A Day In The Life

Musicasaurus.com unearths & unveils my skeletal framework—the relics and remnants of my own Life in Music…

A new reflection will be posted every two weeks, on Monday morning.....Each entry will highlight a happenstance, illuminate an episode, or capture an encounter—all mined from the music vein that has layered my life.


Posted 4/20/15.....CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER

(Next posting:  Monday morning, May 6, 2015)

Musicasaurus.com is scattering you to the YouTube winds with this posting…Here are ten songs, and their covers, that provide juicy juxtapositions that I HOPE keep you enthralled/amused/satisfied for just a little while…


1. Tired Of Waiting For You…..British band The Kinks did the original in 1965 (on their album Kinda Kinks), and thirty-two years later, country artist Dwight Yoakam put it in a blender with horns and sass, and placed it on his Under The Covers release…..The original: https://youtu.be/cMcA-HGVo6o / The cover: https://youtu.be/F0I__ecdUiQ


2. Smells Like Teen Spirit…..Paul Anka, a late ‘50s/early ‘60s pop boy wonder whose hits around that time included “Diana”, “Put Your Head On My Shoulder”, and “Puppy Love”, FINALLY succumbed to his inner punk in 2005 by covering Nirvana’s blistering anthem for the disaffected on his 2005 album Rock Swings.  Who knows?  Maybe Kurt Cobain would have thought Anka’s version was delightfully subversive…..The original: https://youtu.be/hTWKbfoikeg?list=RDhTWKbfoikeg / The cover: https://youtu.be/RM_xvTaYavw

3. Stairway To Heaven…..Twenty-two years after the original by Led Zeppelin began its reign on FM radio and bedroom turntables, an Australian entertainer named Rolf Harris covered the song in 1993 on England’s Top Of The Pops music show.  You may remember Harris as the singer of the 1963 novelty hit “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport”—or you may remember him from more current events, as he was recently convicted of indecent assault on girls between the ages of 8 and 19, over the time period spanning 1969-1986.  No stairway to heaven for Harris; methinks he’s destined for the down escalator…..The original: https://youtu.be/w9TGj2jrJk8 / The cover: https://youtu.be/soJBGLP7Akk                 


4. Wonderwall…..British band Oasis had an international pop hit in 1995 with this song from their second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?  Then in 2003 Ryan Adams recorded his cover of it for his Love Is Hell Part 1 extended-play (EP) release.  Noel Gallagher of Oasis was reportedly gobsmacked by Adams’ treatment of it.  “I went to see Ryan Adams in Manchester” he’s quoted as saying in an 11/6/09 posting on www.feelnumb.com, “…So he’s playing away and he just does ‘Wonderwall’ right in the middle of the set.  The f*cking place went silent.  It was so beautiful…Afterwards, I told him, ‘You can have that song, man, because we could never quite get it right.'…..The original: https://youtu.be/6hzrDeceEKc / The cover:  https://youtu.be/kzZhtrsbJzs


5. Sussudio…..As a solo artist, Genesis-member Phil Collins had a ton of worshipping fans and more than a few empty-calorie, catchy radio hits throughout his 1980s heyday.  “Sussudio” (from Collins’ 1985 No Jacket Required album) was particularly annoying, I thought, so I was happy when an Ol’ Dirty Bastard emerged to make things right in 2003.  This former Wu-Tang Clan member put his mark on the tune, and contributed it to a Phil Collins tribute album called Urban Renewal, an interesting collection of R&B and hip hop artists covering Mr. Collins’ material…..The original: https://youtu.be/r0qBaBb1Y-U / The cover: https://youtu.be/zRTgKKcv2qg?list=RDzRTgKKcv2qg


6. Don’t Stop Believin’…..Mega-seller classic rock band Journey did the original in 1981, for their seventh release entitled Escape, and twenty-six years later, eccentric songstress Petra Haden multi-tracked her mellifluous voice many times over to come up with a vocals-only treatment that is flat-out fun and amazing.  Haden’s reworking graces a compilation album called Guilt By Association Vol. 1, which features indie rock artists dissecting and reassembling their own unique versions of a number of pop and R&B songs…..The original: https://youtu.be/N5wVZwdHmRY / The cover: https://youtu.be/Pw3GTTYgEV8


7. My Way…..Someone must have said to Sid, “Go ahead, punk; make My Way”—and so he did.  Viciously.  We are talking here about legendary Sex Pistol Sid Vicious, who died from a heroin overdose in 1979 at the age of 21, but not before musically maligning one of the most famous American singers of all time, Frank Sinatra.  The spitting, snarling and angsty Sex Pistols, England’s ambassadors of nihilism, self-destructed in ’78 and Sid soon thereafter cut a few cover tunes for an upcoming soundtrack album for the film The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.  One of the songs was Sinatra’s “My Way”, which the Chairman of the Board first recorded in 1969 as the title track of his forthcoming album.  Sid’s version comes from Sid Sings, the punker’s first live album released in 1979, a year after he had shuffled off this mortal coil…..The original: https://youtu.be/jjAnmlEN8rI / The cover: https://youtu.be/CIp_N6bjj64


8. Super Freak…..Rick James pulled a song-chart trifecta in 1981, with his smash pop, R&B and dance hit “Super Freak”.  The tune, from James’ Street Songs album, is about a “kinky girl / The kind you don’t take home to mother”, and it is infectious as hell with James’ lead vocal tale spinnin’ and back-up vocals by The Temptations.  In the hands of Big Daddy, a Southern California oldies cover band who morphed into musical satire, the song became a tender ballad about that “kinky girl”—sung and played with 1950s-era sweet sentiment, as if performed by The Everly Brothers or Pat Boone.  On the surface at least, it did become a song you could take home to mother, and it appeared on Big Daddy’s 1988 album What Really Happened To The Band of ‘59…..The original: https://youtu.be/gT65GFEMQ2s / The cover: https://youtu.be/kaufhdtVCJ8


9. Sweet Child O’ Mine…..Gutsy, raw and don’t-give-a-damn, this 1987 song by Guns N’ Roses (from Appetite For Destruction) practically caused car radios and home stereos to catch fire due to the slash-and-burn guitar style and the incredibly shall-we-say interesting lead vocals of the caterwauling yet compelling Axl Rose.  Round about 1995, a Chicago-based chamber pop duo called the Aluminum Group turned the song on its head and planted its feet in a rather convincing ballad format.  From the group’s debut album entitled Wonder Boy, the song stands firmly as a creative and self-sustaining reinvention.  Witness it here…..The original: https://youtu.be/1w7OgIMMRc4 / The cover: https://youtu.be/vNktzEYQlO0


10. Reelin’ In The Years…..This pop and rock station playlist hit from Steely Dan’s 1972 debut album Can’t Buy A Thrill was really welcome to the ears back then, and it helped to generate a cult following of Dan devotees that exists to this day.  But somewhere in the murky mid-to-late ‘70s wasteland of variety show schmaltz, Donny and Marie Osmond seized the song and transformed it into quite a show-opening spectacle.  I did not catch this extravaganza when it originally aired on their program, which is probably just as well.  I might have harmed myself or worse yet, my parents probably would have said, the television set.  But seeing it now on YouTube is quite the thrill…..The original (from a live 1973 Midnight Special performance by Steely Dan): https://youtu.be/s7V5-O8Zk2k / The cover (from Donnie & Marie, the ABC network’s musical variety show, 1976-1979): https://youtu.be/GDeVAF58jPg




Posted 4/6/15.....WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD


In the summer of 1975 I was a recent Penn State grad, and returned to my hometown of Butler, PA to move back in with my parents while I looked for a job.  With a degree in Journalism in hand, I spent the first few months looking for work in the field and got the time-honored response from prospective employers—Son, you seem capable and earnest, but you really need to get some experience before we can hire you.

Soon afterward I began working part-time for my high-school friend Gary’s big brother Dave.  Dave had opened a little record shop in town while I was still midway through college, and with a nod to his geographical location he had named his new store Exile Off Main Street.  In the first couple of years he managed to build up a nice little business, catering to the late teen/early twenties crowd who were all simultaneously diving deeper and deeper into music.  Call it society’s Youth Quake, or whatever you want—music had become a driving force of change in attitude and mores, truly the younger generation’s raison d'être.

The beauty of this first job out of college was being exposed to literally worlds of new music through Dave’s record purchases for the store.  We’d often gather at Dave’s house a lot of weekday evenings after work to party and to plumb new releases, and it was here that I was first exposed to the European jazz label ECM.


ECM was and is a prestigious, hard-to-pigeonhole label—mostly jazz, but not constrained by that definition—and the bulk of their studio albums are meticulously and lovingly recorded in an Oslo, Norway recording studio.  Through those early days in Exile, I fell in love with the ethereal beauty of recordings by guitarist Ralph Towner, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, vibraphonist Gary Burton, bassist Eberhard Weber and a host of others, and so Norway loomed large in my mind as a cradle of creativity…

Flash forward a few years:  In 1983 while working for the National Record Mart retail record chain in Pittsburgh, I decided to use all of my earned vacation time in one glorious chunk to embark on a “search and enjoy” mission to Norway.  I wanted to go to that land that had produced the eerie splendor of all of those wondrous ECM recordings, and so in the Spring of ’83, I set about searching for music-related summer events in that country.

Finding an address in the local library for the Norway Tourism office, I sat down and wrote them a letter—yes, Younger Readers, I understand you’re a bit rattled by that notion.  It certainly would have been so nice and easy to Google it up for instant gratification, but the internet at that point was nowhere to be found—it was still a long ways down the tech corridor, gestating in the womb at the end of the hall.


About two weeks after I had mailed the letter, I received back a packet of information about Norway, and about a summer jazz festival in the small town of Molde situated on this beautiful country’s northwestern coast.  The Molde (pronounced “Mold-ah”) International Jazz Festival, I learned, had been around for many years, springing up in the early 1960s out of the efforts of the local Storyville Jazz Club.  The festival’s current line-up for July 25-30,1983 looked tantalizing and eclectic; it was a mix of European, American and Third World musicians, and the travel brochures & city postcards that accompanied the concert info essentially sealed the deal for me—I set my course for the land of the Norse.

I had originally planned to travel solo, but then the woman that I was dating at the time began displaying a bit of interest in the trek.  Margot was an adventurous young woman who had travelled overseas before, including a pilgrimage to the Emerald Isle (sure and begorrah, where ELSE should the lass have gone, with her Da & Ma bein’ a part o’ the Fitzgeralds and the Gloningers?!!....er, sorry.  I don’t know what came over me there.  I might have to lay off the Irish Spring.)

We spent a few evenings spreading out the maps, as Margot began to suggest a wider orbit for us.  Once over there, it would be so easy to haul ass with a Europass, and we could actually get around with little expense and great ease.  Of course my original intent was just to touch down and hunker down in Molde, and then just luxuriate in the jazz fest, but then we added Copenhagen...then Stuttgart (to visit Margot’s sister)...Munich...and finally Paris.


I remember saying to Margot “Are you sure these places all have record stores?”  Her green eyes flashed a rapid response, but luckily all she said was, “Yes, Obsessed One; they do.”

The next few weeks at work at National Record Mart, I frantically laid the base for my departure and buttoned up my crises so nothing would fall apart.  I outlined my planned exploits to anyone at work who cared to listen, and most everyone advised me of the typically touristy things to see and do—except Richie from the 3rd floor of the warehouse, who said to me one morning, “Hey, don’t forget that Jim Morrison’s buried over there in Paris.  Check him out and say ‘hello’ for me!”


We started our journey on July 22nd, flying through London with one more pit stop before alighting in Oslo.  Spending a few days there (and shedding jet lag), we then boarded the cross-country train for Molde and, overhearing another traveler extol the virtues of the window seats, we grabbed the only two spots left.  Eyes peeled, our brains reeled as we sat soaking up the scenery outside—rolling mountains and crystalline, in-land lakes brought us colors that almost made us weep (talk about a hue and cry!).  The mountains were the deepest, richest greens and the lakes a hypnotic color of jade.  It truly looked like A Land Before Time—pristine, clean and dazzlingly clear.

Molde was welcoming.  The town had begun as a trading post in the late Middle Ages, and was incorporated by royal charter in 1742.  It is known as the City of Roses, and there in the village square stood a statue of “The Flower Girl”, holding a tray of roses amidst sprouting fountains of water.  Every summer, jazz enthusiasts jammed the boarding houses, hotels and camping sites in and around Molde, and this city of 22,000 inhabitants perpetually opened up its arms to the celebrators of this musical art form.


Jazz flowered everywhere...in the restaurants at night, in small and mid-size theatres, libraries, open-air parks, cathedrals, and even down the slim main streets of town, with daily parades and golden-mopped kids blaring horns.

Over our 4-day stay, in the afternoons & evenings, we saw as much music as we possibly could in the clubs, cafes, and theatres.  Among the highlights:  We took in a performance of American “free-form funk” drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson with his band The Decoding Society, and then an ensemble that featured future Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid.  We also saw Belgian jazz guitarist Philip Catherine, who I only knew beforehand as having played with American guitarist Larry Coryell on some late 1970s jazz album collaborations.  And we saw the masterful Tito Puente, one of Latin Jazz’s greatest ambassadors of Mambo, Salsa and Afro-Cuban rhythms.


It was during intermission at the Tito Puento show that we had a seat at the bar, and met Ole.  Ole was a chain-smoking, bespectacled Philip Seymour Hoffman-lookin’ Norwegian man in his late twenties.  He gestured for us to sit beside him, and then said “TITO!” in a booming voice, pointing to his head and making circling motions with his lit cigarette, while his other hand hovered at his waist, clutching a glass of Pils (pale lager) that sloshed with each bit of exuberance.

For the next two hours, amid the Pils and refills, we had the best conversation—and we couldn’t understand a lick.  Ole, hazily grasping that we were from afar, was simply sitting back, his face creased and deep in thought—and then he’d suddenly lean forward and scream “MILES DAVIS!!!” (or another notable jazz icon) to our utter and unending delight.  Margot and I howled at Ole’s lager-fueled precision; he knew a TON of jazz musicians, and it stoked him mightily when we nodded and laughed with smiles of recognition.  Only when he spouted out a regional name from Norway or would deign to try a Dane, did he come up short with just a shrug of the shoulders from his now-favorite American drinking buddies.  This would befuddle him, and he’d sit back and crease his features anew, his Pils-buried synapses trying to unearth yet another jazz giant that we could relate to...

Margot and I hung in there with Ole until the end of the show, and then the two of us tumbled out and headed off toward the hotel.  We had left Ole at the bar, his eyes slits, sitting in a swirl of smoke and satisfaction.

The Travelogue Continues...We left Norway and headed into a neighboring Scandinavian country...

Copenhagen, Denmark...We stayed in this beautiful city for $18 a day at Inga’s bed & breakfast, exploring—among other cultural sites—the famous Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park & performing arts/cultural center which had opened in 1843.  And then we hit some record stores—finally!—like one tucked away down a sidestreet called GUF, another called Plade Ringen, and a great little shop called Rille Dille (the latter aptly named and eminently translatable:  There were some real deals!)

Stuttgart, Germany...We departed Denmark and crossed into Germany, soon finding ourselves in a train depot in Stuttgart awaiting the arrival of Margot’s sister Annie and her boyfriend Jim.  Both were stationed there, serving in the U.S. Army. As we watched out for our hosts, it dawned on me that the railway station’s public address system was barking out travel advisements in quite a different, and quite harsher, language from the one we’d become accustomed to in the Scandinavian countries. 

I knew not a whit what was being said, of course, but I half expected to hear the word “Schweinehund!” screamed by the announcer at some point, which my very fuzzy pop-culture memory insisted was a German insult which populated a lot of very bad Hollywood World War II movies in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  Luckily, Annie and Jim showed up and carted us off, so I’ll never know if some schwienehund commandeered the public address system and let loose with that…

Munich, Germany...This was a day-trip out of Stuttgart that Margot, Annie, Jim and I made, just as our time in Germany was coming to a close.  We sought out museums and town squares, of course, and yet the chip inside my brain—my “musical GPS”—was chomping at the bit to intone “Hofbrahaus...your destination is on the left”.

Sure, I pictured myself there hoisting an oversized frosty mug and clinking it with the locals, but I also wanted to sample the musical flavors, something with a little “oompah” to it.  We entered Munich’s Hofbrahaus (established 1589) to find a wide open space filled with long wooden tables of tourists and townspeople, and a hell of a sprightly band—lilting & lederhosened—who filled the air non-stop with great traditional Bavarian tunes on tuba, trumpet, clarinet, and accordion.  My capsule review:  The music was great; the food was the wurst. 

Germany in particular was challenging for me from a sustenance standpoint, as I’d become a vegetarian about four years earlier.  But at the Hofbrahaus that day, I scarfed up the good oompah vibrations along with bread, cheeses and beer.  (It’s probably not a coincidence that, upon my return to The States after 3 weeks of excess and indulgence, my face looked like I had already begun storing nuts & berries for the long winter ahead.)


Paris, France...Margot and I soldiered on, leaving Annie & Jim to their duties in Stuttgart, and we made our way to Paris for the last stop of our European odyssey.  This city was truly intoxicating; we booked a room at the Hotel D’Harcourt which was two blocks from Notre Dame and less than one from the Seine, and then spent afternoons strolling in the Louvre, whispering in wonderment at Sacré-Cœur, and more.  On a “free” afternoon Margot indulged me with excursions to various record shops including Lido Musique, which sported tons of European artists alongside American mainstream releases from The Stones, The Pretenders, Supertramp, and others...

The real musical high note, though?  Margot officially sanctioned a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery (established 1804), where playwrights, statesmen, composers and artists of all Walks of Life were now in their deepest repose.  We took the Metro there on a sunny afternoon, and once through the gates, Margot went the way of Édith Piaf, Frédéric Chopin, Molière, Proust, and Colette—and I went in search of the Lizard King.

Yes, the Doors’ lead singer Jim Morrison was buried in Père Lachaise, and with the cemetery’s “dead celeb” map I found my way to a heavily congested area where the plots thickened...As I approached the grave site, I spied three figures sprawled out on nearby headstones, just wistfully staring at the small porcelain bust of Morrison that someone had set in place on his grave.  Graffiti was everywhere, along with discarded dead-flower bouquets.  The three saw me coming and half-nodded hello; one was a man in his early twenties, and the other two were women perhaps just a bit younger.  They turned back toward each other and conversed quietly in French.  It seemed I was already forgotten. 

The young man withdrew a small liquor bottle from inside his vest, took a snort, and half-coughed, half-laughed.  One woman sighed and pushed back her hair, staring at the young man who was now mumbling and stumbling over his native tongue, addressing no one in particular; the other girl just nestled more into the marble and closed her eyes.  From out of the mouth of the young man I heard a whine and a wheeze make its way to the surface, and suddenly, in slurred and blurted English, the Frenchman slowly sang “Show me...za way...to za next weez-key barrrrr”....

I turned away and smiled, thinking that when I got back to work in Pittsburgh, I’d definitely look up Richie in the warehouse and tell him that a proper vigil for Mr. Morrison was indeed in place.

(This particular posting is dedicated to the memory of Margot Gloninger Jones and Jim Gutierrez.)




Posted 3/23/15.....IN THE CITY

There’s somethin’ happenin’ here…In Year Two, it’s becoming more clear…There are bands and fun over there…I’m telling you, you got to go there…

Christ, they should have hired me to write their jingle, these folks who are putting together an evening of regional reverence for rock ‘n roll here in Pittsburgh next month.  My none-too-witty opening ditty comes from the Buffalo Springfield, with some of the words swiped from their Sixties youth-quake hit “For What It’s Worth”.  That song was originally written about the November 1966 protest that erupted one evening on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, where the residents and business owners had recently pushed through a 10pm curfew and strict loitering laws to try to curb the swelling numbers of music club goers.

Of course you can’t discern any of that from my lyrics.  I’ve twisted them up like a big fatty, and in their current form they’re referring to the upcoming Pittsburgh Rock ‘N Roll Legends Awards, slated for Thursday April 23rd at the Hard Rock Café at Station Square.  This is the second year of this Cancer Caring Center-hatched event, continuing the organization’s drive to create a lasting annual musical celebration & fundraiser in conjunction with the Hard Rock Café.


My friend Paul Carosi, who I’ve known since second grade (deep rockin’ roots there!) helped to guide the event committee deeper into structure in Year Two.  At the first awards ceremony in 2014, sole inductee & local legend concert promoter Rich Engler was anointed instead of voted upon, and the honor was bestowed by the committee with not a lot of internal consensus yet as to the real long-range purpose and scope of the initiative.  Not that Rich was undeserving, of course; he’s a bona fide rock pioneer in these parts—it was just early in the game for this morphing Pittsburgh Legends project.


So Paul, good friend Steve Hansen, Mary Ann Miller and the rest of this caring committee ramped up and legitimized…They put into place a tiered structure of a nominating committee, an academy of voters, a system of oversight on the voting results, and the creation of categories to widen the reach and impact of the awards.  Paul in particular helped define the web voting process, as he for the past few years has, on his own, created and maintained a great local site (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/), a repository for Pittsburgh’s music history dating back to the origins of the city a couple of hundred years ago.

Very recently, the Pittsburgh Legends votes that had been percolating in since the voting began back on February 23rd were finally tallied up, and the winners of the three new categories were announced on Thursday, March 19th:   

1) Modern Era Legends (Groups or solo artists with 20+ years in the business) ….. Donnie Iris took this year’s voting prize, he of “Ah Leah” fame and before that, the voice of The Jaggerz’ top-of-the-national-charts radio hit “The Rapper” released in late 1969.  Donnie was in this category with blue-eyed soul singer Billy Price, singer-songwriter-band leader Joe Grushecky (Houserocker, solo artist, and—as known ‘round these parts—Bruce’s buddy), and the idiosyncratic tribal wonder Rusted Root.  Billy, Joe and The Root were all sent on their way—but only this year, so stay posted for future Pittsburgh Legends Awards ceremonies.


2) Non-performer/music professional (Individuals with 20+ years in the business):  This category was populated by some lesser-knowns who had contributions not so noticeable to the average Pittsburgher—Joe Rock, the manager of The Skyliners and The Jaggerz and the lyricist behind the former’s classic “Since I Don’t Have You”, and also Nick Cenci, the founder of local label Co & Ce Records who kick-started the careers of Lou Christie and The Vogues.  But local concert promoter legend Pat DiCesare was also in the running—the man who brought The Beatles to Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena in 1964, booked & delivered various “shower of stars” shows with a lotta early rockers, and also famously teamed up with younger, eager beaver promoter Rich Engler to form DiCesare-Engler Productions in 1973.  Pat, deserving as hell to scoop this category, opted instead to lobby on Facebook for the crown to go to the fourth and final nominee Porky Chedwick.

Porky was a Pittsburgh music treasure who passed away in March 2014 at the age of 96.  He began his career in local radio in 1948 as a disc jockey, soon forging a path for others on the airwaves nationally to pick up on the emerging popularity of new rhythm & blues material from black music record labels.  This integration of oldies and this new rhythm & blues music led to the overall integration of listening audiences, teen dances and concerts, and from there “rock ‘n roll” (the term coined by nearby-Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed in the early ‘50s) became a unifying force of change, as Youth took the shears to the social fabric and their parents’ status quo.

3) Legacy Legends (Groups or solo artists with 40+ years in the business):  Lou Christie received the most votes for “Legacy Legend”, and his three-octave, high-octane voice pushed songs like “Lightnin’ Strikes” and “Two Faces Have I” into hard-to-banish-from-your-head classics and Top Forty mainstays in the early-mid ‘60s.  Lou was up against two others here—The Del Vikings (with doo-wop classic “Come Go With Me”) and The Skyliners who were reportedly the first group to feature a string arrangement in a rock ‘n roll song.  “Since I Don’t Have You” is their undying—or undead, depending upon your musical tastes—ballad from 1959.


So there you have it—this year’s winners of the second annual Pittsburgh Rock ‘N Roll Legends Awards.  The ceremony/celebration event is right around the corner in April, and to learn more about the event and to buy tickets for any particular portion of the evening’s festivities, check out the nicely formatted and highly informative website at http://www.pittsburghrocklegends.com

The best thing about the Pittsburgh Legends, beyond the lauding of our local heroes?  In my book—once again here ripping off some lyrics to make a point—it’s all about the Benjamins (lyrical credit here to Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, or God Knows What Name He’ll Have Next Week—Do Wah Diddy? Howdy P. Doody?).

Last year, the Cancer Caring Center raised through their Pittsburgh Legends fundraising campaign more than $60,000.  And this money went toward their ongoing efforts to provide free emotional and social support services to cancer patients and their families, including support groups, couples counseling, a telephone help line, and much more.

There’s not a better reason to revel in rock ‘n roll…If you’re here in Pittsburgh next month, see you on April 23rd.





‘Tis a bit of a provocative column heading, grant you…but these nine passionate females at one point or another practically knocked me off my chair when I heard them sing.  Those are the moments you lie in wait for, of course.  Doesn’t matter the decade—whether the 1960s or the 2010s, there is always formulaic dreck that gets pushed to the forefront for mass consumption, while bubbling way underneath the Prettily Packaged and the Moderately Talented are artists who are truly and tirelessly sculpting from their muse, producing works that absolutely thrill you down deep…

Here are just a few of the very talented women that have perked up my ears through the years—and at least one pivotal song from each.

Flora Purim

Born 1942 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I first heard Flora as part of Return To Forever in 1972, on this jazz fusion group’s self-titled debut album.  It had a crystal blue album cover with a seagull floating in the foreground, and the music wasn’t jazz like I had formerly pigeonholed it to be—it was lilting, Latin, and free floating.  Flora’s influences were her Brazilian peers but also American singers like Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, and in this rhythmic stew cooked up by keyboardist/composer Chick Corea, she soared with a six-octave voice sometimes trained on lyrics but a lot of times purposely wordless, riding on a wave that beautifully caressed and occasionally keenly counterpunched the instrumentation.

One of the best examples of this is Flora’s vocal on “Silver Sword” from her 1974 solo album Stories To Tell.  The track is a percolating powerhouse, rooted by sophisticated jazz players like percussionist husband Airto Moreira, bassist Ron Carter, and guitarist Earl Klugh, with guest guitarist Carlos Santana soaring and dive-bombing through the song to match the incredible wordless sounds that Flora coaxes, or unleashes, from deep inside.  It’s masterful…crank it up, whenever and wherever you choose to dive in…  http://youtu.be/xJsytMWomV0?list=PLaMWIsrC-H96LyGncxffX6Co4HKU6SaCk

Joni Mitchell

Born 1943 in Alberta, Canada

My thing for Joni began with For The Roses, which was her fifth studio recording released in 1972.  Where the hell had I been?  She’d already released songs that were lovingly embraced by her widening fan base, like “Chelsea Morning” and “Both Sides, Now” from her second album Clouds…and “Big Yellow Taxi” (you know, that “put up a parking lot” song) and “Woodstock” from her third record, Ladies Of The Canyon…and then of course all of the tunes from her self-confessional excursion entitled Blue, her fourth release that put every woman friend I knew into a zone…

Suffice to say that singer-songwriter/musician Joni is a hitcher, a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway, as one of her sets of lyrics lets us know…She suffers no fools, pulls no punches, cares not a whit about commercial considerations; she was never one to stifle an artistic urge, and we’re the better for it.

Oh so many to choose from here, but I am pole-vaulting over her earlier stuff and mat landing on her 13th release, 1988’s Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.  The first time I heard “My Secret Place”, I was astounded by the sonic experience.  It was so easy to fall right into this track, cushioned by the sophisticated production and sweet propulsion, and the tag-team vocals of Joni and her simpatico special guest Peter Gabriel.  Apparently Joni and then-husband musician Larry Klein were visiting Peter Gabriel at his Bath, England home-and-studio in 1986, and Gabriel –who was at the finish line on his latest project So—offered up studio time for them to work on Joni’s next release.  The result was the track “My Secret Place”, musically and lyrically (in my book) one of Joni’s most poignant works.  Hear for thyself:  http://youtu.be/StCve-J4ofk

Julie Driscoll 

Born 1947 in London, England

It was through my high-school friend Gary Kleemann and his older brother Dave that I first encountered Brian Auger, the English jazz-rock keyboardist who had keen “pop smarts” and played a clean yet mean Hammond B-3 organ.  Before Auger formed his Oblivion Express in 1970, he was paired up in the late 1960s with fellow Brit and hellacious singer Julie Driscoll, and together their recorded output included great covers (reworkings, really) of contemporary tunes such as “This Wheel’s On Fire” from The Band, “Light My Fire” from The Doors, Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch”, and more…

On a DVD collection entitled So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star / Original TV Recordings From The Beat Generation (1967-1972), I found a Julie and Brian performance of “This Wheel’s On Fire”, and while the camerawork and costumes are firmly in the grip of that ‘60s-era psychedelia, Driscoll’s voice is a revelation. It’s a powerhouse, able to bound from a whisper to a wail in seconds flat, but always in service to the song.  Some fervent followers have labeled her Rock’s answer to Nina Simone…

To make my choice, I threw the dart at her best renditions from the late ‘60s through the late ‘70s.  I didn’t think I could really sidestep the double album Streetnoise from 1969 that had the aforementioned cover of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” and also songs originally performed by Richie Havens, Laura Nyro, and Miles Davis.  But in the end the dart came squarely to rest on a track from an album that came nine years after Streetnoise—1978’s Julie and Brian reunion record entitled Encore.  It was a commercial dud—but also an artistic achievement, with clean, crisp production and the Sixties’ psychedelic sheen hosed off a bit.  Thus it’s a more straightforward showcase of Brian’s fluid keyboard work and especially Julie’s jazz-friendly, rocket-launcher of a voice (note that by then she had changed her last name to Tippetts from Driscoll, as she had married Brit jazz pianist Keith Tippetts in 1970).  There are standout tracks here like  “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (popularized first by The Animals), and Jack Bruce’s “Rope Ladder To The Moon”, but it is the song “Spirit” that haunts me—a composition originally written and recorded by Al Jarreau.  http://youtu.be/c4DFdck899k

Angelique Kidjo

Born 1960 in Cotonou, Benin (West Africa)

Some years ago—I think it was June of 2002?—I persuaded some friends on blind faith to come see Angelique at a small club in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.  I had found out she was slated to appear at Rosebud, and 8 of us went early that evening and snagged a table stage-left.  She and her band came out combustible, sparks flew early on, and by mid-set she was on fire.  Want me to smother all other flaming references?  Fine…but she was absolutely bewitching in her melding of African rhythms and American rhythm & blues music that night…

I originally came across West African singer-songwriter & cross-cultural collaborator Angelique Kidjo in 1998 when I chanced upon her cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” from her fifth studio recording Oremi.  Somehow, she had selected that song for her album, shook it all the hell up inside some big-ass African drum, and then shot it right back out aimed squarely at both our head and our feet.  It is a version that may be the best interpretative work anyone’s ever done when it comes to Jimi; it retains the slashing power of the original while imbuing it with African funk, and Angelique’s cries & whispers throughout are completely captivating.  A tour de force reinvention:  http://youtu.be/36bGFi1U_vw

Joan Osborne

Born 1962 in Anchorage, Kentucky (near Louisville)

What if God was one of us?  That was the musical question posed back in 1995 on Joan’s studio album debut Relish.  That was the first I had heard of her, and beyond that hit single “One Of Us” the album sported forays into alt-country, blues and more, all genuinely put across but mostly lacking…something.  There was a track or two that I went back to occasionally, but in large part it joined my wall of CDs as one of the unplucked—too much “album filler”, banished to cobweb candidacy in the thick of the Os between the Ns and the Ps…

Joan ebbed out of the commercial spotlight for a stretch, and in the early 2000s she began touring a bit as a vocalist within The Grateful Dead and then Phil Lesh and Friends.  But it was the detour to Detroit that had me worshipping the one who sang “One of Us.”  She appeared in the 2002 documentary Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, backed up (as all guest singers in the film were) by the Funk Brothers, the original studio band of musicians who played behind Motown’s greatest legends during the longggg stretch of chart-dominating hits churned out between 1959 and 1972.

As seen in the film, Joan’s laser focus mixed with moments of wild abandon took her performance of “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” directly into goose-bump territory.  It is one of those passion plays that marks a career forever…

The song is available, of course, on the DVD of the documentary but was also officially released on CD as part of Joan’s catalogue, on her fifth studio album Breakfast In Bed (2007).  The link here is to the clip from the Motown doc:  http://youtu.be/LVt6woj-sEY

Katell Keinig

Born 1965 in Brittany (northwest France)

Katell was the offspring of a Breton poet and a Welsh activist, and she spent time in Wales, Ireland, and later on New York, pursuing a recording career in the early 1990s and running with the musical avant-garde (Bob Mould, Jeff Buckley and others).  Her work as a singer-songwriter is captivating, decidedly non-commercial, and critically acclaimed (as are her live performances).

What first caught my ear was “Franklin”, a song from her first full-length album Ô Seasons Ô Castles, released in 1994 on Elektra Records in the U.S.  The music was a mix of Celtic influences and jazz and folky alternative, a great blend and a nice bedrock for the layered-on-top throaty soprano vocals that take flight and scale the heights, particularly at the song’s climax.  Check her out here:  http://youtu.be/D8Yvs4tyHmE

Mindy Smith

Born 1972 in Long Island, NY

I forget exactly where I was when I had my “Come To Jesus” moment.  But a song was spilling out of my car radio one morning on my way to work, and then I had to pull over—not because of a siren wail outside but a siren’s wail on the inside.

This bluesy, rootsy song with a gospel-like integrity started out purposefully slow, and then it was as if the singer could no longer be contained—guitars whirred and the woman at the helm erupted on the chorus, giving in to the spirit that likely drove her to the mike in the first place…

Mindy was born a pastor’s daughter with a penchant for country music, and after her teens and early twenties spent in native Long Island, then Cincinnati then Knoxville, she landed in Nashville in 1998 and nabbed a slot a few years later on a Dolly Parton tribute album, Just Because I’m A Woman.  Her cover of “Jolene” on that album fueled her forward to her own solo debut, 2004’s One Moment More—featuring that slowly incendiary lead-off track “Come To Jesus.”

Since that time, Mindy’s moved around the musical map a bit but always hangs on to those magical pipes of hers.  In my book, though—with no intent to be sacrilegious here—it’s “Jesus” that takes the crown.  http://youtu.be/NxIsKcdy3Jk

Jill Scott

Born 1972 in Philadelphia, PA

Jill came on my radar through a song called “A Long Walk” from her 2000 album Who Is Jill Scott? Words And Sounds Vol. 1.  I am glad I dabbled; it’s a sly, funky neo-soul kind of track that builds in intensity, with great players behind the vocal voyage.

She started out as a poet and spoken word artist, then alongside her musical odysseys during the 2000s she broke into film and also a BBC series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which aired on HBO in 2009.

Her musical exploit that sealed the deal for me?  Jill’s heart-stopping performance that I caught as part of trumpeter Chris Botti’s 2006 PBS broadcast Chris Botti Live: With Orchestra And Special Guests.  I had purchased the DVD of this program about two years ago, not having sufficiently ever scoured through Botti’s works before, and it was Jill’s guest slot here that literally sparked that rush-up-the-spine kind of thing that is all too infrequent in Life (okay, maybe you get that all the time; if so, call me).  She absolutely tears up a rendition (with Botti and his band) of Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache” which is orchestrated perfection in its build to the final wails of this uber-talented soprano.

The track is available on CD as well, but go straight to the video for the full effect:  http://youtu.be/yIz2yhkql8g

Rhiannon Giddens

Born 1978 in Greensboro, North Carolina

My first real introduction to the Carolina Chocolate Drops took place on Sunday, April 6, 2014 in the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall in the Pittsburgh area.  It was a more than suitable location to get the full scoop on the Drops, in this beautiful theatre setting that adjoins a library; the concert was 90% roots music and 10% edifying addresses by the individual band members about each song's origins and its historical significance.

The star of the ensemble was singer/fiddler/banjoist Rhiannon Giddens, who has the stage presence, self-confidence, commitment to craft, and the vocal prowess to leave many mouths agape in a live setting.  Schooled in opera and self-immersed in African American folk traditions, she cobbled together the Drops for tours as well as seven albums between 2006 and 2012, and then in 2013 performed solo at T-Bone Burnett’s Another Day, Another Time concert in New York.  This was a companion live event to the release of the Coen Brothers’ new film Inside Llewyn Davis, which had centered on that famous early ‘60s folk scene.

Rhiannon, by reports, stole the show with her performance of folksinger Odetta’s “Waterboy”, and Burnett subsequently worked with her again in both 2014 and 2015.  She collaborated on Lost On The River, the project and eventual album that resulted from a small group of renowned musicians putting new music behind some once-presumed-lost Dylan lyrics, and then—again with Burnett—she birthed her first official solo album. 

This new album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, is where you’ll find her unique style of roots reverence and vocal power in full flower.  There are songs here originally performed by Odetta, Nina Simone, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and more…Sample this one called “She’s Got You”, and then go for more--today is your turn.  http://youtu.be/yqqdihSClis




Posted 2/23/15.....KING OF THE ROAD

Musicasaurus.com was intrigued by a couple of friends who I recently found out actually made it to Woodstock…and upon further reflection, I decided to ask them to reflect.  Hence, a nice set of tales are below that cover a lot of ground—from Atlantic City to Bethel, New York…from Northern California to an English Isle…and then to Watkins Glen, New York.  Six stories surrounding five festivals—and San Francisco’s famous Last Waltz concert for good measure.

1. The Atlantic City Pop Festival – August 1-3, 1969 – In Hamilton Township, New Jersey at the Atlantic City Race Course.  The line-up included, among others, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Byrds, The Chambers Brothers, Chicago, Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Iron Butterfly, Dr. John The Night Tripper, Janis Joplin, Little Richard, Hugh Masekela, Joni Mitchell, The Mothers of Invention, Procol Harum, Buddy Rich, Santana, and Three Dog Night.

Mark Wallace / Tampa, Florida:  The summer of 1969, I spent the last 6 weeks hanging out with my Duquesne U roommate and his friends--all from Philly--in Atlantic City.  I had a joke of a job as a daytime waiter in a restaurant, which of course allowed me to party all night!  When the August 1-3 weekend came up, I got a ticket and went to the racetrack--not, by the way actually, in Atlantic City proper. 

At some point, I distinctly remember sitting in a large planter/flower box attached to the railing of the 2nd row of the grandstand, from which I had a primo view of the bands!  There were so many acts that I cannot remember all of them, but a few stand out:

***Paul Butterfield Blues Band--at that time, David Sanborn--whom I became and still am a good friend of--was in that band but we actually met 8 years later when he signed with Warner Brothers and I worked with that record company as a promotion man.  He also was at Woodstock and has told me since the “real” story behind how Hendrix's version of the "Star Spangled Banner" came about—lots of acid.

***The Byrds--first time I had ever seen them and never have forgotten that ringing unique sound of McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker.

***Lighthouse--a Canadian version of Blood Sweat Tears.  When they came on, there were huge Canadian flags flying all over the place and the leader of the band--Skip Prokop, actually their drummer--asked the crowd "Are you all going up to Woodstock next month?

What? Woodstock? Huh?

I had to go back home to start sophomore year at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, so yep, I missed Woodstock by 2 weeks!  I did, however, buy an album there--the English/Polydor cover version of the Blind Faith (huh, what, who?) record with the “pubescent” half-naked-young girl-holding a model spaceship-cover art; the one Atco did not initially release here. ;-)

Other than those moments, I have very little memories; it was, after all, in 1969: love, happiness, and drugs....


2. Woodstock Music & Art Fair (“Woodstock”) – August 15-17, 1969 – In the hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel, New York.  There were 32 performers, including Richie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, The Who, Joe Cocker, Ten Years After, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Sha Na Na, and Jimi Hendrix.

Woodstock Recollection One:  Joel Shapiro / Sydney, Australia:  In the 60’s, my oldest sister Karla and her husband Eric were part owners of a vacation house in Woodstock, NY.  The illustrator Hanson Booth designed and hand-built this quixotic rambling house out of native bluestone from a quarry on the property.  Friends, family and I would visit them there in the summer, for Thanksgiving or the week after Christmas.  It was an amazing house with a 2-story living room and huge fireplace, each room on a different level and was in a pine forest just 2 or 3 miles out of Woodstock.  

In the early summer of 1969, word got around that there was going to be a 3-day art and music festival in Woodstock and a bunch of folks from Pittsburgh were going to go so my middle sister and I went to The Leather Shop on Walnut St. in Shadyside and bought our tickets: $18 for the three-day pass.

We got to the house in Woodstock a few days early and prepared.  We had a Chevy camper van, a large tent and lots of food.  I think we left the house early Friday morning for the 70 mile drive to the site in Bethel, thinking that it would take a few hours and give us plenty of time to set up.  But when we got off of Route 209 onto the road that would take us to Yasgur’s farm, the traffic came to a halt with cars pulling off the side, people just hanging out or walking.  We got to the venue mid-afternoon and found a spot towards the top of the hill.  The scene was incredible.  There were so many more people than the promoters had expected that there was no way to collect any tickets, and it was announced that it was going to be a free concert.  It was mid-August; sunny, hot and humid.

Imagine a scene like First Niagara Pavilion in Pittsburgh but 10 times bigger and less developed.  It was a huge natural amphitheatre with a small lake at the bottom.  There were art stalls around the perimeter and thousands of people wandering around.  We had no cell phones and I got separated from the group for a while but it didn’t seem to matter (to me, at least).  It seemed like everyone was high and I could smell hash and weed everywhere.  But there was no trouble that I saw – just people hanging out and having fun.  The summer of love.

The music started late in the afternoon and Richie Havens played first.  It was hard to believe that he, one other acoustic guitar player and a conga could make that much sound.  Later we saw Ravi Shankar, Joan Baez, Melanie and Arlo Guthrie, who I think was the one who announced that, because of all the traffic, the NY State Thruway had been closed.  The rain started but the music went on past midnight.  I was amazed that the sound system was so good and the towers of speakers filled the air with music and we could hear everything.  The music was wonderful – some played better than others, some rambled on and some were really high but it was the mood that was unique.  I have never experienced anything like it before or since.  400,000 young people were there – 10 times more than were expected – and there was no trouble.  Just peace and love….and lots of good music.  

The rain came and the whole hill became a sea of mud.  In my tent at night, I would hear people walking past, loudly whispering, “Grass, acid, hash”.  Sales were brisk but I think I was the only person at the festival who didn’t get high.  The group I was with agreed that the rain and mud was too much so we left on Saturday.  I have always felt that the biggest regret of my life was not to have seen CSN or Jimi at Woodstock.  But I felt better when I learned that neither did 350,000 others.  Oh well.

It was a pivotal moment in my life and, I suppose, in history.  Many of those musicians are gone now and there will never be a concert like that again.  Today, popular music concerts are lavish slick productions.  But my impression of Woodstock was that it was not.  To me, it was gritty, basic and honest.  What made it different was the vibe.  The people there were the same people that were instrumental in pushing our government to end the war in Vietnam and rid ourselves of RMN.  Max Yasgur spoke to us and said, “Half a million young people can get together for three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music – god bless you for it”.

Woodstock Recollection Two:  Joe Abeln / Pittsburgh, PA:  A few days before the Woodstock event started I got a call from a college "girlfriend" named Sharon.  She said that she and her cousin Patty were going to drive up to Woodstock in her dad's 2nd car, a Chevy Corvair with lots of miles on it and her dad thought it would be helpful to have a guy-friend along as his daughter and niece ventured off to this massive hippie event so far from their hometown of Weirton, WV.  So, me—23 years old, unemployed more or less—I was definitely “in”. 

As we finalized our travel plans before departure I got another call from another acquaintance, a friend's sister, also named Patty.  She needed a lift up to Woodstock and we figured we could stuff the 4 of us and minimal travel gear in this little Corvair and all would be great.  So there we go:  Joe, Sharon, Patty #1 and Patty #2 off on our big music weekend adventure.  We had even purchased tickets, just in case we needed to be legit when we tried to enter Max Yasgur's farm.

The trip up was uneventful, no car problems, everyone got along, weather was good.  As we got closer and closer to our destination things got interesting.  Lots of people walking and hitchhiking and lots of tricked out hippie vans and buses on the road from all over the country.  We got within about 3 or 4 miles of the concert location and all traffic stopped dead.  So we did what everyone else did—park the vehicle in a muddy field, have a nice warm beer and plan our next move.  As we all know the weather in upstate New York had been very rainy and the whole Woodstock music festival turned into the Woodstock Mud Festival.  You've seen the pictures.

We walked from the parked car and joined the multitudes headed to the stage area.  Lots of characters along the way—the guy in the loincloth walking with his pet sheep that had "please don't eat me" painted on its side, an occasional bare breasted girl wearing various body paint designs in all the right places, an art lover’s delight, in most cases.  As we neared the stage area we kind of realized that, along with most of the other half a million folks, that basic survival ( food, water, rain shelter, etc.) was going to trump any relaxing music experience.  Also, as soon as we got there, Patty #2 headed off to hook up with one of the bands and we never saw her again.  I mean NEVER!  To this day I don't know where she ended up.  We were able to get about a quarter mile from the stage so we didn't see much, but we did get to hear a bit of Santana, Richie Havens, and Country Joe and the Fish.

Food was scarce, a hot dog here, a bottle of water there (we were young; what did we care?!!).  After we had our fill of this situation and Saturday came to an end, we headed back to the car to get some sleep.  In spite of the heat and humidity and mud and lack of munchies we did manage to sack out in and around the car for a while.  Various car "parties" popped up around us (the birth of tailgating?) so the music and entertainment continued.

Sunday arrived soon enough and it was time for us to depart, as Sharon and Patty #1 had to work on Monday.  We headed south back into Pennsylvania and just got onto the Pennsylvania turnpike when the old rear engine—air-cooled, Chevy's answer to the Volkswagen—started to act up.  Plenty of gas and coolant?  How about the oil?  Long story short, piston #4 was not getting its share of lubricant and decided to stop doing what it was supposed to do.  There we were, dead in the water, beside the road, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike way west of Philadelphia. 

After a few hours of head scratching and bewilderment a car stopped and a guy came to our aid.  He turned out to be the head supervisor of the Vista program in Philly and he offered to put us up for the night.  Well, as it turned out Sharon and Patty #1 went with him to Philly for the night, intending to fly back to Pittsburgh on Monday to try to get to work…Anyway, I was left with the dead Corvair and after having it towed to a neighboring town, I called Sharon's father and had to tell him that not only had his car blown up and was worthless, but also his daughter and niece were off to Philadelphia with a stranger.  You can probably see where this is going.

After I paid a mechanic $12.00 to tell me that the engine was shot and the car was so old it had little value, I think I gave it to him and said someone would send him the title (I try to forget this part of the weekend adventure).  One redeeming note: I did remove the flashlight and some other stuff from the car and headed out to get back to the Pennsylvania turnpike and a long hitchhike home.

Ok, last chapter.  So it is late Monday evening by now, it's dark, I'm alone, middle of nowhere, thumb out.  A few million cars passed me up, then a truck driver stops and says he's going all the way to Pittsburgh, so I hopped in the cab.  Smooth sailing from here I figured!!!

Well, wouldn't you know it…The guy that picked me up was bitching from the start about how his employer always gave him the oldest, junkiest, most unreliable truck for this run.  I had to agree with him when, after about an hour on the road, sparks and smoke started to emanate from under the dashboard.  He stopped the truck and attempted to investigate the under-the-dash situation.  I brought a moment positive energy to our predicament when I was able to offer him the flash light that I saved from the Corvair.  Somehow he put out the "fire" and we were back in the saddle.  I got home sometime on Tuesday afternoon still in one piece and with no regrets…Oh, I do have one regret: I can't find my Woodstock ticket anywhere.  It would be framed on my wall if I had it.     

3. Altamont Speedway Free Festival (“Altamont”) – December 6, 1969 – In Alameda County in Northern California.  The line-up:  Headliners the Rolling Stones, with Jefferson Airplane, Santana, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and CSNY (the Grateful Dead were also scheduled to play, but left the venue because of deteriorating security conditions).

Paul Brewer / San Diego, California:  In 1969, The Rolling Stones had just finished a concert tour of the US, and as a thank you to their fans, they played a free concert on December 6th at the Altamont Speedway, east of San Francisco.  Promoters were hoping the event might just become the Woodstock of the West.  The Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Crosby, and Stills, & Nash, plus a few others were also on the bill.  The Hells Angels were hired as security for the event and were paid with $500 worth of beer.  An array of mind-altering drugs would also be available to everyone involved.  What could possibly go wrong?! 

The night before, in Orange, California, my friends and I hatched a plan, grabbed a few things, jumped in the car, and drove all night to the Altamont Speedway.  All over California, and beyond, many people were using any means necessary to get to the free concert!  In the Rolling Stone’s concert movie, Gimme Shelter, there are some beautiful scenes of the people arriving as the sun is coming up.  This was when we arrived on that cold December morning.  It took hours before the music finally started, and that long for the more than 300,000 people to all show up.

Nature called, so my friend and I went looking for a place to pee when a helicopter circled above us, then landed on the race track close by.  We ran over to see who it was, and a few of the Rolling Stones came piling out.  Within seconds this guy runs up and punches Mick Jagger in the face and is immediately wrestled to the ground by Mick’s bodyguard.  This scene was captured on film in the Rolling Stone’s movie, Gimme Shelter.  Things were just starting to get ugly in the crowd by the stage, and Mick’s punch to the face was sort of a sign that things were going to get even uglier.

As we were walking back, I found myself face to face with Charlie Watts, the Stone’s drummer, who had just stopped to chat with the crowd.  He smiled, said hi, was I enjoying the show—just small talk.  He said something about putting more speakers toward the back for a louder sound.  This surreal bit of fun also included seeing a disheveled looking Keith Richards (was there any other look for Keith?) with a very cute gal hanging on his arm, standing right by us.  It was all over in a moment.  We said our thanks and cheers and all—they walked ahead to the stage area, and we walked back to where we were sitting, less than a hundred yards from the stage.

Crazy things were happening all around us.  A very large biker standing next to me started spitting on people, just for the hell of it.  Another biker rolling down through the crowd ran over a woman’s leg with his bike because she didn’t move quickly enough.  Once the music started, it really brought on the violence.  The whole mood changed.  One of the problems was that the Hells Angels had parked their bikes right next to the stage so when the music started people were pushing forward to get closer, and a few bikes got knocked over.  The punishment for some was getting beaten with pool cues.  It got very ugly, and we were glad we weren’t up close to the stage.  It just got crazier and crazier!

There were violent outbursts during every group’s set, and by the time the Stones came on last that evening, they could barely get through a song without stopping to try and pacify the trouble makers.  The finale of this sad day was the killing of a young black man who had made a terrible mistake by pulling a gun on one of the Hell’s Angels, who then stabbed the man to death.  This tragedy was also caught on film for the movie, Gimme Shelter.  Altamont died that day as well, and it became sort of a sad ending for the 1960s.  I’ve always felt that if the Hells Angels had not been there policing the event, December 6th at the Altamont Speedway would have had a completely different outcome, and that is a real shame!  

4. Isle of Wight Festival – August 26-30, 1970– On the Isle of Wight, a county and the largest of the British islands.  This was the third consecutive year of the festival—and the last one until an overhaul and revival in 2002.  The performers included Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, Chicago, The Doors, Lighthouse, The Who, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Moody Blues, Joan Baez, Free, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson, Donovan, John Sebastian, Miles Davis, and Shawn Phillips.

Jack Tumpson / Pittsburgh, PA:  In the summer of 1970 I was in London.  I ran into a guy from Pittsburgh who said, "Hey man, we're going to the Isle of Wight Festival, want to come?"  So off we went.  Buses, trains, and a ferry, and we arrived on the island.  The weather was awful—rain, cold, camping in tents; just damp all day and all night.  I think we got there on a Wednesday, with the "good acts" not coming on until Friday night and into Saturday.  But it was happening.  Lots of people.  I think the festival ended up with 600,000 people.  On Saturday afternoon after a bunch of French kids ripped down the fence, and the organizers declared it a free festival.  This was the last Isle of Wight festival for another 30+ years.

The talent was intense and fierce, but the sound quality was sketchy at best.  They also had a stage management challenge with the headlining acts not getting on to perform until the wee hours.  Jim Morrison and The Doors played in the dark, no stage lights.  The Who played for what seemed like forever doing the whole Tommy opera.  The English folk band Pentangle was there, and Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and Melanie, and so was the incomparable Miles Davis.

I remember that this was one of Emerson Lake and Palmer's first gigs. Jethro Tull and Free were also on the bill.  And I missed Sly and the Family Stone, who didn't get on the stage until 3:00 or 4:00am on whichever day.  I loved a British band that got lost shortly after the festival, Family, and also Alvin Lee and Ten Years After, and Procol Harum with singer Gary Brooker. 

And then there was Jimi Hendrix…Hendrix with Billy Cox on bass and Mitch Mitchell still drumming, and they were scheduled for Sunday night but it was early Monday morning when he finally got onstage and finished with the sun almost up.  I remember being so exhausted I just sort of stood there in awe.  But it was Jimi Hendrix.  And we didn't know it would be his last live performance.

5. Summer Jam At Watkins Glen – July 28, 1973– At the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway in Watkins Glen, New York.  The festival featured a powerhouse trio of performers:  Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band, and The Band.

Mark Spear / Pittsburgh, PA:  We heard about this festival coming up at Watkins Glen with The Dead, The Band, and the Allman Brothers.  We knew that the draw would be large but we didn’t expect 400,000.  About 8 of us from Lock Haven piled in John Brendel’s van.  He was actually a psych professor at Lock Haven University.  We got there one and a half days early and we wound up leaving a day late.  There are so many stories to tell so I’ll limit it to just one.

After setting up our campsite on Thursday night we had a prime spot as more and more and more people arrived.  On Friday after sleeping late and having a leisurely breakfast we wandered past the newly assembled drug and cigarette “downtown” that had sprung up to handle all affairs of commerce including illuminated signs advertising what was for sale and the ever changing prices.  The concert site and the camping areas were separate so by the time we were headed over to the concert area it was mid afternoon.

By that time the sound checks had begun and it was a beautiful day complete with summer breezes.  As we approached the concert area that breeze was faintly carrying the strains of the Allmans playing “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” as we walked in.  The Allmans did a very nice short set.  We settled in relatively close to the stage.  The Band’s sound check was next.  It was a quick three or four tunes.  Very tight and very professional as you would expect from the Band.  Next was the Grateful Dead who played an amazing set that was at least 2.5 to 3 hours and showed them at their creative best (versus the next day at the real show, when they were somewhere between uninspired and awful).  Friday was the best of the show in many ways and Friday night with the drug midway fully stocked and in full swing was a night to be remembered, enjoyed, and endured.

Long story short, the next day the Allmans cooked, and The Band was precise even through all of the heavy rain (including Garth Hudson’s memorable solo on “Chest Fever” when the lightening forced the other members off of the stage).  The Dead were mere shadows of their Friday selves (my recollection, not Deadhead gospel) but by then no one really cared.  It was a wonderful event, and we headed home on Monday morning.

6. The Last Waltz – November 25, 1976 – At the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.  This was the final concert by The Band, peppered with musical guest stars and filmed for posterity by director Martin Scorsese.  It was released to movie theaters a year and five months after the event.

Steve Hansen / Pittsburgh, PA:  I was at The Last Waltz.  Even then—November of 1976—the show was a big deal.  I was working as a disc jockey for a San Francisco radio station, the decidedly non-legendary Y-93, so I was able to get tickets to the concert.  However, I didn’t get the customary comps and had to buy them at the outrageous sum of $25 a piece.  But that price included a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner done with typical Bill Graham flourish.  (Two years later, when Graham shuttered Winterland, the last concert with The Grateful Dead featured a sit-down breakfast at six in the morning.)

I was on the air the day of the concert so didn’t get to enjoy the dinner.  I didn’t actually arrive at Winterland until they were striking the tables.  The two friends that I got tickets for did do the meal.  One of them, former WDVE-Pittsburgh jock Marsy, was in San Francisco for a visit.  The other, a high school friend, was undoubtedly the most unworthy person at the show.  When I was playing him my Animals and Beatles records he would share his John Davidson albums.  And yet he went to The Last Waltz.

What I don’t remember, and have to take Wikipedia’s word for, is that the actual concert didn’t start until 9pm and didn’t end until after two o’clock in the morning.  (Wikipedia also asserts that Neil Young had a big clump of cocaine hanging from his nose during his brief set, which more than accounts for the 2am show end.)  I do remember the cavalcade of stars that hit the stage, one after another, and the wild applause that greeted each, save for one.  Neil Diamond was soundly booed when he came onstage.  Robbie Robertson had just produced a Neil Diamond record and subsequent interviews show that the rest of The Band was just as befuddled by Diamond’s presence as the audience.  (Legend has it that when Diamond left the stage he said to Dylan “Top THAT”.  Dylan responded “How—go out there and fall asleep?”).

San Francisco lore has it that the best part of the event happened at the nearby Hotel Miyako where Bob Dylan, Dr. John and others regaled the guests on piano until breakfast the next morning.

I think that The Last Waltz is an idea that got out of hand.  It’s now de rigueur for bands to break up, reform, retire, and then retour.  Because Bill Graham viewed himself as an artist even more than an impresario he took The Band’s retirement from the road—technically, they weren’t even breaking up—to an extreme.  The dinner, the set (on loan from the San Francisco opera), the Beat homage featuring poems from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the movie and the album made it impossible, I believe, for Robbie Robertson to un-retire The Band.  The other members were reportedly never all that keen on quitting and would certainly have reformed and returned to the road.  But Robertson never allowed that.

                                                                                                 - The End -

(p.s.  Editor's note:  Musicasaurus.com received a submission from a reader who talked about the reasons he was NOT able to go to Woodstock....That remembrance is posted as of 2/23/15 in the SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT section of this site.)




Posted 2/9/15..... THE LOOK OF LOVE

The countdown clock to Valentine’s Day is ticking in my brain and beating in my breast…If you are lucky enough to have a Significant Other—either someone brand new who’s got you ping-ponging between your head and your heart, or someone you’ve been with for eons who at least still smiles (as opposed to bares fangs) when you exasperate them—then you should read further.  This is a bit of advice on preparing the proper Valentine’s Day musical mix for your sweetheart…

Music is a gift to all of us, plain and simple.  It enriches our lives, giving us a soundtrack for segments of our existence.  It anchors us…sometimes it soothes, or sparks joy, combats loneliness, or sets us off to party.

It is the perfect gift for your loved one for February 14th—if you plot out your mix selections carefully, staying focused and finely attuned to the desires of your beloved.

First of all, avoid the schmaltz.  Dig deep.  If the first song that pops into your head for entry into the mix is Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life”, you might as well giftwrap the completed CD in an airsickness bag.  Any Significant Other worth his or her salt would of course be left speechless by this tune (bile rising in the throat has that kind of effect).  But God forbid, I guess there’s a chance your mate might really like the song, and may in fact have already let it be known to you.  And in that particular case, I’d say bulk up on the barf bags at Costco; you’ve got a hell of a long flight ahead of you.

Coming up with a theme for the Valentine’s Day mix is paramount.  You could start off with rounding up songs that have that special theme of love and affection in their lyrics, but once again, a word to the wise—out there in the thickets, there’s much claptrap and crap.  Shrug off the saccharine selections like Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are”, Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” and Dan Fogelberg’s “Longer” (all practically require diabetes shots), and instead delve into more meaningful material that might really resonate with your mate—something majestic and far-from-cornball like John Hiatt’s heartfelt “Have a Little Faith in Me”.

If you decide to go the route of song titles in the making of your mix—while still cocking an ear to the lyrics within, of course—know that that’s an avenue I have personally traveled down.  In years past, I’ve run a couple of experiments in centering on one-word themes—“love” and “heart”.

For Valentine’s Day one year, I plumbed the iTunes depths of “love” and put together a mix of songs that, I found, worked quite well for both daughters and love interests (not that I had more than one of the latter at a time, mind you).  If you, though, are of a type that can successfully juggle a couple of courtings at the same time, be advised that mass production of a CD like this is ill advised.  Hard to explain should your multiple intendeds share a music-swapping club, for instance.

The real mix-makin’ pitfalls are quite evident, really—steer clear of songs with the word “love” in the title that cry out for comment and right off the bat raise eyebrows.  This includes tunes like Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With” which is only suitable for true Casanovas who can pull off the emotional fortitude and be deft of tongue in its defense…and songs like the ‘70s R&B classic “Thin Line Between Love and Hate”, where you’d frankly just end up havin’ a lot of splainin’ to do about the title alone.

But you can be crafty in your crafting, for sure.  You could sneak in an obscure gem like Ashford & Simpson’s “By Way of Love’s Express”, which lyrically ties together the concepts of 1) passionate love and 2) making sure that message gets through.  With this tune as your mix’s lead-off track, and lyrics like “Engine, don’t you break down” and “Faster, make your whistle sound”, you just might be cancelling dinner reservations on the spot and heading straight into afternoon delight…

On another Valentine’s Day, feelin’ rather boyish and Cupid-like—armed not with a bow, though, just a simple CD recorder—I aimed right for the “heart”.  I searched out a number of songs with that particular word in the title and ultimately came up with a mix of songs that was a chest-pounding success.  Along the path, however, I indeed weighed the titles and lyrics carefully so that I didn’t end up with quizzical stares or worse after bestowment.

A few that for obvious reasons didn’t make the list:

And so to send you on your way to V-Day, below are a few of musicasaurus.com’s approved “love” and “heart” songs.  (You don’t have to be overly trepidacious as you eke out the final mix, however.  As human beings we realize, of course, that emotional response territory can be fraught with landmines—but boy, it’s always more than worth it to just strip off the armor, and GO!

LOVE MIX SUGGESTIONS (ten tunes to start you off…)

  1. Love And Happiness – Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris
  2. Couldn’t Love You More – John Martyn
  3. Baby I Love You – Aretha Franklin
  4. Reach For Love – Ollabelle
  5. (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
  6. All You Need Is Love – The Beatles
  7. Can’t Help Falling In Love – Lick The Tins
  8. Livin’ On Love – Shemekia Copeland
  9. Crazy Love – Poco
  10. Love Resurrection – Alison Moyet

HEART MIX SUGGESTIONS (ten tunes to start you off…)

  1. Searching For A Heart – Warren Zevon
  2. Every Beat Of Your Heart – The Railway Children
  3. Expressway To Your Heart – Soul Survivors
  4. Heart Like A Wheel – Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  5. Heart Of Gold – Neil Young
  6. How The Heart Approaches What It Yearns – Paul Simon
  7. Put A Little Love In Your Heart – Annie Lennox & Al Green
  8. More Than A Heart Can Hold – Maria McKee
  9. Two Hearts – Bruce Springsteen
  10. Listen To Her Heart – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers




Posted 1/26/15..... WHO ARE YOU

My fingers miss it.  The tactile maneuver.  Standing in a record store, my pointer finger flipping a few albums forward in the deep and thick record bin, my thumb as a placeholder.  My mind going pensive for a nice chunk of time, lost in reverie…

Album covers “back in the day” were worlds to explore; sometimes they linked with the content within and sometimes the art design was wayyyy otherwise inspired. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about certain covers that contained photographs of people—and how each of them may have literally entered the picture.  So I’m proceeding with that idea for this particular posting…Enjoy.


This Boston new-wavy pop-rock band debuted on Elektra Records in June 1978, not long after I had first started schlepping music posters all around the Pittsburgh area as the new Western Pennsylvania field merchandiser for Warner Brothers, Elektra, and Atlantic Records (WEA).  The cover of this band’s self-titled debut haunted me a bit—probably because, at one point, I had a couple hundred of these 2’ x 2’ album-cover posters littering my apartment before I dutifully dispensed them all to the record stores around the region. 

I kind of liked slappin’ up the displays that featured this wheel grippin’ and grinnin’ gal…It was many years later when I read reports of the band not being too enamored of the cover art, at all.  But The Cars were not exactly the steering committee on this issue; the label had relegated a band member’s suggested cover to the inside sleeve, and then cooked up the final cover concept themselves. 

The woman with the luscious lips had a name that was a mouthful—Natalya Georgievna Medvedeva.  Born in Leningrad in 1958, she had ventured to Los Angeles in search of work while still a teen, modeled for Playboy, and then snagged the Cars cover.  From there she led quite the adventurous life—marrying a dissident Russian writer (and eventual leader of the National Bolshevik Party)…writing a scathing book about her time in Hollywood…moving to Paris in 1982 to become a piano bar singer, poet, and French magazine essayist…penning two additional novels…and then moving back to Mother Russia in 1994 to eventually record some edgy avant-garde albums. 

When she passed away unexpectedly at the age of 44 in 2003—a heart attack while sleeping—the Moscow Times dredged up a quote she’d given to some journalists the year before: “I was doing certain things unconsciously, but they proved to be the right things in the long run," she had said. "Maybe I had to go to the United States, and to France, and do all of those things in order to understand who I was.”



On the left is the cover of Hendrix’s landmark double album as released in the UK, but most of you might only recall the American cover (on the right).  Hendrix wasn’t at all pleased with his UK label’s “naked nineteen” concept, and so to prevent his American label from similarly seizing artistic control, he wrote to them as a preemptive strike.  The American cover ended up quite different from what Jimi had prescribed, but at least the nudity was edged out in favor of a shot of Jimi’s face bathed in red and yellow stage lights…

The reason the UK version sticks in my brain:  In 1980 I journeyed out to Marin County in northern California to visit my friend Gary who was, at the time, taking recording-studio classes out there.  He and I were sitting at a café one bright afternoon, and he was remarking how Van Morrison’s parents lived nearby, running a local record store, and that most of the people in Marin were famous in some kind of fashion or another.  I remember saying “Oh, yeah?  Well then…”—and my eyes darted to a blonde a few tables away—“so, who is that?!!”  And without batting an eye, Gary replied, “Oh, her?  She was one of the women on the import cover of Electric Ladyland.”  I laughed it off, and from there we veered into other subjects—and I never did find out if he was just pullin’ the wool over.



Peter Rowen was the early face of U2, on the cover of the band’s very first recording (a 1979 extended-play, 3-song release entitled Three); on their first official full-length album Boy (the 1980 UK album, which had a different cover in North America); and on the band’s 1983 album War.  He was 5, 6 and 8 years old, respectively.

In a recent collector’s edition of Spin magazine all about U2, Rowen says (in an interview with Johnna Rizzo) that this is how it all came about:  “Bono lived across the road from us.  I believe it was his idea—he used to hang out in our house.  I was the second-youngest of ten, seven of them boys, and he was mates with my brothers…I was 5, and I certainly wouldn’t have really been into music at that age.  I’m sure it was more exciting because it was a day off school for me.”

Now 40 years old, Rowen grew into a profession on the other side of the camera.  He became a photographer, shooting independently as well as for corporate clients, and he’s tackled a variety of subjects—including, in the musical sphere, U2 starting around 2001.  He was quoted in 2011 as saying that he’s hardly ever recognized as the boy on Boy (or War), but if and when the subject does come up, the person he’s talking with sometimes mentions “the eyes”…


Above is the front and back cover of Tom Waits’ sixth studio recording entitled Blue Valentine, released on Asylum Records back in September of 1978.  The blonde, red-jacketed girl leaning back on the car awaiting the amorous Mr. Waits is none other than Rickie Lee Jones, who none of us knew at that point in time.  Jones had yet to release any albums, but was in a romantic relationship with the singer/songwriter and so bedecked the album backside.  I will leave it to you to determine if there is anything purposely subliminal about the neon signage behind the angling-to-be-entangled couple…

Jones’ self-titled debut album on the Warner Brothers label came out five months afterward, and lead-off track “Chuck E.’s In Love” was a commercial radio smash that led a lot of folks to dive deeper into Jones’ music.  The album ended up creeping into many of my friends’ record collections based on Jones’ unique approach to songwriting and her hip, sophisticated and swingin’ style of execution—check out “Night Train”, “Young Blood”, and “Danny’s All-Star Joint”.



