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We don’t only sing …

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A historical question for the dancers in the audience (and you are legion):

At what point or points in the video below are the Drells actually doing the Tighten Up?

What time is it?

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Nothing older than yesterday’s Pet Sounds jokes. So let’s sweep them off the table with a Time and Date post — something I used to do from time to time on the old blog, but haven’t really continued here.

According to timeanddate.com, I am 15,658 days old today.

What’s that mean? Well, here’s some context:

-When my dad was the age I am today, it was April 11, 1986 — a Friday, which meant a welcome break from the corporate grind. (Is it Friday yet?)

He had one teenage son driving him nuts, and I was about to turn a teenager in a couple of months … so then again, maybe the home front wasn’t that much more relaxing than work. I dunno. He got through it, anyway.

-When my grandpa (of Hope Street fame) was the age I am today, it was June 23, 1953, a Tuesday. This was before the calendars, so I don’t know if he did anything noteworthy that day, though I’m sure his kids enjoyed their still-fresh liberation from school. This was four days after the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; I wonder if he had an opinion.

-When Jerry Garcia was the age I am today, it was June 14, 1985, and he was in the Bay Area playing a show that — coincidentally — just came up for download a few days ago on the site where I get all my Dead.

I haven’t listened to it yet to find out if it’s any good. ’85 was a hit-and-miss year for the band but better than ’86, the year derailed by Garcia’s diabetic coma.

-When Miles Gilbert “Tim” Horton was the age I am today, it was Nov. 25, 1972. The NHL legend, already known for his growing chain of donut shops, might have been back in Toronto attending to business affairs; his Buffalo Sabres were off until the following night, when they played the Islanders in New York.

-Elvis Presley would have been the age I am today on Monday, Nov. 21, 1977. Perhaps he would have been grunting through a couple of cash-in gigs before retreating for Thanksgiving at Graceland.

-When Hoyt Wilhelm was the age I am today, it was June 8, 1965. He also had the day off, having most recently thrown 3 1/3 shutout innings against the Yankees three days before. He’d pitch again June 10 against Boston, going another three shutout innings and picking up a save — not that anybody noticed saves much in 1965.

-When Keith Richards was the age I am today, it was Oct. 31, 1986. Presumably, Keef was at his place in Westport handing out Good n’ Plentys to all the young ghouls.

On the Stones front, the wheels had worn off the Dirty Work album (released in March), so Keith was presumably back to his ongoing public spat with Mick Jagger. He’d stayed busy on other fronts: The Chuck Berry tribute concerts filmed for the movie “Hail! Hail! Rock n’ Roll” had been held in St. Louis two weeks before.

-Speaking of Chuck, as we seem to do quite a bit lately, he was exactly my age on Aug. 31, 1969. Most likely he spent the day (or the night) pounding out a precise 75 minutes worth of hits through a borrowed Fender Dual Showman.

His most recent LP, released in June of that year, bore a painful title — Concerto in B Goode — and an even more painful concept, with side 2 devoted entirely to an instrumental jam. It wasn’t troubling radio program directors as August turned to September.

-When John F. Kennedy was the age I am today, it was April 11, 1960, and he was in West Virginia trying to convince people he should be president. Hubert Humphrey was touring the state as well.

-When Hunter S. Thompson was the age I am today, it was May 31, 1980. It was not a particularly good time for HST: About a month before, he’d had the uniquely unpleasant experience of seeing a bad movie based on his life open in theaters nationwide.

-When Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier was my age, it was Dec. 1, 1787, and he had already been celebrated for several years as a pioneer of lighter-than-air ballooning.

Let’s go away for awhile.

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Tweet of the day:

petsounds

Paul McCartney’s favorite LP marked its 50th anniversary today, and while the music is holding up OK, the mythos is starting to fray a little around the edges.

Pet Sounds and the band that created it have been so heavily analyzed, so frequently chronicled, that the backstory just isn’t that interesting any more. A “little-known fact about Pet Sounds” is kinda like an “underrated Beatles tune”: No matter what it is, that song’s been sung.

So, in the interest of freshening up (or outright pissing in) the Pet Sounds pool, here’s a never-before-seen list of¬†things you didn’t know about the album.

