Wednesday, March 31, 2010

You didn't hear it here, but ...

We wondered what it's like watching American Idol for the hearing impaired, so we took one for the team last night. We watched most of the show with the sound turned down. Interesting!

This had nothing to do with the fact that we were in a bar where they grudgingly agreed to put the show on one screen but then refused to provide the audio, even after we bribed a small girl with a sad face to plead for some sound. The cold-hearted manager wouldn't even punch up the close-captioned so we could "watch" the judges rant.

Turns out we didn't miss much. Well, except for another great performance by front runner Crystal Bowersox. She might not win this thing but she's the best reason to keep watching. Click below and see for yourself.

Didi and Aaron aren't much better without the audio. Siobhan, at least we didn't have to hear her scream. (Some folks apparently still consider her a contender.) Lee Dewyze, our darkhorse, apparently made some strides, as did Andrew Garcia. And Big Mike Lynche is still very much in the hunt. At least that's the chatter this morning. 

But the show at this stage of the season is about who's leaving on Crystal's "Midnight Train to Georgia," and after very thoughtful visual review we figure it's probably going to be ... Didi, with Katie, Tim and Aaron tumbling after.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Give the man a Guinness

Here's an item we wanted to make sure you saw. It was published online, along with the accompanying photo,  by the Daily Texan at the University of -- you guessed it -- Texas:

   Junior Matt Smith broke a world record Saturday playing all 84 “Rock Band 2” songs on the drums, recording the highest score.
   Shards of red, yellow, blue and green video-game targets were blasted apart Saturday as a UT student smashed his way past the official Guinness World Records achievement for highest full-song set-list score on the Xbox 360 game “Rock Band 2.”
   Civil engineering junior Matt Smith played all 84 “Rock Band 2” songs on the drums over the course of seven hours to beat the May 16 record score of 10,687,033 points, according to Guinness World Records. Like the previous record holder, gamer Robert Paz, Smith played at the hardest difficulty level — expert. He accumulated a score of 14,727,919 points and unofficially beat the record around 4:55 p.m. after he finished his 58th song, “Pinball Wizard” by The Who, with a score of 10,719,466 points.
   Smith said he practiced video-game drums for 45 minutes to an hour a day after he finished his UT coursework.
   Smith said his parents and Castilian residents supported him throughout his months of preparation.
   “Pretty much my entire floor has been rooting me on; I’ll practice, and all of my residents will come in and support me,” Smith said. “My parents didn’t really support playing video games, but they support getting world records. They’re kind of in a weird position, I guess.”
   With only a few songs left to play, he said he could not feel his pedal-side foot and that he was playing through the pain and letting his body go through the motions. He stood up, stretched and sprinted between songs toward a nearby water fountain.
   “For a while, I did long stints where I played for four hours at a time on the weekends, just to see if I could physically do it,” he said.
   Human development junior Sarah Sorce said she was able to watch Smith practice before he attempted to break the record.
   “As he practiced and practiced and practiced, he got more and more points, and he could get a higher percentage on each song,” Sorce said. “If he met a goal, he’d make a new one, and he would keep on going and going. It was awesome to watch.”
   Guinness World Records will inform Smith if his attempt was accepted for the Guinness World Records in four to six weeks.

Way to go, Matt! We're all for goal-setting. Frankly we don't see enough of this among our promising but misguided youth.  You might only receive a certificate for this accomplishment, assuming the record is upheld, but a keg of Guinness Stout would seem more appropriate. Skol!

That said, here are some obvious questions:

1) Is civil engineering not challenging enough at UT?
2) Wouldn't Matt's time be better spent playing with Legos?
3) Could any real weekend drummer obliterate this record?
4) Do you suppose this helped Matt get laid?
5) Is Matt now ready to play drums for Grand Funk Railroad?

We're just wondering.  In no way does this diminish Matt's accomplishment. I mean, we haven't even tried Rock Band 1. The dude's in a league by himself.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Here's what dreams are made of

Neil Young is determined to get all of his archived music into our hands and we at the Sanctuary are eternally grateful.  A bit confused (we'll explain), but grateful.

We just started listening to Dreamin' Man Live '92 and it takes about one strum from Young's acoustic guitar to reconfirm what we've known for a long, long time: There's nothing in this universe quite like him.  This is supposedly Vol. 12  in the Archives Performance Series, but we don't think there have been more than three others released so far.  We've heard -- and love -- Massey Hall 1971, which is Vol. 3.  And we're still waiting for Vol. 1.  See what we mean?

The best way to approach this project is to grab them when they come out and sort 'em out later. Which works for us, since that is pretty much the Sanctuary's official business plan -- and life plan, for that matter.

If you enjoyed Harvest Moon you shouldn't be disappointed with Dreamin' Man Live '92, which includes the same songs recorded in stripped down performances with guitar, harmonica, and the occasional piano and banjo. Sweet songs like "Dreamin' Man" and "Such a Woman" were built for an intimate acoustic stage.

We're just dreamers here at SSS, which is why this makes so much sense:

I'll always be a dreamin' man
I don't have to understand
I know it's alright...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Some kind of wonderful

They were one of the most commercially successful American bands of the Seventies. They sold more than $20 million in albums, and 11 of their LPs went gold or platinum.  They consistently packed arenas and set records for gate sales. They had two No. 1 singles and a handful of others that are instantly recognizable.

Why, when you mention Grand Funk Railroad, do people often react with Grand Huh?

The Sanctuary checked and there's no GFR in the archives. Shouldn't there be? I mean, we remember "We're an American Band" and "Some Kind of Wonderful" and neither of these songs nor the mention of them cause us to break out in hives.  Their music is often categorized as heavy metal, but after what followed  you'd have to agree it's not really that extreme.  If heavy sweat boogie were a genre we'd be talking today about the godfathers.

