Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

A true classic, unearthed

Steyn does one of his typical Big Digs into the long, strange history of a song that’s been one of my absolute favorites since I was a kid, and still is.

In South Africa, it was huge. “Mbube” became not just the name of a hit record but of an entire vocal style – a high-voiced lead over four-part bass-heavy harmony. That, in turn, evolved into “isicathamiya”, a smoother vocal style that descended to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and others, taking its cue from the injunction “Cothoza, bafana” – or “tread carefully, boys”. That’s to say, Zulu stomping is fine in the bush, but when you’re singing in dancehalls and restaurants in you’ve got to be a little more choreographically restrained, if only for the sake of the floorboards.

“Tread carefully, boys” is good advice for anyone in the music business. A few years after Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds made their hit record, it came to the notice of Pete Seeger, on the prowl for yet more “authentic” “traditional” “vernacular” “folk music” for the Weavers to make a killing with. He misheard “Mbube” and transcribed it as “Wimoweh”. That’s a great insight into the “authenticity” of the folk boom: the most famous Zulu word on the planet was invented by a New York socialist in 1951…

Still, Seeger was chanting all the way to the bank. “Wimoweh” is a tune that works in any form – as big band (Jimmy Dorsey), folk-rock (Nanci Griffith), country (Glen Campbell), Euro-lounge (Bert Kaempfert), kiddie-pop (*NSync), reggae (Eek-A-Mouse) military march (the New Zealand Army Band), exotica (Yma Sumac), Yiddish (Lipa Schmeltzer), football singalong (the official theme of the 1986 England World Cup Squad). And that’s before we get to REM and They Might Be Giants and Baha Men, and, of course, The Lion King. Solomon Linda’s song has penetrated every corner of the globe. It’s the most famous tune ever to have come out of Africa.

He and his family must be multi-multi-millionaires, right? Not exactly. Linda sold it to the Gallo record company for ten shillings: that would be about 87 cents. Tread carefully, boy. In 1962, just as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was reaching Number One around the world, he died of kidney disease in Soweto, on the edge of Johannesburg, in a concrete hovel with a couple of bedrooms with dirt floors covered in cow dung. He left his widow the equivalent of $22 in the bank and unable even to afford a headstone for his grave. For the last decade he’d swept floors and made the tea at the packing house of the Gallo company. His family lived on a diet of maize porridge – “pap” – and chicken feet.

After Rian Malan drew attention to the plight of Solomon Linda’s heirs, a few music critics took the usual line on the subject. As Thomas R Gruning writes in Millennium Folk: American Folk Music Since The Sixties:

Beyond the economic implications of ‘Mbube/Wimoweh’, the musical development of the song in its different versions illustrates a highly charged symbolic field in which the violence done to Linda’s original piece further reinscribes contested and inequitable power relations between the West and Africa. That is, the issue shifts from conventional notions of cultural imperialism to a more convoluted and complicated process in which ‘plundering and counterfeiting of black culture’ denies the racial authenticities claimed by…

Zzzzzzz. That argument works fine with the likes of Hugo and Luigi and George Weiss. They’re Tin Pan Alley professionals, assignment men. Give Weiss a Broadway score, an Elvis movie theme, and a Zulu chant, and it’s all the same: that week’s job. Who knows what “authenticity” means to such a man? But the only reason the showbiz types were able to “reinscribe” the song in the first place is because of Pete Seeger and the other leftie folkies. The child of wealthy New York radicals, Seeger has always been avowedly anti-capitalist – supposedly. Yet his publisher had a deal with Gallo Music: they snaffled up the rights to “Mbube” cheap and in return sub-licensed to Gallo the South African and Rhodesian rights to “Wimoweh”. And Seeger knew Solomon Linda was the composer. Years later he would plead that back in the Fifties he instructed his publishers to give his royalties from the song to Linda, and he was shocked, shocked to discover decades later that they hadn’t in fact been doing so. But it never occurred to him, as an unworldly anti-capitalist, to check his royalty statements. It was, on his part, supposedly a sin of omission.

Gee, imagine that: another self-righteous, money-grubbing socialist who got rich ripping somebody else off. Why, I’m shocked, I tell you—SHOCKED!!!

Not everyone can plead the same accidental oversight. Having persuaded Linda to sign away his copyright four decades earlier, the relevant parties made sure to slide some forms in front of his illiterate widow in 1982 and his daughters some years later to make sure the appropriation paperwork was kept in order.

And for all Mr Gruning’s huffing about “cultural imperialism” above, it was, in the end, a legacy of colonialism that ended the injustice. There are significant differences between US and English copyright law, and one of them is that the latter attempts to restrain the damage a foolish creator can do to himself. Under British Commonwealth law, the ownership in any intellectual property reverts to the author’s heirs 25 years after his death regardless of what disadvantageous deals he may have signed. In the courtroom, the quiet courtroom, the lawsuit slept for decades, until Solomon Linda’s daughters were apprised of this significant feature of Commonwealth copyright law, and took action. The sleeping lion also took on the Mouse – the Walt Disney corporation, whose film The Lion King had introduced the song to a new generation of children. In America, Linda’s family really had no legal leg to stand on, but, faced with potentially catastrophic complications in Britain, South Africa, Australia, India and other key markets, Disney were only too keen to settle. In 2006, Solomon Linda finally received his due.

Fifteen improvised notes in 1939 powered Africa’s biggest selling record, an entire genre of music, and two separate hit songs on five continents. And, even though those 15 notes and the man who wrote them were buried under all the other names that encrusted to the work, in the end they’re what shine through.

In case you’re a young ‘un and haven’t yet grokked what song Steyn is going on about, this would be it:




The other versions have their merits, but this is the one I myself was smitten by as a kid, still cherish to this day, and most likely always will. Its 80-year backstory is fascinating; the Tokens’ own initial reaction to it is equally so, despite being another chapter of an old, familiar music-biz story:

Back in New York, the Tokens did as they were told but didn’t care for it. “We were embarrassed,” said Phil Margo, “and tried to convince Hugo and Luigi not to release it. They said it would be a big record and it was going out.” It had an orchestra, a trio of Tokens doing the wimoweh-ing, Jay Siegal’s falsetto, an opera singer with a spare half-hour who came in and did a bit of contrapuntal ululating. The first time the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson heard it he had to pull off the road he was so overawed. Carole King declared the record a bona fide “motherf—er”…

It hit Number One at Christmas 1961. Ilonka David-Biluska’s version, “De Leeuw Slaapt Vannacht“, reached Number One in the Netherlands. Henri Salvador’s “Le lion est mort ce soir” was Number One in France. Pace Phil Margo and Ilonka, it is, in fact, very hard not to make a ton of dough from “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.

Label tells band to record song; band dislikes song, balks; song is a monster, career-boosting hit; band is forever after bemused by their initial disdain for the record that would unexpectedly bring ’em fame and fortune. Familiar as that story is, though, The Lion Sleeps Tonight seems to wield a magic almost unique in all of Western music; for a pop song particularly, the near-universality and longevity of its appeal is remarkable indeed. Love it or hate it, once you’ve heard it you’ll never forget it. I had it on 45 when I was a kid, and it’s in my Spotify library now. That’s power, people.

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Version X

Some of y’all might find tonight’s musical interlude somewhat…uhh, arresting, shall we say. But there’s a backstory to it.

See, a lot of people since around the mid-70s or so have been inclined to decry the 50s in particular as a bland, staid, nearly sexless period in American history: uptight, repressed, restrained to the point of dysfunction. But it ain’t so, and it never has been, especially when it comes to music. You can dig as far back as you wish into American pop history and come up with little-known recordings that feature well-known artists singing dirty, scandalous, even downright pornographic lyrics—either reworking old standards or creating new ones of their own. I’ve come across whole albums devoted to these obscure ditties over the years—some of them more or less crap, a lot of them hilarious, inspired gems.

This one, raunchy as it admittedly is, would fit into the latter category. Featuring bona fide legends LaVern Baker and Jackie Wilson revisiting a song whose clean version had already been a modest hit for the duo, “Think Twice (Version X)” below is lighthearted, bouncy, funny as hell, and…uhhh, definitely NSFW. Jackie and Baker clearly had a ball with it; they break up laughing at each other throughout, and so do I. Jackie is one of my all-time favorite singers, as he was Elvis Presley’s. Early in the King’s career he saw Wilson perform in Vegas and was so blown away he asked to come backstage to meet Wilson, where he declared that he would never, EVER follow his act. They went on to become good friends.

In “TTVX,” you get a couple of flashes of Wilson’s incandescent genius, almost as if even for a goofy little throwaway number like this he couldn’t keep the star of his singing brilliance from going supernova for a sec. This, mind, while singing lyrics nobody in the world could possibly take seriously, for a recording he knew very few would ever hear.

Other outrageous rarities you perverts and ne’er do wells out there might want to search out are “Rotten Cocksuckers Ball,” by the Clovers; “Don’t Fuck Around With Love,” by the Blenders; “All Around Man,” by Bo Carter; and “Shave ‘Em Dry,” by Lucille Bogan. One artist, Clarence Henry Reid, did a whole slew of truly filthy albums under the pseudonym Blowfly. His “The Girl Wants To Fuck” is a laff riot, sure to coax a blush from even the coarsest of cheeks. My beloved Spotify, amazingly enough, has the above indecencies and more skulking in their inventory, just waiting to jump out and frighten the horses, corrupt the children, and shock the ladies into a dead faint.

The polite-company lyrics for “Think Twice can be perused here, if anybody wants to compare and contrast.



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Herb is peaches

Aesop kinda surprised me the other day with his enthusiastic endorsement of the legendary Herb Alpert, of whom I’ve been a fan since I was knee-high to being knee-high. Our dad cherished a copy of this album in particular:

WhippedCreamDelights.jpg


My brother and I cherished this album ourselves. Not just for the music, which is great in its own right, but for the cover. We whiled away many a pleasant afternoon staring intently at this image when we were on the cusp of puberty; we knew damned well there was a nipple tucked away in that fluffy goo somewhere, and damned if we weren’t going to find that thing even if it killed us. Puts me in mind of a good old joke: How do you make a kilo of ugly fat attractive to men? I won’t provide the answer, I’ll leave that to one of you smart-alecky commenters out there. I’m sure one of you reprobates will come through and resolve the mystery once and for all.

Anyways, what with the reminder of Alpert and all, I thought I’d hip those of you not yet wise to the Tijuana Brass’s rich buttery goodness to one of my all-time favorite tunes, from one of my all-time favorite artists. Bon appetit, y’all.



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The Victor

Another great one gone.

Dick Dale, who has died aged 81, was the progenitor of what become known in the 1960s as “surf music”, a sub-genre of pop whose most famous exponents were the Beach Boys; he belatedly achieved wider recognition when Quentin Tarantino used his track Misirlou as the opening theme to one of the key films of the 1990s, Pulp Fiction.

Although mainstream success did not come to him until late in his career, it could be argued that Dale did more than many better-known guitarists to shape the direction of rock music. His influence lay not so much in what he liked to play, which never gained more than local popularity in his youth, as in the style of his attack.

Not to mention this aspect of his influence, excerpted from a recent post of mine:

Leo and Freddie clumsily made their way to the center of the room and focused on the stage, where their friend was leading his band. Dale was a marble statue, animated: a shovel-chinned superman wearing a madras blazer and a tie. A curl of greasy hair fell over his face while his dark eyes stared down at the veiny hands pummeling his Stratocaster. There were perhaps five more musicians up there, all dressed as immaculately, all swaying in unthinking unison to the beat, which was relentless. There was a drum kit alongside a Fender Precision Bass cranked up, and a trio of horns, but the star was Dale’s left-handed Stratocaster. It wasn’t playing just rhythm or lead, but somehow both. As the loose shuffle of the band swayed beneath him, Dale jackhammered electric notes out into the ballroom, as if trying to stab the sound of his guitar through the chests of his fans. His picks disintegrated on his thick guitar strings, and flurries of white plastic rained down on the checkerboard stage at his feet. Dale was punishing his guitar, pounding it, sawing it, threatening to tear it in half, and the resulting blare was like nothing Leo Fender or Freddie Tavares had heard. It wasn’t a sweet, clear melody. It was a jagged rhythm, a howl of steel, a squall of electric nails to which every single one of the three-thousand-something young people inside the Rendezvous Ballroom appeared desperately and completely in thrall.

Amid the din and the sweat, Leo turned to Freddie. “Now I know what Dick is trying to tell me,” he yelled. Some weeks later, Leo called Dale down to the factory. He’d ordered a new fifteen-inch speaker from the James B. Lansing company and installed it in its own cabinet. An amplifier he’d built for Dale was housed separately, to make the rig easier to move. During use, the amp box stacked on top of the speaker cabinet. Both pieces were wrapped in cream-colored vinyl.

