Saturday, December 31, 2022

In Memoriam: Drummers Part I

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a bad drummer, but nevertheless, I’m a member of the Drummers Club, such as it is. In 2022, the club lost a whole bunch of members, and I’m going to write about some of them, all of whom were, broadly, rock drummers, but with very different styles. As an organizing principle, we’ll start with the oldest and work our way to the youngest. I’ll break this up into a few posts, so that they don’t get too long and you get bored partway through (like with many drum solos. Yes, I said it.)

Jet Black (Brian Duffy)—Duffy, born in 1938, was best known as the drummer for The Stranglers, a band that was better known in its native England than here in the US. Before that, he was an entrepreneur, owning a fleet of ice cream trucks and an off license (look it up, Americans), and was an early proponent of home brewing. Duffy joined The Stranglers in 1974 and played with them until 2015. His playing was not particularly flashy, and had jazz influences, although he could play hard and fast when necessary. Starting in the mid-80s, Duffy moved from an acoustic kit to an electronic kit, eventually creating and patenting the “Jet Black Power Bass Drum Pedal.” He also wrote a few books about his time in The Stranglers. You can hear him here, playing on the 1979 song, “Duchess:”

Duffy had suffered from heart and respiratory issues his whole life, and often had to miss tours and performances as a result. He died on December 6, 2022, at the age of 84. 

Jerry Allison-Allison was the drummer for The Crickets, and was the co-writer, with Buddy Holly, of “That’ll Be The Day,” and “Peggy Sue.” I admit to being surprised that Buddy Holly’s drummer was actually younger than the drummer of The Stranglers, but it’s true—Allison was born in 1939.

Interestingly, on songs that were credited to Buddy Holly & The Crickets, Allison’s drumming was more powerful and used cymbals and snare drums, while on the songs credited to Holly alone, Allison mostly played softer, primarily on the tom-toms. “Peggy Sue,” which was originally titled “Cindy Lou,” was renamed to help Allison get his girlfriend of that name back. It worked—they married in 1958 (and divorced in 1964). You can see Allison backing Holly on the Ed Sullivan Show on “Peggy Sue” here:

Despite (or maybe because) he was only in his teens when the early Buddy Holly songs were recorded, Allison was not afraid to try unorthodox methods in the studio, including foregoing drums altogether in favor of clapping, slapping his legs, or banging on cardboard boxes. He also had a minor hit, under the name Ivan, singing a cover of “Real Wild Child,” featuring Holly on guitar and backing vocals. 

After Holly left the Crickets shortly before getting on that fateful flight, Allison toured with the reconstituted Crickets, before moving to Los Angeles and working as a studio and touring musician for, among others, Eddie Cochran, Waylon Jennings, and the Everly Brothers. 

In 2012, Allison was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which specially added the Crickets to rectify their mistake of inducting Holly alone in 1986. Allison died of cancer on August 22, 2022, nine days before his 83rd birthday. 

Dino Danelli- Danelli, who recently died on December 18, 2022, at 78, after a period of declining health resulting primarily from coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure, was a drummer whose work, but not name, I was long familiar with (and I’m not proud about that). Trained as a jazz drummer, Danelli played with Lionel Hampton and in New Orleans before returning to New York (near his native Jersey City). In the early 1960s, Danelli played with a number of different musicians, and even tried his luck in Vegas casino bands, along with Felix Cavaliere. 

In 1964, though, Danelli and Cavaliere returned east and formed the Young Rascals, who later grew up and became just The Rascals. Danelli’s contribution to The Rascals was critical, if overshadowed by their amazing pop songwriting. But it was not only his fine playing, but his flashy personality that was memorable. You can see that here in this clip, also from Ed Sullivan, where Danelli not only rocks away on "Good Lovin'", but spins his sticks (a schtick he, along with generations of drummers, nicked from Gene Krupa).

After the Rascals broke up, Danelli and fellow Rascal Eddie Brigati formed Bulldog, before playing as a sideman with other groups, including Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul. He also participated in Rascals reunions over the years, including in a brief Broadway run in 2013 in a production that toured North America. In addition to his musical talent, Danelli was a visual artist who designed album covers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

celebrate: Celebration/Kool & the Gang


As Jordan Becker pointed out earlier this week, there is lots of room for celebration if you look at life with that kind of a mind-set (He wrote: "Another thing to celebrate about writing for SMM is how much I’ve learned about music because I (usually) do research ..."). Like him, I find that I find that SMM has helped me to grow - and that is one more little reason for celebration. Of music. Of the role that SMM has played for us. 

Like JD Becker, I celebrate the learning that writing for SMM seems to require, which is part of why I appreciate Seuras Og's celebration of candy ("Celebrations is the brand name for a selection of miniature chocolate bars over here"). What? See? Many ways to celebrate. May your year-end celebrations be "all right", as the lyrics of this song say.

From me/this post? Kool & the Gang are still touring and making music. Producer of this song, Eumir Deodato, is also still at it, too. Like a number of groups that have managed to survive 50 years and still produce music, Kool & the Gang have made changes over the years, but Robert "Kool" Bell  has been there all along, as have George Brown and Dennis Thomas. (Well, no. Thomas died not too long back, but he was there throughout.)

You may not know their songs Jungle Boogie or Hollywood Swinging, their first big hits, but you must live on another planet if you don't know Celebration. You probably also know Cherish.

The Kool & the Gang official website notes that Celebration has been added to the Library of Congress. That means it has been designated as "a work of enduring importance to American culture" and so needs to be preserved. Wikipedia tells us it is their first and only Billboard No.1 hit.

Celebration was produced by Eumir Deodato, the Brazilian pianist/composer and producer also known for work with Paul Desmond (Take Five), Frank Sinatra, Bjork.... Interestingly, he is also the grandfather of Hailey Bieber. 

 Kylie Minogue did a cover of the song, and the song is not surprisingly a staple at all sorts of celebratory events where you may have heard it played. 

"Ce-le-brate good times, come on!"

Friday, December 16, 2022

Celebrate: Celebration Day

Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day

One of the joys of having written for Star Maker Machine since 2011 is that one week I can write about Lene Lovich, a quirky singer with niche recognition, and the next week I can discuss Led Zeppelin, one of the most successful, well-known and mighty rock bands of all time. (In fact, my first ever piece, a holiday post about The Roches’ version of “Deck The Halls,” was published as a guest post by former moderator Darius almost exactly 11 years ago, using my former pseudonym). 

In 2014, I wrote a piece for a Thanksgiving-related “Pilgrims and Immigrants” theme about Led Zep’s “Immigrant Song,” and mentioned how seeing the oft-maligned (including by members of the band) movie, The Song Remains The Same, turned me from a Zeppelin skeptic to a fan, based mostly on the power of the live performances in the movie (which, I know, weren’t their best work. Still.....) And one of the songs that caused this change was the live version of “Celebration Day,” which was from the band’s 1973 shows at Madison Square Garden. It was on the soundtrack album, but not in the movie, but I saw the movie once and played the soundtrack many, many times. Certainly now, it’s all kind of mushed together in my mind. That’s why I’ve linked to the soundtrack album, and not Led Zeppelin III, where the song originally appeared. 

