Book Cover Image, etc.

Friends, when I committed to writing a book in May 2010 I had no idea how ambitious of a process it would be. I don’t regret a minute of it. It has been one of the most challenging projects I have ever been a part of, and I am thankful to have had, and have, the opportunity to do this. This coming week, the first-ever physical proof of the book will arrive on my doorstep – book cover and all. I have heard from fellow authors, and I believe them, that this will be a significant moment in my life.

Seeing the actual, physical results of something that has been a labor of love for two of my 30 years – I’m not sure there are words to describe it.

I appreciate the support from all of you, especially since May 2010 when I started blabbing about writing a book. I know some of you are sick and tired of hearing about it, and at times have very likely thought it would never come to fruition. I understand. And trust me, I am ready to see the final results myself, and be able to get it in the hands of anyone interested.

Below is almost exactly how the book cover will appear. Many thanks to the amazing Tyler Clark for his design work on this project. He is a good dude that you should work with if you get the opportunity.

Crosby & Bowie: Christmas 1977

There are a few pop culture necessities for me when the holidays roll around: Christmas Vacation, Elf, a visit to The Opryland Hotel, any and all Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole Christmas music, White Christmas (the movie), A Charlie Brown Christmas (the TV special and accompanying album), “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, “Beloved Christmas Tree” by Kopecky Family Band and Jars of Clay’s Christmas Songs.

Back to that Crosby guy, his recording of “Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy” with David Bowie has always interested me. Plenty hate it, I get that. Either way, it was a very important moment for music in the late 1970s. It brought together one of the most classic vocalists and talents of the twentieth century, Bing Crosby, with one of the most essential and impactful writers and performers in Rock and Roll, David Bowie.

The pairing was not a result of a pre-existing relationship. The producers of Bing’s TV special, “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas” thought it a good idea, and made it happen. According to a 2006 story by Paul Farhi in The Washington Post, “The notion of pairing the resolutely white-bread Crosby with the exquisitely offbeat Bowie apparently was the brainchild of the TV special’s producers, Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion, according to Ian Fraser, who co-wrote (with Larry Grossman) the song’s [“Peace On Earth”] music and arranged it.”

Apparently Crosby did not know who David Bowie was initially, but his children did, so he agreed to the idea. David Bowie was not interested in singing “Little Drummer Boy.” The producers of the show literally wrote the “Peace On Earth” part of the song within about an hour’s time, on the day of the taping, which is the part Bowie sings in the second half. The two rehearsed the song for less than one hour before the recording on September 11, 1977.

Bing Crosby’s Christmas TV special was set in England and the premise behind the skit is that Bowie is stopping by to see a friend. Crosby is in visiting from America and is staying at Bowie’s friend’s home. Crosby answers the door, the two quickly connect over their musical interests and via television magic, music begins to play and the two sing a beautiful version of “Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy.”

There are two separate songs here, but they work together. This is called “counterpoint,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character.” In other words, two separate songs that totally work when performed simultaneously.

Obviously tongue-in-cheek, but still important is part of the exchange from the skit preceding the song:

Bowie: Do you like modern music?

Crosby: Oh, I think it’s marvelous. Some of it really fine. Tell me, uh, you ever listen to any of the older fellas?

Bowie: Oh yeah, sure. I like, uh, John Lennon, and the other one, Harry Nilsson.

Crosby: Oooh, you go back that far, huh?

Bowie: Yeah, I’m not as young as I look.

Crosby: None of us is these days.

David Bowie was 30 years old at the time of this taping. Crosby was 74. A difference of 44 years.

On October 14, 1977, just over a month following the taping, Bing Crosby passed away as the result of a heart attack, in Madrid, Spain. “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas” initially aired November 30, 1977, on CBS.

Crosby is an absolute legend. I am so thankful this pairing was made and the result was recorded for posterity’s sake. When you watch the skit, notice Bowie’s youth and Crosby’s frailty.

After catching the original, be sure to catch Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly’s parody version of the performance.

Hallowed Ground: The Riot House

“Hallowed Ground” is a regular feature on Clore Chronicles, exploring important physical locations in music history.

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The Sunset Strip in Los Angeles is one of my absolute favorite places to be. There is a constant vibe of rock and roll felt in few other places. It is simply magical.

The location best known as the “Riot House,” currently (officially) referred to as Andaz West Hollywood, is a hotel on the Sunset Strip where some of Rock and Roll’s most “rock and roll” events took place. Quite archetypal stuff: TVs thrown out of windows, people trying to kill themselves, naked women, extensive hedonism, renting entire floors of hotels. You know, normal things.

