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 12/3/13.....I’VE GOT THE MUZAK IN ME
(Next posting: Monday morning, December 16, 2013)
I haven’t thought about Muzak in eons...I’m not sure whether I still encounter it, or if my perception has dulled over time and I’m just successfully tuning it out while mulling over piles & racks in stores, or lifting my eyes up on an elevator ride.
But no, after some digging online for this 12/3 posting, I have found that Muzak no longer exists in its most disgusting forms, which to me were two incarnations of the beast dating back to the 1950s in the first instance, and then the 1960s-turned-1970s...
But let’s start by defining my ire. On Dictionary.com, Muzak is described as“recorded light music played in shops, restaurants, factories, etc., to entertain, increase sales or production, etc.”
The format was invented in the 1920s by a West Point grad named Major General George Owen Squier (no relation to Billy) whose innovative inclinations eventually led to his patented technique of piping music and news to businesses through electric cables. Squier found an immediate market in businesses that wanted to goose productivity in their workers, and so he formed his own company, Wired Radio, in Fort Mills, South Carolina in 1922. Before Squier’s death in 1934 he had renamed his company Muzak, and after his passing there came a shift in the organization, away from the existing dance music & news emphasis toward the now legendary, stultifyingly sweet orchestral music.
Especially through the ‘50s and most of the ‘60s, Muzak was insidiously ingrained in professional workplaces like dentists’ and doctors’ offices, banks and hotels, grocery stores, airports, and every self-respecting retail outlet in malls across America. The company was also running high on its own research which touted, on several fronts, that Muzak was good for business--in motivating workers on production lines and/or in office goal-quota situations, and also in gently nudging retail customers to “shop ‘til they drop” (from credit card-iac arrest).
The songs on Muzak at that time were mostly light orchestral versions of movie soundtrack tunes such as “Theme from A Summer Place”, as well as host of other syrupy, string-swollen songs that were right out of the Mantovani school of music (Mantovani was an Italian-born Brit, a conductor/light-orchestra leader who found great success in the 1950s with his own brand of peaceful easy-feelin’ pablum, dispensed via the new stereophonic 33 1/3 RPM discs that were being demonstrated in hi-fi stores across the U.S.).
Honestly, the memories of this Mantovani-style Muzak pain me to this day. If it were to surface again for whatever reason, I’d have to be popping pills just to cope (a la Randle P. McMurphy), and you’d probably have to actually kill me to get me into a mall that played this stuff (George Romero once scripted his way to this, but I don’t think that’s my avenue...)
As aggravating as that particular form of Muzak was, the one that truly troubled me back in my youth hailed from that stretch of the ‘60s & ‘70s when societal shifts were helping to birth exciting new tributaries of music, most of them born out of our forefathers’ rhythm & blues, folk, blues, and country music. That was a heady time when we young folks were witness to The Beatles and the other British Invasion bands hitting our shoreline, Dylan emerging on the folk scene, and the “Flower Power” generation sewing seeds of support for new bands like Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane to sprout and flourish. Soon, we also had Led Zeppelin starting to trample us underfoot...Pink Floyd mooning us, no longer obscured by clouds...and so on...
So into this fertile delta of artistic innovation, and across this new and widening plain of musical expression, an interloper comes lopin’ along--and Muzak takes a hold of our treasures. It didn’t happen at first, but once the younger generation’s new music started to seriously take root, Muzak cocked its head and looked desirously toward these new musical sources.
When first gathering information for this particular posting on Muzak, I had turned to a few writer friends of mine...Right off the bat, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Brian O’Neill had a few words to say about the format--and about me: “Muzak? It is gone now, isn't it? This sort of willfully spread tinnitus, the most subtle yet rampant of biblical plagues, is gone. I'm not sure I ever heard the Muzak form of 'Locomotive Breath,' but I believe I did, because, dear Lance, when you used the word in your request email, you cause me to hear the strings muffling all the vitriol of that rock classic, vitriol I now must hold for you for putting this ear worm in my head, you bastard.”
Writers are so damn sensitive--but he’s got a point. My own bone of contention with Muzak is exactly the same as Brian’s: Some of our favorite ‘60s and ‘70s artists’ finest creations were pinned down, stripped, and all of their vital parts individually plucked out and squeezed of all vitality. What finally emerged in each case was a droning clone, a mere shell of a song, a bloody bland corpse all string’ed up--with us on the receiving end, of course, all hung out to cry.
There was absolutely no worse feeling than being in a mall store in the ‘60s or early ‘70s, and suddenly a spasm of recognition gives you a head twitch--Is that Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”?!! Your insides start to burn as you wrestle with The Cruel Universe over the injustice of someone decimating such an iconic, sonic slice of our existence. Adding fuel to that inner fire: The fact that, looking around at other shoppers and browsers, no one else seemed to be taking visible offense nor even appearing to be the least bit nauseas...
Combing through blogs and other music sites I have come up with a nice array of similar mutilations, so feast on the idea here that all of the following songs were Muzak’ed at one time or another, and then pumped out to perhaps millions of unsuspecting listeners across the country: Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”.....Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up”.....“Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent (a head-scratcher, for sure).....“Light My Fire” by The Doors.....The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “I Am The Walrus”.....“Hotel California” by The Eagles.....Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”.....Aerosmith’s “Love In An Elevator” (appropriate, in retrospect).....“Tumbling Dice” and “Satisfaction” from The Rolling Stones.....“Dust In The Wind” (arguably, the original version would have been sufficiently debilitating).....“Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2” from Pink Floyd.....Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA”.....“Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden (you read right).....Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper”.....“D.O.A” by Bloodrock.....“Whip It” by Devo.....“Smells Like Teen Spirit” from Nirvana.....and “Tangerine” from Led Zeppelin (with an oboe standing in for Robert Plant).
Back to my writer friends: Here is what three others had to say on the subject:
1.) Steve Hansen (former radio talent / independent writer and producer / Pittsburgh, PA): “If memory and Google serve, Muzak wasn't invented specifically to annoy me. It's been around since the ‘30s, but who cared about bad versions of bad songs? It wasn't until the ‘60s that Muzak caught my full attention, much the way a loud fart might in a crowded elevator.
“Over the years it's become de rigueur cringe at the sound of some rock classic being mauled by the Muzak orchestra. ‘Is that Zeppelin!?’ ‘Are you kidding me--Crazy Train?’ But I'm used to it now. It was my youth that was most impacted by elevator music. That's when I first heard Beatles music being reduced to sonic mush. That's when I became aware of how disarmingly simple it was to strip the urgency, energy and buoyancy of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’by feeding it, Fargo-style, into the violin equivalent of a wood chipper. For me, the first time I realized that the Beatles were fair game for the Muzak-makers is truly the day the music died.
“By the way, 'Muzak'--the name even sounds like you're puking the word--has been rebranded as 'Mood'. I guess even the parent company could no longer stand the strains of Muzak.”
2). Bill Johnston (writer and publishing executive / San Diego, CA): “Boy, how I miss Ray Conniff, the Swingle Singers, string-swollen, instrumental versions of early Beatle tunes. Not!
“Folks born in the ‘80s will (I hope) know what Muzak once was only through movies, computer games, etc., which have used this sonic sedation as momentary comic relief when juxtaposing it with some high-tension scene—usually a chase—that suddenly includes a slow elevator ride. But, young people, imagine, if you can, a retail world in which this soundscape doggedly dominated. Used, too, at the time, in places like dental offices and mental hospitals; those of us instantly averse to it openly derided it as tortuous. It was inescapable; some horrid ‘Milgram meets Ionesco’ social experiment. The only good thing about the targeted marketing music in today’s retail ‘spaces’ is the absence of this dismal, droning, dominating straightjacket.
“Remember the Saturday Night Live bit wherein Paul Simon is doomed to spend eternity listening to Muzak versions of his own songs?
“Life speeds by quickly, friends. If you want to slow it down to a speed just south of ‘interminable,’ listen to one of the recordings of this aural tryptophan available through sites like Amazon. But don’t listen long or you’ll find yourself browsing for Kenny G just to relieve the monotony.”
3). Rege Behe (former music writer at the PittsburghTribune-Review / freelance journalist / Pittsburgh, PA): “While in college, I worked at restaurants where the background Muzak drove me crazy. Bussing tables or washing dishes was made even more of a chore by the sappy strings of Mantovani and other purveyors of this soulless dreck. What I would have given to hear the Beatles, Stones or The Who as I worked for $2.10 -- or less -- per hour instead of ‘Love is Blue.’
“A few decades later, my wish has come true. In grocery stores, coffee shops and malls, pop/rock music has become aural wallpaper, heard but not noticed. A few weeks ago in a casino I heard The Smiths' ‘This Charming Man’ on the sound system. A good song by one of my favorite bands accompanying gray-haired gamblers as they fed money into slot machines. I've also heard Bob Schneider, Jill Sobule and Ryan Adams in public venues. I perk up whenever I hear one of these artists, but I feel like I'm just as ‘lost in the supermarket’ as The Clash. No one seems to care or notice. When people stop listening, maybe it's an indication that rock and roll really is dying.”
Musicasaurus.com Editor’s parting words: Muzak DOES still exist today, of course, just in a different form. Under new owner Mood Media since 2011, the company still operates in tailoring playlists for a number of companies to spur sales and productivity, but their heinous practice of stealing artists’ essences and spooling out lifeless, string-laden imitations is no more--and to that I say “Hallelujah” (uh, the Leonard Cohen version, if you please).
Posted 11/18/13.....AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING
Since musicasaurus.com will not be posting again until Monday, December 2nd, I feel I should extend to you best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving, come November 28th!
And thus I am giving you the bird--a story about a turkey, to be precise. I looked up the word “turkey” on dictionary.com recently, and the meaning that most stood out to me (situated there at #3 below the word Slang) was: “a poor and unsuccessful theatrical production; flop.”
We had one of those turkeys at the Pittsburgh-area amphitheatre where I worked, and it was one our company cooked up, basted and then laid on the table for fans. Please digest the following, and if you feel the need for Tums...
(One note before you dig in: This entry is an encore appearance of a posting no longer available on the site; it first appeared on 11/14/11 in this A DAY IN THE LIFE section of musicasaurus.com.)
Space, the final frontier...This recounts a voyage taken by the enterprising Star Lake Amphitheatre. Its multi-year mission: To explore strange new events, to seek out new lifeblood, to boldly go where no amphitheatre has gone before...
This is a snapshot of marketing, when we were shooting for the stars.
Star Date 1995: It was nearing summer, and the upcoming show schedule of Pittsburgh’s Star Lake Amphitheatre was already congealing with classic rock, country, and the other usual suspects. The forecast was lookin’ good—we had snagged two Buffetts back-to-back, Skynyrd for the beer drinkers & hell raisers, some white-hot pop attractions like Boyz II Men, and even a David Bowie/Nine Inch Nails date to feed the clamoring alternative fans.
Then we got the call from our home office in Houston, Texas: “Do you guys wanna do this event we’re putting together for a few special amphitheatre markets? It’s called Deep Space Spectacular.”
Our parent company Pace had several divisions back then, including Amphitheatres of course, but also a division called Pace Theatrical which produced and then routed Broadway shows across the land.
Who knows how Deep Space Spectacular was first conceived? Perhaps one morning the division heads had a particularly caffeinated exchange and came up with the concept...In any event, Deep Space Spectacular was birthed as a symphony tour with a twist—a full symphony orchestra playing an evening of themes from classic sci-fi films and television programs, like Star Trek, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Star Wars, and more...
To theoretically expand the base of this event’s appeal and give it a hip factor, our Pace bosses also signed up a laser lightshow company to provide a synchronized lighting plan—something symbiotic with the sonic—so the swooping and swelling Sci-Fi themes could play against the night sky as well.
The concept sounded kind of cool, and we told “Houston Control” that we were on board. Concerns? None, really...What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe we’d have a few 90-year-old symphony lovers going into cardiac arrest from the laser beams and strobes, but it’d be a small price to pay for a successful event...
As the on-sale date for Deep Space Spectacular loomed, our marketing team suggested adding some elements to the show at the local level to hedge our bet. The first thing we did is contact Justin, a local member of the Western PA chapter of Trekkies (the real-life followers of All Things Star Trek), and invited him in for a consultation.
After five minutes with Justin, we declared him the nerd we needed. He was deeply rooted in Sci-FI, bright and thoughtful, and—as we discovered in that first meeting—maybe just a tad slow to the draw in responding to our questions. (After getting to know him a bit better, we figured out the lag time in his response was just his brain being coaxed from the Asteroid Belt to answer an earthly concern.)
Justin jumped on board our enterprise. He pledged to help us with some out-of-the-box and appropriate marketing maneuvers, including the mailing of event postcards to fellow Trekkies, coordinating print ads for regional editions of Sci-Fi magazines, and spearheading the pursuit of Sci-FI vendors. Yes, Local Initiative # 2—following our first initiative of hiring Justin—was to convert our large festival tent at the bottom of the amphitheatre’s west plaza into a “Sci-FI Vendor Village”. This maneuver, we hoped, would spur more space cadets to speed out to our Spectacular...
And then we embarked on Local Initiative # 3—searching for a Star Trek crew member to touch down at Star Lake and become our Deep Space Celebrity. We were all aware that at Trekkie conventions across the country, Star Trek actors routinely were paid a handsome fee to spend a few hours signing autographs while pretending not to be disturbed at all by The People With No Lives.
We determined that a marquee name from either Star Trek: The Original Series or Star Trek: The Next Generation would be yet another boost for us in trying to ignite initial ticket sales, so we first took a shot at Shatner, but Captain Kirk was unavailable (and also mighty steep in the dollars department). Ditto for Spock, so we checked on Chekov, maneuvered for McCoy, and jockeyed for Jean-Luc Picard. No go. Ultimately we trekked a rung or two down the ladder, finally vaulting onto Voyager...
StarTrek: Voyager was in its first of a seven-year TV run in the summer of 1995, and although not a ratings blockbuster, this fourth installment of the Star Trek franchise was fairly beloved by the faithful. An actor from this show named Robert Picardo turned out to be available, so we booked him for autographs in the “Sci-FI Vendor Village”, and also for an on-stage, 15-minute Q & A session with the audience, immediately preceding the beginning of Deep Space Spectacular.
On Star Trek: Voyager, Robert Picardo played the starship’s Emergency Medical Hologram & Chief Medical Officer, simply called “The Doctor”—and the doc was not a real human being. He was indeed a hologram, utilized by the crew of the Voyager for medical emergencies in lieu of any real live doctors, as all official living & breathing medical personnel had perished in a calamitous alien encounter in the show’s first episode. (I thought it would have been sweet to save a few bucks and book the hologram for the celebrity appearance instead of the real live actor, but when I said that tongue-in-cheekly to Picardo’s agent, he just said “Yeah, well, maybe sometime in the future.”)
So now we were all locked & loaded...our ammo belts full; our quivers stuffed:
- The marketing department was readying a release to send out to all of the media.
- Justin had our ads breaking in the regional edition of a couple of Sci-Fi mags.
- The direct mail to the Trekkies was going out.
- We beseeched a couple of appropriate radio partners to push the Sci-Fi vendor village angle to their listeners.
- We touted the Q& A appearance of the Doctor from Voyager in newspaper ads and in street flyers for the coffeehouse circuit.
- We did a promo swap with the local planetarium folks who featured midnight laser shows, and we cross-promoted our events.
- We cut a TV spot that weaved together the classical music and science fiction ingredients of the evening.
- ...and we also put together a majestic, string laden radio spot with some Sci-Fi soundtrack highlights for the “light FM” and classical stations in town.
Proud of our mobilization for this journey into the unknown—the launch of this untested event—we decompressed from the diligence and awaited the outcome...
Deep Space Spectacular finally went on sale to the general public with every marketing strategy deployed and activated—and then, in that one moment, our aspirations for success went down a black hole. To paraphrase the maverick presidential candidate from that era, Russ Perot, that giant sucking sound you heard was all hope for ticket sales going south...
We felt like Captain Kirk’s crew had just zapped us with phasers; to say we were stunned is an understatement. How did we end up being so Sci-Fried? We had, we thought, done everything right to make this unique event stand out from the pack. In fact, our multipronged marketing approach was all about luring not one but two distinct audiences out to the amphitheatre for this stellar evening—the Sci-Fi’ers and the Symphony goers—therefore potentially doubling our chances for success...
We thought about asking our Houston bosses if we should deep-six our Deep Space in advance. But we persevered, haunted by our efforts and confounded by the response—or, the lack of response. If we could have done a Vulcan mind meld on the Public Consciousness, perhaps we could have figured out our failure—in the end, perhaps both of our targeted audiences were lukewarm on the combined themes for the evening and would have preferred just one or the other...
Come the night of the show, the weather was fine and the lasers lit the night sky while the orchestra dazzled—and the audience, of course, was insufferably small. When we added up all of the event expenses the next day, we closed the folder on a grand experiment that had propelled us on a journey from Deep Space into Deep Shit.
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/producer: There 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.
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
Posted 10/21/13.....SPIRITS IN THE MATERIAL WORLD
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
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:
POLICE HAVE BIGGER PROBLEMS THAN BLASPHEMY
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.”
JOHN L. WISE JR.
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 7th - The 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 19th - This 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 24th - Here 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!
- No Doubt - Wed May 14th
- 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.)
- Vince Gill - Sat May 17th
- Surge Festival - Sat May 24th (a total of twenty Pittsburgh-area bands including The Clarks, The Gathering Field and Brownie Mary)
- Y108 (WDSY) Hot Country Jam - Sun May 25th (with headliner John Michael Montgomery)
- 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)
- Rush - Wed June 11th
- John Mellencamp - Sat June 14th
- 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.)
