January 19 – Parton A Part Of Many A Hall Of Fame

If anyone deserves a Happy birthday, I guess it’d be someone who’s inducted into the “Happiness Hall of Fame” (yes, that’s a real thing!). so happy 77th birthday, Dolly Parton!

No matter what your musical tastes, it’s hard not to like Dolly, the Queen of Country Music. Growing up poor in the hills of Tennessee made her appreciate life’s simple pleasures, but also to have a very strong work ethic she credits her dad with instilling in her. She told Dan Rather she still likes to get up before sunrise to work, and that pays off – she’s written some 3000 songs and recorded over 50 studio albums of her own, eight of which made it to the top of the American Country charts. Not surprisingly, she’s a long-time member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. As well, she’s had mainstream success with songs like “Here You Come Again” and “9 to 5” (taken from a movie she starred in with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda) but perhaps did best with the song “I Will Always Love You”, made into a major hit by Whitney Houston. Elvis Presley had wanted to record it, but apparently wanted to have songwriting credit for it which she refused. Besides her music and movies and Dollywood theme park (the #1 visited single tourist attraction in her home state), she’s usually doing something for others – she’s spearheaded campaigns for HIV/AIDS charities, an effort to preserve the Bald Eagle and headlined a 2016 fundraiser for fire victims in Gatlinburg, near where she grew up.

She’s been back in the entertainment news recently. Last year she ventured into fiction-writing, co-writing a story of an up-and-coming country singer with James Patterson, Run Rose Run. It was a #1 best-seller on the New York Times list for five weeks. And, more recently again with her being named to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last fall. That, despite her asking not to be voted in, given that she’s more of a country musician. However, since she was inducted, she decided to try and earn it. “Why not just go ahead and do it…maybe have some of the greats, the legends of rock & roll sing along with me.” Thus, she’s working on a rock album, which will be largely (if not all) cover versions. Steve Perry, Steven Tyler, Pink and even Paul McCartney are already confirmed guests for it. Perhaps we will have a preview of how it will sound tomorrow. A new song, “Gonna Be You”, which she did with Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry and others, is due to be released.

And no, she doesn’t care if you stare at her: “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap!” is one of her famous catch-phrases!

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January 12 – It Was A Day To Circle On Your ’90s Calendars

If you were a mover or shaker in the rock world, this was a day to mark on your calendars back in the 1990s. That’s because January 12 was a day the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame enjoyed using for its induction ceremonies.

The ceremonies are of course, lavish shows designed to showcase the Best of Rock, with the annual inductees being officially inducted in, usually three months or so after they had been announced. Typically, a star who has followed in their footsteps makes a speech, followed by the artists themselves, and fitting for a Rock hall, they all perform two or three of their hits in concert at the end. It’s quite an event.

Though the actual physical building only opened in Cleveland in 1995, the idea for it was begun back in 1983, and they started inducting people into it in 1986. And during the ’90s, they picked this day for the 1993, 1995 and 1998 ceremonies. The 1993 was held in Los Angeles, but the other two were at its “usual” site, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The ’95 was the first to be televised (on MTV as it were, back when they still remembered the “M” in their name was “music”); it’s surprising they missed out on the golden opportunity to showcase the museum/Hall and a great show for the first seven years.

In recent years, there’ve been a number of complaints about the choices as the Rock Hall both runs out of its catalog of old rock greats to honor – most already have been – and tries to diversify to satisfy younger, more mulit-racial or multi-national audiences. However, in the ’90s it was quite still new and the roster was a powerhouse each year.

In ’93, the list of honorees included Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doors and Van Morrison, not to mention the great voice of Etta James. And that was only part of the fun; the list of presenters was impressive too, with ZZ Top honoring Cream, Bruce Springsteen talking about CCR and Eddie Vedder welcoming in the Doors. Mind you, the ’93 show was perhaps remembered for its controversy and one man’s pettiness more than anything else. When it came time for CCR to play, John Fogerty – the voice of and songwriter for them – refused to play with the two living members, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford (Fogerty’s brother Tom, the fourth member, had passed away three years prior) and got them barred, choosing to play with Springsteen and Robbie Robertson instead.

