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An excellent overview of an American Icon
5 Out Of 5 Stars

At 36 tracks across two discs, "The Essential Pete Seeger" pretty much invalidates other, older compilations and sum up his time on Columbia Records. While Seeger was still recording albums into his 80's, this takes the prime period of his recordings and spreads it out.

Pete Seeger was an icon for all the best reasons. Picking up a banjo and guitar to makes statements about the nature of the times took courage then as it does now (quick, name on popular artist who uses his recorded output for challenging statements...could you?) and even got him blacklisted. Songs like "Talking Union" or the anti-Vietnam protest "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy," he not only found himself surrounded by controversy but actively courting it. He was the rare artist to put his beliefs before his career, even as it threatened his livelihood and even though he would ultimately be vindicated.




You'll also find the songs that Pete wrote or adapted that became hits for others, such as "Turn Turn Turn" (The Byrds), "If I Had a Hammer" (Peter, Paul and Mary), and "Guantanamera" (Trini Lopez). With both the adaptations of "Guantanamera" and "Wimoweh," a strong argument can be made the Seeger was one of the earliest purveyors of what everyone now calls "World Music," as he had the forethought to include them in he live concerts (and are both here as live versions).

Even with those convictions, Pete Seeger also approached his music with a wit and sense of humor. "Little Boxes" is a stinging indictment of class conformity, yet it's actually a pretty funny song. Same with "Talking Union." But there's no escaping the anger that underscores "Which Side are You On?" What will remain his lasting legacy encompasses songs like these, but the gentle heart that could deliver a searing protest of war ("Where Have All The Flowers Gone") along side the civil rights anthem of peace in "We Shall Overcome."

I was fortunate enough to see Seeger live at the 50th Anniversary of The Newport Festival. Even at his advanced age, his body may have been frail but his voice was a force of nature. Like all his best work, he was the conduit for the music and the audience, leading call and response verses and choruses till the throngs of people that filled the field sang in unison. Even typing this now brings back chills. Few artists can lay claim to making culture bend in their direction, and Pete Seeger is such a man. While even two discs of music is incomplete (no "Good Night Irene"?) but this set is as easy an instant collection for a man whose greatness will remain an influence not just on artists still taking cues from him today, but those who will come along.


   
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From Billboard Magazine: (The picture is one I took at The Newport Folk Festival's 50th Anniversary.)

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, the banjo-picking troubadour who sang for migrant workers, college students and star-struck presidents in a career that introduced generations of Americans to their folk music heritage, died on Monday at the age of 94.

Seeger's grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson said his grandfather died at New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he'd been for six days. "He was chopping wood 10 days ago," he said.

Seeger - with his a lanky frame, banjo and full white beard - was an iconic figure in folk music. He performed with the great minstrel Woody Guthrie in his younger days and marched with Occupy Wall Street protesters in his 90s, leaning on two canes. He wrote or co-wrote "If I Had a Hammer," "Turn, Turn, Turn," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine." He lent his voice against Hitler and nuclear power. A cheerful warrior, he typically delivered his broadsides with an affable air and his banjo strapped on.

"Be wary of great leaders," he told The Associated Press two days after a 2011 Manhattan Occupy march. "Hope that there are many, many small leaders."

With The Weavers, a quartet organized in 1948, Seeger helped set the stage for a national folk revival. The group - Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman - churned out hit recordings of "Goodnight Irene," "Tzena, Tzena" and "On Top of Old Smokey."

Seeger also was credited with popularizing "We Shall Overcome," which he printed in his publication "People's Song," in 1948. He later said his only contribution to the anthem of the civil rights movement was changing the second word from "will" to "shall," which he said "opens up the mouth better."

"Every kid who ever sat around a campfire singing an old song is indebted in some way to Pete Seeger," Arlo Guthrie once said.

His musical career was always braided tightly with his political activism, in which he advocated for causes ranging from civil rights to the cleanup of his beloved Hudson River. Seeger said he left the Communist Party around 1950 and later renounced it. But the association dogged him for years.

He was kept off commercial television for more than a decade after tangling with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. Repeatedly pressed by the committee to reveal whether he had sung for Communists, Seeger responded sharply: "I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American."

He was charged with contempt of Congress, but the sentence was overturned on appeal.

Seeger called the 1950s, years when he was denied broadcast exposure, the high point of his career. He was on the road touring college campuses, spreading the music he, Guthrie, Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter and others had created or preserved.

"The most important job I did was go from college to college to college to college, one after the other, usually small ones," he told The Associated Press in 2006. " ... And I showed the kids there's a lot of great music in this country they never played on the radio."

His scheduled return to commercial network television on the highly rated Smothers Brothers variety show in 1967 was hailed as a nail in the coffin of the blacklist. But CBS cut out his Vietnam protest song, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," and Seeger accused the network of censorship.

He finally got to sing it five months later in a stirring return appearance, although one station, in Detroit, cut the song's last stanza: "Now every time I read the papers/That old feelin' comes on/We're waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on."

Seeger's output included dozens of albums and single records for adults and children.

