Kevin Whitworth Meets the Class

Kevin plays guitar for Love Battery, one of my favorite Seattle bands. LB was another one of those famously incestuous Seattle entities, combining the talents of musicians from Room Nine, Crisis Party, the U-Men, and Skin Yard. Unlike some of their more sludgy Sub Pop brethren, however, Love Battery combined swirling melodic distortion with the “g” word. Kevin has joked that his band has been referred to as “grungedelic.”

So Kevin began to talk with us via Skype from Seattle at 12:20 pm our time. After a rather slow start, the students began peppering him with questions and Kevin happily answered them. First, though, I asked Kevin about his initial move to Seattle from New England. He arrived in the Northwest in 1984, and in Seattle, the initial punk rock scene was petering out and the grunge thing hadn’t really gotten its legs yet. So to the outside world it was pretty dead. But yet it wasn’t.

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(Kevin answers a question.)

In 1984, Green River and Soundgarden were just getting started, psychedelic Room Nine was rolling, the Young Fresh Fellows were beginning to entertain their audiences with their poppy/punky songs and cleverly subversive lyrics, and the Walkabouts were combining Fairport Convention with the Jam. Oh yeah, there was also this band called the U-Men that I’m quite fond of. The U-Men combined punk rock with jazz with “I’d better get out of here or I’m going to die.”

So Kevin entered into all of that when he first set foot in Seattle. He talked about how open the Seattle music scene was at the time, and how supportive it was. By contrast, in Boston, you had to have a record out to even get a gig, but then it was you and everyone else. And bands were pretty competitive.

One student asked about Crisis Party, a band Kevin was briefly in when he first arrived in town. The question surprised him. He said that band was more Guns N Roses than punk rock, but he was excited to be part of something that could put out a record. Back in 1980s Seattle, just making a record was a big deal.

One student asked Kevin about his favorite gig. He mentioned a show Love Battery did in Madison, Wisconsin in the early ’90s where no one showed up. The band still played its ass off, and after the show, the bartender and other workers at the club came up, shook the LB members’ hands, and asked for autographs. Even though he’s played much bigger gigs, that one really meant a lot to him.

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I asked him about “old” versus “new” Seattle. The city is, I believe, the third most expensive to live in, after New York and San Francisco. It didn’t used to be that way. Kevin talked about paying rent in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood of about $50 per month, and being able to spend most of his time jamming/writing with his fellow musicians. Now that same rent would be something like $2,500 per month. The result is that it has kind of killed the local organic art community. That being said, Kevin doesn’t bemoan the change in Seattle and cities just evolve over time. Seattle still has a ton of talented local musicians.

One student inquired about his current projects. At this point, Kevin has a career and a family, so he can’t have the same lifestyle he did 30 years ago. He does play guitar from time to time in Sky Cries Mary, a local psychedelic outfit, along with Skin Yard’s Jack Endino. (Note, former SCM singer Jon Davison sang for Yes…saw them a few years ago. Fantastic.) In addition, this August, Love Battery’s classic line-up will reform with Kevin and Ron Rudzitis on guitar, Jim Tillman on bass, and Jason Finn on drums to play the entirely of their 1992 classic album,  Dayglo. https://www.alternativenation.net/legendary-grunge-band-reunite-after-25-years/

Kevin was great as expected and the students enjoyed chatting with him.

Afterward, we talked about the song selections for the week, which comprised hardcore punk, Eighties Mainstream, and the Paisley Underground. As I suspected, most of the class could live without the hypersonic hardcore punk thing, except for Marshall (see some earlier posts) who dug it…of course. I did get some laughs when I played the students an excerpt of the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.”

The Eighties Mainstream was a tough one for me, because I quite frankly hated it. So I selected artists that were at least sort of rock n roll and brought something to the party…the Police, Dire Straits, U2, and Prince among them. There seemed to be a U2 hate party going on, except for one student who defended them as a great live act. I don’t have a problem with them…at least they were political, which wasn’t the norm in the mainstream back then.

