Archive for the ‘essay’ Category

Let’s Play “Smash or Trash,” Part Two

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Continued from Part One

  1. My first impression: humorless concept-world-prog. But humor is generally in short supply in progressive rock circles, and I like prog. So I shouldn’t hold that against ‘em. All manner of styles are on display here. I was worried there’d be vocals, with the inevitable pompous lyrics. But this seems to be a wholly instrumental set. Oh, heavens: it’s a 2CD set! Still, it’s pretty interesting stuff, so it goes in the yes pile. Wow…more discs are making it through my filter than is typical of this exercise.
  2. This is the kind of music that some call “soulful.” I call it dull, and the vocalist has a bit of that yodelly inflection that might endear her to the Americana crowd. And with notable exceptions, southern accents don’t resonate with me. Perfectly serviceable, but…pass.
  3. I think they call this genre “progressive bluegrass.” They remind me a bit of Mason Williams, which is good. Rootsy-flavored music with jazz-level instrumental chops. I don’t dislike this – not at all – but neither am I the right person to review this disc. Pass.
  4. Nice enough, but if I wanted a Jackson Browne album – and I most assuredly do not – I’d go get one. Pass.
  5. This was a disc placed in my hands at the recent Americana Music Festival and Conference in Nashville. And it’s a CDR that isn’t playing properly, so I was all ready to pass, but then it jumped forward to a subsequent track, which is pretty damn fine. I think I’ll hold onto this one for review.
  6. Spanish-language salsa/Latina music. Very nice. Ah, now that I recall, I did tell the publicist, “sure, send me that for review consideration.” But I more or less expected the accompanying one-sheet to be in English! Nonetheless, set aside for a brief review.
  7. The Americana tag is a pretty big umbrella that apparently includes a lot of stuff that I’d call rock ‘n’ roll. This definitely has a suthun flavuh, but it’s quite well done. In for review, yup.
  8. About the best thing I can say about Dixieland is that I prefer it to opera and Scandinavian death metal. Pass.
  9. Oh, wait: I forgot about dub reggae and ska. I prefer Dixieland to those too. Aaaand…pass.
  10. The label is already warning me that this is a genre-spanning disc. Or is it? I hear a white guy trying – in vain – to convince me he’s Blind Lemon Jefferson. Skipping to other tracks, it’s pretty lifeless (others might say “laid back”). Pass.
  11. Wow. Weird. At first listen, this sounds a bit like Station to Station-era David Bowie crossed with Memphis soul. Or Lou Reed crossed with Meat Loaf‘s band. Tough to pin down, and intriguing. I think I’ll spend some time with this one. Yes.
  12. How did this disc get into this pile? Clearly a mistake; I definitely want to review it. This is the latest from Terry Adams and NRBQ, a disc in which they pay tribute to the music of Thelonious Monk.

I should make it clear that none of the discs that I’m passing on are what I’d classify as trash; not by a long shot. Oftentimes I get stuff that I deem terrible. This latest lot is some pretty uniformly high-quality music. But there are only 260 work days in a year, and my once-a-day posting limits how much I can cover. So a good deal of worthy music is getting passed over. All I can say is that the stuff that made the cut will come with my enthusiastic recommendation (except when it doesn’t).

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Let’s Play “Smash or Trash,” Part One

Monday, September 28th, 2015

One of the exercises in which I regularly engage is a little thing I like to call “Smash or Trash.” The name is stolen from a segment the radio deejays on Atlanta’s 96 Rock (WKLS-FM) used to do back in the late 70s and early 80s (I’m sure other stations did it as well). The idea is simple: listen to a bit of a new album, decide if it goes in the “good” or “bad” pile, and move onto the next.

As a music reviewer, I get loads of CDs. Yes, compact discs: I’m old-school enough that my interest in reviewing music based on MP3 files is quite limited, though on occasion I do just that (one’s coming up soon, as it happens). But I get so many of the things – on request, semi-solicited, unsolicited – that it’s simply not practical to give all of them a review.

My general policy – for many years now – has been not to review music by artists whom my readers are unlikely to know unless I can recommend it. In other words, if you’ve never heard of an artist and his/her new album doesn’t impress me, you won’t hear about it from me. Fledgling recording artists need all the help they can get, and it benefits no one for me to knock ‘em down. With respect to reviews, I see my role as a kind of consumer guide. I read a Facebook comment recently that asserted that good reviews never sold an album. I firmly disagree.

But the process of giving album a listen remains. So whenever the pile of new CDs gets unwieldy, I set aside a bit of time – less than those artists might hope, but more than some of the music deserves – and play Smash or Trash. I start at the beginning of the first track, and sometimes a quick listen to part of that is enough for me to say, “Yeah, this interests me.” In that case, I click forward to subsequent tracks to ascertain that what resonated in the opening track wasn’t an anomaly. If it’s all good, that CD goes in the yes/review-later pile. And I’ll eventually give it a full listen.

Other times, I get a sense right away that a given album isn’t my thing at all. In those cases – generally fifteen seconds in is plenty of time – I again skip ahead to make sure my initial impression isn’t off base. If I’m right, then that one goes in the no-thanks pile.

At this moment – I’m doing this little exercise and writing about it in real-time – I have two dozen discs. So here we go! The names are being withheld to protect the unassuming, if not innocent.

  1. Okay, right off the bat, the cover art on this one is trying unsubtly to reference a classic album of many years ago. The music’s nice enough, and extremely well done for what it is. I know people who’d enjoy this. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people. And anything that reminds me of The Eagles isn’t likely to get reviewed. Pass.
  2. Hey, this one really rocks! Fun stuff, combining a punk attitude with early rock’n'roll vibe. The act isn’t well-known at all, and let’s just say that I’ve already given them more coverage than some other bands I like. So I reluctantly pass on this one. But I’d recommend it if I did review it.
  3. Ugh. More tepid, bar-band blues. There’s a sterile production aesthetic on far too many modern blues albums, one that suggests a high quality recording made on location at your local Holiday Inn. This is an exemplar of that approach. Pass.
  4. This artist is pretty obscure, and I’ve covered a previous release, albeit in a perfunctory manner. This is good stuff, though with some classic pop arrangement and songwriting motifs. This one goes in the “yes” pile. I’ll probably do a hundred-worder on this disc. The first one so far; one out of four…that’s par for the course.
  5. Looking at the artwork I’m wondering if this is going to be some atmospheric European rock. In goes the CD. The instrumentation is very interesting, and I really like the spaghetti western vibe. But the vocals are a real turnoff, and that’s a deal breaker for me. A quick look at the liner notes confirms my initial suspicion. A shame; this one has a lot to recommend it, but I can’t get past the vocals. Pass.
  6. Google tells me that there are more than 1.2 million words in the English language. So when several of your song titles are the same as other well-known songs, we’re off to a bad start. And when the music’s pedestrian – reminding me of a less-inspired Three Dog Night; a lot like ‘em, as it happens – then I say: pass.
  7. I get why a label might put together an anthology of a little-known (the press kit author would prefer the label “under-appreciated”) act. A little too much acoustic guitar and MOR flourishes for my taste; here I’m reminded of Tumblewood Connection-era Elton John, which isn’t bad. But this doesn’t excite me enough. Pass.
  8. I recognize some of the names on this disc’s credits. Based on that, the music isn’t at all what I’d have expected. Dreamy, understated stuff. But it’s really, really good in an Emitt Rhodes kind of way. This goes in the enthusiastic “yes” pile, for a full review.
  9. More blues. The guitar playing’s impressive, but the backing is by-the-numbers stuff. Better than the majority of stuff I hear in this genre. There’s a jump blues flavor to some of the tunes that I find quite appealing. Others are more in a southern soul vein, or a smoky, late-night style. This is pretty good, so I’ll earmark it for one of my short reviews.
  10. Okayyy…a double album by a truly obscure artist, one with decidedly limited appeal (if an interesting history). The bottom line here is that I don’t think my readers would be all that interested in this one. So while I might regret it – that does happen – I’m going to pass.
  11. This one came in a package along with a CD (by another artist) that I had requested. Smart move on the publicist’s part, that. Nice arrangements, and the music’s difficult to describe as fitting into a single genre. That’s often a good sign. This one gets a yes.
  12. The sleeve sports some clever song titles. But there’s such a thing as being too eclectic. I can’t tell if these guys want to be Cracker, Violent Femmes, Brian Eno, or Jonathan Richman. The lo-fi production aesthetic –the drums sound like cardboard boxes – fails to impress. Okay but not for me. Pass.

