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Remembering George Martin

George Martin, the music producer of the Beatles and one of the most influential producers in music history, has passed away. He was often referred to as ‘the fifth Beatle’ for having discovered the Beatles and producing their records when no one else would. In memory of his passing, below is a foreword that he wrote for the book The Great British Recording Studios.


00-00b-GeorgePress_ForewordAFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR, England was a battered nation with the hopes of its people at a low ebb. True, no enemy had landed on our shores, but the standard of living and morale were low. Everyone was weary, yearning for a sign of relief from the misery that war had brought. The heavy bombing of major cities like London and Coventry had done more damage to the spirit of the people than any material destruction of their homes and property.

But then, with the coming of the ’50s, music began to lighten the scene. Records gave the young hope, and teenagers bought and swopped records from the USA as well as the homegrown ones. In a pretelevision age, sound was king. And the United States seemed to be the best place in the world for rock ’n’ roll music.

So Britain woke up. Suddenly, good sounds were being made in good studios. Not just from the big boys like EMI and Decca, but also in little independent studios that gave free rein to their clients. We demanded and received better recording facilities. Tables were turned, and our records became the envy of other European nations.

And happily, I was there.

George Martin
November 2014

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The History of Canadian Rock ‘N’ Roll

Backbeat Books recently published The History of Canadian Rock ‘N’ Roll by Bob Mersereau. The book presents a streamlined, informative trip through the country’s rich history and depth of talent, from the 1950s to today, covering such topics as: Toronto’s club scene, the folk rock and psychedelic rock of the 1960s, Canadian artists who hit major stardom in the United States, the challenges and reform of the Canadian broadcasting system, the huge hits of the 1970s, Canadian artists’ presence all over the pop charts in the 1990s, and Canada’s indie-rock renaissance of the 2000s.

Check out the Foreword of this new Backbeat Books release, written by Neil Peart!

Foreword

A Life in Canadian Rock

It must have been the summer of 1964, so I was going on twelve. A group of four or five families from our neighborhood was living in a ragtag cluster of tents at Morgan’s Point, on the Ontario shore of Lake Erie. We were all camping there together for a few weeks that summer, while our dads commuted to St. Catharines for work. It was a boyhood ambience of sunburns, mosquito bites, campfires, a warm, shallow lake with a threatened undertow, playing coureurs de bois in the woods, and a first kiss under the sumacs.

One evening some of us kids were gathered outside the dance pavilion. We were too young to go in, and couldn’t have paid anyway (to have a quarter of your own was a big deal then), but stood nearby to listen. Who can now imagine such a remote time, pre-everything, when a man could remember the first time he ever heard rock music?

(And if that makes me “old,” I’m comfortable with it—proud of it. If a youngster tells me he was born in any later decade, my only response is sympathy: “You missed so much.”)

According to the posters, they were called The Morticians. They were pictured in long-tailed suits and top hats, and the battered hearse they and their gear traveled in was parked outside. My first impression of live rock music was that it was loud—surprise. They probably had a bunch of fifty-watt amps, but I’d only ever heard Dad’s hi-fi, the car radio’s single speaker, and the little transistor pressed up to my ear at night. The guitars were brash, jangly and warmly, voices echoey and unintelligible, something low was rumbling the walls, and I couldn’t understand why the drums sounded so metallic—not knowing what cymbals were. But the drumming sure galvanized my attention.

So did the noise . . . 

It was the time of the British Invasion, and soon there were rock bands everywhere—in every dance hall, and in every second garage. In those years I often spent school holidays with my Blackwell grandparents in Georgetown, Ontario. By an accident of familial timing, my uncle Richard was just a year older than me, so more like a cousin. He played drums in a band called The Outcasts, emulating the “blue-eyed soul” trend that was everything in nearby Toronto.

Even as I took up playing drums myself (well, practice pad and magazines on the bed for the first year), the musical education that was being delivered to me in little old St. Catharines was, in retrospect, astounding.

It is probably safe to say, from this twenty-first-century vantage point, that there was no better decade in which to be a kid than the ’50s, and no better decade to be a teenager—especially an inspiring musician—than the ’60s. Discuss . . . 

(If you missed it, see above sympathy.)