Hipgnosis was an English design firm that plunged into areas including album art starting with its formation in 1967 by partners Storm Thorgerson and fellow artist Aubrey Powell.  In addition to numerous Floyd covers they produced iconic work for Peter Gabriel (his solo albums), 10cc, The Alan Parsons Project, Genesis (And Then There Were Three), Brand X, Renaissance (A Song For All Seasons), ELO, Bad Company, Caravan (Cunning Stunts), Wishbone Ash and a lot more. 

For Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy (the band’s fifth studio release in 1973), Powell went with his visualization of a scene from Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 sci-fi novel called Childhood’s End, about a peaceful alien invasion of Earth in which, at one point, scores of nude children gather together to be taken off into space.  The cover was shot at Northern Ireland’s Giant Causeway where two golden-haired kids were photographed clambering over the rocks—5-year-old Stefan Gates and his older sister Samantha.  With multiple-exposure the photo of two turned into many… 

Many years later Stefan became the popular host of a BBC2 series Cooking In The Danger Zone, and according to website http://www.dangerousminds.net, he said (circa 2007) that he had never actually heard the album and wondered if there wasn’t something a bit bizarre and over-the-top about the cover.  “It carries too much significance for me,” he was reported as saying.  “A part of me wants to go out to the Giant’s Causeway with a big pair of speakers, strip naked and play it just to see if I have some kind of great epiphany.”  A few years after this tossed-off wish, a BBC 4 radio show covered his journey back to the causeway where he then cranked up Houses Of The Holy on a boom box (if there was any clambering, it was likely with clothes still on).


The man on fire is South Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức, photographed here in a busy intersection on the streets of Saigon, in ultimate protest of President Ngô Đình Diệm's oppression of the Buddhist religion.  This was June 11, 1963.  Tensions had been building as had Buddhist persecution in favor of the Roman Catholic minority—so this 67-year-old monk sat stock-still through his moments of self-sacrifice, and the resulting photograph shocked the world, soured America on South Vietnam’s current leadership, and helped immeasurably to precipitate the downfall of Ngô Đình Diệm just months down the road…

Twenty-nine years later, the highly politicized members of Rage Against The Machine chose this photograph as the cover of their self-titled debut album, released by Epic Records on November 3, 1992.  Rage at the core:  Bassist Tim Commerford, drummer Brad Wilk, singer Zack de la Rocha, and wild-on-the-frets guitarist Tom Morello (who in recent years has joined Bruce Springsteen off and on for recording projects and E Street Band tour dates).


This album came out in June of 1970, the summer before my senior year in high school, and my friends and I were fairly bewitched by the woman on the cover.  A few of my pals were really into this musical debut from Sabbath, but I honestly wasn’t all that entranced; it seemed a bit heavy on the sonic sludge. 

But I do remember one particular Saturday afternoon that summer, trekking far from our homes in small town Butler, PA, passing all known neighborhoods and eventually ending up in a meadow that had an old abandoned grain silo.  The four of us gathered there in the emptied center of the silo, trading insults and insights (the normal stock-in-trade of sixteen-year-olds), and joking and smoking (the usual death-merchant product; not pot).  All the while, Larry’s crude little boom box was cranked up to ten, and Sabbath’s metal/hard rock spilled out over the top, befuddling (I’m sure) any little critters crawling across the meadow lands outside, let alone any human passersby…In retrospect, maybe we should have posted a “Closed for Satanic Ritual” sign on the broken, battered doorframe...

All of this has almost nothing to do with the album cover, of course, but I had to start out with that bit of strangeness from my memory bank…Back to biz: The album cover’s setting is the centuries-old Mapledurham Watermill on the Thames River in Oxfordshire, England and on various websites I tapped into, the photographer’s name and the witchy woman are long lost.  I did find one link that proffered this:  The photo was perhaps taken by Keith MacMillan (aka Marcus Keef), and it definitely used a shooting technique that made certain greens register as pinks.  And the model?  Supposedly she had been hired for just one day’s shoot, and her first name was Louise.  That’s about as much as I could dig up in the Land of Oz.




Posted 1/12/15.....DIAMONDS AND PEARLS

Pittsburgh is a rich and vital city.  Once upon a time a murky, churning mutha in terms of the steel industry, the city dusted itself off when the molten gold went cold and launched some serious reinvention, chiefly through Eds & Meds (the education and medical fields) and their attendant growth, and through continued dedication to preserving/encouraging the local arts scene.

The city has had a long and storied music history that spans generations, of course, and that’s all on display to comb through, courtesy of local music chronicler Paul Carosi’s website Pittsburgh Music History https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/.  The site covers events, organizations and individuals from the late 1700s through present day, threading things together in the context of Pittsburgh’s noteworthy musical achievements.


In terms of live music in particular, it seems that our city has now really tapped a vein to produce abundant riches for us all.  Ten years ago there was a club scene but it was a scattershot effort, yielding little return for some of the promoters who were slugging it out to make a decent living and not lose their shirts.  In the mid-2000s, though, Live Nation—the concert/live entertainment behemoth—backed away from their Pittsburgh club booking pursuits, which then opened the door to a more stable live music scene at that lower-tier level. 

I was still with Live Nation at that time, and I remember Opus One Production’s Mike Sanders saying that Live Nation’s abdication was the greatest thing that could have happened to the club/small-theatre level industry in Pittsburgh.  Mike booked (and still books) shows into the now twelve-year-old Mr. Smalls Funhouse, as well as works solo and in combination with other promoters to bring events to Stage AE, Club Café and other live entertainment venues around the area.


So we’ve been lucky here with Sanders and others who have continued on, stepping in or stepping up, like Elko Concerts, Grey Area Productions, ex-Live Nation booker Brian Drusky’s Drusky Entertainment, and the enterprising PromoWest Productions, who huddled with the Steelers in late 2010 to develop and launch the North Shore’s incredibly adaptable indoor/outdoor facility Stage AE (capacities and configurations to suit a range of four hundred to five thousand fans).

With all of these relative riches for local concert fans who frequent the clubs and small theatres, one might then tend to overlook a few entities who have been feeding this particular stream for decades.

One such enterprise is the non-profit arts organization Calliope, The Pittsburgh Folk Music Society.  Founded in 1976, Calliope is—according to the Mission tab on its website—“a nonprofit educational and presenting organization that promotes and preserves traditional and contemporary folk music and its allied arts.”  The nonprofit concentrates on three key areas—presenting live shows by the sprouting & fully flowering artists that are informed by (but not necessarily tethered to) roots music…running an instructor-based educational program (the school of folk music) for kids, teens and adults…and acting as a community builder through bringing people of disparate backgrounds together and through forging relationships with partnering organizations.

It’s got cool origins as well, because Calliope was born at home—specifically, in the Northside home of musician George Balderose.  Soon after his initial purchase in 1975, he began to contemplate the possibility of staging a series of house concerts in his new expansive ten-room abode.  Working alongside a friend who booked roots-music acts outside of Pittsburgh, Balderose jumped right in and his Pennsylvania Avenue home soon became a viable stop on a lot of folk artists’ upcoming tours.  At the time, this helped fill a real void in the Pittsburgh musical arts scene by providing an intimate listening space for lovers of traditional music.  In its first ten years of existence the Calliope House (as it had come to be called) hosted around 135 roots-based artists from the USA, the British Isles and Scotland who were all part of this underground—or really in this case, living-room level—touring circuit that crisscrossed the state and beyond…


Around 1995 the organization found a home for its strongest blossoming talent in the 600-seat Carnegie Lecture Hall in Pittsburgh’s Oakland section, which is where I first encountered Calliope.  In April of 2002 I happened upon a print listing of “Things To Do This Weekend”, where I spied a short piece about the Alison Brown Quartet appearing on April 20th.  The band had not been on my radar at all but the description of Brown’s bluegrass-meets-jazz-and-folk approach sounded fetching enough, so my companion and I bought tickets at the door and were, by evening’s end, floored by the finesse, the songwriting, and the full-flavored instrumentation of the quartet.

As these things go, we dabbled in Calliope only a few other times through the years due to Life’s twists & turns that tugged us elsewhere with our free time.  But this past August 2014, one Sunday morning when I had a steaming cup of coffee in hand and a bug up my ass, I dove into stacks of untouched mail and came upon their 2014/2015 subscription series direct-mail piece. 

Usually I pitch most of my mail—the unsolicited catalogues, the coupons, the offers to dine free at a fine restaurant if I endure the dyspeptic pitch of a financial advisor—but the Calliope brochure was nicely done, nay, riveting.  The cover itself had the banjo-bearing marital union of Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn featured on it, a pairing that promised an evening of inspired, roots-bred musical complexity and passion, and the tagline “Eight Evenings: Songs that Stick, Music that Stays.”  Inside, the brochure touted a wealth of talent, most all unknown to me but nonetheless teasingly captivating…

The shows spanned October through April, and the individual descriptions were heartfelt and enticing.  Perhaps it was the thought of Fall & Winter on the way, or just a spasm of regret that my musical forays were currently at an ebb, but I did something uncharacteristic of me—I committed.  I picked up the phone and placed my order for a two-seat subscription to the eight-pack of Saturday evening shows, brushing off nagging thoughts about my propensity to often scratch upcoming weekend plans in order to remain a snug little slug at home.


The payoff for my decision came with the first concert on October 18th by The Duhks, a Canadian group of three men and two women who have delved deeply into traditional Celtic, soul and blues music.  The band hewed to old-timey sources and inspirations but peppered their tunes with energy & attitude, and my date and I left the concert convinced that Calliope was a keeper.  We resolved then and there, for the seven remaining Saturdays, to keep our spiraling slug inclinations in check, breaking free of the allure of toasty environs, couch and Netflix by literally throwing on our coats and bolting out the door…

Danny Schmidt with Darlingside was next on November 1st.  Schmidt’s opening set was simply a man and his guitar, and he spun intricate tales with a lyrical prowess on par (so say some reviewers) with such gifted storytellers as Leonard Cohen, Dylan, and Townes Van Zandt. 

Headliner Darlingside was somewhat of a revelation, in that the four twenty-something musicians walked out and crowded around one single floor-stand microphone, then blending their voices together all evening long atop instrumentation that was shimmering, alt-country friendly, pop-savvy, and richly infused by folk and chamber music.  Here at the Carnegie Lecture Hall the four young men traded off lead vocals and instruments song to song, so that the colors of the evening came in many shades of vocal nuance and sprightly acoustic jams alternately spiced by guitars, bass, mandolin, violin and cello.

Between musical numbers, the foursome displayed intelligence and humor in their set-ups to songs and in their asides to each other.  These interludes were warm and uncalculated, and served to cement my initial impression that this was a band of true friends and adventurous, disciplined collaborators…


Towards the end of the evening I did a quick countenance assessment, stealing glances at audience members who were below and above me, and off to the sides.  Largely, they were enrapt—and elderly.  Not quite one foot in the mausoleum door, but they did sport crinkly faces (especially when smiling and applauding), and from where I was sitting the abundant gray hair (literally from chair to chair to chair) looked to me like the collective result of a President’s Day Sale on powdered wigs.  Yep, something was amiss.

And that something was…young people.  Where were they?  Was it a money issue, or the lack of a targeted advertising campaign to the younger generation?  As Darlingside entranced us, I kept thinking that both of my twenty-something daughters would have killed to be at this show.

As of this writing, four of the eight shows still remain in the Calliope 2014/2015 season and I look forward to each of these evenings.  We are lucky in the ‘burgh to have an organization like Calliope whose mission includes bringing to our doorstep these various roots-inspired, creative forces.

Check out more about the 2014/2015 Calliope Concert Series at www.calliopehouse.org … and for a quick look back at their artist line-ups from 1976 to the present, go directly to http://calliopehouse.org/concerts/grand-performers-list/ … Enjoy.

(p.s.  Also check out the posting in the BUILDING A MIXTERY section of this website for some sample YouTube clips of songs from The Duhks, Danny Schmidt and Darlingside.)




Posted 12/29/14.....UP WHERE HE BELONGS

On 12/15/14, musicasaurus.com posted a story entitled “Rock and Roll Heaven”, all about God’s great gig in the sky, an event He organizes annually for the enjoyment of All Who Have Ascended.  That tale focused on this year’s divine dozen, twelve musicians/singers/songwriters who all passed on through the Pearly Gates in the calendar year 2014.

Well, as it turns out, musicasaurus.com suffers from premature posting (yes, well, sometimes it’s just difficult to hold in check that writerly flow).  The 12/15 “Rock and Roll Heaven” story had indeed noted the passings of Jack Bruce, Johnny Winter and others, but due to the tale’s midmonth deadline, we all missed an angel who was apparently waiting in the wings—Joe Cocker.

British-born singer Cocker died at his Crawford, Colorado home on December 22nd at the age of 70.  He had one of the most identifiable voices in rock music history, labeled “gritty”, “burly”, and “gravelly”, an instrument he wielded with great passion that seemed to seize him physically as well—in his best efforts, his rasp ‘n’ roll was aided and abetted by a portion of contortion, his arms conducting some spastic inner symphony, his hands occasionally dancing across the frets of an invisible guitar.

Our generation’s introduction to Joe was primarily through the 1969 Woodstock festival, though his debut album With A Little Help From My Friends actually hit record stores about four months prior to that in April.  From the beginning, Cocker was a master interpreter who took on tunes from Dylan, The Beatles and other contemporaries, and in some cases, upped the original to create a lasting legacy of his own.


At the August 15th-17th Woodstock festival in New York state, Joe Cocker and his Grease Band (featuring prominent sidekick and keyboardist Chris Stainton) took the stage at 2:00pm on Sunday, the festival’s final day.  The three-day affair had already had some low points and lulls, but Cocker and company slayed the draggin’—they kicked off with covers of Traffic, threw in a couple by Dylan along the way, and eventually ended their 90-minute set with the now-legendary incendiary version of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends”.  This was spastic Joe’s finest moment, and it was something that most of the flowering, flower-power generation never got to witness themselves until seven months later, when the completed Woodstock documentary began worming its way into movie houses all across the country. 

Seeing Woodstock in our hometown theaters with our likeminded friends served as a sort of pre-internet generational glue; it bonded and emboldened us, and reaffirmed our ultimately presumptuous belief that a different day was dawning in America.  But for now, there they all were—Country Joe angling for the crowd to respond to a decidedly different “fish cheer”; Joan Baez talking about her draft-dodging husband David; stage announcements akin to a camp counselor’s address, warning people to stay away from the brown acid; and an off-stage Jerry Garcia holding up a doobie, smiling at the camera and saying “Marijuana, Exhibit A”.


Musically the movie was all over the map, and though we star-struck teens gobbled up every interlude and visage (predisposed to be terminally forgiving), some performances in hindsight were wince-inducing like Ten Years After’s “I’m Going Home”, which ran to almost eleven minutes in length (note to Alvin Lee: You were going home; we got the point—and you really should have dropped us off well before you arrived there).  The film was ultimately saved, however, by Santana’s sizzling “Soul Sacrifice” (featuring twenty-year-old drummer Michael Shrieve and black-garbed guitarist Carlos Santana) and Joe Cocker’s aforementioned bravura performance of “With A Little Help From My Friends”.

Cocker’s star was on the rise after the counterculture’s embrace of the Woodstock film, and ironically he had just begun a brand new tour as that movie started hitting American screens in March of 1970.  No longer with the Grease Band—they’d parted ways amicably—Cocker found his manager now pushing him into a new 48-city, 7-week tour commitment.  For this outing scheduled to begin in just a matter of weeks, fellow musician Leon Russell quickly signed on as bandleader, lead guitarist and keyboard player, and the full ensemble eventually swelled to 30+ musicians and backup singers by the time it heaved itself out onto the road. 


All the sturm and drang of the tour was caught in a compelling theatrical film entitled Mad Dogs & Englishmen (1971), and a double live album was released well before that, showcasing a loose, swinging, and totally rockin’ set of songs that was split fairly evenly between American rhythm & blues and soul classics (songs popularized by Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Ray Charles) and Cocker’s “old reliables” (tunes by Dylan, The Beatles, and Traffic).  Also a standout from that tour, and released in studio form as a single as well, was Cocker’s blistering cover of The Box Tops’ 1967 hit “The Letter”…

Cocker admitted himself that after the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour ended, he went into quite a long tailspin; in a 2007 interview with London’s Daily Mail, he noted that “I would start drinking at 11 in the morning and be pretty wasted by the evening.  People have said I played some pretty amazing gigs in the seventies, but in all honesty, I probably played one good show in three.” 

He largely abandoned the bottle (and other drugs of choice) starting in the early 1980s, thanks in large part to a solid relationship and eventual marriage to his American girlfriend Pam.  He never stopped recording albums and he continued to tour off and on, and at the time of his death he and Pam lived on their 240-acre Colorado ranch, running a little diner by the name of the Mad Dog Café…

My own personal favorites from the Cocker canon:


A U D I O …


V I D E O …

Though his career never went stratospheric after his Woodstock performance—that period of time in which the world was truly worshipping at his feat—Cocker will always be revered for his heartfelt, passion-drenched covers of some of his peers’ finest compositions.  And quite often, he made them his own...RIP, Joe.




Posted 12/15/14.....ROCK AND ROLL HEAVEN




Every year on December 31st, there is a hellacious rock ‘n’ roll concert in heaven.  God—who is quite the logistician when He wants to be—first concocted the plan for this annual year-end concert in 1974.  And one certain song sparked that tradition.

One day that year, the Lord was on a break from spot-checking his 1,001 LED screens—all nicely nestled on a bank of cumulus clouds, each spewing news of a bubbling world crisis—and He suddenly sat back, threaded his fingers behind his head, and heaved a big sigh.

Definitely time for some tunes, He reflected.  And so The Almighty instantly drew a bead on the chart-topping pop singles in America, having waved off his usual penchant for more of a globetrotting grab of various Third World diversions & delights.  As God combed in milliseconds through the nationwide pop-music station landscape, he landed on a puzzler—a song called “Rock and Roll Heaven”.

Hmmm…could be right up my alley, thought the Lord, and He listened intently as the Righteous Brothers—Los Angeles-based, blue-eyed soul singers Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield—began to spin a schmaltzy and guileless guilty pleasure about deceased musical greats whose legends live on and on…

If you believe in forever

Then Life is just a one-night stand.

If there’s a rock and roll heaven,

Well you know they’ve got a hell of a band…

God began brimming with delight, His head exploding with ideas as He internally ticked off the names of the thousands upon thousands of musicians He had lodging with Him right now…And as He began hatching a plan, the song suddenly cemented it—the Righteous Brothers had rolled right outta that intro into crooning about Jimi, Janis, Otis, and others, then followed by a line that, for God, really shook the rafters: They’ll all be there together when they meet in one big show.

And God sat back smiling, and it was good…

It’s the snap of a finger for deities, you understand, but forty years then passed…and God the Promoter (a handle He now liked as much as God the Creator) was still staging His annual heavenly show.  It was December 15, 2014, and St. Peter had rung Him up from The Gates to let Him know that enough of The Chosen had arrived at this point, so the annual pre-meeting could begin.

Headbobbing at The Gates with a clipboard and a pen, St. Peter had finally spotted the last of the musicians he would need for the gig, and as had become tradition, he then sheep-dogged the twelve from The Pearly Gates right over to the Green Room.  Musicians!  St. Peter thought to himself as he did his usual loop-back for a few lollygaggers, Why do they always need to be nipped at the heels like this?!! 

Flush with flora, the Green Room was a serene setting fashioned expressly for the incoming artists to kick back and relax around a large wooden round table (God had directly poached this from King Arthur, when that Earthly ruler had come up with a way to make all his knights feel equally represented).  And now shuffling into seats from a couple of different entranceways into the room came Johnny Winter, Jack Bruce, Tommy Ramone and the rest of this divine dozen, a few of them nodding in welcome but others with their eyes just fixed firmly on the table top, still quite stressed about entering their Final Rest.

St. Peter looked around the table pensively, wishing that the cardboard sign usually taped up at The Gates hadn’t fallen down recently—the one that said “Check Your Egos at the Door”.  Tension ruled this room now, and the musicians, devoid of the details as to why they were really here, started yipping and yapping even before the meeting began.

An obviously aloof Wayne Static of the metal band Static-X was demonstrably peeved as Johnny Winter leaned over from the next chair, asking if Static wanted to buy a guitar he’d smuggled in through customs.  “I’ll buy no guitar from you,” sneered Static, and Winter then flinched, trying to rope nearby Bob Casale of Devo into the discussion.  “Did he say ‘albino’?!!  I think he said ‘albino’!”

Meanwhile, the two sax men—Bobby Keys and Raphael Ravenscroft—were huddled up and staring at the three 90-somethings that were seated together across the table, muttering that they recognized Pete Seeger but were drawing complete blanks on the other two.  Ravenscroft whispered, “Who in the hell are they?” to which Keys quickly countered, “You mean, who in heaven are they…”

St. Peter suddenly raised his arms, trying to quiet the squabbling and nix the nervous chatter.  “WELCOME!” he boomed, and then continued on, “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover here, so let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves.”

And so these freshly plucked souls, one by one, dutifully stated their names and their recently relinquished stations in Life, now only a bit less warily eyeing their round table mates:  Wayne Static, front-man for the industrial metal band Static-X…Johnny Winter, blues-based rock ‘n’ roller…Jack Bruce, best known as bassist for Cream…Paul Revere of Sixties pop band Paul Revere & The Raiders…Bob Casale, a member of ‘70s art-rock/new-wavers Devo…Phil Everly, one half of the influential ‘60s country-tinged rock duo The Everly Brothers…Tommy Ramone of the seminal NYC punk band The Ramones…Raphael Ravenscroft, the session saxophonist most noted for his work on Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”…Bobby Keys, another prolific session sax player who lit up signature Stones’ songs like “Brown Sugar”, “Live with Me”, and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”…and finally the three nonagenarians, 92-year-old Franny Beecher, the guitar player for Bill Haley & His Comets; 94-year-old folksinger Pete Seeger; and Austrian Maria von Trapp, 99 years young, the last survivor of the original seven von Trapp children and a member of the Trapp Family Singers upon which the film The Sound of Music is based.

“Glad to have all of you here,” St. Peter said, “and there’s one prevailing reason for this:  God’s a music nut.  Forty years ago—we’ll deal in Earth years here, to make your transition a bit smoother—God heard an absolutely righteous tune from somewhere down below, and everything changed up here.  Musicians became the favored sons and daughters, and now we end each year with a kick-ass concert featuring a dozen of that year’s departed—and so here we are.”

“I have a question,” said Casale, shifting in his seat which caused his yellow jumpsuit to wrinkle even more.  “I tried to ask you this as I first came through The Gate, but you looked busier than shit:  Are we not men?”

“No,” answered St. Peter.  “You are all just souls now, though we let you retain your earthly frames for a good long while until you’re acclimated.  Can we move ahead here?”

Casale sat back, feeling admonished, and then squared the energy-dome plastic red hat on his head, sighing deeply.

“So here’s the gist of it,” said St. Peter.  “You all are going to play a show together on God’s great stage on December 31st, and every musician who’s passed through The Gates since the beginning of Time will be out there in the crowd watching.  The set list is pretty prescribed—it’ll be one song from each of you, perhaps you or your band’s greatest hit, and then at the end, you’ll all jam together.  This freeform encore thing is a late innovation by God, who at first abhorred the excesses of The Grateful Dead—needless space noodling, He used to call it—but the last few years He’s been into the looser vibe thing, especially if it’s just the last song of the evening.

“Now I’m sure you can all come up with the favorite song of your own, but the concert closer is the real kicker, and I’ve found a lot of dissension in years past with some of the other Divine Dozens who just couldn’t seem to agree on the one song selection for the end of the show.”

“Easy,” barked out Wayne Static.  “On my band’s first album Wisconsin Death Trip, I wrote a song called ‘I’m With Stupid’.  I think this song is apropos since I’m playing with all of you.”

“Well, good that you’ve held onto your ‘tude, Wayne,” said St. Peter.  “But the song has to be a bona fide classic, like ‘Chimes of Freedom’ which those mid-and-late ‘80s Amnesty International concerts closed with, or something like ‘I Shall Be Released’.”  St. Peter took a look at his watch.  “Hey, speaking of Dylan, he’s about due so maybe we could…naw, never mind.  Let’s just assume that we’re NOT doing a baker’s dozen this year.  Any other suggestions?”

“How about ‘Free Bird’?” said Maria von Trapp.

Christ, thought Tommy Ramone, even her voice is wrinkled.

“No ‘Free Bird’, PLEASE!” blurted out Phil Everly.  “That song always went on for a friggin’ eternity down there, so I can’t imagine what that would mean up here!”

St. Peter was tiring.  And, as was his wont about this point in the proceedings every year, he began to tune everyone out.  Keys and Ravenscroft were beginning to lobby for a Kenny G song, just so they could rest on their laurels and hardly lift a finger.  Having been spurned on ‘Free Bird’ Maria von Trapp now turned to Pete Seeger, trying to snare his vote for ‘Green Grass and High Tides’.  Really the only round table denizen who was disengaged was Jack Bruce, doodling on his pad and giving silent thanks that he was no longer anywhere in the universe close to Ginger Baker.

St. Peter prayed that harmony would soon reign, and amid the wheedling and the whining, he wished he could tap just a little bit into that legendary patience of Job…

As they say, The Show Must Go On—and it did.  Sixteen days later on the evening of December 31st, the Divine Dozen ambled out onstage, struck the first chords, and gelled all evening long like they’d been bandmates for ages.  When it came time for the encore, they churned out a magical version of “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”, seguing right into “Looks Like We Made It”, the Barry Manilow tune rearranged and now peppered with guitar squalls by the punkers in the group.

The lowpoint of the evening, as it turned out, was an unruly Jimi Hendrix.  He was down front in the gold circle seating area with Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and the few others lucky enough to have been immortalized in God’s favorite song from ’74.  He was dazed and confused and a frustrated mess, still sporting, in fact, a little bit of vomit on the corner of his mouth from his fateful overdose evening back on Earth.  All wobbly and insistent, he waved his lighter all through the encore, incessantly screaming for his song “Angel”…

And God, who was above it all, looked down on the whole heavenly assemblage as the band members on stage smashed their instruments and then raised their arms in victory before the roaring, adoring crowd that was scattered all over the clouds…And God began to hum very softly the Kiki Dee song “I’ve Got the Music in Me” as He started jotting down notes about next year’s crop.




Posted 12/1/14.....TICKET TO HEAVEN

My attic runs the entire width of my house, and my job this past weekend was to root through everything, deciding what could stay, what should be transported to Goodwill, and what should be jettisoned.  And as I paced that long-neglected, kamikaze floor plan with grunts of exasperation and a tinge of self-loathing, I thought well, this is what can happen to a man on the move…

For the first time in 15 years, I am embarking on a sizable next step in terms of Major Life Decisions—in this case, packing up and moving to a new living space.  My fervent wish is that this move be the last, so with that resolve pinging repeatedly in my brain, I plowed in and pored over a lifetime of accumulations large and small.

I soon realized that the last time I had moved fifteen years back, I hadn’t reviewed my possessions thoroughly enough.  And now amid the attic’s copious cobwebs, squirrel acorns and mice poop (note that these were new-home additions, not transplants), I located clothing and photo albums and journals and work papers, and indeed, even things from high school and early college that I once regarded as essential keepsakes.

The process of “letting go”, though, seems easier now.  So before I actually started lugging stuff to the curb and earmarking other things for the charity thrift stores, I turned a truly dispassionate eye on the whole scattershot landscape.


Well, except for the music-related items.  Though my daughters may be dismayed to hear this—though far from shocked—I found myself pitching their 2nd grade art class finger paintings with one hand, while tucking a battered 1978 Frank Zappa poster under my arm to put in the “save” pile.

And then I found the envelope full of old concert tickets.  This was the treasure-trove, a collection of ripped stubs that peeled back Time and put me back in touch with dates, places and faces.  And my justification for squirreling these away once again?  Size matters.  They take up no space at all, and the memory jolts they contain more than justify their keepsake status.

And so before they go back in the envelope—new homeward bound—I am sharing these with musicasaurus.com readers.  If you are longtime live-music fans from the Pittsburgh area and were dutifully out and about back in the 1970s & 1980s, you may actually recall catching a few of these concerts yourselves; if you are a younger reader, you can likely distill the thrill by searching out similar-era concert clips from some of these artists on YouTube and elsewhere…Enjoy.

From musicasaurus.com’s attic (my home’s little “Stub Hub”):


1.) October 28, 1974 – University Concert Committee presents The Souther, Hillman & Fury (sic) Band at Penn State main campus’ University Auditorium…..We college kids didn’t have spellcheck back then; how else to explain some undergrad dunderhead’s misspelling of a key band member’s name on the concert ticket? (the band was composed of J.D. Souther, Chris Hillman and Richie Furay)…Tickets were $3.50.

2.) February 19, 1975 – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at Penn State’s University Auditorium…..This was my first Bruce, and my Philly-area roommate Paul convinced me to sleep out for tickets (translated for younger millennials, this means in a sleeping bag, all night long, preserving your place in line just in front of the ticket office’s window)…Tickets were $3.50.

3.) November 2, 1975 – 10 C.C. & Hello People at the Tomorrow Theatre in Youngstown, Ohio…..We occasionally trekked post-college days over to Youngstown to see artists like Todd Rundgren and Nils Lofgren, or to catch a more flip-of-the-coin show like this one—the headliner could be great and satisfying, or come out of the chute a disaster.  I honestly don’t remember the show, which doesn’t necessarily speak to the band’s performance; more the state I may have been in…Tickets were general admission / $3.50 in advance and $5.00 at the door.

4.) September 18, 1977 – The Steve Martin Show at Heinz Hall…..This was about the time of Let’s Get Small, his debut album on Warner Brothers.  The theater’s ticket stub I have reflects a Sunday night 10:45pm show, so he must have done a doubleheader.  Balloon-and-mind blowing Martin became such a pre-internet phenomenon that he returned ten months later to sell out the Civic Arena.


5.) December 6, 1977 – WDVE & DiCesare-Engler Productions welcome Daryl Hall & John Oates to the Stanley Theatre…..In their prime, this duo were true vocal weavers fronting a tightknit band…Tickets were $8.00.

6.) July 7, 1978 – DiCesare-Engler Productions welcomes George Duke…..Hmmm, hope this isn’t systemic, but this is another performance that I lack any shred of recall.  But I do know that back then I liked to sample stuff like this—concerts such as Flora Purim (a Brazilian jazz vocalist who sailed along mostly wordlessly) and Al Di Meola (the guitar wizard from Return To Forever)—so I went hoping that the rhythm-and-blues-oriented Duke was going to be less funk and more fusion.  Someone invariably knows how this turned out…Tickets were $7.75.

7.) July 14, 1978 – WYDD & DiCesare-Engler Productions present A Champagne Jam with The Atlanta Rhythm Section at the Stanley Theatre…..This show fell in that couple-year span when the band was cranking out “So Into You” and “Imaginary Lover”, a year or so before their cover of “Spooky”, the Classic IV’s hit song from 1968.

8.) October 22, 1978 – WDVE & DiCesare-Engler Productions welcomes Peter Gabriel to the Stanley Theatre…..This was a year and a half after Gabriel’s first solo album came out, post-Genesis.  These shows were a great blend of muscular and sophisticated music and mood; he also had a Cirque-like theatrical touch here and there, leavened by Levin (tall, bald bassist Tony) and other stellar musicians…Tickets were $7.75.

9.) December 7, 1978 – WYDD & DiCesare-Engler Productions welcomes Chaka Khan and Al Jarreau to the Stanley Theatre…..I believe this was the concert in which a seemingly off-her-game & maybe-on-meds Khan uttered “It’s great to be in Philadelphia!” to a then viscerally reactive Pittsburgh audience (at least a few in the crowd stood up and finger-pointed, yelling things like “KNOW where you ARE, girl!”).  Once the show got back on track there was a real flow from Khan to Jarreau, buoyed by their two unique and arresting voices.


10.) December 8, 1978 – The Pitt Union Program Council (at the University of Pittsburgh) presents Sea Level in David Lawrence Hall…..Sea Level—named after accomplished keyboardist Chuck Leavell (“C level”)—formed out of the ashes of the Allmans in 1976.  This spin-off had Leavell, percussionist Jaimoe and bassist Lamar Williams all from the Allmans, and along with four other members including vocalist/saxophonist/keyboardist Randall Bramblett, this Southern jazz-rock-blues amalgamation kicked ass.  So glad this particular ticket stub jarred my long dormant memories…Tickets were general admission / $3.50.

11.) December 28, 1978 – WDVE & DiCesare-Engler Productions welcomes Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band…..Now in Pittsburgh, this was my second Bruce show and I had brought along a Santa hat, knowing that Springsteen was invariably going to perform “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”.  The Santa hat was from the record store I had worked at the year before, Exile Records in Wexford, PA, and it had the hand-scrawled word “Exile” in glitter smeared on the white brim of Santa’s red cap.  I slinked up near the stage early on but was honestly a bit intimidated to throw it up in Bruce’s general direction, but an inebriated fan in a nearby seat—courage not lacking—seized the initiative and plucked the hat from my fingers and hurled away.  Bruce spied the Santa hat and plopped it on while a nearby photographer caught the moment—and I ended up with a photo of “Exile” on E Street.

12.) April 26, 1979 – DiCesare-Engler Productions presents The Tubes at the Stanley Theatre…..The Tubes were a wildly theatrical rock band on stage, dishing out political & social satire via set pieces, costume changes, and back-up singers & dancers, all part of a show that put celebrity culture on the skewer, blasted consumerism, and a whole lot more.  In this live setting, songs like “Talk To Ya Later”, “White Punks On Dope”, “What Do You Want From Life” and “She’s A Beauty” all rocked with a purpose, helmed by charismatic lead singer Fee Waybill.

13.) June 9, 1979 – Danny Kresky Enterprises & WYDD present Alvin Lee at the Stanley Theatre…..This concert came to town about five years after Ten Years After.  TYA had broken up around 1974 after this British blues-rock band had notably wowed Woodstock in 1969 with a rocking, bordering on interminable version of “I’m Going Home”.  The band broke up due to lead guitarist Alvin Lee’s restlessness with their pop success (material like “I’d Love To Change The World”), as he preferred their blues-based origins.  He was a shredder in concert, lightnin’ fingers on the frets…Tickets were $7.50.


14.) January 19, 1980 – Electric Factory Concerts presents Weather Report at the Stanley Theatre…..One of the ticket stubs I found in my attic is from a Weather Report concert on November 5, 1977—which cost a whopping $5.00—but there are no further markings to let me know the particular venue they played in.  For this January 1980 concert at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre, I remember the full-frontal jazz-fusion attack of principal players Joe Zawinul (keyboards and synthesizers), Wayne Shorter (saxes) and Jaco Pastorius (spider-fingered and brilliant on bass).  Seeing Weather Report live was like going to church; it was full of the power and the glory, but didn’t last forever, aww man!

15.) November 24, 1980 – Boz Scaggs at the Stanley Theatre…..Boz was at this point four years gone from his commercial smash album Silk Degrees, the epitome (to some) of blue-eyed soul, albeit all slick & polished.  Here in 1980 he was touring behind a new album called Middle Man and a hits compilation as well, and the opening act was a female-led, horn-laden jazz fusion band from Hawaii called Seawind.  A great evening of flash & flourish…

16.) June 13, 1980 – DiCesare-Engler Productions presents Genesis at the Stanley Theatre…..This was the band post-Peter Gabriel, about four years on, when they were down to three members including drummer-then-also-lead-singer Phil Collins.  They were out supporting the release of their 1980 album Duke, which featured the fan-identified favorite “Misunderstanding”.  Pop music was leaning into the group more and more, and they were busily incorporating Collins’ less-progressive penchants into the band’s music.  Still, they had a powerful, full-sounding approach in their live performances and occasionally dug back into the archives for songs like “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”.

17.) November 17, 1981 – The Rolling Stones at Richfield Coliseum (in Richfield, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland)…..A few friends and I bought tickets late in the game for this one, and our journey ended in terrible seats at the far end of the arena.  Still, these dots and specks on stage put on a Rollicking Stones show, fueled by their already legendary hits like “Under My Thumb” and “Honkey Tonk Woman”, plus twenty-three other tunes bashed out in semi-sloppy Stones’ style including “Start Me Up” and “Waiting For A Friend” from their then-current release Tattoo You…Tickets were $15.00.



There are no new postings for 11/17/14 on musicasaurus.com....Earthbound considerations took me away.  New postings will return for the regular every-two-week schedule on Monday, December 1st.  Please return then!



Posted 11/3/14.....PET SOUNDS

Musicasaurus.com loves to open up the floor to its readers occasionally, asking them to sound off and/or weigh in on a particular topic.  This latest survey idea was prompted by a friend named Bill, who stops by occasionally and between sips of wine we exhale music references fairly nonstop.  I am no longer sure how we got on to this particular topic—pets & music—but Bill blurted out that he had once owned a snapping turtle who hated The Band.  “Wha..?” said I, checking my wine glass, ready to blame brain fizz.  “What did you say?!!”

“Yeah,” said Bill, “he was about as big as a Frisbee, and I had him in a terrarium in my living room where I liked to crank up my stereo while I worked.  He was mostly kind of passive—unless The Band's The Last Waltz was on the turntable, and then he always got agitated and started clambering up the glass sides trying to get the hell out.”

It took The Band to get that turtle out of his shell?  I wondered about other pets, and what other anecdotes might be out there (in “Musicasaurus Readership World”) that might deal with similarly prized companions who perk up, go into spin cycle, whatever—all because of the effects of music.

Thus the question I posed to some musicasaurus.com readers:  "Have you ever had a pet who responded very strongly (either way) to certain music you played?"


1.) Easy one.  No.  I’ve never noticed an animal of mine taking notice of any of my music.  I’ve left the radio on in the background to try to tame the savage beast during my time away from the house, but I’ve never noticed a reaction one way or the other, save that they thought the stop sets were interminable and the playlists far too repetitious.  

On the occasion or two I left a talk station on, my pets found the hosts to be ill-prepared, reactionary and massively unentertaining.  “Their first thought in seems to be their last word on the subject”, my animals seemed to be thinking.  “These hosts couldn’t take some time to prepare a bit, a thesis, ask a few more questions, dig a little deeper?  And why do old, white and cranky have to be synonymous?”  Good questions for which neither my pets nor I have a suitable answer. – Steve Hansen, Pittsburgh PA


2.) I have a dog who absolutely hates "Funky Town".  He starts howling like a cartoony wolf howl, when he hears it.  Needless to say I can't take him roller skating with me anymore. – Russ Rose, Pittsburgh PA


3.) One of my early ‘70s college freshman roommates from Kansas City, Tom Jacobson, used to laugh every time we played Let It Bleed—as he recounted how his dog at home would always get up barking and charge to the picture window when the horn honks from the beginning of "Country Honk" beeped from the turntable. – Chris Romney, Washington D.C.



4.) I've never had a pet that responded to certain music.  Not quite hearsay, because I witnessed it, and not my pet, but my friend David Pohl's dog Sherman would bark when the birds start chirping in Laurie Anderson's “O Superman”.  It was as if Sherman was saying the birds don't belong. – John Powers, Freedom PA


5.) My dogs have never reacted to music.  But my dog Geno would go crazy whenever he heard the Law & Order theme on TV.  He ran around the house crying. – Val Porter, Pittsburgh PA


6.) Great question.  I’ve heard of pets being affected by particular musical sounds.  Our dog passed several years ago, and we have been an animal-less since, with the exception of the odd mouse that gets in, or the wild animals in the back yard including a groundhog, deer, squirrels, raccoons, and chipmunks.  I can't say that I've looked outside my window and noticed the deer rockin' to a Clapton tune or seeing the raccoons and squirrels sitting down together groovin' to a Dylan track. – Dave Blauschild, Pittsburgh PA



7.) We recall back in her puppy days our Australian Shepherd seemed to display extra energy if I'd be cranking Celtic music to prepare for an interview with someone like Danu or The Chieftains (editor’s note: The writer here is a newspaper entertainment editor).  Maybe it was the tin whistles? Or just the novelty/timing of new puppy/new surroundings?  Either way, she never seemed to care after that what music was blaring, as long as she got to be in the room with her beloved humans!  Actually, it was more about the music I sang to her than played for her. Whenever I belted out "I Kissed a Dog" (to the melody of Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl") I could count on getting a smooch. – Scott Tady, Beaver Falls PA



8.) When I was young I played the flute.  In graduate school I found a few people to play with—there was a really good pianist who could play Claude Bolling's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano, and a hippie who lived with lots of cats and liked folk music.  About the third or fourth time I played with the hippie at his house, he told me he had found an arrangement for flute and harp/guitar to Erik Satie (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwSCc1AHjLQ).  We began playing it, and it sounded great almost immediately.  Just as we were getting carried away in the thick melancholy melody, this big yellow cat leaped off the couch and attacked my flute—scaring the bejesus out of me.  We didn't know what to do, but after a while we tried again and he attacked again.  We tried going back to folk music and he was fine.  He never did it on any other piece—just Erik Satie's Gymnopedie no.1.  Go figure. – Richard Scheines, Pittsburgh PA  



9.) I read your blog religiously & never miss it…So here's my chance!  A survey about animals & music!  And guess what?  Never in my life have I had a dog or cat that had any sort of reaction to any song whatsoever.  I'm so pissed off that I have nothing to add to this survey.  Filled with rage, Clara. — Clara Jacob, Pittsburgh PA


10.) My wife—my lovely pet—seems to get an auto response (to sing along) to a political show’s opening theme song every day when they play "Stuck in the Middle with You" (a song written by Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan, and originally performed by their band Stealers Wheel).  I try not to take this personally but I must admit it sometimes hurts. – John Flemming, Reading PA


11.) I have a story about a dog we had growing up.  His name was Trip and he was a Lhasa Apso we had purchased from a pet store back in the 70's.  But any time the song "Eight Days A Week" by the Beatles came on, he would start howling non-stop during the chorus part.  I assume it was the harmony that set him off and I always believed he was singing along with the Beatles.  But I would leave the radio on at night while I was sleeping and he would start howling in the middle of the night, and I would wake up and every time it was because "Eight Days A Week" was playing.  But as far as I know that was the only Beatles song that Trip liked.

Unfortunately, he had a mental disorder (most likely due to poor breeding) and ultimately had to be put down at a very young age as he was dangerous.  One minute he would be friendly and the next he would turn on you and attack for no reason.  It was very sad. – Lori Burns, Pittsburgh PA



12.) In the years since we had our dog Scutter—which have now included a total of 4 dogs and 4 cats—I must admit that none of them have had any reaction to music.  Now television on the other hand is an entirely different story.  We have had both cats and dogs that watch and react to TV.  The most extreme was a springer spaniel (Molly) with whom no one could ever watch a show on Animal Planet as she would attack the TV; heck, pet food commercials were bad enough when she was watching.  She even followed a herd of wildebeests across the screen and was deeply confused when they didn’t come out the other side. – Mark Spear, Wexford PA



13.) Until a few years ago, I had two birds, a female conure named Peepers and a male cockatiel named Nathan.  If I was at home, they were freed from their cages.  We would watch Charlie Rose almost every night together.  I would hold them or they might sit on my shoulders.

Charlie Rose has a distinctive jazz theme song at the opening and closing of the show.  Nathan and Peepers would bob their heads and sway, keeping time to the music.  They would not sing or whistle, although they can both vocalize in their own separate ways, but they would dance and sway until the music ended.  Then Peepers died.    

I continued to watch Charlie Rose with Nathan on my shoulder, but for quite a while, I would have to mute the sound before the theme music played.  You see, Nathan would hear the music and begin to dance.  He would bob his head to the music for a few beats, then look around and call out.  He would become progressively more agitated, and might fly from place to place, calling as he went.  Every time that particular music played, he’d lift his head and call for someone who wasn’t there.  So, I muted the sound.

Some years have passed now.  When the music plays, Nathan might bob his head for a few beats, stop, then turn away…and he doesn’t dance anymore. – Richard Schall, Pittsburgh PA


14.) The smartest dog I’ve ever owned was Jenna, my Aussie Cattle Dog.  The Blue Heeler, as they call ‘em, is an ugly breed, it’s true, but brilliant by canine standards.  Mad Max’s dog in The Road Warrior was a Blue.  Jenna was a loving animal.  Unattractive, sure; given to the foulest of personal habits, yes, but so sweet and gentle most of the time.

Unless she heard Bjork.  When Jenna heard the Sugarcubes…anything sung by Bjork…she bounded to her feet, then dropped into Downward Dog position.  A Billy Idol sneer replaced her usual ragged smile, her neck hair bristled, and she began to growl.  Unless relief came soon, she began this heart-rending whine-howl-growl.  I hope never to hear anything like it again.  It was otherworldly, like a theramin-didgeridoo-bagpipe combo accompanying Tuvan throat singers.  So torturous for her I refused even to put the behavior on display for others.

That dog lived 15 years. On my best dog’s behalf, to this day, I will not listen to Bjork. – Bill Johnston, San Diego CA




Posted 10/20/14.....FOUND OUT ABOUT YOU (Part Two)


When I left the employment of Live Nation in February of 2008, I thought I’d never be a promoter again.  No disrespect, no tarnish intended—I just had decided in one of those key Life Assessment Moments to move on out into the world, in order to see what would open up for me elsewhere.  My desires and interest were shifting toward the world of non-profit work, and so I left the fold of the zest and the zaniness and the oftentimes adrenalin thrill of being a music promoter… 

A “promoter” can be of many stripes.  He or she could be a full-service sort who books the show with the agent or manager, handles the artist contracts, coordinates the catering, staging and staffing logistics, and in the end takes the win or the loss.  Or he or she could be like me—I was couched in a large company and a cog in that larger wheel, in my case rising up in 1995 to the general manager position of a Pittsburgh-area outdoor concert facility and having as my chief mission the maintenance and management of this local cash cow…

Early on in my tenure as GM of Star Lake Amphitheatre in the mid-through-late ‘90s, I had input into ticket pricing and the shows our company would book for the venue, and I consulted a lot with our resourceful, very talented booker Beckye Levin who was headquartered in Houston, Texas.  This was in the days of a bit more local/regional entrepreneurship within this national company PACE, where a GM could voice more opinions about the venue’s overall annual profit / loss destiny.  I for one seemed to gravitate more toward the booking nuances and marketing aspects, versus the strict operational tasks associated with executing events.

When I left the company that ultimately became Live Nation in early 2008, I hurled myself headlong into networking to find my place in a non-profit.  I veered from that course just once, signing back on with Live Nation on a project basis to help produce and execute a major two-day festival on the South Side of Pittsburgh called the New American Music Union.  Its acronym was NAMU, and I had a whale of a time—the lead-up work-load to the actual two-day affair on August 8th and 9th, 2008 was both a head-spinner and a heart-tugger. 

I loved the challenge of helping to mount this particular event, and I learned to quickly dust off my diplomatic skills in navigating the wants, desires, moods and egos of all involved.  I had my overall marching orders from my out-of-town Live Nation bosses, of course, but the real tightwire act was balancing the overlaps and disconnects of the two main players involved, American Eagle Outfitters (the festival’s funder) and American Eagle’s local landlord & concert-site owner The Soffer Organization (a commercial and residential real estate behemoth).

It kinda took a few years off my life by the end of it.  I pictured myself as some kind of circus performer in Center Ring, laser-focused on multiple thin rods with plates atop each, keenly aware of the wobblers and spinning each of these sticks so that none of the highly-perched porcelain would come crashing down...On the final evening when the New American Music Union’s festival headliner Bob Dylan took the stage to the delight of his hardcore and the disillusionment of the un-baptized, I was pretty much a shell of my former self, muttering with glazed-over eyes and a blank expression, a real candidate for a quick knife to the brain by deputy sheriff Rick from The Walking Dead

That Summer of 2008 proved to be my last concert promotion stint, but largely because I got increasingly caught up in my networking pursuits to land a position in the non-profit world.  Having accomplished that goal by the Fall of 2009, I shrugged off the final vestments of The Promoter Life—or so I thought.


It took Bryan Elijah Smith to snap me back to attention (see the posting before this one, dated 10/6/14).  After my road-trippin’ friend Frank and I soaked up a very enlightening and pleasurable evening of Smith’s music in a tiny West Virginia club in September 2013, the promoter bug bit me again.

Let me temper that, though.  I certainly didn’t leap up after Smith’s Purple Fiddle performance with a napkin contract and a pen, saying “I can make you a STAR!”.  I didn’t approach him at all, in fact, but a few weeks later back in Pittsburgh the germ of an idea skittered over my brain surface:  Hmmm…why not see if Bryan Elijah Smith would be interested in coming to town?

I contacted Smith by email through his website, and offered to talk to a few music clubs in Pittsburgh in the hopes of getting him booked locally.  Smith agreed.  And so Promoter Rule # 1 kicked into gear:  Find someone else, if at all possible, to take the risk.  While general manager of the amphitheatre with Live Nation, I had witnessed some way bad booking decisions coming down from Corporate where a new pop sensation, let’s say, was headed our way at an unconscionable sum of money and I knew we were headed for a bloodbath end result; of course Smith was small potatoes compared to this scenario, but I was still the walking wounded in that regard and knew enough to at least take local temperatures…

A couple of the smart and savvy local promoters/club operators politely steered me elsewhere, or offered to book Smith for an evening where he’d get the money “from the door” (i.e., from ticket sales) and thus there’d be no guarantee of artist payment from their own coffers.  That wouldn’t work, though—Smith was a struggling artist who deserved to at least, worst-case, have some travel expenses defrayed through a guaranteed payment of some sort.  The guy and his band-mates were ready to schlep all the way from their hometown of Dayton, Virginia (4+ hours from Pittsburgh), and this situation called for more of a commitment on the part of his presenter—which then turned out to be me.


Spurned (diplomatically) by the couple of club operators, I convinced myself that I had enough of a base of family and friends to make a memorable evening of it, and not lose my shirt in the process.  I contacted a small 200-capacity community-center type of hall just outside of Pittsburgh where I had held some private parties in the past, got the date of Saturday May 17th on the calendar, and called Smith back.  He was open, and open to it. I offered him a decent sum of money to make the trek with his Wild Hearts, and immediately sent out some e-blasts to the aforementioned family and friends.

Jesus, friggin’ May is a busy month.  Having committed to Smith as his entrée into the Pittsburgh market, I was soon finding out that graduations, weddings, and travel were all getting in the way of a healthy response.  I had set the ticket price at $20 and figured this would “make me whole” on all of the projected expenses with about 90 friends & family ultimately attending, but as we inexorably crept toward the May 17th event, my wallet began trembling in my pants pocket.

Still, I ignored Promoter Rule # 2:  If the coming show looks to be somewhat ailing in sales, quickly cut back expenses whenever and wherever possible.  At the Pittsburgh amphitheatre where I had labored for a lot of years, we had at one point booked a four-act classic-rock show with Blue Oyster Cult, Jefferson Starship and a couple of other long-in-the-tooth, commercially-exhausted old timers—and the advance ticket sales were horrid.  When the show finally rolled into town we had cut back on their requested level of sound & lights equipment, and as I recall, the bands were also quite irate about their cheese sandwiches and bottled water, which certainly ran counter to the more lofty food & alcohol requirements as listed in the “artist catering” section of their official tour rider…

This situation was different.  I had personally taken on this task out of the love of a new musical discovery, a singer-songwriter who deserved wider renown and who had committed his time and travel to a new town and a private showcase situation.  So I never breathed a word about my sudden discomfort with the guaranteed sum I had pledged to them, and I also kept everything else as promised—including some great grub from EatUnique, a healthy-style, taste-tempting deli treasure in Pittsburgh’s Oakland section.


The band pulled in for equipment set-up and soundcheck around 5pm on Saturday, May 17th.  Smith had informed me in advance that he was going to scramble up his current Wild Hearts just a little bit for this particular show.  When friend Frank and I had seen them the previous September in the West Virginia club, the foursome was composed of Smith (acoustic guitar, harmonica & vocals), and three other men on banjo, bass and drums.  Here, he rolled into town with a male fiddle player in lieu of his drummer, and brought along as well a very talented alt-country singer-songwriter from Australia, Krista Polvere, to occasionally join in on duets…

The evening was nothing short of spectacular, in all respects:

1.)  We had asked folks to bring 3 cans of non-perishable food items to this private-party showcase evening, and downstairs in the hall on a stretch of banquet tables, we also set up a Chinese Auction (with all revenue earmarked for the Pittsburgh Food Bank).

2.)  Upstairs in the performance area—a beautifully preserved old-wood room with low lighting, and tables dotting the floor with my now enrapt family & friends—Smith and his Wild Hearts played two captivating sets of alternative-country music.  The musicianship was incredible, and though virtually all material was new to the ears of the assembled, the crowd was adoring and swept away by the songwriting and the execution…

3.)  About three songs in, the band stopped for a pause between songs and Krista remarked from the stage, “We love this…You—you all came to listen!”  (This comment emanated from the band’s usual circumstance of playing on festival line-ups, and more commonly in clubs where chatter and socializing and imbibing often ruled the evening.)

4.)  A special moment occurred, quite spontaneously, in the break between the first and second sets.  Standing outside with Smith during intermission, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind starting out the second set with a few comments about his background, how long he’d been working toward his music goals professionally, etc.  Smith smiled and said that he wasn’t much for that kind of thing, and instead offered to do a Q & A (question and answer session) before the band launched into the evening’s Part Two…This turned out to be an unexpected, intimate treat for the audience and the Q & A flowed quite well for about 10-12 minutes.  The best question of the night, from a young woman in her twenties:  “If you could have chosen your musical parents, who would they have been?”  Smith tugged at his beard and ultimately came out with Deborah Harry from Blondie and Jim Morrison of The Doors (how that led to a predominantly alt-country approach is anyone’s guess)…

5.)  The smiles in the crowd were running rampant all evening long, and I could see on numerous faces the delight of having discovered a new artist who was very passionate in performance and armed with songs that were in some ways mystifyingly satisfying; it seemed they were some effortless meld of smart “pop hooks” with rock & folk traditions, peppered with alt-country energy.  My friend Christine said that evening, “This is incredible on the ears, and it’s a bit of eye candy as well—Bryan and his Wild Hearts for us girls, and Kristin for the guys.”

6.)  Post-event, I received a number of emails from the attendees, remarking on the near-perfect evening—a great venue, plus a won-over, worshipping crowd of like-minded souls, and a band who should (by all that’s holy) be ascending to a much wider circle of fans and supporters.

7.)  And then there was Dave’s email which came in about a week after the show, expressing his gratitude and his admiration for Australian Krista Polvere:  “Lance…Thank you, I had a great time on Saturday.  Just unfortunate that so many had conflicting events on May 17.  The band (and the food bank) deserved a bigger crowd.  And…thank God Krista was not eaten by a dingo.”

You can find out more about Bryan Elijah Smith on his website…Sample his brand new album—Bryan Elijah Smith & The Wild Heart Revival’s These American Hearts—and maybe even plot out a pilgrimage to catch him live sometime…Enjoy.   www.bryanelijahsmith.com




Posted 10/6/14.....FOUND OUT ABOUT YOU (Part One)

I have to credit my longtime friend and former college roommate Frank with finding Bryan Elijah Smith.  One evening in September 2013 the former was doing some online trawling through “West Virginia clubs”, as he and I had just settled on a bro’ weekend to take place at the end of the month. 

Typically, bro’ weekend consisted of the two of us on the road to adventure, misadventure, or in some cases, missed adventure (the latter were just the handful of disappointing jaunts to an ultimately lackluster location—nuthin’ ‘bout the company).  We had been doing this getaway thing since the early 1980s after marriage and kids individually possessed our hearts & souls and somewhat shackled our feet.  These getaways were nice recaptures of Youth, and we were never rejuvenation delinquent; we made sure to do this at least once a year, for there was much to explore whether it was a train trip to NYC to see a band or a hiking trip across the craggy face of Mother Nature in the wilds of PA or West Virginny…

For this September 2013 trip, we’d decided on a two-day trip to West Virginia for hiking, and the online dip that Frank did was to zero in on evening entertainment possibilities.  Frank was equally entrenched in Musical Obsession,in my view one of the loveliest of communicable diseases.  Through the years we’d mine new stuff independently and then alert the other to the riches, whether this was a brand new band for a playlist, an all-but-forgotten ‘70s deep cut to savor, or the next reason for a road trip.


Frank searched within a 25-mile radius of our destination of the Canaan Valley in northeastern West Virginia, and spotted a live-music venue in a sleepy hamlet called Thomas.  Turns out we both remembered this little former coal town from an earlier excursion, but really just in the sense of passin’ through.  Its East Avenue main drag is just a few blocks long—no traffic lights—so if you cheat a look at your smartphone or get gripped by a sneezing jag, you’re through town already with only a wisp of recollection.

The music club Frank spotted online was called The Purple Fiddle, and apparently it’s been nestled there in Thomas as a haven for the locals and the passers-through for a number of years.  A Washington Post article that ran back in 2004—currently featured on the venue’s website—labeled it “a magical oasis in a desert of nowheres -- first-class food emporium meets Internet hot spot meets smart-aleck country store meets family game room meets bluegrass hoedown heaven.” 

When I joined Frank at his home in Cumberland early on Saturday before we ventured toward Canaan, we went online to check out a bit more about The Fiddle’s Saturday night band, Bryan Elijah Smith and The Wild Hearts.  A sample YouTube video of a song called “Pour On Me”—a sped-up, herky-jerky, band-clustered-‘round-the-mike slice of alt-country—was enough to cause us to look up from the computer, exchange grunts of sufficient optimism, and book our Saturday night.  We called The Purple Fiddle on the spot, to see if we could snare lodging right next door in their Fiddler’s Roost Guest House, and there was one room left—perfect for falling out of the club near closing time and spinning right into the sack, if we had a mind to…

After a long day of nature trails in Canaan and accompanying earnest discussions of Current Life Status—peppered with our usual silly but synapse-firing Bro’ Exchanges—we drove the half-hour plus and arrived in tiny town Thomas to check into the Fiddler’s Roost Guest House.  We threw our bags on the beds, took a stroll and somewhere around 7pm we sidled over to The Purple Fiddle. 

A smattering of a casually dressed dinner crowd was beginning to snake in past the entrance screen doors, engaging the occasional employee as they parked at the two-and-four-seat tables dotting the floor.  Frank and I grabbed a table for two, about twenty feet back from the small elevated stage in the corner near the bar and ordered some sandwiches and beer…


Looking around while the buzz of conversation began to pick up around us, I noticed the place really seemed to treasure its origins.  On its website, The Purple Fiddle goes by its full name of The Purple Fiddle Café, Brews and Stage, which certainly covers its offerings and activities, but it was once upon a time a general store.  Joseph DePollo had opened his retail shop in a nearby location in 1903, and in 1916 moved to this spot on East Avenue, serving the town’s coal miners with supplies and a spot to huddle up before or after work.  From the preserved storefront look to the high shelves sporting washboards and old musical instruments just below the ceiling line, The Purple Fiddle was decked out to delight, steeped in country comfort.

After I had eaten my sandwich I grilled the waitress—not literally, you know—and she told me that she’d been working at The Fiddle for about three years, and absolutely loved the owner John Bright.  “He’s a music nut” she said with a wide grin, “and he’s not missed a Friday-and-Saturday live music booking since he opened the place in 2001.  And we always get a pretty good crowd, too.”

I surveyed the room and with band-time approaching, this was now quite the patch quilt.  I would have loved a smartphone app that could have instantly fed me backstories, but by looks alone the crowd was quite diverse:  Ages twenty-something to well past prime…equal parts men and women…couples and small groups…hikers, bikers, townies and tourists.  The one bit of commonality?  Everyone laidback and smiling, and clearly just feelin’ right at home.

Bryan Elijah Smith and The Wild Hearts took the stage a tad late, and Smith apologized with a soft-spoken, brief account of a traffic mishap on the way to the club.  “Glad to be here, that’s for sure” he said, and then the four-piece band—Smith on acoustic guitar, harmonica and lead vocals; a banjo player, drummer and bassist—kicked off the first of two long sets of an intriguing blend of rock informed by country leavened with pop and layered with alternative… 

As the evening wore on and the music in the mind of Smith unspooled and spilled out over the crowd, there was an increasingly comforting sense of wonder building within Frank and me.  Here was a truly passionate musician who had captured…something.

The appeal was palpable but somewhat indefinable, and like the best concert experiences, the cumulative effect was life-affirming—something you feel deep in your bones as a salve for discomfort or distress; something that ultimately lifts you up, and takes you to another place…

It helped—that particular night—that the magic was not only emanating from the stage.  About four songs into the first set, when the band was really starting to seamlessly hit their stride, there was still no one on the dance floor in front of the stage.  And then one lone soul—a flannelled twenty-something male with a ball cap on and a beer tenderly cradled—walked up to the stage edge and s-l-o-w-l-y shuffled in place, his cap down over his eyes and his free arm swaying close to his frame.  It was a dance, maybe just a trance, I don’t know—but after about forty-five seconds, like moths to flame, others in the audience ever so gently drifted into the ball-capped youth’s general vicinity, eventually filling the floor and falling under the band’s sway.  There were singles and couples, and codgers and young’uns, and geeks and bumpkins and twirlers, and they all served to hoist this live music experience to its highest level…

More in Part Two of this tale about Bryan Elijah Smith and The Wild Hearts, to be posted 10/20/14; as it turns out, once was not enough—so I arranged a private-party concert by the band and brought them all the way to Pittsburgh (next time, on www.musicasaurus.com).

Bryan Elijah Smith links to explore and sample in the interim:

1).  Music video collection on YouTube…featuring six songs:  “Real Man”… “Run Around”… “Shallow”… “Turn It Up”… “Forever” (give this one about 4 seconds to kick in, after the color bars)…and “Pour On Me”   http://youtu.be/QkOefZv8ruQ?list=PL90F9471A2B814D29

2).  iTunes link to Smith’s 2012 release Turn It Up, which has musicasaurus.com’s current obsession, “Roses & Wardens”


3).  ....and, the artist's own website:  http://www.bryanelijahsmith.com


Posted 9/22/14.....NEW SENSATION


Musicaurus.com had a moment of self realization recently…I uncover new artists and tunes now & again but just not enough, given the wealth of new bands and solo performers waiting to be discovered on the internet.  iTunes is only about a decade old, and before then, I used to haunt record stores looking for CD trade-ins and new releases, especially—toward the end—hitting the local Record Exchange or a store like Borders, where I enjoyed the headphone listening stations that really let me sink into a new prospect for take-home.

Of course the web has opened up the world for us in terms of new music, but I wonder if “time” is the major culprit here.  The internet has everything we want, and more—every answer we crave is a click away.  Think of the amount of time one spends on the net on our laptops, iPads, mobile devices and—now just comin’ ‘round the corner—on our friggin’ watches…So music for me sometimes has to take a back seat to a lot of other web pursuits and, oh by the way, squeezing in face-to-face social interactions which I hope is not becoming a lost art.

Anyway, I reached out recently to some friends and associates in the realm of The Arts (mostly in music), and asked them what new artists they’ve been listening to lately…Paraphrasing Pittsburgh’s Rusted Root, surely there’s enough here to Send You On Your Way:

1.)  I've really been getting into Lord Huron.  I especially like "Ends of the Earth". – Ed Traversari (Pittsburgh) / Former concert promoter & partner in DiCesare-Engler Productions (which eventually became part of Live Nation); currently instructor at Point Park University in their Sports, Arts & Entertainment Management program


2.)  I really love “Stay with Me” by Sam Smith.  I'm at the point in my life where my kids are turning me on to new artists.  There's also a video on YouTube of him covering Tracy Chapman's “Fast Car”.  Great stuff, lots of soul. – Scott Blasey (Pittsburgh) / Musician and lead singer for The Clarks


3.)  Jason Isbell, especially his newest:  http://www.jasonisbell.com/release/southeastern/ – Bob Klaus (Durham, North Carolina) / Original marketing director of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre (1990); currently general manager of Durham Performing Arts Center


4.) Here are artists that don't get played on Clear Channel / CBS owned stations and boring WYEP with releases in the past year that I enjoy:  Jimmer -The Would-Be Plans, The Far Left Side of You…..After 20 years Jimmer Podrasky of the Rave-Ups returns with a new album great songs.  He wowed Pittsburghers this summer on his first return home.  http://open.spotify.com/track/1rwh8fQTi0uec0peWrjiSO

Quentin Moore - Simply Beautiful - a young soulful R&B singer from Austin who reminds me of a Mr. Bill Yalor.  http://open.spotify.com/track/7xcZKdN5yqRVppbWLTsU9F

JD Eicher & the Goodnights - I'd Like to Get to Know You….. A Pittsburgh based band that is touring the country playing their tuneful songs.  http://open.spotify.com/track/7lU5d3TnbdHq13395VmebB

Jordan Sokel - Stormy Story Song - A Baltimore-based talented song writer.  http://open.spotify.com/track/0j0GdsPXpjJkUPSTgaPdAe

Caleb Hawley - Crying Wolf - a Harlem based blue-eyed soul singer.  http://open.spotify.com/track/3JRs4893digfLIi4VLIEbQCaleb Hawley –Crying Wolf

(You can hear all of these artists on the Radio Free Tunes playlists at https://sites.google.com/site/radiofreetunes/ – Paul Carosi (Pittsburgh) / Designer/developer of the website Pittsburgh Music History (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/)


5.)  Sturgill Simpson.  He was the opening act this year for Zac Brown Band.  He's the antidote to  the dumbed-down "bro-country" of Blake-Luke-Jason (cornerstones of Pittsburgh's newest country station.)  Sturgill is more in the Waylon mode without being derivative – Scott Tady (Beaver, PA) / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times


6.)  When it comes to music artists I tend to focus on " jazz " guitarists ( I wonder why?)  and two came to mind immediately:  Jazz great Pat Metheny is not exactly " new " but in the world of jazz guitar he is considered to be part of the new generation of jazz guitarists…The second one is former Pittsburgher Ron Afif.  Ron was born and raised in Pittsburgh and went to Canevin High School with my youngest daughter Gia Negri Leven.  He is a marvelous jazz guitarist and is making quite a name for himself in NYC.  Ron is the son of former Pittsburgh boxing great Charlie Afif. – Joe Negri (Pittsburgh) / Jazz guitarist, composer and educator (also, for all time, “Handyman Negri” on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)


7.)  I’ve recently discovered an artist named Eivør.  She is a vocalist, instrumentalist and songwriter from the Faroe Islands, currently based in Denmark who sings songs in Faroese and Icelandic as well as in English.  She’s a very powerful vocal presence, kind of Bjork meets Kate Bush meets, I don’t know what.  I’ve since found out that some of her music has been used in HBO’s Game Of Thrones.  This is the first song I found, I was astounded:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpiFmZLICgM … Here is a link to stream her 2012 album Room:  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLuHbdFD97-lENvY3WggH3-wKnKL0KodQMLiz Berlin (Pittsburgh) / Musician, Rusted Root and Drowning Clowns; Mr. Smalls Theatre & Recording Studio Owner; Director of non-profit Creative.Life.Support; Teaching Artist


8.)  I've been listening to Father John Misty, formerly J. Tillman, formerly Josh Tillman.  He's not exactly new but he reinvented himself after a career as a singer songwriter coffee shop kind of guy, to the drummer and vocalist for Fleet Foxes, to Father John Misty, a true oddball and very creative performer.  Some of my favorite songs:  “Only Son of a Ladies Man”, “I'm Writing a Novel”, and “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”. – Stacy Innerst (Pittsburgh) / Artist and illustrator for books, newspapers and magazines; his most recent release was a children's book about the Beatles’ sense of humor, The Beatles: They were Fab and They Were Funny (Harcourt 2013)


9.)  This is a tough one since the music landscape has changed so much.  Time was I'd buy an album (or eight-track, cassette or CD), plop myself down and invest.  I could tell you who wrote what, who played what and who was on loan from their label.  Now I mostly stream.  So while I hear a lot of music I rarely know who I'm listening to.  Songs and artists come and go.  With Pandora I can only tell you that I listen to Pat Metheny, Train, Afro Celt Sound System or somebody who's algorithms closely match theirs.  Over the course of any given week I become vaguely familiar with Little Steven's pick for the Coolest Song In The World but am rarely smitten.  Music has become . . . backdrop.  Fill.  

