Category Archives: Generation Gap

#178 – Sir Duke

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#178 – Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder

 – Motown was everywhere in the 1960’s. If your transistor radio could pick up a Top 40 station, regardless of where you were located, you heard the hits coming out of Detroit scoring big-time on the music charts. Even in the midst of The British Invasion deejays would spin new releases by The Supremes, Temptations and Four Tops as often as they did The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five.

My claim to being a pop music know-it-all and future Classic Rocker didn’t fully gel until Ed Sullivan introduced us to The Beatles on February 9, 1964. But the roots had already been digging in. When I was about nine or ten years old I had a friend who lived across the street. And he had something I didn’t:

A teenage brother.

Per tradition when it comes to teenagers dealing with younger siblings and their immature friends, we as little kids were not allowed to go in his room or touch any of his stuff.

And of course as little kids, that’s exactly what we would do when he wasn’t home.

The 12 year old genius

A magnet for us would be his record player and collection of 45 rpm disks, usually scattered around his bedroom floor. The ones I remember most were Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean (1961) and Fingertips Part 2 by Little Stevie Wonder, released on Motown’s Tamla label in 1963. He was billed as “The 12 Year Old Genius,” which told us he wasn’t a teenager either.

On the few occasions we were caught red-handed in his room and subject to firsthand demonstrations of Big Time Wrestling moves until we could break away and run out of the house screaming for parental intervention, I never thought of using this age gap as a self-defense weapon. Why the heck were little kids banned from this treasure trove of infectious music when the teenager himself was a fan of The 12 Year Old Genius?

I answered that for myself a few years later when as a teenager I ordered my little sister to stay out of my room and never touch my stuff. If these age gap rules weren’t followed, her punishment would be the same Big Time Wrestling moves I had learned the hard way while listening to Big Bad John and Fingertips Part 2.

And in case you’re wondering about the title, the live recording was too long to fit on one side of a 45 rpm vinyl. So like the classic Isley Brothers’ rocker Shout, Fingertips was edited into two sections. Part 1 was actually the A-side of the single. But thanks to Stevie’s hyper-excited close to the live performance and his “Goodbye, goodbye” ending chorus that we hoped would go on forever, deejays played the B-side and that’s the title that hit number one on the music charts.

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As time will do with all of us, we grew older over the years. But unlike with my circle of teenage friends during the mid to late 1960’s, Stevie Wonder was making hit records. He also dropped “Little” from his billing and by the end of the decade he was a mature artist blazing a trail through funk and soul music. I guess that also earned him enough rock ‘n’ roll cred that he flew directly into my realm of fandom via a rock concert. It was during my final year as a teenager when he opened for The Rolling Stones during the legendary Exile On Main Street Tour in July 1972.

This was four years before the release of his mega hit double LP Songs in the Key of Life with the song Sir Duke, but his creativity had already been taking him in that direction. His latest album prior to The Stones’ tour was Music of My Mind and his next single would be Superstition.

We’ll get more into that concert experience in a moment, but first…

Songs in the Key of Life

Sir Duke joined this Dream Song list on August 12. I’ll call it Big Band Funk since it was a tribute to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong (Satchmo) and others mentioned by name in the song and stands as one of the many highlights from Songs in the Key of Life. But since my vinyl copy is stored in the Classic Rocker Archives and I can’t recall hearing it since my son Paul’s junior high jazz band performed the song as an instrumental during a school program, it funks its way into the subliminal category.

Of course I had been a Stevie fan since Fingertips Part 2, but once he entered the Superstitious era I appreciated his genius even more. It had become a Christmas tradition that I would be gifted with an album. It started with Beatles ’65 in 1964 and Rubber Soul the next year (which I hijacked and started playing a couple weeks before). I remember The Stones’ Let It Bleed made the list, along with George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and The Concert For Bangladesh.

In 1976 it was Songs in the Key of Life. The entire collection of songs, along with Sir Duke made both LP’s mandatory listening throughout the winter.

But now let’s return to the summer of 1972…

A new era

At the time Stevie Wonder seemed to be a strange choice to open shows for The Rolling Stones. With their roots in the blues, it was never a surprise when artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters or The Ike and Tina Turner Review kicked off the concert experience. But Stevie Wonder didn’t seem that far removed from his 1960’s Motown hits and the once descriptive adjective “Little” before his name.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier Classic Rocker, my pals and I saw the Exile On Main Street Tour at the Akron (Ohio) Rubber Bowl on July 11th. It was outdoor, festival seating – meaning you arrived early to find a good seat and stake claim to it. By the time we got to the outdoor stadium we were relegated to space halfway up in the stands and about a fifty-yard rush to the left side of the stage. Fortunately it was the first concert I had ever been to that had huge screens on both sides of the stage and we had close-up views of everything happening under the spotlights.

