One of the most frequently visited articles on this website is “Rock Venues That Are No Longer There”. The story takes a closer look at some of the places that spawned the music that rocked the late 60’s and 70’s in the Philadelphia area. It has prompted the most comments of any of the stories I have written.
As time moves on and changes are made to the landscape of the cities of this country, property that once housed clubs are now condos or business offices. No one could argue that these changes are more profitable and some would say a much better use of land. Still, it is sad to see so many historic clubs fade away.
Like Philadelphia, New York City has lost a large number of historic music venues. You can no longer go to the clubs that made it possible for many huge stars like Bob Dylan, The Talking Heads, Patti Smith, The Velvet Underground, and countless others to have a starting points in the big apple. They all are now just a memory.
You can now add another famous club to the list. The legendary B B King Blues Club is now closed. The idea for a small intimate club in the big city was the brain child of the blues giant B B King.
The legend goes that Carlos Santana went from being a street musician to one of the best- selling artists of all time. True or not, his rise was truly spectacular.
It didn’t start out that way. After the group was first formed they auditioned for Chet Helms promotor of San Francisco’s hot new club called the Family Dog (and promotion company). That venue was allowing local bands make a name for themselves. Chet, who was often given the title of “Father of the Summer of Love”, was instrumental in making San Francisco a music hot spot but he missed this one. He told Carlos to give up music - his style of Latin Rock that would never work and to keep his day job. That day job was washing dishes.
The answer to a great rock trivia question is Billy Preston. The question is- who is the only keyboard player to play for both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones? But Billy Preston is much more than the answer to a trivia question.
Billy Preston was highly regarded among his peers. Besides playing with both The Stones and The Beatles, he also played with Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin and Sly Stone. Prior to becoming one of the most sought after keyboard studio musicians in all of Rock music, Billy Preston learned his craft from some of the best including Ray Charles and Little Richard. His recording career started while he was still in high school when he recorded for the legendary Sam Cooke.
Many Rock and Roll historians have long questioned the origins and birth of Rock and Roll music. The name Rock and Roll itself is subject to questions as to who first used it. Credit is given to DJ Allan Freed for first using the label Rock and Roll while he was a disc jockey in Cleveland, Ohio. That was the rather flimsy reason that Cleveland was chosen to house the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
One could easily argue that other cities deserved the honor more than Cleveland. Philadelphia is one city that could certainly make a case for being the birth place of the music. While many consider Chuck Berry the grandfather of the genre, there can be no argument about the first Rock and Roll hit record. That first hit “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and The Comets is cited by many rockers as the reason they got into the music.
Bill Haley got his start in “show biz” by himself being a DJ on a station in the Philadelphia area. While still here he started a band called The Saddlemen. Their music started to out as country, but soon moved into the realm of Country Swing. When the band changed their name to The Comets, they incorporated Country Swing and R & B to create the sound that changed the world of music forever.
The list of people that Mark Andes has played bass guitar for gives you an idea of just how talented he is. While known for his work with Rock musicians, Besides Rock groups, Mark has worked with Jazz, American native music artists and even played on a French artist’s album.
Mark was born in Philadelphia, but since his father Keith was a professional actor, the family moved to Los Angeles to be closer to his chances of working. Music was more of a calling for Mark and before long he was part of the original group from LA called Canned Head. He left the band before they recorded and along with his high school friend, Jay Ferguson started a band called Spirit.
On the surface it certainly appeared that Spirit had all the elements that fit perfectly into the time period. They combined Rock, Jazz and folk to back up the many songs that were filled with topical lyrics of that time period. The group debuted with a self -titled LP in 1968. It was one of two released that year. The first single “Mechanical World” was co-written by Mark and Jay. It was not a big hit.
On the surface calling a member of one of the most successful groups in the history of music underrated would seem totally absurd. But John Paul Jones has lived in the shadows of Jimmy Page, Robert Planet and John Bonham ever since Led Zeppelin was formed. While that trio took most of the glory, it John Paul Jones who was a major factor in the group’s success.
It was the arrangements that Jones did of the music that often separated the super group from just another rock band. Jones has a whole career that the casual fan knows little or nothing about. He is a lot more than a bass player.
John Baldwin (for some unknown reason selected the surname of Jones for a stage name) was born into a very musical family. Both parents were professional musicians. They toured so often that young John had attend boarding schools as a youth.
The beginning of Graham Parker’s career started out like a story book fairy tale. He was working at a filling station pumping gas in England and listening to the radio. After listening for some time he thought to himself, I know I can write better songs than what I am hearing. And so he started writing songs.
