Monday, May 30, 2011

Benny from heaven

Good thing we have a glass of Memorial Day wine left because we almost forgot to raise a toast today to the King of Swing.  Benny Goodman, who brought jazz into our living room and taught us to appreciate the clarinet, was born on this day in 1909.

Check out today's Birthday Band:

Benny Goodman (1909-86): Bandleader, clarinet
Stompin’ at the Savoy, St. Louis Blues, One O’Clock Jump

Pee Wee Erwin (1913-1981): Trumpet, Tommy Dorsey Band

Lenny Davidson (1944): Guitar, Dave Clark Five
Glad All Over, Bits and Pieces, Over and Over, Because

(Nicky) Topper Headon (1955): Drums, the Clash
White Man, London Calling, Rock the Casbah

 Wynonna Judd (1964): Country singer
Mama He’s Crazy, Why Not Me, Grandpa (Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Add a candle for Mike Porcaro

Mike in the middle: Playing bass for the Porcaro brothers.
By Al Tays

It's time to wish a happy birthday to Mike Porcaro, the middle of the three multi-talented Porcaro brothers -- Jeff, Mike and Steve.

Mike, who turns 56 today, was the longtime bass player for Toto, until he left the band in 2007 because of increasing numbness in his fingers. Turned out, tragically, that he had ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). The band continues to tour for his benefit.

The Sanctuary goes to seed
on Sundays when Al Tays
and Pumpkin hold court.
The Porcaros, sons of a Los Angeles session percussionist, are a fascinating family, all of them having been inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame. Oldest brother Jeff, who was characterized by Allmusic as "arguably the most highly regarded studio drummer in rock from the mid-'70s to the early '90s", died in 1992 at age 38 after spraying insecticide in his yard. The L.A. County Coroners office listed his cause of death to be a heart attack caused by hardening of the arteries. Youngest brother Steve, a keyboard player, was a founding member of Toto who left in 1986 to pursue songwriting and composing.

Here's Mike talking about growing up in a musically talented family:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Greatest hits of the rock era?

We owe a debt of gratitude to Dick Clark,
aka America's oldest teenager, but wish he
would have consulted us regarding the
Greatest Hits of the Rock Era.
Even if they had been hamstrung by some really goofy, restrictive rules, even then we don't know how they could have decided on the songs they chose as the Greatest Hits of the Rock Era. Crazy rules like:

-- Must pick one song each from the 50s, 60s and 80s.
-- One song must be by a black artist.
-- One song must be by a duo.

Even with rules like that we don't think it would have been possible to settle on these three songs:

Rock Around the Clock, Bill Haley
Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon & Garfunkel
All Night Long, Lionel Richie

Yet those were the Chosen Three on this day in 1986 during Dick Clark's America Picks the No. 1 Songs. We don't suppose it's any real surprise that American Bandstand, which Clark had hosted since 1957, was canceled not long after. VH1 and music videos, after all, had became all the rage.
We do, however, miss learning the steps to dances like the Watusi and Frug, and watching our favorite artists lip-synch their hits.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A birthday Nod to Bob

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

We never really HEARD these words until Lucy Kaplansky sang them.  That's the way it can go with the great works of the poet Bob Dylan. Interpretations of his music are often refreshing and occasionally illuminating. Not to suggest that anybody tops Dylan while performing his words and music, but there have been some truly outstanding covers that leave their own lasting imprints.

Two obvious ones are "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds and "All Along the Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix -- which Dylan has said he was overwhelmed by. It's a good time to mention that previously here at the Sanctuary we touted Jimmy LaFave's brilliant live version of "You're a Big Girl Now."

And now today, on the occasion of Dylan's 70th birthday, we are delighted to have another album of Dylan songs performed by other artists as tributes to the man and his musical genious.  Red House Records has released A Nod to Bob 2, which includes Kaplansky's tender turn on "Every Grain of Sand," and LaFave -- perhaps the finest interpreter of Dylan's music -- doing a cool number on "Not Dark Yet." The truest reading among the 16 offerings is delivered by the Pines on "What Good Am I," which will make you think Dylan is chiming in when it's really the obedient voice of Benson Ramsey.

