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Saturday, November 16, 2013

What a difference four decades make...

The first time I ever saw Tony Joe White was May 1, 1971. I hated him.

White had the unenviable task of joining Spirit in opening for Jethro Tull, now at the peak of their powers just days after the release of Aqualung.

I, along with many others in Philadelphia’s packed Spectrum, had little time for some dude playing music about swamps and looking kind of like he’d just emerged from one, especially when Martin Barre was waiting in the wings ready to unleash that six-note onslaught that heralded the title track of the new Tull LP. White did not go down the worst of any opening act I saw at the Spectrum; that dubious honor was presented a few weeks after this show, to LaBelle as they crashed and burned in a storm of boos before The Who claimed the stage during the Who’s Next tour. But the crowd did not exactly embrace White in a warm hug of good cheer.

Yesterday, just over forty years later, I saw Tony Joe White for the second time. What a difference a few decades make.

Tony Joe White's 2013 release on Yep Roc Records.

Backed only by drummer Fleetwood Cadillac - yep, that’s how the Mississippian was introduced - White took the stage at Philadelphia’s World Café Live for the weekly WXPN Free at Noon concert series and got things off to a rousing start by discovering his amp was not on. But years of stage experience saw White coolly apprise the folks in front of him - and those listening around the world - about the issue and its resolution.

“Alright - Friday!” White announced in his thick drawl, “A little mid-day swamp…”

A man in black - Tony Joe White on stage at World Café Live.

For the next forty minutes White held the crowd spellbound, his worn Stratocaster emitting notes that led down twisting paths of the blues, backed by Cadillac’s simple but sympathetic drums. White’s tales of hoodoo, voodoo, and a disappearing Southern life were nearly croaked out in a conspiratorial voice that gave the impression the tales were being told just for your ears alone. And no-one could stop listening.

That I found White so mesmerizing this time is a direct by-product of the fact that my musical tastes haven’t refocused over the years, they’ve simply widened to now embrace swamp rock, Tull, and far too much else.

But I’m glad I had the chance to test that theory.

Tony Joe White’s Free at Noon concert can be heard at the following Web site; simply scroll to the bottom of the page and look for the Free at Noon stream for November 15, 2013:


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Hi-hat of the gods...

Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion was welcomed warmly to the United States last night by a full house at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope PA. The large audience was attentive and applauded in all the right places during the two sets, and the musically brilliant but notoriously combative Baker was appreciative of the reception.

Now 74 years old and in constant pain from a degenerative spine condition, Ginger still displayed the form that influenced a tide of rock drummers. Characteristically, Baker’s relentless hi-hat creates a pulse for every song. The stylistic aspect, so prominent during Baker’s ground-breaking years with Cream, was soon passed down to a second wave of drummers powering 1970s hard rock bands ranging from Mountain to Cactus.

Jazz Confusion on stage in London earlier this year.

That Baker has a legion of rock disciples, of course, has always annoyed him, for Ginger considers himself a jazz drummer.

And that’s certainly the style that Jazz Confusion deftly works through, covering material ranging from a Sonny Rollins tune to a bluesy check-in via a composition written by the late Cyril Davies, a Baker cohort in the early 1960s. With Baker and Ghanaian percussionist Abass Dodoo merging swing with African rhythms, an energetic foundation supported bassist Alec Dankworth and saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis. Ellis, long-time sideman with James Brown during Brown’s most fertile creative period, took lengthy solos that varied intensity with playfulness. Dankworth held the low end, partnering with Baker and Dodoo to support Ellis but also stepping forward with dexterity for his own moments in the spotlight. No surprise that Dankworth should shine: he’s the son of the late horn player and composer John Dankworth and wife Cleo Laine, the only singer nominated for Grammy Awards in jazz, classical, and pop categories.

At one point Ginger said, "I'm 74 years old and have a number of physical infirmities, so I apologize if I can't play what you want to hear." It was an entirely unnecessary apology. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

About Sound and Vision

When Tin Angel opened on Philadelphia’s Second Street corridor, it brought the concept of an intimate venue with an emphasis on good sound and clear sightlines to a music scene that was in dire need of such a venue. This type of concert experience has since been expanded upon by area stages such as Milk Boy and other coffee shops – although the listening frequently requires tuning out espresso brewing and assorted low-level hustling and bustling.

