Archive for the ‘Rock n Roll History Course at Delaware Valley University’ Category

We’ve spent the last week covering the Beatles and talking about their music. So who is the perfect guest to talk with us? Paul McCartney? Ringo Starr? (Ok, that would be great, but no.) How about the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn?  After all, George Harrison inspired him to go with his now signature 12-string Rickenbacker guitar.

So Roger returned to chat with us for a third time.

Students asked him some insightful questions, one of which was about his Folk Den site that encourages free downloads of traditional music. He started that site (at https://www.ibiblio.org/jimmy/folkden-wp/) to keep folk traditions alive for future generations.

Roger then demonstrated on his Rickenbacker how “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the Dylan-penned Byrds hit, and the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” are derived from folk chord progressions. That students were thrilled to hear him play.

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Roger mentioned how The Wrecking Crew, the famed session musicians who performed on so many songs, took the lead on Tambourine Man, with Roger being the only Byrd actually playing on it. While that upset the other Byrds, apparently that session took three hours, whereas the actual Byrds’ recording of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” took 77 takes.

A student asked about how the loss of David Crosby (who went on to form Crosby, Stills & Nash and occasionally Young) impacted the Byrds. Roger said while he would miss Crosby’s strong harmonic contributions, he felt Gene Clark’s departure even more acutely, as he was the Byrds’ primary songwriter.

One student asked about the passing of musicians close to Roger and how that impacted him…a touchy question that Roger handled with grace. He specifically mentioned Tom Petty, since they were quite close and his death was so unexpected. He also said the loss of George Harrison was a big deal since he was also good friends with the former Beatle.

Another student inquired about Roger’s working with Paul Simon early in his career. Roger proceeded to pull up a Paul Simon video that talked about their early collaboration.

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In all, Roger was his usual affable self, answering students’ questions thoughtfully. We were super lucky to have him join us and hopefully we can do another Skype session next year.

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After picking three albums from the notorious top hat, the students had a week to choose one to write about. They must not only talk about the songs on the record, but also react to the album itself…like how we used to debate which Led Zeppelin album was best back in the day. So without further adieu, here are the students’ selections, with their ultimate choice in bold:

Shalee

Journey, Escape

Radiohead, OK Computer

Mike Oldfield, Tubular Bells

Kerry

Rush, Moving Pictures

Rush, Permanent Waves

The Police, Outlandos D’Amour

Jalene

Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever

Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II

Fairport Convention, Liege & Lief

Amanda

Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon

Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True

Alice Cooper, Welcome To My Nightmare

Taylor

The Beatles, Rubber Soul

Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation

The Ramones, Ramones

Brandon

Guns ‘N Roses, Appetite For Destruction

The Beatles, Abbey Road

U2, War

Christopher

The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds

The Ramones, Rocket to Russia

Santana, Abraxas

Danielle

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Axis: Bold As Love

Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Creedence Clearwater Revival, Willy and the Poor Boys

Monica

Patti Smith Group, Easter

Talking Heads, Talking Heads: 77

The Who, Who’s Next

Michael

The Who, Tommy

Patti Smith, Horses

Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville

Timothy

Queen, A Night At the Opera

The Who, Quadrophenia

Pretenders, s/t

Chancellor

Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here

Deep Purple, Machine Head

Aerosmith, Toys In the Attic

Jacob

The Shins, Oh Inverted World

Neil Young, After the Gold Rush

Stone Temple Pilots, Purple

Mark

The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers

Van Halen, s/t

The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow

Evan

Black Sabbath, Paranoid

The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed

Neil Young, Harvest

Spencer

The Stooges, Funhouse

Television, Marquee Moon

The Modern Lovers, s/t

(Update: We had some adds and drops, so the new students’ selections are included below. Also, a few students have picked their albums already and those are bolded.)

So see the hat below? In it are 100 numbered wooden shapes representing albums released from 1965-2008. Each student is going to select three numbers and will have a week to pick an album to write about. The point is to get the students out of the mode of cherry picking songs. I want them to learn to appreciate an album as a whole. So without further adieu, here are the three possible albums each student pulled from the hat (first names only to protect the guilty):

Which will they pick? Which should they pick? I’ll let you know in a week.

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Shealee: Radiohead, Ok Computer; Journey, Escape; Mike Oldfield, Tubular Bells

Kerry: The Police, Oulandos D’Amour; Rush, Permanent Waves; Rush, Moving Pictures (yeah, she somehow picked consecutive numbers)

Jalene: Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II; Fairport Convention, Liege & Lief; Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever

Amanda: Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True; Alice Cooper, Welcome to My Nightmare; Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon

Taylor: The Beatles, Rubber Soul; Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation; The Ramones, Ramones

Brandon: Guns ‘N Roses, Appetite For Destruction; The Beatles, Abbey Road; U2, War

Danielle: Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis: Bold As Love; Creedence Clearwater Revival, Willie and the Poor Boys

Monica: Patti Smith Group, Easter; Talking Heads, Talking Heads: 77; The Who, Who’s Next

Chris: The Ramones, Rocket to Russia; The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds; Santana, Abraxas.