I still consume, of course.  It's just that don't know what I'm eating.  Er, listening to.  Sometimes I go out for a nice sit down meal.  Er, concert.  But it's usually the same old place.  Er, band.  So the answer to your question is that I don't know who I've discovered lately.  But it was nice, jazzy, tasty and totally forgotten. – Steve Hansen (Pittsburgh) / Former on-air talent on WDVE Pittsburgh’s “Jimmy & Steve” morning program (1980-1986); currently an independent writer/producer


10.)  I like Ryan Adams’ new CD but he has been around awhile.  I like Taking Back Sunday’s new one...ditto Nick Waterhouse, "Holly"... Cody Chestnutt, "Where Is All The Money Going"...Del Lords, "When The Drugs Kick In"...Steve Conti, "Ok DJ"...I like The Heavy…and the new Gaslight Anthem CD Get Hurt…and The Men’s "Another Night". – Joe Grushecky (Pittsburgh) / Musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader (Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers)


11.)  I heard the new Taylor Swift song a few weeks back, and it absolutely blew me away.  Posted the link with a positive note on Facebook, and everyone seemed to think that I was being sarcastic or ironic, that I was making fun of her-- which couldn't be farther from the truth.  It's an incredible backing track, fun hook, great vocal, clever lyric, and overall excellent mood for a song, not to mention I've always been a fan of hers for her lyrics. – Josh Verbanets (Pittsburgh) / Musician, Meeting of Important People; co-creator, The Josh and Gab Show (kids anti-bullying programming)


12.)  Lord Huron...very cool.  Heard them on XM/Sirius.  Also really discovering the genius of Bob Dylan…other than that my daughters LOVE Ingrid Michaelson.  She's got a great new release…Also, Boy & Bear—heard ‘em on XM.  Really great. – Rob James (Pittsburgh) / Guitarist/background vocalist for The Clarks


13.)  Some friends in Nashville turned me onto Ryan Kinder (www.ryankinder.com); they think he’s a real candidate to break through…a Dave Matthews look-alike but not sound-alike who is heavily influenced by John Mayer.  Check out some YouTube stuff on him like “Tonight.”…Also, pop-wise, Echosmith are four siblings from L.A. that are already breaking through; check out the song “Cool Kids.” – Tom Rooney (Pittsburgh) / Former executive director of Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group


14.)  Some say that the internet has ruined the music industry and I'm willing to agree with a lot of that.  While “ruined” might not be the best term, clearly it has turned the music industry's business model totally upside down.  For me, one thing the internet HAS done is actually help me discover new bands.  In the past, unless a song was heard on the radio, or a band's video was played on MTV (when they actually played video's), there was a good chance I would never discover a new band.  With the internet, every band (as long as they have a website, or a social media outlet), can at least have the chance to be discovered.  Which is how I came to hear my new favorite band:  Anathema.

I've always been a fan of modern progressive music - there's not an odd time signature I don't like!  While I appreciated the signature prog acts of the ‘70s like Yes, ELP and others, I always preferred a more “rock” approach - bands like Rush, Dream Theater, and even a band like King's X, and a newer group, Porcupine Tree.  The leader of Porcupine Tree is Steven Wilson, who is not only a great musician but also an in-demand mixer/producer.  At some point, I noticed that he mixed an album by a band called Anathema.  The album was titled We're Here Because We're Here, and Steven Wilson described it as “definitely among the best albums I've ever had the pleasure to work on.”  I decided to check it out and I'm glad I did.

The band itself has a unique history...They started out back in the early '90s as one of the original Death Metal bands.  Yep - pounding drums, growling vocals (which I hate).  But over time, their sound has done a total flip.  Led by brothers Daniel and Vincent Cavanaugh, and brother-sister duo Lee and John Douglas, Anathema now play a very melodic, atmospheric, passionate, almost Pink Floyd-type music that is written to emotionally move the listener.  

While I haven't really listened to their early stuff (again, not a fan of death metal), their three most recent albums—We're Here Because We're Here, Weather Systems and their newest release Distant Satellites—are absolutely fantastic recordings.  Weather Systems in particular is a modern masterpiece in my mind.  If you're looking for a band with emotion dripping from their music, be sure to check out Anathema:  “Everything”:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olFZ2XVNC7k …..“Internal Landscapes”:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6TnvKEuiD4 – Bryan Sejvar, program director at Classical 89.3 WQED-FM Pittsburgh

Posted 9/8/14.....SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER
This particular month is usually a rite of passage for a lot of folks, with return to routines and a buttoned-up attitude that lends a focus heading into Fall…It can be a reflective time as well.  Musicasaurus.com recently spent time digging into a few “music history” websites, trying to get to the essence of September in terms of key musical events that might have happened through the ages—and as it turns out, the leadoff Key event is of the Francis Scott variety:
SEPTEMBER 1814:  Francis Scott Key composed “The Star Spangled Banner” during the British attack of Fort McHenry…His rousing anthem was prescient in its noting of the rocket’s red glare and the bombs bursting in air, and if he could have only heard Jimi Hendrix’s early morning onstage salute at Woodstock, he would have been spazzed and sputtering like a sparkler on the Fourth of July…
SEPTEMBER 1968:  Ringo had quit The Beatles this month during the recording of the White Album, due to exasperation with the overall state of affairs within the band.  After being coaxed back into the studio, he arrived to find his drum set adorned with flowers…I found this bit of news interesting, because a lot of us thought the tension was largely between John and Paul in terms of the march toward breakup.  I also wonder if, in addition to the flowers covering his drum kit, Ringo found petals placed elsewhere around the recording studio—maybe cellophane flowers of yellow and green, towering over his head? 
1) The US Festival in California over Labor Day weekend in 1982, which was founded from the ground up by money-flush Apple Computers’ whiz Steve Wozniak.  Over 400,000 fans attended, and the three-day affair boasted top draws Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and The Police, and wonderful undercards like Gang Of Four, Dave Edmunds, and Oingo Boingo.
2) The first Farm Aid concert in Champaign, Illinois in 1985, featuring around 60 total artists in an all-day stadium celebration.  Concert founders and subsequent Farm Aid organization board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp all performed at the show.  Farm Aid’s fourth Musketeer, Dave Matthews, joined the three founders beginning with the event’s 10th anniversary concert in Louisville, Kentucky in 1995. 
On the same day—September 7th—twenty-five years apart, we lost wild-ass drummer Keith Moon from The Who in 1978 (too many meds), and Warren Zevon in 2003 (who once composed a nifty album-filler called  “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”).  Zevon died of cancer, and his advice to the living, often quoted before he left us, was “Enjoy every sandwich.”
Also expiring in September:  Jimi Hendrix in 1970 (alcohol and barbiturates are a nasty combo), and Robert Palmer in 2003 (of a heart attack in Paris).
In 1963—still the Cold War era, in which America turned on its own through the machinations and deliberations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities—folksinger and activist Pete Seeger agreed to appear on the ABC television variety hour called Hootenanny.  Seeger had been blacklisted from network TV by the HUAC back in 1955, and now the stain was lookin’ to lift, but then ABC at the end of negotiations insisted he sign a loyalty oath—and the beleaguered Seeger told ‘em to pound salt.
Also in the Sixties:  September 1966 was the last month of the 14-year television run of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.  The Oz of Ozzie & Harriet was landlocked in the ‘50s, a mellow, edge-of-befuddled father figure who never bit off more than he could chew.  We know another Oz, of course (last name Osbourne) who always bit off more than he could chew—drugs, bats & doves, oh my—and after starting up hard rock band Black Sabbath in 1969, thirty-three years later he also became a TV dad via MTV’s reality show The Osbournes (note to self:  Oz-some job connecting the dots here.)
In the Eighties:  September 1984 revealed Madonna’s midriff fashion tastes through her “Boy Toy” belt, worn over a white wedding gown as she body-mopped the floor at times during “Like A Virgin”, her initial performance on the nascent MTV Video Music Awards…and in September 1987, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand concluded its thirty-year run on the ABC network.
1962 = Bobby “Boris” Pickett released the Halloween musical treat called “Monster Mash”, which is not only a graveyard smash but a huge Top Forty hit with listeners across the USA.  Interestingly, the song was banned by the BBC for being too unwholesome and morbid, but eleven years later they relented on a reissue of the song and it became a #3 pop-chart hit over there…
1969 = Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” was released and made points with the conservative crowd in late ‘60s America with its tuneful, folksy rebuke of anti-war protestors.  CBS television’s left-leaning Smothers Brothers, however, gave equal time by inviting Haggard onto their show to perform the right-tilting tune…
1977 = I want to throw up all over.  I just rediscovered a long-buried, painful memory—the song “Kiss You All Over” by a group called Exile.  The song hit the Number One spot on the national charts in September of this particular year, and it is truly a stomach churner for the ages.  It’s excruciating to listen to—and it’s probably unsanitary.
1987 = Lynyrd Skynyrd rose from the ashes—their 1977 plane crash that killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and a few other band members—and mounted a “Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute” tour of arenas.  The last song of the evening, all tour long, was an instrumental version of “Free Bird” that had a solo spotlight on a solitary microphone stand, placed at center stage…The tour led to a full reformation of the band and new material to add to the band’s long-adored Southern rock classics.
2002 = Based on your own particular Doors perception (a nod to Aldous Huxley, right there), you might have loved this one admirable attempt at reformation some thirty-plus years after the death of original lead singer Jim Morrison.  With ½ of the original band behind him—keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robbie Krieger—Ian Astbury of the rock band Cult stepped up to the mike and spookily channeled Morrison to such a degree that the band’s live sound was authentic, even awe-inspiring.  Billed as “The Doors of the 21st Century” (due to legal entanglements with using the band’s original name), the group played their first date of their national tour in September 2002 at the California Speedway in Fontana, San Bernardino County, CA.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001:
A couple of things concerning that one particular day that we will always remember as simply 9/11…
1) Four days before, alternative folk-rocker Ryan Adams was shooting a video for a song of his entitled “New York, New York” and he included the World Trade Center in the background.  Once the video was released, it was dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attacks.
2) Ten days after, a nationwide broadcast of a live-in-the-studio benefit concert—America: A Tribute To Heroes—raised over $120 million for the victims of 9/11.  The broadcast was subsequently released on CD and DVD…I revisit the DVD of this solemn set of songs every now and again.  If you haven’t put this into the tray or streamed it recently, OR seen it since its initial broadcast, you will be moved by the reverence and the quiet…Some of the most inspiring performances:  Bruce Springsteen’s “My City Of Ruin” with a bit of choir behind him, and Neil Young’s solo-piano “Imagine”.
1967 = The Beatles were working on their television film Magical Mystery Tour, and one of the locations was the Raymond Revuebar in London.  They were filming a stripper’s scene and the group backing up the clothes shedder was the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, playing a song from their new album Gorilla: “Death Cab For Cutie” (note: This is a good trivia nugget that you older readers can impart to members of the younger generation, when the two of you are having a confronta—er, conversation about music.  Just steer the talk toward “band-name derivations” and you’ll score.  Perhaps.)
1979 = In September of this year, guitarist for The James Gang-then-Eagles Joe Walsh announced his intention to run for President of the United States in the 1980 election.  He campaigned as a write-in candidate who would, if elected, proclaim his song “Life’s Been Good” as the new national anthem (he was only 33 years old at the time, so he couldn’t have actually qualified to be president anyway).  I am not really sure how much time he devoted to his “campaign” but I doubt it was a long run.
2006 = Musicasaurus.com fell in love with this tidbit:  The Australian rock band Jet released their second album, Shine On, in September of this particular year and it garnered both praise and damnation.  One positive review by England’s NME called it “glorious, ragged old rock ‘n’ roll” but American music-centric internet publication Pitchfork Media posted not a single word alongside the album cover—only a YouTube clip of a chimpanzee peeing into its own mouth (priceless…I wish musicasaurus.com could be so succinct and “spot on” with some of its own reviews).  http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/9464-shine-on/  



Posted 8/25/14.....TWO AGAINST NATURE

I know right off the bat I’m going to lose some readers for this particular posting, because Steely Dan evokes fierce passion from some, and a range of indifference to purposeful neglect in many others.  “Can’t get past those vocals” my late, lovely wife used to say, and this was a statement of fact and not an argument starter.

Someone once said to me that the key difference between men and women is that men like The Three Stooges.  That’s soitenly—er, certainly—one way to look at it, but in terms of music I believe it is extremely difficult, and unfair, to put men and women in certain boxes when it comes to an art form like this which is so dizzyingly diffuse.

My wife Margot and I largely blended well, when it came to musical taste.  I might have leaned a bit more heavily on guitar heroics as a go-to ingredient when it came to playlist concoction, but I balanced that with generous portions of European jazz, non-nauseating new age (when I could find it), folk-rock artists of both genders, certain ‘70s troubadours, a smidgen of blues and electronica, and deeply-mined classic rock nuggets that never saw the light of play when it came to those cringe-worthy, playlist-strangled commercial rock stations. 


Margot and I loved a lot of the same artists and songs.  We’d do road trips with the speakers spouting out English Beat, Lucinda Williams, Bruuuuuce, Dave Brubeck, The Clash, British folkie Kate Rusby, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sam Cooke, R.E.M. and Joni Mitchell…We’d relax in some ‘round-the-house lazing and grazing with Bob Marley, Celtic New-Agers Nightnoise, Jackson Browne, and jazz pianist Keith Jarrett…and we’d host social get-togethers where Sting was our thing, along with Van Morrison, Joan Osborne, Counting Crows and Annie Lennox.

Acutely compatible in this realm, we even detested the same songs.  When we were about to be married back in 1984, we’d joke to friends about choosing Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” as our wedding dance number—and then immediately put our respective pointer fingers down our throats followed by a simulated, simultaneous gag.  (For the record here, instead of any wedding deejay at all, we hired an excellent rhythm & blues outfit, Billy Price and The Keystone Rhythm Band.)

But back to the Dan.  The dudette couldn’t abide.  Even though jazz, jazz-rock and polished performances were right up this gal’s alley, it was Donald Fagen’s voice that was a complete nonstarter, and she couldn’t surmount.  So, with this one little area of marital dis-chord, I just learned to tiptoe by the two lips that often dissed my Dan…

Even this expressed discontent from my spouse, though, didn’t deter me from eternally lighting a candle for every bit of masterstroke that the Dan put forth.  In fact, through these many years since the 1970s—moving from cassette mixes to burning CDs to queuing up on-line samplers—my playlists always seem to nab a Dan for contention, even if the particular selection doesn’t make the final cut.  The band has, to date, released nine studio recordings with seven of these fired off during the eight-year period between 1972 and 1980, and during that stretch we fans of Dan panted with anticipation for each subsequent dose of succulence.


Steely Dan is essentially a changing cast of characters powered by one fixed component--the feisty, bright-bulb, literate and musically adventurous duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.  They had met in the late 1960s while at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.  Geeky, beatnik-loving eccentrics at the time, they pushed out occasional compositions to other artists and eventually found themselves moving from the East Coast to L.A., having been taken under the wing of ABC Records producer Gary Katz as “house songwriters” for the label.  When reality hit—meaning, Fagen and Becker’s material was deemed too idiosyncratic and sophisticated for most of the ABC-label bands at that time—Katz convinced the two to start up their own group.


The early Dan records, especially the first two (Can’t Buy A Thrill from 1972 and Countdown To Ecstasy from 1973), were sprinkled with jazz-pop gems but the songs also in spots rocked well, thanks to sizzling and sweet guitar work from Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (eventually a Doobie Brother) and Denny Dias.  Countdown To Ecstasy really sports a progression from the first album—Fagen had come to the fore as primary vocalist upon the departure of original lead singer David Palmer, and musically the band edged evermore into jazzier sophistication.  And the lyrics underneath?  They continued coalescing into this intoxicating blend of incisive wordplay, intriguing themes and turns of phrase, with some of the ultimate messaging remaining sweetly cryptic.

These first few Dan records came out during my college days, when I was a deejay with the university’s radio station WCCB in Clarion and then—upon transfer in the Fall of ‘73—with WDFM State College.  I dutifully spun the aspiring hit singles of the band at that time, which were “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ In The Years” from the first album and “Show Biz Kids” and “My Old School” from the second one.  But my friends and I, splayed on second-hand couches and beat-up armchairs in our respective apartments across campus, were also lovingly dissecting and eagerly digesting the other tracks on the albums, especially Countdown’s “Boston Rag” and “Razor Boy”—proof positive to us that this Fagen-Becker combination could really wield a pen and also produce some lush and magical soundscapes.


From 1974-1976, the Dan cranked out three more albums for devourers and devotees—Pretzel Logic (’74), Katy Lied (’75), and The Royal Scam (’76)—and through these latter two releases especially, we came to appreciate even more the quality and contributions of the stellar session players who Fagen & Becker had judiciously plucked for their purposes through the years.  Two notables in particular who amped up the 1975 and 1976 recordings with their memorable gifts:  Background singer Michael McDonald (also a Doobie starting around 1975, and a successful solo artist) and guitar player Larry Carlton, whose dazzling solo on “Kid Charlemagne” from The Royal Scam has made countless fans and aspiring guitarists beam, scream or outright cream…

Aja, though, is the band’s masterwork.  Released in 1977, the album contains but seven tracks, two of them over seven minutes in length.  It is also a magnificent sounding record, with meticulous attention to detail—and of course boasts top-tier contributions from major players including drummer Steve Gadd (just soak in his solo on the title track) and jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter.  Aja received many accolades beyond its top-of-the-charts triumph status back then, and interestingly, it also became the choice selection of touring sound men on many a concert tour for years thereafter…

When I worked at the large amphitheatre in Burgettstown, PA (near Pittsburgh) from 1991 through 2007, especially in the early years, one could hear the mindboggling clarity, crispness and integrated power of tracks like “Black Cow” and “Deacon Blues” rolling over the hills of Hanover Township around 4pm, as the tour’s sound system was being tested by their mix-position guys before the particular evening’s artist had arrived for their soundcheck.

In the summer of 1993, though, the hills came alive with the real thing.  After nineteen years of duo dormancy in terms of revving up the Dan to do a tour, Fagen & Becker powered up a full-scale reunion trek and descended upon our Burgettstown amphitheatre (then called Star Lake) on the evening of August 14th.  The audience, awash in out-of-bounds anticipation, was a freakin’ nervous wreck.  Expectation was off the charts as most of the crowd had been weaned only on the pristine recordings of the band (from ’72 through ’80), and now they were equal parts chomping at the bit and scared shitless that the band might not be able to pull off what it had perfected for posterity back in the studio…

The fear was unfounded.  Steely Dan had assembled a truly roadworthy band of star session players, all prodigiously talented, and songs like these sailed out over exultant faces and into the hills of Hanover:  “Royal Scam / Peg / Aja” (an instrumental overture that welcomed everyone back into the glorious fold)…“Green Earrings”…“Bodhisattva”…“Josie”…“Hey Nineteen”…“Black Friday”…“Deacon Blues”…“Babylon Sisters” and more, eventually ending with a one-two encore punch of “My Old School” and “FM”. 

I have to mention just two other things about this memorable August 1993 concert:  1) I was completely shirking my normal night-of-show job duties all evening long, staying rooted (and glued to the stage) in the lower pavilion area.  And 2) This is the night that I learned to love Walter Becker.  During the first set he did three of his own songs in a row, all from his new solo album—all unrecognizable, all unwanted.  By the beginning of the second of his interminable violations, fans streamed out of the pavilion and the lawn to hit the bathrooms and the concession stands—and as a venue management person, I was elated that Walter had helped us, in the end, reach some really decent numbers when it came to food and beverage sales…


The Steely story doesn’t stop here.  After this 1993 reemergence, the band came back to our 23,000-capacity amphitheatre (Star Lake>Post-Gazette Pavilion>now First Niagara Pavilion) three more times, and then just two weeks ago the group downscaled their venue for their now more upscale fans, and did a pricey evening of follower favorites on August 11th at the Benedum Center in downtown Pittsburgh.  I attended the concert with three friends, a boys’ night out for Steely Dan, which my wife likely would have said “And that’s the way it should be…”

The concert was, overall, pretty damn fine which just goes to show that you CAN buy a thrill.  The critics in town seemed to concur with that; in his August 12th post-concert review, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer and P-G Weekend Mag editor Scott Mervis stated that “fans here finally got the Dan in the warmth of a theater suited to its high level of jazz-pop sophistication.”

And then he ended his review with this (for I have a steely resolve to wrap things up here):  “For the most part, the band's first trip here in eight years was another shining example of a classic quote to which Mr. Becker referred: ‘Without music, life would be a mistake.’  He also noted that when the pair met in college and started writing songs, he figured, ‘Eh, this will never work.’  A Hall of Fame career later, we can be glad they didn't take academics too seriously back at their old school.”




Posted 8/11/14.....MORE THAN WORDS

This is not a definitive list by any s-t-r-e-t-c-h, but I wanted to throw down some words about words—the power and the importance of ‘em, when set to music.  The following nine artists are the first ones that popped to mind when I thought of lyrics that have moved musicasaurus in one way or another…

1.) Warren Zevon…. Zevon’s a great semi-sardonic storyteller often evoking a world within just a few words, and on his self-titled second release from 1978, he is backed up by a stellar cast of musicians and singers including Southern California session guitarist Waddy Wachtel; Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar on guitar; Russ Kunkel on drums; and Jackson Browne, Karla Bonoff, Linda Ronstadt and J.D. Souther on background vocals.  The song is “Lawyers Guns & Money” and the opening eight lines kinda define the Zevon style: 

Well, I went home with the waitress

The way I always do

How was I to know

She was with the Russians, too.

I was gambling in Havana

I took a little risk

Send lawyers, guns and money

Dad, get me out of this.                       http://youtu.be/NGhd53hV0Z0


2.) Magnetic Fields…..This band’s auteur is Boston-born singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt, who is truly some kind of twisted cabaret genius.  On this three-volume set from 1999 entitled 69 Love Songs, the Magnetic Fields crank out that exact number of alternative-pop oddities, all anchored by the not-quite-mellifluous baritone of its ringleader.  Most all the songs have merit, but musicasaurus.com especially delights in “I Think I Need A New Heart”,which practically vivisects that living, breathing, shape-shifting thing we know can be “love”: 

Cause I always say “I love you”

when I mean “turn out the light”

And I say “let's run away”

when I just mean “stay the night”

But the words you want to hear

you will never hear from me  

I'll never say “happy anniversary”

never stay to say “happy anniversary”

So I think I need a new heart...                     http://youtu.be/zQOrLamT0n4


3.) Joni Mitchell…..Mitchell gets double exposure here which is deserving and shouldn’t be unnerving, for one can pick most any number from her vast catalogue of songs and find she’s a true poet and word painter:

From 1970’s Ladies Of The Canyon we have “The Circle Game”, with its exquisite chorus (four times repeated) around verses that take a child from a very early age up to his or her twenties—though this is a song for all ages, and it opens like this: 

Yesterday a child came out to wonder

Caught a dragonfly inside a jar

Fearful when the sky was full of thunder

And tearful at the falling of a star.

And the seasons they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We're captive on the carousel of time

We can't return we can only look

Behind from where we came

And go round and round and round

In the circle game.                                         http://youtu.be/vRa6Ta2tw_M

…and from 1976’s Hejira we have “Coyote”, and this particular slice that cuts to the bone of some mismatched passion play: 

Coyote's in the coffee shop

He's staring a hole in his scrambled eggs

He picks up my scent on his fingers

While he's watching the waitresses' legs.          http://youtu.be/iWUgPIQNgGo

4.) Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks…..Hicks was the band leader of a jazzy, country & western, humor-peppered acoustic swing band who simply bubbled under most of the other late-1960s acts who were garnering a lot more fans and airplay in that wildly explosive, experimental era of music.  The album we’re centering on is entitled Original Recordings, the artist’s first release from 1969, and the chosen song’s title is a howl on its own, but the lyrics to “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away” are priceless, too:  

Your never-ending presence really cramps my style

I dream that it won't always be the same

At first I was attracted, but after a while

Have you ever heard of the hard-to-get game?

How can I miss you when you won't go away?

I keep telling you day after day

But you won't listen, you always stay and stay

How can I miss you when you won't go away?        http://youtu.be/rW9-FOLG-iA

5.) Suzanne Vega…..Vega nets mention here because of a groundbreaking Pop Radio hit in 1987 that reached # 3 on Billboard Magazine’s Top One Hundred song chart.  It propelled the artist from half-filled halls to sold-out theatres in the space of a few months back then, all the result of an intoxicating combination of musical muscle, sonic sheen, and Vega’s heartbreaking lyrics spun from the point of view of a nine-year-old abused child.  The song, from Vega’s 1987 album Solitude Standing, was “Luka”

My name is Luka

I live on the second floor

I live upstairs from you

Yes I think you've seen me before.

If you hear something late at night

Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight

Just don't ask me what it was

Just don't ask me what it was

Just don't ask me what it was…

I think it's because I'm clumsy

I try not to talk too loud

Maybe it's because I'm crazy

I try not to act too proud.

They only hit until you cry

And after that you don't ask why

You just don't argue anymore

You just don't argue anymore

You just don't argue anymore…     http://youtu.be/VZt7J0iaUD0

6.) Steve Earle.....If we had to conjure up a comparison, Earle falls somewhere between the heartland rock of Mellencamp and Springsteen, though heavily leavened by alt-country.  In 1988 he released an album called “Copperhead Road”, and this album’s opening track of the same name was a decent-sized FM rock-radio hit.  The album’s closing tune, however, was a poignant “holiday song” that musicasaurus.com feels—forget the damn time of year—is just flat out beautiful in terms of lyrical heart-tugging.  One does not have to be traditionally religious—or indeed of any one religious persuasion—in order to be moved by this tale of newborn hope for the world.  The song is called “Nothing But A Child” (and features singer Maria McKee on the chorus):

Once upon a time in a far off land

Wise men saw a sign and set out across the sand

Songs of praise to sing, they travelled day and night

Precious gifts to bring, guided by the light.

They chased a brand new star, ever towards the west

Across the mountains far, but when it came to rest

They scarce believed their eyes, they'd come so many miles

And the miracle they prized was nothing but a child.

Nothing but a child could wash these tears away

Or guide a weary world into the light of day

And nothing but a child could help erase these miles

So once again we all can be children for awhile.

Now all around the world, in every little town

Everyday is heard a precious little sound

And every mother kind and every father proud

Looks down in awe to find another chance allowed.

Nothing but a child could wash these tears away

Or guide a weary world into the light of day

And nothing but a child could help erase these miles

So once again we all can be children for awhile.       http://youtu.be/f0CAIx1cmUg

7.) Bob Dylan…..The Times They Are A-Changin’—yeahhhhh, well, NO.  The song appeared on Dylan’s album of the same name that hit record shelves fifty years ago, and it is more relevant at this moment in time than perhaps ever before.  The song is entitled “With God On Our Side”:

Oh my name it is nothin'

My age it means less

The country I come from

Is called the Midwest.

I's taught and brought up there

The laws to abide

And the land that I live in

Has God on its side.

Oh the history books tell it

They tell it so well

The cavalries charged

The Indians fell

The cavalries charged

The Indians died

Oh the country was young

With God on its side

…then the song takes you, with similar He’s-on-our-team sentiments, through the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, and the intense 1960s-era Cold War, only to wrap up with this:

But now we got weapons

Of the chemical dust

If fire them we're forced to

Then fire them we must.

One push of the button

And a shot the world wide

And you never ask questions

When God's on your side.

In a many dark hour

I've been thinkin' about this

That Jesus Christ

Was betrayed by a kiss.

But I can't think for you

You'll have to decide

Whether Judas Iscariot

Had God on his side.

So now as I'm leavin'

I'm weary as Hell

The confusion I'm feelin'

Ain't no tongue can tell.

The words fill my head

And fall to the floor

If God's on our side

He'll stop the next war.          http://youtu.be/x0YLuFZcOe4

8.) Randy Newman…..American singer-songwriter and film composer Newman released his third studio album Sail Away in 1972.  The title track is a beautifully orchestrated ballad that, if only half-paid attention to, might just manage with its musically lush foundation to smooth over the razor-sharp bite of the lyrics within…“Sail Away” is sung from the point of view of an African slave trader who is trying to coax some potential slaves to hop on board a ship bound for America:

In America you'll get food to eat

Won't have to run through the jungle

And scuff up your feet.

You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day

It's great to be an American.

Ain't no lions or tigers

Ain't no mamba snake

Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake.

Ev'rybody is as happy as a man can be

Climb aboard, little wog

Sail away with me.

Sail away

Sail away

We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay.

Sail away

Sail away

We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay.    http://youtu.be/KrJ0ppDKrww

9.) Richard Thompson…..Talented Thompson is STILL a cult curiosity, a massive talent that never wooed over the masses.  He’s been an ace guitar slinger since the late 1960s, having had his musical start with English folk band Fairport Convention and then recording with once-upon-a-time wife Linda Thompson before turning full-tilt toward a solo career in 1983…His lyrics have sly edges and sarcasm, and he sometimes zeros in on the vagaries of love with lyrics such as “I feel so good I’m going to break somebody’s heart tonight”—you get the gist.  Here on “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” from his 1991 Rumor And Sigh release, though, he fashions a well-spun, traditional folk-sounding tale of young outlaw love, powered on record with his fine acoustic guitar work:

Oh, says Red Molly to James "That's a fine motorbike

A girl could feel special on any such like."

Says James to Red Molly "My hat's off to you

It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952.

And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems

Red hair and black leather, my favourite colour scheme"

And he pulled her on behind and down to Boxhill they did ride.

Oh, says James to Red Molly "Here's a ring for your right hand

But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man.

For I've fought with the law since I was seventeen,

I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.

Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22

And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you.

And if fate should break my stride

Then I'll give you my Vincent to ride"…

"Come down, come down, Red Molly" called Sergeant McRae

"For they've taken young James Adie for armed robbery.

Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside.

Oh, come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside."  

When she came to the hospital, there wasn't much left

He was running out of road, he was running out of breath

But he smiled to see her cry

He said "I'll give you my Vincent to ride."

Says James "In my opinion, there's nothing in this world

Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl.

Now Nortons and Indians and Greeves won't do,

Ah, they don't have a soul like a Vincent 52."

Oh he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys

Said "I've got no further use for these

I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,

Swooping down from heaven to carry me home."

And he gave her one last kiss and died

And he gave her his Vincent to ride.            http://youtu.be/j0kJdrfzjAg




Posted 7/28/14.....COMES A TIME

I unearthed some things recently around the house, starting with a file I haven’t peered into in quite some time.  And the first printed piece I pulled out of it was a WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) company newsletter; nothing too fancy, black type on white with b & w photos as well.  I had completely forgotten about this internal company publication from my long ago days with WEA (1978-1980), and as I flipped through the scant eight pages, I was refreshed on its purpose:  Company esprit de corps, via the detailing of a particular month’s record-label happenings and shenanigans in the various WEA field-office markets around the country.

I wondered at first why I had stowed this particular issue away--# 22, dated April 1979—for it looked to be the typical fare of backstage photos of WEA record reps & artists, pictures of WEA regional bigwigs with high-level retailers, etc.  But then I spotted a picture of Dave Lucas.  He was Branch Marketing Coordinator in the regional WEA headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, and he was primarily responsible for the display materials and retail merchandising campaigns in the cluster of emphasis cities (like Pittsburgh) within “x” amount of miles from Cleveland.

Dave was a product of the times.  He looked a bit like film/book critic Gene Shalit from the long-running Today Show on NBC, with an Afro and glasses but not quite the walrus-stache that Shalit had sported above his upper lip.  Dave was bright, music obsessed, and my boss, and he had come to the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corporation through one of the labels, previously holding the post of local Warner Brothers promotion man.


My job at WEA, working out of Pittsburgh, was display work at area record stores.  It was a gig of almost complete freedom in terms of my daily schedule—I spent my time with music posters and cardboard cut-outs and promotional copies of albums all crammed into my mostly-functioning two-tone blue van, routinely cutting a two-week swath through National Record Mart stores, Record Outlets, Camelots, and a host of indy record stores in and around Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Ohio; and Wheeling, West Virginia.  Brandishing a staple gun, tape, and rolls of posters, I would bestow copies of brand new WEA albums upon the store manager at each location, and then inveigle prime wall space for my company’s releases, tacking up a new Cars’ poster, or a Sister Sledge album cover display, or a whipped-up-on-the-spot Van Halen concoction of posters, album covers and the small cardboard figure I had received a few samples of—a pint-sized, two-sided David Lee Roth, spread-eagled in his renowned high-jump split position…

But back to the WEA newsletter.  I combed through the eight-pager more thoroughly, and discovered my name in bold, right there under the “Cleveland Branch” heading.  Here’s the entry from this April 1979 publication that one of the WEA Burbank home-office staffers must have written:  “Boy, talk about Superman with a ‘bullet’!  Lance Jones, Pittsburgh Display Person, reports that someone shot a .38 through the front window of the National Record Mart in Pittsburgh.  When police arrived at the scene they found the bullet embedded in the chest emblem of the stand-up situated just beyond the window.  Speculation as to why the bullet didn’t just bounce off ‘Superman’s’ chest had led to one inescapable conclusion: the slug must have contained a minute speck of Kryptonite!”

I am not sure about the Kryptonite conclusion, but the rest of the account was indeed true.  It was National Record Mart’s main store in downtown Pittsburgh in Market Square, and indeed, Superman—actually a cardboard Christopher Reeves stand-up from the recently-released Warner Bros. film Superman—took a bullet for the good of the store.  Apparently some trigger-happy whippersnapper had, late one night, shot through the record store’s front window and the bullet miraculously stopped and lodged right there in the iconic “S” on Reeves’ chest.  Looking back, I never made the company newsletter in any other way—just this one Tale of the Undeflected…

At the end of that year of 1979, Dave Lucas called me and asked that I meet him at the Pittsburgh airport as he was flying in for only a brief touchdown in the ‘burgh.  Over breakfast, Dave gave me the news that my display-person position had been eliminated due to nationally induced cutbacks in personnel.  On the spot he gave me the option to move to Cincinnati to take the place of someone there that they had decided to let go, but I ended up declining the offer and instead stayed in Pittsburgh.  I then went to work almost immediately for National Record Mart…


I doubt that I got the job because my Superman had saved their main store.  It was more about the relationship I had carved out over a couple of years with a few of the home office VPs at this record store chain.  National Record Mart (also known as NRM) was founded in Pittsburgh in 1937—its earliest incarnation was actually a used record store, under another name—and now in the early 1980s it was on a real growth spurt, expanding into new territory in nearby states and edging toward 80 total outlets.  Ironically they had been contemplating hiring someone to head up their chain-wide in-store merchandising efforts, and luckily Dave Lucas and WEA had delivered me up at just the right time.

So I began toiling as the chain’s Creative Merchandising Coordinator (they gave me my desired title in lieu of a living wage, as I recall) and I spent the first couple of months in their employ visiting all of the stores in order to get a firsthand grasp of each store’s display space opportunities, its market strengths in terms of genre sales, etc.  Around 1982, though, I ascended to Advertising Director of the chain reporting directly to NRM’s VP of Merchandising and Sales, George Balicky.

Under Balicky’s guidance, I spearheaded the chain’s marketing efforts which were virtually 100% funded by the record labels and accessories companies (the latter consisting of blank tape purveyors, etc.).  The store promotions usually involved new and catalogue product, sale priced and then set up in store front areas so that the consumer was hip to the room right upon entry...

It's important to note here that, some thirty years back, we all weren't exactly high-tech, cutting-edge communicators.  I was diligently churning out memos about impending sales and promotions, but of course this was the pre-internet era (hard to fathom) when this information was typed up on a typewriter and then xeroxed so that copies could be snail-mailed out to the entire chain of stores.  The news traveled faster if I happened to call store-cluster District Managers with all of the details in advance, which I often did to try to raise anticipation and secure early buy-in.  Most of the District Managers as I recall were polite and receptive to my advance calls, though I could sense in some of them a “WTF, I’ll read it when it gets here” sentiment (nice to be reminded now that some people's job frustrations existed well before the internet).

And so the memo I found in my old file last week was about National Record Mart’s “sElection ‘84”, a Warner-Elektra-Atlantic sponsored campaign that consisted of a month-long sale (May 21-June 17, 1984) on current & catalogue WEA albums.  I remember coming up with the concept because 1984 was, early on, heating up nicely as a presidential election year—incumbent Reagan vs. Walter Mondale.  My small team and I had a couple of good strategy sessions beforehand with regard to election-themed tie-ins, and we strove to make this National Record Mart campaign fun as well as successful.


In addition to issuing the general rules of the game to the store managers—like, no duh, populate your storefront area with the sale-priced WEA product—we also provided election-style straw hats to store personnel, ballot-style bagstuffers for the front counters, and buttons for all staff to wear that said “YOU can win in sElection ’84!”  For the consumer, we offered up a “voting booth” area within the store where they could review the entire list of WEA albums on sale, and then write down on a ballot sheet their favorite album.  Once a week for four weeks, every store would pick a winner from the collected consumer ballots, and then post that winner’s name in the voting booth area.

We also placed at the front of the store a “sElection ’84 Dark Horse Candidate” display, which was a weekly switched-out WEA “fringe artist” that usually no one had ever heard of.  But this Dark Horse display did net some interest (and sales) from consumers who took a chance on an untested artist—likely because the album was discounted even deeper than the already-established WEA sale price.

At the conclusion of “sElection ’84”, I remember that the campaign was lauded a success by WEA (who had moved a lot of albums and tapes) and also by my National Record Mart employers (who as previously mentioned, paid not a red cent for the radio and print advertising, the in-store campaign materials, nor the consumer and store manager prizes).

My BIG takeaway from finding this file recently from half a life ago?  Music is my mainstay.  All the roads traveled—literally and figuratively—in my late-‘70s display days and my mid-‘80s marketing chair maneuvers have led me not toward reassessment, but to reinforcement:  Life is here for us to continue to pursue our true passions.  I may be a one-note guy, and it’s only rock ‘n’ roll—but I like it.



Posted 7/14/14.....I’VE SEEN ALL GOOD PEOPLE


Musicasaurus.com reached out to some readers recently for their favorite YouTube music clips.  Actually, the way I posed the question was this:  What is the best video you have seen on YouTube (in the musical vein) that is pretty damn cool, unexpected, or just mindblowingly unbelievable?”


Kiesza, a 25-year old Canadian-born singer/songwriter/dancer who has the hutzpah and unbridled talent of the early Madonna (meaning Sean Penn’s ex, not the religious icon).  “Hideaway” is a video that has been captured in one continuous shot.  - provided by musicasaurus.com, from a fairly recent tip in one of Bob Lefsetz’s music industry blog entries (which come in the form of periodic emails, if you subscribe). http://youtu.be/ESXgJ9-H-2U


Four suggested videos here:  1) 1 Giant Leap (two musicians’ multimedia project encompassing musical artists, images and rhythms from around the world); sample track “My Culture” http://youtu.be/oWxWdS_-hVc ..... 2) Nina Simone in Berlin in 1967 singing “Blues For Mama” http://youtu.be/hcikD_DX15A ..... 3) PS22 Chorus of 2014 (school children’s chorus) singing Austrian singer-songwriter Conchita Wurst’s “Rise Like A Phoenix” http://youtu.be/Wag3l3dO2ao ..... and 4) Leonard Cohen in London in 2008 singing “Suzanne” http://youtu.be/snMOmHzgssk - provided by John Powers (Freedom, PA)


Allman Brothers Band, Fillmore East 1970.....Contributor Christine Tumpson (Pittsburgh, PA) says “Just got into music vault's new YouTube site.  How ‘bout those Allman Brothers.  Remember when the audience sat and listened?”   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkmmYeeKPr4&list=PLhnmhDNF1JJgwcvV9zOXTa3WpCSRrvge5&index=3


Lindsey Stirling’s “Epic Violin Girl”.....Kate Sheridan (Cleveland, Ohio) says “This is a video of a kick-ass female violinist playing her heart out all over the world!”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp63nbOfxgs


Two suggested videos here:  1) “What Does The Fox Say?” Lord Almighty, even those who live under a rock have rolled away the stone to take a gander at this one--as of July 2014, it has over 430 million views on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jofNR_WkoCE ..... and 2) a favorite British band from the 1970s, Caravan:  “The Dog, The Dog, He’s At It Again” from 1973 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=313zsTyVcsg - provided by Rick Neuenschwander (Wexford, PA)


“The Ghost Of Tom Joad”.....Steve Hansen (Pittsburgh, PA) says “Gotta be Tom Morello and Springsteen at Madison Square Garden.  Morello joined Springsteen and others at the 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert and absolutely shredded “The Ghost of Tom Joad”.  I'd never paid much attention to Morello until this show.  I'm a devotee now.  The message, the passion...but most of all the playing.  If this isn't what rock 'n’ roll is all about then I don't know Diddley.  Watch as Bruce Springsteen trades licks with Morello before standing back and admiring in awe.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-mq0uJ7rlM&feature=kp


James Brown scorches a ski resort.....Ski Party, a Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman flick from 1965, has the usual handful of squeaky-clean teens converge at a ski resort instead of the standard beach locale.....Like the similarly-styled beach party films from that era, this one is ripe for a couple of musical cameos, and James Brown and his Famous Flames show up at the lodge to funk things up royally with a sizzlin’ lip-synched “I Got You (I Feel Good)”.  http://youtu.be/5oR3AHkl9EI - provided by Mary Ellen Call (Bradford Woods, PA)


The Pretty Reckless.....Scott Tady (Beaver Falls, PA) says “Not the best video, but the most effective one recently for me was their “Going to Hell” video.  I was skeptical – oh, great, pretty 20-year-old TV actress Taylor Momsen thinks she’s a metal singer – but after I watched the video, I was intrigued.  Prompted me to do an interview with her, and I literally ran to The Club at Stage AE (after the Y108 Heinz Field/Sheryl Crow & Sara Evans show) to see Taylor & the Pretty Reckless perform.  Glad I did.  She’s the real deal.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmtbg5b7_Aw&feature=kp


Genesis, live in 1973 with lead singer Peter Gabriel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FBcz3tBH74 - provided by Steve Acri (Pittsburgh, PA)


Bon Iver’s “Holocene”.....Bridget Hanahan (Scituate, Massachusetts) says “That’s my top pick.  Reason: Never have I seen a video that so perfectly captures the emotions of the song, and then amplifies them by 100.  Also doesn't hurt that I went to Iceland this summer and listened to this song constantly while there because COME ON!”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWcyIpul8OE


Pearl Jam’s “Given To Fly”.....Jeff Koch (Pittsburgh, PA) says “This is my offering for your ‘pretty damn cool’ category.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Wn0qxxWn6M


Two suggested videos here:  1) Tina Dico’s “Count to Ten Live”.....Paul Carosi (creator and curator of music website Pittsburgh Music History) says “I just love this singer and her song.  I promoted her music on my Radiofreetunes stations and on the Artistlaunch Hour.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMat6dqM298 .....and 2) a video Paul created and posted on YouTube:  “Calling Steeler Nation” (song by Mike Stout)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZ3CJi0Ih9s


Jack White’s “Seven Nation Army”.....Diane Novosel (Pittsburgh, PA) says “I am currently in the throes of a Jack White attack and recently checked this out on YouTube.  Fun Fact:  Seven Nation Army was his childhood name for the Salvation Army.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0J2QdDbelmY


Robert Downey Jr. with Sting.....Cornel Bogdan (Boardman, Ohio) says “I'm not a big you tuber, cuz there is so much crap.  But I do love Robert Downey Jr. holding his own with Sting.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1crxmBTxRlM


“Playing For Change” videos.....Joe Abeln (Pittsburgh, PA) says “Check out the "Playing for Change"  website. My favorite worldwide music advocate program.  Maybe something of interest there.”  Sample video: John Lennon’s “Imagine” http://youtu.be/J-t2ouOLYYw?list=RDHCdw62KQDUgFU


“Flight Of The Bumblebee” by David Garrett.....Jamie Feldman (Wexford, PA) says “Here's David Garrett breaking the record for playing the “Flight Of The Bumblebee” the fastest!  Hope this is something you are looking for!  Start at the 5:47 mark.”  http://youtu.be/NHkX0URELfQ?t=5m47s


“Ramada Inn” by Neil Young & Crazy Horse.....Rege Behe (Pittsburgh, PA) says “I'm a sucker for anything Neil Young does with Crazy Horse.  The video for "Ramada Inn" -- a great extended jam of a song about growing old and staying in love -- isn't going to appeal to anyone under the age of 30.  There's no "wow" moment, nor any amazing visuals.  The video is simply a series of vintage images (in black & white and color) that recall a more innocent, simpler age and mesh perfectly with the song's long, extended guitar solos.  Some of the images appear to be from home movies, some look like they are snippets from old, forgotten movies.  There are people at parties and people getting ready to go out.  A picnic, a bar, a diner, and some great shots of a remote (Canadian?) highway shot from a car.  There are also some psychedelic, kaleidoscopic patterns interspersed throughout.  Nothing is spelled out.  Nothing is given away.  How wonderful, how rare, to be invited into an artist's world and be asked to participate.” http://youtu.be/2bi64Y55LEU


Three videos suggested here:  1) “Somebody That I Used To Know” Gotye’s song as covered by Walk Off The Earth (five musicians on one guitar)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9mybTArlsk ..... and 2) a couple of songs from Von Grey, a local Atlanta, GA band who does a video series called Backseat Covers--basically sitting and performing in their touring van:  Cover of “Blurred Lines” http://youtu.be/m6QknctKPDQ ..... Cover of “Royals” http://youtu.be/JW6Lrmm2v70 - provided by Trevor Ralph (Atlanta, GA)


Die Antwoord’s “Fatty Boom Boom”.....Stacy Innerst (Pittsburgh, PA) warns us:  “OK, I had to send this one because it is the most in your face, provocative and just plain weird video I've ever seen.  It's a big F U to the popular music industry from a South African duo.  I don't know if you want it to be on musicasaurus but I thought I'd send it anyway.”  (Editor’s note:  He’s right!  Not for all tastes is probably putting it mildly; it’s essentially supposed to be Lady Gaga in her meat dress in a South African ghetto.  To give Stacy and I at least one degree of separation from those of you are easy queasy, I am not providing an actual link and therefore we are pretty sure you won’t check it out.  There.  Solved.)


Tommy Seebach’s “Apache”.....Musicasaurus.com had never heard of this Danish singer/composer/pop music producer before--a pity it could not have stayed that way.  But seriously, this video clip can arguably be slotted in the “so bad it’s good” category--a nice slice of Danish cheesy.  http://youtu.be/Burpv0ZM9gw - provided by Bob Brandt (Cleveland, Ohio)


Southside Johnny and Bruce Springsteen performing “Having A Party”.....Surely a sweet reminiscence for all who were there--Bruce joining Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes onstage at Cleveland’s Agora Club in 1978.  http://youtu.be/qG-Ng1f_xUk  - provided by Curt Voss (Philadelphia, PA--but a Pittsburgh expat)


Donny and Marie Osmond from their 1978 television network variety show, doing a cover of Steely Dan’s “Reeling In The Years”.....Musicasaurus.com’s take on this one:  When the video ended I looked up from my computer, eyes darting around the room, thinking, Did the ghost of Timothy Leary pop something into my mouth while I was watching this jaw-dropping production? ..... Watch/listen to Steely Dan’s original recording first:  http://youtu.be/rBllejn5fVA ..... Then check out Donny and Marie’s version:  http://youtu.be/GDeVAF58jPg - provided by Susan Drapkin (Pittsburgh, PA).



Posted 6/30/14.....THE GREAT BEYOND

For this particular posting in “A DAY IN THE LIFE”, I thought about reaching out to some readers that I’ve surveyed before on such topics as “favorite road song” (see posting here dated 4/21/14)...“a song that really moves you” (1/27/14)...and “a cover version of a song that startled you” (11/4/13).

I hesitated to reach out--and glad I did--because the question that popped into my mind was “What is the first thing you think of, when I mention ‘death’ and ‘rock ‘n’ roll’?” and then I thought, well, that’s a bit macabre.  No sense outing myself that I’m a morbid sort, or worse yet, that I’ve run out of good ideas to poll about.

So I decided, to thy own self be polling--and a couple of things hit me right away:


Yep, for all of the thousands of tunes parked in the swamp-like recesses of my brain, what came barreling forth first was “Death Walks Behind You” by Atomic Rooster.  This 7 ½ minute gloom and doom opus pretty much defined this 1970s British progressive-rock band, and I conjured it up on iTunes the other night to check it out anew.  To these old ears of mine--wax not waning, by the way, but certainly waxing nostalgic--the song sounded like the basis for a campy horror film.  Back in 1970 as an impressionable 17-year-old music-loving sponge, though, I soaked this in not just as another cool rock song, but also as a heavy statement.  Hard to resist lyrics like “Death Walks Behind You (repeat four times)/ Lock the door / Switch the light / You’ll be so afraid tonight. / Hide away / From the Bad / Count the nine lives that you had. / Start to scream / Shout for help / There is no one by your side.”

Atomic Rooster’s driving force, it turns out, was organist, mainstay member and occasional songwriter Vincent Crane (pictured above, on the right).  His keyboard had been the main propellant of the 1968 radio hit “Fire” when Crane was a part of the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, but he left that group a year later to form Atomic Rooster with future Emerson, Lake & Palmer drummer Carl Palmer.  Two other notes of interest:  Crane was afflicted with bipolar disorder, and death walked up behind him at the age of 45 when he passed away due to a painkiller overdose.  Also, his birth name--before he had changed his name to “Vincent Crane”--was Vincent Rodney Cheesman.  Could that have been a clue that he’d eventually co-write and predominate on a cheesy classic like “Death Walks Behind You”?   http://youtu.be/8yO7l6TmIRI

The few other “death tunes” that skittered over my memory banks:  British folk-rockers Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Wall Of Death” from their 1982 album Shoot Out The Lights.....The tune is a carnival ride, presaging (or at least surfacing before) Springsteen’s “Tunnel Of Love” which hit record stores five years afterward and dealt with similar themes.  Life is a carnival, indeed:  “Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time / Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time / You can waste your time on the other rides / This is the nearest to being alive / Oh let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death / You can go with the crazy people in the Crooked House / You can fly away on the Rocket or spin in the Mouse / The Tunnel Of Love might amuse you / Noah's Ark might confuse you / But let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death.”   http://youtu.be/gw1ZDzBoUf8

And Jackson Browne’s “For A Dancer” from his third studio album Late For The Sky, released in 1974.....Southern California singer-songwriter Browne was all of 26-years-old when he composed this elegy for a friend who passed away unexpectedly in a house fire.  The song, in sum, is plaintive and contemplative; about grasping for meaning when the hooded figure with the bony hand reaches out to take the one of someone close to you.  I’ll print a few of the lyrics here, but it behooves you to go to the link to immerse yourself in the message and the bittersweet shards of meaning.  No Big Reveal here, of course--just a prescription for living life:  “Just do the steps that you’ve been shown / By everyone you’ve ever known / Until the dance becomes your very own / No matter how close to yours another’s steps have grown / In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone.”   http://youtu.be/78AVc2jV4Sg



For those readers who don’t know, this “club” is well known in the circles of Those Who Have One-Note Existences--meaning, the music delvers like me who pride themselves on knowing this level of music culture detail to the exclusion of a whole bunch of other interests (yeah, it’s a sickness).

The 27 Club is a disparate group of musicians who died at that particular age, and notably there was a bunch-up of demises in a ten-month period between September 1970 and July 1971--when Rock ‘n’ Roll itself was still a relative young’un  --and this really started the ripple to this free-flowin’ theory.  Jimi Hendrix died in London on September 18th, Janis Joplin died on October 4th, and Jim Morrison of The Doors broke on through to the other side on July 3rd of the following summer.

I remember Rolling Stone magazine doing a cover story on Jim Morrison for its September 17, 1981 issue that had a typically enticing photo of The Doors’ lead singer on the cover, with the tagline “He’s hot, he’s sexy, and he’s dead.”  The story centered on a new wave of popularity for The Lizard King (so named for a line in a poem he wrote, originally printed on the inside sleeve of the band’s 1968 album Waiting For The Sun).

The Doors’ resurgence around 1980-1981 was pretty phenomenal, but it resulted from a number of convergences.  According to the Rolling Stone piece, the record company had dropped the pricing on the band’s first few late-‘60s albums; Morrison’s poetry was put to music by the remaining band members in 1978 and released on album as An American Prayer; the band’s creepily iconic song “The End” appeared in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now; and the first Morrison biography came along in 1980 (No One Here Gets Out Alive) which became a go-to commodity for rock readers old and young.

Not all of The 27 Club members have this kind of posthumous traction, but they all benefit from one thing, of course:  They’re all frozen in time at the peak of their powers and at the height of their rebellious streaks and accomplishments.  Hard to get a blemish when you’re dead and gone--except for the original stigma of how you happened to pass away.

Here is a roundup of the more famous/infamous 27 Club members, and how they shuffled off this mortal coil.  Pick your poison:

Robert Johnson / August 16, 1938:  This 1930s-era blues singer/musician died of disputed causes, either by poisoning or syphilis depending upon the murky source.  He wrote and performed (among others) “Cross Road Blues” and “Love In Vain”, songs that were revered and then covered by Clapton and the Rolling Stones, respectively.

Brian Jones / July 3, 1969:  A member of the Rolling Stones from 1962 through 1969, Jones died in his swimming pool (too many laps to the taps, and various drug pursuits as well).

Al Wilson / September 3, 1970:  Canned Heat’s lead singer got canned from Life by an overdose of barbiturates.

Jimi Hendrix / September 18, 1970:  Asphyxia due to an overdose of barbiturates (don’t know if he heard his train a comin’...)

Janis Joplin / October 4, 1970:  Heroin extinguished this heroine.

Jim Morrison / July 3, 1971:  The Doors had just completed the album L.A. Woman and Morrison took a break from the band to live in Paris with lover Pamela Courson.  Morrison was found in the bathtub dead of a probable overdose of heroin, though the French did no autopsy so there’s no substantiated findings...Twilight Zone-type postscript here:  Girlfriend Courson died three years later in Los Angeles from a heroin overdose--at the age of 27.

Ron “Pigpen” McKernan / March 8, 1973:  This founding member of the Grateful Dead succumbed to a gastrointestinal hemorrhage (possibly due to complications of Crohn’s disease).  He’d not been in good health near the end of his abbreviated, largely alcohol-fueled life.

Pete Ham / April 24, 1975:  Welshman Ham was in the group Badfinger, a British pop-rock band who recorded four albums on The Beatles’ Apple Records label between 1970-1973, and whose sound is sometimes compared to the Fab Four as well as American power-pop contemporaries The Raspberries.  Ham wrote some of Badfinger’s best pop songs, including “No Matter What”, “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue”, and co-wrote that eventual smash hit of Harry Nilsson’s, “Without You”.  In 1975 he experienced severe money problems brought on by the group’s evasive and shyster-like business manager and, his mental state spiraling, Ham took his own life.

Kurt Cobain / April 5, 1994:  Nirvana’s singer-songwriter and front man Kurt Cobain was a man in pain.  He’d become weirded out by the trappings of fame, based on Nirvana being nudged to the heights of success with the unstoppable radio and MTV hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from their 1991 release Nevermind.  His band lasted all of seven years, produced only three studio albums in its short lifespan, and heroin addiction played a part in the bandleader’s dissatisfaction with life in the fast lane.  In December of 1993 Nirvana taped an MTV studio performance for a future live album, and reportedly Cobain expressly requested stargazer lilies and black candles predominate on the soundstage set--eerie in retrospect, of course.  Cobain put a shotgun to his head not five months after this performance was recorded.

Amy Winehouse / July 23, 2011:  British singer-songwriter Winehouse was a contrary contralto--a soulful and electrifying singer who was a perfectionist in the studio, and yet an outta control wild child when it came to dabbling and drinking.  Reportedly sometime in 2008 she had commented to friends about her penchant for thrill-seeking and blunting reality’s edges--or whatever combination of things that drove her in troublesome directions--and she said she hoped death wouldn’t come to her at age 27.  In 2011, it did (in the form of alcohol poisoning).  As her signature song goes, “They tried to make me go to rehab but I said, ‘No, no, no.’ / Yes, I’ve been black but when I come back you’ll know, know, know...”



Posted 6/16/14.....I GOT THE MUSIC IN ME


On Monday evening June 9, 2014, I trekked out to the home of Ed Traversari, who is currently Associate Professor at Point Park University / Sports, Arts & Entertainment Management program / School of Business.  That’s a hell of a long title compared to his preceding ones in the concert business, for which he is VERY well known around the Pittsburgh area and this end of the state of PA.  Ed used to be a full-time concert promoter when employed by Live Nation and its predecessor companies, as well as a shining star with Pittsburgh’s historic DiCesare-Engler Productions, who started up their concert promotion company in the heady days of the early 1970s...

The occasion of my visit was an interview with Ed.  I had already interviewed his friend and colleague (and once-upon-a-time employer) Rich Engler in January of this year, based on the latter’s just-released book about his life in music and his exploits as a founding partner of DiCesare-Engler Productions.  The book is entitled Rich Engler: Behind The Stage Door (A Promoter’s Life Behind The Scenes). 

And so now it is Ed’s turn to pipe up.  As the interview reveals, Ed was a principal player in DiCesare-Engler’s great success story; he’s also been a good friend and a music industry mate of mine for many years.  Like all of us, he’s got a story to tell...

Musicasaurus:  So, Ed....As I told you, I met in January with Rich in order to do an interview with him, and boy, did Cindy (editor’s note: Rich’s wife) ever whip up a great meal for me while I was there...so I’m kinda waiting to see what Marypat is cooking up.  Cindy did a tremendous meal of kale and a lot of other healthy stuff, because you know, that’s what they’re into and also largely what I’m into...

Ed:  Yes I know, and geez, that’s some big competition.  (laughing, and raising his voice) Cancel the hot dogs, Marypat.

Musicasaurus:  (yelling into the kitchen as well) Yeah, and please get the steer off the barbecue; that’s not going to work for me...(To Ed) Seriously, though...I told you I really liked Rich’s book, with its structure of very telling anecdotes about the concert business, some a page or so long, some longer than that...

Ed:  Yes, a great read.

Musicasaurus:  It really made me wonder when I got to the end, what kind of stories were left out?!!

Ed:  Well...Maybe just enough to do “Book Two”...

Musicaurus:  Oh, so he may do a sequel.

Ed:  Maybe down the road a bit.

Musicasaurus:  You know, Rich’s book is so great to have for this Pittsburgh region’s music fans.  But maybe some folks don’t know that you were actually quite an integral part of his concert promotion company DiCesare-Engler--almost “the man behind the curtain” early on in the company’s history.  But it was Pat and Rich who first got together around 1973 and formed the company...

Ed:  Yes, Pat had done a LOT of things on his own before he and Rich joined forces in 1973.  He had his own promotions company Pat DiCesare Presents, and he had brought the Beatles to the Civic Arena as well as artists like Janis Joplin and The Doors--a lot of rock shows, really--while Rich was still, at the time, an aspiring young drummer working his way up to becoming a quasi-concert promoter.

Musicasaurus:  So how did he and Rich get together?

Ed:  Pat was doing all of his own shows and he had an exclusive booking arrangement with the Civic Arena.  Rich was a drummer in the Pittsburgh area, slowly becoming a promoter, doing a couple of concerts here and there; then he began butting heads with Pat when he wanted to book bands at the arena level.  Meanwhile Pat was at a point where he was doing so many of these new rock acts all at the same time, with their demands and all that, and he was looking for someone to move into partnership with him and even take over the business.  Rich was a bit younger, you know...So when DiCesare-Engler was formed, Pat took a hiatus and worked on his farm out in Jeanette, PA, and told Rich “You run the business”--and Pat started getting more and more into real estate, etc.  So Rich was then essentially on his own, until I came along two years later in 1975.

It was in May of that year, and Rich had just run an ad in the newspaper for a runner.  I had just gotten married in March and was working at a Radio Shack on McKnight Road in the North Hills as an assistant manager, because I had been a management major at Robert Morris University.  Marypat and I couldn’t go on a honeymoon because I had just started the new job, and so we were having our honeymoon locally.  I was reading the newspaper on Sunday morning and I saw an ad for DiCesare-Engler looking for a runner--

Musicasaurus:  You were familiar with the name DiCesare-Engler?

Ed:  Oh, yes....From ’70 to ’74 while I was in college I spent way too much money on shows and had gone to so many concerts.  I didn’t know who they were or what they were, I just knew that on my ticket it said “DiCesare-Engler Presents” on practically everything I went to!  So I said to Marypat, “Oh my God, they want a runner.”  She said “What’s a runner?”  And I said “I don’t know; it doesn’t matter--I want to be it!”

So I started a series of phone calls to Rich from the Radio Shack where I worked.  No cell phones back then, of course, so I was off in the corner of the store staying away from my boss and making these phone calls, and when I got a hold of Rich he said “Well, I might hire somebody.  I’m not sure.  You know, I just fired about ten people over the past few months.”  I said, “Do you mind me asking why they were fired?”  He said, “Well, nobody takes this business seriously.  They think they can ask for autographs; they try to get a picture with the band...I turn my head, and they’re talking to the band.”

And I said, “Well, I wouldn’t do any of that.”  Rich said “Why not?  Why would you be any different?”  And then I explained to him that I had been a drummer in a band in high school like he had been, and then when I went to college at Robert Morris I became a Student Activities president and booked a few concerts.  So I kind of knew how that worked, a little bit...

Musicsaurus:  What shows did you book in college?

Ed:  Well, I booked three shows there: Roy Buchanan, Seals & Crofts and Spirit--

Musicasaurus:  SPIRIT?!!!  Why didn’t you call me?

Ed:  (laughs) I should have, but I didn’t know you yet!  Anyway, I had a good feel for what it meant to a promoter, I thought.  And Rich said, “Well, I like that.  Give me a call tomorrow and we’ll talk more.”  The next day I called him and he started off by saying, “You know, I’ve decided not to hire anybody.”  I paused and then said, “Well, that can’t be.”  And Rich said “What do you mean ‘that can’t be’?”  I told him, “We’ve come too close; this is what I want to do.”  And you know, now when I look back at that conversation he and I had in 1975--knowing Rich as I do today--I guess I had said the magic words:  “Well Rich, I will work for free.”

Musicasaurus:  And Rich said...?

Ed:  “What time can you come down tomorrow to meet me?”  His office, as it turned out, was on Babcock Boulevard.  I had only been in the North Hills about six months, but I found it and I walked into the office, thinking “I wonder what this DiCesare-Engler entourage looks like?”  Then I saw one guy in a big fancy-ass chair with a lot of hair--and no one else around.  It was Rich.  I said “Where is everybody?” and he said, “What do you mean, where’s everybody?”  I said “I thought you had a big staff” and he replied, “No, it’s me.  One person.”

Musicasaurus:  So he didn’t have a staff...really?  What about the supposed ten guys he fired?

Ed:  Turns out he meant that he went through ten guys trying to fill the one position that I was talking to him about!

Musicasaurus:  How did he do everything himself?  What all did he handle?

Ed:  Well, he booked all of the shows...and did the advertising in those early days...and he’d rent the Syria Mosque or the Stanley Theatre, and hire all of the day-of-show staffing--the security guards, ushers and ticket takers, and someone to do production.  He didn’t have any full-time people because he couldn’t, at that stage, afford that.

And on the first day, he said to me “Have you ever driven a Rolls Royce?”  I said “I haven’t even seen too many of those in my life...why?”  He threw the keys at me and said “Go practice driving this tonight.  You’re going to go pick up the group America tomorrow at the airport.”  Now that I look back on this, him saying “practice driving the car”, that should have been a signal.  Of course I knew how to drive a car, but not this 1956 or 1959 Rolls Royce Cloud that he had, which was about as big as this room we’re sitting in, and it had the steering wheel on the right side, like an English car.

Musicasaurus:  I remember reading in Rich’s book that you almost wiped out when the band was in the car with you...

Ed:  Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it was raining so bad I couldn’t see very well at all, and tractor trailers are going by really fast on the Boulevard of the Allies and I’m just slowing down...One of the band members tapped me on the head--more like a little smack, really--and said “You’re going to kill us, you’re going too slow!”  Well, I hit every button in that cockpit and it never responded, and the car stayed going about 10 or 15 miles an hour and it wouldn’t speed up.  It might have been the fuel pump or something like that...Anyway, the next morning the band was at the hotel waiting for a ride to go back to the airport, and the drummer, guitar player and keyboard player wouldn’t ride with me!  Rich likes to tell people that I almost killed America on my first day of work.

Musicsaurus:  That makes me think of those ten guys Rich fired before he hired you--so you were almost Number Eleven?

Ed:  (laughs) I thought I might be fired, yes!  I thought the band was going to report back to someone with their management about me, and that would be it...My driving career lasted for two more bands, Jeff Beck and Jefferson Airplane, and then Rich said “You drove those two pretty well; do you want to start to answer the phones?”  So that became my first move up, because he didn’t have a secretary.

Musicasaurus:  Hey, I want to loop back for a second here...Rich DID end up paying you to work, right?!!

Ed:  (smiling) Of course...Even that first day.

Musicasaurus:  Okay, so you graduated from runner/band driver to phone receptionist.  Did you start taking on other responsibilities as well?  Did he just throw you into things, or guide you at all?

Ed:  My first job in addition to the phones was becoming a production manager.  Rich told me “You’re going to get a rider from the band, and you’ll have to get the acts some food, work with the venue people on set-up” and he explained how all of that worked.  So I learned to be a production manager and I got used to being at the arena on show days from the 6am load-in to around 2am when the load-out was finished...Then Rich taught me to settle the shows.

Musicasaurus:  Which means you settled with the artists’ representatives in terms of the money they were owed for the show.

Ed:  Right.

Musicasaurus:  So let’s back up a bit...Rich, we both know, started out as a drummer.  How about you?  Was there music around when you were very young?  Was your dad or mom really into music and playing various things around the house?  In my case, I remember my mom was crazy for Elvis, and my dad was stuck on Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz--and they both loved Sinatra.

Ed:  Well, thinking back, there was a lot of music around my house.  My mom and dad were very much into the Italian music of their ethnic background--polkas, waltzes, and they would go out to these dances for as long as I can remember.  It probably had an effect on my older brother and me, even though we didn’t realize it at the time.  They would dance around the house if they were throwing a party, and always enjoyed it.  They loved to dance.

My brother who was 5 years older than me was in a band first, in the mid-to-late 60s.  He was into Dion and Frankie Valli, things like that, though some of the guys in his band were really fired up by the early Beatles songs.  My mom and dad were the only ones in the neighborhood who would say “You can practice here”--nobody else wanted them (laughs).  And the drummer would always leave his drums at my house, and I remember as a young kid getting behind those drums and really liking it.  In fourth grade I took drum lessons, then started playing in the school band, and got into a rock band in 9th grade--so my 9th-12th grade was serious stuff because I was in a rock/blues band...But when I graduated from high school, the band broke up because they all went off to different colleges, and I thought, “What am I going to do now?!!”

I wanted to do something in music, but didn’t know what to do.  I wasn’t good enough to go to Berklee and I didn’t want to be a music teacher, so I ended up going to Robert Morris and majoring in business, and kind of put music to the side...I jammed a lot down there with different musicians, but my road seemed to be heading toward being in business, as a management major, and the music thing just being a hobby.

I really think the big change for me was, my friend and I were talking to our advisor of Student Activities at the college during our first year, and we asked him “Who brings the acts here?”  The advisor named the guy, and we said “Well, he doesn’t know what he’s doing; the bands are horrible.”  The advisor looked at us and said “Well, then do something about it.  You can get involved.  We have this thing called the Student Activities Committee.”  And that was the committee that brought in the movies, and the bands, etc., so I became a member that year, and then president the next year.  We didn’t have a big budget so we couldn’t bring in really big bands, but my first show was Roy Buchanan. 

Roy was a guy just taking off around that time, and my roommate and I had just caught a PBS special about him which aired locally here on WQED-TV; the title was something about him being the world’s greatest unknown guitarist--something like that.  The guy was phenomenal.  And Buchanan’s manager was actually here in Pittsburgh, a guy named Jay Reich.  So we went downtown to Reich’s office and we booked my first show.  This was probably 1972 or so.  We sold out the show--2500 seats--and I started to realize this was a business...

