A special post for the 50th birthday of the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.

On July 12, 1962 Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman (along with Ian Stewart on piano and a forgotten drummer-Charlie Watts joined shortly after) played a gig at the Marquee Club in London, England, under the name “The Rollin’ Stones”.  Inspired by music typified by Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, they have, quite literally, been popular ever since.  The Stones changed music in far too many ways (including in a business sense) than space here permits to describe. More than anything else however, they have shown that a band that is good at what it does can survive regardless of what is “popular”.

For me, the Rolling Stones define rock and roll, and will do so until I die and my two sons are wondering what to do with the Stone’s vinyl that takes up more space on my shelves than any other artist.

Happy birthday!  Long may you continue to run!

What makes people like music? More particularly, why does a person chose one genre over another? Or, within a single genre, why does someone prefer one song to another? I do not have definitive answers to these questions, but I do know that what I listen to today is greatly influenced by what I was exposed to growing up in my parents’ home. Like a salmon fry imprinted by the stream he was born into, I must return to it. My mom did not collect records but my dad did. He was a talented musician and his tastes embraced classical music (including opera), jazz, calypso and popular music—especially show tunes from Broadway musicals. Whether through nature or nurture I acquired a taste for all of the above, except opera. My main passion, however, ever since hearing (of all things) Eddie Hodges sing “I’m Going to Knock On Your Door” in 1961, was rock and roll, which my dad couldn’t stand to hear.

The selections below are taken from my dad’s collection, which my mom inherited when he passed away in 1971 and which I now have. The collection is surprisingly small, which is probably why I am so familiar with it. My dad was not averse to playing the same record over again (and again) in the same evening—all at high volume.

[You will notice a bit of a change in both form and substance with this week’s post. Please thank my friend Gordon who is guest blogging this week].

Next week: Top Five Acrimonious Breakups in Rock and Roll.

1. Michael Rabin: Paganini Concerto No. 1 in D major

Even though he passed away in 1972 when he was only 35, Michael Rabin is still considered to be one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century. I treasure this recording, which was issued in 1960 on the Capital label, number SP 8534. When CDs became available I searched for a CD version of this record and was delighted to find a 6 CD compilation of much of Rabin’s recorded music, including his interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, which to my mind is the greatest piece of music ever written (of course, a completely subjective judgment). Rabin’s performance of Paganini is dazzling and on Tchaikovsky he surpasses himself. No one—and I have listened all of the greats-moves me as much as Rabin. He imprints his own unique signature on every piece he plays.

2. Shelly Manne & His Friends: modern jazz performances of songs from My Fair Lady

This mono recording, issued by Contemporary Records in 1956, is the first album ever made consisting entirely of jazz versions of tunes from a single Broadway musical. It falls into the West Coast sub-genre and became one of the best-selling jazz albums of its day. On piano is a young Andre Previn. He really sparkles. In later years Previn became associated with film music, racking up 4 Academy Awards and 11 Grammies. In this clip someone has added an intro by Julie Andrews which is not part of the recording. So skip ahead to 31 seconds. Very cooool.

3. Camelot: Original Broadway Cast Recording

I heard this album (released in 1960 on Columbia KOS 2031) so often that I almost know it note for note. Featuring Richard Burton and Julie Andrews, Camelot introduced the world to Robert Goulet. “If Ever I Would Leave You” became his signature tune.

4. Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody On a Theme From Paginini

The famous composer performs his own work on this album, which was issued in 1950 by RCA Victor Red Seal under number LCT 1118. I find the 18th variation especially moving. At a performance of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra earlier this year it brought tears to my eyes. For those of you who think that you’re not familiar with it just go to 5:30 in the clip and listen for 2 minutes or so. I expect you’ll recognize it.

5. Edmundo Ros and His Orchestra: Calypso Man

Edmundo Ros passed away last year just shy of his 101st birthday. In the 1940s and 1950s he was part of the huge calypso craze that swept across Europe and North America. Ros owned his own nightclub in London and often played at Buckingham Palace. “Calypso Man” was issued in 1957 as Decca LK 4202. The song “Magistrate Try Yourself” was one of my favourites as a little boy. The concept of a judge trying himself for speeding appealed to some part of my formative brain.

Posted: July 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

Happy Canada Day Eh!

