Archive for the ‘Tribute’ Category

Miss Sharon Jones (One Night Only)

May 28, 2017

Part of Sharon Jones’ encore of “Get Up and Get Out,” College Street Music Hall, New Haven, 5/27/16. From YouTube.

I thought of this yesterday with the news of Gregg Allman’s death; I free-associated to this version of “Midnight Rider.” And, coincidentally, it was year ago yesterday I saw maybe the most emotionally wrenching show I’ll ever see.

5/27/16, Friday of Memorial weekend, four days after my father’s funeral, after he died of cancer. Finally (!!!) got to see Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, at College Street in New Haven (with my bestie, Paola, who turned me on to them many years ago). Sharon had obviously lost some weight in her second battle with cancer, but she looked fab in that sequined dress.

But I could see her constantly talking with Bosco between songs, and the look of distress, occasionally anger, on her face and in her body language as the show went on. The cancer acting up, maybe? Well, I got the answer about two-thirds of the way through, when she had to take herself off the stage, slightly hunched over in pain. The band and her singers carried on, and I figured that she wouldn’t be coming back.

But about 10 minutes later, there she was, walking slowly back to the stage. She sang “This Land Is Your Land”; most of the way through the song, after breaking into some dancing, she took herself over to the riser to sit for the rest of the song, not missing a beat. Then, after another break, a full-lunged encore of “Get Up and Get Out” and “Retreat!” A huge fuck-you to the disease that eventually got the upper hand on her.

She didn’t have to come out again for the end of the set, let alone an encore. For this night at least, she had gotten the better of her cancer. And while she didn’t intend it this way, she had given us a great gift — herself, in a way most artists never have to, sharing with us whatever she could while she still had breath.

I walked away shaken.

Like my father, who was tough as you’d expect from a child of the Depression — he was on his feet until four days before he died — I had been optimistic that Sharon would conquer her cancer again. After this show, not so much. I knew it would be my first and last Sharon Jones show. It didn’t make the news go down any easier the night of Nov. 18.

I still choke up as often as not when I hear one of her songs. It might be on one of my mixdiscs. It might be the night of May 4, in honor of Sharon’s first birthday without Sharon, when The Dap-Kings sat in with Stephen Colbert’s house band. Or a segue from “Midnight Rider” to another. Today, it’s not so much eyes welling up as it is a heavy sigh.

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‘That’s that Jackie Gleason thing, huh?’ (Joe Franklin, 1926-2015)

January 25, 2015
A stupendous! Colossal! Life. Big! Big big big!

A Stupendous! Colossal! Life. Big! Big big big!

Last night (Saturday, Jan. 24), when I shared the New York Times and New York Daily News obituaries of the great Joe Franklin on the Book of Faces, some of the comments I got included the standard “I didn’t know he was still alive!” variety. Well, the man was a month and a half shy of 89, and, let’s face it, he was born old. And he gave up The Joe Franklin Show, his record-length talk show of 42 years, two decades ago already. Yes, that long ago. So excuse those who didn’t realize he’d been whistling past the graveyard all these years. And now he’s another great New York institution that’s disappeared.

If you didn’t grow up in the Tri-State Area, or see Billy Crystal’s impersonations during his lone year on Saturday Night Live, Joe was the King of Television, the King of the Talk Show, the King of Late-Night and King of Nostalgia. He pretty much gave us the talk-show format as we know it when he started on the tube in 1951 — sitting behind a desk and chatting with a couch full of guests. He also gave us the concept of nostalgia as we came to know it — regaling viewers and guests with stories of performers such as Sophie Tucker and Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson on his many travels down Memory Lane.

And along the way, he interviewed an estimated 300,000 people. A handful were bona fide legends, such as Debbie Reynolds, Tony Curtis, Joe Louis and his idol, Bing Crosby; some others were up-and-comers who caught a huge break early on from Joe and his show, such as Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and Bette Midler; some were regular guests who could be called upon in a pinch, such as Joe’s longtime producer and trivia quizmaster, Richie Orenstein, or Morris Katz, the world’s fastest painter, who created works in a minute or less using a palette knife and toilet paper. As a rock and pop music fan, there were other great names along the way, such as Tiny Tim (another quasi-regular), The J. Geils Band (who made a paint-splashed mess of his studio one Friday night my senior year of college) and The Ramones.

