Mar 012021
 

Talk on the recent RTH Zoom touched on the last band people saw before the pandemic shut things down. Mine was Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives and the show was spectacular.

I knew his name for years and saw him occasionally on tv when he appeared on random all-star events, but I never knew much about him other than he was the guy with the fancy hair and the scarves who owned Clarence White’s telecaster with the original b-bender in it (not to get in the weeds here but for those who aren’t familiar, a b-bender is a device that can be installed on a guitar. It has a lever attached to the guitar strap that allows the player to pull down on the strap which causes the b string to go up in pitch and makes it simulate the sound of a pedal steel).

Marty appears frequently in Ken Burns Country documentary, which I highly recommend if you’ve not seen it yet. He’s a great storyteller with a deep understanding of American popular music. It turns out he’s also a phenomenal guitar player, a great singer, and a master showman.

I love country music but, like jazz and the blues, my interest drops off pretty sharply sometime on the early to mid 60’s. Someone past that time will occasionally catch my ear, like Dwight Yoakam or Lyle Lovett, but even those guys have been around for about 40 years now so I’m not really up to date on country, nor do I care to be. As a result, I’ve never given Marty Stuart, and probably a lot of others, their fair due. Based on the documentary, and after I started poking around on the internet, I’ve come to realize that Marty Stuart is one of those guys who, not unlike Tom Petty, got bit by the bug early, realized that nothing else would do, and single mindedly willed himself into a lifelong career that started when he was 14 years old. I like some of his originals but for me, the appeal of Marty Stuart is that his profound love of music really comes through in the performances by him and his razor-sharp band. Is there still some corny “aw shucks” shenanigans on stage? Sure. But even that comes off as genuine. Here’s a random sampling of the things like by Marty Stuart.

14 years old Marty with Lester Flatt. Fantastic playing, and while this isn’t my favorite of his, I include it because it shows a guy who is talented and self-possessed enough to work his way into Lester Flatt’s band at the ripe old age of 14. Seriously, what were you doing at 14?

Country Boy Rock and Roll on the Letterman Show – A cool song and a great showcase for a band that has an ease about it but can hit the gas when necessary. Stick with it for the dual leads between Marty and Kenny Vaughn.

Rosie Flores – Crying Over You – My judgement here may be clouded by the presence of national treasure Rosie Flores, but when playing with others, this band has an effortlessness and malleability while retaining its own personality. That feels like it would be tricky to pull off. Marty is content just to be strumming an acoustic and polite enough to wait for an invite to the microphone before singing along.

Here are a few from his TV show, which I didn’t even realize existed until fairly recently. The first two are with Roger McGuinn. Mod, I know your feelings about McGuinn, and I don’t think they are necessarily wrong, but try to put them aside, ignore the fedora, and just focus on the band and the presentation of the songs. Outstanding.

You Ain’t Going Nowhere

My Back Pages

Here’s Johnny Rivers doing the Poor Side of Town. A great, smooth rendition, and frankly, Johnny seems to be taking very good care of himself.

Finally, this isn’t the best clip but it ties a bunch of conversational threads from the other night together. Marty Stuart,Elvis Costello, Brian Setzer, and Ricky Skaggs doing Honey Don’t.

I’m hoping someone who is more knowledgeable (I’m thinking of someone with a deep appreciation of country/roots music like Big Steve) can weigh in one some other tracks worth checking out.

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Feb 282021
 

About halfway through the recent RTH Zoomfest, somebody brought up the topic of the Replacements, kinda/sorta as a “butwhatabout” response to a typically outrageous EPG suggestion that nothing good came out of the 1980s as far as music was concerned.

Townsman cdm gamely offered to put together a Replacements playlist that he thought might win EPG over, or just put what he thought was the Placemats’ best on display, or provided a succinct overview of the band’s output, or something. We moved onto other topics, touching on — oh, I don’t remember; it was all a bit of a blur after someone started gabbing about Wishbone Ash.