Michael: The Who, Tommy; Patti Smith, Horses; Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville

Timothy: The Who, Quadrophenia; Queen, A Night at the Opera; Pretenders, Pretenders

Chancellor: Deep Purple, Machine Head; Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here; Aerosmith, Toys in the Attic

Jacob: Neil Young, After the Gold Rush; The Shins, Oh Inverted World; Stone Temple Pilots, Purple

Mark: The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers; Van Halen, Van Halen; The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow

Evan: The Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed; Neil Young, Harvest; Black Sabbath, Paranoid

Spencer: Television, Marquee Moon; The Stooges, Funhouse; The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers

Hello all:

Well, we’re doing it again, only this time we’re taking the music up from the 1920s through around 2005. We have some really cool guest speakers this semester who will chat with us via Skype:

Mia Katherine Boyle (MKB Ultra). Mia is the vision behind this psychedelic Seattle band.

Chad Channing (Nirvana). Chad was Nirvana’s first “real” drummer in that he toured and recorded with the band during their Sub Pop days. He also played on Bleach, Nirvana’s first record. Chad is doing his second stint with us.

Judy Dyble (Fairport Convention). Judy was Fairport’s first singer. She also played a giant autoharp while she sang. Fairport has been credited for creating the British version of folk/rock. Judy has shared some great stories hanging out with Richard Thompson and Jimi Hendrix. She’s also coming back for a second time.

Steve Howe (Yes.) So Steve can play guitar a little bit. He’s a prodigy/guitar master who is returning for his second visit with us. Last time, in addition to playing some Yes songs for the students, he dabbled in Wes Montgomery and Vivaldi.

Terry Marshall (Marshall Amplification Company co-founder.) Terry, along with his dad Jim, started the Marshall company out of Jim’s instrument shop in London’s west end. From those humble beginnings in the early 1960s, Marshall quickly grew to become the standard bearer of electric guitar amplification. Terry chatted with us last spring from the Marshall factory, sitting in a black leather chair in front of an intimidating stack of Marshall amps.

Chris Martin (Kinski.) Kinski is my favorite post-grunge Seattle band. If Sonic Youth and Black Sabbath had a baby, it would be Kinski.

Roger McGuinn (Byrds.) Roger will be chatting with us (and possibly playing) for the third time. He’s a great guy and an incredibly talented player. The Byrds are credited with inventing southern California folk/rock as well as country/rock.

Rogers Stevens (Blind Melon.) Rogers, now an attorney in Philadelphia, will be visiting us for a second time. Blind Melon gained fame in the early ’90s on the strength of the classic “No Rain.” After singer Shannon Hoon’s death, Stevens went to college and became a lawyer. Blind Melon still tours and records on occasion with a new singer.

Kathy Valentine (Go-Go’s). Kathy is making her first visit with us and we’re super psyched. The Go-Go’s became popular in the early ’80s with the hits “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat.”

So we’re excited to get started. I’ll be posting about our first class shortly.

Cheers.

St

 

So no guest speakers this week, but we covered a lot of territory: specifically the ’80s underground and the ’90s alternative explosion.

For the ’80s, I presented the students with the big cities and medium size cities which had vibrant scenes: Chicago, Boston, Athens, GA, Portland, OR, Olympia, WA, and Seattle among them (for some reason I didn’t list Minneapolis. It’s the end of the semester. That’s my excuse.)

I shouldn’t be surprised, but this week provoked the strongest negative reactions from the students. Turns out they’re not big fans of the Pixies, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Scratch Acid, or the U-Men. I get it. This stuff is not particularly accessible, except of course for R.E.M., which they had mixed reactions to.

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(Sonic Youth, CBGB’s 1986)

We then moved on to the ’90s, and my baby Seattle. I talked about the variety of local music that existed, even during the late ’80s heyday of grunge. We covered the usual suspects: Nirvana, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains (wait, why didn’t you mention Soundgarden, you ask? I have no freaking idea. I did not have them listen to even one Soundgarden song. I’m not sure what happened. Absolute brain fart.) I also gave them a little taste of some of the other Seattle bands of that era, notably Love Battery and the Young Fresh Fellows. They also listened to selections from non-Seattle bands from back then, in particular Stone Temple Pilots and Blind Melon.

nirvana

(Nirvana)

The ’90s music seemed to reinvigorate the class (as it reinvigorated me back in the day), which is a big deal since the semester’s coming to a close, the weather is getting nice, and they want to get the hell out of here.

On Wednesday, after talking about the ’90s songs, I asked the students what their most and least favorite selections were. For favorites, a few picked the ’90s, one said the Beatles, another mentioned ’60s San Francisco/Los Angeles. One student said she dug the early blues stuff…which is great. ’80s underground took the near univesral nod for least favorite unit.

I have to say this group was most excellent. They got it. One student mentioned how even though she didn’t like the ’80s indie stuff, she was glad we covered it as it gives her a better understanding of how the music progressed. They really appreciated the guest speakers and the opportunity they had to chat remotely with, and in three cases, meet the musicians in person.

