Saturday, January 12, 2019

In Memoriam: Ed King

purchase [ Second Helping album ]

It seemed to me that there were a lot more choices for the 2017 <In Memoriam> theme than for 2018. The Ranker website seems to prove me wrong: 37 to 35. Wonder why I got that impression.

Looking at the  Ranker list, I first thought: Charles Aznavour?
As an expat, I am probably more aware of M. -(that's Monsieur) Aznavour- than your average American, but .. I couldn't claim no affinity, no ties beyond having heard a lot of him as I grew up.

Then, it occurred to me that - considering that I (a) posted once about him [indirectly] this year, and that (b) I performed the same back in November, Ed King might be my best "go to" for this theme.

If you go back a ways in time, you'll find Ed King playing with Strawberry Alarm Clock back in the '60s.

 And then he played with Lynyrd until he couldn't hack it no more in the mid '70s [and there is a decent film about the experience called If I  Leave Here Tomorrow, preview below], fortuitously leaving before the horrible crash that took the lives of many of the band members.

Howsomever, I confess that I couldn't have named Ed King, or for that matter, any of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band. Knew of them? Sure. Ronnie Van Zant. More than that? Not much. But, once again, for my part ... the value of SMM - another chance to learn a little more than I knew yesterday.

Thursday, January 10, 2019


I've a sneaky feeling this possibly unfamiliar name may mean more to the cinephiles out there than to the musos. I'd like to hope I'm wrong, but if you have been to the cinema over the past few years I am sure you will have heard some of his work, probably the most well-known being his soundtracks for sc-fi film 'Arrival' or the Stephen Hawking biopic 'The Theory of Everything'. But he was much more than a composer for films, even if that is where the bigger money lies, as other neo-classical composers like Max Richter and Olafur Arnalds have discovered.

What even is Neo-classical? Or indeed Contemporary Classical? Or even Classictronica as I prefer to call it, the indie mindset progeny of New Age and Ambient, fusing (often) elements of orchestral music with electronica? Here's a good, if a little already outdated article from UK newspaper, the Guardian.

Johannson had a what turns out to be a relatively typical start to his musical career. For Iceland, at least. Iceland, a tiny country of around a third of a million population, has been pushing way above it's weight for the past few decades, in a steady production of premier musicians across a vast gamut of genres. Go look! It seems every other person on the island is in a band. Well, Johannson, like fellow Icelander Arnalds, started off in rock bands, initially the brash postpunk of Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, via proto-(death?)metal with Ham, to the synth pop confectionary of Lhooq. And these are only the better known ones, his finger also in a number of other pies, such as Kitchen Motors, his think tank to bring together collaborations between all schools of musical theory, extending further developments already in his practice. Recognition outside his home was beginning to take place, and in 2001 he was the producer of the Marc Almond (of Soft Cell) album, 'Stranger Things', co-writing much of the material and playing most of the instruments.

                                                           Losing Hand/Lhooq

But it is his solo work for which his legacy will be best remembered. Often citing inspiration and building themes based upon arcane and/or doomed enterprises, two of his early works were 'IBM 1401: A Users Manual' (2006), using the actual instruction pamphlet for this early computer system as his source material and the electromagnetic emissions as sound sources, and 'Fordlandia' (2008), a suite developed around Henry Ford and his failed Brazilian rubber manufacturing enterprise. In each of these, and his other work, ambient noise mixes with the orchestral, found sound and spoken word with electronic. Stand alone pieces, unfolding over a perceived sonic narrative, clearly it was only a short step to soundtracking other art forms, stage, television and ultimately film.

                              Fordlandia: Melodia (Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device

Working often with film director Denis Villeneuve, he was prolific up until the time of his death, picking up a number of nominations and awards. Runner-up for an Academy Award in 2015 with 'The Theory of Everything', for which  he had to make do with a Golden Globe, he was again a runner-up in the following year, with 'Arrival'. Keenly anticipated, certainly by myself, had been his planned score for Bladerunner sequel, 'Bladerunner 2049', but Villeneuve eventually went with the more bombastic gloss of Hans Zimmer.