Anyhow, the Replacements blah-blah inspired me to cue some of their music up for my afternoon walkabout, and I chose an LP I remembered somewhat fondly: “Pleased To Meet Me.” Sadly, I was surprised by how much of it just kinda sat there for me, after about 25 years.

Having said that, there were two tracks that still sounded sublime to these ears: “Alex Chilton” and “Skyway.” I’m not going to bother posting a link to “…Chilton,” because I feel certain Gergles will find a reason — probably having to do with the gated reverb on the snare — to hate it. Neither am I going to post “Skyway,” because E. Pluribus Gergely’s tastes, by his own admission, run closer to things like Christopher Cross and Poco than the Replacements.  So instead, I’m posting “Sharing the Night Together” by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Company.

EPG, I demand that you explain the beauty and the brilliance of “Sharing the Night Together” by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Company!

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Feb 272021
 

About halfway through the recent RTH Zoomfest, somebody brought up the topic of the Replacements, kinda/sorta as a “butwhatabout” response to a typically outrageous EPG suggestion that nothing good came out of the 1980s as far as music was concerned.

Townsman CDM gamely offered to put together a Replacements playlist that he thought might win EPG over, or just put what he thought was the placemats’ best on display, or provided a succinct overview of the band’s output, or something. We moved onto other topics, touching on — oh, I don’t remember; it was all a bit of a blur after someone started gabbing about Wishbone Ash.

Anyhow, the Replacements blah-blah inspired me to cue some of their music up for my afternoon walkabout, and I chose an LP I remembered somewhat fondly: “Pleased To Meet Me.” Sadly, I was surprised by how much of it just kinda sat there for me, after about 25 years.

Having said that, there were two tracks that still sounded sublime to these ears: “Alex Chilton” and “Skyway.” I’m not going to bother posting a link to “…Chilton,” because I feel certain Gergles will find a reason — probably having to do with the gated reverb on the snare — to hate it. But I am posting “Skyway,” because, hell, that song got even more beautiful with the passage of time.

EPG, I demand that you acknowledge the beauty and the brilliance of “Skyway” by the Replacements!

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Feb 222021
 

Greetings! I’ve always carried around a certain amount of guilt for having introduced the brainless fun and games that, in my view, contributed to the sickening of RTH (Mercury Version). So it’s with no small amount of trepidation that I unleash my latest bit of tomfoolery on our nicely recuperating RTH. Despite my fear of derailing the healthy, thoughtful discourse that we seem to be enjoying, it seems to me that — in between dutifully foraging for fruits and berries, painstakingly poking termite mounds with broken twigs, and performing complex mating and dominance displays — us monkeys also need a few moments of scratching fleas, yawning, and nibbling on the crusty bits we pull off of each others’ anuses. And it is in that spirit that I introduce my latest creation, entitled simply: What Is It?

In the game of “What Is It,” your job is simple: I, the Quizmaster, will provide you with a list of names of things — bands, albums, tours, infamous behaviors, hair styles, quotable quotes, guitar nicknames, what have you. Some may be real; most will be fake. Your job is to tell us what you think the things are. Your answers don’t have to agree with mine, and they don’t have to correctly identify the “real” things in the list, if in fact there are any. Just answer, to the best of your ability, the question: What Is It?

Example — I say: Bow-legged Ida. You say: The name Jim Dandy gave the washboard he played in Black Oak Arkansas. Got it?

Here we go:

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Feb 202021
 

I’m sure many of you know this great old one-hit wonder. Walter Scott was the lead singer for this song by Bob Kuban & The In-Men.

But did you know this story? It’s taken from a longer article you can find here. A real case of life imitating art.

In early 1983, Walter Scott and Bob Kuban performed together for a television appearance and planned to reunite the band for their twentieth anniversary in June 23, 1984, at the Fox Theatre. After one rehearsal in October 1983, Walter Scott disappeared. In late December his wife, Jo Ann, reported to police that her husband was missing. According to Jo Ann Scott, Walter went out to buy a part for his car and never came home. On December 28th, Walter Scott’s car was found by the St. Louis police, abandoned at the airport.

