Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Final Notes of 2009

Category: Tribute

Here is a list of the performers and music-related people we lost in 2009.

Lou Albano (October 14, unknown cause, age 76): pro wrestler who appeared in Cyndi Lauper videos and made an album with NRBQ (Lou and the Q).
Al Alberts
(November 26, kidney failure, age 87): member of the pop vocal group the Four Aces.
Dee Anthony
(October 25, unknown cause, age 83): manager of Peter Frampton during the days of Frampton's biggest success.
Thor Arngrim
(August 16, Parkinson's disease, 81): the man who managed the career of Liberace.
Ron Asheton (January 6, heart attack, age 60): guitarist for Iggy Pop and the Stooges.
Ernie Ashworth
(March 3, heart attack, age 80): Grand Ole Opry star best known for the 1961 hit "Talk Back Tremblin' Lips."
Leona Johnson Atkins
(October 21, long-term illness, age 85): member of the Johnson Twins on Cincinnati's WLW in the 1940s who gave up her career to be Mrs. Chet Atkins.

Clint Ballard Jr.
(December 23, 2008 and not announced until 2009, unknown cause, age 77): songwriter of hits such as "You're No Good" and "The Game of Love."
Barry Beckett
(June10, illness, age 65): a producer for albums in both rock (Bob Seger, Dire Straits) and country (Kenny Chesney).
Molly Bee
(February 7, stroke, age 68): west coast-based country singer who played with Tennessee Ernie Ford and Jimmy Dean.
Jay Bennett
(May 24, unknown cause, age 45): member of the alt-country band Wilco.
Randy Bewley
(February 25, heart attack, unknown age): member of the Athens, Georgia band the Pylons, who were an influence on R.E.M. They covered the Pylons' song "Crazy."
Bob Bogle
(June 14, unknown cause, age 75): bass player for the Ventures.
Jimmy Boyd
(March 8, cancer, age 70): the child singer who gave us "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."
Tom Brumley
(February 4, illness, age 73): son of gospel songwriter Albert Brumley, Tom was the original steel guitarist for Buck Owens' Buckaroos.
Norton Buffalo
(October 30, lung cancer, age 58): session harmonica player (e.g., Bonnie Raitt's "Runaway") and actor (in The Rose) who spent 30 years in the Steve Miller Band.
Yvonne King Burch
(December 13, complications from a fall, age 89): member of the pop King Sisters.

Randy Cain
(April 9, unknown cause, age 63): member of the Delfonics.
Jim Carroll
(September 11, heart attack, age 60): Basketball Diaries author and poet who had an FM hit in the early 1980s with the song "People Who Died."
John E. Carter
(August 21, lung cancer, age 75): member of both the Dells and the Flamingos.
W.T. "Ric" Cartey
(August 5, unknown cause, age 72): songwriter responsible for Sonny James' breakthrough hit "Young Love."
John Cephas
(March 4, pulmonary fibrosis, age 78): Piedmont blues guitarist in Cephas and Wiggins.
Jim Chapin
(July 4, unknown causes, age 89): legendary jazz drummer and teacher who fathered folk music singers Tom and Harry Chapin.
Vic Chesnutt
(December 25, suicide [overdose of muscle relaxants], 45): critically-acclaimed Athens, Georgia-based singer/songwriter.

Liam Clancey
(December 4, illness, age 74): last member of the Irish folk group the Clancey Brothers.
Chris Connor
(August 29, cancer, age 81): female jazz singer who worked with Stan Kenton's band in the early 1950s.
Jack Cooke
(December 1, heart attack, age 72): one-time member of the Clinch Mountain Boys, the backing band of bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley.

John Dawson
(July 21, stomach cancer, age 64): co-founder of the 70s country-rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage.
Willie DeVille
(August 6, pancreatic cancer, age 58): leader of Mink DeVille.
Jim Dickenson
(August 15, heart failure, age 67): legendary producer of acts such as Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and the Rolling Stones.
Luther Dixon
(October 25, unknown cause, age 78): songwriter whose credits include "Sixteen Candles" and Charlie Rich's "Big Boss Man."
Jake Drake-Brockman
(September 1, motorcycle accident, age 53): keyboard player for Echo and the Bunnymen.
Hal Durham
(March 29, unknown cause, age 77): long-time Grand Ole Opry announcer and WSM DJ.

Ean (Donald) Evans
(May 6, cancer, age 48): bassist for current Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Chris Feinstein
(December 14, unknown cause, age 42): bassist for Ryan Adams.
Steve Ferguson
(October 7, cancer, age 60): founder of the band NRBQ.

Vern Gosdin
(April 29, stroke, age 74): in country music, he was "the voice."
Kelly Goucutt
(February 18, heart attack, age 63): bassist for the Electric Light Orchestra.
Bobby Graham
(September 14, stomach cancer, age 69): British session drummer who claimed that he was offered a job with John, Paul, and George.
Ellen Greenwich
(August 26, heart attack, age 68): songwriter of "Leader of the Pack" and the "dead girl song" classic "Tell Laura I Love Her."
Buck Griffin
(February 14, heart failure, age 85): country/rockabilly singer.
James Gurley
(December 20, heart attack, 69): guitarist in Big Brother and the Holding Company, the band that brought Janis Joplin to stardom.