Grand Funk enjoyed this wild success between 1970-76 -- a great time for rock music -- despite being panned widely by critics and having their music ignored, at least in the early going, on radio. This clearly was your prototypical Band of the People that beat the odds down by turning the volume up. One sociological observer of Grand Funk's audience explained it this way in a Billboard publication: "They aren't looking for answers, they're looking for confirmation. This music is the possession of teenagers who want something of their own." Packed stadiums and surging record sales suggest they may have found what they were looking for.

The seeds for this discussion were sewn by a self-described flower child who makes no bones about her favorite band of that era. "None other than ... Grand Funk Railroad," she writes.  "And my favorite song by them is 'Some Kind of Wonderful.'  I used to play it until the album wore out. I had to replace the album with an 8 Track. ... OMG an 8 track ... too funny."

If you want to test drive Grand Funk with an 8 track we suggest you try EBay.  If you prefer a more recent format we've provided a link.   We're not saying it's wonderful, we're just saying it's some kinda...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

This one's strictly on the QT

How to celebrate Quentin Tarantino's 47th birthday... this is going to be fun!

We've already queued up the opening scene to Inglourious Basterds, which we'll be blasting through our Paradigm speakers. That should eliminate the need for wake-up coffee (and chase out any neighbors in the apartment below who might be Jews).

We've got Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction ready to go at the drop of a bloody ear. And speaking of ears, where is the fake ear we received for our purchase of the 10th Anniversary Special Limited Edition DVD of Reservoir Dogs? We'd love to drop that on the bar today at Walters and see Michelle's reaction.

It goes without saying we'll be tooling around today with the Dogs soundtrack (after all it's on PSSST board). If only we could rent a '74 Nova like Jules drove in Pulp Fiction). Know where we can find Big Apple cigarettes? We'd smoke 'em if we could find 'em. Or a Big Kahuna burger? Hold the fries.

Tarantino has so much fun with his films and soundtracks it would be a shame not to join him at least one day of the year. Inglourious? Naturally born. Insensitive? Damn tootin' (with a special wink to Vincent and Mia in Pulp Fiction). We read somewhere that a huge fan of "Stuck in the Middle" could no longer listen to the Stealers Wheel song after QT used it in the ear-cutting scene. Seriously?

That's the problem for people who decry the violence and profanity in Tarantino's films. They're taking him seriously.

We've always respected Barbara Walters, but she may have met her match in an interview during which she tried to get at the violence in Kill Bill. Recalled Tarantino: "She was asking me about the blood and stuff, and I said, 'Well, you know, that's a staple of Japanese cinema.' And then she came back, 'But this is America.' And I go, 'I don't make movies for America. I make movies for planet Earth.'"

Join me today, fellow Earthlings, for a 47-candle salute to Quentin Tarantino. And if you find a fake ear, bring it by Walters this afternoon and ask for Mr. Pink. We'll be in the back planning our next caper.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A man and his Leica

The Sanctuary acknowledges with great respect the passing of photographer Jim Marshall, whose images took us behind the stage, into the living spaces and along the side streets to show glimpses of famous musicians we otherwise never would have seen.

Many of Marshall's photos have become famous images pressed onto T-shirts and posters: Johnny Cash flipping the bird at San Quentin, Janis Joplin curled up on a couch with a bottle of Southern Comfort, and Bob Dylan following a rolling car tire down the deserted streets of New York City. (The Cash image appeared here on SSS late last year.)

It's quite possible that Marshall, with the publicity generated by his passing, will become more famous in death than in life. He certainly didn't seem interested in fame or notoriety, once telling a reporter: "When you see one of my photos of, say, Merle Haggard, I want you to think, 'What a great shot of Merle Haggard,' not 'What a great Jim Marshall photograph.' "

Which is why many people, after the mention of Jim Marshall's name, might first think of the former Minnesota Vikings iron man.

Marshall, the man behind the Leica, was found dead this week in a New York hotel room of an undisclosed cause. He was 74.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not just a little bit

Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T today: it's the Queen of Soul's birthday.

Aretha Franklin has been knocking us off our feet since her breakthrough single made it to No. 1 back in 1967. No offense to Otis Redding, who wrote the original lyrics to "Respect" and recorded it first. Aretha made it her anthem.

The signature "Sock it to me" line was hers, and the horns of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section were a sweet addition to Redding's sparse arrangement. But it was Franklin's big booming voice and sultry command that altered the dynamics of the song and demanded: You damn well better respect me.

And not just a little bit.

"That woman stole my song," Redding remarked later, but we bet he didn't complain to her face.

Rolling Stone ranks "Respect" No. 5 on its list of the Top 500 Songs of All Time. You can argue all day about that list but not many people are going to pick on that song's position. Even more significant is her ranking as the No. 1 singer of the rock era in the magazine's tabulation of musicians, producers, RS editors and music industry insiders.

Play some Aretha today. If you don't have any music readily available here's a link to the MP3 that'll bring it all home for you. Happy No. 68.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Idol's easy pickings

This American Idol competition is utter nonsense, but it's such an easy blog we can't resist. Ducks on the pond.

We have to say it's refreshing to see the judges rediscover brutal honesty as a feedback tool. Last night we heard comments like "terrible" and "corny" and "pointless" and "silly" and they were all pretty much tack on. At one point Ellen Degeneres, who is just plain nicer and more tactful than her judging comrades, told Paige Miles to look at the bright side: "You didn't fall down." Unfortunately Paige DID fall down; she'll be gone when the group is whittled to 10 Wednesday night unless Tim Urban beats her to the exit.