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A Brief History of Rock’n'roll…Because, Why Not?

Friday, August 28th, 2015

My cousin is a fifth-grade public school teacher. Put another way, he’s doing some of the most important work there is. Recently he asked me to put together “a page or two” history of rock ‘n’ roll from its beginning through the 1970s so that he could share it with his students. As patently impossible as such a task might actually be, I happily said that I’d give it a try. Here it is. — bk

Nobody knows when, where or how the musical form we call rock’n'roll began; if anyone tries to tell you different, don’t trust them. Do your own research. For information on the origin of the term “rock’n'roll,” ask your grandparents (or at least someone over 40); I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to write about that in a essay aimed at fifth graders.

The style of music that came to be known as rock’n'roll grew out of many other American musical styles, most notably blues (played mostly, but not only, by African Americans) and country (played primarily, but not only, but whites). Perhaps the clearest musical predecessor of rock’n'roll is the jump blues and swing style of the 1940s, typified by the music of Louis Jordan and Louis Prima. Once electric guitars gained wider use, they replaced the saxophone as the small band’s “lead” instrument; this change was one of the most important developments in rock’n'roll.

Early pioneers of rock’n'roll included Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley and His Comets, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Little Richard (Richard Penniman), and Ike Turner, among others. In fact the song that many scholars claim as the “first” rock’n'roll song, Jackie Brenston‘s “Rocket 88,” features Turner and his band.

After a brief period of popular success, things went wrong for most of rock’n'roll’s early stars. Elvis was drafted; Jerry Lee Lewis endured a scandal backlash in the wake of his marriage to his 13-year old cousin; Berry was arrested on Mann Act charges; Little Richard left rock’n'roll for religion. And important dance/radio disc jockey Alan Freed – the man many credit for naming rock’n'roll – faded from the scene in disgrace after a payola (accepting bribes to play specific songs on the radio) scandal.

Meanwhile, big business had discovered that there was a market for this thing called rock’n'roll, so in the absence of many of rock’s original heroes, they manufactured new ones to take their place. This “teen idol” era featured many disposable – often musically and visually interchangeable – artists, but behind the scenes, true creativity was at work. The so-called “Brill Building” style of pop songwriting launched the careers of many important songwriters who would go onto fame in their later years: Carole King, Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Neil Sedaka. Even Lou Reed (later of the Velvet Underground) played a role in the Brill Building movement. And with his lush “wall of sound” production style, producer Phil Spector became a legend as the force behind many so-called “girl groups.” And in Detroit – always a fertile ground for music, Motown music gave rise to African American vocal groups.

Alongside the pop of that era, music product aimed at a younger set became popular; often discredited by supposedly serious critics, “bubblegum” music is arguably rock’s longest-lasting form; modern acts like Britney Spears and N*SYNC carry on the bubblegum tradition (proudly or not).

Across the Atlantic, music fans and musicians in England (and elsewhere on the continent) were listening to American rock’n'roll. As early as the late 1950s, The Beatles were developing a style that drew upon early rock’n'roll, rhythm and blues, soul, country, rockabilly and musical theater. It has often been said that the so-called “British Invasion” of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who and other groups was merely a case of the British bringing an American form of music back to Americans. In the face of the American success of groups like the Rolling Stones, tens of thousands of “garage groups” formed all across the United States; that anyone-can-do-it ethos influenced a generation and planted the seed for “punk rock” of the 1970s, a style that has as much in common with very early rock’n'roll as anything else.

As rock’n'roll once again grew in popularity, musicians from other musical idioms either changed their style, or incorporated elements of rock’n'roll into their own music. Folk musician Bob Dylan famously “went electric” in the summer of 1965, and rock groups began adding non-rock sounds and textures to their music. By the middle of the 1960s, social upheaval – centered around increased availability of birth control, the rise in use of recreational drugs, and generational opposition to America’s involvement in the war in Vietnam – led to a period of musical experimentation. Myriad forms of music came out of this era: psychedelic rock and blues rock are two of the most well-known forms. Even groups who hadn’t been known for musical experimentation began to push the boundaries of popular music; the Beach BoysPet Sounds album (1966) is one of the best examples of this.

As the 1960s drew to a close, some musicians – feeling a need to step back from some of rock’s excesses – launched a “back to basics” movement. That yielded Bob Dylan’s return to acoustic and country/folk forms, The Band‘s Music From Big Pink, and eventually The Beatles’ Let it Be. By the time the 1970s began, rock’roll had split into countless sub-styles including jazz-rock, fusion, heavy metal (Black Sabbath), glam rock (T. Rex), progressive rock (Yes), space rock (Pink Floyd) classical-influenced rock (Emerson, Lake and Palmer), on and on. Meanwhile the quieter, less threatening era of the singer/songwriter calmed things down with the likes of James Taylor, Billy Joel, and The Eagles. And “classic” or “corporate” rock was on the rise; by the mid 1970s, punk rock – itself a derivative of bubblegum, garage rock, and early rock and roll bringing things full circle – would establish itself as an answer to what its practitioners saw as a bloated, big business enterprise.

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Some Long-lost Artist Biographies

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Way back in the depths of the Great Recession (2007-2009), one of my former writers (from my time as Editor in Chief of a now-defunct magazine I won’t dignify by naming) put me in touch with the good people at Amoeba Music. The California-based record chain had an ambitious plan: creating artist bios to serve as a resource on their website. Right alongside online ordering, visitors could click on an “Artist Biography” link, and read a concise bio about that act.

