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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Paul Lynde Halloween Special

I love watching this from time to time. Yes, it’s bad…really bad but it’s so bad it’s good. All the celebrities who are in different phases of their careers, cross paths in this epic of a show. First, let’s go through all of the stars.

Paul Lynde of course,

Billie Hayes (Witchiepoo from H.R. Pufnstuf)

Margaret Hamilton (The witch from Wizard of Oz)

Tim Conway (No seventies variety show was right without Tim Conway)

Florence Henderson (Brady Bunch mom)

KISS (their first TV show appearance)

Billy Barty (was in many films)

Betty White (and still going)

Roz Kelly (Pinky Tuscadero from Happy Days)

Donny and Marie Osmond! (just to top it off)

The plot… which really doesn’t matter.

I always thought Paul Lynde was wickedly funny. In this, he was watered-down and could not be his Hollywood Squares best. He had a quick campy wit at times and the writers probably toned it down for prime time. I first noticed Lynde on Bewitched as Uncle Arthur and he was great in that role. It was his delivery that made everything work in his comedy.

This special has comedy bits and music…oh yes the music. You have KISS, you have the disco and you have Florence Henderson singing “That Old Black Magic…” Most of the comedy bits fail but the real comedy is how bad it is… The only thing missing from this extravaganza was a guest appearance from Harvey Korman and/or Don Knotts.

The main reason many people have watched it since it aired is it was KISS’s first TV show appearance…not including concert material.

It is a train wreck but one I like watching over and over again. At no other time could a show like this have been aired. It only aired once…for good reason.

What other show does Paul Lynde play a trucker who wants to marry Pinky Tuscadero?

 

 

 

Badfinger

Badfinger was a very talented band that had a gift and curse of sounding like The Beatles. Their songs are remembered today but not the band which is a shame. They made some very good albums. This band’ story is a cautionary tale that other bands need to look at. This is what signing with a bad manager can do to you.

The members were Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Mike Gibbins, and Joey Molland (who replaced Ron Griffiths).

They started out as the Iveys and signed with the Beatles new label…Apple. After that, they changed their name to Badfinger. Paul McCartney wrote their first big hit single”Come and Get It” and after that, they were writing themselves. The hits kept coming… No Matter What, Baby Blue and Day after Day. They also wrote Without You…a small blues song that Harry Nilson covered…it became a monster worldwide hit. Mariah Carey also covered it later on and was again a giant hit.

They signed with a manager named Stan Polley and got a massive contract with Warner Brothers after leaving Apple. Things were looking really good. They had hits but they never made it over the hump in being a big-time group. Warner Brothers could have pushed them over the hump…Polley setup an escrow account for the band with the advance money and the money disappeared.

He told the band that he was planning for their future etc..He put them on a small salary and embezzled the rest. He really swindled them and their royalties for their songs were tied up for years.

The band was basically broke. With all of their self-written hits, they should have been set financially for years.

Pete Ham didn’t have the money to pay his mortgage and with a baby on the way drunk and depressed at the fatal age (for rock stars) of 27 he hanged himself in his garage in 1975. In 1983 after scrambling for gigs, Tom Evans broke and not able to get to any of the royalties due him from co-writing Without You with Pete…hanged himself also.

Pete was a trusting soul and never would believe Polley was cheating them until the very end. His suicide note read…

“I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better  P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”

They all wrote to some degree but Pete Ham was a great songwriter. He had so much potential. He also was a great guitar player and singer.

Stan Polley died in 2009… escaping other scandals without punishment.

Their albums were

Magic Christian Music – This was the soundtrack to the movie The Magic Christian. Come and Get It is on this album and a minor hit called Maybe Tomorrow which is a good pop song.

No Dice – No Dice is where Badfinger starts to be themselves. No Matter What and Without You came off of this album. It also has some other great songs… I Can’t Take It, Blodwyn, We’re for the Dark, Better Days, and my favorite of the album and possibly of Badfinger…Midnight Caller.

Straight Up – This is my favorite album by them. It has Baby Blue and Day after Day but a host of other good songs. Take It All, Money, Name of the Game, Suitcase, Sweet Tuesday Morning, and I’d Die Babe. Joey Molland’s songwriting and singing were very good on this album.

Ass – Their last album for Apple records and the start of the downward spiral. The songs I would recommend are Apple of My Eye and Icicles.

Badfinger – They just signed a new record deal with Warner Brothers and this was the first album. They recorded this album as soon as they finished their previous album Ass for Apple which was too soon. They should have waited a while before recording this album. This album didn’t do well and one of the reasons is because it was competing with their previous album. They were released within months of each other and it. The songs I like are I Miss You and Shine On.

Wish You Were Here – The album was released in late 1974 and was pulled in early 1975 before it had time to do anything because of litigation between their manager and the Warner Brothers. It was released and pulled in a matter of weeks. Warner Brothers saw the money was missing and yanked the album off of the shelves. The songs I like are Dennis and Just a Chance.