We were just about out of time when we talked about the Paisley Underground. I played them a little Dream Syndicate. One student talked about the Bangles and how he liked them and appreciated how difficult it must have been for a female act to break into a male-dominated industry.

That wrapped things up until Wednesday, when Rogers Stevens of Blind Melon will be stopping by. Until then…

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Week 11: A Skype Session With Seattle Institution Rob Morgan

Forget the songs and what we’re covering this week for a moment, because I introduced Rob “Capt.” Morgan to my students today. Don’t know, Rob? Well, picture a human hurricane, only infinitely funnier and more entertaining.

Rob, along with a few other self-described weirdos, basically created the Seattle punk rock scene out of thin air in the 1970s. When we had Lenny Kaye visit us a couple weeks back, he talked about how underground the NYC punk scene was back then. In New York, the only place to play original music was at a dump known as CBGB’s.

That being said, at least there was a dump to play at. And because it was New York, most of those bands got signed to major labels, like the Patti Smith Group, Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, and Blondie.

In contrast, there was nothing in Seattle and the major labels weren’t interested. The closest the Northwest punkers had to a club was the Bird, which existed for about six weeks in 1978 until the fire department shut it down. After that, the punk community rented halls wherever they could find to put on shows.

Rob has been in a bunch of bands, but his most memorable and long-running is the Squirrels, a band that does the most creative song mashups imaginable. In contrast to the Seattle stereotype of a bunch of cavemen playing grunge (and don’t get me wrong, I obviously love that stuff), Rob provides a broader picture of what really was happening in Seattle besides (and prior to) Sub Pop.

I don’t have enough space or time to get more into the Squirrels other than to tell you they combined Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” with the Hawaii Five-0 theme song and called it “Hawaii Take Five-0.” You’ll have to read my book to find out the rest. I did a special chapter addendum on Rob and the Squirrels.

So Rob appeared in front of us at 12:20 pm ET, and I braced myself, because I knew my students have never experienced anyone like him. I knew he would blow them out of their seats. Rob did not disappoint.

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(A student, foreground, waits for Rob to answer a question)

A student asked Rob about what punk rock meant to him beyond leather jackets. Rob laughed and said he never owned one. Punk to him meant doing what you want, both musically and otherwise, being yourself and not playing to what you think the world wants.

Another student asked Rob about his most memorable gigs. Rob mentioned a late 1980s Squirrels show at the Rainbow Tavern (Seattle, University District.) The tables at the Rainbow were basically large round wooden spools. One of the patrons kept heckling the band to get the hell off stage or whatever. So after he went to the bathroom, Rob & Co. proceeded to haul the table, including the customer’s bottle of wine, up on stage.

After he returned, Rob said the customer did a double take reminiscent of a cartoon when he saw the space where his table had been (I can’t do Rob’s imitation justice in writing…suffice it to say it got the students cracking up.) The customer was about to respond harshly when he noticed Rob on stage downing the bottle of wine, and then immediately changed his demeanor. He laughed and told the band they had balls.

At a Bumbershoot gig (annual outdoor Labor Day weekend music festival at the Seattle Center), the Squirrels had accumulated a bunch of Cabbage Patch dolls (again, further described in my book) and decided to hook up surgical tubing between two mics. While the two Squirrels guitar players wailed on the “I Dream of Jeannie” theme, Rob pulled the tubing back as far as possible and began launching Cabbage Patch projectiles into the audience. Rob said that was the last time the Squirrels were invited to Bumbershoot for some reason. He also said he’s killed about 300 Cabbage Patch dolls in his career.

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(That’s Marshall not asking the Marshall question.)

Rob was wearing a Darkness shirt, so I felt compelled to get him talking about one of his favorite bands. That was a mistake, because he was relentless…I mean, now apparently I am required by law to go see them. Assessing the situation, one student checked out the band’s latest tour dates on her phone. They’re coming to Philadelphia (Troc) on April 18, she said. Rob couldn’t say enough things about them. He likens them to rock n roll’s last best hope…a band that hasn’t forgotten that the music is ultimately about fun.

Needless to say, Rob was great. One student emailed me afterward and said this: “I really enjoyed Rob today. Definitely the funniest guest we’ve had so far.” There you go.

