The Band

Any band that calls themselves The Band…better be great…this band most certainly was… Four Canadians with one American who wrote and sang Americana music better than anyone.

They started out backing up Ronnie Hawkins in the early sixties… From there they backed up Bob Dylan on his famous conversion to “electric” music. They toured all over the world with Dylan getting booed because of the folk purists hate of Bob’s new electric direction. Levon left at the beginning of that tour but came back when they started to work on their own music.

They were a band in the best sense of the word. the members were Robbie Robertson who played guitar and was the main songwriter. Levon Helm who was the drummer and one of the three singers. Richard Manual played piano and was probably the best singer of the Band. Rick Danko the bass player and also singer and great at harmonies. Garth Hudson the keyboard player extraordinaire. They all could play other instruments…

They would switch up instruments and record at times just to get a different texture to their music.

They rented a house in West Saugerties New York…a big pink house and started to set up in the basement. Bob Dylan would come over and they would record demos.

Bob Dylan was a big influence on The Band. The Band also influenced Bob Dylan in the basement. He had never recorded outside of a studio before and it freed him up a bit. Those recordings were meant to be demos for other performers to sing but were heavily bootlegged so they were officially released in 1975 as “The Basement Tapes” with songs by Dylan and The Band. The songs had pure raw energy and showed a sense of humor also.

They influenced everyone from Eric Clapton..who hid a secret desire to join them…to George Harrison and many more. Their first two albums (Music From Big Pink and The Band) were groundbreaking. They changed the musical landscape…the move from psychedelic to an older sounding looser type of music.

In 1974 Bob Dylan and the Band toured together again. The Band backed Dylan again but also played their own set. They released a live album of that tour called Before The Flood.

Some bands have great voices and tight harmonies. The Beatles, Beach Boys, Eagles to name a few but The Band’s harmonies were loose but at the same time just as tight in their own way. Their music sounded spontaneous but it was well crafted. They always left enough raw edge to keep it interesting.

Robbie Robertson’s words and melodies were Americana flowing through a Canadian who had part Jewish and Native-Canadian roots. He would read one movie screenplay after another. It helped him with his songwriting to express the images he had in his head. Robbie also took stories Levon told him of the south and shaped them into songs.

The Band was no frills…you were not going to see lasers or a Mick Jagger clone running about… they just played their music and did it well. They did not follow trends but they were not afraid to experiment especially Garth Hudson the keyboard player who was always playing with different sounds.

Songs like The Weight, Cripple Creek, The Shape I’m In, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Rag Mama Rag, This Wheels On Fire, Stage Fright and the list goes on. The songs still sound fresh and fit perfectly on their respective albums.

You can’t go wrong with a Band album but the ones I would recommend would be Music From Big Pink (1968) and The Band (1969).

The Greatest Hits album has the radio songs you know but you miss some great songs by not getting the original albums. The ultimate would be the 2005 release of the box set called A Musical History. It has everything the original band recorded.

They broke up in 1976 and played their last concert with all of the original members in a film called The Last Waltz…

Their music was always uniquely their own. This band earned their name…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Festival Express

Transcontinental Pop Festival… better known as the Festival Express. Great idea on paper… rounding up musicians in 1970 and placing them on a train going across Canada and stopping along the way to play festivals. What could go wrong? Actually, I would have loved to have been on that train.

The lineup:

The Band

The Grateful Dead

Janis Joplin

Buddy Guy Blues Band

The Fly Burrito Brothers

Sha Na Na

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends

There were more that were not in the film like Traffic, Ten Years After, Tom Rush, Ian & Sylvia, Mountain and more.

A DVD was released of this in 2004. All these musicians on a train full of liquor and an assortment of drugs… liquor was the popular choice among the musicians on this ride. The tour was to have events in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver. The Montreal event was canceled as was Vancouver. In Toronto, protesters were saying the festival promoters were price gouging so The Grateful Dead played a free concert in a park nearby to ease tensions with the protesters.