Here's the complete lineup:

1. What Good Am I, the Pines
2. Just Like a Woman, John Gorka
3. Mama, Let Me Lay It On You, Hot Tuna
4. Every Grain of Sand, Lucy Kaplansky
5. Lay Down Your Weary Tune, Storyhill
6. Ther Days of Forty-Nine, Spider John Koerner
7. Dirt Road Blues, Pieta Brown
8. Buckets of Rain, Danny Schmidt
9. House of the Rising Sun, Guy Davis
10. Jokerman, Eliza Gilkyson
11. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, Cliff Eberhardt
12. It Takes a Lot of Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, Ray Bonneville
13. Born in Time, Meg Hutchinson
14. Not Dark Yet, Jimmy LaFave
15. Mozambique, Peter Ostroushko
16. Walkin' Down the Line, Robin & Linda Williams

A Nod to Bob, Red House's original birthday tribute to Dylan, became one of our favorite albums of 2001. After just a few listens the new installment appears to be on a similar track.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Señor guitar slinger

By Al Tays

Look for Al Tays
to ruffle just the
right feathers on
Sundays at the Sanctuary.
We come today to sing the praises of Carlos Santana. Not a new concept, certainly, but in noting that Santana's "Maria Maria" was in the midst of a 10-week run at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 on this date in 2000, I am reminded that Santana, who has entertained us all since the 1960s, helped ease the pain of what this hopelessly-stuck-in-the-'70s fossil considered an especially barren time in contemporary music.

First, there was "Smooth," Santana's monster hit (with Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty) off the Supernatural album. How monster was "Smooth"? Well, it spent 12 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of 1999, making it the last No. 1 song of the 20th century and, incredibly, Santana's first No. 1 hit.

"Maria Maria," off the same album, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on April 8, 2000, and stayed there for 10 weeks. Recorded with vocals from the R&B duo The Product G&B, "Maria Maria" is evocative of "West Side Story," which is always a good thing. The Latin beat is infectious, but it's Santana's guitar playing -- on both an Alavarez Yairi classical acoustic and his signature PRS electric -- that puts the song over the top.

But enough blah blah blah. Have a listen, and join me in thanking the guitar gods for the gift of Señor Santana.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A sentimental journey

Good morning, and Happy Judgment Day.

It's supposed to end for us today, the world as we know it. According to one broadcast evangelist who has been wrong before, the destruction will begin with earthquakes that ravage our planet and make listening to music with a turntable virtually impossible. There may be time, however, to grab a few favorite CDs.

And that brings us to today's question: What would (will) be your doomsday listening choice? Something topical like Skeeter Davis' "End of the World" or R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)"?  Or maybe you'll just decide to go up in flames with a favorite artist (in which case we'd strongly consider Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Nowhere," which is not only timely but also defiant.)

Right now, just in case, we're rounding up a few of our alltime favorites. These change from week to week, but if the end really is near we're giving a final listen to "Moonlight Serenade," "What a Wonderful World" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."  Not bad for starters -- or enders, as it were.

Call us sentimentalists.

Friday, May 20, 2011

They got it wrong

Check out the video and answer this question: Do you think we've seen the last of Haley Reinhart?

We don't believe so. She may have been bounced from the American Idol competition last night, but third place in a reality TV show competition doesn't eliminate you from future recording contracts and possible fame. Not if you have the chops Haley brings to the stage (or piano top in this case).

But either Scotty McCreery or Lauren Alaina will now have the upper hand jump-starting a professional career when Season 10 concludes next week. We wonder if the finalists saw the recent news that Carrie Underwood is now the biggest earner in Idol history, having sold 12,296,000 albums and more than 18,482,000 digital tracks since she triumphed in Season 4.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Look at him go

Who didn't want to give the skins a kick after hearing Ron Wilson's high-energy solo on "Wipe Out,"  a rock 'n' roll staple from 1963. We've never been enamored by drum solos, but this is an exception.

