Feb 042014

What’s the deal with the drum sound in Van Halen’s “Jump”? Is it good? Does it serve the song/fit in with the production? Does anyone else feel like I do, whenever they hear “Jump” on the car radio? I always think, “That’s a weirdly unaffected drum sound! What’s the deal? Where are my drummer friends when I need them riding shotgun?”

Seriously, every time I hear this catchy VH song, not an entire verse goes by before I am reminded of how drums sound in a recording studio, at first playback, when the band has finished its take and loads in, with tremendous anticipation, to hear the engineer’s playback of the newly recorded rhythm track.

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Jan 212014

I still remember the night when Van Halen‘s “Dance the Night Away” blared out of the movie theater sound system while I watched Argo. Although I never liked Van Halen and still don’t, I have come to believe that the original edition of the band was brilliant in their execution of bad music. Nevertheless, that night in the darkened theater as Ben Affleck strutted to the sounds of Van Halen’s signature song, I first got goosebumps listening to the band’s music.

Last month, while watching the surprisingly funny Anchorman 2, I was once more treated to a movie theater sound system spin of that song. Once more, it sounded fantastic and perfectly set up the characters’ swaggering moment of getting their shit together before an inevitable critical turning point. This got me thinking…

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Nov 182012

Go All the Way

A band that’s been wildly popular through 3 lead singers, a record-setting run of bad taste, and dozens of hissy fits is usually not thought of as being in need of a world famous Rock Town Hall Critical Upgrade, but while watching the movie Argo this weekend and hearing “Dance the Night Away” crank up during a scene it occurred to me that I might have been more receptive to Van Halen in their time, if not even liked them a little better, if they had been marketed as a power pop band rather than some kind of badass hard rock act featuring a lead guitarist who was taking the next giant steps after Hendrix.

They were marketed as some kind of badass hard rock act featuring a lead guitarist who was taking the next giant steps after Hendrix, right?

Maybe I missed the point. Maybe they were supposed to be taken as some sexually charged version of The Raspberries. Pull down Eric Carmen’s bellbottoms and you’d be looking at the smooth, plastic crotch of a Ken doll. You know David Lee Roth, on the other hand, was packing heat inside his Spandex tights. I don’t think he needed plugs down there.

Is that what the little girls have understood all along? Should I have been grading Van Halen as a power pop band more than a hard rock act? Thought of in those terms were they actually kind of great?

As I get stuck on the intro to “Dance the Night Away” I am, probably fortunately, not having much luck recalling how their other songs go except for a few key bits, like the talking blues intro to on song and the chorus of “Panama,” at least the opening line of the chorus, when they sing the song’s title. Come to think of it I just heard “Jump” about a week ago and realized how decent a power pop song that was.

Jul 192011

Et tu, Eddie?

Has any rocker ever made music of merit wearing a sleeveless shirt? Not while making music bare-chested or wearing a tank top, not bare-chested under a vest, but specifically making music while wearing a sleeveless shirt.

If you’ve clicked these opening links you’ll see that U2 drummer Larry Mullen has been known to wear the sleeveless shirt. I’ll grant that an argument can be made that U2 made some music of merit while Mullen donned such a gun-bearing fashion atrocity, but he’s a drummer. In past style pieces on Rock Town Hall, drummers have gotten a pass for all sorts of questionable fashion choices, including performing in barefeet and wearing shorts. We make some allowances for rock’s driving forces based on matters of comfort. For the purposes of this survey, we’ll give sleeveless drummers a pass. Beside, I want no part of George Hurley.

Granted, as a guy who’s never expressed his vanity through his forearms (as if I could), the whole sleeveless shirt thing mystifies me. It’s to be expected that the poster boy of Rock Town Hall’s Unfulfilled Fashion Ideas series, Alan Vega, would go sleeveless, but the style would spread to some of the coolest of the cool. How much comfort does a man need to be a rock legend? How much do we really need to know about him? Sure, sometimes even the President of the United States has to stand naked, but did Bob Dylan really need to play sleeveless?

Sleeveless shirt, leather pants, two pairs of shorts...Jerry wins this battle of Best Stage Look!

I don’t know when the sleeveless shirt craze took over, but do a search on a number of rock artists with the date “1985” following their name and I’d bet you can come up with as many shots of them sleeveless as I just did with Dylan. (BTW, I didn’t realize he was into the Bare-Chested Vest Look as early as the mid-’70s, for that Renaldo and Clare movie.) You don’t believe me? Try these:

Strummer, for all his late-period Clash fashion faux pas shouldn’t surprise me, but seeing him in sleeveless shirts still hurts. Make it stop already!

Even a search on Rock Town Hall’s patron saint of mediocrity, “Bob Seger 1985,” turns up this. I pray that’s a bare-chested hippie vest shot and not what it seems.

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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.

Aug 112009

I was disappointed to hear that Jesse Sandoval, the drummer from The Shins, was in his words “fired” from the band. He tells his side of the story in an article in the Portland Mercury. While he seems to have a bit of a complicated relationship with band leader James Mercer, I’m in agreement he was fired in a not-so-professional way. I’m sure it was awkward for all involved but still call it what it is and forget the “…I’m going in a different direction” statements.

I particularly like Sandoval’s drumming. Admittedly it was quirky but I think it added interest to what might have been some otherwise average indie rock songs. I’m not sure what Mercer will do next or what it might sound like but it will be missing the unique combination of his Shins bandmates and Sandoval’s drumming.

So the question is What are some other bands that lost players, either fired or quit, that ruined the “magic?” Can we say David Lee Roth out of Van Halen? Eno out of Roxy Music (maybe not)? Can you offer some suggestions?


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