Tribute albums are typically divided into three categories. They’re either a) bankable artists covering high profile subjects (or, infrequently, famously known cult figures); b) cool/respected artists covering cool/respected artists; or c) some weird hybrid of the first two.
Two recently released tributes fall squarely in the second category, with Avett Brothers frontman Seth Avett and rising Americana/Rock vocalist Jessica Lea Mayfield taking a quietly beautiful stroll through a sampling of Elliott Smith's exquisite catalog on Sing Elliott Smith, and Frames frontman and solo artist in his own right Glen Hansard honoring his great hero and friend Jason Molina on It Was Triumph We Once Proposed: Songs of Jason Molina, which was available last month.
There are odd connections between the two projects. In the general point of interest sense, both are posthumous tributes. Smith died in 2003, apparently by his own hand, and Molina succumbed in 2013 after a long battle with alcoholism. And on a more personal level, by the sheerest of coincidences, I've interviewed both of the subjects of these two tributes.
Back in 2000, I spoke with Smith while he was still touring on Figure 8, which had come out earlier that year. And in 2003, I was assigned a feature on Songs: Ohia, fronted and braintrusted by Molina, who had just finished an album he titled The Magnolia Electric Co., which marked the end of Songs: Ohia and the shift to the band named after his new album. Both were fascinating and heartfelt conversations with artists who were amazingly self aware but not at all self absorbed, quietly brilliant songwriters who had an almost pathological need to extract their musical impulses from the dark well of their ultimately troubled souls.
Hansard — who came to prominence as the voice, guitarist and primary songwriter for Irish Rock band The Frames before establishing a side project (Swell Season) and solo career and hitting semi-big with the movie Once and his soundtrack, featuring the Academy Award-winning hit "Falling Slowly" — was so inspired by Molina's deeply emotional and confessional songcraft that the first fan letter he ever sent to a fellow artist was to Molina. Back in 2005, two years after I'd interviewed Molina, I had the rare opportunity to witness the pair's personal and professional bond firsthand.
At my second South by Southwest experience, I followed former The Onion music editor Stephen Thompson to see a Frames appearance at one of Austin's innumerable daytime parties. Stephen was a huge Frames fan and the band knew him well; he had done enough to help expose the band to American audiences that they thanked him in the liner notes to Burn the Maps.
When we arrived at the venue, the band members were wandering through the crowd just prior to their set and Stephen made a beeline for them. He introduced me to The Frames, but there was a dark, diminutive and somewhat familiar presence in the circle who was clearly with the band but not as a member. Glen Hansard spoke up, in his pudding thick Irish brogue, and said, "This is Jason Molina."
I shook his hand and reminded him of our phone conversation and the Rockpile feature two years previous. He greeted me warmly and we talked about what we'd seen at the festival to that point and what we hoped to see going forward. We spent a good 10 minutes in this convivial manner, right up until The Frames took the stage and were announced. After that, his unwavering focus was on the band; he watched and listened as though he was occupying the front pew in church during a sermon he knew for an absolute fact would change his life for the better. He stood in rapt attention, soaking in every word, every note and every nuance and with good reason — The Frames were a mesmerizing live force back then.
At the set's conclusion, Molina immediately swiveled toward me and we exchanged jaw-dropped exclamations of disbelief. Within a few minutes, Hansard made his way to Molina's side and the two began critiquing the performance, Hansard pointing out the flaws and Molina categorically dismissing them. I laughingly thought to myself as I headed to the door and the next party, I'll bet their roles will be diametrically reversed when Magnolia Electric Co., the band that Songs: Ohia had morphed into, plays later this week and Hansard is the fan in the front row. It reminded me of something Molina had said regarding the fact that he was already thinking past the album he had just finished.
"I can do better," he said without hesitation. "My next one, I'm already sweating it. Since the day I walked out of the studio, I've been working on the next one. I don't feel like this one failed, but I'm still looking for the better one."
I thought about Hansard's face as it must have looked while he watched Molina's appearance in Austin, Texas, a decade ago, and imagined the sadder but equally beatific visage he must have exhibited in the studio as he was translating the five tracks that comprise It Was Triumph We Once Proposed. This brief and beautifully executed EP serves a similar purpose as Hansard's distant but never forgotten fan letter, as he pays loving tribute to his long personal friendship with Molina and to the work that first illuminated his immense talents to the world.
Hansard assembled a group of longtime Songs: Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co. collaborators/friends to record a heartbreaking quintet of Molina compositions, all Songs: Ohia tracks and all lending themselves perfectly to Hansard's passionate and sensitively wrought translation. Molina often worked at the creative intersection of Leonard Cohen and Neil Young, and Hansard taps into that shivery vibe with a true fan's boundless devotion and a true friend's immeasurable grief. On the one-two punch of the powerfully poignant "Being in Love" and the achingly beautiful "Hold On, Magnolia," Hansard illuminates the raw, wrenching wisdom of lines like, ”We are proof that the heart is a risky fuel to burn," and the prescient "You might be holding the last light I see before the dark finally gets ahold of me." And just like Molina's life and amazing musical output, Hansard's It Was Triumph We Once Proposed is both immensely satisfying and far too short.
The other contender for Most Amazing and Deserved Tribute of the Year is Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield's Sing Elliott Smith, a (relatively) spare and loving bow to one of this generation's most insightful and contemplative songwriters. After his shredding turn with Portland’s Heatmiser, Smith turned down the volume for his home-recorded solo debut, Roman Candle, which was followed by his equally nuanced eponymous sophomore album and then the jewel in his crown, 1998's Either/Or, which director Gus Van Zant cherry-picked for his soundtrack to his masterpiece Good Will Hunting. Smith scored an Academy Award nomination for his song "Miss Misery," and the success of the soundtrack and his almost uncomfortably vulnerable performance at the Oscars vaulted him into a spotlight that he never actively pursued.
By the time of our 2000 interview, Smith had managed to come to uneasy terms with the maelstrom of fame that resulted from Good Will Hunting and Either/Or's tangential success. It had required him to think about his work in pedestrian ways, to explain it in a fashion that would be understandable to people with little understanding.
But through it all, Smith remained true to his own process, trusting that, regardless of outside opinions, expectations or interests, he continued to create the kind of music he wanted to hear in the manner that he wanted to create it. And he knew that, no matter how much anyone involved in his career wanted him to pull Either/Or 2 out of his magician's hat, the only thing that would truly satisfy his artistic nature would be to create what came out of him organically, without being conjured or forced.
"I don't think it was on my mind," Smith said about making the Beatlesque Figure 8 in the wake of major-label debut XO, Either/Or and Good Will Hunting. "I was just making up songs the way I always do. I mean, it was never going to sell millions of copies, so there wasn't that kind of pressure."
That may well be why Sing Elliott Smith is so incredibly successful as a tribute. Smith's songbook is among the most revered in contemporary music and the acclaim that has been lavished on Avett and Mayfield since their debuts is both effusive and deserved. Given all that, there's little risk involved at any level of this project.