Here's how SSS handicaps the talent (or lack thereof -- this is a very ordinary group) after the latest round:

1. Crystal Bowersox, reaffirms top ranking by nailing "Me and Bobby McGee"
2. Big Mike Lynche, slides a bit with uninspired "When a Man Loves a Woman"

3. Casey James, if his voice matched his guitar playing he'd be a threat
4. Katie Stevens, would win if it were a beauty pageant (so she still could)
5. Lee Dewyze, nudges into sleeper role with "The Letter" (see Alex Chilton blog)

6. Aaron Kelly, pet squirrels and cute kids are hard to get rid of
7. Siobhan Magnus, should save that scream for Space Mountain
8. Didi Benami, must be a reason she chose "You're No Good"

9. Andrew Garcia, letting him go after "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"
10. Tim Urban, should've been given the gate by now
11. Paige Miles, we wish her the best

Who wants to be on that stupid tour anyway? Lacey Brown, who was knocked out of the competition last week, appeared on Letterman Monday night while this group was receiving pointers from Miley Cyrus. It ain't the end of the world; it is what it is: to date Idol contestants have generated 261 Billboard No. 1 songs.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A hopping good time

The Sanctuary is all about the simple pleasures in life. Give us a bottle of Miller Lite, a six string acoustic (must have all six) and a comfortable old couch and you'll never hear a peep from us. Well, except for the music that's coming out. But isn't that why we're all here?

Occasionally we do find the urge to step out. Out of the apartment, away from our comfort zone and into the maelstrom for a heaping helping of humanity. A bar stool. Live music. A guitar AND a mandolin. And the Miller Lite girls aren't going to be happy about this, but: a really special glass of ale.

We consummated all of the aforementioned on a memorable Saturday night in downtown Waukesha. This place -- home of the BoDeans, by the way -- is highly recommended, especially if Dublin O'Shea happens to be lighting it up at the Nice Ash. A bachelorette party came whirling through the place and the band erupted into the liveliest version of "Ball and Chain" you might ever hear. Women were squealing, kilts were flying and in the middle of it all we discovered one of the yummiest and hoppiest beers we've run across.

Ladies and gentlemen, coming to you through the Nice Ash tap lines from the Three Floyds Brewery in Muncie, Indiana ... Alpha King! A deep orange American Pale Ale and a hop lover's cult beer (according to both the brew house's website and the guy sitting on the next bar stool who happened to be from Indiana).

Cult beer, cult band and a friendly bustling downtown where walking is your most desirable option. If you hit it just right you're in for a fine time.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The real McCoy?

We recently referenced a list of rock 'n' roll's greatest bass players. How about the greatest bass player you never heard of?

Maybe you knew of this cat. You'll certainly remember his first band and the No. 1 song they enjoyed in 1965. And you know the other musicians he played with: Edgar Winter, Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix. That's pretty good company. There may have been others.

But the name Randy Jo Hobbs doesn't show up on that list of the 100 greatest bass players, and information about him is pretty sketchy. We know he was born on this day in 1948 in Winchester, Indiana, and he died too young, at 44, on August 5, 1993. They found him in a hotel room in Dayton, Ohio. There's not much in between, except this highlight:

He was a 16-year-old bass player in the McCoys when "Hang On Sloopy" topped the charts. That classic is much more than the official rock song of the state of Ohio and its primary college institution. It's one of those instantly recognizable good vibe songs that cause a dance to break out wherever and whenever it's heard.

That's about all we have on Hobbs. Maybe he was a great one, maybe not. We'd sure like to know more, so if you have something please share it here at the Sanctuary.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Going for Baroque

Today we celebrate the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach. We in the Sanctuary have been big fans since his days fronting the Lovin' Spoonful at Woodstock. Wait, that was JOHN Sebastian. No Bach (1685-1750).

OK, but the Baroque composer's work is certainly not new to rock 'n' roll, which has threads of every music known to man running through it. We can't be certain, but we think Bach would have been satisfied with this electrifying movement from the Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Prepare to be amazed.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gone but not forgotten

Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash. Yes, and yes.

Did you notice how the new Hendrix album came out of the gates? It entered the Billboard chart at No. 4 with 95,000 copies sold (17,000 digitally) and made some posthumous history in the process. No artist has had an album in the Top 5 this many years -- nearly 40 -- after his death. (The previous record of 26 years was held by Elvis.)

This happened just a week after Cash's American VI: Ain't No Grave debuted at No. 3.

Nice to know that even in death two legends can reaffirm their star power against the likes of, well, here's the week's Top 10:

1. Ludacris, Battle Of The Sexes
2. Gorillaz, Plastic Beach
3. Lady Antebellum, Need You Now
4. Jimi Hendrix, Valleys Of Neptune
5. Gary Allan, Get Off On The Pain
6. Sade, Soldier Of Love
7. Broken Bells, Broken Bells
8. Lady Gaga, The Fame
9. Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D
10. Blake Shelton, Hillbilly Bone

Friday, March 19, 2010

Not a toy or a puppet on a string

Few artists we can think of launched careers with the gritty promise of:

Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane
Ain't got time to take a fast train
Lonely days are gone, I'm a-goin' home
My baby just wrote me a letter

That was the voice of Alex Chilton, who was only 16 in 1967 when "The Letter" became the No. 1 song in America for the Box Tops. We had never heard anything like it at the time, and we perked up in a hurry.

