Monday, December 15, 2014

HAVING A CLEAROUT

     When PBS was still airing the British comedy As Time Goes By, starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer, one of the things I learned is that when the Brits clean house, they refer to the process as “having a clearout”, and I thought before I put the year to rest with the year-end edition of The Recordchanger (due in late December or very early January), I might have a mental clearout of my own since I haven’t been posting much in this space lately. I get ridiculously busy this time of year because I work a retail job that’s pure hell. It never fails to completely ruin the holiday for me and rob me of any Christmas spirit whatsoever. I do my best to keep my hatred of the entire season at bay so as not to rain on anyone else’s joy, but it gets tougher every year. But like everyone else, especially the media, I find myself reflecting back on another year almost gone, and sorting the good from the bad in an effort to gain some perspective on the world and my place in it before the New Year begins. The year-end edition of the best music goes a long way in separating one year from another, but every year things happen in your life that are unique, and make some impact on, if not just the year ahead, the rest of your life – depending on what those events were.
     I feel fortunate that, in spite of losing a number of favorite musicians to death in 2014, that I was not touched by any deaths in my immediate family this year. When you get to be my age, every year is another roll of the dice when it comes to mortality. Of course, some of my friends weren’t so fortunate, and I’ve not forgotten them.
     This was a year for severe budgeting as well. Money doesn’t stretch as far as it once did, and that’s impacted everything I do. We carefully count every penny when we eat out, for example. I said ‘no’ to countless records this year because of the increased cost of not only vinyl, but also the deluxe box sets, and special editions the labels keep issuing. When I buy books, they’re nearly always used, although I did go off the reservation once or twice this year with impulse buys that turned out to pay big dividends since some of the books I bought on impulse turned out to be the best ones I read in 2014.
      Our cable bill just went up another ten bucks for no good reason I can think of since Time-Warner is not doing its job any better than it ever has. We have a new channel served up by WHIO, MeTV, that airs reruns of old comedies and dramas from the 1960’s and 70’s. But most of the rest of the hundred-plus channels we pay for every month are left unwatched. Our cable TV is bundled with our internet service and phone. Our phone exists now for my wife to talk to her mother and her brother, and for the dentist to call and remind us when they’ll be taking our money again. Our internet service has been extremely spotty lately dropping connections on a fairly regular basis. The bottom line is that our cable bill provides the worst service for the highest cost. And don’t get me started on what a newspaper subscription costs now. At least gas has declined, and don’t think we’re not grateful for that after years of being gouged at the pump. (I caught an episode of Leave It To Beaver this morning that was about Wally needing a new battery for his used car. He didn’t have the money for it, and Eddie Haskell and his credit card came to the rescue. The battery cost 15 bucks, and at one point, Beaver offered to buy Wally a gallon of gas for his car if he’d drive he and his friend Gilbert to the malt shop. Beaver told Wally it would be worth the 32 cents it would cost him. In case you doubted it, we are living in a very different world now from the one those black & white sitcoms portrayed. My life today seems as far removed from Leave It To Beaver as it does from Daniel Boone, which airs immediately after it on MeTV.)
     My 14 year old car is about to turn over 71,000 miles on it. I’m trying to keep it on the road as long as I can, so if you’re out driving and you see me, please don’t hit me. It’s cost me a few repairs this year alone that were not in my budget, and there’s at least one more coming in the new year.
     I didn’t ask for much for Christmas this year. I’m at an age where I don’t need much, and couldn’t spend much either since the budget is tighter. But we did put the tree up this year after not bothering a year ago. It looks as good as it ever has. My wife spent quite a bit of time baking this year, so I got some peanut butter fudge from my mom’s recipe, and some snicker doodle cookies, too. And Suzy at Bomp sent me a box of baked goodies like she does every year. She does these peanut butter squares, and some butterscotch thing that are amazing. And yet, thanks to a diet I started in April, I’ll start 2015 trimmer than I did 2014. It’s only been in the past month that I’ve strayed a bit, and that ends when the holidays do. That’s probably the only thing I really accomplished in 2014. Not many people can say they’ll start the next year weighing less than they did the year before. But this year, at least, I can say it.
     I also grew a mustache and beard this year – actually a van dyke, not a full beard. I hadn’t done facial hair in years, but this went over so well, and requires so little maintenance that I decided to keep it. It draws people’s attention away from the lack of hair on my head now.
     While I don’t have any particular reason to look forward to 2015, I’m not dreading it because every passing year brings me one year closer to being able to retire, and that would mean more time to read, to write, to listen to music, to watch movies, and spend quality time with my dog. We have a dachshund named Molly that turned five on Halloween. She’s more than capable of aggravating the hell out of me some days, but most days she’s the best dog in the world. I’ve had dogs most of my life – some of the best. But I’ve never had one I’ve enjoyed more than Molly. She’s full of personality, and she’s great company, too.
     I’m already looking forward to the 2015 baseball season, too. I think the Cleveland Indians have a very good chance to win their division if they stay healthy, and I heard the same thing from Harold Reynolds on Hot Stove on the MLB network this morning, too. So we’ll see how that plays out.
      I’ll save the music discussion for the year-end edition of The Recordchanger in a couple of weeks. I haven’t bought anywhere near as much music this year as in previous years, but what I’ve acquired has been money well spent, and my Top Ten looks pretty good, too. The lists are nearly complete. I just need to write the accompanying essay. I think I’m going to add a section on books, too, since nearly every book I read in 2014 was music related.
      In past years I’ve written a Christmas Wish List in these pages, but I never get what I want, so there seems no point in doing it this year. I’m not na├»ve enough at my age to ever expect to live again in a world at peace. Nor can I convince myself that we’ll ever be able to repair the damage we’ve done, and continue to do to the environment. Maybe the best thing to do is to dial down the hopes and expectations. Maybe it’s enough to just try and manage my small corner of the world in such a way that I don’t contribute to any of the conflicts around the world or do anything beyond driving a car that in any way harms the environment. Nothing else seems more important than that. That’s one of the best things about getting older. The little things fall away, and what you’re left with is a very clear picture of what really matters most. And I think it’s probably the same things for all of us – a working turntable, and a huge collection of records.

     See you again in a couple of weeks with the windup to 2014. Have a nice holiday, and may 2015 be everything you hope. Thanks for reading The Recordchanger.

Monday, November 17, 2014

IS IT TOO LATE TO MAKE A FEW NFL PREDICTIONS?

