Thursday, November 27, 2008

2008 American Music Awards

My brothers and I were at the ranch last Sunday night. While waiting for Entourage and some other decent shows to come on the tube, we watched part of the American Music Awards. As soon as it started, Peter said: "I bet none of these people are on your iPod." Boy, was he right. 

I know I sound like a dinosaur, but these acts don't have any connection to the music in my life. The American public needs to get an upgrade in the taste department if this is what they think is good music. It appears to me that American Idol has brainwashed the voters.

I don't have much of  an opinion about most of the award winners, because I just don't listen to that kind of music. In fact, I had never heard of Chris Brown before watching the show. Alicia Keys and Rihanna......can't even tell them apart.

I do have an opinion about the country music winners. In the words of my old friend Bob "Trash" Coffin: "I hate shit like that." This music is not country. It is something that Nashville and American Idol have cooked up and served to the American public.

 Taylor Swift wins favorite female country artist. If this is the best Nashville has to offer, I quit. Her music is prefab, high school, American Idol crap. If you want to hear two female singers that have real talent, check out Kathleen Edwards or Kelly Willis.

Carrie Underwood's Carnival Ride is the favorite country album of the year. What is that all about? Another American Idol mannequin wins!

Rascal Flatts wins favorite band. I like what Mojo Nixon has to say about them on his show. It involves them sucking a certain part of a donkey's anatomy. He won't play them on Outlaw Country for a reason. They don't play real country music. Listen to Merle Haggard if you want to hear the real thing.

What's with Kayne West? What has he ever done besides look good? Oh yea, produce some rap acts. He says he wants to be remembered like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix or Elvis. Those people had real talent. They wrote great songs and played music that will be remembered 100 years from now. Kayne will be lucky to be a footnote in a few years. Let me write about some of Kayne's big hits..... What are they again?

You know it is a bad night when Brad Paisley, who wins favorite male artist, is the best thing on the show. He can actually play some pretty decent guitar Having said that, I just saw his music video of Start a Band with Keith Urban. It has a live part where they stand together and finger each other's guitar. Guys, that is so GAY. I am embarrassed for both of you.

Well, there you have it.

John Mayall Roxanne

Not sure what happened to his shirt? The clip gives a feel for Mayall at the end of the '60's.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

John Mayall's The Turning Point

In the fall of 1969 while I was wearing out my copy of The Band's second album (See my last post), I was also listening to this classic album by English blues legend John Mayall. Most of Mayall's early fame revolves around his work with Eric Clapton and the Blues Breakers album recorded in 1966 (See my post of August 30). That album is very representative of the music that Mayall was making at the time. It was guitar based Chicago blues as interpreted by a band of English players.

  Mayall's band was a training ground for many of  the best English musicians of that day. In addition to Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Jack Bruce were members of the band for varying amounts of time. When Mick Taylor left for the Rolling Stones to replace Brian Jones in 1968, Mayall moved on from that electric guitar blues format to something new.

The Turning Point is the product of that change of direction. Recorded at the Fillmore East on July 12, 1969, the album featured a band that may be the most unusual in Mayall's long history. Besides Mayall on vocals, harmonica and guitar, the band included Steve Thompson on bass, Johnny Almond on sax and flute, and Jon Mark on acoustic finger-style guitar. No drums or lead guitar created a very different sound. The music is a folk, blues and jazz fusion that must have been a surprise to the fans at the Fillmore that night. It is no surprise today that the music still sounds great almost 40 years later. It reflects the taste and the genius of one of England premier blues men.

 The album kicks off with The Laws Must Change and Mayall's tasty harmonica. On So Hard To Share and California, Mayall's vocals and Almond's sax wind around each other with beautiful result. Mayall wrote every song on the disk so the band is perfectly suited for the material. The original albums ends with the energetic workout of Room To Move, which may be Mayall's most recognizable song.

 A new expanded version of the original album includes three more tracks from the same night. This is an album you need to have on your playlist. It is available on iTunes and from Amazon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Bob Dylan once called Robbie Robertson "the only mathematical guitar genius I've ever run into who doesn't offend my intestinal nervousness with his rearguard sound." I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I have been a big fan of Robbie's guitar playing since I first heard him on tapes from Dylan's 66 world tour.

His stinging guitar on that tour, which can be heard on countless bootleg recordings, has been discussed and praised for years by BobCats and critics across the world. I agree with every accolade that has been written about his playing. 

His slash and burn licks on Tell Me, Momma and One Too Many Mornings propel the sound of the band along and add to the force of these classic Dylan songs. The extent of his rock and roll eduction from the Ronnie Hawkins days is clearly exhibited on these tracks. Can you imagine how loud and aggressive his guitar sounded to the audience in 1966?

That said, my favorite guitar work from Robbie is on The Band's second album. This is an album that I played to death when it was released in September of 1969. I had just moved back into my parent's house and I listened to it every morning for months. Every day my father would say: "Turn off that damn Bob Dylan."

 Robbie is brilliant on the entire disk, but the highlight for me has always been his work on King Harvest Must Surely Come. Coming at the end of the album, it is a song that combines all the best elements of The Band: Richard's plaintive voice and piano, Garth's sweeping organ, Levon's subtle drumming, and Robbie's guitar. The pure tone of his guitar and his interaction with the piano and organ on the track is masterful. The guitar solo that Robbie lets go at the end of the song is some of the finest playing you will ever hear. This is the music of The Band at it's best.  

