Music Tonight: This is the start of one of the more jam-packed music weekends of the summer, with numerous festivals (Feywill, Swinefest, Ohmstead, Taste of Blue Ash, Whispering Beard) competing with some quality club shows, concerts at larger venues and more. First up, a look at the less local-music-centric lineup for Swinefest and the always interesting bookings for Taste of Blue Ash.
You know what I like? Pop music. Some of you may be judging me right now and, for that, I’m judging you in return. There is absolutely no legitimate reason to dislike Pop.
Of course, I get it. Most Pop music isn’t the well-written, deeper-than-the-ocean type stuff, but rather easy to understand and anchored by a catchy hook. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. Music isn’t supposed to be unattainable — we’re usually drawn to music because we can relate to it. Pop just expresses our emotions and situations in more simple terms than other genres.
Some of you are probably starting to get nitpicky about my use of “Pop” as a genre. To a certain extent, Pop isn’t a genre at all. Historically, Pop was just short for popular, meaning it runs the gamut on genres. Listen to the current NOW That's What I Call Music collection (we’re up to about 4067 volumes, I believe) and you’ll see what I mean. It’s not full of ground-breaking musical experimentation or earth-shatteringly powerful lyricism, but every one of those songs has a damn good hook.
Beyoncé wouldn’t classify herself as Pop. She’d call herself Hip Hop or R&B. “Run the World (Girls)” was certainly popular, though. Alex Clare’s “Too Close” is full of drums and synth awesomeness, lying somewhere between Rock and Electronic and yet it’s all over Top 40. Taylor Swift was, at one point, a Country artist. Now, with a little less accent and a lot less acoustic guitar, she’s lasting longer on Billboard’s Top 40 than the Country charts. The structures of their music may be very different, but they all end up on the same station.
Pop has very much become its own genre. It’s the genre for all the likable and relatable music from all the other genres. Think of it as the exact opposite of “The Island of Misfit Toys.” Pop is The Genre of the Overplayed.
They’re overplayed for a reason, though. Some of those songs are pretty close to genius. The best recent example is “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes (and Adam Levine). The idea is simple: Boy loves Girl … a lot. But throughout the entire song, they pull from the same stereo heart metaphor. Whether he’s referring to the trials and tribulations of a relationship via a comparison to an old-school boombox that requires tons of D batteries or the simple idea of a heart beating, like speakers, with every note, they carry the thought all the way through. In my book, that’s pretty impressive.
Speaking of Adam Levine, I like “Moves like Jagger,” too. You know what Michael Jackson, The King of Pop, sang about quite a bit? Dancing. You know what “Moves like Jagger” is about? Dancing … sort of. You know what it makes me want to do? Dance. Pop songs are nothing if not danceable. Even the slow ones! If they don’t make you wish for that cute guy across the room to come and sweep you off your feet and twirl you around the room, they’re doing something wrong.
Yes. Sometimes Pop can be annoying. A majority of Pop music is made by people with “outside voices.” They always sound like they’re yelling. Often they’re squeaky, too. One Direction is super excited about what makes me beautiful. For someone who adds an unsure “maybe” to the end of her pick-up line, Carly Rae Jepsen's voice is far from a timid whisper. But, I still really like that song.
The easiest explanation I can give is this: It’s catchy and easy and sometimes we’re all a little simpleminded.
Carly Rae and Taylor Swift may not write the kind of music that would inspire people to become “Band-Aids” or make William Miller, Greil Marcus or Lester Bangs commit their lives to writing about music. They do, however, write songs that are fun to listen to when you’re on the way to see a more substantive show. After a long hard day of deep-thinking and problem solving, what’s wrong with a little light-hearted entertainment?
So, for the sake of dancers, the simple-minded, the commuters and the road trippers: Long live Pop!
