Remembering Tommy Ramone

Tommy Ramone, the last surviving member of The Ramones, sadly passed away on July 11th. As the original drummer of the Ramones, Tommy died as a musical icon who helped to bring the punk-rock scene to the world’s forefront. The Ramones’ blasphemous lyrical content, their wild antics and their very very fast songs (the paces of which were in Tommy’s control) not only challenged the standards of rock n’ roll established in the “Golden Age” of the 50s, but created an entire scene of adolescent cynicism, rebellion, and irreverent fun that has remained relevant to musicians and fans alike to this day. The extent to which the Ramones have influenced the musical scene as a whole can never really be measured. If You Like The Ramones by Peter Aaron creates a vision that helps to capture the vast importance of this foursome. In light of Tommy’s death, Peter wrote this article for Chronogram. You’ll be missed, Tommy!

I Remember You: Tommy Ramone (1952-2014)

Peter Aaron on Tue, Jul 15

Forty years ago, a simple action that lasted less than one second and took place within a physical space not much bigger than a shoebox changed music forever. At that precise instant, Tommy Ramone’s sneaker-clad foot pressed down on his kick drum pedal for the very first time as he sat behind his band mates, Joey, Dee Dee, and Johnny Ramone, and the four played their first song together as the Ramones. The very instant Tommy hit that initial beat on his bass drum—an act that would provide the absolute nexus of the Ramones’ songs—he sent a shock wave through the universe that not only lit the fuse of the punk rock explosion that launched thousands of subsequent bands (and the bands that, they in turn, inspired), but also led to the creation of a D.I.Y. climate that has empowered people of myriad backgrounds and walks of life to go for it , and pursue their dreams. Over the weekend we got the crushing news that Tommy Ramone (AKA Tommy Erdelyi), a Phoenicia, New York, resident since 1993 and the last surviving original member of the Ramones, had died at the age of 65.


IYLramonesCoverThe moment cited at the start of this post took place in 1974 in the basement of the Art Garden, a Queens art gallery owned by Joey Ramone’s mother. At first, Joey had been the group’s drummer and Dee Dee was the lead singer as well as the bassist; Tommy was the band’s manager. But after it was determined that Joey was a lousy drummer and a much better singer than Dee Dee, things were shuffled. Joey stepped out front and Tommy, who had never before played drums in his life, got behind the kit to demonstrate the sound he had in his head. It all clicked immediately. History was born. In 1978, after five albums with the band Tommy left the quartet to concentrate on his career as a producer (in addition to the Ramones, he produced Talking Heads, the Replacements, and Redd Kross, among others), and was succeeded by Marky Ramone, Richie Ramone, and, very briefly, Blondie’s Clem Burke (as “Elvis Ramone”), all of whom did their best to adhere to the unwavering four-on-the-floor template laid down by Tommy.

I got to interview Tommy twice, once for Roll magazine for a piece about Uncle Monk, the bluegrass duo he had with his companion Claudia Tienan, and once for a Chronogram feature on Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson. On both occasions, he was incredibly thoughtful, very introspective, and super sweet. “Historically, I knew the Ramones would eventually be recognized,” he said when asked about his old group’s late-blooming recognition in the former article. “Because the band was just so different than anything else at the time [it began] and we influenced so many other bands. But how it’s just gotten bigger and bigger in terms of commercial popularity and how it keeps getting bigger all the time—that’s a really unexpected phenomenon.”

In 1979, I went to a Ramones record-signing event at Looney Tunes Records on Route 23 in Wayne, New Jersey (a pivotal place for me). In my haste, I forgot to bring a record for the Ramones to sign. Of the albums they had out at the time, Leave Home (1977), was the only one I didn’t own, so I bought a copy at the store and took it up to the table the Ramones were sitting at as they autographed records and posters for lines of kids. I didn’t think about the fact that although Tommy had played on that album, it was Marky who was actually the band’s drummer at the time of the in-store. (Who’s the pinhead now?) But Marky, gentleman that he is (or maybe he just didn’t care), went ahead and signed it anyway. I still have it, and had planned to seek out Tommy to have him sign it at last. But after cancelling an acoustic show he was supposed to play with the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock in Albany a couple of years back due to illness, he dropped out of sight; presumably, it was the same bile duct cancer that eventually took his life. Although reality now dictates that Tommy’s scrawled signature will never grace the tattered cover of my copy of Leave Home, his sonic and spiritual signature remain indelibly imprinted on it regardless, as they do on all of the Ramones’ music (even the stuff he doesn’t play on) and that of so many others.

