Monday, July 25, 2011

Hooked by the Doctor

No, this isn’t about Doctoring the Tardis or anything to do with Dr Who. This is about Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show or A.K.A Dr. Hook. Dr. Hook was a band that had a pretty good run starting in 1972 and ending in 1983. They came from a strong country background out of necessity since they played a lot of gigs in the south. So they are rock with a strong country accent. Dr. Hook, like Steely Dan, is not a person, although Ray “Eyepatch” Sawyer is often mistaken for Dr. Hook. The name comes from the Captain Hook character from Peter Pan and this only adds to the confusion with Sawyer. (Yes, I know that he had a Hook. That was the Disney version. In the original English version he also had an eyepatch.)
Hello Everybody! I don't look like a Crazy Person at All.
The eyepatch is the result of car crash in 1967 in Oregon. How and why are debated. Ray says that he was tired of playing dives in the deep south, saw a John Wayne movie and decided to become a lumberjack. His lumbering career was cut short by an icy patch that flipped his car. The more prosaic version is that he was on a fishing trip, the car crashed and he ended up in a wheel chair for a year and lost his eye. Rolling Stone reported in 1973 that he was in Oregon to became a lumberjack and get off uppers and wine. A friend was driving his car and Ray fell asleep  in the seat and when he came to he was pinned in the car and couldn’t see because his eyes were filled with blood. The lumberjack story is so ridiculous that it must be true.

Their first and second albums, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show and Sloppy Seconds, were not written by the band. They were all written by Shel Silverstein. Apparently he had no problem from switching from children’s poet to filthy humorist.  The third album, Belly Up was written by the band.When Silverstein heard that they had written their own song he was amused. When he heard that had written an entire album he was alarmed.

Their first hit was a song called Sylvia’s Mother. It was supposed to be a satirical take on sappy lovesongs. Unfortunately, Shel Silverstein overestimated the ability of the stoned 70’s radio listeners to make that distinction. So,  like Every Breath You Take,  people just didn’t get it. It brought a lump to their throats instead of a smile and so Shel decided to play to the band’s strength with the second album, which was raunchy  irreverent humor with a strong dose of drug culture. It is entirely possible the Dr. Hook never drew a straight breath until the late 70‘s.

Their best known song is The Cover of the Rolling Stone. It’s about a Rock band that has everything except for one thing, their picture on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
“We keep getting richer, but we can’t get our picture on the cover of Rolling Stone”  

It was a big enough hit that it actually got them on the cover of the magazine after a fashion. (It was a drawing of the three band founders and had a caption that ran “What’s Their Name Made The Cover”).That is one of the more tame songs from Sloppy Seconds, Consider a few of the titles, I Should’ve Come and Gone, Get my Rocks Off and my personal favorite title  Lookin’ for Pussy. (It’s about a lost cat or maybe it’s the Bond girl from Goldfinger, Pussy Galore. No really.)
In the original drawing the money was a bag of pot.

But my  favorite from them is Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball. There is no good way to convey the irreverence of this song. It’s like the Player’s ball from Dr. Detroit on steroids, meth and cocaine all at the same time. Here’s a sample of some of the choice bits:
There's gonna be a freaker's ball, tonight at the freaker's hall...

Pass that roach please, and pour the wine
I'll kiss yours if you'll kiss mine
I'm gonna boogie 'til I go blind
Freakin' at the freaker's ball

White ones, black ones, yellow ones, red ones
Necrophiliacs looking for dead ones
The greatest of the sadists and the masochists too
Screaming please hit me and I'll hit you

Everybody ballin' in batches
Pyromaniacs strikin' matches
I'm gonna itch me where it scratches
Freakin' at the freaker's ball, y'all
We're freakin' at the freaker's ball
(There’s also a line about brother with sister, son with mother and bodies covered in butter.)

By the third album they were in fine form with with songs like Penicillin Penny, Rolland The Roadie & Gertude The Groupie but things were changing. Nothing charted from Belly Up and so Dennis Locorriere & George Cummings decided to take the band in a more mainstream direction. Making Love and Music was a transition album which was primarily written around more of disco beat. That was enough for Ray Sawyer. He left the band. In most people’s mind’s he was Dr. Hook. So you are left with just The Medicine Show.

