Gram Parsons at Joshua Tree

“Gram [Parsons] died of an overdose of morphine and alcohol in a modest room at the Joshua Tree Inn motel. He’d gone there with his girlfriend Margaret Fisher, Dale McElroy and Michael Martin. Dale was giving Gram mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when he checked out. Margaret and her drug connection had gone out to get cheeseburgers, and Michael had returned to L.A. to get a fresh supply of grass…Earlier, the girls had put ice cubes up Gram’s asshole, which woke him up, and then they let him go back to his room where he went back into a lethargic state. Dale tried to breathe life into him but it was too late.”

From Phil Kaufman’s essay “Parsons’ Folly,” in the book The Mammoth Book of Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘N’ Roll.

If that’s not a rock ‘n’ roll story, I have no idea what is.

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Walk This Way

An important race relations moment occurred in 1986. It was a newly-recorded version of a song called “Walk This Way,” written by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, originally recorded by Aerosmith (1975; Toys In the Attic), but in 1986 released as a record from Aerosmith and Run-DMC. The song appeared on Run-DMC’s multi-platinum album, Raising Hell.

It’s easy to see some segment of the racial divide being brought together through this song and its subsequent music video (below), but let’s consider how disproportionately-slanted the mainstream music market of 1986 was towards the white population, and who needed who more in this pairing.

Rick Rubin, co-producer of Raising Hell and co-founder of Def Jam Records, along with Jam Master Jay, DJ of Run-DMC, conjured up and sold the idea of Run-DMC remaking the song for the Raising Hell project.

The “DMC” in Run-DMC, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, initially responded to the idea as such:

“Motherf*^ker, this is hillbilly gibberish, this is f*^king bulls*^t.” (quote from Andy Greene’s 10/15/09 Rolling Stone article on “Walk This Way”)

Prior to Rubin introducing Run-DMC to the music of Aerosmith, they didn’t know who the band was.

Rubin, trying to genuinely aid the creation of progressive art, and simultaneously bring it profitably to the masses, shared the following in the above-mentioned Rolling Stone article:

“The album needed one more element. I thought there had to be a way to present this to rock fans so people would think, ‘this really isn’t that different than the kind of music I like’.”

But who was really more in need of who? The all-white rock band, or the all-black hip hop group?

From the book Are We Not Men?: Masculine Anxiety and the Problem of African-American Identity, by Phillip Brian Harper:

“…Rolling Stone critic Mark Coleman suggested that, rather than benefiting from the ‘innovative’ quality of Aerosmith’s 1970s composition, Run-DMC’s cut actually modernized the rock band, ‘dragging guest stars Steven Tyler and Joe Perry into the Eighties, kicking and screaming’….Barry Walters (1986) has made a useful point by way of explicating Rick Rubin’s claim that his black classmates were more musically ‘progressive’ than their white counterparts: ‘The music industry treats white music as an ongoing history, and black music as just the latest thing. Many record companies will keep in print the entire catalog of white acts that don’t sell big numbers and delete product by all but the biggest-selling black acts…In other words, black kids are “progressive” because they’ve got no choice. (p. 23)’.”

Was the teaming of Run DMC and Aerosmith in the mid-80s “progressive”? There’s little question that it was. But it wasn’t all roses, and is still far from it.

This combination of musical styles, forms and audiences was a big step forward to truly bringing black and white together to appreciate, respect and enjoy their diversity, while also helping all to see that the melding of the collective creativity could be enjoyable to all.

The Devil, Johnny & That Fiddle

The Zac Brown Band rocked the crap out of Charlie Daniels’ classic “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” at this past Wednesday’s (11/11/09) CMA Awards. (video below)

This is one of those songs that will stand the test of time. It is also one of those songs that it is tough to categorize, which I believe is part of why it has, and will, stand the test of time. Some consider it Country, others Rock N Roll, others simply know it from their local Classic Rock radio station, and others put it in the ever-widening category of Southern Rock.

The Charlie Daniels Band originally released “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” in 1979, on the album Million Mile Reflections. Side-note: the title Million Mile Reflections is a reference to the band surpassing one million miles on the road.

Here is the Zac Brown Band’s performance of the song from the 43rd Annual CMA Awards.

In researching for this post, I came across a very interesting music video from a song called “The Devil Came Back To Georgia,” released on the 1993 album, Heroes, by Mark O’Connor. Included in the song and video are: Charlie Daniels, Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart and Travis Tritt.

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