Nov 042010
 

Last night my 13-year-old son asked my wife and I if The Grateful Dead were any good. I quickly answered, “They’ve got some good songs, but generally they were really sloppy with lots of pointless improvisations and bad singing. We’ve got some friends who like them a lot.”

“I know you love ‘Bertha’!” said my wife, and that I do.

My wife, who’d been to 10 Dead and Dead-related shows in her college days, couldn’t give them a much better explanation. She objected, however, to my later characterization of them playing no more than 30 minutes of coherent music during a 3-hour set. “‘Drums and Space’ only took up 45 minutes of a set!”

“But what about songs like ‘St. Stephen,'” I replied, “which start out on fire for 20 seconds before veering off into a few minutes of Jerry’s mellow improvisations before returning to the main theme?”

“So they’re like Pink Floyd?” my son interjected, referring specifically to a short film of the Syd-led band playing “Interstellar Overdrive” at some famous Happening that was shown prior to the screening of that recent Doors’ documentary.

Obviously I’m not going to be of great help in setting up the Dead for a fair listen by my boy. I’ll play our son the half dozen songs I like a lot by The Dead as well as some of those long jams and terrible cover songs, but help me put into words what this musically attuned 13-year-old boy might expect. And please, don’t attempt to corrupt the kid. Thank you.

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Jul 282010
 

The Rock ‘n Roll Caterer takes five, in 1985!

Years ago, when my wife and I were first dating, we ran into one of my old musician friends on a street corner. His long hair and slacker Shaggy Rogers facade hid the fact that he was a gentle, thoughtful guy whose only vice was sweets. After continuing on our way, she said something like, “Band members have this reputation for being tough and cool, but whenever I meet them they’re usually the nicest people in the club.” From 1978 through the 1980s, Penny Rush-Valladares interacted with rock stars galore while running Backstage Cafe, a concert catering company in Kansas City, Missouri. In the process, Penny became a member of the Kansas City rock scene herself. From both the tales on her website, Rock and Roll Stories, and our conversations about her her experiences, it quickly became clear that Penny was among the many nice ones in the rock scene, super nice.

But this hard-working, rock ‘n roll-loving hippie (in the best sense of the term) isn’t beyond dishing more than her patented turkey dinners. In the course of our talk we gain some shocking insights about the likes of Roger Waters, Neil Diamond, and Bob Dylan – not to mention a story about Van Halen that’s more disgusting than I would have thought possible. A key detail about a diminutive purple presence in the ’80s rock scene explains so much, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the true spirit of the Halls of Rock, Penny brings a cheerful attitude, a bruised-but-not-beaten sense of idealism, and the willingness to let it all hang out. You won’t run into a Penny on any old street corner.

Penny’s website chronicles some of her earliest rock ‘n roll stories, including her night with The Beatles; we start with her entry into rock ‘n roll catering.

RTH: Can you summarize your work as a rock ‘n roll caterer? How did you get started as a caterer for touring musicians? You were initially based out of a certain venue, right?

Penny: Well, yes and no. I worked out of the Uptown Theatre in the beginning, helping another woman and learning the ropes. But it soon extended out into other venues. It was in its infant stages and we made it up as we went along. Basically we had to come up with a little dressing room food for the artists and some crew dinner for 20 or so guys. The reason I got involved was because I loved going to concerts and wanted to be backstage, so I soon realized there was a need for food and I knew that was something I could do.

It just kept evolving and demands from the artists kept getting more involved and official. A contract “rider” came along, which listed all the particular needs of each act and their food requirements were included. So it didn’t take long for me to start specializing in concert catering. I never wanted to do other kinds of catering, because I was only doing it to be backstage.

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Dec 012008
 


So what have we learned? What happened to the dream of the ’60s San Francisco scene?

  • The idealistic, revolutionary Jefferson Airplane boarded a Starship and infiltrated the inner workings of M.A.N. Incorporated through a quartet of ’70s AM easy listening hits and, eventually, a couple of early ’80s Corporate Rock anthems.
  • Two members of the jazz-inspired Santana left to form Journey.
  • Carlos Santana replaced his once-musicially ambitious bandmates to form his own version of Journey.
  • The Dead, without changing much of anything, scored a Top 10 hit before Jerry kicked.

The burnout was inevitable, but of all rock scenes, who would have thought Haight-Asbury would turn into a bedrock of Winner Rock?

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Jun 202007
 


Maudlin,

True story. I’m in 7th grade, and my English teacher, Mrs. Millichap, finds out I’m a huge Beatles fan. Not much detective work is necessary. I’ve got the classic band logo scribbled on all my paper bag book covers, I’m wearing the Lennon specs, and I’ve always got my nose buried in a Beatle book (the Hunter Davies bio, The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away, Growing Up with the Beatles, etc.) if I finish a class task early.

Anyway, right before Christmas vacation, Mrs. Millichap tells me to stay after school for a half an hour or so. She’s got two presents for me: Highway 61 Revisited and a book by Paul Gambaccini (I think that’s his name) called the 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time. “Something to keep you busy during your break.” A real sweetheart. People like Mrs. Millichap are like angels sent from heaven, especially when you’re living in a small town where the number one band for anyone between the ages of 10 and 30 is the Scorpions.

So I zip home, tear the shrink off the Dylan LP, flop it on the turntable, study the front and back cover, and check out the Gambacccini book. After the 10-day break, I return to school, and my scholastic career begins to go right down the crapper. All I can think about is getting my hands on some more Dylan LPs and as many of those LPs mentioned in the Gambaccini book.

One of the top 100 is a bootleg called In 1966, There Was… It’s a live Dylan acoustic/electric concert from Manchester Free Hall. A large chunk of the critics believe it to be the greatest live concert of all time. All I can think about is getting my grubby little hands on this thing to find out what all the fuss is about.

To make a long story short, my detective work leads me to a record store/bootleg press out of North Carolina called Pied Piper Records: “Hundreds of live recordings for sale on vinyl and tape” is how the company advertises itself in the back of Rolling Stone magazine, in its classified section. I send away for the Pied Piper catalog, and sure as I’m sittin’ here, the friggin’ record is listed for 10 dollars! It’s a whole lot of money, but it’s worth the extra yard work. I send off the loot and 4 weeks later (yeah, back then delivery was 4 to 6 weeks for some reason or another) it shows up. Never in the history of mankind has anyone ripped through cardboard and shrink wrap so quickly and haphazardly.

I flop side 1 down on the turntable. Acoustic mumbers from Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, and Blonde on Blonde. Just Bob and his guitar. Pure heaven. Up to this point, I’d never heard the man live.

Side 2. Electric band. Sloppy arrangements, sloppy playing, sloppy everything. The verdict? Terrible.
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