Another thing to celebrate about writing for SMM is how much I’ve learned about music because I (usually) do research on the music and bands that I write about. Not research like I did for my college thesis or for a legal brief, but I do read stuff. And one of the things that I learned about “Celebration Day,” is that Robert Plant’s lyrics were inspired by his first impressions of New York City. Which immediately makes the song better, in my mind. Just a brief aside—I worked in New York City for most of my career, and my last office was near Rockefeller Center, so that at this time of year, I usually walked by the big tree, dodging annoying tourists. And after doing that for years, you can get jaded. But for the last almost 10 years, I’ve been working in Westchester County, only occasionally going into the city for work, and I kind of miss it. The other night, I went to a holiday party for my old firm, in Rockefeller Center, and walked by the big tree again, dodging happy tourists, and it was fun. It is a beautiful tree, and everyone seemed so excited to see it and be near it and take pictures of it. And I did, too. 

OK, back to “Celebration Day.” Not knowing that the song was about New York, the part that jumped out at me is when Plant sings, 

My, my, my, I'm so happy 
I'm gonna join the band 
We gonna dance and sing in celebration 
We are in the promised land 

I took that to mean that the song was about Plant’s joy in being in the band (but not the Band of Joy), and maybe that’s part of it. 

Then there’s the music. The great producer Rick Rubin said that the song “feels like a freight train, even though it’s not one of their heavier songs.” Not surprisingly, Rubin is right. Jimmy Page’s guitar is incredible, John Paul Jones’ bass is amazing, and John Bonham was his usual brilliant on the drums. 

So, most rock lovers know that Led Zeppelin basically disbanded after the Bonham’s death in 1980. Although there were occasional reunions of the survivors after that, the last one was in 2007, at a concert celebrating the late Ahmet Ertegun, who was the head of Atlantic Records, Led Zep’s label (and my ultimate boss for the summer that I worked at Atlantic). That performance, which featured Jason Bonham on drums, was filmed and recorded, and both the movie and soundtrack album were released (but not until 2012) with the title Celebration Day, although our featured song doesn’t actually appear.

Thursday, December 15, 2022


Celebrations is the brand name for a selection of miniature chocolate bars over here. And, for all I know, elsewhere, but given it being the time of year when such abound, so surely worth a mention. From the house of Mars, so you can expect small versions of the ubiquitous Mars bar, Bounty, Topic and Snickers. Arguably better than the old school alternatives, Cadbury's Roses or Quality Street, originally by the long extinct choc firm, Mackintosh, which were just fairly random chocolate box offerings, where, if unlucky, every one chosen was either a sickly "creme" or a rock hard toffee. I was always unlucky. At least with Celebrations you know what you are getting.

Unfortunately I am no great fan, pre-  or post-gall bladder, of chocolate, perhaps from all those bloody cremes, so that is all I have to say on the subject, beyond an excuse to roll out some appropriately themed songs for your delectation.

Mars Bonfire is the immaculate nom de guerre of the lead guitarist of the Sparrows, whom nobody remembers. However, through his brother, also a Sparrow, becoming a drummer for Steppenwolf, he got to write a few songs for that band, notably their best known song, Born To Be Wild. The Sparrows we're an interesting band as they also included the later Steppenwolf singer, John Kay, and Bruce Palmer, later of Buffalo Springfield. So you could say that Mars, Eugene to his mother, got left behind, but I am sure the royalties helped prevent too much bitterness. It is a great song and it is often claimed to have invented the idea of heavy metal into music, to describe the noise of the motor bike. Nice story. Probably apocryphal.

Bounty bars always divided the playground, with few admitting to much pleasure in the eating of them. However, via the wonder of saucy advertising, certainly teenage boys were galvanised into keeping on trying. Me, I preferred the red-wrappered plain choc version, which isn't included in the Celebrations pack. The song I am unfamiliar with but, sticking with Canada, where half of Steppenwolf evolved from, so too is the performer here, Dean Brody, a Canadian. Apart from a rapper, very few songs mention bounties. It's an OK song, and includes the now more successful than the singer, Lindi Ortega, who I have seen live and enjoyed.

Of course I am not going to dabble around the net seeking a song about Snickers. Anyone with half a brain or twice a life will know these nutty monsters are really called Marathon, still baulking at the name change. Which was back in 1990. Gulp. (US readers her may be looking confused, as it was always a Snickers over that side the pond, I understand.) And, without putting me and the rest of the post under any degree of pressure, there is also a song by a Canadian band to fit the bill. Me, I never bought into the whole Rush shtick, but I do like a Snickers, if pushed and my life depended on it. (Late joke alert: you can rush a snickers, but you can't rush a marathon! Boom boom!!)

Topic? You're joking right? Closest I can get is to evoke the old joke around hazelnuts in every bite. As in, what has a hazelnut in every bite, the pillar of Mars advertising back in the day. The playground answers related more to the genus Sciuridae, better known as the squirrel. I am uncertain quite what a cat squirrel is, amongst the family of so named rodents, but a Dr Ross, a bluesman of the mid 20th century, was sufficiently moved to write a song around one. Later covered by both Cream and by Jethro Tull, I hope he got his dues. The suggestion that is was penned by Mr Trad augurs ill that he did. As far as I can tell, he had no Canadian connection, putting paid to that promise.

We are delving deeper into the carton. Twix is next out. If that makes you think of the song featured above, the chances are that you didn't even know it was a song with a life outside the 30 second TV ad for the Twix bar in the late 1980s. Yello were, possibly still are the odd Swiss electronic duo, who make Sparks, by comparison, seem mainstream in their image. And that 30 second advert is actually a 3 minute song. (Can you make it to the end?)

Maltesers are not just the sweet you can eat between meals, they are also the folk who hail from Malta, a tiny island in the mediterranean, famous for being, the island, awarded the George Cross in WW2, for their rugged defence against the would be invading forces. They have since built up a vibrant scene of internationally known artists, so the various wiki pages tell me. World famous only in Malta, methinks, but this lot seem the least inoffensive and it is quite pleasant in a dreamy way. Stalko they are called, should you wish to dig deeper, with a couple of albums to their name. (No marks for those who point out the extra e in Malteasers. Cos there isn't one. Or that Milky Way is the one you eat between meals, with Maltesers being the Chocolate? Maltesers! one)

I bet you are beginning to struggle with what else is up for grabs. Unless you read the addendum to the last para. Or Santa has already delivered you early a box of Celebrations, in which case you will know it is now into space we head, with the doughty Milky Way, another choc bar misleadingly touted as a dietary aid to weight loss in its initial entry to the market. You might gain less weight if you eat a Milky Way a day, over a Mars. I cannot guarantee the effect on your work, rest or play, or, more to the point, your dental bills. To celebrate, SWIDT, this sweetie, lets pick an obvious culprit, and sweep up some groovy pictures of the constellation along the way. The Tornadoes band famously featured the blondly quiffed Heinz Burt, who went on to invent baked beans. What a guy!