The blending of the two principals' voices was the only unknown and that particular question mark is definitely straightened into a boldface exclamation point with Avett and Mayfield's brilliant opening duet on Either/Or's "Between the Bars." Avett's stylistic path from Punk provocateur to rootsy Americana troubadour to genre melding alchemist is a pretty fair match to Smith's own journey, and Mayfield's weary optimism lines up well with Smith's gloomy hopefulness. Together, Avett and Mayfield are the perfect translators for Smith's hushed (and not so hushed) odes to the anguish and bittersweet joy of love and modern life and they coalesce almost effortlessly on brilliant lines like, "Nothing's gonna drag me down/To a death that's not worth cheating."
It's moments like that one from "Baby Britain" that make Sing Elliott Smith resonate so clearly from start to finish. It's particularly poignant when Mayfield takes the lead on "A Fond Farewell" — from the album Smith was working on at the time of his death, released posthumously as From a Basement on the Hill — and she sings words that seem so startlingly prescient coming so close to Smith's sad end; "A little less than a happy heart/A little less than a suicide/The only thing that you really tried/This is not my life, it's just a fond farewell to a friend/It's not what I'm like, it's just a fond farewell to a friend/Who couldn't get things right."
Avett and Mayfield offer a broad core sample of Smith's amazing catalog (only 1995's self-titled sophomore album isn't represented), and the pair's affinity for and love of their subject's work is evident in every trembling note and emotional lyric. At almost 37 minutes, Sing Elliott Smith is a full album but it feels impossibly short and is over well before the listener is ready for it to be done. If ever there was a release that warranted the often-dreaded subtitle of Volume 2, it would be Sing Elliott Smith.
It seems only proper that the final words in this piece should be reserved for the subjects of these two tributes. First, an interesting comment from Jason Molina about his songwriting process led to a philosophical statement about his musical belief system.
"I almost write the music at the same time I'm trying to think of who could best put this onto tape, and that goes right down to the engineer," he noted. "Maybe it's a cowardly way to work because I don't take all of the burden onto myself, but ego should never be part of the music."
And finally, Elliott Smith addressed the media's tendency to label him as "melancholy," which morphed into an explanation of the simple reality that labels have tried to manipulate and contradict throughout their long and checkered histories.
"As soon as someone calls you a songwriter, you automatically get the melancholy tag," Smith admitted. “Also, 'Why aren't you playing dance music?' and 'Why are your songs so sad?' They're just clichés. If it wasn't those, it would be different ones. You can't always expect people to relate. There are all kinds of people, and some people understand each other and some people don't. NSYNC sells nine million records, so there's nine million people that can relate, and I'm not one of them. So even if you sell millions and millions of albums, there's always going to be somebody who doesn't get it. If you want to be creative and do what you do, it's going to be kind of idiosyncratic."
Long live the idiosyncratic artist, and the memories of those who left us way before their creative dreams were fulfilled.
I was a few months shy of 16
when I first heard the lucidly stark voice of Lou Reed stream over the
airwaves. I was just another suburban weirdo, looking for a justified rebellion
to call his own. I had spent those “formative years” sleeping around with any
album loud enough to drown out my inner white noise, moving through a steady
stream of Hardcore, Punk, Metal — if
they were screaming it, I was buying it. As it turns out, though, what I was
really looking for was a quieter sort of revolution, and at the helm was Mr.
Lou Reed, telling me with a frank honesty that there was freedom in the
composition. It was, like any great lesson, one I’d come to learn in time.
To say I enjoyed those first striking chords of “Heroin” would be an
understatement. It was on a snowy night in 2007, crammed in the back of a
friend's Yaris Liftback, when I first heard it. I can’t remember exactly where
we were previous to that moment, when that raw melody first came in. All I can
remember is how I suddenly became more aware of myself than ever before.
Everything I knew about music, about artistry, about writing — all of it would
change with that first overlap of beautiful melody. I was mesmerized, shaken
from a stupor of conditioned knowledge and thrown into a concoction of John
Cale’s haunting strings with Lou Reed’s candid crooning. By the time Maureen
Tucker’s drumming kicked in, sparse in its reverberation, my resolve would be
just as stripped, replaced by a wily knot that would take years to untie.
Though, right then, the song was just “fucking awesome.”
It would only be years later, waking up to a chilled October morning in 2013,
that this memory would even begin to matter. As the headlines would come to
read, “Lou Reed Dead at 71,” so, too, would the horizon appear most clearly.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the crossover of influences, the
collaboration of mediums in shaping any sort of artistry. As a writer, I can
proudly say that the recorded sound has had just as much influence on me as the
written word. And when I heard the Velvet Underground for the first time, it
became clear that they believed in a similar marriage, affirmed on the morning
of Oct. 27. With the news of the passing of a legend came an onslaught of
anecdotes from around the arts world, plastered against my computer screen. Amidst
the mass of legends, one story stood out in particular.
As according to
Rolling Stone, it was
1965, and the first few months of the Velvet Underground playing under their
iconic moniker. They had began a residency playing in New York’s Café Bizarre
and in the beginning stages of developing their distorted and chaotically
composed sound. Management was set on having performers play more contemporary
numbers, and warned the band not to play their original composition “Black
Angel Death Song.” They went on to perform the number anyway, fit with all the
chilling accidentals in its string arrangements, and were fired immediately.
Though they would emerge from that loss victorious (it led to their
introduction to Andy Warhol, the man who would come to produce their record and
put them on the map of the underground art scene of ‘60s New York), there was
something bigger about that moment, something more pressing in my association
Incidentally, “Black Angel Death Song” was the first thing I clicked on Sunday
morning when I heard the news of its writer’s passing. The strings were
suddenly more haunting, and the story seemed all the more important. It was yet
another quintessential moment in the life of Lou Reed, a man who sang with
unbridled frankness, who played with unencumbered passion, and who inspired me
with the tirelessness of his dedication to honest expression. It transported me
back, seven years and a lifetime ago, to that night in December 2007, when I
first pricked my ears with another of his songs, that found, all at once, both
comfort and chaos within itself. Though I’d spend the lapsed time between 2007
and 2013 finding appreciation for the 40-plus years of Reed’s prolific career —
from “Black Angel Death Song” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” through “Satellite
of Love” and “Pale Blue Eyes” and even up until his
Hudson River Wind Meditations — it would always be that
compositions that would stay, forever imprinted in my mind.
“Heroin” became, for me, a love song to the in between — it was everything I’d
been listening to up until that point and nothing I’d ever heard before; it was
the sentimentality of Indie Rock, the calm before the double bass in hardcore,
the simplistic, chord interplay of Punk and its cleaner cut cousin Pop. And, at
the same time, it was also the recklessness of avant-garde, the soundtrack to
the colors of an underground New York I’d only experience in preserved murals
and snapshots. It was everything I’d known, and everything I would come to know
about music, about art, about sound and about writing.