Jon Hager
(January 9, illness, age 67): surviving member of Hee Haw's Hager Twins died less than a year after identical twin brother Jim's death.
Tim Hart
(December 24, lung cancer, 61): co-founder of the band Steeleye Span.
Hugh Hopper
(June 7, leukemia, age 64): bassist in the progressive rock band Soft Machine.

Lux Interior
(February 4, heart ailment, age 62): co-founder of the punk band the Cramps.

Michael Jackson
(June 25, cardiac arrest, age 50): self-proclaimed "king of pop."
Duane Jarvis
(April 1, colon cancer, age 51): guitarist who played with the likes of Dwight Yoakam, the Divinyls, Lucinda Williams, and Ben Vaughn.
Uriel Jones
(March 24, heart attack, age 74): Motown session drummer.

Bob Keane
(January 22, renal failure, age 87): founder of Del-Fi Records, the label Ritchie Valens got his start on.
Arthur Kent
(January 26, natural causes, age 88): songwriter best remembered for penning Skeeter Davis' hit "The End of the World."
Larry Knechtel
(August 20, illness, age 69): studio keyboardist, bassist and arranger who worked with the Beach Boys, the Doors, and Simon & Garfunkel.
Tim Krekel
(June 24, stomach cancer, age 57): singer/songwriter who wrote songs for Crystal Gayle and Jimmy Buffett and played in Buffett's band.
Gary Kurfirst
(January 13, unknown cause, age 60): manager of the Ramones and Talking Heads, he also jump-started the careers of Hendrix and Joplin.

Greg Ladanyi
(September 29, head trauma from a fall, age 57): producer of albums by Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, and other L.A.-based performers.
Jack Lawrence
(March 13, complications from a fall, age 96): pop songwriter of hits like "Beyond the Sea," "Tenderly," and "Linda." (TRIVIA: Lawrence couldn't pay his attorney so he wrote a song and named it after his lawyer's daughter. The song was "Linda," and the little girl it was named for was Linda Eastman -- later to be known as Linda McCartney.)
Drake Levin
(July 4, cancer, age 62): guitarist in Paul Revere and the Raiders.
Big Bill Lister
(December 1, illness,age 86): member of the Drifting Cowboys who was the first singer to commercially recorded "There's a Tear in My Beer."
Alan Livingston
(March 13, natural causes, age 91): Bozo the Clown creator also oversaw Capitol Records' singing of acts such as the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Steve Miller.
Hank Locklin
(March 8, natural causes, age 91): legendary country singer of "Please Help Me, I'm Falling," "Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On," and many others.
Huey Long
(June 10, natural causes, age 105): the last surviving member of the 50s band the Ink Spots.

Irby Mandrell
(March 5, unknown causes, age 84): the father and manager of Barbara Mandrell died shortly after the announcement that his daughter had been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Dewey Martin
(February 1, natural causes, age 68): the drummer in Buffalo Springfield.
Al Martino
(October 13, heart attack, age 82): pop crooner best known as playing Johnny Fontane in The Godfather.
George McPherson
(June 3, lung cancer, age 78): manager of Victor Borge and Harry Belafonte.
Coleman Mellett
(February 12, plane crash, unknown age): member of Chuck Mangone's band who died in the crash of Continental flight 3407.
Taylor Mitchell
(October 28, mauled by coyotes, age 19): young, critically-acclaimed Canadian folk singer.
Vic Mizzy
(October 17, heart failure, age 93): television theme show composer who gave us the themes to Green Acres and The Addams Family.

David "Fathead" Newman
(January 20, pancreatic cancer, age 75): jazz saxophonist who played with Charlie Parker.
Gerry Niewood
(February 12, plane crash, age 62): member of Chuck Mangone's band who died in the crash of Continental flight 3407.

Nancy Overton
(April 5, esophageal cancer, age 83): member of the Chordettes, the vocal group who did "Mister Sandman."

Tam Paton
(April 10, heart attack, age 70): manager of the 70s teenybopper band the Bay City Rollers.
Les Paul
(August 13, pneumonia, age 94): a guitarist's guitarist who also invented multi-tracking recording and the solid-body electric guitar.
Dickie Peterson
(October 12, cancer, age 61): bassist for the 60s hard rock band Blue Cheer and the lead singer on their version of "Summertime Blues."
Fayette Pinkney
(June 27, acute respiratory failure, age 61): member of the 70s band the Three Degrees, who did the song "When Will I See You Again."
Billy Powell
(January 28, heart attack, age 56): keyboard player for the original line-up of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Steve Raitt
(April 4, brain cancer, age 61): Minneapolis-area sound engineer who was also the brother of Bonnie Raitt.

Kenny Rankin
(June 7, lung cancer, age 69): pop singer ("I Like Dreamin'") and songwriter (wrote "Peaceful" for Helen Reddy).
Ron Richards
(April 30, unknown cause, age 80): British record producer and engineer who worked with the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Hollies, and many others.
Billy Lee Riley
(August 2, colon cancer, age 75): rockabilly singer.
Stacy Rowles
(October 27, injuries from a car wreck, 54): daughter of jazz performer Jimmy Rowles who followed her father into jazz music performing.
George Russell
(July 27, Alzheimer's, age 86): influential jazz composer.

