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?

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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….

The Return of ABBA! (Sort Of.)

Posted in Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2012 by greedycherry

The Members of ABBA

If – some day in the future – I find myself standing in the corner of a smoky room at 2am in the morning, music blaring from a not-too-distant corner and drink in hand, and someone from the group of very passionately conversational party goers I was surrounded by ventured to ask, “Okay…..so who do you think is the greatest pop music group of all time?”, I would, without hesitation, argue that no band in the history of pop music was as good at pop music as those four sparkly jumpsuit-wearing Swedes from the 1970s known as ABBA.

You might argue back, but I wouldn’t be listening. After all, that music’s really loud….and it gets harder to hear you the further away I walk from whatever you’re saying about NSync.

Sure, I realize that in some circles expressing an appreciation for ABBA can pretty much kill any street cred or cool points you might have built up over time, plunging you quicky from the in-crowd to the down-and-out, but I just can’t fathom saying that any other group in history has been more important to furthering the cause of well-crafted pop songs. Everyone always trips all over themselves touting the songwriting prowess of the Fab Four from Liverpool, but what about the Fab Four from Stockholm?

Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Faltskog, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad represent, to me, one of the rarest of all musical things: that perfect moment in time of synergy where the right people come together at the right time with the right blend of talents and create something unimaginably special and perfect. Take even one away, and the whole thing falls apart like a poorly-played game of Jenga.

Or…..does it?

I would never have thought it possible, but recently I discovered something that made me rethink this long-held position. While, upon much reflection, I still feel ABBA was a once-in-a-lifetime melding of four unique musicians which provided for some of the finest pop music this side of Jonkoping, I now have some very compelling evidence that perhaps the songs might still have been as strong with a vocalist or two changed out.

Ladies and gentlemen…..exhibit A: a brand new ABBA song from 2009!

Okay, okay, so you caught me in a lie….it’s not really new ABBA. But seriously, how could anyone tell??? It’s ALL there: the beautiful melody, the soaring vocals (provided courtesy of a lovely and talented singer named Helen Sjöholm), the lush harmonies, the majestic piano accents, the amazing arrangement, the clever little bits of counterpoint sneaking in and out.

The first time I heard this song, “Story Of A Heart” from Benny Andersson’s 2009 solo release of the same name, I was flabbergasted. How could this be, I wondered? Were the other three members of ABBA that inconsequential? This would fit perfectly on any of ABBA’s eight official releases, but here it is twenty years later and Agnetha and Anni-Frid are nowhere in sight.

Bjorn, on the other hand….

Okay, so apparently pop songcraft of this magnitude takes two: Bjorn wrote the English language lyrics to the song. Actually, now that I’m going down this path, it seems like it’s always taken two, doesn’t it? Page and Plant, Lennon and McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel, Rogers and Hammerstein, John and Taupin, Jam and Lewis, Gershwin and Gershwin…songwriting duos have long been a fixture in the music industry, and it’s never really been a set formula as to how that whole thing works. Sometimes one writes the lyrics and the other the melody. Sometimes both write both together. Sometimes one writes everything but needs the other to elevate the final product to a new level. You can’t really pin down the magic of the best songwriting pairs, but what you do know is that the result of that collaboration will be fabulous.

So it is with Andersson and Ulvaeus. The songwriting team behind the slick pop stylings of ABBA, they kept going as a team after the group broke up in 1982, jumping right back into the game and writing the score to the smash stage musical “Chess” (which itself managed one nice little top 40 hit back in 1984, “One Night In Bangkok” by Murray Head…..and how often do Broadway songs hit the top 40, I ask you?). More songwriting projects followed, none of which really garnering much attention here in the United States, but keeping the two friends busy nonetheless. One of my favorites is this clever little pop tune from 1993’s “Shapes” by Josefin Nilsson, a Swedish singer and actress. All songs on her debut album? Written by Benny and Bjorn.

