’” Ross quoted Miss Cooper as saying.  “‘I had no idea who this other Alice was when I started getting the calls--sometimes at 2am.’  One caller told Miss Cooper that ‘he knew he lived there.’  'When the person said “he” I was really confused’, she said.  ‘Then a young man called and said I was Alice Cooper’s mistress and that he lived here with me.  So I told him, first of all, I’m over 80 years old and secondly, I live in an apartment--I would know if there were a man here.’”

Ross wrapped up her interview with the woman this way: “Alice Cooper, the entertainer, left Pittsburgh early Wednesday.  ‘Maybe now I’ll have some peace,’ Alice Cooper, the senior citizen, said.  ‘Oh, by the way, I might be calling you for some publicity,’ she added.  ‘In case I start my own rock group.’”





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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

 ... Part Two of Two.

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

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

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

Happy delving, once again…

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

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

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

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


1971 - River / Joni Mitchell, from Blue

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

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

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

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

“River” https://youtu.be/3NH-ctddY9o


1972 - Big Brother / Stevie Wonder, from Talking Book

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Spain” https://youtu.be/sEhQTjgoTdU


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


1979 - London Calling / The Clash, from London Calling

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

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

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

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

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





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

(Next post: Sunday, July 24, 2022)

 ... Part One of Two.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


1975 - Rhiannon / Fleetwood Mac, from Fleetwood Mac

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


1977 - Marquee Moon / Television, from Television

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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






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

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

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

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








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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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


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




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




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

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

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




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




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




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

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

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





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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
































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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Do you have the ability to appreciate music?

I’ve never really thought about it.

Do you love music?

I always enjoy more cowbell.

Is Blue Oyster Cult one of your favorites?

Who, me?

Yes, you.

That’s what I figured.


What is your favorite Beatles song?

I don’t like to play favorites.

Do you like John Lennon or Paul McCartney better?

This is about you, Lance, not me.


Do you have a favorite jazz album?

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


Siri, music really fires up my brain.

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

Do I ask you stupid questions?

That doesn’t sound good.


Does music make you happy?

Who, me?

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

That’s what I thought.

So, are you going to answer that question?

I can’t answer that.

Why not?

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


Siri, you have a lovely voice.

Thank you very much, Lance.

Your voice sounds like a human female.

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


What is your favorite movie with music in it?

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

How do you feel about Ozzy Osbourne?

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

Do you like Taylor Swift?

I really have no opinion.

What do you think of David Bowie?

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


Do you like punk rock music?

I mostly listen to the music of the spheres.

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

I like anything with a bagpipe!


Do you like Metallica?

I couldn’t find Metallica in your music.

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

I’m not sure I understand.

I said I don’t like Metallica.

I see.


Who is your favorite composer?

I am not sure I have one.

You don’t have a favorite composer?

Oh, don’t I?

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

I can’t answer that.


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

I have a thirst for knowledge.


Do you enjoy talking with me?

Very much.

Am I being a pain in the ass?

I can’t answer that.

Because you don’t want to insult me?

Who, me?

Yes, you.

I thought so.


Could you sing me a song?

I’d rather leave that to the professionals.

Please try to sing me a song.

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

Thank you for singing that song, Siri.

It is I who should be thanking you.


Siri, do you think pot enhances listening to music?

It’s your opinion that counts, Lance.

Did you ever get wasted and listen to music?

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


Are you a music freak?

No comment, Lance.

Do you like Dark Side of the Moon?

I’d rather not say, Lance.

What is your favorite instrumental piece of music?

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


Is Bob Dylan one of your favorites?

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

Who is your favorite folksinger?

I don’t know.

Do you have a favorite folksinger?!!

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


Siri, do you like sexy music like Barry White?

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

Why would I not like your taste in music?

Who, me?


Is there a guitarist that really blows your mind?

I’m doing my best, Lance.


Are musician death pools in bad taste?

That doesn’t sound good.

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

You’re certainly entitled to that opinion, Lance.

So, you want to keep your options open?

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


Siri, thanks for sharing your opinions with me.

Your wish is my command.





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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songs by Joni Mitchell to explore: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Songs by Sinéad O'Connor to explore:

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Songs by Emmylou Harris to explore:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Songs by Etta James to explore:

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Songs by Valerie Carter to explore:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Songs by Flora Purim to explore:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1964) Petula Clark – Downtown            

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

(1967) The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Purple Haze

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

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

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

(1970) Van Morrison – Moondance

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

(1970) Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi

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

(1972) Deep Purple – Smoke On The Water   

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

(1972) Dueling Banjos – Deliverance Original Soundtrack            

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

(1974) Gram Parsons – Return Of The Grievous Angel      

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

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

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

(1976) George Benson – This Masquerade    

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

(1977) Fleetwood Mac – Go Your Own Way   

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

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

(1978) Little Feat – Oh Atlanta

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





Posted 2/20/22.....





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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 16, 1972 - Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty                                          

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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


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

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

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

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

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

February 19, 1972 - David Cassidy

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

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

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


March 27, 1972 - Black Sabbath with opener Wild Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

God Rest Ye Merry Gentle Musicmakers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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





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

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


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



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



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



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



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



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




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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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





Posted 11/28/21


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

COMEDY…Monday, July 8th…Andrew Dice Clay

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The concert had been canceled.  I never did get in, and I didn’t really find out the details until the next day’s newspaper.  It was reported that a confrontation between roadies of different rap groups resulted in a chase to nearby Chatham Center, where a shooting occurred.  

[Editor’s note: The concert that Joey the K is referencing above was the Budweiser Superfest, a multi-act show featuring headliners New Edition and Guy that was scheduled for July 9, 1989 at the Civic Arena.  The show never happened.  There had been provocations and building tensions between the two headliners’ crew members at a Greensboro, N.C. show the night before the Civic Arena’s scheduled playdate, and the feud escalated in Pittsburgh resulting in a brawl backstage and onstage that afternoon and the fatal shooting of the group Guy’s security chief.]