After the tumultuous revolution of The White Stripes, the twisted Pop/Rock convention of The Raconteurs and the Blues/Indie Rock gene splice of Dead Weather, there was nothing left for Jack White to do but to hang his own name on the marquee and go the solo route. There is an argument to be made that every White project is an extension of his musical persona regardless of the personnel he surrounds himself with or what he calls it; even the album's he produces bear his distinctive mark. At the same time, it’s also true White uses his shifting musical guises to offer a prismatic glimpse into the unique facets of his creative psyche, each one cut from the same bolt of cloth but patterned into something subtly but noticeably different.
White’s debut solo album, Blunderbuss, follows that logic line in much the same way. He explores and expands upon many of the genre variations that have defined his catalog to date in the service of imploding love songs that, at least on the surface, would seem to point toward his recent divorce as inspiration. In fact, the lack of actual drama surrounding that event indicates that White has written a song cycle about theoretical bad love rather than using pages out of his tear-stained journal for his muse.
Musically, Blunderbuss is a mixed bag of White’s best tricks; the Who-like guitar blast of “Sixteen Saltines,” the Prince-channels-the-Stooges Soul squall of “Freedom at 21” and the bluesy sugar swing of “I’m Shakin’.” But White also pushes his work down some interesting new paths as well, from the Americanapolitan Soul of “Love Interruption" (where White and singer Ruby Amanfu duet in a manner befitting Robert Plant and Alison Krauss) and the purer Country sway of the effecting title track to the Ray Davies-tinged dancehall Pop of “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and the loungey piano Pop of “Hypocritical Kiss.”
Blunderbuss is another prime example of Jack White’s impeccable track record as one of Indie Rock’s most reliable chameleons.
(Edited to correct White's duet partner on "Love Interruption")
A while back, a wrote a bit about my experience with "musical ESP." Has it happened to you? You think of a random song, something you haven't heard in years or that would be unlikely to just pop up on the radio, and suddenly it materializes on your radio dial or TV? The experience happens frequently to me. The one that inspired me to write was pretty freaky — out of the blue, I was singing a song by Cincinnat's Bad Veins. Within a half hour, the song came on my Sirius radio (not something to happen to unsigned Cincinnati bands regularly).
A quick Google search confirmed the terrible news that The Doors keyboardist had passed away on May 20 in Germany while seeking treatment for bile duct cancer.
By virtue of my mid-'50s birth, I am an actual child of the '60s and the parade of my musical heroes joining the choir invisible has seemed to pick up the pace here in the new millennium. So many have fallen, it's difficult to keep track.
My dear friend Rob, a high school bud from my Michigan hometown, has for years sent out emails with the name of a recently deceased musician in the subject line, which has led those of us in our immediate circle to refer to him as The Reaper. A few years back, he sent us an update about a new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album and from his simple subject notation I came to the horrifying conclusion that Tom and the boys had gone down like Lynyrd Skynyrd.Fortunately, that was not the case.
Rob was in the midst of trying to send us all a message from his phone about Ray's passing when he got my email. He hates it when I scoop him, but this was not a scoop that I could lord over The Reaper. This was as devastating as a death in the family.
I teared up a few weeks ago when my comedy hero Jonathan Winters died and it was the same when Ray's death became a verifiable fact. Ray Manzarek wasn't simply one of the thousands of musicians who I greatly admire. He was the guy who made me listen to music.
My earliest exposure to Rock came, oddly enough, via The Ed Sullivan Show. For you youngsters, Sullivan was a well-connected entertainment reporter who wound up hosting radio shows in the late '20s and emceeing theater revues in the '30s and '40s which led to one of the first television variety shows, Toast of the Town, in 1948. Eventually renamed after its stiff but brilliantly intuitive host and talent booker, The Ed Sullivan Show occupied the Sunday-at-8 p.m. slot for 23 years.
