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.

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Posted 5/16/21.....THIS MAGIC MOMENT

(Next post:  Sunday, May 30, 2021)

Musicasaurus.com’s mission is excavation…digging deep to help preserve the musical fossil record, and mining the relics and remnants of my own life in music.

Why this preoccupation?  My brain is totally attuned to tunes; wired to the wow and flutter.  I’ve even referred to my medulla oblongata as my zenyatta mondatta.  

And so I was recently delighted to run across an old Rolling Stone magazine quote from a May 2016 interview with Eric Clapton, in which the guitarist spoke quite honestly of his addiction—uh, to music.  Clapton said, “I'm very conscious of the fact that if there's music playing in a place where I'm talking to somebody or if I'm with the family having dinner at home and I've got the iPod on the dock, half of me is listening to music.  I'm gone half the time [laughs].”

This admission from the venerated guitarist kindled my interest in trying to substantially drill down to the bedrock of music’s appeal—the magic moment or moments within a particular song that bond a listener to that tune forever more.

So can you dig what I’m leading up to—or down to—here?  We all love certain artists.  But then of course we drill down on select albums or CDs or track collections from a particular artist and subsequently gravitate toward certain songs from the disc or playlist, the ones that begin to really resonate with us.  And as we then bask in the immersive pleasures of each particular tune our brains lock in on the magic moments within, amplifying our connection and cementing our commitment to, and reverence for, this newfound favorite.  The coronation’s complete.

Below you’ll find Musicasaurus.com’s favorite moments within songs, the instrumental or vocal passages that thrill beyond measure time after time.  And after those, you’ll find some submissions from a handful of Musicasaurus.com readers who have their own moments to memorialize…

 

   

  BEGINNINGS…SONGS THAT ARE COMPELLING RIGHT OUTTA THE CHUTE:

I CAN THINK OF SIX SONGS THAT I ADORE BECAUSE OF THEIR INTRIGUINGLY CREEPY, SOME MIGHT EVEN SAY SINISTER-SOUNDING BEGINNINGS THAT PIQUE CURIOSITY AND RIVET ATTENTION...

* Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House” https://youtu.be/bgJ-hyzl6jg

* Kazumi Watanabe’s “Walk, Don’t Run” https://youtu.be/wFh7ZSeORJk

* The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” https://youtu.be/hnpILIIo9ek

* Deep Purple’s “Knocking on your Back Door” https://youtu.be/-INu83mrf9w

* Don Cherry’s “Brown Rice” https://youtu.be/uLtbjno0FF0

* Bonnie Raitt’s “Spit of Love” https://youtu.be/vGlfN-GZ1gI

...AND THESE OTHER SONGS BEGIN WITH OTHER KINDS OF MASTERFUL BITS OF ATMOSPHERE THAT LURE YOU IN FOR THE RIDE:

* Van Morrison’s “Moondance” https://youtu.be/7kfYOGndVfU

* Miles Davis’ “So What” https://youtu.be/KJEzFvXx3Xw

* Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” https://youtu.be/RZgBhyU4IvQ

* Weather Report’s “Birdland” https://youtu.be/SvhmaNlLgRM

* Eric Burdon & War’s “Spill The Wine” https://youtu.be/uE1NSGUkhQI

* Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” https://youtu.be/W4PjWgiH-LQ

* Chick Corea and Return to Forever’s “Spain” https://youtu.be/sEhQTjgoTdU

* The Clash’s “Charlie Don’t Surf” https://youtu.be/d3vXAnoQDxc

* Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon” (live) https://youtu.be/-S5PK14KFcE

* Jethro Tull’s “Bouree” https://youtu.be/z6ZJGaT30wk

* Gato Barbieri’s “Milonga Triste” https://youtu.be/M5D9nZQoue4

* Michael Hedges’ “Aerial Boundaries” https://youtu.be/v6pbzD4sRos

 

 

 

  ENDINGS…SONGS THAT END DRAMATICALLY IN A BOLD STOP OR THAT FANTASTICALLY FADE OUT:

* Suzanne Vega’s “As Girls Go” (Featuring a criminally shortened Richard Thompson guitar solo near the song’s conclusion; it fades out in volume but not at all in ferocity.) https://youtu.be/Q16aj6vere0

* The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” (The final, never-ending chord that never ends a listener’s lingering awe.) https://youtu.be/YSGHER4BWME

* The Band’s “The Weight” with the accompaniment of the Staples Singers (Taken from The Last Waltz soundtrack album…It has the final passionate wail from Band members and the Staples singing it together, ending in one whispered word from Mavis Staples: “Beautiful!”) https://youtu.be/TCSzL5-SPHM

* Joan Osborne’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” (The singer’s performance of this song, backed up by Motown Records’ The Funk Brothers, appears in the 2002 documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown.  Osborne’s buildup to the song’s climax starts around the 2:30 mark.) https://youtu.be/j-U-WK0lKq8

 

 

 

  POWERFUL VOCALS FROM WOMEN HITTING THE HEIGHTS:

* Valerie Carter’s “Ooh Child” (From the 1977 Lowell George-produced solo debut by this artist, “Ooh Child” was most everyone’s introduction to the true talents of Valerie Carter.  On this track she sings like an angel yet ever so briefly here and there within the song, she unleashes a passion from within that is like some holy fire that can’t be contained.) https://youtu.be/4H32jFWceWI

* Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession” (From the 2004 CD/DVD Afterglow Live, this tune is only on the DVD from that dual release. This artist is the farthest thing from a one-note performer, but catch this march toward a spine-tingling, one-note climactic moment starting around the 3:45 mark.) https://youtu.be/zOzd2l1JuGE

* Katell Keineg’s “Franklin” (From the Breton-Welsh artist’s 1994 debut album Ô Seasons Ô Castles, this song ends with a quick Mount Olympus-level climb of her octaves which is a stunner.) https://youtu.be/H9mR4Tc9Agc

* Mary J. Blige’s “One” (Her 2006 collaboration with U2 on the band’s inspiring anthem is yet another showcase for this singer who seems to have a wellspring of vocal talent that is fed by a Higher Power.) https://youtu.be/-lcULqjXC1w

 

 

  

  SOLOS…SONGS FEATURING INCREDIBLE TURNS ON A LEAD INSTRUMENT: 

* On saxophone, Bobby Keys: “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” (The artist supplies a searing and sweet minute-and-a-half long solo in the midst of this Rolling Stones classic from the band’s 1971 album Sticky Fingers.) https://youtu.be/Gz5mI6tqm_Q

* On guitar, Robben Ford: “Help the Poor” (Ford plays a wicked solo here that illustrates his keen ability to weave together blues and rock with hints of jazz mastery as well.  The song is from Ford’s 1988 album Talk To Your Daughter.) https://youtu.be/bvUcWbiSnrk

* On guitar, Larry Carlton: “Kid Charlemagne” (This hired-gun guitarist for Steely Dan’s 1976 album The Royal Scam nailed this now legendary solo turn which lasts all of forty-six seconds—but it’s largely thought of as one for the Rock record books.) https://youtu.be/a7kduNihACs

* On guitar, Prince: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (This all-star, live-in-concert rendering of George Harrison’s classic song is from the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  The onstage performers also included Steve Winwood, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne formerly of Electric Light Orchestra, and Dhani Harrison.  Prince’s solo at the song’s conclusion is spellbinding; climaxes like this are precious and few. https://youtu.be/dWRCooFKk3c

* On flute, Ray Thomas: “Legend of a Mind” (Thomas plays a two-minute midsection solo that contributes mightily to the dream state induced by this 1968 Moody Blues classic about the charismatic and controversial 1960s psychedelic shaman Timothy Leary.) https://youtu.be/TGYUWHef3Is

* On saxophone, Lester “Al” Garth / On guitar, Jim Messina / and on flute, Jon Clarke: “Angry Eyes” (This almost eight-minute-long song featured three solos along its path—sax > guitar > flute—and it hails from Loggins & Messina’s self-titled second album from 1972.  The solos are crisp, inventive and not overlong, truly serving this epic tune that was the closing track on this L & M release.) https://youtu.be/6U7FFE_c1Ds

* On harmonica, Paul Butterfield: “One More Heartache” (Chicago blues student-turned-master Butterfield wails throughout, but it’s also his one-minute solo starting at the 1:11 mark that perks ears and raises eyebrows; the man knew how to sail, swoop and dive.  The song is from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s 1967 album The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw.) https://youtu.be/KFOLED9VfVQ

* On vibraphone, Mike Mainieri: “Crossed Wires” (Mainieri deftly handled the vibes on this captivating song from his 1981 solo album Wanderlust, and the good vibes were augmented by the other topnotch musicians on the record that included the Brecker Brothers (Michael on sax; Randy on trumpet), drummer Peter Erskine, guitarist Steve Khan, bassist Tony Levin and flautist Jeremy Steig.) https://youtu.be/FsaVCcz2G2A

 

 

 

  MUSICIANS’ MOMENTS OF BEING COMPLETELY IN SYNC:

* Guitarist Buddy Miller and drummer Brady Blade, who played in the band Spyboy fronted by Emmylou Harris…The song: “Ain’t Living Long Like This” (There is one exquisite, quite revealing moment within this live performance that comes from Harris’ 1998 album Spyboy.  This true harmonic convergence—guitarist Miller and drummer Blade meshing perfectly during their rock ‘n’ roll assault—is best revealed beginning at one minute, thirty seconds into the song and continuing through—really, culminating at—the 2:38 mark.) https://youtu.be/bJoWLq_OibY

* Trumpeter Chris Botti and vocalist Jill Scott…The song: “Good Morning Heartache” (This song from Botti’s 2006 Live with Orchestra and Special Guests album and accompanying DVD is the pairing up of the trumpeter with singer Jill Scott, and it is an electrifying matchup.  The real interplay unfolds beginning around 2:30 into the song; the two accent each other and weave and dart, and it reaches a fever pitch right around 4:00 through the end of the tune.) https://youtu.be/yIz2yhkql8g

* Flautist Herbie Mann and guest guitarist Duane Allman…The song: “Push Push” (The two gifted musicians expertly play off each other during this ten-minute meld of funk, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll that is from Mann’s 1971 album Push Push.  Allman gets his first real spotlight between 3:17 and 5:21, Mann takes over from 5:22 through about 6:21, and this is followed by some call-and-response exchanges on and off the rest of the way—Mann, what a meetup!  Best experienced at a near-crippling volume.) https://youtu.be/y9EMVd1773A

 

 


 

  CUSS WORD STANDOUTS:

* Jefferson Airplane’s “We Can Be Together” (This song from the group’s 1969 album Volunteers was thought provoking as well as parent provoking.  It was an incendiary bit of messaging with lyrics such as “We are forces of chaos and anarchy / Everything they say we are we are / And we are very proud of ourselves,” which was then followed by the infamous chorus of “Up against the wall, motherfucker / Tear down the walls…”  This turned out to be the last release from the band with its classic lineup intact, i.e., the one that recorded the band’s best works—1967’s studio albums Surrealistic Pillow and After Bathing at Baxter’s, 1968’s studio album Crown of Creation, 1969’s live album Bless It’s Pointed Little Head and studio album Volunteers.) https://youtu.be/j03IZUtoL7Q

* The MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” (The debut, live-in-concert album by this Lincoln Park, Michigan band of musical revolutionaries was released in 1969, and the title track “Kick Out the Jams” started off with lead vocalist Rob Tyner shouting "And right now...right now...right now it's time to...kick out the jams, motherfuckers!"  I was sixteen years old at the time, so this made quite an impression.  I half considered turning this song up to 11 so that my parents could hear it, because they were extremely repressive—like not giving me the car for dates immediately after I got my drivers license.  Imagine living under those conditions.) https://youtu.be/u-vCEFikGgc

 

 

    

  MORE MAGIC MOMENTS WITHIN SONGS (SUBMISSIONS FROM MUSICASAURUS.COM READERS):

Matt Jacob

1. The ending piano solo in "Layla" (Derek and the Dominos) https://youtu.be/TngViNw2pOo
2. The 4-5 second drum break in "In the Air Tonight" (Phil Collins) https://youtu.be/vyB5pG0Wo7M
3. The guitar solo by Don Felder after the lyrics end in "Hotel California" (The Eagles) https://youtu.be/BciS5krYL80
4. The guitar solo by Tom Scholz at the end of "Hitch a Ride” (Boston) https://youtu.be/CfSOxvgVfXk

Clara Jacob

1. The distinguishable opening riff of the Bee Gees’ "Stayin' Alive" https://youtu.be/aZ5fQyiZgns
2. The dramatic handbells and exploding cannons at the end of the "1812 Overture" https://youtu.be/rBImvkMDM3Q
3. The achingly sweet "aaaand" that Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees sings in "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" https://youtu.be/kL9wJAND1WI

Sherry Murray

If I can only pick one, I’d say about the first 45 seconds of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” https://youtu.be/rIbMbXjbW98

Tom Rooney

The opening riff of “Satisfaction” cut through the summer on AM Radio like a hot knife through butter.  We didn’t know what testosterone was and the only “satisfaction” we had at age 15 might have been self-induced (not Catholic school; me, of course).  Also was my biggest disappointment in a way. That sense of heat and urgency never cut through in live performance as many times as Keith and Mick did it in my presence. https://youtu.be/eUpb-ALfUzc

  

Steve Hansen

The thirty-seconds of pure musical bliss that I not only turn up to 11 but sing along to in full-throated semi-harmony occurs at the end of “She’s Gone” by Hall and Oates.  It’s the four-four half-step modulation (I looked it up) that leads to the final crescendo of heartache that drives the song home and challenges the next song on the airwaves to top it.  It’s never been done and probably never will. https://youtu.be/87Q042KlxI4

Rick Sebak

Is there anybody going to listen to my story?  All about an inhalation in the chorus of a song?  The song is “Girl,” and it’s on the classic (maybe the best?) Beatles’ album called Rubber Soul, and the lead vocal is sung by John Lennon who is usually credited with writing the song although it’s officially listed as a Lennon-McCartney composition.  The chorus goes, “Ah, girl, girl, girl,” but after the first “girl,” there’s an audible inhalation.  That’s the unexpected musical moment that still delights me when I hear the song.  Paul McCartney is quoted on Wikipedia about the moment: “My main memory is that John wanted to hear the breathing, wanted it to be very intimate, so George Martin put a special compressor on the voice, then John dubbed it. …I remember John saying to the engineer [Norman Smith] when we did ‘Girl,’ that when he draws his breath in, he wants to hear it.”  It certainly works for me.  After all this time I don’t know why. https://youtu.be/-8l3ntDR_lI

Mariellen Kerr
Instrumental interludes of The Doors, and anyone who plays the harmonica.  (The Doors) https://youtu.be/qoX6AKuYWL8 … (Anyone who plays the harmonica; in this case, it’s Paul Butterfield) https://youtu.be/zWBTCV6bBGA

  

Morgan Nicholson

“Turn the Page” by Bob Seger.  First few seconds, the sax hook by the legendary Alto Reed.  First goosebumps with the controlled yet piercing high pitch of the sax mixed with Seger’s rasp following with lyrics.  It’s epic, always will be. https://youtu.be/2mzZzS8DcE8

Bernie Caplan

There you are, driving down the road with the top down and suddenly you hear the opening riffs of one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs ever.  It's unmistakable; it could be no other song than “Gimme Shelter.”  The only question is, how loud can you sing?https://youtu.be/QeglgSWKSIY

Scott Tady

Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz.”  First come the questions: “Are you ready Steve?  Uh-huh.  Andy?  Yeah.  Mick?  Okay.  Alright fellas, let’s GO!”  Bam!  That moment that comes next.  The exciting snare riff joined by a triumphant, strafing guitar.  Oh man, that’s the sound of freedom, and carefree summers, and glammed-up rock’n roll!  From the time I first hit “record” and “play” on a Fisher stereo to capture that song, that particular moment of musical gloriousness has never ceased to thrill and energize me. https://youtu.be/7Aze726qAwA

   

Bill Johnston

Any who knows me wouldn't be surprised that such moments, for me, can include, or feature, the accordion.  And one of the best, and best-known, accordionists these past 50 years has been the San Antonio-based Conjunto magician Flaco Jimenez.  The skinny on Flaco is that he holds the title of best button box (diatonic) guy playing over that entire time span (although his brother Santiago ain't bad either).  His 1994 Partners album featured covers of many familiar tunes.  And I like 'em all.  But the one that really gets me—the one that makes me feel just how deep the love of this music resides in me—is the opening strains of his cover of Warren Zevon's "Carmelita," with Dwight Yoakum (of course) on vocals.  

20 years earlier, another riff featuring the exact same Flaco did the exact same things to me: The opening notes of Ry Cooder's cover of "He'll Have to Go" from Chicken Skin Music.  I've used that same accordion/oboe instrumentation in my version of "Waltzing to Mongolia" over the past almost thirty years. https://youtu.be/NaFuP4xNU9o

Francine Byrne

To this day, every time I hear Bob Marley singing “Redemption Song,” I'm touched.  I recently heard Ziggy Marley and The Chieftains version of this song and I was overwhelmed.  More recently, on a different note, on a totally different note...every time I hear “Uptown Funk” with Bruno Mars it gets my body moving.  (Ziggy and The Chieftains) https://youtu.be/ji1Sx9lO6wo … (Bruno Mars) https://youtu.be/OPf0YbXqDm0 

   

Tim Fleche

The whistle in Bob Dylan's “Highway 61 Revisited.”  Ronnie Wood's opening guitar riff on the Faces' version of “I Know I'm Losing You.”  And that just gets it started!  (Dylan) https://youtu.be/8hr3Stnk8_k … (Rod Stewart and The Faces) https://youtu.be/pdXd35c6GGU

Dave Blaushild

The opening double guitar riff in the Hendrix penned song “Little Wing,” as performed by Derek and the Dominos, that then progresses into a mini drum roll, then to searing double lead guitars of Duane Allman and Eric Clapton is a musical sequence I can listen to over and over again.  From this point you get the vocals of Bobby Whitlock singing over Eric Clapton, almost sounding like they are crying.  This is a really powerful version of this song.  I have this song on my Spotify when I go to the gym.  As a result, I’m in good shape. https://youtu.be/EOW9aixXnq4

Diane Novosel

How timely!  Just watched CNN’S 50th Anniversary Special on Marvin Gaye entitled What’s Going On: Marvin Gaye’s Anthem for the Ages.  I remembered exactly where I was 50 years ago when I heard that now infamous opening segue of “What’s Going On”—the cool jazz riff, jive-talkin’ background chatter, funky congas.  Oh, yeah!  The depth, intensity and complexity of his coolness stopped me in my tracks then and still does! https://youtu.be/ApthDWoPMFQ

 

 

 

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Posted 5/2/21.....TEN YEARS AFTER (part two of two)

In the most recent post of April 18, 2021, Musicasaurus.com excavated ten gems from the first half of the pivotal musical year of 1978.  Here is the latter half of ‘78, with another ten albums that might yield shock but mostly awe, and ramp up your reverence for this year of musical change, progress, artistic excellence—and artistic abandon. 

 

   

   

  Dire Straits – Dire Straits (their debut) – “In The Gallery”  https://youtu.be/bdGOmhN2IIw

One morning back in the fall of 1978 I woke up to find 200 Dire Straits posters on my apartment’s front porch.  

This wasn’t unusual, however.  At the time I worked for WEA Corporation—the sales/marketing and distribution arm of co-owned record labels Warner Brothers, Elektra and Atlantic—and my duties included creating displays in Pittsburgh-area record stores to help promote the company’s hot new releases.  I technically worked for WEA’s Cleveland branch office, though, since Pittsburgh did not have one, and consequently they incessantly shipped posters and other display materials to me for use on my local display routes.  Some days, my front porch with its clutter of boxes and strewn-about cardboard poster tubes looked almost as haphazard as the inside of my apartment (ahhhh, the lifestyles of the young, the restless, and the musically obsessed)…

Around the time that Dire Straits released their self-titled debut in October of that year, I had been invited to a WEA-sponsored private showcase in a small Atlanta club to get a glimpse of the band in action.  Throughout the venue that evening were WEA field representatives from various cities across the country, all mingling with many glasses clinking.  The hope of our respective bosses who provided the invitations for this engagement was to energize all of us such that, back home, we’d then champion the band to our radio station and record retail contacts.

This show sure lit a fire under my ass.  In this live setting frontman Mark Knopfler was a revelation to me in terms of his fingerstyle guitar work (i.e., no pick), and he had somehow masterfully managed to fuse together rock, blues, country and even sprinklings of jazz into an inventive, fluid and compelling style.  On allmusic.com recently, I found an October 2018 user review by Gene Becker that nicely summed up Knopfler’s gift of servicing his songs: “His flow is conversational, a vocal line often followed by a picked retort, treating his Stratocaster like a call and response duet piece.  The arrangements are tightly honed to highlight his playing and a poetic imagery that's obviously heavily influenced by Bob Dylan and J.J. Cale.”

I returned to Pittsburgh reignited.  For the next few weeks I packed into my van a ton more Dire Straits display materials compared to the other Warner, Elektra and Atlantic artists on my list, and in each record store I sought out locations that would afford the band the very best in-store visibility.  Fortunately I cajoled most of the store managers into giving me at least some of these sweet, coveted spaces, and this could have been the result of my infectious smile and my brimming-over enthusiasm.  Or, you know, it could have been the fact that during my pleadings, I dropped down on the store’s front counter an inch-high pile of other new Warner, Elektra and Atlantic albums; ones that I had a sneaking suspicion would soon end up in the store manager’s burgeoning record collection at home.

  Nick Lowe – Pure Pop for Now People (his debut) – “So It Goes”  https://youtu.be/g9RUibmPzXg

There came a time in the year 1978 when, Lowe and behold, music fans and music critics bonded as one.  After a few stultifying attempts in the early-mid 1970s to break big with the British band Brinsley Schwarz, followed by some serious sloggin’ it out by the group on the pub level, Nick Lowe finally applied his multi talents of musicianship, songwriting and production to a solo release that garnered fountains of praise from fans and gushes from critics.

In the mid-late 1970s, fans “in the know” in the UK and the USA loved Lowe’s work within the band Rockpile (which also featured Dave Edmunds) as well as his album producer role with tiny, prestigious new wave record label Stiff.  And critics adored his aforementioned 1978 solo album, which was entitled Jesus of Cool in England but retitled by his stateside record company Columbia to become Pure Pop for Now People (apparently Columbia bigwigs thought “Christ Almighty, we CAN’T have a controversial title like that over here!”).  

Hard-nosed, influential Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau wrote this upon Pure Pop for Now People’s release in the United States: “This is not punk rock.  It's an amazing pop tour-de-force demonstrating that if the music is cute enough the words can be any old non-cliché.  Lowe's people cut off their right arms, castrate Castro, love the sound of breaking glass, roam with alligators in the heart of the city, and go to see the Bay City Rollers.  But because the hooks cascade so deftly from sources as diverse as the Beach Boys and the Boomtown Rats, I care about every one of them.”  And allmusic.com’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine opined “It's self-referential pop that loves the past but doesn't treat it as sacred.  It is the first post-modern pop record in how it plays as it builds upon tradition and how it's all tied together by Lowe’s irrepressible irreverence.  It's hard to imagine any of the power pop of the next three decades without it, and while plenty have tried, nobody has made a better pure pop record than this.”

Lowe didn’t just bask in this one-off public acclaim and critical adoration in 1978; he achieved noteworthiness in other areas including but not limited to 1) songwriting (his 1979 stateside hit “Cruel To Be Kind” from his album Labour of Lust,and the same-year success of Elvis Costello’s version of his composition “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”)…2) forming an unfortunately short-lived and under-the-radar supergroup called Little Village in 1991 (with Lowe on bass and singer-songwriter John Hiatt, guitarist Ry Cooder and drummer Jim Keltner rounding out the lineup)…and 3) releasing a heartwarming yuletide underground classic “Christmas at the Airport” from his 2013 album Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection For All The Family.  The brief editorial review of this album currently on amazon.com says “Anyone who likes their Christmas soundtracks with plenty of heart and humor, and a sprinkle of understated charm, will enjoy Quality Street for the newly minted classic that it is.  You might say it's the kind of record that gives vulgar, tawdry commercialism a good name.”

  Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town (his 4th) – “The Promised Land” https://youtu.be/Bg8Zc9j7ZUs

It is hard to start any examination of Bruce without noting the power of his live performances and yes, this is lofty language, but here goes: Even if you are NOT a member of The Church of the Latter Day Bruce—let’s say, the time period of 2000 through 2021—I defy you to find any living, breathing soul who saw Springsteen & The E Street Band live in the 1970s who didn’t then come away a believer in the transformational power of rock and roll.

1978 was the year his fourth album was released and Bruce was on the road yet again, satiating his fans and bringing in converts, adding to his ever widening base of true believers.  Darkness came three long years after Born To Run and in between, Bruce had been wrangling with legal matters that weighed heavily on him—specifically, extricating himself from a bad management deal with his manager Mike Appel.  Once free, Bruce produced Darkness, one of the most beloved of his entire catalogue of recorded works.  

In a December 16, 2020 music review of the album on guitar.com, writer Paul Robson reflected on how Bruce was at this particular moment in time painting the everyman struggles of life, “moving the protagonists from the perceived hope of ‘Badlands’ and ‘The Promised Land,’ to the sense of clinging on to something, anything, in the face of the overwhelming resignation that permeates ‘Racing In The Street’ and ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town.’”

Robeson went on to say that “lyrically and musically, Darkness On The Edge Of Town lives up to its title.  There is an edge and anger to Bruce and the E Street Band here that perhaps was never matched so consistently again.  ‘I had a reaction to my own good fortune, and felt a sense of accountability to the people I’d grown up alongside,’ Springsteen wrote in his 1998 book Songs.  ‘I wanted my characters to feel weathered, older, but not beaten.  The sense of daily struggle in each song greatly increased.  The possibility of transcendence or any sort of personal redemption felt a lot harder to come by.’”

I saw Bruce and band for the very first time in February 1975 while a college senior at Penn State, and it remains to this day my #1 concert of all time.  In 1978 in late December—six months after Darkness was released—I saw him again at the Stanley Theatre in Pittsburgh, and I almost touched the hem of his garment.  Well-l-l-l, honestly it was more like I just handed him some extra apparel.

During Bruce’s performance, I snuck up front to the edge of the Stanley Theatre stage with a Santa cap in my hand.  This was December, after all, and all of us assembled were waiting for Bruce’s inevitable launch into “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”  Just as I was swiveling my neck to check whether Security was going to jump me, someone on an aisle seat snatched the cap from my hand and hurled it Bruce’s way.  He pounced and put it on, and a rock photographer friend of mine on the scene happened to catch this moment with his camera.  The glittery letters on Santa’s (now Bruce’s) cap spelled out the word “Exile,” which was the name of the indie record store that I had until nine months before co-managed with my friend Gary Uram in Wexford, PA.  Gary and I used to take turns wearing this Santa cap during the Christmas album-buying rush at Exile, so I was astonished that now, on stage, Bruce had donned this remnant from my music biz past—who knew that Gary and I would ever in some way be able to share headspace with one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest performers?!!

  The Cars – The Cars (their debut) – “My Best Friend’s Girl” (Ric Ocasek on lead vocals) https://youtu.be/j-dfrHkaXuE / “All Mixed Up” (Benjamin Orr on lead vocals)  https://youtu.be/VFXsdQb35Io

Contributing writer Annie Zaleski on salon.com (8/4/17) labeled The Cars a “distinctly American new wave band, one that opened the doors for the U.K. (and beyond) synth warriors to take over the charts” and called their self-titled debut album “a nervy collection of taut power-pop and future-peering synth-rock.”  Stephen Dowling on bbc.com (9/18/19) said that “the band’s sound—which fused power pop, new wave and classic rock—managed to sound both like pop music of the past and pop music of the future.”  And in Dowling’s article, the group’s album producer Roy Thomas Baker—a Londoner who had shepherded the band Queen through many of their recordings—noted that “With The Cars, you had this band with a sparse rhythm section and a unique singer in Ric Ocasek, but when the harmonies kicked in, it was a wall of sound…They came at a time when rock radio really needed some freshening up.”

The band was popular out of the gate, and spooled out a string of hits from their first album which continued on with assorted gems from their subsequent releases.  Two particular things assisted The Cars’ cruise to the top: the band sported two singers in Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr who, particularly on the first album, shared lead vocal duties fairly equally to great effect; and MTV embraced the band from the beginning, airing three different Cars’ tracks on the first day the channel went on the air on August 1, 1981.

I met the band once in that year of their first album’s debut (1978).  I was four months into my new job with WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation, the company responsible for sales, marketing and distribution worldwide for the three aforementioned record labels.  I was WEA’s Pittsburgh-area field merchandiser (aka display person) and part of my duties included some advance promotion in record stores on behalf of artists who were scheduled to come to town. 

On the evening of July 14th I was backstage at the Stanley Theatre just after the Cars had finished their show.  I had been invited back by the band’s record label representative from Elektra to quickly meet the group and show them a few photos of the displays I had done in order to help promote their appearance.  As brief as my backstage encounter was that July evening—all of about ten minutes, as I recall—I remember Ocasek and another of the band members smiling broadly in particular when they were shown a picture of my downtown National Record Mart window display.

I’m not sure if it was the car tire I had incorporated into the display with the WEA-provided posters, or my hand-scrawled sign that said “The Cars in concert—An Evening of Auto Eroticism at the Stanley,” but the band members’ nods of appreciation and expressed gratitude stoked me beyond belief.  Just what I needed.

  Rufus – Street Player (their 6th) – “Destiny”  https://youtu.be/RfVndToCtQo

Rufus with lead singer Chaka Khan was a band that had been notching up acclaim with occasional hit songs on the R&B charts of music industry magazines since their first album in 1973.  But then a revelatory shift came in the time period 1977-1978 as they began to scale new heights of creativity and boldness in their songwriting.  The band’s fifth studio album Ask Rufus (1977) and their follow-up album Street Player (1978) not only reflected this adventurous spirit, but the end results became career milestones.  In a larger sense, these two back-to-back releases were landmark achievements in songwriting, musical execution, vocal power and prowess (via Khan) and recording studio expertise—a rare and magical meld.

In a January 2018 look back at the band (“Rufus & Chaka Khan’s Street Player Turns 40/Anniversary Retrospective”) writer Brandon Ousley of albumism.com stated that “the brilliance of the multi-racial, Chicago-based outfit Rufus rested on their commitment to fearlessly coalescing funk, soul, jazz, and pop-rock influences into a succulent whole.  Their dynamic frontwoman, Chaka Khan, doused sass and sensuality into the band’s thrilling sound with her blistering voice.  It was the perfect marriage that imprinted an indelible stamp on the entire funk and soul landscape…Where their previous album Ask Rufus skillfully dabbled with esoteric orchestral touches, smooth soul, and jazz, Street Player leaned heavily on polished jazz-rock characteristics of the late 1970s.  Akin to the work of Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Steely Dan, Rufus infused laid-back strains of jazz into their sophisticated brand of funk and R&B.  At a time when disco permeated America’s milieu and reached its cultural zenith, the band took heed to its impulses, and ventured a few steps ahead.  After all, they were known for their unpredictability as well as their peerless craftsmanship.”

Someone who aided Rufus in achieving their overall sound on Street Player (and on its predecessor Ask Rufus) was a bit of an unsung hero in terms of widespread renown—composer/arranger Clare Fischer.  Also a musician, Fischer had worked in the 1960s with jazz luminaries including Herbie Hancock and Dizzy Gillespie.  By the 1970s, however, he had primarily shifted to arranger and conductor duties for a number of R&B groups, eventually also working with pop musicians as demand for his talents swelled (Prince, McCartney, Michael Jackson and others).  With Rufus, he provided the pivotal orchestral “sweeteners” that graced the band’s captivating mid-tempo songs and ballads, deploying his gifts via the string arrangements and the subsequent conducting of the orchestral players.  His contributions cannot be devalued; his arrangements are totally in synch with the exquisite vocal performances from lead singer Chaka Khan.

‘Tis a pity that Street Player and its predecessor did not reach more of the masses though for a time, as reported by Billboard Magazine, the albums closely approached the Top Ten upon their initial releases.  The song chosen for the sample track here from Street Player is “Destiny” which reveals the unbound talents at play within Rufus, but really most tracks on the album would do the same.  It would behoove you to stream the album, start to finish, in order to more fully appreciate the majesty that is in these grooves.

  Neil Young – Comes A Time (his 9th) – “Human Highway”  https://youtu.be/FY4an-1GqwU

In the fall of 1978 I truly enjoyed a double dose of Nicolette (that’s not a misspelling there; I mean the talented female singer, not the gum that eases nicotine withdrawal).

Nicolette Larson had released her debut album entitled Nicolette in September 1978, and right on its heels came the ninth studio album from Neil Young, Comes A Time.  Larson was all over the latter, and my turntable was non-stop Neil & Nicolette for a nice little stretch of time.  There was a magic to the paired-up voices on Comes A Time, and listening to it took me right back to a different album that had lived on my turntable for a few months back in 1976, Bob Dylan’s Desire.  I had loved Dylan’s and guest vocalist Emmylou Harris’ voices woven together on tracks like “Mozambique,” “Oh, Sister” and “One More Cup of Coffee,” and Comes A Time, to me, was yet another testament to the purity and beauty of blended male and female voices in just the right setting. 

Interestingly enough, the unavailability of Emmylou to sing on the Neil Young album that preceded Comes A Time was Nicolette’s gateway to working with Neil.  In a February 1983 interview with Canada’s largest urban weekly The Georgia Straight, Nicolette related how the two came together.  “When he did American Stars 'n Bars his initial concept was to get two unknown singers and do the album with them,” Nicolette said, “but he tried that and it didn't work at all.  And then he decided to take the other route and get Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, but Emmylou wasn't available to do it, so she and Linda recommended me.  Neil kind of functions on cosmic operations, you know, and that was cosmic enough for him.  If everyone had recommended me then I was supposed to work with him.  So Linda and I went up to his ranch and sang backups on that album, and then when he did Comes a Time he called me again to come and sing on it.”

Comes A Time, the prolific Neil’s ninth album, was a commercial and critical success.  A number of critics thought it hearkened back to some of Neil’s finest albums including 1972’s Harvest, and even the hardboiled, occasionally caustic reviewer Robert Christgau from The Village Voice embraced it.  Christgau said that this newest Neil was one “in which the old folkie seeks out his real roots, in folkiedom.  Not only is this almost always quiet, usually acoustic and drumless, and sweetened by Nicolette Larson, but it finishes off with a chestnut from the songbook of Ian and Sylvia—not just folkies, but Canadian folkies.  Conceptually and musically, it's a tour de force.  Occasionally you do wonder why this thirty-two-year-old hasn't learned more about Long-Term Relationships, but the spare, good-natured assurance of the singing and playing deepens the more egregious homilies and transforms good sense into wisdom.  The melodies don't hurt either—Young hasn't put together so many winners since After the Gold Rush.  Now that it's been done right, maybe all those other guys will hang up their Martins and enroll in bartending school.”

  Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (their debut) – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”  https://youtu.be/04pbtf5t_LU

Just months into my new job in 1978 with WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation as their Pittsburgh market display person dispatched each week to area record stores, I received merchandising materials from WEA one morning that consisted of the usual posters, album covers, and promotional copies of albums—but also a handful of yellow suits that looked like rainwear.  Turns out that this was what the Devo band members wore as their standard issue garb, and I used the suits primarily to cajole record store workers into dressing up for quick promotional photos while holding the new album next to my in-store Devo displays…

Who was this band, and what the hell?!!  I was honestly a bit turned off by the quirky, unconventional sound of the group but I knew that they were a big priority (at least momentarily) of their record label Warner Brothers, so I hit as many big-chain National Record Mart stores and small indie record shops that I could.  I had heard that even before the release of Are We Not Men?, new wave/punk legends like Iggy Pop and David Bowie were singing their praises and interest, at first, ran high from a lot of record store managers I ran into in the course of my display routes.

The band sprouted out of the shared horror and agony of the Kent State shootings in May 1970.  Art student Gerald Casale and friends had previously toyed with an art and literature concept that they had dreamed up in response to rampant consumerism, conformity, political hypocrisy and chicanery, and the sense that humankind was far from evolving—in fact, actually devolving.  Hence, the name Devo.  The group then ventured into music in the late 1970s as their primary vehicle for getting the message out about devolution.  

As writer Andrea Domanick of vice.com noted in her 8/29/18 article “The Truth About Devo, America’s Most Misunderstood Band,” this band of upstarts were on a mission: “Co-opting the logic of advertising, they laid the template for the multimedia emphasis that’s de rigeur for musical artists today, with theatrical live shows, narrative music videos, custom merchandise, substantive talking points, wild costumes, and branding, branding, branding.  Devo wielded them to lampoon everything from sex to religion to the corporate culture supporting the band itself, eventually earning the band the censorship of MTV, the scorn of the press, and, according to the group, the ire of its record label, Warner Brothers.”

Devo’s debut album Are We Not Men? was released in August 1978 and public response was largely lukewarm, with the album ultimately climbing to only #78 on the national sales charts within the music industry bible Billboard Magazine.  Most critics were also generally head-scratching and ho-humming, though in the years that followed some indeed warmed to the band’s sound and reversed course in terms of assessing the impact that the band had with their debut and subsequent releases.  James Garcia, a blogger with the Denver Post’s music site The Know (formerly Reverb), pointed out in a 2/20/14 article that “along with bands like Kraftwerk and Talking Heads, Devo ushered in a new era of electronic and sonically futuristic compositions that set the trajectory for much of modern music.  Today the band sounds ’80s-nostalgic, but digging into LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead, even Arcade Fire, you frequently find strong traces of Devo.”

One final footnote (per writer Garcia from his 2014 article) about select members of Devo, who achieved some notoriety outside of the band: “Its original members continued to influence pop culture through individual careers.  For you ’90s people out there, did you know Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh did the theme music for Nickelodeon’s Rugrats?  He also did work on Pee Wee’s Playhouse.  He’s worked on films with Wes Anderson (Moonrise KingdomFantastic Mr. Fox) and did the soundtrack for the No. 1 film at the box office for the second week in a row right now: The Lego Movie…Casale did work on films like Happy GilmoreRushmoreThe Royal Tenenbaums and the highly underrated 1995 comedy Four Rooms, with segments directed by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Allison Anders and Alexandre Rockwell, all based on short fiction by Roald Dahl.”  Nice to know that there was some healthy evolution all along their path. 

(The link to the sample track above takes you to Devo’s cover of the Stones’ 1965 hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as performed on Saturday Night Live on October 14, 1978.)

  Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food (their 2nd) – “ Take Me to the River”  https://youtu.be/v4azbl96BJY

"I can't seem to face up to the facts / I'm tense and nervous, and I can't relax / I can't sleep 'cause my bed's on fire / Don't touch me I'm a real live wire”—these are lyrics from the song “Psycho Killer” from Talking Heads: 77, the album which gave the world its first glimpse into the unique art-rock style of this NYC band and its front-man auteur David Byrne.  But instead of turning to “run run run run, run run run away,” Talking Heads fans (the established ones and new converts) pounced in even greater numbers on the perky, herky-jerky sophomore album which hit stores less than a year later—1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food.

Talking Heads emerged out of the brought-to-a-boil punk stew that had been simmering in the late 1970s at the legendary Manhattan club CBGB in New York City, home of early-on performances by fledglings Patti Smith, Television, The Ramones, Blondie and others.  And Talking Heads stood apart from this pack, both lyrically and musically.  

From a lyrics standpoint, I found an earnest, thoughtful examination in a July 2018 hyperallergic.com piece written by Lucas Fagen which notes that “Byrne expresses the awful little unsaid thoughts that cross our minds regularly.  All the tiny daily moments of loathing for people ahead of you in line, cutting you off on the highway, walking slower than you on the sidewalk, standing too close to you in the elevator.  All the sudden impulses brought upon us by impatience and exasperation that we immediately ignore and discard for our own social survival and humanity’s greater good.  All the logical contortions we go through to justify feeling as we do, forgotten once the feeling passes, all presented brightly, neatly, as if they’re totally normal, because they are.”  

Musically, according to Fagen, the band surrounded Byrne’s words with “a spry, lithe, metallic music machine that clatters and jitters over a bedrock of sturdy, flowing rhythm.  These are songs composed of textures derived from punk, blown up into something larger and deeper, something that gleams with the brilliance of new wave keyboards and bounces with the assurance of funk bass.”  

The standout track, the one and only cover on the album, is Al Green’s composition “Take Me to the River.”  The song became the band’s first bona fide radio hit, luring in both the committed and the curious to help solidify the band’s march toward legendary status.  On a music-based potpourri website called nightswithalicecooper.com, I found a review of More Songs About Buildings and Food that featured quotes from Byrne related to “Take Me to the River.”  Byrne took note of the fact that there were three other covers of the song that were out in the consuming public’s sphere at that time, ones by Foghat, Bryan Ferry and Levon Helm, and said “More money for Mr. Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, I suppose.”  And, he concluded, the song “combines teenage lust with baptism.  Not equates, you understand, but throws them in the same stew, at least.  A potent blend.  All praise the mighty spurtin' Jesus!"

  Kate Bush – The Kick Inside (her debut) – “Wuthering Heights”  https://youtu.be/mj9RNQnRqPU

British singer-songwriter Kate Bush was signed to her record label at a very young age—with counsel and assistance from mentor David Gilmour of Pink Floyd—and produced an epic first album before she even left her teens.  As Pitchfork.com contributor Laura Snapes observed in a 1/19/19 article about the artist, “She was signed at 16 but her debut took four years to make, during which she engaged multiple teachers in a process of spiritual and physical transformation.  She pays tribute to their lessons alongside rhapsodies on unexplained phenomena, delirious expressions of lust, and declarations of earthbound defiance.”

Around the time she released her debut The Kick Inside, Bush explained that her creative drive had led her down a different path than most other female singer-songwriters.  Pitchfork.com’s Snapes zeros in on a quote of Bush’s relating to her contemporaries: “‘That sort of stuff is sweet and lyrical,’ Bush said of Carole King and co. in 1978, ‘but it doesn’t push it on you, and most male music—not all of it, but the good stuff—really lays it on you.  It’s like an interrogation.  It really puts you against the wall and that’s what I’d like my music to do.  I’d like my music to intrude.’” 

The release of The Kick Inside led to Bush kicking ass.  She insisted that her record label EMI release the song “Wuthering Heights” as her lead-off single from the album instead of a track they had chosen, and damn—the song rocketed to #1 in the country, which crowned Bush as the first female performer in the land to get to that pinnacle position with a self-written song.  The album in the UK (as well as across Europe and also in Japan) became a sensation and a bestseller, and her popularity continued to soar with subsequent releases in her home country—though she didn’t even dent the music charts in the USA until her fourth release The Dreaming (1982).  With 1985’s Hounds of Love, Bush finally pecked a significant hole in her cult ceiling in the U.S. courtesy of the Top Thirty hit “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God).”

But let’s return to “Wuthering Heights,” the first song that really introduced the world to Bush’s artistic vision.  Writer Margaret Talbot of The New Yorker in her 12/19/18 article “The Enduring, Incandescent Power of Kate Bush” sums it up: “One secret of Bush’s artistry is that she has never feared the ludicrous—she tries things that other musicians would be too careful or cool to go near.  That was apparent from the very first lines of ‘Wuthering Heights’—‘Out on the wiley, windy moors / we’d roll and fall in green / You had a temper like my jealousy / too hot, too greedy.’  When she wrote that song, she hadn’t yet read the Emily Brontë novel; she’d only caught the end of a TV adaptation.  But of course she got the essence of the book, sucked it in, and transmogrified it in her teen-aged soul, and she knew how to keen those lyrics like a ghost ceaselessly yearning.”

Collaborations with Prince, Peter Gabriel and Elton John…A source of inspiration for Tori Amos, Björk, Joanna Newsom, and St. Vincent…A pioneer in the use of the Fairlight synthesizer and the headset microphone onstage…An early-on producer of her own albums…and (per writer Talbot) renowned “for evolving an ahead-of-its-time sound that combined heavy bass with the ethereal high notes, swoops, and screeches of her own remarkable voice.”  These aren’t bush-league achievements; Kate’s in a league of her own.

  The Police – Outlandos d’Amour (their debut) – “Roxanne”  https://youtu.be/fZheUzgIFEk

It’s an age-old question that perhaps only real music buffs can reliably dredge up answers to: Where were you when you first heard a certain song?  

