Yet Another Way To Deal With Digital… When You Still Dig Physical

After decades of collecting music in whatever format was  available at the time, I did two things for the first time ever in the last twoweeks.   They were:

  • Buying a release that was available ONLY as an MP3 download   and
  • Buying a Bee Gees album—on CD, but the first music of any format by this band ever for me.

The former was a “2 CD” set Amazon offered as MP3 download-only.  I had some credit, so figured why not use it? It was a $17.98-priced 56 song multi-artist extravaganza called “Roots of The Cramps”—songs and artists that inspired that magnificent band.  Whether 50s rockabilly or 60s garage band tunes, these odes to silliness and trash culture exemplify the fleeting nature of raw unpolished rock n roll at its finest.

Gratitude goes out to the Cramps for rescuing this genre from obscurity.

Nearly all of these cuts were from artists by which I had no other records.  And most of them were artists I did not know anything about, but sure wanted to.   So the main flaw of a download-only release was exposed:   Where are the liner notes?

From the Cramp’s own “How To Make a Monster” liner notes I learned about their exposure to the self-titled tune by the Green Fuz.   Lux and Ivy, when starting the Cramps,
worked in a record store that allowed them to rehearse in some extra room.  Another employee of this store who had Down’s syndrome  was a valuable member of the staff because he actually listened to and remembered a lot of the rare dusty 45s this store sold.   When hearing the early Cramps rehearsals, this guy told the Cramps they sounded “like Green Fuz”.   The Cramps hunted down the tune, and of course made it part of their set list.

The Green Fuz were a band from Bridgeport TX that may or may not have lasted much more than recording that one song, sometime around 1966 or so.   They have a Wikipedia entry if you want to look it up…but their unbelievably raw immortalization on vinyl has become some sort of collector’s item that the surviving members of the band themselves were unaware of until years later.

When listening to “Roots of The Cramps”, I want to know about the other bands represented.  I’m sure one could spend hours googling the Fender Four, the Flower Children, Del Raney’s Umbrellas and more…wade through YouTube posts and maybe Wikipedia entries…but a collection of
tunes like this begs for a booklet or something for us to learn more in a convenient fashion.

Rhino Records is usually great at this kind of thing.  The “Nuggets” box sets are memorable for their fantastic booklets as much as the music therein.  However, like most record labels, their output is somewhat limited compared to a few years ago… downloading among the factors challenging their business model.

Years ago there was an album release similar in theme to this that culled together songs that inspired, and were covered by, the Grateful Dead.   That album would have been more appropriate for a download-only release, because frankly, the tunes were pretty common and most people, even Deadheads, would have (or should have) known about them already:   Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”, Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”,   Bobby Bland’s “Turn on Your Lovelight”, etc.   Not only should the Dead’s fans be familiar with these versions, they really should have had them in their collections already.  Albums  like this wouldn’t really need scholarly liner notes.

This leads us to the latter new experience:  the Bee Gees disc.   Passing over their Atco cutouts in the late 60s, early 70s (“Odessa”, “2 Years On”), they were a band who had a few
undeniably great tunes, but I just never got around to buying their albums.   A “Greatest Hits” may have lacked a song I liked, and a “Greatest Hits Vol. 2” may not have had enough on
it to warrant purchase.

Then the Bee Gees went disco.   Suffice to say that anything on the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack is anathema to me.   I’ve heard it enough to last me several lifetimes.   This 2 disc set has all the early stuff I always wanted on one source (“Lonely Days”, “Words”, etc) ….and some of their Post-Disco tunes from about 1987 forward, that are really pretty good.  But suffice to say, I’ll be skipping over “Staying Alive”, “Night Fever” etc. every time I play this disc.

A download-only version of this particular set that would allow you to order cafeteria-style would be a good idea.   “Um, take those three songs out, and let’s see, I’ll substitute with three other tunes by the Bee Gees or similar artists who they worked with or who covered their songs”.  For the same price, this could be a great feature but it may be too complicated a process to figure out on Itunes, Amazon, whatever.  I know, I know, you could do it on your own…but I’ve got work to do…who has time?

This scheme would also work on those occasions where providers/labels like Amazon or Smithsonian Folkways will  custom cut a CD especially for the customer.   I’ve had a few of those from the likes of the Albion Band and assorted folk recordings in the Smithsonian Folkways vault.   Folkways even prints a little liner notes booklet as part of the deal.  These releases aren’t available for mass consumption any longer, but technology makes custom fitting affordable.

It used to be an art form to not only play instruments and write good songs…but to sequence them on an album that made the total worth  more than the sum of its parts. It’s hard to imagine “Pet Sounds” not beginning with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, ending without “Caroline No”.   The different sequencing of songs on the later versions of some Jimi Hendrix albums just sounds out of whack, and many American Beatle fans prefer the “Rubber Soul” released over here to the UK version.  Sequencing used to be one of many things that fell into the producer’s job description.  Now “producers” just fiddle with sounds on their laptops.

Some middle ground between “The Roots of The Cramps” and “The Ultimate Bee Gees” may provide a new (or rediscovered)  talent category, which if crowd sourced, would emerge.  If artistic recognition can be granted to DJs,  why not a Grammy Award for the “best sequencing of tunes for an existing or newly compiled album collection”?

Just About A Beat Apart—When Afro- & Euro-Centered Music Meet

“I’ve always felt that blues, rock n’roll, and country are just about a beat apart”
–Waylon Jennings

Lionel Ritchie released a comeback album of sorts a few weeks ago called Tuskegee. It collects many of his classic songs, sung duet-style with a variety of country artists. He chose to record in Nashville, because he’s always had a love for country music.

This isn’t a surprise. His songs really do lend themselves to a “countrified” treatment. Think back to his early ‘80s work with Kenny Rogers (who he duets with again with on the new disc). And looking over the track list, cuts like “Endless Love” with Shania Twain, plus more tunes with Willie Nelson (“Easy”), Tim McGraw (“Sail On”) and others, sound like it was fun a project to make and to listen to…at least once.

This kind of thing has been done before—not a lot, but it’s been done. The 1994 CD Rhythm Country & Blues pitted pairings like Vince Gill and Gladys Knight (“Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”), Aaron Neville and Trisha Yearwood (“I Fall To Pieces”) and more,  doing country and R&B classics with teamed performers from each genre. It was an interesting listen, but very little of it was worth listening to repeadedly. Only Eddie Cochran’s tune “Something Else” done by Tanya Tucker and Little Richard, and “Rainy Night In Georgia” by Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave) and Conway Twitty, really stood out for this listener.

Why is this? These types of music are only about a beat apart. It’s no secret that early country pioneers like Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Bob Wills and others professed a strong influence of the blues and jazz in their music. Likewise, blues/ R&B royalty like Howlin’ Wolf and Ray Charles grew up listening to The Grand Ole Opry. Don’t forget that some of Ray’s biggest sellers were his Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music LPs, and some mid ‘80s releases from Nashville for Columbia weren’t stiffs either.

There’s a story told about Charlie Parker and his band stopping into a restaurant or tavern and hearing Hank Williams on the jukebox. Several band members started snickering and ridiculing whatever song it was, chiding it for being so simplistic. Parker apparently told them to shut up and listen to the words, the tone of Hank’s voice, the hurt and pain that were coming across. His band members did so, and came away with a different attitude. Charlie Parker loved all kinds of music. Recording occasional experiments with strings, an appreciation for Stravinsky, one has to wonder if he hadn’t burned himself out so early in life, was collaboration with C&W possible? Louis Armstrong, after all, recorded with Jimmie Rodgers 20 years earlier. Not out of the question….

