Archive for the Music Video Category

A Victim of Circumstance

Posted in Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , , on February 14, 2013 by greedycherry

Tina Kenny

As you may or may not know, dear readers, I attended the esteemed Berklee College of Music a number of years ago.

No lie. In 2005, I packed my bags (filled, of course, with all my hopes and dreams), grabbed my little bass guitar, and moved up to Boston. I signed up for (and even attended!) a whole bunch of classes……hell, I even graduated a few years later (and have the crippling monthly loan payments to prove it)! It was quite an experience, and I can honestly say that I met some truly wonderful and insanely talented people during my time there. Some of them even still talk to me! (And I really try to keep my foot in the door with them because they’re all so super talented that they’re sure to eventually become famous, and what famous musician doesn’t need a roadie or food taster….right??)

Of all the people I met during my time at Berklee, however, I can think of none who was as amazingly diverse and fabulous at every single damn thing she did more so than my uber-talented friend Christina Kenny. I knew her mainly as a keyboard player and vocalist in the beginning, but, as it turns out, the longer I knew her, the more instruments she picked up…..and therefore the more instruments she became good at. Singing and piano? Check. Guitar? Check. Bass? No problem. Drums? Roger that. Ukulele? Sure, why not? How about five instruments at once? Please…is there a real challenge somewhere in that question? (And you don’t know how shocked I am that this is actually done in split screen.) I’m sure by now she’s even mastered the zither and the didgeridoo……Tina Kenny’s nearly a freakin’ prodigy. It’s almost like being friends with Prince or something, just without all the purple and the cane.

So anyway, it was therefore an honor and a privilege when she asked me – at a point smack dab in the middle of my Berklee education – to be a part of her band. Of course I accepted, and never once regretted it…..the music was great, the people were awesome, and we all had such a good time playing together! Don’t believe me? Well, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…..so this has to be worth at least a couple hundred. (I’m the bearded dude with the red tie skulking around in the background there…..)

The Tina Kenny Band

But it must be said that being in Tina Kenny’s band wasn’t just a gig to me….one of those things where you’re just playing in a group to get some experience, or to fill in for someone who couldn’t make it, or to do a favor for a friend whose music you sort of like….but you’re really only in the band because that person’s your friend and you like supporting your friends.

No, it was something more than all of that. I actually believed in Tina Kenny.

In a general sense, I think it gives all musicians a great feeling – a pervasive feeling of confidence and inspiration – to be led by a wonderfully talented musician in a group setting. So there’s that. But there was another level to this particular situation……as a songwriter myself, I LOVED her original compositions. Just damn good pop songs, solid in melody, lyric, and instrumentation. It was stuff I would listen to and enjoy even if I wasn’t in the band, and that really doesn’t happen as often as you might think.

After a few gigs around Boston, the group began work on recording a CD, and it all felt like it was really coming together. I thought for sure that it was just a matter of time before that album got released and one of her tunes got some wind beneath its wings….then Tina Kenny would be all over the radio. Fans would be snatching up copies of the CD left and right, people would find themselves singing her songs in the shower, and we’d have more gigs on our calendar than we could possibly handle. I could feel it deep in my bones…..it was simply inevitable.

Sigh.

Sadly, it seems that even things that are destined to be are not always quite that destined to be, and that “inevitable” can sometimes just be an opinion. And so it was, not just with the CD, but with the band as well. Things happened, life intervened, graduations took place….and, alas, both album and group became victims of circumstances far beyond any single person’s control. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes….the ball that looked like a home run coming off of your bat falls into an outfielder’s mitt a foot short of the fence. The game is lost. The season is over. And everyone moves on.

Within a year, I had put together the first incarnation of Greedy Cherry, and was cruising along with my own group of extraordinary musicians. I loved every minute of the new project I had formed, but would still think of Tina Kenny and that old band on occasion. I found myself missing those wonderful, fun gigs where I could just hang back, play some great songs, and take my cues from an inspiring musician instead of having to give them myself.

Of course, being friends, Tina and I have kept in touch over the years, and I knew that I wasn’t finished hearing great music from her…..it was simply just a matter of time before she put something else together and got back to doing what she does best. And now, finally, that time has come.

Enter Tina Kenny and the Balance.

Tina’s new group is (and I quote their press materials here) “the NYC/NJ area’s hottest female-fronted quartet”….they offer not just a mix of great cover tunes and hit songs for your big party or function (always a necessary evil if you hope to earn any money as a musician), but also (and more importantly, to me, anyway) tasty originals as well. So when I saw on their Facebook page that they were looking for some people to review their latest single, “Object Of Obsession” (which you can listen to here, and buy, if you are so inclined, here), I didn’t hesitate to volunteer; you know how I feel about Tina’s songwriting (well, at least now you do). The trickiest part for me would be remaining objective……so let’s see how I do.