- Hank Williams, Jr. - Sun June 22nd (with Travis Tritt, Charlie Daniels and Jo Dee Messina)
- The Allman Brothers Band - Wed June 25th
- Kenny G & George Benson - Thurs July 3rd
- 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.)
- Styx - Sat July 5th (with Pat Benatar)
- Tina Turner - Thurs July 10th
- Santana - Fri July 11th (with Rusted Root)
- Counting Crows - Sat July 12th (with The Wallflowers)
- Further Festival - Tues July 15th (with The Black Crowes, Rat Dog, Mickey Hart, Bruce Hornsby and more)
- Aerosmith - Wed July 16th (with Jonny Lang)
- James Taylor - Fri July 18th
- Lollapalooza - Sat July 19th (with Devo, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Korn, Tool, and more--the last Lollapalooza)
- Queensryche (a pavilion-only show) - Wed July 23rd
- Lynyrd Skynyrd - Fri July 25th (with Paul Rodgers)
- Chicago - Sat July 26th (with B.E. Taylor)
- 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”.)
- Alabama - Fri August 1st (with Kevin Sharp)
- Steve Miller Band - Sat August 2nd (with Eric Johnson)
- Bob Dylan - Sat August 9th (with Ani DiFranco and BR549)
- Barry Manilow - Sun August 10th
- Live - Mon August 11th
- 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.)
- Phish - Wed August 13th (the band’s first-ever play at Star Lake)
- Jimmy Buffett - Fri August 15th
- Jimmy Buffett - Sat August 16th (populated by a lot of fans doin’ “hair of the dog” from the night before)
- Bryan Adams - Sun August 17th
- H.O.R.D.E. Festival - Thurs August 21st (Neil Young, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Mighty Mighty Bosstones and more)
- 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)
- 311 - Wed August 27th (with De La Soul)
- Alan Jackson - Sat September 13th (with LeAnn Rimes)
- Pantera (a pavilion-only show) - Sun September 14th (with Machine Head and Coal Chamber)
- Fleetwood Mac - Wed September 24th
- 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.)
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:
- “It’s a huge body of stuff, and I feel lucky that there’s so much music to choose from...I’ve looked at books and films and I’ve learned new things about him that I maybe didn’t know. I always feel like that; I’m just scratching the surface.”
- “I didn’t try to change anything; I didn’t like, re-harmonize anything or it’s not like ‘Oh, I’m going to jazz this up’; the stuff is just solid and good and unique and everything’s there. The only stamp I’m putting on it is just that we’re playing it. I’m playing with my closest friends and we all have our own really super personal, deep long relationship with this music and I figured I don’t have to sit there and re-think what he already did.”
- “With this music in particular, the lyrics are so strong. Just about every one of them is pretty intense, whatever he’s talking about, whether it’s something incredibly personal for him that we can all relate to, or he’s talking about this much larger subject...We played “Beautiful Boy” and I’ve seen pictures of him with Sean, and, you know, beautiful sort of moments that he had with his kid, and I think when we were playing that song we were thinking about that, and ALL that stuff is having a huge impact on the way we’re playing the music.”
- “I’m playing with these guys because I feel like I could sort of jump off into some area that I don’t...(where) I’m not quite sure...and they’re going to rescue me, or I’m going to try to rescue them, or--you know, it’s just trust. That’s the biggest part of music for me.”
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, Pentangle, Fairport 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.
Posted 7/1/13.....YOUR MOTHER SHOULD KNOW
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:
- IN THE BEGINNING.....“The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years, dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal’s design.
- “It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment Issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC’s demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation.”
- AND THEN.....“Is the basic issue morality? Is it mental health? Is it an issue at all? The PMRC has created a lot of confusion with improper comparisons between song lyrics, videos, record packaging, radio broadcasting, and live performances. These are all different mediums, and the people who work in them have the right to conduct their business without trade-restraining legislation, whipped up like an instant pudding by The Wives of Big Brother.”
- LATER ON.....“Children in the vulnerable age bracket have a natural love for music. If, as a parent, you believe they should be exposed to something more uplifting than “Sugar Walls,” support Music Appreciation programs in schools. Why have you not considered your child’s need for consumer information? Music Appreciation costs very little compared to sports expenditures. Your children have a right to know that something besides pop music exists.
- “lt is unfortunate that the PMRC would rather dispense governmentally sanitized heavy metal music than something more uplifting. Is this an indication of PMRC’s personal taste, or just another manifestation of the low priority this administration has placed on education for the arts in America?”
- AFTER THAT.....“The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of Moral Quality Control Programs based on “Things Certain Christians Don’t Like”. What if the next bunch of Washington Wives demands a large yellow “J” on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?
- ..... “Bad facts make bad law, and people who write bad laws are, in my opinion, more dangerous than songwriters who celebrate sexuality. Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religious Thought, and the Right to Due Process for composers, performers and retailers are imperiled if the PMRC and the major labels consummate this nasty bargain.”
- AND THEN.....During an exchange with Senator Gore, Zappa once again states that this whole issue should be the parents’ concern and not the government’s. Gore replies that the PMRC agrees with that. Zappa’s response: “Well. That does not come across in the way they have been speaking. The whole drift that I have gotten, based upon the media blitz that has attended the PMRC and its rise to infamy, is that they have a special plan, and it has smelled like legislation up until now.There are too many things that look like hidden agendas involved with this. And I am a parent. I have got four children. Two of them are here. I want them to grow up in a country where they can think what they want to think, be what they want to be, and not what somebody’s wife or somebody in Government makes them be. I do not want to have that and I do not think you do either.”
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:
- 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.
- What are the music apps that you use? Spotify and Pandora.
- 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.
- How many hours in a given week do you listen to music? 20.
- 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”.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- 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.
- 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.
- exercising? Upbeat stuff like Girl Talk, Santigold, Metric, Robyn. I’m really into women pop artists, apparently.
- "setting the mood"? My dad writes this music blog which makes this question awkward.
- indulging sadness? When I want to cry I put on Nickel Creek’s “When You Come Back Down” or Kate Rusby. Tears every time.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- What are the music apps that you use? Spotify, Songkick for concerts/live music. I also get Rolling Stone magazine in the mail.
- 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.
- How many hours in a given week do you listen to music? 35.
- 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.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- relaxing? Bon Iver, Local Natives, Lord Huron, and Ben Howard.
- cooking? Jazz and Motown, and Fitz and the Tantrums.
- exercising? Cut Copy, Shout Out Louds, The Kooks, and Arcade Fire.
- "setting the mood"? The xx and Washed Out.
- indulging sadness? Florence and The Machine, and The National.
- getting ready to go out for the evening? Two Door Cinema Club, LCD Soundsystem, and Phoenix.
- People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist: (no answer supplied)
- What was the first concert you ever attended? TLC, Boyz II Men, Montel Jordan.
- What was your favorite concert of all time? Delta Spirit at House of Blues Cleveland...or, Head and the Heart at Beachland Ballroom.
- 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:
- How do you experience music--streaming or purchase? Computer, mobile device or stereo system? Primarily streaming on my iPhone.
- What are the music apps that you use? Spotify premium--$9.99 a month.
- 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.
- How many hours in a given week do you listen to music? 20-25.
- 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.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- "setting the mood"?
- indulging sadness?
- 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.
- People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist: Two Chainz (rapper).
- What was the first concert you ever attended? Dispatch.
- What was your favorite concert of all time? Arcade Fire at the Mann Center in Philadelphia.
- 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:
- 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.
- What are the music apps that you use? Spotify.
- 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.
- How many hours in a given week do you listen to music? 10-12.
- 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.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- relaxing? Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and Coldplay.
- cooking? Motown artists, generally.
- exercising? Flo Rida, Gnarls Barkley, Robyn, Guns N’ Roses, Janet Jackson, and Jimmy Eat World.
- "setting the mood"? Derek & The Dominos and Peter Frampton.
- indulging sadness? Amos Lee and The Weepies.
- getting ready to go out for the evening? Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”.
- People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist: Fergie; also Chris Brown.
- What was the first concert you ever attended? Backstreet Boys’ Millennium Tour.
- 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).
- 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:
- How do you experience music--streaming or purchase? Computer, mobile device or stereo system? iPod (ripped from CDs), or Spotify...Mostly Spotify these days.
- What are the music apps that you use? Spotify.
- 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.
- How many hours in a given week do you listen to music? 14-20.
- 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.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- relaxing? Air.
- cooking? Frank Sinatra.
- exercising? LCD Soundsystem, Cut Copy, and Mike Snow.
- "setting the mood"? James Brown’s Love Power Peace: Live At The Olympia, Paris, 1971.
- indulging sadness? Richard Thompson and Flying Burrito Brothers.
- getting ready to go out for the evening? The Who’s Live At Leeds.
- People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist: Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out Of Heaven”.
- What was the first concert you ever attended? Korn, embarrassingly enough.
- What was your favorite concert of all time? Tom Petty with the Black Crowes at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
- 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:
- 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.
- What are the music apps that you use? I don’t.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- relaxing? Nothing in particular.
- cooking? Nothing in particular; maybe a mix.
- exercising? Pump-up music! Anything. Queen, Britney Spears, Spice Girls, Fleetwood Mac--anything with a good beat!
- "setting the mood"? Ha Ha! None.
- indulging sadness? I don’t use music for this; just tears!
- getting ready to go out for the evening? Anything that’s current, probably.
- 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.
- What was the first concert you ever attended? M People.
- What was your favorite concert of all time? I haven’t been to very many...Virgin Fest in Baltimore was pretty cool.
- 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:
- 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.
- What are the music apps that you use? Amazon Cloud player, Pandora, SoundCloud, YouTube, Grooveshark, and occasionally Spotify.
- 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).
- How many hours in a given week do you listen to music? 40+.
- 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.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- relaxing? John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.
- cooking? Nothing in particular...
- exercising? Rage Against The Machine, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Kanye West, Nas, and Kendrick Lamar.
- "setting the mood"? Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
- indulging sadness? Elliott Smith and Matt Costa.
- getting ready to go out for the evening? Varies depending upon my mood, I guess.
- People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist: Ke$ha
- 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.
- What was your favorite concert of all time? Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden.
- 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:
- 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.
- What are the music apps that you use? Pandora; my husband also has Spotify.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- relaxing? Colbie Caillat, Jason Mraz, Van Morrison and Paul Simon.
- cooking? Motown, and maybe this same one for “relaxing”, too...In college we always cooked to Motown.
- 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.
- "setting the mood"? Hmmmm, tough one...I haven’t found a great one for this yet! Lenny Kravitz? Dave Matthews Band? Coldplay?
- indulging sadness? I try not to indulge sadness. That was more of a high school pubescent activity.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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:
- 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.
- What are the music apps that youuse? Rdio, iTunes and YouTube.
- 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.
- How many hours in a given week do you listen to music? 10-15.
- 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.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- "setting the mood"?
- indulging sadness?
- getting ready to go out for the evening? ..... Not sure how to answer the above. Too broad for me; sorry!
- 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).
- What was the first concert you ever attended? Lenny Kravitz with Black Crowes.
- What was your favorite concert of all time? Ahhh, let’s go with Pearl Jam at Bonnaroo ’08.
- 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:
- How do you experience music--streaming or purchase? Computer, mobile device or stereo system? Streaming through subscription (Spotify). Computer and mobile.
- What are the music apps that you use? Spotify.
- 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.
- How many hours in a given week do you listen to music? 21.
- 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.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- relaxing? The National.
- cooking? Otis Redding.
- exercising? Jay-Z and Daft Punk.
- "setting the mood"? The xx.
- indulging sadness? Bon Iver, Damien Rice and Iron & Wine.
- getting ready to go out for the evening? Mike Snow and Robyn.
- People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist: Zac Brown Band.
- What was the first concert you ever attended? Dave Matthews Band.
- What was your favorite concert of all time? Chromeo.
- 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:
- 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.
- What are the music apps that you use? Spotify and Playground. Sometimes Pandora.
- 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.
- How many hours in a given week do you listen to music? Probably around 30.
- 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.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- relaxing? Lately, it’s been The Head and the Heart, Ben Howard, and other bluegrass kinds of bands.
- cooking? Usually Motown or pop music.
- 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.
- "setting the mood"? (no answer supplied)
- indulging sadness? (no answer supplied)
- getting ready to go out for the evening? (no answer supplied)
- People would outright gag to learn that this particular artist/song is in my current favorite playlist: N/A--people know me too well!
- What was the first concert you ever attended? Barenaked Ladies.
- What was your favorite concert of all time? Ryan Adams at Carnegie Hall.
- 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):
- 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.
- What are the music apps that you use? I use Pandora mostly.
- 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.
- How many hours in a given week do you listen to music? Maybe 7-10.
- 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.
What artists/songs do you listen to when you are...
- relaxing? Dr. Dog.
- cooking? Usually the girl’s choice.
- exercising? Currently, my Reptar Pandora station.
- "setting the mood"? Barry White?
- indulging sadness? Sigur Ros (melancholy); Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks (sentimentality).
- getting ready to go out for the evening? Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend”.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
Posted 5/6/13.....THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
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
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...
1. LYNYRD SKYNYRD
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:
- “I was in the 2nd Row for this show, and the album sounds as good as it did the night it was recorded. The mark of a great band is their ability to endure and roll with the changes, and NOBODY has done that like Lynyrd Skynyrd!! Bring it On!! -- dfhawk
- “I have to say this is probably the best mixed and engineered CDs I've ever heard. It's like you're actually there at the concert. To boot, Ronny's brother is absolutely awesome as a vocalist as well as the band. People, do not fret that this band isn't the original...they kick it. I love this CD as loud as it will go...well, with a little help from Jim Beam if you know what I mean...” -- first2leave
- “As a long time Skynyrd fan I routinely buy the band's albums as they come out (supporting the boys as it were). When I first saw Lyve from Steel Town I was pretty excited - the first live effort from the band's newest line-up (i.e. the Twenty album line-up) with live versions of the newer stuff. I quickly smuggled the CD past my distracted wife (‘Hey, isn't that Kenny G over there???’) and into the check-out line...” -- email@example.com
- “Isn’t Ronnie dead?” -- A Customer
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:
- “...fans on tour were all riding a huge high coming off the madness of Maryland/Virginia Beach (and a great tour). This show was a lot of fun as a result. The (parking) lots were extremely positive...more than normal random high fiving and lots of ‘can you believe it’ conversations. Kinda like the Phish community had turned a corner, and we all knew it.” --Thunder / phish.net
- “Phish dogma states that the fall 1997 tour was and will always be the musical peak. Any who dare to challenge this assertion are immediately expelled from all Phish concerts, and are forbidden by punishment of dismemberment from ever smoking marijuana again.” -- David Paul Kleinman / altdaily.com / 11/26/12 article: “For the Hippie on Your Gift List: Phish’ Star Lake ‘98”
- “Personally, I think 1998 was the high water mark of 1.0 (and 2.0), and this set shows it. They're all still having great fun, they have the funk-infused groove, they're not too stoned or dysfunctional, and they open up with Bob Marley!” -- R. C. Zeman “Phan” / Amazon.com Customer Reviews
- “One thing that certainly gets left out of Hitchhiker’s Guide to Phish is the sex vibe after shows. In the 90s my friends and I were like Allied Soldiers in Paris the day after WWII...While the front row may be stuffed with dudes, there are plenty of twirling hippie chicks out on the lawn and in the parking lot.” -- Kleinman; the 11/26/12 altdaily.com article
- “I was there about two deep off the rail...I went to college at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and I believe my entire heady-ass class was there; great time...the Starlake lot scene back then was nutz! This is worth anyone's collection. LISTEN NOW!” -- phootyjon / phish.net
Time for multiple-choice: Metatron is...
- A sludge-metal band that was 5th in the line-up on the 3rd stage at the 1st OzzFest in 1997.
- An EDM (electronic dance music) disc jockey working the outdoor music festival circuit since 2011.
- 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
4. JON STEWART
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!”
ALL OF THEIR SUBMISSIONS ARE BELOW. YOU WILL SEE A VARIETY OF RESPONSES--AND JUST MAYBE THE EXACT ALBUM YOU NOW HAVE IN MIND...
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?
Posted 2/25/13.....LET ME STAND NEXT TO YOUR FIRE
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.
LINKS TO SONGS REFERENCED ABOVE...
- Title of posting: “To The Island” by Jay Ferguson http://youtu.be/dsHwDQfgROg
- Initial attitude adjustment: “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” by Jimmy Buffett http://youtu.be/O2_lU3adj5k
- A surefire fire starter: “Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown http://youtu.be/NOErZuzZpS8
- To be used for warding off animal predators at night: “The Earth Dies Screaming” by Tom Waits http://youtu.be/whPzJbntlnY
- Reminiscing about other castaways: Theme song from Gilligan’s Island http://youtu.be/yfSLuEj99d0
- For primal scream sessions on the beach: “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne http://youtu.be/w0N-l0tCHhM
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:
- “Sometimes When We Touch” by Dan Hill http://youtu.be/Bmex6MMpIP4
- “Seasons In The Sun” by Terry Jacks http://youtu.be/rhQ13geD2OA
- “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro http://youtu.be/T3n6GtwtiHs
- “Yummy Yummy Yummy” by Ohio Express http://youtu.be/ozqfOzqMvlQ
- “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone http://youtu.be/j3ssmH8vjf4
- “Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste Of Honey http://youtu.be/Ox-SHXiMe1o
- “Friday” by Rebecca Black http://youtu.be/kfVsfOSbJY0
- 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
- 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.
