Saturday, January 13, 2018

In Memoriam: Greg Kihn Band's Steve Wright

purchase [greg kihn band rekihndled]

weheartmusic has one of the most extensive lists of musicians who died in ...whatever year. The site goes back a ways and it's worth a visit- very eclectic -music styles all over the place/great resource [I feel like Mr Trump saying so, but this one is not fake news]. Nearly any musician who has made a name of some sort ends up here. Granted, no one could keep up with the list of all musicians, but the site does a commendable job - ranging across the globe. Visiting the site,  you get the impression that any musician tagged by some contributor or other gets researched and listed: if they missed someone, let them know and they'll make amends.

At a rough estimate, the site has more than 30 x 12 entries for (2017 =571). That offers up too many choices for the current theme. Their compilation for 2016 actually had a few more: 603 to 571.
One of their entries for December 2017 is Charles (Charlie) Manson, who apparently aimed for immortality via the rock-star path, but then veered off to other avenues of (in)famy. Not chosen for SMM beyond curious mention.

Little Peep? I acknowledge his impact. Tom Petty? I actually performed his <YouGotLucky> this fall, totally by chance before I heard of his death. Fats Domino? Always in our memory. But the weheartmusic site includes music related names you may know but had not heard had died this year:
⦁    Nat Hentoff (Village Voice [and more] -journalist)
⦁    Anita Pallenberg (Rolling Stones muse [and more])
⦁    J Geils (founder - J Geils Band)
⦁    James Cotton (seminal mouth-harp blues player)
⦁    Tom Edwards (of Adam Ant - edited thanks to Geomel)
⦁    and that's just a few cursory personal interest-related names.

Above, a random choice from their 2017 list - RIP bassist Steve Wright from the Greg Kihn Band.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


I hate singers who spend most of their songs whisper-singing. They either have a crap voice, haven’t figured out who they are or have nothing at all to say. These days? Cigarettes and Sex is a culprit. I don’t know where this trend came from and I’m sure it’s defended as a means of making the vocals just another instrument. Yuck.

Grant Hart hurled his heart into the untrammeled blaze of Husker Du’s music. Whereas band mate Bob Mould sang like a pissed off, hung over prisoner smashing his coffee cup against the bars, Grant Hart was a dude in a straight jacket in a white room desperate to be heard. He was raw, melodic and heart breaking. Vulnerability slammed around the walls of just about every song Hart sang. Check out “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill”, “Keep Hanging on”, “Don’t Want To Know If You’re Lonely” or “The Last Days of Pompeii” from his work with Nova Mob.

Hart met Bob Mould while working at Cheapo Records in St. Paul, about 15 years before I moved to the Twin Cities. (Yeah, a great band was formed by guys hanging out and working at a record store. That won’t happen again, will it?) I usually arrive late on the scene. I was in my early teens and too young and scared to drive when Big Black and Naked Raygun were regular playing in Milwaukee. I have a friend who saw Husker Du twice though and she said that sonically it felt like she was in a crappy, open-top car with her hair blowing back and her heart splitting thanks to the band's sheer volume and thanks to their unapologetic vulnerability driving every song.

I treasure vulnerability. Part of adulthood is learning how to hide your weaknesses or worse, how to pick up and store away others’ dirty mistakes when they make the mistake of opening up to you. The urgency of Grant Hart and Husker Du is still there when I listen. He opens up his jacket, points at his heart and lets you take a shot.

The reason for their demise was often attributed to Hart’s abuse of drugs and Mould and Hart's infighting. According to a Rolling Stone article written by Daniel Kreps in September of 2017, Husker Du broke up because Mould told Hart that he would never let a Husker Du record have equal songs Mould and Hart and thus the album Warehouse: Songs and Stories had 11 Mould songs and 9 Hart songs. Yuck number 2.