Head First – They recorded this album after Wish You Were Here with Bob Jackson after Joey Molland had quit. The album was stuck in limbo for 26 years never released. It wasn’t released until 2000. I went out and bought this the day it was out at Tower Records when I read they were releasing it. On some songs, you can tell they are having problems with their management. The songs that stand out to me Lay Me Down, Hey Mr. Manager, Rock N’ Roll Contract, and Keep Believing. A good album and I wish it would have had a chance at the time.

They did make a couple of albums after Pete died called Airwaves and Say No More. The song Lost Inside Your Love is the only song that approaches the Badfinger early quality.

Without Pete, the biggest talent was gone. That is not a knock on the others but he was just that good. Tom Evans was a good singer, songwriter, musician who worked with Pete well and had a great voice. Joey Molland was a good guitar player, singer, and songwriter. The band didn’t lack talent.

In 1997 a CD was released of Pete Hams demos called 7 Park Avenue. It was various demos from his entire career. A follow up was released in 1999 called Golders Green. The melodies he had rivaled McCartneys. He was an amazing songwriter.

Go out and google Badfinger and more importantly listen to them. This band needs to be remembered.

Baby Blue… Maybe the most perfect power pop song ever.

No Matter What

Day After Day

Midnight Caller

Suitcase

 

A good article on Badfiinger

 

 

December 8, 1980

Seeing that date depresses me…this was not the way to start the decade that led to my teens.

Since second grade, I’d been listening to the Beatles. While a lot of kids I knew listened and talked about modern music …I just couldn’t relate as much. By the time I was ten I had read every book about The Beatles I could get my hands on. I was after their generation but I knew the importance of what they did…plus just great music. The more I got into them the more I learned about the Who, Stones, and the Kinks. I wanted to get my hands on every book about the music of the 1960s. Just listening to the music wasn’t enough…I wanted to know the history.

I spent that Monday night playing albums in my room. That night I didn’t turn the radio on…I’m glad I didn’t…The next morning I got up to go to school and the CBS morning news was on. The sound was turned down but the news was playing Beatle video clips. I was wondering why they were showing them but didn’t think much of it.

Curious, I walked over to the television and turned it up and found out that John Lennon had been shot and killed. I was very angry and shocked. The bus ride to school was quiet, at school, it was quiet as well. Some teachers were affected because John was their generation. Some of my friends were shocked but some really didn’t get the significance at the time and some didn’t care. A few but not many kids acted almost gleeful which pissed me off…It was obvious their dads were talking through them.

I went out and bought the White Album and Double Fantasy in late December of 1980…I can’t believe I didn’t have the White Album already…now whenever I hear any song from those albums they remind me of the winter of 80-81. I remember the call-in shows on the radio then…pre-internet… people calling to share their feelings for John or hatred for the killer.

The next few weeks I saw footage of the Beatles on specials that I had never seen before. Famous and non famous people pouring their heart out over the grief. Planned tributes from bands and everyone asking the same question…why?

My young mind could not process why a person would want to do this to a musician. A politician yea…I could see that…not that it’s right but this? A musician? Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and JFK were before my time.  By the mid-1970s John had pretty much dropped out of sight…John and Yoko released Double Fantasy on November 17, 1980, and suddenly they were everywhere…Less than a month later John was murdered. The catch words were Catcher in the Rye, Hawaii, handgun and insane. The next day we were duly informed on who killed John in the First, Middle, and Last name format they assign to murderers.

I didn’t want to know his name, his career, his wife’s name, his childhood…I just wanted to know why… he says now…”attention”

I noticed a change happened after that Monday night. John Lennon was instantly turned into a saint, something he would have said was preposterous. Paul suddenly became the square and the uncool one and George and Ringo turned into just mere sidemen. After the Anthology came out in the 90s that started to change back a little. Death has a way to elevate you in life.

I called my dad a few days after it happened and he said that people were more concerned that The Beatles would never play again than the fact a man, father, and husband was shot and killed. He was right and I was among those people until he said that. He was never a fan but he made his point.

Little Richard

A voice that won’t quit. Richard Wayne Penniman… better known as Little Richard would be great in any era. Of all of his peers, he could belt a song out better than any other.

In the 50’s he was public enemy number one to many parents. Pat Boone would cover his songs and those are the recordings the parents would buy their kids…while the kids would sneak and buy the real Richard records and keep them hidden while their parents were around…

Others tried to imitate it but no one came close. Paul McCartney would try but didn’t have the rawness that Richard had/has… He was flamboyant, to say the least, and commanded a stage.

In 1957 at the peak of his career he retired to the ministry and gospel music only… that lasted a while but in 1962 he came back to Rock and Roll and toured Europe. The Beatles were really big fans of Richard and they opened some shows for him in 1962. His keyboard player was a young Billy Preston.

Little Richard songs just jump off of the recording right at you.

You can hear his influence on The Stones, The Beatles, James Brown, Elvis and his androgynous influence with Freddy Mercury, Elton John, and David Bowie.

I’ve always seen Little Richard as the hard rock of the fifties. The songs are raw as you can get and in your face.

Black people lived right by the railroad tracks, and the train would shake their houses at night. I would hear it as a boy, and I thought: I’m gonna make a song that sounds like that.  Little Richard

Little Richard and the James Gang in 1970