There is simply too much fine Canadian music for me to pick five artists. I thought about adding a second list of solo artists, but that is kind of cheating. Regardless, lots of bands and performers with lots of talent and who have enjoyed enormous success, most notably Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. Perhaps I will do a solo artist’s list next year. I chose the bands here because they are uniquely Canadian, meaning it is tough to go to, for example, England and say such and such band is England’s Guess Who. These folks are home grown and unique and I hope you enjoy listening to them.

NEXT WEEK: A first here, a guest blogger, my long time friend and largely closeted music impresario Gordon on “Top Five Albums in My Parents’ Record Collection”.

1. The Guess Who

Hailing from Winnipeg, the Guess Who remains for me the quintessential Canadian rock band. They merged the music of the times with home grown lyrical themes and images, creating music that was distinctly Canadian, without being parochial. This track, perhaps my favourite Guess Who song, embodies that idea. It is from “Live at the Paramount” a 1972 release that I remember riding my 10 speed to A&B Sound in Vancouver from Richmond to buy.

2. Blue Rodeo

If The Guess Who were the Canadian band of my youth, Blue Rodeo are the Canadian band of my alleged adulthood. This band for me fell into the same category as only a handful of other artists (Elvis Costello, Tom Petty and Ryan Adams all come to mind) where I was hooked from the first note I heard. Fronted by Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, they have in many ways provided a soundtrack to the last 20 years or so of my life, a beautifully imaged, alt country soundtrack. This is off “Five Days in July”, released in 1992. Note the weather references in the lyric which is a something of a wonderful writing trademark for these lads from Toronto.

3. The Tragically Hip

The Hip, despite being huge, remained largely beneath my radar. My theory is there is too much music and too little time. However, my eldest son Adam is a fan and expressed some shock a few years ago that I didn’t listen to them. So I did and they really are quite something. Emerging in 1983 (right around the same time as Blue Rodeo, but a little to the east, in Kingston) they continue to make music, and tour both domestically and internationally. This is one of their classics and showcases their abilities as storytellers, which is what it is all about when you think of it.

4. The Sadies

The Sadies are Toronto based and are best characterised as alt country, although they have punk and surf stuff going on too. Brothers Travis and Dallas Good are the sons of Bruce Good of that fine Canadian country music institution The Good Brothers. The Sadies, in a very Canadian sort of way are perhaps best recognized as collaborators, appearing frequently as Neko Case’s touring band, and with Blue Rodeo and the Tragically Hip. I saw them at Malkin Bowl a few summers ago when the entire band joined all of Blue Rodeo and Barney and Dustin Bentall mid-set for a uniquely Canadian guitar fest. Here they are playing…. a house party. Great band, that for many is under the radar, to tell your friends about.

5. The Band

As we all know, with the exception of Levon, all the members of The Band were Canadian. They got their start playing for Ronnie Hawkins (“The Hawks”) who I just heard the other day is still living in I think Peterborough, Ontario (although they split ways when Ronnie moved to Canada). The Band’s influence cannot, simply put, be overstated. Combing folk, country, blues, rock and roll they forged a unique sound that still endures. This clip is from the Scorcese directed film that chronicled their last concert, “The Last Waltz”.

Posted: July 1, 2012 in The Band, The Guess Who, Uncategorized

I occasionally play guitar and sing at the same time in The Falcon Band (as it has come to be known) on Friday nights. It used to be a regular occurrence but then we got a real singer, allowing me to concentrate on playing.  During my tenure as a singing guitar player, I discovered that attempting singing over anything more than  strummed cowboy chords made me realise why there is both a Keith and a Mick.  Drumming and singing at the same time takes matters to a whole other level.

Despite the fact that the dexterity required to practise their craft is akin to that required to fly a helicopter, drummers take all sorts of knocks from other musicians and are the brunt of many a joke (Q: How can you tell  a drummer is at the door? A: The knocking speeds up).   I have attempted to play the drums several times (usually in the darkness of night, with no one around) but have never even flirted with the idea of singing while pounding away. So my hat is off to drummers that sing. Here are my Top Five (not counting, of course, the Falcon Band drummer  John who sings from time to time).

Speaking of hats, here is a tip to Foremost for the topic and one of the links. Guess which one?

Next week:  Special Canada Day Edition:  Top Five Canadian Bands.

1. Levon Helm

Without hesitation, Levon is at the top of my list.  He may have even invented the singing drummer.  What I like about Levon is that both his singing and playing are so distinctive that I can’t envision The Band having done what they did without both of Levon’s voice and sticks.  Here is clip from a Band rehearsal in 1969, that is well worth watching despite the annoying watermark.

