Chatting with Michael

Never imagined yesterday morning that when I tweeted my two cents’ worth about the J. Geils Band’s prospects for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that I would wind up discussing it with a gent who knows a bit about rock and roll and fame.

Our brief exchange:

I would like to go to Cleveland and visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame someday. My friend Larry was there this summer. Judging from Larry’s pictures, it looked like the Hall of Fame had a bunch of fun stuff.

But that’s the extent of my interest. You go ahead and vote for this year’s nominees. I’ll sit it out.

I’ve never been particularly interested in who’s in …

That said, of the 19 nominees for the Class of 2017, I’d vote for the Electric Light Orchestra, Chic, Janet Jackson, Joe Tex and the MC5 before I’d vote for the J. Geils Band.

… nor outraged at who’s not …

That said, Harry Nilsson, Pat Benatar, Peter Frampton and Warren Zevon are not in. Def Leppard, Yes, the Guess Who and the Moody Blues are not in. Just the tip of the iceberg. So many more are worthy as well.

Now for that brief discussion with Mr. Des Barres, who has been rocking and rolling since the earliest ’70s and whom I listen to weekday mornings on Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius XM.

I’m still not sure the J. Geils Band merits enshrinement, even though I once wrote a fan’s guide to all 14 of their studio and live albums, which I have.

The J. Geils Band was a tremendous live band. They fortified their act by rescuing vintage soul, R&B and blues singles from obscurity and introducing them to new, younger audiences over the first half of a 15-year recording career that started in 1970. Those energetic covers have seemingly better stood the test of time than the original songs by Peter Wolf and Seth Justman that dominated the second half of that run.

In other words … “First I Look At The Purse,” “Lookin’ For A Love” and “(Ain’t Nothin’ But A) House Party” > “Love Stinks,” “Centerfold” and “Freeze-Frame.”

That said, I do wish them well and certainly would applaud their election.

I do. Yes, I do.


“I Do,” the J. Geils Band — then billing itself only as “Geils” — from “Monkey Island,” 1977. Also available digitally.

It’s a cover of the Marvelows’ 1965 hit. This is the studio version. They also do it live on “Showtime,” their third live album, which came out in 1982.


Filed under October 2016

Another comedian in the family

Our son’s news arrived via Facebook earlier this week, among some items billed as “exciting things to announce …”

“I auditioned for and was invited to take the next step in joining the fine folks at ComedyCity.”

That was pretty exciting, especially for his old Pops, the comedy nerd.

I’ve been a student of comedy ever since staying up late and watching Johnny Carson’s monologues with my dad in the late ’60s and early ’70s. My irreverent yet dry sense of humor was shaped by Carson, Carlin, Pryor and Python, with generous servings of Mad and National Lampoon. Long ago, my friend Hose once wondered whether I’d ever considered doing standup. Ah, no.

the-comedians-bookOne of my Christmas gifts last year was “The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy,” the tremendous work by comedian-turned-historian Kliph Nesteroff. Highly recommended.

The only problem for me, the comedy nerd, was that I’d already read much of it in Kliph’s wonderful interviews with old-time comedians on his blog, Classic Television Showbiz.

Anyhow, now there is another student of comedy in the family.

Evan, now 21, is working with our local improv comedy troupe. Several of his friends are already among its performers. Not sure when Evan will take the stage with them, but when he does, we’ll be there.

However, his old Pops, the comedy nerd, will have to keep his head full of comedy knowledge to himself. Evan will learn improv comedy the way ComedyCity wants him to learn it, which is the way it must be.

But should he ask, his old Pops will dive deep, past Carson and Carlin, past Pryor and Python.

You’ve never heard of Victor Buono, his old Pops will say, but you should hear him. He used to wedge himself into the chair next to Carson, wield an elegant cadence and slay him with comic poetry like this …


“I’m Fat,” Victor Buono, from “Heavy!” 1971. Also available digitally.

You’ve never heard of Hudson and Landry, his old Pops will say, but you should hear them. They were a couple of Los Angeles DJs who slayed their pals at the golf course with comic bits like this …


“Ajax Liquor Store,” Hudson and Landry, from “Losing Their Heads,” 1972. It’s out of print, but this cut is available digitally.