“This is you,” Leo said to Dale. “You are the Showman. This is your amp.”

Another bit from the same post, telling the story of my own encounter with Dale:

As it happens, I have a Dick Dale story of my own for ya. Years ago, back in 96 or 98 or so, my band opened for Dale in Orlando, at the famous Sapphire Supper Club downtown. Our hotel, and Dick’s, was an easy stroll from the venue, so after our set was done we walked back to our rooms to imbibe a few cocktails and such in preparation for Dale’s headlining set. As I was walking back, I ran into Dick on his way to the venue, stopping him to thank him for having us on the bill and telling him I was a fan and really looked forward to hearing him play. He looked deep into my eyes, placed a hand firmly over my heart, and quietly said in a deep, serious voice: “It’s one thing to hear it. But you really gotta FEEL it.”

I was, I dunno, flabbergasted yet flattered to have been granted a moment of such serious attention from him. It felt like he was sharing something that was truly important to him, although I was admittedly a bit puzzled by it in the moment. Then we got back to the joint just as he was cranking up, and that shattering volume hammered at my chest like artillery. And then, right then, I knew just what he meant, I got it.

You gotta FEEL it, sure enough—and when Dale cranked up the volume to hang ten off that well-worn slab of lefty Strat, you definitely, definitely did.




As Dale knew, there’s a physical aspect to high-volume rock and roll that the thing lives or dies on. The pounding of the bass against your heart, the agonized wail of the guitar, the crash and bash of the drums: these things are the oxygen that makes the music breathe. Or…not. Granted, a bad band that tries to mask their lack of ability with sheer obnoxious volume is a painful thing to endure. Still, the fact remains: the only thing more frustrating than a bad band that’s too loud is a GOOD band that ain’t loud enough.

I’m still fielding texts from music-biz pals of mine passing the news along, and in every one of those texts one descriptor has come up: “total BADASS.” That, the late Richard A Monsour most certainly was. Rest in peace, Dick. Long may you wave.

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Punker than you

For tonight’s musical digression, we have tune damage from a couple of punk bands I ain’t listened to in a long while. Numero Uno: OG punk purveyors the Damned.




With personnel sporting monickers like Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible, how much more Punk Rock can you get?

Next up, an ironclad confirmation that, my unalterable cisbinaryheteromisogyrapist capital-O Oppressor status notwithstanding, I have not a single homophobic bone in my worn-out old body. Folks, I give you the great Turbonegro:




Turbonegro is—or was, I have no idea if they’re still active or what—a musical aggregation of out-and-proud (not to say fucking militant) gay guys from Norway, purveying some of the most muscular and aggressive (not to say fucking vicious) punk ever. These boys come dangerously close to out-Ramonesing the Ramones, and you know I would never be flippant about such a thing as that. Turbonegro’s slashing, bashing, stripped-down attack is almighty powerful and exhilarating. In short, they’re everything anybody ever wanted from an old-school punk band.

Back when I resided in Atlanta, some friends of mine had a band that did a Turbonegro tribute show at the good ol’ Star Bar a couple of times. Wish I could remember what they called themselves for those shows; I think they lifted the title of a song or album from their Norwegian doppelgangers, but I might be wrong about that. Anyway, they were just fantastic. Being militantly straight themselves (not to say a bunch of shameless pussyhounds, like most of us seedy musician-type reprobates), they had set themselves a difficult task. But they buckled down (not to say “nutted up”) and made the thing look easy. There’s probably a hidden, deeper meaning in there somewhere, but damned if I’m gonna poke around looking for it.

If you’re moved to look for more Turbonegro stuff, be warned: some of y’all may find the lyrics to some of their more in-your-face material, shall we say…problematic (ahem), featuring as they do some fairly raunchy celebrations of the joys of anonymous anal sex in bus-station men’s rooms and other such-like topics. Obviously songs like, oh, Rendezvous With Anus or Don’t Say Motherfucker Motherfucker are going to be NSFW in any mainstream office setting. I ain’t much disturbed by ’em myself, since I’m usually listening to the guitars more than anything else anyway. Hell, there are songs I’ve been in love with since the mid-70’s that I STILL have no idea what the lyrics are, and don’t care enough to find out.

All that is a moot point anyway: the only correct way to listen to bone-breaker RAWK like this is at skull-shattering, ear-bleeding volume—bass and drums pounding, guitars screaming in agony—which ain’t a-gonna fly in any workplace more genteel than foundries, smithies, open-air firing ranges, or Harley shops. But aside from that small caveat: enjoy.

Blackface update! Just scanned their Wiki entry and therein found a funny road-story:

By the winter of 1994-1995, the band had reclaimed the name Turbonegro, but had a new look referred to as the “Al Jolson schtick”, though it did not last long. Happy-Tom summed it up with an anecdote, “So there we were backstage with our black faces and wigs and little hats, smoking pot with our all-time heroes the Bad Brains, and the absurdity just didn’t cross our minds. I mean, those guys didn’t mention it, they were probably just embarrassed on our behalf.”

PROBLEMATIC!!

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The birth of (way too) loud

I mentioned recently that I was going to try to find a means of sharing more excerpts from The Birth Of Loud with y’all, and I did that thing, huge editing pain in the ass though it is. But man alive, what a fascinating book. I am by no means ill- or uninformed about Fender and Les Paul history and all, but I still learned a lot I didn’t know. The thing is just teeming with inside dope and fascinating, obscure stories. Such as:

It was a problem Leo Fender just couldn’t understand. By then, Leo had taken a liking to the young Richard Monsour, bonding with him after the young player apparently came around Fullerton begging for a guitar. The two would call each other with new technical ideas late at night, and spent time sitting in Leo and Esther’s living room, listening to Marty Robbins country records. Leo found Dick Dale’s amplifier conundrum intriguing. He and his lab assistant, Freddie Tavares, spent weeks developing improvements for Dale, building stouter versions of the new amplifier line they were developing. Dale would drop by on Thursday afternoons in 1960 and play through the new circuits and the wall of speakers Leo used for testing. Inside the concrete bunker of Leo’s lab, his guitar sounded like a machine gun. It was deafening how Dale played the instrument, his tanned left arm bulging as he knifed the strings with his pick.

Yet at the end of every weekend, Dale trudged back to Fullerton with whatever supposedly powerful amp Leo had given him, and it ended up with its capacitors smoked or the speaker cone torn or both, and Dale still claimed that it hadn’t given him the sound he wanted. “Leo kept asking me, ‘Why do you have to play so loud?’ ” Dale remembered. After what he claims were some forty or fifty amps destroyed, Freddie Tavares finally told Leo that to truly understand the problem, they’d have to go see Dale perform in person.

Mr. Fender and Mr. Tavares, middle-aged professionals heading out to get a taste of the local teen mania, must have been quite a sight: Freddie in his round metal glasses and Hawaiian shirt, grinning, the ever-curious musician; Leo in plain khakis and a blue button-up, slightly frowning, battling an ulcer after nearly fourteen years of running his own instrument company. On that weekend evening, they joined a line of cars three miles long down Balboa Boulevard and found the Rendezvous parking lot crammed full. The two grown-ups must have moved awkwardly through the crowds of teens hanging around, the kids surreptitiously drinking or necking or getting into precisely the mischief the town fathers had feared. Out on the darkened beach, the crashing waves left trails of white foam that glowed in the streetlights.

After the cool damp of the outside, the humid air inside the Rendezvous hit like a wall. In the ballroom darkness they could just make out the bulk of the crowd: three thousand teens knotted together, twirling, spinning, stomping. Boys in neat gray jackets and ties; girls in flannel skirts and closed-toed shoes, leaning on one another. A few more rebellious types in Pendleton flannels and huaraches, their collars torn open, dancing alone. The boys would put one foot down, slide it a little, then the next foot, slide, and so on: the surfer’s stomp. A forest of young faces, sweating, smiling, their white skin turning pink with exertion, everyone absorbed in the music and each other.

Leo and Freddie clumsily made their way to the center of the room and focused on the stage, where their friend was leading his band. Dale was a marble statue, animated: a shovel-chinned superman wearing a madras blazer and a tie. A curl of greasy hair fell over his face while his dark eyes stared down at the veiny hands pummeling his Stratocaster. There were perhaps five more musicians up there, all dressed as immaculately, all swaying in unthinking unison to the beat, which was relentless. There was a drum kit alongside a Fender Precision Bass cranked up, and a trio of horns, but the star was Dale’s left-handed Stratocaster. It wasn’t playing just rhythm or lead, but somehow both. As the loose shuffle of the band swayed beneath him, Dale jackhammered electric notes out into the ballroom, as if trying to stab the sound of his guitar through the chests of his fans. His picks disintegrated on his thick guitar strings, and flurries of white plastic rained down on the checkerboard stage at his feet. Dale was punishing his guitar, pounding it, sawing it, threatening to tear it in half, and the resulting blare was like nothing Leo Fender or Freddie Tavares had heard. It wasn’t a sweet, clear melody. It was a jagged rhythm, a howl of steel, a squall of electric nails to which every single one of the three-thousand-something young people inside the Rendezvous Ballroom appeared desperately and completely in thrall.

Amid the din and the sweat, Leo turned to Freddie. “Now I know what Dick is trying to tell me,” he yelled. Some weeks later, Leo called Dale down to the factory. He’d ordered a new fifteen-inch speaker from the James B. Lansing company and installed it in its own cabinet. An amplifier he’d built for Dale was housed separately, to make the rig easier to move. During use, the amp box stacked on top of the speaker cabinet. Both pieces were wrapped in cream-colored vinyl.

“This is you,” Leo said to Dale. “You are the Showman. This is your amp.”

It was the first amp Fender had made specifically to meet the needs of one player. The Fender Showman was also one of the first so-called stacks, the towering amplifier arrays that would become common as rock ’n’ roll evolved into rock. Based on other Fender circuits, but heftier—and, at eighty-five watts, more than twice as powerful as a common Fender Bassman—the Showman pointed the way to an even louder future, an age in which electric guitarists would require speaker boxes the size of refrigerators—or, at least, would really, really want them.

It still wasn’t loud enough for Dick Dale. Just as with the earlier trials, the Showman roared in Leo’s lab, but inside the Rendezvous, a room filled with thousands of sound-absorbing bodies, the thick bass Dale wanted wasn’t there. Even the new JBL speaker couldn’t stand up to his playing. Dale remembered Freddie Tavares holding the JBL cone in his hands and marveling at the strange contortions his rat-at-at guitar style forced out of it, eventually tearing the edges of the paper. Dale told Leo he wanted even more power, and two fifteen-inch speakers in the cabinet, not one.

One afternoon, Leo and Dale worked inside the beige walls of Leo’s lab, tweaking the Showman. As Dale’s guitar shot out of the speaker, Leo thought he heard a malfunction in the electronics and told Dale to stop playing. He reached over to the amplifier chassis and turned up the volume to maximum. Then he put an ear to the speaker grille and listened carefully for any unwelcome hum or hiss. This was a common procedure for troubleshooting amps, the best way to hear a faulty circuit—just turn it up and listen to what should be silence. But perhaps Dale bumped the guitar, or tripped over it, or smacked it; maybe he didn’t see where Leo’s ear was. Something struck the guitar, which was still plugged into the amp, which was turned all the way up and had Leo Fender’s head against its speaker. The full force of the machine bulldozed into Leo’s skull—the chomp of a Stratocaster at eighty-five watts, producing a violent metallic blast. Leo felt his eardrum crumble. He leapt away from the speaker, howling in agony, his hand covering his ear. But the damage was done; Leo’s ear collected only silence and pain. For days afterward, he could hear nothing out of it, and only a meager sensitivity ever returned. It was a cruel stroke of irony. Leo had already learned to live with one eye; now, he’d have to develop musical instruments using little more than one ear.

See? Betcha didn’t know that, did ya? I sure didn’t. As I said before: if you have any interest in this sort of thing, you really must get this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

As it happens, I have a Dick Dale story of my own for ya. Years ago, back in 96 or 98 or so, my band opened for Dale in Orlando, at the famous Sapphire Supper Club downtown. Our hotel, and Dick’s, was an easy stroll from the venue, so after our set was done we walked back to our rooms to imbibe a few cocktails and such in preparation for Dale’s headlining set. As I was walking back, I ran into Dick on his way to the venue, stopping him to thank him for having us on the bill and telling him I was a fan and really looked forward to hearing him play. He looked deep into my eyes, placed a hand firmly over my heart, and quietly said in a deep, serious voice: “It’s one thing to hear it. But you really gotta FEEL it.”

