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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

RIFFIN'

     While channel surfing this morning, I found a documentary on Palladia, the music channel titled The Rise and Fall of The Clash. It aired just this one time this morning from 7-9 a.m. when Palladia must have assumed fans of the band would be up enjoying their quiet Sunday morning. In any case, having missed nearly the entire first hour of it, I left it on to see if it was something I might have enjoyed. Less than an hour into it, however, they were already talking about the band’s acrimonious split in 1984 with co-founding guitarist Mick Jones, and the subsequent reformation of the band with new members. I thought that was puzzling since any reasonable documentary about the band that was two hours long would more likely have spent nothing but the last 15 minutes on the band’s breakup. I kept watching out of curiosity to see how they were going to fill another hour when the band had just broken up.
     It wasn’t long before I realized the doc was a knockoff put together with second hand film footage with interview material from those just outside the band’s inner circle. I was about it give it the boot when it began to get interesting. The producers actually tracked down, and interviewed the three members of the band who joined after the split to do one more tour and one final album before the group dissolved for good. Drummer Pete Howard had replaced Terry Chimes just before the band played the US Festival in 1983. Mick Jones was fired shortly after that gig, and two guitarists, Nick Sheppard, formerly with a punk band called The Cortinas, and Vince White, an unknown at the time were hired. I was always curious as to what had happened to those three in the wake of the band’s dissolution. The album they made with Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon was a disaster and that version of the band is no longer even recognized by fans of the group as The Clash.
     I knew this greatest of all punk bands had ended badly. But the tales told by Howard, Sheppard, and White were truly sad, and by the end of the doc, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for what the three of them had experienced at the hands of Joe Strummer and manager Bernie Rhodes – the two headed monster then in complete control of the band’s fortunes. White actually broke down crying on camera at one point. Sheppard seemed to have come to terms with it all, and moved on. And drummer Pete Howard seemed bitter, still, at how it all unraveled. There were a lot of behind-the-scenes stories from this period that I’d not heard before. And I realized why it took leader Joe Strummer so long to recover himself and to rebuild his reputation after the band splintered. I won’t recount it all here for you, but if you get a chance to see it, I can tell you that the second hour of it, at least, is worth your time if you were a fan of the band.

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     There’s an anniversary happening now that I thought I’d mention here. The jazz label, Prestige Records was launched 65 years ago this year, and there are a lot of things happening to celebrate that anniversary. The label is reissuing some of its most legendary catalog on vinyl. Apple’s iTunes has a collection of these works mastered for iTunes, and available for download under the Pretige65 banner. There are contests and film clips circulating on social media – all of which are intended to remind the world that this was one of the greatest record labels of all-time. I own a great deal of the label’s catalog, and I put together a file of some of my favorites for my iPod the other day and was stunned at the impact this very familiar music had on me when listened to in this new context. If you’d asked me what the greatest label was in the history of jazz, I’d probably have replied that it was ECM or Blue Note. But now I’m not so sure my answer wouldn’t be Prestige. The label’s music has been a part of my collection since I first started buying jazz records. It’s worth celebrating, and it’s nice to know it’s being preserved so that new generations can discover and experience it.

     In keeping with that theme, a couple of weeks ago I was watching CBS Sunday Morning, and they broadcast a piece about the collaboration on record of vocalist Tony Bennett and pop star Lady Gaga. I was intrigued by the piece because while Bennett has always worked with a wide variety of people during his more than six decades singing professionally, he’s never worked with anyone who has quite the resume Lady Gaga possesses. I was curious and a bit skeptical. But when I saw the genuine bond the two of them had formed since they met, and heard them singing together, I was convinced this was no manufactured record company stunt to prop up anyone’s career. An interview with Parade also mentioned the desire both had to bring the Great American Songbook, and jazz itself to an audience of younger people – the audience that adores Lady Gaga. After sampling the album on iTunes, I actually downloaded three tracks – two of which were solo performances by Lady Gaga. Both were tunes I’d first heard by John Coltrane. One was Ev’ry time We Say Goodbye. The other was Lush Life, a tune Coltrane recorded for – you guessed it – Prestige Records. I also downloaded the pair’s duet on Nat Cole’s Nature Boy, one of my all-time favorite songs. I didn’t need Bennett and Lady Gaga to tip me off to jazz or the Great American Songbook. But I did need their collaboration to clue me in to what a fine voice she has. Sometimes it’s hard to get past the hype and the trappings that pop stars these days are often wrapped in to discover that there is, in fact, real talent just beneath the surface. The album, from what I heard anyway, looks to be a worthwhile addition to the always growing catalog of recordings from the Great American Songbook.