But most of his guests were everyday people who would fall into the categories of never-weres, never-gonna-bes and wannabes. And from time to time, they shared the couch with the greats. Thus, the show sometimes ran toward the mundane, or even the surreal. But the democracy of the panel of guests was one of the most endearing qualities of Joe’s show. For even a few minutes, anyone could be a star. And Joe was perhaps the most accessible TV host of all time — his number was in the Manhattan White Pages.

And that leads to my personal experience with Joe Franklin, and how he could launch something Big! Big! Big! with the exposure from his show.

Let’s just say that without Joe, fans of The Honeymooners would never have seen the “Lost Episodes.” read on …

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Why I do cry, or all good things do have to end (Chip Damiani, 1945-2014)

February 24, 2014
The Remains in their first prime. From left: Bill Briggs, Chip Damiani, Barry Tashian and Vern Miller.

The Remains in their first prime. From left: Bill Briggs, Chip Damiani, Barry Tashian and Vern Miller.

How I got through the last three hours of work this past evening and remained something resembling productive while being emotionally numb is beyond me.

I’ve written tributes to deceased musicians many times, both for newspapers and here on this blog. But until now, I had never been written one about a friend.

As in any instance when a friend dies suddenly, totally unexpectedly, it’s awfully hard to articulate. It’s hard to even say it.

Okay, I’ll just get the hard part out and let the rest flow. After jamming through a whole bunch of work, I stopped around 9 p.m. to have a bite and check out my Facebook messages. A writer from Westport named Dan Woog posted a link to his blog on my page: Chip Damiani, the drummer for one of the best rock’n’roll bands America ever produced, The Remains — and, what is really important to me, a good friend and former neighbor-of-sorts — died yesterday afternoon of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was 68 going on 35.

Go figure — trim, in a fighting shape forged from all those years as a roofer, in the best physical shape by far of everyone in the band, their backbone and fiery, no-bullshit, you-knew-where-you-stood presence. And he’s the one who went first.

And it was Chip who provided me with one of my favorite stories in two-plus decades as a music writer. And introduced me to the band that provided me with two of my favorite moments as a music fan.

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Almost old enough to drink (the blog turns 20), almost old enough for kindergarten (my blog turns 4)

January 30, 2014

Birthday cupcakeNormally, I would just post a news item to the Book of Faces and be done with it. But this one? Nah! That wouldn’t do it justice. It has to be answered in the form of a blog post:

Not sure of the exact birthdate, but the blog turns 20 this year. And all of us who have used this medium to share some of ourselves should give credit where credit’s due.

Until I read this story from the Guardian this morning (and thanks to Jim Romenesko for tipping us off via his blog), I hadn’t given much thought to how the weblog began or who invented it. I mean, do you think of Gottlieb Daimler when you sit behind the wheel and turn the key? I wouldn’t be able to pick Justin Hall or Meg Hourihan or Dave Winer out of a lineup if my life depended on it, but wherever you are, thanks much. Maybe my life would be a little different, and not for the better, had there not been a blogosphere.

Read on …

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My phoner with Ray (Ray Manzarek, 1939-2013)

May 20, 2013
Ray Manzarek, 20th century. Not a fox, but a damn good keyboardist.

Ray Manzarek, mid-20th century. Not a fox, but a damn good keyboardist.