The ’95 show was equally talent-laden with the Allman Brothers, Al Green, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin and Neil Young being welcomed in, by the likes of Melissa Etheridge (Joplin), Eddie Vedder again (Neil Young) and Willie Nelson (the Allmans). And in ’98, the quintessential soCal stars of the late-’70s made it in together, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Sharing the bill with them were Santana, the Mamas and Papas, and rock pioneer Gene Vincent; Jimmy Buffett brought in the Eagles and Sheryl Crow, Fleetwood Mac. Interestingly, the Hall included all seven members of the Eagles throughout their years and founding members Peter Green and Danny Kirwan, long gone by the Rumours era, with Fleetwood Mac. At times it’s been known to only include a “classic lineup” of some bands, excluding a number of members.

The 2023 induction ceremony won’t be for quite a few months; the ’22 edition only took place last November 5. Tears For Fears, Alanis Morissette, Kate Bush and – I only report it, not pick it – Mariah Carey are predicted as the most likely recipients.

October 13 – Literature For Folk?

Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Austen, Rushdie…Dylan? It was a big surprise six years ago today when the Nobel Prize was awarded to Bob Dylan! Dylan won the prize for literature in 2016.

Needless to say, Dylan is one of the most respected singer/songwriters in music history and had won a slew of awards before, including winning 10 Grammy Awards and being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as “one of the greatest songwriters of all time, a gifted wordsmith with political conscience …and a poet-like acumen for meter and language.” He even got a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for his “profound impact on popular music and American culture.” But the Nobel Prize… well, that was something altogether different.

The Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded annually to the writer “who produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” It had in the past been awarded to a number of great fiction writers including Rudyard Kipling and John Steinbeck as well as some notable poets, like Yeats and Pablo Neruda. Dylan though, was the first person ever awarded it who’d worked mainly in music. The committee noted they picked him “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” He became the first American to win it since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993; before that Steinbeck was the previous U.S. recipient way back in 1962. Winners since Dylan include one more American, poet Louise Gluck, plus writers like Kazuo Ishiguro and Peter Handke, suggesting that an American musician being chosen really was something of a unicorn.

Dylan didn’t rush to get the prize and the approximately $900 000 that goes with it. It took him until early 2017 to go to Sweden and deliver an acceptance speech, in private and pick up the honor. Ironically, part of the reason was that he said he was dumbfounded to be picked for it and the honor left him “truly beyond words!”

October 9 – Remembering John

The concept of positive prayer…if you can imagine a world at peace, without denominations…not a world without religion, but without this ‘My God is bigger than your God’ thing, then it can be true.” So said John Lennon in an interview not long before he was killed, speaking about his best-selling and best-known solo song. (“Imagine”, obviously.) He said it was largely inspired by poems his wife Yoko Ono had written, and she has been given co-credit for the writing of that song since. Today we remember John on what would have been his 82nd birthday.

Needless to say, as famous as John was on his own, he was better known for his work in The Beatles, and more specifically, with Paul McCartney, as half of the most successful and beloved writing teams of rock and pop history . Here’s what he said about coming up with what would be their biggest-selling single, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” : “We wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball…I remember we got that chord that made the song. We were in Jane Asher’s house, downstairs in the cellar playing on the piano at the same time. And we had the ‘oh youuuuu, got that something’ then Paul hits this chord and I turn to him and say ‘that’s it! do that again!’ In those days we used to absolutely write like that.”

Two memorable tracks that still resonate 50 years or more after they were first heard. Something many artists dream of achieving, but for John, just a small part of the legacy. For example, while “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was a smash #1 hit in both Britain – where he was born and grew up – and the U.S. – where he of course lived and died after The Beatles -, “Imagine” surprisingly hit #1 in the UK but stopped at #3 in the States. But consider the list of songs John either wrote (entirely or co-wrote) or sang on that topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, beyond “I Want to Hold Your Hand” –

with the Beatles-

She Loves You”

Can’t Buy Me Love”

A Hard Day’s Night”

I Feel Fine”

Ticket to Ride”

Help”

We Can Work It Out”

Paperback Writer”

Hello, Goodbye”

Hey Jude”

Get Back”

and solo –

Starting Over”

and then the songs which hit #1 in Britain, but not the States:

From Me to You”

Yellow Submarine”

Lady Madonna”

The Ballad of John and Yoko”

Imagine” (solo)

Woman” (solo)

and then the opposite, #1 hits in the U.S. but not UK

Love Me Do”

Eight Days A Week”

Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever”

Let It Be”

The Long & Winding Road”

Whatever Gets You Through the Night” (solo)

Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” (Elton John)

Fame” (David Bowie)

With a legacy like that, no wonder he’s been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice. The sad part of course is one wonders just how much greater the legacy would have been had he gotten to live out the second half of the 80+ years since his birth.