2. Karen Carpenter

Karen was not only a singing  drummer, but the double rarity of a female singing drummer.  With her brother Richard, the Carpenters proved to be a highly successful soft rock act in the early 1970’s  when mega bands like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were at their creative zeniths.  It is I think easy to be dismissive of the Carpenters in general and Karen’s abilities behind the kit in particular.  But watch this compilation. You may change your mind as I did.

3. Ringo Starr

Ringo is frequently dissed by non-drummers but his skills are praised by every drummer I have met,  and by  those who know what they are talking about when it comes to music, whether drummers or not. Ringo really didn’t sing much with The Beatles (about twelve songs plus backing vocals on another four or five) but his contributions stand out.  Here is my favourite.

4. Phil Collins

Phil was a drummer first (who coincidentally says Ringo was his greatest influence) and only started singing when Peter Gabriel left the proggish rock group Genesis to pursue a solo career.  After a hugely successful solo career himself, his latter output was less stellar and he became almost Elton John like in terms of writing pop music for the screen.  Here he is at is finest.  Does everyone remember the “Miami Vice” episode where Crockett and Tubbs were driving off in the Testarossa to get the bad guys, accompanied by this song?  I know, the general plot description really doesn’t narrow it down much does it?

5. Sheila E.

Another double winner, the “E” stands for Escovedo.  Sheila is the niece of Alejandro Escovedo who  I wrote about in my “Top Five Bands You Really Should Listen to if the Last Record You Bought is Led Zeppelin II” (you can find a link on the left).  Sheila is best known for her work with Prince and Ringo Starr, although she has enjoyed considerable success as a solo artist.  Here she is in 1984’s “Glamorous Life”, produced by Prince.

First off, and to define terms, I am not talking about girl groups (like The Crystals, The Ronettes and The Spice Girls) nor about female centric or female fronted groups (like The B-52’s, Heart or The Dixie Chicks).  I am talking about bands where all the  music is made by women.  Second, strange how it is okay to reference “girl bands” but not okay to refer to the individual band members as “girls”, unless of course they actually are girls.

The girl band was initially popular in the 1930’s and more or less faded away until the 1960’s.  Interesting that they are still somewhat unusual, since neither music in general nor rock in particular have proven to be an exclusive male domain, at least from a performer’s point of view.

My list is an eclectic one, both in terms of timeline and style.  I hope you find something here you like.

Next week:  Top Five Singing Drummers

1. The Pleasure Seekers

The Pleasure Seekers were formed in Detroit, Michigan in 1964 by sisters Patti and Suzi Quattro, who were 15 and 17 respectively.  The Pleasure Seekers morphed into Cradle, which had a far harder sound.  Suzi attained far greater success as a solo act, particularly in Europe.  She also made her mark in television playing Pinky Tuscadero in “Happy Days”.  I saw Suzi once, in the mid 1970’s, opening for Alice Cooper.  I was 18 and I liked it, to paraphrase Alice.

2. The’s

The’s are a rock/punk/surf band formed by another pair of sisters, Sachika and Yoshima “Ronnie” Fujiyama.  Created in Japan in about 1986, their first real commercial introduction to North America was when they appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 “Kill Bill Vol. 1”, performing “I Walk Like Jayne Mansfield”.  The clip is from the film and is guaranteed to make you tap your toes and smile.  So don’t resist.

3. The Go-Go’s

I recently acquired some 600 albums from a friend who was divesting himself of his vinyl collection.  Included were a couple albums from The Go-Go’s, whom I will confess have not been in heavy rotation at La Casa di Tweedy.  I have been missing out.  Power pop so pure Nick Lowe should be receiving credit in the liner notes.  This gem is from 1981.  Enjoy yourself and thank me later.

4. Vixen

Although from St. Paul Minnesota, Vixen are more often associated with 80’s LA glam metal.  The list of personnel who has played in this band over the years runs the length of an NFL roster, and they still seem to resurrect from time to time.  This clip was a legitimate hit for them so get out your Bics.  Just don’t get to close to the hair.

5. The Runaways

Formed in 1975 by drummer Sandy West and guitarist Joan Jett, this band was another which enjoyed much greater success abroad, primarily in Japan where they became chart leaders.  Joan Jett of course went on to front the Blackhearts and even had a Gibson signature guitar, but this is where she started, before the band dissolved in a sea of acrimony.