I was commissioned to do several dozen of these, but owing to that little worldwide financial debacle I mentioned earlier, the project was shelved indefinitely. And because the pieces I turned in before deadline were “works for hire,” they were the property of Amoeba. So I couldn’t publish them myself. Fair is fair.

Fast forward more than six years, to a couple of weeks ago. I stumbled upon one of those essays online! Turns out that – and I don’t know when this happened; could’ve been years ago – Amoeba has published five of the six essays I penned; most (but not all) of them include my byline.

If you enjoy any of the acts listed below, you might also find these short biographies an interesting read. For my part, I’m just happy that they’re available. All excerpts below ©Amoeba Music.

The story of Badfinger is one filled with tantalizing promise, modest success, and crushing tragedy. Initially viewed as something of an heir apparent to the Beatles’ legacy, a combination of naivete, emotional fragility and misplaced trust served to rob this quartet of greater fame; their brief time in the limelight (1970-1974) ended with the suicide of their primary songwriter, effectively spelling the end for this talented group. Despite the band’s tumultuous history, Badfinger has earned its place among the top tier of power pop groups. [read more...]

Blind Faith
The aptly-named Blind Faith is a textbook example of unrealized potential. Formed in 1968 from the remnants of other high-profile groups, this “supergroup” brought together some of rock’s greatest talents. The quartet issued one hastily-recorded album, did a quick tour and disbanded. In some ways, Blind Faith is no more than a footnote to the careers of three of its members. Yet in its lineup, approach and songs, the group possessed immense potential to push popular music in new and exciting directions. They made tentative steps in those directions, but left fans wondering what could have been. [read more...]

The Rutles
The mockumentary/rockumentary genre didn’t start with the 1984 film This is Spinal Tap. As far back as 1978, NBC-TV aired All You Need is Cash, a prime-time special that purported to tell the story of The Rutles, England’s “Pre-Fab Four.” Former Monty Python troupe member Eric Idle had conceived of the project years earlier, and the project’s musical director (Neil Innes from the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band) had already written and produced a few songs in a mock-Beatles vein both with The Bonzos and The Grimms. [read more...]

Spinal Tap
Rock music is often funny; rarely is it intentionally so. The 1984 film This is Spinal Tap was a faux documentary (“rockumentary” or “mockumentary”) that followed the exploits of fictional British heavy metal band Spinal Tap (“one of Britain’s loudest bands”). Like The Monkees before them, Spinal Tap went from being a fictional group to a real one; unlike The Monkees, Spinal Tap never had ambitions to be taken seriously. Turning every rock cliché on its head for laughs, Spinal Tap (the band and the movie) may be the most fully-realized parody in all of popular culture. [read more...]

The Tubes
The Tubes successfully combined rock, theatre and satire. Their biting combination of offbeat subject matter, complex yet muscular arrangements, and provocative presentation pushed the boundaries of rock like few before or since. Most modern visually-oriented acts owe a debt—knowingly or not—to the Tubes. [read more...]

The list of acts I was planning to cover for Amoeba (but didn’t) was long, and included Syd Barrett, Boston, Brinsley Schwarz, Junior Brown, Cheap Trick, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Neil Finn, Fleetwood Mac, Flo & Eddie, Fountains of Wayne, Robert Fripp, Gentle Giant, David Gilmour, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Jellyfish, John Lennon, Nick Lowe, Nazz, Porcupine Tree, Procol Harum, Raspberries, Redd Kross, The Replacements, Rockpile, Todd Rundgren, Soft Boys, Ringo Starr, Pete Townshend, Traffic, The Turtles, Utopia, Steve Ray Vaughan, Roger Waters, The Who, Brian Wilson, Johnny Winter, and Roy Wood. As you might note from the links embedded in that last sentence, I’ve since written about many of them – and even interviewed several – on this site.

As of this writing, my completed-and-submitted biography of Moby Grape remains unavailable. Far be it from me to suggest that the (allegedly, I say) dastardly Matthew Katz has anything to do with its omission. I’m sure he’s a lovely man. Really. Honestly. Everyone says so.

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Old Dog, New Trick

Friday, April 10th, 2015

As a kid, like so many of my generation, I harbored dreams of becoming a rock star. And failing that, I wanted at least to become a musician. But for reasons lost to the mists of time, I went with piano as my instrument of choice. My dear parents were wary: neither of them could carry a tune in the proverbial bucket, and they had no interest in filling the living room with a piece of furniture nobody would use. So while they agreed to pay for lessons, they told me that I’d have to find practice pianos elsewhere.

Luckily (at last in this respect) I attended Catholic school, so there was a church adjacent. And as churches often do, it had a basement that was home to a decent upright piano. So I attended my weekly lessons, and stole away to the church piano during lunch breaks, before and after classes to practice.

I improved, and eventually my parents saw that buying a piano would make sense. The found an early 1900s apartment grand (with a soundboard the size of a standard – not “baby” grand, positioned vertically to save space). It’s very much the kind one thinks of in old Western saloons. I still have it.

But as much as I developed skills on the keyboard, I still – on some level – wanted to be that rock star. And Elton John aside, in the 1970s and ’80s, keyboard players were rarely the focus of most rock’n'roll bands. So I decided I wanted to play guitar, too.

But clearly I didn’t want to badly enough to actually learn how. I picked up my first acoustic guitar at a garage sale, and used it mostly as a prop at home, pretending to play. It pains me to remember this – much less write about it – but one day while listening to The Who, I did a Pete Townshend jump with the guitar, managing in the process to kick it with the back of my heel, putting a huge hole in it as a result. That was pretty much the end of that.

Quite a few years later, around 1995 I think it was, a woman I knew asked me if I wanted to buy her husband’s left-handed acoustic (I am hopelessly left-handed). The price was right, so I bought my first proper lefty acoustic, a Fender F-210LH. It was a decent instrument, but still I never made any proper effort to learn how to play.

Fast forward again, this time almost twenty more years, to 2014. My kids have grown up, and I’m newly married. My bride has just endured with me the upheaval of moving to a new home, of combining our belongings into one household. And while I’m no pack rat (I’m actually tidy and organized to a near-compulsive degree), I do have a lot of stuff. So while I winnowed down my keyboard collection from about twenty instruments to less than a dozen, and even got rid of a few CDs and LPs (not many!), I still had massive amounts of…stuff.

And said stuff included not one, not two, but three stringed instruments. The Fender acoustic, a lefty Yamaha Pacifica electric I bought myself for my 35th birthday, and the Epiphone bass guitar I bought for my first wife before we got married. And I couldn’t play any of them. My new wife found this ever-so-slightly absurd. These instruments were more or less taking up space in our new home. She suggested that I either sell them or, y’know, learn how to play.

Those choices seemed reasonable. I chose the latter. Finally, nearly forty years after deciding that I’d like to play guitar, I’m finally doing something about it. I started weekly lessons last November, and I’m happy to say that I’m already a credible (though by no means skilled) rhythm guitarist. I have a long way to go, but I’m committed to going there. It won’t surprise me a bit if sometime before this year is out, I bring my new guitar onstage with one of my bands, and play a tune or two.

