Category Archives: rock music

#163 – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me

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#163 – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel

 – When this song came out in 1980 boomers were still controlling the music scene, but something strange was starting to happen. Our rebellious nature had been focused on the older generation, but now we were feeling the push of a generation coming up behind us. They were tagged as Generation X and many of us considered them too young to be of any real notice as we continued to groove through our late twenties. It was noticeable when the punks and new wave bands of the late 1970s (with members born in the boomer generation) started calling our favs like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles and The Who “dinosaurs.”

I’ll go ahead and lay the blame on the newer and younger record-buying age group for pushing the latest vinyl 45 rpm singles to the top of the music charts during the late 1970s. My age demographic had been album-oriented since the late 1960s and the current singles really didn’t interest us.

If a new group didn’t have an album worth buying, we didn’t notice.

But teenagers were buying the singles, making them hits and influencing the latest styles. Since sales equals profit for record companies hoping to stay in the black (vs. going into the red and out of business) they focused on their new audience. And like boomers during our era, the latest look was influenced by new artists, which meant both the music and fashion trends were shifting away from us.

We had to adjust or join the pack of dinosaurs that risked going out of style and being labeled old.

Here’s what I mean:

In the late 1970s you could still be psyched about the latest album from your favorite band that had formed in the 1960s. Fashion-wise you could still maintain some type of cool looking like one of The Eagles from Hotel California, a disco freak from Studio 54, a punk rocker or Keith Richards. As a side note, the Keith Richards look always allowed for admittance into the other groups.

By the time we hit 1980 there was a major shift in music and fashion sense.

I was already three years into my New York City residency when I realized this new trend was taking over. Hippies were past tense, the Woodstock era no more than a memory, disco was dying, and punk was… well, for punks.

The music consisted of more electronics than guitars and the beat came from drum machines. To be fashionable and anti-prehistoric, the guys had ditched bellbottoms for skinny legs and shirts with skinny ties topped with loose jackets. Hair on girls would continue to get higher throughout the decade while the guys went shorter.

But again, the fault didn’t lie with my demographic of baby boomers. The younger crowd was coming into spending money and the music and fashion industries were catering to their newest and profitable big market.

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me was a protest song about this.

A hit during the summer of 1980, Billy Joel defended our taste in music while still succumbing to a fashion statement in the song’s video that wouldn’t make him seem like a dinosaur. His shorter hair and skinny tie made that perfectly clear.

The song rocked enough to make adulthood challenged boomers still feel relevant while also signaling the end of our musical dominance. The 1980s would’ve only gotten worse for us if we hadn’t been saved by the advent of Classic Rock Radio. At least our hits would still be on the airwaves while it would be decades before our fashion sense became retro.

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It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me hit this Dream Song list on September 18th. I own a copy and it’s not an unfamiliar addition to my weekly playlists. But it hadn’t been recently. For that skinniest of reason, it goes into the subliminal category.

As a musician I was still playing what I felt was rock and roll at the time, even though it was a far cry from the rock and roll I lived for as a teenager. Over the previous decade bands like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who and yeah… even KISS had given it more volume, power and flash.

If you wanted to be in a rock band in 1980 you had to adjust.

I strummed here a few times!

After a couple years strumming an acoustic guitar and going nowhere fast in Greenwich Village folk clubs, I bought a bass and decided it was time to turn up the volume. Along with my pals Tim on guitar and Bobby on drums we formed a hard rock, high volume trio that we called Rox. I found out years later another band had used the same name and released an album, so in the end I guess they own it. But I also maintain we were first.

It’s just that no one outside of our NYC neighborhood ever heard of us.

As a band we spent more time rehearsing and recording than we did playing live shows. I thought it was mistake then and still do. Playing live really was the only way to be seen and hopefully discovered, but the others disagreed. Their logic was to record an album worth of original songs and sell it to a record company.

Rather than debate the merits of that decision let’s just say it didn’t work out.

But thanks to a good friend who worked as a producer of radio jingles and had been a fan of my earlier music in the Village clubs, we scored quality time in a state-of-the-art recording studio in Midtown Manhattan. She basically “piggybacked” us onto scheduled jingle recording sessions. If she had booked four hours for a jingle and it only took three to complete, we inherited the remaining hour. The result is that I own about three-quarters of a finished LP by Rox that no one outside the three of us and a few family and friends have ever heard. And to be honest, it’s pretty good.

Someday I should do something with it. But in the meantime…

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The few live shows we did were more concerts than club gigs. When the mood struck us, we’d rent a large loft near Gramercy Park, rely on friends to help build a stage (and I have no idea who donated the lumber for these “raves”), use a photographer friend’s lights, and borrow a sound system from another band. We’d schedule an opening act, print up flyers and end up packing the place.

These were hot, sweaty, energetic and LOUD performances. The crowd reaction was always great and called for encores until we ran out of songs. But instead of keeping the momentum going, my two band mates were content to spend weeks in rehearsal studios and hours recording our “breakout” album.

Again, it didn’t happen.

Fighting for Rock ‘n’ Roll

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me was on the charts and video airwaves while all this was going on with Rox. And it reminds me of one live performance that was far from a concert since it was an audition for some type of talent show that was supposed to help us be seen by record people.