Of course, once the forces of black and white musical forms really collided, you had rock n’ roll. Chuck Berry and Elvis both had people thinking, “Is this guy black or white?”. Musically, each of them didn’t care because they loved both forms equally, and besides, did it matter?

It didn’t because rock n’ roll took off and threatened to displace both of the musical forms it came from. Rock n’ roll’s earthiness, rawness, and roughness was what caused it to take hold. You can’t catch a fish with a smooth, straight piece of metal. You need a barbed hook to make it hold.

The problem with Rhythm Country & Blues, Ray’s Modern Sounds, (and most likely Tuskegee) is that they tend to be a bit too slick. Yeah, this kind of thing can sell (RC&B did not) but honestly, can we hear something a bit rougher? Blues, R&B, country, are all raw, rootsy types of folk-derived music. Can’t we have something along those lines?

What if Doug Kershaw had recorded with fellow Louisianans like Slim Harpo or Lazy Lester in the same studios all had used, run by J.D. Miller out of Crowley? Little Walter based a lot of his harmonica technique on Cajun accordion…so this is not that far-fetched. Kershaw’s still alive, as are the Fabulous Thunderbirds who idolized that Excello sound J.D. Miller was known for. What’s stopping this kind of collaboration?

Whatever became of Gretchen Wilson? She seems to have been displaced by Nashville’s nicer young ladies like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Why not team her up with some of the Northern Mississippi Hill Country sound that Fat Possum Records is known for and really shake things up?

Whatever became of Randy Crawford? Before the “oversingers” took over around 25 years ago, she was the epitome of understated, classy, vocalists that used to be heard on a lot of records. Slick but earthy at the same time….She worked mostly in the R&B and jazz realms, but a country effort by her would be superb. Anything without oversingers and a tribe of male dancers, please.

Perhaps Ben Harper lending more of his lap steel playing to C&W, or should I say, “Americana” type artists. C&W, read: Nashville has become just too slick. What would have passed for C&W a few years ago is now called “Americana”. More blues/R&B artists moonlighting with folk-country type acts is being done, but the more the merrier.

When you think about just about any revolution or musical milestone, whether it’s the dawn of rock n’ roll or the best selling album of the last 20 years(Adele’s 21), there is usually a raw edge and earthiness involved. Why most of these occasional black-meets-white/R&B-blues-meets-country efforts have been so slick and polished is a mystery. They ought to be as raw as they can get.

There are pictures of Charlie Rich in 1974, visiting his musical mentor, a sharecropper known simply as CJ. Rich is slumped in a chair near one wall while CJ is playing at an upright piano. One can’t help but wish we could have heard Charlie open up his mouth and sing whatever  CJ was playing…and that it may very well have been better than “Behind Closed Doors”.

Given the state of today’s music, such collaborations of these two elemental musics would be vastly more welcome than the industry’s lame attempts to entice us with yet another oversinging bimbo, yet another tattoo-ed surly hip-hop artist who hates everyone except himself, or a revival of boy bands or any other of a plethora of genres that were bad ideas to begin with.

American Music’s Elder Statesman—Who Is It?

The 90th birthday is coming up (Dec. 28th) for a man who could arguably cast a huge shadow over not one, nor two, but four major American musical forms.  This gentleman  had seminal hits in each category:  Jazz, R&B, Blues, and Rock N Roll.   Could anyone in musical history make that claim?  A few could, but they’d be household names like Ray Charles, Elvis, guys like that.  Yet mention this fellow’s name to most folks and they would not recognize it.  Johnny Otis, anyone?

 Johnny Otis was born to a Greek immigrant family in the San Francisco Bay area, 1921.   Since his family lived in proximity to other immigrants and minorities, particularly the  African-American community, the influence rubbed off.   Johnny decided he “would be black”, if society at the time forced him to make a choice.

 He played drums, keyboards and vibes with a few big bands in the early ‘40s (Count Basie’s among them) before he branched out on his own in 1945.  His first big hit, “Harlem Nocturne” isn’t the original of this classic tune, but it has become the definitive arrangement.   So chalk up one milestone, in the genre Big Band Jazz.

 In addition to hosting club gigs and doing radio shows, Johnny Otis eventually hired other musicians and singers and did package tours which were common in the day.  They’d all travel together in a bus, touring the country.  It was during this time that he began to put together his most famous lineups, which would include his band backing Little Esther Phillips, the Robins (later known as The Coasters), Mel Walker, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, and more.  There were other performers  ranging from Etta James, Jackie Wilson, to Hank Ballard and many more that he discovered and helped promote even though they did not travel with his usual shows.  

 During this late-‘40s period, his style was morphing musically into something different from Big Band Jazz.  Smaller bands were more affordable to support on tour.  They could either go the highbrow “BeBop” route or stick to more pop-oriented style—the one Johnny Otis chose.   It was eventually to be called “Rhythm & Blues”.  Otis was a huge part of its birth and growth.  So chalk up another milestone.  It’s not for nothing that he’s been called “The Godfather of R&B”. 

 A lot of his acts and the artists he helped get started would not only influence, but become the founders of the next phase in American Popular Music:  Rock N Roll.   Johnny had a hand producing Big Mama Willie Mae Thornton’s original version of “Hound Dog” (you know, the one Elvis covered?).  In 1958, he scored his own Rock N Roll hit with “Willie  And The Hand Jive”.  The beat in this famous tune, often referred to as a “Bo Diddley” beat, was something Johnny was familiar with long before Bo was around.  The older term for it is the “shave and haircut two bits”  rhythm(say that out loud, you’ll get it) .  Johnny was no stranger to it, he’d known it for years. 

 Chalk up another milestone:  his contribution to Rock N Roll:  “Willie And The Hand Jive”.

 Mr. Otis continued to tour with his entourage, leaving audiences happy at club gigs and festivals like Monterrey.   While his musical progress all along had either been contemporary with trends at the time or a preview of things to come, in the mid- to late-60s he went backward if you will, to the Blues.   He wasn’t doing it because he’d run out of ideas however.  In giving a whole new outlook to a classic musical form,  in 1968 he delivered one of the few genuine Blues classics that sported a social consciousness, the LP Cold Shot.

 Overt protest in the Blues wasn’t new, but it was rare.  Cold Shot was angry and explicit, but it was also musically awesome.   In addition to vocal help from Mighty Mouth Evans, Johnny had legendary blues fiddler Don “Sugarcane” Harris, and a 15 year-old guitar sensation who just happened to be his son, Shuggie Otis.

 Shuggie would go on to a Columbia contract thanks to a major fan in Al Kooper, who after being fired from Blood Sweat & Tears (which Kooper formed to begin with), was given an A&R job with Columbia.   Shuggie’s recordings have always been impressive, but his licks on  Cold Shot and its hits “The Signifyin’ Monkey”, “Country Girl” and the cover of  “High Heeled Sneakers” are still hard to beat.

 So there are at least four benchmarks in American music held by one man, this Johnny Otis.  His influence extended even to how those that followed him looked.  Frank Zappa  was known to have adapted his famous mustache and soul patch combo because  “it looked good on Johnny Otis”.  

 It’s acknowledged that in the ‘60s there were white kids on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean  that helped revive and save the blues,  plus other musical forms the black audience was starting to drift away from. But  let’s not lose sight of the fact Johnny Otis was a champion going back way before that. 

 As a record-collecting kid during that time, this writer loved looking at the songwriter credits on records by the Stones, Paul Butterfield, the Yardbirds, et al…and then seeking out LPs by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and more.  I’d  read as much as I could about all of it. 

