Category - music

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The Beatles: Eight Days A Week

The Beatles at Shea Stadium - August 15, 1966

This past Thursday night I attended the sold-out opening screening of “Eight Days A Week” – director Ron Howard’s ode to The Beatles that focuses primarily on their touring years, from 1962-1966.

It is hard now not to think of The Beatles as anything other than a phenomenon – Beatlemania! – and an iconic force of musical nature.  They were all of those things, but what this movie so effectively reminds us – as John Lennon famously said somewhere in the “Beatles Anthology” – is that they were “just a band.”

But oh my, what a band…

With vintage photos and film clips from the late 1950s and early 60s, “Eight Days A Week” shows us  four guys who grew up together (OK, maybe not so much Ringo, who joined The Beatles just as they started their recording career, but he shared their scrappy Liverpool origins).  It was essentially John’s band from the beginning, but part of his gift was his ability to recognize in Paul and George talent and ambition equal to his own.

The mission of the documentary is to trace the full arc of their years as a touring band:  from the clubs of Hamburg were their sound was forged, to the Cavern Club in Liverpool where they found their audience, and eventually around the world, where their concerts were drowned out by screaming fans.  Throughout the arc we are watch as the role “pop music” in the cultural firmament is transformed in front of our eyes and ears.

But the full power and sheer artistry of The Beatles is more fully conveyed in the 30 minutes of concert footage that follows the documentary.

Here are The Beatles in a truly epic setting: Shea Stadium in New York – the first performance of their final tour in 1966.  They dash out on the field and climb atop a stage that looks like a boxing ring erected over second base, in the middle of the vast expanse of a baseball field, 50 yards away from the nearest fan, some 56,000 of whom are screaming their heads off through the entire show.

Still,  you can’t help but be impressed with the quality of the performance.  The set includes both covers and originals, opening with “Twist and Shout” and ending with “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help.” Showing the complete concert after the documentary is its own tour-de-force; it reminds us what the phenomenon was really about: the sheer power of skilled musicianship, the intensity of accomplished artistry.

The documentary is a 90 minute setup; the concert footage is a 30 minutes payoff – the undeniable proof of everything postulated in the film.

Ron Howard’s film also reminds us just how much “Beatlemania” was a reflection of the times.  In America especially, The Beatles arrival in February 1964 was the medicine a grieving nation needed after the shock of the Kennedy assassination.  Their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show carved the opening cracks in what would eventually become the “Generation Gap.”  We are reminded of the tumultuous history that The Beatles were part of, from the conflagration in Vietnam to the Civil Rights movement.

One detail in the documentary that surprised me addressed the matter of race as it is uniquely experienced in America: The Beatles had a clause in their contracts that declared that they would not play for segregated audiences.  A voice over from Paul McCartney explains how foreign the whole idea of segregation and Jim Crow was to their experience in England.

Howard deftly gives all four Beatles nearly equal screen time for retrospective commentaries.   The surviving Beatles, Paul and Ringo, appear on screen several times in their current incarnations; There are equal amounts of archival footage of John and George looking back on their years as Beatles.  Their commentaries lend a “Rashomon” like perspective to the whole experience.

The Beatles 1966 tour ushered in the era of the stadium concert – despite technology woefully suited for the purpose; George explains how Vox built amplifiers especially for this tour: “I think they were a hundred watts…” – and much of the audio was piped through the crackly stadium PA system: “Now playing at second base… The Beatles!”

I think it was Ringo who described the aftermath of what would history would record as The Beatles final live performance, the last concert of the 1966 tour at Candlestick Park in San Francisco:  After the show the band was raced out of the stadium grounds in what Ringo describes as “a meat wagon” – a bare metal armored police wagon, the kind that ferries convicts to prisons.  It was pretty much within those lurching steel confines that all four Beatles decided “we’re not going to do this any more…”

Freed from the demands of a touring schedule, The Beatles dedicate themselves to the studio.  There is footage from the EMI studio at Abbey Road of audio tape loops strung between tape machines… and then there is “Sergeant Pepper.”

