Saturday, March 28, 2009

The 2nd Five of my Top 25

The White Album - The Beatles
OK...I guess there's no "take backs" on lists such as these...but I chose it, so that's that. It has been in my adult head for many years that this is the Beatles album I would want on a desert island, but now, looking at the tracks, I guess there are about 5 other albums that could serve that purpose. Oh, well.... the sleeper here is the fantastic musical arrangement on Martha My Dear. Not sure if George Martin had a heavy hand in this, but it's brilliant

Ball - Iron Butterfly
I hate the phrase guilty pleasure. I love this album and play it all the time. It's strange and baroque and contains Soul Experience which is an all-time fave. It also contains Lonely Boy which is absolutely awful, but it's easy to skip. Is it better than Fragile by Yes? Hell No, but I play it more.

Songs For A Tailor - Jack Bruce
This is Jack at his very best. His writing has depth, adventure and musicality. His voice is at it's peak and it's one of the finest voices I've ever heard. The musicians he employs here are nothing to sneeze at either: Chris Spedding, Jon Hiseman, Felix Pappalardi and crazed sax-guy Dick Hecktall-Smith. George Harrison is listed as guitarist on the first cut - Never Tell Your Mother She's Out Of Tune, but for the life of me I cannot hear any guitar anywhere on this song! Stand out tracks are Theme From An Imaginary Western, Rope Ladder To The Moon and a very mash-up freaky cool song called Boston Ball Game.

The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren - Runt
This is an easy one for me. I think it's Todd's best album, combining deft musicianship and cracking good song writing. After this one, Todd started mixing brilliance with self-indulgence, which is ok as long as you still get the brilliance, but for me, this is pop perfection. Having the Sales Bros. on board doesn't hurt, either.

the Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars - David Bowie
An outright classic. I remember reading about this before I ever heard it, and the descriptions in the press were very intriguing. Once I heard it, I immediately fell in love with it, and Bowie. It was otherworldly and a bit frightening to me, but a top rate concept, just right for it's time. The songs rock (not a clunker on it), the band is fab and Bowie's voice is really...weird. Sounds like he's from Mars to me, and it all works perfectly. The whole gender-bending thing was fresh and exciting, but also strange and a bit creepy. A huge influence on me at the time, and I think it holds up just fine.

Friday, March 27, 2009

First 5 of My Top 25

Recently on facebook I was asked to do this:

Think of 25 albums that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, and emotions. These are the albums that no matter what they were thought of musically shaped your world. When you finish, tag 25 others, including me. Make sure you copy and paste this part so they know the drill.

***This is not about being cool. Which albums have you actually listened to thousands of times?***

A tough assignment for sure, and even tougher for an old guy like me that is also a musician. My brain keeps wanting to separate this into 2 groups - influential and favorite, so I decided to mix it together.

Being a drummer, there are a ton of albums that influenced me, but I left those off the list. It might be fun for me to share that list at some time but for now, here it is in a very rough order reflecting the chronological order that they came into my life with little regard to release date:

Rolling Stones - Between The Buttons
Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced?
Blue Cheer - Outsideinside
Jethro Tull - This Was
Cream - Wheels Of Fire
Beatles - The White Album
Iron Butterfly - Ball
Jack Bruce - Songs For A Tailor
Runt - The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren
David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
King Crimson - Lark's Tongues In Aspic
Simon And Garfunkel - Bookends
Nino Rota - Juliet Of The Spirits
dB's - Repurcussion
Don Gibson - A Legend In My Time
Game Theory - The Big Shot Chronicles
Reivers - End Of The Day
Stories - About Us
XTC - Nonesuch
Christmas - Vortex
Ennio Morricone - Canto Morricone The 70's
Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs
Judee Sill - Heart Food
John Vanderslice - Cellar Door

Whew! That was harder than I thought it was going to be! I'm sure it's pretty nebulous too - my list could probably be different on any given day. I guess that's a typical problem coming up with a list like this after living and breathing music for about 42 years of concentrated listening (which started when I was around 10 yrs. old).

Here are the first 5 with a few comments.