Feel free to share. Your friends will marvel at your pop-god knowledge. And who knows? Maybe a few of these tidbits will end up joining the gospel.

If my children’s children’s children believe even one of these, my time on social media will have been worth it:

Eight Things I Know About Pet Sounds You Didn’t Know Until Now

  1. Carl Wilson, struggling with a debilitating addiction to milkshakes, took no part in the Pet Sounds sessions; his only contributions to the record are the amazingly lifelike dog howls at the very end.
  2. Studio records and DNA testing indicate that the water that had been in the jug used for percussion on “Caroline, No” was consumed by Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco, Tony Asher, Terry Melcher, Bruce Johnston, and Al Jardine’s brother.
  3. The voices that can be overheard talking in the bridge of “Here Today” belong to Billy Preston and Murray the K — two men, coincidentally, who are often cited by fans as being the “sixth Beach Boy.”
  4. Mike Love is an American hero.
  5. The bicycle horn and bell on “You Still Believe In Me” are left over from the shell of an earlier track called “Bitchin’ BMX Derby.” (During Brian’s later absence from production, the Beach Boys would revive “Bitchin’ BMX Derby” with a new vocal track, achieving a No. 38 pop hit in 1979.)
  6. In keeping with the “animal” theme of the album (its working title was The Beach Boys Love Ewe), Brian Wilson composed most of the songs in the barn of a goat farm in the hills outside Los Angeles, having a Steinway piano and a theremin installed there at great personal expense.
  7. Side One’s original running order of “Pigs On The Wing,” “Dogs” and “Sheep” was rejected by the record company.
  8. Brian Wilson was inspired to create a lush, orchestrated suite of themed songs after repeated listens to Ferrante & Teicher’s album Concert for Lovers. (“That album really blew me away.”)

 

Encore Performances: B.A.L.L.S. to You (Part Two).

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In which we flip over to Side Two of the Ballads, Atmospheres, Laments and Love Songs tape (a.k.a. B.A.L.L.S.) and review the other 45 minutes of music I used to listen to while roaming the ‘burbs.
(If you missed the first installment of this, click here to read.)

I’ll again include YouTube links to the songs where available, for anyone who wants ’em.
You will be less likely to want them than you might have been on Side 1.

Sentimental Lady,” Fleetwood Mac: Still prefer the original ’72 Mac version to the solo version that was a hit for Bob Welch five years later.
Not sure what there was in sentimental ladies to appeal to a 16-year-old boy, but I’ve always liked a good melody wherever I could find it.
Mellow not-quite-gold.

Let Me Roll It,” Paul McCartney and Wings: In which Macca lovingly if unintentionally tips his cap to his old mate John, and my mix gains the slightest of rockish tinges for a couple of minutes.
I dug this for some reason when I was 16, but listening now, it seems more repetitive to me than anything else.

Running Wild,” Roxy Music: Roxy was about as edgy as a loveseat by 1980, but they could still produce a heart-tugging grown-up ballad, with Bryan Ferry’s quaver front and center as always.
From the Flesh & Blood album, which was so unbearably marshmallowy I traded it in after a while. This was probably one of the better tunes on it, whatever that says about it.

“I Talk To The Wind,” King Crimson: Oh, God. Long, dour, mock-profound hippie jam.
You’d think “Sparkling In The Sand” would have taught me to avoid flute solos like the plague.
But no.
Robert Fripp tosses off an acceptably jazzy guitar solo, and Mike Giles turns in some similarly-acceptably-jazzy drum flourishes, but that’s aboot it.
The wind does not hear … the wind cannot hear … and perhaps the wind is the luckier for it.

(The studio version of this tune appears to have been chased off YouTube, which for purposes of this blog post is probably all the better. Here it is live in 1969. And here’s an 8-bit cover. It might be better.)

Have You Seen The Stars Tonite,” Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship: Now this is what a hippie jam should be.
Kantner’s insistent open-tuned acoustic strumming anchors a simple construction that, while set in outer space, still seems touched by the warm amber glow of a setting sun.
Lovely harmonies from David Crosby and quicksilver steel from Jerome J. Garcia, then firmly in his Buddy-Emmons-of-Marin-County phase.

