Archive for the ‘essay’ Category

In Memoriam: Johnny Winter, 1944-2014

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

According to his publicist, legendary guitarist John Dawson Winter III died on July 15 in his Zurich, Switzerland hotel room.

I count myself lucky to have interviewed Johnny Winter twice (please see the list of links at bottom of this essay), and to have seen him play onstage once. I know very little about albinism, but what little I have read suggests that those with the condition tend to have a shorter life expectancy than the general population. And the same is true of junkies; though Johnny was a great talent, nobody will deny that he was hooked on hard drugs for a major portion of his life. Those two facts taken together make it all the more remarkable that the Beaumont, TX-born guitarist made it past his 70th birthday.

In his last decade or so, Johnny really did turn things around. The stories I heard strongly suggested that he had been at the mercy of manipulative and exploitative management for many years. But my the time I first connected with him (2007) he had hooked up with Paul Nelson, who served as his manger and second guitarist. Nelson worked with Johnny to reassert control over parts of his catalog, and was clearly a very positive figure in Winter’s life and career.

The qualities that came through to me about the man were his forthrightness and his taciturn nature. Even though Nelson had warned me in advance (“Hit him hard,” he coached me in advance of my first interview with Johnny), I found myself unable to get much out of the guitarist. If there were any conceivable way to answer one of my questions with a single word – usually “yup” or “nope” – Johnny would find it.

I did manage to draw him out a bit in our first talk, enough to have him tell me about the time he had a date with one Janis Joplin; they went to see Candice Bergen‘s Myra Breckenridge in a movie house. But the cliché “He prefers to let the music do the talking” may as well have been written to describe Johnny Winter.

When we spoke again in 2011 about his involvement with the latest “comeback” album from Sly Stone, he made it clear that he – like everyone else associated with the project – had never met the enigmatic artist. Though he never came right out and said it, the clear implication was that Winter’s guitar playing on one of Stone’s tracks was just a job, nothing more.

That certainly wasn’t true of Johnny Winter’s rock and blues recordings released under his own name. Even when his health was poor and he was (reportedly) being exploited by those close to him, the music rarely suffered. His Alligator releases of the 1980s have worn well, and are happily free (for the most part) of the era’s production/arrangement clichés. And of course his output in the 1970s is virtually without peer. My favorite of all his recordings are a pair of tracks form his 1978 LP White, Hot and Blue: “Walking By Myself” and the Junior Wells standard “Messin’ with the Kid.” On both of these Johnny is joined by a second guitarist, freeing Winter to spit out blistering solos. And that –along with Winter’s growling vocals – is what draws people to Winter’s music.

I didn’t manage to meet Johnny in person when he played Asheville’s Orange Peel in 2007, but I did manage to snap a number of photos. As my own tribute to the man and his music, I’m sharing a few of these below. With the exception of the one in which he’s seated at the front of the stage (with the “Bar” neon sign clearly visible behind him), these are all previously unpublished shots form my private collection.

At the close of our first interview, I thanked Johnny for taking the time to speak with me, and made a point – as I often do – to thank him for his music. I thank him again and send positive thoughts to those – his band mates, business associates and his wife – that he leaves behind.

For more of my writings on Johnny Winter, feel free to explore these links:

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Bonus Weekend Post: Call Me “Steve Asheville.”

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

I needed some chimney work done this week, so on the recommendation of a Facebook friend, I called a local business. When I spoke to the guy, his name (Joe Carlson) sounded familiar. I asked him if he was also a musician (in Asheville, you have to be one of those, a poet, a massage therapist or “life coach,” otherwise they turn you away at the city limits).

Anyway, he said yes. “I thought so,” I said. Then I reminded him of a studio session I did for an album he was working on. I laid down keyboard overdubs on four or five of his original songs, mostly using Wurlitzer electric piano and Mellotron string samples. This would have been back in February 2006 (I checked my records). We hadn’t met before the brief studio session, nor did our paths ever cross again, until today.

Turns out that when time came to finally release the finished album (in 2011, some five-plus years after my overdub sessions) he didn’t remember my name. So on the liner notes, the credit reads: “Steve Asheville: mellotron and synthesizer.” I had never heard the finished mixes until today when he brought me a copy…and sealed my chimney flue.