 After hearing one of Shuggie’s early LPs in a high school art class, I noticed an interview in Rolling Stone with his father by the writer Pete Welding.   The only picture I recall that graced the pages of this interview was a picture of their tour bus with the “Johnny Otis Show” emblazoned on the side, and all the artists sprawled out along side the bus with Johnny in front of them, arms spread wide.

 You have to admire the man’s efforts to love, perform and promote the many forms of  American music that he did.  The most admirable thing about Johnny Otis, for me, to this day, is something he said in that Rolling Stone interview.  

 He was bemoaning the fact that during that time, most kids were not seeking out the original artists that had been covered and influenced  by the Stones, Butterfield, et al.

Otis told how he’d been in a record store recent to the interview and the in-store stereo was playing John Lee Hooker.  Two girls looked up from the bins at each other and one says “Listen to that, somebody’s trying to sound like Canned Heat—and doing a shitty job of it”.   Otis said, “I had to laugh, but you know, it’s not funny…most Americans…(listen to John) Mayall but they ignore Robert Johnson.  They like dilutions and distortions of the real thing”.   There was passion in this interview, passion that bordered on rage. He was right to be bent out of shape on this subject, and it spurred me to always seek out the original sounds, not just in African-American music, but virtually all musical forms I’ve listened to since.

 Years later such tales of artists not getting the credit due them are nowhere near as common, thankfully.  There are plenty of black artists both contemporary and retroactively who get plenty of credit for their contributions, both old and new.  Wrongs have, for a good part, been set aright.  You don’t have to venture over to the other side of town, to scan the radio dial late at night, to seek out the obscure ethnic retail shop, as you used to.  It wouldn’t be too far off the mark to say that today there are more people who know who Robert Johnson was than those who would know who John Mayall was/is.

 Even though you may not know precisely who Johnny Otis is, let’s hope that his passion to have black artists recognized for their contributions will be the biggest contribution he will be remembered for.  He may’ve played mostly to black audiences with occasional crossover appeal to the white crowds…but he may have done more to bring those crowds together than he himself realized at the time.   A hearty thanks and happy birthday, Mr. Otis!

Che: Whose Muse? And Why?

One of the most reliable commodities in licensed merchandise is Che Guevara.  Not all of it is licensed—he’s kinda public domain.   He could very well be the most beloved political figure, worldwide, from the 20th Century.  The reason for this may be due to his near-worship by entertainers both in film and music.

The Sean Penn types not only fawn all over Che, but Che’s spiritual descendents, notably Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, as well.   Penn defends Chavez by pointing out Chavez was elected democratically in a fair election.  That’s true, but ever since, Chavez has not been fairly or democratically re-elected, and he’s been known to cancel elections, killing any chance for someone else to challenge him.  Chavez now has more control of media and power in Venezuela than his predecessors did.   Try defending that Mr. Spicoli!

Rage Against The Machine, the rap/metal band from the early ‘90s, sported Che images all over posters, CDs, Tshirts and related merch.  This band carried their communist sympathies to the extent that they charged next to nothing for their tour shirts because they did not feel their “working class” fans should be ripped off.

Are entertainers that naïve?  These same fans would have paid more for their merchandise because they were paying more for other bands’ products at other shows and the statistics bear this out.

Che is somewhat of a martyr figure because after he helped foment the Cuban Revolution he traveled throughout Latin America trying to stir up revolutions in those countries.  The CIA caught up with him in Bolivia in 1967 and assassinated him.

He was hardly working class himself, coming from a well to do family from Argentina.  Seems like most of these Marxist types come from wealthy origins.   It’s kinda nice that they sympathize with the poor…but history has shown their solutions don’t have much to show for them.  These countries are still poor.  The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

Cuba has pretty much turned out to be exactly as Che envisioned.   Che liked to situate his office overlooking a courtyard where “enemies of the revolution” were executed by firing squad.   Che’s Autobiography has numerous references where he makes no bones about using violence and murder to further the revolution.

Is this what entertainers like Rage Against the Machine and Sean Penn aspire to?   And if so, why don’t they have second/third homes in Cuba?  Better yet, why are their primary residences not there?

It’s good for youth to be somewhat skeptical of their leaders, public figures and others that have power or influence over society.  But why is Che worship by these entertainers taken for granted?   It’s not unusual to see some college kid wearing a Che shirt…and I have to wonder if he knows what Che really meant.   “Yeah man, he rebelled against oppression, against the MAN!”.   Shut up, punk.  You’re living off your Daddy’s credit card and you know it.

I sell some of this Che stuff, I also sell satirical items poking fun at Che’s iconic image.  But for every bit of guilt I feel having done so, I rest easy in that I read Che’s book when I was 20 and discovered what the guy was really all about.  And it wasn’t the romanticized story of Antonio Banderas and Madonna in the movie Evita.

Youth in oppressive regimes that are yearning for freedom, representative government and rule of law look to the West, the USA in particular, for hope and inspiration.   We may have faults, but a lot of those kids would give anything to move here.  Our immigration statistics prove it.  Do these same youths wear Tshirts sporting images of Thomas Jefferson or Ronald Reagan?

Do they form bands that idolize George Washington, Barry Goldwater, Adam Smith?  The answer one would expect is “No, of course not, they’d probably be arrested and shot if they did”.

So Rage and Sean Penn idolize Che, mostly because they can get away with it.  They are free to be hypocrites and free to make fools of themselves.

Question authority, but question your entertainment icons too.   Don’t follow leaders…watch your parking meters…..

Mouseketeers Need Not Apply

It’s the dawn after Super Bowl XLV in North Texas,  and the game itself was a great one.  My team didn’t win,  but the Packers look really good and I wouldn’t mind seeing a rematch of these same two teams.  They both play the kind of ball I can appreciate.

 But it’s time for us to rise in protest about the musical contributions from this year’s spectacle.   One would be tempted to blame it all on Jerry Jones, purveyor of poor taste that he is.  It’s bad enough he was hell bent for leather in trying to set an attendance record (he failed, by the way).  Even if he had managed to do so by breaking fire codes, there may have been some sort of trampling death in a rush to the restrooms at halftime, because there had to be plenty of people getting sick to their stomachs…or at the very least, getting out of their seats for a while just to get away.

 This wasn’t the first Superbowl with some former Mouseketeer-turned-singer doing something in questionable taste, incompetent, or embarrassing.    Justin Timberlake was Janet Jackson’s partner-in-crime seven years ago, remember?  Christina Aguilera continued that tradition last night with a stunningly nauseating rendition of our National Anthem.

 Granted, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is difficult to sing, but if you’re going to get picked to sing it for such a huge audience in the stadium and on TV screens all over the country and world, could you please, just once, quit trying to show what an outstanding vocal range you have?  This twit forgot the words…and these words are flashed around the perimeter of the stadium so anyone can sing along!   “Twighlight’s last reeming?”  Those aren’t what Francis Scott Key had in mind, but you did reem us all, sweetheart, right in the ears.

 Miss Aguilera (or is it Ms?  I can’t really tell if these types want to be taken seriously or as the empty headed bimbos they appear to be) is hardly alone in the universe of over-singers.  After all, look at any American Idol audition.   I haven’t watched the show in a few years, but I just know if I turn it on, I will be bombarded with over-singing ad nauseum. 

 I don’t think any members of the halftime act, The Black Eyed Peas, were Mouseketeers at any point in their lives.  But they may have well as been.   They come across as cartoon characters, “super heroes” or whatnot.   I don’t know what their secret powers might be, but I suspect they are the ability to offend and bore to death anyone, anywhere, at anytime.  Their Krytonite would be any one of the standard classic albums from before, say, 1980, that most people with any taste list as their “Desert Island discs”. 