There are moments that comprise your past, songs that take you to a memory you
thought you’d left. And then there are moments that define your future, songs
that propel you forward into infinity.
Lou Reed, and what he accomplished before, with and after the Velvet
Underground, stood as a symbol for finding freedom in ones composition, and
pushing the statements made to work in a fashion of success.
It was a lesson I would learn time and time again in my own work, as I moved
through the progression of my writing and my own performance techniques. I
would come to face my own obstacles, fight my own battles against normative
expectations. And it would be in those times I fell the deepest, my resolve
threatening to falter, that this education would come back to me, mysterious in
its origins, all the while growing, like a backbone that stood rigid for honest
experimentation and freedom in the composition.
Even now, as this mystery’s been unearthed, its inductor put to rest, ahead of
me remains miles and miles of still shrouded possibility. But against that wall
of lessons I’ll stand, riveted, staring towards the looming unknown. And I’ll
try for a different kind of kingdom, if I can.
Editor's Note: Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group has been guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry eBook, Musicians’ Desk Reference. Click here for his previous blog entries.
Enough with the chitchat — let’s get down to business.For those of you that have been reading/following/listening/talking about Musicians’ Desk Reference over the past several months, you might still have questions, and that is OK. At times throughout this process I have even found myself taking a step back to consider what exactly I am doing.
In reality, that is what this entire project is about — questioning. Specifically, it's about the questions artists inevitably are faced with in the music industry. You should question it all, everything, all the time. That where this idea came from and, frankly, how I live my life. And I would say it is working out pretty well.
But the time for questions is over — so let’s see some answers.
What is Musicians’ Desk Reference? It’s a music industry progression eBook. What does that mean? It is an online platform (website) that helps artists work through common scenarios in the music industry, such as starting out, recording, promoting, touring and building a team. It is a time management system that conforms to your schedule and your level of interest. There is even a tool that builds documentation for you, in addition to the packaging, including several useful items, such as paper stock and labels for at-home printing.
This platform is designed for everyone — from beginners to professionals, and all those in between. You don’t like reading? That’s fine; you can adjust it to recall very minimal information. You like reading thousands of lines worth of information? Well, friend, you’re in luck. Click away on our lists and just let us know you’re okay a few months after filling your head with useful and practical information. If you are a musician that is interested in furthering your career to any degree — from a local to a national level — this eBook is for you.
Where did this come from? Me, actually. I am a musician and have been for half my life. I have spent years in vans, trailers, buses, airplanes, trains and even on boats playing original music all over the world. I have always been fascinated with the music industry and how it works, always wondering why things happened the way that they do.
This fascination led me start The Counter Rhythm Group, an artist development/marketing/event promotion company — built by artists, for artists — offering assistance groups that are younger and newer than ones traditionally serviced. TCRG has worked to develop a range of artists, from those that are still just starting out to some that you can hear on commercial radio stations, all over the course of almost three years. When the requests outnumbered the amount of work we could handle, I decided to build a public platform based on our actual working models. Fast-forward to the present day and you have Musicians’ Desk Reference.
We have worked tirelessly for months (beyond the almost two years of development) building a robust product that is jam-packed with information for the user and I can honestly say that we are still impressed, even after staring at it for hours on end. We’ve even been testing the specifics on a young Cincinnati-based band called PUBLIC, and we are proud to say that things are going very well.
The best part is that the wait is almost over. I am very excited to announce that Musicians’ Desk Reference will be available exclusively to the Cincinnati market at CityBeat’s Midpoint Music Festival, three weeks ahead of the national launch in New York City at the CMJ Music Marathon.
Hear that, Cincinnati? We love you so much that we are giving you the opportunity to have this in your hands well before anyone else does.
What’s that? You want more? All right!
We are also partnering with the fine folks at Midpoint Music Festival as a sponsor, offering a complimentary full version of the eBook to all showcasing artists. That’s right, you play and it’s yours! But what if you did not get selected to the festival but still want a copy? We will be on-hand all three days at our sponsorship tent— located at the MidPoint Midway Stage at Twelfth and Vine streets (right next to the MPMF box office) — selling the eBook for 25% off its regular retail price. We will also be presenting live demos of the site with the development team available for questions.
I could not be more proud of the work that has gone into
this project and I am forever in debt to the dedicated folks that have
been behind me from the start (including CityBeat music guy Mike
Breen — someone please give that man a gift basket full of money for all
he does for the Cincinnati music scene). (Editor's note #2: Large, unmarked bills only, please.)
We really hope to level the playing field in the music industry with Musicians’ Desk Reference, educating artists and helping them to build a strong foundation to work from. We all have a similar goal for success in mind, however we define it, and I want this project to give every individual that chance.
As artists, let’s take pride in our actions and help our peers. Let’s step away from the competitive mentality and work together instead of against each other. Let’s form a music community and celebrate the opportunities that are available to us. This is our industry and this is our time. Musicians’ Desk Reference: Empowering Artists to Progress Through the Modern Music Industry.
Here is an introductory video for MDR's release:
The Gentlemen of the Road stopover tour started off as a rather simple concept. Mumford & Sons would invite a few of their music-playing friends to travel with them. They’d stop over for the weekend in towns they’d never been to before, towns they had no reason to visit. They would play two days’ worth of gigs for people they’d probably not ever played for before.It was just a small, scattered list of dates in BFE. NBD. Somewhere along the way, it became something much different. And much bigger. The “stopover tour” now looks much more like a takeover tour.
“It’s more about the town than the music,” was a sentiment you could hear echoed all over town. From the security guards to the people charging fans $20 to park in their driveway near the festival grounds. And that is an accurate statement.
When the Gentlemen rolled into Troy on the very last weekend of August they did, indeed, take over the tiny town. They did everything possible to put Troy’s best foot forward. The city center, with the fountain that turns pink in June for a strawberry festival, was closed down. WACO airfield was turned into a magnificent parking lot. Multiple school districts sent school buses to help transport music lovers from the parking lot to just a few blocks away from the festival grounds. You never had to wait for a bus, there were always plenty. Why can’t school districts work their own bussing schedules so fluidly? Even the Wendy’s in the next town stayed open until 2 a.m. in order to cater to Mumford fans.
Mumford & Sons ran Troy’s economy. The bakery served a limited menu and from the window hung loaves of bread shaped like mustaches – the international symbol for “Folk band.” A seemingly otherwise unused storefront became Mumford Market, which sold strawberry donuts and other festival essentials. Every storefront had a purpose, featuring window art of the four Brits in charge, of their acoustic instruments or of that omnipresent mustache (it was even painted on the streets). Aside from the Troy High School football field, which held the main stage and the bulk of fest goers, there were still two small stages downtown and another handful of street performers littering the crowded streets.