I was, I dunno, flabbergasted yet flattered to have been granted a moment of such serious attention from him. It felt like he was sharing something that was truly important to him, although I was admittedly a bit puzzled by it in the moment. Then we got back to the joint just as he was cranking up, and that shattering volume hammered at my chest like artillery. And then, right then, I knew just what he meant, I got it.

Dick used two of the standalone reverb tanks he had designed himself for Fender back in the 60s, and everything sounded just great. Funny thing about those reverb units, though: if physically disturbed at all when in use, they make this horrible, earsplitting, echo-ey CRASH that just rings on and on until the springs inside calm back down. I used one myself for years, but sitting it atop my amp was out of the question; I had to make sure to place it on the floor behind and well away from it, since I liked it pretty loud myself back in the day.

Curiously, a lot of the surf guitarists would kick their reverb units to produce the crashing racket I found so irritating, as in integral part of the song. I never really got that, but a few years later when I had tired of lugging the reverb and Echoplex around and was looking to streamline my setup a bit, I got a much more compact Danelectro reverb pedal that had actual springs in it, unlike the crappy digital ones that just never sounded as good as the old original tanks. The Dano pedal had a little kick-pad on it specifically for reproducing the horrible racket. I don’t think I ever used the danged thing once. Not on purpose, I didn’t. Drunkenly stumbling over the thing mid-song might be a different story, maybe, but I ain’t copping to nothin’. It never happened, I wasn’t there, I know nothing about it, and anyway it was three other guys. So there.

Anyways, Dick had come up with an ingenious solution to the problem; he ran the reverbs at a way higher lever than I ever did, making them even more susceptible to crashing from all the vibration, and something had to be done. So as I stood off to the side of the stage, I saw how he’d gotten around the problem: the reverb tanks were suspended from the rafters, hanging near his amps by a long, stout rope. I thought that was brilliant. Way cool too, and not something I’d have ever come up with myself.

The show was great, and the afterparty at the hotel was…well, it was your typical outrageous BP debauch, that’s all. Dick stayed well away from the proceedings, which speaks very well of him, and is a testament to his good character. I could report further on that segment of the evening, but I ain’t sure if Florida’s statute of limitations has expired on all the numerous offenses against decency, propriety, and the law committed that night yet, so I won’t.

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Another loss

Probably won’t mean all that much to you younger types out there (if any), and I ain’t sure it matters greatly to me either. He was, after all, only my second-least-favorite Monkee—I was a Mike Nesmith man myself. Nonetheless, I sure did love me some Monkees when I was a kid. Still do, honestly. So rest ye well, Peter Tork; you provide entertainment and a moment’s joyous respite from life’s vicissitudes and travails in a particularly troubled time. That’s an honorable, even noble, thing, and you will surely enjoy God’s eternal blessings for it.




One of my very favorite Monkees tunes, then and now, featuring who else.

Update! Y’know, as like-minded as we are on most topics, I shoulda known Aesop and I would agree on this too.

Derided unfairly as the Pre-Fab Four, the Monkees nonetheless out-toured and outsold the Beatles at the height of their powers. With characteristic common sense and gentleness, Peter’s comment on the group rings through the ages:

“There must have been something to us. We sure sold a lot of records.”

Indeed they did. It’s time for the prissy prigs to end the travesty, and put the group in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, where they belong, and while surviving band members Mickey Dolenz and Mike Nesmith are still alive to rake in the long-overdue honor.

Seconded. The pecksniffian snobs notwithstanding, the use of talented, proven-successful songwriters in the making of an artist’s career was simply the way music was done from the 1920s until the mid-60s, when Bob Dylan and others supplanted it with the era of the singer-songwriter. Pop stardom had been a “pre-fab” process right from the very beginning of pop music itself; spontaneous, grassroots phenoms who broke through sans the professional assistance of the music-biz machine were but rare exceptions for decades.

Moreover, the Hall Of Fame isn’t about artistic validity or worth—it’s about, y’know, fame. To claim the Monkees somehow weren’t famous enough to have earned a spot there is ludicrous on its face. As a musician myself, with nearly 45 years of learning my craft, writing songs, playing for money, and teaching students under my belt, I will gladly stipulate that big sales numbers are by no means any indicator of talent, quality, or artistic merit. What they are a surefire indicator of is…FAME. The Monkees had it, with bells on. To keep them out of the R&RHoF is just spiteful, fraudulent hypocrisy, and very little else.

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The joint is jumpin’!

I Spotified some good old Fats Waller today whilst driving around aimlessly and to no good purpose. Fats is a longtime favorite of mine, and I hadn’t given him a listen in far too long. I thought about doing a post on him tonight, but somewhere in the back of what passes for my mind these days I was pretty sure I did one years ago. After some cursory poking around in the archives, though, I could only find a few oblique mentions of him in posts on other topics, so I guess my Spidey sense is in need of a little tuning and tweaking.

Fats was a bona fide giant among American musicians and composers, a legend who attained rarified heights reached by only the true greats. His early music served as a bridge between ragtime, stride, and jazz; his creations spanned multiple genres and styles, and his keyboard prowess was nothing short of astonishing. His personality, too was larger than life. He was a vivacious, joyous, irrepressible sort—overflowing with laughter, generosity, curiosity, and enthusiasm. This famous incident gives some pretty good insight into Waller’s character:

On one occasion his playing seemed to have put him at risk of injury. Waller was kidnapped in Chicago leaving a performance in 1926. Four men bundled him into a car and took him to the Hawthorne Inn, owned by Al Capone. Waller was ordered inside the building, and found a party in full swing. Gun to his back, he was pushed towards a piano, and told to play. A terrified Waller realized he was the “surprise guest” at Capone’s birthday party, and took comfort that the gangsters did not intend to kill him. It is rumored that Waller stayed at the Hawthorne Inn for three days and left very drunk, extremely tired, and had earned thousands of dollars in cash from Capone and other party-goers as tips.

If you got yourself shanghaied by a covey of Capone goons, hauled off to who knows where in a gangland gunship, and could nonetheless muster aplomb and sangfroid in copious enough amounts as to enable you to recover from the shock and terror and go on to establish yourself as the life of a three-day Mob party, I’d have to humbly tip my hat to you for your adaptability and charm at the very, very least.

Fats was a prolific songwriter; he copyrighted over 400 songs in his own name, and nobody really knows how many others he wrote and then sold to others who then claimed them as their own. Several of those sales, usually done to keep body and soul together when times were tight—something every professional musician learns all about sooner or later—ended up leaving him with deep regrets. Some years after he sold “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” for 500 bucks to a white songwriter in the 20s, he later angrily demanded that his son Maurice never play the thing again in his earshot.

Fats was always damned serious about his music, but was also known for not taking things too seriously. He wasn’t above a good bit of clowning around, indulging a sense of humor that was as outsized and larger-than-life as everything else about him:

Not only was Fats Waller one of the greatest pianists jazz has ever known, he was also one of its most exuberantly funny entertainers — and as so often happens, one facet tends to obscure the other. His extraordinarily light and flexible touch belied his ample physical girth; he could swing as hard as any pianist alive or dead in his classic James P. Johnson-derived stride manner, with a powerful left hand delivering the octaves and tenths in a tireless, rapid, seamless stream. Waller also pioneered the use of the pipe organ and Hammond organ in jazz — he called the pipe organ the “God box” — adapting his irresistible sense of swing to the pedals and a staccato right hand while making imaginative changes of the registration. As a composer and improviser, his melodic invention rarely flagged, and he contributed fistfuls of joyous yet paradoxically winsome songs like “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Ain’t Misbehavin,'” “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now,” “Blue Turning Grey Over You” and the extraordinary “Jitterbug Waltz” to the jazz repertoire.

During his lifetime and afterwards, though, Fats Waller was best known to the world for his outsized comic personality and sly vocals, where he would send up trashy tunes that Victor Records made him record with his nifty combo, Fats Waller & His Rhythm. Yet on virtually any of his records, whether the song is an evergreen standard or the most trite bit of doggerel that a Tin Pan Alley hack could serve up, you will hear a winning combination of good knockabout humor, foot-tapping rhythm and fantastic piano playing. Today, almost all of Fats Waller’s studio recordings can be found on RCA’s on-again-off-again series The Complete Fats Waller, which commenced on LPs in 1975 and was still in progress during the 1990s.

He didn’t seem to be much bothered by the lightweight stuff Victor saddled him with; neither did he seem to consider his method of working the audience via mugging and humorous asides demeaning, nor have I ever read that he was irritated by that either. He’d certainly be harshly condemned for “playing up to the white man” today whether it actually offended him or not—his enormous talent dismissed, his influence and achievements overlooked, all lost in the PC shuffle due to noncompliance with present-day pieties.

Everybody knows—uhh, actually, strike that; by now, I’d think hardly anybody does—his many big hits, wildly popular in his day: Ain’t Misbehavin’, Honeysuckle Rose, The Joint Is Jumpin’, I’m Crazy About My Baby, and a hell of a lot more besides. He produced serious, groundbreaking instrumental works like Handful Of Keys and Smashin’ Thirds. He also cranked out lighthearted novelty confections like this one:




Fats was famous for always being up for a party, surrounding himself with rowdy, fun-loving people and bedazzling them all with hours of music. He would play a two or three hour show in New York, then head up to Harlem for one of the infamous “rent parties” of the era, hanging out till way past dawn…or for a couple of days. Those parties had it all: booze, broads, food, and music. Fats would sit down at the piano, a gallon jug of whiskey and a piled-high plate of fried chicken within easy reach on top of it, a pretty girl on either side of him, and play all night and into the next day, pausing only for a pull on the jug, a bite of the food, and a squeeze or a kiss from one of the girls. All this, mind you, after the aforementioned hours-long performance earlier in the evening. By all accounts, the man just never seemed to wind down or wear out. Nobody ever asked Fats to “play one more” without him doing just that. He was a born performer, bringing his natural habitat with him everywhere he went; as long as there was a piano and he was in the midst of an enthralled audience hanging on each and every note, he was right at home.

Alas, the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long. Fats wasn’t quite 40 years old when he died of pneumonia on his way back home from a West Coast tour, after years of exhaustive touring had led to a gradual breakdown in his overall health. His life was over too soon, maybe, but it was full enough that you might say he lived quite a long time in only a few years. This TV biography, featuring interesting personal recollections from his son and lots of video footage, is well worth a watch if you’re into the great old music of yore. I won’t embed it, since it’s about an hour long. But it’s damned good. I saw it years ago myself, and loved it.

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Musical misconduct

Heard an intriguing story on the classical-music station in the car earlier today, and decided to do some digging and post on it.

Austrian-born violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962) was one of the most famous classical musicians in the world during the first decade of the twentieth century. His rhythmic vigor and his heavy use of vibrato have influenced violinists down to the present day, and his original compositions—some of them originally passed off as works by composers of the distant past—remain staples of the violin repertoire.

Kreisler led a long and colorful life, the substance of which he embellished still further through a consistent habit of exaggeration and storytelling. He served two stints in the Austrian army and was drafted for a third. A natural talent, he rarely studied or practiced the violin after the age of twelve. Kreisler was also something of a link between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in music. He knew the Austrian composer Johannes Brahms personally, and his music was suffused with the mood of old Vienna. Yet he was touched by the modern era of music in many ways; he made numerous records, played concerts on radio, and tailored his violin compositions to the attention spans of popular audiences; his three-minute works were the hits of their day, instrumental counterparts to the best-selling vocal recordings of Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. For many lovers of classical music, Fritz Kreisler seemed to sum up the whole tradition of the violin.

He knew Sigmund Freud also, an occasional visitor to Kreisler’s parents’ home for their evenings of performing music with family, friends and neighbors, a quite common pastime in Viennese homes back then. Kreisling made his first violin from a cigar box, and received his first real violin as a gift at the age of four. All that is interesting enough, but then we get to the truly fascinating part:

In the midst of his growing career before the war, Kreisler found himself short of the kind of convincing but little-known material that would keep his concerts fresh. He composed music of his own but was not convinced that he had the stature to introduce a great deal of original music in his concerts. So he began to write music that was vaguely in the style of almost-forgotten composers from the distant past—France’s François Couperin, Germany’s Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, and others—and to claim that he had unearthed the music in libraries and monasteries. Older music was little known at the time, and the reverse-plagiarized music became a favorite component of Kreisler’s concerts. Kreisler finally revealed the hoax in 1935 when he was jokingly asked by New York Times music critic Olin Downs whether he had actually written the older pieces and answered the question truthfully.