LINKS TO THE MEAT OF LITTLE FEAT:
- “Willin’” from the album Sailin’ Shoes http://youtu.be/_DyesPp6OUY
- “Long Distance Love” from the album The Last Record Album http://youtu.be/UaQ3VGeQ8Uw
- “Trouble” from the album Sailin’ Shoes http://youtu.be/CLINF4d3GCU
- “Missin’ You” from the album Time Loves A Hero http://youtu.be/mYIZU-QVKh8
- “Fat Man In The Bathtub” from Dixie Chicken http://youtu.be/KRCSqTSDY5Q
- “Spanish Moon” (live) from Waiting For Columbus http://youtu.be/bCROkG4SKao
- “Time Loves A Hero” from the album of the same name http://youtu.be/C2-eFEGyQi0
Feat Rock ‘n’ Roll:
- “Rock & Roll Doctor” from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now http://youtu.be/idrf4mELxP8
- “Red Streamliner” from Time Loves A Hero http://youtu.be/hFzG7vD_bZ4
- “Oh Atlanta” from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now http://youtu.be/U4aM4cgIIOY
- “Fool Yourself” from Dixie Chicken http://youtu.be/YqE_Has88fA
...And Le Feat’s pièce de résistance:
- “Dixie Chicken” from the album of the same name http://youtu.be/m8oeqhavseI
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 Mike, and we fortunately were within the city limits and subscribers to Warner Cable. I was enthralled with the concept of 24-hour access to my lifeblood, and I waded through the video disc jockey interludes to get to the meat of it--new artists and new music, and the incremental advances, as time went on, in the creativity behind the art form.
I had a Betamax at my apartment in those days, a funky, clunky Sony videotape machine that weighed more than a handful of newborns. Before I set off to work to NRM in the morning, I set the timer on this mutha so that when evening came, Mike and I could fast-forward through to see if any exciting new clips had aired. The Betamax was like a trusty and selfless third roommate--it enabled us to catch up on missed Hill Street Blues airings, but increasingly so, we looked at it as a way to preserve our MTV favorites for anytime-viewing. We were so captivated by the new channel that we threw a house party ostensibly for socializing, but the real lure of the event turned out to be the hushed atmosphere in the upstairs bedroom, where my Betamax spun out two hours of recently-taped tracks--U2’s “Gloria” from their second album October, “Who Can It Be Now” from Men At Work, “Brass in Pocket (I’m Special)” from The Pretenders, “In The Air Tonight” from Phil Collins, and on and on...
Eventually MTV on the national level began to make more headway in its quest for expanded cable coverage. Progress to build a true national reach was spurred by the channel’s “I Want My MTV” campaign, which debuted in early 1984 and featured rock ‘n’ roll stars (like campaign first responder Mick Jagger) in promotional spots encouraging the public to call their cable companies to insist MTV be added to their line-ups. After this particular campaign, MTV’s battle map showed significant victories and the music channel was well on its way toward a more unified embrace and much larger impact.
In the Pittsburgh market, and in others where NRM had sprouted up retail locations, the music channel really started to drive viewers into the stores asking for certain bands and albums. Likewise, radio stations began adding songs that MTV would be the first to debut, in order to stay ahead of the curve with their listeners on hot new bands. Initially viewed by radio stations as competition, MTV thus became a safe way for some of these savvy FM folks to bolster their playlists with already-tested product.
MTV also directly served the artistic community by providing an exciting new outlet for creative expression, and it kick-started careers and kept certain established artists in the limelight. Like a flock of seagulls (ahem), select artists and video/film innovators began hovering over this new forum and though some shit did rain down, a number of key artists (like Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson and David Bowie) scaled new heights as they worked in the medium in those early formative years...
Parting comments on MTV:
There were certainly some noteworthy videos from the early days:
- Peter Gabriel “Sledgehammer” http://youtu.be/N1tTN-b5KHg
- Eurthymics “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” http://youtu.be/mvNRG7kK2iQ
- Michael Jackson “Thriller” http://youtu.be/jQ_ExkfcBao
- Bowie “Ashes To Ashes” http://youtu.be/Wnc7b1utU3Y
- Tom Petty “Don’t Come Around Here No More” http://youtu.be/h0JvF9vpqx8
- Clash “Rock The Casbah” http://youtu.be/bJ9r8LMU9bQ
- Robert Palmer “Addicted To Love” http://youtu.be/XcATvu5f9vE
- Dire Straits “Money For Nothing” http://youtu.be/lAD6Obi7Cag
- Talking Heads “Once In A Lifetime” http://youtu.be/I1wg1DNHbNU
....and God Bless Those Whose Timing Was Everything (they milked the medium as best they could, to varying levels of success):
- Frankie Goes To Hollywood http://youtu.be/lyl5DlrsU90
- Gary Numan http://youtu.be/Ldyx3KHOFXw
- Missing Persons http://youtu.be/IasCZL072fQ
- A Flock Of Seagulls http://youtu.be/0_Pq0xYr3L4
- Devo http://youtu.be/IIEVqFB4WUo
- Adam Ant http://youtu.be/4B2a6l6wM2k
- Dexy’s Midnight Runners http://youtu.be/jW_aWY5PubI
- Twisted Sister http://youtu.be/4xmckWVPRaI
- Human League http://youtu.be/uPudE8nDog0
- Cyndi Lauper http://youtu.be/HzfwOYMaeF0
- Duran Duran http://youtu.be/oOg5VxrRTi0 http://youtu.be/oOg5VxrRTi0
Posted 12/17/12.....(THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE) HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Indeed, ‘tis the holidaze, so I recently posed this question to some readers of musicasaurus.com: “What artists/songs have been a tradition around your home through the holidays?”
See the responses below...This turned out in the end to be a beautifully eclectic list of seasonal favorites! Musicasaurus.com’s very own submission kicks things off...
1). Musicasaurus.com’s founding (some say “foundering”) father: “Around our house during our earlier days of parenting, my wife and I kicked off the Christmas season with self-created holiday music mixes that featured everything from rock to jazz to blues to standard middle-of-the-road seasonal schmaltz (the latter being ever so digestible and defensible at this time of year, of course)...B.E. Taylor holiday tunes figured prominently in these mixes, and a few other artists’ songs stood shoulders above as well, like ‘N Sync’s a cappella version of “O Holy Night”. The five male voices on this latter track sound like angels I someday hope to hear on high...Also a favorite: “O Tannenbaum” by the immortal Nat King Cole. Cole’s version of the classic was played every Christmas morning at a loud volume on the cassette player downstairs, and the song’s first few notes signaled to my young’uns that it was officially time to clamber down the steps to dive into the Christmas presents tucked under the tree.” -- musicasaurus.com
2). Al from Los Angeles, California: “Family favorites include: ‘Christmas in Hollis’ by RUN-D.M.C, and A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (the entire album, and before the murder conviction).”
3). Dave from Pittsburgh, PA: “The Blind Boys of Alabama Christmas album Go Tell It on the Mountain, and early music soprano Julianne Baird's A Baroque Christmas. And since I discovered it last year, ‘Stoned Soul Christmas’ by Binky Griptite (a Christmas twist on Laura Nyro’s Stoned Soul Picnic.” (a link to the latter immediately follows): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJCp-PqX67g
4). Bernie from Butler, PA: “It used to be Alvin and The Chipmunks in happier times.”
5). Ed from Allison Park, PA: “The favorite around our house is by far the B.E. Taylor Group. What a great Xmas CD (especially their first one, B.E. Taylor Christmas). We don't have any favorite songs because we like them all. Once we begin playing this around the holidays we know that the Xmas season has officially begun.”
6). Chuck from Mount Lebanon, PA: “It begins and ends with Donnie Hathaway's ‘This Christmas’. But if I had to name a couple others, Keith Richards' version of ‘Run Rudolph Run’ is a close second and Otis Redding's rendition of ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’ is up there too.”
7). Joe D. from Pittsburgh, PA: “‘Jingle Bells’ by Count Basie and his Orchestra, and ‘O Christmas Tree’ by Vince Guaraldi Trio from A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
8). Mark from Pittsburgh, PA: “A classic song every year in our household is ‘Christmas at Our House’ by Lou Monte. Also, we like his version of ‘Dominick the Donkey’, played this way before it became a current Xmas staple.” (a link to the latter immediately follows): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_XPc54Yutw
9). Greg from Pittsburgh, PA: “The Ventures’ Christmas Album is a longstanding holiday season favorite in my household. Another one that gets a lot of play is Christmas with Jimmy McGriff—both are all-instrumental, and both are enjoyed on vinyl, naturally!”
10). Brenda from Pittsburgh, PA: “It wouldn’t be Christmas without Johnny Mathis – the album with the skis and him in his ski sweater on the cover! And of course, Vince Guaraldi and the Peanuts gang. Although the latter is overplayed to death everywhere, it’s still really great! Vince was clearly really influenced by Dave Brubeck.”
11). Steve from Pittsburgh, PA: “I came up in an era when Christmas was associated with rubber. For some reason, the two biggest purveyors of Christmas music were Firestone and Goodyear. They duked it out with a flurry of albums and a corresponding barrage of ads while recycling old singers doing old songs. The only singer who could cut through the crap was Mahalia Jackson. Her full-voiced version of ‘Silent Night’ (with a line misreading that made the Holy Infant sound like a 'tenderly mild' Chicken McNugget) was the song that always introduced my sisters and I to Christmas morning as we waited at the top of the stairs. I got a Christmas gift several years ago when I discovered a 46Bliss remix of the song that made it fresh and new again......But the real Christmas miracle for me was B.E. Taylor, who reinvigorated all those tired old Christmas chestnuts with unique arrangements. It has become the new standard in my house (and throughout the region). Around these parts, it ain't Christmas ‘til B.E. says so.” -- Steve from Pittsburgh, PA
12). Mark from Tampa, FL: “There are a few *staples* that I listen to:
- Bob Rivers & Twisted Radio: ‘Walking 'Round In Women's Underwear’ to the tune of "Winter Wonderland".
- I have a tape--yes, audio tape--of once-upon-a-time WDVE Pittsburgh morning team Scott Paulsen and Jim Krenn doing their ‘Joy To The World’ sketch.
- Another tape (but I found a YouTube video of): From the Pittsburgh WTAE-AM morning show with O'Brien & Garry, something called ‘Frontier Christmas’ by comedy team Hudson And Landry (a link to the latter immediately follows): http://youtu.be/SIYiTW1uWzA
- The Alligator Records Christmas Collection--if you're into the blues-for-Christmas mode, there is not a bad track on this 1992 CD.
- Finally, I made a Christmas CD with those on it, as well as a killer version of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ by Frankie Ford--knocks out Bobby Helms--which is from a terrific CD compilation entitled A Creole Christmas.”
13). Joe K. from Pittsburgh, PA:
Christmas songs that bring a lump to my throat and often make me cry are:
- ‘Suo Gan,’ a Welsh lullaby performed by John Williams & The Ambrosian Jr. Choir on the Empire of the Sun soundtrack
- An extraordinary human performance of ‘Ave Maria’ by Jewel
- ‘Il Est Ne, Le Divin Enfant’ by Annie Lennox with an African Childrens’ Chorus.
Christmas songs that I could listen to over and over again are:
- ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ by Harry Belafonte and especially by B.E. Taylor
- ‘Light of the Stable’ by Emmylou Harris and especially by Jeff Jimerson
- ‘River’ by Joni Mitchell
- Of special significance to me is ‘Little Drummer Boy’ by Harry Simeone Choral. It was instant magic when it was released, and so different from the novelty Christmas tunes so prevalent at the time (‘I’m Getting’ Nothin” For Christmas,’ ‘I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas’, etc.).
Others I enjoy are:
- Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker Suite Opus 71’ (Russian Dance) as performed by the Modern Mandolin Quartet
- ‘Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle’ (You Descend From The Stars) by Joe Negri
- A Cajun ‘St. Nicholas’ by Sheryl Cormier
- ‘Christmas Time’s A Comin’’ by Ricky Skaggs
- ‘The Wassail Song/All Through The Night’ by Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer & Yo-Yo Ma
- ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham!
- ‘Happy Christmas (War Is Over)’ by John Lennon
- Two of the most entertaining ‘Rudolphs’ = The Cadillacs and The Melodeers
- Fats Domino belting out ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’
- The Drifters doing doo-wop justice to ‘White Christmas’
- ‘Merry Merry Christmas Baby’ by the Tune Weavers of ‘Happy Happy Birthday Baby’ fame
- ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ duet by Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love, and anything else by Ronnie. I would listen to her sing the phone book.
The most erotic Christmas song:
- ‘Shimmy Down The Chimney’ by Alison Krauss, which far surpasses versions of ‘Santa Baby’ by Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Eartha Kitt, and The Pussycat Dolls.
Posted 12/3/12.....MONKEE MAN
I was 13 years old when the Monkees hit the nation’s television screens in September of 1966. This was right on the heels of the song “Last Train To Clarksville” which had buoyed up on the radio waves not more than a month before, and my friends and I quickly snatched up the 45 RPM single--as we did all other such bright and tuneful new pop-rock hits--from the record department in our local Woolworth’s store in downtown Butler, PA.
“Last Train To Clarksville” fit right in to our collections. We were literally stacking up a ton of new sounds at that point--our new 45s were piling up high in the corners of our parents’ bookcases or on our own bedroom dresser tops, where they laid splayed next to their oversized, fleshed-out and more fully formed big brothers, the 33 1/3 LPs (“Long Players”, or more precisely, record albums).
This latter half of 1966 was especially revelatory in terms of the kinds of songs that were muscling their way to the top of radio playlists. Frank Sinatra, Brenda Lee, Ray Conniff and others of the old guard seemed to be losing the squeeze play brought on by the newer, more exciting sounds that were jostling for prominence in increasing numbers. That Summer and Fall, for instance, brought Number Ones Hits from The Stones (“Paint It Black”), The Beatles (“Paperback Writer”), The Troggs “(“Wild Thing”), The Lovin’ Spoonful (“Summer In The City”), ? and The Mysterians (“96 Tears”), and The Beach Boys (“Good Vibrations”).
It’s notable that The Monkees had two Number Ones in that latter-half of ’66, as multimedia Monkeemania kicked into gear. Though I never coughed up my allowance for actual Monkee albums, I nevertheless scooped up the 45s that followed their September ’66 NBC television debut, and for at least that first full year afterward, watching the Monkees every Monday night at 7:30pm became appointment television.
My brother and I were glued to their antics. Often we still had our “TV trays” in place from dinnertime; these were tiny individual fold-open tray stands that fit a plate and a beverage on top, and we often had ‘em parked in front of the television which “saved us” from the fate of family meal time. Yes, instead of consistent head-healthy full-family dialogue at dinner, my parents would opt for huddling as a pair at the kitchen table, feeling not a whit of compunction about handing their young sons’ impressionable minds over to the television teat from which we sucked up all sorts of silliness...
Monday nights my mom might venture in when The Monkees, moving from drummed-up schtick to drum stick, hit the opening chords of a tune. Then she’d shimmy a bit here and there, eventually frugging through the living room, often times remarking that she’d heard the same song just a bit earlier that day on the radio. My dad--a mill worker who only listened to Sinatra, Stan Getz and Ella Fitzgerald, and who often opined that this new music (including The Beatles!) would never last--rarely crossed the line of demarcation between his kitchen domain and the TV room when this Monkee business unfolded...
I moved on from the Monkees fairly quickly after that first year, continuing to dig deeper and wider into the world of new music, as full albums and artist careers became my main preoccupations...It wasn’t until twenty years later that The Monkees reentered my life quite suddenly.
In 1986 I was thirty-three years old and the director of booking at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. My primary job was to work with outside concert promoters such as DiCesare-Engler, Electric Factory and Beaver Productions to bring artists into the Pittsburgh market, and specifically into our venue. By 1986 (just my second year on the job) we had also established ourselves as a venue that would be willing to book our own shows--meaning, if an outside promoter got cold feet about bringing a band to town, we would step in and step up to the plate to take the risk and play the show (by way of explanation: In the music biz, the artists all basically receive a guaranteed amount of money to play a concert for a given promoter, regardless of whether the show ultimately ends up selling ten thousand tickets or ten tickets period.)
An agent from the booking agency William Morris called me one day in that Spring of ’86 and said that DiCesare-Engler was balking at playing a Pittsburgh date of the planned 20th Anniversary Tour of The Monkees. He said that earlier in the year, MTV had aired the old 1960s Monkees programs in a compressed marathon situation to unexpectedly wild public response, and that right now the cable channel Nickelodeon was 99.9% sure they were going to add those shows as a daily airing. Despite this fact, the agent went on, DiCesare-Engler planned to pass on the Pittsburgh date. I told the agent that we would definitely step in as promoter of the concert, having a hunch that something this crazy just might work. So we struck a deal that made sense for both of us: Our venue would commit to a $20,000 artist guarantee and, if Nickelodeon indeed began to air the 1960s episodes on a daily basis prior to our concert date, the guarantee would then automatically go up to the $25,000 level that the agent really wanted in the first place.
Thus a date of The Monkees Reunion Tour--Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, but without fourth member Michael Nesmith who had other commitments preventing his participation--was confirmed for us for July 9th, 1986. The show ended up being a huge hit, so much so that the band then returned to play the arena just three months later on October 8th. A few of my avid concert-goer friends were surprised when they heard the news of this return booking in October, but I felt they were a bit oblivious to the true level of Monkee chatter going on “out there”. Apparently stirred by our local advertising and the national daily airings on Nickelodeon, lots of folks--in numbers we came to very much appreciate--were still very much ape-shit over the boys in the band...
In 1996--ten years FURTHER down the road--I was working as the general manager of the large amphitheatre called Star Lake, located just outside of Pittsburgh. After five years in the booking chair at the arena, I had jumped at an opportunity to work in The Great Outdoors instead...In that Spring of ‘96, as our company’s Houston-based booker Beckye was scouring a list of possible summer tours for all of our amphitheatres, she came upon a certain anniversary tour opportunity. “Hey, hey it’s The Monkees,” she said, “Do you want to take a chance on this show? It’s called the 30th Anniversary Tour, and it’s going to play quite a few other amphitheatres, from what I hear.”