It was not radio or television or even word of mouth that introduced me to the music I came to love—it was cover bands. While I very much appreciated the R&B that influenced the “Toronto sound,” and played it in some of my earliest bands (still identifiable in my playing today), the first music that really electrified me was the “second wave” of the British Invasion. That was when rock ‘n’ roll became rock, I guess—edgy, aggressive-sounding bands like The Who, The Kinks, and The Hollies. I did not hear that kind of music on Top-40 radio, not then, but I heard it played by Graeme and the Wafers. They were a mod-style band from the Prairies who took up residence in the Niagara Peninsula one summer—and rocked my world.

The bands I saw at high schools, the roller rink, and the Castle (“A Knight Club for Teenagers”) included local heroes like The Modbeats, The Evil, The Ragged Edges, The Veltones (still remember their mournful single on CHOW radio from their hometown of Welland, “Just Another Face in the Crowd”), and dozens more, plus so many truly excellent bands from Toronto.

A few records trickled out from there, too, and we all liked the singles and albums by Mandala and The Ugly Ducklings. (One of my earliest conversations with bandmate Alex was about that album Somewhere Outside—including “Gaslight,” a single that ought to have been a huge hit everywhere—and Alex laughed when I played the staggered drum figure that opened “Just in Case You Wonder.”)

And the drummers! Anyone trying to lay down funky beats for those blue-eyed-soul bands simply had to have more chops that a surf-rock drummer. So they were all at least good, and some were masters whose playing still echoes in this eternal youngster’s inner transistor. Whitney Glan with Mandala, Skip Prokop with Lighthouse, Graham Lear with George Olliver’s Natural Gas, Danny Taylor with Nucleus, Dave Cairns with Leigh Ashford, and many more—all playing in my hometown on a weekly basis. Every drummer did a solo—it was simply expected—so even just standing in the audience, no young drummer ever had it so good.

Further afield, it was an adolescent thrill to see The Guess Who at a county fair in Caledonia, then again at the psychedelic youth pavilion called “Time Being” (1967, of course, the Summer of Love—still not fifteen, I was a little young for all that, but sure wanted to be part of it!) at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. The next time I saw The Guess Who was at a pop festival at Brock University in 1969, with Mashmakhan (Jerry Mercer another great drummer) and a number of local bands—including my first band with a handful of original songs, J.R. Flood. In front of ten thousand people, I played a drum solo in Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice,” just as Michael Shrieve had done at Woodstock, and it received a life-affirming reaction.

My head didn’t swell, but my ambition did. . . . 

In later years I would be privileged to become part of the history of Canadian rock, achieving unimagined success and accolades with my bandmates (“the Guys at Work”) Alex and Geddy.

Even that road was illuminated by touring with other Canadian bands—crossing paths early on with The Stampeders, April Wine, the great Downchild Blues Band, as we all struggled as opening acts and playing rock clubs around the U.S.

This book spotlights the pivotal role played by Ronnie Hawkins in early Canadian rock, and he had his part in Rush’s history, too. Our Moving Pictures album was written in the summer of 1980 at his farm near Peterborough—the same farm that hosted John and Yoko a decade earlier.

When Rush started to headline, we were able to bring other Canadian bands, like Max Webster and FM, on our U.S. tours. We even brought Max on a European tour—but even then they never caught on in the way we, as fans, expected they would. That “divide” remains a mystery—why so many great bands, from the ’60s and up through the ’70s and ’80s, failed to make that connection with American (or European) audiences. (That is to say, even when they had the opportunity.)

The Tragically Hip are another puzzling example. As a longtime fan of theirs, singing their praises, I sometimes describe them to unaware Americans as “the Canadian Pearl Jam.” In some aspects, notably lyrics and arguably songwriting in general, The Hip are the superior in that comparison—but again, by and large, Americans didn’t “get” them. I don’t get that.

Seeing them play at the House of Blues in West Hollywood one time in the early 200s, I had rarely seen an audience more engaged with a band’s songs. But alas, there weren’t as many in that audience as there might have been. . . .

The rest of the story can be left to the book you are about to commence reading. It is enough to say that the history Bob has researched so lovingly, and woven so deftly into an entertaining story, reflects a vitality, a creativity, and a power that is profoundly worth celebrating. It begins at a time when the only native rock was . . . the Canadian Shield and the Rocky Mountains. . . . 