 If Black Eyed Peas had listened more to Sly and the Family Stone and less to Deee-Lite they might come close to deserving some of the overblown praise they keep getting.   Grammy Awards, Olympic Opening Ceremonies, World Cup Football Ceremonies…. just who died and made them king?

 Another style-over-substance example was Black Eyed Peas’ choreography—what do these white- and neon lit figures with TV sets on their heads mean?

 Was the applause canned?   Or maybe mic’ed and turned up?  Sure sounded like it.

 OK, here’s the part where this old man rubs it your face,  you whippersnappers:  In March 1969, Alec Dubro in Rolling Stone (back when it was readable) gave a glowing review of Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky album.   He complimented Greenbaum for basically sounding honest, staying true to himself, “instead of sounding like a Mouseketeer trying out with the Stax-Volt band” (emphasis mine).

There’s good reason Mr. Dubro said that back in 1969…there were Mouseketeer types with recording contracts back then too.   Annette Funicello had a slew of records out, and one of them “The Monkey’s Uncle” had the Beach Boys backing her.  The difference is this:  Mouseketeers weren’t being pushed at us as being the greatest thing the music biz had to offer.  Artists earned their chops, and Mouseketeers pretty much had it handed to them…but overall, the listening public didn’t treat the Mouseketeers like they were artistes.

 Today’s musical heavy hitters (if you can call them that, because I can’t find kids who even like this junk) are either real former Mouseketeers (like Justin, Christina and Britney Spears) or they may as well have been, like Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Key$ha, Katie Perry.   Come to think of it, these artists could easily pass for current Mouseketeers who have a sleazy,  tasteless side.  

 Sing along time, boys and girls:

              Now it’s time to say goodbye to friends and family….

              M –I- C…..Hope to never SEE you again……

              K-E-Y……WHY?  Because we can’t stand you



At Last! The Eight-Track Museum

Bucks Burnett’s Eight Track Museum opened Christmas Day 2010 in Dallas’ Deep Ellum and more than lives up the hype…mainly because Bucks himself is very low key about the whole thing anyway—so with the hype at a low bar, it’s an  “under promise and over deliver”.  It proves one generation’s meat is another generation’s poison… but that other generation might just be saying “hey wait a minute, we haven’t even taste tested this yet, we might be able to survive (and thrive) on this meat!”. 

In other words, hanging around a record store used to be super cool but is fast becoming an extinct experience.   There is a growing segment of younger hipsters starting to realize this…and the Eight Track Museum will hopefully preserve that thrill.

The Eight-Track tape (going forward, the 8T) is best remembered as having been the worst sounding format of retail-able recording that sold on a mass scale.   Its heyday was from about 1965 to sometime in the mid- to-late ‘80s.   A continuous loop of tape, it had four stereo tracks (4×2=8 for you smarty-pants types going to schools nowadays where the teacher lets you use a calculator to do math).   The format was prone to mistracking, wow and flutter out the wazoo, but it just seemed to work best in the car where hands-free operation made it preferable over other formats.   Kinda ahead of it’s time in hands-free-edness (as in, “Hang up and drive!”).

 Not that the other formats weren’t tried—45RPM car record players were attempted and failed.   Then cassette players, when the manufacturers figured out auto reverse, eventually took over from 8Ts due to improved sound and overall quality as well as their late-acquired hands-free ability.

 Bucks’ museum is housed at 2630 E. Commerce.  As you enter, there is a small gift shop selling souvenir T-shirts and posters, assorted collectible magazines, LPs, CDs, and yes, of course, 8T tapes.   Bucks has even devised the “Mystery Track” whereby he puts one of his own stickers (full of his usual wit) over the label of a authentic old 8T tapes.   A grab-bag if you will, he encourages you to buy hundreds as the odds of any two being the same are slight.  These are only $10 each.  You might get ELO or Mott The Hoople, or you might get something wretched like Morris Albert doing “Feelings”, but that’s part of the charm.  Come on, when you were expecting Mickey Mantle, every pack of baseball cards had a Topps checklist and B.O. Belinski, didn’t it?

 Hard to believe there are enough 8T players out there still working.  Maybe there aren’t—but fact is, 8T collecting has become pretty cool, and some titles fetch around $100 each.   As this writer was leaving, another patron was buying a handful of the non-mystery 8Ts that were for sale.  Several were a few dollars each, some $10-$20, but The Clash’s London Calling Bucks informed him, was going to set him back $40.

 After the entry and gift shop, you wind your way down the hall to the first room, which houses various 8T players, radios, electronic accessory items and players of more obscure tape formats that preceded and followed the 8T.   There are also store fixtures and security devices that were used by retailers to house 8Ts and prevent their becoming victims of the five-finger discount, if you know what we mean. This room looks kind of like a typical Radio Shack, ca. 1974.   It is largely possible thanks to Lynn Fuller, formerly the head honcho at the Tape Town chain of West Texas back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. 

 Not even the most jaded audiophiles and music snobs will be familiar with the ephemera seen in this room; take it from one who qualifies.  To youngsters used to ipods and cloud computing, even the most streamlined and “futuristic” of these devices look clunky and primitive (take it from my two teens who were with me).   Yet it really wasn’t long ago when they came out!   When these sound systems were considered cutting-edge, the Voyager spacecraft was about to be launched with an LP for aliens to listen to in order to get an idea of how good or bad our music here on Earth sounds.  By all NASA estimates, the nearest aliens are probably centuries away from encountering Voyager and setting the tone arm onto side one of “Greetings From Earth—Our Golden Hits”…so these odd looking devices are not that old by cosmic standards…Aliens will groove to Chuck Berry, Beethoven and Blind Willie Johnson on equipment closely related to the stuff in Lynn’s collection.

 The last room exhibits Bucks’ collection so far as has been set out in the museum.  8Ts line the wall in alpha order, much like an old Peaches, Sound Town, Melody Shop or Record Bar would’ve done.   Seems like everything from the Beatles, including solo releases, everything by Yoko and Quad versions, are here.  Quad, or Quadraphonic was 4-channel sound.  It basically failed since most people who saved up  $500 or so for stereo speakers in the ‘70s were more likely to buy two good speakers at $250 each instead of four so-so speakers at $125 each.

 Quad 8Ts rub one the same way as a hemi engine in a Yugo, but, again, that’s the great thing about this museum:  It leaves one with the feeling of “Wow, what strange creatures we were.”

 Bucks has more than a dozen sealed cartons, making some 300+ sealed copies of The Rutles 8T—this was the satirical Beatles concocted by Neil Innes and Eric Idle of Monty Python fame.  The old WEA cartons brought back memories to one who used to receive and ship this stuff daily.

 Other odd audio formats are included in this room too:  an Edison Wax Cylinder, 78 RPM Shellac disc, 16” transcription discs, the failed Sony “Mini Disc” from about 15-20 years ago, laser video discs, Reel to Reel tapes, “Playtapes” which are 2 track cartridges looking like 8Ts on a diet, and a large early ancestor of the cassette called, simply, a tape cartridge.  Some of Lynn Fuller’s equipment in the adjacent room can play these odd formats.

