Nov 192021

I just finished watching the enjoyable and nostalgic documentary “Somewhere You Feel Free” about the making of Tom Petty’s Wildflowers. Some mindless related web surfing led me to this photo, supposedly from 1976, which was followed by more trails leading to various subjects like Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour (did you ever notice the striking similarity between the juicy guitar riffs of Twilley’s “I’m on Fire” and Petty’s “Strangered in the Night”?), Leon Russell and Denny Cordell (Shelter Records), Tom Leadon (Mudcrutch).

It’s obvious what set me off searching for more information: Who the heck is the extra dude in this photo, standing next to Petty and wearing the perhaps silk Japanese baseball jacket or kimono? It sure looks like an official band photoshoot, but it could be an interloper, guest, or studio collaborator. I found no answers (it’s surely none of the above-mentioned people) and no mention of there ever having briefly been a 5th Heartbreaker.

Townspeople, can we figure this out? There’s probably a simple answer rather than a big rock mystery.

One too many heartbreakers.

(L-R: Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Tom Petty, ?????, Ron Blair, Stan Lynch)

(Update — see later comment regarding this newly found photo.)

Nov 052021

Did you ever wonder what it would be like if Skunk Baxter, Jay Ferguson, Bob Welch and members of Spirit, the Doobie Brothers, REO Speedwagon, the Knack, Heart, and Manassas did a bunch of blow and then plugged in the old guitars and just fucking went for it? Me too! I’ll bet it would look a little something like this…

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Sparks Propaganda

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Nov 042021

I sometimes feel like it’s a failing of mine that I don’t “get” some Rock Nerd sacred cows such as Pet Sounds, Nina Simon, and most of Joni Mitchell’s catalog. These are but a few examples of art/artists held in high regard by a lot of friends with excellent and generally comparable musical tastes to mine. Why don’t I get it? Am I too musically unsophisticated? Am I shallow? Maybe, just maybe, could this be a difference of opinion and taste instead of some shameful personality deficiency?

I will revisit some of this stuff every few years to see if my tastes have evolved in a way that will allow me, for instance, to appreciate the bittersweet, openheartedness of Tony Asher’s lyrics, but for now they still sound like a Hallmark greeting card. So far, Raw Power has been the only one to break through.

I will, however, read a bio or watch a documentary about almost anyone, even if I despise their music (Twisted Sister), despise them as a person (David Crosby), or both (Papa John Phillips). And so, I ended up watching The Sparks Brothers on Netflix last night, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I first heard of them when they appeared in the mid-70s disaster movie Rollercoaster. Similar to when I saw Devo on SNL for the first time, I couldn’t tell if Sparks was a real band or a joke. Over the years, I’ve taken an occasional stab at listening to some of their stuff. I definitely do not like their music. But this documentary is great. I found their relationship with each other and their relentless pursuit of a shape-shifting muse to be really endearing. Even though I can’t find any musical common ground with them, I’m glad that I live in a world where they exist. Much like Rush, I like everything about them except for their music.

I highly recommend the movie. There have been Sparks posts on RTH in the past and our staunchest Sparks defenders are AWOL, so that leaves it to me, a non-Sparks fans to try and convince you to check it out. There will almost certainly be some moments that will annoy some of you, but I encourage you to power through to the end. It’s worth it. Come on, these guys have been at it for 50 years, can’t you spare them 2 hours?

Oct 212021

Simple thread, this one. One of my favorites is from T. Rex.

(I offer this live version mostly because of the first comment below the vid, one clearly directed to EPG.)

Here’s the studio version, the better to hear the “One and a-two and a bubbly, bubbly, boo, boo, yeah!”

What’s your favorite count in on a song?

Sep 142021

I recently came across a tribute band called Alter Eagles. I’m not suggesting you watch the video included with this thread; I include it only to show I didn’t make up the band’s name.

I don’t care one way or the other about tribute bands; I guess they have their time and place. I am a fan of tribute band names and I think Alter Eagles is a good one.

My challenge to Rock Town Hall: Tell us your favorite tribute band name. The catch is you can’t submit an actual tribute band name without being creative and telling us the tribute band you wish existed. If you don’t want to bother with an actual name, that’s fine but you have to have a made-up one.

Sep 122021
Jonathan (left) holding court with me and Sara.

There are people in life who I could not fairly say are my friends, but to whom I feel connected and loyal. Philadelphia music journalist and musician Jonathan Valania was one such person. I use the past tense because I learned on Facebook that he died without his loved ones seeing anything coming. So sad.

I don’t remember when I first met Jonathan – probably in the mid- or late-’80s – but I think he knew me a little bit before I ever put his name and face together. Back then, when I met people at clubs, I was usually in some colored haze. I would have been caught between immense pride and blinding insecurity. If we met prior to 1987, I would have been stoned.

I can’t blame it all on drugs and alcohol, however, as the last time I saw Jonathan in person, just a few years ago, off to my right after one of our band’s shows, I was stone sober. “Great set, Jim,” this tall, easygoing presence said to me. I didn’t have a clue who was complimenting us, which he could tell. “It’s Jonathan,” he said graciously.

Right! I knew that voice, then it started to fall together. We chatted for 15 minutes.

If he’d written me an email from off to the right of the stage, I would have known who it was immediately. We wrote each other notes a few times a year, trading drafts we had in the works, trading behind-the-scenes stories of artists we’d crossed paths with. I think he was first my editor at a free weekly paper, then he enlisted (and cajoled) me into writing for Phawker, his great blog on music and other local cultural topics.

Jonathan was a great editor for me. I don’t take guidance or criticism well, but I always trusted that he valued my voice and whatever I was trying to get at. He was direct. He would gently call bullshit on me. My guess is, he had that rare gift of knowing how to meet people on their terms. To this day, I still rail at how bad people are at “taming” me. Maybe I should learn how to meet people on their terms. With humor and care, he helped me be a better version of my writer self. I will cherish those interactions.

I could rattle off what scant bibliographical details of Jonathan’s life I may or may not have right, but I’ll leave that to his real-life friends and professionals biographers. In terms of our community here at Rock Town Hall, he was a Townsperson. He was a panelist and performer at our first and only live RTH event. He was an early cheerleader, both through his own blog and through those emails we shared. He helped us land an interview or two. He based his own blog’s logo on the Townsman-with-guitar logo that my close personal friend and partner in crime Sammymaudlin developed for us. He was a rock-solid guy off in our corner.

As I said, despite Jonathan being a friendly presence, I’d be lying if I said we were buddies. I did get invited to a Phawker holiday party one year at his loft apartment. I knew a few of his other contributors and actual friends, so I wasn’t too worried about being in a strange place. That didn’t stop me from attaching myself to another Philly music scene writer, Sara Sherr. I don’t think I’m that shy, but this was my first time going into a social event as a “music writer,” one who had been writing under a pseudonym. The night was really fun. Jonathan introduced me to the 10 people I didn’t know as regular, old me.

I’m going to miss getting his advice and support every few years. I’m going to miss being confused by the tall, easygoing presence emerging from the shadows of a rock club to say Hello.


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