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.


Dugout Chatter

 Posted by
Jan 262021

I finally got around to watching the Go Go’s documentary on Showtime. I liked it a lot, even though I don’t think I gained many new insights. At one point, however, Jane Weidlin was talking about seeing the Sex Pistols at their lackluster final show in San Francisco and she said something like, “It was so disappointing because the British invented punk…” She was always in the final three for my pick for favorite Go Go, but this is a frigging dealbreaker! The last person who I heard make that absurd claim was an Irish guy and I shut that conversation down very quickly. As with Rock, the British might have excelled at Punk. They might have even done a better job of it than the American bands. But like Rock (and hip hop, jazz, blues, country, and almost any form of popular music aside from reggae), Punk is an American invention. End of story. In fact, you could make a case that the British did Punk a disservice by distilling it down to a uniform and a set of rules.

Without giving any consideration to how much you like the music:

  • What do you consider to be the first punk band?
  • What do you consider to be the first punk album?
  • Is it possible for Punk to exist today? Or is the nature of Punk such that it had a natural shelf life after which it just became a parody of itself? If the latter, what do you consider to be the last punk band?
  • Is Punk a style of music or an attitude?
  • What do you think separates Punk from New Wave?
  • I’m sure Seymour Stein can point with precision t o the first New Wave band but what do you consider to be the first New Wave song/band?
  • Who is your favorite Go Go?

By the way, Philly-based Townsmen, I noticed in the credits that a bunch of the live clips were recorded at Emerald City in Cherry Hill.


Dugout Chatter

 Posted by
Nov 282020

President elect Joe Biden’s choice for Secretary of State is a guy named Anthony Blinkin and he has a band and two of their songs are on Spotify. I suspect you’re thinking the same thing I was: Great, let me brace myself for some flaccid, middle-aged blues rock fumblings along the lines of that band of hedge fund guys from a few years ago, or Joe Scarborough’s mid-life crisis offerings.

The first indication that this might be different from what I feared was the picture of Blinkin playing a Danelectro. I believe that you can tell a lot about a person by their gear choices, and this is a hip choice. Noted bassist Mike Huckabee can be seen with the occasional P-bass but there are also plenty of pictures of him with some Guitar Center Special like a Yamaha, or an overly fussy high end bass like a Warwick, or, God forbid, a 5-string. So it’s no surprise that he turned out to be a horrible human being. A Danelectro, on the other hand, says to me, “Sure, I could have gotten a Tele. They are iconic and a choice that is beyond reproach. But I wanted something just a little more left of center.” (I’ve always liked the Danelectro but, much like the SG, I frankly don’t think that I’m cool enough to pull it off.)

Then I read the bio notes:
“Singer-Songwriter and, with Eli Attie, Jay Carney, Dave McKenna and David Segal, member of studio-only bands — including Cash Bar Wedding and Big Lunch — that have recorded in New Orleans, Bakersfield, Minneapolis and Washington, DC, with contributions from Alex Chilton and Grant Hart. Perform with two Washington, DC-based occasional charity concert bands, Pink Noise and Coalition of the Willing, formed in 2004 by Andras Simonyi with Linc Bloomfield, Dan Poneman, Dan McDermott, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter of Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers acclaim. Inspired, still, by 1970s classic rock and R&B.”

Okay, Skunk Baxter kind of makes sense since he designs missile defense technology or something these days. But Grant Hart? Alex frigging Chilton? I need more details. The word “contributions” seems intentionally vague in a way that is meant to capture almost any musical contact so I would like some clarification.

I see that he’s been in a band with Jay Carney, the former press secretary for Obama who namechecked Guided By Voices from the podium once. I’m assuming that Jay was the one that came up with the name “Cash Bar Wedding” since it sounds like it could be the name of a GBV album or song. This is an objectively great band name. “Coalition of the Willing” gets the silver medal for band names mentioned in this bio but loses out due to its wonkiness. The name “Ablinkin” must have seemed like a great idea that fell right into Blinkin’s lap but I think the cutesyness of that name causes it to wear out its welcome fairly quickly.