Heck, they even took over the Troy Police Department. For a town as tiny as Troy, they can’t possibly have very many cops and it seemed like nearly all of them were roaming around inside the closed-off festival area. You know that hard-assed vibe cops often get, especially when pulling security detail? Troy cops were the nicest (and best looking) unit to pull security at a concert I've seen. One of the highlights of the festival was watching an older (clearly drunk) woman swat an officer’s backside with her tambourine. He was quick to whip around and give her a quirk of the brow. When she gave him a grin and a wink, he laughed, wagged his finger and carried on. Later, as the woman and her tambourine flirted endlessly with one of the security guards, the TPD watched with grins and amusement. Nothing more.
And that bout of tambourine-assisted sexual harassment? Probably one of the worst crimes committed during the festival. One of the stage security guards remarked at how surprisingly low-maintenance the crowd was and one of the police officers on duty was quick to agree that the out-of-towners were exceptionally well-behaved. All of his calls had been to deal with locals — and even those calls didn’t seem like anything noteworthy or unusual for a festival environment.
Mumford & Sons fans know how to be polite when overtaking a city.
The festival repaid fans by taking over their nature. When they bought their tickets for the stopover date, they were sent a wristband, a fancy holographic ticket and a passport. The passport held info about last year’s first ever stopover tour, the band, the best restaurants and scenes to check out while in the area. And, just like a real passport, there were places to have stamped. Certain restaurants and stores had stamps. Every performer had a person in a booth at the back of the stadium with a custom stamp. People walked the festival grounds” with the rubber stamp, ready to bequeath another ink splotch on each passport. It was a race to get them all. A chance to maybe, just maybe, win a prize or learn something new.
What you really want to know about is the music though, right?
The festival may have been more about the town than the music, but the music was still what drew thousands of people to Troy’s gorgeous city streets. It was, after all, a concert, and the music that took over Troy’s stadium needs to be discussed.
Friday was a short day, with the festivities not kicking off until after everyone had time to show up after work. Of course, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the Friday night headliners, were the clear draw for fans on Day 1. The Zeros have traveled with Mumford & Sons before, most notably on their "railroad revival" tour, and even released their newest album on the Communion label, a pet project of Mumford’s piano player, Ben Lovett. Technically, the band is solid. The only difference between their records and their live performances is the sheer amount of energy they bring to the stage. The group has fun on stage and that fun easily makes its way into the crowd. But if you’ve seen one Edward Sharpe concert, you’ve seen them all. If you haven’t ever seen them, then you’re missing out.
Saturday was magnificent, loud and the best kind of exhausting you could imagine. A little after lunch, the stage came to life with the lovely Indie Brit Rock band Bear’s Den (who will be back in Ohio to play Cincinnati's MidPoint Music Festival at the end of the month). They might have only kicked off the day, but their talent deserved a later slot. After Bear’s Den came Nashville’s Those Darlins, headed by Jessi Darlin, a wisp of a girl with a set of dragon-sized lungs. Rubblebucket, from Brooklyn, showed up next and bestowed upon festival goers all their weird, twitching energy. They’re awesome, but putting them before the decidedly more mellow (but still oh-so-awesome) Justin Townes Earle seemed a little ill-placed. It felt a little like revving the engine of a Mustang when you’re still three stop signs away from an open country road. Justin Townes Earle was brilliant, of course, but very laid back, and Rubblebucket left everyone pretty amped. On the upside, Earle’s joke about the Westboro Baptist Church earned him laughs.
Mumford & Sons also imported their friends, The Vaccines. Also hailing from England, The Vaccines’ lead singer Justin Young previously recorded on the Communion label as Jay Jay Pistolet, a far more tame version of the vintage Rock that evolved to make The Vaccines what they are today. This new creation doesn’t seem to get quite as much love from Communion’s heads as some of their other friends and that’s really a shame. The Vaccines are with Columbia now and blowing up in the U.K., but still floundering in America. They’re brilliant, though, and crowds eat them up. They sound gritty and much more Punk Rock than anything on the radio right now, but they could very easily end up on those playlists. They bring an insane amount of sexual energy to the stage, too. Remember that old Almost Famous quote about the fans “getting off?” One guttural bellow from Young ignited a crowd full of shrieks. The end of The Vaccines meant half the crowd needed a cigarette.
Earlier in the day, one of the security guards said he’d worried the concert would be full of Bluegrass bands, something he hated. So far, though, he liked what he had heard. He had no idea that after The Vaccines, things were about to get real blue, real fast. Old Crow Medicine Show are old pros by now. Not only have they toured with Mumford & Sons previously, but they’ve also been around for ages. Maybe that’s why their concerts always seem similar. They’re a blast and, if you know all their songs, you’ll be hoarse by the end of their set. But, at the end of the day, nothing changes much from concert to concert … not even the between-song banter.
Somewhere during the Old Crow set an older, surlier photographer made a comment that I caught just the tail-end of. He either said “They’re better than this” or “I’m better than this.” The answer to both of those sentimentswas the same, however. “Clearly Not.” If Old Crow were better than doing a clone show in a tiny town, then millions of people wouldn’t be singing along to “Wagon Wheel” right now and thinking it was by Darius freaking Rucker. And, if that photog were better than that festival, well, he wouldn’t have been there. Oh, the egos.
Mumford & Sons finally took the stage just as the sun was sinking down past the stadium, though we’d seen them during the set before when they crashed a few Old Crow songs. The first time I saw them was in 2010 at Beachland Ballroom. They sold out the 500-person capacity room and joked their way through the entire set. Not much has changed in those three years except the size of the crowd. As I bought a pair of Vaccines underwear from the merchandise barn (because, why not?), one of the boys added a sincere moment. Winston Marshall (I think. I was really far from the stage by then and trying to size underwear) told the fans there were a lot of people in America that the band loved “very, very much.” And that there were a few dickheads, too. Whether playing to a crowd of 500 or 50,000, the guys of Mumford know how to make each group of people feel awesome. Even if it’s just knowing to say, “O-H!” and grin when the Ohio crowd screams back the usual reply of, “I-O!” After all these years, they still really get a kick out of that trick.
Their performance was great, too. But it seems pointless to tell you that. At this point, Mumford & Sons have become so famous, so overplayed on the radio, you’ve no doubt already made up your mind about those four mates from London. Either you love them or you hate them. End of story. For me, the answer is love. I can respect a well-informed adverse opinion on the matter, however. So I won’t try to change your mind.
I walked back to my car as the Yacht Club DJs began their cool-down set after Mumford & Sons left the stage. Troy was quiet except for the bands and the revelers and drunks (so it wasn’t very quiet at all). But the town has a peaceful vibe to it and the band has always had a respectful sense to themselves that together kept everyone in check.
Would I do it again? Yes. But do I still absolutely hate festivals? Yes. Would I recommend the experience to anyone that made it this far in my review? Without hesitation, I recommend that you go visit Troy. And I will always tell everyone I meet that Mumford & Sons puts on the best show around and you should witness it once in your life. Whether you decide to hold out for their next stopover tour or settle for their next arena show, that’s up to you. Or, if you decide to wait a decade until the fuss dies down and they’re back to playing places like the Beachland or Bogart’s, I won’t judge you. I already know those gigs will be just as amazing.
