Thursday, December 31, 2009

Four Auld Lang Songs, My Friend

One of the reasons people get so misty-eyed at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life is because the family, friends, and neighbors who gather together to save George Bailey’s butt all start singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

The song has always had a bittersweet ambience: A celebration of the loved ones we’ve cherished throughout our lives, and a recognition that for one reason or another, many of them have moved on. John Lennon explored a similar sentiment with The Beatles on “In My Life.”

There was a time when just about everybody thought of Guy Lombardo when it came to “Auld Lang Syne” since he and his Royal Canadians played it every New Year’s Eve for years on radio and TV. Nowadays, probably nobody under 30 even knows who he is, although his version is available on iTunes. Somehow, it sounds particularly melancholy.

“Auld Lang Syne” continues to be covered by various musicians. The version by The Smithereens on Christmas With The Smithereens opens with the band harmonizing like a barbershop quartet before the guitars and drums kick in. From there, it morphs into a pulsating surf rock tune that’s predominantly instrumental.

Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken also tackled the song as part of group called Husky Team. This inspired instrumental take, from the Hi-Fi Christmas Party Volume 2 CD, mixes “Auld Lang Syne” with the Booker T & The MG’s 1960s hit, “Green Onions.”

My favorite version of “Auld Lang Syne” comes from a New Jersey band called The Cucumbers and can be found on the Ho Ho Ho Spice CD. The guitar-driven, slightly Celtic, power pop arrangement and Deena Shoskkes’s spirited vocals cast out any trace of sadness and offer instead an exhilarating sense of triumph. The journey’s over; the quest has been successful; we’ve won.

2009 was another grueling, emotionally draining year but we’ve survived it. Let’s hope for happier circumstances in 2010, but also understand that we’ll have to work hard, and do a much better job of getting along with each other.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Every Time A Guitar Rings - - - Part Two

Sid & Susie photo from the Susanna Hoffs Facebook Page.

Additional Live Highlights From 2009. Let's hope 2010 brings us more great rock and roll.

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs at Old Town School Of Folk Music - As the duo Sid & Susie, solo artist Sweet and Bangles singer-guitarist Hoffs have recorded two Under The Covers CDs filled with their inspired interpretations of 1960s and 1970s hit singles. Their acoustic live show, with guitarist Paul Chastain was a freewheeling mix of anecdotes, audience participation, and all those great songs.

Fest For Beatles Fans at Hyatt Regency - Each August, this multi-media extravaganza of all things Fab Four comes together in Rosemont. In addition to performances by Greg Hawkes from The Cars and Ronnie Spector, there were nightly shows by Liverpool, one of the best of the Beatles cover bands.

Rock Art Show at Arlington Park Race Track - No live performances here - - just an opportunity to view art and photographs created by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and several other famous musicians. Rock Art Show also has an amazing collection of vintage concert posters.

Halloween Weekend Tribute Shows at The Abbey Pub - Two fun nights of musical impersonations. Phil Angotti’s band became Squeeze, Penthouse Sweets became The Sex Pistols, Tomorrow The Moon became The Psychedelic Furs, and The Webstirs became Fleetwood Mac. Several other tributes that weekend were spot on as well.

Lin Brehmer’s Birthday Bash at Arlington Park - The WXRT morning man celebrated his big day with a festive remote broadcast that featured dynamic live performances by Alice Peacock and Jon Langford’s Skull Orchard.

Celtic Fest in Grant Park - With all the talk of cuts in the city of Chicago’s outdoor festival budget, let’s hope Mayor Daley keeps this annual gathering of music acts from around the globe. Among this year’s many highlights were the acappella vocal group Navan, and the teenage prodigies from the Academy Of Irish Music.

Ralph’s World at Palatine Street Fest - Just as he does with his power pop songs for The Bad Examples, kids music superstar Ralph Covert fills ditties like “Happy Not My Birthday” and “Dinosaur Rumble” with clever lyrics and infectious melodies.

