Culture, Music, Science

Then, There, That Song

On our Delhi FB site, my home town, I just saw a nearly ancient picture of Caffries Hardware store. Ancient, because I remember walking along its oiled hardwood floors, when all of a sudden someone turned up the radio, and the singer yelled out, “You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain…”. it was 1957.

My Dad stopped in his tracks, looking up, “Good Lord, what is that?”

Nobody responded, as they were all riveted listening to Jerry Lee Lewis pound out his iconic symptoms.  I too was transfixed, because I had never heard anything like it, and it changed my view and love for music forever.  Studying the floor, I noticed that Caffries had hammered straight lines of nails one foot apart from the back door to the front, for the purpose of measuring out lines and ropes.

While Lewis beat a bass line with his left hand and scampered on the high keys like a runaway flywheel, I stared at the ceiling, and back at the radio which was high up on a shelf, strategically placed there for audibility and security against moving the dial.

Why do I remember this so vividly?

There are reams of web pages with articles explaining the rush of dopamine, our reward hormone, Oxytocin a social/love brain spurt, and ramblings among different parts of the noggin, all feasting on music, a satisfying meal for memory.

They say that music may be a soothing and regenerative aid to dementia and Alzheimers sufferers.  I hope it is.  But on that day, Jerry Lee and Caffries were permanently bonded in my head.

I had a similar experience the first time I heard Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone.  1965, working on Monteyne’s farm, our kiln hanger, Rob Hewson had hung his mighty transistor radio on the side of the kiln.  Above the endless clatter of the tying machine, and the grind of the conveyor lifting the sticks up to Rob,  Dylan’s piano sadly rambles away among the guitars, all the while he asks the riveting question, over and over again, “how does it feel?”  I am taking sticks off the tying machine while smoking an Old Gold plain tip.  I had never bought Old Golds before, and never did again, but I remember on that day, listening to Dylan while I dragged on one from the corner of my mouth.  When I hear the song today, Old Golds still come to mind.

Where we grew up, radio was pretty tame and choices limited.  The parents listened to CFRB for news sports and gab.  CBL had Elwood Glover.  The kids listened to CHUM or CKEY.

For whatever reason, our house wouldn’t tune into 1050AM for CHUM, but late at night we could get CKEY–when it was 580AM on the dial.  Sitting at an elaborate study cabinet in my brother’s room, I would tune in quietly to CKEY, and Norm Perry as he ran the turn table.  There was a time when gimmick songs were profuse, but none more than Monster Mash.  That was 1962, and again pushed the listeners’ ears even further out of whack as the story unfolded, ‘working in the lab late one night’.

Monster Mash creates an indelible mark, a gauzy multi-sensory image of sitting at a large gray study cabinet, designed by Popular Mechanics, and unstintingly assembled by my Dad.  It was modular, arriving from the basement in two pieces, painted battleship gray on the outside, and dark red on the inside.  Shelves to the left, it had a chained, drop down desk, and cabinets with locks to the right.  It smelled of paint and plywood, smooth at the sanded edges, with small pock marks from a student’s compass point jamming the grain endlessly.

But in the corner was a dandy little cream-colored plastic radio with two dialing knobs shaped like bullets that managed volume and tuning.  I surreptitiously listened to that radio every night while shuffling papers for homework, chewing the end off a pencil, and staring at a small fluorescent light in the cabinet.  I listened to hundreds of songs, but it’s Monster Mash that brings back the cabinet, every time.

Is there a time when the ‘music-evoked autobiographical memory’ goes away?  That’s what they call it: a MEAM.  I am not sure, but it has been years since I have experienced a new MEAM.  The last I remember was sitting in our 71 Chevelle  listening to a country station outside Port Hope on highway 401.  My parents were staring ahead, and randomly twirling the FM dial, probably looking for Elwood Glover.  Instead, they hit Loretta Lynn as she spun a tale about herself, “When You’re Looking At Me, You’re Looking At Country”.

That was my first intense audit of country music, in 1971, and I was hooked.  The Chevy was a Super Sports, two-door, racing green with a black vinyl roof, parabolic rear windows, and a beautiful chromed gear shift in the center with black bucket seats.  It drove like a dream, and drank gas like a demon.  It was the perfect vessel for delivering Loretta Lynn, which I remember vividly, crystal clear, today.

I have a soundtrack running in my head every waking and sleeping hour.  Tunes loop continuously.  I am thankful still, as a few songs come up, that I have those visual memories to accompany them; it’s good entertainment.

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Culture, Entertainment, Music

Hall, Oates, And A Soundtrack That Won’t Quit

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The kids in leather, and launched.

