“Elvis and Us” exhibition in Liverpool

13 10 2011

The “Elvis and Us” exhibition is a combined Elvis-Beatles affair soon set to hit Liverpool.  A number of Elvis artifacts which have never left Graceland will be on display.  The overall themes of the exhibit are the ways in which Elvis and the Beatles changed music and popular culture, and the ways in which they influenced each other as artists.  It looks like it’s a first class production for fans of both The King and The Fabs.




When radio did not suck

10 01 2010

Probably because Elvis would have been 75 Friday, I picked up Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, by Peter Guralnick.  While Elvis is always an interesting subject, what jumped out at me the most so far (I’m less than 100 pages deep) is Guralnick’s description of the radio scene in Memphis in the late 40’s, early 50’s.  In particular he says this is probably what Elvis listened to:

Memphis radio in 1950 was an Aladdin’s lamp of musical vistas and styles…In one typical 1951 segment he (Elvis) would have heard Rosco Gordon’s “Booted” (which had been recorded  in Memphis, at Sam Phillips’ studio), Muddy Waters’ “She Moves Me,” “Lonesome Christmas” by Lowell Fulson, and Elmore James’ brand-new “Dust my broom,” all current hits, and all collector’s classics some 40 years later.  “Rocket 88,” which has frequently been tagged the first rock n’ roll record, came out of Sam Phllips’ studio in 1951, too…

In the morning there was Bob Neal’s wake-up show on WMPS, hillbilly music and cornpone humor in a relaxed Arthur Godfrey style of presentation and at 12:30 p.m. Neal offered thirty minutes of gospel with the Blackwood Brother… The first half of the High Noon Round-Up featured country singer Eddie Hill, who along with the Louvin Brothers…was among Memphis’ biggest hillbilly stars.


If you changed the dial to WDIA, which since its switchover in 1949 to an all-black programming policy had billed itself as “The Mother Station of the Negroes, you could here not only local blues star B. B. King, deejaying and playing his own music live on the air, but also such genuine personalities as Professo Nat D. Williams…; comedic genius A. C. Moohah Williams; and the cosmopolitan Maurice “Hot Rod” Hulbert, not to mention the Spirit of Memphis Quartet…

The book goes on to also mention the Grand Old Opry and other perhaps more familiar southern sounds from that period.

I’m not a music expert.  I don’t claim knowledge about all those artists.  But that certainly seems like an amazing amount of musical diversity.  There really isn’t that kind of new music scene these days.  While college and internet radio provide a great deal of artistic freedom and musical variety, today’s less mainstream sounds lack the novelty such a mix would have had 60 years ago.  Of course, radio was hardly Elvis’s only influence, but the rich musical history to which he was exposed on the radio seems to go a long way in explaining how he developed such a hybrid sound and style himself.

If only radio were this cool these days.

My year in music

31 12 2009

The year started out with a bang.  I had just seen Oasis in mid December and was quite interested in the current British music scene.  Before January was up, I got my hands on both Fratellis’ albums, two from the Kooks and Arctic Monkeys’ Favourite Worst Nightmare.  Credit for these finds goes to magazines like Mojo and Q, which I was reading heavily at the time.  I did my level best to get my hands on Fleet Foxes’ self-titled album from the local library, but that took until Spring.

Luckily, Dennis Wilson’s revived classic Pacific Ocean Blue got a lot of love late 2008, early 2009, particularly from the Brit mags.  That has been one of the best albums I’ve bought in years.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

February was also quite interesting because the Beatles’ Take 20 of “Revolution” surfaced, and exploded across the ‘net.  EMI and/or Apple Corps made sure, within a day or so, that it vanished from some of the more notorious sites like youtube.  I wasn’t immediately convinced it was an authentic Beatles track – seemed possibly to be a mash-up of some kind – but “Beatles historians” roundly came out with opinions that it was the real deal.  That it was squashed within 48 hours of hitting the world wide web seemed to be good evidence that it was the real thing.  It’s a very cool track.  It’s basically “Revolution No. 1″ from the White Album, with loops and audio bits that ended up on “Revolution No. 9.”  As a big Beatles fan, I’m not one for second guessing them, but I think, in retrospect, “Revolution Take 20″ (let’s just call it that) would have fit better on the album than having two separate Revolutions.  No. 9 is just too long and goes nowhere.

The Beach Boys are frequently in my playing rotation (though not at the moment.)  Last Spring, I really wanted to go back and full up my collection from their post-Smile late 60’s, early 70’s catalog, but never quite got around to it.  I did dig out my copy of Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys, and played discs 2 and 3 quite a bit for a few weeks.  I came to love Dennis Wilson’s “Little Bird” from the album Friends.

Speaking of Beach Boys and Wilson brothers, Brian Wilson’s performance of Smile from a few years was an amazing surprise.  I’ve had the bootleg tracks (and songs from the box set) for years, but his performance of the aborted album from start to finish is something special.

Virtually out of nowhere, I felt this draw toward bass guitar.  My six string had been in the case for years; I played it a bit and decided I wanted to be a bassist.  In March I picked up my Dean EABG and jumped right into it.  I got Bass Guitar for Dummies and started playing (or learning) quite diligently.  In April I bought a 1997 Epiphone Accu-Bass and a Kustom 80 watt bass amp from a pawn shop in Detroit.  I have not played the electric much, but it’s there if I need it.

