CityBeat was able to speak with Anderson this week about protests, social issues and his thoughts on performance art.
CityBeat: Why did decide to bring the flute to Rock music?
Ian Anderson: When I was a young aspiring guitar player in my late teens I became aware of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Richard Blackmore, who were the hot-shot guitar players down in London, and I decided maybe I should switch from guitar and find something else to play. The shiny precision of the flute, the ergonomics, the design, the manufacture — it’s kind of like a Swiss watch. It appeals to my sense of physics and engineering. For a particularly good reason, other than the way it looks, I decided I would give that a go. I learned to play it by trying to imitate the lines I played on guitar — solos and rifts. So I became the flute player in a Blues band and I was the only flute player in a Blues band, which gave me the difference that helped Jethro Tull stand out from the crowd.
CB: One of my favorites on Thick as a Brick II is “Adrift and Dumbfounded.” Can you tell me a little bit of the story behind that song or how it came about?
IA: Having been picketed a couple nights ago in Kansas City by the Westboro Church, the “Godhatesfags.com” people … I am seen as a fag-hyphen-enabler according to that unworthy organization. I don’t think I am a homosexual, but I am a supporter of gay rights and a lot of my friends and people close to me are gay people and I find that the prejudices and difficulties faced by young people, particularly in post-puberty, where they are sometimes questioning their gender and their physiology because some people are just born that way … so, it is a difficult time for relationships with parents and for society around you.
It’s difficult now. Back in the ’60s, it was really scary. So at the time when homosexuality wasn’t just a predilection but an actual crime, punishable by the courts by incarceration, being gay was a difficult position for any young person to be in, so I decided I would write a parent’s perspective of what that may be like — to lose a child through lack of communication and understanding with the parental, to lose that child to drugs and to, essentially, male prostitution.
That is an extreme scenario but it happens out there in the world. These are issues that face society today. These are issues that have faced society throughout the history of mankind. These days I suppose we are more able to talk about it and to examine the possibilities themselves. I always have to think when I was 15 years old and a little unsure of myself, maybe that could have happened to me. I try to use some of my personal history with my parents, with the lack of communication, particular on matters of sex. I try to extrapolate a little on my own limited experiences in that world.
CB: The Westboro Baptist Church never ceases to amaze me. How did you handle it that day?
IA: I was rather hoping to see them in the flesh. Unfortunately, I had my spies out. I had my spies out to try to keep an eye out because I tried to get a photograph opportunity with these people. Unfortunately, at the time, I guess they showed up when the audience was coming in or going out. When the audience is coming in, I am busy in my dressing room changing and tuning up my guitar. Afterwards, I am busy changing again and packing up my instruments. Unfortunately, I did not get to see them. That is very disappointing. I was really hoping to have the opportunity to have a nice smiling photograph with them and their evil representatives.
CB: Why did you choose this tour to play the Thick as a Brick albums in their entireties?
IA: When you are planning any kind of stage show, your first obligation is to keep it on a level that will engage people and keep it interesting for them and present them with a lengthy piece of musical work with a 15-minute intermission. You have to put your thinking cap on and try to construct everything to keep the audience with you, especially if you are playing a lot of music (with) which the audience is unfamiliar, you have got to make it work the first time around. It is not the result of hearing it many times so you have to make it a piece of working entertainment.
It seems to be successful because I have yet to see, when I go onto the second half of the show, any empty seats as a result of people leaving at halftime. Normally people stay until the end of the show and they seem to follow the momentum of the whole show. You get a personal sense of achievement when you present a large amount of relatively unknown music and you keep people engaged and enjoying the stage.
I don’t think many bands would attempt to do that. I can afford to do it because, a) I am prepared to take more risks musically and, b) I am really kind of doing it for me more than I am doing it for the audience anyway. I have always been a musician who has gone out there to make myself happy. You have to really have your own personal goals you achieve every night in performance. Primarily, I will say, it is nice you folks are here as well, but if you weren’t here, I would be doing this anyway. I am just doing this for fun.