I told her my Monkee tale from ten years prior, and we agreed to see if lightning would strike twice in Pittsburgh. Beckye confirmed the show for us as just one more of the forty-plus Summer 1996 concerts on our schedule, and we set the on-sale date for a couple of months down the road.
That Spring I attended a weekend party with friends and somehow became the Monkee butt. My friend Barb was especially wound up when she found out in conversation that I had booked the band now three decades after their initial popularity. “Why in God’s name did you book the Monkees?!!” she exclaimed loudly, fueled by disbelief and alcohol. Unfortunately her mantra was picked up by others at the party as the night wore on. At first I smiled at the ribbings but honestly got a little perturbed over the mounting Monkee howls. “They’ll see,” I remember thinking to myself, “I shall be redeemed.”
When our concert date of July 12th arrived and the venue’s parking lots opened up late that afternoon, almost immediately we had fan clusters popping up to patiently wait outside the admission entrances. When it was time to let in the hordes, we welcomed through the gates a graying population of original Monkee fans, some of whom frankly we just weren’t sure about: Where HAD these people been? Even though the venue at that point had been open for almost seven years, there were amphitheatre first-timers galore, as if they’d all put away their Tiger Beat magazines in 1968 after the demise of their favorite group and wafted off into a sustained and sullen hibernation.
There were young folks in attendance as well, though. Some of this age group came dressed in 1960s garb, as if to relive a past life that they’d recently unrepressed. And, much to our chagrin, this mixed crowd of young & old was laser-focused on the band: We practically had NO sales at our food-and-beverage concession stands that evening, and instead, the fans flocked to the merchandising tents where Monkee T-shirts, sweatshirts, and albums were stacked high for purchase. Before the headliners even took the stage the merchandise booths were picked clean as a monkey carcass, and those fans who went away crestfallen & empty-handed went on to barter with others in the crowd all night long...
The attendance? We ended up with a paid-ticket total of between 6,000 to 7,000 fans that evening. Not an embarrassment nor a financial failure, but certainly not a roaring success (we weren’t standing above the crowd, beating our chests).
A sad note from that particular summer: My father who was only 69 years old had passed away in June after his second (and what turned out to be final) open heart surgery in October of the previous year. He was far from heart healthy, and I can’t really say that his passing was unexpected.
The funeral went as well as it could, and family & friends were then invited to a nearby church hall where we had food and soft drinks, and thus we offered up a place where stories could be shared and more personal condolences could be expressed. My mom seemed to weather it well but I could tell that she was tiring, so as the crowds started to dim I gently advised her to head back to her house, and I would join her there after coordinating a bit of clean-up.
I remember to this day my entry into my parents’ house. I had my arms full of church food, and nudged the back door open with my knee. The door swung open and my mom was sitting in a chair at the small kitchen table, with her head in her hands, sitting very still. I swung the bags down onto the counter and turned toward her.
“Mom”, I said in a hushed tone, “are you okay?” My head was filling with that deep spread of sadness as I looked at this woman who had lost her husband, and was sitting hunched over, her face in her hands. “What’s the matter?” I asked.
With her face still buried, she slowly said “Oh, I’m alright, I guess...but why did you have to book The Monkees?”
I literally fell back on the counter and went “Whawwwww”, as my mom then chuckled into her hands and looked up at me. “Barb told me to say that,” she said.
Relief flooded into me that my mom wasn’t--at least at this particular moment--bent over with grief or even just supremely exhausted from the day. She had apparently been able to tap her inner fun-loving spirit in a church hall conversation with a dear friend of mine, and they had conspired together (I surmised) to pull this bit of Monkee business on me. Bags on the counter, my burden was now doubly lighter because my mom was okay, and I was glad to have her “back”, if even for a few moments. It gave me hope that she’d be all right in the end...
I smiled as I put the church food away and visions from thirty years ago crept into my head, my mom dancing through the living room to the tinny TV sounds of “Last Train To Clarksville.” And Barb? Her Day of Reckoning would come--hmmm, no more amphitheatre VIP Parking, even if she begged? She’d learn that she had clearly monkeyed with the wrong guy!
Posted 11/19/12.....THE NAME OF THE GAME
Musicasaurus.com recently canvassed some readers on the issue of artists’ songs being utilized in companies’ commercial product pitches, which led to bitches--AND some praise for some of the more thoughtful applications. This can be a thorny issue, depending upon your perspective. Read on!
PART ONE OF TWO:
“ ‘If I Should Fall From Grace with God’ by the Pogues in that kids-playing-hockey/Subaru commercial. LOVED it because I love the Pogues so very much...‘Pink Moon’ by Nick Drake for a VW ad was strange. All I could think about was his suicide. Suicide and VW became co-mingled.” - Stacy from Mount Lebanon, PA
“The one that comes to mind is "Send Me On My Way" by Rusted Root. I believe it was airing nationally in an Enterprise Car commercial. I think the song matched really well with their message. I especially liked the fact that a good Pittsburgh band was being represented.” - Ed from Pittsburgh, PA
“Last year I noticed this voice being used a lot and I mean a lot on commercials. I think they used an artist named Yael Naim. I put her on Pandora. She only has a few songs. Apple used her or a voice just like her. Also VW and another car commercial. The one commercial they played constantly last Christmas was stuck in my head for weeks. I cannot even remember what it was selling but it was a a little ditty see-saw song that you either liked or despised. Wish I could pinpoint it for you. When you or someone hears her voice you might recall it. Very short piece.” - John from Reading, PA
“I really like the song ‘Take a Walk’ by Passion Pit. But I despise the fact that is being used in a commercial for Taco Bell...I like that the song ‘Waving Flag’ by Somalian born rapper K'naan was used as the theme for the Olympics.” - Dave from Mount Lebanon, PA
“I kind of like the VW ad that features Johnny Cash singing the line “dirty old egg-sucking dog” because it’s sort of funny and we don’t often get to hear the term “egg-sucking” in a car commercial (or anywhere else for that matter). I’m not sure of a particular ad that I really dislike. If I do like them at all, the songs are ultimately (after hearing them too many times) reduced to annoying jingles--but I guess that’s my own fault for watching too much damn TV, but I do need to know who is screwing whom among our military and political leaders, and what the score was of that North Dakota vs. Boise State University basketball game or some other obscure sporting news…I occasionally hear my kids humming or singing parts of a classic rock song (usually butchering the words), just like I used to have “plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is” going off in my head many years ago.” - Ed from Springfield, VA
“I generally have no problem with artists ALLOWING their music to be used in commercials, providing they actually make something on it. I especially liked Cheap Trick re-doing ‘Dream Police’ as Green Police for a 2011 Audi commercial. They had the good sense to re-cut the track so Sony, who owns the original, could not get a cut of the income. It’s becoming a popular trend.” - Steve from Pittsburgh, PA
“One of the strangest recently is the Subaru suburban assault vehicle commercial with the Pogues’ ‘If I Should Fall From Grace with God’ as the background music. An advertising exec with an oddly rebellious streak? An oblique message about drinking and driving perhaps?” - Bill from San Diego, CA
“I was intrigued with the T-Bone Burnett-produced collaboration of Alison Krauss with Robert Plant even though I was never a Led Zep fan – at all! I purchased, listened to and enjoyed that recording, UNTIL one of the songs ended up being played over and over again for some commercial on TV. I can honestly say it ruined the whole damn album for me. I admit that’s pretty narrow minded, and likewise admit I may have grown tired of it anyway...On the flip side I’ve always known of The Clarks but never listen to any recordings. I found myself enjoying the song for the Pittsburgh area Toyota dealers, then heard it was The Clarks’ ‘Life is all About the Ride’.” - Don from Butler, PA
“Two observations...First, when Clapton re-recorded ‘After Midnight’ for Michelob in the mid-80s, it started me on the path to not liking him. His horrible concert a few years ago confirmed it....Second, anytime a right-wing leaning politician hijacks a popular song for their theme song or opening tune at political rallies, inevitably they chose a song by a left-leaning artist and/or get the context of the song all wrong. Think Reagan trying to use Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ when the song very clearly was against everything Reagan stood for or was trying to put upon the country. Weirdly enough, they never seem to pick songs from artists that have the same political leaning. All republican pols should be given a list of approved artists like Ted Nugent and John 'whatever-the-f*ck-his-name-is-that-played-in-Big-and-Rich' and Sara Evans and Kid Rock and only be permitted to use their songs.” - Pat from Pittsburgh, PA
“Nick Drake’s ‘Pink Moon’- first saw it used in a Volkswagen ad. Really nice use of a great song and revived Nick’s sales (posthumously, unfortunately; his music deserved the attention)...Also, I really think Heineken hit the ball out of the park using The Golden Age and their song “The Entrance” in their campaign. - Trevor from Atlanta, GA
“It was more than a little bizarre when I saw a Dodge Dart commercial that was using ‘No Church in the Wild’ by Kanye West and Jay-Z as background music?!! This was the first ever hip-hop song that I liked enough to purchase from Amazon.” - Richard from Pittsburgh, PA
“An ELO song was used years ago (I can't even remember which one--I think ‘Livin’ Thing’ in a holiday ad) and this sent me right back to 8th grade where I made a silk screen ELO t-shirt. It also sent me right to iTunes to buy a bunch o' ELO. Given that I am old and radio isn't what it used to be, I do love hearing new songs in commercials: Hear the ad, activate Sound Hound app, and find a new band I may not have heard otherwise. Like when I heard ‘Don't Stop’ in a Lowe's ad and found out about Gin Wigmore...Here's a tidbit I just learned a couple of weeks ago from CBS' Sunday Morning--and maybe everyone already knew this but me--Paul Williams' ‘We've Only Just Begun’ was written for a bank commercial. Apparently the Carpenters saw the ad and....Viola!” - Devon from Pittsburgh, PA
“Your request for songs used in commercials made me think of 3 instantaneously: The first one actually started out as a commercial jingle, & only afterward was it recorded as a proper song due to its astounding popularity. I've always loved the Coke commercial where people of all nationalities are shown singing ‘I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing’. It still brings a lump to my throat to this day when I watch it. The song was so popular that a short time later, two groups (The New Seekers & The Hillside Singers) recorded it, removing all references to Coke...Second, it’s not that I had a special place in my heart for Louis Prima's ‘Jump, Jive an' Wail’, but I so looked forward to seeing the Gap Khaki commercials featuring dancers wearing khakis, swing dancing & jitterbugging to this tune. No other song would have done this ad justice. The commercial just radiated liveliness & ebullience, all due to this song...and last, the E-Trade babies. I mean, how big of a sourpuss do you have to be not to crack up at these commercials? But the one where the two babies are talking about their investments & the African American baby starts singing Mr. Mister's ‘Broken Wings’--how do you keep from falling on the floor laughing?” - Clara from Bethel Park, PA
“Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ used in a Scotch Brite Greener Clean ad...and Rusted Root’s ‘Send Me on My Way’ used by Enterprise Rent-A-Car.” - Rick from Wexford, PA
“I’ve grown to accept Peter Gabriel’s ‘Big Time’ used in the Samsung refrigerator commercial. But I will launch an IMMEDIATE boycott against any company that licenses ‘Solsbury Hill’!” - Scott from Beaver, PA
“I like how BP was using The Hollies song ‘Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress’ in one of their latest radio spots. The lyric from that song used in the spot was "get it on!" and I liked how the Department of Justice REALLY "got it on" against BP, fining them $4.3 BILLION f*cking dollars for the Gulf oil spill! Wonder how much BP paid the Hollies?’ - Sean from Pittsburgh, PA
PART TWO OF TWO:
SOME READERS’ THOUGHTS ON SONGS THAT SHOULD BE NEWLY ALIGNED WITH CERTAIN ADVERTISERS’ MESSAGES:
“Is an airline using Steve Miller’s ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ yet? Probably...I'd also love to see Amtrak advertising with the Grateful Dead’s ‘Casey Jones’. Won't happen...How about Allstate, State Farm, etc. using ‘Accidents Will Happen’ by Elvis Costello? Or ‘Love Potion #9’ for erectile dysfunction? And ‘If I Had a Hammer’ for Home Depot?” - Ed from Springfield, VA
“I like The Clash version of ‘I Fought the Law’ as a theme for a neighborhood watch PSA, and Toots and the Maytals’ ‘Pressure Drop’ for an ad for blood pressure meds.” - Dave from Mount Lebanon, PA
“The Doors’ ‘Break On Through to the Other Side’. To be played at all future Republican rallies... until they do! (‘Tried to run, tried to hide / Break on through to the other side / Break on through to the other side’)” - Frank from Cumberland, Maryland
“I’d like to see and hear the following: Beatrice Foods hiring Deniece Williams to sing "Let's Hear It For La Choy"instead of "Let's Hear It For The Boy"...The soap pad folks hiring Sting to sing ‘sending out an S.O.S.’ (from ‘Message in a Bottle’) as they try to differentiate themselves from Brillo...and ‘Easy To Be Hard’ from Three Dog Night on behalf of erectile dysfunction medicines (and along those lines, maybe getting Jefferson Airplane to re-record ‘White Rabbit’ so that Grace Slick would be singing ‘Just Ci-alis....I think she'll know...’ " - Morry from Wexford, PA
Posted 11/5/12.....DEEP IN THE MOTHERLODE
I got to thinking about the joy of discovery back in the 1960s when the music world was beginning to leapfrog from the leftovers of the WWII generation--crooners like Dean Martin, Brenda Lee, Doris Day, and Tony Bennett--to the coming wave of socially-conscious and society-upending music that then exploded onto the scene in the last half of that decade.
That era was a great time to be young and alive (editor’s note: I want to interject here that it is also great to be old and alive; every day above ground--preferably with ear buds and a full playlist--is a good one.)
You can search out tomes of why this quantum leap in music in the ‘60s started up, but in that mix for certain was the eight-year period when The Beatles reigned. That ’63-‘70 span was when the Fab Four went from mop-topped boy wonders doing early rock and R&B covers to a band of peerless songwriters and fearless experimenters, and their unassailable talent fomented changes in society as well as reflected them.
This surge of youth rebellion in the ‘60s and the generational schisms that followed shook this country by its buttoned-up shirt collar: There was racial strife, anti-war protests, liberated libidos, and recreational drugs--a perplexing time for parents but a galvanizing call-up to youth, who felt suddenly (somewhat unjustifiably?) emboldened, enlightened, righteously alienated, and empowered out the wazoo...
On the individual level I found this time of life to be thrilling, especially as it pertained to the trickle-then-flow of this exciting new music...Of course there was no web back then, but we spun our threads nonetheless, creating inestimable bonds with other teen voyagers who were likewise ravenously exploring this brave new world of music. Our glue (don’t fret; I’m not talkin’ inhalants here) was the solidarity we felt in sharing the sounds and vision of a changing America, and our news from the front lines came largely from the early rock magazines like Crawdaddy! (born in ’66), Rolling Stone (’67), Creem (’69), and Circus (’69), all of which faithfully kept us abreast of the newest bands and album releases as the standard bearers of our new reality.
But to this day what especially intrigues me when looking back at that era was the way that certain 1960’s bands became incubators for superstar hatchlings that had yet to make their mark.
*****HERE IN THE USA there were wellsprings in California that bubbled over with talent in the mid-late ‘60s. Two of the bands from which a number of gifted musicians came forth were The Byrds (’64-’73) and Buffalo Springfield (’66-’68).
Both of these folk-rock bands were formed in L.A., and each has left a musical legacy that helps us define the ‘60s (The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, to cherry-pick just two).
From The Byrds, out flew the following:
- David Crosby, who moved on after ’67 to form Crosby, Stills & Nash with Stephen Stills (previously of Buffalo Springfield) and Graham Nash (formerly of The Hollies).
- Chris Hillman, who went on to form The Flying Burrito Brothers in ’69, joined with Stephen Stills to start up the rock band Manassas in ’72, and then in ’74 bought into a record label’s dream scheme to launch a new “supergroup” called The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band (they unfortunately fizzled after just two albums).
- Gram Parsons, who spent just a year in the nest, and then went on with the aforementioned Hillman to start up The Flying Burrito Brothers...Parsons was influential in the evolution of country rock music, and foreshadowed and/or greatly influenced artists like the Eagles, Emmylou Harris, The Jayhawks, Black Crowes, The Rolling Stones (particularly as heard in songs like “Wild Horses” and “Dead Flowers”), Elvis Costello, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Tom Petty and others to follow.
From Buffalo Springfield, these particular stars scattered to higher altitudes:
- Neil Young, who split for a long and illustrious career as a solo artist, and who still occasionally breaks pattern to hook up with Crosby, Stills & Nash and/or his gravelly and grungy sidekick band Crazy Horse.
- Stephen Stills, who fled to form Crosby, Stills & Nash and then detoured for a spell to form his own band Manassas.
- Richie Furay, who departed to start up the country-rock outfit Poco in ‘68, before being lured into the brief, less-than-supernova assemblage called The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band.
- Jim Messina, also a founding member of Poco in ‘68, who then went on to team up with the talented singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins to form the ‘70s duo Loggins & Messina.
*****ACROSS THE POND IN ENGLAND, there was a white blues musician in 1963 that lent his name to an ensemble he’d just formed called John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. Through the next four years, this unit brought into the ranks and then spit out into the musical gene pool an amazing core group of legendary artists.
Among the artists who moved in with Mayall for a spell were:
- Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce (’65-’66), who soon went on to form the blues-rock trio Cream.
- Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (’64-’67) and also Peter Green (’66-’67), who all left to form the first and very blues-fixated version of Fleetwood Mac. Guitarist Green, in this early Mac era, wrote the compelling classic-rock workout “Oh Well” (later covered by Tom Petty, among others), and also “Black Magic Woman” (made famous later on by Santana, but performed for the first time by Green back with the Mac).