Tommy and Claudia were Phoenicia part-timers and still kept a place in Queens, which, fittingly, is where Tommy passed last Friday. When I met him at an Uncle Monk show in Woodstock a few years back, as I consciously try to do when I meet other artists who have impacted my life, I made sure to look straight into his eyes and tell him thank you, for what he had done. Now that Tommy’s joined the other original Ramones at that ultimate punk gig in the Great Beyond, I’m very glad I had the opportunity to do that.

Remembering Johnny Winter

The spectacularly influential and forever intriguing blues guitarist, Johnny Winter, sadly passed away on Wednesday. Rolling Stone magazine has called Johnny Winter one of the greatest guitar players of all time. Ripped off and beaten down by unscrupulous managers, strung out, living the extreme highs and extreme lows of an uncompromising musician, Johnny was a true rock ‘n’ roll survivor. Winter’s long career was chronicled by Mary Lou Sullivan in her Backbeat publication, Raisin’ Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter, which was mentioned in the Rolling Stone article featured below.

The Lion in Johnny Winter: A Tribute to the Guitar Icon

by David Marchese

Legendary blues musician Johnny Winter died in his hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 16th at 70 years old. There are plenty of reasons why that’s notable — Winter was one of the first blues rock guitar virtuosos, releasing a string of popular and fiery albums in the late Sixties and early Seventies, becoming an arena-level concert draw in the process — but it’s the barest facts that remain the most inspiring. Johnny Winter, from little Beaumont, Texas, afflicted with albinism and 20/400 eyesight in one eye and 20/600 in the other, made an iconic life for himself by playing the blues.

What are the odds of that story coming true? What levels of self-belief, resilience and talent did it take to transform those biographical details — one could easily imagine, say, Thomas Pynchon conjuring them for a character (The whitest blues guitarist! Named Johnny Winter!) — into the stuff of a legendary career? As fellow blues guitar great Michael Bloomfield said when introducing Winter at a 1968 show at Manhattan’s Fillmore East, “This is the baddest motherfucker.” Winter was that, no doubt, but also a testament to the idea that with a lot of skill and dedication and more than a little luck, music can open any door.

In Mary Lou Sullivan’s entertaining biography, Raisin’ Cain, Winter, whose brother was multi-instrumentalist Edgar Winter (of “Frankenstein” fame), explained that, “Growin’ up in school, I really got the bad end of the deal. People teased me and I got in a lot of fights. I was a pretty bluesy kid.” That alienation, he believed, gave him a kinship with the black blues musicians he idolized. “We both,” he explained, “had a problem with our skin being the wrong color.”
It’s probably overly romantic to say that one can hear any sort of outsider’s howl in Winter’s playing, which first came to wider attention via a 1968 Rolling Stone article that praised him for some of the most “gutsiest, fluid guitar you ever heard,” but at its best, there’s a beautifully articulated flamboyance to his music. Faster and flashier than his blues god contemporary Eric Clapton, Winter’s musicianship — a hyperactive, high-octane intensity was his great blues innovation — had the electric flair of someone who was determined to take charge of how he was seen by others. It was as if his playing (and his gutsy singing) was a challenge to audiences. Okay, you’re looking at me? Then watch this.

As a concert draw and big-seller, Winter peaked in by the mid-Seventies. (New listeners should start with 1969′s Second Winter; this year’s True To The Blues compilation is comprehensive.) But stepping out of stardom’s spotlight gave him the opportunity to do his most valuable work, as a steward to the music that changed his life. Starting in 1977, Winter produced a trio of swaggering, earthy albums for blues genius Muddy Waters, of which Hard Again is the first and best. Those albums reconnected Waters with his own greatness — Muddy’s prior Seventies albums had been uninspired — and delivered him a late-in-life critical and commercial triumph. After Waters died in 1983, Winter, who by then had already inspired followers like his fellow Texan Stevie Ray Vaughan, settled into a journeyman’s role, releasing albums at a steady pace and touring even more frequently than that. It wasn’t always an easy ride— there were struggles with addiction and duplicitous management — but it was as good, and honorable, as a blues musician can ask for. They wouldn’t be called the blues if everything was rosy.