We missed Hall & Oates the first time around, but 40 years later they paid us back with a superb performance in Toronto in June.

Years ago, the music of this creative duo crept into our consciousness with Blue Room’s rendition of “Every Time You Go Away” in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Little did I fathom at the time that he had covered this wistful piece from one of the truly great composing partnerships of the 70s and 80s.

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The tiny Apple Nano: 1200 songs in a Saltine.

Still unaware of Hall & Oates, I next captured “One On One” on my Apple Nano about 4 years ago.

Buying the Nano was an awakening long overdue.  I was looking for a storage device to hold some music that I was collecting: a couple lost decades of 70s-80s Pop melodies that I had shunned during my Folk and Classic Country years.

One day I was in Best Buy when I asked a helper,

“How many songs can I get on this little Nano?”   It was about the same size as a Saltine cracker, but sturdier.  Its black crystal hinted at deep, magical powers.

She answered, “About 1200.”

I laughed, “I don’t know 1200 songs!”

Four years later we have 957 cuts on the Nano, which include about twelve from our happiest discovery: Hall & Oates.

That evolved when I was given a publicity CD at a Direct Marketing Association trade show.  ULine, a container company–you know, “boxes”— somehow concluded that a free CD of 15 H&O cuts in a ULine-branded sleeve was a good giveaway item to promote itself to mail order companies.

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The Molson Amphitheater on a warm evening by the lake.

Not knowing who Hall & Oates were, I stuffed the CD into a drawer and didn’t retrieve it for a year or so.  One day I popped it into a player, and heard the iconic “Out of Touch” composed by John Oates.

My wife perked up when she heard “Kiss On My List”,

“I love that song!  Who is this?”

“It’s Hall & Oates.  You know them?”

“Nope, but I love this song.  What else is on the CD?”

With that we rolled through their top hits repertoire, and pinched ourselves several times as we knew these songs, but had never connected the composers.

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An enthused Hall & Oates fan arrives early.

The upshot is twofold.   First, we needed to get to a Hall & Oates concert.  Second, we now recognized ULine as a brand of… boxes.  That learning process took about 5 years, but I hope some advertising manager somewhere is having a small vindicating shiver, a frisson, right now, much to their puzzlement.

—Which brought us to the Molson Amphitheater on the waterfront of Toronto, looking out on Lake Ontario.

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Daryl Hall lights up on Man Eater.

This open air concert venue seats about 5,000 under the roof, and another 1,500 or so up on the lawn.   On a warm summer evening, with a cooling humid breeze coming off the lake, one can’t find a better place to enjoy a live concert.

There are auditoriums and arenas for McCartney, The Stones and Bruno Mars, but you are one of 60,000 fans holding your ears.  Instead, the Molson Amphitheater is the happiest compromise of a concert crowd and intimacy rolled into one.

The ticket prices are good, and there is no more politely enthused and amicable concert fan than a Canadian.   Every performance we have attended at the Amphitheater evokes a heartfelt thank you from the performers about how welcome, and safe, they feel in Toronto.

Wow!  It must be pretty tough everywhere else.

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Oates is the Yin in this timeless duo.

Our mental image of Hall & Oates is locked in the 70s.  A couple young guys, with hair and rugged good looks.  Up close today, on the jumbotron, it’s 40 years later.  But the genes still hold their ground.

Even better, so does their music.

Predictably, they opened with Maneater, a solid up tempo number that had the audience on its feet in an instant.  What followed was a succession of hits from the 70s: Sarah Smile, She’s Gone, It’s A Laugh, Kiss On My List.

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A friendly Toronto on Lake Ontario

Somewhere half way through their performance Daryl Hall hung up his guitar and went to the keyboard, which was a delight.  The camera focused on his hands pounding these hypnotic chords for 8, 12, 16 bars, typical of their best songs where the lyrics open only after the background music is solidly in place.

Hall’s voice has great range.  It’s remarkably soulful up on the high notes, and he is completely unchained in front of 5,000 fans, delivering melody and passion.  Meanwhile, he works the keyboard with complex chords, lots of 8-fingered flats and sharps, in minor and major…a true believer of “black keys matter”.

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Their music is complex, melodic, and memorable.

John Oates is the journeyman guitarist.  He switches between several during the night, and works up and down the neck effortlessly.   Strutting across the stage he occasionally sides up to Hall, which is the only time you see the physical Yin/Yang of these two: Oates the significant counterbalance to the tall and blonde Hall.

There is a third component to the Hall & Oates sound and that is the roving saxophone of Charles DeChant.  This ponytailed magician nuances every tune with mellow contemplation.   His signature delivery is an extended solo in “I Can’t Go For That, No Can Do” which really stretches the boundaries of contemplation to hard core introspection.  Too long for my taste, but for many, right on.