By the time you get to their last big hit, When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman, all the quirkiness and raunchiness was gone. Financially, they were much more successful after they changed their style, but at a cost. They now sounded like so many other bands that many fans of the later material never actually made connection that this was the same band that had sung their way on to the cover of the rolling stone and went to the Freaker’s ball. Their last album was in 1982.  Members of the band changed and finally the only one touring was Ray "Eyepatch" Sawyer. But he's changed a lot.
PawPaw is only a little scary now,
So if you've never heard of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, take a listen. You may be suprised by how good these guys are and how much fun they must have had on tour. A bar band writ large by Shel Silverstein and thier own indefatiguable joy of living and performing.

Until Next time, keep listening!

Want to get started with some Dr. Hook? Here's some links:


Let me eat cake! Click a link and buy, buy, buy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cherri Bomb Sexplodes!

The music is tight and rocking, they sing with 3 and 4 part harmonies, they actively engage the music and it’s apparent from watching the video’s that they enjoy playing and performing. They bring an effervescent energy to their act that reminds you of nothing more than the passion of the early punks. They play guitar oriented rock but are not afraid to musical flourishes to their work. The studio tracks sound crisp and professional and still bleed energy into your ear. They are Cherri bomb!
The Gurrls
Cherri Bomb is an all girl band coming straight out of the LA scene and already making a huge name for themselves in the Rock ‘n’ Roll world. Reminiscent of other all girl groups like The Donnas, The Slits and of course the Runaways, Cherri Bomb has all the potential to be a really huge act that can pack them into the seats. They have already shared the stage with Smashing Pumpkins, and bills with The Strokes, Foo Fighters, My Chemical Romance. They are playing lots of European Rock shows (Oxegene, Sonisphere and Leeds) and have great things in store for them. They have a 3D video, an EP (professionally mixed and mastered) coming out this summe, being mentored by Motely Crues drummer (Samantha Maloney) and a record deal with Hollywood Records. They have been called “The New Generation of Rock n Roll”.
Covering the Foo Fighters
The average of the band members is 14. Think about that for a minute.

That is both a good and a bad thing (although I lean more towards bad). Being this good at such a young age could mean that when they get older they will truly be phenomenal musicians, either solo or if they buck the odds as a band. If their earnings are being managed correctly they can be safe and secure in whatever life they eventually choose. These are all good things.

But the bad is really bad. The most obvious is that these are 14 year old girls walking into a world that has chewed up and spat out dozens of artists with far more life experience as adult’s than Cherri Bomb’s average age in total. The idea that a hormonal 14 year old girl is prepared to make life altering decisions about sex, drugs and rock and roll is absurd. I am positive that the band thinks they can handle anything thrown at them. That is indeed the province of the young and that they want to have fun and do all the things you find in a modern Cinderella rock ‘n’ roll fairytale.

They are being managed by Samantha Maloney who should know the ropes and the pitfalls that wait and I can only hope that she is thinking of them not just as musicians or clients, but as people. People at an age where you feel ready to be an adult but are not equipped to be so.  If they become the Rock stars they seem destined to be, what will be denied them? They need to have people in their life who can tell them “no” and make it stick. Ideally, that should be someone who cares more about them as people than as talented musicians, a hot act, or a profit center. In other words, their parents.

 They have signed a record deal with Hollywood Records. I am sure that they are no worse than any other label when it comes to exploiting/promoting clients. But they are a business and business is based on making as much as you can, however you can and let everyone else look out for themselves. As long as everyone going into it knows that, then it’s all good. But the girls of Cherri Bomb, no matter what they think, are still girls and can be ruthlessly exploited by the label. In fact, Hollywood Records is promoting them just about everywhere, HP, Last FM, just to name a few.
Owned by the Mouse House. Guess they are too Rawk to hang with Miley Cyrus

From reading the bio, it seems like they have pretty strong connections to the music world and could have pretty good mentoring. But as much as I enjoy the music, I don’t want them to end up as so many other bands have. The second, and last, album of the New York Dolls pretty much says it all “Too Much Too Soon”.

They are talented, no doubt, but sometimes we get so wrapped up in the music that we forget the people making it. We can’t afford to do that this time.

Until Next Time, Keep Listening!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

“Jazzy” Gee Gershwin & his Funky Rhapsody

We will talk about Jazz. Oh yes, we will. But not today
Today we discuss George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, that beloved piece played by symphonies all over the world because;
A: It’s very good .
B: People enjoy hearing it played.  
It’s a wonderful instrumental piece where all the communication is carried on by the orchestra. It’s a  pity you probably have never heard it. I know, I know,  you always meant to but-
 What’s that? You say you have heard it? Well, actually you haven’t.  Almost every version that has been played in last 57 years has been based on the 1942 full symphonic orchestral version that Frede Grofe completed. That, in turn, was based on the 1926 version created  for a “pit” orchestra, The original 1924 version, the version that Gershwin himself played was written for a 24 piece Jazz band.

