Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dearly Beloved...

"Not The Prince, not A Prince, and not Prince something -- just Prince."  I vaguely remember that day and that clarification when I first heard one of Prince's song's on the radio and asked someone else in the room who it was.   The song was Sexuality and the only reason I even heard the song was that I was in Germany, the only other country besides Austria where the song was released.  It was probably a bit too blatant to get airplay in the US.    That's okay, it was quickly followed by 1999 and Little Red Corvette, which was released in the US, and quickly blasted Prince into serious airplay.  Now he is gone.

Too many great musicians leaving us -- among the things that I admired Prince for was his ability as a musician.  He played all the instruments on his first 5 albums --- check out his solo during a performance at the R&RHoF induction in 2004, starts at 3:30.  George Harrison would have been impressed.

His song writing skills were equally admirable.  I have always appreciated any writer that can turn phrases to play with the words -- double and triple entendre and even just saying things straight out.  Prince's lyrics were never toned down or censored.  Instead they were openly and unapologetically sexual; they were meant to illicit emotion on a sensual level and not merely for shock value.  Darling Nikki is my favorite Prince song -- the music paints a carnival sideshow image -- while the lyrics are full on explicitly sexual -- all of which plays out in your imagination.   Not for kids, but such a great work of what music can be when approached on multiple levels without restraint.

He also wrote songs for others, which is really hard to do while keeping the honesty in the sentiment.  I once competed for a job as speech writer; up to that point I had no idea how difficult it could be to find someone else voice and then to produce words using that voice while suppressing your own from becoming dominant.  That was in a fact based environment, the difficulty on channeling that way for an emotional environment has to be mind-bending.    Sheila E's Glamorous Life, The Bangle's hit Manic Monday (originally written for Apollonia 6), and Sugar Walls by Sheena Easton were all Prince penned songs.

Prince also co-authored or contributed to some great songs as well, which is tremendously difficult as you have to bend to another's input while trying to champion your own. Prince's collaboration with Stevie Nicks created Stand Back and he shared writing credits with Madonna for Love Song.  A successful cover is also the sign of the universality of a song as a new performer puts their own spin on his words and music to take it to a new audience.  Listen to Sinead O'Conner sing Nothing Can Compare 2U, I Feel for You by Chakka Kahn, or When You Were Mine performed by Cyndi Lauper  - each is done in their own style but the composer shines clearly through.

The most memorable characteristic of Prince's music was the multiple layers of style he placed within every song.  During the first MTV Video Awards, Michael Nesmith (The Monkees) won an award for something and during his acceptance speech he made a comment that the categories of music should not be separated as "Soul" and "Rock & Roll" but just a single category of "Rock".  To me Prince said the same thing with his music.  He blended styles.  You could find R&B, Funk, Rock and more all blended in the same 3 minute tune.  Prince was part of the transformation to a purer rock & roll, one based on a culmination of styles rather than a labeling of them.  

A friend recently said that he felt Prince's death was not the end of music and that many other music legends are still among us plus new music is constantly being created.  Nice reminder of both the music that is still here and the music to come. Every day, some child somewhere picks up his first instrument and plays his first note. To some it will be a significant addition to their own life and internal peace. Others will share those notes and it will contribute to all of our lives. We all need to support and encourage music in education and in life.  

Dearly beloved,
We are gathered here today; 

To get through this thing called life.

His music makes getting through better.   Wish I could have seen him perform live during my Summer of Live Rock & Roll -- but alas -- no.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Summer of Live Rock & Roll

When I was younger, it was very rare that I went to live music events.  My parents never saw a huge value in paying to attend live music events if you could get the same music on the radio for free.  As a result I have only flashes of any live music before I was in High School.  The earliest memory of a live performance was a band performing Cliff Roberts’ song The Horse at a party for kids whose fathers were in Viet Nam (saw Bozo the Clown doing magic tricks during that party too). 

High School changed the concept of live music as every dance I went to from 9th grade on had a live band.   DJs were unheard of and a few of the bands were good enough that they are still around.  Slap Water was the band that performed at my prom and then later at one of the reunions of the class three decades later.  Having experienced parties at friend’s houses where a record player was the source of music; I knew the difference live music could have.  Slow dancing especially was always so much better when the band was live. 

The first big name, sit down and listen type concert I went to was when I took my Dad to see Johnny Cash.  Even if you did not like his music, he was known to put on a terrific live show that also featured wife June Carter Cash along with the Carter Family and his brother Tommy.  But this was the 70s and there were dozens of bands on tour -- the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Segar, Elvis, and so many more.  This was before MTV and music videos, so the stage show made each concert an amazing experience.  Alice Cooper toured with a guillotine on stage, ZZ Top had live long horn cattle and no KISS was complete without explosions and Gene Simmons spitting blood.  Unfortunately, I went to none of those concerts.  