There are some very good performances on the DVD. My favorite is Buddy Guy and Janis Joplin’s performance. I also like the Dead’s “Don’t Ease Me In” with Pigpen on blues harp. The festival lost money and the film was thought lost for over 30 years. Janis would be gone a few months after this but her performance of Cry Baby is electrifying.

The train was where the fun was at. They actually stopped at a liquor store and bought out the complete store…including the giant display bottles. The Dead’s crew even dosed some of the liquor…and cake as you will see below… on board. When watching the film you can see the performers are having a ball jamming with each other because they didn’t get a lot of chances to do that on the road.

Bill Kreutzmann (drummer for the Dead) from his book “Deal”

We celebrated Janis Joplin’s birthday at the last stop the traditional way: with birthday cake. In keeping with our own kind of tradition, somebody—within our ranks, I would imagine—had secretly infused the cake with a decent amount of LSD. So it quickly became an electric birthday celebration. Allegedly, some generous pieces of that birthday cake made it to the hands and mouths of the local police who were working the show. “Let them eat cake!” (To be fair, I didn’t have anything to do with that … I was just another cake-eating birthday reveler, that night.)
And that was it for the Festival Express. It was a wonderful time and I think what really made it great was the level of interaction and camaraderie among the musicians, day and night, as we were all trapped on this train careening across the great north. It probably helped that we were all trashed the entire time. Whiskey was in the conductor’s seat on that ride.

I would recommend getting the DVD of this event. It’s a great time capsule of that time in music and culture.

 

Evel Knievel

Whenever I see red, white, and blue not only do I think of the flag but I think of Evel Knievel. A hero to many in the 1970s… He is responsible for more broken arms, legs, bruises, bumps, scrapes than anyone… Kids setting up homemade ramps and then jumping them with their bicycles. I said kids…it wasn’t exclusive to boys because I do remember some girls jumping also.

Riding down hills standing on your seat, popping wheelies, jumping ramps with your buddy stupidly laying in-between. We wanted to be Evel Knievel jumping over those cars or busses.

He was THE Daredevil… There are Daredevils around today but no one has reached the popularity that Knievel achieved. Not only did he jump and crash he looked cool jumping and crashing. He was like a cool Elvis in a jumpsuit jumping various objects.

Another big part of the Evel Knievel experience was the toys. There were not many kids who didn’t have that windup motorcycle (the Stunt Cycle) and Evel Knievel doll…Make a ramp and wind up the Stunt Cycle with the little Evel riding and they would shoot out and go. There was also a truck, a dragster, and the skycycle…I’m sure there were more I’m missing. I only had the Stunt Cycle.

Evel made over 75 jumps ramp to ramp. He didn’t fail many times…but one of his failures made his career.

Caesars Palace Jump… this one hurts to watch. Evel jumped over the fountain and then crashed as he landed on the ramp wrong… then tumbled like Stretch Armstrong rolling down a hill. His body was like rubber when it hit the pavement. 

The Caesars crash jumpstarted his career as the networks would play the crash over and over again.

Snake River Canyon… I remember the build-up to this jump…Everyone was talking about it…it ended up being the most anti-climactic out of all his jumps… No motorcycle of course…he was basically in a rocket and the parachute prematurely opened and Evel drifted to the bottom of the canyon.

Evel did jump the shark so to speak…

The Shark Tank…no, not the Fonz… It was not televised but in a practice run, Evel jumped a shark tank and then hit a cameraman coming off of the ramp. It did injure the cameraman.

Evel left a huge footprint in the seventies. He played hero to a lot of people.

His son Robbie has made a career out of doing the same thing. The interest isn’t there as much anymore. There is no more must-see TV with anyone jumping vehicles. Maybe it’s because Evel was the first on that level to do what he did and the timing of when he did it. With Vietnam, inflation, Watergate and the aftermath, he was embraced by adults and kids at a time when people needed a distraction.

I still ride a bicycle at a park sometimes for exercise…I can still see in my mind those old wood planks we used as ramps held up by a brick and I want to do it but… I think I’ll just look for another Stunt Cycle.