I had totally forgotten the session, as well as the session fee. I gotta say, I really like the ‘Tron textures on the title track of Living Sideways (I come in just before the one-minute mark). And I’m a fan of any mix that puts my work up-front, especially when it also means I can claim to be on an album with such musical heavyweights as Eliot Wadopian and River Guerguerian!

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A Personal Note to My Readers

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Happy Memorial Day.

As readers who’ve clicked on my profile page may know, I encourage readers to “friend” me on Facebook. Many have done so. And those who have may know that of late my life has been a series of changes and a hive of activity these last several weeks.

The good news is that it’s all good. I got engaged to a wonderful woman, put my home of seven years up for sale, got said home under contract, went house hunting, made an offer on a new home (accepted), closed on both homes, moved, combined households, took a quick vacation to New York City, finished (well, nearly) the largest project of my day-job career, attended my sister’s college graduation, covered two major music festivals (Big Ears and Moogfest, the latter yet to be written about), went to several other shows, conducted several interviews, and kept up my schedule of a new blog entry every business day as the fifth anniversary of the Musoscribe blog approaches next month.

Whew! See what I mean? Busybusybusy. And there’s a lot to come; I have amassed a huge backlog of CDs (reissues, compilations and new releases), music-related DVDs and books, and have several interviews “in the can” but not yet written as features.

So thanks for your patience as I simultaneously work my day job, unpack and feather our new nest, and work through this backlog. I also invite you to peruse some of the more than 1300 pieces already here. I hope you’ll find something you enjoy. Stay tuned!

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Iggy in ’80

Monday, August 26th, 2013

It was 1980. I was all of sixteen, and enrolled in a private high school that had only gone co-ed the year before I started 9th grade. I lived in the white-bread suburbs of North Atlanta, and my idea of going to “the city” was getting my Dad (or one of my friends’ dads) to drop us off at the mall where we’d catch a MARTA bus into Buckhead. Now, Buckhead wasn’t (and isn’t) the city-proper; in those days it was a conglomeration of high-end shopping malls, restaurants, stately older homes, and Oz Records.

No points if you guessed that Oz was our favorite (read: only) Buckhead destination. This large record store not only had a great selection, it was equipped with a used department; there I scored copies of relatively recent titles such as Wings at the Speed of Sound and Gary Wright‘s Dream Weaver for not much more than $2 or $3. And they had bootlegs, too…but that’s another story.

Point being, really, that I lived a safe, somewhat provincial life. One semi-edgy thing that I did do was spend study hall or free period with some of my good friends (usually Randy, David and/or Eddie – how’s that for a bunch of suburban-sounding names?), listening to albums we’d each bring from home. We’d check a portable phonograph out from the school library, and take it down to the breezeway (the classroom buildings were sort of built on stilts), find an outlet and spend an hour or so spinning new music. Those times would be my first exposure to groups like The Psychedelic Furs (they had just released their first – and best – LP) along with some true “outsider” acts and titles. While I’d as often as not bring something along the lines of a George Harrison LP, my friends would turn me onto things like Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music, Half Japanese, The Residents and other decidedly uncommercial offerings.

So when my friend and classmate Randy suggested I go with him to an upcoming concert, I knew it would be pretty well outside my frame of musical reference. To that point, I had only been to a few concerts, most notable among them my very first: Electric Light Orchestra in October 1978. (Yes, that was the spaceship/hamburger bun tour. Pretty cool.) This show would be taking place at a (then and now) legendary club in midtown called 688. The artist in question would be doing a five- or six-day residency, and while 688 was most definitely a bar (and a punk one at that), this residency was to include a special “teen night.” So we could get in on this no-alcohol club date.

So having convinced my parents that we’d be safe, I went to the local record store (“S.E.A.T.S. Outlet”) and bought my ticket to see…Iggy Pop. Now, I had never heard The Stooges, nor any of Iggy’ subsequent work, so Randy set about schooling me. He brought in the Bomp Records green vinyl Kill City, and I thought, well, wow. This is some pretty abrasive, angry stuff. Then he played me Iggy’s then-current album, Soldier. That was a little easier to take, I thought. I think Randy might have brought in and played The Stooges, but I am sure he didn’t turn me onto Fun House.

Having heard these records, I felt reasonably confident that I knew what I was in for.

I was wrong.

