April 11 – Geils Drove His Namesake Band To The Winner’s Circle

Remembering a musician whose name is a household one, even if his music isn’t as much. John Geils Jr., or “J. Geils” died on this day in 2017 from natural causes at his home in Massachusetts. He was 71.

Geils is of course best known for the J. Geils Band, one of the States’ hardest-working rock bands of the ’70s who hit paydirt in the early-80s with the multi-million selling Freeze Frame and its #1 single, “Centerfold.” It pretty much put the icing on a sonic cake that included six gold or platinum albums and 10 top 40 singles at home between 1970 and ’84. By the time the band called it quits, it had become a radio-friendly pop rock outfit, quite different than its early roots as a bluesy rock’n’roll group more akin to early ZZ Top or Rolling Stones. We can hear the difference listening to their first hit single, “Lookin’ for a Love” In fact, when Geils started the group at college in 1967, it was called the J. Geils Blues Band. As the years went by, the group seemed to be more and more the work of the core duo of keyboardist Seth Justman and singer Peter Wolf, who wrote most of the original material. Geils however, was always an essential part of the band’s sound, being its only guitarist through the years, until he quit a re-formed version of them in 2012, suing the rest for what he felt was improper use of the band’s name.

After Peter Wolf’s initial departure from the band and its quick descent, commercially, Geils kept busy with other musical projects and cars. As a kid he was a fan of old jazz, blues and soul artists like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman and after the rock success of “Centerfold” he put out a number of jazz albums as “Jay Geils” with a jazz trio in the 1990s. He was also passionate about car racing, especially European versions and drove regularly in a number of races, fixing vintage sports cars in his own shop in his downtime.

January 27 – A Chart-topper For Julian? Shut Your Mouth

Is 33 years back ancient history? Then the singer would be interested. Because that was a good day for an alternative rock musician who’s career and life really lives up to the adjective “alternative”- Julian Cope! He had the #1 song on Billboard‘s modern rock chart this day in 1989 with “Charlotte Anne”, his highest-charting single in North America.

It gave the Welshman a rare chance to one-up Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen whom he’s seemed intent on competing with ever since their 1977 band The Crucial Three split up. Ironically enough, the B-side to “Charlotte Anne” was “Books”, a song he co-wrote with McCulloch. Welsh-born Cope founded The Teardrop Explodes, which imploded in ’82 due to excessive in-fighting and drug use. Meanwhile McCulloch went on to create the more successful Echo & the Bunnymen (and have his own #1 solo hit on the same chart later in the year with “Proud to Fall”). After the Teardrop Explodes imploded, Julian started a solo career which yielded minor hits in the mid-’80s with songs like “World Shut Your Mouth” – his biggest hit at home in the UK –  but he hit it big with this song off his My Nation Underground album, an album he dislikes! He says of it, “Charlotte Anne is a good song but one good song is not enough!” He felt Island Records both rushed him on it and forced him to make it sound unlike what was in his heart at the time.

The UK public may have agreed – despite this song which got to #35 there and a decent cover of The Vogues ’60s hit “5 O’clock World”, the album sold far fewer copies than its predecessor, St. Julian. While he still records albums, often on his own labels, he’s gone on to fame in another field. He now devotes much of his time to working on studying and writing about ancient civilizations, a topic on which he’s regarded as expert. Believe it or not, a couple of his books on ancient times have been best-sellers in Britain and at times he’s been a guest lecturer on archaeology and anthropology at universities.

November 14 – Back When Rod’s Models Were French-speaking Blondes

That footloose and fancy free Rod the Mod was on top of the world, among other things. Rod Stewart‘s “Tonight’s the Night” was at #1 on Billboard‘s chart this day in 1976, and would stay there for eight more weeks.

The song was considered too risque for some radio stations but enough people heard it (and couldn’t get enough!) to make it his second #1 hit single (“Maggie May” being the first) and the biggest-selling single of 1977 in the U.S. In Canada it spent 5 weeks on top, the longest run since the Rolling Stones’ “Angie” back in 1973. It helped his A Night on the Town album be his first to go platinum in North America and become his fifth-straight #1 in the UK.

The music for the single was recorded at Alabama’s famous Muscle Shoals studio, while Rod and his then girlfriend, Britt Ekland (who did the saucy French language bits) put down the vocals and who knows what else at the Caribou Ranch favored by Elton John. Apparently the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section did much of the instrumentation, although the album also had such notables as Booker T. Jones on keyboards, Andy Newmark on drums and Joe Walsh on guitar but it’s not made clear in the notes whether they were on this particular track. Rather like its contemporary, “Lady Marmelade” by LaBelle, the song had some racy lyrics in French. In this song, the French lyrics were being moaned by his model girlfriend whom he says he “bought a nice frock” for in return. Although she rather slurs the words making exact translation impossible, most agree they include lines like “Oh, I love you. Love is good!” and “Oh I’m a little scared, my God what will my husband think?”.

