My summer in music and books

It’s 11 days until summer break.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a decent school year, but I’m all in and looking forward to a little break.  With the yearbook distributed, the final issue of the newspaper out, and the senior awards evening gathering complete, my last evening obligations are over. I can finally begin planning for some down time.

It’s actually a busy summer, with some vacationing with Lorri.  No cruises, but a couple of local trips to the San Juans and Astoria.  There’s also journalism summer camp. at the end of July and plenty of preparation before then.  But I’m really looking forward to some peaceful work in the yard, painting figures and general down time.

Chris Cornell Songbook

Chris Cornell’s solo acoustic record Songbook is at the top of my list of future acquisitions. Tough to get in the wake of his death.

I’ll also be looking to add to my record collection (what else.)  The two artists I’d really like to focus on are Chris Cornell and Marvin Gaye. Cornell’s death last month hit me especially hard.  His work with Soundgarden and Audioslave, together with his solo efforts are so interesting and varied, I feel foolish for not paying closer attention to his work before his death. Because some of the vinyl is spendy or non-existent, I may actually have to invest in some CD’s.

Managed to snag What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye and United in which he teamed with Tammi Terrell.  A few more records by this master who left us too soon are on my wantlist 

I finally ordered my first Marvin Gaye record.  That’s silly, because he is another performer with a long and varied career.  He’s probably my favorite Motown performer.  Gaye had a wonderful voice and his musical style really evolved with changing times.  It’s a shame that I’ve neglected him. It’s not a surprise the first record I’ll have is What’s Going On, but I refuse to let it be a token album.  He was just too good to let it go at that.

I’ve also decided to acquire the Motown Anthology series.  I’m generally not big on anthologies, but 1974-76 Motown published a series of 2 X and 3 X LP collections for many of their major artists. Generally they do a good job of covering the careers of their stars up to the press dates.  A few acts that suffer are Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, who continued to perform well into the 80’s.  The records can be as cheap as $5-10 for performers like the Four Tops or the Marvelettes, to a $25 or more for the Jackson 5 or Gaye. Here are the artists with Anthology albums

Martha and the Vandellas          The Marvelettes

Diana Ross and the Supremes    Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Gladys Knight and the Pips         The Four Tops

Marvin Gaye                                   The Jackson 5

Stevie Wonder                                The Temptations

My goal is to have at least one album for each artist in addition to the Anthology

Summer Reading 

For me, summer is an important time of year.  I try to get a little exercise.  Listen to more music.  Paint some more figures.  Take on household duties.  Pay more attention to my Aussie buddies.  But I also read a lot more. I have a number of books lined up for summer reading.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I’ve never read any of the Beats.  With On the Road set to come out as a movie, thought I’d get a jump start on things.  I’ve started reading and so far am enjoying it thoroughly.  Am anxious to finish and see if it is everything it is supposed to be.

The Wise Men by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas

Overview of six men who shaped the post WWII world-Averill Harriman, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Robert Lovett, John McCloy and Charles Bohlen.  Really intrigued by this group of men and how they shaped America’s post-war policies from Truman to Nixon.  Isaacson and Thomas promise a readable approach to an interesting topic.

Fear Strikes Out: The Jim Piersall Story by Jim Piersall and Al Hirschberg

Jim Piersall passed away a few weeks ago.  He was one of baseball’s “characters.” But his story was magnified by his fight with bipolar disorder.  This is a book I’ll buy as a Kindle e-book, but I’m really excited to give it a read.

Al Francken, Giant of the Senate by Al Francken

Francken’s book has gotten good reviews for his honesty of his appraisal of the workings of the Senate, and, of course, his humor.  Another e-book.  I’ve read some of his other books and they were funny, but quite partisan.  I know this will also be partisan, but I’m hoping it’s subsumed in Francken’s wit.

Hue, 1968 by Mark Bowden

Bowden was the author of Blackhawk Down.  I’ve already purchased this as a Kindle book (because it was so freakin’ cheap.) I am anxious to read this because, like Bowden, I believe 1968 changed the course of recent American history and Hue, as part of the Tet Offensive was at the center of it. The book was only released a couple of weeks ago, and is Bowden’s first book since Blackhawk.