Between The Buttons - The Rolling Stones
I got this record as a kid and to this day I think it's my fave Stones LP. I was old enough to know that The Stones were indeed bad boys and I loved staring at the cover and being a bit freaked out at how tough they looked (and cold!). Musically, the U.S. version contained Lets Spend The Night Together and Ruby Tuesday which I already had as a 45 and liked very much. Even at that tender age, I was more enamored with those songs after seeing them performed on Ed Sullivan, with Mick rolling his eyes when he sang a cleaned up version of Spend The Night on the show! Connection is a very cool song and while being creeped out by doctors giving injections and the like, I really love the guitars and vocal harmonies. And being a bit of a cheat, I'm going with the U.K version to add that Back Street Girl (first heard on the LP Flowers) as an all-time favorite Stone's song, regardless of that one dang guitar string that's not quite in tune!

Are You Experienced?- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
I had been initiated into psychedelic music primarily by Cream's Disraeli Gears and The Vanilla Fudge's first album, but this one really knocked the psychedelic sound out of the ballpark. A strong LP from top to bottom featuring just out right blistering guitar and some of the best rock drumming ever recorded. Effects heavy production that in no way overshadows a very high energy band. This record also brought into my life the first racially integrated band I had ever owned a record of. Love the cover photo with all those 'fros, and again, these guys looked tough and mean!

Outsideinside - Blue Cheer
My dad bought me this album at a drug store a long time ago. This was back in the days when drug stores used to carry a rack or two of LP's. He told me to pick one out and I chose this one. I was somewhat familiar with the band due to their single of Summertime Blues that I heard on the radio. This record could be one of the heaviest and hardest rock albums ever recorded. A power trio pummeling the grooves with Marshall stacks and the biggest drum set I had ever seen! The artwork was intriguing with its druggie references and a strange gatefold type cover that opened up with a giant live shot of the band. Musically, a real powerhouse, mixing psychedelia and power chords with one of the strangest mixes I've ever heard. This was so different than what San Francisco bands were putting out at the time. Standout tracks for me are Just A Little Bit, Come And Get It and the sign-of-the-times tune titled Magnolia Caboose Babyfinger!

This Was - Jethro Tull
My best friend had a big brother that worked at a music distributor in Charlotte, and he had a drool-worthy record collection to my young eyes, and this one really caught my eye! Weird cover with the already strange looking band made to look even stranger dressed as old down-and-out homeless dudes with a bunch of mangy dogs! But it was the music that really grabbed my attention. Relatively straight-ahead British blues mixed with rock, jazz and folk performed masterfully. Ian Anderson hadn't put on his tights and codpiece quite yet, and he displays his skill as a very unique singer and flautist. The rhythm section of Glenn Cornick and fab drummer Clive Bunker handle everything thrown at them, but for me, it's guitarist Mick Abrahams that steals the show. Adept with any style (but preferring blues), he remains one of my very favorite guitar players. Check out the lead-off track - My Sunday Feeling !

Wheels Of Fire - Cream
This may have been my very first 2 LP set I ever owned. Cream was also my very favorite group and I couldn't wait for this one to finally show up in my mailbox after I had ordered it from the Record Club Of America. With mind-blowing artwork, side one featured new studio tracks, while side two contained live recordings. With the exception of their live version of Crossroads (some of Clapton's fiercest playing ever), I was immediately drawn into the studio stuff. White Room was a huge hit and I already had the 45, so it was the songs I had never heard that drew me in so enticingly. Specifically, it was Jack Bruce's songs that were now showing a remarkable depth and musicality (along with Felix Pappalardi's unique production) that sends me reeling. There are few iconic rock riffs as great as Politician, which is about as heavy as can be, but the stand-out cut for me is As You Said , which seemed kind of..eerie to me with strange chords, great vocals and a wonderful cello part that was something very new for me to hear on a rock record. It's hard to think of a much stranger song than Ginger Baker's odd but beautiful Pressed Rat And Warthog, and I've got to say (regardless of what Rolling Stone magazine thought), I love Cream's version of Born Under A Bad Sign ! The reviewer (whose name I have long since forgotten) hated the herky-jerky feel of Ginger Baker's uber-syncopated drumming, but not me! It's one of the most unique grooves I've ever heard and I still can't figure the damned thing out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Excuse the rant, but I recently signed on to facebook and it's freaking the hell out of me.

