Category Archives: Music

Music Blog – Early ’70s Alt Country

Grievous Angel Panama Red Pieces of me

In the wake of the Hippies, Civil Rights, Acid Rock, Anti-War, Political Upheaval, and the Young adult years of Rock N Roll, a small offshoot of musicians held onto the simplicity of folk music and  re-introduced it to it’s country music offspring. This musical family reunion took place in southern California and brought with it many of the trappings of the rock n roll business there. This was the first flowering of what later became Alternative Country, but they called it Country Rock, when they bothered to give it a name.

Country music came from Nashville. Everybody knew that. It was the 11th commandment that nobody ever talked about because there was no controversy to it. Country music came from Nashville. But, out west, way west, I mean so far west that your cowboy hat would float, they were playing music with a twang. The Grateful Dead, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Townes Van Zandt, and The New Riders of the Purple Sage were all blazing a dusty trail that looked east but stayed in the California sun.

The Grateful Dead – In  most people’s mind, the picture the Dead as a bunch of drug addled, poorly bathed and groomed freaks who play music and are followed by a legion of devoted and equally poorly bathed and groomed freak fans. While that isn’t the whole picture, that is part of it. The Dead got together in the late ‘60s in San Francisco bonded by a common love for Folk Music. They developed a strong local following by giving free concerts in the parks and by being an founding part of the local music scene. They are well known for long shows (3-4 hours), constant touring, and for allowing their fans to record their concerts. As a result, there are thousands of “bootleg” Dead albums to listen to. While some songs are soundtracks for acid trips, they also have an impressive catalog of country, cowboy, and folk songs that the general public isn’t always aware of.

Townes Van Zandt – Over a 30 year career that influenced everyone from Gram Parsons and EmmyLou to Steve Earle and the Cowboy Junkies, he never had anything that resembled a hit. He toured dive bars and honky tonks most of his adult life when he wasn’t in the studio trying to turn his talent into success. Years of drug use, alcohol, and mental illness probably didn’t help his chances.

The New Riders of the Purple Sage – This band was originally formed by the Grateful Dead as a way for them to indulge their love of country and western music. Over time, it developed into it’s own band but never really developed much of a fan base past the Dead’s huge following. They released albums in between Dead albums and tours.

Emmylou Harris – It is awfully hard to listen to Emmylou without developing a deep, deep crush on her. Go ahead, listen to that voice a while. There, now you see what I mean. She sang on Gram Parson’s first two albums. This magic pairing was short lived as Parsons’ drug use caught up with him. She picked up and got a recording deal and the rest is history.

Gram Parsons – American music is filled with self-destructive artists, self-indulgent brats, and self-deluding fools. It is also full of flawed people who made beauty but died too young. Gram Parsons is a bit of all of these. Gram came from an affluent southern family that wasn’t always supportive of his love for music. He played throughout his teen years, but then went off to Harvard to study theology. That lasted all of a semester before he formed a band and took off. He found his way to California and soon became a part of the music scene there. He played briefly with the Byrds, formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, and did drugs with the Rolling Stones. He came into his own with two albums, G.P. and Grievous Angel. Then, he died of a drug overdose.

Monday – Grateful Dead “Friend of the Devil”, “Ripple”

Tuesday – Towns Van Zandt “Poncho & Lefty” , “If I Needed You”

Wednesday – The New Riders of the Purple Sage “Lonesome LA Cowboy”, “Panama Red”

Thursday – Emmylou Harris “If I Could Only Win Your Love”, “Luxury Liner”

Friday – Gram Parsons “She”, “Return of the Grievous Angel”

Bonus Tracks: Flying Burrito Brothers “Sin City”, New Riders of the Purple Sage “One Too Many Stories”

EmmyLou Harris “Jambalaya”

Music Blog – Uh, what the hell is that?

Uh, what the hell is that?

They Might Be Giants Flood Warren Zevon Excitable Boy

I’ve always had a soft spot for original bands. Bands that just don’t sound like other bands. When the whole musical world was doing a Zig, these guys were way past Zag – more like Omphlslatz with Horshradish. Whether or not these bands are actually original is up for interpretation. One can argue that all musicians simply build on what came before, combining and recombining what has already happened into something that feels new. While that may be true, these bands did it in such a way that they stood out from the crowd.