George at work. Probably. He could be posing.

Let’s hop in the wayback machine and set the dial to the roaring 20’s. You know; prohibition, gangsters and the rise of Jazz as the most popular form of music in America. There were many jazz bands big and small and the one thing they all had in common was the complete disdain of anyone over 30 and the musical establishment (a Princeton professor of the day claimed  “ is not music at all. It’s merely an irritation of the nerves of hearing, a sensual teasing of the strings of physical passion. “ (sound familiar rap/hip-hop fans?). That’s right; it wasn’t my generation or yours who were first told to turn down that infernal racket. It was your grandparents or possibly your great-grandparents who started listening to noise.
The most popular band of the day was Paul Whiteman’s Jazz band. (You can dwell on the irony of how the most popular jazz band was composed of all whites and led by someone named Whiteman another time) He decided to offer a Jazz concert called An Experiment in Modern Music to be held at Aeolian Hall in New York City on February 12, 1924 . His idea was to present a concert for more highbrow listeners. (John Phillips Sousa and Rachmaninoff attended) He wanted Gershwin to write a concerto and Gershwin agreed and then immediately forgot all about it. When he read an announcement in the Boston paper about the concert and about the premiere of his new concerto it came back to him. With 5 weeks to go he took a train to New York and began to hurriedly compose.

Paul Whitewman and his Jazz Band. Gershwin is at the piano

Frede Grofe, Whiteman’s orchestrator, would literally take the completed pages from Gershwin’s hands and begin to write out the parts. They almost made it. When it came time to perform the piece, Gershwin had written “wait for nod” on the piano part because he hadn’t yet written it down. So no one really knows what the first performance of Rhapsody in Blue sounded like. But it was a hit, a palatable hit!

Only 9 miniutes?!?!? I want my cash back iTunes. Never mind.
There were two recordings made that featured Gershwin actually playing the Piano part. One was an acoustic recording made in 1924. (An acoustic recording was simply taking the big horn, turning it toward the orchestra and writing directly onto the record.) It’s incredibly rough and muddy. In 1928, after the invention of electric microphone, another version was recorded and it sounds much better. However, both recordings suffered from one fatal flaw. Only 9 minutes of the 14 minute piece could be recorded due to the limitations of the media (sad face). The only way to hear the full thing was live. 

By 1942 everyone was playing the full symphonic version which was based on the 1926 pit Orchestra version.  (A “Pit” Orchestra is composed of many of the same pieces as a symphonic orchestra but with a lot less instruments so that they could fit the thing into the pit of a theater.)  The jazz version essentially vanished.  The original arrangements still exist, and with an act of congress, literally, you can see them. They reside in the Library of Congress Archives.

Ghostly Gershwin and Michael Tilson Thomas recovering a lost moment in music.

Leap forward now to 1976. Michael Tilson Thomas, composer, pianist and conductor, contacts The National Symphony Orchestra who had a facsimile (they got connections) of the original jazz parts. They had performed a version of it expanded by a copyist. But Mr. Thomas had something they didn’t. A Piano roll recorded by George Gershwin himself in 1925 on a Duo-Art Player Piano. After carefully, restoring the roll and a vintage player piano they recorded Gershwin playing the Piano part for Rhapsody in Blue. They returned to the original arrangement for a 24 piece jazz band and recorded the piece, sans piano. Then they married the two up in a studio and what you have is as close to the original version of Rhapsody in Blue as you can get considering that a half a century had passed and that Gershwin had died in 1937.

So which version is better? That is a question without real meaning. They are both very listenable and enjoyable but so totally different. In fact, the jazz version is nearly two minutes shorter due to its much livelier pace.
The point of all this is that why things are the way they are in music is related to when they are in music. History is as much determining factor as anything else when it comes to the creation of music. So don’t just ask who recorded or wrote a piece, also ask when the deed was done.

Till Next Time, Keep Listening!
Need some Rhapsody in Blue? Here's some links:

*FREE* Rhapsody In Blue 1924 acoustic recording Part 1 *FREE*

*FREE* Rhapsody In Blue 1924 acoustic recording Part 2 *FREE*

(I'll make you a deal, you buy this one and if you don't love it. I 'll buy it back from you. Yes, it's that good!