Late in 1978 I had a lightning bolt moment in the old National Record Mart flagship store in Market Square, downtown Pittsburgh.  I was about eight months into my new record company job with WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation, fashioning displays in music stores throughout Western PA, and I was up on a ladder stapling some priority Warner Brothers artist posters along the ceiling line.  Suddenly I heard over the store’s stereo system some incredibly muscular and rhythmic power pop that had me spinning around immediately to find out what the store manager had placed on the turntable.  “It’s The Police,” Maurice the manager informed me, looking up from below.  He walked over to the store’s New Releases bin and came back to hand me up the Outlandos d'Amour album while “Roxanne” and then the next song “Hole in My Life” spilled out from the speakers above.  

There was palpable excitement rippling through the rest of the store as well.  From my lofty perch I could see a couple of customers’ faces break from their furrowed-brow concentration, which was some mean feat—usually album buyers were transfixed at a particular record bin, finger-flicking each album forward for yet another studious gaze upon another eye-catching album cover.  Yet these two were rousted from their intent, and both walked up front to the new releases bin to pluck out The Police album for a better look.

Punk was in full flower by 1978, yet here was a relatively new spin on the format.  Outlandos d’Amour was a mesmerizing mix of punk with pop and a hell of a lot more than a tinge of reggae, with Sting’s powerful high-end-of-the-range voice soaring over all of that propulsion.  The three band members—all really more steeped in jazz, originally—had jumped onto the late 1970s new wave band wagon with abandon, and the group enjoyed immense public and critical acclaim for their total five studio recordings over the 1978-1983 time period.

Personally, The Police have stayed one of my favorite bands through a lot of years.  In my case, I first heard them from on top of a ladder.  But in 1982 I scaled even greater heights—I had my first real date with my future wife Margot (now deceased) on April 9, 1982 when the band played the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  And from there I didn’t falter; two years later we headed for the altar.

 

 

 

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Posted 4/18/21.....TEN YEARS AFTER (part one of two)

A few posts ago, Musicasaurus.com did a deep dive and came up with some real pearls—noteworthy albums that were released in the year 1968.  Ten years after, these are the must-haves that were released in the first half of 1978, and we’ve included one of our favorite tracks from each of these albums.  (Next time on musicasaurus.com, we explore more absolutely-gotta-have recordings from the second half of 1978.)

   

   

  Little Feat – Waiting for Columbus (their 7th album and 1st live recording) – “Spanish Moon” https://youtu.be/-S5PK14KFcE

My first real taste of Feat (I know that sounds kinda weird but it IS spelled F-e-A-t) came with their second album Sailin’ Shoes in 1972.  Certain songs from that record floored me because of the musicianship but also the lyrical gifts of founding member, chief songwriter and lead vocalist Lowell George (seek out on your own the title track, the song “Trouble,” and especially “Willin’”).  I followed Feat through their next four studio releases—Dixie Chicken (’73), Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (’74), The Last Record Album (’75) and Time Loves a Hero (‘77)—and my faith became absolutely unshakeable.  And friends and acquaintances knew never to test that faith.  I would suffer no detractors; I would never be de-Feated.

The first time I actually saw Little Feat live was in 1978 and the announcement of an upcoming Pittsburgh show in April of that year was a bit of a cosmic convergence for me.  In February the band had released a new double live album entitled Waiting for Columbus, and that very same month I had latched onto a dream job with Warner Brothers Records/Elektra Records/Atlantic Records (WEA) doing local area record store displays promoting all WEA artists—including Little Feat.  So in my brand new role, staple gun and duct tape in hand, I plastered practically every mall chain and indie record store I could find across southwestern Pennsylvania with Waiting for Columbus posters—every window and wall space they were willing to hand over to me.

Waiting for Columbus became the band’s best-selling record to date and the group’s keyboardist Bill Payne, in a relix.com interview from February 1979, attributed the group’s popularity to increasing their time out on the road.  “I think we’ve had ample opportunity in the past nine years to do a little more touring,” Payne said.  “There are people who argue with me that touring doesn’t add that much to success, and I would agree that if you’re Steely Dan and you’ve had ten hit records to your name, you might not have to tour.  But in our case touring is very important because it’s always been a grass roots growth until recently.  This band is a playing type of band.  We just sound better live than we do on records.”

To Payne’s point, listen to the sample track above, “Spanish Moon.”  Aided here by the Bay Area’s sizzling Tower of Power horn section, the song is truly representative of Feat’s peerless melding of southern-styled rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm & blues, with a dash of limb-twitchin’ funk.

  Television – Adventure (their 2nd) – “Days” https://youtu.be/lZetdccVvBs

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

Marquee Moon was the band’s debut release in 1977, and it met with great critical success here in the U.S. but sales were only so-so.  It has since been regarded as a lantern of sorts, lighting the way for quite a number of post-punk and alternative bands that followed over the next few decades.  1978’s Adventure came next, and this second album from Television was equally enticing but had its mild detractors.  Some critics thought that this sophomore effort lost some of the raw tension and buzz saw feel of the first, but even the occasionally cranky, caustic Robert Christgau of The Village Voice praised it, holding it in pretty high esteem.  

“I agree that it's not as urgent, or as satisfying,” Christgau pointed out in his review, “but that's only to say that Marquee Moon was a great album while Adventure is a very good one.  The difference is more a function of material than of the new album's relatively clean, calm, reflective mood.  The lyrics on Marquee Moon were shot through with visionary surprises that never let up.  These are comparatively songlike, their apercus concentrated in hook lines that are surrounded by more quotidian stuff.  The first side is funnier, faster, more accessible, but the second side gets there—the guitar on "The Fire" is Verlaine's most gorgeous ever.”

  Van Halen – Van Halen (their debut) – “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love” https://youtu.be/qtwBFz6lfrY

Sean McDowell, a twenty-six year veteran of Pittsburgh’s 102.5 WDVE in the afternoon deejay chair from 1993 through 2019, remembers precisely when Van Halen erupted into the national consciousness with the release of their self-titled first album.  “When I started in Radio at WYDD/New Kensington in 1978,” McDowell said, “the debut Van Halen album had just come out and the phones were on fire whenever we played one of their tunes—‘Is that the new Van Halen band?’  'Who are these guys again?’  ‘Who's the guitarist in that band you just played?!’”

It was a startling debut.  No one had heard such power, polished with a metal sheen, fueled by a cock-of-the-walk vocalist and a truly adventurous, envelope-pushing chord cruncher.  Innovative guitarist Eddie was the key; swoopin’ and sailin’, he was the heart of Van Halen.

I was able to meet the band that year while working for WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) as the field merchandising specialist for southwestern Pennsylvania.  Van Halen was slated to do an in-store appearance at the Oasis Records & Tape Superstore in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh, and this was my first official meet-and-greet experience with WEA.  On the day of the in-store appearance I helped set up an autograph signing table and placed Van Halen posters throughout the store, while the fans began to assemble inside the store’s entrance. 

The turnout became fairly sizeable, so the four VH boys strode in the back way upon arrival to avoid the crush.  I scooted into the low-lit, warehouse-sized back room, quickly identified myself, and snapped a photo of the foursome before they ambled out into the public area of the store.  Unfortunately my most vivid memories of the day center on the supersized swagger of David Lee Roth.  It was readily apparent that he had no problem in the “self love” department and here he was truly in his element.  The female fans who were clustered around the autograph table were all aflutter and the atmosphere was circus-like, with David Lee—at ease; oozin’ the sleaze—masterfully courting the foxes and high-fiving the few stoner dudes in the crowd.  I recall wishing I had a testosterone dipstick, just to see whether his levels were as off-the-charts as I thought they might be.

  Emmylou Harris – Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town (her 5th) – “Easy From Now On” https://youtu.be/ebcJ2WycQ4o

This was Emmylou’s fifth studio album and it was memorable on two fronts—the song selections (from songwriters including Dolly Parton, Delbert McClinton, Rodney Crowell and Jesse Winchester) and the musicians who had climbed aboard (Rick Danko and Garth Hudson of The Band, Willie Nelson, country music guitar slingers James Burton and Albert Lee, country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, singer Nicolette Larson, and country/bluegrass artist Ricky Scaggs).

Flash forward twenty-five years to October 19, 2003 at Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater: On this evening I experienced one of my “Top Ten” concerts of all time—Emmylou with her fuel-injected backup band Spyboy (guitarist Buddy Miller, bassist Daryl Johnson and drummer Brady Blade) in a serious country-meets-rock ‘n’ roll performance that was a tour de force.  The concert that evening featured two songs from Quarter Moon—the Jesse Winchester composition “My Songbird” and Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This.”

  Genesis – And Then There Were Three (their 9th studio album) – “Deep in the Motherlode” https://youtu.be/tNTyyvk3oBk

Confessions of a super addicted music fan (yours truly) who occasionally lost his way along certain pipelines: I never really dug into any of the first six Genesis albums when Peter Gabriel was with the group, in that time period between the band’s formation in 1967 and the middle of 1975 when Gabriel departed.  It was really 1976’s A Trick of the Tail, Genesis’ seventh studio album, that finally began to lure me in.  Drummer Phil Collins had stepped up to the mike for lead vocals, and critics and fans here and in the UK were more than appeased; they were outright pleased.  In fact this seventh album and the tour that followed—part of which included twenty-one cities in the U.S.—helped raise the group’s profile immensely here at home.

With the 1978 release of And Then There Were Three—so named to reflect the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett which then left just Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford as the band’s core—the group was still firing on all prog-rock cylinders yet beginning to turn toward shorter, more pop-savvy song explorations.  They even had a hit song that was played to death on radio stations here in the U.S. and across the pond, the ballad “Follow You Follow Me.”  To the ears of Musicasaurus.com, though, the standout track on the album is “Deep in the Motherlode,” a majestic wall-of-sound churner that cries out to be played loud.

I loved working this record as part of my duties in 1978 as the Pittsburgh region’s display person for Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corporation.  I did a lot of standard displays (posters on walls and in windows) in a number of southwestern Pennsylvania record stores promoting And Then There Were Three, but was then--for whatever reason--seized by a desire to go outside the boundaries on this one.  I came up with an idea for a creative yet complicated in-store display that in the end turned out to be a piece of cake.  And I mean literally.  

I contacted a local bakery and asked them to produce a sizeable white cake with the album cover’s startling colors and design swirls replicated on its top layer.  Then, since the Genesis album’s title also brought to mind Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery novel And Then There Were None (in which the children’s nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians” figured prominently) I added three little Native American plastic figurines to the top of the cake to represent Collins, Banks and Rutherford.  I then prominently placed the cake on a chest-level wall shelf in the downtown Pittsburgh Record Outlet store, stapled up a handful of Genesis posters around it, and placed (with the store’s permission) sale-priced copies of And Then There Were Three in product bins to the left and right.  To complete my handiwork the store manager and I posted an “Enter to Win!” sign right above the cake itself, which let browsing customers know that they could not only buy the new album at a deeply discounted price, but also—if lucky enough to win the drawing—have their cake and eat it too.

  Pat Metheny Group – Pat Metheny Group (the quartet’s debut which followed the guitarist’s first two albums which were solo releases) – “San Lorenzo” (note that the original studio version of this song from the 1978 album Pat Metheny Group is apparently not permitted on YouTube, so the following link is to a live performance of “San Lorenzo”) https://youtu.be/-VwzR7Qc0PU

I can’t fully explain what happened to me when I first encountered this album but I can try to frame it: Long ago, Greek philosopher Pythagoras (approx. 570-495 B.C.) proposed a concept called the “music of the spheres,” a belief that celestial music was produced by the movement of the stars and the planets but that it was imperceptible to the human ear.  And in 1978 I feel like we received a rare open channel to this through the Pat Metheny Group, who I swear was drawing down this sound directly from the heavens.  

The music on this album, the quartet’s debut, is all instrumental and blends the guitarist’s various influences into something that is indescribably life affirming.  In Metheny’s own words from a Downbeat magazine article from March 1999: “In my case, I intuitively knew from a very early age (about 12) that improvisation was going to be the most important of musical languages for me, and that the study of it would be all consuming.  Even though I’ve always loved all kinds of music, from the country music that was everywhere around my hometown (Lee’s Summit, Missouri) to the amazing variety of music that fed the rich mainstream cultural lifeblood of that era—rock and roll (especially the Beatles) and the soul music and rhythm and blues of the day, as well as classical music—it took exactly one listen to a Miles Davis record (Four & More, brought home by my older brother Mike) to start me on that long and fascinating road that it seems all serious improvisational musicians must journey—to understand the history, form and structure of this most beautiful and complex language.”

The ten-minute track “San Lorenzo” opens the Pat Metheny Group album, and it is cinematic, majestic, and achingly beautiful in the interplay between all four musicians.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was fortunate to have caught the Pat Metheny Group live in concert several times, and I remember thinking to myself “I’ve stumbled into the Church of the Truly Transported.”  And in 2003 on a journey eastward from Pittsburgh to NYC—earbuds in, nestled in a window seat—I sank into “San Lorenzo” as Amtrak swooshed me by open fields as well as the occasional crumbled remnants of past busy lives along the railway.  I could not have been more in harmony with the universe in those ten minutes if my life depended upon it.

  Steve Reich Ensemble – Music for 18 Musicians (Reich’s 5th album release) – “Music for 18 Musicians” https://youtu.be/ILpCKQlDmhc

As part of my job as an in-store display merchandiser with WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) Corporation, I received a wide assortment of promotional copies of albums from the three aforementioned record company giants, but also promos from each of the three’s subsidiary labels (nice gig!).  In 1978 the eclectic European record label ECM was distributed through Warner Brothers here in the U.S., and so I was able to put into my swelling collection of albums some excellent records from that label.  One of them was Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, which was an incredible example of minimalism in music such that Reich became a vanguard of this movement.

In a revealing article on allaboutjazz.com from October 2016 entitled “Steve Reich: The ECM Recordings,” writer Nenad Georgievski explored the impact of this album.  Georgievski said that the American composer-musician Reich “successfully dismantled the cemented bedrock of Western Music and rebuilt it in surprisingly innovative ways.  One of the founders of the Minimalism movement in classical music, he created music that drew on aspects of Balinese, Yemenite, African and Hebrew sounds.”

Georgievski also points out that ECM was a record label ripe for Reich.  The label from inception (1969) devoted itself, in part, to new music that blossomed out of the jazz field and that walked the line between composition and improvisation.  ECM’s founder Manfred Eicher eagerly sought out Reich and recorded and released Music for 18 Musicians in April 1978.  “Reich's music, ideas, and aesthetics have had an enormous impact on today's culture,” said Georgievski, “and his ideas and sounds were emulated by an army of musicians and composers from singer David Bowie and ambient pioneer Brian Eno to Sonic Youth and Radiohead.” 

The piece itself, just about an hour in length, is according to Georgievski “based on a cycle of eleven chords; the series is played at its beginning and end. In between are eleven sections each built up from one of those eleven chords…and the whole composition unfolds almost like a dreamscape.  Reich weds rhythmical pulses with increasing intensity and shimmering melodies such that it feels meditative and flowing.  The multi-layered tidal architecture contains echoes of Indonesian gamelans, which Reich studied in 1973 and 1974, and the 20th-century organum, or sacred chanting, of the Notre Dame composers Leonin and Perotin…As influential on jazz musicians as on DJs, Music for 18 Musicians was a perfect fusion.  Its uncanny brilliance brought Reich mass fame.  Concerts were sold out and the record was a big seller.” 

  Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy (his 3rd) – “Lawyers, Guns and Money” https://youtu.be/F2HH7J-Sx80

“Werewolves of London” was the hit song from this Southern California-based artist’s commercial breakthrough album, and all ages seemed attuned to the tune.  Even kids were singing along to this one, which is in retrospect kind of disturbing since Zevon had plugged in lyrics like “You better stay away from him / He'll rip your lungs out, Jim.”  But that was just one facet of this wry guy who wrote great melodies and even better lyrics.  Excitable Boy also yielded a nice handful of other Zevon treasures including “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Tenderness on the Block.”  

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

  The Band – The Last Waltz (their 2nd live recording and their final album with all five original members) – “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” https://youtu.be/6dDbnwQlCek

I recently found a Rolling Stone article from November 25, 2020 that referred back to an earlier version of it from November 2016—i.e., the 40th anniversary of the farewell concert by The Band at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom on November 25, 1976.  The article gave me a few of those run-up-the-spine, tingle-the-back-of-the-head thrills as I recalled seeing The Last Waltz film for the first time upon its initial release in late April 1978, at the Kings Court Theater in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. 

What is it about The Last Waltz that so captivates viewers?  According to the Rolling Stone article by David Fear, the film’s lasting regard stems from the fortuitous blend of talent that converged on the project—The Band themselves, of course, and their guest stars, and especially director Martin Scorsese.  

We who revere The Band are eternally grateful that the then-35-year-old filmmaker had come aboard.  Writer Fear points out that Scorsese brought a significant level of intuitive and technological expertise to the process, and his game plan included 1) filming the concert solely from an onstage point of view, proactively nixing the idea of audience shots…2) filming in 35 millimeter instead of the usual 16 millimeter cameras routinely used at the time for music documentaries…3) adopting for the ballroom concert setting various materials borrowed from the San Francisco Opera House’s production of La Traviata, including chandeliers used in Gone With the Wind…and 4) applying gliding camera shots and cuts and close-ups that placed fully on display the musical comradeship which existed between the five band members.  And so, as Fear notes, “What he ended up with was the definitive document of these American-music scholars, an epitaph to a specific era of rock history, and the single greatest concert movie of all time.”  

Buoyed by the film in my earliest days of employment with Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corporation in 1978 as their regional display person, I then hit record stores galore armed with Last Waltz posters and free copies of the simultaneously released soundtrack album for the store managers.  In my three years of in-store merchandising on behalf of WEA, I don’t know if I ever hawked and hyped a record more industriously than this one. 

  Oregon - Out of the Woods (their 10th) – “Witchi-Tai-To” https://youtu.be/gAWkygH_Ig8

Oregon is a dream quartet of world-class, world music instrumentalists that first came together in 1970 in New York City.  The four man lineup: Ralph Towner, Paul McCandless, Glen Moore and Collin Walcott.  A tidy summary of the band’s essence is supplied by an allmusic.com review of 1978’s Out of the Woods which states “Oregon's music might be described as elegant folk melodies and ‘Third World’ rhythms played by a jazz band with the precision and grace of a classical chamber ensemble.”

Towner, who plays flugelhorn, 12-string guitar, classical guitar, percussion and piano on the album, was interviewed in 2017 by Anil Prasad of the music magazine Innerviews.  In the piece Towner spoke of his history with the group and of his rearview opinion of Out of the Woods, stating that the album stood above and beyond any other Oregon release in terms of sales and acceptance.  “Out of the Woods was the most popular album we ever did,” Towner said.  “It was just loaded with beauty.  Collin’s playing has an incredible, painterly quality about it on the record.  People loved “Yellow Bell” from that album.  The album was also marketed and distributed really well.  Out of the Woods even got a Grammy nomination for the cover, but not the music. [laughs] It got a lot of attention.  The nine Vanguard records did well, but this was on another level.”

The sample track above from Out of the Woods is “Witchi-Tai-To,” a beautiful musical odyssey composed by jazz saxophonist, composer and singer Jim Pepper, who was a Native American of Kaw and Muscogee Creek heritage.  He wrote the tune based on a peyote song of the Native American Church that his grandfather had taught him.  Please note, though, that Musicasaurus.com is fairly certain this song will transport you, peyote or no peyote.

 

 

 

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Posted 3/21/21.....EAT AT HOME

Musicasaurus.com, ever in search of survey topics for its occasional reach-outs to readers, has just cooked up a decent one: The music that people are listening to while at home during COVID, when it’s time for prep and time to dine.

I reached out to a number of readers on that very topic but first I dreamed up my own “COVID mix” for those special evenings when my paramour/partner Mary Ellen—She from the Land of True Kitchen Sorcery—is creating pure magic in this realm.  Meanwhile, of course, I am merely on standby, rightfully relegated to just holding Her wand (in this instance, though, it’s a wooden spoon for stirring).

I realize that the following is just a word association exercise where I’m riffing on the cooking dinner theme and choosing songs based only on their titles and not on their content, but hey…it’s something to get us started.

Musicasaurus.com’s Music Mix for Dinnertime:

The Opening Track (The Prevailing Message):“Eat at Home”– Paul McCartney.

During Measuring, Slicing and Dicing, and Other Prep:“Chop ‘em Down”– Matisyahu…..“The First Cut is the Deepest” – Cat Stevens…..“Whip It” – Devo…..“Spoonful”– Cream…..“Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)”– Squeeze…..“You Left the Water Running”– Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band.

Amassing and/or Integrating Ingredients: “A Little Honey”– Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats…..“Brown Sugar” – Rolling Stones…..“Green Onions” – Booker T. & The M.G.’s…..“All Mixed Up”– The Cars.

Assorted Menu Items: “Red Beans and Rice”– Brian Auger and the Trinity…..“Rock & Roll Stew” – Traffic…..“RC Cola and a Moon Pie”– NRBQ.....“Hot Burrito #1”– The Flying Burrito Brothers…..“Hotdogs and Hamburgers”– John Mellencamp.

The Actual Cooking: “The Heat Is On”– Glenn Frey…..“Turn It Over”– Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King.

Dinner Drinks: “Alcohol”– Barenaked Ladies…..“Summer Wine” – The Coors live, featuring Bono…..“One More Cup of Coffee” – Bob Dylan with Emmylou Harris.

Dessert: “American Pie”– Don McLean…..“Ice Cream Cakes”– Jeff Beck Group…..“Peaches” – The Presidents of the United States of America…..“Whipped Cream” – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.

And now it is time to move on to the more substantial (and very likely more satisfying!) portions of this post. Below are survey responses from a geographically widespread assortment of Musicasaurus.com readers.  The question posed to them: “When you are cooking dinner at home in this time of COVID, what artists and/or songs do you listen to?”

    

  Rick Sebak – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Hmm.  I’ve been baffled by this one.  I do often put music on when I go to the kitchen, but it’s usually just my music on my MacBook, and I leave it on Shuffle Songs because I like to be surprised by what comes next.  No specific tunes or genre, just my standard goofy mix as put together by my computer. 

  Bill Johnston – San Diego, California

Sue and I cook dinner together at least a couple of times a week.  She does it solo most of the time.  Which is good: her Mexican/Italian heritage has provided her with a much more capacious culinary corral than I could ever construct.  But being a young thing of 61, she'll listen to (yoiks!) Gloria Gaynor or the Bee Gees or some such if I don't step in to end the madness.  When I cook solo, usually outside, I always play Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain in honor of Sue's dear departed Dad.  Rudy was a huge jazz fan, and he'd put that LP on to play whenever he barbecued.  No vinyl for me, though.  All streaming these days.

  Justin Lucas – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The most common artist on in the kitchen for us would be the Cold War Kids.  The commonly used piano in their music definitely allows for some ad-hoc air keyboarding which is best performed without a chef's knife in tow.  Otherwise, some good new fashioned female pop is not a bad secondary option to keep things light and allow for some low quality sing-alongs.  

  Judy Burns – Sarasota, Florida

Now that we're southerners (though Florida might be a stretch?) I started looking into Southern culture because I need to learn to call this place home, but we do miss Pittsburgh!  I found the group Ranky Tanky just a few months ago—embarrassed to say that it took me that long.  I can't quite remember the source.  Funky, fun and a great mix of music styles.  Keeps me moving while I'm cooking.  I didn't know anything about Gullah music and culture but it's pretty cool stuff. 

  Joel Shapiro – Sydney, Australia

When we are prepping for dinner, Lisa has a surefire way of getting me to shut up: "Dear, how about some music?"  Almost invariably, I open Spotify on our stereo and select an artist, or sometimes the artist's "radio."  She's not the Beatles fan that I am but we both gravitate to the blues.  Classics like Muddy Waters, Taj Mahal, Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter are our go-to.  But we're just as fond of Keb Mo, Bonnie Raitt, Santana, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan or his brother Jimmy and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.  Anything that has a jumping beat, some good guitar and a little harp.  "But when the sun went down, the rapid tempo of the music fell" [editor’s note: A line from Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell”] and so when we sit down at the table, we make the switch to jazz—the Crusaders, Tommy Flanagan, Miles, Pat Metheny and the like.  Easier on the digestion, I reckon.  But songs I never get tired of: “My Generation,” “Highway Star,” Mississippi Queen,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Nadine” and “Twist and Shout.”  But, I must confess—I listen to “Fat Man in the Bathtub” every day!!

  Sharon Steele – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Cookin' by the Miles Davis Quintet.  With Miles, John Coltrane (sax), Paul Chambers (bass), Red Garland (piano), and Philly Joe Jones (drums).  Recorded in Rudy Van Gelder's studio in one or two sessions, so basically a live album.  They recorded this and three other albums—Relaxin'Steamin', and Workin'—in the same two studio times (they had limited time in the studio and wanted to bang out albums to fulfill their Prestige record label contract).  DELICIOUS!  Great music to cook by.  (Actually, the husband is the real chef...I'm a sous chef at best, mainly food taster and pot washer.)

  Alex Fleche – Leesburg, Virginia

For a few months following the start of the pandemic I tuned in during cooking to live-stream music performances by artists trying to keep their momentum going.  I was looking for a little normalcy.  Eventually though, live-streams slowed down.  My COVID boredom turned to a craving for nostalgia, so I dialed back the clock to 2000 and have been working my way forward through Pitchfork's top 20 albums of that year.  Some top nostalgia albums are Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’s Source Tags and Codes, New Pornographers' Mass Romantic, plus the Strokes and Interpol.  Aside from the albums I rediscovered from back in those days, some standout new discoveries have been Deerhoof, Liars, a whole slew of underground rap and hip hop (Cannibal OX, Streets, El-P, King Geedorah, and Dizzy Rascal), and the far-out-there DJ/ Avant guard Japanese vocalist duo Mutsumi.

  Peter Lenzi – Farmington, New Mexico

When I cook it is normally a culinary production to satisfy my toughest critic—me.  I start my process seeking motivation and inspiration.  I call my music choice Southern Rock.  Topping the list is the Allman Brothers, and they are blended with Little Feat, Creedence Clearwater, and Pure Prairie League.  This is not an all-inclusive list but gives you a feel for the genre. 

  Stephanie – Venice, Italy

My partner and I live in an old-fashioned house where the stereo is located on the living room side of a load-bearing wall.  This layout keeps odors in the kitchen but stereo music out. That's okay as long as Italian State TV offers ad-free newscasts and pithy talk shows in its lunchtime line-up.  Daytime is when I do my heaviest cooking in a glass-walled veranda.  But whenever the kitchen TV is silent, my internal jukebox auto-selects: "The lady sticks to me like white on rice, she never cooks the same way twice…Maybe it's the mushrooms, maybe the tomatoes."  After decades, it's still Michael Franks' "Eggplant" from his LP, The Art of Tea.  U2's "Beautiful Day" often comes up in the veranda, as when I can see everything going on in the neighborhood, or when it seems "You've been all over, and it's been all over you."  We're preparing to move soon during Italy's never-ending lockdown, so it's been pretty crazy on both sides of the load-bearing wall.  While I'm busy making a meal these days, my jukebox has been pushing "Under the Pressure" by The War on Drugs.  Music in the kitchen?  Next house, sure.  Because, I've noticed, how much news and pith do you really need?        

  Barry Gabel – Cleveland, Ohio

My playlist for preparing dinner includes some of the following tunes: Bob Marley’s “Jamming” (this basically initiates pouring wine and then I start finding whatever ingredients feels right that night)…Lyle Lovett’s “Church” (oh that chorus! I’m cutting, chopping, dicing, and smiling when Francine Reed starts riffing and I’m wishing I’m making cornbread)…Willis Alan Ramsey’s “Watermelon Man” (now we are getting serious, especially if I’m grilling on a fabulous Cleveland summer night, no concert to be at, no plans whatsoever, no nothing and all I’m thinking about is dessert before the main course)…Little Feat’s “Fat Man in The Bathtub” (so I remember portion control)…

AND there is Stevie Wonder’s first album on Motown, Music of My Mind.  He controlled every ingredient that went into this incredible album.  You can choose any song to prepare, cook, serve, eat and clean up the kitchen!  Honestly, the entire album would suffice for your soundtrack request.  The song “I Love Every Little Thing About You” I just love.  And when Stevie starts off “Sweet Little Girl” with that screech, “oh” into his harmonica, I have no choice but to put the spatula down and start grabbing my wife Sam: “Come on now honey-sugar / you know your baby loves you, more than I love my clavinet…Come on now sweet little sugar / honey baby, now what if you knew I was going to put my harmonica down…” 

  Scott Blasey – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This might sound a little odd coming from a lifelong rocker like me [editor’s note: Blasey is a founding member of Pittsburgh’s The Clarks] but I tend to listen to classical music when I’m in the kitchen.  I have a classical playlist on my computer that I like.  It’s mostly Mozart with some Bach and Beethoven mixed in.  Mozart was truly a genius.  His music is beautiful and powerful and timeless.  It’s the perfect companion to the sights and sounds and smells of the kitchen.

  Beckye Levin – Houston, Texas

As for cooking and music, we are doing a lot of that.  I actually have done Zoom cooking with two of my friends from high school—every week—since the beginning of May!  My husband Steve and I tend to listen to the standards when we are relaxing and cooking and drinking wine.  Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin top the list, but we usually have something on that plays everyone from that era.  My favorite is “Beyond the Sea.”  It's awesome that the kids can now pick out the differences between Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, and especially Frank!

  Scott Tady – Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania

We enjoyed cooking with Pandora's Summer Hits of The '90s as background.  Third Eye Blind is comfort food for the ears.  Swaying and humming while chopping veggies to Gin Blossoms and Goo Goo Dolls, proudly remembering lyrics to "Baby Got Back" and "Flagpole Sitta.”  Those '90s hits are fun and don't demand much brain power, so you won't get confused while reading a new recipe.  No wonder Counting Crows' Adam Duritz recently launched a cooking program on Instagram. 

  Joan Antich Sevilla and Trudy Call – Barcelona, Spain

Joan: OK I don´t really change my way to find and listen.  The thing that when I hear something that I like and I don't know what it is no matter what style I try to find the artist and then I listen more of his or her, sometimes I like and a keep hearing more (example Leon Bridges) or sometimes, par example, I hear in the series Ray Donovan the song “Seven Swans” and I look up and is from Sufjan Stevens and after to listen him for a while I decide that is the only song that I like and I really like, then I keep in one of my playlists.  I discover that I like only one song a lot of different people, maybe only one song but I keep it in a playlist, thanks Spotify.  Also I discover a bunch of a bands or musicians that I don't know to be relax Matthew Hassall, Neil Cowley Trio, Girls in Airports, Tord Gustavsen Trio…To have more movement Vulfpeck, Dakhabrakha (this is one of my findings from a series). 

Trudy: In these times of COVID, while I am cleaning our tiny apartment or cooking a meal in our tiny kitchen, I find it immensely comforting to listen (and watch when I can) a NPR Tiny Desk concert.  Besides going along with the 'tiny' theme, there is something about watching and listening to people making music in intimate settings that really reaches my soul.  These short concerts were started in 2008 by Bob Boilen as a way to expose listeners to music in small a setting (his D.C. office) without all the extraneous background noise of people talking as you get in a bar.  The name was taken from Boilen's 1970s dance band Tiny Desk Unit.  In 2020 it was rebranded as Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts with artists recording in their own homes.  Since its inception there have been over 800 concerts recorded, so you have many options in many genres to choose from.  I personally enjoy listening to artists that are new to me but, once in a while, I include an old favorite like Sting.

  Diane Novosel – Leechburg, Pennsylvania

I tend to use Pandora when doing food prep.  If it’s summer, it is usually Levon Helm or Ry Cooder radio.  But lately, I must confess, my favorite is Paris Cafe Society Radio that plays lots of cool Django inspired tracks as well as jazzy accordion.  It is tres cool, mon ami!

  Steve Dilley – Nice, California

I love to listen to Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Etta Jones, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, Tony Bennett and late 40s/50's music when cooking.  It allows me to concentrate on the meal I am prepping.  And, when I am having folks over, it is the perfect background music as everyone shows up and things get underway.  Everyone is familiar with the tunes so they don't compete with the conversation. 

  Linda Hansen – Seattle, Washington

Here in the Hansen household, we survived the pandemic by turning it into a jamdemic.  Especially in the early stages of the lockdown, with actual stages shutdown, our nightly viewing consisted of music documentaries: Once Were Brothers…Janis: Little Girl Blue…Amy…What Happened, Miss Simone?...The Other One…Echo In The Canyon…Quincy…The Two Killings of Sam Cooke…and plenty of others became catalysts for deep dives into an artist’s repertoire.  And then, for several days after, we’d listen to a band’s catalogue during our evening meal prep and cooking with an extra level of appreciation.  Then, with vaccines, Biden and hope on the horizon, we discovered Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (a four-season musical comedy on the CW, currently streaming on Netflix).  The songs are almost all universally satiric, fall down funny and brilliantly mimic a variety of musical styles.  Beyond that, they’re just great, memorable songs. 

 

 

 

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Posted 3/21/21.....ALL THOSE YEARS AGO (Part Three of Three)

October.....November.....December.

In the previous post on musicasaurus.com (3/7/21), we dug deep into the albums released during the third quarter—July-August-September—of the year 1968.  Now we uncover other spellbinding releases from the remaining three months of this landmark year of social and cultural upheaval—and we’ve added in a meaty, meaningful song selection from each...

OCTOBER

  Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland (their 3rd) – “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”  https://youtu.be/IZBlqcbpmxY

Have you ever been experienced?  Well, I have…Electric Ladyland, the double album from the Jimi Hendrix Experience featuring guitarist Hendrix with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Miller, came out on the heels of 1967’s double shot of musical espresso Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold as Love.  Musicians and music fans alike were agog at the sounds that Hendrix could produce on guitar.  Electric Ladyland’s side one, two, three & four demanded an investment of openness and time from the listener, but the album in its entirety also provided a complete immersion into Hendrix’s unique world of sonic invention and unbridled creativity.

Some people would have loved to be in the thick of things at Woodstock or Live Aid or the first Bonnaro, or some other landmark music event.  I would not.  I prefer to scale my wish down to being just a fly on the wall at any of Hendrix’s in-studio recording sessions for this album.  According to an October 16, 2018 “look back” article by Dan Epstein on rollingstone.com, Hendrix had been in the process in April and May 1968 of recording Electric Ladyland but also indulging in the habit of jamming after hours at a NYC nightclub called the Scene.  On the evening of May 2nd at the club Hendrix bumped into keyboard player Stevie Winwood from Traffic and bassist Jack Casady from the Jefferson Airplane.  He invited them back to the nearby Record Plant studio for a jam session that ultimately also included drummer Mitch Mitchell.  Hendrix’s engineer Eddie Kramer set up the mikes for recording, and according to writer Epstein, Kramer’s goal for this late-night session was to achieve a distinct live-in-concert sound for this particular track.  “Three takes later,” Epstein writes, “the slow blues ‘Voodoo Chile’ was committed to tape for posterity; audience sounds were subsequently overdubbed to give it more of a ‘club’ vibe.”  The completed jam clocked in just shy of fifteen minutes.

Peer musician and fellow guitarist Carlos Santana once weighed in on how inspiring and mind-blowing Hendrix was when playing “Voodoo Chile.”  On a website called ducksdeluxe.comSantana is quoted as saying "I especially always liked it when Jimi Hendrix would play the song and then he'd go on to, uh, Chainsaw Massacre Tasmanian Devil Aurora Borealis Galaxy.  I liked it when he'd start with the feedback…I'm sure he did it many times but I only saw him do it one time where the guitar became like an Aurora Borealis and all these colors of sound were screaming out of it even though he wasn't putting his fingers on it.  That's kinda like invoking ghosts or something and that's my favorite part that I miss about Jimi is when he would open up certain channels and let certain demons and angels dance together.”  [Editor’s note: Does this not sound, here and there, a bit more like Carl Sagan than Carlos Santana?!!]

Another noteworthy track on Electric Ladyland is actually a shortened version of Hendrix’s epic “Voodoo Chile.”  This song is “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and is five minutes long, but “slight” is not a word I’d ever use to describe it.  It hits the listener like a gale-force wind.  The tune was recorded in the studio on the morning of May 3rd by the Experience core unit—Hendrix, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding—as ABC Network cameras recorded them for a short news feature set up by the band’s publicist.  Recording engineer Eddie Kramer looked back on this in an article in Guitar World magazine that was published on August 19, 2013: “‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ was recorded the day after Jimi tracked ‘Voodoo Chile,’ the extended jam on Electric Ladyland featuring Traffic’s Stevie Winwood on organ and Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady.  Basically, Jimi used the same setup—his Strat through a nice, warm Fender Bassman amp.  Jimi’s sound on both tracks is remarkably consistent, leading some to think they were recorded at the same session.”

Electric Ladyland was the third Jimi Hendrix Experience album and their last as the original groundbreaking trio.  The group broke up officially in June of 1969…Hendrix then played at Woodstock with new bassist Billy Cox that August…Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys with Cox and new drummer Buddy Miles recorded an album at the Fillmore East right at the turn of the ‘60s into the ‘70s…and Hendrix, whose experiences always pressed the boundaries of the experimental, died in September 1970 in a London flat from a drug overdose.  He was 27 years old.

  William Shatner – The Transformed Man (his debut) – “Theme from Cyrano/Mr. Tambourine Man”  https://youtu.be/V6ZOIIp2wEo… and … “Spleen/Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”  https://youtu.be/Ls42F23V6rQ

William Shatner will always be remembered, and revered, as Captain James T. Kirk of the 1966-1969 television series Star Trek.  Though the program aired less than three years overall it hugely influenced popular culture for many years to come.  And that’s all fine, but did Captain Kirk have to record an album that lives in musical infamy?

Shatner was riding high as Kirk when he branched out to do a spoken word album that became his recording debut.  The result was The Transformed Man, a collection of tracks that each consisted of a bit of classic poetry immediately segueing into pop music lyrics.  At the age of fifteen and already a diehard follower of my generation’s emerging new music, I found my mind beclouded by Shatner’s recording.  My friends and I were honestly aghast at his decision to boldly go where no actor had gone before—in our view, “desecrating” our music—because we were alternately quite enamored of him as the heroic, crusading captain of our favorite fleet starship.  

Our respect for Shatner the man thus fizzled and died, though we eagerly continued to devour the various adventures of his alter ego Kirk until June 1969 when the television voyages of the Starship Enterprise came to a close.  I believe heavy metal musician/filmmaker Rob Zombie succinctly captured the appeal of the program to youthful male followers when he once stated: “James T. Kirk inspired me as a child.  What I learned from him was that even when stranded on a hostile alien planet, such as Beta Antares IV, there will always be an abundant surplus of hot alien babes in silver bikinis ready to party.”

  Jethro Tull – This Was (their debut) – “My Sunday Feeling” (from This Was)  https://youtu.be/nzjp-cFkNoE… and … “Bourée” (as performed by Ian Anderson and astronaut Cady Coleman)  https://youtu.be/XeC4nqBB5BM

1968 was the beginning of the Tull tale.  This Was, the British rock band’s debut album, reflected the group’s initial blues & jazz influences as exemplified by the swinging “My Sunday Feeling.”  Their approach to their second album and beyond gave way to more progressive rock leanings, but more importantly this debut record handed to rock music a real “first”—the flute as lead instrument.  Ian Anderson was the wild-eyed, high-stepping lead singer and flautist who had reportedly only picked up this instrument (a switch from guitar) a few months before the recording of the first album had begun.

Anderson continued to provide firsts throughout his career, none more acclaimed than the April 2011 first “Space/Planet Earth” duet, in which astronaut Cady Coleman of the International Space Station—220 miles above our planet—played with earthbound Anderson on the Tull instrumental "Bourée."  This jazzy reworking of a composition by Johann Sebastian Bach appears in its original form on Tull’s second album Stand Up (which immediately followed 1968’s This Was).  Coleman was a Tull fan and amateur flautist, and she had brought her instrument along with her on her six-month stay in space.  Her duet with Ian Anderson was performed in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first launch of a human being in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961.

  Nazz – Nazz (their debut) – “Open My Eyes”  https://youtu.be/apW-fj11T_k

When Nazz first formed in Philadelphia as part of the psychedelic wave of new artists emerging in the mid-to-late Sixties, multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren was twenty years old and a huge fan of the earliest British Invasion bands like The Beatles, The Who and The Yardbirds.  “Open My Eyes” was all slashing power chords and pop momentum, and the song’s conclusion was a noteworthy psychedelically phased fadeout.  It was the standout track on the album and the song gained a second spike in awareness within a larger pool of music fans four years later, when the soon-to-be prized compilation double album Nuggets: Originaly Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 hit record stores across the country.

Rundgren departed Nazz in 1969 and jumpstarted a solo career, recording and releasing a string of pop/rock albums throughout the 1970s and beyond, beginning with Runt (1970), Runt/The Ballad of Todd Rundgren(1971) and the double album Something/Anything? (1972).  A perpetually curious and resourceful do-it-yourselfer, Rundgren quickly progressed to the point of engineering and producing his albums while playing, in most instances, every note of every instrument and singing every lead and backup vocal.  And his prowess in production led to achievements in engineering and/or producing other artists’ works as well, including select recordings by The Band (Stagefright), Grand Funk (We’re an American Band)the New York Dolls self-titled debut and Meat Loaf’s debut (Bat Out of Hell).  Rundgren had essentially become—and here I’m appropriately copping the title from one of his later albums—a wizard, a true star.

  1910 Fruitgum Company – 1, 2, 3, Red Light (their 3rd) – “1, 2, 3, Red Light”  https://youtu.be/u1Vy8fNCn6Y

No scintillating social commentary from this band, but they were prolific.  In 1968 the 1910 Fruitgum Company released in quick succession several albums of musical goo—sticky sweet and disposable pop songs that were like an earwig, the insect from a classic TV episode of Rod Serling’s early-‘70s horror anthology program Night Gallery.  In this episode, the indiscriminately hungry insect finds its way into one unfortunate soul’s ear and the end result is essentially brain matter on a platter.  The 1910 Fruitgum Company’s songs similarly wormed their way into young impressionable minds back in 1968 and were incredibly hard to dislodge.

The band was a commercial contrivance of Buddah Records’ head Neil Bogart who felt that society needed a sugary break from the societal and cultural upheavals of the day, so he courted and/or constructed several bubblegum pop music groups that each churned out some chart-toppers.  The Fruitgum boys unleashed three total albums in 1968, with two of them yielding very popular bits of brain mush: “Simon Says” was the hit song from the band’s Simon Says album released in April, and the album 1, 2, 3, Red Light followed in October with its title song becoming a chart climber as well.  Also on this October release of theirs was another lip-smackin’ bubblegum favorite “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,” which was originally perpetrated on the public earlier that same year by a group called the Ohio Express.

  Traffic – Traffic (their 2nd) – “Forty Thousand Headmen”  https://youtu.be/pDI5BWmITNs… and … “Feelin’ Alright”  https://youtu.be/xYXxbtkGtW0

This was one of those cases where Traffic leads to a major collision.  The band had formed in the Spring of 1967 in Birmingham, England comprised of Steve Winwood (vocals/keyboards & guitar), Dave Mason (vocals/guitar), Jim Capaldi (vocals/drums & percussion) and Chris Wood (saxophone & flute).  After the band’s debut album Mr. Fantasy was released in the UK in late ’67 and in the U.S. in early ’68, Winwood and Mason each felt a strong tug to push the band down a set musical path.  Mason tended toward mainstream pop rock but Winwood more toward jazz and experimental folk-rock, so Dave Mason was kicked out the door—which turned out to be a revolving one.  

Mason was invited back into the band to record the second album Traffic, but then departed again when this record hit stores in October 1968.  The whole band then went kaput a few months after that.  But there was certainly magic to be savored in this second record through the dueling songwriting talents: Winwood & Capald brought about “Pearly Queen” and “Forty Thousand Headmen,” and Mason contributed “You Can All Join In” and the classic song “Feelin’ Alright” which became more or less immortalized by becoming Cocker-ized.  British singer Joe Cocker forever staked his claim to the song by covering it on his debut album With a Little Help from My Friends which came out in the spring of 1969.

