Every year come December, the CityBeat arts and music writers get all wistful as we begin to mentally compile our "Top 10" lists of the finest moments of the past 365 days.
To warm up around the office, we just start ranking everything — "Top 10 Office Smells" ("microwave" has been No. 1 for the past decade), "Top 10 CityBeat Writers' Overused Words" (I've ruled this list for years with such classics as "dynamic," "eclectic" and "good," though Jason Gargano won this year with "myriad") or "Top 10 Ways to Anger Our Remarkably Stoic and Peaceful Editor" (this year it's a battle between "Yell 'Phillies just got lucky!'" or "How's the Missouri football team doing this year?").
The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop music critics' poll was unveiled last week. As expected, Kayne West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy stomped the competition, garnering nearly twice the points as the No. 2 album, LCD Soundsystem's This Is Happening, resulting in the largest ass-kicking in the poll's 37-year history.
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.
Today is the day. No more political commercials. No more stump speeches. No more SNL appearances. No more Mike Breen clogging up his stupid music blog with stupid political shit.
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.
Editor's Note: Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group has been guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry eBook, Musicians’ Desk Reference. Click here for his previous blog entries.
Enough with the chitchat — let’s get down to business.For those of you that have been reading/following/listening/talking about Musicians’ Desk Reference over the past several months, you might still have questions, and that is OK. At times throughout this process I have even found myself taking a step back to consider what exactly I am doing.
In reality, that is what this entire project is about — questioning. Specifically, it's about the questions artists inevitably are faced with in the music industry. You should question it all, everything, all the time. That where this idea came from and, frankly, how I live my life. And I would say it is working out pretty well.
But the time for questions is over — so let’s see some answers.
What is Musicians’ Desk Reference? It’s a music industry progression eBook. What does that mean? It is an online platform (website) that helps artists work through common scenarios in the music industry, such as starting out, recording, promoting, touring and building a team. It is a time management system that conforms to your schedule and your level of interest. There is even a tool that builds documentation for you, in addition to the packaging, including several useful items, such as paper stock and labels for at-home printing.
This platform is designed for everyone — from beginners to professionals, and all those in between. You don’t like reading? That’s fine; you can adjust it to recall very minimal information. You like reading thousands of lines worth of information? Well, friend, you’re in luck. Click away on our lists and just let us know you’re okay a few months after filling your head with useful and practical information. If you are a musician that is interested in furthering your career to any degree — from a local to a national level — this eBook is for you.
Where did this come from? Me, actually. I am a musician and have been for half my life. I have spent years in vans, trailers, buses, airplanes, trains and even on boats playing original music all over the world. I have always been fascinated with the music industry and how it works, always wondering why things happened the way that they do.
This fascination led me start The Counter Rhythm Group, an artist development/marketing/event promotion company — built by artists, for artists — offering assistance groups that are younger and newer than ones traditionally serviced. TCRG has worked to develop a range of artists, from those that are still just starting out to some that you can hear on commercial radio stations, all over the course of almost three years. When the requests outnumbered the amount of work we could handle, I decided to build a public platform based on our actual working models. Fast-forward to the present day and you have Musicians’ Desk Reference.
We have worked tirelessly for months (beyond the almost two years of development) building a robust product that is jam-packed with information for the user and I can honestly say that we are still impressed, even after staring at it for hours on end. We’ve even been testing the specifics on a young Cincinnati-based band called PUBLIC, and we are proud to say that things are going very well.
The best part is that the wait is almost over. I am very excited to announce that Musicians’ Desk Reference will be available exclusively to the Cincinnati market at CityBeat’s Midpoint Music Festival, three weeks ahead of the national launch in New York City at the CMJ Music Marathon.
Hear that, Cincinnati? We love you so much that we are giving you the opportunity to have this in your hands well before anyone else does.
What’s that? You want more? All right!
We are also partnering with the fine folks at Midpoint Music Festival as a sponsor, offering a complimentary full version of the eBook to all showcasing artists. That’s right, you play and it’s yours! But what if you did not get selected to the festival but still want a copy? We will be on-hand all three days at our sponsorship tent— located at the MidPoint Midway Stage at Twelfth and Vine streets (right next to the MPMF box office) — selling the eBook for 25% off its regular retail price. We will also be presenting live demos of the site with the development team available for questions.