A few months ago a new, easily-accessible venue opened just up the Northeast Extension in Quakertown with a series titled Parlor Concerts at McCoole’s. The debut artist was John Hammond, but word of that event or the series’ existence didn’t seem to spread to very many Philadelphia ears. In fact, when I received a “what’s new” email from the great guitarist Bill Frisell listing a “Parlor Concert” in Quakertown, I was sent off to Google to figure out exactly what that was. I’m glad I did.

An exterior view of part of the McCoole's complex, with the Arts & Events Place to the left.

The Parlor Concert series takes place at McCoole’s Arts & Events Place, adjacent to McCoole’s Red Lion Inn, located just east of Route 309 on the main road into Quakertown. Essentially, the McCoole’s complex is a series of related buildings rescued from decay by Jan Hench, who after establishing a highly-regarded restaurant and tavern began including artistic endeavors in her vision.

Bill Frisell’s September 8 concert took place in the very intimate upstairs theater, which seats just under 200 listeners. How intimate? The set ended with Frisell, still on stage, conversing with the audience and booker Tom Malm about how impressed he was with the venue, and his desire for a return engagement as soon as possible, perhaps with one of his band projects.

Bill Frisell alone on the stage, September 8, 2013.

Sunday night, though, was all about Frisell as a solo artist. Using a series of guitar effects to craft loops or sonic-grabs of pedal tones, Frisell’s astonishing grasp of chord voicings and scales was readily apparent. After moving from an airy improvisation on into the traditional and familiar patterns of “You Are My Sunshine,” Frisell coaxed the melodies from every position on the neck of his well-worn Telecaster, subtly changing the sonic character of each progression. An equally impressive aspect of the guitarist’s approach is his fearless use of abrasive tones, which characterized one cacophonous passage before suddenly resolving into a beautiful, haunting medley rendition of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “In My Life.” It’s a gifted solo talent who can take an audience on such a wide-ranging musical journey, but Bill Frisell regularly accomplishes that feat – it just usually happens in front of much larger audiences. To see and hear it within such personal confines was a rare experience.

The next event on the parlor concert horizon is October 25 with Jim Lauderdale, who like Frisell is a Grammy winner. Lauderdale has had an illustrious songwriting career and has worked with artists ranging from Lucinda Williams to Elvis Costello. His date is followed by a number of other shows on the venue schedule.

And about that return visit by Bill Frisell? There’s a poll up right now at the following link to determine which of Frisell’s many projects is drawing the most listener interest:
Hopefully more music fans from the Philadelphia area will make the quick drive north to share in this experience when it happens.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Night I Outlasted Yoko Ono

Despite being a geezer, by late August I am usually deep into my annual marathon training program. But a fractured foot six weeks ago has left me humbled in the basement, logging hours on a stationary bike until I can return to ground pounding.

Tonight, I scheduled a 30-minute bike session and grabbed my headphones, CD player, and The Plastic Ono Band’s Live Peace in Toronto 1969. I had this album soon after it was released, when I was in high school, but despite my Cream fixation and the album’s inclusion of Eric Clapton on guitar, I never made it all the way through both sides once I encountered the dreaded and legendarily-unlistenable Yoko cuts.

Damn straight - make mine the audiophile version!

Who knows why I selected this disc tonight - hell, who knows why I bought it a few weeks ago - but I recall clearly thinking, “I’m only on the bike 30 minutes, I’ll be done before Yoko gets warmed up.”

But as I got underway, I felt the taunting of that young Japanese woman all those decades ago. The decision was boldly made: my 30-minute ride just got expanded to 39 minutes.

Maybe it’s the years I logged in training with unconventional female singers like Nina Hagen and Lydia Lunch, but each atonal bleat uttered by Yoko only made me pedal harder and faster. I refused to lose!

Hit me with your best shot, Yoko! You don't scare me...

Mercifully, it came to an end with me drenched in sweat upon hearing the final utterance of, “Give peace a chance…” But I was triumphant! I heard every second, every note - and, since I’d masochistically purchased the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Ultradisc II gold disc version of this release, I heard it in the best possible sound quality!