Oh yeah: the new guitar. When I started lessons and actually began to have some idea of what I was doing, I found that my big hands aren’t crazy about the thin neck on the Pacifica (basically a Stratocaster copy). And for whatever reason I’ve long had an affinity for the aesthetics of the semi-hollow body style of the Gibson ES-335 (think: Chuck Berry, BB King, Alvin Lee) and its cousin, the Epiphone Casino (think: John Lennon on the Apple rooftop). As it happened, a local left-handed guitarist was selling his Epiphone Dot for an exceedingly reasonable sum, so I bought it. It’s a beauty, and its high quality truly improved my ability to play.

I’m still not a rock star, and these days my desire to become one has long since faded. My life is filled with other rewards. But despite the old saw about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks, at 51 years of age, I’m finally becoming a guitarist.

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Miss Adventure

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Note: For this, my 1500th blog entry, I’m taking a look back in time. The events described herein took place more than a year and a half ago, so please take the specific details with a grain of salt. I find that I had to wait this long to allow the events to settle in my mind’s perspective; an unpublished June 2013 version of this story didn’t capture the story’s essence to my satisfaction. I now know that — as some playwright once wrote — all’s well that ends well. — bk

In early 2013, I experienced the opportunity of a lifetime: the legendary virtuoso guitarist John McLaughlin had just finished recording a new album, and I was scheduled to interview him about it. The interview itself took place over the telephone – McLaughlin lives in France – and it ranks among my all-time favorite musical conversations. McLaughlin was engaging and forthright as we delved into all manner of subjects. When one is as well-known a figure as he is, there’s no worrying about “name dropping,” so he was happy to discuss his work with Miles Davis and others.

Near the end of our conversation, he made a point of telling me how much he had enjoyed the discussion. McLaughlin extended an invitation around his upcoming visit to Asheville NC: after the show, would I like to come backstage so we could meet in person? Why, yes. Yes, I would be willing to do that.

As the show approached, I was in touch with his publicist, making sure to iron out the details. Not that there were many: Am I on the guest list? Is my name on a cleared-to-go-backstage list? Yes and yes; his publicist is very good (you might be surprised how many times this sort of thing goes all wrong on the ground).

Around that time, another opportunity presented itself; a quite unusual one, in fact. A new friend of mine was planning a celebration around her upcoming 50th birthday party. The gist of the plan was that she had chartered a bus of sorts (more on that presently) and was planning on taking a merry caravan of friends on a trip from Asheville to Manchester TN for the 2013 Bonnaroo Festival. Would I like to come along? Why, yes. Yes, I think I might.

I had attended Bonnaroo in 2007, covering it for a feature that appeared in a print magazine where I just happened to be editor-in-chief. I went to that festival with my son Daniel, who at the time was only fourteen. We had a good and memorable time, but let’s just say that once it was over, my attitude about multiple-day, sleep-in-a-tent festivals was a resolute “never again.”

But this invitation had a number of appealing features. First of all, this bus – a sort of cross between the Merry Pranksters‘ Furthur and the coach that The Beatles chartered for their Magical Mystery Tour – had (I was told) sleeping quarters, air conditioning, a generator, and a rooftop stage where our little collective could stage impromptu “concerts” in the camping section at the festival. Second, most of the trip’s costs were to be covered by our host. And third, the bill for that year’s Bonnaroo included Paul McCartney.

So I said yes, and began sorting out my schedule to make time for the several-day excursion. As I learned of the trip’s itinerary, I quickly discovered that I had a bit of a conflict: the chartered bus trip was scheduled to leave a couple of days before the actual festival began. Why was this a problem? Because it meant that I would not be in Asheville on the night John McLaughlin was playing in town at the Orange Peel.

Luckily, it turned out that after his Asheville date, McLaughlin’s next-scheduled performance would be at none other than Bonnaroo! So I got back in touch with his publicist, explained the situation, and asked if I might instead meet the maestro backstage at the festival. No problem, I was told; they would even set me up with press credentials, meaning that I would have some backstage access for the whole of the the festival. Niiice, I thought. This was really working out well.

The crew for this adventure  included our host, who I had now known for just under two weeks. (Our initial meeting was actually a first date, but we quickly pivoted into just-friends mode.) Also on board would be an interesting and very nice couple who were close friends of hers. Another friend of our host had flown in from Alabama or somesuch to attend as well. And a last-minute addition – added because someone else had dropped out, and an extra ticket was lying about – was a friend of mine, yet another date-turned-friend. We’d be picking her up in east Tennessee, along the route to Manchester.

We were also slated to pick up two women who none of us knew, but who were described to me as “guards.” Their role, I was told, would be to stay behind at the campsite, keeping an eye on our bus and its contents while we enjoyed the festival. This struck me as a bit odd – who would go to the trouble to travel to an outdoor festival and then not take in the music on offer? – but there were lots of things about this trip that fell outside my sphere of experience. So playing strongly against type, I was just along for the ride, and had no hand in (or say in) any of the decisions about the nature of the excursion. Anyway, one of these so-called guards was to be picked up here in town before we left, and the other was to be collected somewhere (else) in east Tennessee, again along the way.

Our driver was a laid-back, friendly sort who also owned the bus; I wasn’t clear on his role in (and relationship to) the other members of the crew, but my vague impression was that he was a hired hand who would also be staying behind to watch the bus instead of the onstage performers. He reminded me of a cross between Shaggy from the cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Timothy Leary; make of that what you will.

As scheduled, I showed up mid-morning at the point of departure. There I found the bus parked in its regular home, roadside amidst tall weeds, junked cars and mud puddles. I had packed as light as possible, though I did – on advice of our host – bring along a portable keyboard, stand, amplifier, and power cords. We were actually serious about staging some “jam” performances on the roof of this thing once we were set up at the campsite. (Those of you who know me in life may be raising your eyebrows at this point: I am decidedly not of the jamming sort. I would refer you to the immortal words of St. Ambrose: “When in Rome…”)

Joining me there were the driver/bus owner; our host; her out-of-town friend (both fully kitted out with many, many bags of makeup, hats, masks, costumes, helium-filled balloons, hair dryers, and god knows what-all else); and the female half of her friend-couple. The plan was to pick up the latter’s husband from the Federal Building downtown (he’s a lawyer, and had a case that morning). We rode the bus the five or six miles to the Federal Building, and since he would be briefly delayed, the bus was parked a half-block away, on a side street.

I sat there with my fellow travelers, popping open a beer or two and idly watching some of them fiddle with makeup and the like. At one point, I noticed a really loud hissing, and an odor that was both unpleasant and oddly familiar. “That smells like the inside of a tire,” I said out loud to no one in particular.

We ventured out to the curb to discover that yes indeed, we had a flat. We hadn’t even gotten anywhere close to leaving the city limits, we were already a tiny bit behind schedule, and…now we had a flat tire.

Once we collected our crew member from the courthouse, we headed to the only place in town that – we were told – could handle a flat tire on a vehicle of this size. It was a few miles outside of town, in the opposite direction from our destination.