  Walter Carlos – Switched-On Bach (his/her debut) – (link to way more info: http://www.wendycarlos.com/+sob.html)

Switched-On Bach was revelatory at the time.  On this album we heard for the first time Johann Sebastian’s mood music turned into Moog music, and this was one of the first widely hailed uses of the still relatively new Moog synthesizer.  The Moog then reportedly soared into even wider acceptance among musicians as previous stabs at experimentation with it were of limited scope and impact.  Switched-On Bach sparked such interest that the instrument’s creator, American engineer Robert Moog, received numerous requests by musicians across the spectrum.  In rock music the Moog then found its way into select songs by The Beatles on their Abbey Road album, and into some Rolling Stones and Doors’ tunes, and it was especially well received by newly emerging progressive rock groups of the era such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes and Tangerine Dream.

A sidebar about Walter Carlos switching sides: four years after the initial release of Switched-On Bach in 1968, Walter Carlos became Wendy Carlos through sex reassignment surgery reportedly made possible in part by the success of the album.  Two more albums from Carlos followed in 1973 and 1975—ostensibly for marketing reasons still under the name Walter instead of Wendy—but then in 1979 Wendy went public with the news through an interview with Playboy Magazine.  Her revelations through the media at this time ultimately helped jumpstart the consciousness-raising of transgender issues in this country. 

(In the place of a sample track from Switched-On Bach, which YouTube seemingly does not have the rights to upload onto its site, I have supplied a link to a much more fleshed-out “behind the music” look at Switched-On Bach at wendycarlos.com).

NOVEMBER

  Neil Young – Neil Young (his debut) – “The Loner”  https://youtu.be/rX5bDqk7Qmo

Young was a founding member of revered L.A.-based rock group Buffalo Springfield and this talented ensemble split asunder in July 1968 due to band tensions, diverging interests, some drugs in the picture, and more.  Four months later the 23-year-old Neil Young released his first solo album Neil Young, and I eagerly scooped it up one Saturday afternoon at the local Woolworths department store in my hometown of Butler, PA.  I had been an avid Springfield fan, and so this solo debut of Neil’s was my springboard to forever thinking Young.

I found a few online reviews recently that confirmed my conflicted feelings about the album. This was a transitional work with a few gems—including the can’t-miss track “The Loner”—but greatness was still on the horizon.  The online music-oriented blog site progrography.com says in its review “His first record is more or less an extension of his work with Buffalo Springfield: fuzzed-out electric guitar, folk/pop with psychedelic touches, ambitious arrangements that sometimes overreach their audience and a certain lyrical obtuseness that suggests a more rustic Bob Dylan.”  

And Pitchfork.com’s December 11, 2009 review by contributor Mark Richardson describes the album as a “fine psych-tinged folk-rock set with colorful arrangements and top-shelf instrumental contributors…But Young himself sounds oddly tentative throughout, as if he weren't quite sure what he wanted his music to sound like…There are echoes of the great music to come, like the ballad ‘The Old Laughing Lady,’ and the arrangements are lush and inviting, but Neil Young in a sense represents a road not taken, and it's most interesting now in comparison to what was to come.”

Copy that.  Just one year later Young had corralled Crazy Horse, his merry men back-up band, and recorded and released Everybody Know This Is Nowhere.  Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson ended his review of Young’s self-titled solo debut album by saying “The opening riff to ‘Cinnamon Girl,’ the song that kicks off Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, erases the memory of Neil Young completely in about five seconds.”

  John Mayall – Blues from Laurel Canyon (his 6thstudio album) – “Walking on Sunset”  https://youtu.be/D8ZlvuuRlkY

John Mayall was an English blues musician who just might have been rock music’s greatest talent scout.  He helmed a band called The Bluesbreakers and between 1963 and 1967 as various members climbed aboard for a spell but then set sail elsewhere, Mayall replaced each departing musician with someone equally suited to the task.  The Bluesbreakers courtesy of Mayall’s ear to the ground and eye for musical talent featured, along the band’s pathway, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Mick Taylor, Aynsley Dunbar, Andy Fraser, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Keef Hartley…

Blues from Laurel Canyon was Mayall’s first album after the breakup of The Bluesbreakers in mid 1968, and the inspiration for this record resulted from Mayall’s visit to Laurel Canyon, a mountainous region in the Hollywood Hills West district of Los Angeles.  After recording the album back in London Mayall moved to Laurel Canyon and stayed the next ten years, settling in with a burgeoning crowd of talented musicians who had flocked to the area including Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, members of The Byrds, Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Carole King, Canned Heat, members of The Eagles, Jackson Browne and many more.  Blues From Laurel Canyon proved to be a transitional album for Mayall—still blues, but with other hues.  And this new home base for Mayall set him on a new path that resulted just one year later in the acoustic instrument-dominated live album The Turning Point, a real triumph in this blues man’s enduring catalogue of memorable works.

  Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (his 2nd) – “Cypress Avenue”  https://youtu.be/dlMjmXb69NI

This was the second album from Northern Irish singer-songwriter Morrison.  The first—1967’s Blowin’ Your Mind!—was a thrown-together affair by Morrison’s old record label Bang who did so without his consent, though it did give wings once again to his hit single “Brown Eyed Girl.”  1968’s Astral Weeks was a startling departure, says allmusic.com writer William Ruhlmann: “Astral Weeks is generally considered one of the best albums in pop music history, but for all that renown, it is anything but an archetypal rock & roll album.  It isn't a rock & roll album at all…Morrison’s songs are an instinctive, organic mixture of Celtic folk, blues, and jazz…They are, for the most part, extended, incantatory, loosely narrative, and poetic ruminations on his Belfast upbringing: its characters, shops, streets, alleys, and sidewalks, all framed by the innocence and passage of that era.” 

Unfortunately Ruhlmann’s critical assessment is just a look backward, for most every review from the year of the album’s release was at best lukewarm and the public as well just kind of shrugged.  Sales success eluded AstralWeeks and was quite dispiriting to both Morrison and his brand new record label Warner Brothers.  But the singer-songwriter refocused and retooled his approach to the next album, and two years later the galvanizing Moondance blew down record store doors and saturated the airwaves.  Van the Man was well on his way.

  The Beatles –  The White Album (their 9th) – “Revolution 1” (from the White Album)  https://youtu.be/OmsXsIv2Ppw… “Revolution” (the “radio single” version prior to the White Album’s release)  https://youtu.be/BGLGzRXY5Bw

I’ll wager that most people ages 18 to 80 know at least a bit about The Beatles’ double-record set commonly called the White Album, so I am honing in on just one of the interesting aspects of this release that pointedly centers on the social upheaval that was rocking our country in 1968.

John Lennon wrote the song “Revolution” that year.  The things that spurred him into action were American cities reeling from the turmoil of civil rights disturbances and anti-war demonstrations, but also the turbulence abroad—Paris contending with student protests and workers’ strikes, Czechoslovakia experiencing the Prague Spring, and on and on. 

Lennon was a pacifist at heart but “Revolution” is a clear case of mixed messages from the man, for he wrote and then released two different versions of the song—and the difference comes down to a single word.  In August of 1968, three months before the White Album’s release, the Fab Four released to radio their newest single “Hey Jude.”  Lennon had successfully pressed his mates to agree to make the “B” side of this single his song “Revolution” and in this version of the tune Lennon sings “But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out.”  Reportedly Lennon and the boys then received blowback from fans for this sentiment, particularly from ones who were way left of center in their political world-view.  The tune rocked, though, with guitar distortion and Lennon’s searing lead vocal, and radio of course embraced it.

But a surprise was in store for Beatle’s fans—or at least the most astute of Beatles’ fans—when the White Album was released in November.  Side four of this double album kicked off with a revised “Revolution”—now called “Revolution 1”—that was slower and more bluesy, its messaging loping along rather than racing and raging as in the “radio singles” version released in August.  Lennon’s lyrics on this new version on the White Album“But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out, in.”  This one-word addition to the lyrics illustrated Lennon’s bit of ambivalence over the use of violence in political protests—and it’s interesting to note that this medium-tempo album cut “Revolution 1” was actually the first of the two versions recorded by the boys, yet it came second in terms of reaching the public’s ears (through the White Album).

  John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins (their first collaborative recording) – Side One in its entirety: https://youtu.be/Muaw4pPD_O8

Right on the heels of the Beatles’ White Album, the married-to-someone-else John Lennon and his brand new love and artistic confidant Yoko Ono recorded and released the album Unfinished Music No. 1:Two Virgins.  The album was doubly surprising in terms of its cover artwork and its content.  The cover of the album was a full frontal photo of John & Yoko standing together, and the album’s backside was…well, their backsides.  The record label was wary of the artists’ decision so a brown paper wrapper was ordered to cloak the front and the back of the album—with the exception of John & Yoko’s faces—before it was shipped out in bulk for public consumption.  

According to Schmidtt, a contributing writer to rateyourmusic.com (a site self-described as “one of the largest music databases and communities online”), John Lennon had made a deal to exclusively provide fledging music magazine owner Jann Wenner with an advance copy of the posteriors photo.  This photo then ran as the cover of the Rolling Stone issue dated 11/23//68 that hit newsstands and bookstores just before Two Virgins hit record stores.  This move, says Schmidtt, was “a major coup for the struggling magazine.  The controversy engendered by the cover…easily made this the most successful issue of Rolling Stone up to this point.”  

Unsurprisingly, Rolling Stone reviewer Jonathan Cott later on in March 1969 gave the album an ecstatic review, although most critics and a rather large swath of the public were simply baffled by it.  “Two Virgins must have been a shock to fans coming on the heels of The White Album,” says Schmidtt, “yet even in the context of the avant-garde, this was hardly the ground-breaking experimental work Jonathan Cott purports it to be.  As William Ruhlmann later wrote, Two Virgins ‘is not unlike what you might get if you turned on a tape recorder for a random half-hour in your home.’  

“To my ears,” concludes Schmidtt, “this mind-numbing LP makes 'Revolution #9' sound like Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.”

DECEMBER

  Blood, Sweat & Tears – Blood, Sweat & Tears (their 2nd) – “God Bless the Child”  https://youtu.be/3qS9JMJ0aaE

Blood, Sweat & Tears is making its second appearance in Musicasaurus.com’s three-part wrap-up of the formative, fascinating albums that rolled on out to record stores and radio stations in 1968, a landmark year of divisions and unity and shifting social & cultural norms.  The first mention of BS&T was in Musicasaurus.com’s 2/21/21 roundup in the February listings, noting that musician Al Kooper was the initial driving force behind the formation of the band and the recording and release of the critically acclaimed first album Child is Father to the Man.  Kooper and two other musicians departed the band after this first album and two of BS&T’s remaining members scoured for a lead singer, eventually settling on a charismatic front man from Toronto, Canada named David Clayton-Thomas.

Clayton-Thomas’ addition helped serve to overhaul the sound of BS&T.  The music became less adventurous and risk-taking according to some critics including Jon Landau of Rolling Stone magazine, but the general public responded to the changes with open arms and opened-up pocketbooks.  Select songs from this clearly more pop-oriented album became ubiquitous on hit radio stations across the country through the beginning months of 1969, spurring an explosion of sales for this second album that easily dwarfed the first.  I must admit that certain BS&T #2 tracks sounded great on my parents’ stereo console and the song arrangements and execution were polished if not entirely riveting.  The album was just a bit formulaic and, sigh, wasn’t any kind of game changer.  Fed and led by radio play, though, this album conquered the national sales charts and led to Grammy wins and other accolades.

The chart-climbing hit songs from this album were “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” (first heard in 1967 as performed by Motown’s Tamla label recording artist Brenda Holloway), “Spinning Wheel” (a David Clayton-Thomas original), and “And When I Die” (a cover of a song originally written and recorded by Laura Nyro).  And…Musicasaurus.com will always have a soft spot for BS&T’s version of “God Bless the Child,” a cover of the 1941 Billie Holiday classic.

  Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet (their 9thAmerican studio album release) – “Street Fighting Man”  https://youtu.be/SY9nmXV0ieY

“Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy / 'Cause summer's here and the time is right / For fighting in the street, boy”…The Rolling Stones was yet another group caught up in and reflecting back on the rocking, roiling year of 1968 with its upheavals and political unrest in spots across the globe.  “Street Fighting Man” opened up side two of this Stones record which was a return to form after the band’s last album, their excursion into psychedelica, 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request.  Beggars Banquet, coming exactly one year after that, was infused with the blues and a bit of country amidst the rock ‘n’ roll.  It quickly became a Stones triumph in sales (helped by radio’s embrace of side one’s opener “Sympathy for the Devil”) and most critics lined up with praises for the album as well.

In Mark Paytress’ 2003 book on the band, The Rolling Stones: Off the Record, Mick Jagger is asked about “Street Fighting Man” and the airplay ban on it by Chicago radio stations in the summer of 1968.  The song had been released (ahead of Beggars Banquet’s December release) as a single to radio stations in August, and this just happened to coincide with the Democratic National Convention in Chicago where anti-war rioters were wild in the streets and the police were flexing their muscles (and wielding batons) in a major crackdown.  Chicago radio stations temporarily withdrew “Street Fighting Man” from their playlists for fear of further incitement, and Jagger commented “I'm rather pleased to hear they have banned (the song).  The last time they banned one of our records in America, it sold a million.”  When told that stations thought the record was subversive, Jagger replied, “Of course it's subversive!  It's stupid to think you can start a revolution with a record. I wish you could.”

Also in 1968, the Stones mined a televised opportunity to help promote the release of Beggars Banquet.  On December 11thand 12thin a London studio the band put on a show entitled The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus with invited musical guests playing on a makeshift circus stage, and an audience of followers dressed in a variety of colorful hats, cloaks and wraps that looked lifted en masse from a Carnaby Street boutique.  The guest artists included Jethro Tull, John and Yoko, Taj Mahal, The Who and Marianne Faithfull who each had a turn in the spotlight.  The Stones played “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” from earlier works, but largely concentrated on material from Beggars Banquet including “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Salt of the Earth,” “Parachute Woman” and “No Expectations.”  

The finished television special never saw the light of day, however, to actually help promote Beggars Banquet’s December release.  A number of reasons have been cited for this including the group’s reported dissatisfaction with some aspects of the performances, but finally this interesting period piece made it to home video (and compact disc) almost thirty years after the fact.  The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus video was released on VHS in 1996 and subsequently on DVD in 2004.

  James Taylor – James Taylor (his album debut) – “Carolina in my Mind”  https://youtu.be/Ss3uDHsGz44

Taylor at the age of twenty signed a recording deal with The Beatles’ Apple Records, and his self-titled first studio album (following an earlier extended-play, or EP, recording) debuted shortly thereafter in December 1968.  The Boston-born singer-songwriter had auditioned directly with Paul McCartney and George Harrison in London and ended up being the first non-Brit to be signed to the Beatles’ label.  And Taylor’s producer on the record, Peter Asher, eventually became his manager.  As The Beatles were busy in the studio recording the White Album Taylor was there on the premises as well, refining songs for inclusion on his record like “Something in the Way She Moves” (a bit of an inspiration for George Harrison’s “Something”) and “Carolina in my Mind” (on which McCartney ended up playing bass, with Harrison contributing backing vocals).

In the U.S. edition of The Guardian, on February 17, 2020, interviewer Jenny Stevens talked with Taylor about his career path including his time with Apple Records, but also about his subsequent move to Los Angeles the year after his debut album James Taylor was released in late 1968.  Taylor, who since the age of sixteen had been in and out of bouts with depression and especially drugs, went into a rehab facility and moved to Laurel Canyon which was, according to Stevens, “becoming a haven for the young, politically aware and creative.”  

The Troubadour nightclub in particular became a mecca for aspiring singer-songwriters, and Taylor told his interviewer that this Laurel Canyon environment for him was a dream situation: "‘It really was a perfect moment, that Laurel Canyon period,’ Taylor recalled.  ‘Carole lived up there, Joni and I lived in her house there for the better part of a year.  The record companies were relatively benign and there were people in them who cared about the music and the artists—it hadn’t become a corporate monolith yet.  There was a sense of there being a community: myself, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Crosby, Stills and Nash.  David Geffen was in the mix a lot.  Linda Ronstadt, Peter Asher, Harry Nilsson.  You know, it was pretty much what they say.  Things really worked well.’”

In early 1970 Taylor released his second studio album Sweet Baby James, riding the wave of California’s crystallizing singer-songwriter movement that was gaining steam and growing a fan base as the ‘70s dawned.

  Electric Flag – An American Music Band (their 2nd) – “Sunny”  https://youtu.be/WVe7nDfbj5c

Electric Flag—a mixed-bag band of rock and blues and some soul—had originally been cobbled together in San Francisco in 1967 by blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield.  The talented lineup included singer/drummer Buddy Miles who stepped up to the leadership role for this second record after Bloomfield exited only a few months after the band’s initial album was released in March 1968.  The quality of musicianship here is high—aided by the group’s four-piece horn section—but the song selections as a whole don’t jell quite enough to make this album a must-have.  But hey, there IS this one song “Sunny”…

“Sunny” was originally a hit for Nashville-based African-American singer Bobby Hebb in 1966.  Amazingly it became a smash across three national radio formats that year—Pop, Rhythm & Blues, and Country & Western.  And the song has since by covered by a mind-dizzying number of signature artists including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, The Four Seasons, Marvin Gaye, Cher, Boney M and many others—but for my money it is Electric Flag’s “Sunny.”

On An American Music Band Electric Flag cranks up the voltage and turns Bobby Hebb’s soul-jazz version into a funk-fueled rhythm & blues monster.  Drummer and vocalist Buddy Miles, supported by the nine other stellar musicians who comprised this fine 1960s ensemble, injects the tune with an unbridled vocal passion that borders on tour de force.  

  Spirit – The Family That Plays Together (their 2nd) – “I Got a Line on You”  https://youtu.be/mzoQvuCfin4

The formation of the versatile, groundbreaking band Spirit came about because of something that didn’t happen.  In the spring of 1966 the mother and stepfather of Randy California (real name Randy Craig Wolfe) moved the family to New York City from Los Angeles because of upcoming summer bookings there secured by gig drummer/stepfather Ed Cassidy.  Young California was a bit of a wunderkind, quite accomplished on guitar, and in NYC he reportedly by chance ran into Jimi Hendrix in Manny’s Music, a long established music instrument store in midtown Manhattan.  The two clicked and California was asked to join Hendrix’s current band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames for their NYC summer shows.  Some sources say that during that summer California was asked by former Animals bassist and future Hendrix manager Chas Chandler to come over to England to join him and Jimi there in other musical pursuits.  But California’s parents would not let him go—he was only fifteen at the time and they insisted he finish high school back in Los Angeles. 

Instead of possibly joining Hendrix’s soon-to-be-formed band the Experience, then, California went back to L.A. and formed Spirit in 1967 with his stepfather Cassidy, singer-songwriter Jay Ferguson, bassist Mark Andes and keyboard player John Locke.  The multi-talented quintet produced four innovative and eclectic recordings between 1968-1970—their self-titled debut, The Family That Plays Together, Clear and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus—but shortly thereafter largely due to a lack of solid success the original lineup scattered in other directions.  But those first four releases truly enchanted a number of fervent followers across the U.S. who came to love the band’s boundary-pushing approach to both songwriting and the recording process.  Spirit spun out rock, prog-rock, near-folk tunes, bits of psychedelia, jazz passages and even some string-laden classical instrumentals—but all composed and executed with aplomb.  

The track “I Got a Line on You” from 1968’s The Family That Plays Together is the one from the Spirit catalogue that was a bona fide hit in the USA, climbing to #25 in the country on music industry magazine Billboard’s “Hot 100.”  And the album itself, which reached #22 on the magazine’s “Top 200 Albums” chart, is an impressive sonic swirl from beginning to end.  The band had moved beyond their self-titled debut album’s lean on psychedelica, and with great songwriting, guitar layers, keen engineering of the sounds they employed, and the weaving in of other musical styles, The Family That Plays Together was quite an achievement.  Thus Musicasaurus.com proclaims, loudly, that this album is made to be played LOUD.

  Elvis Presley – Elvis (NBC-TV Special) (his 34th) – “Jailhouse Rock”  https://youtu.be/xqBdTn3_0Rw

I never knew he had so many nicknames.  “The Hillbilly Cat,” “The Memphis Flash,” “The Hoppin’ Hillbilly,” “The Vibrating Valentino,” “The Tennessee Troubadour,” “Mr. Hound-Dog,” “Ol’ Snake Hips,” “Mr. Sideburns,” “The Pied Piper of Rock ’n’ Roll”…oh, and due to the entirely blocked-out (by censors) lower-half of Elvis’ body on his third Ed Sullivan Show appearance on January 6, 1957, we can never forget “Elvis the Pelvis.”

1968 was Elvis’ return to form.  According to graceland.com, Elvis’ comeback special airing on December 3rd on NBC was a “pivotal broadcast event that upped-the-ante on Elvis' career, the evolution of pop culture and the history of television.  By 1968, prior to the broadcast, Elvis was no longer seen by the mainstream as the atomic-powered rock and roll pioneer.  Since his discharge from the United States Army in 1960, Elvis' career path careened through a string of low-budget (though often successful) formulaic films while the rock music scene was exploding with innovation, experimentation, and an urgency to complement the turbulent era.  Elvis hadn't performed in public since 1961 and hadn't appeared on television since 1960.”

This TV special was recorded over several nights in June 1968, and presented Elvis in several settings.  It included an intimate seated performance on a small stage with guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer DJ Fontana, his mates from his early years; bigger production numbers featuring medleys; and a couple of songs backed by an orchestra and performed in front of a live audience.  The response from the public to the broadcast, and to the album that captured it, recharged and refocused The King.  His career began to balloon back on track with subsequent Memphis, Tennessee recording sessions that produced chart-position leapfroggers like “Suspicious Minds” and “In The Ghetto.”  And in 1969, Elvis began “livin’ las vegas loca”—he signed up for the first of many Vegas hotel engagements which then sustained him through the rest of his career.

But that TV special from December 1968…Today it is still considered a cultural touchstone.  As graceland.com further recounts, “For millions of fans, including a young Bruce Springsteen, the Elvis 68 Comeback Special was a life-changing event.  ‘I remember I waited for weeks for the ’68 Special," Springsteen recollected recently.  ‘I knew it was coming.  I can remember exactly where our TV was set up in the dining room, the exact place I was sitting.  I mean, it’s one of those things that’s imprinted on my memory forever.’”

 

 

 

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Posted 3/7/21.....ALL THOSE YEARS AGO (Part Two of Three)

   July.....August.....September.

In the previous post on musicasaurus.com (2/21/21), we dug deep into the albums released during the first six months of the year 1968.  Now we uncover other spellbinding releases from July, August and September of that year—and we’ve added in a meaty, meaningful song selection from each...

JULY 

  The Band – Music From Big Pink (their debut) – “The Weight”  https://youtu.be/QWu-f7HFFJE

About five miles away from Woodstock, New York in a salmon-colored, four-bedroom ranch house with a large basement, a band of musical brothers moved in to concentrate on writing and making music in early 1967.  One year later The Band’s debut album Music From Big Pink was the result.  In a short “Bio Bite” on the website biography.com, you’ll find a brief but praise-filled video clip of Eric Clapton speaking about the group and its initial release. 

Clapton talks about how The Band somehow managed to amalgamate a lot of his contemporaries’ black and country music influences and put it altogether on a startling new record that had great songwriting and musicianship par excellence.  “What I liked, I think, from the word go was a very clear and defined sense of direction.  They knew exactly what they were about.  There was no con; there was no bullshit.  It was absolutely legitimate songwriting without any kind of frills, and just performance with the best that they had to give.”  Clapton by this point in time had become dispirited over his own musical direction, and hearing Music From Big Pink so affected him that he broke up his incredibly successful blues-based psychedelic rock band Cream and launched into much more organic-sounding material through various stints with Blind Faith, Derek and The Dominos and then Delaney & Bonnie.  

Guitarist Jim Weider, who joined The Band in the early 1980s after the group came back together (sans Robertson) for the first time since 1976, commented on Music From Big Pink in a Billboard Magazine 7/1/2018 article by Ron Hunt.  “Big Pink is a landmark,” Weider noted.  “That was the beginning of Americana, which wasn’t a label back then.  It was totally anti-psychedelic and everything everybody was into at the time.  The songs had a story, and you could relate to them.  They took you on a journey.”  Music From Big Pink included the songs “Tears of Rage,” “Chest Fever,” “This Wheel’s on Fire,” “I Shall Be Released” and, of course, “The Weight.”

  The Doors – Waiting for the Sun (their 3rd) – “Five to One”  https://youtu.be/oOzpncIHCLs

If you are of a certain age and directly experienced and then fell in love with 1960s and 1970s music, you might be overlooking the fact that your worship of certain artists and albums is totally subjective—where were you, WHO were you, when you first heard certain songs or first ripped the shrink-wrap off of an artist’s new release?  There’s a bit of consensus among fans and critics back then and now in retrospect that The Doors’ third album Waiting For The Sun is not as exciting and incendiary, and as impressive, as their first two releases.  The initial reviews by Rolling Stone magazine and some other critics were lukewarm at best.  Rolling Stone’s Jim Miller wrote a review in September 1968 that “Listening to the Doors’ new album, Waiting For The Sun, reminded me…of how good the first Doors album was, yet after a year and a half of Jim Morrison’s posturing one might logically hope for some sort of musical growth, and if the new record isn’t really terrible, it isn’t particularly exciting either.”  

Another music critic, the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau renowned for his Consumer Guide, looked back at the band through his review of the 2001 compilation album The Very Best of the Doors.  Christgau wrote “Shaman, poet, lizard king—believe that guff and you'll miss a great pop band.  Ass man, schlockmeister, cosmic slimeball—that's where Jim Morrison's originality lies, and he's never been better represented.  Right beneath the back-door macho resides a weak-willed whine as El Lay as Jackson Browne's, and the struggle between the two would have landed him in Vegas if he hadn't achieved oblivion in Paris first.” (Paris is where Morrison died at the age of 27, a quite possible but never truly substantiated death by overdose.)  Christgau’s musings on Morrison may be harsh stuff but subjectively speaking, your judgment of the Lizard King and the band is the one that counts.  Musicasaurus is providing the link above to “Five To One” but feel free to open up your own doors of perception and sample other tracks from Waiting For The Sun like “Hello, I Love You” or “The Unknown Soldier.” 

  Tyrannosaurus Rex (later known as T. Rex) – My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair...But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (their debut) – “Child Star”  https://youtu.be/UC_hIE8mBZw

Fans of fantasy may delight that this particular theme runs through a lot of the musical works of English musician/singer-songwriter Marc Bolan, and certainly the elongated title of this first album provides a big clue.  Bolan ended up being incredibly popular in Britain especially in the early 1970s and he is looked upon as one of glam rock’s pioneers.  

His early material with Tyrannosaurus Rex (1968-1969) incorporated some Middle Eastern influences amid the folk-meets-psychedelia, but after three albums with duo partner Steve Peregine Took he changed partners and welcomed in percussionist Mickey Finn.  Bolan and Finn’s musical output began to shed the fantasy and folk emphases as well as their go-to instruments such as the Pixiphone (toy glockenspiels) in favor of electric guitars and a more fleshed-out rock sound which culminated (commercially speaking) in 1971’s Electric Warrior.  This was the first T. Rex album that sported additional members in full rock-band mode and the second to bear their new, shortened name T. Rex.  A few months after the release of Electric Warrior, the band broke through big-time over in the USA as Bolan rapturously, in one noteworthy song, banged a gong and got it on.  

This creative soul unfortunately died young; he didn’t exactly follow in the footsteps of the “27 club”—i.e., Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison who all perished at 27 in a three-year period at the turn of the Sixties—but Bolan only lived two more years longer than they did.  He died in a car crash in September 1977 at the age of 29.

  Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills – Super Session (this trio’s one and only release) – “Season of the Witch”  https://youtu.be/fhGD-CybjDk

The three principals on this quickly concocted recording had just left, or were in the process of leaving, their respective bands—blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield from The Electric Flag, musician/producer Al Kooper from Blood, Sweat & Tears, and guitarist Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield.  Kooper was the instigator for the session having jammed with Bloomfield earlier in 1968 on a Moby Grape release.  According to michaelbloomfield.com, Kooper was restless to give the guitarist an atmosphere that would potentially unshackle him from the typical rock record studio setting.  He wanted to capture the essence of jazz recordings, which around that time usually involved a full steam ahead approach with quick player mobilization and only a handful of days to record and finalize an album. 

When Bloomfield never materialized for the second day of recording—having contributed to a handful of bluesy instrumentals the day before—session producer Kooper put out a quick call to Stills to fill the bill and the latter sizzled on the eventual second side of the album with tracks including a long and luxurious cover of Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch.”  Some rock critics have postulated that this was the first recorded “supergroup” situation; following shortly on the heels of Super Session was (coincidentally or not) the formation of groups including Crosby, Stills & Nash and the teaming up of Eric Clapton with Steve Winwood in Blind Faith.

  Miles Davis – Miles in the Sky (as best we can determine, this release was his 42nd(!) album in terms of the artist’s total output) – “Stuff”  https://youtu.be/C9rDt8SuH7k

According to those that pigeonhole—some call it catalogue—musicians’ careers and their evolution, jazz legend Miles Davis had two great quintets on his long and winding road of producing landmark recordings.  Davis’ first lasted from 1955 to 1958 (principally composed of John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones) and the second from 1964 to 1969 (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams).  It was this latter outfit that produced this pivotal recording with leader Miles.  Reportedly the album’s title was a play on The Beatle’s song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and through that alone maybe one could sense the shift beginning to happen in Miles’ music.  In an August 2019 roundup and ranking of Miles Davis’ top twenty recordings by writer John Fordham in theguardian.com, Miles in the Sky comes in at #19 and Fordham labels it a “patchily intriguing set…flagging the ever-changing Miles’ migration from free-swinging jazz to rock.”  This was truly a transitional album for Miles; just one year later, an electrifying, now gone-electric Miles released the seminal album In A Silent Way.

  Moody Blues – In Search of the Lost Chord (their 3rd) – “Legend of a Mind”  https://youtu.be/2WMA3LVi6Zg

This band of Brits was originally rhythm & blues-based but changed directions in 1967 at the advice of their record label Decca, practically birthing the meld of classical music and rock ‘n’ roll through their resulting album Days of Future Passed (their second release).  This mix of orchestral sweep and British rock lodged in my fourteen-year-old brain and spurred my search for even more things with mellotrons and strings.  And the subsequent Moody’s release did not disappoint; there were beautiful and billowy tunes such as “Voices in the Sky” but also classical-infused rockers like “Ride My See-Saw” and the chosen sample track listed above, “Legend Of A Mind.”  Perhaps the latter song was a result of acid reflex—four of the band members reportedly had experimented with LSD in early 1967, and the song itself centers on the charismatic and controversial 1960s psychedelic shaman, Timothy Leary (sample lyrics: “He'll fly his astral plane / He'll take you trips around the bay / He'll bring you back the same day / Timothy Leary…Timothy Leary.”

  Buffalo Springfield – Last Time Around (their 3rdand final) – “Questions”  https://youtu.be/fG0OarAwNhE

This band is one that holds a special place on rock genealogy charts, as three key members spun out of the band’s total two-year existence (April 1966 – May 1968) into other pursuits and projects and much wider recognition.  What had sprung up to end Springfield?  Drug busts, infighting, and (at the end) revolving-door band members—all of this fussin’ and feudin’ just ended up, thankfully, jettisoning the core members into their much greater adventures, collaborations and fame.  Guitarist/singer-songwriter Richie Furay went on to form Poco, and multi-instrumentalists/singer-songwriters Stephen Stills and Neil Young both went on to forge the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and to establish solo careers as well.  In retrospect, Last Time Around foretold the forward motion of these songwriting talents, as the record held compositional triumphs such as Furay’s “Kind Woman,” Stills’ “Questions” (a portion of which ended up later on being grafted onto the CSNY song “Carry On”), and Young’s “On The Way Home” and “I Am A Child.”

  Phil Ochs – Tapes from California(his 5th– “White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land”  https://youtu.be/VLLLsbAPNIQ

Eight albums and hundreds of songs—this was the legacy of the unfortunately largely unheralded Phil Ochs, a Sixties troubadour and troublemaker (the latter a handle handed out by “The Establishment”).  Ochs was witty, wily and prolific.  He wrote scores of songs dealing with America’s wrongdoings and about issues of justice and peace, and he spouted activism armed with just a clear, strong voice and an acoustic guitar.  In an allmusic.com review of Tapes from California, reviewer William Ruhlmann notes that this album which hit midyear in perhaps the most turbulent time period of the Sixties “was often hard to listen to, because it was such a frighteningly accurate portrait of its times, eerily mirroring the point at which passionate argument over the direction of the country spilled over into violence and a widespread sense of absurdity.” 

Musicasaurus.com’s sample track from Tapes from California is “White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land,” which includes damningly defiant lyrics such as “It's written in the ashes of the village towns we burn / It's written in the empty bed of the fathers unreturned / And the chocolate in the children’s eyes will never understand / When you're white boots marching in a yellow land.”  (p.s. Ochs did not go gently into that good night.  As the 1970s hit, he descended into mental problems due to a bipolar disorder and also was plagued with alcoholism.  He took his own life in 1976.)

AUGUST 

  Jeff Beck – Truth (his debut solo album) – “You Shook Me”  https://youtu.be/mRCGAyCe5gs

Jeff Beck, one of the original Sixties British guitar gods along with Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, has continued to produce compelling works to this day, exploring new sonic directions and collaborations to keep him challenged and to keep us fixated, if not outright flabbergasted.  Many decades back, the guitarist had been in The Yardbirds until the end of 1966 and Truth was his first substantial foray into solo recording, but he was well-armed—he’d picked up, to back him up, singer Rod Stewart, guitarist Ronnie Wood and session drummer Micky Waller. 

In a 11/28/06 article on Jeff Beck in PopMatters, an online pop culture magazine founded in 1999, Andrew Gilstrap discusses the impact of Beck’s Truth and Beck-Ola albums from this late ‘60s time period.  Gilstrap points out that “some credit Truth and Beck-Ola with laying the groundwork for heavy metal; whether or not that’s the case, there’s no denying his early influence.  Several techniques that we take for granted now—call and response between singer and guitar, phased guitar effects panning back and forth in the listener’s headphones, distortion—sounded fresh at this time, and Beck put them to good use with his new band.”

  Cream – Wheels of Fire (their 3rd) – “White Room”  https://youtu.be/V5BF1V1pbTs

Checking out various online sources, there is a bit of a discrepancy as to when Wheels of Fire was released in the USA—some said June in the States and August in the UK, but others maintain it was August here in the USA.  No great whoop; we’ll just park it here for discussion’s sake in this look at the essential third-quarter album releases from 1968.  I DO remember buying this double album along with Buffalo Springfield’s Last Time Around, and playing bits and pieces of both of them for my mom on our living room’s stereo console (phonograph cabinet).  I recall her saying that the Springfield sounded “nice” but that the Cream album was “too much noise”—in retrospect, I think she should have been a rock critic. 

Wheels of Fire is half studio (the first disc) and half live (the second disc, which contains select live-in-concert performances from March 7, 8 and/or 10, 1968 recorded at the San Francisco venues Winterland and the Fillmore).  I’m thinking now that my mom may have been majorly turned off by the excesses in length and fury that comprised that second disc.  But the studio tracks on disc #1 are ones to covet including the ubiquitous FM radio staple “White Room” and “Politician,” lesser known gems including “Deserted Cities of the Heart,” and the band’s covers of “Sitting On Top of the World” and “Born Under a Bad Sign.”  On the live disc “Crossroads” is also quite riveting, but this is balanced by—or rather, unbalanced by—the long, egregious and ego-serving performances of “Spoonful” (kudos, though, to Clapton’s prowess) and “Toad” (drummer Ginger Baker’s thirteen-minute solo in a sixteen-minute song).  To have been at the concert back then all hopped-up on “Toad” might have truly been hellacious but now listening anew it’d just be hellish.  You’d be tapping your foot, but it would only be from impatience.

  Big Brother & The Holding Company – Cheap Thrills (their 2nd) –  “Piece of My Heart”  https://youtu.be/ms1oXOtvfNY

A June 13, 2017 opinion piece in the New York Times written by Kevin D. Greene was entitled “The Greatest Musical Festival in History” and it looked back fifty years to the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, staged at a fairgrounds in Monterey, California where a crowd of 200,000 ultimately converged.  Greene described this as a “touchstone moment for the fusion of rock music, antiwar politics and the millions of young people…who that summer provided the driving force behind both.”  This was the setting in which Big Brother & The Holding Company’s lead singer Janis Joplin literally took center stage.  According to Greene she was still relatively unknown at that point, but “floored the music industry luminaries backstage with her gut-wrenching blues, immediately elevating her career into superstardom.”

San Franciscan psychedelic rock band Big Brother & The Holding Company had released their self-titled debut album in August 1967 two months after Monterey Pop, but it took the release of second album Cheap Thrills exactly one year later for Janis and company to really break through to a national audience.  The track listed here, “Piece of My Heart,” was originally recorded by Aretha Franklin’s sister Erma in 1967 but it pervaded public consciousness on a much grander scale with Joplin’s searing treatment of it on Cheap Thrills.  The album cover was courtesy of underground comics artist Robert Crumb, and arguably it is the crème de la Crumb.  Originally supposed to be the record’s back cover bearing song titles and band member credits, it was then flipped to become the front cover when the band’s original concept of “all of us nude in bed” was nixed by nervous sorts at the label.  

This album was Joplin’s last with the band.  She left Big Brother in December 1968 having been signed by Columbia Artists for a solo career which kicked off with the release of her album I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! in September 1969.  Her second album Pearl hit stores and radio stations in January 1971 and it made her star shine even more brightly, which a lot of us had hoped at the time would happen “Up There” as well—the 27-year-old singer had passed away three months earlier due to a heroin overdose in a Hollywood hotel.

  Etta James – Tell Mama (her 7th) – “Tell Mama”  https://youtu.be/t_wbyv1TgIQ

In the summer of 2000 when I worked at Star Lake Amphitheater, I was walking through the lower house (the seating area closest to the stage) and had a classic “stopped in my tracks” moment—nineteen-year-old Christina Aguilera in her first national headlining tour was belting out the song “At Last” from the stage and I was electrified.  True, this former Pittsburgher had quite the set of pipes…but it was also, even moreso, the song.  I had never heard the tune before (I admit somewhat unashamedly) but this sent me off in search of other versions and that’s when I landed on Etta James.

James became famous in 1960 with a sizzlin’ version of this early 1940s classic from her debut album and was lauded for a voice that could settle souls with its restrained power and grace on ballads, but also then all but singe ears while covering up-tempo blues and R&B songs.  In the summer of 1968 the African American singer released her seventh album Tell Mama, and the title track became a hit after a four-year dry spell for the artist.  James by 1968 was sort of a blues queen in residence at the now legendary Muscle Shoals, Alabama recording studio FAME, and her powerful vocal performances were backed by crack, hit-making musicians.  This was a particularly fertile and unfettered period of James’ largely troubled life, and every song on the album is rooted by that deep and passionate wellspring of a voice that courageously cried the blues. 

  The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo (their 6th) – “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”  https://youtu.be/s2JnDKvuNzw

I find it hard these days to mask my disappointment that live music with good-sized audiences during COVID is nonexistent or best case, in short supply.  There are currently streaming opportunities aplenty from various sources, but the in-the-flesh experience is what I really crave—being a part of huddled, happy masses seated before live-on-stage performers.  One of my missed opportunities a short two-and-a-half years ago BC (Before COVID) lingers in the self-loathing zones of my mind.  The 50thanniversary of The Byrds’ groundbreaking 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo was celebrated by some of its creators who took it on the road in 2018 to rapturous response in small theaters across the country.  Led by Byrds’ founders Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman and backed by country/bluegrass artist Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, the band landed in the Pittsburgh area on October 30thwith a stop at Munhall’s Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall.

Chris Hillman was quoted in November 2018 in Billboard Magazine by writer Gary Graff saying that Sweetheart of the Rodeo wasn’t his favorite Byrds album, but that the band had always liked to explore other genres and it had already delved into psychedelic rock (“Eight Miles High” etc.) along with its regularly mined ringing, chiming folk-rock.  Though the band had touched upon country music a bit in previous releases this particular album was country through and through, and it helped create a template for emerging artists like The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Poco and others.  Singer-songwriter Gram Parsons, a founding forefather of country rock music whose influence is still reflected today through a number of Americana bands, was notably a member of The Byrds during this Sweetheart period although he flew the nest even before the album was released.  He and Chris Hillman went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers.

SEPTEMBER

  Jefferson Airplane – Crown of Creation (their 4th) – “Lather”  https://youtu.be/UmSOWxV8vjQ

This San Francisco psychedelic rock band who trafficked in revolutionary politics, free love and even occasional sci-fi themes formed in 1965 and then dotted the festival landscape throughout the late ‘60s, appearing at Monterey Pop, Isle of Wight, Woodstock AND Altamont.  Grace Slick replaced original female lead singer Signe Toly Anderson in 1966 and the band subsequently soared to great success on the newly birthed FM Radio and occasionally on AM radio's hit-song countdowns as well.  The band notably featured two lead, occasionally intertwining singers Grace Slick and Marty Balin, and the musician lineup was a powerhouse that included Jorma Kaukonen on guitar and Jack Casady on rumbling bass.  

Overall the group’s albums were spotty in terms of great material, but 1968’s Crown of Creation is an exception with songs including “In Time,” “If You Feel,” the David Crosby composition “Triad” and band member Paul Kantner’s title track.  The opening song “Lather” is perhaps the most arresting of the batch.  Written by Slick and reportedly inspired by the looming 30th birthday of her then-boyfriend drummer Spencer Dryden, the song—according to the album’s liner notes writer Patrick Snyder—is about “the inescapable contradictions of growing old while leading a youth movement.”  Musically, it is a rock solid representation of this band’s out-of-the-mainstream song structures (which here is quite a good thing).  Near the end of the tune, guitarist Kaukonen plays something called the electric chicken—you’ll know it when you hear it.

  Status Quo – Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From The Status Quo (their debut) – “Pictures of Matchstick Men”  https://youtu.be/Sw6044fDHwg

This band is considered a one-hit wonder in the USA but on their home turf in the UK they are a sixty-hit wonder.  They have at least sixty songs that have made it onto the British record sales charts from the time of their formation in the late 1960s through present day 2021.  They have also amassed a number of firsts including the most appearances by any band on England’s venerable Top of the Pops BBC television program and the most live performances by any band at London’s Wembley Arena.  And, the band has released over 33 records—with 25 of these reaching Top Ten album sales—during their fifty-year-plus career.

Through all of this, by the way, America shrugged.  Even when the band abandoned their psychedelic ways in 1969 in favor of harder rock and boogie, America still couldn’t be roused out of its indifference.  “Pictures of Matchstick Men” in 1968—a time-locked, cheesy slice of psychedelia—was the one and only Status Quo song to ever score any measurable success in the USA. 

Reviewer Matthew Greenwald on AllMusic.com sums up the impact of this song that aired across the United States on the fledgling new music FM stations during 1968: “The Status Quo may be the prototype for what would become Spinal Tap, but this huge international hit is what they are most remembered for.  A dissonant, siren-sounding electric guitar riff from writer Francis Rossi is the main hook here, and it was about as unusual as things got on a pop single at the time, Jimi Hendrix aside.  The lyrics are a trippy ride through consciousness and no doubt LSD-inspired.”  Greenwald may be right about the source of inspiration here, so if you want to substantially rewind the clock and give this a listen, go ahead and flash back—but don’t have a flashback.

  The Chambers Brothers – A New Time-A New Day (their 2nd) – “I Can’t Turn You Loose”  https://youtu.be/gXeLwjXzBcw

Bassist George, harmonica player Lester, and guitarists Willie and Joe Chambers were all part of a black sharecropping family in Missouri and first formed a group back in 1954.  They were schooled—“churched,” really—in blues, folk and gospel in the local Baptist choir and in the mid-1950s relocated to Los Angeles.  It took about ten years and an eventual move to New York City for career combustion to kick in, beginning with a well-received appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.  After welcoming non-family member Brian Keenan into the fold to play drums the group released a couple of recordings, but it was really 1967’s The Time Has Come album that put them on the map and on the radio.  A song from that album, “Time Has Come Today,” is an eleven-minute mix of soul and psychedelia that became a mainstay in those heady days of early FM radio ascendance, anti-war protests, and the fight for Civil Rights.  