A big thanks to Rob for doing this.

Select Students Visit Richard Thompson for a Q&A

Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes good things just happen.

Earlier today, I crammed four of my rock n roll history students into my Mustang and made the trip to Princeton, NJ for a Q&A with Richard Thompson before his show there. Zac Ingraham, a member of Richard’s management team, set up this meeting and I can’t thank him enough.

We met Richard around 3:30 pm at the McCarter Theater at Princeton University. We sat in a conference room and the students prepared to fire off their questions.

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(The students outside the venue.)

I started things off by asking Richard about his childhood, just to give the students some perspective on post-World War II England. He contrasted the affluent American post-war experience with his formative years playing in London bomb sites left over from German bombing. He talked about food rationing that went on for nearly a decade after the war.

One student asked about his songwriting creative process. Richard talked about sort of extracting a song that’s already there…in other words almost acting as a conduit of sorts. Songwriting can be a pretty mystical thing sometimes.

Another student inquired about memorable performances. Richard mentioned sharing the bill with psychedelic-era Pink Floyd (I believe he was referring to the Roundhouse in London) and also a particular show in 1970 when Led Zeppelin joined Fairport Convention on stage. He said it was utter chaos and that someone taped it but alas, the tapes were lost.

I followed up by inquiring about the time he shared the stage with Jimi Hendrix at London’s Speakeasy. Fairport’s Judy Dyble told me about that story. Richard confirmed it, saying yes, Jimi joined Fairport on stage and they jammed away. There is nothing I can add to that.

One student asked what we now call the “Marshall question.” (Marshall, one of my students [who couldn’t attend], asks each musical guest if they have any advice for aspiring musicians.) Richard’s recommendation is to be original. He laments television shows that create stars by elevating people who sound like someone else. He felt that these shows reinforce the status quo rather than encourage artistic experimentation…something that has been a hallmark of his career.

Somebody asked Richard about his unique finger-picking technique. He said he sort of subconsciously developed a hybrid style when he was playing one day and wanted to finger pick a song, but didn’t feel like putting down the pick. So he would use the pick while finger-picking at the same time. He said that technique allows him to syncopate the beat, which is typically difficult to do on the guitar.

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(Richard answers a student’s question.)

Another student inquired if he has a wish list of musicians to work with. He said he’s pretty much worked with everyone he would like to, but would love to go back in time and rub elbows with people like jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt or even Mozart.

We said our goodbyes and thank yous to Richard and headed into Princeton proper to grab some dinner. We found a little Mexican place called “A Taste of Mexico.” Fantastic. We talked about our time with Richard over dinner. One student remarked that he thought only 20 minutes had gone by, but we were with him for an hour!

I was proud of my students for making the trip, but mostly for their passion for a great artist whom they can connect with despite generational differences. A big thank you to Richard for graciously giving his time and for Zac for setting this up.

Week 10: Seventies Mainstream Plus a Conversation With Marshall Amplification’s Terry Marshall

So we moved beyond prog, glam, and punk rock to give the class a little flavor of the eclectic nature of ’70s mainstream music.

The critics hated the ’70s, because…I guess because there was no Beatles/Stones/Hendrix/Dylan leading the way. Artists went in so many different directions that it was hard to sort of keep it together or write about it in a thematic way. Sorry, but critics sometimes get caught up in musical snobbery. There really was some intensely great music (and a lot of crap, too, of course) that came out of that decade.

I think of the ’60s as a fine multi-course meal. You get your appetizer, soup/salad, a delicious entree, wonderful dessert, some drinks and perhaps a fresh cup of coffee to end the evening. The ’70s was more like a buffet. Not as classy, and there is some stuff you don’t want to touch, but you can find something you like.

So I threw a lot at them…everything from Steely Dan to Eagles to Tom Petty to Springsteen to Journey to Van Halen to AC/DC (thanks, Marshall M.) to Nicks/Buckingham era Fleetwood Mac to Pink Floyd to whatever. Overall, the students had favorable reactions to this week. Two of my metal head students even sang the praises of Journey, so there you go.