When he wasn’t on the road, Winter, who, it must be said, cut a striking figure on-stage up through his last gigs, spent his time with his wife at home in rural Connecticut, and was able to bask in the respect of fellow musicians, a testament to the truth that if you give your being to the music you love, the music can turn that being into a remarkable life. His now-posthumous upcoming release, Step Back, is due out in September and features appearances from Clapton, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Ben Harper, Dr. John, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and others. They all knew what Winter meant.

Towards the end of Raisin’ Cain, Winter is asked how he’d liked to be remembered. He answered, simply, “As a good blues player.”

For more, here is biographer Mary Lou Sullivan being interviewed shortly after Winter’s passing.

Norm Stockton and the Art of Groove

While there are bass guitar instruction books everywhere, none of them seem to tell you exactly how to “make the phone ring” as a bass artist. Norm Stockton, merited bass musician and instructor, understands that that adding personality, emotion and soul to bass music is the most important skill a player can have – he calls this the ability to groove. Norm teaches his students how to transcend the more technical components of the bass to help them create a piece of music that draws the audience in, especially in a setting where multiple instruments are playing together.

“If you don’t already have it,” Norm says in his book, The Worship Bass Book, “I want to encourage you to develop and nurture a passion for the groove. Getting right in there with the drummer and locking down a really solid and great feel is the most fulfilling musical experience a bassist can have, and that is the primary thing that other musicians pursue in a bass player.”

The Worship Bass Book is a fun and practical book that covers the essentials of bass playing, including phrasing, style, drum and bass synergy, and solo arranging. It is a comprehensive look at all things bass in a digestible, yet broadly informative format.

And what’s more, Norm never stops teaching! He has his very own instructional website called the Art of Groove which offers advice, not only about playing the bass, but on how to market yourself as a musician, how to broaden your musical horizons, and how to get the most out of your instrument. Learn how to groove with the free lesson below, and be sure  to grab a copy of Norm’s book.




Happy Birthday, Mr. B!

Today would have been the legendary Billy Eckstine’s 100th birthday! Yesterday, Tom Vitale of All Things Considered did a great segment on the talented and suave musician in which Cary Ginell, author of Mr. B: The Music and Life of Billy Eckstine, is featured. Please enjoy the slideshow below!




Audio courtesy of NPR

Images featured from Mr. B

Brazil, Bossa Nova, and Jobim

With all eyes on Brazil as of late, it seems only fitting to celebrate the Brazilian artists that have made contributions to the musical world. One such artist is Antonio Carlos Jobim, whose innovations triggered the musical phenomenon of bossa nova internationally. Below is a more informative look at the Hal Leonard Book Antonio Carlos Jobim: An Illuminated Man.

“[Tom Jobim] is the great Brazilian artist. He’s our Borges, our Picasso, our Beethoven.”
- Veja magazine, São Paolo, Brazil

00333166Antonio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim is known as the king of the bossa nova. His unforgettable songs have been covered by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Herbie Hancock and Carlos Santana, but perhaps never so memorably as by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto, who introduced the world to Jobim’s global smash “The Girl from Ipanema.”

Since then the sway and appeal of the bossa nova has been a major influence on jazz, pop, and world music, and at its very heart is Jobim. In Antonio Carlos Jobim: An Illuminated Man, his personal, intellectual, and professional history comes alive in elegant and melodic prose from his sister Helena, a poet and novelist of great range and power. Accompanied by dozens of revealing photos, this book is a surprisingly intimate portrait of one of Latin America’s most widely celebrated musicians. Here we see Jobim not only as an outstanding creative artist who regularly worked with stars such as Frank Sinatra; we see him also a man devoted to his family and as an environmentalist deeply concerned about the state of the natural world, in his beloved Brazil and beyond.