And we’re talking about some of Rock and Roll’s most iconic and legendary bands, literally the heart of the canon by which all other mainstream Rock and Rollers are judged: Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Doors. (Zeppelin’s John Bonham and The Who’s Keith Moon alone could have warranted the name the “Riot House.”)

Located at 8401 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood and originally opened in 1963, the hotel has had five different names, in order: Gene Autry House (1963-1966), Continental Hyatt House (1966-1976), Hyatt on Sunset (1976-1997), Hyatt West Hollywood (1997-2009) and its current name, Andaz West Hollywood.

From Ralph Hulett and Jerry Prochnicky’s book, Whole Lotta Led: Our Flight with Led Zeppelin:

For the tour’s [Zeppelin’s 1973 tour] final ten days Zeppelin used an entire floor at the Continental Hyatt House in L.A. as its base. Locals began calling it the “Riot House” because of all the zaniness that went on. Only [John Paul] Jones seemed to avoid the tour antics. Reports claim that he always insisted on his hotel suite being at least two floors away from the rest of the band. Having an entire floor was like having one big playground taken from the script of Animal House. It was crazy, it was mad. There were wheelchair races in the hallway. TVs were thrown out the window. Groupies were tied to the beds. “Coke Lady,” an aide employed solely for the purpose of passing out white powder to band members and crew, was kept busy. Bonham played his records very, very loud at three or four in the morning and somebody would go downstairs and complain. The hotel ended up moving the person who complained. It was just the idea that, “We can get away with anything because we’re Led Zeppelin.”

The following 30-second video clip from This Is Spinal Tap was filmed on the roof of the hotel.

In Richard Crouse’s book, Big Bang Baby: The Rock Trivia Book, he shares,

…The hotel has a rich rock and roll history. In the 1960s Doors singer Jim Morrison lived at The Riot House, causing a traffic jam one afternoon when he hung out a window by his fingertips. He wasn’t evicted for his behaviour – he was simply moved to the other side of the hotel to a room facing away from the street. In the 1970s it was Led Zeppelin’s home away from home. Renting as many as six floors at a time, the band would stage motorcycle races in the halls, have orgies, and generally break up the place. Their business was always welcome, as long as they were willing to pay a $50,000 damage deposit each time they stayed there.

For a great look at the “Riot House” from the Zeppelin perspective:

Robert Plant, looking on from a balcony of the “Riot House.” Photo by Peter Simon/Retna.

 

*Originally published July 24, 2010

City of Angels; late 1960s – early 1970s

If given a temporary time travel option, you would find me in Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I realize there are myriad amazing locations in rock and roll history: Greenwich Village, Memphis, Harlem, New Orleans, The Mississippi Delta, Haight-Ashbury, Liverpool, London – but I would be rocking it in L.A.

One of my favorite books is by an author called Michael Walker. He wrote, Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock And Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood. If you have a remote interest in this topic, this book is for you. The following are a few quotes from various parts of the book. For more effect, listen to The Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” in the background as you read.

“It was the custom in those fading days of the ’60s for the canyon’s freaks to gather across from the Canyon Store on a triangular concrete traffic island formed by the intersection of Kirkwood Drive and Laurel Canyone Boulevard.”

“There wasn’t a star thing going on even with the stars.” – Graham Nash

“Jim Pons of the Leaves was right next door to me. Down the street was Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa. As you went up Lookout, you had Paul Williams, Joe Schermie of Three Dog Night, John Mayall. Robby Krieger and his wife were very good friends; Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night was probably our closest friend – he was best man at my first wedding. Henry [Diltz] lived right across the street. I remember several nights that Joni Mitchell held a kind of court at her house with many of the young writers that were coming through – Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther – a plethora of songwriters passing the guitar around and singing the things they were working on.” – Mark Volman of The Turtles

“L.A. in the late 1960s represented one of those periodic cracks in the pop-cultural fortress when frustrated geniuses from the hinterland are not only tolerated but welcomed.”

“Laurel Canyon is a consciousness, rather than a physical place,” Michael Des Barres, the British singer and actor who lived in the canyon in the 1970s, told me [Michael Walker]. “Like the Chateau Marmont or Carnaby Street, [it] transcends geographics.”

It wasn’t perfect, but music scene-speaking, I’m pretty sure it was.

The Rolling Stones Are Almost 50

Seriously, have you ever really considered the life of The Rolling Stones?

It is phenomenal.

On the homepage of the band’s official website it states:

The Rolling Stones

Established in 1962.

The Rolling Stones are one of the greatest rock and roll bands in the world. Their appeal is universal, their sound is all their own and their story’s unique.

Spot on.

But established in 1962? We all know that, or at least realize it’s been a long time, but think on how much has happened in that time: the bands that have come and gone, the changes in the music industry, the changes in politics, the changes in culture.