CB: You have seen music change in the way it is recorded over many decades. Do you think it sounds better or worse today?
IA: Music has evolved in the terms of recording techniques over a period of about 60 years, hugely. It goes back to the early stages of monophonic and stereophonic tape recorders, which is what it was when I was a teenager.
When it got to the mid-’60s, it was becoming possible to create the simplest multi-track recordings, usually using two-track recorders, but bouncing back between the two to get a four-track sound. The very first Beatles recordings were made that way. By the time they got to Sgt. Pepper, they were recording with four-track and shortly on the heels of that came eight-track.
The first album I recorded was done on eight-track in 1968. That quickly evolved into 16-track and then to the most often used standard of 24-track, which continued through the late ’80s and even in some cases into the ’90s.
Frankly, the digital age really came about not in the ’80s or the ’90s but in the last 10 years, because that technology began to support 24-bit audio recording, which effectively mimics the human hearing to detect the difference between that and the original audio signal. We have 24-bit 96k recording, which is essentially all we need. We don’t need to advance upon that standard. We’d have to grow new ears before we could benefit any further resolution of earlier technology.
It is the same thing as when cameras hit the 10 mega-pixel mark … essentially equal (to) the very best film quality of film cameras in the last 50 or 60 or 70 years. We have now fairly commonly cameras that will deliver resolutions of 24 megapixels, which will be essentially much better quality you or my eye could fully appreciate.
We are there with audio and visual. We have now reached, during these last four or five years, human physiology would have to change for us to benefit from any increase of the resolution of the technology we are working with now. It is as good as it needs to be. We are there. We are done. We have reached the limit in terms of audio recording and digital recording.
CB: Was there a single incident that changed how you approached music?
IA: Well, I suppose a single incident was the first moment I played notes on a musical instrument, because I was aware as a small child of music as church music and music of Big Band Wartime Jazz, which my Father played on 78-rpm records.
It wasn’t until I was 9 years old and I acquired for a couple of dollars a plastic Elvis Presley ukulele and I strummed my first simple chord on the ukulele. At that point, even though the instrument was a rubbish piece, I could actually strum some little chords and sing along with it, and that was the magic moment of making music the first time.
I suppose that was the single most important moment of discovering music. There are a lot of people who never learn to play anything on a musical instrument and I feel like they are missing out on something. But some of them might be bungee jumpers and they feel like I am missing out on something, because I haven’t thrown myself off a bridge attached to a long piece of elastic.
CB: What is your ideal day look like these days?
IA: It depends if I’m on tour. My ideal day is to wake up around 7 a.m. and be driving rather than flying and getting to another city, another hotel by lunchtime, finding a Red Lobster or McCormack & Schmidt and (eating) some seafood or that sort for lunch and then having a rest and getting my e-mails in the afternoon before going to sound check.
That’s kind of normal practice. If I am at home, I wake up a little earlier, usually around 6:30 a.m. and I usually, again because of working in different time zones, it’s a good time to check e-mails from last night, generally prepare, shower, play with the cats, let the dogs out. If it’s the weekends, I have to go and feed the chickens.
In my ideal world, it would be a mixture of sitting at my office desk, playing a little bit of music and having a little bit of time to walk around the garden and sit and talk to my cats.
CB: What is the biggest difference in touring in 2013 versus 1970?
IA: The biggest difference is you can take a little stress (out) as you are touring easily because of more organization. Twenty years ago and 40 years ago, travel was a lot more disorganized that it is today. We can now be planning the next tour while we are doing this one.
Later today and tomorrow morning when I have a little time off, I shall be booking some internal U.S. flights for the next tour, looking at the various cities and suggesting to my U.S. travel agent some hotels I would like to get quotes on. Generally speaking, doing that planning exercise, when it comes to doing the tour itself, hopefully everything is in place. Everybody knows where everybody will be on most hours on most days.