Sky Saxon
(June 25, infection, unknown age): member of the 60s garage band the Seeds.
Aaron Schroeder
(December 2, Alzheimer's, age 83): songwriter for Presley ("Stuck on You," "Good Luck Charm") and record producer for early Randy Newman and Gene Pitney.
Clive Scott
(May 10, stroke, age 64): keyboard player in the band Jigsaw, who had the one hit "Sky High" in the mid-70s.
Dan Seals
(March 25, mantle cell lymphoma, age 61): brother of Seals & Crofts' Jim Seals, he began in pop as "England Dan" with John Ford Coley, then moved into country in the 1980s.
Mike Seeger
(August 7, leukemia, age 65): folk singer and younger brother of Pete Seeger.
Bud Shank
(April 2, pulmonary failure, age 82): flute player who worked on "California Dreamin'."
Shelby Singleton
(October 7, brain cancer, age 77): influential Nashville producer who signed Roger Miller to Smash Records and launched the career of Jeannie C. Riley. He also owned Sun Records starting in 1969.
Garry Stevens
(December 8, natural causes, age 93): billed as the "boy singer" with big bands in the 1940s, he was the first person to commercially record "White Christmas."
Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan
(December 28, natural causes, 28): drummer in the band Avenged Sevenfold.

Lenny Sullivan
(October 26, drug overdose, age 36): Bruce Springsteen's cousin and assistant road manager.

Koko Taylor
(June 3, gastrointestinal surgery, age 80): she was to blues what white is to snow.
Sam Taylor
(January 5, heart disease, age 74): guitarist and singer who worked with Joey Dee & the Starlighters and the BT Express.
Wayman Tisdale
(May 15, cancer, age 44): one-time NBA player who gave it up to be a jazz musician.
Mary Travers
(September 16, leukemia, age 72): the "Mary" of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Lucy Volden
(September 28, Lupus, age 46): a schoolmate of Julian Lennon whose drawing inspired the title "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."

Gordon Waller
(July 17, cardiac arrest, age 64): the "Gordon" of Peter and Gordon.
David Williams
(March 6, post-stroke complications, age 58): guitarist who worked with the Jacksons and Madonna.
John "Bootsy" Williams
(September 21, unknown cause, age 69): singer in the doo-wop group the Silhouettes (of "Get a Job" fame).
Kyle Woodring
(September 8, suicide [hanged self], age 42): session drummer who worked with Deana Carter in country and Survivor in rock.
Eric Woolfson
(December 2, cancer, age 64): co-founder of the Alan Parsons Project.
Ruby Wright
(September 29, heart disease, age 69): daughter of Kitty Wells and Johnnie Wright who had an "answer song" to "Dang Me" ("Dern Ya") become a hit.
Timothy Wright
(April 23, injuries from a 2008 car wreck, age 61): singer in gospel.

Otha Young
(August 6, cancer, age 66): songwriter, best-known for Juice Newton's "The Sweetest Thing."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Five Reasons Remakes Stink

Category: Opinion

A recent flop of a remake of a classic television series inspired this blog about five remakes that never should have been.

The Prisoner -- Patrick McGoohan created and starred in a 16-part show that, to this day, people are at a loss to categorize: was it drama? Science fiction? Mystery? Dry British comedy? Who cared, it was a masterpiece, one of the greatest television series in history. So, naturally, the legions of fans the original had made it rife for a remake. The 2009 A&E series owed far more to the original film Rollerball than the original Prisoner: a corporation controlling everything (remember that "corporate anthem" that played before the Rollerball games began?) to the point where Jonathan"Six" can see what's going on; as opposed to the mysterious nature of just who ran the Village ("that would be telling," was the reply when McGoohan's Number Six asked, "Who's side are you on?"). And, of course, it was all filmed with typical music video 0.0385 second-per-shot editing. One of the rovers from the original series should have headed this remake off at the pass.

The Electric Company -- the PBS show that taught kids to read in the 1970s was equally popular with older people because of its Vaudeville format. The remake is more episodic -- and boring. No J. Arthur Crank, no Rita Moreno yelling "Hey, you guyyyyyyyys!", no Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader, and no superb cameos (my favorite: after a cartoon featuring the joke about "there's a banana in your ear" with the reply, "I can't hear you, there's a banana in my ear," Lorne Greene popped in and said, "I can't hear you, there's a Bonanza in my ear!"). If the boy in "Love of Chair" (the first season lampoon of soap operas) had seen the remake, the script would have read, "The boy is throwing up."

Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) -- speaking of ITC shows (the company that produced The Prisoner), another charming program from the British vaults was 1969's Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (which aired here in syndication in the mid-70s as My Partner the Ghost). The series rubbed out one of the main characters before the second commercial break (hence the "deceased" part), but fear not, Marty Hopkirk spent the rest of the 26 episodes as a ghost that only his private detective agency partner Jeff Randall could see. When the series was remade in the early 2000s it starred the British comedy team of Vic Reeves (as the ghost) and Bob Mortimer (as Jeff). The computer-generated special effects were a major improvement from the 1960s wire and pulleys to move objects (some of which were plainly visible in the scenes) and "Pepper's ghost" effects to make Marty walk through walls. The plots, however, were mostly rehashes of the original series -- and bad rehashes at that. To be fair, when the remake went for originality it showed definite promise; however, that was too few and too far between to keep fans of the original series and fans of Reeves & Mortimer interested for more than 13 episodes before it joined Marty Hopkirk in death.

