Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bowie bio Starman Chapters 6 through 9

In Chapter 7 we learn Bowie's "All the Madmen" was inspired by his troubled half brother Terry who was institutionalized at Cane Hill, the same asylum that housed Charlie Chaplin's mother

Bowie marries outspoken American Angie and shocks bandmate John Cambridge by dancing with a bloke at the reception.

In Chapter 8 Bowie becomes obsessed with Iggy and the Stooges and a single called "Paralyzed" by outsider artist the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. He writes the Ziggy Stardust album.

In the next chapter 1972 sees Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album launching him to super-stardom. He offers to produce both the Stooges and Lou Reed.

He gives Mott the Hoople what may have been his best song of the entire era: "All the Young Dudes".

The bio gets bogged down by Bowie's business relationships and the comings and goings of band members. Important for a bio. Not as much for the music fan.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bowie Bio: Starman Chapters 3, 4 and 5

In Chapter 3 of Paul Trynka's Bowie bio Starman, we learn David will do anything and everything to market himself...even pretend to form a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long Haired Men.

In Chapter 4 Bowie goes through bands almost as quickly as lovers. He enters his Anthony Newley phase from 66-67, the Deram sessions, and records "The Laughing Gnome","Love You Till Tuesday" and "I Dig Everything", which sounds like an outtake from the Austin Powers soundtrack. His career stalls.

In Chapter 5, Bowie has almost given up on music. He tries theatre, dance and mime. He shoots some campy promo films including this one called "The Mask".

Among the songs recorded for the promo film: a rough, early version of "Space Oddity".

It occurs to me that in the next generation of e-books, bios like this one will have such youtube videos embedded in them. Am I ruining the book for you or making it more appetizing? Let me know.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bowie Bio: Starman Chapters 1 and 2

Finished the first two chapters of Paul Trynka's David Bowie bio Starman. Doesn't appear the author has any direct interviews with Bowie which is a shame. He uses this quote from Bowie's 2006 Nokia Recommenders "Sounds of My Universe" about the standout from a bagful of singles his dad brought home when Bowie was 8 years old:
Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti":
My heart nearly burst with excitement. I'd never heard anything even resembling this. It filled the room with energy and color and outrageous defiance. I heard God.

In Chapter Two we read about his association with agent Les Conn ("Conn's the name and con's the game") who signed up the 17 year old and his band ,The King Bees. Through Conn Bowie met Marc Bolan in 1964 (!) The King Bees reworked this "traditional folk song" --made famous by Huey Smith and his Clowns. The single made no impact on the charts despite the band's appearance on Ready Steady Go!

Look closely at the the writing credit. Conn's the name. More to come!

Paul Trynka's Bowie Bio: "Starman"

Paul Trynka's Bowie biography Starman opens by describing this performance on Top of The Pops:

The fifteen-million-strong audience struggles to absorb this exotic, pansexual creature; in countless households, the kids are entranced in their thousands as parents sneer, shout, or walk out of the room...for scattered isolated kids around the UK, and soon on the American East Coast, and then on the West Coast, this was their day. The day of the outsider.

Trynka also notes the chorus of Starman borrows more than a few notes from "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".
All to say I've started reading Starman. I'll let you know whether it's worth a go ( at 500 pages no less!) every so often.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

#38 The Dramatics - Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, 1971

It's true. I lent The Dramatics every formal prom tuxedo I ever rented for their Soul Train appearance. OK. Maybe it's not true.
In the early-70's the R&B world seemed tickled by the sounds of the Caribbean. The promises of good times in the sunshine proved irrestible to AM radio.
The Bahamian pop band Beginning of the End gave us the #15 hit "Funky Nassau" in 1971. Johnny Nash took "I Can See Clearly Now" to #1 in 1972 and introduced a lot of people to the reggae music of Bob Marley with his #12 hit cover of "Stir It Up".
In 1971, after nearly ten years without a hit, the long suffering Detroit vocal group, The Dramatics, combined that sunshine vibe with some fuzztone guitar and a killer horn section for song #38 of 1001.
"Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B charts. The band would hit even bigger in 1972 with their dramatic single "In The Rain", which topped the R&B charts for four weeks and hit #5 in the pop charts. Personnel changes and legal quarrels soon followed but for one glorious year The Dramatics ruled the R&B roost.

By the way, I am a contributing blogger to Star Maker Machine. This week's topic: Drums. Thought you'd might like to see what I picked.

Monday, July 18, 2011

This is Captain America Calling...

On a busy movie set there are a million distractions for actors preparing for a scene. How do you get in the right mood with all of that yelling, hammering, clanging and more yelling? Many actors use music. They'll plug in their earphones, close their eyes and press play.
1001Songs asked the stars of Captain America ( out Friday) what kind of music they listened to between takes on the set.

Hayley Atwell "You've Got The Love" by Florence and the Machine

I do use music if I need to be in a certain mood and I'm not really in it.
Music is so great at being able to lift your spirits or just take you to a place in your imagination.
That summer I was listening to a lot of Florence from Florence and the Machine
because she's a very amazing artist with an incredible voice so, yeah, she was around the Captain America set quite a bit.