From there the documentary quickly traces the remainder of The Beatles recording career: 5 albums in three years, from “Magical Mystery Tour” to the “White Album,” “Abbey Road” and the “posthumously” released “Let It Be” (which was released after the band announced its demise early in 1970).

The movie ends with  the most footage I have ever seen from The Beatles last-ever ‘concert’ – that day in January 1969 when they set up on the roof of the Apple Corps headquarters in London and played to the people on the street below.  It’s more than three years since the last time they performed “live” together, and the footage proves, once and for all that The Beatles were still, and always were, a great fucking band.

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“Eight Days A Week Is” playing at The Belcourt.  Info and tickets here.  It will also be released to streaming video via Hulu next week. A subscription will be required. So go see it in a theater with good surround sound.

They Said “No Photos!”

GuyClarkQuote

but when has that ever stopped me?

File this one under the hashtag: #OnlyInNashville:

I went to the Ryman Auditorium last night for the “Guy Clark Celebration” – a tribute concert for one of Nashville’s most revered songwriters, who went on to the great writing room in the sky back in May.

The tone for the evening was set early on by host Vince Gill, who promised “three hours of music an no shitty songs.”

And no shitty singers, either.  I’ve been going to stellar shows in Nashville for more than 20 years now, but this was a lineup like you’ll never see again.

How’s this for name dropping:  Jerry Jeff Walker, Vince Gill, Terry Allen, Shawn Camp, Verlon Thompson, Sam Bush, Bobby Bare, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Robert Earl Keen, Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White, Chris and Morgane Stapleton, Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, Gary Nicholson, Delbert McClinton, Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd.. (thanks to Jim Moran for posting the cast of characters on Facebook).

You really can’t see ’em, but that’s who all is in the photo at the top of the post.

As I posted myself last night “I don’t need to go to any more concerts this year, I’ve already seen everybody…”

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The Ryman was insistent throughout the evening that there were to be absolutely no photos of the show.  Every time somebody in the audience pulled out a cell phone, an usher showed up to point an admonishing finger at them.

But when that stellar ensemble gathered on the stage for the last two songs, there was no way I was not gonna record that moment.

I got out of my seat (near the back of the upper deck, aka “The Confederate Gallery”) and went to the very back of the venue, got my iPhone out, discretely got it ready, and then brought it up to eye level and grabbed the ONE shot above.

Then the photo-Nazi usher ran up to me and said “No photos!”

And I said, “OK…” and went back to my seat.

*

If you were not fortunate enough to be present for last night’s tribute concert, consider going over to iTunes and investing in the tribute album that Tamara Saviano put together back in 2011, “This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark” – which includes performances by a lot of the artists who appeared last night.  Or if you still believe in plastic delivery, you can get the CD at Amazon  (it does not appear that the collection is available thru Spotify).

Then listen to it and give yourself a master class in songwriting.

"This One's For Him" - the Guy Clark Tribute album.

“This One’s For Him” – the Guy Clark Tribute album.

 

 

 

What Ever Happened to
The Age of Aquarius?

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The Oracle of Facebookistan has reminded me that this week is Woodstock Anniversary Week.  It’s some odd anniversary, like 47.

I have already composed and posted my recollections and reflections on the subject.

This is an excerpt from a book (or maybe it’s a one-man show?) that I was working on earlier this year.  I kinda hit a wall with it, and then life happened. I’ll get back to it one of these days…

Whatever Happened To The Age of Aquarius? 

That’s the first of three installments, just follow the links at the bottom of each to get to the next.

Kira Small: You phoenixed the shit outta that…

"Yeah, you phoenixed the shit outta that, girl."

Monday night I was present for one of the most outstanding shows of the year – the release concert for Kira Small’s “3 AM” CD.

The CD is all about the demise of Kira’s first marriage and the salvation of her soul in the wake of those devastating events.