Once the songs were written he had to find a way to record them so he put an ad in the paper to find people to play in a backup band. Once the band was in place, the intention was to make a demo recording to get a major label record company interested in signing them. One of the members of the band, Paul Riley, suggested that Dave Robinson, the manager of a local recording studio, was the perfect person to approach. Robinson loved what he heard from the band and agreed to record them. Ironically during the course of recording the demos, it was Robinson who slowly replaced the original members (including Riley) with players that he considered superior. One of those who became the backbone of the band and later a recording artist in his own right was Brinsley Schwartz. Parker was sure that with a name like Brinsley Schwartz that he had been the leader of a German heavy metal band.
The recent death of Tom Petty brought to mind one of the true super groups of our time The Traveling Wilburys. In the article written at the time of Petty’s death I documented how the group accidently got together. While it was essentially a one album group, they did put out a second album but without the great Roy Orbison. It was truly the end of the line when he passed away.
Roy is perhaps the greatest true singer in Rock history. He could hit notes without even straining that others wouldn’t even attempt. How ironic was it that The Traveling Wiburys gave his career a needed shot in the arm after the 70’s had apparently left him behind.
Roy Orbison had more than his fair share of grief. After being discovered by the legendary Sam Phillips of Sun Records in the 50’s, it was awhile before he had a string of hit records in the early 60’s. Then his wife was killed in an accident. Then just two years later, two of his three children died when his home burned down. If there was anyone who needed a lift, it was Roy.
Ray Davies and The Kinks are one of the most over looked bands of the English Invasion. They started recording when Ray was 17 and his brother Dave (the lead guitar player) was only 15. They had an immediate impact with “You Really Got Me” which remains one of the best Rock songs ever. They followed that up with two more top ten singles in the US with “All Day and All l of the Night” and “Tired of Waiting for You”.
In England everyone loved The Kinks. Other bands wanted to sound like them. The Who, for example, admitted that when they first started their goal was to sound like The Kinks. Ray Davis is always being cited by his peers as one of the best song writers in all of the business. So what happened?
The single “Misfits” released in 1978 may tell a good part of the story. The Kinks in general and Ray Davies in particular have been misfits in the music business. Ever since the early success the group has been putting out great records that are largely ignored by the general public but highly praised by critics and other musicians.
It seems like every year the stores and many radio stations start playing wall to wall Christmas music earlier every year. The merchants want you to get into the Christmas spirit and buy gifts. The radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music have great ratings so there’s very strong evidence that people want to hear the holiday music.
The major problem with playing Christmas music all the time is that there’s a lack of traditional songs so you keep hearing the same songs being done by different artists. If you are tired of hearing those same Christmas songs over and over, then perhaps you’d like to make your own list (checking it twice) and create your own soundtrack for the holidays.
In my article about the Cheech & Chong Christmas effort called “Santa Claus and his Old Lady” I listed some songs. Listed below is a more complete list of my favorites that are non-traditional. They are not listed in any particular order.
“Happy Xmas (War is over)” John & Yoko
Anyone who was alive in the 50’s was very much aware of Ricky Nelson. His family had a TV show called “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet” that was extremely popular though most of the 50’s and well into the 60’s. In fact it lasted from 1952 until 1966 making it one of the most long lasting sitcoms in TV history. The show was as close to reality TV as you could get back then. There never seemed to be much of a plot to the show. The family just talked and talked and every once in a while they actually left the house to do something. One could only wonder what the father did for a living since they lived in a beautiful suburban home despite Ozzie being on the family couch for most the show.
Every Halloween avid horror film fans trot out the horror classics. For many people that is the only exposure they have ever had to a device known as the Theremin. That eerie music that you hear as part of the soundtrack for many old spooky or science fiction motion pictures like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Spellbound” used this odd instrument.
A Russian physicist named Lev Termen invented this most unusual sounding instrument in 1919 and brought it with him to the US with big dreams of making it a huge success. That never really happened and Lev ended being forced back to Russia with nothing to show for his efforts.
Another in a series of 45 RPM stories.
Jim Messina fell in love with music at a very early age. Despite the fact that his parents were divorced when he was still an infant, Messina learned from both of them. That was accomplished even though he was bouncing back and forth living with them for parts of the year. His mom, who lived in Texas, loved early Rock ‘n’ Roll and his father, who was a guitarist, lived in California and was into country swing music like that of Bob Willis & The Texas Playboys.
When Jim picked up the guitar at the tender age of 5, he started to be influenced by the guitar work he heard in the songs by Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. By the time he was 17 he was so accomplished that he was asked by a local DJ to play with and produce a band. He didn’t even know what a producer did, but was confident in his knowledge of music so he took up the challenge. While those early efforts were not a commercial success, the engineer on the sessions was so impressed he offered Jim a job in the studio as an assistant.