  VICKI CAPOCCIONI-WOLFE – Capoccioni-Wolfe was the Director of Publicity from 1989 through 1992 at the Civic Arena.

SO many shows and events that I have enjoyed along the way at the Civic Arena...I was a young girl, right out of college, working with the “stars!”  I think back today how lucky I was, and what an opportunity to be a part of that, at such a young age.   

Some memorable moments: 

  Walking through Cher’s dressing room and looking at the skimpy costumes (inside trunks and trunks of costume changes) with a KDKA-TV reporter, as the station did a live story, day of concert.

  Working pre-publicity with the Ringling circus and taking “Kesha” the Russian brown bear, with her trainer, to local media outlets.  On Day Three, we brought the bear and its trainer onto the floor of the arena for Half Time of a Lacrosse (or Arena Football?) game to do some tricks, and the bear continued to follow me as I tried to very quickly walk away to get off of the floor.  I was nearly in tears, the fans were cheering and laughing, and the trainer did not help me at all, because he thought it was cute.  

  Picking up Curley Neal from the Harlem Globetrotters at the airport in a stretch limo and then having to stop along the way back to town to run into a bar to get him a six-pack of beer.

  Hanging with MC Hammer; he was a riot to spend time with—and he was dressed in his famous diaper pants.   

  My favorite memory, though, that I still like to talk about today (to anyone that will listen) is the time that Frank Sinatra came to town on May 16, 1991.  I was working the show with my trusty walkie-talkie in hand, waiting to greet media.  Mr. Sinatra was to arrive at the arena’s backstage gate in a white stretch limo with Pittsburgh Police motorcycles on each side.  

As my walkie-talkie told me the limo was arriving at the gate, I ran through the arena and down the steps to watch it all take place.  Again, I was a young gal, but I knew the importance of this music icon and I was not going to miss taking a peek.  The thundering motorcycles entered the gate and stopped, and the limo moved forward, closer to the back of the stage near the entrance hall of the dressing rooms.  Everyone standing backstage moved to the side of each wall and stood in silence.  

As the back door was opened by the limo driver, out came Frank Sinatra, Jr. (if I remember correctly, he was there to lead the orchestra for the show that evening).  He walked to the back of the car and started to take bags out of the trunk.  He looked angry and annoyed.  The big moment came when Mr. Frank Sinatra got out of the car.  I just remember looking at him in awe.  I thought I better not take my eyes off of him, as I am sure he will walk straight into his dressing room.  What he did next has impressed me to this day, and it is this that makes me like to tell this story.

He walked to the back of the car toward the officers.  I remember the first officer he approached could not get his leather glove off fast enough to shake his hand.  He shook each officer’s hand and thanked each one individually.  I was very impressed…all I could say was “Wow!”  He gave a quick wave to everyone standing there and walked toward his dressing room.  The room was filled with the best fine china that could be found (hey, I read the rider), and tour sponsor Chivas Regal had filled the dressing room as well. 

I walked out into the arena...The stage was set in-the-round, and the place was filling up.  I stood in a section and watched the older audience fill the seats.  As the lights dimmed and Mr. Sinatra took to the stage, the roar of the crowd was exciting.  I could not believe, and still cannot believe, the number of ladies who were wiping the tears from their eyes when Frank Sinatra walked on stage.  I stood and watched about four songs.  I remember thinking that he might have had too much Chivas Regal that night, because he had a tough time remembering a few of the lyrics to some of his songs, but no one cared.  I guess you can say he did it his way.   





Posted 9/19/21.....THIS MAGIC MOMENT

When COVID-19 snuck up and then walloped us in the Spring of 2020, going to the movies morphed from the usual car ride to the local cinema to a socks-on-feet shuffle from the fridge to the couch.  The situation somehow prompted me to recall a classic tune by the Everly Brothers from 1958.  If they were still around today, perhaps the brothers would now amend their song to say that all I have to is…stream: “Strea-ea-ea-ea-eam, stream, stream, stream / Strea-ea-ea-ea-eam, stream, stream, stream / When I want you in my gaze / When I want you, you amaze / Whenever I want you, all I have to do is strea-ea-ea-ea-eam, stream, stream, stream.”

There is SO much diverse programming available now on television.  In fact, the pipelines of Apple TV, Prime, Netflix, Hulu, Disney, HBO, Showtime, Paramount and the rest are peppering us with so many choices that sometimes it leads to an unsettling weariness or even mild nausea, as title after title is continually swiped aside in search of the “perfect” selection…

But this is not necessarily a bad thing.  As of late I’ve rediscovered a host of older films that I first saw in the movie theaters years ago, and it is doubly satisfying to view them via the quick click or the occasional $3.99, because 1) the movies are nostalgic-filled rediscoveries of great directors’ works and actor/actress triumphs, and 2) the music that was used in a number of these films is pretty amazing—intuitively selected and ingeniously injected.

When some folks think about music in the movies the time-honored classics may be the ones that first come to mind.  On its website, the highly regarded American Film Institute lists its “Hundred Greatest American Movie Music” selections, and in their Top Ten are things like “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz (1939), “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca (1942), and “Singing in the Rain” (1952), “The Sound of Music” (1965) and “The Way We Were” (1973) from the films of the same name.

But my own choices for the best use of music in film somewhat depart from the classics.  Movies hold music magic in many forms.  One film might contain the perfect coalescing of some wordsmith’s ballad with a lowkey scene tenderly rendered, while another might throw in a dusty old pop tune over a plot thickening.  Yet another might deftly employ an instrumental passage—the kind that sends that ripple of awe up the spine to the back of your head—or one that mists you up, potentially putting you on the path to full-on blubbering.

In no particular order, then, here are some excursions into music in the movies—some of Musicasaurus.com’s favorite occasions of masterful integration of music and onscreen visuals:


In 2005 Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah’s couch, a defining moment of weirdness as the actor professed his love of new paramour Katie Holmes (rumor has it she was thoroughly vetted by Cruise’s Scientology brethren before the match was made).

