The Music Blog: Ornette Coleman and The Shape of Jazz to Come

Whoosh

I have heard it said that riding roller coasters is something you either love or you don’t. You can learn to like it but to love it there is some gene you have to have something along the flight or fight response. I don’t know if I believe it. Growing up in the metroplex between Dallas and Fort Worth I got to visit 6 Flags Over Texas with some regularity. Up until I was 10 or so, that meant that we might make a trip if someone visited us with kids from somewhere else. When I got older I would go with friends, usually 4 of us if we could make it work and in the summertime it was like a trip to Mecca once or twice a year. The Last time I went with parental chaperone I was about 9 years old and I went with my dad, Uncle and older cousin. When I was a kid the park was still divided into the 6 areas representing the 6 flags that ruled over Texas which was cool. The big attraction was a roller coaster called Big Ben. Compared to today’s roller coasters it was pretty tame but there was always an element of danger to Big Ben as in its history it had fallen from the track a couple of times injuring and I think even killing someone. I wanted no part of that roller coaster and neither did my older cousin but my dad and uncle rode it and then insisted that we were riding it. Just being in line had me in a near panic, but my father’s voice that it would be fine was reassuring. Then the ride was over in what seemed seconds of heart pounding rushing joy.

Whoosh.

I was hooked on roller coasters.

Twenty Five years later or so I found myself on the opposite end of things with my own son. My son is very different from me. He is a tremendous athlete, has this wonderful hand eye coordination, blond haired blue eyed super cute. When I see him the first thought that hits my brain is damn I did one thing right, the only thing and I sure tried hard to mess it up. My kid has always been really fearless. He was a wonderful youth baseball player and when we moved to kid pitch he was worried about getting hit with the ball and since he was pitching hitting someone else with the ball. He got hit the first game, spent one more at bat being nervous and then you could see the shift in his eyes and he stepped in there and knocked it through. He hit his first kid the next game, his first that he pitched looked at me and shrugged his shoulders and smiled which admittedly wasn’t the best response with a kid writhing in pain on the ground but it was sort of funny. When he decided to ride roller coasters it was just something he said. Here are the roller coasters I want to ride and here is the order that I want to ride them in. It was a logical list starting with something not too high and building up to what he thought was the most challenging. He loved every one of them including the big wooden coaster at 6 Flags the Texas Giant. A year later 6 flags opened up Titan. Even I was a little worried about it although I was sure it was safe. It was a new metal coaster really fast and had a huge drop, a huge steep drop. I was a tad worried but hell it was a roller coaster and I was going to ride it. My son saw it and said nope maybe later. Throughout the day he kept coming back to it looking at the line and finally without saying anything he got into line. I knew enough not to say anything so we talked baseball, girls and anything else. That line moved fast and I saw him getting worried but I give him credit he sure didn’t have a lot of back down in him. So he told me that he didn’t want to be up front my preferred car and he didn’t want to be in the back my second favorite car so we were towards the front, nice secure and safely in the car. I made one mistake but nothing we could do about it. As we started to climb I got excited and I pointed to the Giant which was nearby and he saw that we were already higher than the Giant which was a tall coaster. He said he wanted to get off. I chuckled and said dude just hang on cause there ain’t anything we can do about it now. That drop was breathtaking.

Whoosh

My son would call me as he got older and went to the park with friends just to tell me which roller coasters he rode and how the ride was. I always thought that was pretty cool.

Here we go again right? What if Mike wrote a blog about music that didn’t actually have anything to do with music? Okay fair point. Touche!

I used to think jazz was like roller coasters, you either loved it or you didn’t but it wasn’t something you could somehow learn to like or tolerate. Truth to tell I don’t really know the answer. I have listened to all sorts of jazz, from that quiet storm junk that littered the 80’s beginning with Kenny G’s Songbird and moving out slowly and discovering bands that were both smooth and those that played a more traditional sound; bands like the Yellow Jackets, and the Crusaders and even the Rippingtons. I also listened to artists that were older who were making a more softer easier to digest jazz to sell records, guys like Grover Washington Jr. and Ramsey Lewis. Don’t get me wrong I am not diminishing the work or value of that music. I once had a friend who had a different girlfriend on every street in Fort Worth it seemed and no girl seemed impossible. He would talk to me and I seriously just hoped that well one of them might fall to me. He used to tell me that jazz drew the honeys, seriously his words not mine.

