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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.

Fingers grow back.

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My latest recording is available at Bandcamp as of a few minutes ago. This time around I had help, from dozens of shaggy-haired, bell-bottomed, short-skirted teenagers who had no idea what I was doing.

thingsweburned1

The new one is called Things We Burned. It was created by extensively editing the music from a locally released 1970 album featuring various student performing ensembles from Penfield, N.Y., High School.

You’ve probably seen this kind of record in the crates. Maybe you even own one. The local high school concert band or marching band cuts some songs in a studio on the cheap, presses up some records, and sells ’em to parents and grandparents. Some end up sitting in a box years later in the bandroom storage area. That’s how this one landed in my hands.

The record — being bare-bones, as these things often seem to be — doesn’t have any performer credits beyond the names of the ensembles, so I can’t thank Johnny and Jane from the Class of ’71 for their groundbreaking work on tympani or flute. If you’re out there, and you read this, thanks. You played great. Knocked ’em dead.

The record also doesn’t have any copyright claim anywhere on its label or jacket. So far as I can tell, that places it in the public domain, and thus fair game for my kind of vandalistic re-creation.

What’s it sound like? As chaotic as all the other stuff I do, only this time there’s a concert band playing. Maybe that’s more palatable; maybe it isn’t.

It’s out there, anyway — and it’s name-your-own-price, which means free. So take two, tell your friends, and cover your ears.

Shadoobie.

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At one point in his ranking of the songs of Some Girls from worst to best, Jim Bartlett invited me to get my own blog if I was unsatisfied with some aspect of his logic.

So I did.đŸ˜‰

I enjoyed Jim’s piece (I always do) but my view of the Last Great Stones Record differs pretty sharply from his. So rather than ramble at length in a comment, I decided I would rank the record as I hear it — not to change anybody’s mind, but just to present my own take.

Check Jim’s out; check mine out; and then take out the record and listen to it again, just ’cause it’s great.

10. “Far Away Eyes” – This has always struck me as Mick taking the piss out of rednecks, and rednecks don’t deserve his condescension. It breaks the flow of the album OK, being neither a punk raver nor a pseudo-soul ballad, but surely another of the dozens of songs that came out of the sessions would have done the same in stronger fashion.

9. “Respectable” – My least favorite of the punk ravers, maybe because the idea of millionaire jet-setter Mick Jagger needling someone about being respectable is more than I feel like swallowing. I’m sure it’s supposed to be meta-ironic — Mick knows he has no place ranking on some formerly trashy woman for putting on airs, and he’s doing it anyway — but I don’t pick up a Rolling Stones album so I can analyze it through a funhouse mirror.

I find the music kinda headachy, also.

(YouTube offers a video of John Mayer playing “Respectable” onstage with the Stones in 2012. That sounds about right.)

8. “Before They Make Me Run” — The flip side of being a junkie, an outlaw and a rock n’ roll bad boy is that you screw over a lot of other people, including those who are on your side. (Tom Nawrocki’s “Keith Richards, Jerk” post from a few years ago explains this well.)

This Keef-sung I-am-what-I-am anthem embraces his persona without apology … and that position doesn’t hold up so well with the years.

When Keith sings “I’m gonna move while it’s still fun,” he could mean that he wants to make a graceful exit while everybody’s still smiling, or that he’s gonna split before somebody burdens him with some adult obligations. When I was a kid I heard the former. Now I hear the latter.

7. “Some Girls” – Unnecessarily sleazy and sexist (though I can practically hear Jagger declaring, in wounded mockney: “I didn’t say all girls were like that; I said some girls.”) Still somewhat enjoyable for its dented, slow-riding elan, and for Sugar Blue taking all the space he’s given.

6. “Just My Imagination” – A credible enough recasting of the Tempts, though it doesn’t really need four-and-a-half minutes.

5. “When The Whip Comes Down” – Of interest to me as a kid, since it was one of the few songs I knew of that was written from the point of view of somebody gay. It seemed different, maybe even progressive. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make head or tail of the words, so whatever I might have learned was lost on me.

I do appreciate a good stripped-down rock tune from time to time, and this one — which rides almost entirely on two chords and apologizes to nobody for it — gets points for minimalism. Behind his mirror-shaded facade, Lou Reed might have quietly approved.

4. “Beast of Burden” – A “soul begging song,” Jagger said, and he puts it across nicely as the guitars intertwine behind him.

3. “Lies” – I haven’t done a beats-per-minute comparison, but “Lies” has always felt faster and higher-energy to me than the other punk songs on Some Girls, like they pushed it off a steeper hill. That’s enough to lift it above the other fast numbers on the album. (Plus I find the lyrics easier to buy.)

“Lies”‘ position at the end of Side One scores points as well: It works nicely as the end of the first course.

Imagine you’re a Stones fan in ’78, and you’ve been underwhelmed by Goats Head Soup, narcotized by It’s Only Rock N’ Roll and only mildly intrigued by Black and Blue. You put Side One of Some Girls on, and the energy and attitude pin you back in your seat; you’d forgotten they knew how to play like this.