Monday, September 15. We arrived at 688 when it was still light outside. The area around the lonely, dingy white concrete block building at 688 Spring Street looked like a fairly dangerous place to be once night fell, so as soon as the doors opened, in we went. The place was dark and pretty decrepit. There was a bar near the back of the smallish room, but as I recall it wasn’t open, even for sodas and such. There was no snack bar.

The stage was no more than two or three feet higher than the main floor. And it was no larger (and in fact probably smaller) than the stage I recalled from my old elementary school’s cafeteria. The ceiling was pretty low, too. So while I had very little prior concert exposure, I could see that this would be a different experience. Unlike the Omni sports arena or Fabulous Fox Theatre, there were no seats! We’d have to stand the whole show.

I did notice that on the right-hand side of the stage, someone had scrawled in large, crude black lettering the entire setlist. A few of the song titles looked familiar: “Search and Destroy” from Raw Power, “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “No Fun.” (As it happened, Iggy’s set list would remain on that wall, enshrined for history, as long as 688 remained open.)

A little while after the supposed official start time, the band came out. While I didn’t know (much less appreciate) it at the time, I would later learn that the bassist on the tour was Glen Matlock, most well known as the man who was kicked out of the Sex Pistols in favor of non-musician Sid Vicious. I don’t recall even knowing who the other players were.

And there’s a good reason for that: when Iggy Pop hit the stage, everything else became secondary. Almost immediately, he stripped down to bikini briefs and socks. I laughed (to myself; I didn’t want to get beaten up by some hardcore fan) as I noticed that they were a matched set: lavender with what looked like little crescent moons or some other pattern on them. I wasn’t about to get close enough to find out for sure.

Iggy grabbed the mic in that Iggy way of his, and roared into it, “Anybody got any drugs?” I didn’t know what to think; was he joking?

He was not, and the crowd did not mistake his request for a joke. From all directions, hands extended toward him, offering all manner of illicit substances. He received all of them, consumed them all on the spot, and then the show started.

I’d like to be able to recount the evening’s details from this point on, but I was so unnerved by what I had just witnessed that the rest of the evening went by in a blur. I do recall that it was very loud, that Iggy jumped into the audience several times, and that every few minutes an audience member would storm the stage, only to be violently manhandled by bouncers back into the crowd. Iggy didn’t do anything that involved broken glass or peanut butter.

I suppose I enjoyed the show. But more importantly perhaps, I think I realized that I had witnessed something historic. I saved my ticket stub (I still have it) and on the way out, I pulled the black-and-white concert poster off of the grimy wall. Some thirty-three years later, it is framed and proudly displayed on my living room wall.

I’d return to 688 a number of times in subsequent years (once I turned eighteen). Some of the more memorable shows I witnessed included LMNOP and Alex Chilton. When I saw the latter, there was a sort of nerdy guy standing next to me in the crowd, wearing an FFA jacket. I stared at him for a moment, and finally worked up the courage to ask him: “Are you Mike Mills?” The bass player for R.E.M. said yes. But while that was cool, nothing would really compare to the experience of seeing Iggy Pop on that stage in his socks and undies, singing to us teenagers that he wanted to be our dog.

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His Phone Calls Suck. But You Will Laugh.

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

And now for something completely different. If you’ll forgive this sort of inside-baseball indulgence, I’d like to share some spit-take-inducing mirth with you.

You might not have given much thought that such a thing exists, but in the music business there’s a job title known as “music publicist.” This person – sometimes in the employ of a record label, but more often contracted by a label, management or artist for the duration of a project – bears the responsibility of getting the word out about (for example) an artist’s latest album. He or she creates a press kit, promotes that kit to a mailing list of publications and freelancers, follows up with them, makes advance copies of the music available, and facilitates interviews and show passes.

It’s a lot of work, and although some publicists make a great living at it, most do it primarily for the love of music and the people who make it. In that way they’re similar to the musicians themselves as well as the writers who cover ‘em. In fact, there’s a tremendous amount of overlap: many publicists are musicians themselves, and even more are (former) music journalists.

There’s one component of the music publicist’s job that’s not often remarked upon, and that’s the role of gatekeeper. All manner of opportunists, rank amateurs and just-plain-clowns are constantly lining up for free show passes, free CDs, free access to the artists, free whatever anything and everything. And the chutzpah with which they request (and often, believe it or not, demand) these things is shocking. It’s the publicist’s often unpleasant responsibility to keep these characters at bay. Sometimes they’re harmless/clueless, sometimes not.

