“Down the Rhodes” on Soundcheck

On the very first day of the New Year, Gerald McCauley met up with Soundcheck host John Schaefer. As one of the authors of Down the Rhodes: The Fender Rhodes Story (along with Benjamin Bove), Gerald has a lot to say about the history of this powerful and revolutionary instrument!

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Rhodes_Jacket_4-colorThe Fender Rhodes story is a historical tribute to the electric piano that changed the sound of music. Invented by Harold Rhodes as a rehabilitation tool for soldiers in World War II, the Fender Rhodes piano both revolutionized and empowered musicians to explore a new, electric frontier of music. Through interviews with a remarkable cast of music notables, the book takes an insider’s look into how this electric piano played – and continues to play – an integral role in the creation of a wealth of music, from the 1960s through today. The collection of interviews with Michael Bearden, George Benson, Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, D’Angelo, Eumir Deodato, George Duke, Larry Dunn, Donald Fagen, Ronnie Foster, Rodney Franklin, Robert Glasper, Jay Graydon, Dave Grusin, Don Grusin, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Ellis Hall, Herbie Hancock, Lalah Hathaway, Rami Jaffee, Bob James, Quincy Jones, Ramsey Lewis, Jeff Lorber, Robin Lumley, Ray Manzarek, Les McCann, Marcus Miller, Steve Molitz, John Novello, David Paich, Jerry Peters, Greg Phillinganes, James Poyser, Patrice Rushen, Joe Sample, Lenny White, Maurice White, Vince Wilburn Jr., Allee Willis, the CBS musical instruments staff, and others provides for a rare glimpse at the music history behind some of the most memorable music of our time.

David Rothenberg on Rubin “Hurricane” Carter

Fortune in My EyesRubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1967 and spent almost two decades in jail before being exonerated, died on Sunday in Toronto. He was 76.

David Rothenberg writes about meeting Carter at Rahway State Prison in his book, Fortune in My Eyes: A Memoir of Broadway Glamour, Social Justice, and Political Passion, published by Applause Books.

Here is an excerpt.

* * * * * * *

My visits to the Rahway penitentiary, beginning with my appearances on the inmate radio program, evolved. The prison officials had placed a moratorium on the number of visits afforded me, so—using their prison-acquired inmate wiles—several of the men created a class, which enabled me to return weekly as a teacher. Most of the guys in the class were doing heavy time. Several had been released from Trenton State Prison’s death row after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1972 that declared the death penalty to be unconstitutional…I would arrive on Saturday morning and read the class a page-one story from the morning edition of the New York Times. I would then ask for the students’ reactions to the article. At first the men balked, suggesting that this was not a class. As the teacher, they argued, I should give them my interpretation of the story. I insisted that their opinion of the news event was as valid as mine.

Tommy [Trantino] then challenged me: “Why are you the teacher?”

My answer satisfied them: “I’m the teacher because I’m getting you to think about what is happening in the world, and your personal assessment of a story demands that you think.” In fact, that was my goal. Most of the guys admitted that they were school dropouts and had hated and been intimidated by the classroom and the teachers, who tortured and embarrassed them. If I could create a classroom environment that was nurturing, they might be motivated to take advantage of some of the more traditional and formal classes being offered in the institution, and even aspire to a GED or a college course that might be available. If my class accomplished anything, it was that a few of the men, on their own, did go on to explore other educational opportunities. A few even contacted me upon their release from prison.

There was an intense man, Rubin, always sitting in the front row. Cocoa-skinned, bald, and with glasses, he listened intently but rarely spoke. In the many classes I have taught, I have always looked for that eager face, someone who is soaking up everything even if they are not asking questions. Rubin was particularly responsive when guests would join me. Judge Bruce Wright visited several times—canceling his treasured Saturday morning tennis games to travel with me to Rahway—and fascinated the students with his candor about the courts and racism in our society.

One day after class, Rubin asked if I could call his agent. “Rubin, why do you have an agent?” That seemed an appropriate question to pose to a man situated in a prison. “Of course I will call your agent, but what kind of an agent is this?”

