Musicians Rock Music

David Lindley RIP

After posting last week’s blog, I then learned of the death of David Lindley. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you have definitely heard his definitive work on classic rock radio over the years.

David was a true character in the rock-n-roll world. He could play just about any stringed instrument that was handed to him, but his forte was lap steel guitar. His distinctive long curly hair and muttonchop sideburns were as obvious as his taste in clothing, always seen with colorful Hawaiian-style shirts and clashing pants. His bandmates and the music press tagged him “Prince of Polyester.”

However, it was his playing that made him legendary. While he did work with Warren Zevon, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, David Crosby, and Bruce Springsteen, it was his lap steel guitar playing for Jackson Browne during the 1970s that David is best known. And his best known work during this time was the solos on “Running on Empty.” It is a great song, indeed, but those lap steel solos truly make it a classic. Upon first hearing it, you question what kind of instrument it is. It doesn’t sound like a guitar, a keyboard, or any horn instrument. That sliding-note fill fits the mood of the song perfectly. Only one man could have created that sound, it was David Lindley.

I had the pleasure of seeing David once at The Ark in Ann Arbor about a decade ago. The man was a true wizard on stringed instruments. To make matters even more crazy, he never played the common Fender Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul for an electric guitar choice. No, it was usually some off-the-wall Japanese or Korean clunker from the 1960s that he straightened out and hot-rodded.

The music world needed someone like David to chuckle at itself occasionally. We can take ourselves seriously with our top-notch equipment and poetic songwriting, but there needs to be that point where we realize that we are human as well, and do silly things. David could do that, but with professionalism. He was equal Paco De Luca and Spike Jones. He knew what sound fit in at the right time, but could make you laugh at a dissonant but intended note.

There will never be a rock-n-roll character like David Lindley, so seek out an album of his (El-Rayo-X and Win This Record are good choices) and put a smile on your face.

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Rock Music

David Crosby RIP

This past week saw the passing of David Crosby, guitarist/singer/songwriter and institution of the rock and roll world. He had the demons of drugs infiltrate his life in his younger and middle age days, enough to land him in prison for 8 months, but he would eventually fight them off to clean himself up and regain his artistic talents.

He was founder of two of the most popular bands in rock and roll history: The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young). In both bands, his work helped define the format of folk-rock, a politically motivated sound with less stress on guitar solos and more stress on lyrics, while still maintaining the rock and roll drive. Like Jeff Beck who passed away the week before, his presence during the formulative years of rock music cannot be ignored.

With both bands, Crosby made sure that the music moved forward. In the Byrds, the band went from covering “Mr. Tambourine Man” to creating psychedelic classics like “Eight Miles High.” He motivated the band to spend more time writing original material. However, his outspoken political views resulted in being kicked out of the band. His connections with Steven Stills (who had just left Buffalo Springfield) and the enthusiastic departure of Graham Hash from the Hollies led to the forming of probably the most popular folk-rock supergroup to be recorded.

While CSN and CSNY would continue in various forms for over four decades, the most well-known songs came during its early years. The band’s impact cannot be denied. Those harmonies in “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” are textbook examples of how it should be done. They are beyond barbershop quartet harmonies, more like Gregorian chant put to a rock and roll beat and arrangement.

Crosby’s later life was being a helping hand to others as well as getting back to the music. He mentored actress Drew Barrymore out of drug addiction, showing off not only his success at rehabilitation, but to show that there is fun and excitement in the rock music world without having to resort to drugs and alcohol. In interviews, he was very vocal about his past habits, the demons that he fought, admitting that he was not sorry that he participated in such revelry, but from his experiences, he knew that it was better to be off the stuff.

Crosby appears twice in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the Byrds and CSN. His presence in rock music cannot be denied, and his legacy will remain for decades to come.

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Rock Music

Jeff Beck RIP

I was truly devastated earlier this week when I heard the news that guitar genius Jeff Beck passed away at the age of 78. I expected that the mainstream news stations would mention it as a footnote, but I was pleased to see the outpouring of tributes on YouTube and other internet outlets. While the general music fandom may have only hear of Beck in passing, the true rock and guitar fans knew what a great player he was.