When we got there, we had to wait: a giant fire truck was in line head of us, and for obvious reasons it took priority over a rainbow-painted bus filled part-way with luridly costumed revelers (all of whom were by now drinking iced-down beer from cans). Some two or so hours later, we were again on our way. Around this time, I worried silently for a brief moment: if we continued to fall behind schedule, might I miss my appointment to meet John McLaughlin before his performance? I brushed aside that fleeting concern: at this point, we were still scheduled to arrive nearly a day ahead of time. What could possibly go wrong?

At this point, dear reader, I hope you have picked up on my subtle literary use of a technique we writers like to call foreshadowing. If somehow you missed it, allow me to answer the question posited in the previous paragraph: Everything could go wrong. Yes, we finally got on the road. But some 77 miles into our trip (I measured it), the bus broke down. We had just finished navigating the section of I-40 that winds through the Pigeon River Gorge: ten or more miles of narrow, endlessly twisting road taken (by most vehicles) at around 70mph. The magic bus, it seemed, could only do about fifty, which was fine with me (I am prone to motion sickness). But mere moments after we came out of the gorge and into a resolutely deserted section of east Tennessee, the drive shaft (or something like that) broke. The bus ground to a halt on the roadside, and there we sat. For hours, in fact.

Once we found someone who could potentially fix the bus – and making that happen took a lot of cell phone work on the part of our host, and in fact we were lucky to get a cell connection at all – it was quite late in the day. I forget now just how many hours behind we were, but the more we learned, the worse the news got. The bus would have to be towed several miles east, using – wait for it – the shoulder of the westbound lane of traffic on I-40. A special tow truck – the kind you might see hauling a tractor-trailer or dump truck – would have to do the work. And because the bus itself was so tall (did I mention it had the body of an old VW Microbus welded onto its roof, with a portable performance stage atop that?) there was some real concern that it might not clear the underpasses between the spot where it died and the off-ramp (oh, pardon me: the on-ramp) to which it was headed.

Our rescuers arrived in a transit van, the type of thing designed to hold maybe a dozen people. Fine, right? Because there were (at this point) only seven of us: the driver, the host and her makeup-aficionado friend, the couple, one of the so-called guards, and me. But wait: because we didn’t know how soon we’d be getting the bus back, we had to take enough gear for – here it comes – an overnight stay. So the van was packed to capacity.

There was also road construction underway, so with lane closures, the twenty-mile trip to the nearest town of any appreciable size took us a couple of hours. By this point it was dark, well after 9pm. Meanwhile, the news from the repair shop (the bus had made the trip safely, thank goodness, with most of our belongings still on board) was not good: the magic bus had lost its magic, and would be sidelined for perhaps a week or more. So we bunked up for the night in a few rooms at a motel.

The next morning, we collected our two remaining travelers: my friend and the second “guard.” Once we were all gathered in the hotel lobby, we began to have discussions as to what we should do. Our host had by this point rented a pair of transit vans, big enough to carry all of us and a scaled-down version of our gear (the rest would stay with the bus).

My own contribution to the discussion was the idea that our host should cut her losses, send the inessential members of the crew home, and head onto Bonnaroo. By my reckoning, she didn’t need all of these people. The bus driver was wholly superfluous. So he could go home, or perhaps stay with his brokedown bus until it was repaired. We wouldn’t be staying in the vehicle campground, so we didn’t need those guards. (By the way, the two of them were chatting a good bit about which acts they were planning to see at the festival, so it quickly became evident that they weren’t going to be standing guard over our stuff anyway.)

And since our host hardly knew me at all (and knew my friend even less) it made sense to cut us loose. Besides, I figured, if we left for home now, I’d make it back to Asheville in time to see John McLaughlin play (assuming I could reach his publicist and convince her to change the plans to suit me yet again).

Our host was having none of it. She was bound and determined to see the trip through in a manner as close as possible to her original vision. It made no sense to me, but I bit my tongue and stuck to my along-for-the-ride approach. We trundled back east to where the magic bus was now in storage, went aboard and got the bare essentials. For me, this meant some of the food and drink from my cooler, and the rest of my clothing. My thousand dollars’ worth of musical gear (and that of some of my fellow travelers) would await our post-festival return.

Our host and her friend collected their bare essentials as well: the costumes, the shopping bags full of beauty aids (blow dryers, curlers etc.), and a few fistfuls of balloons (there were fifty total; mercifully, a few were left behind). All of these must-haves were squeezed into our vans, and we began our westward caravan. At this point we were almost exactly twenty-four hours behind schedule. I was supposed to be meeting John McLaughlin that very afternoon.

Thankfully, the remainder of the trip to Manchester went off with little interruption. Once we approached Manchester, however, the traffic slowed to a standstill, as it always does near the entrance to Bonnaroo. Getting through that traffic and the entry checkpoint took a few hours; by the time we rolled onto the parking area, it was minutes before my scheduled appointment with McLaughlin. As soon as the vehicle’s gear went into park, I said goodbye to my fellow travelers, leaped from the van, and began a one-mile-plus journey on foot through the entry gate and past many thousands of festivalgoers. My destination was the press area, conveniently situated on the opposite end of the Bonnaroo complex from where we were parked. With single-minded purpose, I navigated my way across the acres in record time.

When I arrived at the press tent, it was oddly quiet. There were very few people present, and a line of director’s chairs on the stage was empty. I spotted a TV reporter who was busily scribbling away in her notebook, so I approached her. “Do you know when John McLaughlin will be here?” She looked at me with eyes that said I wasn’t going to enjoy her answer. “He left about ten minutes ago.”

The remainder of the trip had its high points, but was mostly punctuated with misadventures that are best left unrecollected. We all made it safely home afterward, and we were reunited with our belongings about a week later. The bus wasn’t so lucky: I believe that I heard it was a few weeks before it was repaired enough to be driven the 70 miles or so back to Asheville.

But when I was still in Manchester TN, I was so downcast that I skipped the second of three days of the festival, electing instead to stay behind at the motel (a good half hour away from Bonnaroo). As it turned out, it was a low-key, highly enjoyable day. I took a swim, had a few beers, read a book, napped, and dined out at a nearby pizza place. I also spent a good portion of that afternoon on the phone with a woman back home who I was getting to know (though we hadn’t met in person at this point). Today that woman is my wife.

I never did get to meet John McLaughlin, but I did get to see his concert. It was predictably wonderful. McCartney was great, too.

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In Memoriam: Paul Revere (Part Two)

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Continued from Part One

All that said, Paul Revere‘s understanding of his band’s place in history was informed by that attitude. He was often willing to be interviewed, but would quickly tire of questions about “the old days.” By all accounts, he simply wasn’t interested in “preserving the legacy” of the band he started more than a half century ago. Thus, one never got much in the way of a quote from him to the effect that Paul Revere and the Raiders occupied an important place in music and/or pop culture history. He left others to make that argument, and he did little or nothing to back them up in their efforts. He was too busy lining up another show to just plain entertain the audiences.