Over time though, I began to be a lot more serious about learning about jazz. It wasn’t easy like the blues. With the blues you can put on a Muddy Waters record and you are there. It’s just easier to navigate easier to access, more digestable. Jazz is complex, from its rhythms and beats to the bands. People get lost in the bands, well not only is it Miles Davis but its Miles Davis with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. That seems to be as important as the music itself and in that regard it’s like classical. Who is conducting, what orchestra is playing? These things matter. Jazz breaks my cardinal rule that music should be easily digestable, meaning that it should not be a challenge to get through it. Take all the conductors and orchestra crap out of classical music and there is still the music, the beautiful music. Dvorak is still Dvorak, Mozart is still Mozart. Of course jazz lovers will disagree with me.

My first real experience in diving into the deeper world of more serious Jazz came with Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 albums of all time. I think I have told the story although I saw an updated version which included a few that I don’t have the list I started with is complete for me. I have all 500 and among these are some of the real great jazz albums. You could probably name a few or at least the artists, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker. There may be some others in there not thought of off the top of your head and of course there was at least one I knew nothing about nor had I even heard of the artist despite the fact that he was from my own hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.

My knowledge of Jazz was poor or limited but I knew a little. If you got me into a room with a bunch of jazz lovers I might survive a few minutes before they found out I didn’t know much at all. Most music for me falls into pretty simple categories; music I love, music I like, music I dislike and music I despise, also known as anything done by Frank Zappa. I was dutiful and when it was time to buy Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come I did so. That’s what a collector does. Now just for your edification I don’t buy music and rush home and pop it into the cd player or on the turn table. Nope, not at all. Think about it. Come on you have the answer. Yep I put it into my stacks where it belongs alphabetically. What does that mean? Well it means that if I am listening to Badfinger and buy a Ornette Coleman cd then I am going to listen to it about 6 weeks later, maybe sooner, maybe a little later. If I am listening to Def Leppard and buy an Ornette Coleman cd it’s going to be 11 to 14 months later, which is about the current length of time it takes me to go around. If you think I might actually forget I bought it when it comes around you would be right. Many times I don’t have a clue what it is, or why I bought it.

I remember the day I listened to it for the first time. I was living in Atlanta. It was a fall weekend day and I was sitting on my back porch watching my dogs play. I had the grill lit, meat was ready to put on and the cd changed to Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come. Those opening notes hit me like the drop of a roller coaster.

Whoosh

When it was over I sat there breathless. The coals in my grill had burned down. I rushed to put the meat on. And I restarted that cd. I listened to it again. And again.

Whoosh

And again.

Whoosh

There are albums that I love, albums that I think are breathtaking, that I think strike right to the heart of who I am. There are albums that I feel connected to my soul as if they were written just for me. There are albums for almost every occasion, from playing video games to sitting outside around a fire, or hanging out in the pool. There are albums that are perfect for a few beers, for a cigar and glass of great bourbon, or a good glass of Pinot Noir. There are albums that are great for yard work, albums to pump you up for a good workout. I have never had an album that was like a roller coaster, that gave me that rush, that made my heart pound and left me breathless left me feeling like I was eleven years old again running with my friends to get back into line to do it all over again.

I don’t think the album is for everyone. I think you better like jazz a bit meaning that jazz ought to be more of a hit and less of a miss for you. You should have a fair background of listening to good jazz a variety of good jazz which means that you should have listened to way more than the complete collection of Kenny G. But if you have listened to jazz, given it a whirl around the dance floor a couple of times and like some of it then you should definitely give Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come a really good listen. You better hold onto something. Now I always seem to go in a different direction than all the experts. Most of them have Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue as the greatest jazz album ever. It’s a great album. I really enjoy listening to it, although truth to tell Sketches of Spain has always been the better album for me, but neither are as all encompassing as The Shape of Jazz to Come. I also don’t think anything Coltrane has done comes close either. I do love me some Coltrane. Whenever I see Ornette Coleman moving up on my playlist I get a little excited. It’s like standing in line for a great roller coaster and you know it’s not going to disappoint you. It’s coming. And then……..

