Tag Archives: Rock and roll

The Place To Be With Eva B…

Our 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.

There 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!

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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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27 and Dead…

By BEN SISARIO

Published: July 23, 2011

 Amy Winehouse, the British singer who found worldwide fame with a smoky, hip-hop-inflected take on retro soul, yet became a tabloid fixture as her struggles with drugs and alcohol brought about a striking public career collapse, was found dead in her home in London on Saturday. She was 27.

For many rock and roll fans who saw such reports about the sudden death of Amy Winehouse – one fact jumped right out: her age. 27-years old.

As of this writing, the cause of her death is not known. The London police said that, “at this early stage it is being treated as unexplained.” But nobody will be surprised to learn that the artist who hit the charts singing, “They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said ‘no no no’” probably succumbed to her addictions.

Thus, we add Amy Jade Winehouse (September 14, 1983 to July 23, 2011) to the list of rock stars that died at 27 years of age.

The list got started early – with the death of the pioneering bluesman Robert Johnson on August 16, 1938. Legend had it that Johnson went down to a lonely crossroads and sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play guitar with a genius that inspired future rockers like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Paige. His death is full of mystery, too. But we do know that he was 27-years old when died after drinking from a bottle of whiskey that was poisoned with strychnine.

27-year old Brian Jones had recently been kicked out of The Rolling Stones when he was discovered at the bottom of his swimming pool on July 3, 1969. His death, too, is shrouded in mystery and unproven suspicions of foul play.

The coroner’s report concluded that Jones’ untimely demise was “death by misadventure”, noting that the troubled rocker’s liver and heart were greatly enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse

Canned Heat was a hit at Woodstock in the summer of 1969, but a little over a year later, the band’s leader, singer, and principal songwriter was dead at the age of 27. Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson died of a drug overdose on September 3, 1970 in Topanga Canyon – not far from where I live. Wilson had reportedly tried to kill himself twice before, and some say his death was a suicide, though he left no note.

Either way, Wilson is at home on this ignominious list, as suicide and overdose are the most common causes of death for these 27-year old rockers.

Just two weeks after Wilson’s death, an accidental overdose took the life of Jimi Hendrix on September 18, 1970. The virtuoso guitar god took a lot of sleeping pills on the day he wound up face down in his own vomit. The Belgian sleeping pills he took were far more powerful than he realized. He may also have been mixing pills with red wine. According to the doctor who first attended to him, Hendrix asphyxiated in his vomit, which was mainly red wine.

A little more than two weeks after 27-year old Jimi passed away too soon, rock music fans were stunned by another tragedy: the death of the great Janis Joplin due to an accidental heroin overdose.

The heroin that 27-year old Janis took in a Hollywood motel on October 4, 1970 turned out to be much more potent than normal. In fact, several of her dealer’s other customers also overdosed that same week.

The stunning deaths of rock superstars Hendrix and Joplin were followed in less than two months by the sudden demise of a third future Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member. The Door’s charismatic and controversial front man, Jim Morrison was found in the bathtub of his Paris apartment, dead of an accidental heroin overdose, on July 3, 1971. One of rock’s legendary heartthrobs, Morrison was also just 27 years old when his heart stopped beating.

A deadly mix of morphine and alcohol claimed the life of country rock pioneer Gram Parsons on September 19, 1973. The gifted and influential singer and songwriter was just two months shy of his 27th birthday when he died in the desert of Joshua Tree, California from an overdose of morphine and booze. In fact, it’s been written that the amount of morphine Parsons took was enough to kill three people.

You may want to look up what happened to Gram Parson’s body: it’s one of the strangest rock legends of all time.

