Friday, October 28, 2022



Rock and Roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis has died, age 87, the last of the maverick troublemakers and innovators who changed forever popular music.  Chuck Berry and Little Richard in their prime always meant more to me, but Lewis was a close third in my personal rock and roll canon. 
No one could pound a piano with more verve or energy, and it seemed to me watching old clips of him live over that he was not so much playing piano as he was committing assault upon it. His singing, as well, was unique, his own and impossible to cogently emulate. His southern accent became a tight, coiled sound that was as much about barely constrained energy as it was about tone, timbre, or range. 

It was a primitive glee to raise havoc that battered the limits of the chord progressions. God help the audience if whatever possessed this artist escaped the musical bars that constrained it. That Jerry Lee Lewis found a second career as a fully realized country artist only makes sense; one always had the feeling that he thought the Devil and God were wrestling for his soul. 

If rock and roll were the indulgence of the baser, untamed qualities of the human spirit, country was the area where home, hearth, heartbreak, and healing of a sort could balance the emotional scales. He was an original architect of rock and roll, a phenomenon that will not reoccur in any future unfolding of human history.

Friday, October 21, 2022



Rock stars with awful voices by formal standards are some of my favorite singers of black rhythm and blues music. Let me try to clarify. Mick Jagger is a vocalist who learned to work brilliantly with the little singing ability God deigned to give him: knowing that he didn't have the basic equipment to even come close to simulating Muddy Waters or Wilson Pickett, he did something else instead in trying to sing black and black informed music-- talk-singing, the whiny, mewling purr, the bull moose grunt, the roar, the grunts and groans, the slurs and little noises , all of which he could orchestrate into amazing, memorable performances.

One Plus One(Sympathy for the Devil)Godard's film of the Stones writing, rehearsing and finally recording the song of the title, is especially good because it captures the irresolute tedium of studio existence (in between Godard's didactic absurdist sketches attempting to address the conundrum of leftist media figures being used by invisible powers to squelch true revolutionary change). More than that, we see Jagger piecing together his vocal, his mewling reading of the lyrics from the lyric sheet; his voice is awful, in its natural state. But we do witness Jagger getting bolder as the song progresses through the endless stoned jamming, a grunt added here, a raised syllable here, a wavering croon there. Finally, we are at the last take, and Jagger is seen with headphones on, isolated from the others, screaming his head off into a microphone while the instrumental playback pours forth, in what is presumably the final take.

Jagger, all irony and self-awareness, created something riveting and for all time with the marginal instrument he was born with, and is part of what I think is a grand tradition of white performers who haven't a prayer of sounding actually black who none the less molded a style of black-nuanced singing that's perfectly credible: Mose Allison, Van Morrison, Felix Cavalari (Rascals), Eric Burdon (early Animals), Peter Wolf, late of the under appreciated J.Geils Band.We cannot underestimate Keith Richard's contribution to Jagger's success as a vocalist. Someone had to know how to write tunes Jagger could handle, and Keith was just the man to do it. Richard's guitar work, as well, riffs and attacks and staggers in ways that match Jagger's strutting and mincing. Writing is everything, as always.t's an inescapable fact that blues is an African American art form , as is jazz and, for that matter, rock and roll at its most vital, and that there are talented, brilliant and exciting black musicians who continue to play the music, innovate within its historical definitions and extend those definitions to keep the music contemporary, alive, and most important, relevant to the way people, players and listeners, live today.
It's my belief, inscribed deeply on the most fundamental set of moral convictions I have, that to ignore the plentitude of black talent, whether they are young, middle aged, or elderly, if you're a music editor, a record company executive, a promoter specializing in blues festivals, a club owner highlight blues and roots acts, is racism, clear and simple. It's a racism on a subtle level, but damaging all the same; a decision was made to exclude black musicians from this list. Compiling a list of the worthy is always problematic,fraught with all sorts of dangers because any number of readers can be offended for insular reasons no writer can predict. But what's offensive about this list is the laziness of the selection. I happen to like a number of the artists here and believe musicians like Black Keys, Joe Bonamassa, Susan Tedeschi and others are legitimate blues musicians.
Their skin color isn't their fault, and , to me,the quality of their chops and the authenticity of their feeling are "real". I will also give the writers credit for including a good number of women on the list.Still, the lack of black musicians is inexcusable and reveals a conspicuous , egregious choice by the editors to remain loyal to their skin hue. Where was Sugar Blue? Lucky Peterson? The Eric Gale Band?Shemekia Copeland? Alvin Hart? Sapphire?Gary Clark Jr? Keb Mo? These players deserve wider recognition no less than the ones who made the list; I have a strong, strong suspicions that an inexcusable laziness directed the selection process, formed, no doubt, by a profound lack of curiosity on the part of the "critics" who, by the definition of their job, are supposed to knowledgeable and curious about things that fall outside their comfort zone. I suspect also that those making the selection were entirely white; as such,they stuck with the skin color they are most comfortable with.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