The Box Tops had a sound and a beat -- blue-eyed soul pop delivered straight out of Memphis --that was likeable, even seductive. "Cry Like a Baby" made it to No. 2 a year later and we knew: These are no One Hit Wonders:

I know now that you're not a plaything
Not a toy or a puppet on a string
Today we passed on the street
And you just walked on by
My heart just fell to my feet
And once again I began to cry ...

And yet there was not much more in terms of commercially successful output from the Box Tops. "Neon Rainbow," "Choo Choo Train" and "Soul Deep" were probably appreciated more years later as cult favorites. Producer Dan Penn often receives credit for the sound and the success of the band, but those who followed the career of Chilton would want to make a case for his contributions, which were not insignificant.

You can't say success spoiled Chilton; it only inspired him to find his true groove. To do that he would later front Big Star, a project that became the rage of the underground but never really gurgled into the mainstream. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock describes Big Star as "Beatles-style melody, Who-like punch and Byrdsy harmonies."

We regret we can find no no Big Star in the Sanctuary library, but it's never too late to fix a fault. Alex Chilton has died at 59 of an apparent heart attack and it's time to show some overdue respect.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dusting off a damp one

Lord I believe it's rainin' all over the world...

"Rainy Night in Georgia" is a chestnut that never wears out its lonely welcome. It's been covered by many singers, including Ray Charles, Otis Rush and even Rod Stewart, but the version by Brook Benton would be hard to top. (We've been told a duet by Sam Moore and Conway Twitty might challenge that notion, but until it plays at the Sanctuary we have our doubts.)

Benton's song was released in 1970 and went gold on this date. Having spent about eight years worth of nights in Georgia I can attest there are some rainy ones, some more lonely than others. But hardly a one of them gets by without this song popping into your head.

What's "Rainy Night" have in common with the swamp boogie classic "Polk Salad Annie"? Both were written by Tony Joe White. Now that's versatility for you...

Idol Chatter: There was quite a hubbub here in Milwaukee over home boy Danny Gokey's debut album release, and now we know why: My Best Days sold more than 65,000 copies, the highest first-week total by a male country artist in 18 years. American Idol's No. 3 finisher from Season Eight was sitting No. 3 on the Billboard country albums chart, proving you don't have to win to win. ... Lacey Brown's elimination Wednesday night reduces this year's field to 11. They could just as well have axed Tim Urban and Paige Miles, who completed the Bottom Three. ...

Break out some candles: It's not a crappy Birthday Band for March 18, if you can get by with vocals and percussion:
Charley Pride (1938): Singer, Grand Ole Opry
Wilson Pickett (1941-2006): Singer, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
B.J. Wilson (1947): Drummer, Procul Harum
John Hartman (1950): Drummer, Doobie Brothers

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Crystal clear persuasion

The fix is in.

You don't need to be a talent scout or an American Idol devotee to know what's going on here. What you have at this juncture of the season is a Janis Joplin, in the persona and voice of the immensely talented Crystal Bowersox, and 11 pretenders. (That's Bowersox on the left and Pearl on the right.)

Yet last night the judges lavished praise on mediocre performance after mediocre performance, saving some of their best criticism for Bowersox's finale. Her cover of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" was clearly the best effort of the evening. But getting too far in front of the pack is apparently not good business for Idol.

Hey, it's just fun and games. We know that. Well, except for lives and careers that hang in the balance. The judges don't know any more than the rest of us, and their comments -- however skewed -- probably have nothing to do with the outcome. The lion's share of the votes cast are texted with lightning speed by teens and preteens, god bless 'em. They're probably more honest with their feelings than the judges.

But we're guessing that cute faces and sexy appearances also figure into their decison making process, and that's where Crystal Bowersox could eventualy run into trouble. She's cute, but not boy cute like several of the male contestants. And she's not a pixie or a knockout like Siobhan Magnus, whom judges decided to give the edge last night for her stab at "Paint It Black."

The Sanctuary, a casual bystander here, still likes Bowersox and, among the guys, St. Pete's Big Mike Lynche. But there are too many pretty faces remaining, and the judges for their part are getting just plain dopey.

Interestingly, an early readers poll last night at -- home paper/website for Florida contestant Paige Miles -- had Bowersox first, Miles second and Big Mike third. But chillions of votes will be cast before this is decided.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ballad of a thin blog

This would be a good time to share your ballad with the rest of the world. There's something about March and ballads. Well, except for Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man," which was recorded on Aug. 2, 1965 for his Highway 61 Revisted album.

People are still trying to figure out what Dylan was singing about on that track. We at the Sanctuary hold the album in high esteem, and we certainly don't lose sleep over the lyrics to "Thin Man." On the contrary, we've been known to fall asleep with our Koss headphones listening to ...

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say "Who is that man?"
You try so hard
But you don't understand
Just what you'll say
When you get home

It's definitely one of the great songs with "ballad" in the title. The other ones that come to mind all hit the big time in March of their respective years. March 16, to be exact -- information you just can't find anywhere but in the mind-expanding halls of the Sanctuary. Brace yourself for some chilling facts:

With silver wings upon his chest, Barry Sadler and "Ballad of the Green Beret" were America's best on this day in 1966.

Three years prior, Flatt & Scruggs struck crude -- oil that is, black gold, Texas tea -- when "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" reached No. 1 on the country chart.

And on this day in 1955 Bill Hayes became king of the wild frontier with "The Ballad of Davy Crockett."

Spooky. All we can do is reference lyrics to "Ballad of a Thin Man" and leave you to your own devices:

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Ides of March are calling

This day turns out special performers, quite possibly the most talented and eclectic group we've seen since the Sanctuary began assembling its entertaining but largely ignored Birth Bands. Even if you don't subscribe to the celestial order of things you might feel the hair on your arms rise after reading this list. Or it could just be the music of Twisted Sister.