Chris Evans "Goin' to Acapulco" by Jim James and Calexico

"Goin' to Acapulco" I'm Not There. Is that the Bob Dylan movie? With Cate Blanchett! They have a great song. There's a scene in the film (Captain America) where I have to be a little emotional. I don't want to give away what the scene is. but I did listen to that song on repeat. It just kinda gets me brewing.

Sebastian Stan- "Lateralus" by Tool

(Sebastian said he listened to a lot of WW2 era music for research).
You wanted to know what kind of music they listened to, and what kinds of movies they watched because they probably emulated a lot of that so I did look back at jazz in the 40's.
   But  then sometimes you listen to certain songs to get you prepared for an action scene. Like anything from Eminem to Tool.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

#37 Amy Rigby - Don't Break The Heart, 1996

Amy Rigby Don't Break the Heart by 1001songs

For her 1996 debut album Diary of a Mod Housewife, Amy Rigby said she wanted to take on "the netherworld between Bohemia and suburbia, between set lists and shopping lists." The Dean of Rock Critics, Robert Christgau,  gave the record an A rating and called it the "concept album of the year". Diary is full of honest, sometimes funny scenes from a marriage on the rocks.(To former dB's drummer Will Rigby who plays on a few cuts)
Amy told a reporter she was inspired by a line Chrissie Hynde wrote in "Middle of the Road": I've got a kid/ I'm 33.
    "It injected a little reality into this rocking little song." Amy said. "I liked the idea of trying to say something a little more complex in the framework of what is basically an entertaining rock song."
Anyone who owns this album has a different favorite song. That's probably why you should buy it ( for only $2.98 on Amazon right now).
     Remembering my own heartsick history in the mid-90's, I pick "Don't Break The Heart": Don't make the fatal error of thinking you'll find someone better/ 'Cuz you won't. Doesn't that just say everything you want to say in a break-up song?

   Amy has bounced back by the way. She's now married to Wreckless Eric. The live in France and record together. For more info on Amy click here.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

#36 The Equals "Baby Come Back" 1966

Written by Eddy "Electric Avenue" Grant and recorded with his band The Equals in 1966, "Baby Come Back" did make a come back two years after originally failing to hit the charts. The song became the #1 pop hit in the UK on May 1st 1968 and eventually sold more than a million copies.
But "Baby Come Back" barely broke into the US Top 40.

The Equals were one of the first racially integrated bands of the 60's prompting Eddy Grant to tell Trouser Press Magazine in 1983 that had they hit it bigger stateside there never would have been any need for bands like Sly and the Family Stone.
The Equals never made a big deal of their racial composition. That and their reggae/rock vibe is said to be one of the biggest influences on the whole Two Tone ska movement.
Me, I just dig the beat. Even white people can almost dance to it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rock Star to Fan: "What do you want to play?"

Bono brings a blind man onstage to perform "All I Want Is You" with U2.
U2's website has much better video

A few months earlier Paul Simon invited a woman from the audience to perform "Duncan".

Brandi Carlile sings with youngest member of Easy Street Record store audience in 2005.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Miller Time!

If you ever run into one of the Del Fuegos or Long Ryders in a bar, don't even joke about offering to buy them a Miller Beer. These ads screamed "Sell Out!" back in the mid-80's and neither band survived the backlash.

The Ryders's Sid Griffin told journalist Diane Roka in her oral history of the L-A Paisley Underground scene "People felt, when all is said and done, that, how can this band, the Long Ryders, be these hip, cutting edge guys, rebellious, and have songs that are anti-war and questioning this and that and sign up to a big American corporation? And that's a really good question to ask. And the answer is: we needed the money."

The criticism is probably unfair when you consider the bands who sang about Coke in the 60's: The Who, The Moody Blues, The Box Tops and The Bee Gees ("Sittin in the Meadow/Frolic in the grass..) (mp3)

Even for the 80's--a decade not averse to the money grab by the way-- these ads could have been more subtle. Fewer Miller Beer images, maybe less ironic talk about "integrity" and , for God's sake, let the bands play one of their own tunes.

I'll give the last word on the subject to The Young Fresh Fellows.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Interview ( and jam) with Steve Miller

Steve Miller, wearing a blue blazer with jeans, looks a lot like Bill Murray these days. Rumpled. Cool. Mellow. That good time vibe you hear in all those songs? That's the vibe you get from Steve.
    1001Songs met him disembarking from his yacht, the ABRACADABRA, on a pier leading to his estate on one of the San Juan Islands.

   Steve showed me around the yacht. He and some friends has gone out into deeper waters the night before to jam. As I was about to learn, Steve Miller --the man who provided the soundtrack to my 70's--will jam with just about anyone.
  But first, we broke the ice by talking about how he wound up in the San Juans shortly after "Abracadabra" hit #1.

I took a break from 82 to 88 and went boating .That's exactly what brought me here. The idea that you could get on a boat and go to Alaska. Wow! So I started doing it and I never stopped.

To meet Steve Miller is to shake hands with the history of rock and roll. Steve learned his first guitar chords from the inventor of the electric guitar: Les Paul, a family friend.