Musicasaurus:  So tell me about the Stanley Theatre days...when you were with Rich and DiCesare-Engler, and the company bought the Stanley Theatre in 1977.

Ed:  Yes, we bought the Stanley, and backed out of doing shows at the Syria Mosque in Oakland because now we had our own place downtown.  1977 through 1984 were the classic years for Pittsburgh, really.  We were right in that time period of all this great music coming on nationally, like Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, The Clash, Bob Marley--and they were all playing theatres.  The first year we were there we were the number one theatre in the country in Billboard Magazine, in the category of venues of 3,700 seats and lower.  We beat out Bill Graham’s place in San Francisco, Monarch Entertainment and John Scher, all those guys, and that’s what precipitated me and Rich starting to take pictures with the bands who had helped us become a #1 theatre. 

Starting around 1978, if a Stanley act would sell out, we’d get them a commemorative wooden plaque from this novelties company in the Clark Building.  Then we would do a plaque-presentation type of photo with the band and I’d send it off to the music trade magazines, and we’d end up getting more national publicity and more awareness with the booking agents who read those trade magazines.  You know, we would never have had those pictures from way back--the ones of Zappa, Alice Cooper, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, etc.--if we hadn’t come up with the plaque idea.

Musicasaurus:  Did you always keep a copy or two of the plaques you gave the sell-out Stanley artists?

Ed:  Sometimes we did.

Musicasaurus:  I’m thinkin’ thrifty Rich would want to keep a copy of a plaque he gave to say, Jeff Beck, and then just change the concert date on it for the next time Jeff played Pittsburgh, thereby saving about $10 on a revised plaque instead of spending money on a new one. 

Ed:  (laughs) Nawww...I think we did maybe keep one copy or so--but not for that! 

Musicasaurus:  When you were in your first couple of years with Rich, playing runner and doing production, settling shows, etc., you then took on the marketing/advertising of shows as well.  And at some point you became kind of famous locally for announcing upcoming DiCesare-Engler shows and on-sale dates.  This was of course back in the days when a promoter could really generate excitement about an upcoming show, and concert fans would line up at the ticket outlets all over town in order to try to get the best seats...

Ed:  Yes, at some point early on Rich taught me how to do the advertising.  I had taken some marketing and advertising classes at Robert Morris and they were tucked in the back of my brain, and Rich just kind of showed me how to apply what I knew to promoting concerts.  We worked closely with WDVE, and it was an important station to DiCesare-Engler; in fact, Rich says he was the first advertiser when the old KQV-FM changed call letters and became WDVE around 1970 or 1971.

Anyway, in the mid-to-late 1970s when I started buying advertising, we started the on-sale announcements on the air with the disc jockeys and all of that.  Prior to that, we would just buy the advertising, and the spots would naturally start when the show went on sale, saying things like “Bob Seger, June 17th at the arena; tickets are on sale now”--that sort of thing.  During my discussions with WDVE around that time, though, there was this program director named Greg Gillespie, and one day I remember him saying “Ed, instead of us just announcing that your show is already on sale, I’d like to make a big deal about this.  We are going to promote the fact that you are coming in at 5 o’clock to make this major announcement on Friday, or whatever day, and we are going to push it like crazy.  And then you can come into the studio and make the on-sale date announcement along with the disc jockey.” 

Musicasaurus:  So formerly, there wasn’t a build-up like this for a show, on radio...

Ed:  No, I think I might have been the first guy in this area to actually go to into the studio to talk about shows going on sale, though it was probably happening around the country at that time as well.  There was an afternoon disc jockey at WDVE named Herschel, so Greg set me up with him and we’d do the on-air announcement together.  Back then, of course, there was no internet, no Pollstar magazine, no Twitter--I had to get all of the particular show’s info from the band’s publicist, who’d tell me how many trucks the tour was using, how many lights the stage set had, the songs the artist might play, etc., so that when I got on the air, I sounded like I knew what I was talking about.  I think WDVE liked the fact that I took this announcement thing very seriously, and they kept inviting me back. 

Soon all of the stations in town wanted to do the concert announcements at the same time, so I started to pre-tape a few of them so that they could all run around 5 o’clock or whatever...A friend of mine who was driving home one Friday afternoon was button pushing, and heard me on three stations at the same time.  He called me later on and said, “Ed, why were you playing God?”

Musicasaurus:  Ed, let’s talk for a minute about the shows that you liked, and the artists that you really gravitated to in terms of your own musical tastes.

Ed:  Well, Bob Marley for sure...and of course Bruce.  DiCesare-Engler started doing Springsteen shows in 1976, first at the Syria Mosque.  And in 1978 I believe we did him twice at the Stanley in August and then December.  Both Rich and I were so blown away by his high-energy shows, and loved helping build him in this market.  Phenomenal shows.  We would do him in Johnstown, too--wherever we could.  Aside from that, I was always into James Taylor, and Crosby, Stills & Nash--a lot of the Southern California stuff, the Eagles...and Aerosmith was another of my favorites...Some nights you really loved the shows you were doing, and other nights were just okay, but we did what we had to do and were lucky to have seen and worked with all of these artists.

Musicasaurus:  You experienced, like I did, the concert promotion company consolidations and ownership changes that happened in the late 1990s through the early-mid 2000s.  You left Live Nation in 2007, but even before that with DiCesare-Engler, you were always an approachable guy in terms of encouraging and spending time with younger people who wanted to know more about the music business.  You always took time to mentor...When did you start that in earnest?

Ed:  Probably back in the late 1990s.  I joined the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania around that time and that spurred me on to reaching out to more people.  I always think back to when I was a young kid coming into the business, and having someone there to mentor me...I left Live Nation in 2007 and I started at Point Park University as an adjunct teacher in Entertainment Management. 

Musicasaurus:  Did you know anything about Point Park prior to leaving your Live Nation job as the Station Square amphitheatre GM and marketing guru?

Ed:  Well, actually an intern started with us at Live Nation Pittsburgh around 2006 who was from Point Park.  I asked her what her major was, and she said “Sports, Arts and Entertainment Management.”  And I thought, what the heck is that?  Turns out it was relatively new major which combined both sports and entertainment, and Point Park was about 2 ½ years into it at that point.  So I called up the university and I met with someone over there to learn more about it.  Then when I left Live Nation in 2007, I followed up on that earlier visit.  I believe in fate, you know.  I happened to call the guy I had met with earlier on, and he was leaving the university that very day, after having taught a Venue and Facility Management class.  He told me “You should take over my class”--and so I did.  That was the first course I taught at Point Park as an adjunct professor:  How to be a general manager and run a venue. 

About 6 or 8 months after that I finally met the guy who runs that whole program over there, Steve Tanzilli.  He told me they were going to hire a full-time instructor, and asked if I had an MBA.  Well, I didn’t; most of us in the concert business learned from direct experience, working our way up.  But I started taking MBA classes at night while teaching four classes a week, and it took about 15 months to graduate.  It made me “official” and now, of course, I can teach any classes...

The program has expanded into courses like Business and Live Entertainment, Concerts & Festivals, Concerts & Touring--these are all now part of the overall program with different syllabuses.  Then I started up a Management Class--how to be a manager--and there were some students asking about record labels, so we eventually started a record company class that actually has two instructors, one guy who runs a studio, and the other who you know, Mark Fritzges of Atlantic Records.  He teaches distributing records, getting airplay, etc.  In fact, we are formulating a school record label, Pioneer Records, for debut next semester.

Over time I also helped create a relationship with nearby concert venue Stage AE.  Point Park is always up for anything of substance to help prepare these kids for getting into the music business.  Steve and I worked this relationship with Stage AE over time, and now we actually have two of our morning classes over there at the venue--an Events and Facility Management class and a Concert class, and we shuttle kids over every Monday through Thursday between 9:40 and 11:20am.  The classes are in what you would call a “meet and greet” room which is branded with Point Park’s name; it’s got a classroom type set-up, and the students also get to see some activity, like band crews coming in to set up for that night’s show--that sort of thing.  And Stage AE has hired two or three of our kids after graduation; it is kind of like a farm team for the concert business locally.  I think it all helps.

Musicasaurus:  Here’s a loaded question:  Is your current job even more rewarding than all of your years in the concert biz?

Ed:  I don’t want to tell my current employer this, but what I do isn’t really work!  (laughs)  It is phenomenal to be able to give back like this.  And it is like talking to my own kids; I speak the same way and don’t approach it much differently.  I can give them real-world examples of the concert business, and in this position, I am able with my connections to take them up to the Springsteen show, for example, on the day of the concert in the afternoon to watch the load-in.

For the Bruce show at CONSOL Energy Center in April, longtime Bruce production/tour manager George Travis got his stage manager to come out in the afternoon to the seating area where my students were, to talk with them for about 45 minutes--all about his job, and what he does...I’ll use every contact I have to get one of the students here to be able to work at a show, even backstage, like I did with Cher when her tour people needed a person for a certain clerical role the night they were in town.

These are the kids that will hopefully go off and do a good job, and look back and say, you know, I had the chance to meet this certain tour manager backstage or do this certain cool job on a show.  You and I were 22 or 23 years old once, and we were doing this kind of stuff actually in the business, learning as we went along, and now I am teaching kids who want to get into this business.  I love everyday of it.  You don’t know where things are going to take you.  I didn’t think while I was at Live Nation that I’d be teaching like this; if this program didn’t happen to exist at Point Park I wouldn’t be there now.

Musicasaurus:  Are you going to write a book someday?

Ed:  No, I’m only here to keep helping Rich sell his book.

Musicasaurus:  He’ll love to read that line.  I’m leavin’ that baby in!

Ed:  Seriously, I’d like to do something someday...maybe more like a “how to” book.  There are not that many types of books out there like that, that I know of.  But now perhaps there are more people like me entering the years where they can reflect back on their life’s work, and write these more definitive kinds of books.

Funny, I talked to someone who is also an instructor in a similar program at a college in Nashville about a year ago, a guy most of us know from his days with the 1960s band The Turtles--Mark Volman, also known as “Flo” as in “Flo & Eddie”.  I talked with him about 20 minutes on the phone one day.  He went back and got his MBA, and now coordinates the Entertainment Industry Studies program at Belmont University there in Nashville.  Colleges seem to now be seizing on this kind of talent.  Sports management majors in schools seemed to have run their course a little bit; entertainment management classes are now starting to make inroads.  Of course, I don’t know about a ton of jobs for all of these kids once they graduate from programs like mine and Volman’s; no guarantees, really.  But the good kids always seem to float to the top.

Musicasaurus:  Ed, Marypat is going to start steaming like her vegetables if we don’t wrap this up.  Thanks so much for sitting down and talking with me.

Ed:  You bet.  Glad we could get together.  Thanks!



Posted 6/2/14.....PICTURE SHOW (Part Two of Two)

This is Part Two of my lingering look through the following book:  Classic Rock Posters: Sixty Years of Posters and Flyers: 1952 to 2012, compiled by Dennis Loren and Mick Farren, and available on Amazon, etc.  My Part One posting--which ended up covering some selections from the 1950s through the early 1970s--appeared on this page on 5/19/14, so be sure to read that one first if you missed it.  Part Two, immediately below, pulls up some sumptuous samples from the 1970s through present day.

Pink Floyd:  This groundbreaking British band had had a long relationship with graphic design firm Hipgnosis, and the melding was truly one of the great marriages of sound and image.  Hipgnosis’ work for Floyd was born of artist Storm Thorgerson’s high-school friendship with Roger Waters, and in 1967 Thorgerson founded Hipgnosis with fellow artist Aubrey Powell.  The firm plunged into areas including album art design, and in addition to numerous Floyd covers they produced iconic work for Led Zeppelin (Houses Of The Holy), Peter Gabriel, 10cc, Genesis (And Then There Were Three), Brand X, Renaissance (A Song For All Seasons), ELO, Bad Company, Caravan (Cunning Stunts), Wishbone Ash and a lot more...The above poster was commissioned by record label EMI to be a back catalogue advertisement for Floyd’s albums, and the art on the models is body paint, not projection or compositing.  Really...who even thinks about the backside of a poster, yet here we have six of ‘em front and center (figures I’d make a crack like that).

The Sex Pistols:  As Neil Young once sang, “The king is gone but he’s not forgotten / this is the story of a Johnny Rotten”...In England back in 1977 there was such a fuss & furor over punk-rockers the Sex Pistols’ first album that a record shop owner was called to trial on an 88-year old “indecent advertisements act.”  The issue swirled around the album’s title:  One of the slang usages for the word “bollocks” is testicles.  When the hearing came up a few weeks afterward, the charges didn’t stick (maybe the prosecutors should have used a safety pin).  In terms of the band, Johnny Rotten and his three ne’er-do-well mates held together long enough to briefly tour the USA in January 1978, but then disbanded shortly afterward...The above poster was designed by Jamie Reid in support of the identically imaged 1977 album cover.

The Sex Pistols (again):  There’s that safety pin.  It’s lodged in the lips of Queen Elizabeth II of England on the band’s May 1977 promotional poster, designed by the aforementioned Jamie Reid and created in support of the Pistols’ second single “God Save The Queen”.  Such lovely lyrics--“God save the queen / She ain’t no human being / There is no future / In England’s dreaming.”  The song was released five months ahead of the band’s first and only album, the incendiary and some-say-scurrilous Never Mind The Bullocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.  

Siouxsie and the Banshees:  A design firm called Stylorouge produced this promotional poster for this English band’s 1981 compilation of UK radio singles past and present.  The Banshees had a twenty-year run (1976-1996) and were highly regarded by a narrowcast literati (fans & fellow musicians) who championed the punk avant-garde.  Siouxsie was the vocal anchor for all their edgy output, and a cool who’s who of artists all swear by this band:  U2, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Santigold, Jane’s Addiction, Tricky, The Smiths’ Morrissey and Johnny Marr, The Cure, Massive Attack, Depeche Mode, LCD Sound System, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shirley Manson from Garbage, and many more.

Public Enemy:  A bit of a mystery here, in terms of the poster’s creator, Scrojo...If you go to scrojo.com you’ll be greeted by the campy illustration of a big-breasted, devil-horned female fortune teller who sits above the following printed copy:  Some say he was born a peasant child in the sacred peaks that protect Shambahla, named Ojorcs at birth and only becoming Scrojo when he had fully transcended the earthly plane.  Others have proclaimed him a charlatan and a fraud.  But those who have dared to enter his realm have felt his power and been forever changed by his visions.”  There appears to be some truth to that, in surfing his website.  Scrojo.com claims his body of work now exceeds 1,500 in individually-designed concert posters (a lot centered on his favorite haunt, San Diego’s Belly Up music venue in Solana Beach) and his corporate clients for film-poster work have included Nike, MTV, Disney and Focus Features...The Public Enemy poster above was fashioned for a Belly Up gig in 2002; Public Enemy, of course, was the legendary New York hip hop group featuring Chuck D and Flavor Flav, whose politically and socioeconomically supercharged lyrics incited a wealth of controversy in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Nine Inch Nails:  This 1995 poster pushes a NIN show at Detroit’s amphitheatre Pine Knob, and was created by concert-art designer Mark Arminski.  His work is touted as a link between 1960s psychedelic poster art and modern rock sensibilities circa the 1990s.  Arminski is one of the artists featured in another concert-art book if you’d like to go down that particular path--Art of Modern Rock: The Poster Explosion by Paul Gruskin and Dennis King, which contains photos & info on 1,600+ rock posters and flyers from the late 1980s through present day.

Live Aid:  Artist Peter Blake designed this poster called “Global Jukebox” for the multi-venue, multi-city Live Aid event in 1985, the first truly global concert.  The performances ran simultaneously in Philadelphia at JKF Stadium and in London at Wembley Stadium (both broadcast live by MTV), and empathetic artists from around the world also engaged in concert appearances in their own locales on the same day, benefiting the same cause.  Blake is perhaps best known for his co-designer status on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band...The Live Aid concerts were born of a desperate desire to ease a raging Ethiopian famine, and they were the brainchild of British musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure.  If you ever want to have a chills-up-the-spine reading experience, pick up Geldof’s 1986 autobiography Is That It?, which devotes over 50 pages specifically to the momentous tasks-at-hand and the subsequent accomplishments of the Live Aid event.  It’s a tale of a righteous cause and one man’s force of will.


The Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack:  Two examples of the work of Tom Hingston, a British graphic design artist who started out under the wing of Neville Brody at British music & fashion magazine The Face in the early 1980s.  By 1997 he’d set up his own shop, and his skill set runs multimedia deep across album covers and posters, magazine and television ads, etc....The promotional poster on the left is for the 2010 release Further by electronica/house music duo The Chemical Brothers; to the right, album sleeve artwork for 100th Window, the fourth studio album from English trip hop act Massive Attack.  For a look at 100th Window’s design development process, sneak a peek at this link to the Tom Hingston Studio website:  http://www.hingston.net/portfolio/massive-attack-100th-window/

Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck:  For classic rock fans and guitar worshipers, don’t need much more than silhouettes to convey this message...Both of these English superstars in the 1960s shared space with The Yardbirds (Beck replacing Clapton in 1965), and in 2010, the two paired up for a co-headlining Rock God Wet Dreams tour (my moniker; not theirs) of just a few cities including New York, Montreal, Toronto and London.  The item above is from Ron Donovan, a San Francisco artist who around 1985 started to gain fame from his innovative rock poster designs; his other concert-related works include the posters for Clapton’s 2007 North American tour and Van Morrison’s 2009 Astral Weeks Tour, The Isle of Wight 40th Anniversary Film poster, and more.

Radiohead:  Emek is the designer of the mood piece above, for Radiohead’s September 2011 two-night engagement at Roseland Ballroom in NYC.  Born in Israel in 1970 and raised in California, his boyhood home was filled with art and he gravitated toward Dad’s old rock posters.  A quote from Emek about his beginnings, from our subject in hand Classic Rock Posters: Sixty Years of Posters and Flyers: 1952 to 2012:  “It was in the days after the L.A. Uprising in 1992...It was for a unity rally and concert held on Martin Luther King Day.  People started stapling (the poster) to burnt-out buildings, and newspapers carried the image.  It was then that I realized that the posters illustrated a historical event, and they were in the moment, bold, and important.  Suddenly, the idea of the poster as something wholly dispensable, printed to promote a friend’s punk band, and left to flap in the wind after the show, seemed myopic.  Posters are the people’s art.  So, why shouldn’t a limited-edition silkscreened gig poster be an art form more worthy of a living room wall than a telephone pole?”

Franz Ferdinand:  The above poster is for Franz Ferdinand’s September 14, 2004 concert at the Gypsy Ballroom in Dallas, Texas.  The design is by Todd Slater, who has also done similar chores for The Lumineers, Avett Brothers, Arctic Monkeys, MGMT, The Dead Weather, Muse, and a host of other current artists.  Slater has only been on the scene for a decade or so, but his poster prints are almost exclusively limited-edition and tend to sell out rapidly; to grab an annual slice of his heaven, go to www.toddslater.net and investigate signing up for a one-year subscription.  This will net you one poster each as he cranks them out during the calendar year.

Teenage Fan Club:  TFC is a Scottish alternative-rock band who counts among their influences Big Star and their admirers Kurt Cobain; they push out jangly power-pop with harmonies and a bit of bash and thrash...Never tremendously popular in the States, the band nonetheless won acclaim from music mags and critics, including Spin magazine’s rating of their record Bandwagonesque as top album of ’91, beating out R.E.M.’s Out Of Time and Nirvana’s Nevermind.  This poster was created by pen-and-ink guy Guy Burwell exclusively for the band’s 2006 appearance at London’s Forum where they performed Bandwagonesque in its entirety.

Primus:  What in the waterworld is going on with this one?  I am not sure of the tie-in between the band Primus and a mechanical fish, but the poster hosts a beautiful collage of lettering on the body of the beast, all in support of Primus’ 10/7/11 appearance at Stage AE in Pittsburgh (nice to have a hometown entry here, which makes it doubly pleasurable to feature)...The artist who designed the piece is Alan Hynes, a Dublin-born and now San Francisco-based graphic designer who handles a corporate client workload in addition to tackling specially commissioned screen-printed concert posters for artists including Jack White, Sigur Ros, Queens of the Stone Age, The Black Keys, and more.



Posted 5/19/14.....PICTURE SHOW (Part One of Two)

I purchased an interesting book recently, while out doing my part for the economy--poring over piles of clearance items in one of the bookstore chains that’s on life support due to the internet.

I knew I could give the book a good home; better on my coffee table than it lying around like a homeless-but-hopeful puppy in Barnes & Noble.  And the level of care & feeding was just my style---I’d pick it up from my living room table every two weeks or so to dust, and then plop it right back down to suit my occasional late-night dips into music history...

This 12.8” x 10.7” book is a six-decades look at the evolution of live music posters entitled Classic Rock Posters: Sixty Years of Posters and Flyers: 1952 to 2012.  (And to be painfully obvious here, the book title is meant to be interpreted as Classic Rock Posters” and not Classic Rock Posters”--there’s a lot more contained within, thankfully, than just seeing the likes of Jagger and his Stones starting out in the Sixties, then none-too-prettily ravaged by their own sixties.)

The compilation was put together by Oakland, California poster historian and artist Dennis Loren along with music journalist Mick Farren, and they do a good job here of photo-packing and providing tidy summaries that lend significance.

Classic Rock Posters is chronological in approach--from the 1950s with the Rhythm & Blues Revues (Ruth Brown, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ray Charles, etc.) and the early Rock ‘n’ Roll shows (like Alan Freed’s cavalcades with Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, etc.), all the way through recent times with artists such as Vampire Weekend, Flaming Lips, and more.

The gist is this:  Classic Rock Posters with its parade of images hits the highpoints of societal shifts, musical trends, and the marriage of creativity between the artists themselves and the innovative design folks who wedded their instincts to the project at hand...

Musicasaurus.com has some definite favorites from the book, so take a look:

Buddy Holly, Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and Dion And The Belmonts:  Three out of four of this batch went to Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven, which you’ve got to think is even better than entering the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.  Also, they actually bought the farm at the same time--in a 1959 plane crash while on tour.  This would have been the show to see, at the time:  Holly doing “That’ll Be The Day,” and “It’s So Easy”...The Big Bopper with “Chantilly Lace”...and Valens with his signature “La Bamba,” “Donna,” and “Come On, Let’s Go.”

Rory Storm And The Hurricanes...and The Beatles:  This poster hails from 1960, when The Beatles were ensconced in Hamburg, Germany (at a hall called the Kaiserkeller) to the tune of five performances a day, opening up for Rory Storm And The Hurricanes.  Reportedly Ringo sat in on drums with John, Paul and George on at least a few occasions, and within two years was in the chair permanently after resident sticks handler Pete Best was drummed out of the group.

Newport Folk Festival 1965:  This is the event program cover, an illustration by Jonathan Shahan.  1965 was the year Dylan went electric (he’d always been eclectic).  For those not in the know, Dylan had been an acoustic folkie up to this point, and then debuted his amped-up, rock ‘n’ roll side at this particular festival backed by Al Kooper and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.  A bit of a visceral reaction followed, with some of the crowd booing from the sound quality, but others just for the abandonment they felt...Also on the festival bill:  Gordon Lightfoot, Pete Seeger, Chambers Brothers, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Son House, Ian and Sylvia, Theodore Bikel, Maybelle Carter, Jim Kweskin Jug Band and more.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez:  This one’s by Eric Von Schmidt, a folk artist in addition to poster designer.  It dates from 1965 when Dylan and Baez were touring together, the last time they would share a stage until The Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975-1976. 

Isle of Wight Festival 1970:  The poster was created by David Fairbrother-Roe, and the line-up was a mutha (in terms of ‘60s top-tier talent):  Artists appearing included Chicago, Procol Harum, Voices Of East Harlem, Moody Blues, British folk rock band Pentangle, The Doors, The Who, Lighthouse (the one-hit-wonder horn band who did “One Fine Morning”), Ten Years After, Joni Mitchell, Sly & The Family Stone, and Cat Mother & The All Night Newsboys......Also on the bill:  Free, John Sebastian, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Mungo Jerry (“In The Summertime”), The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Joan Baez, Spirit, Donovan & Open Road, Richie Havens, Leonard Cohen & The Army, singer-songwriter/acoustic guitarist Ralph McTell, and Jethro Tull.

Jimi Hendrix:  Martin Sharp created this Hendrix poster based on a photo by Linda Eastman (who later became the wife of Sir Paul from The Beatles).  For any 1960s-era adorner of a bedroom wall, this was a killer conversation piece when visitors came a-calling.

Bob Dylan:  This is the work of Martin Sharp, who produced this piece in 1967.  Dylan was residing in Woodstock at this stretch, having had a motorcycle accident near his home; reportedly he used this as an excuse to fade away from the public and press for a while...Note that the poster has “Blowin in the Mind” in Dylan’s right eye, and below him is written a partially obscured “Tambourine Man”--well, at least we get to glimpse the mist and urine.

Sun Ra and MC5:  Artist Gary Grimshaw at one point in the mid-late ‘60s was THE poster boy for Detroit’s popular ballroom concert venue called the Grande, and he whipped up this compelling bit of work that’s like a visual mescaline rush.  Audiences back then didn’t squawk or balk when promoters would line up jazz artists and rockers on the same bill, like Sun Ra and MC5; the fans were largely either free thinkers or just freed from thinking; besides, the musical styles did mesh in some parts of each artist’s body of work.

Quicksilver Messenger Service and Kaleidoscope:  The Family Dog was a San Francisco concert collective (Chet Helms and area hippies who were into staging events), and the Avalon Ballroom became the Dog’s main dish.  It opened in 1966 and for the next few years was a mecca for mushrooming talent as rock music exploded into a societal tidal wave and cultural shift.  Rick Griffin was a California artist who produced a number of treasured psychedelic posters for San Francisco concert promoters as well as bands like The Grateful Dead.  The artist also notably took part in Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests--NAW!  Uh-uh!!  (Check out the lettering on the poster, but don’t drop everything and do that--that’s what the Sixties kids did.)


Bill Graham’s Fillmore (concert venue in San Francisco):  Legendary rock promoter Graham had on staff for a while the talented designer Wes Wilson, and the latter loved to go all loopy with his letters, almost befuddling the masses into buying eyeglasses.....The wording on this 1967 poster (at left):  Otis Rush & his Chicago Blues Band, Grateful Dead, and The Canned Heat Blues Band; Fri-Sat-Sun February 24-25-26; Fri-Sat 9pm: $3.00 / Sun 2-7pm:  $2.00; at the Fillmore.....The poster to the right is in Wilson’s style, but done by Graham’s wife Bonnie MacLean.  The artist line-up on this one:  Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Peanut Butter Conspiracy, and The Sparrow (forerunners to Steppenwolf).

Woodstock:  This iconic (not using the term lightly) poster was created by design artist Arnold Skolnick, who in the summer of ’69 was hired on a Thursday by festival promoter Woodstock Ventures and asked to deliver the finished piece on the following Monday.  Some reports say that in all of the years that followed, Skolnick received only one royalty check for his ubiquitous design--for $15.  Also, in festival promoter Michael Lang’s 2009 book The Road to Woodstock, Lang takes credit for the logo and motto (the dove-on-guitar-neck, and the line “Three Days of Peace and Music”) which Skolnick absolutely disputes (funny how quickly our generation’s two-fingered peace sign can spin around and brandish just the one, eh?).

The Grateful Dead and The Who:  Artist Philip Garris had already been in league with The Dead for the Blues For Allah album cover and Bob Weir’s Kingfish when promoter Bill Graham asked him to create this marvelous bit of work for a mighty twosome stadium show in 1976.  It’s got the skull representing The Dead, and an owl who seems just about ready to screech “Whooooo are you--who who, who who.”


The Rolling Stones:  The one on the left is the band’s official tour poster for an American run of dates.  It was designed by John Pasche, who had already whipped up the Jagger lips & tongue logo for the group’s new record label.....The poster to the right is from the following year’s European tour, once again designed by Pasche--obviously an artist of significance and one to keep abreast of...

More posters to follow in the next posting on musicasaurus.com--look for it on Monday morning, May 31st.



Posted 5/5/14.....BIG BOSS MAN

Before we trudge forward into this current posting entitled Big Boss Man, let’s pause for just a minute and go back to the last posting of April 21, 2014 which was the readers’ survey on “favorite road songs”.  Thanks again to all of the folks who submitted their roadworthy choices--and I just had to add this one late arrival that came in after that 4/21/14 posting went up...

It’s from Joe Katrencik, formerly the on-site media coordinator at Star Lake Amphitheatre from 1992 to 2001; currently a retired school teacher but working harder than ever restoring/renovating an old home in Houston, PA: 

“Regarding your latest Musicasaurus thing on road songs, what was especially enjoyable to me was when the beat of the song would match the separations in the pavement (in the old days when most interstate highways were concrete).  I had especially good luck with "Bitch" by the Rolling Stones.  Old Route 19 between Washington, PA and McMurray was good for this (before the asphalt and the jammed traffic), especially in the winter when one would bounce up two inches on every crack and downbeat.”

Now that’s a good match--when driving’s a “Bitch”, the rockin’ meets the road!

Now on to the newest posting:  BIG BOSS MAN...

I never saved my concert ticket stubs through the years--not religiously, anyway.  So I don’t exactly know how many Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concerts I’ve seen over the past almost forty years...likely ten or twelve, I’m thinkin’.

The first time was February 1975 at Penn State’s main campus inthe University Auditorium, the college’s small theatre that held only 2,600 seats (there was a larger venue on campus at that time as well--Rec Hall--but I guess they reckoned it too large for an emerging artist like Bruce). I was in my senior year of college, and when the news of the Springsteen concert first surfaced on campus, my roommate Paul--a Philadelphia lad by way of Toronto--started his campaign of wheedling and cajoling.  “We HAVE to get tickets to see him!” Paul implored, noting he’d heard this still relatively new-kid-on-the-Jersey-block was absolutely laying waste to audiences, putting on marathon shows that had an intensity level rarely encountered...

Getting tickets at the Penn State student activities center box office was memorable as well, for this was the pre-internet era of concert ticket purchases from brick-and-mortar--basically standing in line at the box office or another designated ticket outlet to try and snag the best tickets early on.  But we didn’t stand in line in this instance; we did the horizontal plop.  Although it was freakin’ January and Old Man Winter gripped Happy Valley, Paul insisted that we sleep out overnight in front of the ticket office in order to ensure we got the best seats.  Along with some other bright-idea types who must have had the same light bulb go off, we went to the student activities center right after dark, staked out our turf in line, and dropped our gear in place.  I remember freezing inside my sleeping bag that night, tossing, turning, and cursing the crystals that were flaking onto our pillows.  When tickets finally went on sale the next morning, we ended up with tickets about 8 rows back in the center.

In a word, that concert was revelatory from start to finish, and it sparked my dedication to The Boss.  Seeing Bruce live-in-concert benevolently boxed my ears, altering the way I then re-approached the two albums that his record company Columbia had released up to that point in time, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle.  I was no longer just listening to a set of songs; they were now wellsprings, especially the exquisite second side of Wild & Innocent where the needle goes down first on the beautiful unspooling of “Incident on 57th Street”, followed by the rousing “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” and the album’s closer, the majestic “New York City Serenade.”


The February ’75 concert at Penn State was part of the artist’s run-up to the release of Born To Run, his artistic and commercial breakthrough album which subsequently hit record store shelves that August.  The twenty-six-year-old even landed simultaneously on the covers of Newsweek and Time magazine two months after that, and yet didn’t reach his true commercial zenith until the release of Born In The U.S.A. in 1984.  That album and accompanying tour brought Bruce a whole new wave of fans--and frankly it was hard for us early adopters to stomach this.  We were more than a bit righteously possessive of our man, and we resented the explosion of popularity as it stole some of the magic from our formerly-shared secret.  Plus, a new breed of frat fanboy was now on the scene, and these types were particularly annoying to brush up against at the shows...

Through the decades that followed my college concert catharsis, I caught Bruce and his E Street players live on most of their tours, the ones tied to Darkness, The River, Born In The U.S.A., Tunnel of Love and so on...The only ones I missed seemed to be the divergences like Bruce’s rare solo-acoustic tours and his Sessions Band experiment (the latter from 2006).  The Devils & Dust tour from 2005 was one such breach, and I regret my election to pass on attending; reports from friends who attended the University of Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center show were glowing in terms of the power and the intimacy. 

For me, though, it is clearly Bruce WITH the E Street Band where all things congeal and inspire...On stage through the years Bruce has introduced his blood brothers as the “heart-stoppin’, pants-droppin’, house-rockin’, earth-quakin’, booty-shakin’, love-makin’, testifyin’, death-defyin’ legendary E Street Band!”--or some combination thereof--and the roar of approval out beyond the stage each night is always palpable.  (Note:  This might just be a recent-years’ addition, but Bruce has also occasionally added “Viagra-takin’” next to “love-makin’”).

A few months ago, seven friends and I coordinated schedules and delayed monthly bill payments in order to see Bruce and the E Street Band at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center.  The date was April 22nd and the tour itself followed on the heels of Bruce’s January 2014 High Hopes album, a collection of previously unreleased material including covers, outtakes and re-recorded versions of songs from the past featuring the E Street Band and guest guitarist Tom Morello (most notable for his years with Rage Against The Machine).

Morello had slid right onto the E Street expressway for this newest tour based on guitarist Steven Van Zandt’s prior commitment to filming the upcoming third season of Netflix’s Lillehammer series in Norway.  On this tour as well, the E Street Band towed along the five-person E Street Horns and the four-member E Street Choir--in all, E Street on this evening in April sported (including Bruce) a twenty-mule team of kick-ass musicianship...

After entering the arena, the eight of us took our side-by-side seats in a section right off floor-level, almost halfway back in the venue--a great vantage point from which to see the full band and the floor that was filled with upright, enrapt and neck-craning fans. 

And then it began:  Bruce’s three-hour-plus performance with no intermission.  The artist long ago set the standard on length (and on sustaining fans’ interest), and his full band on stage is a passionate, precision-like force of nature.

Some memorable moments include:

The concert’s opening song, “Clampdown”:  This opening salvo might have befuddled a number of audience members who thought it was a Bruce original and maybe just a dormant outtake from his vault--but no, this is from the British punk rock group The Clash, whose London Calling double-album from 1980 is one of the greatest politically-charged and volatile, intoxicating musical stews in recorded rock history.  It was appropriate that guitarist Tom Morello was helping to sing and sting on this diatribe against conformity, as his old band Rage Against The Machine reportedly also covered this song in a few of their live performances.

A few other covers:  “Seven Nights To Rock”, originally released in 1956 by country & western/rockabilly performer Moon Mullican; in the hands of the E Street Band, this was a fun and galvanizing “early rocker” reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis or Bill Haley.  Sample lyrics:  “I got seven nights to rock / I got seven nights to roll / seven nights I’m going to have a whirl / seven nights with a different girl.”  Early on in the song, Bruce was play-acting some permission-asking, throwing these lyrics across the length of the stage to E Street Band guitarist/wife Patty Scialfa, who was standing with a finger ready to wag.....“Just Like Fire Would”, a song from Australia’s The Saints from their 1987 album All Fools Day, which sounds a lot like a Bruce 70s-era original.....and concert-closer “Dream Baby Dream”, which Bruce started doing on solo pump organ before a grand, swelling finale.  The original version of this tune was written and recorded in 1979 by the New York City synth-pop duo Suicide, an unsettling and controversial, none-too-commercial unit that Bruce happened across and came to admire.  Suicide was essentially Martin Rev on gloomy, swollen and dissonant keyboards, and Alan Vega on disjointed and disturbing vocals.  Though their recorded material may indeed be a head-scratcher for most, the duo proved very influential for a flood of 1980s bands that followed, particularly those in the realms of indy rock, dance and industrial.

Bruce’s self-penned stuff:  In order of Bruce-written tunes, the concert consisted of “Badlands,” “Johnny 99,” “Stand On It,” “Hungry Heart,” “I Wanna Be With You” (a fan sign request), “Back In Your Arms” (ditto), “Wrecking Ball,” “The Promised Land,” “Youngstown,” “Lonesome Day,” “Mary’s Place,” “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” (with Tom Morello raging), “Radio Nowhere,” “The Rising,” “Land Of Hope And Dreams,” “The Promise” (encore #1; Bruce and a piano), “The Wall,” “Born In The U.S.A.,” “Light Of Day,” “Frankie Fell In Love,” “Born To Run,” “Dancing In The Dark,” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”

Guest appearances:  As he always does in Pittsburgh, Bruce brought on to the stage local treasure, singer-songwriter/guitarist Joe Grushecky and his guitar-wielding offspring Johnny to join in on four tunes--“Light Of Day,” “Frankie Fell In Love,” “Born To Run,” and “Dancing In The Dark.”  Good chemistry and camaraderie in play here...

And finally, the audience:  For the most part everyone was riveted to The Boss throughout the evening for requisite sing-alongs (on songs like “Hungry Heart”) and fist-pumps (on tunes like the Isley Brothers’ “Shout”), and they were equally attentive to a few of his preambles to the more poignant selections of the evening.  Thus the crowd was “fairly typical Bruce,” a high-energy, worshipful bunch...

Then again, the audience also contained the four people sitting in front of us.  These individuals were on a completely different wavelength.  Even fracking or brain scans wouldn't help to figure them out--weren’t nobody home; weren’t nuthin’ under the hood.  The Four were a couple of couples probably in their late 40s, and from the outset they were perpetually on their phones and Facebook apps, yet at the same time maintaining an incessant chatter with each other at loud volumes pretty much the entire way through the show.  Didn’t matter whether Bruce was exhorting the crowd to join in, singing solo, or setting up a song, these four were sublimely oblivious to their surroundings, as if their brains had been bubble-wrapped earlier in the evening to preserve their corner bar Happy Hour frame of mind...Two seats down from me was my friend Diane, who felt she just had to take a picture of one of them as a memento; beside me, Mary Ellen made some very obvious strangulation gestures which went completely unnoticed by the Mad Chatterers.  And me?  I mostly suffered in silence, mustering my concentration and trying to sink deeper into it while stranded with The Shallows...

Summin’ it up:  Bruce continues to inspire through his passionate marathon performances.  He turned 64 this year, and if he’s showing any signs of significantly slowing down, they’re imperceptible.  So I’m going to selfishly ask you a question here at the end:  Will you still read me, will you still heed me, when I’m 64? 

(photo links credit for this posting:  Photographer Jo Lopez / brucespringsteen.net)



Posted 4/21/14.....


The weather here in Pittsburgh at this point is more than tolerable, even bursting prematurely into solid Spring.  This city, though, seems to settle for overcast and downright gloomy a lot of the year, which takes its gradual toll on our collective spirit; all we want, really, is to soak in the warm glow of even just temporary contentment.

When the weather finally does turn for the better, and things start poppin’ to life once again, there’s a lure to the open road--a friend within a day’s drive, or a killer concert in another city, or a favorite outdoor habitat that beckons from afar.

When it’s time to hit that road, there are certain songs that lend themselves to our own particular journeys...I recently surveyed a number of musicasaurus.com readers who flutter in and around the world of music, personally and/or professionally.  See if their driving impulses match yours, when it comes to needin’ just the right song to send you on your way:



“Jessica" by the Allman Brothers Band.  ---  Susan Drapkin (Pittsburgh) / Director of Sponsorship of Live Nation, Greater Pittsburgh Area


My favorite road trip song from my college days would be "Dead Flowers" by the Rolling Stones, or really anything off of the Sticky Fingers album.  Not particularly a happy song, but one I always found myself listening to when driving through rural areas.  ---  Josh Verbanets (Pittsburgh) / Musician, Meeting of Important People; co-creator, The Josh and Gab Show kids anti-bullying programming


Back in 1973 Doug Horner, Keith Hepler, Doug Ritzer and I crammed into Doug's blue Dodge Dart to cruise along Route 66 to California.  We listened to NRBQ cassettes the entire way across the country.  "Ridin' in My Car" by NRBQ always reminds me of the carefree days when we drank beers with locals at a bar in the middle of a Montana pasture and slept under the pines in Lake Tahoe on our way to San Francisco and Beserkley.  ---  Paul Carosi (Pittsburgh) / Designer/developer of the website Pittsburgh Music History (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/)


“Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon, from the days I lived in warm and sunny California.  Warren played once for the Valley Media sales staff when I worked for that company.  He opened the set with "Werewolves of London" and so when the weather breaks in the ‘burgh it's the first song I play, howling with the windows down!  ---  George Balicky (Pittsburgh) / Former Senior Vice-President at National Record Mart and record-retailer music biz veteran


“Revival" by The Allman Brothers...Just a joyful musical exploration.  "People can you hear it...love is in the air."  Oh yeah, we hear it.  That's the love of freedom, so powerfully expressed on an open road with the top or windows down and the radio cranked.  I vividly recall blasting "Revival" one summer drive in my convertible down some Ohio backroads traveling at breakneck speed.  ---  Scott Tady (Beaver, PA) / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times


“Little Red Corvette” by Prince.  ---  Kathy Wallace (Pittsburgh) / Corporate Sales/Marketing Manager at the Pittsburgh Steelers



The song that I might choose for the open road would be “Windy”, or “4 on 6”, or how about “Road Song”--all recorded by the great Wes Montgomery.  ---  Joe Negri (Pittsburgh) / Jazz guitarist, composer and educator (also, for all time, “Handyman Negri” on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)


I used to always play "Ol' 55" by the Eagles (the Tom Waits composition) when I hit the road.  Also, the Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky” is road worthy.  ---  Stacy Innerst (Pittsburgh) / Artist and illustrator for books, newspapers and magazines; his most recent release was a children's book about the Beatles’ sense of humor, The Beatles: They were Fab and They Were Funny (Harcourt 2013)


“Green Onions” by Booker T and the MGs...A long time ago I remember getting in the family car to go on a trip and “Green Onions” was on the radio.  My dad always insisted on leaving early in the morning while it was still dark and to hear a song like this--mysterious, soulful, and even profound in an inexplicable way to a young kid--added to the anticipation.  We were going somewhere, moving, in transit, and Booker T was our guide.  ---  Rege Behe (Pittsburgh) / Freelance journalist and former music writer at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


There was synchronicity in your request; the day I got it, I was driving around cranking a certain album, and “Panama” from Van Halen is THE ultimate road song.  ---  Russ Rose (Pittsburgh) / WXDX on-air talent and Creative Director, and Production Director at KISS FM


“A Night to Remember” by Shalamar.  ---  Billy Price (Pittsburgh) / Singer-songwriter and east coast blue-eyed soul man


“American Girl” by Tom Petty...Well, maybe Matchbox Twenty’s “How Far We've Come.”  This was harder than I thought!  ---  Beckye Levin Gross (Houston, Texas) / Former booker with Pace Music Group (ultimately Live Nation); currently Director of Booking and Sales at VenuWorks



I gotsta, gotsta name three songs.  My happy traveling song is “25 Miles” by Edwin Starr—he also has my favorite anti-war song in “War”.  And my moody, melancholy song is “Carefree Highway” by Gordon Lightfoot.  My nighttime, caffeine driven, driving-at-3:00-AM marathon trip song is “Highway Song” by Blackfoot.  ---  Tom Rooney (Pittsburgh) / Former executive director of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group


“Master of Puppets” by Metallica.  Great song to crank!  It makes me want to drive really fast!  ---  Val Porter (Pittsburgh) / longtime WDVE on-air talent; currently Music Director and a member of the station’s acclaimed morning show


“Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones.  ---  Charlie Brusco (Atlanta, GA) / Pittsburgh-area native and former Atlanta-based concert promoter; currently heads up the Atlanta office of artist management company Red Light Management; also manager of Styx


“Are You Experienced?”  by Jimi Hendrix Experience.  ---  James “JY” Young, guitarist for Styx


“Freeway Jam” by Jeff Beck.  ---  Ricky Phillips, bassist for Styx


Truly, and you’re not going to believe this, my choice is Canned Heat's "On The Road Again.”  It has been reissued...It was originally recorded in 1969, and is NOT the version that the radio played for the last 45 years; it’s a really groovy extended version now available, and YES, neither of us were at Woodstock (I was 13 in '69, my Cindi was 11), but the two of us play this reissued Canned Heat song ON CD, in our car or in the rental car!  ---  Sean McDowell (Pittsburgh) / Longtime on-air talent with WDVE



That’s easy.  “Low Rider” by War.  ---  Donnie Iris (Pittsburgh) / Musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader (Donnie Iris and The Cruisers)


Either of these--Lyle Lovett’s “The Road To Ensenada” or his “L.A. County.”  ---  Bob Klaus (Durham, North Carolina) / Original marketing director of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre (1990); currently general manager of Durham Performing Arts Center


If there's going to be singing involved, my choice is Eddie & The Hot Rods "Do Anything You Wanna Do.”  It has it all...searching for adventure, celebrating rebellion...plus musically, a killer chorus, great chords, a drum section you can pound out on the steering wheel.  And it sounds better the louder you sing it--even if you're 52 and your rebelling days are mostly behind you.  Two more:  The Tom Robinson Band’s “2-4-6-8 Motorway”, and “Depth Charge” from Los Straitjackets.  ---  Chris Fletcher (Pittsburgh) / Former publisher/editor of Pittsburgh Magazine (1993-2002); currently Content Officer, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and Principal, Chris Fletcher Communications


Peter Wolf’s "Nothing But The Wheel.”  I also like Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" but the Garret Hedlund version is way better.  ---  Marylynn Uricchio (Pittsburgh) / former Seen/Style Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


I love “Windows Are Rolled Down” by Amos Lee.  The title pretty much sums up the song!  ---  Scott Blasey (Pittsburgh) / Musician and lead singer of The Clarks


Nothing out of the ordinary for me.  I'll take the Allmans' "Ramblin' Man" (with the best guitar solo ever) or the Eagles’ "Already Gone." Essential American songs that make you hit the pedal a little harder.  If I want something to update that playlist I'm taking it from the new War on Drugs album, Lost in the Dream.  Think it's going to be great summer driving music.  ---  Scott Mervis (Pittsburgh) / Currently Pop Music Critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and editor of the newspaper’s Weekend


It’s a toss-up between Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” and B.B. King and Eric Clapton’s “Riding With The King.”  ---  Wilson Rogers (Wilmington, North Carolina) / Former general manager of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre during the 1990 inaugural season; currently an executive vice president with Live Nation


If I had to narrow one of the richest veins of writing--be it musical, literary or cinematic--down to its one song essence I'd choose “Diamonds On My Windshield” by Tom Waits.  It's a three-minute, non-stop cross-country trip fueled by weeds, whites and wine--and the beat.  And can you even write about the road without a beat?  Of course, “Diamonds On My Windshield” is pretty much the antithesis of a top down, sun-drenched anthem.  That's the very definition of “Fun, Fun, Fun” by the Beach Boys.  But if the road I'm on is taking me to my happy place then I'd have to go with the one-two punch of “Save Me San Francisco” by Train and “San Francisco Days” by Chris Isaak.  ---  Steve Hansen (Pittsburgh) / Former on-air talent on WDVE Pittsburgh’s “Jimmy & Steve” morning program (1980-1986); currently an independent writer/producer






They say that love makes the world go round...but you know, so does sponsorship.

Recently Musicasaurus.com was once again tackling the tar pit that is its Life, and by that I mean the Clutter (with a capital “C”) around my house...I don’t border on hoarder; it’s not that.  I simply never took an ax (or a shredder) to the accumulation of decades of stuff, papers especially, and so finding a personal little jewel tucked away, I found, is still possible.

One of my finds as I ferreted through the piles was an amphitheatre list from exactly ten years ago, from the Spring of 2004.  And it had to do with amphitheatre sponsorship.

A bit of background first:  Ten years ago I was the general manager of the Post-Gazette Pavilion (now First Niagara Pavilion), the full-size amphitheatre serving Western Pennsylvania, situated about 30 minutes from Pittsburgh in Washington County.  When the amphitheatre was truly crankin’--in terms of numbers of summer events--we’d have about 40 shows a summer (essentially from 1990-1999).  By 2004 our show counts were in the 30s, but we were still profitable and probably all the wiser, in that it’s not the number of shows you do, it’s how many of them are winners and how many are losers.  Putting the brakes on questionable bookings, we found, was not a bad thing at all...

From the beginning, though, sponsorship was key.  Outdoor venues like ours craved shows to fill the schedule, and the negotiations to land an artist at your facility usually included paying them a whopping guarantee (i.e., a guaranteed $ometime$ a$tronomical $um).  The venues would then hope to sell enough tickets to cover all costs, yet in a lot of instances it was the ancillary revenue from “popcorn and parking” that saved yo’ ass...

With the artists beating you up with their guarantees, you then counted on revenue from food, beverage and parking to soften the blow and, most often, turn a bottom-line profit.  Over time, though, some pinnacle artists who carried a big stick (Jimmy Buffett and a few others) actually picked your ancillary pockets, constructing their deals such that some of your food, beverage and parking revenue would flow to them at the end of the day...Hence the importance of sponsorship.

This was the one area that was untouched by the touring artists from Day One.  So the amphitheatres in their early years--if they had enterprising general managers and sales directors--loaded up their venues with sponsors of all kinds, and through each successive summer continued to creatively design new sponsor opportunities to keep amassing this local treasure-trove of funds.

Post-Gazette Pavilion was in its 15th year of existence in that summer of 2004.  We were “mature” by outdoor amphitheatre standards, having nurtured and built up an audience, kept pace (by and large) with repairs & maintenance and facility improvements, and uncovered new revenue streams to keep the parent company happy--or at least off our backs.

When I found this sponsor list from ’04, it took me back to the heady days of runnin’ the joint, and our unified scramble each Winter and Spring to renew last year’s sponsor deals, and of course to keep angling for new money dangling...

The following list reveals just one aspect of venue sponsorship, but it’s an important one:  On-site visibility.  It might be even a stroll down memory lane for some of you amphitheatre concert-goers, as most of these entities lined our plazas and walkways from the main entry gates up top to the lowest points down near the stage.  I think this list lets you glimpse the ingenuity involved in securing a diverse group of promotion-minded sponsors--and occasionally it points to the depths we’d plumb in order to make a buck (or more precisely, another buck):

The 2004 List of On-Site Sponsors at Post-Gazette Pavilion:

There were 24 total on-site sponsor/vendors...Each paid a pretty penny to us, affording them the right to show and/or dispense their wares to the strolling concert fans who were either fresh through the gates on their way to their seats, taking a breather from the mostly meaningless opening acts, or on their way to relieve themselves of bodily fluids or their hard-earned cash at the concession stands.

The on-site sponsor displays significantly contributed to the fun & festive atmosphere, altogether just one more interesting aspect of the total fan concert experience...

These first 12 will pass without much comment; they were fairly “standard stuff” at the amphitheatre back then: Best Buy (sponsor of our second stage in the West Plaza).....JBL (audio electronics company who sponsored our sound technician’s mixing tent in front of the second stage).....Ebay, American Express, WPGH-TV (Fox 53), and GetGo (convenience store chain) who all had 10’ x 10’ tents for literature pass-outs and/or new customer sign-ups.....Land O’ Lakes and Smith Hot Dogs, who each had large inflatables anchored to the ground for can’t-miss visibility.....Snyder of Berlin, the Berlin, PA chip company who passed out product and coupons at our “Kid Drop-off Zone” at the top of the roadway entrance to the amphitheatre.....Ticketfast (a Ticketmaster promotion that allowed early entrance through the facility gates with a special Ticketmaster pass).....Wheeling Island, the nearby West Virginia gambling hotspot who sponsored our open-to-the-public deck area in the west plaza.....and GMC--the automobile dealer association that sponsored our country shows--who in addition to an inflatable and a 10’ x 10’ tent for literature pass-out, displayed six cars parked in key spots in our east and west plazas.

These other 12 were a bit more interesting, as I reflect back...

•       Post-Gazette newspaper stands and vendor stations.....The Post-Gazette was our name-in-title venue sponsor, of course, and they provided their own staff to sell--usually for a buck-fifty--a recent edition of their newspaper that was wrapped with a four-page, full-color concert section specifically tailored to that night’s performer line-up.  Some artists grumbled about us giving the Post-Gazette the right to do this; they were under the mistaken impression that the Post-Gazette “wraps” would affect their own tour merchandise sales, which was...poppycock.

•       Bound By Design.....A 10’ x 10’ tent staffed by this company’s employees who did temporary tattoos (to paraphrase Rick James, “the kind you can bring home to motherrrr”)

•       The Captain Morgan’s hut (housing their liquor for sale) with accompanying gigantic inflatables of a Smirnoff’s bottle and a Jose Cuervo bottle.....I remember one night James Taylor, between songs, seeing the large liquor inflatables and then spying at the same time the aforementioned GMC cars parked in the plazas.  He pointed them out to the audience, and then asked, “Is this place telling you to drink and drive?!!”

•       Dick’s Sporting Goods’ Sports Zone.....A basketball toss and a small putting green, with our employees dressed pretty much like Dick’s, and giving out store coupons as prizes.

•       f.y.e......A 10’ x 10’ tent in which employees of this national entertainment media chain sold records and tapes and distributed store literature.  (Note: the following will likely provide heart palpitations to those older musicasaurus.com readers who thrived on lounging & loafing in their favorite record stores, back in the day:  f.y.e.’s parent-company owner Trans World Entertainment also owned record chains like Strawberries, Record Town, Coconuts and Camelot.)  The f.y.e. chain, by the way, reportedly closed over 100 locations nationally in 2009, and 52 more in 2012--no surprise there.

•       Rick’s Ranchwear.....Two stocked-to-the-gills trailers of cowpoke merchandise, one in each of the two main plazas...They sold cowboy hats, shirts and boots to the country crowds at shows like Toby, Kenny and Tim.  It sure seemed that some of our patrolling security forces roved repeatedly ‘round those trailers, as a common sight was one country-show filly after another, garbed in knee-high cowboy boots and form-fitting jeans, primping with a newly-purchased hat in front of one of Rick’s full-length mirrors.  (Our security team leader obviously found that his job description now included shooing.)

•       Gunslingers.....A 10’ x 20’ tent usually with one grunge dude and one motorcycle mama, doing tattoos and body piercings.

•       Simple Twist of Fate.....This tapestries, incense & beads seller likely came up with his company name while under the influence of the Dylan song, or maybe he simply twisted up a fatty--either way, his product was popular especially at the jam band shows.

•       U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company.....A 10’ x 15’ tent for sampling snuff (not the films)...Of course they didn’t peddle this cancerous commodity at kids’ shows like Britney or Backstreet; instead, they served the more adult and take-your-life-in-your-hands segment of our Buzzed and our Sloshed, at all of the country music concerts and classic rock shows.

•       Jack Daniels.....They had one tremendously oversized bottle of Jack (an inflatable) at five mutually-agreed shows.  Bet your ass they blew up that sucker for Hank Jr. and Skynyrd!

•       Beano’s.....This is the deli condiment company and not the fart-suppression firm, so ya know...Their sponsorship deal enabled them to sample their deli condiment products at eight of our shows, cruising in one of our venue golf cars out in the parking lot areas where people tailgated.  And for two shows, Beano’s was able to have one of their inflatables up inside our facility gates (I honestly can’t remember what the inflatable looked like; it was probably one big and mean mister mustard, though).

•       Trojan.....A 10’ x 10’ tent, from which the Trojan employees distributed free condoms at mutually-agreed shows...Invariably some guy would step up in line and ask for two or three, and  Steven Tyler’s “Dream On!” would flash across my brain...Also, at the conclusion of some of these shows we’d find a number of still-packaged condoms peppered about our lawn, in the parking lots, and even a few on our exit lanes, perhaps tossed out of the windows in defeat--truly the place where the rubber meets the road.



Musicasaurus.com is on Spring Break....Please come back for brand new postings on Monday morning, April 7th!




Musicasaurus.com was born on May 29, 2011.  There was certainly a gestation period, but I gained no weight and skipped Lamaze classes because it was all in my head.

For a few years prior I’d been thinking of taking a microscope to some of my adventures in music through my career as a record store worker, record chain marketer, concert booker, and concert venue general manager.  This became the section of the site entitled “A DAY IN THE LIFE”, and then I added a DVD review section and a suggested CD mix section as well...

After the launch, I found myself with a mixed blessing--it was great to get back to writing on a regular basis, which I’d done many years before in short stories, skit scripts, etc. before the advent of the internet.  But I also found that the writing muse was a fickle beast and not always at my command, necessitating a lot of hours to get things just so.

At some point my two out-of-town, twentysomething daughters Moira and Maeve started to chafe at this new addition to the family, squawking (in good-naturedly fashion) about the time it took away from their father paying attention to them.  They soon dubbed the website “The Third Child”, and also became a bit competitive about being the first daughter to “like” my twice-a-month postings on Facebook, which I had started up chiefly to let folks know that new stories were up on the site.  Then I found that their individual rapid-fire “likes” on Facebook didn’t necessarily mean the website posting had actually been read by either of them--aHA!

But the three of us got into a good little groove of tongue-in-cheek throw-downs via email, with both of them claiming to be my “favorite’’--defined here as the daughter who unfailingly gets in first with the “like”, and who also proves (by reciting back content) that the fresh posting has truly been digested.

My most recent posting on musicasaurus.com was on 2/24/14, and the DAY IN THE LIFE entry was entitled “Ticket To Ride”.  In this posting I listed nine concerts I attended in the year 2012, a few of them actually with my daughters.  And so I open up my email inbox the next morning, and...

From Moira

“Dad, just read musicasaurus.com over my morning (read: buttcrack of dawn) cereal and loved your stories about coming across recent concert ticket stubs and the shows you went to.  I have to say as your first and best daughter I was extremely flattered that you chose to put me first with the Blind Pilot show.  However, as I read on I noticed that "Angel" (editor’s note:  This is Maeve's self-proclaimed handle) was mentioned in TWO SEPARATE concert experiences which understandably left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  I then realized that Angel may not have read it yet and thus I still win for best daughter of all time.  Thoughts?”

And minutes later, from Maeve:

“Sistabah, you have yet again come in behind me...I, as the dedicated daughter I am, read musicasaurus.com last night as my dear father had requested.  However, I do find that our qualms are somewhat similar.  I reminded dear old Dad that he must have forgotten to include the word "chronologically" when mentioning me in the posting as Daughter #2--something that can easily be fixed as he continues to write about me time and time again.”

You get the idea.  As the father of three offspring--two real; one re-created on the page, twice monthly--I certainly can’t afford to play favorites and will instead let them duke it out for dominance.  Though...Third Child isn’t quite into the loans like the other two...Hmmmm...


I'm not that hard to buy for, for Christmas.  This past December, one of my two best friends Frank arranged for a shipment of books to come my way in the U.S. mail, as he now lives more than a few hours away in the Cumberland area (though originally is from these parts).  Incidentally, he is the envy of a number of us up here in Pittsburgh because he squirreled away funds through his occupational life and invested wisely, eventually pouring it all into a dream home on a mountaintop far from the maddening crowd.  (I almost edited out that last part, because it seems that “envy” shouldn’t be tied to a Christmas anecdote, but so be it.)

Family members and Secret Santas for years have all had the illusion that I live, breathe, and obsess about music, and--they’re pretty much right on target.  iTunes gift cards, album-cover and historic concert-poster compilations, concert DVDs--it’s all fair game for making my Christmas morning an all-smiles occasion.

Frank’s package arrived, and out spilled three books that took me a bit by surprise:  Musicophilia / Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks...Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy / How Music Captures Our Imagination by Robert Jourdain...and This Is Your Brain On Music / The Science Of A Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin.  I wrinkled a brow.  Was this a veiled comment on my brain power?  Or a plea for me to dig deep to find the scientific conditions that led to my “illness”??

These books on the brain looked to be heady stuff.  I knew that flopped-on-the-couch-in-flannel wasn’t the right setting for digesting such an erudite set, so I started to think about the challenge ahead.  First of all, I had to carve out the time to absorb these windfall windows to self-examination.  Was morning the best time, on a Saturday or Sunday, when caffeine would kick me in to coursing through the readings?  Or perhaps a “staycation” situation, where for days in a row my synapses could fire uninterruptedly with the only break being a mindless grab for nearby salsa & chips?

Nawww...Perhaps the best setting would be the living room, some Sunday evening before plunging back into the workweek...A roaring fire, a Victorian style arm chair, a silk robe--not that I really have one of those, mind you--and a pipe & slippers, a snifter of brandy cradled in my lap.  And if anyone entered my sanctuary from the dining room, I am sure I’d be like Alistair Cooke with a book (not so much in strict appearance or accoutrements; more in style) giving the inquisitive incomer a tantalizing preview of the delights within.  A couple of pipe-stem waves for emphasis, and I’m in my element...

Thanks, Frank.  I’m feeling some genuine stirrings up there already.



Posted 2/24/14.....TICKET TO RIDE

I was halfheartedly housecleaning one recent Saturday--with many a groan and a mutter, aghast at the clutter--when I came upon a small stack of concert tickets.

In the Old Days, I used to faithfully squirrel away these tokens and somewhere I might even have a sample or two from the ‘70s, when shows were ridiculously affordable and two tickets might cost you...$12?  Back then I went to ton of shows but the music business has long since evolved (that’s the polite term), and we’ve all come to discover with some disconsolation that a plunk-down habit of buying tickets to a lot of primo shows these days is almost enough to spur a heart-to-heart with your eighteen-year-old about applying to lesser colleges...

The short stack I found was from 2012.  There were nine total tickets, and it provides a good cross section of my outbound musical pursuits that year:

 1. February 10, 2012 - Blind Pilot at Mr. Smalls Theatre/Pittsburgh.......Daughter #1 Moira enticed me to this one and I happily obliged, having discovered this Portland, Oregon band via iTunes a little while earlier...A packed crowd, all milling about in a general admission setting, soaked in this breezy, smart indie folk band whose songs ultimately creep up on you and deepen their spell.  (Try any number of cuts off of their most recent album We Are The Tide from 2011.)



 2. April 26, 2012 - Squeeze with special guest English Beat at Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead/Pittsburgh-area.......I never had the occasion to catch either band live when they were thriving in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s.  Thirty-plus years on, Squeeze in this incarnation still sports its original driving duo Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook, and English Beat has hung on to Dave Wakeling, so the show was a rousing remembrance.  Call it a new wave evening, for there was a flood of thirty-somethings in the crowd who just might have been lapping up these legends in a live setting for the very first time.  (I suspect some of these folks might even have been bouncing to these beats on their crib mattresses thirty years back, their cool-cat parents whirligigging around the house with these new fresh sounds on the stereo.)


3. July 3, 2012 - Roger Waters’ The Wall - Live at Consol Energy Center/Pittsburgh.......I went with my friend Steve, and neither of us had ever seen The Wall performed live...The show was a spectacle with the wall construction and eventual brick bashing, an impressive array of image projections, beautifully enveloping music, and more.  It was such a grand scale experience that I don’t believe this artist would ever consider a Watered-down version of the show.


4. August 14, 2012 - The Dukes of September (featuring Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs) at Jacobs Pavilion @ Nautica/Cleveland, Ohio.......This trio, fleshed out by in-synch A-list support players and backup singers, first started touring together in 2010.  On a nice summer night my brother-in-law Bernie and I trekked to Cleveland’s on-the-river small amphitheatre to see and hear the feisty Fagen and his mates deliver a “greatest individual hits + covers” repertoire.  Standouts were “Who’s That Lady” (Isley Brothers’ cover)...Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne”, “Peg” and “Hey Nineteen”...Teddy Pendergrass’ “Love TKO” sung by Boz Scaggs...and the latter’s own “Lowdown”.  Even the soulful-but-sleepy Michael McDonald tunes like “I Keep Forgettin’” were sparked to life in this rich sonic setting.


5. August 29, 2012 - Train at Stage AE/Pittsburgh.......Coaxed by my friend Steve, who swore by this act largely from the vocal prowess of Erie, PA born-and-bred lead singer Pat Monahan, I ventured with Steve’s posse to this outdoor amphitheatre on the North Shore of Pittsburgh.  We had lawn tickets, but some of us occasionally scooted up to the side of the stage for closer views...By show’s end, I wasn’t knocked out but I seemed to hold a minority opinion.  I had the best time people watching, though; a lot of the ladies on the lawn knew every single word, and their guy accompaniments looked none too bored with the proceedings--a pretty sure sign the band has a fairly universal fanbase.


6. September 21, 2012 - Peter Gabriel at Wells Fargo Center/Philadelphia.......Daughter #2 Maeve and I conspired to get together and bond through music for a weekend, and the stars aligned for us in the Philadelphia area where she now lives...This was a Friday night, and a good friend at Live Nation scored us seats just a bit out from the stage, up on the side section seating just off the floor.  I’d seen Gabriel before when he was a mid-sized theatre draw and newly self-launched solo artist at Pittsburgh’s storied Stanley Theater in the late ‘70s, but not again until 1993’s WOMAD (World of Music, Art & Dance) event at Star Lake Amphitheatre. 

Almost a decade later here I was catching up with him again, and the performance (Maeve and I later agreed) was captivating.  He and band played the entire So album from ’86 as well as classics like “Biko”, “Solsbury Hill”, “Shock The Monkey” and more.  Plus, the lighting, stage set and pacing were pure Gabriel; he interweaved creative flourishes in all these areas that didn’t overwhelm but instead heightened the emotional connection throughout the evening.



7. September 22, 2012 - Farm Aid 2012 at Hersheypark Stadium/Hershey, PA.......The September 21-22 concert weekend with Daughter #2 Maeve culminated in a visit to Hershey, PA and the Farm Aid concert which had alighted here this particular year.  Annually the chosen site shifts to a new location within the USA, which allows the Farm Aid team to really take root in a given community for the weeks/months leading up to the event--dialing in local farmers, working with community groups, and generally raising public awareness of the challenges that face family farms and the attributes of farm-to-table opportunities in the region. 

Ten years before Hershey, Farm Aid decided on Pittsburgh’s Post-Gazette Pavilion (now First Niagara Pavilion) as 2002’s anointed site, and I had the pleasure as the venue’s general manager at that time to welcome in and then work alongside the organization’s bright and dedicated management team including Executive Director Carolyn Mugar and Associate Director Glenda Yoder.  I forged bonds with them during that experience that last to this day (although alas, I do lapse in the “keeping in touch” department).

Maeve and I were able to connect very briefly with Carolyn and Glenda, and then spent the day enjoying the truly communal event where audience, artists and local vendors share common threads and passions.  The performance line-up was as always first-rate, and featured the four annual anchor artists Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson and Dave Matthews in addition to this year’s crop of participating musicians including Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Jack Johnson and Kenny Chesney.  A concert highpoint:  Dave Matthews’ set with his compadre guitarist Tim Reynolds.


8. October 21, 2012 - Fiona Apple at Stage AE/Pittsburgh.......This was the last show of her 2012 North American tour.  Moving between a front-microphone position and keyboards, the eclectic and electrifying Apple took us through her catalogue including “Shadowboxer”, “Extraordinary Machine”, “Every Single Night”, “Fast As You Can”, “Not About Love” and “Sleep To Dream”--and even threw in a Conway Twitty cover at concert’s end, “It’s Only Make Believe”.  Here again, it was a general admission setting and I lamented the fact that I was standing--especially at only five-feet-nine.  Plus my companion Mary Ellen and I were tempted to jog in place, long after the opening act and an interminable intermission, to try to keep our aging feet from callously protesting the circumstances we’d put them in.


9. December 11, 2012 - B.E. Taylor Christmas Concert at Heinz Hall/Pittsburgh.......I have written about this artist and his annual Heinz Hall holiday concerts before in musicasaurus.com.  The holiday season would lose a bit of luster and deeper meaning if my family and my in-the-know friends ever missed this annual mood lifter and kick-off to Christmas.  B.E. hangs onto his crown quite well as a beloved and talented singer/arranger, and his empathetic band members radiate their love of the holiday spirit and their pure joy in performing together.  A lot more could be said about this whole experience, but what I love the most is this:  It’s a blessed opportunity to see and hear high caliber musicians, infused with talent, who nimbly sidestep musical-performance clichés and deliver instead an emotionally rich and thrilling rock music experience that elevates the spirit.




Posted 2/10/14.....FIXING A HOLE

To paraphrase the Beatles but change one critical word within, “I’m fixing a hole where the pain gets in, to stop my mind from wandering”...