You can take the stress out of things these days, where it was not so easy many years ago. We had to employ tour managers and people to carry our bags and people to herd us like sheep through airports. These days, people have their virtual boarding pass, which they can collect online from the booking reference code, which was on the tour itinerary, and they can print out their own boarding pass and head straight to the gate. I think things are easier these days, not because of the level of security we face now that we didn’t face 40 years ago, even 20 years ago. That makes lines a little more stressful and perhaps a little longer in the course of the day. We allow for two hours at airports from flight times to be safe these days, not knowing how long security queues may be or what indignities we may have to suffer to keep ourselves safe from the bad guys.
CB: Do you have any fond or crazy Cincinnati tour memories from the past?
IA: Probably with a Holiday Inn, Hilton or a Marriott or two. My bonds tend to be with what my particular life throws at me. The airport, even after all these years, is strangely familiar. I have been tracking the evolution of the airport from the late ’70s — when we were accosted by the children of God, doing their evangelical work, trying to hand out bibles and stuff — all the way to today. Airports quite often have that sense of déjà vu, even that nostalgic memory for me — certain hotels, certain venues of course, iconic venues we still play today.
CB: What was your favorite live performance ever?
IA: It is probably the show in an American venue near Washington D.C. called Wolf Trap. It is my favorite because it is the one I am going to be doing tomorrow and the one I have to focus on and prepare for.
Past shows are in the past. I don’t dwell on those. I don’t have favorites. I don’t have preferences, except for a couple iconic venues, as I suggested. My favorite show is the one I am about to go out and attempt to do because I always have to think it could be my last. Walking on stage is not a God-given right; it is a privilege to be able to step out there into the spotlight another time. I just take each show as they come. My next show is always the best show of my life.
CB: What can the fans expect here in Cincinnati this weekend?
IA: They can expect all they like, but it won’t vary one iota in delivery to them. Their expectation may be many and may be varied, but we try to make a point of emphasis to play Brick 1 and then Brick 2, then a long call of classic repertoire.
We have a very tightly organized show. If anybody starts shouting out during the quiet moments of the show, they will be studiously ignored. I don’t even have time to admonish them. It happened to me last night when I came on stage, I was astonished to hear two female voices shouting at me in one of the spoken words sections with a delivery of theatrical passion. You wouldn’t be considered cultured to be shouting and whistling during a Shakespeare play — please don’t shout and whistle during the performance of mine because I am here to do the work. You are here to listen and if you don’t like it get up and leave. Don’t start interrupting me.
Once in a while you get a drunkard out there that gets to shout at your band, but it happens so rarely these days and it strikes me as so being incredibly curious. I think our audiences do understand this is not a regular Rock show but a theatrical presentation (for which) they have to sit and let me do the work. That’s what I am there for. I may be 66 years old but I am there to do a man’s work for two and a half hours, where you can sit back and, if necessary, bring yourself a comfy cushion and maybe a sandwich because it is a long show.
Heart introduced a fresh, rebellious sound in the early 1970s when a particular voice was truly needed. That timeless voice belonged to singer Ann Wilson. In a time when the female frontwoman was just gaining steam, Heart found their identity in theirs. To this day Wilson embodies the band’s sound and message. She helped make it possible for generations of others to find their voice in Rock & Roll.
The band's legacy was celebrated on a grand scale this year when Ann, her sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, and the rest of the Heart family were inducted into the 2013 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the likes of fellow legendary groups Rush and Public Enemy.
CityBeat had the privilege of speaking with the legendary vocalist in advance of Heart's performance Saturday at Riverbend Music Center. Audiences can anticipate hearing classics like “Barracuda” and "Crazy on You," as well as fresh music off of the 2012 album Fanatic, which nicely continues the Heart legacy. Don’t miss the finale with Jason Bonham (opening the show with his Led Zeppelin tribute) joining them on stage.
CityBeat: What was the highlight of your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction this year?
Ann Wilson: The highlight of my (RRHOF) induction this year was standing beside Nancy at the podium. That was a feeling of great pride I will never forget.
CB: What is the most number of days you have gone without playing music?