His first and biggest claim to fame was his two-year stint in the Yardbirds. Rock afficionados know that this band was famous for having three of the greatest guitarists in history – Beck, Eric Clapton (whom Jeff replaced), and Jimmy Page. While the band had moderate success when it was living, it was afterwards, when Page later formed Led Zeppelin and Clapton had his successful career, that the Yardbirds gained notoriety. It was Beck’s lead work on songs such as “Heart Full of Soul, “Train Kept A Rollin’,” and “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” that are the most memorable from the band’s catalogue. For a few brief months, both Beck and Page were in the band together, and there’s a great scene in the movie Blow Up where Beck smashes his guitar due to uncontrollable feedback.

It was Beck’s style that was most distinctive among his peers. During his early playing career, he would often drop his guitar picks, so from that point on, he picked the strings with his fingers. However, it was not in the style of a folk finger picker or a classical guitarist. No, he attacked each string with a combination of pulling, hammering, and rolling a la Scruggs-style banjo playing. It was uniquely his own style, so that when you heard a Beck lead, you knew it was a Beck lead.

As for his band history, he always seemed to be reaching for something that no one else was looking at yet, but would take interest once Beck brought it out. He formed the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, performing heavily influenced R&B rock, which Stewart and Wood would later take to the Faces. Throughout the 1970s, Beck experimented with bringing in jazz fusion into mainstream rock, which brought out some amazing compositions such as “Freeway Jam,” Beck’s Bolero,” and “Blue Wind.” In the 1980s and ‘90s, he delved into rockabilly and straight-ahead blues, always pushing his own boundaries. In his last few years, he was performing and recording with Johnny Depp.

He was a bit of a recluse, shying away from celebrity status. He often said in interviews that he did not want that life and the stress that it would put on a famous person. He instead enjoyed studying English history and Formula One racing.

Beck was never popular with the mainstream music crowd, but when you mentioned his name, you knew there was greatness there. Amazing tone, amazing style, amazing approach. I saw him probably 25-30 years ago, I can’t even remember what album he was supporting. He was totally into the music, even though he didn’t play too long. Watching it, you knew that there was guitar royalty on stage. Something special was being shown to you.

Jeff Beck will be missed by so many of us that have rock-n-roll in our hearts. I am glad to see that other true music lovers have felt the same way over the past few days.

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Rock Music

Christine McVie RIP

Earlier this week, Christine McVie passed away after a short serious illness. She was 79 years old. It seems that the media was a bit slow to pick up on it, as most of the news reporting that I witnessed mentioned it either Thursday evening or Friday morning.

Christine was the keyboardist, co-vocalist, and contributing songwriter for the classic rock band Fleetwood Mac. She joined the band around 1970, as it was moving away from a hard English blues sound to try and sound more mainstream. She married (and later divorced) band bassist John McVie, and when the duo of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the fold, there was music magic.

Christine would sing and write on some of the band’s most memorable songs, including “You Make Loving Fun,” “Over My Head,” “Say You Love Me.” and “Don’t Stop.” The band had a great pop-rock sound that could be appreciated by both classic rock fans and jaded popsters. A lot of that had to do with Christine’s keyboard work. Her clavinet playing in “You Make Loving Fun” sets the entire sexy mood of the song. The string-imitating synth sound in “Don’t Stop” coinciding with the barroom honky-tonk piano is hauntingly beautiful.

Rumours, from 1977 and a Grammy winner, to me is one of the greatest rock albums of all time. There are no flashy guitar solos. It is the combination of three great vocalists (Christine, Lindsay and Stevie), as well as very smart musicians as a band, knowing that the song is the most important thing. All of the musicians know exactly what will fit into each verse or chorus. Rumours, along with the 1975 self-titled album, are extremely special. There is not a bad track on either one of them. I blew out cassette copies of both of them a while back.

Christine semi-retired form the band and music in general back in 1998, although she made some appearances and re-joined Fleetwood Mac for a tour in 2014 and recorded/toured with Lindsay in 2017. While none of her solo work never achieved the popularity of the 70s-era Fleetwood Mac output, she was always kicking out quality music that any other songwriter would be proud of.

She had a motherly voice, but it was angelic as well. I never turn off a Fleetwood Mac song when it comes on the radio. My personal downhearted feeling this week was telling someone at work that she passed away (he is about 15 years younger than me) and he didn’t know of her. THEN, I told him about Fleetwood Mac, and he said that he never heard of the band. I know that I am a music fanatic, but you must be really sheltered if you never heard of Fleetwood Mac!

Rest in Peace, Ms. McVie. Your magic will never be forgotten.