A good friend, Michael Doman--a brother though not of blood--passed away unexpectedly on January 25th.

When something like this happens, your universe (whatever you make it out to be) fissures and cracks open, and you course from initial disbelief through degrees of pain and rage, lashing out at the senselessness.  At some point--the timing of which is so different for each and every one affected--a solemn acceptance does come, but often that’s so far down the road as to be unimaginable.  And on that road to recovery, the signposts all sure seem to say “No Speeding / Cruelly Enforced.”

I won’t attempt to sum up a life here...Suffice to say that Michael was just one more of us, making this journey alone but protectively wrapping himself in family, a beloved companion, a few close friends--and of course the things that made him Michael, first and foremost a generosity of spirit...and cooking (unbeatable; quite the chef, both professionally and when often “coerced” by whimpering, wanting friends!)...and beekeeping (he’d just started his own little apiary in the past few years)...and fly-fishing (pretty much a lifelong passion, with all of that wonderful solitude that the streams bring).

At the funeral viewing, a friend of mine named John who did not know the private Michael well but had brushed up against him at many a tribal gathering of core friends over the years, said softly to a fellow mourner:  “I didn’t know Michael well, but from the first time I met him in the late ‘70s, I immediately felt that he approached every other person without a shred of judgment.  He was completely open to who you were as a person from the very start, and at the same time his manner, his personality, his spirit immediately invited you in...”

Also at the viewing, there were the moose.  I am sure that some who came by the funeral home were surprised to see a long table overflowing with moose--the stuffed-animal variety, and hats and pins, and little sculptured critters, and dime-store replicas and semi-rare finds...

When I found that the family had decided to take a lot of Michael’s prized moose collection TO the funeral home, to offer everyone who came by that afternoon & evening a moose token as a remembrance, I thought to myself, “Somebody has to explain the significance of this.” 

And so I did.  I wrote the Story of Moose, and printed up several hundred copies so that each person leaving had a moose and the meaning behind it.

Another good friend Paul walked up to me midpoint that evening, and whispered “Hey...Why don’t you post this on musicasaurus.com?”, and after some reflection in the hazy aftermath of the next few days, I decided it would be both revealing and healing.

Here is the Story of Moose.  I have no idea whether this funeral home handout will resonate with the uninitiated, but here goes: 


What is this “Moose” Thing, Anyway?

- by Lance Jones -

Well, it’s a brotherhood thing.  Or certainly became that.

In the late 1970s I was frizzy-topped and in my mid-twenties, and had just moved into the Oakland section of Pittsburgh to live with my long-haired high-school friend Michael and his brother John.  Within a month or so, due to their apartment lease running out, the three of us had to move on.  John decided to move elsewhere, so Michael and I moved a few blocks up and over, to a house on Dawson Street.

I had recently snagged a new job as a Warner Brothers, Elektra/Asylum and Atlantic Records merchandiser--“poster boy”, really--and my job was to load up my old Vega hatchback to subsequently cart a lot of record display materials around to tri-state record stores.  With staple gun and Scotch tape in hand, I’d then do my bit of wizardry in key floor product locations (the in-store places that my company’s new albums were featured) and up on prime wall spaces as well...

As my roommate, Michael soon got used to our porch occasionally overflowing with shipped record company packages that contained my rolls of posters and my boxes of 1x1s (the industry term for flats of album covers).  One sunny afternoon he had come with me on a display run to hit the North Hills area National Record Marts, and we were for some reason especially rambunctious and all revved up.  Michael quite suddenly grabbed a six-foot-long, three-inch-in-diameter poster tube that only yesterday had been filled with Little Feat posters but now was hollowed out, and apparently it was quite tempting as a voice projector.

All the way up McKnight Road when a red light brought us alongside another stopped car, Michael would roll down the window and bellow/scream through the tube, which was now jutting out the window in the direction of the other drivers...      A lot of mystified expressions followed from these other automobiles, and Michael kept yelling short nonsensical phrases and I was following suit at the wheel, letting stuff just leap out of my throat with abandon...

I don’t know how it happened, but one of us hit upon a particularly liberating bellow that somehow welled up within and roared forth:  “HEEEEERE, MOOSE!”  And so the brotherhood began.

We began calling each other “Moose” and after a time it just became our automatic greeting, whether on the phone or in person.  Then other people became enchanted (or so they said!) and began bestowing moose materials particularly upon Michael, who from early on in the brotherhood began collecting “all things moose”:  Pins, posters, books, sculptures, hats, rubber stamps, oversized stuffed toys, T-shirts--there seemed to be no limit to the moose-related treats that were scattered throughout the world and ending up, through the efforts of family & friends, in Moose’s--er sorry, Michael’s--collection.

Michael and I remained roommates through early 1984, and later that year I married a wonderful woman named Margot and started down the road as a family man.  Michael and I continued our lasting and deep friendship, of course, but specifically in regard to “moose”, he just blew right by me.  His collection swelled, as did his pride in establishing an altar of sorts in his home.  In fact, he had enough stuff by the late 1980s to start up his own moose-eum (if he’d had a mind to)...

There’s more to this tail tale for sure:  How the moose brotherhood quickly expanded to include dear friend Richard Schall (whom we labeled “Attache de Moose” for some inexplicable reason) and then two other guys along the way (Paul Coughlin and Rusty Click)...and how Margot and all of our women friends resisted our on-going entreaties to become moose-ettes (we think they were scared we’d have some weird initiation rights or something to that effect--or more likely they just felt, in this case, “let the boys be boys”).

Whatever...The moose brotherhood, born out of a spirit of a fertile friendship and--Michael and I would be the first to admit--a stunted adulthood, reigned from that road-trip origin in the late 1970s all the way through our lives.

Michael has--paraphrasing the words of a classic '60s song--moved on up to that spirit in the sky, and we miss him dearly.

To conclude now, here’s a parting word to you:  Someday soon, especially if you are somewhere in the great outdoors (which Michael loved), look to the heavens and place your thumbs on opposite sides of your head with fingers outstretched like antlers, and let fly, from very deep within, a loud and long “HEEEEERE, MOOSE!”...

See if that just doesn’t bring you the sweetest satisfaction.

                                                                   -  In honor of Michael Hugh Doman (June 19, 1953 - January 25, 2014) -                                                                   

Postscript:  Pretty much every single person at the funeral viewing left with a moose carefully cradled; at the very least, all left with good memories....Michael was a bright spot in this world.  If you can honestly say that about one other person, hold on to him or her.  For dear life.




Posted 1/27/14.....YOUR SONG


I recently corralled some musicasaurus.com readers--most if not all of whom are in the arts & entertainment world--and asked them a question that I hoped would be most revealing...

When I have surveyed folks before in this column--with questions like “What album would you take to the deserted island?”, and “What was your most harrowing and/or enlightening concert experience?--I received back some juicy, thoughtful stuff.

This time, I went straight to the heart when canvassing my folks:  “What is the first song that pops into your head when I pose this particular question:  What song really moves you?”

I worried for about a millisecond that I’d get a submission or two describing a song that sends them right off to the bathroom, but luckily, no.  The responses were as I had hoped--they were about songs that bring emotions to the fore; songs that were meaningful in a deeply personal way:


Wilson Rogers (Los Angeles) / Former general manager of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre during the 1990 inaugural season; currently an L.A.-based executive vice president with Live Nation.....I’m a big Clapton fan; I love the man and his music.  As a father of three, “Tears In Heaven” always stirs my emotions.  I can’t imagine the pain Eric endured.  A parent should never have to bury one of their children.


Christine Tumpson (Pittsburgh) / Editor in Chief of WHIRL Magazine.....For me, it's “Hey Hey Hey” by Michael Franti and Spearhead.  It was life changing the first time I heard it while driving on Banksville Road, heading into work after dropping off the kids at school.  It reminds me to wake up early, to choose to be happy, and as the song says, "not let another moment slip away."


Josh Verbanets (Pittsburgh) / Musician, Meeting of Important People; co-creator, The Josh and Gab Show kids anti-bullying programming.....There's a great song by Cat Power called "I Don't Blame You" which my band and I have covered here and there, an absolutely beautiful tune that might be about forgiving your idols in the entertainment world for the strange things they do in their personal lives.  A really simple song, but one of the most moving and honest vocals ever put on a record.


Tom Rooney (Pittsburgh) / Former executive director of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group.....“Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues” because that song was playing when, as a college student, I totaled my brother's brand new car.  That was a tough call to make.


Donnie Iris (Pittsburgh) / Musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader (Donnie Iris and The Cruisers)....."What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye is the clear choice for me.  I listened to that song and that entire album over and over again when it was released.  Not only did it have a profound effect on me politically, it had a calming, mesmerizing sound that was trance-like.  An absolute classic recording.


Beckye Levin Gross (Houston, Texas) / Former booker with Pace Music Group (ultimately Live Nation); currently Director of Booking and Sales at VenuWorks.....“Kokomo” by The Beach Boys--and don’t laugh; I know it seems goofy.  But I can still remember it like it was yesterday.  I was dropping Doc McGhee (music industry artist/band manager) off at a hotel in downtown Houston after he just had a meeting with Louis Messina (of Pace Concerts).  I was driving Louis' Jaguar down Memorial Drive which has almost no lights and is very wooded.  I had the windows rolled down and it was a crisp autumn day.  That song came on and I turned it up all the way.  I was singing along; the wind was blowing my hair.  I just remember how independent and free I felt--I finally realized I was over a broken heart that day.


Russ Rose (Pittsburgh) / WXDX on-air talent and Creative Director, and Production Director at KISS FM.....Chris Cornell/Eleven version of “Ave Maria”…Unbelievable that a song could be used at both funerals and weddings and also Christmas-time.  There is something about this version that hits me harder than the traditional arrangements.  To be honest I am not sure exactly what I feel when I hear it; it’s a mix of emotion that gets me thinking about many stages of my life, past and future.  I had a chance to tell Chris Cornell that I want his version played at my funeral, and he thought that was one of the most unusual compliments he’s ever received.  Sort of left him speechless…


Ed Traversari (Pittsburgh) / Former concert promoter & partner in DiCesare-Engler Productions (which eventually became part of Live Nation); currently instructor at Point Park University in their Sports, Arts & Entertainment Management program.....I would say my song would be "One Love" by Bob Marley.  Most any Marley song does it for me.  The passion and feeling that Bob puts into his songs translates to a feeling for me of compassion, calmness and love, and for that reason when I hear his songs I really feel at peace and understand what he is trying to say or convey to his audience.  I find them very moving.


Scott Blasey (Pittsburgh) / Musician and lead singer for The Clarks.....“I Can't Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt.  It reminds me of my wife Denise, and Bonnie's voice on this classic moves me every time I hear it.


Paul Carosi (Pittsburgh) / Designer/developer of the website Pittsburgh Music History (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/).....Billy Strayhorn's “Lush Life”.  I always marvel at Strayhorn's pure musical genius; the haunting jazzy melody and lush chords.  He wrote it when he was 16.  It's a song for the ages.


Marylynn Uricchio (Pittsburgh) / Seen/Style Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.....God!  So Many!  But I'm a big Van fan, so I immediately go there.  "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" is the most romantic song ever (the Willie Nelson version, too!) but in terms of really moving me, I would say "Brown Eyed Girl."  It instantly makes me think of old boyfriends and a perfect moment in time.  The wistful quality is like a paean to youth - it makes us nostalgic for a past we can all relate to.  I had a good friend who died at 35 and it was his favorite song, so I always think of him and say a quiet “hi” when I hear it.  On top of that, it's a catchy dance tune. 


Joe Grushecky (Pittsburgh) / Musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader (Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers).....“Beauty Fades” (editor’s note:  This is from Grushecky’s 2006 release A Good Life).


Bob Klaus (Durham, NC) / Original marketing director of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre (1990); currently general manager of Durham Performing Arts Center.....Almost anything by Ryan Adams...but maybe most his tracks with Whiskeytown, “16 Days” or “Turn Around” or “Dancing with the Woman at the Bar”.  I barely know the words...just the sonic vibes take me to another place and that is good sometimes.


Sean McDowell (Pittsburgh) / Longtime on-air talent with regional powerhouse 102.5 WDVE....."Trouble Man" by Marvin Gaye...I always loved Marvin Gaye; he pretty much wrote his own stuff for Motown Records in the '60s, and his solo material from the early '70s I thought was great.


Joe Negri (Pittsburgh) / Jazz guitarist, composer and educator (also, for all time, “Handyman Negri” on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood).....Well, it really didn't take me too long to come up with the answer to your question: What song really moves me?  I would have to say that it is "All The Things You Are", music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, from the show “Very Warm for May” (1939)...Everyday I wake up with a melody running through my mind, but almost three or four days a week it's “All The Things You Are”.  It’s a beautiful melody with absolutely wonderful harmonies, and it makes a great tune for improvisation--the lyric is good, too.  


Jack Tumpson (Pittsburgh) / Former concert promoter and amphitheatre marketer-then-GM; currently Owner-Publisher of WHIRL Magazine.....When I read your question my mind went blank (as it usually does with these kinds of things).  The “first song in my head” doesn't exist--it immediately goes to this one and this one and this one..."You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones has the best lyrics, and it can go on and on, jam-wise live..."I'll Go Crazy" from James Brown; it always comes back to James Brown, for me--love lost, love won, rock 'n roll - What else is there?..."Althea" by Grateful Dead; it has my favorite Jerry melodies and solos with a haunting refrain of love and individuality.


Susan Drapkin (Pittsburgh) / Director of Sponsorship of Live Nation, Greater Pittsburgh Area.....My song choice would be "Movies" by Hothouse Flowers.  It's a beautiful song that starts softly, builds to a rocking crescendo and then slows down again and ends with soft notes on the piano.  Always gets me moving, singing, and wishing I hadn't quit piano lessons.


Rick Sebak (Pittsburgh) / WQED public TV producer & narrator.....I can’t remember if I heard Bette Midler’s cover of “Hello In There” before I heard John Prine’s original, but both versions (burned into my memory in college days in the early 1970s) still reach into my mind and heart and make powerful sense.  I think it’s a combination of the simple everyday tone (“We had an apartment in the city / Me and Loretta liked living there”) and the giant understanding that aging is a difficult business (“Old trees just grow stronger / And old rivers grow wilder everyday /But old people just grow lonesome.”)  Every time I hear it, it seems wiser and more truthful.  Now we can watch Prine in concert on YouTube as he sings it in recent years and the poetry is even more powerful.  He wrote the song when he was still in his 20s, but as all of us age, the tune takes on a deeper power, a resonance, and its mighty message makes more and more sense every day.  It moves me.  "Hello."


Here is musicasaurus.com’s own submission (and thanks to all above who contributed!) ..... In the late 1970s and early 1980s I found and glommed onto The Pretenders.  I was enthralled with the bewitching auteur of the band, Chrissie Hynde.  I loved her spunk and melodic punk, and found that the lyrics were intelligent, incisive and almost unique to rock ‘n’ roll.  Also, her voice was astounding with its ability to float, flutter and occasionally sting above her anchoring & dynamic brand of power pop.

In March of 1985, my wife and I gave birth to our first child, which--as any parent knows--opens up a world previously undreamed of.  This was a gift that irrevocably changed how we looked at all else in Life. 

About a year before our daughter Moira was born, The Pretenders had released their third album entitled Learning To Crawl.  I came to find that the album was named for Hynde’s firstborn, Natalie Rae, a daughter conceived with then-lover Ray Davies of The Kinks.  Natalie Rae was in that delightful early-motoring stage of life in 1984, and Hynde not only named the album as a nod to Natalie, but also wrote a song about her birth entitled “Show Me”.

This is the song I thought of, when looking at my own life and asking myself that question of “the song that moved me”.  Hynde’s lyrics are a love letter to her firstborn; they illustrate not only her sense of awe at the miracle of birth, but also her quest to find and fully understand love in a world that is a mystery all its own:


Show me the meaning of the word

Show me the meaning of the word

'Cause I've heard so much about it

They say you can't live without it


Welcome to the human race

With its wars, disease and brutality

You with your innocence and grace

Restore some pride and dignity

To a world in decline


Welcome to a special place

In a heart of stone that's cold and grey

You with your angel face

Keep the despair at bay

Send it away, and


Show me the meaning of the word

Show me the meaning of the word

'Cause I've heard so much about it

I don't want to live without it

I don't want to live without it

Oh, I want love, I want love, I want love


Welcome here from outer space

The Milky Way still in your eyes

You found yourself a hopeless case

One seeking perfection on earth

That's some kind of rebirth, so


Show me the meaning of the word

Show me the meaning of the word

'Cause I've heard so much about it

Don't make me live without it

Don't make me live without it

Oh, love, I want love, I want love, I want love




Posted 1/13/14.....LIFE IS A HIGHWAY


On a wintry Sunday morning recently I sat down with Rich Engler, legendary Pittsburgh concert promoter, to talk a bit about his new book Rich Engler: Behind The Stage Door (A Promoter’s Life Behind The Scenes).  Rich and I share a deep passion for music, and we’ve both had a lot of years “in the business”.  He and I first crossed paths when I became director of booking at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena in 1985, and there we worked “across the negotiating table” but then together, in the late 1990s and well into the 2000s, when we ended up in the same company (SFX > Clear Channel Entertainment > Live Nation)...

Excerpts from this conversation are below:

Musicasaurus:  First of all, I wanted to say that I devoured your book in one sitting, in about four-and-a-half hours.

Rich:  Evelyn Wood, eh?

Musicasaurus:  Well, I grabbed a copy of it the other night and knew I wanted to finish it before we spoke, but I also couldn’t put it down. And as I was reading it, I was trying to imagine myself NOT “in the business” to see if held my interest--which is a hard thing to separate out, of course.  But I think the book appeals greatly to those of us who’ve been in the live music industry as well as those just curious about that lifestyle. 

The setup of the book is good as well--anecdotes that jump here and there through various points in your rock ‘n’ roll life--and by the time one finishes the book, he or she has got a well-rounded picture of the decades you spent as a promoter; and the changes in the business that you weathered, all the while building your career and dealing with the craziness that’s inherent in that lifestyle.

I love the one line in the book, from your early days, where you say “I was only 23 in 1969, but could pass for 18.”  And I gotta say, Rich, you still have that youthful look--you don’t happen to have a portrait of yourself in the attic, do you, that ages instead of you?

Rich:  Well, I MIGHT have forgotten to age in some respects, and thanks, but there’s a huge difference now between me in ’69 and today...Actually, it’s strange, but after I graduated from high school, I grew about a foot in college.  Still, I was a little behind on the Age Chart, and I kind of felt bad about it because I wanted to look older at that point.  I even started smoking a pipe in college--

Musicasaurus:  Tobacco in that pipe?

Rich:  Yes, tobacco! (laughs)  Cherry Blend...you know, trying to have a bit of an older image, but I still looked so darn young.

Musicasaurus:  Having worked with you through the years, some of the tales in the book I knew already, of course, but a lot of it I WASN’T aware of...The book almost reads like a thriller in some parts, with some of the situations you dealt with, especially at some of the stadium shows you booked and produced.  With live events like that, on that scale, I know that you do the best you can to prepare for any eventuality, but then you have undoubtedly have something unexpected arise--like maybe the stage itself beginning to move during the concert?!!!

Rich:  Yes, that was in the 70s that that happened.  Promoters are always in the mode of trying to save money, of course, on those big shows.  What some people might not understand about the concert business, especially with stadium shows, is that there’s no bottom side to a loser though there is certainly a “top” as to how much you can make.  You can lose a million dollars on a stadium show if you’re not careful, and the most you might actually make might be, say, $250,000. 

Anyway, this particular stadium show was at Three Rivers Stadium, in 1979.  I had been doing Bachman-Turner Overdrive for a few years in Pittsburgh and other markets, and coming up to that summer the Pirates were doing well (and went on to win the World Series), so I came up with the name “World Series of Rock” and I put together a stadium show with headliner Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and added other acts to round it out including Kansas, Styx, Johnny Winter, Dave Mason and others...

At that time, acts were not traveling with their own stages yet, so instead of renting one from the large staging companies like Mountain or Clair Brothers, we had one built locally by Safeway Scaffolding for a lot less...When BTO came on, the crowd came out of the stands and joined the thousands of others already down on the floor, everybody moved forward, and the 55-gallon water drums that we used as barricades at the stage edge were pushed out of the way, and the crowd began pressing forward, actually trying to break through the plywood to get under the stage or onto the stage!

Then the stage actually started to move backward from the force of the fans.  Dirt Dinardo, the longtime groundskeeper at Three Rivers stadium, and I quickly came up with the idea of parking his forklifts at the back of the stage to keep it from moving anymore, and so there was suddenly a kind of a tug of war going on between the guys on forklifts and the crowd out in front...I ran up on stage and guitarist Randy Bachman saw me and came over (while still playing) and whispered, “Rich, is this stage moving?!!”, and I told him, “Naw, everything’s fine, the crowd’s just really rockin’, don’t worry about it.” 

Thankfully, after a few more minor back-and-forths, the stadium crew’s forklifts and another piece of heavy machinery helped us stand our ground, and the show finished without a problem.  I’m not sure Randy Bachman ever knew the full story there...

Musicasaurus:  I don’t know if you remember the Woody Allen film Zelig, where he was everywhere in terms of historical events through the ages, but you seemed to have a few Zelig-like moments in your long career.  One was being asked a favor by a band you booked into Pittsburgh’s Syria Mosque in 1975, the Bee Gees.  In their hotel room the night before their show, Barry Gibb and the boys asked you to give them your honest opinion of new material that they were working on, stuff that was a departure from the usual pop-rock material they’d been doing up to that point...

After listening to this new material with them, you encouraged the band members to plow ahead with the now-famous Barry Gibb falsetto sound and the band’s more disco-oriented direction.  Later that same year, they released the album Main Course (which featured “Jive Talkin’”), and then Saturday Night Fever, of course, a couple of years later.  By the way, thanks a lot for that, Rich. (Editor’s note:  That’s sarcasm.)

Another Zelig-like encounter that you had will really resonate, I think, with Western PA fans, and that was when you ended up being the drummer on The Vogues’ national hit “Five O’ Clock World”.

Rich:  Yes, it was a fluke actually.  Before I became a promoter, I was the drummer in a band I put together called Grains of Sand, and we were in a local studio recording session doing a new song “Passing Through The Night”.  At that time we had a manager named Elmer Willet, who also managed The Vogues.  That group had just finished their session in the same studio, and Elmer came over and asked me to overdub a new drum track on one of their songs.  It was nothing real fancy; we did a couple of takes.  Little did I know that this song was “Five O’ Clock World”, and would go on to become a national radio hit for The Vogues, and that Drew Carey would eventually use it for his TV show theme song, etcetera.

Musicasaurus:  Do you get paid for that?

Rich:  Zero.  But the favor was sort of returned when The Vogues sang with us on one of our new Grains of Sand songs.

Musicasaurus:  When you were with your band Grains of Sand, you were the drummer but ALSO booking the band’s gigs, and one time you all headed down to Florida for some club dates and ended up in Daytona Beach, where you had, shall we say, a surprise encounter...

Rich:  Yeah, we were practicing in the afternoon at the club, learning a Blues Magoos song, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”--wait.  No, that was Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s song...

Musicaurus:  You mean “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin' Yet”.

Rich:  Yes! (he does a quick vocal impersonation of the opening guitar riffs in that classic song)  We were rehearsing and our guitar player could not get that song worth a shit, and this kind of scruffy, skinny guy comes out of the shadows from the back of the room, saying, “Hey I don’t want to interrupt, but I can teach you that lick”...The guy had red hair, a beard and a mustache, mutton chops and a bit of a Southern accent.  He showed my guitarist Bob the lick, and then I asked him if he wanted to sit in with us for a while.  He said “Sure, I’ll go get my guitar.”

I asked him his name, and he said “Duane...Duane Allman”.  Well, he tore every song up, and I asked him to sit in with us that night.  Afterwards I took him aside and said “Do you think you can join our band, because we’re playin’ down at Cocoa Beach and some other gigs down here, and you could make some money.”

He said, “Well, where do you guys live?” and I told him Pittsburgh, and he said “Hell no, no way; I’m a southern boy.  I can’t go up North--you got bad weather up there.”

Duane’s band at that time was called The Allman Joys, and though he was in Florida with his mom at that moment, having had a fight recently with his brother Gregg, he told me he was still planning on playing in a band with his brother--and we know how that ended up.

Musicasaurus:  Rich, it seems when you eventually became a fulltime promoter around 1973, giving up the drums to concentrate on booking all of these exciting new American and British bands, you found it beneficial to form solid relationships with the booking agents who were the artists’ representatives, the people who booked the various artists’ tour dates all around the country.  I understand that in one instance, you had a chance to uh, deepen one of those relationships...

Rich:  I was in New York in the 1980s visiting some booking agents, and trying to see this one agent who was bringing this one big artist out of semi-retirement, and so I got there to his office, and we sat down to talk about the artist and the upcoming tour.  Then the business discussion seemed to slow down, and suddenly he said “Hey I really like you.”  And I said, “Well, I like you too; you’re a great agent, and--”  He broke in and said “No, no, no, not like that--I mean I REALLY like you--as a matter of fact, give me a kiss.” 

I said “Easy, easy does it now.  I have no problem with people with different kinds of tastes, but that’s not my deal.”  He got up out of the seat, starting to come across the desk, so I start darting around to the side.  He eased back and started to come around to the side of the desk where I was, and I quickly moved from there over to where he had been, and I said “Look, let’s not make a scene out of this”...

“No, just one little kiss,” the agent said, and so we just kept circling the desk.  Then I said “Look, one more move and I’m out the door and I’m going to tell your secretary.”  He said, “Okay--but you and I are going out tonight.”

I told him I already had plans--which I did, with Billy Joel’s agent Dennis Arfa--and that “tonight” was not going to happen.  Sure enough though, later that night when I got back to my hotel room the phone rang and it was him; I don’t know, he must have found out where I was staying.  “I’m in a limo outside, come on out” he said, and I responded “Well, you’re going to be there all night, then” and I hung up.  He called my room again, and I didn’t pick up.

Musicasaurus:  Well it’s nice, I guess, when you’re a “promoter in demand”, but maybe not for those kind of services?

Rich:  I was not for sale!  I also didn’t get that particular artist’s tour.

Musicasaurus:  Another thing I wanted to talk to you about were the changes that came along about 15 years ago, when the music industry went through some major upheavals...You first got into this business in the late 1960s out of passion--starting as a drummer in a rock band and booking your own band’s gigs, and then beginning to promote a ton of other bands, thereby cultivating all sorts of new relationships in this fledgling touring industry.  You had found a niche, and jumped in.

And it seems like one of the drivers of your success in particular was the development of relationships with the agents who controlled the big rosters of touring artists.  You did well as a promoter for a lot of years--booking acts like Springsteen, Madonna, Billy Joel, McCartney and many, many more--and you got a lot of additional dates in Pittsburgh and other markets because of these forged relationships.  But all of that changed in the late 90s, it seemed.

Along these lines, you mention in the book a little bit about the consolidation of the music business...In 1998 you were offered a pile of money to sell DiCesare-Engler, which I’m sure was a heartrending decision in some ways but the business was indeed changing.  Promoters were being bought up all over the country by one large company called SFX.  So I’d like to ask you how your relationships with the booking agents fared with all of that going down, when all of you local-market promoters were being gobbled up under one roof...

Rich:  After DiCesare-Engler was purchased, the booking agents’ favorite line every time I tried to get a special deal, or tried to beat down the band ‘s guarantee, would be “Hey, all you guys took the check; everything’s different now.  The bands are diggin’ for gold, because it’s there now.  Don’t ask for a lower guarantee--and afterwards, if you want a reduction because the show doesn’t do well, don’t ask...”

Musicasaurus:  So I guess the agents were instantly reacting to the infinitely deep pockets on your side of the fence, noting that you were now just part of one big corporate entity...

Rich:  It was no longer a family.

Musicasaurus:  Right.  It had changed from how the business was originally developed in the 60s and 70s by you here in Western Pa and central Pa, and by your promoter counterparts in other cities like Boston, Cleveland, New York, Houston, Raleigh, etc., who were all growing their own businesses as promoter fiefdoms--

Rich:  Villages.

Musicasaurus:  Yeah, villages...and it took a village, didn’t it, to get this industry first started up and on firm footing.  You guys built it all up, and then this SFX entrepreneur with a lot of money--and no history at all in the music business--bought everyone up, and it changed everything. 

Rich:  The business had overshadowed the music.  Plus from the SFX side--our side--it quickly became a feeding frenzy to see how many acts we could book.  I hate to say it, but we became like drunken sailors, paying crazy guarantees because the agents and artists were thinking “Hey, these promoters and venues need programming; let’s raise our asking prices.” 

Everyone within our new corporate environment thought that consolidation would be a big hammer, and we could get the acts to lower their prices.  Instead, the acts were thinking “No, no, no--they have all these amphitheatres, and they need 25 to 40 shows a summer.  We’re not playin’ all of these places unless they pay us a lot more money.”  And then of course ticket prices started going up and up...

Musicasaurus:  Rich, so that my readers who aren’t in the music business understand, the outdoor amphitheaters rose to prominence in the 1990s, and more and more acts started playing outdoors versus in the traditional arenas.

Rich:  Yes, and we (DiCesare-Engler) would not have sold our business in the late 1990s if we had been able to develop our own large amphitheatre in the Pittsburgh market earlier on.  We had a smaller amphitheatre at Station Square and an indoor theatre in Pittsburgh, but we lacked that largest piece of the puzzle.

Musicasaurus:  As you mention in the book, in the late 1980s you were looking at Cranberry Township north of Pittsburgh to possibly build a large amphitheatre, but couldn’t get the area residents to welcome you in, and then Pace Entertainment out of Houston, Texas beat you in the race to build one--and thus Star Lake in Washington County was born in 1990.

Rich:  That’s right...and we were subsequently offered a chance to have a big equity stake in Star Lake, but turned it down because we thought the location was bad--that road system; only one way in & out--but hats off to the facility, it hung on for many years, and still is...

Musicasaurus:  Rich, I noted in the book that a portion of the proceeds from all sales goes to the Cancer Caring Center of Pittsburgh.  I think that’s great....Also, I know that the Cancer Caring Center is doing a fundraiser later this month on January 23rd that involves you.

Rich:  A couple of months ago, early November, my wife Cindy and I were finalizing the book and I got a phone call from someone representing the Cancer Caring Center and the Hard Rock Café.  They let me know they were mutually creating a Pittsburgh Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame event at the Hard Rock, and they wanted me to be the first inductee.  I was quite surprised...and I think it’s quite an honor.

Musicasaurus.com:  One of your former DiCesare-Engler interns is actually coming back to Pittsburgh and presenting you with the award.

Rich:  Yes, Joel Peresman, who is currently the President & CEO of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation in New York City.  I’m a real believer in the 98% / 2% rule, where there’s 2% of the people that come along who can really make things work, and he was one of those--a real go-getter.  He wanted to be in this business so badly, and after working really hard for us, I helped him land a starter job at a booking agency in New York...Eventually Joel became an agent himself, and when he called me with that news I said “GREAT!  I’m going to be able to do some good deals with you, right?” and he said “NO, absolutely not!  You taught me too well!”

Joel ended up going to Madison Square Garden after that, as GM, and then the Rock ‘n’ Roll of Fame Foundation snatched him up.

Musicasaurus:  Well, it should be a great evening at the Hard Rock Café on January 23rd...Congratulations on the book, and thanks again for the sit-down.

Rich:  My pleasure.

(Editor’s note:  We’ve only chipped at the tip of the iceberg on Rich Engler’s tell-all rock ‘n’ roll book here.  There are a lot more anecdotes about a young Springsteen in Pittsburgh...An on-the-spot brilliant stroke of Rich drafting fans as security guards at a York County Fairgrounds Ozzy Osbourne concert...A backstage dressing-room argument with a testy Sammy Davis, Jr....A Greek orgy created backstage at Three Rivers Stadium at the request of Guns N’ Roses...and much more.  The book is currently available at select Pittsburgh Giant Eagle locations, and/or check out the link www.richengler.com.  Also, for information on the Pittsburgh Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame event on January 23, 2013 where Rich is being inducted, go to www.cancercaring.org.) 




Posted 12/30/13:  Regular postings for this particular section will return on Monday, January 13, 2014.  Happy Holidays...and please note the following two items that deserve some attention & consideration:

1.    GREATER PITTSBURGH COMMUNITY FOOD BANK - The need is greater than ever...The Pittsburgh Foundation has been providing matching funds for GPCFB donations during this month of December, and has pledged more matching dollars through January 7, 2014.  Please consider a year-end (or a year-commencing!) gift to the food bank--and your dollars will have twice the impact.  All the information is here:  http://www.pittsburghgives.org

2.    CANCER CARING CENTER - The mission of the Cancer Caring Center--now in its 25th year--is to help cancer survivors, their families and concerned friends cope effectively with the emotional impact of cancer through a variety of FREE support services...Currently on the non-profit’s website there is information about their January 23, 2014 fundraising event at Pittsburgh’s Hard Rock Café at Station Square--the inaugural Pittsburgh Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame Celebration, an event featuring live music, a silent auction, AND 2014’s inaugural inductee Rich Engler (Musicasaurus.com’s good friend and acclaimed concert promoter).  More information, including a link to buy event tickets, is here:  http://cancercaring.org (see “News & Events” on the homepage).

3.    Continued Happy Holidays to you all, and best wishes for a fulfilling ’14!



Posted 12/16/13.....HOLIDAY

I almost always post the name of a song as the title of this A DAY IN THE LIFE section, so I’m keeping with that for this holiday season entry.  The song “Holiday” was a tune by English band The Bee Gees released as a single in the USA in September of 1967.  It was one of the tracks on the misleadingly named album Bee Gees 1st which was released stateside here that same year (it was actually the group’s third album, but the first one released outside of Australia and New Zealand).

Now that we cleared that up, let’s turn for a minute back to “Holiday”.  It was a song that sounded nothing like any other pop single on American radio at the time--minor chords, orchestral swells, and haunting vocals by Barry and Robin.  Oh, and about the lyrics:  The tune begins, “Oh, you’re a holiday, such a holiday / Oh, you’re a holiday, such a holiday / It’s something I thinks worthwhile / If the puppet makes you smile / If not then you’re throwing stones / Throwing stones, throwing stones...”  Uh-huh.  The song goes on to clear none of this up, and ends with--once again-- “Ooh you’re a holiday, every day, such a holiday / Now it’s my turn to say, and I say you’re a holiday...”

If only the Brothers Gibb would have dialed me into the songwriting process back then, I likely would have suggested these lyrics to end the song instead:  “Ooh, you’re a holiday, every day, such a holiday / Now it’s my turn to say, who the hell can say why you’re a holiday...”

Sorry for getting stuck ruminating on the title of the posting here, but it slammed me into neutral because it’s inscrutable--kind of like this annual year-end holiday season, I guess.


I find these holidays a bit unfathomable.  I wrestle with The Meaning Of Christmas, assaulted as we all are by over-the-top ads and forced merriment, and so sometimes this Season of Cheer is also one of befuddlement.

I do best when I think of others.  Every year around Thanksgiving--which used to kick off the Christmas season, but now retailers hardly get the plastic jack o’ lanterns off the shelves before Santa starts ho-ho-hoarding display space--some friends and I do a local fundraiser, bringing in thousands of dollars for the food bank folks (“Those Who Feed Those In Need”, as we like to call ‘em) at just the right time of year.

After that concludes we are all on that inevitable “high” of helping others, so when Christmas closes in, it’s a little hard to think of things that I really need or pine for personally--so I like to concentrate on bringing some measure of delight to others (which is of course a gift in and of itself).

When I do buy for others (particularly my close loved ones), I tend to whip out the Visa and go to town.  There’s really no budgetary Checkpoint Charlie in my head, come Christmas, because using a credit card is so painless at the outset.  On rare occasions though, right before the holiday hits, there comes a devil and an angel perching on my opposite shoulders:

Devil:  “Oh, go ahead, charge the gates.  Storm the battlements.  Brandish that little plastic friend, and think not of consequences.  You don’t want to be accused of being cheap and uncaring, do you?  That’ll happen, mark my words.  No one on Christmas morning will say ‘Hey, I understand.  You only have so much income’ when they’re opening up that photo album from you; they’ll be saying ‘When did you stop loving me?’ ”

Angel:  “Don’t listen to that horned homunculus.  You are loved dearly by your family, and wanton spending may only leave them wantin’ more.  Besides, you have kinda gotten used to running water, electricity and heat, haven’t you?”

So invariably I then dust off each shoulder, and set about doing the best I can.  $taying $omewhat mindful of the circum$tance$, I still aim to ensure that my loved ones have a special and meaningful holiday.  It’s what we all try to do, in our own way, with whatever resources we can muster...

I’ll close with a parting message to my daughters:  Girls, I know that you will enjoy the thoughtful gifts that I have planned for you.  And I know that you’ve been crying out for a Christmas list from me--i.e., a few music-related things (of course) that I may want, but since I just wrote a column here about my (mostly) unselfish nature, I can’t do that.  Instead, I will just print for you below the first few lines of your favorite Christmas poem and your favorite Christmas carol, hoping that this springboards you into the holiday spirit!  There may be a few lyrics here and there that I’ve not gotten entirely right, but that’s due to memory lapse and nothing more.  See you both a few days before Christmas...Love, Dad.”


'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Crowded House

No Little Creatures were stirring, not even a Danger Mouse

(A Fool For Your) Stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Dominic's Preview soon would be there.

Oh, Weather Report ain’t too frightful

And Arcade Fire is so delightful

And since we've no place to go

Let it snow, let it snow, let it Snow Patrol.

(Okay, daughters...maybe you picked up that this was indeed a method--however thinly-veiled--to communicate a Christmas present wish list to you after all....I plead guilty.)

Musicasaurus.com wishes ALL of you a happy and healthy holiday season!




Posted 11/4/13.....I’LL COVER YOU

I recently reached out to a few musicasaurus.com readers--those in the music biz, past and/or present--and posed this question:  "Did you ever come across a cover version of a song that startled you?  What was the song, and what was it about that song?!!"

Some interesting answers and perspectives trickled in...So enjoy; go forth and uncover!



1.)  Tom Rooney (Pittsburgh) / Former executive director of Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group:  This goes way back but when The Stones covered The Temptation’s “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” in 1974, my young mind flipped out.  Our own band The UFOs had covered a ton of Motown back then...

I actually sang that song again about six years ago at a reception for a committee on a special event, when we were all asked to come “intro” ourselves to the microphone (placed there by a jazz quartet for ambience), and out of nowhere during my remarks I started doing David Ruffin’s opening vocals “I know you wanna leave me...”  The jazz band, still seated, went right into it and we finished the song; people laughed and loved it.  I thought I might be having a breakdown shortly afterward.  Somewhere a camera phone has a terrible me on it. 

But that song by The Stones was a revelation to me about the R&B roots of so many of my British Invasion favorites like The Animals and The Stones.  So way back, when our teenaged band did our Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Tempts and Tops, and Smokey Robinson covers, and mixed them with The Stones and The Animals, I realized the DNA that was common to all of this--rhythm and blues.



2.)  Stacy Innerst (Pittsburgh) / Artist and illustrator for books, newspapers and magazines; newest release is a children's book about the Beatles’ sense of humor, The Beatles: They were Fab and They Were Funny (Harcourt 2013)"Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails, covered by Johnny Cash.  Hearing a song of despair written by a young man, sung by an old man, was profound.  Wow.



3.)  Mark Wallace (Tampa, FLA) / Former on-air talent on Pittsburgh’s WZUM-AM then WYDD-FM; subsequently a Warner Brothers Records’ promotion man; currently an English teacher:  My 1st reaction is that it’s easy: Cowboy Junkies doing "Sweet Jane" and with Lou Reed just passing...

Then again, they have a record called 'Neath The Covers, 2--on their website only: http://latentrecordings.com/cowboyjunkies/exclusive/--that has some amazing covers; Beatles' "Run For Your Life" is just plain odd but I saw them at The Benedum Center in Pittsburgh five years ago and their live version of the Stones' "No Expectations" is cool and dark, like a lot of their material; it's on that site, too.

Just did a radio show here in Tampa last week--our version of Pittsburgh’s WYEP, WMNF 88.5--and played another cover by Cowboy Junkies, Springsteen's "State Trooper"--and got calls on it!



4.)  Joe Negri (Pittsburgh) / Jazz guitarist, composer and educator (also, for all time, “Handyman Negri” on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)I'm not very accustomed to "covers".  We don't use covers much in Jazz and Standard music.  However, we do offer unique and different treatments to songs…The one that Impressed me a lot was Diana Krall's treatment of the Leslie Bricusse / Anthony Newley song from Doctor Dolittle, “When I Look in Your Eyes”.  Originally, in the film, Dolittle sings it to a seal as they are saying goodbye.  Diana Krall treats it as beautiful, warm romantic ballad.  Great arrangement.  



5.)  Scott Tady (Beaver, PA) / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times:  The Revolting Cocks' "Let's Get Physical" called to the fore the S&M elements only hinted at in the Olivia Newton-John original.  Startling?  Yeah, you could say that. 



6.)  Sean McDowell (Pittsburgh) / Longtime on-air talent with WDVE:  I never knew until very recently, and I'm embarrassed to say, that Led Zeppelin's "Since I’ve Been Loving You" is a cover!  Moby Grape, a '60s San Francisco band did that song first!  I never knew that, and I should have--as a huge Zeppelin fan, I thought I knew all the songs they stole from everyone else.



7.)  Paul Carosi (Pittsburgh) / Designer/developer of the website Pittsburgh Music History (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/)Recently I was surprised by an obscure blue-eyed soul song "Memoirs Of The Traveler" from 1970 that has been covered by Wiz Khalifa, The Game, Slum Village and several other popular Rap / Hip Hop stars.  It was a long forgotten track found on the Jaggerz second album We Went to Different Schools Together released on Kama Sutra Records. 

The album featured the smash 2.5 million-selling hit "The Rapper" that was No. 1 on Cashbox and No. 2 on Billboard; two additional tracks “What A Bummer” and “I Call My Baby Candy” reached the Billboard Hot 100 and the album went to 62 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.  Even though this Jaggerz album is now out of print, the haunting vocal track from “Memoirs Of The Traveler” was discovered and reemerged somehow in the Rap music world. 

A Youtube video mashes up the Jaggerz original version along with the covers by Wiz and the other rappers.  Watch it at http://youtu.be/Df-1kiZKqNc

The full original by the Jaggerz can be heard on Spotify at The Jaggerz – Memoirs Of The Traveler http://open.spotify.com/track/7LEBqN76gVKcI8bCLUuzaV



8.)  Beckye Levin Gross (Houston, Texas) / Former booker with Pace Music Group (ultimately Live Nation)Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Hawaiian artist Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwoʻole.  I love it.  It's like Elvis meets Dorothy.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1bFr2SWP1I



9.)  Russ Rose (Pittsburgh) / WXDX on-air talent and Creative Director, and Production Director at KISS FM:  Not sure if I ever heard a cover version of a song that startled me, but Type-O Negative's cover version of “Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young actually made me read the lyrics and go back and listen to Neil's version for the first time in many years.  It seems like an odd song for a band like Type-O Negative to cover; they tried to keep it an homage, and it's not quite obscure or kitschy enough to be ironic, like Dynamite Hack covering "Boyz-n-the-Hood".  It stands on its own, and still respects the original.



10.)  Steve Hansen (Pittsburgh) / Former on-air talent on WDVE’s “Jimmy & Steve” morning program (1980-1986); currently an independent writer/producerThere are many covers I found surprising.  I think I was already rockin' to Hendrix's “All Along The Watchtower” when I first heard Dylan's limp original.  And I was aware of Sting's “Fields Of Gold” but had never paid it much mind.  When I heard Eva Cassidy performing her version on a coffee house soundtrack I thought it was one of the most haunting ballads I'd ever heard.  Only over the course of many listenings did I come to realize that the song was the Sting original.  Eva Cassidy's transformative version had truly made it her own in a way that few others have, although Jeff Buckley's rendering of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” comes darn close. (Hendrix photo credit:  David Dehner, whose other works as well can be found at http://pixels.com/featured/jimi-hendrix-purple-haze-david-dehner.html ).


But startled?  I have to give that honor to Dion.  The great greaseball doo-wopper staged a career comeback with “Abraham, Martin and John” and subsequently went all in on love and peace.  This caused him to take on “Purple Haze”.  Right--Hendrix's “Purple Haze”.  The result was. . . er . . .what's the word I'm looking for?  Oh, right:  startling.  Hear it here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCi3t7Ufa2s





In March of 1966, John Lennon in a London Evening Standard profile piece was quoted as saying  “Christianity will go.  It will vanish and shrink.  I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I'll be proved right.  We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first--rock 'n' roll or Christianity.  Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

Lennon and the newspaper’s reporter had been chatting about Lennon’s extensive book collection and the talk had swung for a moment to religion in England.  The Beatle had just meant to point out that Christianity was on the decline in his native country, a situation oft-discussed in the UK at that time.  When his quote appeared five months later though, in an American teen magazine called Datebook, it caused a furor stateside that led to Beatles’ record burnings, some radio stations breaking Beatles albums on the air and wiping their playlists clean of Fab Four music, protests outside their concerts and other brouhaha...

The Beatles survived the controversy of course.  In America, Youth was captivated with the quartet and, with every new release by the band through the end of the ‘60s, the youthquake only picked up more steam.  Society was morphing like a mutha--there were deep new fissures between Parents & Teens, revolutionary changes in music and fashion and art, and a growing dissatisfaction and disillusionment in the younger generation about the status quos of racial inequality, lagging women’s rights, and this country’s blinders-set tolerance for waging war abroad.


In this atmosphere of unrest and rebellion, small towns across America were doing their best to deal with these sweeping changes--and my hometown of Butler, PA (about an hour north of Pittsburgh) was no exception.

During my three years in Butler Area Senior High School (September 1968 through May 1971; grades 10th through 12th), the place was a cauldron of all these changes bubbling up and spilling over.  There were events taking place like the organized student challenges to the longstanding, restrictive school dress code, and the peace-sign armband protests immediately after the Kent State shootings occurred.  Hovering over top of it all, of course, was the polarization between the cliques, which is pretty standard fare in high school life--though in this case, it had that new added Long Hair twist.

Out in the Butler community at large, the Long Hairs were more than dotting the landscape:  Heads became bedraggled, bell bottoms flared, army jackets enveloped, and “wire rims” added to the spectacle.  Perhaps inevitably, there was a certain Us vs. Them psychological rift building between that particular slice of Youth that was restless and experimentative, and the staid status quo of town leaders and the community’s older citizens.

Back in 1971, there was a mod clothing shop on Main Street in Butler called Spirit, which was owned and operated by twenty-something businessman John Sassone.  The shop primarily sold clothing but also a little bit of paraphernalia, which was the collective term back then for items/devices used in the indulgence of illegal substances such as marijuana (which had certainly become the Long Hair drug of choice).  Indeed, pot had become one of the unofficial banners of experimental Youth, carried into most every Smalltown USA on the overall winds of change in the ‘60s and early ‘70s.  (Note:  That drug of course was illegal, but the sale of paraphernalia at that time was not.)

Perhaps in response to a building frustration on the part of local police and community leaders with Youth’s contrary nature and the wider changes afoot, one day in late March 1971 Butler City Police Lieutenant A. J. Zaccari walked into the Spirit shop, seized and confiscated a poster of Mr. Sassone’s that was on sale at the location, and then filed charges against the store owner--for blasphemy.

What in Christ’s name was happening here?!!  According to hometown newspaper the Butler Eagle, in an article that quickly followed, “The charge stemmed from several telephone complaints called into the City Police Station regarding a poster displayed in the window of the shop.  It was designed in the form of a wanted poster and had a picture of Jesus Christ with the caption, ‘Wanted for sedition, criminal anarchy, vagrancy, and conspiring to overthrow the established government.’”

Butler youths were stunned by this, and the community at large shaken & stirred.  The blasphemy charge was unusual to say the least--one of the Spirit shop’s employees in the immediate aftermath reported that Sassone was told by an inquiring radio station that there had not been an arrest in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania for that charge since 1824.  Blasphemy was, however, still on the books and listed under Section 523 of the state’s penal code...

The poster itself, Sassone explained to the media, was something he had purchased from the wholesaling Dynamic Creations Company in Pittsburgh, who had had this piece of inventory in stock for at least the past couple of years.  It was fairly popular as a youth-oriented retail item around Western PA, according to the company’s owner Mark Lantzman; he estimated that over 2,000 units had been sold in the area thus far, and he was in the process of ordering more.

The poster’s full text reveals its appeal to the Youth market--at least to those in that demographic who were really beginning to bristle over the perceived refusal of “The Establishment” to recognize and accept the incoming waves of social change and protest:

Reward for Information Leading to the Apprehension of

                                                  JESUS CHRIST

               Wanted for sedition, criminal anarchy, vagrancy and conspiring

               to overthrow the established government...Dresses poorly;

               said to be a carpenter by trade; ill-nourished; has visionary ideas;

               associates with common working people, the unemployed, and bums...

               Alien; believed to be a Jew...ALIAS: Prince of Peace, Son of Man,

               Light of the World; Professional Agitator...Red beard, marks on

               hands and feet a result of injuries inflicted by an angry mob

               led by respectable citizens and legal authorities.


As it turned out, Sassone’s other retail shop in Slippery Rock, PA (about 18 miles north of Butler) was also slapped with the charge by its local police force, and the same poster then confiscated.  The blasphemy charge against the two stores essentially amounted to a summons to appear before a district magistrate, and the fine and costs for the charge would be $111.00 total if store owner Sassone just pled guilty--but as the latter made increasingly clear, he would stand and fight.

Meanwhile, the arrests precipitated a whirl of activity almost immediately:  A Pittsburgh law firm on behalf of the ACLU quickly offered to step in to defend the case; a local legal-funds benefit concert was being talked about for early May; and on a widening scale, Righteous Indignation (on all ends of that spectrum) began running rampant in Butler...

The second day after his arrest, Sassone issued the following written signed statement:  “The content of this poster is not blasphemous!  When read with care, it contains a beautiful Easter Week sermon.  I believe that our social structure has been stung by the truth of the message.  The parallel between today’s Establishment and its treatment of the Revolutionaries and that of the Romans’ treatment of Christ is apparent.  The blasphemy statute is the product of early colonial attempts to protect the Christian Faith by legislation.  It clearly violates the First Amendment and the Establishment of Religion clause.  Likewise, I am of the opinion that it is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution protecting the freedom of speech.  I believe this law is unconstitutional.”

Now...bear in mind...all of this hoo-hah happened pre-internet, when people got their news exclusively from local television & radio stations, and from hometown newspapers.  In this case the little local tale had spread across the country, thanks to the Associated Press newswire that carried an article about the incident two days after the arrests.  More than a handful of media outlets (like stations in Philadelphia and Los Angeles) called Sassone for comment, and on the local front, the controversy of course spilled over into the “Letters to the Editor” section of the Butler Eagle...

One Letter to the Editor came from a group of 14 students from Penn State, who weighed in with this:  “We write not in opposition to religion or with any disrespect to Jesus Christ...It seems to us that the charge of blasphemy is completely outside the legal principle established in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States...Particularly in view of recent Supreme Court rulings on matters of church and state, the charge appears to us to be either harassment of the store owners or a practical joke.  In West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette, the Supreme Court said, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion...”

A counterbalancing Letter to the Editor ran in that same sampling, this one from 8 students from Bob Jones University:  “As we read the article that appeared in The Eagle concerning this case, we were overtaken with a strong feeling of utter contempt.  The name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has been maligned and libeled, and we cannot stand idly by while the Saviour suffers this sickening attack...Instead we would like to urge citizens to take it upon themselves to show their support of the action taken by Officer Zaccari and the officials responsible for his arrest.  You say ‘Butler is a church-going community.’  We say, ‘Do you go to church to worship a holy God...or do you worship a blasphemous “wanted poster”?’  Is the police force going to have to stand alone, or are the Christians--those who claim the Saviour as their very own--going to do what they know is right, and speak out loud and clear, supporting the police and Mr. Zaccari?  We choose to stand for Jesus’ sake.”

And then from out of the wilderness came a voice and truly balanced tone--an editorial, two days after the initial arrests, by the Butler Eagle’s editor John L. Wise, Junior.  These were like Words of Solomon cropping up, thankfully, amidst the din:


The filing of blasphemy charges by City Police and Slippery Rock Police is a questionable use of the police power and police manpower.

There are much more important things to be done in law enforcement, crime control and crime prevention than to enforce our antiquated Blue Law against theological irreverence.

If they want to get into this sort of thing, we can tell the police a lot of places--embarrassing places--where the law against blasphemy is being violated every day, if not every hour.

As we read it, the poster in question is actually a satire on our modern hang-ups over long hair, beards, poor dress and challenges to authority.  Unless there is a deep significance we don’t see, there is a pro-Christ thrust to the poster, rather than an anti-Christ tone.

But the real question is whether our police don’t need to re-examine their priorities.  If the unsolved felonies on the books in our community are not a far more pressing problem, not to mention the apparent rise in drug traffic, we don’t understand it.”



Soon after the arrests, the blasphemy charges were dropped by the prosecuting officers.  A Butler Eagle article reported that “Mayor Frank C. LeFevre and City Police Chief Samuel Lasky noted that the action was taken on the advice of District Attorney John H, Brydon, but that the district attorney did not admit in his statement issued last week that he was responsible for the charges being filed in the first place.”

The furor had ended...Just as John Lennon and his mates had surmounted a wrongheaded outcry in ’66--in which case of course Society just kept moving ahead to deal with a world of changes--Butler PA in ’71 managed to rise above a particularly maddening circumstance of its own design.  For Butler, life on the local level at least returned to a less amplified tug-of-war between all of the forces caught up in the much-larger upheaval of this country’s shifting values, customs and conventions.

(p.s.  Musicasaurus.com would like to thank John L. Wise III for his generous time & effort in providing background material from the Butler Eagle.)




Posted 10/7/13.....SUMMER BREEZE

Summertime, and the livin’ was easy--unless you worked at a 23,000-capacity outdoor concert facility.

From 1991 through 2007 I worked at Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre, where every May through September the venue was a hive of activity with 30-to-40 shows peppered throughout the summer.  Even on non-show days, the place was buzzing--the lawn crew salvaging sod where foot traffic had taken its toll; delivery trucks rolling in with concessionaire’s wares; the administrative staff all crunching departmental numbers from the previous show, figuring out the win or the loss according to respective budgets...

When the last show of the season would roll around--even as the final batch of fans were hoisting cups and roaring toward the stage--the core venue staff would already be plotting out the next few weeks’ shut-down procedures, eager to turn the shovel on another season.

And then our beast of a building would go quiet.  The amphitheatre’s thunderous heartbeat, all summer long quickened by thousands storming the turnstiles, would slow to a crawl.  And the worker bees we hired for the summer as ticket takers, food vendors, ushers and security would all go back to their real lives elsewhere, while our core group of 12-to-14--with a mixture of relief and resolve--would shift our focus to shut-down...  

That was the cycle--the ramp-up, the whipsaw summer, and the tear-down--and after a few years of this, the venue had eventually become a rather well-oiled machine in terms of successfully producing a wide variety of very challenging and high-profile events. 


The summer of 1997--our eighth season--was particularly noteworthy.  By the time the dust settled--or should I say, by the time the lawn gasped relief--we had staged 42 total events including 11 sell-out shows, and the combined attendance was over 600,000 for the summer.  Certain concerts from back then indeed hang in my head...Here are five random recollections from that Summer of ’97:

No Doubt - Wednesday, May 14th - The song “Don’t Speak” was absolutely inescapable on radio stations throughout 1996.  In fact--in the weird but true category--the song appeared on our car radio every time we passed a small shopping complex called The Galleria near our home just outside of Pittsburgh.  My wife and young daughters were convinced that this meant something--but we never did see Gwen Stefani toting store bags around the mini-mall, so we just chalked it up to the supernatural...In terms of Star Lake that next year, No Doubt was the first show of the 1997 season and a slam-bang sellout.  Gwen’s star power and the song’s ubiquitous video helped spark ticket sales well over 20,000 for this May ‘97 season-opener--and most of these ticket clutchers, we found out, were pre-teen, wide-eyed and screaming.



Surge Festival - Saturday, May 24th - Our venue operations director Gary Hinston and I, with a few others in our midst, came up with the idea for a local-band show that we thought just might draw a decent crowd if held early enough in the summer. 

As we were contemplating who’d be on the bill, we of course realized that Rusted Root was well beyond our orbit.  This Pittsburgh band had sold 23,000 tickets at Star Lake in May 1995; were featured on the national tour of the H.O.R.D.E Festival along with Blues Traveler, Lenny Kravitz and others in 1996; and were already headed our way this summer once again, on a co-headlining date with Santana that was set for July 11th.

Still, we sensed that the time was ripe for a celebration of local talent on a grand scale.  Three bands in particular were percolating (or better) with popular acclaim and solid record sales, and we felt that a show with this anchor trio had a real shot at drawing eight, maybe even nine thousand fans out to the venue.  The bands with the buzz?  The Clarks, with heavy ‘DVE airplay and a fourth album entitled Someday Maybe that was released just six months before...The Gathering Field, fueled by a major-label signing (to Atlantic) and a re-release of the band’s self-produced debut album which contained the radio favorite “Lost In America”...and Brownie Mary, a rock quartet fronted by the charismatic Kelsey Barber, who were continually piling up fans from great live shows and were themselves headed for a major label signing that would come within the year...

The event was priced very reasonably at $10.25 per ticket, which tied into WDVE’s radio dial position of 102.5.  The show went on sale, and then never lagged--with WDVE’s on-air support and a robust sense of pride welling up in the ‘burgh, this multi-act concert went on to sell almost 19,000 tickets.  The day of the show was one long, well-deserved Victory Prance--a day of wide smiles, high-fives, fist-pumps and fellowship.  The bands backstage were on Cloud Nine, understandably, and our head accountant at the time was in a head-spin throughout the evening, tabulating the intake from ticket sales, long concession lines, and parking fees.  Having this show end up a runaway success was certainly $weet, but for me, sweeter still was the camaraderie in full flower backstage, while out in front, tons of fans showed their true hometown colors with every celebratory embrace of the bands walking out on stage...This was a great day...


OzzFest - Saturday, June 7thThe original OzzFest had a twin-city birth--two test-pilot dates held back-to-back in October 1996, the first in Phoenix, Arizona and the second (the very next day) in Devore, California.  The day-long celebration of Hard Rock & Metal was deemed a success, and so national concert promoter Pace (Star Lake’s parent company) powered up the Crazy Train and put it on the rails in 1997 to a majority of Pace amphitheatres across the U.S., including Star Lake on June 7th

Ozzy of course was a ramblin’ shamblin’ man, the figurehead that fueled ticket sales of the eleven-hour fest.  Wife Sharon, on the other hand, had the brains and a bulldog grip on every aspect of the tour; on the occasions she’d visit the amphitheatre during a particular tour, she’d find a central spot backstage in one of the production offices or dressing rooms, and hold court.  Some people seemed to quake in her presence, not sure if, displeased, she’d bite their heads off.  Her husband, of course, preferred bats and doves.


Lollapalooza - Saturday, July 19thThis festival originated in 1991 from the should-be-peeled-back brain of Perry Farrell, lead singer of alternative band Jane’s Addiction and all around space cadet.  Star Lake wooed the festival our way for the 1992 date, as the year before the tour purposely bypassed Pittsburgh (deemed at the time by festival plotters and date routers as a market that wasn’t quite hip enough to be able to produce sufficient numbers of tickets)...This 1997 event at Star Lake turned out to be the last gasp of the touring festival overall; Farrell was abandoning ship and--partial reason--some quizzical fans were still scratching their Mohawk haircuts over the fact that the 1996 edition of the tour had featured Metallica, decidedly more mainstream and macho than the usual eclectic, alternative-based line-up.

I remember that night in ’97--the weather had turned unseasonably cold when the sun dipped below the horizon, and by the time headliner Devo took the stage, the crowd was sparse and largely disinterested.  There was a small cluster of fans up front in the pavilion seating area, but I remember thinking--as Devo did their herky-jerky cover of a Rolling Stones song--that this might be the end of this annual juggernaut.  It was clearly not just “festival fatigue” I was reading on these fans’ faces--they just couldn’t get no satisfaction.


Fleetwood Mac - Wednesday, September 24thHere we’re talkin’ the Big Mac, of course; the most commercially viable line-up of this group that had originally formed in England in 1967.  It wasn’t until late 1974 that California duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band after its latest membership shuffle, and this particular injection propelled the band to chart-topping success here, there, and everywhere...

In the Spring before each outdoor season truly arrived, our booker from parent company Pace Music Group would routinely survey the amphitheatre general managers about upcoming summer concert opportunities.  The news of Fleetwood Mac’s reformation of their powerhouse line-up and their pledge to tour together for the first time in 17 years were indeed welcome bits of info.  What startled us, though, was the asking price of the band:  $400,000.  (Side note to laymen and/or the uninitiated: That’s a shitload of money.  For the mid-‘90s, that was one of the largest guarantees ever foisted on any amphitheatre, and the only way to try to win at that price tag was to agree to their strong-armed suggestions for hellacious ticket prices).

The show was booked, and sold every ticket.  Fleetwood Mac’s national publicity machine was a driver, for sure, and the band had (pre-tour) produced a new live-on-a-soundstage CD of largely hits entitled The Dance.  Then MTV along with strong radio play and word-of-mouth laid waste to any lingering ticket-price resistance--the Mac fans had salivated much too long, and just wouldn’t be denied.

I remember the show to be an audio marvel.  The sound system and mix were stellar, and the band on this chilly September evening were on fire...I remember at one point strolling along “Sponsor Row” (our corporate boxes near the stage), and seeing every single bigwig from every company that had signed up with us for the summer.  One glassy-eyed, duded up reveler leaned over his box railing, beaming at me:  “This sure beats that Ozzfest pummel-your-head crap,” he slurred, mid-burp.  “But my son loved that show”...

Yep.  A little something for everyone in that Summer of ’97...

And now...Below is the entire 1997 line-up in chronological order.  Perhaps you saw one or two of these concerts at Star Lake, or at another venue near the place you called home back then...Wherever.  Whatever.  Take this memory jog, and run with it!

  1. No Doubt - Wed May 14th
  2. John Tesh - Thurs May 15th (Bowie once wrote a song called “Loving The Alien” but I don’t know if he was talking about Tesh or not.)
  3. Vince Gill - Sat May 17th
  4. Surge Festival - Sat May 24th (a total of twenty Pittsburgh-area bands including The Clarks, The Gathering Field and Brownie Mary)
  5. Y108 (WDSY) Hot Country Jam - Sun May 25th (with headliner John Michael Montgomery)
  6. OzzFest ’97 - Sat June 7th (with Black Sabbath, Pantera, Type O Negative, Fear Factory, Machine Head, Powerman 5000 and a lot of side-stage bands whose vocals seemed to consist of dislodging phlegm)
  7. Rush - Wed June 11th
  8. John Mellencamp - Sat June 14th
  9. 3WS (WWSW) Summer Oldies concert - Sat June 21st (Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons headlined this Oldies show for the oldsters--i.e., the Creaky and the Cranky, who always thought ticket prices should never exceed the $3.50 they paid back in the late ‘50s.)
  10. Hank Williams, Jr. - Sun June 22nd (with Travis Tritt, Charlie Daniels and Jo Dee Messina)
  11. The Allman Brothers Band - Wed June 25th
  12. Kenny G & George Benson - Thurs July 3rd
  13. Boston - Fri July 4th (a fireworks display capped off the evening, but ticket sales never zoomed skyward; attendance was half of what it was compared to 1995, when they had first reemerged for touring after a long lapse.)
  14. Styx - Sat July 5th (with Pat Benatar)
  15. Tina Turner - Thurs July 10th
  16. Santana - Fri July 11th  (with Rusted Root)
  17. Counting Crows - Sat July 12th (with The Wallflowers)
  18. Further Festival - Tues July 15th (with The Black Crowes, Rat Dog, Mickey Hart, Bruce Hornsby and more)
  19. Aerosmith - Wed July 16th (with Jonny Lang)
  20. James Taylor - Fri July 18th
  21. Lollapalooza - Sat July 19th (with Devo, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Korn, Tool, and more--the last Lollapalooza)
  22. Queensryche (a pavilion-only show) - Wed July 23rd
  23. Lynyrd Skynyrd - Fri July 25th (with Paul Rodgers)
  24. Chicago - Sat July 26th (with B.E. Taylor)
  25. Ted Nugent - Sun July 27th (one of the reasons Nugent played Star Lake versus the smaller outdoor amphitheatre in downtown Pittsburgh was all about the decibels.  Pittsburgh had a noise ordinance in place that prevented The Nuge from “turnin’ it up to eleven”.)
  26. Alabama - Fri August 1st (with Kevin Sharp)
  27. Steve Miller Band - Sat August 2nd (with Eric Johnson)
  28. Bob Dylan - Sat August 9th (with Ani DiFranco and BR549)
  29. Barry Manilow - Sun August 10th
  30. Live - Mon August 11th
  31. Lilith Fair - Tues August 12th - (with festival founder Sarah McLachlan; also, Indigo Girls, Sheryl Crow, Jewel and other female artists...This first-year line-up of Lilith Fair was a dream and the traffic, a nightmare.)
  32. Phish - Wed August 13th (the band’s first-ever play at Star Lake)
  33. Jimmy Buffett - Fri August 15th
  34. Jimmy Buffett - Sat August 16th (populated by a lot of fans doin’ “hair of the dog” from the night before)
  35. Bryan Adams - Sun August 17th
  36. H.O.R.D.E. Festival - Thurs August 21st (Neil Young, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Mighty Mighty Bosstones and more)
  37. Rage Against The Machine - Sun August 24th (with Wu Tang Clan--at the time, NOT a favorite of law enforcement officers across the land--plus Atari Teenage Riot)
  38. 311 - Wed August 27th (with De La Soul)
  39. Alan Jackson - Sat September 13th (with LeAnn Rimes)
  40. Pantera (a pavilion-only show) - Sun September 14th (with Machine Head and Coal Chamber)
  41. Fleetwood Mac - Wed September 24th
  42. B94 (WBZZ) Summer Stretch Concert - Sat September 27th (the last show of the 1997 season--and the last show performed in America by the headliners INXS.  Lead singer Michael Hutchence died two months later in Sydney; his death was ruled a suicide.) 




Posted 9/23/13.....IMAGINE


A way earlier posting in musicasaurus.com (May 2012) dealt with my Top Ten concerts of all time, a list that was so painful to originally assemble that I felt like Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice, forced to choose between her children as to who would survive and who would be cast off for certain extinction.

That list looked like this (in ascending order of worship):  Peter Gabriel’s 1993 WOMAD concert at Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre...Bowie’s show at Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center in 2004...Youngstown, Ohio-based Glass Harp at my high school in Butler, PA (1971)...Sigur Ros at Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater in 2003...Steely Dan’s return to touring after (hey) nineteen years, at Star Lake in 1993...The Clash at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theater (which later became the Benedum) in 1982...The annual B.E. Taylor Christmas shows at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall (starting in the 1990s)...U2’s acclaimed Elevation tour, stopping at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena in 2001...The Pat Metheny Group at Pittsburgh’s Palumbo Center in 1997...and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (pre-Born To Run) at Penn State in early 1975.

When that Top Ten was finalized and posted, I felt it was all covered for posterity.  Those that had been bubbling up and begging my brain for inclusion all settled back into the ether, and I looked at the list of ten and thought, “You complete me.”

And then I went to a concert here in Pittsburgh very recently with little or no expectations, only to find that my sacred list--by the end of the evening--had suddenly cracked and split wide open.  The Ten, of course, were all nervous and swirling, each crying out “Don’t take ME!”, but I decided on the spot that I was going to instead amp up the list and “turn it up to eleven”...

So now I have a Top Eleven instead of a Top Ten--didn’t plan on it; didn’t foresee it.  But on this particular September evening, guitarist Bill Frisell and his band of musicians created sounds and wove tapestries that took me to that Higher Plane where Well-Being and Wonderment do that delicious and unpredictable slither up your spine.  Right then and there, as I cast aside my own momentary disbelief, I reawakened to the richness of being alive.


