Saturday, February 18, 2012

Musical Couples: Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler

Over The Rhine: Faithfully Dangerous


I fell in love with Ohio-based band Over The Rhine in the new social media millennium, thanks to various bloggers' fondness for their inimitably beautiful, dreamy lounge-pop of what has been, for the last 15 years, a married singing/songwriting duo. But founders and sonic core Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler had fallen in love long before, way back in the mid-nineties, making it easy to shed their fellow founding members just after releasing this song on their two-CD set Good Dog, Bad Dog without significantly shifting their ability to remain vibrant contributors to the modern and highly melodic post-lounge alt-pop genre.

Indeed, though I only just discovered this song last month after a posting over at Bottom of the Glass, that it was the work of the same Over The Rhine I know and love from such incredible albums as The Trumpet Child, Snow Angels, and several sets of Live From Nowhere best-of-the-year compilations was evident from the first measure - which is to say, there are close similarities between this full, beautiful, and haunting early work and the stuff I fell in love with in the last couple of albums.

Such sonic consistency is rare, and only underscores just how much the paired sensibilities of multi-instrumentalists and composers Bergquist and Detweiler, who married in 1996 and now live together on a pre-Civil War farm when not touring and recording with the likes of Joe Henry, Lucinda Williams, My Morning Jacket, Hem, Bob Dylan, and Cowboy Junkies, have always been at the core of the band.

Musical Couples: Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon

Sonic Youth: Teen Age Riot


Indie rockers finally realized that there really is no such thing as true love when alternative rock icons Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of the massively influential band Sonic Youth announced their separation in October, 2011, after 27 years of marriage. Guitarist Moore and bassist Gordon met through the local New York City music scene in 1979 or 1980. Along with guitarist Lee Ranaldo, they formed Sonic Youth in 1981. Moore and Gordon married in 1984. Throughout their 27 year relationship, the band released 17 full length records, and dozens of experimental records, videos, collaborations, live albums, official bootlegs, solo projects, side projects, and other musical endeavors. Despite having little mainstream success, they had a huge college radio presence and were mainstays of underground rock in the 1980s and 90s. They were wildly influential on a number of alternative bands, particularly Nirvana and the early 90s grunge scene, and other notable alternative acts like My Bloody Valentine, The Afghan Whigs, Blonde Redhead, and probably millions of garage bands around the world. Moore's and Gordon's separation leaves the future of Sonic Youth very much up in the air, though all individual members of the band are currently touring solo or with other groups.

Musical Couples: Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer

Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer: Seven is the Number


"Yesterday, shortly after he went unconscious, he came back for a lucid minute or two to tell me, 'I just died... Baby, I just died...' There was a look of wonder in his eyes, and though I cried and tried to deny it to him, I knew he was right and he was on his way. He stayed with me a minute more but despite my attempts to keep him with me, I could see he was already riding that thin chiffon wave between here and gone. He loved beauty, he was hopelessly drawn to the magic and the light in all things. I figure he saw something he could not resist out of the corner of his eye and flew into it. Despite the fact that every rescue attempt was made by paramedics and hospital staff and the death pronouncement officially came at 12:08 pm Eastern Time, I believe he died in my arms in our favorite hotel, leaving me with those final words. That's the true story I am going to tell." - Tracy Grammer’s description of the death of Dave Carter, July 2002
There are romantic elements to the account above, as well signs of a spiritual path that a cynic might be tempted to dismiss. Don’t. Carter and Grammer really were one of those couples who were completely, magically, in love. Dave Carter was the songwriter for the duo, but Grammer was an equal partner. I think of them with her fiddle lines intertwining with his guitar, and with their voices meeting as equals, regardless of who sang lead on a particular song. I think, in other words, of the sound of songs like Seven is the Number. I only got to see them together once, and that’s how I remember it. I got to shake Dave Carter’s hand before he disappeared backstage to take care of something. He left me with Tracey Grammer, and she was generous with her time, and took me, merely a fan she had never met at the time, seriously. They had played a song so new they hadn’t named it yet, and they had asked the audience for suggestions. The eventual title was Mother, I Climbed, and Grammer recorded it on one of her solo albums after Carter’s death. Grammer’s love for Carter has lasted well beyond his death. There is even a brand new album of songs they did together that Carter left behind. (I will have more to say about that album soon on Oliver di Place. Stay tuned.)

