Tag Archives: Rock and roll

The Place To Be With Eva B…

Eva Banner Art JPEGOur musical daughter Eva will be playing with her tight and terrific band, the Eva B. Ross Foundation, on Saturday, April 4th at a club called TRiP in Santa Monica. This is going to be a very special event.

IMG_4668There will be a wealth of great music: rock, jazz, blues and folk. Originals and classics.

Besides Eva and her soulful, talented trio (David Miller on guitar, Jules Levy on standup bass and Liam Kevany on drums), the bill will also feature two great up and coming local bands, Loop Garou and We The Folk.

For more information click right here.

TRiP Santa Monica is located at 2101 Lincoln Blvd. Tickets are $8 at the door. Celebrate the arrival of Spring with music, song and dancing!Eva Gig Art 2

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Goodbye, Davy Jones.

At 1:30 pm EST today, NBC News reported: “Singer Davy Jones of The Monkees has died of a heart attack at 66, the medical examiner’s office in Martin County, Fla. has confirmed to NBC News.”

This one really hurts.

Aside from The Beatles, no band stirred my youthful soul like The Monkees. And as a short, dark-haired lad myself, Davy was an inspiration. On episode after episode of The Monkees’ revolutionary television series, Davy showed that the little guy could get the girl.

And Davy’s voice?  And all those great songs? Simply wonderful.

The glorious three-year period from 1966 to 1968 during which Davy Jones and The Monkees challenged The Beatles for the top of the Billboard charts were the greatest years in the history of AM radio – and the formative years of my life.

It’s hard to say where songs like Daydream Believer, I Wanna Be Free, and “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” end and I begin.

Three decades after my youthful immersion in late 60’s Monkee Mania, I had the opportunity to write and produce The Monkees: Behind the Music. During the course of my work on that show I met and interviewed Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz, and came away impressed by their warm, easygoing and generous natures. Michael Nesmith was at the time avoiding all things Monkee – but getting Davy on board was still a possibility. So, I called him at his home in Pennsylvania.

Sadly, my call with Davy revealed a conflicted and unhappy man, still struggling with the ups and down of his legendary life as a Monkee. Devoted to his family, his daughters and his horses, Davy was ambivalent about his role as a 60’s pop music icon and his current status as a fading former phenomenon. We talked for nearly an hour. I wish I had written it all down. In the end, Davy passed on being interviewed for my show — but I was honored to have the opportunity to talk to him.

Few performers reach the heights that Davy reached. Alone among The Monkees, he was already a star when he was cast in the band. Heck, he even appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on the same bill with The Beatles. (As the Artful Dodger in a number from the smash Broadway musical, “Oliver”.)

Much will now be written of Davy’s last years. Was he at peace? Was he still troubled? What were the states of his relationships with the other Monkees?

I hope that Peter, Micky and Mike will soon give us their thoughts on the passing of their bantam band mate. Meanwhile, Monkees fans worldwide can only say, “Thanks for the great music, Davy. And all the fun. Rest in peace.”

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One Song: Four Artists

A great song has many lives.

Those who write a song give it life – but after that, their song takes on a life of its own: shaped and reimagined through the experience, talents and style of the artists who cover it. And when the song is a great piece of work – a composition that puts a deeply human, emotional message to a beautiful melody – it will have a long life. A great song will be addressed, caressed and blessed by many musicians over the course of decades.

Some great songs seem impossibly visionary and too emotionally mature to have been written by the callow youths who penned them.

Inspired in a dream, 22-year old Paul McCartney gave us “Yesterday” in 1965.

Since then, there have been more than 1,600 recorded covers of that classic gem.

Bob Dylan was only 20 when he wrote “Blowin’ In The Wind” in 1962.

It’s amazing that such poetry, passion and profound wisdom could flow from someone not even old enough to buy a drink in the Greenwich Village folk clubs.

And Jimmy Webb was just 19 years old when he wrote the brilliant romantic musical short story, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” around 1965.

Listen to that song again – and picture a teenager building that heartbreaking classic, verse by verse.

Right around the time that the prodigies Webb and McCartney were writing songs that would become standards, 16-year old Jackson Browne wrote an introspective ballad called “These Days”.

It would be nearly a decade before Browne put the song on his second album, “For Everyman”, in 1973.

Here’s a much older Browne performing “These Days”. The song seems perfect for an older and wiser man looking back on a long, hard life. But as you listen, try to strip away the years – and picture a 16-year old kid writing such lyrics.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Nico, but she did have the good taste to record “These Days” in 1967. Pay attention to the arrangement of her version. Four decades later, you’ll hear the influence of Nico’s arrangement in Glen Campbell’s 2008 cover.

Gregg Allman recorded his own cover of “These Days” for his debut solo album, Laid Back, released in 1973, like Browne’s “For Everyman”. (Allman and Browne were both 25-years old at the time.)

Here’s 41-year old Allman performing “These Days” in 1989, harmonizing with the great Graham Nash. It’s remarkable what an additional 16 years of life experience brings to the performance of a song originally written by a kid who had only been alive for 16 years.