The live concert experience is like that--or should be like that.  We all hold treasured memories of moments at shows, and for musicasaurus.com, that calls up things like Mellencamp’s blistering rendition of “Gimme Shelter” in a show at Star Lake...or Bruce’s beginning notes to “Thunder Road” every time he plays it...or Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder-You-Vet explosively covering The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” at the ’92 Pittsburgh-area debut of Lollapalooza...Now most of the time these moments just end up as evening highlights, because surely somewhere during the artist’s set your attention wanders and your focus flounders, disrupted by unrelated thoughts crowding your head, or worse yet, by some external nattering nuisances (sometimes we even call the latter “our friends”).

And so it’s very hard to have that uplifting, consistently mesmerizing concert experience, but that’s exactly what transpired on Saturday evening, September 7th inside Shady Side Academy’s beautiful concert hall, The Richard E. Rauh Theatre at the Hillman Center for the Performing Arts.

From start to finish, Bill Frisell and four other masterful musicians weaved as one, luring us like sirens into a sometimes maddeningly beautiful world.  It was truly some kind of magical mystery tour, for all evening long the performances were fully realized instrumental interpretations of the songs of John Lennon...

A bit of back story:  My journey with Bill Frisell started ten years ago in a record store, Borders Books & Music in Mount Lebanon, which is just outside the Pittsburgh city limits.  Borders had listening stations throughout their CD section, so the Inquisitive and the Wary could fuel-test the contents before any particular purchase.  I spied a CD in the jazz section called The Intercontinentals by Bill Frisell, and the headphones I donned revealed an intoxicating mix of instruments and soundscapes.  I bought the CD and headed home, pulling off a track or two for subsequent mixes, and then began to unearth a bit more about Bill.

Born in Baltimore in 1951, by the ‘70s he was attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, a renowned breeding-ground institution that has spit out a world-class group of musicians of all stripes beginning in the 1950s.  Graduates (and others who ended up just sampling semesters) include jazz guitarists Pat Metheny, Al Di Meola, and John Abercrombie...folk-rockers/Americana artists Bruce Cockburn, Gillian Welch, Bruce Hornsby and Aimee Mann...rock guitarists John Mayer, Elliot Easton (of The Cars), and Steve Vai...jazz luminaries Diana Krall, Esperanza Spalding (Grammy Winner/Best New Artist, 2011), Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul, vibraphonist Gary Burton, and saxophonist Branford Marsalis...There were even some eyebrow raisers like Rivers Cuomo from Weezer and ‘80s rocker Billy Squier.

The fertile environment at Berklee and a friendship with Pat Metheny led to Frisell’s early ‘80s entry into ECM, the European record label first hatched in 1969 which largely recorded its artists in studios in Oslo, Norway.  ECM then became a “go-to” label for a small but rabid cult of discerning audiophiles, and the artists & albums that flowed out of Oslo over the years that followed constituted a wide body of Jazz-meets-Classical-meets-Third World music, all ethereally beautiful and elegantly packaged.

Through the decades that followed Frisell continued to be a boundary pusher, never content to settle in one stream.  His solo work for various record labels, his collaborations, and his eclectic choice of material--from avant garde jazz to dips into folk, country and Americana--all speak to a curious mind and a questing musical soul.


On September 27, 2011 Frisell released an album entitled All We Are Saying..., his musical tribute to John Lennon the composer.  It somehow escaped my attention, but then this past August I picked up a local arts & entertainment paper around town to find that Frisell and his album collaborators were coming to Pittsburgh soon, for a full evening dedicated to the ex-Beatle...

There were four of us.  We arrived at the concert hall with not much time to spare and wended our way to our seats near the front.  After some brief words from the venue’s executive director and a representative from the concert’s collaborator the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, Frisell and his band took the stage in an unhurried settling-in...

Immediately we felt a spark before the band had even begun: The five had positioned themselves onstage in a cluster with Frisell far right and Rudy Royston and his drum kit right next to him, more center stage; then the remaining band members--violinist Jenny Scheinman, bassist Tony Scherr and steel guitarist Greg Leisz--all took positions to Royston’s right.  Interestingly, the band did not all face forward in any kind of typical band-to-audience stance--guitarist Frisell was in profile, smiling and leaning in toward his band mates, able to catch the every gaze of Scheinman, Scherr and Leisz who were similarly attuned across the short gap of the forward-facing drummer.  In this setup, it was evident who was leading the charge as the conductor of this interpretive voyage through John Lennon...

The songs poured forth over the next ninety-plus minutes:  “Across The Universe”...“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”...“Imagine”...“Come Together” ...“Beautiful Boy” (from Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1980 album Double Fantasy)...“Please Please Me”...“Julia”...“Strawberry Fields Forever”...and more.

From the very first notes of “Across The Universe”, in this acoustically perfect and intimate concert setting, the magic unspooled.  It slowly dawned on the four of us that we were in the presence of something extraordinary.  Frisell was smiling, cradling his guitar and coaxing out sounds that meshed so delicately, so precisely with the other four instruments such that all individual tones and colorings seemed to disappear, swept up into--how else can I say it--a perfect oneness.

Out there in the audience, the four of us were linked as well.  We were entranced, almost afraid to look away, yet we managed a quick head turn now and again to make wide-eyed contact with one another before swiveling back to full attention.  With every passage and adventurous turn--from soft, nuanced rustle to near-thrash crescendo--the five musicians took us on the ride of a lifetime...

Afterward, as we gently floated back to more earthly concerns over drinks, the four of us talked of the unique experience that we were so lucky to have had together.  Aristotelian, in a way; the whole was easily greater than the sum of its parts, we all agreed--especially considering that layered on top of truly inspiring musicianship, we had the music of John Lennon to deepen our awe...


Right around the time of the Lennon project’s release in the Fall of 2011, Frisell had been interviewed as part of a 15-minute “Making Of”-type promotional video.  Musicasaurus.com found it, post-performance, on YouTube.  The video lent me a great insider’s view of the approach and the process, which I then readily heaped on top of my concert memories for an even deeper appreciation:

And so yes, Bill Frisell and his four friends are now in musicasaurus.com’s Top Eleven Concerts of All Time...So move over a bit, Peter Gabriel, and scrunch down, Bowie.  All I am saying, is give Bill a chance.


(Link:  http://youtu.be/Log5fKfz8H4 - From YouTube:  The Making of All We Are Saying...)

(Link:  http://youtu.be/07ABVFQ1GsQ - From YouTube:  A one-hour concert--minus Jenny Scheinman, but still a nice representation of the artistry involved--from the 2012 La Villete Jazz Festival in Paris)



Posted 9/9/13.....COVER ME (part two, musicasaurus.com’s own submissions)

In the 8/26/13 posting in this section, musicasaurus.com listed some readers’ submissions of their most memorable album covers...My turn.  These came quickly to mind, and they are ones that had an impact on me at a certain stage in Life...

Whipped Cream & Other Delights – Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass

I was just shy of twelve years old when Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass’ Whipped Cream & Other Delights was released in April of 1965.  My mother had purchased the album because of the huge radio hit “A Taste Of Honey”, a perky Mexican-flavored pop instrumental featuring Alpert’s trumpet. 

My mom often danced (frugged) around the living room when this record played on the Hi-Fi, but I stayed on the sidelines, cradling the album cover which sported a beautiful woman in her late twenties covered only in whipped cream.  For me, this dollop packed a wallop—at the age of eleven my mind was a morass of questions about the opposite sex (a swamp from which few men ever really emerge), and the bewitching beauty of this woman with the cleavage-clinging cream was mesmerizing.  Plus...every time I studied the cover...she was looking right at me.



Street Survivors – Lynyrd Skynyrd                                   

The album cover on the left is the original version of Skynyrd’s Street Survivors album, which was released on October 17, 1977.  Just three days afterward, the band’s chartered plane crashed-landed in a Mississippi forest while traveling from Greenville, South Carolina to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge (the latter was to be the sixth stop on the group’s just-commenced tour).  Three band members perished including guitarist Steve Gaines, who eerily is dead center on the album cover wrapped in flames.

The record company (MCA) then stopped production of the original Street Survivors, and decided to reissue the record with a less inflammatory cover.  Soon it was back in black...the mourning of a new day.



Stand Up – Jethro Tull

There was much more to this 1969 release than just the expressive woodcut style of the album cover--the band was now on their second album, and it revealed a true expansion of their musical palette.  There were now dabs & splashes of classical music, old English folk, progressive rock, and jazz on top of their blues-based rock.  And with its gatefold design, the new album literally had the band standing Tull: The cover opened up like a kiddie’s book, resulting in the four band members popping up in a magnificent “Ta-DAH!” pose that reinforced the record’s title as well as the group’s newfound depth of creativity...

The artist that Tull commissioned was James Grashow, a Brooklyn-born woodcut artist and sculptor.  He designed some other album covers as well for bands such as Deep Purple, the Chieftains, and the Yardbirds, but is better known in larger circles for his illustrations in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine and Esquire, and for his sculptures and massive art installations that he creates out of cardboard.  For more on Grashow, click on the following link and first follow this path: “Gallery”... then “Sculpture”...then “Installations”...and then “Corrugated Fountain”.  Then prowl the site.  It’s all fairly mind-blowing.  http://www.jamesgrashow.com


The Court Of The Crimson King – King Crimson

I bought this album the moment it hit record stores in 1969, and rushed right home to get it on the turntable.  When I cruised through the back door, my father was sitting in his usual post at the formica-slab kitchen table, nursing a Salem 100-milimeter menthol Slim and a frosted mug of beer.  He was a man of few words; not due to the alcohol, really.  It was who he was.

He arched an eyebrow as if to say “Wha’ ja’ get?”

I pulled the lone album out of the Woolworth’s bag and showed him the front cover.

My dad just looked at me, expressionless, and said “Runnin’ off and joining the circus, are we?”

He could make no such judgments on the songs within; I never extended an invitation for him to sit down and listen to it, and I’m glad of that.  It would have pinned his ears back and scrambled his middle-aged brain, sitting through a loud-volume sampling of the album’s buzz saw opener “21st Century Schizoid Man”.



Osibisa and Woyaya – Osibisa

Osibisa was an Afro-pop band who plied their trade well before “world music” had seeped into American consciousness and trickled into the playlists of small independent radio stations.  The group had seven original members who were all in London at the time of the band’s formation in 1969, yet they all hailed from either Ghana or the Caribbean.  The music was a hypnotic mix of African, Caribbean, rock, jazz and rhythm & blues, and the horns were wicked...

The band’s first two album covers--Osibisa and Woyaya, both from 1971--were designed and drawn by English artist Roger Dean, who is most acclaimed for his album artwork that followed, including covers for the band Yes (Fragile, Close To The Edge, Tales From Topographic Oceans, etc.), Uriah Heep (including Demons And Wizards), Atomic Rooster, Asia and others.  Musicasaurus.com was first hooked by his Osibisa covers, however--the winged elephants were fantastic images and the music inside revealed additional worlds of wonder.



Album Covers by Neon Park

Park was a child of California and a vagabond artist in his youth, at one point ending up in San Francisco doing poster art for the Family Dog hippie collective’s series of concerts at the Avalon Ballroom, circa 1966.

At the turn of the decade his surreal images and vivid use of color attracted the attention of musician Frank Zappa, who hired him to do the cover art for his upcoming album Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970).  That album cover is deliciously disturbing stuff and gained Park some notoriety, but it was the artist’s long association with Little Feat for which he is best known (in cognoscenti circles, I’ll admit).

Park had reportedly met Feat founder Lowell George while hitchhiking, and the two then struck a bond that continued through a number of band releases beginning with Feat’s second album Sailin’ Shoes (1972).  Park’s album covers were visually arresting, often perplexing, and almost always dazzling.  Great stuff...


Nevermind – Nirvana

Nirvana’s Nevermind was released in September 1991.  The band and the record company had expectations for mild success, and had no reason to assume otherwise.  But by November of that year, the lead-off single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was everywhere on alternative rock stations and the album really struck a sales-buying spree when MTV added the track to full rotation (i.e., when it liberated the video from its perch on the station’s nighttime showcase of alternative music, the program 120 Minutes).

The impact of the music on Nevermind was paramount.  Michael Azerrad in a 1993 Nirvana biography said “Nevermind came along at exactly the right time.  This was music by, for, and about a whole new group of young people who had been overlooked, ignored, or condescended to.”...And Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote that “Suddenly, all bets are off.  No one has the inside track on which dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ornery, obstreperous, unkempt bands might next appeal to the mall-walking millions.”

The album cover was reportedly conceived by guitarist/singer Kurt Cobain when he and drummer Dave Grohl were watching a program about women giving birth in water.  Hard to tell from the 3-month-old’s expression whether he’s truly in the swim toward capitalism, but the juxtaposed images of innocence and the dollar chase are a nice extension of the band’s sentiments about human nature, fame and the meaning of success.  Initially the record company suggested an alternative cover because they had a wee problem with the baby’s nakedness, but the band nipped it (the alternative cover, that is).


Two The Hard Way – Allman and Woman (aka Gregg Allman and Cher)

Why did he do this album, and why, oh why did he allow himself to be in this cover photo?  Thanks for Cher-ing, Gregg.

Gregg married celebrity/entertainer Cher in 1975, and a year later the Allman Brothers Band broke up (not due to Cher; it stemmed from the fractious factions within the band and some members’ reported drug use).

In November of 1977 when this marital musical union surprised us all, I was working as co-manager of Exile Records in Wexford, Pennsylvania.  We initially stocked a few copies of the album and displayed it in our front “New Releases” section.  But the expressions of a few die-hard Allman Brothers fans entering the store reminded me of the Native American in the classic 1970s television commercial with the tear streaming down his cheek (he was standing by the highway, and a passing car had just thrown trash at his feet).  Both the Allmans’ fans and this Indian chief quite simply had gut honest reactions to an American treasure being polluted by an unthinking individual.

Maybe Gregg had no choice with this album cover, though...Maybe he was figuratively tied to the whipping post (and Good Lord, he probably did feel like dyin’).



Posted 8/26/13.....COVER ME (part one - readers' submissions)

Musicasaurus.com is a nostalgic beast.  I’m still braying and honking over the fact that we’ve in essence lost a wonderful, once-widespread art form, as we inevitably hew closer and closer to the pathways of technologically delivered tunes.  I’m talking about album cover art...

The album cover was our gateway drug.  The artwork & design sometimes revealed tantalizing clues about the addictive pleasures contained within; other times, it was conceptually befuddling--unadorned of explanation--and that just made us wonder all the more.

So with musicasaurus.com plainly pining away for that old thrill of discovery, I rounded up some readers and posed this question: “When I say the words ‘album cover’, what is the first thing you think of?  Do one or two come to mind, and why?”  

Robert Brandt (Cleveland) / Manager-Glass Harp; music/broadcast researcher and archivist.....Where I come from (the 90s), we didn’t have albums.  However, when I changed out of my flannel Nirvana shirt school uniform at the end of the day, I’d retreat to my room and my stash of vinyl that I’d acquired from various shops, flea markets, or parents’ closets.  Soon, I’d taken to anything with long tracks, and especially anything in a gatefold with two or more albums. 

In my mind at the time, the gold standard for all of this was Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans, in all of its blue Roger Dean otherworldly landscape glory.  Plus, you could blow your friends’ minds by pointing out there were only four songs spread out over two albums (again, this was the 90s, long before The Mars Volta or Decemberists made it OK to come out of the closet as a Gen X prog fan).  Something about this, and most all of Roger Dean’s covers dares you in a way to imagine a very different journey to a very different place, and usually, the music inside (save for maybe that of a certain early-80s supergroup) obliged.  Today, the cover of Topographic Oceans is on a different journey indeed: the wallpaper on my iPad, where its rocks and fish now provide a backdrop for my young daughters' Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger apps, and perhaps in some small subconscious way, encouraging their own imaginations.



Joe Negri (Pittsburgh) / Jazz guitarist, composer and educator (also, for all time, “Handyman Negri” on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood).....Fortunately I grew up in a time when album covers were a specialty.  They were works of art filled with wonderful information on the artists and the contents of the album.  So much for the history lesson--we all know those days are gone.  When I think album covers I think of two jazz guitar albums.  The first was a recording of my idol Charlie Christian with the Benny Goodman Sextet.  And the second was a wonderful album called Mellow Guitar featuring the virtuoso seven-string guitarist George Van Eps with strings.



Scott Tady (Beaver, PA) / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times.....Abbey Road.  Such an iconic image, surrounded in folklore.  Why is Paul McCartney in bare feet?  What’s with John Lennon’s white suit?  Is George Harrison the undertaker?  Think of the many tributes and spoofs, including four very exposed Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I spoofed it once for my Sunday column, and have square beer coasters at home with that cover art.  The same company offering a 24/7 camera on Andy Warhol’s grave has a similar set-up for the Abbey Road crossing.  I can’t imagine 45 years from now that people will be equally excited over a YouTube video.  Album covers are a dying art … and Abbey Road is the Mona Lisa.

A close second: Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door.  On my first New Orleans trip, I made a beeline to that old-fashioned Bourbon Street bar (Old Absinthe House) to re-enact the cover scene.  Don’t go there now--it’s been turned into a Spring Break-style joint with mixed-drink blenders the size of washing machines.  But I’ve got the album cover (minus its faux brown paper bag exterior) framed in our basement.



Jim Cunningham(Pittsburgh, PA) / WQED-FM..... The era of the download is so wonderful for its amazing variety.  You can find almost any sort of music anywhere in the world however iTunes and Amazon have wildly devalued the absolutely exquisite cover art of the past 80 years.  Such a shame!  At least the vinyl LP has had a bit of a comeback in the last decade.

I love all the covers of all the Beatles and Rolling Stones albums.  Their Satanic Majesties Request had the special multiple dimension image-shifting cover long gone from subsequent editions.  I vividly remember getting my hands on the Exile On Main Street cover and the Andy Warhol designs for the Stones with Sticky Fingers and Some Girls.

Sgt. Pepper’s still fascinates with all the people who turned up on the cover including avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.  I still have all the inside cut-out art with the mustache and so on.  Abbey Road brings back the warmth of Biekarck's Music Store in Warren, Pa. where I bought it.  I like the Eric Idle/Monty Python spin-off The Rutles too, where the traffic lines seem to have gone all wiggly and the faux George Harrison forgot to wear pants.

All the Pink Floyd covers are so great. Even the compact disc of their hits Pulse is cool with a flashing red light on the spine.  One of these days I'm going to look into replacing the battery which lasted about a year.


Ed Traversari (Pittsburgh) / Former concert promoter & partner in DiCesare-Engler Productions (which eventually became part of Live Nation); currently instructor at Point Park University in their Sports, Arts & Entertainment Management program.....The first one I think of is the first Santana album.  Black and white cover with their name down the right side with a huge lion’s face on it.  I always remember this cover because I looked at it for such long periods of time (since I really liked this record and it was one of the very first albums I purchased.)


Russ Rose (Pittsburgh) / WXDX on-air talent and Creative Director, and Production Director at KISS FM.....Honestly, the first image that popped into my head was the Synchronicity album cover by The Police.  The primary colors of the paint brush swooshes and many black and white photos were striking.  And I spent a LOT of time examining all the photos for their meaning, and looking for all the variations of that cover--there were 36 different versions of that cover and I wanted to see them all!



Jack Tumpson (Pittsburgh) / Former owner-operator of concert promotion company Next Big Thing; subsequently a Pace/Live Nation venue marketer-then-general manager; currently owner-publisher of WHIRL Magazine.....Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills.  The album cover captures San Francisco and the Haight in the late 60s as seen only from the eyes of R. Crumb.  Shop no further!  Of course you can include the European version of Blind Faith with the naked young girl, or Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, or Zappa's Hot Rats, or artist Howard Finster's Talking Heads cover (Little Creatures).  But give me Cheap Thrills anytime.


Paul Carosi (Pittsburgh) / Designer/developer of the website Pittsburgh Music History (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/).....The album cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s is the first to come to mind.  It was the first rock album that I ever purchased and the artwork and music were game changing.  Musically it was the first concept album.  Picking out all of the various celebrities on the cover provided hours of enjoyment while listening to the groundbreaking music.  Shown were Mae West, W.C. Fields, Bob Dylan, Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando, Aldous Huxley, Edgar Allan Poe, Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy and dozens more.  The album cover was created by Jann Haworth, and Peter Blake won the Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts in 1967. 


Joe Grushecky (Pittsburgh) / Musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader (Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers).....The Beatles first US Capitol LP (Meet The Beatles!) changed a lot of lives, didn't it?  I remember seeing it in a Murphy's Five and Dime before they were on the Ed Sullivan show and buying it immediately because it looked so different and exotic from what was popular at the time.  I had heard some rumblings about the boys from Liverpool and had seen a clip of them on the Tonight Show with Jack Parr, so I was extremely curious.  Of course, when I got home and gave it a spin the music exceeded anything I had expected.  That's it.  I'm getting a guitar.



Sean McDowell (Pittsburgh) / Longtime on-air talent with WDVE.....I just had on the air last week a guy famous for historic rock album covers, Henry Diltz.  He shot the Crosby Stills and Nash "couch" album cover for their debut LP, and he did the Morrison Hotel album cover for The Doors and The Eagles first two album covers.  He has unbelievable stories!  Along with those, I think of historic LP covers and I think Sgt. Pepper’s, Who's Next and the first Led Zeppelin album.


Mike Sanders (Pittsburgh) / Concert promoter, Opus One Productions.....Dark Side of the Moon.  Simplicity of the design leaving something to the imagination, the importance of the album, and what it established for Pink Floyd as having important artwork on its album covers.



Steve Acri (Pittsburgh) / Longtime music fan; former record store manager; currently in the audio-video business.....The words “album cover” instantly remind me of the first one I can remember seeing as a youth, and that was the soundtrack to the Broadway show Oklahoma!, probably around 1960.  My parents played it often, and the color of the cover was vivid orange.  Hard to ignore.  My own personal favorite is The Beatles’ The White Album, with its stark graphic, glossy finish, embossed lettering, individual numbering, and NO PHOTOS OF THE BAND!  The bonus photos and poster inside, as well as the music itself, were not too shabby either.


Scott Blasey (Pittsburgh) / Musician and lead singer for The Clarks.....When I hear the words "album cover" I think of Eric Clapton's Slowhand.  It was the first album I bought with my own money.  I was 13 years old and I rode my bicycle to Atkins' Music Store in Connellsville because I loved the song "Wonderful Tonight."  It's a fold-out cover with a big picture of Clapton's signature Strat.  The inside is a corkboard with all these great pictures pinned on it.  I still have it, in alphabetical order right in front of The Clarks' I'll Tell You What Man...



Rege Behe (Pittsburgh) / Freelance journalist and former music writer at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.....So many album covers come to mind: Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones,  King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King, Horses by Patti Smith and London Calling by The Clash.  But I will always associate this art form with Roger Dean, who designed the otherworldly landscapes for Yes albums.  As a kid, the covers of Fragile, Tales from Topographic Oceans and Relayer were my idea of high art.  Yes albums were two-for-one deals: music and something you could hang on your dorm room wall.  Dean's work evoked the worlds created by science fiction writers such as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, places you'd love to explore if you had your own personal spaceship.  Like the music inside, Dean's album covers took you to another place.



Tom Rooney (Pittsburgh) / Former executive director of Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group.....Highway 61 Revisited (1965) Bob Dylan, hey this wasn’t the Beatles in Nehru Suits or The Animals in matching jackets.  This was a sound that perfectly matched the brooding, cocky picture on the cover of what we’d be expecting from everyone else--other than Mr. Zimmerman who constantly was reinventing himself.  Also, Clouds (1969) by Joni Mitchell, with the beautiful painted self- portrait of Ms. Mitchell with the gold hue, holding a red rose.  This was a very important record for me (had “Both Sides Now” and “Chelsea Morning”) because the poetry floored me as did her haunting album cover.


Phil Keaggy (Nashville) / Guitarist and founding member of Glass Harp.....Elvis Golden Records Volume I.



Steve Hansen (Pittsburgh) / Former on-air talent on WDVE’s “Jimmy & Steve” morning program (1980-1986); currently an independent writer/producer.....The words “album cover” send my mind on a long, strange trip to an other-worldly time.  Even though album covers had been around as long as albums, I doubt that they were thought of as an art form until the Sixties.  It was then, however, that our enhanced focus turned from the music to the thing the music came in. 

And why not?  If you wanted to become one with the music it's only natural that you would search for clues about how the music came to be.  Absent Google or Wikipedia, the Children of the Sixties had only the album cover to go on.  Early on there were liner notes to guide us.  Soon we dispensed with words altogether and found our answers in the visual clues deposited by our generation's Van Goghs:  Hipgnosis, Roger Dean, and Andy Warhol.  Eventually, need necessitated innovation.  The double album became the perfect spinal workstation for rolling the joints that were causing us to find meaning in album art in the first place.  The circle was complete.  



Rich Engler (Pittsburgh) / Former president of DiCesare-Engler Productions (which eventually became part of Live Nation); currently producing concerts and working on a book of his life in the concert promotion business.....King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King.  On November 1, 1969 the album went to # 4 nationally right behind Abbey Road; on Dec 23, 1969 the band broke up.  Still today I can't believe how great they were and let’s not forget the devil screaming on the album cover.  Another one, as mentioned:  The Beatles’ Abbey Road, and the classic shot of the band walking across the road in front of that studio.



Scott Mervis (Pittsburgh) / Currently writer/reviewer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and editor of the newspaper’s Weekend.....My first thought is Hipgnosis for the mind-blowing Pink Floyd covers that went hand in hand with the far-out music.  The British design company not only did Floyd, but Zeppelin, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, ELO, etc. -- a lot of covers that you could just sit and stare at while you listened.  I also think about the Doors' Strange Days and Zappa's Hot Rats because my older sister had those records and they freaked me out.


Stacy Innerst (Pittsburgh) / Artist and illustrator for books, newspapers and magazines; newest release is a children's book about the Beatles’ sense of humor, The Beatles: They were Fab and They Were Funny, Harcourt 2013.....Art. That's it.  I used to get the same feeling looking at album covers that I got in an art museum.  The format was big and square, which is still my favorite.  I always looked for the art direction credit on the liner notes because those people were (almost) as important as the music for me.  R. Twerk seemed to show up a lot, on albums like Saturate Before Using by Jackson Browne.  The idea of using a radiator bag as a backdrop was pure genius.  My dad used to hang one on the '56 Fairlane before we crossed the Mojave desert. 



Rick Sebak (Pittsburgh) / WQED public TV producer & narrator.....What album cover comes immediately to mind?  Sgt Pepper's of course.  I guess it was the one that made me realize what an art there was to album covers.  The montage of celebrity photos, the drum, the costumes on the Beatles, then the whole speculation about "Paul Is Dead" and were they looking into his grave? 

I don't want to be too obvious, but R.Crumb's amazing cartoons for Janis Joplin & Big Brother & The Holding Company's album Cheap Thrills with “Piece of My Heart” on it was a milestone for me.  In high school, I loved cartoons and I re-drew that cover for a poster for a school production.  I still am in awe of Crumb and his drawings.

But I've been reminded of so many great covers recently on the Facebook group page called Cartoon Record Sleeves that was started by the Pittsburgh cartoonist known as Wayno.  It's a great collection of covers from the Ramones to Spike Jones.  But it also made me realize how much I love the covers created by singer-songwriter Michael Hurley for his excellent LPs, from Have Moicy! to Hi Fi Snock Uptown.  His cartoon wolves are classic.

But I think the music inside also influences how much we love a cover.  I think of Randy Newman's cover for Sail Away.  And Dylan's Blood On The Tracks.  Oh, and Child Is Father To The Man, the excellent first album from Blood, Sweat & Tears.

All these make me sound like I haven't heard any new music in years.  But CD covers?  Not the same impact.  Although I like the style of the Adele covers.  Like her music too.



Posted 8/12/13.....GRAND ILLUSION

I was a junior in high school, and I’ll be the first to admit that my musical horizons were still somewhat limited back there in 1969...Part of the eventual expansion of my mind, though, was a result of having my friend Gary’s brother Dave as a musical guide.  He was a few years older than we were and he absolutely lived and breathed music; the way his eyes widened over new-band discoveries and the way he spat out those findings, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see G clefs fly out of his nose if he’d been seized by an exceptionally violent sneeze...

By 1969 I was digging fairly deep into music, schooled by my mates who were equally obsessed.  We read everything we could get our hands on--music mags like Crawdaddy!, Rolling Stone, CREEM and Circus--and our trips to the G.C. Murphy’s and Woolworths’ record departments yielded new finds for us that we pored over and then played to death.  We were all in our mid-to-late teens, one nation under a groove (borrowing from Funkadelic, there), united in this exhilarating quest to scoop up new music and excavate all deeper meaning...

As an elder and our principal guide wizard, Dave was diplomatic as we searched on our own for new sounds.  For a time, he reigned from his album-strewn bedroom at his parents’ house on North Washington Street in Butler, and when we’d occasionally pop by with a new purchase, Dave would plop it on his Technics turntable and render judgment.  To his credit, he also had a largely benevolent approach when labeling one of our new finds a botched experiment or a misguided investment.

In that time period of the late ‘60s entering the ‘70s, I was sampling a fair bit of new music and somehow became enamored of Grand Funk Railroad.  It’s not something I’m proud of today (in fact, I feel like I should stand before all of you in one of those community-center basement halls, nod hello and launch with “Hi, I’m musicasaurus.com, and I was a Grand Funk Railroad fan”)...

I had bought their first few albums but was a bit gun-shy about touting them to Dave.  I had also seen the band live at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena at the peak of their popularity in 1970, and at the time my blind worship was undimmed by what I should have recognized as pure mediocrity.  I remember just shards of the concert, really--guitarist Mark Farner wringing out none-too-complicated riffs, and Don Brewer doing a senseless head-banging interlude (on his snare or tom-tom) as part of an interminably long drum solo.

I was certainly not alone in my turning of a blind eye (or ear) to this bit of mediocrity.  The band was among the most popular on the planet, although the music critics were largely dissin’ and dismissin’.  Robert Christgau, a noted Village Voice writer, penned in his January 29, 1970 consumer guide column that the group was (quote) “creating a stir, apparently because they play faster than Iron Butterfly.  Which I grant is a step in the right direction.  I saw them live in Detroit before I knew any of this.  I enjoyed them for 15 minutes, tolerated them for five, and hated them for 40.”

I didn’t see that piece when it ran in January ’70, and it likely wouldn’t have dented my devotion anyway.  When the band’s fourth album hit later that year in November--a double-record set called Live Album--I scampered off to Woolworth’s to snatch it up before heading over to Dave and Gary’s house.

In Dave’s room, the shrink-wrap came off and Side One was immediately on his turntable.  He smiled as he dropped the tone-arm on Track One, but where would it go from here?  When we were previewing records with him in his upstairs chambers, it was usually the furrowing of his brow that confirmed to us we had another “near miss” or “clear miss” in terms of a new purchase.  After a song and a half of this latest by Grand Funk, Dave wheeled around from looking through a crate of his albums, and just said very softly “This...is...shit.”

“No offense,” he continued, “but there are SO many other records out now that are better than this kind of stuff.”  He turned toward another peach crate on the floor, and pulled out the double-album Bitches Brew from Miles Davis.  “This came out about six months ago.  Listen to THIS,” he crowed, slipping the record out of its sleeve and placing the disc gingerly on the turntable.

I sat there hoping to be all agog, but as this jazz-and-rock stew burbled forth at an excruciating volume over the bedroom speakers, I gleaned only confusion from the fusion.  I wanted so much to like it, and managed a “thumbs-up” nod to an expectant Dave, but it was way too free-form for me to wrap my rock ‘n’ roll head around...

But this encounter (and ones like it) helped me to firm up my footing on a path I’d already begun to tread.  When I recall that Miles Davis moment and similar others in Dave’s quarters--with all of us sampling new sounds across a wider-ass spectrum than we’d ever thought possible--the effect was electrifyingly palpable.  We were afloat in a period of artistic innovation that had (in just a few years’ time) sparked up and fanned out like never before, in terms of intensity and reach. 

In 1970 alone, our eager antennas picked up on artists & albums such as the second release from horn-dominated rock band Chicago...The Mothers of Invention’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh...jazz keyboardist Joe Zawinul’s first solo record...Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die...the debut albums from British bands Black Sabbath and Emerson Lake & Palmer, and prog-rockers Curved Air and space-rockers Hawkwind...Van Morrison’s Moondance...Fun House by The Stooges...jazz saxophonist Stanley Turrentine’s Sugar...Joni Mitchell’s Ladies Of The Canyon...My Goals Beyond from fusion guitarist John McLaughlin...The double album Butterfield Blues Band Live...prog-rockers Van der Graaf Generator...CSNY’s Déjà Vu...Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys...the debut album from Funkadelic...and the duo release from vibraphonist Gary Burton and pianist Keith Jarrett.

Also, Pink Floyd’s fourth record, Atom Heart Mother...Elton John’s self-titled first American release...Benefit from Jethro Tull...jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay...the debut albums from German art-rockers Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream...records from folkies The Incredible String Band, PentangleFairport Convention and Fotheringay...the sophomore albums from the Jackson Five (ABC) and the Allman Brothers Band (Idlewild South)...Burrito Deluxe by The Flying Burrito Brothers...albums from progressive jazz-rock artists Colosseum and Soft Machine...jazz flautist Hubert Laws’ Afro-Classic...Spirit’s Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus...King Crimson’s In The Wake of Poseidon...Santana’s Abraxas...Loaded from The Velvet Underground...Death Walks Behind You from Atomic Rooster...blues-duo Hot Tuna’s first album...and the second record from English prog-rockers Yes.

Perhaps we can brand this musical slice-of-an-era (i.e., the ‘60s into the ‘70s) as “Youth’s First Real Feeding Frenzy”.  Artists back then were pushing boundaries such that genre walls were heavily pockmarked if not completely chiseled through...record companies were bursting with newly-signed talent and buzzing like central hives...and we fans and followers fed both those flames, because quite simply, music--in all its permutations--became central to our existence. 

p.s.  Thanks to Dave (and to Gary, and my other same-grade, high-school friends) for all of the music and the shared education...To Dave in particular, with regard to the evening I brought Grand Funk to your turntable:  Thanks for the smiles and putting on the Miles--and I think we’re both happy now that I got the Funk out of there.


Posted 7/29/13.....TROUBLE IN MIND

For some reason throughout most of my life, I’ve run on an even keel.  Annoyances, bumps in the road, full-on challenges--they happen to us all, of course, but I was born blessed with a temperament that in most cases has served me pretty well.

I realized long ago that Stress is an unworthy companion.  If you can keep the Ol’ Devil at bay, or even just cast Him out before He fully settles in, so much the better.  In the lifestyle that is live concert events--managing a concert facility and all that that entails--there are angst-inducing situations that loom and others that pop up like microbursts.  Once on the radar screen, it’s a balancing act and your only tools are ingenuity and decisiveness in equal measure.

I managed Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre-then-Post Gazette Pavilion, the predominant outdoor concert facility near Pittsburgh, from 1995 through 2007.  In the course of my “normal” duties of managing a core full-time staff and a much larger contingent of seasonal employees each summer, Stress always whispered within, of course. 

But sometimes this Little Queasy Beast loomed larger due to an unfolding of events--and below are three examples from my sorted past:

****1. Every summer for a long stretch beginning in 1997, a crazy train pulled up to the Star Lake station.  First engineered by my employer Pace to feed its amphitheatres a money-making, rafter-shaking event, the annual OzzFest soon became a “must-see” attraction for--excuse my dissings here--the disheveled and the disenfranchised.

The OzzFest typically began around 11am and ran a full twelve-hour day with multiple stages around the venue, and vendor & sideshow attractions peppered throughout.  Crazy train conductor Ozzy usually welcomed aboard a multitude of high-volume support acts each year--artists with wholesome-sounding names like Megadeth, Snot, Ultraspank, Slayer, Fear Factory, Disturbed, and Methods Of Mayhem--and our venue was awash in debilitating decibels to the delight of The Great Unwashed...

The mood at the day-long OzzFest always held hints of malevolence.  Over time, the venue’s staff became accustomed to the patterns of the day:  Fan friskiness began early on, bolstered by the baking sun and arguably abetted by alcohol as the day progressed.  Then as always, approaching dusk, there was a definite shift in the wind--little vortexes (“trouble spots”) popping up with more frequency in the sea of elbowing, black-garbed humanity.

On the venue’s lower westside there was a clock-face that stood high in one of our large planters in the center of the plaza, and my director of operations and my food-and-beverage manager routinely met me there around 7:00pm on OzzFest days.  Though Aramark (the concessionaire) would have the last word about “closing time” for the beer stands, there would be an earnest discussion between the three of us on the general mood of the crowd, the number of incidents thus far, etcetera.

In my years at the amphitheatre, there was only one time that our in-the-shadow-of-the-clock discussion led to a very early alcohol shutdown (note that venue/concessionaire policy was usually to cease such sales about an hour or two before the end of any given show).  On that particular OzzFest--memory doesn’t serve as to exactly which one--the three of us gathered at the clock at 7:00pm and the expressions we wore walking toward each other told the tale before a single utterance--we needed to play “Taps” for the taps, then and there.  Though the festival wasn’t supposed to fold until 11:00pm or even a bit thereafter, the plug was pulled by Aramark on the spot. 

Postscript on this one:  Indeed over its many stops at Star Lake, OzzFest brought us many law-abidin’ fans who were focused on music as their fuel.  But in this one above instance, we had perceived--in our nerve-jangling meeting at the clock--that there were just too many doom clouds on the darkening horizon for us to conduct business as usual.

****2. WXDX-FM Pittsburgh (“The X”) started up an annual alternative-music fest in 1998, and from the beginning had managed to put together some powerhouse lineups for their shows.  In the festival’s third year, the station brought on Stone Temple Pilots as the headliner and true to the whiffs of legend that wafted our way beforehand, lead singer Scott Weiland was a rule breaker and alleged partaker. 

At one point late in the day before the band’s headlining set, I was called on the venue radio by my security chief to immediately come backstage.  There I found Scott Weiland standing near one of our venue golf-carts literally in the grip of two venue security guards, one on each arm.  A local township police officer was also on hand.

Weiland looked distracted and discombobulated.  The security guard on Weiland’s right sported a beautiful new shiner, and the police officer recounted a quick tale of Weiland’s efforts to hotwire (with a screwdriver) one of our golf-carts for a joyride around the venue.  When the security guards tried to stop him from cart-jacking, Weiland reportedly unleashed Linda Blair-worthy expletives and then had to be physically removed from the driver’s seat.  He apparently then calmed down and asked the guards to please let loose their grips--and then he sucker-punched the guard to his right.

Now back in the grip of the long arms of the law, Weiland fidgeted and mumbled as the police officer asked me The $100,000 Question--Did I want him to be arrested for assault?  All eyes were on me (including the one that could still open, on the guard to the right).  The answer was easy--an apology would suffice, and the spacey yet truculent lead singer would be remanded to the supervision of his own tour manager, with assurances that all off-stage antics would cease.

As Weiland walked off with his handler I heard another roar out front from the sell-out crowd of 23,000, all greeting the next main-stage artist who was filling the slot right before Stone Temple Pilots were to take the stage... 

Case closed on this one:  We let the wily Weiland wiggle free, and justice wasn’t fully served, of course--but clearly this was neither the time nor the place for “An Eye for an Eye”.

****3. Stress can rear its ugly countenance not only on show days...One year during my reign as general manager, I received an urgent call from my facility operations manager Shag.  It was a sleepy Wednesday, and we had just finished a stretch of shows and were prepping for another burst of multi-event activity yet to come.

Typically, the days between actual shows at the venue were prime for catch-up:  Facility cleanup and maintenance, pushing out paperwork to Corporate, and management team individuals snagging quick meetings with each other about pressing items while in the calm before the next storm...

On that particular Wednesday, Shag called me to say that he’d just been alerted to troubling news from the local police.  He came to my office and we had a one-on-one conversation; no one else, he said, was being apprised of this situation at the moment...Apparently a fan from the last show who was partying in our parking lots had gone out of the parking lot area and over a grassy hill to relieve himself (a lot of the areas on amphitheatre property just off the parking lot perimeters are various wetlands and/or undeveloped terrain).  The fan had stumbled down to the marshy recesses to do his business, and he had spotted a skeleton on the ground by a tiny stream’s edge--and it looked to him like the bones of a small child.

My face must have gone ashen, because Shag very quickly blurted out the “next steps” which were already in motion--an assistant coroner from a nearby municipality was on his way to the scene right now so that he could put finality on the findings.  The good thing at present?  No missing persons’ reports anywhere in the area.  Still, this was stomach-churning news and we hoped against hope that it wasn’t what we feared...

Shag ran off to meet the assistant coroner and said he’d report back within the hour.  I debated calling Corporate, but decided to hold off just until Shag returned with more concrete news.

He came back 45 minutes later and thrust himself down on my small couch opposite the desk.  He pushed his ballcap back, and stared at me dispassionately for maybe two seconds.  “We got there,” Shag said, “and the assistant coroner put on gloves and just started his poking around, saying ‘Oh my God, I think this IS a child’s skeleton!’ ”

I looked at Shag in terror, but he didn’t allow it to take root.

“So I said to the guy”...Shag now smiled...“ ‘Well, if it IS a small child, do they all have one of THESE?!!!’ and I brushed aside the guy’s hands and picked up the thing by its tail--it was a beaver!”

The relief flooded in, and Shag went on to say that perhaps this assistant coroner shouldn’t make it to the next level, all things considered...

Stress is a companion for Life.  We get tested; sometimes bested.  But keep it at bay, I say.  Things have a way of working out, even in the most potentially harrowing of circumstances.  Like this last little story, of course--my favorite tail of the unexpected.





There are NO postings for Monday July 15th, but the writings return in two weeks – musicasaurus.com is on summer vacation.  My tail’s free and clear at the top of the tarpit though already it’s thwacking in anticipation, and one front claw’s clutching luggage...Musicasaurus.com will return to regular postings at the usual two-week interval, on Monday morning July 29th.




Last week I was rooting through old posters from bygone record-company display days, and I came upon a black-and-white portrait-style poster of Frank Zappa, something that was shipped to me back in 1978 when my job was merchandising Warner-Elektra-Atlantic product in Western Pennsylvania record stores.  It’s a great photo of Zappa, cigarette dangling below his black bushy mustache right above his thin center slice of a beard, and he’s wearing mirrored glasses and exuding major attitude.  Finding this “lost” treasure, I felt it a necessity to write about the Mother of invention.

Frank Zappa was not someone I followed faithfully step-by-step through the years, but I was recently reminded (via some trawling through music sites) that he once appeared before a Congressional panel in support of freedom from censorship.  But more on that later...

Zappa was, in a word, an iconoclast.  He shocked, amazed, alienated and enthralled with his various recordings through the years, starting with his 1966 group-effort debut album Freak Out! (with his L.A.-based band Mothers Of Invention), and ending with his 1993 solo record of orchestral works entitled The Yellow Shark.  Zappa succumbed to prostate cancer in that latter year, thus we’ve been placated only through posthumous releases that have mined the vaults of this master tinkerer.

He deftly straddled musical worlds and fearlessly mixed, matched and herky-jerked from one genre to another--sometimes within the same song--giving not a whit about his audiences or his critics.  Although his own idols included classical composers such as Igor Stravinsky and the French-born Edgard Varese, Zappa just used these influences to further his musical mission of defying expectation and decrying conformity.   

From the late 1960s through the early 1970s, Zappa with his Mothers Of Invention were placed on Rock’s pedestal by a small but fervent slice of the new youth who were soaking in society’s changes and new musical experiences.  The Mothers Of Invention under auteur Zappa were beloved by aspiring musicians and musical nonconformists--but also by the bong-clutchin’ crowd who, with wisps of smoke curling up around their furrowed brows, sought in vain to fully understand just what the hell they were listening to...

The Mothers’ debut Freak Out! (1966) was a double-record concept album full of political and pop-culture satire; it was also a puzzling, not always pleasant hodgepodge of sound snippets and snatches of dialogue, with a few nods to normal songwriting.  With songs like “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” and “Who Are The Brain Police”, Zappa gave preview to where the band was heading with his next few albums--unshackled experimentation and the thrashing of convention.

My first real sonic brush with The Mothers Of Invention came with the band’s third studio album We’re Only In It For The Money, released in 1968.  The record was silly, satirical, and slicing indictment of extreme political positions (right and left) and the emerging youth culture.  While The Mothers were in the recording studio working on this record, The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Zappa then veered with a vengeance.  He replicated (in his own fashion) the celebrity-populated photo cover of Sgt. Pepper with the intention of using it as his album cover, but his lawsuit-shy record company banished the Zappa take-off to the inside gatefold sleeve, and thus the plan for the album’s cover morphed to just a photo of Zappa and his Mothers in frilly women’s clothing... 

As the 1970s dawned, the prolific Zappa churned out solo records as well as refueled the Mother ship with various new personnel.  The year 1970 brought on board new mamas Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, two singers from California rock band The Turtles who had scored big in ’66 and ’67 with sugarcoated hits like “Happy Together” and “She’d Rather Be With Me”.  Kaylan and Volman might seem an incongruous match for Zappa’s outer-edges musical turf, but it does make sense if you ascribe to the rumors circulating back then about the Turtles’ May 10, 1969 appearance in Washington, D.C.  As the story goes, The Turtles scored a very special, by-request gig at the White House for a party held for President Nixon’s daughter Tricia, and the band reportedly sneaked off and sniffed coke on Abraham Lincoln’s desk.  (Who knows, they might also have passed by the presidential portrait of George Washington and re-powdered his wig).

Kaylan and Volman, who had rechristened themselves Flo and Eddie when joining Zappa’s ranks, departed after less than two years.  Zappa then continued jamming, recording and touring with a number of other talented musicians--in both Mothers and motherless formations--including, in various stints, woodwinds player & keyboardist Ian Underwood, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, keyboardist George Duke, and drummers Chester Thompson and Terry Bozzio.

A whirling dervish in the “output” department, Zappa released 16 albums between 1966-1972, and they’re a combined showcase of his zingers on social issues; his abiding love (beyond rock & pop) for experimental sounds, free jazz and classical; and his penchant to stir the pot if not outright inflame.  In 1973 he hit upon a mother lode of material that meshed with the masses, and with one release in particular, he became an overnight sensation.

The album Over-Nite Sensation, credited to The Mothers, was arguably the most cohesive musical example of Zappa’s wit and wanderings, but in part it’s also a lyrically volatile cocktail of the surreal, satire--and sex.  “Dirty Love” and “Dinah-Moe Humm” are two album tracks that are explicit and gleefully twisted, yes, but also compelling because of Zappa’s prowess in crafting highly original musical escapades as the settings for his satire (an aside: Uncredited female background vocals run throughout this record, and they belong to Tina Turner and her Ikettes).  There are other standouts on the album that abandon the sexual commentary, though--Zappa’s tale of movin’ to Montana to become a dental floss tycoon, and one other key song that I found later in life to serve me--sort of--in the parental guidance department.  The song was “I’m The Slime”.

I loved this tune upon first hearing it in 1973, and then found myself dredging it up some years later when my daughters were still fairly young, entering their teens.  At that particular time I was cognizant of the two of them dipping a little bit into trash TV talk-shows, so I called them to the carpet--the couch, actually--and asked them to listen to something on my living room stereo.  I gave them a sixty-second dissertation on Zappa, and then placed Over-Nite Sensation in the CD tray, cuing up “I’m The Slime”.  “Please listen to these lyrics, Girlers” I said:


I am gross and perverted

I'm obsessed 'n deranged

I have existed for years

But very little has changed

I'm the tool of the Government

And industry too

For I am destined to rule

And regulate you


I may be vile and pernicious

But you can't look away

I make you think I'm delicious

With the stuff that I say

I'm the best you can get

Have you guessed me yet?

I'm the slime oozin' out

From your TV set


You will obey me while I lead you

And eat the garbage that I feed you

Until the day that we don't need you

Don't go for help...no one will heed you

Your mind is totally controlled

It has been stuffed into my mold

And you will do as you are told

Until the rights to you are sold...


As the song faded to its frenzied guitar ending, the girls exchanged inscrutable glances and muttered “Can we go now?”  I then tried to thematically tie Zappa’s rant to the TV shows that they were currently falling prey to, but away they scampered before Dad’s lesson could be fully imparted (and I somewhat doubted they were immediately running off to look up “pernicious” in the Webster’s Dictionary)...

After Over-Nite Sensation brought Zappa and his Mothers ramped-up notoriety and FM airplay (albeit in edited versions), the artist continued through the decade producing some noteworthy nuggets including “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” and “Cosmik Debris” from Apostrophe (1974), and “Dancin’ Fool” and “Jewish Princess” from the 1979 double live release Sheik Yerbouti.

I largely lost track of the man after ‘79, other than noting he was still “out there” and cranking out his singular-vision satire with revolving-door players, as well as releasing intermittent, all-instrumental guitar recordings that amplified Zappa’s stature a notch more within his appreciative circles of musicians and followers.

Then in 1985 I caught major wind of him again, this time as Zappa injected himself into the brewing shit storm called the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC).

To everything there is a season, and rock ‘n’ roll music found itself in the spotlight--naww, crosshairs--thanks to some Washington wives who had formed a committee with the goal of taking some kind of action against the content of violence, drug use and sex in American rock music.  One of the founders of the PMRC was Tipper Gore, wife of then senator Al Gore who in later years contributed mightily to the cause of global warming warnings, via his 2006 acclaimed documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Tipper and the three other female founders of the PMRC advocated that the record companies voluntarily place parental advisory stickers on all suggestive new releases, and as pressure mounted in the summer of 1985, a majority of the major companies agreed.  Hearings by the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Science Committee were then held starting in September before the stickers were officially adopted, and three musicians stepped forward to testify--Dee Snider of the band Twisted Sister, his Rocky Mountain Highness John Denver, and Frank Zappa.

Zappa’s testimony is most memorable in his fierce opposition to the concept of labeling record albums along the lines of the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system for films.  Below are a few excerpts from Zappa’s testimony, illustrating the rampant intelligence and wit of this spitfire in his suit-and-tie command performance:

MUSICASAURUS.COM’S POSTSCRIPT.....Zappa didn’t get his ultimate wish.  Within a couple of months of this 1985 hearing, record companies felt compelled with the continuing doom cloud of legislation to follow through on voluntarily self-stickering “objectionable” releases with new parental guidance stickers. 

And in reference to Zappa’s comments about his four children:  Of all of his offspring--Ahmet, Diva, Moon Unit and Dweezil--it’s the latter who most closely followed in lockstep.  Reportedly named by Frank for one of his wife Gail’s toes, Dweezil musically dipped into his father’s legacy and then plunged in feet first, starting up the tribute tour called Zappa Plays Zappa.  He has spent years of his musical career precisely and lovingly replicating the musical compositions of his talented father.

In an interview in London’s Guardian newspaper (October 29, 2010; authored by Chris Hall), Dweezil was quoted as saying “...there is a level of detail we operate on that no cover band or tribute band could ever get to"....."We'll listen to the original master tapes and take every individual track and transcribe exactly, so there's a level of commitment, detail and respect of the music that goes beyond anything that a cover band would ever do."

What a great restoration project...Doubtless we’re not anywhere near as committed as Dweezil to carrying the torch, but we can all go our own ways through Life seeking the truth, and speaking Frankly.


(Links to a few of Zappa’s works):

“What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?” from We’re Only In It For The Money (1968)   http://youtu.be/0KJrfHxOL-A

“Peaches En Regalia” from Zappa’s solo album Hot Rats (1969)   http://youtu.be/KkDV45RdYaE

“Montana” from Over-Nite Sensation (1973)   http://youtu.be/DO_bKdRqkuQ

“Dirty Love” from Over-Nite Sensation (1973)  http://youtu.be/adTtNT4X8F4

“I’m The Slime” from Over-Nite Sensation (1973)   http://youtu.be/j46wHw5NLuI

“Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” from Apostrophe (1974)   http://youtu.be/xSY2uPuLi-U

“Dancin’ Fool” from a 1978 Saturday Night Live appearance (the song first appeared on an album in 1979, on Zappa’s live double album Sheik Yerbouti)   http://youtu.be/dI0SIg4njx0

The Parents Music Resource Center hearings in Congress / Zappa’s testimony:   http://youtu.be/hgAF8Vu8G0w



Posted 6/17/13.....ROCK OF AGES

Musicasaurus.com finally cedes control of the mothership.  The eldest daughterasaurus--er, perhaps it’s simpler to just call her “Moirasaurus”--recently lobbied vociferously for a chance to air her generation’s views of music on this website, and so this posting exclusively features the thoughts of a group of twentysomethings who are all now approaching the age of thirty.

Moirasaurus worked with me on a list of pertinent (hopefully ultimately revealing) questions about music, and then flung these far & wide to her universe of former college mates and other close contacts.

The results are in.  Musicasaurus.com was certainly curious to see how twentysomethings consume music, and how much, and when and where and why...Read on for this Next Gen look at the music coursing currently through their lives... 


1)  Moira Jones / Age 28 / Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania / School Counselor:

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase?  Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  Streaming via Spotify on computer and phone.  I also listen to the local public radio station WYEP.  Oh yeah, and my father makes some pretty killer mixes.
  2. What are the music apps that you use?  Spotify and Pandora.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  I listen to a variety of artists, often more contemporary, but on a roadtrip last week I listened to Rubber Soul by The Beatles and some Jackson Browne, who is one of my favorite artists of all time.
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  20.
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  My dad.  From the time I can remember he made me mix tapes which then evolved into mix CDs.  The first mix tape I remember had everything from Genesis “Follow You Follow Me” to John Prine singing about a big ol’ goofy world.  I’ve been going to concerts from the time I was born--some early ones I remember are John Mellencamp and Ziggy Marley.  I fondly remember family singalongs and dance parties to artists like The Beach Boys and The Beatles--I think I was 7 years old or so when a friend and I made up a dance to “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?  I have a “mellow mix” on Spotify that I made which includes artists like Tracy Chapman, Norah Jones, Iron & Wine, Stars, Fleetwood Mac, and Horse Feathers.
    2. cooking?  Motown...It’s a college thing that started when my friend Jalita would make pancakes every Sunday morning while blasting a Motown mix.  Now cooking isn’t complete until I am blasting some Supremes.
    3. exercising?  Upbeat stuff like Girl Talk, Santigold, Metric, Robyn.  I’m really into women pop artists, apparently.
    4. "setting the mood"?  My dad writes this music blog which makes this question awkward.
    5. indulging sadness?  When I want to cry I put on Nickel Creek’s “When You Come Back Down” or Kate Rusby.  Tears every time.
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening?  Poppy, pump-up songs:  Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense is a favorite.  Also anything by Justin Timberlake.
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  I feel pretty good about my latest playlists.  I am still obsessed with Robyn’s 2010 album, though, which I guess is a bit embarrassing.
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  John Mellencamp is the first one I remember...I was 7 or so, and I LOVED the song “Check It Out”.
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  Wow...I have been to so many.  I have great memories of seeing Jackson Browne when I was in high school and dancing with my parents.  Also, the first time I saw Girl Talk since it’s one big, crazy, neon, sweaty, glowstick dance party.  Such a thrill...And U2 with my dad for the Elevation tour where the stage had ramps in front that wrapped around and met in the shape of a heart--that was definitely the most energy I’ve ever witnessed at a concert.
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  Rilo Kiley, particularly the song “More Adventurous”--I never get sick of that song or album.


2)  Kate Sheridan / Age 28 / Cleveland, Ohio / Nurse:

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase?  Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  I recently subscribed to Spotify, and stopped buying music off iTunes.  I listen to Spotify on my phone and computer.
  2. What are the music apps that you use?  Spotify, Songkick for concerts/live music.  I also get Rolling Stone magazine in the mail.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  I appreciate music from past decades, but find myself listening to newly released albums/current music.
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  35.
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  I went to a music school for preschool that focused on music teaching.  Also, played piano.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?  Bon Iver, Local Natives, Lord Huron, and Ben Howard.
    2. cooking?  Jazz and Motown, and Fitz and the Tantrums.
    3. exercising?  Cut Copy, Shout Out Louds, The Kooks, and Arcade Fire.
    4. "setting the mood"?  The xx and Washed Out.
    5. indulging sadness?  Florence and The Machine, and The National.
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening?  Two Door Cinema Club, LCD Soundsystem, and Phoenix.
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  (no answer supplied)
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  TLC, Boyz II Men, Montel Jordan. 
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  Delta Spirit at House of Blues Cleveland...or, Head and the Heart at Beachland Ballroom.
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  Pearl Jam.


3)  Doug Brown / Age 28 / Boston, Massachusetts / Business School Student:

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase? Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  Primarily streaming on my iPhone.
  2. What are the music apps that you use?  Spotify premium--$9.99 a month.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  Lots of classic rock such as The Band, Clapton’s various bands, and Grateful Dead.
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  20-25.
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  My father listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival and Joe Cocker, and a friend’s father who loved Grateful Dead.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?
    2. cooking?
    3. exercising?
    4. "setting the mood"?
    5. indulging sadness?
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening?  .... I listen to the same kind of music for ALL of these things except when exercising I prefer fast-paced, electronic music.
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  Two Chainz (rapper).
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  Dispatch.
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  Arcade Fire at the Mann Center in Philadelphia.
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  The Band.


4)  Talia Neri / Age 27 / Brooklyn, New York / Attorney:

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase?  Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  Mostly streaming from my cell phone, played through my car stereo.
  2. What are the music apps that you use?  Spotify.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  Both.  I probably listen to more contemporary artists--rock, pop, country, dance--like Fitz and the Tantrums, Jack White, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Alabama Shakes, Lady Antebellum, Kenny Chesney, Calvin Harris, Justin Timberlake, Robyn, and Nicki Minaj...But I also like older classic rock and folk--The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Tom Petty, Rolling Stones, The Police, Bon Jovi, Queen, AC/DC, U2, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, and Simon & Garfunkel.
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  10-12.
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  Not really.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?  Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and Coldplay.
    2. cooking?  Motown artists, generally.
    3. exercising?  Flo Rida, Gnarls Barkley, Robyn, Guns N’ Roses, Janet Jackson, and Jimmy Eat World.
    4. "setting the mood"?  Derek & The Dominos and Peter Frampton.
    5. indulging sadness?  Amos Lee and The Weepies.
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening?  Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”.
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  Fergie; also Chris Brown.
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  Backstreet Boys’ Millennium Tour.
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  Tied between Dave Matthews Band (because I love the music) and Parliament-Funkadelic (because it was the most entertaining show--George Clinton came out wearing a diaper).
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  Dave Matthews Band.


5)  Jon Cavallo / Age 27 / Hoboken, New Jersey / Accountant:

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase?  Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  iPod (ripped from CDs), or Spotify...Mostly Spotify these days.
  2. What are the music apps that you use?  Spotify.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  Depends upon mood rather than category.  For example, if I am in a freewheeling type of mood, I’ll listen to the Allman Brothers.  If I’m in a punk sort of mood, I’ll listen to Fiery Furnaces.  If I’m in a depressed mood, I’ll listen to Feist.
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  14-20.
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  My dad’s music, U2.  And my uncle’s music, Dylan.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?  Air.
    2. cooking?  Frank Sinatra.
    3. exercising?  LCD Soundsystem, Cut Copy, and Mike Snow.
    4. "setting the mood"?  James Brown’s Love Power Peace: Live At The Olympia, Paris, 1971.
    5. indulging sadness?  Richard Thompson and Flying Burrito Brothers.
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening?  The Who’s Live At Leeds.
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out Of Heaven”.
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  Korn, embarrassingly enough.
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  Tom Petty with the Black Crowes at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  James Mercer (of The Shins).


6)  Katya Krieger-Redwood / Age 27 / York, North Yorkshire, UK or Cos Cob, Connecticut / Researcher:

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase?  Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  CDs if I have them, YouTube, and music that other people send me.
  2. What are the music apps that you use?  I don’t.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  I listen to a mix of decades.
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  Not many!  Maybe 5; it’s hard to quantify.  I like listening to music when it’s on, but I don’t dedicate time to listening to it...When I’m stressed or fed up with work sometimes I put a favourite song on!
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  No, not really.  I feel bad because my family has tried their best!  I learned violin as a child, followed by flute.  My grandparents and aunts are very musical.  My parents gave me a Simon & Garfunkel CD when I was 8 years old (I think that was the age)...and the first CD I bought was Meatloaf.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?  Nothing in particular.
    2. cooking?  Nothing in particular; maybe a mix.
    3. exercising?  Pump-up music!  Anything.  Queen, Britney Spears, Spice Girls, Fleetwood Mac--anything with a good beat!
    4. "setting the mood"?  Ha Ha!  None.
    5. indulging sadness?  I don’t use music for this; just tears!
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening?  Anything that’s current, probably.
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  Hmmm, good question...I don’t have any playlists!  I am obsessed, though, with the singer Bo Bruce.  She rocks my world.
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  M People.
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  I haven’t been to very many...Virgin Fest in Baltimore was pretty cool.
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  Tom Jones, of COURSE.  That’s not really a serious answer, but for lack of a better one right now, I’ll go with that!


7)  Tom Scida / Age 28 / Baltimore, Maryland...Electrical/Computer Engineer:

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase?  Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  Both streaming and purchase, but mostly purchased.  I listen on a mobile device, car stereo, or a CD player at the office.
  2. What are the music apps that you use?  Amazon Cloud player, Pandora, SoundCloud, YouTube, Grooveshark, and occasionally Spotify.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  I’m all over the place, but to name a few (pre-90s):  The Beatles, Billy Joel, Steely Dan, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan, Beastie Boys, Springsteen, Erik B & Rakim, A Tribe Called Quest, and assorted classical music (Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Debussy).
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  40+.
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  Played a lot of piano from an early age, mostly classical music.  Got a Billy Joel album (I think it was Glass Houses, or it might have been the Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2), and fell in love.  Ended up learning most of his songs on piano over the years...Also, I had a record player growing up with a decent collection of old vinyl.  I can barely remember all of it now, but I do remember that I loved listening to “American Pie” and having to turn the 45 over halfway through the song.  Seems pretty inconvenient, looking back on it...The Steely Dan album Aja was seemingly in constant rotation in my house growing up as well; it continues to be one of my favorite albums of all time.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?  John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.
    2. cooking?  Nothing in particular...
    3. exercising?  Rage Against The Machine, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Kanye West, Nas, and Kendrick Lamar.
    4. "setting the mood"?  Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
    5. indulging sadness?  Elliott Smith and Matt Costa.
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening?  Varies depending upon my mood, I guess.
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  Ke$ha
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  Probably either the children's artist Raffi or some local cover band at the public pool growing up, but my usual answer to this question is OutKast and Lauryn Hill at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, because that was the first “real” concert that I remember attending.
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden.
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  Billy Joel.


8)  Emily Nihan Bernstein / Age 28 / New York, New York / CPA:

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase?  Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  Usually I listen to Pandora on my phone, or on an iPod speaker dock.
  2. What are the music apps that you use?  Pandora; my husband also has Spotify.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  I listen to music largely from earlier decades.  I like classic rock, Motown and some contemporary as well.
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  Just a couple (I don’t drive often, but when I do it’s always to music or Howard Stern).
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  I remember getting a cassette of The Big Chill soundtrack for Christmas when I was very young and that sparked my love for Motown.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?  Colbie Caillat, Jason Mraz, Van Morrison and Paul Simon.
    2. cooking?  Motown, and maybe this same one for “relaxing”, too...In college we always cooked to Motown.
    3. exercising?  I like to run without music, but sometimes I spice it up with some songs...I like my Two Door Cinema Club station on Pandora.
    4. "setting the mood"?  Hmmmm, tough one...I haven’t found a great one for this yet!  Lenny Kravitz?  Dave Matthews Band?  Coldplay?
    5. indulging sadness?  I try not to indulge sadness.  That was more of a high school pubescent activity.
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening?  Shania Twain’s “ Man I Feel Like A Woman”...and you didn’t ask, but karaoke!  My “go to” is “Son Of A Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield.  Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” works, too.
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  Hmmm, tough one...Jason Mraz?  I was made fun of for that once.  I also happen to love Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me” which is pretty random and could make me a target for poking fun!
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  I think it was Gloria Estefan with my dad; he and I both loved her.  We always requested her on the jukebox.
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  I haven’t attended a lot, to be honest.  Lady Gaga was pretty awesome, and Scissors Sisters opened for her which was great...Virgin Fest was cool--lots of great bands.  I hated Phish, though; not my scene!
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  I think Paul Simon could keep me entertained for a long time...but I’m sure as time goes on this answer will change.


9)  Jeff Weiboldt / Age 27 / Cranford, New Jersey / Business Incentives Analyst:

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase?  Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  I purchase CDs and vinyl; also stream via Rdio on computer and phone.
  2. What are the music apps that youuse?  Rdio, iTunes and YouTube.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  Largely music from earlier decades, but I try to keep the distribution even from ’62 or so through today.
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  10-15.
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  My mother, but mostly friends.  Listening to music wasn’t a background activity; it was what we did, and everything revolved around that.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?
    2. cooking?
    3. exercising?
    4. "setting the mood"?
    5. indulging sadness?
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening? ..... Not sure how to answer the above.  Too broad for me; sorry!
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  Cyndi Lauper (most of She’s So Unusual).
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  Lenny Kravitz with Black Crowes.
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  Ahhh, let’s go with Pearl Jam at Bonnaroo ’08.
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  I get the whole catalogue?!!  Dylan!


10)  Bridget Horne / Age 28 / Somerville, Massachusetts...Communications/Non-Profit:

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase?  Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  Streaming through subscription (Spotify).  Computer and mobile.
  2. What are the music apps that you use?  Spotify.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  Both...Favorites include artists like Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Allman Brothers and Stevie Wonder, as well as contemporary, mostly folk and indie artists, such as Arcade Fire, Of Monsters and Men, The National, etc.
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  21.
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  My dad was a huge southern rock fan, so long car rides always included a few rotations of the Allman Brothers, Joe Cocker, Little Feat and the like...My mom was always playing Bruce, Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?  The National.
    2. cooking?  Otis Redding.
    3. exercising?  Jay-Z and Daft Punk.
    4. "setting the mood"?  The xx.
    5. indulging sadness?  Bon Iver, Damien Rice and Iron & Wine.
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening?  Mike Snow and Robyn.
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  Zac Brown Band.
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  Dave Matthews Band.
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  Chromeo.
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  Bruce Springsteen.


11)  Caitlin / Age 27 / Brooklyn, New York / Lawyer:

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase?  Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  Mostly streaming on Spotify, but I also purchase on iTunes.  I listen mostly on my iPhone.
  2. What are the music apps that you use?  Spotify and Playground.  Sometimes Pandora.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  I listen to mostly contemporary artists like Vampire Weekend, Yeasayer, Head and the Heart, Lumineers, Tegan and Sara, Florence and the Machine, The Decemberists, Cut Copy, etc.  But I also listen some older music such as Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Billy Bragg (does that count?), Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson and Jeff Buckley.
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  Probably around 30.
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  Not that I can recall.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?  Lately, it’s been The Head and the Heart, Ben Howard, and other bluegrass kinds of bands.
    2. cooking?  Usually Motown or pop music.
    3. exercising?  Dance beats (Tegan and Sara’s new album lately) or something that is more story-like (Decemberists’ The King is Dead) when it’s a longer run.
    4. "setting the mood"?  (no answer supplied)
    5. indulging sadness?  (no answer supplied)
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening?  (no answer supplied)
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  N/A--people know me too well!
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  Barenaked Ladies.
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  Ryan Adams at Carnegie Hall.
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  Probably Sam Cooke.


