Local Rhythms – There Oughta Be A Law

If you’re going to pee on my leg, at least tell me it’s “Rain” – not the Beatles.

picture-111In 1974, a band calling itself Fleetwood Mac went on tour, though none of the musicians had ever appeared on a Mac album.  An unscrupulous ex-manager claimed ownership of the name; since it was the post-Peter Green, pre-“Rumours” period, he probably figured nobody would notice.

The imposters fooled no one, and the enterprise ended almost before it began.

35 years later, such a ruse is easier to pull off, apparently. In what Sha Na Na’s John “Bowzer” Bauman terms “a sophisticated form of identity theft,” shows by everyone from the Coasters and Drifters to Frankie Goes to Hollywood are routinely presented without a single legitimate member on stage.

So when Bauman, in his role as chairman of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation’s “Truth in Music” committee, stopped by the New Hampshire State House last week to lobby for a law to end the practice, I felt his pain.

Matthew Houde (D-Plainfield) is co-sponsor of SB 130.  He views the issue as a consumer protection problem.  “Existing intellectual property law is just not adequate to cover the situation,” Houde said recently.

So far, 26 states have passed laws; New Hampshire would be the last in New England to do so.  A week ago Tuesday, the Senate sent the bill to the House.

Bravo, I say.  But there’s still more to be done.

What about the bands that uphold the letter of the law while trouncing its’ spirit?

For example, the only original member of Foghat, performing June 14 at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, is the drummer.

At 40 bucks a ticket, another definition of “Slow Ride” comes to mind.

No one in “Creedence Clearwater Revisited” (June 17, Meadowbrook) has even spoken to John Fogerty since the 1970s, let alone played with him.

Do you see a bad moon rising?

Why do Boston and Journey keep on touring?  Brad Delp is dead, and though I never much cared for him, without Steve Perry there’s no Journey sound.

I propose a law of my own – when a signature member leaves, a band must change its name.

If some lucky karaoke singer can clone “More Than a Feeling,” that’s fine – but it’s not Boston.

I expect an aging rocker to milk a valuable trademark relentlessly.

But please call it what it is – a tribute band.

If you’re going to pee on my leg, at least tell me it’s “Rain” – not the Beatles.

What’s happening this week?

Thursday: Dana & Susan Robinson, Canoe Club – Dana Robinson is a solid Americana singer/songwriter with a knack for recruiting awesome talent (Rani Arbo and Lui Collins played on his 1997 release, “Midnight Salvage).  For the past few years, he’s performed with his talented his wife, who adds a perfectly understated harmony to his songs, while soloing admirably on her own.  Their just released “Round My Door” is a gem.

Friday: Otis Grove, Salt hill Pub – I know the honest sound of vinyl albums are all the rage – let’s show the Hammond B-3 organ the same respect.  This trio burns up the floor with funk, and keyboard player Sam Gilman, who also kicks it with a real Fender Rhodes, is a big reason.  I caught their set at last year’s Harpoon BBQ Fest and my booty wouldn’t stop shaking.  A highly anticipated Pub debut.

Saturday: Deathrash & Stonewall, Claremont Moose – May is a big month for metal, with Hexerei and Soul Octane Burner at Imperial the 29th, TranScent and Mother Virus playing Forester’s in Newport the 23rd, and a rejuvenated Stonewall at Imperial and Heritage on the15 & 29 respectively.  Deathrash, who had an 80’s heyday with music reminiscent of Metallica and Megadeth, should kick things off nicely.

Sunday: All Across the City, Hopkins Center – A jazzy tribute to legendary guitarist Jim Hall features David Newsam, Fred Haas, James Lattini and the ubiquitous Dave Clark.  The free show (held at Rollins Chapel) highlights Hall composition like “Careful” and “Waltz New,” and his collaborations with giants like Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Paul Desmond and Ron Carter.

Tuesday:  Elixir Gala Reopening – White River Junction’s live music hub is re-opening, with a new menu and performers five nights a week. Tonight, Yellow House major domo Dave Clark assembles a who’s who of Upper Valley players, including his latest project Paris Express, which includes Sam Moffat and Mike Gareau.  The Elmores, Peter Meijer and Ricker Winsor are also booked for future dates.