The composer of hundreds of songs of inexplicable grace, Jobim recreated the world he lived in not only through mesmerizing music but also through down-to-earth poetry. In Antonio Carlos Jobim: An Illuminated Man, Helena Jobim brings new life to her brother’s vision and voice. It is the story of a true twentieth-century genius

Long-lost Queen and Brian May’s Red Special

This Fall, Queen will be releasing their long-anticipated, long-lost live album – Queen: Live at the Rainbow ’74.  Queen’s Brian May and Roger Taylor have resurrected the archival recordings: remixing and remastering the March 1974 gig and two similar shows from November of that year. Appropriately, this Fall also heralds the release of Brian May’s Red Special: The Story of the Home-made Guitar that Rocked Queen and the World, coming in October from Hal Leonard Books.

This Fall, not only can you get your fill of Queen on double CD, double vinyl, deluxe 4XLP, and more, but you can also invest in a comprehensive look at the hand-made guitar that helped give Queen its unique, legendary, and incomparable sound. 

Brian May and his father Harold started to hand-build an electric guitar in 1963. Brian dreamed of a guitar that would outperform any of the existing commercially made electric guitars; his father had the technical knowledge and skills to help make the dream come true. Brian played his guitar on every Queen album and in all of Queen’s live shows around the world. This book is accompanied with original diagrams, sketches and notes dating from the building of the guitar, as well as a great selection of photographs including Brian on stage with his guitar, close-ups and x-rays.






“My dad and I decided to make an electric guitar. I designed an instrument from scratch, with the intention that it would have a capability beyond anything that was out there, more tunable, with a greater range of pitches and sounds, with a better tremolo, and with a capability of feeding back through the air in a ‘good’ way’.”



A Bass Handbook excerpt



The Bass Handbook, new from Backbeat Books,  is a comprehensive guide to mastering the electric bass guitar. This extremely versatile instrument has played a irreplaceable role in the history of rock music; however, wielders of the electric bass tend to go unnoticed. Author Adrian Ashton explores the history of the electric bass guitar in the book’s opening.


The world of the electric bass guitar: what a wonderful place to be. It means so many things to so many people, myself included. Firstly, it is, as Jethro Tull bassist Jonathan Noyce put it, “our secret weapon”. Why secret? Many people forget that the bass can carry the rhythm and the melody, something rare amongst musical instruments. Furthermore, it can influence the harmony, whether the other harmonious voices like it or not. So, like all weapons, it needs to be handled with care.

Then there’s the image; electric bass is so adaptable. Bassists can be shy and retiring, using their skill and musical delicacy to drive a band forward with purpose. With a wry smile and a deep inward glow you can be crucial to the success of a musical act, and no one else needs to know. Bassists like Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones or The Who’s John Entwistle spring to mind; magicians of the electric bass, they conjured up electrifying basslines but with very few stage moves. Entwistle decided to sport all-white suits just so someone would notice him on the stage alongside Pete Townshend’s windmill guitar strums and Roger Daltrey’s flying microphones. Bassists can be shrinking violets, whereas singers and lead guitarists can not.

But bass players can also take centre stage. Flea, for instance, is equal in stage presence to any of his fellow Chili Peppers. Virtuoso bassist Victor Wooten has been known to throw in a back-flip during breathtaking live-performance displays of fluid bass soloing. Or you can command the arena by adding some vocals to your bass work: Sting, Jack Bruce, Paul McCartney anyone?

Then there’s the gear. Let’s get the downside out of the way. To go really deep on the bass we need strings, instruments and amplification that tend to be a little more expensive and bulky than the gear of most other instrumentalists. This is an acceptable situation, given the advantages, and even this downside has created interesting bass-related adventures. For a start, bass players tend to have bigger ears and wider eyes when it comes to new ideas and creations. Graphite basses, neodymium speakers and extended range instruments have all been widely accepted by bassists over the years, in contrast to the “let’s stick with what we know approach” adopted by others. The result is a colourful, diverse and stimulating equipment industry that caters for the wide-ranging characters in the bass community.

That’s the best reason toe embrace the bass guitar: the people. Many players talk about the brotherhood of bass, the sense of community and camaraderie amongst bassists. I feel it too although we should remember that we are almost always part of a group of musicians, a larger unit with messages to deliver to our complex world. Every player I’ve known has taught me something, from the professionals I’ve learned from or interviewed to my own students. I hope, in return, that The Bass Handbook reflects the mutual respect amongst bass players and helps to maintain the great bass tradition.