- Guitarist Mick Taylor (’67-’69), who departed to join the Rolling Stones just in time for the recording of Let It Bleed, and who then stuck it out for Sticky Fingers, followed by Exile On Main Street.
Also at one time or another in Mayall’s Bluesbreakers--and here we arguably get a bit obscure for most folks, except for those of you who have no life--the following artists rolled on through:
- Guitarist Harvey Mandel, fresh from Canned Heat.
- Talented British drummer and occasional bandleader Aynsley Dunbar, who fronted the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation from ’68-’70 and then played the kit on many a recording session by artists including Frank Zappa, Journey, David Bowie, Whitesnake, Lou Reed, Leslie West, Nils Lofgren, Ian Hunter, Ronnie Montrose, Mick Ronson, and Paul Kantner.
- Bassist Andy Fraser, who stinted with Mayall at age 15 and then joined Paul Rodgers’ new band Free (then helping to co-write the group’s timeless hit “All Right Now”).
- Saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, who post-Mayall formed the pioneering jazz-rock band Colosseum.
- Drummer Keef Hartley, who exited the Bluesbreakers in ’68 and soon started up The Keef Hartley Band, one of the few British acts invited to play the Woodstock festival in ’69. When the filmmakers were making the rounds to gain consent for artists’ performances to be used in the festival’s film, Hartley’s manager refused--and the rest, as they say, is non-history.
- Acoustic guitarist Jon Mark and saxophonist/flautist Johnny Almond, who went on to form Mark-Almond, a band that produced an enduring underground FM classic entitled “The City”--all 10 minutes & 32 seconds of it--which is from the duo’s self-titled ’71 release.
One other British band that somehow lured in gestating supernovas was The Yardbirds, who formed in London in 1963. The band is best remembered for a couple of high-charting UK and USA hit singles--1965’s “For Your Love” and “Heart Full Of Soul”. Personnel-wise, they had a deep bench--no whiffers and some serious riffers. In fact, in their 6-year existence, the band sported 3 of the all-time greatest guitarists in rock. The Yardbirds’ nest was feathered with all of the following:
- Eric Clapton (’63-’65), a blues devotee at the time who eventually soured on the band’s stylistic roving, and so defected to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.
- Jeff Beck (’65-’66), who replaced Eric Clapton...During Beck’s stay, the band hit more commercial peaks as well as furthered their feedback & fuzz tone quotient.
- Jimmy Page (’66-’68), who at first overlapped with Beck (Page playing bass to Beck’s featured role as guitarist)...Beck was then fired by the band in October ’66, reportedly because his attendance record had more than a few black marks and he was explosive offstage as well as on...
The Yardbirds started dissolving in 1968. Founding members Keith Relf and Jim McCarty departed that year to indulge their fondness for more traditional genres of music, eventually forming the prog-rock, folk-classical amalgam Renaissance. (The latter group hit some sort of critical and commercial stride beginning in 1971 with the additional of vocalist Annie Haslam; a few of their more significant albums from that era include Turn Of The Cards, Scheherazade And Other Stories, and A Song For All Seasons.)
And then as these Yardbirds were about to chirp their last, 24-year-old sole remaining member Jimmy Page brought in new personnel: 20-year-olds Robert Plant and John Bonham, and 22-year-old John Paul Jones. By the end of ’68, the group had completed a tour together while still called The Yardbirds; at the end of that road trip, they changed their name and secured eternal fame as the newly rechristened Led Zeppelin...
*****This concludes the flashback look at Rock’s innovators and influential artists from the 1960s who shared some common incubatory career-settings...There are other breeding grounds than those described above, of course, but the 1960s in particular brought about some truly legendary starts (‘twas good to go deep into the motherlode on this one!)
Posted 10/22/12.....COME TOGETHER
I was leafing through the pages of my past the other evening...literally! In a file folder I had apparently plopped down years ago on a desk top in the basement, I came upon a fairly comprehensive list of all of the opening acts that had played at Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre in the first decade of its existence.
That first decade--1990 through 1999--was crammed to the gills with shows. Especially when it was still a toddler, this amphitheatre which I had come to work for in ’91 sported all sorts of genres--blues, classical, comedy, Christian, jazz, pop, folk, rock, dance, and more. Some of these shows gestated into annual events; others were, on Day One of ticket sales, tragically stillborn. But thankfully we also had the “automatics”--early-on commercial juggernauts like Billy Joel, New Kids On The Block, and Grateful Dead; mid-decade arrivals like Dave Matthews Band and Alanis Morissette, and also those rollin’ inexhaustibly through the years like exalted hedonist Jimmy Buffett and crazy train conductor Ozzy Osbourne...
As I flipped through that file folder, the fact that this ten-year span produced 408 different concerts at the amphitheatre--an average of 40+ shows per season--was amazing in and of itself. But it was particularly fun to revisit and reflect upon “the packaging”, the way the headliner-support dynamic had been structured, pre-tour, by the respective artists’ managements and their booking agencies.
Some artists hit the road with NO openers...Some artists hit the road with NO-NAME openers...Others luckily had been matched up with a synergistic support act, one that fit the genre nicely or simply had a runaway hit record at that moment in time. Still others were convinced by a manager and/or booking agent to pair up with an artist of equal footing, to form a cool “co-headliner” situation for the summer.
So...here are some of my observations about that first ten years of shows, and the magical and sometimes mystifying pairings and couplings that were sent out on the road each summer:
- Jimmy Buffett Concerts
Not exactly a plethora of household names here: Buffett’s openers back then included Zachary Richard, Fingers Taylor & The Ladyfingers Review, Evangeline, The Iguanas, and Marshall Chapman. And as best I can recall, Buffett sometimes opted not to fill that opening slot, for he knew, as did we, that it didn’t really matter in the end: Weren’t no one comin’ through those entry gates anyway, until Buffett would hit the stage with his “invitation-to-party” whoop, which would roll out from the venue’s loudspeakers up, over and into the parking lots where the Glazed And Confused were partyin’ away...
- Chicago Concerts
This band played every single year from 1990 through 1999, and the reason was Howard Rose. Rose was the booker and titular owner of a small but formidable talent agency that included artists like Chicago, Lionel Richie, Elton John and Jimmy Buffett. The latter artist had every summer venue across the nation salivating to land him for their line-up, so Rose used this as a bargaining chip when it came time to book Chicago’s summer tour dates.
It wasn’t exactly framed or enunciated this way, but the clear message from Rose was this: “You vill take Chicago, und you vill be loving it.” And so we did. The fan turnout was modest most years, falling somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 in attendance, but the shows themselves were usually very good. Not to mention that the band members backstage were easy-going and unpretentious, and they seemed perpetually grateful to be playing in front of their fans. Chicago’s openers and/or co-headliners through the years: The Flecktones, Triplets, Moody Blues, Stephen Stills Band, Tony Janflone (Pittsburgh artist), B.E. Taylor (opened up twice), Crosby, Stills & Nash, and The Doobie Brothers.
- Steve Miller Band Concerts
Here’s another ten-year veteran like Chicago, but this artist was one who brought a huge string of sell-outs to the amphitheatre. The phenomenon was somewhat mysterious: All we could figure out was that Big Brother or Big Sister had passed along to their underage siblings more than a few Millers--like Fly Like An Eagle, and Book Of Dreams--and the groundswell within this crowd of teens took a mighty hold and then multiplied, right after that first show in 1990.
Steve’s openers were decent, and usually steeped in classic rock or the blues. They were also--as were the Buffett openers--inconsequential to ticket sales. In our particular market, and practically nowhere else in our amphitheatre system to such a degree, Miller was the muscle; our very own home-run king.
Chronologically through the years, Miller’s show-openers were: Lou Gramm (ex-lead singer of Foreigner), Eric Johnson (rock guitar wizard), Curtis Salgado & The Stilettos (blues-based, R&B-laced rock), Paul Rodgers (ex-lead singer of Free and Bad Company), The Doobie Brothers, Pat Benatar, Eric Johnson again, Little Feat, and George Thorogood & The Destroyers.
At this last show in 1999 with Thorogood, Miller’s fans turned out in such large numbers that the venue from the air must have looked like a geyser of humanity. Six thousand people marched up to the venue box office that evening from 6pm through 10pm, buying tickets, wave after wave...Final attendance inside the venue: 26,154.
- Aretha Franklin & Little Richard 7/27/96
This was a show with killer co-headliners...This pair only played together once like this, and in fact, we had cobbled it together ourselves at the local level (our Houston-based VP did 99% of our bookings, but once in a while, we’d get the chance to experiment). The show was set up as “pavilion-only”, meaning no lawn tickets were sold for the event--only the 7,000-capacity fixed-seating pavilion was offered for sale.
Magic roared out of ‘retha’s mouth all night long, and she was followed by Little Richard just after dusk (due to the show falling on his Sabbath, the latter’s religious beliefs had dictated that he start his performance only after the sun had gone down). Little Richard was mesmerizing, and was so enthralled with playing & sermonizing to the assembled that he started purposefully ignoring our offstage cues to finish things up and end the set.
As he got increasingly frantic signals from our offstage production folks, Little Richard began incorporating into his R & B song of the moment a soulful rap that went “They’re tellin’ me to stop the show...but I really don’t wanna go”...He repeated this musical mantra about five more times, his eyes darting to the sidelines, and just before we were ready to bring out the Big Broadway Hook, Little Richard relented and wrapped it up.
This was a wonderful show.
- Michael Bolton concerts
Mass-appeal Michael was a white-bread warbler who was king of the Pop and MOR radio playlist charts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and he appeared four times during the first ten years of Star Lake.
When his career was at its zenith in 1990, Bolton appeared in concert with Kenny G and this package drew a respectable 12,000 predominantly female fans to the venue. In 1991 Bolton returned with a none-too-impactful opener Oleta Adams. Then in 1994, as Bolton’s run of chart and record sales success began to dim, his management team paired him up for the summer with rising Canadian singer Celine Dion (though gaining increasing popularity on the Adult Contemporary stations across the U.S., Dion was still three years away from the chest-pounding success of “My Heart Will Go On”, the love theme from the film Titanic). The Bolton-Dion concert of ’94 was a sell-out, based on this crafty coupling of two very strong middle-of-the-road performers...
Four years later, we heard Bolton was giving it the old college try one more time. Though his records were now idling if not outright stalling on the charts Bolton was trying to mount a tour once again, and our amphitheatre booker at the time was trying to coax us into taking this Bolton date with his special guest being...Wynonna Judd?!! (As it turned out, there was SOME kind of connection here, in that Wynonna--or “Wy” as she is sometimes called--recorded a couple of Christmas duets with Bolton on his holiday album released two years earlier in 1996. That record didn’t sell well; apparently very few were dreaming of a white-bread Christmas.)
Those of us at the amphitheatre just thought that this pairing was preposterous--he was adult contemporary and she was country, and in Pittsburgh especially, there was still this wide wall between the two. Plus, this was still a few years away from the first time that country music would begin to consistently turn toward more mass-appeal formulas later honed by Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney and others. Anyway, we protested to our booker and told her that the combination of Bolton and Wy just didn’t work for us in Pittsburgh. I even emailed our booker my idea for the tour’s marketing campaign, so that she could pass that along to others within our company to let them know how we really felt: “SATURDAY, JUNE 13TH AT COCA-COLA STAR LAKE AMPHITHEATRE...COME AND EXPERIENCE THESE TWO ARTISTS TOGETHER...YOU’LL BE BOLTON FOR THE DOOR, NEVER STOPPING TO ASK WY!”
Of course we ended up having to play the show. And the paid attendance ended up well under half of the amphitheatre’s 20,000 capacity. Live and learn.
OTHER INTERESTING MATCH-UPS OF ARTISTS & SUPPORT, AND DUAL HEADLINERS:
- Stevie Ray Vaughan & Joe Cocker (6/28/90).....Great show but scant attendance, as the heavens had poured down on Star Lake prior to gates-opening time, and there was uncontrollable flooding at the bottom of the pavilion seating area in front of the stage. The show was almost cancelled, but the crack Ops team at Star Lake successfully hoovered out the front-of-stage area of the invasive floodwaters, and the show went on (albeit running way behind schedule).
- Judas Priest & Alice Cooper (8/2/91).....This pairing entitled “Operation Rock ‘n’ Roll” was mounted by our own company’s president, but the fans didn’t flock in sufficient numbers to make this operation a success. We hemorrhaged greatly.
- Crosby, Stills & Nash with Michael Hedges (6/17/92).....Opener Hedges didn’t help sales because he was merely a guitar genius whose fame unfortunately hadn’t spread.
- 10,000 Maniacs with World Party (6/18/93).....This pairing sold out the pavilion-seating at around 7,000, and was one of a few “pavilion-only” shows we organized to give our fans a close-up and intimate concert experience--not too mention that we also knew in advance that this show wouldn’t SELL more than 7,000 tickets, and we also enjoyed less staffing costs when doing these pavilion-only set-ups.
- Al Jarreau & David Sanborn (8/1/93).....Artistically speaking, an appealing combination of two jazz artists in their prime.
- Midnight Oil, Ziggy Marley and Hothouse Flowers (8/24/93).....An example of “looks good on paper”, especially to the college crowd. Sales were so-so.
- Pantera with Sepultura, Phlematic and Biohazard (6/26/94).....(editor’s only comment: I’m thinking of framing a tour poster for the pantry.)
- Santana & Jeff Beck (8/8/95).....Guitar gods alighted in this double headliner show, and lit up the night.
- Santana & Rusted Root on Friday (7/11/97) and Counting Crows & The Wallflowers on Saturday (7/12/97).....Back to back shows of compelling artist combinations for weekend warriors.
- Rage Against The Machine & Wu-Tang Clan (8/24/97).....Rage had just come off an opening slot on U2’s PopMart tour, and started up their own headlining summer outing with Wu-Tang Clan. There was a lot of tension backstage that evening, as whispers abounded that this politically-charged pairing of Rage and Wu was headed for dissolution. The tour had early on been dogged by police protests in some cities due to Wu’s sometimes violent and anti-cop song subject matter. The controversy both helped and hindered ticket sales, making it a must-see for some and a must-avoid for others.
- Culture Club, Human League and Howard Jones (8/14/98).....A cool combination of 1980s chartbusters led to a great night of nostalgia and less-than-desired attendance, but in the words of Howard Jones, “no one is to blame”.
- Pearl Jam with Iggy Pop (8/25/98).....A daring pairing of old punk and new sass. A great evening, and a sell-out.
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers with Lucinda Williams (6/23/99).....Williams is a cult favorite, and was a symbiotic but not sales-driven selection by Petty’s camp; they just wanted to put her in front of a large audience for the exposure. Williams has good nights and bad nights (so say followers), and this night was a stellar one for those that did work their way in from the parking lots to peek at the opener.
- Cher with Cyndi Lauper (7/3/99).....If memory serves, our amphitheatre promoted a Fourth of July weekend fireworks display to cap off Cher’s headlining set that evening. This packaging effort paid off; tickets weren’t cheap but we still drew over 13,000 on a usually much-travelled holiday weekend.
- Paul Simon & Bob Dylan (7/18/99).....This combination of dual headliners worked very well (over 17,000 in attendance). Internally, those who worked at the amphitheatre remember this concert tour as one of the first that new amphitheatre owners SFX had put together to “feed the system” (i.e., provide shows to our outdoor venues across the country). It was also notable for its ticket prices, which unfortunately became the hallmark of SFX and a questionable legacy for the live entertainment business--but that’s another story.
Posted 10/8/12.....DOUBLE VISION
Musicasaurus.com was in a tizzy about turning out this particular edition of A DAY IN THE LIFE...The past couple of weeks a lot of musical memories were surfacing and ping-ponging down the pathways of my mind, but no one solid idea in particular leapt to the fore, crying out for dominance.
And so this time out, you have two non-connected tales. The first is a little anecdote from my time at the arena (1985-1990). The second is a whole different ballgame; in fact, it’s a whole different reality...
Tale Number One of Two: Won’t Get Fooled Again...
I worked at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena as director of booking in the mid-to-late 1980’s, and really enjoyed the job. My role was to interface with the musical-talent touring agencies, book concerts at the arena, and then serve as “internal point” for the subsequent flow of freshly ferreted-out event information to all of the arena’s various departments.
It was April 1st of that particular year...I had never been “big” on April Fool’s Day, apart from an occasional been-there, done-that kind of trick on my wife and daughters, such as phoning them and leaving an urgent message to call Mr. McCaw--and of course the phone number I left them was actually The Pittsburgh Zoo (nyuk, nyuk). But somehow I came up with the idea to pull a special April Fool’s Day prank on my arena co-workers--so I “invented” a concert.
Once any event was confirmed for our arena calendar, my standard next move was to issue a memo to all departments that contained the name of the artist/event, the event date, the ticket prices, the on-sale date to the public, and so on...
So a memo dated April 1st made its way to everyone’s inboxes that day--and here I mean physical inboxes, of course, since this was the mid-‘80’s-- and it contained the following info:
Artist: Ozzy Osbourne with the Boston Pops Orchestra
Concert Date: July 23rd
Ticket Prices: $20 / Discount of $2.50 per ticket for groups of 20 or more
On-Sale Date: May 15th at 10am at all Choice Seat locations including select Record Outlets, Kaufmann’s, and Gimbels, or charge-by-phone
Additional information (for internal staff only): Ozzy Osbourne has decided to tour with the Boston Pops in an effort to enhance his reputation, and to distance himself from previous controversies stemming from the subject matter of his songs and some of his off-stage antics. The Boston Pops will provide full symphony accompaniment on a host of classic Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath selections. (Note to Group Sales Dept: There is a $2.50 discount on each ticket purchased for groups of twenty or more.)