     I know what you’re going to say. “He’s making NFL predictions eleven weeks into the season? Isn’t that sort of cheating?” But here’s my premise. The NFL is a mess right now. It’s been a strange season with as much going on off the field as on. What happens in September and October is nowhere near as important as what happens in November and December. And, my pre-season picks – none of which I felt certain enough about to even post in these pages – have long since crashed and burned. So why not have another go at it in mid-season?
     There are six weeks left in the regular season, followed by three weeks of playoffs, a bye week and then the Super Bowl. So counting the post-season, week eleven is, in fact, the middle of the NFL season. Anyone that believes making predictions about the final eleven weeks is far easier than making predictions before week one hasn’t been paying attention to the 2014 NFL season. But I watch ESPN sometimes, and the talking heads on that network don’t seem to get it right any more often than I do. Everybody’s got an opinion. They have a TV network through which they can peddle theirs. I have a blog. It’s my right to speak out, and your right to ignore me. That’s the American way.
     We’ll go division by division beginning with the NFC, and I’ll do my best to get this right so that you can feel comfortable placing a few educated bets with the boys in Vegas – or at least your next door neighbor if the Vegas lines are busy.

NFC EAST

 Philadelphia (7-3)
 Dallas (7-3)
 NY Giants (3-7)
 Washington (3-7)

     Philadelphia and Dallas are both going to the playoffs. If Tony Romo stays healthy, I think Dallas wins the division, and The Eagles are a wildcard. I’m not certain how far backup QB Mark Sanchez can take The Eagles. But I believe Philly reaches the post-season either way. The Giants are out, and Washington might want to take a good long look at Colt McCoy the rest of the season because I think it’s clear that Robert Griffin III was a flash in the pan. He’s peaked, and even if he hasn’t, he’s a guy whose body is going to betray him every time he gets hit in the open field.

NFC NORTH

 Detroit (7-3)
 Green Bay (7-3)
 Chicago (4-6)
 Minnesota (4-6)

     Green Bay will win the North over Detroit, and I have Detroit as the other wild card team in the NFC. Chicago and Minnesota are out, but I expect Minnesota will continue to improve while The Bears will likely make Chicagoans look forward to the baseball season.

NFC SOUTH

 Atlanta (4-6)
 New Orleans (4-6)
 Carolina (3-7-1)
 Tampa Bay (2-8)

     This division is this year’s laughingstock, and it seems entirely likely that the division champ will probably sport a losing record at season’s end and still get to host a playoff game. But I feel safe is predicting that no team from this division has even a prayer of winning a playoff game. I think The Saints schedule the rest of the way slightly favors them to win it over The Falcons. But they must beat Atlanta when the two go head-to-head again since Atlanta won the first matchup. And people keep looking at Carolina QB Cam Newton and asking if he’s healthy. I don’t know if he is or isn’t. But I’m convinced that Cam Newton, like RG III has peaked. Newton hasn’t come close to playing at the level he played at a year ago, and given Carolina’s rep as a defensive-minded football team, I doubt we’ll ever see from Cam Newton what was expected of him when he came out of college. I expect Tampa to continue to improve under Lovie Smith, but they’re a couple of years away from contending.

NFC WEST

 Arizona (9-1)
 San Francisco (6-4)
 Seattle (6-4)
 St. Louis (4-6)

     I have believed all year in the Arizona Cardinals, and even though they lost starting QB Carson Palmer to an injury for the rest of 2014, they’ve proved they can win with backup Drew Stanton. Their schedule the rest of the way is very tough, but given that winning just three of their last six should guarantee them the division title, I think they’ll get it done. The 49ers, and Seahawks, I believe, will both be watching the playoffs from home this year. Neither team seems to have enough to make them serious post-season contenders this year. The only way either of them gets in is if Detroit, or Philadelphia has a meltdown and vacates the wild card spot I’ve appointed each of them. St. Louis continues to confound everyone by playing great one week, and awful the next. But look for them to excel in a spoiler role the rest of the way.

AFC EAST

 New England (8-2)
 Miami (6-4)
 Buffalo (5-5)
 NY Jets (2-8)

     New England wins this in a walk – as they usually do. The Dolphins have improved, but I think their head coach is clueless, and will find a way to cost his team a post-season birth. Buffalo is doing what they always do – contending the first half of the season before collapsing the second half. And The Jets will be looking for a new head coach soon, and maybe a new quarterback as well. Time to clean house there. The great Rex Ryan experiment has failed.

AFC NORTH

 Cincinnati (6-3-1)
 Pittsburgh (6-4)
 Cleveland (6-4)
 Baltimore (6-4)

     If you listen to ESPN, this is the best division in football. I’m here to tell you it isn’t. This is my “home” division, and I see all of these teams pretty regularly. All four of them are average. All have looked, at times, like Super Bowl contenders this season. All have looked, at times, as if they couldn’t beat an amateur playground team made up of kids who got cut from their high school teams. My pick to win it is Pittsburgh, with Baltimore the runner-up. I don’t trust Cincinnati or Cleveland, and I don’t think either of them will make the playoffs. Neither team is consistent – especially at the quarterback position. And that will make a difference at crunch time.

AFC SOUTH

 Indianapolis (6-4)
 Houston (5-5)
 Tennessee (2-7)
 Jacksonville (1-9)

     This one will go down to the wire, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Houston overtake The Colts. But I don’t think they will. Both teams have pretty soft schedules the rest of the way. They play one another once more – in Indianapolis, and that’s why I’ll give the edge to The Colts – in spite of their suspect defense, and the total lack of a rushing game. But I see Houston as a wild card team with a possible 10-6 finish. Tennessee and Jacksonville are both years away from contending, so I look for The Colts and Texans to dominate for the next few years in the AFC South.

AFC WEST

 Denver (7-3)
 Kansas City (7-3)
 San Diego (6-4)
 Oakland (0-10)

     Denver is beginning to look far less dominant than they have thus far in the Peyton Manning era, but I think they’ll hang on and win the AFC West. Kansas City will be dogging them every step of the way, and I have them as the other AFC wild card team. San Diego will be the best AFC team not to make the playoffs this year, and as for Oakland, they have two chances to win a game the rest of the way – against the inconsistent Rams in St. Louis, or the Bills when they visit Oakland. If they fail in both cases, they’ll likely be the second NFL team to post an 0-16 mark in the past ten years. And the interim coach will be fired along with his staff, and The Raiders will start all over again next year and probably finish last again. The best thing that could happen to the city of Oakland is for the Raiders to make the rumored move to San Antonio, Texas where they won’t even be noticed in a state that has franchises in Dallas and Houston.