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The group returns for two ovations. We can’t get enough.

The team comes out for two ovations, after prolonged applause.  They close with Private Eyes and then back again with Rich Girl, which by then has the audience screaming for more.

But no more, they bid good night.

The genius of this pair is their melodic creativity.   It is complex music: hard to dance to I think, but easily remembered, expansive tunes that you can hum  long after the hall goes silent.

Indeed, the tunes play over and over, inside my head.  After walking 9 holes of golf I have re-sung Private Eyes a hundred times without thinking.

Unfortunately, I can also wake up at 3am, and still have the soundtrack bouncing along, varied, hypnotic, and without cease.

 

Thanks for reading!   If you are an H&O fan, you will find their tour dates here.

 

 

 

 

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America’s Time Warp – 2

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The marquee at The Packard Music Hall


How We Came To See America

Forty-six years after their first concert, we finally saw America, that classic rock band that formed the soundtrack for many of us in the 70s.

Had it not been for the accidental bump into Bill Worrell, their genius lead guitar, we may have still missed an unforgettable concert, just this week, in historic Warren Ohio.

After meeting Worrell, we followed America’s tour schedule and targeted the closest drive to see them. We bought two seats at the Packard Music Hall for June 15 in Warren, Ohio, an hour outside of Cleveland.   This venue was a small, old, yellow brick auditorium which seemed an unlikely spot for a famous group to appear.  But with some reassurance from the folks at our hotel, we headed into town.

W.D. Packard, builder of the Packard automobile provided for a music hall in his estate.   That building didn’t materialize for some years, but eventually, in 1955 it opened, and became the home of the W.D. Packard Concert Band.   The hall since then has attained renown for its regular hosting of concerts for all tastes.  It is the go-to place for music in Trumbull County.  You would liken it to a small Ryman Auditorium.

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70s– life is good and easy.

Our image of America consists of three young faces with lots of hair.  But neat.  Their album covers telegraph thoughtful rock melody, with some leather and tie-dye.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but given that they graduated from high school in 1969, a quick look in our mirror would set the tone.

Driving down Mahoning Street in Warren, we sense an event about to take off.  Warren is a grand old city, but it has endured some devastating challenges with the collapse of the Ohio steel industry.    Our earlier drive across West Market Street coming into town is heartbreaking and disturbing.  Urban decay in full bloom.

But here, on Mahoning, the cars–all new, all shiny, SUVs and hobby convertibles– signify that money has arrived.   The parking security wave us in like ground control, and we are placed within bumper distance of a classic 80s Corvette.  The crowds are moving to the doors, and after scanning our online tickets, we are admitted to the front room.

Our Crowd Packs In

The Packard only seats 2,500 fans.  So this event will be close, and if not intimate, still friendly, unlike the massive takes at the United Center in Chicago.

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Some happy fans, these sisters and cousins are here to hear their band.

Around us, pony tails, tees, shorts, and sandals abound.  And those are the men.   Beside them are women outfitted in jewelry, dresses, capris and well made up.  This crowd is the picture of the Boomer: under 50, over 70, need not apply.  They are a happy, satisfied bunch who are eagerly looking for a reminder of just how good and innocent those raucous 60s and 70s really were, compared to now.

The Lights Go Down.

The host of the Packard appears and welcomes us all.  He thanks us for being in this hallowed hall, and introduces Brennin Hunt, who opens for America.

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Brennin Hunt, from Oklahoma by way of Nashville

Hunt, aka, Brennin is a smart guitarist/writer who finds a melody and picks it over repeatedly until it is glued into your head.   He has a vocal range that hits Vince Gill highs, and with whom he has co-written songs.

“I have some CDs out front, and I’ll be there to sign ’em for ya.  I’m a nobody so I have time to talk with you too.  Thanks!”

He has fronted for America for only a couple of weeks, but he is the perfect appetizer.  His music is calculated to attract and articulated with a free range across his Martin D-28.   Lots of passion in his tenor voice, he delivers a strong melody.   His best, and most phenomenal delivery is a cover of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.   He was brave enough to take on this iconic piece, and he serves it beautifully, acoustic guitar booming out the hypnotic bass line.  Quincy Jones would applaud.

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Brennan and Billy The Kid Worrell render New Kid In Town

Closing his act, Brennin invites our personal hero, Bill Worrell to the stage.  It turns out that Worrell, aka “Billy The Kid” also played guitar for a tribute concert tour  for The Eagles.   To acknowledge that, Brennin and Worrell duet on New Kid In Town.   Worrell’s smiling addition is effortless, and before the crowd can reseat themselves, America romps onto the stage.

