Because he’s been one of the essentials for nearly six decades – a career getting up there into BB King or Les Paul level duration. He started out as a blues legend in his late teens, did some of the best music of any kind in the late sixties and early seventies, became a poster guy for the dissipation of stardom in the seventies and early eighties…
…and then it got intense.
For my money, here are a few of his best. my fave from the “Cream” years (from Cream’s 2005 reunion:
Has anyone ever written about trying to steal someone else’s wife as Clapton did about trying to heist Patti Boyd from George Harrison?
From his relatively fallow, drunk-all-the-time period (in this case, with original backup singer Marcy Levy back from forty years ago)?
And for my money, my favorite Clapton song ever. Most people go straight to “Layla”, but I keep going down the track list from that same album, and arrive here:
Keyboard player and co-lead singer Bobby Whitlock said about the recording of Keep on Growing:
The sessions started out with the four of us. Eric, Carl, Jim and me. Derek and the three Dominos.
When we started the recording process we treated it the same way that we treated our live performances. No different. We always started out where ever we were with a jam or two. No matter if it was Royal Albert Hall or the Speakeasy. In the studio nothing changed in that department. We jammed before “I Looked Away”, then into the song. Then we jammed before and into “Bell Bottom Blues”.
The third song was about to go down, so we did our usual jam and it was astounding! It had a groove like never before. Then suddenly Eric said, “Let me put another guitar on it!”
He did as I was standing in the doorway of the control room and looking at him through the glass about eight feet away from me. The song ended and he said again, “Let me put another one on.” He played the second over-dub without listening to the first one. When that was finished he said, “Let’s do another.” He put the third guitar part on without listening to the other two over-dubs while he was recording. When that one was finished he said, “Just one more.” Eric heard only the original guitar while he was doing the over-dubs. He could hear what he had already done in his head. When he was finished he got up and walked in and said, “Let’s hear what they all sound like together.”
It was amazing what we heard back. All of the guitars blended together as if they had been worked out long before the session. It was incredible standing there watching and listening to Eric the master at work.
I felt like a fly on the wall. I thought that was akin to watching Rembrandt at work. What a very special moment for me. And now you all! When we had finished listening to it Tom said that it was going to the can because we didn’t have room on this record for an instrumental. I said to them, “Give me twenty minutes!” I took a yellow note pad and a pencil out into the foyer of Criteria and my relatively short life fell out of me, words and melody and all, so fast that I could hardly get them down on the paper.
When I was finished I went back into the studio where Eric and Tom had been waiting in the control room for me to finish. The mike was there waiting for me, so I walked up to it and started to sing the song. I got half way through the first verse when I stopped it and said to Eric, “Hey man come on out here and let’s do our Sam and Dave thing to it.” Eric came out and we did it first run through.
First take! That was it! And the song “Keep On Growing” had been born.
I mean, if this song had spawned from weeks worth of “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Born to Run” or “Be My Baby”-style studiomongering, I wouldn’t have liked it any less. Learning that part of the story after all these years?
It’s been a while – but my band, “Elephant in the Room”, is back in business.
After a year where we had precisely two, somewhat surreptitious gigs, we’re back in an actual bar, for the first time since February 29, 2020.
After a couple years of playing in the far northwest and far eastern suburbs, onSaturday night, we will be going north, playing at the Back To The SRO Bar and Grill in Oak Grove. It’s about 10 miles north of Anoka:
I’m not sure what the Covid rules are, other than the fact that we are playing from six until 10 rather than our usual nine until one – which isn’t entirely unwelcome.
Anyway – I’ve been there before, the food is pretty good, and the food and beverage prices have that “edge of the metro“ not-so-priciness about them.
Stopped at Kwik Trip for a bathroom break on my way up North for the weekend. Store music was Me and Bobby McGee, by Janis Joplin. I looked around at the employees and the customers, and realized the song was older than anybody in the store.
Worse than that – a few years back, when my kids were at home, one of them was watching a music video. It was some Australian boy band doing a cover of “What I Like About You”, the 1979 hit by The Romantics.
And it occurred to me – a band at that time (2016) covering “What I Like About You” would have been the same as a band in 1979 covering a song from 1942.
While I remain resolutely apathetic about celebrities’ political opinions, let’s look below the surface. Say what you will about rap , but at a time in the election season when celebs are supposed to be threatening to move to France, you’ve got three incredibly successful black men, actively telling their own community that the party that has considered their votes their property for two generations, doesn’t deserve ’em.
So what? Other than a lot of adenoidal progressive white and academic black critics saying Cube, Kanye and Fifty Cent were never all that good anyway, , I mean?