Sullivan didn't care for Rock & Roll, but he knew teenagers were viewers and would attract advertisers, so he began booking the artists that would become the foundation of Rock in the '60s. I saw The Beatles on the Sullivan show in 1964, when I was 7 years old — I liked the music but I distinctly remember thinking, "I wish those girls would stop screaming so I can hear it." By the following year, The Beatles became a cartoon series and largely stopped being real people in my comic-book-obsessed head.
Sgt. Pepper changed that in 1967. So much changed in 1967.
The catalyst for all that change was The Doors' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in September of that magic year. I didn't know anything about the band beyond its interesting name. I always watched Sullivan for the bands (although I was just as intrigued by the plate spinners, magicians and comics; George Carlin was an early favorite), so I looked forward to it as much as any of the others who had displayed their wares for Sullivan's audience.
Until The Doors' hypnotic vibe came pouring out of the tinny speaker in my grandparents' old black-and-white Zenith, music had been little more than an accessory in my life. I didn't follow music or collect it or pay much attention to it beyond checking it out on the occasional TV program (Sullivan, Hullabaloo, Shindig, sometimes American Bandstand on a rainy Saturday). The bands were fun and interesting to watch — by then I'd seen The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Dave Clark 5 (whose big beat, roiling Farfisa organ and frenetic guitar hooked me more than most) and many more — but I had not yet been infected with the Rock virus.
That September evening, I camped out in front of the TV to see what Sullivan had in store before The Doors played the final segment. There were the standard array of variety acts that made Sullivan a star in his own right and there was a sweaty, bug-eyed comic who was pretty funny (it turned out to be Rodney Dangerfield, making his TV debut).
At commercial, I ran into the kitchen, probably for a chocolate chip cookie stack, and when I got back to the living room, there was Ed, arms folded across his chest, ramrod straight as if a stagehand had shoved a mop handle up his ass all the way to the base of his skull.
"Now, The Doors...here they are with their newest hit record, 'People Are Strange.' "
The insistent lope of the first single from The Doors' sophomore album, Strange Days (which was still a week away from being released), emanated from the television and I stood staring at the set, afraid to sit down for fear of missing something. In two brief minutes, I was galvanized, pulverized and mesmerized, between Robbie Krieger's three note guitar intro, Ray Manzarek's circus organ, John Densmore's shuffling beat and Jim Morrison's trance-like presence. The best was yet to come.
Without a break, The Doors — with dozens of actual doors forming a backdrop — segued straight into their real hit, "Light My Fire," which had come out just after the first of the year. When I heard Ray's masterful intro, I remembered having heard a bit of it on the car radio before my father changed the station, presumably to get away from it.
For the first time in my life, I got music.
"Light My Fire" seeped into my DNA and I went through what seemed like an alchemical transformation, touched by the philosopher's stone of The Doors' cryptic groove. It felt like every molecule in my body had changed places with every other molecule in my body. Outwardly, I looked no different. Inwardly, I was not and would never be the same.
Morrison was clearly a compelling figure onstage as he writhed without seeming to move to any great degree — and the emphasis when the word "fire" erupted from his throat was hair-raising — but it was Ray Manzarek who commanded my attention. I kept wanting the camera to get back to Ray so I could watch his hands and see how they corresponded to that transdimensional sound he was creating. Morrison's smoldering role in The Doors' passion play was clearly evident, but Ray's position was so much more subversive and fascinating to me.
By the time the Doors completed the two-and-a-half minute single version of "Light My Fire," I was paralyzed (the first time I heard the long version, probably a few months after the Sullivan show, my head nearly exploded). It was the first time I can remember thinking, "Play something else. Play that thing over. Play someone else's song. Just do that to me again."
From that moment on, I pursued music. I found the cool radio stations that played Rock and Pop and began paying strict attention. Motown had already been in full swing for a few years and that sound got its hooks into me as well. I kept an eye out for a repeat Sullivan performance by The Doors but it never happened; little did I know at the time that Ed and CBS executives had told the band to change the "girl, we couldn't get much higher" lyric in "Light My Fire" because of its possible drug connotation, which Morrison agreed to do and then either defiantly or nervously forgot. Sullivan was furious and reportedly shouted at the band after the show, "You'll never do the Sullivan show again," to which Morrison allegedly replied, "Hey, we just did the Sullivan show."