The track listed above, though, is from A New Time-A New Day, the follow-up to The Time Has Come.  In 1968 my bedroom was my closed-borders space, my respite from the world, and this album upon release practically cemented itself to the turntable surface of my Montgomery Wards Airline Stereo Phonograph Record Player (best I could do, at age fifteen).  This was primarily because of the incendiary opening song on the album, the Chambers’ fuel-injected cover of Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose.”  All hail to King Otis, of course, but the Chambers Brothers’ version for some reason back then summed up for me the power and the passion of rock music—especially at the intersection of rock ‘n’ roll and rock and soul.

 

 

 

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Posted 2/21/21.....ALL THOSE YEARS AGO (Part One of Three)

1968 was a turbulent time in the course of American history.  Highlights included the growing movements focused on a Vietnam pullback and a civil rights forward march; the devastating lowlights of course were the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.

But there was also everything in between.  In the political spotlight there was a pacifist and a populist—presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy and the proud boy—er, man—who also stepped up to run, Alabama’s George Wallace, who in his gubernatorial inauguration speech five years earlier had earnestly called for segregation nowtomorrow and foreve(way to waffle there, Wallace)There was the Broadway debut of every hippie’s dream Hair, the cultural norm-busting musical that outraged staid moralists but absolutely stoked those who smoked…There were the riotous goings-on of plenty more than seven in Chicago, where the DNC clearly needed a DMZ…and there was a sleaze with middle name Milhous who soon after November slithered into the White House.

Also, our country at this juncture was in the throes of a societal youthquake that had been shaking up the Establishment since at least the midpoint of the decade, and music was an essential ingredient that both fomented and reflected many of the changes afoot.  Musicians and singer-songwriters of the day were clearly driven to test their boundaries; the walls that previously existed between musical genres were now heavily pockmarked if not completely chiseled through, and record companies were buzzing like central hives, bursting with scads of newly signed talent.  To youthful followers like yours truly and many, many others, music in all its permutations became something central to existence.  

1968 was truly a mind-bending, spellbinding time for recorded music.  Throughout the year, eclectic new releases—some groundbreaking if not game-changing; others bound for esoterica—hit department store record bins across the country as an insatiable younger generation fed on these provocative and influential new sounds.  

Here is Part One of this look at 1968’s music, a monthly play-by-play from January through June of some of the most interesting albums to come out in that first half of the year—and a meaty and meaningful song selection from each.  A look at the July through September releases will come along next time on musicasaurus.com!

JANUARY 

  Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul (her 12th) –  "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"  https://youtu.be/qz2efshhuq4

In addition to the tracks “Chain of Fools” and “Sweet Sweet Baby (Since You’ve Been Gone),” this album bore a sublime version of this Carole King/Gerry Goffin composition.  Instead of the recorded version from 1968, however, we’ll substitute in an Aretha performance of the song from the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors event that feted songwriter Carole King.  This performance yields more than a glimpse into the fires that still burned brightly within Lady Soul even at the age of seventy-three.

  Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf (their debut) – “The Pusher”  https://youtu.be/Zv6PY1BQLBE

The above-listed song and “Born to be Wild” both ended up in the Peter Fonda/Dennis Hopper film Easy Rider which hit screens—and coaxed many a different screen into water pipes across America—upon the film’s release to theaters in July 1969.  

  The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers (their 5th) – “Wasn’t Born To Follow”  https://youtu.be/Mdk5V6RxhJQ

This is another song that was included in the 1969 counterculture film Easy Rider as motorcyclists Billy and Wyatt ride through a high ponderosa pine forest.  According to writer Ian Olney in an October 2020  “Pop Music in Film” article on the website sensesoncinema.com, “Epitomising the bright ‘California sound’ of the ‘60s, its shimmering chords, plaintive pedal-steel phrasing, propulsive rhythm, and poetic lyrics capture the sheer joy of locomotion and celebrate the notion of going one’s own way.”

  The Electric Prunes – Mass in F Minor (their 3rd) – “Kyrie Eleison” https://youtu.be/2QnZn0I602I 

After releasing two rather standard 1960s psychedelic/fuzz-guitar rock albums, the Prunes on their third LP dished out a somewhat strange amalgam of classical-meets-religious music-meets-psychedelia.  “Kyrie Eleison” picked up some underground buzz when it, too, was used in the 1969 counterculture film Easy Rider.

  Spirit – Spirit (their debut) – “Fresh Garbage”  https://youtu.be/BWBwXc-ppe8

Reviewer Richie Unterberger of Allmusic.com hit the nail on the head with this one: “Spirit’s debut unveiled a band that seemed determine to out-eclecticize everybody else on the California psychedelic scene, with its melange of rock, jazz, blues, folk-rock, and even a bit of classical and Indian music.”

  The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat (their 2nd–  “White Light/White Heat”  https://youtu.be/AJy0LP8iYPg

This album coincided with Lou Reed’s departure from Andy Warhol’s circle of influence, and the band as a whole also departed from their first album’s overall sound to produce music that was more immediate and raw, with distortion and feedback reigning over all.  White Light/White Heat reportedly fired up contemporaries who were in the same musical vein and also inspired future punkers that followed in the Velvet’s footsteps.  

  Blue Cheer – Vincebus Eruptum (their debut) – “Summertime Blues”  https://youtu.be/o4vIlg4alz8

Remember, this was 1968 and rock critics and critical writing on the subject was in some ways still embryonic.  But it didn’t take long before certain culture watchers, looking back, dubbed this record one of the very first heavy metal music albums.  “Summertime Blues” is a blistering cover of rocker/rockabilly star Eddie Cochran’s song which he had released to radio in the summer of 1958.

  Firesign Theater – Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him (their debut) – “W.C. Fields Forever”  https://youtu.be/CW_l25G33Co

Firesign Theater was a counterculture comedy troupe (so named, reportedly, because the four members were all born under astrological fire signs—Aries, Leo or Sagittarius).  Peter Bergman, Philip Proctor, Phil Austin and David Ossman developed a loyal and sizeable cult following particularly in the mid-‘60s through mid-‘70s time period, and recorded a slew of albums for the faithful.  The track “W.C. Fields Forever” is about Tiny Doctor Tim (don’t be leery about guessing who this is patterned after) and his hippie followers, who are welcoming some desert wandering Native Americans into their commune called the Lazy Ol' Magic Circle Dudes Ranch and Collective Love Farm.  

  Dr. John, The Night Tripper – Gris-gris (his debut) – “I Walk on Guilded Splinters”  https://youtu.be/ylZ635QtyGc

He do that voodoo that he do so well…Dr. John’s debut album was the start of a long career of New Orleans R&B that he later on melded a bit with rock and blues.  After a handful of early albums, the Doctor severed the Night Tripper from his name.

  Ultimate Spinach – Ultimate Spinach (their debut) – “You’re Head is Reeling”  https://youtu.be/0GKDq0oRDy8

Psychedelic rock band Ultimate Spinach formed in 1967 as some record producers and promoters in the city of Boston were trying to emulate “musical petri dish” cities like San Francisco, NYC and others who were actively growing their individual music scenes.  In a September 30, 2011 interview in the online independent music magazine It’s Psychedelic Baby, Ultimate Spinach lead-singer/songwriter Ian Bruce-Douglas was asked about the formation of the band’s name: “I’ve been asked that question so many times!  One day, in 1967, I was in my room, tripping on some really pure LSD.  I started looking at myself in the mirror and my face was doing funny things.  I had a bunch of colored markers I used to draw with.  I grabbed a green one and started drawing all these psychedelic designs on my face.  When I was done, I looked at myself and said ‘Whoa! I am ultimate spinach.  Ultimate spinach is me!’”  Inspiration for a group’s name can come to a founder in many ways…all it apparently took for Bruce-Douglas was a bit of reflection.

  Canned Heat – Boogie With Canned Heat (their 2nd) – “On The Road Again”  https://youtu.be/CEwyoo3fT8w

The band came together in Los Angeles in 1965 and featured blues and boogie music powered by singers/musicians Bob “The Bear” Hite and Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson.  The group cranked out an all blues covers album for their 1967 debut and then progressed to their own similar-style material on their second album which featured the track listed here as well as the anti-drug song “Amphetamine Annie” and an eleven-minute-plus tune called “Fried Hockey Boogie.”  The boogie was what Canned Heat primarily became known for, especially in concert settings like the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in the summer of 1969.  Even back in 1968 when I was fifteen years old, though, eleven minutes was a long time to devote to puttin’ on my boogie shoes.

  Kaleidoscope – A Beacon From Mars (their 2nd) – “Taxim”  https://youtu.be/y8udyhabCCU

This eclectic L.A. band formed in Los Angeles in 1966, and had as one of its driving-force members David Lindley who post-Kaleidoscope joined up with Jackson Browne as a mainstay in the latter’s band for many years.  Kaleidoscope’s style of recorded music occasionally weaved Middle Eastern music into their blend of rock, blues, folk and jazz, and this band of multi-instrumentalists brought a lot of different sounds to the fore via guitar, violin,  viola, banjo, mandolin, oud, dobro, bouzouki and dulcimer, among others.

FEBRUARY 

  Blood, Sweat & Tears – Child is Father to the Man (their debut) – “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”  https://youtu.be/7ZEOYQBy8Pw

This NYC born and bred group formed in 1967 and their debut album sported an intoxicating mix of styles—blood, sweat & tears mixed with jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, folk, soul, and in the hands of (and out of the mouths of) the dazzling horn section, even a bit of big band music.  Musician Al Kooper (ex-Blues Project member) was the leader of this pack and lasted just for this initial album due to brewing sentiments within the band for the proverbial “change in direction” for future releases.  But this first album is a classic, grounded by the six-minute Kooper composition that kicks off the record, “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.”

  Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac; also called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (their debut) – “Long Grey Mere”  https://youtu.be/3cgMaBJGovs

The band Fleetwood Mac formed in London in 1967 as a solid blues unit, and issued their eponymous first album one year afterward.  Though guitarist Peter Green is often cited as the fuel and the fire of the band at that time, we have to give shout-outs as well to drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie.  The latter two are still with the band today, FIFTY-FOUR years after the group’s founding. The last personnel change of note was guitartist Lindsey Buckingham’s ouster in 2018, immediately followed by the additions of Neil Finn (formerly of Crowded House) and Mike Campbell (previously Petty’s right-hand man in The Heartbreakers).

  The Lemon Pipers – Green Tambourine (their debut) – “Green Tambourine”  https://youtu.be/o6IEgrQ4lrk

The Lemon Pipers formed in 1966 in Oxford, Ohio and after playing local bars and small clubs stumbled into their big break when they latched onto a record deal with Buddah Records.  Headed at the time by musical entrepreneur Neil Bogart, the record label had been experimenting with what became known as “bubblegum pop”—signing bands and then molding their material to suit the musical whims and tastes of the preteen and early teen market.  The formula: force-feed some contrived and eminently disposable but catchy songs into one of their band’s repertoires and push it out to radio stations.  The Pipers enjoyed this flash of success, but immediately felt confined by the genre and begged the label for more input into song selection and songwriting as they had more serious content in mind.  But they paid the piper; no more hits, and only this one-hit wonder to call their own. 

  Mason Williams – The Mason Williams Phonograph Record (his 2nd) – “Classical Gas”  https://youtu.be/Bel7WcHeUXY

Williams is a classical guitarist who is also a composer, comedian, writer and poet whose noteworthy accomplishments included—beyond unleashing this all-instrumental one-hit wonder in the summer of 1968—writing for the popular and (at times) controversial television show The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  Williams also was the creator of show cast member Pat Paulsen’s 1968 faux campaign for president.  Paulsen didn’t win that one, of course, and I lost track of him after that…but wait—wasn’t he one of those three hundred and eighty-four prospective candidates on stage during those early Dem debates in June & July 2019??

MARCH 

  The Mothers of Invention – We’re Only In It for the Money (their 3rdstudio album) – “Flower Punk”  https://youtu.be/HQfZmMI87P4

Frank Zappa was the brilliant Mocker and Skewer-er in Chief of society’s norms and ills, and was apolitical in dishing out his derision.  His mid-late ‘60s/early ‘70s songs especially were peppered with sardonic wit atop often sophisticated herky-jerky musicianship.  He was all about nonconformist song structure and his tunes sometimes included unusual sonic snippets—some surrealistic dialogue here, a couple of people snorting there.  All part of this musical auteur’s sly sonic package.

  Laura Nyro – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (her 2nd) – “Stoned Soul Picnic”  https://youtu.be/2Nfc_J7qlhQ

A gifted singer/songwriter and daughter of a jazz trumpeter, Nyro started writing songs at the age of eight.  At twenty she issued her 1967 debut album More Than A New Discovery, which led to instantaneous worship from some of her singer/songwriter peers, Elton John and Todd Rundgren among them.  And still others began recording covers of her songs to great success—Blood, Sweat & Tears with “And When I Die,” Barbra Streisand with “Stoney End” and The 5thDimension with “Wedding Bell Blues.”  The following year Eli and the Thirteenth Confession was released and Nyro truly hit her stride; she garnered more critical acclaim, made the national album-sales charts for the first time, and had even more of her songs borrowed by others.  “Eli’s Comin’” was a huge hit for Three Dog Night, and The 5thDimension scored again with two more Nyro-penned tunes, “Sweet Blindness” and “Stoned Soul Picnic.”

  The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (their 3rd) – “A Very Cellular Song”  https://youtu.be/jmeGpov2P5k

A Scotchman and an Englishman go into a bar…This is not the start of a joke, but rather the beginning of the Incredible String Band, a short-lived psychedelic, folk, and world-music-injected ensemble that rode fairly high on the UK album charts in the late 1960s and also pierced America’s consciousness with their third release, 1968’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter.  The duo of Scottish multi-instrumentalist Robin Williamson and English banjoist Clive Palmer had been spotted in 1965 in a Scottish club by an Elektra Records talent scout, and within a year a fleshed-out musical union was formed.  The Incredible String Band was known for its multi-instrumental song experimentation and its array of instruments beyond the standard guitar-bass-drums; on Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, the band members also bring in the sounds of the gimbri, penny whistle, pan pipe, oud, jaw harp, shehnai, harpsichord, waterphone, hammered dulcimer and others. 

  Diana Ross and The Supremes – Reflections (the Supremes’ 12th, but the first to list Diana’s name right up front) – “Reflections”  https://youtu.be/rwPBQlt5AXI

This was a time of transition for the Supremes, as their hit-making songwriting team of Holland-Doizer-Holland was exiting the Motown organization and within the group itself, Florence (Flo) Ballard was nixed and new replacement Cindy Birdsong was in, standing alongside the longstanding Mary Wilson and queen Diana.  The title track—of course, another slam dunk—had actually been released to radio stations as a single the previous year during the Summer of Love (1967) and it was the first Supremes recording to have a tinge of psychedelia in it.

  The International Submarine Band – Safe at Home (their one and only album) – “Luxury Liner” https://youtu.be/g-wZXUQgAr0

One of Alt-country’s forefathers Gram Parsons (guitarist/singer-songwriter) and future Flying Burrito Brother Chris Ethridge (bassist) formed ISB in Los Angeles in 1967, and the following year released their one and only album Safe at Home.  The album is considered by many to be the first country rock record.  Parsons’ journey after departing ISB led him to The Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and then to a brief solo turn that ended with his untimely death in 1973 at age twenty-six.

  Joni Mitchell – Song to a Seagull; also known as just Joni Mitchell (her debut) – “Song to a Seagull” https://youtu.be/hTcbhwA02fM

The Canadian songstress’ debut album was produced by southern California friend and musical compadre David Crosby, and it started this visionary, trailblazing artist off on a path to currently nineteen studio recordings spanning 1968 (Song to a Seagull) to 2007 (Shine).  There are a few live-in-concert treasures in Mitchell’s catalogue as well—1974’s Miles of Aisles with backing by the L.A. Express (a group that included saxophonist Tom Scott and guitarist Robben Ford), and 1980’s Shadows and Light with backing that included saxophonist Michael Brecker, guitarist Pat Metheny and bassist Jaco Pastorius.

APRIL 

  Tiny Tim – God Bless Tiny Tim (his debut) – “Tiptoe Thru’ the Tulips with Me”  https://youtu.be/zfLU3Mv_O9w

Born Herbert Butros Khaury in Manhattan in 1932, Tiny Tim gained fame for his quirky personality and shy demeanor, his ukulele and falsetto, and his penchant for performing songs from the early 20thcentury (one of his idols was Rudy Vallée).  He cemented the adoration of—okay, perhaps just the unwavering curiosity of—millions of television viewers in the late 1960s and early 1970s through appearances on the NBC network’s Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

  Moby Grape – Wow – “He”  https://youtu.be/t78c5vwjIC4

Along with the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape was one of the core musical units that came out of the San Franciscan music scene of the mid-late 1960s.  AllMusic.com’s reviewer Mark Deming says this particular band’s attributes included “no long, unfocused jams, no self-indulgent philosophy, and no attempts to sonically re-create the sound of an acid trip…Moby Grape blended straight-ahead rock & roll, smart pop, blues, country, and folk accents into a flavorful brew that was all their own, with a clever melodic sense that reflected the lysergic energy surrounding them without drowning in it.”

  Sly & The Family Stone – Dance to the Music (their 2nd– “Dance to the Music”  https://youtu.be/Jn2PNlhvy8E

This San Franciscan band was a family affair, with band leader Sylvester (“Sly”) Stone, brother Freddie on guitar and sister Rose on keyboards.  These three plus four others unrelated by blood but linked by the love of funk created a sound that was inescapably delicious.  It did not just get toes tapping; it was “spring to your feet” joyous, especially the ubiquitous title track on radio stations across the USA.  Sly & The Family Stone was the first prominent American music band to have musicians that were a groundbreaking mix of black and white, and male and female. 

  Wild Man Fischer – An Evening with Wild Man Fischer (his debut) – “I’m Working for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics”  https://youtu.be/NeQuOs7bYHs

In addition to recording his own albums with the Mothers of Invention, L.A.-based Frank Zappa in the late 1960s created two record labels to sign other artists that he wanted to champion.  The labels were called Bizarre and Straight, and some of the artists Zappa rounded up included Alice Cooper, Tim Buckley, Captain Beefheart, the GTOS (Girls Together Outrageously)—and a sometimes homeless, mentally disturbed individual named Wild Man Fischer.  Fischer, who had suffered severe highs and lows from an early age which eventually revealed paranoid schizophrenia and manic depression, was under meds by 1967 and a street performer, offering songs for spare change to the foot traffic along the Sunset Strip.  “I thought from the first day I met him that someone should make an album with Wild Man Fischer,” Zappa reportedly said, and thus a double album on his Bizarre record label soon followed, 1968’s An Evening with Wild Man Fischer.  It’s a collector’s item for a variety of reasons—none of which may compel you!—and features a few tracks of Fischer's ramblings accompanied by Zappa’s guitar work…some live recordings of Fischer’s Sunset Strip songs…some unaccompanied, off-kilter songs on a variety of subjects…and some “in his own words” reflections on his malady and on growing up, hoping to cope.  Some might find this material appalling while others may think it enthralling—either way, it is a bona fide late-1960s curio!

  The Amboy Dukes – Journey to the Center of the Mind (their 2nd) – “Journey to the Center of the Mind”  https://youtu.be/a_J-sNBnaaY

This American rock group was founded in 1964 in Chicago by sixteen-year-old guitarist Ted Nugent, though The Nuge soon nudged the band to move to his hometown of Detroit once their recording career took off.  The band produced a self-titled debut album in 1967, but it was this 1968 follow-up album Journey to the Center of the Mind and its title track that significantly boosted their prominence and fan base.  After a handful more of Amboy Dukes albums that slowly transitioned away from the blues and psychedelia toward harder rock, the Motor City Mad Man jettisoned the band’s name in 1975 but kept the current personnel as he debuted his solo career with the release of the album Ted Nugent.

  Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends (their 4thstudio album) – “Mrs. Robinson”  https://youtu.be/9C1BCAgu2I8

At the very beginning of 1968 Mike Nichols’ film The Graduate hit theaters across the U.S., and so visually you had Hoffman & Bancroft memorably teaming up while on the soundtrack side of things you had another noteworthy duo, Simon & Garfunkel.  The latter followed up their soundtrack work on that project with their next full-fledged release Bookends which came just three months afterward.  Bookends included a no-pun-intended fleshed-out version of “Mrs. Robinson” as well as “Fakin’ It,” “A Hazy Shade of Winter” (later covered by The Bangles) and “America” (later covered by artists including Josh Groban, Lucy Wainwright Roche with The Roches, and the band Yes in 1970 who memorably bent the tune toward progressive rock—in a ten-and-a-half minute version, no less).

MAY 

  Small Faces – Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (their 3rd) – “Afterglow (Of Your Love)”  https://youtu.be/oHSD8loGbcA

Small Faces was one of the 1960s British bands who at one time or another housed some considerably talented individuals.  The band had formed in England in 1965 and consisted of singer/guitarist Steve Marriott, bassist Ronnie Lane, drummer Kenney Jones and keyboardist Ian McLagan.  After Marriott left the band in 1969 to form a new group called Humble Pie, the others stayed on board, added singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood, and dropped the “Small” from the group’s name (that’s one way to save Face).  After The Faces broke up in 1975, Stewart went 100% solo, Wood went to the Stones, Lane worked on the cult-favorite collaborative album Rough Mix (1977) with Pete Townshend, Jones left to join The Who (replacing the dearly departed Keith Moon), and McLagan began touring with the Stones and Dylan, and did session/sideman work with a number of other top-drawer artists of that era.

  Creedence Clearwater Revival – Creedence Clearwater Revival (their debut) – “Suzie Q”  https://youtu.be/7x60p7UNLnQ

John Fogerty was the driving force of this quartet who were San Francisco based but whose recorded music that started up in 1968 largely spun tales of the South—themes of bayous, swamps, rollin’ on the river, and the like.  The band lasted only four years, 1968-1972, but Fogerty had a real knack for simple (on the surface) songs that bore into the brain and that still live today on classic rock radio stations some fifty years down the line.  “Susie Q” from their debut album was the record’s signature song, a cover of rockabilly artist Dale Hawkins’ 1957 hit.  Reportedly Fogerty stretched the song out to eight minutes in length as a ploy for a popular San Francisco progressive rock station to embrace it—which worked.

  Johnny Cash – Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (his—gulp—27th!) – “Folsom Prison Blues”  https://youtu.be/U9uk6NHK-AE

This was a case of one pro and many cons.  Cash’s career had dipped a bit in the mid-1960s (somewhat due to the artist’s own struggles with drug dependency) but when an upper management change took place at his label, Cash found an ear that was warm to the “concert in a prison” concept.  He and June Carter (soon to become June Carter Cash) and his band performed two sets in January at Folsom, and the record that resulted was hugely successful on the national country AND pop charts and with critics across the board.  In 2003 the album was selected by the Library of Congress for addition to the National Recording Registry.

  Quicksilver Messenger Service – Quicksilver Messenger Service (their debut) – “Gold and Silver” https://youtu.be/bmhT_KUAR6g

San Francisco was a musical melting pot in the mid-to-late 1960s, and Quicksilver was one of the bands from that era that bounded into some level of national consciousness like their contemporaries the Grateful Dead, Santana, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Steve Miller Band, It’s A Beautiful Day and the Jefferson Airplane.  Quicksilver indeed carried the torch for psychedelia, and in concert gained a reputation for extended jams augmented by two skillful, interweaving guitarists Gary Duncan and John Cipollina.  The sample song listed here is an almost seven-minute-long instrumental which just might induce in some older folks some psychedelic light-show flashbacks—you know, those colorful, shape-shifting squiggly blobs of protoplasm that were up on a screen behind the band—so yes, be careful.

JUNE 

  The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (their debut) – “Fire” https://youtu.be/en1uwIzI3SE

Opening statements, please?  How about: “I AM THE GOD OF HELL FIRE, AND I BRING YOU...FIRE!”  That opening salvo to the devilishly cheesy organ riffs kicks off the one-hit wonder of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, a psychedelic British band led by vocalist Arthur Brown, known early on for his bizarre front-man antics like wearing a helmet with roaring flames on it.  The song was a huge hit in England and it then crossed the pond to achieve the same status in the USA.  We are listing this entry here in the month of June because it coincides with the UK’s initial release though the album didn’t officially hit The States until September.

  Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (their 2nd– “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”  https://youtu.be/Tfpn3wHoNGA

Go tell it on the mountain—the Red Mountain.  Reportedly this was the wine that keyboardist/singer Doug Ingle was drinking when he wrote the song and relayed the title, under slurred conditions, to drummer Ron Bushy.  Thus “In A Garden of Eden” became “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and the resulting 17-minute+ track became an underground FM classic, dazzling the fledging rock generation and giving FM disc jockeys a great means of escape to the bathroom between their queued-up songs.  The album of the same name by this San Diego band was soon a number one seller in America, and mercifully (I say in hindsight), there was also a majorly edited version of the song released to Top Forty radio as a single.  This one clocked in at just under three minutes.

  Pink Floyd – A Saucerful of Secrets (their 2nd) – “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” https://youtu.be/ZnIxWznakz8

This second studio album from Britain’s Pink Floyd was noteworthy in a couple of ways: 1) The finished product reflected the contributions of the outgoing Syd Barrett (jettisoned for increasingly aberrant behavior) and the incoming David Gilmour, and so Saucerful was a passing of the torch and a stabilization of the line-up; and 2) The album also essentially launched the careers of design wizards Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell, who had come up with the album cover.  Afterward, record label EMI peppered the two with requests for additional covers for some of the other artists they represented, and so the design duo’s new company Hipgnosis was born shortly thereafter.  In addition to keeping its fealty to Floyd with subsequent albums including Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and Animals, Hipgnosis began working with other top-notch bands including Led Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and many more.

  Steve Miller Band – Children of the Future (their debut) – “Baby’s Callin’ Me Home” https://youtu.be/9cK--Mt5iKE

Miller is today best known for commercially successful rock records in the mid 1970s such as Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams, but truthfully most of this material was kind of a calculated soulless snooze.  Hearkening back to his more adventurous initial output is a much better place for listeners to land.  This particular song from 1968’s Children of the Future was written and sung by band member Boz Scaggs and it features nicely hushed acoustic pluckin’ and an easygoing bluesy feel.  Scaggs departed the SMB after the group’s second album Sailor that came out much later in 1968, and he trod a solo path from there.  

  Fairport Convention – Fairport Convention (their debut) – “Chelsea Morning” https://youtu.be/y_JnBLc3zsY

English folk band Fairport Convention was founded in 1967 and the key member of note was Richard Thompson, a largely unheralded brilliant songwriter and guitarist who is still making music and producing new material today.  This first album from Fairport Convention is reportedly the result of the band members reverence for 1960s American West Coast bands like The Jefferson Airplane (who also sported both a male and female lead vocalist), The Byrds and The Beach Boys, and also artists like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.  The song listed here is one of the two Joni covers on the record, “Chelsea Morning.”  After this album, female lead vocalist Judy Dyble departed and singer Sandy Denny came aboard, and the band then gradually headed into more traditional British folk territory.  Denny left the band in 1970 to form a new one, Fotheringay, and guitarist Thompson departed the group the next year, launching his now longstanding solo career in 1972 with his debut album Henry the Human Fly.

  HAIR – The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical (The Original Broadway Cast Recording) – “Aquarius” https://youtu.be/y2CoR1vggYc

Gerome Ragni and James Rado (story and lyrics) and Galt MacDermot (music) created this controversial, generation-splitting musical and it opened on Broadway in April 1968 for a run of 1,750 performances.  This show had everything a longhair could ever want—sex, nudity, zero respect for authority, drugs, astrology, ecology and rock ‘n’ roll.  And the songs springing out of the musical that were subsequently heard on radio stations across the country—uh, not talking here about the tune “Sodomy” or the song “Hashish”—were successes in their own right, including the 5thDimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In,” The Cowsills’ version of “Hair,” Oliver’s “Good Morning Starshine” and Three Dog Night’s “Easy To be Hard.”

 

 

 

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Posted 2/7/21.....SIXTY YEARS ON

  

As we enter 2021, we’ve reached a landmark year for a landmark venue that unfortunately never attained the necessary landmark status in order to survive.  The Pittsburgh Civic Arena, which of course is no longer of this Earth, would have turned sixty years old this year.  

Back in April 1958 construction had begun on the arena with an original budget of $19 million, but this was increased by almost $3 million more when plans morphed to include a unique, one-of-a-kind retractable dome to be constructed of eight total 300-ton roof sections.  When the facility finally opened to the public on September 17, 1961 with an Ice Capades show, the roof was partially opened—just two sections out of the total six moveable sections—but after 22 minutes it was once again closed up tight.  An unseasonable temperature of 74 degrees outside on that fall day had provoked internal concern over the condition of the skaters’ surface ice inside, so the arena’s management reacted and retracted.

The Civic Arena started out sporting the usual tenants including a hockey team (the AHL’s Pittsburgh Hornets, 1961-1967) and a basketball team (the ABL’s Pittsburgh Rens, 1961-1963), but also charged out of the gate with concerts as well.  Judy Garland was the first musical attraction on October 19, 1961, followed later that month by a Fats Domino/Brenda Lee package on the 20thand Johnny Mathis in concert on the 31st.  The fourth concert at the arena took place on May 11, 1962, and this was an early rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza emceed by Pittsburgh’s legendary deejay Porky Chedwick with music from national attractions including Jackie Wilson, The Drifters, The Coasters, Bo Diddley, The Flamingos, The Marvelettes, Jerry Butler, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, Bobby Vinton, Hank Ballard, and Gene Pitney.

Over the next five decades the Civic Arena hosted over one thousand musical events.  A James Taylor/Carole King concert on June 26, 2010 was the venue’s last hurrah, however, as the Penguins were poised to soon skate across the street to their brand new home, a gleaming new state-of-the-art hockey facility.  The Pens’ new arena opened up to the public in August with much fanfare, and the ghostly silent Civic Arena sitting nearby fell to the wrecking ball the following month.

My personal history with the Civic Arena began in March of 1985 when I was hired as the director of booking for the facility.  I had a quick learning curve, and was relieved—even elated—that the venue I had just jumped aboard was threefold unique:

1.) First…As a venue hungry for profitable events, the Civic Arena took financial risks.  It was somewhat unusual for an arena of our size at that time to step up to the plate and actively court bands to play our venue by making offers directly to artists’ booking agencies.  This kind of thing was historically largely the province of outside concert promoters versus an in-house venue operation such as ours—but we were of a mindset that ALL touring artists needed to play the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, and so we actively promoted our stance and our willingness to pony up.  We did this through occasional trips to L.A. and NYC for one-on-one visits with the talent agencies, but also through ads that we placed in music industry magazines (see the photo immediately above; this print ad ran in music/concert touring publications such as Pollstar and Performance magazine in 1985 and advertised the Civic Arena’s firm resolve to book and promote concerts on its own).

2.) Second…Our arena had great flexibility as a facility for hosting concerts of varying levels of popularity.  The artist had a couple of options—an end-stage setup for between 13,000-17,000 fans, or a lesser-capacity setup with the stage instead situated along one of the arena’s sides (the north one).  This side-stage option afforded an equally aesthetic and pleasing “packed house” look but with a reduced capacity of approximately 8,000 seats out in front.

3.) And third…Our arena had that aforementioned engineering marvel tucked in its pocket—the roof-opening capability.  If the artist was game, arena staff would collaborate on the show’s setup with the performer’s tour production personnel such that the roof could be opened up, weather permitting, at any time during the performance.  In the late 1980s this bit of flexibility actually led us to create and subsequently promote a series of five or six shows per summer for three years running—1987-1989’s Skyline Concert Series—and this was heavily promoted by us as an opportunity to see “your favorite stars under the stars.”

I spent six years at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, from March 1985 through February 1991, and I look back on my arena days as one of THE most enriching periods of my life in terms of personal and professional growth, exciting challenges, and formative, lasting friendships.  We had an amazing team in place there, all of us deeply involved (sometimes even submerged!) in that wild thrill ride of staging various sporting events and many, many concerts. 

Below are the reminiscences of five talented individuals that I had worked with and forged strong ties with in my time at the arena.  Two of them were concert promoters who brought a number of shows into town to play our venue, and the remaining three were Civic Arena Corporation compadres of mine who played instrumental roles in the execution and concomitant success of hundreds of concerts over the years.  Here are just a few of their most prized memories from their days (and nights) at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena:

  TOM ROONEY – Tom spent formative years at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena throughout the 1980s as Arena Director and VP/Marketing, lending his expertise to both the resident sports teams and the venue management team.  He subsequently left the employment of the arena in 1990 to open up the brand new Pace outdoor facility in nearby Washington County, Star Lake Amphitheatre.  Tom is currently president of the Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group, LLC. 

For those of us in the business it is very hard to separate our personal experiences with ones that apply to shows we have been involved with as promoters.  In my own case having been an usher at the Civic Arena, marketing and arena director for a decade in the 1980s and then as a tenant with the Pens, it's all a haze.  But Mr. Musicasaurus.com asked for it and I am delivering.

It actually overlaps business/fandom.

In late 1989 we had yet another chance to host a Paul McCartney show but the problem as always was the then 10% amusement tax.  Sir Paul is nothing if not if a shrewd businessman and he counted your money, too.

Problem was the amusement tax was not our money; it went to the city.  Tough luck, said McCartney’s camp.  Come see us in Cleveland.  In a moment of exasperation...or pure genius...I concocted a scheme by looking at McCartney a different way.  If in fact we could do two McCartney dates we could eat the tax because the savings on ads and production by having two shows and the whopping ancillary revenues on ticket commissions, parking and food & beverage would mean a decent profit.

So we rolled the dice on presenting this deal to McCartney’s camp...and won. 

Anyway, the two shows played on February 4 & 5, 1990 but I was at the time already out the door to go open Star Lake Amphitheatre as its first general manager.  I treated myself, my wife and son and sister Mary Margaret to front row center seats for McCartney at the arena, though, and watched the show without a care in the world.  Paul put on a fab (four) show...lots of Beatles, Wings and memories.

  CHARLIE BRUSCO – Charlie, originally from Pittsburgh, was a concert promoter based in Atlanta who in the 1980s helped bring some major touring attractions to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  He also managed the southern rock/country rock band The Outlaws and through the years added others to his stable of artists including Peter Frampton, Bad Company, Styx and more.  In 1987 Charlie reassembled the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, ten years after the band’s career-ending plane crash, for a highly successful reunion tour that then crisscrossed America.  He currently heads up the Atlanta office of artist management company Red Light Management. 

My favorite Civic Arena concert (that I watched as a fan) was on August 10, 1971 when I saw The Who for the first time, right around the time they had released Who’s Next.  It was like a religious experience.

As a promoter, my favorite concert was when I brought Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Civic Arena on October 4, 1987 during their reunion tour.  I believe I had every family member I had at the time in Pittsburgh come to that show.  Before the band went on stage Gary Rossington (Skynyrd guitarist) was talking with my father and said “We need to bring all you folks up when we do the bow at the end of the show.”  Gary was thinking me, my mother and dad, and my kids.  My dad of course thought he meant the whole family so he brought all of our guests onstage at the end of the show.  I am sure the audience was thinking “Who are all these people?!!”  It was an amazing show and an amazing night.

  MICHAEL GENTILLE – During the early 1980s Mike worked as production manager for DiCesare-Engler Productions and from 1986-1993 was the Director of Events at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  He is currently employed by Landmark Event Staffing Services and based in New Orleans.

Mike’s most memorable shows:

* The Skyline Concert Series shows in the mid-to-late 1980s, where the roof opened up for every show, weather permitting.

* At one of their 1980s shows at the arena, a backstage brouhaha between the “C” and the “S” of CSN.

* Another backstage high-drama evening on April 4,1984: This one a row between Culture Club’s tour production manager and some arena personnel.

* The Windham Hill concert on July 8, 1986 with Will Ackerman, Shadowfax and Michael Hedges—memorable because no one showed up (editor’s note: I was still relatively new to the booking director position at the Civic Arena at that point in time, and I booked this complete stiff.  It was awfully nice of Mike to have included this one on his list).

* Back to back Journey dates, October 20 & 21,1986—HUGE.

*Frank Sinatra with Sammy Davis, Jr. on March 26, 1988 (editor’s note: This was the tour that was also supposed to include Dean Martin who reportedly had a kidney ailment which derailed his participation.  The tour as originally conceived with the three artists had an interesting nickname within music business circles—Ol’ Blue Eyes, Red Eyes and One Eye).

* The three consecutive nights of Michael Jackson in September 1988.

*Prince on October, 28, 1988 – I sat in Section B-8 while Prince was doing his soundcheck, ripping through a song set list that included covers of Led Zeppelin and Hendrix—unreal!

  

  RICH ENGLER – Rich is the former president of Pittsburgh’s DiCesare-Engler Productions, a concert promotion company that brought hundreds of concerts into our southwestern Pennsylvania region from the late 1960s through the early 2000s.  DiCesare-Engler eventually became part of Live Nation.  Currently Rich is booking shows and events under the banner of Rich Engler Presents.

Actually I've always judged most shows that I've done, quality-wise, in terms of how much money I made or lost!  But in terms of talent, here goes:

Number One on my Civic Arena list is the Paul McCartney doubleheader of Feb 4th and 5th, 1990.  This was the pinnacle of wonder and amazement for me.  McCartney had said right before the first night's show that he had some throat problems, but both shows played and he was just amazing.

Number Two on my list is Kansas.  I took this band in 1975 from third on the bill of a Stanley Theatre show with Queen and Styx, all the way up to them being the first band to ever play two consecutive nights at the Civic Arena in 1977—and both were sold out.  This was a major feat; there were about 30,000 total people in attendance.  Kansas in their other strong markets at that time could only sell about 10,000 tickets total.  

Also, my favorite arena concert where the roof opened was Eric Clapton on June 30, 1975.  We always used to ask the artist when he or she wanted to open the roof.  Clapton said he would let us know.  At some point in his set, he said to the crowd "We're going to open up the roof now,” and almost immediately, smoke poured out of the arena into the night sky.  Then it started to rain a little bit, and Clapton broke into "Let It Rain" as the arena crew began to close the roof because of the storm.

  IDA D’ERRICO – Ida was Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the Pittsburgh Civic Arena from 1982-1989.  She currently heads up Ida D’Errico Associates LLC.

Michael Jackson: It was THE mega concert of our time, September 26, 27 & 28, 1988.  I was fortunate to be assigned to join two other operations staffers, Mike Gentille and Jim Sacco, to advance the opening date of the BAD tour in Kemper Arena, Kansas City.  Although never star-struck (you couldn't be in our business!) I was a huge fan of his incomparable talents.  I recall that the well-dressed audience included a lot of families, very much like we were watching any touring family show such as Disney on Ice.  People froze in their seats appearing not to move or even dare breathe fearing they might miss one of his mesmerizing gravity-defying moves.

Our on-sale date approached and we planned accordingly to set up a bank of an additional twenty phone lines in the concourse of the lower arena outside our box office to receive the onslaught of calls.  The receivers were off the hooks as 10am approached.  All news cameras stood by as I gave the direction to place the receivers back onto their cradles.  And we were off(!), with a major non-stop telethon of ringing phones in two areas...

As usual for incoming concerts, the tour’s tech rider contained several requirements.  One in particular for this show was a leather couch in one of three dark colors—black, navy or gray.  It was well-known that Michael had a serious concern about germs.  Our operations manager, Mike Gentille, tried very hard to locate one without success.  Just two days before the concert, he asked if I could locate one through my relationship with Kaufmann's.  They searched their warehouse and didn't have one.  I contacted Higbee's department store in Boardman, Ohio (editor’s note: the store was owned by Youngstown, Ohio’s Edward J. DeBartolo Corporation who also owned the lease for the Civic Arena).  They had one, and were preparing to quickly deliver it to the arena when Kaufmann's called me to say they had located a gray one tucked away in their warehouse.  It was quickly wrapped and delivered.  

Michael sat on the couch for three days wearing his famous silver-buckled black costume.  The leather couch was then picked up by Kaufmann's and I received an immediate call.  Kaufmann's was upset that their soft leather $3,000 couch was covered with hundreds of slits and slices.  I quickly said that the couch was now “priceless” since Michael sat on it for three days, and explained that the damage was caused by his costume.  They were in awe.  I doubt they ever sold it to the public.  

The DeBartolo family was instrumental in being certain Pittsburgh had the tour dates and our management team was the promoter.  I was asked to order a large impressive flower arrangement for Michael's dressing room.  It was so large and heavy and filled with incredible exotic flowers that it took three of our utility crew to carry it into the dressing room where it covered an entire table!  

The road manager followed after me repeatedly saying the flowers couldn't stay due to “germs.”  I politely replied that they would indeed need to stay as they were a gift from the DeBartolo family.  They stayed in the dressing room all three days.  The road manager also insisted that the fabric wallpaper be removed from the newly remodeled dressing room—more “germs.”  It stayed intact, too.

During the planning process leading up to the show, I was contacted often by Michael's manager and Pittsburgh native, the late Frank DiLeo.  Frank insisted that he arrange to have a photo taken of me with Michael, along with his long line of many other guests.  I resisted, again, not being star-struck and having only one other photo with an artist (Robert Lamm of Chicago), also taken by accident and unplanned.  But I said “yes,” and Michael was absolutely wonderful and so pleasant.  I thought I'd never see the photo—but I'm looking at the framed 8 x 10 on my office wall as I type this memory.  Priceless.

 

 

 

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Posted 1/24/21.....ISN’T LIFE STRANGE

Here are a batch of songs that potentially can be squeezed into a COVID-related song mix of your making. Understand that really only the song titles are the hooks to COVID, and that the songs’ lyrical contents all widely differ from this.  The real purpose here is to resurrect some great songs that might have originally passed you by, or ones that will rekindle memories of the first time that you heard them…Enjoy.