But, in the right light, said chutzpah is also funny. Very funny. So funny, in fact, that collecting a bunch of the exchanges (via text, email, telephone, etc.) between them and publicists might make a great blog.

And guess what: such a blog exists. More remarkable is that all of the exchanges on that blog are transcripts of the experiences of one man. One person. That person is Rey Roldan, president of Another Reybee Production, Inc., a NYC-based PR firm that represents A-list artists (as well as a number of up-and-coming ones, and some hey-we’re-back ones you’d be delighted to know about). He was involved in the early success of Britney Spears, and to his credit, he’s unashamed of this fact.

In my own role as a music journalist, I am in communication with perhaps a half dozen or more music publicists every work day, and while the overwhelming majority of them are supremely professional and a delight to work with, Rey rises above even that standard. A consummate professional. But he’s also possessed of a wicked sense of humor. Here’s an example from his Tumblr blog, My Phone Calls Suck (it should go without saying that Rey redacts identifying information from the transcripts he publishes:

[via email]

FAN: I am looking at whether or not to get a VIP badge for the [FESTIVAL] this year and just wanted to see if one of the ‘perks’ or opportunities is to actually meet members of the cast of the [FILM] itself? There isn’t very many details yet on the website but I see that the early bird date is approaching so just making sure before I make my purchase.

ME: Hi there. Unfortunately, purchasing a VIP badge doesn’t insure meeting the cast of [FILM]. Sorry.

F: Ok, listen. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and I need to meet [ACTORS]. How do I do that?

M: Stalk?

Here’s another gem:

EDITOR: Subject line: urgent press inquiry [BAND]

Dear Rey,

I am the editor in chief of [MAGAZINE], a weekly online arts and culture magazine. Would [BAND] be available for an interview hosted by [MAGAZINE] in August, September or October? It can be on a day of his preference (we just need to know the date and specific time), as long as it is in the evening hours EST. The whole band can participate.

ME: Hi there. The band won’t be touring till this fall so I won’t know what their schedule is till closer to the kickoff. By the way, what’s the “urgency”?

E: Thanks for your swift reply. That’s fine. Whenever you find out. Thanks.

M: Dear [EDITOR]. No problem, but again, what is the “urgency”?

E: Oh there was none. I needed to get your attention since publicists tend to ignore me.

M: This is just the beginning of our relationship and already you’re starting with lies? How am I going to believe you when you tell me you’re going to be working late at the office? Or that this girl “Clarice” is just a coworker? Or that the lipstick stain on your lapel must’ve come from the drycleaners? No wonder I have trust issues!

E: Hi there, Rey. Was that email meant for me?

Though you’d be forgiven for thinking, “this guy is just a really good comedy writer; clearly he’s making this stuff up,” he’s not. These are real. People are really this bizarre, random and blissfully un-self-aware. But whether they meant to or not (and clearly they didn’t) they have justified their existence on some level: via Rey Roldan, for you amusement. It’s comedy gold.  Go have a look.

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My Road Trip Soundtrack

Monday, July 29th, 2013

As I prepared for my current 12-hours-each-way trip to visit my parents in Florida (making sure to leave my hoodie at home and not anger the self-appointed watcher of their neighborhood pool; he tried to kick me out last time), I was tasked by my traveling companion to put together a small stack of my favorite CDs. (The car in which we traveled does not have an in-dash turntable, so LPs were out of the question). Rather than go with my current faves or a stack of albums in the queue for upcoming review, I selected a dozen or so of my “blue chip” albums, ones to which I turn again and again for enjoyment. I left out the really obvious ones (Beatles, Pink Floyd) and below is what I came up with. The ones with hyperlinks are reviewed or otherwise mentioned in some way elsewhere on my blog.

Big Star #1 Record/Radio City – The best 70s albums nobody bought the first time ’round are now among the most influential of the era.

Dennis CoffeyDennis Coffey – the master of guitar funk’s fairly recent album is both current and backward-looking in the best possible way.

Crowded HouseTemple of Low Men – The “difficult second album” is much darker than their debut, but showed the depth of Neil Finn‘s songwriting ability. I’ll admit that this one often makes me cry, and I’m not generally a “lyrics guy.”

Dungen4 – Rarely has an album that includes vocals done so much to successfully convey thoughts and emotions without requiring the listener to understand what’s being sung (like all Dungen albums, it’s in Swedish).