 Overall, The Eight Track Museum is a real hoot and worth the $10 admission—kids under 18 get in free and schools would be smart to set appointments with Bucks to teach students the valued lessons herein.   However, you might leave wanting to see so much more.  This is not entirely Bucks Burnett’s fault—as of this writing he’s only been open a short time.  But with your help and patronage, maybe more of these things can be possible:

  •  More 8Ts and other oddball ways to listen to music new (good) and old (better).  I noticed a shortage of Ktel stuff, whether on 8T or LP or any other format.  Anything “As Seen On TV” ought to be perfect…and if some lame copycat band does the album in question, well, so much the better.  Dig through your garage, basement, attic or storage unit and donate! (See web link at end of article to find out how you can help).
  • Any other collectible stuff pertaining to pop culture and music in particular.  Bucks has a few of his own here now:  Tiny Tim’s dental mold for a set of dentures, one of Bob Dylan’s Hohner Marine Bands in C…but he needs a good locking glass showcase to house such goodies.  Anyone out there able to help?
  • More things related to 8Ts—anyone out there have any Q-Cards?  Remember these worthless “rewards” cards given out by KTXQ-102FM here in Dallas back in the ‘80s?   To us in retail at the time, they were a nuisance.  We had to supply these to kids who demanded them while not buying anything else.  To those kids, I’m sure their most valuable function was folding and shoving them under an 8T, wedged into the deck so the tape would track properly.  Any other groovy items like this, please donate, it’ll be a flash from the past for those of us who were there, and those who weren’t.

 Other things to watch for:

  • 8T release parties—exclusive releases on NEW IMPROVED 8Ts manufactured by a small startup in Arlington.  Apparently Bucks’ friends Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads fame plan to release a new Tom Tom Club album in the revived format for collectors…

(Actually, this is a great idea that could conceivably morph into “release parties” and autograph-signing appearances in general, provided Bucks is so inclined.  Record stores used to fulfill this function, but we all know that there just ain’t that many of those left!  And with so many performers relying more heavily on touring, the chance for them to sell more autographed releases and tour merch means they need places to do it earlier on the day of the show.  Maybe with more requests of events like this, the Eight Track Museum could be a distinctive destination for this kind of event. If  it doesn’t turn out to be, everyone can line up and kick me…)

  • Occasional live music events
  • Maybe some of Bucks’ own music for sale in 8T and other formats.  His stuff is actually quite impressive—the Volares in particular.

 There are more nostalgia nuggets I’m sure Bucks will get around to exhibiting some day, because this writer has seen such gems in the various retail establishments Bucks has lorded over.  This includes the infamous LP of e-z listening sax melodies by a guy I’ll call Harry Rudolf. Bucks had a copy of this that is autographed…TWICE.   Here’s kinda how it happened—keep in mind I’m paraphrasing a bit here:

 Bucks likely acquired this LP by Harry Rudolf in some kind of trade or LP buy years ago.  Obviously there was enough good stuff in the load the customer was selling to get fluff like this–chaff to the wheat, so to speak.  With this particular LP, he noticed the cover photo of Harry in a textbook example of the vomitous ‘70s powder blue leisure suit and shirt with the collars stretching out east and west like the wingspan of an albatross.   The hair, the hair….blond with that kind of KC&TheSunshineBand meets Donnie Osmond look.  The song selections were sax instrumentals of contemporary faves by the likes of Andy Kim, Captain and Tennile, Carpenters and Terry Jacks.

 Harry Rudolf was likely someone who played Holiday Inns and had autographed this LP “To Debbi…(or someone like that) ” with his signature.

 But Bucks, why TWO signatures?!?!?!?!

 Bucks will patiently resume, just sit back. 

 Bucks housed this Harry Rudolf LP in an earlier store he ran called “14 Records” in Denton TX.  A corner of the store was dedicated to such odd items that were for exhibit only, not for sale.

 One day, a customer clad in black leather, sporting long windwhipped blond hair and a beard, carrying a motorcycle helmet, strode into the store, browsed for a while, then came to the cash register with the autographed Harry Rudolf album in hand….  To which Bucks exclaimed,

 “Oh no, dear customer, that is an item you can’t buy!  I’m sorry, but it’s part of my collection I am exhibiting over there”.  

 Blond Biker Man looked at the rest of the collection in the corner—Yoko stuff, a boxed set of every sermon ever from Bishop Fulton Sheen, assorted picture discs, other artifacts, and turned to Bucks and said:

 “Well, what makes this album so special, I mean, why is Harry Rudolf’s album lumped in among those others?”

 Bucks:  “Well look at it, man!  The goofy haircut, the hideous suit, a song selection that would embarrass Pia Zadora, I mean, this has to be the worst album ever made, and that’s why it’s in the collection”.

 Blond Biker Man:  “But this is MY album”.  

 Bucks saw his entire life flash before his eye in milliseconds at this remark.  He thought even faster “Well he’s not Debbi, so the album wasn’t autographed to him;  he hasn’t paid for it yet so that’s not what he means by ‘HIS album’; ….um ulp both this guy and Harry Rudolf have blond hair oh no please God get me outta this before I get clubbed to death by his helmet, I can’t do anything now except ask this biker:”

 “Mr Rudolf, could you honor me with your autograph please?”.   Harry, now well past his leisure suit years and into his biker phase, signed the LP “To Bucks Burnett, Best Wishes, Harry Rudolf”. 

 …Or something along those lines.   But it did happen and Bucks is bound to have more goodies like this to show the world.  He can only do so with your help and patronage.

 Much as many of us who lived the 8T era, snickered and badmouthed the 8T’s period of dominance as music-to-go. This writer and even Bucks himself were among those who never owned an 8T player.  However, this doesn’t hide the fact that it’s important to document pop culture like this.  Think of it—with free downloads, the tools we once used just to get a groove on will be forgotten forever if we don’t document them.

 To learn more, see    If you live in DFW, check it out…If you’re visiting, forget South Fork (indeed, pop culture worth forgetting) and check out The Eight Track Museum instead.

Uncle John’s (And Brother Mike’s) Band

Just who was the band the Grateful Dead asked us to “come, hear”?   There’s been a lot of speculation, but one of the leading candidates says it was the New Lost City Ramblers.  Given Jerry Garcia’s love of old time Country music and Bluegrass…plus the fact “Uncle John’s Band” appeared on the first of several very C&W sounding LPs for the Grateful Dead, the Ramblers would be a very logical choice.  

The Ramblers were, and still are, worth hearing.  They’ve left behind quite a lot of great recordings, not one of them bad.  But very few people, let alone Deadheads, are familiar with this group.  A real shame, because the NLCR played a very important role in American folk music both as preservationists and as elder statesmen handing off the baton to younger musicians. 

In the late 1950s, Folk music was going through a revival that would eventually give us the likes of Bob Dylan and other major singer-songwriters.  The hit makers of the day were the Kingston Trio, who cleaned up and sanitized old ballads like “Tom Dooley” and had huge hits with such arrangements.  The Kingstons were a younger version of the Weavers, who’d preceded them by about eight years with pretty much the same formula. The Weavers, however, had done their homework more than the Kingston Trio.  Weaver members Pete Seeger and Lee Hays were seasoned musicologists and song collectors, and they knew their sources (Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, et al) personally. 

The NLCR early line up included Pete Seeger’s stepbrother Mike, John Cohen and Tom Paley, college students in the urban northeast who also did their homework regarding the sources of the music they loved.  In their case this music was the old time String Band music from the Appalachians that pre-dated Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass style, and were among the earliest commercial country music records.   All the three Ramblers had to go on at first were old 78 rpm records, dating from 1919 to the late ‘30s.

But they listened, learned and set out to recreate that old timey sound.  They may not have duplicated it exactly, but they kept the spirit alive.   For example, if an old Carter Family tune included Maybelle on guitar, Sara on vocals autoharp, and AP on backing vocals, the Ramblers might do the same song with a fiddle/banjo/guitar lineup and three part harmony.  They could just as easily take an old string band piece and give it the Carter line up of guitars and autoharp. 