What that meant in practical terms for this writer became clearer and clearer as time wore on: even before his illness, Revere wasn’t all that interested in sitting down for a series of career-spanning interviews designed to form the basis of a Raiders history. Even though I had (directly or indirectly) secured commitments from a long list of people in or around the band’s orbit, the whole proposed project hinged on Revere’s cooperation.

While his estranged co-bandleader Mark Lindsay had turned down my request for interviews connected with a planned book (“I’m writing my own book,” he says, which is, frankly, what they all say), I had a plan for dealing with that: once I had concluded my interviews with Revere, other band members past and present, roadies, friends and, er, former groupies, I planned to reconnect with him (I’ve interviewed him a few times in recent years) and give him the opportunity to help clarify a few things.

I had hoped that my 2010 trip to Branson would include a face-to-face interview with Revere, hopefully the first of several; many months earlier when I was researching for the Raiders cover story I wrote for Shindig! Magazine, I had endeavored to set up a phone interview. At the time Revere’s wife was dealing with some health issues of her own, so Paul was busy looking after her, and unavailable for comment. And in the end, I got only a few up-close-and-personal moments with Revere; we spoke briefly about the cover story and the group’s upcoming cruise gigs. The interview never happened.

I persisted through my intermediary for a long time thereafter; in fact I prepared a “Ten Reasons” sheet for Revere just three weeks before his passing. While there were others in recent years who had gone down a similar path, I was arguably unique in that I didn’t have a secondary agenda. Unlike another party who pitched Revere on a (different) project, I had no interest in engineering a rapprochement between him and Lindsay to serve as a tidy “wrapup” for my telling of the story. Thanks to unwelcome experiences like that, Revere was quite wary of people pitching him on books, films and the like.

As best as I can tell, Paul Revere never saw that “Ten Reasons” document; now I understand and appreciate why that was the case.

It was only the day before Revere’s death that a trollish woman posted on the band’s official Facebook page that “they were no good after Mark Lindsey (sic) left.” Revere wasn’t ever active online, but I’m certain he would have rolled his eyes at that statement, having heard it many times before. The point for him was never looking back. It’s a bit like telling a fifty year old, “You looked better when you were twenty.” Sure, maybe I did, but I’m here now and so are you: take me or leave me. And the heavy performing schedule that Paul Revere and the Raiders maintained up through the end of 2013 proved that plenty of people liked the current lineup just fine, thanks.

With Revere gone, the band has tweaked its branding a bit: they’re now Paul Revere’s Raiders. Paul’s son Jamie Revere has rejoined the group, and concert dates are scheduled well into 2015. To those who would argue that the band won’t be the same without “Uncle Paul,” I’d agree. It can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t. But neither was it the same without Mike “Doc” Holladay. Or certainly without the celebrated “power trio” of Phil Volk, Drake Levin and Michael “Smitty” Smith. Or Keith Allison. Or Mark Lindsay. Or Omar Martinez, for that matter. It’s about the music and the show, full stop.

And the show will go on. Paul Revere’s Raiders have a new single coming out very soon, issued on red 45rpm vinyl, a cut called “Still Hungry.” The title is an overt reference, of course, to one of the band’s biggest hit singles, 1966′s top-tenner “Hungry.” I’ve heard an advance of it, and while it has almost nothing musically in common with anything the Raiders did in the 60s, it’s a sturdy, rocking tune. As with pretty much every Raiders recording of note from ’65 onward, Paul Revere isn’t audibly present, but his (so to speak) spirit informs the performance, just like it did all the others. I’m certain he was proud of it, though he likely thought of the impending release more as either a show souvenir or a means to get more people interested to buy a ticket to one of his shows.

I expect now that longtime efforts to see Paul Revere and the Raiders inducted into the so-called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame may finally bear fruit. And while they deserve the accolade previously given to such noteworthy “rock and roll” acts as Randy Newman, Public Enemy, ABBA, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Jimmy Cliff, James Taylor and Donna Summer, I honestly don’t think Revere would have cared beyond the award’s potential short-term effect on ticket sales.

Now, the central figure in the Raiders story — the only one there from beginning to end — has gone silent, and done so without leaving a first-hand document behind to tell that story. Of the “original” band (in other words, mostly guy whose names most wouldn’t recognize), only Mark Lindsay remains. Of the most popular Where the Action Is era and later 60s lineups, several survive, and many are still active in music. If I can come up with a way to tell the story as it should be told with the help of several of them, the book idea might somehow get off the ground, but for now it’s on indefinite hold.

I’m sure too that in the meanwhile, various players in and around Revere’s orbit will come out with their own stories. And as is human nature, some of them will portray themselves as the protagonist, the one who gallantly slayed the dragons, stood up to the formidable opposition, and kept the flame burning. And while they all have merit, don’t you be misled: as Revere told Ed Osborne in 2009, “It was my band, and I ran that son-of-a-bitch like a sergeant.”

And he did it dressed like Captain Crunch, laughing all the while. Again, quoting from the Osborne interview (which forms the basis of the liner notes for the 3CD set of the band’s Columbia singles),

“Looking back, we really had an incredible run. We owe so much to Roger Hart and Dick Clark and all the people that worked so hard…overall I can’t complain because we had an unbelievable amount of success that most groups never get to have. Any mistakes that were made along the way don’t mean shit after it’s all said and done. Everything turned out for the best.”

Paul is survived by his third wife, Syd; his adult children; his bandmates current and former; and the legion of Paul Revere and the Raiders fans. A funeral service this coming weekend will be open to the public; after that, a private burial will have him interred in his home state of Idaho.

Read more of my Raider-related writing here.

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In Memoriam: Paul Revere (Part One)

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

As you have likely heard, Paul Revere passed away on Saturday. Age 76, he had been diagnosed about a year ago with brain cancer; despite that challenge, he remained active and onstage with his band Paul Revere and the Raiders until a few months ago.

As some readers will know, I have written extensively about the man and his band. I’ve also found myself right on the periphery of the inner circle, in regular contact with members of what one might call “the Revere organization,” some of those closest to the man himself. So while I don’t claim any special degree of access, I was perhaps a bit more clued into the situation than the average fan.

The reason for my contact was pretty simple: through intermediaries, I had – for quite some time now – been attempting to convince Revere to cooperate with me on a planned book that would chronicle his fifty-plus years in music. The book would have charted the history of Paul Revere and the Raiders from their earliest days as The Downbeats; through the period when they were one of the hottest bands on the Pacific Northwest scene (when they cut “Louie, Louie”); on through the most well-known period when they signed with Columbia and racked up more television appearances than any other musical artist before, then or since; through the lean years in the early 1970s, by which time the band had fallen out of popular favor and lost charismatic lead vocalist Mark Lindsay; and – and this is important – from then until now, when, save for a brief year or so – Revere continued to lead the band through a revue/nostalgia phase that brought joy to countless baby boomers (and their kids and grandkids).