Whoosh

Mike out

The Music Blog: Warning Douchebag Alert

This is a disclaimer, and you better read it carefully. This blog is about Eric Clapton who I believe is the most reprehensible person on the planet or certainly one of them. If you love Eric Clapton you should exit this post and not read further. If you think he is the greatest guitarist or the greatest bluesman to ever walk the planet then you need to stop and read no further. I do not like Mr. Clapton, I do not like him Sam I am and I do not like green eggs and ham.

You have been warned so any snide argumentative comments defending him will be treated accordingly.

So look, let’s be honest here. Clapton can play. Is he the greatest guitarist ever? It’s a matter of opinion but I don’t think so. I think he is overrated. Disliking Clapton has little to do with his music. In fact there are many songs I really like especially the music made with Cream. I also enjoy listening to From the Cradle but it’s not the blues, it’s a bastardized version of the blues. That’s where it really begins with me. If you read my blog then you know how I feel about the blues and the people who are called bluesmen. So I don’t need to go there again. Clapton gets called a sort of savior for the blues by making it popular, well making it popular with white people. A lot more musicians than Clapton though loved and listened to the blues and their treatment of the old blues men who created that music was so much more sincere. Ever see Keith Richards play with one of the great bluesmen, how reverential it is. It’ not about him, it’s about them. The first thing you have to understand about Clapton is that it’s always about him. He is always center stage, always the big attraction. There are all sorts of videos out there of Clapton playing with Buddy Guy or playing with Muddy. It’s always the black guy introducing Clapton. It’s never the other way around and sometimes you can see it in Muddy’s eyes that he realizes that the blues sold its soul to the white devil to make money to be big to have a white audience.

Clapton didn’t invent the term Clapton is God at least we don’t think so, but he also never did anything to dispel that attitude. Even today people still say Clapton is God just like it was spray painted on a wall in London. He believes he is, acts like he is and by gosh everyone else should too. Clapton is always introduced by other stars when he plays he never does the introducing. Somewhere around 1966 a young American guitarist came to London. He had no band no real resume outside of playing with the Isley brothers. By all appearances he seemed little more than a side man, this unassuming black man without a band. He made the rounds and then asked very politely if he could come on stage and play with Clapton and Cream. Clapton said sure. Jimi Hendrix played Killing Floor a Howlin’ Wolf song that Clapton didn’t believe could be played Live. Hendrix shattered his world. Clapton said that he saw Hendrix play and the world changed. The experience changed Clapton.

Years later many of the English rock stars who had learned to play by listening to American blues approached Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters to bring them to England and record with them before these aging giants of music were gone forever. Both happily agreed. There was a condition. They could not bring their bands. They were told that it was because they could not afford to bring everyone, these rich English stars. The real reason? Howlin’ Wolf was blessed to have in my opinion the greatest blues guitarist of all time in his band, the man who invented the licks for Killing Floor and all the other great Wolf songs. Eric Clapton wanted no part of Hubert Sumlin being there and so he said no. Now Sumlin was a warm hearted wonderful humble man and you might not have heard about him because he wasn’t out there calling himself great. He just wanted to play. It was a great disappointment to both Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters that their bands had to be left behind.

Most people are blessed to have a lot of friends in their life. I am not one of them. I have few friends and I cherish the daylights out of them. They do a lot for me because I need a lot done for me. It’s not easy being vision impaired. It’s hard to measure the friendships that rock stars develop because so little of their private lives unless its romantic is covered. Clapton is not known for having a lot of friendships. Maybe he does maybe he doesn’t. It says little about him either way. Back in the late 60’s Clapton developed one of the great friendships in rock and roll history with George Harrison. In fact, his relationship with Harrison was much better than any of the wives or women that he had relationships with. Would you like to know how Clapton felt about that friendship? Well he felt it was so great that he developed a relationship with George Harrison’s wife in the early 70’s. So they pal’ed around and meanwhile he’s carrying on with the famous Patti Boyd, George’s wife. Classy right? Now if you are going to be a douchebag and screw your best friend’s wife at least have the courage to go to your best mate and say before it ever starts that you got a thing for his wife. The right thing to do is talk about it, talk it through before you actually go out and screw her, before you fall in love with her. Not Clapton. Clapton is God. Those kinds of stand up things are beneath him. It is sort of interesting to see Clapton interviewed years later how he minimizes blame almost makes it into no big deal. I can assure you it was a big deal, it was hurtful and the fact that George remained friends with Clapton says more about George than it does about Clapton.