He also was the author or co-author of "American Favorite Ballads," "The Bells of Rhymney," "How to Play the Five-String Banjo," "Henscratches and Flyspecks," "The Incompleat Folksinger," "The Foolish Frog" and "Abiyoyo," "Carry It On," "Everybody Says Freedom" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

He appeared in the movies "To Hear My Banjo Play" in 1946 and "Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon" in 1970. A reunion concert of the original Weavers in 1980 was filmed as a documentary titled "Wasn't That a Time."

By the 1990s, no longer a party member but still styling himself a communist with a small C, Seeger was heaped with national honors.

Official Washington sang along - the audience must sing, was the rule at a Seeger concert - when it lionized him at the Kennedy Center in 1994. President Clinton hailed him as "an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them."

Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as an early influence. Ten years later, Bruce Springsteen honored him with "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions," a rollicking reinterpretation of songs sung by Seeger. While pleased with the album, Seeger said he wished it was "more serious." A 2009 concert at Madison Square Garden to mark Seeger's 90th birthday featured Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder and Emmylou Harris among the performers.

Seeger was a 2014 Grammy Awards nominee in the Best Spoken Word category, which was won by Stephen Colbert.

Seeger's sometimes ambivalent relationship with rock was most famously on display when Dylan "went electric" at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

Witnesses say Seeger became furious backstage as the amped-up band played, though just how furious is debated. Seeger dismissed the legendary tale that he looked for an ax to cut Dylan's sound cable, and said his objection was not to the type of music but only that the guitar mix was so loud you couldn't hear Dylan's words.

Seeger maintained his reedy 6-foot-2 frame into old age, though he wore a hearing aid and conceded that his voice was pretty much shot. He relied on his audiences to make up for his diminished voice, feeding his listeners the lines and letting them sing out.

"I can't sing much," he said. "I used to sing high and low. Now I have a growl somewhere in between."

Nonetheless, in 1997 he won a Grammy for best traditional folk album, "Pete."

Seeger was born in New York City on May 3, 1919, into an artistic family whose roots traced to religious dissenters of colonial America. His mother, Constance, played violin and taught; his father, Charles, a musicologist, was a consultant to the Resettlement Administration, which gave artists work during the Depression. His uncle Alan Seeger, the poet, wrote "I Have a Rendezvous With Death."

Pete Seeger said he fell in love with folk music when he was 16, at a music festival in North Carolina in 1935. His half brother, Mike Seeger, and half sister, Peggy Seeger, also became noted performers.

He learned the five-string banjo, an instrument he rescued from obscurity and played the rest of his life in a long-necked version of his own design. On the skin of Seeger's banjo was the phrase, "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender" - a nod to his old pal Guthrie, who emblazoned his guitar with "This machine kills fascists."

Dropping out of Harvard in 1938 after two years as a disillusioned sociology major, he hit the road, picking up folk tunes as he hitchhiked or hopped freights.

"The sociology professor said, `Don't think that you can change the world. The only thing you can do is study it,'" Seeger said in October 2011.

In 1940, with Guthrie and others, he was part of the Almanac Singers and performed benefits for disaster relief and other causes.

He and Guthrie also toured migrant camps and union halls. He sang on overseas radio broadcasts for the Office of War Information early in World War II. In the Army, he spent 3 1/2 years in Special Services, entertaining soldiers in the South Pacific, and made corporal.

Pete and Toshi Seeger were married July 20, 1943. The couple built their cabin in Beacon after World War II and stayed on the high spot of land by the Hudson River for the rest of their lives together. The couple raised three children. Toshi Seeger died in July at age 91.

The Hudson River was a particular concern of Seeger. He took the sloop Clearwater, built by volunteers in 1969, up and down the Hudson, singing to raise money to clean the water and fight polluters.

He also offered his voice in opposition to racism and the death penalty. He got himself jailed for five days for blocking traffic in Albany in 1988 in support of Tawana Brawley, a black teenager whose claim of having been raped by white men was later discredited. He continued to take part in peace protests during the war in Iraq, and he continued to lend his name to causes.

"Can't prove a damn thing, but I look upon myself as old grandpa," Seeger told the AP in 2008 when asked to reflect on his legacy. "There's not dozens of people now doing what I try to do, not hundreds, but literally thousands. ... The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place."

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A couple of weeks ago, we went to Boston and did the unveiling of Joel's father Syd's headstone. The day was cold but about 20 people appeared to take part in the unveiling and dedication. It's been more than a year since his passing and I miss him greatly, as does Joel. The folks at the headstone company did a beautiful job.

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Lou Reed. March 2, 1942 - October 27, 2013
5 Out Of 5 Stars

There aren't too many figures in America Rock and Roll that have a footprint quite like Lou Reed's. From his start as part of Andy Warhol's factory band to his later status as a sort of NYC Poet Laureate, to even recording and album in cahoots with Metallica (not represented here, though), he is one of the USA's predominant rock icons. Or as he put it on one of his live albums, a Rock and Roll Animal. This "Essentials" set is a repackaging of "NYC Man," but still a great set if you don't already own that older package.

The tracklist is a varied set and covers most of his time with various incarnations and major labels (RCA, Arista and Warners). There are excellent liner notes courtesy of Lou himslef, describing the thought processes behind the songs. The sequencing is a bit odd, as the first song here is from "The Raven" (his adaptations of Edgar Alan Poe) and then ends on disc two with "Transformer's" "Pale Blue Eyes." Reed describes his concept for the sequencing as "the point of view which songs relate to each other in the best fashion." Because of the really sweet remastering job (mostly from 2003), many of the songs, even from the Velvets, slip into the others sounding as contemporary as ever. There's the basic rock of "Dirty Boulevard" to the atmospheric guitar the grinds through "Rocket Minuet," which Reed viewed as worthy of following each other. (Minuet" also featured his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson, on violin.) He could make any sound he wanted, and he did, without compromise.