Leave a comment

Filed under September 2016, Sounds

Stop chasing the ghosts

Greenville show 2016

That really isn’t advice for you, though feel free to take it if so inclined.

It’s a reminder for me to do a better job of thinking through which shows to pop for, and why.

As this summer began, I had tickets for a Joan Jett/Lynyrd Skynyrd double bill at a big outdoor festival in July and a KISS show at the arena across town in August. Sounded great at first. Turned out differently.

I’d seen Joan Jett twice before. Each time, she was the headliner in a small venue. This time, she was the opening act at that outdoor festival. Different vibe. That’s her, somewhere on that tiny stage just to the left of center in the photo above. Those were my sight lines. You get the idea.

Not surprisingly, a crowd getting primed to see Skynyrd is not necessarily one that will warm to Joan Jett’s occasionally LGBTQ-friendly stylings. They roared for the first three songs and the last four songs — all the hits — then listened politely (as Wisconsin crowds are wont to do) to the 10 songs in the middle that they really didn’t know or dig.

Given that, and the realization that this Skynyrd show would not be better than two I’d already seen — Leon Wilkeson and Billy Powell were still alive and performing then —  I left after Jett’s show and before Skynyrd took the stage.

A month later, when it turned out that we were leaving for a trip at 4 a.m. on the morning after the KISS show, I started rethinking that one, too.

As with Skynyrd, I came to the realization that this KISS show would not be better than the one I saw 16 years ago, when all four original members were part of the, ahem, KISS Farewell Tour.

So I sold my ticket to a friend, who gave it to another friend, which is the best part of this story. The guy who wound up with the ticket is a huge KISS fan who had never seen KISS. By all accounts, he had a great time at the show. Which is cool. Which makes me feel better about it all.

Maybe it’s just karma. After all, this vaguely lost summer followed a tremendous spring in which we saw Bruce Springsteen, the Smithereens, Martha Davis and the Motels, Pat Benatar, David Lindley, the Alan Parsons Live Project and the James Hunter Six. Save for Benatar and Lindley, we’d never seen any of them.

When I did see Lindley for that second time, he played the one song I wanted to hear. A song he didn’t play the first time we saw him.

david lindley el rayo-x live lp

“Mercury Blues,” David Lindley and El Rayo-X, from “El Rayo Live,” 1983. Recorded live at Little Bavaria in Del Mar, California, on Friday, June 18, 1982.

After seeing Lindley in 2013, we eagerly got tickets to see him when he came around again last year. But we wound up moving my dad into assisted living that weekend, and we wound up eating those tickets. Perhaps getting to hear “Mercury Blues” this time was karma, too? Who knows?

1 Comment

Filed under August 2016, Sounds

Politicians won’t steal this

A politician uses a popular song at a rally. The band, or the artist, objects.

It’s often a good story, but you wonder. How many campaign staffs even bother contacting bands to obtain the rights to use their music?

Seems like it might be more a case of begging forgiveness rather than seeking permission. Or, in many cases, simply seeing what you can get away with.

Those tactics apparently are so pervasive that there’s an online guide for performers: “What To Do When A Campaign Uses Your Recorded Music Without Permission.”

The first major overstep apparently was Ronald Reagan’s use of “Born in the U.S.A.” in 1984, to which Bruce Springsteen objected.

Donald Trump has offended the Rolling Stones and Queen and Neil Young and R.E.M. and Paul Rodgers and Earth, Wind & Fire.

Other repeat offenders: John McCain offended Van Halen, John Cougar Mellencamp, Heart, Jackson Browne, Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, Tom Petty and ABBA. George W. Bush offended Mellencamp, Petty and the band Orleans.

The members of Survivor pounce when someone uses “Eye of the Tiger” without permission. They’ve sued, or threatened to sue, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich and Kim Davis and Mitt Romney, among others, for doing so.