Clapton has had many failed relationships. It’s not hard to figure out why, it’s all about him all the time. Sheryl Crow knows. She wrote a half dozen songs about what a douchebag Clapton was. Half of the album The Globe Sessions is about him in fact. Maybe she is not a whole lot better, but it would be a hard to be any worse.

So my final douchebag moment will likely make you squirm a bit. This is purely my opinion. I am a dad, a father of a pretty great kid who has been a challenge for most of his life. I know what it’s like to have a toddler running around. I used to do this thing where if I came across any tongs in the kitchen I would pick them up and dramatically start humming the theme song to jaws. Duh-du, duh-du. You know. As soon as he heard it my kiddo would take off running, laughing and giggling, just one of those little games we had. One night he slipped on the floor and knocked himself senseless. It scared the hell out of us. Life with a 2 year old or a 3 year old or even a 4 year is damn scary. You can have eyes on, glance out of a window for 5 seconds at a squirrel and turn around and somehow the little tyke has dragged the water hose inside and is spraying the electric sockets while playing with a switchblade. So as parents you learn. You walk through your house and you childproof as much as you can. So tell me if you live in New York City, rich enough that you live in a high rise luxury apartment and visit other friends who own luxury high rise apartments why you would have a window open. Think about it and please show your work, but I ask the question again why would you have a window open. Yes I know, the accident occurred at a friend of Clapton’s wife The truth is, if you gave a damn at all about your little tyke you wouldn’t. Now I know what you are thnking, was aforementioned Mr. Clapton, ie. God even there. Honestly I can’t remember. In fact I think he was on tour. Even so you are rich enough that you pay someone to watch over the little tyke and in doing so you give instructions, don’t let him near my guitars, please don’t open any windows that he can fall out of, keep him away from knives. Isn’t this just good parenting? Accidents happen and I get this. Sometimes, even when you are diligent bad things just happen without any rhyme or reason. I do not blame Clapton for the death of his son, it’s what came next. Now Clapton is great at making lemonade out of lemons so naturally he wrote a song about his dead son and lo and behold he made lots of money and won lots of grammys and everyone feels sorry for him and gives him a lot of attention. You can cringe now if you want. Profiting off the death of your son is just evil. I just cannot imagine.

Look If you got this far then remember I warned you that I wasn’t going to be nice. I don’t like him, don’t like what he stands for don’t like how he profits from drug addiction, from death and from generally being a crappy human being. As I have said I like some of his music. There are even a few Cream songs that dare I say I actually love. The man himself is reprehensible. I still see him called God on a blues site I am a part of. Occasionally I have someone who asks me oh you love music don’t you love Eric Clapton. I usually respond with a glare, an icy glare. I do not begrudge you for liking him. Mostly this is about answering why I don’t like him which I get asked a lot because so many ask me if I like Clapton because I love the blues and they think he is some sort of blues God. He isn’t.

And don’t worry this blog really isn’t about the things I hate, the artists I can’t stand, just the opposite but my collection brings up a host of thoughts and feelings some of which I am going to express on this blog.

And you were warned.

Mike out

Terry Kath January 31,1946-January 23, 1978

About 18 months ago a friend of mine from high school, Scott asked me a few questions about my music collection. Was it all digital? No it’s all cds and vinyl. Do you have a lot of vinyl? Sure I have a fair chunk everything I have ever bought. So my friend proceeds to tell me about this informal group he belongs to that host and attend vinyl parties. Having never heard of a vinyl party he explained that the host of the party picks a theme and the attendees pick songs from their vinyl collection and share those songs with a story. It sounded interesting and just like that I was invited. I don’t remember the theme and for some inexplicable reason probably due to my own excitement that someone wanted to hang out with me I chose a song without realizing the consequences and when it was my turn I played the song and it wasn’t until afterwards that I realized it was the first time that I listened to the song without becoming emotional since 1978. That night sharing that song with Scott and Genia, Greg and Denise and Cindy and Jason and a few others put me on a path of resolution of a grief and sadness that I have never been able to process. Since that moment I have been able to write 4 times about a fallen musical hero, watched a documentary and allowed myself to cry a sorrowful grief so that I could move forward and even look behind.

Terry Kath was my hero.