I have my own personal favorites here, especially from the albums "Magic and Loss" and "New York," which in my opinion, were brilliant even if it took a few years for an audience to catch up to them. And while the Arista albums tended to get slagged, selections from the likes of "The Blue Mask" and "Legendary Hearts" are here and deserve a re-listen. Of course, there are the magical songs from "Transformer," including "Perfect Day." As a compilation, it's a great starter kit, although I'd recommend any of the albums mentioned here (and "The Velvet Underground and Nico") as perfect albums in their own right. "The Essential Lou Reed" is a terrific overview of one of Rock's greatest cantankerous characters, and the world is a slightly less interesting place because of his passing.


   
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Lost Among The Stars
3 Out Of 5 Stars

For their final proper album as Queen (I am one of those who is steadfast that there is no Queen without Freddie Mercury), Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon put in a valiant effort towards making an album worthy of their finest work. But there is no escaping that "Made In Heaven" is a patchwork effort, comprised of B-Sides, remixes and songs cobbled together from snippets of works in progress. It's a good album, but it is not a great one, and Queen is a band that produced more than their share of brilliance.

In 1995, four years after Mercury's passing, the band took a look over what they had. This included vocal tracks that Mercury had laid down prior to his death; he knew what was coming and did what any self respecting Diva would do, he made sure there were plenty of his grand voice tracks for his bandmates to choose from. These are the songs "Mother Love" and (I believe) "A Winter's Tale." Of the two, "A Winter's Tale" fairs the best as a relaxed song where Freddie ruminates on the finer yet unheralded things of life, before adding at the end, "ooo, it's bliss."

Then come the redoes, like "Made In Heaven" and "I Was Born To Love You," reworked from Mercury's underrated "Mr Bad Guy" album. "Born To Love You" started life as a disco-fied dance-rock number, here Mercury's vocal track is synthed out into a mid tempo rocker with the rest of the band adding their background vocals. The two songs where Freddie's vocals weren't originally there come from "Made In Heaven" and "Too Much Love Will Kill You" (now there's some bad irony) via Roger Taylor's unheralded band The Cross and a Brian May solo album, respectively. Both are grand in the traditional Queen fashion. Same with "Let Me Live," which features Taylor and Brian sharing leads with Freddie and a gospel chorus backing them up.

That's the good stuff. The rest of "Made In Heaven" is piecemeal and sounds it. Then there's the inexplicable 23 minutes of ambient chill-out that drags out the CD (thank heaven for the skip button) to a very WTF ending where the final thing you hear is Mercury exclaiming "Fab!" I'm sure someone, somewhere, thought this was a brilliant tribute to Mercury's ascendance into legend, but it wasn't. For Queen fans and completists, "Made In Heaven" is something you should own. But I can't recommend it to much anyone else except for the most ardent of Queen fans. "Innuendo" was the last Queen album that measured up to the bend's mighty legacy. Best it should have stayed that way.


   
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Death Comes Driving Down The Highway: RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Today, I heard that Allen Lanier died. It kind of hit hard as Blue Oyster Cult were one of my gateway bands into hard rock and heavy metal. Having an Aunt who gave me Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath albums helped, too. But BOC, they were pushing buttons with songs like "Dominance and Submission" and "Don't Fear The Reaper." So I became a fan. Loyal even through the albums like "Mirrors" and "Cultosaurus Erectus." Then, in the summer of 1981, "Fire Of Unknown Origin" arrived at my college radio station. All the detractors could then officially go to hell. "Fire Of Unknown Origin" kicked as hard as "Spectres" and "Agents of Fortune." And oddly enough, this may have been one of Lanier's finest moments with the band, as many of these songs are heavily keyboard and synth driven.

Take the lead-off of the title track. On top of one of Buck Dharma's fiery lead guitar solos, Lanier lays down a keyboard bed that was worthy of The Cars. This was, after all, 1981 and plenty of bands were playing catch up with the music of the times. But Blue Oyster Cult did so on a minimal level, relying mostly on Lanier's keys and tighter song compositions. It was those qualities that made "Burning For You," the second of only two singles to ever break the Top 40 for the band, such a marvel. Tightly wound up with a great Dharma lick to open it up, it was set up as a standard pop construction but with bigger sound.

There was an additional incentive for the band on "Fire Of Unknown Origin." They were approached by the producers of the upcoming "Heavy Metal" animated feature to contribute a couple of new songs. They responded with one of the band's best, "Veteran Of The Psychic Wars." A pounding martial drum gives marching orders to a soldier who has seen so many battles that "wounds are all I'm made of." It's a haunting and inescapable rocker, one of several compositions that band co-wrote with science fiction author Michael Moorecock (including another favorite of mine, "Black Blade" from "Cultosaurus"). The other was "Heavy Metal (The Black and The Silver)." Riding in on a squalling guitar feedback, it's a shame it wasn't in the movie, as it encompasses what the band was about from the beginning. (Although in my humble opinion, "Psychic Wars" is the better song.)