Surf music became the rage in the Sixties, thanks in part to the Glendora, California based Surfaris. "Wipe Out" made it to No. 2 on the Billboard chart in '63 even though it was pressed as the flip side to "Surfer Joe." (now look at him go).

Here's a video from a 1987 concert in Vancouver during which Wilson -- the only original member of the Surfaris at this time -- shows his stuff.  He would die two years later, on this day (some sources list May 7), of a brain aneurysm.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Watching Scotty crow

Can Haley Reinhart, left, and Lauren Alaina
derail the Scotty Express? Tune in tonight.
When we last weighed in on Season 10 of American Idol the Sanctuary's Rapid Rankings looked like this:
1. Scotty McCreery
2. James Durbin
3. Haley Reinhart
4. Lauren Alaina
5. Casey Abrams
6. Jacob Lusk

We weren't surprised to see Casey Abrams and Jacob Lusk eliminated in successive weeks, but last week provided a true shocker when rocker James Durbin, the prohibitive favorite who said he only wanted to "give metal a chance," couldn't muster enough votes to hang around. That means the Final 3 includes two girls, both of whom have been impressive in recent weeks. (If this were a sporting competition analysts would be saying Haley Reinhart and Lauren Alaina are "peaking at the right time.")

But getting past Scotty McCreery won't be easy for the upstart girls. Even though two of the most talented and successful Idol winners have been females (Kelly Clarkson in Season 1 and Carrie Underwood in Season 4), there have only been three in all.  We're not even sure what became of the other one, Jordin Sparks, who won Season 6.

Do we really care?  No. To reference lyrics from a favorite song by the Vidalias, "we're just an innocent bystander Lord, waiting to take the next train out of town."  But it sure was fun using the Blogger strikethrough function and some color type.

If you do happen to follow Idol, we recommend checking out the coverage by Washington Post TV columnist Lisa de Moraes, whose online posts are more entertaining than the show itself.  See for yourself by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Horns o' plenty

On Chicago Magazine's list of the 40 greatest records by Chicago-based artists you will find releases by Kanye West, Liz Phair, R. Kelly, Andrew Bird and Lupe Fiasco. You will not find anything by Steve Goodman or Buddy Guy.  Seriously, who compiles these lists?

We were wondering how Chicago (the group) stacked up because it happens to be the anniversary of their debut album's release. Yep, Chicago Transit Authority hit the stores on this day in 1969. We remember CTA as a defining moment in music history when horns met fuzz guitar, jazz met rock and the fusion was pretty spectacular.

But Chicago, the city, has a very rich and diverse musical heritage and limiting a list to 40 artists is at best problematic, and at worst, well, just plain impossible.  But that's what happens when a magazine is celebrating its 40th anniversary.  So here's hoping Chicago Magazine makes it to 50 and its list improves!

We wouldn't have relished this task.To make room for the likes of Paul Butterfield, Curtis Mayfield, Ramsey Lewis and Muddy Waters some worthy people were going to get left off.  But not Naked Raygun, Screeching Weasel, Tortoise -- all of which cracked the Top 40 at the expense of Goodman, one of the greatest songwriters from any city or country in the world.

Meanwhile, CTA -- which isn't even our favorite Chicago album -- rates no better than No. 17, just below offerings by Big Black, Earth Wind & Fire and Cheap Trick. As for No. 1, that was bestowed upon Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, a fine album but the best of the best ever from Chicago?  What in Willie Dixon's Chess Box is going on here? Check out the list here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A song that never pales

More than 10 million copies
of "A Whiter Shade of Pale"
have been sold, making it one of
the most popular singles ever.
 By Al Tays

Is there a more mysterious song than Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale"? Methinks not. Nor a more haunting melody than Matthew Fisher's Hammond organ riff, which was inspired by J.S. Bach's "Air." (This is the kind of thing that might actually make me give classical music another chance.)