Farrah Fawcett Poster

If you were a male teenager in the 1970s… odds are you owned or wanted to own this poster. Over 12 million of these were sold and I remember seeing them everywhere. On friends bedroom walls, doors, closets, ceilings, and lockers.

She wasn’t even my favorite Angel…but still.

Other posters were popular during the 1970’s like Cheryl Tiegs, Olivia Newton-John, Loni Anderson but nothing came close to the numbers generated by Farrah’s poster at 3 dollars a pop.

The poster that came out in 1976 is so iconic that when you look at it you think “1970s”…

This is Bruce McBroom the photographer in Time Magazine.

 I shot rolls of film, and it just wasn’t happening. She’s a beautiful woman, but there wasn’t anything that I would put on a poster. I just didn’t feel it. By now we’re running out of backgrounds — we used the swimming pool, etc. I said, “Farrah, are you sure you don’t have a bikini? Something different?”

She went in to look around and came out of the back door and stood in the doorway in this red suit, and she said in her Southern accent, “Well, is this anything?” And I literally said to myself, “Oh my God.” I knew that was it. I had an Indian blanket from Mexico that served as the seat cover for my beat-up 1937 Chevy pickup with colors that, it just popped into my head, would match the suit. I’d like to make it sound like it was all planned. But it was a spontaneous, happy intersection of coincidence. I didn’t do anything. I just put her in a spot and asked her to turn it on. When I saw the film processed, I knew we’d gotten it — somewhere in these 36 frames, there’s a poster. I went back over to her house, and I showed her all the pictures. She told me later that she had picked out her top two favorites and marked them on the slides. I’ve since heard that when the guy in Cleveland got the pictures, he went, “First of all, where’s the bikini?” He told me he wasn’t ever gonna pay me because he hated the pictures. But I guess he showed them around to people in his business and they changed his mind. It was Farrah’s pose, Farrah’s suit, Farrah’s idea. She picked that shot. She made a lot of money for him and for herself and made me semi-famous.

Why it was so iconic I don’t know. If you think back, no one knew who Farrah Fawcett was. Charlie’s Angels didn’t come out until six months later. But this poster came out and sold millions of copies at, I think, $3 a pop. I think the reason it was such a success is that Farrah had such a fresh face. She was the girl next door. So if you were a teenager, you could bring this in the house and put it up in your room — as long as Mom didn’t look too closely. Once her poster became such an overnight success, the other actresses from Charlie’s Angels contacted the guy and wanted to do posters too. There were many that followed. And none of them came close.

Gunsmoke the Early Years

I grew up watching the hour-long color episodes (seasons 12-20) of Gunsmoke in reruns and I liked the show. Now I’m watching the first 6 seasons…they are black and white and very different. There is no Festus or Newly…we have Chester (Dennis Weaver) and he is a refreshing character. They just never played these episodes on television when I was younger. There still is Doc Adams  (Milburn Stone)and a very young good looking Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake).

These episodes dealt with murder, rape, human trafficking, and plenty of Matt Dillon (James Arness) decking bad guys with his fist or the butt of his gun. They are 30 minutes long which is great. They got to the point quickly. Some of the stories were grim but it matched the look of the series.

I was surprised at how rough, violent and authentic they were and that is not knocking the later episodes but there is a difference. The violence was toned down as the series continued.

The later color episodes centered more around the guest stars and the old black and white ones centered more on the local cast of Dodge City.

Have Gun Will Travel was also on CBS along with Gunsmoke. You will see some of the same character actors and sets. Some Have Gun Will Travel scenes were filmed in a redecorated Long Branch… Too bad there wasn’t a crossover at least once.

Chester…I’ve always liked Dennis Weaver as an actor…in McCloud, Duel and anything he was in… He brings his character Chester alive as a real person. Chester had a limp on the show and Dennis Weaver said he would take yoga classes so he could do things like putting on a boot look believable with a bad leg…he also put a pebble in his boot on his right foot so he would not forget which leg was lame.