There's still more ominous story telling, like on "Vengeance (The Pact)," again a candidate for "Heavy Metal," or in the bizarrely funny and again, piano heavy "Joan Crawford" (...has risen from the grave!). "Fire of Unknown Origin" was a mighty comeback album, which was a shame as the band would start to fragment soon after, and the next album would be the generic "Revolution By Night."

RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013. Thanks for adding so much music to the soundtrack of my life.


   
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Death Comes Driving Down The Highway: RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Today, I heard that Allen Lanier died. It kind of hit hard as Blue Oyster Cult were one of my gateway bands into hard rock and heavy metal. Having an Aunt who gave me Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath albums helped, too. But BOC, they were pushing buttons with songs like "Dominance and Submission" and "Don't Fear The Reaper." So I became a fan. Loyal even through the albums like "Mirrors" and "Cultosaurus Erectus." Then, in the summer of 1981, "Fire Of Unknown Origin" arrived at my college radio station. All the detractors could then officially go to hell. "Fire Of Unknown Origin" kicked as hard as "Spectres" and "Agents of Fortune." And oddly enough, this may have been one of Lanier's finest moments with the band, as many of these songs are heavily keyboard and synth driven.

Take the lead-off of the title track. On top of one of Buck Dharma's fiery lead guitar solos, Lanier lays down a keyboard bed that was worthy of The Cars. This was, after all, 1981 and plenty of bands were playing catch up with the music of the times. But Blue Oyster Cult did so on a minimal level, relying mostly on Lanier's keys and tighter song compositions. It was those qualities that made "Burning For You," the second of only two singles to ever break the Top 40 for the band, such a marvel. Tightly wound up with a great Dharma lick to open it up, it was set up as a standard pop construction but with bigger sound.

There was an additional incentive for the band on "Fire Of Unknown Origin." They were approached by the producers of the upcoming "Heavy Metal" animated feature to contribute a couple of new songs. They responded with one of the band's best, "Veteran Of The Psychic Wars." A pounding martial drum gives marching orders to a soldier who has seen so many battles that "wounds are all I'm made of." It's a haunting and inescapable rocker, one of several compositions that band co-wrote with science fiction author Michael Moorecock (including another favorite of mine, "Black Blade" from "Cultosaurus"). The other was "Heavy Metal (The Black and The Silver)." Riding in on a squalling guitar feedback, it's a shame it wasn't in the movie, as it encompasses what the band was about from the beginning. (Although in my humble opinion, "Psychic Wars" is the better song.)

There's still more ominous story telling, like on "Vengeance (The Pact)," again a candidate for "Heavy Metal," or in the bizarrely funny and again, piano heavy "Joan Crawford" (...has risen from the grave!). "Fire of Unknown Origin" was a mighty comeback album, which was a shame as the band would start to fragment soon after, and the next album would be the generic "Revolution By Night."

RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013. Thanks for adding so much music to the soundtrack of my life.


   




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An Utter Sandblast of an Album
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The members of Nirvana were so caught off guard at the explosive success of "Nevermind" that it took them three years to record the follow-up. They were even quoted as saying they wanted to make an anti-nevermind to shed some of their fans who looked at the band (and in particular, Kurt Cobain) as movement leaders. "In Utero" was somewhat successful at that attempt, as it is possibly one of the loudest and most distorted albums recorded by a major rockstar band. Producer Steve Albini's original production was so harsh that the record company demanded a remix, which was done when the masters were turned over to REM producer Scott Litt, who remixed them under the title of "additional engineering."

But even he couldn't smooth out the roughest edges of "In Utero." The band got its initial wish as well. "In Utero" was selling on a slower pace than "Nevermind" was until Cobain decided addiction, success and depression were too much for him and he ended his own life. That act reignited the sales of "In Utero" and the whole Cobain as spokesman of a generation rage. His suicide still doesn't detract from the album's strengths and flaws. Cobain was a unique songwriter, in that his style of 'soft-loud-soft-screech' version of verse-chorus-verse altered songwriting for a whole generation of acts. And when he was on, he was stunning. There's no denying the power of "Heart Shaped Box" and "Dumb" or the depth of the haunting "All Apologies." Drummer Dave Grohl was the feistiest drummer in a long line of skinpounders, and bassist Kirst Novoselic held the bottom together in the midst of all the chaos.

At the same time, the album's flaws are glaring. The intentional dissonance can sometimes get in the way of the band (like on "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," which sounds like a slam against the record company's insistence on getting another "Smells Like Teen Spirit") or the crash and burn howling on "Scentless Apprentice." But when you consider that this was the kind of Stooges' "Raw Power" approach Nirvana was aiming for, it's pretty amazing that they got away with it. Also, given that the music was essentially Cobain's suicide note to the world, it cemented "In Utero" as a riveting punctuation point to the end of Nirvana's lifespan.