Wednesday: Take Two, Briggs Opera House – The creators of this world premiere musical call it “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” meets “Falsettos.” How do you navigate the shoals of love when Twittering and texting have replaced answering machines and nervous phone calls as the tools for unmaking relationships?  Four actors – two men, two women – ask the Internet for answers.

Fools Play On

“Back then it wasn’t called “indie” – it was called stupid to have your own record company.” – Mike Girard, Fools lead singer

fools2009In the late 1970s, Boston was a hotbed of so-called “New Wave” music.  Sparked by the Cars’ national success, record labels came to the city eager to sign bands.   The Fools, Robin Lane & the Chartbusters, Private Lightning, Human Sexual Response and the Nervous Eaters were just a few who made deals.

When the Hub sound didn’t play out on national level, most faded away after a few albums.

But the Fools play on.

Apart from a brief 1990s hiatus, the band has steadily gigged and made records (most recently, 2007’s “10”) since arriving on the Boston music scene.

Friday night, they’ll play a special sit-down. unplugged, “Storytellers”-type set at Tupelo Music Hall.

EMI signed the Fools in 1979 on the strength of the politically incorrect “She Looks Alright In the Dark,” and their Talking Heads send-up, “Psycho Chicken,”  which David Byrne dryly called “a humorous version of a brilliant song.”

They made a pair of albums, but spent a lot of time clashing with the record company.  At one point the band was asked to re-work “It’s a Night for Beautiful Girls” – ironic considering the song was their biggest hit for the label.

“Part of our time with EMI was about them trying to bang off the rough edges,” lead singer Mike Girard said recently. “I don’t think they ever succeeded.”

True to their name, in 1985, the Fools started their own label.

“World Dance Party” brought success on the band’s own terms.  They covered Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy,” and the video received heavy MTV play.  A couple of the album’s songs became radio hits, and remain crowd pleasers to this day.

Says Girard of the decision to go it alone, “back then it wasn’t called “indie” – it was called stupid to have your own record company.”

But, he continues, “it was the first time we were totally free to do what we wanted, and we’ve been that way ever since.”

The album also yielded the twangy “Life Sucks, Then You Die,” a song the band first played in disguise – as their own opening act.

“We decided rather than have a crapshoot on that we’d form kind of a butt-poke country band,” says Girard.  For ambience, they’d put a bucket of manure on the stage, and use a fan to send the aroma into the crowd.

“We’d come out in chaps and cowboy hats, the whole deal,” he says.  “More than one drunk person over the years said to me, ‘boy, you guys gotta get rid of that country band that opens for you’.”

“I took that as the highest compliment,” he says.  “Even from a drunk person.”

Their major label days weren’t all about artistic struggle.  Some of the stories likely to come up in this Friday’s show revolve around their experiences opening shows for a who’s who of bands in the late 70s and early 80s.

“We did the only Knack tour,” says Girard, adding that being a one-hit wonder (“My Sharona”) was that band’s own fault.

“They did so much to repel every radio person in America that their second album never saw the light of day,” says Girard, “but they were a surprisingly good band.”

While on the road with Van Halen, “it was suggested about halfway through the tour that we stay in different hotels.  We were probably a little too rowdy or something.  It wasn’t like throwing TVs out windows.  I know Alex [Van Halen] liked to party, so he was missing sound checks at times because of us.”

So their legacy is being a bad influence on … Van Halen?

“It seems that way,” says Girard.  “I don’t know what else to make of it.  David Lee Roth was kind of tough to get along with at times, everybody else was great.”  As for Eddie Van Halen, “he was with Valerie Bertinelli, and they had those little heart balloons over their heads.  Anything was fine with Eddie.  It was love.“

Girard is sure they’ll have more stories about their time in Europe touring with an on-the-verge Journey, playing festivals alongside Cheap Trick, and drinking with Phil Collins as the Genesis singer/drummer contemplated a solo career.

“If we can’t think of any stories we’ll just make them up,” Girard laughs. “I’ve never felt a responsibility to tell the public the truth about anything.”

He’ll be serious, though, if fans ask whether the long-unavailable “Sold Out” and “Heavy Mental” LPs will ever come on CD.

“We can’t get EMI to release them,” says Girard, complaining that the label demands “exorbitant amounts” every time the discussion comes up.

“We’ve kind of given up trying to battle through that,” he says.  “If you want to hear some of those songs, you’ve got to come and see us.”

