Charlie Watts should have charged admission.
His Audience of One, otherwise known as Mr. Keith Richards, surely could have afforded it.
The sight of Richards digging Watts and his pre-concert, dancing-in-place warmup routine from many years gone by is now playing on YouTube accounts across the universe. It’s made all the more poignant, of course, by the sad news this week of Watts’ passing from this temporal sphere at the age of 80.
How Richards will go on without his Partner in Crime and Riddums will be on display for all the world to see in a matter of months, when what’s left of the Oldest Show on Earth, otherwise known as the Rollin’ Stones, goes on tour yet again, but this time without Watts and his lovely stick work.
Someone much wiser than me once said that grief is the price we pay for love, and it is a price I am most willing to pay for the decades I have loved Charlie Watts and his drumming. But it hurts, baby!
Much more steep will be Keith Richards’ final bill of sale, Richards having loved and appreciated Watts’ inestimable gift to him, his bandmates and to us for something in the range of 60 years right about now.
To paraphrase Keith’s old running buddy, author Stanley Booth from Waycross, Georgia, there ain’t enough drugs on this planet to cover up the feelings from this deep a loss.
But for Keith, playing with the Stones was always the best medicine, and here’s hoping that seeing them one more time, in this age of Boomer Mortality, will do same for the rest of us.
We will miss you, Charlie, but we have all those drum beats on record to dig, which will surely keep us in good time and spirit till we someday see you again in that rockin’ Stadium in the Sky.
Until then, keeps those hips shakin’, baby!
I don’t remember anyone ever calling it a shuffle, and I’m certain no one ever jumped on stage and yelled, “LET’S SHUFFLE!”
But by the spring of 1974, the shuffle had returned to rock ‘n’ roll with a certain up-tempo, twangy vengeance.
I know this because at the time I was 13, learning to play the drums and beginning to pay attention to such matters.
What I did not know but learned this week was that the shuffle as a rhythmic conveyance (i.e. beat) for rock ‘n’ roll songs had fallen out of favor as the British Invasion commenced a decade earlier.
LItR guest Ned Sublette, author and astute musical observer, shared this tidbit of information as part of a much wider-ranging but no-less-fascinating discussion of the Cha-cha-cha’s collision with rock via “Louie Louie” and “Satisfaction.”
Sublette has cracked a musical code or two in his life, his insights are beyond astute, and his comments regarding the shuffle reminded me of the times between ‘74 and ‘75 when I, as an aspiring teenage drummer, first attempted to play a shuffle on the drums.
And here’s the rub: It wasn’t called a shuffle in 1974, at least the shuffles that came to my attention in those years.
They were boogies. As in “are you ready to boogie?” As in “THE INCREDIBLE BLACK. OAK. ARKANSAS!”
As in, BOA’s boogie-on-steroids version of “Jim Dandy.”
Followed soon after, across the rock radio landscape, by “La Grange” (ZZ, I mean), “Can’t Get Enough” (Bad Company), “Some Kinda Wonderful” (Grand Funk—a heavy, lumbering boogie, their penultimate hit) and “Tush” (more ZZ, don’t you know).
And onward we went, “boogie” becoming the shorthand for this kind of song and the bands that played it, circa 1974-‘75.
The shuffle had returned, and it boogied.
Listening to a recounting of Marvin Gaye’s life reminds me of a YouTube video I made the mistake of watching one recent eve right before turning in for the night.
Various jumbo jet crashes was the theme of this particular uplifting bit of viewing (ironic pun not intended, but boy does it fit), and let’s just say the 10 minutes of watching giant airplanes with people in them falling from the sky did not lead to a long winter’s nap.
That’s kinda my overall reaction to the Marvin Gaye saga, of which I was reminded while listening to the Marvin Gaye episode of Let It Roll.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know at least the basic details about Marvin’s life, music and tragic death. If you don’t, listen to the podcast first.
You will hear much of what I heard the time a friend read David Ritz’s 1985 biography of Gaye, a veritable litany of suffering every bit the equal to poor Marvin’s prodigy of musical greatness.
And just as I would argue (if anyone disagreed) that nobody had it worse, I’m pert near sure no one ever did it better.
My friend could not resist yelling me some of the nightmarish details, which is probably why I never read the bio myself.
It’s Greek tragedy, Shakespearean drama and Biblical prophecy all rolled into one, marching most any tale, mythical or true,
But his life was as spectacularly troubled as his artistic output was
Apparently Marvin himself prophesied the worst of it, or was this a prophesy self-fulfilled?
So were the agonies he put himself through. The story is full of agony and ain’t just one jumbo jet going down here—it’s a veritable fleet of them, coming right off the assembly line at the Boeing factory and making a beeline towards Mt. Rainer.
Yeah, it’s that bad—and, at least in part, why Marvin’s creative output was so great.
There was no “off” position on that genius switch, but neither were there many other “off” positions on other switches.
And why I doubt I’ll ever read David Ritz’s biography about Gaye. I also won’t be going overboard on the reading list when the 9/11 20th-Anniversary remembrance commences in about a month, and why I’ve probably read all I need to about the Altamont tragedy.
