Wednesday, February 25, 2015


     It’s been more than four months since my last Free Thinker piece appeared in October. Regular readers know that’s my opportunity to riff on whatever is on my mind – sometimes on topics that don’t necessarily relate to the real business of this blog – music. But what is a blog anyway except a megaphone transmitting from a mountaintop? There’s nobody else on the mountain that can hear what you’re saying, but maybe the occasional echo infiltrates the fog below, and something gets through. I keep tabs on my blog numbers, but I’m not obsessive about it. If I’m active, the number of hits increases, and if I’m not, the activity flat lines. I know others who do what I do and they’re far more successful at it than I am. They have more followers. They get more hits, more shares. I’m sure they’re better at self-promotion than I am. I loathe that part of it, and restrict myself to providing a link on my Facebook pages, but because I don’t use Facebook the way most do, only the already converted/disinterested see it. I blog because I enjoy writing, and nobody is interested in paying me to write. But this is my fifth year blogging, and I think most of what I’ve posted is worth reading for those who have the time. Of course there are a lot of magazines published every month, and newspapers published daily, and fewer people seem to be reading those all the time. And that brings me to this month’s first topic of interest.
     There’s a used bookstore where I live that’s actually a nationwide chain called 2nd and Charles. They’ve been here for a couple of years now. They sell used books, records, compact discs, games, etc. They have a small selection of new books, and they also stock new vinyl records – most of which are outrageously priced. I was initially excited about a store nearby that sold records, but the used selection is generally poor, and, like the new LP’s, overpriced. The CD selection is very reasonably priced, but the selection isn’t anything to write home about. And the selection of used books in the areas in which I’m most interested – music, history, science, and biography is unimpressive. But I did enjoy going to the store to browse the magazine selection because it was first rate. In fact most of the magazines I’ve purchased over the past couple of years came from 2nd and Charles.
     So you can imagine my disappointment when I visited the store a few weeks ago, and discovered they had jettisoned their entire magazine section, and given the space over to used comic books. I know magazines are struggling these days, but a bookstore without a magazine section just seems wrong. Magazines – unless things have changed in the past few years since I left the book business – are cheap to carry because most of the unsold copies are returnable for full credit. So there’s little or no risk involved in carrying them. Sure they take floor space, but this 2nd and Charles store is quite large. Magazines also build foot traffic. I didn’t ask why they removed them. They probably wouldn’t have told me anyway. But they took away the last reason I had for going to the store at all.
     I visited another bookstore here in town earlier today, and their magazine section is alive and well. They don’t carry everything, but the selection is certainly adequate, and, yes, I bought one, and so did my wife. We actually visited the store to look at the magazines, and in the process saw several books we might be interested in purchasing in the near future. I know magazines, like newspapers, are on the endangered media species list. But if there’s any other place besides a check lane in a grocery store where you ought to be able to find a magazine, it’s a bookstore. I won’t be frequenting any bookstore that doesn’t have at least a token selection of magazines. Some of us have varied interests, and maybe we’d rather buy the latest issue of Scientific American or Discover than purchase a used copy of a science book that was probably outdated by the time it was published.

     I found it ironic that in the same week NBC News was suspending Nightly News anchor Brian Williams for falsifying stories about his adventures covering news for the network, that one of the finest journalists in the world, Bob Simon of CBS News was killed in a car accident in New York City. It was also the same week Jon Stewart announced his departure from Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. One of the local news channels here posted a question on Facebook asking which loss was greater – that of Brian Williams or Jon Stewart. I replied, “Neither. The answer is Bob Simon.”
     It’s a measure of how confused people are these days about what is and isn’t news and who is and is not qualified to dispense it to the public that the question was even raised to begin with. Of course the station that posted the question on its Facebook page has, like the other three local news operations in my city, never been very good at recognizing what is and isn’t news. The majority of what passes for news locally these days is really a collection of consumer tips disguised as news. And most of the news that is reported is irrelevant to 99.9% of the viewership. Does a house fire in a neighborhood across town that is not arson, and killed no one really matter to anyone not directly involved? Is a story on how to keep from getting frostbite in sub zero temperatures really a news story, or is it a consumer tip? There’s rarely anything coming from City Hall about what the mayor or city council is doing. You do get stories on crime, although a disproportionate amount of what gets on the air seems to be of a sexual nature more often than not. And the preponderance of news stories about the weather is beyond ridiculous these days. If I see one more story about the salt supply, I may turn to salt. I’m also tired of seeing runners across the bottom of my TV screen 24/7 telling me that every church and city and homeless shelter in the city is closed again because it’s cold in February or we got a half inch of snow on the roads. If you must, put that information on your website. By now shouldn’t everybody just assume that any kind of “weather” is going to precipitate (no pun intended) the closing of nearly everything? I find it interesting that churches are always the first to close. Seems to me that if it’s God making it snow, he might want to back off if it means every place of worship shuts down as a result. I’m not a parent, but I can tell you that the way this winter is going, I think my kid would be repeating whatever grade he’s in this year because he hasn’t been at school enough this year to have learned a damned thing.
     In any case, the death of Bob Simon was tragic because there are few real journalists left in television news, and almost none with the pedigree of Bob Simon. You can fill his job, but he’ll never be replaced. As for Jon Stewart, I enjoy his work, and wish him well in whatever new venture he undertakes. And if I never see Brian Williams at a news desk again in my lifetime, I might be convinced there is some sanity and common sense, and integrity left in television news.

     I skipped watching The Academy Awards again this year because I hadn’t seen a single nominated film, and at my age I’m just sick to death of Hollywood celebrities giving awards to each other and pretending that the work they do is really important in the grand scheme of things. I truly don’t care about any of it. The one perk of awards season is that Turner Classic Movies runs first class films for the 30 days that wrap around the Oscars ceremony, and I’ve been enjoying as many of them as I’ve had time for.

     Generally, I have been watching more TV lately I have to confess. We now have MeTV on our cable system. That’s a network that broadcasts nothing but old television shows, and while it’s not perfect, it’s certainly got my attention. Except for Andy Griffith Show reruns, nearly everything I’ve been watching has been of the one-hour drama variety. Sitcoms have been done to death through the years (Friends anyone?), but when was the last time you saw the original Hawaii 5-0, or The Mod Squad, or The Streets of San Francisco? I’m amazed at how good these dramas are even today, and they provide some much needed relief from most of the junk that passes for entertainment on television these days.

     This month I also did some reading. The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk with Elijah Wald is a memoir of one of the noteworthy characters from the Greenwich Village folk movement of the early 1960’s. Dave Van Ronk was one of the faces of that scene and a respected musician, and mentor to many of the younger musicians coming up. After the chapters that cover his childhood, the book becomes more a memoir of the scene than it does of Van Ronk. Once he established his place in that community, Van Ronk’s career was really at a standstill for the rest of his life. So the focus in the second half of the book is Van Ronk’s take on how the scene went down, what lasting influence it did or didn’t have, and his opinions of those who were orbiting him at the time. To be fair, Van Ronk passed away when the book was far from finished, so Elijah Wald had to piece together the rest of it from research he’d already done. That makes the book less effective than it might otherwise have been, but if you have any interest in that period, or the cultural phenomenon that was the early 1960’s folk movement, it might be worth your time. Van Ronk possessed a fine sense of humor, and a sharp memory, and he does keep you entertained throughout.
     Ken Emerson’s Always Magic In The Air is a thoroughly researched, and exhaustive look at the Brill Building Era of popular music that began in the late 1950’s and ended, for all intents and purposes (sort of) when The Beatles arrived in America. Emerson has left no stone unturned in telling the stories of seven of the greatest songwriting teams in pop music history, and along with those 14 is a cast of hundreds more behind-the-scenes label owners, promotion men, agents, producers, artists and more than a few “goodfellas” as well. The book is absolutely essential to any understanding of popular music in the 20th century, and as far as I’m concerned the last, best word on the subject. Highly recommended.

     Major League Baseball spring training camps are open, but I’m not ready to make any predictions just yet. I am looking forward to seeing how the new rules governing speed of play will work in making games shorter, and, hopefully, more interesting. I’m not looking forward to hearing any more at all about Alex Rodriguez rejoining the Yankees after his lengthy suspension for the use of PED’s. The sooner the sport is rid of A-Rod, the better off we’ll all be.

     Finally, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this is my fifth year blogging, and since there is not much in the way of biography on me here or anywhere else online (not a single photo of me on my Facebook pages), I thought maybe I should take a bit of space telling readers who don’t know me a bit about my history and about me so they have some idea who it is they’re reading. I’ll try not to bore you with a list of triumphs (easy since there haven’t really been any). Rather, think of it as a biographical sketch without a photo. (I’m very average looking and I don’t photograph particularly well, so why bother?)
     I’m 58 years old. I have a twin brother with whom I have almost nothing in common except a shared past. (We don’t even look alike.) But I had a wonderful childhood in the 1960’s, although my favorite decade for music, television and film is the 1970’s. I’m married with no children, and I have a dog I think is the best dog that ever lived. I have spent almost all of my working life in retail. I don’t particularly like retail, but I got sucked into it because I love music and wanted to be connected with it somehow. Since I can’t play an instrument or sing, managing record stores seemed to be the next best thing. For most of my adult life, I managed record stores, and even a couple of bookstores. I have what I consider to be an encyclopedic knowledge of the popular music of the last half of the 20th century, and my knowledge of jazz, blues, country, soul, and reggae is fairly impressive, too (he said modestly, but honestly). But in retrospect, given the collapse of the record business, I probably should have finished college, and chosen my second interest – journalism – over my first, music. Who knows? By now I’d probably have risen to the heights of barely employed newspaper reporter. (My third choice of profession would’ve been lighthouse keeper. So as you can see, I was pretty much screwed as soon as they handed me my diploma.) The retail work I do to make a living these days is not worth discussing, so I won’t.
     In any case, I hope to live long enough to enjoy retirement someday. In the meantime, I still listen to music 30-40 hours a week. I nearly always have a book in progress on the coffee table. And I love good television, and films that don’t insult my intelligence – which is fairly high for someone who didn’t finish college. What matters to me most these days is the environment, and the welfare of animals. I’m not interested any longer in politics, although there was a time when I was consumed with it. I was raised Democrat. My favorite political writer, and pundit, however, was the late, right wing conservative William F. Buckley, and most of my beliefs these days fall under the libertarian umbrella. But when it asked me for my political affiliation on my Facebook profile, I wrote atheist.
     I was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic School my entire life. So my knowledge of that religion and of what’s in the Bible is pretty extensive since we attended mass 6 days a week in those days. But I no longer believe in God as the concept was taught to me in grade school. I believe now in natural law. That’s what I believe governs the universe, and gaining a greater understanding of that is one of my greatest interests in the years I have left. I don’t care what anyone else believes, and I don’t make judgments about people based on their beliefs. I hope others show me the same courtesy. I’m interested in continuing to grow and evolve as a human being, and continue to be someone who does his part to make his corner of the world a little better each day.
     I’ve developed my own theory about an afterlife derived from my evolving belief system. I’m hoping that some part of my consciousness survives and is free to roam the universe after I die. Since the space program was sacrificed in my lifetime so that we could fight wars all over the planet, I think I deserve the opportunity to visit space as I once imagined I would when I was a child. Since I didn’t get to do that, I’d like to hope that some bit of ash from my remains attaches itself to some part of my consciousness, and spends eternity in the heavens watching stars form, and planets evolve, and new galaxies emerge. I’d like to slide into a black hole and see where it takes me, or take a ringside seat for a meteor shower. Maybe I’ll even hitch a ride on the next passing comet. I guess watching Lost In Space as a kid, and visiting Cape Canaveral, and keeping track of what NASA was doing all those years had more of an impact on me than I realized. Who knows? Maybe my ashes will be in the mix when there’s another big bang. Maybe I’ll wind up on a brand new planet like earth that can support life. And maybe I’ll get another chance to do it all over again. Maybe next time, I’ll get it right.

     Thanks for reading The Recordchanger. It’s nice to have some company on the ride.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


     David Browne’s 2008 biography of indie rock pioneers Sonic Youth, Goodbye 20th Century, is a detailed history of one of the most influential acts in the entertainment business over the past 30 years. Conceived in 1981 in New York City, the band recorded what turned out to be its final record in 2011, capping three decades of groundbreaking work for an industry that did not survive them. I picked up this book when it was published in 2008, but left it on the shelf unread for seven years before finally deciding to read it over the past couple of weeks. That gap had more to do with my evolving listening habits, and my waning interest in the band following their final record for Geffen in 2006, Rather Ripped.
     Sonic Youth’s music had never been an east fit for me. To say they were “an acquired taste” is completely accurate. Having grown up during the 1960’s and 70’s, and placing a premium on music that featured strong melodies, memorable riffs, and perfect harmonies along with imaginative arrangements and excellent production, it was hard for me to find value in music that seemed to have none of those traits. But the buzz in the music press about this bunch of avant-garde indie rockers from The Big Apple was so strong that I had to find out what they were about.
     The din was at its loudest around the time of their most celebrated indie label success, Daydream Nation (1988). That record was seen as the band’s first great achievement, and its standing is such today that it was added to the U.S. government’s registry of officially recognized landmark historic recordings. At the time, it seemed the logical place to beginning exploring Sonic Youth.
     I didn’t understand the record at all when I first heard it. And after repeated attempts, finally discarded it once and for all, having gone through a cassette copy, a CD, and a vinyl record version of it. To this day I can’t for the life of me hear what everyone else claims to hear in that record. For whatever reason, it just didn’t connect with me on any level.
     The din got louder, but only after seeing the band perform on television in 1990 on an episode of David Sanborn’s late night music show Night Music, did I begin to see and hear the band’s appeal. Watching a band play a song that sounds like a song, but dissolves into chaos, and anarchy and noise as the band falls about the stage, torturing their instruments to get strange sounds out of them, only to have it resolve itself into a song again by the end makes quite an impact the first time you witness it. If there’s a fetching blonde female in the middle of all that playing a bass guitar, so much the better.
     When the band’s major label debut for Geffen Records, Goo, appeared that year, I began to hear things I liked, and, more importantly, understood. It became apparent to me by then that the noise that was so much a part of their sound was simply another instrument the band had in its arsenal of strangely tuned guitars, and electric motors, and chainsaws, and whatever else they were using in service to the song. None of this was off putting to me, however, because I could still recognize song structure somewhere beneath the cacophony. It was a bit like hearing free jazz for the first time. In the beginning it sounds like noise. But the more you listen, the more it makes sense.
     I stayed with the band because the records got more interesting to me over the next several years. I even joined their fan club, and was treated to an amazing fanzine called Sonic Death (the work of guitarist Thurston Moore), and access to a variety of bootlegs the band sold by mail order only to fan club members. I have a live set that’s incredible recorded at a show in Texas, and a CD of Goo demos that I prefer to the finished album. I searched out and bought as many CD singles as I could find by the band as well because they had a knack of putting some of their most interesting stuff on that format, but not on their major label albums. Through 2006, I bought every Sonic Youth record when it was released, and backtracked to collect the band’s indie label releases prior to Daydream Nation. I even picked up a few of the group’s side projects for their SYR label – music they recorded for themselves that did not necessarily fit the type of thing the major label wanted from them. 

     By the time David Browne’s book was released, I had moved away from listening much to Sonic Youth because four of the past five albums had disappointed me, and I sensed the band was winding down, finally running out of fresh ideas. There was an eleven-year stretch after the release of Washing Machine (an album I liked a great deal), where the band cut just one record I loved (Murray Street from 2002). A Thousand Leaves, NYC Ghosts & Flowers, Sonic Nurse, and Rather Ripped had all failed to hold my interest and were eventually sold in a 2010 purge of my collection. So disinterested had I become in the band that I did not even investigate their first album for new label Matador in 2009, The Eternal

     But I remembered reading that Thurston Moore and wife Kim Gordon, the band’s founding members along with guitarist Lee Ranaldo, were divorcing and the band’s future was in question as a result. Gordon’s work in a new project, Body/Head had come to my attention, and in an interview I read just a couple of weeks ago with Gordon, when asked whether there were any plans to reform Sonic Youth, her response was simply, “Yeah, not really.” Oddly enough, that was enough to remind me that I’d never gotten around to reading Goodbye 20th Century.
     There’s none of the infidelity that undermined their marriage in the pages of David Browne’s book. There is a picture of a happily married couple that worked together in a band for 30 years, and managed to stay together as a couple for that time, lead fairly normal lives, have a child, move to a suburban neighborhood in Northampton, Massachusetts all the while maintaining a fairly successful career in a music business that was crumbling down around itself by 2000. There are portraits of guitarist Lee Ranaldo, and drummer Steve Shelley as band mates, co-conspirators, and friends (not to mention Jim O’Rourke who worked with the band over a period of just three records, and became, for me, the story’s most interesting character). Beyond that, there is a history of the indie rock scene that sprouted in New York City in the early 80’s, and went on to make an impact not only on the music business, but also the film, and fashion industries. It’s a fascinating and unique story, and one that will hold your interest – even if Sonic Youth were not regular visitors to your stereo system.

     Gerard Cosloy, who worked with the band when they were signed to his Homestead label in the early days, and who signed them for their final record to his Matador label in 2009 pointed out that their greatest contribution may have been in influencing bands to be themselves. He said, “They created an environment where people who make music that is even crazier than theirs, and occasionally better, have a chance to play in front of more than ten people.” In other words, they opened up the scene, stretched people’s eardrums a bit wider, shattered some pre-conceived notions about what art is, and, in general, encouraged people to think outside the box. There’s a brief section in the book where Thurston Moore recounts his and Gordon’s lifestyle in the suburbs of Northampton. He mentions that nobody really knew who they were or what they did for a living. When asked, they would tell their neighbors they were in a rock band. But until they played a local show and their picture turned up on the front page of the newspaper, people seemed not to have understood it. The response was “Oh my God, what is this?” That’s much the same response the band got when it began playing its first shows in small clubs around New York City. Goodbye 20th Century answers that question for listeners, and because of the band’s influence, the book is an important addition to any bookshelf on the music of the 20th century. Maybe it’s fitting, then, that the band’s demise is not part of the book. At one point, the band had considered changing its name. Calling a group of adults past the age of 50 Sonic Youth struck some as a bit silly. But Thurston Moore said, “I’m really looking forward to when we do get really geriatric and exist as Sonic Youth. It’ll be great.” After everything the band weathered – small audiences, money problems, dishonest promoters and record label people, the theft of all their equipment, and even the loss of their recording studio in the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11/2001, in the end it could not survive that most common of crises – the end of a marriage. The records, however, do survive. And so does this book bear witness that, unlikely as it seems, it all really did happen.


Recommended listening:
  EVOL (1986)
  Sister (1987)
  Goo (1990)
  Dirty (1992)
  Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)*
  Washing Machine (1995)
  Murray Street (2002)*
  Screaming Fields of Sonic Love (compilation 1995)
Recommended Viewing
  1991: The Year Punk Broke *
  Corporate Ghost: The Videos 1990-2002

  * Favorites

Sunday, January 25, 2015


     We’re not even a month into 2015, and we’ve already been blessed with the year’s first musical surprise. Eighteen years after the eighth volume of Crypt Records ground breaking series of garage rock compilations Back from The Grave was released, the label has issued volumes 9 & 10, the vinyl editions several weeks ago, and the double disc CD set with both volumes out just this past week. Since Lenny Kaye’s legendary Nuggets compilation was issued in 1972, there have been literally hundreds, maybe thousands of collections of garage rock albums and CD’s that have flooded the market. But there isn’t a series that’s more highly regarded than Crypt Records Back From The Grave series. That’s because mastermind Tim Warren always managed to find the very best, and rarest garage rock 45’s for the series, packaged in sleeves with colorful, and appropriately ghoulish artwork, along with detailed liner notes with as much information as could be found about these mostly lost, often forgotten records that made little impact outside of the small communities where they were recorded.
     As good as those first eight volumes are, none are better than these latest two sets. It’s clear from reading through the pair of booklets enclosed in the CD set that an enormous amount of time and effort was required to pull these 30 tracks together. It’s virtually an archaeological dig to find these obscure records – most between 45 and 50 years old, recorded by local teenage groups from all over the United States in small studios – most of which closed decades ago. Where do you begin? Who do you talk to? Some of these records were only preserved in acetate form. For others, only a couple of copies remain from the original pressing. The teenagers who recorded these songs are senior citizens today – if they’re still alive at all. So pulling 30 tracks together for two compilations must’ve been something akin to the Egyptians building the pyramids.
     These garage rock records have survived because of a loyal, and dedicated network of fans and listeners who understand the importance of these 45’s to the history of rock ‘n’ roll. They’re passed along from one to another, reputations gained by word of mouth. The records turn up in garage sales, and flea markets. Somebody’s father dies, and a box of old 45’s is discovered in the attic, and sold through an ad in the local newspaper to a collector. Maybe in a batch of, say, a hundred records, there’s one garage rock classic that turns up that only a handful of people can remember. The guy or girl who bought the collection hears it, and calls a buddy excited about this great find. And before you know it, word spreads through the collecting underground. That’s where these compilations come from. That’s where the seeds are planted. And in their own way, these records are every bit as important in telling the story of American music in the 20th century as those old blues and jazz 78’s from the 1920’s are.
     When the history of rock ‘n’ roll is written, the portion that gets overshadowed and undervalued is the impact rock ‘n’ roll had on teenagers – particularly in the mid 1960’s when The Beatles arrived from England and, overnight, change the course of pop music history. Teenagers all over the world, and certainly all across the United States rushed to musical instrument stores to buy guitars and drums and amplifiers to start their own bands. For many it was the first paying job they ever had. It was their first time working with a group of people, friends usually, toward a common goal. It was the first dream they dreamed that they might be able to make come true. For some the dream did not extend beyond becoming competent enough to play in front of audiences at dances, or clubs for a few dollars a week. For others, they dreamed of making a record that might get played on the radio. For a select few, they dreamed of making a career in the music business, and following in The Beatles footsteps.
     The reality for most, of course, was very different. Many did play local gigs for pocket money, and many did get to make at least one record that might even have been played on the local rock radio station. But few made the transition to show business as a career. In reading the liner notes to these sets, bands fell victim to all the changes that adulthood brings. There were graduations, and band members leaving to go off to college. For too many, Uncle Sam came calling. For others, there was a need to secure a steadier kind of employment with a regular paycheck because it was time to fall in love and get married and start a family.
     But before the daily 9-5 grind began for these kids as they became adults, they had the opportunity to realize at least one dream, to taste immortality by contributing something to the culture, however primitive and unimportant it might have seemed at the time in the grand scheme of things.
     When the era passed, the records those kids made were fading memories for them, and those who witnessed what they’d done. As the years would go by, the time they spent in a rock ‘roll band would seem little more than an aberration. They were soldiers, and plumbers, and doctors, and accountants, and clerks far longer than they were musicians. Maybe they kept a copy of the one record they’d made on the shelf with the rest of their records next to the record player they hadn’t much time for anymore once the baby was born. Every once in awhile somebody might bump into them somewhere and say, “Didn’t you use to be in a band?” And for a moment the memories would come flooding back only to be brushed aside again for the renewal of the daily grind.
     But a strange thing happened to these kids on the way to obscurity. One guy put together a collection of some of the records these kids made, and discovered there were hundreds of thousands of people out there just like him who loved and cherished those records and didn’t want to let them fade. And 50 years later, maybe a now retired fireman is sitting home watching TV, and there’s a knock at the door, and it’s some guy from a record label holding a copy of the 45 his group made five decades earlier, and he’s asking if he can get the story behind the group and the record because he wants to immortalize it on a collection so it’s preserved for generations of record collectors and music lovers. And the one dream the retired fireman never dared dream – immortality – is staring him in the face. It’s not the kind of immortality of presidents, or inventors, or sports heroes. It’s immortality on a much smaller scale. It’s the kind that says, “You did something once long ago that touched people. It had value to them. And it’s going to be preserved, and it will outlive you. And you can tell your grandchildren about it. You can tell them you made a small contribution to the history of American popular music. And you did it when you were just a kid.”

     That’s what the Back From The Grave series is about. That’s what all of these collections of records are about. They’re part of our collective history as a culture. When I listened to these latest volumes, and read the notes, I realized those stories were coming from people who lived in my neighborhood, and went to my school, and my church. That guy who put the roof on your house has a story to tell you. It’s in the grooves of a 45 rpm record, and it’s a really good story. 

     Back From The Grave Volumes 9 & 10 are available separately on vinyl wherever vinyl is sold, and together on a double CD set wherever you buy music. You’ll get 30 of the best garage rock records you’ve never heard, and the stories to go with them.

Monday, January 19, 2015


     Journalist Alan Paul has written the definitive biography of The Allman Brothers Band. One Way Out is an oral history of the band told by virtually every living member of the band past and present and its extended family. Painstakingly constructed from new conversations, and archival interviews done by Paul for various magazines – particularly Guitar WorldOne Way Out finally pulls together one of the most amazing stories of any band in the annals of American musical history. It’s a satisfying read, and one anyone with even a passing interest in the band should experience. After more than forty years following the band, I learned a great deal about them I didn’t know, and even had some misconceptions corrected in the process. It was like being led into a big room where every participant is present, made comfortable in an easy chair, and allowed to hear the whole story told to you from beginning to end. An oral history is probably the best way to do a biography of a band like The Allman Brothers Band, and with a forward by drummer Butch Trucks, an afterward by drummer Jaimoe, and an appendix that details the group’s recorded history, it feels like the final word on what may well have been the greatest American rock band of all time – especially now that the band has packed it up and called it a day.
     The biggest misconception I had about The Allman Brothers Band was that fate and luck had been unusually cruel to them once they’d had the good fortune to come together in the first place. Losing founding member, and lead guitarist Duane Allman in a motorcycle crash just as the band’s star was ascending, and then losing bassist Berry Oakley just a year later to a similar crash not far from the first one would’ve derailed virtually any band’s career. The idea that the band soldiered on – in fits and starts – for more than 40 years after those tragedies seemed the ultimate triumph. But in reading the book, I came to realize that what I thought was fate and bad luck was, to a large degree, slow destruction by design. Given the substance abuse rampant within the band, it seems the end of the original band would’ve been inevitable, if a bit later in coming.
     There’s no way a group of guys in their twenties would’ve easily been able to cope with all the pressures fame and fortune would’ve brought their way in any sort of routine manner, but when you factor in the substance abuse issues, they had almost no chance. You certainly can’t mind the store if you’re high all the time, and it’s probable a manager, or label owner will rip you off. When there are disagreements or problems within the band, resolving them when you’re clear-headed would be difficult enough. But fixing them when you’re stoned would be impossible. And having six guys in the band, and a road crew requires strong leadership, and someone who can make decisions. When the band’s natural leader, Duane Allman, suddenly died, someone needed to step up and do what Duane did for the band. The logical choice would’ve been brother Gregg – except Gregg did not have the personality to lead, nor was he straight enough at any given time to be able to make the decisions required of a leader. Dickey Betts would’ve been the next choice given his strong personality, and his standing in the band as its other guitarist and a singer and songwriter, too. But his personality didn’t mix with the alcohol he was imbibing, and it wasn’t his name on the marquee either. So the band stumbled on for years with no one leading the way, and they subsequently got lost. In reading the book, it was amazing to me they ever stayed together long enough to survive 1974, let alone 2014.
     That they did survive is a testament to the music. The music kept them coming back for more, time and again. When you listen to the music they made, that much is easy to understand. But the unanswered question for me is this: if the music was so extraordinary, why was it necessary to look for greater highs in a bottle of pills, or the end of a needle, or a bottle of Jack Daniels?
     I don’t understand substance abuse. I never have. I don’t have an addictive personality, and I’ve never had the kind of life where I felt I needed some substance to help me escape. I don’t play music, but I listen to it every day and it feeds my soul and spirit and gets me high in ways I can’t imagine any drug or drink ever would. I can only imagine the high I’d get in actually creating music. So when I read this story, I wanted to ask Gregg and Dickey and the others, “Why wasn’t the music enough for you? How high did you have to be? What were you looking to escape from?” That answer is nowhere to be found. And even if Alan Paul had posed the question, I’m not sure any one of the band members could’ve given him a satisfactory answer. I could only think that if not for his substance abuse, Duane might still be alive. And since Berry’s demise came about because of his inability to cope with Duane’s death, Berry might also have survived. Had the original band lasted longer than the four years or so they had, what might they have accomplished? We’ll never know. And I can’t help but feel angry about that because they cheated themselves and their fans out of the future. I only know that I’d never have squandered such a gift had it been bestowed upon me.
     So what seemed a tragic twist of fate, and an amazing amount of bad luck to me for all those years now seems just another cautionary tale about addiction. And that left me feeling that in one way, at least, The Allman Brothers Band was just another run of the mill rock band with a sad story to tell.

     Of course that only lasted until I pulled the records off the shelf yet again, and played through their entire catalog once more. Alan Paul has provided a title-by-title account of the band’s complete catalog in the appendix along with a critical appraisal of each recording. And take it from someone who’s been listening to the band steadily for more than 40 years, Paul gets it right. I wouldn’t take issue with hardly any of his comments about any of the records. There were some minor disagreements, but this is a very valuable part of the book – particularly for those just coming to the band for the first time. So it might be said, you’ll come for the story, and stay for the music. After all is said and done, and the whole sordid tale is laid before you, what remains is some of the most glorious music of the 20th century. There was never another rock band like The Allman Brothers Band. When they were at their peak – probably 1971, I think most would agree – no one could touch them – not The Rolling Stones, not Led Zeppelin, not The Who – nobody. To find other bands with whom to compare them, you’d need to look to jazz groups like the Miles Davis Quintet, or maybe the John Coltrane Quartet. The Allman Brothers Band raised the bar for what a rock band could be. We’re still waiting for someone to rise to that level, and take it beyond. I don’t believe I’ll see it in my lifetime. But I’m certainly grateful to have witnessed that bar being raised at all. It was a greater high than you could ever find anywhere else. Read One Way Out.

Monday, January 5, 2015


     With the New Year upon us, I decided one of the things I wanted to do in 2015 was pick up where I left off in 2014 where books are concerned. I don’t read as much as I used to. Twenty years ago I could be counted upon to read anywhere from 30 to 50-plus books in any given year. One year I read 55 books. When I reflect on that now, I wonder how in the hell I did that? I’m not a speedy reader. I read for pleasure at whatever pace is comfortable depending on the book. For me to read 55 books in a single year, I must have done nothing else that year but sleep, work, and read 24/7. In recent years, my annual numbers have dwindled into the teens most years. The decline began when my wife insisted we bring a computer into the house. When my obsession with that finally faded a bit, I assumed I’d go back to reading more than I had been. But it was not to be. I took a job that doesn’t suit me at all. I’ve always been a night owl. I’m most comfortable getting up between 7 and 8 a.m. and going to bed between midnight and 2 a.m. But my job requires me to get up at 3 in the morning, and go to bed by 8-8:30 each night. I’m much older now, too, and the job I have is the most physically demanding one I’ve ever had. So reading has little to do with desire, and everything to do with stamina. When I get home at 1 p.m. everyday from work, I’ve already been up for 10 hours, and worked a full day. When I sit down on the couch wanting to pick up a book to read, my body says, “You’re kidding, right? We’re sleeping. Or we can watch TV, but there’s not a chance you’re getting any reading done today, so forget it. I’m in charge now – not you. And I just want to rest.” So I’ve had to make my peace with the fact that in spite of having an entire room full of books that I have not yet read, accumulated over the past 30-40 years, that I won’t be finishing them quite as soon as I thought I would when I purchased them. In fact, I have so many now that I might not ever finish most of them because I’m two years shy of 60. And I could drop dead any moment now. I might not even finish this piece I’m writing – the one you’re now reading, I mean.
     The decision I made last year was to focus on the books I felt I could read in a fairly short period of time so that I did not get bogged down in something I couldn’t finish for months. That meant reading the books I most wanted to read. Nearly all of the 14 books I read in 2014 were music or music-related books, and given the hellish year I had at work – possibly the worst 12 month period of my working life - I was proud of myself for managing to read 14. Since my collection of music books is nearly as impressive as my collection of records and CD’s and films, there’s plenty from which to choose, and every book I read last year was a gem and amply rewarded me for the time I spent reading.
     I asked for, and got a few books for Christmas and elected to start the year by reading one of them.  Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye by Robert Greenfield, is his third book about The Rolling Stones, my favorite band as it happens. It took me all of three sittings to finish it. I thoroughly enjoyed it because it fills in a lot of missing pieces about what the band was doing in 1971 and 1972 during the periods when they were touring England for the last time, and recording and releasing both Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St. At this point I’ve read enough books about my favorite band that unless you’ve got something new to tell me, I’m not biting. This one did. I had almost no knowledge of that farewell tour of Britain, nor of what the band did after the tour was finished before they were exiled for tax purposes to the south of France to begin making the ‘Exile’ record.
     Greenfield uses the tale to illustrate his thesis that it was this tour and its immediate aftermath that changed the band forever because it changed forever the relationship between the two-headed monster that controls the group – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards a/k/a The Glimmer Twins.
     Much has been written in recent years about the disintegrating state of the pair’s relationship, but Greenfield claims this is where it all began, and reading the book, and hearing the tale unfold, I have to agree with him. I won’t detail it here for you. That would spoil the pleasure you’d get in reading this book full of insider stories you’ve never heard anywhere else. But when all was said and done, I came away knowing and understanding far more about my favorite band than I ever have. The book’s cast of characters is enormous, and nearly every page brings another wild tale from the vast history that is, collectively, the great rock ‘n’ roll archive.
     That’s what I came to realize last year as I was reading one music book after another. It’s all history now, and it’s all there to be examined if you’re so inclined. Inside knowledge of how records came to be made, or how tours were created, and what transpired in the lives of the musicians who made the music only enhances the pleasure I get when I listen to the records.
     At this point in my life, I’ve lived with the records of my youth now for 40-50 years, and I know the music inside and out. But attached to every piece of music there might well be a hundred stories of how that music came to be created. Now that most of the players have passed away, and those that remain are feeling less likely to sue if libeled, it seems a good opportunity for me to do what The Stones did in the period covered in this book.
     Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye catches The Rolling Stones in a period of transition. The 1971 farewell British tour, played out on buses and trains and cars, in auditoriums and venues that often seated no more than 2,000 people bore no resemblance to the massive 1972 Tour of America the band undertook following the completion of Exile On Main St. This is the exact moment when The Rolling Stones invented the modern rock tour – and make no mistake about it. It was, in fact, The Rolling Stones that invented the modern rock tour. Before the ’72 American tour, there was no such thing. The band changed the way they worked, and the relationship between the players changed because they had all grown up over the past ten years, and life was beginning to crowd the business of making music. Women got in the way. Drugs got in the way. And the band had to navigate all of it if they were to continue. That they persist more than 40 years later only proves how adept they became at change – even though to the world outside it all appears as business as usual.


     The book caused me to reflect on my own transition into old age. I’m making adjustments every day trying to cope with the changes each day brings. I listen to more music now than ever before. That’s the one remaining perk of my job. But the price I’ve had to pay is that I don’t get to read as often, and advancing age coupled with the physical demands of the job itself have conspired to make getting older a real battle. I’m always tired. Something always hurts. I worry about keeping my hours and making enough to be able to keep our health care. So there’s stress as well. My greatest joy in spending money is in buying records. But I have far less disposable income now at a time when records cost more than they ever have. I’m saying ‘no’ far more often to records I used to buy without a second thought. And that requires a fresh perspective to help me cope.
     During the years when I was working feverishly, and spending money as fast as I could make it, I was laying the foundation for my later years when I should be slowing down, spending less, and looking for ways to fill the increased free time that would come along with old age. There is plenty of “media” already in the house to fill that time if I live to be 99. But I don’t expect to live that long. So the time to be buying less, but consuming what I already own is now, not later. “Later” is not guaranteed. Delving into music’s back pages through freshly written biographies and memoirs, reading collections of music writing, and the music journalism of the period, and doing it while I can easily access all the songs that came from the tales I’m reading changes my relationship to my favorite hobby. It’s time to embrace the music as living history, and take advantage of all the source material out there (and already on my shelves). Experiencing music in different ways has been the great pleasure of my life, and there’s no question that that’s my ticket to clearing those shelves as quickly and efficiently as I can while getting from them the most pleasure. What I don’t want is to be drawing my last breath and looking at all those books, and regretting never coming to know what was between the covers.

     Let me close by illustrating the kind of pleasure I gained from reading yet another book about The Rolling Stones. After Greenfield finishes with the British farewell tour, there are chapters devoted to its aftermath, and what happened to the band through late 1972 when work began on the Goat’s Head Soup album in Jamaica. While discussing the last minute details that went into actually finishing the final mixes of Exile On Main St. so that the masters could be handed over to Atlantic so they could get the album on the streets in time for when the ’72 tour began, Greenfield recounts the story that after engineer Andy Johns had been dismissed by Mick Jagger, due in large part to the severe drug habit he now had after spending a couple of years in the company of Keith Richards, Jagger phoned Johns and invited him back because they could not seem to get a satisfactory final mix of the album that sounded as good as the mixes Johns himself had done before his dismissal. Johns accepted and went back to work under a severe deadline. Mick had chosen All Down The Line as the “sure thing” first hit single from the album. But Johns disagreed, saying he couldn’t hear that as a single. But they worked on it anyway and when Johns still couldn’t hear it, he suggested maybe hearing it coming out of a radio speaker might help. Jagger said they could easily make that happen and dispatched Ian Stewart to a radio station in L.A. where they were mixing to play the thing a couple of times so Johns could hear it through a car radio. In the end, it was decided to go with Tumbling Dice as the first single, but the mix of it needed work as well. Johns finally got it down to two similar mixes, and he and Jagger took the tape over to Keith’s place where everyone could listen and make the final decision. The two mixes were so similar they could hardly tell them apart. Finally Keith said, “Which one would sound better in mono?” That was brilliant because singles in those days were still largely mixed down to mono for single release because they would be played on AM radio with its mono signal. FM was around in stereo for the LP, but AM radio still ruled the airwaves in those days. So that was the more important mix. They made the choice, the record got pressed and released, and the rest was history.

     Here’s what made that story so much fun to read for me. I bought Tumbling Dice when it was released in 1972, and I had rarely heard such noise on a 45 in my life. It was in mono, of course, and the sound was so dense that I could barely make out any of the lyrics. The digital remix stereo version that is now the standard version that everyone with a CD player is familiar with sounds nothing like that original 45. Even the digital remix of the 45 on CD sounds nothing like it. As I read the story in the book, I knew exactly what that final mix sounded like because I have the record. I listened again to it just a couple of weeks ago. I read that story and it put a smile on my face because all this listening I’ve been doing for more than 50 years is colliding with the stories I’m reading now to bring my experience with this music full circle. That’s what makes it all sound new to me. Digging up all that history between the pages of those books is going to be a helluva ride. You can have your new cell phone, and your tablet, and even your thousand-dollar turntable that spins the new $75 dollar pressing of the same record I bought in 1972 for $3.99. But your experience will be very different from mine when we play that same record. We’ll both certainly enjoy it. But I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything because except for the aches and pains and the stress, getting old rocks!

Thursday, December 25, 2014


     It often seemed in 2014, that the ringing of the division bell was louder than the music on my stereo. In any year there are countless musicians who pass on, but the losses were particularly acute for me this year. It was a sobering experience to look back through the obituary pages in Record Collector and be reminded of who is gone now. Johnny Winter, Charlie Haden, Jack Bruce, Phil Everly, Bobby Womack, Gerry Goffin, Horace Silver, Bobby Keys, Ian McLagen, Dick Wagner, Tommy Ramone, Bob Casale, Scott Asheton, Rick Rosas, Paul Revere, Jimmy Ruffin, the venerable Pete Seeger, and, most recently, Joe Cocker all passed away this year. There were many more. I chose to list only those who made the most impact on me as a music listener. We got one last final record from Pink Floyd that honored the late Richard Wright, and after 45 years on the road, The Allman Brothers Band rode off into the sunset with their final show of October 28 bleeding into the wee hours of the morning of the 29th – the 43rd anniversary of the death of founding guitarist Duane Allman in a motorcycle accident. It was all a bit much to take in one twelve month period. But I was grateful for getting to know these musicians through their work during the course of my lifetime.
     What’s really lost, however, is that there’ll be no more new music forthcoming from any of them. The truth is, though, that we can bring them to life again anytime we play the records they left behind, and that’s great comfort. Everyone I listed above is someone whose music I had experienced on a regular basis over the years. So I didn’t need to be reminded of what they contributed. I listen to more music now than I ever have, and I feel closer to music than at any time in my life – closer even than when I was a teenager, and completely dependent upon the music to get me through the struggles of school, and my efforts to grow into adulthood. For most, music takes a back seat to the business of making a living, having a family, and trying to navigate the pressures of everyday life. But I had no interest in doing any of those things if I couldn’t bring the music along with me. It’s still my greatest pleasure, and the way I most prefer to spend my free time. So these annual recaps of the new music I experienced during the year are a way of marking time for me. The music continues to guide my own evolution and growth as a person – something that has always been of the utmost importance to me. The records on the lists below connected with me – for a variety of reasons.
     But the year is also notable for what I missed. There were numerous new releases this year that I never heard – many by artists of whom I’m a fan. For an art form that has been devalued by many, a lot of music has become unaffordable to any but the rich. I simply had to say no on many occasions this year to music I wanted to own, or at least hear because the industry is trying to maximize profits by reissuing older music in new, deluxe packages that are simply beyond my means. And the cost of vinyl has gone through the roof. So I picked and chose carefully the things I wanted most, paid for by money I earned at a backbreaking job that I can barely tolerate. So if you see it listed here, you can trust that it has genuine value to me.
     This year’s edition adds a list of music books I read in 2014, and recommend highly. And I restored the Artist of the Year feature that in recent years had been replaced with Artists of the Year - a section that listed the most-played artists of the year. That section remains but has been re-titled Top Ten Most Played Artists. The reason for the change is that I actually have a choice for Artist of the Year, but the irony is that her record is not represented. Before I explain that, let me explain the rest of what you’re about to see.
     We begin with Artist of the Year followed by the Top 10 New Releases of 2014. Following that are three sections of reissued material separated into three categories – Originals, Anthologies, and Box Sets (30 titles in all). The Top Single and Top Label get nods, and then my annual favorite section, Finds of the Year that collects music I was either unaware of, or not looking for at all that somehow made its way into my collection this year. And we finish with the new Best Music Reads, and Top Ten Most Played Artists. Each section will have a brief paragraph or two about the contents.
     I trust that explanation is sufficient. After all, it’s not rocket science – just music. If you’re looking for rocket science, I’m sure you can find a blog for that, too. I hope you enjoy the 2014 year-end edition of The Recordchanger.


     Taylor Swift

          Taylor Swift seems to polarize people. I’ve never understood that. Maybe it’s simply a reaction to her unparalleled success in a career that began at age seventeen and eight years later finds her at the top of the music business, her latest album 1989 selling 1.3 million copies the first week of release – the biggest single-week number in 12 years according to Billboard magazine. Fans of genuine country music seemed to resent her success in the country charts because her music veered more towards pop (like that’s news anyway where contemporary country music is concerned). And there were the music critics who claim she can’t sing. She’s not Betty Carter, but she has a nice voice that suits her material just fine. She writes much of her own material, and has a genuine knack for writing hit records – something that’s rapidly becoming a lost art. She can play guitar and piano well enough to do so onstage, too.
          None of this, however, had any bearing on my choice of Taylor Swift as the Artist of the Year for 2014. I was in a position to observe the labyrinthine marketing plan she put in place with her management for her new album. I work at a big box retailer that has a relationship with Swift, and has released a number of special editions of her albums with bonus tracks, and has been an integral part of her marketing campaign – particularly for her previous album Red, and for this latest effort as well. I couldn’t help but be impressed by how well Swift knows and understands her primary target audience – teenage girls. She works overtime with her management crafting a marketing plan designed to make a real connection with her audience without pandering. She also appears to have embraced being a role model to her audience, and has been very careful in managing her image so that role is never compromised. She’s a very savvy business woman at the age of just 25, and I have no doubt that it is Swift, and not her manager, that makes the final decisions on what Taylor Swift, the artist, will and will not do. She should make any feminist proud. And no parent should fear his or her children bringing her music into the house.
          I don’t have kids though, and her business acumen, while certainly admirable to someone my age who has a history in retailing and music, would still not have been enough for me to choose her as Artist of the Year. No, it was her decision in November to pull her music from Spotify, the music streaming service. Swift was quoted in Rolling Stone as saying, "Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for." And with that, Taylor Swift struck a blow for herself and for every artist in the record industry struggling to be paid a living wage for their music.
          Earlier this year I heard an interview with Don Was, president of Blue Note Records. He was talking about the difficulties musicians are having making a living in the digital age. Specifically, he used saxophonist Ravi Coltrane as an example. He said that a million hits on Spotify for Ravi Coltrane translated into $7,000 a year – not even enough to record a single album, let alone support a group on tour for any length of time. Streaming services like Spotify are charging subscribers a low monthly fee, but they’re paying artists next to nothing for the use of their music. The gap is all profit for Spotify. Until now, artists have been forced to go along in the hope of getting their music some exposure in a world where there is no longer a record industry to support them. By removing her music from Spotify, Swift paves the way for other big name artists to do the same, thereby forcing Spotify, and all streaming services to amend their policies, and pay musicians properly for their work. In the time since she made the decision, Swift says she’s received countless messages of thanks and support from fellow musicians in the business.
          The public’s unwillingness to pay for music was a major contributing factor to the collapse of the record industry, and with it, millions of jobs – including mine. I didn’t buy Taylor Swift’s album not because it isn’t a quality piece of work. I didn’t buy it because she’s not really making music that’s targeted for someone old enough to be her father. I do like some of her music, and own some of it, but generally my tastes run in other directions. But when it comes to character and guts, Taylor Swift has it in spades. That’s something I can admire in anyone. And that’s why I chose Taylor Swift as Artist of the Year for 2014.


     2014 wasn’t the best year for new releases. I only just managed to make a Top Ten list of new releases, and while all ten are worthy choices, in a more competitive year, a few of these would more likely have been found near the bottom of a Top 20 rather than a Top 10. I’ll admit that I’m no longer adventurous when it comes to seeking out new music by artists with whom I’m unfamiliar. But to be fair, with my budget severely limited, I no longer have the luxury of taking risks on music I haven’t heard or know nothing about. What I hear on radio or television rarely, if ever, appeals to me, so most of the money I spend on music is on reissues, and back catalog I don’t yet own. Having said that, you can trust that what is here was carefully chosen, and if I made a place for it in my Top 10, then it earned that place.
     The biggest problem I had was choosing a number one between Hollis Brown’s Gets Loaded, and Miriam’s Nobody’s Baby. These were the two new releases I loved and listened to most in 2014, and choosing one over the other was almost impossible. Gets Loaded is a recreation of the Velvet Underground classic Loaded with the track listing reversed. It was created for Record Store Day and, as such, might be regarded as a one-off side project. But it was so beautifully crafted, and so listenable that I simply couldn’t brush it aside. I played it many times instead of the Velvets original, and though it might be heresy to admit this, as a listening experience, I like it as much.
     Miriam Linna, with her husband Billy Miller, owns and operates Norton Records, and Kicks Books publishing as well. She has been, for years, the drummer in The A-Bones with husband Billy, and was briefly the drummer for The Cramps before they became The Cramps we all came to know and love. I don’t really know if cutting a record under her own name has been a lifelong dream for her, or was simply one of those chance things that happen once in a lifetime. It doesn’t matter, though because Nobody’s Baby is obviously a labor of love. It’s a collection of mostly cover songs you either never heard or probably don’t remember with a couple of originals thrown in for good measure. What’s special about the album, besides Miriam’s arresting voice, and the girl group style and Spector-esque production flourishes by Sam Elwitt, is the fact that these songs were picked by Miriam (with Sam) and bear no relationship with one another except that she chose to record them for an album. The amazing thing is that they fit together as if they were all written and recorded specifically for this project. To top it off, it’s perfectly sequenced as well. I only discovered this past week that it was husband Billy Miller who sequenced the record. And that is as important as the songs Miriam chose to record. She leaned on The Everly Brothers, Del Shannon, The Ramones, Reparata & The Delrons, Buffalo Springfield, Gene Clark, Bobby Darin, Tim Buckley and The Electric Banana for material. Maybe getting a Gene Clark song to sound right next to a Buffalo Springfield song isn’t that difficult, but who would have imagined you could record a Ramones song and follow it with something by Bobby Darin and not miss a beat? It’s an amazing accomplishment. And the album is a complete success. Miriam comes across on record as “America’s Sweetheart” and if this was 1964 instead of 2014, we’d all be joining her fan club, and writing away for an autographed picture.
     In the end, both were albums of covers with the artist putting a unique stamp on the music. I picked Hollis Brown for the top spot because I thought it took real guts to take on an acknowledged classic by one of the most influential bands in rock history, and make it stand up alongside the original. But I could easily have chosen them as co-number ones. But then I would’ve had to institute a playoff system, and gotten a computer ranking involved, and that would’ve just complicated my life. No thanks.
     Number three was an easier choice. Trilogy by the Chick Corea Trio (Christian McBride on bass, and Brian Blade on drums) is a three disc live set whose material spans Corea’s entire career. The trio recreates Corea’s past by reinventing the songs that established him as one of the greats, thereby fusing past and present in one satisfying experience. It’s a great concept, and a triumph. It’s also one of the finest trio albums I’ve ever heard. The playing is spectacular, and the rapport between these players is magic.
     I’ve written previously in these pages about Pink Floyd’s The Endless River, so I won’t detail its creation again. Suffice to say that it’s a moving and tasteful farewell to the late Richard Wright, and a perfect coda to an extraordinary career.
     I happened to catch a documentary film on the making of The Breeze: An Appreciation of J.J. Cale by Eric Clapton & Friends on Palladia this summer, a few months after this tribute album was released. I loved the music I heard, and knew I wanted to own the album. Clapton always had a feel for Cale’s music, and the “friends” he chose for this project shared his affinity making this Clapton’s best album since the album he made a few years back with J.J. Cale. Any project that spotlights Cale’s talents is one to be celebrated and shared.
     Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers just keep doing what they do better than anyone else. After nearly four decades, they pretty much have it down. Hypnotic Eye isn’t their best album, but it’s damn good, and one I’ll be playing for years.
     One of the nicest surprises of 2014 was that in a year when we lost so many great musicians, we got to keep Wilko Johnson, a founding member of Dr. Feelgood, diagnosed with terminal cancer, and pronounced all but dead by competent doctors. Wilko was told to get his affairs in order, and when Who vocalist Roger Daltrey called and offered to help him make any kind of record he wanted to make, Wilko said yes, and the two British R&B vets put together an album of their favorite roots music along with some Wilko signature songs for what has to be the year’s most satisfying album. Daltrey is singing better here than he has in years on material more suited for his voice now than what Pete Townshend can write for him. Wilko is a freak of nature who simply won’t be denied. His guitar playing here is sharp and inspired. He sounds nothing like a dead man. He has, by far, outlived his doctor’s prognosis, and let’s hope he’s around for a few more decades so he can cut a few more records like Going Back Home.
     The purest, most talented voice in country music today belongs to Lee Ann Womack. The Way I’m Livin’ is her first new record since 2008. Rolling Stone likened it to the kind of record Waylon Jennings was making in the 1970’s during the Outlaw Country movement. I read that before I heard the record, and thought such a claim was too far fetched to be taken seriously. But they were right. Womack’s record does have that same feel. Take it from someone who’s listened to a lot of Outlaw Country and a lot of Waylon Jennings. The record sounds “lived in” and Womack couldn’t tell a lie on record if she tried.
     The Top 10 is rounded off by two more releases from Alive Natural Sound. Paul Collins, who once fronted Paul Collins’ Beat back in the days of new wave and power pop brings that trademark sound into the 21st century with Feel The Noise, a fine set of energetic, hook-filled rock ‘n roll while Iowa’s Radio Moscow delivers Magical Dirt, their fourth band record of psychedelic electric guitar that doesn’t break any new ground but sure sounds good – especially when you turn it up loud enough to rattle the windows.