Pete Ham’s suicide on April 24, 1975 closed one of the saddest chapters in rock and roll history. There was a time when Ham’s band, Badfinger, was a serious contender for The Next Big Thing after the breakup of the Beatles – but their wonderful, melodic music could not overcome the twin evils of terrible management and awful recording deals. Despondent over has band’s troubles, Ham hung himself in his garage. He was, of course, 27. His suicide note included an indictment of Badfinger’s business manager, Stan Polley: “P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”

Almost two decades later, another rock and roll suicide shocked the world. But while Pete Ham’s glory days were behind him when he put the rope around his neck, Kurt Cobain was a superstar still in his ascendancy when he took his own life on April 5, 1994.

Cobain went out like Ernest Hemingway, putting a gun to his head.

Sublime front man Bradley Nowell managed to make it a few months beyond his 27th birthday – but just before his band’s breakthrough third album went multi-platinum – Nowell was a dead man. The promising talent who wrote and sang such fabulous songs as “What I Got” and “Wrong Way” did, indeed, go out the wrong way from a heroin overdose on May 25, 1996.

So now, Amy Winehouse is gone, too. Just 27 years old. But the music remains. In fact, if you made a playlist of songs from the 11 artists noted in this article, it would probably be the best album you’ll hear all year.

And that would be the better way to remember them.

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“Rock Me!” @ Northwestern…

For years my three daughters listened to the songs that Brad Hall and I wrote and recorded for our rock & roll musical “Rock Me!” in 1988.

“Rock Me” was originally written for the Columbia College New Musicals Project under the direction of Sheldon Patinkin and it was performed for one night at Chicago’s Apollo Theatre in August of ‘88.

Emilia, Eva and Maura pestered me relentlessly to get together with Brad to finish it. A couple years ago, Brad and I wrote a few new tunes for the show and made notes for a re-write of the book. But Emilia finally got the “Rock Me!” completion project underway last fall by submitting the show to a student production group at Northwestern.

NU’s student-run Sit & Spin productions chose to produce a concert reading of “Rock Me!” this year – and that was the catalyst for us to finish our work on the book and score. (Musical wizard Steve Rashid pitched in by charting the score and sorting out the voluminous harmonies.)

Now, I’m pleased to say that “Rock Me!” will be performed in a concert reading at Northwestern University’s Fisk Hall on Monday and Tuesday, March 7 and 8, 2011.

Performance times will most likely be at 8:00 pm on both Monday and Tuesday and there might also be an 11:00 pm show on one or both of those nights. (I’ll update the info as I get it.)

Ticket prices will be $5 dollars and cannot be purchased in advance. If you’re planning to see “Rock Me!” — let me know and I’ll make sure you’re on the list. (Just reply to this post.)

It’s going to be a gas seeing enthusiastic college folk having fun with these songs.

Big thanks to my rocking daughter Emilia for her tenacious advocacy on behalf of “Rock Me!”

You rock, E!

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Rockmes Get Ready…

The members of Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation gathered from across the country at Steve Rashid’s Woodside Avenue Music Productions in Evanston, Illinois on Saturday, May 15 to rehearse for our gig at SPACE in Evanston this Monday.

I’m happy to report that the band was in fine form, and knocked out such ancient Rockme classics as “It’s a Mystery”, “Valentine’s Day” and “Love” – and newer tunes like “Steve” and “Hitchin’ a Ride” (from the “Woodshed @ Woodside” CD, recorded in April, 2008.)

Everyone in the band is looking forward to the gig at SPACE (The Society for the Preservation of Art and Culture in Evanston) – so, if you’re in the Chicago area, be there on Monday night May 17th.  For tickets, go to:

http://www.evanstonspace.com/

Brad Hall & Mr. Mo. (Photo and photo above left by Rockin’ Ronny Crawford)

We’re pretty excited to be following artists like singer-songwriter Jonathan Edwards (“Sunshine go away today…”) and Men at Work’s Colin Hay (“Who can it be now?”).

See you Monday night, if you can be there.  But if you can’t be there on Monday night – close your eyes and listen very carefully. You can probably hear emanations from Riffmaster’s Fender guitar anywhere within a 2,000-mile radius.

Bubba George McClellan likes what he’s hearing. (Photo by Rockin’ Ronny)

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