Overall I loved teaching this class. There were no tests, no papers…just weekly song reactions, questions for the guest speakers, and participation in class discussions. I wouldn’t have attempted that evaluation with my intro to US students, but these kids were motivated and excited to learn about the music. I felt testing them on this material would be ridiculous. I wanted them to appreciate the music and it’s context, which would hopefully lead them to a lifetime of musical exploration and enjoyment.

A few students asked if I would do a course covering post-early ’90s music. I thought about it, but I’m not sure I’d be the right guy. I mean, I do have knowledge of the underground music of the ’90s and there was certainly a lot of great music that has happened since Seattle, but I’m not much of an expert on it.

In any event, I hope you enjoyed these blog posts as much as I did writing them.

Blind Melon. I was one of those nerds who wore out their 1992 debut record…digging songs like I Wonder, Paper Scratcher, and Deserted. I of course liked them more than the monster radio hit No Rain, but then again, I’m weird.

Some years later, I searched Youtube, trying to figure out how to play I Wonder and stumbled upon an interview where Blind Melon guitarist Rogers Stevens talked about the late singer, Shannon Hoon. I looked closer and noticed the Philadelphia skyline behind him. “That’s weird,” I thought. “Aren’t these guys from Mississippi?” Turns out Rogers, who grew up near Mississippi State University, is an attorney in Philadelphia. Following Shannon’s 1995 death, Rogers decided to ditch the music industry (not entirely as it turns out) and went to college. He attended Delaware County Community College (aka Delco to us locals), then Temple University (where he graduated summa cum laude), and then on to the University of Pennsylvania law school.

So I emailed him and asked if he would talk to my rock n roll history class and he graciously accepted.

I asked Rogers to give us a bit of his background. In brief, and I won’t be doing this justice, he grew up in a farming community near Mississippi State. After seeing Van Halen in 1984 (my first concert ever was Van Halen in 1980!), he decided to become a musician. So a few of his friends decided to head off to Los Angeles with no plan, not knowing anyone…not even having a place to stay. Initially, no one would rent to them because of their rather unkempt appearance and they spent more than a few nights sleeping in the car.

Eventually, though, Rogers and his crew came across Shannon, who was a good friend of Guns N Roses’ front man Axl Rose. Shannon’s voice and charisma soon became apparent and the band began to form. One student asked Rogers about the where the name Blind Melon came from. Rogers said they pulled it from a Cheech & Chong film. Perfect.

RS 2

Shannon’s connections with Axl helped a great deal, and Blind Melon soon had offers from multiple labels. The band’s eponymous debut album initially didn’t do much…it kind of languished for about a year before the release of No Rain, which turned the small time outfit into major rock stars.

A student asked Rogers what it was like to attain such massive fame so abruptly. He said they weren’t prepared for it. They were playing a series of small clubs when No Rain came out with that video, starring drummer Glen Graham’s sister as the bumblebee. One day, while staying in a hotel across from a venue Blind Melon was playing that night (forget the city), Rogers looked out the window and saw a line the wrapped around the venue several times. “What, is Bill Clinton in town?” he wondered. Turns out they were all there to see his band.

Students began asking Rogers questions and he sprung forth with some great stories, particularly about Shannon. He talked about the singer and Axl regularly getting into fist fights. Shannon was a an athlete and martial artist, so he could kick some major ass.

One time, while the band was in a bar in New Orleans, Shannon, for no particular reason, hurled a beer bottle at a mirror behind the bar. After the mirror shattered, the band wisely decided to exit the establishment in a hurry, with the police hot on their tales. Rogers remembers they were in pretty good shape, basically home free, when Shannon inexplicably stopped and punched a cop. His arrest apparently wasn’t all that unusual.

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I played Rogers a snippet of a couple Blind Melon tracks…but in particular the closing riffs to I Wonder and Paper Scratcher. Those are the kind of riffs I wait an entire song for. He said he wrote the former song and played the lead on the Scratcher riff.

One student asked Rogers what wisdom he would impart to his younger self. He said he would tell himself to be open to playing in front of anyone. Apparently at one point, Blind Melon was offered a chance to open for Bon Jovi in Australia. They turned it down because they hated Bon Jovi (ok, that instantly makes me like the Melon boys better.) In retrospect, Rogers felt that sort of standing on principle move was short-sighted. He thinks the band should have relished the opportunity to win over any audience, even if they didn’t like the headliner.

I played him a snippet of Soul One, my favorite track off of Blind Melon’s third album, Nico, released after Shannon’s death. Turns out it’s an early demo that Rogers wrote and he doesn’t care for at all. That happens sometimes. Fans like stuff the artists despise and vice-versa. (At least Steve Howe and I both favor Close to the Edge as our favorite Yes record.)

Blind Melon still exists and Rogers is about to embark on an American tour. Someone asked him how he manages to do that while maintaining his career as a law associate. He said it’s not easy, he doesn’t sleep much, but he manages to make it work.

In any event, the students and I were thrilled Rogers took the time to talk with us. I’m looking forward to seeing his band next month in Philly.

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.

KW 1

(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…