AfterM*A*S*H -- M*A*S*H lasted about three seasons too long to begin with, so there was no way AfterM*A*S*H was going to relive the glory of the heyday of the legendary series. We really were ready to give the series up. Unfortunately, CBS didn't realize this until after they subjected us to this hunk of junk.

Burke's Law -- the original, starring the late Gene Barry, was one of the best TV series ever despite its absolute ridiculous plot (a millionaire police homicide captain today would make everyone yell "kickbacks!"). In the mid-90s this show was revived, this time with Barry as an octogenarian. Lightning did not land in the bottle the second time around, and it was wrong to think it would to begin with. Runner-up goes to Amos Burke, Secret Agent, which was ABC taking a very good thing -- and ruining it by trying to turn Burke's Law into something along the lines of "The Millionaire Police Homicide Captain from U.N.C.L.E."

And I'm going out on a limb here to add one that I am almost certain will be on this list this time next year:

The Green Hornet -- given the track record of TV shows that become movies, I am not holding my breath in anticipation of a masterpiece of this forthcoming (Christmas 2010) film version of the TV series. One of the great things about the television series (and the movie serials before it) was that Britt Reid, as a rich man, could afford gadgets that "regular folks" could not, things that gave him an edge in his crime fighting. It's the 21st century now, we all have the gadgets. Worst of all, the movie will not have what the TV series had that made it special: Bruce Lee.

Friday, December 11, 2009

It's Burke's Law

Category: Obituary/News

You just cannot beat a plot like this: a millionaire L.A. police homicide captain who's a playboy gets chauffeured to the scene of every crime in a Rolls. That was Burke's Law, the intelligent and extremely funny series that aired in the early 1960s. Gene Barry played Amos Burke, the captain who usually found his date interrupted by a phone call from one of his detectives, asking him to come to the scene of a murder. Every episode's title began "Who Killed..." Sometimes the answer was obvious; other times it was a total surprise.

Gene Barry died December 9 at a retirement home, apparently of natural causes.

Barry played many other roles in his life -- Bat Masterson, Glenn Howard in The Name of the Game, and Gene Talbot in Our Miss Brooks. But there was nothing like Amos Burke -- not before, not since.

Gene Barry was 90.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Americana 101

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Starting Tomorrow
ARTIST: Marshall Crenshaw
SONGWRITER: Marshall Crenshaw
ALBUM: Life's Too Short

I guess that, if I had to explain my stuff, one thing I'd say about it is that what I usually present on my records is a guitar-dominated soundscape.
(Marshall Crenshaw)

When Marshall Crenshaw first burst onto the scene in 1982 people were doing a lot of physical comparisons. He had played John Lennon in a production of Beatlemania and also had a Buddy Holly look about him (he later would play Holly in the film La Bamba). Musically, however,
the only person Marshall Crenshaw could be compared to was Marshall Crenshaw.

His first album yielded a minor hit ("Someday, Someway") and songs for others to cover (blues singer Lou Ann Barton covered "Brand New Lover" on her 1982 album that was produced by Glenn Frey).
Most importantly, it produced some of the absolute best music of the early 80s and ushered in a "roots-rock" sound that relied more on guitars and less on synthesizers. It also introduced the world to one of the best performers in American rock and roll.

Crenshaw quickly faded into "cult star" status, which is too bad for those who have yet to discover his talents. He popped out album after album of music that was good, great, or memorable. Falling in the latter category: 1991's exceptional Life's Too Short album. Shining as a gem from that album is the mid-tempo ballad "Starting Tomorrow."

The song begins with a marvelous line: "Starting tomorrow, if this night ever ends." That line evokes something everyone can relate to, from students to people sitting in the waiting room of a hospital. In this case Crenshaw is waiting for the new day so he can get off the road and go home to his family. "All night long it seems like time was running slow," he complains, and the listener empathizes completely. The wait that never seems to conclude has a pay-off: "I'll feel more alive as soon as I'm not alone." Crenshaw is torn between being a touring musician ("the feeling in my heart that won't let me settle down") and a family man ("it only comes around and bothers me when I'm away from you"). He's not the first performer to feel these conflicting feelings and he won't be the last; however, he did one of the greatest jobs of articulating the pain.

The world needs more rockers like Marshall Crenshaw. Thankfully, we have Crenshaw himself.


The entire Life's Too Short album
-- great music from start to finish with warnings about consuming too much ("Stop Doing That," "Better Back Off") highlighting the album.

The entire Marshall Crenshaw album -- the debut album that nearly everyone wishes they could make as their opening statement. "Rockin' Around in NYC" should have been a major hit.

"I'm Sorry (But So is Brenda Lee)" (from Downtown) -- with a title like that, one would expect something from the Homer & Jethro discography, but the cover of a Ben Vaughn song is actually a break-up tune that is as good as the title is clever.

"You Should've Been There" (from Good Evening) -- this song that is thematically similar to Porter Wagoner's "I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name" features backing vocals by the BoDeans (who co-wrote "Radio Girl" on the same album).


Rock of Ages, Hide Thou Me
Our Town
Old Memories Mean Nothing to Me
Not That I Care
Nobody Eats at Linebaugh's Anymore
My Book of Memories
Lost to a Stranger
A Little Bitty Heart
Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs
Life is Too Short
I Want a Home in Dixie
I Lost Today
Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate
She's a Runaway
Painted Bells
Out to Sea
One More Song
New Delhi Freight Train
Long Way Home
Heart of Rome
Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Entella Hotel
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

Monday, November 2, 2009

One of the Finest Harmonica Players in Rock Passes

Category: Obituary/News

Norton Buffalo made a few records on his own (1977's Loving in the Valley of the Moon was particularly good) but he spent most of his career standing in the shadows of Steve Miller -- and frequently upstaging him. Buffalo could flat-out play the harmonica.