Tina Kenny With BassThe first thing I liked right out of the gate about this tune (besides the fact it rocks immediately) was the fact that it uses the old “riff in unison” trick that has anchored so many classic rock tunes, with the electric guitar (lead guitarist Russ Jones) and bass (courtesy of Miss Kenny herself) playing the same line together simultaneously. Famous examples of this device range from Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and “The Ocean” to “Drive My Car” by The Beatles and “Love Will Find A Way” by Yes (or the less awesome but more well-known “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”, if you don’t go that deep into Yes’s catalog). This technique lends any tune, especially in the rock genre, added weight and power. A promising start!

After we move past the initial tasty lick, Tina comes in with her passionate, bluesy vocals while one guitar makes distorted stabs in my left ear and another chugs away in my right. This creates a good groove and is an effective arrangement, I think. While not initially paying attention to lyrics, I instead took the first pass through to admire the adventurous melody…although to be honest, I wasn’t sure I quite appreciated the note choice in the line around :24 (I think the words are “dismiss your gentle brevity”?). It just seemed those last few notes sat on the chord wrong, like a major tone on a minor chord….just knocked me out of the bluesy headspace I was in for a moment, and anything that jumps out like that, I tend to notice.

Regardless, drummer Steve Plesnarski gets to go nuts on his kit when the chorus arrives, and the two riff machines that Tina refers to as guitarists keep up the good work. (Unless, of course, second guitarist/keyboardist Chris Trokovich isn’t involved in that part and it’s just Russ doing overdubs….then it’s just one riff machine.) The little background yells on the post chorus give the proceedings an enjoyable kick of personality, although the background chatter at 1:37 (you can find a time-countered version of the track on the group’s ReverbNation page here, if you want to follow along) reminded me of a lesser and more muted version of David Lee Roth’s chatter during Van Halen’s “Unchained”. Interesting, but probably doesn’t add much here…..although, oddly enough, I did appreciate the musical aspect of the breakdown. Like a little sorbet to cleanse the audio palette, so to speak.

The guitar solo that followed could have been a little nastier, in my opinion….at least in tone. I wanted more growl to go along with the vibe of the rest of the song. Frankly, surprisingly enough, I could have used more growl from Tina too in some places……during most of the tune I felt a type of emotional rawness from her, an angsty breathiness, but there were certain phrases and words where she seemed to back off in her delivery, or not go into overdrive the way I expected, given the feel of the rest of the song. One example of this was the way she sang “Object Of Obsession” at the end of the first chorus (:42); it just didn’t seem as passionate or driving as, for instance, the mini-snarl she gives the same phrase on the second chorus (1:26) or the thrilling push she gives it on the last chorus (2:55). Of course, this is just nitpicking (it is a review, after all)….almost all of her vocals are quite excellent. (One of my favorite parts, actually, is the part between the breakdown and the guitar solo at 1:48…..nice and raspy, and when she hits that final high note at 2:01, my memory reaches back to all those impossible high notes she used to hit all the time at Berklee. Nice to know she hasn’t lost any of her range!)

Lyrically, I understand that the song is about an obsessed admirer whose affections are unwanted, but I’ll have to admit I couldn’t always make out what was being sung, even if I greatly appreciated the manner in which it was being performed. I don’t really believe in changing anyone’s personal singing style just to make words more discernable (that goes for you too, Michael Stipe), and it could be just an issue where some clarity could have been added with riding levels or adding some EQ in the mix, but I do find myself hoping that a lyric booklet will be included with what I assume will be a forthcoming CD.

Lastly, I probably could have used a little more drums……especially in the upper-mids/mids and on the toms and snare. With as chunky as the guitars and bass were, I felt a little bit more body out of the kit was warranted in the mix.

(There, now see? It wasn’t all positive and glowing, was it?)

Overall, in my humble opinion, this is a great track, both bluesy and rocking (which is one of my favorite combinations), and worth being stuck on “repeat” in my music player (which it was for at least half an hour last night….and I was still singing it this morning). If it’s any taste of an album to come, you can bet your sweet bippy (ask someone from the 1950s) I’ll be buying a copy of that puppy it when it finally comes out!

You can hear more from Tina Kenny and the Balance (as well as another piano-based original entitled “Pay No Mind”, which features Tina’s voice quite nicely) on their website, tinakennyandthebalance.com. And check the “Performances” page….if you’re near the New York City area (especially Staten Island), you may even get a chance to catch them live, which I would totally recommend doing; I’m pretty sure it would be awesome.

I mean, maybe it’s just these rose-colored glasses I’m wearing, but I don’t think Tina Kenny is capable of putting on a bad performance.

Miss you, my friend.

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This Bird Has Flown

Posted in Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by greedycherry

Patricia Barber

Well, another Super Bowl has come and gone, and it turns out ol’ Edgar Allan was wrong….at least for the Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis. Not so much with the “nevermore,” but a ton of the “once more before you go.” No matter your personal opinion of the man, he certainly went out on top, didn’t he?