Special mention to two Wisconsin politicians. Paul Ryan offended Rage Against the Machine, saying he was a fan. Now that is quite an odd couple. Scott Walker offended the Dropkick Murphys. Join the club, fellas.

Though Republicans most often draw musicians’ ire, Democrats do, too.

For all those politicians, a timely reminder.

john prine 1st lp

“Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” John Prine, from “John Prine,” 1971.

Man, seeing this, I still can’t believe Alice Cooper wasn’t elected in 1972.

Which reminds me. My friend Timebomb Tom said “this Warren Zevon album cover makes me want to re-visit the Zevon-faked-his-own-death-and-really-is-Bernie-Sanders theory.”

warren zevon stand in the fire

Wish Zevon was still here to help us sort through the lawyers, guns and money.


Finally, our strongest endorsement …

My friend Larry Grogan dropped “Testify,” a powerful take on the issues of the day, over at his mighty Funky 16 Corners blog last week. Read his post. Listen to the mix. Register to vote. Larry says:

Brothers and Sisters … the time has come …

There’s a little more than three months until Americans head to the polls and make the decision that will determine how (or whether) this country moves forward.

This mix gathers together black artists from the worlds of soul, funk, gospel and rock, with songs that were created in response to oppression and racism (here in the U.S., Jamaica, the UK and Apartheid-era South Africa), crying out for an end to both and many of them asking not for separation, but for recognition, unity and progress.

Dig. That.


Filed under July 2016, Sounds

Meanwhile, back at the blog …

Earlier this year, we shared an appreciation of four music greats who are still with us: Chuck Berry, Little RichardJerry Lee Lewis and Tina Turner. They’re my four. Yours may be different.

Yet that train keeps bearing down on us, taking Scotty Moore, Mack Rice, Bernie Worrell, Ralph Stanley, Wayne Jackson and Chips Moman this month alone. Since we last gathered here, Guy Clark, Candye Kane, Billy Paul, Lonnie Mack and Prince also have left the building.

In a year in which we have lost so many music legends, it seems wise to not stop at four. It also seems wise to not wait too long.

So here are four more music greats who are still with us, all of them still going strong. This is by no means the B team, or the second tier, or anything like that. Just four more worth appreciating here and now.

Mavis Staples, 76. The beloved gospel/soul/R&B singer released a wonderful new record, “Livin’ On A High Note,” in February. That same month, “Mavis,” a documentary profile, premiered on HBO. She’s playing gigs across North America through November, then will receive Kennedy Center Honors in December.

anti hot wacks

“Revolution,” Mavis Staples, from “Hot Wacks,” 2013, a compilation of artists on the Anti- label. A distinctive cover of the Beatles song from one who’s long sung about revolution.

Tom Jones, 76. Sir Tom is performing gigs across Europe this summer in support of “Long Lost Suitcase,” a roots record released last October as the final part of a trilogy that also includes “Praise & Blame” and “Spirit In The Room,” which came out in 2010 and 2012, respectively. “Long Lost Suitcase” also is the companion piece to his memoirs, “Over The Top And Back.” It’s been a tough year, though. His wife of 59 years, Linda, died in April.

tom jones this is tj lp

“Dance of Love,” Tom Jones, from “This is Tom Jones,” 1969. It’s a tune written and done first by Charlie Rich in 1965 on the Smash label.

Dennis Coffey, 75. This Funk Brother is still playing some mean rock and jazz guitar “in the D.” He tweets out his shows at @DennisCoffeyDET, announcing on relatively short notice that he’ll be at the Northern Lights Lounge — his most frequent Detroit gig — or at Motor City Wine, or at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe. His blog is recommended reading. Coffey shares lots of good stories there. Likewise his discography for record collectors. His last record, the solid, self-titled “Dennis Coffey,” came out on Strut Records in 2011. It’s worth checking out.


“Never Can Say Goodbye,” Dennis Coffey, from “Goin’ For Myself,” 1972. A cover of the Jackson 5 tune on which Coffey demonstrates a little bit of soul, a little bit of funk and a bit more jazz.