Also from our vantage point, we had no problem seeing a lot of what was happening below us on the football field that was jammed packed with fans.

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Keep in mind this was 1972 and things were different. The concert scene had been going through some recent changes…

The screaming teens that had turned Beatles and DC5 appearances into short pop music events had matured into The Woodstock Generation. If you didn’t at least try to look like a hippie with longer hair, bellbottoms and concert t-shirt, you probably looked out of place. Most Stones fans were also old enough to purchase alcohol, (3.2% beer if you were at least 18 in Ohio) and the smell of marijuana wafting through the air was as much a part of the scene as the music.

But that didn’t mean this entire scene was all that acceptable to the older generation.

One of my most vivid memories of this concert happened during Stevie Wonder’s opening set. We had all read about the violence and mayhem that followed The Stones on this tour. There were stories of violence and injury reports at almost every stop and there was no reason why Akron would be different.

Stevie and Mick Exiled on Main Street

Sometime during Stevie’s opening set a large contingent of policemen gathered at the end of the football field facing the stage. We all noticed – and all started watching. Then forming in a long line, they pushed and shoved their way through the crowd like they were zeroing in on a certain group. Again, we were all watching – only this time everyone started booing the cops.

About midfield they stopped and – apparently – tried to drag out a few hippies. We could only speculate it was a drug bust and it took everyone’s attention away from what was happening on stage. We could see it turning into a brawl and fans near the action were throwing bottles and whatever at the cops. I distinctly remember seeing blood on the top of one officer’s bald head.

Eventually the cops retreated. And as far as I remember, there were no arrests – at least on the field during the concert. The fans cheered as the cops withdrew and all eyes and ears went back to Stevie Wonder. And they stayed that way after the sun went down, the stage lights went up and the images of Mick and Keith kicking into Brown Sugar were projected onto the large screens at both sides of the stage.

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Here’s a video of Stevie Wonder performing Sir Duke.

 

To purchase Songs in the Key of Life with Sir Duke visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

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#190 – Strutter

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#190 – Strutter by KISS

KISS in NYC

– On July 25, 1980 I was getting ready to hang out in New York City. I didn’t have any specific plans, but the great thing about living in Manhattan was just going out and always knowing something would happen.

I can’t remember how I’d heard the news, but word reached me that KISS would be performing a special concert that night at The Palladium on East 14th Street. Usually the band played stadiums and sports arenas so appearing at the 3,000 seat venue was a big deal. Already having seen quite a few shows at the former Academy of Music, I knew no matter where you sat it would be a lot more intimate and close-up compared to sitting in the upper levels of Madison Square Garden or The Meadowlands in New Jersey.

But here’s some inside information. I really wasn’t a fan of KISS.

The band seemed to break with the younger crowd around my senior year in college. I was locked into The Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who and other rockers, so when the freshmen in my frat house (yeah, I was a frat boy) hung up posters of these guys wearing Kabuki makeup and alien spacesuits (whatever), my college crowd pretty much laughed them off. And when we watched the fire-breathing, blood-spitting performance clips on television it seemed more like a circus than a rock ‘n’ roll show.

Rock ‘n’ roll all night!

The only song I knew was Rock And Roll All Night, mainly because the younger crowd had it on heavy turntable rotation and cranked up to full volume. We’d try to drown it out by blasting the latest and classic hits by our classic favorites.

Yeah… real music wars as a youth movement tried to knock the college boomers off our rock ‘n’ roll pedestals.

Fast forward to 1980 in New York, we had a great friend who had insider contacts at The Palladium. Louie was a lot older than the rest of us, but since no one really paid attention to that he was still part of our crowd. His sense of humor, energy and boomer outlook made him one of us and everyone that met the guy loved him. Especially the ladies.

Oh yeah, and one other thing he had going for him was that he seemed to be connected with just about everyone in the entertainment business.

One of his connections was in charge of the backstage area at The Palladium. Whenever a band was appearing I’d want to see, I’d call Louie, he’d make a call – and arrangements would be made for me to be let in through the stage door entrance. A backstage guy or a security guy would sneak me (and guests) past a curtain and we would grab whatever empty seats we could find.

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So when I heard KISS was playing The Palladium that night, I thought it could be interesting and maybe even fun to watch them for a few songs. After all they were one of the biggest acts on the planet at that time. Then I would sneak back out through the curtains, through the stage door and continue on with my nightlife in Manhattan.

So I called Louie. He made a call and the deal was done.

The late Eric Carr

The reason for this KISS show was a payback for The Palladium allowing the band to use it as a rehearsal space to break in their new drummer, Eric Carr. Original drummer Peter Criss had left and this would be the debut of the new lineup.