Editor's Note: Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group is guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry guidebook, Musicians’ Desk Reference. Click here for his previous blog entries.
Aaaaaaaaaaand we are done! Well, kind of …
After nearly two years of content creation, testing, editing, restructuring and discussion, I am very proud to announce that the content for Musicians’ Desk Reference is finally complete! There is still much work to be done ahead of the release — completion of web development, beta testing, marketing, promotions and more — but we are at least moving ahead, right on schedule.
It sounds cliché, but it is amazing to take a step back and realize how far this project has really come, in addition to considering how much it has forced me to grow as an individual. It all started with an idea that I simply could not let go of, despite my initial thoughts that The Counter Rhythm Group just could not handle taking on a project of this (theoretical) scale. I tried working around this notion from every angle, discussing it with an array of employees that have helped in our growth, and at the end of each reflection period I knew that we had to still move forward with the idea, any way we could.
Those that know me know that I am a planner. I like making lists — and especially checking things off of that list. I try to find structure in everything when at all possible, and more often than not I find myself asking, “Why?” I have no idea where this mentality came from and my immediate family has reaffirmed that statement over the course of the last few months. It is this mentality, combined with my passion for helping musicians that has provided the fuel for this journey.
I am so excited to share this vision with the world. While it sounds cheesy, I can promise you that every page has my heart and soul poured into it, and that it has been painstakingly been picked apart by myself and a dedicated group of contributors. We are truly aiming to provide the best information possible to be used for many generations to come. I have stated before in these blogs that this is by far the most involved I have ever been in a project — I never considered leaving a legacy, but I am starting to think that this could be it.
So what does this mean for the user? I can say with confidence that there is way more to this project than I ever could have imagined, and the fact that it still consistently “wows” me should be a testament to those who have been patiently waiting for the final product over the past several months.
While the eBook is completely customizable to each individual and scenario, I can honestly say (to those who are interested) to get ready to spend some time reading and considering the subject matter. We have meticulously worked to build the documentation so that it touches base on certain generalities and specifics, offering clarity and understanding on the matter without requiring several days’ worth of reading. I am not a big fan of lengthy reading materials and our generation tends to be intimidated by large batches of text — the sole reason we have invested so much time and resources into a digital platform. To state it conservatively, it will take an artist some time to work through the entire project, which is meant to serve the user through several areas of their career as they develop and grow.
We are so close to being able to put Musicians’ Desk Reference in your hands that I honestly have a hard time sleeping at night. Looking ahead, we will be receiving a beta version of the eBook within the next week and we have many users lined up to participate. If you are interested in being considered for a beta trial, please send an email to email@example.com.
September is when things start getting really exciting, as we are pulling out all of the stops for this release. Without going into too much detail, I can say that we will have an established presence at the Midpoint Music Festival this year, and that this will be the first time the eBook will be available for purchase (acting as our “soft” release, exclusively to those physically at the festival). Pre-orders will be available in early September and are expected to ship the week after MPMF. This will all build up to our national release in October at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, where we will be also have a significant presence. There are many more things in the works; I promise that it will all be worth the wait.
I would like to close by thanking all of those that have shown support throughout this process, to The Counter Rhythm Group and to myself. While this is not the time to name anyone individually (that comes later), I want you all to know how much it means to us. Your continued support will help us through the coming months and we hope you will join us in spreading the word about Musicians’ Desk Reference. We have literally put everything we can into this project, and we are proud to say that we were able to build it while living in this great city, utilizing most outsourced services to companies and individuals located in the Queen City. We want to make a significant impact in the music industry, and I look forward to proudly telling anyone and everyone where it all started — right here in Cincinnati.
“Has anyone seen Kanye lately? I haven’t heard him piss off the world in like a week so I’m starting to worry.” – Tweeted by me on May 16 at 3:59 p.m.
Not 30 minutes later, at 4:28 p.m., this tweet from Rap-Up.com popped onto my Twitter feed, “‘I ain’t kissing nobody’s motherfuckin’ babies. I drop your baby and you sue me’ – Kanye West”
Like many other Kanye West fans, this is what I’ve had to deal with for the last 10 or so years of his solo career. Whether this soon-to-be father is ranting about not being a celebrity and holding random people’s children, drunkenly yelling at pretty white girls at award shows, freaking out Mike Myers on live television or impregnating the bumper sticker on the Bentley of pop-culture, Kim Kardashian, it’s been hard for Yeezy fans to deal with how “cray” Kanye has been since he was thrust into the public eye.
But with his near-brilliant performances of “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” on SNL recently (songs from his forthcoming album, Yeezus, due this coming Tuesday), all of Kanye's followers were reminded that Kanye is a lot like your drunken uncle at Christmas.
Sure, it was embarrassing when he threw up on your sister’s gifts halfway through his tirade about “Obama phones” and how the commie teachers at the university you recently graduated from are ruining America’s youth. But after a long clean up session and your mom stops crying, you open up the card that he gave you before his seventh Scotch and the contents inside contain a joint, $300 and a note stating, “Don’t spend it on drugs,” then you’re immediately reminded of why you loved him in the first place.
So no matter what outlandish behavior Kanye comes up with next, I think we all need to be reminded that the “cray” that has inspired Kanye’s less attractive moments is the same “cray” that has been the driving force in creating some of the most genius and interesting songs in Hip Hop of the last decade.
14. “Drive Slow (feat. GLC & Paul Wall)”; Late Registration – As the laidback beat puts the listener in a trance, Kanye paints a vivid picture of a summer spent driving around with his friend/mentor Mali; blasting his demo tape, looking for girls and desperately trying to grow up too quickly. Even though Kanye displays his great storytelling ability on this song, the real accomplishment here is that West found a way to make Paul Wall’s feature not sound ridiculously out of place, which is a feat in and of itself.
13. “Say You Will”; 808’s & Heartbreak – 2008 was a weird year for Kanye. Hell, 2008 was a weird year for all of us. But his unabashed openness (as you’ll see with the rest of this list) about his lady troubles is what makes this a song stick out. The only downside of this track? It gave Drake the green light to be all open and overly emotional on all his records, so thanks a lot, Kanye!
12. “Drunk and Hot Girls”; Graduation – A lot of people don’t care for this song, which is understandable because it’s not one of Ye’s deeper cuts. What this song does do, however, is give a perfectly, comical description of how one-night stands go. Plus, the song ends in him getting this girl pregnant, which brings to mind that slap-in-the-face reality check that every man and woman has the morning after a random sexual encounter (“Oh my god, not only did I overdraw my account at White Castles last night but is this the person that’s going to ruin my life for the next 18 years and nine months?!?”).
11. “Bittersweet”; Graduation – This is the first time Kanye blatantly admits he is in the wrong on a track. Sure, the first half of the cut makes him seem like a total asshole (wanting to drunkenly “shake the shit out of” his girl), but it makes his soul-spilling at the end all the sweeter.