Kreisler’s admission touched off an uproar, with some critics attacking his deception while others praised the artfulness of his counterfeits (there were 17 of them) and contended that the audience’s enjoyment of the music was the most important thing. Kreisler explained his original reasons for writing the pieces and argued that, unlike in the case of a counterfeit painting, no one had been harmed by his forgeries. Kreisler weathered the controversy; his popularity in the late 1930s was undiminished. Heard today, the counterfeits sound very little like Couperin or Dittersdorf and a great deal like Kreisler’s other music. For his entire life, Kreisler was a teller of tall tales that were sometimes accepted as fact; he once claimed, for example, to have been held at gunpoint by a cowboy in Butte, Montana, who wanted to hear a specific violin work by Johann Sebastian Bach.

By the 1930s, the music Kreisler composed under his own name was familiar to most concertgoers, and several pieces remain staples of classical concert life today.

According to the NPR story I listened to today, the NYT ran a blistering article on Kreisler’s sleight-of-hand not in its music or arts section but on the front page. The thing immediately blew up into a HUGE scandal, one which Kreisler seems to have been astonished by. He survived it nonetheless, and went on to even greater success and acclaim even as his life continued on with its tendency to be…uhh, eventful, shall we say.

Kreisler refused to perform in Germany after the Nazi party took control of the government in 1933, and he left the country for good after being threatened, despite his advanced age, with being drafted into the military when the Anschluss of 1938 put Austria under Germany’s control. He briefly took French citizenship but by the following year he was back in the United States. In 1941, Kreisler was hit by a delivery truck on a New York street and spent several weeks in a coma. But he recovered and resumed giving concerts in 1942. He became a U.S. citizen in 1943 and continued to perform through the war years, appearing on the Bell Telephone Hour radio show from 1944 through 1950. His last concert appearance was at Carnegie Hall in 1947. Kreisler and his wife spent much of their energy during his last years on charitable enterprises, including several aimed at indigent musicians. He died in New York on January 29, 1962, at the age of 86.

What a story, eh? I’m kinda surprised I’d never heard of him before now, as much classical as I listen to on the radio every day, but I’m glad I did. It’s the kind of story about the kind of real character you just don’t see anymore in this blander, less lively age.

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A birthday present!

CF lifer Richard Lamoreux has graciously presented me with a most excellent birthday gift: the Kindle variant of the book I spoke of at some length in this post—Guitar Wars—along with this followup. So y’all can expect even more on this worthy tome as I wade through it, along with some more excerpting, most likely. Thanks again, Rich!

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Shut up and dance sing!

Quote of the day.

February 3, 2010, AC/DC singer Brian Johnson, joined a growing group of critics of Bob Geldof and U2 singer Bono over their very public charity work, saying they should stop lecturing audiences about charity work and instead do their good deeds in private. Johnson said “When I was a working man I didn’t want to go to a concert for some bastard to talk down to me that I should be thinking of some kid in Africa. I’m sorry mate, do it yourself, spend some of your own money and get it done. It just makes me angry.”

It’s the same with politics and music: when you mix ’em, you just cheapen the music and piss off whatever portion of your audience disagrees with you and are insulted by your presumption. You want to play music, play music and spare your audience the lecture; they paid to see you play, not to be told who to vote for. You want to involve yourself in politics, run for office or go to work for someone who is. You try to do both together, you’re gonna fail at at least one.

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Gone but not forgotten

From MisHum’s ONT:

January 29, 1952, Born on this day, Thomas Erdelyi, (Tommy Ramone), Hungarian drummer with the Ramones who had the 1977 UK No.22 single ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’. Erdelyi also worked as a record producer and was an assistant engineer for the production of the Jimi Hendrix album Band of Gypsys. He died on July 11, 2014 following unsuccessful treatment for bile duct cancer.via thisdayinmusic.com

He embeds a Ramones clip, of course, but my personal favorite video of theirs is from earlier in their storied history, with the added bonus of actually including Tommy thrown in:




The buzzing, distortion-soaked overdrive permeating every frame of this video, “Loudmouth” most especially, is something that doubtless horrified the sound engineers working on the Arturo’s Loft TV show when it aired in ’75, but it’s the very thing that makes it work. The raw, adrenaline-soaked energy revved up by that joyously-homicidal buzzsaw is pure Ramones, a HUGE part of what made them great.

That’s an almighty thick wall of bone-crusher sound those four skinny, awkward twerps from Queens are putting out—the birth of a true rock and roll revolution whose towering impact still reverberates to this day. Notice how Joey’s knees are trembling at around 20-25 seconds in; he’s wound up so tight by the sheer grinding power of the monster he and his bandmates are unleashing he’s damned near to shattering like cheap glass. He desperately clings onto the mic stand as if it were the only thing tethering him to life itself…then casually kicks it away and slings it around as if to express his disdain for life preservers of any kind, declaring his defiant willingness to sink or swim on his damned own, thanksverymuch.

Nobody who hasn’t personally experienced that dizzying rush can ever begin to imagine how good it feels. And there’s no way to explain it with mere words, either; they just aren’t adequate. It doesn’t happen every time you walk onstage, of course. But as Dave Edmonds once said, the times it does are what get you through the times it doesn’t, and are what keeps you coming back hoping for more of it. Truly, it’s the most powerful addiction there is. I’m out of the game now myself, and even though I never attained the level of success the Ramones did, I still miss it every minute of every day.

I’ve posted a good many times on the Ramones in this space: for example, here, here, here, and here. Hard to believe they’re all gone now except Marky—all the Founding Four, Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy. RIP, boys, and thanks for the music. Ya done good.

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More guitar wars

Everybody saw the “Guitar wars” post here from last night, right? Okay then. So I launched the Amazon app on my phone today to check the book itself out and see if a Kindle version might be available, and what such a thing might go for. To my delight, along with a brief customer review by another good buddy of mine, Deke Dickerson, I found an excerpt from the book’s prologue attached, and it’s hotter than mustard, as Wodehouse would say:

SANTA MONICA, 1964

The screams came in waves, hysterical and elated, punctuated by applause. Then the camera found them: five men in matching striped shirts, teetering with nerves, grinning like children. The Beach Boys. A clap on the snare drum sent the song rumbling to life, and the players at the stage’s front tapped their feet to stay in time. Punches from the drum kit underpinned a sheen of male voices in harmony. But fighting for prominence was another noise—a throaty, splattering sonic current.

Curious instruments hung over the striped shoulders of the men in front. Two of the instruments were painted white, with thin bodies and voluptuous curves that suggested spaceships, or amoebae, or the human torso. Behind their players sat cream-colored cabinets the size of refrigerators, massive speakers barely visible inside, components in a new system of noisemaking. These sleek guitars transformed single notes and chords into flows of electrons, while the amplifiers converted those electrons into wild new tones—tones that came out piercingly human despite their electric hue.

There was no piano, no saxophone or trumpet, no bandleader, no orchestra. Besides their drums and voices, the Beach Boys wielded just these bloblike guitars, each dependent on electricity, each able to produce ear-piercing quantities of sound, and nearly all bearing the name Fender. Their amplified blare seemed to encourage the shrieks of fans buffeting the stage, their bodies swaying to the thrumming joys of “Surfin’ USA.”

When this scene played in American movie theaters just after Christmas 1964, it was a vision of the future. It was part of a filmed rock ’n’ roll concert—the very first—that also showed the Rolling Stones seething and strutting, and James Brown pulling off terpsichorean heroics unlike anything most of the American public had yet seen. The Teenage Awards Music International Show looked like one more entry in a procession of frivolous teen movies, but it arrived with the shock of the new. It was a multiracial assemblage of the day’s most famous pop stars, captured on film alongside bikini-clad go-go dancers and howling youths. Movie critics mostly sniffed. “Adults, unaware of the differences between these numerous young groups, view the combined efforts as fairly monotonous,” went a typical assessment. But a new order was establishing itself.

One company had done more than any other to usher in the technology that was changing listeners’ aural experiences. One company had made electric guitars into ubiquitous leisure accessories, by supplying cheap, sturdy instruments to amateurs and professionals alike. This firm was the first in its industry to align itself with the tastes of young people, among the first to paint guitars bright red and later metal-flake blue and purple, first to give its models sexy monikers like the Stratocaster and the Jaguar.

Competitors had long mocked the creations of the Fender Electric Instrument Company, but this Southern California upstart had an asset unlike any other—a self-taught tinkerer whose modesty was utterly at odds with the brash characters who used his tools. Clad in perpetually drab workmen’s clothes, preferring to spend most of his waking hours designing and building in his lab, Clarence Leo Fender toiled endlessly to perfect the tools that ushered in pop music’s electric revolution, yet he couldn’t play a single instrument himself. Instead, he trusted musicians, whom he loved, to tell him what they wanted. In the waning days of World War II, Leo Fender had started building guitars and amplifiers in the back of his radio repair shop. By that night in 1964, the company he’d built dominated the burgeoning market for electric instruments.

At least, for the moment.

Showing off their striped, short-sleeve shirts, the Beach Boys appeared clean-cut and respectable, apparently (if not actually) innocent young men. To close out The T.A.M.I. Show, a quintet of Brits arrived wearing modish dark suits and expressions of bemused insouciance, even outright hostility. The lead singer’s dark hair fell in curls down to his collar as he prowled the stage, thick lips pressed up against the microphone, hunting and taunting his young quarry. To his left, a craggy-faced guitarist beat on an unfamiliar instrument. That small, solid-bodied guitar responded with snarls and growls, a thick, surging sound that couldn’t have been more different from the thin rays of light that had emanated from the Beach Boys’ Fenders.

The earlier act embodied rock ’n’ roll life as a teen idyll, a carefree jaunt in which sex was mentioned only euphemistically, and hardly ever as a source of conflict. Minutes later, the Rolling Stones made rock into a carnal fantasy, a dim mélange of ego and lust, betrayal and satisfaction. Already labeled rock ’n’ roll’s bad boys, the five young Brits embraced the role in performance and offstage, viewing the Beach Boys—another band of white men using electric guitars to play music first created by black men—as entrants in a completely different competition.

The Rolling Stones did sound new and distinct. And part of what then fueled the difference was an instrument discovered in a secondhand music shop in London, a secret weapon for producing the nasty tones this outfit preferred. It was a guitar, made by the venerable Gibson company, that bore the name Les Paul. Thanks to Keith Richards and certain other British rockers, this Les Paul guitar would soon rise again to become Fender instruments’ prime companion and rival—just as the man it was named after had been many years earlier.

For Les Paul himself was as emphatic and as colorful as human beings come, as loud and public as Leo Fender was quiet and private: a brilliant player and a gifted technician, a charmer and a comedian, a raconteur and a tireless worker who hungered for the top of the pop charts. Out of his roots in country and jazz, Les Paul had invented a flashy style of playing that was immediately recognizable as his own, a style that would help define the instrument for generations of ambitious guitarists. But almost since the moment he began playing, Les Paul had found existing guitars inadequate. He knew what he wanted and what he thought would make him a star: a loud, sustaining, purely electric guitar sound. Nothing would give it to him.

His search for this pure tone—and through it, fame—led him to California, to a wary friendship with the self-taught tinkerer Leo Fender, who was interested in the same problem. The two men began experimenting together, pioneering the future of music. But when Les finally managed to drag the guitar out from its supporting role and deposit it at the center of American culture—and when a radical new electric guitar design finally became reality—their friendship fractured into rivalry. The greatest competitor to Leo Fender’s instruments was soon a Gibson model with Les Paul’s signature emblazoned in gold. From then on, it was Fender vs. Gibson, Leo Fender vs. Les Paul, their namesake electric guitars battling for the affections of a vast generation of players inspired by the new sound of rock ’n’ roll.

For a brief period this competition seemed to abate. But soon after Keith Richards appeared in The T.A.M.I. Show using his Gibson Les Paul, his peers in the British rock scene would find that this instrument could produce tones then out of reach of any other guitar—including a Fender. The Gibson Les Paul could become molten, searing, heavy: sounds for which it was never intended, but which were now wildly desirable. This guitar’s look and sound would go on to virtually define a new style of blues-based hard rock.

Whoa, that’s good squishy. I stuck the book in my Amazon Wish List, which is (cough-cough) linked over in the sidebar; although I absolutely prefer epubs nowadays, my thought is that maybe the book includes some illustrations and/or photos that would be kinda disappointing in the Kindle version. Either way, though, if I ever again somehow manage to accumulate two spare nickles to rub together I’m gonna snap this tome up pronto, in Kindle trim at least, and possibly even both of ’em. Sounds absolutely riveting, and from the above excerpt I’d say it’s quite well-written too*.