It was a Saturday morning (not the best time for rock and rollers) during the summer of 1980 when we carted our equipment via a NYC taxi to a studio in The Village. We set up in a room to play in front of a panel of about six people who would decide if we’d be part of this industry showcase.

Billy Joel’s video comes to mind because we played rock and roll but bowed to the current fashion trend. I remember wearing tight pants, white Capezio dance shoes, shirt with skinny tie and a white cloth jacket with the sleeves pushed up. I’m not sure what the other guys wore, but guessing it wasn’t too far removed from my look. The only real difference from Mr. Joel was our long hair.

The 80’s hadn’t changed us that much – at least not yet.

We were a loud and heavy band, but for some reason Tim and I had written the first – and only – slower, ballad type song we would ever do. It was called Forever and I played a very melodic bass line while Tim floated a flanged guitar effect sound over the top. Bobby kept a simple time on the drums, and I sang lead. By the end of the song it built into a heavier sound that I thought then – and still do – was very cool and more classic rock than ’80s hip.

When we finished the song, we were very pleased with how it went. However, one of the judges came over and asked if we could “turn down the volume” for our second song.

Say what?!

Turn it up to eleven!!

That definitely wasn’t what we were about as a band. We also realized, based on the judges looks (80’s hip) and attitudes (turn it down?) that this showcase wouldn’t be right for us anyway. The three of us came to a quick decision, scratched the idea of doing a more pop song we had planned and turned the volume on our amplifiers up to eleven.

We played one of the hardest rocking songs we’d ever written and recorded called Love On Wheels. I maintain we sounded like Guns ‘n’ Roses at least six years before any of us had even heard of Guns ‘n’ Roses. We also extended the ending lead guitar jam into what we called a Wall Of Sound and pretty much shook the building down to its foundation.

I remember a few of the judges walked out during our performance. I have a feeling their 80’s hipster ears were bleeding to the sound of Rox.

After finishing, we didn’t even wait for the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” decision. Laughing and giving each other high-fives, we dragged our equipment out onto the street, hailed a taxi and made it to our local neighborhood hangout for lunch and beers. A crowd of our friends turned the afternoon into a party and we never thought again about auditioning for a showcase.

We ended up doing one more huge loft gig that year before we split up – staying friends – for other career paths. In my case, my microphone and small practice amplifier were the only equipment needed to start a popular comedy club in our same neighborhood hangout that ended up taking me places and providing experiences I would’ve never dreamed of while protesting the “new sound” by being a rock ‘n’ roller in 1980.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

And speaking of protesting and defending rock ‘n’ roll in 1980, here’s Billy Joel doing just that:

 

To purchase The Essential Billy Joel with It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me 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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

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#165 – I Want You Back

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#165 – I Want You Back by The Jackson Five

 – There was a popular television show when I was a kid called, I’ve Got A Secret. The song I Want You Back by a preteen Michael Jackson and his brothers has really nothing do with that, except for bringing back how I felt – sort of – when I first heard it in 1969.

The show was hosted by popular television personality, Gary Moore – not to be confused with the guitar playing Gary Moore decades later. A supposedly unknown person would be introduced, chalk his or her name on a blackboard and sit behind a desk with the host. Moore would give a panel of four celebrities a brief hint of what secret the guest was hiding, while the viewing audience would be given the answer at the bottom of our black and white television screens.

The two guests I remember most were Brian Epstein and in a separate episode, Pete Best. Brian’s secret was that he managed The Beatles while Pete’s was being a former Beatle. Of course, to first generation Fab Four fans, there was nothing secret about either guest and we immediately knew when they walked out to sign their name on the chalk board. But it was fun watching the older generation (I also remember Groucho Marx as an occasional guesser) try to figure out who these guys were.

My secret in 1969 was that I really liked The Jackson Five. It may not seem like such a scandalous admission now, but this was around the time when another great musical divide was occurring within the generational gaps.

Anyone have a driver’s license?

As mentioned in previous Classic Rocker ramblings, my particular segment of the boomer generation was too young to experience firsthand the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950’s. The dangerous element was toned down into being popular music in the early 1960’s, then burst into the fab stratosphere as pop in 1964. This morphed into more rebellious pop-rock, drifted into hazy psychedelic and eventually just all-out anarchy rock toward the end of the decade. By early 1969 The Beatles had just released The White Album, The Who were promoting Tommy by trashing instruments and acting like punks before anyone ever heard of punk music, and we were just getting into Led Zeppelin.

Woodstock was only a few months away and by the fall we were listening to Abbey Road.

But there was another form of music “bubbling” beneath the surface labeled as bubble gum. My teenaged “just getting our driver’s license” crowd had zero interest in this AM radio takeover, even though we were often forced to listen since that was the only bandwidth our parents’ cars came equipped with at the time. Without doing an internet search, my recollections go to Donny Osmond and his Osmond Brothers, The Archies and… well, that’s the extent of how deep I want to go into the memory bank on this topic.

Bubble gum seemed to be music made for my little sister’s demographic and she was seven years younger than me.

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Now, there’s no way I can ignore Motown in the above listings. I suppose the Top 40 deejays tried to fit it into the pop music category, but we knew it was more than that. Hitsville in Detroit gave us more rhythm and soul than most of the light weight pop acts. Motown could sound clean and smooth, or hot and sweaty. My favorites were The Temptations with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, and The Four Tops with the great Levi Stubbs. But in 1969 Stevie Wonder was still trying to distance himself from the Little adjective that had been stuck on him for his early records and label head Barry Gordy was grooming The Supremes as a lounge act and Diana Ross for solo superstardom.