Sticking with the heavens, last on the list and last in the pack is the cloying Galaxy Caramel. Galaxy is the brand Mars use for their chocolate bar, which is the biggest competitor to the Cadbury's Dairy Milk, I would imagine, at least in the UK. (Is Hershey really chocolate? I think not.) Most of the folk I would ever buy chocolate for seem to prefer it, it being smoother. Until you put a gloop, that is, of runny toffeee into it, sweet and sticky, capable of dissolving enamel on contact. Be that as it may, lets finish up with this track, an audio-visual presentation of the point of contact between the caramel and your mouth. You will need to brush your teeth after this one, for sure.

Happy Celebrations!

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Leftovers: Little/Few (=Small)

purchase [ Ogdens Nut Gone Flake]

Back when the few/little theme was up, I had this idea that small was also a variation on Little/Few, and so had put down a few words about Small Faces. There were a couple of sentences that actually made it as far as the Blogger drafts page but ended up expiring there. Sadly - for some reason, I then deleted the draft altogether. Note to self: leave your unpublished drafts so you can use them as Leftovers. Doh. But I more or less remember what I had written and was able to recreate most of it.

What I remember is that the band started as Small Faces and then became became Faces, and that Rod Stewart was the lead singer. One of the better known Small Faces' hits was Itchycoo Park.

It would be understandable if you were to get confused about the Ronnies in the band. I did. Small Faces' original lineup included Ronnie Lane on bass (whose  later Rough Mix with Pete Townshend is one of my favorite albums) When the band switched to being Faces, Ronnie Wood joined the lineup playing guitar. 

The UK music scene was fairly fertile ground during this time, and the two bands provided lots of cross pollinations with bits and pieces of a little Jeff Beck, Humble Pie, the Who ...

So, to complete the circle and tie this to the original theme, here is a little collection of Small Faces:

Sunday, December 11, 2022



OK, sorta kinda a contrivance here, given I have been away a week or two, with, if not a fever, the treatment for one I had earlier. Anyone here had biliary colic or cholecystitis? Not fun, right? And that was how I found myself in the casualty (emergency room) of my local hospital, some time back in the summer, ahead of a scan showing me the presence of a big old bag of stones. The bag my gall bladder, the stones painful. Cue change of diet whilst I was put on the list for the necessary surgery, to rid me of the offending organ and it's unruly passengers. Against the odds, as we have a bit of a post covid crisis in our national health system, I got given a date and underwent the knife a couple of weeks ago. Nominally a day case, they do it, these days, by laparoscope, or keyhole surgery as it is called. Instead of cutting me in half, they make four small incisions and wiggle about inside me, via levers and pulleys. A "very big" and "very dirty" bag and stone combo was thus drawn out of me, allowing me home the same day. (Actually, not, as it happened, as my other bladder took umbrage at the anaesthetic and decided not to work until the last bus had departed, meaning an overnight stay.) I was hoping to have pictorial evidence of all this, expecting I might be offered, as a trophy, the removed detritus, but no such luck. This is, apparently, no longer hospital policy. Boo.

Two weeks off work was all I was offered, expecting that to be insufficient, surprising myself by how quickly everything bounced back, and how little pain the various stab wounds gave me. They use glue, these days, to cover up all the evidence, with hefty dollops of Loctite squirted over the incisions. That was fun as it peeled away..... 

So here I lie, early am on the (Sun)day before I return to work. Time for  catch-up post and any of the Dr and Hospital songs I could shoehorn in, this seemed to fit best into the open ended theme of leftovers. We did "Boss" earlier in the year, and I certainly shied away from Mr Springsteen at that juncture: far too obvious. As, sadly, has the man himself become, his star irredeemably faded in recent years, tarnished by the limelight of Vegas and lacklustre material. (Don't get me started on his latest travesty, the dreadful collection of dreck, dredged up from the vault of songs even Rod Stewart wouldn't dare cover. Good songs, sure, in their own right, but despoiled by the vanity of the project.) This track first came out with '18 Tracks', the 1999 album to lure in punters to his then back catalogue, but had been originally made during the session for his second record, 1973's 'The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle'. And isn't it good? I bought the compilation as it was released, and it has sat on the shelves, progressively gathering dust as my love affair with the Boss diminished. So, then, a timely reminder of what the man was capable of in his prime. the two live versions each coming from 1978, the first being performed by Southside Johnny and his also containing Steve Van Zandt band, with Bruce as a guest. Both traffic versions.


Saturday, December 10, 2022

Leftovers: Luck: Lucky Number

Lene Lovich: Lucky Number

When I started thinking about the Leftovers theme, I was reminded of something I heard a few days after Thanksgiving, about throwing away leftovers when they were no longer fresh. So, in that spirit, I decided to write a piece that I had planned for our most recent theme, “Luck,” about Lene Lovich’s quirky new wave hit, “Lucky Number.” But I never got around to writing it. 

Lately, I haven’t really been feeling like writing here. I’m not sure why, but I’ve missed themes, or just written once rather than twice. It might be the fact that for the last month or so, the World Cup has been on, so my TV has been tuned to soccer, distracting me from music blogging. Or maybe it’s been work, which has been intermittently busy. Or maybe it’s just a periodic malaise that sets in when you’ve committed to try to write once a week (as a hobby). That’s why I’ve started taking summers off (sort of), to allow me to recharge my writing batteries. 

I still haven’t broken free of my lack of motivation. So, I thought I’d try a trick. A bunch of my friends have been playing with ChatGPT, an AI tool that responds to prompts, and posting the results on Facebook, Because I still didn’t want to write this myself, I instructed ChatGPT to “Write a blog post about Lene Lovich's song "Lucky Number" Here’s what came out; 

Lene Lovich's 1979 hit song "Lucky Number" is a classic example of the singer's unique blend of punk and new wave influences. The track, which was released as the lead single from Lovich's debut album Stateless, quickly became a fan favorite and remains a popular choice among fans of the genre. The song begins with a catchy guitar riff and Lovich's distinctive vocals, which are full of energy and attitude. The lyrics tell the story of a woman who is looking for love in all the wrong places, trying to find her "lucky number" in the hopes of finding happiness. The chorus is infectious, with Lovich singing "Lucky number, lucky number, where can you be found? / Lucky number, lucky number, where can you be found?" 

One of the standout features of "Lucky Number" is Lovich's use of yodeling, which adds a unique and unexpected element to the song. This unusual vocal technique is used throughout the track, and it helps to create a sense of playfulness and fun. 

In addition to Lovich's vocals, the song also features some impressive instrumentation. The guitar riff is catchy and energetic, and the rest of the band provides a solid foundation for Lovich to build upon. The overall effect is a high-energy track that is both fun and infectious. 