Norton Buffalo died Friday, October 30 of advanced lung cancer that had spread to his brain.

Buffalo stepped into the limelight when he began working with Steve Miller about the time Miller's career took off with The Joker, Fly Like an Eagle, and Book of Dreams. Miller got Buffalo a contract at Capitol and produced two albums (Lovin' in the Valley of the Moon and Desert Horizon) for him.

Aside from his work with Steve Miller he was the session harmonica player for a number of blues/rock acts (as the video of him with Bonnie Raitt shows).

Norton Buffalo was 58 (although Steve Miller's web site posted his age as 55).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

THE Cult Band of Our Time

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Spellbound
ALBUM: Legend

We've been together longer than any of our marriages.
(Paul Cotton)

Jethro Burns once quoted his father as saying of Homer and Jethro's early career, "You boys are about as unlucky as a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest." Looking at the long career of Poco, one can only wonder if a member's father made that assessment of them as well. Poco was the pioneering band of the genre that would become known as "country-rock" in the late 60s and early 70s, forming before Gram Parsons joined the Byrds and made the landmark Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, and singing "there's just a little bit of magic in the country music we're singing" long before the Eagles even dreamed of takin' it easy -- or had even moved to California. The Eagles eventually became the epitome of "country-rock" and in the process acquired both their bassists from Poco (Randy Meisner played bass on Poco's first album but left before the album artwork was done, relegating his mention to a footnote in the credits) while enjoying a hall of fame career
. Meanwhile, Poco put out album after album of great music, most of which sold a tiny fraction of the Eagles' records.

Ironically, after spending most of the 1970s in the shadows of the far more successful (and lyrically cynical) Eagles, it was the long hiatus that the Eagles took after the monstrous success of Hotel California -- and the departure of Timothy Schmit from Poco to replace Randy Meisner in the Eagles as he had done in 1968 for Poco -- that gave Poco an opening to score their biggest commercial success, 1978's "Crazy Love" from the album Legend. The album eventually sold nearly two million copies while Schmit was sitting in a studio in Miami recording the follow-up to Hotel California (1979's The Long Run, the last Eagles studio album for almost three decades), leading Glenn Frey and Don Henley to joke that Schmit may have left his former band right at the wrong time.

"Crazy Love" is a superlative song, one of the few numbers that became the best-known song for a "cult status" act that was actually deserving of the success (think of the best-known songs by acts like Jimmy Buffett, Warren Zevon, and Steve Forbert as examples of the opposite being true). One song that was overlooked on Legend that certainly should not have is "Spellbound." The song's title is a good indication of what the tune does to its listener.

The lyrics paint a lovely opening picture. The sound of crickets compliment the first line, "There's an easy evening breeze moving softly through the trees." The lyrics continue to weave a spell of spine-tingling lines ("she's got me hanging my a heartbeat") and meanders between first-person and third-person to suggest that this type of love (deemed "crazy" in that big hit on side two of the album) hits everyone at some point.

Poco has existed for over forty years in various incarnations. They have lost many famous members (Richie Furay, Jim Messinia, and the two bassists) and have seen music change so much that even their more rock-based songs would never find a home on country radio because they would be labeled "too country," yet they endure. As of this writing, original drummer George Grantham has recovered significantly from a stroke suffered onstage in July of 2004 but is unable to drum.

Country-rock would not exist without Poco, and if for no other reason than that they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. .


(This is one band I truly want to say "get everything of theirs.")

The entire Rose of Cimarron album -- they should sue Emmylou Harris for what she did to the title track. Songs like "P.N.S. (When You Come Around)" and "Too Many Nights Too Long" make this one of Poco's best albums.

The entire Indian Summer album -- and then there's Rose of Cimarron's follow-up, the last album Timothy Schmit played on before leaving for the Eagles. What an album to go out on. The title track is one of the best songs of the 1970s, period.

The entire Cantamos album -- Richie Furay left after Crazy Eyes and Poco recorded a clunker (Seven). They rebounded beautifully with this marvelous album.

The entire Head Over Heels album -- the closest thing to a hit Poco had before "Crazy Love" is "Keep on Tryin'" off this album. Other gems such as their rendition of a song penned by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen ("Dallas") and a lovely tune about New Orleans ("Down in the Quarter") make this worth owning.

"Brass Buttons" (from Crazy Eyes) -- a lovely rendition of Gram Parsons' song.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Sound of One Heart Breaking

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate
ARTIST: Jackson Browne
SONGWRITER: Jackson Browne
ALBUM: The Pretender
YEAR/LABEL: 1976; Asylum

The perception was that I wrote an album about my wife's death, which was not true. If you want to listen to "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate" or "The Pretender" or "Your Bright Baby Blues" -- they're not about somebody dying.
(Jackson Browne)

Many performers emerged from the "singer/songwriter" era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. A number of them either came from or were based in southern California (e.g., David Blue, who wrote "Outlaw Man" on the Eagles' Desperado album, Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, J.D. Souther, and James Taylor), to the point where critics of the music labeled it a "mellow mafia." Fair or not, the music would never be mistaken for Led Zeppelin and the lyrics were heavily influenced by the deep, introspective writing of Dylan or other folkies.

