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Category Archives: Music History

On This Day…1977

elvis-st

No mention on the news.  No acknowledgement that I’ve seen today.  However, today is the 32nd anniversary of the death of Elvis. One place that never, ever forgets Elvis is his home town of Memphis.  Death Week festivities culminate with the “vigil”, each August 15th.  Having witnessed this firsthand during our six year stint in Memphis, I must say that seeing the thousands upon thousands standing silently with candles and moving through the gates of Graceland is quite touching.

My Elvis love has been well-documented in several posts, here, here, and here.  As I reflect on the death of Les Paul and his dramatic impact on modern music and Rock & Roll, in particular, I can’t help but also think about Elvis’ significant influence.  These people made HUGE changes to their worlds.  Makes me wonder….just where are this generations change agents?  Miley Cyrus?  The Jonas Brothers?  Where are the new “originals”?

In this age, where non-conformity is the norm, it is hard to appreciate just how odd and different Elvis was.  Coming out in the Deep South, where good, upstanding citizens listened to clean cut white boys in the vein of Pat Boone, Elvis’ loud clothes, swiveling hips, provacative dance moves, and strong R&B leanings were not exactly embraced by the adults of the South (or otherwise).  But, the kids got it and they LOVED it.

America loves an original, and Elvis was definitely original.  In the thirty odd years since his death, I’ve often thought about what Elvis would have done, had he lived.  Would he have joined the fitness revolution and slimmed down?  Would he have realized that overuse of prescription drugs IS drug abuse and checked himself in to Betty Ford?  Would he have made a big comeback?  And, just WHAT would he look like at 74?  Well, wonder no more…

ElvisPresleyAgeProgression 

Oh, to go back to when Elvis was Young & Beautiful….

 
 

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The Original Guitar Hero

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Les Paul, 1915 - 2009

A real revoluntionary of the music business is gone.

Les Paul, inventor of the electric, amplified guitar and picker extraordinnaire passed away today from complications of pneumonia at the age of 94.  Born in 1915 with a love of music, Les Paul began playing harmonica and guitar on the street, while still in his childhood.  When a listener critiqued the volume of his guitar playing, Les was determined to find a way to increase the sound.  While gainfully employed as a musician throughout his teens and early adulthood, Les continued to tinker until he created “The Log” — a 4″ X 4″ with amplified strings with a guitar body attached for asthetics.  

As early as 1939, Les Paul brought his “invention” to Gibson Guitar company where he was summarily laughed off the property.  However, they eventually worked with Paul to create the legendary solid-body design that caries his signature and name.  Probably one of the most famous Les Paul models is “Lucille”, B.B. King’s infamous instrument.

bb king lucille 

Generations of guitarists have chosen the signature Les Paul Gibson as their axe of choice, including guitar greats Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Keith Richards, Pete Townsend, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, John Mayer, Mark Knopfler and Les Paul’s close buddy, the late, great Chet Atkins.  Chet’s half-brother, Jim, was a member of the Les Paul Trio, who famously played throughout the 50s and 60s.  Both Les and Chet have been major influences in the evolution of the guitar as a forefront instrument.  They were good friends with a strong, mutual respect for each other.

  The Birth of the Blues, Les Paul & Chet Atkins

Amazingly, Les Paul could not read music.  However, his superb ear and creativity provided ingenuity in playing that basically made the guitar speak.  He brought personality to guitar.  He also brought it to the recording studio.  Using his wife, Mary Ford’s pure voice, Les Paul began over-dubbing and multi-track recording, revolutionizing how recordings were made and producing rich sound that resonates deeply within.

 

There are so many facets to Les Paul and the genius of his 94 years.  I strongly encourage you to look him up on YouTube and Google and watch the documentaries and performances about this icon who literally changed the face of modern music. 

Perhaps Guitar Hero will add a Les Paul version to honor the Original Guitar Hero.  (They may need to add a looping accessory….)

 

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R.I.P. Bob Bogle

bob bogle

 

 

Bob Bogle, lead guitarist for the legendary surf-rock band, The Ventures, lost a battle to leukemia at the age of 75. 

Considered pioneers of hard guitar laced, instrumental “surfer” rock of the very early 1960′s, The Ventures are the guys responsible for such surf-rock staples as:

  Wipeout

  Perfidia

walk-dont-run-the-very-best-of-the-ventures

Perhaps their most well known “hit” was courtesy of Steve McGarrett:

  Hawaii Five-O Theme

However, the genesis of surf-rock actually started with the Tacoma, Washington band’s release and hit of Walk, Don’t Run in 1960.