 

Chris Cornell-Fell on Black Days

chris-cornell

Slept a little later than usual, thank God, popped a pod in the Keurig, and fired up my iPad.  As I opened the WaPo, the Twitter feed said everything I didn’t want to hear.  Chris Cornell dead at 52.

I lay no claim to the biggest Cornell or Soundgarden fan.  I don’t think I’ve listened to more than three Audioslave songs in my life.  But I’d have to be deaf not to know Cornell’s octaves-spanning voice as it took over whatever song he was performing.

What if Paul McCartney died? Or Mick Jagger?  What will the headlines say when Dylan is gone?

No, Chris Cornell will not be remembered with any of them, except around here. Soundgarden was through and through a Seattle band. Cornell grew up in Shoreline and attended high school at Shorewood, not far from my childhood home. Of the Seattle bands of the “grunge” era, Soundgarden formed earliest in 1984, they were also first to sign with a major label.  Cornell’s story, and his band’s success is the city’s success. No he wasn’t McCartney, or Townsend, or Jagger or Dylan, but he’s one of our own.

Word came mid-day the Detroit authorities ruled Cornell’s death a suicide. Hanging. He’d performed with Soundgarden a few hours before.  The news was a shock to his friends and family.

What leads a man to take his own life while still in his prime, on top of his game and on top of the world?  We can’t know.  We can never understand.  As one who has had a family devastated by suicide, it is a deep black hole for everyone concerned, and no light of understanding escapes from it. For his bandmates and friends, for his wife and three children, I offer my deepest sympathies. For Cornell I can only hope things are better on the other side.

Now if only I could find my copy of Euphoria Morning. Shit.

 

 

Record Store Day Leftovers and my Journey to the Hall of Fame Induction

I’ve made my feelings about Record Store Day known, and I’m sticking to my guns . . . sort of. But sometimes interesting records do get re-pressed and then . . . my addiction kicks in.

Turn On

The Music Machine . . . 1966 . . . “Talk, Talk” . . . Turn On.  Remember them?  Probably not. I was a kid, watching “Where the Action Is” one afternoon when these long-haired semi-musical guys appeared and grunted their only hit song.  “Talk, Talk” was less than two minutes of snarling garage rock and proto-punk.  I ran out and bought the single.

Wonder what happened to that 45.  Gone, many decades gone, but I still love the song. When I started collecting vinyl again, I looked The Music Machine up on Discogs.  One LP, Turn On, last pressed in 1993 on the Performance label.  It’s an easy fifty bucks for a good copy.  Well over a hundred for an original mono copy in quality condition.  Sigh.

The day after RSD X I was poking through eBay just for grins to see what the new releases were doing.  I’m happy with my Doors record. But as I’m laughing and gasping at the price some of the flippers are asking for their tunes, my eyes ran across the re-release of Turn On.  1500 copies, mono pressing, and the price starts at twenty bucks. I pulled it up on Discogs from a New York seller asking only $17 with very reasonable shipping. Done (though I had to explain it to my exasperated wife.)

It arrived Tuesday, and I was able to listen to it a couple of times.  Yes, it’s everything I hoped it would be. Of the twelve songs five are covers, including perfectly competent versions of “Taxman” (one of my favorite Beatles songs,) “Cherry, Cherry,” “96 Tears,” and a stirring “See See Rider.”

But the real treats are the seven Sean Bonniwell compositions that make the record unique. Though none of the other songs have the fire of  “Talk, Talk,” all share that song’s sense of alienation and the pressure to conform to a changing society’s social norms. Of the original songs, the most interesting were “Masculine Intuition” and “The People in Me.,” though the others were fine.

Bonniwell’s vocals always kept The Music Machine listenable.  When they threw in a touch of Mark Landon’s psychedelic guitar work so much the better.  But instrumentally, the record is dominated by Doug Rhodes’ work on the organ.  Taken as whole Turn On is a solid listen with one brilliant, fiery song.

Journey and the Rock Hall.

HBO telecast the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction from a few weeks ago.  Produced by Playtone, Tom Hanks’ production company, I’m always amazed at what a great job they do.  I’m also amazed at all the endeavors that man has his fingers in.