Despite its popularity, "Lucky Number" has not always received the recognition it deserves. It was not a chart-topping hit, and it did not receive much radio play at the time of its release. However, the song has remained a favorite among fans of Lovich and new wave music, and it continues to be played at concerts and events. 

Overall, "Lucky Number" is a classic example of Lene Lovich's unique blend of punk and new wave influences, and it remains a fan favorite to this day. The song's catchy guitar riff, energetic vocals, and playful use of yodeling make it a must-listen for fans of the genre. 

That’s actually pretty good, if not perfect. Stylistically, it’s a bit repetitive, and the writing is flat, but it has the basic facts about the song, and Lovich (born Lili-Marlene Premilovich, in Detroit), right. Most egregiously, the quoted lyrics are not actually in the song (and don’t appear to be in any song). I’d argue that this error means that the bot gets the song’s message wrong—I don’t think it is about someone looking for a lucky number, but rather that the singer was once happy alone, but now prefers being part of a couple. 

But not bad for a robot.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Luck: Taylor Swift

purchase [ get some Taylor Swift ]

 It seemed like  an appropriate time to take a look at a musician I confess I know virtually nothing about. Shame on me for not knowing more, considering the recent awards and media coverage she has earned.

Further shame on me because I have a couple of Taylor Swift songs lurking in my [pirate] music collection that I never listened to. That small collection courtesy of YouTube actually includes Lucky One. However, like our own Seuras, I have always held a sweet spot for Bonnie Raitt (and of course, Luck of the Draw)

The live version of Taylor Swift's  Lucky One that I came across above further solidifies my appreciation of what it means to be a "star". Dire Straits' Money for Nothing once had me thinking that what many people envision as a life of excess/luxury wasn't all that desirable. The lyrics of this song help cement that understanding. Rampant fame is probably not the kind of luck you want to achieve. I mention the live version because - in comparison - I feel that I can really see the effort that Taylor Swift must put in in order to appease an enormous stadium of "fans". She does a good job, but it comes across to me as a job/a struggle.

Thursday, November 24, 2022



I’m a big fan of Bonnie Raitt. Always have been, from long before her eventual break through, the one heralded, I guess by the song that entitles this piece. Before then she was a doe-eyed vixen who confused the biz as where best to place. Sure, the blues was her bag, but, in the 1970s blues was not deemed the domain for wee slip of a girls from Burbank, California. Yes, she was admired for her bluesy based formula, drawing in roots from folk, country and rock music, but nobody much bought her records. Being also, in her earlier years, a bit of a booze hound led, sometimes, to an inconstancy of performance that perhaps baffled and beguiled those responsible for her career, with any number of producers throwing different prisms her way, through which her light might get seen to shine.

Making her live debut on stage at the 1970 Philly Folk Festival with Mississippi Fred McDowell perhaps 

accentuated the quandary, the contrast between the grizzled old bluesman and the fresh faced girl somewhat remarkable. Her first solo release followed a year later, critics recognising her star, her bottleneck guitar play already to the fore, together with her distinctly yearning vocal timbre. Success, however took a while, it taking seven years, six albums and five producers before anything like a hit. And, when it came, a cover of Del Shannon's 'Runaway', it wasn't even all that typical, a, frankly, boogie by numbers chug, a very good boogie by numbers chug, mind, but it got her her hit single 


Now signed to a major deal, this should have been plain sailing, but their expectations were higher than her sales, resulting in a brutal dump, shortly after the completion of what would have been her 9th album, were it not shelved. Without a label, and despite her affinity for substance abuse getting increasingly in on the act, her profile was kept high by touring and activism: if there was an 'Aid' between 85 and 88, the chances are she was involved, so Sun City, Amnesty International, Farm Aid. But her luck outed, or maybe her determination, as, by 1987, she was clean and open again for record deals. Capitol signed her and 1989 saw 'Nick of Time', a presciently entitled LP if ever was, sweep her to overnight superstar. I guess the time was right for efficiently smooth grown up music, with enough experiential heft to be valid to a market then beginning to open the boundaries of what might be considered marketable. Her 10th record, not only did it dent the charts, it hit the top, becoming, in time, 230/500 in the Rolling Stone list of all time. With the title track her own, along with two others, the rest was a shrewd mix of songs by other artists of more pedigree than presence; John Hiatt and Jerry Lynn Williams for two. And what a stellar cast of musicians: Crosby and Nash, Don Was and the Was Not Was singers, Herbie Hancock. And the first appearance of her later near constant rhythm section, Hutch Hutcherson on bass and the ex-Beach Boy, Ricky Fataar, on drums. A great album. And let's not forget her duet, 'I'm in the Mood', with John Lee Hooker, for which they gained a Grammy, for his late life smash, 'The Healer'.

But, astonishingly, not as great as the next, the one that inspired this piece. I'm biassed, of course, but not alone, as it did even better, sales wise, than its predecessor. Why my greater love? Down, actually to the choice of songs. Again, a mix of hers and those by celebrated writers in their own right. So, with four of hers, there are another John Hiatt, a Womack and Womack, a Chip Taylor and two by fricking Paul Brady, including the title track. I should add I was on a big Brady binge at this sort of time, so for her to be playing his songs was enough to guarantee my attention. It also included the song, which has become most associated with her, much re-covered subsequently, if never quite so well, the sublime 'I Can't Make You Love Me'. She also provided a cover of Richard Thompson's 'Dimming of the Day' round about this time, for the tribute album, 'Beat the Retreat', which I habitually include as part of LotD, when I play it on my laptop. Paul Brady and John Hiatt were among guest musicians this time, as was Thompson, so getting on for being a dream team. I remember buying this disc in 1991, and it still holds up a a personal favourite. I'll bet it also Brady's, he continuing as a presence throughout the rest of his career, adding songs, having his own profile (and income) boosted as a result.

Seven albums have followed, allowing her to crest the wave of acclaim she had found. If never quite as successful as the double whammy of 'Nick' and 'Luck', she has maintained an elegant presence, a stateswoman for the blues and the older woman in rock music. I saw her live, for the first time, some time before the pandemic, 2016, actually, I discover with a shudder, and she was terrific. As was her Fataar and Hutchinson inclusive band, with the great George Marinelli her now regular guitar sidekick. Realising it was so long ago alerts me to the fact she tours the UK again next year. I should go. Before she does, to capture that skill, her effortless guitar, a slide to die for, and that voice, the elixir of smoke and honey.

Let's finish with Bonnie and Richard, hoping their day never dims.....

I can't make you love her, but....


Saturday, November 12, 2022

Pirate: Emerson, Lake & Palmer


purchase [ get it ]

At the time (early 70s), ELP was big. Their 1977 US tour was notable for its size as they went on the road with an orchestra. Said Emerson, "what you hear on the record is what you expect to hear when you buy the ticket to the show." The size of Emerson's bank of keyboards was noted to "resemble a fortress".

I honestly do not recall the last time I listened to Emerson., Lake & Palmer - or even thought of them. But there was a time (way back when) that they were on my "play-list". That would have been mid 70s - their "heyday". with songs like Lucky Man. Since they tended (like Pirates) to lengthy songs not suitable to pop radio, their charting would have been limited. This one times in at around 12 minutes.