He told me he was writing a book, and I figured, why not? Everyone in here has a story to tell. I asked him to write down her name, address, and phone number, and by the way, “Rubin, what is your full name?”

He said, “Rubin Carter.”

I looked at him for a long minute and asked, “Are you the Rubin Carter called Hurricane?”

“That’s me.”

I never asked last names in the class, nor did I take attendance. It was all voluntary. I had had no idea that the attentive young man in front of me was a former boxing champion.

In 1999, when the movie The Hurricane was released, with Denzel Washington giving a deeply moving and memorable performance in the title role, I had heard that Rubin was going to be in New York City for some promotional interviews for the film. He had long since been cleared and released after several courtroom dramas. I called the film’s publicity department and introduced myself as a host of a weekly radio program on WBAI in Manhattan. I requested an interview with Carter. “Of course,” the condescending and impatient publicist said, “everyone does. We have him scheduled with PBS, GMA”—and some other initials were thrown in.

I listened respectfully and said, “Rubin and I go way back. Why not just ask him and let him make the decision?” The impatient rep conceded to my logic.

Ten minutes later the call came: “Rubin is anxious to appear on your radio program.”

He arrived at the studio on Saturday morning looking like a million dollars, in a nifty suit with a professorial look. I told him that I appreciated his joining me, and he said, “David, you were there when no one else was. We can’t forget where we came from. By the way, you were taller then.”

“No, Rubin, I was standing up and you were sitting down. Now it’s the reverse.”

He was living in Canada, working with the Innocence Project and delivering inspiring lectures. He and Tommy Trantino had bonded in Rahway, and theirs was a dramatic demonstration that black and white guys could work together to give inmates a united voice. Because both men were charismatic and had respect from other prisoners, they were able to create some alterations in the traditional apartheid of the joint they were in.

Both Rubin and Tommy rejoined the human race in spite of prison’s attempt to dehumanize them.

 

 

Q&A with Tony Sclafani

To mark the arrival of his Grateful Dead FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Greatest Jam Band in History, Tony Scalfani met up with Music Tomes to discuss his love of The Dead and the new discoveries he made about the band during the book’s construction. With Spring (slowly) warming up, it will be Deadhead weather soon! Read the rest of the interview here

 

00333698What initially drew you to the music of the Dead?

At first it was the popular songs, like “Friend of the Devil” and “Uncle John’s Band.” The Grateful Dead’s main writing team of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter came up with more great songs than I think people realize. I kept finding hidden gems of theirs. When I got deeper into the scene, I became impressed at how the Dead’s live shows married the mindset of improv jazz to rock music – something the Allman Brothers also pioneered. Being a guitarist, I always found it interesting to hear what Garcia had to say musically. He’s one of those players whose style is so distinct you can spot him instantly.

With such a history, how did you decide what you wanted to put into the book?

Having read and reread all the classic books about the band, I wanted to stake out territory that hadn’t been charted. So I often looked to unrelated sources for ideas. For example, I was a fan of the old British rock magazine Trouser Press, which ran features about “great lost albums” of unreleased material they felt bands should have put out. I came up with two of those. I also noticed very little had been written on Dead members Donna Jean Godchaux and Tom Constanten, so I devoted chapters to them. I always thought the Dead’s studio albums hadn’t been given the attention they deserved so I set aside three chapters to take a fresh look at them. And whenever possible, I tried to place what the Dead were doing into the larger context of rock music, since I hadn’t seen that done very much.

There is a wealth of bootleg material from the Dead. How did you parse through the best of the best?

When it came to the live recordings, I used my own knowledge and picked the brains of Dead authorities David Gans and Dennis McNally to come up with a list of essential concerts every fan (or would-be fan) should hear. That became a chapter called “Playing in the Band: A List of Significant Dead Concerts.” What made it tricky is that there are live recordings of Jerry Garcia playing in various traditional music groups before he was a member of the Dead. I felt a lot of those tapes were entertaining and historically significant, so I included them in a separate chapter called “For the Faithful: A Dozen Essential Bootlegs,” even though they’re not the Dead per se. For studio material, there was a lot less to sift through and I included what still sounded good after all these years.