The inductees for 2017 included The Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Baez, Yes, Tupac Shakur, Journey and Pearl Jam. Each of the inductees has a stunning introduction by an admiring musician or group of musicians, and the opportunity to perform. If you haven’t seen an induction and are a fan of rock music, you should, because they’re emotional and very fun. Because some bands are inducted as a specific line-up from years ago, and haven’t played together in years, there are some tricky and awkward moments as they go on stage together to receive their honors, but their place in the band is taken by another.

Of note for 2017 was Yes.  Yes  now tours as two separate groups.  They were eligible some years ago for induction, and the band members are well into their 70’s.  Outstanding bass player Chris Squire passed away in 2015, and the subtext that the Hall waited too long was expressed by guitarist Steve Howe. Yet they performed “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” magnificently with Rush bassist, and Yes fan Geddy Lee filling in for Squire.

Tupac’s award was even trickier, because he’s been gone a long time.  But Snoop Dogg presented and was superb.  As a non-rap person, I learned lots I didn’t know, but most importantly had the opportunity to appreciate Tupac’s work in ways I didn’t before.

However, the moment that turned my head most was when Journey was introduced.  Like many, I’ve kind of pooh-poohed Journey all these years.  Formulaic, light-weight, uninteresting-I’ve heard it all before.  Hell, I’ve said it all before. But, on reflection, they were good, really good.  Neal Schon is a wonderful guitarist.  Steve Perry had great vocals.

If power ballads were endemic after Journey left the scene, well at least Perry, as the progenitor of the power ballad, was also the master.  “Lights,” “Who’s Cryin’ Now,” “Open Arms,” “Faithfully” are all great songs.  Not only that, but now they’re in the Rock Hall. So you know what that means–Journey records must now live in my collection. So I’ve put 1978’s Infinity, 1979‘s Evolution, and 1981’s Escape on my wantlist.

At least they’ll be cheap.

Saturdays can be great: RSD 10 and The Zombies

Colin Blunstone 2

Colin Blunstone and bassist Jim Rodford fire up the crowd for the first half The Zombies performance April 22 at the Showbox at the Market. 

As a working dude, I really look forward to the weekends.  The last six weeks were so busy with so many demands on my evening time I valued every minute of weekend down time.  Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of weekend down time.  Yes, I did have spring break off a couple of weeks ago.  It was deliberately restful and quiet.

So after another week of late nights as the JagWire staff got an issue of the paper off to the printer, I was really looking forward to this weekend and some down time.

But wait!  As often happens, there was plenty planned.  We had some birthdays to celebrate on Saturday, but the family festivities coincided with a couple of fun activities.  Saturday was the tenth annual Record Store Day, as well as a long-planned Zombies concert in Seattle.

First, Record Store Day.  Usually I avoid the vinyl version of Black Friday.  This is the list of records available to retailers for the event yesterday.  It’s lengthy, but that doesn’t mean your local record store will have any of those that interest you.  They are of very limited production, and some seem to be directed at very specific geographic regions.  The album that interested me most was The Meters box, but I knew there was virtually no possibility of getting a copy because only 510 copies were produced and it was aimed a specific region–likely the New Orleans area where The Meters are worshiped like gods.

No, Record Store Day is often mostly about standing in line to be disappointed when I.  find the five or six records I’m interested in are all sold out or hideously expensive. Record shops tend to be small, with tight quarters and the entire process of purchasing is difficult.  I do think the local shops profit from the extra traffic, but the big winners are the designer labels that offer albums twice a year to addicts and collectors who can’t stand being left out.

Boogie Records, my local record shop, a fairly small enterprise struggling to get started, hosted its second annual Record Store Day.  In connection with the festive nature of the day, they brought in bands to play all day in the parking lot.  They had extra help in the shop and at the coffee bar.  They truly did their best to make the RSD experience more than just about hawking spendy niche records, and I commend them for their efforts.  Note: In an effort of transparency, I am a regular customer at Boogie Records and consider the owners friends of the family.

Doors Live at the matrix

I did my part.  I arrived about an hour before opening, got my number 6, and dutifully took my place in line.  I did get one record on my list–The Doors Live at the Matrix.  I believe the Matrix was Jefferson Airplane founder Marty Balin’s club in San Francisco, the band was recorded live in 1967.  The LP is essentially a live version of the their first, excellent album, The Doors. It’s great.  Everything you’d expect, “Light My Fire”, “Back Door Man,” Twentieth century Fox,” “The End,” are all there.  Vocalist Jim Morrison is in fine style and seems quite sober.  I was able to get number 763 of 10,000 pressings.