From the vault: Todd Rundgren's Utopia


Todd Rundgren is one of those aggravating rock whiz kids who can dually amaze you with his music and make you ill with his lyrics, which carry tile theme of cosmic consciousness and hayseed mysticism to more pompous degrees than even Yes' Joe Anderson. Ra, a 1977 effort with an occasional band, the ostensibly progressive rock and sometimes brilliantly kinetic Utopia, continued the Rundgren tragedy of good music with awful lyrics. When matters are at their best when the singing stops and the band is given the room to negotiate odd time signatures and reveal, in doing so, a remarkable, amazing in fact capacity to handle any style that strikes their collective fancy. The band (Roger Powell, Kisim Sulton, John Wilcox) proceeds towards some charging, frenetic, deliciously clever music.But Rundgren, like, Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, allows the lyrics to become full-blown libretto. The merits of the extended narrative and the underlying bits of spiritualism is a debate left for those who seek truth in tea leaves and horoscopes, but the experience of having the words come at you, sun or recited in equal measure, makes this a record that does not rock you at all. Rather, it talks you into a fitful sleep, with dreams punctuated by agitated percussion. Most notable on side two's extended workout"Singring and The Glass Guitar", a detailed parable that breaks up the music, with Rundgren droning on with the plot particulars. The fantasy, what there is of it, is belabored at length. Every time the band begins something interesting or when Rundgren is doing an impressive guitar exposition, the recited lyrics intrude again, and so on. Either Rundgren considers himself a wise fabulist, or he just employs this dreck to kill time, fleshing out and lending continuity to passages he could not otherwise connect. The discerning 'Rundgren fan will throw away the lyric sheet and let the music mitigate the intellectual vacuity. Taking his world view seriously is like reading between the lines on a blank page.

Saturday, October 1, 2022


Some time ago I recall being asked if there was a song that I did not just hate, but rather loved to hate. There were many, really, the pretentious, the precious, the infantile, the catchy earwig of a pop tune that  wouldn't leave your work and slumbering consciousness, the lyrically vapid lament, the intellectually bankrupt screed, the trope choked attempts at poetic imagery. There was so much bad music being made every day,  by the hour, finding its way to the AM and FM airwaves --back in a time when Radio was the only means of finding music without leaving the house for the record store-- that picking only one seemed Herculean in the potential exertion. But then it became easy in a flashing revelation, which was the idea that there needed to be a song that I loathed to the extent that the hatred of the tune became a life force, an uncompromising stance of opposition defining, it wold seem to me, the quality of my tastes, my philosophy of the world, my basic decency as a protector of all matters cool, sublime and fun. 

I had no philosophy and precious little character at that time in my development, just a bunch of engineered wants, desires and hormonal imperatives that were gussied up with big words and the titles of ominous books cleaned from a scan of library shelves. I just didn't like the tune, it's that simple, but I did construct a rather pat sounding diatribe against it. But even until now, I remember until now trotting out my memorized script to recite my reservations about the worst song every record, Iron Butterfly's "Inna Gadda Da Vidda."There are scads of songs that take turns occupying my Most Loathed Tune list, but the perennial chart topper is Iron Butterfly's "Inna Gadda Da Vidda".Bear in mind that the song was released when I was just getting into the thickest portion of my rock-as-an -art form obsession and wasn't in a mood to kid around, or make exceptions to my criteria about what made for acceptable particulars in a smart band arrangement.It was as if the band had purloined a copy of my conceits and went out of their way to make record a song contrary to the requirements just to ruin a evert day off and cigarette break I managed to get.
. A ham-handed guitar riff, bong-fury drum solo, screech and scrape solos, plodding pace. This describes a large measure of what was being sold those days by many bands, but Iron Butterfly held the distinction of being one of the most universally loathed bands in history, at least in my circles. No
 one I knew would cop to owning or liking the song --I only found IB fans when I ventured out of my neighborhood searching for select drugs.What was irritating mostly about "Inna Gadda Da Vidda" was that it was a song so awful that drugs didn't improve the listening experience, or even make it tolerable. It was worse, in fact, the wrong soundtrack for the pursuit of bliss.