Friday, September 28, 2012

All hail the mighty Tower of Power!

And now, to wrap up a week of memorable concerts that I've  been able to see from all my live music-loving (yet not having enough time or money to be able to see all the live shows I'd like to see) days, I'll go to the last live show I've been able to see.

I started the month of September with the launch of this blog, writing about this year's Salt Lake City Jazz Festival.  I wanted to kick off this blog on the right foot.  So when I saw Jerry Cortez -- guitarist for the powerhouse funk and soul group Tower of Power and a Utah resident himself -- posting on Facebook about his band wrapping up the festival that Labor Day weekend Sunday night, I knew that I just had to go.

I'd tried out Tower of Power's music years ago with an audiophile copy of the classic album "Back To Oakland," and I was immediately hooked.

The playing was so tight, so fun, so groovy.  It made you just want to get up and boogie.  The rhythm section, the soulful singing ... perfect.

But one thing that truly defines Tower of Power's music are those horns.   Those mighty horns.

It's one of those things where you use a tired stand-by way of describing something, but in a musical sense it fits perfectly:  If you look up the word "tight" in the dictionary, you'd find a picture of Tower of Power to go along with it.

That would be no lie.

These guys can rip the roof off of any joint.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seeing fire and fusion from Jeff Beck

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The following was first published in a Facebook note April 14, 2011.

I've seen and heard Jeff Beck so many times through the years through various forms of media -- vinyl albums, cassettes, CDs, DVDs, Internet videos -- that you'd think there's nothing he could do to impress me anymore.

You'd be thinking wrong.

Jeff Beck
The closest I've come to seeing Jeff Beck in concert until Wednesday night (at The Depot in downtown Salt Lake City) had been seeing his Live At Ronnie Scott's DVD from 2008, along with a host of videos on YouTube.  But seeing him in person, with over 1,000 other diehard fans who waited in a long line for 1-2 hours just before the doors to the sold-out music venue even opened (snaking along the sidewalk of the historic old Union Pacific building while fans of the Utah Jazz also made their way to the last game of the season across the street at Energy Solutions Arena, trying to get the best spot possible for a general admission ticket) took it to a whole new level.

Beck isn't just a master of the electric guitar.  He's a true bandleader, coaxing the absolute most out of bandmates Narada Michael Walden on drums and vocals, Rhonda Smith on bass and vocals, and Jason Rebello on keys, synthesized vocals, and a small bit of rhythm guitar, and praising them on stage for jobs well done.

There were a fair amount of similarities to the Ronnie Scott's DVD as far as the setlist, but also some VERY pleasant surprises as he kicked off this leg of a U.S. tour to back his 2010 album "Emotion & Commotion" along with one memorable nod to the late Les Paul and Beck's most recent live tribute to his own guitar hero with his "Rock & Roll Party" CD and DVD, released just a few weeks ago, as the band played the Les Paul/Mary Ford standard "How High The Moon" in the middle of a three-song encore.

The first song of the encore was just one of the surprises of the night, as the band played the Sly & The Family Stone classic "I Want To Take You Higher" and funked it up the way it was meant to be.  The evening ended with the soaring "Nessun Dorma."

 Actually, the first song of the night was a bit of a surprise too.  They set the tone for the night by pulling out the seldom-heard-live tune "Plan B" from the last of his techno albums, "Jeff."  From the get-go, Narada Michael Walden was a beast on the drums, and he never let up.  His playing was muscular and precise.  Rhonda Smith matched every bit of Walden's funkiness as they held down the rhythm through every tune.

Next up was the Billy Cobham jazz piece "Stratus, followed by the booming power of Beck's "Led Boots."  The tone softened dramatically with "Corpus Christi Carol" from the "Emotion" album, followed immediately by the "commotion" of the Grammy-winning "Hammerhead."

Another surprise came up in "Mná na h-Éireann (Women of Ireland)," a song composed by Seán Ó Riada (1931–1971). The poem, on which the music is based, was written by Peadar Ó Dornín (?1704–1769), under the category of Irish rebel music, or -- as Beck introduced it -- "Irish blues," honoring the memory of the women dedicated to Ireland, specifically the Irish nationalist movement.