Every Time A Guitar Rings - - - Part One

Charlie(DeGaulle)’s Angels? French garage rockers The Plastiscines

Looking back on the past 12 months, I was tempted to wallow in self pity because I only went to a fraction of the concerts I would have liked to have seen. But then Clarence The Angel appeared, dressed in a baseball style cap with an WXRT logo, a Fountains Of Wayne t-shirt and faded jeans. With a playful smile, he set down his paperback copy of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, and whisked me back to some of my favorite live performances of 2009. After reliving those musical moments, my heavenly guide said in his gravelly voice, “You see, Terrence, you really did have a wonderful rock and roll year.” And so, in no particular order, here are some of those memories.

The Plastiscines at Bottom Lounge - These young Parisian women had already proven they could create authentic American style garage rock with LP1 and About Love. Their June 15th appearance at this west side club as part of Nylon Magazine’s Summer Music Tour proved they could bring it live as well.

The Smithereens at Lake View Fest - Performing literally right next to Wrigley Field, this veteran power pop band roared through original classics and did a great job covering selections from The Who’s Tommy.

The Handcuffs at Taste Of Lincoln Avenue - I celebrated part of my birthday last July at this bustling street fest, where lead vocalist-guitarist Chloe F. Orwell and drummer Brad Elvis led their co-ed band through catchy gems from their two impressive CDs, Electroluv and Model For A Revolution.

International Pop Overthrow at The Abbey Pub - This two-week celebration of ringing guitars and irresistible melodies visits clubs around the Windy City every April. The 2009 line-up offered the usual exciting mix of area bands, including The Lackloves, 92 Degrees, and The Valley Downs, as well as overseas visitors like the U.K. band, Anison.

The Posies at Randolph Street Fest - The Seattle-based band reunited to perform their entire power pop masterpiece Frosting On The Beater last June at this most trendy of street fests.

Jon Auer/Fountains Of Wayne Acoustic Show at Park West - A few weeks later, Posies vocalist-guitarist Auer opened for Fountains Of Wayne, armed only with his acoustic guitar. Fountains Of Wayne also switched to acoustic instruments while they performed “Hey, Julie” and several other melodic hits.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ring In The New - Part Two

DinoPetty graphic taken from Tributosaurus website.

More last minute suggestions for fun ways to close out 2009.

Tributosaurus has made quite a name for itself by performing a tribute to a different musical act each month, usually at Martyrs on Lincoln Avenue, and occasionally at Park West and other venues. Core members Curt Morrison, Chris Neville, Dan Leali, Jon Paul, and Matt Spiegel enlist guest musicians to help out, and are so detail-oriented they describe the experience as “becoming” their chosen artists. For $35, you can watch Tributosaurus, along with Grant Tye and Greg Suran, play Tom Petty’s biggest hits as well as several of his album tracks at Martyrs on New Year’s Eve. If you got Petty’s The Anthology Live box set for Christmas and are aching to recreate some of those dynamic performances in a club setting, this could be a New Year’s Eve to remember. 773-404-9494

Durty Nellies in Palatine scored a major coup with its booking of The Smoking Popes for New Year’s Eve. The Chicago-based, highly influential cutting-edge rock band broke up in 1999 after eight years, but came together for a well-received reunion show at Metro in 2005. The Smoking Popes decided to stick around, and released the critically acclaimed Stay Down in 2008. It’s Been A Long Day, a collection of the band’s early indie material plus some previously unreleased tracks, is scheduled to drop in early 2010, but fans will be able to buy copies at Durty Nellies. Admission for the show, which also includes opening acts Chicago alt-rockers Makeshift Prodigy and the Texas three-woman band Girl In A Coma, is $55. 847-358-9150