     


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My Great Uncle Ray passed away today, and with this day, a part of my childhood. Uncle Ray worked in Florida for NASA for almost the entirety of their manned space program. It was a point of pride for me when Uncle Ray would come to my elementary school with space paraphernalia and put on a presentation for my fellow students. It was because of Uncle Ray that I developed an interest in science and boyhood dream of becoming an astronaut. He was and always will be my hero.
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Are You Experienced?
4 Out Of 5 Stars

One of those weird, tragic stories of Rock and Roll, the Gin Blossoms found themselves riding a massively successful record only to fall victim to the stresses of the rock and roll lifestyle. "New Miserable Experience" walked a near perfect balance of jangle-pop with guitar rock, churning out a multitude of hit singles that remain memorable today. "Hey Jealousy" and "Follow You Down" were written by singer and guitarist Doug Hopkins, who was dismissed from the band for alcohol abuse just as the new album was peaking. The songs that were making folks sing along weren't enough to save Hopkins, who committed suicide in 1993. None of that overshadowed the album, which went on to platinum status all the same.

While Hopkins' story dominates Gin Blossoms own history, the album has its own story to tell. Singers Jesse Valenzuela and Robin Wilson also were serious songwriters and contributed the well known "Alison Road" and "Until I Fall Away." Valenzuela also ventured into roots rock with "Cajun Song." There was just enough of an edgy vibe to the better rockers on "New Miserable Experience" to keep it from falling through the cracks of grunge's popularity of the time. It was as if Nirvana had studied with R.E.M. and created a hybrid. That successful duality dominated this album, keeping it as fresh today as it did in the early 90's.


     


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She Comes In Colors
3 Out Of 5 Stars


"So many years ago on the radio/She crept into your soul and learned to love you." Yes, and we loved to love you, too, baby. Donna Summer sounds happy to be making a new record, some 17 years after her previous album, but she sounds conflicted. Does she want to reclaim her position as Queen of Disco ("I'm A Fire") or just be the Queen and you should lover her for it? "The Queen Is Back" (from which the opening lyric is taken) is a reminder that, when she was a superstar, she had the world in her pocket.

Her performances are decent, yet the material is hap hazard. Did a voice as powerful as Summer's really need to be vocodered on the title track? Ziggy Marley drops in to make the song more credible and the message seems to be a reflection on her old controversy with some of her gay audience. "Fame" does the same thing, with a auto-tuned chorus. Granted, it's not as blatant a ploy as the high NRG dance ploy of 1989's "Another Place and Time." It's just that the album sounds generic. If it weren't for the quality of Summer's singing, this could be any-woman music of the 90's, even if it was released in 2008.

The highlights are "Stamp Your Feet," "The Queen Is Back," and bluesy "Slide Over Backwards." It's a shame she never got to release any more music, because despite the plainness of the songs (and it should be noted, she co-wrote all of them), Summer is obviously relaxed and enjoying herself on "Crayons."


     

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Joel and I attended services for my Great Uncle John Gallagher Saturday. Uncle John was a WWII hero who lost his hand at the Battle Of Normandy. He was buried with a full honor gaurd. A fitting tribute to a man who always inspired those around him.
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Tony Sheridan, the British singer, songwriter and guitarist who once fronted the Beatles, died Saturday (Feb. 16) in Hamburg, Germany. He was 72.

The news of his death was made public by his daughter Wendy Clare Sheridan-McGinnity, according to the New York Times.

Although he wasn't a part of the Beatles for long, Sheridan's involvement with the band was pivotal. He met the group -- which then included John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison on guitars, Stuart Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums -- when they arrived in Hamburg to work as a club band in 1960. Sheridan was already an accomplished singer, but took a liking to the Beatles. When Sutcliffe and Best left the band, McCartney took over on bass and Ringo Starr officially became the new drummer in 1962. (In recent years, Sheridan claims he helped arrange Starr's first few performances with the Beatles).

In the spring of 1961, German producer Bert Kaempfert offered recording contracts to both Sheridan and the Beatles, with the intention of the Beatles acting as Sheridan's backup band. Still, the option was open for the Beatles to record on their own.

During studio sessions in Hamburg in 1961 and 1962, Sheridan and the Beatles recorded nine songs together under the name Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers. Sheridan sang seven of them -- “My Bonnie,” “The Saints,” “Why (Can’t You Love Me Again),” “Nobody’s Child,” “Take Out Some Insurance On Me, Baby,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Swanee River.” The other two tracks were Beatles performances -- “Cry for a Shadow,” an instrumental by Lennon and Harrison, and “Ain’t She Sweet,” sung by Lennon.

When the group's first single, "My Bonnie," was released in Germany on the Polydor label in Oct. 1961, Beatles’ fans in Liverpool took over local record shops, requesting the disc. One store manager, Brian Epstein, wanted to see what all the fuss was about and caught a performance by the group at the Cavern. He obviously liked it, as he persuaded the Beatles to hire him as their manager, and within a year, got them a recording contract of their own with EMI.

McCartney called larger-than-life Sheridan "The Teacher." His most recent recordings include “Vagabond” (2002) and a DVD, “Chantal Meets Tony Sheridan” (2005), which includes the only recording of “Tell Me If You Can,” a song Sheridan wrote with McCartney in 1962.

Sheridan is survived by his three sons, Tony Jr., Bennet and Felim, and daughters, Wendy Clare and Amber.
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George "Shadow" Morton, a New York-based producer and songwriter best known for his work with 1960s girl group the Shangri-Las, has died at 72, according to reports. A family friend told the New York Times that the cause was cancer.