Oh, I almost forgot…see that Marshall M. reference above? He’s one of my students. When he first looked at the artists we covered, he asked me why I skipped over AC/DC. So I threw it back on him. Tell me why I should cover them and whom I should leave out. He gave me a strong argument for AC/DC’s massive influence and suggested I take out Springsteen. While I wouldn’t have a personal problem with that, I figured that’s not a good idea, so I decided to play up AC/DC at Van Halen’s expense. That was a tough one for me, given Van Halen was my first real rock album and my first concert.

When we got to AC/DC, I turned the lecture over to Marshall, who did a great job illuminating AC/DC’s indebtedness to the blues and their “simple but not so simple” approach to songwriting. He even played the first few chords of “Highway to Hell.” He did a fantastic job.

On Wednesday, Terry Marshall Skyped with us from England, rescheduling from last week’s snow-out.

We’ve had some great sessions with musicians, but this one took things up a level. The students asked some great questions and Terry provided thoughtful answers. One student asked him about the “Marshall crunch” she read about, meaning that powerful crunching sound their amplifiers deliver. Terry responded by talking about how some musicians, he mentioned Hendrix specifically, who like to turn up their levels all the way up until the amplifiers are cooking…sometimes quite literally…and that provides that crunching sound she was referring to. Which leads us to the best question of the semester…

One of my students, who always wears Steelers stuff (hey, we can’t all be perfect) asked Terry if he had seen Spinal Tap and if the Marshall company actually designs amps that go to 11. Ok, I lost it with that one. I laughed so hard that the students started staring at me and began to laugh at my laughing. Terry cracked up, too. He said, yes, the company in fact has made amplifiers that reach 11 in volume. I mean, it’s true. Once you’ve hit 10, where do you go from there? You’re stuck. But if you need that extra umphhh, well, you can go to 11. (Correction/clarification from Terry: We did make a limited edition that referenced the Spinal Tap quote with a front panel where the volume control showed 11, but the amps themselves were unchanged.)

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(That’s Marshall asking Marshall a question.)

Terry, speaking in front of an imposing set of Marshall stacks, gave us an overview of the company and how things got started in his father Jim’s drum shop. Musicians began to ask if they could carry other instruments, which they did, including of course guitars. In particular, regular visitors to the shop like Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Big Jim Sullivan, and Ritchie Blackmore asked if the Marshalls could also carry amplifiers that would provide an alternative to the not-so-powerful Voxes or the too expensive Fenders.

So Terry, Jim, the musicians, and a team of engineers got to work making their own amplifier. As a saxophone player, Terry used his ear to translate what the musicians wanted to the engineers. By tweaking the pre-amp, the Marshalls were eventually able to come up with the “Marshall sound.” Within a few years, the company became the dominant standard in rock n roll and went worldwide. Terry talked about the relationships the company made and still has with musicians.

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(Another student, another great question.)

Overall everyone had a great time chatting with Terry. He’s a great guy. I had the good fortune to meet him and his wife for dinner a couple of years ago in London. Love the European dining experience where you get a table for the entire night. You’re not rushed out like in America. We enjoyed our leisurely dinner, had some coffee, and finished things off with a shot of liqueur.

So next up is a Skype chat with my friend and Seattle music legend Rob Morgan on Monday. Then we will cover new wave and post-punk. We’ll see how the students react to that stuff.

Week 9, Part 2: British Folk Rock and Punk Rock?

So last Wednesday, when we covered British folk/rock and progressive rock, we were supposed to have a Skype visit with Fairport Convention’s Judy Dyble. Unfortunately, the weather apparently didn’t care about our schedule and it decided to snow and cancel class. Fortunately for us, Judy agreed to reschedule to yesterday, March 28. She would speak with us and then we would talk about “SR 9,” which are songs they had to listen to, write about and discuss. Those songs represent a sampler of glam and punk rock. So that’s why we started out in Britain and ended up at CBGB’s.

We called Judy at the beginning of class and, wow, we had no technical problems for the first time!