I kind of shined something on in last night’s post, which I’ll now take the opportunity to go into a bit. It’s this:

At Les Paul’s studio, Fender, Paul, and a designer and meticulous custom-instrument craftsman named Paul Bigsby brainstormed a solid-body guitar, consulting with musicians. One was the country music star Merle Travis, a Bigsby client. Travis dared the designer to build him a thin, solid-body electric, sketching it in detail. Bigsby built it in 1948.

I must confess I hadn’t really known that Fender, Paul, and Bigsby had actually worked together, however briefly. Be that as it may, that paragraph inspired me to look up Bigsby—whose fine products I greatly admire and have seen fit to mount on more than one Les Paul—on Wikipedia, which yielded this nugget:

Bigsby is best known for having been the designer of the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece (also mislabeled as a tremolo arm) and proprietor of Bigsby Guitars. He built an early steel guitar for Southern California steel guitarist Earl “Joaquin” Murphy of Spade Cooley’s band, as well as Jack Rivers, then built a solid body electric guitar conceptualized by Merle Travis to have the same level of sustain as a steel guitar by anchoring the strings in the body instead of on a tailpiece. This instrument, which Bigsby completed in 1948, likely had an influence on the solid body Telecaster later produced by Leo Fender, as it had all six tuners in a row. Its headstock shape was later made famous by Fender’s solid body Stratocaster model. Bigsby also made a doubleneck model for Nashville guitarist Grady Martin and an amplified mandolin for Texas Playboy Tiny Moore. Bigsby also built a pedal steel guitar for Speedy West that West used on many of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s early recordings as well as records by Travis, Red Ingle, Jean Shepard, Johnny Horton, Ferlin Husky and Merrill Moore.

Before working in music he was a motorcycle racer known as “P.A. Bigsby”, and was the foreman of Crocker Motorcycles, and designed many components. For example, the overhead-valve cylinder head for their first V-twin motorcycle.

Well, I will be dipped in shit. Pretty dang cool.

*CAVEAT: Left out of my excerpt above is a couple of seemingly inapposite paragraphs on “racial equality,” which to be fair might matter purely as a historic component of the era. But I can’t really see what the hell that might have to do with Strats and Les Pauls. Maybe Port forges a more solid link than I can see at the moment, and if so good on him.

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Guitar wars

Good one by Jon Pareles, who (full disclosure!) has written numerous times about my own band, in a most complimentary fashion, bless his heart. Anyways, this is a much-too-brief review of what looks to be a fascinating book on one of history’s most epic eternal struggles: between Les Pauls and Strats.

Clarence Leo Fender was a perpetually rumpled, unassuming, self-taught radio repairman, an intuitive engineer and non-musician who decided to build guitars and amplifiers. “His enjoyment of the instrument,” Port writes, “stemmed from the precise pattern of harmonics produced by its strings. Where others heard music, Leo Fender heard physics.”

Lester Polsfuss, a.k.a. Les Paul, was a world-class guitarist and self-promoting showman who was also a technological visionary, fascinated by electronics and studio production. “Les Paul wrestled with the knowledge that even being a virtuoso on the guitar would not bring the fame he craved,” Port writes. “Les now began to see his guitar playing as one element in a larger project: a whole new sound that would combine his brilliant musicianship, the pure electric guitar tone he wanted, and radical new recording techniques he envisioned.”

In the mid-1940s, Fender turned his radio repair shop into the Fender Electric Instrument Company, manufacturing steel guitars and amplifiers. Both he and Paul had been thinking about a solid-body electric guitar.

Les Paul built one for himself in 1940 out of a 4-by-4 plank and an existing guitar neck. He called it “the Log,” performed with it (adding the sides of a guitar body) and brought it to the Gibson company in the early 1940s as a potential product. “After Les left,” Port writes, “the managers chortled among themselves about that crazy guitar player who wanted Gibson to build a broomstick with pickups on it.”

In 1943 Fender and a collaborator put pickups on a solid oak plank and shaped it like a narrow little guitar. They built only one rough model, but for years they rented it out steadily to local musicians who loved the amplified sound. It was, Port writes, “a misfit stepchild of a guitar that extended creative expression past what any other standard model allowed.”

At Les Paul’s studio, Fender, Paul, and a designer and meticulous custom-instrument craftsman named Paul Bigsby brainstormed a solid-body guitar, consulting with musicians. One was the country music star Merle Travis, a Bigsby client. Travis dared the designer to build him a thin, solid-body electric, sketching it in detail. Bigsby built it in 1948.

Fender studied it, but knew it was too luxurious. He came up with something simpler, eliminating fine woodworking and its sculptural glued-on neck; his neck was bolted on and easily replaceable, for a guitar that could be manufactured, affordable and practical. “This was the leap from classical design to modernism; from the age of walnut to the age of celluloid; from the America of brick-and-iron cities to the America of stucco-and-glass suburbs,” Port writes.

And from true artistry and masterful, exacting craftsmanship to cheap, mass-produced junk. Ahem.

Okay, okay, okay; yes, my bias is showing. Although I’ve owned plenty of Fenders over the years—and even loved a handful of ’em—I’ll always be a Gibson guy deep down. But there’s a big fat caveat that comes with that admission: back when I was just starting out as a player, I desperately wanted to be a Master Of The Stratocaster like my one-time idol Jimi Hendrix. But despite years of studious effort I never pulled it off. Hell, I never got close.

There are lots of guys out there who could/can make a battered old Fender produce truly astounding tone quality and depth: Stevie Vaughan, his brother Jimmy, Ritchie Blackmore, my old friend Eddie Angel, Duke Robillard, Danny Gatton, just to name a small sampling. I am assuredly NOT one of them. I still wish I could do it; nothing can rock some good old Texas blues like a Strat, and a Tele can romp and stomp like nobody’s business through trad country and rockabilly.

But I dunno, I just can’t seem to get to feeling at home with a Strat at all. Not quite so much with Teles; I am a LOT more comfortable with one of them around my neck, for whatever that’s worth. That said though, nothing has ever felt anything like as deliciously right to me as a Gibson, from the first moment I ever strapped one on. Be it a Les Paul or the old Frankensteinian hybrid of a ’41 L-7 with a ’36 Super 400 neck, mated with some ’53 or ’54 P90s I played for a few years back in the 90s*, gimme a Gibson and I’m good to go.

Well, except for the SG and the Explorer/Flying V; those things SUCK. The SG is actually a decent, well-built guitar, most of ’em. But they’re headstock-heavy, out of balance, and I never could get used to that. The Explorers and Flying V’s were just complete junk; they were intentional throwaways, conceived from the first as a way of making use of inferior wood that had been rejected as unacceptable for the higher-end Les Pauls and Firebirds.

I do very much enjoy me some skilled, solid Fender-benders like the ones mentioned above, and I still wish I could have stood among ’em myself. I can tell the sound of a Strat from a mile away; nothing else sounds at all like it. But after 40 years of intermittent failed attempts—and especially now that Viking’s Disease has brought my playing days to a screeching, painful halt—it just ain’t happening, to my miserable chagrin.

*That guitar was a rolling abortion, a collector’s nightmare, but whoever did the surgery knew what he was about. The battered old thing played and sounded like an absolute dream. No Fender I ever did have, even the finest among ’em, was fit to even sit on a guitar stand on the same stage with it.

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Goodbye Gillette

Looks like I picked the wrong right time to start sniffing glue stop shaving.

GilletteGoodbye.jpg


I decided a month or so ago to grow another beard because A) I was bored; B) I hate shaving anyway, and do this now and then for a brief while; and C) the young ‘un, having seen me pretty much exclusively with one configuration of facial hair or other for the first five or so years of her life, always seems to like it when I grow one, and I hadn’t in a good while. Plus: D) it’s cold outside.

But with Gillette’s ill-considered and insulting SJW outburst against masculinity, my timing seems to have been unusually propitious this time around. So after threatening it for years and years and never following through, this is now my goal, and I am no longer joking:

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What the hell, a feller could do a lot worse than emulating Billy Gibbons, I figure, for all kinds of reasons.

The sad thing is, Gillette really DOES make the best razors, and always has. Their Fusion Pro, the one I’m holding in the pic, is no more nor less than the absolute best shaving gear I’ve ever had the privilege of using, although the blades for it are hellishly expensive. Schick (shudder) is just cheap copycat junk; don’t bother even bringing those Big Bag 0′ Bic nightmares up at all to me; and after trying several electrics over the years, well, sadly…no. So I fear my coerced Gillette boycott is gonna sting a lot more than the Red Lobster one ever will, or could.

But whatcha gonna do? Sooner or later, we gotta decide we’re just not gonna play docilely along anymore when Lefty decides to step on our faces. Refusing to fork over any more of our hard-earned when shitlib-run corporations sniffily insult us is certainly small potatoes when it comes to vengeance, I admit. But you gotta start somewhere.

Since I mentioned Billy above, this is a fine time for a little ZZ action.



My kid loves this song even more than she does beards on Daddy, and quite rightly so. I’m raising her right on 70s classic rock and such-like, among other styles and genres, and the Little Ol’ Band From Texas is among her very favorites. Every time we play this video at home we do the crazy-legs dance during the guitar solo’s second pass. And then we just laaauuuugh and laugh.

Axis of Irritants update! Schlichter says: retoxify masculinity.

Much as I advocate global warming, I am a strong proponent of toxic masculinity. It’s also known as “masculinity.”

Risk-taking.

Ferociousness.

Independence.

These are the qualities the SJWs want to wring out of us. Why? Because these are the qualities they cannot overcome. They want us weak, passive and obedient. That’s how they get power. Some bloated Trigglypuff screaming about the male gaze can’t force us to do anything. Sure, a lot of them have weight on us, but if we laugh at them and simply say “No” to their demands, they’re stuck. Are they going to go get a rifle and make us? 

Nope. They have to talk us into surrendering, or really, pester us into surrendering. Which means talking us out of the uppity, aggressive, no-damns-given masculinity that is the last obstacle to their fussy, naggy domination.

Don’t be fooled by the “toxic” qualifier – all masculinity is toxic to these human weebles. What they call “toxic” is really the essence of freedom. It’s toxic all right, but to their goals, not ours. Masculinity means freedom from them and the puffy, non-binary utopia they dreamed up because that’s the only world in which such losers could be anything more than a sorry punchline.

Actually, the “masculinity” they decry as “toxic”—rape, bullying, thuggishness, hoggishness, discourtesy, taking unfair advantage of the helpless—isn’t masculinity at all, but its opposite. All those things are reflections of weakness, in truth, and real men neither tolerate nor indulge them. They’re not representative of true masculinity, but of that which true men resist, oppose, and defy. But there’s another way of looking at the Gillette ad:

Although the message aligns with current ideas of “toxic masculinity” and the concept of “rape culture” in which progressive feminists argue men are taught they can do, say, and get away with whatever they want, I saw a different message. The ad is telling a story of respectful, confident, moral young men taught self-respect and self-restraint from their fathers.

The image of a father teaching his son how to shave has become an iconic portrayal of the unique bonding between a father and son and the importance of that relationship on a young man’s development. The ad wants the audience of men to reflect on their behavior and consider the influence they have on their sons. The problem is, the cultural perspective behind the ad caused the very issues it is trying to address.

While the progressive scoffs at this line of reasoning and has for a very long time, the truth is everything they lecture us about proper male behavior today, they aggressively shamed out of society a generation ago. This is simply what happens when the father’s authority in family life is denounced, shamed, and cut out altogether.

To make men better, the reasoning goes, you must shame away all remnants of the barbaric masculine past. It is assumed that our grandfathers’ generation represented the worst of sexism and violence, and society has slowly moved forward since. They don’t seem to realize the men they want for their sons today belong to the exact generation they worked so hard to erase.

Men do not become more compassionate and responsible citizens by renouncing their masculinity and embracing feminism. The culture of obscenity, meaningless sex, and perpetual adolescence is the result of failing to develop masculinity within men. The excesses, abuses, harassment, and violence we see as a social concern are the consequences of young men lost and left to their own devices.

Boys are not lost because of toxic masculinity; they are lost because their fathers have been taken away from them and they cannot figure out how to fill that void with anything but rage and shame.

Agree with this assessment or not, I can’t really see how boys having “two mommies” is going to fix things. Certainly, all these decades of seeing men and fathers mocked as hapless, ineffectual, stupid, incompetent buffoons on TV hasn’t done anyone any good.

Masculinity isn’t a sickness update! This one is locked up behind WSJ’s Iron Curtain, unfortunately, so Glenn’s excerpt is all I can give ya.

In my practice as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen an increase of depression in young men who feel emasculated in a society that is hostile to masculinity. New guidelines from the American Psychological Association defining “traditional masculinity” as a pathological state are likely only to make matters worse.