Next workout: Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music

Monday, June 17, 2013

Men of wealth and taste…

The Rolling Stones today, by Sebastian Krüger:

Much of the focus on the Rolling Stones’ “50 & Counting” tour has zeroed in on tickets selling for prices north of $500 - and pit access for double that. What gets ignored ticket-wise is something that serious Stones fans have been well aware of: it’s been fairly easy to obtain $67.00 tickets (add $18 for the ticket vendor “convenience” and “processing” fees) through links on the band’s web site. And they’re not just rafter seats, as a percentage of them are lower level and pit tickets, randomly distributed when picked up at the venue. In fact, it’s probably not too late to land tickets at this price for the final three United States gigs tomorrow night and Friday night in Philadelphia, and a week from tonight in Washington D.C.

But the ticket “controversy” is a distraction from some simple truths.

Two years down, 48 to go…

In the 50 years that rock and roll bands have been in existence, two are recognized as the foundation of everything that came after: The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. One of those two played their last show more than four decades ago; the other plays Philadelphia tomorrow night.

Maybe because they have worked so hard since 2000 it’s difficult to put their legacy into the proper perspective. Tour after tour, playing clubs, theaters, stadiums, recording albums, putting out films - they’ve been around and so visible that it’s easy to take them for granted.


If the next three shows are not the final Stones American shows, there will not be many more down the line. A cross-country major slog of a tour? Those days are definitely gone. If they come back at all, expect a short itinerary at an easy pace, much like this current journey. But that return visit is a colossal “if” at this point.


Mick and Keith: proper conditioning for dangerous times ahead.

For now, take some time to ingest the miracle that fifty years down the road, this is still a working rock and roll band - and a damn fine one. Their days of danger may be in the drug-clouded past, but the songs they crafted then still offer a musical pipeline directly into that ominous era. And the Rolling Stones circa 2013 have labored hard in preparation for this set of dates to make sure they’re up to the task of conveying the darkness at the heart of “Street Fighting Man” and “Midnight Rambler.”


Said Keith, "Mick is my wife, but we can't get divorced." ‘Til death do us part.

Sure, this tour has had the occasional dubious moment. Mick Jagger seems to have an obsession with appearing current, which accounts for tour guests that have included Katie Perry and Taylor Swift. And not every note played in a two-hour-plus set is going pack a sonic wallop. But with guitarist Mick Taylor providing a link to the days of exile, and Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood weaving their guitars into a characteristic propulsive surge, this is still a band that can conjure up a vital sound that is uniquely theirs.

So, rather than dwelling on the business aspects of tour grosses and number crunching, let’s put the Rolling Stones in the perspective of their musical legacy.

Give ‘em their respect. They’ve earned it the hard way.





Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Sorry State...

Todd Rundgren’s career has occasionally been characterized by unexpected musical left turns. He's creatively migrated from the wistful balladeer of “Hello it’s Me” to the fusion-leaning leader of Utopia V1, and then on to the creator of harder rock with the latter Utopia followed by a return to solo experimentation. So it was really no surprise when Rundgren announced a new turn with the impending arrival of State, a journey into electronica. What was surprising was the totally lackadaisical, technically-deficient performance given by Rundgren at Philadelphia’s Trocadero last night.

Ensconced upon a high platform center stage, with ex-Tubes drummer Prairie Prince manning an e-kit stage right and flanked to the left by long-time tour guitarist Jesse Gress, Rundgren stood surrounded by electronics and one electric guitar. Over his head a microphone hung down, and prominent lighting rigs constantly shot beams of color into the crowd.

Todd towers over the Trocadero.

Rundgren opened with the first track on State, “Imagination.” It’s a curious song for an album that is described by its creator as electronica - a heavy, lumbering rock song that brought the most focus to the evening. Thereafter, as Todd attempted to propel himself into something resembling the current dance world, it was one embarrassing moment after another. A number of shows into the tour, Rundgren seemed to have little feel for what he was attempting to convey. A lack of communication with Prairie Prince was obvious, while Gress’ playing was far more assured than Rundgren’s tentative and only-occasional guitar work. Rundgren also seemed to be having continual difficulty with his main vocal microphone. Worse by far was the fact that, a number of shows into the tour, Rundgren seemed to have little control over his own electronics, which were responsible for the bulk of the sound. Parts stopped or started at inappropriate times, and a common sight last night was Rundgren bent over, staring through his sunglasses at one recalcitrant device or another.