Seriously, besides the impressive and diverse catalog of music represented, members of today's band also had time to marry Betty Grable, become a member of the Grand Ole Opry and act in The Badge of Marshall Brennan, smoke some serious weed with Jerry Garcia, compose soundtracks for more than 20 films, and provide the voice of the main villain in Playstation 2. And so, so much more. Put 'em together and you have the Ides of March. Wait -- that band name has already been taken.

Harry James (1916-83): Trumpeter/bandleader
Sweet Georgia Brown, Two O’clock Jump, You Made Me Love You, Music Makers, Strictly Instrumental, I’ll Get By

Carl Smith (1927-2010): Country singer
Let’s Live a Little, Loose Talk, Trademark, Satisfaction Guaranteed

Phil Lesh (1940): Bass, Grateful Dead
St. Stephen, China Cat Sunflower, Dark Star, Uncle John’s Band, New Speedway Boogie, Truckin’, Box of Rain, Alabama Gateway

Mike Love (1941): Singer, Beach Boys
Surfin' USA, Little Duece Coupe, Surfer Girl, I Get Around, Help Me Rhonda, Good Vibrations, California Girls

David Costell (1944): Bass, Gary Lewis & The Playboys
This Diamond Ring, Count Me In, Everybody Loves a Clown

Sly Stone (1944): Frontman, Sly & The Family Stone
Dance to the Music, Everyday People, Hot Fun in the Summertime, Thank You, Family Affair

Howard Scott (1946): Guitar/vocals, War
All Day Music, The World is a Ghetto, Why Can’t We be Friends?

Ry Cooder (1947): Songwriter/string virtuoso
Soundtracks: Long Riders, Southern Comfort, Paris Texas, Cocktail, Steel Magnolias

Dee Snider (1955): Frontman, Twisted Sister
We’re Not Gonna Take It, Under the Blade, Day of the Rocker

Sunday, March 14, 2010

PSSST: Anybody for Passionate Kisses?

A lot of people discovered the music of Lucinda Williams through other artists, and there's no shame in that. I might be the only person who ever had a problem, not that it was really a problem. Forgive me for telling an old story...

Back in the mid-Nineties my niece was singing in the Bear Creek Band, a country-rock group that played some memorable backroad haunts in west central Wisconsin and beyond. And when she sang "Passionate Kisses" she always credited Mary Chapin Carpenter, the singer who made it famous. In my mind the songwriter, Lucinda Williams, had already become "famous." Now the rednecks who were hootin' and hollerin' and tearing up the dance floor wouldn't have known, but...

It took only Lucinda's 1988 self-titled album (on which "Passionate Kisses" appears) and a memorable performance in an oversized shoe known as the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis to elevate her to legendary status. That's going on 32 years ago, and when you consider she had her 30th Anniversary Tour just last fall, well, there's some deep history.

They flew her in from L.A. for the Entry show that night and hired local sidemen to accompany her. And she rocked. I don't remember who might have been playing the adjacent First Avenue stage, but I'm thinking they missed the First Coming of Lucinda Williams.

This being Lucinda Weekend, declared only yesterday at the Santuary, it's long past time we put something of hers on the big board. Why not make it that debut album (not counting her early Folkways recordings), which is loaded with great music. There are bonus tracks on the more recent CD. Friends, we offer PSSST (Personal Six String Sanctuary Tout) No. 18:

Is it too much to demand
I want a full house and a rock and roll band
Pens that won't run out of ink
And cool quiet and time to think
Shouldn't I have this
Shouldn't I have this
Shouldn't I have all of this, and ...

Those requests seem more than reasonable, especially after Googling "Passionate Kisses lyrics" and having Mary Chapin Carpenter's name appear.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

She took my Joy; I want it back

Today's confession: I think about Lucinda Williams every day. At least her song "Joy" from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which many people consider her "breakout" album. You might think of her too if you're scrubbing with my bar of soap.

I actually had a pre-scrub thought this morning and immediately went to her website, thinking: a sonic message is tipping me off to a tour date. Maybe she's in the area this weekend. No such luck. Here's what is posted:

No Shows Are Currently Scheduled

And don't expect one any time soon. Last fall, in the process of finding a new job, relocating to Milwaukee and generally rearranging my life, I missed her tour. The 30th Anniversary Tour.

I dug through through my CDs and, surprisingly, found her most recent album Little Honey. It's playing now. Lucinda has a terrific catalog of music and this album keeps moving toward the top with every listen. It's good enough to declare this Lucinda Weekend. Throw something on if you can find it. I've gotta go scrub up for the day ahead...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Light 'em if you got 'em

We've got the goods for you today: drums, keyboard, bass, guitar and one of the finest vocal blends ever assembled for a Birthday Band. Our lineup of March 12 babies is so stellar that we left off Liza Minnelli (this ain't no Cabaret!) and Marlon Jackson. We were wary of including a member of Iron Maiden but decided we could use a bass player.

Did you know that Al Jarreau has won seven Grammys, two more than James Taylor? We can't decide which of Smooth Al's feats is more impressive: winning in three different genres (jazz, pop, R&B) or four different decades. How about Iron Maiden releasing 30 albums? That's a lot of scrap metal.

Special props to Bill Payne for writing one of our favorite Little Feat songs "Oh Atlanta." We gotta get back to youuuuuuu...