May 20, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the end for Ray Manzarek. The clock said it’s time to close now. News just came in a few minutes ago of the death today of Manzarek — The Doors’ keyboardist/co-founder and producer of X’s first two albums — after a long battle with bile duct cancer. He was 74. (Can’t believe he was only three years younger than my mother …)

I interviewed Ray on the phone one morning in April 2003 for the New Haven Register. It was a preview of The Doors 21st Century — that abomination of a tour with Ian Astbury pretending to be Jim Morrison — coming to the Oakdale Theatre in nearby Wallingford; the story and sidebar ran on the morning of the show, April 28. It was the first time Ray and Robby Krieger (with a hired-gun drummer and bassist) had played that close to New Haven since, well, Dec. 9, 1967, when they did a little show at the old New Haven Arena.

None of my Register stories made the conversion to electronic archives unscathed (every one of my stories I’ve found has had the first sentence, paragraph or page missing), and all my clips are in storage, but thankfully, I’ve been able to find the pieces here and here. Ray seemed very upbeat over the phone from his home in Los Angeles — maybe because he was anticipating a return to New Haven? Who knows? But it went well. And here are the main story and the sidebar in their entirety:

Strange days, indeed

Three decades later, a reincarnation of The Doors

By Fran Fried, Register Entertainment Editor

April 28, 2003

The big question isn’t why Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger have revived The Doors without the band’s focal point. After all, they recorded two albums and carried on for 16 months after the death of singer Jim Morrison in July 1971. As what’s being billed as The Doors 21st Century pulls into Wallingford’s Oakdale Theatre for a show tonight, the big question is: Why now?

There have been other times when it would have made more sense – say, the late ’70s, when Doorsmania inexplicably erupted (hallmarked by the Rolling Stone Morrison cover: “He’s Hot. He’s Sexy. He’s Dead.”); or perhaps in 1991, when Oliver Stone’s film “The Doors” came out, starring Val Kilmer as Morrison.

“Why now? Because it’s the 21st century,” said Manzarek, the band’s keyboardist, from his Los Angeles home two weeks ago. “The Doors were not going to get together in the 20th century. But there’s wars going on and the economy is going down the drain and the environment is being threatened … it’s like the ’60s all over again.” Besides, he added, “In ’91, it would have been clever to capitalize on the movie. But who would we have gotten to sing?” You could hear the sneer. “Vallll – Kilmer?”

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WPKN playlist 1/31/10: Stevo and Patty and NYC

February 10, 2013
Steve Deal. He was he was he was the Mods and more.

Steve Deal. He was he was he was the Mods and more.

Feb.8, 2013

The second Franorama 2.0 of the year on WPKN was another two-hour drag strip fill-in for Binnie Klein. And time flies when you’re having fun … or memorializing someone. Or someones.

The day before the show, two people who had something to do with my musical life died.

One was Steve Ceslik — also known as Stevo, Steve Deal or Steven Deal, depending on when you came into his musical life.  In my case, it was in the Stevo days, in 1987 at the Grotto in New Haven, when he was playing guitar for Bleached Black, a local trio who had one self-done EP (Wrist Slashing Romance) and a self-titled debut album on a big label (Relativity) that spawned a single (“I Was in Your Life”) that was played on eMpTV. It seemed Steve, Greg Prior and Shaun Washburn were ready to reach the same national attention in underground as New Haven’s most famous group of that era, Miracle Legion. Shoulda happened. Shoulda happened with his two groups in the ’90s as well: The Absolute Zeros and especially Chopper, just a pure power pop group.

Anyway, Steve, like many friends from the New Haven days, came back into my life once I had my little passive gender coming-out by joining Facebook two years ago. He was so upbeat, with an extremely witty, wry and sometimes obnoxiously funny sense of humor. And he had those dark Freddie Mercury looks and that mirrored Vespa and that talent on the Rickenbacker. And he was so positive that I had no clue for a few months that he had been battling a rare form of cancer, leiomyosarcoma, which affects maybe five people in a million. Maybe those closer to him heard and saw him at his worst, but not the rest of us. And there he was, offering kind words to me as I was dealing with the hell of the transition and unemployment. (Talk about guilt …) And he remained musically active right up to the end, just past his 47th birthday, playing with another strong group, Radiana.

The other tribute that Thursday morning was to Patty Andrews, the lead voice and last of The Andrews Sisters, who lived to twice Steve’s age.

