Tag Archives: rock n’ roll

It Was 49 Years Ago Today…

Beatlesbanner1101934-004-CD2C8F59I was just a young, working class Cleveland boy — two months shy of my 6th birthday — and what happened on this day, 49 years ago, at 8:00 pm ET on Sunday February 9, 1964 became an unforgettable moment in my life.

2e76b29da002e58a18b357d85a67a91ae0a2392aOn that incredible, magical, epochal day, The Beatles – Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — made their first live appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York City. There were just three TV channels in those days – and most televisions in America had their rabbit ears tuned in to the Sunday night broadcast that marked the U.S. debut of the rock n’ roll band that would soon transform international pop culture.

Beatles_399x400Upon their arrival in New York and in the months to follow, I was besotted by The Beatles. My older brother Peter and I would hang out beneath our neighbor Dino Zaccardelli’s bedroom window on West 33rd Street, listening to the glorious, transformative album that Dino’s mom had just bought for him: Meet the Beatles.

I vividly remember how Peter and I listened to that thrilling album over and over, playing passionately along on badminton rackets posing as guitars. Unfortunately, we rocked out while standing on his older brother’s car – and that got is in trouble. (We left a lot of jubilant, rocking footprints on his hood and fenders.)

220px-IntroducingtheBeatlesAt the time, I had no clue that Meet the Beatles was actually the second Beatles’ album released in the United States. Ten days before the release of Meet the Beatles, Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records released the Beatles’ first U.S. album, Introducing…The Beatles.

As far as my brother Peter, Dino and I were concerned, Meet the Beatles was where it all began – and The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS 49 years ago was our introduction to full blown Beatlemania.

usa_meet-the-beatlesFrom those indelible days in February 1964, my life was changed in ways I am still learning to appreciate. To have grown up during Beatlemania is a formative, fundamental  blessing that subsequent generations cannot possibly understand or fully appreciate. (Because they take rock & roll for granted.)

My daughters learned to love The Beatles.

RR0910_603_lgBut I was grew up with The Beatles.

49 years ago – my brother Peter and I got lucky.

All us kids got lucky.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

YEAH!

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Ms. Maura Sings the Blues…

The talented and brilliantly bluesy songstress Ms. Maura, backed by her friend and guitarist Lynz Floren, performed at club TRIP in Santa Monica on Friday night, March 9th. I was lucky enough to be there – and here’s a sampler of iPhone video from her very groovy set.

According to Ms. Maura, here’s what you need to know as you listen to this selection from their sultry, soulful set.

“Combining the stylistically-varied vocals of Ms. Maura with the textured guitar-work of Lynz Floren, this acoustic duo performs dynamic original songs along with some token obscure covers. He of large stature, she of large voice, they met in 2001 as students at UC Santa Cruz. They lost touch for several years but recently reacquainted and found themselves on a common musical journey.”

Enjoy. This is melodic mood music that matters.

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30 Years Ago…

We measure our lives in years, but we experience life moment to moment. Some moments in time are more memorable than others. Some are unforgettable. And yet, even our most remarkable moments become generalized in our memories. Years later, we no longer see them in sharp focus. What we remember becomes wrapped in gauze: kept warm and fuzzy.

And then sometimes, even after three busy, event-filled decades, something can stir the memory of a special time in your life and you relive a moment you thought you remembered well — but hadn’t really seen clearly for a long, long while.

Recently, my good friend and college roommate Rob Mendel brought a wonderful moment in time back to life when he posted a vivid series of photographs he took in and around The Practical Theatre on Howard Street in Evanston, on the northern border of Chicago, in the winter of 1981-82.

The halcyon moment in time that Rob captured with his camera was charged with a mix of creativity and youthful energy that would ultimately – in just six more months – change our lives in an unexpected and dramatic way.

It would be, perhaps, too precious to say that Robbie caught us in the last relatively innocent and naïve moment of our young adult lives. But he did.

Asked for his recollections of how he came to take this trove of photos, Rob replied, “I can hardly remember! It was after traveling back to Evanston from Texas on the Big O with Rush, I think. “Beggars Holiday” was in rehearsal. We took publicity shots for that. But am I mixing it up?”

Not really. Beggar’s Holiday opened at The PTC’s John Lennon Auditorium at 703 Howard Street on November 28, 1981 – so Rob’s publicity photos must have been taken in early November, soon after we (The Sturdy Beggars) got back from our muddy stint at The Texas Renaissance Festival.

“The Rockmes were rehearsing, I had my camera with me. I took pix of the Beggars in Texas and again in Evanston.”

Now, here Rob’s memory begins to fade.

Rob’s photos of The PTC’s house band Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation in rehearsal at the JLA were clearly taken after Beggar’s Holiday closed and our 1982 season opener, the improvisational comedy revue The Brothers Bubba, was in rehearsal.

You can tell because I’ve shaved my beggar beard.

So, Rob’s photos of the Rockmes in rehearsal must have been taken in the first months of 1982 – exactly 30 years ago!

The band was formed late in the spring of ’81, and had been playing together less than a year when these shots were snapped.

Looking at the eager, earnest, passionate (and hairy) young garage band that Rob got on film that day in the winter of ’82 – it’s deeply satisfying to know that the Rockme adventure has continued.

In fact, the band shown in these pics is the same group of guys that still manage to reunite and rock together to this day.

Next gig? June 8th in Portola Valley, California. The beat goes on…

“Mo was two. I took her to the playground a couple of times… Used to chant, “She’s still a baby!” and she’d respond, “I’m not a baby!” She was the cutest thing!”

