Van Halen

Not by any choice, we revert to being a music blog.

They were originally four, and they came out of Pasadena/Hollywood. A friend went to high school with them. David Lee Roth may have been the lead singer, but Eddie Van Halen was always the founder and glue.

First saw them at a local radio station (KDKB) sponsored concert. Their designator was 93.3. So they did, back in the day, a series of “93” concerts. Honestly cannot remember whether it was $1.93, $2.93 or whatever. But I heard it on the car radio coming back from class, and I, and three roommates, went to see them at the Celebrity Theater. Their only radio play was a cover of the Kinks “You Really Got Me”. It was a pretty kick ass cover though, so off we went. It was wildly good.

There are a lot, and different, transcendental guitar players. Eddie Van Halen was one. It was apparent immediately. He was that good.

Now gone. RIP.

The Fabulous Emptywheel Music Blog: Country AND Western Edition!

Welp, it has been another glorious month week living the glorious life in Trump’s America. So let’s have a little fun and games.

I am pretty much normally a rock and roll person. Ed Walker’s opera and Zappa post was wonderful. So, let’s change it up a bit. Country and Western! Believe it or not, when I was younger, and before I had a drivers license, I went to a few C&W shows with some family friends. He was, seriously the principal of my grade school, and his wife the school nurse. Both simply fantastic people. And they loved C&W.

Pretty sure the first one was Johnny Cash and the Carter Family. I was not expecting much, I was just going because, well why not? And boy was I wrong. Fantastic. Oh, and I do believe the great Carl Perkins was on guitar for Cash at the time and did a truly rocking version of Blue Suede Shoes.

My recollection is that the second was Charlie Pride. Again truly fantastic.

What a presence. What a band. What a voice. Smooth and beautiful.

The third was Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. They had a huge following in Phoenix from very early on. In their early years they were serious regulars, if not kind of the erstwhile house band, at the original Phoenix Honky Tonk, Mr. Lucky’s.

Mr. Lucky’s was a place that regularly hosted some of the biggest names in country music – Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Tom T. Hall, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings and pretty much everybody else. But Buck and the Buckaroos kind of owned the joint (literally for a while as I recall).

There is truly a lot of great country and Western out there, lets discuss it!

Normal Trash Talk rules apply, anything and everything flies.

Special Trash Talk: Frank Zappa and Opera Chorus. Really.

Pretty much everyone I know sings along with their favorite music. I started singing along with music my folk liked, and then pop stuff, Beach Boys, Beatles, the usual. In the summer of 1966, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention released their first album, Freak Out. I stumbled on it in late 1967, and soon knew all the songs, and bought Absolutely Free and learned those too. They got me through ROTC summer camp, singing a few bars of Plastic People while stupid marching for miles.

Plastic people
Oh, baby, now you’re such a drag.

Or a few bars of Call Any Vegetable.

Call any vegetable
And the chances are good
That a vegetable will respond to you.

After I got out of the Army I bought several more Zappa albums, including Cruising With Ruben and the Jets and Fillmore East — 1971. But then law school and part-time work, and dating, and my time for serious listening shrank to near zero.

And then I met my wife. She loves opera, so we saw every one produced by the excellent opera theater at Indiana University, which has a full-fledged opera venuevivace. The first opera we saw was Wagner’s Parsifal. I saw most of the first tune in each act, and zoned out for the rest. But I went back for more.

Eventually we wound up in Nashville, TN, where some of the leading supporters of the arts established an opera company in the mid-80s. We saw Madama Butterfly, and a couple of more, and then I found myself in the chorus for Il Trovatore, singing in chain mail. tights, dark make-up, and wielding a three-foot long steel broadsword. I was hooked. Not so much on operas per se, but on opera chorus singing.