People looking to add a little Chicago skyline to their revelry can make reservations for Rock N’ Roll New Year’s Eve Experience, which is sponsored by The Signature Room at The 95th and 97.1 The Drive. The lavish setting, way up in the Hancock Building, is a definite change of venue for The New Invaders, who are used to performing their spirited covers of mid to late 1960s rock songs at outdoor festivals and clubs around the Chicago area. This fun band faithfully recreates a wide range of material, using talented singers, musicians, and go-go-girls. In addition to The Byrds, The Monkees, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, they’ll probably throw in a few tunes by recent Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductees, The Hollies. Also joining in the merrymaking are The Tony Calderisi Trio and Soda. (Sorry, couldn't find a website for either of these acts.) The $200 per person ticket price covers gourmet food, an open bar, and dancing. The Signature Room is also a unique place to watch the midnight fireworks going off at nearby Navy Pier. 312-787-9596

Finally, a tip of the party hat to musicians-actors-filmmakers James and Carla, who will be hosting a BYOB shindig for a few friends at their new Black Forest space in Evanston. This one isn’t open to the public, but their unique, mixed-media shows soon will be, and I wish them the best of luck for a successful season in 2010.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ring In The New - Part One

Graphic from Fearon's Public House Website.

Just a few last minute suggestions for festive things to do in the Chicagoland area this New Year’s Eve.

The Pat DiNizio Trio, featuring the distinctive vocalist-guitarist from The Smithereens will kick off a three-night stand starting on New Year’s Eve at Fearon’s Public House at 3001 N. Ashland Avenue in Chicago. DiNizio has dubbed his trio’s round of gigs “Confessions Of A Rock Star,” which is also the name of his printed autobiography, as well as a soon-to-be-released multi-disc audiobook that will include several rare solo performances. I couldn’t find any info on what material DiNizio will play at Fearon’s or learn the identity of the other members of his trio, but it’s a safe bet this will be a fun night of power pop music. Plus, there’s no cover charge, and Fearon’s is offering a complimentary buffet. The music starts at 9PM. 773-248-0990

If you shell out $85 for a Rock Ticket to the New Years Eve Rock’n’Roll Ball at The Intercontinental Chicago O’Hare in Rosemont, you’ll have an opportunity to be part of ABC7’s “Countdown Chicago 2010” TV live broadcast. You’ll also get to see a pretty good band in The Gin Blossoms, who are poised to release their latest CD, Major Lodge Victory. The single “Learning The Hard Way” is already available on iTunes. Chicago rock veterans The Nicholas Tremulis Band are scheduled to open for The Gin Blossoms in the Rock Room. The Ball is being billed as three parties with one ticket since you can also catch Too White Crew and The Breakfast Club in the Party Room, and groove to DJ Roland in the Club Room. Price includes a 4 hour open bar and party favors. WXRT and The Reader are among the sponsors for this event. 847-544-5300

The Mary-Arrchie Theatre is holding a Misfits NYE Party again this year at its storefront location at 735 W. Sheridan Road. Artistic Director Rich Cotovsky and his crew have plenty to celebrate since their recent run of Fin Kennedy’s How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found was a commercial as well as critical success. Note: this free BYOB Karaoke Bash is geared toward the acting community, although the Facebook invitation I saw says, “all party hoppers welcome.” This could be a great opportunity for newcomers to acquaint themselves with a theatre that has been on the cutting edge for 24 years.

Coming Next: More last minute NYE suggestions.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Walking In The Air

There are a lot of fun things to do in the winter but none could match the adventure a little boy experiences in Raymond Briggs’ 1982 Academy Award nominated short film, The Snowman.

There is no dialogue, but the beautiful crayon-like animation perfectly conveys the range of emotions a young English lad feels when the snowman he made comes to life at midnight. The boy invites the snowman in and has some funny mishaps while showing him around the house before the pair goes for an exciting motorcycle ride through the woods. The film’s high point is when the snowman whisks the boy off on a flight to the North Pole for a one-night visit with Santa Claus.

All of this action is set to Howard Blake’s rousing score, which is performed by the Sinfonia Of London. Peter Autry, a young boy from St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir, sings the inspiring ballad “Walking In The Air.” The soundtrack CD is virtually impossible to find, but at least the film is finally available on DVD.