Musical Couples: Jack & Meg White

The White Stripes: Blue Orchid


Maybe it's just me but I think it's kind of weird bad humor to try to pass off your ex-wife as your sister. Still, that's what Jack White came up with to describe his band-mate Meg to the curious press. Okay, so ostensibly those that knew them back in their pre-fame days were aware of the truth, but still…the misinformation lingered. Now we know, though, that these two were once married, but the bloom was off the rose, as it were, by the time the Detroit duo hit the charts with their garage rock sound. Jack went on to marry the model from the video to this 2005 song, Blue Orchid.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Musical Couples: Veronica Maggio & Oskar Linnros

Veronica Maggio: Måndagsbarn


Oskar Linnros: Från Och Med Du


So here’s a thing: Veronica Maggio and Oskar Linnros were not together particularly long, and both have since moved on to other partners, both musically and personally. More pertinently: unless you’re Swedish or live in Scandinavia there is a good chance you’ve never heard of either of these fine young people, and goodness knows you have no idea what they’re singing about. So why should you, fine and upstanding frequenter of this august site that you are, care enough to stop and linger: why not just slip past these oddly-named tracks in search of something more familiar?

Simple, really: these tracks are perfect examples of the heights to which pop music ought to (but nowadays seldom does) aspire. Måndagsbarn (‘Monday’s Child’), co-written and produced by Oskar Linnros during his relationship with Veronica Maggio, has the warmth of classic Motown filtered through the cool detachment of the classic Swedish pop sensibility, while Från Och Med Du (‘From And With You’), recorded after the pair had split and released as the lead-off from Linnros’ debut album is blessed with a joyous melody that most pop songwriters would give a limb to have come up with. What makes Linnros’ virtuosity all the more impressive is the fact that before the release of his solo record he was best known as one half of Snook, one of Sweden’s best-known and most successful rap acts: Maggio’s album Och Vinnaren Är was the first real hint that there were more strings to his bow, a small glimpse of the promise to which he has since been able to live up.

So overlook the fact that these two appear to be speaking in tongues – hell, if the language barrier is an issue I can provide translations. If you like perfect pop, this is your bag: you can thank me later.

Guest post by Houman

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Musical Couples: Buddy & Julie Miller

Buddy & Julie Miller: You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast

Buddy & Julie Miller: Forever Has Come To An End


Known better as behind-the-scenes wizards from the country/roots-rock end of American folk music, Buddy and Julie Miller have helped garner fame and fortune for a multitude of other artists, from Frank Black and Jimmie Dale Gilmore to Mindy Smith and Patty Griffin, through coverage, session work, and production. As I noted in a full-bore piece on the couple back in 2008 over at Cover Lay Down, Buddy, who served in Emmylou Harris’ band for eight years, has earned accolades from bandmates Griffin, Emmylou, and Steve Earle, among others, for his blazing guitarwork and his vocals; meanwhile, Julie’s songwriting has been adapted by folk faves from Richard Shindell, Dar Williams, and Lucy Kaplansky to Sam Bush, Earle, Emmylou, and The Gibson Brothers, while her vocal harmony has become the mark of a certain kind of promise for releases from predominantly female folk artists with a particular southern folk/country bent to their sound and their outlook.

Unfortunately, many of Buddy and Julie's earlier works are out of print. But although they make their bread and butter off composer residuals, and production, tour, and studio work in service to a whole heap of well-known names, the long-lasting couple, who met on the road in the early nineties - she was just a teenager then, though already recording; he was a bit older, but hadn't struck out on his own as a solo artist just yet - are great performers in their own right. And, more significantly for this particular theme, in all that they do, they truly are inseparable as musicians and artists; I have yet to find a song of either of theirs which doesn't truly bear the mark of both, to the benefit of all.

As such, I think they deserve as much a chance to shine as their songs do. Rather than post one of the many Buddy & Julie Miller covers in my vast collection, or rehash Buddy's absolutely stunning take on Dylan's With God On Our Side, I've picked two original selections from their self-titled 2001 album - a heavy, gritty Americana piece, and a sultry countrygrass ballad - to show the breadth their of power. Check 'em out, pick up pretty much every album they produced as solo or paired artists in the last two decades, and then keep your eyes peeled for a live show in your area.

Musical Couples: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans: Happy Trails to You


Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were one of Hollywood's most enduring couples. Rogers first gained fame in the mid-1930s as founder of the California-based Sons of the Pioneers. His western-music career catapulted him into movies, and he quickly became a featured player at Republic Pictures. In 1939, Gene Autry -- Republic's star attraction -- held out for more money, and Republic elevated Rogers. He soon supplanted Autry, not only as king of the cowboys but (to corral Howard Stern’s self-appellation) king of all media. Movies, radio, TV, records, lunchboxes, hamburger stands...Roy was everywhere.