(Quick sidebar and interesting fact: did you know that ABBA has, to this day, never officially broken up? Just like North and South Korea are technically still at war because of lack of an official signed peace treaty, ABBA never officially announced their dissolution, and actually mentioned in separate interviews throughout 1983 and 1984 that they planned on eventually coming back together for another album. Of course, as we all know, that never happened….)

Still, as good as their output has remained over the years, nothing I’ve heard can quite match “Story Of A Heart” for its sheer……umm…..ABBA-ness? I’m truly amazed how effortless Benny and Bjorn make writing a great pop song seem every time I listen to it, and it makes me wonder if things would somehow be just as magical as they were back in the 70s if there ever were a reunion.

Of course, let’s keep in mind that all four members were offered a billion dollars (yes, you read that right….”billion” with a “b”) to reunite for a limited tour about ten years ago and they refused, so…..I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

Saying “Crap” In Five Different Languages

Posted in Music, Pontification with tags , , , on October 2, 2012 by greedycherry

Sometimes I think about it and find it a little nuts that I spend all my time on my own blog talking about other people’s music and never promoting my own. This could, of course, be due to the fact that I actually get to make music very infrequently (various and sundry personal and financial issues are currently bouncers at that particular club), but, even so, I should still be talking about Greedy Cherry sometimes, right? Isn’t that what most musicians do when they have a blog for their band….talk about their actual band?

Well, dear readers, you’re in luck…..I’m actually going to talk about The Cherry today.

However, as new music has not sprung forth from me in at least a year or two (although that may change soon), we’re going to take a short trip back in time in order to do so. Let’s travel back to March of this year, when a copy of my first CD “EP” (which you can kindly purchase here now and forevermore) which I had sent out for potential review actually got picked up and reviewed. What a surprise that was.

Anyway, I’ve only gotten a few dedicated reviews of my music since I released my little disc back in 2010, so each one has been pretty neat to see, and each one holds a special little place in my heart. Let’s see if you can guess which part of my heart this particular review is kept in after reading it …. reprinted here in its entirety from the March 17th issue of Boston’s “The Noise” music magazine:

“Five songs, five different genres. Still, I’m not impressed. Their music, no matter what style this band seems to choose, is entirely unoriginal and unforgivably middle-of-the-road. In short: It’s crap. Shite, mierda, merde, scheiße. There, that’s crap in five different languages. Impressed? I didn’t think so. Listening to this is like watching some mediocre comedian do mediocre impressions. In one fell swoop, this EP manages to desecrate Herbie Hancock, lobotomize Antonio Carlos Jobim, piss on the grave of Bob Marley, neuter the Beatles, and cheapen the centuries-old English ballad tradition. (Alright, I’ll admit that is kinda impressive, but that’s beside the point.) Greedy Cherry, please, in the name of all that is holy and musical, stop the madness. I can’t take anymore. (Will Berry)”

So that’s whose grave I pissed on. To be fair, I was awful drunk, and stumbling around a cemetery in a strange city trying to find my way back to the hotel, and…..well, anyway……

To be honest, the first reaction you have when you read a review like this of a personal project near and dear to your heart (besides “Herbie Hancock?? Where the hell did he get Herbie Hancock from anyway?”, of course….) is akin to that of being struck in the face with a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick. (And yes, I did that specifically for all you Douglas Adams fans out there.) You put your time and effort, your blood, sweat, and tears (if I may pound a cliche into the ground), into something you love, taking a great deal of care and painstaking effort to produce something you’re proud of – something that, for me, was the culmination of years of planning, writing, and playing – and ….. in one short paragraph, you’re eviscerated. Emotionally mugged, stabbed, and left for dead in a dark alley. Not even a hint of one kind word to say. It’s a hard punch in the gut to be sure.

Then comes the anger.

“Yo …. SCREW that guy! What the hell does he know anyway? Some dumb-ass head banger who wouldn’t know quality music if it walked up to him and kicked him in the marbles. F*cking bastard…..”

But after that quick flash of blind rage came something else entirely, something I didn’t count on: I was surprised by how fast the whole thing became funny to me. It stung for a moment, yes, because as a musician you want people to like and enjoy your music. And, from a purely psychological standpoint, we as humans just want to be liked anyway … and insofar as one’s art is an extension of themselves, you put your creation out there to be liked and appreciated.