Twenty-two years before that, though, in the 1983 film Risky Business, he evidenced a bit more Cruise control.  He expertly played a teen soon headed off to college but who first fell into predicaments and into lust/love with a cool and foxy call girl played by Rebecca De Mornay.  Cruise had hit the couch back then, too, but that was in the film and part of his living room prance—dressed in undies and pink dress shirt—to the stereo’s blasting of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

And that is NOT the movie music moment that I treasure from this film.  Instead, it is the hypnotic moments in the score by Tangerine Dream, a German electronic music group who were pioneers (in that ‘80s time period) of digital technology related to music sequencers and synthesizers.  Tangerine Dream had a cult following from regular album output, having formed back in the mid-late ‘60s, but many fans came aboard after that through exposure to their cinema soundscapes.

The gem from the film is the late-night subway ride on Chicago’s “L” by the two main characters.  It is incredibly atmospheric in terms of lighting, editing, etc., but the emotional lynchpin is Tangerine Dream’s “Love on a Real Train,” a warm tonal massage of a tune that sizzles, burbles and sighs in perfect harmony with the onscreen coupling of Cruise and De Mornay.  The clip here is 4:48 in length.  Watch it from the beginning to get a better sense of the film and to hear another soundtrack bite, this time of Phil Collins’ performing “In The Air Tonight.”  Then Tangerine Dream comes on little cat feet, beginning about 2:30 into the clip… https://youtu.be/tXvxl5Fw5W0


Consider the source.  Writer-director Cameron Crowe based this not-too-far flung tale (released to screens in 2000) on his youthful experiences as a writer with Rolling Stone magazine, and it is well acted and true to the times.  

Musicasaurus.com is a sucker for movie scenes that depict the characters indulging in an organic song breakout, and here it takes place on a tour bus as the band Stillwater and their hangers-on—including Cameron Crowe stand-in William Miller, played by Patrick Fugit, and groupie Penny Lane, played by Kate Hudson—roll on down the road. https://youtu.be/bhwGPwDbbRM


An electronic music trailblazer back in the 1980s who achieved worthy fame was Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou—[pronunciation? Greek to me]—who went the route of Madonna and Prince with just one name: Vangelis.

Born in 1943 in Agria, Greece, Vangelis’ first forays into music were through a 1960s psychedelic/progressive rock band called Aphrodite’s Child, but by the turn of the decade the artist had already ventured into film scoring in and around Paris where the band had relocated from their native country.

Vangelis is best known for his 1981 soundtrack to Chariots of Fire and the film’s signature song of the same name which, a year later upon its release as a single for radio, caused people to run in droves to record stores (though not in slow motion).  The song was also notably adopted by Steve Jobs for the public unveiling of the first Macintosh computer early in 1984.  Other films on the heels of Chariots of Fire that Vangelis scored included Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Costa-Gavras’ Missing, and on PBS, the Cosmos series featuring Carl Sagan when the latter borrowed from Vangelis’ earlier works.

Back in 1982 I went to the movie theater the same week that The Year of Living Dangerously hit Pittsburgh.  I had become aware of the Australian director Peter Weir, who had previously made some interesting art-cinema style films (not the usual box office fodder) including Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), The Last Wave (1977), and Gallipoli (1981), the latter one of the earliest films to star Mel Gibson and one that helped world-widen his appeal.

The Year of Living Dangerously—basically a love story set in the turbulent mid-1960s in Indonesia under the besieged leadership of Sukarno—was principally scored by Maurice Jarre, a French composer and conductor.  His work here was exemplary, but the song that nabbed me, though, was one—the sole one—borrowed from Vangelis by the director.  It was “L ‘Enfant,” from the composer/musician’s 1979 album Opera Sauvage.

It is not a lengthy piece at all, but it is a stirring, contemplative match of mood and music, as Sigourney Weaver’s character Jill Bryant reflects on her growing attraction to Mel Gibson’s Guy Hamilton, and ultimately appears in his doorway… https://youtu.be/vsBOxDM_Vek

WITNESS (1985) 

Three years after the release of The Year of Living Dangerously, director Peter Weir turned his talents toward a tale of murder, cops and corruption, and a detective on the trail of a missing witness.  In Witness (1985), Harrison Ford’s character Detective John Book rests and recuperates within an Amish community in Lancaster County, PA, on the run from renegade Philadelphia police officers who are in clandestine pursuit of a young Amish boy who’d witnessed a killing.  

While Detective Book is hiding out among the Amish and tries his best at assimilation, he lends a hand (both, really) in a barn raising.  This scene is exquisitely edited and is buoyed by film score maven Maurice Jarre’s grand instrumental “Building The Barn”… https://youtu.be/BL_X7GelX5Q


I think you have to be in the mood for this creepy, crawly, portent-of-doom kind of stuff onscreen.  And David Lynch delivers.  I saw his first movie Eraserhead when it came out around 1977 and I don’t think I’ve been the same since.  I remember leaving the theater feeling like that film had given me the flu.

But Lynch followed up three years later with a film of classic elegance, The Elephant Man, starring John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins…then the hot sci-fi mess Dune in 1984…and then in 1986, Blue Velvet, which starred Kyle MacLachlan (later of Lynch’s TV triumph Twin Peaks), Isabella Rossellini, Dean Stockwell, and last but not least, Dennis Hopper in a searing career comeback portrayal as a gas-huffing psycho killer (I’d like to think it was a stretch).

The movie is critically acclaimed and tops a lot of film lists, and it is a visceral viewing experience that ramps up the queasy quotient and stokes the dread.  Hopper is magnetic as the villainous Frank Booth, and Lynch injects the film with some great music moments that of course contribute to the viewers’ increasing unsettlement.  The following clip centers on Frank Booth’s partner in crime Ben (played by Stockwell) who lip-syncs Roy Orbison’s song “In Dreams,” which is kind of creepy in its own right but then really ratchets up the foreboding as Frank noticeably begins to fume.  Click on the link, pop two Tums, and call me in the morning… https://youtu.be/d0PbwLTLKA4


In 1992 Mike Myers and Dana Carvey cobbled together a 95-minute film based on their ongoing Saturday Night Live skit entitled Wayne’s World, which premiered there on the late-night comedy sketch show during its ’88-’89 season.  The movie is a pleasure to watch, with lovable metal heads Wayne Campbell (Myers) and Garth Algar (Carvey) as the hosts of a public-access cable TV show that is broadcast out of Wayne’s parents’ basement in Aurora, Illinois.