These days, surprisingly enough, Rod’s favorite models are 1/87th scale and pull boxcars around- he’s an avid model railroad fan.

November 11 – Partridge Always Flies On His Own Path

Happy 68th birthday, Andy Partridge! Hope the day leaves you in ‘XTC’.

Partridge is best known for his work in the British band of that name, and although English by citizenship, was born in Malta. Which perhaps is fitting, since many things about him are unusual for rock stars. Like for example, his severe stage fright which ended XTC’s days of playing concerts just as they were getting big, about five years in to their career. And Partridge’s ongoing feud with one of rock’s best producers (Todd Rundgren) who happened to work on XTC’s most acclaimed record – Skylarking. Which perhaps explains that while he did produce an obscure record or two in the ’80s, he says “I got asked to produce people regularly, but I just said ‘no’ after awhile, people stopped asking.”

For all that, there’s no denying his talent as a songwriter, keyboardist and guitar player and singer. He joined a fledgling XTC (then known as Helium Kidz) around 1972, when they were a glam outfit apparently reminiscent of T-Rex. After they signed to Virgin Records and changed their name, Partridge shaped the band’s identity as one of the first post-punk new wave bands (he says of punk rock, when he first heard the Sex Pistols, he said “is that it? It’s like the Monkees with a bit more fuzz”). The Monkees reference is an important one now seemingly, as Andy wrote the song “You Bring the Summer” for their 2016 reunion. He cites them, as well as the Beatles and Burt Bacharach as major influences on his songwriting and playing.

Known for smart lyrics and bouncy melodies with British hits like “Senses Working Overtime” and “Making Plans for Nigel.” XTC ended some years ago, but Partridge still records at times, always trying to innovate. “I hate it if I catch myself repeating myself lyrically or melodically,” he recently admitted. Recently, he’s been busy working with fellow oddball musician Robyn Hitchcock, which resulted in the very psychedelic, Beatlesque EP Planet England. The 4-song set screams ’60s and “White Album” Beatles sounds and has the sort of offbeat titles you’d expect from the pair like “Flight Attendants Please Prepare For Love.” He says he enjoys working with Robyn “it feels like being in a group again “ and they plan to do more in the future. The retro-feel of their music comes as little surprise to the serious fans; while XTC was still going in the ’80s he also led their alter-egos, the Dukes of Stratosphear, essentially XTC doing music that “follows the conventions of 1967 and 1968 psychedelia.”

Outside of music, Andy is no less off-the-beaten track. He collects toy soldiers in a serious way (he recalls his mother throwing away his toy ones as a kid and decided to buy them back – and then some – once his career began taking off and he could afford to as an adult) and has designed some board games… guess music doesn’t have a “monopoly” on his talents.

November 5 – Adams ‘Mr. Movie’ Of The 90s

Happy birthday to the epic voice of historical epic movies of the ’90s – Bryan Adams! The Canadian singer/guitarist turns 62 today.

Adams was born in Kingston, Ontario (the home of another popular Canadian act, the Tragically Hip) but grew up around the world as a child and settled in Vancouver where he joined locally popular group Sweeney Todd while a teen, recorded in 1978 and was signed to A&M Records then – for one dollar! A pretty good investment for A&M; although it took three albums to really make Adams a star, to date he’s had ten #1 hit singles at home, helping him win the Male Vocalist of the Year Juno Award six times and become the first Canadian to have a diamond-selling album (Reckless) in his homeland. That album, by the way, came out on his 25th birthday – this day in 1984.

Needless to say though, his impact has been well beyond the borders of the Great White North. He’s had six platinum albums in the States and 18 top 20 singles in the UK. He really seemed to vault into the spotlight in the ’90s when he teamed up with Mutt Lange to record movie songs, like “All for Love” with Sting and Rod Stewart from The Three Musketeers and “Everything I Do” from Robin Hood, which at 15 million sales is one of the biggest singles of the rock era. The collaboration with Stewart seems appropriate; while in the ’80s Adams seemed destined to be compared to a northern and pale imitation of Bruce Springsteen – leather jackets and simple rock songs about cars and girls gone by – in the ’90s, he took a somewhat mainstream pop approach that won him more fans, rather like the Scot did with his Great American Songbook after a decade of declining results with his rock stuff. Ever since opening up the Philadelphia part of Live Aid, Adams has been interested in humanitarian work. Since then he’s toured on behalf of Amnesty International, aided Greenpeace in an anti-whaling campaign, raised millions for hospitals in Canada and Britain and began the Bryan Adams Foundation which promotes education for youth, especially in the Third World.