Okay, now that I’ve set the stage for what a sixteen-year-old boomer was listening to and my thoughts about it all, in the winter of that year we were presented with The Jackson Five and their first hit record, I Want You Back.

Kings of soulful pop!

First thought: This is a kid singing.

Second thought: This is great!

Now, I wasn’t sure if this realization would seem cool to my fellow-teenaged friends that, along with me, were listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin or The Who (and The Rolling Stones). But it was impossible for me not to turn up the AM radio dial or even sit still when hearing I Want You Back.

These kids just… Okay, did it rock? Was it pop? Bubble gum? It didn’t sound like the Motown of The Temps, The Tops or Little Stevie, but it couldn’t be ignored. At least by me and the millions of other fans that sent this record screaming up the record charts. Maybe it was because my little sister and her age group were finding their own musical personalities at the time and jumping on the Jackson (and Osmond) bandwagons. There was no reason why I couldn’t also make room on my playlist for this rocking’ and soulful family band.

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But like the television show, I had a secret. There was no way I could ask my friends to turn off Led Zeppelin and listen to The Jackson Five if I wanted to remain hip enough to look cool. So, without Groucho and the other panelists outing me on national television, I kept it to myself. At least for a while.

But here’s another secret…

Ed’s ready to bust a move!

The first time I saw The Jackson Five was on The Ed Sullivan Show. And one of the most memorable parts was how Michael and his brothers danced. So yeah, I wanted to dance like The Jackson Five. Too bad my feet, arms and… well, everything else could never move like that. It’s also too bad I never realized that when I was on a dance floor. More on that in a moment, but first…

I Want You Back danced its way onto this Dream Song List on September 10th. And yeah, I own a copy, it’s on my digital playlist and I had just heard it. So, this one moonwalks into the recent memory category.

I won’t pull any punches here. Myself and my buddies were far from possessing any soulful or rhythmic moves. I might have imagined myself as Michael or even Jackie (or Tito?) at our high school and later college dances, but reality has a way of exposing our secrets. For a description, if you combine The Twist with leg jerks and flaying arms as if you were being attacked by a swarm of mosquitos – it would look better than what we were doing. The effort might have been there, but the talent was missing.

I recently had a chance to reconfirm this no-so-secret admission.

A couple days ago I was just about to leave the house when I Want You Back came on. At this moment, at least for the first verse or two, time and commitments are forgotten. There’s no way to prevent a dance attack and I was doing my best twisting, jerking and flaying moves when I looked up and into a mirror directly in front of me. It was far from being Michael, Jackie or even Tito staring back at me. Of course, I didn’t stop – but from now on I’ll keep these moments between you and me.

Can you keep a secret?

Have a comment?

Please use the contact form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of The Jackson Five with a very young Michael on lead vocals performing I Want You Back.

 

 

To purchase The Ultimate Collection: Jackson 5 on Motown Records with I Want You Back visit Amazon.

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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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#168 – I Want To Take You Higher

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#168 – I Want To Take You Higher by Sly & The Family Stone

 – At the risk of sounding like I’m standing alone in the middle of a large field with no one else to support my opinion, I believe every teenage guy that played an electric guitar in 1970 learned the opening riff to this song. Okay, maybe that’s too much of a general assumption, but I’m basing it on personal experience.

I fit that demographic and pretty sure I wasn’t alone.

Sly & The Family Stone were definitely not alone in a field when they took the crowd higher with this blast of gospel rock ‘n’ roll at Woodstock in August 1969. For the 400,000 people camped out at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York – which over the decades grew to millions that claimed to be there –  the band’s performance was a festival highlight and a super charged Sunday morning wake-up call when they hit the stage at 3:30 am.

If anyone in that particular large field surrounded by people slept through it, I’ll make a general assumption they were in one of the emergency medical tents after dropping the brown acid the stage announcers warned festival-goers not to take.

How do I know this? Was I one of the thousands – later millions – who claims to have been at Woodstock?

Nope. I saw the movie.

Millions were there?

The Woodstock movie rolled through our area of northern Ohio during the summer of 1970. Most of us in my group of friends had listened to the three disc soundtrack LP, but the visuals proved to be an important part of the experience. I remember a carload of us (including my then current and future girlfriends – which is a different long story) heading to the theater decked out in our best hippie garb. In Ohio fashion sense, that just meant bellbottoms, a favorite t-shirt and probably blue-tinted round sunglasses. The girls enhanced their looks with southwestern style ponchos and yellow-tinted round sunglasses.

Yeah, we thought we looked cool.

For rockers the movie highlights included sets by The Who and Ten Years After. But the major impact for us came from Sly’s “Medley” performance of Dance To The Music, Music Lover and of course, I Want To Take You Higher. It was about 15 minutes of sheer energy and a main reason later to pick up the stereo needle on our soundtrack albums, place it back at the beginning of this song triad and listen to it again and again and again…

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It was also another reason to want to be in a band.

That was probably the biggest inspiration for my gang of friends to start planning our own outdoor music festival on the shores of Lake Erie. Now, that’s another long story that includes the transition between girlfriends at the same time, so I’ll save the results of this rock ‘n’ roll endeavor for another time. But basically it was just a group of high school friends looking for an excuse to have another party.