Kraftwerk is often criticized for cold and unfeeling performances. I disagree, but I think everyone who has heard them would agree that their precision is unwavering. Had last night’s Rundgren show been one by Kraftwerk, heads would have been rolling in Düsseldorf.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Rock Book Short Reviews Number Two: Keith Richards

Keith: can't buy a friend? Au contraire...

Keith Richards’ Life was without a doubt one of the most highly-anticipated rock music accounts ever published.

Like most of the books covering the lives of the second wave of rock musicians - those who ascended the charts in the mid-to-late Sixties - Life finds our Stone growing up under the seismic influence of World War Two. It’s hard for many of us relate to that experience for, while the United States has been involved in multiple conflicts, U.S. fighting has taken place elsewhere, like a perpetual “away game.” But as in the books of Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, and scores of others, Keith readily admits being shaped at a fundamental level by the difficult early environment of his life.

Much has been made of the book’s occasionally dismissive attitude toward Mick Jagger, and there are passages that are downright insulting to the Stones’ front man. But there’s little that’s any more shocking than the intense war of words the two waged in the mid-1980s, when each issue of prominent music magazines bore a new tirade by one Glimmer Twin against the other - and those words rang like they were playing for keeps.

More revelatory in Life is Keith simply talking about music. Not surprisingly, Richards is consumed by his role in the Stones and offers some fascinating glimpses into the band’s constantly evolving creative process over the decades.

In the end, though, despite all the tales of drugs and crazed behavior, the overall sense in the air as one closes Life is a bittersweet aura. As you make your way through the pages, especially in the book’s second half, you find that rarely does Keith mention anyone with affection who isn’t directly employed by him or at the very least dependent upon the Rolling Stones generating huge sums of money. Like they’re doing right now…

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rock Book Short Reviews Number One: Sammy Hagar

Sammy: more than pleased with himself.

Sammy Hagar’s Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock has received a lot of praise for its unflinching honesty, and Hagar does leave no tale untold in detail - no matter how bad it makes him or his fellow band mates appear. But while Hagar’s climb from poverty to rock star/tequila magnate is inspirational to some degree, Hagar is so relentlessly impressed by his own self that by the end of the book you want to join guitarists like the late Ronnie Montrose and Eddie Van Halen and just fire Hagar. Enough!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Small world, growing smaller...

In my last Frank Blank Music entry, I wrote about a performance by Sons of Cream, a powerful tribute to a powerful power trio that includes Kofi Baker on drums, son of the legendary Ginger Baker.

Sticking to the percussion realm, I also read in the latest Hot Rod Magazine about an interesting guy named Jordan Hill. Naturally most drummers like to bang on stuff, but Hill’s a drummer who’s around car parts a lot. So it was perhaps inevitable that he would develop a percussion kit out of - what else? Car parts.

Jordan Hill, ready to rock.

One of the interesting things about the kit is that Hill has assembled a truly musical instrument, with parts that are tuned to allow the creation of melodies and contrasting musical movements.

So why did I mention Kofi Baker at the beginning of this piece? It turns out that Jordan Hill has co-written a book with Kofi about drumming, The Forgotten Foot.

If Hill’s approach to kick drums and hi-hat is as inventive as his use of car parts as musical components, your feet will surely be breaking new ground on those pedals.
Follow this link for a look at the components making up one of Jordan Hill’s kits:

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fresh Cream

Last night I embarked on a trek south to Millville, New Jersey, for a 90-minute set by Sons of Cream.
The band is appropriately named, as the bassist is Malcolm Bruce, son of Jack, and the drummer is Kofi Baker, son of Ginger. Can you guess the repertoire? Yes, it’s the music of Cream. Holding down the role of young Eric Clapton is Godfrey Townsend. While not a blood relative of Cream band members, Godfrey has played with Jack Bruce, as well as musicians ranging from Dave Mason to John Entwistle. He’s also held down the music director duties for the very successful Hippiefest tours.
Godfrey Townsend and Malcolm Bruce dig deep into the sound of Cream.