Somewhere late in my elementary career I began to discover music. I like to call it a career like it was some planned out event when really it was controlled chaos, a social drubbing and learning my place in the world. I had friends with older sisters, and I had a sister who was older although we didn’t get along well……..at all. We were also friends with the neighbors across the street and they had a son and a daughter. The son was a year older than my sister and the daughter was two years older than me but that poor son got stuck with me every single time that our families hung out and he was nice, kind, offering me advice on all sorts of things and he always made me listen to music. Another friend’s sister liked show tunes and thankfully I didn’t follow her down that road, yikes, although yea I still like the music from Godspell because of her.

Mostly as kids there just came a time when music began to be something we took notice of more and more. If we were outside we would listen to radios. I had this radio with a cassette player an early boom box without the boom but I am sure it was a prototype. Mostly we listened to pop music, the hits of the day. My parents would have frowned at me listening to anything heavier at that time. I always tell the story that the first album I bought was John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High and the second was Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies which I wanted for the song No More Mr. Nice Guy; however the second side was banned for me due to the last 3 songs about loving the dead and it is the first song on the second side so I only listened to it when I had headphones. I also listened to a lot of Elton John but the first band that I really loved and really followed was Chicago. They were my first favorite band and they remain a band that I love and I guess I always will despite not wanting to hear anything from them for years. There would be others but Chicago was first. They were a big band, horn players, keyboard players, bass player, great drummer and one amazing guitarist.

When they first went out to California they ended up touring with Jimi Hendrix who loved Terry Kath the Chicago guitarist and told James Pankow from Chciago that Kath was better than him. That’s pretty high praise. Walter Parazaider said he was the only guy he ever saw who could play rhythm guitar, lead guitar and handle lead vocals all at the same time. None of this I cared about. Terry Kath was my favorite band member of Chicago, of any band and would be for a long time. So you might wonder what I saw in him. Well he was the only guitar player in the band so it was easy to recognize when he was playing. You don’t have to wonder who is playing on 25 or 6 to 4. It’s Kath. He had an amazing voice, deep resonant and you knew when he was singing. I could identify with him easily because I was red headed with a million freckles and I was awkward, not very athletic and lacking in a lot of social confidence. Kath was big, chubby, chunky even with a giant head and always wearing a big goofy smile. He looked exactly the way he lived like everything was one hundred miles an hour. He drove fast, scary fast, drank a lot, drank too much, experimented with drugs, took too many of them and loved guns, loved shooting guns. There were times he did all of these things at once. He had a band that loved him, loved him a lot, worried about him, wondered how they could help him, hoping it would not end tragically.

The first song I fell in love with was not Color My World. The first song I loved was Make Me Smile. I also loved and still do the interplay of Peter Cetera and Terry Kath on Dialogue Parts 1 and 2 on Chicago 5. You might not know the song readily because of the title, but it’s a dialogue between a college student who has an optimistic everything is fine with the world viewpoint (Cetera) and a more disgruntled activist type who sees problems everywhere (Kath). Sound familiar, well it seems to have a lot of relevance for today which actually should scare you a bit. Have we really managed to not come so far? I digress. This is about Terry Kath. My favorite song from Terry Kath though is from Chicago 8. It was not a hit song and for a long time I was unable to listen to it without really crying. In fact the first time I played the song where it had a lesser emotional impact on me was at a vinyl party, strangely my first time with this group many of whom I didn’t know and that one of the songs I shared that night was Oh Thank You Great Spirit. It has everything that is wonderful about Terry Kath, great guitar, energy and his wonderful deep vocals. I just love it and no matter what came after, how many songs Chicago had as hits it remains as one of my very favorite Chicago songs.