Neil Peart, 2015

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How I Did It: Establishing a Playwrighting Career

Applause Theatre & Cinema Books has recently published How I Did It: Establishing a Playwriting Career, edited by Lawrence Harbison. The book features many interviews with successful playwrights, all conducted by Harbison.

Check out the Foreword of this new Applause book, written by Theresa Rebeck!

Foreword

How do playwrights get their start? Where does the idea of being a playwright even come from, and then how does one start?

Once someone starts writing, how does that person figure out how to get a raw new play from a complete nobody to a place where someone produces it? And then what happens? And then what?

In a series of interviews that are chock full of the kind of information that other playwrights want to hear, Larry Harbison poses these questions to some of America’s finest contemporary playwrights. In conversations that range from a discussion of what kind of temp work you were doing when you started out as a playwright to how you got your first agent, and from who gave you a hand up to the thrill or heartbreak of that first production, Harbison focuses on the mysterious moment when a playwright steps out of that chrysalis and starts to emerge.

The designation emerging playwright is so commonplace that no one is quite sure what it means. Intuitively, one might think it means a playwright who nobody’s ever heard of. Or, a playwright whose plays are pretty good, but who has never had a production.

Or, a playwright who’s had a couple of productions in smaller venues but is hoping to get into a bigger house. Or, a playwright who has had a couple of productions but has made no money at all at it and still harbors the fantasy that someday someone might actually pay him or her to do this. 

Or, a playwright who is teaching playwriting at a university but struggles to get his or her own work into production. 

Recently, I was told that emerging playwright doesn’t mean any of that. Apparently, some people think an emerging playwright is actually a playwright who has already emerged enough to get the attention of people who might agree that this emerged playwright could use some help emerging further. Which means, I guess, that we need another word for what happens before that. Aspiring? Depressed? Hopeful? Wannabe?

People seem very concerned about these designations. Right now, the ones in vogue are emerging playwright, midcareer playwright, and master playwright. Although I have a friend who had a couple of strong pops straight out of graduate school, and since then, not much. She calls herself a “submerged playwright.” Frankly she’s not the only one who worries about submerging; anything past “emerging” and before “master” is a little worrisome. Will you make it through “mid career” or will you fall away into teaching or raising children or (oh no!) television?

That is not our concern today. Today we are looking at the moment when some of our most compelling playwrights emerged. Their stories are simply told, with appropriate attention to detail, which Harbison nurses out of them with a shrewd eye. They are in fact the stories that every young playwright wants to know. How does that moment happen?

It’s hard to emerge. As I read these interviews, they reminded me of a little bird, pecking like hell to get out of its egg and get on with things. We are right to be obsessed with the question of emergence. I’m also struck by the way the word “emergence” glides so effortlessly into the word “emergency.” There is no question that climbing out of that shell is essential to life; you will suffocate in there if you don’t make it out. 

But there are ways to get out of that shell. Harbison and his pantheon of playwrights have information about that. 

Theresa Rebeck

September 20, 2014

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ASCAP’s 100th Anniversary

Hal Leonard is proud to release two books in conjunction with ASCAP’s centennial: A Friend in the Music Business: The ASCAP Storyby Bruce Pollock, and The ASCAP Centennial Songbook. Below is Quincy Jones’s foreword to A Friend in the Music Business, “Why ASCAP Matters.”

I first joined ASCAP in 1955. I had previously spent a lot of time in France, and I knew about SACEM (Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Éditeurs de Musique), the French equivalent of ASCAP. I heard the United States had their own version of it, so that’s why I became a member. Also, many other composers and songwriters that I was familiar with were members too, like Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

For nearly 60 years, I’ve worked as a producer, arranger, songwriter, and composer in almost every musical style – including pop, jazz, R&B, rock ’n’ roll, and classical – and in all media forms, including records, film, and TV. It’s been an amazing journey. And through it all, ASCAP has always been there for me, making sure I received fair compensation for my work, thereby ensuring I could continue to work and grow as a creative artist. This has always been their main role – to be the champion for all their member songwriters and composers.