The first time I can remember hearing “These Days” was when Glen Campbell featured it on his 2008 album, “Meet Glen Campbell”. Glen was 72 years old when he sang it – and listening to an older and wiser Glen connect with the song, I thought Jackson Browne had written it recently. Surely, a man with something like Glen’s years and experience created those lyrics, and the melancholy yet somehow hopeful melody they’re strung upon. Maybe Jackson had even written it for Glen? But no.

It’s just another moving example of how a great tune written by a soulful young songwriter of preternatural talent can be given new life by a great artist.

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Rockme for the Holidays!

The Practical Theatre Company’s hard rocking house band — Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation — are coming to Chicago to play two fabulous, frenzied dance parties this holiday season.

Riffmaster Peter Van Wagner & The Rockmes are rocking the wrap party for The Vic & Paul Show at Mayne Stage on December 30th.  There’s no charge for those who buy a ticket to see The Vic & Paul Show that night – and there’s just a $10 cover charge if you show up after the show for the rock & roll dance party with the band at 10:30 pm.

It’ll be a rocking closing night bash to remember!

The next night, Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation will be playing a New Year’s Eve rock & roll celebration at The Prop Theatre.

There might be a cheap cover charge, we might pass the hat – but either way, it’ll be the most cost-effective way to rock in the New Year that you can possibly imagine.  If you truly love rock and roll, and you want to dance ‘til you drop – there can be no better way to ring in the New Year.

Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation.

Two great gigs in two nights.

A rock & roll marathon you’ll never forget.

Be there – or be square.

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The Top 10 Rock & Roll Singers of All Time.

Ever since The Beatles turned me on to rock and roll at the age of 5, I’ve been singing along to the radio, trying to recreate the style and power of the great rock voices that inspired me.

Some signature performances, like Roy Orbison’s operatic masterpiece “It’s Over” and Freddie Mercury’s incredible “Bohemian Rhapsody”, challenged my limits as a singer. On my best day, I couldn’t reach those soaring heights of vocal power — but trying to sing along with Roy and Freddie made me a better singer.

I’ve been singing in rock and roll bands since high school, and there’s nothing like trying to cover a classic song to make you appreciate the artist who sang that song on the record. Just listen to teenage Stevie Winwood sing “Gimme Some Lovin’” by the Spencer Davis Group — or Bob Seeger tearing through “Get Out Of Denver”. Those performances literally leave you breathless.

Over the years, I’ve become a connoisseur of fine rock and roll vocals. So, just to start one of my favorite arguments, I’ve come up with a list of the Top Ten Rock & Roll Singers of All Time. This is not a list of my favorite singers. Indeed, many of my favorite singers – Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and Paul Rogers to name a few – did not make the list.

This is a list of the ten best rock and roll vocalists who ever picked up a microphone.

1. Elvis Presley

Elvis is King. Period. And I don’t want to hear from a bunch of folks who can’t get that bloated, drug addled Elvis out of their minds. Elvis put rock and roll on the map because his voice was magic. There is a quality to Elvis Presley’s voice that thrills the listener – in the same way the sound of Paul McCartney and John Lennon singing harmony gives you goose bumps. Every rock and roll singer after Elvis has been singing in his shadow. That’s why Elvis was the first inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. (The Hall of Fame website calls him “the undisputed King of Rock and Roll”.) Listen to Elvis sing “Trying To Get To You” – and bow down to The King.

2. Ray Charles

There’s nothing Ray Charles couldn’t sing. The blues, country, rock and roll, soul, and rhythm and blues – Ray knocked them all out of the park. But as versatile as he was, no matter what style of song he sang, he made that tune inimitably his own. If Ray Charles had put a rock and roll band together in the 1950’s, he would have owned the rock and roll top 10. And though he recorded everything from gospel to standards – Ray Charles rocked hard enough to be in the first class inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.  Check out Ray rocking “Baby, What’d I Say?”

3. James Brown

Another member of that first class of Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, James Brown is one of those singers that you just don’t even try to cover. Not even in your most drunken moment in a karaoke bar. Even if James Brown didn’t have the most out-a-sight dance moves ever invented, even if he didn’t have the most fabulous pompadour that ever adorned a rocker’s head – he would still have the most dynamic voice in rock and roll history. Like Ray Charles, James Brown didn’t make a lot records that would be considered straight up rock and roll: he was far too funky to play it in 1-4-5. But all you have do is listen to James belt out “(I Got You) I Feel Good” to know why he’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

4. Little Richard

Along with Elvis, Little Richard wrote the other half of the rock and roll singer’s lexicon in the 1950’s. Without him, The Beatles don’t wag their heads and sing, “Oooooh!” I can’t imagine what rock and roll singing would be like without the example of Little Richard: the freedom, the abandon, the soaring screams and “wooohs” – the joyous, anarchic, frenetic, rhythm-pounding pulse of his performances have influenced every rock and roller who followed. That’s why, he’s another guy they put in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Imagine what conservative Middle American parents thought when they heard Little Richard sing “Long Tall Sally”. Dangerous, man. Wild and dangerous.