The Ramblers looked the part as well, dressing in three piece suits, usually tossing their jackets down next to their collection of instruments.  Each member played several instruments so they could flex that versatility in arrangements.  White shirts, ties, vests, pinstripe trousers and wingtip shoes…the occasional homburg hat, fedora,  or newsboy cap.  Bills announcing their live shows may have sported a modified  NRA emblem from the FDR years, but with the eagle clutching the necks of a fiddle and banjo instead of lightning bolts and olive branches.  

Their performances either in studio or live (much of the NLCR recorded output are live recordings) aped the performance style of the old timers like Uncle Dave Macon, Gid Tanner, Frank Hutchinson et al, with little jokes, skits and asides thrown in with the music.  Their version of  “Arkansas Traveler” is a good example of this: 

            John: Say farmer, which of these roads do I take to Nashville?

            Mike: Neither one, they’ve got plenty roads there already… 

The Ramblers did not get rich doing this.  Most of their gigs were at college coffee houses, folk festivals and such.  Eventually they got invites to the larger summer festivals where they came into contact with some of the older performers they were influenced by.  Word spread about them with this crowd…and the Ramblers were able to dig up some performers that had long retired, and then coerce them out of retirement.  Similar to the way white college students of the blues brought back Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and other legends believed long gone, the Ramblers helped a national audience discover the likes of Charlie Poole, Roscoe Holcomb and even the original Carter Family.

Just as original audiences for the blues had left their legends behind, so had original rural audiences for the old time String Band and early Country Music performers.  In spite of being steeped in that tradition, Bill Monroe had left his brother Charlie to form a new, supercharged version of the String Band music that eventually became Bluegrass.   Country Music itself had electrified and progressed with the solo singer who told stories that, while seemingly old fashioned, were actually quite contemporary in the outlook of their mainly southern, western and rural audiences of the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s.  

The old time Country Music the NLCR were performing was in danger of being lost forever in a pile of dusty, broken shellac 78-RPM records.   This music they played they were also preserving and re-popularizing for a whole new appreciative audience.  And that audience included the likes of Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. 

While not scoring hits with their act, the NLCR did become thoroughly respected both by younger audiences (a few generations of them) and by the older musicians they admired who where still around to play with them.  Tom Paley left the group in the early ’60s, replaced by Tracy Schwartz who brought a love of old Cajun music to their repertoire.   Cohen also dabbled in writing and film production.   Mike Seeger did plenty of solo work joining many friends and family with whom he shared the passion for this music.  Each had other interests but they would come together every few years for a tour or special appearances or recording projects.

Mike’s family, by the way, was not limited to step-brother and Folk Music legend Pete. Their father Charles Seeger was a pioneering American ethnomusicologist and as important as the Lomaxes in documenting American folk forms.   Mike’s sister Penny also played several instruments (and married John Cohen).  Other sister Peggy married Ewan MacColl and lived for years in the UK folk scene.  (Ewan, it might be recalled, wrote “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. )  

Mike Seeger succumbed to cancer in 2009, putting an end to 50+ years of the New Lost City Ramblers.

What makes a band like the New Lost City Ramblers important?  As mentioned before, this music was perilously close to extinction in the late ‘50s.  Through their own recordings that captured the musical style faithfully, and a renewed interest on the part of audiences, record companies started to reissue what they had in their vaults (Jimmie Rodgers and Carter Family records emerged on LP for the first time around 1960) or to at least share it with smaller labels like Arhoolie or Rounder who could market a Fiddlin’ John Carson or Uncle Dave Macon LP effectively.

While there are very few (if any) original old-time performers left, hardly any went on to reap the rewards that beneficiaries of the blues revival did—just ask B.B. King what he thinks of the younger, mostly white, northern audiences he attracted in the mid ‘60s.  The main reason for their importance has to be that since the New Lost City Ramblers, Country Music and the styles it spawned (Rock in particular) have gone back to basics, back to their roots, when inspiration has completely dried up and become stale.  A mentioned elsewhere in this blogspot, this is a practice woefully ignored in recent musical trends.

On the surface, what the Ramblers did for their music is not that much different from what Sha Na Na did for theirs.  Sha Na Na, for those not familiar with them, was a 1950s style Rock N Roll revival act. They performed the original tunes from artists as varied as the Coasters, the Cadillacs, Mark Dinning, etc.  They dressed in ‘50s garb and greased back their hair, all this during the hippie years. They even performed at Woodstock and got their own syndicated comedy/variety TV show about a decade later.

Sha Na Na had some audiences convinced they were an original ‘50s band.  But their act dried up and they are remembered (if at all) now as being somewhat of a joke.  Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley et al, wouldn’t have been caught dead performing with Sha Na Na.  And bands like the Stray Cats did not cite Sha Na Na as influence, even if Sha Na Na may have had something to do with getting record companies to reissue the music of the ‘50s at a time it was largely forgotten.  Brian Setzer may very well have first heard Eddie Cochran  perhaps thanks to Sha Na Na, and maybe Liberty/UA records taking another look at their vaults, but he might not know it, and it’s highly doubtful he’d care.

Sha Na Na probably made more money in one episode of their rather silly stupid TV show than the New Lost City Ramblers made in ten, twenty, even fifty years.   But Sha Na Na will never command the kind of respect the Ramblers got from people that really count, from Cousin Emmy, Doc Watson, and Maybelle Carter to Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn and Jerry Garcia. One can’t help but feel youngsters like Nickel Creek, if they have not heard the Ramblers, would dig the daylights out of them when they do.  Now compare that with Brian Setzer and his rhetorical first spin of a Sha Na Na record. 

The New Lost City Rambler’s wingtip shoes (not Sha Na Na’s Keds) are the kind that will forever be difficult to fill…but sure wish there were more younger artists out there at least trying.

Coolest Chick Singer Ever?

It’s not surprising in this age of style-over-substance, when female singers/recording artists are arrested for public intoxication or drugs, are in and out of rehab, have sex tapes made public.  It’s become so routine when they apologize for it, we simply don’t believe it anymore.  Very rarely, do any of these antics come forth as confessional songs because if they did, they simply would not be believed, in the way, say, Marianne Faithfull’s demon-shedding material was.

Most of the time, if female artists collaborate with their male counterparts, it’s solely in the bedroom and for paparazzi to document in tabloids and trashy TV shows.  Christina Aguilera and Fred Durth—did they record anything together?  Bad as it was, at least Cher and Gregg Allman made an album back in the day.

So it’s mind boggling to look back and study the life and career of Sharon Myers, better known to the music world as Jackie DeShannon.

Jackie hailed from Kentucky and by the time she was 11 she was hosting radio programs.   She recorded a few songs by the time she was 15.  At 16, she entered the radar screen of the late great Eddie (“Summertime Blues”) Cochran, who invited her out to California to meet some other songwriters.  Sharon Sheely was one of them…and they collaborated on “Dum Dum” which became a hit for Brenda Lee.

Jackie was signed to Liberty records at the tender age of 16—this was in 1960—where she recorded and further honed her songwriting skills.  While the huge hits were still years away, her reputation as a songwriter, tastemaker, and artist’s artist were valuable enough to keep her on the label’s roster for quite a few years.  

In those days, having a reputation based on who you hung out with was vastly more wholesome, one would guess, than it is now.   Rather than “collaborate” by getting totally sh*tfaced or naked in public, those collaborating often wrote songs, recorded, or turned eachother on to material.  Jackie DeShannon was great at this.  She dated and hung out with Elvis, Rick Nelson, and fellow Kentuckians-exiled-to-L.A., the Everly Brothers.  (Man, what an album Jackie DeShannon and the Everly Brothers could have done together!).  She also had bit parts in several films…so in short, she was hanging around with the right people.  Today, I guess this is called “networking”.