I could not be more proud of the work that has gone into
this project and I am forever in debt to the dedicated folks that have
been behind me from the start (including CityBeat music guy Mike
Breen — someone please give that man a gift basket full of money for all
he does for the Cincinnati music scene). (Editor's note #2: Large, unmarked bills only, please.)
We really hope to level the playing field in the music industry with Musicians’ Desk Reference, educating artists and helping them to build a strong foundation to work from. We all have a similar goal for success in mind, however we define it, and I want this project to give every individual that chance.
As artists, let’s take pride in our actions and help our peers. Let’s step away from the competitive mentality and work together instead of against each other. Let’s form a music community and celebrate the opportunities that are available to us. This is our industry and this is our time. Musicians’ Desk Reference: Empowering Artists to Progress Through the Modern Music Industry.
Here is an introductory video for MDR's release:
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")
On this date in 1967, Floridian Psychedelic Folk band Pearls Before Swine (a precursor to contemporary so-called "Freak Folk") began the three-day sessions for its debut album, One Nation Underground. The album would become a moderate success, selling nearly a quarter of a million copies.
One of the album's tracks, "(Oh Dear) Miss Morse," was the source of some controversy. The subversive chorus of the weird little song (essentially a banjo riff with some organ blips) consists of vocalist/songwriter Tom Rapp (and that organ) "singing" in Morse code the letters "F," "U," "C" and "K" (Dit Dit Dah Dit/Dit Dit Dah/Dah Dit Dah Dit/Dah Dit Dah).
And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for some meddling kids! Famous New York DJ Murray the K was busted after playing the song on the air when a few smarty-pants Boy Scouts reportedly recognized the code and called in to complain about the veiled obscenity (or maybe brag that they figured it out).
It's not the only song to feature secret Morse code messaging. Mike Oldfield's album Amarok (featuring, essentially, one hour-long track) came towards the end of his contract with Virgin Records in 1990. Oldfield sent a little note to his boss on the album; towards the end, there's a Morse code message that spells out "Fuck Off RB," referring to Virgin label chief Richard Branson.
The Rush song "YYZ" from the 1981 album Moving Pictures also features Morse coding, in a pretty ingenious manner. Drummer Neil Pert's rhythm on the song is based on Morse for "YYZ." The letters weren't especially controversial, though — they were simply the code for Toronto's airport (Rush is from the area).
Other instances of Morse code in popular music: Roger Waters' album Radio KAOS features several Morse messages; Kraftwerk used it throughout their 1975 track "Radioactivity" (it simply spells out the title); and The Clash's "London Calling" has choppy guitar feedback at the end of the song that spells out "S.O.S."
Here's the Pearls Before Swing tune. NSFW (if you work for a former Boy Scout or telegraph expert).
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 7 birthday include late drummer for influential Rock bands New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Jerry Nolan (1946); Disco diva ("Don't Leave Me This Way"), singer/songwriter and actress Thelma Houston (1946); masterful German Boogie Woogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger (1955); Motorhead guitarist Phil Campbell (1961); Swedish one-hit-wonder, son of Jazz legend Don Cherry and half-brother to Neneh Cherry, Eagle-Eye Cherry (1971); drummer for British Pop/Rock stars Arctic Monkeys, Matt Helders (1986); and British singer Martina Topley-Bird (1975).
Topley-Bird is probably best known as a crucial part of Trip Hop pioneer Tricky's early (and biggest) success as vocalist on his classic album, 1995's Maxinquaye. The album made Tricky a Pop star, something that he admittedly was not prepared for and which drove him a little nuts. He recently told U.K.'s The Guardian that, going into the album's release, "I thought I'd be an underground artist. I had no idea it was going to do that and I was not ready for it." He says he spent much of the rest of his career trying to become more of a cult artist than a superstar. And he succeeded.
Topley-Bird parted ways with Tricky in 1998 and has made a trio of solo album (and worked with Gorillaz and Massive Attack). But late last month, she rejoined Tricky in England to perform Maxinquaye in its entirety. Well, that was the plan, anyway. Tricky reportedly disappeared during parts of the performances, which didn't exactly live up the "play the full album" billing. In a review of the performance in Manchester, ClashMusic.com wrote that the Tricky concert ultimately became "the Martina Topley-Bird show, with the singer providing the only reliable musical seam throughout, in contrast to an erratic and seemingly disengaged Tricky."
Here's Martina Topley-Bird's "Anything" from her acclaimed debut solo album, Quixotic.
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.