You see, I didn’t grow up in a a rock’n’roll house, and my folks listened to a lot of old folks’ music, and I pretty

Patty Andrews (center), flanked by Maxene and LaVerne.

Patty Andrews (center), flanked by Maxene and LaVerne.

much had to as well. (As if I didn’t stick out already — the shortest hair in my class and the nerdiest clothes and already a target for ridicule for other reasons …) But my father’s music did stick with me in adulthood: Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Frankie Laine and the big band sounds.

And that includes Patty, Maxene and LaVerne. They were iconic. And it wasn’t just the harmonies, which flowed as easily as water. I dismissed them as my folks’ music, as kids tend to do, but for some reason, it all came together one day when Channel 11 in New York showed the (barely) prewar Abbott & Costello film Buck Privates — with the girls singing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” right about the time Bette Midler’s version hit the charts. I saw the electricity behind the voices.

They were inspired by The Boswell Sisters, but they, in turn, inspired vocal groups. And their music inspired a wave of ’40s nostalgia at the same time George Lucas brought about ’50s/’60s nostalgia. And they also inspire fashion to this day. So many modern rockabilly dolls take their cues from Bettie Page, but deaw a line further back, past the fetish photos, to the everyday wear of the ’40s and what The Andrews Sisters  and other women were wearing. The black bangs and red lipstick and insanely high patent pumps might be Bettie’s doing, but most of the dress/fashion inspiration really comes from Patty and Maxene and LaVerne.

And then there was a mini-tribute to a living place: the City of New York, led off by Garland Jeffreys’ new recording, “Coney Island Winter.” It was inspired by a linked posted on Facebook by one of the dearest friends (and the coolest chica) I’ve never met, Miss Cheryl, who lives in Metro New York and styles and rock’n’rolls and knows all the cool kids. She found a link to a list of the Best Songs About New York City and put it up for debate.

Like so many authoritative-sounding musical opinion pieces on the Web these days, it seems as if it were written by a kid in his 20s who thinks he knows everything. I mean, some are on the mark — from his generation, he had to give props to “Empire State of Mind,” and he also included Dylan’s “Talkin’ New York” and Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem.” But any list that includes those prep-school silver-spoons The Strokes or “53rd and 3rd” instead of “Rockaway Beach” is kinda suspect in my book. So, thusly inspired, I came up with my own mini-set, only constrained by time. Had I had more time, it would’ve included “Rockin’ the Bronx” by Black 47, “Waitin’ for the Man” by The Velvets, “King of the New York Streets” by Dion, “Up on the Roof” by The Drifters, “The Bottle” by Gil Scott-Heron, Grandmaster Flash’s  “New York, New York” and Aretha’s version of “Spanish Harlem,” among others.

Anyway, it was  a fun-packed two hours. I’ll take my fun in small doses wherever I can …

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These were the days of miracle and wonder (Neil Armstrong, 1930-2012)

August 25, 2012

Yesterday was one of those days where I could proudly tell two later generations, “I remember when I was your age.”

It was one of those days where I could say it sadly as well. And not because the subject of this post has transcended space one last time.

Neil Armstrong’s death has evoked strong response from those of my generation and older, but I’m guessing there’s much raging indifference from the generations before who weren’t alive to see him walk on the moon in 1969.

It’s hard to imagine — in an era where the only technological event that makes anyone go gaga is anytime Apple unveils an overpriced, overhyped new toy to render the overpriced, overhyped new toy of a year ago obsolete — that there was a time when space launches and lunar landings were big news. And Apollo 11’s Eagle landed on a summer Sunday, but in general, balky, snowy TVs were wheeled into school cafeterias and auditoriums for kids to see space missions.

The recent landing of the rover Curiosity on Mars, as seen over the Web, did bring back some of that feeling. (Only with blue shirts, a multicultural crew, both sexes and and a Mohawk at JPL, rather than the roomful of white guys with white shirts and black ties and pocket protectors at Mission Control in Houston 43 years ago.) It was a parallel, but with somewhat less emotion.