Typical of musical kun-NECK-shuns, Walk, Don’t Run was actually a cover for The Ventures.  The song was originally done by the one and only Chet Atkins. 

One of the bandmembers had been listening to the guitar impresario and it was decided to update Walk, Don’t Run to their signature sound.  The rest is history.  The Ventures (and Bob Bogle) were signficant influencers to many rock legends to come.  In 2008, they were indcuted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  Bob Bogle was too ill to attend.

  John Fogerty induction of The Venture  into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2008

So, a tip of the hat to one of the guitar legends of rock.  May he rest in peace.

 

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40 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper…

Well, wrong album…right group.

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That’s right.  Just over 40 years ago, The Beatles recorded Get Back with a B side of Don’t Let Me Down as part of the new album that would become Let it Be.  To commerorate their collaboration with Billy Preston, they headed for the roof of the Apple Building at 3 Savile Row in London to perform a few numbers off the anticipated album.  Of course, cameras were rolling in anticipation of a clash with police, however the appropriately civil bobbies would not provide that satisfaction.  “Just shut down the noise, please”, after 42 minutes of Beatlemania.

The Beatles hadn’t performed live together since 1965, so I can imagine the startled passersby and rooftop audiences’ glee in the impromptu and one of a kind “concert”.  It also marked the beginning of the end for the most prolific band ever.  Less than a year after this dramatic rafter jam session, the fab four were individually persuing music down four separate paths.  

But for one dreary, London afternoon The Beatles made the world right and exciting.  Where is this kind of musicianship and desire to share new music from artist to fan, today?  I would love to see/hear John Mayer do a rooftop concert somewhere in Brooklyn…with Eric Clapton…in that Captain’s suit.  Ok, I digress…

The Beatles were originals and perhaps it’s just impossible to re-capture their spirit and connection to fans.  Only Paul and Ringo are left to tell the tales of the rooftop, now, as John and George are gone, as well as the great Billy Preston, who famously played the organ on Get Back. (He is left of, and behind, Paul.)

40 years.  I remember my parents talking in those increments and never being able to comprehend that time span.  Now…I see.

In May of ’69, both of these songs would be on the charts, with Get Back at #1.

  Get Back

  Don’t Let Me Down

To view the Rooftop Concert in its entirity, click here.

 

I’m Your Puppet…

 

For two solid days, four plane rides, 13 hours in airports, through three client meetings, in my dreams at night and of course, while driving…I have had this tune incessantly playing in my head.

Yesterday, on the way to the airport, I was singing it out loud under my breath.  After we returned the rental car and were walking to the terminal, my boss began to sing it.  I think he now has the “Puppet Blues”, as well.  Somewhere in Omaha, a guy is walking down the street humming this…

  James & Bobby Purify

Originally released in 1966 by James & Bobby Purify, I’m Your Puppet was written by FAME studios legend, Spooner Oldham (with Dan Penn).  If Spooner’s name isn’t familiar to you, other songs that he has written will be….When A Man Loves a Woman, Mustang Sally, I Never Loved a Man….you get the picture.

I’m Your Puppet stayed on the charts for 14 weeks in 1966 and sold over a million records, getting as high as #6 on the Billboard charts.  Mr. D was a senior in high school and the song takes him right back to Prom.

Evidently, my subconcious is talking to me for some reason.  Cosmically, who knows?  All I know is that it goes on an on…

Pull the string and I’ll wink at you, I’m your puppet
I’ll do funny things if you want me to, I’m your puppet

I’ll be yours to have and to hold
Darling you’ve got full control of your puppet

Pull another string and I’ll kiss your lips, I’m your puppet
Snap your finger and I’ll turn you some flips, I’m your puppet

Your every wish is my command
All you gotta do is wiggle your little hand
I’m your puppet, I’m your puppet

I’m just a toy, just a funny boy
That makes you laugh when you’re blue
I’ll be wonderful, do just what I’m told
I’ll do anything for you
I’m your puppet, I’m your puppet

Pull them little strings and I’ll sing you a song, I’m your puppet
Make me do right or make me do wrong, I’m your puppet

Treat me good and I’ll do anything
I’m just a puppet an you hold my string, I’m your puppet
Yeah, I’m your puppet

Walking, talking, living, loving puppet
I’m hanging on a string girl, I’ll do anything now

I’m a walking, talking, living, loving puppet, and I love you

I’m a smiling happy face when you want me to
Even make you happy when you’re feeling blue

I had no idea about the eclectic group that have covered I’m Your Puppet.  Most recently, the song was featured on Bernie Mac’s last movie, Soul Men.  The background singers are a little rough, but John Legend saves it.