Richard Shindell’s Literary Touch

picture-182Few musicians possess the literary voice of Richard Shindell. His songs read like short stories, with an eye for detail and a knack for parable that would please fans of Raymond Carver or Flannery O’Connor.

The folksinger’s sixth album of originals (Not Far Now, Signature Sounds) is again full of well-drawn characters with tales to tell.  Among the cast are a juggler, a beaten small-time thief, a woman selling empanadas and beer from a roadside stand and a struggling junkie.

Shindell both writes and reads with equal mastery.  He memorably put his stamp on James Keelaghan’s “Cold Missouri Waters” with the folk supergroup Cry Cry Cry.  He covered Bruce Springsteen, Jeffrey Foucault, Bob Dylan and others on his last studio album (“South Of Delia”).

On his new album, Shindell updates Paul McCartney’s “She’s Leaving Home” – the product, he says, of reading Sir Paul’s biography (he calls him  “a musical hero”), and a “two-week Beatles listening binge.”

In the song (“Bye-Bye”), Shindell imagines two very different endings for the family in the Sgt. Pepper’s track.   One is stoic – “on every life some rain must fall/but that doesn’t mean we let the roses go” – another despairing, with doors askew and gardens gone to seed.

With a writer’s omnipotence, he toys with bringing the wayward daughter “back to them with a few strokes of this fountain pen,” before handing the song back to McCartney.

“That’s not how this story ends,” he sings finally.

“Providing that story with a resounding conclusion would be false and graceless,” says Shindell.

Asked if he’s ever tempted to revisit the stories in his own songs, Shindell says he tried what he terms a “kind of amplification of a character” from his first album for the title track of his third.

He pictured the woman waiting for her husband to return from war in “Reunion Hill” as the same person referred to as ‘Mama’ in “Arrowhead” (from “Sparrow’s Point”).

“The narrator of that song is a child-soldier in the Civil War who is addressing his mother (perhaps in a letter, perhaps just in his mind),” explains Shindell.  “However.  “Reunion Hill” seemed to work better if she was searching for her husband rather than her son.”

“But now you’ve got me thinking about other potential follow-up songs,” says Shindell.  “So thanks for the question. It might prove fruitful.”

Are the first person narratives dominating Richard Shindell’s work the product of a frustrated novelist?  Perhaps.

“I get vertigo writing prose,” he says.  “Too many directions, too much open space. Perhaps agoraphobia would be a better description of the sensation. But I would very much like to get over that block and write something other than songs.”

Though born in New Jersey, Shindell has for the past several years lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Digital technology helped bridge the divide between the expatriate and the musicians he worked with on “Not Far Now.”

Shindell and co-producer Greg Anderson recorded basic tracks in his dining room and sent them off to bassist Viktor Krauss, drummer Steve Holley, original E Street Band keyboard player David Sancious and others, who recorded their parts..

“The entire process, from beginning to end is a series of happy accidents,” says Shindell.  String player Sara Milonovich’s contribution stands as one of the happiest.

“I thought she was going to add a fiddle – that is, one,” he says.  “Instead she sat down in a room one day and laid down an entire string arrangement, just to see what would happen. It was a total surprise, and I was thrilled.”

“But I prefer it that way,” he continues.  “I’d rather hear what a particular musician’s take on a song is before giving them too much direction.  And there’s never any harm done if they come up with something totally wrong (which hardly ever happens).”

After all, he says, ”we’re not using actual magnetic tape anymore, everything is fungible, plastic, and wide open for revision and editing.”

Shindell plays bass, acoustic and electric guitar on the record, along with piano and bouzouki.  Shindell likes the 8-stringed, teardrop shaped guitar. “As the Irish discovered well, it’s a great instrument for accompanying the human voice. It also produces a very persistent, driving kind of sound, which I find generates a certain energy in an arrangement.”

Shindell is a regular Northeast Kingdom habitué.  “I generally feel very comfortable playing for a Vermont audience,” he says.  “They’re very attentive, without being – how shall I say this? – too pious.”

However, the live album he made two years ago in Randolph had less to do with his love for the state than the Chandler Music Hall’s superior acoustics and a good recording engineer Shindell hired for the night.

He adds that one other thing factored in.  “That night in Vermont I announced from the stage that I’d be recording and that anyone present could purchase a CD in advance. Once I had taken their money, I had to come through!”