12)  Alex Fleche / Age 31 / Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania / Mental Health Therapist  (editor’s note:  Alex snuck in here with the twentysomethings because he thought it would be good for his own mental health, having crossed over and even exceeded...THIRTY):

  1. How do you experience music--streaming or purchase?  Computer, mobile device or stereo system?  When I’m at home I either listen to records (bought second hand) on a stereo, or digital either streamed or downloaded.
  2. What are the music apps that you use?  I use Pandora mostly.
  3. Do you listen to music from earlier decades or do you find yourself listening largely to contemporary artists?  This is really a mix.  Some of my all-time favorites are from the 60s/70s, most notably Bob Dylan.  I find myself listening to other earlier decades’ music like Del Shannon, the Everly Brothers, and Roy Orbison.  Notable contemporary artists I enjoy are Dr. Dog, the Walkmen, and Beach House.  A recent favorite is a Nashville band called Reptar.
  4. How many hours in a given week do you listen to music?  Maybe 7-10.
  5. Did anyone or anything significantly influence you at an early age in terms of sparking a true love and/or appreciation of music?  Yes, as evidenced by a faded photo of me as an infant in a onesy wearing a pair of headphones nearly the size of my body, sitting in front of a stack of albums fronted by The Stray Cats...Watching my mother dance around the house to The Boss or U2 while she cleaned...Listening to a cassette tape of “50s Dance Party” during the entire car ride on a trip to my dad’s childhood friends-turned-professional blues musicians.
  6. What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
    1. relaxing?  Dr. Dog.
    2. cooking?  Usually the girl’s choice.
    3. exercising?  Currently, my Reptar Pandora station.
    4. "setting the mood"?  Barry White?
    5. indulging sadness?  Sigur Ros (melancholy); Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks (sentimentality).
    6. getting ready to go out for the evening?  Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend”.
  7. People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist:  Though they shouldn’t gag, it’s Britney Spears’ “Till The World Ends” (co-written by Ke$ha).
  8. What was the first concert you ever attended?  I think it was a B.B. King concert with my parents.  He didn’t get up from his chair the whole show, but he definitely still had it.
  9. What was your favorite concert of all time?  Clearly I have to exclude some great shows here.  I’ll narrow it down to three--1) Dr. Dog at Mr. Small’s in Pittsburgh; for an encore, they played a mash-up of their entire first album--best encore I’ve seen...2) The first time I saw Bob Dylan; he was electric.  His touring band was an energetic, country-tinged group and Bob was jumping around the stage wailing on his harmonica.  Far exceeded my expectations given his inconsistent track record...3) The first time I saw Metric; I had never heard of them before.  They were opening for a band that (tellingly) I can’t remember.  Emily Haines was sweaty from running around the stage doing high-kicks in her mini-dress.
  10. What one artist's songs would you HAVE to take with you to the proverbial deserted island?  Bob Dylan.  Not a second thought.



Posted 6/3/13.....TIME OF THE SEASON

Summer’s almost here and the time is right for dancin’ in your seat--or on the lawn, or while milling about the plazas in concession or bathroom lines.  It is once again the outdoor summer concert season, and here just outside of Pittsburgh, the season lid-lifter’s already played: Tim McGraw kicked off the big amphitheatre line-up of shows with a sold-out performance on Saturday, May 18th at First Niagara Pavilion (formerly Post-Gazette Pavilion, formerly Star Lake Amphitheatre).

Venue owner/promoter Live Nation says there could be 25 shows this season at the big place, which is a decent number these days after a sensible shift--a retrenchment, really--a few years back when the company made a conscious decision to host only “the surer bets” in the annual summertime rollout of touring attractions.  Booking an amphitheatre remains a risky business nonetheless--how much do you pay the artists?  How do you scale the ticket prices?  And how in the hell do you crystal ball the outcome such that, at the end of the day, the venue is a winner instead of ending up contributing past the point of reason to the touring artists’ retirement villas?

Twenty years ago in 1993 the amphitheatre sported a summer line-up consisting of 38 offerings, and the thought process back then was to book almost any show that came down the proverbial pike.  In the beginning of an amphitheatre’s life that experimental approach is a nice beginning thesis, but those sorts of theses can turn to feces when that throw-it-against-the-wall approach persists as an operating philosophy.

These days, the amphitheatres try to book only what they’re fairly sure will be a bell-ringer.  They’ll let the smaller shows go to a tinier venue in town, or even let the show pass the market entirely rather than run the risk.  They’re a lot more content with fewer shows and the fatter bottom lines that come from prudent booking choices.

Back in that summer season of 1993, it was like the Wild West.  As more and more venue sponsors signed up with the amphitheatre, public & private expectation surged with regard to the quantity of offerings at the amphitheatre.  And the music flowing from the touring end of the business to the large amphitheatres was non-stop:  There was rock of all stripes, country, jam, classic rock, alternative, oldies, jazz, blues, symphonic, soul, rhythm & blues, Broadway and Disney.

I’ve listed below--in date chronological order--the 38 concerts from that summer at Star Lake Amphitheatre.  If you attended one or more of these shows, whether in Pittsburgh or at an amphitheatre elsewhere, you might get a nice little memory jog here...And, I’ve ladled out a few of my own remembrances to provide a bit of behind-the-scenes color to this season’s palette.  The Summer of 1993 was surely rooted in that era when venue bookers threw all caution to the wind and the prevailing attitude was “Bring it ON!”...

1.  Saturday May 22  - Hank Williams Jr. with Aaron Tippin and Lee Roy Parnell.....This began Hank’s four-year run (’93-’96) of season-opening shows at the amphitheatre.  His booking agent loved this opening slot because his artist could directly benefit from “cabin fever”--a collective longing for the outdoor concert experience and an urge to party hearty at the very first show of the season.  (For those readers who hail from parts outside of Pittsburgh:  Our area’s standard weather forecast for the November through April time period is Blah and Blech with a 10% Chance of Reaching for the Razor, but then in May--at some point--the sun successfully ducks the clouds and dents the gloom, and both moods and temperatures begin to lift.)...There are medications for this type of Seasonal Affective Disorder, of course, and I recall the Hank fans downed a ton of these 24-ounce cure-alls.

2.  Saturday May 30 - Dwight Yoakam with Suzy Bogguss, the Gibson-Miller Band and more

3.  Sunday June 6 - Spin Doctors with Screaming Trees.....We determined through some feelers at Radio and Record Retail that this group was buzz worthy and bound for glory, so we appealed to the agent to book his relatively new act at our large venue.  Though conventional wisdom was to book a less-proven band into a small hall, the agent eventually acquiesced and we got the date.  This particular booking was aided by a smaller independent Pittsburgh-area promoter named Jack Tumpson, who ran a concert company called Next Big Thing and who had booked the Spin Doctors into a small venue in Pittsburgh the year before.  Jack helped sell the agent on the concept of that cabin fever fan phenomenon, and we all agreed on a cheap-ass lawn ticket to hedge our bet.  With the help of classic-rock powerhouse 102.5 WDVE and a $10.25 lawn price, the Doctors spun us ticket sales well over 13,000.

4.  Tuesday June 8 - Poison with Damn Yankees and Firehouse

5.  Friday June 11 - Kenny G with Peabo Bryson.....This was the first appearance at the amphitheatre in Pittsburgh for this musical milquetoast, and what I remember most--aside from the coma-inducing performance--was the stipulation from Kenny G’s booking agent that we include the tour’s national sponsor in all of our concert ads.  I was marketing director of the amphitheatre back in ’93 and this was not an unusual request, but I had never heard of this company called “Starbucks”.  As it turns out, the Pittsburgh area was behind the curve of the expansionist plans of this Seattle-based company, and so in ’93 no one around these parts knew who in the hell Starbucks was--but I ended up including their sponsor attribution in our ads nonetheless.  (I’m not sure how Kenny G’s folks landed Starbucks as a tour sponsor, but indeed it seemed simpatico; husbands & boyfriends dragged to the show started their evening with alcohol but ended with caffeine to shrug off the narcolepsy and navigate homeward.)  

6.  Sunday June 13 - Chicago with the Stephen Stills Band

7.  Tuesday June 15 - Sting with dada

8.  Friday June 18 - 10,000 Maniacs with World Party.....From the beginning we felt this particular concert was worth around 5,000-7,000 people, so we decided to declare this a “pavilion-only” show--meaning that the only tickets we’d offer for sale would be pavilion seating and not the lawn.  Part of our plan with this was to prove that this smaller-configuration set-up was viable; if we could establish a pattern of success with “pavilion-only” shows, we’d not only bolster our total show count a bit but make a little money in the process...The opening act for the evening was multi-instrumentalist Karl Wallinger, the one-man band known as World Party, and he was mesmerizing throughout.  This concert ended up being the last Pittsburgh-area play of 10,000 Maniacs with original band member Natalie Merchant as front woman; Merchant split with the group later that year to start focusing on a solo career.

9.  Saturday June 19 - Mellon Jazz Festival with Pat Metheny Group.....1993 was the third year in a row that we went out on a limb to see if Jazz could draw a significant enough number of purists from the Pittsburgh clubs and pubs out to the amphitheatre.  In ’91 we tried a David Sanborn, Michael Franks, Take 6 and Yellowjackets base package, and in ’92 we offered up Grover Washington Jr., Spyro Gyra and Acoustic Alchemy as the “meat” of that particular year’s line-up.  Neither show drew enough fans for the venue to turn a profit, so we licked our wounds and limped into Year Three of our jazz experiment with one more try:  The Pat Metheny Group at the top of the bill.  With other jazz headliners in short supply that summer to help fortify the package, we gulped, braced ourselves, and then put the show on sale.  In the end the stalwarts & cultists showed up as we knew they would, but not in the numbers needed.  Though this gifted musician towers over tons of others in terms of artistic achievement, in that harsh spotlight of ticket sales--simply said--Metheny was weeny.

10.  Sunday June 20 - Steve Miller Band with Paul Rodgers.....This was the fourth year in a row for Miller at Star Lake.  There was certainly a buzz building around this 1970s rocker, and it seemed to correlate to the degree of buzz in the brains of the youthful tailgaters.  By 1993, Miller was selling out the venue at 20,000+ tickets and there was a staggering number of individuals in the parking lots (yup, mean that last one both ways).  Though our security guards, ID checkers and local police did their very best out in the lots to control the situation, we might have been better off just buying barf bags in bulk (maybe at a discount from some Big Ol’ Jet Airliner?!!)  

11.  Friday July 2 - Aerosmith with Jackyl

12.  Thursday July 8 - Tina Turner with Lindsey Buckingham

13.  Saturday July 10 - Moody Blues in concert with the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra

14.  Wednesday July 14 - Barry Manilow

15.  Friday July 16 - Van Halen.....That’s Van Hagar, for those of you who religiously follow the arc of this band’s lead singer displacements and replacements.

16.  Wednesday July 21 - Lollapalooza featuring Alice In Chains, Arrested Development, Dinosaur Jr., Tool, Primus, Rage Against The Machine, Fishbone and more.....This was the third summer tour for Lollapalooza, the alternative music festival originated by Jane’s Addiction lead singer Perry Farrell in 1991.  In its first year the festival organizers whisked right by Pittsburgh, unsure of the sales potential for their cutting-edge event in a market where there was no commercial (i.e., big league) alternative station.  Through our follow-up lobbying of the booking agent responsible for routing the festival around the country, we were able to land it that next year in 1992 for a run that lasted through 1997...The most memorable part of the very early Lollapaloozas was the Jim Rose Circus, a side show of attractions travelling with the tour that performed on each venue’s second stage.  Even more than the bands on the bill, this freakishly fascinating ensemble wowed the crowd--leader Rose would, among other feats, hammer a nail up his nose, staple dollar bills to his forehead, and ask audience members to put a boot on his head after he had nestled it on top of broken glass.  And then there was The Amazing Mr. Lifto who did strongman stunts utilizing his body piercings...(Check out The Jim Rose Circus Wikipedia entry via the following link, and be assured that there’s no need to fact-check this puppy--I’m not sure anyone could have made this up:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Rose_Circus)

17.  Thursday July 22 - Yanni (pavilion-only)

18.  Thursday July 29 - The Temptations and The Four Tops

19.  Friday July 30 - Bon Jovi with Extreme

20.  Sunday August 1 - Al Jarreau and David Sanborn with opener Ellen Cleghorne.....Neither Jarreau nor Sanborn were available to squeeze into our June 19th Mellon Jazz Festival show with Pat Metheny, because their co-headlining tour had already been routed through our Northeast area for the month of August.  As a standalone jazz show with two notable (in their spheres, of course) headliners, it fared a bit better than our Metheny date.

21.  Monday August 2 - Blues Music Festival ’93.....This was the second year in a row that we had tried the blues and then cried the blues.  The year before, the package was B.B. King, Buddy Guy, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Dr. John, and our philosophy emerged as “Let’s make the ticket prices a bit on the high side, because this four-act package is expensive and we need to make sure we cover our costs.”  Result:  About 3,000 paying customers.  Granted, we had a wildly appreciative crowd; still, it was a genuinely painful night in terms of our pocketbook...Come 1993, B.B. and Buddy were joined instead by Koko Taylor and Eric Johnson, and we rolled the dice again, saying to ourselves “This time let’s make the tickets a lot cheaper so that more people come to the show, and we’ll make our money on the parking, the popcorn, the pop and the pilsners.”  Result:  About 3,000 paying customers.  And who the hell knows, 2,994 of ‘em could have been the exact same people from the year before...Pittsburgh’s blues fans, we found, were fiercely devoted--but we also learned their loyalties lagged when confronted with the half-hour drive out to our amphitheatre, away from their comfortable city-scene haunts. 

22.  Saturday August 14 - Steely Dan.....The reemergence of this group after almost a two-decade layoff from touring was welcomed by a rapturous sell-out crowd of 20,000 fans, all joyously singing along to the musical question-and-answer of the evening: “Is there gas in the car? / Yes, there’s gas in the car”...The razor-sharp and deeply satisfying performance of that song “Kid Charlemagne” and others from the Dan canon made it an unbelievable evening for the patient throng who had waited nineteen years to see them again--or certainly in a lot of instances, for the very first time.  The latter folks were particularly well served that night, as they were finally liberated from having to genuflect solely in front of their CD players.

23.  Sunday August 15 - Lynyrd Skynyrd with Bad Company and Brother Kane

24.  Wednesday August 18 - Disney Symphonic Fantasy.....Our parent company Pace Music Group had worked with the newly-formed Disney Theatrical Group to mount an evening of musical theatre highlighting various Disney characters in song-and-dance selections from the company’s many film successes, including Beauty and The Beast, Little Mermaid and many more.  The tour was designed to play the amphitheatres versus the arenas, as another “special event offering” that Pace could crow about--nationally and locally--to its outdoor-venue sponsors and season ticket holders.  Though the paid attendance was only 6,000 at Star Lake, it was deemed a decent success for a first-time foray.  Most of the other amphitheatres in the Pace system across the U.S. didn’t do quite as well as we had, however, and so the Disney Symphonique Fantasy never took root as an annual amphitheatre event.

25.  Friday August 20 - Jimmy Buffett

26.  Saturday August 21 - Clint Black with Wynonna Judd

27.  Monday August 23 - Bette Midler.....Bette played Star Lake Amphitheatre for the first time this year, and then trotted back for an encore in 1994...From the moment she appeared on stage The Divine Miss M (better yet, how about...Lawdy Miss Bawdy?) was phenomenally entertaining in her singing, skits and audience asides.  As is standard, she was briefed in advance by her writers about the Pittsburgh area so that she could throw out localized bons mots to completely dishevel and level the crowd.

28.  Tuesday August 24 - Midnight Oil with Ziggy Marley and Hothouse Flowers

29.  Thursday August 26 - Neil Young and Booker T & The M.G.s

30.  Saturday August 28 - Summer Oldies Party: Grass Roots, Mark Lindsey, Tommy James, Rascals, Turtles, and Pure Gold.....Pittsburgh Oldies station WWSW (3WS) had for quite a few years run a cheap-ticket, fan appreciation Oldies concert at Three Rivers Stadium, and then in 1992 downsized to play Star Lake Amphitheatre.  The show did very well at our amphitheatre, and we were both mystified and perturbed that the station suddenly opted not to continue the annual tradition as our 1993 outdoor season began to beckon...We had a bit of a spat with them over this discontinuance (perpetually hungry, as we were, for more and more events), so we did the shun thing and told them we were going to book our own Oldies Fest and align with a different radio station to help promote it.  Boy, did we show them--uh, that we were spiteful and clueless.  The show we had cobbled together ourselves was a complete failure without the galvanizing power of 3WS.  Our venue-station good relations resumed, but there was never again a full-scale, jam-packed and successful Oldies concert in the Great Outdoors...

31.  Wednesday September 1 - Kenny Loggins with Michael McDonald and Brian McKnight

32.  Saturday September 4 - Def Leppard with Ugly Kid Joe

33.  Sunday September 5 - Jethro Tull with Procol Harum

34.  Wednesday September 8 - The WOMAD (World of Music, Arts & Dance) Festival: Peter Gabriel, Crowded House, PM Dawn, Stereo MCs, Inner Circle, James and more.....Our parent company Pace, ever watchful in those days for new event opportunities, brought this festival to our attention and offered us a chance to host one of the first few American dates of this esteemed U.K.-originated event.  WOMAD was collaboratively conceived  by Peter Gabriel and some close arts-minded associates in 1982, and he had his paws all over this amazing assemblage of Third World musicians.  The show--a combination of performances and music, arts & dance workshops--was truly ahead of its time in 1993, for the artist line-up itself amounts to a perfectly assembled internet-age playlist.  Without the web to successfully weave our news into the Greater Mind’s Eye, however, we of course went the accepted routes of radio, print, television and street flyers.  It was not enough to prevail--the bottom-line loss was of historical proportions, the largest amphitheatre loss in the company’s history to date.  It was a very nice scarlet letter to have on our foreheads as we departed for the annual Pace amphitheatre summit meetings later that Fall, but no unfair blame was accorded.  It had been one of those roll-the-dice risks that just didn’t pan out, in a time when our business really called for testing limits.  

35.  Sunday September 12 - Rod Stewart with Patty Smyth

36.  Thursday September 16 - Alabama

37.  Friday September 24 - The Beach Boys.....Twenty years ago in 1993, the Beach Boys were already in essence tired old guys.  They were all entering their fifties, and had been peddling that surf-sand-and-sun for seemingly centuries.  Friday, September 24th turned out to be a very chilly Fall evening at Star Lake Amphitheatre, certainly not ideal for another warmed-over unspooling of this band’s summer sentiments.  The reason I remember the cold that night was because of my wife, who had found herself backstage with a friend in a Beach Boys meet-and-greet/photo-opportunity prior to their performance.  She was told to huddle close with the other few folks in attendance, so that everyone could squeeze into the shot.  She related to me later that evening that she’d been positioned right next to lead singer Mike Love, and had muttered something almost under her breath as to how cold it was.  Love immediately wrapped his arms all around her and pulled her in tight, smirking “Oh honey, I’ll keep you warm!”  My wife kept her revulsion largely at bay, and semi-smiled for the camera.  Somewhere, maybe lost for eternity, there’s a photo of the lecherous Love in a near-grope of my wife, with her priceless, restrained look of bemusement.  (My temperature always rises slightly when I think about this incident, but on that cold evening in September ‘93, I very much appreciated that she’d been frigid in the face of Love!)

38.  Thursday October 7 - Travis Tritt with Trisha Yearwood and Little Texas



Posted 5/20/13.....MAMA

The Sunday before last was Mother’s Day and as I’ve done forever on this day of devotion, I drove an hour north of Pittsburgh to the town of Butler, PA to visit with my mom Alison.  We had a late lunch/early dinner out at an Italian restaurant, and then retired to her sunny dining room table which sits in front of a sliding glass door affording a beautiful view of her tiny patio that sports two deck chairs, a stocked bird feeder and a hanging basket--the latter a crimson-colored begonia courtesy of a son who loves her.

Alison is a Butler girl, born & raised.  She’s alternately warm, feisty, quick to laugh, at the core very gentle, and now and again a bit impatient with her foibles and forgetfulness.  Alison turned 82 this past November, and I figured I was long overdue in getting this woman on record via an interview in musicasaurus.com.

With a tiny handheld recorder, I sat down at the dining room table and essentially surprised her with the request to get some of her thoughts on the subject of music.

I want to ask you some questions; it’s very informal, just pickin’ your brain...

Go ahead. Oh, there’s a blue jay....oh, it flew away.  Go ahead, honey.

Obviously I’ve been into music most of my life, starting at a pretty early age.  But what about you?  Do you remember, as a young person, listening to much music?  Did your parents have a record player?  Did they buy records? 

Oh, yes...We had records by Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman...

And that’s the stuff your parents were listening to?

Well, yes.  What happened was, whenever more and more of these records started coming out my dad bought a radio that a drawer slid out, and we could play our 78s on there.  So they liked the music, yes.  But I guess I played it too loud.  Or at least that’s what my father said...Your Uncle Inky had a barbershop here in Butler, actually in Lyndora, and Markew’s was right beside it.  It was a bar with a jukebox.  Well, sometimes the records were getting old in there and they were putting new ones in, so they gave some of the old ones to Ink, and Ink would give them to me. So I had a lot of records before I even liked much music.

So this was the late 1930s and through the 1940s, and the records were Tommy Dorsey, and things like that?

Yes, and Harry James.  I loved Harry James.

You got married at the age of twenty, in 1950.  Before that, when you were a teenager in high school, what was your social life like?  Did you and your girlfriends drive around, go to dances, drink beer, what?

My girlfriends and I didn’t have beer, but if we were out with our boyfriends, THEY had some...Yes, we did go to dances.  High school dances, one in Lyndora and one down Route 8 towards Pittsburgh, which young people used to go to.

Was there a deejay?

No deejays.  Just a jukebox.

You went to these places, and there were just jukeboxes?

Yes, but then we also went to dances where some of the boys we knew played in a band, and they were really good.  Dances were fun.  I remember after we were married, your father and I were in Erie with Dee Dee and Nick, and we jitterbugged to the music of Bill Haley & The Comets...

You could jitterbug to Bill Haley?

Oh, yes.  Also we went to see some live music--Tommy Dorsey and Stan Kenton in New Castle.  I always wanted to see Sammy Kaye---sing and sway with Sammy Kaye--but I never did.  We loved to dance, but not that stuff like “The Fish”--

You mean “The Swim”?

Yes, The Swim, those later-on dances...We were either slow dancing or jitterbugging back then.  I did go to a square dance once while still in high school, and I almost wet my pants.


My girlfriend Helen had invited me....Some older guy grabbed Helen and took her out on the floor, and then some guy grabbed me, but I was laughing so hard that I almost wet myself.  All that spinning and changing partners, and goin’ so fast--it was a riot.

How did you find out about new groups or new releases from singers and musicians that you liked?

We used to go to Trader’s in Butler, and they had booths.  They were a music store down there on Main Street across from the gas company; they had little booths where you could listen to records...I can’t remember when the little records (45s) came out, but that’s where I bought my records.

What kind of music did Dad like?

Blues and jazz...He loved Stan Getz, and especially Ella Fitzgerald.  He had loads of records by her.  I never particularly liked her that well.  He liked her voice; I didn’t...Dad and I liked pretty much liked the same music, though.  In the 80s we started listening to WISH-FM, the Pittsburgh station that played soft rock.  We both liked that, when he retired.

I remember your 45s when I was very young---That song “Party Doll” by Buddy Knox, “Kansas City” by Wilbert Harrison, and the Elvis Presley ones you had...

Oh, you imitated Elvis all of the time.  You pretended you had a guitar.

Was I holding a broom or something?

No, just pretending to have a guitar; you didn’t hold anything.  And you made gyrations, but not the bad ones that Elvis did.  You and your brother used to entertain Aunt Betty and her boyfriend in the living room at our house.  His name was Joe, I think.  You and your brother also used to do comedy routines for all of us.

In the early ‘60s, the Beatles came over to America for the first time and appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.  It might have been those camera shots of female hysteria in the audience, but I remember Dad saying “They’ll never last”.

Well, I’d say they lasted pretty long...You had your haircut in bangs and cut short, you know; like Paul McCartney.

So you liked the Beatles, and other groups that came out in the ‘60s?

I liked The Monkees, too.  I loved the TV show.

The ‘60s unleashed a lot of different artists & styles in music; did you ever get concerned with what I was listening to?

I just didn’t like some of that hard rock stuff you were listening to...I remember I liked Carly Simon when I first heard her, but not James Taylor until much later on...And I started liking Rod Stewart when you gave me a CD of his, and I thought to myself “I’m not going to like this”--but I DID!  I remember you got me backstage to meet Rod Stewart when you worked at the amphitheatre. 

That’s right.  How did that go?

Good.  He said “Hello there.”  And I said, “You know, I am probably the same age as your mother but I still enjoy you.”  Then he left.

He left?

Well, he went to talk to the guy behind me.  I’m sure after their shows these performers are all hyped up and they just want to relax...Somebody did take a picture of Rod and me, but you never got me the picture.

I didn’t?  I don’t remember anyone taking your picture.

Some friend of yours did, and he was supposed to mail it to you--but you never got me the picture.

Sorry, Mom.

It would have been nice to look at it now.

Hmmm...Your one opportunity to have a photo with a big rock star, and I failed you.

It was tragic! (laughs)

Did you ever meet anybody else out there at the amphitheatre?

Well, you got me backstage to meet Judy Garland but she didn’t come out after the show to meet anybody, but she did put on a wonderful show--wait, it wasn’t Judy Garland, it was her daughter.

Liza Minnelli?

Yes, Liza Minnelli.  But what a terrific show she put on....and her dancers and singers, I remember well.  They weren’t all skinny and pretty; they were all sizes, and I thought that was wonderful.  She didn’t just have beautiful girls up there...I saw Cher out there, too.  And she was fantastic.

You probably had great seats, too.  Because you had a son that truly loved you.

That’s right...I didn’t like Barry Manilow, though, when I saw him.  He didn’t have any back-ups; it made it boring. 

I’ve heard that he talks to the audience a lot between songs; true?

He said to the crowd “To all you guys who hated to come here tonight, I know how you feel”...Oh, and I saw Bette Midler.  She was GOOD...Who else did I see?  Let me tell you about one I really loved.

Who was that?

The singer in that Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber show.

Michael Crawford.

Yes...I couldn’t go to that amphitheatre concert, but you got us tickets for him at the Benedum Theatre later on, in...the late ‘90s?

You saw Sinatra too, right?

Yes, at the arena.  I think with Sammy Davis Jr.

That’s right...and that was the concert where Dean Martin was supposed to play as well, but he didn’t make it to the Pittsburgh show because of an illness.  That tour with the three of them was called “Ol’ Blue Eyes, Red Eyes and One Eye”.  That wasn’t the official name of the tour, but that’s what we industry insiders called it.

He was probably plastered...Did you ever know if some of these groups were drunk or anything?

No, I never ran into any artists who looked in really bad shape...I do remember Ozzy Osbourne had some struggles before he took the stage at the amphitheatre a few times, and there was a doctor backstage who gave him B Vitamin shots just to get him focused enough to go on.

What did she ever see in him?  His wife is pretty, and his daughter is pretty.  I can’t stand him.

I remember in the late ‘60s bringing home a couple of new albums by Cream and Buffalo Springfield...and you overhearing the Buffalo Springfield record and saying “That’s too twangy country.”

I said that?  I really like some of the country music now (looks out the dining room glass door) There’s that bluejay again.  And the cardinals.  I wonder what’s in that feed I give them...Your Dad and I really liked that one program, “For the World”?  Is that it? “For the World”?  Whatever it was, we tuned into that...

We Are The World?

Maybe.  I know it was around the same time your dad finished the deck out back.  You called and asked what we were doing, and I told you we were watching the program, and you said that you were pretty sure you wouldn’t find many other parents who were doing the same thing.

Oh, that was the Live Aid concert.  In 1985.

That’s it.

I remember you liked Neil Young and Leon Russell, but when you first asked me about them, you said “Please play me some of that Neil Simon”...and...“Do you have anything by that Leon Uris?” 

(Mom giggles)

Didn’t you also like the band Chicago?

YES!  They were terrific; you’ve put them on some of your mixes for me...They were good in concert.  Who comes and plays Star Lake Amphitheatre these days?

Well, there are more country artists than there used to be, starting around the early 2000s.

One time I went there with Joelle (niece) to see the guy who has the blonde hair and the hat.

Mom, that could be one of a few country stars...

He had a mustache and blonde hair.  And he just stood there.  I was so bored that I thought I’d scream.  He had people playing with him, but he just stood there.

Alan Jackson?

Yes, that was him.  I wanted to see Alabama but never made it out there.

Did you see Tim McGraw?

No, but I like that song he does about his dad.  And I know his wife is absolutely gorgeous, and they have three girls.  But she screams when she sings.  My friends think that, too. 

What was the trip to Star Lake Amphitheatre that you remember the most?

Well, who was the guy from Florida?

Uh...Are you thinking of Jimmy Buffett?

Yes, I went to see him twice when you got me tickets.  Anyhow, we were drinking beer so I didn’t care about the music that much.

You might have just summed up the whole Buffett concert experience.

The last time I went I was in my early ‘70s, I think.  Bob and I and another couple went to the concert, and Bob’s friend had a thing for big boobs.  So when we were out in the parking lots walkin’ along, walkin’ along, he was hoping to see some girls pull up their T-shirts.  And finally one girl did.  And he thought that was just wonderful.

One more question, Mom.  Say you had to go to a deserted island to live the rest of your days--what ONE album or CD would you take with you?

Can it be a CD that somebody made?  Like one of your mixes?

Technically, no.  But it IS Mother’s Day today.  If you want to, go ahead.

No, that’s okay...Hmmm...Probably that Michael Crawford album with the girl who sang with him...

Sarah Brightman?  Wasn’t that the “Music of Andrew Lloyd Weber” compilation?

I think so...I think it had a bunch of different songs on it.  But it was just beautiful, and that’s the one I’d take along with me.

I think we’re done, Mom.  Thanks so much for doing this!

Alright, my son.  Thank you.




Musicasaurus.com recently polled a number of music folks--writers, promoters, radio on-air talents, musicians, etc.--all in the quest to bring you their most vivid memories of a live concert experience.  This double-edged question was put forth:  “What was your most harrowing concert experience, OR what was your most enchanting and/or most enlightening concert experience?”


Joe Negri (Pittsburgh) / Jazz guitarist, composer and educator (also, for all time, “Handyman Negri” on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood).....About three years ago I recorded an album with Michael Feinstein called " Fly me to the Moon".  The CD release performance of that recording was scheduled to take place in NYC at approximately 5:30 or 6:00 in the evening at a book store on Broadway.  The date involved just Michael and myself on guitar. 

My wife Joni and I were to leave Pittsburgh quite early for New York.  I think we had a 10 a.m. flight.  Well, the delays started appearing: The flight was delayed for an hour...then another hour...I started trying to get us on another flight but to no avail.  The hours passed and before you know it was afternoon and we're still walking the halls of Greater Pittsburgh Airport. 

Finally at about 3:00 or thereabouts we departed for La Guardia Airport.  I think we landed sometime after 4:00, found our limo driver (thank goodness) and began our trek into Manhattan.  It was a harrowing, and hectic journey--I remember at one point closing my eyes because I just couldn't stand to look at the traffic and the way the limo driver was weaving in and out of it.  Long story short: At about 5:15 we pull up to the bookstore on Broadway...make a mad dash in…upstairs to the auditorium...a large crowd was already in their seat…and it was show time.  

We were still in our traveling clothes.  I was able to dash to the bathroom and splash some water on my face.  A good friend Howard Alden had brought me a guitar, one that I had never seen let alone played.  I didn't even have time to tune it, let alone play it a bit, and I didn't have a clue as to what Michael had planned for the program.  The next thing you know we're on stage and it's show time it went beautifully and the audience was very pleased.  I had a few anxious moments trying to adjust to the strange guitar, but eventually got with it and found my groove...It was quite a day and quite an experience, one my wife and I and Michael will never forget.


Wilson Rogers (Los Angeles) / Former general manager of Star Lake Amphitheatre during the 1990 inaugural season; currently an L.A.-based executive vice president with Live Nation.....First year at Star Lake Amphitheatre, in Burgettstown, PA (near Pittsburgh)...first major show, Billy Joel for 2 nights.  There may be some Joel fans still lost out in Burgettstown.  In 24 hours we went from house lights and headlights at the end of that first night, to everybody in by 7:50 pm for the 2nd night.  The only person happier than me was the boss, Rodney Eckerman.  We solved the problem by working all night, adding the “4 in a car free” plan, changing the queue for the ingress and egress, splitting traffic and making sure patrons used both lanes on the exit at Route 22.  Oh by the way, the traffic got us more publicity, people left earlier for their next fun trip out Route 22 west, so all’s well than ends well.


Paul Carosi (Pittsburgh) / Designer/developer of the website Pittsburgh Music History (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/).....My most rewarding experience in concert promotion came when I did publicity for “The WDVE Steel Workers Benefit Concert” held at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theater on April 15, 1982.  In the early 1980s the great steel mills of Western Pennsylvania closed their doors, and in the four county areas surrounding Pittsburgh, 22,000 steel workers had lost their jobs.  The unemployment benefits of the steelworkers were running out and thousands of homes were being confiscated in foreclosures. 

Members of Homestead Steelworkers Union Local 1397 asked Rick Granati of the Granati Brothers to organize a benefit concert.  They wanted to raise funds to help the unemployed and raise awareness about their plight.  DiCesare Engler Productions then graciously agreed to donate the Stanley Theater for the concert, and Rick Granati convinced WDVE to sponsor and promote the show.   The concert featured the Granati Brothers, the Iron City House Rockers, Billy Price, and Rare Experience, and Jimmy & Steve of WDVE were the emcees. 

Using my contacts I was able to convince Jerry Vondas to write a full-page story in the Pittsburgh Press that captured the attention of Bob Dvorchak of the AP and led to national coverage by the CBS Evening News, the Today Show, the New York Times, the L.A. Times and the UPI.  Rick Granati and local steel workers were interviewed on the Today Show.  A story about the unemployed in Pittsburgh that included a clip of the Iron City Houserockers concert performance and an interview was shown on the CBS Evening News.   As a result of the concert and attendant publicity, the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department put a moratorium on home foreclosures.  The proceeds from the concert were used to found a food bank that provided unemployed steelworkers with $60 in groceries every two weeks.  The local 1397 food bank paved the way for the creation of the Great Pittsburgh Community Food bank that is still serving Allegheny County families today. 


Scott Tady (Beaver, PA) / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times.....The basement of the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh around 1986.  Steppenwolf, Alvin Lee and Roger McGuinn.  For some reason it was BYOB, and so you had all these biker dudes swigging from MD 20/20 and bottom shelf liquor.  Tables were covered in bottles.  The show started late, and the crowd was restless.  They respected McGuinn, but hearing him croon "Chestnut Mare" wasn't what the "Born to Be Wild" crowd was craving.  A Yuppie tried dancing to "Magic Carpet Ride" until he felt a meaty hand on his shoulder and heard, "Sit down, son."  Can't say I was physically threatened at any point, but that was one of my first shows, and I remember being rather nervous.  I learned not to make eye contact.  Have a good time, but get out alive!


Russ Rose (Pittsburgh) / WXDX on-air talent and Creative Director, and Production Director at KISS FM.....Back when I was on-air at 102.5 WDVE, part of my job was going to every show in town and setting up the van and its promo set up before and after the event, handing out stickers and having people hassle me for T-Shirts.  So I went to a lot of shows that I enjoyed, but also a few that weren't my style.

Emerson Lake & Palmer was at the AJ Palumbo Center in 1993, and I had to go do my 'DVE thing at the show.  Since I was also doing overnight shifts at the time, I walked around in a perpetual state of exhaustion.  As "luck" would have it, I wound up with front row center tickets for the show, which I have to admit, was not my style.  I had a hard time keeping my eyes open at this show, and about 15 unbearable minutes into Emerson's droning Moog solo on "Lucky Man", I fell asleep in my seat, all of 5 feet from Greg Lake staring down at me in my 'DVE T Shirt.  My date nudged me and said that falling asleep from boredom right in front of the band was a bad idea.  I had to agree and we left to sit in the van. 

As the fans left the show I took an ear beating from one of them that 'DVE should play more ELP as they are more important to music than Beethoven.  HEY- I might have been tired, but I wasn't stoned!  (By the way, Ryan Adams is a close second in my book for most boring live show.)


Pat Lucas (Pittsburgh) / Longtime music fan; formerly of Live Nation then TicketMaster (Star Lake’s ticketing system); currently with ShowClix.....I've probably seen in the neighborhood of 2,000 live shows in my 30 years attending concerts, from 12 people in a club on a Tuesday night, to the biggest stadium and shed tours of the last 30 years.  This is the first thing that came to mind:  The Dead at Three Rivers, 1995.  An awesome experience...They started the second set with 4 rain-themed songs, just as the sky opened up and poured on 50,000 Deadheads.  The timing was eerily perfect.  Of course, Jerry died a little over a month later, making that last Dead show at Three River's more special.

When I was working at the Mud Island Amphitheatre in Memphis in the 1990s, we had an Al Jarreau date.  Al's tour was sponsored by Martel (the cognac) and the stage was bedecked in several Martel banners.  I introduced Al, and of course mentioned Martel was the tour and show sponsor.  Al came out, in a Martel hat and t-shirt, and promptly thanked Hennessy (a competing cognac brand).  Not so much harrowing, but certainly hilarious.


Tracy Tucker (Columbus, Ohio) / Former general manager of that city’s large amphitheatre first called Polaris, then Germain Amphitheatre).....I am going with my one of most harrowing experiences as an amphitheatre general manager in Columbus, Ohio...We had Phish at Germain.  Prior to the opening of the gates, in the parking lots there was a large confrontation between fans and the police patrolling the lots.  Fans had started taunting the police which caused a strong reaction.  There was literally a standoff with a line of officers and a large group of fans by the time I got to the parking lots.  The lieutenant on duty had issued an "all-call" over the radio which brought every single patrolman in the area to the amphitheater.  

It was a very tense situation with the police wanting to release tear gas on the crowd.  I finally convinced the lieutenant to let our staff try to disperse the crowd before they took further action.  I asked him to have his officers stand down, and to back-up every cruiser in the lot (they had parked in a line as a barricade).  Needless to say, I was not very popular with the officers at that point.  However, it was the right thing to do as our staff was able to calmly and quickly disperse the crowd once the officers backed down.  It was a good end to what could have been a disastrous situation.


Josh Verbanets (Pittsburgh) / Musician, Meeting of Important People; co-creator, The Josh and Gab Show kids anti-bullying programming.....I was 16 and at a great Pittsburgh venue on Route 22 called American Music Cafe (remember this place?) when I first saw a performer, in the flesh, that made me realize how fun and unpredictable rock n' roll could be.  Until this point, I liked "funny music"--Weird Al, Adam Sandler...and "serious music"--Pink Floyd and Radiohead.  But the two never mixed.  David Gilmour was serious and played guitar and sang seriously, and was to be respected.  Adam Sandler mugged to the audience and got big laughs.  But this was the first that I realized both could blend together, and it changed my life forever.  There was a local band playing a dingy little show...I think they were called I Need This, and the band's lead singer would mess up songs, scream unintelligible words on purpose, fall into his amp, knock his microphone out of the mic stand, and slap his guitar until he bled.  I had never seen David Gilmour scream obscenely into the mic and fall on his face.  This band could get away with it because their songs were incredible, and the strange mix of unpredictability and humor was the extra reward.  It all clicked for me, and I spent the decade falling into my amp and screaming into a mic.  But I'm a serious musician now.*



Jeff Sewald (Pittsburgh) / Former music journalist and lifelong rock fan.....My most harrowing experience at a concert happened while I was still in high school in the summer of 1978.  As a friend and I waited amid the throng that had amassed outside Pittsburgh's Civic Arena for an appearance by the "Motor City Madman" himself, Ted Nugent, all hell broke loose.  It was a "festival seating" event, which meant that, if you were quick and agile (and didn't get trampled to death beforehand), you might just get to see your favorite artist from the best seats in the house at cheap-seat prices, which was only $8.00 at the time.  

When the time came, for some reason, the arena management elected to open only some of the doors and, when they did, the humanity assembled outside the hall pushed forward en masse trying to squeeze through only a handful of entryways.  People were knocked to the ground and many were screaming, while others--including one immensely fat, pimpled-faced guy--simply lowered their shoulders and shoved.  I managed to keep my balance and maneuver my way through one opened door, but my friend wasn't so lucky.  He got pinned up against the outside edge of a door that was only partially opened and, as the mass of bodies pressed toward the hall, was in danger of being cleaved in two by that very door.  With no way to fight the tide of sweaty flesh and get back to him, I was helpless.  Finally, a security guard grabbed my friend by the shirt and yanked him free of the door's edge--saving if not his life, then at least his sternum and "family jewels." 

As if the experience of getting into the arena wasn't bad enough, during the show, some fans in the sections nearest the top of the dome began tossing M-80s into the crowd on the floor.  The house lights went on and a warning was issued--to no avail.  "The Nuge," in typical Nuge fashion, refused to stop playing, even for a moment.  Years later, Ted would tell me in an interview that pushing a crowd to the very edge of disaster was "the ultimate" for a rock performer.  Even then, only in my early 20s, I thought, "I'm getting too old for this.”


Mike Sanders (Pittsburgh) / Concert promoter, Opus One Productions.....PINK FLOYD - OCTOBER 1994:  Yep, I was at the last 2 concerts the band ever played (not including the 3 song reunion at Live8).  Hosted at the Earl's Court in London, these shows capped out the worldwide 'Division Bell' tour.  Took a train from Salzburg Austria, crossed the English Channel in a Ferry, showed up without tickets and purchased scalped tickets on the street for at the time an absurd amount of money, $125.00 each.  It was the perfect setting, a small arena about the size of Pittsburgh's old Civic Arena and there I was at those legendary shows.  Second set each night Floyd played Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety which was a rarely on that tour.  For those diehard Floyd fans I also witnessed a proper hometown crowd.  No standing, no dancing, no typical stadium American debauchery by the fans.  Everyone just sat there and watched the concert.  The importance of those shows speaks for itself.  Those same shows were captured on the brilliant Pulse Live Album and Concert Video.


Steve Acri (Pittsburgh) / Longtime music fan; former record store manager; currently in the audio-video business.....Harrowing experience at a concert?  That’s an easy one.  Ozzfest at Star Lake, 1997.  I took my son who was 11.  Fortunately we were seated well within the covered pavilion so as to not be so directly affected, but experiencing the hail of partially filled cups and bottles, chunks of the lawn turf, and anything else that might be launch-able was very harrowing.  It was especially bad in between sets.  Trying to get from the pavilion to the concourse made you a target.  You literally ran the gauntlet. I truly was concerned for our safety.

In addition (or perhaps because of), there was an almost palpable sense of evil in the air.  A lot of not-nice people around.  Headliners were Black Sabbath and Marilyn Manson.  I’m not the kind to stereotype, but if ever there was justification in doing so, this was it.  Probably needless to say, we were like hockey players and got the puck outta there before the gates of hell opened.


Joe Grushecky (Pittsburgh) / Musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader (Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers).....I have been going to concerts and shows for so long it is impossible to pick the best, but there is a show that I always think of as being the first really balls to the wall rock AND roll show I ever saw.  It was waaay back when in the last century.  There was a teen nite club in Greensburg, PA called the Red Rooster.  In those days there were clubs like that all over the greater Pittsburgh area, The White Elephant, the Varsity House, and the Grove to name the most well known ones.  The concept was the clubs would play the most obscure rock and roll rhythm & blues records they could find (the Pittsburgh sound), kids would dance,  and at some point of the night a recording artist would play.  I got to see Junior Walker, Sam the Sham, Wilson Pickett...the list goes on.  I would get close to the stage and watch intently trying to pick up the tricks of the trade.  This particular night Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels were the headliners.  “Jenny Take a f**kin’ Ride”.  Jimmy McCarty was the first really badass guitar player I had ever seen and Johnny B was a monster on drums, laying down a groove that shook me to my very soul.  Mitch sang his ass off and the band still to this day is one of the best I ever saw.  I walked away a changed boy.


Trevor Ralph (Atlanta, Georgia) / formerly of Live Nation; currently Vice President, Chief Operating Officer at ASO Presents.....My most exciting and harrowing experience was New Year’s Eve 1999 (Y2K- remember that?), Pontiac Silverdome, Michigan for Metallica, Ted Nugent and Kid Rock.  We were in the pressbox overlooking the floor of the Silverdome watching 50,000 people going wild as Metallica counted down to midnight.  We didn’t know if the lights were going to fail, if computers were going to fail around the world sending us into anarchy, or if everything would be fine.  As we now know, nothing crazy happened except a balloon drop and the next song, but at the time we had no idea what would happen.  That was harrowing!


Susan Drapkin (Pittsburgh) / Director of Sponsorship of Live Nation, Greater Pittsburgh Area.....The one that comes to mind might just be both harrowing and enchanting.  I was working at First Niagara Pavilion, then called Post-Gazette Pavilion, and KISS was performing.  I had never seen them before and I wasn’t exactly a fan.  But I was looking forward to experiencing a full-on KISS show and everything that meant--pyro, fake blood and Gene Simmons flying through the air.  After the show, I was in the catering area and learned that the band was doing a meet & greet there.  I don’t know why, but I expected them to come to the meet & greet in street clothes and without makeup.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when they walked in…all that make-up, the costumes, the dragon platform shoes, and a 7ft tall Gene Simmons.  At one point, I was behind Gene Simmons as he was backing up toward the door and he didn’t realize that he was backing me into a tiny corner space.  As we kept inching backwards, I had nowhere to go and wondered if I might get crushed.  He suddenly turned around and there we were, Gene looking down at me, me looking up at Gene, right into each other’s eyes.  He didn’t say a word and neither did I.  He just reached down, pinched my nose, smiled, and then walked away.  Super cool.


Scott Blasey (Pittsburgh) / Musician and lead singer for The Clarks.....I had my most harrowing and most enlightening concert experiences within sixty seconds of each other.  September 11, 1980--me and a buddy went to the Civic Arena to see Ted Nugent on the Intensities In 10 Cities Tour.  It was festival seating and Humble Pie opened the show.  We were about twenty feet away from the stage inside a mass of freakiness that I'd never encountered before.  Everything was cool until the lights went down for Ted.  People started pushing to get up front and it got really crowded.  The audience began to sway and we had no choice but to sway with them because everybody was packed so tightly together.  I was just a young, skinny teenager and I thought for sure I was going to be trampled underfoot like those kids at the Who concert the year before.  It seriously scared the shit out of me.  

Just then the lights came up and Sweaty Teddy swung across the stage from a vine dressed in a loincloth.  Let me repeat that, he swung across the stage, on a vine, in a loincloth.  It was the most rock-n-roll thing I've ever seen.  He tore into “Stranglehold” like a man possessed.  I was transfixed.  I was still scared, but I was completely in awe.  We watched the first two songs from there and then moved back and found some seats, where the sweet smell of...y'know, popcorn, filled the air.


Tom Rooney (Pittsburgh) / Former executive director of Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group.....Harrowing:  The Jimmy Buffett show at the then Coca Cola Star Lake near Pittsburgh in the early 90s when lightning made a direct hit on the main transformer rendering a sold out show in darkness before JB hit the stage.  We were standing on the backstage deck when we saw the bolt hit and we were all lucky to survive.  We were saved by two things: The Iguanas, the opening act, traveled with a portable generator and Mark Susany, our electrician, ingeniously hooked it up on the main stage and we got (barely) through an unplugged show.  Next day Buffett’s management required a full backup generator for every show, anywhere!  I still remember the local fire departments showing up with their trucks to provide lights for the parking lots.  Honorable mention, our Kenny Chesney show in 100 degree heat and thunderstorms in Cincinnati last year at Paul Brown Stadium, when we had to pull Tim McGraw off the stage and clear the entire stadium floor.  We got through it, though.  Also, any Ozzfest show where we had 20,000 crazy fans ready to erupt at any moment.

Enchanting & Enlightening:  Many artists who I was not personally fond of but blown away by their live performance, and these include Phil Collins, David Bowie and Michael Jackson, the latter having had three sold out nights at Pittsburgh Civic Arena.


Val Porter (Pittsburgh) / longtime WDVE on-air talent; currently Music Director and a member of the station’s acclaimed morning show.....Without question, my most memorable moment was a Motley Crue show at the Civic Arena, sometime in 1998, I believe.  It was the tour in which they were causing trouble at just about every stop.  I went on stage before the band came out to do announcements about upcoming shows and no smoking, and that sort of thing.  Well, the crowd goes crazy when I get up there.  And I’m thinking “Yeah!  A real rock crowd ready for a big show!”  As I’m walking off the stage someone said “Be glad you don’t know what was going on up there.”  Then someone else offstage said the same thing.  When I got back to my seat, I was told that while I was up on stage they were showing a very graphic porno on the very large screen behind me.  And that’s why the crowd went crazy.  A friend told me that the screen was so big I looked like an ant in front of it. 


Mark Wallace (Tampa, FLA) / Former on-air talent on Pittsburgh’s WZUM-AM then WYDD-FM; subsequently a Warner Brothers Records’ promotion man; currently an English teacher.....Under the "enchanting" category...Bob Marley at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre, 9/23/80.  I had met The Wailers--not Bob--at what is now the Parkway Center Best Western on the day of the show (the hotel had full kitchen suites and the Jamaicans were cooking up a Jamaican feast!).  The night of the show, I went backstage and then met Bob, who it was rumored was quite ill.  The dressing room was a cloud of ganja smoke; I mistakenly identified his guitarist--Junior Marvin--for another reggae singer named Junior Murvin--he emphatically corrected me--and Bob autographed a Warner Brothers promo photo with inscription "To Mark: Rastafari guide.  Bob Marley." (still on my living room wall).

When I returned to our seats, everyone asked me how he was and I replied: "He seems alright but it's hard to say as the whole band was red-eyed [smoke, mon], so they all looked the same!".  The night's show was so magical that to this day, that concert--which was recorded--was immortalized with their version of "Redemption Song." 

To quote the concert’s local promoter Rich Engler: "I remember 'Redemption Song' more than any other...the passion that he put into it, I'll remember for the rest of my life."

For those of you readers who knew how Rich Engler was back then:  When he was reminded that the show was going to go over the then *curfew*, meaning overtime $$ for the stage crew, he replied: "Let 'em play all night."--unusual for Rich. ;-)

That would be Marley’s final concert performance; he died eight months later in Miami at the age of 36.



Posted 4/22/13.....HIGH ON A HILL

It was in the early 1980s that the compact disc entered our collective musical consciousness.  Before then, I was a meticulous album guy who bought special plastic inner sleeves for all of my records, and yes, I was one of those nerdy wieners with the disc preeners and the stylus cleaners...

I’d been fairly content with the present technology (albums and cassettes) up to that point.  I had purchased higher-end stereo speakers and a near top-o’-the-line amplifier, and I cradled my albums from inner sleeve to turntable as if they were newborns being placed in a bassinet.

Word was, though, this new compact disc technology was going to “change the world” because of its goosebump-goading sound quality--or at least that was the hype we were hearing at National Record Mart, the Pittsburgh-based 70+-store record retailer where I worked from 1980-1985.  Our company’s president was an avid classical fan--to the exclusion of most other forms of music--and he had assembled some of us early on to preview one of these newfangled compact discs on a spanking new CD player in his office.  Indeed the sound was crystal clear, but not being righteously stirred by classical music (at least at that point in life) I was not transported by the experience.  My president, on the other hand, was standing in his office channeling Tom Hank’s character in the movie Philadelphia when the latter is listening to that aria by Maria Callas.

Indeed, opera and especially classical music fans were the first to fully embrace the new format.  Then the non-classical cognoscenti started coming around as well, spurred by brand new releases like Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms (first time on any format), and also older albums that were being reissued on compact disc, like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon and the various works by Steely Dan, the latter group surely somehow destined for disc...

I bought a CD player early on--some Sony or another--and I remembered leaning on my industry mates who handled sales for CBS and Polygram records to get me some newly minted classical releases and some of the emerging rock titles so that my shiny-disc library could get off the ground floor.  As the labels’ output based on the new format grew, and the acceptance of the compact disc widened beyond the audiophiles and the cloistered classical crowd to the fans of rock and jazz, I happened upon an artist sampler CD from the independent record label Windham Hill.  This tiny label was distributed through a larger record company called A & M, and our Western Pennsylvania area A & M rep Chuck Gallo placed the sampler on my desk one day at work, with a note saying “Try this one...Crystal clear when turned up to eleven.”

Maybe it was timing--and some kind of nirvanic nexus--but I reveled in this delicious crossfire of pristine audio technology and artistic expression.  The Windham Hill Records Sampler ’84 became my go-to CD, because of the purity of sound and the intriguing mix of styles reflecting an acoustic blend of folk, jazz, world music and a smidgeon of electronica.  Not all tracks mesmerized, but Chuck’s advice to “turn it up to eleven” certainly aided the effect; these subtle and compelling acoustic workouts, digitally delivered, were absolutely enthralling.

The CD sampler’s opening song was “Aerial Boundaries”, a solo acoustic workout by a guitarist named Michael Hedges.  The track defies description, but of course that won’t prevent musicasaurus.com from trying--the song grabs your brain by the lapels as Awe & Wonder spill over the basin of your pleasure centers, and the sum total effect is a rarely equaled cosmic caress (okay...that’s what musicasaurus.com gets,  for grasping at superlatives).

Let’s just say that hearing Hedges was a revelation.  I found other tracks on the Windham Hill sampler that were hypnotic, lovely and laudable--like Mark Isham’s “On The Threshold Of Liberty” and Billy Oskay & Micheal O’Domhnaill’s “The Cricket’s Wicket”--but the Hedges piece was startling in its effect.  “Aerial Boundaries” was as explosive and genre-defying in composition and execution, in its own way, as some of the benchmark six-string explorations of Jimi Hendrix.  Hedges had, early on, studied classical guitar and become a composition major, but he also invested his playing with fearless originality and a rock ‘n’ roll attack stance--alternate tunings, slap harmonics and more, wringing out an incredible array of sounds from one lone instrument, somehow surely tapping into what Pythagoras called “the music of the spheres”...

So as a newly smitten follower of Hedges (courtesy of that Windham Hill sampler and my honeymoon phase with the new CD player), I stepped forward at work when names for the evening entertainment slots were being bandied about for our annual National Record Mart store managers’ convention in 1984.  Securing entertainment for this three-to-four day managers’ convention in Seven Springs, PA was usually quite simple, in that the record label reps were always keenly interested in any opportunity to showcase one of their new artists before a captive audience of 70+ record retail managers.

Through our A&M rep Chuck we were able to land Hedges, and I spent a little bit of time with him before his solo acoustic performance in front of the assembled store managers.  He was polite, soft-spoken and unassuming, and had kind of a sweet hippie mellowness about him that I attributed largely to his California residency--sort of like, “this is your brain on Palo Alto”.  He took the stage and in the next 60 minutes entirely slew the audience (hmmm...70+ managers going back to their stores high on Hedges...shifting his recently-released solo album to a better in-store location...and playing his album constantly over the store’s stereo system...Priceless).

Flash forward, just a year...I left National Record Mart in February of 1985 when an opportunity arose at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena to become director of booking.  The new post was challenging off the bat—the venue’s management team had already dipped their toe in the concert promotion business, and now they wanted in, feet first.  They were no longer content just to wait on the usual outside promoters to bring artists into town; the arena’s mission now was to get more aggressive, book more shows, and to lure ever more talent into Pittsburgh to specifically play the arena.

As director of booking, my job was to court favor with the talent agents who were chiefly responsible for routing various artists’ North American tours.  In 1985 we jumped into some touring industry trade magazines like Performance and PollStar, brandishing and booking space for Civic Arena print ads that essentially cried let’s make a deal.  At the same time I continued to nurture the existing relationships with the Pittsburgh promoters to make sure we were still high on their booking radar.

And—returning to a theme now—here’s where my Windham Hill worship almost cost me my job.  In the winter of ’86 (with not even a year in the booking chair under my belt) I approached my bosses with the idea of doing a Windham Hill concert at the Civic Arena.  In the course of digging through the industry tour listings for the upcoming summer season, I had spotted some tentative dates being announced for a Windham Hill three-artist package of guitarist Will Ackerman, world music group Shadowfax—and Michael Hedges.  And so I did some talkin’—I talked myself into thinking this would be successful; I talked my bosses into trusting my concert intuition; and I talked the Windham Hill booking agent into agreeing to play our venue.

“Are you sure you folks want this package to play your arena?” said the Windham Hill agent, while putting a July 8th date on hold for us.  “We are doing much smaller venues than that across the country, except for some festival dates.  What makes you feel that this will work?”  Unknowingly, I gave the greatest sales pitch of my life, saying that I was a true fan of the record label, that I had witnessed firsthand how powerful Hedges was in live performance, that I was absolutely convinced there was a passionate audience for this package in Pittsburgh, and that we would utilize a cut-down configuration in setting the stage and seating areas so that the venue would look “nicely dressed” if we only pulled in around 8,000 people.

Understand, 1986 was well before social media and “the web” was just the stuff on ducks’ feet.  So our only prayer for a decent marketing campaign was radio.  Unfortunately, no station in Pittsburgh played Windham Hill artists, so we ran a couple of print ads but also bought some time on WDVE, the powerhouse album-oriented rock station.  A deejay named Herschel did the Windham Hill commercials for us, and it sounded pretty good on the air but perhaps—in retrospect—it was a tad inappropriate. (I can sorta picture some ‘DVE listeners—particularly the Ozzy types—suddenly catching this commercial while pig-roastin’ on their patios, scrunchin’ up their weathered splotchy faces and sayin’ to their kin ‘round the keg, “Windham F**kin' WHAT?!!")

When July 8th rolled around and the final few fans had come through the turnstiles right before showtime, we realized that this concert that I had solely championed was a complete bomb.  The attendance ended up at only 1,400 paid (and we ended up feeding a bit of a higher number to the press after the fact, just to seem semi-respectable).  The artists all persevered of course and the performances were amazing.  Having long been converts anyway, the audience was enrapt and appreciative; even the critics were laudatory.  Pittsburgh Press writer Michael Winks posited in his July 9th post-concert review that “those who didn’t show missed a treat.  Hedges and Shadowfax proved that those who think Windham Hill music is just for mellow yuppies had better get hip to reality.  These guys can really rock out.” 

Unfortunately, booking an “artistic success” didn’t quite cut it with my employers.  We lost money due to the low attendance, and in retrospect, of course, I should not have booked a concert in order to be personally fulfilled--especially when the arena wasn’t full or filled.

The Windham Hill experiment was a failure, but I had tried very hard to make it work.  But what the hell...I ended up learning a valuable lesson about facing such battles in Life:  Ya can’t Windham all.



Posted 4/8/13.....THIS NOTE’S FOR YOU (or to be more precise, these notes are for you)

Musicasaurus.com is taking a page from Rolling Stone magazine--not literally, of course.  But growing up I found that the Random Notes section of the magazine was a nice concise roundup of, and inside scoop on, the activities of artists & bands in terms of new recordings, collaborations, and touchstone career events.

What follows is musicasaurus.com’s version of Random Notes, but fair warning these are secrets unlocked from some other completely bizarro rock ‘n’ roll universe.  Except...maybe there are a few grains of our own always-potentially-strange reality bubbling up in this mix:

.....It has been learned that both Emerson Lake & Palmer and Electric Light Orchestra are planning full, reenergized career come-backs, and they have appealed to fellow Brits Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to help give their re-emergences a major kick-start.  Negotiations are underway for McCartney & Starr to re-release--on vinyl--two of the Beatles’ classic 1967 albums Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and on the albums’ back covers two of the song titles would be changed.  Instead of “Hello, Goodbye” and “With A Little Help From My Friends”, the new vinyl pressings would contain the decidedly more British-sounding song titles “ ‘ELO, Goodbye” and “With A Little ‘ELP From Me Friends”.  In a recent pitch meeting with Sir Paul and Ringo, ELO and ELP band members pointed out that not only would this help with their relaunch (via the expected blowup on social media), but that this kind of curveball--putting a bit of English on it--might finally move the Queen Mother toward knighting Mr. Starr.....

.....The family of Frank Zappa has been approached by the organization MADD for the rights to utilize Zappa’s iconic likeness and that of his band members from the late 1960s-early 1970s.  This new “Mothers Against Drunk Driving” campaign is hoped to spur the original Mothers' fans--now all burned-out, frazzled, fried, and in their sixties--to plop their grandkids on their laps for a good “talkin’-to” about the hazards of driving under the influence.  Zappa’s appeal does cross directly over to the youth market as well, though, as he retains even after death a strong mystique about his innovative approaches at the birth of the rock music era (we always knew this cat Zappa was a bad mother--shut your mouth!).....

.....Memoirs of a 1970s Memphis, Tennessee record store owner were found in the attic of his home after the individual’s family cleared out the cobwebbed contents after his passing.  Papers found included the store owners’ diary entries from Monday August 15 and Tuesday August 16, 1977, which describe in detail the store’s wildly successful “Necrophilia Sale”, where customers received steep discounts on artists who had passed on, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Duane Allman and others.  The advertising had been so successful--utilizing the catchphrase “Pick Up On The Best of Those At Rest”--that customer lines were zigzagging out of the store for most of the week.  The store owner recounts that a shy, bespectacled young man walked up to the counter with a copy of Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii album.  The owner said to the youth “I’m sorry, this album’s not on sale, son” and handed it back.  The teen, somewhat perturbed, pushed it back the store owner’s way and said “Well, can you at least hold this for me until tomorrow?”...The next day newspapers and radio and television all chimed in with the mournful news that Elvis Presley was dead, reportedly from years of pharmaceutical excess.  In the afternoon, the young man returned to the Memphis record shop and got his Elvis at the sale-price.  The store owner handed the youth his change and receipt, and watched him walk out the door.  Two minutes later, the store owner looked up from a magazine to see the young man standing in front of him again, this time with a pleading look and a Lynyrd Skynyrd album held up in both hands for the store owner to see:  “Say, you’re not by chance going to have this sale again in the Fall, are ya?”  The diary entries end there.  And no one in the store owner’s family could remember another necrophilia-themed sale ever taking place...

.....The ever-idiosyncratic Neil Young apparently long ago contemplated forming another group while in the midst of his growing discomfort with his CSNY bandmates in the very late 1960s.  Young was never one to cleave to old ways and really wanted to branch out into another group setting (outside of his regular sidekick band Crazy Horse), yet at the same time he wanted to preserve some kind of quirky link to his then-current CSNY union.  So in 1969 while officially still in the latter band he started courting on the sly a seemingly disparate group of singers--an older generation’s king crooner from the 1940s, a more contemporary opera star, and a nearing-middle-age singer of country music.  The three agreed to join him and bada Bing, he had Crosby, Sills, Cash & Young.  After just one rehearsal taping when the blend of Croon, Opera, Country and Nasal of the North was finally heard by all participants, Bing pushed back his fedora and said, “Man, everybody knows this nowhere...”.  Neil arched an eyebrow, and dismissed everyone on the spot.....

.....The results are in on a recent music-fan poll of vinyl-loving traditionalists who persist today in only listening to albums as opposed to iTunes, Spotify and other music purchasing/streaming sources.  Voted Number One on the list for “Songs That Sound Best On Drugs” is the entire Pink Floyd album The Dark Side Of The Moon, though a lot of those polled reported problems with figuring out how to turn over the record and play Side Two while tripping on acid.  This is extremely difficult to do when the listener has to pause and contemplate a spinning vortex of a hundred little universes on the revolving surface of the turntable itself...Coming in at Number Two on “Songs That Sound Best On Drugs” is “Hocus Pocus” by the Dutch band Focus, a rock ‘n’ yodel classic with speed guitar that reportedly makes a great cocktail-time ballad after ingestion of wine and Quaaludes.....

.....Plans were being hatched recently by the remaining Beatles to compile a special album to benefit Greenpeace, with selections from their catalogue as well as individual tracks from the Beatles’ solo efforts by John, Paul, George and Ringo.  The discussions seem to have halted, though, based on input from Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono, who insisted that McCartney and Starr include a track from one of her albums with John, in addition to a pure John-only track.  It is said that the remaining Beatles have nixed all of Yoko’s suggestions in that realm, but have counter-suggested one that they feel is the most appropriate representation of her art--the song entitled “Two Minutes Silence” from John & Yoko’s 1969 release Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With The Lions.  The track is exactly what is says--two minutes of silence (you can hear this tune--er, actually you can’t hear this tune--by going to the following link:   http://www.allmusic.com/album/unfinished-music-no-2-life-with-the-lions-mw0000593077).

.....GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) is negotiating with the estate of Jimi Hendrix to pay studio wiz Eddie Kramer--the man behind the 1,834 (thus far) posthumous releases of archived Hendrix recordings--to go into the studio and tweak a bit of the vocals on the classic song “Purple Haze”.  The organization has requested that the song be retouched so that Jimi is actually singing the line that everyone thinks he’s singing anyway--in essence, changing the phrase “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky” to officially become “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy”.  GLAAD wants to then release the reworked track on iTunes and have all proceeds go to the organization’s championed causes including gay marriage...This news has spurred other organizations to contact the Hendrix estate for other jingle opportunities, including recently a pet food manufacturer who claims its new line of dog food is so delicious & nutritious that it is actually consumable by humans as well.  This particular company is not advocating any editing changes to a particular Hendrix track; they merely want to pay for the rights to use one of Jimi’s existing lines from the song “Fire”:  Oh! Move over, Rover, and let Jimi take over”.....

.....Ozzy Osbourne, no longer the star of a charmingly-dysfunctional family reality hit TV show--and also now idling between major tours--has been appearing willy-nilly at other people’s concerts in what amounts to bizarre blitzkrieg cameos.  At a recent Anne Murray concert, the lady of the upper latitudes (Canada) was lulling a theatre crowd with renditions of her schmaltz-toast Pop Radio hits, and when she started the song “Snowbird”, Ozzy suddenly waddled out on stage holding a dove and immediately bit its head off.  Murray’s audience, though, was more confused than appalled; the befuddled oldsters started clapping very tentatively as Ozzy threw up his hands in the ol’ devil sign and scampered offstage into the wings, on his way out the door to the karaoke bar on the corner where eventually--around 1:00am--he performed “The Girl From Ipanema”, “Incense and Peppermints”, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” and “My Way” in front of a younger but equally befuddled crowd.....

.....Some Silicon Valley companies are now working with automobile manufacturers and musician’s representatives in pursuit of a revolutionary new tech device for installation in cars by 2019.  The device, which will be linked to the driver’s music playlist source in the automobile, will be able to detect whenever any particular play-listed song is fast-forwarded or skipped entirely.  This information will be relayed instantaneously to the particular song’s record company, who will then forward the message to the appropriate artist’s management team.  The artist will then follow up directly with the automobile owner so that he or she can ascertain the real reason for the occurrence--i.e., whether the driver was just under duress from driving conditions, or whether this was truly an intentional jettison due to the fan’s flagging interest in the song.  This software program currently under development by the tech & auto industries and artist development teams has been tentatively entitled “Song Skip WTF”.....

.....Feld Entertainment, Inc., the company behind the arena tours of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, is currently negotiating with Insane Clown Posse to join the production.  Realizing that old-style circus appeal is on the wane, the Feld organization is making a concerted effort to draw more youths to their events, even if they are a batch of disheveled, disaffected and disenfranchised ne’er-do-wells.  Insane Clown Posse will be integrated with the other more traditional clowns in the typical “cram in the car” maneuvers in the center ring, but they will also run up and down the general seating sections, spraying Faygo soft drinks over their fans’ heads while frightening the living bejesus out of the regular moms and their wide-eyed, sobbing six-year-olds.....

.....Although Tom Petty claims to have been born in 1950, he may in fact be a lot older than we think.  Based on a former housekeeper’s tip, local law enforcement paid a visit to Petty’s house in Encino, California just this past week to check into a rather unusual claim, and upon climbing the pull-down ladder to the attic space, the officers found an old framed painting of some startling significance (click on the following link to see the individual in the painting; it appears to be Tom Petty, after having suffered the ravages of time a la The Picture of Dorian Gray): http://images.google.com/searchhl=en&site=&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1408&bih=699&q=crypt+keeper&oq=crypt+&gs

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Posted 3/25/13.....I’VE GOT DREAMS TO REMEMBER

When in 2008 I left the full-time live entertainment industry (i.e. the concert biz), I departed with some great memories--as a fan, of course, because I was able to get close to some artists and their entourages; and as general manager of a vibrant concert venue (Star Lake aka Post-Gazette Pavilion) that hosted everyone from Michael Crawford, Metallica, Amy Grant and Marilyn Manson (all performing separately no duh), to Bette Midler, Nine Inch Nails, Al Jarreau, Steve Miller and Toby Keith.