And, for most of his career, everywhere Roy went, Dale Evans was close by. (And Trigger too...but that's for a different theme week.) On New Year's Eve 1947, a couple of years after his wife died in childbirth, Rogers wed the twice-divorced Evans, who played the love interest in his movies. In all, Roy and Dale appeared in more than 30 films together in the 1940s and 1950s. They won over a new generation of fans as stars of early television and continued to appear on the small screen well into the 1980s, introducing their old films on the now-extinct Nashville Network. Roy passed away in 1998 at age 87, Dale in 2001 at 88.

Their most famous collaboration is the song “Happy Trails To You,” written by Evans. Despite the couple's chipper demeanor and the song's seemingly cheery outlook, it stems from personal tragedy. Roy and Dale's only child together was born in 1950 with Down Syndrome and died in infancy. Evans wrote the song as a distraction while caring for her ailing child. "Happy Trails" became Rogers’ signature song, and the pair dutifully sang it on screen and at personal appearances for nearly a half-century.

Bonus track: Here's a quick cover of "Happy Trails" by another California couple, whose love has also transcended time -- Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth.

Van Halen: Happy Trails to You


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Musical Couples: John Lennon and Yoko Ono

John Lennon: I‘m Losing You

Yoko Ono: Kiss Kiss Kiss


Double Fantasy, released in 1980 just a few weeks before John Lennon was shot, was a concept album that aimed to be a 50-50 combination of Lennon's and Yoko Ono's music. 7 of the 14 tracks on the album were written by each of them. Both are credited, along with Jack Douglas, as producers of the work.

As a couple, Lennon and Ono appear by all accounts to have been truly wedded to each other. Lord knows they both received a lot of flack for their relationship. But isn’t that part of what love involves: a commitment to your partner and your relationship in the face of difficulties?

The album initially got particularly poor reviews (Yoko Ono's voice has - er - a unique quality), but following Lennon's murder, many of the bad reviews were removed and the album eventually reached #1 in the US.
I'm Losing You is a song Lennon wrote about Yoko. He was in the Bahamas and was having trouble reaching Yoko by phone. The lyrics touch on both the difficulties of connecting by phone and an emotional separation. It is based on an earlier partially completed Lennon song, Stranger's Room. Although several members of the band Cheap Trick joined them in the studio, the version of the album that was released was recorded with studio musicians instead, including Hugh McCracken on guitar. The version that includes the Cheap Trick musicians was also released a few years later.
Kiss Kiss Kiss, written by Yoko Ono, is best known for Yoko's breath-y vocals that make it sound like she may be having an orgasm. As well as appearing on the Double Fantasy album, it was also released as the B-side to (Just Like) Starting Over, another Lennon song that also appeared on Double Fantasy.

Guest post by Kkafa

Musical Couples: Richard & Mimi; Johnny & June; Bruce & Kelly

Richard & Mimi Fariña: Pack Up Your Sorrows


Johnny Cash & June Carter: Pack Up Your Sorrows


Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis: Pack Up Your Sorrows


"Pack Up Your Sorrows" is a lucky charm song for musical couples.

Richard Fariña's best -- and best-known -- composition, "Pack Up Your Sorrows" has been recorded by three sets of musical spouses: Fariña and his wife Mimi; Johnny Cash and June Carter; and Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis.

Richard Fariña was well-known in folk music circles when, in 1963, he married Mimi Baez (whose sisters are Joan Baez and Pauline Marden; the latter shares co-writing credit on "Pack Up Your Sorrows"). Fariña started as a prose writer, but his attention shifted to music after he married Carolyn Hester and befriended her harmonica player, Bob Dylan. Shortly after Fariña and Hester divorced, he married Mimi and the pair soon began writing and performing together. "Pack Up Your Sorrows" appears on their debut record, Celebrations for a Grey Day. The Fariña union came to a tragic and premature end, when Richard died in a motorcycle accident on April 30, 1966 -- Mimi's 21st birthday.

The romance of Johnny Cash and June Carter was legendary, even before it was adapted for the movie Walk the Line. They recorded "Sorrows" for their first album together, Carryin' On with Johnny Cash and June Carter, released in 1967, a year before they married. The backstory of the Carter/Cash relationship is apparent on the album's cover. Cash is skin and bones, the result of years of drug abuse, from which Carter famously rescued him.

