Saturday, December 3, 2016

4 Down....

Well I've been on this new musical adventure for about 5 days now, and I'm 4 albums in. In my quest to listen to all 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, there have been very few surprises so far. I already spoke at length about Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours in my last blog, so we will move on from there.
Elvis Presley- Elvis Presley 1956, RCA Records
It is fun to listen to both a legend and a whole new genre of music in their infancy together. I've never been a gigantic Elvis fan. I enjoy his music once in a while, especially the music he recorded pre-1956 for Sam Phillips and Sun Records, but I would consider myself a casual fan at best. Now, that's not to take anything away from the impact Elvis had on popular music. John Lennon said, "Before Elvis, there was nothing.", and I get it. There are some standout performances on this album, and they laid the groundwork for popular music for decades to come. His back up band is simple, straddling that line between country and rhythm and blues. Elvis voice is in fine fashion. My favorite track on the album is his version of "Blue Moon", written twenty years before by the great Richard Rogers. Elvis delivers this better than anyone I have ever heard before. It is haunting and beautiful all at the same time. Sounds like it should be playing on the Juke Box At the RR Diner in Twin Peaks.

 The Louvin Brothers- Tragic Songs of Love 1956 Capitol Records
Not sure what to expect when I downloaded this album from Amazon. Winds up it's a nice blend of the Everly Brothers vocal harmonies and songs with lyrics you would expect coming from Hank Williams. It's country music before Achy Breaky Heart ruined the genre forever. The songs tell stories with a read Americana feeling to them. It's like the folklore of our nation put into song. I really enjoyed it, and I will be returning to it again.

Louis Prima- The Wildest 1956 Capitol Records
This was a no brainer for me. I have loved Louis Prima and Keely Smith since I was a teenager. The comedic play between the two, the great swing arrangements, Louis' trumpet, and add in a wild sax by mister Sam Butera, and you've got something baby. Close your eyes and you are back at the Sierra in Las Vegas, 1956. It's fun, irreverent, and boy does it swing. Classic tracks like Just a Gigolo and Jump Jive and Wail are only the beginning of the fun.

More later......

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Musical Adventure

Today more than ever our musical choices are endless. Almost every recording known to man is available, in one format or another, at our fingertips. With this surfeit of material vying for our attention it is hard for this music geek to decide what to listen to on a daily basis. I just finished going through my massive CD collection in alphabetical order, a process that took well over two years, and I've been thinking about where to go next. Do I stick with what I know and continue to play my favorites over and over again, or do I go exploring, looking for new treasures yet to be discovered?
Last night I decided to go exploring, but where do I begin? There is so much out there I guy could get lost, unless he has a map to guide him. I found a map and it has sent me on a journey, a musical adventure you might say.
The map is a list compiled by music journalist Robert Dimery. He calls it 1001 albums you must hear before you die. It is a very eclectic list with everything from jazz and blues to hip hop, rap, and everything in between. The list is not in order from worst to greatest (according to Mr. Dimery they are all great), it's not alphabetical or even my genre, it is chronological. The list starts in 1955 and continues on until 2007, the year it was compiled. I have decided to start at the beginning and follow this map, one album at a time. It may take years, but I am excited to discover where it will take me.
So, today, during my commute to and from work, I listened to the 1955 album "In The Wee Small Hours", by Mr. Frank Sinatra. This is an early concept album. Every song is about lost love, unrequited love, loneliness, and depression. The album creates a setting in the listeners mind of a small bar or lounge at 2:30 in the morning. The only people left are the singer, and the bartender. The orchestration is beautiful by Mr. Nelson Riddle and the chairman's voice never sounded better. The only problem with this album is it should come with a prescription for Prozac. By the time the 50 minutes and change are up the listener has lived through 16 songs filled with tears as they fall into Sinatra's martini. It is not an album I would throw on at a party or even listen to while driving to work again. If I ever listen to this album again, which I may, it will be with the lights low, a Jack and Coke in my right hand, and my wife nearby so I don't fall into Mr. Sinatra's pit of despair.

Next album.....Elvis Presley's 1955 debut on RCA records. See you then.