And, as fate would have it, but the time she got her CD about the breakup out into the world, she’d already recovered her spirt, found new love, and gone through the whole cycle of betrothal and remarriage.  Now, ironically, she’s left to sing about stuff that happened to her like two years ago.

Music and art are like that.

I was gonna say “here, listen to the CD…” but near as I can tell she’s withheld it from Spotify.  I guess you can find it on iTunes

Bonnie Bishop Brings Down The House

@bonniebishopforrockstar brings the house down - and lends new meaning to the expression "never give up" - as she celebrates the release of her new album "Ain't Who I Was."

…and lends new meaning to the expression “never give up” as she celebrates the release of her new album “Ain’t Who I Was” at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville this past Sunday night.

The photo above is one that I WiFi transferred from my camera to my phone while I was still at the venue and uploaded to Instagram. Now I see it ain’t all that sharp.  Sometimes li’dat, as we used to say in Hawaii...

I’ll have more to say about Bonnie’s album (and the inspiring story behind it) next week. In the meantime, here are some more photos from the show, and you can listen to the album via Spotify:

Have You Ever Felt Like This?

Cartoon By R. Cobb

I was just text-messaging with a friend about the music business.

He said “What the hell do I know?”

I replied, “What the hell do any of us know?”

I wish I could remember where I first-ever saw this cartoon.  I know nothing more about than it was drawn by a cartoonist named Ron Cobb.

But I think of it often, like when ever I think of a foreign landscape (like the “new” digital music business) and how we often try to get “plugged in” with obsolete ideas and technologies.   The metaphor seems apt.

If that doesn’t make the point, then there is always this reliable chestnut that is often attributed to Hunter S. Thompson:

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

Of course, that could probably be said about a lot of businesses…

The Joy of Making Music:
Karen Waldrup At Douglas Corner

Karen Waldrup on stage at Douglas Corner - April 12, 2016

For those of you new subscribers who haven’t seen the expression before, “The Joy of Making Music” is the umbrella/brand for my studio and performance photography business.

This week I had the pleasure of shooting Karen Waldrup at a showcase she performed at Douglas Corner in Nashville.

I met Karen at a music industry gathering a few weeks ago. I was there with my camera (name tag: “My name is Paul; Ask me about my silent shutters”) and met Karen  hanging back at the bar at 3rd and Lindsley while waiting for the proceedings to commence.  We traded business cards. Then I saw a flyer on the bulletin board at “my office” promoting her showcase and figured, “may as well…”

These “industry showcases” are not your typical ‘singer/songwriter’ show; they’re kick-out-the-jams and belt-it to-the-rafters (well, depending on the act) affairs intended to get the attention of the industry types who can make a difference in a rising artist’s career (read that: label heads).

From what I can tell, Karen Waldrup has been banging on some of those doors for a while – and now she’s got the chops and her career is primed for a breakthrough.   She’s got an A-Team band behind her, and this was as ‘professional’ a showcase as I’ve seen in my twenty-plus years in Nashville.

As befits any truly original musician or performer, Karen Waldrup is not an easy woman to peg: she’s a little country, a little southern rock, a little pop. She’s a southern girl who likes her whiskey and wonders if her ex-lover’s fancy new wife serves it as well as she did.  She’s a polished performer with a powerful stage presence who can deliver the goods across the spectrum from hard rocking country to acoustic power ballads.

I caught her here in the rare moment on stage when she seems to be soaking it all in; I say “rare” because  most of the time she was full-throated rocking out. (The rest of the photos will have to wait until she and her management team have signed off on them.)

In the meantime, have a  listen to Karen’s 2015 EP “Getaway”

and check out this rhinestone-fringed guitar!
It's a bird... it's a plane... it's Karen Waldrop's rhinestone-fringed guitar!

It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s Karen Waldrop’s rhinestone-fringed guitar!

Y’All Are Gonna Wanna Get Hip
to Bonnie Bishop

"Music Industry Showcase" at The Rutledge in Nashville - December 8, 2009

About 5 years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to attend the annual American Music Conference here in Nashville (little known fact: I was actually on the Founding Council that started the AMA back in like 2000).