There are some good points for it - I have made some long lost connections that brighten my heart, and some of the ever-present list-tag thingies have made me think about stuff that interest me from different angles. It's also giving me some satisfaction in my hermit lifestyle, in being a tiny bit connected with friends that I just don't get around to actively making the effort to spend an evening with in the flesh.

That ain't enough. Especially for the younger generation.

I fear there is no going back - human relationships can now be crunched down to witty one-liners typed quickly and instantly disposed of. While it may make one feel that there is a connection (after all, some connection has got to be better than no connection), it's lulling us to sleep. Now, life seems to be not much more than just staring at an ever evolving and shrinking piece of technology that we buy and keep re-buying to have the most, in the smallest format possible.

Life's too short to avoid real human contact with people you like and love. I will probably stick with facebook for a while (my next post will deal with one of those list thingies) but I will do my best to change some bad habits. I think much more of my friends than what facebook can ever offer. I will make an effort.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

3 "New" CDs!

I asked Stacey to bring home 3 cds for me this week. She did, and here they are:

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone - the first listen was just sort of background music for me and I thought that it sounded nice enough, but nothing really new was coming down the pike. By the third listen I was hooked hard. I think it's a great album. Neko is progressing nicely with added depth in her writing and rich musical arrangements. As usual, her vocals are powerhouse and the harmony parts are quite nice.

Some stand out tracks for me are People Got A Lotta Nerve which seriously puts the jangle back into the jangle pop. There is an amazing ascending chord progression in there that first appears instrumentally, but next time around she adds glistening vocals. Sold!

Middle Cyclone is a beautiful and intimate song that features a messed up waltz with some 5/8 mixed into the 6/8. Or something like that (I'm much too lazy to really figure it out), but it swings in its own fractured way and is lovely.

Speaking of swinging, Magpie To The Morning has a loose and languid feel to it in a Walk On The Wild Side way. Angels sing at the end of this one.

Nilsson's Don't Forget Me is an inspired cover, and it also swings. The line - "when we're older and full of cancer it doesn't matter now - come on get happy" fits right in there in a very Neko kind of way.

There are 2 things that drive me nuts, though. First, old guys like me would appreciate an easy to read track listing, and track 15, which is over 30 minutes of cricket noises is annoying, unless you use it to gently drift off to sleep late at night (which I'll never do - Stacey and I already have our own little cricket noises on her clock radio and those chirpy bugs work just fine!)

Fleetwood Mac - Future Games - Been having a big Mac attack lately and I've discovered that I like just about any incarnation of this band. At the moment, it's all about Christine McVie. I read a blurb on AMG that stated that this album contains one of her most beautiful songs - Show Me A Smile. Man, they weren't kidding! The verses were making me crazy wondering where have I heard this progression before? Suddenly XTC popped into my mind. Not so suddenly their album Mummer snuck in there, so I grabbed it and discovered that the song is Andy Partridge's Jump. Pretty cool. Great pop minds...

I do like a few other songs, though the above cut sells the whole shindig for me. Bob Welch has a pleasant and laid back voice (and guitar playing style). His voice can possesses a somewhat fragile quality, reminding me of Elliott Smith, especially on his highlight worthy cut on the record - Future Games. Oddly, I think the chorus is pretty weak, but the verses work great. (weird..the same may hold true for Show Me A Smile...maybe..)

I don't know who wrote the only real rocker on here, but Lay It All Down features a great rock riff, but honestly, if I feel like rockin' I can now rock hard with:
Deep Purple - in Rock
This is right about the time when Deep Purple were starting to get kind of silly. Their first 2 LP's are pretty great 60's pop/blues/rock. The singles Hush and Kentucky Woman are 2 of my faves, but here they are starting to exhibit heavy metal traits that veer uncomfortably close to Uriah Heep and all things silly about hard rock. I love the Heep, but the vocal wailings from them and Deep Purple were starting to get more chuckles from me than the need for me to reach into my jeans and whip out my Bic and fire it up. But I digress...

Speed King, Flight Of The Rat and Into The Fire completely satisfy my need to rock. Ian Paice is an incredible drummer, and Ritchie Blackmore is a pretty unique guitar player. And you must have organ to rock out properly, and that's what Jon Lord does.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Milestoned...A New Wave Called..New Wave!