July 9 – People Liked To Lean On Bill’s Sound 50 Years Back

We often celebrate stars who were child prodigies, today we praise one who started late – Bill Withers. Withers had done a stint in the Navy and worked in a factory for years before getting serious about being a musician. But when he did, he didn’t take long to rise to the top. His classic, “Lean on Me” hit #1 on Billboard this day in 1972.

By that time he was in his 30’s and working on his second album, “I could afford to buy myself a little Wurlitzer electric piano” and this was one of the first things he wrote on it. He calls the song of friendship “A rural song that translates across demographics.” That it did! It also hit the top 20 in Canada and the UK and some 14 years later, a dance version by Club Nouveau would also top the charts, making it one of only nine songs to be a #1 hit in the U.S. for two different artists. Withers notes it’s a great song to play when learning piano, “just put your fingers in one position and go up and down the keyboard.”

The upbeat message about being a friend reflects Withers’ philosophy. He grew up in a small town in West Virginia, “where people were a little more attentive to each other, less afraid.” He had other top 10 songs with “Use Me” , “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Just the Two of Us” the Grover Washington Jr. song he did vocals on.

Withers was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, John Legend playing this song at the induction. Sadly he passed away at age 81 two years back.

July 8 – Go Gos Started Going To Stardom

An album actress Drew Barrymore says changed her whole world when she was seven hit the shelves this day in 1981Beauty and the Beat by the Go Gos. The L.A. band was unusual for the time in that it was an all-female group with the girls playing their own instruments.

They’d formed as a punk act in the late-’70s, but after a few years of playing on the Sunset Strip and a few lineup changes, they took on a more pop-flavored sound by the time IRS Records signed them. This, their debut was a hit with fans and critics alike. They became the first all-female group since the Supremes to have an American #1 album and it went double-platinum. Beauty and the Beat featured a pair of hit singles which the band are now synonymous with, “Our Lips are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat” . Both hit the Canadian top 5, but surprisingly their fame and appeal didn’t stretch much beyond our shores. It failed to chart at all in the UK and despite “Our Lips Are Sealed” getting to #2 in Australia, the album itself didn’t sell especially well “down under.” This unfortunately might have merely been a reflection of the budget and marketing limits of IRS; it’s not irrelevant to note that R.E.M. left that label a few years later because they didn’t perceive them to be able to get attention overseas. While the comparison to the Supremes is obvious with them both being all “girl” outfits, the Supremes reigned supreme when it came to hits and longevity but the Go-Gos win out in another way. They wrote their own material (guitarist Charlotte Caffey was actually the most prominent writer on the album but all contributed) and played their instruments.

At the time curmudgeonly critic Robert Christgau rated it “B+” noting “this one’s got hooks” and later on, Spin would list it among the 100 best alternative albums ever and allmusic rated it 4.5 stars, considering it “one of the cornerstone albums of the new wave.”  Rolling Stone would give it 4-stars, calling it a “quick course in power pop” and “exuberance backed with precision.” The exuberance would fade though, as after two less-successful albums, they called it quits by 1985 mainly because singer Belinda Carlisle wanted to go on to a solo career, although they have gotten back together several times this century. Bassist Kathy Valentine remembers those days as being a bit blurry, and a little annoying. “I’m constantly written off as just the bass player in the Go-Gos,” she told a Texas magazine in 2019,”even though for 40 years I’ve been in other bands , I’ve written tons of songs and produced records.” Still she concedes she loves the band being back together now. “We’re very much like sisters, and it’s a new level of appreciation and closeness.” When not working with Belinda, Charlotte and the others, Valentine’s trying to highlight some female contemporaries, working on books about ’70s band Fanny and about session musician extraordinaire Carol Kaye.

