As the city shuts down …

Driving home from the hospital, where my dad is spending Christmas weekend, I watched the city start to shut down for Christmas Eve.

As 5 p.m. arrived, last-minute shoppers lingered at Shopko, their cars clustered near the entrance. Last-minute diners lingered at McDonald’s, but its sign was off. Taco Bell had gone dark. The “Open” sign was still on at Subway, but it looked like they, too, were just about out the door.

So it is on Christmas Eve, the one night of the year when, well, all is calm.

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Then you hear Irma Thomas’ voice piercing the quiet in the best possible way.

Nine years ago, my friend Rob in Pennsylvania called this “goosebump-inducing stuff.”

It still is.

“O Holy Night,” Irma Thomas, from “A Creole Christmas,” 1990. It’s out of print and not available digitally, but Amazon will rip you a copy.

Reverent yet thrilling, this version is done as a New Orleans-style dirge with some moody Hammond organ and some terrific gospel voices singing backup.

Embrace the moment, especially at Christmas.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2016, Sounds

Once again, it’s Christmas Eve

On this Christmas Eve, a post that has become a tradition.

On a winter day more than 40 years ago, Louis Armstrong went to work in the den at his home at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York.

That day — Friday, Feb. 26, 1971 — he recorded this:

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“The Night Before Christmas (A Poem),” Louis Armstrong, 1971, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985.

It’s out of print, but you can find the original 7-inch single (Continental CR 1001) on eBay for $10 or less. I found my copy three years ago, when my friend Jim threw open his garage door and sold some of his records.

louisarmstrongnightbeforexmas45

(This is the sleeve for that 45. You could have bought it for 25 cents if you also bought a carton of Kent, True, Newport or Old Gold cigarettes.)

There’s no music. Just “Little Satchmo Armstrong talkin’ to all the kids,” reading Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem in a warm, gravelly voice.

“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. A very good night.’

“And that goes for Satchmo, too. (Laughs softly.) Thank you.”

It was the last thing he ever recorded. Satchmo died the following July.

You just never know.

Embrace the moment, especially at Christmas.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2016, Sounds

The girl from the record store

There was a profound sense of loss today, and it had nothing to do with the news of the day.

We have lost the tiny, cherubic girl from the record store.

taelor-grisack

You’d see her with her dad, digging through the bins at Rock N Roll Land or at the Green Bay record shows. You were struck by her dazzling red curls.

“She was a fun person. Loved music. Got so excited about every record she found,” my friend Todd told me tonight. He runs that record store.

Indeed, the joy she expressed when she found THAT record was memorable.

Her name was Taelor. She was 17. She was swimming. Perhaps her heart gave out, her dad says. They don’t really know yet.

Taelor, the daughter of a musician and a drummer herself, loved the Beatles.

Todd played a cut from “Magical Mystery Tour” for Taelor at last night’s Record Night. That takes place at a local establishment that Taelor would not have been old enough to have been in. Well done, sir.

Just 17. Wow.

Say hi to John and George, will you?

 

 

 

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Filed under November 2016

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.

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“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.

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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 …

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“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 …

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

 

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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?

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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Filed under July 2016, Sounds