Late spring and early summer came.  I still played quite a bit of bass, taking my acoustic with me on family trips and weekends out of town.  I didn’t quite finish Bass Guitar for Dummies, but I’m planning a return to the book.  Because of my love for bass, anything with excellent bass found its way into my rotation.  I picked up What It Is! Funky Soul And Rare Grooves (1967-1977), an absolutely fantastic 4 disc set put out by Rhino.

Midsummer my MP3 player completely crapped out.  I couldn’t replace the battery for it, either.  We traveled a lot on weekends so my daughter had frequent requests for the Beatles or the Beach Boys, so that’s most of what I heard.

Christmas came early, on 09/09/09 in fact.  Apple Corps released the Beatles’ entire catalog, remastered, in stereo and mono (at least up through 1968.)  I got the Beatles in Mono box set before the stereo set.  I burned the CDs and put ‘em back in the packaging immediately.  I never even looked at the booklets, liner notes etc.  I got the stereo set a few days later, but still have not opened it.  September and October were Beatles-filled months.  Even now, at year’s end, I’m listening to bits of Abbey Road quite a bit, mostly because I’ve picked up the bass again and am trying to learn some of the licks.

Noel Gallagher “quit” Oasis but, surprisingly, this didn’t bother me a bit.  I’d love to see them make music forever; but if it ends it ends.  Noel’s the heart and soul of the band and he could go on making great music without his pesky little brother.  Here’s to a solo career that he will hopefully launch…and soon.

They never made sense to me in 38 years on this planet, but I finally gave in and got a few Pink Floyd albums, The Wall and The Dark Side of the Moon.  I would never have bought them at the store, but they’re at our public library, so I’ve given them a whirl.  I have to admit that I quite like both of those albums.  I’m not quite convinced that I like PF enough to start buying up their other albums, but I certainly am at least open to considering a bit more exploring.

The burden of sick loved ones and the “death” that comes in late Autumn probably put me in something of a slight funk.  I found solace in U2’s song “40.”  I think God wanted me to hear that when I did.

I’ve kind of fallen in love with music again in the last week or so.  I recently replaced my MP3 player and loaded it with really great stuff.  Of course it’s got all the Beatles stuff.  But I really love that I’ve got a few Miles Davis albums, Elvis in Memphis, a great two-disc set from his 1969 work, Little Richard and Ray Charles compilations/anthologies, Johnny Cash’s Personal File and a bunch of his compilation discs, and the new Black Crowes double album, Before the Frost…Until the Freeze.  I almost can’t take my headphones off these days.  I’ve already used up all 8 gig on this player and I like everything on it.

It’s hard to say what next year will bring.  If I’m going to resolve to do anything, one of those things will be to play more bass.  Perhaps instead of listening to and writing about other people’s music, I’ll make more of my own in 2010.

Happy Easter

11 04 2009

In celebration of Easter, a pretty important day for us Christians, I wanted to post a few of my favorite gospel songs.  I hope they touch you on this special day.

“How Great Thou Art” was always one of my grandmother’s favorites.  I love it.  Elvis really nailed it.  His voice later in life was perfect for this kind of song.

Maybe I’m a sap, but I practically tear up when I hear “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.  Little in life moves me like this song.  This song is all over youtube, but I liked this version the best.

My first concert

8 01 2009

I’m not sure what brought this to mind, but I was struck this morning with the memory of the very first concert I saw.  I don’t remember the year for certain, but it was in about 1978.   I went with my mom and her sister-in-law, my Aunt Peggy.

The performer was Chubby Checker.  Yes, the Chubby Checker.


The venue was the State Wayne Theater in Wayne, Michigan.


I remember a few things about the show.   The place was packed.  Now the State Wayne is carved up into 3 different theaters but back then it was one big place with a stage the width of the whole interior of the building.  For a seven year old kid, it seemed like there were a lot of people at the show.

A Calypso band was the opening act.  I think that was the first time any of us (my family) had ever heard steel drums.  This may seem corny, but that sound was almost magical.  It certainly was exotic.  The crowd really loved those guys.

Chubby Checker, by that point, was an oldies act.  The strength of his show was his late 50’s/early 60’s hits (most of which were some variation on “The Twist.”)  Besides “The Twist,” the song that stands out was an R & B ballad that Chubby sang in the voices of his contemporaries.  I distinctly remember the crowd’s wild applause when he sang like Elvis (who had died recently.)  [I thought I might have imagined that, but apparently Chubby’s ability to impersonate other singers is what got him discovered]

The interactive bit in the show was when Chubby and his band did “Limbo Rock.”  A couple of people held the limbo stick and fans could come up on stage and limbo.  I’ll never forget the tall, skinny, young white kid in bell bottoms and a t-shirt that limboed seemingly inches from the stage.  It was almost as if he hovered off the ground.

We left the show very pleased.  My mom and aunt, both pre-teens when Chubby was at his peak, really loved the show.  It probably brought back memories for them.  It was exciting for me because I was seeing someone I thought was a major star.