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Monthly Archives: June 2015

The fish.

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Given how much of my waking life I’ve spent listening to Chris Squire, I should probably have something lucid to say on the occasion of his death.

I really don’t know much about the guy, though. During my growing-up years in the provinces, I never managed to come across a book about Yes, or find any one-on-one interviews with Squire. No videos, either — there was no YouTube then.

(I did catch Yes on the small screen once, when the late-night In Concert TV series devoted an episode to a show from Yes’ Union Tour of 1991. By then I had already seen them in concert, not once but twice … enough to preserve a few of my own memory-snapshots of a tall dark-haired man moving in rhythm, hunched over a bass guitar that was being robbed of its full power by the venue’s limited acoustics.)

In the Internet age, I’ve never bothered to do much further research. I still enjoy the records Yes concocted in the ’70s and early ’80s, but I’ve never felt driven to read deeply about them.

And while their history has been rich with lineup changes and interpersonal friction (remember the line from “Leave It”? “We have the same intrigue as a court of kings”), somehow it’s never risen to the level of commonly retold rock n’ roll lore.

So, unlike some musicians whose colorful personal histories are legend, Chris Squire lives in my memory simply as an instrumental voice — a quicksilver growl, punching its way to the forefront of a crowded band to simultaneously drive the rhythm and comment on the melody. (I have always loved bass players who could do that.)

I’m developing a love-hate relationship with backstory at this point in my life; I find myself wishing I could hear some of my old favorite records without knowing what went into them.

The old Yes records come pretty close to fulfilling that goal.

I have no idea what led them to make Relayer, for instance; I don’t know anything about the state of Jon Anderson’s marriage or Patrick Moraz’s bank account at the time. I only know it’s a challenging, fascinating album that sounds like no other mainstream “rock” record I know, and deserves more credit than it gets.

The night I learned of Chris Squire’s death, I put on a bootleg recording (it might be a legal release at this point) of a Yes concert at Jersey City’s old Roosevelt Stadium in June of 1976.

The music was thick and tangled and melodic and sprawling and punchy and unpredictable and soothing and ambitious, all by rapid-fire turns. Squire’s bass lines ran effortlessly through it all, leading and supporting, roaring, stuttering and jumping.

And after maybe 20 minutes, I decided I didn’t care if I never learned about Chris Squire’s life or read backstage anecdotes about what kind of person he was.

That magnificent low-end roar is all the story I have ever cared to know.

# # #

I suppose I’ll toss in one other random Chris Squire story, such as it is, from my high school days.

I knew a kid who was really into music — he ended up making a career out of it, working, I believe, in live bands for Disney for a while.

Anyway, he hated Chris Squire’s bass playing. As an avid Yes fan, I took the opposite tack, sometimes baiting him in jazz-band practice by playing whatever Squire riffs I could muster in between songs.

He also hated Angus and Malcolm Young of AC/DC: He was into musos like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, and thought the Young brothers were Neanderthals. As an AC/DC fan, I took the opposite side of that argument as well.

And so it was that I used to defend one of rock’s most talented and innovative bassists, and two of rock’s least talented and innovative guitarists — occasionally in the same conversation.

Teenage tastes make strange bedfellows.


Road trip.

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If Chris Robinson won’t come to me, I suppose I will drive five hours to go see him.

I have written in the past about my interest in the former Black Crowes frontman and his current project, a bluesy psychedelic band called the Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

I continue to occasionally download CRB live shows, and I remain interested in going to see the band live. But they never seem to come any closer to me than Philadelphia, which is a pain in the arse to get to from here in the Lehigh Valley.

The CRB announced a new round of summer and fall shows today. One of them is booked for Friday, Sept. 25, at the Smith Opera House in Geneva, N.Y., an intimate 19th-century theater maybe a half-hour from where my folks live.

A plot hatched in my mind. Within an hour, I had arranged to take that day off work; let my folks know I’d be coming up for the weekend; and bought a (remarkably affordable) ticket via the opera house’s website.

So, at long last, I’ll know whether I’m really on the CRB’s bus.

I think the venue had a lot to do with my decision to pull the trigger. Some of the great shows of the Grateful Dead’s first 10 years took place in out-of-the-way venues, like the Palace Theater in Waterbury, Conn., or the Stanley Theater in Jersey City. I’ve heard the tapes and I’ve daydreamed about the magic.

The CRB are partial heirs to the Dead’s organic spirit, and I suspect they are capable of making an old theater levitate about 50 feet above the ground. I’ll find out in three months, I guess.