After the conference, I sat down with the program guide from all the showcase and went on line (at the time it was LaLa.com) to stream/listen to some of the artists whose showcases I’d missed.  One track stopped me in… well, my tracks.  It was an artist I’d never heard of named Bonnie Bishop and the track was called “Lucky Ones.” Here, listen to it for yourself:

Bonnie has released a couple of records since then; visit her Spotify page to hear more.  What you’re going to hear is one of the gut-wrenching-est voices this side of… well, Janis Joplin comes to mind…

I tracked her down later that year, and she let me photograph a showcase that she performed at one of Nashville’s clubs.  She was still doing her level best to land a fucking record deal…

Over the past decade+, Bonnie Bishop’s career has seen all the vagaries  typical of today’s itinerant, independent singer/songwriters – they who that travel and toil under the radar of the mainstream commercial music industry.  They for whom the life of an “artist” is “mostly driving.”

Two years ago, she was on the threshold of throwing it all in.

That’s all going change with the release of  her new CD, “Ain’t Who I Was” next month.  The title track was released today:

And here’s what you need to know about the pedigree of this new record, which will be officially released on May 27:

  1. It was produced by Nashville’s hottest producer, the Chet Atkins/Owen Bradley of the twenty-teens, Dave Cobb.  Talk about being on a roll: Dave Cobb is responsible for the breakthrough solo releases by Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and  2016 multi- CMA, Grammy and ACM winner Chris Stapleton (all Spotify links).  You just don’t get any hotter a hand than the one Dave Cobb has been playing over the past few years.  And the Atkins/Bradley reference is not an overstatement – he recently took over the keys to Nashville’s fabled Studio A (sometimes referred to as Nashville’s Abbey Road), which was built by Chet and Owen in the 1960s and narrowly escaped  a condo-developer’s wrecking ball in 2014.
  2. The release and distribution of “Ain’t Who I Was” is being handled by Thirty Tigers, a new-paradigm label services and distribution company that is one of the few companies  that has cracked the code on the new digital business – and not coincidentally the same firm that handled the break out releases for Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, among others.

RollingStone.com has got a great account of the kismet that went into the song selection and production of this new record:

The recording sessions were coming to an end when Cobb’s cousin, singer/songwriter Brent Cobb, walked into the studio with a track he’d co-written earlier that afternoon.

“Dave opens a brand new bottle of his favorite tequila,” Bishop remembers, “and we all take shots. Then Adam [Hood] and Brent play us the song they wrote. I have chills. I look over at Dave, who is nodding his head and grinning at me. Then I sing the words back to them while Brent plays the guitar and they sound so natural coming out of my mouth. It’s like I’ve been singing this song all my life.”

The song was “Ain’t Who I Was,” which became the title track to the new CD. When you hear it, you can’t help but think that the spiral has come back around, only at a much higher level, and that Bonnie Bishop is about to become, truly, one of “the lucky ones.”

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton

RIP George Martin – A Beatles Playlist

Mr. Martin next to a sculpture of John Lennon in a Havana park in 2002. From 1962 to 1970, Mr. Martin produced 13 albums and 22 singles for the Beatles, a compact body of work that adds up to less than 10 hours of music but that revolutionized the popular music world. Credit Rafael Perez/Reuters

Like the rest of the world, I awoke to the news this morning (I read the news today, oh boy?) of Sir George Martin’s departure from this earthly plane:

George Martin, the urbane English record producer who signed the Beatles to a recording contract on the small Parlophone label after every other British record company had turned them down, and who guided them in their transformation from a regional dance band into the most inventive, influential and studio-savvy rock group of the 1960s, died on Tuesday. He was 90.

The New York Times obituary mentioned several songs that are regarded as among the breakthrough recordings that Sir George produced with the Beatles during their tenure at EMI / Abbey Road Studios in the 1960s.

So, naturally, I skipped over to Spotify and assembled a playlist of those breakthrough songs:

RIP, Sir George. Words fail, let the music speak for you…