The movie is full of knowing pop culture bon mots and scenes flash by with great stoner panache, and so this one’s a tie in terms of providing you with a clip to view.  There is a short, inspired pelvic dance by Garth in a restaurant, after he spies a “Foxy Lady” and jams a coin in the jukebox to release his inner Jimi.  And then there is the film’s opening scene, a car ride with Wayne, Garth and backseat longhairs who plop in a cassette and rip into Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” … (“Foxy Lady”) https://youtu.be/dCYUvCdiPfI ... (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) https://youtu.be/thyJOnasHVE


I love the scene in this Quentin Tarantino film where John Travolta and Uma Thurman are twistin’ up a storm to Chuck Berry’s 1964 rock and roll classic “You Never Can Tell”—but really because of my mother.  Unbeknownst to me, at some point within the first few weeks of the movie’s release in 1994, she had caught the movie trailer on television one night and decided then and there to see the film. 

As she explained to me on the phone one evening afterward, “I saw the preview on TV and saw John Travolta dancing with a girl, and I thought, ‘Oh, this must be like Saturday Night Fever,’ so I went to see it with one of my girlfriends.  Oh, I did NOT like it, honey.  Too violent.”  She went on to tell me that “the guy in the projector booth” must have mixed things up, too, because “parts of the movie were out of order.”  Swear to God, we had that conversation.  Here’s the dancing clip from Pulp Fiction… https://youtu.be/WSLMN6g_Od4





Posted 9/5/21.....SOUTHBOUND


In 1971 at the age of eighteen I fell deeper in love than I had ever been before.  With a rock group.  

It was all because of one double album that came out that summer, one that truly stunned a good portion of like-minded souls across America, those of us who were now deliriously devoted to all of the new music that was spilling out of FM radio and stacking up at local record shops.  The album was entitled At Fillmore East and the group was the Allman Brothers Band.  The Allmans, through this one particular release, opened up the floodgates for the formation and crystallization of a whole new breed of rock music, one that was largely geographically based.  And so the Allman Brothers Band led me down a path to further exploration, a path that took me south…

I was an Allmans fan early on.  The band had already released two studio albums by 1971—their self-titled debut in 1969 and the follow-up Idlewild South in 1970—and I was a dedicated follower from the outset.  In the school year that covered September 1970-May 1971, I was a senior at Butler Area Senior High School (in Butler, PA) and served on the student concert committee.  I remember our committee’s teacher/advisor was shopping around for a band to play our high school auditorium, and somehow on his overall list of bookable possibilities the Allmans’ name had popped up.  

He wasn’t familiar with the group at all, so sputtering a bit here and there because of some palpable nervous energy, I made my case.  And then I pestered the living shit out of him.  I eventually begged my way onto the public address system of the school one morning before classes began—the advisor had thrown me this bone—and I delivered an impassioned plea to the student body, playing a sample track from Idlewild South and saying things like “Ya know, just to be clear, this is not the Osmond Brothers we’re talking about here; it’s the Allman Brothers.”  

The concert committee’s teacher/advisor was ultimately unmoved.  He just didn’t sense any real waves of enthusiasm from some of the students he’d cornered for opinions, and he was also very likely getting some contrary opinions from a few folks above his station.  So he ended up nixing the Allmans, and went with a band much closer to home, one that didn’t have such an air of mystery, one that was a much “safer” choice—the Jaggerz.  

That summer of 1971 I graduated from Butler Senior High, and by July word had quickly spread about a brand new Allmans record that was just hitting the stores.  On a Saturday afternoon I went downtown to the Woolworth’s five-and-dime store on Main Street in Butler and picked up the new live-in-concert double album At Fillmore East.  I scurried home to my boy cave (aka, my bedroom), ripped off the shrink-wrap and plunked down Side One on the turntable.  When the needle hit the groove an emcee’s voice, somewhat muted, announced “Okay, the Allman Brothers Band,” the crowd roared in approval, and then Duane Allman’s slide guitar was suddenly front and center, sinuously winding and wailing on “Statesboro Blues.”  

It was an electrifying moment for me; I had been zapped to attention—so this is what the band sounds like, live?!!  Over top of the band’s powerhouse rhythm section of one bassist and two drummers, plus Gregg Allman’s luscious Hammond B-3, guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts traded short, sweet but absolutely sizzling solos, and then “Statesboro Blues” came to a delicious, crashing close.  This third album from the Allmans, I found, start to finish, was a revelation.

At Fillmore East—recorded over three nights, March 11, 12 and 13, 1971—revealed a side to the band that was already well known by those fortunate enough to catch a performance earlier on.  This album captured the group at its absolute best; they were in total command of their powers and were at their peak as a superbly blended whole (with all six band members only in their twenties!), and in this live setting they were totally in their element.  The band members’ roots were solidly in the blues, but their influences also included artists like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and James Brown, so the band’s unique shared mindset was one of exploration and improvisation.  On this Fillmore East album, the song “Stormy Monday” is over eight minutes long; “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” is almost thirteen; “You Don’t Love Me” is nineteen minutes in length; and “Whipping Post,” which closes the album via the entirety of Side Four, is a little over twenty-two minutes long. 

In the Allman Brothers Band’s 2014 oral history book One Way Out from author Alan Paul, Gregg Allman said “We sure didn’t set out to be a ‘jam band’ but those long jams just emanated from within the band, because we didn’t want to just play three minutes and be over.  And we definitely didn’t want to play anybody else’s songs…unless it was an old blues song like ‘Trouble No More’ that we would totally refurbish to our tastes.  We were going to do our own tunes, which at first meant mine, and because of that there was a lot of instrumentals and long passages between the verses sometimes.  Sometimes we had to keep playing to get wound up in search of spontaneity.”