What did you find in your research that surprised you?

First, that by 1994 the Dead had a lot of high-quality original material that would have made for a great final album. I knew they introduced new songs in their last years, but when I strung them together it seemed like they were hitting a new creative peak. I also started realizing just how much the Dead became part of the culture, even though they were not an act really supported by mainstream radio. I put together two chapters on that: “Built to Last: Ten Places the Dead Left Their Mark on Popular Culture” and “Strange Deadfellows: Five Surprising Dead Connections.” Finally, I was able to hear the unreleased solo album the late Brent Mydland recorded. I was amazed at how good it sounded. I put it on YouTube and listeners seem to agree.

 

 

 

Listen: John D. Luerssen on 96 Rock

John D. Luerssen visited Cincinnati’s Morning Show with Fin and Mistress Bridget to talk about Nirvana FAQ!

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00110230Nirvana FAQ traces the band from its genesis to its end. Founded by friends Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, Nirvana had a rocky start and a succession of drummers, but by the end of 1990, its debut album, Bleach, had garnered international attention and the group’s sixth drummer, Dave Grohl, had joined the fold.

Following its mentors Sonic Youth to Geffen Records, Nirvana had hoped for modest success. Instead came unexpected wealth and fame on the strength of 1991′s Nevermind and its iconic, breakthrough single “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Success didn’t sit well with Cobain, who began to numb the stresses of rock stardom with heroin. Despite 1993′s hit album In Utero, Cobain’s unhappiness became increasingly apparent. His suicide in April 1994 shocked the music world and put an end to a band at the height of its popularity.

Nirvana FAQ answers such questions as, What guitar teacher did Cobain and Novoselic have in common? Where did Cobain record his first demo? What was the cause of his first arrest? How was second guitarist Jason Everman hired and fired? What was the name of Grohl’s first band, and where did he meet Cobain and Novoselic? Who is “Teen Spirit” about? How did Nirvana’s war with Guns N’ Roses begin? And more.

Listen: Bob Allen talks about George Jones on the Breakfast Club show

Bob Allen, author of George Jones: The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Legend, met up with the folks at the Breakfast Club on WBUT in Butler, Pa., to talk about his book and the life of George Jones! Check out the podcast here.

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00122446George Jones: The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Legend by Bob Allen  is a hard-hitting portrait of one of the most revered singers in the history of country music.  Jones’s nearly six-decade-long career has had a profound impact on modern country music and has influenced several younger generations of singers, including Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Tim McGraw, Trace Adkins, and others.

Jones, who died last year at the age of 81, recorded classics like “Why, Baby, Why” (1955), “Window Up Above” (1960), “The Race is On” (1964), “Golden Ring” (1976 as a duet with ex-wife tammy Wynette) and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (1980).  These Jones hits and others have earned indelible inclusion in the pantheon of all-time country classics. Along the way, Jones recorded duets with everyone from Garth Brooks, Linda Ronstadt, and Elvis Costello to Ray Charles, Keith Richards, and Gene Pitney.

– more –

For his longevity and influence, Jones was awarded Kennedy Center Honors in 2008, and that same year, was inducted into the Country Music Hal of Fame. In 2012, he earned a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

In George Jones: The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Legend, Allen recounts Jones’s larger-than-life tale of rags to riches and (at least for awhile) back to rags again. From the start, Jones’s life, as often reflected in his music, was shaped by misdirection, chaos, turmoil, and emotional strife aggravated by a ferocious appetite for alcohol.  Fame and adulation seemed to only intensify his personal travails.  As he once observed, “All my life, it seems like I’ve been running from something.  If I knew what it was, maybe I could run in the right direction, but I always seem to end up going the other way.”

 

Listen: Scott Von Doviak on Pop Culture Tonight

Scott Von Doviak, author of the Stephen King Films FAQ met up with Patrick Phillips on Pop Culture Tonight to talk about his book and the King of Horror!