  Bernie Mac, Samuel L. Jackson, John Legend

A lovely rendition by Motown royalty:

  Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrell

Now, this brings me back….1971.  Posters on the wall.  Heavy sighing.   Dear Donny….

  Donny Osmond

Sir Elton?  Who knew?

  Elton John & Paul Young

And a nice touch by the Drive-By Truckers with Kelly Morris….

  Drive-By Truckers

I guess there’s worse songs to have philandering around in your head than I’m Your Puppet.  It could be Soft Cell’s Tainted Love.

Have a great day.  :)

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 22, 2009 in cover songs, motown, Music History, oldies

 

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Every Day I Have the Blues…The Progression

Yep.  Every day. 

every_day_i_have_the_blues

  Originally recorded by Memphis Slim, 1948

  Elmore James

  Professor Longhair

  B.B. King

  T-Bone Walker & Chuck Berry

  Buddy Guy

  Eric Clapton

  John Mayer

 

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Bigger Winner of the Night

The Grammys took a baby step to redemption in recognizing Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’s awesome CD, Raising Sand, as Album of the Year, and Please Read the Letter as Record of the Year.  But perhaps my favorite on the CD is a cover of the Everly Brothers’ Gone, Gone, Gone

Contrast and compare.

 

  Gone, Gone, Gone — The Everly Brothers

 

  Gone, Gone, Gone  — Alison Krauss & Robert Plant

 
5 Comments

Posted by on February 8, 2009 in grammys, Music History, music legends, oldies

 

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The Day the Music Died: Finale – Buddy Holly

buddyholly

1936 - 1959

By now, you know the details of the crash fifty years ago that shocked the music world.  Graham Nash explains it best:

  Graham Nash talks about “The Day the Music Died”

 At 22, the lanky kid from Lubbock, TX  had been re-writing music rules.  At the tender age of 18, Holly had taken the sagging Rock & Roll scene by storm with stark rhythms and the strains of non-traditional instruments.  No hearthrob, Holly’s attraction was purely “the music”.

While Holly was quite a personality, it’s his music that has had the most lasting affect.  Many artists of the 60s and 70s, point to Buddy Holly as a major influence.  A young Robert Zimmerman’s life changed the night he watched Buddy Holly perform on the Winter Dance Party tour in Diluth, MN.  As Bob Dylan, he would also influence generations of music.

More after the jump

 

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The Day the Music Died: Part 3 – Ritchie Valens

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Seventeen years old.  Let that sink in a minute. 

My son is 17.  I cannot more imagine him dropping out of school to become a recording star at this age, than me becoming Secretary of State.  Yet, Richard Stephen Valenzueala did exactly that — dropped out of school at 16, as a matter of fact, and rode the whirlwind of fame in a stellar eight month career.

In May 1958, Ritchie landed a recording contract with the Del-Fi recording label out of Hollywood, CA.   In July, Valens recorded his first record, Come On, Let’ s Go, which became his first hit.  He was one for one.

  Come On, Let’s Go

Shortly after, he recorded his second, and most prolific hit, Donna:

  Donna

As is widely known, Donna was written by Valens for his girlfriend, Donna Ludwig.  In the late 1950s, inter-racial couples were not readily accepted nor encouraged.  Even though Valens was now a hero in the Latino community, he likely had a tougher time in society, as a whole.  His relationship with Donna was full of angst and longing, that resonated across racial lines and brought Ritchie into the mainstream when it went to #2 on the Billboard charts.

The flipside of Donna was a Mexican folk song that Valens’ mother convinced him to record.  La Bamba would become a mega-hit, but not until 1987, when Lou Diamond Phillips starred as Valens in the movie, La Bamba. 

 

Despite his Chicano roots, Valens had to learn the Spanish words to La Bamba phonetically, as he had only spoken only English since birth.  La Bamba is listed as the #345 on Rolling Stone‘s Top 500 Songs of All Time.  It is the only spanish language song in the Top 500.