Okay, these photos just melt my heart. My daughter Maura was, indeed, the cutest thing. Little Mo was less than two years old at the time. (She turned two on July 3rd, 1982.) Rob snapped her in the lobby of The John Lennon Auditorium – with the “Build-a-Bear” that my mom made for her.Rob also shot this portrait of Maura in the lobby of the JLA with her Godfather Rush Pearson.And with Uncle Brad Hall, our mascot Sri Abdul Aziz, and Godfather Rush.Here’s the delightful toddler Maura with her dad a few doors west up Howard Street from the JLA at the legendary Cottage Restaurant, a classic diner. We’re waiting for old Bob to serve us a couple “chezzies” and a “shooker”. (Six months later, a UPI reporter would interview the cast of The Golden Jubilee at The Cottage to get the story of our sudden, shocking ascent to Saturday Night Live.)

Robbie’s camera also found us in rehearsal for The Brothers Bubba.

In this photo, Gary Kroeger, Jane Muller, your author, Rush Pearson and Brad Hall are rehearsing the musical number, “Macaroni & Cheese.”

In these photos, Brad and I are perfecting our impression of Simon and Garfunkel performing “The Boxer” — another sketch from The Bothers Bubba. 

 The Bothers Bubba opened at The JLA on April 1, 1982 and became the PTC’s biggest hit yet, playing to sold-out houses that demonstrated our 42-seat storefront was too small to contain our rapidly growing success.

Events were moving quickly, success was advancing swiftly, and as Bob Dylan said, the times they were a-changing. 

 Less than half a year after Rob’s photos were taken, the Practical Theatre Company, in partnership with Bernie Sahlins, owner of The Second City, opened our new cabaret theatre space at Piper’s Alley with The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee — a collection of our best sketches and songs performed by Brad Hall, Gary Kroeger, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and your humble author.

Robbie Mendel’s camera caught the spirit and drama of an unsuspecting cast of characters doing what they love – with no idea of what was to come.

“I remember that I had bought a camera, because the rental house I was working at in Hollywood had a bunch of guys who mentored me to get a camera and learn how to take pictures properly. I was using B&W for publicity pix for the Beggars, I believe, and that’s why they are not in color.”

Who cares about color? The classic black and white format adds to the drama of these memories: a glorious moment in time – just half a year before our lives were transformed — captured so indelibly by Robbie Mendel’s camera.

“When I returned to Hollywood, I landed my PA job on the TV movie with Susan St. James and I laid a publicity packet about PTC on Dick Ebersol there, but I think the PTC got on his radar separately, also. These pix preceded all of that, eh?”

That’s Rob Mendel for you. I never knew (or maybe I’d forgotten) that Robbie had hipped Saturday Night Live Executive Producer Dick Ebersol to The Practical Theatre just months before The Golden Jubilee opened at Piper’s Alley.It’s another intriguing brick in the wonderwall of that seminal moment in our lives.

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Rockmes @ Mayne Stage

On December 30, 2011, The Practical Theatre Company’s semi-legendary house band Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation closed the triumphant two-week engagement of “The Vic & Paul Show” at Mayne Stage in Chicago with a raucous night of traditional American garage rock & roll. Here’s a brief glimpse of that gig: two original Rockme songs, performed with the band’s characteristic playful passion. (Dig the groovy rock & roll fans dancing in the foreground!)

The songs?

“Gallery Girl” by Riffmaster Peter Van Wagner (sung by Paul Barrosse & Brad Hall) and “New Orleans” by Paul B. & Rush Pearson (sung by Paul and Rush).

Audio and video recording by Robert Mendel. Thanks, Robbie!

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Stand By Jerry Leiber…

Rock & Roll fans mourned the death of Amy Winehouse last month – but, as soulful and as talented as she was – now, we mourn the passing of a real Rock & Roll icon: Jerry Leiber. He was 78 years old. (Jerry’s the guy on the left of Elvis, above.)

Lyricist Jerry Leiber and his partner, pianist Mike Stoller, wrote some of the best songs in the rock ’n’ roll canon, including “Hound Dog,” “Yakety Yak,” “Stand By Me” and “On Broadway.”

Leiber and Stoller teamed up in 1950, when Jerry was a student at Fairfax High in Los Angeles and Mr. Stoller was a freshman at Los Angeles City College.

In 1952, Leiber and Stoller wrote “Hound Dog” for the blues singer Big Mama Thornton – and it became a big hit for Elvis in 1956.

Leiber and Stoller followed up with some pretty damn good songs. Lots of them. Absolute classics.

It’s silly, really. These guys wrote “Jailhouse Rock”

“Loving You”

“Treat Me Nice”

“King Creole”

“Charlie Brown”

“Young Blood” (with Doc Pomus)

“Poison Ivy”

“Love Potion No. 9”

…and “Smokey Joe’s Café,” among many others.

R.I.P. Jerry Leiber.

You helped create my world.

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Rockme Reunion 2010

Rockmes Return to Evanston

SPACE: A groovy place to rock the night away.

It’s my pleasure to announce the 2010 reunion of the nation’s finest purveyors of traditional and original garage music, Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation, on May 17 in the town of their birth, Evanston, Illinois. This raucous rocking reunion will be held at SPACE (the Society for the Preservation of Art and Culture in Evanston) located at 
1245 Chicago Avenue.

You can check out SPACE by clicking here.

So mark your calendars with a big red “Rockme Reunion” — and plan your travel from whatever corner of the globe in which you currently reside. Our sax man, Tom “Wolf” Larson, will be traveling all the way from his new home in Madrid, Spain – so long distance should be no barrier to attending this splendid not-so-annual event. After all, wherever you are, you’re only 5 minutes away by rocket car!

And for those who wish more information on Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation, simply click here for a brief colorful history of the band, whose motto has always been, “Make the kids jump!” No matter what age those kids are.

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