Fall is probably the nicest time to be in central New York, too. I plan to spend the rest of the weekend wearing flannel, bombing around country roads, watching small-college football, buying apples from roadside stands and just breathing in the air. I might go home to Rochester, or I might stay out in the sticks. The roads will be clear (except for the odd Mennonite horse-and-carriage) and the possibilities will be endless.

Set the controls for the sun of the heart.

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I would never have expected to hear Pink Floyd at a wedding. Then again, I don’t think I ever expected my friend Kirk to get married, either.

Kirk was one of the tight-knit band of young men and women who basically lived at my college newspaper 20 years ago. He was smart, charming and quick-witted, and a house party at his apartment never ended without his breaking into a couple of show tunes.

He was also, among those who knew him best, commonly thought to be gay.

It was a hunch based, as much as anything else, on the fact that he was the one guy in the newspaper office who wasn’t either hooked up with a girl or actively trawling for one. After enough booze-soaked parties and incestuous morning-after stories (familiarity, as they say, breeds attempt), these things get noticed.

It wasn’t meant as a judgment on our part: Whether he was or wasn’t, we valued his friendship and liked him just fine. A bunch of us from the college paper ended up married to each other, and from the security of married life, we stayed in touch with Kirk as he navigated what seemed to be the path of eternal bachelorhood.

Then, over time, things started to change.

One by one, states began to legalize same-sex marriage. Those decisions withstood the inevitable challenges. And gay and lesbian couples began to step forward and take advantage of the rights (and responsibilities) open to them for the first time.

Last weekend, Kirk and his boyfriend Colby stepped through that door.

(I can’t speak for any of my fellow student journalists, but when I first heard about Colby, the I-was-right-all-along feeling faded quickly into gladness that Kirk had a partner. He is still a person of great charm, intelligence and wit; it is immensely fine to know that he’s found someone who loves and cherishes that, and whom he can love and cherish in return.)

Anyway, Kirk and Colby tied the knot … and that’s how I found myself in a science museum in Cambridge, Mass., waiting with a roomful of like-minded family and friends, and listening to the selection of old Pink Floyd tunes the couple had chosen to entertain the crowd before the ceremony started.

There were a couple tunes from Dark Side of the Moon; one of the band’s early instrumental space jams (“Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” I think); and “Stay,” a lulling, somewhat melancholy ballad sung in the gentle English accent of keyboardist Rick Wright.

Obscured by Clouds, which includes “Stay,” is the only Pink Floyd album I own on CD. Since I got back from Cambridge, I’ve found myself playing it more and more.

Obscured by Clouds, released in June 1972, is chiefly memorable for two things. It’s the soundtrack to a French movie called The Valley, which you’ve probably never seen. And, it was the last Pink Floyd studio album before Dark Side. Dark Side, released the following March, would transform the band from faceless Limey space-rock journeymen to international headline performers and, eventually, cultural touchstones.

I’ve never been hugely impressed by the records Floyd made between the departure of founding frontman Syd Barrett and the advent of Dark Side. To my mind, they tend to be meandering and kind of dull. The short tunes lack the punch or melody that came later, while the band lacked the chops or creativity to make its extended spacey jams truly take flight.

I took a cheap flyer on Obscured by Clouds in a used-CD bin many years ago, thinking it had the glint of a diamond in the rough, and it might change my mind.

As of this week, it still hasn’t. The instrumentals tend toward the repetitive; Dave Gilmour’s slide-guitar playing is rough around the edges, and Nick Mason’s drumming lacks any edge or propulsion. Only “Stay” and Roger Waters’ jaunty-mordant “Free Four” stick in the mind after the record’s end.

(It is perhaps harsh to judge Obscured by Clouds by what came afterward. According to Wiki, the album was recorded in two sessions totaling three weeks, wedged between early work on Dark Side and a Japanese tour. Those are the sorts of conditions that lead musicians to empty the unused riffs out of their trick bags and grind out a record, saving their good ideas for the “real” album they’re working on. Still, the Floyd chose to put out Obscured; they didn’t have to. Since they chose to put their name on it and send it out to the shops, it has to stand alongside their other work.)

I do not think anyone listening to Obscured by Clouds in the summer of 1972 — even in Denver, where it seems to have been remarkably popular — would have predicted that Pink Floyd would someday be inescapable on classic-rock radio; possessors of one of the best-selling albums of all time; known by name the world over; influential on later performers in a variety of genres; and millionaires many times over.

But times change, and circumstances develop, and blossoms bloom, and life takes fortuitous turns. Kinda like it did for my friend Kirk and Colby, who are newly embarked on a shared journey they probably thought they would never see.