That last part really is important, because knowing what I do know of the man, this post-record-deal period (lasting some thirty years now!) would have been every bit as important to Paul Revere as the hit-making 1960s era. Some (and if they have any self-awareness at all, they know who they are) go on endlessly about the so-called “Raiders legacy,” but at the risk of projecting a point of view onto someone who has passed on, I strongly suspect Revere would have shook his head and laughed at that. Paul Revere was that rarest of creatures, the likes of which one doesn’t stumble across much these days: an entertainer. His brief, as he saw it, was to entertain. He was largely untroubled by such ambitions as “artistic self-expression” and such.

Now, don’t get me wrong: the man could play some mean piano. Perversely, many of the obituaries now appearing in print and online credit Revere as “leader and organist” of his band. While it’s true that on many of the group’s biggest hits, the Vox Continental organ is the keyboard of choice – and Revere was often seen mime-playing the organ in video clips and on episodes of Where the Action Is – he’s on record as saying he truly disliked the organ. On record, the parts were often played, uncredited, by others: Glen D. Hardin, Van Dyke Parks, sometimes even bassist Phil “Fang” Volk. Revere was a boogie-woogie piano man of the highest order, and he could still wow ‘em when he wanted to. When I saw him onstage in 2010, he did a show-stopping solo number, and (cough, cough) there’s a private audio recording of that performance to prove just how amazing it was.

But onstage and in other idioms, Paul Revere sought to entertain, not make artistic statements. That’s why his revue band (circa 1975 onward) ran through somewhat perfunctory versions of the hit singles; the live versions were smashed together in an all-killer-no-filler medley that gave each hit something like thirty seconds to a minute. Revere rarely composed songs for the band, and as such his approach to the catalog might seem irreverent: give ‘em a few seconds and move on, he would have thought. His well-worn stage banter included a bit about successfully rewriting one of the band’s biggest hits “backward” so they could earn another hit. Coming from anyone else, such sentiments would have sounded cynical and antagonistic; from Revere, it was all good fun, all done in the same spirit of serving more of that elusive quality we call entertainment.

And it was Revere’s general disinterest in “artistic” statements that factored into his mid 1970s break with Mark Lindsay. (Yes, yes, hardcore fans: I know well and good that there are other reasons, but it’s not ours to speculate, and I’d argue that most of those issues flow originally from the two men’s basic lack of meeting-of-the-minds.) By the time of a fateful gig at Knott’s Berry Farm, Lindsay had decided he had had enough: he had aspirations (realized to an impressive degree) of a solo career, and had tired of cranking out the hits to amusement park and county fair audiences, so he split. With his focus on entertainment, Revere had no compunction about replacing Lindsay (and anyone else before or after who needed replacing) and soldiering on, so to speak. Long-time Raiders manager and confidante Roger Hart succinctly characterized Revere’s attitude toward his band: “a well-oiled machine, with occasional spare parts.”

Click to continue to Part Two

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Please Come To Boston; We Said Yes.

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Last week, my fianceé and I bumped into an old acquaintance of mine; he is a guitarist who, back in 2005, my then-current band had tried to recruit. It hadn’t worked out at the time, but I always remembered him as an especially good-natured and versatile player. When we were chatting, he mentioned that he had recently spoken to a woman who really liked that old band I had; sometime in 2005, we had played for her birthday party. Apparently now she was interested in asking if we’d re-form to play her upcoming birthday.

I replied to him that – for a long and occasionally unpleasant list of reasons – that would be extremely unlikely to happen, but the conversation did get me to thinking about that old band, and the highlight of its time together.

A little over eight years ago, I enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While I have been in bands on and off since 1980, it has been the rare case in which I’ve ended up playing a nice stage in a classy venue. As a (mostly) cover-band musician, I’ve generally found myself onstage in places with names like The Shovelhead Saloon, Frank’s Buckboard and the like, playing to often disinterested and/or drunk crowds.

This was different. And it almost didn’t happen.

In the aftermath of the death of my good friend and lead guitarist Dave, my bandmate and friend Mike decided we’d try again to put together a group. We got with Dave’s surviving girlfriend Susie, and she brought along her friend Debbie, an expert at crafting vocal arrangements. Eventually we added my then-wife Joan to compete the female vocal front line, and we held auditions and settled on a guitarist and a bassist. (The guitar slot would change often in the band’s brief existence.)

As we built our song list – focusing on “sunshine pop” of the 60s with strong emphasis on vocals, since five of us sang – we also began looking for gigs. We found quite a few local engagements; most of these were private parties, events and the like. We were not what you would call a “bar band,” and since in 2005-6 smoking was still allowed in North Carolina bars, we were none too keen on that kind of gig anyway.

One among our membership had a good deal of disposable income, and was often adding instruments to his collection. He kept up with the latest and greatest technological developments to a much greater extent than did the rest of us, and so it was he who first told us about a new PA system developed by Bose, the high-end audio company based in suburban Boston. Bose was attempting to break into the live sound reinforcement market with something they called the Cylindrical Radiator. To me, the thing looked like a portable basketball hoop with out the net and backboard. The round-ish base was about two feet across, and held most of the electronics. The pole was filled with loads of tiny speakers, a precursor to the sound towers now common in home theater setups.

As it happened, our bandmate decided to take a stab at an endorsement deal: he sent a letter to the Bose people, enclosing a CDR with a few of our performances on it. I seriously doubt he expected any sort of response.

To everyone’s surprise, he got one. The marketing people at Bose HQ liked our covers of tunes like “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” by Spanky and Our Gang, and “Happy Together” by The Turtles. And they made us an offer: (please) come to Boston and play a concert for us at our facility, and we’ll send you home with loads of equipment, yours to keep.

Oh: I left out a little detail. Right around this time, that wife I mentioned earlier informed me that she didn’t want to be married (to me) any longer. (It’s cool: eight years have passed, and we’re friendly now.) But at the time, this – as you might well imagine – put the band’s future in no small peril. As it happened, she and I agreed that we wanted to keep the band together and do this gig. So several weeks later, I, my estranged spouse, and my buddy Mike road-tripped the fourteen-plus hour drive north to Massachusetts. The other members traveled their own ways: some flew, and I believe one tacked Boston onto an already-scheduled vacation. The guitarist – quite understandably – decided the whole venture wasn’t worth the effort, and declined to make the trip.

But we did need a guitarist. My long-time friend Jim lives just outside of Boston; he and I played together in a band back in the 1990s when we both lived in the suburbs of Atlanta. I asked him if he’d like to do a one-off gig at Bose: all he had to do was learn a dozen or so tunes on his own. There would be no practice nor rehearsal. He gamely agreed, and he and his wife even allowed me and a few of my bandmates to crash at his place to save on expenses.

The author onstage for soundcheck at Bose HQ, Boston, June 2006

The day of the gig arrived, and we showed up at Bose. We were quite surprised at the VIP treatment lavished upon us: we were invited to dine in the corporate cafeteria; we were given access to a comfortable and well-appointed “green room” (quite different from the filthy bar bathrooms in which I’d usually dress for a gig), and – best of all – we had plenty of time to set up.