The Flaming LipsThe Soft Bulletin – For me, one of the best albums of the 1990s, right up there with Olivia Tremor Control‘s Dusk at Cubist Castle and Radiohead‘s OK Computer (see below).

The Go! TeamThunder, Lightning, Strike – Quite different from most else of what I listen to, this delightful album features loads of samples, loops and vocals that sound uncannily like inner city schoolgirls chanting doggerel while jumping rope. And it rocks.

JellyfishSpilt Milk – The group’s second and final album took the best qualities of the 70s and updated it, in the process creating muscular, joyous, transcendent progressive powerpop. Or something.

King CrimsonRed – The heaviest of the heavy, and the best of the best of prog. Red can be credited with (unintentionally) inventing progressive metal.

LoveForever Changes – Along with Moby Grape‘s debut, it was for many years the most under-appreciated great album of the 1960s. That wrong has since pretty well been corrected.

Porcupine TreeDeadwing – The most commercially appealing entry in the band’s deep catalog, it contains my favorite track of theirs, the long-form “Arriving Somewhere (But Not Here).”

RadioheadOK Computer – A fairly obvious choice, but fifteen-plus years later this record continues to reveal new wonders to me on each successive listen.

The Rat PackThe Very Best of the Rat Pack – a relatively recent compilation of Vegas-era hits from Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and of course Frank Sinatra. Designed to be played very loudly. And when we were riding around town running errands with my parents, this was one we could all enjoy.

The WhoWho’s Next – The best and most consistent album of The Who’s career; with all the modern-day commercial use, it’s easy to overlook just what a powerful (and yet gentle) record this truly is.

 

Bob by Others

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Today’s Bob Dylan‘s birthday. I spent part of yesterday afternoon listening to my The Times They Are A-Changin’ LP, and I’m reminded yet again that the man is (or at least was) a peerless lyricist. That said, generally I still prefer his work when it’s interpreted by others. I know it’s an overly obvious thing to state, but his delivery doesn’t often work for me. The visceral Blood on the Tracks is one of the few of his albums to which I often return, but quite a bit of his catalog leaves me col. I recently spent a couple of hours with Before the Flood, a live document of his mid-70s tour with The Band. I really enjoyed The Band’s material there, but Dylan’s reinventions of his own songs left me confused, more than anything. I understand an artist’s need to keep things interesintg by changing-it-up, but the radical re-arrangements struck me as a bridge too far. Of course Dylan’s made a career of doing that kind of thing ever since. Good for him, I guess.

In any event, other artists have made careers of their own through interpreting Dylan’s work, filtering it through their own particular skill set and aesthetic sensibilities. South African keyboardist Manfred Mann has been particularly successful at this: his “Quinn the Eskimo” from the 60s was a good-timin’ hit, and his Earth Band reading of “You Angel You” is a personal favorite.

Of course The Byrds and the Hollies are celebrated examples, but as a my own best-loved Dylan tune, I would offer up Wire Train‘s cover of “God on Our Side.” As is necessary with a Dylan interpretation, the band truly makes the song their own. Dylan’s powerful, gut-wrenching lyrics remain largely intact, but the arrangement is filled with the best elements of 80s “college rock” (for lack of a better term). This is, for me, the greatest Dylan cover of all time, though if you ask me tomorrow I might have a different answer. One of my few music-related regrets of the 1980s is that I never saw Wire Train live onstage.

 

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Essay: For the Love of Vinyl

Friday, February 15th, 2013

“May I have your mailing address? I have some vinyl I’d like to send you.” That brief message from a music publicist landed in my inbox yesterday, and brought a huge smile to my face. You see, like many people, I am a vinyl fanatic.

I started buying LPs around 1973 or so (I was nine); prior to that I had amassed a handful of cassette albums that I played on my portable Norelco deck. I had a couple of Carpenters albums, some Partridge Family, some Jim Croce and a Sonny & Cher live set. Not very rocking, I admit; the rock side of my interest was confined to my radio listening at that stage. But when I inherited my uncle’s hi-fi, it was time to start getting records.