There are those who say bands like Sons of Cream are just retreading material. I counter that great songs are entities that benefit from a modern-day airing out. That argument was given weight by last night’s performance, which checked into all aspects of the great power trio Cream’s heritage. From a concise “Sunshine of Your Love” to expansive passages in “N.S.U.” and “I’m So Glad,” Sons of Cream breathed life into songs that been dormant too long.
Malcolm is highly-accomplished, like his father able to weave through song structures and emerge with unexpected accents. Baker, now on screens in the film documentary about his volatile father Beware of Mr. Baker, brings a more rock-oriented foundation to Cream’s music that works well, though his long solo in “Toad” displayed ample passages of the jazzy swing and African influence inherent in Ginger’s approach. Townsend, as his resume might indicate, is a musical chameleon. Armed with a Gibson Les Paul, a Paul Reed Smith, and a replica of Clapton’s famed Gibson SG painted by the Dutch collective “The Fool” more than four decades ago, the guitarist was a commanding presence immersed in Eric’s stylistic approaches heard during that incendiary phase of his career.
The fresh new interior of the Levoy Theatre in Millville, NJ.

Millville’s newly-renovated Levoy Theatre was a perfect setting for this concert. Originally opened in 1908 with a theater on the ground floor and a dance hall upstairs, the Levoy eventually expanded the theater aspect to feature silent films and Vaudeville acts. But by the 1950s the theater began to slowly descend into disrepair, eventually closing in 1976.
Now, after a determined renovation effort, the theater is launching its first new season since shortly after the original Cream split up. Seating just under 700, the theater has great sightlines, comfortable seating, and the sound was excellent during Sons of Cream. With restaurants and bars in close proximity to the Levoy, as well as a number of interesting shops, this venue looks capable of playing a major role in the vibrancy of Millville’s Glasstown Arts District. And a nice, small theater is always a welcome addition to the tri-state music scene.
You can learn more about the Levoy Theatre, and its lineup ranging from Joan Osborne to Dave Mason, at

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fun while the flakes fly…

On October 10, 1979, the city of Philadelphia had its earliest ever measurable snowfall when just over two inches of snow accumulated on the streets during a surprise autumn storm. That night, a band from Texas called Fandango headlined at the Bijou Café. Yes, with Fandango’s presence it marked the first time vocalist Joe Lynn Turner graced a Philadelphia stage, long before he went on to sing with Blackmore’s Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and Deep Purple. But the night was also memorable because of the opening band, a young quartet from Ireland called U2, who attacked the stage as if they were headliners in a much larger venue than this small club. As neither band was well known, the inclement weather held the crowd down to a mere dozen, including yours truly - although hundreds now claim to have been downstairs off Lombard Street that cold night.

Last night, well into March, Philadelphia experienced one of its latest snowfalls on record. And though the accumulation was negligible, once again there were musical fireworks among the flakes. This time the venue was the small upstairs room at West Philadelphia’s World Café Live complex.


Leogun: hair, volume, and rock!

First on stage was Leogun, a London-based trio managed by Elton John’s Rocket Music firm. The band released their first EP in October on a new label created by Yamaha instruments (Yamaha Entertainment Group), and the four-song self-titled disc is a calling card for a full LP soon to come. But perhaps the best calling card Leogun has is their live set. Power trio sightings have been few and far between in recent years, but Leogun flies the heavy flag with pride, near equals with legendary forbearers like Humble Pie. And if they aren’t quite as scruffy as Motorhead, that’s only because their interests lean more to the weightier offerings of Led Zeppelin, where song craft is as important as the throttle being wide open. Leogun bears watching, without a doubt.


What turned out to be a little snow did not scare off a packed house.

Los Angeles’ Vintage Trouble was the sold-out show’s headliner, fresh off a second stint with The Who. Over and over I’ve read comments from people unaware of this band who, after seeing them open for the British legends in cavernous arenas, fell hard for them. I can now tell you that in small clubs the intensity of Vintage Trouble is far more powerful.


Vintage Trouble brings it on home Upstairs at World Cafe Live.