I never thought I would use Dark Side of the Moon as a shorthand signifier for the dawning of marital happiness, or happiness of any sort. (Matter of fact, it’s all dark.)

It is my hope, though, that all applicable tides have turned; that uncertainty and obscurity have given way to confidence and success; and that fate will now smile on my charming old friend and his life partner.

Make that husband.

What I got.

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Time was when I would get home with a new batch of records and jump headlong into it, giving everything a hasty first evaluation so I could decide what to slap on cassettes for the car.

I’ve had my newest pile of 11 records since Saturday and I’ve only listened to one so far. Habits change when you get older, I guess. (No more cassettes, for one thing.)

So I can’t tell you much about the highlights or the skips on these albums. But I can tell you what I picked out and why I brought ’em home with me, in case you’re interested.

Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band: In preparation for my return to the Boston area this weekend, I picked up this 1978 album by one of the city’s great rock n’ roll cult heroes for the rousing sum of $3. The record (dedicated to Jack Kerouac) doesn’t have Alexander’s anthemic “Mass. Ave.” on it, but I suspect it’s going to be great fun anyway.

Present and accounted for is lead guitarist Billy “Loose” Loosigian, possessor of one of the great names in rock history. If you are hiring somebody to play guitar in your garage-rock band, a guy named Loose is always a solid choice.

Graham Parker and the Rumour, Stick To Me: Seventies Graham Parker for a buck? Absolutely, even if the album reportedly suffers from a rushed recording job. (I am sure this copy must be pretty worn down to sell for $1. But if the production values are low to begin with, it won’t matter as much. Will it?)

Charles Ives, Symphony No. 4, performed by Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra: I love everything about Charles Ives; I would listen to Alzheimer’s patients playing Charles Ives. This was the first (and so far only) LP of the stash I’ve actually listened to. I put it on loud on a sunny summery afternoon and it sounded eccentric and big and warm and only gently staticky. America!

(Speaking of which, Ives’ status as a pioneering American composer sometimes inspired record-company art departments to great spasms of red, white and blue. CBS’ designers outdid themselves with this record cover — mansions and tall grass and flag-draped statues. America!)

Ives’ Symphony No. 4 was not performed until 11 years after his death, in 1965. I am not sure if this recording is the actual world premiere, or a studio version cut shortly afterward. The front cover says the former but I still suspect the latter. Stokowski formed the American Symphony Orchestra in a bid to make classical music more accessible to Americans. It didn’t work; we’d still rather listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd. America!

Bernstein Conducts Ives (featuring the New York Philharmonic performing several Ives compositions): Everything I just said, only twice, including the red-white-and-blue cover art (shivering wintry this time).

In addition to a “DEMONSTRATION: NOT FOR SALE” stamp, the back cover of this record carries a fascinating bit of radio history. The record jacket is stamped: “CONCERT NETWORK INC., 171 NEWBURY STREET, BOSTON, MASS. 02116 / MAY 11 1966.”

I had no idea, until Wiki told me, that Boston’s legendary alternative/modern radio station WBCN played classical music before adopting its underground rock format in 1968. The ‘BCN call letters originally stood for “Boston Concert Network.”

So this album might have been in the collection of one of Boston’s most renowned stations — albeit before it gained such lofty status. (There is a timing mark of 24:50 next to the listing for Symphony No. 3, another suggestion that this record might have been played on the air.)

That’s pretty damn cool.

Also cool: In the bottom right of the back cover, there’s a tease for “Other recordings of Ives’ compositions you might enjoy” … and the first one listed is the Stokowski recording of Symphony No. 4. This record is wicked awesome.)

Keith Jarrett, Backhand: It’s Back Hand on the front cover, “Backhand” in the track listing and Backhand on the record label. It’s also compatible with quadraphonic systems, not that that helps me a whole hell of a lot.

I have heard parts of this record before so I look forward to the rest, particularly because I have a fondness for Jarrett as a creative force that’s not dissimilar to my fondness for Charles Ives.

Mahler, Symphony No. 4, Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic: I have heard secondhand that used vinyl stores are lousy with high-quality classical recordings … entire box sets by well-known orchestras going for $1, just ’cause no one seems to want them.

The 50-cent bin at Double Decker Records seemed to bear this out; there were a fair number of classical recordings that appeared to be in decent shape. I snapped up a couple just on general principle. This was one of ’em.

(I have said in the past that I prefer solo classical performances to orchestral settings. I still do. But for 50 cents I can broaden my horizons a little bit.)

The back cover bears the handwritten inscription “February 1946 (May 1967),” which I’m guessing refers to the recording and release dates. But that’s just guessing.