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you all back for the second “Cherry Lounge” post of 2013….hopefully the second of many more to come. In a row. Every week. Yup, that’s the plan.


You know what’s funny? Toward the end of 2012, I was still putting out regular blog entries, and my readership statistics started to plummet. I guess the holidays were approaching, and a lot of you had more important things to do than read about music and music history (although, for the life of me, I just can’t think of anything that could be more important…..). So I’d occasionally peek at my numbers, and they were going down. And, you know, whatever. I was uninspired at the time anyway, so I just figured, “I’ll take the holidays off and come back refreshed in the new year.”

Of course, none of that is what was funny.

What was funny was that the moment I stopped writing blog entries, my readership went UP. For the last couple weeks of December into the first couple weeks of January, I hadn’t posted a darn thing, but my readership rose and was steady. I blinked repeatedly when I saw the stats.

I mean, what does that say, anyway? I write, everyone runs away. I stop writing, everyone comes back. It made absolutely no sense to me, of course…..still doesn’t. But I figure now, at the very least, I can generate a bunch of new content so that the next time I go on vacation, all of those new and returning site visitors will have something to read…..


So let’s talk cover tunes today, shall we? More specifically, one of my favorite cover tunes of all time. But first, I’ll set the scene…..

Between 1997 and 2004, I lived in a lovely suburb outside of Washington, D.C., called Silver Spring. (Actually, it was more technically Aspen Hill…..but the U.S. Postal Service insisted I write Silver Spring on my envelopes, so whatever.) And for almost the first four years of that time, I worked at Borders Books & Music at the White Flint Mall.

(And here I pause in a moment of silence for not only Borders – which, of course, went out of business in spectacular, bankrupty fashion a year and a half back – but also the White Flint Mall itself, which apparently will be biting the dust soon in order to make way for a gigantic parking lot, or swell new hi-tech office buildings, or a new ark for Noah…..or whatever the hell it is they do with the space a giant mall had previously occupied once they tear it down. The real question here is what’s going to happen to the huge stone horse outside of P.F. Chang’s? That would look really swell in my living room….)

While at Borders, I worked mostly in the music department, which meant I was knee-deep in the music hoopla, so to speak….and the job came with some satisfying perks. Of course, free CDs were at the top of the list. Almost everything that was ever in a listening station at a Borders for customers to check out before they bought it was actually a free promotional copy of an album, which would be immediately be placed up for grabs in the back room the second it was removed from the sales floor. Sometimes, we even put our names on CDs while they were still in the listening stations. Competition was fierce, but the music was awesome. (Except for Andrea Bocelli’s albums……if I NEVER see his name again, it will be too soon. Serious PTSD going on from all the CDs of his we sold and all the rabid customers who clamored for them…….)

Another perk was that occasionally (actually pretty rarely) a label rep would come through to check promotional displays or store stock, and would subsequently offer up a free ticket to see an artist he or she was promoting live in concert. This only affected me once, unfortunately, but the show I lucked into provided me an earful of one of the best cover tunes I’ve ever heard.

Patricia Barber is an accomplished American pianist and singer/songwriter whose style could be described as a slick yet primal combination of jazz and blues, and the only reason I’d even remotely heard of her at the time I scored that free concert ticket was the fact that I shelved the jazz CDs at Borders. But hey, a free show is a free show, so no looky-gift-horsey-mouthy, right? (Actually, I think it was one of those “free” tickets where you had to spend a certain amount at the bar to justify your lack of payment at the door, but I wasn’t complaining….)

So off my coworker Jill and I went (we scored not just one, but two “free” tickets!), down into Georgetown and to the famed Blues Alley music club. The lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, and the show began.

Beyond that, I don’t remember much until she got to The Beatles. It’s not that the music wasn’t good, because it was. Very much so. But not knowing the artist at all, I had not heard any material by her before, so there were no “favorite songs” or memorable tunes I’d be able to identify later….just an hour or so of really good jazz. Until…..

At some point, she began to play familiar chords and mouthed those immortal words.

“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me….”

And I was transfixed. It was a whole new arrangement, a whole new vibe. There was a simplicity and sense of intimacy in her voice that made the song resonate. Blues Alley is a small venue anyway, but each word seem to hang in the air, the reverberations of her voice washing over the crowd and seeping into, not bouncing off of, the walls. It was just one of those moments that you go to live concerts for; completely impactful, absolutely memorable.

When it was over, I told myself that I had to have a copy of that version of “Norwegian Wood,” but, as I found out (much to my dismay), there was none to be had. It was a cover they had added to the set for live performance only……she had never recorded it.

Oh-woe-woe was me.

"A Fortnight In France" CD coverIt wasn’t until nearly five years later, in 2004, that her CD “Live: A Fortnight In France” was released on Blue Note Records, and, finally, a recorded version of that song…..that glorious song. The environment could not be duplicated, and without it, a little bit of the magic had vanished. But the rest was still there: the strong yet delicate instrumentation, the breathy vocals, the slight pauses for effect. Magnificent.