When Armstrong stepped off the ladder of the Eagle late that night of July 20, and ever so slightly botched the words he had prepared for the occasion — “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” — he truly had the world watching.

The first lunar landing was the culmination of a decade of technological frenzy — a race mandated by a slain hero (and JFK was still idolized at the time) with a goal of decade’s end; a race exacerbated by a surrogate arms race with this country’s most feared rival; a race that brought scads of new inventions, as well as death and near-death and, eventually glory. And the unending fascination of the public.

Yes, nodding to Paul Simon, these truly were the days of miracle and wonder.

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Five Songs, Part 84 (The Reducers/Steve Kaika memorial edition)

June 12, 2012

The Reducers, eternally. From the 2010 Sailfest in New London. From left: Hugh Birdsall, Peter Detmold and Steve Kaika; Tom Trombley on drums. Photo from Wailingcity.com.

I started putting together this greatly extended Five Songs on Sunday (June 10), knowing what was coming.

I got a Facebook message that morning from my friend Jes Farnsworth, aka Jes Reckless, out here in Fresno. Jes is the frontman for an excellent trio called The Backstabbers, heavily influenced by early punk. Interspersed among their originals (they released their first CD in May) are a bunch of great covers: The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy,” 999’s “Homicide,” The Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action,” Roky Erickson’s “Two-Headed Dog” …

and any of a number of songs by one of my favorite bands ever — one of the most underrated and overlooked bands America has had to offer, The Reducers. From back home, in Connecticut, in New London. Same four guys since 1978: Peter Detmold and Hugh Birdsall, the co-lead singers/co-lead guitarists/songwriters, Steve Kaika on bass, Tom Trombley on drums. Influenced equally by the ’70s English pub rock and the early punk Peter and Hughie love so much, they released three tremendous introductory albums in successive years (The Reducers, 1983; Let’s Go, 1984, Cruise to Nowhere, 1985), were labeled “America’s Best Unsigned Band” by CMJ in ’86 and included on an Epic Records Unsigned compilation LP. But they never signed with anyone and decided to just keep doing what they were doing, and to a man, they’ll tell you it’s why they stayed together all these years. (They explained it in Bill Dumas’ 2006 documentary, The Reducers: America’s Best Unsigned Band, in which I was happy to be one of the many talking heads.) And despite the imminent mortality we all face, there was something eternal about them, something that spoiled me — many of us — into thinking this would go on forever.

The Reducers canceled a show last December at New London’s Bank Street Cafe — their first cancellation in ages — owing to “a bug” Steve contracted. Then, in January, another cancellation. And the word slowly got out that Steve wasn’t doing well. In late winter, word got out that it was lung cancer.

Jes happens to be Steve’s nephew. I found that out by happy accident in 2005, a year after I moved to Fresno. I wore a Reducers Shinola T-shirt to a show at the Starline one night, and the kid at the ticket booth asked, “Are those The Reducers from Connecticut?” “Yessss,” I said with arched eyebrow. “My buddy’s uncle plays in The Reducers.” “Holy shit! Who?” A connection to home! A year later, I finally met Jes, who grew up in Waterford, Steve’s hometown, before moving west, and was heavily influenced by his uncle.and his band. And Jes (and his father, Robin) and I all happened to be back in Connecticut near summer’s end of 2008; the last time I saw The Reducers, that Labor Day Saturday at Ocean Beach Park in New London, Jes actually took Hugh’s place on guitar for one song. (It was kinda weird to be standing next to Hughie in the crowd while The Reducers played.)

With The Backstabbers, I’ve seen Jes play “Let’s Go,” “No Ambition,” “Bums I Used to Know” and, last Friday at Audie’s Olympic, on a bill with Peter Case, “Life in the Neighborhood.” It’s a song that they’ll be recording for a Reducers tribute album Jes is putting together to benefit Steve — who, as a self-employed contractor, had no health insurance. (As of now, there are at least 25 acts who have recorded, or are recording, songs for the disc. I’m supposed to be singing “Out of Step” with them.)