The hi-fi was a curious thing. It looked like a really sturdy suitcase. The speakers unlatched from each end, hinged outward, and could be unhooked and moved away from the main piece. The audio cable – about four feet long, if I recall – was stuffed into a hole in the back of each speaker. At the top of the case was a metal button; when pressed, it released the front panel, which came crashing down like a Murphy Bed in a screwball comedy, revealing a turntable. Three knobs were also revealed: volume, tone and balance. Tone, of course, related to bass/treble, and since in those early days my hearing hadn’t been wrecked by years of live rock’n'roll, I adjusted it judiciously. Balance was almost pointless; this unit was a hi-fi, not a stereo, so the output through each speaker was identical.

But it was enough. I started buying LP records as soon as I could afford them. In those days a record on sale went for about $4.99 – still a lot of money for a ten-year-old – but I bought them as able. My earliest records were mostly 45rpm singles, though when my aunt and uncle came to visit, they went out and bought me Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Of course that set the bar pretty high: “So,” I probably thought to myself at the time, “I guess albums all come with lyrics on the back, a gatefold sleeve, and an insert with cutout moustaches and the like.” Subsequent purchases did little to dispel that notion: when I bought WingsVenus and Mars, I got – again – the lyrics and the gatefold sleeve, plus two (count ‘em, two) posters and two stickers! Plus the record was really great.

I still have both of those LPs, and nearly all the singles I had bought previously. I say nearly because – even though I lean ever-so-slightly in an OCD direction and can count on two hands all the physical objects I’ve lost or misplaced my entire life so far – a pair of singles seem to have disappeared on me. And it was only earlier this week that I finally came up with a possible explanation. The two 45s that went missing from this young boy’s collection were Ray Stevens‘ “The Streak” and C.W McCall‘s “Convoy.” So, dear reader, what do you suspect happened to them? Yup. I think my parents took them away and destroyed them. They were surely sick of hearing the novelty songs played loudly and incessantly, and probably felt they were doing me a favor. In retrospect, they probably were. I must ask them about this when I talk to them this weekend. No hard feelings, Mom and Dad.

These days I still buy vinyl. About a week ago I went onto Spotify and listened for the first time to Shuggie Otis. Even as a teenager, he was turning out some amazing guitar work. His album Here Comes Shuggie Otis is an amazingly varied affair, and the production on it is often no less than thrilling. I immediately went onto eBay and found a good used vinyl copy for a few bucks. I “bought it now” and it arrived yesterday. I’m spinning it as I type this. The few crackles don’t bother me a bit; they’re sort of auditory “comfort food, “ like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and other staples of my childhood.

My ex-wife sent an email a week or so ago, alerting me to an upcoming “record fair” here in Asheville. She copied my adult kids on the email, too; both have vinyl collections numbering in the hundreds. So that’s where I’ll be tomorrow. Six thousand LPs and counting, and no end in sight. Maybe they’ll even have a C.W. McCall single I can pick up cheap-like.

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Vote for Me! Please!

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

When I started this whole music journo writing gig many years ago, part of my motivation was to build some “street cred” that I could leverage when proposing one of a few book ideas I have rolling around in my head. It never occurred to me that I might (even on rare occasions) stand up in front of a crowd and talk about this stuff. But thanks to the encouragement of a dear friend, last year (February 2012) I did just that: I gave a what’s called an Ignite Talk. And I enjoyed it a lot.

Here’s last year’s talk. Me? Nervous? Nah.

 

I enjoyed it so much so that I actually applied to do another one this year. And I’ve been selected as a finalist. But the final decision as to which speakers (ten, chosen from about 35) get the gig…well, that’s up to you. You needn’t be able to show up for the actual event (though that’d be cool, and I might even buy you a drink if you did), but if you enjoy my writing at all, voting for me would be a quick, painless and immensely appreciated way for you to show me some encouragement.

Voting takes only a moment, and you can (but don’t have to) vote for several entries. My proposed talk has to do with one of my book ideas.

This link will take you to the voting page. The deadline is in only a few days. It would mean a heckuva lot to me if you’d go to the page, fill out the form, and cast your vote for Bill Kopp and “The Greatest Music You’ve Never Heard in Your Life.”

Thank you. Count on me reminding you again, but please vote now.

http://igniteavl.org/vote

Update: No rare personal appearance for me this go-round. I didn’t make the cut. But I’ll continue to have plenty to say here online.

Concert Preview: The Who

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

I’m very excited to be going to see The Who in concert in Greenville SC, just down the hill from our mountains tonight. It will be the third time I’ve seen the group onstage.