     I think the favorite to get to the Super Bowl right now is Green Bay in the NFC. I hate to pick against Arizona, but Drew Stanton, as well as he’s played, is not Aaron Rodgers. That gives The Packers the edge. In the AFC, nobody impresses me more than The Patriots, and the prospect of a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl looks appetizing to say the least. I also don’t believe we’ll see either Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson on the field again this year, but it wouldn’t surprise me if both are playing for other teams next season. And I’m one of those who thinks Jim Harbaugh will, in fact, exit the 49ers job. He might take the Michigan job since that’s his alma mater. But if he really wants another NFL challenge, how about The Raiders? If they don’t make that move to San Antonio, Harbaugh could stay in the NFL and in the bay area in that job. It’d be a good fit. He’s as crazy as the Davis family, and most of Raider nation, too.
     It has been, as I said, a strange year in the NFL. The best thing I've seen on an NFL football field this year was the New England Patriots Cheerleaders sporting Cincinnati Bengal Devon Still's #75 jersey when the Bengals travelled to Foxboro to play The Patriots in support of Still's daughter who's been fighting cancer. It was a reminder that there is something still positive left in the NFL - even if only on the sidelines.

     That’s my last word on the NFL in these pages for 2014. There was some off-season noise in Major League Baseball this morning, and that reminded me that spring training is just a few months off, and the winter meetings less than a month away. If you’re going to spend time with a sport, there’s none better than baseball.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

WITH FRIENDS SURROUNDED

     When I first heard the news this past August that there would be a new Pink Floyd record come November, I said aloud, “Oh, please don’t.” Pink Floyd’s last record was The Division Bell released in 1994. That album is a masterpiece in my opinion, and the perfect final statement from one of the most talented and important bands in rock history. The last thing I wanted was a new record that, if not up to standards, would tarnish the band’s legacy. I was particularly reluctant they undertake this project given that keyboardist Richard Wright had since passed away leaving just David Gilmour and Nick Mason to carry on. But after reading further that much of the music on The Endless River had been recorded during the sessions for The Division Bell, and not only featured Richard Wright’s keyboards but were in fact songs he’d written or co-written for that album caused me to reconsider.
     The Endless River arrived this week, and while quite impressive as a stand-alone album actually works better as a coda to The Division Bell, and makes those final sessions even richer and more rewarding. I listened to the new album by itself initially, but the second listen immediately followed a fresh listen to The Division Bell – an album I have continued to play on a regular basis since its release twenty years ago.
     Eleven of the new record’s eighteen tracks were written or co-written by Richard Wright, and every track on the album is an instrumental with the exception of Louder Than Words written by David Gilmour and his wife Polly Samson, the album’s closing track. The music flows throughout, often with one track bleeding into the next, and bears all the hallmarks of the Pink Floyd sound – from Gilmour’s distinctive guitar work to Wright’s melodic keyboard accents to Mason’s percussive signature. There’s not a chance – even if you didn’t hear the final track with Gilmour’s vocals – that you wouldn’t be able to identify The Endless River as a Pink Floyd album within moments after dropping the needle on it. As I said, the record stands on its own as a finished work, but is doubly impressive as a coda to the last major statement the band made when they called it a day twenty years ago. In the years to come, I would like to see the two records issued as a set because that’s really the way they ought to be heard and experienced. And I hope The Division Bell will finally get the recognition from both the audience and the media it has long deserved.
     As the release for The Endless River got closer, I decided to do a bit of prep work in the event that I might want to write a piece about it for these pages. I listened to some interviews, and did some further research on the band. What emerged was a more evolved perspective on what Pink Floyd was, and why their music matters.
     The Division Bell is a record about communication, and the fallout that comes when people can no longer talk to one another. That’s what made it such an effective final statement because it was the communication breakdown that caused the rift between Roger Waters and David Gilmour that caused Waters to leave the band after The Final Cut album. The two reached a point where working together had become nearly impossible. They were simply no longer on the same page musically, and something had to give. The legal wrangling that followed was over whether the band could or should continue without Waters, a key founding member, and who would own the name. There were lawyers involved, but the case never went to court because Waters did not want the name, and agreed to allow Gilmour, Wright, and Mason to continue using it if they forged ahead even though he’d have preferred to retire the name and the band once and for all.
     The release of The Endless River twenty years later, however, provides another underlying theme to The Division Bell sessions and to the work the band did on both records because there was now a death in the immediate Pink Floyd family. Richard Wright passed away in September of 2008. I had always heard The Division Bell record as not only a meditation on communication, but also on death – initially as the death of the band we came to know as Pink Floyd. Neither David Gilmour or Nick Mason or Richard Wright said that in so many words to the media, but if you listened, you could hear it clearly. The album is peppered with references to previous Pink Floyd records, and lyrically is filled with songs about the lack of communication leading to an inevitable split or departure for those involved. As the lyric goes, “the ringing of the division bell has begun.”
     When I heard that lyric in 1994, I heard it as a meditation on death more than I did a lack of or an end to communication. At my age, death is ever present. It walks beside me everyday, and it has since my parents passed away more than twenty years ago. Not a single day dawns when I don’t think about it. I don’t fear death, so I’m used to living with the specter of it, and walking in its shadow. And one of the things that helped me accept it is the music made by some artists that confront death head on, and discuss it openly. And it’s a theme in more rock music these days than ever before because rock is old enough now that those who have spent a lifetime making the music or listening to it have begun to die in greater numbers of disease, and old age rather than the deaths by misadventure that were always a part of the rock experience.
     The Endless River exists because Rick Wright died and his band mates had in their possession some of the last music he made – music that merited a release. And they undertook the project to embellish his legacy and reputation as a talented musician whose contributions to their band had, perhaps, been undervalued by the public over the years. But in doing so, they’re acknowledging the loss of their friend and band mate, and a final, irrevocable end to the institution known as Pink Floyd. Gilmour and Mason took the music, and worked to finish it so it could do Wright’s legacy justice.
     In 2013, Storm Thorgerson, the man who co-founded Hipgnosis with Aubrey Powell, the design firm responsible for most of the Pink Floyd album covers and the accompanying artwork that is so much a part of the band’s identity, passed away. The Endless River is dedicated to Thorgerson, and David Gilmour told Redbeard in a recent interview that he and Mason approached Aubrey Powell, long estranged from the company he co-founded with Thorgerson, to find an appropriate design for the album. It took some time, but the image they agreed upon was the man in the rowboat rowing through a sea of clouds. Given the passing of both Wright and Thorgerson, and the finish of the band, the art seems most fitting. And when you turn the record over, the picture on the back shows an empty boat on those clouds. And the overriding themes of The Division Bell sessions change places. Communication takes a backseat to mortality and the endless march of time that will divide all of us from one another at some unknown point.
     David Gilmour told a BBC interviewer about the end of Pink Floyd that it is, after all, just a pop group. And he’s right about that. But this “pop group” was composed of four men (and a fifth in co-founding member, Syd Barrett, who left the band after its second record, and died in 2006) who were also friends for more than 50 years. In spite of the musical differences that split the group into two factions, there remains a reverence and respect among all of them for what they experienced together. Roger Waters told a BBC interviewer in 2013 that Pink Floyd’s 2005 reunion at Live 8 for charity was “splendid”, and “indescribably moving”, and that he was happy they’d done it – especially given that Rick Wright has since died. Both he and Gilmour are proud of what they accomplished with Pink Floyd, and speak well of one another today. Obviously even a breakdown in communications cannot wipe away the memories and the music one makes (as the lyric says in High Hopes, the closing track on The Division Bell) “with friends surrounded”. But none of us can stop the ringing of the division bell.

