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 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 …
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“(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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
One of them was this record, which I’ve had since the ’70s.
“It’s on red vinyl!” the kid with the red bag said.
Ooooh, I thought, wish I’d found that. But then I let it go. It was more fun for the kid with the red bag to have that red vinyl.
Fast forward to today, a week later.
I walk into Rock N’ Roll Land, one of our fine indie record stores in Green Bay. I am scarcely two steps in the door before my friend Todd reaches behind the counter and pulls out a record.
“Here you go! I knew I had a copy” he said, smiling gleefully.
Not only did Todd have a copy, but it was one of the dollar records. It has a bad skip or scratch. Doesn’t matter because I already have a good copy, albeit on black vinyl.
Thanks, man. It’s a fun thing to have, a wonderful gesture and much appreciated.
Proof again that you should visit your local record store on Saturday afternoon. You might find a nice record like this.
“(Ain’t Nothing But A) House Party,” J. Geils Band, from “Blow Your Face Out,” 1976, one of the greatest of all live records. Also available digitally. It’s the scorching live version of their cover of The Showstoppers’ 1967 hit, first recorded by the J. Geils Band for “Bloodshot.”
These are mp3s from my collection, taken from vinyl whenever possible. Enjoy. They are intended to encourage you to get out to the music stores, real or virtual, or out to support live music.
If you hold the copyright to something posted here, and you don't want it posted, please e-mail me at jeffash at new dot rr dot com and I'll remove it. Then again, who else is exposing your music to a new audience today?
About the words
The text is copyright 2007-2016, Jeff Ash. Text from other sources, when excerpted, is credited.