The preparation included forming a band that would headline this outdoor local extravaganza. Our first rehearsal was in a small room behind my parents’ garage. I had an electric guitar, but no amp. My best friend borrowed a bass guitar, but also had no amp. Our next move was to borrow an amp we could both use. We commandeered my dad’s drum set, which was vintage 1940’s big band style with a HUGE bass drum and only available because my dad had decided to focus his talent on playing the trumpet. We included another best buddy who didn’t have the talent to play anything, so we made him the singer.

And as another footnote, he really couldn’t sing. But it still gave us enough members to have a band.

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The final results didn’t improve much after this first rehearsal. We learned to play the riff from I Want To Take You Higher and… well, that was about it for that song. We’d play it, stop, look at each other, play it again, stop and repeat the process. We did the same with a couple Led Zeppelin riffs, The Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash and then made plans for our next rehearsal.

Eventually we learned songs that were of the easier three-chord variety, like Blue Suede Shoes and Long Tall Sally, which in turn influenced the theme of our outdoor music festival. Instead of the hippie vibe of Woodstock, we renamed ours a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival” and now had a legitimate excuse not to play any song that had more than three chords.

Taking everyone higher!

But once again, I Want To Take You Higher and Sly’s performance in the Woodstock movie was the impetus to get our rock rolling. The song joined this Dream Song list on September 5th. The opening riff alone was a major jolt to my waking mind and no coffee was needed to kick start the day. But then again, I wasn’t going to skip my morning caffeine buzz just because my head was already buzzing. And since the song was currently in rotation on my digital playlist, it joins the recent memory category.

I don’t have any recent memories of Sly & The Family Stone, but they really made an impact all those decades ago. The more serious minded stoner hippie bands that stood on stage for too-long jam sessions were quite frankly mind numbingly boring for a group of 17 year old high schoolers looking for any excuse to throw a party, dance and laugh a lot. So when Sly appeared on the big screen and cut loose – it was like a rock ‘n’ roll magnet.

That’s what we were looking for – and that’s when we found it.

I Want To Take You Higher first came out in 1969 as the flip side of the band’s 45 rpm single, Stand. But I don’t remember anyone taking notice of it until Woodstock hit our local theater and the high-octane live version had us lifting up our blue and yellow round shades to get a better look.

I actually think I had the opening riff down on my electric guitar after only a few tries. It’s just too bad my borrowed amp wasn’t loud enough for anyone else to hear it.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of Sly & The Family Stone performing a live version of I Want To Take You Higher (sometimes called Higher and Higher) from 1969. It’s not Woodstock but still brings the energy!

 

To purchase The Essential Sly & The Family Stone with I Want To Take You Higher 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

#169 – 25 or 6 to 4

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#169 – 25 or 6 to 4 by Chicago

 – Sometimes there’s nothing like a solid horn section to punch up a great rock ‘n’ roll song. For me that feeling goes back to the early days of Little Richard (though I was too young to actually experience it at the time) when a dirty-sounding saxophone raged over his pounding piano. And even today since a young Little Richard is never too old for the digital age of listening, the volume is worthy of being turned up whenever The Upsetters – his backing horn section – kick it in with him.

The same can be said for Bobby Keys and The Rolling Stones. Brown Sugar would not be the same song without his sax, even if Keith Richards and Mick Taylor had practiced what Keef refers to as “the ancient art of guitar weaving” for the instrumental break.

Saxophone was one of the founding instruments in rock ‘n’ roll. But as also a big fan of rhythm & blues, soul and Motown, a horn section with brass trumpets and trombones are also requirements. I have a feeling any promoter suggesting James Brown, Otis Redding or Marvin Gaye could have cut costs by leaving the horns at home would have found himself with nothing but an empty stage to promote.

But when I was finally old enough to experience what was happening in the world of pop music, it was the beginning of The British Invasion. Other than The Dave Clark Five with Denis Payton on sax, groups featured guitar players. Even when American groups counterpunched with The Byrds and The Lovin’ Spoonful, no one was blowing into anything other than an occasional harmonica – and that includes Bob Dylan.

With a horn section!

In May 1966 The Outsiders caught my attention with Time Won’t Let Me and a great backing horn section. Then later that summer The Beatles released Revolver with the Motown influenced Got To Get You Into My Life. But it wasn’t so much that horns were changing the pop music we were listening to. It was more like pop was borrowing from the other styles to give us a lesson in what a big segment of the youngest baby boomers was missing by only listening to our local Top 40 AM radio stations.

What does that have to do with 25 or 6 to 4? I’ll tell you…

I remember a slight bit of personal confusion when Chicago hit big in 1970. Pop had morphed into rock and the main engine driver was a high-powered electric guitar. Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton were making that notion very clear. Horns could be a great background enhancement, but none of our radio favored bands seemed to have these jazzy players as permanent members.

So with embarrassed hindsight, my perception of Chicago predated the lyrics Dire Straits sang a few years later in Sultans of Swing:

They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playin’ band. It ain’t what they call rock and roll.

But then Chicago changed that.

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Their innovative style as a band in the pop-rock world wasn’t really new. Al Kooper’s original Blood, Sweat & Tears made the scene in the late 1960’s and was the first group I took notice of that had a permanent horn section. But just like the subsequent version led by David Clayton-Thomas, they were too jazzy for my tastes.