It’s not like singing in Church Choirs or Symphony Chorus, which I have also done. In those settings, you listen closely to your neighbors and try to blend your voice with theirs. Good technique is a plus, but most amateur choirs are made up of, well, amateurs. In opera chorus singing, you sing with your full voice including vibrato. The blend comes from singing the exact same pitch on the exact same vowel for the exact same length of time. And you do it from muscle memory, singing near the top of your power, while moving, bending, swinging a heavy sword, riding a ten-foot tall barrel wheeled by your comrades, dancing, or, sadly, just standing and singing, which we call park and bark.

What’s the connection to Zappa? As I see it, opera treats the human voice as a primary instrument. The operatic voice is a trained instrument, capable of a wide range of timbre, power, and expression. Operas are spectacles, with sets, costumes, orchestra, and driven by over-the-top emotions. The voices are the critical part of the spectacle, carrying the emotions up. And that’s just like Zappa’s music: spectacular, relentless, and full of emotion, mostly anger, but also ribald or just fun, and the human voice is a critical part of that emotional ride.

Many of his songs feature his band singing instrumental tunes or making vocal noises. On Absolutely Free, you can here a typical bits in several pieces, both sung with words and with vocal sounds. Here’s a short example, Amnesia Vivace. On Fillmore East — 1971 the group performs what amounts to a smutty opera in the extended piece Mud Shark. Bwana Dik is a full-fledged if short aria; it’s at 14:55 here. Zappa had recruited three former members of The Turtles, and they were real singers. Here’s a very strange bit, John Lennon and Yoko Ono join Zappa and the Mothers of Invention starting at about 1:30, featuring Ono shrieking like a hungry cat while Lennon sings a mindless song backed by the Mothers, who put in their own odd vocal bits especially at about 6:50.

To illustrate the difference between chorus singing and opera singing, here are performances of perhaps the most famous operatic chorus song, Va Pensiero, from Verdi’s Nabucco. (Translation.) First is a performance by the chorus of the Teatro Al Fenice in Venice in concert. Compare it to this performance by the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. And for good measure, here’s a Zoom performance in commemoration of Italy’s losses to Covid-19.

One of the main functions of opera choruses is to provide some life to what might otherwise be static. For example, in a typical production of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, when the baritone meets the soprano, they stand on opposite sides of the stage and sing for about 20 minutes. But the opening of Act 3 is thrilling to sing, and the chorus is asked to perform a standard role, the drunken sailor.

One of my favorites is Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata. The chorus is clearly part of the action, attending a fancy dress party. They sing two choruses, and then sing an instrument-like accompanying part at the end.

One more: this is from Act 1 of Puccini’s Turandot. It demonstrates the difficulty of singing opera chorus. Maintaining sound quality while moving, waving your arms, dropping to the floor and then trying to find the conductor because the orchestration is absolutely not helping is hard. Perhaps you can imagine the pleasure that comes from singing these songs with your friends.

So what’s your favorite sing-along music? It’s Trash Talk so don’t be shy about your jonesing for Tom Jones!

The Fabulous Emptywheel Music Blog: Little Richard

Things come, and they go. And we all do sooner or later. Today, Little Richard passed. I once heard (no, I have no idea where) Keith Richards say, and I am paraphrasing only slightly, “Chuck Berry wrote all the rock and roll songs”. Paraphrasing or not, that is about right. But he should have included Little Richard.

And now Richard Wayne Penniman is gone, There have been rock performers as big, sure. But few as seminal and important as Little Richard. He was, and stands, for everything rock became in his and Chuck Berry’s forever wake.

As Rolling Stone said:

“In 2004 Little Richard wrote a profile of himself for our Immortals issue. He explained why he was so dangerous at the time — because was the first black artist whose records the white kids were starting to buy”

Yes, along with Chuck, that is exactly right. So, a little bit of Tutti Fruity for the weekend.