Lew Dewitt (1938-90): Vocals, Statler Brothers
Al Jarreau (1940): Vocals
James Taylor (1948): Guitar, vocals
Mike Gibbins (1949-2005): Drums, Badfinger
Bill Payne (1947): Keyboards, Little Feat
Steve Harris (1957): Bass, Iron Maiden

Flowers on the Wall
Bed of Roses
Oh Atlanta
Come and Get It
No Matter What
Without You
You've Got a Friend
How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)
Fire and Rain
Breakin' Away
We're In This Love Together

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sanctuary goes Idol

We won't call it nonsense because so many people still watch American Idol. We tuned in the last two nights because:

1) my TV isn't picking up the conference basketball tournaments
2) curious about the dynamics with Ellen Degeneres as a judge
3) a responsibility to review musical talent on horizon
4) couldn't find reruns of Ted Mack Amateur Hour
5) scraping bottom for quick blog

OK, so here's what we learned, in two thoughtful minutes: We can officially declare Ray Lamontagne mainstream now that an Idol contestant has performed "Trouble." ... Simon is being very nice, maybe too nice, in his final season. ... Ellen fits in nicely, but was that really the reason to replace Paula Abdul with her? She actually went on stage and hugged a contestant last night!!! Where's our drunken sailor or wise cracker to keep things loose? (We suppose Betty White is too old for this audience, but she would have been our pick.) ... They whittle it down to the final 12 tonight, but we can do way better than that after seeing each singer just once.

Your finalists will be: Crystal Bowersox and Michael Lynche. Now don't forget to tell everyone you read it here first...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rabbitt food for country's Hall

For four weeks in 1981 two different country performers crossed over into mainstream and ruled the Billboard pop chart, supplanting Kool and the Gang and making REO Speedwagon wait in line for top billing.

The first artist was no surprise at all. Dolly Parton, who has been in the Country Music Hall of Fame since 1999, wrote and sang the title song to the movie "9 to 5" and more than held her own acting in the company of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

The second was the Brooklyn born and Jersey reared Eddie Rabbitt, who today receives a closer look for his significant singing and songwriting contributions and his curious absence from the Hall of Fame. (He died of lung cancer in 1998 at age 56.)

Anybody who was paying attention at all to country music at that time would remember Rabbitt as a popular and successful star. There was a period between 1978-83 when 13 of Rabbitt's 15 charted songs made it to No. 1 on the country chart. That's an impressive run. Two of those were from movies, giving him wider recognition: the title song from "Every Which Way But Loose" and "Drivin' My Life Away" from Roadie.

It's even more impressive when you stack him up against some legends: Rabbitt had more No. 1 singles (20) than Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings or Loretta Lynn. He also wrote Elvis Presley's "Kentucky Rain" and Ronnie Milsap's "Pure Love." The song that crossed over to No. 1 at this time in 1981 was "I Love a Rainy Night," which followed "Drivin' My Life Away" and gave him back-to-back gold records.

This year the Hall of Fame adds singers Jimmy Dean, Ferlin Husky and Don Williams and producer Billy Sherrill, all of whom are deserving. Now the Sanctuary hasn't been keeping close tabs, but scanning the list of inductees we can't find Eddie Rabbitt's name anywhere. How is that possible?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It takes a Village

People will tell you that New York City has always been the place. And if they happen to mention 1961, who can argue?

That was the year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs for the New York Yankees, Bob Dylan blew into Greenwich Village from Minnesota, and a venerable jazz club hosted two of the most remarkable live performances ever pressed on vinyl.

Everybody knew about the Yankees and Maris' assault on Babe Ruth's cherished record. Nobody had heard of Dylan, but that would quickly change once he set up shop at Gerde's Folk City in the Village. The jazz scene? Do names like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and Sonny Rollins mean anything?

They didn't mean anything to a country boy in 1961. Not until many years later was there appreciation for artists like Coltrane, Davis, Duke Ellington and Bill Evans, and recognition of standards like "Take the A Train," "Moon Indigo" and "Take Five." Jazz comes to many of us late, but thank heavens it comes.

I only knew of the Village Vanguard -- a faraway and almost mythical place -- from the albums I'd heard, and two of the great ones were recorded in that fabled room within a five-month stretch of '61. Follow this timeline:

April 11: Bob Dylan plays his first gig at Gerdy's.
June 25: Bill Evans records his classic Sunday at the Village Vanguard.
Sept. 29: Robert Shelton 'discovers' Dylan in a New York Times review.
Oct. 1: Roger Maris eclipses the Babe's record at Yankee Stadium.
Nov. 1-5: John Coltrane records Live at the Village Vanguard.

And sometime in early October the Yankees won three straight in Cincinnati to bring another World Series championship home to the Bronx. Certainly there was much more happening in NYC during that period, both good and bad, but how's that for a tick-tock of historic events?

Forty-nine years later Gerdy's and the old Yankee Stadium are long gone, but the Village Vanguard remains one of the city's favorite jazz venues. It recently celebrated its 75th anniversary in the same basement at 178 7th Avenue South. First-time visitors at last Saturday's late show would have seen the remarkable drummer Al Foster and his quartet in rare form and concluded, quite correctly, that the old joint hasn't lost any steam. Here's what Davis once said about Foster, whom he hired on the spot after seeing him for the first time:

"He knocked me out 'cause he had such a groove, and he would just clay it right in there. That was the kind of thing I was looking for. Al could set it up for everybody else to play off and keep the groove going forever, for what I wanted in a drummer - Al Foster had it all."

He still does. So, too, does the cozy basement club where cool cats swing and legends grow larger.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Knocking on our back door

If anybody could write a song about New York City it was Harry Nilsson. He was born right there in Brooklyn in 1941. Frank Sinatra, he could SING about it, but he was born across the river in Hoboken. A Jersey boy.

Nilsson's song, which had to be written by someone who lived and breathed the air of NYC, is one that can really get stuck in your head if you spend any time walking these streets.