It ain’t what they call rock and roll.

Chicago’s first LP under the name Chicago Transit Authority went unnoticed by me. But the opening riff of 25 or 6 to 4 when it was released in June 1970 definitely caught my attention. It rocked. And I don’t think I’m saying anything dedicated classic rock fans will object to, but it struck a rock chord by sounding a lot like Babe I’m Gonna Leave You by Led Zeppelin. And then the horn section came in over the grungy guitar and…

That’s what they call rock and roll.

This sound was coming in through my grungy brain on the morning of September 4th. It rocks its way into the recent memory category because I had just heard it. In fact, this song has occasionally crept into my Top 25 list of Most Played Songs that iTunes so conveniently keeps track of. And by the way, in case you can’t tell from the countdown aspect of these Classic Rocker ramblings, I enjoy that feature immensely.

I should have been more welcoming to the brassy horn sounds of Chicago. But as mentioned, The Guitar Gods had taken hold of the rock scene. I say this because at the time I was a player that could have fit into either section.

My guitar fumbling (for lack of a better term) started soon after The British Invasion – like many other baby boomers. But my skills have never been anything to write home about. I tend to blame that on never having the best guitars. I went more for “looks” (does it look cool?) rather than ease of playing. But trumpet was the opposite. I had access to two very cool horns and a practiced ability to play them.

My interest in the trumpet didn’t start when my parents “told me” that’s the instrument I’d play in the junior high and eventually high school band. It was a tradition on my dad’s side that started with his father and continued with him. And believe me, they were both good players. Especially my dad who played bugle in the U.S. Navy and made trumpet his creative outlet by performing with numerous bands around where we lived. He could play anything from jazz, big band to marching band. I have memories as a very little kid going with my mom to watch his shows. He had invested in a very good (let’s call it expensive) trumpet in the 1950’s and yeah, he looked and sounded cool.

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My grandfather was a lot older than my friends’ grandfathers. He was 46 when my dad was born. I don’t know how young he was when he started playing, but know he had purchased a silver cornet in 1905 and was a member of the town’s concert and marching band. Not only do I still have my dad’s trumpet, but also my grandpa’s silver cornet – and the 1905 proof of purchase receipt.

Yeah, you could say I’ve always been good at hanging on to important stuff.

Herb Alpert & TJ Brass

I alternated between the trumpet and cornet when I joined the school band, but again – I didn’t have much interest. I thought the guitar was cooler. But in April 1967 I watched a television special by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and beginning at that exact moment – by the end of the show – trumpet looked pretty cool. I’m positive that I immediately went to my room and started practicing on grandpa’s cornet. My dad – most likely shocked but overjoyed at the same time – got out his trumpet and started teaching me. Before long we were playing duets and it became a father-son bonding I’ll always have with him.

Another totally shocked victim of my new-found love for brass was our junior high band director. For close to three years I had been languishing in the lower reaches of the trumpet section, barely able to make any type of recognizable musical noise. A few weeks after the Herb Albert TV special we had tryouts for “chair placement” and I aced it.

I still remember him staring at me – smiling – and wondering out loud why this happened “to him” when I’d be moving on to the high school band and a different director in just a few months. My band friends were also flabbergasted (again – lack of a better term) when I propelled past about 30 other trumpeters from the back end of the section to third chair. I never looked – or went – back after that.

Beatles Horn Section

But would I have wanted to be in a rock band like Chicago? Honestly, not in the horn section. As Paul McCartney once pointed out, his first instrument had also been the trumpet – also a gift from his dad – but you can’t play and sing at the same time.

Since that’s what I had in mind when I auditioned for the high school musical – and aced it – my trumpet playin’ band days came to an end. When I took off for college and later New York City, a couple guitars were in the back of my station wagon and the brass horns were left behind.

But they didn’t go unused, since I’ve always been good at hanging on to important stuff. More than a century after my grandpa bought his cornet and half a century after my dad bought his trumpet, my son Paul was playing both in the high school band. But now that he’s a professional singer, they’re both on the shelf waiting for the next generation.

And as for Chicago, they’ve also lasted for a few generations. Sometimes there’s nothing like a solid horn section to punch up a great rock ‘n’ roll song. And since there are still plenty of rock ‘n’ rollers from first generation baby boomers on down, I don’t hear that sound fading out any time soon.

Have a comment?

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To watch the original Chicago lineup performing 25 or 6 to 4, check out this video…

 

 

To purchase Chicago’s Greatest Hits with 25 or 6 to 4 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

#170 – Purple Haze

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#170 – Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi Hendrix Experience

Like chewing aluminum foil. I’ll let that roll around in your mind for a moment…

This might be difficult for younger classic rockers to grasp, but Jimi Hendrix wasn’t an instant, overnight success. His earliest records released in England during 1967 were not exactly hits, even though other rock musicians were taking notice. On May 29th he opened a concert in London with the song Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles were in attendance and more than impressed since the LP had been released only three days earlier. That moment has been written and talked about countless times since because Hendrix is such a legend.

But at that time in 1967 he wasn’t… yet.

On June 3rd Sgt. Pepper was released in the U.S. and organizers for the Monterey Pop Festival starting two weeks later were doing their best to coax The Beatles into performing. They turned it down, but Paul McCartney suggested Jimi Hendrix. They went for it and that’s when the legend started becoming real.