Watching The Snowman has become a holiday tradition for me and my wife. It was also a one of my mother's favorite films. Merry Christmas to all who visit this blog.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa’s Grab Bag - Part Two

Santa graphic taken from the cover of New Wave Xmas CD

Christmas Eve is a perfect time to take a peek into Santa’s sack and see what musical goodies are stored in there. Here are a few more songs of the season submitted for your approval.

“Winter Wonderland” - Hello Dave The 1994 CD A Hello Dave Christmas With Friends aimed to raise funds to help children afflicted with or affected by HIV/AIDS. Imagine your car breaking down on a deserted country road while you’re driving to some party on Christmas Eve. You walk to the nearest open venue, which happens to be a rustic bar. Hello Dave is onstage and has the local townsfolk up and dancing to its Country & Western versions of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Silent Night,” and other classics. “Winter Wonderland” rocks to the loping bass lines played by Willis Potocki and some spirited harmonies from vocalist-guitarist Mike Himebaugh and vocalist Paul Bolger. You call for a tow truck, but while you wait for its arrival, you’re having a great time.

“We Wish You A Merry Christmas” - The Daugherty McPartland Group Several years back, a friend and I dropped by the apartment of a couple we knew for a holiday visit a few days before Christmas. It was a Sunday night, and they had the WXRT show Jazz Transfusion playing on the radio. Maybe I was just in a festive mood, but those spirited jazz versions of holiday songs really made an impression on me. Acoustic Christmas, released by The Daugherty McPartland Group in 1996, has that same easy going vibe. Tim Daugherty’s fluid piano playing takes center stage throughout the CD, but Dennis McPartland on percussion, Bob Thompson on saxes and flutes, and Jim Munro on bass are also impressive. People who enjoyed Vince Guaraldi’s score for A Charlie Brown Christmas will find a lot to like here, and in fact, “Christmas Time Is Here” is included on Acoustic Christmas. “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” is both classy and fun, and like all of this CD, it's the perfect soundtrack for a friendly holiday get-together.

“Double-0-Santa” - Seks Bomba The 2002 holiday compilation 50,000,000 Elves Fans Can’t Be Wrong lives up to its title with a variety of fun tracks, and “Double-0-Santa” by the Boston based band Seks Bomba is one the best. This lounge tune mixes the concepts of a Secret Santa and a secret agent, with humorous results. “Mistakes are bad for business, says the man called Father Christmas, AKA Double-0-Santa,” vocalist-guitarist Chris Cote reveals over a slinky guitar and keyboards arrangement. Santa isn’t too cool accept snacks, but it should be understood that he likes his “egg nog stirred, never shaken.”

"Thanks For Christmas" - XTC Few bands can match the Brit trio XTC when it comes to crafting songs with clever lyrics and indelible melodies. “Thanks For Christmas” stands out New Wave Xmas, a Rhino various artists compilation that also includes “2000 Miles” by The Pretenders and “Christmas Day” by Squeeze. Introduced with some triumphant horn playing, the catchy “Thanks For Christmas” finds XTC using gorgeous harmonies while creating scenes like Santa’s reindeer resting after a hard-working Christmas Eve, and ecstatic kids decorating trees. “It’s such a shame it’s only once a year,” the song notes. “Three hundred and sixty-four days full of doubt and fear/You’ve been saving your love up/Let it out/‘Cause Christmas is here.”

A Very Merry Christmas to everyone. May you receive all that you are hoping for this holiday, and give plenty in return.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hi-Fi Christmas Party Volume 2

The concept behind the initial Hi-Fi Christmas Party, a various artists compilation released in 2002, was to raise money to help fund research on the rare blood disorder, Von Willebrand’s Disease. According to producer/organizer Dan Pavelich’s liner notes on Volume 2, which was released in 2006, the success of that first CD inspired a sequel. Once again, the focus is on original 1960s-style power pop, with a few exceptions.