Over the next four years, my reverence for The Doors grew exponentially and I continued to be captivated by everything they attempted. I was not deterred by what some critics deemed inferior songs on Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade, and the epic tales of Morrison's booze-and-drug consumption merely added to his mythic status. Only his conviction for public indecency was worrisome, from the standpoint that a jail term could have stopped them from recording and touring.
I was not even dissuaded when I realized that Ray was only four years younger than my father.
After its April 1971 release, L.A. Woman became the soundtrack for the end of my sophomore year in high school and the beginning of my 14th summer. On July 3, 1971, my stepbrother Rick and I were listening to WVIC in Lansing when we heard the news of Morrison's death from a supposed heart attack in Paris, where he had decamped just after the release of L.A. Woman.
I was devastated, but I thought, "At least it wasn't Ray."
After Rick and I discussed what we thought were the band's possible options for a while, I sat down with pen and paper and wrote a letter to the surviving Doors, imploring them not to quit in the wake of their terrible tragedy. I told them, "You can't quit. It's not what Jim would have wanted, it's not what we want and, if you're honest with yourselves, it's not what you want."
I found a Doors fan address in one of my Rock mags and mailed the letter off a few days later. (I would send an eerily similar letter to the Allman Brothers four months later, just after the death of Duane Allman; those are the only two fan letters I have ever sent).
A few weeks later, I received a hand-signed form letter from Danny Sugerman, who was The Doors' second manager, which stated that the band appreciated their fans' concern and best wishes and they were definitely staying together and working on a new album that would be released in the fall.
Other Voices was an amazing album, although critics generally hated it. I looked at as if it were a Ray Manzarek solo album; from that perspective it was great. The following year, they pushed even further into Jazz territory on Full Circle and then decided to officially end The Doors. Ray began his real solo career with The Golden Scarab in 1973, followed by 1974's The Whole Thing Started With Rock and Roll, Now It's Out of Control.
Scarab was magnificent (particularly the unhinged instrumental, "The Moorish Idol," the first song I heard from the album on a college radio station), as it offered up serious musical chops but also something that Morrison found difficult to achieve; whimsy and humor. Out of Control was aptly named as it was slightly chaotic, but it was Ray so I found plenty of ways to love it. I still do.
After that, Ray took a zig-zag approach to his solo career. An Electronic Rock version of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," a collaboration with Phillip Glass, was extremely cool, but his work after that was sporadic at best. He did a couple of cool albums in the late '70s with his new band, Nite City, and he produced the first three X albums in the early '80s (their version of "Soul Kitchen" is harrowing).
As an artist, Ray tended to stick to collaborative situations (although he did release a true solo album in 2006, an instrumental set of originals titled Love Her Madly, presumably the soundtrack to a B-movie he wrote, directed and starred in). In recent years, he had done a couple of albums with slide guitarist Roy Rogers, including the blazingly excellent Translucent Blues in 2011. And of course, he and Krieger famously pissed off John Densmore when they relaunched The Doors, first as Riders on the Storm, then as the 21st Century Doors and then, due to legal acquiescence, as Manzarek/Krieger.
The fact is, with Doors record sales topping 100 million worldwide, Ray could do whatever he wanted to do, for as long as he wanted to do it and he did just that. But it could be equally argued that Ray did exactly what he wanted in The Doors as well, because that gothic Rock sound didn't exist before The Doors' debut album in 1967. While many tried to replicate it in the aftermath of their staggering success, no one could quite master the formula of Morrison's shamanic poetry slam, Densmore's fluid pulse and Krieger's combination of Rock swagger and Jazz swing.