__________


     I couldn’t recommend a specific few records if one wanted to begin exploring Pink Floyd’s legacy on record. There is far too much of merit in all of their records to limit it to a select few. There could even be future projects that will bear the name, but there will never again be a time when that group of musicians can make music together. For some, Pink Floyd ended when Syd Barrett departed. For many more, it was over when Roger Waters departed. For me, The Division Bell marked the end, but I embrace The Endless River as the coda to that record and a chance to salute, one more time, the majesty, the elegance, and the genius that was Pink Floyd – Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason. I will play their records and enjoy their music until it's me in that boat on a sea of clouds, and if you are new to their work, I suggest you buy The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, their first release from 1967, and get each one in succession. It’s a long, and rewarding journey, a journey you can only enjoy for the first time once, but one which will reward you again each time you venture forth. And if that tolling bell in the distance becomes too loud, turn the music up.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

AN APPRECIATION OF JACK BRUCE (1943-2014)

     If one were to read just the obituaries that appeared following the passing of musician Jack Bruce this past Saturday at the age of 71, one might be led to believe that Bruce quit the music business when Cream broke up in 1968. If your knowledge of Jack Bruce is limited to the music he made with that greatest of all rock power trios, then, to use a popular phrase, “you don’t know Jack.” Jack Bruce was the finest bass player of the past half-century in my view, but he was one of the greatest musicians of all-time. Bass was his primary instrument, but he had classical training as a cellist, was an accomplished pianist, and played harmonica as well. He considered himself a jazz musician, but he was able to play any kind of music and bring something unique to the proceedings. He was also a brilliant songwriter, and wrote several songs now considered to be classics with his long time lyricist Pete Brown. If you want to know more about Jack Bruce’s history and career, read his autobiography, Composing Himself, published in 2010. If you want to know more about his music, I think I can help.
     I’ve been listening to and collecting Jack Bruce records since his days with Cream. There’s a comprehensive discography at jackbruce.com that details his solo work, his impact with several bands, and his contributions as a sideman with a wide variety of some of the finest musicians in the world. I can’t claim to own or to have heard everything, but I can certainly point you in the direction of some of his best work if you’re interested in exploring his music.
     Before joining Cream, Bruce made notable recordings with The Graham Bond Organization, Manfred Mann, The Power House (with Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton), and John Mayall. He worked with Donovan while in Cream, and made a record with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated the year he released his first solo album following the demise of Cream. Of these records, Graham Bond’s The Sound of ’65, along with its follow-up, There’s A Bond Between Us are highly recommended examples of British Blues at its best. Both are available now on a single CD from the BGO label. Bruce’s brief work with John Mayall is available on another pair of LP’s, Primal Solos, and Looking Back, and from what I understand, also available on the reissued deluxe, expanded edition of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers album. The Power House recordings are on Elektra’s What’s Shakin’ LP available from Sundazed. Of these early collaborations, the above titles would provide a nice foundation for a collection of Bruce’s work.
     From there we move to Cream. For a band that was only together from 1966-1968, there are a lot of albums from which to choose. But the best way to proceed is to pick up Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears, Wheels of Fire and Goodbye Cream. Those are the four albums the band cut during their brief lifespan, and all four belong in any serious collection of rock. You can add Live Cream and Live Cream II if you’d like, and write a finish to the Cream years with their 2005 reunion set Royal Albert Hall. That’s available both as a CD and a DVD, and both are highly recommended.
     Bruce began making records under his own name in 1969 with the classic Songs For A Tailor. This is the quintessential Jack Bruce album. It’s filled with songs he would return to in his live set throughout his career, and proves his versatility as a musician, while showcasing his bass playing, vocals, and talents as a composer. The solo records that followed are all worth hearing, but each is unique. Bruce uses a variety of musicians on his own records, and shows off his facility as a jazz player on records like Things We Like (1970) with John McLaughlin, Jon Hiseman, and Dick Heckstall-Smith. I’m particularly fond of Live ’75 with Carla Bley, Mick Taylor, Bruce Gary, and Ronnie Leahy. This is cutting edge progressive art rock, and this band was among the finest with whom Bruce played. Jet Set Jewel, recorded in ’78, but not issued until 2003, is a real find. It features Heckstall-Smith, Tony Hymas, Hugh Burns, and Simon Phillips. It’s one of Bruce’s best sets of songs, and had Polydor, his label at the time, not refused to release it, would’ve been enjoyed and appreciated by a much larger audience. Better late than never, though. I’ve Always Wanted To Do This (1980) is a must as well featuring Billy Cobham, David Sancious, and Clem Clempson. And don’t miss A Question of Time from 1989 that features an all-star cast of some of the best rock players available at the time (Vernon Reid, Paul Barrere, Vivian Campbell, Alan Holdsworth, and Nicky Hopkins to name a few) along with the great Bernie Worrell, Tony Williams, and bluesman Albert Collins. Bruce’s old nemesis Ginger Baker turns up as well.
     Those last couple of records bookended a busy solo decade for Bruce, but he was just getting warmed up. In the 90’s and beyond into the new century, Jack Bruce continued to make excellent records. Something Els (’93), and Monkjack (’95) showcase Jack’s piano prowess while Shadows In The Air (’01) and More Jack Than God (’03) are both Jack at his best as a bandleader and player/composer. During this period, there were live sets issued from the archives that are well worth searching out. BBC Live In Concert (’95) and Live On The Old Grey Whistle Test (’98) are excellent, but just a primer for the outstanding 3 CD Spirit box from 2008 that rounds up some of the best work Bruce ever did under his own name. These are BBC recordings spanning 1971-1978 – all previously unissued – featuring some of the best bands Bruce had during his solo career. Though not strictly a career overview, I consider this set essential to any appreciation of Jack Bruce.
     In 1994, Bruce teamed up once more with Ginger Baker, and added Gary Moore on guitar for the BBM album, Around The Next Dream. The collaboration didn’t last, but the album was a beauty. Bruce also recorded a pair of albums with Robin Trower and Bill Lordan under the moniker B.L.T. They cut a self-titled album in ’81, and another called Truce that same year. Both are highly recommended. (A reunion with Trower in 2008, Seven Moons, was solid if less successful.) In the decade prior to that power trio, Bruce worked with ex-Mountain men, guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing in West, Bruce & Laing. They cut two studio records and one live album – all of which were fine records, but it’s their debut Why Dontcha from ’72 that’s a must. Bruce also made a terrific record in 1988 with Leslie West titled Theme that I would recommend as well. And after Cream split in ’68, Jack worked with jazz drummer Tony Williams in a band called Lifetime. Their debut, Emergency was submarined by the worst production and sound in the history of record making, but the follow-up Turn It Over is much better and shows what the band was capable of.
     You can browse Bruce’s discography at jackbruce.com for more, but there are some special appearances worth noting. Bruce is on Carla Bley’s superb Escalator Over The Hill (’71), but an album you should not miss is Kip Hanrahan’s Desire Develops An Edge if you want to hear what Bruce could do in a support role with a great collection of musicians. He steals the album.

