Southern rock is dead

RIP Charlie Daniels, a truly great American.

Country Music legend Charlie Daniels, best known for his monster 1979 hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” died Monday of a hemorrhagic stroke. He was 83.

According to a press release from his representatives, the acclaimed Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry member died at Summit Medical Center in Hermitage, Tenn., where doctors determined his cause of death.

Daniels accumulated a slew of accolades and awards during his long career in music, including his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Musicians Hall of Fame and becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He also won a Dove Award for gospel albums and a coveted Grammy Award for best country vocal performance by a duo or group

I didn’t actually know he was an Opry member, bless his ornery ol’ heart.

“Few artists have left a more indelible mark on America’s musical landscape than Charlie Daniels. An outspoken patriot, beloved mentor, and a true road warrior, Daniels parlayed his passion for music into a multi-platinum career and a platform to support the military, underprivileged children, and others in need,” a statement from Daniels’ representatives reads.

In addition to his music, Daniels was a major advocate for several causes that were close to his heart including supporting the U.S. military with The Journey Home Project, which he founded in 2014 with his manager, David Corlew, to help veterans.

The article mentions several other charitable organizations either started or supported by Daniels, before getting to something else I didn’t know:

Daniels, a singer, guitarist and fiddler, started out as a session musician, even playing on Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” sessions. Beginning in the early 1970s, his five-piece band toured endlessly, sometimes doing 250 shows a year.

“I can ask people where they are from, and if they say `Waukegan,′ I can say I’ve played there. If they say `Baton Rouge,′ I can say I’ve played there. There’s not a city we haven’t played in,” Daniels said in 1998.

Daniels performed at White House, at the Super Bowl, throughout Europe and often for troops in the Middle East.

Daniels, a native of Wilmington, N.C., played on several Bob Dylan albums as a Nashville recording session guitarist in the late 1960s, including “New Morning” and “Self-Portrait.”

Well, whaddya know. All in all, a life well-lived, and now a reward well-earned. I’ll put up two of my favorites among Charlie’s long string of monster hits, by way of wishing him a fond farewell. He will surely be missed.



Chain of events

So as I was typing up my email to our governor, Comrade Cooper, begging official permission to be allowed to celebrate my “freedom” on the 4th, I was listening to the classical-music radio station as background, as is my usual wont. Amidst all the usual rah-rah 4th of July treacle and sludge, they aired a rendition of “Down In The Valley” for some reason—a lovely old tune, a real classic. And somehow, that in turn reminded me of an old Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder buddy flick called Stir Crazy, which at one point featured a beefy, intimidating cellmate of Our Heroes yclept Grossberger performing maybe the doggone prettiest version of the old chestnut I ever did hear:



Nice, eh? The guy who played Grossberger was a Dutch-American actor, wrestler, and opera singer who also held a BS in computer science named Erland Van Lindth De Jeude. He died, alas, in 1987 at a quite young age. Hats off to him for a real treat of a performance on this tune, anyway. Says something that it’s stuck with me all these years.

RIP Little Richard Penniman

Belated, I know, but still. At the risk of making this post more about me than him (even though I’ll probably end up doing just that regardless) I’ll lead off with a snippet from the text conversation on Richard’s passing I had with my band’s former manager:

LittleRichardScreen-1.png

That last refers to a pic he included in the message, in which I am conspicuous only by my absence. Don’t worry, I’ll explain later.

Those three December nights remain among the most memorable of my entire life. We did three (3) shows opening for Little Richard at a legendary music hall called Tramps, on 20th Street in Manhattan. The above-mentioned Terry Dunne was the owner of that fine establishment, a big, bluff, Irish-to-the-bone man with some truly alarming IRA connections: bone thugs who would show up in NYC periodically when over here for a fundraising or arms-procuring jaunt, to the vague terror of one and all.

But it was the last night of that momentous three-night stand when Richard made the above-mentioned declaration, to the deep chagrin of a long, long line of autograph seekers—and to the spluttering rage of one Terry Dunne, who had a huge stack of Richard LPs he was hoping to get signed, a stack that ended up sitting untouched and forlorn by those famous hands on Dunne’s lonely office desk.