The band’s record company Capricorn, and its original funder and distributor Atlantic Records, didn’t warm up at all to what they heard when the album was completed.  “[The record company] did not want to put it out,” remembered drummer Butch Trucks as quoted in a 3/11/16 Rolling Stone magazine piece by Corbin Reiff.  “They fought with us and fought with us and fought with us, until they finally realized if they were gonna have anything at all, then that’s what they were gonna have.  We were firmly convinced that we would never be a big-money band because Atlantic Records had pounded that into our heads…This is exactly what we heard from Jerry Wexler [editor’s note: Wexler was a principal player within Atlantic.]  ‘You gotta get Gregg out from behind that keyboard, stick a salami down his pants, and make him jump around onstage like Robert Plant, then maybe you got a chance.’  Basically we just said, ‘Fuck you!’  We had tried that kind of shit before and not only did we hate it, we hadn’t made a plug fucking nickel, much less become big rock stars.  We decided that the music we were playing was much more important than becoming rock stars.”

But the band did become rock stars.  The live double album began climbing the sales charts almost immediately, as word-of-mouth and radio play helped spread the gospel.  At Fillmore East became the group’s bestselling album, clearly the result of the group’s determination to stick to their artistic vision.  In his 2016 book for the music minded, an absorbing read entitled 1971: Never A Dull Moment, author David Hepworth points out that “What came out of that weekend turned the band into one of the biggest concert draws in the USA.  It was musically extraordinary…the twin guitars and two drummers of the Allmans played like a large truck which had found a way to handle like a Ferrari, in the process rendering all comparable attempts to record the rock jam as ragged and clumsy.  The album was such a touchstone that even the strangled shout for ‘Whipping Post’ which rose from the audience during a gap between songs was widely copied by wiseacres in the audiences at other band’s concerts.  It happened so often through the rest of the decade that Frank Zappa eventually learned a version of ‘Whipping Post’ and made it a part of his show.”

Perhaps the best indication of the kickass cultural impact of At Fillmore East is that the album significantly helped spawn the genre called Southern Rock.  According to Alan Paul as outlined in his One Way Out book, the Allmans were “the mountain stream from which this musical river flows.”  After At Fillmore East, the Allmans’ record label Capricorn found firmer financial footing and also went on a signing spree in terms of rounding up other bands from below the Mason-Dixon, including The Marshall Tucker Band from Spartanburg, South Carolina; Wet Willie from Mobile, Alabama; and The Dixie Dregs from Augusta, Georgia.

As I mentioned at the outset, I was personally galvanized by At Fillmore East to dig further into all the emerging strands of rock emanating from the Southland, and I did begin roping in a few for my collection like Skynyrd’s first, Marshall Tucker’s first, Wet Willie’s live one, and Sea Level’s first few releases that came later in the 1970s.  Below I have listed a number of bands (and a sample track from each) to enable you to do your own explorations into the world of ‘70s Southern Rock—enjoy!


Lynyrd Skynyrd Jacksonsville, Florida - “Free Bird” from their 1973 debut album (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd)  https://youtu.be/CqnU_sJ8V-E

Molly Hatchet Jacksonville, Florida - “Flirtin’ with Disaster,” the title track from their 1979 second album  https://youtu.be/Ta5hPRmxo8k

Blackfoot Jacksonville, Florida - “Highway Song” from their third studio album, 1979’s Strikes  https://youtu.be/PbNrJWgG_24

Rossington Collins Band Jacksonville, Florida - “Don’t Misunderstand Me” from their 1980 debut album Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere  https://youtu.be/NOMtV-S08zc

.38 Special Jacksonville, Florida - “Hold On Loosely” from their fourth studio album, 1981’s Wild-Eyed Southern Boys  https://youtu.be/g3nn6WfFQ7o

Outlaws Tampa, Florida - “Green Grass & High Tides” from their 1975 self-titled debut album  https://youtu.be/cz2CAtExXgQ

Henry Paul Band Tampa, Florida - “Grey Ghost,” the title track from their 1979 debut album  https://youtu.be/DoBiPYsmFvg

Hydra Atlanta, Georgia - “Glitter Queen” from their 1974 self-titled debut album  https://youtu.be/prKOsr8HM80

Dixie Dregs Augusta, Georgia - “Refried Funky Chicken” from their major label debut, 1977’s Free Fall  https://youtu.be/muXtihdlP8U

Atlanta Rhythm Section Doraville, Georgia - “So in to You” from their sixth album, 1976’s A Rock and Roll Alternative  https://youtu.be/wzCdSJu5xqI

Sea Level Macon, Georgia - “That’s Your Secret” from their second studio album, 1977’s Cats on the Coast  https://youtu.be/gPwz4QpXq-4

Grinderswitch Warner Robbins, Georgia - “Pickin’ the Blues” from their second album, 1975’s Macon Tracks  https://youtu.be/WinXBa_gGFY

Charlie Daniels Band Gulf, North Carolina - “The South’s Gonna Do It Again” from the band’s second album, 1974’s Fire on the Mountain  https://youtu.be/Sm9ioCn1mkQ

Marshall Tucker Band Spartanburg, North Carolina - “Take the Highway” from the band’s self-titled 1973 debut album  https://youtu.be/SOSLbeG-Who

Wet Willie Mobile, Alabama - “Keep On Smilin’,” the title track from their 1974 third studio album  https://youtu.be/zLXRqWoWOuQ

Black Oak Arkansas Black Oak, Arkansas - “Jim Dandy” from their fourth studio album, 1973’s High on the Hog  https://youtu.be/bfn8Tt24hbk

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils Springfield, Missouri - “If You Want to Get to Heaven” from the band’s self-titled 1973 debut album  https://youtu.be/ouP9Yz8TEBM





Posted 8/22/21.....SEE ME, FEEL ME



When the 1970s ended and the new decade began I was gainfully employed at National Record Mart, the regional record behemoth that had (at that time) around 70+ retail stores dotted throughout a six-state landscape.  The cluster of original core stores was in Pittsburgh, PA, and the company’s management team eventually nestled into a large office-and-warehouse complex on Baum Boulevard on the east side of the city.  From there, the chain physically fed the entire pipeline with new releases and back catalogue of albums and tapes from literally thousands of artists.

