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That was the very question I asked when I was working for Arista Records and Clive Davis signed D.L. (David) Byron onto our label. The year was 1979 and I first heard D.L. at a staff meeting with Clive.    In seconds I got why Clive signed him.

Where did he find him?  Clive didn’t have to go far.  David had moved up to New York City (Where Arista Records was based) from South Jersey in 1971 to get serious about his music career. At first he didn’t get any closer to a record deal than working in a record store.  Eventually his songwriting got the attention of E H Morris who hired him as a staff writer. From there it was open mike nights and the word got around the city.

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If I had to name only one person as the most interesting that I have met during my many years in the media, it would have to be Captain Beefheart. His unique talent and equally unique personality has attracted many writers to write books and articles about a musician who never had a hit record.  Most of these writers had nothing but praise for the most advent garde of all rock musicians.

When I first met the artist turned rock musician then back to artist, he came to Philadelphia on one of his rare concert tours.  In an interview with Frank Zappa I had already been told that Captain Beefheart was in Zappa’s words “the most fabulous man alive”.  In the same interview he stated that “you have no idea what is going on in that man’s head”.

The first thing that got your attention when talking to Beefheart was his voice.  What a fabulous voice he had. His voice had an unheard of range.  It has been said that he was hard to record because his voice was so powerful that it blew out even the best of mikes.

Big Star

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Back in 1972 when I was programming the music at WIBG, an album came across my desk by a group that immediately caught my attention.  It wasn’t their music that first got my attention.  It was not only the name of the group, but the name of the album that peaked my interest prior to even hearing one note.

Who calls themselves Big Star when no one has ever heard of you?  Not only that, but their LP was called NUMBER ONE RECORD.  These guys were either really good and they knew it, or they were just kidding themselves or us.

As it turned out neither of these options were totally true. They actually named themselves after a huge store sign in their hometown of Memphis. The sign is on the album cover. I am sure they thought they were good, but a number one album they never were.

Robert Palmer

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Vinegar Joe was an English band that had a very unique problem. Most groups have trouble finding a good lead singer. That wasn’t Vinegar Joe’s problem. Their problem was that they had two good lead singers in Elkie Brooks and Robert Palmer. Since the lead singer has a lot to do with the sound and face of the band, having two good lead singers is one too many. Oddly, both singers went solo and Vinegar Joe disbanded without leaving a mark on the rock scene.

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For anyone to make a blanket statement that Warren Zevon was as crazy as the characters in his songs, would most certainly be an over statement.  Yeah, in many ways he was just what you would expect from a rock star whose life was pretty much sex, drugs and rock and roll.

There was, however, a side to him that you not expect to see from hearing his very wild and vivid songs.  I got to know some of that side when Warren spent some time living here in Philadelphia.  If all you know about Warren Zevon is his song Werewolves of London, then you are missing a lot.

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August 1, 2 & 3, 1969

There is no doubt that the most remembered musical event of the year 1969 was Woodstock.  It not only made national, but international headlines.

However, there was a concert event that took place just a couple of weeks prior to Woodstock that was actually a much better live music experience. The Atlantic City Pop Festival was also the very first large scale festival on the east coast. It still gets no credit for not only pioneering such a concert events but for doing it right.

While there were some minor issues with off and on rain (I don’t remember it ruining any performance), the theft of some merchandise and a few did try to climb the fences, but for the most part this was a very well organized event. Perhaps you have to be totally disorganized to get real attention.  Woodstock was certainly a mess compared to the AC Pop Festival.

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August 11, 12 & 13, 1967

The summer of 1967 was a real turning point in Rock music. The summer began with The Monterey Pop Festival in California. That was the first time that many people first heard or heard of The Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin with Big Brother and The Holding Company, The Who and Jimi Hendrix. 

Soon there were newspaper and magazine articles about the new music and culture.  Time even ran a cover story about it. A song written and produced by John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas “San Francisco (Be sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie was number one on the US singles charts.

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There is something about a live performance of a song that in some cases makes it better than the studio version.  While with the live performance you don’t get a chance to do a second or third take, there is nothing like the response of a crowd to bring out the best in an act.  Some acts biggest selling records were live albums.  Here are ten of the very best.

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The debate on using strings in rock and roll is as old as the genre itself.  Purest would have no strings at all.  Their claim is that there should never be strings in rock music because it takes away the very heart of the music.  Others argue that strings can be used to create the right mood as long as it is done tastefully.  There are points well taken on both sides. Where do you stand?

Are there times when strings can be used in rock without the song losing its rock status? Sure, it depends on how it is used.  There is nothing wrong with other string instruments besides the guitars in of themselves.  You may take the side that violins and cellos don’t belong in rock music because of the sound that they make. Rock isn’t supposed to be that pretty.  It is supposed to be hard and raw and not sound like pop music.  Strings can take away that edge that makes rock-rock.  As a producer I would be very reluctant to “sweeten” any rock song with strings.

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Where did classic rock come from?  What makes a group or song classic rock?  What influences made it possible to become one of the most popular forms of music ever? 

Almost all forms of music were an influence on classic rock. The movement borrowed from almost every genre that preceded it. There is a little R & B, Blues, Jazz and Classical music in almost every classic rock act.   Mostly it would depend on the group or artists as to what influenced them the most. One form of music that was a major influence was the American blues scene of the 40’s and 50’s.  It was the first love of Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Jimi Hendrix, Ten Years After, The Allman Brothers, and even Fleetwood Mac. Groups like Procol Harum, The Electric Light Orchestra, The Moody Blues, and Yes were all very much influenced by classical music.

Rock Quiz!

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TRUE OR FALSE

1) Neil Young’s album AFTER THE GOLD RUSH contains a photo taken in Philadelphia.

2) Keith Richards had all his blood replaced with a fresh blood In order to kick his drug habit.

3) Jimi Hendrix once played guitar for the Isley Brothers who became famous for “Twist & Shout”

4) Alice Cooper was not only a runner in high school, but his team won the state championship.

5) Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Pete Ham all died at age 27.

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The rock of the fifties all but disappeared in the sixties with the advent of Motown and other R & B acts.  While The Beatles changed all that, there were several other acts that laid the ground work for the more progressive form of rock that dominated the 70’s.

One of the measuring sticks as to what is really classic rock and what isn’t is just how far they strayed from their Garage Rock roots. The Rolling Stones, The Kinks (whose early songs were among the very best Garage Rock ever), The Animals were all part of an influence often called Garage Rock.   While these UK rock groups had more staying power, not all the Garage Rock Bands were part of the British Invasion. 

All across the US, groups that were primarily very young performers who often learned their craft by practicing in a garage, starting making the charts.  The music was raw and loose, but generated new excitement into the music.

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5)  GIANT STEPS by John Coltrane

This album was released in 1960, but was actually started in May of 1959.  Two weeks earlier John, along with those who helped on this record, had finished working on the classic Miles Davis’ album KIND OF BLUE.

GIANT STEPS  was Coltrane's  introduction to the melodic phrasing that came to be known as Sheets of Sound.   Downbeat Magazine Jazz critic, Ira Gitler, first coined that term in 1958.   He used it to describe the new, unique improvisational style of the Jazz great that featured progressive chord changes.  It was called Coltrane changes by the many Jazz and rock artists who were influenced by the unique approach. Unlike the best Coltrane album up to this time, the gold record BLUE TRAIN which did not stray from the hard line Be Bop of the time, this LP would break new melodic and harmonic ground in jazz and rock. 

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