On this day in 1940, American music icon Woody Guthrie wrote his most famous song and one that has become embedded into the DNA of American life, "This Land is You Land." The Folk music legend and notorious fighter for the social causes of the poor and working class is said to have written the song after hearing (a few too many times) Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," which he felt was too hyperbolic. Just like Roxanne Shante's "The Real Roxanne" was written as a response to U.T.F.O.'s "Roxanne Roxanne" (OK, maybe not JUST like), "This Land" was Guthrie's "answer song." Guthrie recorded the future standard five years later, but it wasn't until the ’60s Folk revival that the song really took flight, as everyone from Bob Dylan to The Kingston Trio covered the tune. Though "God Bless America" may be the song still sung at baseball games, "This Land is You Land" has endured as one of the greatest pieces of American art, a reflection of what many of us believe our country is all about — "We're all in this together and lucky to be on this wonderful little chunk of dirt, so shut up and quit being so selfish, jerk-ass!" Or something along those lines (maybe I read too much into it).
The song is still common at protests and used in political contexts. Bruce Springsteen closed his acoustic concerts in support of Barrack Obama in 2008 with a version ("Yes We Can" chants added), while Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello serenaded the mass of humanity at the Occupy Wall Street protest in NYC with the song (lost verses and all) this past October.
Here is one of the great "contemporary" versions — a rendition by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, who give the song a sweet vintage Soul makeover:
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Were it not for the Grim Reaper, two celebrated musical couples would be celebrating wedding anniversaries today. Country music superstars Johnny Cash and June Carter (soon-to-be Carter Cash) tied the knot on this date in 1968 in a Franklin, Ky., church. The bride wore light blue; the groom wore (duh!) black. Their relationship was the basis for the celebrated biopic Walk the Line, which showed the couple's rocky patches in all their glory, as well as their dedication to each other. The couple had just one child together, John Carter Cash (born in 1970). The couple managed to put their problems behind them and remained married until June's death in May of 2003. Cash passed away five months later.
June co-wrote (with Merle Kilgore) one of Johnny's biggest songs, 1963's "Ring of Fire," which is said to have been inspired by her conflicted feelings for Johnny.
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.
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On this day in 1911, pulp fiction/sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard — who would go on to develop the self-help "Dianetics" program as well as found the Scientology religion — was born. Ninety five years later (to the day), one of his disciples, legendary Soul man Isaac Hayes, asked to be released from his contract with South Park (on which he brilliantly voiced the character Chef) following the cartoon's skewering of the Scientology movement. Hayes initially said he didn't mind the pair's satire of his religion, saying they were equal opportunity offenders, but someone from the "church" must've gotten to him, because he gradually shifted that position. Some reports emerged later that Hayes' announcement was written by someone else; essentially "someone quit for him," Fox News reported.
Still, Hayes was granted his release immediately, though creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone brought him back for an episode (with cobbled together audio previously recorded for other shows), essentially to kill his character off. The episode aired a mere nine days after Hayes (or someone representing Hayes) quit the show.
Hayes passed away about two years later from complications from a stroke he suffered about six months after leaving South Park. Fortunately, Hayes' contribution to music was so large, the cartoon mess didn't impact his legacy too much. It still begs the question of what was worse for Hayes' career — Scientology or South Park?
Last year, a former Scientologist revealed a memo he claimed was from a higher up in the church who was "investigating" Parker and Stone, allegedly spying on the duo and their associates to dig up dirt. According to the former church member, the memos also show that the church gave up its investigation after not finding any weaknesses to exploit. The Church of Scientology has been repeatedly accused of such intimidation factors involving critics and former members who talk about the religion.
I, for one, have nothing against Scientology specifically, and wish all Scientologists the best of luck in reaching the highest level of their spirituality and one day meeting the church's alien overlords (or whatever it is they believe). So please don't start spying on me and digging through my garbage. You'll only find discarded debt collection notices, well-used Victoria Secret catalogs and empty beer cans, anyway. Heil, Hubbard!
And let's all remember Hayes as one of the baddest muthas in Soul music history and not the celebrity who was guided/misguided by his chosen spiritual beliefs or that fat cartoon character who falls off a cliff to his gruesome death on South Park. (Though, you have to admit, that "Chocolate Salty Balls" song was the jam.) Here he is in all his glory:
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Today is the 15th anniversary of the murder of celebrated rapper Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious B.I.G. (aka Biggie Smalls, aka Big Poppa, etc., etc.). Since his death, Wallace's status has risen considerably and he's widely considered one of the best MCs to ever hold a mic, for both his smooth, laid-back flow and lyrical prowess.
Caught in the middle of the East Coast/West Coast feuding of the time, Wallace (a NYC native) was killed while in California promoting his soon to be released sophomore album, eerily titled (in hindsight, as was his debut's title, Ready to Die) Life After Death. On March 9, Smalls attended the Soul Train awards show in L.A., where he presented Toni Braxton with one of two awards she would win that night (and was booed by the West-leaning coastal feuders in the audience). Wallace left an afterparty at 12:30 a.m. later that night and, about 50 yards from the party entrance, a black Chevy Impala reportedly pulled up next to the vehicle the MC was in and someone in the Impala shot Wallace four times in the chest. He was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead March 9 at 1:15 a.m.
Despite various theories, confessions and extensive investigations, the case, like that of West Coast star rapper Tupac Shakur (killed about six months prior in similar fashion), remains unsolved.
Life After Death came out 15 days after Wallace's murder. It went to No. 1 on Billboard's album chart instantly. Two more posthumous B.I.G. records were cobbled together — 1999's Born Again, featuring tracks culled from unfinished ones on which Wallace had been working, and the similar Duets: The Final Chapter from 2005, which was widely criticized due to the posthumous pairings with artists many felt Wallace would never have worked with in his lifetime. The album's guests included Eminem, Twista, The Game, Nas, Nelly, Scarface, Missy Elliott, R. Kelly, Bob Marley (?!), Korn (?!?!) and West Coast MCs Snoop Dogg and 2Pac. Amazingly, unlike the posthumously prolific 2Pac, the album really was "The Final Chapter"; the only other Biggie releases to come out after that were a 2007 greatest hits collection and the 2009 soundtrack to the film Notorious, based on Wallace's life and death.
Time magazine's website posted a music video playlist tribute today here. And below is "Living In Pain" from the Duets release, which featured Big and Pac, plus still-alive performers Nas and singer Mary J. Blige:
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On this day 18 years ago, Kurt Cobain decided he was done with life and ended it with a single shotgun blast to the head. While it's fun to play the "What if?" game with brilliant artists who died too soon — like, "Would John Lennon have followed Yoko's lead to become a Dance music superstar?" or "Would James Dean be doing stereotypical 'cool old guy' roles today if he was still around?" — it is, of course, a pointless exercise.
But crystal-ball wonderings of a person who actually knew the artist? That's at least a little more interesting. Spin has a piece this morning about the vague musings of Cobain's widow, musician/actress Courtney Love, in an interview a year ago with Mark Yarm, author of Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge. Love told Yarm, "We'd probably live on the Upper West fuckin' Side now and have three fuckin' kids. We might even have a divorce, like both be on our third marriage. I don't fuckin' know. He might be a playwright, (or have) his latest show in MoMA." (Read more here and check out the links featuring other Cobain remembrances.)
I like to think the couple would have starred in a really bad Everybody Loves Raymond-type sitcom on CBS. But mostly I wish Cobain would have stuck it out. As they say a lot nowadays, "It gets better."
I was lucky enough to see Nirvana a couple of times before Kurt made that impossible — once at Shorty's, the tiny subterranean club on Short Vine in Corryville, with about 50 people in attendance and once at Dayton's Hara Arena (see: poster above) with … quite a bit more people in attendance. Both shows were memorable. I think I got kicked out of Shorty's because some guy wanted to stab me that night (long story). (Nirvana played a few times in our area in those get-in-the-van-and-go, pre-stardom days, including a show at Clifton Heights bar Murphy's Pub. They were scheduled to play with the great AmRep band The Cows at the Top Hat in Newport but their van allegedly broke down on their way. I remember it well ’cause this local band opened up.)
In Dayton (memorable in hindsight because Cobain would be dead within a year), Kurt thought former drummer Chad Channing (who lived in Ohio then) was in the audience. The band called for Channing to come up and play "School" with them, but he never showed. Turns out, he wasn't there.
The band did play "School" later in the set and dedicated it to Channing. Check out the audio below.
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On this day in 1979, the saga of one of Rock & Roll's greatest "love triangles" continued as Eric Clapton married ’60s model Pattie Boyd. According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail, Boyd met George Harrison while The Beatles were filming A Hard Day's Night and they married in 1965. The marriage wasn't unusual for a couple of 20somethings; as Harrison got deeper into spirituality, the two drifted apart. The unhappy Boyd eventually hooked up with Clapton, a close friend of Harrison's. Clapton battled heroin and alcohol during this period, but that didn't stop Boyd and the guitarist from tying the knot.
Boyd became the subject of three Rock & Roll classics — The Beatles' "Something" (written by Harrison about Boyd) and Clapton's "Layla" (featuring Slow Hand pining for his forbidden lover with Derek and the Dominos) and "Wonderful Tonight," a more romantic ballad for Boyd. (Some believe other songs, such as Clapton's "She's Waiting" and The Beatles' "For You Blue," are also inspired by Boyd.)
But the love triangle was a bit more salacious than the songs made it appear, and even more salacious than most fans knew back then. In Clapton's autobiography, he wrote, "My relationship with Pattie was not the incredibly romantic affair it has been portrayed as … rather it was built on drunken forays into the unknown." He added that Boyd, "liked to do the cocaine without the alcohol, so this became our meeting place." For his part, Harrison was never really the sad, cast-off lover some fans might think. In the recent Living in the Material World documentary about Harrison, Clapton and others say Harrison was into the free love lifestyle and didn't seem too ate up about his best mate stealing his girl. In fact, Clapton said, he gave them his blessing.
Pattie, on the other hand, found the whole ordeal "hellish." Read more about her thoughts here.
Here are the three tunes Boyd inspired (and, yes, that's Boyd in the "Something" vid with Harrison):
Click on for Born This Day featuring Jessie J, Mariah Carey, Fergie and Sarah Vaughan.
This date in music history is a sad one, marking the "gone too soon" deaths of several young musicians with a lot ahead of them.
• Guitarist Paul Kossoff was the cofounder of British Rock band Free with singer Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser. The band's 1970 Fire and Water album spawned the band's best-known song, "All Right Now," but the band split by the end of that year. They reformed in 1972 and put out two more albums before calling it quits for good. Kossoff did solo work, played with many other artists and formed a band called Back Street Crawler. The guitarist was in poor health in the years after Free, reportedly due to drug problems and frustration over the demise of his most successful musical project. Kossoff died on a flight from L.A. to New York in 1976 from heart problems. His father spent the rest of his life campaigning against the perils of drug abuse, even doing a touring one-man show about his son. Kossoff's headstone contains the epitaph, "All Right Now."
Kossoff was 25.
Click on for Born This Day featuring Bun B, Billy Sheehan, Ricky Wilson and Terry Hall:
On this date in 1972, Les Harvey — guitarist for the Scottish band (which many believed would become huge) Stone the Crows — died on stage when he was electrocuted by a microphone. He reportedly died when he touched the (probably) ungrounded mic and his guitar at the same time during soundcheck (with what many believe were wet hands).
Harvey is a member of the sad club of rockers who died at the age of 27. He's also a member of a smaller club of known musicians who died from electrocution.
Keith Relf, singer for The Yardbirds, died in 1976 at the age of 33 after being electrocuted by an (again) ungrounded electric guitar.
John Rostill was the bassist for the British Pop group that gave Cliff Richard to the world, The Shadows (he was also a member of Zoot Money Quartet alongside future Police guitarist Andy Summers). Rostill was found dead in 1973, electrocuted by a guitar that was (again!) believed to be improperly grounded.
French Pop singer/songwriter Claude Francois — who cowrote the classic Sinatra tune "My Way" and sold over 70 million records in his career — died in 1978 at the age of 39. Francois returned to his Paris abode after recording a BBC special and was standing in a full bathtub when he tried to adjust a light on the wall above the tub. He was electrocuted and died. As far as I know, everything was properly grounded in the bathroom.
Lessons: Bathtubs and electronics don't mix. And always make sure your equipment is grounded before touching anything.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 3 birthday include singer/actor Bing Crosby (1903); early Blues musician and slide guitarist Homesick James (1914); late Funk superhero James Brown (1933); Pop star with the Four Seasons, Frankie Valii (1934); bassist for proto-Garage band The Troggs ("Wild Thing"), Pete Staples (1944); Soft Rock superstar Christopher Cross (1951); singer for Nu Metal band Saliva, Josey Scott (1971); singer/guitarist for Indie Rock favorites Interpol, Paul Banks (1978); and Folk legend Pete Seeger (1919).
Seeger — who will be awarded a "Distinguished Service" honor from the American Academy of Arts and Letters on May 16 — popped up in the news recently in a manner befitting the revolutionary singer/songwriter who penned (or co-penned) standards like "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?," "If I Had Hammer" and "Turn, Turn, Turn!" He also popularized the spiritual "We Shall Overcome," which became the Civil Rights Movement's theme song.
Seeger's social consciousness in song was used once again in a powerful way last week when tens of thousands of Norwegians joined together for a marathon singalong of his song, "My Rainbow Race" (the Norwegian version is called "Children of the Rainbow") as a way to protest/heckle admitted mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik during his trial for murdering 77 people last summer. Breivek had previously dissed the song because it "brainwashed" children into believing that things like cultural diversity and racial harmony are good. He said, in court, that the song was brought to schools by "cultural Marxists."
"The curriculum is stripped of knowledge relating to the codes of honor that have been so important for Europe for thousands of years,” Breivik said. “They put up these songs and propaganda films to get students to despise their forefathers.”
Here's Lillebjørn Nilsen leading the singalong (he popularized the original Norwegian version).
On this day in 1970, a Cincinnati native (whose "celebrity" we do not celebrate locally, Nick Lachey-style) released one of the few albums we will gladly tell you to seek out and download illegally, should you need to hear it. Lie: The Love and Terror Cult, the "debut album" from singer/songwriter/cult leader/convicted murderer Charles Manson, was recorded on Sept. 11, 1967, and released just months before the murder trial of Manson and his "family." A year after the album was released, four Manson Family members (including Manson) were sentenced to death (in 1972, the sentences were reduced to life in prison after California abolished the death penalty in that state).
The album's original pressing reportedly only sold 300 copies, but subsequent reissues (proceeds from which were given to the families of Manson's victims) kept the notorious cult leader's weirdly experimental, psychedelic Folk Rock songs alive for future generations of musicians to cover. Guns N' Roses were the biggest band to ever cover one of Manson's songs. The convicted killer was an aspiring Rock Star who had schmoozed his way into the SoCal music scene of the late ’60s, most notoriously befriending Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson (The Boys' reworked one of Manson's compositions on the 1969 album 20/20).
Other artists covering Manson over the years include Marilyn Manson (no relation) and wacky actor Crispin Glover.
Here's the song GNR recorded for its 1993 covers album The Spaghetti Incident?, "Look at Your Game, Girl."
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