Excuse me, while I make like an ape man.

R.I.P., Tom Petty :-(

tom-pettyOh man, I wish it didn’t take the death of one of my Rock & Roll heroes to get me back to Fish & Bicycles after a six month break, but it’s just the way it is and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Tom Petty was a quintessential rocker.

More than that, he was a prototypical rocker.

He was a Chuck Berry, a Jerry Lee Lewis, a Buddy Holly, an Elvis Presley.

He was a prolific songwriter and a natural, charismatic frontman. He was cool without flash, and onstage he always looked like he was doing the only thing he really wanted to do.

He was a bandleader in the most important ways. Not an egomaniac who demanded obedience, but a consummate musician who built one of the tightest bands of the era, a band that he could command with just the nod of his head or the wave of his hand. He was to The Heartbreakers what Bruce Springsteen has been to the E Street Band.

Rock & Roll has an intoxicating power. As someone who has had the privilege of performing in a rock band, I can tell you that it is incredibly easy to let the music take over, to entirely lose control of it.

Imagine all five members of a band experiencing that at the same time, imagine doing this in front of thousands of fans who are on their feet and grooving to the music, and then imagine Tom Petty, with his back to the rest of the band, just raising the headstock of his guitar in the air and then suddenly jerking it back down, stopping this freight train in its tracks.

Yes, he was that powerful.

I remember when The Traveling Wilburys happened, and many people wondered what Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne of ELO fame were doing in a band with legends Roy Orbison, George Harrison, and Bob Dylan. I might have even held that belief momentarily when first hearing about the “supergroup”.

Now, Jeff Lynne still seems the odd man out, a successful songwriter for sure, but for all his success he was mostly there because he’d become good friends with George Harrison after producing George’s comeback album Cloud 9. I don’t really give a shit, he’s a great musician and talented producer, but it’s true that he just didn’t have as impressive a resume.

Tom Petty, on the other hand, by the time the Wilburys came together, had released one of the most impressive string of records ever over just 10 years.

Back in May 2013, I wrote this about the band Dire Straits:

Seriously, their first three albums are frickin’ incredible…

(Yes, there’s some great stuff after that, like Telegraph Road, a very Springsteen-ish song from their 4th album, Love Over Gold, and some of the stuff on Brothers In Arms.)

…and I think it’s stunning to think about them in the context of what was going on in music at that time, the late 70s and early 80s, so dominated by punk, post-punk/new wave, etc., and there wasn’t much else out there that sounded like Dire Straits. Maybe Tom Petty and a few others.

Early Dire Straits was like a great early to mid 70s Rock & Roll band, full of American roots music influences, who stubbornly decided to just keep making great early to mid 70s Rock & Roll.

Tom Petty also made it through the entire 1980s without abandoning his roots, which is a considerable accomplishment.

I wasn’t the biggest Petty fan. I didn’t buy every record and see him on every tour. But, his influence on me was huge. Like Tom, I play rhythm guitar and I sing, and when I’m at the mic, singing and strumming my six string, I often think of him, as I did just a few weeks ago, when me and my band played our medley of George Harrison’s Beatles-era If I Needed Someone and Petty’s Listen To Her Heart.

Tom, thanks for all of the wonderful music and the great fun you brought into the world. You’ll be missed, brother!

I’ll always think of you like this:

 

 

Video Fridays: The Beatles In The Studio, “Hey Bulldog”

john-paul-bulldogThough there’s a risk here of hyperbole, it’s a risk I’m willing to take:

Today’s Video Fridays installment features one of the greatest videos of ALL TIME!!!

There, I said it, and I mean it!

Via GuitarWorld.com:

Even though the Beatles hired a film crew to document the 1969 recording sessions for what would become Let It Be, it’s a bit uncommon to see studio footage of the band at work before that time.

Which is why the “Hey Bulldog” music video is so unique.

The February 1968 footage seen in the clip was originally utilized in the “Lady Madonna” promotional video, until someone (perhaps a talented lip reader) noticed the band was actually recording “Hey Bulldog” (The band recorded both songs during the same sessions). The footage was later re-cut to fit “Hey Bulldog,” one of many standouts from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack album.

I have LOVED Hey Bulldog ever since I first heard it as a kid, particularly because it was not one of their ginormous hits that have been played to death on the radio. And so, getting a glimpse like this, of The Beatles in the studio at their peak, performing this song, is a like discovering hidden treasure.

I love everything about Hey Bulldog: from the tempo and vibe-setting piano opening, to the James Bond-esque signature guitar riff, Paul’s punchy and bouncy bass, George’s wicked solo, Ringo’s stuttering tom work, John’s quirky lyrics, and John’s and Paul’s vocal harmonies (if ever two voices fit together as one!).