What followed was a kickin' bass solo by Smith.  Then it was on to the "gospel soul" of "People Get Ready," minus vocals -- but with Beck on guitar, there's usually not much need for vocals even on a song with lyrics.  Beck's guitar usually does the singing the way he plays it.

There was a blast from the past as they went back to the 1980 album "There and Back" with the tune "You Never Know," but then it was back to the electronica era with the modernized blues song "Rollin' & Tumblin'" from "You Had It Coming," and Rhonda handled those vocals very well.  It was on to the "Guitar Shop" album from there with "Big Block."

Next up was the sweetness of Beck's take on "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," with the band draining every ounce of emotion out of that beauty.

Then there was one of the bigger surprises of the night, as they launched into the Jimi Hendrix gem "Little Wing" with Narada taking vocals.  It was a joy to behold as Beck not only played in his own signature style, but also brought to life the genius of those who've gone on to rest who've handled that tune so brilliantly before and set the guitar playing bar so high themselves in the past; Hendrix and the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughn.

As usual, Beck pulled every bit of his whammy bar tricks out from "Blast From The East.  The biggest glitch of the evening came as they barely got into "Two Rivers," with some connection problems for Smith's bass causing a slight delay to get rid of some loud buzzing while that was fixed (though Beck helped pass the time, ever the showman, by launching into a bit of a countrified jam) before picking right back up again from the beginning.

Smith handled brief, seductive vocals again on "Dirty Mind," which featured a blistering drum solo from Narada.  And no matter how many times I hear "Brush With The Blues," it blows me away just as it did in this show.

One of the coolest experiences I've seen in a concert came in the finale before the encore, with Beck's instrumental treatment of the timeless "A Day In The Life."  As soon as that song started, you could hear people in the crowd start to sing along.  And that signature final chord ... well, they milked every bit of psychedelia out of that.

Again, I've heard so many of these songs so many times, but they all managed to still seem fresh and new throughout this show.  The words that could be heard coming from people's mouths -- "in the presence of greatness," "mark that off of my 'bucket list'" -- was a testament to the impact the show and Beck's playing had on the enthusiastic audience.  One guy I spoke to as I stood three rows back from the middle of the stage (somehow managing to end up five rows back without even stepping back myself) drove from Portland just to see this show, simply because there was no Beck show any closer to his home than the SLC opener.  Afterwards, he said the trip was definitely worth it.

This is a memory that will last a very long time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yes, there was a time I got to see Yes!

There are a number of progressive rock bands I've followed closely for a long time yet there's a good chance I'll never get to see any of them perform live for whatever reason.  King Crimson is one.  Gentle Giant and Genesis with its classically progressive lineup are out because chances are they're among those groups that will never get back together again.  There was also a time when I thought I'd never get to see Yes.

Thankfully, I was wrong on that count when they came to Utah in the late 1990s for their 30th anniversary tour.  With all the Yes albums I've had in my collection, all the great Yes music that I've enjoyed, there was no way I was going to miss that show.

I was among the Yes fans who weren't overly thrilled with the studio album that came before the anniversary tour, "Open Your Eyes," seeing it as leaning a bit too heavily on vocal harmonies and not letting the instrumentation stretch out as much as I'd hoped it would.  So in the back of my mind, I was hoping Yes would focus more on its catalog of mind-opening songs that came throughout its history.

I wasn't left disappointed.  They seemed to turn the show into an absolute celebration of that 30-year history.  It gave me a glimpse into what a Yes show must have been like many years earlier, when the players were taking the music world by storm as younger lads.

This was the music of Yes performed live as I'd always imagine it.

Andy Williams dies at age 84

Andy Williams
I just now saw the news that iconic singer Andy Williams has died at the age of 84 after a battle with bladder cancer.

Williams had a very distinct voice, and a style that reached across generations, young and old alike.  He was famous for standards like "Moon River" and "Can't Help Falling In Love."  As for me, I'll always fondly remember a time in my childhood, sitting in a cafe somewhere in Idaho on a long trip to Utah, and enjoying the fact that someone had decided to play "Can't Get Used To Losing You" on the jukebox.

And, speaking of Utah, if it weren't for Andy Williams, we might not have been introduced to The Osmonds in the same manner.