I slotted the memo and waited. Within a couple of hours I had 3 or 4 people stop by to compliment me on a “nice try”, and others who called me, cracking up at the concept. But then around 4pm that day, the Group Sales director phoned me.
She was flustered. Returning from a full day of outside appointments, she thus had just latched onto the memo. “There is no way I am going to get my bus companies to buy into this,” she said sternly. “I hope no one is expecting me to turn up a lot of business on this!”
I let her vent for a full minute before I finally pinpricked her reality and confessed. I could sense the relief in her stammer as she lightly scolded me, laughter bubbling up behind. Clearly she had digested the memo so fast that healthy skepticism hadn’t had a chance to emerge. And then she must have quickly moved on to thinking about the sales pitch she’d have to give to her corporate contacts and church & school group leaders.
Our group sales director was an excellent spinmeister, but even she would have been hard pressed to elicit genuine interest in a concert like this, let alone an actual commitment to buy tickets. This was, after all, positioned in the memo as a show that was going to feature the bat-and-dove chomping Prince of Darkness, caterwauling atop full symphonic orchestrations of “War Pigs”, “Bark at the Moon”, and “Crazy Train”.
So at the end of the day, pretty much everyone at the arena knew that this Ozzy/Symphony pairing was an April Fool’s concoction, and nothing more. It was indeed quite a stretch to think that this show might have been real: Remember that back then, Ozzy was still very far away from his future cartoonish self; in fact, he was feared and/or reviled in some quarters, having steadily been accused of Satanism, of corroding the morals of our Youth, and even of “causing” suicides through his lyrics.
Who would’ve thought that, 15 or 16 years later, Ozzy and his nutty nuclear family would have the number one American reality show on television?!! MTV’s The Osbournes (2002-2005) turned out to be the highest-rated program in the music channel’s history, and the show (while still in its first season) picked up a primetime Emmy Award as Outstanding Reality Program. (Postscript: Ozzy reportedly later confessed in 2009 that he was stoned during the tapings of The Osbournes--at least he salvaged some street cred with that utterance.)
Tale Number Two of Two: Dreams...
The musicasaurus.com website is at least some kind of proof that I am fairly consumed with a passion for music. I am constantly thinking of songs to download, playlists and mixes to make, musicians to follow, and shows to seek out. The only full respite from this seems to be the hours of slumber each evening, yet once in a great while music will invade this space as well...
I don’t remember dreams as a rule. Somewhere in the fog of my earliest stirrings on some occasional mornings, I might latch onto a memory of where my mind had taken me, but this is fleeting at best. Usually I don’t retain ANY memories of my dreams, but the ones that I have remembered--those of the non-musical variety--are usually ones of flight...or waltzing through some strange terrain with friends, no direction known...or missing a travel connection or a work deadline.
They call the deepest period of nighttime rest--when most dreaming occurs-- “REM sleep”. I’ve never actually run into Michael Stipe or Peter Buck while in there, but on at least two occasions, some musical celebs have appeared unto me.
Amazingly, I can recall only two dreams from my entire life that had to do with music...
1.) The first dream is one that I don’t remember very much of: I was in a smoky nightclub with some people at my table whom I did not recognize at all. We were not talking, instead only merely nodding, because of the loud electronica music that someone was playing over the public address system...
Suddenly the music stopped, and my eyes, like my table mates’, turned toward the small stage. Neil Young walked out, looking as if he was still in his early twenties, dressed in a fringe jacket from his Buffalo Springfield days and holding an acoustic guitar. He smiled wide at the audience, and strummed. A spotlight then flicked on overtop the piano on Stage Left, and suddenly Tom Waits was sitting there smiling. Unlike Neil, Tom looked road-worn and older than the hills. He croaked a quick “hello” in that signature raspy-beyond-comprehension voice that he has these days...
Then the two artists turned toward one another and started to sing, Neil with his helium-sucking high tone and Tom with his deep-set, croak-of-a-voice, and the words poured forth: “Why are there so many / songs about rainbows / and what’s on the other side? / Rainbows are visions / but only illusions / and rainbows have nothing to hide...”
I remember thinking, “Well, this is interesting in a Circus Of The Damned kind of way”, but just as I turned to say something to my table mate to the right, I noticed everyone was standing. Their eyes were all rooted to the small stage, and they all started screaming at the same time. Then I woke up.
2.) The second dream happened about twenty years ago, but I have never forgotten it: I was disembodied in this dream, I believe, because I didn’t have a strong sense of where I fit into things; I was just somewhere up in the sky, and was only aware of two senses: Sight and Sound.
It started with a dorsal fin in the water below, as my view then crystallized on an ocean-like expanse underneath me. The dorsal was slicing the water back and forth and then, slowly creeping into my consciousness at a volume I could finally detect, was a familiar musical passage--the opening strains of the theme to Jaws. As the “DUH-duh, DUH-duh” got louder and more intense, I also began hearing a higher-toned offering that was mixing in with the shark-theme poundings: The theme from The Twilight Zone.
Yes, above me in the clouds off to the left was a large number-faced clock with a spinning minute hand and a swinging pendulum attached below, and the clock was completely still, save for the motion of its one internal hand running ‘round the numbers. Meanwhile in my ears, the two musical themes were blending quite harmoniously--the “DUH-duh, DUH-duh” and the “Doo-Doo, Doo-Doo / Doo-Doo, Doo-Doo”.
I remember being very pleased with this musical mélange while the dorsal still cut its swath through the foaming turbulence below, and the big sky clock was spinning its magic above...And then Robert Plant entered the picture.
He was dressed in a white robe and sitting cross-legged on a cumulus, a bit higher in the sky and off to my right. He looked down below at the zigzagging dorsal, over at the clock, and then, I thought, directly at me. Suddenly he leapt to his feet in an Olympic-style victory double-arm thrust, arched his body even more heavenward, and suddenly unleashed from somewhere deep in the fiber of his being the opening vocal assault from “Immigrant Song”, the lead-off track from Zeppelin’s third album.
To my utter delight, the “DUH-duh, DUH-duh” from Jaws and the “Doo-Doo, Doo-Doo / Doo-Doo, Doo-Doo” from The Twilight Zone were suddenly anchored by Plant’s hair-raising “Ah-a-AHHHHHHHHH, Ahh! Ah-a-AHHHHHHHHH, Ahh!”
I remember being uncontrollably fulfilled. The ocean and sky were secondary to the incredible musical mash-up that was now so beautifully integrated into an organic, near orgiastic audio experience...
I woke up wondering what the hell I had eaten right before bed. I also thought “What possessed me to combine primal rock ‘n’ roll with disaster-movie music and twisted-television theme songs?” And lastly I thought “I should call my old friend Brandon Glova--aka DJ Bonics--and have him mix this mutha for earthbound ears!” (I never did)...
Hmmmm...Only two musical dreams so far...Not really enough to complement the other side of this Life--i.e., my normal conscious state of near-total musical obsession. Later on tonight perhaps I’ll scarf down three chili dogs right before bed, and then keep my eyes and ears open...
Posted 9/24/12.....TRICK OF THE TAIL(gating)
Though I did not start working at the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre until the second season (the summer of 1991), I was keenly aware of the first season’s successes both on-stage and off. My friend Tom Rooney was executive director of the venue, and I remember talking with him--that first season, before I joined--about the tailgating situation at that 20,000+ capacity Washington County amphitheatre near Pittsburgh, PA.
According to Tom, as that first outdoor show of the inaugural 1990 season had approached, local amphitheatre management and the parent company in Houston, Texas were both kind of hoping that tailgating wouldn’t break out in a big way and dig in its heels. From the very first show forward, however, it became quite apparent that tailgating was going to rule. As Tom explained to Corporate, the people of Pittsburgh had a strong, generations-long tradition of partying before Steeler games, and these folks looked at tailgating not as a pastime but as a birthright.
And lo, in that first show’s wake, tailgating became “one with the Lake”...
Through these many years, Star Lake (then Post-Gazette Pavilion/now First Niagara Pavilion) has had many tailgating highlights and lowlights. Musicasaurus.com recently reached out to a few “live music venue” alumni and current operators, as well as some diehard concert fans, to recall and then recount their tailgating experiences.
The submitters’ tailgating tales are below (some from Pittsburgh; some not). I will start things out with my own favorite:
My tale is about witnessing, year after year, something truly volcanic in nature. Yes, I have been to the mountain top...
In advance of the annual Parrothead infestation at Star Lake (i.e., the Jimmy Buffett concert), one of the amphitheatre’s most industrious and loyal subcontractors, John Banovsky from Rain-Tec, would spend about a week’s worth of evenings building the perfect beast---an “active” volcano to be placed in the amphitheatre’s parking lot, just outside the facility main gate.
This volcano was 10-feet tall, and it emitted Vesuvius-like smoke out of the top, courtesy of Banovsky’s inner creative melding of a fog machine and 3” PVC pipes. But the only thing that erupted here was a way-past-percolating party!
Situated in the best spot in the lot, from early ‘til late, Banovsky’s annual creation would draw hundreds and hundreds of admiring coconut-bra’ed strollers who would stop by for a chat, clink cocktail glasses in toasts to Ingenuity, and then oftentimes stage themselves next to the mountainous puff daddy for a keepsake photo.
A small Banovsky postscript here: He also alerted musicasaurus.com to the fact that there’s a new addition to Old Smokey at his tailgating site, as of late--an old service van converted into a Landshark “completely painted with fins on roof and tail, and two beer taps out the side.” This is just a testament to Banovsky’s motto for Life, for his subcontractor work at the amphitheatre, and for Buffett concerts (in his words): “Hard Work deserves Great Fun & Relaxation!”
And now, on with the submissions--all in response to the question “What is your most enduring memory from a tailgating incident or experience?”
1.) Tom Rooney - Pittsburgh, PA (former executive director of Star Lake 1990-1994; currently now president of the Tom Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group)
“Grateful Dead show at Star Lake circa early 1990s…that’s a no-brainer. We were somewhat ready having scouted some other shows first. But the two day show was like a bazaar of the bizarre. All kinds of legal and probably illegal consumables and wearables and the only thing the Dead management was interested in was the shutting down the contraband merch. It was a like a 48-hour visit to another planet those two days...you could do a whole blog just on those two shows. When the tour left Star Lake and took the Deadheads with them, the acres of parking lots look like an abandoned battlefield. There was stuff everywhere not to mention a half dozen of dogs who missed their connections.”
2.) Wilson Rogers - Los Angeles, California (former general manager of Star Lake during the 1990 inaugural season; currently an executive vice president with Live Nation)
“The most enduring memory from that first year at Star Lake is of a dump truck full of sand that somehow got into the parking lot, and then dumped as the owner tailgated before the Buffett concert. A lot of sand, but they had even more tequila (the sand we later used for top dressing the lawn; I guess they drank the tequila).”
3.) Scott Tady, Beaver, PA (longtime music fan and Entertainment Editor, Beaver County Times)
“Parrotheads took tailgating to a higher level. I mean, fully operational volcanoes? Real-life palm trees? Some of it was overdone--no man looks good in a coconut bra. I appreciated some of the more subtle stuff, like the girl handing out Juicy Fruit.”
4.) Pat Lucas - Pittsburgh, PA (longtime music fan; formerly of TicketMaster, Star Lake’s ticketing system; currently with ShowClix)
“Since I was always ‘working’ when I visited Star Lake, I never tailgated in the traditional sense. But I did enjoy observing everyone else and made sure to work my way around the parking lot, especially for shows that were sure to pack the lot with all kinds of interesting people and parties. Two such artists vividly remain in my memory--those few Phish show from the mid-90's that were exactly like the Dead tailgates at the arena in the mid-80s, except most of those folks partaking could be, and possibly were, the offspring of the original Deadheads. And those Buffett shows where there were more men than women in coconut-shell bikini tops and grass skirts, back before the mostly intolerable Parrotheads became geriatrics--then completely intolerable.”
5.) Tracy Tucker - Columbus, Ohio (former general manager of that city’s large amphitheatre first called Polaris, then Germain Amphitheatre)
“When I was new to the business as a young 22-year-old, we did Phish at the Columbus amphitheater. I was completely unprepared for the tailgating in the lots. I remember seeing tables full of goo balls covered with flies and people scarfing them down. There were lots of balloons being passed around as well. People had all their earthly possessions on their backs with their finger in the air asking for a prayer (a ticket to the show). Since then I have been through countless shows, but for that newbie back then, it was quite an introduction!”
6.) Patrick Leahy - Maineville, Ohio (former Live Nation venue operator and management team executive; currently the founder and managing director of 409 Management & Consulting, LLC)
“Tailgating was a bit of a challenge in our municipality but like all good concert-going crowds, every now and then our fans were able to make it happen. The big tailgate was always Jimmy Buffett and Phish. We did have some fun way back in the pre-Jerry Garcia departure with Grateful Dead shows. Those tailgates were more like a community picnic in hindsight. It’s interesting to note that when we are going through the operational challenges of events that push the limit of our patience, community norms and our standard operating procedures, we can look back over time and some of those “difficult” events don’t seem as tough as they did at the time.
“Handling the iconic “Grateful Dead event” in a more fixed amphitheater venue added unique challenges than that same event held out on a farm--the close proximity of the local community; and the traveling audience and vendors bringing the so-called “counterculture” so close to the residential population, those close neighborhoods whose uneducated sought to fight the corruption of their youth.
“The reality is that the tailgating at such events like Jimmy Buffett, Phish, DMB and several others is more difficult. The audience make-up of these more current events is less part of the whole scene and more one-off parties. This has lead to the push by local communities and law enforcement to have to pressure and even legislate stiffer, no-tolerance penalties against tailgating, which they have politely termed as ‘pre-concert gatherings’.
“Take me back to the good ole days. Take me back to a Grateful Dead crowd who were there to chill, sell some food to make some gas money, pick up trash at the venue to get a free lawn ticket, and for the most part just enjoy the experience. Did they party a bit, sure they did. But dealing with the “entitlement” of today’s tailgater is more work than they are worth.”
7.) Sean McDowell - Pittsburgh, PA (longtime music fan; longtime on-air talent with WDVE, Pittsburgh)
“I’ve tailgated multiple times at Star Lake, floating in from the parking lots, then taking the wrong seats in the pavilion and having to be removed--or taking forever to find our correct seats, and having to remove someone else or just saying, ‘F*ck this, here's a nice place on the lawn..." The lawn at Star Lake reminds me of Woodstock without the mud and the rain, although we've seen plenty of that out there at times, too.”
8.) Rick Neuenschwander - Wexford, PA (longtime music fan)
“Tailgating before a show was a prerequisite. Getting your game face on beforehand always enhanced the show. Prior to Steve Miller one year, I remember how about 100 bikers rode by en masse and parked next to our tailgate; they turned out to be the nicest group of people you would ever want to meet. Approachable, fun, and a lot better manners than some of the Yuppies out there.”
9.) Steve Acri - Pittsburgh, PA (longtime music fan; former record store manager / currently in the audio-video business)
“Although I have personally never tailgated at Star Lake, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of it is EXCESS! It’s usually a matter of patrons doing their damnedest to get as tuned up as possible without spending crazy money on drinks inside the venue. The sheer amount of trash in the parking lot is evidence of that. Of course, this is especially true at Jimmy Buffett concerts and most big country shows, but even at the recent Kiss/Motley Crue date the young and not-so-young fans were swiggin’, smokin’, and snortin’ to their hearts’ content, with little consideration of what is happening around them. But it’s too bad they cannot be relegated to the parking lot at that point because it’s those same folks that nearly end up at every step getting punched out or falling on their faces due to their extreme inebriation. Some things never change.”
10.) Bruce Friedman - Murrysville, PA (longtime music fan; former Star Lake food vendor through some of those years)
“July 5, 2000 comes to mind most often. Yes and Kansas, two of my all time favorite progressive concept bands. We were doing a 'typical' style tailgate with kielbasa and hot sausage on the grill, and the aroma was wafting through the VIP parking area. There were at least 12 of us enjoying the food and libations when a golf cart pulled up asking what we were cooking. One of the occupants was particularly recognizable. Robbie Steinhart from Kansas spent the next 20 minutes or so with us enjoying not only one, but two huge kielbasa sandwiches and a couple of beers before he headed to work. It was one of those very memorable evenings at Star Lake (and there were many).”
12.) Joe Nieman - West Palm Beach, Florida (currently with Live Nation Florida)
(Editor’s note: Nieman has contributed two tailgating tidbits: The first from his director of operations’ days at Star Lake in the early-mid 1990’s, and the second from his previous operations’ position at the outdoor amphitheatre in Cincinnati.)
Star Lake: “Wrong place, wrong time. There was an unfortunate incident one year concerning tailgaters in the upper Star Lake Parking lot, who were trying to improve their tailgating position--they backed into a light pole. The pole shook violently and the heavy glass light-cover came crashing down on a woman's head. Luckily she was not seriously hurt.”
Riverbend Music Center: “Tailgating on the water. Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati OH sits on the banks of the Ohio River. Boats would often pull up to the venue and anchor up behind the backstage, and party on the water. Jimmy Buffett was recording a live album (Feeding Frenzy) sometime in the early '90's. The recording engineer was freaking out because the boat horns kept spiking the recording, making it unusable. We commandeered a small vessel and went boat to boat asking boaters to please refrain from hitting horns so the engineers could continue with the live recording. As instructed, our boating tailgaters waited until the show ended at 11 pm, and then all laid on their horns in Parrothead bliss. The Riverbend tracks made it onto the live recording.”
Posted 9/10/12.....GOLDEN YEARS
It was just about this time in September twenty-one years ago when we were two shows shy of wrapping up the second full season at Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre, the premiere outdoor concert facility that had been built on reclaimed strip-mining land in a quiet little corner of Washington County called Hanover Township.
