Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Foo fight

On September 14, Foo Fighters kick off their U.S. tour here in St. Paul. It’s a Wednesday, and the night jock at our station wants to go. I’m working his shift with him this week, so there’s a fair chance I’ll pick up those hours. I’ve been a DJ less than six months. This is a great opportunity for me, so if I get it, I have to take it, and moreover, I can’t blow it.

Join Robert Nelson for
Wednesdays with Woody, where
there is always Foo for thought
I’ve seen the Foo Fighters twice before. The first time they opened for Bob Dylan with an entirely acoustic set and blew him off the stage. It was kind of embarrassing. The second time they headlined, but it was more humiliating. There was, let’s call it an incident before the show, and I ended up pouting through it. Nothing’s quite as sensitive as the male ego, and mine got stung.

As we found our seats, my admittedly clumsy girlfriend, who’s now my lovely fiancĂ©e, spilled a tiny splash of chardonnay on this belligerent whore in front of us. First of all, they give you those chintzy plastic cups, the same ones you get on an airplane, and you only fill them halfway because you know at any moment, the little kid in front of you could start jumping up and down in his chair, or the cow behind you might have to hit the latrine and pound you on his way to the aisle. That’s why they give you the cup and the can. They’re accidents waiting to happen. Second, we had our first drinks in hand, and this broad was gone, totally drunk, running her mouth, attacking my lady. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, so I let her have it. Verbally, I mean.

Well, as it turns out, my lady hates conflict, so she focused her frustrations on me, and I got upset about it. I tried as hard as I could to not enjoy the show. Damn near impossible. We’ve talked about making up for it since. I almost even postponed proposing until the 14th. Now, it’s in the boss’ hands. I know, it’s kind of a lame dilemma to have, but we’re talking about the biggest band in the world right now. They just made a promotional video for the tour called “Hot Buns,” set to Queen’s “Body Language.” You could call it a spoof of Queen’s original video, but the original is already a bit of a spoof. Anyway, it’s hilarious, and if you get a chance to see Foo Fighters while they’re on the road, do it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

They were gold, Jerry

By Al Tays

Does the name Jerry Leiber mean anything to you? Didn't to me, either, until I read his obituary after he died on Monday at the age of 78. Leiber was the lyrics half of the songwriting team that also included composer Mike Stoller.

If you've ever listened to 1950s rock and roll, you know Leiber and Stoller. The pair, who met in L.A. when Leiber was still at Fairfax High (a scant few blocks from the former West Coast HQ of Six String Symphony) wrote such hits as"Kansas City," "Love Potion No. 9," "There Goes My Baby," "Hound Dog," "Yakety Yak," "Stand by Me" (with Bedn E. King), "Charlie Brown," "Jailhouse Rock" . . . the list is seemingly endless. They also produced the 1972 Stealers Wheel classic, "Stuck in the Middle With You."

The team almost was broken up in 1956, when Stoller and his wife found themselves aboard the SS Andrea Doria when it was accidentally rammed and sunk by another ship. The Stollers were rescued, and when they got to New York Leiber met them and told them that "Hound Dog," which they had first written for Big Mama Thornton, had become a hit for Elvis Presley.

Tons of material to choose from, video wise, but for those who know "Jailhouse Rock" only from the Blues Brothers, let's check out the original Elvis version, shall we?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Every bridegroom's dream

By Robert Nelson

Earth, Wind and Fire played Kim Kardashian’s wedding. It’s… wow. There aren’t words. I’m at a loss. Earth, Wind and Fire played Kim Kardashian’s wedding. That hurts to type. It’s just so unfair.

I’ve been watching more TLC lately. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Say Yes to the Dress. This news shouldn’t hit so hard.

I don’t give a squirt about the Kardashians. Okay, maybe one, but only by marriage. I’m a Laker fan, and believe me, nobody was more disappointed in Lamar Odom than me. I hoped that’s where it would end. I might be slightly on edge.