Rest in peace, Andy.

HUFFINGTON POST:  Andy Williams dead

A good bit of news from Lester Chambers and The Mud Stompers

It looks like my friend Lester Chambers of the iconic 1960s and '70s rock/psychedelic/soul band The Chambers Brothers ("Time Has Come Today") has been recording in the studio!  Just found a few photos from a recent session at Chick's Place Recording & Rehearsal Studio in San Rafael, California, on Facebook, and I'm sharing one with you here.

Can't wait to see what comes out of this!

Lester Chambers in the studio recording with The Mud Stompers recently.  (Photo Courtesy Deborah Parrish)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Charlie Daniels and Travis Tritt together ... what a show!

Out of all the concerts I've had the chance to see in my lifetime, the greatest number of them by far have been shows put on by country music artists.  That's mostly because covering country music concerts at the annual state fair used to be a part of my job, and it got me right up to the stage to see many big names.  One of the greatest, most rocking concerts I've ever had the chance to witness came when Charlie Daniels played a show one night with Travis Tritt.

Between Charlie's Southern rocking style and Travis Tritt's ability to wail away himself, they had those fairgrounds rocking.  In fact, they played so long and so loud together that I had to finally leave just a touch before I wanted to in order to get back to the office with a morning newspaper deadline to try and meet.  As I walked quickly through the fairgrounds, you could hear the music still playing from far away.

Me along with my mother, Betty, and my sister, Lynda Kay.  And my first Charlie Daniels hat.
Charlie's always been a style setter for me.  I started wearing cowboy hats styled like his back in my late high school days.  In fact, I'll let you see it right here.  It's styled just like something Charlie Daniels would wear.  And if you take the time to look at the photo of me that goes along with my profile, you'll see me wearing a brown felt hat.  It was shaped by a true craftsman.  When he asked me how I wanted it styled, I said just two words:  "Charlie Daniels."  That's all it took.  The hat craftsman went right to work.

Individually, Charlie Daniels and Travis Tritt have a style all their own.  Together, in that one night when I got to hear them rock at a state fair, they can be pure dynamite.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Getting strong signals from Rush in concert

This week, I think I'll transport myself back in time to some of the more memorable concerts it's been my pleasure to see in my lifetime.

Unfortunately, I'm not one who can afford to go to every single concert he'd like to see.  And having spent most of my life in an area that doesn't get all that many top-name acts (we're talking about southeast Idaho here, folks) in to play a show can be a handicap.

So, when I can, I make some exceptions and treat myself by taking in a live show, and it usually has to be someone who I may not easily get the chance to see again in my lifetime.

For classic rock, my mind goes back to seeing Rush on its tour to support the "Signals" album in 1982, appearing at Holt Arena on the campus of Idaho State University.

My friend Baron and I and another concert-goer or two made quite a day of it.  It turned into quite an evening too.  And when it came to seeing how Rush handled the tune "Red Barchetta," well, I was thoroughly pleased.

I was still young enough to be able to relate to the message they put across in the song and accompanying video for "Subdivisions."  A tune like "New World Man" rocked just fine.

And those were just the songs to promote "Signals."  The older songs ... they were the icing on a sweet cake.  My ears managed to survive.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Celebrating the guitar-slingin' style of SRV

This has been quite a week.  Friday's the day to let it all hang out, to focus on having a good time and rrrreeeelax.  I plan on doing that.

For me, there's one surefire way to get the weekend started the right way.  That's to put on some Stevie Ray Vaughan, get into that blues and R&B, and ... who knows, maybe the house will start rockin'.  If it does, don't bother knockin'!

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My "late-blossoming" appreciation for jazz fusion

I can say that my love of jazz fusion came later than my love of progressive rock, simply because I was introduced to the "more extreme" fusion later.

Oh, I'd thought I knew what fusion was about in my high school days when I started going ga-ga over girls, and I found myself going for the more romantic, smooth jazz sounds of musicians like Chuck Mangione and George Benson.  I thought that kind of music would help me to get and hold on to a girl.

Then came my early college days, and I got a whole different kind of introduction to how intense jazz fusion can really be -- with its screaming rock-style guitar, rhythms more often associated with Latin sounds, keyboards riffing like crazy, and drummers pounding the snot out of those heads.