If you’re not familiar, Fairport Convention started in London in 1967, and basically invented British folk/rock. Initially though, the band was trying to find its voice and recorded a sampler of what was to come. Judy was an original member who sang and played autoharp on the band’s first record. After that, she joined up with Robert Fripp, Peter Giles, Michael Giles, and Ian McDonald to form an early version of what would become King Crimson. So in a way, Judy is a link between the British folk club scene and progressive rock. She recorded “I Talk to the Wind,” which you can listen to here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfqXh5s4t4k. That song ended up on the first King Crimson record, with Greg Lake taking the vocal duties.

After that, Judy teemed up with Jackie McAuley of Them to form Trader Horne. Them, with lead singer Van Morrison, enjoyed success with “Gloria,” a song later covered by Patti Smith. (See Week 9, Part 1.) Judy explained to the class how Trader Horne’s name was suggested to them by legendary DJ John Peel. Trader Horne was the nickname for John’s nanny. He then worked for the BBC’s Radio One and later championed Seattle bands like Mudhoney and Nirvana.

Students asked Judy questions about career, about her choice of the autoharp, and her connections with musicians like Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson and Jimi Hendrix.

Judy learned to play the autoharp standing up, which was quite difficult because it’s a heavy instrument. She would play the instrument using a claw hammer technique and sing. Pretty remarkable.

She mentioned a jam session where she was chilling before a show and FC were getting ready on stage. Jimi Hendrix was in the audience and asked if he could sit in with the other musicians. Fairport of course said yes. So Richard Thompson handed Jimi his guitar, and Simon Nicol offered his guitar to Richard. So Richard Thompson and Jimi Hendrix were jamming on stage right in front of Judy! I asked her her about that experience. At the time, Judy said it was pretty  casual. Those kinds of things happened all the time back then. (Correction/clarification from Judy: The gig was at a well known London rock nightclub called the Speakeasy where many of the rock and pop musicians would go to unwind after their own shows, Fairport were in the middle of their performance when Jimi asked to sit in with them, Tiny stage so I went to sit down somewhere else while they were jamming.)

Judy also talked about some of the clubs she played at in London like the Middle Earth and Roundhouse. The Roundhouse became famous for “Psychedelic Freak-Outs” with bands like the Move and the Pink Floyd (and yes, back then, it was the Pink Floyd.) The Roundhouse was apparently a train station at one time, and it had a turntable somewhere on the dance floor. Patrons had to be careful not to trip on the edges of the turntable in the blackness of the club.

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(Judy listens while a student poses a question.)

One student asked Judy about how she went about putting together her autobiography, a fascinating read called An Accidental Musician. She talked about how she was supposed to become a librarian. She had been in a small band called Judy and the Folkmen but figured that would be the end of her musical career. But the people in Fairport asked her to join and that was that.

After many years out of the music scene, Judy began to make solo records and tour in the early 2000s. She has reunited with Fairport for reunion shows and continues to make music to this day.

The class absolutely adored her. How can you not? She is probably the sweetest person I’ve ever interviewed.

After the visit with Judy, we spent the rest of the class talking about “SR 9,” which featured people like David Bowie, Queen, T. Rex, Alice Cooper and pre-punk acts like the Velvet Underground, the MC 5, and the Stooges. Then we delved into the early NYC punk rock scene with Television, the Ramones, the Patti Smith Group, and Talking Heads. We pretty much ran out of time and I shoehorned in selections from British punk bands the Sex Pistols and Clash.

Overall, student reactions were mixed. Some students dug the punk stuff, but a lot did not. The Talking Heads selection, “Once In a Lifetime,” received mixed reviews because of its weirdness, which is exactly the reason I like it. I dig the ending when David Byrne basically mocks himself.

Next week will be much tamer musically as they will get a sampler of more mainstream music from the 1970s. We’ll be talking about and listening to Journey, Stevie Nicks/Lindsey Buckingham era Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, the Eagles, Springsteen, Tom Petty, and more. So far I’ve received one early response for “SR 10,” and she loved all the songs. Hey, punk rock isn’t for everyone, and a lot of the mainstream stuff in the ’70s was outstanding. See you then!

