Monday, August 31, 2015

The Water is Wide (Karla Bonoff)

Today, I'm introducing a new blog theme segment where I will feature 100 of my all-time favorite songs, over time. I plan to focus on one or two songs per blog. I've also created My 100 Songs YouTube playlist and you'll see the rated order slowly emerge from 1-100. So play along with me Monday readers and start your own list too!

The idea and motivation for starting this list is my response to Rolling Stone magazine's Lists. Rolling Stone has been doing all kinds of lists for years which has been highly successful in marketing their magazine. However, the more lists they make, it seems the less relevant they are becoming. I'm a list kind of person myself, but this recent list of 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time, got me thinking. Any list like this is subjective, but when you're shooting for the middle to currently satisfy the most people, you are actually satisfying no one. Their title is the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time, really, of all time? You know they meant the last 60 or so years of rock 'n roll, but they should have got the title right, right? Not to mention that R. Kelly is #80 and Björk is #81 on this all time list, need I say more.

So, I think I can do as good with my boomer rock 'n roll years of experience and picking my own favorite songs sounds like a fun writing exercise.

The first song to add to my100 is, The Water is Wide by Karla Bonoff from her 1979 album, Restless Nights and produced by her longtime collaborator, Kenny Edwards (1946-2010). The Water is Wide is a traditional Scottish folk song that has been performed by countless artists over the years, but I have always favored Karla's version the best. Karla's and Kenny's arrangement of the song features: Karla and James Taylor on acoustic guitars, James in one of his best backup vocal recordings ever (with J.D. Souther too) and Garth Hudson from the Band, playing a longing accordion that gives the song it's seaworthy roots. This song is simply the love song of all love songs. Be prepared to shed a tear for that one person in your heart who means more than anything to you.

The water is wide, I can't cross o'er
And neither have I wings to fly
Give me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I

Monday, August 24, 2015

Steve Martin a wild and creative guy

My friends, Jane and Paul Hobbs lent me their book, Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (2007). Last Wednesday night, I sat down to start reading this book and didn't put it down until I finished it. Like many, I've always liked Steve's comedy as he emerged to be the most successful stand-up comedian in the late 70's and then walked away from that part of his career in 1981. I highly recommend this book as he takes his personal circumstances and local environment to build a career born out of his pure motivation and creativity.

If you've followed my Monday blogs since I started this writing exercise in January, you'll recognize my central theme to date- musicians who gained fame in the 60's and 70's, but continually strive for a level of creativity throughout their lives. I just have an affinity for people like Steve Martin who build and build, have a huge hit cycle and then keep building and moving forward. Steve Martin is a study of creativity whether he is writing and/or performing in television, movies, plays, music, books, etc. In the book, Martin as a college student puzzles about his favorite poet, E. E. Cummings' quote, “Like the burlesque comedian, I am abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.” As his stand-up act is honed into a finely tuned machine, he comes to understand Cummings and reflects, "Precision was moving the plot forward, was filling every moment with content, was keeping the audience engaged."

Earlier this year, Paul had given me the 2013 CD of
Steve Martin's and Edie Brickell's, Love Has Come For You. This is a fantastic collaboration as Steve is a first class banjo player working alongside the wonderful voice of Edie Brickell. This is a musical match and they know it as they are about to release their second album together this October 30th, So Familiar. Hey Paul, please, I got this one covered for you when it comes out, I'll get us both copies.

Now, I'm going to stop writing and start working on a Steve Martin YouTube Playlist. Hope you enjoy the creative and wildly diverse Steve Martin.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Jackson Brown Tour 2015 San Diego: Sitting in the Breach

1. an act of breaking or failing to observe a law, agreement, or code of conduct.
2. a gap in a wall, barrier, defense, (or period in time)

1. make a gap in and break through (a wall, barrier, or defense).
2. (of a whale) rise and break through the surface of the water.

I googled the definition of breach to help me organize my thoughts for this week and help describe all my feelings from the experience of finally seeing Jackson Browne live, after all these years.

It was a wonderful concert. Jackson Browne at 66 still having a great singing voice, looking great and playing with a fantastic band behind him. The crowd was excited to see him and none more than San Diego's Bill Walton who'll I just say was our hands-raised after every song best representative. Bill, of course, just stands out. I spotted him right after the first song when the lights went up, sitting tall in the middle of the middle floor rows, kind of like he was just mixed in with the rest of us.

As Jackson gets into his set, this is when the breach part starts to creep into my mind. He isn't just playing a good-time summer re-run show of his 1970's hits, he's playing a lot of his 2014 album, Standing in the Breach. I love it, most of the crowd being the gray hairs we are, are very respectful giving heartfelt applause after each song. But then I start feeling a small but growing lack of attention vibe around me. The couple to my left start having a lengthy conversation. Two ladies right behind my wife, Mary Kit and I have actually been talking straight through the first several songs and seem oblivious when the volume drops and Jackson's voice is the lead instrument. We both use the quarter head turn around maneuver several times before they kind of get the visual hint to pipe down. 