The venue was a “listening room,” full of chairs and a large, well-lit stage. As it was explained to us, Bose had promoted our performance locally ahead of time; tickets were free, but they had to be reserved in advance. The room held about eighty or so people, and it would filled to capacity for our show.

The stage itself was largely unadorned: the back wall, however, had nine of those Bose PA systems lined up and evenly spaced. One for each of our voices and instruments, we were told. The house sound engineer was on hand to guide us through this unconventional setup, and sound check went off without incident. We even had some time to run through two or three of the tunes for the first time with Jim on guitar.

Just prior to showtime, we were asked to wait backstage while the emcee introduced us. This was yet another first for me: I was used to wandering out onstage with the band, announcing our presence, and starting the music. Or this performance, we entered the room single file to the sound of room-filling applause. It didn’t seem real, and my memory of it sometimes feels like I’m remembering someone else’s experience.

The show went smoothly, with some between-song banter that nicely strode the gap between rehearsed and off-the-cuff. The seated audience was enthusiastic and engaged. When we prepared to launch into a cover of The Spiral Starecase‘s “More Today Than Yesterday,” I bought a bit of time by narrating what I was doing: loading a “brass section” sample (on floppy disk) into my Ensoniq Mirage synthesizer, a machine that was vintage equipment even in 2006.

The set ended as it began, with plenty of heartfelt applause. Our new equipment was shipped to us in Asheville not long thereafter. The band folded a few months later, after I organized and executed a final gig at Asheville’s Orange Peel, featuring a reshuffled lineup. As we all went our separate ways, the bounty of Bose equipment was sold off; with my share of the proceeds I bought an old but fully restored analog synthesizer.

The Bose people were kind enough to capture the entire performance in digital audio, one audio file for each of the nine PA towers. Sometime after the band ceased to exist, one member took those files into a local studio and got them mixed down to stereo. I still have a CD somewhere, and as I recall, it sounds pretty good.

Since then, more often than not, it’s been back to the bars for me, though in my most recent musical endeavor, I’ve been playing original music (written by the band’s leader) in some very nice musical venues. But every once in a great while – and I’m not especially nostalgic by nature, especially for the year 2006 – I think back on that experience, and I smile.

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Five Years!

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Today, July 30th, marks what I consider the Official Anniversary of this Musoscribe blogzine. Five years ago today I began what would quickly become a daily blog: every business day since, I’ve posted something here – an interview, a review, an essay – generally in the 500- to 1100-word range.

At right: Bill Kopp with Tim DeLaughter of The Polyphonic Spree (2007)

The blog started in the wake of the effective death of the print magazine where I was Editor-in-Chief; for some time I had worked for them in various capacities. I got my start as contributor of a column (the still-occasionally-seen-here “Bootleg Bin”) for their online arm. In fairly short order I started writing album reviews, and since assignment of those was luck of the draw, I found myself covering hip-hop acts, black metal bands, crypto-Christian hardcore groups, and insipid singer/songwriters. Soon thereafter, I scored a few feature assignments, doing interviews and writing about some bands you may have heard of: Fall Out Boy, The Flaming Lips, KT Tunstall and several others. A few of them were even cover stories.

Things progressed from there as the magazine (which, owing to how things ended, I won’t dignify by naming) sought to increase its stature and credibility. I took on the role of co-copy editor, honing into shape the often very rough copy submitted by paid (but often inexperienced) reviewers and writers. When my co-editor found he couldn’t keep up with the demands of the workload, I took on the entire responsibility for the final edit on every word that appeared in or on the magazine (except advertisements). Things went well, the magazine expanded, and I was soon able to enlist the expert talents of some of the best writers-on-music working today, including J. Poet and Evie Nagy (the latter of whom went on to top positions at Paste and Billboard), while incurring the enduring wrath of some lesser lights who were sent packing. I also scored feature/interviews with Yoko Ono, Dungen, and Neil Finn.

Bill Kopp with Keith Emerson

In April 2008 I traveled – on behalf of the magazine – to New Orleans for Ponderosa Stomp #7, where I had the extreme pleasure of conducting an in-person interview with the mysterious ? of ? (Question Mark) and the Mysterians, and with no-hit wonders Green Fuz. Upon arriving home, I learned that the sole benefactor of the magazine (yeah, one guy was keeping it afloat while the “ad exec” did f**k-knows-what all day) had abruptly closed his purse, and that forthcoming issues of the print magazine would not be…forthcoming. To make matters worse, a few months’ pay owed to me would also not be arriving, ever.

Bill Kopp with Todd Rundgren

Thus ended the magazine and my association with it. I remain grateful to the people who put their trust in me to help produce a quality product, and I am proud of the work my team and I did during my time there.

But I quickly found myself at loose ends: I had made writing about music a major part of my daily life, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I had no wish to stop. I began doing a bit of writing for my hometown’s excellent altweekly, Mountain Xpress, including feature interviews with The Moody Blues, Todd Rundgren, Henry Rollins and other big names. (Today I write a twice-monthly blog for MtnX, called “30 Days Out.”) I wrote for some other outlets as well, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy my creative urges.

Bill Kopp with Shuggie Otis

A good friend of mine (and a left-high-and-dry magazine subscriber who never got the lion’s share of her money’s worth) suggested I start a blog. I had a decent number of written pieces (about a hundred or so, including work I had done for other print and online outlets), so why didn’t I publish them on a site of my own, say, one a week or so?

Good idea, I thought. If nothing else, it would be a place to store all of my music-related content. So I started, initially hosted on a free (read: crappy) web server. I loaded all of my written pieces on there, including full versions of some pieces that had been edited down to fit in a printed space. And there were also a handful of pieces slated to appear in the magazine: written, edited and laid out, they nonetheless had never appeared in print. The most notable of these was an interview with David Johansen of The New York Dolls. This new site wasn’t really a blog; it was more of an archive.

Not long after I took my friend’s advice (which also included getting active – against my initial better judgment – on Facebook and Twitter), I decided to go ahead with the blog idea, but with new material. And since I remained on good terms with many industry and publicity people, I was continuing to receive music for potential review, and offers to conduct interviews.

Bill Kopp with Henry Rollins

And that’s how I got here, five years ago today. For the first month or two, I did in fact post just weekly, and the pieces were very short. But on July 30, 2009, I posted three reviews, and since then I’ve never looked back…

Well, of course I have looked back: I’m doing so right now. But what I really want to say here is a big, sincere thank-you to anyone and everyone who’s ever read one of my reviews, features or essays. Even if you didn’t agree or didn’t like what I wrote (or how I wrote it). Thank you also to all of the fine music label and publicity folks who keep me current on the surfeit of great music that continues to come out every day (about that: reader, don’t let anyone ever try to convince you otherwise). And a massive, heartfelt thanks to each and every recording artist who has had their album reviewed or covered by me, and/or who has taken the time to talk with me about their life, career and music.

I have so much stuff in store for this blog’s future that I’m nearly bursting with excitement. Stay tuned. And once again, thank you.

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