George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; An American in Paris; Broadway Overtures CD )

Rhapsody in Blue (Michael Tislson Thomas & Gershwin Piano roll) Single

Rhapsody In Blue (Original 1927 Recording)

Rhapsody in Blue (1998 Digital Remaster)

Rhapsody in Blue (Instrumental)

Rhapsody in Blue (2004 Remastered)

 (Honestly there are literally 100's of these so there are lots of choices.)

That's right! I sold out to corporate America! Pay me your monies! Now!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Compelling A Capella

The human voice has always been a musical instrument in its own right. It would be pretty hard to think of modern popular music without vocal elements. Sure, there’s the occasional Dueling Banjos, Harlem Nocturne, Wipe Outor La Villa Strangiato. But since 1955 most of what has been hot has a vocal component. But what about music that contains only vocal elements and no musical instruments at all?  In other words: A Cappella.

Words of Wisdom from WOOFS!

You have heard A Cappella  even if you don’t realize it. Do you remember the Prius  commercial from a few years back? The one with the cover of Let Your Love Flow? That’s Petra Haden daughter of jazz bassist Charlie Haden. The amazing thing about this song is that it is all vocals, every bit of it. Petra Haden recorded all the instrumental parts and harmonies, a piece at a time and then mixed into a coherent whole. (There is really no excuse for not having this amazing track. You can download it for free from Toyota’s site. Do that right now. I’ll wait. Good isn’t it?) This is a technique that she mastered when she used an 8-track recorder to record the entire album The Who: Sell Out. She even sang the guitar solos. Her version of Armenia City in The Sky and I Can See For Miles is incredible! The only effects were a touch of reverb in a few spots. On top of that she performed the whole thing live with a 10 piece choir!

Hard to imagine all that sound in one woman!

So where does this kind of music come from? I’ll bet some of you are thinking Doo Wop. Wrong. Ok well, maybe Barbershop quartet you ask speculatively? Nope.  Although that isn’t completely wrong. A Capella (This is Italian for “in the manner of the church” or “Chapel”) the form actually goes back to the 15th century. Some churches then and now still use music without accompaniment believing that such style is commanded by scripture. As you may suspect, the subject is still debated.

Monks Rocking Out!

Modern A Cappella does have its roots in the late 19th century with barbershop quartets and in the collegiate group the Yale Whiffenpoofs which formed in 1909 (Cole Porter was member at one time). But this kind of a cappella was basically choral in nature, even if the music was mostly popular music of the day.  Doo Wop is strongly influenced by A Cappella, It uses very simple instrumentation (if any )and a 4 part harmony.  It used simple onomatopoeia to represent the instruments. “bom bom bom” for the bass and other nonsense phrases to cover the other parts.
There was influx of new collegiate groups starting in the 90’s, the difference was that these group sang rock and used the human voice to emulate traditional rock instruments. Sadly (or maybe not), this isn’t new either. The Mills Brothers used the same technique in the 30’s.
Probably the best known A Cappella group is probably Rockapella. With 9 albums to their total they have recorded a lot of different music including the theme song for Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?

But they ain’t alone, not hardly.  The Persuasions recorded an entire album of Frank Zappa covers.  The Sweptaways, a Scandinavian A Cappella group recorded an unique version of My Darling Clementine that is not only A Cappella but also has parts of the song sung in round. Lastly, Straight No Chaser, recorded a mashup of I’m Yours and Over the Rainbow inspired by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole version of the 1939 Judy Garland Wizard of Oz classic.

There are dozens of collegiate A Cappella groups ranging from the Brown Derbies (Brown University) to Yale Whiffenpoofs (they actually have 19 recognized A Cappella grourps) making it a very lively scene. Many have put out albums but they are very hard to locate, selling mainly at shows and local venues.
This is all well and good but how do you know if you will like it? I mean, music without guitars and drums? That’s not rock. I have got a deal for you. One of the best music podcast around, Coverville (If you aren’t listening to this, you should be, you really should be), has given me permission to link to a few of his shows that are exclusively A Cappella covers. It’s FREE. Just click the links below and download one of his podcasts and take a listen. Also, some of these albums can be hard to find and pretty expensive when you do. So try and out his Acappellaville episdes to see if you like it.



Till next time, Keep Listening!
Wanna get started with some A Cappella? Here’s some links!

I Can See For Miles

Oh my darling Clementine

I'm Yours/Somewhere Over The Rainbow


Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out

Mills Brothers 22 Great Hits

Modern A Cappella

Frankly A Cappella

Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?

Click the links to fufill your destiny!