On another sad note, I was lazy and did not put up a thing last weekend. But our Roving Reporter Rosalind wanted to acknowledge a friend. And we shall do so now. The Covid deaths are real, and they hit home to one and all. So, a few words from Rosalind:

“While we are surrounded by sadness at the growing number of people losing their lives to Covid-19, we mourn also the everyday deaths that take away friends and family. Today I honor my longtime neighbor, Sam Lloyd, the hilarious character actor best known as the lawyer “Ted” on Scrubs. We had side-by-side parking spots at our Hollywood apartment building and caught up with each other regularly heading in and out. Beyond being one of the nicest and funniest human beings, he possessed a gorgeous singing voice, featured regularly with his four-part harmony group “The Blanks” on Scrubs. The tributes to Sam on twitter from all around the world show how far his comedic and musical powers reached. We are so fortunate to have a world of re-runs to keep us smiling, and his memory alive.

For me, I will always remember standing in line at the grocery check-out stand when Sam suddenly rushed up and asked if he could cut in line. He was headed to a show with The Blanks and realized his Commando Action Figure’s batteries were dead (those lucky to see The Blanks show in person know the Commando Action Figure is a highlight of their set). I of course let him in, and he threw down the cash and ran out batteries and Commando Action Figure in hand. Rest in peace, Sam.

Such is where we are at today. The world is going crazy and you wonder if anybody gives a damn anymore. Here, we do. Thank you for doing so along with us. There will, of course, be others. But Little Richard was special. RIP.

Emptywheel Blog Live Music II: Electric Bugaloo

So, last weekend we did a live music discussion that turned out to be unexpectedly wildly popular. So, this weekend, we will do a related followup as to the concerts we have all been to. This was suggested by our Roving Reporter Rosalind and, trust me, she has some heavy experience with concerts.

So, here we go. What was your:

First concert you attended:
Stadium:
Arena:
Club:
When:

Favorite Concert:
Stadium:
Arena:
Club:
When:

Last concert you attended pre quarantine:
Stadium:
Arena:
Club:
When:

Bonus Question!
Concert/Artist you most want to see once quarantine is lifted:

Post music today is the Monkees with I’m Not Your Stepping Stone. And, yeah, that is one of my answers. Specifically the first concert I ever attended. It was on January 21, 1967, at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. It was fine, but you could barely hear the music because of the crowd screaming (a problem with the Beatles first forays into the US too). I was a little kid, but the senior in high school across the street from us agreed to take me. It was pretty fun. But there is a sad turn here too. My mother promised me a concert for my birthday. I really wanted to see The Doors, but they were not scheduled for Phoenix yet. The Monkees were, and I figured there would be time later to see the Doors, so I went to the Monkees. The Doors came the next year, I didn’t get to go, and then Morrison died a couple of years later. I finally caught the Doors in college, but was just not the same without Morrison. Ah well, regrets I have a few.

Okay, you mopes know exactly what to do. Let’s rip this joint.

The Locked Down, Locked Up, Quarantine Gotta Get Down To It Emptywheel Live Music Trash Talk

Okay, I meant to do this last weekend, but a severe dental emergency intervened. Turns out even dentists, whether local or international (I have both), are constrained too. But they are medical professionals like so many these days, and keep them in mind. Without the office that took care of me here, I would be an insanely hurting cowboy about now. Instead, I am starting to be and feel fairly good, after a lot of painkillers in the interim, and, man, am I thankful. Real pros.

So, back to the stated purpose: Live Music Discussion. Live music is the real test. A lot of people with studio musicians, tone benders and professional mixing can make a decent sounding studio album. But it it real, or is it Memorex (old commercial reference)? Some bands just cannot do it live (early Steely Dan and early Tom Petty are two examples I remember well).

Some bands, you think “there is no way in hell they can pull that off live”, (I’d also put early thoughts on Pink Floyd and Bowie before I saw them in this category) and then you see them live and are totally “holy fucking shit, they not only could do it live, but were even better, WOW”! Floyd and Bowie were absolutely, and stunningly so, in the latter category. Holy shit were they fantastic live.

