Friday Night Music

From a musician’s perspective, the South Africa of my youth — that would be White South Africa — was very similar to the southern states of Murka, in that they loved  country music.  Demographically, White South Africa outside the cities was largely rural in character, and I think that other than cowboy hats and stitched boots, those people had more in common with the American South than, say, New Yorkers of the Manhattan persuasion.

So we had a lot  of country music in our repertoire when not playing in and around Johannesburg — and sometimes even then.  Here’s a sample:

Mr. Bojangles — Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (killed two birds with one stone by playing this song:  country, and  a waltz)

If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body — Bellamy Brothers (cheesy as hell — but man, people loved this song, as they did the next one)

Kiss You All Over — Exile (note: for the time — mid-1970s — the lyrics for this and the previous song were unbelievably suggestive.  Sometimes I still miss that innocence.)

Lying Eyes — Eagles (I know, some would say the Eagles weren’t a country band;  I would suggest that before Joe Walsh joined them, they were.  Another crowd-pleaser, this one:  I think we performed it every time we played outside a club.)

Sunday Morning Coming Down — Kris Kristofferson (and by the way, our guitarist Martin had a MUCH better voice than Kristofferson:  pure velvet)

It’s A Heartache — Bonnie Tyler (I know, she’s a Brit;  but the song is pure Nashville.  And I used to sing it, because I could — and still can — do that raspy-voice thing like Rod Stewart and Joe Cocker.)

Stranger In My House — Ronnie Milsap (his version is a little too  country;  we hardened it up into a rock song.  By the way:  I saw Milsap live after I came over to the U.S., and to this day I think he’s the greatest percussive pianist ever.)

Love Is In The Air — John Paul Young (everyone in the band hated this thing — and everyone in the audience loved  it.  Talk about selling out…)

Next week:  old-time rock ‘n roll.

Friday Night Music

Last week was the intro to this series.  Now, as threatened, I include for your entertainment a few of the songs sung by our sometime-vocalist Jill:

Bette Davis Eyes — Kim Carnes (pure sex appeal, this one)

Angel of the Morning — Juice Newton (our arrangement kicked ass — once again, we turned a country ballad into a rock song)

Midnight Confessions — Grassroots (curiously, the lyrics make more sense when sung by a woman)

Turn Me Loose — Loverboy (band favorite, this one, and she killed the vocals)

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart — Elton John & Kiki Dee (pure fun, and Jilly had a better voice than Kiki, by a country mile)

Black Velvet — Alannah Miles (rolling blues, baby)

Stop Dragging My Heart Around — Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty (duet with lead guitarist Kevin)

I Got The Music In Me — Kiki Dee (our favorite closer for just about every gig we ever played — and LOL we caused no end of trouble once;  we were backing a rather snotty female cabaret singer who performed this as her “show-stopper”, but after she’d finished her set, we closed the show much later by reprising the song — and Jilly blew her off the stage.  We never backed her again, but it was worth it.)

For some reason, I don’t have any pics of Jill on stage, which is a great shame.  As I recall, she quit the band because her boyfriend got jealous.  An even bigger shame.

Dead Stars

…or near death, anyway.  Saith one Damon Linker:

Behold the killing fields that lie before us:  Bob Dylan (78 years old); Paul McCartney (77); Paul Simon (77) and Art Garfunkel (77); Carole King (77); Brian Wilson (77); Mick Jagger (76) and Keith Richards (75); Joni Mitchell (75); Jimmy Page (75) and Robert Plant (71); Ray Davies (75); Roger Daltrey (75) and Pete Townshend (74); Roger Waters (75) and David Gilmour (73); Rod Stewart (74); Eric Clapton (74); Debbie Harry (74); Neil Young (73); Van Morrison (73); Bryan Ferry (73); Elton John (72); Don Henley (72); James Taylor (71); Jackson Browne (70); Billy Joel (70); and Bruce Springsteen (69, but turning 70 next month).

A few of these legends might manage to live into their 90s, despite all the … wear and tear to which they’ve subjected their bodies over the decades. But most of them will not.

…and Jimmy Page is one of the better-preserved  ones.

I’ve thought about this quite a bit over the past couple of years — I think David Bowie’s death triggered the reaction — and while I would be sad about all their deaths, I will always be grateful that their music will live on.

The same can be said for musicians and composers of a bygone era:  singers like Jimmy Durante were replaced by Tony Bennett and even as Bennett and his contemporaries have aged, guys like Harry Connick Jr. and Peter Skellern took their place (although Skellern just died recently, too — now that  gave me a shock).  The big difference between the two types of music is that while the classics belonged to everyone, young and old, rock ‘n roll was always about young people — and younger musicians like Dave Grohl (age:  50) can carry on the tradition, but only so far.

The problem is not the playing of Jimmy Page’s music or the performance of John Lennon’s In My Life;  those compositions will always inspire future musicians into performance.  The problem, as I see it, is that there aren’t any composers stepping up to create new music;  and without new songs, rock ‘n roll will fade away, just out of pure boredom.  (Tell me you don’t ever consider changing the station when Stairway To Heaven  or Hotel California  come over the air.)  Instead, most modern music is so formulaic as to be unlistenable (see here for a really  good explanation why).