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Stephen King Films FAQOver the past four decades, the Stephen King movie has become a genre unto itself. The prolific writer’s works have spawned well over 100 adaptations for both the big and small screen, ranging from modern classics of horror (CarrieThe Shining) to Oscar-nominated fare (The Shawshank RedemptionThe Green Mile) to unapologetic, B-movie schlock (the King-directed Maximum Overdrive). The filmmakers to put their stamp on King’s material include acclaimed auteurs Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, and Brian De Palma; masters of horror Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, and George Romero; and popular mainstream directors Rob Reiner, Frank Darabont, and Lawrence Kasdan. Stephen King Films FAQ is the most comprehensive overview of this body of work to date, encompassing well-known hits as well as forgotten obscurities, critical darlings and reviled flops, films that influenced King as well as those that have followed in his footsteps, upcoming and unmade projects, and selected works in other media (including comic books, radio dramas, and the infamous Carrie musical). Author Scott Von Doviak provides background information, analysis, and trivia regarding the various films and television productions, including “Bloodlines” sections on related works and “Deep Cuts” sections collecting additional odd facts and ephemera. All you ever wanted to know about the king of horror onscreen can be found here.

Q&A with Leonard Slatkin

Conducting Business by Leonard Slatkin gives a unique look inside a unique profession. Slatkin recently sat down with Stay Thirsty Magazine to answer some questions about his book and how he himself rose to the position of maestro. You can read the rest of the interview here!

 

00333460I’d like to begin with a biographical note from your 2012 publication, Conducting Business: Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro (Amadeus Press). You were effectively assured of victory had you entered the international competition to determine an assistant conductor for the NY Philharmonic. This was back in the 1960′s, when Leonard Bernstein was at the podium and arguably at the height of his popularity (via the Young People’s Concerts, which ran on CBS from 1958 to 1972). Essentially, you “turned him down.” Did you ever fear repercussions in your career? Also, what are your thoughts vis-à-vis competitions for conductors?

At the time, I was still a student, and I really hadn’t thought about my career. I had a number of options to consider, beginning with getting drafted! I might have been in the army, in which case I would have been an arranger for NORAD. I was also offered the opportunity to become the assistant conductor at St. Louis, and I had this chance to go to the Mitropoulos Competition. The latter, however, I had to turn down, because I simply did not want to be in a position that I hadn’t earned legitimately. No, I didn’t really “think about it” all that much. It bothered me; it disturbed me. I realized I could win the competition not for what I could do, but simply for who I was. I found that notion annoying. I should append that to this day I generally recoil at the idea of competitions as the way to “spot a talent,” even though I’m involved with one – the Van Cliburn Competition. Moreover, there will be an announcement fairly soon about my relationship with that organization, and it will become clear why I have chosen to accept it.

Competitions are arguably more suited for athletics, and the similarity dissipates pretty quickly. Of course, we “play” music or some sport, and the competitor is deemed only as “good” as he is on that particular day. However, we really need the “long-term” to be able to judge, particularly with a conductor. How does the individual relate to the orchestra? Other questions arise as well – knowledge of the score, technical command, and ability to garner the respect of the orchestral musicians. It’s really pretty difficult, if not impossible, to tell that in a conducting competition, and I hope I never have to be in the position of judging one.

Of course, I do have to judge other conductors, especially when we audition assistant conductors, but usually I can start that process during the course of an interview that takes place. Obviously, one needs to be able to conduct and relate well to the orchestra, but I want to see what other things the applicants bring to the table – communication skills; whether they write well and speak well; the ideas they may have for educational programs:  in other words, the “total package.” However, these intangibles are not what judges score, and so I’m decidedly not a fan of conducting competitions, since I feel I can’t really learn anything substantive from them.

 

I agree. In fact, I am reminded of Arthur Rubinstein’s famous quote, “Competitions are for horses, not people.” 

I suppose that for some it’s a necessary evil. There are those who attune their entire mentalities toward the objective of winning a competition. However, what do they do for the rest of their lives?