At least for the people that were there.

Let me stand next to your fire!

For many younger teenagers living near the northern Ohio metropolis of Cleveland, now home to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we didn’t hear much (if anything at all) about this legendary rock ‘n’ roll event. This was before Rolling Stone Magazine started covering the hippie scene for those of us thousands of miles away and the film Monterey Pop with Jimi’s legend-making guitar burning performance didn’t even come out until December 1968. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see it until it made my university’s late night film lineup during the 1970’s.

Hendrix’s album Are You Experienced with Purple Haze was released in late August 1967. And since none of the songs were played on our reliable Top 40 AM “pop” radio stations, we pretty much had no idea who Jimi Hendrix was.

But during that same Summer Of Love, riots in Detroit forced my grandmother to get the heck out of Dodge. With army snipers on the roof of her apartment building near the Detroit River, she caught a Greyhound Bus and made it to our isolated niche on the shores of Lake Erie. When the fires simmered down we drove through the battle zone, packed up her stuff and moved her into an apartment near us.

It was around this time I started hearing rumors about underground music on FM radio stations.

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Since grandmothers are usually programmed never to say “No” to their favorite grandchildren, she allowed me to commandeer her FM stereo radio. Not long before this, FM was pretty much a wasteland for teenage pop music fans by featuring talk, easy listening music, weather and news. The older generations might have tuned in, but boomers were only within hearing range when we were stuck in a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room playing FM stations that numbed us to near-death with background elevator muzak.

Through grandma’s radio I listened to songs by groups that were leading us from pop to rock. This included the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the songs Purple Haze, Fire and Foxy Lady. It was called psychedelic and sounded electric, heavy, soulful and very cool.

I was hooked.

In early winter 1968 mom and dad took my sister and me to New York City to visit our Radio City Rockette cousin. Thanks to a lake effect snowstorm that shut down the Cleveland airport, we boarded a passenger train for a twelve hour ride to Grand Central Station. Somewhere near Rockefeller Center between watching shows by the high kicking Rockettes, I wandered into a record store and saw Are You Experienced.

I bought it.

After an all night train ride home spending as much time looking at the LP cover as I did looking out the window, I finally had the chance to rip off the plastic wrapping and put it on the turntable of our family stereo. This might also be difficult for younger classic rockers to grasp, but a stereo in many boomer’s homes during the 1950’s and 60’s doubled as a piece of furniture. So I was a bit surprised when my parents allowed me to commandeer the stereo and move it into my bedroom for my own personal use. They didn’t mind rock ‘n’ roll (after all, they had taken me to see The Beatles), but this gave them a better chance to hear what was on their FM stations when I listened to Jimi’s guitar feedback behind my closed bedroom door.

But similar to discovering Jimi Hendrix at the age of fourteen, I realized my room wasn’t cool enough for this new music. Hendrix also had a look and my room had none.

Sometime that summer I found a psychedelic poster of Jimi Hendrix with the words, “Like chewing aluminum foil.” My first impression was that it was funny. But it was also different and seemed very cool.

I bought it.

But it needed a better display than just being hung up in my room, so I also bought a blue light bulb. Don’t misunderstand. This was not a blue light that could be paired up with a lava lamp to turn any kid’s bedroom into a hippie hang out. It was exactly what I said it was – a blue light bulb. I slid open my closet door, pushed the clothes on hangers as far to the side as possible, tacked up my Jimi Hendrix poster and replaced the regular light bulb (with a pull string to turn it on) with the blue bulb.

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I had a cool room.

When my pals came over I would open the closet door, push aside the clothes, pull on the blue light bulb string, and play Are You Experienced. Oh yeah… we thought we were very cool.

Purple Haze joined this Dream Song list on September 2nd. I still own my original vinyl album, but in the years since have added it to my digital playlist. And since I had just heard it, the song joins the recent memory list.

Like chewing aluminum foil? Yeah, since we weren’t really that cool you should know what’s coming…

During this phase of our high school careers, my best pal Kevin and I were pretty much inseparable. We were about fourteen or fifteen years old and if I wasn’t at his house he was at mine. We’d ride our bikes around town looking for great adventures and throw parties so we could talk-up the cute girls in our class. On weekends we’d sleep over at one of our houses so we could stay up all night watching the dumbest movies we could find on television.

Actually, we were pretty bright kids and really didn’t get into any trouble. But then again, even smart kids can be dumber than the dumbest…

One night with my Jimi Hendrix poster displayed in it’s (not that cool) blue light, we started debating what like chewing aluminum foil really meant. Was Hendrix trying to tell us something? Was it about the music or the experience?

There was only one way to find out.

We walked into the kitchen, took out two pieces of aluminum foil, popped them into our mouths and bit down. Maybe it had to do with having one or two metal tooth fillings that were popular with muzak-listening dentists in the 1960’s, but there is only one way to describe the sensation.

OUCH!!!!!

If you’ve ever made the claim that you’ll try anything once in your life – cross this one off your list. It was like having a jolt of Jimi Hendrix electric guitar feedback screaming through every nerve ending connecting our jaws to our brains. We couldn’t spit it out fast enough while trying to muffle our cries of agony so we wouldn’t wake up my mom and dad. It was bad enough to learn how dumb we could be without letting my parents in on the realization.