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A 70s light show entertains. Easy to set up and take down for the next show in Detroit, tomorrow night.

Dewey Bunnell sports wire frames tucked in beneath neatly combed back silver hair.   He may be seasoned, but he is in good shape, and with a confident, upright pose launches into Tin Man.  He is playing a beautiful black, mother of pearl inlay Taylor acoustic.

To his side, Gerry Beckley is likewise be-spectacled, and strums his six string, tucked under his arm.  Behind them, Worrell plays a third acoustic.  To his right, Ryland Steen, a mere youngster is on drums, and to his right, Rich Campbell nimbly fingers a five string Spector bass.

I mention the band’s gear because the electrified acoustics give a full body of sound.  You think you are listening to an orchestra, but it’s just five guys and a powerful amp.

Just then, I asked myself, why do guys like this keep at it?  This is work, big time.

The crowd is on its feet.   We have been waiting for this sound since 1976.  For a moment, tonight it’s all music and light.

With hardly a pause, the group turns over “You Can Do Magic”, “Don’t Cross The River”, and “Daisy Jane” .   We are enraptured, and a spotlight on the audience would show a sea of pasty, wrinkled faces with wide grins singing back at the band.

The guys perform their hits flawlessly like shooting bottles off a fence rail, one after another.  They introduce Billy The Kid, and he takes off on an instrumental break, one of many in the show.

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America’s classic logo sustains and endures, like the band.

Meanwhile, the back stage screen flashes an encyclopedia of America images.  From album covers to Peyote Indian meetings to Viet Nam gunboats and helicopters.

What is enchanting about this 70s light show, is that it is a 70s light show.  No fireworks.   No pedestals or trapeze work.  No swinging microphone stands and no dance groups.

In all, America played 20 of their tunes.  They were all good, and fresh.

You might expect that like other vintage groups, a back up team of vocalists would deliver the high notes.

Instead, Gerry Beckley hits them, if like climbing out on a drooping limb at the top of a tall tree, he was careful, and plucked the peach he was after, every time.  A fearless display of singing.

The group soaked up several standing ovations, and only then did they turn over “Ventura Highway”.  Beckley fingered that one on his Taylor acoustic and made it look devilishly simple.

In a quiet moment, Bunnell smiles and thanks us for listening, and remarks that they have been performing over 100 concerts a year, for 46 years.

“People ask why?  Well, as long as you keep coming, we’ll keep playing.”

Asked and answered.

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In front of a U.S. gunboat we get “Sandman”.

The band unloads a solid “Sandman”, heavily enhanced by Bill Worrell against a grey tone backdrop of Huey helicopters in flight over Viet Nam.  They goose us up with “Sister Golden Hair”  and then leave the stage.

We cheered them back, and then, like Christmas, they unleashed “A Horse With No Name” which made the evening complete.

Watching this enduring 70s band do its best stuff with cheerful ease awakened some dormant yearnings and memories.   School.  College.  First love.  First job.   Money and independence.

It made me imagine the high times on West Market Street in Warren, when the steel industry was in its heyday, and wealth and the plans for future wealth were effervescent in everyone’s imaginations.   Those days are long gone here, but as the town continues to remake itself, and this music plays on at Packard Hall, they will come back.

That is the joy of America.

 

Thanks for reading!  Here’s some websites you might value:

America Concert Tour Dates

Brennin Hunt

Bill Worrell

Warren Ohio

Warren Photo Tour

 

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America’s Time Warp – 1

How We Nearly Missed A Classic Rock Band, Again

I_need_you_-_AmericaAt the time we first were raising kids we managed to survive without a television, stereo, or car radio.  Only occasionally did we hear those magnetic tunes of America by Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek.   In the background, George Martin produced.

Years later, the kids now have kids of their own, and we have lots of sound equipment.  And a collection of America’s Greatest Hits which are an irreplaceable soundtrack of the 70s, and still captivating today for their lyrics and melodies.

On a flight back from LAX last spring we sat beside a polite young gentleman who stared at his laptop, ears plugged in, for most of the trip.   Coming into O’Hare, we all powered down, and said hello.  A casual, perfunctory conversation followed:

“So, what do you do?” I asked.

“I’m a musician.”

“Really?  In a band?”

“Unhunh.  I play in a classic rock band called America. My name’s Bill Worrell.”

“Oh, cool. Well, nice to meetcha.  We’re Phil and Jane. Safe trip home.”

The plane landed and we all scrambled for our bags, got onto our feet and into the aisle to get off the plane.  The guy walked out ahead of us and disappeared into the crowds at Terminal 3.