Morton was born in Virginia and raised in Brooklyn and then Hicksville, Long Island where he began his career singing in a doo-wop group called the Marquees. According to the Long Island Music Hall of Fame website, Morton got his start in songwriting and production through his childhood friend and Brill Building songwriter Ellie Greenwich.


"He pulled together a young girl
group from Astoria, some local musicians (including a young Billy Joel)
and a basement studio in Bethpage, Morton created 'Remember (Walking in
the Sand)' and presented it to Greenwich's employers [legendary
producer-songwriting team] Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, who loved the
track and sent Morton into the studio to record the song, and the
Shangri-Las were born."

"Remember" was the first attempt at songwriting for Morton, who did not play an instrument or read music. It reached No. 5 on the Hot 100. He would become chief producer of Lieber and Stoller’s Red Bird label and went on to work on other mid-60s hits for the Shangri-Las including "I Can Never Go Home Anymore" and their best known song "Leader of the Pack." Morton co-wrote "Leader of the Pack" with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. The song, a melodramatic tale about a girl telling her friends about her motorcycle-riding boyfriend, topped the Hot 100 in late 1964.


The echo-drenched track was also featured in the 1980s jukebox musical of the same name, which co-starred and told the story of Greenwich, the prolific songwriter behind hits including "Be My Baby," Da Doo Ron Ron," "River Deep, Mountain High," among others. The Shangri-Las were made up of two sets of sisters from Queens, New York: lead singer Mary Weiss and Betty Weiss, and identical twins Marge and Mary Ann Ganser. In a 2008 interview with Stomp and Stammer, Mary Weiss gave several reasons why she thought Morton was drawn to them. "We were very into harmony. We sang harmony all the time and really worked on it," she said, adding, "There's an honesty and street sound that’s unmistakable. I guess if we had started ten years later I would have been in the punk scene."
On Morton's songwriting style, Weiss continued: "They’re very intricate, especially vocally. They're the hardest things for my current band to do. They're syncopated and metered. You have to be right on the money. It’s complicated -- more so than most music." He later produced a diverse slate of artists, including: Janice Ian' ("Society Child”), heavier rock bands Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly, (including the latter’s epic hit "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida") and early New York punk-glam rock band The New York Dolls (1974'a “Too Much Too Soon”).


On Friday, Janis Ian wrote the following tribute on her Facebook page: "Shadow Morton, who produced 'Society's Child,' 'Leader of the Pack' and other seminal records, is gone. A sad start to the day."

blackleatherbookshelf: (Brutal Kombat)

My friend Mikal Bales sat down with me in 1996 for an Interview in that was ultimately published in Rubber Rebel #5. In light of his passing Saturday, I thought I'd share it again.

********** 

GREAT VULCANIZED ZEUS!
The Daddy of Leather Gods and mortal heroes adds rubber to the family.
Head Zeusman Mikal Bales speaks to the Rubber Rebel.

Rubber Rebel: For starters, what led to your decision to begin incorporating more rubber into Zeus videos?

Mikal Bales: I believe that if you’re going to produce fetish videos, your efforts should be to try and reach everybody. I’m a fledgling rubber appreciator myself and I wondered if there were rubber appreciators in the Zeus mailing list, so I gave it a try. The response was impressive, as far as sales were concerned.

RR: Which video was the first?

MB: Rubber Roughhouse & Auditions 4. I’m frequently accused of designer bondage and Hollywood SM anyway, so my approach to latex and rubber videos is kind of Hollywood rubber...because I love color! I’ve always thought that the smell and feel of rubber was primary as far as someone being interested in it, and my company being a visual one, then I would try for color. That’s the reason it started out as an experiment, but now I’m even more interested in the filming of rubber as wardrobe!

RR: Rubber fans are already catching on; at the beginning of this issue is a letter pleading for Kyle Brandon in rubber for a Rubber Rebel cover after the writer saw Rubber Roughhouse.

MB: Interestingly enough, Kyle is the bottom in Rubber Roughhouse, and Kyle’s an experienced bottom. Now as I was getting him dressed for the shoot and brought out red rubber, he questioned it. He said, “I’ve never worn red rubber before,” and I said “I’ve never shot rubber before.” It turned out, with Kyle as the bottom and Brian Dawson as one of the consummate Tops in the country, it was a very hot session! Then Kyle wanted to borrow the red rubber outfit to go to IML, so apparently he approved after the video shoot.

RR: Sex Wrestling #3 is almost all rubber, and it sure is hot.

MB: I don’t think anything fits the body quite the way rubber does. I don’t think anything makes the body sweat like rubber does. As the body sweats under the rubber, it fits even tighter. That’s a very provocative visual. For those people out there in jack-off land who can’t smell or feel it, I want it to fascinate them. I want it to attract them, and color has always attracted people for whatever their fetish may be.

RR: Zeusmen always seem to be handsome and masculine but not impossible; like men next door who just happen to have a dungeon in the basement.

MB: It’s nice of you to recognize that, because Zeus works very hard at selecting men with well muscled bodies. It’s always been my philosophy that if you’re selling fantasy, it had better be pretty. I’ve admired the Colt products for years, I don’t think anyone touches Jim French at what he does. I think his art form is pure. But...the idea of you or me scoring with some of those Colt men in all their airbrushed perfection takes away from the sexuality or the eroticism of the photography for me. I would like to think that, on a good night, you and I could score the Zeus models I choose! These are real people. I never use airbrushing, never use make-up, I never take away from what they bring to me on the shoot. There is a realism there that translates to sexuality if people watching think ‘I might be able to score that!’