By 1977 I had begun to be a lot broader in my tastes and in the bands I listened to and Chicago was no longer the center of my musical universe. That isn’t to say that I had stopped listening to them I had just stopped with the be all end all that I had been. One thing about the 70’s it was so full of amazing music and I listened to a lot of it. In 1977 I was nearing the end of Junior High School 14 years of know it all, gangly teen age angst (one of my favorite words.) Chicago seemed more of my past and less of my future but as it turned out they had one more defining moment for me, one unforgettable moment that occurred early in 1978. Terry Kath loved to clown around, loved to drive fast, loved to drink a lot so he wasn’t a lot different than a big teenager. The drugs and alcohol though had significantly began to affect his body and health and he had begun to talk about needing and getting help to sort it all out. His behavior was concerning. He frequently played with guns, shooting them carrying them around and many in the band were very worried about him because he was intoxicated or high so often. On the night of January 22, 1978 he had been at a roadie’s house where there was a gathering of people and they were partying pretty hard. People left and the party wound down. Kath took out a revolver and began to clean it. His friends encouraged him to go to bed that it was not the time to be doing such things and he laughed at them showed them that the revolver was empty put it to his head and pulled the trigger and laughed at their faces. He was a goofball until the end. He then took out a semi automatic pistol removed the clip showed that the clip was empty replaced the clip put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. He had forgotten the round that had been chambered. In the early hours of January 23, 1978 just short of his 32nd birthday Terry Kath died of a gunshot wound to the head.

I was not a naïve person. I was no dummy. I knew that Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison had died from drugs and alcohol. I knew they had died young with so much more left for them to do. Like many things I suppose that it was like so many of us who believe that nothing bad will happen to us that we are somehow exempt. If we drive too fast we will not get into wrecks, we won’t hurt other people we won’t hurt ourselves. Other people may experience these things but it can’t happen to me. We believe that our parents will be okay that they will make it home, believing anything else is unacceptable. I loved Terry Kath. He was my hero and he was my friend even though I never met him. That’s the way I felt about him. It was somehow a mistake and he would be in the news the next day with that big goofy smile. I cried for a week. I wondered how I could ever listen to a song with his voice singing and not feel that devastation. It was a loss the same as any other loss. It would be a long time before I could listen to Chicago, a very long time. The albums I had sat idle. The grief I felt would fade, the pain would lessen and of course I vowed never to love a rock star like i had worshipped Terry Kath. It wasn’t worth it. I was mad at him too, angry that this big galoot, this big awkward galoot with the big head and goofy smile had left me to deal with my awkwardness alone. My favorite Terry Kath song Oh Thank You Great Spirit just seemed to take on a whole different meaning but it would take me a long time to see that.

When I began this blog I tried really hard to communicate how much music meant to me, how passionate I was and where this blog journey would take us, me and the 4 ½ readers that I have. Today I shared a Cars song and said something about being a big girl when it came to Benjamin Orr. Well I am that way with a lot of musicians. I don’t have a lot of friends. I guess I am not very likeable. I don’t know what it is and now that I am vision impaired there isn’t a lot I can do except sit at home. This isn’t me whining it is just a fact of my life. It is music that fills the gaps allows me to dance alone sing as loudly as I want turn it up when I want. Many of the musicians I listen to are old friends, the oldest friends that I have

Robert Lamm who sings so many of the great Chicago songs said that 40 years after Terry Kath’s death he has hardly begun to process the grief he feels. Walter Parazaider said that Kath did so much that one guy could never replace him and given how many guitar players came after Kath it’s hard to argue with him. There is a line in the song Saturday in the Park, “a man playing guitar, singing for us all” It is a wonderful happy song written and sung by Robert Lamm. When he comes to that line he looks to the heavens, and he has done so since that January day in 1978. Now, when I hear the song, that’s the image I have. As you might know I am a bit of a cryer. It took me a long time to learn how to cry and ever since learning I seem to find every reason in the world to shed a few tears. Terry Kath is still my hero. I still see that big head and that big goofy smile. I just can’t help it and if his songs and his death still sadden me, well then some of his songs still lift me up and it’s really hard to be sad or mad at someone who loved life as much as he did and found so many reasons to share that big goofy smile.

Mike Out

The Missing Ingredient

I am a strong believer in the power of music. Whether it is driving down the road windows down blaring a great song and singing at the top of your lungs or turning on that just right song when you have had a bad day or enjoying a quiet morning birds singing and Mozart playing, music fills the gaps in our lives. It is immediate it is satisfying and it arouses the emotions. If you listen to a lot of music then I believe you have a healthy soul, a well nurtured soul. Since my vision impairment I am almost homebound and I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my dog and if I didn’t have my music. It’s just that important.

Lately I have really been on a roll bashing country music. I don’t like much of it and what I do is generally old. Last night while thinking about my topic today I realized one other reason. Country just doesn’t have bands. There are exceptions but let me tell you what I have never heard or participated in that I have with rock and roll about a hundred times. I probably had a similar conversation like this one a hundred times in junior high and high school.