“Do you know who that is??” my wife asked, incredulous.

“Uh, Bill somebody.  Nice guy.”

“You twit!!  He’s with America.  You know, the band.  Ventura Highway?  Horse With No Name?  Tin Man?  Sister Golden Hair?  Daisy Jane???”  By now she is dragging her bag ahead of me straining to spot Bill Worrell in the crowd.

We never found him, but the enormity of my density hung over my head the entire ride home in the car.

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A Steve Gaglio Photography image of our seat mate, Bill Worrell.

I felt badly.  On the one hand, this kid is looking for fame and recognition, and I crush him with indifference.  On the other hand, he sees me as a wizened old goof probably humming Dion tunes.

I made things up by contacting him on his website and blaming my doziness to jet lag.  He immediately responded, and graciously gave me a pass with a chuckle.  I wrote back adding that anyone who could play the opening riff to Ventura Highway was a hero in my books.

Ever since then we have tracked America, and a few months ago booked tickets to see them last weekend at the Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio.  It’s a 450-mile drive but we have the time.

A Wrong Turn, And A Crisis

Warren is southeast of Cleveland.  We approach this historic city from I-8o and a solid line on the map entices us to skip the beltway outside the city to our hotel, and instead, drive through town on West Market Street.

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Great expectations, questionable today.

Just off the interstate, our first introduction is to the hamlet, Center of the World.   It is distinguished by a few small roadside stores and the shell of a burnt out, collapsed garage.  We drive on.

Getting closer to Warren on West Market street we drive past closed shops, discount stores, pawn shops and unkempt properties.  We see a couple walking toward the Superpawn Shop, him with bareback in shorts, festooned in tattoos.  She shuffles by his side in tee and flip flops.

Our trip to downtown continues dismally.  The ruin continues with no cease.

“How could they book a gig here?”

“An aggressive agent, I guess.  Wow. What an eye opener.”

Deflated by the west side, we head up to Packard Music Hall to check out the venue, look for safe parking and quick getaways if we need them.

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Warren’s City Hall, a beautiful building decked out in petunias.

Along the way we see the greatness of Warren.  Founded in 1798, this city has some of the most stunning architecture in its public buildings we have ever seen.  Along the wealthy streets there are some enormous, and beautifully built antebellum homes.  Flowers are everywhere.

The music hall is small.  Which means a cozy concert, and that’s good.  But beyond it is a park with groups of people milling about, not so much picnicking, but lazing about, because there is nothing else to do on a Wednesday afternoon.  The view among the ancient oaks and green lawns is strangely unsettling.

We drive back through the city center amid vacant store and office buildings, out along East Market Street where the real estate improves.

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Trumbull County Court House in downtown Warren is majestic.

But it doesn’t improve enough to lift a feeling of dread about going downtown at night to see America.

By the time we reach our posh hotel in the suburbs we have decided to go home.  I inform the front desk folks, and with that, we elect to have a lunch in the mall, and start the 450-mile return trip, extremely disappointed.

The Turning Point

We sit at the bar of an Outback Steakhouse.  Bar sitting is great when you are splitting a meal.  It also gives license to speak with neighbors.

Lynn is running the bar.  I opened:

“Hi Lynn.   We just got into town, but I made a huge mistake driving in on West Market.  It’s pretty scary.  What happened?”

She paused before answering, maybe wondering if I was worth explaining to.

“Well, we used to have about six steel mills in the area.  They all went out of business in the 80s and it’s been a struggle for many.  All the people and business who supported the economy went away. Welcome to another country.”

With that I started to synchronize the news of Ohio’s past with my sheltered life in Illinois. But concerns persisted.

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Our first look at the concert hall.

“We’re going to the Packard Music Hall to see America.  It looks kinda rundown.  Are we crazy?”

“Oh no.  You’re perfectly safe there.  It’ll be a good show.  The east side is quite different than the west side.”

With that, a lady came up to us from behind.

“Are you going to see America tonight?”

She wore a black and white summer dress.  Bracelets on her tanned arms telegraphed upscale success.  Her 20s-something daughter hung back at their dining table.

“We are going.   It will be great.  You’ll love it.  We are having dinner at Leo’s first, and then drive in.  The Packard is perfect, and the place will be packed.  You’ll feel right at home.”

Her name was Diane, and she unloaded a ton of dining advice, hotels, and sights to see.  Had I asked, she may have admitted to being a real estate sales rep.  Regardless, she was good.

With that, we decided to rebook our hotel room.

More tomorrow, and I tell you how this trek to see America ended up.