For the fans we were like a repository of experiential delight--beautiful summer nights with friends and/or family, watching the stars on stage and if heaven and cloud covers cooperated, shooting an occasional appreciative glance upwards at the real ones...For those of us that worked the venue, each day (and evening) brought something completely different and so we deployed the necessary expertise, adrenalin and endorphins to make it through...

One of the memories that has stuck with me through the years is that certain artists or entities chose to do some taping at the venue.  In each of these cases the amphitheatre itself was a bit of a star, helping to widen our appeal and lend some mystique to our permanent record...


My own history with Lynyrd Skynyrd live goes back to 1987, when I worked at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena as director of booking.  An Atlanta-based promoter/manager named Charlie Brusco brought some artist tours our way during that stretch of time, and he had also helped put Skynyrd back together & on the road exactly a decade after the band’s more-than-almost-famous plane crash in 1977.  Aside from a 1979 one-off appearance on one of Charlie Daniel’s Volunteer Jam shows, the remaining band members had never reassembled as Skynyrd after the crash.  With this ’87 arena outing--originally conceived as a one-time tribute tour that included a Pittsburgh stop--the resulting success and fan outpouring led to a permanent re-launch of the band and its legacy.

Brusco had strong family ties to this region, having grown up in Southwestern Pennsylvania not far from Pittsburgh.  Coupled with the band’s love of their passionate pocket of Steel City fans, this allegiance led to a July 15, 1997 filming-and-recording of a live concert DVD / CD at Star Lake Amphitheatre.  Twenty years after the plane crash that took the lives of, among others, original lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, Skynyrd’s remaining core members of Gary Rossington, Billy Powell and Leon Wilkeson were complemented on stage and in the studio by Ronnie’s younger brother Johnny on lead vocals, and two fiery additions to the band’s guitar army, Rickey Medlocke (ex-Blackfoot) and Hughie Thomasson (ex-Outlaws).  The DVD and CD were entitled Lyve From Steel Town--the band had a “thyng” for creative spelling, of course--and below are a few fan-feedback comments culled from Amazon.com about the live CD; they are, most of them, glowing:


August 1998 at Star Lake Amphitheatre proved to be a bit of a juggernaut.  In a nine-day stretch that month the venue hosted eight concerts, and within that timeframe was a maxi-taxing, mini-cluster of shows that nearly sucked the life out of the venue’s staff.  Over one hundred thousand fans flocked to the venue in a five-day stretch of shows that included the debut appearance of Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair, two Jimmy Buffett back-to-back sellouts, a Bryan Adams concert--and Phish.

The Patchouli Winds originally wafted our way one year prior, when Phish first played Star Lake in August of 1997.  Here in ’98, they just happened to plunk down on the schedule between the mighty Lilith and the first of the two Buffett shows. 

Phish--for those of you who live under a rock and haven’t explored the rest of your aquarium--is an immensely talented jam band from Vermont that, through constant touring and improvisatory showmanship, have assembled legions of concert fans and mix-tape swappers since their formation in 1983.  Not to beat a Dead horse here, but yes, there have been obvious comparisons made to that certain 1960s San Francisco band that produced spacey jams and spawned wayfaring road warriors of its own...

For this August 11, 1998 concert date at Star Lake, Phish decided to record and release a live CD and DVD of the performance, which was then largely heralded by the band’s phans and phollowers as phenomenal (editor’s note: Remind me to watch my PH balance).  Here are a few bits of feedback from that concert’s attendees as well as others who have picked up this particular video and/or audio recording; it’ll at least give you a below-the-surface peek of those that swim with the Phish-ers:  


Time for multiple-choice:  Metatron is...

  1. A sludge-metal band that was 5th in the line-up on the 3rd stage at the 1st OzzFest in 1997.
  2. An EDM (electronic dance music) disc jockey working the outdoor music festival circuit since 2011.
  3. An angel acting as the Voice of God here on Earth.

Well, that was easy.  The answer is “c”, and Metatron did indeed descend upon upon the hallowed ground of Star Lake Amphitheatre.  He in fact walked on water...

Metatron is actually Alan Rickman, the talented British stage and screen actor who was hired by director Kevin Smith for the latter’s slicing and satirical film Dogma.  Upon release in 1999, the movie courted controversy with its twisted tale of God, Satan, angels, demons, and hapless humans, and it had the Catholic League in a mighty uproar.

Smith and crew were filming all around the Pittsburgh area in 1998, and we got the call that they needed our small lake on the property to film a scene with Rickman and actress Linda Fiorentino (one of the aforementioned hapless humans).

They filmed at night in the small lake actually called Star Lake which can easily be spotted off to the right, from the four-lane entrance road to the amphitheatre (some concert fans have actually had time for long and longing looks at this little lake, while sitting in lines of cars c-r-e-e-p-i-n-g toward the parking lot entrances at sellout shows).

So musicasaurus.com readers are now armed with a nice bit of venue history trivia:  The man who once was a mastermind villain opposite Bruce Willis in the original Die Hard, and later wooed younger fans through his Potter turn as Severus Snape, was also once an angel shuffling along the surface waters of Star Lake’s actual lake... (see the link that follows; the relevant scene begins around the 5:30 mark of this 9:04 YouTube clip)   http://youtu.be/Q_1old1orj0


Last but not least, a quick note about Jon Stewart and his Daily Show.  The show’s talented host did not come to the amphitheatre back in the summer of 2002, but a videotaping team of his did--all to tell an incredible tale of the tenth miner associated with the famous incident at Quecreek Mine that happened on July 24th of that year...

Located in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, the Quecreek Mine quickly became international news as nine miners were suddenly trapped below the surface.  Rescue efforts raced on for almost 78 hours before the nine were, one by one, successfully brought to the surface.  All nine miners thankfully survived.

The Daily Show’s Rob Corddry did this harrowing report of the little-known tenth miner, and what particular perils he faced.  The link that follows will take you to this report (one note, just FYI:  The amphitheatre changed names in the year 2000, from the original “Star Lake” to “Post-Gazette Pavilion”)   http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-september-16-2002/miner-difficulties



Posted 3/11/13.....TO THE ISLAND (readers’ album selections)

In this section of the website back on January 28, 2013, musicasaurus.com spun a tale about going to the proverbial deserted island and taking along essential albums to fill the void precipitated by no other earthly access to music.

That particular posting cheated a bit:  I didn’t confine myself to just ONE album and in fact, the whole fanciful piece was me out on a creative limb--unfortunately with no branch cutters, some readers may have thought--talking about the different types of music I would have taken to address a variety of island concerns.

So after that 1/28/13 posting, I soul-searched some more and wondered “How in the hell could anyone choose just ONE album to take to a deserted island?!!”  I then found myself turning to some friends and/or peers in the world of the arts, and I set ‘em up for self-torture.  I restricted them to the selection of just one album, and then sat back to wait upon the initial panicked outcry followed by their submission...

Lord, I think this was very tough for them.  We’re not talking “Sophie’s Choice” tough, but certainly they were looking through their collections & playlists thinking “I can’t choose!  Don’t make me choose!” 


Jack Tumpson (Pittsburgh) / Former owner-operator of concert promotion company Next Big Thing; subsequently a Pace/Live Nation venue marketer-then-general manager; currently owner-publisher of WHIRL Magazine.....I went through the Stones’ Get Your Ya Yas Out, a couple of Neil Young albums, Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, some U2, James Brown Live at the Apollo, and even Buddy Guy & Junior Wells, but for my head, it's the Grateful Dead Live Dead.  It's 1969 at the Fillmore Auditorium.  I grew up listening to Blue Note Jazz records, and in 1969 the Grateful Dead was my musical "next big thing".  Live Dead is one big improvisational rock bonanza.  “Dark Star” takes me away, the “St. Stephen” into the “Eleven” side goes from anthem to free fall, and the closing “Turn On Your Love Light” just rocks.  The music changes with each listening.  An old acid head philosopher friend told me it was all about set and setting, and if I'm on a deserted island setting, I want to get my mental set right.

Joe Grushecky (Pittsburgh) / Musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader (Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers).....Today it would be Exile on Main Street by the Stones.  Having recently learned to play all the songs on the album gave me a deep appreciation of how musically rich it is.  Mick, Keith, and company play all types and styles of music and pull it off with authority and passion.  The band has absorbed its roots and channeled them to make something uniquely their own.  To top it all off, the guitar playing is killer.

Russ Rose (Pittsburgh) / WXDX on-air talent and Creative Director, and Production Director at KISS FM.....I'd take the Police Synchronicity album with me to my lonely island paradise.  It was one of the first albums I obsessed over, and wanted to learn about the inner meaning of every song and the thought process behind it.

Tom Rooney (Pittsburgh) / Former executive director of Star Lake Amphitheatre 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group.....That deserted island, Tom Hanks Cast Away album would have to be Peter Gabriel’s So.  Kicking off with mystical “Red Rain” and then roaring into R&B infused “Sledgehammer”, which was a huge radio hit, So was off to the races.  A wistful duet next in “Don’t Give Up,” and then two more power hits “That Voice Again” and “In Your Eyes”; I can’t recall another record having such an opening punch.  I remember buying it in Detroit at a record store and I wore that CD out.  Another great cut “Big Time,” is along the way.  I remember when we did Peter Gabriel’s W.O.M.A.D. (World of Music Art & Dance) event at Star Lake that I got a chance to walk around with him and chat at the second and third stages.  The least he could do since we lost our $hirt with the show.  When I need a lift, I YouTube some of those live Peter Gabriel performances…amazing.

Gab Bonesso (Pittsburgh) / Comedian, Writer, Producer, Absurdist; co-creator of The Josh and Gab Show kids anti-bullying programming.....My deserted island album would have to be Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar Original London Recording.  I debated intensely with myself over said decision.  Neutral Milk Hotel's Aeroplane Over the Sea is probably the greatest album written during my lifetime, yet my heart must go with Superstar.  As a child growing up in the suburbs outside of Pittsburgh, my family played Superstar every Easter season like clockwork.  I know every word to every song which I have been harmonizing (poorly) with my siblings for years!  It's more than an album. It's like a major part of my family's history.

George Balicky (Pittsburgh) / Former Senior Vice-President at National Record Mart; currently on the board of directors of the non-profit Pittsburgh Music Hall of Fame.....As an extremely young Regional Manager at National Record Mart in the early Seventies, I had the pleasure of listening to record albums in the NRM stores that I visited daily.  It was back then that I discovered Cat Stevens' Tea For The Tillerman album.  Over the years, I have found myself listening to this album particularly when it is quiet and I'm alone.  Therefore, for the deserted island, it's easy--just me and Tea!

Cris Winter (Pittsburgh) / Former on-air talent on WXXP, WDVE, and 3WS; currently on WISH 99.7.....Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive!  There hasn't been a live album since this one that has truly captured the excitement of a concert...from the clapping, intro and opening riffs of "Something's Happening" to "Do You Feel Like We Do".  What's not to love?!!  Every time I hear it, it brings back great memories; this disc never leaves my multi-CD changer in my car!  I always wondered why other bands/artists didn't seek out Peter and Chris Kimsey's expertise in producing, engineering, mixing and arranging of a live album; this has truly stood the test of time.  By the way, this is the only album in my collection that I have on all formats:  8 track, cassette, and multiple album and CD copies.  And yes, I also have the 25th anniversary deluxe edition on CD too! 

Donnie Iris (Pittsburgh) / Musician, singer-songwriter and bandleader (Donnie Iris and The Cruisers).....I would be hard-pressed to choose between the Beatles White Album and Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On.  Both had a huge impact on me.  I listened over and over to both.  Headphones, of course.  Trance-like effect.  Total zone-out.

Marylynn Uricchio (Pittsburgh) / Seen/Style Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.....Willy DeVille was a true original, influenced by everyone and everything and created his own sound that was hard to define but downright intoxicating.  R&B, Cajun, soul, Spanish flamenco, doo wop and somehow his band Mink DeVille ended up being the house band at punk paradise CBGB.  Coup de Grace is one of their best.  My favorite is "You Better Move On."  I love the weariness in Willy's voice, and the kindness.  The whole album is killer - the title literally means final blow or death blow.  Every song drips with anguish, but on top of that they're all catchy tunes.  Never get tired of this one!  

Charlie Brusco (Atlanta, GA) / Pittsburgh-area native and former Atlanta-based concert promoter; currently heads up the Atlanta office of artist management company Red Light Management......If I were stranded on an island I would take the Eric Clapton, Duane Allman and the gang masterpiece Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos.  To start off with, it is a double album so lots of music and great weaving of singing and playing and memorable songs. Everyone loves the track “Layla” but there are other gems like “Tell the Truth” and “Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad”, and vocals by Eric, and the phenomenal Bobby Whitlock, and you have a true masterpiece.  I would also smuggle along The Outlaws 1st album along with Styx Pieces of Eight, Skynyrd's Pronounced and the 1st Bad Company album. Give me those and the island of Kauai and I am a happy guy.

Sean McDowell (Pittsburgh) / Longtime on-air talent with WDVE.....Led Zeppelin III...It’s my favorite Led Zeppelin album, and it holds my favorite Zeppelin song combined with my favorite Jimmy Page solo: “Since I've Been Loving You”...My 2nd and 3rd favorite Zep tunes are also on that album, “Tangerine” and “Gallows Pole”....I still listen to Led Zeppelin III several times a year.

Joe Negri (Pittsburgh) / Jazz guitarist, composer and educator (also, for all time, “Handyman Negri” on PBS’ Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood).....I was initially quite stumped by your question.  Believe it or not, I'm not and have never been a big collector of albums or CDs.  I have quite broad tastes in music...from classical, e.g., Stravinsky, Ravel , Bach, etc. to Broadway, American Songbook, and Jazz including, of course, Jazz guitar.  That being said, I will try to answer your question:  My choice to take to that deserted island would be an album called Undercurrent that featured the piano of Bill Evans and the guitar of Jim Hall.  I choose this because of the music that these two selected for this album and because of the artistry of these two players...Classic, timeless Jazz in every way...

Wilson Rogers (Los Angeles) / Former general manager of Star Lake Amphitheatre during the 1990 inaugural season; currently an L.A.-based executive vice president with Live Nation.....The one album that has proven over time to still be fresh and easy--if there can only be one album--would have to be Eric Clapton’s Journeyman.  I’ve been listening to this like it was my only album for some time now.  For those of you don’t know me, Eric has always been my go-to artist, even more so than Sweet Baby James.  And by the way, the song “Pretending” from the Journeyman album some would say has been my life’s theme song.  I would disagree.

Liz Berlin (Pittsburgh) / Musician, Rusted Root and Drowning Clowns; Mr. Smalls Theatre & Recording Studio Owner; Director of non-profit Creative.Life.Support; Teaching Artist.....I think I would have to say OK Computer by Radiohead.  That record is a pinnacle of musical evolution for me.  I consider it just as important as Pink Floyd's The Wall or even Led Zeppelin's fourth album with “Stairway To Heaven”.  Like both of those examples this album was a game changer for me personally and I believe to the history of music in general.  It's a piece of work that moves through so many modes and depths of intensity that I would have something to suit every mood while trapped on the deserted island and never be at a loss for inspiration.

Scott Tady (Beaver, PA) / Entertainment Editor of the Beaver County Times.....I’d go with Dire Straits’ Alchemy.  Great, pure live album…Mark Knopfler’s guitar really “speaks” on it.  Good mix of wistfulness and romanticism, which would probably serve me well pining away the hours on a deserted island.

Steve Hansen (Pittsburgh) / Former on-air talent on WDVE’s “Jimmy & Steve” morning program (1980-1986); currently an independent writer/producer.....Were I to be banished to an island, a solitary album my only companion, I would have to take Avalon by Roxy Music.  Which comes as a surprise, even to me.  I'm not really a fan of Roxy Music.  I saw Bryan Ferry once and thought he was one of the more graceless stage artists I'd ever seen.  And yet Avalon completely engrossed me when it came out.  From the opening riff to the end it has a majestic and melodic confidence that sucks me into its world.  And if I was on a deserted island I would need to be carried away, if only in my mind.  I'd put it on, fire up whatever natural plant offerings I could burn, and hear traces of rock, trance, jazz, new age and Indian music with whispers of Sting, Annie Lennox and Chris Isaak.  By the time the wistful last track had faded I'd hopefully have been swept to another dimension far removed from my island reality.  Or at least be stoned.

Rich Engler (Pittsburgh) / Former president of DiCesare-Engler Productions (which eventually became part of Live Nation); currently working on a book of his life in the concert promotion business.....Aja by Steely Dan...One of the finest recordings ever.  Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are two of my favorite writers, and Steve Gadd is one of my favorite drummers...The entire album is total perfection!!!!

Scott Blasey (Pittsburgh) / Musician and lead singer for The Clarks......I'd go with The Beatles' White Album.  It's long.  It still sounds great.  And I think "Blackbird" alone could keep you going if you were alone on a deserted island.

Beckye Levin Gross (Houston, Texas) / Former booker with Pace Music Group (ultimately Live Nation).....The ONE album I would take with me on a deserted island would be Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  Not only could I listen to this album over and over and over again, but it brings forth a very powerful memory.  It takes me back to being a teenager and that point in your life where you are trying to individuate strongly from your parents and you think everything about them is uncool.  But then you find that one thing that you cannot believe you both have in common, and you realize they might not be as "old" as you thought.  (And I now realize they were thinking there was no hope for their child's sense of taste.)...For me, it was THIS album.  I can vividly recall standing in my childhood living room, by the stereo cabinet, and finding that pinkish, red album.  I can feel the album in my hand.  And when I put the record on the turntable and heard the music, I immediately fell forever in love with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Scott Mervis (Pittsburgh) / Currently writer/reviewer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and editor of the newspaper’s Weekend.....I would insist that my deserted island disc be a double album and, fortunately, my deserted island artist, Bob Dylan, made a dandy one in 1966 with Blonde On Blonde.  It sounds like no other album, going all over the map, musically, from the raw harmonica blues of “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” to the boozy Dixieland romp of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” to the jangly psychedelic folk-rock of “I Want You” to the shimmering beauty of “Visions of Johanna.”  Lyrically and even (yes) vocally, it’s beyond what any mere mortal has been able to achieve.

Mike Sanders (Pittsburgh) / Concert promoter, Opus One Productions.....Kind of Blue by Miles Davis is one of the greatest albums in recorded music and possibly the great jazz album of all time.  It has timeless appeal and the kind of appeal that will never go out of style.  Pick one album to demonstrate the best of 20th Century Recorded Music and I can't think of one with greater depth and impact.

Billy Price (Pittsburgh) / Singer-songwriter and east coast blue-eyed soul man; new album out in June on the DixieFrog label.....I would want to spend my waning years on the island contemplating perfection.  For that, I would bring along Two Steps From the Blues by Bobby Bland, a jewel of perfection at the confluence of blues, soul, and R&B. 

Val Porter (Pittsburgh) / longtime WDVE on-air talent; currently Music Director and a member of the station’s acclaimed morning show.....Fair Warning by Van Halen.  I love the songs on this record.  There are a ton of albums I could have picked, but this is one that I rarely get tired of listening to. 

Mark Wallace (Tampa, FLA) / Former on-air talent on Pittsburgh’s WZUM-AM then WYDD-FM; subsequently a Warner Brothers Records’ promotion man; currently an English teacher.....“My pick is Beatles VI, for several reasons: 1) it was the 1st Beatles album that I bought (yes, still have the vinyl) 2) but also because to this day, whenever I listen to it, I realize how intricate such seemingly simple songs are performed, recorded, and arranged.  If the boys were that good, any of their early recordings really do underscore the importance of the “5th Beatle” Sir George Martin (who, in fact, plays piano on one of the songs on the album).  This album included a George Harrison song/vocal (" You Like Me Too Much") but his guitar work on the Buddy Holly cover of "Words Of Love" shows what an understated lead guitar should sound like; it's a gem.  Speaking of guitar, Harrison plays a 12-string Rickenbacker on "Every Little Thing" which would soon be heard with Roger-then-Jim McGuinn's use on "Mr. Tambourine Man" and so prominent in the Byrds' songs.  I could go on, but their incomparable ability to harmonize with either Lennon or McCartney’s leading vocal is either sheer talent or Martin's arranging magic, on songs such as "I Don't Want To Spoil the Party" and "Yes It Is".  Finally, I want to qualify my “one album selection” by adding "a half"; the other half being a British release on Parlophone/EMI called Beatles For Sale, which included 7 tracks on the Beatles VI American/Capitol release, as well as 7 songs that appeared in the US on Beatles '65. If I could “compile” both--which I have--then THAT would be my one record!

Rob James (Pittsburgh) / Guitarist/background vocalist for The Clarks.....My deserted island selection:  Ryan Adams Gold.  This album is a diverse and well balanced collection of songs that remains as compelling for me today as the first time I listened to it.  Produced by Ethan Johns, son of famed engineer/producer Glyn Johns, the various sonic textures of this album, while giving a healthy nod to classic recordings, offer a timeless vehicle for songs like "New York, New York", "Answering Bell", "When The Stars Go Blue" and "Tina Toledo's Street Walkin' Blues".  Ryan Adams' gift as an exceptional songwriter is boldly pronounced on Gold and has been a constant source of inspiration for me over the years, greatly informing my own playing and writing.  Above all, this just an enjoyable listen from beginning to end making it an obvious choice for a deserted island selection.

Paul Carosi (Pittsburgh) / Designer/developer of the website Pittsburgh Music History (https://sites.google.com/site/pittsburghmusichistory/).....If I were shipwrecked on a deserted island that just happened to have a solar-powered charger for my music device, one album I'd enjoy listening to over and over again would be Horace Silver's Song For My Father.  AllMusic's Scott Yarnow ranks it as one of the Essential Hard Bop Recordings.  The title cut was the inspiration of Steely Dan's "Rikki Don't Lose That Number".  I'm bored with the same old simple three-four chord classic rock songs I've heard hundreds of times.  The Beatles 1962-1966 Red album is a good compilation but it would quickly become repetitious.  Song For My Father has a great set of “cool” complex jazz tunes that I could dance to or drum along to, beating on my coconut shells.  The music might also keep me from talking to my friend Wilson the volleyball.

Ed Traversari (Pittsburgh) / Former concert promoter & partner in DiCesare-Engler Productions (which eventually became part of Live Nation); currently instructor at Point Park University in their Sports, Arts & Entertainment Management program.....I would say the album I have to bring with me is Legends by Bob Marley.  This is a very hard question to answer, however I have always been a huge reggae and Bob Marley fan and I could think of no better record to play on the island.

Josh Verbanets (Pittsburgh) / Musician, Meeting of Important People; co-creator, The Josh and Gab Show kids anti-bullying programming.....I'm going to throw a curve into this one and say that if I was to end up on a deserted island with only one album, I would want it to be Steve Martin's 1977 comedy album Let’s Get Small.  I would probably feel the need to laugh and hear the comforting, familiar voice of another person more than I would want to hear Thom Yorke or Ray Davies singing about the government if I was stuck in one spot for the rest of my life, and there's so many wonderful little banjo ditties on this record too!  I would put it on every morning while lifting coconut weights, listen to it during my dinner of wild boar, and let it sooth me to sleep under the stars, possibly also play it all night long and dream of Steve Martin's silver toupee.

Stacy Innerst (Pittsburgh) / Artist and illustrator for books, newspapers and magazines; newest release is a children's book about the Beatles’ sense of humor, The Beatles: They were Fab and They Were Funny, Harcourt 2013".....Impossibly hard question, but I think I'd want music that inspired me to believe that someone out there had genius enough to figure out how to rescue me, therefore I think I'd want Mozart piano concertos or something of that nature.  On the other hand, I'd probably need "working music"--something to motivate me while I cut down palm trees with a pocket knife-- like Eat a Peach by the Allmans.  But if I had just one pick that had a bit of Mozart and a bit of roots, I think I'd take Music from Big Pink by The Band--the one with bonus tracks.  "This Wheel's on Fire", "Chest Fever" and "I Shall Be Released" would keep me going for a while.

Ron Antill (Pittsburgh) / Longtime on-air radio talent; currently on WISH 99.7.....That’s an easy one--Crosby Stills, Nash and Young’s 4 Way Street.  First of all it’s a two-record set.  A double 8-track, which I burned through two of them in my Pioneer Super Tuner player.  Heh heh!  It’s a “live” collection, complete with feedback from amps and screw-ups left in, and full of everything from protest songs to acoustic ballads, long versions of rock anthems with solos by all four of these legends, and of course, it also features my musical hero, the genius – Neil Young.  This one sounds as fresh to me today (on CD and Ipod) as it did back then while I was riding around in my ‘66 Chevy Corvair “in a cloud of smoke”.  Any Corvair enthusiast can easily explain the “smoke” reference crediting it to burning motor oil, but still…it was the early 70’s, man.  Every time I listen to it, I’m instantly transformed to that time in my life, in my musical time machine.

Bob Klaus (Durham, NC) / Original marketing director of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre (1990); currently general manager of Durham Performing Arts Center.....Whiskeytown’s Stranger's Almanac...This album makes me smile, not a big broad smile...but more of a grin.  It's like an old comfortable chair.  I feel at home...remember falling in love, get sad on a track or two as well.  But in the end it circles round and reminds me of home in Carolina.  And that would be a good thing on a deserted island.

B.E. Taylor (Pittsburgh) / Singer-songwriter and musician; founding organizer and performer of the B.E. Taylor Christmas Concerts.....I love so many styles of music and have so many favorite collections that it is almost impossible to pick one.  But if I had to, again, I would be leaving out so much music that has touched my heart and soul.  I would take Abbey Road by The Beatles.  Why?  Because they had the biggest impact on me.  And this album being the very last one that they did and it finished with "And in the end, the love you take / is equal to the love you make"...I'm all about Love.  I love so much of the Beatles music, but I also grew up on Nat King Cole, Motown, Soul, and Paul Rogers.  Marvin Gaye’s What's Going On album is another great album that I would consider.  But I must say--HOW WOULD I BE ABLE TO LISTEN TO IT ON A DESERTED ISLAND WITH NO ELECTRICITY? 

Rick Sebak (Pittsburgh) / WQED public TV producer & narrator.....Why don't I have one of my jam-packed iPods with me?  I mean I've been seriously thinking about seeing if Jerry Weber (Jerry’s Records, Squirrel Hill) will consider taking ALL of my old vinyl albums, so I can't imagine why I'd have an "album" with me when I find myself alone on an island with a record player, but I understand the question.  It's hard to decide.  I think I might be happy to have The Band's second album with me, the brown one with the old black-and-white photos of the group.  It's always been a favorite since my earliest days of buying music.  I never tire of "Look Out Cleveland" and "Jemima Surrender" and the rest, and I think I could stand to listen a few more times.  When I was a foreign exchange student to Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 1970, my Brazilian "brother" Edu kept his LPs in a small room under the family's carport, and I remember how happy I was to see his copy of The Band when I first arrived there.  Edu hated the album.  Not enough hits.  I consider it an old friend, and I think I'd be happy to have such an old friend on the island with me.  By the way, which island is this?  Neville? 




I’m thinking back to my days at Pittsburgh’s large outdoor amphitheatre located just outside of Burgettstown, PA in Washington County.  I had helmed that ship as general manager from the summer of 1995 through the summer of 2007, and being in the “live music business” was a real rollercoaster--each year during the active outdoor concert season from May through September, the staff and I experienced stretches of numbing routine, wild-ass curveballs comin’ outta nowhere, and everything in between...

Each show was a unique experience.  Depending upon how each summer schedule fell into place, one night you might have Pantera pulverizing the place and the very next night Yanni--appropriately pronounced yawn’-nee--lulling the staff into vertical naps at their various stations.

Of course the audiences were wildly divergent as well.  Early on, when the amphitheatre was doing forty or more shows a summer, a typical jam-packed week at the outdoor venue might have many different artist offerings, and so the fan turnout night to night was a treat to behold:  1) The country crowd wowed with its Western Wear fashion sense.  Some of the guys came all cowboy’ed up from hatted head to booted toe, and the fillies were decked out in midriff-baring shirts and short skirts, their calves roped in by knee-high boots...2) On shows like The Cure, the color black seemed to rule the day, and not just in the wearables--the eye shadow and lipstick followed suit, and Good Goth Almighty, this was a pretty interesting look on the guys...3) And on the jazz, upscale R & B, and symphony-backed offerings, folks were usually dressed to thrill--especially each other.  Some were quite plainly peacocks on parade, and all of this struttin’ stuff gave the amphitheatre a great rainbow glow in and around the concession-stand-and-merchandise plazas before the sun went down...

Out of all the various and distinctive audiences that trekked out to events at the amphitheatre, there was one type of individual that appeared at select shows but essentially blended into the background, only to emerge under cover of darkness--the fire starters.  These people deployed one of Earth’s oldest elements in absolutely the worst way, of course, but fire has had a long history of association with certain rock ‘n’ roll performances.

Most notable, and blithely benign, is the phenomenon of the cigarette lighter song, which first crept into being during the 1970s when power ballads and rock anthems were greeted by audiences lighting up to show the love for their onstage heroes.  There’s an illustrative recording from 1974 that really tells the tale:  Bob Dylan and The Band’s Before The Flood, a live double album of their ’74 concert tour that has as its cover an amazing photo of a sea of cigarette lighters.  Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” also really brought out the Bics, as did Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven”.  Even Elton appropriately courted flames with his Marilyn Monroe-inspired “Candle In The Wind”...

Which is all well and good.  In the arenas especially, this practice became a time-honored part of the concert experience, a radiant fan tribute to the artists and to their music.

Upon the advent of the amphitheatre boom, however, in the mid-to-late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there just might have come into being a sort of a weird nexus of “design flaw meets social misfit”.  The lawn concept was meant to give the concert fan a certain amount of freedom, away from the more restrictive reserved seating; here, he or she could gather together with others in like-minded bliss, enjoying just a bit more mobility and social interaction than those reserved-seat dwellers nearer the stage.

Of course at a James Taylor show, the lawn inhabitants generally use that mobility and freedom to picnic, socialize and lightly party...At events that are more in the “rocker” vein, like Styx or Skynyrd, the lawn dwellers are likewise there largely to celebrate memories and classic rock kinship.

It’s those certain other shows that are hard to figger, though--the metal band extravaganzas, the alternative music festivals, and of course OzzFest.  On these shows Something Wicked This Way Comes, and it invariably settles itself upon the lawn.  (Now, before some readers get all up in tattooed arms over this last statement, let me add that not ALL of these fans are bizarro-destructo types, and that the vast majority of them are at these shows because of their passion for the music.  Still, it seems that proportionally there are more combustible kooks and flame retard-ants at these types of events compared to all others combined.)

The accumulated years have dimmed my recollection of my first brush with fire, but it might have been at Lollapalooza in August of ’92, the first time this touring behemoth landed at Star Lake.  This was also the summer that Ozzy Osbourne first appeared at the venue.  Both of these shows ended up drawing in excess of 20,000 people--and the audience composition seemed to break down this way: 7,000 seated in the pavilion; 12,800 law abiders on the lawn; and approximately 200 knuckleheaded, knuckle-draggin’ arsonists also on the grass (and maybe other stuff as well).

One of my earliest encounters with the phenomenon was at an early 90s’ Lollapalooza event.  I had walked out onto the side of the main stage after having spent a half hour or so--basically, from dusk to darkness--with the tour’s accountant in a backstage dressing room discussing some show issues.  I had turned off my venue radio to accommodate the discussion, and had only popped it back on as I bounded onto the stage.  There I suddenly saw what the mainstage performers of the moment were seeing--the typically dark and shadowy lawn illuminated in twelve to fifteen different spots with flames that were roaring to high heaven.  My radio’s security channel was barking with dispatcher advisements of new trouble spots on the lawn, and rushed reports from the security field teams were intermittently breaking through in between.  It was Shock and it was Awe--a strangely beautiful, surreal and terrifying vision, all rolled into one.

The security teams did their absolute best at damping and trampling these fires, and as the seasons progressed, on the applicable shows we learned to mobilize more quickly, to better deploy “spotters”, and to strategically position staff so that we could blitzkrieg each blaze and move on to the next sparking calamity.  Indeed, for our security folks, what a strange part of Amphitheatre Life this was--calmly & methodically preparing for these outbreaks of Armageddon, accepting that they were inevitable as soon as the sun went down, and when the time came, charging into the fray efficiently and dispassionately...Just part of the job, ma’am...

I had an interesting one-on-one with a fire starter at one of the X-Fest shows in the late 1990s.  X-Fest, a product of Pittsburgh alternative station WXDX, started up in 1998 at Star Lake and for a number of years running was a real powerhouse in terms of talent line-up and ticket sales.  It also was a poster child for obstreperous fan behavior, as after dark it tended to turn a bit nasty out there on the lawn, shifting from mischief to mayhem...

As I was whisking through the lower pavilion and spotted yet another Bonfire of The Inanities--apologies to Tom Wolfe, there--I decided to go it alone and enter the lawn, jogging up to the flash point that I had spotted from below.  (From afar, I generally found these fires to look appallingly out of control; up close, though, the scene sometimes was strangely calm--glassy-eyed misfits standing expressionless around the blaze; no rousing war whoops, really, just some mindless feeding of the fire.)

A few of the fomenters arched an eyebrow when they saw me come on the scene.  When my radio squawked and a few more of the flame gazers saw my lanyard I.D. tags and staff shirt, some of them backed up a bit.  Instead of directly confronting the few still nearest the flame, I faded back from the glow to whisper to one of the Glassy-Eyed who seemed to be on his own...

“Sure a shame that they are gonna cancel X-Fest next year,” I said.

“Wha?” said the brightest of bulbs, “What do you mean?”

“Yeah, the radio station told me that because of these fires, they are gonna close down X-Fest for good.  No show next year, if these fires continue.”

I looked him intently in the eye.  There was a slight whirring of gears goin’ on, I think.  He warily shuffled over to a guy a few feet off to his left; maybe his companion?  He whispered something and the second fire worshipper stepped forward to the bonfire.  He was wobbling a bit, but steadied and unzipped his fly.  And then there came forth a nice little arc, initially strong, but still a bit short of the fire.

Not quite the extinguisher we need, I thought to myself.

BUT...It's always good to have a sign of Hope, from any direction, trickle into view...


Posted 2/11/13.....THE WAY IT IS

I spent 17 formative years in the amphitheatre business, as marketing director and then general manager of Pittsburgh’s premier open-air concert venue that opened its doors at the beginning of the 1990s.  Tucked into tiny Hanover Township in Washington County--25 miles from the big city--this amphitheatre called Star Lake grew over the years to draw hundreds of thousands of concert fans each season...

In March 1990, though--about 2 ½ months before Star Lake was to open--there were a number of folks around the Pittsburgh area who still didn’t quite understand what in the hell an amphitheatre was...Though Cleveland had an open-air venue called Blossom Music Center (originally built for that city’s symphony), a lot of Pittsburghers were still in the dark about this, not having travelled westward to personally check it out themselves.

So the Star Lake team found themselves, as Opening Day approached, with continued challenges on how to further educate the market.  The local public relations company hired by Star Lake suggested a “Frequently Asked Questions” type of press release, which all concerned then thought was a good idea--the marketplace would thus be able to have, in advance, a very helpful guide to understanding this new venue that was scheduled to open in just two months’ time...

And so a press release dated March 27, 1990 and entitled “The 15 Most Asked Questions About The Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre” was sent out to all regional media before the first scheduled concert at the brand new venue.  Musicasaurus.com has listed 9 of the original 15 questions below, with first, the answer as originally written on the 3/27/90 release, followed immediately by a second answer--this one our “revision for posterity”, as we now have the benefit of hindsight...

1.  What is an Amphitheatre?

(Taken from the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  Amphitheatres have been around for thousands of years as outdoor arenas for meetings and performances.  In the past several years, amphitheatres have become popular as outdoor music and entertainment centers.  The new Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre will be one of the best concert facilities in the world.  This new $10 million dollar facility will feature the latest in state-of-the-art design and acoustics.  It will comfortably accommodate 20,000 guests; 7,000 in reserved theatre seats within an open-air pavilion and 13,000 on a gently sloping natural hillside.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  Amphitheatres have been around for thousands of years as outdoor arenas for meetings and performances.  For example, the Romans used amphitheatres for gladiatorial games where bare-chested, brawling men fought each other until much blood was spilled.  This will be the case at the new Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre on a very consistent basis, once OzzFest begins to annually tour in 1997...The amphitheatre will comfortably accommodate 20,000 guests; it will also on occasion uncomfortably accommodate 26,000 guests, as the expression “It’s a tiny heinie show” will rear its head--which will be management’s justification to expand lawn capacity for select concerts, attempting to squeeze a lot more arses into all open green spaces.

2.  Where is the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre?

(Taken from the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  It’s just 25 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh.  Star Lake is located on 328 acres at the intersection of routes U.S. 22 and State 18 at the northern edge of Washington County.  From Pittsburgh, take the Parkway West toward the Pittsburgh International Airport.  Follow U.S. Routes 22/30 towards Weirton to the intersection of U.S. Route 22 and State Road 18.  The amphitheatre is just 15 minutes off the Parkway West.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  It’s just 25 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, if you have strapped on a jet-pack or snagged a low-flying drone instead of getting in your car.  If you have no choice but to drive to one of the venue’s sold-out shows, plan to pack a catheter, 5 back issues of People magazine, some Zoloft and a deck of cards, and then take the Parkway West toward the Pittsburgh International Airport.  Follow U.S. Routes 22/30 towards Weirton and spend between one half-hour and two-and-a-half hours of stagnation and/or angst-inducing stop-and-start progress toward the intersection of U.S. Route 22 and State Road 18.  “The amphitheatre is just 15 minutes off the Parkway West”--we love the sound of this, but freely admit that this statement ranks right up there with “The check is in the mail”, “It’s not you...it’s me”, and “It’s only a cold sore”.     

3.  When is the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre going to open?

(Taken from the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  The opening concert for Star Lake will be June 17.  The normal amphitheatre season will run from May to September.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  The opening concert for Star Lake will be June 16, and we will have regional and local artists perform in a “dry run” type of show so that our staff members--especially our parking personnel--get some much-needed practice before the sold-out Billy Joel show on the 17th.  We anticipate that despite this run-through, parking will be an abysmal failure on this first night with Billy Joel, and decades later the amphitheatre will still be haunted by the Ghost of Crisis Past.

4.  Where can I get tickets for events at the Amphitheatre?

(Taken from the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  Tickets can be purchased through the Choice Seat computerized ticket service with over 30 tri-state area outlets including selected Kaufmann’s, Horne’s, Record Outlets and at the Civic Arena Gate #1 Box Office.  Tickets are also available on the day of the show at the Amphitheatre Box Office.  You can charge your tickets by phone by calling 412/333-SEAT (412/333-7328).

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  At the moment, tickets can be purchased through the Choice Seat computerized ticket service with over 30 tri-state area outlets including selected Kaufmann’s, Horne’s, Record Outlets and at the Civic Arena Gate #1 Box Office.  However, event ticketing is a volatile and topsy-turvy business, so don’t be surprised if at some point Choice Seat closes down and TicketMaster swoops in, Kaufmann’s eventually becomes a Macy’s, Horne’s and Record Outlets both go out of business, the internet largely replaces ticket outlets AND phone sales, web scalpers eat your wallet for breakfast if you even look in their direction, and the Civic Arena Gate #1 Box Office falls to the wrecking ball.  I’m just sayin’...Could happen... 

5.  How can I find out who is appearing at Star Lake?

(Taken from the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  Listen for radio and TV commercials and watch for newspaper ads about upcoming concerts and events.  Star Lake will also have a soon-to-be-announced hotline number.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  Listen for radio and TV commercials and watch for newspaper ads about upcoming concerts and events, unless you are solely interested in the band Chicago, in which case you can--over the next 20 years or more--just pick any arbitrary evening and drive out to the venue, and you’ll have a 1-in-20 chance of finding the band up on stage again.

6.  What kinds of entertainment will be at the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre?

(Taken from the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  Billy Joel will set the standard by performing the grand opening concert at Star Lake with his record-breaking Storm Front World Tour on June 17.  The brightest names in entertainment, including the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, will appear at Star Lake.  From country to pop, from classical to rhythm & blues, from contemporary to jazz--the superstars will all be at Star Lake this summer!  The Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre will also serve as a special events park perfect for fairs, arts festivals, company picnics, trade shows and corporate special events.  More than 40 shows and special events will take place at Star Lake this summer.  Watch for “Coming Attraction” announcements in the next few weeks.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  Billy Joel will set the standard by performing the grand opening concert at Star Lake on June 17 in front of the least amount of people attending any sold-out event, as some concert-goers will still be trying to drive into the parking lots as Billy is beginning his encore...The brightest names in entertainment will appear at Star Lake such as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, but only four times total, and only in the first two summers, because the Well-Heeled and the High-Heeled will soon beat a hasty retreat (away from the dust and out of the heat) back down to the time-honored, climate-controlled Heinz Hall venue in downtown Pittsburgh...More than 40 shows and special events will take place at Star Lake this summer, but twenty years on, this show total will shrink to half that amount due to industry right-sizing and adoption of a “less is more” philosophy (i.e., the less the venue takes risks on questionable bands and high artist-fee scenarios, the more money the venue can actually make in the end).

7.  Can we bring a picnic with us to the Amphitheatre?

(Taken from the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  Outside food, beverages, coolers, bottles and containers of any kind are not allowed into the facility.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  Because we will be serving our food and drinks to you at “captive audience” prices, we are thinking of starting out this first year by banning you from bringing any food and beer, or wine and spirits, onto the amphitheatre grounds at all--which of course means that in the parking lots, tailgating will not be tolerated.  But if during the first scheduled show “The Will of The People” makes itself known and tailgating rears up to such a degree that it cuts a mighty swath in our resolve, we will obviously cave and allow this black-and-gold mentality to nestle in for good.

8.  What kind of parking is available at the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre?

(Taken from the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  There is plenty of secure, well-lit parking located immediately adjacent to the Amphitheatre.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  There are plenty of insecure parking attendants and well-lit patrons located immediately adjacent to the Amphitheatre.

9.  What happens if it rains?

(Taken from the 3/27/90 pre-grand opening press release):  Rain or shine, the show goes on.

(In hindsight, the answer should have been):  Well, you could try  Maybe you could  You might want to  You’re screwed.   



Posted 1/28/13.....TO THE ISLAND

When Life turns a bit chaotic, you tend to have a few thoughts about chucking it all--and certainly if it isn’t the chaos that’s currently upending you, it’s the routine that plumb numbs you.  So between this push and this pull, perchance you begin to dream, “What if I left it all behind?”

One day recently in the grip of such a funk, I began to think about the attractive nature of the “desert island” scenario, where one could essentially be stripped of stress by reducing Life to a party of one.  Indeed if this possibility of a pure escape from the modern world opened up to me, I’d be certain to be prepared for it by following the golden rule of all potential castaways:  Make sure you have your Top Ten albums with you.

So, let’s get started:  I imagine myself on a large ship travelin’ the tropical seas and suddenly there’s a titanic happenstance of one kind or another, and I am cast adrift on an old oak barrel, bobbing away from the mother ship.  The only thing I’m clasping onto, in my frenzy to leave the sinking vessel, is a handful of albums wrapped in watertight plastic.  But then what to my wandering eyes should appear but a miniature island toward which I then steer...

As I stagger exhaustedly up onto the shoreline clutching my prized records, my first thoughts are not about food or shelter.  They are: “Why in the hell did I bring albums when an iPhone would have been a much smarter bet?  And who WAS this Neanderthal who thought up the “Top Ten Albums on a Desert Isle” thing, and then didn’t bother to update it for the Tech Age?”

I let that anger subside, and set about defining my mission:  Finding some way to build a turntable, amplifier, and speakers, and also to then supply the island with electricity.  Nawww, that’s too tall an order (I tell myself), besides, it’s getting close to lunchtime.  Instead I find myself praying for--and receiving--a miracle.

Down the beach a bit, I see some specks of hope on the shoreline. As I get closer, I realize that a turntable, amplifier, speakers, cords & connectors, and a practically endless supply of battery packs have washed up on shore, all encased in plastic wrap and in perfect working order (take the leap with me here, readers.  You would NOT have been happy with a long and painful exposition of how I created some sort of Rube Goldberg machine from hollowed-out logs, vines, pulleys, stream water, a flat stone wheel, and a single needle from a porcupine fish, in an effort to create an all-natural-ingredients record player.)

So this bit of washed-up good fortune sews it up for me, and I’m now set for playin’ the new soundtracks to my Life.  I had chosen wisely, I believe, before embarking on this ill-fated ocean voyage.  I had packed up my Top Ten, of course, which includes a representative album from The Beatles, Little Feat, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny Group, Van Morrison, Weather Report, and a few others. 

But I also made sure to take a few extra “life preservers”--albums that would directly complement my daily routines and practices as a stranded survivor on a desolate island.  These additional life-preserving albums are as follows:

1.  Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes by Jimmy Buffett...

Yes, I know that this album selection seems to be a bit obvious, but it’s perfect for perhaps the first full sun-drenched day of my new life on the island, when I need a bit of transitional listening material to start my new voyage into solitude, and into austerity (uh, minus the kick-ass stereo, of course).

As far as the song selection on this 1977 release, I’d stay way the hell away from “Margaritaville”.  To some folks that song may bring rafts of pleasure, but I’ll pass right by that bit of Kon-Tiki Bar music.  It’s the title tune I’m after, and through the title alone I’d be inspired to undergo an initial attitude adjustment as I delve (and hopefully not devolve) into Island Life.

2.  The self-titled album by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown...

This psychedelic, lunatic-fronted band produced one album in England in 1968.  The song “Fire” from that album is the one that I’d use as a good luck charm, as I stare down at my twigs-and-shoots pile on the beach, and hold a couple of flint stones--yabba dabba doo!--in my hands.

There has to be some incendiary magic in this particular tune’s opening strains, when the seemingly-psychotic Arthur Brown roars “I AM THE GOD OF HELL FIRE, AND I BRING YOU...FIRE!”  The devilishly cheesy organ kicks in, and then--because ain’t nobody around, no how--I start to do these wildly uninhibited arms-at-face-level dance moves, trying to summon up enough fire spirits to be able to spark that blaze into being.

3.  Bone Machine by Tom Waits...

Ah yes, Tom started off his career as a wondrous singer-songwriter in the early ‘70s with songs like “Martha”, “Ol’ 55”, “(Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night”, and other delights...Somewhere along the recording trail, though, his voice turned into the drummer Animal from the Muppets band, a very croaking and scary kind of thing. 

I’d cue up the song “The Earth Dies Screaming” from his 1992 Bone Machine release, and blast it late at night when worried that predators might come near my campfire.  This is sure to give them pause--either scare the bejesus out of them, or lull them into thinking they had a beast friend nearby who’d already staked out his turf.

4.  Television’s Greatest Hits, Vol. I: From the 50s and 60s...

Well, as is obvious, I would have no laptop, no tablet, no phone, and thus of course no means of accessing television, which is a good thing:  When I even fantasize for a millisecond about rolling up a tree stump in front of a TV to pass the time, I start to get nauseous.  Part of my joy in having crash-coursed into this Island Life is that I have fully escaped that vile & pernicious slime, as Frank Zappa once dubbed it. 

Arguably some television programming is vital and redeeming, but having a Pandora’s Box situation with an actual TV set on the isle would be ill-advised for any respectable castaway.  It wouldn’t take five minutes of The Real Housewives of Orange County for the eyes to glaze over, saliva to drip down the chin, and little bits of brain matter to leak out one ear...But musically, some TV-related tunes would be welcome.  From this album, I’d play the track that’s the theme to the 1964-1967 sitcom Gilligan’s Island, just so I could revel in the memories of castaways Gilligan, The Skipper, Thurston Howell III and his wife “Lovey”, The Professor, Mary Ann...Oh, and that other female character, who had me absolutely cuckoo for coconuts in my early teens--the original spicy girl, Ginger.

5.  The Blizzard of Ozz by Ozzy Osbourne...

In the event that I needed a morning to just assail the universe and do some primal screaming on the beach, I’d lean on Ozzy.  The track “Crazy Train” from this 1981 release would be a rousing start, and my only lament would be that I didn’t have MORE of these types of tunes available to plunk down on the turntable...

What would have been perfect to pack would have been an album of representative tracks from a number of artists who played on Ozzy’s national OzzFest tours (the multi-band festivals he started up in 1997).  I can’t say that I know these artists intimately, but judging by their names, I’m sure there’d be primal-scream nuggets aplenty:  Prong, Megadeth, Every Time I Die, Snot, Ultraspank, Slayer, Fear Factory, Methods of Mayhem, Hatebreed, Slaves on Dope, and Disturbed...Talk about a head-clearing listening experience; I believe I’d be purging every bit of angst from my soul with this sonic colonic.

6.  Barry Williams Presents: One Hit Wonders Of The 70s...

Two questions:  What better authority would there be than Barry Williams of The Brady Bunch to round up a collection of nostalgic nuggets from the 70s?  And why bring such an album of songs along to the island, especially since a couple of them really make your skin crawl?

Having a stockpile of such songs serves a dual purpose.  1) If I’d wake up one morning and see off the coastline an off-course ship full of Somali pirates, I’d just try blasting “Sometimes When We Touch” by Dan Hill, with speakers aimed out at the water (thank God music is fairly universal)Or 2) If I mistakenly ate some seeds that turned out to be poisonous (like it was alleged that Alex Supertramp did, in the book-and-film Into The Wild), I would just lay the phonograph needle down on track # 8, “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks.  My vomitous reaction to follow would lead to a major upchuck, essentially saving my life.

(Dishonorable mentions that I wouldn’t have necessarily packed for the trip, but that would’ve done the trick as well:  Any album collections including “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro...“Yummy Yummy Yummy” by Ohio Express...“You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone...“Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste of Honey...and a bit more current but equally unsettling, the song “Friday” by YouTube-sensation-for-a-day Rebecca Black.)

7.  I’ve Got So Much To Give by Barry White...

Have mercy, I have needs like everyone else.  Being alone on the island, without human companionship and its attendant physical benefits, I MUST be prepared for the inevitability of seeking solace in the arms of...well, whatever fills the bill. 

And if I feel myself starting to look longingly at any of the island’s animal inhabitants--a gibbon here, a tapir there--I’m just going to have to get myself in the mood or I won’t go through with it.  Barry will help with that.  I will start by playing the above-listed title tune from his 1973 debut, lay some bedroom eyes on my animal friends, and for an encore, play Barry’s Top Five hit off this same release, “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby”.

8.  Little Queen by Heart...

I confess that this album would have made the original “must-bring” list only based on one single-minded purpose:  If I ever decided that my time on the island had come to an end and I wanted to return to civilization--or attempt to, at least--this album would be the one I’d take on my hastily-built raft when trying to escape the shoreline tides and break free to the wide ocean shipping lanes beyond...

It’s no secret that my mind is music laden, but I sometimes think cinematically as well, so if my Heart album somehow got dislodged and swept off my makeshift raft, I’d be able to call up my deepest emotions and scream “Wilsons!  I’m sorry!  I’m sorry, Wilsons!”...

ALONG THESE LINES OF ATTEMPTING A RETURN TO CIVILIZATION:  Out on that raft for days on end, I would surely be dehydrated and near death.  But just in the nick of time, I believe, I’d be picked up out of the water by a passing cruise ship.  I’d be too woozy to focus on very much, but would whisper sleepy gratitude to the high-fiving, highly-relieved crew members who’d be poring over me with warm blankets and medical attention. 

When I would finally “come to” in the ship’s medical center, I’d sit up and wrap myself in a blanket and walk the decks to get a better sense of my surroundings.  And that’s when I would gently push open the double doors to the ship’s Grand Ballroom to find a large banner slung across the top of the darkened stage:  “WELCOME TO THE REO SPEEDWAGON MUSIC CRUISE...Four Nights & Five Days of Fun and Festivities!”

I can tell you there’d be a sound of a splash off the starboard about ten seconds later.  It would be “back to the island” for me...or at least a merciful end in the open seas.



  1. Title of posting:  “To The Island” by Jay Ferguson     http://youtu.be/dsHwDQfgROg
  2. Initial attitude adjustment:  “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” by Jimmy Buffett     http://youtu.be/O2_lU3adj5k
  3. A surefire fire starter:  “Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown     http://youtu.be/NOErZuzZpS8
  4. To be used for warding off animal predators at night:  “The Earth Dies Screaming” by Tom Waits     http://youtu.be/whPzJbntlnY
  5. Reminiscing about other castaways:  Theme song from Gilligan’s Island     http://youtu.be/yfSLuEj99d0
  6. For primal scream sessions on the beach:  “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne     http://youtu.be/w0N-l0tCHhM
  7. Dual-purpose songs:  A) for nauseating and thus warding off attacks by off-course Somali Pirates, and/or B) for self-inflicting a quick vomiting spell because of an accidental poisoning:
  8. I’m In The Mood For Love (but only because they’re near me):  Barry White’s “I’ve Got So Much To Give”     http://youtu.be/r6OY1ESxMmk   and   “I’m Going To Love You Just A Little More Baby”     http://youtu.be/8Wlz_bKHi9s
  9. A couple of selections from the “Wilsons”, sisters Ann and Nancy, the founders of the band Heart (from Heart’s album Little Queen):



Posted 1/14/13.....FEATS DON'T FAIL ME NOW

When my friend James called me a couple of months ago to say he had tickets to a Little Feat concert, I was in the middle of an onslaught of occupational preoccupations plus mounting chores & mental to-do’s on the homefront--in other words, it was a normal ping-ponging day in my self-styled land of make believe.  This was good news and a pleasant diversion; I marked the concert date on the calendar, and frankly forgot about it for a while...

Little Feat and I go wayyy back to the early 1970s.  But I did lose track of them starting in the very late 1980s for a number of reasons--chief among them, kids and career concentration--but now there seemed a chance to catch up once again.  It had been 24 years since the last time I’d seen them live.

As the concert date drew nearer, James called to let me know that Hurricane Sandy had messed with our destined reunion.  Thus the concert--which had been set for the 500-capacity music & entertainment venue Jergel’s, just north of Pittsburgh--had to be scuttled so our plans were reshuffled.  Eventually, though, it was announced that the band had been able to rebook the date for Tuesday, January 8th.

Before I tread much further in this tale, it’s time to try to convey the importance of this band, which is no mean feat.  Their most significant period of contribution to the world of Rock ‘n’ Roll happened in the 1970s, with their first album hitting in ’71 and the band going under, all asunder, in ’79.  And in that ‘70s music scene--in that manic, melting-pot decade of overarching artistic achievement and delirious fandom--this band stands as one of the most innovative and emotionally satisfying musical ensembles to ever lay down tracks.

I was in my second semester as a sophomore at Clarion State College when the band’s third album Dixie Chicken was released in February ‘73.  Though I’d thoroughly enjoyed bits & pieces of their two previous records, on the whole this Dixie Chicken was a motherclucker.  It was breathtaking in its scope and flowed organically from start to finish, with songs that were lyrically sophisticated, smartly arranged and flawlessly performed.  The band had previously staked their territory as a melding of American styles including rock ‘n’ roll, blues, country, even jazz--and now they had found the funk, imbuing their stew with some New Orleans-style rhythm & blues.  To the fans of Feat, this integration was like a revelation; it felt like their final growth spurt toward a wondrous new level of musical maturity.

Founding Feat member Lowell George had always been at the helm as chief songwriter and wielder of a wickedly-sly slide guitar.  He and drummer Richie Hayward along with keyboard player Bill Payne had started the band back in ’69 with bassist Roy Estrada, formerly of The Mothers of Invention.  George had also at that time recently departed The Mothers, and there are various accounts as to why--one story has it that Frank Zappa (the Grand Mother) rebuffed George’s new tune “Willin’” due to its reference to “weed, whites and wine”.  As this tale goes, Zappa apparently wouldn’t condone ANY song about dope, and yet at this stage in The Mothers, he was all about nonconformist song structure and unusual sonic snippets, everything from surrealistic dialogue to the sounds of human snorts--go figger.

Anyway, the first two albums were basically the Feat as this foursome--George, Hayward, Payne and Estrada.  Going into the recording of 1973’s Dixie Chicken, however, the band lost a member and picked up three new ones: Estrada had exited, and on came replacement bassist Kenny Gradney, now second guitarist Paul Barrere, and percussionist Sam Clayton.  With this infusion, and Lowell George at the peak of his songwriting prowess, the band had coalesced into a killer unit...

Over the next six years, the band produced a string of albums that kept our coterie of Feat followers totally enrapt...The band never quite crossed into the musical mainstream, certainly not in terms of rampant and widespread success, so it was as if Feat was ours alone.  We were The Cognoscenti; the ones who shared knowledge of a superior rock band whose music towered over all else. We let the FM stations have their Zeps and their Floyds, while we filled our living room parties and outdoor escapades with the funk and the finesse of Feat...

The first time I actually saw Little Feat in concert was in 1978.  I had just nabbed my dream job in March as a traveling record-company merchandiser, and my role was to gather up posters, staple gun, and duct tape to plaster every record store in Western PA with displays of Warner Brothers, Elektra/Asylum and Atlantic Records’ new product.  Within the first few weeks of my new job, a roll of Little Feat posters arrived on my doorstep from the branch office; the band had just released their first live album on Warner Brothers, a double, entitled Waiting For Columbus.  AND they were on their way to Pittsburgh to play a date in support of that record.

The concert took place on April 8th at the Leona Theater in Homestead, PA (just outside of Pittsburgh).  It was a grand old venue, sadly in a state of disrepair; originally built in 1925 and hosting vaudeville and news reels, by the late ‘70s the Leona had become the repository for this new rascal called rock ‘n’ roll...I don’t remember much about the concert except a) the band was tight and focused, b) my seats were shitty, and c) the back 2 or 3 rows of the theatre (where I was sitting) were threatened by hanging asbestos or some other injurious stuffing that was pushing through the dilapidated ceiling panels.  It wasn’t that many years afterward that the theater was torn down to make way for a new convenience store called Sheetz...

The next time I saw Feat was a decade later, and a lot had changed.  The band had split up in 1979 while putting the finishing touches on their seventh studio album Down On The Farm, and Lowell George, who had just started his solo career and a concurrent tour, died unexpectedly.  Or, perhaps that was to be expected--though a brilliant musician and songwriter, George lived a lifestyle of certain excesses, and reportedly this contributed (along with somewhat of a weight problem) to a sudden heart attack while just weeks into his new venture...The band then scattered to the artistic winds, and reportedly a 1986 just-by-chance jam session attended by Bill Payne and Paul Barrere rekindled the spirit.  All of the remaining members reassembled the next year, and in 1988 Feat trod once again over the musical landscape.  They picked up two new members--Fred Tackett, a multi-instrumentalist who had contributed material and musicianship to the band on a few of their early ‘70s studio efforts, and new vocalist Craig Fuller, whose main claim to fame had been forming ‘70s country-rock band Pure Prairie League and singing lead on their crossover Country and Pop Top-Thirty hit “Amie”.    

So on July 13, 1988, ten years after experiencing Feat with Lowell at the Leona, I sat enthralled at a small club in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh as Little Feat came roaring back to life under the eerily similar-sounding vocals of Craig Fuller.  Fuller handled the Lowell George-led material with aplomb, and new guitarist Tackett helped complete this godsend reemergence of Feat...The club was called Graffiti, a true local treasure in that the room had great acoustics and intimacy even at sell-out, which was 600.  In this showcase setting, Feat took the stage to the unbelievable opening roar of the 600 faithful, and proceeded to nail the funk, fusion, rock and rhythm & blues of their best material from ’71 through ’79.

Feat’s plan of reuniting and adding Fuller and Tackett, though, was long-term.  Simultaneous to the launch of this tour, the band released a new album called Let It Roll that featured all new songs that were true band efforts--new member Fuller writing with Barrere, Fuller with Payne, Fuller with Barrere and Payne, etc.  The material was surprisingly strong, much to the relief of my fellow cultists & zealots who were initially semi-spooked that the band’s legacy might be marred.  Two songs from the new record received thunderous applause that night--the album’s lead-off track “Hate To Lose Your Lovin’” and especially “Hangin’ On To The Good Times”, with lyrics that brought eye-glistening smiles from the 600 and then roars of recaptured bliss: “And though we went our own ways / We couldn’t escape from where we came / So we find ourselves back at the table again / Tellin’ stories of survivors and friends”...

The band’s re-embrace by fans that evening was mirrored across the country, and Feat moved on up to larger theatres within the year.  In fact, less than three months after this hot July evening in the small sweaty club, Feat returned to Pittsburgh for a sold-out Syria Mosque show on October 2nd which had 3,700 fans--the already-baptized and the new initiates--reveling in this full-bodied return to glory.

After the band’s triumphant return in ’88, I sort of lost my footing with Feat.  I strayed from the flock, but it was unintentional and gradual.  As the band continued to release albums sporadically through the years and abided some changes--like losing vocalist Fuller in ’93, and that same year bringing on female vocalist Shaun Murphy--I veered off from their path, mostly consumed with raising a family as well as climbing (and sometimes clinging to) ladders of opportunity in some challenging work circumstances...I would run across occasional listings of regional appearances by Feat--in line-ups of various festivals and rib-fests, or as openers for more commercially successful bands--but somehow a huge chunk of Time elapsed, and I lost track of their new recorded output as well...All the while, though, in my CD mixes and my on-line playlists, there they’d be--tantalizing tracks from the ‘70s, sounding as vital and fulfilling as the first time my record player needle touched down on their vinyl...

So 24 years after their grand reformation in 1988 and my last live viewing of the band, James gave me the ticket to renewal of my faith...On Tuesday, January 8th around 7:15pm, we took our seats at a table for four on the floor at Jergel’s, about fifteen feet away from the lip of the stage.  The band gear was in place with small amp lights on, and the room was abuzz with expectation and clatter.  I surveyed the scene--Jesus, there were a lot of old people in the place!  Grizzly Adams over by the bar...Rip Van Winkle in a standing pose, eyes closed but nestling a shot glass in one tucked hand...and fifty shades of grey peppered throughout the floor table inhabitants.  I mentioned this to James, and he suggested that I just might wanna go to the bathroom and take a long hard look in the mirror.

The band trotted out from backstage around 8:15, and déjà vu coursed through my bloodstream, causing that nice little endorphin spark to skitter up my spine to the back of my head.  Paul Barrere, Bill Payne, Sam Clayton, and Kenny Gradney--the 40-year Feat elite!--took the stage with modest waves and semi-smiles.  Fred Tackett--24 years with the band--was there as well, and also new recruit Gabe Ford (the latter had recently replaced original drummer Richie Hayward, who had passed away in August of 2010 at the age of 64).

Here they were, all in the sixties now except for the young’un on the drum kit (practically in diapers at 39).  The band shoulder-strapped their guitars and bass, settled in on keyboards and drums, and kicked right in with “Hate To Lose Your Lovin’”.  My joy and my relief were simultaneous and palpable--the band unspooled this first bit of funk ‘n’ roll with authority and passion, and though I knew that blind devotion and nostalgia were coloring my receptors at the moment, truly the band was in pure lockstep and they effortlessly spurred each other on, in service to the song.

My reunion with Feat that night was all that I had hoped it would be.  After an almost-two hour set, the band lined up on the front of the stage to take bows and bask in ripples and waves of admiration and thanks...

The real and reoccurring thrill for me that night was watching each of the individual band members watch each other.  As they sailed through the song list, their faces a bit craggy, road-worn and wise, there were subtle but knowing nods, and cracks of smiles at the corners of their lips.  Forty years on, this band of brothers is still at the peak of its powers after scores of venues and thousands of miles, on top of (I’m sure) Life’s usual trials of love, loss and lament.  On stage, they were equal to or better than 24 years ago at Graffiti & Syria Mosque, and 34 years ago at The Leona Theater. 

Feat will always be elbowing their way onto my perpetual playlists here at home, and there isn’t really another band born in the ‘70s that I consistently go back to, to pluck such amazing ballads (like “Willin’” or “Long Distance Love”)...or a bit of limb-twitchin’ funk (such as “Fat Man In The Bathtub” or the live version of “Spanish Moon”)...or incredibly catchy rock ‘n’ roll (“Rock & Roll Doctor” or “Oh Atlanta”).  I really don’t know who else I’d turn to, for such awe-inspiring and fulfilling music--there’d be big shoes to fill, when it came to Little Feat.



Feat Ballads:

Feat Funk:

Feat Rock ‘n’ Roll:

...And Le Feat’s pièce de résistance:



Posted 12/31/12:  I WANT MY...I WANT MY...I WANT MY MTV

When the 1970s ended and the new decade began I was gainfully employed at National Record Mart, the regional record behemoth that had (at that time) around 70+ retail stores dotted throughout a six-state landscape.  The cluster of original core stores was in Pittsburgh, PA, and the company’s management team eventually nestled into a large office-and-warehouse complex on the east side of the city.  From there, the chain physically fed the entire pipeline with new releases and back catalogue of albums & tapes from literally thousands of artists.

National Record Mart (NRM) pushed out a ton of this product for the record companies, who all largely operated out of Cleveland, Ohio branch offices.  The label guys would come into Pittsburgh often, pitching their latest label signings and new releases to our VP of Purchasing and his coterie of buyers, the deputized keepers of the keys when it came to stocking the stores with pop stars of the moment, rock legends, country crooners, classical artists, jazz greats, and more.

Business was strong in those early ‘80s and Radio was truly the means and the muscle for selling albums & tapes at that point in time.  We had close relationships with Pittsburgh stations as well as the ones in our secondary markets, and it was Classic Rock and Top 40 in particular that made our business zing and the regi$ter$ ring...At the same time, the record companies were flush with cash and seemingly always in a signing frenzy, their talent acquisition folks jumping on all sorts of new artists and new trends willy-nilly.

I had started at NRM in 1980.  For the previous two years I’d been working as the Pittsburgh-based display person for the record-label distribution group called Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, but when there was suddenly a company-wide rightsizing blip in December 1979, I then ended up at NRM.  (If I recall correctly, I was able to consult on my title before I started at the record retailer, as this was a newly created chain-wide merchandising position.  In lieu of a salary I could actually live on, I received the title of Creative Merchandising Coordinator--which was probably a much better fit for my business card than He Who Schleps To Stores With Staple Gun, Posters And Scotch Tape.)

One day in the Spring of 1981 I was summoned to the NRM president’s office along with my boss, the VP of Purchasing.  A Warner Cable television representative had secured a meeting with our leader to discuss a nascent music channel that was on its way to Warner’s local system--something he called MTV.  The Warner Cable rep pitched & wooed, saying that a true music revolution was coming our way in the form of this 24-hour music video channel, and that we should hop aboard with advertising dollars from the outset.  The music channel, he went on, was scheduled to debut on August 1st, just a few months down the line.

I remember that our president--an intelligent but unyielding personality whose elitist mindset included a deep love of Opera & Classical--sat all brow-furrowed and bored, looking like he wanted to chuck the snake oil salesman right out the door.  After the Warner rep had departed, the president closed the door to opine to my boss and me that he had grave concerns about the potential success of a fulltime music video channel.  He shooed us, sank back into his Debussy cassette, and left my boss and me to figure out the future--as long as it didn’t involve spending too many of our marketing dollars on this looming lab-rat exercise.

MTV started up on cue on August 1st.  Broadcast out of New York, the channel was beamed throughout the country to those source providers of cable who were willing and able.  The first video that the fledgling full-time music channel aired was The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”, which was a nice initial swipe at their industry mates who trafficked only in sound and not in vision.

Locally, the biggest problem we initially had with MTV was Pittsburgh’s cable penetration.  Warner Cable covered the City of Pittsburgh, but outlying suburbs (and beyond) had different carriers and spotty coverage, and these cable operators weren’t necessarily lining up to adopt a risky new rock ‘n’ roll channel when space on their systems was quite limited to begin with...Thus at first--for those of us working at NRM--MTV was only a curiosity item, underwhelming in terms of its impact on sales...

Personally, I was an early adopter.  I was livin’ the singles life with my high-school friend Mik