True, over the past half-century ideas about femininity and masculinity have evolved, sometimes for the better. But the APA guidelines demonize masculinity rather than embracing its positive aspects. In a press release, the APA asserts flatly that “traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.” The APA claims that masculinity is to blame for the oppression and abuse of women.

The report encourages clinicians to evaluate masculinity as an evil to be tamed, rather than a force to be integrated. “Although the majority of young men may not identify with explicit sexist beliefs,” it states, “for some men, sexism may become deeply engrained in their construction of masculinity.” The association urges therapists to help men “identify how they have been harmed by discrimination against those who are gender nonconforming”—an ideological claim transformed into a clinical treatment recommendation.

The truth is that masculine traits such as aggression, competitiveness and protective vigilance not only can be positive, but also have a biological basis. Boys and men produce far more testosterone, which is associated biologically and behaviorally with increased aggression and competitiveness. They also produce more vasopressin, a hormone originating in the brain that makes men aggressively protective of their loved ones.

The same goes for feminine traits such as nurturing and emotional sensitivity. Women produce more oxytocin when they nurture their children than men, and the hormone affects men and women differently. Oxytocin makes women more sensitive and empathic, while men become more playfully, tactually stimulating with their children, encouraging resilience. These differences between men and women complement each other, allowing a couple to nurture and challenge their offspring.

Modern society is also too often derisive toward women who embrace their biological tendencies, labeling them abnormal or unhealthy. Women who choose to stay home with their children can feel harshly judged, contributing to postpartum conflict, anxiety and depression.

What’s unhealthy isn’t masculinity or femininity but the demeaning of masculine men and feminine women. The first of the new APA guidelines urges psychologists “to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms,” as if biology had nothing to do with it. Another guideline explicitly scoffs at “binary notions of gender identity as tied to biology.”

From a mental-health perspective, it can be beneficial for women to embrace masculine traits and for men to express feminine ones. Every person will have some mix of the two. But that doesn’t change the reality that women tend to be feminine and men tend to be masculine. Why can’t the APA acknowledge biology while seeing femininity and masculinity on a spectrum?

Two possibilities spring to mind: 1) the APA is now fully-converged Leftist organization, and since the attack on masculinity is part and parcel of the Left’s ongoing FUD campaign to destroy the traditional American notions of family and gender, they’re just participating in it as one would expect, or 2) they’re a bunch of fucking quacks going along with the dominant PC ethos as a sort of defensive-crouch atonement for their many years of officially defining homosexuality as psychological deviance and disorder, for which the Left has never really forgiven them.

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Tonight’s tune damage

No, it ain’t more Christmas music. But it’s damned good stuff just the same.




That there’s a great song by a great band called the Steeldrivers, the co-author and singer of which ditty is a great singer/songwriter named Chris Stapleton. There’s a local radio station here whose playlist is the work of a good friend of mine, and I first heard Stapleton’s solo stuff there—including this remake of another Steeldrivers song co-written by Stapleton:



Killer stuff, right? So today I dug around some for the story on Stapleton, and got myself…uhhh, an earful.

Christopher Alvin Stapleton (born April 15, 1978) is an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer. He was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and grew up in Staffordsville, Kentucky, until moving to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2001 to pursue a career in music writing songs. Subsequently, Stapleton signed a contract with Sea Gayle Music to write and publish his music.

As of 2018 Stapleton has amassed credits writing and co-writing over 170 songs. He has co-written six number-one country songs including Kenny Chesney’s five-week number-one “Never Wanted Nothing More”, George Strait’s “Love’s Gonna Make It Alright”, and Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer”. His songs have appeared on many artists albums including Adele, Brad Paisley, and Dierks Bentley. He has co-written with several artists as well including Vince Gill, Peter Frampton, and Sheryl Crow. Stapleton has been recognized with several awardsincluding five Grammy Awards, seven Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards, and ten Country Music Association (CMA) Awards.

As a vocalist, Stapleton sang lead in two bands before he started recording as a solo artist including a bluegrass ensemble from 2008 to 2010 called The SteelDrivers. After that, he released his solo debut: the critically acclaimed studio album titled Traveller (2015), which reached number one on the US Billboard 200 and was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). His second studio album From A Room: Volume 1 was released in May 2017, and earned him a second CMA Award for Album of the Year and also a Grammy Award for Best Country Album. From A Room: Volume 2 was released in December 2017.

Adele?!? Whaaa…?

Oh well. Plus-size Brit pop warblers notwithstanding, Stapleton is just another one of those extraordinary Nashville songwriters nobody outside Music City ever heard of until he broke out on his own as a performer. You can’t walk past Robert’s, the Bluebird, or the Second Fiddle without tripping over four or five of ’em; the place is a-boil with ’em, bless their achey-breaky hearts. All of which then brings us right ’round to this:




Might come as something of a surprise to y’all, but I DO love me some good ol’ bluegrass, and always have. Sometime, remind me to tell the story of one night my own band played in N-ville, can’t remember where. Back then, we usually wound up our set with a cover of yet another great song written by some guy you never heard of. When we were done that night, a friend of ours brought someone up and introduced him as the man who had written the song we had just done; a big, burly, thoroughly-bearded fellow he was, who thanked us for playing his song in a quiet, almost bashful voice. Me, I about fell over, reduced to bug-eyed babbling at the very idea of meeting such an awesome talent all off-hand and casual-like. Here’s our version of his song:



This one will no doubt be more familiar to the country fans among y’uns:



Nobody tops Possum, of course, and I ain’t about to make any such claim. But I don’t think we shamed ourselves any either.

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KEEF!!

Honestly, I never particularly cared for the Stones all that much. But I always did love me some Keith Richards.

On July 26, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger turned 75. On September 6, Pink Floyd co-founder and bassist Roger Waters reached the same milestone.

And today, though back in the ’70s he probably wasn’t a betting favorite in Vegas to make it this long back, Stones guitarist Keith Richards is hitting the big 7-5 as well.

A somewhat incredible feat considering a respected publication like the BBC ran a piece entitled “Who, What, Why: How is Keith Richards still alive?” … more than eight years ago. (An addiction expert concluded Richards owed his longevity to having “the constitution of an ox.”)

Known for memorable riffs as well as notable quips, Richards has made it 7.5 decades on the planet, so we’ve rounded up 15 of the best quotes he’s given while on it.

He may not remember saying ’em, but maybe you will.

A whole bunch of truly, truly good stuff follows.

1 – On snorting his father’s ashes as if they were cocaine: “I snorted my father. He was cremated and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn’t have cared, he didn’t give a shit. It went down pretty well, and I’m still alive … I had him in a box in England. I bought this little oak sapling, my idea being that he was gonna fertilize the tree, but when I pulled the top off of the box, wafts of Dad landed on the table. And my dad knows I’d always liked my cocaine, a snort here and there. So I just had a line of dad.”

4 – On how “Satisfaction” came to be: “I wish all the songs could come this way, you know, where you just dream them, and then the next morning, there they are, presented to you. But “Satisfaction” was that sort of miracle that took place. I had a – I had one of the first little cassette players, you know, Norelco, Philips, same thing, really. But it was a fascinating little machine to me, a cassette player that you could actually just lay ideas down and, you know, wherever you were. I set the machine up, and I put in a fresh tape. I go to bed as usual with my guitar, and I wake up the next morning, I see that the tape is run to the very end. And I think, well, I didn’t do anything, you know? I said, maybe I hit a button while I was asleep, you know? So I put it back to the beginning and pushed play and there, in some sort of ghostly version, is (singing) da, da, da, da, da – I can’t get no satisfaction. And so there was a whole verse of it. I won’t bore you with it all. But – and after that, there’s, you know, 40 minutes of me snoring.”

5 – On what America has given to him: “The greatest gift America gave, to me, was its music. Because it was a hybrid, immigrant-loaded community where everybody’s stuff came together. To me, that’s the real beauty of what America is capable of. It gave people music. The whole world listens to American music and maybe that coincided because of recording. Recording is an amazing thing. It’s all built to capture a sound here and a sound there, but what it can capture is spontaneity, emotion, tears and laughter, and everything else and can all be translated via recording. And to me that’s why I loved America! The chewing gum I never even got, but the music I got. That’s what intrigued me.”

14 – On hanging with Johnny Depp: “It took me two years before I worked out who he was…then one day he was at dinner and I’m like ‘Whoa! Scissorhands!’”

15 – On what advice he’d offer to further generations: “Don’t do anything if there’s not joy in it, a sense of exhilaration. A day is a day, and each one is going bye-bye, and you’ve only got so many more in front of you. Friendship is probably one of the most important things in life. Apart from your immediate family, it’s about friends — the ability to make friends, the ability to forgive friends. And their ability to forgive you. It’s just the ability to enjoy other people’s company, really. Then you’ve got it all, man. The rest of it’s gravy.”

I actually did see the Stones live at the Meadowlands—in ’06, I believe it was, although I could be wrong about that—at the behest of my dear mother-in-law, who saw ’em back when they first came to the States and has seen ’em plenty of times since. I wasn’t just terribly excited about it, I admit. But afterwards I was damned glad I went, because it was one HELL of a show.

Still and all, though, I like his X-Pensive Winos records better. Most especially this ‘un:




Even without the great Charlie Watts—the other Stone I admire most—this one really throbs. As for Keith himself, he’s a very intelligent, talented, and self-aware guy. His openness and candor have always been refreshing; his lack of pretense and ebullient personality make him somebody I’d love to just sit around barside shooting the shit about guitars and amps with, swapping road stories and such. Not that my own would amount to anything compared to his, of course. But still.

If you haven’t seen Hail Hail Rock And Roll, the story of his ordeal trying to get notorious damned prick Chuck Berry to actually give a shit long enough to get through a properly-rehearsed and performed show for once in his life, you should watch it sometime. Good as that flick is, though, the one you really must not miss is 2015’s Under The Influence. I’ve watched it I don’t even know how many times, and I wish I was watching it right now. I even made my mom watch it with me once; her opinion of Richards, to the extent she even has one, is about what you’d expect from an 80 year old country girl…and she LOVED it.

Richards has always been a source of wonderful quotes; there was one from the late 60s, I guess it was, regarding the music of the day, that “90 percent of everything is shit.” He later went on to say (paraphrasing from memory here) that the American music-buying public was a passel of dopes, because “you have the greatest music in the world—the blues—and the greatest musicians playing it, and you just ignore them. All bands like us do is sell you a piss-poor imitation of it.” A few more good ‘uns:

I prefer to think of myself as an antenna. There’s only one song, and Adam and Eve wrote it; the rest is a variation on a theme.

It’s great to be here. It’s great to be anywhere.

Let me be clear about this. I don’t have a drug problem. I have a police problem. 

Songwriting’s a weird game. I never intended to become one – I fell into this by mistake, and I can’t get out of it. It fascinates me. I like to point out the rawer points of life.

Everyone talks about rock these days; the problem is they forget about the roll. 

If you’re going to kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use both feet. 

Great stuff if you ask me, and plenty more where it came from too. Sincerest wishes for a very happy birthday to you, Mr Richards, and many happy returns.

Update! I gotta get this book.

If you’re looking for less conventional methods to celebrate the birthday boy, you could take a dig at Mick Jagger, sleep next to your guitar, develop an amazing smoker’s laugh, or beat those pesky drug charges against you. Or you could just keep on living and continue being awesome. Any of these would honor the incomparable, inimitable, impossible Keith Richards.

My final suggestion is the one I want to emphasize: Read Keef’s 2010 memoir, “Life.” If you’re a fan of the Stones, rock ‘n’ roll in general, or music history, it’s a no-brainer. Everything that makes Richards such an improbably lovable figure is on display in the book— the humor, the irreverence, the “elegantly wasted” charm, the sincerity, the self-awareness.

It’s a very intimate and entertaining read, as Richards takes you deep into his fully lived (and ongoing) time on Planet Earth. It’s a book about survival, friendship, creative striving, freedom, and the hard work of staying just sane enough. I couldn’t give it a higher recommendation.  

Some excerpts:

As impressed as I was with Elvis, I was even more impressed with Scotty Moore and the band. It was the same with Ricky Nelson. I never bought a Ricky Nelson record, I bought a James Burton record. It was the bands behind them that impressed me just as much as the front men. Little Richard’s band, which was basically the same as Fats Domino’s band, was actually Dave Bartholomew’s band. I knew all this. I was just impressed with ensemble playing. It was how guys interacted with one another, natural exuberance and seemingly effortless delivery. There was a beautiful flippancy, it seemed to me.

You realize, some guys you can spend a day with them and basically you’ve learned all you’re ever going to know about them. Like Mick Jagger in exact reverse.

