Tag Archives: Buddy Holly

Happy Birthday, Elvis Costello

Miracle Man.

Today we celebrate the birthday of one Declan MacManus, better known to the world as Elvis Costello, among other aliases over the years. Bursting onto the scene with what is arguably the best ever 1-2-3 punch of albums (My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model and Armed Forces), Elvis quickly grabbed your attention with short catchy songs, a rapier wit and his secret weapon, The Attractions.

For as good as this sneering, scrawny Buddy Holly caricature was – and he was great – Steve Nieve on keys, Bruce Thomas on bass and Pete Thomas (no relation) on drums were as formidable a rock band as you could hope for. They weren’t as spacial as The Police would become, nor were they thunderous like the then-still powerful Who, but they were so tight you couldn’t slip an ant’s ass hair through them.

But before Elvis Costello and The Attractions became one, it all started with an iconic debut; tracks laid down with session musicians who weren’t initially credited, total recording time adding up to less than one day.

People listen to records differently these days, especially if they are digital downloads. No tactile sensation of an album cover, liner notes, lyric sheets. Earbuds instead of walls of speakers. Sigh.

I remember the day my friend Phil showed up at my house with My Aim Is True; import version, of course. My roommate Larry and another friend were already hanging in the living room, music on as always. We had heard about the album coming out that day and planned to go grab it in a couple of hours. Phil was no procrastinator; he snagged it and came over where he knew there would be other willing participants to share the magic with. (Yet another earbud problem – isolation instead of the communal experience).

It was astonishing.

Two of the songs didn’t even hit the two-minute mark. The opening rocker “Welcome To The Working Week” somehow jammed a boatload of hooks, wry lyrics and choruses into a minute in a half; “Mystery Dance” sputtered and tumbled much like the clumsy lover the narrative depicted. There was fury and sarcasm, and there was great wit and wordplay, and the band (preAttractions musicians from Clover and The Rumour, among others) snapped everything to attention.

And maybe it was because it stood out with its winsome melody and broken heart, but “Alison” was an instant classic. The chink in the armor was there for all to see; this snarling wise-ass had feelings after all. When not long after I heard him nail this live it sent chills up my spine.

We were gobsmacked; I can’t tell you how many times we played this album over and over and over that day. It was all we would talk about with friends for days after, and whenever someone came over that album would come out and they would get indoctrinated. Not long afterwards some friends in a band worked up three of his songs so that I could duck out from tending bar and play lead singer for ten minutes. (We were the first Syracuse band to play Elvis Costello songs, and yes, I’m proud of that!)

Of course, Costello continued to floor us with one great album after another, and thanks to him and Rockpile and Graham Parker and Joe Jackson there was a new, fresh volley of literate songwriters serving up an alchemic stew of influences and flushing the distaste of disco and flaccid pop out of our ears. 

The trend wouldn’t last of course – none do – but the music proved timeless. On Friday I’ll celebrate Costello’s career with an Elvis-themed TGIF.

And yes, I know that today is also the birthday of Gene Simmons, Ruby Keeler, Tim Burton, Rob Halford, Wayne Shorter, Walt Kelly (Pogo), Regis Philbin and several others…as well as the tenth anniversary of Jack Nitzsche‘s death and the first for Ted Kennedy. But today, I must honor the Elvis who has been a part of my musical life for over three decades.

No offense, Mr. Presley.

Elvis Costello  wiki page

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Today also marks the 35th anniversary of Born To Run, when a talented performer, a crack band, a savvy manager and an all-too-eager mainstream press joined hands to crown the new King of rock and roll. Bruce Springsteen has since earned every jewel in that crown and then some, but it’s yet another reminder of how fractured the entertainment industry has become. It’s no longer possible to make the stars align on that kind of scale, and with very few exceptions, those things never happened organically.

But that can’t and won’t tarnish the memory of a time when it seemed like a blue-collar bar room rocker grabbed the brass ring and pulled down the whole damned curtain with it. Rock concerts would never be the same.

Could that really have been thirty-five years ago?

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Rock’s Darkest Day?

July 3rd is the anniversary of the deaths of both Brian Jones and Jim Morrison. Ask rockers about Morrison and you’ll get a highly divided camp; some revere his poetic lyrics and unique artistic expression with The Doors, while others see him as a bloated, self-indulgent hipster who yammered nonsense and called it art. 