A Rush FAQ Excerpt

Backbeat Books presents the latest in the FAQ series: Rush FAQ! This book will tell the reader everything there is left to know about the world’s greatest rock trio. Despite the band’s overwhelming success, however, many music fans seem to be barely familiar with the Canadian trio’s existence. In the first chapter, therefore, author Max Mobley attempts to answer the question: Who the hell is Rush anyway?


Loud and Polite

How Three Nice Kids Learned to Rock Big and Loud


Who the hell is Rush, anyway? They’ve been described as the world’s most famous Canadian prog-rock power trio of all time. But then, name the second-most famous Canadian prog rock power trio of all time. No doubt the name Triumph comes to mind for a handful of music fans—okay then, name a third.

Rush is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the band is hardly a household name by the standards of popular music. They may be known in pop culture, but mostly as a joke, thanks to The Colbert Report or the hit comedy I Love You, Man, or maybe in reference to one of a dozen FM classic rock staples, or even the game Guitar Hero. In fact, their level of fame is actually at odds with their level of success, as told by the following stats. They have sold well over 43 million records worldwide—over 25 million in the US alone. Only the Beatles and the Rolling Stones have more gold and platinum records than Rush, who have an astounding twenty-four gold records and seventeen platinum (including three multi-platinum) records earned over their forty-plus-year career. They have played nearly two thousand concerts in North America alone, most at sellout or near-sellout capacity. Not bad for a band far from the mainstream.

And yet, if, ten years ago, you asked most Americans to name a popular artist who hails from Canada, they’d probably offer names like Alanis Morissette or Celine Dion, or if older than fifty, Gordon Lightfoot or Anne Murray. A few musos may have offered the name Neil Young, who hails from Toronto, although he has lived in Northern California for so long he is considered a California native by many Americans.

Pose the same question to Americans today and you’ll likely get the same names, plus Justin Beiber. The point is, it’s unlikely anyone will mention Rush’s three members (and proud Canadians): bassist, vocalist, keyboardist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart, unless, of course, the person you are asking happens to be wearing a Rush concert T-shirt.

Rush is perhaps the modern world’s most successful enigma, and certainly the world’s most popular cult band. Their Canadian roots, which they proudly cling to much the way U2 remains stubbornly rooted in Ireland, is part of the reason.

For many fans of rock and roll, Rush is as much a mystery as the territories between British Columbia and Ontario (i.e., the bulk of Canada). Their music is fiercely original and defiantly anti-pop (really, anti-categorization, for that matter). It often takes even Rush fans a few listens to fully get all that is looming and lurking inside one of the band’s highly arranged tunes. The rhythm section (Lee and Peart) is considered one of rock’s best, and it’s often one of rock’s busiest, yet they strive to make it all work—and it works like nothing else in rock and roll. Guitarist Alex Lifeson has the rare ability among guitarists to play only what the song needs—no more, no less. He is revered among well-known guitar heroes, and yet hardly a household name. The three men of Rush are sponges when it comes to absorbing musical and technological trends, and yet they are fanatical about serving their own muse, always insistent on following the noble equation: art over commerce. The band also invented another equation; let’s call it the Rush equation: Bigger = Better. And by any measure, not just the aforementioned stats, Rush is big indeed—in musicianship, in songwriting, in performance, in substance, and as an influence.

With one well-known exception (among Rush fans), Rush songs are not about sex or drugs, but fantasy realms, dystopian futures, steampunk adventure, and more often than not, the hopes and fears of humanity at its noble best and self-destructive worst. The band members are not handsome enough to be on the cover of their own albums (not that they’d want their mugs featured anyway), nor are they ugly enough to be considered outlaw-cool, like a Ramone or a Sex Pistol. Lee, Lifeson, and Peart are the ultimate anti-heroes and anti-rock star muso nerds. For anyone keeping score, in rock and roll, the difference between a true anti-hero and a quasi-anti-hero is that most true anti-heroes never end up on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Rush never sought fame or fortune, they just wanted to play their interpreta- tion of rock and roll the best they can on bass, guitar, and drums, and then go home and be exceedingly normal. They don’t need fans; they need the music. But since they have fans—a devout and faithful legion millions strong—they insist on taking good care of them by playing three-hour concerts, sometimes fifty or more in a year, and offering loads of content and special features on their albums and DVDs.