Oh, and as for Drew? Well, she got a double thrill last year when she got to induct the Go-Gos into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year and they in turn made her an honorary member (notice the slightly modified album cover above!)

May 3 – Still A Top Jersey Boy, 60 Years Later

Swearin’ to God,” we wish a happy 88th birthday to one of the great voices of the rock era… and the chief “Jersey Boy”- Frankie Valli!

His musical path was set early when he was taken at age 7 to see another Italian-American icon from New Jersey- Frank Sinatra. By the early-’50s he was in a band which in time would become the Four Seasons, a band he still tours with from time to time. They scored their first chart hit back in 1956, and by the time the ’60s ended, they’d notched 21 top 20 hits in the U.S. With songs like “Rag Doll” and “Sherry”, his falsetto (which the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes as a “once-in-a-lifetime {voice} with a three octave range”) became one of the defining sounds of the decade. If his blue-eyed soul sounded quite Motown-like it should come as no surprise that Berry Gordy played Valli’s records to his writers telling them it was what they “should be aiming for.”

His career enjoyed a resurgence (both with his band and solo) in the mid-’70s with more #1 hits like “My Eyes Adored You”, “December 1963” and “Grease”, the latter written by Barry Gibb. Gibb later noted, “he created a style we all (Bee Gees) strive to emulate.” Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, writing about the Rock Hall in their city commented that the Four Seasons “with the Beach Boys were the only American groups to maintain their level of popularity during the first onslaught of the British invasion.”

And then some. As you probably know, the musical and at times turbulent life and times of the Four Seasons was made into the Tony Award-winning play, and later movie, Jersey Boys. Valli and the Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Remarkably, he’s still active. He toured with the Four Tops as recently as 2019 and last year put out a new album, A Touch of Jazz, which as the name suggests, contains his take on various  standards and several originals.

Among his many fans is another blue-collar singer from that general area- Billy Joel. Although Joel’s inspiration for his smash “Uptown Girl” may have been Elle McPherson, he wrote the music and sang it in a style meant as an “homage” to Valli.

March 18 – One Last Duckwalk

Remembering one of rock’s Founding Fathers. Chuck Berry passed away five years ago today at his St. Louis area home, at age 90. Bruce Springsteen soon after would say Berry was “rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist and the greatest pure rock’n’roll writer who ever lived.” Although he had a fairly small number of hit records, few if any shaped the future sound of rock as much as Chuck did.

Berry was born in St. Louis, where he spent most of his life, and grew up listening to a mix of Gospel, blues and even country music, all of which would influence the sound he would go on to create. He began playing guitar with a blues group, Johnnie Johnson Trio, around 1950 and by 1955, his idol, Muddy Waters helped him get signed on to Chess Records. His first single, “Maybelline”, got to #5 that year when rock’n’roll was almost an unknown novelty, and as the Wall Street Journal‘s Matthew Osinsky said, “by 1958, Berry had already pioneered much of rock’n’roll’s instrumentation and rhythm.” Not to mention its style -decades before Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalk”, Berry came up with perhaps the original rock’n’roll move – his Duckwalk!

Songs like “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Rock & Roll Music” helped him become a popular and successful musician… and inspire the next generation or rock stars. Both the Beatles and Rolling Stones would jumpstart their young careers with covers of his songs, while the Beach Boys did so less directly – Chuck successfully sued them for plagiarizing his “Sweet Little Sixteen” on their “Surfin’ USA.”

Berry kept performing until weeks before his death, although his recording career stalled after his final (and strangely enough, biggest) top 10 hit, 1972’s “My Ding-a-ling.” But he was far from forgotten. President Carter had him perform at the White House and he was in the inaugural class of inductees in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, along with the likes of Elvis and Buddy Holly. Nine years after that, he’d play the first Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert, with Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street Band being the backing musicians.

His memory shone upon his 2017 death, with the New York Times running a lengthy obituary declaring “with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs (he) did as much as anyone to define rock’n’roll’s potential and attitude.” Mick Jagger said “I want to thank him for all the inspirational music he gave to us. He lit up our teenage years,” while Bob Seger noted “Chuck had tremendous influence on my work and could not have been a nicer guy.” Which seems like as good a way as any to be remembered. Long may you duckwalk across the rock’n’roll heaven stage, Chuck.

January 23 – Last Alphabetically, But First In CT Fans Hearts?