In these bizarre days when banjos and self-pity have stormed the charts, Vintage Trouble is a tight rock and roll band, one with a solid R&B influence that flavors its charismatic presence. While reports from the Lumineers recent headlining show at the Tower Theater indicate they had difficulty filling a full hour, playing the mind-numbing “Ho Hey” twice in the short set, Vintage Trouble conveys the spirit that this is a band with no shortage of substance. New material made up part of the near 90-minute show, and it was easily as good as their increasingly-known songs from the band’s debut album The Bomb Shelter Sessions.

Ty Taylor works the crowd, and he works it so well.

Singer Ty Taylor is the band’s live focal point, a true showman whose stage presence is undeniable, whether dancing up a storm center stage or rambling out into the crowd to make sure everyone’s having a good time. He’s best described as the polar opposite of “aloof.” Guitarist Nalle Colt takes on one of the riskiest jobs in rock - playing the only lead instrument. Mostly wielding a Les Paul, Colt is up to the task, widely varying his style from subtle soulful accents to hard rock assaults. And the rhythm section cannot be denied - drummer Richard Danielson and bassist Rick Barrio Dill thrust the songs forward with undeniable groove, but also instantly adapt to any curve balls thrown their way by Taylor.

Anyone who wants a quick peek into what Vintage Trouble is capable of need look no further than the band’s December appearance on David Letterman’s show (see video below). Like Jimi Hendrix’s assault on Monterey, this video shows a band going for the throat to make the most of an opportunity. Perhaps the most amazing thing seems to be that this is what they’re like every night.



Monday, March 4, 2013

So what?

I’m a big sucker for – errr… fan of – the so-called superdeluxe album packages. Generally released to commemorate a recording’s anniversary, for a listener who likes to know who the third engineer was during recording sessions or who provided transit support on the European tour these editions are a blast.

The So superdeluxe edtion, excessive or essential depending upon your point of view.

Peter Gabriel last year released a 25th anniversary observance of his classic title So. The album turned Gabriel into a somewhat unlikely superstar, considering it came between two experimental Gabriel soundtrack efforts for Alan Parker’s Birdy and Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. The heavy box contains many standard superdeluxe features, ranging from multiple discs offering insight into Gabriel’s recording strategies to a large-format hard bound book, including many photos of the quite rustic Real World Studios outside Bath, England.

One of the most interesting inclusions in this So retrospective is a DVD presenting a two-hour performance of Gabriel’s road band. Recorded in Athens, Greece in 1987, and remixed into 5.1 surround, the DVD is a flashbackward look at an incredibly forward-thinking artist.

Peter Gabriel on stage in Athens, Greece, in 1987.

While theatrics were nothing new for Gabriel in light of his colorful history fronting Genesis, by the time this show took place his performance was nearly sublime in its refinement. Choreography is used as a tool to communicate the emotional core of his songs, and Gabriel’s repeated interaction with his lighting rigs – looming high over the singer or rushing down over his cowering figure in a claustrophobic encounter – conveys everything from streaming lights of the heavens to terrifying resignation. It’s stunning to see even decades later, retaining a sense of cutting-edge staging.

The moment of trust: Peter Gabriel falls into the Athens crowd at the climax of "Lay Your Hands on Me."

 If Gabriel and the band’s clothing bears a slight of-its-time vibe, despite an attempt then to present a unified futuristic sense, the music is simply timeless. Playing tracks from the then-new So or running through a review of the stunning Security album, the band – the towering Tony Levin on bass, keyboards, and Chapman Stick, former E Streeter David Sancious on keyboards, David Rhodes on guitar, and the powerful Manu Katche on drums and percussion – manages to take the complex studio recordings and translate them into vibrant live entities. The interplay between the four musicians, occasionally supplemented by Gabriel’s keyboards, is intuitive and tight.

I saw the So tour twice at Philadelphia’s Spectrum, and have always retained a mind’s-eye memory that Peter Gabriel’s performances in that era were both exceptional and incredibly innovative. It’s nice to see that in a view from 2013, these recollections are far more substance than nostalgia.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Flight of the Dark Bird

Today is Johnny Cash’s birthday. Every time this date rolls around the calendar, I’m reminded of a night a few years ago down in Annapolis, Maryland.
Cover of "Johnny Cash" by Frank Moriarty

In 1997 I wrote a biography of Johnny Cash’s life and music. Of course, the book covered the addition of Marty Stuart as Johnny’s lead guitar player in the years after a very young Stuart cut his country teeth playing with Lester Flatt.