The song lyrics are a story in themselves. not short story or novella, but considerably longer than "normal" radio play accommodates.

How fortuitous in some way, that Seuras Ogg beat me to the modern day pirating issue. Back in the late 60s early 70s,  I, too, as an American living outside America looking to listen to the latest US songs, tuned in to Radio Caroline on short-wave frequencies .Not FM or AM. Short-wave, where the sound goes and comes, but the airwave connection did allow you get the gist of things. Equally fortuitous that Seuras also previously mentioned Papa John, who for some reason also conjured up images of pirates in my mind.

For anyone who has been online as long as I have (mid '90s) the concept of pirating music has greatly evolved. I am of the generation where we read horrifying stories about grandmothers who were subjected to court cases for "inadvertently sharing" music files: taken to court for violating "laws" and subjected to fines amounting to thousands of dollars. Grandma music pirates.

Navigating and explaining the changing legal positions as a teacher of Digital Citizenship during those years was a difficult ."What's legal and what isn't?". Students wanted to know if sharing a YouTube video was legal. If posting a cover of a song was legal. More often than not, the legalities of sharing were a bit hazy, and it changed over time as record companies figured out the market. Today, I can 'pirate' most any song I want via YouTube.

20 years ago, there was also the Pirate Bay file sharing site out of Sweden, which the web tells us "... still works in 2022.." I confess I made not infrequent piratical use of the rather complex, devious method to get access to music that is now "free" via Spotify, YouTube... Wasn't it Stevie Wonder who sang about the  power of music to find a way to get its message across?


 Is this purely a UK thing, I wonder, with pirate radio a real nostalgia trip for anyone of a specific vintage? (Yup, I do mean old. Boomer.) I remember pirate radio, even if I don’t clearly recall the stagnant status quo that begat it into being and necessity. As a child of the late 50’s, I had a elder sister, a deeply entrenched denizen of the swinging 60’s, a dolly bird with ironed hair, Mary Quant panda eyes and micro skirts. She made damn sure I was up to speed with the hit parade of the day, and it wasn’t courtesy Auntie Beeb. (In truth, looking back, I wonder just quite how much she was responsible for my enduring obsession with music, a blessing I have been cursed with as long as I recall.)

The British Broadcasting Corporation was a bit blindsided by pop music. With, in the 1960’s, two radio stations available, the Home Service and the Light Programme. The Home Service was all the serious stuff: news and current affairs, whereas the Light Programme catered for everything else, thus encompassing comedy, soaps, quiz shows and music, of any and every genre. Which, reluctantly and, whenever the schedule would allow it, pop music, surely a passing fad and one, if studiously ignored, might go away. It was to the huge swell of young people, a relatively new invention, that the pirate’s addressed themselves, as the mainstream certainly was in no hurry.

Radio Luxembourg was the one I was first most familiar with, which, in Luxembourg, was an entirely legit organisation. So what was it doing broadcasting English language programming, not an official language in the state? Answer: trying to get around the loopholes the UK put in place around broadcasting. And, whilst legal and with an official licence, their practice was deemed infra dig by the stiff upper lips of the establishment. We used to listen to Lux under the bedsheets at school, after “lights out”, but it was always a tad soul destroying, courtesy the dreadful signal and the (deliberate?) interference.

Far better was Radio Caroline, a fully illicit operation, broadcasting into the UK from outside maritime borders. From boats. OK, big boats, if not necessarily all that sea-worthy.This was wall to wall pop music, with trendy, hip DJs, who would eventually take on board the widening references of the then nascent music scene, embracing non chart music and the “album” market: underground music, it was called, perhaps equating to, or heralding, FM radio, and the birth of AOR- adult oriented rock, in the US. Caroline were huge and presented a huge threat to the constitution. In 1967 came an Act of Parliament  to constrain their activities. At much the same time, arguably not unrelatedly, the BBC rejigged their formula, with the initiation of Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4. The Home Service, broadly, became R4, although a lot of light entertainment  went there too, comedy, drama and the like. R3 became the domain of “proper” music, the classics, and R2 of inoffensive bland fare for the intellectually ininquisitive. R1 was the new station for young people, and quickly signed up the seasick jocks from Caroline and the other pirates.

As the years have passed the boundaries and channels have blurred and expanded. I am now core R2 demographic, maybe not daytime, but enjoying their evening shows for lovers of specific sub- genres: blues, folk, all of that. Indeed, as clearly no longer a young person, R1 is far too strident and brash for my refined ears, however much I might baulk about being subsumed into the cloth eared original prime audience.

The pirates are still there, largely niche now, but there are the new opportunities opened by web radio, and there are many a tiny operation, blasting ultra specialist grooves out of tower blocks, UK wide. Occupying, perhaps, the role Radio Caroline had in the 60’s, for those with a yearning for the myriad emerging genres that have yet to become mainstream. Taking advantage of that, so too have many an opinionated mouthpiece taken it upon themselves to broadcast to audiences numbered in dozens. Given half the chance, know what I’m saying?

Final point might be to catch the Richard Curtis film, The Boat That Rocked, set on one such floating pirate radio station. Critics didn't think it his best. I loved it, especially the late night jock, with whom I could strongly identify. (And I am still open to offers!!)

Boat That Rocked, here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Pirate: National Talk Like A Pirate Day

Lambchop: National Talk Like A Pirate Day

I’ve probably mentioned here that since 2017, I’ve been the secretary for my college class. Typically, that job consisted of writing the Class Notes column in the alumni magazine, and communicating occasionally with classmates, as well as keeping minutes of class officers’ meetings. In this era of social media, however, the job—or at least my take on the job—expanded to include taking a lead role on our class social media, starting a monthly class bulletin, and coordinating a vibrant series of Zoom sessions for classmates (and others), that have continued even after the COVID lockdown that spawned the idea.

At some point, I started putting up holiday posts on the class Facebook page—mostly trying to find pictures featuring tigers or an orange/black color scheme that relate to the holiday. And over the years, I’ve expanded the list of holidays to include celebrations that aren’t Christian or Jewish holidays or obvious national observances. There are no rules about what I can or can’t post about, so I’ve occasionally included things like Holocaust Remembrance Day, or International Day of the Tiger, or Darwin Day. No one has ever complained either about the inclusion or exclusion of a day, and I’d have no problem if anyone else wanted to celebrate something on the page. OK, maybe not Confederate Memorial Day (celebrated on different dates in different racist states). But no one else has done so. 

So, at the end of each month, I schedule the holiday posts for the next month, and to do so, I usually go online and find a calendar of holidays and observations. And I’m always annoyed to have to wade through all of the ridiculous “Days” listed on them to get to the good stuff. Like Belly Laugh Day (January 24), National Tartan Day (April 6), or Rural Transit Day (July 16). 

And then, there’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day, celebrated on September 19. It was not commemorated on the class Facebook page, but it has at times gotten traction elsewhere. “Founded” in 1995 by two friends in Oregon, one of whom said “Aarr” when he got hurt playing racquetball, their inside joke went viral when they wrote humor columnist Dave Barry, who promoted the idea. A video and a song followed, and in 2008, Facebook, which at that point was still mostly kids, and not mostly cranky adults and Russian bots like now, had a pirate translated version of the website on the day. And of course, there’s an official website

Lambchop is one of the many bands who I have heard a little bit of over the years, and have liked most of what I’ve heard, but never spent the time to really dig into their substantial body of work. An often shifting lineup of musicians based in Nashville led by Kurt Wagner, they’ve moved from a country-based sound in their early days in the mid-1980s through a number of genres. The stuff I like is probably best described as Americana. One of these songs is their “National Talk Like a Pirate Day,” presumably from before the celebration spread beyond our borders, like, you know, a pirate. From the band’s 2008 album OH(Ohio), it’s a rambling song that actually mentions the “Day,” although it isn’t about it. (By the way, it’s not even the best title on the album—that distinction goes to “Sharing a Gibson With Martin Luther King, Jr.”) 

The song’s genesis was described by Wagner in Rolling Stone

I'm writing a line about something else and my wife calls on the phone telling me it's National Talk Like A Pirate Day, I go, 'Oh, okay.' And suddenly that leads to me thinking about my wife. Then next thing I know I'm looking at a picture of her, and she's in her pajamas, she's got a record player. You know, there's a hockey game in the little picture and I start describing the picture. So the song started out as some sort of folk song, you know, and then next thing you know it becomes something else, but it was all because of what happened in the process of writing it: the phone rang. 

So, I guess the lesson is that inspiration can come from anywhere. Sadly, although I wanted to try to work a “buried treasure” reference into this post, but my inspiration never came.

Sunday, November 6, 2022


 Captain Hook aside, is there a greater pirate than Long John? I think not and am not even going to bothered if any dullard mentions Depp and company in those awful films. Jack Sparrow? Jack Shit, say I, even if Keef turned up for one of them. Any kudos he may have brought to the franchise was instantly lost by his stupid moustache.

But what does he have to do with anything musical? Long John, clearly, not Depp, who, as any fule knos, has none whatsoever. (Hollywood Vampires, my arse….) Well, given the, um, maturity of our readership, I am going out on one to suggest you are aware of an Airplane named Jefferson. Yay! Team!!! (No, not Starship; go to the foot of the class.)

I loved J.A. OK, I was a little young and the wrong side the world. So maybe I liked more the idea of the band, as reported, week by week, in the inky UK rock press. San Fran, hippies, anti-war, summer of love, all of that, and it all seemed so cool. I loved them before I ever heard them. I think Volunteers got brought into school, actually by one of the teachers. (With longish hair and a ‘tache, we imaginatively nicknamed him Zappa.) I liked, but, in truth, preferred the album Burgers, by the offshoot band Hot Tuna. Jack’n’Jorma became my heroes, as did the magisterial talent of Papa John Creach, who was just so damned cool. Impossibly old, if probably in his 40s, bald, black and stick-thin, with a fiddle sound to die for.

A later purchase of the double vinyl best of, Flight Log, or double album as we called LPs made of plastic back then, turned out to be all the Airplane I ever bought, even though I have a stash of Tuna’s output, plus Kaukonen solos and, even one of the good Mr Creach. So this theme was too good to waste on anything else, this near to crash landing of the band, and seemingly not with much love gifted its way. I have never heard it. Well, until typing this sentence.

The band were in a bit of a pickle in 1972, with solo and side projects having more allure for the bickering band members. Marty Balin had jumped ship and new drummer, Joey Covington appears  only for some of it, uncertain if he fell off board or was pushed. Which, as the astute will observe, adds extra allegiance to this weeks theme. (Gangplanks, boom tish!) Lester Bangs, the idiosyncratically acerbic no holds barred critic didn’t like it, in a review of such faint praise as to damn it to hell. 

Long John Silver

It opens with the rattle and rumble of the title track, a somewhat generic roustabout biggie, held primarily by the engine room, where Jack Casady’s bass is stoked to the fore. Grace Slick sounds, frankly, the “drunk as a fart” she later claimed to be, during the making of the album. It’s OK, needing Aerie (Gang of Eagles), a moody Slick piano ballad, to lift things. Maybe that should be slick and moody, but either way it works, and the feel is almost Sandy Denny-esque in construction, the minor key elevations reminiscent of that singer’s songs. Which is ironic, when you consider her band, Fairport Convention, cited Jefferson Airplane as such an inspirational influence. Twilight Double Leader is another shrill and somewhat derivative rocker, enlivened only by Creach's fiddle, which swoops and sires appealingly. 


Milk Train splutters and spurts, again made better by fiddle, but really has me wondering what I saw in Slick, her voice a raggedy hoot of shrillness so far, apart from Aerie. Kaukonen slots in some half way decent guitar as it meanders to a close. Most don't, but I quite liked Son of Jesus, but I don't pay as much attention to the supposedly risible lyrics as I ought. But, you know, even when I do, it neither offends nor makes me laugh. Typical J.A. fare, really. Good song. and Easter? is great, a steamy slow burner, impassioned vocals over a piano led progression. OK, it gets a bit bonkers, as Slick gets overheated, needing Kaukonen to sneak in with some guitar. (What's with all these religious allusions, though?)

Trial By Fire

Trial By Fire has the unmistakeable feel of a song that might have otherwise been on the next Tuna album, the bass and guitars all a'weave, the electric and acoustic jousting with each other. Alexander the Medium, great title, by the way, is a change in direction from anything else much here. I love it, the tune evocative in style of a Sally Army band. Creach has his fiddle on a slightly sharper setting and it works, and the instrumental breakdown at the end is the most successful on the album yet, which, as the longest track, was something maybe they knew. The final track is also a belter, Eat Starch Mum, if with nonsense lyrics, with a thrust not a million miles from Volunteers, the track.

Alexander the Medium

So there you get it. I done a review, albeit of an album that came out 50 years ago this year. It probably hasn't aged that well, particularly the vocal characteristics of their lead singer, or the then best appreciated and remembered of them. But it has a few moments. So, in the parlance of the character who inspired it, no black spot.

Buy it if you still want to.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Little/Few: A Little Less Conversation


purchase [ A Little Less Conversation  ]

I particularly like a good cover. To the extent that more than once, I have shone a light on musicians most of us have never heard of, but whose music has shown up in a YouTube search.

I've never given Elvis Presley much love or credit but do realize that he was incredibly influential. One of my posts here includes a clip of him doing Little Sister (but it would have been the Ry Cooder version that sparked that post (and of course means that that "little" is off limits.) 

Belatedly, it seems to me that if you don't give Elvis P. credit, you are denying an awful lot of history. The number of people who end up being internationally known by a single name are few. Ghandi, Stalin..need I go on? Equally curious is that our Seuras chose this time around to focus on "the other Elvis" who, although not commonly known by one name, comes a close second when this name is mentioned.

As I read read the somewhat improbable history, I am a little amazed at the progression Elvis followed: numerous setbacks, unlikely advances, timely appearances on TV shows like Ed Sullivan that propelled his rise and then spiraling disintegration ending in his early death.

A Little Less Conversation came out of a 1968 movie and didn't reach terribly high on any music charts. The 2001 remix by Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) did considerably better, reaching the number one position in several countries.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Little/Few: Little Eva


When she was fifteen years old, Eva Boyd moved from North Carolina to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and worked as a maid and occasional babysitter. We’d probably never have heard of Boyd if it weren’t for two important facts. First, she had a great voice, and second, the couple she babysat for was Carole King and Gerry Goffin. 

There’s a story that King and Goffin wrote “The Loco-Motion” for Boyd because they liked her dancing style, but that’s supposedly apocryphal. In fact, they originally wrote the song to capitalize on the craze for “dance songs” for Dee Dee Sharp, who’d had a dance song hit with “Mashed Potato Time,” but she declined. Boyd had sung the demo version, and when Sharp passed, they returned to Boyd, and the record was released in 1962 under Boyd’s nickname, “Little Eva,” on Don Kirshner’s Dimension Records. Because there was no existing “Loco-Motion” dance, Little Eva had to create one. You can see her, to some degree, and the background dancers, to a greater degree, doing the dance in the video, which was recorded in 1965 on the TV show Shindig!, and is the only video of her singing the song (although I’m pretty sure she’s lip synching). 

“The Loco-Motion” became a big hit—hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and ending the year as the No. 7 biggest song of 1962. It later charted in other countries again in the 70’s and 80’s. There’s another story that Eva was only paid $50 for the song, but since she didn’t own it, it is likely that $50 was her weekly salary, which was at least 3 times what she was making from babysitting. Goffin and King mined Boyd’s troubled personal life for the song, "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss),” a creepy song about abuse recorded by The Crystals, which I wrote a little about here (scroll down...), but is best mostly forgotten. 

After her success with “The Loco-Motion,” Boyd was stereotyped as a “dance song” artist, and had trouble getting good material, despite her talent and close ties to the Goffin/King family, although another of her dance song, “Let’s Turkey Trot,” gets dusted off every year for Thanksgiving (as does “Mashed Potato Time,” for that matter) and she was able to tour during the 1960s. She retired from music in 1971, basically penniless. Until a hit cover of the song by Kylie Minogue in 1988 (which Boyd said she didn’t like) raised her profile enough to hit the oldies circuit. Boyd was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2001 and she died in 2003.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022


Who can forget it, the snarl and the spat out words, as the youthful Elvis Costello gave his commentary on right wing political ideology. Or sort of, in an idiosyncratically dense flurry of words, encompassing swastikas, violence and dodgy home videos, held together by references to a Mr Oswald. Who I always felt was a reference to one Oswald Mosley, the pre WW2 leader of the British Fascists, admirer and apologist for Hitler, with aims of occupying a similar place in the worldwide pantheon of bad dictators. Remember him? From Peaky Blinders?

But, but, but, across the pond, Mosley and his band of brothers, the brownshirts, cut very little memory mustard, with the only Oswald coming to anyone’s mind being the Lee Harvey one. And therein lies a tale I didn’t know.

Elvis Costello, ever the contrarian, having written his song, didn’t seem to like the discovery that none of his American fans knew not what he was on about. Or the assumption it was about someone else. So he rewrote it; the so-called ‘Dallas version’, with lyrics that might just have more to do with the US events, drawing archly oblique reference to presidents and a smoking gun. (Being the lover of wordplay he is, is that also there a veiled reference to Jack Ruby?)
In my research I found this rather more detailed discussion, well worth a link.

Bret Easton Ellis so liked the song, although which version is not alluded to, that he named his debut novel thereafter. I haven’t read it, or indeed seen the subsequent film. I think American Psycho is probably as much Ellis as I want or need, but I thought the soundtrack worth a look. And whilst it doesn’t include the song, it does include a motley variety of artists covering other artists songs, in the way soundtracks often do. Maybe cheaper than licensing the original, I wonder, but often unearthing covers of the utmost oddness and charm, and so of interest to me. Like metal band Slayer covering In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. (It also, by the way, debuted the Bangles’ version of Hazy Shade of Winter, a song that had life outside the film, and thus became a hit.

Live (London) or live (Dallas)?

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Musician Authors: Bob Dylan


purchase [ The Philosophy of Modern Song ]

If you use Amazon as your guide to the number of books Bob Dylan has written, you'll end up with a number a little north of 50. If you rely on Quora for your research, the answer is two. Two that he has actually penned himself. However, that Quora entry/tally - apparently a little out of date - doesn't include <The Philosophy of Modern Song>, so make that three (3). Those three being Tarantula, Chronicles Volume One and The Philosophy of Modern Song.

That said, there is no dispute that he received the Nobel prize for literature. There was, however, a bit of a kerfuffle associated with his acceptance, both because he initially balked and equally because there was debate about whether his product was worthy of a "literature" award (incidentally, also bestowed previously for poetic output).

There aren't many who belittle Dylan's thought-provoking lyrics, so ... let's let that argument pass: he *is* an author (and as I noted a week ago, that in and of itself, should count for this theme.)

The Philosophy of Modern Song, Bob Dylan's most recent written work after his Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, looks interesting. I confess that all I have so far been able to read are the snippets that NYT published the other day. That said, the few pages the NYT shared make me want to read more. More, because I have been feeling that a lot of my coverage of topics for SMM could really do with more background research. More, because it reads well. More because it is relevant to someone  invested in music.

NYT tells us the book is 65 essays about songs, and the article offers up 2 excerpts: the text for Sinatra's Strangers in the Night and Townshend's My Generation. They're both short - about 2 pages each. But they are piercing in their own way. Kind of like you'd expect from a Dylan lyric -  except more conversational and less cryptic/poetic.

and, from 

"Ballad in Plain D", from Bob Dylan's fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) is the only song he ever publicly admitted he wished he hadn't written. "Oh yeah, that one! I look back and say, "I must have been a real schmuck to write that," he said in 1985.

Saturday, October 8, 2022


Musician? Yeah, I know, but the problem with this theme is a need to have read the books in question, and the reading of a book requires a hell more of an investment than does engaging with the, give or take, 40 minutes of an album. Which sounds as if I don’t (can’t?!) read, which isn’t true, but the books by rockstars I have read are either autobiographical or ghost written, often both, neither of which I necessarily equate with the spirit of this assignment. (For the record, there are two I rate, each written by the writer, these being Footnote, by Chumbawamba’s Boff Whalley and Things the Grandchildren Should Know, by Mark Oliver Everett, but they are not fictional, or shouldn’t be. An honourable mention also for Mark Lanegan’s Sing Backwards and Weep.)

So, Stephen King, then, the uber prolific writer of lengthy horror yarns, usually set in New England and perennials for holiday reading. In the 1980’s I could rely on his putting out a fat doorstep that would see me through each fortnight in the sun, as the family set off to warmer continental climes for r&r. I confess it all slightly fizzled out as I became a little weary of his run on writers with mental block, and the ill begat upon them, preferring the bigger and fatter phantastic tales, each clearly written as he was going along, where, frankly, the somewhat rushed and weak endings were immaterial to the enjoyment of the jaunt along the way. The Stand was probably my favourite, with If a close second. Of course, the other constant with King was the rule that the films, Carrie the honourable exception, were invariably shoddy and shite.

But, hey, I sort of like the guy, and respect his right to have carried on pumping out his pulp fiction long after I deemed necessary. His massive worldwide market and sales certainly, as does his accountant, beg to differ. 

I guess I was aware he was a music fan fairly early on, and so, as I strayed across Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. On a big John Mellencamp bender of completism at the time, it looked interesting. A play, written by Mellencamp and King, together wirth the usually reliable T Bone Burnett, it seemingly premiered in 2012, with a subsequent short run in the Deep South. Southern gothic, they called it and, ever the sucker, I fell for the lavishly made soundtrack, featuring, alongside the three writers, Neko Case, Roseanne Cash and Elvis Costello, together with other then big name draws. Any good? Um, not really. Maybe I need to give it another go, to see if the intervening decade has gifted it any gravitas.

He didn’t play on Darkland County, with all the songs, nominally, Mellencamp originals. But he did play guitar with the fabled collective band, Rock Bottom Remainders, each member a published author and not otherwise known for any musical chops. Live was more their thing, but there is one album, a somewhat extraordinarily hotch  potch  of styles and  influences. King spears on several of the tracks, confirming the old adage about not giving up the day job.

He has also dabbled with a number of artists and the making of videos. Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, a 40 minute collaborative video made with King, came out in 1996. Thriller it wasn’t. 

Over the years he has often professed his love of guitar rock, but, when he appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, he was able to display a (slightly) broader range of taste. Here is quite a decent article that bring both that, and other favoured choices to bear.

I am uncertain whether I have given him sufficient space to allow credibility as a true renaissance author and musician. I suspect I haven’t, but, hey, I can’t write book or play guitar, so he is at least one up on me!

Happy reading!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Musician Authors: Dead Authors (Grateful, that is)

Robert Hunter

Stories about the Grateful Dead, as with any number of other bands, often relate events that are wild, outrageous and salacious - of the "cannot believe they did this" variety.

 And while some of that is certainly true of the actual history of the Grateful Dead, my research indicates that the various members of the band were particularly prolific as authors themselves.

None of this to be confused with a book entitled The Grateful Dead: The History of a Folk Tale, available for free legal download from the gutenberg project.

On one hand, we can claim that any songwriter is, by definition, an author. However, the blog-task as I interpret it, would have us looking for musicians who have gone outside their lyric-writing realm to put pen to paper in an endeavor separate from their musical one.

Among the 157 books listed in a Google search for Grateful Dead books, we have Bill Kreutzman's Deal, Phil Lesh's Searching for the Sound, Garcia's Harrington Street, Garcia's A Signpost To New Space; Mickey Hart's Songcatchers and his Planet Drum, Drumming at the Edge of Magic, Spirit Into Sound.

A Box of Rain, credited to lyricist Robert Hunter may not count (it appears to be the published collection of his lyrics), but his novel Dog Moon does. Bob Weir's extracurricular authorship - as best I can discern-  seems to be limited to writing forwards for the books of various other authors.

Left over from my aborted attempt to post about The Road, we have A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead; Living with the Dead: Twenty Years on the Bus with Garcia and the Grateful Dead; Home Before Daylight: My Life on the Road with the Grateful Dead; So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead; Grateful Dead: the Illustrated Trip; No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead; Goin' Down the Road: A Grateful Dead Travelling Companion and more. These book titles in addition to no small number of Grateful Dead song titles are clear evidence of the importance of the road for the Dead. For any search for meaning in the trip through life, for that matter.

Because it is a song about writing a song, we'll go with Ripple.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine

And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung

Would you hear my voice come through the music?

Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It's a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken

Perhaps they're better left unsung

I don't know, don't really care

Let there be songs to fill the air

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Musician Authors: Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter: Southern Pacifica

Not every great songwriter is a great writer, and not every great writer is a great songwriter. But some folks can pull off both, and those are the people that we are going to focus on for the next couple of weeks. 

Josh Ritter is, in my opinion, a great songwriter. He’s a gifted storyteller, writes interesting lyrics and wonderful music. I’ve seen him a few times—as a solo act at the Clearwater Festival (boy, do I miss that event), with his band a few years ago at the Beacon, touring on the album he worked on with Jason Isbell (and with Amanda Shires as the opener), and most recently, in May, again as a solo act, at the Tarrytown Music Hall. I described that show on Facebook as a “Fun, dark, surprisingly intimate solo acoustic show.” If I recall, Ritter was, like so many artists these days, just getting back to serious touring, and was a bit contemplative. 

Ritter has written two novels, the first of which, Bright’s Passage, I read when it came out in 2011. Which is a long time ago, so I really don’t remember all the details of the plot. So here’s the synopsis from Wikipedia

The novel follows a young, widowed veteran of the First World War, Henry Bright, as he and his infant son, along with an unlikely guardian angel flee from a forest fire and Bright's cruel in-laws. Shifting between their strange journey through West Virginia's hickory-canopied foothills, Bright's plausible memories of the trenches of France, and recollections from his childhood, the novel is at times suspenseful and kinetic, quiet and eerie, and at times humorous. 

I do remember it being both suspenseful and odd, and at times humorous, but also mystical and spiritual. I also remember thinking that it was an excellent first novel, but not necessarily a great novel. In researching this, I read the review in The New York Times (by Stephen King, no less), which agreed: 

This is the work of a gifted novelist, but the size of that gift has yet to be determined. One thing that is sure: Ritter has not, as yet, fully unwrapped it.

Ritter’s second novel, The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All, was published in September, 2021, and I have not read it. It seems to have gotten good reviews, although the Times doesn’t appear to have reviewed it (although they did publish an interview with Ritter about the book). 

As you can guess, a lot of Ritter’s songs tell stories, and rather than overthink this by trying to pick the perfect song to match the theme, I’m going to go with one that works as a story, if not spelled out in as much detail as in a novel, and happens to be one of my favorites, “Southern Pacifica,” from his 2010 album, So Runs The World Away (which is a quote from a pretty fair writer, Shakespeare).  Ritter described the song in an interview as: 

It's a song about being on a train and not knowing where you're gonna go, but knowing you're gonna meet your destiny out there. It's an intense song - it's about rolling past the predators in the night. Where I grew up, trains would go through towns at all hours. I'd get to see them roll right by the grade school where I went to school. The (school) field ended at the train tracks and the trains would go all over the place - New Orleans, Albuquerque, all these incredible places I wanted to see.