The Elvis Brothers take us back a little further on their “Rock-A-Billy Christmas,” to the days of Buddy Holly. Composed by Graham Elvis, this peppy number showcases his bass playing, as well as the band’s playful, give and take vocals. The only disappointment, is that at just under two minutes, the fun doesn’t last long enough. The harmonies and big production values on Lisa Mychols & Wondermints’ “Lost Winter’s Dream” are reminiscent of Leslie Gore’s Top 40 hits; and Husky Team, which includes Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken, delightfully mashes “Auld Lang Syne” with “Green Onions.”

The Grip Weeds’ masterful “Christmas, Bring Us” evokes the height of the British Invasion and bands like The Move and The Who. Jeremy’s spiritually inclined “It’s That Time Of Year” aims for the same era, and stands as one of the best cuts he’s ever released. The Bradburys, with Dan Pavelich on vocals and rhythm guitar, use a melodic, mid-tempo arrangement on the romantic “A Christmas Wish.”

Opting for a more modern and energetic power pop approach, Sketch Middle comes on like Material Issue on the irresistible “Turtlenecks & Eggnog.” Rob Paravonian uses high-speed guitars and quick-rhyme lyrics on the very funny “We’re Breaking Up For The Holidays” as he justifies his drastic solution for avoiding the stress of visiting family members around Christmas. The Spongetones take a gentler, acoustic-based approach with “Christmas Boy.” “King Of Kings” by Joey Molland & The Echo Boys features the Badfinger vocalist-guitarist on a Celtic flavored rock tribute to the Christ child.

One of the few songs on Hi-Fi Christmas Party Volume Two that isn’t an original, or in a power pop vein, comes from The Brothers Figaro Orchestra. Their unusual take on the traditional “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” creates the ambience of a Big Band era radio show.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas A Go Go - Part Four

And now the finale for Christmas A Go Go, the holiday various artists collection that had so many cool songs, it took four posts to describe them all. Incidentally, while doing research for my Christmas rock posts, I came across a really fun website called Mistletunes that covers tons of holiday songs, and even breaks them down into categories like eras, genres, and novelties.

Singer Rufus Thomas is probably best remembered for his 1963 hit “Walking The Dog,” as well as an earlier duet with his daughter Carla, but he was also an R&B pioneer who first started recording in the late 1940s. The funky “I’ll Be Your Santa” is aimed at women instead of kids, and Thomas has his own concept of what bringing holiday joy entails. The bass guitar is the most prominent instrument in an arrangement that recalls Sly & The Family Stone, while Thomas’s vocals are both ribald and soulful.

Aussie garage rockers The Chevelles unleash a spirited take on a treasured hymn with the mostly instrumental “Come All Ye Faithful Surfer Girls.” This is a virtual fuzz guitar festival with the only vocals being a Beach Boys like “Oooh, oooh, oooh, oooh.” A very catchy and fun tune.

The Electric Prunes’ psychedelic and slightly unsettling version of “Jingle Bells” has a spoken word intro that includes a special holiday greeting for Underground Garage listeners. The band then slinks into a slowed-down, heavy guitar arrangement, with vocals that sound like they’re coming from a chorus of over-served elves. Very odd, but somehow it all works.

Ray Davies of The Kinks has always been a master of satire, and on “Father Christmas,” he leads the band through a funny tale of a retail store Santa being pummeled by destitute children. Set in Britain’s economically troubled 1970s, the wry lyrics describe the kids screaming, “Don’t give my sister a cuddly toy/We don’t want a jigsaw or Monopoly money/We only want the real McCoy.” One kid requests a job for his father so the family will have food to eat. Although Davies clearly means the song to be funny, he sneaks in a charitable message that’s in tune with the season. “Have yourself a merry merry Christmas/Have yourself a good time/But remember the kids who got nothin’/While you’re drinking down your wine.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas A Go Go - Part Three

As much as I’m fascinated by rock and roll Christmas albums, they have a pretty high failure rate in regard to my own personal taste. Christmas A Go Go, like Yuletunes and Chris Stamey’s Christmas Time, is one of the rare exceptions where almost every song works. Since I already covered the Beatles tribute band The Fab Four on an earlier post, I’m skipping their contribution to Christmas A Go Go here.