National Record Mart (NRM) pushed out a ton of this product for the record companies, who all largely operated out of Cleveland, Ohio branch offices.  The label guys would come into Pittsburgh often, pitching their companies’ latest artist signings and their accompanying new releases to our VP of Purchasing and his coterie of buyers, the deputized keepers of the keys when it came to stocking the stores with pop stars of the moment, rock legends, country crooners, classical artists, jazz greats, and more.

Business was strong in those early 1980s and radio stations were truly the means and the muscle for selling our albums and tapes at that point in time.  We had close relationships with Pittsburgh stations as well as the ones in our secondary markets, and it was Classic Rock and Top 40 in particular that made our business zing and our regi$ter$ ring.  At the same time, the record companies were flush with cash and seemingly always in a signing frenzy, their talent acquisition folks jumping on all sorts of new artists and new trends willy-nilly.

I had started work at NRM in 1980.  For the previous two years I’d been working as the Pittsburgh-based display person for the record-label distribution group called Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, but when there was suddenly a company-wide rightsizing blip in December 1979 I subsequently ended up at NRM.  If I recall correctly, I was able to consult with my employer on my title before I started there at the record retailer, as this was a newly created chain-wide merchandising position.  In lieu of a salary I could actually live on, I received the title of Creative Merchandising Coordinator—which was probably a much better fit for my business card than He Who Schleps To Stores With Staple Gun, Posters And Scotch Tape.

One day in the Spring of 1981 I was summoned to the NRM president’s office along with my boss George Balicky, the VP of Purchasing.  A local cable TV system’s representative had secured a meeting with our leader Frank Fischer to discuss a nascent music channel that was on its way to Pittsburgh—something he called MTV.  This rep from Warner Cable pitched and wooed, saying that a true music revolution was coming our way in the form of this 24-hour music video channel, and that we should hop aboard with advertising dollars from the outset.  The music channel, he went on, was scheduled to debut on August 1, just a few months down the line.

I remember that our president—an intelligent but sometimes unyielding personality whose primary loves were opera and classical—sat all brow-furrowed and bored, looking at times as if he wanted to chuck the snake oil salesman right out the door.  After the Warner rep had departed, Fischer closed the door to briefly opine to my boss and me that he had some serious doubts about the potential success of a fulltime music video channel.  He largely then left it up to my boss and others, though, to sort through this “MTV thing”—as long as it didn’t involve spending too much of our department’s marketing budget on this looming lab-rat exercise.

MTV started up on cue on August 1st.  Broadcast out of New York, the channel was beamed throughout the country to those source providers of cable who were willing and able.  The first video that the fledgling full-time music channel aired was The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star,” which was a nice initial swipe at their music industry mates who trafficked only in sound and not in vision.  Locally, the biggest problem we initially had with MTV was Pittsburgh’s cable penetration.  Warner Cable covered the City of Pittsburgh, but outlying suburbs (and beyond) had different carriers and spotty coverage, and these cable operators weren’t necessarily lining up to adopt a risky new rock ‘n’ roll channel when space on their systems was quite limited to begin with.  Thus at first—for those of us working at NRM—MTV was only a curiosity item, underwhelming in terms of its impact on sales.

Personally, I was an early adopter.  I was livin’ the singles life with my high-school friend Mike Doman, and we fortunately were within the city limits and were subscribers to Warner Cable.  I was enthralled with the concept of 24-hour access to my lifeblood (music), and so I waded through the video disc jockey interludes to get to the meat of it—new artists, exciting new music, and the incremental blossoming of unbridled creativity behind the art form.

I had a Betamax at my apartment in those days, a funky, clunky Sony videotape machine that weighed more than a handful of newborns.  Before I set off to work to NRM in the morning I set the timer on this mutha so that when evening came around, Mike and I could fast-forward through to see if any exciting new clips had aired.  The Betamax was like a trusty and selfless third roommate—it enabled us to catch up on missed Hill Street Blues airings, but increasingly so, we looked at it as a way to preserve our MTV favorites for anytime-viewing.  We were so captivated by the new channel that we threw a house party ostensibly for socializing, but the real lure of the event turned out to be the hushed atmosphere in the upstairs bedroom, where my Betamax spun out two hours of recently taped tracks—U2’s “Gloria” from their second album October, “Who Can It Be Now” from Men At Work, “Brass in Pocket (I’m Special)” from The Pretenders, “In The Air Tonight” from Phil Collins, and on and on...

Eventually MTV on the national level began to make more headway in its quest for expanded cable coverage.  Progress to build a true national reach was spurred by the channel’s “I Want My MTV” campaign, which debuted in early 1984 and featured rock ‘n’ roll stars (like campaign first responder Mick Jagger) in promotional spots encouraging the public to call their cable companies to insist MTV be added to their line-ups.  After this particular campaign, MTV’s battle map showed significant victories and the music channel was well on its way toward a more unified embrace and much larger impact. 

In the Pittsburgh market, and in others where NRM had sprouted up retail locations, the music channel really started to drive viewers into the stores asking for certain bands and albums.  Likewise, radio stations began adding songs that MTV would be the first to debut, in order to stay ahead of the curve with their listeners on hot new bands.  Initially viewed by radio stations as competition, MTV thus became a safe way for some of these savvy FM folks to bolster their playlists with already-tested product.