  SONG TITLE RELATING TO HOW COVID CAME ABOUT

Nature’s Way … This early-FM radio hit is from the 1970 album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus by the Los Angeles-based rock group Spirit.  The song’s environmentally themed lyrics include “It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong” (p.s. Just a somewhat related thought here, by extension: Be extra careful when ordering “wings and a brew” these days from restaurants.  Be sure to specify chicken wings; pass on any others that might be of the “long spread-out digits covered with a thin membrane” variety).  https://youtu.be/qvQa04JP73o

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT LIFE UNDER COVID

Something in the Air … Mentored by The Who’s Pete Townshend, the British band Thunderclap Newman released this revolutionary-themed single in 1969 ahead of their 1970 one and only album Hollywood Dream.  The song was reportedly first called “Revolution” but before release was retitled to nix any potential confusion with The Beatle’s 1968 mega-hit of the same name.  https://youtu.be/T59hsln7nlc

Isn’t Life Strange … British band the Moody Blues, renowned primarily in the 1960s and 1970s for blending classical music in with their rock and progressive rock, included this six-minute rumination on their eighth album Seventh Sojourn released in 1972.  https://youtu.be/AXKPtFzwPmg

Is There Anyway Out of this Dream? … Not sure how this coupling came to be, but this song is a collaboration of the idiosyncratic Tom Waits and country belle Crystal Gayle, and it appears on Waits’ soundtrack album to the Francis Ford Coppola film One from the Heart.  Some critics thought this 1982 musical was visually striking but others in the press clearly chose to ignore it or outright abhor it.  The film starred Frederic Forest, Teri Garr, Raul Julia, Nastassja Kinski and Harry Dean Stanton.  On this particular Waits’ composition from the soundtrack, Gayle provides the sole vocal.  https://youtu.be/9Lr5-XIsj4w

When The World is Running Down, You Make The Best of What’s Still Around … The Police were quite a force in the late 1970s/early 1980s with their muscular, incredibly rhythmic, and reggae-tinged power pop.  This tune comes from the band’s third release Zenyatta Mondatta (1980), but instead of the original track from the album Musicasaurus offers up an extended remix version overhauled for the club scene by production duo Different Gear in the year 2000.  https://youtu.be/byUZ52-fiv4

Waiting On The World To Change … John Mayer channels Marvin Gaye a bit through the messaging on this one, a song from the singer/guitarist’s 2006 album Continuum.  It’s a smooth R&B flavored glimpse of the younger generation and their perceived apathy—yet, as the song says, they’re just biding their time.  https://youtu.be/Ql_VZX6sxwA

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO MASK PROTECTION

Eyes Without a Face … Rocker Billy Idol rode in on the new wave of MTV breakout stars in the early 1980s along with Duran Duran, Culture Club, Human League and other British artists.  I never idolized Billy but this particular song grabbed me upon first listen; most of this artist’s popular songs were energetic crunch ‘n’ roll and maybe even a bit cartoonish, but the mostly mid-tempo “Eyes Without a Face” was brooding, dark and delicious.  https://youtu.be/e7U1YZNgwnY

Cover Me … This song was the second of seven Top Ten singles from Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A album that hit record store shelves back in 1984.  The album rose like a mushroom cloud as Bruce finally exploded in both sales and popularity at this juncture, and even he might say that this was a mixed blessing; stadium settings and large arenas just have never done justice to the full power and the glory and the emotional intimacy of a typical Bruce & E Street Band marathon musical experience.  https://youtu.be/s3tqIk8TPWM

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO SOCIAL DISTANCING

Keep Your Distance … Richard Thompson is a guitar god.  There are other Englishmen who more famously share that mantle like Eric Clapton, of course, who in the 1960s was the subject of graffiti scrawls all over London walls that equated the artist with the Heavenly Father (“Clapton is God”).  Thompson sprang from folk rock roots, however, not from blues, as he was a member of the 1960s band Fairport Convention.  His subsequent solo career—in which he dazzles with strong songs, intelligent and wry lyrics, and nimble guitar work on both acoustic and electric—is a marvel to parse through.  “Keep Your Distance” is one of Thompson’s ballads (at which he also excels), and it comes from his sixth solo album from 1991 entitled Rumor and Sigh.  https://youtu.be/62p4S7w0GHk

Six Feet Away … The SteelDrivers are a Nashville-based bluegrass band who have released five genre-stretching albums since 2008, the first two of which featured Chris Stapleton as lead singer.  A revised lineup of the group continued on and three more albums followed including the latest effort Bad For You in 2020.  “Six Feet Away” is from the SteelDrivers’ fourth release The Muscle Shoals Recordings.  https://youtu.be/KXahD9CFtNs

Don’t Come Around Here No More … Petty’s MTV video helped spark this song into longevity back in 1985 as it saturated the channel for a spell and intrigued old and new fans with its Alice in Wonderland themed approach.  The song, co-written by the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, hails from Petty and his Heartbreakers’ sixth album Southern Accents (1985).  https://youtu.be/WldDwR1UTYM

I Hear You Knocking … “I hear you knocking / but you can’t come in…”  This song, originally a piano-pounded rhythm & blues tune from 1955 as played by New Orleans musician Smiley Lewis, became a guitar-centric ‘50s style rocker in the hands of Welsh singer/guitarist Dave Edmunds.  It comes from Edmunds’ first solo album Rockpile (1972) and is just one of the covers on there of mostly obscure 1950s and early 1960s hit songs from artists including Chuck Berry, Ron Davies, Bob Dylan and Willie Dixon.  https://youtu.be/xnzRhAy62cI

Stay Away … Bradley’s success was not overnight—for him, it was late in the evening.  His debut album No Time For Dreaming (from which this track was taken) was released in 2011 when Bradley had just turned 62.  He had slogged through some tough times earlier on, but soul music was always in his head and heart starting with his life-changing concert experience as a 14-year-old when he saw James Brown at the Apollo Theater in 1962.  “Stay Away” is Bradley’s cover of the Kurt Cobain composition that first appeared on Nirvana’s debut album Nevermind in 1991.  https://youtu.be/3R7lF7zKbkI

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO ANOTHER COVID PRECAUTION

Keep Your Hands to Yourself … Remember bars?  Those places of libation where people were crammed in, packed to the max and partying as they caught up with each other’s lives or made new friends?  That was B.C.—Before COVID.  “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” was likely a song that you might have heard, as it was a jukebox favorite for many years after its debut in 1986 on the self-titled album by the Georgia Satellites.  In the current climate this tune’s title provides a necessary reminder for us (and remember as well: “no hug-ee, no kiss-ee”).  https://youtu.be/cPtw_Cd3zTk

Wash Your Hands … Lola is a blues singer from Atlanta, GA who brings us this tune via her 2007 album Give Her What She Wants.  One customer review currently on Amazon.com cites her “soulful, gritty, sexy, take-me-to-church singing” and another says “…she croons a few romantic tunes that will make you feel like a hot buttered biscuit.”  I’m lovin’ L-o-l-a, Lola.  https://youtu.be/hEL5e6xaYLs

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO THE PROBLEMS OF BUILDING NEW ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS

Solitude … Sam Cooke was a member of the famed Texas gospel music group the Soul Stirrers from 1950-1956, and then went solo to ultimately produce a number of soul stirring classics that spanned 1956 through the time of his death in 1964.  “Solitude” is from his third solo release, 1959’s Tribute to The Lady, an album of Billie Holiday songs (these same tunes are more readily available today through the 1975 album on the RCA label entitled Sam Cooke Interprets Billie Holiday).  https://youtu.be/xylrzUuQlhE

Distant Lover … This track from 1973’s Let’s Get It On shows the genius of Marvin Gaye.  Witness the sophisticated song arrangement; the swirling, practically trance inducing multi-tracked vocals; and above it all, Gaye’s pleading, pleasing and impassioned tenor.  Let’s Get It On, which also contained the radio hit “Sexual Healing,” hit radio and record stores about two years after Gaye’s career-defining What’s Going On album.  https://youtu.be/KJoeTh00gjk

Long Distance Love … Little Feat captures the essence of southern-styled rhythm & blues & rock ‘n’ roll; they’re gritty, adventurous, and their songwriting and execution are masterful.  This lovely lament written by guitarist/singer Lowell George hails from the band’s 1975 album The Last Record Album.  The band’s seven studio recordings between 1971 and 1979 hold many salient successes and valiant attempts; wherever I have tread in my many musical journeys in the past, I have always landed back on my Feat.  https://youtu.be/vsNeUZd9n48

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO BOREDOM AND/OR CABIN FEVER

We Gotta Get Out of This Place … 1960s British Invasion band The Animals recorded this song written by songwriting marrieds Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, a couple who were based in NYC’s famous Brill Building and wrote over fifty different hit songs for a combination of American and British recording artists.  The Animals did the song proud; the tune (from their 1965 USA release Animal Tracks) remains timeless largely because of lead singer Eric Burdon’s powerful, full-throated pleading, and the fact that the song has resonated with individuals through the generations, starting with the Vietnam era and running right through our current quarantining.  https://youtu.be/t6gcxNFc1I0

Too Much Time … Captain Beefheart was an idiosyncratic and autocratic musician, sculptor and painter, whose music spanning the late 1960s through the early 1980s was often abrasive and challenging to listen to.  Upon Beefheart’s death in December 2010, an NPR obituary written by Rick Karr quoted the artist as once stating he had never set out to do standard rock and roll: "That 'mama heartbeat,' that 'bom-bom-bom'—it's so boring, it's so banal.  I mean so, uh, hypnotic," the captain had said.  "I don't wanna hypnotize anybody.  I just wanna play.  I mean, I want things to change—like the patterns and shadows that fall from the sun."  Despite his aims for unflagging unconventionality, Beefheart did produce at least a few songs that were more accessible and therefore more digestible to a wider swath of rock music fans.  “Too Much Time” from the 1972 album Clear Spot was one such song.  https://youtu.be/Uj5J6RIMJhA

It’s The Same Old Song … This Motown tune was a Top Five single in the USA when released in 1965 as part of Four Tops’ second album which was called…uh, Four Tops Second Album.  Astoundingly, this vocal group stayed together with no changes in line-up from their 1953 beginnings through June of 1997 when member Lawrence Payton passed away from cancer.  Lead singer Levi Stubbs was the band’s baritone benchmark who also provided the voice for the mean green plant Audrey II in the 1986 musical dark-comedy film from director Frank Oz, Little Shop Of Horrors.  https://youtu.be/oZLG9MV5GvQ

The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) … By the time of his fourth album released in 1976, Small Change, Tom Waits’ voice had become a meld between blues legend Howlin’ Wolf, trumpeter/singer Louis Armstrong, and Animal, the drummer from the band Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show.  Waits was also battling a few drink demons and was weary of life on the road, and his songs were, in the words of AllMusic.com reviewer William Ruhlmann, “steeped in whiskey and atmosphere…It’s as if Waits were determined to combine the Humphrey Bogart and Dooley Wilson characters from Casablanca with a dash of On the Road's Dean Moriarty to illuminate a dark world of bars and all-night diners.”  https://youtu.be/Ai7umMFRWfA

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES DURING COVID 

Walkin’ By Myself … Harmonica player Paul Butterfield wasn’t even out of his teens yet and was frequenting blues clubs throughout his hometown of Chicago, letting soon-to-be-idols Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and others “school” him in the blues through their performances and later on, through their occasional invitations to him to jam.  Beginning in 1965, Butterfield’s self-named blues band produced a number of crisp and tight R&B/blues albums featuring Butterfield’s wailing harp and a sizzling horn section.  “Walkin’ By Myself” comes from their fifth album Keep On Moving which was released in 1969.  https://youtu.be/PfOZb7EeS0E

Cook with Honey … Cook with honey, or ask your live-in honey to help you cook—either way, do spend time in meal prep as it’s a great way to focus and bring about some tasty results.  This song was written by Valerie Carter while the singer was with the Loginitas, California folk-rock band Howdy Moon in the early 1970s, before being swept up by Little Feat’s Lowell George to embark on an unfortunately destined-to-be-cultish solo career.  Howdy Moon, the band’s 1974 eponymous debut, was their one and only album and “Cook with Honey” from that record was actually a minor radio hit the year before for singer Judy Collins.  This is Howdy Moon’s version:  https://youtu.be/Ojd6Lw68rzA

Games People Play … Since the March 2020 shutdown of normal life due to COVID, games at home have gone gonzo.  Families are digging into Scrabble, Monopoly, Ludo and Chess among others, and consumer spending on video games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Pokemon Sword and Call of Duty: Modern Warefare rose 22 percent in 2020 according to a recent New York Times article.  The song listed here is the original version as performed by singer-songwriter Joe South and it actually deals with themes of intolerance and hypocrisy—those kind of games people play. The tune is from South’s 1968 debut album Introspect.  https://youtu.be/K33o1FtLgwM

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO THE PITFALLS OF HUNKERING DOWN WITH YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER FOR MONTHS ON END

We Just Disagree … This 1977 song by British singer-songwriter/musician Dave Mason is from his seventh studio album Let It Flow, and it quickly caught the fancy of radio programmers across the USA.  Regrettably, the tune successfully clung to station playlists for many years afterward on a lot of snooze-inducing, adult contemporary format stations and the life was wrung out of it.  Today, let’s just say, its beauty is in the ear of the beholder.  https://youtu.be/EIPz46htVNA

Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of … U2’s 2000 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind was in some critics’ and fans’ opinions a return to the care and craft evidenced in the band’s 1980s songwriting on albums such as The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree.  Co-produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, All That You Leave Behind offers up this particularly moving number that U2’s Bono has said was inspired by his friend Michael Hutchence’s suicide in 1997; Hutchence was the lead singer of Australian band INXS.  https://youtu.be/_6YxhlF8HRo

Should I Stay or Should I Go … Punk rock’s fearless foursome The Clash formed in London in 1976 and was comprised of a lead guitarist/singer, a bass player, a drummer, and a rhythm guitarist/principal vocalist named Joe Strummer who’d come from the “spit and snarl” school of rock.  The band itself was dynamic and irrepressible, and by their third and fourth albums (1979’s London Calling and 1980’s Sandinista!) the group had become quite musically venturesome.  The Clash blended political messaging with punk, ska, rock, reggae, rap and third world beats to produce a musical stew that ended up inspiring a number of past and present alternative bands.  “Should I Stay or Should I Go” is from the 1982 album Combat Rock, and it features lead guitarist Mick Jones on vocals.  https://youtu.be/BN1WwnEDWAM

How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away … Dan Hicks was an eccentric and eclectic singer/songwriter who first gained a reputation in the late 1960s for quirky, fetching songs performed by his musically hard-to-pin-down ensemble Dan Hick & His Hot Licks.  Through the early 1970s he was releasing albums and bringing to college campuses and clubs across the country a freewheelin’ style of music sometimes labeled “hippie acoustic swing,” his meld of jazz, country, swing, folk, bluegrass and even gypsy music.  The song listed here is from Hicks’ 1969 debut album called Original Recordings.  https://youtu.be/sTz7nABgIH4

 

  SONG TITLES RELATING TO VACCINATIONS

Hit Me with your Best Shot … If you checked out the once-meaningful national song-ranking charts of yesteryear, you’d find Pat Benatar with fifteen Top Forty singles in Billboard magazine between 1979 and 1986.  “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” was fairly early in her success story and hails from the singer’s second album Crimes of Passion (1980).  The keys to her success?  Benatar possessed a powerful, at times operatic vocal style that was expertly cushioned by a crack rhythm section and the criminally unheralded guitar work of husband Neil Giraldo.  In addition to a link to “Best Shot” from Benatar, for fun and contrast Musicasaurus.com is also posting a link to a cover version by the satire-driven 1950s music tribute band from Southern California, Big Daddy.  (Benatar) https://youtu.be/rXs9MXrHxVE … (Big Daddy) https://youtu.be/RArhodfkIYE

Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love) … In the 1950s and 1960s there was a regional phenomenon called the “beach music scene” primarily in the coastal southern states which essentially opened the door for young and curious white audiences there to hear current and emerging black artists’ rhythm & blues records.  Riding one of the waves of beach music that came along in the 1960s was the eight-piece R&B band the Swingin’ Medallions from North Carolina.  They rocketed to national fame in 1966 with their one and only truly substantial hit “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love,” taken from the album of the same name.  https://youtu.be/AalipGj0utc

 

  AND…A SONG TITLE FOR THE ANTI-VAXXERS

The Needle and the Damage Done … This is Neil Young’s lament from his Harvest album (1972) that he wrote due to the overdose deaths of some close band members, Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry.  Any anti-vaxxers currently opposed to the COVID shots can of course derive their own meaning of the song’s title.  https://youtu.be/49M10VIXPk4

 

 

 

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Posted 1/10/21.....THE NAME OF THE GAME

Just about a month ago over the weekend of December 11th, Live Nation announced through a press release that the large outdoor concert venue near Pittsburgh was rechristened The Pavilion at Star Lake.  This kind of “Circle of Life” closin’ of the loop sometimes happens in the music business with venue sponsorships and at least for now, the Star Lake name is back for the first time in twenty years.

Working our way backwards, let’s start namin’ names: S&T Bank Music Park was the amphitheater’s latest handle beginning in January 2020 though the venue’s looming summer season was then ultimately stolen—and the bank consequently robbed of recognition—due to COVID coming to roost.  Before S&T, naming rights flowed this way through the years: KeyBank Pavilion from 2016 to 2019, First Niagara Pavilion 2010 to 2016, Post-Gazette Pavilion 2000 through 2009 and Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990 to 1999.

How did Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre come into being?  In the late 1980s there was a bit of a race to get the first shovel in the ground on a large amphitheater for this southwestern Pennsylvania region, and there were two concert promotion companies vying for land rights and corresponding community embrace.  Pittsburgh’s DiCesare-Engler Productions and Houston, Texas-based Pace were in this slugfest, and Pace won the race. 

Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre was really just one of a handful of widely disseminated outdoor venues built by Pace in the USA in a ten-year period principally spanning the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s.  Our venue was ultimately nestled on a patch of reclaimed strip mining land in Washington County (a half-hour’s drive from Pittsburgh) and construction started in late 1989 with doors first opening to the public in June of 1990. 

My employment at Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre began in the venue’s second year.  In February 1991 I had decided to jump ship from the Pittsburgh Civic Arena where I was in a booking role in order to take the reins of a departing marketing director at Star Lake.  The first order of business upon grabbing that chair was to go out (under the wing of amphitheater executive director Tom Rooney and general manager Wilson Rogers) to meet the Cameron family of Washington County, the successful owners of the tenth largest Coca-Cola bottling company in the U.S.  I found this an easy assignment, as the Cameron family members that I met that day—principally Don, Jim and Wendy—were savvy and driven, yet warm and down-to-earth.  And they loved their name-in-title sponsorship with Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre.

This was my first real brush with a sponsorship of this magnitude, and I quickly learned that maintaining this relationship was a core pillar of my new marketing role since the Camerons had committed beaucoup bucks back in 1990 to have the Coca-Cola brand cemented into our official venue name.  So we treated the Camerons as royalty, really, bending over backwards on inside-the-venue Coke signage requests, stocking (nay, overstocking) their Coke products in all of our concession stands and points of sale, and even accommodating them with special events that we created ourselves.  

The Saturday, May 24, 1997 Surge Festival was one such event.  This was a twelve-hour day of homegrown music from a number of local bands, including three exciting young acts who coincidentally at the time were each circling ‘round success stemming from new and individually hatched national record label deals: The Clarks, Brownie Mary and The Gathering Field.  

The significance of the festival’s name?  Surge was a newly debuted citrus-flavored soft drink that, all at once in that summer of 1997, had become a major priority of both the Camerons and Coca-Cola on a national level.  Cameron’s fervid hope was that with our venue’s marketing muscle applied to this aptly named event, we’d make a mighty impression (through media impressions) on the youth market who were by this summer of 1997 quite well attuned to our venue and its offerings.  The Surge Festival was successful and surprisingly so—we were projecting/hoping for 12,000 and ended up with over 18,000 fans in attendance for this locally concocted hometown band extravaganza. 

On the very top of my list of marketing efforts on behalf of Cameron Coca-Cola, though, was policing the media when it came to on-air and in-print mentions of our venue name.  This was a constant struggle especially when it came to radio deejays that habitually shortened our venue name to “Star Lake” instead of “Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre”—and by contract with the Camerons, we sorely needed that name all Coked up!  

Especially in the first few years of Cameron’s sponsorship with us, I was often on the phone with certain program directors of Pittsburgh and outer market radio stations pleading with them to call us by our rightful name, even suggesting that they simply drop the word “Amphitheatre” from their mouthful and just call us “Coca-Cola Star Lake.”  My relationship with the PDs of these stations was generally pretty strong but if I really ran into a brick wall on this issue, I then called the particular station’s general sales manager to diplomatically remind him or her of the amount of money I was spending on advertising our 40-some shows over the course of the season.  In this way I became—and I’m paraphrasing here—a huge believer in Teddy Roosevelt’s proverbial saying “Speak softly and carry a big wallet.”

All in all, the amphitheater and Cameron had a great partnership through the 1990s.  Then as we approached the end of their ten-year sponsorship term in 1999 the principals called us in for a special meeting at their Washington County headquarters shortly after our ninth summer of operation in October 1998.  News had just started to circulate that Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., the world’s largest soft drink bottler, was in the final stages of purchasing the Cameron Coca-Cola Bottling Company and the deal was expected to be completed by year’s end.  The Camerons had gathered us altogether to reiterate their great satisfaction with the relationship we’d carved out with them, but with their imminent sale to the behemoth bottler all of their local financial commitments of course had been reviewed upstream—and in the case of Star Lake, the name-in-title sponsorship was not something the new ownership was going to renew after the current deal expired.

So in anticipation of Coca-Cola abdicating their throne we began a search for a name-in-title savior to take the reins in time for the 2000 summer season of shows.  As our search intensified through the fall of 1999 and into the first quarter of 2000, we fortunately began zeroing on a couple of serious prospects that had landed on our doorstep—the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

   

Things with the Tribune-Review in particular were moving along rather quickly. As discussions deepened, though, and the deal elements and implications were all sussed out by the Trib team and channeled upward to the level of archconservative owner and billionaire Dick Scaife, we began to glean a strong feeling that this deal ultimately might not come to fruition.  I know, I know—hard to believe that a concert venue like ours wouldn’t be an attractive fit with its rock ‘n’ roll and metal shows, and the sporadic negative press about our occasionally rowdy crowds and their beer muscle skirmishes.  Who-‘d a thunk it?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the other hand, at that time a more center-to-left leaning newspaper, was coursing along to bear fruit.  The paper was also truly a Pittsburgh tradition. It had started life in 1786 as The Gazette—the first newspaper published west of the Allegheny Mountains.  And the publication’s own particular paper trail led it through various format and ownership changes through the years until 1927 when Toledo, Ohio-based publisher Paul Block, the new owner, combined it with another morning-edition newspaper to form the Post-Gazette.

Luck with this name-in-title sponsorship negotiation seemed to be on our side.  Though the Block family owners in Toledo had final say, the newspaper’s local management team in Pittsburgh had a certain level of autonomy and sway, and so when their internal swirl of input and critique was all sorted out the newspaper ultimately decided to step up to the plate.

So starting with the first concert in the summer of 2000, the venue had a brand new name: Post-Gazette Pavilion.  A major press conference about two months before opening day had officially kicked off the name change, and behind the scenes our marketing team immediately set about retraining all of our media partners to kick their Coke habits.  No more “Coca-Cola Star Lake”—now the media had a new name to wrangle with, and the policing we’d done on behalf of our soft drink sponsor starting a decade ago kicked right back into high gear with this new rite of passage.

Any sponsorship of significance requires time and effort in terms of managing expectations, of course, and each has its peculiarities.  There were a few rather unique twists to this Post-Gazette/amphitheater deal and I found myself in uncharted waters in dealing with two issues—trying to gain compliance from other newspapers in the use of our venue’s official new name, and also navigating a tug of war that existed between two key departments within the Post-Gazette itself.

Our radio station partners were all fine with the new venue name in terms of on-air usage, so our one pocket of resistance was really only the print world.  The Tribune-Review in Pittsburgh was obviously not wild about promoting their direct competitor in this manner, and even out-of-market newspapers such as Washington County’s Observer-Reporter felt similarly.  So some of these publications reacted by beginning to call our amphitheater the “PG Pavilion” in all of their news stories and concert reviews.  The Post-Gazette management was understanding on this particular issue of their competitors’ hesitancies and thus lived with the situation, but I often wondered…If one particular evening at our amphitheater 10,000 Marilyn Manson fans suddenly went berserk, flamethrowered all of the lawn patrons and then ate all the little children, would some newspapers then use the full Post-Gazette Pavilion name?

The one remaining bump-in-the-road in our brand new Post-Gazette/amphitheater relationship was something we hadn’t fully anticipated but should have—ye olde separation of Church and State.  The Marketing and Sponsorship sides of the Post-Gazette really “got” the value of the name-in-title sponsorship and worked with us to maximize the relationship, but over in the News and Editorial departments there seemed to be a different sentiment.  It was as if News and Editorial had decided to overcompensate on maintaining their air of objectivity, something they greatly prized, in order to “prove” that they were not at all influenced by their company’s major sponsorship investment in our venue.  So, we collectively bit our lip to preserve our otherwise great relationship and weathered the occasional negative news stories about incidents at the amphitheater and the less-than-kind letters to the editor that were sometimes published in the paper.  

We eventually realized that we may have been overly sensitive to this issue but also believed there might have been a grain of truth in our theory.  Regardless, by 2001—year two of our name-in-title sponsorship—we were through all of the kinks and were well on our way to substantially strengthening our bonds with the Post-Gazette through the sponsorship contract’s specifically outlined benefits as well as some “above and beyonds.”

At present the amphitheater is once again Star Lake…but stay tuned.  Despite the current tenacious cling of COVID, the amphitheater at this juncture is already holding a few dates for the summer of 2021 and—fingers crossed and definitely sleeves rolled up—perhaps these shows will eventually be 100% confirmed by venue owner Live Nation.  And a new name-in-title sponsor may already be waiting in the wings.

 

 

 

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Posted 12/27/20.....JESUS IS JUST ALRIGHT

As we are now on the cusp of 2021, I am reminded of a special anniversary of sorts—a happening in my hometown of Butler, PA fifty years ago when I was seventeen.  And it’s best to actually start this tale a handful of years before that 1971 occurrence, with a bit of background that speaks to the tenor of the times…

In March of 1966, John Lennon in a London Evening Standard profile piece was quoted as saying “Christianity will go.  It will vanish and shrink.  I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I'll be proved right.  We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first—rock 'n' roll or Christianity.  Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary.  It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

Lennon and the newspaper’s reporter had been chatting about Lennon’s extensive book collection and the talk had swung for a moment to religion in England.  The Beatle had simply meant to point out that Christianity was on the decline in his native country, a situation oft-discussed in the UK at that time.  When his quote appeared five months later, though, in an American teen magazine called Datebook, it caused a furor stateside that led to some church group mini-mobs burning Beatles’ albums, radio deejays smashing the band’s records on the air, protests outside the band’s concerts, and other brouhaha.

The Beatles survived the controversy, of course.  America’s youth was captivated with the quartet and, with every new release by the band through the end of the Sixties, the youthquake only picked up more steam.  Society was morphing like a mutha—there were deep new fissures between parents and teens, revolutionary changes in music and fashion and art, and a growing dissatisfaction and disillusionment within young people about the status quos of racial inequality and lagging women’s rights, and about this country’s blinders-on tolerance for waging war abroad.

In this atmosphere of unrest and rebellion, small towns across America were doing their best to deal with these sweeping changes—and my hometown of Butler, PA (about an hour north of Pittsburgh) was no exception.

During my three years in Butler Area Senior High School (grades 10-12; September 1968 through May 1971), the place was a cauldron of all these changes bubbling up and spilling over.  There were events taking place in my time there like the periodic student challenges to the longstanding, restrictive school dress code, and the quickly hatched fashion statement that followed the Kent State shootings—pockets of hallway strutting, politically charged high schoolers who had immediately donned peace-sign emblazoned armbands.  And hovering over all of these types of incidents and eruptions was the polarization between the cliques, which is pretty standard fare in high school life though in this case, it had a new twist—a long-haired one.

In school and even more so out in the community at large, the Long Hairs were more than just dotting the landscape: heads had become bedraggled, bell bottoms flared, army jackets enveloped, and wire rims glasses added to the spectacle.  Perhaps inevitably, there was a certain Us versus Them rift building between the particular slice of youth that was restless and experimentative, and the staid status quo of town leaders and the community’s older citizens.

At the time there was a mod clothing shop on Main Street in Butler called Spirit, which was owned and operated by a twenty-something businessman named John Sassone.  The shop primarily sold clothing but also a little bit of paraphernalia, which was the collective term back then for items/devices used in the indulgence of illegal substances such as marijuana (which had certainly become the Long Hairs’ drug of choice).  Indeed, pot had become one of the unofficial banners of experimental youth, carried into most every Smalltown USA on the overall winds of change in the 1960s and early 1970s (note: that drug of course was illegal, but the sale of paraphernalia at that time was not.)

Perhaps in response to a building frustration on the part of local police and community leaders with youth’s contrary nature and the wider changes afoot, one day in late March Butler City Police Lieutenant A. J. Zaccari walked into the Spirit shop, confiscated a poster of Mr. Sassone’s that was on sale at the location, and then filed charges against the store owner—for blasphemy.

What in Christ’s name, you may ask yourself, was happening here?!!  According to hometown newspaper the Butler Eagle, in an article that quickly followed, “The charge stemmed from several telephone complaints called into the City Police Station regarding a poster displayed in the window of the shop.  It was designed in the form of a wanted poster and had a picture of Jesus Christ with the caption, ‘Wanted for sedition, criminal anarchy, vagrancy, and conspiring to overthrow the established government.’”

Butler youths in particular were stunned by this, and the community at large shaken and stirred.  The blasphemy charge was unusual to say the least.  One of the Spirit shop’s employees in the immediate aftermath reported that Sassone was told by an inquiring radio station that there had not been an arrest in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania for that charge since 1824.  Blasphemy was, however, still on the books and listed under Section 523 of the state’s penal code.

The poster itself, Sassone explained to the media, was something he had purchased from the wholesaling Dynamic Creations Company in Pittsburgh.  The company had had this piece of inventory in stock for at least the past couple of years, and it was fairly popular as a youth-oriented retail item around Western PA according to the company’s owner Mark Lantzman.  He estimated that over 2,000 units had been sold in the area thus far and he was in the process of ordering more. 

The poster’s full text reveals its appeal to the youth market—at least to those in that demographic who were really beginning to bristle over the perceived refusal of “The Establishment” to recognize and accept the incoming waves of social change and protest:

                                                        REWARD for Information Leading to the Apprehension of

                                                                                           JESUS CHRIST                 

Wanted—for sedition, criminal anarchy, vagrancy and conspiring to overthrow the established government.  Dresses poorly.  Said to be a carpenter by trade, ill-nourished, has visionary ideas, associates with common working people, the unemployed and bums.  Alien—believed to be a Jew.  ALIAS: Prince of Peace, Son of Man, Light of the World.  Professional Agitator.  Red beard, marks on hands and feet a result of injuries inflicted by an angry mob led by respectable citizens and legal authorities.

 

As it turned out, Sassone’s other retail shop in Slippery Rock, PA (about 18 miles north of Butler) was also slapped with the charge by its local police force, and the same poster then confiscated.  The blasphemy charge against the two stores essentially amounted to a summons to appear before a district magistrate, and the fine and costs for the charge would be $111.00 total if store owner Sassone just pled guilty—but as the latter made increasingly clear, he would stand and fight. 

Meanwhile, the arrests precipitated a whirl of activity almost immediately.  A Pittsburgh law firm on behalf of the ACLU quickly offered to step in to defend the case; a local legal funds benefit concert was being talked about for early May; and on a widening scale, righteous indignation (on all ends of that spectrum) began running rampant in Butler.

The second day after his arrest Sassone issued the following written signed statement: “The content of this poster is not blasphemous!  When read with care, it contains a beautiful Easter Week sermon.  I believe that our social structure has been stung by the truth of the message.  The parallel between today’s Establishment and its treatment of the Revolutionaries and that of the Romans’ treatment of Christ is apparent.  The blasphemy statute is the product of early colonial attempts to protect the Christian Faith by legislation.  It clearly violates the First Amendment and the Establishment of Religion clause.  Likewise, I am of the opinion that it is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution protecting the freedom of speech.  I believe this law is unconstitutional.”

Now...bear in mind...all of this hoo-hah happened pre-internet, when people got their news exclusively from local television and radio stations and from hometown newspapers.  In this case the little local tale had spread across the country, thanks to the Associated Press newswire that carried an article about the incident two days after the arrests.  More than a handful of media outlets (like stations in Philadelphia and Los Angeles) called Sassone for comment, and on the local front, the controversy soon spilled over into the “Letters to the Editor” section of the Butler Eagle.

One letter to the editor came from a group of 14 students from Penn State, who weighed in with these thoughts: “We write not in opposition to religion or with any disrespect to Jesus Christ...It seems to us that the charge of blasphemy is completely outside the legal principle established in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States...Particularly in view of recent Supreme Court rulings on matters of church and state, the charge appears to us to be either harassment of the store owners or a practical joke.  In West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette, the Supreme Court said, ‘If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion...’”

A counterbalancing letter to the editor ran in that same sampling, this one from 8 students from Bob Jones University: “As we read the article that appeared in The Eagle concerning this case, we were overtaken with a strong feeling of utter contempt.  The name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has been maligned and libeled, and we cannot stand idly by while the Saviour suffers this sickening attack...Instead we would like to urge citizens to take it upon themselves to show their support of the action taken by Officer Zaccari and the officials responsible for his arrest.  You say ‘Butler is a church-going community.’  We say, ‘Do you go to church to worship a holy God...or do you worship a blasphemous “wanted poster?"'  Is the police force going to have to stand alone, or are the Christians—those who claim the Saviour as their very own—going to do what they know is right, and speak out loud and clear, supporting the police and Mr. Zaccari?  We choose to stand for Jesus’ sake.”

And then from out of the wilderness came a voice and truly balanced tone—an editorial, two days after the initial arrests, by the Butler Eagle’s then editor John L. Wise, Junior.  These were like words of Solomon cropping up, thankfully, amidst the din:

                                                        POLICE HAVE BIGGER PROBLEMS THAN BLASPHEMY

The filing of blasphemy charges by City Police and Slippery Rock Police is a questionable use of the police power and police manpower.  

There are much more important things to be done in law enforcement, crime control and crime prevention than to enforce our antiquated Blue Law against theological irreverence.

If they want to get into this sort of thing, we can tell the police a lot of places—embarrassing places—where the law against blasphemy is being violated every day, if not every hour.

As we read it, the poster in question is actually a satire on our modern hang-ups over long hair, beards, poor dress and challenges to authority.  Unless there is a deep significance we don’t see, there is a pro-Christ thrust to the poster, rather than an anti-Christ tone.

But the real question is whether our police don’t need to re-examine their priorities.  If the unsolved felonies on the books in our community are not a far more pressing problem, not to mention the apparent rise in drug traffic, we don’t understand it.

                                                        — JOHN L. WISE JR.

Soon after the arrests, the blasphemy charges were dropped by the prosecuting officers.  A Butler Eagle article reported that “Mayor Frank C. LeFevre and City Police Chief Samuel Lasky noted that the action was taken on the advice of District Attorney John H, Brydon, but that the district attorney did not admit in his statement issued last week that he was responsible for the charges being filed in the first place.”

The furor had ended.  Just as John Lennon and his mates had surmounted a wrongheaded outcry in 1966 when society was in the grip of a world of changes, Butler PA in 1971 managed to rise above a particularly maddening circumstance of its own design.  For Butler, life on the local level at least returned to a less amplified tug-of-war between all of the forces caught up in the much larger upheaval of this country’s shifting values, customs and conventions.

(p.s. Musicasaurus.com would like to thank John L. Wise III for his generous time and effort in providing background material from the Butler Eagle.)

 

 

 

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Posted 12/13/20.....LISTEN TO THE MUSIC


Some of the WQED Pittsburgh staff on Cardigan Day, November 13, 2019

At the end of May I retired from full-time employment and so it’s been almost seven months since I left the very last stop on my occupational trek through life—WQED Pittsburgh.  Music had been a universal thread of my job trajectory through the many years—right out of college I was an indie record store employee followed by record label merchandiser, then a record store chain’s marketer and later on, an arena booker then amphitheater manager—but finally in September 2009 I joined the non-profit world through a corporate sales position at community treasure WQED Multimedia.  And these last eleven years of my full-time work life (2009-2020) were perhaps the richest of them all, and by that I mean the experience of working in a mission-driven, community-focused organization that from top to bottom was (and still is) populated by bright, dedicated and engaged individuals who all share a strong work ethic and an unbridled passion for effecting positive change in our region.

I reached out recently to some of my ex-work mates at QED who are, unsurprisingly, pretty much homebound like a lot of the present workaday world.  I rounded up from each of them a response to a music-related survey question that had been on my mind lately…but before we launch into that, I wanted to provide a quick snapshot of what WQED as an organization has been working on since the cloud of COVID swept in on all of us back in March.  

WQED has maintained its foot-on-the-pedal community good works, of course, pivoting where necessary in order to continue to rise to the challenges presented by Life under Virus.  These are just a few highlights out of many:

* WQED EDUCATION: Pennsylvania PBS, made up of WQED Pittsburgh and the six other public television stations in our commonwealth, has worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to create Learning at Home, a connection to thousands of hours of educational and entertaining videos and activities.  Learning at Home is tiered and geared to PreK through Grade 12, and it offers quality, engaging educational programming for free.  https://www.wqed.org/learningathome

* WQED WORKPLACE INITIATIVES: WQED is launching the next iteration of WQED’s Future Jobs “workforce development” initiative, focusing on students and also “reskilling”—for the many people in this region who suddenly find themselves in need of a whole new career path.

* WQED RADIO: WQED-FM has always been the Voice of the Arts, and this year to help out our region’s treasured, world-class performing arts organizations, the radio station is ramping up the number of special performances airing on WQED-FM with more online coverage and social media promotions … And take note of this special radio broadcast on Saturday, December 19th (5pm-8pm) as WQED’s Jim Cunningham and Rick Sebak team up to broadcast a special holiday program entitled Jim & Rick Consider Cool, Country, Contemporary & Classical Christmas Carols.

* WQED TELEVISION: In September, WQED (and PBS nationally) aired an acclaimed WQED documentary entitled Harbor from the Holocaust which shared the story of 20,000 Jewish refugees who fled Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII to the city of Shanghai … In November, WQED aired Starved: Our Food Insecurity Crisis, a new documentary that examined the food insecurity that is affecting thousands in this region … And a bit of holiday season programming that is just around the bend—Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera’s A Musical Christmas Carol, recorded live at the Byham Theater in 2018.  This special production airs on December 18 at 9pm, December 24 at 9pm and December 27 at 1:00 pm, and will also be viewable online at www.wqed.org/clochristmas now through December 31. 

And now, back to the aforementioned music-related survey question that I had sent out to QED’ers.  This has turned out to be quite a nice window into their worlds, as they currently continue WQED’s mission from home.  And here is the question I had posed to them: "What artists and/or songs are lately providing you comfort...or energy...or inspiration?  During COVID-19 especially, music can really soothe or save, or anything in between—what are your "go-to" artists/songs?"

MINETTE SEATE, Supervising Producer:
Music?  I have gone from one end of the spectrum to the other depending on the crazy mood swings of a given day.  Nutty news from Washington?  Covid case numbers rising?  My mom’s increasing needs as a 94-year-old?  Songs and artists that stick out for me: I’ve found myself turning to Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings when I’m in need of something soulful with a great rhythm section to lift my spirits.  There was one day when I listened to Steely Dan’s “My Old School” four times.  Four times in one day.  The horn section, the snarky lyrics, the backup singers.  All the ingredients of a perfect Steely Dan song reminding you that you can never go back again and probably wouldn’t if you wanted to.  My girlfriend turned us on to a dreamy soulful three-piece combo called Khruangbin.  Their song “Maria Tambien” is for me, perfect, get away music.  Plus healthy dollops of The Jam, Hall & Oates, and Nina Simone, when needed.

 

SARA LUCCI, Account Executive/Corporate Support:
During COVID-19 I’ve been listening to a lot of Phoebe Bridgers.  She’s an indie singer-songwriter who I first saw perform live with my favorite band Bright Eyes two years ago (remember concerts?!).  Since then she’s put out two brilliant solo albums that I have had on repeat during quarantine.  The albums are full of gut-wrenching lyrics that I find suitable for the time we are in.  I’m the type of person that finds comfort in sad, moody music when I’m feeling down due to, say, a pandemic.  

Phoebe was just nominated for her first Grammy—four to be exact—for her latest album Punisher.  My favorite song off the album, “Kyoto,” received two nominations—Best Rock Performance & Best Rock Song.  It’s my favorite because it has an upbeat tempo but the lyrics are deep.  I just love that combination in a song.  She has inspired me to pick up my latest quarantine hobby—learning to play guitar.  The first song I am attempting to learn is “Kyoto.”  I hope that she gets the recognition she deserves at the Grammys and that more people give her a listen!

 

JASON ARGENAS, Human Resources Manager:
Music is always a great therapy for stressful times, especially the 2020 version of stressful times.  This year there are a few artists and albums that I’ve gone back to over and over.  They are like a source of comfort food for 2020.
 
1. By and By by Caamp: This is an awesome Folk/Americana rock album.  Caamp will remind you of bands like the Lumineers and Mumford and Sons.  They are not reinventing the wheel with their simple guitar/banjo songs, but the songs on this album are well written musically and lyrically.  The title track “By and By” is a song that forces me to hit repeat button over and over again.   It’s basically a complete album without any skippable songs.

2. Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan: I’ve worn this album out on tape, vinyl and CD.  This is my go-to, stressed out, need to decompress album.  So many songs on this album (“Tangled Up in Blue,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Shelter From the Storm,” “If You See Her, Say Hello”) I have one time or another declared to be my favorite Dylan song.  I like melancholy music when I’m stressed or down and this album is just perfect for those times.

3. Black Pumas by The Black Pumas: Over the past few months when listening to music I’ve said to myself, “I’m not sure what I’m in the mood to listen to, so I’ll just put on the Black Pumas.”  The Black Pumas are part of the retro soul movement that’s going on in music today (also see Durand Jones and the Indications).  It’s an album that balances new sounds with old school soul and funk.  “Colors” and “Fire” are my standout tracks but as a whole this is an album you can just hit play, sit back and enjoy.

 

CATHY COOK, Director of Education Projects:
As far as music goes, I’ve really shifted from listening to singer/songwriter music to anything fun and bubbly.  I just want to listen, watch, and read things that are light and happy.  My music tastes right now are the equivalent to a romantic comedy movie, where everyone falls in love and lives happily ever after!  Think “Walking on Sunshine,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Brown Eyed Girl.”  Mostly throwback and very upbeat.  Last week I cleaned my house to the Grease soundtrack!  Additionally, I’ve moved into holiday music, but again, staying away from the “Silent Nights” and sticking to more “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock!”

 

DAVE HALLEWELL, Senior Producer, Promotions and Social Media:
As the daylight gets shorter and shorter, the songs get longer and longer.  Look no further than the hard-to-categorize rock band TOOL for the perfect escape as things get colder, grayer, and darker.  Art rock?  Alt metal?  Prog?  It's not really about the label, TOOL is really about the songs, the grooves and the musicianship.  Sure it took them 13 years to release their latest album, but one listen to Fear Inoculum makes it worth the wait.  Six epic tunes all clocking in at over 10 minutes, and laden with enough sonic twists and turns to keep things interesting listen after listen after listen after listen.  Simply put, the record is a master work by four virtuosos at the very top of their craft.  I always felt the band Rush was my "classical" music.  TOOL definitely grabs that mantle and runs a marathon with it. Don't believe me? Get started here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7DfQMPmJRI.  And if you can spare twelve minutes, THIS gives you a live, front row seat look at the driving force of TOOL, doing what they do like no other: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FssULNGSZIA.

 

MOLLY HELD, Director of On-Air Fundraising:
Throughout the pandemic, I've found myself searching for comfort in every form—clothes, food, movies—and music is no exception.  B.C. (before COVID) I'd consumed anything and everything and loved discovering new talent.  The past few months, however, I've been listening to songs that transport me to a time in my life when things were easy, relaxed, and unmasked.  Here's a short list of my go-to artists/songs over the past few months, in no particular order: 

1. “Sittin' By the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding: who isn't instantly calmed by this song? 

2. What's the Story Morning Glory from Oasis: takes me back to my 8th grade bedroom.  It was the first album I listened to cover to cover, on repeat (just ask my parents).  

3. Allen Stone: specifically “The Weekend,” “Where You're At,” “Unaware,” and his cover of “Rocky Mountain High.”  I saw him live at Mr. Smalls on March 9th.  My last live show of 2020.  Listening to him gives me hope for more live music very soon!

4. Justin Timberlake: “Filthy,” “Like I love you,” “Señorita”…Music to clean by, when no one else is watching!

5. Brandi Carlisle: she fits every mood but “Keep Your Heart Young” makes me smile and think of muddy days in the woods with my best friend, Brittany.

6. Chris Stapleton: anything and everything…The perfect music for a cozy night around the firepit.  Try his Pandora station!

7. “Creep” by Radiohead: my second job is finding every single cover of this song and TRYING to find one I don't like.  So far, I've been unsuccessful.

I feel like there are so many more artists (and songs) I'm unable to highlight here: Jagged Edge, Dave Matthews Band, Alan Jackson, Indigo Girls, R.E.M., Rusted Root, Whitney Houston, Willie Nelson…I could go on, but promised I'd keep it short!!!

 

LIZ KOSTANDINU, Manager, Inquire Within:
I have loved Leslie Odom Jr.’s voice since the very first time that I heard it.  His singing is effortless, and exquisite, and I never get tired of hearing him sing…well, anything.  I have a playlist full of his songs in Apple Music, but lately my two absolute favorites are “Ave Maria” and “Heaven and Earth.”  The world has been a little bit dark and scary lately, but one thing that we can always be sure of is love—it can truly change the world.  And listening to those two songs in particular reminds me of just that.

 

JIM CUNNINGHAM, Artistic Director/WQED-FM:
There is now irrefutable research that proves music can be as effective or more so than drugs widely used to treat depression.  Why would anyone not find their bliss with WQED-FM, Spotify, vinyl and CDs?  You can never get to the bottom of it.  Music liberally applied soothes aches physical and mental and boosts immune response.  The range of new releases astounds me.  You must add to your collection the Beethoven Symphonies complete with the Pittsburgh Symphony and William Steinberg.  The sound and performances are amazing from originals made on 35 mm film at Soldiers and Sailors memorial Hall.  They have been released with liner notes and photos by one of the world's most prestigious labels based in Germany, Deutsche Grammophon.  Sony has rereleased an incredible 14 CD set of the complete Columbia recordings with the Pittsburgh Symphony and Fritz Reiner.  Reiner was said to be cruel and tyrannical, asking the individual players to play their part for him in front of their colleagues looking for mistakes.  Each year he fired half the orchestra because it was said "in Reiner the milk of human kindness curdled."  But he got results and the orchestra plays at the Syria Mosque with precision and passion. 