As stated earlier, Little Steven Van Zandt was determined to increase the allure of this compilation by throwing in some genuine rarities. It’s safe to say there aren’t too many other holiday CDs that can give you a surf rock reinvention of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” delivered by 1950s kids show host, Soupy Sales. Listening to “Santa Claus Is Surfin’ To Town,” you can almost hear Little Steven chuckling like he does when he laughs at his own jokes on his radio show, Underground Garage. The clever lyrics come in waves of surfer lingo, as Sales describes Santa hanging 10 and dispensing toys on his board. People who don’t live near the water can expect to see him making his rounds in his woody.

Christmas songs from time to time have depicted women with romantic designs on Santa, and that’s what the five ladies in the Swedish band, The Cocktail Slippers have in mind on “Santa’s Coming Home.” This catchy number laments the amount of time Santa’s work keeps him away, and it's presented via a Go-Go’s style arrangement with some fun vocal interplay. Note: The Cocktail Slippers have a more recent Yuletide offering in their garage rock take on the Wham! holiday hit, “Last Christmas.” It’s available from Wicked Cool.

Actor Joe Pesci has made quite an impression through his films, particularly the “funny how?” scene in Goodfellas. On Christmas A Go Go, he gives the wiseguy treatment to the innocent Gene Autry song, “If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas.” Backed by a big band and spouting 1940s style patter like, “I would really feel much better if the mooch could fly a plane,” Pesci makes this sound like it could have been recorded around the same time as Autry’s version. He has issues with a distinctively New Joisey sounding children’s choir and derides them as “reform school brats” when he discovers someone has stolen all the candy canes.

The Seattle-based Boss Martians give Charles Dickens a psychedelic spin with their high speed rock song, “3 Ghosts (A Modern X-mas Carol).” The band adds a touch of prog rock via Nick C’s energetic keyboard playing while vocalist-guitarist Evan Foster gives a well-written first-person account of Scrooge’s eventful night, starting with the visit from Jacob Marley.

Coming next, in the Christmas A Go Go finale, a soulful offer from Santa; another surfing version of a famous carol; an electric and slightly spooky “Jingle Bells;” and the dangers of offering Monopoly money to angry, disadvantaged kids.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas A Go Go - Part 2

Photo of Tina Sugandh from her website.

Little Steven likes to call his syndicated radio show Underground Garage a dance party, and that’s how I view the various artists holiday compilation he’s put together called Christmas A Go Go. So what better way to keep the party going, baby, than to spread it out over four posts?

On the relentlessly cheerful “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” Roy Wood’s Wizzard uses the Wall Of Sound approach of Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You to build an entire palace. As a founding member of Electric Light Orchestra, Wood was accustomed to working with stringed instruments, and he employs a ton of them, along with horns, and a children’s choir on this showstopper. The energetic production evokes an old fashioned TV variety show.

Tina Sugandh’s beautifully sung “White Christmas” begins with the standard arrangement, but soon drifts off to India via exotic sitars and tablas. If George Harrison had wanted to include a Christmas song on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, it would have sounded like this.

There are more than three musicians in the Chesterfield Kings, and their knack for tapping into Aftermath era Rolling Stones has earned them a place of honor among garage rock fans like Mr. Van Zandt. “Hey, Santa Claus” was probably one of the first tracks he considered when he decided to create this party-themed holiday compilation. It kicks off with a classic Chuck Berry riff before lead vocalist Greg Prevost approaches the man in red with a list of requests, including a girlfriend and a new car. Sounding like Mick Jagger, Prevost sings, “I hope you have time to stop off in your sleigh.”