So now, gentle readers, I share with you “Norwegian Wood” by Patricia Barber. (And, although I would recommend listening to the CD version first so there are no visual elements to distract you from the experience, if you want a longer, more elaborate version and something to watch, here’s a version on YouTube from a jazz festival in 2006.) I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it as much as I do, but I certainly hope you might.

P.S. – While you’re here and reading this, why don’t you drop me a comment below and let me know what your favorite cover tune is? See you next week!

My Starter Won’t Start

Posted in Music, Music Video, Pontification, What? with tags , , , on December 5, 2012 by greedycherry

Justin Townes Earle

I know it’s been just about two weeks since I last wrote anything here, but that whole week after Thanksgiving was, honestly, sort of a write-off, and since then….well, since then I just haven’t felt I had anything to write about. Not enthusiastically anyway.

Most people can just write a blog entry off the top of their head, maybe writing about feelings or a personal experience, quickly typing something out and getting back to their lives in short order. Not me. I think and sketch and draft and discard and research and double-check facts….every blog entry is sort of like a term paper for me (albeit one I quite enjoy doing).

I’ve had a few suggestions from friends here and there that I should stop trying to write such long stories when I do an entry and just keep it brief. And I’d love to do that….but I feel like I just can’t. When I come here to write about music, I want to share things with you, tell you facts and tales that you may not have known about your favorite artists, or maybe even help you discover new ones. I want to make it FUN.

And if I were just to type, “Hey, heard this earlier today. It’s awesome!” and then post a link to a video, what kind of fun would that be?

One of my favorite things in the world is history. Knowing what came before, how it led to what’s happening now, the little decisions that made this thing happen instead of that. And, because I love music so much, music history is my absolute favorite. I can’t get enough of behind-the-scenes stories, little-known facts, interviews that reveal something I never knew about a favorite song or group.

But it’s ridiculous….I can read an article in the newspaper or a book from the library in an attempt to study a subject I want to learn more about, and find myself rereading sentences over and over (sometimes even out loud), not able to soak in all my eyes are seeing. It’s like my brain is a bouncer at a club, and just won’t let the new information in. Unless……..unless it’s about music. Then, all of a sudden, one simple skim of a sentence is enough. I not only understand what I’ve read, but I remember it forever.

What the hell is THAT all about? And what do you think….should I just keep it short from now on, or do you find value in the more in-depth stuff? Be curious to know…

Anyway, before I bore you to death with wave upon wave of pontification, let me do what I don’t really want to do, if only in the name of updating my blog.

Here’s a video that my friend Jessie shared with me a few weeks back. It’s freaking phenomenal. Seriously. If you know the singer Steve Earle (who is a complete badass in his own right), this is his rowdy, badass kid Justin. And you’d better call the police before you start watching this, because he’s about to completely molest a perfectly good guitar. Unbelievable.

So many talented musicians…..so little time. Catch you next week, when – hopefully – I’ll have something FUN to write about!

Thankful and Thoughtful

Posted in Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , , , on November 21, 2012 by greedycherry

Marvin Gaye Singing While Lying On A Couch

And while we’re on the subject of great soul music….(please see my previous post “Intruder Alert” if you’re confused in the slightest)…..I saw this video on YouTube today and was flabbergasted.

What a colossal loss Marvin Gaye was. Such an immense talent, taken in anger from us by a bullet …. from his own father, no less. Who knows what great music he would have written, what important causes he would have taken up and penned anthems to. When we think of an influential songwriter from the past who embodies the concepts of peace and social consciousness, we often think of John Lennon, but we would be remiss to leave out Marvin. His “What’s Going On” album, released in 1971, was born of a deep concern for the brutality and violence that was going on at the time, not only here in the United States with anti-war protesters, but, of course, in Vietnam itself.  In an interview with Rolling Stone, Marvin explained:

“In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say… I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world.”

Of course, within two years “Let’s Get It On” was released, taking Marvin from social consciousness to sexual intimacy, and that’s where he would remain with 1976’s “I Want You”, the song you hear him rehearsing in the video above.  (I still can’t believe the vocal quality this guy could get just laying down on a couch in his sweats. CRAZY.)  I am a huge fan of “behind the scenes” video footage, and watching him rehearse this number with these musicians (which I will assume, not knowing where this clip came from, was a touring band of some kind, as the musicians are totally different than the ones listed in the album’s credits) was such a treat for me to watch …. just thought I’d share.

Also, in keeping with the upcoming holiday weekend, I thought I would mention how thankful I am that I have this blog and that some people actually read it.  It’s a good outlet in which to talk about the thing I love most: music …. I just wish making music was as easy as sitting down and typing for an hour.  Actually, I hope to get some new music out before too long, and currently have two songs already in the pipeline: one to be mixed, and one yet to be recorded.  If all goes well, you’ll hear more about that soon.