All of ‘em, awful, tragic and — while we can debate the inevitability of it — needless from the standpoint that pain is inevitable but self-inflicted suffering is optional.
And that is where the Marvin Gaye saga reminds me all that other apocalyptic stuff. Yeah, some of it — his dad’s issues, his upbringing --was baked into the cake, but at some point Marvin took what was bad and made it worse all by his lonesome.
Once the fan is turned on and the shit is heading toward it, the kids start showing up at Altamont Speedway and the planes have been hijacked...
Which brings me to Marvin and the sad state of affairs that brought him to a needless and tragic end.
But as usual the devil is in the details, and the details suck.
The Beatles needed a place to play, David Bowie needed a place to crash, and Frank Zappa needed a place to...well, there’s no elegant way to put it: Frank needed a bathroom break.
The place was Washington, D.C., and environs, the time was rock ‘n’ roll’s second and third most formative eras (1964-‘67, ‘67-‘73, not necessarily respectively—name yer poison!), and on hand to take it all in were the Oberman Brothers, successive popular music writers for the Washington Evening Star.
Between them, the Obermans — Ron the elder, Michael the younger —interviewed and/or witnessed, in action, every important pop musical artist or act of those fruitful eras.
That’s because, in spite of the Capital Region’s reputation as a one-trick pony town, no one skips D.C.
Back in the day, some aspiring rockers even showed up before even going on tour, just to get the lay of the land.
One such aspirant was David Bowie, and on the first night of his first U.S. visit, he crashed at the Oberman lads’ parents’ home in Silver Spring, Maryland.
There is so much to this and the brothers’ other adventures, I cannot even begin to describe them in this blog. I recommend starting with this recent episode of Let It Roll and then maybe check out Michael Oberman’s new book, a collection of his music writings for the Star that he discusses in the podcast with Our Man Nate.
Only then will you learn the true nature of Francois Zappa’s restroom experience when he and the Muthas performed at the U. of Maryland. . .
I can’t remember if they talk about the Beatles’ first live U.S. concert, but rest assured both Oberman bros were there.
I remember the first time I heard a hard rock song set to Muzak. I was sitting in the lobby of the world headquarters of Honeywell, waiting for my ride circa 1991, and noticed a tune piping through that was at once familiar and foreign.
Speaking of foreign, in those days most of the working land mines scattered across the globe (outside the US, of course) were manufactured by Honeywell, a fact I came across in a New Yorker story around the same time I heard this song.
Right before I went to work there, Honeywell divested itself of the division that manufactured the ubiquitous land mines. And I worked for the thermostat division— Honeywell has made as many or more thermostats than landmines, especially that round one. But every day on the way through the building I walked by a door that had the word “materiel” on it.
That same fall a story in Esquire magazine insisted that “Stairway to Heaven“ — then celebrating its 20th anniversary — would never work for Muzak because the song “called too much attention to itself.” I took this prediction as Gospel, of course, because Esquire always printed the truth, right?
Back at Honeywell world headquarters, I was tickled when I realized the Muzak I heard was Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes’ “Journey to the Center of the Mind.”
It would happen again a few years later. when, while grocery shopping, I heard a song I instantly recognized but could not place. This time it was Heart’s “Straight On,” another song I never would have picked for Muzak.
As for “Stairway to Heaven,” Esquire was wrong. On Muzak the song retained the name, but it did not remain the same.
Ed Ward gave it to us straight, whether he was talking about a key moment in rock ‘n’ roll history or naming his favorite chicken sandwich in Austin, where he lived.
Ok, the chicken sandwich part I’m not 100-percent sure about. But, based on the couple dozen hours I’ve spent listening to Ward discuss rock music in his recurring guest spot on the Let It Roll podcast, I think it’s a safe bet he delivered his opinion about his favorite chicken sandwich (from Austin’s Phoenicia Bakery & Deli) in no uncertain terms—straight, no chaser, baby.
On Let It Roll, Ward most recently spent several episodes talking with host Nate Wilcox about the second volume of Ward’s book, “The History of Rock & Roll.”
A couple years earlier, Ward teamed with Wilcox for the entirety of Let It Roll’s first two seasons, all of the episodes in discussion of “The History of Rock & Roll: Volume 1.”
Yep, Ward was there at the beginning — there at the beginning of Let It Roll, and there at the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll’s Golden Age starting in 1965, when he became one of the first professional journalists to cover the modern musical form.
All of which makes the sudden news of Ward’s passing, at the age of 72, a king-sized anvil dropped right onto the concert stage, a genuine loss for those of us who like our rock ‘n’ roll with some solid intel and informed judgement.
He will be sorely missed. All hail Ed Ward!
The search for how and why popular music happens is, in many respects, a search for provenance — put crudely and not how my mother taught me to communicate, it’s a search for where’d that thang come from?
When and where are the building blocks of provenance, the two legs on the table that keeps falling over but will stand up quite effectively if you throw in the how and why.