Week 9, Punk Rock and a Visit from the Patti Smith Group’s Lenny Kaye

Normally on Mondays I provide context for the songs we’re going to talk about on Wednesdays. Then on Wednesdays we discuss those songs. For example, in Week 8 we covered prog rock and British folk/rock. On Monday, I gave them some background of the evolution of prog rock and the British folk club scene which led to bands like the Strawbs, Fairport Convention, and the Pentangle. Then we discussed the assigned songs on Wednesday. Wait, no we didn’t. It snowed.

This week was different as we were privileged to welcome our first in-person guest speaker: Mr. Lenny Kaye. I met him beforehand for lunch (yes, I paid…it’s the least I can do as he drove about 90 minutes to be with us…such an incredible guy.) Lunch was cool as I could give Lenny some more background on the course and he told me about some of his experiences with Patti Smith, co-writing Waylon Jennings’ autobiography, etc. I had to remind myself to just shut up and listen.

I began the class with a short clip from End of the Century, the Ramones documentary. I showed the part that covers the early “Ramones at CBGB” days. I heard some laughs from the students as the Ramones argued on stage. “Let’s play I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement. No, I wanna play Loudmouth. We want I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement. It’s two against one. Fuck you all.” Then, we all sat in a circle and I turned the class over to Lenny. Why not? He was there after all.

Lenny talked about the organic nature of that early NYC punk scene, of how every band was so different: The Patti Smith Group basically set Patti’s poetry to music and experimented with so many genres, exploring traditional musical landscapes and sometimes venturing off into unstructured improvisation; Television created symphonies with their guitars; Talking Heads approached things from an angular art school perspective; and the Ramones…well, the Ramones were the Ramones. The whole point is that there really wasn’t a defined “punk rock.” People were doing what they wanted and the audiences typically consisted of members of other bands (does that sound familiar, Seattle music fans…like Soundgarden and Skin Yard playing on a Tuesday night at the Rainbow Tavern familiar?)

Patti was into simplicity, and then exploring things musically from there. In other words, she didn’t feel a need to do something clever for cleverness sake. The Patti Smith Group usually worked out their material live rather than in the rehearsal space. They discovered what worked and what didn’t in front of an audience rather than during practice.

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(Lenny Kaye talks to the class)

One student asked Lenny about his fascination with science fiction and comic books and if that influenced him at all in his music. What a question! Lenny responded by saying absolutely it did. The seemingly unbounded possibilities of science fiction allowed him the space (yeah, there was no pun intended there…really) to explore what can be done sonically beyond the confines of melody and rhythm…essentially inspiring a free jazz approach.

Another student asked him if his inability to read sheet music helped or hurt his career. He said he believes it mostly helped him because he can create music unfettered by structure or theory. His ear knows where the notes are and he can use that to improvise with Patti and the other musicians. That student followed up by saying she has classical piano training and that her teacher would not let her improvise at all. So she can play anything you put in front of her but can’t make anything up on the spot. Lenny responded by saying he would love to sit down and play a Chopin piece, but appreciates the fact that he can go off script.

Lenny continually praised Patti Smith’s artistic integrity. He still plays with her to this day.

As we finished up, I threw in a question about Lenny’s early days. In the Summer of 1967, Lenny and a friend decided to drive from their home in New Jersey to San Francisco to check out the scene and bands there. They talked high philosophy, forgetting to check the fuel level and managed to run out of gas in Nebraska. The point was that they had such an idolized view of change that anything was possible in the human race. I asked Lenny if he felt that youthful hope still exists today or have we become too jaded? He responded by referring to the kids who participated in the March For Our Lives, and that the spirit of kindness, compassion, and activism is alive and well. He urged young people to make their contribution, to put their stamp on the world and try to improve the planet and everyone in it.

In all, we were privileged to have hosted Lenny today. I still can’t quite believe I have gotten this lucky. I know the students appreciated him as well.