I’m wondering if part of the reason Biden – who, the media polls tell us, has an eleventy-teen digit lead over Trump in Minnesota – is spending to much money in an ostensibly safe state is the Democrats are worried about the black vote slipping away?
Remember – it’s been estimated that if the Dems’ take of the black vote ever drops below 80%, they are sunk nationwide. Not the whole black vote; one in five.
After Western Stars – his album and concert film from last year – I read an interview in which he seemed to be saying the days of the eighteen-month tour of four hour rock and roll revivals were done, and that he was a different place. Ironically, he skipped the tour the year before all communal fun got tanked by the Blue City Flu.
But Bruce did actually plan a tour in support of Letter To You – a very rock and roll album, recorded in five frenzied days with the E Street Band. Until, y’know, Covid:
There may be no bringing together the E Street Band right now, a group almost big enough to constitute a mass gathering in its own right. But Letter to You sounds live enough to make you feel a little guilty listening to it, as if you’re violating quarantine. That makes the album feel all the more precious, and the lack of a tour all the more painful. Letter to You is the first time since Born in the U.S.A. that Springsteen and the E Street Band recorded live in the studio to this extent, and possibly the rawest album they’ve ever made, with close to zero overdubs. “It’s the only album where it’s the entire band playing at one time,” says Springsteen, “with all the vocals and everything completely live.” (A few of Springsteen’s twangy guitar leads, played on a Gretsch, are among the only exceptions.)
“It was really like the old days,” says drummer Max Weinberg. “Just pure musical energy, with the hard-earned musical and professional wisdom of guys in their 70s, or close to 70.” It also happens to bethe most classically, unabashedly E Street-sounding album since at least The River. It’s a late-period rebirth of sorts, and it started with thoughts of death.
And the piece officially notes something I’d wondered about starting with Tunnel of Love: originally, the band would hash out songs in the rehearsal space or studio, the old fashioned way, arranging the songs on the fly with the input of the entire band. But along about the time of Nebraska, Bruce started recording everything as demos, himself, at home or later on in a home studio, basically giving the band faits accompli that sounded…
…well, not like the E Steet Band anymore.
And with Letter To Youbeen rol, that seems to have rolled way, way back:
Springsteen kept making demos even after he resumed recording with the E Street Band on The Rising (which, somehow, is now 18 years old, a fact Springsteen finds “mind-boggling,” since “that’s one of my new albums!”). But last year, he finally saw a reason to stop. “When I demo, I start putting things on to see if it works,” says Springsteen. “And suddenly, I’m locked into an arrangement. And then the band has to fit themselves into an arrangement. And suddenly, we don’t have an E Street Band album. So I intentionally did not demo anything.” Bypassing his studio, he captured the songs only on his iPhone, in quick solo-acoustic renditions, to make sure he remembered them.
The whole Rolling Stone interview – less, of course, a few puerile paragraphs of progressive palaver – is worth a read.
Anyway – Happy Birthday, Bruce. It ain’t no sin that I’m glad you’re alive – and kicking. Looking forward to the next tour.
While I haven’t probably kept up with all of Pete Townsend‘s work since “White City“, I have to say if I were to put together a list of his most overlooked solo/non-Who work, my list would look very much the same as this, and more or less the same order.
“The Sea Refuses No River” is far and away his most underrated song. And “White City Fighting” should have been a hit.
I’ve never much cared for the “progressive-rock” band Yes (except for their 1985 reboot, saying which always starts an argument with my Yes-fan friends). And in saying that, I’ll stipulate a lot of that disdain was my own adolescent “too cool for school” arrogance about music.
But “a lot” ain’t everything. “Progressive Rock”, with its orchestral pretensions and acid-fueled subject matter, annoys me almost as much in retrospect as it did then.
Of course, they knew it. One of the things that probably got me off on a bad foot with Yes were a series of interviews I read with guitarist Steve Howe; with his academic background and classical guitar training, Howe came off like he was working on a cure for cancer, rather than…songs.
Keyboardist Rick Wakeman – he of the Gregg Allman hair and flowing robes and mad-scientist stacks of keyboards – is inseparable from Yes (although he’s left the band a few times, so Yes is clearly separable from him). In the seventies, Wakeman was practically a synonym for bloated pretension.
And they were right – but as always, there’s more to it.
…in the guy. Not the seventies Yes albums, or Wakeman’s (not making this up) ice show about the legend of King Arthur – although reading about the guys he produced it all with just gets more and more interesting.
And to circle back to Steve Howe? I saw this a few years ago, before Squire’s death – a “rig rundown” of Howe and Squires instruments, amps and other gear. And Howe comes across as a pretty dang likeable…
…well, not so much a “bloke”. Maybe more of an affable old professor who’s taken to genial chats about his favorite light reading.