Almost didn’t get paid? Hell, we almost didn’t make it out alive. Mike, our manager, later told us that Terry was absolutely fuming when he went in to collect our fee that night—a handsome enough one by the usual NYC standard, as was always the case for us at Tramps. There was Terry’s big stack of LPs, unsigned. And there was Terry, screaming himself purple over how Richard had breezily dismissed one and all to spend thirty or forty of his precious green-room moments with us alone before announcing, “Y’all, I gots to GO! My legs, my legs are hurting! The legs is the first things to go!” and strolling right out surrounded by his entourage with nary a backwards glance at anybody.

Terry, poor guy, issued a few dire threats regarding things he really ought to hire somebody to do to us, then coughing up like a prince in the end. I stayed friends with Terry throughout the rest of my years in New York, even playing a few gigs with my local side-band at a little bar he opened up down on 1st and 1st, right off Houston Street. But the Belmont Playboys were pretty much persona non grata at Tramps after that.

Little Richard Penniman was known as The Architect of rock and roll, which was certainly accurate. There really was nobody quite like him; his piano playing was simultaneously frenzied yet virtuosic, and his singing was simply otherworldly, a revelation. He could growl, he could scream, he could croon, he could wail, every note of it pitch-perfect and bursting with a passion that was big as mountains and as moving as a desert sunset. He was less a performer than a force of nature, way larger than life both onstage and off. The truly astonishing thing isn’t how very good he was; given that the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long, it’s that he lived as long as he did. When your peers are icons like Elvis, the Killer, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, and others, and you still stand out so sharply…well, that says one hell of a lot.

His band back then, the Upsetters, were every ounce equal to their Herculean task too; quite simply, they were probably the single best rock and roll backing band there ever was. Hey, when you can hire and then fire Jimi Fargin’ Hendrix, ferrchrissakes, none but a fool could consider you anything less than the creme de la creme:

Hendrix was an off-and-on member of Richard’s backup band, the Upsetters between late 1964–January 1965 until June–July 1965. So far, Hendrix biographers have identified only two songs he recorded with Richard, but are uncertain about the dates: “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got (But It’s Got Me)”, a two-part single released by Vee-Jay Records in November 1965, and “Dancing All Around the World”. Neither song appears on this album, although they are included on the West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology (2010).

In July 1965, Hendrix played guitar during a WLAC-TV television appearance by Upsetters backup singers Buddy & Stacy. They performed the Junior Walker hit “Shotgun”, which was broadcast on Night Train, a Nashville, Tennessee, music variety show. Soon thereafter, Hendrix moved to New York City, where he sent a postcard to his father:

He [Little Richard] didn’t pay us for five and a half weeks, and you can’t live on promises when you’re on the road, so I had to cut that mess loose.

Richard’s brother, Robert Penniman, later claimed that Hendrix was fired because “he was always late for the bus and flirting with all the girls and stuff like that.”

Whatever the true story might be, the Upsetters were definitely the real deal all right, which this classic among classics demonstrates nicely.




One of the best tenor sax solos EVER, I think. Note ye well, though: the Upsetters could swing out, they could do jazzy, and they could turn on a dime and just rock the roof off the joint without seeming to break a sweat. But even so, it’s Richard you somehow can’t wrest your gaze from. That, too, says one hell of a lot.

And when we played with him at Tramps, the man STILL had every last bit of it. His band would take the stage without Richard first each night, spending about twenty or thirty minutes getting the SRO crowd good and warmed up. Richard would climb the long staircase up from the green-room dungeon near the last of the warmup set, waiting quietly and calmly in the wings behind the stage-right curtain to be brought onstage to a mad roar from the now-pumped crowd.

Which just happened to be where I was standing that last night, completely enraptured by his band and oblivious to the most august personage standing right beside me.

Little Richard really wasn’t particularly little at all, I realized when I turned to find him close by. He had a big head, big eyes, big hair, big hands, and a robust overall physique, even at the ripe old age of 60. Abruptly, I found myself in the immediate presence of true, honest-to-God greatness after not interacting with him at all on the previous nights. I struggled to come up with a few words to express my gratitude for the sublime honor of allowing us to share the bill with him for three nights.