Eventually, however, it just settled over me that people are people, and not everyone likes the same things. Fact is, even if I had made a CD that Will Berry LOVED, that just means that some other reviewer out there would hate it. Any artist who does anything will find those who love and hate it, those who support and criticize their efforts. It’s just part of life.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about life during my time living it, most certainly it is this: you need to develop a thick skin or stay home. Most people are kind and encouraging, yes …. but there are many more who are just plain vicious and mean. I do believe that you have to be open to criticism to a degree, because sometimes the truest things are the ones that are the hardest to hear. But you also don’t have to be a dumpster for everyone else’s personal trash. Learn to let that stuff roll right off your back. Take love and kind words where you can get them, and ignore the rest. Pursue your path. Be true to your heart. Do what you can with what you have, however you are able, and love your own creations. And if you do those things, no matter what anyone else says, that is surely good enough.

So thank you, Will Berry. Thank you for spending some time listening to my little CD, even if you didn’t much like it. Just know that there’s really no chance that I’ll “stop the madness.” I love to make music, just like you love to write reviews (or perhaps even write your own music, which you like much, much more than most of the music you have to review every month), and I’m sure that we’ll both continue doing what we love as best we can until the day we die. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. And if you’re not true to who you are, then who are you, really?

A word of caution, however, good sir: when you finally pass from this Earth, if it is before I am deceased, watch where you’re buried. I tend to get drunk in graveyards a lot, especially when I have a full bladder, and I’m most certain I will recognize your name should I see it on a headstone somewhere….

Get Back

Posted in Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2012 by greedycherry

The Beatles On The Rooftop

Well then.

It seems that I have inadvertently taken the summer off from posting to my own blog. I’d apologize for this, of course, except that I think I’ve taken way too much space in previous posts apologizing for my lapses in discipline. Therefore, we’ll just assume that I’m taking a whole paragraph to acknowledge my absence of over three months and beg your forgiveness simultaneously….and we’ll just get back to it.

Today I’d like to talk about The Beatles….which, in my estimation, is a fabulous topic to discuss no matter who you happen to be in the company of. Hell, even if you’re all by yourself, it’s still a pretty damn good topic.

I have been listening to a whole lot of Pandora Radio lately, and, before I go any further, I will now briefly and quickly cover what Pandora is in case there are some among you who have never heard of it.

Pandora is an internet-based radio station where you go, create an account for yourself, and then pick an artist you like to create a station that is tailored just for you. For example, let’s say I choose Steely Dan (which, I will confess, is one of my personal stations). So I pick Steely Dan, and Pandora immediately starts off by playing me a Steely Dan song. Cool, right? It gets cooler.

So Pandora has thousands and thousands of songs in its database, and each one has been classified and tagged with different keywords like “fast” or “jazz” or “sad” or “icantbelieveyoureactuallylisteningtojustinbieber.” (Actually, I made that last one up. Sorry.) They classify things like tempo, melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics….it’s all part of what they call the “Music Genome Project.” Once they have each song analyzed six different ways from Sunday (what the heck does that phrase even mean, anyway?), then they throw it in the musical hopper for public consumption.

So let’s say I’m listening to my Steely Dan track, and it’s a mid-tempo song that features piano prominently and contains lyrics about love. So Pandora looks for other songs that are mid-tempo, feature piano, and have lyrics about love, and then starts feeding me those tunes. Every so often they’ll circle back to a Steely Dan track, or maybe play me a Donald Fagen solo track. Regardless, I now have my own “Steely Dan” radio station that plays me not only Steely Dan songs, but also songs that are in a similar vein. This lets you hear a lot of music you already like, but also introduces you to other songs that you may never have heard of before that are stylistically close to the songs you love. This, undoubtedly, is a gross oversimplification of how Pandora works, but I think you get the idea….