Until then, here’s a little soul music gift to send you on your way in the proper spirit for the Thanksgiving weekend (and no, it’s NOT “Black Friday” weekend or “Cyber Monday” weekend!!!!!): a new cover of Sly Stone’s “Thankful N’ Thoughful” by Bettye LaVette, off her latest album of the same name.  Bettye’s been doing it for real since 1962, but only in the past decade has she started to receive the kind of success she’s always hoped for.  No wonder she named the album after this track!

Here’s wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!  Have a great holiday, and I’ll see you next time!

No, Not THAT Sandy

Posted in Current Events, Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by greedycherry

Sandy Denny With GuitarWell, with all of the Hurricane Sandy excitement these past couple of days, I seem to have slipped a little bit on the ol’ blog here … but honestly, I am trying to keep a regular schedule. Therefore, I thought I’d jump in – even if only briefly – to share an interesting fact that I didn’t know until this past year. (And after reading this, most of you will then be able to say the exact same thing…)

Anyone out there a fan of Led Zeppelin? Good. Now, quick … name the only duet ever recorded and released by Led Zeppelin.

Know that answer? Wow, you’re pretty smart! Now here’s your follow up question, good for a year’s supply of turtle wax, a new set of steak knives, and a year’s supply of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat:

Who was the person who sang that duet with Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant?

In case you’re not familiar with the answer to either question, here’s a short story for you. Back in 1970, Led Zeppelin was on the upswing, building on their first two records and solidfying what was to be an incredibly successful career. They had spent most of the year recording what was to be released in October as “Led Zeppelin III“, not one of their greatest-selling albums, but certainly one that was artistically important and showed off the band’s range and versatility. There was a great emphasis on acoustic and folk-leaning compositions with this effort, and there was a lot of experimentation in the air. This mindset ended up carrying over into the work the band did for their next record, and it was in this more relaxed and experimental atmosphere that Jimmy Page picked up a mandolin.

“Battle of Evermore” was made up on the spot by Robert and myself,” Page recalls. “I just picked up John Paul Jones’s mandolin, never having played a mandolin before, and just wrote up the chords and the whole thing in one sitting.”

Plant came up with some epic lyrics and they fleshed the song out, but something was missing: another voice. This track, Plant felt, was something that needed an extra vocal to help tell the story, and so he reached out to his friend Sandy Denny, a very popular English singer-songwriter who had just the previous year come off a stint as the lead vocalist for iconic folk-rock band Fairport Convention. (I could pivot here to talk about the insanely talented Richard Thompson, who was a founding member of that group, but I feel that perhaps that’s best left to another post….) Sandy’s role in the song was to be a counterpoint, a “town crier” to Robert Plant’s role as narrator. Or, as Page put it, “we figured we’d bring Sandy by and do a question-and-answer-type thing.”

I’ll tell you … for years I thought that Robert Plant sounded a bit different on some parts of that song, like he was singing in falsetto on certain lines just for effect. But no, he wasn’t employing Janet Jackson-type vocal tricks, I eventually discovered … it was a duet. It’s amazing to me that no matter how much you think you know about music, there’s always something else to learn….

Anyway, another interesting footnote to this little story: Led Zeppelin’s fourth album is often known as the “four symbols” album, as there were no words on the record jacket at all, just a framed photo of an old man and some symbols. These four icons were actually chosen (or created, in the case of Page) by the band members to represent themselves anonymously on the outside sleeve of the record. Again, a priceless quote from Page:

“After all this crap that we’d had with the critics, I put it to everybody else that it’d be a good idea to put out something totally anonymous. At first I wanted just one symbol on it, but then it was decided that since it was our fourth album and there were four of us, we could each choose our own symbol. I designed mine and everyone else had their own reasons for using the symbols that they used.”

What’s not commonly known, though, is that there is a fifth symbol on the record. On the inside sleeve credits, a small icon showing three triangles touching at their points appears. This symbol represents Sandy Denny and honors her contribution to the album.

Now, if you can tell me the only guest vocalist the group Rush has ever recorded with and who that was (and on what song), well, I guess I’ll have to do better than a stupid set of steak knives now, won’t I?

Celebration Day

Posted in Current Events, Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2012 by greedycherry

Led Zeppelin Live at O2 ArenaThis past Thursday night, I got to do something that I never thought in a million years I would have a chance to do: I saw Led Zeppelin live in concert.

Well, okay, I guess that’s stretching the truth a little bit. (Or a whole lot, depending on how much of a buzzkill you want to be here…) It wasn’t really live, per se….it was a movie. In a movie theater. There was a crowd, sure, but they were mostly seated and chewing popcorn … not so much with the crowd surfing.