Friday, October 9, 2015

In My Life

Had his life not been cut short by an assassin's bullets in December of 1980, John Lennon would be celebrating his 75th birthday today. I have vague memories of the night Mark David Chapman took a husband from Yoko, a father from Sean and Julian, a partner from Paul, and a Beatle from the rest of us. I was 7 years old. I have images of sitting on the floor in our family room with my brother Scott. The TV news was on. Someone, my mom or my sister was wrapping Christmas presents. I remember the big effect the news of the shooting  had on my brother and not understanding why. Minutes later my dad came in and gave my brother a Beatle record he and my mom had bought him for Christmas. I guess they thought, considering the circumstances, giving it early wasn't going to hurt. I'm sure all of these images in my head happened within a scant few minutes of each other, and then I went back to being a blissfully unaware, happy 7 year old.
It wasn't until about 6 years later that I became a fan of the Beatles, a very big fan. I remember almost feeling cheated, not that John had been taken from me, but that I wasn't old enough to share in the grieving process with my brother and all of the other people for whom his music meant so much.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Love Me Tenderly

I guess if I got my love of music from someone in my family, it would be my mother. Some of my early music memories involve listening to oldies radio with her in the car or around the house while getting ready for school. If I remember correctly her favorite song was "Diana" by Paul Anka. My story tonight comes from her, I hope I do it justice.
So the year was 1956. My mom, who was a teenager at the time, took the bus with her two best friends to see Elvis Presley in the movie "Love Me Tender." It was a big event and the movie theater was holding a raffle after the showing. The prize was a life size cardboard cut out of the King that was used to promote the film in theater lobbies. My mom and her friends all agreed that if any of them won, they would share the prize. Mr. Presley would move from house to house every week, like the child of divorced parents.
Well, by the time they got to the bus stop Elvis was covered in lip stick marks of three different shades. The trio of girls climbed on board and my mom put the six foot cardboard standee on the seat next to her.
Well, I'm not sure how long this went on, but by the Christmas of 1958, Elvis was a permanent fixture at my mom's house. Her dad, my grandfather, got the great idea to dress the card board cut out of the King in a Santa Claus outfit and put him on the front porch. The neighbors loved it.
This went on for several years, Christmas would come along, grandpa would go down to the basement, grab Elvis and the Santa suit, and decorate the front porch. At the close of the season Elvis would go back down into the basement to await the next yuletide.
Well the winter weather and the damp basement eventually payed a toll on old Elvis and by the time I was born in 1973 Santa Presley was just a memory and a really good story.
Now, flash forward to present day. My mom is telling this story to my niece who is in college and writing a paper on the cultural history of our home town. I decide to look on Google for any information on this theater giveaway. I'm dying to see what it looked like when I stumble upon a recent episode of Antiques Roadshow. A man, in Minneapolis I believe, had one of these Elvis movie theater props. The appraiser went wild. "There are only 3 of these left known to exist," he says. "At an auction I would expect this to go, in it's current condition, for 10 to 15 thousand dollars."
My mom and I had a good laugh over it, and I'm sure somewhere Grandpa and Elvis are sharing one too.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Wadding Is The Hardest Part

I get asked all the time "you are really into music, who's your favorite band?" That is such a hard question to answer but I usually say, "it depends on what mood I'm in." However there are a few bands that always seem to rise to the top of the list, The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, and the band I'd like to talk about today, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I've loved the band since I was in high school and I first heard "Free Fallin'" off Tom's solo album "Full Moon Fever." I knew of him before then, but that album was my gateway to my now, 25 year fascination with Tom and the boys. I've seen them in concert 7 or 8 times, I've lost track. Like most good music though, thinking about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, brings to mind a funny story, which if you will indulge me, I will share here.
 My third Tom Petty concert was the Dogs With Wings Tour, supporting the Wildflowers album. The year was 1995.  I was living in Los Angeles at the time. The concert was out in a place called Devore Canyon, like two hours out of the city. I took my girlfriend at the time. The car broke down on the way there, so we were running really late. When we got to the amphitheater, the opening act was already playing and parking was full. They put us out in some auxiliary lot and I told my girlfriend we were going to have to run for it, because I didn't want to miss a minute of Petty. I dragged her off the paved path through a short cut. Pitch black, no lights. About two minutes in, she asks me if I hear frogs, I don't answer and keep running. Well, we found the frogs. My shortcut took us through a swamp. We were covered in mud by the time we got to the show, and she ruined a brand new pair of shoes. Well, it was a great show, didn't miss a minute. That girlfriend married me three years later, and we are still married to this day. Guess she forgave me for the shoes.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Photographs and Memories