10. “Addiction”; Late Registration – What’s your addiction? Is it money, girls, weed? Kanye has been afflicted by not one, but all three. But hey, that’s what makes this cut great. There is no catharsis or happy ending about how he found his will power and conquered his many ailments. But instead, we get a track about how, no matter what happens, no matter how hard he tries, his will power will always lose to the bad parts of his life, because they are just too damn good to resist – which is something everyone can relate to.
9. “Everything I Am”; Graduation – He’ll never be picture perfect like Beyonce (no one will, ever) or rock some mink boots in the summer time like Will.I.Am (no one should, not even Will.I.Am), but what Kanye can do is spit some harsh truths about public criticism and Chicago violence over a soothing beat. So please, keep talking shit about him at barber shops if this is going to be the outcome.
8. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”; Graduation – Kanye addresses a few of his crazy outbursts on the first verse of this track (including the whole “President Bush doesn’t care about black people, right Mike Myers?” incident) and handles it with a precision and poise. He admits that the scrutiny and pressure of fame has changed his behavior, but he doesn’t know how to be himself (slightly crazy) without being criticized by the media. Can any of us understand that feeling? No. Does it sound like a bullshit excuse? Yeah. But hey, at least he knows he has a behavioral problem. Admitting it is the first step.
7. “Spaceship (feat. GLC & Consequence)”; The College Dropout – Anyone who has had a shitty job (service industry, retail) would be lying if they hadn’t felt violent urges towards overzealous mangers who take their jobs too seriously. Lucky for us, we can live vicariously through Kanye on this joint instead of becoming the next viral sensation on worldstarhiphop.com.
6. “Jesus Walks”; The College Dropout – This song came out right when I got confirmed, which, as any of you were raised Catholic will know, is also the same time you stop going to church. It made me feel good to listen to Kanye, like his brand of socially conscious, Christ-loving jams were the sole key to my salvation and the only thing that could outweigh my deeply engrained Catholic guilt. Plus, who else could make a club banger about Jesus? Nobody but Yeezus.
5. “All Falls Down”; The College Dropout – Does anyone else remember when Kanye was the self-conscious outsider of the Rap game? You probably don’t, hell, I don’t even know if Kanye remembers. You’d think Kanye’s egotisical façade he has concocted in place of his old persona would force him to listen to his own music more. But, alas, I fear that this Kanye is dead and gone, much like the career of that cute girl from Clueless that was in the music video.
4. “Roses”; Late Registration – “You know the best medicine go to people that’s paid/If Magic Johnson got a cure for A.I.D.S./And all the broke muthafuckers past away/You tellin’ me if my grandma was in the N.B.A./Right now she'd be ok?/But since she was just a secretary/Working for the church/For thirty five years/Things s’posed to stop right here?”
Kanye makes you feel the pain, anger and confusion of his family as they sit at the bedside of his dying grandmother on this track. I cry literally every time I hear this song come on, but I’m emotionally unstable. Then again, I’m pretty sure if you don’t at least slightly tear up; you don’t know what love is or your mom didn’t hug you enough as a child.
3. “Blame Game (feat. John Legend & Chris Rock); My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – This track is almost “Bittersweet” in reverse because it’s West whose emotions are constantly toyed with by his love interest as she lies about seeing another man. Although this song is mostly serious (especially heavy during the beautiful done Chloe Mitchell poem) it ends hilariously as Chris Rock is revealed as the “mister” (male version of mistress?), reaping the benefits her apparent education at “Kanye West School of How to Wear Some Fucking Jimmy Chu’s”
2. “Through The Wire”; The College Dropout – If you ever question Kanye’s dedication to the craft, go back and listen his first single, “Through the Wire”. Done only two weeks after a car crash that almost took his life, Kanye hit the studio and rapped with his jaw wired-shut. Nowadays, Nicki Minaj can’t even show up to her set at Summer Jam 2012 because radio personality, Peter Rosenberg, dissed her Katy Perry rip-off, “Starships.” So next time you want to diss Kanye, just remember, despite his flaws, he’s one of the only popular artist’s keeping the spirit of hip-hop alive.
1.“Runaway (feat. Pusha T)”; My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – He pleads without being pathetic. He’s unflinchingly honest without being cliché. But most of all, he’s artistically progressive without losing his knack for pop sensibility. The beat is one of the most simplistic of his career, but never once feels repetitive or overdone by the end of this 7-minute-and-49-second journey. From top to bottom this has to be considered Kanye’s masterpiece, but who knows, he’s outdone himself before.
Other Notables: “Heard ‘Em Say”, “The Glory”, “We Don’t Care”
Editor's Note: Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group is guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry guidebook, Musicians’ Desk Reference.
It has been killing me to remain so broad and vague this entire time about what exactly me and my staff have been working on, and while I will attempt to be slightly more specific this time around, I am afraid that you will inevitably be strung along for yet another 30-day span, inching closer to the release this Fall.
If you have been reading these entries (or know me personally), you know I am a musician, and that I have experience touring and working in the music industry for about half of my life. While I do not necessarily claim to be an expert (I believe it requires an extreme longevity with multiple facets of success and even some failure to be given that label), I can tell you that I have an understanding of how the working elements of this business function, and that I have been able to make a career as both a performer and a servicing agent. That being said, my passion (and I do consider myself a passionate person), has become helping others to succeed in this industry through sharing my experiences and knowledge. While competition certainly has its place and can keep you sharp, ultimately we are all in this together, trying to reach a common goal of finding success. The more we work together the better the potential is for any one of us to achieve these goals.
I truly believe Musicians’ Desk Reference is the next step in the evolutionary process to bind us together as a musical community. My overall intention with this project is to level the playing field as much as possible, everywhere from general theories of advancement to the specified documentation that an artist will actually work with. At the end of the day, we hope to unveil the unknown variables that musicians will face and provide the tools and the understanding and put the focus on what matters most: your music.
How do you know if Musisicans’ Desk Reference is something for you? The eBook encompasses several distinct areas of the music business, ranging from the inner workings of just starting out as a musician, down the necessary paths of recording, promoting, touring and eventually building a team of industry professionals to work for you. These topics are based on my own personal experiences as a musician and with operating The Counter Rhythm Group (my music industry promotions company), in addition to many conversations with musicians over time about what topics they are most curious about. Not surprisingly, many of the requests were in the same categories, so in the end the subject matter was not too difficult to choose from.
It is an exciting time for sure, as we are literally in the last two weeks of content creation, working right along schedule with our team of professionals we have amassed to help make the dream a become a reality.
Looking ahead into the near future, I am excited to announce that we will be conducting some closed focus groups for the content, eventually leading into beta testing a full working version. All preparation is leading up to the release of the final product this Fall, and while I cannot give out too many specifics (sorry!), I can say that it will be a series of events not to be missed.