Former Stray Cats vocalist-guitarist Brian Setzer launched a lucrative second career by recreating the Big Band sound of the 1940s. He struck gold again when his Brian Setzer Orchestra started recording Christmas CDs like Dig That Crazy Christmas and Boogie Woogie Christmas. “Santa’s Got A Hot Rod,” with its highly energetic swinging arrangement, call-and response vocals, and twangy guitar, is a prime example of how Setzer gets the job done. And like most of his work, it’s a lot of fun.

Coming in Part Three of Christmas A Go Go: Soupy Sales trades a pie in the face for a splash of the ocean; The Cocktail Slippers long for Santa; Joe Pesci roughs up a Gene Autry song; and another high speed take on A Christmas Carol.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Graham Nash Interview - Part Three

Photograph by Henry Diltz

This is Part 3 of an interview I did with Graham Nash for the Illinois Entertainer earlier this year. At the end of the interview, Nash expresses his dismay that The Hollies have not been inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Fortunately, that’s no longer an issue. Congrats to Graham and the lads for this well-deserved honor. Note: Due to a few edits, this version is slightly different from the one that appeared in I.E.

The Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Deja Vu tour definitely tapped into the political side of Nash as he and his mates delivered a stinging indictment of George W. Bush’s policies toward the end of each concert. The film version of Deja Vu, directed by Young, demonstrates how some audience members were deeply offended.

“The majority of our audience enjoyed our point of view and agreed with us,” Nash recalled. “However, there were about 10% every night who did not agree with the idea of impeaching President Bush for war crimes and for what’s he’s done to the constitution, and for what he’s done to our civil rights. They would wait for three hours and that’s when they chose to walk out. But walk out they did, especially in Atlanta. I believe that Neil [Young] did a brilliant job of putting together the pros and cons.”

It’s an interesting development that the musician who once sang, “Won’t you please come to Chicago for the help that you can bring” now takes an optimistic view toward a president who comes from Chicago.

“And says ‘Yes We Can’,” Nash added, having attended the Inauguration just a few days before this interview. “I was about 75 yards away from President Obama, and then I played at one of the balls in the evening with my friend Jackson Browne. We gave a great concert in the Natural History Museum.”

Reflections also gave Nash a chance to perform songs he admired that were written by others. He thought “We Breathe The Same Air” sounded like a Hollies song, and tried to recruit his oldest friend and former Hollies lead vocalist Allan Clarke to record it with him. Since the song comes at the end of the third disc, it would have brought the box set, which opens with a trio of Hollies songs, full circle. Unfortunately, the plan fell through, so Nash recorded it on his own. He still has a great deal of affection for his first band, which unlike Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, has not been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

“It infuriates me when I think of the lack of respect for The Hollies,” Nash said. “They were very influential in the ‘60s and part of the British Invasion. It would be great to induct them.”

At least they have a place of honor on Reflections. Nash and Joel Bernstein went through 44 versions before settling on which tracks would be included.

“I had to take myself out of the picture,” Nash said of the decision-making process. “And plot a journey through my music that reflects who I am and what I stand for.”

Nash already has 12 new songs ready for his next solo effort, which he hopes to start recording in late 2009, after finishing the 40th anniversary tour with Crosby and Stills.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas A-Go-Go - Part One

Guitarist/actor/radio show host Little Steven Van Zandt morphed into a crazed Santa for this ambitious 2008 holiday compilation, determined to find just the right gift for everyone on his list. Fortunately, he doesn’t care if the recipients are naughty or nice, just as long as they listen to his syndicated weekly program, Underground Garage. The presents are rock and roll holiday songs, many of which would be unavailable if not for Little Steven’s generosity.

An ultra rare recording of Keith Richards romping through the Chuck Berry chestnut “Run Rudolph Run” kicks things off in a blues-rock vein. As Little Steven has pointed out on his show, this tale of the jet-speed flying reindeer helping St. Nick deliver toys was not composed by Berry, even though the rock pioneer certainly made it his own. Richards pretty much sticks to the original arrangement, but his hoarse vocals and energetic guitar playing enable him to put his stamp on it.