Anyway, back to the story. So I’ve been listening to a lot of Pandora lately, and The Beatles come into the rotation now and again. When they do, what’s nice is that I don’t necessarily get the usual top 10 hits kind of stuff…..I’ll get a few songs from the “Love” soundtrack that was put together for Cirque du Soleil Moon Frye (sorry, couldn’t resist), an older track or two from the early days (including a song I really had never heard before, “That Means A Lot,” which was written for the “Help” soundtrack but was left off), and some stuff from the “Anthology” series that was put out in the mid-1990s. It’s this latter category I’d like to focus on, as it contains the point of my whole entry today.

The “Anthology” series was great (if you’re a Beatles fan) because it gave the public a bunch of previously unreleased tracks (for the most part, anyway); lots of demos, studio chatter, and stuff that had only been available on bootleg recordings to this point. But the huge payoff for a lot of people were the NEW Beatles tracks. The remaining members of The Beatles had wanted to contribute some new music to the “Anthology” project, and had thought they might just record some incidental music as a trio. However, they soon decided that they would like to do something on a bit of a grander scale.

Therefore, Paul McCartney reached out to Yoko Ono and asked for any unfinished John Lennon compositions that the remaining three might add their voices and instruments to in order to make finished “Beatles” songs. Yoko gave Paul a cassette tape with four songs that John had left uncompleted, and the group got to work. (Apparently McCartney told Yoko and her son Sean Lennon that if they didn’t like what the remaining Beatles came up with, that they could veto the tracks. George and Ringo’s rumored reaction: “What? What if we love it??”)

The resulting tracks from this Beatles “reunion” were the two songs “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”. These songs come up on my Pandora rotation quite often, and I was struck the other day as I listened by just how….how BEATLES they are. I mean, really….they sound like they could have been composed and recorded while the group was still together in the 1970s. The quality is solid, the songwriting is solid, the playing is solid, the harmonies are solid…..it’s just…..SOLID. It’s quite amazing.

Some groups reunite and probably shouldn’t….some when they don’t even have half their original members left! (Don’t get me started on the Motown “reunions” that are nothing but a farce….how many original Temptations are left? What, ONE out of FIVE? Then THERE ARE NO MORE TEMPTATIONS TO REUNITE!!!! Ahem.) They need the money, or want to relive the glory days. Some of them end up putting out inferior material and ultimately tarnish the catalog that made them so popular and famous in the first place by adding God-awful tripe to their canon.

But a few groups? A few groups get it right. They are reluctant to reunite, to do anything that might damage the flowers that they have planted in the garden of history. But if they finally do come together (no pun intended), they make sure that they give it their all…..that the quality is first rate. The Beatles reunion of the mid-1990s is such a moment in time: a crack in the universe through which three lads from Liverpool stepped backwards two and a half decades to embrace a lost friend and recreate that old, familiar magic one last time.

And I am surely not the only one who is grateful.

As a side note before I go, I would like to quickly say a word about an upcoming project all Beatles lovers should check out. (I spend so much time talking about music history, I should really highlight some stuff happening in this current decade, huh?) There is a very talented artist who goes by the name “AG” who I just recently became aware of. As the story on her website goes, her publishing company ended up somehow with the rights to the only six Beatles songs not owned by Sony. Therefore, AG found herself in the unique position to record these tunes, and, from what I’ve heard so far, has quite ably and wonderfully turned them a bit sideways. Covers, yes….but even more like reverent reimaginings. She has redone Lennon and McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man” in a drastically different way than you’re used to hearing it….but it’s AMAZING. (And I’m not just saying that because I’m a sucker for awesome harmonies….although that certainly doesn’t hurt. Sidebar: if you’d like to hear The Beatles version just to compare, here’s that link. I’d listen to the original first and then AG’s version to fully understand the depth of creativity involved in the cover version.) I’d recommend at least one listen if I were you (which, by the way, I’m totally not).

“The Beatles” by AG will be released on John Lennon’s birthday, October 9th. Check it out, and I’ll see you next week! (Hopefully….;))

Seems Like A Dream

Posted in Current Events, Music, Music Video with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 7, 2012 by greedycherry

I don’t get it.  I really don’t.  Is it just me, or are an inordinate amount of musicians dying lately?  Every single time I turn around, someone else is passing away, and I’m really, REALLY trying to swear off making my blog, as one of my friends so aptly joked, the “Greedy Cherry Obituary.”