Even worse is that actual music is being replaced with illiterate doggerel (rap) in the popularity stakes.  I know that my parents’ generation bewailed the replacement of Rogers & Hart’s complex music with the simplistic melodies of rock ‘n roll — ’twas ever thus — but compared to Jay Z’s musical efforts, Lennon & McCartney sound like Chopin.  Like everything else, music is being dumbed down (and down, and down), just like literature, art and movies.

As much as we joke about Keith Richards outliving the cockroach, when Keef finally pops his clogs, his creativity will be gone forever — and I have to say that as rock ‘n roll gets smaller and smaller, and rap / hip-hop gets larger and larger, there will be few if any to take his place.  Let’s not even talk about real  genius like that of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson or David Bowie (both of whose talents are already being missed).  Musicians like Dave Grohl (another genius, but he’s only a decade or so younger than I am) are thin on the ground right now.

Fach.  The hell with it.  I’ll be gone by the time rock fizzles out and dies, but I just hope that my Son & Heir has found someone to replace Dream Theater (average age as we speak:  52).

Friday Night Music

I’m sometimes asked what kind of music our old band, Atlantic Show Band, used to play back in South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s (we were together for over ten years, with the occasional break while band members did their Army National Service and other musicians filled in).  When we played clubs, we weren’t allowed to play our own stuff — covers only — and when we quit clubs and played gigs like proms and office parties, guess what?  we still  could play only covers.  Good thing, too:  none of us could write music worth a damn.

The really good thing was that as music changed between the mid-70s to the mid-80s, we changed with it, so we never got bored playing the same old stuff night after night, and of course we became better musicians by playing such a variety of music.  At a rough guess, we could play over four hundred pop/rock songs of the time (and much more if we include the old jazz standards), and I don’t think we ever played the same 45-minute set of songs unless by coincidence.  We practiced at least once a week, and learned about three or four new songs a month — and we were note-perfect, no sloppy approximations for us, although we did change the arrangements sometimes to suit our sound.

Anyway, here’s a non-chronological sample — about one set’s worth — along with a one-line comment for each.  Enjoy.

Stratus — Billy Cobham (when we played nightclubs, this was our opener — minus the opening drum solo;  we wanted people to dance, not be bored)

Hey Mr. Dream Maker — Cliff Richard (I think our arrangement was better — more powerful — than Cliff’s)

Sometime World — Wishbone Ash (the bass part in the second half of the song made me sweat blood, and  I had to sing backup harmony vocals)

Samba Pa Ti — Santana (we didn’t play too many instrumentals, but we loved this one)

July Morning — Uriah Heep (this  song was what made humping a damn Hammond B3 upstairs all worth it)

Vienna — Ultravox (what can I say? it was the 80s)

Fox On The Run — Sweet (I nearly pinched my scrotum off, hitting that high note in the harmony before the chorus)

Lady Madonna — Beatles (we only did a few Beatles numbers, as I recall, but we liked playing this one the most)

Listen To The Music — Doobie Brothers (one of the dozen or so songs we played from the beginning of the band till I left for the United States;  we loved it, and so did our audiences)

Only When You Leave — Spandau Ballet (another 80s song, but we loved it)

December ’63 — Four Seasons (another song we played for ten years — people liked our rendition of this one so much, we sometimes played it twice in a gig)

Couldn’t Get It Right — Climax Blues Band (soooo cool — and it was a Brit  band, FFS)

Happy Together — Turtles (except that we did the Mothers Of Invention version, as linked)

For a few years, we had a girl singer:  a 5’2″ little blonde thing named Jill, who wore the shortest miniskirts in the Western World and had a voice that could stop a Sherman tank.  Next time I do this, I’ll feature some of her songs off the playlist.

So Much For College

I admit that I can’t see the appeal in ginger nebbish Ed Sheeran’s music — I mean, it’s not horrible in the way that, say, Taylor Swift’s music most certainly is, but I find it… pleasant, yet unremarkable.

 

My opinion, though, doesn’t matter:  the little bugger has made more hit records and more money than he can burn with a flamethrower, and clearly, his music has touched a lot of people despite his looking like Third Dweeb From The Left in a Harry Potter movie, so I have to give him that.

What gives me the giggles, however, is that when he studied music at college, he failed.

 

It says a lot about him that he hasn’t bought out the college, fired the entire faculty and burned all the buildings to the ground.  I guess that being a zillionaire is its own revenge.

Who Knew?

We all know that Anthony Hopkins is a wonderful actor — but did anyone know that he was also a musical composer of some note?  Fifty years ago, he wrote a waltz, but was always afraid he’d be laughed at, thinking that it was no good.

He was wrong.

Some years ago, he asked pop orchestra leader André Rieu to see if he could play it — and Rieu heard it, loved it, scored it and played it last year at his annual concert in Maastricht, Belgium.

Enjoy.

And bravo, Sir Anthony.  If you’re going to be a one-hit wonder, it might as well be for this piece as any other. But he’s been writing music all his life — so encore, Maestro.