Despite Rush’s considerable financial success (thanks to one of the most loyal fan bases in all of music), they have never ever taken for granted what they get to do for a living. The band’s work ethic has as much to do with their success and fan base as does their talent. That is at the core of their body of work—over forty years of touring, twenty studio albums, twelve live albums, nine live DVDs, and, thankfully, there is no end in sight.

Not bad for three tragically unhip kids from suburban Toronto.

Like Liverpool to the Beatles, Dublin to U2, Southern California to the Beach Boys, and countless other examples, Rush’s homeland and their family ties have played a huge role in who they are and how they seized the day.


Still Peakin’ at the Beacon

On June 1st, the legendary Allman Brothers Band officially announced their final tour dates, ending a 45 year long career. They will performing, of course, at the Beacon Theatre, their traditional New York City home. ABB has been tearing up the Beacon for decades now, including a powerful bout of performances celebrating their 35 year anniversary. Author Randy Poe reminisces about the profundity of these performances in his book Skydog: The Duane Allman story. Enjoy the excerpt below!


Still Peakin’ at the Beacon

One night at the Beacon I looked down and realized, I was the only one left on the front line.” – Gregg Allman

It’s a Friday night in New York City. In the tradition of more than 150 previous Allman Brothers Band shows at the Beacon Theater, the joint is packed tighter than a subway car at rush hour. This is a ritual that shows absolutely no signs of losing its decade-and-a-half-long head of steam. Throughout the week, the band has been giving the crowd exactly what they’ve come for: exemplary musicianship, a light show straight out of another era, an impressive array of guest musicians sitting in night after night, and classic songs from the Allman Brothers Band’s 35 year career. In fact, on this night – March 26, 2004 – the band and audience are celebrating exactly 35 years of Allman Brohters history. the first half of the show includes plenty of old chestnuts – “Statesboro Blues”, “Can’t Lose What You Never Had”, “One Way Out” (with guest guitarist Lee Roy Parnell sharing slide duties with Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes) – as well as “Rockin’ Horse” and the heart-wrenching  “Old Before My Time”, both from Hittin’ the Note, the band’s well-received album of the previous year. As if that weren’t powerful enough, after the intermission there is a seismic shift upward in the energy level as the band opens the second set with “Mountain Jam.” All of us behind the stage – “grizzled road warriors, music industry veterans, various ABB family members, assorted friends and associates – are struck by the stepped-up intensity. The backstage chatter stops. We inch forward, ignoring the white stripes painted on the floor that both the fire marshal and tour manager Kirk West have already pointed out as the line not to be crossed under any circumstances (excluding, presumably, fire.). The “Mountain Jam” drum solo has begun. The other band members drift offstage. Whether or not he’s conscious of the anniversary date at this moment, Jaimoe has figuratively caught fire. The years fall away as the trade-offs between Jaimoe and Butch seem to conjure the same magic they had at the Fillmore East more than three decades ago. The only difference is the adddition of Marc Quinones on percussion, bringing congas, timbales, and cymbal crashes into the mix. After the drummers have done their thing, the rest of the band returns to the stage – but instead of resuming “Mountain Jam” they segue into “I Walk on Gilded Splinters.” The song was originally written and recorded by Dr. John, but the version that comes to my mind tonight is Johnny Jenkins’s 1970 rendition with Duane Allman on dobro. Duane stays on my mind as Gregg Allman begins to sing “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”, the song he wrote immediately after his brother’s death. The historic night ends with encores of the Otis Redding ballad “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” and “Southbound” from Brothers and Sisters – the first Allman Brothers album without Duane. Watching the band walk past me as they head offstage and into the night, I wonder if the set list for the second half of the show was intended as a tribute to Duane Allman, or if it was simply a selection of great songs that worked well together in that sequence. I also think back to the show of three nights earlier and a rather unsettling moment that has stuck in my head. At the Tuesday night Beacon show, the band’s pre-encore closer was “No One to Run With,” one of the standouts from their 1995 album, Where It All Begins. The lyrics tell the story of a man whose friends have all left town. As Gregg sang, the screen above him was filled with images of musicians now gone. The New York crowd, amny of whom probably weren’t even born at the time of Duane Allman’s death, had virtually no reaction as flickering images of Duane appeared on the giant backdrop. Footage of Berry Oakley was met with the same eerie silence. A few cheers could be heard when pictures of former ABB bassust Allen Woody came up, but when Jerry Garcia’s face splashed across the screen, the crowd erupted in a loud roar. Garcia’s voluminous contributions to American music and culture notwithstanding, observing the audience’s reactions – or lack thereof, with respect to Duane and Berry – was nothing short of disconcerting to me. I couldn’t help but wonder if Duane Allman has begun to fade from the public’s collective memory – even from the memories of many fans of the very band that bears his name. A year earlier, the Allman Brothers had added “Layla” to the set list – an overt tribute to Duane. Did the audience who attended Allman Brothers concerts that year really grasp the connection, or were they simply cheering the band’s decision to cover an old Eric Clapton record? In September 2003, Rolling Stone published its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” placing Duane at Number 2, just behind Jimi Hendrix. “I thought it was a very wonderful gesture,” Gregg told Hittin’ the Note‘s John Lynskey. “And I thought, ‘You made your mark, man. You didn’t make any money, but you made your mark.’” Rounding up the top five Rolling Stone‘s roster were B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Robert Johnson – pretty impressive company for a kid from the South who didn’t even live to see his 25th birthday.