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Rock Music

Jerry Lee Lewis RIP

Known as The Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis was a true American character. How could one man get away with the stuff that he did, and still be loved by thousands of rock-n-roll fanatics?

Lewis passed away this past week at the age of 87. Growing up poor in east Louisiana, he learned to play piano along with his cousins, country music star Mickey Gilley and evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. He signed with Sun Records in 1956, and the next year had his first smash hit “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” A number of hits followed, but his career took a quick downward dive with the news of his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, which was his third marriage at age 22 (he would marry seven times, each one seemingly causing some kind of controversy). He continued working in the country and gospel music scenes during the 1960s and 70s.

During the roots-music revival with the punk and new-wave movement in the 1980s, Lewis received a new audience, and continued to performing to audiences until his death. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its inaugural year of 1986, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame just a few weeks ago. He was too ill to attend, so Kris Kristofferson accepted his award and drove to Lewis’ home to present it to him the next day.

Almost every music fan knows about the legendary Million Dollar Quartet sessions, when Lewis was at the Sun Studios playing piano on some Carl Perkins recordings, with Johnny Cash sitting around listening. Elvis Presley dropped by to say hello, and Sam Phillips let the tapes roll as the four legends would jam on some gospel and rockabilly tunes. The recordings were not released until decades later, but it gave all four men a demigod status.

Lewis’ relationship with the law, especially dealing with guns, was also legendary. In September 1976 he shot his bass player from a ricocheted bullet from a gun he shot in his house. Two months later, he was found wielding a gun outside of Graceland. Reports vary if he intended to shoot Presley or was just drunk and wanted to visit and happened to have a gun. He was in trouble with the IRS twice, and finally declared bankruptcy in 1988.

As for his marriages, almost all had controversy, too much to cover here including two wives that died tragically. Likewise, two of his six children died under tragic circumstances. In 2012, he married for a seventh time to his former sister-in-law, and broke ties with his daughter/business manager the day after the marriage. As expected, there was a years-long battle in the lawsuit court.

With all of that, we can remember Lewis best for his possession-like piano playing. He went one step further than Little Richard’s stand-up playing style by playing the keyboard with his feet, elbows, standing on the top fo the piano, and even lighting it on fire. His melding of boogie-woogie and country piano styles made his playing totally unique. No one else was doing it like that! He was a true showman, going overboard to prove his excellence in playing rock-n-roll.

I was fortunate enough to see Lewis perform about 20 or more years ago at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. It was a special tour with Chuck Berry. The rumor was the both stars would bicker about who would headline each night’s show. In this case, Lewis headlined due to it being his birthday. Both men put on an amazing performance, be it that they were in their late 60s/early 70s. Lewis still had fire in his eyes. He didn’t move around much like in his prime, but you could hear in his voice that he still had the growl of a rocker. I am glad that I got to experience his music live once.

Only God knows if he is playing piano in Heaven or Hell. Wherever he is, he will be jamming on the 88s, and his spirit lives on with every true rock-n-roll fan that walks this Earth.

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Rock Music

Meat Loaf RIP

January is not starting off well with many deaths. This past week saw the death of one of my favorite male singers, Meat Loaf. He was 74, and fortunately, his family was by his side during his last moments.

The man had a VOICE! A three-octave voice! He could have easily been an opera singer, but there was just that grit in his vocal cords that was meant for rock-n-roll. Born Michael Lee Aday, he got the moniker Meat Loaf as a chubby baby. Playing football in high school, he was told by his coach to play like a “bat out of Hell.” He never forgot that statement, and it became the title of his best-selling album released in 1977, selling over 43 million copies and achieving a 14x platinum status! I had four copies of that album: a vinyl (I still have but no turntable), an 8-track cartridge (long since destroyed), a cassette (lost somewhere), and a CD (stolen, I’m sure I’ll never get it back).

Bat Out of Hell is a rock-n-roll masterpiece. Based roughly on the story of Peter Pan but in the distant future, it musically pays homage to the sounds of Phil Spector, Bruce Springsteen, The Who and classical music. It was produced by Todd Rundgren, and members of his band Utopia, as well as members of the E Street Band, Edgar Winter, and Ellen Foley, performed on various tracks. It took over two years to record and mix. Even famous baseball announcer Phil Rizzuto was snagged to record the play-by-play radio commentary during the make-out session in “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.”