RR: Your videos also tend to go one up on others in the essence of affection and lust. The actors almost always seem to make that connection. In Sex Wrestling #3, the physical sport gives way to lust and the camera follows, and in Brute Force, the magnetism is obvious. How do you get that chemistry?

MB: I don’t know how to separate sensuality from SM. I don’t think there’s anything closer, more intimate, than SM or fetish play. That includes rubber or flogging or mummification or breath restraint...I don’t know how you separate sensuality from the scene. So not only do I not separate it, I emphasize it. In fact, I even titled one of my videos Brutal Passion because SM is brutal, but it’s passionate at the same time. I think that the passion is part of the whole fantasy.

RR: BRUTE FORCE has got to be the most intense video of the last five years. Was that what you were aiming for or was it something that just happened as the camera captured it?

MB: Both! I tried for the intensity because, as I said earlier, Zeus is dismissed by a lot of people into the scene as being Hollywood bondage. Anybody who watches Brute Force and thinks that it’s Hollywood SM, I don’t think knows what they’re looking at! Even though we went after something that was much heavier than the ‘typical’ Zeus video, there was such a connection between Fred Katz and Casey Battle, then Jeff Burnam and ‘Ponyboy’ Spike, and such a sexual connection between Brian Dawson and David Keefer, that anyone coming away from watching Brute Force has to realize that it’s tough to separate the passion and feeling from the SM.

RR: It was great to see Fred Katz back on film. Was it his idea to wear his full rubber suit in the whipping scene?

MB: Fred is a close friend and exclusive to Zeus, I’m happy to say, and it was his idea to wear that suit. I think he’s one of the finest Tops in the country and it’s always nice to do business with someone who is at the top of their form. I was concerned, with the way the scene was lit, that we wouldn't see enough of Fred because he would disappear into the shadows. Then it turned out to be fabulous, because he seemed to emerge from shadow as this specter in rubber from head to toe! It made the visual all that much stronger. By the way, I just got back from New York where we were shooting Casey in Brute Force Two which will be subtitled Expect No Mercy. And Fred tops him again. (Chuckles) In rubber, of course.

**********

In the spring of 1999, Mikal Bales approached me about potentially being in a Zeus production. While I am sure he was just being polite (after all, who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to be part of an afternoon where four extremely good looking Zeusmen are strutting their stuff while you’re with them?), I modestly agreed. The result was the Can-Am/Zeus co-production Brutal Kombat. In it, I got to play Brutux Khan, evil overlord who entertains himself by having newly captured slaves wrestle and fuck in his presence. With a cast that featured Eric Evans, Robert Black, Beau Bradley and Brent Banes, Mikal essentially offered me what many men only get to dream about. I was garbed in full body black rubber and a pair of bizarre glasses, and seated upon a throne as my subjects were paraded before me, and had really hot sex as I looked on, trying to appear above it all. Believe me, trying to be detached while these men were going at it may have been the hardest acting gig I’ve ever taken on. The other trip is when the Brutal Kombat DVD version was released, it is my rubber clad stare that takes up half on the DVD menu screen. Brutal Kombat became the focal point for Vulcan America’s sixth issue, the first to appear entirely online, and gave me a listing on the popular Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB.com).

blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
Mikal "Daddy Zeus" Bales passed away today. He was a huge help to me in my time in Los Angeles, and his photography adorned many of my magazines, including the inaugural issue of Vulcan America. He even cast me in one of his movies as a lark. We enjoyed many laughs, shared a few tears and a lasting friendship. He was 73.

.02MikalBales

RIP Mikal. Calling you "Daddy" was never a superlative
blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)

Hello All

Joel's father Syd passed away at about 6:20 this morning. Joel was not with him as he was anticipating having to do his weekly services Friday night, but had been there the night before. We had house gests as well, so Joel is down there now while I will be there Sunday.

Syd would have been 91 in 6 more days. As you may recall, we had a big 90th birthday party for him last year.
This was the video I'd prepared for him then.





He's in a better place now. Thank you for all your love and thoughts.

blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
Ya, we know
3 Out Of 5 Stars


The second and (from the sounds of reports) final solo from Joey Ramone is a solid and unlikely tribute to the late singer. From the liner notes, it also sounds like this was a tough record to release, with barbs at producer Daniel Rey for an "eight year long tug of war" over Joey's vocal tapes. Was the battle worth it? For us fans, heck yeah.

"Ya Know" sounds like a half-ways decent Ramones album from the period after "Too Tough To Die" that began seeing them struggling with weaker material. Indeed, some of these songs might have spruced up the likes of "Animal Boy" or "Brain Drain," as references seem to point to various gestation years. The most blatant is the Elton John cop in "Rock and Roll is The Answer," the worst is the country weeper redo of "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)." Given that these were all stapled together from home demos, the friends in attendance (Andy Shernoff of the Dictators, Jean Beauvoir of the Plasmatics, Joan Jett, Holly Vincent of Holly and The Italians and more), this sounds like a coherent, full album. Vincent's duet on the Phil Specter-like "Party Line" is a super standout, and "New York City," which has an all-star cast behind Joey, is a love letter to NYC that rocks like the best of any Ramones platter.