We bring this up because on this date in 1977, the Harum played what was thought to be its last concert date, at New York's Academy of Music. It turned out to be a false alarm, as a reconstituted PH began touring in 1991 and is still skipping the light fandango today.

Procol Harum is often thought of -- incorrectly -- as a one-hit wonder. The band had a second hit in "Conquistador." It was part of PH's first album, released in 1967, but was redone with the Edmonton Symphony Orchesta in 1972. That version got to No. 16 in the U.S.

Still, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" is the band's defining song. released on May 12, 1967, it reached No. 5 on the U.S. singles chart. Ten years later, it was honored, along with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," by the inaugural BRIT Awards as Best British Pop Single 1952–1977. "Best British Pop Single" during an era that included the British Invasion? Think of all the contenders these two songs beat out. Amazing.

But back to mystery. The name Procol Harum supposedly came from a cat owned by a friend of the band's original manager. The phrase has a Latin connection, too, but it's WAY too complicated to go into here. Vestal Virgins? Hey, that's what Google is for.

I don't need to look this up, though. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" is one of my favorite songs. I even like Annie Lenox's cover. So you'll have to excuse me now -- I have to get out my Casio keyboard and start learning that melody. Here's to you, Johan.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

We're bullish on the Sheepdogs

Note:  This is going to sound like "the dog ate my homework" but ... Blogger was down for two days and we lost all of our new material, including this rave-up on the Sheepdogs.  It might be too late to cast a vote in the Rolling Stone cover competition, but it's never too late to learn about a great band. Check these guys out.

We can't say we're all-out rooting for the Sheepdogs to make the cover of Rolling Stone.  That kind of manufactured notoriety reminds us of American Idol finalists who are often very talented but cursed to wander the world with the creepy stigma of Reality Show Creationism.

On the other hand ... just in case this exposure gets the band out of Canada and into some American venues where we can see them perform, we're casting our vote right now. You might want to cast yours, too, after hearing what these furry guitar slingers from Saskatchewan bring to the stage. 

It's Round 3 of Rolling Stone's "Do You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star." The field has been narrowed to four bands: the Sheepdogs, the Empires of Chicago, Lelia Broussard of Los Angeles and Fictionist of Provo, Utah. The final two will battle it out at Bonnaroo for a chance to grace the magazine's cover.  Fame and fortune is almost certain to follow.

We've got a soft spot for the Sheepdogs, whose jamming guitars, thumping base line and tight harmonies remind us of the best days (and nights) of the Seventies.  The band's list of influences includes the Allman Brothers, Humble Pie and Free, and it sounds like they put those  in the blender, added a dash of Blind Faith, and hit the "pulse" button. To learn more about the band click on or go to

We had been wondering for some time what became of the great rock-a-boogie sound of that era, and turns out it's been percolating north of the border for some time. The Sheepdogs released their third album Learn & Burn in 2010 and appear, with all of this heightened exposure, primed for a leap into the mainstream. If they can just make it to Bonnaroo the world will surely learn.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Farewell to a Walker brother

His name wasn't Walker (it was John Maus). He didn't perform with brothers (it was Maus, Scott Engel and Gary Leeds). And the group went totally against the grain by finding success as Americans playing in the U.K. during the British Invasion.

None of this detracts from our admiration of the Walker Brothers, in particular the amazing voice of John Walker (aka Maus).  "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore)" -- with its rich vocals and Spector-like sound -- easily ranks as one of the great songs of the era even if it ranked no higher than No. 13 on the Billboard's Hot 100 in 1966. It did top the chart in the U.K. where the lads enjoyed Beatlesesque popularity during their brief run.

We were sorry to hear of John Walker's passing over the weekend at age 67. We searched for a fitting video tribute and pretty much tapped out. The Walker Brothers' exceptional sound really did come from the studio and couldn't be replicated in live performances. See for yourself by clicking on this link:

Monday, May 9, 2011

A symphony for Sonny

Yep, that's S. Curtis in parentheses
under "I Fought the Law."
 We don't believe Sonny Curtis has received enough credit for his contributions to rock 'n' roll. Following Buddy Holly in the Crickets was a suicide mission, you know? Can't blame him for that. And speaking of suicides, you all remember Bobby Fuller?