Although he records less frequently these days, he still puts out records – his latest, 2019’s Shine A Light , became his sixth #1 album in Canada. There’s a good chance So Happy It Hurts might be his seventh… his next album is due out early next year and the title track was just released. When not on stage or in the recording studio, lately he seems equally interested in being a serious photographer. His portraits have been on display around the world, featured in magazines like GQ and Vogue and at home, he’s the regular cover photographer for Zoomer magazine.

January 5 – Picture This – Stein Overlooked Part Of Blondie

One of New York’s most enduring and versatile artists was born 71 years ago today. Happy birthday, Chris Stein!

Stein is a New Yorker through and through, born, raised and living his life there. In the early-’70s, he and his then girlfriend Debbie Harry were in one of the early punk acts in the Big Apple, the Stilletos, and from there went on to form one of new wave’s first real break-through bands – Blondie. Stein added the guitars and much of the songwriting while Harry added the voice and, of course, the sex appeal.

Surprisingly, although regulars at CBGB with the likes of The Ramones and Talking Heads, Blondie’s first success was in Australia where the single “In the Flesh” hit #2 in 1977. A couple of years later, they were big everywhere, with Parallel Lines selling around 20 million copies and “Heart of Glass” (inspired by the sounds of Saturday Night Fever and Kraftwerk, remarkably enough for a band which was branded as “punk”) was a worldwide #1 hit. Blondie’s fortunes dropped not long after, the band split by 1983 but even though Stein and Harry were no longer a couple, (although even then some insiders suggested they were the only two members of the band who could stand each other) they reunited in 1997. The single “Maria” from the late-’90s version hit #1 in the UK, making them the only American act to have #1 hits in Britain in three different decades.

Like many other musicians, Stein loves photography and has been avid in documenting the stars he’s known, including The Ramones, Andy Warhol and of course Debbie Harry. While they’ve not done much of late, Blondie are still together, with Stein, Harry and drummer Clem Burke still present from their heyday.

October 19 – Simmons, The Long-lasting Doobie

Happy 72nd birthday to music’s mellow biker – Patrick Simmons. Simmons is the only constant in the oft-changing lineup of The Doobie Brothers.

Simmons was born in the same town as Kurt Cobain – Aberdeen, Washington. However, he spent most of his youth in San Jose, where he became a well-respected singer/songwriter and proficient finger-style guitarist before running into Tom Johnston who was forming the fledgling band that would go on to be one of the ’70s dominant radio acts and score 16 top 40 singles.

The name, according to Simmons, was an obvious reference to their love of a certain smokeable commodity back in the day, but was also “stupid” and something they planned to only use for a few gigs while they thought up a better moniker. Interestingly, in those early gigs, the Doobies were something of a hard rock outfit, appealing largely to bikers and rednecks, something their records didn’t quite capture or reflect. Simmons himself loves motorbikes, so much so that he opened a vintage cycle shop and met his wife at a biker rally. He still rides to this day.

Through the years, Simmons has been a guitarist in the band and at times the songwriter and lead vocalist, although most of their radio hits have been by, and featured, Tom Johnston, or briefly, Michael McDonald. The one big exception was their 1975 chart-topper, “Black Water” which Patrick both wrote and sang.

When Simmons decided he wanted to go solo in 1982, the band’s response was to throw up their hands and disband. Not surprisingly, he was integral to them re-forming, about five years later, after he put out a mildly-successful solo album with a top 40 hit, “So Wrong.”

Simmons and his “brothers” continue to play almost five decades later.

June 24 – Putting The Rhythm (And Half The Name) In Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood is 73 today, Mac! Happy birthday to the half-namesake and only permanent member of Fleetwood Mac through the years, drummer Mick Fleetwood.

The lanky (6’6″) drummer was given a drum kit at age 13. It seemed a good choice for him as he says “God knows, if the drums aren’t right, the song isn’t survivable!”. He taught himself the skill better than he seemed to be taught school subjects. Mick dropped out of school at 15 and moved to London to pursue a music career; soon he was in a band called The Cheynes, and then more significantly a band called Shotgun Express. Although they hardly hit the big-time, they did produce Rod Stewart – and introduced Fleetwood to Peter Green. Together they formed Fleetwood Mac in ’67 and had their debut album out the next year to good reviews and sales in Britain.

The band underwent frequent lineup changes and Fleetwood, after hearing Buckingham Nicks was “in awe” and got Lindsay and Stevie Nicks into the group when it moved to California in the ’70s. Of course, the result was their greatest period of success with the self-titled album and Rumours, at which time Mick was getting over a divorce to Jenny Boyd (sister of Patti, inspiration for the song “Layla” and a beau of both Eric Clapton and George Harrison) and soon would begin an affair with Stevie, who says “everyone was angry because he was married to a wonderful girl and had two wonderful kids.” Although that was the band’s commercial zenith, the next album, Tusk, was his personal favorite because of the “freedom of creative expression” all ot them had making it.