They Might Be Giants – I like to think of these guys as “if Devo were born  as Gen X instead of Boomers”. Two childhood friends meet  back up in New York and form a band, combining their extra years of formal education with a drum machine and vaudeville humor to form a band. Not exactly textbook a Rock n Roll biography. They eventually landed a minor record deal by creating a dial-a-song line using their own answering machine to get their music heard. To call them quirky is a massive understatement. Through the years they’ve sung about Racists, The Alphabet, and even Turkish geography. Loads of Fun.

Cake – If the previous band had grown up with more sunshine, more pot, and attended class less, they might have become Cake. Cake is a thinking stoner’s band, unpretentious, clever, note wildly ambitious but still delivering a solid music and lyric combination.  They can be a bit detached, ironic and melancholy, like much of the ‘90s was, but they still sound like they’ve got a little hope. Yeah, I realized that all is really contradictory, but I’m sticking to it.

The Violent Femmes – If the previous band…no, um, if the Beatles had..no…if Dylan had a major brain trauma while huffing the powder from Pixie sticks…no, not even that describes them correctly. How about slow, emotionally damaged but fairly literate punks transcribe their therapy sessions and put it to music? That’s all I got. You have to hear it to believe it. Actually I do have something to say. Back in my college fraternity days (don’t laugh, it happened) we would have “socials” with the sororities. They would come over to our house and we would have a big party. This was the early ‘80s, so Prince and Michael Jackson were the order of the day. If we were not having a good party, we would put in their first album and the girls would be gone in less than 15 minutes. Then we could call up people we knew and re-start the party. Such is the power of the Vilolent Femmes. While I have trouble listening to Prince or Michael Jackson now, this band is still on my playlists

Warren Zevon – From the banality that was southern California in the mid ’70, rose up so many strong singer songwriters. My favorite is Warren Zevon. You’ve heard “Werewolves of London” many times, but you probably haven’t heard the rest of his oddball writing, combined with rock solid musicianship. He bounced around from  Chicago to NY, to SoCal, to Spain, and back to SoCal while rubbing elbows with Igor Stravinsky, Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks,  and the Everly Brothers. Yeah, read that list again and try to put it all together. Cynical, with a bit of heart and a lemon twist.

Harry Nilsson – Not sure it’s fair to list this guy here. Afterall, he had one of the biggest hits of the ‘70s when he sang “Everybody’s Talkin” from Midnight Cowboy (oddly enough, he didn’t write that song). He worked nights at a bank in the early days of electronic funds transfers. He actually supervised the transferring of millions of dollars each week. During the day he would write songs and try to get a record deal. He was mentioned by the Beatles as one of their favorite artists, and interest exploded. He wrote “One” for Three Dog Night, “Cuddly Toy” for the Monkees,  as well as most of his own songs. He never performed a concert or toured. He was one part LA, one part Tin Pan Alley, and two parts bad timing. He hit it big as the stars of the ‘60’s all hit their drug/alchohol years, and he hung around all of them. But he did leave some wonderful tunes.

Monday – They Might Be Giants “The Sun is a Ball of Incandescent Gas”, and  “Istanbul (not Constantinople)

Tuesday – Cake – “Rock n Roll Lifestyle”, “Sheep Go to Heaven”

Wednesday – The Violent Femmes – “Blister in the Sun”, “Add it Up”

Thursday – Warren Zevon –  “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”, “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”

Friday – Harry Nilsson – “Jump Into the Fire”, “Me and My Arrow”, “Moonbeam”

Friday Bonus Material – “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” – Warren Zevon

“Short Skirt, Long Jacket” – Cake

“Nightmares” – Violent Femmes

Music Blog – Oddball British Bands

British Oddballs

 Nazareth hair of the dog Humble Pie Thin Lizzy

‘70s Rock really was a mix of American and English bands. Theses baby boomers, casting off the sad remainders of the ‘60s, embraced the emotion of blues, capitalized on the power of the amplifier, and turned it up so the crowds in the big stadiums could hear it. The big bands of the time came to define “Rock” in the day, and to a large extent set the mold that so many rock acts, particularly the hair bands, worked in and struggled with in the eras to come after. The seminal bands of this era are The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. They were huge, they were wildly influential, and I’m not going to talk about them.

I’m going to talk about some 2nd tier British band, because as we have seen before, I love the bands that were good, but not great. Theses bands were big enough to have hits, big hits in fact, but are ones who over time have been forgotten, overlooked, or just didn’t live long enough to have a ton of impact.