The St Louis police looked for Walter Scott for over a year, but all the leads led to dead ends. Jo Ann Scott filed for divorce, alleging she’d been abandoned. She was granted a divorce and was remarried in 1986. It happened that the groom at the wedding, Jim Williams, had tragically lost his wife, Sharon, when she reportedly died in a car crash in October 1983.

Meanwhile, Scott’s parents never accepted the official story. They urged the police to keep searching for their son. In 1987, the police uncovered a new lead after Jim Williams’ son informed them that his mom, Sharon, had been having an affair with Walter Scott, and his father found out. Subsequently, the police found Walter Scott floating face down in a cistern ten feet from Jim Williams’ house. Walter Scott’s body been there for about three years. Sharon Williams body was exhumed for a new autopsy. The coroner found that Sharon Williams had died from a “blunt force trauma,” not injuries suffered from a car crash – as the first death certificate stated. Jim Williams was arrested and charged with killing both Scott and his former spouse. Walter Scott had been hog-tied by Jim Williams and then shot.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported later that “Sharon Williams died Oct. 20, 1983, and [Walter] Notheis jr. disappeared on Dec. 27, 1983. His body was found in 1987 in a cistern on property James Williams owned in St. Charles County.” It took about two days for the police to catch up with Jo Ann Scott to charge her with the same two counts of murder. But since Jo Ann was offered a plea bargain, she got a $5,000 fine and spent only 18 months in prison. But Jim Williams spent the rest of his life in prison. As the song lyrics recount: “Tough luck for The Cheater.” Indeed. And Jim Williams got his “baby” (Sharon Williams) back from Walter Scott (The Cheater), only to murder her.

Do you know any interesting rock & roll stories like this that you think the rest of RTH won’t know?

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Feb 152021
 

I’ve seen a couple of stories the past week from artists talking about their songwriting process. I love reading and hearing about how artists wrote a particular song.

First, there’s this Guardian piece with Nick Lowe talking about the writing of “Cruel to Be Kind.” Great little piece, but Nick may regret sharing this memory:

Ian Gomm, from the Brinsley days, had taught me the triumphal chord at the top of the song, where I sing “B-a-a-ab-y, you gotta be cruel to be kind”, so he has a co-writing credit.

Friend of the Hall Gomm posted this article on his Facebook page and recalled adding more to the song than that single chord.

A richer article written by the song’s author itself, Peter Holsapple of The dB’s, appeared on our Rock Town Hall Facebook page, courtesy of the excellent Steve Hoffman Music Forums. It’s actually a 2008 New York Times article about the song “Love Is for Lovers,” the single from the band’s third album, Like This. Maybe we even covered this back in 2008, but hey, “It’s COVID-19, Jake.” It’s interesting to read Holsapple’s aspirations for the song and the confluence of circumstances that he felt went into its failure to even sniff the charts.

These are both good tales, but what’s your favorite songwriter tale about the writing of a song?

On a related note, I wish there was a Boomer edition of the podcast (and now Netflix series) Song Exploder. which is all about the writing of a song. My problem is that so many of the artists are youngsters way outside my tastes that I really have to focus to appreciate what these people put together. Although I’m exhausted by paying attention to some milquetoast artist like Bon Iver telling me about the creation of his boring song, I usually do appreciate the process. To give you an idea of how much I hunger for a version of this podcast with artists whose music I dig, the Netflix series episode with REM and “Losing My Religion” was a relative godsend for me. Some of you may know how I feel about REM and that song.

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Feb 102021
 

The Sidekick has a long history in other pop culture forms. Robin. Tonto. Dr. Watson. Mindy. Ginger Rogers.

But not so much in rock & roll.

When I first thought of this I figured there had to be plenty and yet I could only come up with a handful. I’m counting on Rock Town Hall to expand my list.

Here’s what defines a rock & roll sidekick to me:

  • Never the leader
  • Almost solely known for his sidekick role
  • Long-standing stint in this role

I don’t think Keith Richards qualifies. Mick is definitely top dog, but Keith is too much a part of the mythos and music to be a mere sidekick. Feel free to argue this point.

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