It was Sonny Curtis' song "I Fought the Law" that catapulted the Bobby Fuller Four to stardom. The 1965 hit made it to No. 9 on the Billboard chart (No.33 in the UK), and ranks No. 175 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Shortly after the song cracked the Top 10 Fuller was found dead in his mother's car in an L.A. parking lot. It was ruled suicide, but many suspect lazy police work.  They believe Fuller was murdered.

Now back to Curtis, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame since 1991. He also wrote "Love is All Around," the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show, the Everly Brothers hit "Walk Right Back," and dozens of others. But tell us honestly, did you ever hear of Curtis before now? We didn't think so. Be sure to toast him today, along with other members of the May 9 Birthday Band:

Hank Snow (1914-1999): Country Music Hall of Fame
I’m Moving On, Rhumba Boogie, I’ve Been Everywhere

Nokie Edwards (1935): Guitar, Ventures
Walk Don’t Run, Perfidia, Hawaii Five-O Theme

Sonny Curtis (1937): Songwriter/musician, the Crickets
More Than I Can Say, I Fought the Law

Pete Birrell (1941): Bass, Freddie & the Dreamers
I’m Telling You Now, You Were Made for Me, Do the Freddie

Tommy Roe (1942): Singer/songwriter
Sheila, Sweet Pea, Hooray for Hazel, Dizzy, Jam Up Jelly Tight

Richie Furay (1944): Musician, Poco, Buffalo Springfield
Pickin' Up the Pieces, Good Feelin' To Know, Kind Woman

Steve Katz (1945): Producer/musician, Blood, Sweat & Tears
And When I Die, You Make Me So Very Happy, Spinning Wheel

Billy Joel (1949): Singer, songwriter
Just the Way You Are, It’s Still Rock ’n’ Roll to Me, Uptown Girl, Piano Man

Tom Petersson (1950): Bass/vocals, Cheap Trick
I Want You to Want Me, Ain’t That a Shame, Dream Police, Voices

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bye-bye for a balladeer

By Al Tays

Our trusty "This Day in Music History" calendar tells us that on May 8, 1967, Gerry and the Pacemakers announced that they were splitting up, "recognising they could no longer keep pace with the rapidly changing UK rock scene."

Well, they were right, of course. The latter half of the Sixties was no place for a poppy, peppy outfit like GaTP. Popular music was headed straight for psychedelia, and the only way to survive and thrive was to adapt. The Beatles did, but their fellow Liverpudlians didn't.

In a way it was a shame, because Gerry Marsden had a great voice. Hmm, let me amend that: He had a great voice for ballads. He didn't have the soul of an Eric Burdon or the rawness of a Mick Jagger, but give him a standard like "You'll Never Walk Alone" (or let him sing his own compositions, like "Ferry Cross the Mersey" or "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" and he could hold his own with anyone. The latter two tunes still stand up quite well today.

Gerry and the Pacemakers are still performing, but Marsden, 68, is the only original member in the modern lineup.

Gerry and the Pacemakers are the answer to a great trivia question: What Liverpool band was the first act to reach No. 1 in the UK singles chart with their first three single releases? You'd think it would have been the Beatles, but it wasn't.

The funny thing about those No. 1 songs is that they aren't the ones GaTP are best remembered for, at least in the U.S. They're "How Do You Do It," "I Like It" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."

Their two biggest U.S. hits, "Ferry Cross the Mersey" and "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" got as high as No. 6 and No. 4, respectively.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Love those longshots

Everybody has recorded it: Peter, Paul and Mary, the Hollies, Joan Baez, Dan Fogelberg ... you can go all the way back to Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly.  Go to YouTube, type in "Stewball" and see what you get.