AW: I have gone months sometimes without playing a guitar, but never a day goes by where I don't sing.
CB: What does your ideal day look like these days?
AW: Sleep in late, have a great pilates/yoga workout, hang out with my kids and their kids, cook dinner, meditate, sleep with my dog nearby.
CB: If you could trade places with someone for a month who would it be and why?
AW: I guess I couldn't do that. I don't envy anyone else that much!
CB: You have seen music recording formats change from vinyl and 8-track to cassette, CD and MP3 through the years. Do you feel like music sounds better or worse with the use of technology?
AW: Music definitely sounds worse to my ears because of digital technology. There is a hard, brittle sound to it. Analog music sounded warmer and deeper, though maybe not as " perfect." Auto-Tune makes me crazy because it removes all individuality from a person's voice. Everyone ends up sounding anonymous. The imperfections are where the soul is, I say leave them in. Leave in the humanity.
CB: How did the latest tour come about with Jason Bonham? Any favorite tour stories from the current tour?
AW: Many people saw the Kennedy Center Honors show on TV or YouTube and loved the tribute to Led Zeppelin. The management was listening and everyone agreed it would be a beautiful idea. We've only done two weeks so far, and it's been amazing. No train wrecks yet!
CB: Do you journal or take photos over the years with special tour memories. How do you document your stories and memories?
AW: We record every night and have photographers on sight. Occasionally I will blog, but I am usually pretty wound up after a show. Maybe this will be the year I take up a journal. A person can't count on their memory forever!!
CB: Does it ever get tough being on the road with family? How have you handled it for so many years?
AW: Yes, the road is rough. Traveling and performing together takes a lot out of you and sometimes things do get emotional. We are lucky to have each other for support. I don't know how I would have made it all these years without Nancy's love, strength and sense of humor!
CB: Are you working on new music while on the road?
AW: My head is full of new songs at the moment.
CB: What can fans looks forward to when the tour hits Cincinnati?
AW: The show in Cincinnati will open with Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience, Next will be the heart show, after which there will be a finale consisting of about 30 minutes of Zeppelin songs with Jason Bonham and (Bonham's guitarist) Tony Catania joining in.
On this date in 1979, 11 music fans died when trying to see The Who perform at Riverfront Coliseum. Check out this video for "Feel The Holes" about the tragic event, by Toronto Hard Rock duo The Shanks.
The video was made in Cincinnati and directed by David Markey. The Shanks (who released the Feel the Holes EP just a couple of weeks ago on German label Broken Silence) work with local music promotions org The Counter Rhythm Group and are set to appear in Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 15, at Northside's Comet as part of the free release party concert in honor of a new "split LP" release (on area label, Phratry Records) by local acts Knife the Symphony and Swear Jar.
R.I.P. Peter Bowes, Teva Ladd, David Heck, Connie Burns, James Warmoth, Bryan Wagner, Karen Morrison, Jacqueline Eckerle, Walter Adams, Jr., Stephen Preston and Phillip Snyder.
On this day in 2003, The Rolling Stones were slated to perform in China and, like certain big tech companies, were keen to oblige the nation's government in order to take advantage of the lucrative marketplace. The event came as China seemed ready to fully embrace Western popular music performers; since Wham! broke the barrier in the mid ’80s, the country has allowed performers from Sonic Youth and Linkin Park to Public Enemy, Nine Inch Nails and Ill Divo the chance to come play for their Chinese fans without much fuss. That was until the "Bjork incident," when the Icelandic singer performed in Shanghai in March of 2008 and attempted to lead the crowd in a chant of "Tibet! Tibet!," according to reports in Rolling Stone. That led to even more vetting before artists are allowed to play the country.
But even in the salad years of westerners performing in China, the country had tight restrictions and guidelines. While even Ed Sullivan allowed the Stones to perform "Let's Spend The Night Together" with altered lyrics ("Let's spend some time together"), the Chinese government wasn't so permissive, reportedly demanding set-list approval before the show could go on. The band was told they could not play four of their biggest hits due to apparently salacious lyrical content — "Best of Burden," Brown Sugar," "Honky Tonk Women" and the aforementioned "Spend the Night."