Though I was deprived of my longed for copy of The Cars Live at the Agora, I did make myself feel a little better by snagging a couple more records from Boogie’s growing and increasingly well organized stash of used records.

I’d been thinking before heading down to the shop, wouldn’t it be nice to pick up a copy of Devo’s excellent Freedom of Choice, and lo there was one.  Best known for the song and accompanying video “Whip It,”  the 1980 album is just a great record. I also had my eye on a very nice 1968 re-pressing of The Genius of Ray Charles.  Recorded in 1959, it features Charles playing with elements Duke Ellington’s and Count Basie’s jazz bands on side A.  Charles is remarkable and the musicianship is superb.  Side B was recorded in Seattle, and arranged by a young Quincy Jones, again with jazz accompaniment and strings. And while none of this sounds like “Hit the Road Jack,” or “Georgia on My Mind,” I was really surprised at how good Charles sounded, and his ability to crossover between genres.  A great acquisition.

The Zombies 

My badly light-washed photo of Rod Argent on the left and Colin Blunstone on the right.  Though there was much more to the band than just these two, they certainly captured the audience’s attention. 

As great as Record Store Day and seeing the family was, Saturday night was our long awaited night to see the Zombies at The Showbox in Seattle. I have one of those life-long connections to the British Invasion band.  in 1968 I was a Seattle Times paperboy.  One of the super popular songs I always heard on the radio was “Time of the Season.” It is so different from many popular songs of the time, with its big Rod Argent organ lead, and Colin Blunstone’s breathy vocals. To this day, the song probably lands in my top 20 songs.

Last night was not my first experience with the band.  In 2006 The Zombies traveled with Little Steven’s Underground Garage tour.  They played El Corazon in Seattle to about 100 concert goers.  I got to stand about eight feet from Blunstone.  I went with son Patrick and his then-wife Michelle, and it was one of the most wonderful concert experiences of my life.  Blunstone was very good, and the energetic younger-than-his-years Argent was superb.

But that 2006 performance saw a band that was still finding itself, much as the audience was re-discovering what a great band The Zombies were. They seemed to lack polish and the confidence that came with playing together over an extended period of time.  The original band member only lasted for a few years, and now it was nearly fifty years later.

In the years since 2006, the Zombies became much more popular.  Their 50th anniversary tour to commemorate The Odessey and the Oracle, widely recognized as a minor masterpiece, drew crowds wherever they went.

At our annual Christmas gathering in December, we saw the Zombies were making a return to Seattle in April, so Patrick, Rachel, my brother-in-law Paul and I bought tickets that minute.  We cashed them in on Saturday night. The band that appeared at the Showbox at the Market on Saturday, was a much more experienced, very polished outfit compared to the band I saw ten years ago.  The stage set-up offered two drumkits as well as two mellotron and keyboard sets.  Weird, but would all be clarified later.

The set was divided into two halves.  The first set featured well known Zombie songs, such as “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “I Love.”  At first notice, two things were evident.  First, this is very much Argent’s band.  The banter between songs was all Argent.  Inevitably the band went on to play Argent’s one big solo hit from the 70’s, “Hold Your Head Up.”  Decent energetic song, well-played, but it did go on for an excruciating ten minutes. The second big observation is that Blunstone’s voice is, if anything, stronger than it was when I last saw him. Pretty amazing for a guy who is now 72 years old. With Tom Toomey on guitar and Jim Rodford on bass, and Steve Rodford drumming, it was a very enjoyable set.

When the band emerged twenty or so minutes later it was straight on to Odessey and the Oracle.  The band changed as original bassist Chris White stepped in for Jim Rodford, and original drummer, Hugh Grundy joined Steve Rodford at the kit. A second keyboardist joined the band–but his name escapes me, and my sources aren’t helping much.

While the first half the show seemed well-paced and relaxed, with enough banter to be informative and interesting, the Odessey half felt needlessly rushed.  From “Care of Cell” to “Time of The Season,” all 12 songs were over and done with in forty minutes and it was on to the encore.  Don’t get me wrong, all were well performed by a very professional, very polished group of musicians who knew their stuff.  It just felt like they had a taxi outside with the meter running.

A great show, thoroughly enjoyable.  I count myself fortunate to have seen this band more than once.