I was a Doors fan and still enjoy their music – there are a series of great singles and many of the deeper tracks on the album were pretty fascinating. I thought L.A. Woman was a tremendous album and am saddened that they never got to continue that journey. But the drunken escapades, the supposed incidents of exposure, the pretentiousness of it all…yeah, I could understand someone resisting their work because they can’t get past that. 

But I’ll wrestle you to the mat about Jones

Brian Jones was The Rolling Stones. Without him, there wouldn’t be a band, let alone a Sticky Fingers or an Exile on Main Street or a Let It Bleed. Because it was Jones the blues purist who set the course, charted the direction and marketed the band in the earliest days when everyone else was ready to fold the tent and quit

Mick Jagger would have graduated from the London School of Economics and been a prissy accountant. Charlie Watts would probably have joined a jazz band and would be famous to a whole other audience. Bill Wyman might have lived the suburban life he seemed to be drifting towards, playing in r&b bands on the weekend and still pulling birds half his age. 

And Keith Richards? He probably would have done the same damned thing – overindulge in life’s pleasures and play some of the most timeless riffs man has ever wrangled from an electric guitar. 

I remember being crushed when Jones died. I was just a kid – other iconic deaths like Buddy Holly either predated my awareness or (like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding) involved people I liked but was not fully invested in. But The Rolling Stones were my lifeblood, and this was like losing a brother.

You have to realize that at the time, lines were drawn between Beatles fans and Stones fans; peer pressure said you had to be one or the other, and you’d better choose. All the cute girls chose The Beatles, of course…and that was reason enough for me to side with the Stones

He was the first rock star in my world; looked (at the time) like a golden god, played any instrument you put into his hands, added flavor to Stones singles that other bands would later copy and seemed like the coolest guy on the planet. When I saw the Stones on Ed Sullivan I looked right past Jagger and was mesmerized by him. And I wasn’t the only one…five hundred miles north of my New York City house, Andy and Greg of The Chesterfield Kings were watching the same program and getting their minds blown as well. 

And then he died – murdered, I still believe – and what had been this picture perfect vision of music and peace and utopia started to crumble. Soon it would be Jimi, and Janis and Jimoddly connected…and finally the nail in the coffin,  Altamont

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Mick Taylor era of the band, and although he’s been underutilized in his tenure, Ronnie Wood is one of my all time favorite guitar players. But the London singles the early Stones cut? Pure magic

Listen to the magic!

Had the Stones broken up after Exile, they would have that same unfinished legacy that Buddy Holly, The Beatles and James Dean have – a permanent snapshot of genius in its prime.  No chance to stumble and fall, or go ages between artistic releases, or climb on stage long past their prime and sing about want and boredom and being unsatisfied…right before pocketing millions per gig and taking a private plane home. 

What would Brian Jones have done after he got over the heartbreak of being squeezed out of his own band? I can only wonder. But I can also revel in what he left behind, which is a brilliant anthology of classic music that is as powerful to me now as it was as the impressionable boy with a transistor radio and a dream. 

What a drag...it is getting old.

And Happy Birthday to (among others) Kurtwood Smith, Fontella Bass, Franz Kafka, George Sanders, Dave Barry, and the late, great Ken Ober.

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Blast From The Past: Tonio K

It's great - no bull!

I will never understand how great records can go unheard… 

I guess when it comes to Tonio K., I can almost extend that to great catalogues of records. For despite initial kudos out of the box for Life In The Foodchain and pockets of critical acclaim bordering on cult worship, the man remains a virtual unknown and is seldom mentioned when people discuss great songwriters and favorite albums. To give you an idea of the breadth of his career, he was a member of The Crickets (as in Buddy Holly, although well post-Buddy) and collaborated with Burt Bacharach on his 2005 Grammy winning effort. He turns sixty this year, which is still young pup status for someone with his pedigree. 

When Foodchain was released in 1978, it exploded off the radio, standing out even though the post-disco mid-punk era was in full chaotic bloom. The music was great, the lyrics both hysterical and deep, and it remains one of the most auspicious debut albums of the rock era. I’ll save the dissertation of his career and its impact upon me for another day; there is not enough room to discuss it in one bite. Let’s just say that the public missed the boat on this one big time, and even my hopeful plea contained in my review over a decade ago (below) fell on deaf ears. 

Had Ole’ been released when it was supposed to have been, who knows what might have happened? Maybe he would have finally gotten that well-deserved acclaim. Maybe he would have disappeared again. I haven’t heard very much about or from Tonio K. recently (even his MySpace page hasn’t been updated in almost two years)  and reportedly he’s done with performing and trying to play the artist game. But I won’t count the man out, ever. And if he is done, well…he’s laid down a hell of a gauntlet. 

