“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!

>>LISTEN HERE<<

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.

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!

>>LISTEN HERE<<

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.

>>LISTEN HERE<<

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.

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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.”

 

John D. Luerssen on Kurt Cobain

Cobain Lives

By John D. Luerssen

Nirvana FAQ available here

Although I’d much rather think of my new book, Nirvana FAQAll That’s Left to Know About the Most Important Band of the 1990’s as a celebration of the band’s achievements timed to coincide with the trio’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, I have been fielding questions about my thoughts on Kurt Cobain’s suicide, which took place 20 years ago this week.

I remember Friday, April 8, 1994 – the day an electrician named Gary Smith discovered his body – pretty clearly. By mid-afternoon, Kurt Loder was on MTV reporting the news and I sat stunned, choking down a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich on my couch in the small apartment I shared with my fiancée, now my wife.  As Rolling Stone writer David Fricke – who had previously interviewed Cobain – spoke live in the studio with Loder about Kurt, I slid a blank tape in my VCR and recorded it.

I hadn’t looked at that tape for nineteen years until last spring, when I found it while I was cleaning out my basement. At the time I was in the throes of writing my third entry in Hal Leonard’s FAQ book series (I am know writing my fourth, The Smiths FAQ), I watched a few minutes of it before I turned it off and  threw it out. It was a sad piece of rock history that I had little desire to relive.

Last week I had the same reaction as the media got ahold of unreleased photos from the scene of Kurt’s suicide. Here’s a cigarette butt. Here’s Kurt’s heroin kit. Man, what a drag.

As troubled as Kurt’s life had been, there was also a ton of humor and a lot of joy in his existence as I have chronicled in the pages of Nirvana FAQ. Cobain was a world class wiseass, who once told an interviewer that Budweiser “tastes like piss,” goaded Axl Rose by calling him an “obnoxious idiot” in the media, called Andrew “Dice” Clay a “stupid f–k” and stood up to chauvinist jerks whenever he could. Ultimately, he became a champion of gay rights who endorsed individualism.

He also proudly exposed the bands he loved, like the Vaselines, the Breeders, the Melvins, the Butthole Surfers, Jad Fair and Teenage Fanclub to a wider audience. The day after Kurt wore his Daniel Johnston t-shirt on Saturday Night Live, I went to Vintage Vinyl in Fords, New Jersey to seek out his music. I had gotten there too late. Johnston’s catalog had sold out.

On top of all of this, Cobain penned one of the most memorable hard rock songs of all time with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” When interviewers tried to praise him for the effort, including Fricke in a 1994 interview before his passing, Kurt dismissed it as “such a clichéd riff” and admitted he nicked it – in part – from Boston’s 1976 classic “More Than a Feeling.” It was one of the rock bands he discovered through his father’s subscription to Columbia House in the late 1970’s.

When I think about Cobain’s legacy, I always think of and beyond his catalog to his willingness to push boundaries. He absolutely loved to break balls. Even when he couldn’t speak, he’d find a work around. Of course we all remember Nirvana’s April 16, 1992 RS cover, in which he famously wore the homemade t-shirt that read “Corporate Magazines Still Suck.” He was, and remains, one of a kind.

David Flitner on “Less Noise, More Soul”

Website

David Flitner, author of Less Noise, More Soul, has graciously written a blog post for us!

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“Anyone who has worked in the art and science of recording music knows the challenge of getting what’s in one’s mind to sound the same when, eventually, it emerges from speakers (or, more problematically, ear buds). There are so many variables that can alter and confound the journey of sound on its way from instruments and vocal chords, through hardware and software. And, for the most part, skilled hands and ears are required to navigate the passage.

This is also the dynamic that attends the writing and editing of a book, particularly one that collects the voices of numerous contributors. Less Noise, More Soul: The Search for Balance in the Art, Technology and Commerce of Music brings together, by design, diverse personalities and points of view, all trying to make sense of where music finds itself amidst the digital paradigm, and all with a passion for that music’s profound relevance in our lives.

Does the message get through?

Reviewers have commented regularly on the “wealth of knowledge” brought by the contributors (many of whom are Grammy winners). The essays have been called “well balanced,” containing “elegant arguments for rethinking where technology is taking the sounds we crave.” One reviewer even referred to the essays as “unexpurgated,” saying they were “amusing and eye-opening and sometimes shocking and will certainly make you start thinking.” (“Shocking” is likely a reference to a metaphor offered by essayist Will Ackerman that I’ll not spoil by revealing here.)

The Journal of the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association honed in on the diversity of argumentation in the book, declaring the volume “excellent food for classroom thought and study.” Another reviewer succinctly caught the book’s essential concern with “musical authenticity.”

And then there was the review that summed it up this way: “Less noise more soul. No more needs to be said.”

Since its release Less Noise, More Soul has been acquired by dozens of major institutions, from Yale, MIT, and UCLA to the distinguished Eastman School of Music and the Loeb Music Library at Harvard. And, for good measure, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Each reader may decide for herself or himself about the merits of the message. But it’s worth the journey.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Flitner - credit Thomas BovairdDavid Flitner (Wolfeboro, NH) holds a PhD from Tufts University and has been a consultant to the US Congress. He is the author of two previous books and has written on music and public affairs for numerous publications, from major newspapers to Billboard. He composes and records with the band Thinline.

Sunburst: How the Gibson Les Paul Standard Became a Legendary Guitar

Superstrat cover singleSunburst, from Backbeat Books, is the latest venture in Tony Bacon’s explorations in guitar models and music. Sunburst unravels a myth and puts into sharp focus how 1,400 or so guitars produced at the end of the ’50s became the most desirable electrics of all time. Check out more of Tony’s books here.

