In the middle of our sit-down interview with sax man David Sanborn I asked him about working with a musical force like David Bowie.
It was the summer of ’66. I can still remember getting off a Trailways bus from Hartford over at that lovely complex known as the Port Authority Bus Terminal. God, what a pit! The guys in the garage band that I was part of had just made the two and a half hour journey to the Big Apple. We were on a mission to visit the world famous 48th Street, “Music Row”. It was quite the pilgrimage and my heart quickened as we turned off Times Square heading east on 48th Street. There they were. It was one music store after another lining both sides of this magical block. What a staggering selection of guitars (acoustic and electric), sexy drum sets, and powerful amplifiers like I never could have imagined. Along with that monstrous array of instruments came the most surly and cranky sales guys the world has ever known. “Have you kids got any money or, are you just lookin’? Let me know when you’re ready to buy.“
Manny’s, Sam Ash, We Buy and Rudy’s all showing off their goods with the accompanying racket of hundreds of aspiring guitar slingers cranking up the latest Vox, Marshall or Fender amp. The stores were a mecca for musicians with star sitings quite common. The Who were in town the day we visited so I kept one eye peeled for Townshend or John Entwistle with hopes they’d be by checking out new gear. Every flavor guitar was there waiting to be touched and played. A few years later during the country rock craze I bought a Sho-Bud pedal steel (in stock!!) at Manny’s. And, in the late 1980s Sammy Ash had two Roger McGuinn Rickenbacker 12-string guitars for me. Yum.
Yesterday the NY Times ran an article saying the very last of the West 48th Street shops had finally closed. I’ll never forget that beehive of musical energy and commerce. Goodbye 48th Street.
Hard to believe that Dan Fogelberg has been gone for eight years now. I will forever remember the night he tamed a very rowdy Eagles crowd with just a Martin guitar and his irresistible songs. “Souvenirs” (with Joe Walsh’s help) from 1974 has to be to be one of the best singer-songwriter LPs of the ‘70s.
Even more important than Dan’s music was his message at the end of his life; prostate cancer is not a death sentence! Early detection is the key. Men, with the help of your urologist, stay on top of your PSA numbers.
On the occasion of Frank Sinatra’s birthday centennial, a fond radio memory with Allison Steele comes to mind. Allison was one of those larger-than-life legends in the radio world who everyone knew as the Nightbird. Her sultry, late night delivery won over the Big Apple for years with classic rock n roll, poetry and conversation.
Years later, as it turned out, she was working down the hall at WNEW-AM while I was over on the FM side of the building. Now she was playing some of the finest jazz and big band hits like Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald with that same sexy delivery. Every Sunday night for a couple of years, I’d come down the hall to say hi, take meter readings (FCC required) and catch-up with her while listening to some truly great stories.
One evening as we were talking shop the hotline rang in the air studio. That’s the direct, private studio number for radio station staffers or close friends. “Hold that thought, and let me get this Ray.” With that breathy perfect voice she picked up the phone and said, ”hi, this is Allison. Hey, hi Frankie, I was just talking with one of the guys here at the station. How have you been? What’s new? No, I’m getting off in a few minutes at 8. I’d love it…let’s definitely get a bite and catch-up. Have your driver pull up in front of the building and I’ll meet you there.” As she hung up I immediately quizzed her with a smile, “Frankie?” She laughed and said yeah it was Sinatra. They were old friends and he was driving around Manhattan listening to her show on the radio and thought they ought to go to dinner, so he called from his limo. We said goodnight and as I left Allison’s radio studio I smiled again and said “have a nice dinner, you lucky duck!.” As I headed home to Long Island I imagined the Nightbird and Frank Sinatra heading up Third Avenue in Old Blue Eyes fancy wheels.
Browsing in a record shop, now that’s the way to spend a few hours. And, meet some great people at the same time. In fact, while my radio career was getting started, I worked at a very cool little jazz record shop in Wethersfield, Ct. called Integrity ‘n Music (it’s still around).