Most importantly, they could not fathom the incredible musical ability and intuition of Raymond Daniel Manzarek, and without that, there would be no Doors.
I would have come to Rock in some form or fashion; weeks after seeing The Doors on Sullivan, I heard Jimi Hendrix's "Foxey Lady" and "Purple Haze," yet another subatomic moment, and weeks after that was my first mindbending spin through Sgt. Pepper.
But it was all teed up because of The Doors and their singular keyboardist, the man who revealed the universe of music to a 10-year-old boy in Michigan and sent him on a pilgrimage to find more of the same, a journey that continues to this day with the same passion and dedication that marked its initial steps over half a century ago.
I would guess that my marching orders from Ray right now would be similar to those I offered to him and his grieving bandmates in 1971: Keep going, because it's what I want, it's what we want and, if you're honest with yourself, it's what you want.
Editor's Note: Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group is guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry guidebook, Musicians’ Desk Reference. Read Penick's first three blogs here.
I am not sure where I originally heard it, but the statement about how an idea "is the most contagious thing in the world” has really been resonating with me this past month.
It is amazing to take a step back from most things in the world and realize that they all started with an initial concept that grew through some evolutionary process. Probably not the way you would expect me to start a blog entry, but you have to understand this to know where this entire microcosm of Musicians’ Desk Reference has come from to consider where we are hoping to take it.
All of this started with an idea, something that had been bubbling up in my sub-conscience for over a decade, since I first started touring in bands. The business side of the music industry had always fascinated me, if only to simply question “why” and “how” the process worked for artists finding success. I knew that there had to be a great deal of factors behind this and that there isn’t really one true answer, but it was still enough to start me on a quest to find out whatever I could. Quite a task for someone barely old enough to drive, but, still, I knew that it was something worth investigating.
I have no shame in seeking the truth. I would ask anyone that I had met along the way, from bands to promoters and bar staff to industry professionals … if I could steal someone for a 30-second conversation, they would be hit with as many questions as I could get in. This always comes to a peak at any sort of festival/conference event when I am on the hunt for individuals that I know will be in attendance. The fangs come out and the hunt is on. I’ve been able to leverage some tours and significant milestones out for some of my projects, most notably at this year’s South by Southwest conference.
This soon turned to me attempting to give back to the music community, offering advice to anyone that asked for it. Casual conversations at shows over drinks eventually led to me wonder if I could do something similar for a living. Several months and numerous drafts of a business plan later, I was on my way, always intending on helping the greatest number of artists as I possibly could.
Here we are now, several years into the (initial phase of the) process, and the idea has certainly become infectious. What started as me wishfully thinking in the back of vans and busses that were buzzing across the land has started to take shape in a way that I would have never imagined.
While there are many things that are happening behind closed doors and cannot be disclosed (this document would have more redacted text than not were I to reveal many of the details), I can tell you that this idea has grown into more than a book and more than a batch of information. Our team has now tripled in size and the partnerships with third parties are growing by the month. The end result is going to be something that will even impress me, which is important to note because I am probably the harshest critic of them all.
I have had a vision for this project throughout the course of all of this. While I have been flexible at times, the integrity of Musicians’ Desk Reference is one thing that I am not willing to compromise. I am treating this as if it were a band trying to advance on its own through the music industry, gaining organic support along the way through due diligence and hard work. I am so proud of how far we have come. As we prepare to build the final version with a team of engineers over these next couple weeks, the anticipation builds like a child’s on Christmas morning — except we want to give rather than receive.
It has been slightly unnerving while building Musicians’ Desk Reference, knowing that it will inevitably be released to the world and run through the gauntlet of reviewers and critics, but in the end it should be known that we are here to help. Others may be creating a process, but we are trying to set a standard; a precedent that the industry can work from to give everyone an equal opportunity. Call us crazy, but this is a mantra that we use on a daily basis.