And at the end of “Lies” — closing with those six body-blow chords — there’s a moment of silence … then the needle clicks and lifts off the vinyl, and you think, “Did I really just hear that?”

2. “Shattered” – I don’t generally like this-town sloganeering. I don’t get on well with people who present New York’s raggedness as if it were some grand virtue for me to envy. And for that matter, I don’t get on that well with New York itself.

But none of that matters in the face of Jagger’s headlong ranting, which captures both the grand sweep (love, hope, pride, joy, success, dirty dreams) and the gutter details (the crime rate going up, up, up, up, up, UP) of life in the city.

Plus, his cheeky “Go ahead, bite the Big Apple – don’t mind the maggots!” deflates the pomp that so often ruins the city’s more starry-eyed chroniclers. This isn’t sung from the point of view of a worshipful outsider … more like a guy whose trash hasn’t been picked up in three weeks.

1. “Miss You” – That hook. I whistle it at work sometimes, even when I haven’t heard the song in weeks. It’s simple and trashy and humid and perfect, and it sounds like it fell off the back of Fred Sanford’s truck, and whenever I encounter it in the world I make every attempt to prolong what I’m doing until it’s over.

(People ask me — chk chk chk — “Whassamatter wit’ you, boyyyyy?”)

The wrecking ball.

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A story about an April Fools’ joke might seem a couple days late and a couple dollars short at this point in time.

But this story isn’t so much about April Fools’ as it is about gullibility and impermanence, both of which are eternal.

So come back with me (he said, grabbing your sleeve, rendering escape impossible) to an April morning many years ago.

It is Monday, April 1, 1985. I am in the sixth grade, not quite twelve years old. And I am listening to Dr. John Potter, the morning DJ on WMJQ 92.5 — Rochester’s less popular hits station — as he makes his listeners an unusual offer.

The offer involves Holleder Memorial Stadium, a 20,000-seat brickpile in the city proper that has hosted high school football, pro soccer, and even a few Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills exhibition games.

The stadium is not even 40 years old in the spring of ’85 but has been edging toward irrelevance for a while. High school football doesn’t draw 20,000 people any more. The NFL no longer comes to town. And two professional soccer teams, both calling Holleder home, have folded in the preceding five years.

The city fathers have even taken to allowing rock concerts there, a common last step for sports facilities gone to seed. (Holleder is one of four venues in Rochester to host a Grateful Dead concert, and the only one of the four I will never set foot in.)

But even the stadium’s availability to longhaired hordes is not enough to keep it alive; the neighbors are touchy, and there are other, more attractive concert venues in the city and region. In the spring of 1985, the announcement comes: Holleder Stadium is to be torn down.

And so here’s Dr. John Potter on April Fools’ Day 1985, loud-hailing a freebie offer to anyone who will listen: To a few lucky callers, he’s giving away tickets to see the Wrecking Ball at Holleder Stadium on April 18 (or whatever the demolition date was; it matters not.)

He plays it straight, as though the Wrecking Ball were a band rather than an implement of industrial deconstruction. He throws in a few embellishments here and there, of the sort you’d imagine — along the lines of, “Yeah, I hear this show is really gonna tear the place down.”

And sure enough, the calls come on air, several of them, all unsuspecting: “They some kind of hard-rock band? … Sure, I’d like to go. Thanks, Dr. John!”

And by the time I am required to leave for school, Dr. John Potter has distributed his full stash of tickets — maybe even front-row — to see the Wrecking Ball at Holleder Stadium.

I was credulous (as indeed I still am, too often), and it does not occur to preteen me that the callers could be plants, in on the joke. It is possible that I, not they, were the gullible ones.

On the other hand, I can believe even as a jaded adult that, in a city the size of Rochester, there are people who (a) don’t follow local news that closely and (b) are only too glad to accept tickets from their favorite morning jock, even if they don’t recognize the name of the “band.” (Dr. John Potter, like David Bowie’s mythical DJ, had believers believing him.)

Time moved forward. What happened after that?

Holleder Stadium departed this earth as scheduled a few weeks later. A high-tech park occupies the site now. If you stopped a random sampling of Rochesterians on the street tomorrow, I wonder if one in 10 could tell you where the stadium used to be.

According to the FCC, WMJQ didn’t outlast the stadium by all that long. The station at 92.5 became WLRY in October 1986, then WBEE the following February. The call letters remain WBEE; it’s now a very popular country station.

I have no idea what happened to Dr. John Potter, but the most recent online citation I can find for a radio DJ by that name dates to the early 1990s. If he’s still in the radio business, neither he nor his station seems particularly active in promoting him.

He might have taken a new on-air identity. Or, given the state of the radio business since 1985, it’s also possible that he left the industry, went back to school and got a job doing night-shift tech support. (If he’s reading, he’s welcome to set me straight in the comments.)

