Archive for WZBC

Intruder Alert

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2012 by greedycherry

What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves CD Cover

I am a sucker for old soul records.  Most new r&b music really doesn’t do much for me, I’m afraid … but leave “The Complete Stax/Volt” box set on my desk and I probably won’t come out of my room for a month.  Or more.  (Or maybe a little less, depending on how badly I need to eat and pay rent that month.)

Point is, there’s sooooo much good stuff out there.  And the sad part is that there’s sooooo much good stuff out there I still haven’t heard.  And probably never will hear. Reason being that so many groups in history never became well-known, perhaps barely made one album, or maybe even only ever recorded one single …. but what intrigues me and keeps me searching for that old soul music is that maybe it was an amazing single.

Therefore, every compilation or box set of “old school” r&b that gets released, I give it a long, hard look. I buy if I can. Just last year, as a matter of fact, I purchased “What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves”, which turned out to be four discs of pure heaven sent down to redeem my sinful little CD player.  I mean, maybe you can turn away from Clarence Carter and “Snatching It Back”, but I sure can’t.  My reaction to most of the tracks on that box set is akin to that of Mrs. Mia Wallace after snorting a line of cocaine in the bathroom of Jack Rabbit Slim’s: “GodDAMN!!!!! Goddamn, goddamn…..”  Or as my friend Angelo might say, “those songs are funkier than a dirty Pamper.”

Anyway, back in 2010 a two-CD compilation was released that really got my attention … and the main reason it got my attention was its title.  I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple years listening to the excellent college radio stations that broadcast in the Boston area (shout out to MIT’s WMBR and Boston College’s WZBC, two of the best), and one of my favorite shows hands-down is an afternoon show on WMBR called “Lost and Found”.  Every day of the week, a DJ comes in and plays old or rare tracks from a different genre for two hours … but nothing gets me happier than Wednesday afternoon’s edition with Brother Wayne, who always manages to unearth some of the coolest soul gems I’ve ever heard.  (He still runs the show to this day …. you should visit their website and check it out.  Trust me on this one.)

Therefore, being a huge fan of the “Lost and Found” show, I was stopped in my tracks one day while checking out new music releases at Newbury Comics. There on the shelf sat a new CD set which read “Keb Darge & Paul Weller present Lost & Found: Real R’N’B & Soul”.  Lovingly assembled by well-known Scottish DJ Darge and journeyman musician Weller (formerly of The Jam and The Style Council), this collection represented their favorite rare cuts from 50s and 60s soul. It’s a stellar compilation, and I can’t see how any fan of the style wouldn’t want to rush out right now and pick it up.

Er…..I said now.  Go ahead……I’ll wait for you.

Back yet?  Good!  Let’s talk about one of the best tracks on the set.  It’s this one (sorry about the crappy YouTube graphic … it’s the best-sounding version I could find):

If you’re familiar with groups like Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and The O’Jays, you already know a little bit about the “Philadelphia Sound”.  When Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff decided to form their own record label in the 1960s, they began with this group, The Intruders, which provided a sound unlike any other at the time. Not as pop-oriented as Motown, but also not as funky or bluesy as Stax, this new sound was more smooth, more soaring, more orchestral.  The kind of record I picture Don Cornelius and his lady curling up with a glass of Courvoisier to enjoy.  Simply delightful.

Anyway, I was listening to this track again the other day, being eternally grateful for its lush sound and soaring harmonies, and thought I’d share. Doesn’t it make you wonder how much great music is still out there, buried in the past, yet to be discovered?  It makes me sad … and yet, at the same time, excited for the searching, and eager in anticipation of the thrill of the discovery.

Man, I love music.

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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….