  1. Gets Loaded – Hollis Brown (Alive)
  2. Nobody’s Baby – Miriam (Norton)
  3. Trilogy – Chick Corea Trio (Concord Jazz)
  4. The Endless River – Pink Floyd (Columbia)
  5. The Breeze: An Appreciation of J.J. Cale – Eric Clapton & Friends
  6. Hypnotic Eye – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (Reprise)
  7. Going Back Home – Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey (Chess)
  8. The Way I’m Livin’ – Lee Ann Womack (Sugar Hill)
  9. Feel The Noise – Paul Collins (Alive)
10. Magical Dirt – Radio Moscow (Alive)

     TOP REISSUES (Originals)

          This was another memorable year for reissues, even though I passed on countless packages that were priced beyond my means. But I managed to find a total of 30 different sets of real value at a reasonable price.
          The year’s Originals saw the re-release of some classic jazz in better than ever packages along with a number of live sets, and some classic albums that had not seen release in this country – if at all – in decades.
          The 11th installment of Bob Dylan’s ongoing Bootleg Series was the most satisfying of all. The Basement Tapes Raw was 2 CD’s of the 38 best tracks from the legendary Basement Tapes sessions with Dylan and The Band, released this time as they were originally recorded – something not mentioned when Columbia first released the 24 track Basement Tapes set back in 1975. While the new set doesn’t diminish that earlier effort, The Basement Tapes Raw certainly eclipses it by being the definitive version available. There was a deluxe set with every usable track available as well, but after sampling most of it, I decided my money would be better spent on this 2 CD distillation. It’s classic American music that belongs in every collection, and the sound and packaging are superb from beginning to end.
          Miles Davis’s brief collected works for the Blue Note label in the early 1950’s has been issued over the years in a variety of different configurations. But Take Off finally issues these recordings in chronological order with alternate takes and all the original sleeve work reproduced in the booklet along with excellent liner notes. If you were to distill the enormous Miles Davis catalog down to, say, 10 essential titles, Take Off would have to be included in that list.
          John Coltrane’s Offering: Live At Temple University comes from a November ’66 date just 9 months before his death in July of ’67. This is the complete performance for the first time with vastly improved sound and packaging. It’s as essential as every other title in the Coltrane canon.
          I didn’t think I’d live long enough to ever see the reissue of the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival featuring a wide variety of some of the greatest jazz and blues artists of all-time. I’d been looking for it for years, and it did not disappoint.
          A resurgence of interest in the west coast Paisley Underground movement of the early 80’s yielded a previously unissued live set from guiding lights, The Dream Syndicate, The Day Before Wine and Roses. From a radio broadcast aired just prior to the band’s first album release, this is an important historical document, not to mention a textbook example of the band and the movement at its best. There’s plenty of psychedelic guitar work, and extended jams designed to blow young minds. It’s a reminder of how special, and influential The Dream Syndicate was in their day.
          Capitol gave country giant Hank Thompson the 2-fer treatment by issuing two of his classics on one set in the Songs For Rounders/At The Golden Nugget package. It’s honky tonk at its best.
          Oueen’s Live At The Rainbow ’74 becomes the best live Queen available, catching the band as their career was about to skyrocket.
          Numerous jazz titles saw reissue this year as well with the Wounded Bird label issuing numerous Weather Report and Herbie Hancock/V.S.O.P. titles via Sony Japan that had not seen the light of day in the U.S. and had only previously been available as expensive imports. Prestige issued Etta Jones classic Don’t Go To Strangers on vinyl, and ECM rescued Sam Rivers masterful Contrasts LP.
          BBR saved Motown singer Edwin Starr’s greatest album from oblivion. Involved features his biggest hit War, along with two more chart hits and 13 bonus tracks. This is a Norman Whitfield production and bears all the hallmarks of his style - raw, political, in your face psychedelic soul music.
          The Specials Live At The Moonlight Club gets an official release on vinyl from 2 Tone, and recreates a time when ska was king on the British club scene. And Ace Records gives the deluxe treatment to The Seeds Raw & Alive set presenting the album in its original form, and its undubbed glory as well. Great sound, and an excellent booklet make this a must for Sky Saxon admirers.
          The Cleopatra label issued a live set from rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon from 1978 when he was working with the late, great Link Wray. Cleveland ’78 is taken from an Agora show and is just ragged, and rough enough to retain that period charm.
          Finally, The Rolling Stones have finally got their vault series in full swing with a pair of live sets including DVD’s documenting the previously undocumented 1975 Tour of the Americas, and the 1981 trek the band did to promote the Tattoo You album. The ’75 set is more interesting if a lot looser. Ronnie Wood had just replaced Mick Taylor on guitar. And the DVD is taken from a different night than the CD. So you get 2 shows instead of one. The ’81 set is more polished, but less exciting in part because that tour was already documented on the Still Life album. Let’s hope we’ll get some shows with Mick Taylor in the years to come.
   1. The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Raw – Bob Dylan &
       The Band
   2. Take Off: The Complete Blue Note Albums – Miles Davis
   3. Offering: Live At Temple University – John Coltrane
   4. Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972 – Various
   5. The Day Before Wine and Roses – The Dream Syndicate
   6. Songs For Rounders/At The Golden Nugget – Hank Thompson
   7. Live At The Rainbow ‘74 – Queen
   8. Don’t Go To Strangers – Etta Jones
   9. Contrasts – Sam Rivers
 10. Tempest In The Colosseum – V.S.O.P.
 11. Herbie Hancock Trio with Ron Carter & Tony Williams
 12. Live In Tokyo – Weather Report
 13. Five Stars – V.S.O.P.
 14. Involved – Edwin Starr
 15. Live At The Moonlight Club – The Specials
 16. Raw & Alive – The Seeds
 17. From The Vault: L.A. Forum (Live In 1975) – Rolling Stones
 18. The Herbie Hancock Trio
 19. Cleveland ’78 – Robert Gordon & Link Wray
 20. From The Vault: Hampton Coliseum (Live In 1981) – Rolling Stones

     TOP REISSUES (Anthologies)

          The Anthologies list is considerably shorter than the Originals list, but no less outstanding. The Uptown label did a superb job creating a Howard McGhee album, West Coast 1945-47, where there was none before. Collecting 19 performances from radio broadcasts and transcriptions and a couple of studio recording sessions, the label has spotlighted one of the unsung masters of jazz trumpet. McGhee was an obscure figure that toiled in the shadows of bigger names, but left behind some stellar performances that deserve attention and are well worth preserving. In terms of packaging, and historical merit, this set couldn’t be better. I recommend it to anyone who loves great trumpet playing and the stirring sound of West Coast jazz in those first couple of post-war years. If push comes to shove, I’d choose this as the single best reissue of 2014.
          Another year, another David Bowie anthology, but Nothing Has Changed is three discs that span his entire career, hand picked by Bowie himself, providing the definitive single set overview of an unparalleled career. There are new and unreleased tracks included. If you can only have one Bowie collection, this is the one.
          Blues singer Lou Ann Barton gets a long overdue Best of collection of her finest work, both as a solo act and working with the great Jimmie Vaughan and The Fabulous Thunderbirds as well.
          ‘Round Midnight does for Thelonious Monk’s singles what Take Off did for Miles Davis’s Blue Note albums. They’re all collected here in one place, 47 titles including alternate takes in a hardcover book with great historical notes and photos – just like the Davis set.
          Norton Records issued the fourth volume of Kim Fowley productions, Technicolor Grease, and there’s no decline in quality. This is the stuff that made AM radio special – even though little of it was chart bound. Columbia released a perfect collection in February of the best work by country gentleman Ray Price who passed away in December 2013. It’s the best I’ve seen of the countless Price sets on the market. And I’ve earmarked Ray Price as an artist deserving of further investigation. I never tire of his voice, and I think it’s time I added a few more Ray Price albums to my collection in 2015. Finally, 2 Tone offered up something special for vinyl lovers – a two record set of all the singles that made the label’s reputation in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

   1. West Coast 1945-47 – Howard McGhee
   2. Nothing Has Changed – David Bowie
   3. The Best – Lou Ann Barton
   4. ‘Round Midnight: The Complete Blue Note Singles (1947-1952) –
        Thelonious Monk
   5. Technicolor Grease – Kim Fowley
   6. The Very Best of Ray Price
   7. The Best of 2 Tone – Various