I had joined the amphitheatre team in February of that year (1991), having been wooed away from my director of booking position at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. My move to this new employment turned out to be fortuitous, as the arena changed hands only 7 months or so after I left--the DeBartolo organization who had run the venue for the previous decade decided to sell their Pittsburgh holdings (team ownership of the Penguins and management lease of the arena) in order to concentrate more fully on their first order of business, mall and real estate development. The arena lease portion of their holdings went to venue management company SMG, who immediately moved in with their own policies & personnel (in retrospect, methinks my director-of-booking butt would have been most assuredly ushered out the door, as a number of my peers had been--those I’d left behind)...
I loved this new company that I had left the arena to work for...Pace was an enterprising family-owned live entertainment company based in Houston, Texas who had their capable fingers in a lot of “live” pies--they had a concert division (booking national tours), a theatrical division (mounting and staging plays in anchor cities like New York and then touring them through the heartland), a motorsports division (starring monster trucks and mud pits), and an amphitheatre division where I had just come to roost.
Pace’s Cola-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre burst onto the regional scene in the Summer of 1990 with 41 concerts stretching from June 16th (The WDVE Open House Rocker with homegrown heroes Donnie Iris, Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers and Billy Price) through the season-ending show on September 21st (Alabama, Clint Black and Lorrie Morgan). Coming aboard as I did just prior to the venue’s second season, I learned from my new employers that the first year was absolutely meant to be a smorgasbord of shows. The bookings that first season were certainly more slapdash than carefully calibrated--the venue had no history, of course, and so the modus operandi was to book anything and everything that was rollin’ out the door for a summer tour, just to get that initial feel for the market...
Season Two was equally experimental. In fact, it may have boasted one of the most diverse sets of offerings of any summer line-up in the venue’s now-23-year history. It had Rock ‘n’ Roll, of course, but also Metal and Middle-O’-The-Road...Comedy and Christian...Symphonies and Soul...and even some Dance and Jazz strewn across that usually Rock-y terrain.
As the amphitheatre’s new marketing director, I jumped in feet first in February and found very solid footing thanks to my predecessor Bob Klaus, the marketing maven who had piloted the first summer season and was now bound for a similar gig in Raleigh, NC. Prior to his early Spring departure, though, Bob tutored my tuchus off with a long and very detailed sit-down session, taking me through the various dead-ends and hairpin turns of steering the media toward maximum coverage of the amphitheatre’s events.
That Summer of 1991 was a revelation for me. I had abandoned my tightly-focused arena booking position for the hydra-headed challenge at the amphitheatre of marketing forty shows in a compressed five-month time period. One thing became clear above all else, though: Star Lake Amphitheatre had assembled a disparate yet dynamic line-up of truly intriguing offerings for the fans of Western Pennsylvania.
Looking back, certain shows claw to the fore in terms of memorable moments and happenstances:
1.) THE FIRST SHOW OF THE SEASON:
My very first show at the amphitheatre as a new employee was the first show of the season--AC/DC on May 25th, featuring demented schoolboy fashionista and monstrous riff hurler Angus Young. The band was on stage while our Pittsburgh Penguins--featuring a 27-year-old Mario Lemieux--were battling the North Stars for Stanley Cup supremacy in Game Six in Bloomington, Minnesota. AC/DC absolutely rocked the rafters and lobbed out the latest scores in between songs, so this particular night at Star Lake was one beautifully-blended fever pitch. (The Penguins ended up winning the game 8-0, and netted their first ever Stanley Cup)...
2.) JAZZ (The Mellon Jazz Festival with David Sanborn, Michael Franks, Take 6, Yellowjackets, Neville Brothers, and various local Pittsburgh jazz artists):
We linked up with a company called Festival Productions and a savvy, engaging individual named John Schreiber to attempt to bring jazz out from the Pittsburgh city limits to the wide-open spaces of Washington County. The Mellon Jazz Festival was already a summertime tradition in Pittsburgh--courtesy of name-in-title sponsor Mellon Bank--and consisted of a few back-to-back weeks of jazz artists sprinkled throughout the city’s theatres, clubs and parks. In our continuing effort to flesh out our fan base and determine which genres of music Star Lake Amphitheatre concert-goers could and would support, we persuaded Festival Productions to ratchet up the roster and roll the dice with us on a major jazz event at our venue.
We piggybacked on Festival Productions’ usual inner-city advertising efforts for the festival (including print advertising and bank circulars) and we locked in some great support from local jazz station WDUQ, but alas success was only so-so. We were nonplussed to find that although our jazz contacts (and their various touch-point opinion leaders) initially responded very well to the concept and line-up, at the end of the day the jazz fan base didn’t show up in sufficient numbers to help us turn a profit.
To this day, I really can’t pinpoint the reasons for our lackluster results: Was Jazz in Pittsburgh a slavish cult of the Few instead of the Many? Was the prospect of an amphitheatre environment ultimately a turn-off to the purists who were nightly jazzed by the traditional small, smoky, and sweaty settings in the city? We’ll never know...Hey, it might also have been the 25-mile trek to the amphitheatre that gave these urban dwellers pause, such that even a compelling headliner like David Sanborn wasn’t enough to ignite their sax drive...
3.) COMEDY (Andrew Dice Clay):
Remember that in 1991 we were all essentially just on the cusp of the very first commercial uses of the internet, and were many years ahead of YouTube as well, so back in those “uncivilized” days it took word-of-mouth and the press to generate excitement and launch new stars. Former bit actor Andrew Dice Clay was about three years into his stand-up career as a potty-mouthed, homophobic and misogynistic comedian, and he was on a tour of theatres and amphitheatres supporting a new double-live record and also a film of his act at Madison Square Garden entitled Dice Rules.
We had set the show up as “pavilion-only”, meaning we offered only the 7,000 pavilion seats for sale and not the lawn tickets...We ended up drawing a crowd of just 4,000, and the audience seemed to be evenly spit between the bellicose and the comatose--the unruly shouter-outers who whooped it up with every salacious comment from the Dice Man, and the beer-befogged party animals who had run out of steam and just sat there in stupefied reverence.
Not Star Lake’s finest hour in terms of programming, but we were an equal opportunity employer of summertime attractions. Plus, as they say, every dog has its day.
4.) RHYTHM & BLUES, MTV-STYLE (The Club MTV Tour with Tara Kemp, Bell Biv Devoe, C&C Music Factory, Color Me Badd, Gerardo, and Tony! Toni! Tone!):
Club MTV was originally a dance program that debuted on MTV in the music channel’s fourth year of operation (1985). It was hosted by station veejay Downtown Julie Brown, and featured teens gyrating to the latest dance-oriented music videos. MTV cobbled together a tour version of the show first in 1989 and again in 1991; the latter landed at Star Lake.
The tour was promoted nationally of course on MTV, so we peppered other local media (cable TV, print) with news of the concert. Even with the national push, however, our date ended up doing considerably less than half of the amphitheatre’s 23,000 capacity. The concert itself was kinda cool, though, tailored as it was for the non-discriminating fan who didn’t mind watching their lip-smacking favorites outright lip-synching, backed by audio tracks versus live musicians...
5.) ROCK ‘N’ ROLL BY THE CARLOAD (The Pennzoil Carload Jam featuring John Kay & Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Dave Mason, and Blackfoot):
Pennzoil was an original venue sponsor and one of their programs with us was “name-in-title ownership” of a show--and not just a normal ticketed event. We decided early on that we wanted to work with them on a “carload concept” wherein a one-price ticket admitted an entire automobile’s worth of fans to the show.
We had our booker thumb through the list of “past their prime” groups, knowing that if the overall artist expense was reasonable, we’d likely be okay at the end of the day charging $20 per carload. The disadvantage of this plan? If one person crammed his or her car with 9 other friends, they’d all get into the show for a grand total of $20, and realistically that wasn’t much ticket revenue to help us pay for our standard operating expenses such as security, stagehand labor, etc. On the other hand, there was an advantage to this plan: If one person crammed his or her car with 9 other friends, they’d all get into the show for a grand total of $20--and we’d then have 10 people beaming and high-fiving about that savings, inevitably queuing up at the beer stands throughout the evening and plunking down that $8.00 per brew.
The show actually ended up being a modest financial success that both Pennzoil and Star Lake were quite happy with, and the Carload Jam returned the following year...
6.) DANCE (Mikhail Baryshnikov and the White Oak Dance Project):
We had received a call that Spring from a high-powered NYC booking agent who was fishing for dates for his client Baryshnikov, seeking out arts facilities interested in hosting the famous footmeister and his new troupe of dancers. The White Oak Dance Project was a collaboration between Baryshnikov and dancer/choreographer/director Mark Morris, and we held out high hopes that the arts crowd would stray from their usual urban indulgences (the legitimate performing arts centers in downtown Pittsburgh) to enjoy The Master’s new work on a nice summer evening in the great outdoors.
Alas, the crowd was sparse--and uppity. The performance itself was majestic, but we fielded more than a few complaints from attendees at intermission and post-performance about their inability to really see Baryshnikov’s foot moves very clearly. Perhaps it was the degree of slope of our pavilion floor from back to front, and the chair height in relation to these particular audience members looking at “feet” instead of “faces” throughout the performance. As our box office manager took in these various line-of-sight complaints from the high-heeled and well-heeled, I thought about asking a couple of the more obnoxious complainers this question: “Could you not have turned up your nose a bit more than usual to compensate?” (Well-l-l.....I know my place; I didn’t ask that question).
7.) THE LAST SHOW OF THE SEASON...CHRISTIAN MUSIC (“The Day ’91” featuring Mylon & Broken Heart, DeGarmo & Key, Susan Ashton, E.T.W., Rachel Rachel, Geoff Moore and The Distance, L.O.U.D., and emcee Randy Matthews):
I teamed up with a fellow division mate within Pace who was currently working in the theatrical division of the company, Laurie Bowen. She was extremely knowledgeable about Christian rock, and so our divine inspiration became to create an annual event for Star Lake--a local Christian music festival.
Despite having other things on our 1991 summer schedule like the “Clash Of The Titans” concert featuring acts like Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer, we felt like the Christian community didn’t necessarily feel that we were in service to Beelzebub (or not directly, at least). So Laurie helped our amphitheatre team choose the Christian show line-up, and we mutually crafted a comprehensive marketing plan that included radio commercials on the religious station (it was a bit far right on the dial, if I remember correctly), mentions in church bulletins, tickets-for-sale in Christian family bookstores, and even appearances (for Laurie and me) on the small-but-mighty local Christian television station.
This event was the final show of our 1991 season, and we went out like a lamb and I’m not lyin’: The day-long festival ended up drawing only 3,000 people. We knew that to cultivate an audience and build up any kind of annual event, we needed to regroup, retool (if necessary) and relaunch. So we gave it another go the following year, but experienced the same results. There was no Christian festival after 1992 at Star Lake due to our scoreboard results--but we all hoped that, along the way, we had made a few points with The Man Upstairs through all of our earnest efforts.
Posted 8/27/12.....WHEN I MEET THEM (part two).........the first entry on this subject was posted on 4/2/12.
Meeting a “star” singer-songwriter or musician can be satisfying or surreal, exhilarating or intimidating--but almost always illuminating. When I first started working as the Pittsburgh-based display coordinator for the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic corporation in the late 1970’s, I was brought backstage by various label reps to meet bands like ZZ Top in Pittsburgh and The Pretenders in Cleveland. Shyness ruled those early occasions for me; I felt somewhat uncomfortable in that backstage meet-and-greet netherworld, and so I usually let others do the talking...
When I worked for Pittsburgh’s giant record retailer National Record Mart in the early-mid 1980’s, I helped organize the company’s annual store-manager conventions and brushed elbows there with some of my heroes including jazz-rock guitarist Pat Metheny, ex-Glass Harp guitarist Phil Keaggy, and Windham Hill recording artist Michael Hedges. These were more relaxed encounters, due to the sylvan setting of these conventions at Seven Springs, PA where both record store and record label folks mingled and meshed in a no-stress, only-partially-business type of environment...
At clubs around Pittsburgh in the 1980’s, I happened upon backstage opportunities to say hello to other idols of mine, including folk-rock guitarist Richard Thompson (who cheerfully signed a poster for my recently-born daughter) and jazz-rock guitarist Robben Ford (who regaled my friend and me with stories of playing in Mile Davis’ band earlier in his career).
Then at the large Pittsburgh-market amphitheatre in Washington County, where I worked from 1991 through 2007, I had the occasion to bump into James Taylor (one night as he paced nervously down the artist dressing room hallway, fearing a rain storm that was on the horizon), and also a relaxed and friendly Jimmy Buffett (who kept raving about “Burger Bob”, our completely-vegan master chef at the amphitheatre).
Precious encounters, one and all...and here are three others in a more fleshed-out fashion, for your potential enjoyment and possible enlightenment:
1. JOHN MELLENCAMP
Early on in his career, Mellencamp went through some identity crises not of his own making. In 1976 his original manager forced him to adopt the name Johnny Cougar, but over time and on records down the line, this artist managed to jettison the “Johnny” and kick “Cougar” to the curb.
Understandably, John Mellencamp was a bit wary of management machinations and record company shenanigans. I think I may have met him during a time when he was most surly and suspicious, in the very early ‘80’s. My friend Bill, the Polygram record company merchandiser at the time, escorted me backstage after one of Mellencamp’s concerts held in Pittsburgh’s crown-jewel concert venue, the Stanley Theatre. Mellencamp remained silent even after Bill introduced me as the marketing director for the regional music retailer National Record Mart; something behind the artist’s game face seemed to scream “So WHAT?”
His stature was certainly beginning to grow as an artist, but here in person he stood just 5’ 7”--or maybe 5’ 8” with the chip on his shoulder. It was a brief and mildly disappointing meet-and-greet, as I was an early adopter of his musical worldview and had been looking forward to the chance to talk.
As the years went on I immersed myself in his future recordings--most were commercial and critical triumphs--and thus I’d stopped looking in the rearview mirror at that one uncomfortable encounter. Mellencamp, of course, proved himself a viable and expressive artist who hews to his muse to this day, producing a body of work that keenly captures the irrepressible spirit of American music...
2. STEVIE NICKS
Occasionally at the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre during the mid-and-late 1990’s, the woman who booked the artists to play our venue came into town for a visit. Beckye was a fiery, feisty redhead whose favorite song was NOT the James Brown tune “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World”--she was self-assured and outspoken, and by the way very skilled at wrangling the best financial deals possible on our company’s behalf as she negotiated for artists to play our Pittsburgh venue.
Usually our booker would alight when one of the artists’ dignitaries was also encamping for the evening; that was a time-honored practice that ensured future dates (unless, of course, we were outbid for the show by another promoter at another venue--relationships were key, of course, but money trumped all). For this Stevie Nicks concert, it was Nicks’ manager who had come in for the show and while the opening act was on-stage, Beckye led me to the one off-limits dressing room where Nicks and her manager were cloistered away.
There were about 20 people jammed into this small dressing room, and the pitch was high and pleasant as people milled about, cocktails and good vibes flowing. Beckye introduced me to Nicks’ manager, who then pulled Stevie over our way, fresh from a huddled session with two similar-looking gossamer-gowned girls (Nicks and these other two women were beguilingly beautiful; if they were some kind of coven, I remember thinking, I’d covet ‘em!)
Stevie was charming, and with much ease and eye contact, she greeted us without a hint of “been there, done this”. We talked for a few minutes about the tour, how excited she was to be back on the road, and whether our weather would hold--there were hints of storm clouds that night, as I recall. It’s not that I elicited something particularly revealing during this intimate encounter; it was just a pleasure to grab a few minutes of relaxed chat with this husky-voiced angel who has spawned some great rock songs throughout her career, starting wayyyy back on the Buckingham Nicks album released in 1973. That was the record that pricked up the ears of drummer Mick Fleetwood the following year, when he was in the midst of a search for new Mac members...
3. DAVID CROSBY
I was working as general manager of the large Pittsburgh amphitheatre Post-Gazette Pavilion when Crosby, Stills & Nash played there one summer evening...
It had been a perfectly scripted day for us--load-in was smooth and the tour crew laidback, and “Backstage” was now in its comfortable lull between soundcheck and gates-opening time. There were beautiful blue skies as evening crept in, and to top it off, we were only expecting a crowd of maybe 8,000 headed our way. This guaranteed that traffic would be a breeze, with our incoming fans unharried & unhurried.
I was standing backstage leaning against the railing next to the start of the dressing room hallway, talking to Roy who was our venue’s marketing director. We were discussing the number of complimentary tickets that he had used for the CSN show for radio station trades and promotional giveaways, and Roy was attesting that the tour folks had pre-approved these, so once again the Amphitheatre Gods seemed to be smiling down on us.
Suddenly the door of the nearest Artist Dressing Room flew open, and a young boy (5, maybe 6-years-old?) bounded out and plopped down near our feet, squinting in the sunshine. “I want some ICE cream,” the little boy harrumphed to no one in particular, and as Roy at the railing responded with “I think there’s some in the catering room right there”, David Crosby emerged from the dressing room and caught this exchange.
Crosby walked straight over to Roy and stood about six inches from his face. He hung there in silence for about three seconds, and then muttered the words “Just add water” before puckering his lips--still inches away from Roy--and making a slow sucking-in sound that started as a low tone and then kept rising up and up to a climax high. “Wa-LAH!” said Crosby, “INSTANT ASSHOLE!” He paused for effect: “Don’t you EVER tell my kid he can have ice cream!”
Crosby turned and walked away, following his son into the catering area. Roy and I looked at each other, our eyebrows involuntarily up. Then he shrugged it off, saying “Just trying to help...”
