As Longtime Readers know, I am not a fan [understatement alert]  of the “music” of the Rolling Stones, whom I consider to be the world’s greatest garage band.

However, you may recall that when talking about three-piece rock bands a while back, I made passing mention of said garage band’s Bill Wyman, who is not a garage band’s bassist.

The night before last, I watched The Quiet One  on Hulu — it being a retrospective of Wyman — and it is so good, I watched it again last night.

Thankfully, it’s not about the Rolling Stones, nor their music:  it’s about Bill Wyman the person, and his music.   And if you want to know my philosophy of bass playing, it’s identical to his.

Run, don’t walk to watch it, because it may be the best video biography of all time — and that mostly because all the material comes from his own personal archives, never before seen. My only quibble is that it should have run twice as long.

You can thank me later.

Essential Ingredient

From Longtime Reader Sean F comes this letter:

I have a question that has been nagging me. Why do I like this fairly obscure and modern group?  They’re only three, which is fine (e.g. Police).  They start off like the Ramones and suddenly they get Who-like – especially the drummer and bass.  Is it the syncopation, unusual tempos (which are Zappa – like)?  Or are they just plain good musicians?  They caught my ear.  An opinion please, if you have time.  I chose this video because it’s live, you can see them all as they interact as well as their individual performances in a good light.  Of course the studio stuff I first heard is MUCH tighter.  But what is a band if not live?

Frankly, I couldn’t stand the thing, and my response to Sean was somewhat dismissive of both band and song:

Garage band.  Not my thing.  For a 3-piece to work, you need a monster bassist — John Entwhistle (The Who), John Paul Jones (Zep), Mel Schacher (Grand Funk), Jack Bruce (Cream) etc. — otherwise it’s just thin noise.

The longer answer — hence this post — is that if you’re going to have a three-piece rock band, each member of the band has to work really hard and be really good at their job, most especially the rhythm section of bass and drums.   Ergo:

  • John Entwhistle + Keith Moon (The Who)
  • John Paul Jones + John Bonham (Zep)
  • Mel Schacher + Don Brewer (Grand Funk)
  • Jack Bruce + Ginger Baker (Cream)
  • Geddy Lee + Neil Peart (Rush)
  • Sting + Stewart Copeland (The Police)

Honestly — and this is not just because I’m a bassist — I think a trio’s bass guitarist has to be every bit as good as or even better than the lead guitarist, because otherwise the band is going to sound like a garage band, forever.  (And, in full disclosure, it’s why I never ever played in a rock 3-piece, because I was completely incompetent under those circumstances.  A piano/bass/drums trio playing old standards at a dinner club?  Lovely, anytime.  Trying to play Zep or Rush-type music?  No chance.)

There’s a simple reason why in the above list I put The Who’s Entwhistle (“Ox” or “Thunderfingers”) at the very top:  because he is quite simply, one of the best if not the best bass guitarist of all time.

It’s not just that Ox played bass guitar better or more differently than his contemporaries way back in the 1960s;  it’s that his technique is still the equal or better of any bassist who’s come along since.  And we all know it.  Even virtuosos like Chris Squire of Yes and Billy Sheehan of Mr. Big, when hearing Entwhistle’s name, shrug and say, “Just the best.”

And here’s my problem:  I loathe The Who’s music.  It is quite simply noise to my ears, and I have never listened to more than one of their songs at a time (except for Tommy, which was a studio album anyway) because I can’t get past Keith Moon’s seemingly-random thrashing away at his drum kit, Roger Daltrey’s screeching vocals and Pete Townsend’s flailing guitar pyrotechnics just to get into Entwhistle’s brilliant bass playing.  (By Townsend’s own admission, The Who were four soloists all playing at the same time.)

But if you can isolate his part and mute all the other shit going on, it is truly astonishing — and when you listen to this rendition of Won’t Get Fooled Again, you’ll see exactly what I mean (skip to 1:10 to avoid the pointless silence of the setup, and quit at 8:50).

And that, folks, is why his nickname was “Thunderfingers”.

The same is true of Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones.  Jones is a far more melodic bassist, which is no small part of Zep’s monumental sound — come on, you’ve got Bonzo on drums and Page on lead, how much more do you need?  Here’s an excellent overview of his technique, with the killer quote:  “He stays out of the way, which is what every good bassist should do.”  Like, for example, John Deacon of Queen — another lovely bassist in a three-piece (most of the time) — who with drummer Roger Taylor provided a rock-solid foundation for Freddie Mercury’s towering showmanship talent and Brian May’s soaring lead guitar.