In 1962, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was President of the United States. Dodger Stadium hosted its first-ever game. The first Wal-Mart store opened. Marilyn Monroe died. Ringo Starr became drummer for The Beatles after Pete Best was fired. James Meredith registered and attended the University of Mississippi as the first black student. Johnny Carson took over as host of The Tonight Show. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. Axl Rose, Sheryl Crow, Tommy Lee, Paula Abdul and Jon Bon Jovi were born.

This is 48 years ago.

And The Rolling Stones are still a band. Granted, they’ve had their hiccups and misgivings along the way, but you can’t argue with the commitment that mysteriously exists at the core of that band.

From the book The Year the Music Died, by Dwight Rounds,

David Frost, talk show host (1969): ‘Can you picture yourself at the age of sixty doing what you do now?’

Mick [Jagger]: ‘Yes, easily.’ (laughter)

Frost: ‘Going onstage with a cane?’ 

Jagger later changed his outlook by saying that he would never be singing “Satisfaction” at age forty.

Hallowed Ground: Muscle Shoals

“Hallowed Ground” is a regular feature on Clore Chronicles, exploring important physical locations in music history.

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Last week I had the honor of participating in a “Grammy In The Schools Career Day” at Muscle Shoals High School, in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. I spoke on a record label panel, helping to give students an overview of how record labels work.

Prior to making the trek I figured I’d brush up on my Muscle Shoals music history knowledge. Unfortunately, it’s an easy place to forget about, and after this latest trip I plan to do my part to help change that.

Muscle Shoals stands out as a music center, primarily because it’s a very small town (13,000 people). That small town feel is part of what has made it so appealing to musicians through the years. It has often represented a location where music could be the sole focus of an artist’s work; where the bustle of a city was nonexistent.

The legendary artists that have recorded and/or done important work in Muscle Shoals through the years is remarkable. The Rolling Stones, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Boz Scaggs, Bob Dylan, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, The Allman Brothers, Little Richard, The Oak Ridge Boys, Linda Ronstadt, Wilson Pickett, Art Garfunkel and Clarence Carter, among others.

The town’s physical location is also key. It’s 151 miles from Memphis; 125 miles from Nashville; 84 miles from Tupelo (where Elvis was born); 210 miles from Ruleville/Cleveland, MS (Dockery Plantation, where The Delta Blues originated); and 225 miles from Atlanta. Muscle Shoals exists in a “central” location in the American South, the part of the country where so much of today’s popular music truly began (see parts 1-12 of “Black History Month & Music“).

In his book Chicago Soul, author Robert Pruter hits on some of the highlights that made us talk about Muscle Shoals on a music history blog in 2010.

“Chess [Records] in the late 1960s was taking its talent to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The company’s in-house production staff was not coming up with the hits as in previous years, and the people at Chess felt the Muscle Shoals studio was an ideal environment in which to record some of its acts – notably Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces, Laura Lee, Maurice and Mac, Mitty Collier, and Etta James…

Muscle Shoals, as it was known in the record industry, is a shorthand term for an area in northwestern Alabama around Wilson Dam on the Tennessee River that has four close-by towns – Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia, and Muscle Shoals (the smallest of the four). The Fame Recording Studio, where Chess sent its acts, was actually located in Florence. Fame was founded in 1962 by Rick Hall, who developed a flourishing enterprise producing and recording black acts with white session musicians. Vee Jay and later New York-based Atlantic Records had developed fruitful alliances with Hall’s operation. Atlantic especially benefitted during the years 1966-67 when it took Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin down to the studio and got million sellers with Muscle Shoals songs and productions.”

Upon visiting this town it is tough to reconcile its musical history as you drive around, but that’s just part of what makes Muscle Shoals so intriguing.

Black History Month & Music: Part 11 of 12

“In Elvis Presley, the complex issues of race, class, age, region and commerce intersected. The collision that transpired ostensibly suggested (strongly) that the popular music establishment discriminated against African American performers. Sam Phillips’s famous search for a white man who could perform with the same feeling as the black vocalists he recorded merely exposed the racial intolerance and segregated circumstances inherent in the music industry after World War II. The Sun Records producer realized that a black rhythm and blues act stood little chance of gaining the broad exposure needed to achieve large-scale commercial success.”

-From Michael T. Bertrand’s Race, Rock and Elvis

This is not a post to bring further attention to a white guy during black history month. Not even close. The point here is to fully consider the reality of how Rock and Roll got started in the middle of some of the most ridiculous racial prejudice in history.

Elvis Presley played an important role in the progression of Rock and Roll (and popular music in general).