Mick’s album was called ‘She’s the Boss,’ which said it all. I’ve never listened to the entire thing all the way through. Who has? It’s like ‘Mein Kampf.’ Everybody had a copy, but nobody listened to it.

[NME’s rock star ‘death list’] was the only chart on which I was number one for ten years in a row… I was really disappointed when I went down the charts. Finally dropping down to number nine. Oh my G-d, it’s over.

And then there’s his take on rap “music”:

“Rap — so many words, so little said,” laughs Richards, 71.

“What rap did that was impressive was to show there are so many tone-deaf people out there,” he says. “All they need is a drum beat and somebody yelling over it and they’re happy. There’s an enormous market for people who can’t tell one note from another.”

Ain’t THAT the sad, sorry truth. To sum it all up:

In the tome, Richards both reveled in his seminal bad-boy image, and gave it fairer context. Despite his image as Decadence Incarnate, he’s been married to the same woman for three decades, has five grandchildren and, last year, wrote a children’s book.

“I can drag that image around — the Keith with a bottle of bourbon in one hand and a joint in the other,” Richards says. “It’s a ball and chain. At the same time, I take it as a privilege to be taken into people’s hearts and minds. I feel like I’m doing all these things that they can’t do in a 9 to 5 job. In a way they’re saying, ‘Go ahead, Keith.’ They’re giving me license…and I’ve taken full use of it.”

He’s definitely one of a kind, bless his heart.

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Twelve, count ’em, twelve

Today’s Christmas tune is a takeoff on an oldie but not necessarily goodie: Jeff Tyzik’s “The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas.” Now, I am aware that many of you don’t much care for the original “Twelve Days Of Christmas,” and I share your disdain for it myself, believe me. But back in the early 60s, Allen Sherman (of “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” fame) rejiggered TDOC as “Twelve Gifts” etc, in his inimitable comedic style. Then along came a guy named Jeff Tyzik, conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic, with sort of a spoof of Sherman’s spoof.

And lo, it’s actually quite good. Near as I can tell, the original TDOC would make exactly nobody’s list of favorite Christmas tunes. It’s facile and repetitive, and goes on way too damned long to suit most of us—just the same danged cloying melody over and over and over, verse after verse with nary a chorus or bridge in sight. Arrangers here and there over the years have tried to alleviate the ennui somewhat by working in modulations as the verses advance, changing key up with each successive one. To little avail if you ask me; it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book for spicing up an aimless or otherwise lackluster tune, especially since the dawn of the rock and roll era. And it doesn’t work with this song any better than it usually does.

Tyzik employs the old modulation sleight-of-hand too, but in an unusual way: with this arrangement, the key signature changes both up AND down. In most cases, the pitch only goes up, with rock and roll songs usually a step or half-step. The theme of the lyrics is modified to reference neither bizarre gifts like the green polka-dot pajamas and indoor bird baths of the Sherman version, nor the baffling and archaic lords-a-leaping and pipers-piping of the original. Tyzik, being conductor of a symphony and all, instead decided to indulge his passion for classical music by running down a list of orchestral instruments as his “gifts.”

That’s all well and good, but it probably wouldn’t have sufficed by itself to spark any more interest than the somnolent original does. No, what brings Tyzik’s version to life is what he does with those instruments. Each of them in its turn is called on to recite a brief snippet of a well-known favorite from the classical repertoire featuring that instrument. Some of the lyrics naming each “gift” are clever and funny, too: “five golden strings,” “six mellow cellos,” “seven brass a-swinging,” etc.

Anyway, what it all adds up to is a fresh, lilting, amusing take on a song that never really was any of those things before. The arrangement shifts itself just when you want it to without actually expecting it, and the classical (and, in the case of the brass, jazzy) bits enliven things nicely. All in all, although still necessarily lengthy, this one moves right along; speaking purely for myself, when I first heard the piece I found myself actually looking forward to the next verse just to see what he threw into the mix next. And I had NEVER done any such thing with either the original or the Sherman version. I just wanted to be put out of my misery, mostly.

I dunno, watch it through if you haven’t run across it before and see what you think. You may or may not dig the thing, depending on how you feel about classical and/or Christmas music, I guess. But I like it; it ain’t necessarily one of my favorites, but it does make me smile. When I hear it on the local classical-music radio station I usually stick with it to the end instead of diving for the channel-switcher button like I’ll always and forever do when I hear that sour old commie dirge of John Lennon’s, or his erstwhile partner’s godawful “Wonderful Christmas Time.” And really, isn’t that the proof of the pudding?



Update! Sometimes, the arrangement is everything.

Doye O’Dell was a second-tier singing cowboy who, upon America’s entry into the Second World War, found himself being groomed to step into Roy Rogers’ chaps, on the assumption by Hollywood that Roy would be drafted. When word came that Roy wouldn’t be, Doye went off to join the Marines and the big break never happened. He had small acting roles in the sort of films you expect to find singing cowboys in – The Gay Ranchero, Along the Navajo Trail – but also a few films you don’t: Auntie Mame, Days of Wine and Roses, Irma La Douce. Nevertheless, he puts a real twang in your twig of mistletoe, and decks your hall with boughs of tumbleweed and sagebrush. So you’d be for forgiven for thinking that “Blue Christmas” started out as a country-&-western song.

In fact, it’s a suburb-&-eastern song – born in Connecticut commuter-land seven decades ago. I was complaining re “Orange Colored Sky” that it’s always a disappointment when a memorable song doesn’t have an equally memorable and-then-I-wrote anecdote behind it. In the case of “Blue Christmas”, the and-then-I-wrote story is almost too good, but I was assured a couple of decades back that this is exactly how it happened. So here goes…

…There are varying accounts of what happened that day. One of them has it that Steve Sholes, the RCA man who’d signed the singer, had ordered up a bland arrangement of the song, like the pop standard “Blue Christmas” should have been but never was. It was nothing like the Ernest Tubb record, without which Presley would never ever have heard the song or had the least interest in recording it. And, as “Blue Christmas” was first up on that day’s session rundown, the dullsville chart immediately put Elvis in a bad mood. And he told the band and backing singers, the Jordanaires, that they were going to punish RCA by making a version of “Blue Christmas” so bad the company could never release it. I can’t say I entirely buy that, but it does explain those melodramatically slowed down pick-up notes – “I-I’ll ha-ave a-a” – and then the banshee-like howls of Millie Kirkham behind “blue Christmas without you”. Miss Kirkham, who was pregnant and singing from a chair, told friends she was worried that her wailing soprano obligato sounded “ridiculous”. Which suggests that, if Elvis was seriously striving to wreck the number, she wasn’t in on the joke.

But it’s harder to make a total stinkeroo of a record than you might think. Especially if you’re really good. And, if you’re as good as Elvis and Millie and Scotty Moore and Bill Black and D J Fontana and Dudley Brooks and the Jordanaires, even when you’re trying to sound bad you tend to do it really well. So, for example, on those bansee-howl backing vocals, Millie Kirkham and the boys replaced the major and minor thirds with neutral and sub-minor.

And thus for the first time in its nine-year history “Blue Christmas”, a song about feeling blue, actually felt bluesy. And what had hitherto been an insipid pop tune became a far more effective rhythm’n’blues ballad. The Presley version isn’t in fact that slow (approx 96 beats per minute, which is faster than many earlier recordings) but it feels ballad-esque because of the way he slurs and slides his words across the rhythm. And, ever since, almost everybody’s pretty much done it that way.

Yep, it’s another fascinating Steyn music post, with lots more good stuff tucked between my ellipses.

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Christmas songs: the good, the bad, and the ugly

A list of some obscurities.

Posterity has an excellent ear for popular music. Setting aside gold records and Grammys, posterity smiles on kings (Elvis) and commoners (Sam Sham and the Pharoahs), with quality its only standard.

But Christmas is posterity’s weak spot. When December comes around, posterity is a sentimental fool, rewarding the good and the bad in equal measure. As a result, classics such as The Drifters’s “White Christmas” are forced to share the Yuletide spotlight with “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”

Posterity just isn’t doing its job at Christmas time. That’s where this list come in. What follows are 16 of the coolest and most underplayed Christmas songs ever, songs that deserve at least as much airtime as John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

I gotta grumble a little here: this list is a bit heavy on the more modern stuff to suit me. Sorry, but I do NOT want to hear John Cougar Mellonhead groaning about working-class Christmas in Indiana. Nor am I interested in having Springsteen bellow at me about how Santa Claus is coming to New Jersey. When it comes to Christmas music, I want Mel Torme. I want Nat King Cole. I want Sinatra and Dino. I want Der Bingle. God help me, I want Andy Williams.

I sure don’t want Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, or Peabo Bryson doing that warbling-wandering contemporary-R&B singer thing of meandering all over the scale in contempt of the actual damned melody, trying to “make it their own,” along the lines of those gut-curdling sportsball Star Spangled Banner butcherings we’re all way too familiar with by now. JUST SING THE DAMNED SONG ALREADY, DAMMIT. It ain’t “your own,” and it ain’t ever gonna be. Christmas music belongs to everyone, and if you can’t just leave a beloved traditional Christmas classic alone and sing it more or less straight, then write one of your own and sing it any damned way you like.

That said, though, there are instances of modern-era artists jazzing up a classic which yield some good results, mostly because the remake is done tastefully, artfully, and respectfully rather than as an exercise in self-indulgence by an artist bereft of the faintest clue as to how the thing might properly be done. In amongst the pointless dreck the author digs up some gold:

1. “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” – Elvis Presley (1957)
“Santa Claus” isn’t just Elvis’s best Christmas song, it’s one of the most powerful recordings of his career. Released by RCA, “Santa Claus” exhibits all the virile recklessness that characterized Elvis’s earlier work for Sun Records. The track plays like a spontaneous recording, as if Elvis and the band were playing the song for fun, and someone just happened to tape the session.

Actually, that’s how a LOT of Elvis’s music got recorded: Elvis would be just noodling around on piano, the band would pick it up, and the tape would roll. Or it’d be vice the versa, with the band leading the way and Elvis getting inspired to jump in. And he’s right, this is a good ‘un. In truth, Elvis did a fine job with the whole album it comes from. But, I mean, come ON: it’s Elvis, man. Early Elvis too, before he shit the bed and became a bizarre parody of himself, and an object lesson on the perils of excess celebrity and wealth.

The author goes on to echo the now-de rigeur gripe about “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (it’s “creepy”), which for the life of me I still just don’t get, and don’t really want to. He saves himself by recommending Sonny Boy Williamson, Los Straitjackets, and even The Youngsters’ hilarious “Christmas In Jail.” For myself, I’ll commend to your attention the Christmas albums of John Fahey, The Ventures, Canadian Brass, and of course Cantus and Chanticleer.

As for new original Christmas music, earlier this evening I chanced to hear this NPR interview with JD McPherson featuring in-studio live perfomances of a few tunes from his newly-released Christmas album:

McPherson is a songwriter, singer and guitarist who is described by music critic Ann Powers as a supreme rock reinventor. McPherson grew up far away from the hubs of the music world on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma. His father runs the ranch. His mother is a preacher. Before becoming a full-time musician, McPherson taught art for four years to students in middle school. His Christmas album “Socks” is his fourth album.

Welcome all of you to FRESH AIR. It’s so exciting to have you here, and the new Christmas album is great. JD, I’m going to ask you to introduce the first song and to introduce the members of the band.

JD MCPHERSON: Certainly. So my name’s JD McPherson, and over to my left is everybody else. That’s Doug Corcoran, the utility guy who plays everything. Jimmy Sutton on bass. Ray Jacildo plays keys with background vocals, and our friend Jason Smay on drums.

Now as it happens, the above-mentioned Jimmy Sutton is an old friend of mine. Back when the Playboys were just getting established as a for-real touring band we did shows with Jimmy’s old outfit, the Moondogs. We also stayed at his house a few times when we were passing through Chicago; he’s a great guy, and an enormously talented musician. Haven’t seen him in a good few years, unfortunately, so it was great to hear him on the radio yakking away with the Fresh Air host.

As for JD’s Christmas rekkid: although it’s by no means what anybody would call traditional holiday fare, I liked what I heard of it. Here, have yourself a taste:




Not bad, eh? And thus does this old dog learn himself a new trick.

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Flyin’ fingers

Farewell to one of the greatest pickers of all time.

Roy Linwood Clark (April 15, 1933 – November 15, 2018) was an American singer and musician. He is best known for having hosted Hee Haw, a nationally televised country variety show, from 1969 to 1997. Clark was an important and influential figure in country music, both as a performer and helping to popularize the genre.