And then came the moment I will never for one second forget. Richard stepped closer in, warmly grasped my hand in both of his, and then positively gushed with praise. Exact quote, as burned into my increasingly feeble brain for all time:

Oh, I just LOVE what you did with my friend Gene Vincent’s song! That Be Bop A Lula! You have SUCH a wonderful voice, so powerful! Thank you, thank you so much for that!!

Whereupon I immediately fell to my knees and kissed The Architect’s hand. I mean, come on, man! What the hell else was I going to do?

It might help you to better appreciate the impact if you recite the above words using your most flamboyant, gay-ass Little Richard voice, I dunno. Not that Richard was really gay, of course. No, Little Richard, elemental force of nature that he always was and will always remain, was parsecs beyond being tritely categorized as merely “gay” or “straight.” Richard was what one might call sexually omnivorous. To wit:

Beautiful, eccentric, fast, flashy, honest, intelligent, lascivious, rough, spiritual, trashy, wild, witty, the singer, pianist, saxophonist and raconteur Richard Wayne Penniman performing as the frightening and thrilling Little Richard is a musician’s musician and a pervert’s pervert.  Little Richard, who tried out some of his songs in front of audiences before recording them, an entertainer who challenged cultural barriers with his talent, and who for a time would live in Los Angeles in Sugar Hill near boxer Joe Louis, another Georgia boy from Macon, was a concert performer admired by fellow entertainers James Brown, Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, Michael Jackson, and Prince—and Richard’s gospel singing was admired by Quincy Jones and Mahalia Jackson.  Like many African-American artists, Richard Penniman would feel himself torn between the sensual and the spiritual.

Money and sex as well as the salvation of souls were, with music, among Little Richard’s lasting interests: they offered ecstasy, power, and transcendence.  Little Richard had a girlfriend named Angel who was a devilish sex vixen who became the practicing bisexual man’s friend, lover, and tool, as much of a freak as he was: “I loved Angel because she was pretty and the fellers enjoyed having sex with her.  She could draw a lot of handsome guys to me” (thus the libertine is quoted in 1984’s oral history of Little Richard’s life and career, The Life and Times of Little Richard by Charles White, originally published by Harmony Books in 1984, then Da Capo Press in 1994, and republished by Omnibus Press, 2003; page 73).  When the performer Buddy Holly walked into a backstage dressing room in which Little Richard and Angel were engaging in sex, Holly quickly joined them.  Following new religious devotion, Richard Penniman for a time would be married to a woman, Ernestine Campbell, who was satisfied with their married and sexual life but not with his renewal of show business obligations, leading her to seek a divorce.

I have that book around here someplace, and in its recounting of the Holly tale, Richard waxed rhapsodic about the size of Holly’s, umm, courting tackle, going on and on about how much fun it was to share out his then-girlfriend backstage before being walked in on by a stagehand anxious as to why Holly wasn’t onstage at the moment, like he was supposed to be. More from the same link:

“Homosexuality is contagious. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s contagious…The gay thing really came from me being with a guy called Bro Boy, who was a grocery boy. Bro Boy really laid me into that—he and Hester. It started with them and it growed.”
—Little Richard, page 11

“There was this lady by the name of Fanny. I used to drive her around so I could watch people having sex with her. She’d be in the back of the car, the lights on, her legs open, and no panties on. I’d take her around so that the fellers could have sex with her. She didn’t do it for money. She did it because I wanted her to do it. She wasn’t very old. I used to enjoy seeing that.”
—Little Richard, page 41

“We were breaking through the racial barrier. The white kids had to hide my records ’cos they daren’t let their parents know they had them in the house. We decided that my image should be crazy and way-out so that the adults would think I was harmless. I’d appear in one show dressed as the Queen of England an in the next as the pope.”
—Little Richard, page 66

“All I wanted was to have sex with the most beautiful women and get high…I used to like to watch girls be with girls, you know? I thought that was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.”
—Little Richard, page 178
 
“A habit like mine cost a lot of money. I was smoking marijuana and angel dust and I was mixing heroin with coke.”
—Little Richard, page 186

Those quotes make it plain that Richard was simply too supersized a character to ever be constrained within definitions meant to apply to mere mortals. His appetites—sexual and otherwise—could never have been anything short of voracious. How could they? I repeat: the really remarkable thing is that he lived so long.