You should have this on your iPod already. Dial it up and enjoy. If you don't own it already, the entire album is worth adding to your collection.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


One of the mileposts of getting older is living through the death of a family member, a friend or a public figure. I was very sad this morning to hear that Mitch Mitchell had died. All day, I have been thinking about the way he figured into some of my early musical experiences.

 Seeing The Jimi Hendrix Experience was my first real concert. Before that, the only live music I had ever heard was "Guitar" Johnny Nicholas or Duke Robillard playing at the Watch Hill Yacht Club. Seeing Jimi live was a big step forward in my musical education.

 March 31, 1968 was only a few days after my 16th birthday. I was on spring break from the Pottstown Penitentiary when I went with a couple of friends to see The Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Arena Theatre in Philadelphia. We took the P&W to 69th street (no one in the group had a license) which was a scary thing to do at the time. That was indian country for little kids from the suburbs.

Before Jimi and the band took the stage, I can remember the eclectic look of the crowd, the smell of marijuana in the theatre, and the light show of  The Soft Machine, the opening act.
When The Experience began to play, I will never forget the wild look of the band and Jimi's flamboyant guitar playing. He was jumping around that stage humping his guitar and suddenly I knew there was a big world out there that Mom and Dad hadn't told me about.

The next time I saw The Experience was April 12, 1969. Neil Ayer, Dick Hammond, Harry Commons and I escaped Pottstown and went to the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Somehow seeing Hendrix in a hockey arena was not as exotic as the first time. Nevertheless, it was a good show, even though the band was on a revolving stage in the middle of the arena. I did manage to take some great photographs that night.   Above, you can see one of those photos which shows the band with Mitch at his kit. 

 Mitch Mitchell was a big part of the sound of The Experience. It's sad to think that the whole band is now gone. Listen to The Jimi Hendrix Experience tonight and play it loud.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carre

I have been a little hesitant to jump back into the "books" part of this blog after I got such a good response from my first book review (see post from June 12)......NOT! It seems that a lot of my audience did not share my enthusiasm for a book about terrorists and strippers. Imagine that?

I just finished reading the new John Le Carre novel: A Most Wanted Man. I doubt a review of this book will create the same amount of controversy as that other post. I have been fan of Le Carre since the mid-70's. In fact, I have read all of his books and own them in first edition in my collection. He is one of our best living authors. 

His mastery of the spy-thriller genre is well known. Although I love the James Bond books and Ian Fleming did create a franchise, when it comes to the writing itself, Fleming isn't good enough to be Le Carre's paperboy.

Like all of his previous 20 novels, A Most Wanted Man is a densely written literary thriller. Short on action and sex, it is filled with great dialogue and subtle character development. It is not an easy beach read like most bestsellers these days. You have to pay attention and work hard to catch the subtle brush work of his prose. If you have the attention span and the patience, the reward is huge.

Even at 77 years old, Le Carre can still write a great novel. With his recent books, he has updated the spy-thriller genre, which he mastered years ago. George Smiley may be long gone, but Le Carre's ability to craft a great story is not. He understands and describes the modern spy game as well as any author writing today.

While I'm on Le Carre, if you haven't read The Constant Gardener, you should. Not only is it a great book, it is one of the best movies I have seen in the last few years. It combines beautiful cinematography with a great cast, that includes Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz and Danny Houston. Fortunately, the movie is very faithful to the book. Both are highly recommended and available from Amazon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


 I have now had over 10,000 hits on this blog since I started keeping track in June. Thanks to everyone who has been reading and supporting my work. It makes all the effort worthwhile knowing that people are tuning in.

Driving to the ranch today, I was listening to outlaw country on my Sirius Radio. My favorite DJ, Mojo Nixon, was doing his afternoon show. If you haven't heard him, you are missing the best thing on radio. He always plays great music and his need to hear it to believe it.

He played a song by Johnny Horton and it immediately took me back to my childhood. In the days before the Beatles, radio was in pretty sad shape. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I was listening to The Kingston Trio, Bobby Darin and whatever was on AM radio. My musical education had yet to begin. This was before even Guitar Johnny was cool.

 One of the few good songs I can remember from this time was North to Alaska by Johnny Horton. This song goes back to the very beginning for me, because I was 8 years old when it was released in 1960. It is amazing that I can remember it.

Johnny Horton was a country singer who wrote and recorded the classic country song Honky-Tonk Man. This great song was a hit for him in 1956 and later was a hit for Dwight Yoakum in 1986. Although a lot of Horton's music leaned towards rockabilly, he is best known for his "historical ballads" like Sink the Bismark, Battle of New Orleans, and North To Alaska that were all charted hits in 1959 and 1960. These songs are still popular today and are often sung by drunken members of the rat pack over Derby weekend.

Horton's career was cut short when he was killed on November 5, 1960 in a car crash with a drunk Texas A&M student (Damn Aggies). It has been written that Horton was haunted by premonitions of his own death. In a strange coincidence, Horton, who was married to Hank William's widow, Billie Jean, at the time, was killed driving home after playing the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas. Hank Williams played his last gig at the Skyline Club before dying in the back of his Cadillac on New Year's Day in 1953.

Obviously, Horton's music is tied to my childhood, but it still sounds good today. You might want to add him to your playlist. Available on iTunes and from Amazon.