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.
New York City Ska legends The Toasters were the bridge from the late ’70s 2 Tone Records-fueled Ska revival in the U.K. to the one that brought Ska into the American mainstream in the ’90s. Easily one of the most influential Ska acts of all time, The Toasters were formed in 1981 by Robert “Bucket” Hingley, a U.K. native (and the group’s lone constant member) who had just moved to The States, taking inspiration from the 2 Tone Ska being created in his homeland (The Beat, The Specials, The Selecter, etc.).
The Toasters, in turn, helped inspire multitudes of Ska bands to form, something that ultimately led to the development of so-called Ska Punk. Having a hard time finding a label, Hingley formed his own, Moon Ska Records, which grew to become the major American Ska indie imprint, releasing music (via albums or the label’s popular compilations) by The Slackers, Dance Hall Crashers, Mustard Plug, Less Than Jake and No Doubt, among many others. The Moon label was a road-map to quality American Ska when the music was more underground; the imprint, which was artist- and consumer-friendly (like Punk label Dischord, Moon always kept prices low), experienced its greatest success during the ’90s Ska boom, but when the music fell out of mainstream favor, the label faded away. Hingley moved to Spain, where he formed another label, Megalith, to continue releasing Toasters albums.
The Toasters were the cool elder statesmen of the Ska scene and they’ve survived the fickleness of musical trends and an ever-changing music industry for over 30 years now by doing things on their own terms and keeping true to their vision.
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.
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.
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.
The Cincinnati Heritage Programs put together by the Cincinnati Museum Center have been going on for over 30 years now, taking locals and visitors to some of the Queen City's most important and/or interesting landmarks. The programs have included historical presentations and bus and walking tours to the various sites.
This year so far, the Cincinnati Heritage Programs have shown and told the stories of radio pioneer Powel Crosley, "Grand Old Theaters" and Cincy local TV legends. This Saturday, the Heritage programmers present "Subway Talk and Walk," a nighttime exploration of Cincinnati's incomplete subway tunnel project.
On May 18, from 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m., the Cincinnati Heritage Programs presents the first ever bus tour of various important (not just to the area, but to the world) musical landmarks.
Dubbed "When the Queen City was King of Recording," the tour focuses primarily on a pair of historic recording studios that churned out records that would change the face of music. The bus will visit the original site of King Records, which released seminal albums from the worlds of Country and R&B, a gateway to the birth of Rock & Roll. The bus will visit the old King location at 1540 Brewster Ave. in Evanston, where city officials, the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation (CUMHF), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and others helped have an historical marker installed in 2008 to commemorate King's contributions.
Here's James Brown's first single, recorded with his Famous Flames and released in 1956 through the King subsidiary, Federal Records:
The tour will also visit the former site of the E.T. Herzog Recording Company, at 811 Race St., downtown. In 2009, the CUMHF and others also lobbied successfully for a marker to placed at the site, which now houses the organization's headquarters. The Foundation has turned the floor the studio once stood into a museum dedicated to the space's history, hosting receptions and recording sessions and showcasing a few artifacts (like the piano Hank Williams played when he was in town to record songs that made him a legend, including "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") and lots of old photos of the studio in action. The Music Heritage Foundation is currently hosting the photo exhibit, "Annie's Baby Had a Baby," which was part of the big, citywide Fotofocus photography showcase.
The tour ends with lunch and some live music at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, a block from the Herzog stop.
The tour costs $60 (or $50 if you're a Museum Center member) and some spots are still open. But you'd better act fast. Deadline to register for the "When the Queen City was King of Recording" is tomorrow, May 7. Make a reservation by calling 513-287-7031. And click here for the Museum Center's rundown of great city tours and more.
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.
Despite Frank Ocean's deft leg-syncing and Taylor Swift's torture-porn-disguised-as-wholesome-circus, Akron, Ohio's Dan Auerbach and The Black Keys were The Grammys' big story last night, winning five trophies, the most of any artist.
While the Keys won the Grammys for Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance, Auerbach scored two solo Grammys for his production work, winning the trophy for Producer of the Year (Non-Classical) and also winning one for producing Dr. John's Locked Down, the Blues Album winner.
While Grammys for album winners are usually given to the producers, engineers, mastering engineers and artists, hopefully Cincinnati's Brian Olive will also score one for his work on the LP. Auerbach — who has produced albums by both Olive and Cincinnati's Buffalo Killers — enlisted Olive (an original member of Cincinnati's Greenhornes) to work on the Dr. John album. Olive has songwriting credits on every track on Locked Down, and he's also credited with playing guitar, percussion and woodwinds, as well as providing background vocals. (Check out CityBeat's profile of Olive from 2011, about his Auerbach-produced Two of Everything album, here.)
Kudos to Mr. Olive! That's him — the handsome feller with big side-burns playing sax (and a little guitar) in this video for the album's "Revolution."
Check out all the winners from last night's Grammys here, and click here or here for some extra musings about the show.
This particular version of "Many Rivers to Cross," featuring Greater Cincinnati greats Kelly Thomas and The Mudpies, has been haunting me all week (in a great way). It was recorded as the third episode in a brilliantly conceived yearlong project by Thomas and several of her creative pals, The Sacred Harp Sessions, in which she documents her musical inspirations in monthly installments.
"Many Rivers" is such a great song, with its uplifting and optimistic Gospel vibe shining through the lyrical desperation. Thomas and The ’Pies version might just be the best I've heard outside of Jimmy Cliff's original version (sorry, UB40). And I thought it kind of fitting for New Year's Eve (or, perhaps more fittingly, New Year's Day morning) because, although there is a bittersweet aura, Cliff wrote and sang about overcoming his heartbreak and moving on to cross many more rivers in his future. Though he's devastated that his "woman left … and … didn't say why," he knows he'll live through it thanks to his strong will and pride. If you had a tough 2012, make this your theme song on your way to a better 2013.
The Sacred Harp Sessions (produced, on the video end, by Alex and Tiffany Luscht of Mind Igniton) is an engaging passion project, with Thomas choosing songs, area musicians and even local studios she admires and appreciates. Ultimately, it's a tribute to the things that have made Thomas who she is today as an artist (and person).
In the accompanying videos, Thomas talks about what the songs mean to her, but the short films are not purely autobiographical — they can also be educational. The first episode, for example, discussed Cincinnati's King Records and the city's Hank Williams connection; Kelly recorded Williams' "Lost Highway" with Arlo McKinley at the location of downtown's former Herzog recording studio, believed to be the last standing building in which Williams recorded.
Episode 2 of The Sacred Harp Sessions found Thomas teaming up with Cincinnati Blues piano legend Ricky Nye at downtown studio Sound Images for a great take on Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen."
Click here to subscribe to Thomas' YouTube channel so you know when the latest installments drop and can watch and re-watch your favorites. And keep an eye on Thomas' website for any updates and for limited-edition free downloads of the latest tracks recorded for the project ("Many Rivers" is currently available).
Thomas is currently singing in three bands — her longtime Kelly Thomas and the Fabulous Pickups crew, the classic Country outfit The Tammy WhyNots and The Lonesome Sound (which formed recently after the aforementioned Hank Williams sessions). She'll be starting off 2013 with free shows with all three acts — The Fabulous Pickups join Sassy Molasses at Northside Tavern Jan. 4, on Jan. 5 The Tammy WhyNots play with Tex Schramm and The Radio King Cowboys and Doctor Bombay and The Atomic Bachelor Pad at Over-the-Rhine's MOTR Pub and The Lonesome Sound has a gig on Jan. 12 at downtown's Taqueria Mercado.