Oakley’s our new kitten. I bought him last week before I proposed to Jess. I put the ring around his collar. She said, “Yes.” We haven’t been getting much sleep. This morning, Oakley found something about my face worth scratching at relentlessly. If I threw him off the bed three times, he came back four. You shouldn’t throw cats.

My mom’s excited, but she broke her femur, and the hospital doesn’t get the E! channel. I guess they televised the Kardashian nuptials. That’s how I found out about Earth, Wind and Fire. When I was a teenager, she took me to see them at the Target Center with the O’Jays and the Isley Brothers. It’s in my Top Five, maybe even Top Three.

I can only imagine what kind of DJ we’ll have at our wedding. There’s a slim chance I’ll be completely satisfied. We could hire a band. They’ll have to know some Earth, Wind and Fire.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Making it Count

By Al Tays

Let's talk a little Count Basie, given that today marks 107 years since he was born in Red Bank, N.J., in 1904. Now, Basie's a little before my time (yes, such a thing is possible), but he is clearly in the first column of immortal American music artists.

You can always count on
Al Tays, but you really
have to wonder what sort 
of trouble he might start
while Strumbum is out 
on assignment (heh, heh).
There was a time when I wouldn't have known Count Basie from The Count on Sesame Street (except that only one of them dressed like a pimp, as Dave Chappelle points out). I got a little more curious about Basie after acquiring Tony Bennett's outstanding 2001 album, Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues, which included "Old Count Basie Was Gone."

But it wasn't until the other day, noting the anniversary of Basie's birth, that I did some reading about him. Interesting nuggets: He might have become a drummer rather than a pianist, but there was another drummer in the Red Bank area, Sonny Greer, who reigned supreme and Basie decided not to challenge him, turning to the piano. Also, Basie learned how to play the organ from Fats Waller.

But enough talk. You can't appreciate Basie without hearing him. Even though "One O'Clock Jump" was, along with "April in Paris," one of his theme songs, I prefer this "Basie Boogie." It's one of the few Basie clips I could find with a guitar player, although this one is strictly consigned to a rhythm role. But no worries — good music is good music, no matter the instruments.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Jammin' with the Worm

By Robert Nelson

Be sure to catch Wednesdays
with Woody, a midweek snack
served only at the Sanctuary.
This past weekend Dennis Rodman was deservedly inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Everyone knows Rodman, the gregarious, tattooed freak who married Carmen Electra and, most notably, himself (the most hideous bride ever). Fewer, fans of the game like me, know “The Worm,” the mercurial rebounding machine for the championship Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. Far fewer know Dennis, whose heartfelt, albeit awkward, speech at the HOF ceremony was as touching as it was confounding. But the sentiment wasn’t lost on everyone. Not on me and probably not the guys from Pearl Jam.

In 1991, Worm was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in a row, and on August 27, Pearl Jam released their first album, Ten, and became the most commercially viable artists of the Grunge Era, often cited as the last great era in popular music (sorry, Latin Invasion fans). But from the early to mid-90s, it was a veritable smorgasbord of important music across genres. Metalheads got new Guns N’ Roses & Metallica in 1991. Grunge had Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and, of course, Pearl Jam. Rap came into its own with Tupac, B.I.G., and Snoop. Punk Rock gave us Green Day, and Funk Rock gave us the Red Hot Chili Peppers. To steal a phrase from Charlie Sheen, we were all “Winning.”

In 1996, the Bulls went 72-10, still the best single-season record in NBA history, and won their sixth championship. On August 27, Pearl Jam released No Code, though the band hardly toured to support it, spiteful of Ticketmaster. Around this time, the band befriended Dennis, who often cited their significance to him publicly. On stage at a rare show in September, Eddie Vedder gave Dennis a piggyback ride. That same month, Tupac was shot and killed, and in 1997, Worm played his last meaningful games as a Bull. Soundgarden broke up, and the Backstreet Boys debuted in America.