It was the first song we learned on brother-in-law Mike's guitar. (It could be yours, too, just go with G-Am-D-G, G-C-D.) Our favorite version of "Stewball," which we can't seem to find anywhere, was recorded by the Chicago band Mason Proffit.

But it's Derby Day folks, and we needed something to remind us that longshots do win horse races, so here's a clip from a Hugues Aufray concert in Marseille.  It's a little down tempo for us, but the French sure like it! As one commenter chimed in: très belle chanson!!!

Here's hoping that Comma to the Top, a 40-to-1 shot in the morning line, somehow finds the finish line first in Louisville.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Here's what love has to do with it

Oh what's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a second hand emotion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

On this day in 1984 Capitol Records released Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It" and the earth shook. Or maybe that was just Ike Turner desperately stalking the woman who had bolted 10 years earlier with 36 cents, a gas card and the clothes she was wearing..

Things turned out OK for Tina, thanks in part to this song, which would make it to the top of the Billboard chart in September and set a noteworthy record: Longest time between an artist's first chart appearance and first No. 1 single (24 years).

We have nothing to add, except: Today's video is mandatory viewing.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Synco de Mayo

We have referenced this song before, but you know what? It's Cinco de Mayo and we can't think of a better way to kick off the celebration.

You might reach for Los Lobos, and maybe we'll do that too.  But we start with Jeffrey Foucault, who is neither Mexican nor Chicano. Far from it. He's a homeboy from nearby Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. But when he sings about that Mexican joint in "Mesa, Arizona," where he's listening to a mariachi band on the juke box with an empty Corona, well, he might as well be somewhere south of the border. Will someone buy this man another beer?

We checked Foucault's tour schedule and this week he takes on the Netherlands, beginning tomorrow night at Sted. Concertgebouw in Leiden.  Ought to be a hoot. The Dutch know how to have a good time without shooting guns in the air. 

Wherever you are today, be careful out there. And if you're headed out for some authentic Mexican food and drinks, don't forget the words to one of our favorite drinking songs:

Una mas cerveza por favor senorita...

(Unless of course you're ordering more than one -- and your server is a senor.)

UPDATE: NPR just introduced us to Click below to hear the tapatio punk band Le Butcherettes performing "I'm Getting Sick of You" from their new album Sin Sin Sin.  Good stuff!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

All quiet on the revolution front

We've posed the question before, but today on the anniversary of the Kent State shootings it's time to ask again: What ever became of protest songs?

It has been 41 years since Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder were shot to death on the campus of Kent State by the Ohio National Guard -- the "tin soldiers" in Neil Young's raging "Ohio." The song, recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young almost immediately after the tragedy, has not lost a bit of its punch through the years. Even the video above from Young's 1971 Massey Hall acoustic performance resonates today, albeit in more reverential tones. It would be difficult to find a song with a more powerful opening line:

"Tin soldiers and Nixon coming..."

Abbie Hoffman once declared that "rock musicians are the real leaders of the revolution," and "Ohio" would seem to be his Exhibit A.  But where are the others to support such a notion?  Listeners who aren't paying close attention sometimes offer up Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," but Stephen Stills wrote that three years before Kent State. 

Maybe we just ran out of revolutions.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Breaking up is hard to do

By Mike Tierney

An admired artist, who has been around the block enough to complete a marathon, releases a fresh record. Increasingly, I feel a tug of reluctance to acquire it, fearing more evidence of a theory that I hold true:

Almost every songwriter/performer was born with a finite amount of original music inside him/her. At some point, a limit is reached, and subsequent efforts are either a desperate reach for originality or a recycling of previous gems.

Steve Earle, a Hall of Famer in my book, just released I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive. Normally, I would be fetching a copy before it has settled into the store's bin.

But because I sense that Earle has covered all the rock 'n'' roll ground that he is capable of, I have resisted. (Perhaps to his credit, he has veered off into a home-y, acoustic area, which I welcome only in small doses.)

With similar trepidation, I picked up R.E.M.'s recent release Collapse Into Now. Frankly, I'd be fine if the lads kept regurgitating certain types of tunes until they became a lounge act. This record features one of those "Mine Smelled Like Honey," that offers a template for the perfect pop song.