Chester could be lazy but he was invaluable and loyal to a fault to Matt Dillon. Dennis Weaver left the show after the 9th season with no explanation on what happened to Chester as was the way back then with TV shows.

If you are a fan and have seen only the later episodes…check these out.

Freddie Prinze

Freddie became a star practically overnight and burned brightly…but unfortunately, it was only for a brief amount of time.

Freddie Prinze was a comedian whose real name was Frederick Karl Pruetzel. He was born in 1954 in New York. His mother was of Puerto Rican descent and his father was of Hungarian roots…two things he used in his comedy.

He worked in clubs in the early seventies and then he got his break. He appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on December 6, 1973, and Johnny called him over to his couch to talk to him. That was a dream to performers then. Being called to the couch meant Johnny liked you and could make your career. Remember no internet or other exposure to this big of an audience. He became a star overnight. Freddie was 19 years old.

Within a few months, he was starring with Jack Albertson on the hit show Chico and the Man.

The show had a supporting cast of Scatman Crothers and Della Reese. It had a cool factor with teenagers at the time because of Freddie. Chico and the Man was not a great sitcom but a good one that captured a talented young comedian on his way up.

Freddie came out with a 70’s catchphrase “Looking Good” with a comedy album of the same name. He appeared in one TV movie called The Million Dollar Rip-Off and an HBO On Location: Freddie Prinze and Friends.

Freddie suffered from depression and he had a dependency on drugs that kept growing like his fame.

Through all of this, he got married and had a son…the actor Freddie Prinze Jr… His wife started to move toward a divorce and a despondent Prinze shot himself in a hotel room and died the next day on January 29, 1977, only 3 years after his introduction to the world by Johnny Carson.

People don’t remember how big Freddie was then. He was so young and vibrant when he made it…he was just 22 years old when he died.

 

Neil Young and John Fogerty Lawsuits

In the eighties, two lawsuits popped up pertaining to these two artists.

Neil Young was basically sued for NOT sounding like himself by David Geffen and John Fogerty was sued for sounding too MUCH like himself by Saul Zaentz and Fantasy Records.

In the early eighties, David Geffen signed Neil Young to a huge contract to Geffen Records. Neil who will do his own thing no matter what or when…released an album called “Trans” his foray into electronic music. Geffen wanted another “Harvest” with another Heart of Gold or Old Man…instead he got “Computer Age” and “We R in Control” with Neil singing through a Vocoder. After that Neil was asked to do more rock and roll by a Geffen record company executive…the record company was thinking more of the lines of the harder rock Rust Never Sleeps…so Neil gave them rock and roll all right… “Everybody’s Rockin” an album full of early fifties Doo-wop and rockabilly sounding songs. The record company was not amused…he then released an album full of country music… In his contract, Neil had full artistic freedom.

Geffen had claimed the new albums were  “unrepresentative” of Neil’s music.

Geffen sued him for 3.3 million dollars but the case was settled and Geffen had to apologize to Neil.

In 1985 John Fogerty finally broke his silence with the album Centerfield. He had not released anything since 1975. He was involved with legal hassles and could not make music. Centerfield was a good album that signaled to the world John was back. He then was sued by Fantasy Records owner Saul Zaentz who signed the great Creedence Clearwater Revival to a terrible contract with Fantasy Records that kept John…the main songwriter and singer under contract forever. On top of that John gave up his copyrights to his CCR songs to Saul and Fantasy just to get out of that contract. The first single off of the Centerfield album “Old Man Down the Road” shot up the charts. Saul sued claiming it sounded too much like an old Creedence song that John wrote and sang called “Run Through the Jungle”. So he was being sued for plagiarizing himself. John would take his guitar to court to demonstrate how he wrote the two songs.

John won the case in 1988 and a lot of other musicians breathed a sigh of relief because other artists could have been sued for sounding like their younger selves if John would have lost. John countersued Fantasy Records for legal fees and it went to the Supreme Court in 1994…. they ruled in favor of Fogerty.