This September, Pearl Jam will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a concert in East Troy, Wisconsin. I might go, at least for the sake of nostalgia. There was never such a robust, eclectic selection for music lovers. Since then, borrowing from The Worm, you might say music is still on the rebound.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The beet goes on

OK, so I am an old fart. I graduated from Whitehall High in 1969 and spent my first summer as a legal beer-drinking adult, first as a lifeguard at a resort in Wisconsin Dells and then -- because there was nobody to save in the pool -- painting barns in Iowa. 

My new buddy Byron, who was a bellhop (or whatever they called 'em) at the resort, coaxed me into quitting and bolting to his hometown of Lansing, Iowa. There we worked with his grandpa, but it was his grandma I remember most for introducing me to boiled oxtail soup and beet wine.  (Well, his sister was also fine.)

The beet wine is responsible for us missing out on some pretty historic events that summer. You know, the moon landing. Chappaquiddick. The Manson murders. Revelations about Mai Lai. Hurricane Camille. Hey, we were in Iowa. I don't remember seeing any TVs. The folks there were more concerned about their hogs and the corn crop. At night we hit that beet wine and the world just spun around.

My way of saying we definitely weren't aware of a concert in upstate New York that began on this day that summer. Who really was, other than the 500,000 who showed up for the "Aquarian Exposition"?  If we had known, I'm guessing Byron and I would have loaded the car with jugs of beet wine and headed for Woodstock. If you think those acid trips were bad ...

Woodstock surprised everybody. I don't even remember when I realized the scope of it, probably after heading off for my first semester of college in La Crosse -- where Byron, his sister and I in a fit of boredom had driven up to watch True Grit at the Rivoli Theatre. John Wayne's only Oscar performance. Go Duke.

That was the most memorable event of my lost summer after high school. Music? We were boom-chick-a-booming to Johnny Cash's new album Live at San Quentin, on which "A Boy Named Sue" mentioned "kickin' and a gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer."

Almost like Woodstock.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bottoms up for Larry Graham

By Al Tays

Al Tays is the ace
of bass -- not to mention
rhythm and lead --
Sundays at the Sanctuary.
Here's wishing a happy 65th birthday to Larry Graham, former bass player for Sly and the Family Stone and founder of Graham Central Station. Graham is the baritone-voiced singer of the "Dance to the Music" lyric "I'm gonna add some bottom/so that the dancers just won't hide" followed by his signature slap-bass technique. Graham is considered a pioneer of slap bass, which is familiar even to non-music fans from the "Seinfeld" audio.

I've loved "Dance to the Music," with its one-at-a-time introduction of the band's instruments, since it came out in 1968 on Epic Records. Interestingly, the band didn't care for it. They thought it was a sellout, and they weren't entirely wrong. The song came about because producer Clive Davis wanted something more commercially acceptable than the band's previous work.

He got it. "Dance to the Music" went to No. 8 on the Billboard Pop Singles Top 10.

Of course, you can't judge a song strictly by what it does on the charts. Does anyone need reminding that "Achy Breaky Heart" got to No. 4? Anyone? Bueller?

But as the lyrics say, "Dance to the Music" makes it "easy to move your feet." So get up and dig it, y'all, while "all the squares go home."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bon fires

We were going to write a few simple words about homeboy Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, whose mystical musical path is one of the more fascinating success stories of recent years.  Then we read a bio on that stopped us in our tracks.  An excerpt:

First it was For Emma, Forever Ago. The soul in a refraction of icicles. A moment hanging like breath on air. And yet life – even still life – is not still. The story is not a story if it does not unravel. Your eyes you may cast backward, but the heart is locked in the chest and must beat forever forward. Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the frozen beast pressing upward from a loosening earth, one ear cocked to the echo of the ghost choir still singing, the other craving the martial call of drums tumbling, of thrum and wheeze. The desolation smoke has dissipated, cut with strips of brass. Celebration will not be denied, the cabinet cannot contain the rattle, there is meat on the bones.