Yet these selections are nearly all direct descendants of previous numbers. Michael Stipe, while still remarkably full-throated and mellifulous, follows all-too-similar vocal paths.

Their balance has gradually tilted toward slower songs, no doubt a reflection of age (and possibly an effort to make Stipe's often garbled lyrics easier to decipher.) So, artistically, good for them.

I wonder, though, if R.E.M. has covered all of the unexplored rock 'n' roll territory that it was gifted. This is a good record, but not one I will dig out 10 years from now, as I will their masterpieces of yore.

You never know what you'll get on Tuesdays with Tierney, other than the straight skinny on rock 'n' roll.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Put it in the blender and hit 'pulse'

Although his music never topped the pop charts,
Little Richard would become a crossover star
with seven gold records.
Can you tell us what the following five songs have in common?
Heartbreak Hotel, Elvis Presley
Blue Suede Shoes, Carl Perkins
Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers
Long Tall Sally, Little Richard
Magic Touch, Platters

If you guessed they are all from the same year, you're correct. All five were ranked among the Top 10 on Billboard's Pop chart this day in 1956.  More significantly, they were also among Billboard's Top 10 R&B songs -- the first time that ever happened.

"Heartbreak Hotel" was Elvis' first No. 1 song, and it was monster hit, staying in the top spot for an impressive eight weeks.  We didn't need Danny & the Juniors to tell us that rock 'n' roll was here to stay. Bill Haley and the Comets had sounded the alarm three years earlier when "Rock Around the Clock" became the first rock hit to reach No. 1 -- also for eight weeks. 

Now, with Elvis hitting the national stage, there would be no turning back. The once distinct lines between pop and R&B would blur, and music by black artists like Little Richard -- whose "Long Tall Sally" was riding No. 1 on the R&B chart on May 2 -- and Fats Domino would easily blend into the pop mix.

At least among radio stations that felt the earth shake and weren't bound by unyielding guidelines. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The bells of St. Berry

By Al Tays

Remember how in 1977 NASA launched its Voyager spacecraft, and included phonograph records containing sounds meant to represent the diversity of life on Earth? (You don't? Well, you're just going to have to trust me on this.)

The sounds on the records included music from artists including Beethoven, Mozart and Chuck Berry.

Saturday Night Live did a skit in which it was reported that aliens had come across the records, and sent back their reply:

"Send more Chuck Berry."
Now, aside from the fact that advanced space civilizations are unlikely to still be using turntables (these days it's hard enough to find them on Earth), the sentiment that Chuck Berry has (literal) universal appeal is one I concur with.

His guitar riffs are one of the first snippets of music that I recall sending shivers up my spine. Of course, the first Chuck Berry guitar riff I ever recall hearing was actually played by Carl Wilson, the intro to "Fun, Fun, Fun." And my introduction to "Roll Over Beethoven" came via the Beatles, not Berry.

Eventually I became exposed to the genius himself, duck walk and all. (And much, much later I learned that the "Johnny B. Goode" griff was an adaptation of the horn intro from Louis Jordan's "Ain't That Just like a Woman.")  Here's a live performance from 1958:

I still love to watch how effortlessly Berry seems to play, even today in his 80s.

Why Chuck Berry? Why today? Because it's the first of May, the month in which, in 1955, Berry signed with Chess Records on the suggestion of Muddy Waters. His first go-round with Chess produced such classics as "Maybellene" (1955), "Roll Over Beethoven" (1956), "Rock and Roll Music" (1957) and "Johnny B. Goode" (1958).

Berry had his problems, too, including a couple of jail terms, more convictions, sloppy live performances and a reputation as a difficult artist to work with. And please, I'd rather not talk about "My Ding-a-Ling" -- which was previously discussed here at the Sanctuary.

But with a Gibson in his hands, Chuck Berry will always be the guy who "could play the guitar just like ringin' a bell."