The dual A-side recording of Donna/LaBamba would pay for a new house for Valens’ mother, but would be the last release of his life.  Several recordings were released after his untimely death, including Cry, Cry, Cry and my favorite, We Belong Together:

A talented, self taught guitar player, Ritchie was well-liked and had a notable energy on-stage.  He went on tour in Hawaii with Buddy Holly and Paul Anka and when Holly was looking for acts to join him for the ’59 Winter Dance Party, he immediately invited Ritchie Valens.  Valens agreed, and despite being a minor, went off on his own to follow his dream.

After extended freezing tempatures, grueling routes from point to point, and the isolation of being a teenager in a man’s world, Valens was homesick and miserable.  Traveling in the unfamiliar snow and cold of the Midwest was more than he had bargained for.  When he heard that Buddy Holly had chartered a plane to transport his band from Clear Lake, IA to Fargo, ND, Ritchie begged Cricket’s guitarist, Tommy Allsup to give up his seat to Valens.  Here is Allsup’s account:

Seventeen.

 

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The Day the Music Died: Part 2 – The Big Bopper

J.P. Richardson

J.P. Richardson

“Hellllllooooo, Baaaabbbeeee!………………….”

Consider J.P. Richardson, the DJ/Singer/Songwriter from Beaumont, TX the man who brought you such songs as Luckenbach, TX,  Amanda, Mamma Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys and Suspicious Minds.  You can thank The Big Bopper for the legendary Outlaws album. 

On a frigid night in February, J.P. Richardson — The Big Bopper — simply couldn’t face another night on the cold, drafty bus that served as transportation for the 1959 Winter Dance Party Tour.  Suffering with the flu, Richardson was desperate to avoid another long ride in freezing tempatures, sleeping upright on hard seats.  When he learned that Buddy Holly was chartering a small plane to get to the next stop for him and his band, The Crickets, he approached the bass player and asked if he would mind giving up his seat so that The Bopper could get some rest and try to recover.  The young, affable 22 year old Waylon Jennings agreed.

Buddy Holly ribbed his bandmate about giving up the seat.  “I hope your ole’ bus freezes up again”.  Jennings sarcastically snapped back, “Well, I hope your damn plane crashes.”  Jenning was riddled with guilt for trading places with The Big Bopper and was very reluctant to ever discuss his role in “the day the music died”.

1958, The Big Bopper, traveled extensively on tour, promoting his music.  His new single, Chantilly Lace, had recently caught on when fate coupled him with new sensation, Ritchie Valens; rock and roll stalwart, Buddy Holly; and mega-popular, Dion & The Belmonts for the Winter Dance Party tour in early 1959.

  Chantilly Lace, The Big Bopper

The Big Bopper was big and bold.  After an army stint, J.P. Richardson returned to his hometown of Beaumont, TX and eventually ended up as a DJ at KRTM.  In 1957, he broke the record for continuous on-air broadcasting — 5 days, 2 hours, and 8 minutes.  Shortly thereafter, he adopted the name The Big Bopper, originated from watching college students in Beaumont doing the dance, The Bop.  His first foray into performing and recording was the old-time Country Beggar to a King, but it struggled to gain any traction on the charts:

  Beggar to a King, The Big Bopper

He quickly recovered with Chantilly Lace and took the show on the road to capitalize.  His goal was to make as much money as he could to build a recording studio in Beaumont where he could make music and produce other acts.  He was also working on a new concept that he called a “music video”.  His live shows were part skit, part song and he was wildly popular.

Back at home in Texas, his wife was pregnant with their second child, a son who would be born two months after his death.  J.P. Richardson, Jr. now performs as his father and oddly, “met” his father for the first time in 2007 when he had The Big Bopper’s body exhumed to rule out foul play.  (It was.)

Perhaps The Big Bopper’s most lasting legacy is the three songs he wrote that were #1 hits for other artists.  White Lightnin’ was recorded by George Jones in 1959 and ended up at the top of the Country charts. 

  White Lightnin’, George Jones

Richardson not only wrote Running Bear, but provided back up vocals on the Johnny Preston hit that was released in September 1959.  It hit #1 on the Country charts shortly thereafter.

  Running Bear, Johnny Preston

Finally, Jerry Lee Lewis re-leased Chantilly Lace, scoring a #1 Country hit in 1972.

  Chantilly Lace, “The Killah”

Much like Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson was an “evoluntionary”.  He was perfecting a successful songwriting formula, experimenting with new facets of music via film performances, and was aspiring to produce other acts.  At 28, The Big Bopper was pushing the “norms” of the music business and had nowhere to go but up.  

The plane crash threw his body 40 ft. from the wreckage and he suffered severe trauma, dying on impact.

 
 
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