Check out his entire discography. If you don’t own everything he’s ever recorded, you now have a to-do list

Here’s my review of Ole’ from Pop Culture Press 

 

Thank God! One of the more critical “oh-that-won’t-sell-let’s-shelve-it” mistakes of 1990 finally has closure, and people can get a chance to hear what die-hards with secret taped copies have been crowing about for a decade. 

Tonio K (Steve Krikorian) first burst onto the rock scene in the late 1970s with the caustic and brilliant “Life in the Foodchain,” a concept record from Hell that mixed witty and insightful social commentary with blistering rock and roll. Although “Amerika,” the followup, contained more great music, Tonio K was no longer the flavor of the month and sales dipped. He released a great EP called “La Bomba” (not yet re-released) and then later a pair of majestic records for What/A&M in the mid-1980s that were chock full of great songs but could find no home on radio. Then it seemed that he disappeared, surfacing occasionally as a collaborator with friend Charlie Sexton or supplying songs for soundtracks. Gigs were either infrequent or low profile, or probably both. 

What actually happened was a third record for A&M produced by T-Bone Burnett and featuring a hot band including organist Booker T. Jones (!!), ex-Attraction Bruce Thomas (bass) and T-Bone himself. Guests on the record included Peter Case, Warner Hodges (Jason & The Scorchers), Paul Westerberg and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. The music kicked ass, and as always, the lyrics were amazing. How could this record not get noticed? But some bean counter said “uhhno.”

But they wouldn’t release the tapes either, so this sat on a shelf and collected a mound of dust. Enter Mitch Cantor, fan and label owner, whose dogged persistence finally elicited some cooperation from saner heads, and eighteen months later you can finally hold this in your hands. 

So the big question is this÷does it hold up? Unequivocally, the answer is yes. Kicking off with the manic “Stop The Clock” (with a heart-attack guitar solo from Marc Ribot that has to be heard to be believed), the twelve cuts showcase both sides of Tonio K÷the intolerant cynic with the vocabulary to back it up, and the introspective social observer who is able to communicate about faith and hope in a valid and non-fanatical light. 

Rockers like “Time Steps Aside” and “Pardon Me For Living” are fresh and vital, and the acoustic numbers place even greater focus on his stellar lyrics. Topics of homelessness and child abuse in “Hey Lady” and “That Could Have Been Me” could have been rudimentary folk songs in the hands of a lesser artist, but here are first-rate work. And maybe it will take a lesser artist to have a hit record with “I’ll Remember You,” an absolute killer that, like most truly great songs, will never find its way onto the radio unless some hack like Celine Dion sings it. 

Video: We Walk On

Video: That Could Have Been Me

The liner notes by Tonio K are a great bonus, insightful and sometimes self-deprecating illuminations of the songs. Kudos to Gadfly Records for altruistically stepping up to the plate and re-releasing records by people like Andy Breckman and Tonio K simply because they deserve to be heard. No one thinks these are stadium-filling artists, but it’s obvious Tonio K has a lot more to say, and I don’t care whether it’s brand new or has eight years of dust on it. The man is a flat-out work of art, an essential artist, and deserving of a wider audience that he hopefully will now find. 

 Grab Ole’ from Gadfly Records or CD Baby 

Wiki up on Steve Krikorian, whydontcha? 

The unofficial homepage has tons of lyrics and information.

***

R.I.P. Allen Swift, a/k/a the voice of Simon Bar Sinister

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Blast From The Past – The Raves

Really, really fab!

Your collection, if like mine, contains several hidden gems that even you forget about over time. But when you stumble across them years later, you immediately know why you were hooked in the first place. With so many bands springing up in the post-Beatle era and beyond, how could you know about them all? Some incredibly talented ones never got too far outside of their zip code for one reason or another, but we all know there are diamonds in that rough…

One such band was The Raves, from Atlanta. Years after its release. their album Past Perfect Tense is still a sixteen-track breath of fresh air. Here’s what I wrote for TransAction a dozen years ago…

My God, two of them even *look* like John and Paul! This collection of Beatle-esque pop from the 1980s proves that along with The Flashcubes and The Toms there were many other great bands that didn’t get their due. Chuck, John and Jim Yoakum handled the guitar-bass-drums axis while Ken Kennedy added some flash lead guitar. Although the production immediately screams “local band”, the songs don’t – they’re pure New Wave pop.