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The Gibson Les Paul sunburst model – the ‘Burst’ – was made between 1958 and 1960, and today  it is probed and picked over like no other guitar. That’s because it really is like no other guitar. In fact, as we discover from the musicians, collectors, and guitar-makers found in this book, it may well be the greatest solidbody electric ever made.

You only have to listen to the music made with this guitar to realise that it’s a special instrument. Its roots are on Eric Clapton’s Beano album with John Mayall in the 60s and Jimmy Page’s classic work with Led Zeppelin into the 70s; there are its appearances on timeless cuts such as ‘All Right Now’ and  ‘Hotel California; and today we hear it bolstering Joe Bonamassa’s worldwide blues-rock success. Many more guitarists have found that the tone and feel of a Burst come together in a magical blend that helps them play better than ever before.

The sunburst Standard can be a beautiful object, too. The pictures in this book celebrate the splendour of its figured maple top, each one a unique signature, and reveal the way that the rigours of time can turn the hardest-worked examples into careworn road warriors with a history in every ding and paint-fade.

Sunburst is the latest book in Tony Bacon’s bestselling guitar series, with a thoroughly researched story partnered by a gallery of full-color pictures of great guitars, rare memorabilia, and famous Burst players – from Keith Richards to Joe Bonamassa and Jeff Beck to Billy Gibbons.

This book shows how Gibson slowly came to understand and more accurately re-create the original Bursts through its reissue programme, under way since the early 90s, and how Gibson’s artist models, limited editions, and collector’s specials have widened the appeal of an already legendary guitar. Sunburst closes with e reference section that provides production details and identificiation clues for every significant model, new and old, of this most enigmatic and revered instrument.

 

LISTEN: ERICKA BLOUNT DANOIS ON THE MARC STEINER SHOW

Love, Peace and SoulEricka Blount Danois visited The Marc Steiner Show on WEAA in Baltimore to talk about “Soul Train” and her book Love, Peace, and Soul: Behind the Scenes at America’s Favorite Dance Show.

>>LISTEN HERE<<

Love, Peace, and Soul tells the story of the television phenomenon known as Soul Train, a show created in the land of bell bottoms, afros, and soul power; a show that became the touchstone of the Baby Boomer generation. Don Cornelius, host and owner of the show, was one of the coolest cats on television. With his platform shoes, wide neckties, and mellifluous voice, he showed the world just how corny American Bandstand was in comparison. In 2012, fans were shocked to hear one of the most powerful men in the music and television business took his own life.

Love, Peace, and Soul is a celebratory, behind-the-scenes collection of anecdotes, stories, and reflections, from the people who were there, about the host, the show, and the power of black music and dance on television.

Listen: Cary Ginell on “Inquiry”

Cary Ginell recently was a guest on Inquiry on WICN radio in Worcester, Mass., and the subject was Julian “Cannonball” Adderly and Ginell’s book, Walk Tall.  (Keep an eye out for the next book from Cary Ginell in the Hal Leonard Jazz Biography Series, The Evolution of Mann: Herbie Mann and the Flute in Jazz!)

>>LISTEN HERE<<

Walk TallCannonball Adderley introduces his 1967 recording of “Walk Tall,” by saying, “There are times when things don’t lay the way they’re supposed to lay. But regardless, you’re supposed to hold your head up high and walk tall.”

This sums up the life of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, a man who used a gargantuan technique on the alto saxophone, pride in heritage, devotion to educating youngsters, and insatiable musical curiosity to bridge gaps between jazz and popular music in the 1960s and ’70s. His career began in 1955 with a Cinderella-like cameo in a New York nightclub, resulting in the jazz world’s looking to him as “the New Bird,” the successor to the late Charlie Parker. But Adderley refused to be typecast. His work with Miles Davis on the landmark Kind of Blue album helped further his reputation as a unique stylist, but Adderley’s greatest fame came with his own quintet’s breakthrough engagement at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop in 1959, which launched the popularization of soul jazz in the 1960s. With his loyal brother Nat by his side, along with stellar sidemen, such as keyboardist Joe Zawinul, Adderley used an engaging, erudite personality as only Duke Ellington had done before him.

All this and more are captured in this engaging read by author Cary Ginell.

Sick of Winter? So are we!

00333078smallerIt’s March, and those of us in northern climes are holding out the hold that soon we will be able to put away the heavy boots and heavy boots and enjoy some warmer temperatures.  (If you happen to be somewhere that is perpetually sunny and pleasant, we are more than a bit jealous.)

In an attempt to hasten summer’s arrival, may we suggest Surf Beat by Kent Crowley, the first comprehensive narrative history of one of modern music’s most controversial and misunderstood musical movements.

The late 1950s and early 1960s Southern California phenomenon of Surf Music wasn’t about surfing but was an electronic revolution and a key incubator in the careers and futures of some of popular music’s most important and enduring artists such as Brian Wilson, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and many others. As an electronic music revolution, Surf Music formed the foundation for all subsequent electric guitar idioms as the form in which the amplifier became the voice of the lead guitar and the lead guitar became the voice of Rock & Roll.

Surf Beat explores Surf music from its late 1950s origins as a “do-it-yourself”proto-punk movement erupting along Southern California’s coastlines through the early 1960s where its subsequent technological innovations blazed the trail for acid rock, folk rock, jazz fusion and heavy metal to its resurrection in the mid 1990s as a soundtrack to a new school of urban films noir. Surf Beat also examines how Hollywood exploitation and the music’s relationship to the evolving sports of surfing and skateboarding obscured the form’s musical contributions.

Kent talks about his book here.