There are times I kick myself for having sorted so much of the world out according to cliches I picked out of Rolling Stone.
…and about 3-5 years before it became pretty clear that it was more the rule than the exception in top-40 pop music, and probably ten years before technology started doing the things that Milli Vanilli’s producer had to get humans to do.
Just saying – had Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan come along ten years later, they’d still be megastars.
(And before all the Billy Joel fans start beefing – Joel’s had two good moments in his career – and “Piano Man” was neither of them. There’s this song – which he wrote for Ronnie Spector, who covered it with the E Street Band in the background…
…and one whole, glorious album where I managed to mostly forget it was Billy Joel doing the singing.
And with that, I return to this blog’s official status quo: Bob Dylan is an eccentric genius, and Billy Joel is a talented douchebag.
He’s iconic for his technical prowess on the skins, of course – and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
And along with those immense technical chops came a taste for really, really big drum kits.
Big enough to serve as a cultural punchline for people from a certain generation – in this case, one of the kids in Freaks and Geeks, perhaps the only retrospective sit-com my generation is ever going to get. It sure got this right:
Over the years, when looking for drummers in bands, when I hear from people claiming to be influenced by Peart’s style, I can feel the back-ache setting in from a long, kit-heavy load-in and load-out even on the phone.
But for me, the most important thing about Peart – who replaced John Rutsey, who died even longer before his time – had little to do with drum technique.
My favorite drummers have tended to be either the human metronomes (Charlie Watts, Max Weinberg) or power-driving madmen (Keith Moon, Johnny Badanjak, Kenny Aronoff). Technical virtuosi like Peart, and Stuart Copeland of the Police, interested me less for their drum chops than for their place in the chemistry of theit various bands. Copeland took the edge off of some of Sting’s interminal pretension and self-importance…
…and in a genre where bloated pretense was the coin of the realm (Yes, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, King Krimson), Peart was part of an ensemble that simultaneously wrote some great prog-rock (admittedly a genre I care very little about) and had a rollicking sense of humor on the subject, about the genre, and about themselves:
Then – Saturday night, we’re back at the Stillwater Bowl and Lounge. Don’t let the name fool you – it’s a fun room, good crowd, and they have those edge-of-the-metro food and drink prices that make going out a *lot* more fun!
I have a subscription to Sirius XM radio in my car, but I’m going to cancel it. This morning, I heard a song that triggered me so bad, I can’t even. I was listening to the 70 station and some guy came on making fun of homosexuals, using stereotype words like Sugar Plum Fairy and encouraging me to take a Walk on the Wild Side. And then he started using racial epithets, claiming the colored girls go doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo, doo-doo, doo, doo-doo, doo-doo…. Sure, I could have changed the station, but why should I have to? Why are they allowed to put hate speech on the radio? The radio I’m paying for! That’s it, I’m done, I’m canceling my subscription and starting a Twitter boycott. Joe Doakes
Lou Reed, being a New York “artist”, was given a pass on all that.
Not something as trivial as “a conservative who wrote music” – but someone who, at his best, wrote music that resonated deeply with Conservatives, for reasons that were utterly conservative, and for many of us utterly profound.
Ann Althouse once noted (with a hat tip to regular commenter Macarthur Wheeler):
“To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.”
His best music – Nebraska, Born in the USA, Tunnel of Love and The Rising, but especially the “Holy Trinity” (Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The RIver) were just that; stories about the struggles, yes, but also the strength and worth of individuals; their failures and their redemptions, sin and consequences, and forgiveness.
And for anyone that misses the point, I’d urge you to watch the Netflix version of Springsteen on Broadway, the Tony Award-winning one-man show that closed last year, in which Bruce admitted – with deference and joy – that the best music in his career was about his father; that he, a guy who’d never punched a clock in his life, had written a 45-year-long litany of tales of sorrow and inspiration and warning and cool rockin’ daddies about Douglass Springsteen, his father, and his mother Adele, who plugged away for decades, sacrificing and slogging away to keep their three kids fed and sheltered.
A few months back, I went to the movie Blinded By The Light – and noted that I felt it in the pit of my stomach more than enjoying it (although I enjoyed it a lot).
Now, the protagonist (it’s closely based on a true story) was the opposite of me, socially and politically; a Pakistani Brit who skewed plenty left, like Brit teenagers do. And yet I felt it in my liver; the discovery, and the epiphany, were the same for both of us.