Decades later I can still dredge up the pain like a bad acid flashback – even though I’ve never taken acid. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to stick a live electric wire your mouth, it’s…

Like chewing aluminum foil.

To this day if Kevin and I see each other all we have to say is, “LCAF.” Believe me, the impression was lasting and we both know exactly what we’re referring to.

The legend-making part of Jimi Hendrix’s career was also a short explosion that only lasted only a few years. He died in September 1970 while I was still in high school and at a time when some rock stars were only just starting to figure out there might be a dark side to doing drugs – and teenagers learned not to chew aluminum foil.

But we didn’t stop playing his records. Like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and a certain few other legends of the rock world, Hendrix still seems to be relevant. He is still referred to as one of the best – if not THE best – rock guitar player and innovator. He changed the music forever.

He also changed the way I look at aluminum foil. LCAF.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

For a live performance video of Purple Haze by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, check this out…

To purchase Are You Experienced with Purple Haze 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

#173 – Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey

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#173 – Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey by Paul and Linda McCartney

Paul & Linda

– There’s a short section of road along the south shore of Lake Erie that I drive almost every day. It’s about seven or eight miles from where I’m currently holed-up and for some reason, more often than not, I’m reminded of Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.

This is a bit of a mind game for me because that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Yeah, certain places might remind me of certain songs, but this is a constant. I make a slight curve, glance up a short hill of mowed grass and regardless of whatever one of the thousands of songs on my playlist is coming through the car speakers, the title of this hit from the 1971 album Ram will flash through my brain.

I know… strange.

Smile Away 4 the camera!

In trying to put my memories together I know the album was released that May, less than a month before I graduated high school. I’ve never owned a vinyl copy, but had an 8-track that I played so often the cover photo of Paul holding the horns of a ram showed serious signs of wear and tear by the time I graduated college four years later. By that time, 8-tracks were relegated to either ancient history or collector’s items. It’s now on my digital playlist – which is a current technology that fools me into thinking I’m not that ancient – but I hadn’t heard it in awhile.

So when I woke up with the song playing through my mind on August 25 it immediately went into the subliminal category of Dream Songs. And I guess that makes it a double-whammy when it comes to mind games (and yeah, I was thinking of the John Lennon album as I wrote that) because I also know I’ll drive past that mowed hill of grass within the next day or two and whammy! Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey will be subliminally traveling with me again.

Since the song wasn’t released as a single until later that summer I can only guess it was already receiving radio airplay in advance, or I had propped my state-of-the-art portable 8-track player on the passenger seat of my mother’s car (since I didn’t have my own), using the cigarette lighter as a power source. If Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey was playing all those decades ago while – by chance – I was cruising along this piece of road, it must have made quite the mental impression.

I have no other explanation why that happens. But there is another memory…

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There was bit of a red flag feeling that went up with this song. The Beatles had been the most consistent hit-making band since I was a preteen in 1964. The Rolling Stones had been around almost as long, but were only just moving into their Golden Era off the LP Let It Bleed and released the month before Ram, Sticky Fingers. Led Zeppelin had also become a favorite, but both groups were still in the rear view mirror when it came to The Beatles.

Two thirds of writers

With three major songwriters competing for spots on their albums, you knew there wouldn’t be a dud in the bunch. John Lennon and Paul McCartney regularly supplied number one hits and George Harrison had come into his own as a writer. The winter before he seemed to pass the other two as a solo artist with the classic LP All Things Must Pass.

John had become the Working Class Hero and Paul once again demonstrated his talent with his first self-titled album and the single Maybe I’m Amazed.

And though boomers continued to hold out hope for a Fab Four reunion after Abbey Road and Let It Be, Paul’s second LP Ram (with his new writing and performing partner, wife Linda) really made it clear there was a major separation between him and his former mates as songwriters.

But we should have seen it coming…

When you listen to Abbey Road, the actual final Beatles record (Let It Be was recorded earlier and released later) it was obvious then. Harrison’s Something and Here Comes The Sun, and Lennon’s Come Together are mainstays in Beatles Best Of collections, near the top in Beatles song rankings and highlights in the decades later LOVE show in Las Vegas and the CD.

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McCartney’s main contributions to the album (other than song snippets with Lennon’s on the side two Medley) were Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Oh, Darling! Don’t get me wrong – I love both. But they’re more light-weight pop songs and when compared to the before-mentioned Lennon and Harrison classics they never seemed to rank as high on the Beatles Hit Parade.

There’s no doubt McCartney deserves every award and accolade he’s received. But when the hard rockers were taking over in the early 1970’s he seemed to be moving a few steps back into the pop category. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey has always been a favorite, but releasing it as a single during Spring 1971 didn’t help raise his cool factor.

Rock and rollers

To put it into perspective, as mentioned I was graduating high school. At our graduation parties where dancing and 3.2% beer were legal and common for 18-year olds in Ohio at that time – do you think we were rocking out to Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey or Brown Sugar, Gimme Shelter and Whole Lotta Love?

No need to answer. If you’re a first generation Classic Rocker, I’ll rest my case.

Ram was a huge hit in 1971, along with just about everything involving any of the Beatles during this era. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey may have been too pop for much of the Woodstock Generation and too close on the heels of the bubble gum music fad that drove many of us away from AM radio, but McCartney was still writing great tunes and rocking out. One of them, and undoubtedly my favorite from the album, is Too Many People, which came in at #261 on this Dream Song list. It’s rare when an artist has two songs on this list – let alone two songs from the same album (other than a Greatest Hits Collection). It’s just another example of McCartney’s ability to write catchy tunes.