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     Out of the blue this past week came a new single from Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, or if you prefer, The Who. There’s yet another Who’s greatest hits album coming just in time for the holiday selling season. 50 Hits features a new recording called Be Lucky, and it proves there’s still some life left in the pair. I’ve actually been trying to make an effort to revisit The Who’s back catalog of late. In spite of my issues with both Townshend and Daltrey, I’m not ready to let the music go – not by a country mile. So it was nice to hear a new number – and particularly nice to be able to give it a recommendation. I presume the single will be available - at least as a download - separately from the album – which will, no doubt, be populated with songs we’ve all bought hundreds of times over already. YouTube has the song if you want to hear it.

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     Since we’re on the subject of dinosaurs, there’s a new Pink Floyd album coming soon titled The Endless River. My first reaction to this was, “Oh no! Please don’t?” That was because I thought 1994’s The Division Bell was the perfect way for the band to say goodbye after a legendary career. But as I discovered more about the project, I began to get very excited about it. You can read more by clicking this link:


     Once I heard these were recordings David Gilmour and Nick Mason had made with the late Richard Wright during the sessions for The Division Bell, and that the album was intended to spotlight Wright’s huge contribution to the band’s sound throughout the decades, I was on board. According to what I’ve read, the album is mostly instrumental, and if that’s true, it will also serve to remind people that Pink Floyd was never a conventional rock band and that some of their greatest work is to be found in instrumentals and in the very long instrumental passages that exist in some of their best vocal songs.

     In other dinosaur sightings, CBS Sunday Morning featured a profile on this morning’s show of Mick Fleetwood on the occasion of his newly published autobiography, Play On, not to mention the reunion tour of the most famous and successful edition of Fleetwood Mac featuring Fleetwood, John McVie, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Christine McVie who retired from the group sixteen years ago and has now returned. I welcome this edition of the group back from its long hiatus. There have been rumblings from some that this is just another money grab from a big name band trying to bilk its audience one more time. But I don’t know of a single Fleetwood Mac devotee who sees it that way. I’m more cynical than most when it comes to ulterior motives about these kinds of things, but as Fleetwood pointed out in the CBS profile, all the members are at an age where people begin thinking about putting their house in order. And being just a few years younger than the members of the band, I can attest to that. Sure there’ll be money to be made, but they won’t be robbing anyone of it. Bottom line is that I’ve been listening to Fleetwood Mac since Peter Green was playing lead guitar for them. There’s never been a single edition of the band I didn’t like, nor have I ever stopped listening to any of their records. Personally, I’d love to have a new studio album from them, but that might be too much to hope for. In the meantime, I like the fact that they’re all together again, and healthy, and able to still play the music they created together.

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     Though I’ve deactivated the Facebook page I had under my own name for the past five years, I do still have another page now under another name for the sole purpose of monitoring the activities of organizations in which I’m interested, as well as trying to stay informed about things that are happening in the world that are relevant to me. Even though I no longer use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family (I have a phone and a mailbox for those things), I did get involved with a vinyl records chat group on Facebook that allows me to converse with others that share my love of music and records, in particular. It’s the equivalent of an online record store experience – the kind I used to have on a regular basis before all the stores closed. I’ve had some great exchanges with people, and been reminded of records I have in my collection that I need to revisit more often. I’ve been exposed to a lot of very interesting opinions, and in one instance there was a post that got everyone into a very heated debate. And since I’ve been talking about dinosaurs, it seemed appropriate to mention it here. The debate was about The Eagles.
     It’s amazing to me how The Eagles have managed to sell 150 million records, and yet there are still, seemingly, millions of people worldwide who absolutely despise them. It’s as if half the world loves the band, and the other half wants them dead. I don’t get it. The debate began when someone posted that they were thinking of buying an Eagles album but they weren’t sure where to start. Never mind that there was still someone interested in the band that didn’t actually already own one of the band’s records. The responses came fast and furious – split pretty evenly between people recommending favorites and people suggesting that The Eagles are the anti-christ. I defended them to one guy who argued with me, but when he discovered that my favorite Eagles song, My Man, was a tribute to the late Gram Parsons whom this guy absolutely idolized, he hinted that he might buy the album (On The Border) just so he could hear the song. Another guy wrote that The Eagles represented everything that was wrong with rock and with the music industry. That surprised me because that opinion was most often heard during the punk years of the late 1970’s. I thought by now everyone had moved past that kind of thinking. After all, I don’t think The Eagles ever set themselves up to be the standard bearers of what rock was supposed to aspire to be. I think they were just a group of musicians looking to form a band so they could make music for a living. That it got so big is hardly their fault, and if you resent them for that, you need to get a clue. It’s easy to hate The Eagles. They did some things that made them easy targets – like finally cutting a reunion album and making it available only at Wal-Mart stores when record stores around the world were going under and could’ve used the foot traffic a new Eagles album would’ve brought them. At the end of the day, though, The Eagles couldn’t have saved the record industry from itself, and really should ultimately be judged on the music they made. I can’t speak to that last reunion studio album because I never bought it. I don’t shop at Wal-Mart. But I’ll defend any of their albums through Hotel California – particularly the four that preceded that one – as among the best in rock history. You’re free to disagree, and you’re entitled to your opinion. And trading those opinions on a daily basis is the thing I miss most about working in a record store. But thanks to this group on Facebook, I get to experience some of that again. At least Facebook is good for something, and at least I found that out before I abandoned it completely.

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     The Ohio professional football teams are on a bye week this week, and we’ve been saddled with a couple of horrible regional games that you couldn’t pay me to watch on this last Sunday of September. The baseball regular season ends today and since Derek Jeter has had his magic moment and my Indians were officially eliminated from contention last night, I think I’ll go have some lunch, and then maybe listen to an Eagles album. And there’s a new Record Collector that came in the mail yesterday with a feature on Pink Floyd. The rest of you can post amongst yourselves.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

THERE IS ALWAYS MUSIC


     For whatever else is going on in my life and around the world lately that isn’t good, the music, at least, has been very satisfying. I was channel surfing the other afternoon after a miserable morning at work and happened to catch on the Palladia music channel a documentary about The Breeze: An Appreciation of J.J. Cale, the tribute album by Eric Clapton and friends for the late J.J. Cale who passed away in 2013. When the album was released at the end of July, the reviews I saw were of the lukewarm variety – as are most reviews of anything these days by Eric Clapton. So, I passed thinking the Cale recordings already in my collection would suffice. But the documentary was excellent, and after hearing some of the songs from the album by the likes of Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, and even John Mayer of whom I’m not a fan, I decided the reviewers were wrong, and I bought the album the next day. Not only is the entire thing worthy of its subject, I think it’s probably the best Eric Clapton record since the record he cut with J.J. Cale in 2006, The Road To Escondido. But it’s not about Clapton. It’s about the songwriting and the stylings of the late J.J. Cale. There’s much to enjoy and appreciate in his work, and this tribute is a fine reminder of the legacy Cale left behind. There’s also a wonderful booklet with countless photographs of Cale, and detailed recording information. If you love Cale’s work, or Clapton’s, or the work of any of the artists here, you should add this to your collection. It’s a perfect record for when the late summer days turn quietly to autumn. Put it on and go to a window or out on your porch and watch the leaves fall. It must be the breeze.

     I saw an article from some online source I can’t recall at the moment with a list of 10 records you must own on vinyl before you die. I had five of them on vinyl, and four others on CD (to hell with formats – if it’s a great record, it’s a great record). But there was one title with which I was unfamiliar, and when it comes to music, my curiosity is boundless. Off I went in search of a reggae album by The Congos titled Heart of the Congos from 1977. It turned out the record’s reputation in reggae circles was the stuff of legend. And as luck would have it, there was a reissue on the VP label that was within my price range. I love reggae, and I’m still scratching my head wondering how I missed this one all these years. Better late than never. It’s a fantastic album from start to finish. The Congos are Roy Johnson and Cedric Myton. Their voices blend beautifully together and with a mix from Lee “Scratch” Perry, and help from the likes of Ernest Ranglin on guitar, Sly Dunbar on drums among others, and backing vocals from luminaries like The Heptones, and Gregory Isaacs, it’s no wonder the Rough Guide To Reggae listed it as one of the genre’s 100 Essential Recordings. It’s got all the elements great reggae recordings always have, but what it has in extra doses is a sense of the spiritual that runs through it, and makes it one of those records you bond with the first time you hear it.

     A review in a recent issue of Record Collector tipped me off to a new box set from Virgin Front Line, Sounds of Reality, a 5 CD set collecting the cream of the best reggae on Virgin’s Front Line imprint. The first three discs in the box reproduce a trio of budget line compilations the label issued at rock bottom prices in the late 70’s and early 80’s along with bonus tracks on each. There’s another CD of “disco” mixes, (but not “disco” like you’d have heard at Studio 54 back in the day, but reggae remixes), and a fifth disc of rarities. The artists were nearly all names I recognized, and I even owned some singles and albums by these artists. But the contents of this box were all new to me, and as I’d been looking for another quality reggae box to expand my collection of reggae music, this one was the perfect fit. The packaging is outstanding as well. The CD’s come in slip covers resembling the original LP’s, and the booklet provides a detailed history of the period, and the artists you’re hearing. I’ve been boycotting Amazon in the U.S. since March of this year because of their shipping policies. But the UK division is far more efficient – and cheaper, too. U.S. Amazon was selling the box as an import for 92 dollars. The UK import ordered from Amazon in the UK, and shipped to the U.S. direct was 46 dollars – 50% off the U.S. import price. It pays to shop around. It also pays to boycott vendors who don’t treat you well. Since my Amazon U.S. boycott began, I’ve found countless other places to shop for music and DVD’s that have provided better service, and better prices in nearly every instance.

     I went to Collector’s Choice for the Live At The Rainbow ’74 double CD by Queen when not a single retailer I could find in my city had the album in store to buy. I was very excited when I heard this was coming out. Queen is a band I’ve always liked, but I’m not a hardcore fan of the group. I loved the albums through Day At The Races, and the odd single after that. But, except for a nice collection of early BBC recordings issued in ’89, I believe, I never felt the group’s live albums had done them justice – until now. Even though these concerts happened just before Queen had their greatest success, they are a clear signpost of a band whose success was inevitable. Queen live, from the evidence presented here, was a juggernaut. Brian May, in particular, is just amazing here, but the entire band is the very definition of what great live rock music should always be. I love archive projects like this one when somebody (in this case the band members themselves) uncovers something in the vaults that truly should’ve been issued back in the day. They don’t make live rock records like this anymore. It’s an essential addition to the Queen discography, and one of the year’s nicest surprises.

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     I continue to look for ways to challenge myself when it comes to listening to older, familiar music in new ways that make it fresh and exciting again. So I’ve spent a good deal of time with my iTunes program creating new files of music to listen to during my work shifts. Over the past few months I’ve developed several that I think are quite interesting and rewarding. I’d accumulated so much soul music recently with the addition of several titles in the Backbeats UK series that I hit upon the idea of separating the music into three separate files by geography. I built Detroit, Philadelphia, and Chicago soul files using the material from those CD’s along with existing material I already had. I added a couple of Rolling Stones files focusing on specific two-year periods in the band’s career. Rolling Stones ’65-’66 collects the work the band did in those two very important years with all the odd singles and ‘b’ sides collected with both the UK and US editions of albums like Out of Our Heads, December’s Children, Aftermath, Flowers, and Between The Buttons – all recorded during that stretch. That was the period during which the band grew from an R&B cover group to an accomplished rock & roll band with an ear for pop as well. Brian Jones certainly made some extraordinary contributions on these records, and heard together, it’s an impressive progression.
     I also did a Stones ’71-’72 file which begins with Sticky Fingers, followed by Jamming With Edward, a jam album Mick, Charlie and Bill cut with Ry Cooder, and Nicky Hopkins. That dovetails into the extra tracks from the Exile On Main St. expanded edition issued a couple of years ago, finishing with the ‘Exile’ album itself. Jamming With Edward, while not strictly a Rolling Stones album, is the bridge between Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St., and listened to in this context makes sense of how the band developed during that time.
     In addition to these, I now have a Power Pop file that includes everything from Shoes to The Raspberries to Cheap Trick to The Searchers, The Records, The Posies, R.E.M., The Beatles, The Byrds and anyone else you can think of whose music fits that description and features great harmonies and some prominent jangle in the "string section".  The Paisley Underground file that I mentioned in a previous post is nearly complete, and, if I say so myself, nicely compiled. Letter From Britain (named for Simon Frith’s column in the late, lamented Creem magazine) collects the best British music from the pub rock/punk era of late seventies Britain – think Dr. Feelgood, Graham Parker, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Dave Edmunds, Dire Straits, The Jam, etc. And Blue Collar is an umbrella file for the likes of Springsteen, Southside Johnny, John Hiatt, John Mellencamp, Little Steven, The Romantics, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Del Shannon, Billy Joel, Tom Waits and others. I was looking to meld the Midwest working class with the NY bohemian crowd because there are a lot of connections between the two. That might sound strange, but it’s there, believe me, and it’s a heady mix of great stuff that really sounds great together. As I said, I’m always looking for new ways to experience music with which I’m already familiar, and finding new surroundings for it makes all the difference. It’s like changing your living room furniture around, and applying a fresh coat of paint to the walls. It makes everything new again. In this case, it restores context to this music for me. These were connections I made when I was discovering this music, but those connections were lost in time as artists changed and grew, and my listening habits evolved.

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     In closing, I wanted to mention a couple of things I read in a couple of the essays in Ralph Gleason’s book Celebrating The Duke…and Other Heroes. In a piece on Miles Davis, Gleason recalls a conversation he had with the trumpeter in the early 70’s about the electric music he was then playing. Gleason said to Miles that the music was so complex that he needed five tenor players to be able to play it properly. Miles shot Gleason a look, and snapped, “I had five tenor players once.” Of course he was talking about the late John Coltrane. It was as if Miles was acknowledging just a few years after Trane passed away that the music goes forward, and some players simply are irreplaceable. Miles was roundly criticized in jazz circles for the rest of his career for continuing to move his music forward instead of back. If you played with the musicians Miles played with who then moved on to their own bands and careers, what else could he have done?

     In a piece titled The Death of Albert Ayler, Gleason makes the point that when Ayler passed in 1971 neither the NY Times nor Gleason’s hometown newspaper The San Francisco Chronicle mentioned it. Ayler’s body was found a few days after he was reported missing floating in the Hudson River. The papers reported on his funeral which came two weeks later, but Gleason’s point was that Ayler was largely ignored in his lifetime because his music was challenging, and progressive, and not understood or patronized by a large audience. He goes on to say that free jazz pioneered by the likes of Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane among others changed music forever because it challenged the very notion that there was a “right” way and a “wrong” way to play music. Where art is concerned, he wrote, “absolutes of right and wrong do not hold…and not as much as we thought they did in other areas either. It [free jazz] did not then and it does not now make older styles and forms of jazz any less important or less creative than the existence of Jimi Hendrix was a denial of Bessie Smith.”
     Gleason goes on to write eloquently about what art truly is about and how important, but underappreciated Ayler’s work was in his lifetime. “…the music of the Aylers, the Shepps, and the Taylors is music of beauty. That we may not at some point in our lives be open enough to see and to hear that it is, indeed, beautiful, is our loss.”
     The entire piece speaks what I have always felt about music, and its place in our world. The purpose of music, I believe, is to open our minds to truth, beauty, and possibility. If you are searching for meaning and purpose in this world, maybe it’s not a bad idea to put down your newspaper, power down your computer, and put a record on the turntable. If nothing else, it might restore a sense of balance to a world that seems about to spin off its axis.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

THE FREE THINKER NO. 17


     The last piece I wrote for these pages some weeks ago reflected a weariness, and sense of resignation I’ve been feeling this entire summer. I posted it, and a few days later removed it along with 46 more pieces I’d written that were no longer relevant or that never found an audience in sufficient numbers. I’ve had countless ideas this entire summer for good short fiction, and several music pieces as well, but none of them got written because the past three months – a good 75% of the season – were lost in the heat and humidity, and the spirit killing atmosphere of my job. I need energy to be able to write. I need uninterrupted time so that I can focus on what I want to write about. But when my job becomes so oppressive that the eight hours I spend doing it five days a week overwhelms the rest of my life, writing goes out the window replaced by hours spent vegetating in front of a computer or TV screen. I didn’t finish a single book for nearly three months because when I get home from work I’m too exhausted to read most days. I’d liken it to the sex life of a married couple that diminishes to fading memory once the business of raising children on a daily basis takes over. At least there’s not that to deal with, too. But my job saps every remaining bit of energy and spirit from me, and has been doing that with extreme prejudice since May.
     I returned from a week’s vacation in May to a ridiculous stretch in my work schedule that rendered the rest I got from vacation completely moot. Working in a retail environment during the summer “back to school” season is a hell unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. Coping with the Christmas season is far easier because the Christmas season is properly staffed. The summer season is not. The air conditioning in the part of the building in which I work doing back breaking labor has not been functioning since May, and there is no one at a management level at my store or at the corporate level that seems to care. Nearly the entire staff in my work area – supervisors included – has turned over in the past eight weeks, and we were given a workload that far exceeded what even a staff triple the size of our current staff could’ve handled. It’s been the most miserable experience of my nearly forty years in retail, and while the workload has, for the moment, leveled off, it will begin ramping up again in just a couple of weeks when Halloween and Christmas product starts to arrive for fall. Unless you’ve done it, you can’t begin to comprehend what it’s like to drag yourself out of bed every morning at 3 a.m. to go to a job where the environment in which you work is not safe, the management does not care about anything but their paychecks, and 80% of the people with whom you work are the dictionary definition of lazy and stupid. No one can make a decision, or think outside the box. No one can solve a problem. All I can do each day is try to satisfy my own work ethic – which is light years beyond that of nearly everyone else in that building – and drag myself home to try and get enough rest to get up and do it all over again the next day. I can’t find another job that would pay me sufficiently, nor can I afford to be without a job. I’m trapped like a rat in a maze, and when the job is like this, the quality of my life overall is poor.
     But I have two days in a row off, and an extra day off next week, and I thought I’d try and write something just to see if I still could write. I’ve bought some music lately, and a couple of books that are worth sharing, I think. They’re the things that have sustained me all summer. And the heat and humidity we’ve been feeling the past couple of weeks has subsided today, at least.