Austin music supercouple Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison will celebrate their 16th wedding anniversary this year. They recorded "Pack Up Your Sorrows" for the Johnny Cash tribute album, Dressed in Black. Though Robison and Willis have frequently appeared on each other's records, they are now putting together their first full-length duet album, to be released later this year.

Musical Couples: Richard & Linda Thompson

I was merrily playing air guitar to the mighty riff of Shoot Out The Lights when I got notice of this week's Star Maker theme, so that was an absolute no-brainer. Richard and Linda went their separate ways soon after its 1982 release, but their grand finale lives on gloriously.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Musical Couples: Delaney and Bonnie

Delaney and Bonnie : Never Ending Song Of Love


Delaney Bramlett and Bonnie O'Farrell got married seven days after they met. She was twenty-three, a singer in strip joints who had toured as an Ikette with Ike Turner. He was twenty-six, a guitar player on the TV show "Shindig" with Leon Russell. Together, for six passionate years, they formed a band, had children and partied onstage, on tour buses and in motel rooms with rock royalty like Eric Clapton, who wrote "For me, going on [with Blind Faith] after Delaney and Bonnie was really, really tough, because I thought they were miles better than us."

Though recorded in a studio, "Never Ending Song of Love", which peaked at #13 in the US charts, sounds like one of those motel room jams. It comes from the 1971 album, Motel Shot, which featured among its guest musicians Leon Russell, Duane Allman, Stephen Stills, Joe Cocker and Gram Parsons. Pretty heady company. Pretty heady times.

In the meantime Delaney and Bonnie fought often. In 1973 the couple divorced and the band broke up. What remains are six soulful rock albums including their best-selling live LP "On Tour With Eric Clapton" . in 2008, when Delaney died of complications following gall bladder surgery Bonnie wrote "My heart is broken. This morning my soul mate, the father of my children, and my Partner in Musical History crossed over into the Light. Delaney Bramlett has left the building. Long Live the King".

Musical Couples: Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr

The 5th Dimension: Wedding Bell Blues


Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr: You Don't Have to Be A Star (To Be In My Show)


There always was going to be a temptation to contribute to this week’s theme with Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston’s duet “We’ve Got Something In Common”, but this is not the time to riff satirically on one of the great tragic marriages in pop. Still, we’ll have a tenuous Whitney link: Marilyn McCoo was the original singer of Houston’s breakthrough hit “Saving All My Love For You”, which appeared on McCoo’s 1978 album with husband Billy Davis Jr.

McCoo and Davis have been married since 1969. In the world of celebrity, that is equivalent to having already celebrated your golden jubilee the day Moses was floating down the Nile in a basket. McCoo and Davis met as members of The 5th Dimension, the hippie-soul troupe whose hits included the 1968 cover of Laura Nyro’s “Wedding Bell Blues”, on which Marilyn McCoo implores somebody named Bill to finally marry her. McCoo (she is on the far right on the single sleeve) already was engaged to Davis (far left) at that point; in July 1969, the year the song was released, Marilyn finally saw her wedding day.

McCoo and Davis left The 5th Dimension in 1975, and continued as a duo, scoring a #1 hit with the Grammy-winning “You Don’t Have To Be A Star (To Be On My Show)” in early 1977. And by summer 1977, they had their own (short-lived) TV show on CBS. The couple split professionally in the 1980s – McCoo presented Solid Gold for a while – but today they still perform together (check them out at

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Musical Couples: Pete & Maura Kennedy

The Kennedys: Stand


Folk rockers Pete and Maura Kennedy met twenty years ago, while he was playing back-up for Nanci Griffith's touring band; they drove 500 miles apiece to meet at Buddy Holly's grave in Lubbock, Texas for their first date, and subsequently found themselves opening for Griffith as a duo in Ireland.

Since then, they've moved from artist's enclave to artist's enclave, from NYC's East Village to Northampton, MA and back again, always staying together, always staying with the music. They still write, record, produce, and tour with Griffith; you'll hear their work on Intersection, her upcoming 2012 release. And for a while, there, they were selling vintage clothes on the festival circuit as a sideline.

But The Kennedys are a musical force of nature in their own right, too. They've recorded solo albums alongside each other, and ten as a duo. Pete's electric sitar and Maura's powerful voice have found their way into a few other collaborative projects, too, including ongoing collaboration The Strangelings, which offers one of the best hybrids of British folkrock, 60's psychedelic rock, and American roots music ever put together. And as a coverfan, I know them for their takes on The Byrds, Richard Thompson, Dave Carter, Dylan, The Beatles, and others, all of whom one can hear as clear influences in their music and their politics.