The moral of the story, I guess: Years come and go; places come and go; entertainments come and go; people who position themselves as beloved daily companions also come and go; and only the suspicion that one has been hoodwinked lasts.

Good night.

A long way to the top.

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It might have been inevitable that, when the end came for AC/DC, it wouldn’t be pretty.

No band so surpassingly devoted to celebrating virility, violence and male potency could possibly have kept it up (Bon Scott would have been proud of that phrasing) much into middle age.

For a while they solved the problem in the most advantageous possible way — by taking five to eight years between studio albums. This allowed them to limit their personal appearances (should a man that age still be wearing a schoolboy suit?) while carefully ladling out their dwindling supply of Big Riffs.

In the past 18 months, the wheels have finally come off the wagon. One member of the band’s classic lineup was forced into retirement by dementia; a second was ousted after a string of criminal charges; and a third either jumped or was pushed out due to health issues.

It appears that a pieced-together AC/DC lineup — possibly including Axl Rose — will fulfill the band’s remaining concert commitments, after which senior remaining decision-maker Angus Young will hopefully turn to raising tulips.

Since the band doesn’t have much of a future, I decided to look at its past.

Specifically, I thought it would be fun to consult the invaluable ARSA database of local radio airplay charts to answer the kind of question that comes up from time to time around here: What U.S. radio station, and when, was the first one to put the music of AC/DC into regular rotation?

(The standard disclaimer applies: The ARSA database is not encyclopedic; it includes only airplay charts that people have saved and scanned in. But there are enough of those to make ARSA a worthwhile tool.)

As it turned out, the obstreperous Australians first got America’s attention via a classic ’70s path.

None of the band’s first three studio albums in the U.S. — High Voltage, Let There Be Rock and Powerage — show up on any Stateside radio charts in the ARSA database. (The Age of Disco was not overly receptive to three chords and an up-yours.)

Instead, AC/DC got its toes in the door using a well-known ’70s formula: Go onstage in front of a raucous audience and recut songs whose studio versions went nowhere, juicing them up here and there with stepped-up tempos, extended solos, between-song jive and other tricks of the performer’s trade.

For KISS, that formula produced Alive! For Peter Frampton, it yielded Frampton Comes Alive! For Bob Seger, it produced ‘Live’ Bullet.

And for AC/DC, it produced If You Want Blood You’ve Got It — a less celebrated (and less histrionic) document than those listed above, but enough to gain hitmaker status at San Francisco’s KFRC 610 in late December 1978 and January 1979.

Why San Francisco? Could be that AC/DC — which toured the States regularly in the second half of the Seventies — had caught some ears there with its performances.

(KFRC’s playlist does not otherwise betray much fondness for ragged hard rock. On the second chart, If You Want Blood sits between Toto and the Village People, with Linda Ronstadt, Gloria Gaynor and Santana in close proximity. So, who knows.)

AC/DC’s next studio album, 1979’s Highway to Hell, would turn them from also-rans to headliners. KFRC was on that one first and fastest too, and for quite a while; Highway to Hell stayed on the station’s top 10 albums list from mid-August until the last week of November. (Dayton’s WTUE, Columbus’s WNCI and Washington, D.C.’s WPGC were also early reporters on the album.)

These have all been album charts. The first U.S. radio station in the ARSA database to put an AC/DC single into rotation was Boston’s WBCN, which had “Highway to Hell” at No. 3 — trailing only Ian Dury and Lene Lovich — for the week ending Oct. 30, 1979. (That’s an odd playlist; is that some kind of long-ago joke?)

Most noteworthy to me is the chart action in Presque Isle, Maine, where the single hung in the top 10 for several weeks at the end of ’79 and beginning of ’80 on station WEGP. Presque Isle’s way out there at the end of the road, and I wonder if some small-town kids just old enough to hustle beer didn’t happen to be looking for an anthem at that time.

After that, everything got big and stayed big, until it started to go soft.

(It might have been inevitable that, when the end came for this post, it wouldn’t be pretty.)

Baseball again.

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Regular readers know: Every year I go to college baseball games as early as I can in March. And then I come back and blog about ’em.

I rang in the season last Saturday by going to see the Lehigh Carbon Community College Cougars take on the Penn State-Worthington Scranton Lions.

Nothing noteworthy to say about it except LCCC whipped up on PSUWS 19-3 and they stopped the game early, after five-and-a-half innings. Penn State WS appeared to have only about a dozen active players during the national anthem, and the whole thing was kind of a mismatch from the word go.

The usual photos were taken and you get to look at some.

LCCC scored in every inning, which doesn't happen that often, even in short games.

LCCC scored in every inning, which doesn’t happen that often, even in short games.

A storklike warmup.

A storklike warmup.

I would shoot B&W more often if it didn't torque my battery.

I would shoot B&W more often if it didn’t torque my battery.

If I pitched in that game I wouldn't show my face either.

If I pitched in that game I wouldn’t show my face either.

Baseball ready.

Baseball ready.

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