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Pastoral Symphony No. 3 and In the Fen Country, Sir Adrian Boult and the New Philharmonic Orchestra: “In The Fen Country,” alas, is not another tie-in to Boston.

Y’know how some albums — especially from the ’60s and ’70s — had that nubbly cardboard? Once you got into the ’80s it was all kinda thin and glossy. But in earlier years, sometimes you’d get an album that had that gently textured, somewhat thicker-feeling cardboard. It felt sturdy and reassuring and analog and awesome.

Yeah, I might have laid out 50 cents for this on account of the nubbly cardboard. 😉 As for the tunes … well, it’ll be an education.

Music of Delius, Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Not factory-sealed but still in the plastic (which I don’t think is a good thing, but so be it.)

I have no clearly explicable reason why I bought this. Vinyl is a hell of a drug.

Robert Noehren, 16th and 17th Century Organ Music: I dig classical organ music and this was recorded in Buffalo, so, bing, another two of my hard-earned quarters won their wings.

The Interwebs tell me Robert Noehren was an interesting guy: In addition to playing classical organ, he also designed the instruments. Buffalo’s First Presbyterian Church had a Noehren organ, as did a church in Milwaukee. Alas, the instrument being played here is not of Noehren’s own design.

Peaches & Herb, 2 Hot!: Yeah, I don’t have a great explanation for this one either, except that it breaks up the litany of classical LPs pretty nicely. I think I was hoping for some brainless disco grooves … and then I remembered this pair specialized more in ballads. So I might have to put my boots on and sog it out.

This LP pretty much captured P&H’s moment in the sun: It hit No. 2 on the U.S. album charts in 1979 and included their two big hits, “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “Reunited.” If you need a Peaches & Herb album, this is the Peaches & Herb album you need. At least that’s what I keep repeating to myself.

Rickie Lee Jones, Pirates: I’d seen some strong reviews of this record — some proclaiming it one of the best of 1981.

But it seemed in my experience to have fallen behind the shelf. I didn’t know it and didn’t know anyone who did. So I said sure, why not?

The lyrics suggest Jones pretty much covered all the same ground she covered on her first record. So I might not be dazzled. We’ll see. Donald Fagen’s on the record somewhere, apparently, playing synth.

Firesign Theatre, Dear Friends: A former colleague in Massachusetts (there’s that state again) indoctrinated me into the cult of Firesign by letting me borrow a couple of LPs from his college years.

They could be pretty dopey (read that any way you want) sometimes, but I respect them at their best. The first time I heard Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, I was simultaneously touched by the ending and convinced that, were I to spin the record again, it would be totally different. (It was altogether a deeper reaction than I ever would have predicted from a record called Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers.)

Anyway: Dear Friends is a collection of bits recorded from the live radio shows Firesign hosted in Los Angeles (“the city of … Emphysema!”) between September 1970 and February 1971. I’ll bet enough of them still hold up to be worth my 50 cents. And there’s hamburger all over the highway in Mystic, Connecticut …

And finally, Todd Rundgren, Runt. More or less Rundgren’s first post-Nazz solo album. (“Runt” was briefly made out to be a band at the time, but TR wrote and sang all the songs, and he’s alone on the album cover.) Includes the endearing wide-eyed piano jive of “We Gotta Get You A Woman,” which landed our lad on the Top 40 for a couple weeks. America!

I owned a copy of this years ago and traded it in, for reasons I cannot remember. Perhaps with my first spin, they will all come crashing back.

What I didn’t get.

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At some point soon I’ll fill you in on what I picked up earlier today, when I went vinyl-shopping for the first time in lit’rally years.

(It was a hoot; I picked up about 10 albums for $10.07. The damage could have been much worse.)

Instead I’ll write about the stuff I didn’t buy that sticks in my head, the way things manage to do even when you’ve pawed through hundreds of records.

Chuck Mangione, Fun and Games: Skipped right past this one in the 50-cent bin. Probably should have considered it, as it has Chuck’s 1980 Winter Olympics theme tune, “Give It All You Got.” Also contains a song called “Pina Colada,” which I know nothing of but sounds like it might contain the distilled essence of 1979. Speaking of which …

Rupert Holmes, Partners in Crime: I like “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” and “Him” well enough, as turn-of-the-decade earworms go, so I’ve wondered what a full LP of Rupert Holmes would sound like.

I took out the inner sleeve today (also in the 50-cent bin), read some of his lyrics, decided his writing wasn’t that enthralling, and put it back. But I still sorta wonder, in a reduced way, what a full LP of Rupert Holmes sounds like.