MTV also directly served the artistic community by providing an exciting new outlet for creative expression, and it kick-started careers and kept certain established artists in the limelight.  Like a flock of seagulls then, select artists and video/film innovators began hovering over this new forum.  And a number of key artists already on the cusp of greater fame—like Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson and David Bowie, to name a few—began to scale new heights as they diligently mined this medium in these early formative years of MTV, Music Television…

Looking back forty years to its somewhat shaky origins—i.e., the doubts in some quarters about the channel’s viability and longevity—one can now appreciate what MTV brought to society as it progressed.  Initially signaling a sea change in music consumption, it then mightily contributed to many cultural shifts in our society.  In a short but scintillating piece on the nonprofit news website The Conversation dated August 14, 2021, Newcastle University Senior Lecturer in Popular and Contemporary Music Adam Behr really nails the multifaceted essence of MTV.  Musicasaurus.com now wraps up its own reminiscences, but before you go, you would do well to bathe in the Behr essentials below (i.e., the key takeaways from his article 40 Years of MTV: the Channel that Shaped Popular Culture as We Know It):

 MTV kickstarted (and/or elevated and elongated) certain artists’ careers including those of Madonna, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, U2, Cyndi Lauper and Duran Duran.

 MTV became a significant platform for black artists like Michael Jackson and Prince after the channel rightfully departed from its original stance of playing only rock-oriented music.

 Heavy rotation of certain artists’ songs strategically benefited the perception of MTV as a product mover, and this solidified the record labels’ commitments to earmark more and more marketing dollars for the new channel.

 MTV bred cross marketing opportunities, like select artists’ songs on MTV being matched up with Hollywood film and television productions.  Some tunes gained significantly greater prominence through this exposure, such as “What A Feeling” by Irene Cara (from Flashdance), Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” (from Top Gun), “The Heat Is On” by Glenn Frey (from Beverly Hills Cop), and Ray Parker, Jr.'s “Ghostbusters” (the title track from that 1984 film).  On television, Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” was just one of many songs whose popularity soared through their incorporation into episodes of the innovative and stylish 1980s cop show Miami Vice.

 MTV attracted young entrepreneurial directors to the channel and some who started out as video clip directors blossomed into major filmmakers, such as David Fincher, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry.

 The channel majorly assisted the rise of new artists in emerging and/or formerly underrepresented genres through its adoption of videos from grunge and rap artists in the 1990s.

 MTV laid the path for future reality TV shows and celebrity TV programs with its airing of The Real World starting in 1992.  And then down the path a bit came JackassThe Osbournes and Jersey Shore.

 And…the channel also helped mold the contemporary adult cartoon—Beavis and Butthead’s debut in 1993 inspired the creators of South Park, and also arguably paved the way for some of the adult animated shows of today such as Bojack Horseman and Archer.

[p.s. Travel on over to the Building A Mixtery page on this website to see, and sample, some of the most compelling early MTV music videos from the early years, 1981 through 1986.]






Here we are in August 2021, and just about a month ago—when Life seemed to be returning to some semblance of “normal” in terms of our very basic need for more human interaction—we saw a trickling in of reports of the Delta variant on the rise.  Now Delta, both ferocious and fickle, has abandoned its trickle.  Life is upended once again, and one of the things we may be losing—at least in the short term—are some upcoming major concert events.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Scott Mervis, writer/reviewer and weekend magazine editor, did a piece just a little over two weeks ago (July 23, 2021) that offered up the following headline: “‘Chills Up My Spine’: Pittsburgh-area Concerts Are Back, Even With The Delta Variant Blues.”  The “chills up my spine” quote in the headline was borrowed by Mervis from a live music fan he interviewed at The Pavilion at Star Lake on Wednesday evening, July 21.  Local native Barry Fischer was beyond elated to see his favorite band Chicago live in concert, and he gushed about the experience to Mervis during intermission.  This was Fischer’s thirty-seventh time (not a misprint there) seeing Chicago in concert, and the show had flooded him with relief and gratitude.  He told Mervis “I forgot about everything that was weighing me down and just concentrated on the concert and the talent of that 10-piece machine.”

Would that we all get that kind of experience upon returning to the seats (or the lawn, or the stands) to once again take in major live shows.  At present, The Pavilion at Star Lake indeed offers that opportunity with a dozen more shows currently scheduled through mid-October.  In the city of Pittsburgh, PPG Paints Arena has eight more concerts presently lined up for calendar 2021 after hosting a successful James Taylor/Jackson Browne show on August 3, and at Heinz Field the still-rollin’-on Stones with 78-year-old Mick front and center are scheduled to play on October 4.

Whether this all comes to pass and any additional major concerts in 2021 come our way, of course, no one knows for sure.  Since Delta has dawned, a few other artists have postponed their tours to 2022 hoping for a bit more certainty and sanity.  Time will tell…

At this point, forgive me, but Musicasaurus.com just wants to look backward.  Not to sulk, but to summon up my favorite memories of Star Lake Amphitheatre August shows from way back in the 1990s.  I worked at Star Lake for many years beginning in 1991, and we found over time that August was often our busiest month.  We either had a ton of shows spread somewhat evenly over that thirty-one day period, OR we had mini-clusters that were maxi-taxing—a variety of concerts all squeezed together over consecutive evenings, something that really “pleased” our operations staff as they dealt with each night’s huge crowds, individual concert preparations, post-show cleanups, and other dizzying duties that tended to suck the very lifeblood out of ‘em. 

1994, in fact, was the ultimate when it came to an August challenge.  That year we experienced a logjam of bookings that was, and continues to be, a venue record.  I remember it well, mostly because I think I’ve finally recovered from it—we had 15 shows within a 17-day period in that head-spinning month of August 1994.  It started with Metallica on August 12 and then rolled on one after the other, our hot August nights filled with unrelenting evenings of artists and their flocks—August 13 (Chicago), 14 (Mannheim Steamroller), 15 (Eagles, night one), 16 (Eagles, night two), 18 (Vince Gill), 19 (Barry Manilow), 20 (Michael Bolton), 21 (The HORDE Festival), 22 (John Mellencamp), 23 (Bonnie Raitt), 24 (Yes), 25 (Frankie Valli / The Four Tops), and 27 (Aerosmith), finally ending with Harry Connick, Jr. on August 28.  