What I witnessed, in actuality, was the brand new concert film “Celebration Day”, which captures Led Zeppelin’s triumphant reunion show at the O2 Arena in London back in 2007. Of course, it can never be a complete and true reunion …. drummer John Bonham died back in 1980, which led to the group’s breakup in the first place. Despite this, however, it can be noted that keeping the same genetic material in the lineup seems to be the next best thing: John’s son Jason Bonham was tapped for this show, and turned in a performance that was breathtaking in its endurance and its power. But I think I’m getting ahead of myself….

The concert was officially billed as the “Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert”, in honor of the legendary music executive and founder and president of Atlantic Records who had died the previous year at the age of 83. If you’re unfamiliar with his name, or the legacy of incredible music he’s responsible for, allow me to give you a link. Ahmet Ertegun signed and developed some of the biggest talents in the music industry for over three decades, names like (and see if you recognize any of these little-known artists) Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Genesis, Ray Charles, Yes, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (which was only Crosby, Stills & Nash until Ahmet hooked them up with Neil Young). Most important to this little story, however, is the fact that he heard a demo in the late 60s from a new group named Led Zeppelin, and loved it so much that he quickly signed them to his label.

So Ahmet passes away, and it’s decided that a tribute concert will be held, with all the proceeds going to the Ahmet Ertegun Educational Fund (which pays for university scholarships in the U.S., U.K., and Turkey, where the Ertegun family was originally from). Some acts from the Atlantic stable of artists were lined up, like Paul Rodgers (former lead singer of Bad Company), members of Yes, Mick Jones (former lead singer of Foreigner)…..and it’s rumored they even tried to get a reunited Cream together for the show. Well, they didn’t manage that, but they got something (in my humble opinion) MUCH, MUCH better.

It was announced on September 12, 2007 that the surviving members of Led Zeppelin would reunite for the show, performing a whole concert together for the first time in 27 years. On drums would be Jason Bonham, who had played on two previous occasions when brief “one-off” reunion performances had been held (fortunately, he hadn’t been involved with the disastrous 1985 performance at Live Aid, which the members of Zeppelin hated so much they refused to let it be put on the concert DVD when it was finally released). This time, however, it was not just a song or two, but a full show. Was he up to the challenge? Were the reunited members of Led Zeppelin up to the challenge?

To paraphrase Whitney Houston (God rest her soul): “HELL TO THE YES.”

Led Zeppelin Reunion PortraitI have to say that watching this concert film was an exhilarating experience, from the opening chords of “Good Times Bad Times” to the closing drum flourishes of “Black Dog”. I was alive when Led Zeppelin were in their prime, but really too young to have gone to the shows or known anything about the band (or music, for that matter….I was 8 years old when Bonham died). I guess if my parents had been hippies or metalheads or something more exciting, perhaps I would have ended up at a show sooner or later, and that certainly would score me bragging points in a conversation. But the fact is that I wouldn’t remember a damn thing about it (hell, I attended shows a year or so ago I can’t remember anything about), so what good would it do me? Now I was sitting there in the theater, fully aware and with my memory circuits on, watching these men who revolutionized music – who, in my mind, created a catalog so amazing and diverse, so full of power and beauty, that it rivals any output by any group that has ever existed – rock.

So very happy was I. (Said Yoda once.)

I knew it wasn’t precisely what it must have been like to see them in their prime, but there certainly were moments, sometimes more than moments, where I don’t believe it could have gotten any better. Lead vocalist Robert Plant, while not screaming, moaning, and wailing on every tune, certainly still has range, and used it quite a few times to jaw-dropping effect. Sometimes, it seemed like he was having trouble momentarily, and I’d think, “Oh, maybe his voice isn’t what it used to be”…. and then he’d turn around a moment later and let out a high-pitched wail that scolded me for even having the thought.

Guitarist Jimmy Page looked like he had consumed a valium cocktail before he took the stage, but wasn’t so relaxed that he couldn’t resurrect every distorted power riff that made Led Zeppelin the gods of rock’n’roll for so many years. He even reached into his bag of favorite weapons and pulled out the violin bow, the double-necked guitar (obligatory for playing “Stairway To Heaven”), and the theremin, which revealed itself to be good for much more than an extra sound texture in the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”.

Bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones has always been one of my favorites, and that’s not just because I’m a bass player. (Well, okay….maybe a little….) This multi-instrumentalist really was, in some ways, the glue that held Led Zeppelin together. Coming from a session player background, he had not only learned to play and master many different instruments, but also to arrange and write as well. He spent some time after Zeppelin broke up working as a producer and composer, and actually is responsible for the string arrangements on my favorite R.E.M. album, “Automatic For The People”. Still, watching him here, back in the role that made him rich and famous, was pretty neat. He didn’t do anything too outrageous, and he didn’t need to. Whether grooving on bass or laying down pads on the synthesizer, John Paul Jones is simply rock solid.