Sadly, Johannson was found dead, at 48, in a Berlin hotel room, in February of last year, apparently the accidental effect of mixing recreational cocaine with prescribed medication. In death too this emerging talent was seeming to echo his rockstar credential.

Before I send you down the big river, here's a clip from one of my favourites, 'Orphée', an almost orthodox classical composition from 2016. This is the opening sequence. The video apart, there is no film it accompanies. Close your eyes: make the images in your own mind.

                                                         Orphée: Flight From the City

Get here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

In Memoriam--Russ Solomon

Steve Hackett: A Tower Struck Down
[purchase All Things Must Pass, the Tower Records documentary]
[purchase Hackett's Voyage of the Acolyte]

My earliest music purchases, I think, were from the Bradlees store in New City, but I soon discovered the record department at Korvette's, with a pretty good selection of new music at reasonable prices, and a big bin of cheap cutout records, which basically satisfied my music buying needs until college. During my time at WPRB, I was often able to get free copies of records that I wanted, or bought things at the embryonic Princeton Record Exchange (or its traveling precursor), and I often frequented used record stores in the Village. And when I wanted new music, I usually went to J&R, down by the courthouses. There was only a brief period in my life that Tower Records, in the Village, near Lincoln Center, and even in Nanuet near where I grew up, was a destination. And by the time that the company closed, in 2006, it was a non-factor in my music buying life.

But you could argue that Tower Records created the music retail industry model that started in the 60s, and continued strongly for a long time, and it was created from the quirky mind of Russ Solomon, who died on March 4, 2018, at the age of 92. Solomon reportedly died from cardiac arrest, while watching the Academy Awards, after insulting someone’s clothing, and asking his wife to refill his whiskey glass. Here's Solomon’s obituary from his hometown Sacramento Bee.

Although Tower’s New York outposts, particularly the Village store, were important in their day, I always thought of the company as more of a West Coast phenomenon. And it was in Sacramento that Solomon started selling used jukebox records in his father’s pharmacy at the age of 16.  After service in WWII and an early failure, he opened standalone stores in Sacramento, and then, critically, in San Francisco in 1968, just at the right moment.

Solomon’s genius, for the time, was to hire workers who knew and loved the music, to give them autonomy, and to stock “everything” in huge stores devoted primarily to records. He treated his employees well, provided tons of perks, fostered a party atmosphere, and expanded his concept across the world, while competitors knocked it off to create their own stores and chains.

One famous example of Solomon’s eccentricity was the collection of neckties in the company’s headquarters in Sacramento, confiscated from anyone with the temerity to wear one in his presence, tagged with the (former) owner’s business card.

However, Solomon, and his son Michael, who became CEO in 1998 when his father had open-heart surgery, failed to go public and instead relied on debt to finance expansion, and like so many others, didn’t foresee the effect of music downloading or online retailing, leading to the company’s bankruptcy in 2004, and again in 2006, at which point the company was liquidated.

Six months later, Solomon opened a new record store in Sacramento, but sold it after 3 unsuccessful years.

Much of this, and much, much more, can be seen in the excellent, loving, documentary, All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records, directed by the actor Colin Hanks, which was released in 2015.

I needed a song, because this is a music blog and all, so Steve Hackett’s “A Tower Struck Down” seemed appropriate, although that tower is from tarot cards, not music retailing. And I wonder if Russ Solomon would appreciate the irony of discussing Tower Records and offering a free mp3 download, and links to purchase a DVD and music from Amazon.

Monday, January 7, 2019

In Memoriam--Roy Hargrove

I'm going to cheat a little here, but about a year and a half ago, I wrote a piece about the opening of Jazz Forum, a jazz club in Tarrytown, and the opening night performer, Roy Hargrove, who died in November, at only 49, from cardiac arrest brought on by kidney disease.  Hargrove had been on dialysis for 13 years.  The picture above is from Hargrove's opening weekend gig at Jazz Forum.

Check out that post here, for some background on the great trumpet player, and here are obituaries from The New York Times, NPR, and Downbeat for even more information.

I will actually write a full post or two for this theme soon, although there may be a few of you who are pleased with the pithiness of this one.