Anyway, he messaged me that he was flying back to Connecticut on Thursday because Steve might not make it through the week, and that he might even be too late by that point.

He got the call around 1 this morning Pacific Time.

Dammit. I was hoping, between Jes flying home and the benefit show that Steve’s friends are throwing Friday night at New London’s Hygienic Art Park, that he would’ve lasted the week.

*****

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Five Songs, Part 83 (Bob Welch edition)

June 8, 2012

Thought I was getting away from the thematic Five Songs and getting back to something “normal” this week. But this post comes on the heels of yesterday’s suicide death of Bob Welch.

Welch, a Los Angeles native, was the first American in Fleetwood Mac — the bridge between their beginnings as a John Mayall-weaned British blues band and their for-better-and-worse next chapter as a California hitmaking machine. He stayed around for four years (1971-75) and three albums, and convinced the band to move to California before he left in favor of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. His main musical contributions were “Sentimental Lady” and “Hypnotized.”

His first solo album, French Kiss, came out in 1977, with studio help from Buckingham and other Mac members, in the midst of the disco era, and it was a solid pop album. It was a rarity — he managed to both hold onto his rock and pop roots and create songs polished enough to hold up well on a dance floor. He redid “Sentimental Lady” and turned it into a top-40 hit the second time around, hammered out a hard guitar on “Hot Love, Cold World,” and delivered three tunes with enough synth-string slickness for any dance club: the hit “Ebony Eyes,” “Carolene” and my favorite, “Easy to Fall.” And this continued into his next album. Three Hearts, just before I graduated from high school in the spring of 1979, with “Precious Love.”

Then came the end of disco, a heroin addiction and other factors that wrapped up his heyday. And for all his troubles, and for being such a pivotal member of the band, he was omitted when Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. Old animosities die hard, I guess.

Anyway, Welch was an underrated talent, one who left a lot of what-ifs even in his prime.

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Simple math: 12 deep x 30 years = “Marshall Crenshaw” (April 28, 1982-April 28, 2012)

April 29, 2012

Spring of 1982, a sunny Saturday April afternoon. Junior year of college, C.W. Post Campus, Long Island University, in Brookville, L.I. Headed back to campus with a friend from the Burger King where I worked that school year, a couple miles west on Northern Boulevard in Greenvale. The radio was turned to one of the only stations that mattered: “102.7, WNEW-FM in New York, where rock lives,” as the deejays’ station ID put it.

And the jock (I want to say it was Dan Neer, since it was Saturday afternoon, which is when I have my mental pictures of Danno surfing up Third Avenue at show’s end to The Ventures’ “Hawaii Five-O”) played the latest single by Robert Gordon.

Robert was my gateway to rockabilly as a 16-year-old in the summer of 1977, when he debuted with the first of his two albums with Link Wray. I heard “Red Hot,” and especially “Flying Saucers Rock’n’Roll” all summer. And the next spring, it would be their second album, “Fresh Fish Special,” which included “The Way I Walk,” “Twenty Flight Rock” and a new song written by Bruce Springsteen, called “Fire.” (This was a year before The Pointer Sisters” smash version.)

Fast-forward four years. And the jock was introducing a bouncy yet hard-driving tune, rockabilly yet classic pop at the same time, called “Someday, Someway.” He said it was a song written by a musician I had never heard of. The way he said the name, it was as if he was familiar with him and that we should be, too. And the name definitely had a cool, rock’n’roll ring to it — a guy with a name this cool should be explored.

A couple weeks later, his own version arrived in the local record stores on his self-titled debut album. Yesterday (April 28) was the 30th anniversary of the release of that album, which has stood solidly almost alongside Pet Sounds in my personal pantheon of favorite albums. And a week and a half ago, I pulled out the 2000 Rhino CD re-release of Marshall Crenshaw and popped it into my car’s disc player. Haven’t gotten sick of it yet. Sounds pretty damn good for 30.

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