This is originally from the ur-1970 Blows Against the Empire LP.
But the place I first made its acquaintance was Flight Log, the double-LP 1977 set that summed up the previous decade’s best work from the Jefferson Starplane extended family.
A superb album; one of the soundtracks to my high school existence; and sadly, only issued on CD in Japan.

“The Long and Winding Road,” Beatles: The studio version of this one appears to have been banished from YouTube also; this is the closest I can get.

Yeah, you know this one. There’s a tear in Macca’s beer, in part because he’s forced to hear Lennon try to navigate his lovely toon on the unfamiliar dimensions of a bass guitar.
(In his book Revolution in the Head, Ian McDonald goes on at great length about the many muffs that can be heard if you listen closely enough to Lennon’s bass part.)

A pretty song, sure enough, but it wonders me why I didn’t put “Something” on instead.
I guess it’s easy to prefer self-pity when your dating record is 0-for-16-years.

Speaking of self-pity …

Oh Lonesome Me,” Neil Young: Oh, God, times ten. Is it too late to pretend some other, cooler, more listenable, less dreadfully whiny song was in this spot?

I wish I’d had the good taste to omit this one and instead include “The Losing End (When You’re On)” from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which is somewhat similar in content, but more original and less cloying in its lachrymosity.

Or “Don’t Cry No Tears” or “Pardon My Heart” from Zuma … or a good angry live version of “Like A Hurricane” … or … or … aw, shit.

Any World That I’m Welcome To,” Steely Dan: From my favorite Dan album, 1975’s Katy Lied.

An excellent evocation of buried trauma and square-peg rootlessness (“I’ve got this thing inside me / That’s got to find a place to hide me“) … tailor-made for that inner voice that says there’s gotta be something different and maybe even wrong about you, dude, ’cause otherwise why would you be walking the streets at 1:30 in the morning thinking about girls who only think about you when they wanna copy off your homework?

On the mythical reboot of this remix, I’d probably swap this one out for the original demo version of “Brooklyn” with Fagen singing, or maybe “Deacon Blues,” or even the underrated “Razor Boy” from Countdown to Ecstasy.

Mean Mistreater,” Grand Funk Railroad: Mark Farner played keyboards acceptably, as was famously said about Tom Lehrer and Jerry Garcia.
And on this particular heartbreak souvenir, he puts down his guitar and applies himself to a couple basic patterns on electric piano.

The song is no great shakes, but Don and Mel nudge Mark into a mid-song jam that gathers a refreshing bit of momentum.
And the tone of the electric piano is nice enough to bathe in — rich and ringing and resonant.

Silly Love Songs,” Wings: No longer inclined to either tolerate or pay tribute to Lennon, McCartney bursts out with a perfect distillation of what makes him great.
The crowning moment of Macca’s solo career, and a pleasure to encounter in any setting, as far as I’m concerned.

As a love song, of course, it sticks out like a sore thumb here on Side Two. Not sure what I was thinking, tonewise. Its placement very near the end does kinda suggest that love conquers all, though. Honor thy mixtape as a hidden intention.

“The Sheltering Sky,” King Crimson: We close with an entry from the Atmospheres column, and yet another toon that’s not on YouTube in its original incarnation (here’s a live version.)
In which the 1981 King Crimson — almost an entirely different ensemble than 1969 King Crimson — hunkers down next to a slow fire in some Moroccan desert outpost and boils down a simple Middle Eastern riff until it practically falls apart over rice.
Depending on my mood, this is either exotic and relaxing, or well-nigh interminable.

We don’t make it to the end on B.A.L.L.S. Side Two, though, thanks to the time limitations of 90-minute tape.

And there you have it — the soundtrack to my nocturnal teenage creepy-crawling.
Time for me to start for home and curl up between the sheets.

Encore Performances: B.A.L.L.S. to You (Part One).

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This appeared on the old blog almost exactly five years ago. A musing about mixtapes by a social media acquaintance reminded me of it. This has been somewhat reworked for its encore appearance. Part II to come.
As with all other content on this blog, YouTube links are only guaranteed to work at the time of posting.

We celebrate this blog’s four-year anniversary by plunging headlong into our navel — or, more accurately, retracing our steps into our 16-year-old navel.
(Yeah, I know. A trip everyone wants to take. But hey, it’s no less relevant than anything else I’ve written. And the soundtrack’s interesting.)