     One of the decisions I made in an effort to steal more quality time when I’m not at work just to maintain my sanity was to abandon my Facebook page. I spent five years trying to navigate what is laughingly referred to as “social media” only to discover that I wasn’t particularly interested in socializing. I also came to the realization that nobody using social media is actually there to socialize. Social media has been co-opted by everyone as a platform for proselytizing, and promoting their own agenda – be it advertising their business, or shoving their political agenda down your throat, peddling charitable causes or getting you to accept whatever god they worship. And don’t even get me started on the constant deification of all things military or the plethora of cat videos, pictures of food, and folksy sayings and self-help placards that nearly always feature misspelled or misused words. I was guilty of it, too – trying to share music with people who had no interest in listening to it, or talking about books no one was ever going to read. As small as my audience is here, I can reach more people by blogging. 

     I think Facebook is a great invention that is being almost universally misused, and ultimately wasted by a populace too stupid to realize its potential for real communication. What I liked about it was that it was good for keeping up with things going on in the world that I’m actually interested in. I could, through the Facebook practice of “liking” various things, wind up with a newsfeed that was actually relevant to my life, and worth whatever time I spent with it. So I created a new page under another name – one in which I do not accept “friends” but merely design my own news feed based on my own interests. I also joined several groups specific to those interests and that affords me an opportunity to exchange information and ideas with like-minded people – or, more accurately – people with whom I share the same interests. I don’t do a lot of posts on my own page, but what I do post is public, and people can “follow” me if they’re at all interested in the things in which I’m interested. Most of my friends didn’t seem to be, but I’m sure there are strangers out there who are, and perhaps they’ll find me through some of the groups I’ve joined. What it really does is allow me to decide how social I want to be while maintaining my privacy. And the time I spend on Facebook now has dropped by about 50%. So I have more time for other things. I only wish I’d gotten to this much sooner. Five years was a long time to figure it all out. But now that I’ve figured out how to use social media so that it benefits me without robbing me of too much time, I can move on to other things. I had already solved the technology issue. I said “no” to the cell phone revolution. I have a cell phone in my car for emergencies. I don’t text. I don’t watch movies on it or take photographs. It’s essentially a car phone. And the iPod replaced the transistor radio for me. Gaining control over, and learning to use modern technology to benefit instead of overwhelm your life is a key component of maintaining quality of life in the 21st century – only most people haven’t even begun to figure it all out. I have. So for once, I’m ahead of the curve.

     When I was at the dentist a couple of weeks ago to get yet another in a series of crowns, I stopped by the bookstore nearby for the first time in months, and I actually discovered two books I’d not seen that I wanted to read. The first, There Goes Gravity by rock writer Lisa Robinson became the first book I finished all summer when I read it in just five days. It’s the memoir of her life as a rock writer spanning more than four decades, a book I’d been anticipating for years. Robinson has a way of telling amazing stories without the sense of awe that often gets in the way of such entertainment memoirs. Her memory, thanks to her habit of documenting every encounter, and saving notes and photographs along with a diary, provides a solid foundation for some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll tales in the history of music journalism. Robinson is clear-eyed about all of it, and there’s no revisionist history here either. Everything is told to the reader, and contextualized forty years after for what it brought to her life, and to pop culture. Robinson was no wide-eyed fan, but a professional journalist doing a job that just happened to cross lines with her great passion in life – music. That passion infuses every sentence and every story of this wonderful memoir. I was choking back tears in the final chapter as she put 40 years of music into perspective. The memories came rushing back in a flood for me because I lived those same years depending on Lisa Robinson to live the life I couldn’t live, and to report back to me on what it was like backstage, and who these people were, these musicians who changed my life forever, and for the better. I love and treasure this book, and I don’t doubt for a moment that I’ll reread it again someday. The community of rock journalists from that period – and there weren’t that many of them – were idols and teachers to me, but there was no one I loved and trusted more than Lisa Robinson. She was both a teacher, and the cool big sister I never had. There Goes Gravity is my favorite book of 2014.
     The other book I found is by Bill Janovitz. Titled Rocks Off – 50 Tracks That Tell The Story of The Rolling Stones, it does just that – recounts the band’s history through the prism of 50 songs that, if you know how they came to be created, and why, become biography and music history lesson rolled into one. Janovitz retells the band’s story focusing on the reason for their fame and fortune – those incredible records. When I picked up the book to page through it, the litmus test as to whether I would buy it was whether or not Janovitz picked the right songs. After all, I’m not some neophyte Stones fan. I know the band’s history well enough by now to write it myself, and I know the music even better because I still listen to it all the time. I looked at the 50 tracks, and closed the book and reached for my wallet because he got it right. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have chosen the same 50 tracks. It’s full of insight and behind the scenes stories of how these amazing songs came to life. It’s an essential piece of not only your Rolling Stones bookshelf, but your music bookshelf as well.