In the past couple of years I have been able to see the Eagles, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, and ZZ Top live, but the march of time has not been kind to my favorite bands as death seems to be catching up with them.  Flash forward to 2016...because of prior concert attendance I started to get notices for upcoming concerts featuring my favorite bands in March.  The first was Journey & the Doobie Brothers, but Ticketmaster’s app kept screwing up and, because they have no humans you can call anymore, by the time I got it resolved the only seats left were undesirable (who the hell pays $100 to sit behind a pillar on the far left of the audience?) or ridiculously expensive.  But then more concert notices started to arrive in my mailbox – and these included advance purchase codes and the like; so I was able to get good seats at prices I considered worthwhile.  Based on kismet and a reminder of the mortality of humans from Glenn Frey’s passing, I have declared this my Summer of Live Rock & Roll and started to pick up tickets as the shows were announced.  So far, I have seats to attend four great concerts with nine stellar acts: 

The Rock Hall Three for All featuring Heart, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, and Cheap Trick.  This was the second notice that came and I jumped on it and managed to score great seats.  I had lobbied for both Heart and Joan Jett to get into the R&RHoF, glad they both finally did.   Cheap Trick was just icing on the cake; Cheap Trick’s Live at the Budokan album is still one of my favorite live albums.  

Lynyrd Skynyrd and Peter Frampton.  Not the first time I had tickets to see Lynyrd Skynyrd,  the last time was 1977 but a few weeks prior to the concert date, fate intervened when Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines, along with backup singer Cassie Gaines and assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick were killed in an airplane crash and the concert was cancelled.  (Details).  Frampton Comes Alive! rocked my 1976 as we all took guesses at what the mouth guitar lyrics actually were – our interpretations were no doubt dirtier than his.  

ZZ Top and Gregg Allman.  The last time I saw ZZ Top I was in the upper bleachers of a State Fairground venue with two friends.  Too far away to see the show well and big screens had not become standard yet.  Los Lobos was the opening act and they were great. Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers were ahead of my time, but I got turned on to them after the band had been through various breakups and reformations.  My love of guitar driven Dixie Rock led me to their music and they ended up with 3 songs on my 50 Best Bike Riding Tunes list, more than any other artist.

Steve Miller Band.  Last ticket bought, first show I get to go to.  This to me was a Holy Grail.  I have loved Steve Miller’s music for a long time and to finally get to see him in person is even better.  I really wish they had offered a VIP or Meet & Greet option for the tickets, but alas nothing was out there.  Scalpers have some better seats but not sure about the cost versus value.

NOTE:  Just found out later that the concert included special guest Peter Wolf & The Midnight Travelers.  I had never heard of them. So I looked them up and discovered that Peter was the former lead singer of the J. Geils Band and his standard concert playlist contained most of the J. Geils’ hits.

Now begins the count down for each concert date, but even before that will be the receipt of actual physical tickets in the mail.  E-tickets for a flight -- great idea; vapor tickets for a live rock & roll experience – totally unacceptable.  Getting and holding that ticket is the second step on your way to what you hope will be a one of a kind musical experience, and it is also the only real physical reminder you will have decades later – once you have worn out the tour T-Shirt and the ZZ key chain has been lost.  You will come across the ticket in that place where you stuck it for safekeeping or some forgotten drawer -- then holding it again in your hands and closing your eyes you will remember not only with your mind but with your soul.

Even on its best day, radio will never come close.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Great BBQ, Down at the Crossroads

One of the best things about traveling by car is the chance to try out local eateries which lie somewhere in between where you came from and where you're going. As I was cruising from Huntsville Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia I was forced to stop at a red light in Henagar, Alabama. Because of that stop I was treated to the most delicious smell that was coming from a smoker located just off the road at Bama Boys BBQ. Now this place, as you can see from the picture, is not overly huge but it was just big enough to serve some of the best barbecue that I've had in a while.

I opted to just get half pound of pulled pork and some of their Spicy Sauce (they had Sweet and Hot as well), to go along with it. The meat was tender, moist, delicious, and flavorful without any sauce at all. The Spicy Sauce had just the right accents of heat that supplied a nice slow burn as I ate the pork. Not only that, they were generous enough to give me three helpings of sauce which was exactly the right amount for the portion of meat I was making a meal of -- I hate it when I run out of the sauce before I run out of the meat, although, in this case, the meat would've been delicious by itself.

So, if you find yourself at the top of Sand Mountain because you are cruising down US 75 or US 40 -- take a minute and stop and to enjoy some of the best roadside barbecue I have found.