I apologize if the bulk of these blogs seem to relate more to the backstory and the generalities of the book rather than the specific content and the process behind the final product, but that is unfortunately the direction that it must take for now. While I have been hit with a wave of positivity from musicians familiar with the project, it is very clear that more explanation is required as to offer insight as to what we are actually doing over here. The process, as that of many servicing professionals, can often feel like a variety of desk jobs that exist in the world, with the obvious exception of working with fantastic clients and the ability to go to shows, travel and be among others with similar interests that are typically awesome. In all honesty, I sit at a desk and work on several computers, monitors and devices, working with my team to create, verify and edit content, hour after hour. It is nothing but work, work, work around here (especially lately), and I would not have it any other way.
A quick Google search confirmed the terrible news that The Doors keyboardist had passed away on May 20 in Germany while seeking treatment for bile duct cancer.
By virtue of my mid-'50s birth, I am an actual child of the '60s and the parade of my musical heroes joining the choir invisible has seemed to pick up the pace here in the new millennium. So many have fallen, it's difficult to keep track.
My dear friend Rob, a high school bud from my Michigan hometown, has for years sent out emails with the name of a recently deceased musician in the subject line, which has led those of us in our immediate circle to refer to him as The Reaper. A few years back, he sent us an update about a new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album and from his simple subject notation I came to the horrifying conclusion that Tom and the boys had gone down like Lynyrd Skynyrd.Fortunately, that was not the case.
Rob was in the midst of trying to send us all a message from his phone about Ray's passing when he got my email. He hates it when I scoop him, but this was not a scoop that I could lord over The Reaper. This was as devastating as a death in the family.
I teared up a few weeks ago when my comedy hero Jonathan Winters died and it was the same when Ray's death became a verifiable fact. Ray Manzarek wasn't simply one of the thousands of musicians who I greatly admire. He was the guy who made me listen to music.
My earliest exposure to Rock came, oddly enough, via The Ed Sullivan Show. For you youngsters, Sullivan was a well-connected entertainment reporter who wound up hosting radio shows in the late '20s and emceeing theater revues in the '30s and '40s which led to one of the first television variety shows, Toast of the Town, in 1948. Eventually renamed after its stiff but brilliantly intuitive host and talent booker, The Ed Sullivan Show occupied the Sunday-at-8 p.m. slot for 23 years.
Sullivan didn't care for Rock & Roll, but he knew teenagers were viewers and would attract advertisers, so he began booking the artists that would become the foundation of Rock in the '60s. I saw The Beatles on the Sullivan show in 1964, when I was 7 years old — I liked the music but I distinctly remember thinking, "I wish those girls would stop screaming so I can hear it." By the following year, The Beatles became a cartoon series and largely stopped being real people in my comic-book-obsessed head.
Sgt. Pepper changed that in 1967. So much changed in 1967.
The catalyst for all that change was The Doors' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in September of that magic year. I didn't know anything about the band beyond its interesting name. I always watched Sullivan for the bands (although I was just as intrigued by the plate spinners, magicians and comics; George Carlin was an early favorite), so I looked forward to it as much as any of the others who had displayed their wares for Sullivan's audience.
Until The Doors' hypnotic vibe came pouring out of the tinny speaker in my grandparents' old black-and-white Zenith, music had been little more than an accessory in my life. I didn't follow music or collect it or pay much attention to it beyond checking it out on the occasional TV program (Sullivan, Hullabaloo, Shindig, sometimes American Bandstand on a rainy Saturday). The bands were fun and interesting to watch — by then I'd seen The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Dave Clark 5 (whose big beat, roiling Farfisa organ and frenetic guitar hooked me more than most) and many more — but I had not yet been infected with the Rock virus.
That September evening, I camped out in front of the TV to see what Sullivan had in store before The Doors played the final segment. There were the standard array of variety acts that made Sullivan a star in his own right and there was a sweaty, bug-eyed comic who was pretty funny (it turned out to be Rodney Dangerfield, making his TV debut).
At commercial, I ran into the kitchen, probably for a chocolate chip cookie stack, and when I got back to the living room, there was Ed, arms folded across his chest, ramrod straight as if a stagehand had shoved a mop handle up his ass all the way to the base of his skull.
"Now, The Doors...here they are with their newest hit record, 'People Are Strange.' "
The insistent lope of the first single from The Doors' sophomore album, Strange Days (which was still a week away from being released), emanated from the television and I stood staring at the set, afraid to sit down for fear of missing something. In two brief minutes, I was galvanized, pulverized and mesmerized, between Robbie Krieger's three note guitar intro, Ray Manzarek's circus organ, John Densmore's shuffling beat and Jim Morrison's trance-like presence. The best was yet to come.
Without a break, The Doors — with dozens of actual doors forming a backdrop — segued straight into their real hit, "Light My Fire," which had come out just after the first of the year. When I heard Ray's masterful intro, I remembered having heard a bit of it on the car radio before my father changed the station, presumably to get away from it.
For the first time in my life, I got music.
"Light My Fire" seeped into my DNA and I went through what seemed like an alchemical transformation, touched by the philosopher's stone of The Doors' cryptic groove. It felt like every molecule in my body had changed places with every other molecule in my body. Outwardly, I looked no different. Inwardly, I was not and would never be the same.
Morrison was clearly a compelling figure onstage as he writhed without seeming to move to any great degree — and the emphasis when the word "fire" erupted from his throat was hair-raising — but it was Ray Manzarek who commanded my attention. I kept wanting the camera to get back to Ray so I could watch his hands and see how they corresponded to that transdimensional sound he was creating. Morrison's smoldering role in The Doors' passion play was clearly evident, but Ray's position was so much more subversive and fascinating to me.
By the time the Doors completed the two-and-a-half minute single version of "Light My Fire," I was paralyzed (the first time I heard the long version, probably a few months after the Sullivan show, my head nearly exploded). It was the first time I can remember thinking, "Play something else. Play that thing over. Play someone else's song. Just do that to me again."
From that moment on, I pursued music. I found the cool radio stations that played Rock and Pop and began paying strict attention. Motown had already been in full swing for a few years and that sound got its hooks into me as well. I kept an eye out for a repeat Sullivan performance by The Doors but it never happened; little did I know at the time that Ed and CBS executives had told the band to change the "girl, we couldn't get much higher" lyric in "Light My Fire" because of its possible drug connotation, which Morrison agreed to do and then either defiantly or nervously forgot. Sullivan was furious and reportedly shouted at the band after the show, "You'll never do the Sullivan show again," to which Morrison allegedly replied, "Hey, we just did the Sullivan show."
Over the next four years, my reverence for The Doors grew exponentially and I continued to be captivated by everything they attempted. I was not deterred by what some critics deemed inferior songs on Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade, and the epic tales of Morrison's booze-and-drug consumption merely added to his mythic status. Only his conviction for public indecency was worrisome, from the standpoint that a jail term could have stopped them from recording and touring.
I was not even dissuaded when I realized that Ray was only four years younger than my father.
After its April 1971 release, L.A. Woman became the soundtrack for the end of my sophomore year in high school and the beginning of my 14th summer. On July 3, 1971, my stepbrother Rick and I were listening to WVIC in Lansing when we heard the news of Morrison's death from a supposed heart attack in Paris, where he had decamped just after the release of L.A. Woman.