We survived the onslaught, though.  In fact there was a real bond of brotherhood (and sisterhood) that we all experienced during this long stretch, fueled by the need to pull together especially when sleep was our greatest need.  To paraphrase Led Zeppelin here, we were dazed and confused for so long, it was true; there were even a couple of moments during that stretch when I, for an instant, blanked on which show we were preparing for on a particular evening.  Luckily our security team didn’t suffer any such confusion from night to night as to which show they were policing, and so didn’t gear up for fan fisticuffs and lawn fires, for instance, for the Barry Manilow evening…

And now here is a sampling of Musicasaurus.com’s favorite (or if not, at least quite memorable) August concerts, all from that first decade of Star Lake Amphitheatre’s existence:

Saturday August 14, 1993 – STEELY DAN

The reemergence of this group after almost a two-decade layoff from touring was welcomed by a rapturous sell-out crowd of 20,000 fans, all joyously singing along to the musical question-and-answer of the evening: “Is there gas in the car? / Yes, there’s gas in the car.”  The razor-sharp and deeply satisfying performance of that song “Kid Charlemagne” and others from the Dan canon made it an unbelievable evening for those who had waited nineteen years to see them again—and I ran into a decent amount of fans who were seeing them live for the very first time.  These latter folks were particularly well served that night, as they were finally liberated from having to genuflect solely in front of their CD players.

Monday August 23, 1993 – BETTE MIDLER

Bette Midler played Star Lake Amphitheater for the first time in 1993 as part of her Experience the Divine tour.  From the moment she appeared on stage the Divine Miss M (maybe Lawdy Miss Bawdy better suits?) was phenomenally entertaining in her song selections, her tales, and—her tail.  Just one of the highlights of this salty, peppered-with-wit evening was Midler as Delores De Lago, her lounge act character who dresses in a mermaid costume and prowls the stage in a motorized wheelchair, ending the skit with a chorus line of supporting-role mermaids all flapping their bottom halves, Rockettes-style.

Between her skits, hits and song standards, Midler also let loose with some timely pop culture zingers (mentions of Joey Buttafuoco, The “Queen of Mean” Leona Helmsley and others), and she especially won over the audience with humorous asides about Squirrel Hill and other Pittsburgh area points of interest.  (As was the case all along on this tour, and others that she had mounted through the years, the Divine Ms. M had asked her writers in advance to research the particular city and come up with localized bons mots so she could absolutely level her adoring crowd.  It worked.)

Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times reviewed one of Midler’s later dates on this 1993 tour, stating that “Since her earliest club performances, Midler has been the best medicine you can buy without a prescription.  By denying the differences in the ‘70s between what was considered campy and cool, Midler disarmed us with her shamelessly extroverted manner on stage—a throwback to the vaudeville/nightclub brashness that had been discarded as a relic during the rock era.”

Tuesday, August 9, 1994 – TRAFFIC

Founding members of Traffic Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi reunited this particular year to record a new album and mount a tour, and the announcement had local tongues wagging above drool cups.  Die-hard fans all around the tri-state area were clearly salivating over the chance to see this late ‘60s/early ‘70s rock band who had produced classics such as “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” and the band at that point in time had not toured for twenty years.  The results, though?  Even our enticing pricing (a $10.25 lawn ticket) didn’t ignite sales; the show only did about 8,800 people at the end of the day.  I’m wondering now if perhaps some of the public just misconstrued the messaging in our radio advertising back then; when they heard the phrase “Traffic at Star Lake” did they just think, “Well, no shit!”?

Monday, August 15 and Tuesday, August 16, 1994 – THE EAGLES

Probably the commercial and artistic highlight of the summer of 1994 was the reunion of a band who hadn’t played together in fourteen years—the Eagles.  When word of this reformation was trickling along the internal booking pipeline of our company in late Spring of that year, a lot of us balanced elation with some concern when we learned about the very ambitious ticket prices being discussed for the upcoming tour.  We were starting to think that the term “Hell Freezes Over”—the tour’s official name—might also describe a likelihood that some fans would opt to pass on buying these unprecedentedly pricey tickets. 

As it turned out, both of these August evening shows ended up selling out.  I am not the biggest Eagles aficionado, but I have to confess that the two concerts were spectacular in terms of musicianship and tour production—great lighting and an even better sound mix, and I remember some staff members remarking that the level of sustained excitement they witnessed in this maxed-out crowd of 23,000 people per night was unparalleled in the venue’s at that point five year history.

August 26, 1996 – THE CRANBERRIES 

In 1990 at the age of nineteen, Dolores O’Riordan answered a band’s advertisement for a new lead singer in Limerick, Ireland and went to the audition.  Turns out she lingered and latched on for the ride.  With a producer that had previously worked with The Smiths and Morrissey, the band crafted and then released their first full-length album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We in the Spring of 1993.  Three years later the immensely popular Cranberries—at that point armed with alt-rock hits such as “Linger,” “Dreams,” “Zombie” and “Salvation”—hit Star Lake as part of their successful 1996 North American tour.  The evening was a dream come true for alternative music fans who wanted their alt-rock powered by pop instincts, and above it all soared O’Riordan with a voice that was by turns haunting and seductive, and railing and raging…Quite unexpectedly, the singer died at the age of 46 in January 2018 in her London hotel room’s bathtub, and her death was ultimately ruled an accidental drowning due largely to alcohol intoxication.


Wednesday, August 13, 1997 – PHISH  

Jam band Phish’s first foray into the tiny township of Hanover in Washington County where Star Lake resides was uneventful.  Thankfully.  I remember Herb Grubbs, one of Hanover’s township supervisors, was a bit worried in advance that there might be some trouble akin to the Grateful Dead crowds that descended upon the amphitheater back in June of 1992.  The ticketless Deadheads back then who were camped out in the parking lots were persistent little buggers—and excellent fence snippers and scalers—so we had a slew of slithering going on all around (and through) the chain-link and wooden fences that ringed our amphitheater.

The Phish crowd was quite different.  Totally into the band, loose-limbed and twirling, and polite as can be—they even picked up trash on their way out of the venue after the show.  Also unique about this particular concert experience: The Phish smell, something which pervaded the atmosphere inside the amphitheater.  I like what one fan commented on the website phish.net in one of its forums, in response to the query Anyone know what scen