Those shows ultimately ended up canceled due to an issue in China of a bit more importance — the SARS outbreak — but the band did return in 2006 and played by the rules, leaving those classics out of their sets.
So here's a chance to not take your country's freedoms for granted. Watch this old clip of "Let's Send the Night Together" from a 1967 episode of Top of the Pops and sing along as loud as you can.
Click on for Born This Day featuring Liza Minnelli, Al Jarreau, James Taylor and Blur's Graham Coxon.
On this date in 1993, Elvis Presley died. For real this time. This according to the tabloid Weekly World News, which has given the world such groundbreaking stories as the trials and tribulations of Bat Boy (half-boy, half-bat, of course), the capture of various mer-people (mermen and mermaids) and the secret romantic relationship between Saddam Hussein (former gay porn star … ALLEGEDLY) and Osama bin Laden.
Presley died from diabetes, according to WWN's exclusive report.
Alas, the King didn't stay dead long in the pages of the tabloid. In 2005, everything in the universe was back in its right place as the Weekly World News published the cover feature "Elvis IS Alive." Not only was he still alive, but he was going to run for President. I don't recall that actually happening, but they wouldn't print it if it wasn't true, right? Either the lame-stream media just ignored Elvis' campaign or the King was just gearing up for a 2012 run. I hear the Republicans need a viable candidate.
What's Elvis been up to lately? Last summer, WWN reported he was hanging out on Barack Obama's tour bus. As for Obama, the President's foes are apparently way off base with the whole "secret Muslim" thing. Among other things, WWN has reported that Obama is a — duh! — alien from outer space. Oh, and he won the "Who is a bigger enemy of dogs?" war handily by kidnapping "Republican campaign dog, Huckabee." Holding him hostage? Nope. According to WWN, the President "had a Huckabee burger.” (Actually, WWN seems almost reasonable compared to the "birther" movement. Now THAT'S scary.)
Until the next time Elvis dies, just remember the words of Mojo Nixon, poet and prophet:
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 14 birthday include ’50s/’60s Pop star ("Mack the Knife," "Beyond the Sea") Bobby Darin (1936); one of Rock's greatest bassists, Cream's Jack Bruce (1943); original drummer for legendary Canadian Rock trio Rush, John Rutsey (1952); frontman for British rockers The Cult, Ian Astbury (1962); guitarist for glammy Hair Metal heroes Poison, CC DeVille (1962); bassist for Alice in Chains, Mike Inez (1966); the still-alive half of Milli Vanilli, Fabrice Morvan (1966); one of the less-celebrated New Kids on the Block members, Danny Wood (1969); bassist for Modern Rock band AFI, Hunter Burgan (1976); half of the killer Hip Hop duo Clipse, Terrence Thornton, known professionally as Pusha T (1977); Disney actress/Pop princess Miranda Cosgrove (1993); and Soul/R&B singer/songwriter/musician/producer Raphael Saadiq (1966).
Saadiq's career began in the early ’80s when he got a job as bassist for Sheila E and toured the world with Prince. He returned to his native Oakland after the tour and formed the R&B/Pop trio Tony! Toni! Tone! with his brother and cousin. The band scored several hits, notably the upbeat "Feels Good," their only Top 10 hit on the Billboard singles charts. In 1997, Saadiq formed Lucy Pearl, a supergroup of sorts, featuring members of A Tribe Called Quest and En Vogue.
Saadiq has worked behind the scenes with several popular artists. He collaborated with D'Angelo for "Untitled (How Does It Feel," which won D'Angelo a Grammy, and also worked with Whitney Houston, Macy Gray, Jill Scott, John Legend, Joss Stone and many other star performers. In 2002, he put out his first solo effort, Instant Vintage, a brilliant throwback/old-school R&B album that scored Saadiq five Grammy nominations. He has since released a string of strong solo works, including 2011's great Stone Rollin' and 2008's even better The Way I See It.