During the 1970s, Clark frequently guest-hosted for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and enjoyed a 30-million viewership for Hee Haw. Clark was highly regarded and renowned as a guitarist, banjo player, and fiddler. He was skilled in the traditions of many genres, including classical guitar, country music, Latin music, bluegrass, and pop. He had hit songs as a pop vocalist (e.g., “Yesterday, When I Was Young” and “Thank God and Greyhound”), and his instrumental skill had an enormous effect on generations of bluegrass and country musicians. He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1987, and, in 2009, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He published his autobiography, My Life in Spite of Myself, in 1994.

Stars just didn’t come any more dazzling than the great Roy Clark in his 60s and 70s heyday. From Hee Haw to The Beverly Hillbillies to Tonight, to appearances on Johnny Cash’s old show, to who even knows what-all else, Roy Clark was more than a household name, particularly down here in the South. I actually remember seeing this one at my grandma’s house back when it aired:




If you find the comical 70s threads in that one too distracting, try this on for size instead:



And if that don’t suit ya, you’re probably a goddamned hip-hop fan or something.

I remember my dad’s side of the family, professional musicians and jazz aficionados all, watching Hee Haw and deriding Buck Owens without mercy. Buck, of course, was no also-ran himself in the music biz, having pioneered the legendary and highly-influential Bakersfield sound. No matter; my dad’s people were unmoved, seeing little of merit in poor old Buck. Hell, they turned their nose up pretty loftily indeed at country music in general, which probably explains why they didn’t think much of Owens. In a family full of hardcore jazz geeks, he never really stood a chance.

But they all absolutely loved the great Roy Clark, and respected him tremendously. They professed puzzlement at why someone of his towering ability would waste his time sharing the stage with a fumble-fingered, marble-mouthed, warbling hack like Buck Owens. It amounted to Roy lowering himself in a way they just couldn’t fathom, and didn’t much want to. But they all tuned in each and every week just the same, exclusively to watch ol’ Roy singe the neck of any of the several stringed instruments he was adept at eliciting howls for mercy from with those flyin’ fingers of his.

It’s depressing to speculate on how few people under the age of fifty or thereabouts might remember who Roy Clark was, or ever even knew in the first place. Like I said, in his heyday Clark was as famous a celebrity as celebrities came—hit records, industry awards and honors, guest shots on pretty much every 70s TV show you could name (including Love American Style, Flip Wilson’s short-lived variety show, The Muppet Show, and…uhh, The Odd Couple?!?), membership in the Grand Ole Opry, four feature films—and he remained active in the biz pretty much right up to the end. He even served as a commercial spokesman for Hunt’s ketchup in the 80s, which I had actually forgotten about my own self.

Such is fame, I reckon: gratifying, a hell of a lot of fun while it lasts, but in the end ephemeral and insubstantial. Roy Clark’s fame was based wholly on real talent, dedication, and years of hard work perfecting his craft going all the way back to his childhood—all of which seem to be increasingly rare beasts these days when it comes to attaining celebrity status.

I’ve never been one of those who cling to cheap nostalgia for an earlier time, or longed to go back and live in an idealized past myself. Nonetheless, I gotta say that in the field of entertainment and the arts…well, dammit, objectively speaking those days WERE better, in oh so many ways. I’d have to give the nod to any era that could produce a guy like Roy Clark in preference to one that foists…oh, pretty much the entirety of last week’s Billboard Hot 100—it’s doubtful in the extreme I’d recognize a single name from it, a merciful ignorance for which I am truly thankful—on us all.

I admit, that MIGHT be just me. Possibly. Could be I’m just too long in the tooth to appreciate how much “talent” it takes to manipulate turntables, shout dirty limericks, and push buttons to coax computers into emitting beeps, gurgles, screeches, and other sound effects—then calling such electronic eructations “music” when there isn’t a single actual musical instrument within twelve miles of the recording studio. Now if you rotten kids would kindly get the fuck off my lawn

Rest easy, Roy. Ya done good.

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The Great Rock And Roll Swindle

I love this story, I really do.

In April, Jered Threatin began to hold auditions for a backing band. He chose three musicians and told them they would embark on an all-expenses paid European tour with his band, Threatin.

The first stop was The Underworld in London. Someone representing Threatin had paid £780 (roughly $1,010) to book it for the night of Nov. 1 and told Patrice Lovelace, an in-house promoter at the club, that the band had sold 291 tickets for the show.

But when the band went on, there were only three people in the audience.

“It was only on show day when no customer list for the 291 customers was produced that we realized we’d been duped,” Ms. Lovelace said. “The show went ahead with only the supports, staff and crew in attendance. The bar made almost zero money, and it was all extremely bizarre. And empty, obviously.”

The next few gigs were similarly barren. After a show at The Exchange in Bristol on Nov. 5, for which a promoter claimed to have sold 182 tickets, staff at the venue decided to investigate the band. After all, someone had paid more than $500 to book the venue.

Nearly everything associated with Threatin, it would turn out, was an illusion. Iwan Best, a venue manager at The Exchange, said they found that each of the websites associated with Threatin — the band’s “label” Superlative Music Recordings; its management company, Aligned Artist Management; and the video production company that directed the band’s video — were all registered to the same GoDaddy account. (The pages were built under a parent site seemingly associated with Superlative Music, the fake label.)

Then there was the question of his fan base. Many of Mr. Threatin’s hundreds of Facebook friends were apparently from Brazil, and YouTube videos of his concerts never show the band and the crowds at the same time. Other videos from his channel, some of which have since been removed, included clips of interviews of him in which the questioner was not shown, and it seemed possible he was interviewing himself.

Much of this tale was rigorously documented by the unflagging writers at MetalSucks.net. They found that music sites that had conducted interviews with Mr. Threatin (and one that gave him an award) had been cooked up on WordPress or Wix, and padded out with content stolen from other outlets.

Talk about taking the initiative, trying to bootstrap yourself a career from nothing at all. My hat’s off to the guy. Plus, it’s just funny as all hell; to bad it backfired on him the way it did. As the BP’s rhythm guitarist and one of my oldest and closest friends Chipps said this morning when we were laughing about it: “Gee, dishonesty in the music business—who’da ever thought?”

This is probably the first and only time I’ll ever link to a NYT story and recommend you read the whole thing without a trace of sarcasm or hesitation, so savor it to the fullest, y’all. The conclusion is great:

Ms. Lovelace, the promoter at the Underworld venue in London, said that theories have continued to circulate about the musician’s motivations.

“Some people think this is some kind of genius level art project or social experiment. Some people think his mum booked the tour, and jokes have been cracked that maybe his parents are tied up in a basement in L.A. while he’s swanned off with their credit card,” she said. “I still can’t decide if it’s genius or insanity — but it’s probably a bit of both.”

Whatever the case may be, Jered Threatin has hereby secured his status as a bona fide, capital-L Legend of showbiz…and he deserves it, too. Bonus points to anyone who recognizes where I swiped my title from.

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The Bonny Scot

Good stuff about one of the all-time greats.

In 1974, a drunken Scott got into an argument with members of the band he was playing with. After throwing a bottle of Jack Daniels on the floor, he took off on his motorcycle. Scott suffered a bad crash and was in a coma for several days.

By the time he recovered, he was looking for a new band. As luck would have it, a new band formed by two fellow emigrant Scotsmen, Malcolm and Angus Young, was also looking for a singer.

Bon Scott signed on to AC/DC as the frontman when their previous frontman refused to go on stage. It was through Scott’s checkered past and rebellious attitude that the band could cement itself as a raucous, crude rock group. Scott, who had been rejected from the army because he was “socially maladjusted” brought that attitude into AC/DC. And it stuck.

But the stress of constant touring and performing began to wear on Scott. Prone to alcoholism, Scott drank heavily throughout this period. Meanwhile, their album Highway to Hell broke the US Top 100 chart, making AC/DC a major act almost overnight.

For the first time, Scott knew what it was like to have some money in his pocket. But success also strained his relationship with his bandmates. Scott’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics were always a part of the band’s chemistry, but he now found himself butting heads with Malcolm and Angus over how much credit he was given for his work.

After years touring with the band, he was tired of it. And on the cusp of success, he considered leaving for good so that he could get a handle on his drinking. He would never get the chance.

Like I said, good stuff, a fair bit of which I didn’t know despite being a HUGE AC/DC fan. First time I saw ’em was on the Highway To Hell tour, back when I was a teenager; though I’ve seen them several times since, that show remains one of the most memorable of my life. Am I gonna attach a vid here, you ask? Why, of course I am.




One of my favorite tunes, from what would have to be one of Scott’s last performances.

(Via MisHum)

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“Ten Songs From the ‘80s That You’ve Probably Forgotten About”

The 80’s, eh? Then it’s a safe bet I’d much rather keep right on forgetting about ’em, thanks, excepting the Joe Jackson number, which is okay with me. But the post reminded me of an excellent tune I wrote about last year, and was close to forgetting about again until I heard it on the radio the other day. Here’s last year’s post in toto; enjoy.

So the other day I heard a song on the car radio I hand’t heard in years and years but always loved. I had NO clue who did it, or what the title was; after hearing it, I had the guitar licks worked out in my head, but I could not for the life of me remember who played it. Had a couple of the guys hanging out at my place the next evening, and I played the song for ’em to see if any of them knew it. The only snippet of the lyrics I could recall was “Special love/I have for you” in the chorus, and I sang that bit along too.

But it was no use, we were all stumped. So I got to digging around on YouTube; I dunno, for some reason it just sounded to me like it might be a Badfinger song, so I did a search and started digging through the results when lo and behold, about four or five songs down, there was that distinctive guitar lick! I was so damned thrilled, I was jumping around and shouting like a fool. And now you guys get to enjoy my small victory too.



LOVE that song. It’s a genuine earwig for sure; once it’s in there, it burrows in deep, and ain’t coming out without tongs.

Know what blows my mind, though? That songs from the 80s are now “oldies” to a lot of people. I still listen to a hell of a lot of classic rock stuff from the 60s and 70s myself, along with old blues and rockabilly from an even dustier, mustier era, and swing going all the way back to the friggin’ 20s. I guess that stuff would be tantamount to Bach or Palestrina to those same folks. If they thought of it at all.

I remember working at Cheap Jack’s in NYC back in the 90s, where we were selling the ridiculously exaggerated bell-bottom jeans from the 70s as “vintage fashion.” Big bucks they brought, too; we had supermodels falling over each other to snap ’em up. I sold a few pairs to Julia Roberts once, no lie. But… vintage? It wasn’t long ago that I was wearing them godawful things myself, they couldn’t be “vintage.”

And now Cheap Jack’s, something of a NYC institution for a lotta years, is long gone too. Damn, but I’m old.

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RIP, ‘Retha

Another great one gone, after a long, tough illness. I sometimes use a quote for these death notices—”May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” from Hamlet, if I remember right. But it’s most especially poignant in this case, because now that she’s joined the choir, Aretha Franklin will surely be handling all the lead lines from here on out.

Kinda spooky that the King of Rock and Roll and the Queen of Soul died on the same day, ain’t it?

Everybody knows “Respect,” of course, but this here is one of my own personal faves. The original version is great too, but this one is just so danged much fun. Note ye well, too, that this vid also features Matt “Guitar” Murphy, another legend we lost not long ago.




Rest ye well, Miz Franklin, and may God eternally bless you.

Update! Damned good obit from Kass:

The death of Aretha Franklin should remind us that great singers are more than just the soundtrack of our lives.

They lived their own lives, sang their own songs, but the thing is, it is through our own lives that we remember them, marking passages: The feel of the city on a hot night in August, that beautiful brown-eyed Sicilian girl in your car on the first date, smiling at you, the windows down, Aretha belting out “Chain of Fools.”

“I sing to the realists,” Franklin once said, “people who accept it like it is.”

And so, to be real about her passing, we know that recordings will save her voice for us. We can always find her when we need her. She’s just a click away.

But now that she’s quiet and gone, and the news is full of memories and the tributes flow and her greatest hits are playing, something happens. At least it happened to me, and if you loved her voice, maybe it happened to you.

Like a pin withdrawn from a wheel. It rolls and spins away.

A man I know who has made a success in the ruthless business of American popular music once told me that there are many great voices, but far fewer great writers.

“There are a million girls with great pipes,” he said. “But there aren’t a million songwriters who can write the music that you’ll always remember.”

Maybe so, but I think Aretha Franklin’s voice transcended all that. Hers was America’s voice, so fine, so strong, so female, a natural woman.

Amen to every word of it. Even wearing what my grandma called “house shoes” and a tatty old sweater—as in the vid above—she was nothing but pure class, and as fine as they come in every way that matters.

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