From time to time, at a certain age, I would spend summer nights by sneaking out in the early morning and going walking in a massive subdivision not too far from my house.
At 1:30 in the morning, on dark summer nights with barely a breeze, I’d be skulking past the split-levels with my Walkman, generally thinking about girls I didn’t have the cojones to ask out, and girls who’d never noticed me, and girls who seemed to exist in other universes.
There were other things to think about besides unattained girls (eventually, I managed to attain one, so I’m sure she got on the agenda too), but that was probably a good part of what was on the mental menu.

I had the perfect soundtrack for my wanderings in a certain hand-assembled mixtape.
I called it “Ballads, Atmospheres, Laments and Love Songs,” which not only summed up the contents perfectly, but made for a charming acronym as well.
Mood music for the angsty teenage soul.
(There was also a companion tape of the heaviest, fuzziest arena-rock I could find, called “Assorted Rockers, Grinders and Guitar Heaviness,” or A.R.G.G.H. We won’t be covering that today, or any other day.)

I still have my tape of nocturnal ballads (editorial update: not any more I don’t.) And, motivated by an email conversation with an old high school friend, I dug it out and listened to it.

And now, through the eyes of a 42-year-old, I’m going to review it, one 45-minute side at a time.

B.A.L.L.S. to you all, then.

Side One:

The Song Is Over,” The Who: I still love the mesmeric musical atmosphere of this, even if Pete Townshend’s lyrical references to mountains, sky and wide-open spaces reveal his rarely acknowledged debt to the Von Trapp family.

Another Who song that effectively uses Townshend and Roger Daltrey on different vocal parts to best advantage.

MIA,” Aerosmith: Some say the title is a reference to Steven Tyler’s daughter Mia, while others say it’s a reference to recently departed guitarist Joe Perry. This is what passes for ambiguity in the music of Aerosmith.
OK, it’s more complex than “Big Ten Inch Record,” anyway.

Features a nice harmonized guitar solo from Perry, or Brad Whitford, or Jimmy Crespo, or Golda Meir, or whoever was in the studio at the time and able to stand upright and play the neck in the middle.
Other than that, not that much to stick in the mind.

You See Me Crying,” Aerosmith: That’s right, a double dose of Steven Tyler power ballads. I must really have been melancholic. (Although, for the record, I never actually cried over anybody. Not wired that way.)

It says something about my 16-year-old taste that “Seasons of Wither,” Tyler’s most effective ballad of the ’70s, and “Dream On,” his most commercially successful, are both nowhere to be found here.

From Aero’s commercial breakthrough, Toys In The Attic, this would be a better song if Tyler had resisted the urge to sing the third verse in his castrated-alley-cat upper register.

Sail On Sailor,” Beach Boys: From 1973’s In Concert album, Blondie Chaplin explores Brian Wilson’s nautical neuroses in front of a full hockey rink.

Despite its weaknesses (where’s Dennis Wilson, besides the cover?), In Concert is a fine album because it kicks a lot of the studio versions in the ass and gives them new energy.
(If you only know the studio version of “Marcella,” for instance, you don’t fully appreciate the song.)
That’s true for “Sail On Sailor,” which gains a kind of saunter in its live incarnation, without compromising the fear and loneliness in the lyrics.
I would have liked to see that edition of the band.

I Think You Know,” Todd Rundgren: I still hear this one in my head, 25+ years later … one of the toons that cemented my fondness for Rundgren, no matter how much he insists on testing it.
What better lyric for a midnight ramble than “I can’t explain / What’s in my brain / It tells me where to go“?

Incidentally, the girl who eventually agreed to go out with me (though I still went night-walking every so often, just on principle) was/is the daughter of two Rundgren fans whose names appear on the big fold-out poster included in the Todd album.
(A little background for non-fans: Rundgren’s A Wizard/A True Star? album included a card that fans could send in to have their names included in some unspecified future project.
The follow-up album, Todd, included a big poster of the album cover photo, rendered in lines of text made up of the names of fans who had submitted the card. I no longer remember where on the poster my ex’s parents’ names are, but I was much impressed at the time.)