Posted: June 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

When I became a high school student in South Wales in 1973 one of the habits I immediately acquired was to watch “Top of the Pops” on BBC One on Thursday evenings. The enormously popular show, which ran from 1964 to 2006, was the birth place of glam rock in 1971 when Marc Bolan of T. Rex appeared in sequins and with glitter under his eyes. Although I missed the T. Rex show by a couple years, I did see many of the sexual and gender innuendos and ambiguities, and theatrics, of the early glam acts while sitting crammed into a tiny tv room with my school mates. Glam quickly spread beyond the UK , influencing acts on this side of the pond, including Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Susi Quattro, until morphing into all sorts of other genres. More later.

In the meantime, get your eyeliner on and ready yourself for my Top Five Glam Rock Picks.

And a hat tip to Jessica for suggesting the topic.

Next week: Top Five Girl Bands

1. T. Rex-Hot Love

This is the song (and the actual performance) that started it all. Tryannosaurus Rex had been a folk act until, under Marc Bolan’s influence, it went electric and changed it’s name. Legend has it that Chelita Secunda, the wife of Marc’s manager, applied the most influential two dabs of glitter ever, creating the genre which was uncharitably described by John Lennon as “just fucking rock and roll with lipstick”.

2. David Bowie-Starman

If T-Rex was ignition, David Bowie was liftoff. “Starman” is on “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” a 1972 concept album featuring a persona created for the occasion. Although concept albums were hardly new-“Sergeant Peppers” was released in 1967-Bowie actually became the character portrayed in the record. Heady stuff. Brilliantly produced and executed, this album put glam on the map.

3. Roxy Music-Virginia Plain

Roxy Music (even the name sounds glamorous) was formed in 1971 by Bryan Ferry and Graham Simpson. Simpson became ill shortly after their first album was released in 1972, leaving the band’s core members as Ferry on vocals and keyboards, Phil Manzanera on guitars and Paul Thompson on drums. Hugely influential (think The Cars, Duran Duran, Kate Bush, Annie Lennox and so forth) Roxy Music remains for me the coolest of the cool and Bryan Ferry the leader of that particular pack.

4. Lou Reed-Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Quitting the Velvet Underground in 1970, Lou Reed took a job at his father’s accounting firm as a typist. A year later however he recorded his first solo album in London, which did absolutely nothing commercially and was furthermore overlooked by critics. Lou hit gold however with the Bowie and Mick Ronson (he is the guitar player in the gold suit in the “Starman” clip) produced “Transformer”. “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” is an ode to, and something of a musical compendium of, Andy Warhol’s Factory. That it was not censored for radio play is more a testament to clever writing than content and it really did serve to introduce Lou to the mainstream. If ever Lou was mainstream.

5. Iggy Pop-Sixteen

Iggy Pop is perhaps more of a product of glam rock than anything else and was another musician who worked very closely with David Bowie. Iggy met Bowie in 1971 in New York City, when he was already established in The Stooges (a member of which at one time was Scott Thurston, who plays guitar and piano in The Heartbreakers). His critical and commercial solo success was with Bowie at the producer’s helm. This track is off “Lust for Life” which followed the hugely successful “The Idiot”, also Bowie produced. It is too be noted that Iggy still refuses to wear a shirt, but has reportedly given up writhing in broken glass.

Posted: June 10, 2012 in Brian Ferry, David Bowie, Glam rock, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan, Roxy Music, Stooges, T-Rex, The Beatles, Uncategorized
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This week’s post comes about as a result of a friend’s observation that I have not been writing a whole lot (okay, nothing) about newer music. I am not quite sure why that is. While there is lots of music made in the last decade I don’t listen to, there are a large number of more or less contemporary artists whose music I enjoy. So here is a sampler. I would love to hear your choices.

Next week: Top Five Glam Rock Songs

1. My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket was formed in Louisville, Kentucky in 1998 by the truly charismatic singer, songwriter, guitarist and consummate front man Jim James. Their first album “Tennessee Fire” was released in 1999. A half dozen or so studio and a couple of live albums have followed since. I was first introduced to them in about 2004 or so when my friend Chris gave me a copy of “It Still Moves” which had been released a couple years prior. I loved them out of the gate, and became a card carrying convert when I saw them at The Commodore Ballroom around the same time. If venue is any measure of success, I saw them at the far larger and upscale Orpheum in Vancouver this spring.