5. Paul McCartney

The best singer in the best rock and roll band of all time, Paul McCartney earns a spot on this list even if his only vocal performance in consideration was a song he released after The Beatles broke up. No singer dares to cover Paul’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” – one of the most spectacular rock vocals of all time. And Paul can still sing this song today at the age of 69. I heard him sing it at Staples Center in Los Angeles a few years back and it was still powerful. Paul McCartney is a force of nature. Here’s he is, decades before his Knighthood, singing “Maybe I’m Amazed” with his other band, Wings.

6. Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin is not just one of the best female rock and roll singers ever – she’s one of the greatest rock and roll vocalists period. There’s never been another woman who fronted a rock band with such a fearless, soulful, and savage style. Like the great blues singers, Janis understood the sexual subtext of rock and roll – but she didn’t sell sex on the stage – she sold the power of the music. She was magnetic and magnificent. All I ask is that other, inevitably lesser singers stop trying to cover Janis’ classic, “Piece Of My Heart”. It just can’t be done.

7. Burton Cummings

Perhaps the least recognizable name on this list – and probably the only Canadian – Burton Cummings is hands-down one of the very best rock and roll singers that came out of the 1960’s. Lead singer for The Guess Who, Cummings sang classics like “No Sugar Tonight”, “American Woman” and “Share The Land”. But if you want to know why I think he’s one of the best rock vocalists of all time, all you need to do is listen to him sing “These Eyes.” Toward the end, when he does a soaring riff on, “These eyes are crying” – it’s one of those vocal moments that try as I might, I’ve never been able to replicate in the shower or in my car. Burton Cummings is a master class in rich, powerful, and exhilarating rock and roll singing.

8. Roger Daltrey

Roger Daltrey is the best rock and roll screamer of all time. I personally owe him a lot. (Back in college, Fat Dave Silberger compared me to Daltrey, and I still haven’t gotten over his undeserved but much appreciated flattery.) Fronting a magnificent trio – Daltrey’s voice was the fourth instrument in one of the most powerful live rock bands to ever take the stage. Pete Townshend is one of the great rock and roll songwriters of all time – and Roger’s incredible voice made Pete’s ambitious, operatic songs possible. Case in point: “Love, Reign O’er Me”

9. Robert Plant

I was never a huge Led Zeppelin fan back in the day, but in retrospect, maybe it was because I was afraid to cover their songs. Why? Because of freaking Robert Plant! Led Zeppelin was extremely popular inn the early 70’s when I was in my first high school band, but trying to belt my way through Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll” or attempt “Stairway to Heaven” was to invite comparison with Robert Plant and, thus, failure. Still, trying to sing along with Plant made me a better singer. I saw him a few years ago at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles during his tour with Alison Krauss. Dude’s still got it.

10. John Fogerty

I love John Fogerty. My father was born in New Orleans, Louisiana – but Berkeley, California native Fogerty had even more bayou in his soul than my dad did. When I was an 11-year old kid, the songs of Creedence Clearwater Revival jumped off the radio and connected with me more than anything other than The Beatles. It was that crunchy, snarling guitar groove – and John Fogerty’s voice: a rolling, driving, inescapable growl – like an unrelenting, passionate Little Richard with more politics than sex on his mind. I devoted myself to screaming through Creedence songs like Fogerty, pushing myself to my vocal limits. But I’ve never approached the master’s performance on “Fortunate Son.” Listen – and, once again, bow down…

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Monk’s Musical Advice…

Our band’s lead guitarist, Riffmaster Peter Van Wagner, a stellar musician in his own right, sent me these two wonderful photos (see below). Pete said, “A buddy of mine sent this to me, so I’m passing it on.”

And I’m glad he did.

The photos capture two pages of notes on which jazz saxophone player Steve Lacy outlined the advice he got from the great jazz man, Thelonious Monk.

Lacy played with Monk in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  The notes speak for themselves. It’s impossible to imagine more perfectly profound musical wisdom crammed into two small pages.

If you’re intrigued by Steve Lacy’s notes on Monk’s musical advice, check out this great blog article for more information on this wonderful document.

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Is this John Lennon’s long lost cousin?

I’ve been in Evanston, Illinois this weekend (or was it Liverpool?), and I ran into a fellow who purports to be John Lennon’s cousin, Lon Lennon. (See photo above.)

The guy is the right age. Older than me. Plus, he has as uncanny knowledge of rock and roll trivia, especially The Beatles, all the British Invasion bands, and (oddly enough for an Englishman) The Beach Boys.

One thing though: I’ve seen him play a ukulele. However, I’ve seen Paul McCartney play a ukulele.

And I know George Harrison was a ukulele player.

So, he might actually be a legitimate Beatle cousin.

Somehow, I don’t think we’ve heard the last (have we even heard the first?) of Lon Lennon.

Did Lon introduce John to the ukulele? Or was it the other way around? I should have asked Lon when I had the chance.

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