 

The collector’s dilemma 

I’ve written many times about my record storage issues, and how it will ultimately squeeze the size of my collection. I’ve managed to relieve that concern, at least for the present time. My 900 LP upper limit has been pushed out closer to 1,400, and my collection passed the 940 mark.

But, what to include in that pile o’ music remains a question to me. Should I have the Rolling Stone top 500 albums?  Should there be a list that guides my searching?  Must it all be vintage, or are new re-pressings okay?

Ultimately, my collection must be about me.  When I set out on this adventure a few years ago, the purpose was to acquire records I wanted to listen to. That’s still the plan, but as the whole grand lot gets bigger, getting around to everything is more difficult. I already have more albums than I ever imagined; what should guide the collection I’m building going forward? Here are a few of my new rules as my collection moves into its “maturing” stage.

  1. Avoid buying big lots of records.  Think I made four purchases of 20 or more LP’s.  None of them were really satisfactory. Some of the most desirable albums were in lousy condition. There’s always the question of what to do with the leftovers I don’t want, and I’ve bagged my record selling business. Just not enough time to do it right.
  2. There are 215 performers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Get at least one record for each of them. I think I currently have at least one for 115 inductees. That leaves me 100 to go. Picked up Carl Perkins’ Sun recordings last weekend.
  3. New records are okay. Depending on estate sales, garage sales, and Discogs can be  an absolute crap shoot. Used record stores in the Puget Sound area are often quite high priced, while quality can be questionable. Quality re-pressings of classic vinyl are cost-controlled and you know what you’re getting. I picked up a copy of Eat A Peach by the Allman Brothers at Barnes and Noble during their Educator’s Sale. 25% off the $34.95 cover price, which made it cheaper than Amazon, and similar to a vintage copy of uncertain quality.  Plus, there is some good new music out there available on vinyl. C’mon, you’re in or you’re out.
  4. Depth or breadth of artist representation has always been a problem for me. I started out with a few artists and tried to buy everything. Mistake. Now I try to get the “best” records. What constitutes “the best” may vary. I often consult allmusic.com’s considerable collection of reviews including guest reviews. That may mean I just buy one or two records for a particular artist, rather than five or six or more. I still, as a general rule, avoid anthologies if at all possible.
  5. Don’t give up on the $1 records.  I don’t seek them out as much as I used to, but I still drop by my local Goodwill every now and again.  This week I stopped by a thrift shop and grabbed five interesting records for a buck apiece-All American Boy (how did I not have this,) by Rick Derringer; Make it Big by Wham (wipe those dirty looks right off your face!); Swing by INXS (getting my 80’s covered,”; Kihntinued by the Greg Kihn Band, and Live at the Paradise Ballroom by the Graeme Edge Band. Fun additions, cheap.  Inexpensive used records allow me to be adventurous and pick up albums I might never listen to.

What I’m listening to

The Shins-Oh Inverted World

Oh Inverted World

Was traveling around North Tacoma when we heard an episode of A Prairie Home Companion, the new version post-Garrison Keillor. It was live from Seattle, and one of the musical guests was The Shins. I really enjoyed their music and decided to get one of their albums. I decided to start with their best reviewed record, which also was their first, Oh Inverted World from 2001 on Sub Pop. It is an absolute delight. Sort of indie/folkie. All songs very accessible and thought provoking with a fair amount of wit.

Oddly, my favorite songs are first and last.  The album begins with “Caring is Creepy,” an ode to apathy.

This is way beyond my remote concern

Of being condescending

All these squawking birds won’t quit

Building nothing, laying bricks

The song is in what seems to be in a Shins style, relentlessly up-tempo, understated instrumentally, with the words tripping out in a stream over a riffle. Great stuff.

The record concludes with “The Past and Pending,” a meditation on the past and future of a love. It is, like so many songs on the record, a tuneful torrent of smart lyrics on the condition of love, underscored by a French horn. It is my favorite song on a filler-free album.

It is a remarkable record I’ve listened to repeatedly during my week on Whidbey Island getaway.

Kate Pierson-Guitars and Microphones

Guitars and Microphones

While The Shins are humble and wordy, Kate Pierson is loud, flamboyant and charismatic.  Who is Pierson?  She, together with bandmate Cindy Wilson were the female half of the B-52’s.  The band hadn’t been in the studio since the modest success of 2008’s Funplex, so Pierson had material to share on her own.