Happy Birthday, Charlie Watts!

Happy birthday, Charlie Watts! The Rolling Stones’ drummer is turning seventy-three today. Read below for a special excerpt from Rolling Stones Gear that tells the story of Charlie’s first make-shift drum set, his affinity for jazz, and his Stones debut.


A couple of days before Tony Chapman was fired, Mick, Keith, and Brian asked Charlie Watts to join the band. They had always been hesitant about asking him for economic reasons, but knew he was not playing with anyone on a permanent basis. He was sort of drifting between Blues Incorporated and Blues By Six, and the Stones figured this would be a good time to ask. Charlie remembered: “The scene was growing bigger week by week for Alexis [of Blues Incorporated]. I loved the work, but it got to be too much of a strain after a while. So, I sort of backed out and worked with one or two other groups, meeting up with Brian and Mick and Keith from time to time. So, they asked me about kicking in with them. Honestly, I thought they were mad. I mean they were working a lot of dates without getting paid or even worrying about it. And there was me, earning a pretty comfortable living, which obviously was going to nosedive if I got involved with the Stones. It made me laugh to think of them trying to get me in with them too, but I got to thinking about it. I liked their spirit, and I was getting very involved with rhythm ’n’ blues. I figured it would be a bit of an experiment for me and a bit of a challenge, too. So I said OK, yes I’d join. Lots of my friends thought I’d gone stark raving mad.” He added, “Just a few months earlier, I wouldn’t have given their offer a second thought, because I was all for modern jazz. But I suppose I had a theory that R&B was going to be a big part of the scene, and I wanted to be in on it.”

Having already played with most of the members of the Stones via Blues Incorporated gigs, even doing a version of Chuck Berry’s “Around And Around” earlier the year before with Mick, Keith, and Dick Taylor, Charlie already knew what to expect musically and officially joined the group on the evening of January 9, 1963. His first official gig with the Stones took place a few days later, at the Ealing Jazz Club on January 15, 1963. He commented on his situation at the time: “When I left Alexis, Ginger (Baker) took over, and I went around with a few different bands. I was sort of between jobs. I used to play with three bands at once. You’d play with people you knew because they knew that you knew what song they were talking about. But Keith and Mick were looking for a drummer and asked me if I’d do it. So, I said yeah. I had nothing better to do. Getting with them was just luck, really. I didn’t expect it to go on.”  Ultimately, Ian Stewart had the final word: “I knew that Charlie liked the stuff we were trying to do and was quite prepared to come in with us.”  He continued, “We said to Charlie, ‘Look, you’re in this band, that’s it, end of story,’ and Charlie said, ‘Yeah, alright then, but I don’t know what my dad’s gonna say.’”