I guess the Lord must be in New York City...

Walking along West 72nd Street past the Dakota, where Nilsson's good friend John Lennon was shot to death. Crossing the street into Central Park, where memories and reminders of Lennon are everywhere: the Imagine tiles, and Strawberry Fields -- where the sanctity is so well preserved you can't bring a guitar here to strum it. Some people surely would. Following the path that leads to Tavern on the Green, only to remember that, sadly, it is now shuttered. Walking the streets of New York City, thirsty and thinking...

Because Nilsson wasn't into commercialism -- and certainly because his early commercial success allowed him to choose his musical path -- he veered off into directions that weren't easy to follow. Which is why he is probably remembered more for his early success than anything he did later. He did become a big anti-gun activist after Lennon's death, but how many people remember that?

No, it was this song rolling around in my head and a couple of others like "Everybody's Talkin'" and "Without You" that define Nilsson the artist, who died way too young in 1994 at age 52. He could've been a contender, and I guess maybe he was...

I say goodbye to all my sorrows
And by tomorrow I'll be on my way
I guess the lord must be in New York City

I'm so tired of getting nowhere
Seein' my prayers going unanswered
I guess the lord must be in New York City

Well here I am Lord
Knocking on your back door
Ain't it wonderful to be
Where I've always wanted to be
For the first time I'll be free
In New York City

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The words of a Prophet

How many defining events do we miss because we refuse to get our tired old asses out the door?

Answer: too many!

You can excuse a lot of that delinquency, but there is no excuse -- outside of no tickets available -- for missing a music show. If you're thinking about going, just go. Don't worry about the traffic, the parking, the money or your fragile state of mind. Live music can save you, especially the music you know you need to hear live. But only if you show up.

Here's how easy it was for a country boy visiting NYC to get to a club Friday night in Brooklyn to see a fabulous band: Take the 1 Train downtown to 72nd Street, transfer to the A train (or was it the B?) and enjoy the 30-minute subway ride to Bergen Street. Get off there, walk a block down Bergen, hang a left on Fifth Avenue and walk five more blocks through a funky Brooklyn retail district. And there, on your left, is the Southpaw, one of the city's premiere rock music venues.

If a country boy can pull this off, you can do it anywhere. Now here's your opportunity to test the theory: Chuck Prophet is on tour in support of his fabulous new CD "Let Freedom Ring." Go see the band, even if you have to change trains. The clip above is the opener from a Manchester Academy show last fall and is a pretty good taste of what you'll enjoy. He opened with "Sonny Liston's Blues" again last night at the Southpaw and proceeded to put the pedal to the metal.

Here are the remaining dates on Prophet's American tour (after which he's off to Norway, Spain, Germany, the UK and other worldly venues):

March 6, Iota Club & Cafe, Arlington, VA
March 7, Sellersville Theatre, Sellersville, PA
March 9, Grey Eagle, Ashville, NC
March 10, The Handlebar, Greenville, SC
March 11, The Star Bar, Atlanta, GA
March 12, Will's Pub, Orlando, FL
March 13, Skipper's Smokehouse, Tampa, FL
March 14, Jack Rabbits, Jacksonville, FL
March 16, Magnolia Cafe, St. Francisville, LA
March 17, Under the Volcano, Houston, TX
March 19, Momo's, Austin, TX
March 20, Jovita's, Austin, TX
March 20, Yard Dog Gallery, Austin, TX
April 2, Soiled Dove, Denver, CO
April 3, Main Street Station, Breckenridge, CO

There. We've done everything outside of purchasing your tickets for you. Go see a show.

Friday, March 5, 2010

It was too late for the theatre

So this guy walks into a bar in New York City.

He's wearing a Packers jacket, so the bartender asks: "Are you from Wisconsin?"

The guy nods. "You?"

"My girlfriend is from Little Chute."

That's not a joke. That's a small world. Even here on the Upper West Side, where you can see the Hudson River from your 11th floor hotel window and get the best Buffalo wings in the city just across the street at Blondie's. Or so claims the bartender.

(Question: Can you believe a guy who says his girlfriend is from Little Chute? Answer: Only if it sounds like he's bragging.)

One thing the bartender doesn't need to brag about is the sound system at Blondie's. The town that never sleeps doesn't get that reputation turning down the sound in the wee hours. No sir...

I've been drivin' all night, my hand's wet on the wheel
There's a voice in my head that drives my heel
It's my baby callin', says I need you here
And it's half past four and I'm shifting gear

"Radar Love" was ahead of its time. Or maybe it just set hard rock's wheels into overdrive. The other day we mentioned Van Halen's metal classic "Jump," which came out in 1984. This one was pulsing over the FM airwaves 11 years earlier, compliments of Golden Earring. Who ever thought the Dutch could rock like this?

It blew through Blondie's last night like a red-lining Chevelle Super Sport on jet fuel. For the safety of patrons they should install seat belts on the bar stools here.

NYC rocks. Wait'll we get to the live stuff...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A little more bass, please

Here are rock's best bass players, snipped from the list of the Top 100 at

1. James Jamerson, Funk Brothers, session player
2. John Entwistle, The Who
3. Larry Graham, Sly & The Family Stone
4. Chris Squire, Yes
5. Jack Bruce, Cream
6. Tony Levin, King Crimson, session player
7. Geddy Lee, Rush
8. Paul McCartney, The Beatles
9. Louis Johnson, Brothers Johnson, session man
10. Anthony Jackson, session man

Observations: We think it's wonderful that somebody actually knows the names of 100 rock bass players. They don't get nearly the attention and respect they deserve. We certainly hope no fights broke out over these rankings.