My Morning Jacket’s music embraces rock, hard rock, folk, funk, gospel, pop, prog, psychedelia, country, alt-country and probably a couple other genres I missed. Their live shows are legendary, attaining almost mythical status after a four hour, thirty five song, two set performance at Bonnaroo in 2008. If everyone who says they were there were really was, it was an event bigger than Woodstock.

This track is from an appearance on the Letterman show in 2006 and will give you some sense of the musicality of the band in general and the presence of Jim James in particular.

2. Jack White

I was late to Jack White and first started listening when “Icky Thump” was released in 2007, ten years into the White Stripes’ career. It turns out this was their last album. The White Stripes consisted of Jack on guitar, keyboards and vocals and his then wife Meg on drums. Low fi and highly esthetic from the beginning, they took blues and rock motifs, stripped them down further and then blew the doors off them. It really is what he is still doing.

Jack has since become a producer of renown, winning a Grammy for his work with Loretta Lynn on the recent “Van Lear Rose” and reviving the career of Wanda Jackson. He is also the owner and operator of Third Man records, a drummer and occasional vocalist with Dead Weather, a guitarist and vocalist with The Raconteurs and most recently a solo artist. I saw him last week in Vancouver, with the all female version of one of his two touring bands, the other being all male. Jack wears his musical influences on his tailored sleeve, and they are “Americana eclectic”, a phrase I just made up but kind of like. Authentic rock and roll boys and girls, the kind you used to hear in garages around the land, albeit polished up a bit, but still with a wailing distorted guitar. Refreshing actually.

This is “Love Interruption” off Jack’s very first, very recent and very eclectic solo album. It is great song but what I really like is that you would be hard pressed to assign it to a decade if you were hearing it blind.

3. Alejandro Escovedo

My friend Evie turned me onto Alejandro Escovedo a couple years ago. I will be forever grateful. It turns out that although he is from and still resides in San Antonio, Texas, he also has roots in Vancouver, having been part of the local punk scene here in the early 1980’s. Punk influences still show through in his alt country tinged rock music. Playing in a succession of bands through the 1990’s (including a wonderful collaboration with Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown in 1997) and two critically received solo releases, he has nevertheless remained below the radar. He has however been enormously well received by many musicians of note, including Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle.

My favourite Alejandro anecdote involves his song “Castanets”. At some point he heard that George W. Bush had the song on his favourite iPod playlist. It was dropped from live play, with explanation, until W left office.

Here is the offending song. More garage rock, except this time with a fiddler and a cellist. Outstanding really.

4. Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is singer/songwriter from Jacksonville, South Carolina. Originally part of the band Whiskeytown, Ryan’s first solo release was “Heartbreaker” in 2000, and featured prominently Gillian Welch and David Rawliings. He has recorded with several bands (including his death metal band Werewolph) , the finest being, in my opinion, The Cardinals. Ryan’s music-most of it-takes off directly from Gram Parsons. Usually labelled as alt-country, I like to think that it is “real” country, respectful of Hank and Johnny, not the pop music with a pedal steel guitar and a fiddle that you hear on the radio.

Ryan has hearing loss as a result of having contracted Meniere’s disease. He has said that this has contributed to his decision to quit the Cardinals, although he did tour solo last year, and is apparently currently recording two albums.

This clip, with the Cardinals, is from Letterman’s show in 2007.

5. Ron Sexsmith

Rox Sexsmith hails from St. Catharines, Ontario. Praised by the likes of Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Paul McCartney and Ray Davies, he has critical success that has not been matched commercially. I have seen him twice in very small venues (good for me, not so good for Ron) and both times have wondered aloud why I am not walking out of a place that seats thousands. His story (quest really) was very well told in a recent documentary called “Love Shines” which premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2010, and is shown on HBO Canada from time to time.

Ron has many gifts, but the greatest is that of songwriting. His music is wonderfully expressive, intimate really, a word I think is overused when describing music but which I think is entirely appropriate here.

Here is Ron on Elvis’ show “Spectacle” in 2009. Watch the expressions on the faces of Jesse Winchester, Neko Case, Cheryl Crowe and Elvis, which say it all.

Posted: June 2, 2012 in Alejandro Escovedo, Elvis Costello, Jack White, My Morning Jacket, Ron Sexsmith, Ryan Adams, Uncategorized
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