That’s the kind of skill a bassist has to bring to the party in a rock trio, and that’s the reason why Dinosaur Pile-up sounds like a garage band.  Their bassist is okay, but he needs to be better.  (Pro tip:  he’s playing his bass slung too low, which is why his style is fatally cramped and stiff:  anatomically, your wrist cannot bend that far around and still maintain dexterity in the fingers.  Look where John Entwhistle carries his bass, for example:  the neck is high up.  Bill Wyman of the Stones — another underappreciated but stellar bassist — played his guitar the same way.)  Oh, and by the way:  Pile-up’s songs suck.  They sound like pieces that wouldn’t even be considered for the B-side of a 7″ single record, back when I were a lad.

I could talk about this stuff all day, but you guys need to get on with your weekends.  Till next Saturday.

No Justice

In a just and fair world, there would be very little manufactured pop music like that of the endless procession of boy bands like Take That and pop idols like Taylor Swift, all regurgitating musical ideas which revolve around the same four chords played in the same progression.  Rick Beato has a video entitled Why Boomers Hate Pop Music (start at 5.00 to miss the boring intro) and of course, he’s absolutely right, because when you’ve grown up on simpler music e.g. Beatles and the British Invasion (that era’s definition of boy bands), at least this was followed up by music becoming more thoughtful, complex and artistic — Procol Harum, Zep, King Crimson etc.

The problem with all the modern music is that it starts simple and stays that way, without any pretense towards greater sophistication.  (With notable exceptions like Dream Theater and their ilk — who, by the way, are technical wizards and their music is complex but not very sophisticated.)

As I’ve said in earlier posts like this rant, I find myself drifting more and more towards Eurometal bands because while they too sound fairly alike after a while, at least they come up with interesting songs like Everybody Dies, Sancta Terra  and the incredible No More Hollywood Endings.   Just remember, all musical genres eventually sound repetitive — classical music works with the same instruments and orchestral setups just as much as metal bands perform their repertoire with the same five or six instruments.  This is why the songs have to become more interesting — Rachmaninoff’s Air On A Theme by Paganini uses essentially the same instruments and musical format as Beethoven uses in his Piano Concerto No 4 G major, but they are different works altogether — something that cannot be said for most modern music, where last month’s chart-topper sounds exactly like this month’s, even though they are performed by completely different artists.

Yeah, I know that orchestral metal is really just a development of classical orchestral music, so it should come as no surprise that I would prefer orchestral metal to anything ever written, sung or performed by Ed Sheeran or James Blunt, just as I prefer Chopin to Gilbert & Sullivan.

And of course, a number of the orchestral metal performers are — quelle surprise! — classically trained (Amy Lee, Arjen Lucassen — who is today’s Donald Fagen — and Simone Simons, to name but three) and it shines through their music like a searchlight.

Go ahead and search for bands like Evanescence, Epica, Gentle Storm, Nightwish, Ayreon and… oh heck, just look up Noora Louhimo, Sharon van Adel, Tarja Turenen, Anneke van Giersbergen and Simone Simons, to name but a few.

Comparing their music to modern pop music is comparing Tulips from Amsterdam to Heart of Amsterdam.

And just to be absolutely clear:  when it comes to vocal ability, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga together aren’t fit to wear Floor Jansen’s eye makeup.

Now go and listen to Ghost Love Score.

The 80s — Music

I enjoyed myself during the late 1970s, but when I hit the 80’s was when I hit my stride.  No other way to put it:  I ruled.  Successful business career, band was playing up a storm, a “stable” of girlfriends — what later came to be called “friends with benefits” (we just called each other “friends”); and in the middle of that decade, I moved over to the U.S. to start all over again.

All this took place with a fantastic soundtrack, and here it is, Kim’s Top 50.  (I started off adding links to the songs, but in many cases, the links had either disappeared or the video been taken down.  So if you see a title you want to listen to, just look it up in YouTube or whatever.)  The songs are in no specific order.