A refraction of icicles? Thrum and wheeze?  OK, we're never going to get a gig writing online blurbs. We thought Vernon was just a guy who went to a Wisconsin cabin alone in winter, recorded the sublime music that would become the 2008 breakout album Emma, For Ever Ago, and almost instantly became as famous as an Impressionist painter. Now we learn with his latest release that he has unleashed "a frozen beast pressing forward from a loosening earth."  It's almost too much.

And all we really wanted to do this morning was pass along a list of's "Best Music of 2011 So Far"  and congratulate our man for cracking yet another Top 10 (we're pretty sure this will make many year-end lists as well):

1. Foster the People, Torches
2. The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow
3. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues
4. Foo Fighters, Wasting Light
5. Adele, 12
6. The Decemberists, The King is Dead
7. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
8. My Morning Jacket, Circuital
9. Cut Copy, Zonoscope
10. Tune-yards, Whokill

The thrum and wheeze was recorded and mixed at a studio in Fall Creek, just up the road from our old hometown.  So close, and these days it seems, so far away.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Have your cake and eat it too

He sports tattoos, wears NBA jerseys, jocks at a Twin Cities rock station and still gets carded at bars. What's a nice kid like that doing in a joint like this? We shall see. Meet Robert "Woody" Nelson, the newest -- and easily the youngest -- former newspaper hipster to cue up at Six String Sanctuary. Good thing this isn't a No Smoking venue.

By Robert Nelson

A full Nelson: Our new guy fills the 18-35 demographic,
digs everything from jazz to hip-hop, and knows a good
dessert when he scoops one up. The real dish.

The Bailey’s Irish Cream Mousse Cake was delicious. Three layers of chocolate cake separated by two layers of mousse, and on top of a thin spread of rich chocolate frosting they sprinkled a thousand little curls of milk & white chocolate that looked like chopped walnuts and added a similar depth of texture. Truly magnificent.

Anyway, Jess and I were here for Sade.

Our ticket package included a couple drinks and some nosh at a pre-show cocktail party inside Target Center. The savory could have been better, but the liquor was hard and the aforementioned sweets, delectable, so by the time we found our seats we were primed for some good Soul. We’ve seen John Legend headline at a smaller venue. The guy doesn’t disappoint.

He played all the hits, one or two deep cuts, and a new tune, "Dreams," which, aside from the occasional swoon, hushed the arena. For a moment, we could have been at a Minnesota Timberwolves game. But when Legend turned it on again, going back and forth across the stage, to his piano, on top of it, he was dynamic. The man’s a pro. And his backup singers wore these flesh-toned tights that, at first glance, made them look straight out of King Magazine. This is what you get with a Grammy-winning undercard.

Now, Legend did his thing, but he wasn’t gonna steal the show. Did we say we were here for Sade? She is still more than capable of holding her own, and everything they say is true: sultry, sexy, even cute. And her voice. My god, her voice. Within the first few lyrics, you wonder how we haven’t achieved world peace or ended poverty or starvation. By then we’d all but forgotten about the cake.

Kudos to Jess for the video:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We can dig it

It's been three years since Isaac Hayes died after suffering a stroke in Memphis, Tennessee. He had been on a treadmill and was just 10 days short of his 65th birthday. 

Now any day is a good day to celebrate the music and legacy of Hayes, as our buddy Bill "Psycho" Ward would attest. Bill delivers the best (well, most hilarious) white rendition of the "Theme From Shaft" we've ever heard.  He's also a big fan of South Park, which used the voice of Hayes for its Chef character and uncorked the hilarious "Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You)."  Click on this link to hear the song, which topped the U.K. singles chart.