Oh, there’s one other lasting memory…

My dad had a favorite uncle. He was much older and lived in Michigan, but they were always close. And of course his name was Uncle Albert. The first time my dad heard this song coming from my transistor radio at our family bakery, he stopped working (for a brief moment), looked at me, smiled and said, “Uncle Albert?” Yeah, I’ll always have that memory.

Have a comment? Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Since I don’t know if the McCartney’s ever performed the song live or made an official video, here’s something I’ve found online. The song is heard over family home movies, which will give you an idea of what Paul and Linda were doing following the breakup of The Beatles and before the mega-success of their group Wings.

 

 

To purchase Ram with Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (along with Too Many People and other great tracks) 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

 

 

#174 – Brass In Pocket

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#174 – Brass In Pocket by The Pretenders

 – I find celebrity sightings to be more credible in major cities than I do in… well, say my backyard. I could tell you I partied with The Rolling Stones last night, but it only means I sipped a light beer while listening to Honky Tonk Women. I doubt anyone would believe Mick or Keith – or even Mick Taylor – would have wandered by and accepted my invitation for a cocktail.

But even in world entertainment capitals like New York, Los Angeles or London, you have to be wary of imposters or wannabe’s. The only time one of those sightings ever worked in my benefit was a morning in Hollywood when my boss arrived at the office before me. Normally I had it timed to get there just before he did and make it look like I had been hard at work. When I walked in late and he was looking for me, I excitedly told him about “maybe” having seen Elvis driving a car, so I followed him just to be sure. After all it had only been about fifteen years since he “faked his own death” and “disappeared.”

I know he didn’t buy my story – though I sold it with all the comedic-actor talent I possessed. But at least he never asked me again for an excuse when I was late.

The real deal Chrissie Hynde

The Pretenders lineup that released Brass In Pocket as a single in late 1979 and on their first album in early 1980 was the real deal. The band was rock ‘n’ roll enough to stand out from the late 70’s punks and the early 80’s New Waver’s. Lead singer-guitarist-songwriter Chrissie Hynde was the focal point of the group and the rock star everyone could recognize from their videos, played in high rotation on the newly debuted MTV.

So for rock music fans, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to recognize Hynde hanging out in a major entertainment capital like New York City. Or was it…?

During the spring of 1981, I was managing and bartending at a Cheers type of establishment in Gramercy Park. Celebrity sightings weren’t an every day thing, but we’d had our share including Robin Williams, Van Morrison, Peter O’Toole and the members of Journey. The band had such a good time they came back the next night and gifted “the gang” with concert t-shirts.

Yeah, they were the real deal.

Some of our younger “rocker” regulars started talking about Chrissie Hynde hanging out in our neighborhood. Okay, it’s possible…

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Then one night they brought her to the bar. The locals tried to act semi-cool, but she had no problem talking about The Pretenders, their songs, recording and touring. She looked, talked, dressed and acted like how you’d expect Chrissie Hynde to act and everyone seemed to buy her act hook, line and sinker.

It was cool to have one of the biggest rock stars of 1981 hanging out with us. Or was it…?

Is she or isn’t she?

The more we saw her, which became almost nightly for the next couple weeks, something appeared off to me. And I wasn’t alone. I was playing in a rock band at the time and our drummer Bobby, who was a few years older and more cynical than the younger rock fans groveling for our new local rock star’s attention, felt the same way.

We didn’t think she was the real deal.

In fact, we knew chances were better Elvis would drive down Third Avenue and offer us a ride in his pink Cadillac than for this wannabe to be the real Chrissie Hynde.

So we actually came up with a plan…

We’d heard on our favorite NYC FM radio station that The Pretenders were getting ready for a European tour. The first show would be on Saturday, June 17th in Essen, Germany. Because of the time difference, it would be recorded live and broadcast the same evening in NYC on our favorite FM station.

Live from… where?

So that Saturday around… oh, I’ll guess it was 8 pm EST, I was working behind the bar and turned on the radio. Bobby came in, sat down and we both listened to The Pretenders (Rockpalast broadcast) playing in Germany.

That same night…

It really wasn’t that much of a surprise for us – but it had to be for our local pretend Pretender when she walked in the bar. We told her how good the band sounded live, but also wondered how she could perform in Germany that night and still hang out with us in New York? If I remember correctly, cynical Bobby did most of the talking while I watched her slowly meltdown and mumble something about actually being a cousin of Hynde’s and some other excuses I don’t remember – or really want to.

That was the last any of us ever saw of her. I can only guess The Pretend Pretenders Tour moved on to her next destination and a new fan base.

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Though I never saw the real Pretenders perform Brass In Pocket, the song was touring through my waking mind on August 19th. It may have had something to do with just having read an article about Hynde, but since I hadn’t heard the song in awhile it goes down in the subliminal category.

Which is also where this pretend Pretender story has been hiding since 1981. Thanks to… whomever… for the reminder. It goes down as just another entertaining story from one of the entertainment capitals of the world.

Have a comment? Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of the real deal original lineup of The Pretenders performing Brass In Pocket in 1981.

 

 

To purchase The Best of The Pretenders with Brass In Pocket 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