 “Any Way You Can”, “Every Little Bit Hurts” and “Make Up Your Mind” are just three of the sixteen tracks that you can play in tandem with bands like Artful Dodger, The Jags and The Sinceros. “Tonight It’s Going To Be Great” is The Records via Buddy Holly and you’ll like the Elvis Costello nod on the intro to “Chastity”. Four guys weaned on classic pop rock who decided to make some of their own.

Go ahead – drop a few more names. The Rubinoos. Dwight Twilley. Sloan. Everly Brothers. Name any melodic or powerpop band you want…if you like them, you’ll like this. I have no idea what happened to the band after this – a very common tale – although Chuck did work with the late Graham Chapman of Monty Python.

But do try and track down this hard to find little gem – you will be richly rewarded.

The Raves at AllMusic.com

A couple of YouTube videos courtesy The Yoakum Channel.

An old interview at Bubblegum The Punk

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Blast From The Past: Humble Pie

Road Warriors of Rock'n'Roll

Road Warriors of Rock'n'Roll

I remember playing cuts from Rock On and Rockin’ The Fillmore as a college radio DJ, and the several Humble Pie shows I was blessed to witness are seared into my brain. And witness is an operative verb here; while the early shows were piledriver blues/boogie rock’n’roll, in his later years Steve Marriott was part rocker, part white soul singer, part rock evangelist. At the time it was probably the closest thing to having a gospel preached at me and to me since the I stumbled into a Baptist church.

But back in the early Pie days, when Peter Frampton played and sang alongside Steve, they were a bit more straight-ahead. Determined to break and break big, they toured incessantly in the States and lit arena after arena on fire. For a couple of years in the early 70s, it was far more likely you’d hear Humble Pie blasting out of dorm windows than the latest Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin cut. America loves their meat and potatoes, and Humble Pie was meaty.

Looking back at BBC tracks from famous 70s bands is always fascinating and Humble Pie is no exception. While not a purely focused disc – leave it to Fuel 2000 to license rather than create – there is some great music within. Here’s what I wrote about Natural Born Boogie release for PopMatters back in 2000:

Steve Marriott Boy Howdy

Like the blues players he idolized, Steve Marriott may finally be getting his due after he’s no longer here to reap the rewards. Bands like The Black Crowes openly admit his influence, while a waft of inferior vocalists trying to emulate him prove that his talents are sorely missed. Marriott had the fortune to shine in two majestic bands early in his career, and both The Small Faces and Humble Pie are enjoying a new wave of popularity as classic radio vaults open wider.

Although Rockin’ The Fillmore will stand as their definitive concert recording, Humble Pie did cut several solid sessions for BBC One between 1969 and 1971. “Natural Born Boogie“, the band’s Chuck Berry-flavored hit, finds Marriott in great vocal tone, while “The Ballad Of Shakey Jake” boasts some guitar noodling that would bring a smile to the face of any Deadhead. Fluid and creative, Peter Frampton, still years away from his megastar status, is the perfect axe partner for Marriott’s more bar-blues approach. Ex-Spooky Tooth bassist Greg Ridley and (then) teenage drum whiz Jerry Shirley flow from folk to rock as easily as their more famous counterparts. Consider their take on the Buddy Holly chestnut “Heartbeat”; heavier and blusier than the original, but not so cool that they couldn’t slap some handclaps in there too. And in “Desperation” we see the worm turning as Mod Steve starts to establish his soul roots with the band.

The later sessions (1970-71) are probably closer to the Humble Pie most people are familiar with. “Big Black Dog” is as close to “Walkin’ The Dog” in structure as it is in name, and “Four Day Creep” (perhaps the highlight here) is close to the album cut. “Rolling Stone” is an abbreviated version of the one on Rockin’ The Fillmore (thankfully), while “The Light” lets Frampton get a parting shot in before leaving. The final two tracks are from the Old Gray Whistle Test, and while “Black Coffee” (complete with The Blackberries on vocals) sounds great, “I Don’t Need No Doctor” is horrible.

In fairness, the CD cover contains a disclaimer that the sound quality on the tenth cut is very poor, but even with those expectations it sounds like a fifteenth generation bootleg tape. Recorded underwater. Left on the dashboard in the summer with the windows rolled up tight. Chewed on by the dog. Am I making this clear enough? Sure, the band smokes the tune, but are you telling me there was no other version, or other cut — of ANYTHING — available? Considering that “Doctor” was the cornerstone of Rockin’ The Fillmore, there is no reason under the sun that this should have been included here. Did the songwriters really need the royalties that badly?