     I’d also like to mention a compilation album by an Austrian jazz trumpeter and composer named Michael Mantler titled Review 1968-2000. Some of the work Jack did with Mantler is featured here, but the reason I mention this album specifically is because it’s the perfect way to hear Jack Bruce in an environment in which he was completely comfortable, but which is about as far removed from his work in rock power trios as could be. The collection features the likes of Bruce along with Carla Bley, Don Cherry, Larry Coryell, Jack DeJohnette, Marianne Faithfull, Terje Rypdal, Pharoah Sanders, Chris Spedding, Mike Stern, Steve Swallow, Tony Williams, and Robert Wyatt among others. That’s an impressive list. And it underscores what I was saying about the obituaries doing Jack Bruce a disservice by mentioning only his work with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker in Cream. There was much more to Jack Bruce. His body of work rivals that of any other musician over the past five decades. In browsing his discography, it seems he never rested – until now. If there’s a band in the heavens, the announcement must be made to the bass players in line at the audition, “Thank you all for coming. But the bass chair has been filled.” Goodbye Jack, and thanks for everything.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

THE FREE THINKER NO. 18



The Chick Corea Trio
     My last vacation time of the year has almost come to an end. I always try to take a week off in October before the retail holiday season kicks in. I can’t get vacation time the last two months of the year anyway, so October is my last chance. It’s been a restful week, and I feel I’ve accomplished most of what I wanted to accomplish. I managed to finish a couple of books I’d been reading since spring – collections of essays you can pick up and put down as time dictates. But my wife and I spent a rare day shopping on Wednesday and decided to hit all the bookstores in one day. My wife came home with a dozen books, and I bought 9 LP’s, 5 CD’s and one book myself.

     Linda Ronstadt’s musical memoir Simple Dreams is now out in trade paperback which means you can also find hardcover copies on the bargain tables in chain stores like Barnes & Noble. I started reading the book yesterday morning and finished it in one sitting. True to its subtitle, it’s almost all about her music. Her personal life, which, at times, has provided fodder for gossip columnists, is given short shrift here in favor of an in depth discussion of her greatest passion – music. She takes us all the way back to her family life in Tuscon, Arizona and a household filled with music, and details the influences that led to one of the most successful careers the music business has ever seen. There are terrific stories about people she met and worked with along the way, and I came away from it feeling that Linda Ronstadt is exactly the person and the artist I always believed her to be. I can’t recommend the book more highly.
     The other three bookstores we visited all have vinyl, but the chain stores really haven’t committed to it, so the selection and pricing leave much to be desired. The used shops are still the best bet. I hadn’t had hardly any success all year at Half-Price Books, but this trip was different. I bought a dozen items there in all and escaped with a bill under 60 bucks. On CD I picked up a Lee Konitz two-fer of a pair of his 1957 recordings for Verve, Very Cool, and Tranquility. Konitz is a master of the alto sax. A guy I once worked with who had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, and a passion for Konitz in particular influenced my decision to pick this up even though I’d heard and enjoyed some Konitz, and even owned some of his work on compilation albums. Both of these are fine records that feature Konitz’s smooth style, and his laid back approach. Very Cool is a quintet date from May of ’57 that has Don Ferrara on trumpet, Sal Mosca on piano, Peter Ind on bass, and Shadow Wilson on drums. Tranquility is a quartet session from October of that same year, and has Billy Bauer on guitar, Henry Grimes on bass, and Dave Bailey on drums. It’s a nice introduction to Konitz if you aren’t familiar with him. The uptempo stuff is lively, and the ballads sublime.
Branford Marsalis
     I’ve been backtracking the past couple of years trying to pick up CD’s I missed by the Marsalis brothers, Wynton and Branford. This time it was Branford, and I bought his 1992 album, I Heard You Twice The First Time which features B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Linda Hopkins on one track apiece in what is a nice melding of blues and jazz suggesting a late night club setting with a couple of spoken word bits providing atmosphere. It makes for an engaging listening experience, and Branford and his band (Jeff “Tain” Watts, Robert Hurst, and Kenny Kirkland) sound better than ever. Contemporary Jazz from two sessions, the first in December of ’99, and the second from April of 2000 retains Jeff Watts on drums, but has Joey Calderazzo on piano, and Eric Revis on bass. The late Rafi Zabor, one of the great jazz writers did the liner notes, so I knew this album was special, and it did not disappoint. This is as good as I’ve ever heard Branford, and there are moments when he recalls John Coltrane as he was in the early 1960’s. That’s a comparison I would never make lightly. It’s a superb set of longer pieces, and convinced me that I’m far from finished with the Marsalis brothers. The publicity may have stopped, and the records may have disappeared to the cut-out bins, bit there’s plenty there worth exploring.
     The nine LP’s were Solid Ground by Ronnie Laws, Breezin’ and In Flight by George Benson, Multiplication by Eric Gale, Rit by Lee Ritenour, Expressions of Life by The Heath Brothers, Uptown Dance by Stephane Grappelli and Domino Theory by Weather Report – all used, and a new LP of a Bob Dylan album I’d never seen titled Live In Colorado 1976. Those first eight are all jazz records that come from a period in my life when I was still learning about jazz, and listening to a mix of classic and contemporary stuff. All were records that got a lot of in-store play in stores I was working in, so my attachment to them is sentimental. My favorites, though are The Heath Brothers and Stephane Grappelli. The Heath Brothers, Jimmy and Percy, go way back to the 1950’s and the two played with most of the legends of jazz when they were young men. In the 70’s they formed their own group and recorded a few albums for Columbia that featured a more contemporary approach. The records were quite successful on their own terms, and I heard and loved them all, but had not been able to find them anywhere in recent years. Stephane Grappelli, a master violinist who played with the great guitarist Django Reinhart cut Uptown Dance for Columbia, and it was the first place I’d ever heard or heard of Grappelli. I’d never even imagined the violin as a jazz instrument, but Grappelli swings like mad, and I fell in love with this record the first time I heard it. I’ve been looking for it for years, and I finally have it.
     The Bob Dylan title was on a European label, DMM, that seems to be able to
Dylan & Baez
find loopholes in copyrighted material that allows them to legally issue records that cannot be issued by labels in the U.S. Live In Colorado 1976 was recorded at Fort Collins and is part of the same concert that yielded Dylan’s Hard Rain album and television special in ’76. This was the second leg of the storied Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and Dylan still had Joan Baez and Roger McGuinn traveling with him. There are ten tracks here, four of which are on the Hard Rain LP. But the remaining six – all of side one, and one track on side two, were previously unreleased. Baez joins Dylan on four of them, and the album has the same ramshackle sound as the Hard Rain album did. The tracks it duplicates from that LP also happen to be that album’s highlights – among them Shelter From The Storm, and maybe the definitive version of his scathing Idiot Wind. Hard Rain has long been my favorite live Bob Dylan album, and I’ve been waiting for Columbia to release the entire show for ages now. But until they do, this set will do nicely. A must for Dylan collectors, it goes for about 25 bucks online. Half-Price Books was selling it sealed for $12.99.
     On the way home we dropped by the other used bookstore in town, 2nd and Charles. I bought a couple of used clearance CD’s and my wallet was $4 poorer when I left, but it was money well spent. I decided to give R.E.M.’s 1994 Monster album another chance since I’ve been exploring the R.E.M. catalog in depth again now that the band has broken up. I didn’t care for Monster when it was released, and that was where I got off the R.E.M. bus and went my own way. Listening to it again twenty years later, I have to admit that I still think it’s their weakest album, but it’s not completely without merit. One track, Strange Currencies, was immediately added to my iTunes program, and I found the rest palatable, if uninspiring. I intend to eventually own the entire R.E.M. catalog. So I was eventually going to buy Monster. At least I got it for a bargain basement price. 
     The big surprise, and one of the best finds of the day was one of those Mojo magazine free CD’s they give away with issues of the magazine. Someone had sold it to the store, and when it didn’t sell for it’s original stickered price of $3.19, it found its way to the clearance bin for a buck, and that’s what I paid