Nazareth was from Scotland, land of kilts, sheep, and cold weather. They had some early hits in England, but really came alive with the “Hair of the Dog” album. The cover art alone was worth buying the album. This blues soaked album sprung a monster hit, Love Hurts, and kept the band in drug money for years.

Humble Pie came from England and was put together from the scraps of Small Faces and Spooky Tooth, with future mega-star Peter Frampton playing the guitar. They struggled for years, nearly cracking the top ten but never quite doing it with their constant line up changes and shifting sound.

Uriah Heep (maybe one of my favorite bands names) was an early combination of Prog Rock and Heavy Metal, but managed to not sound like either genre. This band is always held out as having gone through the greatest number of line-up changes in it’s short history. That probably didn’t help the sound or success much.

Thin Lizzy came from Ireland and are arguably one of the most underappreciated bands of the era, though not by musicians. Many musicians mention the bands lead, Phil Lynott, as an influence. Then again, his death (drugs, depression, tortured artist…) fits the rock story that many find so appealing, as long as they aren’t the ones in it. They had a working class feel and spoke about simple pleasures of being young.

Monday – Nazareth: “Hair of the Dog”, “Whiskey Drinkin Woman”

Tuesday – Humble Pie: “30 Days in the Hole”, “I Don’t Need No Doctor”

Wednesday – Thin Lizzy: “Dancing In the Moonlight”, “Jailbreak”

Thursday –  Uriah Heep: “Stealin”, “Easy Livin”

Friday –  Friday – Nazareth : “This Flight Tonight”, Thin Lizzy: “Cowboy Song”

Music Blog: English Ska – My Great Regret

English Ska – My great regret

Madness2 The English Beat The Specials2

Ska is the employed older brother to the Reggae. Ska is the more fun early Beatles, where Reggae is the later rather full of themselves Beatles. Ska is about movement, dancing, the body where Reggae is about the sitting, feeling, and the heart. I love both types of music, but I can’t help to be a bit upset that Reggae was a world wide thing while Ska was relegated to a few islands (Caribbean and British). Let it be said my view of all this is from a Midwestern American point of view. In the flatlands, we barely felt the impact of Punk, so maybe my view of Ska is skewed (Skewed Ska, get it?). Anyway, this little blog is about Ska, mainly British ska, and how damn fun this music is.

Ska comes from the Caribbean, mainly Jamaica. I’m not going to go into this Ska, because I really haven’t done any research on it. Jamaica was a British colony for a very long time. One thing the British Empire was very good at was bringing back the best parts of the colonies to England. India gave England tasty food, China gave England Tea, and Jamaica gave England music.

Ska’s bouncy rhythms and bright horns must have been just the thing for the typically dour, grey British weather. It’s great dance music, often requiring little more than a type of running movement completely compatible with beer consumption. Ska was an underground thing through the ‘60s and ‘70s, much like Blues was in America. This was until the Britsh Punk movement opened the doors to more rough hewn music, and to music that encouraged wild movement. This ethic was taken by groups with more musical ability and less nihilism, then combined with the previously mentioned bouncy rhythms and bright horns. The result was something different, not as angry, and reminiscent of the early Mod movement.  They were similar to the Mods in other ways too – they had a love for icons/design (see the images above) and they were prone to wearing suits or just dressing better. Very different from Punk or Rock at the time. Bands like The Specials, The English Beat, and Madness all made great music during this time.

Sadly, well for me that is, this music barely made it to the flatlands. I only came upon it through the early days of MTV. One of my great musical regrets is that I never got to experience one of these shows live in the day. I imagine they were filled with energy, life, joy and all those other things that much of rock was missing at the time. Interestingly, this music had significant impact on American music that came later, mainly in the post punk, or skate punk groups from the West Coast in the ‘90s and early ’00. Sublime, No Doubt, and even the Offspring all have echoes of English Ska.

Monday –  The English Beat: “Save it for Later”,  “Whine and Grine/Stand Down Margaret”

Tuesday – The Specials: “A Message to You Rudy”, “Ghost Town”

Wednesday – Madness: “One Step Beyond”, “Night Boat to Cairo”

Thursday – The Selector: “The Avengers Theme”, “ Secret Love”

Friday – English Beat: “Mirror in the Bathroom”, The Specials: “Too Much Too Young”

Bonus Material – take a listen to Desmond Dekker, Prince Buster, The Skatalites, and Toots and the Maytalls for earlier ska.