Her reputation started to spread around the country and overseas among music business insiders.   Two of her songs in particular would have tremendous impact on Rock N Roll history.   Her recording of Jack Nitzsche & Sonny Bono’s “Needles & Pins” (with a Phil Spectorish Wall Of Sound treatment you’d expect from those two lieutenants from his sessions) and her own “When You Walk In The Room” caught the ear of a band in London called the Searchers.  This was in 1963—before the Beatles hit the USA.

The sound of a jangly guitar is what bowled over the young British band and the Searchers eventually used it in most of their recordings—this sound also attracted many other bands and made Rickenbacker a much coveted brand of guitar in both 6 and 12-string versions.   John Lennon (“You Can’t Do That”) and Pete Townshend (“A Legal Matter”) both were proud owners of Rickenbackers in order to get that Searchers…no, that Jackie DeShannon sound.

Jackie was invited to open the US tour dates for the Beatles the following year.  In her trips back and forth across the Atlantic, she befriended not only the Searchers but an up and coming studio guitarist named Jimmy Page, and the two dated briefly.   Page, with Led Zeppelin years later, used that same sound in “Tangerine”, reputedly about his relationship with Jackie DeShannon.

Now if all this doesn’t impress you already, the next part should.  

Back in the US, talent was desperately trying to “one-up” the Beatles and all the other British bands who crowded domestic talent off the charts.  Jackie DeShannon, by now a seasoned veteran (yet only 20 years old at the time) in L.A. was keeping a close eye on a band made up of former folk and bluegrass musicians called the Byrds.  Their hybrid of Dylan-styled folk, Beatles-styled rock and a whole host of other heady influences ranging from Indian ragas to John Coltrane, intrigued a few people in L.A. and Jackie was among their strongest supporters. 

The Byrds’ debut album Mr Tambourine Man was chock full of Dylan songs juiced up with electricity and that jangly 12-string Rickenbacker sound that Jackie had a lot to be credited with.  Byrds Gene Clark and Jim (later Roger) McGuinn contributed a few songs as well.  And, in an era and a scene where women songwriters were being left behind, Jackie DeShannon’s “Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe” stuck out as one of the many jewels on that first Byrds album, which in a lot of ways is the first album ever in Rock N Roll.  While it wasn’t a thematically cohesive piece like Pet Sounds a year later, there was not a single throwaway song on Mr Tambourine Man.  Until then, even the Beatles had a few throwaway tracks on their albums…and the Beach Boys would insert stupid “run the tape and see what happens” junk like Bull Session With Big Daddy on an otherwise flawless album like Today!

Photogenic Jackie made plenty of appearances on TV’s “Shindig” and “Hullabaloo” so, while not exactly a household name, she was starting to become more widely known to the buying public.  In 1965 she had her biggest US hit until that time with her cover of Burt Bacharach’s “What The World Needs Now Is Love”.   She continued writing and performing, and scored her biggest worldwide hit record to this day with her own “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”.

It’s fortunate she had her songwriting skills to fall back upon while her performing career cooled down in the early ‘70s.   She had enough contacts and friends in the business to have a steady stream of royalty checks coming in the mail, probably for the rest of her life.  She was barely 30 years old when she recorded the album New Arrangement with L.A. session stalwarts like Ron Tutt, Waddy Wachtel, Larry Knechtel, and friends Brian and Marilyn Wilson lending a hand on vocals.   Tucked into the tracks of this album was one of her own songs that would lay dormant for a few years then get the recognition she finally deserved: “Bette Davis Eyes”.

Six years later (1981) another striking blonde singer-songwriter, Kim Carnes, would cover “Bette Davis Eyes” and have a worldwide smash with it.  It would earn Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss (one of her collaborators at the time) a Grammy, with the two performing the song at the awards show that following year.

She still makes appearances and performs on occasion.  One appearance coincided with the release of Rhino Records LA Nuggets: Where The Action Is at Amoeba Records retail outlet in L.A.  This boxset included one of her little known “nuggets” “Splendor In The Grass” recorded with the Byrds.  Why this wasn’t a smash single when it was originally released in the mid-‘60s is one of those delightful mysteries one encounters when uncovering all the great music that came out back then.

With a past as impressive as all this, Jackie DeShannon can probably rest easy and certainly be proud of her place in history.  It’s a history where there appear to be no Jackie DeShannon accidental overdoses, no embarrassing excesses, no he-said she-said tabloid trash—and even if there were, thankfully we never had it shoved in our face.  Are you young women/ aspiring “divas”/ in-it-only-for-the-attention-and-the-payday, out there paying attention to any of this?  Huh? Huh? Oh well, didn’t think so.

Strong Female Artists Don’t Need To Take The Low Road

More often than not in this age of style over substance, when corporate entertainment moguls start pushing a female musical artist, the obligatory slut treatment is the order of the day.   They must have learned this from Hollywood, where every actress has to have nude scenes in each film, whether the plot really calls for it or not.

This really isn’t anything new.  But it has become more prevalent.  Roseanne Cash recently remarked that early in her career, Columbia Records execs discussed openly, with her in the room, how to make Roseanne’s LP cover shots present her in a more…well, enticing fashion.  Trouble is, they did not say it that way.  They actually used the “F” word.

Thankfully, Roseanne resisted.  But can you imagine Britney Spears in the same situation?  Granted, Britney doesn’t have near the talent of a Roseanne Cash, but her output could have been somewhat modeled more on what Debbie Gibson did before her, rather than becoming the recording industry’s Traci Lords.

The Wilson sisters of Heart mentioned this in a recent interview in Parade as advice to aspiring young women and girls.  They recommended avoiding the low road of the overt sexist drivel so prevalent nowadays and to “play play play”—that is, keep practicing, writing, rehearsing.

Britney clones seem to dominate now.  As this blog has mentioned before, look to Lady Gaga.  If she is talented as her defenders claim her to be, why do we see one out of every five photos of her with little or nothing on, and usually in some sort of humiliating fashion?  If she’s so good, she shouldn’t have to stoop so low.

Same holds true with Katy Perry.   Not only does she come across slutty, she seems like she’s mentally challenged.  Try to sit through her Pro-Active commercial to see what we’re talking about here.  “I’m talking Zits here people!”   What a moron….

Key$ha is the “Girl Gone Wild” video star made into a recording artist.  It’s obscene seeing pre-teen girls bopping and singing along with this “artist’s” dreck, which usually has lyrical content about getting smashed to the point of passing out.  Totally vapid nonsense.

Thank God for Norah Jones.  When she emerged a few years ago, it was an easy prediction that she would walk away with multiple Grammy awards.   I’m not much on any awards, but fact is the Grammies can and do result in a boost in sales and that other labels ought to take note and look for more of the same type of talent. 

Has that happened?  I’d much rather more talent like Norah Jones, but instead, the labels are giving us more Britney Spears or worse.

Would Dolly Parton have stood for this crap?   While her physical attributes certainly get attention, Dolly usually put that all to rest when she stepped up to the mic and sang…or put the pen to paper and wrote such classics as “Tennessee Mountain Home”, “Coat of Many Colors”, “Travelin’ Man” and much more.   When it looked like her time was over, Dolly came back with a string of Bluegrass and Gospel albums that garnered Grammy recognition.  And she could very well present us with more surprises….

Would Tina Turner have stood for this crap?   It’s a well-known story of her torturous marriage to Ike, her escape from it, and her successful comeback.  A striking woman, but she didn’t stoop so low as the pornographic flirtations of latter day “divas”.  Like Dolly, she could very well come out with another great bunch of tunes.  But if she doesn’t, she’s given us a great body of work anyway.  Come to think of it, a duet between these two daughters of Tennessee (Tina from Nutbush and Dolly from Sevierville) would be intriguing….and I’d love to hear the two sing each other’s songs. 