But it was the sheer badness of "Theme From Shaft" -- which won an Academy Award for Hayes in 1972  -- that made a lasting imprint on our brains. We went to a lyrics site to refresh our memories and discovered there have been 383 hits this week alone for "Theme From Shaft." Three-hundred and eighty three hits. It's barely Wednesday.

Can you dig it?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Kinda fonda Wanda

The rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson was in the middle of a rip-roaring set at the Minnesota Zoo Saturday night when she paused to introduce her next number.

She said that when Jack White was producing her album The Party Ain't Over he asked her to record the Amy Winehouse song "You Know That I'm No Good." Jackson, 73, liked the the song but found some of the lyrics sexually explicit and age-inappropriate, a problem solved by White's rewrite of the offending second verse.

The song made the album, helping launch Jackson's spirited comeback, and Jackson became a fan of the troubled singer. She was planning to look up Winehouse during one of her frequent trips to England. Then Winehouse died suddenly at age 27.

"I'll never get to meet her," said Jackson, "but I'm going to keep playing this song."

Jackson and the Hillbilly Voodoo Dolls then launched into "You Know That I'm No Good" and the sky, as if on cue, opened up over the amphitheater.  Some people scurried for cover but we hung in there and took the soaking, knowing it was just one of those moments that can't be explained but must be experienced.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Front row, bright glow

David Bromberg put on a cosmic show Friday night in the venerable back room of McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica.  Our LA tuning fork, Al Tays, is still reverberating from the experience.

By Al Tays

What was I thinking, ignoring David Bromberg for more than 30 years? That's how long it had been since I last bought a Bromberg album (1975's Midnight on the Water), or attended a Bromberg show. Mrs. Assistant Music Blogger and I caught him at the New England Folk and Blues Festival in the early '80s, where I recall him being much more folk than blues and ending his set by telling the audience he had to get up early the next day to get to his violin-making class.

But all those years I kept my Bromberg albums (I also had Demon in Disguise, Wanted Dead or Alive and David Bromberg) until I no longer owned a turntable to play them on. Bromberg's covers of "Statesboro Blues," "Kansas City" and "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," plus his own "Danger Man" went on my iPod.

Then I finally saw him again, Friday night in LA.

Playing two sold-out sets at the legendary McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Bromberg brought his typically eclectic mix of humor, folk, country and blues to an enthusiastic crowd of about 150. How enthusiastic? Bromberg didn't even have to sing the chorus to "I Like to Sleep Late in the Morning." We sang it for him. Most of us even knew the proper place to interject "Fingers do your stuff," and "See, this is bass and treble at the same time."

Like George Harrison, with whom Bromberg wrote "The Holdup," Bromberg, 65, can still make a guitar gently weep. But there's nothing gentle about his electric work on "I Will Not Be Your Fool" from 1976's "How Late'll Ya Play' Til?" I still have the burn marks from sitting in the front row. Welcome back, David.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A songwriting son of a gun

It was about this time in 1964 that Roger Miller became a household name, soaring to the top of the Billboard country chart with "Dang Me." It was a crazy song for a crazy time, sandwiched as it was between Buck Owens' "Skip a Beat" and Jim Reeves' "I Guess I'm Crazy."

Miller was probably a touch crazy himself, enabling him to write other novelty hits such as "Chug-a-Lug," "You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd" (a personal favorite) and "Do-Wacka-Do." But we cannot forget some of his other less-zany classics like "King of the Road" and "Walkin' in the Sunshine." He was truly one of Nashville's greats.

One mystery surrounding Miller is the origin of "Dang Me," which he claimed he wrote in 4 minutes while holed up in a Phoenix hotel room. But Johnny Cash said the lyrics came to Miller while the buddies were visiting the Joshua Tree in California. Johnny claimed Miller just got out the car with a pencil and paper and "Dang Me" was as good as done.

With both legends long gone we'll probably never know the true story. Either way it's a clever, funny song and you should do yourself a favor today by giving it a listen.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Swing for the fences

C'mon people now, it's time to Rock for Kids (or another favorite charity).