But without a doubt, the highlight of the video is watching John and Paul having so much fun singing this song together, a poignant contrast to the breakdown in their relationship that would begin very soon after this recording session.

Anyway, there’s a lot of crappy stuff going on in the world right now, so it’s more important than ever to celebrate the good things like this.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

 

 

Video Fridays – Inauguration Angst Edition: American Tune

statue-of-libertyIf you are like me (aka, a proud leftist), the urge to catastrophize today is considerable.


BTW, here’s a must-view Video Fridays bonus video: Samantha Bee and Masha Gessen getting right to the catastrophizing. LOL!


And yet, I find the strength to resist catastrophic thinking in the following:

With numbers like that, it’s not surprising that almost immediately after the election there were demonstrations with protesters wielding signs that read “Not My President“, signaling the beginning of a growing and organized resistance movement all over the country.

There’s no doubt in my mind that holding out hope for these resistance efforts and, better yet, joining in and actively resisting, are really better alternatives to resignation and waiting around for the apocalypse.

But it won’t be easy, and it’s only natural that there will be times of despair.

I didn’t go looking for a song for this post that captures the Trumpgeist. It just came to me this past week, a song I love a lot and have enjoyed singing in the past, but I hadn’t really thought of it in a while.

Because history tends to repeat itself, Paul Simon‘s American Tune, written in 1972 — with the Vietnam War still raging, racial conflicts commonplace, and Richard Nixon winning re-election even though five men paid by the Committee for Re-election of the President were arrested in June 1972 for breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s offices at the Watergate Hotel  — the song sadly remains relevant 45 years later.

So, without further ado, here are the lyrics, following by the video for this installment of Video Fridays.

Hang in there, brothers and sisters!

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For we’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help but wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come at the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

Video Fridays: The Search For “Presence of the Lord”

blind-faith
Blind Faith

The strangest thing happened to me last night.

A fragment of a song that I hadn’t listened to in years popped into my head in the early evening, a very small fragment, a simple descending chord progression…

C  F/C  Em/B  Dm/A  C

…that opens the song and repeats as a kind of theme throughout.

The strange thing: I knew exactly what song this fragment was from — Presence of the Lord, by Blind Faith — I’d heard it many, many times and have loved it, I’d known all of the lyrics, all of the particulars of the arrangement — the gorgeous, pining vocals and Hammond B-3 organ of Steve Winwood, the swirling guitar work of Eric Clapton, the expressive drums of Ginger Baker that threatened to deliver thunder like Thor at any moment, and the steady bass of Ric Grech — but as this fragment popped into my head, inexplicably, I could not conjure up anything else from the song, and…

…it nearly drove me crazy!!!

Part of the problem stems from the fact that this fragment — these few descending chords — is a common musical element used in many songs, and every time I tried to pry the rest of Presence of the Lord from some mysterious, dimly-lit place in my brain, I stumbled upon other songs, but not the one I was looking for.

Despite my best efforts, I could not find the opening lyrics — “I have finally found a way to live, just like I never could before…” — perhaps because the lyric describes the finding of something, the exact opposite of what was happening to me.

I did have a memory that there was a dramatic instrumental bridge in the song, with a corresponding tempo change, but I couldn’t quite make it out.

I thought if I could only recall one other fragment — a slice of that bridge, a snippet of melody from a verse or chorus, some riff or phrase from Clapton’s epic solo — then I could follow it like a breadcrumb left behind by Hansel and find my way back home (Blind Faith fans will know that the pun here is intended) to the rest of the song.

But no, I could find nothing, and it tortured me.

At 2:00 AM, I awoke for some reason and immediately heard the presence of the Presence of the Lord, and my brain set to work straight away, continuing the search for the rest of the song, consequently preventing me from falling back to sleep for nearly two hours … on a work night!

Finally, over breakfast, I gave up, opened YouTube on my iPhone, searched for the song, found it, played it, and put myself out of my misery.

And, oh what a song to relieve misery!

I chose to listen to the version of Presence from the 1969 Concert in Hyde Park (video below), because, though I am by no means a religious man, if the Lord does happen to be real, his/hers/its presence is most certainly revealed in the tone of Eric Clapton’s Fender Telecaster guitar in that performance.