In many ways, though they aren't always invited to play on the mainstage, Pete & Maura are also one of a small handful of acts who can legitimately claim to be the heart and soul of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, the place where SMM contributors Susan, Darius, FiL, and I spend our summers when we can. I've heard them play this song as an encore there more than twice, and it never fails to bring me to tears to stand, and sing, with thousands of others in harmony in that happy, hopeful place. And if they sound optimistic here, in what may well be their most well-known anthem, it's because they really are that happy, that at peace with the world, in person. I know. I've spoken with them. Their faces shine. They project hope. It's no wonder Bill Clinton had them play at both of his inaugurations.

Musical Couples: Exene Cervenka & John Doe

X: White Girl

When I graduated from high school in 1978, rock radio in New York still mostly played classic rock, even on the now legendary WNEW-FM, which was tamer than in its true heyday, but still played a little broader selection of music. We really didn’t hear much punk music, but some of the “new wave,” like Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson began to infiltrate the playlists. At some point that year, WPIX-FM began to focus on playing new wave (their slogan was, “From Elvis to Elvis”), but by the time it was beginning to get some traction, I was off to college. Starting in early 1979, I began to work at WPRB-FM, our college radio station, which I have mentioned more than a few times already. It was there that I began to really be exposed to new wave, punk, and hardcore music. But even then, it was still enough of a niche that we had a “specialty show” that ran once a week after midnight called “Crest of the New Wave.” (Along with others, such as “The Musical Box,” for prog rock.) I learned to mix in the newer sounds with more of the music I had listened to in high school, leading to, I hoped, an interesting and eclectic mix on my shows, and later when I became program director, on the station as a whole. I still try to do that on my iPod, and that appreciation for a varied mix of music is why I have long been a fan of this blog and have enjoyed writing for it over the past few months. I’d also like to point out that my son is a college DJ at WSPN-FM, and his show is called “Throw It Against The Wall And See What Sticks,” designed to allow him to play pretty much whatever he wants, so maybe that gene runs in the family.

None of that really relates to the theme, but I write it to give some context for how I came to appreciate this song. “Los Angeles,” the debut album by X, is considered by many to be one of the seminal punk albums, mixing the energy of punk with rockabilly, country and classic rock, and featuring great lyrics, musicianship and vocals. I remember listening to it when it came out in 1980, and not really getting it, probably because I lacked the foundation to understand it at the time. I played songs from it on the radio, intrigued by the fact that this punk album was produced by Ray Manzarek of The Doors, a classic rock band that I was certainly familiar with, although I have always considered them overrated.

But over the next year, my musical horizons continued to broaden, and in 1981, X released “Wild Gift,” and I finally got it. It is just a great album (and yes, I also learned to appreciate “Los Angeles,” too). It won all sorts of critical awards and acclaim, which were justly deserved. What I liked was that “Wild Gift” wasn’t all fast songs—it was eclectic but was still coherent. To me, the standout track is “White Girl,” a slower song about punks in love, or at least in lust. Exene Cervenka and John Doe’s harmonies reminded me in many ways of those of Grace Slick and Paul Kantner from the early Jefferson Airplane music that I had become obsessed with in high school, but the subject matter of “White Girl” was rooted in and describes its own time and place. Cervenka and Doe met in 1977, formed X that year and married in 1980. They divorced in 1985, the same year that X released the ironically titled “Ain’t Love Grand.” Despite the divorce, they continued to write and record together, as well as separately, producing more excellent music.

1988 => Musical Couples: Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz

Talking Heads: Mr Jones


In honor of Valentine’s Day, we will be celebrating the works of musical couples this week. It is difficult to mix a musical career and a love life, even if you are in a band together, so I imagine that some of our couples will be history. But I wanted to begin with one of the most successful rock marriages, that of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. They were married in 1977, prior to the release of the first Talking Heads album. That band would break up by 1990, but Frantz and Weymouth are still together, as is their other band, Tom Tom Club. The two have also produced albums together for other artists, and made guest appearances on drums and bass.

1988 saw the release of what would be the last Talking Heads album, Naked. Mr Jones shows mostly David Byrne’s growing interest in Latin music, but Frantz and Weymouth show their usual talent for solid rhythm of all sorts. Talking Heads were able to do everything from a cover of Take Me to the River to songs with African-inspired rhythms, and Frantz and Weymouth never faltered. Also in 1988, Tom Tom Club released their third album, Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom. I don’t have any mp3s from that one, but I found the video for Suboceana. I believe that is Tina Weymouth in the jellyfish gown, preceding Bjork’s more famous swan gown by several years.