Jim Steinman was a big part of that album. He had worked with Meat Loaf on various National Lampoon tours, and so much of his attitude went into the album, including musical direction and album cover artwork concept. With all of this talent working on a project, it could either be an amazing hit, or a self-righteous-heavy flop. Epic Records hated it, but agreed to release it on a smaller subsidiary, Cleveland International Records. Slow to take notice in the US, it became a mega-underground sensation in the UK, thanks to videos played on the program The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Eventually, US fans took notice. “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” reached up to Number 11 on the Billboard charts. All of the songs are over four minutes, which was still a radio no-no even in the 1970s. However, it was the mini-opera “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” that became the cult classic. I remember trying to convince one of my pop-rock bands in the 1990s (we had a female singer) to cover the song, but no one wanted to take a chance. That ending when both of the lovers turn out to hate each other is pure Meat Loaf rock comedy!

Meat Loaf was also in a number of films, best known for appearing in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He made numerous TV appearances, and his videos of “Paradise” and “Bat Out Of Hell” were staples in the early days of MTV.

Watching him perform live with a band, you could see that Meat Loaf gave his all. Being overweight, the sweat would be coming down off of his face like a waterfall. He would always be wiping himself off, which reminded me of Luciano Pavarotti and his famous handkerchief. However, that voice of Meat Loaf was powerful. He could croon a love song, then belt out a hard rocker at the flip of a switch.
According to the New York Post, Meat Loaf had passed away from complications of COVID, but was a dedicated anti-vaxxer and anti-masker. He reportedly said, “If I die, I die, but I’m not going to be controlled.” I know how he felt, I feel the same way.

Meat Loaf, you will be missed by thousands for the music that you gave us, including me. However, I will miss you for the bravery to stand up to the system, even in death. I will always love this song.

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Rock Music

Ronnie Spector RIP

I learned of the death of Ronnie Spector Friday checking online news. She actually passed away on Wednesday, but I did not see any announcements on TV or hear anything on the radio. Considering the impact that she and the Ronettes had on rock-n-roll music, that is truly sad.

Yes, she was married to the tyrannical producer Phil Spector, who basically made her famous then destroyed her career in the 1960s after their crazy marriage. She made a comeback when Eddie Money had her singing on his hit “Take Me Home Tonight.” Every guy wanted to date her, and every girl into rock-n-roll wanted to be her.

The Ronettes were a different all-girl vocal group. They weren’t the happy-go-lucky style of the Andrew Sisters, and they weren’t the crooning sweethearts like the McGuire Sisters. No, they had a sexual aura about them, and it showed with their style and their songs. And Ronnie led the charge!

She had her near romances with many, including John Lennon and Keith Richards (who remained her close friend and even did the induction speech for the Ronnettes in 2007 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). She glowed with sexuality all of her adult life. Just look at those photos with her beehive haircut, the tight white dress with the slit up the back, and the cat-like eye makeup, and any man would kill for her.

As sexy as she was physically, it was that voice that would melt hearts. When Ronnie sings “Be My Little Baby,” you prayed to God that she was singing it to you. It was gorgeous. Loud and with just enough grit to make you feel her fingernails scratching into your back as you held her close. Although she was very demur in real life, that voice was powerfully feminine, loving her man yet letting him know that she had some toughness to her.

Being married to Phil Spector was not an easy life for Ronnie. She fell in love with him at an early age, and he was already married. After his divorce, they lived together, then adopted some children. Once married, however, he was very forceful, not allowing her to even leave the house many times. After the breakup of the Ronettes in 1967, Phil tried to milk a solo career out of her in his usual demanding way. She had dome minor hits while signed to Apple Records (thanks to George Harrison more sympathetic co-production work with Phil), but she would always remain a cult figure, working with 70’s rock starts like Eddie Money and Bruce Springsteen. In the 1990s she was doing vocal work with punk rock icons Joey Ramone and the Misfits.

Ronnie battled alcoholism during her final years with Phil, and could never quite shake off the “Oldies Performer” stigma. However, so many artists from different genres and time periods held her in high esteem. She and her fellow Ronettes fought a years-long battler against Phil for unpaid royalties. She ultimately secured about $1 million from his bank acocunt.

Pop-rock singer Amy Winehouse attributed much of her perfroming and looks to Ronnie. When Winehouse died in 2011, Ronnie recorded Winehouse’s song “Back to Black,” with proceeds going to drug addiction treatment organizations. She also appeared in the documentary Amy Winehouse: Back to Black.