But in today’s music business, there is a proliferation of piracy everywhere in the world. Songwriters and music industry professionals are challenged to stave off this epidemic, because the means for producing, replicating, and disseminating intellectual property such as music is so quick, easy, and accessible to everyone. In this climate, the challenge is, how do songwriters and composers continue to be properly compensated for their work? The solutions are not easy to find, but if we don’t discover them, there aren’t going to be songwriters to write the great songs of the future. That’s why ASCAP is absolutely as essential now as it ever was and maybe even more so. It’s a game-changing time throughout the business, with people reluctant to pay for various uses of music. That’s why it’s important for ASCAP to persevere – to make every effort to work with the entire music industry, as well as legislative bodies, in making sure songwriters continue to be treated fairly in terms of appropriate compensation. So far, for the first 100 years of their existence, they’ve done a great job; they’ve consistently worked very hard to represent us at every turn, whenever there’s been a challenge to our right to make a living from our creative work. ASCAP has their hands full, but they keep working at it and finding solutions. As songwriters, we certainly need them. They are essential to our existence.

I talk to young songwriters all the time. I tell them don’t forget God’s rules, and that’s to have humility with your creativity and grace with your success. Start with that. That’s very important. Then I tell them join ASCAP and you’ll get protected from piracy, because ASCAP is a rights protection organization. I tell them ASCAP will champion your right to earn a living based on your creative work, and what’s more, will collect revenue on your behalf for that work.

Right now, as a society, we are not respecting the rights of songwriters – that they need to be compensated for their intellectual property, which is their songs and compositions. The world is running outside the boundaries of the concept of intellectual property rights, and we’ve got to get back in them, because it’s about respect for people’s property and the morality of not just stealing it because it is so easy to do. But even though the business is in trouble, young songwriters are creating great music. Music and water will be the last things to disappear from this planet. People can’t live without music. So we’ll need ASCAP to be doing their job until the very end.

I was so honored when I received the ASCAP Founders Award in 2013. Some incredible musicians have been recipients of this prestigious honor. ASCAP has an amazing legacy and a long heritage of nurturing and supporting the creative process. That’s why I try to do as many ASCAP events as my schedule permits. We all need to do our part to keep ASCAP visible and in the public’s eye, so everyone knows how important it is that they are there.

I was elected to be on the board of ASCAP, but at the time I was in the middle of an incredibly heavy workload, especially working with Michael Jackson and all my other endeavors in the ’80s. So I wrote a long letter to ASCAP recommending that Marilyn Bergman take my place on the board – which she did, and not surprisingly, she later became an awesome president and chairman of ASCAP for a period of fifteen years, until 2009. (Currently, Paul Williams has taken the reins and is continuing to do a wonderful job). I’ve known Marilyn and Alan Bergman since we were next-door neighbors and worked together on the songs for In the Heat of the Night in 1967. She’s like family. I knew she’d be right for the board because I knew her soul, her mind, and her God-given gifts. She definitely has a leader’s mind. She’s brilliant. You can hear it in her lyrics.

If you want to know what ASCAP’s mission is and always has been, just read the first few lines of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” with music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman:

How do you keep the music playing?

How do you make it last?

How do you keep the song from fading too fast?

 Quincy Jones

A Friend in the Music Business

On February 13, 1914, a group of the nation’s most distinguished and popular songwriters gathered together in New York City to support the mission of ASCAP, a new organization for publishers and songwriters. A few years later, ASCAP received its mandate from the Supreme Court to collect royalties for the public performance of copyrighted material. Over the course of the next century, ASCAP has been as prominent a force for the advancement and nurture and financial well-being of songwriters as any record label or publishing outfit one would care to name. With a responsive board of directors made up entirely of songwriter/composer and publisher members, ASCAP has defended creators’ rights at every turn against those who would seek to devalue music. Today, with copyright under renewed assault, its mission is as resonant and vital as ever, along with its relatively new role as a nurturer of the young artists who represent the future of music.

Award-winning music writer Bruce Pollock explores the growth and changes within this complex society and its relationship to emerging technologies, in the context of 100 years of an ever-evolving music business, to see how ASCAP has become, for those who hope to make a living making music, now more than ever, “a friend in the music business.”