Bring in the who for the table top — the concept not the band unless you want a really loud table — and that ship of knowledge has set sail, destination history.
I write all this to introduce the author Jonathan Gould, who I believe does rock ‘n’ roll provenance better than anyone. Gould tells the creation tale like few if any others, his Beatlemania table setting (in the book “Can’t Buy Me Love”) the gold standard for an acute understanding of that epoch-changing occurrence.
Gould does it again with the book “Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life,” and you can get a taste of his action by listening to the Let It Roll podcast replays this week and last.
I promise you this, loyal readers: Read the first tenth of this book, and you will forever think differently about the Jim Crow South and the 20th-Century nation in which it existed. That thar is some heavy-duty provenance, Bucky, like a big ol’ swig of sobriety.
Author Robert Gordon learned about the bluesmen in his backyard the way many a suburban teenage lad learned about the blues in the mid-1970s: He attended a Rolling Stones concert.
Metaphorically speaking, Gordon’s back yard was the Mississippi Delta, his hometown Memphis, and the Stones concert an outdoor bacchanal in the early July heat at the city’s biggest stadium (that last bit ain’t a metaphor).
Apparently Englishmen wither under the sweet summer sun, so while the band delayed their arrival onstage in the vain hope the heat would abate at sundown, they sent out a local musician in an attempt to, I don’t know, placate the masses while performing their ultimate mission (spreading them blues?)?
The local musician was 82-year-old Furry Lewis, who proceeded to tell a dirty joke then strum and sing away in the style of the performers who’d inspired the Rolling Stones in the first place: The Delta Bluesmen.
What many a teen boy did not realize back in those days — including me, same age as Gordon and set to see the Stones at the end of that month in an air-conditioned arena in Atlanta (unlike my childhood home, no AC in the hizzle, chew on that my Millenial friends!) — was that some of the blues’ progenitors, like Furry, were still alive and kickin’.
In Gordon’s case, at least a couple of these bluesmen were alive, kickin’ and even pickin’ in his immediate vicinity.
Eventually Gordon realized a lot more about his hometown and its vital contributions to modern music, and he turned those realizations into his book “It Came From Memphis.”
The 25-year-old tome recently was updated and re-released, and he discussed the book and its findings this week on the latest episode of Let It Roll.
As usual, it’s LItR episode well worth listening to, about a book well worth reading.
And that, loyal listeners who might be reading this blog post, concludes this, the 10th season, of Let It Roll.
I myself, the Freebird Yeller, am a loyal listener of said podcast, and I sho do plan on showing up for Season 11, in which I’m sure more will be revealed about how and why popular music happens.
Until then, keep on rollin’, my dude and dudette friends!
Listening to Peter Guralnick talk about his latest book on Let It Roll this week reminded me of an art school riddle I once learned and then spent about 20 years paying for.
The riddle is philosophical vs. literal, and it goes like this: If your house is on fire, your cat and a painting of your cat are still inside and you only have time to go in and save one of them, which one do you save?
The typical answer to this question, of course, is the cat, because, after all, the cat is a living being.
To which the wisened, art school response is, “then how are you going to appreciate the cat?”
While you scratch your chin about that, I hereby pose this question regarding one Mr. Guralnick and his contributions to the appreciation and enjoyment of popular music, during his lifetime of writing quite ably about same:
If your house is on fire, your Elvis records and your collection of Guralnick books are still inside and you only have time to go in and save either the books or the records, which do you save?
So how are you going to appreciate those records?
Disco was the Hula Hoop of popular music, an absurd moment of life imitating art disguised as journalism, based on a story in the New York Magazine about a Caucasian working-class dancing scene that in reality did not exist.
I was reminded of this dubious set of facts while listening to this week’s episode of Let It Roll’s maxi-series Technoroll about the history of the DJ.
And, as I listened, I began to wonder whether maybe that’s all pop culture really is, a dream of something — I mean, in real life the Beatles did not hang out together all day wearing matching suits and acting adorably nutty. How long do you think four guys dressed and acting like that would have lasted in the Liverpool of the early ‘60s?
Which brings me to the Monkees, the “band” responsible for the second-most successful album of the Summer of ‘67, the Summer of Love. The No. 2 album all that summer, right behind Sgt. Pepper’s camping out at No. 1, was the Monkees’ “Headquarters,” on which the pre-Fab Four played most of the instruments and wrote some of the songs.
(For the record, Roger McGuinn was the only member of the Byrds to play an instrument on their first album “Mr. Tamborine Man.” And he was known as Jim then.)
Back to the “reality” of Disco, know this, fellow travelers: At my majority-Black high school’s Junior-Senior prom in the spring of 1978, with “Saturday Night Fever” a runaway hit in theaters and on the radio, the songs I remember dancing to more than once that night were ELO’s “Turn To Stone” and the Commodores’ “Brick House.”
And no one pulled out a Hula Hoop.
Ed Legge (@freebirdyeller) is a life-long musician, long-time journalist and sometime corporate dweeb who’s writing a book about originating rock ‘n’ roll’s most absurd tradition.