     This year’s #1 box set is a ringer of sorts. There is no musician I hold in higher esteem than the late Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher. Gallagher passed away at the age of 47 in June of 1995. In the nearly twenty years since, his brother Donal along with legions of hardcore fans (myself included), have kept his legacy alive by talking up the guitarist to anyone who would listen, and buying up everything Donal was able to find in the archives and release to fans who wanted to own as much Rory Gallagher as possible. Rory’s catalog is probably in as fine a shape as the catalog of any artist in the history of rock. It took RCA years to learn to do justice to the legacy Elvis Presley left behind, and it wasn’t until the Hendrix family took control of Jimi Hendrix’s work that his legacy on record and film began to take shape. But Donal Gallagher seemed to know immediately how important his brother’s work was to his fans, and he’s seen to it that his catalog was given the respect and care it deserves. Irish Tour ’74, a 7 CD set with an additional DVD brings together for the first time the series of shows Rory Gallagher played at the end of 1973 and into 1974 in front of his countrymen in the cities of Cork, Belfast and Dublin. The original 2 record set drew material from just the Cork show. In addition there is previously unreleased extra material from that show, and Belfast, and Dublin are entirely new. Disc seven is titled City Hall In Session and presents studio and live material from January 4, 1974 – the “off day” between the two shows proper in Cork. The DVD is the documentary film of the tour, directed by Tony Palmer. It’s been available separately for years, but rightfully has been included here in order to bring the entire experience together in one place. The documentary alone is worth the price of the entire set. It’s as fine a music documentary as I’ve ever seen. But while you may come for the film, you’ll stay for the music, and the 7 CD’s in this set are the motherlode for Gallagher fans. I’ve listened to a lot of Rory Gallagher live through the years, but I believe he’s better here than at any other time in his career. Maybe it had to do with being on his home turf in front of the fans who loved and revered him. The band includes Rod D’Ath on drums, Gerry McAvoy on bass, and Lou Martin on keyboards, and they were never better than they are here. The sets from night to night don’t vary a great deal, but each show retains its own personality, with the Cork show offering the best sound. This set is to Gallagher fans what the Fillmore East sets are to fans of The Allman Brothers Band (and I should know as I’m an Allmans fan as well).
     There’s a nice booklet included with photos, essay and commentary via a Shadowplays (Rory’s website) interview with Robin Sylvester with whom Rory worked in those days. The only caveat for buyers is that the outer box is rather flimsy and did not travel well from England. The discs are housed in slots in the tri-fold cardboard within the outer slipcase, and while that probably helped make the cost of the set as low as it is (less than $50), it won’t wear well as the years go by. Packaging the set in a plastic box similar to that used for DVD box sets would’ve been wiser, and probably wouldn’t have made the set much more expensive. I’ve already moved the discs to four double disc jewel boxes for easier access. But the packaging, of which I was aware before ordering, was not enough to keep me from buying. It’s the music that matters most. If the set is reissued in the years ahead, perhaps they’ll address the packaging issue. Even with those issues, the box is an easy choice as best box set of 2014 because at the end of the day, there is nobody like Rory Gallagher.
     Creating a box set that restores to print Virgin Records Front Line series of budget reggae samplers in one place with enough bonus material to choke a horse was a stroke of genius. Sound of Reality is that box. There is a plethora of high quality reggae recordings from a variety of sources, and anytime you can get more of those recordings into the marketplace, you’re doing the music a great service. Great packaging and excellent sound along with first rate historical notes in a 5 CD set that retails from England for less than 50 bucks American, and a stack of rarities included as well? Roll that up and smoke it.
     Columbia Legacy issued yet another set of Miles Davis’s Fillmore Recordings from a 1970 concert stand. There is additional material from the last time these concerts were issued, and as grateful as I am for more material from the “electric” period, I’d like to see the label move along to issuing more shows from ’73 and ’74 – particularly sets from Europe and Japan. I think the label has mined 1970 recordings often enough now that a change is needed. Having said that, this package is the definitive, and presumably final word on the ’70 Fillmore shows. And I might have been more receptive had I not bought portions of these shows so many times before.

   1. Irish Tour ’74 – Rory Gallagher (7CD/1 DVD)
   2. Sound of Reality-Virgin Front Line – Various (5CD)
   3. Miles At The Fillmore 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3 – Miles Davis


     Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind – Miriam (Norton)

     Norton Records Rolling Stones Tribute Series of 45’s continued this year, and since Miriam Linna added vocalist to a resume that already included label owner, book publisher, drummer, and blogger when she cut her Nobody’s Baby album, it seems fitting that she should contribute a number to her label’s own tribute series. Miriam chose the little known Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind, a track originally issued on The Rolling Stones Metamorphosis LP. She turns in a faithful version of the song, one that wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place on her new LP had she chosen to include it. The flip features her producer under the moniker The Sam Elwitt Orchestra doing a fine version of Bill Wyman’s In Another Land, originally waxed on Their Satanic Majesties Request. Of course the name, and style pay tribute to The Andrew Loog Oldham (Stones manager) Orchestra’s series of records in the 60’s designed to promote the Jagger-Richards songbook. The series now features 32 entries and a total of 64 songs, and really is a must if you’re a Stones fanatic.


     Wounded Bird

     Wounded Bird is a reissue label responsible for unearthing a myriad of lost or forgotten, or just plain overlooked records from the past that were never made available on CD, or have gone out of print. The Wounded Bird catalog restores them to the marketplace at affordable prices with good packaging and sound. They are responsible for all of the Weather Report and Herbie Hancock titles you see on the reissue list above, not to mention The Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival set. Check their website for more at:  You’re liable to find a number of titles you never realized were now available that you’ve been wanting for years.

     FINDS OF THE YEAR (In No Order)

     Every year there are titles I add to my collection that I had no prior knowledge of, or no intention of buying until I tripped over them in the browser at the store. Some are the result of a desire to expand my collection of albums by a particular artist (Todd Rundgren, John Cale, Weather Report, Branford Marsalis) others are albums I remembered hearing long ago, but had since forgotten (Eric Gale, Stephane Grappelli, The Heath Brothers), still others benefitted from finally getting some media exposure (The Congos, Aki Takase & Silke Eberhard). The rest are usually titles that had never seen the light of day before, or were finally reissued again after being out of circulation for years (Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Dream Syndicate, Shoes). Most of these records would appeal primarily to collectors who are well into the deep catalog portion of their collections by now.
     Specifically, the Bob Dylan LP makes a nice companion to his Hard Rain, and Bootleg Series titles issued from his Rolling Thunder Revue tour. The Roy Orbison is an import 2-fer of originals from Orbison’s heyday packed with classic recordings. The Dream Syndicate live set was issued a few years ago after it languished in the vaults for decades. It had slipped under my radar until I found myself searching to expand my collection of Paisley Underground recordings this year. I missed listening to power pop band Shoes, a staple of my musical diet from the late 70’s, and went looking for a compilation I didn’t know existed. The Congos appeared in an online magazine article of “10 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die”. And the Ornette Coleman Anthology, issued in 2007, features two women, a pianist, and sax player/clarinetist, playing through some of the great man’s catalog in a two-disc celebration of his work and legacy. I discovered it through a Facebook post by someone with a similar interest in Free Jazz. And if you want to hear a pair of first-rate Branford Marsalis records, I Heard You Twice The First Time, a blues album with some special guests is a gem, and so is Contemporary Jazz, a record modeled after some of the classic jazz group recordings (Trane, Miles, Sonny, etc.) of all-time, and deserving of their company.

      Live In Colorado 1976 – Bob Dylan
      Lonely & Blue + At The Rock House – Roy Orbison
      One Long Year – Todd Rundgren
      Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood – John Cale
      The Complete Live At Raji’s – Dream Syndicate
      Live In Cologne 1983 – Weather Report
      35 Years-The Definitive Collection 1977-2012 – Shoes
      Heart of The Congos – The Congos
      I Heard You Twice The First Time – Branford Marsalis
      Contemporary Jazz – Branford Marsalis
      Ornette Coleman Anthology – Aki Takase & Silke Eberhard
      Multiplication – Eric Gale
      Uptown Dance – Stephane Grappelli
      Expressions of Life – The Heath Brothers
      Domino Theory – Weather Report


     In 2014, knowing my leisure time to read would be limited, I elected to focus on the volumes of still unread music books on my shelf. All but two of the books I read this year were music books. Below are the ten best of the year, published at different times over the past four decades. A brief description follows each title.

     There Goes Gravity by Lisa Robinson
          Rock writer extraordinaire finally delivers the long-awaited memoir of her decades covering the rock scene. A pleasure from start to finish.
     Last Shop Standing by Graham Jones
          The story of the collapse of the bricks and mortar record store set in England by someone who lived through it, and survived to tell the tale. Funny, and heartbreaking at the same time – especially if you ever worked in one.
     Elvis Died For Somebody’s Sins But Not Mine – Mick Farren
          A stellar collection of the best works by one of the best writers of his generation.
     Shots From The Hip by Charles Shaar Murray
          Another rock writer collects his favorite magazine pieces covering more than two decades on the London music scene.
     Simple Dreams by Linda Ronstadt
          A musical memoir from a woman who lived music and loved nothing more than singing.
     The Rolling Stones: Fifty Years by Christopher Sandford
          The definitive overview/history of The World’s Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band written by a true journalist.
     The Doors by Greil Marcus
          Everybody’s favorite social scientist/rock critic turns his fertile mind on to The Doors, and what made them tick. Excellent read.
     Rocks Off by Bill Janovitz
          Musician/author turns his attention to the stories behind the songs that tell the tale of The Rolling Stones. 
     Celebrating The Duke…and Other Heroes by Ralph J. Gleason 
          From one of the finest jazz writers who ever lived and a co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine, Ralph J. Gleason, this anthology was published not long after he passed away in 1975, and contains some essential writing. I would probably have never even tried to write if not for Ralph J. Gleason.
     Live At The Village Vanguard by Max Gordon
          Terrific memoir about the history of one of the legendary jazz clubs of all-time written by the man who should know, owner Max Gordon.


     Riches abound in the catalogs of these artists.

     The Rolling Stones
     Miles Davis
     John Coltrane
     The Doors
     Weather Report
     Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
     Dire Straits
     The Beach Boys
     David Bowie


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