Richard Shindell @ Boccelli’s on the Canal
Bellows Falls, Vermont
25 March – 7:00 PM
Tickets – $24 (front row “Angel” seats $35)

Defiling Bill Graham’s Memory

billgraham.jpgWhen he was alive, Bill Graham had a framed note hanging in his office, that someone had sent him when the Fillmore West closed in 1971.

It read, “Bill Graham may be an asshole, but he gave me some of the best years of my life.”

The guy who wrote it obviously had his tongue in his cheek, but these days the concert business really is run by assholes – deluded ones at that.

Now comes word, via Lefsetz, that LiveNation bought the rights to name two venues (one in New York, the other in Philadelphia) after Graham’s brightest legacy. But calling a building “the Fillmore” won’t make it 1967 again. Hell, it won’t even make it 1997. The only comfort, I suppose, is that these two concert facilities won’t be named after a bank, a computer maker or a cosmetics company.

But tickets will still cost too much, and LiveNation won’t stop treating their customers with thinly veiled contempt, inventing charges for services that don’t exist and overcharging for those that do – like parking – and scalping, er, auctioning all the good seats.

Tickets are commodities, they say. It wasn’t that way in the world I came from, and I doubt Bill Graham would be a TicketMaster kind of actor were he alive today. The business he invented is so far in the past now that it may never come back.

I grew up believing that everybody presented live rock and roll like Bill Graham. He was a class act, even when he was wrong about something. For example, when a Who concert at the Cow Palace sold out in 1974, Graham let the San Jose Box Office sell marked-up tickets. I wrote him to complain that this was scalping, a deplorable (and in those quaint, pre-EBay days, illegal) practice.

He wrote me back with a thoughtful defense of why he allowed it. It was 33 years ago, but his position then could serve as a mission statement for StubHub today. Making these tickets available legally lessens the chance that people will be sold bogus tickets, he said. He believed he was protecting fans. I didn’t agree – I still don’t- but I always admired him for taking the time to write me and say so, when he could easily have blown me off.

These days outfits like LiveNation rip off fans because they can, and could care less what anyone thinks. It’s business, they say.

Graham was different. Here’s an excerpt from his Wikipedia entry that I can verify is true:

For all his competitive nature and fiery disposition, Graham was recognized as an expert promoter who genuinely cared about both the artists and the attendees at his concerts. He was the first to ensure that medical personnel were on site for large shows and was both a contributor and supporter of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which he often used as medical support at events. He also loved putting together groups onstage from different ethnic backgrounds—many of whom were ignored by other promoters—and he had an eye for pleasing his audience, while making an effort to educate them in styles of music they would otherwise not have been exposed to.

When I was 14, I saw Howlin’ Wolf open for Alice Cooper at the Berkeley Community Theater; it was my first exposure to the real roots of American music. I ‘d paid to see a heavy metal show that ended in a hanging. Later the same year, blues guitar master Albert King was the middle act for a T.Rex concert; the Doobie Brothers opened that show.

I had many more such revelations in the 20 or so years I attended Bill Graham Presents concerts. In these times of packaged tours that almost never happens.

Every night at Winterland, or the Cow Palace, or later Shoreline Amphitheater, provided an opportunity for discovery. I’ve lost count of the albums in my collection made by performers who were opening or middle acts at BGP events. Loggins and Messina, Lynyrd Skynyrd, STEVIE WONDER (at the 1972 Rolling Stones show) were all on the bill below the headliner at Winterland shows.

Even when there wasn’t music on the stage, Bill Graham took care of the fans. One time, I waited in line all day for a Winterland show (Steve Miller and ZZ Top, I believe); it was bitter cold, so Graham opened the doors two hours early to allow fans to warm up inside, where we watched videos of past concerts and Betty Boop cartoons. Graham could definitely be a hard ass, but we’d cut him some slack when that happened. Besides, he usually had a good reason.

Such decency is a quaint memory. Bill Graham is dead, and the concert business is whored out to a disgusting mutation of Tony Soprano, Arthur D. Little and a cyborg. The only pure music environment these days is a dank, dusty club.

Concerts haven’t been fun since Bill’s helicopter crashed in 1991. But if he knew the Fillmore name was being sold out to LiveNation, I bet he’d kick some ass.

I miss you, Bill.