for this November 2012 gem of a compilation. It was apparently tied to an issue that featured a mod theme. And the mods liked their soul, reggae, ska, and their rock ‘n’ roll. Titled Move On Up, listen to the artist lineup here: The Jam (2 tracks), The Yardbirds, Lee Dorsey, Laurel Aitken, The (English) Beat, Prince Fatty & Hollie Cook, Andy Lewis, Curtis Mayfield, Aaron Neville, Terry Callier with Paul Weller, The Moons, Dexys, Bruce Foxton (from The Jam), and Wilko Johnson (from Dr. Feelgood). Even the acts I’d never heard of here are excellent. Nearly the entire CD went directly to my iTunes program, and it’s going to get played in the house as well. This might well be the best magazine comp CD I’ve ever run across.

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     Collector’s Choice Music sent me a catalog the other day, and I spent money with them I haven’t yet earned, but man did I hit the motherlode. They had a big sale going on, with an additional 15% off the entire order if you spent $125 bucks. Normally I wouldn’t be able to come close to spending that amount from a single catalog, but this time they saw me coming. The catalog seemed tailor-made for me, and to hell with credit card debt. I’m still waiting on two titles that were backordered, Step Back, the final record by the late Johnny Winter on vinyl, and the newly expanded edition of Edwin Starr’s Involved CD featuring his much of his early 70’s work with the late, great Motown producer Norman Whitfield (that one is in transit as I write). But I’ve been spinning the rest this week on my vacation. Here’s the take: The Way I’m Livin’ by Lee Ann Womack (on vinyl with a download card included), for my money the best country singer out there today, Offering: Live at Temple University by John Coltrane, Trilogy by The Chick Corea Trio, and four titles from the Wounded Bird label previously issued only in Japan, Herbie Hancock Trio with Ron Carter & Tony Williams, The Herbie Hancock Trio (same lineup), V.S.O.P. Tempest In The Colosseum (Herbie, Ron, Tony, Wayne Shorter, and Freddie Hubbard) and one more V.S.O.P. album, The Quintet (same lineup).
     Regular readers of this blog know of my affection for country music (see the previous post), and nobody does it better than Lee Ann Womack. She’s a master interpreter, and a pretty solid songwriter as well. Her new album, The Way I’m Livin’ is comprised entirely of cover songs she comes to inhabit here. I had recently picked up her There’s More Where That Came From, and Call Me Crazy, and if I could mainline her music, I would.
     The Wounded Bird label has been making a name for itself of late by issuing jazz titles which were, once upon a time, the domain of Sony Japan – meaning they were titles issued only in Japan, and were either long unavailable to U.S. buyers, or available strictly as extremely high-priced imports. The four Herbie Hancock titles I picked up (there were three more I intend to get at a later time) were all issued between 1977 and 1981, and all of them feature the same players who were part of the second classic Miles Davis Quintet from the 1960’s (save trumpeter Freddie Hubbard who takes the Dark Prince’s place on the two V.S.O.P. albums). Anytime I get the opportunity to hear Herbie, Ron, Tony and Wayne play together – in any configuration or combination – I’ll take it. Most of my favorite jazz musicians have played with Miles Davis at one time or another, and are among the greatest and most accomplished musicians of the last century. I had no idea these albums existed. I remember V.S.O.P. of course because Columbia issued a couple of albums under that name in the late 70’s. If memory serves, Wynton Marsalis appeared with this same lineup on the first in the trumpet chair, and I believe Freddie took his place on the other. Those albums were gems in their own right so discovering there were two more titles available from the same period and for the budget price of a single CD – well, I couldn’t resist. All four of these titles are outstanding. I shouldn’t have to sell you on what these musicians are capable of – especially when they’re playing together.
     Chick Corea should also need no introduction from me. His new three CD set, Trilogy, is a 17 track collection of some of the signature songs from Chick’s long career rendered here in recent live versions by his outstanding trio that has Christian McBride on bass, and Brian Blade (who also plays with Wayne Shorter) on drums. I’ve been listening to Chick since I bought Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew album in the early 70’s. I have countless recordings of him with Miles, his band Return To Forever, solo, and with any number of other artists (including Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter) in various configurations. I find him endlessly inventive, innovative, and ready to challenge himself and his bands to continually bring something fresh and new to the table. It would be almost impossible to pick one title as a starting point if you wanted to explore Corea’s career. But you couldn’t go wrong starting here because all the things Chick brings to his music, and to jazz as an art form are on display in these recordings. If Miles were still around to hear what his old band mates have done since they went off on their own, he would be radiating pride.
     And speaking of Miles’s old band mates, there’s one more to get to before we wrap this up. In 2010, a jazz label called Free Factory issued a previously unissued and incomplete recording of the John Coltrane Quintet Live at Temple University on November 11, 1966, just 9 months before Coltrane died. I found the CD sometime in the last year, and was stunned that something so impressive, and important had not been issued before, nor released on a major label in its complete form. But with lost Coltrane recordings, you take whatever you can get.
     As it turns out, the complete show did exist, and after some investigation, the master tapes were found and turned over to Resonance Records who’ve issued them through Impulse Records, Coltrane’s last label. This concert is legendary for several reasons – all of which are detailed in the superb liner notes that accompany the set. I’ll let you discover the whole story for yourself. This two CD release adds the tracks Offering (just over 4 minutes in length) and yet another version of My Favorite Things (clocking in at just over 23 minutes). The sound is vastly improved from the Free Factory release, and if you’re a Coltrane acolyte, you need this – even if you owned the Free Factory edition of the show. Take it from me – don’t ever miss a chance to hear Coltrane play My Favorite Things. For me it’s his signature song, and my library has countless versions in it now, and this one is stunning. If you’re hesitant because this is late period Coltrane when his music was “challenging” and “difficult” for many listeners, I suggest you grow a pair, and open your mind to the brilliance of this greatest of all musicians.