And sure, the liner notes could have been more expansive, and some proofreader should have known the difference between Brian Jones and Mick Jones, but you can’t have everything. Since Steve isn’t around to thrill us with new music, having treasures like these get cleaned up and sent our way is something we should be thankful about. Well, nine out of ten times, anyway.

Humble Pie old

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Fifty Years Later

poster image courtesy Rock&Rap Confidential

poster image courtesy Rock&Rap Confidential

There are certain dates that will be forever etched into your memory, and unfortunately most of them are associated with a tragic event. People forget birthdays of close friends, some even forget their own aniversary, or they’ll get the date but not the year. But widely shared tragedies etch so deeply into our psyche that you usually remember where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing the moment the news broke. Just about everyone reading this paragraph has a scar from 9/11. Some of you have one for Kurt Cobain. No disrespect for Shannon Hoon, but when the Blind Melon front-man left this mortal coil, there just wasn’t the same impact. Dying of a drug overdose is so passe for musicians that unless you’re at the top of the A-List, it’s just another sad waste of talent.

Even those taken by disease, whether young (Bill Hicks) or older (Frank Zappa), usually don’t “etch”. Losing someone whose art I enjoy and respect will impact me, certainly – I mourn their loss and feel the world is a less interesting place without them. But as time passes and I continue to celebrate their life and legacy through their art, I’m hard pressed to remember the exact date, sometimes even the year, and I don’t have that mental surveillance photo burned in my head. I might have been at home, or in the car, or at work…was I alone? Did I get a call or read it online? I don’t remember. I do remember when Kennedy was assassinated (I remember the teacher, even the kid he yelled at, and my mother sitting in the living room crying when I got home). My John Lennon moment is far more painful; I was older and he meant so much more to me  (Poor House North, crowd stunned in disbelief wandered home in tears. My roommate Dave and I stayed up all night fielding visitors and phone calls).

Maybe it takes a combination of things to register the effect. The person would have to be enormously famous, and I’m talking enormoushere. I remember when Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin and Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix died, and while there were candle-light vigils and front covers of Rolling Stone and lots of songs of their played on the radio…can you name any of the dates? Maybe the person was at the cusp of their fame, maybe they were about to embark down a new road, maybe they were the icon of their generation. Not too many people fit the category.

And no drug overdoses, Elvis excepted – the death would have to be violent. Not too many things are more violent that suicide or murder, but Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke were shot, yet it’s Lennon we think of. Ian Curtis hung himself and Herman Brood took a spectacular swan dive off the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton…but they’re not Cobain and the shotgun. Accidents too; many from Harry Chapin to  Sam Kinison died in a auto wrecks, but it’s James Dean who everyone thinks of first. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane went down, so did Stevie Ray’s helicopter, but when you’re talking plane crashes, only one matters. They didn’t write an anthem about the day the helicopter crashed.

I am not old enough to have been impacted first-hand by the death of Buddy Holly; probably the closest I’ve come to feeling that was the first time I watched The Buddy Holly Storyand felt like I had been punched in the chest. I can tolerate every other bizarre thing Gary Busey has done in his life in return for that wonderful heartfelt performance, and the fact he, Charles Martin Smith and Don Stroud sang the songs and performed the music made it even more special. It’s one of the best music movies ever made and although Busey didn’t win the Oscar (Jon Voight did for Coming Home –  DeNiro, Beatty and Olivier were the other nominees), Joe Renzetti did for his score based upon Buddy Holly’s music. (Joe also was involved with The Idolmaker, a little known movie about the creation of teen idols featturing a phenomenal performance by Ray Sharkey…but I digress). I did enjoy La Bamba, and although I haven’t seen a Big Bopper movie I’m sure I will enjoy that too if it ever comes to pass. Ritchie Valens was a talent on the rise and a great loss, but Buddy Holly changed music with his vision and accomplishments.

Don McLean’s “American Pie” might be one of the most overplayed songs in rock’s hallowed halls, but at the time it was both a fun exercise in cryptology and a reminder of how fragile life is. You should never take anything – or anyone – for granted. I know there are many who truly did feel this was “the day the music died”.

But we’re here, fifty years later, and so is the legacy. Pay tribute to Buddy Holly today by playing his music. And if you haven’t seen The Buddy Holly Story

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