Me: “Kiss would be nothing without Ace Frehley.”

Friend: “You’re an idiot, everyone knows its Gene who keeps that band going.”

Me: “Nu uh I am not an idiot. Gene spits blood anyone can do that, Ace shreds guitar and he’s from outerspace.”

I know what you’re thinking clearly I was wrong about Ace.

Was not.

Part of loving a band is having your favorite band member. Almost everyone has a favorite Beatle, a favorite Rolling Stone. People still are upset because Steve Perry isn’t with Journey anymore. I won’t ever watch them live. I just won’t. Some bands can survive a loss be it a death or just a band member going their own way. I didn’t care at all when Peter Cetera left Chicago, good riddance to a control freak who believed he was bigger than the band but after Terry Kath died I didn’t listen to Chicago for close to 20 years. Country is about solo artists, rock and roll is about bands.

I get a lof of suggested pages on my facebook page because I am always posting music or sharing music and because I share a lot of these suggested pages or like them facebook makes sure I have a lot of them to look at. A couple of months ago a video came up of the Cars playing a song on late night television, might have been Conan from their last album Move Like This. Now I enjoyed that album but clearly there was a missing ingredient and being a Cars fan I knew what it was immediately.

The Cars were one of the bands of my high school youth which meant that we listened to them while riding around in cars. I loved them, they were and have always been one of my favorite all time bands. It always seemed that when I was with a group of my friends we always listened to the first album The Cars. That iconic intro to You’re All I’ve Got Tonight, She’s My Best Friends Girl, Moving in Stereo, All Mixed Up could be the soundtrack of my youth. Those songs can play and instantly a lot of really good memories would come up too. That is the power of music. But I am an introvert, sometimes way too much and as I have written about I had troubles and when I was alone I would always play Candy-O. It has my favorite Cars song, Dangerous Type but I also love how Shoo Be Doo rolls into Candy-O. It is my album and as you might guess a whole different set of emotions comes up when those songs play, some good, some bad, some right in the middle. I didn’t like Panorama too much and almost discarded it until I rode around in Tammy Willis’ Firebird blaring it.  Oh it was nothing romantic, it was just good honest friendship which is always the best kind.  I must have asked her to play Touch and Go and Misfit Kid a thousand times.

I love the Cars but what always made the Cars to me was the perfect interplay between Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr. Their voices just complimented each other and sometimes it’s hard to tell who is singing because it was together that they made up that signature sound. Benjamin Orr was my guy and yes a whole lot more important than Ace Frehley. Really I wasn’t that wrong, Ace was important.

Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr began playing music together in the early 70’s and they were in multiple bands together. They formed The Cars after a lot of trial and error including a folk band they were in together. Think on that. When the Cars broke up in 1988 it wasn’t because they hated each other, or creative differences. They just wanted to do other things and they had gone far enough. Orr had a wonderful solo album in the 80’s and yes its very 80’s. Most of my favorite Cars’ songs were sung by Orr. Let’s Go, Candy-O, It’s All I can Do, Bye Bye Love, and Just What I Needed. But there are two that get me. From the moment All Mixed Up begins I am lost in it, flooded. 40 years later the song gives me goose bumps still. Drive off the album Heartbeat City. I don’t analyze lyrics and for the most part it’s not what is important to me. The song means one thing per the lyrics but to me it’s all the girls who I couldn’t get close to because I wasn’t good enough, all the girls I was too afraid to approach all the girls who broke my heart and it might be the only Cars song that makes me cry.

Some bands can survive losses and some bands can’t. Some bands continue on with the belief that it will make little difference. On the liner to Move Like This Ocasek writes that Ben was there in spirit and that his spirit is throughout the album. I think the album is good but I differ in my opinion that Benjamin is there in spirit or any other way. In fact it’s the absence which grabs me, it’s the absence of his voice of his presence.

Benjamin Orr died In October of 2000 of pancreatic cancer, the same disease that took my mom. He will forever remain in my heart as my favorite member of the Cars.

And you know what dammit Ace Frehley is tons more important than Gene Simmons. Yea huh.