Now Jackson's also being Jackson as he makes several politically left comments throughout HIS show and anyone has just got to know that before buying a ticket or they haven't been paying attention to him in the last 45 years. Now the dude to the right of Mary Kit is a different sort. He is whistling loudly, even during some soft parts of songs until the guy in front of him turns around and tells him, "You're annoying." But here's the weird part, whenever Jackson makes a political remark, the dude yells, "bullshit!" It's like a time warp- Man, I loved you when I had long hair in the seventies and smoked pot, but now that I've grown into a conservative, I'd wish you'd just play the rock 'n roll and please stop talking. I'm thinking, did this dude ever listen to the words of any Jackson Browne song like, Before the Deluge

So Jackson's playing on, starts at 8:05 and ends a little after 11:00 pm with a 15-minute break in between. He has a strong set (here is the list), the band in total sync, calm and in command. This past week, I read a review of his show in Pittsburgh, Oct. 2014, Concert review: Jackson Browne tour puts the focus on new songs. You can read it, but the reviewer basically blasts Browne for having the audacity to play his new songs when people like him should only show up for the last half hour when he plays his rocking hits of the 70's. This undoubtedly is the same tired review all great musician's get ad nauseam after world stage success early in their careers and cursed for writing and performing anything new to the masses after their major hit cycle. Jackson actually handles these situations with humor. During the concert, he remarked after several insistent fans kept shouting at him to sing one of his old hits (and I paraphrase), "Our relationship is like a marriage, you keep saying it and I want to do just the opposite. And, as we often say in marriage, I heard you the first time."

So, I read the breach definition and had a couple of thoughts. First, the crowd was great but some were bored liked the reviewer above as they themselves failed to hold their own attention to something new and just wanted the familiar. Second, was Jackson himself, a whale rising and breaking through the surface of the ocean. May we all continue to break through in the things we do and with the support of others (whatever the size of our personal fanbase) actively attending in the process.

Here are the lyrics to Standing in the Breach. I love his belief that self-determination is the key, that no matter natural or man-made disasters, it's only each one of us to make or rebuild our world in the place that it can be.

One last thing, you love rock 'n roll, so The Birds of St. Marks is a song in your wheelhouse that Jackson Browne wrote in 1967 and recorded on the new album. For me, this was my favorite moment last Wednesday night. The moment when you get that excitement rush, like when a band and a song all come together.

Purchase Standing in the Breach on Amazon

Monday, August 10, 2015

Movie Music Monday: Alfie (Cilla Black)

My friend Jeff McCarthy posted this wonderful Youtube video of Cilla Black on Facebook, the day after she passed away on August 1st in Spain.

It's always emotional to watch an artist who has recently died and then you watch them on video or film working in their prime. Well, this one got me big time as I've watched this piece several times this past week. Jeff is a huge Beatle fan and I have great memories of friends Jeff and Paul Hobbs playing Beatle songs in their band, Hobbs, McCarthy, Landers and Gooding at the Santa Maria Airport and the Santa Barbara County Fair. My point here is that influence begets influence as it's shared and passed on and on. The Beatles were big fans of Cilla Black and when you put her in Abbey Road Studios with George Martin and Burt Bacharach, you know that some magic was going to result. Alfie, the song was a big hit for Dionne Warwick in the US but also a big hit for Cilla Black in the UK and used in promoting the film, Alfie released
in March of 1966. (I didn't realize this, but Cher's version of the song was actually used in the movie credits roll itself. I don't think I need to comment.)
I will say that both Black's and Warwick's versions of Alfie are classics and propelled the Hal David and Burt Bacharach tune to be one of the most iconic songs of the 1960's.

When George Martin says, "Those opening lines, What's it all about Alfie, I think is one of the nicest things I've ever heard." He is referring to Cilla Black's voice and as Jeff said in his post, "What a song. And what a voice." I couldn't have said it better. And thank you, Jeff for your posts, I hope we can see each other someday again in the future.

Enjoy these two videos of Cilla Black, may she rest in peace.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Went to a Garden Party

If you look at the tour schedules for bands and individuals from the 60's and 70's, you'll be amazed (or maybe not) of how many acts are still currently touring. It seems that 'older' rock 'n roll acts represent at least 50% of the current concerts, when in fact, most of these acts haven't had a hit in years. I don't need to ask why, as you already know, that the power of rock 'n roll is still very strong with the people who cut their teeth to the rhythm of acoustic and electric guitar.

In this past year, I have seen Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Bette Midler and Gary Clark Jr., not to mention, Motown the Musical. In the coming months, I have tickets for Jackson Browne, Ringo Starr, Mark Knopfler, Don Henley and Shawn Colvin, Neil Young and Elton John. I love the music, the nostalgia and to see it live is just so special. I have and will continue to go to shows to hear hit songs from the past. Some of the songs are even a bit tiresome (if you read my blog last week), but live music gets your blood pumping and feeling part of a community, just having fun and enjoying the good vibrations. We are all blessed to celebrate music together in venues all over America.

In going to see all these great bands this past year, I thought about Rick Nelson, who like several other prominent music greats, died in a plane crash. I thought about all the great musicians that I will never see live. Rick Nelson's 1972 song, Garden Party, struck a chord with me in that we should always celebrate the old songs but also, embrace an artist's new songs with an open mind. I say this as several older musicians have come out with new music in 2015 (e.g. James TaylorNeil Young), or will be coming out with a new album soon (e.g. Don Henley). This gives me inspiration to always be creating something new, even if you're an old dog. So let's all keep creating new stuff! However, at the same time I can't help but reflect, the good die young and it's sad we'll never get to hear new music from the likes of Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Rick Nelson.

Anyway, I've never seen Jackson Browne live. I will finally get that pleasure on August 12th, here in San Diego. Whatever he chooses to play, it will be a gift.