For years Jackson Browne wandered about in the land of "cult" status. He was best-known for an early hit, "Doctor My Eyes," and for co-writing the first Eagles hit "Take It Easy" with Eagles front man Glenn Frey. Despite excellent albums that were praised by both his fans and critics he could not break through to "superstar" success.

After the release of his album Late for the Sky Browne married the mother of his son, Ethan. While recording the follow-up album The Pretender Browne's wife committed suicide, leaving Browne alone to raise his son and try to mend his broken heart.

Browne later claimed that The Pretender was not a musical documentary of his wife's death and his struggle to move on. Perhaps the melancholy mood of the album makes it appear that the opposite is true. Whatever the case, The Pretender is an album of pain, and "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate" is the most painful song of all.

The song may not be explicitly about Phyllis Browne's overdose in March 1976 but the imagery makes it difficult to conclude otherwise. The term "sleep's dark and silent gate" screams of a euphemism for death (especially given the number of cultures and religions that refer to death as "sleeping" or older songs such as Bill Monroe's "Mother's Only Sleeping"), which may be where the belief that the song was the most personal reference of Browne's heartbreak. Or it could be the literal cry in his voice when he pours out the line, "Oh, God, this is some shape I'm in." Misery and genuine grief oozes from every syllable uttered in this song, and that is one of the reasons for its greatness.

The Pretender enjoyed more success than any previous Browne album, gave him his second minor hit ("Here Come Those Tears Again"), and set him up for the superstardom that was to be his beginning with the next album (Running on Empty). The album stands in stark contrast to everything before or after it because of the personal tragedy Browne endured, best exemplified in "Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate


The entire Late for the Sky album
-- some of Browne's best writing and one of his best rockers ("The Road and the Sky"). From start to finish it is the premiere album of Jackson Browne's career.

"These Days" (from For Everyman) -- "don't confront me with my failures, I had not forgotten them" is not only the superlative line from this song but wisdom that the wisest of philosophers did not provide us with.

"Of Missing Persons"(from Hold Out) -- a tribute to Jackson's friend, Little Feat front man Lowell George, sung to George's daughter. A wonderful memorial to a great talent we lost too early.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kenny Perry's Mother Dies

Category: Sports News

Kenny Perry is one of the truly nice guys on the PGA tour. The Kentucky native became a national hero during the 2008 Ryder Cup and nearly won the Masters in 2009. (Golf is one of those sports where second place is not, to the chagrin of Vince Lombardi and his famous quote, first loser.) He is also the 2009 recipient of the Payne Stewart Award.

Kenny Perry's mother, Mildred, died Thursday, October 1, in her Franklin, Kentucky home after a bout with multiple myeloma.

Perry will honor his family's request and play as scheduled in the President's Cup October 8-11.

Mildred Perry was 79.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Most Powerful Opening Salvo

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: She's a Runaway
SONGWRITERS: Sam Llanas / Kurt Neumann
ALBUM: Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams
YEAR/LABEL: 1986; Slash

When I first heard Sam sing I thought it was an old woman. A very soulful old woman.
(Robbie Robertson)

Amid all the hair bands, synthesizers, and dance music of the mid-1980s came a different kind of "punk" movement: the root rockers. They were far less angry than the Clash or the Sex Pistols had been in rebelling against the disco and pop of the 1970s; and, unlike most punk bands, could actually play their instruments and sing well. These people weren't interested in seeing just how P.O.'ed at the world they could sound or trying to turn everything into a political cause. They just wanted to make good music. And most of the acts that came from that movement (e.g., Marshall Crenshaw, Webb Wilder) did exactly that.

The BoDeans happened along at the right time. They were both roots rockers and from one of the hotbed music scenes in America -- Milwaukee. In the mid-80s bands such as the Violent Femmes (the only act in history to get a platinum album [for their eponymous debut] without ever making the Billboard "top 200" best-sellers chart) and the Spanic Boys (a father-son duo that is the answer to a trivia question: what act was a last-minute music substitute on Saturday Night Live in 1990 when Sinead O'Connor refused to appear because Andrew "Dice" Clay was the host) garnered a good deal of attention from record labels. Most of the acts, unfortunately, never went beyond the Wisconsin border in terms of fame, with the Femmes and the BoDeans being the two notable exceptions.

What set the BoDeans apart, and continues to do so, are the harmonies. Front men Sam Llanas and Kurt Neumann, two high school friends, sing with harmonies that owe a great deal to the Everly Brothers or even the Louvin Brothers from country music. The band received a lot of attention initially because of these harmonies, and more so because of Llanas' voice, which, to say the very least, is unique. Critics began having a field day with descriptors of Llanas' voice. (His personal favorite: "a frog with laryngitis.") The attention, coupled with their stint as the opening act for U2 in the fall of 1987, established the band a solid cult following.