Therefore, I’ll try to keep this short.

It’s hard not to honor the life of a talented musican, especially being a musician myself (for which the “talented” part, of course, is up for debate). But the death of Bob Welch today (a suicide, unfortunately) likely only strikes me so strongly because I have just recently come to appreciate his songs.  Or, to be honest, one song in particular.

“Hypnotized” was a song Welch wrote and performed when he was the lead guitarist and vocalist for Fleetwood Mac back in the 1970s. “But wait a minute,” you say. “Wasn’t Lindsey Buckingham the lead guitarist and vocalist for Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s?”

“Sure,” I reply. “He was certainly one of them.”

Many people don’t realize the lineup shifts and changes that went on in the ranks of the Mac back in the day, and that they only rose to global superstardom once the boyfriend/girlfriend duo of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined up in 1975. But Fleetwood Mac had been around since 1967, originally formed as a three-piece consisting of drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, and popular blues guitarist Peter Green. All of them met while performing as part of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and eventually struck out on their own, adding slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer and releasing their first album “Fleetwood Mac” in February of 1968. In fact, Fleetwood Mac was mainly a blues band for the first few years of their existence, and only started to segue into playing with the rock and pop styles as the 1970s dawned. Other guitarists who were members of the Mac that helped them stretch out into those styles in the early part of that decade were Danny Kirwan and Bob Weston (who, oddly enough, also died this year, back in January).

I promised to make this short, didn’t I?

Anyway, long story short: main guitarist Peter Green went a little bonkers and left the band, and they hired Christine Perfect (now known much better as Christine McVie) on to help fill out the lineup.  Shortly thereafter, Jeremy Spencer went out for a magazine and never came back (they found soon after he had joined a religious group called “The Children of God”), so the Mac was in the market for another guitarist.

Enter Bob Welch.

Welch was with the band from 1971 through 1974, and I frankly had never heard anything from that era until just a few months ago, when, on my Pandora station I listen to at work, the song “Hypnotized” came up on rotation. From the very first seconds, as the recognizable drum rhythm loops over and over without any other instrumentation, pounding its way into my subconscious, I took notice. I made a point to listen. The song didn’t disappoint.

It’s got a very relaxing, almost mystical vibe to it despite the drum prelude, and when the reverb-laden guitar hits its first lick, it’s almost the perfect antidote to the driving, unyielding rhythm Mick Fleetwood lays down. Further ambience is established by the swelling harmony vocals on the chorus. After my first listen, I wanted to hear it again. After my second, I rated it with the little orange “thumbs up” so that I would be sure to hear it (and other songs like it) again in my rotation.

After the tenth listen, I went to my local record shop and bought the CD, 1973’s “Mystery To Me”.

Anyway, Bob Welch would end up achieving greater success after leaving Fleetwood Mac. In 1977, as the Mac were ruling the world with the release of “Rumours”, Welch put out his first solo effort entitled “French Kiss”.  It contained two hits, the track “Sentimental Lady” (which was originally written and released during his time with Fleetwood Mac, but didn’t become a hit until this solo version….which, funny enough, features Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, and Lindey Buckingham as session players) and “Ebony Eyes”.  I’m sure, just as you likely didn’t know who the hell Bob Welch was in the first place, you probably wouldn’t recognize those songs by their names, but take a listen….chances are you do know them (at least “Sentimental Lady”).

(Don’t you love those moments where someone mentions a song, and you go, “What? No, I don’t know that song.” And then they play a bit of it, or hum it to you, and you go, “Oh YEAH….I know that.”  Sometimes I find it amazing how much we know that we don’t know until someone digs it out of a buried corner of our brain….)

So, in conclusion, after my one single blog entry where I didn’t mention dead musicans, I must now cave and say these words: rest in peace, Bob Welch. And thanks for the music.