Music Blog – April Wine: Yeah, but they were HUGE in Canada

April Wine Logo

Welcome to my music blog. In these entries I will highlight a particular genre, time period, or artist and give you a week’s worth of listening as examples. You can go to Pandora, Spotify, or your favorite music site to listen to or download the music.

I wish I could say each list was the result of years of research, my own musical experience, and critical consensus  of critics, but they aren’t. They are just things I find interesting. I listen to many types of music, but I tend to love to find overlooked bands/songs or bands that were big but that history has kind of forgotten.

There will be glaring omissions, egregious inclusions, and outright mistakes. If you agree or disagree, want to clue me into other possibilities, or explain some odd point of music history, please leave a comment.

Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the music.

April Wine – Yeah, but we were huge in Canada

From the mid 70s through the early 80s, April Wine was one of the biggest acts in Canada. They had multiple multi platinum albums north of the border. But here in the state they were a second tier band, one that make solid albums, had successful tours, but never had that mega hit that everybody knows and never headlining the arena circuit. For me, they are the other great late ‘70s also-ran (besides UFO).

The band has a long history. They started in ’69 in Waverly, Nova Scotia. They have had 16 albums, 11 which charted in Canada, 6 charted in the US.  Their  fourth album, Stand Back, went double platinum in Canada and their 5th, The Whole World’s Goin’ Crazy” went platinum based on just the advanced orders.  To show you the difference between their Canadian success  and their US success, those two albums didn’t even chart in the US, but were both top 5 in Canada.

I didn’t really hear about the band until their “Harder…Faster” album in ’79. They  followed up that one with “The Nature of the Beast”, their best selling album in the US and the one that had the songs that Americans are most likely to know. I really liked these two albums for their unabashed rock ethic and relentless driving force. It’s not the kind of energy that would come to exemplify metal, but it was maybe archetypical expression of ‘70s rock. For me, this is one of the bands that defines the sound of the age, and one I just never get tired of listening to.

These songs will cover the years I am most familiar with, but I will be investigating the earlier Canada dominating albums sometime later.

Monday – “Roller”, “Child’s Garden”

Tuesday – “I Like to Rock”, “Say Hello”

Wednesday – “Tonite”, “Ladies Man”

Thursday – “All Over Town”, “Wanna Rock”

Friday – “Just Between You and Me”, “Sign of the Gypsy Queen”

Bonus Material – Check out the You Tube Video for “I Like to Rock” – Myles is sporting a Loop shirt!

http://youtu.be/YlcY_enzwmI

Music Blog – Late ’70s Flatland Bands

Welcome to my music blog. In these entries I will highlight a particular genre, time period, or artist and give you a week’s worth of listening as examples. You can go to Pandora, Spotify, or your favorite music site to listen to or download the music.

I wish I could say each list was the result of years of research, my own musical experience, and critical consensus of critics, but they aren’t. They are just things I find interesting. I listen to many types of music, but I tend to love to find overlooked bands/songs or bands that were big but that history has kind of forgotten.

There will be glaring omissions, egregious inclusions, and outright mistakes. If you agree or disagree, want to clue me into other possibilities, or explain some odd point of music history, please leave a comment.

Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the music

Late ‘70s Flatlands Bands

The Late ‘70s were a strange time in America. The idealism of the ’60 had given way to the indulgences of the early ‘70s. The peace movement had splintered and turned to violence when things didn’t happen quickly enough. Thousands of Vietnam vets were home dealing with memories they didn’t want in a country that didn’t really want them. The second wave of baby boomers were coming of age in a world of economic stagnation, shrinking jobs, and decaying cities. It was as if they arrived late to the party and only found passed out partiers, beer in stale cups, and foul air. Out of this miasma, Punk and Disco were born on the coasts, and the recording studios were full of heavily produced pop. In most of the country, that is. In the flatlands, rock n roll was still flourishing.

I like to think of the late ‘70s as the final flourishing of rock. The bands were the culmination of the trend started with the Beatles, moved along by the Rolling Stones and The Who, then experimented with by Led Zepplin, until we arrived at Boston, Kansas, and finally Journey. I think the Hair Bands and Metal that came after were a different breed, made big by a different age of people, as were the bands in the college rock movement. There are familial traits, but they are a different generation.