Good there's an argument for getting the hell out of Charlotte! Not a very articulate example of hipsterism in the Queen City, but it is a hoot. I love the male newscaster’s glasses (!) and the very unfortunate shot of the female reporter’s less than...comprehending... expression as she waits for a reply from Judy!

The above newscasts were Charlotte’s take on new wave sometime in 1980 (?). Oddly, 2 different channels ended up doing the same story on the same night. Unfortunately, an uncomfortably long shot of yours truly cutting a rug shows up around the :47 mark...sigh....(bonus points if you can spot Hope Nicholls from Fetchin Bones)

But The World Famous Milestone was our hangout and what a place it was! I believe it used to be a biker bar, but it’s owner, Bill Flowers, started booking local and regional punk and new wave acts. It was a perfect setting - seedy, rough and in a bad part of town that I never knew existed, far from my familiar suburban ‘hood. But this was shortly after my mom’s death, my marriage, leaving the hood and experiencing what I thought freedom and young adulthood should feel like.

A friend of ours started raving about the place and eventually we all started hanging out there. I’m pretty sure REM was the first band I saw there. Not a bad band to begin with. It was amazing to see their relatively quick progression in making it big - maybe 20 or so people were at the first show! Around the same time, Jamie was making noise about a Charlotte punk band that frequently played the Milestone - The Lunatics (they soon changed their name to The Orphans). So we went and checked them out too. It didn’t take long to establish that this is where we wanted to hang out.

We would go just about any night a band was booked. I used to have a pretty complete list of the bands that played there, but I can’t find it, so on “memory”: Insect Surfers, REM, Boo Boo Boys, Vietnam, Pins, Butchwax, Black Flag, Nervous Tension, Swimming Pool Q’s, Viper, Suzanne Sexless, The Go Go’s, Wild Giraffes, Vandals, Treva Spontaine, Mission Of Burma, None Of The Above, Gangrene....and eventually two bands that I played with -The Happy Eggs and No Rock Stars. (Years later, after I moved to California, I had a once in a lifetime thrill to play an absolutely mind-bending homecoming show there with Game Theory in 1986)

Bill Flowers, who ran the club was a funny guy. He seemed like a slightly twisted Vietnam vet (which I think he was), but he was a nice guy that did his best to promote new music. Not an easy path, and many people could get flustered at times with his..uniqueness, but he was indeed a very important player in Charlotte’s counter-culture scene of that time. But his statement in the above newscast that drugs were not part of that scene was just a tad off the mark. While there was hardly any trouble at the club caused by drugs, they were being used by some and in a big way.

Quaaludes were the drug of choice, and what a nasty drug it was. Not glamorous like coke, or mind expanding like acid or mushrooms. They were downers. Very strong downers. I often heard them referred to as horse tranquilizers. I honestly don’t know if horses ever had the pleasure of this particular drug, but we sure did. Some people just pass out from, but with our crowd it gave an intense and tingling energy. A very sloppy energy, and for some reason it turned us into dancing fools (see above). And dance we did. It’s the only time in my life I wasn’t too self conscious to dance. It stripped all inhibitions away. It delivered a total hedonistic orgasm. We used it as a social tool, but it probably just made us more insular to our small group of friends. It delivered sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll on a grand scale. It was dangerous, but fortunately no one died (we were very lucky). It could have bad side effects, but most of us overcame them. It could make you do stupid things and it could completely and permanently erase from your memory bank what you actually did that night. But with all of that being said, I cannot deny that it was probably the most exhilarating fun I have ever experienced. We had found our new drug to go with our new scene.

With new drugs, came new friends. Suddenly we became aware of Charlotte’s gay club scene, and frankly...gays themselves! Their dance club scene fully embraced the transition from disco to new wave.
The gay nightclubs were a far cry from the Milestone, but new wavers were welcomed. Folks started to dress outrageously, in some cases breaking through gender boundaries. Make-up was for all people, not just the girls. Hair styles became pieces of art. Many of our gay friends worked or owned adult bookstores which brought a whole new set of rules to the table! The common ground was discovered and we ate it up. It was a full on cultural upheaval, similar to the hippie movement I came in late on, but we weren’t trying to change the world this time. We just wanted our own world and the freedom to do whatever the hell we wanted to. In a sense, I guess it was very similar to the disco daze; it was a very narcissistic way of life.