Mike out

Burning Spear

Winston Rodney
Yes I know that you have no idea who he is. You’re probably asking yourself if he is a friend of mine or some obscure member of a band that I heard in a bar in Deep Ellum in 1991.
One of my favorite things ever is when one of my friends or even just someone I know, an acquaintance says that they love Reggae music. Naturally because I am easily amused ask oh yea, so what bands do you like and then watch as they stumble because they can’t get past Bob Marley. Every once in a while some genius will smile and say oh and Ziggy of course. I love me some Ziggy. Most people can’t get past Bob Marley when the term Reggae comes up. They don’t know where it came from and few even know that before it was Bob Marley and the Wailers it was just the Wailers.
Aha you say, Winston Rodney one of the Wailers of course.
Nope, guess again.
Winston Rodney is Burning Spear one of the greatest Reggae performers of all time and one of the real early greats in on the ground floor. You see the problem I have with people who say they love Reggae but only know Bob Marley or like Jazz but only know Miles Davis or think that the Blues is some white guy is that you don’t really know or understand those genres at all. Don’t get me wrong, Marley should be included in any exploration of Reggae music but you should know that Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were also Wailers. You should know Black Uhuru, Third World, Beres Hammond, Dennis Brown, Steel Pulse, and Culture. If you are going to know something then dive on in or wait until I get there on the play list and share it with you right?
For me I had to know what some of the terminology meant, I had to understand the themes and I sure had to know what or who Haile Selassie was because it’s a recurrent theme in all classic Reggae and I had to understand the concepts and beliefs of Rastafari. All of that is part of the music part of the recurrent themes you find in classic Reggae. Before Reggae there was island music and a combination of this music with traditional R&B that was loosely called ska. Almost all of the great Reggae performers cut their teeth with ska. But there were deep covert and overt forms of imperial racism throughout Jamaica. Not only was it a white controlled island but it was a stiff upper lip imperial English white superiority and their treatment of the islanders was brutal sometimes savage in its ferocity. Rastafari grew out of this very hopeless ghettoized society where everything was based on color. Music became the outlet for so many youth in ghettos like Trench Town near Kingston and Trench Town became the very fertile ground for the Rastafari faith. Dreadlocks grew and the music became a harsh trumpet call for the religion that it sprang from becoming a clarion call for equality and real freedom. Its why I get so angry when I hear Clapton a white Englishman singing a song about oppression I shot the Sheriff. Bob loved the attention that a white star could bring Reggae music but also knew that Clapton didn’t even understand what he was singing about.
For many of the youth wanting to make a name for themselves, including the Wailers, and including Burning Spear they made their way to a series of small recording studios all white owned and controlled to try out and record singles with a b-side. Mostly these records were played in local dance halls and these bands could go and hear their record being played with some pride. Some recorded a little and some recorded a lot. For each record made the artist was paid a small sum and whether their record was played and bought by millions or bought by a few or never heard that’s all they got. Some of these artists survived and were signed by bigger labels and taken to London to record where they received real contracts with real royalty rights but for many of these bands their earliest recordings are lost to them. They don’t own the rights to their own music. If a band reached real success they might buy back their own rights. Most of Marley’s music and the music of the wailers is owned by the Marley family and if its early Wailer music then Bunny gets his share as does the Tosh family.
Now if you listen to a lot of Reggae you might not actually like Burning Spear’s music. It’s not the music but the vocals that I sometimes struggle with. I am just not crazy about him as a vocalist yet he has some amazing material. If Marley represents the peace extreme of Reggae and Tosh the aggressive equality now extreme Burning Spear falls neatly right between the two. Much of his music focuses on freedom and equality as well as spiritual Rastafari themes. I have always felt that Burning Spear became the man that Bunny Wailer should have, the elder spokesman for Reggae and he does it well. One of his most admirable qualities to me is that he points out which labels put out music, compilations or old albums re-released and the artists receive no monies from. He denounces and encourages fans to not buy music from these disreputable labels. He still speaks out against injustice, still performs his songs of freddom and demands for equality and because of it the world of Reggae is a better place as is Jamaica. So next time someone says do you like Reggae or asks what Reggae artist you like its okay to say Bob Marley, to not mention him would be like saying you like rock and roll and not mentioning the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Now though give Burning Spear a shout out and maybe just maybe take some time to actually listen to some of his music or any other Reggae star not named Marley.
Mike out.