Husker Du never reunited. Hart died due to liver cancer.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


In 1991, when Axel Rose was asked about some of his favorite new bands, he said “The singer of Soundgarden has a beautiful voice.” I had figured Rose to be a tasteless idiot whose well-publicized love of the Sex Pistols I had dismissed as naive and more about a juvenile liking of the name than the music. At the same time, his comment had also given me a weird feeling of hope.

Two years later I was twenty years old and in Prague on a spring break after studying in a small city in southern Germany. Room and board inside somebody’s home cost about 9 dollars a day. Three things are especially vivid from the week I walked around Prague in my ripped jeans, flannel and Joy Division shirt: two raggedy U.S. street performers who recycled 6-8 songs all day, including VU’s “I’m Waiting for My Man” and Pete Seeger’s “Which Side are You On?”; two cleanly dressed prostitutes parading around the main square (I held a competition with myself to see how long I could ogle before getting embarrassed and looking away); and a ticket table for Guns and Roses with special guests Faith No More and Soundgarden. 14 dollars a piece.

Rose had backed up his comments and had brought both bands on a year-long tour. Who knows if the attention he had given to Soundgarden had anything to do with Seattle’s ascendancy and the brief improvement of commercial radio in the early to mid 90s? After three days of indecisiveness, I spent the money and watched the gig in what was then the world’s largest stadium. There were no :assigned seats. They opened the gates and you ran. I made it to the third row and had to pee by the middle of FNM’s set.

Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell’s first words when he came on stage in Prague were nothing creative or insightful, something like, “Man, anyone want to play football?”  Then Soundgarden followed with a stunning set that managed within its short 40-minutes to both dig deep and climb to an epic peak that humbled G n R, who was good in their own right but nowhere near as enthralling as Soundgarden.

Cornell was an entrancing figure on stage: long brown curly hair, jade green eyes, olive skin, hair throwing around in the wind. Sexy as hell. He was wearing a long-sleeve black shirt, unbuttoned, showing off some nice abs for a guy on a year-long tour. And that voice, that ‘beautiful voice’ as Rose had called it. Growling and bluesy, Cornell’s voice has always made me think of what it would sound like if the devil came above, winked and sluiced up the world with some songs he’d been working on with a few of his friends down below.

Look at recent videos of Soundgarden and Cornell hardly looks any different. The music hasn’t lost its dark, romantic growl either. If you want to step back into the Soundgarden catalogue, start with Badmotorfinger. The swirling, frightening “Jesus Christ Pose”, the dark, Sabbath-like ooze of “Slaves and Bulldozers” and the psychedelic, yet fragile “Room a Thousand Years Wide” showcase a band growing so confident in itself: heavy and sexy, just slightly vulnerable and musically better than anything else in the grunge scene.

Cornell died under peculiar circumstances after a show in Detroit, Michigan on May 8, 2017.

Monday, January 8, 2018

In Memoriam: Dead Guitarists

No, this isn’t an article about Jerry Garcia (who died in 1995) or Bob Weir (still very much alive).

As always, we find ourselves looking back on the past year, marveling sadly at the losses the music world has suffered. And as is my habit, I try to highlight some of the lesser known people who died, because the more famous have been lauded at length elsewhere. In fact, the first person I considered writing about, Maggie Roche, was the subject of an excellent piece in The New York Times Magazine, and I’m not going to try to compete with that—so read it at the link.

Instead, I decided to write about a few of the many guitarists that passed away in 2017, in many genres (and thanks to KKafa for writing so well about Larry Coryell, and Darius for writing about Walter Becker, so I don’t have to). There should probably be some sort of clever organizing principle, but I can’t think of one, so I’ll do it in order of the date they died:

Tommy Allsup: Rarely does a coin toss turn out to be a matter of life and death, but for Tommy Allsup, losing one to Ritchie Valens on a cold Iowa night in February, 1959 allowed him to escape the fate of Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper (and pilot Roger Peterson). But it would be wrong to focus only on Allsup’s luck—he was a fine musician, who was touring with Holly and went on to a long career as a musician, songwriter and producer. In addition to Holly, Allsup worked with Willie Nelson, Leon Russell, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Asleep at the Wheel, George Jones, Don McLean, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings (also left off the plane in Iowa that night), Earl Scruggs, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dwight Yoakum, and the Everly Brothers, among others. Admittedly, despite that long resume, it appears that pretty much everything ever written about Allsup includes a reference to the coin toss. You can hear him tell the story here. And here he is telling more stories about Holly, before playing “It’s So Easy:”

Allan Holdsworth: Holdsworth is probably the best known of the guitarists in this article, and in some circles, he is considered to be one of the most influential guitarists of all time. I’ve referred to him before, most recently in a piece about a Gong song, one of the many bands that he contributed to over the years. Here’s what I wrote then:

If you don’t know who Allan Holdsworth was (he passed away earlier this year), find his music on the Internet. Days before his death, a 12 CD box set of his solo albums from 1982-2003, entitled The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever, was released. The title was taken from a proclamation on the cover of an issue of Guitar Player in 2008, and it isn’t an overstatement. That’s not to say that there aren’t other guitarists who changed the way guitar was played, but he’s certainly one of them. He was the favorite guitarist of Eddie van Halen; Tom Morello and Frank Zappa, among others, have cited him as an influence. 

I really lack the vocabulary to explain why Holdsworth is also one of my favorite, if not my favorite, guitarist, so here’s a quote from Robben Ford, not a bad player in his own right: "I think Allan Holdsworth is the John Coltrane of the guitar. I don't think anyone can do as much with the guitar as Allan Holdsworth can." Apparently, he developed his style attempting to make the guitar sound more like a saxophone.

I may have first encountered Holdsworth from his Gong performances, or it might have been with his incredible playing in Bill Bruford’s band. And from there, I’ve listened to his solo work, his one great album with U.K., and his other recordings, with Tony Williams, Jean-Luc Ponty, Soft Machine and others. I saw him once, in the early 80s at the Bottom Line in NY, and it was a pretty incredible experience. Here he is playing with Bruford—the guitar solos kicks in at about 3:25, but don’t skip ahead—the band is too good:

Ray Phiri: Like Tommy Allsup, I suspect that most Americans, at least, are familiar with Ray Phiri for something that was really only a small part of his career. Phiri, a South African guitarist, singer, composer and arranger was featured on Paul Simon’s groundbreaking Graceland album, as well as its follow up, the more Brazilian-flavored Rhythm of The Saints. Ultimately, Phiri and Simon fell out over, as usual, issues relating to song credits and royalties. But in many ways, it was Phiri’s African/rock/blues fusion guitar, and his arrangements, that helped to turn Graceland into a huge hit for Simon. Nevertheless, Phiri’s career in South Africa, as the founder of The Cannibals and Stimela, and as an anti-apartheid activist is his most important legacy. That is why in 2011, the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, awarded Phiri the Order of Ikhamanga, a national honor, citing “the successful use of arts as an instrument of social transformation.”

Here’s Simon’s “Boy In The Bubble” from the 1991 concert in Central Park, which was later released as a live album. Phiri has a brief solo at about 2:55. Also visible on stage is Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, who played and recorded with Simon for 30 years, and who died in December, 2017:

John Abercrombie: There was a time, when I was in college, and for a few years afterwards, that I listened to a lot of jazz on the ECM label, which I got into initially by listening to Pat Metheny, with whom Abercrombie shares some sensibilities. In addition to his own, fluid, understated virtuosity, Abercrombie regularly played with other great musicians, including drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Dave Holland (who together comprised the Gateway Trio), bassist George Mraz, and drummer Peter Erskine, among many others. I sort of lost track of Abercrombie in the 1980s and am not all that familiar with his later work. But I still occasionally enjoy some of those early ECM albums. Here’s a live recording of the Gateway Trio, which highlights Abercrombie’s playing, as well as Holland and DeJohnette (who is one of my favorite drummers):