 

 

 

 

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Culture, Entertainment, Music, Thanks

Tom Rush, Master

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A Charles Giuliano Photos image of Tom Rush at work.

Occasionally a simple action sets a need in motion.

A couple years ago a college friend sent me a CD of folksinger Tom Rush.  This entertainer’s music first broke into our lives back in  1966, hung in there until graduation, and then evaporated as we moved on.

Competition with job, kids and new directions pretty much locked Tom Rush out of our daily routines.

But fifty years later, the brand new CD woke me up.   Not only was our musical hero from university days still alive, but he was also, still, at the the top of his game.

We decided to go see him again.

On stage, Rush is a quiet conversationalist.  He talks to the audience, and snares them into the context of his next song with the finesse of a master salesman.   His modesty hides his greatness in the genre.

Launching his career along with icons like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Eric Von Schmidt, Jim Kweskin, Richie Havens, Fred Neil today his body of work reaches across decades of accomplishment, from early blues to contemporary ballads.

If “ballads” sounds corny, think stories, worries and wishes put to music and rhyme, about things and events on our plates every day.

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Isis Restaurant & Music Hall occupies a renovated theater from 1937 in the heart of West Asheville.

Last Sunday Tom Rush performed at the Isis Restaurant & Music Hall in Asheville, NC.   Contrary to the those of many small cities across America, Asheville’s downtown is booming.

In the west end, also known as the West Village, the Isis theatre is a fixture built in the 1930s, and renovated to its current appealing look with bar, restaurant and stage.  Outside, the original marquee showcases the night’s act.  Across the street is a guitar shop, with nearby pawn shop, grocery, village market, cafe’s and gas stations.

The street is filled with cyclists and people enjoying their particular pursuits.  While there was plenty of curb parking we chose to park in the grocery lot.   There was a sign pointing to a steel box into which I folded eight dollar bills to keep my place.

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Across Haywood Road a guitar store stands ready to fulfill the next musician’s dream.

Seated at our table up front, we looked at our hopeful neighbors, ordering dinner.  The Isis is delightfully small.  It seats about 50 diners and another 100 or so listeners on the main floor and in an upper gallery.   It is a cool place, good food, with a restaurant out front which was packed when we arrived, 90 minutes before the show.  Louise, the show scheduler came by our table to welcome us– a nice touch.

Up on the stage, a young fellow is tuning instruments: pianos and guitar.   He looks like a stage hand but in fact is Matt Nakoa who opens for Rush.   I shake his hand, and ask him to pass a note to his partner, requesting a song.

I can’t believe I am doing this but the opportunity can’t be lost to communicate with this giant.

It helps when I add, “We saw you last September in Minneapolis.  You guys were just great, thanks!”  He got my name and finished his tuning, and left the stage.

A few minutes later after Louise opens the show, Nakoa reappeared and delivered a virtuoso performance.   His songs are rich, thoughtful and complex, with a voice that adds a layer of honesty to the words.

At the keyboard, he is incredibly efficient.  Not that he uses only one or two notes per bar, but rather that he uses all his fingers every second.  I was reminded of the Bruce Hornsby sound: full barreled piano, active and melodic.  Matt Nakoa could choose to be a powerful classic concert pianist, but he opted for the folk and jazz club scene, much to our good fortune.

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A Neale Eckstein image of Matt Nakoa unwinding a tune.

Nakoa also played guitar, with a light and intriguing touch.   He is left handed, playing a left handed guitar, but strung for a right hander.

This forces an inverted chord formation which for most people would be like tying their shoes using a mirror.  I am guessing he had to borrow someone else’s guitar in his learning, and the habit stuck.  The result is golden: a unique and magical delivery.

He delivered a half dozen songs, each original and lush in melody.  You want to hear “Ballad of Jenny Kane”.  Just as enchanting however was his patter between numbers.  He plays while he speaks, reminiscent of  60s entertainer Mauri Hadyn who also spoke with the audience while she produced a continuous soundtrack of riffs.

Tom Rush walks on after Matt’s introduction, and the crowd cheers for both singers.

Two figures could not look less likely to work together, and that is the magic of this duo.   We are faced with mop-headed Gen-x musical prodigy standing beside a crusty, smiling, white haired, git-picking balladeer.  Unbelievable combination.

Tom Rush Purple

Early on Tom Rush started a following that just won’t quit. His ’72 Columbia Records release.

Our fascination is soon overcome by the quality of their product.   Rush commands the room with his good nature and low-key, self deprecating introductions.  He opens up his act with the confidence of a master woodworker unwrapping his blades, choosing one to carve a unique keepsake for the audience.