Recently, Saadiq was one of a small handful of musicians named one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People In the World," joining Rihanna, Adele and others. Elton John wrote the blurb about Saadiq for Time, writing "Immaculately dressed (a Saadiq trademark) and moving like the soul stars of old, (Saadiq) confirmed that great black music is alive and well and not just a string of hip-hop monotony."
Happy 46th birthday to Mr. Saadiq. Here's a clip for the title track from his most recent solo album.
Contemporary Arts Center has officially announced that Patti Smith will perform The Coral Sea with daughter/pianist Jesse Smith on May 17, in connection with her CAC exhibit, also called The Coral Sea, that opens the next day and features work not previously seen in the U.S.
At the concert, Smith will also play selected material from throughout her career.
The CAC website says that "The Coral Sea performance work found its beginnings from Smith’s 1997 book of the same name, her requiem to her dear friend Robert Mapplethorpe (who took the cover photo of Smith’s debut album, Horses, among his many other accomplishments). With music arranged and performed live by Kevin Shields — of heralded British shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine — two separate performances were held at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in June 2005 and September 2006. In 2008 those performances were released as a live album."
Mapplethorpe's own posthumous photography retrospective at CAC, 1990's The Perfect Moment, became a major controversy when cultural conservatives led by now-retired Sheriff Simon Leis tried to shut it down for obscenity. In a famous trial, a jury sided with the CAC. The concert venue and ticket information will be announced soon at www.contemporaryartscenter.org.
I first wrote about Smith's art show coming to the CAC in CityBeat last year here.
On this date in 1988, Bob Dylan kicked off his current tour. That's right — when Dylan picks up his touring schedule on June 30 in the U.K., he will be entering the 24th YEAR of his "Never Ending Tour."
The "Never Ending Tour" was a nickname that first popped up during an interview for Q Magazine with writer Adrian Deevoy. Deevoy asked Dylan about touring and how he seems to go from one trek to the next without much of a break.
"Oh, it's all the same tour," Dylan replied. The interviewer asked, "It's the Never Ending Tour?" to which Dylan said, dismissively, "Yeah, yeah."
The tour that started on this day 24 years ago in Concord, Calif., (with Neil Young sitting in on guitar!) was originally called the Innerstate 88 tour. Now, as a sort of ongoing joke, fans and writers refer to all of his touring under the "Never Ending" umbrella.
Crotchety Dylan reportedly doesn't like the tag. He wrote in the liner notes to World Gone Wrong that, while there WAS a Never Ending Tour, it did end — in 1991 when guitarist G. E. Smith left the band. In 2009, Dylan told Rolling Stone, "Critics should know there is no such thing as forever. Does anybody call Henry Ford a Never Ending Car Builder? Anybody ever say that Duke Ellington was on a Never Ending Bandstand Tour? These days, people are lucky to have a job. Any job. So critics might be uncomfortable with my working so much. Anybody with a trade can work as long as they want. A carpenter, an electrician. They don't necessarily need to retire."
Chill, Bob! I think "Never Ending Tour" is rarely if ever used in a derogatory term (except maybe by Dylan's pencil mustache wrangler).
That June 7 date was far from the first time Dylan and Young played together. Check out the audio from a jam between the two geniuses from 1975.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a June 7 birthday include Steubenville, Ohio favorite son Dean Martin (1917); Welsh sex god Tom Jones (1940); Cincinnati native and one of the more powerful men in the music biz, L.A. Reid (1956); lead singer and guitarist for "College Rock" superstars Violent Femmes, Gordon Gano (1963); Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro (1967); and all-time American music great, Prince (1958).
Prince Nelson Rogers is 54 today and he's one person you would not be blowing smoke ass-ward by saying he looks to be in his early 30s. Prince is not only responsible for some of the best songs of the past 50 years; he's also released at least three instant-classic albums — Purple Rain, 1999 and the masterwork Sign o' the Times (which is in my personal Top 10 all-time greatest albums).