On my walk to The Palladium I ran into my pal Bobby and his future wife Barbara. This was one of those kismet (had to be) moments especially for them, because Bobby had auditioned for the drummer spot. By this time we had been playing in the same rock band for a couple years and I knew he was a huge KISS fan. When word got out in music circles about the auditions the rest of us encouraged him to go for it. I’m not sure if he actually got to audition by playing with the band, but he’d sent in a tape and had already designed makeup for his character as “Metalman.”

But he never got a chance to wear it since Eric Carr got the gig (as “The Fox”).

And in case you’re wondering about the other characters:

  • Paul Stanley – Starchild
  • Gene Simmons – The Demon
  • Ace Frehley – The Spaceman
  • Peter Criss – The Catman

Since Bobby was the never-to-be Metalman, I still thought it would be cool for both of them to check out the show. So using Louie’s connection to make my connection seem cooler, I took Bobby and Barbara through the stage door with me.

The place was jam-packed with no empty seats to be found. A Louie-connected security guy led us up to the mezzanine and said we could sit on the aisle steps and watch. Guess no one really worried about fire codes and overcrowding in 1980…

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From what he told us the audience included a lot of music biz heavyweights. The only one I remember recognizing was Dick Clark, but I didn’t pay much attention to that type of star-watching. As mentioned, I wasn’t much of a KISS fan and was really there to watch the circus for about three songs, and then head out into the New York night.

But that all changed the moment KISS hit the stage.

Holy ****!!!! I had seen everyone from The Beatles and The Stones to Led Zeppelin and The Who. And when it came to theatrical rock, I thought no one could ever top the show I had seen at the Akron Rubber Bowl a few years earlier by the original Alice Cooper band.

But I had NEVER seen anything like this!

It was LOUD and in your face. The band sounded great, even though I really didn’t know any of their songs except Rock And Roll All Night and their latest, disco-influenced, I Was Made For Loving You (which I already liked!). But the show is what kept me locked in with no more thoughts of leaving after only three songs.

KISS comes alive!

In their Kabuki makeup and costumes they stomped, danced and posed on high platform shoes. Simmons spit (fake) blood and when he did the fire-eating routine, I could swear my eyebrows were tinged from sitting so close. The guitars shot Roman candle blasts over the crowd and at various times the members of KISS flew through the air on wires. Bobby, Barbara and I stayed until the final notes and crowd cheers were over and all that was left was high pitch ringing in our ears.

And yeah – from that point on I’ve been a KISS fan. After this spectacle, there was no way I couldn’t be.

The next day, before I even had a chance to run out and buy KISS Alive or any other LP at our neighborhood record store (it was era when we still had them), Bobby made me a cassette of KISS songs he felt I had to have. The first track was Strutter, which I immediately recognized from The Palladium show.

I also recognized it the morning of July 3rd as a power pop way to kick off the morning. I own a copy on my digital playlist, but since I hadn’t heard it in awhile it kisses its way onto the subliminal category of Dream Songs.

Admittedly I never became a full force fan, which would place me into the category of KISS Army membership. In fact, I can’t name any song they came out with after removing their makeup in 1983 – even though I watched their unmasking in a club with my New York crowd on MTV. I also haven’t seen the band live since that show at The Palladium, but the sheer impact, showmanship and sitting close enough to actually feel the energy (and fire!) they generated on stage makes it an exciting memory.

Here’s a video of the original KISS lineup performing Strutter.

To purchase KISS Alive with Strutter visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Comment? Please use the form below and as always… Keep Rockin’!!

 

They say it’s your birthday (again)!!

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11885210_10206750047483724_1164378672389296806_n – Guess I should have saved my past birthday posts after the number of years writing The Classic Rocker. It would’ve been like another mini timeline of where, what and what the heck was I thinking! With today being this year’s birthday, here’s the experience (and it was a good one!)…

This really happened and even I wouldn’t dare make this one up.

Today is my birthday. Last night at 11:30 pm I’m standing in line to buy beer. No one in front of me was carded. I got to the counter and the guy asked for my ID. I told him I was “flattered” and it was my birthday.

I also checked to make sure there were no hidden cameras and I wasn’t being “punked.”

The guy said something about my hair (still got it!) and something else. I wasn’t really listening because I was pumped up and psyched-out about this newsworthy anti-aging event. I gave him my driver’s license.

Seriously – his eyes popped out and he goes, “Holy shit!!

He asked about health tips and I told him to only drink light beer. But then he rang up the beer and charged me for it?! I reminded him it was my birthday! He said I still had 30 minutes before the big day, so I (happily) paid up.

I’m good for another year… ha!!

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing