Last year around this time, Ill Poetic — the Hip Hop artist who grew up in Dayton, cut his Hip Hop teeth in the Cincinnati scene and currently lives in and works out of Columbus — dropped the fantastic video for his excellent track "Gone," which was loaded with Cincinnati references and guest appearances.
Now, Ill Po (who was formerly a columnist for CityBeat) is set to release the single "Silhouette," taken from his superb Synesthesia: The Yellow Movement release (just as "Gone" was) and he's reaching out to fans (established and potential) to help make the accompanying music video he and partner David Damen of Arris Production have dreamed up.
Ill Poetic has set up one of the cooler (and comprehensively explained; let it serve as a guide for those thinking about going this route) crowd-funding projects you'll see. There are lots of great perks for various donation tiers, but also prize perks (dedicated to various Ohio Funk greats, a huge influence on the Hip Hop artist) for those who simply share the project on social media. You can even contribute via product placement if you're a business owner (at the artist's discretion, surely).
Find out everything you need to know about it at the Indie GoGo page here and check out the pitch video below.
Upon completion, thanks to a distribution deal, the video will debut on VEVO. Here's the nut-shell explanation of the song and video project from the Indie GoGo page:
The centerpiece of my new EP "Synesthesia: The Yellow Movement" is a song called "Silhouette". On the surface, this is a pretty straight forward, light-hearted love song. This song, however, is directed specifically toward those ladies who are genuinely music fans. A lot of artists tend to marganalize women as a 'target demographic' they can sing some cliche love sh*t to, and forget they can be music-nerds just like most of us dudes are. The majority of females who dig my songs are genuine, intelligent music fans who often school me on records I should check out. "Silhouette" is dedicated to those women who go out to shows and buy records because music is their life.
My partner David Damen (of Arris Productions) and I have an amazing concept for the video, but we want it done right. We have shot 3 videos on shoestring budgets and have garnered over 60,000 genuine views, heartfelt emotional reactions (reactions of which people have felt in their heart) and critical acclaim (from critics who acclaim things).
Since we're starving artists who are by no means rich or corporate, we're bringing the campaign to you. We're DYING for the opportunity to shoot a video with upgraded cameras & lenses and a full video production team and we really want to tell you about it. Hence why you're reading this right now. But first, feel free to check out the 3 videos we've created to get an idea of exactly what we've already made with a strong team, no sleep, and few funds.
Check out the full Synesthesia release below and/or click on the player to grab your own copy.
The Eli Young Band brings a taste of Red Dirt music to the forefront of Country music. The band has an upbeat and distinct sound that has caught on quickly on a national scale. EYB saw mild success through the years touring on Jet Black and Jealous and hit a major stride with its most recent album, Life At Best, featuring the hits “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and ACM "Song of the Year," “Crazy Girl.”
The Eli Young Band has now reached a new height, opening Kenny Chesney’s current tour (which is hitting mostly stadiums). CityBeat was able to catch up with band drummer Chris Thompson to get the band’s feeling on its new found success and life on tour with Kenny. The tour comes to Cincy tonight at Riverbend Music Center for a sold-out stop (the tour moves to Crew Stadium in Columbus on Saturday night). It is truly the most impressive tour in Country music.
CityBeat: How did the tour come about with Kenny Chesney?
Chris Thompson: A lot of people don’t know this but Kenny is really involved in who he picks to go on tour with him. In a lot of other tours, a record label will put someone on the bill or management will partner up with other management to find a tour that works with that kind of artist, but Kenny is super hands-on.
Two years ago at the Academy of Country Music Awards, we were nominated for "Song of the Year" and so was Kenny, and we actually beat him, we won the category. I guess shortly after, there was a text going around from Kenny to his management, “Who are these guys that beat me?” and “I want to find out more about them.” He started getting into our music and shortly after we got the phone call that we were invited to go out on tour with him.
It’s just a huge honor. Like I was saying, he hand picks the folks that are out here on the road with him. It’s the biggest tour in Country music and we are just happy to be here.
CB: I was there the night you guys won the "Song of the Year" award. I was so happy for you guys. I know you have worked very hard over the years. What was the highlight of CMA for the band this year in Nashville?
CT: We were only there for a couple hours really. We flew in that morning and did a signing for two or three hours and then had a couple meetings. Then, we were out of town.
We have been going to CMA Music Fest for seven or eight years now. Back in the day we would stay for three or four days and play a show or two and be able to hang and meet as many people as we could. It seems like more and more nowadays, especially with the tours we have been on and our headlining tours, we are only able to get in for a day and get out.
It is always fun to do the signings because you meet people from all over the country and from all over the world really who love Country music. They are so excited to meet you. They are die hard fans. They bring pictures from five years ago when we met. It’s just cool that Country music does that. We are the only genre of music that has anything like that where fans can go and interact directly with the artists and have one-on-one face time with them.
CB: Tell me a little bit about “Drunk Last Night,” the new single.
CT: I think “Drunk Last Night” is a lyric we can all relate to. When we all first heard the song, we were like, “Yes, this is a song for us."
A lot of people hear a title and automatically think it’s a drinking song. We went through some of that with “Crazy Girl.” A lot of people saw the title and went “Oh, I know what this song is about,” and I think they were wrong.
I think people will find this is not the standard drinking song. It is all about, I hate to sum it up as drunk dialing, but it is kind of like the thought of doing that and alcohol feeding that desire a little bit more than in daily life.
It is also a song that we went in the studio and recorded (and) as soon as we finished the session, we could go out and play (it) live right now because it’s a great track, it’s rocking, it’s in our wheelhouse and we actually did. We started playing it at the very beginning of the Chesney tour before it was even picked as a single. The crowd really seemed to dig it and now here it is, going to be a single. Good stuff.
CB: Do you guys know or do you have a feeling when you have a hit or when you hear a hit presented to you?
CT: Yeah. I think sometimes you hear a song, sometimes people say the song gives them chills and they know that’s the one. Sometimes you get that feeling in your gut. When you hear a song sometimes, you write a lyric and you feel that, it is almost like that feeling of falling in love. Your chest kind of swells.
When multiple people feel that way at the same spot or for the same song, then I don’t know if anybody can guarantee a hit, but you know that it is at least a lyric or a song that people can relate to and I think typically good songs are universal in that sort of way.
CB: I loved your “The Cuss Jar” video — I could buy a house if I implemented that process. I wanted to know if you had bought anything fun with the money?
CT: No, actually I think that era ended. The jar got too full and I think we used that jar for laundry money one day when we stopped somewhere on the road and had a few days off and emptied the whole thing for band and crew’s laundry. Then we got too lazy to keep up with it.
CB: What has been your craziest tour story recently?
CT: I think playing Cowboys Stadium in Dallas on the Chesney tour was probably the craziest thing because we are from Dallas and we have played every tiny bar around the stadium. To just get up on stage at the biggest stadium in America was totally wild. All of our families were there; it was craziness.
CB: That’s such a special moment, I am sure you have plenty of those all the time. Do you do anything special yourself to keep the tour memories? Do you take photos or journals? Some bands blog or journal and do things to keep it fresh.
CT: Yeah, we have been fortunate on this tour, since the beginning of this year, we have had a guy out on the road with us that has started doing social media. Mainly he is taking pictures. Since January, this whole thing has been documented and we really appreciate that.
It is definitely hard for us to get good photos when we are on stage playing, when we are really in the moment, because we are playing, so he is out there doing that. This is the biggest tour we have ever done and just the momentum that this year is building, we are just happy about that.
CB: What does a typical day look like for you?
CT: On the Chesney tour when we are doing stadiums like we are doing today, we will go out and do a tailgating event, at 1 or so in the afternoon, we will all get into some golf carts and we will go out to where all the fans are tailgating and they will bombard us with jello shots and beer bongs and the local foods they have.
We hang out with them for an hour or two then we will start doing radio events where we will play a couple songs acoustic, sitting on our bus or backstage for various winners. Then we will do a meet and greet for about 60-100 people. Then, we will grab a bite to eat around then. Then we hit the stage and rock out for about an hour.
After that, we will go hang out with some radio folks or some friend that are in town and wind down about the time Kenny hits the stage so we can watch him. It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty unreal.
CB: If you could trade places for anyone for about a month, who would it be?
CT: Right now it feels like we are living the dream. I think the four of us are really happy with what is going on in our careers right now. We have had some national success. It feels like we have broken out of being a regional band and it feels like we are on the cusp of something more than that. It’s a great time for Eli Young Band and it is important for us to enjoy this. I probably wouldn’t want to trade places with anyone right now.
CB: What can the fans look for from you guys tonight in Cincinnati?
CT: We try to always bring a high-energy show. We were playing a show last night and there was this older gentleman almost in front row sitting in his chair arms crossed and it looked like he wasn’t really enjoying himself. About halfway through our set he leaned over to his wife and he points at us and he goes, “Those guys are workin’ up there.” Then he smiled real big.
We want to bring that energy. We want to get on stage and have a good time and fire up the crowd. We go on right after Kacey Musgraves. Kacey is real cool and laidback and all that when she does her thing and it’s great. Then we get to come in and kick the audience in the butt a little bit.
During our set we have some new music in there and some cover songs I think gets the crowd up and clapping. After that Eric (Church) comes up and burns it down. Then Kenny Chesney comes out and the place goes nuts.
The cross-country “Kings of the Mic” tour is technically an old-school Hip Hop exhibition, but the packaging of these particular artists — most of whom have been and remain vital and relevant today — makes it much more than just a 21st century version of an “oldies” revue.
And the fact that the three headlining artists’ classic music still sounds so vital today makes it more than just some nostalgia trip.
Headliner LL Cool J was one of Rap’s first superstars and, thanks in part to his acting/hosting career (and also his album releases), he remains a superstar to this day. Public Enemy’s smart, socially and sonically progressive sound remains as fresh today as it did when the group released 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back — one of the greatest albums ever made. Like P.E., De La Soul has remained artistically inventive and the trio’s influence is often underestimated. Rounded out by a pair of even earlier influential performers — Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick — the Kings of the Mic tour’s stop at Riverbend tonight is not just a history lesson, but the best party to start off your summer right.
Tonight's concert starts at 6:30 p.m. and tickets range from $18.50-$84.50.
• Bluesy, soulful British rockers Leogun return to Cincinnati tonight. The trio — which was scheduled to appear at Cincinnati's MidPoint Music Festival last year but had to cancel due to work visa issues — was influenced by the pure Rock sounds of artists like Jack White and Queens of the Stone Age. But it was an Eagles of Death Metal concert that kickstarted Leogun's career into overdrive. Singer/guitarist Tommy Smith talked his way backstage at the band's London show in 2009, where he met a guy who introduced him to Elton John's Rocket Music Management. The threesome quickly inked a deal with Rocket and then with Yamaha's record label.
The band is digging in hard in the States and touring on a consistent basis behind its just-released debut album. Catch Leogun tonight for free at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine at 10 p.m. Here is the band's first single, "Let's Be Friends."
• Tonight on Fountain Square is your chance to be a part of a Guinness World Record, as the weekly "Salsa on the Square" event invites dancers far and wide to come out and help set the bar for "Most Salsa Dancers" higher. The event starts at 7 p.m. (instructors are always on hand so don't worry about your lack of Salsa skills) and live music is provided by Grupo Tumbao. Click here for more details.
Here are even more live music options in Greater Cincinnati for tonight.
Cincinnati based Hip Hop tag-team Jova and J. Al, better known as Those Guys, are back at it again with a new single and video, “Soul Food.” The infectious, Trap-style beat produced by Bear E. Crunch combined with the group’s ever-improving lyrical prowess and another well-directed video from Miles Joyner gives the duo a more than edible summer anthem to serve up to all Hip Hop heads out there looking for something fulfilling to chew on. (Check out the group's explosive clip for "You Ain't Know" here.)
So if you’re into “Good Hip-Hop Music” (who isn’t?), check it out.
“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”
• Death Grips is a primal force of nature that seems built to subvert. Entering the world of this Sacramento-based experimental Hip Hop trio — frontman Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett, keyboardist/programming guru Andy “Flatlander” Morin and drummer Zach Hill — is akin to being trapped in a demented, all-immersive video game designed and conceived by Harmony Korine and Charles Manson. Strap in for a wild, sensory-altering ride.
Death Grips' full-length debut, The Money Store — somewhat improbably released by the bigwigs at Epic Records in April of last year — is a dense, claustrophobic head-trip marked by Burnett’s rapid-fire raps, most of which are hard to discern amid the clanging sonic assault that surrounds him.
The Bomb Squad’s Public Enemy heyday is an obvious touchstone, as is any number of far lesser known art-damaged outfits. A glance at the lyric sheet confirms the workings of a paranoid mind. Try this from “The Fever (Aye Aye)”: “Blade cut me/Sewer drain grated/Bubonic plague/Spreaded faceless/Lurking in the deadest spaces.”
The Money Store is challenging, fully-realized stuff, which makes the details of its follow-up, No Love Deep Web, released six months later, another fascinating wrinkle in the ongoing Death Grips narrative. The trio dropped the sonically spare (for these guys) album as a free download after Epic balked at releasing it so soon after The Money Store. The label supposedly hadn’t even heard the finished “product.” Then there’s the fact that the cover art features a photo of Hill’s erect penis with the album’s title written on it in black magic marker.
And now for the only obvious development in Death Grips’ creative trajectory to date: They have since parted ways with Epic. (Preview by Jason Gargano)
Death Grips performs tonight downtown at the Ballroom at the Taft Theatre. Ratking opens at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 at the door.
Here's a video clip for Death Grips' "I've Seen Footage," from The Money Store.
• Josh Tillman is a funny, hyper-articulate guy with an absurdist streak that makes itself readily apparent in interviews and between-song live-show banter. Yet you wouldn’t know it by listening to the seven solo albums he put out as J. Tillman from 2004 to 2010, all of which were pretty serious-minded, sonically straightforward affairs in the mold of the folkies he once supported as an open act: Damien Jurado and Richard Buckner.
“When I was 21 I wanted to be (seen as) a 40-year-old alcoholic trucker,” Tillman said of his early, vanity-driven persona in a recent interview with KEXP.
Enter Father John Misty, a moniker/conceptual shift that seems to have unlocked the 32-year-old singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist’s playful side. FJM performs tonight at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $17 at the door.
The new outfit’s 2012 debut for Sub Pop, Fear Fun, is a musically diverse gem, moving from the lilting Folk of “Funtimes in Babylon” to the lush Pop gold of “Nancy From Now On” to the atmospheric rocker “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” with seamless grace.
The affecting album-closer “Everyman Needs a Companion” brings to mind a meld of the criminally underappreciated Grant Lee Buffalo and the kinda over-praised Fleet Foxes (for whom, curiously, Tillman was the drummer from 2008 to 2011). Best of all is the rollicking, twang-infested ditty “I’m Writing a Novel,” which features some of Tillman’s most inspired word play and impassioned singing.
Then there’s Tillman’s “performance” as Misty, which takes on a whole new dimension in a live setting. With his lanky frame, handsome, bearded face and slithery-hipped dancing, he conjures Jim Morrison as lounge singer — which, believe it or not, is a good thing. (Preview by Jason Gargano)
Here is the video for "Funtimes in Babylon."
Opening the show is Pure Bathing Culture. The upstart two-piece (and, when live, four-piece) — led by old friends, romantic partners and Vetiver members Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman — filled the genre box on its Facebook page with “New Age/Slow Dance/Adult Contemporary/Spiritual.” Though it could be a joke on the band's part, the connection makes sense.
“Pendulum” — a track off PBC's debut full-length Moon Tides — has the pretty reverb and general je ne sais quoi of an Indie Pop song, but its soothing lyrics about swinging like a pendulum and downbeat, sunset-on-a-beach vibe also reflect the band potentially using New Age as a legit influence.
By the time of Moon Tides’ release in late August, when the band leaders are doing the press rounds, hopefully someone will think to ask about this link and close the case for good. (Preview by Reyan Ali)
Here is PBC's video for "Pendulum."
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.
Trouble Will Find Me, the new album from Cincinnati natives (now New York-based) Indie Rock crew The National, was released today in the U.S. on the 4AD label (it came out overseas yesterday). The band has already been busy with pre-promotion (profiles and reviews can be found from just about every major music press outlet), but now that the album's out, the real work starts.
The National kicked off what is certain to be several national television appearances in honor of the new release. Last night, the band played Late Night with David Letterman on CBS. Dave (who notoriously has pretty good taste in music) seemed to really dig the performance.
The National has already performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Those with Sirius Satellite Radio can check out "The National: The Radio Show," on all this week from 5-6 p.m. (with replays at 11 p.m.); a live session will also be aired on Sirius all week, as well as The National's June 5, 9 p.m. appearance at the Brooklyn Nets' arena, the Barclays Center.
The National also kick off an international tour this weekend; besides Turkey, Croatia and Luxembourg, the group is playing several major music fests in the States, including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Cincinnati's own Bunbury Music Festival (July 14; get tickets here). The band is also playing Columbus, Ohio, in a few weeks — June 15 at LC Pavilion.