Bob Seger And The Last Heard’s funky “Sock It To Me Santa” is another treasure from the vault. Sounding like fellow Detroit native Mitch Ryder, Seger taps into vintage Motown as he barks out a litany of requests for toys. He proclaims in a spoken word intro that Santa’s got a brand new bag, and as the tune rolls along to a bottom heavy backbeat, it’s easy to imagine Santa wearing a long cape and looking a lot like James Brown.

The Ramones bring their instantly identifiable revved-up sound to “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” as Joey Ramone plays the role of a guy pining for a holiday truce with his girlfriend. “Christmas aint the time for breaking each other’s hearts,” he notes.

I’m guessing that “All Alone On Christmas,” which features vocalist Darlene Love being backed by The E Street Band, has to be one of Little Steven’s favorite tracks on Christmas A-Go-Go. And not just because he wrote it and plays guitar on it. Love, of course, was part of the roster of stars on the Phil Spector produced A Christmas Gift For You, which many consider to be the best rock and roll Christmas album ever recorded. With Clarence Clemons blasting away on his sax, and just about everybody else in the band singing along, “All Alone On Christmas” beautifully melds modern rock and the 1960s.

Ringing guitars and great harmonies help current Brit rockers The Len Price 3 hark back to the original British Invasion on “It’s Christmas Time Ebenezer.” When I wrote my earlier post on Carl Wayne, I mentioned that The Hollies never recorded a Christmas song, but this melodic spin on the Dickens classic makes it sound like they did.

Coming up in Part Two of Christmas A Go Go, “White Christmas” goes to India; holiday garage rock; and a full-blown extravaganza like only the English can do.

Graham Nash Interview - Part Two

The sweet smell of success. The Hollies in a perfume ad from a Brit mag in the 1960s.

This is the second part of an interview I did with Graham Nash for the Illinois Entertainer earlier this year. I’m presenting it here to celebrate The Hollies’ long-overdue induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

It would be a shame if Reflections got lost in the shuffle. In addition to offering the hits “Marrakesh Express,” “Teach Your Children,” “Wasted On The Way,” “Just A Song Before I Go,” and “Chicago,” it gives lesser known tunes like the Country & Western flavored “You’ll Never Be The Same,” and the stark but powerful “Liar’s Nightmare” exposure to a larger audience.

Reflections also underscores the artist’s longtime commitment to important issues. “Barrel Of Pain” criticizes the dumping of nuclear waste off the West Coast, “Chippin’ Away” commemorates the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, and “Field Worker” demands respect for migrant workers. The question arises as to how Nash goes about writing songs like these and “Wind On The Water.”

“Let me set the scene for you,” Nash obliged, recalling an extended sailing trip he took with Crosby as vividly as if it had happened the day before. “It was my first sail. On that journey, I saw a blue whale. It was insanely lucky to even come across a creature that was half again as long as David’s boat, and David’s boat is 70 feet. That’s why I wrote “Wind On The Water” because we were killing these things, apparently for food, which sounds preposterous.”

Reflections also underscores Nash’s ability to create melodic portraits of personal relationships. “Simple Man” and “Our House” describe his late 1960s involvement with Joni Mitchell, while “Magical Child,” celebrates the joy of having his first baby with his wife, Susan.

“I’m a very ordinary person in many ways,” Nash reflected. “Yes, I’m relatively well-known for a couple of things that I’ve done. But I want an easy life. There’s enough chaos in this world, enough bad feeling, that a simple smile to a stranger can go a long way.”

Still, one wonders if Nash has an easier time penning a politically-charged call to action or a tribute to Susan, to whom he’s been married for 33 years.

“I never think about what’s easier or harder to write,” Nash said. “I’m just lucky that these ideas come to me. To people that have no background in music at all, the art of songwriting must seem magical. Where the hell does it come from? I don’t know. I’m just happy I can’t stop writing.”

Coming in Part Three: Nash’s view on politics, and The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

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