Today is my 60th birthday. I am not sure how I feel about that yet. It will probably take a few days or a few weeks to sink in. I do know one thing, I am a product of everything I have experienced over these 60 years. I think the Dead said it well: "What a long strange trip it's been."
I was born at a great moment in history. My formative years were in the mid 60's to early 70's. Much has been written about this era and most of it is true. There was a great change in the culture of this country. Ideas about art, music and life changed rapidly and many of the old standards fell fast and hard. There was a lot of pushing and pulling between the generations. Although constrained by school and many of my teachers and other adults, I formed my taste in friends, music, photography and literature during these exciting and turbulent years. These friends and interests have served me well ever since.
Someone told me recently that you are the most influenced by the music you love when you are 14 years old. That may explain a lot of things, because I became obsessed with Bob Dylan and the blues when I was exactly that age. I not only listened to the records, I was very fortunate to see many of the bands that defined the times: Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Blind Faith, Muddy Waters and The Band, just to name a few.
With very few exceptions, I am still listening to the same music. This morning I heard Subterranean Homesick Blues on the radio driving to the office and it sounded just as good as it did in 1967.
My son calls me old and says I'm a senior citizen. I told him I'm not old, I'm just old school. He's not buying it. Funny thing is I can remember saying the same thing to my father. Does history repeat? You betcha. Thanks for all the birthday wishes.
As the days are winding down to my big birthday, I have been
thinking a lot about my past and some of my old friends I haven’t seen for many
years. I even made a list of a few names that I needed to catch up with. High
on that list was good friend Neil Ayer. What a surprise when I found out he was in
Delray Beach (thank you Facebook) and we were able to connect for a long overdue visit on Saturday night.
Neil and I became friends in the mid-60’s while inmates at
the Pottstown School for Wayward Boys. We shared many epic experiences
including Greek 2 with Doctor Groton (Achtung, Baby) and a few others that
were not certified by management.
Part of my early music development included hanging out with Neil and Andre Salz, the legendary Hill blues cat. Saltz had a remarkable collection of blues albums and was miles ahead of everyone at that time. Neil and I also made two remarkable field trips with the great Crawford Blagden.
In November of 1968, Crawford took us to see Cream at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Despite the revolving stage, which created some pretty hideous sound, it was a historic night of music. I did not take any photos of that show, but here is one of mine from the Blind Faith show in May of 1969 at the same venue.
In April of 1969, Crawford took us back to the Spectrum to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was my second time to see Hendrix. Fortunately, the stage was now at one end of the arena and the sound was much better. This is one of the photos that I took that night:
Neil and I covered a lot of topics the other night, which is to
be expected for two old friends that have only seen each other twice in 40
years. We talked a lot about music. Neil expressed his continued admiration for the
playing of Jeff Beck. I have always been a fan and have even posted about his
talent and the great record Truth (see my post from Dec 2, 2009).
Now Neil knows more about guitar than I ever will, so I was paying
attention when he went into some detail about Beck’s genius and technique. I’m
not sure I can accurately repeat anything he said, but here are two clips that will let you judge for your self.
As you can see in this clip from 2011, Beck still looks young and fit and much better than a lot of his peers. He obviously hasn’t
been hanging around with Keith Richards. He does great work on this Jimi Hendrix classic Little Wing.
Here's what the band with Rod Stewart, Nicky Hopkins and Ron Wood looked like 1968:
I have always been conflicted about the music of Bruce Springsteen. Some of it I love. Some of it I don't. Although I recognize his genius, I have never gotten quite caught up in the cult of BBBBBRUCE.
Something I am positive about is Bruce's ability to verbalize his debt to the rock and roll and roots music that came before him. Whether introducing Bob Dylan at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 or speaking from the stage at one of his own great live shows, Springsteen is always quick to acknowledge the artists that he listened to growing up. He understands that all modern music is a product of what came before.
Below is an excerpt from his keynote speech at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas:
Declaring that "every important musician in this town is asleep -- or they will be by the time I finished this thing," Bruce Springsteen spent nearly 50 minutes early Thursday afternoon encouraging his musical colleagues and offering insights into his own career -- some surprisingly -- during his keynote speech at the South By Southwest Music + Media Conference.
Running on "Boss time," Springsteen started a bit later than expected and apparently went missing when SXSW co-founder Roland Swenson was ready to introduce him, but once on stage the New Jersey rock icon kept a packed ballroom at the Austin Convention Center spellbound with an often funny, frequently poignant, carefully constructed and passionate address that stressed hard work and humility. "No one really agrees on anything in pop anymore," he explained. "You go Kiss, early theater rock proponents expressing the true raging hormones of youth, or -- they suck!...You go Bruce Springsteen, natural-born poetic genius off the streets of Monmouth County, hardest-working musician in show business, voice of the common man, future of rock 'n' roll, or -- he sucks! Get the f--k outta here!"
The tone, however, was overwhelmingly positive. "So rumble, young musicians, rumble," Springsteen told the crowd. "Open your ears and open your hearts. Don't take yourself too seriously, and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don't worry. Worry your ass off. Have unclad confidence, but doubt. It keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town -- and you suck! It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideals alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. If it doesn't drive you crazy, it will make you strong.
"And," he added, "stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive. And when you walk on stage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it's all we have -- and then remember it's only rock 'n' roll."
With E Street Band members - including Little Steven Van Zandt, Garry Tallent and Roy Bittan - looking on, Springsteen poked fun at the hyper genre-fication of music, reeling off more than three dozen classifications and noting that an event such as SXSW, with its 2,000 performing bands, "would have been numerically impossible" when he began playing music as a teenager. "There just weren't that many guitars around! We would all have to have been sharing," Springsteen said before offering a lengthy remembrance through his own musical journey, beginning with seeing Elvis Presley on "The Ed Sullivan Show" ("It was the evening I realized a white man could make magic for the first time") and sending the then six-year-old Springsteen scrambling for a guitar even though his fingers wouldn't fit around the neck.