  1. Red Red Wine — UB40
  2. More Than This — Roxy Music
  3. Vienna — Ultravox
  4. The Way It Is — Bruce Hornsby & The Range
  5. Sledgehammer — Peter Gabriel
  6. Stepping Out — Joe Jackson
  7. Everybody Wants To Rule The World — Tears For Fears
  8. Something About You — Level 42
  9. Angel Of The Morning — Juice Newton
  10. Higher Love — Steve Winwood
  11. Touch and Go — Emerson Lake & Powell
  12. Why Can’t This Be Love — Van Halen
  13. Dance Hall Days — Wang Chung
  14. Summer of ’69 — Bryan Adams
  15. Run To You –Bryan Adams
  16. Sussudio — Phil Collins
  17. The Confessor — Joe Walsh
  18. You Can Call Me Al — Paul Simon
  19. Would I Lie To You? — Eurythmics
  20. St. Elmo’s Fire — John Parr
  21. Tainted Love — Soft Cell
  22. Roseanna — Toto
  23. Wildest Dreams — Moody Blues (a little 70s follow-through, there)
  24. Don’t You (Forget About Me) — Simple Minds
  25. Under Pressure — David Bowie & Queen
  26. Sweet Child O’ Mine — Guns ‘N Roses
  27. Upside Down — Diana Ross
  28. 9 to 5 — Dolly Parton
  29. Bette Davis Eyes — Kim Carnes
  30. Maneater — Hall & Oates
  31. Africa — Toto
  32. Cars — Gary Numan
  33. What About Love — Heart
  34. The Girl Can’t Help It — Journey
  35. One Night In Bangkok — Murray Head
  36. Tuff Enuff — The Fabulous Thunderbirds
  37. Let’s Go Crazy — Prince
  38. Power Of Love — Huey Lewis & The News
  39. Part Time Lover –Stevie Wonder
  40. Addicted To Love — Robert Palmer
  41. Things Can Only Get Better — Howard Jones
  42. You Give Love A Bad Name — Bon Jovi
  43. Walking On Sunshine — Katrina & The Waves
  44. She Drives Me Crazy — Fine Young Cannibals
  45. Easy Lover — Philip Bailey, Phil Collins
  46. Dancing In the Dark — Bruce Springsteen
  47. If You Don’t Know Me By Now — Simply Red
  48. Hazy Shade of Winter — The Bangles (I know:  ancient song, but Susannah Hoffs)
  49. Voices Carry — ‘Til Tuesday
  50. Wouldn’t It Be Good — Nik Kershaw

Every single one of the above songs evokes a memory of a time, a place or a person, and every single one of them is absolutely wonderful.

Wild Child

What chance does a girl named Richenda Antoinette de Winterstein Gillespie have in the modern world?

Well, shorten her name to “Dana Gillespie”, hook her up with a whole bunch of rock stars and actors, and just let her natural talent as a singer do the rest.  (Also her killer boobs, but we’ll get to that later).  First, the music, which started off with a song that Donovan wrote for her:

Donna Donna

And how she looked back then:

Where The Blues Begins

Weren’t Born A Man

Andy Warhol (the cover of David Bowie’s song)

…and some old-time rock ‘n roll:

Snatch & Grab It

And now, the aforementioned boobs:

(album cover)




even “Cuddly Dudley” was smitten:

Killer quote:

“All three of us jumped into bed together, which may sound pretty outrageous but that’s how it was back then. There was nothing serious about it; it just felt like a good way to break the ice.”

I miss the good old days…

The Master

One of the highlights of my excellent high school education was in choral singing.  I’d joined the Prep School Choir (after a rather terrifying audition), and when I moved from Prep School to College (a distance of about fifty yards — literally, College started in the next quadrangle over), I joined the College Choir.

The St. John’s College Choir was famous in South Africa.  We performed often, sometimes live concerts at the school and elsewhere, and sometimes radio performances (usually transmitted live from our chapel).  It was as close to a professional choir as one could get — actually, I’ve been in professional choral groups that weren’t as professional as we were.

The man who ran the thing was our choir master, James “Jimmy” Gordon, a tall, very classy 40-ish man of unbelievable talent as a singer, church organist (we had a 72-pipe organ in the chapel) and teacher.  It was generally accepted that Jimmy could have made a good living as a singer or an organist — even, perhaps, as a concert pianist;  but there he was, in St. John’s College, teaching a bunch of young hooligans such as myself to sing sacred choral music.  His mastery of the choir and of its music was absolute, yet he was patient, self-effacing but a relentless perfectionist for all that.  Here’s an example.

Our choir had about sixty members, and we were rehearsing a piece by, I think, Mozart or Handel.  At one point he stopped the choir with a raised hand, pointed to me and said, “Du Toit, that was a lovely harmony you sang at bar 28 — but it’s not what the composer wrote.  Kindly read your part properly and sing accordingly.  Now, again from bar 14…”  He could pick out not only a dissonant voice, but could identify its owner, out of sixty choristers.

As I said, he was endlessly patient, and I only ever remember him losing his temper twice, and venting his anger at the miscreants.  (No prizes for guessing who was one of them.)

We (and I) did not deserve to have him;  but we did, for five whole years.  And as my voice changed from soprano through alto and finally to first tenor, my ability grew and grew until I could read any piece of music, and sing any part of it.  It was, and remains, a priceless gift from this extraordinary man, James Gordon.  I’m only glad he never heard me perform with the rock band — he’d have cringed at what I did to my voice.

Jimmy passed away last week at age 91, and I only learned about it via my sister’s link to the school’s website.  Here’s his obituary, and if I can say anything about that and the tributes that accompany it, it’s that they don’t do him justice.

Thank you, Jimmy, from the bottom of my heart, and R.I.P.

Clayton House (1971)