Tomorrow night at Mayday in Northside you can celebrate the Artist Formerly Known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince's birthday. The club is hosting a Prince dance party — DJs playing all Prince, all night long. For free. Sounds like heaven.
Here is one of the many stand-out tracks from Sign, the rocking and righteous "The Cross."
On this day in 1975, pioneering singer/actress/dancer/civil rights activist/spy Josephine Baker passed away at the age of 68. She died just a few days after a retrospective performance at the Bobino in Paris celebrating her 50 years in show biz. Jackie O, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier funded the show and opening night featured a celebrity-studded audience that included everyone from Mick Jagger to Sophia Loren. Baker's body was discovered four days later, reportedly surrounded by newspapers featuring glowing reviews of her performance.
At her funeral, she became the first American woman to garner full French military honors, one of many "firsts" involving Baker. She was the first black woman to star in a major film, the first to demand (and get) integrated audiences at her concerts and the first to become a global superstar. She fought for civil rights in America (offered a chance to lead it after MLK's assassination, she declined for fear of also being killed) and, before that, helped France (her adopted homeland) in World War II, for which she received numerous honors. Baker was also reportedly a bi-sexual who had serious relationships with both men and women in her lifetime, adding some spicy mystique to her life story.
She got her start as a vaudeville dancer at 15 and eventually became one of the highest paid chorus girls on the planet. In the mid ’20s she did burlesque shows in Paris and around Europe, well-known for her trademark banana-skirt and, later, her pet cheetah Chiquita, who would join her on stage (and, reportedly, terrorize the orchestra). Baker was considered a "muse" for artists from Pablo Picasso and Christian Dior to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, who once said she was "the most sensational woman anyone ever saw."
Baker's life has been the source of several films, musicals, plays and books. On screen and stage, she's been portrayed by the likes of Lynn Whitfield, Diana Ross, Keri Hilson and Beyonce, who sported Baker's banana costume during a 2006 performance (see below) and, in her "Naughty Girl" video, she again paid tribute by dancing in a giant champagne glass.
Baker released several albums in the early ’50s for Columbia and Mercury. Here she is performing her biggest hit (in France), "J'ai Deux Amours."
Click on for Born This Day featuring Hound Dog Taylor, Tiny Tim, Nick Hexum and Vince Gill.
On this day in 1982, comedian John Belushi died from an overdose of cocaine and heroin. Belushi came to prominence as an original "Not Ready For Prime Time Player" on Saturday Night Live, where he debuted his tribute to classic American Rock & Soul with cast mate Dan Aykroyd, The Blues Brothers, and later pushed for the show to feature representatives from the burgeoning Punk Rock scene.
In 1981, after he'd left the show, SNL asked if Belushi would make a cameo. Belushi agreed, but only if L.A. Punk act Fear could be musical guests that week. The band's performance on the show that Halloween was a wild introduction to Punk for many Americans, as the band blazed through the songs "Beef Bologna" and "New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones" in front of a stunned studio audience (who booed when the band announced it was "great to be in New Jersey") and a group of Punk Rock dancers brought in to mosh (Belushi joined the dance team, which also included Punk luminaries Ian MacKaye, Tesco Vee and members of Negative Approach and the Cro-mags). The show cut to a commercial as Fear revved up "Let's Have a War," and the band and dancers reportedly caused $20,000 in damages to the studio (Fear singer Lee Ving later bragged it was more like $500,000). The damage wasn't enough to keep Ving off of TV — a bit actor, Ving appeared on shows like Fame, Three's a Crowd and Who's the Boss in the ’80s.
Clearly, Belushi was a music die-hard. His tombstone reads: "I may be gone, but Rock and Roll lives on."
Here's John Joseph of the Cro-Mags talking about being on the set that fateful night, followed by footage of the performance. And you can check out Ian MacKaye's recollection of events here.
Click on for Born This Day featuring Scotland's greatest hits, including two from The Proclaimers.