It was at the Syria Mosque that I heard Frank Zappa so I added his Halloween ‘81 show highlights set.  The box is just too expensive but it includes a Halloween costume!  Jazz reissues wow me too.  Who would've thought that there was still an Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers record in the vaults but here is Just Coolin' from Pittsburgh born Art Blakey recorded in 1959.  Thelonious Monk played the WQED studios for the Jazz Beat series but the video has disappeared from the vault.  Thelonious Monk's concert at Palo Alto High School in 1968 has just surfaced from a runout concert one night only when Monk was in San Francisco at the Jazz Workshop.  It's on Impulse with great notes and photos.  A must!  Keith Jarrett has just released his solo concert in Budapest after announcing that he is retiring.  It's long and poetic, frees the mind and takes you to another world.  As does John Coltrane in a 50th anniversary of Giant Steps reissue with an extra disc of outtakes and a 24-page booklet.  Essential.

You don't need substances to be transported with all the 50th anniversary sets from the Grateful Dead.  American Beauty is the latest with an extra Dead show from the Capitol Theater in Port Chester NY in 1971 previously unreleased along with the remastered original and 20 pages of the story to while away these COVID evenings.

For music your parents hated it's Cream’s Goodbye Tour Live 1968 with four discs adding some never before released madness.  The playing is furious with astounding improv.  The energy level is exhausting in four venues including Oakland , LA and San Diego and the Royal Albert hall in London.  For total depraved indulgence the Rolling Stones' Goat's Head Soup super deluxe set with a recipe for the soup, 120-page hardbound book, a poster carefully rolled in the fold so it doesn't have creases, The Brussels Affair live show and two discs with never before heard outtakes spiffed up with newly added enhancements from Mick Jagger himself.  Who has time to be blue about the pandemic when there's so much music to explore ?  Load it into your phone while strolling through Frick Park.  The Carnegie Library will loan you CDs for free and there are no fines till the COVID is vaccinated.  WQED-FM has three streams 24 hours a day from the App.  Download it now and check out all the podcasts! 

 

VANESSA KISHUR, Account Executive/Corporate Support:
This question is so hard for me to answer because when I listen to the majority of my music, I’m at the gym.  The music at the gym that I play I guess would pertain to “go-to” music.  It’s mostly alternative rock, rap, and EDM style music.  When I play this music when I’m there, I almost forget there is a pandemic happening and I can focus on my workout while it energizes me.  Some of the artists on my gym playlists consist of: Lil Wayne, Big Gigantic, Kid Cudi, David Guetta, Meek Mill, The White Stripes, Nicki Minaj, and Harry Styles.

In my real life at home, we play A LOT of 90s rock and alternative.  It’s my absolute favorite genre of music.  I have some fan favorites that consist of Incubus, Collective Soul, Third Eye Blind, Jimmy Eat World (more '00s), Tom Petty, The Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam—and the list goes on!

 

DELYNDA LINDSEY, Foundation Coordinator:
So it’s been all about at least semi-calming music for me.  The album Salt by Lizz Wright...The album We Are King by King…My favorite jazz fusion albums: Romantic Warrior by Return to Forever and Jean-Luc Ponty’s run of albums from Imaginary Voyage to Civilized EvilRufus & Chaka Khan, and Chaka Khan (practically everything)…Sade (practically everything)…Lots of Prince and Stevie Wonder…and Minnie Riperton’s discography.  I start with Come To My Garden and go from there. 

 

GEORGE HAZIMANOLIS, Senior Director of Corporate Communications:
Like a lot of other people, I’ve been cleaning the house for nine months.  I came across a shoebox of old cassette tapes that I either recorded from albums or bought at National Record Mart, Camelot Music, Sam Goody, or Oasis Records, all places that are long-gone.  It’s a pretty varied list, from albums of single artists to one-hit wonders that take me back to a specific period in my life.  When listening to these, I know exactly what I was doing at the time (50, 40, 30, or 20 years ago), where I lived, what my job was, who my friends were, hangouts I went to, and what I was discovering about life.  It all seems like a simpler time now, and the music takes me back to that.
 
The band that influenced me most in college was Steely Dan, and I can listen to those albums all the way through and I still know every word.  They had a moody subversive vibe with all sorts of things going on, and I related to it in college and in my 20s.  I also found cassettes with music from Peter, Paul & Mary, Todd Rundgren, Queen, Springsteen, and ELO.  I also have the original cast album of the Public Theater version of Hair from 1967 before it went to Broadway.  I bought it in a record store in Times Square in 1977.  I listen to it and imagine the controversy it created.
 
The singles that I listen to from my rediscovered cassettes: “Part of the Plan” – Dan Fogelberg…“All the Young Dudes” – Mott the Hoople…“Georgia” – Boz Scaggs…“Train of Glory” – Jonathan Edwards…“Dialogue” – Chicago…“The Free Electric Band” – Albert Hammond…“Cruel to Be Kind” – Nick Lowe…“Hallelujah Day” – The Jackson 5…“Snoopy’s Christmas” – The Royal Guardsmen…“Ridin’ the Storm Out” – REO Speedwagon…“Whiter Shade of Pale” – Procol Harum…“I Don’t Like Mondays” – Boomtown Rats.

 

PAULA ZETTER, Design Manager:
The time of COVID has been all kinds of weird, but the silver lining has been my time working from home.  My Mom, Louise, has Alzheimer’s and lives with me and my husband.  I’ve been able to spend lots of quality time with her and that includes listening to music.  We are huge fans of The Mavericks and their latest, En Español (completely in Spanish), is nothing short of brilliant.  It’s beautiful, moving, emotional and catchy at the same time.  I take my Mom for long drives (where else are we gonna go?) and we listen to it over and over.  She smiles and always comments about how wonderful the music is.  Raul Malo does have that effect on you.  I have no idea what they’re singing about because my 7th grade Spanish is long forgotten, but this music just puts me in the right place.  I find when I’m not listening to it, the songs are still playing on loop in my head.

 

MORRY FELDMAN, Senior Account Executive/Corporate Support:
Throughout my life, I have turned to music for “emotional sustenance” during times of great challenges, and I have done so again during the pandemic.  It is more important than ever to keep caring for each other during this time—to keep reaching out and checking in, and to keep love and kindness at the forefront of all that we do—no matter how confined and discouraged this pandemic has made all of us feel.  Thus, I find myself listening to and being comforted/inspired/sustained/made very emotional by the following: “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel…“As” and “I Believe When I Fall in Love” by Stevie Wonder…“Today” by the Jefferson Airplane…“Love Alive” by Heart…“Love and Affection” by Joan Armatrading…“You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” and “Freeway of Love” by Aretha Franklin…“Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “For Emily” by Simon and Garfunkel…“Something So Right” by Paul Simon…“I Believe in You” by Phoebe Snow…“Forever Came Today” by The Supremes…“Get Together” by The Youngbloods…“Tupelo Honey” by Van Morrison.

And then, there are songs that I turn to whenever I feel even-more-distressed-than-usual with politics: “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who (just listening to “the world’s greatest recorded scream-in-a-song” near the end is very, very cathartic…every time)…“Fast Buck Freddie” by Jefferson Starship…“Hold Your Head Up” and “Liar” by Argent…“Yes We Can Can” by The Pointer Sisters…“Wind-up,” “Thick as a Brick” and “Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of a New Day)” by Jethro Tull…“Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan.

And, finally for now, there are some songs that are “pure suppliers of energy” that I love to go back to: “Crazy on You” (with full acoustic guitar intro from Nancy Wilson) by Heart…“Turn up the Radio” by Autograph…“Baba O’Riley” by The Who…“China Grove” by The Doobie Brothers…“Gimme Some Lovin’” by The Spencer Davis Group…and “Africa” by Perpetuum Jazzille.

 

BRYAN SEJVAR, Director of Production and Programming/WQED-FM:
I suppose with the COVID pandemic and everything shut down, I might have guessed I would have discovered a lot of new music.  But honestly it didn’t really work out that way.  I have a very wide range of musical interests, from classical music to metal.  For the longest time, I’ve been in an atmospheric rock headspace in terms of music.  However, as the pandemic continued, I found myself leaning a bit more in the heavier direction than usual.  My one big discovery that I’ve listened to a lot during COVID is the rock singer Lacey Sturm.  I actually can’t remember how exactly I came across her, but I discovered her new single “The Decree” and it just blew me away.  After that, I discovered she was the lead singer of the band Flyleaf who had some success around 2007 and ended up listening to their CDs endlessly.  She has a very uplifting life story, which I think was a nice thing to discover during these challenging times as well.  Oh, on top of that, she’s now a Pittsburgher!! 

 

SHARON STEELE, Director of Corporate Support:
I’m on a major Bill Evans kick lately.  I have always liked his piano playing but I have a new appreciation and understanding of his playing from learning more about jazz recently.  I am spending quarantime taking jazz piano lessons (via Zoom of course) from a great teacher, Lucas Bowman.  Lucas is the keyboardist of the GREAT Pittsburgh band, The Commonheart, and his musicianship extends well into other genres including jazz and classical.  To help me understand better about how to approach improvisation, Lucas recommended a Bill Evans documentary from 1966, The Universal Mind of Bill Evanswhich is on YouTube.  “I believe that all people are in possession of a universal musical mind,” Bill Evans said in the doc.  Also: “Keep searching for that sound in your head until it becomes a reality.” 

Another pianist, Keith Jarrett, who I didn’t really understand before, is really illuminating (especially with ultra-slow playback).  I should add here that I am still VERY MUCH A BEGINNER at jazz.  Sometimes when I am struggling with rootless jazz chords, modified chords etc., my brain just straight up says, “Stop punishing me!  Now go lay on the couch and watch some TV right now!”

Also, since we have no choice on the matter, we’re going full bore on “home for the holidays.”  The box of Christmas vinyl has been deployed.  Phil Spector’s Christmas Album puts you inside the wall of Christmas sound.  The Ronettes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qo8H475CydA&list=PL8axAz9AzHsko8GcKwbbvQYRsca0gdbFF&index=2.  And you can’t not be happy when you hear Huey “Piano” Smith and His Clowns’twas The Night Before Christmas album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrdES4xW2W4.  Also, not to go too obvious, but there’s the ultimate, the most beautiful, THE Christmas Song (here by Mel Torme): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fxmh9srt1w.

 

RICK SEBAK, Senior Producer:
What songs are keeping me alive?  Since early November I’ve been feasting on a pretty steady diet of Christmas music, both on CD and vinyl.  Usually I don’t start indulging in these tunes till mid-December, but an early start this year has been totally fun and somewhat enlightening.  I have special fondness for unexpected original carols as well as unusual renditions of the familiar ones.  Let’s cue up k.d. lang singing “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” from an old episode of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

And I can’t remember how many years ago WQED-FM morning star Jim Cunningham and I realized that we shared a weird passion for holiday music, but we both have ridiculously large collections of CDs—full of classic and cool Christmas music—and we’ve talked about doing a radio celebration of some of those tunes for several years.  It looks as though it may finally happen in the Year of the Pandemic.  We’re scheduled for a 3-hour block of airtime, from 5pm to 8pm on December 19 on WQED-FM.  We’re liking the idea of featuring local artists as well as nationals.  Cue the Flashcats performing “(My Baby Drives A) Salt Truck.”

And because I’ve been playing old vinyl records at Independent Brewing on Wednesday nights in the closed bar area, I’ve unearthed my significant stash of holiday LPs, and I’m sharing them every week through December.  Anybody and everybody can listen (and watch!) on-line by following this link from 4pm till closing on Wednesday evenings: twitch.tv/independentpgh.  Let me cue up my 45 of Prince singing “Another Lonely Christmas.”

I’ve been playing both LPs and CDs to figure out favorites.  I’ve had special affection for Keb’ Mo’s “Jingle Bell Jamboree” since it first came out.  This morning I threw Ferlin Husky’s LP called Christmas All Year Long on my turntable.  I love the unexpected “Mexico” by Bear Cub, a band with local roots, even though it’s not immediately recognized a Christmas tune.  I love discovering rarities like the Indigo Girls doing “(Maybe It Is) A Wonderful Life,” but I also love stumbling on a great rendition like Bing Crosby and Ella Fitgerald’s take on “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” from a CD collection of Crosby’s old radio shows.  I urge you to look for Paul Kelly’s “How To Make Gravy” if you’ve never heard it before, maybe the saddest Australian Christmas song I know.

So I’m expecting to burn out on the 25th or 26, although I may hang on to enjoy the low key take on “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” by Rufus Wainwright, or maybe I’ll just stay in the holiday spirit till the vaccines arrive.

 

 

 

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Posted 11/29/20.....TURN BACK THE HANDS OF TIME (Part Two of Two)

In the previous post on musicasaurus.com, I dredged up memories from the first five years (1990-1994) of Star Lake Amphitheater’s existence specifically through selection of one concert per year that was very instructional…or proved me dysfunctional…and/or otherwise provided me untold enjoyment or distress (either way, a valuable lesson).

Below I am turning back the hands of time once again for a closer look at Star Lake Amphitheater’s first decade of concerts.  And these are my representative show picks from the last half of that decade, 1995-1999: 

Deep Space Spectacular (June 24, 1995)

Space, the final frontier...This recounts a voyage taken by the enterprising Star Lake Amphitheatre.  Its multi-year mission: To explore strange new events, to seek out new lifeblood, to boldly go where no amphitheater has gone before...

The summer of 1995 was approaching and the upcoming schedule of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre was already congealing with the usual suspects—a lotta classic rock shows and country concerts.  In this our sixth season, though, we were still very much open to new programming possibilities whether it was an event we were brainstorming-into-being at our local level, or one that was being concocted at the corporate offices in Houston, Texas and then pushed out into our network of amphitheaters for eventual execution.  Deep Space Spectacular was one such touring event created by our parent company Pace, and by April the show was firmly on our books for June 24 at Star Lake.

Deep Space Spectacular was birthed by our corporate fathers as a symphony tour with a twist—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.  To theoretically expand the base of this event’s appeal and give it a hip factor, our Pace bosses also signed up a laser lightshow company to provide something symbiotic with the sonic—a synchronized lighting plan so that the swooping and swelling sci-fi themes could play against the night sky as well. This all sounded great on paper…but we decided internally to hedge our bet.

The first thing we did is reach out to a member of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of Trekkies (the dedicated followers of all things Star Trek), a young man named Justin.  He came out to Star Lake for a consultation and fairly quickly then jumped on board our enterprise.  Justin helped us concoct and carry out some out-of-the-mainstream marketing maneuvers including the mailing of event postcards to his fellow Trekkies, coordinating print ads for regional editions of sci-fi magazines, and spearheading the pursuit of some sci-fi merchandise vendors that we wanted to set up shop in our large, open-to-the-public tent at the bottom of our west plaza.  

We also started a search nationally for a deep space celebrity.  We were aware that at Trekkie conventions across the country, Star Trek actors routinely were paid a handsome fee to spend a few hours signing autographs and posing for fan pictures while pretending not to be disturbed in the least by all these people in attendance who had no lives.  We determined that a marquee name from either the original Star Trek or Star Trek: The Next Generation would be yet another boost for us in trying to ignite ticket sales, so we first took a shot at Shatner but Captain Kirk was unavailable (and anyway, mighty steep in the dollars department).  Ditto for Spock, so we checked on Chekov, maneuvered for McCoy, and jockeyed for Jean-Luc Picard.  No go.  Ultimately we trekked a rung or two down the ladder, finally vaulting onto Voyager.

StarTrek: Voyager was in its first year of what turned out to be a seven-year TV run, and we found that one of the main characters—the Emergency Medical Hologram, also known as The Doctor—was willing to materialize.  So we booked him (actually, the actor that played him, Robert Picardo) for an autograph session in the vendor tent as well as an onstage Q & A to warm up the crowd before the orchestra began the evening’s program.  With all of this flexing of our marketing muscle leading up to the on-sale date—the heavily promoted guest celeb appearance and on-site vendor tent, the targeted sci-fi mailings and magazine ads, AND mainstream radio and TV buys—we were bullish about a strong showing on that first day of ticket sales.  Instead, in that one moment, we found all of our time and efforts amounted to throwing our money into a black hole. 

Ticket sales limped along after that, sometimes less than 10 or 12 per day, and so our dread increased.  About a week before the show we thought about asking our Houston bosses if we could deep-six our Deep Space 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, of course, 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.

Aretha Franklin and Little Richard (July 27, 1996)

On the advent of the passing of Aretha Franklin Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman wrote a beautiful, ever so r-e-s-p-e-c-t-ful tribute to this superstar performer, and his August 17, 2018 piece began this way: “The first time I saw Aretha Franklin perform live was at Star Lake Amphitheater on a Saturday night in July, 1996.  The recently inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame icon was the opening act for Little Richard, the wild piano man who got the whole rock ’n roll thing started on the chitlin’ circuit of the old south in the early 1950s.

“Though thrilled to see her, you wouldn’t have known it from the July 29th review of the show where I wrote: ‘…Aretha Franklin concluded a lovely, if not exactly inspired, set of signature tunes and cover songs.

‘After basking in the adulation of 8,847 fans, the Queen of Soul made a characteristically gracious exit with a clear conscience and arms weighed down with bouquets.

‘After all, she’d given the people what they wanted — “Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Respect,” even a gospelized “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  She could justifiably call it a night.

‘Still, Aretha left us wondering how Little Richard got the headliner spot on the bill when “Long Tall Sally” and even “Lucille” weren’t a 10th as sublime as, say, ‘Think.’

Norman went on to mention why Little Richard was the closing act that special evening, and I can attest to the fact that this artist was on instruction from a much higher power than the management of Star Lake. We had cobbled together this show of these two supernovas and learned early on that Little Richard’s religion dictated that he not perform on a Saturday evening until well after sundown because it was his Sabbath.

Both performances were spectacular.  Magic roared out of Aretha’s mouth all night long and as Norman recounted, the Queen of Soul left the stage basking in an outpouring of love and adoration.  After what seemed like an eternity Little Richard took the stage and his performance was one I will never forget—because I wasn’t really sure that it would ever come to a close.

Little Richard was so enthralled with playing and sermonizing to the assemblage that he started purposefully ignoring our offstage cues to finish things up and end his set.  As he got increasingly frantic nonverbal signals from our offstage production folks, Little Richard began incorporating into his R & B song of the moment a soulful rap that went something like “They’re tellin’ me to stop the show, but I really really don’t wanna go…”  

He repeated this musical mantra about five more times during the song, all the while his eyes darting to the sidelines, and just before we were ready to bring out the Big Broadway Hook, Little Richard relented and reluctantly wrapped it up.  He was scolded a bit backstage by our production team for going into overtime, but he was unrepentant—like a true rock ‘n’ roller.

Lynyrd Skynyrd (July 25, 1997)

My own history with Skynyrd’s live shows began back in the days when I worked at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena.  One of my contacts as the arena’s director of booking was an Atlanta-based promoter/manager named Charlie Brusco who routinely brought a number of artist tours our way in the mid-and-late 1980s.  A reconstituted Skynyrd was a standout, as Brusco was right there in the thick of things in 1987 as the band members decided to reform and get back out on the road exactly a decade after their tragic plane crash in rural Mississippi.  

Aside from a one-off appearance in the late seventies on one of Charlie Daniel’s Volunteer Jam shows, the surviving band members had never played together as Lynyrd Skynyrd after that 1977 crash.  The carefully plotted September-November 1987 arena dates—conceived as a one-time tribute tour with five Skynyrd members and a couple of key draft picks including deceased vocalist Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother Johnny—spurred such success and overwhelming acclaim that this outing led to a permanent relaunch of the band and its legacy.

Brusco’s relationship with the reformed Skynyrd continued on well past their 1987 tour, and he and the band felt a strong affinity for Pittsburgh and its fan base.  Brusco in fact was born with strong family ties to our region, having grown up in southwestern Pennsylvania not far from the City of Pittsburgh.  The band began regular visits to the new Star Lake Amphitheater the year after the venue opened, and so from 1991 through 1997, Skynyrd’s rebel rousing, spirited shows became an annual classic rock tradition in this region.

As part of their 1997 tour stop at Star Lake, the band decided to record their July concert for a new CD and DVD release entitled Lyve from Steel Town (the group had a “thyng” for creative spelling, of course).  The band by that juncture was composed of Skynyrd’s core members Gary Rossington, Billy Powell and Leon Wilkeson, the aforementioned li’l brother of Ronnie, and two fiery additions to the band’s guitar army, Rickey Medlocke (ex-Blackfoot) and Hughie Thomasson (ex-Outlaws).  

The CD/DVD was a testament to the band’s enduring appeal and the vibrancy of its fan base in our part of PA, and two-thirds of the fifteen-song set list were ones that Guitar World magazine’s staff in a 2018 article declared must be considered part of The 25 Greatest Lynyrd Skynyrd Songs of All Time.  The top five on the magazine’s list?  “What’s Your Name” at #5 … “That Smell” at #4 … “Simple Man” at #3 … “Sweet Home Alabama” at #2 … and—hold up your lighter; f*ck that phone!—“Free Bird” of course, at #1.

Phish (August 11, 1998)

The month of August at Star Lake Amphitheater throughout the 1990s would sometimes prove to be a bit of a challenge.  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—major shows all squeezed together over a handful of consecutive August evenings, something that really “pleased” our operations staff as they dealt with each night’s huge crowds, individual concert preparations and post-show cleanups, and other dizzying duties that tended to suck the very lifeblood out of ‘em. 

All that being said, we were as happy as clams when Phish wriggled onto our busy calendar for their first-ever Star Lake appearance on August 13, 1997 sandwiched between—but of course!—two massive shows, the very first Lilith Fair (August 12) and Jimmy Buffett (August 15).  But we were grateful that the patchouli winds had finally blown this incredible jam band our way, and we found that the group’s tour management personnel were quite the proactive pros in terms of helping venues like ours fully prepare in advance for the concert to come.  The show sold out with ease and the night of the concert the parking lots were all peace & love, and the humanity crammed inside our gates was a passion-fueled and refreshingly polite twirling, whirling wonder.

Phish liked this first taste of Star Lake and so they returned the next year on August 11, 1998—right between the huge Lilith Fair II (August 9) and a sold-out Shania Twain show (August 12)—but this time the band came with a plan to memorialize our venue via a live-in-concert DVD and download release for their fans.  In case you live under a rock and are not in the swim, Phish is renowned for its legions of city-to-city hopping, mix-tape swapping fans (the Phishheads), and there is a universe of captured shows for streaming, downloading, purchasing and/or trading sprinkled hither and yon across the net. 

On the band’s official website, phish.com, there is a summary of this special 2-DVD set that is entitled Star Lake 98:

1998 was a very solid year for Star Lake Amphitheater in terms of its diversity of concert offerings, but Phish’s show in particular was a real coup for us with the band’s subsequent crowning of Star Lake as a worthy site for recording.  The DVD/download Star Lake 98 really did help our amphitheater’s reputation as a desirable destination for the wandering hordes of jam band followers contemplating their annual summer treks across the USA.

Steve Miller Band (July 24, 1999)

By 1999 Steve Miller and his band were true veterans of Star Lake, having played every year since the venue’s first summer season of 1990.

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 very first outing that they could deliver mightily on all of Miller’s FM hits through the years including “Fly Like An Eagle,” “Jungle Love,” “Rock ‘N Me,” “Take The Money And Run,” “Jet Airliner,” “The Joker” and others.  Another contributing factor: tailgating at Star Lake was in full flower out in the venue’s parking lots, and the younger brothers and sisters of the original Steve Miller fans were finding out that these classic rock songs—coupled with the cheap ticket price and ample tailgating supplies—made for a night to remember (or a night to attempt to remember).

By 1992 Miller was selling out the venue at 20,000+ tickets every year he touched down.  With this artist in particular, we were experiencing unprecedented walk-ups (tickets sold at our box office window on the nights of the shows), and it was not an uncommon sight to see our lawn morph into Sardine City.  Up above our pavilion seating area on the green spaces the Miller celebrants seemed to have about a square foot of space each, which was just room enough to hoist a lighter for the encore while praying your neighbors’ beer-sloshing wouldn’t snuff it out.

I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Miller in his dressing room one year in the mid-1990s after he became our “homerun king” in terms of paid ticket sales and numbers of fans through the gate.  He was amiable and chatty, asking at one point if I wouldn’t mind changing the name of the venue from Star Lake to the Miller Dome.  I made a joke about that not being possible since Budweiser was our major beer sponsor of the venue, and he laughed after quickly making the Miller-Bud connection.  Steve Miller was indeed riding high, and his annual Star Lake concerts dwarfed his attendance numbers at virtually every other amphitheater across the country for a number of years in a row.  

At Miller’s last Star Lake show of the decade on July 24, 1999 his fans turned out in such large numbers that the venue from the air must have looked like a geyser of humanity.  Thousands of people marched up to the venue box office that evening from 6pm through 10pm, buying tickets wave after wave.  The attendance that night was the largest in Star Lake’s ten-year history at 26,154 fans, and Miller continued to be the single-night record holder until country star Toby Keith copped his crown on September 24, 2004 with slightly higher numbers.  

Steve Miller, though, had a great run—fourteen years on the throne, 1990-2003.  And I’m pretty sure each year as his tour bus pulled into the jammed-to-the-hilt parking lots right around soundcheck time, he was a-smilin’ and a-thinkin’ “Ahhhhhhh…It’s good to be king.”

 

 

 

 

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Posted 11/15/20.....TURN BACK THE HANDS OF TIME (Part One of Two)

I worked for a lot of years in the live entertainment business at the Pittsburgh area’s major outdoor venue Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater which then became Post-Gazette Pavilion, then First Niagara Pavilion, then KeyBank Pavilion, and now S&T Bank Music Park (a rose by any other name would sound as sweet).

Star Lake opened in the summer of 1990 and it took a season or two before throngs descended in sufficient numbers to give the venue a real sign of lasting good health.  That first year, for instance, some country music stars like Reba McEntire and George Strait brought in just a few thousand fans each.  Part of any educated guess as to the occasional anemic sales that the venue experienced that first season would, I think, zero in on Western Pennsylvania’s previous lack of a major outdoor venue.  People just didn’t know what the large outdoor amphitheater experience was really like.  Blossom Music Center “next door” in Cleveland had been a regional draw for folks over that direction since 1968, but here in the Pittsburgh area there was nothing to wise up and woo the locals—until Star Lake appeared.

Recently I was mind-travelin’ back to my days at the Lake during the venue’s first decade, 1990-1999.  I had missed the first season altogether, the summer of 1990, as I was still at that time employed as the director of booking for Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena.  In February of 1991, I left the arena to join Executive Director Tom Rooney and General Manager Wilson Rogers as Star Lake Amphitheater’s new marketing director for the upcoming summer season. In 1995 I was appointed head of the venue when Rooney graduated to our corporate office in Houston; Rogers had already by that time moved on to open up a brand new amphitheater for our company in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Below I am turning back the hands of time to Star Lake Amphitheater’s first decade, and picking a show from each of the first five years that proved to be a mighty memorable one.  I had unsettling experiences but also enchanting ones, and a lot of work-and-life lessons along the way…

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Joe Cocker (June 28, 1990)

I was at this show but only as a fan, since I was still at the time employed by the Civic Arena in downtown Pittsburgh.  I am relying on the recall here of friend, mentor and former Star Lake boss Tom Rooney.

This doubleheader of the Austin guitar slinger and the English blues singer was the eighth show in this debut season of the new Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheater.  Unfortunately it also had a disappointingly small crowd, as the heavens had opened up and unleashed Noah’s Ark-level rain on Star Lake just prior to the time that the venue was set to open the gates.  With the intensity of the rainstorm the drainage grates at the very bottom of the pavilion seating area were overwhelmed and backed up, and so the pooling waters collected right there in front of the stage.  None of the fans converging out in the venue’s parking lots were aware of the drama unfolding inside, according to Rooney.

He remembers a bit of a battle ensued with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tour manager who began insisting—as he looked down from the stage at the churning waters below—that Rooney move ahead with declaring this show “cancelled.”  But Rooney pushed that piece of decision-making right back at the tour manager.  If the venue was the one to decide to cancel—a “guilty plea” of sorts, for this unforeseeable situation—Star Lake would then potentially be held responsible for paying Vaughan and Cocker their artist fees even though they hadn’t performed their sets.  

Rooney went into overdrive and immediately summoned the folks from the local Hanover Township fire department.  A pumper truck raced onto our property and with a quick assist from our facility’s operations team, the firemen set up shop right near the stage and hoovered out the invasive floodwaters.  The rain soon let up and the show went on, albeit running way behind schedule.

p.s.  Rooney thinks there might be a photo somewhere—one that someone from the tour might have taken early on in the rainstorm—of Stevie Ray standing on the edge of our stage dangling a fishing pole.

Andrew Dice Clay (July 8, 1991)

Remember that back in 1991 we were all essentially just on the cusp of the very first commercial uses of the internet and were as well still many years ahead of YouTube, so back in those “uncivilized” days it took word-of-mouth and the press to build careers and generate excitement.  In 1991 Andrew Dice Clay was about three years into his stand-up career as a potty-mouthed, homophobic and misogynistic comedian, and he was scheduled that particular summer for a tour of theaters and amphitheaters in support of his new double album of stand-up comedy and his in-performance film Dice Rules which was taped live at Madison Square Garden.

We had set the show up as “pavilion-only,” meaning that we shelved the lawn for this particular engagement and went instead with our 7,000 pavilion-seat capacity which Clay’s booking agent Dennis Arfa had requested.  This was kind of a rule of thumb for comedians working the outdoor venue circuit; the pavilion setting was much more in yo face, and with Dice this was certainly the case.  We ended up drawing an audience of 4,000 and they seemed to us to be evenly spit between the bellicose and the comatose.  There were the unruly shouter-outers who whooped it up with every mini-rant from the Dice Man, but also the beer-befogged party animals who had run out of steam early in the proceedings and just sat there in stupefied reverence.  

Reflecting back on this now, I believe this particular event may not have been Star Lake’s finest hour in terms of programming.  But bear in mind that we were only in Year Two of our existence and our charge was to cast about for all sorts of summertime attractions—the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (sorta nailed those last two with this one).

Jimmy Buffett (May 31, 1992)

Buffett owned the Nineties 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 and it was also the first time this artist technically sold out the venue.  In 1990 the Parrothead count had 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. 

For me, the adrenalin rush at Buffett concerts was not the crush at the gates, that point in the evening around 8:20pm when it suddenly dawned on the 20,000 Glazed & Confused out in the lots that Buffett had taken the stage.  Instead, it was the earlier-on golf cart rides, usually 15-minute stints each hour or two between 1pm and 8pm, where I s-l-o-w-l-y motored in, around and through this teeming, beaming world of partying Parrotheads.  This convivial crowd never got too rambunctious, so my golf cart sweeps were frankly more than just a security spin; I really loved cruising around, returning smiles to the throngs of revelers, and especially checking out all of the unique tailgating setups that dotted the landscape.  And none was more creative and enduring than John Banovsky’s.

Banovsky, one of Star Lake’s most industrious and loyal subcontractors back in those days, enables me to say today that I have been to the mountaintop.  Each year in advance of the annual Buffett show he would spend about a week’s worth of evenings building the perfect beast—an “active” volcano that was then placed in the amphitheater’s parking lot just outside the facility’s main gate.  This volcano was ten feet tall and emitted a slow stream of Vesuvius-like smoke out of the top, courtesy of Banovsky’s creative melding (in the innards) of a fog machine with 3” PVC pipes.  But the only thing that really erupted here was a way-past-percolating party.  Situated in the best spot in the lot from early until late, Banovsky’s annual creation would draw hundreds of admiring strollers in their coconut bras and leis who would stop by for a chat or just to clink glasses with the maker to toast his ingenuity.  And, a lot of them would end up positioning themselves right next to the mountainous puff daddy for a keepsake photo before moving on…This, for me, exemplified Life at a Star Lake Buffett show.

Steely Dan (August 14, 1993)

Hey, nineteen.  That’s how old I was when this group’s debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill hit record stores in 1972.  After this first album the band charted out and stuck to a refreshing formula of crisp pop sensibilities and jazz impulses, and their meticulousness in the recording studio became legendary.  Steely Dan churned out an album a year between 1972 and 1977—Can’t Buy a Thrill, Countdown to Ecstasy, Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied, The Royal Scam and Aja—and these records cemented my lifelong admiration as they consistently revealed whip-smart, compelling and infectious songs that melded wry, sometimes delightfully inscrutable lyrics with stellar musicianship up and down the ranks.

I was not the only one, of course, that was taken (or overtaken) by the Dan.  They had stopped touring after 1974, and this only contributed to the band’s mystique and to many fans’ pent-up desire to see them somehow, someway, live.  In 1993, Year Four of Star Lake, we heard that the group was going to announce a national tour and so we quickly jumped at the opportunity to book a date.  The anticipation for this show began ping-ponging around music circles all over Pittsburgh and because this particular tour was essentially two decades in the making, there were now a couple of generations’ worth of Dan fans and audio freaks who were pining for a performance.  The crowd that night in August at Star Lake was an in-advance sellout at a little more than 20,000 people.  

To paraphrase Bowie from a line in “Suffragette City,” it was kind of like “Wham, Scam, thank you, Dan!” because the group had chosen to open the concert with 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 a multitude of voices out in the crowd occasionally joining in to sing some of the band’s most memorable lyrics.

Like…the chorus from “Hey Nineteen”—“The Cuervo Gold / The fine Colombian / Make tonight a wonderful thing.”  

And from “Deacon Blues”—“Learn to work the saxophone / I, I'll play just what I feel / Drink Scotch whisky all night long / And die behind the wheel / They got a name for the winners in the world / I, I want a name when I lose / They call Alabama the Crimson Tide / Call me Deacon Blues.” 

And from “My Old School”—“California, tumbles into the sea / That'll be the day I go back to Annandale / …Well I hear the whistle but I can't go / I'm gonna take her down to Mexico / She said Oh no, Guadalajara won't do / Well, I did not think the girl could be so cruel / And I'm never going back to my old school.” 

This was an awesome—hate that word, but it’s pretty damn apt—evening full of lyric intelligence and musical sophistication that will stick with me forever.

Harry Connick, Jr. (August 28, 1994)

Harry’s thing had usually been big band & swing. A prodigy on the keys at a very early age, the New Orleans-born musician/singer received a real career boost when in 1989 he provided the soundtrack for Rob Reiner’s film When Harry Met Sally.  That album had Connick crooning some standards which pretty much defined him for a growing, adoring audience who faithfully scooped up his similar-style releases (some instrumental; some vocal) over the next four years.

By 1994, though, he was all funked up.  Two years prior, his appearance at Star Lake was a summer highlight as he had rolled out a full evening of his big band repertoire.  Alighting here again in ’94, though, Connick was demonstrably dedicated to exploring the depths of New Orleans funk.  Although in advance of the concert we heavily promoted this musical departure to forewarn his loyal following, we found out much too late that the message just didn’t get through. 

Connick’s management team helped elucidate this for us as they pulled into our venue early on the day of the show.  The tour manager informed us that in all of the tour’s previous stops before Star Lake there were vociferous protests from some of the audience members about this “musical switcheroo.”  At every gig before ours a vocal minority in the crowd had risen up, clamoring that they were suddenly no longer wild about Harry.  They just couldn’t fathom the funk, and with this kind of turnabout of expectation and empty reward, the concertgoers often ended up demanding their money back. 

And so by the time our date came up on Connick’s touring schedule, his management had already been well practiced at doling out refunds right there on the spot to all of the truly disgruntled fans in attendance.  At Star Lake on this otherwise lovely, temperate evening, right about the time the show hit its halfway mark, a little over eight hundred people had already lined up at the box office and walked away with their refunds, heading out into the parking lots for a long and frustrating ride home.

 

                                                                        

 

 

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Posted 11/1/20.....IN THE BEGINNING

Yeah, we whupped the Brits back in the Revolutionary War and proclaimed our independence, but down the road about a hundred and eighty years or so, did we do so again?  Certainly not when it came to rock music.

We remain sorely indebted to the youth of the United Kingdom for their early-on adoration and adoption of American blues and early rock ‘n’ roll artists in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and others.  England’s young music lovers and budding musicians back then were way more accepting of America’s musical forefathers who were, in the USA, still not that widely embraced.  

The earliest recordings from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in fact were sprinkled with covers of their American musical idols—R&B, blues and/or early rock ‘n’ roll songs like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and “Twist and Shout” (the former), and “Not Fade Away,” “I’m a King Bee” and “Walking the Dog” (the latter).  By 1965 both the Beatles and the Stones were riding the crest of a new wave of British bands whose music—an emerging amalgam of their across-the-pond influences with expansion and added twists—was beginning to penetrate and climb the airplay charts over here in the States.

Bands like the Kinks, the Who, Manfred Mann, the Animals, the Dave Clark Five, the Hollies, the Zombies and many more followed in the wake of the Fab Four and the Stones, and with few exceptions all of these groups in this “British Invasion” remained fairly intact in terms of their core line-ups as each ascended and inevitably plateaued.

But there were two British bands of that era that really stood out from the pack.  Not only were they accomplished musical units and creative forces, they were—hindsight reveals—some pretty amazing incubators of future talent.  They were John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers and the Yardbirds.

JOHN MAYALL & THE BLUESBREAKERS:

Mayall was a bluesman born for the long haul.  He turns 87 years old later this month, born and raised in Macclesfield in Cheshire, a county in northwest England.  Exposed to music at a young age because of his musician father’s influence and his own deep diving into blues progenitors like blues guitarist/singer-songwriter J.B. Lenoir, folk-blues singer Lead Belly and boogie-woogie blues pianist Clarence “Pinetop” Smith, Mayall moved to London in 1963 at the age of thirty and formed a band he dubbed the Bluesbreakers.

Through the next four years, this unit brought into the ranks and then subsequently spit out into the musical gene pool an amazing core group of legendary artists.  It’s interesting to dig into the revolving door comings and goings of Mayall’s musicians during this time period; I read various descriptions of length of stays and re-entries and departures, and literally an image of a frenziedly sped-up series of chessboard moves immediately popped into my head.

   Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce were part of the Bluesbreakers ensemble, but left to form the band Cream in the summer of 1966 with drummer Ginger Baker.  Clapton had spent a little over a year with Mayall (April 1965-July 1966) and then went on to Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie, and Derek & The Dominos, followed by a successful solo career.  Bruce, who had spent just one month with Mayall, went on to Cream and then a largely unheralded solo career, but he also fell into a couple more power trio settings along that path—West, Bruce & Laing (1972-1974, with guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing, both formerly of Mountain) and BBM (1993-1994, with guitarist Gary Moore and drummer Ginger Baker).  

   Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie all left Mayall’s band to form the first and very blues-fixated version of Fleetwood Mac in 1967.  Guitarist Green, in this early Mac era, wrote the compelling classic-rock workout “Oh Well” (later covered by Tom Petty and Haim, among others) and also “Black Magic Woman” (made famous later on by Santana).

   Mick Taylor spent about three years with the Bluesbreakers before departing in 1969 just in time to join the Rolling Stones for the recording of Let It Bleed.  The talented guitarist stuck with them for Sticky Fingers (1971) followed by Exile On Main Street (1972).

   Drummer Aynsley Dunbar had spent a couple of years in a no-name British band before auditioning in 1966 for Jimi Hendrix.  The guitar god wanted either Dunbar or another drummer named Mitch Mitchell for his brand new power trio the Jimi Hendrix Experience—and Dunbar reportedly lost a coin toss.  He then joined Mayall and the Bluesbreakers in mid-1966, staying on board for about a year before an equally brief stint with the Jeff Beck Group.  In 1968 he formed his own band, the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, and three years afterward moved on to ultimately leapfrog through many other key drummer slot situations.  He was behind the kit on a variety of albums from burgeoning new talents including but not limited to Frank Zappa and the Mothers (on Zappa solo efforts and on Mothers’ albums), Nils Lofgren (on his first two solo releases), the brand new band Journey (on their first four albums), Jefferson Starship (on three albums), and Whitesnake (on their self-titled and stratospherically successful seventh studio album released in 1987).

   Bassist Andy Fraser had joined Mayall’s band in 1968 when he was just fifteen years old, and after a month or so left to help form the rock band Free with young singer Paul Rodgers.  Fraser co-wrote a few of that band’s enduring songs including the timeless FM rock station favorite “All Right Now” and also penned the tune “Every Kinda People” for singer/songwriter Robert Palmer.

   Saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith spent two years with Mayall (1967-1968) before leaving to form a musically innovative band called Colosseum, one of the first groups, in England OR in the U.S.A., to meld progressive jazz influences with rock and blues.  The band is considered by some to be a forerunner of the whole jazz fusion genre, and produced three albums between 1968-1970 before breaking up in late 1971.  

   Drummer Keef Hartley exited the Bluesbreakers in 1968 and soon started up the R&B, soul, and jazz tinted rock group called the Keef Hartley Band, one of the few British acts invited to play the Woodstock festival in 1969.  When the filmmakers were making the rounds to gain consent for artists’ performances to be used in the landmark festival’s film, Hartley’s manager refused—and the rest, as they say, is non-history.  The band produced five studio albums in their four-year existence (1969-1972) and none of them led to any widespread recognition in Britain or in America.  In cultish circles, though, the ten-minute-long title track of the group’s third album from 1970, The Time is Near, is beloved.

THE YARDBIRDS:

The other British band that somehow lured in more than its share of gestating supernovas was the Yardbirds, a blues act turned psychedelic semi-hard rock unit, who formed in London in 1963.  The band is best remembered for a handful of highly charting UK and USA hit singles—1965’s “For Your Love” and “Heart Full Of Soul” and 1966’s “Shapes of Things” and “Over Under Sideways Down.”  

The band influenced a lot of their contemporaries and were considered quite groundbreaking.  Early on in recordings they had backed up blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson, but thereafter they abandoned the straight-ahead style of rhythm and blues and, on their own, began experimenting with what they termed “raveups”—more frenzied, heavily amplified guitar and harmonica workouts and songs that built in both tension and release.  By the time the band broke up in 1968 they had cadre of countrymen following their moves, especially artists who were defining their own paths at the time or who were soon to do so, including David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Lemmy from Motorhead, and Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore, as well as across-the-ponders Steven Tyler, Alice Cooper and Alex Lifeson from Rush. 

The Yardbirds’ greatest legacy, however, has to be the three different guitarists who had come to nest within the group at certain times during the band’s six-year existence—Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.  With these three players onboard, the band became a source of innovation in terms of the evolution of guitar playing in rock music; within the band’s catalogue of songs, one will find traces of and full-fledged experimentation with reverb, feedback, distortion, sustain, and amplification.

   Eric Clapton was in the Yardbirds from 1963 through 1965 and he might have held in there longer, but as a self-professed blues devotee he eventually soured on the band’s stylistic roving.  The band’s first hit single, the widely accessible “For Your Love,” began climbing the charts and Clapton thus began climbing the walls.  He soon left the band to join up with blues traditionalist John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers in April of 1965.

   Jeff Beck replaced Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds and during his stay in 1965 and 1966, the band hit more commercial peaks as well as furthered their feedback and fuzz-tone quotient.  Beck was reportedly a bit unpredictable in terms of his on-and-off stage temperament, according to his band mates at the time; let’s just call it Beck’s moody blues.  If the sound mix was good, he was a happy camper; if it wasn’t up to his standards, there could at some point during his performance be a foot nudging an amplifier offstage.  But Beck was always electrifying in terms of his incredible command of his instrument, and this was reflected on the Yardbirds’ album releases at the time as well.  Beck left the band in 1966 and went on to form the Jeff Beck Group (1967-1969, with Rod Stewart; 1971-1972 without), then founded Beck, Bogert & Appice (1972-1974), and in 1975 went solo—and more into jazz-rock—via his classic Blow by Blow album, produced by George Martin (he of Abbey Road Studios fame as longtime producer of the Beatles).

   Jimmy Page was the last of the three guitar greats to enter the Yardbirds in 1966.  He at first overlapped with Beck, playing bass to Beck’s featured role as guitarist, but later on both men bore axes for a twin-guitar attack—but Beck was gone by the end of 1966, due to a combination of factors including his ups-and-downs and occasional no-shows, some bouts with illness, his disenchantment with a recent tour engagement, and a love interest that was living in San Francisco.  So Page took the reins as the group’s sole guitarist, and though he brought discipline, more experimentation and a heightened excitement to the band’s live shows, the critics and the record-buying public did not embrace the band’s last studio album Little Games, which was released in July 1967.