That is good and bad. It is good in the sense that they have a loyal audience, many of whom have been fans dating back to the 1986 debut Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams (a title taken from the opening line of the Rolling Stones' song "Shattered"); however, it is bad because this good, solid band has only made one venture into the top 40 ("Closer to Free," which was used as the theme song to Fox's TV series Party of Five)

Exhibit A as to why the latter is such a shame can be found in the first song from their first album, an incredible story song called "She's a Runaway." The story is not based on anyone from Llanas' life; however, the tale of the battered woman who "got beat up one too many times" rings sadly too true in society. Ditto the consequences: the victim of the story, Mary, decides the only way to solve the problem is by taking matters into her own hands. "Mary stole some money and she got herself a gun, then she shot her man down." The movie Thelma and Louise almost seems to be inspired by the plot of this song.

Trends in music have come and gone since 1986 but the BoDeans remain true to their original sound. Hopefully someday soon the trends will return to the roots rock sound so the BoDeans can enjoy the success they deserve.


The entire Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams album -- there's not a bad song on it anywhere. The reissued version includes the incredible "Try and Try," which had previously been relegated to a non-album B side (the flip of their first single, "Fadeaway").

"Forever Young (The Wild Ones)" (from Outside Looking In) -- the sophomore album that suffers from fellow Milwaukee native Jerry Harrison's too-heavy production (the Talking Heads guitarist/keyboardist did the same with the third Violent Femmes album, almost overproducing it into oblivion) still produced some gems. Harrison stepped back and let the BoDeans do what they do best on this song. If you can find any bootlegs from their 1988 tour where Neumann did this song as a ballad (with just a piano backing) it will be well worth the search.

"Small Town Ways" (from The Leftovers, a fan club-only release) -- originally recorded for the 1985 demo that got them the deal with Slash, this rocker traces how a job loss turns the protagonist to a life of crime.

"True Devotion" (from Black and White) -- this beautiful ballad was written after a long drought ("the night it finally rained") and features a wonderful, haunting backing vocal by Neumann.

"Far Far Away From My Heart"
(from Home) -- the loneliness of the road poured out in a superb Llanas solo.

"Locked Up in the State of Illinois" (from All the King's Men, various artists) -- using Elvis' backing musicians the BoDeans finally committed to CD one of their old and great live songs.

"Somewhere Down the Crazy River" (Robbie Robertson, from Robbie Robertson, backing vocals by Llanas) -- one of Robbie Robertson's best songs with Sam providing backing vocals that make a haunting song more haunting.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jackie Paper Comes No More

Category: Obituary/News

There was something magical about the song "Puff the Magic Dragon" when Peter, Paul and Mary sang it. Some people claimed it was a drug reference (they must've been smoking what they accused the song of promoting) and called for it to be banned, but fortunately most people accepted the song for what it was: great.

Mary Travers, the Louisville, Kentucky native who went to Greenwich Village and hooked up with Peter (Yarrow) and Paul (Stookey) to form one of the greatest folk groups of all time, died Wednesday (9/16) after a long bout with leukemia. In the end, it was not the actual disease that took her life but the complications from the treatment.

The iconic folk group also gave a young songwriter named Henry John Deutschendorf a foot in the door when they recorded his song "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Deutschendorf changed his name professionally to John Denver and went on to great success in the pop, country, and folk fields.

Mary Travers was 72.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Category: Obituary

If you watch the movie M*A*S*H you can see it almost begged to be a television series. It wasn't a movie with a central plot, but rather "episodes" out of the lives of the surgeons at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

Larry Gelbart must have seen that as well, for he took the 1970 film and developed it into a TV series that debuted in 1972. A lot of people don't know that the show nearly died in its Sunday night 8:30 slot during its first year. But it survived. Boy, did it survive. M*A*S*H is like I Love Lucy or The Andy Griffith Show or Star Trek -- timeless with legions of fans who "remember when" as well as discover it for the first time because they were not even born when it aired originally.

Larry Gelbart died Friday, September 11 at home in Los Angeles of cancer.

Although he was quite successful in his writing for other things (winning a Tony Award for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Oscar nominations for Oh God! and Tootsie), he will probably always be remembered for his work on M*A*S*H. And that's certainly something to be proud of.

Larry Gelbart was 81.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

There Are Voices, And Then....

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Painted Bells
ARTIST: Boz Scaggs
ALBUM: Moments
YEAR/LABEL: 1971, Columbia

Boz Scaggs is like sex and rock and roll: when he's good, he's great; when he's bad, he's not all that bad.
(Opening line of Rolling Stone magazine review of Down Two Then Left, 1977)

While still a teenager William "Boz" Scaggs played guitar and sang in a band at his high school, St. Mark's, in Dallas. Named the Marksmen, the combo featured another guitarist by the name of Steve Miller. After graduation, Scaggs went to Scandinavia and Miller went to the University of Wisconsin.

The two reunited in San Francisco in 1967. Scaggs played and sang on the first two Steve Miller Band albums, Children of the Future and Sailor, before parting company again. Scaggs recorded an album for Atlantic in 1969 (which featured what many consider to be Duane Allman's best guitar work, "Loan Me a Dime") before snagging a deal with Columbia Records. His debut on Columbia, Moments, featured a true classic: "Painted Bells."

Scaggs' recording career is filled with songs that showcase his lovely, soulful voice. "Painted Bells" is the first and one of the best. The song's story puts Scaggs in a cafe during an evening shower. His lyrics are as beautifully descriptive as the vocals he delivers them with. "I fall with the evening rain," Scaggs sings in the opening verse. He is just getting warmed up. He describes a rainy night perfectly, referencing "steam rising off the road" and people stepping carefully "to see that they don't get wet" while his cafe seat is under a tree. He sits there, content to "let the drops fall all over me and watch the city lights flick on."