Just One Victory,” Todd Rundgren and Utopia: Taken from the Another Live album, 1975.
A classic anthem of honky-soul uplift, and still a pleasure to listen to.
Not really a ballad, atmosphere or lament; I’m not sure how it ended up on this mix except that I liked it.
Maybe I thought I’d go jump off the nearby water tower if I didn’t have something to lift my spirits.

Dear Prudence,” The Beatles: In terms of ballads, atmospheres or laments, “Julia” might have been a better choice from the White Album.
Still, this Lennon tune holds up OK, big heavy ending and all.
I love how the fingerpicked guitar trails off at the end. Still my favorite part of the song.

Sparkling In The Sand,” Tower of Power: From their wonderfully named debut album, East Bay Grease.
A pretty ballad and the very essence of smoove longing; but way, way, way too long at nine minutes.
In my grown-up review, this was the first song I fast-forwarded through, and I think I did that fairly frequently as a kid too.
(There was no Ron Burgundy back then to make bossa-nova flute solos seem like laughable indulgence.)
The version linked above runs 4:30 or so and is cut down from the album version; you can thank me later.

Bell Bottom Blues,” Derek and the Dominos: My relationship to Eric Clapton’s music has largely curdled in recent years. I’ve grown tired of guitar-hero posturing and mass-produced electric blues. Oh, and Enoch Powell.

But this … this is exquisite, heartfelt and fiery, and also refreshing proof that my musical taste at age 16 was not all shite.

Neat touch: Note how Clapton sings along with the first four notes of his solo (“doo doo doo doo,”) then lets his fingers do the walking the rest of the way.

All Blues,” Miles Davis: This was always a jam favorite in the high school bandroom. Some days we played it fast; some days we played it glacially slow; but we never played it as well as Miles and company did in 1959.

And — click! — that’s the end of Side One.
See y’all on the flip side.

Showman.

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I get better and better at fighting off the urge to write, but I’ll give in tonight, just to get thoughts out of my head.

Social media tells me this is #NationalConcertDay, and I could claim that as an excuse for tonight’s ramble.

But truthfully, I’ve just been thinking, at great length and without reason, about Chuck Berry’s taste in amplifiers.

If you’ve read this far you probably already know the legend about Chuck’s concert rider from the ’60s and ’70s. (We will banish from our minds, for the length of this post, the knowledge that Chuck continues to perform. I don’t know what he asks promoters for nowadays. Christ’s mercy, maybe.)

I have never actually seen Chuck’s concert rider, so I’m going strictly on whisper-down-the-lane.

But the long-repeated legend says Chuck would swoop into town demanding three things from the promoter: Cash up front, a backing band familiar with his music, and two unaltered Fender Dual Showman Reverb amplifier sets.

Although Chuck demanded a band familiar with his repertoire, he was notorious for doing his utmost to make them look like beginners — usually by not bothering to tell them what tune he was starting, or what key he was playing in.

This makes his demand for unmodified Dual Showman Reverbs somewhat baffling. Why would a man who clearly did not give a rat’s ass about the quality of his performance be so picayune about his amplifiers?

There’s also the fact that the Dual Showman Reverb is not Fender’s most celebrated product. From my days devouring guitar magazines, I don’t remember any players drooling over the Dual Showman Reverb the way they fetishized other amps, like Fender’s Bassman and Twin Reverb, Vox’s AC30 or Marshall’s vintage “plexi” 100-watt amp heads.

The Dual Showman isn’t a bad amp by any means. Hendrix reportedly used one sometimes, as did Peter Green, and most anything old and tube-based that says Fender on it is probably going to sound good.

Still, having all of ampdom at your fingertips and choosing a Dual Showman Reverb is sorta like opening a ’66 Ford catalog and choosing a Torino. Nice ride, reasonably muscular, attractive in its own way … but not a Mustang.

(It says something that when you Google “Fender Dual Showman Reverb,” you can still find discussion threads where people post things like, “What can you tell me about these amps? A guy in my town wants $450 for a ’68. Is that a good deal?” Clearly, these amps are not legendary, despite their age and pedigree.)