Pop Culture changes took three to five years to reach from the coasts to where I grew up in the Flatlands. While the Ramones were jamming at CBGBs, and Studio 54 was awash in cocaine and glitter, the flatlands were reeling from the loss of Lynrd Skynrd and eagerly awaiting the second Boston album. We watched as many of our favorite bands were brought low by drugs or split up due to “creative differences”. All was not lost though. We still have garages, and we could still learn to play. There was enough DIY ethic in those blue collar areas to produce some good music. This week I’m going to share some of the bands that came from Illinois during the late ‘70s. I was too young to see these bands on the way up, but I had the albums and knew all the tunes. For the bigger bands, I’ve tried to find the best songs from before the band was really big, so not the biggest hits from Styx, REO, and Cheap Trick.

Monday: Styx – Crystal Ball, Suite Madam Blue
Tuesday: Head East – Never Been Any Reason, Since You Been Gone
Wednesday: Off Broadway – Stay in Time Boy, The Kind – Loved By You
Thursday: REO Speedwagon – Riding the Storm Out, Roll with the Changes
Friday: Cheap Trick – California Man, Heaven Tonight
Friday Extra Credit: Styx – Lorelei, Head East – Jefftown Creek

Music Blog – Surf Music: When America Turned West

Welcome to my music blog. In these entries I will highlight a particular genre, time period, or artist and give you a week’s worth of listening as examples. You can go to Pandora, Spotify, or your favorite music site to listen to or download the music.

I wish I could say each list was the result of years of research, my own musical experience, and critical consensus of critics, but they aren’t. They are just things I find interesting. I listen to many types of music, but I tend to love to find overlooked bands/songs or bands that were big but that history has kind of forgotten.

There will be glaring omissions, egregious inclusions, and outright mistakes. If you agree or disagree, want to clue me into other possibilities, or explain some odd point of music history, please leave a comment.

Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the music.

Surf Music

I have always known about surf music. My parents had several Beach Boys 4-track (no, not 8-track, but 4-track) tapes they would listen to while we were in the car. The Beach Boys always remind me of the ’66 Malibu, or the ’70 GMC Truck we had. So, yes, in my mind the Beach Boys are associated with vinyl seats, metal dashboards, and dirty ashtrays. I could sing the songs before I was old enough to go to kindergarten, despite living in decidedly non-surf oriented Alaska.

What I came to appreciate later was just the rise of surf music meant to America. It represented the movement of the culture, the pop culture, from the east to the west coast. It was final shift that took rock n roll from being a blues/country hybrid and let it be a purely American music. The nation no longer looked east to see what was happening, now it looked west. The west coast would dominate the culture for at least the next 30 years.

While the Beach Boys were by far the biggest surf band, or band of any type from the west coast, they were very, very pop/mainstream. Surfing had always been a bit of an outsider activity. It was odd, a bit dangerous, and required the ability to travel on short notice at odd hours to best take advantage of the waves. Kids in school, or folks with regular jobs were at a disadvantage to those who were more flexible, those living outside the norms of the early ‘60s. These outsiders had their own style of clothing, their own distinct way of speaking, and their own kind of music.

They favored lightning fast guitars and heavy drums. They didn’t have much time for lyrics, but they wanted to feel the rush of the waves and the light of the sun in each beat. The undisputed king of this genre is Dick Dale. His guitar laid the groundwork for both the punk revival in the late ‘70s and the Hair Bands of the ‘80s. There were other bands, The Ventures, Link Wray and his Wray Men, and the Trashmen (the Trashmen were from Minnesota. No, I don’t get it either). They all followed a familiar pattern and played with reckless abandon. For a fun winter afternoon that gives you an idealized feel for the period, rent the surf documentary “Endless Summer”. Pictures, attitudes, and music that all combine for a great ‘60s experience.

Modern bands have picked up the mantel and still play this music. The Blue Hawaiians and Los Straitjackets are two to check out if you like this music.

Monday – Dick Dale “Jungle Fever”, “Miserlou”
Tuesday – The Ventures “Walk Don’t Run”, “Diamond Head”
Wednesday – The Trashmen “Surfin Bird”, The Surfari’s “Wipe Out”
Thursday – Link Wray “Rumble”, The Astronauts “Baja”
Friday – The Chantays “Pipeline”, The Gamblers “Moon Dawg!”, and Dick Dale “Hava Nagila”