Marty has put out some fantastic albums, not just the country hits people may know him for, but concept albums like The Pilgrim and Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota. He’s also a great photographer, an excellent writer, and a preserver of country music history.
Brad Paisley (left) and Keith Urban (right) back Marty Stuart at the Grand Ole Opry.

He rarely gets into this part of the country here in the Northeast, so when I heard he was playing the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis with his aptly named Fabulous Superlatives (Kenny Vaughan is as good a guitarist as Marty) I made arrangements to see the show.

After the great set I made my way backstage to meet Marty, intending to give him a copy of my Cash bio. After a warm greeting from Marty, I handed him the book. He smiled, and said, “You know what? This book is sitting right on my coffee table at home.” Obviously, it made my night.
"Country Music: The Masters," a book of Marty Stuart's photography.

Marty remained best friends with Johnny even after leaving Cash to begin a solo career. In fact, the cover of Marty’s latest photography book is a picture of Johnny taken just days before he died.

When I saw Marty in Ocean City, New Jersey more recently after Johnny had passed away, Stuart had written a moving tribute to Johnny called “Dark Bird.” This link leads to the song and its beautiful video. I think you’ll find it well worth a listen and a viewing, especially today…

Friday, February 8, 2013

Psychedelic Sensations

In 1964 the Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, unable to adequately define pornography, simply noted, “I know it when I see it.”

I was reminded of that remark when I recently listened to the psychedelic strains of The Fraternal Order of The All. Obscure? You bet!

In 1998, when my heavy metal band Third Stone Invasion signed with J-Bird Records, we joined a small roster of talent that included Billy Squier, The Who’s John Entwistle, and singer-songwriter Andrew Gold, who passed away in 2011. We were likely all drawn to J-Bird due to the label’s cutting-edge plans to use the Internet to market its music. Unfortunately, the label was a little too cutting edge. Though many of the approaches they implemented have come to be common in the current music world, it was a case of “too soon” in the late 1990s. J-Bird eventually shut down, and all of our releases were delegated to the status of obscurities. Or, as I prefer to think, collector’s items...

Andrew Gold later in life and his deep-psychedelic release from J-Bird Records.

When I travelled to J-Bird’s headquarters to sign our contract, I was given a few of the label’s releases, including one by The Fraternal Order of The All called Greetings from Planet Love. I soon discovered that this “band” was in fact Andrew Gold, releasing an album recorded all by himself with the exception of an assist or two from his pal Graham Gouldman of the band 10cc.

Greetings from Planet Love can perhaps best be described as a homage to the music of the late 1960s, with spot-on evocations of the Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Doors, The Byrds, and more. What’s shared is that all of the songs on this album immediately infuse the aural air with the unmistakable scent of psychedelia. It’s a musical genre that is instantly recognizable, perhaps more so than any other. But much like Tears for Fears’ equally trippy “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what makes this stuff sound so psychedelic. It just does.

In other words: what is psychedelic music? Well, I know it when I hear it. Thanks, Justice Stewart.

Follow this link for a heady taste of this fun, obscure release by the late Andrew Gold:

Return to action…

There are few things sadder on the Internet than a blog that’s fallen into inactivity, digital cobwebs hanging from that distant date in the past when the content was last updated…

Well, as Patti Smith exclaimed upon her return to the stage after breaking her neck in a fall: “Out of traction, back in action!”
My blog silence was not the result of a medical condition (fortunately!). Instead, I had the opportunity to focus on one area of my range of interests, and it demanded full attention. So I’ve spent much of the last nine months living in the past while working on the music of my band of the 1980s, Informed Sources. This effort ranged from mixing studio multitrack tapes and preparing for a commercial release to practicing and playing a one-off show in Philadelphia. And, of course, there was the creation of a Web site:
But after all those weeks playing the roles of recording engineer, art director, sales manager, web developer, publicist, logistics coordinator – oh, and guitarist! – it’s time to end the hiatus and dust off these blogs.
Keyboard, computer, action!