And lastly, Jason Bonham. I can only imagine the emotion involved, if he took the time to think about it (which I believe he probably did), in realizing that the last time these people got together to play a rock concert was 27 years ago, and your father was the drummer. Now after all these years of learning your father’s instrument, mastering his craft and making it your own, you’re on stage with these people, these amazingly talented musicians, who, with your dad, made rock and roll history. To just play those famous parts his father wrote, note for note, sometimes adding your own flourishes … I can’t even imagine the weight of that. But if he felt it, it never showed. He started playing and never stopped, never slowed, never flinched, for almost two hours.

When it was all over and the crowd was cheering, and the band members were all standing at the edge of the stage waving, I thought then that I saw tears in his eyes, but, of course, I really can’t blame him. What an amazing night for him that must have been. Or, as Jimmy Page noted in a later interview, “I look back on that night with a great amount of fondness, but Jason was the hero. For me that gig was about him.”

The limited release shows in movie theaters are over now, but don’t despair … “Celebration Day” comes to CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray on November 19th. My advice? Get the best speakers and the biggest TV screen you can find, run out and grab yourself a copy of the DVD, and then rush home and play it as loud as you possibly can.

And, really, forget the popcorn … just pack your living room with friends and crowd surf.

The Bramble Rose (or “How Tift Merritt Broke Up My Band”)

Posted in Current Events, Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2012 by greedycherry

Tift MerrittFrankly, I can’t remember the last time I went out to see a live show (well, one that wasn’t free to the public, anyway). I’m sure it wasn’t that long ago, but money hasn’t exactly been plentiful these past couple of years, so I haven’t really been that inclined to go donating large chunks of my hard-earned cash to Ticketmaster.

This month, however, has proved to be an anomaly. First item of note: my boss was kind enough to donate to my worthy cause a ticket to see the Alabama Shakes at the House of Blues on Friday the 5th, which, if I may say, was a pretty damn good show. But, as this post isn’t about that, I’ll move on.

Even more odd (and more relevant to this post), a few days before that I had won a pair of concert tickets on the radio. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was listening to “Sunday Morning Country with Cousin Kate”, an EXCELLENT show on local Boston College station WZBC. (If you’re in the Boston area, I would recommend you make it regular listening. If you’re not, they keep the past two weeks’ worth of shows online, so you’ve got no excuse …. you can listen any time you’d like!) After a particularly good set of tunes, Cousin Kate suddenly announced that if you heard a Tift Merritt song in the next set and were caller number five, you would win tickets to see Tift in concert at Johnny D’s in Somerville. As I consider myself a Tift Merritt fan, this definitely got my attention, and when I heard the unmistakable sound of her voice begin to ring out, I jumped on my phone (not literally, of course) and dialed the station’s number.

The phone started ringing, and Kate picked up, telling me I was caller number three. “Well, crap,” I thought. No reason to bother calling back … if I was three, statistically, how could I possibly call back in time to be five?

Still, my finger hit “redial”.

Now here’s the odd part. You ever have that thing happen where your phone indicates that it’s dialing, but you don’t hear anything? And then the time starts ticking on your display, as if someone’s picked up and you’re already talking, but you still can’t hear anything? Well, if you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. It’s infuriating. Even more so when you’re trying to win tickets….

Now my phone says I’m connected, but there’s no sound….I should be talking to someone, but I hear only silence. So I do what calm, rational people usually do when this happens: yell frantically into my phone. “HELLO? HELLO?? HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOO???”

And because the only way it could possibly get worse is if you can suddenly hear the other person but they still can’t hear you, that’s exactly what happens.

“Hello? WZBC … hello?”

“HELLLLOOOOOOO?????? HELLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOO???????”

So I’m pretty sure of two things right now. One, I think I’m actually, somehow, the right number caller to win these tickets. Two, because of my stupid phone, I’m about to lose these tickets. Then, a miracle.

“Oh, hello! You’re caller number five!”

She can hear me now. Sweet.

Anyway, that’s a long route to travel to make the point that I won tickets to see Tift Merritt on the radio. But you’re never getting those minutes of your life back now, so you’ll just have to live with it.

"Bramble Rose" Album CoverI can’t remember the first time I heard Tift Merritt, but I do know that I was impressed from the moment I did. Her voice, capable of both tender whispers and powerful shouts, is one of those unique instruments that you hear once and recognize it instantly from that point forward. The songs are great too, which is definitely a plus, but it’s the voice that wraps around them that makes it all so unique and special. There’s an intimacy in the way she sings, especially on the down-tempo numbers, that makes you feel like she’s sitting right in front of you with her guitar, singing directly to you. Never heard Tift before? I recommend you start here, with the first track from her first record “Bramble Rose”: “Trouble Over Me”.

Anyway, the first time I saw Tift Merritt live was the only time I’d ever seen her, on the tour for that first record. I had purchased the CD a few months earlier and wore it out (well, you really can’t wear out CDs, I suppose, so that’s outdated terminology), and, on the strength of what I heard and loved, I bought a ticket to see the show. Honestly, though, I’m not sure I was prepared for what I experienced that night at Iota Club & Cafe in Arlington, Virginia.