His talent, too, was high, wide, and deep, as oversized and uncontainable as his personality. He could play, he could sing, he could write, he could perform; the man was a bona-fide colossus. He was the living incarnation of everything anyone ever meant when they used the word “fabulous,” and I am profoundly grateful to Whomever for the all-too-brief moments I shared with him. I’ll close this out with a photo from the green-room dungeon at Tramps on that last December night, along with a bit of audio I’ll never get tired of.

LittleRichard-backstage.jpg

From right we have our manager, guitarist/vocalist Chipps, Little Richard, and our drummer Mark. Visible in the background are a couple of Richard’s bandmates.



If there’s a rock and roll heaven, Little Richard Penniman just took charge of the band, making it wilder, more out-of-control, and just plain better than it ever was before. Fare thee well, Richard; may your lion’s heart and unquenchable spirit be forever at peace.

Another good ‘un gone

Aww, man.

Brian Dennehy, the winner of two Tonys in a career that also spanned films including “Tommy Boy,” “First Blood” and “Cocoon,” and television roles including “Dynasty” and “Death of a Salesman,” died on Wednesday night in New Haven, Conn. He was 81.
“It is with heavy hearts we announce that our father, Brian, passed away last night from natural causes, not Covid-related. Larger than life, generous to a fault, a proud and devoted father and grandfather, he will be missed by his wife, Jennifer, family and many friends,” his daughter, actress Elizabeth Dennehy, tweeted on Thursday.

Dennehy was one of those truly great actors—like Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, or any of the others from this list—who is easily recognizable by pretty much everybody…most of whom couldn’t tell you his name. The gifted character actor submerges himself so completely into his role that the viewer submerges himself right along with them, without the slightest conscious awareness of having done so. Good character actors usually drive most any film they’re in; they’re the guys who can make an otherwise crappy movie at least watchable. You’ll see such an actor play a huge gamut of disparate characters over his (usually long and distinguished) career, and he’ll inhabit every one of those characters to perfection without ever seeming to break a sweat. To wit:

The imposingly tall, barrel-chested Dennehy won his first Tony for his performance as Willy Loman in a revival of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” in 1999 and his second Tony for his turn as James Tyrone in a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in 2003.

The actor made his TV and feature debut in 1977 — a year in which he made appearances in at least 10 series or telepics, including “Kojak,” “MASH” and “”Lou Grant,” and the films “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” and “Semi-Tough.” From that point he maintained a heavy work load for decades.

In 1982 his profile increased significantly thanks to his effective performance in the role of Teasle, the sadistic small-town police chief who is Sylvester Stallone’s lead adversary in “First Blood.”

In addition to “Cocoon,” he had significant roles in the 1983 thriller “Gorky Park” and in “Silverado.” He was second-billed, after Bryan Brown, in the well-constructed 1986 thriller “F/X,” in which he played a cop not part of the conspiracy, and in the 1991 sequel. He was fourth-billed in “Legal Eagles,” after the star trio of Robert Redford, Debra Winger and Daryl Hannah.

That’s but a brief summation of Dennehy’s amazing career, but my all-time favorite is probably his turn as Cobb in the greatest Western ever filmed: Lawrence Kasdan’s brilliantly conceived and executed Silverado. His death scene after the classic showdown with onetime friend and partner Kevin Kline at the end is archetypical Dennehy, made all the more powerful and dramatic for its stark, understated simplicity. Compared to the kind of cliched thrashing, gargling, screaming, and writhing about we’re all used to, it’s a pluperfect example of the character actor’s art at its very highest pinnacle:




If you’ve never seen Silverado, I really can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s beautifully staged and shot, brimming over with well-crafted dialogue and star-turn performances from pretty much the entire cast. From what I recall reading when it came out, it was basically Kasdan’s intention to do an updated but respectful version of the classic Hollywood Westerns of yore, including all the hoary old plot elements and cinematique stylistic licks he could fit in. His own affection for the genre is in evidence from start to finish. I think he succeeded brilliantly, although some critics of the time disagreed. In the end, though, it’s a fun movie to watch, a well-made bit of old-school Saturday-matinee escapism of a kind we don’t see near enough of anymore. I’ve seen it a thousand times, have pretty much every line memorized, and will still watch it through to the very end any time I run across it flipping through the channels.