“See, Mitch – those traits are universal and human, and progressives can gel with them too!”. Artistically? Sure, why not? But let’s debate what “Reason to Believe”, “Johnny 99” or “My Hometown” are really about first. Or, for that matter, the implications of what Sarfraz Manzoor wrote about – being seen as a person rather than a caricature or, dare I say, an “identity”. Then we’ll talk.
Because “progressivism” is about perfecting humanity; conservatism is about living with, dealing with the consequences of, clawing back from, and sometimes, just sometimes, triumphing over mankind’s, and one’s own, imperfections.
Ric Ocasek, founder and driving force behind seventies new-wave/pop earth-movers the Cars, died yesterday. He was…
…75? Yep. Apparently he spent the better part of 45 years lying about his age. He was well apparently a member of the Class of 1963, and halfway through his thirties and a veteran of years and years of playing in bars in Cleveland, Columbus, Ann Arbor and finally Boston by the time The Cars, their incandescent first album, landed in 1978.
It’d apparently been a rollercoaster year for Ocasek – inducted into the Rock and Roll Halll of Fame in 2018, in the middle of being separated from his wife of nearly 30 years, onetime supermodel Paulina Porizhkova – a marriage that was the subject of myriad “Beauty and the Beast” jokes when the 45 year old Ocasek and the then-23 year old Porizhkova married in ’89.
Read the whole thing. But I thought I’d pullquote this:
Yet the mystical power of some of these objects drowns out the racket. Here is a surviving fragment of the guitar Hendrix doused with lighter fluid and set on fire at the Monterey Pop festival in 1967, in a gesture intended to one-up Townshend’s guitar-ruination. Hendrix famously knelt in a pose of ecstatic worship behind the burning object, conjuring spirits from the vast deep. What was the meaning of that act? Hendrix was playing off the attraction of all things pagan for the hippie generation, but on a deeper level the ritual sacrifice cast rock as an art whose genuineness, hence its attractiveness, was tied up in its inability to control itself. Rock mesmerizes and destroys as fire does. To burn his own guitar showed Hendrix reveling in evanescence as not just the natural passing of youth but also a kind of death wish, an appetite for self-destruction. Like many of his peers Hendrix set fire to himself, and some part of it was performative, dutiful. Three years later he would be dead at 27. It may be that the age of rock gods has already concluded, like the Jazz Age or the Big Band era. The youngest artists represented at the exhibit — Tom Morello, Lady Gaga, St. Vincent — seem unlikely to inspire veneration, or even much interest, circa 2049. Some alchemy of sound and performance on the one hand and societal tumult on the other made rock a leading cultural indicator, for a time. “You’ve left your fingerprints on the audience’s imagination,” Springsteen once said, “and they stick.” Rock matters, or at least mattered, and the Met’s imprimatur on the form is well justified.
That was certainly what grabbed me as an adolescent with more emotion than reason.
Thirty-five years ago yesterday, “Born in the USA” was released.
And Kyle Smith makes the case that it did more than most things to ensure the *other* great event of that year, Ronald Reagan’s re-election.
Read the whole thing – but I’ll give you the conclusion:
“Morning in America,” the title of a corny TV commercial, was often described as Reagan’s all-but-official reelection theme. Really it was “Born in the U.S.A.” There is only one upbeat line in it, but it’s the last one Springsteen sang: “I’m a cool rockin’ daddy in the U.S.A.” Despite everything he’s endured, the narrator is still rockin’, still cool. Even those who paid close attention to the lyrics of the accidental anthem could take from it this: Dark as things got in a previous era, this is a new generation. The draft is no more. We have shaken off the pall of Vietnam. We are back. We are Americans, and it’s time to shout it out loud again. We were born in the U.S.A.”
Yes, Tommy is very 1960s. Pinball competitions and psychedelic acid trips are not exactly hallmarks of today’s world. But of course, what makes the album sotimeless is the music. From great singles such as “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free,” and “The Acid Queen” to the more intricate musical tapestry and recurring themes laid out in the five-minute overture, this is an album one can, and should, listen to front-to-back in one sitting.
While hailed as a triumph by most critics upon its release, Tommy did have its detractors. Some found the theme overly twisted and its ideas of physical and sexual abuse and subjecting children to acid trips just too distasteful. Even at the ripe old age of 23, when he began work on the project, Pete Townshend was not a simple man. It should be noted that to compose songs for the two most disturbing parts of the opera, “Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About,” Townshend asked bassist John Entwistle to do the honors. Having been sent by his parents to live with a clinically insane grandmother for two years as a child, they brought up too many dark memories better left to his autobiography.