Some of the songs retain their demo quality, with La la's and Ba-ba's sounding like open spaces for unfinished lyrics ("Make Me Tremble") and the closer, "Life's a Gas" is only really half a song. At the same time, when you hear the wind shimes that fade the song out and know that these were things in Joey's life that brought him peace, it's hard not to forgive the album's final handlers for giving us, as fans, everything that was left in the vaults. Almost as good as "Don't Worry About Me" and missing by a cover version (Joey's kicking version of "Wonderful World" on DWAM), "Ya Know" is everything a Ramones fan could expect. A rambling staggering piece of purity. Just like the guy himself.


     


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blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
The Best of the Available Donna Summer Collections
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The passing of Donna Summer has given her work a much needed critical review, with mention now of finally inducting her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after many years of snubs. This double CD "Gold" collection is a great overview of her multifaceted and multiple label career, hitting time with all three major labels as well as additional latter singles. The glory days of Casablanca take up all if disc one, the her resurgence on Geffen and comeback on Mercury, finalized by the surprising return to the top ten on Atlantic.

Granted, her pairing with Georgio Morodor gave her that first taste of success with the orgasmo-"Love To Love You Baby," but you can also see that she was on Casablanca's hit-making treadmill for the first few songs. Summer was blessed with a choirgirl voice, which makes the mediocrity of "Could This Be The Magic" or "Love's Unkind" bearable, yet it was when both Summer and Morodor made a quantum leap in style that the duo hit stride. Morodor's electronic pulse and Summer's coo made "I Feel Love" a song that was decades ahead of the curve, and from that point on, the hits kept coming.

Summer and Morodor tweaked the conventions of disco in ways that made Summer's diva-tendencies sparkle, like the ballad-intro to the dynamic "Last Dance," or the inventive recasting of McArthur Park" into a plaintive dance-floor wail. They were also among the first to fuse rock to their thumpes, with Steely Dan/Doobie Brothers Jeff Baxter laying down that burning solo that made "Bad Girls/Hit Stuff" irresistible. And how could anyone fight off the dynamic pairing of Summer and the other reigning 70's diva, Barbara Streisand on "No More Tears"?

However, this was about the time Casablanca collapsed under it's own weight, and Summer became one of the first artists to sign with the fledgling Geffen label (whose company at the time included John Lennon and Elton John). Disco was in its death throes, and Summer knew it. Disc Two begins with a turn towards danceable pop. It also marked a cold spell for Summer, as only "The Wanderer" and "Love Is In Control" made the top ten after a string of continuous big hits. Some of the material holds up quite well, like her version of "State of Independence" and the Quincy Jones helmed material. Still, things looked like Summer was going to fade like so many of the other 70's disco mavens.

However, Mercury Records claimed that a contract dispute following the collapse of Casablanca meant they were owed an album. Rather than phone in a quickie, Summer responded by turning in "She Works Hard For the Money," driving her back to the dance-floors and into the top ten once again. The follow-up single with one-hit Wonders Musical Youth ("Unconditional Love") is also a winner. Momentum back in her corner, she made another run at Adult Contemporary pop with Geffen that gave a great single (written by Brenda Russell) "Dinner With Gershwin" and a fine version of "There Goes My Baby." But it looked like diminishing returns were coming back to haunt her.

That is, until the pop production powerhouse of Stock Aitken Waterman convinced Summer to hook up. Having established a sound with hits by Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley, SAW set Summer up with "This Time I Know It's For Real," and lightning hit one more time. The titular album and the follow-up, "Mistaken Identity" are criminally out of print, as are the Geffen sets, which makes the second disc the best place to get some under appreciated songs. of the rest, "Carry On" is a deliciously retro-reteam with Morodor, while "You're So Beautiful" has a deep vibe to it. There's also "Dream-Alot's theme" recorded specially for "The Journey" but missing is "The Power Of One" from Pokemon. All around, though, this is as good as it will get until the inevitable reissue of the OOP albums with bonus tracks and remastering takes place.



     

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blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
Larry Hoppen, founding member of '70's pop-rock band Orleans, died Tuesday (July 24), at 61. The singer and guitarist's death was announced earlier today by his wife, Patricia Hoppen, though the cause of death is still be investigated."For those who don't already know, Larry passed away yesterday ... those of you do know me, you can message me," his wife wrote. "For his fans, I am deeply sorry for YOUR loss. I know he will be missed. I will (ask) that my family's privacy be respected during this horrible time."

Orleans was founded in Woodstock, NY, in 1972, and released their best-known album, Waking and Dreaming, in 1976, which featured their Billboard charting hits "Still the One," "Forever" and "Love Takes Time."

"Words cannot express the depths of my sorrow," said Hoppen's brother and Orleans bandmate, Lance Hoppen, in a statement. Orleans was celebrating their 40th year as a band, and had been scheduled to perform Friday morning (July 27) on the "Fox & Friends" television show, with several live dates lined up over the weekend. In addition to his wife, Patricia, Hoppen is survived by his daughters, Claire and Maeve, brothers Lance and Lane, and sister Lynda. (Via Spiiner.com)

I saw them open for Chicago in the 70's, and met them back stage. They were wonderful to me, and this makes me sad.




      

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