   In 1968 founding Yardbirds members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty departed the group to indulge their fondness for more traditional genres of music, forming at the outset of 1969 the prog-rock, folk-classical group Renaissance.  And so as the Yardbirds were about to chirp their last, 24-year-old sole remaining member Jimmy Page brought in new personnel: 20-year-olds Robert Plant and John Bonham, and 22-year-old John Paul Jones.  By the end of 1968, the group had completed a tour together as the New Yardbirds; at the end of that road trip, they changed their name and secured eternal fame as the newly rechristened Led Zeppelin.

A FEW SONGS TO SAMPLE FROM SOME OF THE ARTISTS/BANDS LISTED ABOVE…

*  “All Your Love” featuring guitarist Eric Clapton from the John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers’ 1966 album entitled Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton:  https://youtu.be/rUUEtCBhn_Q

*  “The Stumble” featuring guitarist Peter Green from the John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers’ 1967 album entitled A Hard Road:  https://youtu.be/NLpziHTO-Nc

*  “Snowy Wood” featuring guitarist Mick Taylor from the John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers’ 1967 album entitled Crusadehttps://youtu.be/0os0jZJhTJs

*  “Warning” by Mayall & the Bluesbreakers’ graduate Aynsley Dunbar.  The song was released as a single by Dunbar in 1967, the year before he formed his new band the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation (“Warning” was later covered by Black Sabbath for inclusion on that group’s self-titled debut album which was released in 1970):  https://youtu.be/s2tE1sRr_kg

*  “All Right Now” by Free from their third album Fire and Water (1970).  The song was co-written by Andy Fraser, the bassist who joined Free after his departure from Mayall & the Bluesbreakers:  https://youtu.be/lSdBtoIIYT4

*  “Walking in the Park” by Colosseum, the group co-founded by saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith after he left Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.  The song is from Colosseum’s debut album from 1969 entitled Those Who Are About to Die Salute You – Morituri Te Salutant:  https://youtu.be/NTtnFe8V5dQ

*  “The Time is Near” by the Keef Hartley band, the group formed by drummer Keef Hartley after his departure from Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.  The song is from the album of the same name, released in 1970:  https://youtu.be/chnPWLxgivY 

*  “For Your Love” featuring guitarist Eric Clapton from the Yardbirds’ 1965 album of the same name:  https://youtu.be/Z2LSSgQMc2E

*  “Heart Full of Soul” featuring guitarist Jeff Beck from the Yardbirds’ 1965 album Having a Rave Up with the Yardbirds:  https://youtu.be/pM1qZBFiOLU

*  “Over Under Sideways Down” featuring guitarist Jeff Beck from the 1966 Yardbirds’ album of the same name:  https://youtu.be/fn8oynqwC9c

*  “Shapes of Things” featuring guitarist Jeff Beck from the Yardbirds’ 1967 retrospective album The Yardbirds Greatest Hits:  https://youtu.be/-OjcB-D5Yy4

*  “Glimpses” and “White Summer,” both featuring guitarist Jimmy Page from the 1967 Yardbirds’ album Little Games:  https://youtu.be/F2BrYbbRkpI (“Glimpses”) …  https://youtu.be/iF8f234sLio (“White Summer”)

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

  Mark Wallace was on WZUM-AM 1590 in the early ‘70s and then on WYDD-FM 104.7 from 1975-1977.  From there he left the deejay chair for a Warner Brothers Records promotion position based in Pittsburgh (1977 through 1990).  Wallace currently resides in Tampa, Florida and is an English teacher and part-time radio deejay.

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

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

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

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

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

“When I started in Radio at WYDD/New Kensington in 1978,” McDowell said, “the debut Van Halen album had just come out and the phones were on fire whenever we played one of their tunes—‘Is that the new Van Halen band?’  'Who are these guys again?’  ‘Who's the guitarist in that band you just played?!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Posted 10/4/20.....WHILE THESE GUITARS GENTLY WEEP (AND WAIL, AND...)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENJOY…

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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Posted 9/21/20.....

UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 28, 2020:  THE MUSICASAURUS.COM CAMPAIGN (ENTITLED "TUNES FOR TABLES") THAT WAS CONDUCTED SEPTEMBER 21-27, 2020 TO RAISE MUCH NEEDED FUNDS FOR THE GREATER PITTSBURGH COMMUNITY FOOD BANK RESULTED IN A GRAND TOTAL OF $9,102.75 BEING RAISED!  ....  THANK YOU TO ALL WHO DONATED!

   

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

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

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

WELL, HALLELUJAH…

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

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

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

 

ONE MORE READER’S SUBMISSION:  MUSIC THAT COMFORTS DURING COVID

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

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

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

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

Which artists, which songs?

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

So, give these albums a listen to: 

 

BLACK LIVES—AND BLACK MUSIC—MATTERS

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

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

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

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

 

HELLO, GOODBYE:  THEY SAY HELLO, AND BEATLES SAY GOODBYE 

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALL OF THE FOLLOWING DEBUTED IN 1970 AS A FULLY-FORMED ENTITY; SOME ALSO RELEASED THEIR DEBUT ALBUMS THAT SAME YEAR…

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

And here are their replies…

  

  

   

 

 

  MICHAEL BELKIN: President / Live Nation 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

  SCOTT TADY: Entertainment Editor, Beaver County Times

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

 

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

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

 

  MORGAN NICHOLSON: Marketing Manager at Live Nation Entertainment

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

 

  SCOTT BLASEY: Musician and lead singer for The Clarks

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

NEIL YOUNG AND THE DONALD

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

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

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

MUSIC AND MAMMALS AND MORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

DISC JOCKEYS AND “BATHROOM BREAK” FAVORITES

I fondly remember my deejay days at Penn State’s main campus between September 1973 and May 1975, and my Saturday night late shift on the air.  WDFM was a legit, over-the-air college radio station with a 9-mile radius and just enough power to saturate the college and leak into the community.  For one of my semesters there at PSU I managed to snag Saturday’s 11pm-2am shift, and this was the deejay slot that apparently few others coveted.  At Penn State Saturday Night was Party Night, and there I always was—seated, a Party of One—at the broadcast console.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHARLIE’S NOW AN ANGEL

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.) “Revolution” from Donna the Buffalo:

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

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

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

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

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

 

2.) “Revolution” from The Beatles:

In 1968 John Lennon wrote “Revolution” and what spurred him to action was the social upheaval that was rocking parts of the world at that point in time—Paris contending with student protests and workers’ strikes; American cities reeling from the turmoil of civil rights and anti-war demonstrations; Czechoslovakia experiencing the Prague Spring; and on and on. 

Lennon was a pacifist at heart but “Revolution” is a clear case of mixed messages from the man, for he wrote and then released two different versions of the song—and the difference comes down to a single word.

In August of 1968 the Fab Four released to radio their newest single “Hey Jude.”  Lennon had successfully pressed his mates to agree to make the “B” side of this single his song “Revolution,” and in this version of the tune Lennon sings “But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out.”  Reportedly Lennon and the boys then received from blowback from fans for this sentiment, particularly the ones who were way left of center in their political world-view.  The tune rocked, though, with guitar distortion and Lennon’s searing lead vocal, and radio of course embraced it.

But a surprise was in store for Beatle’s fans—or at least the most astute of Beatles’ fans—when the White Album was released in November.  Side four of this double album kicked off with a revised “Revolution”—now called “Revolution 1”—that was slower and more bluesy, its messaging loping along rather than racing and raging as in the “radio singles” version that had blasted from AM & FM radios all through the late summer and early fall.  Lennon’s lyrics on this one: “But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know that you can count me out, in.”  This one-word addition to the lyrics illustrated Lennon’s bit of ambivalence over the use of violence in political protests—and it’s interesting to note that this medium-tempo album cut “Revolution 1” was the first of the two versions recorded by the boys yet it came second in reaching the public’s ears (through the White Album).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

4.) “Revolution” from The Pretenders: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Posted 6/28/20.....TAKE ME TO THE RIVER THREE RIVERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXCERPTS FROM “THREE RIVERS STADIUM MUSICAL LEGACY,” THE MUSIC CHAPTER WITHIN THE 2020 BOOK THREE RIVERS STADIUM: A CONFLUENCE OF CHAMPIONS:

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

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

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

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

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

Other Prominent Pittsburghers’ Most Memorable Shows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.amazon.com/Three-Rivers-Stadium-Confluence-Champions/dp/146714536X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=TBVHC6FXLV30&dchild=1&keywords=three+rivers+stadium+a+confluence+of+champions&qid=1593274271&sprefix=THREE+RIVERS+STADIUM+%2Caps%2C177&sr=8-1                                        

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/three-rivers-stadium-the-association-of-gentleman-pittsburgh-journalists/1136010530?ean=9781467145367

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

(These are in no particular order)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I Love You – Steve Miller Band…..Miller is today best known for commercially successful rock records in the mid 1970s such as Fly Like An Eagle and Book Of Dreams, but truthfully most of this material was kind of a calculated soulless snooze.  Hearkening back to his more adventurous output in 1969 and 1970 is a much better place for listeners to land.  In 1969 the Steve Miller Band issued both Brave New World and Your Saving Grace, and in 1970 pushed out the album entitled Number Five.  The latter is blessed with some fetching rockers with a bit of country and blues mixed in; “I Love You” is one of several songs that featured Nashville’s legendary session player Charlie McCoy on riveting, skittering harmonica.  https://youtu.be/1_lLlSciSUs

 

Nature’s Way – Spirit…..This L.A. quintet produced four innovative and eclectic recordings between 1968-1970, but shortly thereafter the five original members split acrimoniously.  But those first four releases—which included 1970’s Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus—truly enchanted a number of fervent followers who loved the band’s boundary-pushing approach to both songwriting and the recording process.  Spirit spun out rock, prog-rock, near-folk tunes, bits of psychedelia, jazz passages and even classical, string-laden instrumentals—but all written and recorded with aplomb.  “Nature’s Way,” a sweet dip into ecological waters, appeared on the Twelve Dreams release.  https://youtu.be/qvQa04JP73o

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Blasey / Musician and lead singer for The Clarks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Tady / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Sebak / WQED public TV producer and narrator

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted 5/3/20.....MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted 4/19/20.....WHAT’S NOTHING’S SO FUNNY ‘BOUT PEACE, LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING

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

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

Theme: Volunteerism

The Indigo Girls – “Hammer and a Nail”

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

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

Here is “Hammer and a Nail:"

Clearing webs from the hovel

A blistered hand on the handle of a shovel

I've been digging too deep, I always do

I see my fate on the surface

I look a lot like Narcissus

A dark abyss of an emptiness

Standing on the edge of a drowning blue

 

(Chorus:)

I look behind my ears for the green

And even my sweat smells clean

Glare off the white hurts my eyes

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

Learn how to use my hands, not just my head

I think myself into jail

Now I know a refuge never grows

From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose

Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose

 

Had a lot of good intentions

Sit around for fifty years and then collect a pension

Started seeing the road to hell and just where it starts

But my life is more than a vision

The sweetest part is acting after making a decision

I started seeing the whole as a sum of its parts

 

[Chorus repeats, and then…]

 

My life is part of the global life

I'd found myself becoming more immobile

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

A distant nation my community

A street person my responsibility

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

 

[Chorus repeats one last time.]

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

 

Theme: Compassion

John Prine – “Hello in There”

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

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

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

We had an apartment in the city

Me and Loretta liked living there

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

A life of their own left us alone

John and Linda live in Omaha

And Joe is somewhere on the road

We lost Davy in the Korean war

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

 

(Chorus:)

Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger

And old rivers grow wilder every day

Old people just grow lonesome

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

 

Me and Loretta, we don't talk much more

She sits and stares through the back door screen

And all the news just repeats itself

Like some forgotten dream that we've both seen

Someday I'll go and call up Rudy

We worked together at the factory

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

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

 

[Chorus repeats, and then...]

 

So if you're walking down the street sometime

And spot some hollow ancient eyes

Please don't just pass 'em by and stare

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

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

 

Theme: Family Farms

Don Henley – “A Month of Sundays”

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

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

Here is “A Month of Sundays:"

I used to work for Harvester

I used to use my hands

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

Now I see my handiwork on the block everywhere I turn

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

 

I quit the plant in '57

Had some time for farmin' then

Banks back then was lending money

The banker was the farmer's friend

And I've seen the dog days and dusty days

Late spring snow and early fall sleet;

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

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

But I always put the clothes on our backs,

But I always get the shoes on our feet

 

My grandson, he comes home from college

He says, "We get the government we deserve"

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

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

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

 

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

Me, I just know how to raise things

That was all I ever knew

Now, it all comes down to numbers

Now, I'm glad that I have quit

Folks these days just don't do nothin'

Simply for the love of it

 

I went into town on the Fourth of July

Watched 'em parade past the Union Jack

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

One step forward and two steps back

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

Pray for the independent, little man

I don't see next year's crop

And I sit here on the back porch in the twilight

And I hear the crickets hum

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

I sit here and listen to the wind blow

I sit here and rub my hands

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

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

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

 

Theme: World Peace

Michael Franti & Spearhead – “Bomb The World”

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

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

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

Here is “Bomb The World:"

Please tell me the reason 

Behind the colors that you fly 

Love just one nation 

And the whole world we divide 

You say you're “sorry” 

Say, “There is no other choice” 

But God bless the people them 

Who cannot raise their voice 

 

[Chorus:]

We can chase down all our enemies 

Bring them to their knees 

We can bomb the world to pieces 

But we can't bomb it into peace 

Whoa, we may even find a solution 

To hunger and disease 

We can bomb the world to pieces 

But we can't bomb it into peace 

 

Violence brings one thing 

More, more of the same 

Military madness 

The smell of flesh and burning pain 

So I sing out to the masses 

Stand up if you're still sane! 

To all of us gone crazy 

I sing this one refrain 

 

[Chorus repeats, and then...]

 

And I sing power to the peaceful 

Love to the people y'all 

Power to the peaceful 

Love to the people y'all

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

 

Spirituality

Steve Earle – “Nothing But A Child”

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

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

Here is “Nothing But A Child:"

Once upon a time in a far off land

Wise men saw a sign and set out across the sand

Songs of praise to sing, they travelled day and night

Precious gifts to bring, guided by the light

They chased a brand new star, ever towards the west

Across the mountains far, but when it came to rest

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

And the miracle they prized was nothing but a child

 

[Chorus:]

Nothing but a child could wash these tears away

Or guide a weary world into the light of day

And nothing but a child could help erase these miles

So once again we all can be children for a while

 

All around the world, in every little town

Everyday is heard a precious little sound

And every mother kind and every father proud

Looks down in awe to find another chance allowed

 

[Chorus repeats]

Nothing but a child could wash these tears away

Or guide a weary world into the light of day

And nothing but a child could help erase these miles

So once again we all can be children for a while

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

1.Baby’s Callin’ Me Home – The Steve Miller Band…..This song from the Steve Miller Band’s 1968 debut album Children of the Future was written and sung by band member Boz Scaggs, and it features nicely hushed acoustic pluckin’ and an easygoing bluesy feel.  Scaggs departed the SMB after the group’s second album that came later in 1968, and trod a solo path from there.  Miller and Scaggs, on their independent paths, both reached their respective career highs eight years later with Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle and Scagg’s Silk Degrees.  https://youtu.be/9cK--Mt5iKE

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Lynyrd Skynyrd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hawkwind

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

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

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

 

Tangerine Dream

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

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

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

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

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

 

10cc

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

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

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

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

 

Ultimate Spinach

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

Ultimate Spinach formed in 1967 as some record producers and promoters in the city of Boston were trying to emulate “musical petri dish” cities like San Francisco, NYC and others who were growing their individual music scenes and birthing new bands with exciting new styles.  Spinach was part of the Bean Town scene with other late ‘60s groups like Orpheus and Beacon Street Union, and had a sound that was, according to online independent music magazine It’s Psychedelic Baby, a “unique blend of psych, jazz, rock, Gregorian vocals and Baroque instrumentation.”

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

And when asked about the formation of the band’s name, Bruce-Douglas had this to say: “I’ve been asked that question so many times!  One day, in 1967, I was in my room, tripping on some really pure LSD.  I started looking at myself in the mirror and my face was doing funny things.  I had a bunch of colored markers I used to draw with.  I grabbed a green one and started drawing all these psychedelic designs on my face.  When I was done, I looked at myself and said ‘Whoa! I am ultimate spinach.  Ultimate spinach is me!’”

Inspiration for a group’s name can come to a founder in many ways…all it apparently took for Bruce-Douglas was a bit of reflection.

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Byrds

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

Out of The Byrds flew the following:

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

 

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

 

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

 

Buffalo Springfield 

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

Out of the Buffalo Springfield roamed:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

The New York Times…March 12, 2007

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Ain’t It Strange?

By PATTI SMITH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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1/12/20.....YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY THE COVER

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

 

   

ELVIS COSTELLO COVERED BY LUCY KAPLANSKY AND THE CLARKS

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

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

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

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

 

  

JIMI HENDRIX COVERED BY THE CURE

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

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

 

  

 THE DOORS COVERED BY LISA BASSENGE

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

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

 

  

RICK JAMES COVERED BY BIG DADDY

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

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

 

  

BRITNEY SPEARS COVERED BY RICHARD THOMPSON

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

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

 

  

THE BEATLES COVERED BY LARRY CORYELL

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

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

 

  

LITTLE FEAT COVERED BY JACK JONES

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

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

 

  

AC/DC COVERED BY CELINE DION AND ANASTACIA

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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12/15/19.....THE BEST OF WHAT’S AROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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12/1/19.....Farther On Down The Road 

  

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

— Willie Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 5, 2045

Dear Mr. / Mrs. / or Ms.:

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

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

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

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

2. WE HAVE SOME FUN WITH THE MUSIC:

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

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

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

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

Warmest Regards,

Doobie Brothers’ 2045 Tour Manager

 

 

 

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11/17/19.....I’M SO AFRAID

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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11/3/19.....THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. What is an Amphitheater?

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

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

 

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

9. What happens if it rains?

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

I met Rick Ocasek once, though he never would have recalled it.  It was July of 1978 in Pittsburgh, and I was backstage at the Stanley Theater just after the Cars had finished their show.  I had been invited back by the band’s record label representative from Elektra to quickly meet the group and show them a few photos of the displays I had done in Pittsburgh-area record store windows in order to help promote their appearance.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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9/22/19.....IN THE SUMMERTIME

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

Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers – July 13 at The Roxian

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

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

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

James Hunter – Tuesday, June 18 at Moondog’s

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

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

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

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

Kurt Vile – Sunday July 21 at Hartwood Acres

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

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

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

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

  

  

Guster – Sunday August 4 at Hartwood Acres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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9/8/19.....DEATH WALKS BEHIND YOU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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8/25/19.....GOIN’ BACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. All Along The Watchtower…..Jimi Hendrix covering Bob Dylan Electric Ladyland (1968) – Even diehard Dylan fans say that Hendrix’s version of “Watchtower” is a triumph of reinvention, a cover that wrestles with the original and practically challenges it to come back out in the open and re-stake its claim.  But lil Bobby Zimmerman may have met his match with this one.  Hendrix turned the tune into a powerhouse of psychedelic-laced rock ‘n’ roll that hit the USA’s Top Twenty as a single released about a month before Electric Ladyland hit record shelves, and the song also became an FM radio staple that, amazingly, sounds as vital today as it did upon first release.  https://youtu.be/TLV4_xaYynY

5. Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again…..Bob Dylan Blonde On Blonde (1966) – This is Dylan in Nashville, with Robbie Robertson and Al Kooper and Nashville studio musicians.  This is one of musicsaurus.com’s favorite Dylan tracks principally because of the rhythm and the flow and Dylan’s vocal tackling.  The lyrics have bright spots and brief snippets of insight though they’re all famously fragmented and plucked arbitrarily; interesting that John Lennon commented on this, posthumously, when Yoko in 1998 released an anthology of Lennon’s demos and unreleased works that contained a song called “Satire #2.”  This track was one of Lennon’s home recordings from 1979, and reportedly includes the line “Stuck Inside of Lexicon with the Roget’s Thesaurus Blues Again.”  https://youtu.be/3kh6K_-a0c4

6. Like A Rolling Stone…..Rolling Stones covering Dylan Stripped (1995) – After these bad boys’ Voodoo Lounge Tour the band released this aptly named album, a collection of live tracks as well as in-studio recordings that were one-take performances with no overdubs.  “Like A Rolling Stone” is a treat, recorded in July 1995 at London’s Brixton Academy, a hallowed concert spot with an intimate capacity of just under 5,000.  If you have seen the Stones sporadically through the ages you know that they can be firing on all cylinders or sloppy but still engaging.  Here on Dylan’s tune Mick is in fine form and the other individuals in the band power through it with conviction—just like a Rolling Stone.  https://youtu.be/BkN6bhp6UZM

7. (You Gotta Walk And) Don’t Look Back…..Peter Tosh with Mick Jagger / Peter Tosh’ Bush Doctor (1978) – Tosh never quite gained the mass recognition that Bob Marley enjoyed, but he was instrumental in the formation of the Wailers in the mid-to-late 1960s along with fellow Jamaicans Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer.  On board for the first two albums (Catch A Fire and Burnin’, both from 1973) Tosh departed the group in 1974 and started a smokin’ solo career two years afterward with the album Legalize It.  In 1978 Tosh released Bush Doctor, having recently signed to the Rolling Stones record label, and Mick Jagger joined Tosh on the vocals of the lead-off track “(You Gotta Walk And) Don’t Look Back.”  It’s a joyous bit of rooster strut reggae.  https://youtu.be/8c-pl5APO5E 

PART TWO (Woodstock):

The original Woodstock Music & Art Fair from 50 summers back is still whirling around my head like one of the copters who shuttled in the bands over that mass of humanity and the roads-turned-parking lots back in August of 1969.  I wanted to swoop in on three less-than-household names who played the festival to give them their due, principally because if they don’t get this shout-out now, it may be the 100thanniversary of the festival—in 2069—when they get their next crack at any rekindled-for-the-moment fame.

No time like the present to do this.  Musicasaurus.com knows that he personally won’t be stimulated at all by the 100th when that rolls around…

Here’s the official line-up of Woodstock 1969, in order of performance:

Friday:  Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie and Joan Baez.

Saturday:  Quill, Country Joe McDonald, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, Santana, Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Leslie West & Mountain, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, The Who and Jefferson Airplane.

Sunday into Monday:  Joe Cocker, Country Joe & The Fish, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter (whose set bridged the gap from Saturday night into Sunday morning), Blood Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na and Jimi Hendrix (whose star-spangled set began around 9am Monday morning).

 

The three bands we’ll shed a little light on here are Sweetwater, Quill and Keef Hartley Band.  But wait, there’s another unheralded Woodstock individual who graced the stage before any of the performers—Sri Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002) who was born in India and became a prominent religious figure and spiritual master, also bringing the Yoga tradition to America (circa 1966) initially through his friendship with Pop artist Peter Max.

Satchidananda opened up hearts and minds in the West back then, inspiring the very idea of integrative health, and among other achievements he founded the first Yoga magazine in America and opened the first vegetarian health food store in New York City.  

Here literally in the spotlight at Woodstock, he addressed the crowd of 400,000+ with these opening words: “My Beloved Brothers and Sisters: I am overwhelmed with joy to see the entire youth of America gathered here in the name of the fine art of music.  In fact, through the music, we can work wonders.  Music is a celestial sound and it is the sound that controls the whole universe, not atomic vibrations.  Sound energy, sound power, is much, much greater than any other power in this world.  And, one thing I would very much wish you all to remember is that with sound, we can make—and at the same time, break.  Even in the war-field, to make the tender heart an animal, sound is used.  Without that war band, that terrific sound, man will not become animal to kill his own brethren.  So, that proves that you can break with sound, and if we care, we can make also.”  (Musicaurus.com applauds this opening speech as a wonderful tone setter for the three days of peace & music, but cautions that not all of the festival goers who bathed in these remarks likely fully grasped the message; it might have been a bit head-scratchin’ for some, with all that brown acid “upstairs” snaking through their synapses.)

SWEETWATER – Day One – Friday evening, 6:15 – 7pm / August 15th

The band members had gravitated toward each other originally through hangouts at L.A.-area coffee houses in the 1960s, and the group whipped up a song style that incorporated rock, folk and jazz through instruments not borne by most of the emerging rock bands of the day—Sweetwater honed their craft on flute, cello and conga in addition to sporting the traditional guitar-keyboard-bass-drums line-up.  By the time the Woodstock opportunity came about, the band was already opening for major rock acts on tour and appearing on variety television shows including Red Skelton’s program, Playboy After Dark and American Bandstand.  

At Woodstock, the band was plagued by distractions of sound and vision; the stage monitors were faulty, and the band contended with bustling film crew members and a swarm of media photographers all jostling at the lip of the stage.  A greater misfortune for the band was that not one of their songs made it onto the 1970 Woodstock film nor the accompanying soundtrack album.  The band splintered in 1971 with the members straggling off to pursue other musical projects and/or to just open up other doorways in life.

QUILL – Day Two – Saturday afternoon, 12:15 – 12:50pm / August 16th

Quill was a hard-driving, psychedelic and jazz-tinged rock band from Boston with real legs.  For the year or two prior to Woodstock, the band was amassing fans and gaining traction in Bean Town, sometimes outselling the new and ascending bands who were passing through the market on the winds of mounting press and word of mouth.  According to boston.com’s James Sullivan in an August 9, 2009 interview with the band, they “came to the attention of Woodstock organizers a few months before the festival, during a memorable jam with Jimi Hendrix and Stephen Stills at a midtown Manhattan nightclub.  After performing some public-service gigs on behalf of the promoters, the unheralded Quill had the distinction of being the first rock band to take the stage at Woodstock.”

This was on Saturday, the second day of the festival and the first to feature non-folkies.  Quill pounded out a four-song set, but failed to connect with the mass of humanity perhaps due in part to, once again, a troubled sound system.  Sullivan’s boston.com piece points out that at Woodstock the heavy rainstorms often contributed to spotty equipment checks, and the band ultimately learned that the audio tracking of their performance didn’t match up to the footage as shot.  Consequently the group didn’t make it into the movie that emerged from the festival, wiping away the band’s real chance for widespread recognition and success.  

KEEF HARTLEY BAND – Day Two – Saturday afternoon, 4:45 – 5:30pm / August 16th

Hartley was a Englishman who emerged early in the ‘60s rock scene, starting out as a drummer in Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (replacing Ringo Starr, who was exiting for The Beatles).  Hartley also played with fellow Brit John Mayall for a spell, and then cobbled together a band of his own which produced a stew of rock and jazz rooted in the blues and punctuated by a crisp horn section of trumpets, saxes and flute.  The band had just recently released their 1969 debut album Halfbreed when they ventured across the pond to tour the States—and their first stop turned out to be the Saturday stage at Woodstock.

According to the official website of Bethel Woods Center For The Arts, the venue-and-museum now gracing the grounds of the original festival, Keef Hartley Band’s manager was less than prescient when approached by the festival’s filmmakers about the taping of his band’s set.  When the camera crew presented their standard release form for the rights to film the group’s performance, the manager insisted on being paid $2,000 in cash on the spot.  That sealed the band’s fate.  There would be no Keef Hartley Band in the Woodstock film nor on the successful soundtrack album that followed.

 

 

 

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8/11/19.....ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER

Being a one note kind of guy and a victim of over-preoccupation with music in my daily life, I think I would sometimes welcome thoughts on any other subject to enter my brain and scrub some of the sidewalls up there, flushing away all those musical cling-ons.

A case in point:  I can be at a party with friends and deep in conversation one-on-one, and then in the background I hear the host’s next tune over the nearby set of Sonos, one that I know and treasure because it happens to also be in my musical collection at home.  Though at that point I am still immersed in my face-to-face with the friend, my brain switches from the conversation to the flood of artistry coming out of those little white speakers and I’m a goner.

My mind wraps around that song and I lose myself in it, all the while maintaining eye contact with my friend but not…hearing…another…word…he or she…says.  I manage a smile or a nod, or even a “Hell, yes! I agree!” to hold up my end of the conversation, subconsciously hoping I can pass as a still-interested party in the exchange…

There.  Now that I have sacrificed at least five friendships that I can think of, I’ll move on to the proposed party mix below.

I was thinking lately that a perfect mix of party music would be full of threads.  Subtle or not so subtle connections between the songs that partygoers—especially the ones who are as steeped in music as I am—could identify and appreciate.  So for certain people at the gathering, it would be “double your pleasure” time: They would on the surface love the songs themselves as separate, stirring works of art, but then feel a special tingle upstairs as the song list rolls by and they’re mentally making the connections that exist from one artist’s song to the next.

You’ll see what I mean.  Below are 24 songs, and for the first 18, the links between them are done in pairs of songs.  Then with 19-20-21 and 22-23-24, we end the “thread mix” with two trios of linked tunes…ENJOY.

1. Once You Get Started…..Rufus featuring Chaka Khan / Rufusized (1974) – A funkin’ great groove and a wailin’, sailin’ triumph for lead singer Khan.  https://youtu.be/bUKVTLWa_fM

2. Down in Hollywood.....Ry Cooder / Bop Till You Drop (1979) – Cooder brings in Khan for a guest vocal appearance on this slow, slinky infectious duet.  https://youtu.be/d4lmMBHlAS4

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3. It’s My Life…..The Animals / The Best of The Animals (1966) – Lead singer Eric Burdon’s gritty vocals and the song’s even grittier lyrics made this tune a classic.  Reportedly the first television glimpse for USA viewers came on the Hullabaloo television show in October 1965 when the band sang over taped music in a setting that looked like hunter’s den—where young women had their heads poking out of holes in the wall as if mounted there as animal trophies.  Thankfully it was campy, not creepy.  https://youtu.be/H3GNKUE-d9c

4. Spill The Wine…..Eric Burdon & War / Eric Burdon Declares “War” (1970) – Very shortly after The Animals disbanded in 1969, Burdon joined the California funk band War.  https://youtu.be/NXavy54NiDw

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5. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg…..The Temptations / Gettin’ Ready (1966) – David Ruffin leads the charge on this soul/R&B classic backed up by the other Temptations and renowned Motown-label studio musicians The Funk Brothers.  https://youtu.be/crWSG6liT5Y

6. Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone…..David Lindley & El-Rayo X / Very Greasy (1988) – The band is headed up by longtime Jackson Browne guitarist/multi-instrumentalist David Lindley and the song—originally released on Motown Records in 1972 as performed by The Undisputed Truth—was a subsequent huge and enduring hit for The Temptations in 1973.  Lindley’s infectious cover from 1988 is all reggae-splashed funk, a well-conceived far cry from the soulful Temps’ version.  https://youtu.be/Dnbav8hd3jQ

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7. Here Comes My Girl…..Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers / Damn The Torpedoes (1979) – One of Petty’s best—hints of the Byrds; rhythmic and anthemic.  The half-singing/half-talking approach on the verses ratcheted up the emotional heft of the song like nothing else.  https://youtu.be/UVC2dTO3b50

8. End Of The Line…..Traveling Wilburys / Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988) – This band of brothers release was a fluke.  Petty, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne (of ELO), Roy Orbison and George Harrison had teamed up to produce a B-side for a Harrison single from the latter’s latest album Cloud Nine, and lucky for us, things congealed into a full-blown album from the five.  https://youtu.be/stxftCSiVBc

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9. I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues…..Toots Thielemans / One More For The Road (2006) – This selection is from a tribute album that harmonica virtuoso Thielemans put together featuring all composer Harold Arlen’s songs as vocalized by a handful of special guests.  This track features singer Beth Hart.  https://youtu.be/RVjifqmCZHg

10. I’ll Take Care Of You…..Joe Bonnamassa / Beacon Theatre: Live from New York (2012) – This track from blues-rocker Bonnamassa features guest vocalist Beth Hart in a completely different setting.  Where she had swung with jazz player Thielemans, here she cuts loose with raw, rising passion.  https://youtu.be/Doy72nl9ZU4

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11. In Your Eyes…..Peter Gabriel  / So (1986) – A classic from Peter Gabriel, immortalized—for hip film followers—in Cameron Crowe’s 1989 movie Say Anything that had as one of its pivotal scenes a young John Cusack hoisting a boom box, all doe-eyed and lovelorn.  https://youtu.be/78U-WMJ7F3E 

12. Solsbury Hill…..Steve Hunter / Tone Poems Live (2014) – Hunter, a rock guitarist perhaps best known for sharing guitar-hero duties with Dick Wagner on the 1974 live Lou Reed album Rock N’ Roll Animal, was also the guitarist that played on Peter Gabriel’s 1977 solo album which brought us “Solsbury Hill."  This instrumental version by Steve was recorded live-in-the-studio in 2014 with band mates that included longtime Gabriel compadre bassist Tony Levin.  https://youtu.be/QlRw98xX7K4

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13. The Pink Panther Theme…..Bobby McFerrin / Son of the Pink Panther soundtrack album (1993) – Italian actor/comedian/director Roberto Benigni starred in this 1993 film that turned out to be swansongs for both director Blake Edwards (who retired) and film-scorer/composer Henry Mancini (who expired).  Amazing jazz vocalist McFerrin arranged and performed this time-honored nugget of popular culture, and it is a truly mesmerizing version.  https://youtu.be/LxFFhfT8dXI  

14. The Peter Gunn Theme…..The Silencers / Rock ‘N’ Roll Enforcers (1980) – The Silencers were a power-pop, New Wave, whatever-you-want-to-call-it band out of Pittsburgh, PA that scored a signing with CBS’ sub-label Precision Records & Tapes around the same time that Donnie Iris and the Iron City Houserockers were bursting onto the national scene as well.  Warren King wields the guitar in this turbocharged version of Henry Mancini’s classic.  https://youtu.be/_4slkIbyOlU

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15. Once In A Lifetime…..Talking Heads / Remain In Light (1980) – The quirky, herky-jerky song that asks the important questions in Life.  In an interview with NPR, Byrne once said: "We're largely unconscious.  You know, we operate half awake or on autopilot and end up, whatever, with a house and family and job and everything else, and we haven't really stopped to ask ourselves, 'How did I get here?'"  https://youtu.be/CHatn3_UxEU

16. Once In A Lifetime…..Big Daddy / Cutting Their Own Groove (1991) – And you may ask yourself, “Why does a Talking Heads song now sound like it was plucked from Harry Belafonte’s banana boat?”  Big Daddy, a band of musical satirists in love with the late 1950s & early 1960s, take modern tunes and then dress ‘em and regress ‘em.  You may find yourself liking this one as much as the original.  https://youtu.be/mVbRE_ZzD6o

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17. Rock The Casbah…..The Clash / Combat Rock (1982) – The Clash’s record company CBS reportedly coined the marketing tagline “The Only Band That Matters” around the time their double album London Calling was released in the USA in January 1980.  True dat.  This particular gem from Combat Rock was reportedly inspired by the ban on Western music in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  https://youtu.be/0pCFVX6lzHU

18. Train In Vain…..Dwight Yoakam / Under The Covers (1997) – Country singer-songwriter Yoakam takes this train from its roots in London all the way to Nashville, but it’s clearly not a derailment.  This is an intoxicating “take” on the original song by The Clash.  https://youtu.be/q_6WXMJ3saw

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19. Cold Shot…..Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble / Couldn’t Stand The Weather (1984) – This was Vaughan’s second album, and he was quickly building a rabid fan base of followers who thought he wasn’t merely a player, but a channeler.  He seemed heavenly inspired especially in his concert performances, and I actually caught him “live” in the late 1970s at a club called the Evergreen Hotel on Babcock Boulevard in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.  Even then, he was blowing away crowds and bringing on believers.  https://youtu.be/2O_ke8MTjfE

20. Let’s Dance…..David Bowie / Let’s Dance (1983) – Stevie Ray Vaughan was brought into Bowie’s sphere when the latter saw his performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1982.  Vaughan’s guitar slinger contributions are more concise here than on his own solo works, of course, but they are no less powerful.  The song itself is a hypnotic meld of rock, disco and soul.  https://youtu.be/kg78UxE-BNA

21. All The Young Dudes..…Mott the Hoople / All The Young Dudes (1972) – Bowie wrote the song expressly for this fellow-Brit glam rock band who were in the throes of lack of success + an abundance of impatience from their current record companies (Island in the UK and Atlantic across the pond).  Bowie’s gift ignited the band—wham, bam, THANK you, glam—and this, their fifth studio album, charted higher and mightier.  https://youtu.be/yNHdPPJGowY

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22. The Fever…..Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes / I Don’t Want To Go Home (1976) – The song was written by Bruce Springsteen and recorded in 1973 in the studio sessions that led to Springsteen’s second album The Wild, The Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle, but the song didn’t end up appearing on that release.  Three years afterward Southside Johnny and his Jukes covered it on their 1976 debut album, and it helped boost the band’s career as well as shore up the success of the Jersey sound.  https://youtu.be/rYFVplS3mYY

23. Because The Night…..Patti Smith Group / Easter (1978) – This song started out as a half-formed Bruce tune during 1977’s sessions for recording of the artist’s Darkness on the Edge of Town album, but it was handed over to Patti Smith via the young producer they had in common at the time, Jimmy Iovine.  Patti lyrically fleshed out the tune and included the final product on Easter (there’s an explosive live version of this song by Patti Smith Group available on YouTube, from the artist’s 1978 appearance on the 1971-1988 BBC2 music series Old Grey Whistle Test.  THIS is the way to best experience the power and passion of Patti).  https://youtu.be/0od03LbKM1k

24. Spirit In the Night…..Bruce Springsteen / Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J (1973) – The Boss recorded this song for his debut album that hit stores in early 1973, and worshippers weren’t all that widespread.  People “in the know” though—largely from Jersey and Philly at that juncture—were already fervent fans of Springsteen’s live shows and their word-of-mouth was just really beginning to kick in with the release of this first album.  But this is where it all started, and on Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., musicasaurus.com’s favorite track is “Spirit in the Night.”  Cranked up to ten, this song reveals the essence of the evolving Bruce—power, poetry, and above all, passion.  https://youtu.be/hFEeqfqoTSY

 

 

 

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7/28/19.....END OF THE LINE

As of this post dated Sunday, July 28, 2019, my friend Sean McDowell has only three days left—a statement I know that lacks a bit of context and thus sounds creepy, maybe even ominous…so allow me to elaborate.

Sean has three days left at 102.5 WDVE-FM, where he’s been the afternoon deejay on since April 1993.  Twenty-six years in the chair there, spinning classic rock and letting his huge body of listeners know—through tantalizing bits of rock trivia delivered in his trademark laidback style—that Rock continues to be alive and well.  His on-air career actually began in 1978 here in Pittsburgh at another radio station, so Sean is a forty-one year Steel City veteran of peddling songs and artist tales and tidbits over the airwaves, and it all ends July 31st when he retires from the business…

Sean’s unflagging passion for rock ‘n’ roll music runs deep and musicasaurus.com, about three years ago, plumbed those depths through a long interview over lunch in a Mount Lebanon restaurant just outside of Pittsburgh.

The following are excerpts from that 2016 musicasaurus.com interview. 

M:  I want to ask you about your early days.  Actually a little bit about your father, Al McDowell.  He was a renowned Pittsburgh broadcaster, of course, and I’m curious to know if he somehow led you toward a path into media when you were younger.

SM:  (smiling) He missed his first day of work because of me.  At KDKA-AM radio—October 17, 1955.  That was the day I was born, so he couldn’t start!  This was his first job in big-time media.  He had been working at WEDO radio in McKeesport and the newspaper there as well.  He was a Pitt guy, and had written for the Pitt News…Eventually he ended up being a TV guy.

My dad was at KDKA-AM until 1965.  He was a union guy, and was fired by KDKA because of his union support.  I think it was that year or 1966 that we had to move to Philly because my father got a job at WFIL-TV.  Once again he got involved in union organizing and he got fired there, and we moved back to Pittsburgh where he got a job at WTAE-TV Channel 4.  He was there until 1986 or 1987.

He retired from WTAE-TV—maybe more like shown the door, actually—but went back to KDKA-AM a few years after that, doing overnight talk on Saturday nights from 12 midnight to 5am.

M:  So your father’s media experience helped shape you a bit; how about your passion for music?  I know you grew up, as did I, in the mid-late ‘60s with all of the social changes erupting, the youth movement, the explosion of new music—was this a breeding ground of sorts for you?

SM:  Absolutely. I grew up with the Stones and Beatles, of course, but also Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, all of that.  But AM radio back then was pretty rich before FM came around.  I loved what AM radio had begun playing—the new music hits that deejay Chuck Brinkman played here in Pittsburgh, and even when my family moved to Philly for my father’s job, I found another AM station there that played the same kind of great stuff.  Motown music, Stax records, the Atlantic-label R&B stuff.  Even today I listen to ‘60s and ‘70s R& B as much as the classic rock stuff I love.

My wife Cindi and I have gone to Detroit to tour the Motown studios, and to Memphis to the Stax Studios.  These places are like meccas for music lovers.  We found so many studios in Memphis to tour, like Sun Studios where Elvis and Johnny Cash recorded, and the first radio station where B.B. King had worked.  

M:  What was the very first concert you went to?

SM:  I vividly remember my first show.  It was The Doors in 1969 in Philadelphia.  And the band was playing at basically some kind of boxing arena on 59thStreet.  Many years later I was interviewing the late Ray Manzarek and also Robbie Krieger of The Doors, and mentioned that my first concert ever was seeing them in Philly.  And they BOTH remembered the venue after all those years.  Manzarek said he remembered the line of security guys—not policeman, but dressed like policemen; maybe friends of the boxing arena owner?—escorting the band through the crowd and up onto the stage that was in the middle of that big square room.  I was only fourteen, and I remember my next-door neighbor’s mother led us into the venue and to our seats like little ducklings.  There were four of us, and we just followed her in, and everywhere around us people were smoking pot, and my friend’s mother kept saying “Don’t look around; don’t pay attention to them.” 

M:  What other concerts are favorites of yours?  Ones that were truly memorable?

SM:  Pink Floyd on their Dark Side of the Moon tour in 1973 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena…The Stones in 1999 at the stadium in Columbus where the Buckeyes play…Led Zeppelin at Three Rivers Stadium in 1973…Stevie Wonder in 2007 at Mellon Arena; an incredible show where he started right off with “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”…Way back, I saw The Eagles when they were an opening act for Jo Jo Gunne at the Stanley Theater here in Pittsburgh in 1972…And I saw the Grateful Dead through the years, but I wasn’t a Deadhead traveler.  If they were in the area, I went to see them.

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

SM:  I started my radio career in 1978 at 104.7 WYDD-FM, New Kensington, right out of college.  I was just as raw as could be, only having done some college radio before that, which was, you know, a bag of weed, a six pack and you go on the air and play whatever you want to play.  Our radio station was right there in the cafeteria at the University of Dayton.

So Steve Downs was working at WYDD, and he was a University of Dayton graduate.  I had written him a letter and included a tape of my work, but believe me, nobody ever sent out a worse demo tape than me.  It was 1977, I was 22 years old, and I was horrible—but he hired me…He was the one who gave me my first shot in this business, so I can blame him for this!  Mostly thank him, of course…

I started on the air middays at WYDD.  I was as green as green could be.  But I got better.  Anybody who is my age from Pittsburgh and who remembers WYDD will remember the freeform days of that station, with jocks like Jack Robertson, Steve Downs and another of my heroes, Herschel.  I got there towards the end of that, when consultants were coming into the mix more and more at Radio overall.  When I arrived, they were starting to rein things in; we needed to be more hit focused, they said, and not play so much goofy shit…I was fired after 2 ½ years, around 1980—

M:  Why were you let go?

SM:  They said they were ‘making a change’…But then I got a job at a small Washington, PA station called WYTK for a while and then actually sold cable TV door to door for about 9 months before Chuck Brinkman hired me as a deejay at FM 97 (96.9) in Braddock in 1981.  It was a soft rock kind of station at the time, playing the hits of the day but also softer stuff like England Dan and John Ford Coley.  

I spent 13 years there but FM97 went through a million format and call letter changes—FM97, then WHYW, then WMGY Magic 97, and then WRRK.  A million owners and a ton of turn-over, and then we were all fired on a Friday morning on Feb 3, 1993—all 43 of us who worked there!—when the ownership changed hands and the station was sold…  

I collected unemployment for a while, but then that same year I had a phone call from Gene Romano from WDVE, who had heard about the blowout.  Gene called me and said “Do you want to do part-time at WDVE?”  I said “Sure!”  I had no other prospects… 

I owe a lot to Gene Romano for my chance at ‘DVE.  He brought me in and kept me there, so I will always be loyal to him.