Today, September 20, 2015 we mark the 42nd anniversary of the passing of a musical great. Jim Croce died on this date in 1973, when his airplane failed to gain enough altitude upon takeoff and crash into a line of trees, killing everyone on board. Croce was 30 and left behind a wife and a young boy.
The early 1970's was filled with singer/songwriters. James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, Al Stewart....just to name a few. However Jim Croce and his legacy stand out among all of them as being different, having something special.
Born in 1943 in Philadelphia to Italian American immigrant parents, Jim Croce's first instrument was an accordion that he would play at family functions. After graduating from college with a degree in psychology in 1965, Jim and his new wife Ingrid formed a folk music duo and went around to small clubs playing songs by Lightfoot, Joan Baez, and Woody Guthrie. This didn't work out to well and soon the couple was living on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania while Jim drove truck or worked construction. But he never stopped writing songs.
His breakthrough came in the summer of 1972 when he signed with ABC records and released his first single, "You Don't Mess Around With Jim." That opened the flood gates and for 18 months the public fell in love with Jim Croce. He put out hit after hit "Operator", "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown", and "I Got A Name," among many others.
But probably his best known song "Time In a Bottle" was released by the record company as a single, weeks after his death.
Even though Jim Croce died 6 weeks before I was born, his music moves me like no other. His words are poetic, his voice full of emotion, and his songs live in me long after the needle reaches the run out of the vinyl.
I have a CD that was released on what would have been Jim's 50th birthday. It's a compilation of his hits and some lesser known songs. One of my favorite moments though comes at the end of the CD. The last song is a tune called "Top Hat Bar and Grille". The song fades out and there is a pause of about 10 seconds. Just as you are getting up to turn off the CD player, Jim's voice comes back on as if out of nowhere. I don't know where it was taken from, an interview I'm assuming, but he says in the most casual off the cuff manner possible, "If you dig it, do it. If you really dig it, do it twice."
Amen Brother.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Origin Story (Part 2)

So, when last we met I was about 9 years old and listening to top 40 radio. This was about the time I started asking for albums (never really cared much for singles, still don't) for my birthday and for Christmas. The first ones I can remember calling my own were "She's So Unusual" by Cindy Lauper, "Thriller" by Michael Jackson, Madonna's first album, and a little later "Purple Rain" by Prince. As the 80's rolled on I got into Men at Work, Duran Duran, Phil Collins (hadn't heard of Genesis yet), Lionel Richie, and Huey Lewis and the News, just to name a few. I would listen to the weekly Top 40 every Saturday Morning and root for my favorites to be number 1 again. It was my version of watching competitive sports on television. The last 80's top 40 tune I remember loving was "Glory of Love" by Peter Cetera. It was done as the theme to the movie "The Karate Kid Part 2". It was the summer of 1986. Something happened during that summer that changed my life forever. (Yes I'm being dramatic, but at the same time there's not much hyperbole in that statement, just ask my wife.) What was this groundbreaking event that so greatly impacted the life of this young music geek you may ask. I'll tell you, it was the 20th anniversary of the Monkees.
Now, anybody that knows me, knows I can talk on the Monkees for hours on end. I won't do that here. That will be for future blogs. But, long story short the Pre-Fab four was all I listened to for about two years straight. The passion still continues today, but my musical horizons have expanded greatly. I have my brother Scott to thank for that.
In the summer of 1988, I was 14, Scott was 25 and we went on a two week road trip together. It was going to be awesome, my big brother and I out on an adventure, I was so excited. Before we left he handed me some records and asked me to make copies onto cassettes so we had something to listen to in the car. The albums were, "Live Rust" by Neil Young, "Deja Vu" by Crosby Stills Nash, and Young, Bob Dylan's "Greatest Hits", and Jefferson Airplane "Surrealistic Pillow". By the time I was done making those copies I was a fan of Classic rock. This set the tone for my musical tastes to this day.
The classic rock artists got me interested in checking out the blues. The blues artists got me interested in checking out jazz. And today you will find everything in my music collection from Miles Davis to Black Sabbath and everything in between.
Now, I don't live completely in the past. Every once in a while a new artist will make me sit up and pay attention. In the 90's it was Dave Matthews Band, in the early 2000's I fell in love with Norah Jones, and lately I have really gotten into bands like Mumford and Sons and Kings of Leon. But, I always find myself going back to the classics.