     On the flip side, I hadn’t been buying a lot of music in 2014 because there was little that caught my eye. And, in fact, I still don’t have a lot of new releases to talk about in 2014. There have been a few this summer, but because there weren’t a lot of them, I had money left to explore some different genres and get a bit deeper into some genres or movements I’d not been able to explore properly the first time around. I used my desire to build excellent files for my iPod listening at work as a guide. If you read the piece I posted earlier this year, Right Between The Ears, you’ll know what I mean.
     Buying vinyl has been severely curtailed this year because of the increasing expense of buying new records. Prices are now bordering on the ridiculous in many instances. The used record business where I live is in an awful state – overpriced records in marginal condition when you can even find something you want to buy. That market has dried up around here. But CD’s are being rapidly devalued thanks to the vinyl resurgence, and the inexplicable (to me anyway) popularity of streaming services. So CD’s – great ones – can often be found for between 3 and 5 dollars, and that’s where I’ve been spending most of my music dollars, anticipating that CD’s won’t be available forever, and if I want them for my collection, now is the time to buy them.
     I was focused on building a “lite” jazz file that reflected the records I was hearing in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when I first began learning about jazz. And while it’s true that “lite” jazz morphed into the dreaded “smooth” jazz in the late 80’s and 90’s, the period between 1976 and 1985 yielded some nice records that bridged the gulf that has often existed between jazz and pop. I went used CD shopping online and found collections by Bob James, Tom Scott, George Benson, and Spyro Gyra, along with some early gems from Ronnie Laws (Pressure Sensitive), David Sanborn (Hideaway), and Lee Ritenour (Captain Fingers). I wound up with an excellent “lite” jazz file for my iPod that includes these artists and many others from the same period (John Klemmer, The Crusaders, Jeff Lorber, Joe Farrell, Grover Washington, Jr., and the CTI label catalog to name but a few).
     I filled some catalog gaps in my collection, too by picking up a couple of John Cale CD’s I didn’t have, Walking On Locusts, and Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood from 2013. Both are excellent. I added a Todd Rundgren album I’d never seen called One Long Year that also turned out to be worth owning. And I got Mazzy Star’s debut, She Hangs Brightly to augment my mushrooming Paisley Underground file. The Dream Syndicate, The Beatles, if you will, of the Paisley Underground movement, had issued a couple of live albums, one of which I missed completely when it was first issued. The Complete Live at Raji’s is a two CD set of an incredible show originally recorded in 1988, and released in 1989, and reissued in 2004 (the year I left the music business) in this expanded edition. The other live album was issued a few months ago. The Day Before Wine and Roses takes us back to the show the band played to launch their first LP in 1982, The Days of Wine and Roses. It’s a great show with lots of cool cover tunes, and a real sense of history about it. 