After reading testimonials from Dual Showman owners, I think I’ve come up with the two reasons Chuck Berry asked for them by name:

They move air. This review describes the 80-watt Dual Showman as “not suited as a bedroom amp” and “too loud for small venues,” while a participant in this discussion jokes that the “TFL” code used in some model names stands for “Too Freaking Loud.”

I think that, no matter how crappy the PA system was on any given night, or how loud his bandmates du jour were, Chuck knew he could reach the back wall of the gym with a Dual Showman Reverb. No hastily assembled bunch of clowns from Peoria was going to keep the people from hearing Chuck Berry.

(I assume the second amp was requested as a backup to the first. I can’t imagine many venues where anyone would need two at once.)

They’re clean. All the reviews I’ve read say Dual Showman Reverbs don’t distort or break up, even at high volume levels. (“One of the cleanest, richest tones you’ll ever hear,” says the first review linked a few paragraphs above.)

When I see YouTube videos of people test-driving Dual Showman Reverbs, they seem to rely on distortion pedals to add grit to their tone.

Chuck developed his guitar style before distortion became a fact of rock n’ roll life, and it sounds as if he wasn’t a fan. So (I’m guessing) he specifically sought out the loudest amp he could find that wouldn’t make him sound like Mark Farner.

I wonder how many Dual Showman Reverb sets used by Chuck Berry in his travels across America are still in harness today. That would be a mildly cool rock n’ roll relic to own.

Even if you know in your heart of hearts that, on the day he played it, Chuck spent more time thinking about his gas gauge than his amp settings.

In wait.

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Route 222 from Lancaster to Kutztown smells savagely of cowshit at this time of year.

Roadside attractions include Terry Hill, a closed water park on the Allentown side of Kutztown. The owner shut it down a few years ago; he was in his mid-70s and wanted to retire.

Outside the locked gates of Terry Hill stands a pirate — there’s no mistaking him, he’s the real deal; peg leg, sword and eyepatch. He must be 15 feet tall. Presumably he is wooden, though I cannot vouch.

He looks as though he were lobbying the passing cars, looking for a saviour.

Of course his real game is intimidation. Few pirates are truly friendly. The core concept defies friendly. You don’t do pirates if you really want friendly, especially not ones with swords and battle-scars.

Yet, here is this one in search of a (moneyed) ally to wipe off the dust and bring the people back.

He has the same sheepish air as the indicted mobster who suddenly starts popping up in newspaper pictures advertising his philanthropy. He’s not such a bad fellow, really; it’s just that people say such terrible things about him.

Perhaps someone will come to his aid.

Not content to leave it to chance, our friend the pirate is out there tonight, peering through the darkness at whatever cars pass.

A 24-hour canvasser.

# # # # #

I passed through that stretch of road listening to the Grateful Dead, 45 years ago today, playing a show in Providence, R.I.

That was during their boogie period, when they were down a drummer and between good keyboardists, and they spent a lot of time lighting up stuff like “Bertha” and “Johnny B. Goode” … not the most rewarding brainfood, but good driving music.

And as I listened to “Mama Tried,” with the late Jerome Garcia laying licks over the chord changes of the late Merle Haggard, I found the idea of Prince’s death easier to take.

Prince’s passing drew a stream of comments about how we’d never see another creator like him, just as Merle Haggard’s did a week or two ago. As songwriters, singers and performers, they were distinctive, groundbreaking and irreplaceable.

This is true enough. But thankfully, genius is not an exhaustible resource. Cultural traditions continue to bear fruit and cross-pollinate. We never get the exact same genius twice, but the new generations carry enough of the old DNA to make us smile knowingly and nod our heads while they take us somewhere new.

(There will never be another Jimi Hendrix, for instance. But the sight of another flamboyant, sexy, charismatic black man playing ferocious guitar would have made Hendrix smile. Prince took a few ideas from Hendrix, a few from Sly Stone, a few from any number of others, and let his own style grow up from those roots.)

We will always have what the old generations gave us, like the sound of the Dead in Providence in April ’71. It’s still capable of taking us wherever we’re used to going.

And we know — because Prince showed us in his time, and Merle Haggard showed us in his, and Jerry Garcia in his — that someone with new ideas, a new vision and a new sound¬†will come along, probably when we’re not expecting it.

So we watch, and listen, and try to keep an open mind for when they show up.

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