The first time was in 1980. Not that final “farewell” tour, but a short mini-tour that took the band to a handful of sports arena dates. Not very long after the Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum tragedy, the summer 1980 show in Atlanta holds some particularly vivid memories for me. My buddy Lex and I ventured downtown to camp out for advance tickets when they went on sale several weeks before the concert date (electronic ticketing was in its infancy in those days, so “first come,first served” truly was the order of the day; read about that era and much more in the excellent Ticket Masters: my review is here). After spending the night on the sidewalks outside the then newish Omni, home to Atlanta Hawks and Flames pro teams (it’s long gone now; Atlanta builds and destroys with impunity) alongside a bunch of fairly scary types (we were innocent, suburban sixteen year olds), we ended up buying our tickets from a scalper who had a better spot in line. We paid about $20 each for our 14th-row seats.

When the day of the show arrived, we got an adult (his Dad or mine, I can’t recall) to drive us to the nearby shopping mall, where we caught a city bus downtown. Our inexperience with urban navigation meant that we were caught flat-footed to discover the bus that ran after business hours followed an abbreviated route and thus didn’t take us right to the Omni. Deposited instead onto Peachtree Street, we warily hailed a cab. This was the first (and for many years, last) time either of us rode in a taxi, and we were shocked and a little frightened when the cabbie immediately offered to sell us drugs. We politely declined his kind sales pitch, and after enduring the four-block(!) ride, ran away from the cab as fast as we could.

As we approached the Omni, I casually asked Lex, “You’ve got your ticket, right?” He stopped dead in his tracks: He had left it at home! Me, I’m neurotic about such things, and not only had my ticket, but had verified that I did a good three or four times since leaving home. I sternly advised him that I would not be accompanying him on his round trip back to the suburbs to retrieve his ticket. He did in fact make it back in time for the show, but I vaguely recall that he did miss some of the opening set by Willie Nile.

The show itself was great. This tour was of the Kenney Jones era, so I am not one of those lucky people who can claim to have seen the mighty Keith Moon onstage, but the four-piece lineup (augmented by a three-piece horn section and, I’m pretty sure, longtime keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick) tore through the group’s catalog. It was certainly the loudest concert I had attended up to that point, and few of the countless concerts that I’ve seen since were nearly as loud.

The next time I saw the Who was some nine years later. Newly married but as-yet childless, I saw the show with my (then-)wife at what was then called the Lakewood Amphitheatre. (It’s changed names and sponsorship countless times. If it still even exists, these days it’s probably the Krispy Kreme Lakewood Theatre or the Depends Undergarments Arena or something like that.). The group for this tour was a greatly-expanded lineup that found Pete Townshend on (shudder!) acoustic guitar, alongside countless faceless players. They put on a decent show, but the bloodless renditions felt more like a Who tribute group fronted by Roger Daltrey. The show was also built around Tommy, my least-favorite album in the group’s entire catalog. (For me, “least favorite” Who still beats a lot of things, though.) The tour was documented by release of the only truly dreadful Who album ever, the 3LP Join Together.

And that was it until now. Busy raising a family, I missed subsequent opportunities to see and hear The Who, including their mid 90s mounting of a Quadrophenia tour. I considered that one, but was wary due to its billing as featuring all-star guest vocalists. “Meh,” I thought.

Tonight looks to be different. Though The Who have only released one album of truly new material since 1982′s It’s Hard (an album that has a few great moments – like the blistering guitar coda of “Cry If You Want” – scattered among its general mediocrity), and their 21st century return Endless Wire leaned a bit too far in a singer/songwriterly direction for my tastes, that 2006 album did include a bonus live disc called Live in Lyon. And the power of that performance suggested that there was plenty of life left in the old warhorses still.

Of course John Entwistle‘s gone now, but Pino Palladino‘s bass work fits into the Who style in a way that the still-excellent Kenney Jones’ drumming never did. And Zak StarkeyRingo‘s son, taught to play by Uncle Keith himself – is a fiercely powerful, expressive and aggressive drummer.

The band also includes Pete’s brother Simon Townshend plus three – three! – keyboardists. But when the plan is to recreate Quadrophenia (one of my favorite Who works) onstage, those banks of keyboards are potentially a very, very good thing. I’ll be sharing the experience with my adult kids this time around, and that will make the experience even better.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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