Somehow he’s survived years of over-drinking, cocaine addiction and various failed romances and come out stronger and is still drumming for the band. Rolling Stone ranked him as the 60th best drummer of all-time recently, saying his “rhythmic personality shines through on every cut from the band’s classic, Rumours” and enjoying his “instinctive flair and childlike glee on stage”. when not touring with the new Buckingham-free, Mike Campbell-in version of the band, Mick can sometimes be seen with bit parts in movies and hanging out with Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar in some of those diners, dives and drive-ins!

June 9 – Forgotten Gems: Catherine Wheel

Perhaps an appropriate song for the day with all that’s been going on lately with discussions about race and color. Today’s forgotten gem is “Black Metallic” by Britain’s Catherine Wheel, a single off their first major label album, Ferment. It was released this day in 1992.

Catherine Wheel – the Brits, as there was a Canadian band using the same name around then which later changed their name to Slowburn – were an alt rock band that fell somewhere between grunge, guitar-based modern rock of the ’80s and psychedelia. Many considered them the forerunners of the “shoegazing” movement of the ’90s. The name Catherine Wheel is from a medieval torture device, not that unlike the inspiration for the name Iron Maiden. Fitting that, as Catherine Wheel was started and fronted by singer/guitarist Rob Dickinson, a younger cousin of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson.

They formed around 1990, and put out an indie EP, which got them a spot on the famous BBC “Peel Sessions.” Their popularity soared and they signed to Fontana, a division of CD-pioneers Philips. Ferment was their debut and would be followed by four more albums by the turn of the century, all of which sold acceptably but none of which really gave them that one game-changing hit. Ferment did make it to #36 in the UK, about the best they’d do.

The album, produced by former Talk Talk member Tim Friese-Greene, was full of distortion and melody. As Trouser Press put it, “soaring choruses and shimmering textures, the entire album…sparkles and shines.” “Black Metallic” was the first single off it – and the best. The song written by Dickinson and guitarist Brian Futter was available in a 4 minute radio edit, but is best appreciated in the full 7:18 album (or 12” single) version which allmusic would describe as a “seven minute epic… with a deeply textured guitar drone and wallop to lead the way…and Rob Dickinson’s vocals which he renders quite tenderly”.

Although it only got to a mediocre at best #68 in Britain and failed to make the overall charts in North America, it did get to #9 on Billboard‘s alternative rock chart, making it the second-best of their career behind “Crank”released the following year. On L.A.’s powerhouse, KROQ, it was the 40th biggest hit of the year.

Dickinson ended the band around 2000 and put out one solo record in 2005, but lately has been primarily devoting himself to a classic car (primarily Porsches) restoration company in California.

March 17 – The Great Pumpkin…Not Linus’ One

Happy birthday to the chief Smashing Pumpkin, Billy Corgan! Corgan, who actually recently has preferred to be addressed as “William”, can still sing “33” but that seems a long time ago now…he turns 53 today.

Corgan’s love of music dates back to his childhood when his dad bought him a guitar when young and exposed him to classic rock like Jimi Hendrix, Rush and Cheap Trick. “Eight years old, I put on Black Sabbath and my life is forever changed,” he told Rolling Stone in 1994. “(Later) with Bauhaus and The Cure, it was the ability to create mood and atmosphere.” Which goes a ways to explaining the chameleonic sound of the Pumpkins and his short-lived follow-up band, Zwan. While lumped in with grunge contemporaries like Nirvana and Bush due to their popularity on alternative rock stations which flourished in the mid-’90s, (right around when his hair began thinning, causing him to follow Michael Stipe’s lead and shave his head) Smashing Pumpkins weren’t shy of using some elements of British glam rock, ’70s pop and early heavy metal to their sound. They reached their zenith with the ambitious double-album Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness which went diamond status in both the States and Canada and spawned five top 10s on the alternative charts, including “33”, “Zero” and their commercial smash “1979.”Their diversity perhaps results from Corgan’s suggestion that “I feel like I’m always fighting not to repeat myself.”

While no longer a major force on the charts, the Pumpkins are still around and scheduled to open for Guns’N’roses on their tour this year (Corona virus permitting!)

When not making music, one is likely to find Billy doing something sporty- or drinking tea! He’s a well-known fan of the Cubs, a friend of Black Hawks great Chris Chelios and an expert on the “Sport” of wrestling (“the one last truly rebellious American thing left,” he calls it) having even started his own professional league for it in the Chicago area in 2011. More surprising for such a high-strung, energetic guy: he also opened and runs a “calming” tea house called Madame Zuzu’s !