I was devastated, but I thought, "At least it wasn't Ray."
After Rick and I discussed what we thought were the band's possible options for a while, I sat down with pen and paper and wrote a letter to the surviving Doors, imploring them not to quit in the wake of their terrible tragedy. I told them, "You can't quit. It's not what Jim would have wanted, it's not what we want and, if you're honest with yourselves, it's not what you want."
I found a Doors fan address in one of my Rock mags and mailed the letter off a few days later. (I would send an eerily similar letter to the Allman Brothers four months later, just after the death of Duane Allman; those are the only two fan letters I have ever sent).
A few weeks later, I received a hand-signed form letter from Danny Sugerman, who was The Doors' second manager, which stated that the band appreciated their fans' concern and best wishes and they were definitely staying together and working on a new album that would be released in the fall.
Other Voices was an amazing album, although critics generally hated it. I looked at as if it were a Ray Manzarek solo album; from that perspective it was great. The following year, they pushed even further into Jazz territory on Full Circle and then decided to officially end The Doors. Ray began his real solo career with The Golden Scarab in 1973, followed by 1974's The Whole Thing Started With Rock and Roll, Now It's Out of Control.
Scarab was magnificent (particularly the unhinged instrumental, "The Moorish Idol," the first song I heard from the album on a college radio station), as it offered up serious musical chops but also something that Morrison found difficult to achieve; whimsy and humor. Out of Control was aptly named as it was slightly chaotic, but it was Ray so I found plenty of ways to love it. I still do.
After that, Ray took a zig-zag approach to his solo career. An Electronic Rock version of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," a collaboration with Phillip Glass, was extremely cool, but his work after that was sporadic at best. He did a couple of cool albums in the late '70s with his new band, Nite City, and he produced the first three X albums in the early '80s (their version of "Soul Kitchen" is harrowing).
As an artist, Ray tended to stick to collaborative situations (although he did release a true solo album in 2006, an instrumental set of originals titled Love Her Madly, presumably the soundtrack to a B-movie he wrote, directed and starred in). In recent years, he had done a couple of albums with slide guitarist Roy Rogers, including the blazingly excellent Translucent Blues in 2011. And of course, he and Krieger famously pissed off John Densmore when they relaunched The Doors, first as Riders on the Storm, then as the 21st Century Doors and then, due to legal acquiescence, as Manzarek/Krieger.
The fact is, with Doors record sales topping 100 million worldwide, Ray could do whatever he wanted to do, for as long as he wanted to do it and he did just that. But it could be equally argued that Ray did exactly what he wanted in The Doors as well, because that gothic Rock sound didn't exist before The Doors' debut album in 1967. While many tried to replicate it in the aftermath of their staggering success, no one could quite master the formula of Morrison's shamanic poetry slam, Densmore's fluid pulse and Krieger's combination of Rock swagger and Jazz swing.
Most importantly, they could not fathom the incredible musical ability and intuition of Raymond Daniel Manzarek, and without that, there would be no Doors.
I would have come to Rock in some form or fashion; weeks after seeing The Doors on Sullivan, I heard Jimi Hendrix's "Foxey Lady" and "Purple Haze," yet another subatomic moment, and weeks after that was my first mindbending spin through Sgt. Pepper.
But it was all teed up because of The Doors and their singular keyboardist, the man who revealed the universe of music to a 10-year-old boy in Michigan and sent him on a pilgrimage to find more of the same, a journey that continues to this day with the same passion and dedication that marked its initial steps over half a century ago.
I would guess that my marching orders from Ray right now would be similar to those I offered to him and his grieving bandmates in 1971: Keep going, because it's what I want, it's what we want and, if you're honest with yourself, it's what you want.
Editor's Note: Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group is guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry guidebook, Musicians’ Desk Reference. Read Penick's first three blogs here.
I am not sure where I originally heard it, but the statement about how an idea "is the most contagious thing in the world” has really been resonating with me this past month.
It is amazing to take a step back from most things in the world and realize that they all started with an initial concept that grew through some evolutionary process. Probably not the way you would expect me to start a blog entry, but you have to understand this to know where this entire microcosm of Musicians’ Desk Reference has come from to consider where we are hoping to take it.
All of this started with an idea, something that had been bubbling up in my sub-conscience for over a decade, since I first started touring in bands. The business side of the music industry had always fascinated me, if only to simply question “why” and “how” the process worked for artists finding success. I knew that there had to be a great deal of factors behind this and that there isn’t really one true answer, but it was still enough to start me on a quest to find out whatever I could. Quite a task for someone barely old enough to drive, but, still, I knew that it was something worth investigating.
I have no shame in seeking the truth. I would ask anyone that I had met along the way, from bands to promoters and bar staff to industry professionals … if I could steal someone for a 30-second conversation, they would be hit with as many questions as I could get in. This always comes to a peak at any sort of festival/conference event when I am on the hunt for individuals that I know will be in attendance. The fangs come out and the hunt is on. I’ve been able to leverage some tours and significant milestones out for some of my projects, most notably at this year’s South by Southwest conference.
This soon turned to me attempting to give back to the music community, offering advice to anyone that asked for it. Casual conversations at shows over drinks eventually led to me wonder if I could do something similar for a living. Several months and numerous drafts of a business plan later, I was on my way, always intending on helping the greatest number of artists as I possibly could.
Here we are now, several years into the (initial phase of the) process, and the idea has certainly become infectious. What started as me wishfully thinking in the back of vans and busses that were buzzing across the land has started to take shape in a way that I would have never imagined.
While there are many things that are happening behind closed doors and cannot be disclosed (this document would have more redacted text than not were I to reveal many of the details), I can tell you that this idea has grown into more than a book and more than a batch of information. Our team has now tripled in size and the partnerships with third parties are growing by the month. The end result is going to be something that will even impress me, which is important to note because I am probably the harshest critic of them all.
I have had a vision for this project throughout the course of all of this. While I have been flexible at times, the integrity of Musicians’ Desk Reference is one thing that I am not willing to compromise. I am treating this as if it were a band trying to advance on its own through the music industry, gaining organic support along the way through due diligence and hard work. I am so proud of how far we have come. As we prepare to build the final version with a team of engineers over these next couple weeks, the anticipation builds like a child’s on Christmas morning — except we want to give rather than receive.
It has been slightly unnerving while building Musicians’ Desk Reference, knowing that it will inevitably be released to the world and run through the gauntlet of reviewers and critics, but in the end it should be known that we are here to help. Others may be creating a process, but we are trying to set a standard; a precedent that the industry can work from to give everyone an equal opportunity. Call us crazy, but this is a mantra that we use on a daily basis.
I know this may not all make sense and seem broad from an outside perspective, but, trust us, it will make sense as we delve further into the specifics. More clear details will emerge as our release date at this year’s Midpoint Music Festival (Sept. 26-28) approaches. Just know we are working hard with good intentions.