Launching into “It’s Gonna Get Hot Tonight” the crowd responds enthusiastically to Rush, encouraged by his beat and voice, both strong and happy.  In the background Nakoa has shelved the concert hall vibes to provide a wood-floor honky tonk sound that fills out the song perfectly.

The audience tonight is a following that has grown organically over 5o years of performances.   We drove 750 miles to see him.  True to his brand, Tom Rush delivers amusement and satisfaction by way of his story telling, singing and playing.

We know these songs, and they have legs.   The lyrics are his, in perfect measure, with stories we want to hear.   They are delivered by a voice that is both raucous and contemplative.   He can change our mood in line or two, all the while polishing that finished piece of work for presentation.

There is a side to Tom Rush which is remarkable, and it points to his generosity.   Yes, Matt Nakoa adds a dimension to his music, but it is the reciprocal nature of Rush’s partnership that is giving a younger generation the benefit of his experience.

He is hardly looking at the final days of his stellar career, with over 25 engagements scheduled in the coming months.  Despite that, he has taken on the onus of sharing what he knows with a new, younger talent.

Matt Nakoa has his own music and his own story, but he is following in the footsteps of a legend with full support.   In big business, the CEOs always say to hire people smarter than we are, but it’s scary.  Rush took that dare on Nakoa.   Our kids should all be so lucky.

A look at Tom Rush’s website unveils another gift.   While he has the usual display of story, news and events, he also has a page of FAQs .  What’s with that?   Countless questions from fans about how to play his songs, complete with guitar tunings.   In our world, it would be like a master vintner unveiling his secret recipe for a knockout wine.

Which leads to another puzzle in the Tom Rush narrative.  Why does a self respecting folk icon tour New England and the west coast playing in small venues for only the price of a good steak?  Celebrity has its costs, but modest ticket fees aren’t among them.

I think the answer is that the man loves what he does, and he wants to share it.   His audience loves him back. That is remuneration enough.

And by the way, he called me out, and played my request.

Thanks for reading!   This show is what coffee house music and jazz clubs are all about.   Who needs an auditorium for 20,000?  I pass on some websites for your interest, and feel free to share!

Tom Rush Show Schedule

His CD “What I Know”

Matt Nakoa’s Home Page

 

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Entertainment, Music

50 Years, Then and Now

Tom Rush Purple

Tom Rush– timeless and still touring.

We are not much into nostalgia.   And we aren’t groupies.   But it was more than idle curiosity that drew us to Minneapolis last week to see and listen to the folk blues singing hero of our youth, Tom Rush.

Rush was, and still is the consummate story teller.   We first saw him at The Riverboat in Toronto back in 1966.  Back then, about 75 of us could cram into this little subterranean shotgun of a room on Yorkville Avenue, right beside a smoke shop called the Grab Bag.   Admission, $3.00.  If it wasn’t a busy night, you could stay for two sets, maybe all night.  Drinks?  You bet.  Lemonade, cappuccino or mocha coffee.  Smoke?  Light ’em if you got ’em.

Tom Rush Blues Songs Ballads

Selfie, before there were selfies.

The Riverboat truly derailed my formal education.  All of the new folk and blues singers  started there: Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, Jim Kweskin, Gord Lightfoot, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGee, Tim Hardin, Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie, Eric Anderson, Tom Rush…and I saw them all, prolonging my university stay.

But Tom Rush was the most memorable because of his ability to set up every song with a story.   And the tunes themselves were stories, made epics by his delivery.

Tom Rush Mind to Ramble

One of his first albums, a masterpiece.

So it was exciting to see this guy again, even if he wasn’t mainstream billboard marquee candy.

The 20-something concierge at the hotel asked,

“So where you going tonight?”

“To see Tom Rush.”

“Cool, Rush.  So, like, are they touring again?”

I took along his first album cover with the plan to get an autograph.   But I changed my mind when I realized that I had bought it in 1965, 50 years ago.

To ask him to sign it now would be a cruel favor indeed.

When we entered the Dakotah Jazz Club on Nicolett Mall we also had an awakening.   It’s comfortably small, hosting maybe 150 diners around a small stage.

But the diners were the warm bucket of water we did not see coming.   They were old.   With old gray pony tails, and walking sticks, and suspenders, and jean shirts, and earrings, and mustaches, and sandals.

Tom Rush Trainyards

Trains, stories, music, smokes… the quintessential folk singer.

That’s when it hit me.  Pow.  I’m old.

Just then Tom Rush came out on the stage.  And he’s even older.  Not the slim, young, booted guy strolling down the cobblestone lane we remembered.   But still, to his credit, a slim older guy, with a full head of real, white hair.  Rugged and ready.