I got the whole future of how music was going to be produced from the guy who invented the tools and it was an absolutely amazing thing.

Steve's father--a doctor--was an amateur recording engineer. All kinds of musical guests came by the house.
Among them, blues legend T Bone Walker.

When I was 9 he taught me how to play lead guitar behind my back and do the splits. So  I was surrounded by talented people as a young kid.

The blues have always been a  part of the Steve Miller sound. He moved to Chicago and jammed with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Then in the late 60's, he left for San Francisco where he hooked up with his old high school buddy Boz Scaggs and formed The Steve Miller Blues Band. Together they recorded a series of critically lauded acid blues albums.
  The 1969 lp Brave New World featured  "My Dark Hour", a song recorded with Paul McCartney during a break in The Beatles Let It Be sessions.

I thought "Boy, I've got a hit now"
We just put it out in the States and it was just like dropping something down the mail chute of the Empire State building. It just disappeared, you know.

When I pointed out that he resurrected the guitar licks for "Fly Like An Eagle" seven years late, he didn't seem too keen on that observation.
    But back to 1969: it was not his best year. Under pressure to create a hit song, Steve was on the verge of quitting the music business. He'd seen, first-hand, the toll the rock scene had taken on friends like Jimi Hendrix.

The last show I played with Jimi Hendrix he had a bunch of mafia guys around him when he arrived.

and  Jimi was so drugged out, he was full of heroin, full of speed, he just looked like he was going to die that day.

In 1972, Steve broke his neck in a car accident.

I fractured a vertebrae. I'm dealing with it right now. I got like three numb little fingers here and kind of a bad arm over here.

Steve spent the next year house-bound and living with his parents. He had a lot of time to himself and eventually wrote a three chord song looking back over his career. He called it "The Joker".

All of a sudden ...finally...last chance... got a big huge number one hit!

"The Joker" hit #2 in 1974. I got the feeling I wasn't the first person to ask him about the meaning of the mysterious "pompatus of love" lyrics.

"The Pompatus of Love" is just you know I can't tell you Man. If I told you I'd...I just can't do it.

Steve took three years to follow up The Joker with Fly Like an Eagle. Inspired by Pink Floyd, Steve and engineer Jim Gaines spent 14 to 20 hour days at Kaye Smith Studios in Seattle experimenting with synthesizers, vocal effects and transitions. His band had recorded enough songs for a double album but held tthe rest of the tunes for  for the 1977 lp, Book of Dreams . Both sold four million copies. The Steve Miller Band was one of the biggest rock n roll acts in the world.

In a very short amount of time we went from doing nothing to doing laser sculptures over football stadiums.

They played 200 cities a year. A grind that became unbearable.

We were so tired we couldn't see straight.

1982's "Abracadabra" would be Steve's last big hit. When synthesizers and hair bands took over radio, Steve Miller took off... for The San Juans.

But it hasn't been a quiet retirement. His classic rock albums still sell a million copies a year and thanks to advent of the "Classic Rock" radio format, Steve is in demand to play a bunch of "sheds"-- as he calls amphitheaters-- every year.

Steve Miller never has to pick up a guitar again but he loves playing so much he'll jam with almost anyone. Even me. He pointed to a guitar I could strap on and, I have to admit, I got so nervous I couldn't even tune the damn thing. So there stood Steve Miller tuning my guitar for me.

"OK you go ahead." He said. "Let me hear how you're going to play it."

"I was going to play it like this." I said. I had this blues riff in a minor key that I'd been fiddling with recently at home.

Steve probably thought that was a little strange but he starting solo-ing over the chords I played. He sounded great. Then he nodded at me to take a solo. I shook my head. He nodded again and I shook my head again.

Forget what you've heard about rock stars. Even those who've sold millions of records can still act as humble as they were at the beginning.
Steve sums it all up...laughing.

It's amazing how far you can go with three chords
E, A and D

Friday, July 1, 2011

#35 Ananda Shankar "Jumpin' Jack Flash" 1970

The idea of a sitar soaked cover of the Rolling Stones "Jumpin' Jack Flash" probably sounds like it would be, at best, a curiosity. Something the more cynical of us could have predicted after George Harrison's "Norwegian Wood" noodlings became the talk of Rubber Soul.
But then you listen to this and HOLY CRAP! the critics say.

Ananda Shankar--nephew of the more famous Ravi Shankar--visited San Francisco in 1968 and jammed with Jimi Hendrix. That eye--and ear--opening experience led to experimentations with more instruments: the moog synthesizer, guitar, bass and drums. For his self titled 1970 album--now a cult classic-- Ananda covered "Jumpin Jack Flash" as well as The Doors' "Light My Fire". The entire album is a great groovy mood enhancing gem.

Shankar returned to India in the mid-70's and recorded more classics as well as soundtracks. According to Alan James's liner notes for a much later album, Ananda used to say: "My dream is to break barriers, any kind of barrier - through music, love, affection and compassion. I have this dream of musicians from all over the world playing for an audience all over the world. When we are all here we are one, and when we go out I am sure we will all be one."