I discovered The Who about the same time I discovered pop music – I was a moody adolescent, and Pete Townsend was a moody arrested adolescent, so it wasn’t a huge stretch. I think I was 15 when I first checked out Tommy from the library. I did in fact sit down and learn the whole thing on guitar – I probably could have played it from memory, almost, at one point.
And I thought – next year, Tommy will be closer to the end of World War I than to the present day. Or,, to put it another way, neither were all that long ago, really…
“Hired Gun”, on Netflix, is a movie about “sidemen” – guitar, bass, drum and keyboard players who get hired by musicians to support them on tour, sometimes for a tour or two (Jason Hook, a metal guitarist spent time touring with Mandy Moore and Hillary Duff), sometimes joining the band (Jason Newsted with Metallica), sometimes bouncing around between being session musicians, touring with other musicians and being part of their own bands (Steve Lukather, Ray Parker Jr.).
It’s a little like “20 Feet From Stardom”, only with teeth.
I’d have never thought Rudy Sarzo – who played with Ozzy Ozbourne, both editions of Quiet Riot, and Whitesnake – would come across as pretty savvy philosopher.
If you don’t like Billy Joel, get ready to hate him. If you like Billy Joel, get ready not to like him so much. While I acknowledge his talent, I’ve never liked him much (other than “Songs in the Attic”, which had some cool songs, and “Innocent Man”, which was a great album), but the stories that Russ Javors and Liberty DiVito tell about Joel’s snide arrogance (and the role it may have played in Doug Stegmeyer’s suicide) re-centered my attitude on the little fop.
Alice Cooper (as a friend of mine pointed out on Facebook) is the opposite of Billy Joel – a great boss.
Kenny Aronoff – who played drums on all of John Mellencamp’s best records in the eighties, and is currently with the BoDeans – may be becoming my favorite living drummer. His story behind that little two-bar drum solo in “Jack and Diane” is a lot cooler than I’d imagined it would be.
If all you think about when the name “Ray Parker Jr.” comes up is “Ghostbusters”, then stop what you’re doing, cuz I’m about to ruin the image of the star that you’re used to (#NailedTheReferenceTieIn!). The guy was one of the better session guitar player in R&B for a looong time. But the story of how “Ghostbusters” came about is exactly as dorky as the video Parker shot for it back in ’84.
I will never feel adequate on guitar again.
There are happy endings, some really sad ones, and all in all if you care about music at all you should just watch it.
So last Monday and Tuesday I went to see *both* nights with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the Dakota.
Now, this’ll be the fourth year, I think, I’ve caught Johnny and the band at the Dakota – which is as far west as they ever go, since their fan base never got far west of New Jersey even during their commercial heyday (big album sales in the seventies; some big placements in the eighties; one top-forty single with the help of Jon Bon Jovi, Springsteen, and Steve Van Zandt in 1991).
Now, they are perhaps the tightest band I’ve ever seen. LIterally – the whole seven piece band (guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, trumpet, trombone and sax) taking cues on the fly and launching songs from a 45 year career instantly.
And once every night – just once, a little before halfway through – Johnny seems to decide to test the band on that, by asking the audiene “What do you all wanna hear?”
And then he filters through the cacaphony from the audience, and finds a song, and calls it out – or sometimes just starts singing the first line – and the band counts off and plays.
And in previous years, the call from the stage caught me flat footed.
But not this year. I spent time practicing, drilling on my response, so I’d be there with a title when the challenge when out.
Monday night, when Johnny presented the opportunity to the crowd, I was right there. I donned my projecting radio/command voice, and shouted out “Got To Be A Better Way Home!” – a deep cut from their 1978 album “Hearts Of Stone”.
And a second or two later, boom. There it was.
(Not *quite* that fast).
Now, I do believe gluttony is a sin. But doggone it how many times do you get to go for a bifecta in life?
So the second night, when we got to that part of the show, I was ready. “Sweeter than Honey!”.
And darned if they didn’t launch straight up into it:
I’ll be attending both shows next year, God willing. But I think I’ll sit out the request time. I had my fun.
Tonight: The House DFL may be trying to amend their Universal Gun Registration and Red Flag Confiscation bills to the Omnibus Public Safety bill. Debate may well happen tonight. It’s entirely possible we’ll need to get a huge turnout of people down to the Capitol or the State Office building to show the Legislature what Minnesotans really think about the erosion of our civil liberties.
And maybe I’ll see y’all at the Capitol (or somewhere in the Capitol complex) tonight!
Friday and Saturday nights: My band, “Elephant in the Room”, is playing at the Stillwater Eagles both nights from 8-midnight. We do everything from Elvis to Nirvana, from the Cars to, well, The Eagles. I mean, we gotta do Eagles at the Eagles, right?