I know this may not all make sense and seem broad from an outside perspective, but, trust us, it will make sense as we delve further into the specifics. More clear details will emerge as our release date at this year’s Midpoint Music Festival (Sept. 26-28) approaches. Just know we are working hard with good intentions.
On this day in 1958, the very first "Flying V" guitar shipped from the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, Mich. The guitar's distinct body — shaped, as the name suggest, like a "V," and made almost to look like it had aerodynamic qualities — was initially the instrument's downfall. In its first two years available, the pointy axe was a flop; according to Gibson's website and author Larry Meiners' book Flying "V": The Illustrated History of This Modernistic Guitar, fewer that 100 total Flying Vs were ordered in ’58 and ’59.
But the odd design was also a draw for at least some musicians. For Blues players Albert King and Lonnie Mack (who, according to Gibson, is said to have purchased his first at Glenn Hughes Music in Cincinnati), the unique aesthetic of the guitar became a part of their image. In the ’60s, the aesthetic suddenly seemed less flashy to Rock guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix, and demand caused Gibson to begin producing the instrument once again in 1967 (Jimi had one immediately). In the ’70s, the guitar's appeal was enough to keep it in production, as everyone from Marc Bolan (T Rex) to Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) began to sling one.
By the ’80s, the Flying V became most identifiable with Metal, used prominently by Ozzy sidekick Randy Rhoads, dweedle-dweedle master Yngwie Malmsteen and players from Judas Priest, Metallica, Megadeth, Scorpions and a bazillion others.
Alternative and Modern Rock players also took to the the V — Bob Mould of Husker Du used his V quite a lot, while the guys in Weezer were perhaps the first to use them "ironically." The instrument's endurance is mostly due to the Flying V's appearance, making it more of a fashion accessory than a guitar specifically picked for its sound (though it was lighter than the usual guitar, at least initially).
Here are two clips showing the V in action, the first featuring Lonnie Mack and the second a music video by Jay Reatard, the late cult hero from Memphis.
Click the jump for "Born This Day" featuring video of Nina Simone's first time on national television, playing The Ed Sullivan Show in 1960.
Music Tonight: The MidPoint Indie Summer Series on Fountain Square features some of Cincinnati's finest this week. Tonight's free show (7 p.m. start) is headlined by beloved local Indie Pop duo Bad Veins, which recently posted on Facebook that their second full-length is finished and they need extras for a video shoot for one of the new LP's tracks (go here for more info). No word on a release date (or a label — BV and Dangerbird Records, home to the duo's debut, appear to have broken up, removing all reference to each other from their various websites).
Newer Electronic/Rock/Post Punk group Kry Kids and Nashville's The Clutters, featuring keyboardist Andrew Higley, also perform. Higley is a former local musician (now Nashville pro) who remains a frequent collaborator with Cincinnati's The Chocolate Horse, also performing on the Square tonight, just before Bad Veins. The Horse is celebrating its just released new album, Beasts.
Music Tonight: Handsome Furs is the Electro/Post Punk/No Wave project featuring Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner and his wife, keyboardist and short story author Alexei Perry. On the road supporting its latest release, Sound Kapital (on SubPop), the duo comes to Newport's Southgate House tonight. The Furs aren't fighting for positioning on the Synth Pop bandwagon, nor are they flirting with contemporary Dance music styles, as seems the case with many acts dependent on electronics. Though they hardly sound retro, the Furs have more in common with Suicide, early OMD and the raw Electro experiments that marked the bridging of Joy Division and New Order. Fittingly, Cincinnati's Eat Sugar, another Electronic act forging its own non-pandering vision of tech-driven musical adventurousness, opens up the show at 9 p.m. Tickets are $13 at the door. Read Brian Baker's preview from this week's CityBeat here. Below is Handsome Furs' video for Sound Kapital's "What About Us." WARNING: Unless you work at a Hustler store, this clip is VERY NSFW.