The Sounds of the 1970 Liberty Grenadiers: I might be fudging the title a little bit. Assuming the cover was accurate, this was a recording of the 1970 edition of the marching band from Liberty High School here in Bethlehem.

Such things must have been popular that year: I have a copy of a similar, locally pressed record that captures my high school’s 1970 concert and jazz bands in action.

I’ve never listened to more than five minutes of that record, and I wouldn’t listen to more than five minutes of the Liberty Grenadiers either. So I have no idea why this record sticks in my head. Just as a local curio, I guess.

The Best of Porter Wagoner, Vol. 2: I’ve concluded that the high points of country music are lost on me.

But I still aspire to appreciate them, at least a little bit. It is quintessentially American music, after all. And my dislike for country is based in part on city-boy (well, suburb-boy) disdain and superiority, which is never a positive personal quality.

There was a raft of ’60s and ’70s country records in the 50-cent bin (Merle Haggard’s I’m A Lonesome Fugitive was another), and I thought I should pick one up and camp out with it and get my arms around my personal Country Problem once and for all.

Maybe some other time.

20 Rockin’ Originals: I don’t actually need a copy of this Fifties compilation album. The excellent American Graffiti soundtrack and a Chuck Berry greatest-hits collection ably fill any need I might have for greasy kid stuff.

No, this one sticks in my head for its cover photo — a “glamour shot” of a blonde with a football jersey and a weird, tongue-lolling, vaguely glassy expression. It made me think of drunken teenage indiscretions, and of high-school football players swapping gossip in the locker room (“Give Carol Ann a glass of wine and she’ll do just about anything.”)

Quickie oldies compilation albums are supposed to make you think of rockin’ good times, not of the complicated psychological needs and weaknesses of teenage football players and the girls who service them. I can’t explain how my mind works, except that it runs some weird routes sometimes.

(Google Images indicates there’s an alternate version of this album cover on which Carol Ann is hiking her football jersey up above rib level — and no, she’s not wearing Under Armour. See, it’s not me inserting the sexual subtext. I’m just a good clean all-American boy who likes crates full of vinyl.)

Ferrante & Teicher Salute Nashville: I’ve riffed on Ferrante & Teicher in the past as the epitome of easy-listening cheese … without actually owning one of their albums or listening to more than 30 seconds of any of their songs. Scarcely seems fair or honest, does it?

If I’m gonna get to know The Grand Twins of the Twin Grands, though, it ain’t gonna be through their Nashville album.

Richard Pryor, That Nigger’s Crazy: Almost bought this one just for the street cred, but it was pretty well worn down.

(There was a classic Willie Colon/Hector Lavoe album there, too, that would have been mine if it didn’t look like Ondrej Nepela had performed his short routine on its vinyl surface.)

The Cash Family Singers: Gospel music has been able to penetrate my godless soul a tiny bit more than country has. A gospel singer who’s really giving it up (as opposed to showboating) hits a particular nerve that’s hard to ignore.

The gospel I’ve heard has all been performed by the best-known acts in the business, so I can’t gauge the odds that a local/small-time gospel group could hit the monkey nerve.

But for 50 cents, I could have found out with any number of records, including this one.

Google does not turn up a Cash Family Singers discography, just a sparse list of references going back 40 years. This record was probably a small-time pressing sold off a merchandise table outside a congregation hall somewhere.

Its mysteries are not for me to uncover.

Not unless I go back …

Encore performances: Hey rock n’ roll.

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Four years ago this week, I folded my first blog, for a variety of reasons. Here’s the last thing I posted there. It doesn’t say much, but I still find the song in question kinda catchy, due to my eternal fondness for Seventies British glam.

William “Buddy” Gask, one of two lead singers of the ’70s British band Showaddywaddy, died a few days ago following a lengthy illness.

Gask sang lead on the band’s first hit, 1974’s “Hey Rock and Roll,” a thumping, fist-pumping anthem that promised glammy good times ahead.

Unfortunately, the band shifted after that into a comfy Fifties revivalism that, while tremendously successful in the U.K., doesn’t quite stir the pulse like “Hey Rock and Roll.”

Apparently, a version of Showaddywaddy with three of the original eight members is still on the road in the U.K.
I guess that means they are now reviving a revival movement. (That is, they’re trying to revive the Seventies, when they were reviving the Fifties.)

If I formed a tribute band to today’s Showaddywaddy, I would be reviving a revival movement of a revival movement.
Do you think the earth would blow up?

Also, how many pots of stew can you make with a hambone before you run out of meat?

Anyway, here’s Buddy Gask and the band in action.