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     Still on tap before the year comes to an end is the next installment of the Bob Dylan Bootleg series, The Complete Basement Tapes, and the first installment of a new series of live archive releases from the Rolling Stones vaults, Hampton Coliseum 1981. Christmas is coming several weeks early this year.

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     The new TV season has been very satisfying thus far. Five weeks in, Hawaii 5-0, Person of Interest, The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, and the new series Scorpion (all CBS) are all looking like they’re going to have banner years. Scorpion, in particular, has been very impressive – especially for a new series.
     And when I’m not watching the new television season, I’m searching for old classic films to watch via TCM, AMC or the MGM network. In the past couple of weeks I managed to catch Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, and Edward Dmytryk’s A Walk On The Wild Side starring Laurence Harvey, Capucine, Barbra Stanwyck, and Jane Fonda. Both were stunning – true classics in every sense of the word. I’ve been on a crusade the past few years to try and see every old classic film I haven’t yet seen. The list is long, but my health is good, and I hope to finish the list before I’ve made my final exit.

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     The 2014 World Series gets started Tuesday and the matchup might yield one of the greatest fall classics in history. The wild card Kansas City Royals take on the wild card San Francisco Giants, winners of the series in both 2010, and 2012. The Royals are making their first trip since 1985. I was listening to The Herd on ESPN Radio the other day, and Colin Cowherd was downplaying what the Kansas City Royals have accomplished thus far in winning a record eight straight post-season games on their way to the series. Colin, like most in the sports media, is not much of a baseball fan, and he is also no fan of teams in small markets who play what is called “small ball” (essentially that’s a style of play that emphasizes great pitching, defense, strategy, speed, and doing whatever it takes to win ball games). He’s a superstar lover who wants to see the long ball every other at bat. But when push comes to shove, you know he’d rather watch an NBA exhibition game or an NFL matchup between the winless Raiders and Jaguars than have to sit through a World Series game that features the Kansas City Royals. This World Series has the makings of one for the ages because both the Royals and the Giants play baseball the way the game was designed to be played. They are teams, not a collection of individuals. And if there’s not enough glamour to attract the sports media, there’s more than enough to interest the true baseball fan. Baseball, in its essence, remains the greatest of all sports, and when it’s played as it should be played, there is nothing better anywhere. I don’t care who wins. I just hope it goes the distance, and every game is a gem. And to those in the sport media who just can’t get excited about it, who needs you? Go play Fantasy Football, and keep licking LeBron James’s boot heels. The rest of us have a series to watch.

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     Hey! Florida State! It’s the day after a big game. Do you know where your quarterback is?

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     The leaves are turning beautiful colors. If you hurry, you can run outside and see them through the 1” screen on your cell phone. I’ll be on my porch watching them fall with my own eyes in widescreen Technicolor the way nature intended.