Bertrand continues in his book:

“In discussing the circumscribed environment from which rock ‘n’ roll emerged during the 1950s, Carl Perkins suggested that popular music may have challenged the South’s racial institutions. As he recalled:

‘There was an integration problem in this part of America, a pretty severe problem back then. But there was no [segregation] in music. When you walked up to an old ’54 or ’55 model Wurlitzer jukebox, it [didn’t say] “Blue Suede Shoes,” Carl Perkins, white, “Blueberry Hill,” Fats Domino, black. No. There was no difference. Kids danced to Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis…Chuck Berry said to me one time, he said, “You know Carl, we might be doing as much with our music as our leaders are in Washington to bring down the barriers.” He was right.’

Perkins and Berry presented an intriguing appraisal of race relations in the South after World War II. The two musicians, one white, the other black, suggested that popular music may have helped alter the age-old conventions and customs associated with regional racial intolerance. They also equated the undertakings of rock ‘n’ roll artists and audiences to the deeds of politicians and statesmen. Popular culture and music, they implied, are as relevant and reliable in gauging past social tendencies and trends as legislation, executive orders, or judicial decisions.”

Have many white artists profited from the influences and works of many black artists? Absolutely. Is it right? No. But during the middle of the twentieth century, in a country where racial tensions were extremely high, the fact that anything positive came out as a result of the mess is some sort of miracle.

The following is a 10-minute video on Elvis’s impact, from the 2001 PBS documentary “American Roots Music.”

Black History Month & Music: Part 4 of 12

When you’re digging deeper into Rock ‘N’ Roll, you’re on a freight train headed straight for The Blues.

-Jack White, from the documentary It Might Get Loud

Don’t ever stop digging. Just when you think you’re getting close, I assure you there’s more. The stories are endless, and endlessly fascinating. If you want to fully begin to understand where we are today, you must spend copious amounts of time absorbing everything about The Blues.

From Paul Oliver’s book, Blues Fell This Morning: Meaning In The Blues,

“With some speculation on the origins of the blues, which are admittedly obscure, it has been possible to trace its process of evolution and change in a sequence which becomes progressively more clear after the turn of the century [1900]. Buried deep in the fertile ground of Revival hymns, spirituals, minstrel songs, banjo and guitar rags, mountain ‘ballits’, folk ballads, work songs and field hollers, improvised by the field hands of a thousand southern plantations influenced the growth of this extempore song. They were sung by men at work but the blues evolved as a song primarily created by men at leisure, with the time and opportunity to play an instrumental accompaniment to their verses.”

The Blues were the magical next step in the musical evolution of the late 1800s to early 1900s United States. Its primary inspiration should always be kept in mind: the resultant hardships from slavery.

From Francis Davis’s The History of the Blues: The Roots, the Music, the People,

“In Elvis’s early interviews, when the subject of his influences came up, he inevitably praised black performers, admitting that he wasn’t doing anything they hadn’t been doing for years….If he hadn’t been a Southerner, he wouldn’t have been Elvis and probably wouldn’t have sung the blues with such natural feeling. And if he hadn’t sold all those records, American popular music might be quite different now. So might the patterns of contemporary American life.”

Make sure to make it to a Blues club (or twelve) in Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans or similar mecca, sometime in your lifetime.

Experiencing it is tantamount to understanding it.

The following five videos (around 7 min. each) comprise Martin Scorsese’s Nothing But The Blues. The video is a great way to begin to learn more about this most special of musical styles/genres.


Black History Month & Music: Part 1 of 12

The origins of our music are rarely what we assume. The true influences have been so spun and falsified that if you only pay attention to the surface you will miss some of the deepest and most meaningful knowledge about the soundtrack to our lives.

February is Black History Month. Throughout these next 28 days, we will begin to explore the true origins of today’s popular music via a 12-part series. In it we will delve into who really inspired who, who gave us recorded music and who really started this never-ending category of music we refer to as rock and roll.

Princeton University professor, Dr. Cornel West, is one of the most knowledgeable historians in the area of Black history; but it’s his delivery that matters. What follows is a 5-minute video, culled from the documentary Call + Response, which contains Dr. West sharing about the overall importance of not only music, but how its history would be an entirely different one if not for the indelible influence of many of our African-American friends.

In class with a legend

Last night I had the honor and privilege of attending Jim Foglesong’s class at Vanderbilt University called “The Business of Music.”

As I watched and listened to his most modest of personal introduction, all I could think was how unbelievably lucky this group of students are to share their next 14 weeks with the man. At 86-years young, his opening line to the class was, “I’m Professor Foglesong. I know you were probably expecting somebody older.”

Foglesong eventually began to delve into his remarkable past, but it’s amazing how many accomplishments are left out in that type of setting. He shared part of a video from the time he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (including interviews about him from Garth Brooks and The Oak Ridge Boys).

I did an interview with this WWII veteran in July 2009. Check it out here.

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