Gladys Knight, 72. Another of the great ladies of soul, she’s playing gigs in Europe and the United States through October. A solo act for almost 30 years now, she hasn’t had the late-career success of her peers. Widely known today for lush ballads and inspirational songs, Gladys Knight belongs here because of her energetic performances with the Pips in the late ’60s and earliest ’70s on Motown’s Soul label. She really did get down to the real nitty gritty, kids.

gladys knight pips nitty gritty lp

“(I Know) I’m Losing You,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, from “Nitty Gritty,” 1969. When I heard this cut on Sirius XM not too long ago, I was reminded that this is one of my favorite LPs. And, yeah, that’s Dennis Coffey playing guitar on the “Nitty Gritty” single and his wah-wah, fuzz-toned lick about 11 seconds into the intro of “Friendship Train.”


Leave a comment

Filed under June 2016, Sounds

Still with us: Tina Turner

Our premise, revisited: What a year this has been. Since we last gathered here just two weeks ago, we’ve lost even more music greats. Merle Haggard, Leon Haywood and Gato Barbieri — quite a cross-section there — and still another Van Zant, country singer Jimmie, cousin to Ronnie.

Time, then — well past time, really — to wrap up an appreciation of four music greats who are still with us. These are my four. Yours may be different. We started with three elders, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. We end with …

The legend: Tina Turner.

Age: 76.

Still performing? Apparently not. It’s been almost seven years since she last performed live. That was on May 5, 2009, at the Sheffield Arena in Sheffield, England, the end to a 50th anniversary tour that featured 90 shows.

What we must acknowledge but won’t dwell on: Ike Turner.

Where I came in: I’m sure I’d seen Ike and Tina on TV before, but I certainly knew of them by the time “Proud Mary” was released in early 1971. That certainly warmed up a Wisconsin winter.

My evening with Tina: I’ve had two, thankfully. We first saw her in 1983, performing on a small side stage at Summerfest in Milwaukee, a night I will never forget. We then saw her at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, a big outdoor venue west of Milwaukee, on Sept. 14, 1987, on our honeymoon, a time I will never forget.

But about that first show. Tina Turner was just 43, but was considered an oldies act. She had split from Ike, had no record contract and was touring with two backup singers. Yet on that night, on that side stage in the middle of the Summerfest grounds, it was wild. To call her show sizzling or scorching or incendiary doesn’t do it justice. It was insane. You couldn’t believe what you were seeing and hearing. It was that good.

Appreciate the greatness: To get some idea of what we saw that night, kick back for an hour and watch this show. It was taped at the Park West in Chicago on Aug. 4, 1983, about a month after we saw her at Summerfest.

The set list: “Cat People,” “Acid Queen,” “River Deep Mountain High,” “Hot Legs,” “Get Back,” “Where the Heart Is,” “Nutbush City Limits,” “Givin’ It Up For Your Love,” “Nightlife,” “Help,” “Proud Mary,” “Music Keeps Me Dancing” and “Hollywood Nights.” (You may need to reset the video to 0:00.)

Then go back. So many great tunes from her time with Ike. These are some of my favorites from just some of my Ike and Tina records.

iketinaturner riverdeepmtnhigh lp

“River Deep, Mountain High,” from “River Deep, Mountain High,” 1966. Also available digitallyIke and Tina and Phil Spector. But I still prefer the Supremes-Four Tops version.


“I Want To Take You Higher” with the Ikettes, from “Come Together,” 1970. Available on this double CD with “‘Nuff Said” from 1971. Never anyone more qualified to sing “Boom shaka laka boom shaka laka boom da boom!”

ike tina nuff said 2

“Baby (What You Want Me To Do),” from “‘Nuff Said,” 1971. Available on this double CD with “Come Together” from 1970. Tina finishes strong.


“Let It Be,” from “Workin’ Together,” 1971. Also available digitally. Tina takes us to church.




Filed under April 2016, Sounds

Still with us: Jerry Lee Lewis

Our premise, revisited: Since we last gathered here a month ago, we’ve lost even more music greats. Keith Emerson, Sir George Martin and Gayle McCormick, the lead singer of Smith, even Clare MacIntyre-Ross, the woman who inspired the Harry Chapin’s classic song “Taxi.”

