Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Mexicali Live, 7/25

June 25, 2015

I will be coming up north for two weeks this July and August and squeezing in ONE show, that’s ONE SHOW ONLY, at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ, just 10 minutes from the George Washington Bridge, Saturday night, July 25 at about 9:00 pm. There will be two sets, lots of classic GSW tunes, a whole bunch of recent tunes, a bunch of cool covers, and I hopefully will be joined by some wonderful surprise guests. Tickets are $12, CLICK HERE to get yours.

photo by Cathy Weeks

photo by Cathy Weeks

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Robert Gordon, Respect Yourself

May 6, 2015

This history of Stax Records is simply a fantastic book by any standard. It’s compulsively readable, it’s painstakingly researched, and it is about a wonderful topic. It works very well on two levels: one, the personalities (on both sides of the art/business divide) that make timeless, deeply influential music at Stax from 1958 to 1975; and two, for more serious historians, the parallels between the Stax story in Memphis and the broader regional and national stories of racial oppression, unrest, and the golden years of the Civil Rights movement.

Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, by Robert Gordon

Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, by Robert Gordon

 

Stax is often twinned with Motown, which existed at roughly the same time (but lasted longer). Both were hugely important to the history of American music, and both maneuvered in┬áthe neutral zone between R&B, pop, rock, and funk to create new kinds of musical experiences that proved irresistibly appealing and surprisingly lasting. But there were many differences too: while black-owned Motown built an assembly line model inspired by its Detroit location, and made a successful business at the occasional expense of its artists, both their income and their creative autonomy, multiracial Stax was an artists’ label first and foremost, where creativity was king — and business often took a back seat. Otis Redding, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, and house band Booker T and the MGs were part of a musical and social family that was all the more incredible for having been born in the heart of ultra-segregated Memphis at the damn of the 1960s. Gordon does not sugarcoat, and there is plenty of dark stuff — payola, drugs, violence, and the tragic plane crash that ended Redding’s life at age 26 — but on the whole, the Stax story is an inspiring one about how a dedicated record company can change both music history and the world itself.

For me there was an extra edge to this having been to Memphis in the 1990s to record $1.99 Romances, my first major label album, and having listened to endless stories of Memphis recording lore — stories that now make sense to me in light of Memphis native Gordon’s deep context. Along with, perhaps, the Jac Holzman/Elektra autobiography, this is probably the best book about a record label ever written.

Jazz fest

May 5, 2015

This is my third year attending the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It really is enormous and a lot different from the “ordinary” festivals in other places: add in the second lines, the New Orleans food, the party atmosphere, and the simply staggering number of stages and artists. Also the prospect for extreme weather, either in terms of rainfall or scorching sunshine.

Last year we brought both our kids; Millie went off with her friends while Lisa & I dragged the boy to see Bruce Springsteen at the ridiculously overcrowded Acura Stage. This year Lisa and dude stayed home and I took Millie with her friends. I avoided the Acura stage (where Elton John was headlining) and spent most of the time sitting in a folding chair reading Robert Gordon’s book about Stax, listening to a succession of mediocre performers while waiting for Ed Sheeran.

And Ed Sheeran was great. I’m a big fan. It feels real since it’s just him with the loop pedal, he can be a bit unscripted, and he’s got great energy and great tunes. But I realized something at this Jazz Fest, something I’ve kinda known for years, but have been in denial about because, you know, one likes to try to get in the spirit of things. But the fact is this: I hate music festivals. Bad sound, way, way too many people, wars over your little patch of grass, bad overpriced food, long lines for food and bathrooms: what is enjoyable about this? Well, for some people, the music, I suppose. For me it’s not worth it. There, I said it. It seems ungrateful, in a way, since my career for a long time depended on the fact that other people, bless their hearts, enjoy this sort of thing. But it’s not my bag, baby.