Would Kate Bush have stood for this crap?   Ms. Bush was notorious for keeping labels waiting forever for new material…but very often it was well worth the wait.   Posing nude?   Well, not quite.  I do recall seeing a bootleg Kate Bush album one time that had some sort of “art pose” of her topless.  The owner of the store that stocked this told me he could barely keep the bootleg item in stock, simply because of that photo, which was part of a collage on the cover.   But was this something her label put her up to?  No.  Was it something she herself approved of?  Doubtful…remember:  it was a bootleg. 

It used to be such a great find when you came across a record by someone like Kate Bush.  Discovered by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour when she was a teen prodigy, the general reaction by a typical music consumer upon encountering Kate Bush was “wow, great looking gal”.  Then when you started to play the record you realized this stuff was genius.

Her records got progressively better and better throughout the ‘80s…Hounds of Love and Sensual World probably her best.  After those two, she semi retired and has only released a handful of material in 20 years.  But what she’s left us is brilliant, done on her own terms, without degrading herself. 

There are respectable female artists still  out there; of course Norah Jones is still active.   The big beef is that the labels seem only to concentrate on the sluts.   Why not pitch the Norahs to the preteen audience instead of Key$ha?   I remember first listening to Joni Mitchell at a young age…I can’t recall any outright sluts during the same era.  Janis Joplin was pretty wild, but her wildness was not as overt as what we’re seeing today from any of the diva sluts.   And we seemed to find out more about Janis’ excesses after her death…and it was a death as a result of excess.  Lesson learned.  How many rehab stays do today’s slutdivas need before they learn their lesson?

There’s no better example of just how badly entertainment moguls are handling this issue than that of Anggun.   Anggun is singer/songwriter who grew up singing and acting in films in her native Indonesia.  As a teen she released ‘80s styled pop/rock along the lines of Scandal and Heart.  She started taking music more seriously and wanted to get out and see the world.  Heading for Europe, she tried to get heard in London without much luck.  But when she tried Paris she hit it off with several producers and songwriters and went on to produce three or four of the best albums of the last 15 years.

Anggun has made a respectable showing in Europe.  Her music is a collage of world musics somewhat like Annie Lennox meets Sade meets Peter Gabriel.  She usually writes each song in three languages (her own, plus English and French).  An accomplished pianist, she also has a knack for putting together great bands.  And, she’s  one of the most beautiful women in the world.  How on earth could any label mess this up?

Tommy Mottola helmed Sony, her label in North America at the time.   Questionable marketing: pitching Anggun via the Lillith Fair tour, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, and releasing her Chrysalis album in N. America solely in the French language version.  It’s not that this was the only way Anggun recorded it…I bought this CD myself in Indonesia several months before it was released stateside…and my version is mostly in English (three songs are remixed in Bahasa Indonesia, for that market).  The liner notes are in English too…wherein she thanks Tommy Mottola (aka Mr Mariah Carey at that time) for all his help. What the _____????????

Subsequent releases have only been available as imports and in Europe she still has an audience…but her style of serious, intelligent, adult pop is degenerating into Eurodisco junk.

Anggun’s example reminds me a bit of Shakira.  Sharkira has some pretty intelligent stuff but she seems to have fallen into the trap of listening too much to her handlers at the label, and while she’s sold a lot of discs I just wonder if she’d stuck to the high road, would it have been much different a result on the bottom line?  It’s kind of surprising the Tommymotollas did not pressure Anggun to dye her hair blonde as they did with Shakira.

There was a time when an artist like Anggun could have been marketed to the same audience as Kate Bush, Annie Lennox, et al.   And such and audience does  still exist, as Norah Jones proves.   The sad thing is that the powers that be in the industry seem to be totally ignorant on how to make an artist like Anggun work, but they have no problem with pushing the slut of the week.

 And they wonder why, when Katy Perry racks up the biggest selling CD of the week, it falls way short on numbers they expected…..hmmmmmm.

Poster Child For The Age of “All Style, No Substance”—Lady Gaga

It’s nothing new that when some musical artist (or other showbiz type) hits the big time, all of a sudden, he or she becomes some sort of a political “genius”.  It’s usually been a “shut up and sing” reaction from a sizeable audience, but with Lady Gaga, this writer is tempted to plead “shut up, and please quit singing too”.   Here’s why….

 Like most entertainment today, Lady Gaga is all style, little or no substance.   Her videos are real slick, her recordings impeccably produced.   Her stage sets and wardrobe all must require a lot of work.  Most of her defenders I come across repeat the same thing over and over again as though they have been programmed:  “She writes her own songs …a-a-a-and she can play piano!”

 There was a time back in the olden days when that trait was a given thing with most musical performers—now I guess  it’s seen as a miracle.   Writing her own songs and playing piano…does that make Lady Gaga on the same level as, say, Carole King?  I would liken Lady Gaga to more of a cloned Madonna.  I like some of Madonna’s work…but Gaga tends to bring to mind  some of Ms. Ciccone’s lesser efforts.

 Yes, I’ve watched some of Gaga’s  hit videos.   They look impressive but I am a bit concerned that her core audience seems to be little girls.  Much of Lady Gaga’s visuals would have graced the pages of that book Madonna put out years ago called Sex.  Remember that?   Didn’t think you would.  (Aside: as of this writing, my own book outranks Madonna’s—and I’m not getting rich off it!—Madonna’s Sex is not selling for much more used than it did new—hardly a collectible).  So Sex is  not one of Madonna’s more memorable offerings to her audience, yet that seems to be the biggest root Lady Gaga is tapping into from the Madonna oeuvre.   What kind of parent lets their kids watch/listen to this?  Dunno, but there must be plenty of them.

 Sometimes cryptic song lyrics leave one wondering, “What was that about?”, yet they stay in your head in a rather good way like “Debaser” by the Pixies.  In 1990 I watched a Black Francis solo set and couldn’t help notice everyone in the audience singing along with the Pixies tunes he was singing—impressive stuff indeed.   With Gaga, five minutes after listening/viewing “Poker Face” I can’t remember anything… except it had something to do with gambling and ….I don’t really care if I ever hear the blasted thing ever again.

 Gaga isn’t really doing anything musically innovative—this kind of dance pop has been around for ages.   “Fernando” or “Alejandro”?   ABBA unquestionably knew how to put out memorable singles and they mixed various styles with Brian Wilson/Phil Spector type production values.   And as the Lady’s  music video production, doesn’t just about everyone use a troupe of dancers?  If someone really wants to be innovative, it would be real easy:  STOP with the choreography overdose!

 What is Gaga trying to say, or project?   I’m really not sure at all.   Is what she’s trying to say important, timely or timeless, universal?  Well, since I didn’t know the answer to the first question, I’d have to say no.   Is she saying it well?   Kinda, but depends upon your taste and it might be hard for Lady Gaga and her handlers to understand this, but there is a huge potential audience out there that may find her stuff a bit hard to take.  This dovetails into the next point…

 Her defenders again:  “She’s the number one ticket on tour now, and just about the best selling recording artist today!”    This is a really dubious honor when the touring and recording industry are at their lowest levels in generations.   I would not be impressed with a team that won a Super Bowl in a season that was strike-shortened to 5 games, either. 

 However, saying all that, I would urge anyone wishing to put together a time capsule to include some of Lady Gaga’s stuff along with a DVD of Avatar,  another triumph of style over substance.    They tell something about our age, for better or (more likely) worse. 

There are artists out there who do put out work that says something, something important, and they say it well.   Could they get a little of the attention Lady Gaga is getting please?