Another day, another classic rock birthday…happy 69th, Robin Zander! Zander grew up near Chicago was a wee bit late to the party, being the last of the four regular members to join Cheap Trick, but over 45 years later that hardly matters. Zander is the voice of one of Chicago’s premier bands, a group which has been cited by Axl Rose, fellow-Chicagoans Smashing Pumpkins, Def Leppard and Nirvana (among others) as a major influence.

Surprisingly, despite almost constant touring of the upper Midwest in the mid-’70s, their first success was in Japan, where their first two albums (ignored at the time at home) went gold. This led to a successful Japanese tour in ’78, with two shows at the famous Budokan theater being recorded. Cheap Trick at Budokan, the resulting live album was originally only intended for Japanese release, but decent sales of imports led Epic to release it elsewhere. Smart! The live album ended up selling over three million copies in the U.S., being a #1 hit in Canada and resulting in them being regulars on rock radio to this day, in particular because of the live version of this earlier Japanese single.

Although he also plays rhythm guitar for the band quite decently, and has a few songwriting credits, he’s always first and foremost been known as a singer. In 2009 Classic Rock magazine voted Zander the 23rd greatest rock singer around. A few years later, VH1 had him on their list of the 10 most under-rated rock singers, complimenting his “range, style and attitude.” In 2016 the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Think Illinois was proud? Well, the state senate has designated April 1 as Cheap Trick day in the state- no fooling!

Zander’s been married for some time and has four kids, two boys and two girls. All are musicians and son Robin Taylor Zander filled in on bass for a 2021 Cheap Trick tour.

January 15 – People Started Going To A Go-Go

It was a big day for rock – and women’s fashions – in L.A. this night in 1964. That’s because the place for rock & roll in the City of Angels threw it’s doors open. The Whisky A Go-Go, then and now at 8901 West Sunset Blvd. was open for business. Performing its opening night was up-and-coming singer Johnny Rivers, whose first album (At the Whisky A Go Go) was, as the name suggests, recorded there. Historian Glenn Baker says “Johnny Rivers at the Whisky A Go-Go turned Hollywood upside down.”

The Whisky” actually was the second one; one had operated in Chicago for four years and was dubbed as “America’s first discotheque”. But it was comparatively obscure. Not so the Hollywood one. They began having live music almost every night, with dance music played between sets to keep the people movin’. Since space was limited, they hung up a suspended booth above the floor for the DJ to work in, soon they had the idea of having some nice-looking gals in miniskirts and boots up there boogieing too, hence the “go go dancer” craze.

The club quickly became the place to be seen, and the place to hear rock in L.A. If the Troubadour club nearby jump-started any number of pop and folk careers, from Elton John to James Taylor to Linda Ronstadt, the Whisky did the same for more edgy rock acts. Starting with, famously, the Doors. They were the “house band” there during the summer of 1966, playing opening sets for every band that came through the, well, doors, including Rivers, Buffalo Springfield and even The Turtles. They built up quite a name for themselves months before hitting the record store shelves with their psychedelic music and weird Jim Morrison lyrics, although they got fired after about three months after Morrison didn’t show up for their first set, then got weirder than normal in the second set, while high on acid. Around that time, Janis Joplin (first with Big Brother and the Holding Company, then by herself) became a regular bar patron and performer. Before the ’60s came to an end, B.B. King had played it as well as the Monkees and Led Zeppelin, and both Frank Zappa and Alice Cooper were “discovered” there.

Although it wasn’t quite as in vogue in the ’70s, it had a renaissance in the ’80s with the emergence of glam rock/hair metal in the city. Motley Crue and Guns’ N’ Roses both used it as a springboard to international success, a few years after Van Halen had been regulars on the stage. “It became the place to be,” says Chris Hillman of the Byrds, “a great gig.”  How important has the club been in not only the city’s entertainment history, but the history of rock? Well, for starters it – a club – was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, the first building or venue to be so honored.

The Whisky is still up and running these days, closing in on 60 years later. It still has live music advertised nightly (with patrons needing a mask and proof of Covid vaccination) with events like an “ultimate jam night” on the 18th. If you’re down in SoCal, you might want to pop in some night. You never know when you might see the next Doors or Janis Joplin-of-the-future.