Fare thee well, Mr Dennehy. You were one of the greats of your art, and your place in Valhalla is assured.

Awww, no

Hate to hear this.

‘Wild Wild West’ star Robert Conrad has died.

The 1960s and ’70s TV and film actor passed away Saturday due to heart failure at his home in Malibu, according to family spokesperson Jeff Ballard. Ballard, on behalf of the Conrads, tells TMZ … “He lived a wonderfully long life and while the family is saddened by his passing, he will live forever in their hearts.”

Mine too. I dearly loved WWW when I was a young ‘un, and I still watch reruns of Black Sheep Squadron now and then in my dotage. Fare thee well, Robert, and well done. May you rest easy.

Five years on

Haunted by the ghosts of Charlie Hebdo.

I heard about the attack shortly before I went on that morning’s John Oakley Show in Toronto. Throughout the grim half-decade for free speech that has followed, I have thought often of Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, the editor of Charlie Hebdo and a great cartoonist in the French style. Two years before his death, he said:

It may seem pompous, but I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.

He did. He was an heroic figure, and he paid for it with his life. One reason for that is because, when everyone else is on their knees, the guy standing up kinda stands out. And Charb & Co had been standing out for almost ten years. As I said to Megyn Kelly at Fox News later that night:

STEYN: Yes, they were very brave. This was the only publication that was willing to publish the Muhammad — the Danish Muhammad cartoons in 2006 because they decided to stand by those Danish cartoonists. I’m proud to have written for the only Canadian magazine to publish those Muhammad cartoons. And it’s because The New York Times didn’t and because Le Monde in Paris didn’t, and the London Times didn’t and all the other great newspapers of the world didn’t – only Charlie Hebdo and my magazine in Canada and a few others did. But they were forced to bear a burden that should have been more widely dispersed…

We will be retreating into a lot more self-censorship if the pansified Western media doesn’t man up and decide to disburse the risk so they can’t kill one small, little French satirical magazine. They’ve gotta kill all of us.

Given the despicable, gutless groveling so shamelessly on display this past week, it’s clear that the five years since have brought no improvement in our sorry lot. Steyn looks back in anger:

Five years ago I quoted Andrew Stiles:

Journalists: These French journalists are so brave!

Readers: What did they do? Can I see?

Journalists: It’s our policy not to show you.

But I see Mr Stiles’ Tweet has somehow managed to disappear from the Internet. George Clooney held up a pencil and Dame Helen Mirren wore an exquisite pencil brooch pinned to her splendid embonpoint and thousands of tilty-headed wankers with sorrowful expressions marched through the streets of Paris waving pencils. But none of them was willing to do the one thing that mattered – and show what Charb et al had drawn with those pencils. By the following day I was good and sick of it:

To be honest, it makes me vomit to see people holding these Princess Dianafied candlelit vigils, and using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie – I am Charlie -and in effect appropriating these guys’ sacrifice for this bogus solidarity. It makes me sick to see all these ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ cartoons that have appeared in newspapers all over the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Australia, everywhere, from other cartoonists, again expressing solidarity with these very brave men – but not doing what they did…

I’ve been on enough events in Europe with less famous cartoonists than these who live under death threats, live under armed guard, have had their family restaurant firebombed – it’s happened to a Norwegian comedienne I know – have come home and found their home burned, as a Swedish artist I know happened to. And all these people doing the phony hashtag solidarity, screw your phony hashtag solidarity. Let’s have some real solidarity – or if not, at least have the good taste to stay the hell out of it.

That would have been asking too much. In the days that followed almost all those who claimed to be expressing solidarity with Charb were, in fact, signaling very clearly that they preferred to live on their knees.

I’ve quoted this great Tolkien passage here before, and it bears endless repeating:

It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two, Master Warden, and those who have not swords can still die upon them.

The Charlie Hebdo victims proved their mettle with a defiant message written in their own blood. Too bad the pathetic, weepy fools who boasted “Je suis Charlie!” in between choruses of “Imagine” at all those repulsive candlelight vigils are too cowardly to do anything more than disgrace such a noble legacy.

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