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Thursday, October 9, 2014

LOOKIN' OUT MY BACK DOOR

Lima, Ohio Platform on the Pennsylvania/Conrail Line
     When I was very young, my mom would sometimes take my brother and I across town to visit her sister, and her husband (my aunt and uncle).  They lived in an old house with a big open back yard that had nothing but a pair of clothesline poles in it. But where the yard ended was an old railroad track that ran parallel and beside it was one of those old-fashioned signal box towers. It was nothing more than a wooden box on a pole with a window, and a ladder on the pole. There was one similar to it near the railroad track that ran along Cole St. Those boxes always fascinated me because I imagined someone lived in them. But they were signal boxes, and nothing more. Still, I was always captivated by them, and by trains in general. I don’t remember ever visiting my aunt and uncle when a train actually passed their house, but my brother and I played by those tracks, and sometimes you could hear the train whistle in the distance. Years later when we lived on Runyan Ave., I used to sit by my bedroom window late at night listening to train whistles. I still hear them when I leave the house for work in the morning now.
     We took long vacations every summer, too, when I was a child. My dad would take a couple of weeks off work, and we’d drive to New York, or California, or Florida from Ohio. It seems most of those vacations were spent in the back seat of a car, but they were a great way to really see the country. I sat down with a map of the U.S. one time, and calculated that we’d visited 37 of the 50 states by car in the years when I was growing up. The trips to the south and the west made a lasting impression on me. We went to California by way of Texas, so there was plenty to experience. The trips south to Florida meant passing through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. I remember the farmland of Ohio giving way to hills in Kentucky and the hills surrendering to the mountains in Tennessee until the skies reappeared over Georgia, and there was the red clay along the roadside, and, it seemed, a Stuckey’s restaurant every few miles off the interstate that always had a gift shop and waitresses that called everybody “sugar” or “hon”. Florida had those moss covered trees until you got further south when there were palm trees and orange groves on the way to the gulf beaches.
     When I was a teenager, my dad, who worked for a roofing and sheet metal company, sometimes took my brother and me in the truck with him to deliver roofing materials to jobs the company had around the state. So I had plenty of opportunities to see all of Ohio where I’ve lived my entire life, and a chance to hear some country music on the radio in my dad’s truck.
     I was no stranger to country music growing up because there was a lot of it on television in those days. Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton had a television show. Johnny Cash had a variety show for a while, Glen Campbell was a summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and there was Hee-Haw, too. Some country music crossed over to pop radio in those days as well. Flowers On The Wall by The Statler Brothers, A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash, Harper Valley P.T.A. by Jeannie C. Riley, among others, were all big hits on the pop charts, too. So I bumped into country music now and again and most of the time I made fun of the accents, and the corny lyrics, and, if I was watching TV, those silly suits the men all seemed to wear, and the big hair and puffy dresses the women all wore. I didn’t hear much in country music that appealed to me, and as the years passed, I ignored it in favor of progressive rock, and soul, and the pop hits I heard on AM radio. Country music was for squares, and hicks. There was nothing in it for me.
     I was reading Rolling Stone by the time I was 16, and I opened an issue in the summer of ’75 to find a review of a country album by some guy named Willie Nelson. The album was called Redheaded Stranger, and the reviewer (probably Chet Flippo) couldn’t say enough great things about it. I made a note of it. A few weeks later that summer, I saw some long-haired guy in jeans and a cowboy hat by the name of Waylon Jennings on The Midnight Special playing songs from an album he’d just released called Dreaming My Dreams. My buddy Mike had taken the leap and bought (and loved) that Willie Nelson album Rolling Stone recommended, and when I heard Jennings sing, I knew I had to get his record. I started reading about something called “the outlaw country movement” and that intrigued me. After all, outlaws were “a rock thing” by way of the old west. I grew up idolizing cowboys, but I didn’t connect them with country music until the outlaw thing happened. Well, all of a sudden, country music wasn’t so corny anymore. According to Rolling Stone, The Byrds had a country album (Sweetheart of the Rodeo), and they’d even played the Grand Ol’ Opry. I was already a huge fan of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and John Fogerty was writing songs like Lookin’ Out My Back Door and dropping Buck Owens’s name in the lyrics. Buck Owens? That idiot that never stopped grinning playing alongside Roy Clark on Hee-Haw? John Fogerty was a Buck Owens fan? I had some research to do.
     As the years passed, country music was always on my radar, but rarely on my turntable. I didn’t have enough money left over to buy country records. So I waited.
     By the time I was ready for country music, I realized country music was ready for me. It always had been. Country music is roots music. It’s part of the very fabric of America and of the American experience. The music has railroad songs, and highway songs, and heartbreak songs, and songs about family, and religion, and drinking, and going to jail, and a lot of other things that are part and parcel not only of America, but of the American way of life, and adult life in general. Every genre has cheating songs, but there’s no cheating song like a country cheating song. I didn’t appreciate country music as a kid because I hadn’t lived much yet. I had to grow into country music. I needed to get my heart broken, and I needed to remember the world I’d seen from the road on those vacations, and feel the wanderlust in my heart when I heard those trains in the distance in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep and I just wanted to be anywhere else. I was never going to wear a cowboy hat again. But I knew what Waylon & Willie were singing about when they sang, “my heroes have always been cowboys.” The adult I became had more in common with country music than it did with rock. I was never a rebellious kid. I’ve never owned a leather jacket or taken drugs. But I did grow up in the Midwest loving the small town I came from. My family meant the world to me. I always loved trains, and still do. I don’t mind doing a hard day’s work and doing it well, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than home. And if you’ve never seen this country from a car, stopped to spend time in small towns off the interstate, eaten meals at family-owned restaurants, bought corn from a roadside stand, camped in campgrounds next to people just like you who might live a thousand miles away from you, or had your car fixed by some mechanic in some small town you know you can trust because he takes pride in his work, then maybe there isn’t much for you in country music. But for me, country music triggers a million memories. It’s the stuff of a million short stories. In its lines and lyrics are the wisdom of the ages, and a map of how to cope with all the trials of life. When I listen to it I remember those trips in the car on family vacations. I hear the train whistles in the distance. I remember working with my dad, and hearing him tell me how much he loved that Tom T. Hall song, The Year Clayton Delaney Died. (When I heard it, I loved it, too.) I remember my mom’s cooking, and those meals around the table with the family in the kitchen. I remember all those camping trips. I remember driving I-75 as far north as Michigan and as far south as Siesta Key, Florida. I remember how beautiful Ohio is – not just in the spring or summer, but also in autumn when the leaves are turning, and in winter when the snow blankets the farmland, and you can see cardinals in your own back yard. There’s really no place I’d rather live than Ohio, and that’s the truth.

     My collection of country music began with that Waylon Jennings album, but it spans more than 70 years now – from Hank Snow to Taylor Swift. It includes the likes of Joe Ely, and Doug Sahm, George Strait and George Jones, Loretta Lynn, and Patty Loveless, Porter and Dolly, and Buck and Roy, and Flatt & Scruggs, too. It’s Mary-Chapin Carpenter, and John Denver and Hank Thompson. It’s Lorrie Morgan, and Emmylou Harris, and hundreds more. And while I’m not much of a fan of newer country music or the pop that masquerades as country, it doesn’t really matter much. Country music is like jazz. It has a long history a century old, and if you wanted to devote a lifetime listening to nothing but country music, you could do that and still not hear everything there is to hear. It runs through the Midwest and the Deep South, and the American west. And you can hear it plain as day in the music of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Los Lobos, and The Allman Brothers Band, too. And don’t forget Elvis. You can hear it coming through the windows and the screen of your back door. It’s in the air, and if you grew up in America, it’s already inside you whether you know it or not.

Amish Country, Ohio