He launched into one of his new songs, “It’s Gonna Get Hot Tonight” and never looked back.  The voice was there, intact.   His guitar work was perfect.   And the stories flowed, all over again as the audience sat back to enjoy the ride.

What a treat.   He knew us well, and played to our weakness: we’re all old.   Or advancing anyway.

Tom Rush Take A Little Walk

The idol of our hippie youth: an english major Harvard drop out.

He smiles as he sets up The Remember Song.   This is his talking blues about failing to recall names and faces, conquering wireless technology, and hooking up.   True to the theme, he forgets where he’s at in the middle of it.

And we lap it up.  Delicious.

When he finishes, he says, “That’s my hit song.   It’s just a few clicks short of 7,000,000 on Youtube.  My wife says, they’re all probably from the same guy.  He can’t remember watching it.”

Tom Rush Circle

An unlikely pose, but the record company demanded it no doubt.

He covered a lot of his work that night, and it provoked me later to get out all our Tom Rush albums.  Which gave me pause to think.

The tragedy of streaming music online is that we no longer have album covers to read.   Used to be you’d put the needle on, and sit back and read the album backer, extracting every scintilla of detail about the artist.  No more.

IMG_3898

Something to read and read again while we listened.

Our migration to smaller media and its packaging is the driver. In the 25-year generational shift to today, we traded in big vinyl records for 8 track, then cassettes, overtaken by CDs, which were displaced by downloads and Internet radio.
Along the way, we gave up the opportunity to read about our music.

Now we can listen to more and more of it, while we know less and less about it.

A Michael Wiseman pic of the story teller, non pareil.

A Michael Wiseman pic of the story teller, nonpareil.

Fortunately, Tom Rush steers clear.  He doesn’t play to massive concert audiences.  He’s for small crowds, talks to them, and as a result, we come to know him and his music well.

Probably won’t forget it either.

Thanks for reading!  Please share this with your musical friends!

 

 

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Marketing, Media, Music

Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Ugh.

There is a disturbing movement sweeping the air waves.   You may have just heard it in the background one day, the cheerful, melodic moan of a faceless, happy chorus singing “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh”.

I missed the first occurrence: Philip Phillips delivering his blockbuster “Home”

with a long, triumphant chorus of “oh’s”.   But I did catch it when American Family Insurance adopted his tune, sung by what seemed the entire Morman Tabernacle Choir to drill the melody into my insurance-saturated brain.

Fine.   Phillips and AFI hit it off.

But now the oh-ohs are a virus, spreading across the music stage, and frankly, few performers get it right.  Nevertheless, they include their attempt at oh-oh, because the recording studio asked for it.

MacCauley Culkin

” ‘Oh’– a catchy phrase, with infinite potential.”

Or it could be that the writers’ union has gone on strike.  No more chorus lyrics!

And if it’s selling music, it must be selling burgers, phones and cars, too.  Just ask McDonalds, T-Mobil and Nissan.  They all have their own oh-oh theme right now.

Atlanta Chop

“Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh–once again, with feeling!”

Looking for the source of this mono-syllabic drone, one could guess that it was the Atlanta Braves fan club that mass marketed oh-oh with their jubilant “Tomahawk Chop” song.

Any pitcher-batter contest was unnervingly accompanied by the 6-tone refrain, delivered by 40,000 spectators motioning like one-armed bandits in a therapy session.

meowmix

“Just the sound of it makes one salivate.”

Still, it could also be a tip of the hat to the feline chorus that gave us the MeowMix anthem.  This little ditty has soothed and inspired us for over 30 years.  Let’s hum a few bars.

benhur1

“On the downbeat, gents!”

Digging deeper into the past, it could be the hearty and beloved   rowing songs that floated up from below the salty decks of huge Roman galleys charging toward some hapless fishing dinghy in the ancient Mediterranean.  “All together now, lads!  Oh-oh-oh……. crunch.”

Slaves Pyramids

“Now I know what they meant by ‘chorus line’!”

Still, oh-oh’s roots could hark back even earlier to the carefree days of the Egyptians, toiling together, sliding 20-ton obelisks across films of hot bull fat with the help of a team of 200 melodious Ethiopians, in full harness.

“Now that is a Sphinx!  Let’s give a hearty rendition of Oh!”

My hunch is that oh-oh will eventually go away, when the human ear finally grows flaps, or the alphabet is re-written, eliminating “o”.

Mean time, I am playing nothing but Bobby Ridell and Beach Boys.  They were into “oo”.

Thanks for reading along!  Feel free to comment.

I hope you don’t have trouble sleeping as oh-oh runs around in your head all night!  

 

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