Backed up and produced by Sia Furler, with Strokes lead guitarist Nick Valensi playing lead, Guitars and Microphones is what you’d expect from the ebullient redhead, now 66. if you are a B-52’s fan, you’re going to love this record. It’s loud and danceable from the first track, “Throw Down the Roses.”  Perhaps the second song, “Mister Sister” has gotten the most attention.  Though the song seems aimed at any audience not happy with the way they are judged by appearance alone, Pierson stepped into trouble when she promoted it as a “trans anthem.”  It immediately brought her into the gunsights of some LGBTQ communities.  Still it’s a solid song.

Guitars and Microphones is a good record.  It’s a fun record, with Pierson making the kind of album we’d expect, and I don’t mean to suggest that’s bad.  Rather, I’m hoping she still has another album or two left to share.

Record Store-The Business in Anacortes, WA.

My wife and I spent spring break week on Whidbey Island, about 40 miles northwest of Seattle.  I persuaded Lorri which should go via the Deception Pass bridge, and duck into Anacortes for lunch.  Anacortes is a fishing/whale watching/oil refining town, but it also has a record store.  After lunch, I persuaded her I should make a little visit while she was buying out the local quilt shop.

The Business is not like the record stores I usually visit.  It is almost entirely new records.  Not just new pressings, I mean vinyl versions of current artists.  Though I desperately wanted to give them my money, I had a difficult time finding artists I was familiar with.  They do carry a lot of SubPop artists, so I was able to pick up a copy of Sleater-Kinney’s latest release, Live in Paris. Eventually I also ran across Jesca Hoop’s 2017 album Memories are Now.  I heard an interesting interview with Hoop on NPR, and remember her first album Kismet released a decade ago.  Thought I’d take a chance.

The Business is an interesting shop, but really fills a niche.  You won’t find your Beatles, Stones or Bowie here.  If you’re younger than, say, me, this could really fill the bill.  I’d like to go back, but I can wait a while.  The staff is friendly and helpful.

The Business is located at 216 Commercial Ave. in Anacortes, WA.

The King is dead. Long live rock

Chuck_Berry_1957

If you’d asked me in high school, in the early 70’s how much I liked Chuck Berry’s music, I might have asked who the hell Chuck Berry was. Maybe not.  I may have known Johnny B. Goode.  Maybe not. But the 50’s revival in popular culture through films like American Graffiti and the TV show Happy Days, didn’t let us forget for long.  Chuck Berry, he was the guy with that Number 1 hit “My Ding-a-Ling” in 1972.  So yeah, I might have known who he was, but I certainly didn’t know how important he was.

I know there are legions of Elvis fans out there, those who still worship the ground he walked on, who make their pilgrimages to Graceland.  There is an industry built on Elvis impersonators. We’ve been sold the mythology of Elvis bringing gospel, country and rhythm and blues together and molding them into something called rock and roll, and somehow managing to sell it to a white mainstream popular culture.

I’m sorry, but I think that’s hooey.  Elvis, ultimately, was simply a salesman. He had the hips, but Berry had the licks.  Elvis depended on great guitar pickers like Scotty Moore and James Burton to carry the show, but Chuck wrote ’em, played ’em and sang ’em all by his lonesome.

If we all dragged out our collections of Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks and Hollies records, we’d be listening to guys influenced by two important artists–Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers.  You have to be able to play the licks, and sing close harmonies.  Yes there are plenty of other influences in there too, including Elvis, Little Richard and Bo Diddley, but foremost was Berry.  Listen to With the Beatles; it’s riddled with Berry riffs.  Keith Richard didn’t become Keith Richards until he mastered Chuck Berry.  Dave Davies? Same.  The British Invasion may have been British, but it floated to America on Riffs by Chuck.

I was fortunate to see Chuck Berry in 1980.  He played Bumbershoot in 1980 and 1981.  Famously he unplugged Steve Fossen, bassist for Heart, from his amp in ’81.  I didn’t see that show. No it was a more low-key affair, with Chuck playing the Arena.  It was a free show. But the highlight for me was taking my baby son, hauling him around in a backpack to see the master at work. That’s right, Patrick Galactic’s first concert was with a brown-eyed handsome man.