I just saw an indie film the other night for vinyl & CD lovers by Collin Hanks (Tom Hanks’ son) called “All Things Must Pass”. It’s a terrific documentary about the biggest of them all; Tower Records. It’s part love letter, as well as a truly fascinating tale and a delicious bit of music biz history. It’s all there; the humble start, the mighty expansion and the breathtaking collapse.
So, how could this company fail? Thanks to director Hanks we get the whole back story to this invincible, musical Titantic cruising toward it’s rendezvous with the big iceberg called the internet. We meet the charming founder Russ Solomon and his loyal and lovable staff as well as some very famous Tower customers like Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl (who used to work for the chain in Seattle). You’ll love their comments about hanging around Tower’s miles of CD and record bins. Whether it be the original San Francisco shop on Columbus, their giant store in Tokyo, the packed outlet in Austin or NYC’s uptown and downtown stores it was always a fun (and expensive!!) hang.
For better or for worse, the Southern California rock band called Eagles of Death Metal has become part of history in the wake of the Paris terrorist attack at Bataclan. Thankfully, the band was safe. They were the lucky ones. A sold-out show, in an old French theater named for a 19th century operetta by composer Jacques Offenbach, never happened.
Bands always struggle with getting the word out. Trying to find new listeners, radio support, YouTube videos and friendly reviews in the press. Now the whole world knows who the Eagles of Death Metal are. They were part of the unimaginable. History is full of those unexpected turns and tragedies that push regular folks or minor players front and center whether they like it or not. Like the Who in Cincinnati or The Stones at Altamont, once again fun loving rock and roll is in the front row of a major tragedy and forever in the history books.
NOLA’s favorite son has left us. I know, I’ve blogged about Allen before…and I’m sure there’ll be more to come. He was such a force and at the same time, a gentle giant. He was truly one of America’s great songwriters. When he sat down at the piano (saw him again in concert just last year) all of us in the audience were like little kids eating out of his musical hand. His stories both musical as well as the ones around the songs always made me smile. Isn’t that what music is all about? Making you feel good (or at least feeling better).
In my garage band days back in 1966 I saved up all my money and bought a used Fender Precision bass. One of the first riffs that came out of my amp was that cool bass line from his Working in the Coal Mine. His song list is just plain remarkable; Mother-in-Law, Southern Nights, Fortune Teller, Java and What Do You Want the Boy to Do? The Stones, Labelle, Elvis Costello, Harry Connick Jr, Jerry Garcia and Glen Campbell owed so much to him. Allen gave them the songs that they put their fingerprints all over.
I’ll never forget during an interview in NYC back in 1998, Allen caught wind of the fact that it was my birthday and he smiled that big grin of his and while perched over the piano he began playing “Happy Birthday” just for me! One of my greatest memories. God bless and thank you Allen Toussaint.
Well, that’s a bit dramatic. I met Al Jardine a couple of months ago and he was raving about Brian Wilson, their new band and it’s sound. Yet, it was Brian I was worried about. I didn’t want him plunked down in the middle of the stage with some sort of Beach Boys’ tribute going down all around him. I had seen the a band a ton over the years but never with Brian. And once Carl Wilson left us I was finished with the concept. As a musician friend of mine who once toured with the BBs told me, “how can you have a Beach Boys without a Wilson?”
Even after a pretty good “California Girls” (2nd tune) I still wasn’t convinced. It’s like the Beatles, the Byrds, and the Buffalo-Springfield, it’s very sacred territory that I don’t give up easily. But slowly, my icy reluctance melted into a really fine musical celebration. The audience loved the set, Brian seemed to be enjoying himself and Al Jardine and the band were musically outstanding. By the time “God Only Knows” happened, which Brian said was his favorite (mine too), the deal was sealed! Blondie Chaplin even showed up and brought the house down with “Sail On Sailor” with Brian smiling like a proud papa.
Brian’s music is truly a treasure that he has shared with us over fifty years. I sang along, loved it like a 14 year old and got the chills as we stood and cheered after a perfect “Love and Mercy”.