Time, then — well past time, really — to appreciate four music greats who are still with us. These are my four. Yours may be different. We started with the eldest, Chuck Berry. We then paid homage to Little Richard. We continue with …

The legend: Jerry Lee Lewis.

Age: 80.

Still performing? Apparently so. There are no dates listed on his website, but his last gig was about six weeks ago in Mississippi. I’ve never seen him play live.

What we must acknowledge but won’t dwell on: The Killer has gone through a whole lot of unsavory business. A scandalous marriage to a cousin who likely was 13 when they were wed in December 1957. Six other wives. Allegations of domestic abuse. Substance abuse. Arrested outside Graceland in November 1976, drunk and waving a gun. Jeebus.

Where I came in: Hm. Not really sure about this, either. Perhaps when he covered “Chantilly Lace” in 1972, or perhaps when “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” crossed over from country radio in 1973. It wasn’t until 1989 that I bought my first Jerry Lee record, the “Milestones” greatest-hits comp released on Rhino Records to coincide with the release of “Great Balls of Fire,” the film in which Dennis Quaid played Jerry Lee.

Appreciate the greatness: I have always loved piano pounders, and Jerry Lee stands with Little Richard as perhaps the greatest of them all. Jerry Lee’s late ’50s hit singles are among the cornerstones of rock ‘n’ roll. That said, here are some other tunes I dig.


“Live from the Birmingham Municipal Auditorium and the WVOK Shower of Stars, the one, the only, Jerry Lee Lewis!”

They recorded this on July 18, 1964, a Saturday night. (The liner notes incorrectly say July 1.) To hear this astonishing side, Jerry Lee clearly brought the greatest live show on Earth to town that night. In a mere 15 minutes, the Killer rips through covers of tunes by Little Richard, Charlie Rich, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles.

“Jenny, Jenny,” “Who Will The Next Fool Be,” “Memphis,” “Hound Dog” and “I Got A Woman,” Jerry Lee Lewis, from “The Greatest Live Show On Earth,” 1964. This is Side 1. It runs 14:58. It’s out of print.

Speaking of live shows …

“Well, I’d like to do one for ya now. Ah, hope you enjoy this one. Um, pretty good tune that, uh, has done quite well for a, a lot of artists. But I’m think I’m gonna give it a little treatment here that, that it deserrrrves. I’m gonna throw the old, real, true, down-to-earth, go-gettin’ rock-and-roll beat into this one now. Boy, if you can’t shake it, you better set down because this is one you can really shake it bahyyyy!”

At which point, Jerry Lee and his Memphis Beats tear into …


“Roll Over Beethoven,” Jerry Lee Lewis, from “Jerry Lee Lewis: By Request,” 1966. It’s out of print. Recorded live at Panther Hall ballroom in Fort Worth, Texas.

You’ll find both of those live records on “The Greatest Live Shows On Earth,” a 1994 CD.

jerry lee lewis soul my way lp

My friend Larry introduced me to this one over at his mighty Funky 16 Corners blog. It’s probably the best cut on an otherwise ordinary record on which Jerry Lee seems to have lost his way.

“Shotgun Man,” Jerry Lee Lewis, from “Soul My Way,” 1967. It’s out of print, but is available on this double CD with “The Return of Rock” LP from 1965.

After turning to country music with some success, Jerry Lee returned to rock with mixed success on some interesting records on the Mercury label in the early ’70s. Here are a couple more rip-roaring covers.

jerry lee lewis killer rocks on lp

“Me and Bobby McGee,” Jerry Lee Lewis, from “The Killer Rocks On,” 1972. It’s out of print, but is available on this import CD released in 2004.


“Hold On, I’m Coming,” Jerry Lee Lewis, from “Southern Roots: Back Home To Memphis,” 1973. It’s out of print, but is available on an expanded Bear Family import released in 2013.

This is Jerry Lee at his lewdest, his most lascivious, produced by the equally notorious Huey Meaux. Just filthy.



Filed under March 2016, Sounds