Interestingly, Presence of the Lord, and this experience I had with it, are symbolic — in a number of ways — of the meteoric history of Blind Faith, centered around the theme of brevity:

  • I could only remember a simple 5-chord instrumental sequence from a 4:5o-long song.
  • Trying to remember the song left me with too little sleep.
  • The song only has, essentially, one verse and one chorus, repeated three times respectively.
  • Blind Faith formed, recorded their one and only album which went to the top of the charts, toured Europe and the U.S., and disbanded … ALL between January and October of 1969.
  • The eponymous album contained only 6 songs, for a total running time of 42:12, average in those days, but all you have to do is subtract one song, the 15:20-long cut titled Do What You Like, and what remains would be an EP by today’s standards.
  • The very fact that Blind Faith had so few songs on their album was a contributing factor to their demise. Eric Clapton had quit his previous band, Cream, because he was tired of playing their songs and the baggage that came with being in that band, and yet, when Blind Faith toured, since there were so few Blind Faith songs, the band filled out their concerts with songs by Cream and Steve Winwood’s former band, Traffic. By the end of their U.S. tour, Clapton had had enough and moved on.
  • The first rehearsals of what would become Blind Faith, with Winwood, and Clapton & Ginger Baker, both from Cream, occurred just 9 weeks after Cream disbanded, despite Clapton’s promise to Cream bassist Jack Bruce that if any of the three members played again together all three would be involved.
  • The version of Presence in the video below, was performed before their album was even released, and Clapton was very unhappy with the concert, feeling that the band had not had enough time to rehearse.

So, ironically, all this talk of brevity and it’s taken me this long to get to what put the “video” in this installment of Video Fridays.

Enjoy the music, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Belated R.I.P.s: Leonard & Leon

leonard_leonIf all you did was compare the musical styles of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, both of whom, this past week, sadly departed this world, you might not see all that much in common between the two.

But delve just beneath surface and you find two prolific songwriters acclaimed for their lyrics as much as their music, two songwriters who had long-lasting and wide-ranging influence on other musicians, the latter resulting in their songs having been performed by an astonishing list of their peers.

Just two examples:

Leonard’s Hallelujah: Bob Dylan, John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, k.d. lang, Brandi Carlile, Regina Spektor, Willie Nelson, Susan Boyle, Bono

Leon’s A Song For You: Billy Eckstine, The Carpenters, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Willie Nelson, Helen Reddy, Whitney Houston, Elkie Brooks, Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway, Christina Aguilera

Additionally, both Leonard and Leon went through fairly dramatic transformations over the course of their careers:

Leon, from one of the originators of the Tulsa Sound; to a member of the legendary group of Los Angeles session musicians collectively known as the Wrecking Crew, who recorded pop hits by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra and Sonny & Cher to The Monkeys and The Beach Boys; to hippie soul man bandleader, piano and guitar player on Joe Cocker’s epic Mad Dogs & Englishman tour, the album from which I happen to consider the best Rock & Roll live recording ever, and my deep love of which I mention in the obit I wrote upon Joe Cocker’s passing.

Leonard, from published poet and novelist; to folk music singer-songwriter; to elegant elder statesman of sophisticated literary pop music; to Zen monk.

But, of all the things they had in common, my absolute favorite was Leonard’s song Bird on the Wire, the greatest version of which, in my opinion and no surprise given what I said above, comes from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, on which you can hear Leon’s gorgeous, dare I say Liberace-esque, piano playing.

So, thanks Leonard and Leon for all you shared with the world. May all drunks in midnight choirs rejoice in your work!

Happy 50th Birthday, Revolver!

RevolverWow! The Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver is 50 years old today!

Just two years younger than me, and a masterpiece that has aged very, very well.

I’m in good company!

Lots of great stuff about Revolver out on the interwebs today, on this momentous occasion, so have fun googling.

I mostly really enjoyed Rob Sheffield’s piece in Rolling Stone. He makes a convincing case for the album’s greatness, and offers wonderful historical context, but I have to point out one serious overreach (my emphasis added in bold):

“The Beatles are so confident of their superhuman hipness it doesn’t even occur to them to argue the point, which is how Revolver can sound so arrogant yet so suffused with warmth. If you play “And Your Bird Can Sing” or “Love You To” back to back with “Ballad of a Thin Man” or “Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown,” Dylan and the Stones sound like sophomores trying a little too hard to impress the seniors.”

I’ve never been a big fan of Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown, don’t dislike it, just nowhere near the top of my favorite Rolling Stones songs, so I won’t speak to that.

But, Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man, which was recorded a year and three days before Revolver was released, is an epic of confidence, and calling it sophomoric compared to Revolver is a ridiculous insult.

As critic Andy Gill wrote:

“[Ballad of a Thin Man is] one of Dylan’s most unrelenting inquisitions, a furious, sneering, dressing-down of a hapless bourgeois intruder into the hipster world of freaks and weirdos…”

–via Wikipedia

Nonetheless, Sheffield’s homage is otherwise a fun, fun read, so check it out!