We hadn't even heard of Rock for Kids before today, and already we're swinging for the fences with a chance to help a worthy cause.  The non-profit's mission is to "provide music education to underserved children in Chicago, sparking creativity and passion, teaching critical thinking, supporting academic achievement and enriching young lives." All well and good, so once we learned this does not aid the Chicago Cubs in any way we were all in.

Here's the deal: State Farm has launched a Go to Bat promotion that offers participants a chance to win a trip to the 2011 World Series (hopefully for the first time at Miller Park).  The real winners are the 44 participating charities, including Rock for Kids which we chose for its connection to the Sanctuary's overarching goal of saving the world through music. (What, you didn't know we had an overarching goal?)

Here's a link to the game, which you can play three times each day:

We hit 20 home runs in our first 30 pitches -- a nifty .606 clip -- but the Week 3 standings show Rock for Kids mired in 28th place. With your help we can move up the standings and maybe spread some musical love along the way.  Just swing for the fences with us -- and watch out for that high cheese.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

John, Paul, George and ... Jimmy?

It looks like a "doctored" photograph, but that's really
Jimmy Nicol taking the place of Ringo. Too weird.
When Ringo Starr fell ill with tonsilitis and was hospitalized in early June of 1964, the Beatles had a problem.  They could cancel the start of their tour, which was to begin in Scandanavia. Or they could hire a replacement drummer.

George Harrison voted to bag the tour, reportedly saying "if Ringo's not going, then neither am I. You can find two replacements." But Beatlemania was running rampant, and manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin decided it was better to have an unhappy Beatle than a disgruntled fan base.

So Nicol, a session drummer who would later form the Shubdubs, filled in and played nine gigs before Ringo rejoined the group. 

Nicol -- who turns 72 today -- wound up making a lasting imprint on the Beatles' music, though not as a drummer. When members of the band would ask Nicol how he was doing, he always answered "it's getting better."  Which is a line Paul McCartney remembered when he began writing "Getting Better," a song that John Lennon collaborated on (adding "it can't get no worse") for Sgt. Pepper.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Along came sunshine pop

Someone commenting on a different "Along Comes Mary" video wondered if 'Mary' referred to marijuana. Another replied that this was The Association, forget about drugs.

The clean-cut California band brought "sunshine pop" to the Sixties with hits like "Windy," "Cherish" and "Never My Love." We are not embarrassed at all to say we enjoyed their peppy music and sweet harmonies.  And we were as surprised as anyone to learn that bass player Brian Cole died of a heroin overdose on this day in 1972. He was 29.

Who would have figured?

What's cool about this video from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour is that the intro has been included. And that intro, corny as it was, consists of Cole introducing the band members as musical robots. (He introduces himself as a "consisent low range modulator.")  So we actually get to see the bass player we're writing about. How rare.

Pressed on the tiny Valiant label, "Along Comes Mary" put The Association on the map, reaching No. 7 on the Billboard chart in 1966.  And, whether it references the evil weed or not (it probably does), it's our favorite song by the band.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Red necks and red lips

Today is the 30th anniversary of MTV. We're nearly speechless.

We were already grizzled newspaper editors by 1981, which only meant that we had a natural dislike for everything, especially anything new.  Showing music videos on TV was actually a cool concept, but we hardly noticed because we were working 80 hours a week and the rest of our time was spent watching sporting events, tuning into Sports Center -- which was only 2 years old -- and drinking heavily. Hey, we had reputations to uphold.

And MTV did just fine without us.  They had an instant audience for "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles, which was how the network chose to pop its cherry. We don't remember the launch, much less what followed. If forced to declare our favorite MTV videos we'd settle on a couple of classics from 1985: "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" by the Georgia Satellites and Robert Palmer's exquisite  "Addicted to Love,"  which couldn't be more different.

The truth is, those are the only ones we remember.