Jun 112015

I just saw that Ornette Coleman has died. I’m not a jazzbo by any means, but he’s one of 3 jazz artists (mid-’60s John Coltrane and Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis) who first opened my thick head to the genre. I still think there’s something special about him, a floating, open quality to his music that goes down easy for me, that doesn’t raise my suspicions over the motives of those jazz chord–playing cats who’d previously failed to move me.

“I don’t want them to follow me,” he explained. “I want them to follow themselves, but to be with me.”

I will likely never understand the theory behind jazz music and Coleman’s harmelodics concept, but it felt like he and his bandmates were playing bits and pieces of nursery songs, devoid of the context of chords. Too much about life is surrounded by context, surrounded by chords. I still find it exciting to hear he and his mates blurt out their little sing-songy melodies. Sometimes they’re in unison, sometimes not. When the music of Ornette really works for me, it just sounds like kids playing on a schoolyard. “Ramblin’,” for instance, is like the sound of kids jumping rope or playing hopscotch.

It wasn’t always jump rope and hopscotch for Coleman. Another favorite is “Sadness,” from the stark Town Hall, 1962 album.

May 152015


Legendary longtime Gibson guitar-mate Lucille has confirmed that blues legend B.B. King has died at the age of 89. I’ll be honest, my deep appreciation of King’s legendary blues status is limited to the standard 1-measure excerpt of the chorus of his legendary hit song, “The Thrill Is Gone,” the bit where he hits a legendary, mellow blues chord and sings the legendary line “The thrill is gone…”

I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve never tuned into the song beside that sole K-Tel ad-length snippet. I must have heard it all the way through a few times, but it made no impression on me. Whenever I saw King playing on late-night talk shows and gala events, I couldn’t get beyond the legendary, tuxedo-clad figure sweating out trills on his legendary Lucille, his eyes closed and his jowls shaking in ecstasy in response to his 2-measure lick, while seated on a chair.

My other bit of evidence of B.B.’s legendary contributions to the world of music came to me through his legendary contributions to U2‘s not-quite legendary blooz exercise, “When Love Came to Town.” Let’s face it: I couldn’t even begin to use the term “not-quite legendary” without B.B.’s 2-measure trills.

So listen, before you get mad at me and post “How dare you…!” replies, please let me know WHY I’m wrong in feeling like B.B. King was the Eric Clapton of the Blues, that is, the most highly regarded musician of his genre for little obvious evidence. I’m aware that the joke is probably on me, but I want to learn exactly why B.B. is due the following heartfelt, official remembrance:

Apr 142015


Singer Percy Sledge has died at 73, after an estimated 27,000 performances of “When a Man Loves a Woman.”

I used to think only so much of Sledge for his one big hit, no matter how great it was. It was overplayed by the time I was 15, and it inspired Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale,” about which I’ve always had mixed feelings. About 15 years ago E. Pluribus Gergely and I saw him at a soul revue show at Atlantic City featuring Jerry Butler, Lloyd Price, and others. I’ve mentioned this show a few times before. Don Covay was in the audience, seated in our row, just a few people down from us!

EPG and I started to snicker as Percy waddled out in a tight-fitting tuxedo to sing his “one and only song.” (I know, I know, he made other records, some of which I’m sure are fine.) I expected him to come out like a wind-up doll, but a minute into the performance I felt he was still giving it his all. The performance moved me more than I could have imagined. That was the only song he sung that night, but he committed to it after god knows how many times he had to perform it. Pretty cool!

Feb 032015

I’ll need to get some time and write out my thoughts in some detail after hearing the news that Don Covay has died. I’ve loved Covay since discovering the man behind so many songs I first knew by other artists, thanks to a collection put out by the record label owned by a friend’s brother. My friend E. Pluribus Gergely and I, with whom I argued over who was better, Covay or Joe Tex (he was on Team Tex), went to a soul revue in Atlantic City about 10 to 15 years ago. Lloyd Price took a moment, at one point, to note his friend Don Covay in the audience. He made Don stand up and take a bow. A big guy in a white suit did as instructed. He was about 5 seats down from us. We so wanted to leap over the people beside us and hang with Covay!

Covay was probably the most rocking of R&B guys (see “Sookie Sookie” among songs rockers covered with ease and success) – not in an over-the-top “white” way but in terms of playing guitar-based rhythms that perfectly bridged the slight gap in the ’60s of “white” and “black” music. Graham Parker & the Rumour‘s live cover of “Chain of Fools” comes to mind. His knack for out-Stonesing the Stones continued into the early ’70s, with the amazing song “Hot Blood.” I can’t find it on YouTube just now, but it could easily pass for the best song on Black and Blue. So much great stuff that overcame a degree of hokiness, such as “I Was Checking Out (While She Was Checking In)”. I wish I could crank up “We Can’t Make It No More” right now. Hey, maybe I just took the time I needed to write down my thoughts.

Dec 222014

Sad to hear of Joe Cocker’s death. Thanks to my Uncle Joe, he was one of my first Rock Superheroes. Uncle Joe bought me the early Cocker albums, including the mind-blowing The Mad Dogs & The Englishman live album, in which the band members were given little sobriquets, like Leon Russell’s (I believe) unattainable title of “Master of Space and Time.” My uncle saw a tour after that album at the Spectrum and brought me home a huge button with the cover shot and a cardboard cutout of Cocker’s wild face on a stick. I wish I still have that face on a stick. I loved the way Cocker and his band simply KICKED IT OUT. Even his ballads were delivered with force. He will be missed in this age of the navel-gazing artists who sing like Confederate soldiers taking their last breath while holding their newborn sons. Cocker, who was not a songwriter, made the most of so many other artists’ works. Here’s my favorite by him, “Delta Lady.”

Dec 022014


Bobby Keys, best known for his sax work on The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street and Stones concert tours of that era, has died at 70 of cirrhosis. My favorite Keys memories involve countless rants from my close personal friend and founding Townsman E. Pluribus Gergely. Somewhere in the archives there’s probably an entire thread built around one of EPG’s Keys rants, but a taste of his thoughts on the man are available in this old thread. Track 5, specifically, cites Keys’ work. What’s your favorite Bobby Keys moment?


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