Luckily we were somewhat accustomed to prima donnas--and davids--in the course of our work, exposed as we were to egos of all sizes and proportions (and not only in the artist & touring realm, but within our own company as well). It went with the territory in rock ‘n’ roll, and don’t ya know--these are the kinds of memories that sometimes linger longest.
NASHVILLE PITTSBURGH SKYLINE
Back in 1985 I joined the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, who’d been looking for a director of booking to help the venue move more into self-promotion of concerts. The Civic Arena Corporation team that was already in place at my arrival was an entrepreneurial and talented crew of department heads and staff who’d all been charged by arena-and-hockey-team owner Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. to bring in more events.
Our local president who directly reported to “Youngstown”--our internal handle for the DeBartolo corporate office which was situated in that town--was J. Paul Martha. He was a charismatic and inspiring leader, surrounding himself with the best and the brightest (I’m including myself in this group, which is one of the few fringe benefits of tale authorship) in the areas of sponsorship, finance, marketing, booking, and operations--and together his team members innovated and collaborated to fulfill DeBartolo’s goals.
In the mid-1980’s, it was a tad unusual for an arena to dive right into booking its own concerts; we may have been one of just a handful of similarly-sized indoor venues across the country taking charge of its own destiny, and not waiting by the phone for an outside promoter to bring in concert attractions.
Our VP of Marketing in 1985 (who by the end of the ‘80’s became arena general manager as well) was Tom Rooney, and he had largely charted our course into these self-promotion waters. Under his guidance, Civic Arena Corporation plunged in: Fashioning print ads for the national trade magazines to let the touring industry know we were “open for business”...developing internal research forms for external feedback, in order to help us determine the viability of booking certain acts...and reasoning with the puckered-up purse string holders within our larger company, to ensure we could still keep traveling to the various multi-day, national concert industry conventions like the New Music Seminar and the Performance Magazine meetings...
The Civic Arena ended up doing a number of concerts between 1985 and 1990 as “in-house promoter”, meaning that we, the venue, booked the shows directly for all risk-and-reward, handled the marketing and sponsorship, and ultimately lived or died by the success or failure of each concert...
One of the most exciting and ultimately rewarding challenges for the Civic Arena team was mounting the Skyline Series, the subscription series of open-air concerts under the stars. Our arena was an engineering marvel, built in 1961 with a retractable stainless steel roof that enabled--weather-permitting and via the touch of a button--our arena audience to suddenly experience an “outdoor show” in the heart of the Steel City.
Tom Rooney remembers the origin of the Skyline Series. He cites as inspiration a trip to Chastain Park in Atlanta, Georgia in 1986, and a meeting with concert promoter Alex Cooley. Cooley and company ran a summer concert subscription series at a small (6,000-capacity) outdoor amphitheatre, and part of the allure for subscribers were the white-linen and candelabra-covered tables in front of the stage, where parties of six could party all night, enjoying their own princely-packed picnic baskets of wine & cheese while basking in the sounds of their favorite artists up on stage.
Tom recalls as well the motive for Civic Arena Corporation to develop its own version of Chastain Park’s successful series; according to Rooney, it was “the burgeoning amphitheatre business.” Across the country, outdoor concert facilities were springing up like monied mushrooms in the mid-to-late 1980’s, and our proactive thought process in Pittsburgh led us to develop our own “amphitheatre” to forestall one coming along somewhere else within our market...
For that inaugural year of 1987 and the two that followed, Miller Beer $igned on to $upport our $erie$, and our venue’s VP of Communications & Sales Bill Strong handled all of these particular logistics with the Gary M. Reynolds company, Miller’s advertising agency based in Milwaukee. Strong remembers the Reynolds company as “very involved in discussions with us during the run-up to the series”.
And so the Skyline Series was born...and we gave our new brainchild baby what we hoped would be a nourishing formula:
- We’d book around 5 or 6 shows each summer, concentrating on the more mass-appeal, middle-of-the-road artists...
- We’d sell these 5 or 6 shows as a series, offering up the white-linen tables (a la Chastain) for a premium price on the floor of the venue, and for the rest of the arena--i.e., the lovely orange permanent fixed seats--we’d offer a more digestible price...
- Lastly, we’d open up the 5 or 6 shows to individual ticket sales after the pre-identified period of series sales had ended.
In the end--in terms of bottom-line success over a three-year span--the Skyline Series scored with some very solid at-bats, with only a few errant swings for the fences...On the fan side of the equation, the public at large had really embraced the concept--watching their stars while under the stars--and thus Civic Arena Corporation had produced a winner for the City of Pittsburgh.
Now, courtesy of more input from some of the Civic Arena folks who were there in the trenches (or at those white-linen tables, if they were lucky enough), musicasaurus.com offers up some more individual memories from those Skyline Series shows between 1987 and 1989:
1.) SOME OF THE SKYLINE SERIES ARTISTS 1987 - 1989:
Dan Fogelberg, The Beach Boys, The Moody Blues, The Monkees, Kenny Loggins, Hall & Oates, Chicago, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, The Dirty Dancing Tour with Bill Medley, Stevie Nicks, Boz Scaggs, The Doobie Brothers, and--starring the already a bit long in the tooth Richie Havens, John Sebastian, Country Joe and Canned Heat--“The 20th Anniversary Celebration Tour of Woodstock” (who knew no one Woodcare?!!)
2.) SOME OF THE CREATIVE PROMOTIONS SURROUNDING ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE SHOWS (as recounted by Ida D’Errico, at that time the Director of Marketing & Public Relations for Civic Arena Corporation)
“Our pre-promotion on-sale dates at the Civic Arena’s Gate One Box Office always involved 5am kick-offs with live remote morning drive radio broadcasts, all featuring unusual publicity stunts that also garnered TV news coverage. One of our best was the on-sale date of the Beach Boys. Sand covered the exterior of Gate One, with beach balls tossed around on our 'beach' by a staged aerobics class. The City's best radio showman, the late John Cigna of KDKA-AM, led the enthusiasm dressed in his flowered beach attire and straw hat.
“But that wasn't enough fun and sand. We had often staged truck pulls dumping tons of dirt on the Arena floor. So--why not sand for the Beach Boys, too? Tons and tons of it made its way in dump trucks as we worked to create an even larger themed stunt with our 'giant beach' party planned for the actual concert. Our sponsor, Miller Genuine Draft, had purple palm trees so we added those too. In keeping with the theme, I wanted our various security, utility and usher crews to wear Bermuda shorts and flowered shirts, beach hats, etc., and they did. Those temporarily unhappy faces now recall that night as one of their best memories of our days at Civic Arena Corporation.
“But there was more themed work to be done. Our Skyline Series floor seats were tables featuring catered baskets of food to enjoy during the concert. But we now had a beach and we needed beach towels--lots of them--to replace the usual 130 tables of six. I called a friend of mine at the Special Events Department at Kaufmann's and told her we needed some beach towels - quickly. Although surprised at the number, Kaufmann's linens department hurried to find the large volume we needed. I rushed to the store to have a look and make the purchase. The towels were soon neatly placed on the Arena's sandy 'beach' with picnic baskets in the center awaiting the arrival of our floor-ticket concert-goers.
“Next came the need to blow up beach balls--lots of them. This was yet another of my requests of our happy internal crew of good sports. I followed that up with a directive to commence and to continue tossing these beach balls throughout the concert. Now we had real 'beach party'! The Beach Boys took the stage, the roof opened, and the band and the crowd just loved it! Even Mike Love and the other Boys on stage batted the beach balls around during what was one of the most memorable and unique concerts in the Civic Arena's history.”
3.) SOME QUICK CAMEO COMMENTS FROM A COUPLE OF OTHER CIVIC ARENA CORPORATION ALUMNI:
“I really enjoyed the Skyline Series especially opening the Civic Arena roof and the sand on the floor for the Beach Boys...I think my favorite shows were the Monkees and the Beach Boys. They really sounded great and it brought back fond memories of my youth. The atmosphere for all of the shows was fun and everyone had a great time. I also remember Tom Rooney did a great job putting on the Series and was both proud and nervous during the run. Having the Skyline Series led to successful events and I only wish I could pull the same concept off now!” - Rick McLaughlin, former Assistant Controller for Civic Arena Corporation and the Pittsburgh Penguins; presently President/General Manager of Texas Stars Hockey Club at Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, Texas.
“I remember the covering of the arena floor with sand for the Beach Boys concert, and enjoying this with sponsor guests while sitting on beach towels...and opening the roof after intermission for James Taylor, to the rousing cheers of the sellout crowd while he sang "Up on the Roof" (he had been very unhappy about crowd chants of "Open the Roof" during his first set, with the roof closed due to inclement weather).” - Bill Strong, former VP of Communications and Sales for Civic Arena Corporation.
4.) ...AND SOME OF OUR SKYLINE SERIES ANTICS AND ANXIETIES (as recalled by Tom Rooney, at that time the VP of Marketing/Arena GM for Civic Arena Corporation):.
- “Hall & Oates insisted they knew nothing of the stage set-up and said from the stage that the tables looked like ‘Vegas on The Mon’ ”
- “There was the night the roof opened three feet and then stuck, during Dan Fogelberg’s performance" (editor’s note: It was plain ugly, as I recall. Fogelberg soldiered on with his tender ballads, while a few in the restless, disappointed crowd were yelling “OPEN THE GOD*AMN ROOF!)
- “At a James Taylor concert we turned a potential disaster into something special when--after the first half of his set, with the roof closed due to wind conditions and the fans chanting ‘Open it up!’--we did open the roof for his second set, alongside James’ improvised version of ‘Up On The Roof’. ”
- “We were screamed at by Kenny Loggins because he very much disliked the tables” (editor’s note: I was there for the ear beating as well. Loggins didn’t like the fact that some of the table dwellers were sitting there with crossed arms, while his “real fans”--so he claimed--were stuck back in the regular sections, feelin’ all footloose but havin’ no juice).
- “John Ledge of the Moody Blues threatened to leave the stage because people in the front row kept leaving their tables and walking in front of him, over and over again.”
- “A Bob Dylan complaint we overheard him say: ‘They’re eating cheese out there.’ ”
(Editor’s postscript: Every night of that 1987-1989 Skyline Series, we essentially experienced a grand opening--the roof peeled back to reveal the wondrous Pittsburgh skyline, with the audience enrapt and the artists themselves gaping upward, almost missing musical cues due to the unfolding splendor above...As mentioned earlier, we had started up the Skyline Series in 1987 for a number of reasons, including trying to forestall a real amphitheatre being developed for the Pittsburgh market by some outside company. As we at Civic Arena Corporation headed into our third summer of the series in 1989, that amphitheatre was already on the way. Groundbreaking for a Washington County amphitheatre in Burgettstown, PA--to be constructed, owned & operated by the Houston, Texas-based live entertainment company Pace--took place on November 16, 1989. The concert scene in Western Pennsylvania was irrevocably altered from that moment on...Some amphitheatre tales have already been shared within this website, and more stories are on the way...)
Posted 7/30/12.....LET’S DANCE
There's a great song about the concept of "hometown" that was written and performed by British musician & singer-songwriter Joe Jackson. The song brandishing that title appeared on his ninth album Big World, and it was one of a batch of new songs all captured in a live recording session at NYC's Roundabout Theatre in 1986.
In this tune Jackson noted the crazy shuffle of Life--leaving our hometowns, always on the move, blinded and blindsided by our adult occupations and preoccupations, and in Jackson’s words, plowing through “piles of bills, receipts and credit cards / and tickets and the daily news / and sometimes I just / wanna go back to my home town / though I know it’ll never be the same / back to my home town / ‘cause it’s been so long / and I’m wondering if it’s still there”...
I often think of my youth in hometown Butler, Pennsylvania, and lately in particular about how a lot of us back then were shaped by music and by the sharing of related musical experiences. One of the memories that most recently drifted back to my cranial front line was small-town life in Butler in the mid-to-late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, and the sanctioned social outings where music played a rich role: The local dances.
In those years of my junior high and senior high school life, society was slowly but surely goin’ all wackadoo with the upheavals of new sweeping changes in the Youth Culture. A lot of this really hit when I had entered high school (10th grade), but before then, the dances in Butler reflected older traditions.
At the local YMCA there was a Friday night ritual called Tumble Inn, which had its origins in the late 1940’s as the community’s teen dance. As late as the mid-60’s, Tumble Inn seemed to be stuck in a groove--naw, maybe mired in a rut--with an emphasis on ‘50’s-style ballads like Scott English’s “High On A Hill” and Santo & Johnny’s instrumental ballad “Sleepwalk”. Both of these songs were just right for the hormone-befuddled couples who were awkwardly enclasping out on the dance floor, the boys lamenting the existence of sweat glands and the girls praying their ill-sized, yarn-wrapped ring wouldn’t fall off onto the floor...
Though my hindsight’s a tad hazy here, I remember Tumble Inn had a bit of a weird dynamic, dictated by its physical set-up but also molded by its inhabitants. There were Wall Huggers, the clusters of edgy nervous boys along the perimeter who only eyed the gaggles of giggling, game-ready girls...There were the aforementioned Center Floor Couples...and then there were the Round Rovers.
The ones I call the Round Rovers were the constant stream of walkers who--loop after loop--kept treading the oval-shaped circumference of the gym between the Wall Huggers and the open-area dance floor in the center of the room. (There might have been a secret instruction manual explaining the origin and significance of this, but I’ve never unearthed it, then or now.) These folks were packed together tightly wave after wave, and walked sometimes 8-10 people abreast, and here and there a few wriggled in and out of this moving mass of perambulation like fish skimming a current that’ll carry them along to a future exit point.
In the oval everybody ambling was also ogling, but the whole of Tumble Inn, of course, was essentially “Teens On Parade”--everybody there was walkin’ or leanin’ or posturin’ or posin’, all brains afire with neuroses skitterin’ all across their neurons...
And as the background to all of this Teen Sturm and Drang, there was the music. Though the dancefloor ballads spun by the deejay were right out of Pleasantville, Tumble Inn at some point eased into Motown music and some of the more happy-go-lucky style British Invasion hits...By 1965 in society at large, some of the milk-toast music by The McCoys (“Hang On Sloopy”), Herman’s Hermits (“I’m Henry The VIII, I Am”), and The Searchers (“Love Potion Number Nine”) were giving way on the FM Radio to some prophetically-appearing songs like Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction”, The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man”, and Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”...
My own teen brain was solely affixed to Music, and it really didn’t find its proper fuel until a new dance sprung into existence in the late 1960’s: The appropriate-for-the-emerging-era gathering called Purple Underground. This Friday night dance, I believe, coincided with the opening of the new YMCA building in 1968 on North Washington Street in downtown Butler.
I can’t remember when I tumbled out of Tumble Inn for good, but instantly Purple Underground seemed to me a sonic substantiation of the changes afoot. Here the newest sounds emerging on Radio and simultaneously on wax in the Woolworth’s record department in the basement of this five-and-dime store were appearing on the deejay’s playlist, and I had finally found a home...
Purple Underground became a mecca for musical voyagers like myself, and though a typical evening’s audio output certainly included the bubblegum pop of the day, the deejay delved into more meaningful and cutting-edge fare as well. By the late ‘60’s, underground music from new psychedelic bands like The Jefferson Airplane, The Doors and Iron Butterfly, and British imports like Cream and Hendrix, were all joining the ranks of the more rank-and-file hit makers like Tommy James and The Shondells, The Rascals, The Grass Roots, and Gary Puckett & The Union Gap.
Of course The Beatles were leading the charge in that seismic period of the Sixties, having evolved from standard boy-girl fare and rock/rhythm & blues covers in their earliest years, to revolutionary leaps forward in songwriting & production that are arguably still unmatched in modern music history. In August 1968, The Beatles released their song “Hey Jude”, which in all of its uncut, seven-minute-plus glory, spent nine weeks at Number One on American radio stations.
“Hey Jude” of course ends with about four minutes of an exquisitely prolonged coda, and one night at Purple Underground the song was one of the last to be played that evening. Somehow, as the dance wound down and our group of about 18 kids headed toward the exits, someone started up the coda portion of that song.
I’d like to tell you at this point that slowly but surely even strangers joined in our singing, but this isn’t a Dr. Pepper commercial. I believe it was just our close-knit crew that spilled out of Purple Underground that evening, deciding en masse to squat on the sidewalk in front of the building to finish our song...
It was pretty unbelievable that we were sitting there, having just hatched the concept spontaneously a minute earlier as we were passing the trophy case nearest the exit. Outside, we dropped to the ground and continued chorusing, bonded by beaming smiles and flush with unity. A couple of passersby walked up to our group. To them, I’m sure, we looked like a ragamuffin bunch, though perhaps just close enough to “counterculture” to qualify as not quite a shock and nowhere near a threat. A few of the YMCA staff huddled atop the steps looking down at us.
In no time the Butler City Police arrived, two officers who then walked to the pavement and sidled up to positions on either end of our hippie sprawl. They stood resolute and expressionless (which may have been their practiced gamefaces). Interestingly, they stood their ground and seemed to us to be non-confrontational. Our voices kept up fairly strong, as we continued at high volume: “Na na na na, na-na-na na...na-na-na na...hey Jude”...
It was over in three more minutes. The song faded away when the throatier contributors of our pack either began to space out, or just tired of the quest. Once weaved together, we were now sitting there staring at one, and then the other, back and forth. Our squatting hadn’t been squelched; we had run out of steam all by ourselves. (If I had known the Peggy Lee song back then, I would have started back in with “Is that all there is, my friend?”)
That was our fleeting triumph at Purple Underground. We had solidarity through Song, and the Music had moved us (all the way out onto the sidewalk).
The dances in Butler had helped bend me, shape me (to quote an old hit song from ’67), and prepped me for a wider world. Music, I found, was key to me--and the key to me. And I’ve hugged that lane in Life ever since.