It was a great performance in front of a small crowd, and I’ve never forgotten.

Yes, I do have some Chuck Berry in my record collection. I have a re-pressing of his first record, After School Session.  It includes “School Days,” “Havana Moon” and the ground-breaking “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.” It was a song a bit ahead of its time on race issues. I also have a couple of live albums from the ’60’s.  Live at the Fillmore Auditoriuum from 1967 is pretty much a blues album, and mostly misses his big hits. The really interesting aspect of this record is he is backed up by a very new to the Bay Area Steve Miller Band. Finally, I have a re-issue of 1978’s Live in Concert.  It was originally issued as a 2 X LP set of his 1969 concert in Toronto.  Unfortunately, my 1982 budget pressing only has half the songs. I’ll need to fix that.

It’s sad to see Chuck pass away on the wind.  Even in his 80’s, it’s said, he would make his way to the clubs in St. Louis and take his turn at Blueberry Hill. He was not taken from us suddenly, and Berry lived a long life.  But it’s hard not to think the ranks of rock and roll are little thinner today, and that the party in rock and roll heaven is a little more fun.

Blue Oyster Cult in concert, v 3.0

 

BOC

From left, Eric Bloom, Richie Castellanos, Buck Dharma, and Kazim Sultan drenched in white light at the Emerald Queen Casino.  Saturday marked my third time seeing Blue Oyster Cult.

Saturday my three friends from school and I trundled off to the Emerald Queen Casino to see Blue Oyster Cult.  BOC comes to Tacoma each year and regularly plays to a full house of mostly overage, overweight, balding fans, and/or their consorts.  I occasionally wonder if some will survive the night.

This is my third time seeing BOC, and I’ve written about each of the concerts. Version 3.0 was delightful and different from the previous two iterations.  Both of the prior events were focused on making sure songs were played.  This show was more about showing off Buck Dharma’s chops with lengthy improvisational jams.  It was a nice departure, demonstrating the lead guitarist’s considerable chops.

Buck seems so at ease up on stage, like he was born with a magical gift that he is sharing out to audience as simple as pouring water in a cup and passing it around.  There is no pain-induced grimace on his face, nothing to suggest this is difficult stuff at all.  No matter how long or fast, or challenging the passage, Buck looks like he could just as easily be sitting in a rocking chair with his guitar or his dog in his lap, passing the tunes or the satisfied smiles on his dog’s lap to the assembled multitude. He makes it look so simple.

The show started a little late because so many folks were slow getting from the parking lot, through the crowded casino and into the event center.  More about this later.  But that didn’t prevent the band from playing a full set and a solid six song encore.  The total running time for the show was well over two hours.

As earlier stated, this show was a little different.  Less emphasis on songs, but the favorites were definitely played. “The Reaper,” “Me-262,” “Dominance and Submission,” “The Golden Age of Leather,” “Godzilla,””Hot Rails to Hell” and “Cities Aflame With Rock and Roll” are the most obvious well known BOC songs that were featured.  The boys also trotted out “I Love the Night,” which is a brilliant song from Spectres.  It’s one of the very few BOC ballads, but lyrically and musically is matchless.

If the show had any flaws it was the fact that it very much seemed the Buck Dharma show. Less of the spotlight on Bloom, who runs the show. We’d come to really enjoy guitarist Richie Castellano and his opportunity to solo.  Castellano came out of music school to join the band, but don’t let his training fool you; he can really tear it up. The rhythm section of drummer Jules Radino and bassist Kazim Sultan keep things rumbling along.  But they all seemed to fade a bit into the woodwork.

Seeing shows at the Emerald Queen is problematic. We sat in the middle of the hall.  Everyone sits at the same level, so seeing the stage is challenging.  On nights with a full house, you’re likely trying to see through someone’s noggin. Saturday’s show seemed particularly noxious.  Lots of late customers, and then the idiots sitting in front of us were constantly shifting seats, contributing to my feeling of motion sickness.  As in, “If you people can’t sit still I’m gonna puke!” All I can say is I’ve seen three different BOC shows at the EQC, and in certain respects my level of enjoyment was impacted as much by what I had to put up with from those sitting around me as the show itself. Not sure there will be a number four, but I love the band’s music enough that I wouldn’t rule it out.