And since we’re now getting to the main story behind this post, let me give you a little bit of background. I was in a band at this time that I had formed with an old high school friend of mine. I always thought that he and I would find our careers in music together, playing gigs, releasing CDs, and climbing the music industry ladder to success over time. In addition to being friends, we both had the same love of music history and trivia, and I thought we were both pretty good songwriters. It seemed that with just a bit of effort and luck, we could most certainly carve out some sort of success with our band and really make a go of it, as we had always talked about.

Unfortunately, without getting into too much personal detail, let’s just say that I was sadly mistaken. My friend went off to college to become an engineer, and, although the band started back up after he returned, I really don’t think he took music seriously after that. Sometimes I thought we were both still in the game, and that we were working towards similar goals, but over time I felt a large chasm grow between us. Whenever we had band practices, he seemed withdrawn and unengaged, and I began to think he just didn’t want to do it anymore. It seemed to me that the group was some sort of strange unwanted obligation to him, rather than the invigorating, life-changing experience it had always been. And so the band staggered forward, containing an unspoken (most of the time, anyway) undercurrent of tension, and it was really starting to become no fun. I wanted my friend back and pushed hard at his apathy. He found me, I’m sure, to be an overbearing prick, and withdrew further. Sure, we were starting to get more gigs as a band, but the tension was always there, and that made things hard for everyone.

And so it was that I bought my ticket to see Tift Merritt and traveled down to Virginia for the show. I took a spot near the stage, waited for her arrival with anticipation, and when that musical dynamo hit the stage, it was simply awesome. She rocked, she rolled, she belted, she whispered, and had everyone in the club dancing and singing and smiling. The energy was just pouring off the stage and devouring every person in that audience, and it made me feel great. I was happy, and I could tell that the band was happy. They looked like they were having the time of their lives … and that’s when it hit me.

Music is supposed to be fun.

I thought to myself, “This is what being in a band is supposed to feel like. Not misery. Not tension. Not arguments and cutting comments under your breath. Not indifference or disdain. But FUN. It’s supposed to be fun and make you feel good.”

And at that moment, I knew that my time in my band was over. I was simply wasting my life and my time, spending however many hours a week rehearsing, practicing, playing music … but having no fun. It just wasn’t worth it anymore.

Maybe I could go solo. Or form another band. Or just quit doing music for a while and give myself some time to reflect. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do at that point, but I knew what I wasn’t going to do anymore.

And so it came to pass on that fateful night so many years ago, that the wonderfully talented singer/songwriter Tift Merritt broke up my band.

Tift Merritt Live

Eric Heywood, Tift Merritt, and Jay Brown

So … here we are about a decade later, and I finally had another chance to go see Tift live in concert. As expected, it was a great show, although not as rip-your-face-off rocking as the one at Iota. (However, it must be said that Johnny D’s is a sit-down dinner-type joint, while Iota was a stand up small bar-type venue which lent itself more to ‘loud and rocking’…) Still, solid performances, great music, fun audience interactions, and fabulous pedal steel guitar courtesy of Eric Heywood. (Always a plus, in my opinion.)

So the show’s over, and I’m putting on my coat. Mere moments away from turning around and heading for the door, I suddenly see Tift and her bassist come out of the back and start to make their way across the club. Considering where I’m standing, it’s obvious to me that she’ll be passing close by shortly, and that I may be able to say something to her. It’s that moment that all fans hope for: you go see an artist whose work you admire, and you get a chance to express your appreciation. An ever-so-brief tête-à-tête with the star of the show….how exciting (and, may I add, nerve-wracking)! What should I say?

Well, as she strode towards me, I quickly came up with a line or two in my head. My little speech went something like this: “Hello Tift! Great show tonight! Just wanted to let you know that I saw you on your very first tour, and it was an amazing show that night too. Thanks for all the great music!”

I mean, nothing Shakespearean in nature, obviously, but it would do the job just fine.

Problem was that Tift wasn’t looking at me. She was headed right for me, but kept her head down. I couldn’t make eye contact to indicate I wanted to say something, and I felt awkward just blurting out something as she passed, so I wasn’t sure what to do. Finally, as she walked right in front of me, she raised her head and looked at me. My lead-in time was gone. I had a half second to say something as she passed by. Quick! Think of something! Start talking! SAY. SOMETHING.

“Good job!”

I recoiled in horror as the words fell out of my mouth, dropping straight to the carpet with a thud. What the hell was THAT? “Good job”? “Good job”????? That’s something you say to your eight year old if they clean their room up like you told them … it’s NOT something you say to a talented artist who just put on a great show for a couple hours! I wondered how I could possibly do anything more stupid than utter the phrase I just uttered, when I quickly found out.

I heard myself weakly mumble the same phrase again to the bass player trailing behind her, not wanting him to miss the incredible gift of my amazing eloquence.

Idiot.

Come to think of it, maybe there’s a reason I don’t go to live shows anymore….