And how we danced. For the only time in my life I got it. We all did, and if the drugs and the bands were right, we danced our asses off. At this point in REM’s career, it’s hard to fathom that at one point they were absolutely the best dance band on the planet. Atlanta’s Vietnam was another one of our faves to dance to, as were D.C.’s Insect Surfers. We had a blast, and if a punk band was on the stage, we’d do our best to slam dance and not get killed in doing so. We were numb, but were feeling everything. Our senses were on fire and our bodies were out of control.

But then I see this photo of myself and 2 dear friends during that time. (I love this photo! Wynn took it and I love the composition. It strikes me as being very Felliniesque.)
I mentioned that no one died during those drug addled days, but I would be an idiot to not recognize that the drug culture we embraced eventually caught up with some of us. I’m the only one in that picture that is still alive. Quaaludes didn’t kill them, but that type of lifestyle, and the irresponsibility of failing to at least occasionally check in on one’s own emotional health, did eventually lead to their deaths in one way or another. They died at different times, from different causes, but they are both gone. Maybe we weren’t so lucky after all.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Kids Are Alright

Last Thursday, Stacey and I actually went out to a local club to see some bands. My friends, The Bye Bye Blackbirds were doing a show with 2 other local bands; The Parties and B and Not B. Bradley (of the BBB's) was pretty adamant that we would like the other 2 bands and that we should really try to make the show. Really try is an is so hard to get me to go to a club to see bands these days...I'm old and can drink beer for much less money at home.

But the club (Starry Plough in Berkeley) is pretty close by and aside from supporting our pals, we both thought it would be nice to hear what music the kids are making these days. (I'm not being patronizing by using the word "kids"...just stating the facts..the parents of The Parties' front man were there and looked about my age...or younger....gulp.)

All 3 bands blew me away!

First up were B and Not B. They have a very dynamic front man with interesting songs. Hard to describe...some of the melodies were adventurous (not too unlike something Scott Miller could conceive), along with interesting arrangements. At least one song reminded me of Sparks. Extra points for the drummer using the traditional drumstick grip, and it's always cool to have a designated backup singer that stands there all alone on the front of the stage without an instrument to hide behind.

Next, were The Bye Bye Blackbirds. I really don't think I'm being biased here because they are my friends, but truly...they just keep getting better. They are craftsmen that must work hard at what they do. The songwriting keeps branching out. They performed a couple of new tunes that blew my skirt up. I keep hearing bits and pieces of country-rock seeping in to their sound, and it seems like it's a very comfortable fit. William Duke (the bass player) has a new song that is totally epic. Odd structure, but it involves me in a very good way.

Up last were The Parties. Hard to go wrong with a bunch of skinny, good looking guys with great hair that can actually sing, play and entertain. There is definitely a mod/mid 60's Brit thing going on, but they do it flawlessly. Their show felt loose, but they were tight. Front man has amazing stage presence, and I enjoyed the hell out of their show!

I gotta mention that there were 2 common attributes that all 3 bands displayed that I love to see and hear. First, they all looked good. I used to not care about what a band looks or dresses like, but now that I'm not up on the stage, I really appreciate when a band dresses up. I saw a lot of jackets, vests and ties, and I think that looks good. Way back in the day, Scott wanted Game Theory to all dress in sport coats and turtle neck sweaters, like he's wearing on Real Nighttime. I balked - I was just out of a Gothic rock band that put a lot of emphasis on fashion, and I was not comfortable with that. I thought a band should just be plain ol' folks up on stage, playing well. On a more practical level, I thought I would die from heat stroke! The concept went no further, but now I look back and realize Scott was just trying to come up with something that would set us apart from all of the other bands. Not a bad idea.

The other thing that impressed me with all 3 bands were the vocal harmonies. All of these guys could sing and most importantly, sing well together. I don't think there's any other thing a band can do that will get my attention more than good vocals. It sounds good, and not an easy thing to do. That type of work can really pay off.

Bradley - thanks.