Growing up in my small hometown there was a pretty decent local band, The Loney Ones, that was trying to get gigs at bars and venues in surrounding cities. They were in La Crosse, I believe, for an audition and their bass player couldn't make it. (He might have been working on the farm.) So they asked a younger kid from town to stand in. Now this kid didn't know a bass guitar from a broomstick. They said don't worry, we'll have the amp on zero. Just get up there and fake it. And he faked it pretty good, because they got the gig.

Moral of the story? You, too, can be a rock 'n' roll bass player. Just make sure the sound is turned down.

Oh, and happy birthday to Chris Squire, who turns 62 today. We went through our Yes phase, a blissful period during which every other band's output sounded inferior by comparision. So we're certain we appreciated his contributions at much higher decibel levels; unfortunately we can't remember any details.

Bass players, they get little respect.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The day I fell for Van Halen

There used to be a bar called Ole's in Maiden Rock, near Lake Pepin. I'm not sure it's still there. Probably is, and I'll find out one day soon. They had the best -- the only -- buffalo burgers at the time. And the juke box was always hopping. It was one of those places you just couldn't drive past. Had to stop.

And so there I was one summer afternoon, striking up a conversation over a beer with Pam the bartender. We got to talking and the conversation turned to Maiden Rock and how it got its name. It was a story Pam had obviously told before.

"There was this Indian maiden, and she was up on that cliff over there," Pam said, nodding toward the bluffs of the Mississippi River. "And there was a young buck with her, and he was wanting to have his way with her, if you know I mean."

I nodded affirmatively. This was easy so far.

"Well, being a young maiden and all -- she was very young, not even 16 at the time -- she wasn't going to have any of that," Pam continued. "Listen, there is honor among maidens. I know, I used to be one, but I didn't last as long as her!" Pam let out a big laugh.

"So anyway, she kept backing away from him, and as she kept walking back she got closer and closer to the edge of the cliff."

I remember taking a gulp of my tap beer at that very moment.

"There she was, right on the precipice, you know? It was either gonna be his way or the highway."

Pam paused and took a hit from her cigarette.

"Well, they didn't name the highway after her," I said. "So they did it right there on the rock?"

"No!" exclaimed Pam. "She was a maiden -- pure as the driven snow. Maidens didn't do that shit!"

"So it was the highway?" I asked.

"Right in front there, right where you parked," Pam said, pointing through the picture window at my truck. "Of course there wasn't a highway coming through here at the time. She had been up there on that rock for quite awhile, looking at that hungry buck, then looking over the edge of the cliff, trying to decide. That girl was in deep shit! And finally the buck, who was clearly frustrated that he wasn't having his way, finally he said: 'Go ahead and jump you dumb bitch!' And she did! That poor maiden girl jumped!"

And I swear to you this happened next. The juke box, which had been silent while Pam was telling her story, suddenly came to life. At first I didn't even notice the rolling synthesizer sound blaring through the speakers. I began to listen about the time a voice -- a scream, really -- yelled a familiar phrase.

"Go ahead and jump!"

It was David Lee Roth. Van Halen. "Jump."

I looked over at Pam, who was smiling back at me.

POSTSCRIPT: Even if you have no time for heavy metal acts like Van Halen you have to concede that "Jump" was a monster hit, one of those songs capable of defining a musical era. It turned out to be the group's only No. 1 single, and it was parked there on this day in the Orwellian year of 1984.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

(Almost) saved by a twangy guitar

At least the music rocked.

Did you watch the New Old Jay Leno last night? I was watching, curious as the rest of you who tuned in. (It doesn't take nearly the commitment or staying power living on Central Time.) And it provided the best evidence yet to support the Sanctuary's belief that the music -- at least if it's good -- needs to come out sooner. Last night it could've saved the show. Well, maybe not save it ...

Jay needs to learn how to shred a script the way Brad Paisley shreds a guitar. He had two weeks to write his own jokes and skits, or at least decide which ones are funny and stick with those. And maybe they should start stocking some booze and mixers in the NBC Commissary. Not even Jamie Foxx could get that limp crowd going.

It took Paisley's final flourish on "American Saturday Night" to really get the audience going, and by then the show was over. Man that guy can play. I'm pretty sure he broke at least one string during his sizzling finale.

What do you think? Give Paisley the monologue and let his Telecaster do the talking? I'd watch that every night.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Never met a ballad he couldn't nail

We're stuck in a warm country current and it's taking us away...

I miss Don Williams. What made me think of him was reading that his song "Lord I Hope This Day is Good" (later covered by Lee Ann Womack) was roosting pretty on this date back in 1981.

Mentioning him today won't hardly cause a ripple, even though he is a new member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The truth is, Williams was such a low-key performer that lots of folks never noticed him when he was turning out hits without the hell-raising bluster of Waylon Jennings or Merle Haggard. And he did a pretty good job of that, scoring an impressive 17 No. 1s during his career. All but four of his 46 charted songs made the top 10.

Two years before Eric Clapton recorded "Tulsa Time" Williams had a No. 1 tune with the song, which was written by his guitarist Danny Flowers. The others you'd have a chance of remembering even if you didn't hop that country train are "If I Needed You," a sweet duet with Emmylou Harris, "I Believe in You" and "Good Ole Boys Like Me." That last one, written by tunesmith Bob McDill, is one of our favorites at the Sanctuary.

Williams, who was known as the Gentle Giant, essentially retired in 2006. You can still buy CDs, DVDS, coffee mugs and fridge magnets at his website, and for nothing you can read our thought of the day:

Lord I hope this day is good
I'm feelin' empty and misunderstood
I should be thankful Lord, I know I should
But Lord I hope this day is good