It meant discovering the guitar mastery of players like John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Steve Morse, and Allan Holdsworth; bass giants along the lines of Percy Jones, Stanley Clarke, and Jaco Pastorius; violin players as gifted as Jerry Goodman and Jean-Luc Ponty; keyboard wizards like Jan Hammer, Chick Corea, and T Lavitz; drummers like Phil Collins in his Brand X days and Billy Cobham with his powerful shoulders; and groups like Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Dixie Dregs, Weather Report, Return To Forever, and Brand X.

This was the "bad (as in very good) stuff."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A growing fascination with progressive rock

I may not have been a total and complete newcomer to progressive rock by the time I was formally introduced to it in the fall of 1978.  There were hints at a personal taste for it coming from me going back to the more adventurous days of The Beatles, and then when they broke up I needed to find some other band to awaken more of my senses the same way an album like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" did.

Then, when I started hearing the sounds coming from Electric Light Orchestra -- the same kind of strings I'd heard from a tune like "I Am the Walrus" -- I knew there was hope.

As I got deeper into the ELO catalog, I started to realize just how much of a pop direction ELO had turned toward while still hanging on to that more "progressive" string sound.  When I picked up an ELO greatest hits album, there was one song in particular that I fell in love with.  You could say that there was no "pop" about it.  This was full-bore progressive.  The Beatles didn't even do a song like "Kuiama."

More time went on, and I happened to hear a song on the radio by an American group that caught my ear as well.  It, too, had a violin in it.  What was it about those stringed instruments that got my attention?  It was all so ... progressive.  Rock music with a somewhat classical feel to it.  The song was from Kansas, "Point of Know Return."  That was my first purchase of a Kansas album.  I now have just about every Kansas album ever released.  I could almost start to say, "Beatles who?"

Then I went to college for a year, straight out of high school.  I met a lot of different people from all over the U.S. -- from all over the world, for that matter.  That was where my progressive rock appreciation really began, with bands like U.K., Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Gentle Giant ... the list is too long.

That was still just the beginning.  A seed had been planted, and even well into adulthood -- with a family of my own -- I still kept searching for progressive music that would make my ears take notice.  There are newer bands still out there, willing to "push the inside of the envelope" and stretch things out a bit musically ... bands like OSI, Liquid Tension Experiment, on and on.

It's all out there if we know where to look.

Long live progress!!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Three generations of Hanks

Okay, folks, I'm crossing over to country for a day as I reminisce this week about musicians and groups who had some of the biggest early influences on my listening tastes.

For country, it has to be Hank Williams.  But why stop there?  Why not carry that "famly tradition" all the way through with Hank Williams Jr., and Hank Williams III.

Listening to Hank Sr., became a way of life for me going back about as far as it did for me listening to The Beatles.  It involved listening to his greatest hits, the kind of stuff that took country music into a different world.

And then Hank Jr., was pushed into trying to be a "clone" to his daddy after Hank Sr., passed on, only to find that it just wasn't his style.  I spent a few rowdy times of my own in later years listening to Bocephus too, telling how country boys survive.

Just to keep those rowdy Williams ways going, there's been the "country punk" of Hank III.  He's taken that rowdy pioneering spirit of his daddy and his daddy's daddy and blazed some trails himself.

I like musical trailblazing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Remembering The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show

It's interesting, the kinds of things we can remember going back to the early days of our childhood.  I remember sitting on our couch on a February evening in 1964, when I was all of 3 years old, with my older sister sitting beside me as she taught me how to read.

The television was on, tuned to The Ed Sullivan Show.  The next thing I remember was Ed Sullivan shouting, "The Beatles!"  The screaming that came from the crowd was deafening, unlike anything I'd ever heard.  The music itself was unlike anything I'd ever heard.

For me, it was the beginning of a lifelong passion for music.  It was born that night, and it's only grown since then.

Some memories just stay with you.  Even those dating back to the age of 3.  I can still envision it in my mind, just like it'd happened yesterday.  The album collection started in the years to come, and many of the most memorable ones -- and the most memorable album covers --  had to do with The Beatles.  I was certainly not alone.