Phil Miller: I’ve written numerous times about bands and musicians from the Canterbury Scene, of which Phil Miller was a significant part. Miller, who was a member of Matching Mole, Hatfield And The North, National Health (which I wrote about here), and other bands, was a fluid and nimble player, whose soloing was imaginative and avoided cliché, but was also a skilled accompanist. I never had the chance to see any of Miller’s bands live, but have long enjoyed his recordings, particularly with National Health. And, based on this video, I wish that I had seen them (you can skip the first minute of noise, if you must):

Bonus Dead Bass Player--John Wetton: The bass is a type of guitar, right? And Wetton is probably more famous that anyone above, having had some actual hits, with Asia in the 80s. Wetton died just shy of two months after Greg Lake, another bass player with a similar voice, who Wetton ultimately succeeded in King Crimson (Lake, interestingly, briefly replaced Wetton in Asia, years later). In addition to playing in King Crimson, on three of their best albums, Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red, Wetton was a member of U.K., which originally included Holdsworth (and Bruford and Eddie Jobson), as well as Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, and other bands, and collaborated with many musicians, including Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Steve Hackett, and Geoff Downes. Here’s a link where you can download an unreleased track of Wetton playing with Robert Fripp and Phil Collins, and here’s a video of a live U.K. performance with the original lineup, synced to the album track:

Sunday, January 7, 2018


It takes a lot for me to latch onto a drummer, my favourites to be counted on one hand, with Dave Mattacks, Charlie Watts and this guy being the thumb, the index and the f-you middle finger. The other two still live, so will have to await their turn, but Jaki was the essence of drumming, ever condensing the need and size of his kit always downward. So, how would you know him? Ultimately, I guess, through Can, german post-rockers of the 70s at a time when all else was per and the phrase was yet to be considered. More metronome than accompaniment, the beat is constant and incessant in its intricacy. In truth I was not a great fan of the band, then or even now, sometimes finding them overly cerebral for my simpler taste. But I could never shake off that rhythmic pulse.

I am no scholar of the language, but I find it intriguing that his name translates, ever so loosely, into "loves time". OK, very, very loosely, but enough for me to peddle such mythology. Arguably he invented the "Motorik" style of percussion, near mechanistic but never mechanical. No human prototype for a drum machine he, and I really began to latch on to him and this in the 1980's and 90's, when he became involved with british uber-dub bassist Jah Wobble, becoming a, possibly the, lynchpin of Wobble's live Invaders of the Heart, a solid counterpoint to the turmoil of bass notes.(Scratch possibly, substitute probably. Or definitely.) Catching the band live at Glastonbury in the early mid 90's. I recall standing entranced as he pounded his insistent patterns into a tiny kit, as the clip above evokes. With little recorded evidence, there is 'Live in Leuven', a remarkable live concert, sparse and spare, just the two of them, he and Wobble, with thin scrapes of guitar above, from Philip Jeck. Nothing on youtube. I am guessing Wobble became introduced to him via the extraordinary 'Snakecharmer' project, involving Wobble with Libezeit's Can colleague, Holger Czukay, and U2 guitarist, The Edge. Years ahead of it's time, an astonishing 47 years ago, here is another example of his groundbreaking work, a clear influence on dance music's european arm......

There is little more to add. He wasn't prodigious in output, working also with Brian Eno and little known singer Robert Coyne. At the time of his death, an unexpected event, he was set to reunite with Irmin Schmidt for a performance of Can music, entitled the Can Project. He was 78, dying of pneumonia.

My favourite quotation from him relates to his dismissal of hi-hat:
'It was invented for the Charleston. I don't play the Charlestown so much these days'.
Other examples of his modus operandi come in this interview from The Quietus.

Finally, and I don't usually enjoy such things, here he is in solo mode:

Can, Wobble, go!!

(Holger Czukay, Liebezeit's colleague and bassist in Can, also died during 2017.)