She would eventually marry her manager Jonathan Greenfield and live her last years in Connecticut. While her career never truly rebounded, there was always tons of attention paid to what she, the Ronettes, and her voice did to move rock-n-roll forward. She passed away from cancer at the age of 78, but she will always be remembered ast the sexy young girl singing so that no boy would always be in love with her and never forget her. Watch the video and dare to tell me that she was not sexy. That woman had it all.

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Bluegrass Music Rock Music

Don Everly/Bill Emerson/Charlie Watts RIP

This past week has not been good in the world. Way too many deaths. Before I get into my coverage of the three musicians, I ask that you pray and keep in your hearts the 13 soldiers that were killed at the Kabul airport by an insane ISIS-K bomber, as well as pray for the soldiers’ families.

Don Everly of the Everly Brothers. Man, those sibling harmonies were beyond human comprehension. Think about the hits that the duo had in the 1950s and early 60s. “Bye, Bye Love,” “Cathy’s Clown,” the controversial “Wake Up, Little Susie,” and my favorite, “All I Have to Do is Dream.” They came from a musical family, guitarist Chet Atkins promoted them passionately, and with the songwriting contributions of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, the brothers were at the top of the music world. They both joined the Marines in 1961, and along with drug concerns as well as conflicts with their publishing company, the Everly Brothers lost footing in the pop music field. By 1973, they grew tired and resentful of each other, and there were a few reunion concerts until Phil’s death in 2014.

But those vocals were hypnotizing. Listen to recordings of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and the Bee Gees. You can tell where these groups learned to harmonize. However, one of the greatest gifts Don Everly gave to rock-n-roll was back in the mid-1960s. The duo was on tour with the Rolling Stones. Keith Richards asked Don how he got that great rhythm guitar sound. Don showed him the open G tuning and what fingering to use to change chords. Listen to Keith’s iconic rhythm guitar on “Brown Sugar,” “Honky Tonk Women,” and “Start Me Up.” That’s all the result of Don Everly.

Banjoist Bill Emerson. A true gentleman musician, beyond performing with the Country Gentlemen. His style was tight, yet not too flashy. His early career was with the Gentlemen as well as with Jimmy Martin. Those early years taught him a lot about the banjo, as well as timing with other musicians in a live setting. In the late 1960s and early 70s, he worked with guitarist Cliff Waldron, helping to advance the newgrass sound by combining bluegrass with country, rock, and soul music.

His big achievement came in 1973 when he joined the US Navy and helped to form the military band Country Current, which consisted of Navy servicemen performing as a bluegrass ensemble. He served as the band’s leader for 20 years before retiring as a master chief petty officer. Upon his retirement, the Stelling Banjo Company issued a Bill Emerson signature model. He performed irregularly the past few years, and passed away August 21 from complications of pneumonia at the age of 83. After Earl Scruggs and Don Reno, most banjo players today would name Bill as a major influence.

Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones. This one hit me hard this past week. The Stones were one of the main reasons I got into playing music as a teenager. Charlie was the perfect rock-n-roll drummer. Seriously, he defined how a drummer should play a rock-n-roll song. The drummer should be felt and not heard. Yes, you can hear his drums in so many Stones songs, like the intro to “Get Off of My Cloud.” But when you listen to the full recorded work, his drumming is felt within, while Mick’s vocals and Keith’s patented rhythm guitar riffs fill the ears.

He was quiet when it came to the public persona, but he was a Stone. Just as much as Mick or Keith. The band could never have gotten to where they are without having Charlie in the drummer’s seat. He knew exactly what would fit in the song. You knew that Keith, Bill Wyman, and Ron Wood valued him more than anyone. He loved jazz drumming, studying the great like Max Roach, and implemented that attitude into the Stones’ songs. There will never be another drummer like Charlie, and I am so glad that I was able to appreciate him during my formative music years.

My favorite Charlie Watts story? Back in the 70s, Mick was going on a rant ab out the Stones being his band. He kept referring to Charlie as “his drummer.” Late at night in a hotel, Mick kept calling for “his drummer” to show up at his room. Charlie dressed up in his best suit, polished his shoes, went to Mick’s room, and when Mick opened the door, Charlie punched him hard in the face and walked away, telling Keith what he just did. That is classic rock! I leave you not with a Stones video, but a great video of Charlie doing a pre-show backstage warm-up. Just look at Keith’s reaction!

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