Springsteen grabbed an acoustic guitar at points, to illustrate how he translated doo-wop's influences into his own "Backstreets" and the Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" into "Badlands." "It's the same f***ing riff!" he confessed to general laughter. "Listen up, youngsters -- this is how successful theft is accomplished." He also spoke about the great impact the Animals had on him in general.
"They were a revelation…the first records of full-blown class consciousness I ever heard," he explained, playing a bit of "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." After reaching the line "there's a better life for me and you" he added, "That's every song I've ever written. That's all of them. I'm not kidding, either. 'Born to Run.' "Born in the USA,' Everything I've done for the past 40 years, including all the new ones…That was the first time I felt I heard something cross the radio that mirrored my home life, my childhood." He also noted that "there were no good-looking members" in the Animals, a bold comment to make with Animals frontman Eric Burdon also in Austin for SXSW this week.
Springsteen also tracked, in detail, the impact of the rest of the British Invasion and of the soul music of James Brown Stax, Curtis Mayfield and Motown had on him as a young man. Bob Dylan, he recalled, gave him "the first version of the place I lived that felt unvarnished and real to me. If you were young in the 50s and 60s, everything felt false…but you didn't know how to say it. There was no language for it at the time. Bob came along and gave us those words…to understand our hearts. He didn't treat you like a child. He treated you like an adult…Bob is the father of my musical country now and forever, and I thank him."
As for once being tagged "the new Dylan" when he was first signed to Columbia Records, Springsteen cracked that "the old Dylan was only 30. I don't know why they needed a new f***ing Dylan." He called himself "a wolf in sheep's clothing back then…I had nights and nights of bar bands playing behind me to bring my songs home…Those skills gave me a huge ace up my sleeve, and when we finally went on the road we scorched the earth because that's what I was taught to do by Sam Moore and James Brown."
Springsteen added that he gravitated to country and folk, specifically Hank Williams Sr. and Woody Guthrie, as an adult, looking for yet another musical language to express himself. He spoke about this year's Woody Guthrie centennial celebration and played the third verse of "This Land is Your Land," recalling that Pete Seeger insisted they perform the entire song even in the chill temperatures at President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration in Washington, D.C. "Woody's world was a world where fatalism was tempered by a practical idealism. It was a world where speaking truth to power wasn't futile, whatever its outcome. Why do we continue to talk about Woody so many years on? He never had a hit, never went platinum, never played in an arena… But he's a big ghost in the machine. I believe it's because Woody's songs… tried to answer Hank Williams' question (about) why your bucket has a hole in it. That's a question that's eaten at me for a long time."
The speech, of course, came after Springsteen made a surprise appearance at Wednesday night's Austin Music Awards and before Thursday night's performance at ACL Live at the Moody Theater (a guest spot with good pal Tom Morello at the New West Records day party on Thursday was a hot rumor as well). He came to SXSW to play as much as talk, so it wasn't surprising that he advised the "young musicians" in front of him to "learn how to bring it live, and then bring it night after night after night after night. Your audience will remember you. Your ticket is your handshake."
Last summer at a wine dinner in New York, I was introduced to wine from Dunn Vineyards. The dinner, which was hosted by a famous Chinese wine aficionado, was my first opportunity to taste several vintages from this great California operation. Our host is not usually interested in California cabs, so I was intrigued by his choice for the dinner. As always, his taste in wine proved to be unmatched.
Dunn produces two labels, Howell Mountain and Napa Valley. Both are 100% cabernet. Since the dinner, I have been buying the 2005, 2006 and 2007 Howell Mountain and 2007 Napa Valley. All are drinking well now and will continue to improve with age. They are available on wine searcher.
Randy Dunn has been making great wine in Napa Valley on Howell Mountain since 1978. He makes a bordeaux style cabernet that is quite different from many of the big fruit bomb wines made on the left coast. It is definitely wine that is built to last and improve with age.
Like most things in the world, wine prices have been going up up up in the last few years. The are several reasons for this. The Chinese have gone crazy for first growths bordeaux wines. I guess they need more good wine to mix with their Pespi. In turn, future prices for current release second and third growths have gone through the roof. Almost every year since 2000 has been the "vintage of your lifetime" and it is hard to find any value in France. Even with the contraction in the California wine business after 2008, prices there can be a little out of line. Many run of the mill California cabernets are commanding over 100 dollars a bottle on release. That's crazy.
These vintages of Dunn are in the same price range as Caymus and Silver Oak Alexander and many other known wines. I think all these vintages of the Dunn are drinking better. Grab a couple of bottles and find out for yourself.
A post I wrote in November of 2009 about the great Little Walter has had the most hits of any post on this blog. That surprises me somewhat, but it also pleases me. It is good to know that there are many people out there who have good taste when it comes to blue harmonica.
As I wrote before, Little Walter is one of the undisputed masters of the blues harmonica. Along with Sonny Boy Williamson, he was one of the first to play through an amplifier. This gave him a unique sound and allowed his contribution to the music to be heard over the guitars.
Walter began his career as a sideman to many of the great Chicago blues artists. You can hear his harmonica on most of the records recorded by Muddy Waters in the 1950's. He also recorded with Bo Diddley, Otis Rush and many others.
Stepping out front with his own band, Walter recorded the classic harmonica instrumental Juke, which spent 8 weeks at number one on the R&B charts in 1952. It is the only harmonica instrumental to become a number one hit.
Here is a great video of Little Walter and Hound Dog Taylor. Hope you enjoy it.