The songs: There’s only two songs. They both seem like they are recorded professionally. Honestly, they’re both catchy and well done. The arrangements are well thought out, and the playing is solid. His voice reminds me of someone. Do I hear notes of Elvis Costello? The songs seem like they fall into the category of Dad Rock as I understand that category to be. He seems like just a guy with a day job who never got tired of playing in bands, so in that respect, he’s not unlike me or a number of my fellow Townsmen. Are these songs changing the world or breaking new ground? Nope. But if the Donuts were putting together a show for a Saturday night with Nixon’s Head and these guys ended up on the bill too, I don’t think they’d be wildly out of place. Maybe they’d even have Skunk Baxter with them and I could confront him about the time when I was bartending and he was rude to me. (We’d probably end up laughing about it and then talking about compressors and whatnot.)

On to the questions:

  1. Are these songs legit or are they the little red sports car of someone’s midlife crisis?
  2. Is this Dad Rock?
  3. How do you define Dad Rock?
  4. Are a person’s gear choices a window into their soul?
  5. Are there any particular guitars you consider to be especially cool?
  6. Are there any guitars you consider to be inherently uncool?
  7. Between Blinkin name checking Grant Hart and Alex Chilton, Jay Carney professing his love for GBV, and people like former Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine saying the Replacements are his favorite band, are we entering the Golden Age of Musically Relatable Politicians?
  8. In terms of relatable politicians, would you rather have a beer with George W Bush, or argue the ranking of the three original Big Star albums with Blinkin?

Oct 282020

It’s time for another installment of Name That Tune! Has it really only been 7 years since we last played this?

To refresh your memory on how to play, I have taken lyrics from a well known song and run it through Google translate going from English to Greek, to Norwegian, to Latin, to German, to Thai, to Russian, to Icelandic and then back to English.

All you have to do is identify the song.

“In the dark cold wind
In your hair
Served hot In paradise
Previously in the background
He saw a flashing light.
This is a picture in my head and the thorn is so dark!
Now even at night”

The genre is classic rock.

I will provide additional clues if requested.

Feel free to stump us with re-translated lyrics of your own.



 Posted by
Apr 152020

I knew that Yo La Tengo‘s “You Can Have It All” was a cover, but until recently, I had never heard the original. I was delighted to find out it was by George McCrea of “Rock Your Baby fame,” but was shocked to learn that it was written by Harry Wayne Casey, or KC from KC and the Sunshine Band to you. Turns out he also wrote “Rock Your Baby.” Should I have been shocked by this? Probably not, but here we are. Does anyone have any delightful musical surprises that they’d like to share?


The Saddest Song

 Posted by
Feb 122016

I’ve been learning a bunch of Tom Waits songs and in the course of doing so, some of my cohorts and I began to wonder: what is the saddest Tom Waits song? There are several excellent candidates.
Georgia Lea, for instance, tells the story of a street kid who is found dead in a ditch and asks the question ‘Why wasn’t God watching?”
Alice is sung from the perspective of Lewis Carrol and addresses his inappropriate obsession with the real life inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.
But my vote is for A Little Rain. It’s sung from the perspective of a grave digger who is surrounded by surreal characters. He seems to be trying to keep a stiff upper lip about his general situation, and is thankful that the rain makes his job easier by softening the ground. Then the last verse:
“She was 15 years old
And never seen the ocean
She climbed into a van
With a vagabond
And the last thing she said
Was ‘I love you mom’
And a little rain
Never hurt no one”
But this made me wonder. Is there a sadder song than A Little Rain? It doesn’t have to be restricted to Tom Waits but I’m not talking about some maudlin thing like Seasons in the Sun, or some country weeper where the guy runs over his own hound dog with his pickup on his way back his pappy’s funeral or something. (I suppose “maudlin” is probably in the eye of the beholder and you might consider A Little Rain to be maudlin, but I’m interested in hearing what you consider to be a truly sad song. If your answer is Seasons in the Sun, make your case).
Delivery and nuance seem like critical issues here.
The only one that hits me like A Little Rain is Galveston by Glenn Campbell.
So, what is the saddest song?


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