Charles Robert Watts was born on June 2, 1941, in Neasden, London to Charles and Lillian Watts and had one sister, Linda. He attended Tylers Croft Secondary Modern and spent three years at the Harrow School of Art. An accomplished artist, Charlie wrote and illustrated a small book on the life and times of his idol, saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker, titled Ode To A High Flying Bird, which was published in December 1964. He got turned on to music in his early teens, jazz in particular, but said: “I certainly can’t claim that I came from a musical family. My dad was a lorry driver for British Railways, and I reckon the only instrument any of them could play at home was a gramophone!” He first discovered jazz through his aunt and uncle’s record collection . He recalled: “When I was twelve, I remember listening to records my uncle and auntie used to buy. I especially liked Earl Bostic’s ‘Flamingo.’ It was an R&B/swing thing. I loved instrumental improvisation from that record onward.”

Charlie’s first instrument was a banjo, but his real interest was playing the drums. He explained: “Well, I had a banjo first. I tried to learn that, but I couldn’t quite get the dots on the frets right. It drove me up a wall. So, I took the thing apart. Luckily, it wasn’t a really good banjo. I made a stand for it out of wood and played on the round skin part. It was like a drum anyway. I played it with brushes.” When asked what made him take an interest in playing the drums in the first place, he explained: “Blame it on Chico Hamilton, I suppose. When I was twelve, I heard Chico Hamilton with Gerry Mulligan playing ‘Walking Shoes,’ and I played it on a skin of a banjo. I used to play brushed like Chico Hamilton. Well, not LIKE him, but that was the inspiration anyway. After that, I heard Charlie Parker and that was it. It was all over. It was the music really, that got me going, because I’m not a drummer. I’m not a drummer because I never learned to play the drums. I’m not like people I admire. They learned and I never did. I just sat and played drums like they played them.”

Charlie’s mother explained his passion for the drums: “Charlie always wanted a drum set, and he used to rap out tunes on the table with pieces of wood or a knife and fork. We bought him his first drum set for Christmas when he was fourteen. He took to it straight away, and often he used to play jazz records and join in on his drums.” Charlie remembered: “My first kit was made up of bits and pieces. Dad bought it for me, and I suppose it cost about twelve pounds. Can’t remember anything that gave me greater pleasure, and I must say that the neighbors were great about the noise I kicked up. I don’t think I ever wanted to play any other instrument instead of the drums. I marvel sometimes even now at the way guitarists can get such tricky little phrases by just quietly using their fingers, but drums are for me. Someone like Max Roach . . . well, he’s a real idol of mine. Maybe only another drummer can understand exactly what he is doing and how well he does it. But I can listen to a brilliant drummer for hours on end.” In a photo of Charlie with his then-new kit, the set can be identified as a John Grey and Sons Broadway model by the cast lugs on the snare drum and the center support single tension lugs on the bass drum. John Grey and Sons of London was a brand name that first appeared on imported banjos and drums in England in 1905; the company was run by Barnet Samuels. In 1932, Rose-Morris bought out Barnet Samuels and continued manufacturing drums under the John Grey brand name. The John Grey Broadway drums were a very popular budget-line kit available in England from the mid to late 1950s. Charlie’s white Broadway set had a 20-inch bass drum and a 14-inch snare, with both drums only having six tension lugs. The kit had a bass drum–mounted cymbal and a set of hi-hats with a stand. Charlie remembered the cymbals being Zyn or some such cheap cymbal. Many of the big band and jazz drummers that Charlie admired put their initials on their bass drumhead, so he emulated his heroes by inscribing “C R W” on the front of his. After finishing school, Charlie began working for Charles Hobson and Grey advertising and started playing his first gigs with a jazz combo called Blues By Five. While playing in an East London pub known as the Troubadour, he met Alexis Korner, who was forming Blues Incorporated and suggested that Charlie join up. Charlie had made a commitment to go to Denmark to do design work for Charles Hobson and Grey, so, although bent on joining up with Korner, he went to Denmark where he played with American saxophonist Don Byas. He later explained the situation: “A friend of mine, Andy Webb, said I should join the band [Blues Incorporated], but I had to go to Denmark to work in design, so I sort of lost touch with things. While I was away, Alexis formed his band, and I came back to England with Andy. I joined the band [in February 1962] with Cyril Davies, and Andy used to sing with us.”