 

 

A Bitchy Blog Update…I Blame the Snow

So these past few weeks have been screwed by the weather, to say the least, throwing spring break in there just for fun. Weather canceled Wednesday, March 7’s class, when Marshall Amplification co-founder Terry Marshall was supposed to Skype with us; We didn’t meet on Monday and Wednesday, March 12 and 14 due to spring break; and snow canceled Wednesday, March 21’s meeting, when Fairport Convention’s Judy Dyble was to Skype with the class. (Fortunately, they both were able to reschedule. Judy will chat with us on Wednesday, March 28 and Terry on Wednesday, April 4.)

So I think that’s why my attitude in this blog update sucks.

So, what did we cover during our limited class time? We talked about 1960s San Francisco and Los Angeles psychedelia, electric folk/rock and everything in between (Week 6.) Then we covered heavy blues and early metal of the late ’60s and early ’70s…people like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Free, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple. Most of the class dug a lot of that stuff, but now it’s time for me to gripe. (Week 7.)

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(Byrds classic line-up featuring David Crosby, far left, and Roger McGuinn, far right. McGuinn talked to us a few weeks back.)

I mentioned how some of the now “iconic” songs of that era, songs that have become standards half a century on, were throwaway numbers at the time. I specifically mentioned Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” Free’s “All Right Now,” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke On the Water.” For the last song, I even played the students an excerpt of an interview I did with DP’s bass player, Roger Glover.  Glover talked about how band was just finishing up the Machine Head record and needed another song to wrap things up. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had the cool riff, but that was about it. Since some moron set off a flair gun which managed to burn their recording studio to the ground, Deep Purple riffed on the story of what happened and how they recorded afterward and how it impacted other bands who were supposed to record there like the Rolling Stones and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. The lyrics were not poetic…just basically conversational about what occurred. It was all done seat of the pants style, no one thinking about it at the time, no one considering that they had just composed one of the most recognizable songs in rock history.

Don’t you know I got some song reactions back from the students saying, “I don’t know what this song was about.” And I restrained myself, but I responded, “You know what it’s about. The bass player in the band who wrote the song told you exactly what it’s about.” I had the same thing happen with “All Right Now,” a song written in a hurry when Free’s manager asked them to compose something upbeat after a bad gig. Singer Paul Rodgers just went, “All right now,” and there you have it. This from interviews with Free’s late bassist Andy Fraser and drummer Simon Kirke. Apparently, some students didn’t listen to that, either. Ugh.

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(Jimi)

So let’s get to Week 8, where we spent some time on prog rock and British folk/rock. We covered bands like King Crimson, Yes, Tull, ELP, Genesis, Renaissance, Rush, Fairport Convention, the Strawbs, and the Pentangle.

I know prog isn’t for everyone, and I really dig some of it, but only if I’m in the right mood…and another gripe is coming. Before giving the students their prog rock songs, I mentioned how long some of them are, that there is no payoff, and they just have to let the songs come to them. Then I read some of the reactions to selections like Yes’, “And You and I.” That’s a 10 minute excerpt from their 1972 album, Close to the Edge (which, btw, is my favorite Yes record and as I found out last spring, it’s also Steve Howe’s.)

In that particular song, the band spends maybe about 30 seconds “warming up” where Howe does a bunch of harmonics before the song begins. (As I found out from Yes’ Bill Bruford, all of that was planned…to the note.) Some students reacted like, “This is boring. It took too long for the song begin.” Hey, have patience people! It will start when it’s ready. Again, ugh. I remember hearing Close to the Edge for the first time as a teenager and loving it. I know things are different now, and I know it’s a matter of taste, but man, this instant gratification culture has its shortcomings sometimes.

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(Yes’ classic line-up with, from left, Steve Howe on guitar, Bill Bruford on drums, Jon Anderson on guitar and vocals, Chris Squire on bass, and Rick Wakeman on keyboards.)

Ok, I’m done griping. This week coming up should be fantastic. We’ve got a visit on Monday, in person, from the Patti Smith Group’s guitar player, Lenny Kaye. Then on Wednesday, Judy Dyble will chat with us remotely from England. We’re covering glam, proto-punk and punk rock this week, so I’m excited.