Amid this rainy scene where "the crowds collide just out of my reach," the narrator's thoughts are on an old love, in his memory so fresh that he believes she is sharing the "wet cafe" table with him.

The "string of tiny painted bells" that give the song its title jolt Scaggs back to reality as he realizes the dream is like the passing shower: "the rain will go, and you will too."

Scaggs shot from cult status to Grammy-winning stardom with the
1976 album Silk Degrees, featuring his two best-known hits, "Lowdown" and "Lido Suffle." His greatest song, however, lies buried on an album that has yet to be released on CD in the United States.


The entire Moments album -- no "sophomore jinx" here. This album blew the debut out of the water and set the tone for what was to come.

The entire Silk Degrees album
-- yes, it is the successful Boz Scaggs album, and there is a very good reason for it.

The entire Middle Man album -- Boz wanders through pimps ("Jojo"), hookers ("Simone") and everything in between on an exceptional album that showcases his range from ballads ("You Can Have Me Anytime") to full-tilt rockers ("You've Got Some Imagination").

"Pain of Love" (from Slow Dancer) -- Creem magazine once said they wanted to present Scaggs with a Hostess snowball for Christmas that was "white on the outside and black inside, for obvious reasons." This exceptional blue-eyed soul tune is probably what gave them the idea for that joke.

"Runnin' Blue" (from Boz Scaggs & Band) -- Boz delivered this exceptional blues tune on an album with a large band that hid the fact that Scaggs is actually a rather good guitar player.

"Full-Lock Power Slide" (from My Time) -- strap in and hold on as Scaggs burns down the house with a straight-ahead rock and roll song that proves he is far from just a blue-eyed soul singer.

Not That I Care
Nobody Eats at Linebaugh's Anymore
My Book of Memories
Lost to a Stranger
A Little Bitty Heart
Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs
Life is Too Short
I Want a Home in Dixie
I Lost Today
Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Out to Sea
One More Song
New Delhi Freight Train
Long Way Home
Heart of Rome
Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Entella Hotel
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

You Love Your Wife and Kids

Category: Birthday/Tribute

There are singers and songwriters and singer/songwriters. Then there's John Hiatt. The masterful Americana performer celebrates his 57th birthday on August 20th.

The exceptional John Hiatt

What makes John Hiatt unique is his ability to tear your heart to a million pieces in one song then make your sides hurt from laughing so hard in the next. He has a way with lyrics that paint pictures worthy of hanging in a museum. Consider the opening line of "Lipstick Sunset:" "There's a lipstick sunset smeared across the August sky." He can also tell you a lot by omission. The final line of "The Night That Kenny Died," a song about an unpopular geek who became a hero because of the way he met his end (a motorcycle wreck), is such a case: "They kept the casket closed."

Hiatt has known his share of trouble and heartache, and he has turned these into songs. The title song from his 2000 Grammy-nominated album Crossing Muddy Waters deals with the suicide of his second wife shortly after the birth of their daughter. Now clean and sober, he deals with his alcoholism in both serious ("The Back of My Mind") and comical ("these days the only bar I ever see has got lettuce and tomatoes" from "Stolen Moments") ways.

Hiatt produces some of the best love songs of the last three decades, all of which were, as he proudly proclaims, inspired by his love of wife Nancy. And yet he can also write a hearbreak song so intense that fans write him and ask if his marriage is in trouble. Perhaps the reaction in the latter case is because Hiatt writes such intimate, autobiographical songs ("Two kids up and at 'em, one more left at home" he reported in "Circle Back," or the third person "Your Dad Did" that is obviously Hiatt's own paean to domestic bliss, "you love your wife and kids just like your dad did") that some automatically assume every song is a chapter out of his life. Of course, that does not seem to be true: it's hard to think Hiatt ever poked pins in a doll out of teenage sexual frustration such as the way the heroine of "Pink Bedroom" did.

That is part of the magic of John Hiatt. He is everyman -- very nice in person, funny, thoughtful, intelligent. He can translate the feelings of a shattered relationship (which he has known) into a masterful song just as easily as he can extol the joys of marital bliss that he has experienced for the past two and a half decades. It is truly sad that, while many of his songs are well-known ("Sure As I'm Sittin' Here," "Angel Eyes," "Thing Called Love"), he is not.

If you're unfamiliar with Hiatt's material, celebrate his birthday by treating yourself.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Vaya Con Dios, Mr. Guitar

Category: News

Les Paul didn't invent rock and roll, but it's hard to think where rock and roll would be without him. He gave the world the solid-body electric guitar and multi-track recording techniques that have become synonymous with rock and roll.

The great Les Paul died Thursday, August 13 of pneumonia.

Paul had a drive to play guitar. His right arm was permanently paralyzed in an automobile accident in 1948, so he had the doctors set his arm at a 90 degree angle so he could continue to play. and play he did.
Les Paul was a guitar player, and then some. He won numerous Grammy awards, including one he shared with country music's version of "Mr. Guitar," Chet Atkins, for the album Chester and Lester. His career spanned eight decades and included both instrumental albums and great pop standards recorded with his wife, Mary Ford, who passed away in 1977.

A sad farewell to one of the greatest performers of our time, Lester William Polfuss -- Les Paul. He was 94.