M:  I’ve always liked how you feature “deep cuts” on ‘DVE during your shift.

SM:  Yes, I’m able to pick from the archives and do deep cuts at 4:50 in the afternoon and 6:20 in the evening, but because of the research and methodology now we have to have a more restricted playlist overall to avoid people going somewhere else.  There are so many other places to go now—our own iHeart radio list of choices, Pandora, Spotify.  There weren’t choices like this ten years ago.

M:  Tell me about some of the interviews that you’ve done—and I know you’ve done hundreds.  What were some of your favorites?  It has to be a perk to be able to talk with some of your idols.

SM:  Miami Steve Van Zandt.  He came by when Bruce was in town for the start of the River Tour.  Here’s a picture of him (shows me a phone photo of him with Van Zandt, who’s capped off by a headscarf).  After I posted this, some guy on Twitter said Van Zandt looks like his 88-year-old Italian aunt.  He is such a great guy; I like it that he always remembers me, too.

Interviews aren’t always pleasant or fruitful, but I love to talk with Joe Walsh whenever he’s in town.  And Graham Nash is always good.  Jimmy Page I’ve talked with at least three times in the past.  And I’ve done all of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, except Young.  And Ozzy, about a million times.  Once I had Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler together in an interview, and their Birmingham accents were really thick—very nice guys, but trying to understand them sometimes was like, whew.

I never interviewed the Stones, but I’ve met them.  Backstage at the arena one year.  There were 20-30 people in the room.  The band came in but first everybody had to line up on the two sides of the room—fifteen and fifteen.  Some advance woman with the tour said to us all, “They’ll be here for about three or four minutes.  Don’t move, don’t extend your hands, don’t touch them, and no pictures.  Stand where you are.  The band is going to come in, shake everyone’s hands, but no reaching out to them.  And no pictures.”  So the band came in and Ronnie, Keith and Charlie shook everyone’s hands smiling, and Mick stood in the middle of the room and never came over to either side. Smiled, waved, never shook a hand.

M:  Do you listen to a lot of music around the house, outside of work?

Sean:  Yes, my ‘60s and ‘70s stuff, some ‘80s…I’m not really into television, mostly music…You know, I have never seen a reality TV show.  I know nothing about American Idol.  I know nothing about pop culture…I know the names, that’s it.  Kanye, the Kardashians, Taylor Swift.  I know nothing about country artists except maybe for Kenny Chesney.  But I DO know about the history of rock and roll.  Though earlier today I was beating myself up because I thought it was Freddie King who played that song “Frosty” but it turned out to be Albert Collins.  Oh no, how did I mess that up?!! 

M:  How much vinyl do you have? Do you still have a big collection?

SM:  Well, we all thought vinyl was going to appreciate, but it really sort of didn’t.  I don’t really know how many—4,000 maybe?  Although I have largely moved on to an iPod and don’t use my turntable much anymore.

M:  Sean, I think that’s it…Thanks for sitting with me today.  Last thoughts before we go?

SM:  I would just like to say “thanks” to the people who I followed down this road, who held up the lantern for me to see the way, like Jimmy & Steve, O’Brien & Garry, Scott Paulsen and Jimmy Krenn, Jack Maloy, Terry Caywood…I already mentioned to you Steve Downs from WYDD….and Jack Robertson at WYDD….and people like Herschel, Marcy McFerran, Denise Oliver, and Dwight Douglas who used to be on ‘DVE back in the ‘70s when I was just an idiot kid listening.  They all showed me the way.

 

 

 

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Posted 7/14/19.....MY FAVORITE THINGS

From the archives…About seven years ago I polled some radio disc jockeys, those who had made their mark in Pittsburgh broadcast history a while back and others who were still in the chair and on the air.  Musicasaurus.com wanted to know how the people who peddled music for a living, pulling the vast majority of artists & songs from their particular station’s prescribed playlist, felt about their own immersion in music—what artists did they like?  Who were their favorites?  What concerts blew their minds or maybe even changed their lives, if they had to choose one or two or three?  

The latter question is the one I sent out to the willing participants and the responses were widely varied of course.  As Aldous Huxley once said, ““After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

Cris Winter:  Over her Pittsburgh career, Chris has worked for various radio stations—WXXP (Double X), WDVE, 3-W-S and currently WISH 99.7.  

#1 Concert:  David Bowie

“It was the Sound + Vision tour, and the date was June 27, 1990 at Star Lake Amphitheater.  I have loved David Bowie since I was a kid; heck, I had my hair cut like his from the Pin-Ups album when I was in the 7th grade!  My dog was named Bowie.  This was my first time seeing Bowie LIVE.  He was everything I had expected and then some. His playlist was phenomenal, and he dug deep.  I haven't been the same since.”

Also on Chris’ list:  Journey on their Evolution tour in 1979 at the Stanley Theatre…Depeche Mode in 1988 at the AJ Palumbo Center at Duquesne University…Chicago in 1977 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, who were touring to promote their Chicago XI album (this was Chris’ first concert at age 15)…and Daryl Hall & John Oates every blessed time she could catch them, starting in 1977 at the Stanley Theatre.  When Musicasaurus.com originally posted this deejay survey of favorite concerts in 2012, Chris had already seen Hall & Oates forty-seven times.

 

Steve Hansen:  Steve was one-half of 102.5 WDVE-FM’s immensely popular morning team Jimmy and Steve from 1980-1986.

#1 Concert:  Tom Waits with Charles Bukowski

“It was at the Pitt Student Union on March 12, 1976.  Really, probably the best and most influential show I've ever seen.  Tom Waits in full Nighthawks at the Diner mode.  I'd never heard of Charles Bukowski ‘til then.  Here's someone else's memory of the night: ‘Bukowski brought a beer cooler on stage, downing one can after another without saying a word.  Finally somebody yelled out, “Hey man, say something!”  Bukowski burped in response and began reading.’  I remember Bukowski trading insults with the audience the entire set.  His performance ended when he had to be helped off stage to pee.”

Also on Steve’s list:  U2 at the Decade, April 21, 1981…Joe Grushecky with Bruce Springsteen at Soldiers and Sailors Hall, November 4, 2011…Donnie Iris and B.E. Taylor together in back-to-back shows at the Stanley Theatre on December 31, 1982 and January 1, 1983…and Pittsburgh’s own Silencers (with lead singer Frank Czuri) at the club called 2001 on the Northside sometime in 1982.  Steve’s succinct recollection of this particular evening: “They were 'delayed' from hitting the stage ‘til four in the morning.  Warren King.  Peter Gunn Theme.  A topless girl.  Priceless.”

  

Mike Frazer:  In Pittsburgh since 1989, Mike was first at Energy 105/WNRJ  which is perhaps better known as its prior incarnation, WYDD.  He then joined 3-W-S where he’s currently in his 29thyear (with the exception of a brief interlude “across the hall” at sister station 104.7 when it was “The Beat.”)

#1 Concert (Mike found it hard to drill down to one selection (understatement):  ALL of the 3-W-S Summer Oldies Celebration concerts at Three Rivers Stadium and Star Lake Amphitheater, AND the WQED/PBS My Music series of shows that were filmed at the Benedum Center, AND all of Henry DeLuca’s Roots of Rock & Roll series of concerts.

Also on Mike’s list:  U2 at Heinz Field, July 26, 2011…Carole King and James Taylor, a “Troubadour Reunion” tour stop, on June 26, 2010 at Mellon Arena…The Rolling Stones at PNC Park on September 28, 2005…and the Beach Boys 50thReunion Tour Concert on May 11, 2012 at the Benedum Center.  Mike’s ecstatic review of the latter: “Seeing them ALL together again (with BRIAN WILSON!!!) on the same stage making music was INCREDIBLE!  Just wish Carl and Dennis had been there too (although they "were" in spirit, and in video!).

Val Porter:  Once an intern at 102.5 WDVE-FM between her junior and senior years at Clarion University, Val found her radio path taking her back to WDVE in 1994, first in part-time mode.  Val is currently Music Director and a member of the station’s acclaimed morning show.

#1 Concert:  Val has a number of shows she says are memorable so in no particular order, they are...Kiss, June 23, 1990 at the newly-opened Star Lake Amphitheater…Paul McCartney opening up the Consol Energy Center (Pittsburgh) on August 18, 2010…Metallica with Kid Rock at Gund Arena in Cleveland on New Year’s Day 2000…Bob Seger at Consol Energy Center on November 19, 2011…and two shows that make her list not entirely because of the artists’ actual performances: 105.9 WXDX’s X-Fest with headliner Green Day at Star Lake Amphitheater on May 25, 1998 where one of the members of Jimmie’s Chicken Shack ran out on stage in full frontal nudity during Green Day’s set…and Mötley Crüe at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena on October 19, 2007.  Val’s comment on this one: “They were horrible, but they caused quite an uproar by showing a porno flick behind me on the videoscreens while I was on stage making announcements.  I had no idea what was going on.  I just thought the crowd was really excited for the show.  It created quite a scandal in the days after.”  

Jim Cunningham:  Morning host on Classical WQED 89.3 currently celebrating his 40thAnniversary year with the station (in 2019).

#1 Concert:  Pink Floyd

“This was their Three Rivers Stadium concert on May 31, 1994.  I heard them in Buffalo not long after they started out in the 70's doing Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun and then on the Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour in Pittsburgh in 1988, but the most fun was David Gilmore's guitar with the flying pig and Dark Side of the Moon all in one evening.”

Also on Jim’s list:  Bob Marley in his last concert at the Stanley Theatre on September 23, 1980 (“Trenchtown Rock in the Iron City!”)…Pittsburgh Symphony Music Director Mariss Janson’s 60th Birthday concert on February 18, 2003 (“a cavalcade of stars with Mistislav Rostropovich, Yefim Bronfman, Gil Shaham and many more, all good friends together on a night that was just happiness”)…Frank Zappa at the Syria Mosque on March 8, 1988…and Andres Segovia at Heinz Hall on March 23, 1983.  Jim recalls this latter experience was like being in a time machine: “He gave his first concerts in 1916 in Madrid and Barcelona.  His playing at Heinz Hall was so soft that some people said they couldn't hear him but it was silk and velvet.  Segovia said he could reproduce the sound of the orchestra with his guitar, inspiring generations to pick up the instrument.”

Steve Rohan:  Steve is a 26-year veteran of Pittsburgh Radio, including 13Q in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s…Magic 97 from 1986-2005…and now with BOB-FM 96.9 starting in 2005.

#1 Concert:  Paul McCartney

“McCartney played in February 1990 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, and I saw the first of the two nights.  As a kid, the first record I bought was by The Beatles…Never got to see them.  So, seeing Sir Paul for the first time, live, was amazing!”

Also on Steve’s list:  The Doors with opener Blues Image on May 2, 1970 at the Civic Arena…Grateful Dead with Rusted Root at Three Rivers Stadium on June 30, 1995…Roy Buchanan with singer Billy Price sometime in the 1970s at the V.I.P Hampton in Pittsburgh…The H.O.R.D.E Festival at Star Lake on August 21, 1994 (with the Allman Brothers Band, Dave Matthews Band and Blues Traveler)…The P.L.E.A.S.E Benefit for the American Red Cross on September 23, 2005 at Mellon Arena (P.L.E.A.S.E. is an acronym for Pittsburgh Lends Emergency And Saving Efforts; the line-up included Donnie Iris, The Clarks, Rusted Root, B.E. Taylor, Joe Grushecky, Bill Deasy, Poverty Neck Hillbillies, Margo B, Good Brother Earl and Crave)…The Rolling Stones, twice, at Three Rivers Stadium (September 6, 1989 and September 29, 1994)…The Outlaws 30thAnniversary Reunion Tour on October 14, 2005 at the Pepsi Roadhouse (the club next to Star Lake Amphitheater)…Stevie Ray Vaughan with Jeff Beck, November 4, 1989 at the AJ Palumbo Center…and Nirvana on September 30, 1991 at the famed local Pittsburgh music club Graffiti.  About this last-referenced show, Steve says “This was grunge in the friendly confines of Graffiti.  Kurt and the boys set owner Tony DiNardo’s dressing room couch on fire after the show.”

Mark Wallace:  Mark was on WZUM-AM 1590 in the early ‘70s and then on WYDD-FM 104.7 from 1975-1977.  From there he left the deejay chair for a Warner Brothers Records promotion position based in Pittsburgh (1977-1990). 

#1 Concert:  Bob Marley and The Wailers

Pittsburgh, Stanley Theatre, September 23, 1980.  This now legendary concert was Marley's last. I had met him and the band and extended family earlier in the day at the old Parkway Center Inn (now the Best Western) which they were staying at because it had rooms with kitchens and the entire floor was filled with the aroma of Jamaican food cooking.  At the concert, backstage, I saw him again and the band in the smoke-filled dressing room.  Later, I was asked if he appeared sick, as the rumors of his cancer were then circulating, and my reply was ‘It's hard to say because they’re all stoned!’” 

Also on Mark’s list:  Yes at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in 1974, which was especially memorable, Mark maintains, because of guitarist Steve Howe’s playing, on both a 6-string and a 12-string Les Paul, but also on account of the red bud that was part of Mark and his friend’s pre-gaming for the concert…U2 at the renowned small hole-in-the-wall club The Decade on April 21, 1981, where the young foursome actually had to repeat a song from earlier in the evening for their encore because they just didn’t have enough material…Talking Heads at the Stanley Theatre on August 13, 1983, where the sold-out crowd was really into the band.  Mark says of this one, “I believe it was their first concert in the Burgh and with Chris Frantz being from Pittsburgh, it was like a family reunion.  Songs like ‘Burning Down the House’ literally felt like the theater would.  It was a hot, sweaty, boisterous, and fabulous vibe.”…and Bonnie Raitt with opener The Fabulous Thunderbirds on January 24, 1986 at the Syria Mosque.  Mark recalls, “The Mosque was the crown jewel for intimate shows like this one.  I was upstairs in the dressing room and l listened to Bonnie and Jimmy Vaughan jamming together, in between their copious sips from a bottle of Jack Daniels.  Earlier in the day, I took Bonnie to WDVE for an on-air interview and I had my then 4-year-old daughter with me.  To this day, Jessica still remembers how sweet Bonnie was to her.  At Warner Brothers Records, we could never quite figure out how to make Bonnie have a “hit” record and when the first Capitol record Nick of Time won her three Grammys in 1989, even we at the Warner label were so happy for her.  She was one of the sweetest artists I ever met.”

 

 

 

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Posted 6/30/19.....HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy—unless you happen to be working at a 23,000-capacity outdoor concert facility.

From 1991 through 2007 I worked at Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheater, where every May through September the venue was a hive of activity with up to 40-some shows peppered throughout the summer schedule.  Even on non-show days, the place was buzzing—the lawn crew salvaging sod where foot traffic had taken its toll; delivery trucks rolling in with concessionaire’s wares; the administrative staff all crunching departmental numbers from the previous show, figuring out the win or the loss according to respective budgets...

When the last show of the season would roll around—even as the final batch of fans were hoisting cups and roaring at the musicians on stage—the core venue staff would already be plotting out the next few weeks’ shut-down procedures, eager to turn the shovel on another long season.

And then our beast of a building would go quiet.  The amphitheater’s thunderous heartbeat, all summer long quickened by thousands storming the turnstiles, would slow to a crawl.  And the worker bees that we hired for the summer as ticket takers, food vendors, ushers and security would all go back to their real lives elsewhere, while our core group of 12 to 14 people—with a mixture of relief and resolve—would shift our focus to shut-down.   

That was the cycle—the ramp-up, the whipsaw summer, and the tear-down—and after a few years of this, the venue had eventually become a rather well-oiled machine in terms of successfully producing a wide variety of very challenging and high-profile events.  

The summer of 1997, our eighth season, was particularly noteworthy.  By the time the dust settled—or better put, by the time the lawn gasped relief—we had hosted 42 total concerts including 11 sell-out shows, and the combined attendance was over 600,000 for the summer.

Certain concerts from that particular year indeed still hang in my head. Here are five of the most memorable ones for me, from that Summer of ’97:

* No Doubt - Wednesday, May 14, 1997

The song “Don’t Speak” was absolutely inescapable on radio stations nationwide throughout 1996.  In fact—in the weird but true category—the song appeared on our family car’s radio every time we passed a small shopping complex called the Galleria just a bit south of the city limits of Pittsburgh near our home.  My wife and young daughters (ages 11 and 9 at the time) were convinced that this meant something—but we never did see lead singer Gwen Stefani toting designer bags around that mini-mall, so we just chalked it up to the supernatural.  

In terms of Star Lake that next year, No Doubt was the first show of the 1997 season and a slam-bang sellout.  Gwen’s star power and the song’s ubiquitous video helped spark ticket sales well over 20,000 for this May ‘97 season-opener—and most of those who snagged tickets, it turned out, were moms with little girls, all pre-teen, wide-eyed and delirious.

This was the band’s first concert tour and 28-year-old Gwen Stefani was electric on stage, and the screams and squeals of the little ones clasping hands with moms, siblings and pint-sized amigas were deafening.  I remember more than a few of the moms in attendance saved their screams for later, though, in phone calls to our administrative offices over the next week or so.  Stefani had let loose with a few F-bombs during the band’s performance and—not so hard to predict—the moms went ablaze while their tots were unfazed.

    

* Surge Festival - Saturday, May 24, 1997

Our venue operations director Gary Hinston and I, with a few others in our midst, came up with the idea for a local band show that we thought just might draw a decent crowd if held early enough in the summer.  

As we were contemplating who would be on the bill, we of course realized that Rusted Root was well beyond our orbit.  This Pittsburgh band had sold 23,000 tickets at Star Lake in May 1995; were featured on the national tour of the 1996 H.O.R.D.E Festival along with Blues Traveler, Lenny Kravitz and others; and were already headed our way this summer once again, on a co-headlining date with Santana that was set for July 11.

Still, we sensed that the time was ripe for a celebration of local talent on a grand scale.  Three bands in particular were percolating (or better) with popular acclaim and solid record sales, and we felt that a show with this anchor trio had a real shot at drawing eight, maybe even nine thousand fans out to the venue. 

The bands with the buzz?  The Clarks, who had heavy ‘DVE airplay and a fourth album entitled Someday Maybe that was released just six months before...The Gathering Field, with lead singer/songwriter Bill Deasy, who were fueled by a major-label signing to Atlantic Records and a re-release of the band’s self-produced debut album which contained the radio favorite “Lost In America”...and Brownie Mary, a rock quartet fronted by the charismatic Kelsey Barber, who were continually piling up fans from great live shows and were themselves headed for a major label signing that would come within the year.

The event was priced very reasonably at $10.25 per ticket, which tied into WDVE’s radio dial position of 102.5.  The show went on sale, and then never lagged.  With WDVE’s on-air support and a robust sense of pride welling up in the ‘burgh, this multi-act concert went on to sell almost 19,000 tickets.  The day of the show was one long, well-deserved victory prance—a day of wide smiles, high-fives, fist-pumps and fellowship.  

The bands backstage were on Cloud Nine, understandably, and our venue accountant at the time was in a head-spin throughout the evening, tabulating the intake from ticket sales, long concession lines, and parking fees.  Having this show end up a runaway success was certainly $weet, but for me, sweeter still was the camaraderie in full flower backstage while out in front, scores of fans showed their true hometown colors with every celebratory roar for the bands who walked out on that stage.  This was a great day...

* OzzFest - Saturday, June 7, 1997

The original OzzFest had a twin-city birth, two test pilot dates that were held back-to-back in October of 1996.  The first festival was staged in Phoenix, Arizona and the second, the very next day in Devore, California.  These two daylong celebrations of hard rock & metal were deemed a success, and so national concert promoter Pace (Star Lake’s parent company) powered up the Crazy Train and put it on the rails in 1997 to a majority of Pace amphitheaters across the U.S., including Star Lake on June 7.  

Ozzy of course was a ramblin’ shamblin’ man, the figurehead that fueled ticket sales of this eleven-hour fest.  Wife Sharon, on the other hand, had the brains and a bulldog grip on every aspect of the tour.  Later on, on the occasions that she would visit Star Lake during a particular summer’s OzzFest tour, she would find a central spot backstage in one of the production offices or dressing rooms and hold court.  Some people in her purview seemed to quake in her presence, not entirely sure she wouldn’t, if displeased, bite their heads off.  Her husband, of course, preferred bats and doves.

* Lollapalooza - Saturday, July 19, 1997

This touring festival originated in 1991 from the should-be-peeled-back brain of Perry Farrell, lead singer of alternative band Jane’s Addiction and all around space cadet.  Star Lake wasn’t able to woo the festival our way until 1992, as the year before the tour had purposely bypassed Pittsburgh; it was deemed at the time by festival founders to be a market that wasn’t quite hip enough to produce sufficient ticket sales.  

Usually sporting alternative bands, punk outfits, industrial strength metal and at least a smidgeon of rap, Lollapalooza enjoyed critical and commercial success as it wended its way across the USA for the next few years.

By 1997, though, the festival’s seventh consecutive summer of touring, there was a loss in luster and fan fanaticism.  Perry Farrell was abandoning ship and—partial reason only, but still notable—some quizzical fans were still scratching their Mohawk haircuts over the fact that the 1996 Lollapalooza tour had featured Metallica, who was decidedly more mainstream and macho than the usual eclectic, alternative-heavy line-up. 

I remember that night of July 19, 1997—the weather had turned unseasonably cold when the sun dipped below the horizon, and by the time headliner Devo took the stage, the crowd was sparse and largely disinterested.  There was a small cluster of fans up front in the pavilion seating area but I remember thinking, as Devo started up their herky-jerky cover of a Rolling Stones song, that this just might be the end of this annual juggernaut.  It was clearly not just festival fatigue that I was reading on these fans’ faces—they just couldn’t get no satisfaction.

* Fleetwood Mac - Wednesday, September 24, 1997

Here we’re talkin’ the Big Mac, of course; the most commercially viable line-up of this group that had originally formed in England in 1967.  It wasn’t until late 1974 that California duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band after its latest membership shuffle, and this particular injection propelled the band to chart-topping success here, there, and everywhere.

In the Spring before each outdoor concert season truly arrived, our booker from our parent company Pace Music Group would routinely survey the amphitheater general managers about upcoming summer concert opportunities.  The news of Fleetwood Mac’s reformation of their 1970s powerhouse line-up and their pledge to tour together for the first time since 1980 were indeed welcome bits of info.  

We were a bit startled by the ticket prices that were suggested for this amphitheater tour, though.  As was becoming par for the course, this upper echelon band was asking for a LOT of money from each venue, and the only way to try to snag a win with that hefty of an artist price tag was to goose up the ticket prices way beyond “normal.”  So we followed that logic, and still a bit queasy, held our collective breath.

The show was booked, placed on sale, and sold every damn ticket.  Fleetwood Mac’s national publicity machine was a driver, for sure, and the band had (pre-tour) produced a new live-on-a-soundstage CD of largely their hits entitled The Dance.  Then MTV, along with strong radio play and word-of-mouth, laid final waste to any lingering ticket-price resistance; the Mac fans from way back had salivated for much too long and just wouldn’t be denied.

I remember the show to be an audio marvel. The sound system and mix were stellar, and the band on this chilly September evening was on fire.  I remember at one point strolling along “sponsor row”—our corporate boxes near the stage—and I believe I saw every single bigwig from every company that had signed up with us for that summer of shows.  One glassy-eyed reveler leaned over his box railing, beaming at me: “This sure beats that Ozzfest pummel-your-head crap,” he slurred. “But, my son loved that show.”

Yep.  A little something for everyone in that Summer of ’97.

 

 

 

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Posted 6/16/19.....HAD TO CRY TODAY

Musicasaurus.com this past week polled some people in the music business and/or in the arts—deejays, musicians, writers, illustrators, promoters, and more—and they all came back with poignant reflections about the song that made them (or makes them) cry…Thanks to all for sharing these personal stories about the power of music…

 

  Liz Berlin

Founder, partner and touring musician with Rusted Root; co-owner of Mr. Smalls Theatre, Recording And Mastering Studio; and founder/director, Creative.Life.Support

I was driving home from somewhere, listening to WYEP and just as I was pulling in front of my house the DJ came on and announced that Jeff Buckley had drowned and they played “Lilac Wine.”  I was stunned.  I just sat there with my car running in front of my house, just listening to the lyrics: "I lost myself on a cool damp night / I gave myself in that misty light / Was hypnotized by a strange delight / Under a lilac tree”...It felt like he had predicted his own death and was trying to warn us or console us or something.  From what I understand he was celebrating that night about the beginning of recording his next album with his band with a swim in the Mississippi River…  https://youtu.be/5PC68rEfF-o

 

​  Steve Hansen

Principally known from the “Jimmy and Steve” days at WDVE from 1980-1986; currently an independent producer/writer in various fields

If Gene Pitney and Neil Young are right that only love can break your heart and Cat Stevens is correct that the first cut is the deepest, then I have to go all the way back to my original heartache for the song that makes me cry.  While there were a few other break-up songs along my rocky road to nirvana, my first heart full of soul will always be my most lasting.  But love has no pride and you don’t get to pick what’s on the radio the day you break up.  You just have to hope that the song that will pierce your broken heart every time you hear it for the entirety of your earthly existence is worthy.  Fortunately, “Without You” by Harry Nilsson is.  His five-octave range takes you from the depths of despair to the heights of hopelessness.  His pain mirrored mine, although it paled in comparison to the deeper despair of the song’s writers, Badfinger’s Pete Ham and Tom Evans, both of whom killed themselves due to squabbles over the song’s royalties.  And that will always bring a tear to my eye.  https://youtu.be/8dnUv3DUP4E

 

​  Mark Wallace

Presently an English teacher and part-time radio deejay in Tampa, Florida, whose music career earlier on in Pittsburgh included disc jockey work on WZUM-AM and WYDD-FM, and then a coveted Warner Brothers Records regional promotion position in the late 1970s

So many songs...I would go with "The Sounds of Silence."  I saw/heard Simon & Garfunkel do that at the Stanley Theatre and that version—like the original album—had an electric 12-string (instead of the acoustic) and my lord, you could hear a pin drop in the audience.  Such a powerful song to begin with, and it being about the time of the 60's turmoil on many levels, it really resonated (literally) with their performance; a true anthem of the 60's.  https://youtu.be/4fWyzwo1xg0

 

​  Stacy Innerst

Award-winning artist and illustrator for books, newspapers and magazines; recent book illustrations have included The Music in George’s Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue (2016) and Ruth Bader Ginsberg: The Case of RBG vs Inequality (2017)

I have to say I’m not much of a crier (over songs, that is) but if I had to pick one that I associate with tears it would be “Bell Bottom Blues” for this reason: I was playing in an Albuquerque garage band with some older guys when I was in high school.  I was too young to have had my heart broken yet but the guitar player, a seasoned 20 year-old, couldn’t get through our cover of that song without bursting into tears and walking out of the rehearsal.  Too bad because he was a KILLER on guitar.  I still come close to misting up when I hear it.  https://youtu.be/I-q50NkZANE

 

​  Richard Scheines

Dean, Mariana Brown Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University; music lover; guitar player in local Pittsburgh band The Relics

Mine is "Thanksgiving" by George Winston.  A good friend of mine in high school died tragically right around Thanksgiving in 1979, and when the song came out a few years later, it immediately filled me with nostalgia and took me back to walks with him in the late fall before he died.  Somewhere around the middle of the song I just lost it and sobbed for what felt like an hour.  It was the first time I really released, which is crazy, but it was profoundly helpful and I needed music to get there.  I still fill up every time I hear it.  https://youtu.be/5yhpDzsz2ps 

 

​  Rich Engler

Former president of DiCesare-Engler Productions which eventually became part of Live Nation; currently head of Rich Engler Presents

“MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris.  That’s one of ten I could talk about.  This one is all about the end of a relationship.  https://youtu.be/sD-zTwi3_GU

 

​  Russ Rose

Also known as Whip, a 105.9 WXDX on-air talent (and more) at iHeartRADIO Pittsburgh

While this song doesn’t make me cry, it does stop me dead in my tracks, stirs up many buried emotions, and transcends time and space when I hear it: Chris Cornell’s cover of “Ave Maria.”  Maybe it is the mix of Chris’ voice with what is a funeral/wedding/Christmas/month of May song from my catholic school youth, but when I hear it I become consumed by emotion of family and friends that are no longer around, and memories of my youth.  I told Chris I wanted it played at my funeral, and he thought that was peculiar of me to have it planned, but he understood.  https://youtu.be/9TMhxz1aGWU

 

​  Beckye Levin Gross

Currently Director of Business Development at UnifiedCommunications.com in Houston, Texas; former booker of Star Lake Amphitheater in the 1990s and early 2000s under the employ of Houston’s Pace Music Group, which ultimately became part of Live Nation

The song for me is Elvis “If I Can Dream.”  I remember when I heard he had passed away.  We were at the beach house in Galveston.  I was almost 11 years old and I was destroyed.  I thought the world would come to an end.  I laid on the top bunk with a small radio and listened to Elvis song after Elvis song.  For days and weeks and months after, I was crushed.  I would lay in bed at night and listen to “If I Can Dream” over and over again sobbing.  “There must be lights burning brighter somewhere / Got to be birds flying higher in the sky more blue / ...as long as a man / Has the strength to dream / He can redeem his soul and fly.”  https://youtu.be/0q3PpEX4sNk

 

​  Bryan Sejvar

Director of Programming and Production with 89.3 WQED-FM, and self-recording/producing musician and songwriter

"Nothing Lasts for Long" by The Samples…I've always liked this song, but after a very close relationship ended in college, this song was on repeat for days, with me tearing up (and outright weeping at times), every time I heard it.  As I've grown older, this song still resonates and I have to fight not to tear up whenever I listen to it, especially when I hear it close to an event like the passing of someone close to me.  "Maybe nothing lasts forever... / But the time we had together / They will always be with me."  https://youtu.be/ZzARk0mFVY0

 

​  Sean McDowell

A 41-year veteran of Pittsburgh Radio overall, and since 1993 an on-air talent with 102.5 WDVE, the region’s powerhouse album-oriented rock station

“The Song Is Over" from Who's Next always brings tears to my eyes.  It’s such a beautiful song to begin with, with Nicky Hopkins’ piano opening, and I think about Keith Moon who was a deeply troubled alcoholic, especially during the ending of the song: "Searchin’ for a note, pure and easy / Playing so free, like a breath rippling by."  And then the band plays this repeating riff like 5 or 6 times, Keith making the rounds on his drums, John Entwistle's bass booming, Nicky Hopkins' piano and Pete's synthesizer all combining for just a killer finish.  https://youtu.be/NuwciCfxumg

 

​  Dave Blaushild

Currently Senior Environmental Compliance Officer at Fluor Marine Propulsion, LLC and on-air host of select 91.3 WYEP-FM Pittsburgh programs

I could not really think of a particular song that makes me cry.  But I do have a mental list of songs that cause sadness.  I started thinking about social issues, environmental concerns, and our state of political divisiveness and pared it down to three songs: Marvin Gaye’s "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," Bob Marley’s "No Woman, No Cry"' and Gil Scott-Heron’s "Winter In America.”  I chose Gil Scott-Heron’s "Winter In America.”  This song was a release when I was in college, the Vietnam war was winding down, our inner cities were in despair, and the Watergate hearings were going on.  There are a lot of parallels to events today, especially regarding political issues.  These lines in the song stand out to me: "The Constitution / A noble piece of paper / With free society / Struggled but it died in vain / And now Democracy is ragtime on the corner / Hoping for some rain..." and "It’s winter in America / And ain’t nobody fighting / 'Cause nobody knows what to save…"  These lines are as true today as they were in 1973.  Our government is broken and it affects or will affect every aspect of our lives, and we feel helpless to do something about it.  Everybody needs to vote in 2020, so we can do something about it and preserve that “noble piece of paper.”  https://youtu.be/m2zKdIcOV5s

 

​  Tom Rooney

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

“I’ll Follow The Sun” by the Beatles brings back a difficult breakup but also resonates when I have had a job change for the people and places left behind.  They all wash over me every time I hear it.  I would also mention “Arlington” by Trace Adkins for a friend buried there from the Vietnam conflict.  Had the nerve to actually ask Trace to play it once on a string a dates we did with him.  There was a notable silence when he performed the song, then an audible pause at the end, then a standing ovation.  https://youtu.be/28d_A_NuJ7A

 

​  Scott Tady

Entertainment Editor, Beaver County Times

Grand Funk Railroad’s “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home”)…Hated it growing up.  Too long, too redundant.  But then I interviewed Mark Farner and asked what Grand Funk song mattered the most.  He said this one, hands-down.  Many Vietnam vets told him this was the song that got them through; that got them home.  I hear it much differently now.  I can’t imagine what those soldiers went through, but I appreciate how powerful the yearning for home can be.  When radio plays it,  and conditions are right, this song gets me misty-eyed thinking how much it must have meant to them.  https://youtu.be/fvOPucs7dC0

 

​  Ed Traversari

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

“The Messiah Will Come Again” by Roy Buchanan.  Roy was the first show I ever booked going back to 1973 at Robert Morris University so when I hear Roy say those words “I walked in a lot of places that he never should have been / But I know that the Messiah, he will come again” and then he breaks into his guitar solo, it’s very emotional.  It’s actually the guitar solo that gets me more emotional than the words.  Remember it was Eric Clapton that said “Roy Buchanan can make a guitar cry.”  https://youtu.be/0dr0DwQJiAc

 

​  Billy Price

American blues & soul singer from Pittsburgh, now residing in Baltimore, who gained national attention through touring and recording with guitarist Roy Buchanan in 1974-1975, and who continued on with Billy Price & The Keystone Rhythm Band, the Billy Price Band, the Billy Price Charm City Rhythm Band and solo projects.

I can’t listen to the record “No Charge” by the gospel singer Shirley Caesar without crying.  Can’t do it.  It’s corny, maudlin, manipulative, unsophisticated, and unsubtle, but it gets me every time.  A kid comes home from school and presents his mother with an itemized bill for chores, for watching little sister, for cutting the grass, for doing homework, etc.  The narrator of the song, the mother, comes back with an itemized list of acts of motherhood ("for the days that I carried you…”) and for each one, assesses the little ingrate “No Charge.”  Even thinking about it now and hearing it in my head, I start choking up just a little.  I wish I could arrest this spontaneous reaction, but I can’t…  https://youtu.be/rRy0qpqHn_4

 

 

 

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Posted 6/3/19.....THE ART OF HAPPINESS

My fingers were trembling when I began typing this particular post—not from weariness nor disease (thank God), but from a flashback to my youth.

I have many memories from my teens and twenties of being deliriously, deliciously lost in reverie, rooted with singular focus before many a stacked-to-the-gills record bin in department stores and little indie record shops, and my fingers were always flying.

There was an art to this, the flipping of albums forward from the front of the bin to the very back, with my thumb as stabilizer and my pointer and middle fingers systematically scrambling atop, flicking each album quickly into and out of view so my brain could rapidly process the ones that were new and yet unexplored…

Obviously it was the album cover art that spoke to me, as the first real clue to the potential treasures within.  If the album had a visually arresting illustration or photograph or overall design, my right hand would overrule the flying fingers and pluck the record up and away from the rest so that I could study its cover, turn it around to read the song titles and liner notes, and then agonize within as to whether it should join my nearby small pile of must-haves.  

This particular musicasaurus.com post is all about album covers and the artists and designers behind them, and those of you who had that glorious, time-suspending record store experience of hours in front of the bins may recognize a number of these.  But like me, you may not have dug further beyond that initial brain stimulation back then to determine who the artist was behind a particularly captivating cover—and that’s the purpose of this visual trek through the landscape of album cover art.

Musicians whose own paintings, illustrations, and/or photographs were used as album covers:

Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac – the illustration on the front and back cover of the band’s 1970 album Kiln House…..Christine wasn’t officially in the band yet, but contributed the drawing and played a supporting role on the album.

 

John Entwhistle, bassist for The Who – the illustration on the cover of the band’s The Who By Numbers (1975).

 

  

 

Joni Mitchell – the paintings and/or illustrations on some of her own albums including Clouds (1969), Ladies Of The Canyon (1970) and Mingus(1979), as well as the cover of her friends’ greatest hits collection, CSNY’s So Far (1974)…..Mitchell was once quoted as describing herself as “a painter derailed by circumstance.”

 

  

Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) – the illustrations on the covers of Tea for the Tillerman (1970), Mona Bone Jakon (1970) and Teaser And The Firecat (1971)…..Stevens attended art school early on and first considered a career as a cartoonist, but music successfully lured him into composing and performing.  

 

John Lennon – the childhood drawings of young Lennon adorn the cover of Walls and Bridges, the solo artist’s fifth studio release (1974).

 

  

Bob Dylan – the illustrations for the Band’s first album Music From Big Pink (1968), and two of the artist’s own recordings, Self Portrait (1970) and Planet Waves (1974).

 

 

Don van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) – the paintings used for the album covers of Doc At The Radar Station and Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (1978)…..Beefheart was an autocratic, idiosyncratic musician, sculptor and a painter, whose music was often abrasive and always challenging.  Upon Beefheart’s death in December 2010, an NPR obituary written by Rick Karr quotes the artist as once stating he had never set out to do standard rock and roll: "That 'mama heartbeat,' that 'bom-bom-bom' – it's so boring, it's so banal.  I mean so, uh, hypnotic," he said.  "I don't wanna hypnotize anybody.  I just wanna play.  I mean, I want things to change – like the patterns and shadows that fall from the sun."

Painters, illustrators, sculptors and/or photographers whose works were borrowed by musicians for their album covers:

Patrick Nagel – Nagel was an American illustrator whose works are linked by critics to the art-deco style of the 1920s and 1930s, and whose fame spread largely from his drawings for Playboy magazine in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Over the course of his career, he became known for his “Nagel women”—sharp-lined, angled views of women that often had black hair, white skin with a vampiric sheen, full-bodied lips and captivating eyes.  Nagel’s paintings ended up on a handful of musical artists’ recordings back then but the one that brought him widespread recognition was his 1982 cover of Duran Duran’s career-cementing sophomore album Rio.

 

  

  

  

Norman Seeff – Seeff’s career began in medicine in South Africa, but he switched gears (and countries) in 1969, and through his creative impulses and New York connections ended up in the realm of rock and/or celebrity photography.  Above are some of his captivating album cover photographs from the 1970s.

 

 

Auguste Rodin – French sculptor Rodin (1840-1917) created “The Eternal Idol” in 1889, and in 1987 Black Sabbath tried to secure the rights to photograph the sculpture and use it as their album cover.  Reportedly permission was not granted so Sabbath employed two naked, body-painted models to recreate it as best they could.

 

 

 

Abdul Mati Klarwein – German painter Klarwein (1932-2002) created some intricate and stirring covers for artists including Gregg Allman, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and Santana.

 

Albert Hirschfeld – American artist Hirschfeld (1903-2003) was famous for his celebrity caricatures throughout his long career, and it was fortunate that he didn’t draw the line at rock stars.  He did the cover illustration for Aerosmith’s 1977 album—which may be the most memorable thing about Draw The Line, according to critics and more than a few fans.

 

Paul Gauguin– French post-Impressionist artist Gauguin (1848-1903) had his 1899 painting “Two Tahitian Women” adopted by American jazz singer-songwriter Michael Franks for the cover of his 1982 album Objects Of Desire.

 

Albert Vargas– Peruvian born Vargas (1896-1982) is best known for his 1940s pin-up girl paintings for Esquire magazine that subsequently adorned the nose of a number of our fighter planes during that conflict.  He was also known for his 1960s-1970s paintings featured in Playboy magazine.  Vargas retired from his art upon the death of his wife in 1974, but then someone pinned him down a few years later to do another pin-up classic, the cover of The Cars’ 1979 release Candy-O.  The model Vargas turned to was 32-year-old Candy Moore, who had matured and detoured from her child actress years in late-‘50s/early ‘60s television programs including Leave It to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show and The Lucy Show.

 

  

  

Andy Warhol– King of Pop Art Warhol may be remembered best by serious rock ‘n’ rollers for his creative kinship with the Velvet Underground and Nico, and the 1967 banana cover he designed for their album.  Warhol also designed the cover of the Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers and in 1986 created a cool, colorful cover for Aretha Franklin’s album Aretha.  Warhol was busy before all that, though, in terms of creating art for albums; above are a few examples of his 1950s work for Kenny Burrell and a few others.

 

 

H.R. Giger – Swiss surrealist painter H.R. Giger, besides inspiring the bane of Ripley’s existence in the Alien films, routinely churned out what Rolling Stone magazine called “disturbing, erotic ‘bio-mechanical’ images” that were either commissioned by or licensed out to musicians, a lot of them purveyors of heavy metal and death metal—but two of his most recognizable feats were for Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Brain Salad Surgery, 1973) and Blondie vocalist Debbie Harry who struck out on her own for a solo release (KooKoo,1981). 

 

  

René Magritte  - Belgian Surrealist Magritte’s 1952 painting “La Chambre D’Ecoute” (aka “The Listening Room”) was employed as the cover of the Jeff Beck Group’s Beck-Ola album in 1968…..In 1983, Gladys Knight & The Pips picked the artist’s 1960 painting “Les Mémoires d'un saint” (“The Memoirs Of A Saint”) to become the cover of their newest album Visions…..and back in 1970, the just-formed jazz-rock band Dreams chose Magritte’s 1953 painting “Golconda” as the cover of their debut album (the band’s faces supplanted some of the ones originally in the painting).  If you’re into musical minutia, you might also like to know that four musicians from Dreams went on to much greater renown in the world of jazz and jazz-rock: The Brecker Brothers, saxophonist Michael and trumpeter Randy; John Abercrombie, a talented guitarist who went on to record solo & group efforts on the prestigious ECM European jazz label; and Billy Cobham, a drummer who soon left to work with Miles Davis and then afterward formed the legendary fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra with guitarist John McLaughlin.

 

Spinal Tap – Intravenus de Milo– Musicasaurus.com loves this bit of medical malpractice foisted upon the Venus de Milo, the famous Greek statue which is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch and dates back to somewhere between 130 and 100 BC.  And, this is my favorite fictional album cover from the fictional catalogue of my favorite fictional band Spinal Tap, the aging British heavy metal group immortalized in Rob Reiner’s 1984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap.  The faux band inspired a number of metal bands in real life, and Tap has actually toured intermittently, playing festivals including Glastonbury in England and an aptly named “One Night Only World Tour” in June of 2009 at London’s Wembley Arena.

 

 

M.C. Escher – Escher was a mathematically inspired Dutch graphic artist (1898-1972) working primarily with lithographs and woodcuts who brought illusions of 3D to his 2D drawings while playing with various levels of reality.  His 1943 work “Reptiles” adorns the cover of Mott The Hoople’s 1970 self-titled debut album and his etching “Three Worlds” is on the Beaver & Krause 1970 release In A Wild Sanctuary.  Both covers, I have a feeling, prompted the music-obsessed Stoner Generation of the 1970s to dig a lot further into Escher’s other works like “Relativity” and “Belvedere”—and it likewise set off many a bong hit to try to figure them out. 

 

 

 

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Posted 5/19/19.....COME TOGETHER

When you drill down on the concert experience, whaddya have?  A headliner of some stature that is a must-see—and then the opening act or acts who you either delight in because they are simpatico of sound, or who you bail on for a bladder break and a little less lines at the brew stand.

I went to many concerts beginning in the late 1960s and experienced some great matchups early on, like the November 1967 show at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre with the Beach Boys and their openers the Strawberry Alarm Clock and—gasp!—the Buffalo Springfield.  I also saw, under the wing of my friend Dan’s older brother who drove us to the show, a jaw-dropping performance by Janis Joplin and opening act Santana at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in November 1969.

I wondered even back then how certain artists ended up playing as warm-up to the headliners on a given tour, because there were some odd pairings “out there”—like the Jimi Hendrix Experience opening up for the Monkees on a handful of dates in July 1967.  Though some could reflect back and think this was a Monkee maneuver for respectability—adding a cutting-edge artist for cred—the wildly popular foursome from the TV show just fell in love with Hendrix’s onstage aura especially after seeing him play live in June at the Monterey Pop Festival.  According to the website monkeeslivealmanac.com, though, the headliners soon gleaned that the audiences in large part were mystified and miffed, not mesmerized.  The website quotes Micky Dolenz from his autobiography in which he says “The parents were probably not too crazy about having to sit through a Monkees concert, much less see this black guy in a psychedelic Day-Glo blouse, playing music from hell, holding his guitar like he was fucking it, then lig