But this is an individual thing, we all have different thoughts and experiences. So let’s let the hair down and rock. This will be a comments fueled discussion, and I hope a few outside people lob in. For now, with great assistance from our longtime friend and colleague blogger from FDL, Richard Taylor, aka Dakine, here is a list of some of the best live albums ever.

This is NOT an end all list, but it is a very good one. And it is in no particular order whatsoever, ranking will be what you are all going to do. One to start discussion, not to end it. It is up to you folks to expand, and I know you will. Also to you to point out what tracks you especially like, and why off any album. Off we go….

Otis Redding “Live in Europe”
Allman Brothers “Fillmore Tapes” (includes live cuts from “Eat a Peach”)
Leon Russell “Leon Live”
Little Feat “Waiting for Columbus”
J Geils Band “Full House”
Rolling Stones “Get Yer Ya-Yas Out”
Deep Purple Made In Japan
Blue Oyster Cult On Your Feet Or On Your Knees
Cheap Trick Live at Buddokan
The Angels Live at Melbourne
The Who Live At Leeds
The Doors Absolutely Live
The Dead Live 1972 and Steal Your Face (1974)
AC/DC Live At Donnington
Jefferson Airplane Bless Its Pointed Little Head
Kinks One For The Road
Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii
Lou Reed Rock And Roll Animal
Mott The Hoople Live
Bob Marley “Live”
Bob Seger “Live Bullet”
James Brown “Live at the Apollo”
Temptations “Live at the Roostertail”
Willie Nelson “Willie & Family Live”
Bob Dylan & The Band “Before the Flood”
Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen “Live from the Armadillo World Headquarters” Jimmy Buffett “Feeding Frenzy”
Climax Blues Band “FM Live”
Neil Young & Crazy Horse “Live Rust”
Black Oak Arkansas “Raunch N Roll”
Leon Redbone “Live!”
Guy Clark “Keepers”
John Prine “John Prine Live”
John Fogerty “Premonition”
George Thorogood & The Delaware Destroyers “Thorogood Live”
Crosby Stills Nash & Young “4 Way Street”
Derek & the Dominos “In Concert”
Eric Clapton “Rainbow Concert”
Steppenwolf “Steppenwolf Live”
Frampton Comes Alive ‘Captive’ Audiences
BB King “Live at the Cook County Jail” Johnny Cash “Folsom Prison Live”
Woodstock
Mar y Sol
No Nukes
Concert for Bangladesh (Mand, so many artists on that)
Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Columbia Records Stax/Volt Revue “Live in London”

Partial Live Albums
ZZ Top “Fandango”
Allman Brothers “Eat a Peach”
Marshall Tucker Band “Where We All Belong”
Charlie Daniels Band “Fire On the Mountain”

Alright, there are so many others beyond worthy, that is simply the list Richard and I came up with to start the discussion. You all take it from here.

Here is my putative Top Five:

1) Stones, Get Yer Ya Yas Out. It is insanely good
2) J. Geils Band Full House. Argument could be made it is Number 1.
3) Floyd Live At Pompeii. It was the old and trippier Floyd, but Jesus is it good.
4) James Brown At The Apollo. Just wow, The Godfather at his peak.
5) Tie between Who Live At Leeds and Airplane Bless Its Pointed Little Head. Both unbelievably great. Might even give the Airplane a nudge here Pointed Head is killer.

Yes, this is about live rock and roll. As the old Cerwin Vega slogan used to importune, “Made Loud To Be Played Loud”. If there are no sports, this series will continue, because everybody needs a release. Studio albums, classical, country, maybe even opera (if Ed Walker will lead) are on the table for later. But, this weekend, we have both types, rock AND roll. Get down to it, and let’s have a great and ongoing holiday weekend discussion. Post yer You Tube links. If it starts screwing with our margins and/or security (hey, it might, we shall see) then we will deal with that. In the meantime, let’s have some fun.

image_print