     My passion for Weather Report has continued unabated, and led to the purchase not only of their debut self-titled album which I never owned, but also to their second studio album I Sing The Body Electric, and to the Live In Tokyo album sandwiched in between them, but originally issued only in Japan. It was reissued a couple of months ago on CD here in the U.S. for the first time ever by Wounded Bird. All three albums are essential components of one of the greatest catalogs in all of jazz. There’s also a documentary in the works about the band that will be a must see, I’m sure. And I even bought another live Weather Report set Live In Cologne 1983, which documents the band I saw in concert several months earlier here in the U.S. It’s superb as well.
     In the middle of all this retro listening came the excellent new Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album, Hypnotic Eye. Alive issued the new Radio Moscow record, Magical Dirt – which is on a par with the rest of their fine catalog, while Norton Records hit with new titles from The A-Bones (Ears Wide Shut), Daddy Long Legs (Blood From A Stone), and the fourth volume in their Kim Fowley production series, Technicolor Grease. But the real story from Norton was the release of the first LP by co-founder, and Norton co-owner Miriam Linna. Miriam’s Nobody’s Baby is in the discussion, and on the short list for Record of The Year – not only for me, but from several music media outlets as well. It’s a throwback to the girl group era, but collects a bunch of cover songs that don’t seem to belong together (along with one original), and somehow manages to become this magical listening experience. It’s a sort of concept record about heartbreak, and if you miss it, you’ve missed one of the most unique listening experiences of this or any year. Imagine putting cover songs by Neil Young, The Ramones, Gene Clark, and Reparata & The Delrons (among others) onto the same record and making it sound like they should have always been on the same record to begin with. When it comes to picking material, Miriam might have the best ears in the business.
     Some other notable vinyl reissues came from Prestige in the form of Etta Jones masterpiece Don’t Go To Strangers, and a pair of reissues from Ska masters Two Tone, The Best of Two Tone Records, a double set of classics from the era’s golden age in England, and The Specials Live at The Moonlight Club, a live set from the movement’s greatest practitioners.
     Meanwhile, this just in from the 60’s, Big Beat has reissued The Seeds Raw & Alive as a two CD set featuring the original album as recorded (minus audience overdubs), the original as released (with the overdubs) and a completely unreleased show from the same period packaged in a gatefold digipak with a stunning booklet. The band is in great form, and if you’re a fan, it’s a must. Capitol has paired what are widely considered to be the two best Hank Thompson titles on to one CD, Songs For Rounders/At The Golden Nugget - honky tonk country music as it was meant to be. If you’re in the mood to listen to James Brown in the wake of the new biopic in theatres that’s getting rave reviews, you could do a lot worse than picking up Polydor’s 5 CD budget priced box set featuring, Live At The Apollo, 70’s Funk Classics, Sex Machine, Revolution of The Mind, and In The Jungle Groove.
     I’ve been revisiting some late 70’s, early 80’s power pop as well in the wake of the release of the new Paul Collins record on Alive, Feel The Noise, which sounds as if the past 30 years never happened, and I picked up a collection I’d missed by one of the best power pop bands of all-time, Shoes. 35 Years: The Definitive Collection 1977-2012 is a great way to catch up with a band that never stopped making terrific records.
     Wounded Bird finally righted a wrong and issued the legendary Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972 on CD. Some of us have been waiting for that for three decades. The two CD set features Muddy, Wolf, Freddie, Sun Ra, Hound Dog Taylor, Bobby Bland, Dr. John, Otis Rush, Bonnie Raitt with Sippie Wallace, Junior Walker, Koko Taylor and more. And it’s every bit as great as I imagined it would be. Thanks to Wounded Bird for resurrecting it before I was six feet under.
     I have mentioned in these pages many times that there are artists whose back catalogs I continue to mine for hidden treasure (Todd Rundgren, Weather Report, and John Cale to name but three). Another is XTC. I found a website that had 7 XTC titles I did not own - dirt cheap - to go with the one I found at a used bookstore here. The eight titles doubles my collection of XTC albums, and all are worth your time. The eight are Rag & Bone Buffet, Nonsuch, BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert, The Big Express, Homespun, Homegrown, Apple Venus and Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2). All that for a pair of Jacksons.
     Just today I picked up cheap CD copies of records I’d worn out on vinyl, Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and my two all-time favorite Wynton Marsalis albums, Black Codes From The Underground, and J Mood. And that’s all the money I’m spending for awhile because I have to start saving for Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Complete Basement Tapes.
     And I should mention that Suzy from Bomp sent me an advance of the new CD by a new band signed to Alive calling themselves Handsome Jack. Do What Comes Naturally will be out in September, I believe. Suzy wrote me that she thought it was the best record the label has ever done. I’m not sure about that given the label’s excellent history, but I don’t know that I’d argue the point either. It’s excellent. Keep an eye and ear open for it.
    
     I could’ve done without the horror story my job has become this summer. At least something good came from some of the money I earned doing it.

     In closing, let me say that not a single day has passed in the last three weeks that I’ve not thought of the late Robin Williams. I’m sorry he felt compelled to leave us, but I don’t condemn him for the decision he made (as many have). He left behind an incredible body of work, and his generosity in sharing his talent with us for so long enriched our lives in ways we could never have repaid. I’d liked to have had the opportunity to tell him thanks in person, but I hope that since I never got the chance, he’ll hear me laughing from wherever he is every time I watch him. I hope that might, at least, make him smile.