Month: June 2015

In Memoriam – Chris Squire

I still remember blowing out the rear speakers in my car listening to 1973’s Yessongs. I’d just purchased the remastered CD. I turned up the bass volume and cranked it. Having the opportunity to listen to a few minutes of Chris Squire’s basslines from Yes’ best days made it well worthwhile.

Chris Squire, bassist and founding member of Yes, passed away this June 27th. I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him personally. As a life-long Yes fan, lover of Progressive Rock and bass guitarist, I do feel like I got to know Mr. Squire somewhat through his music.

Mr. Squire didn’t just have an “original” style. The man revolutionized the approach to the bass guitar. In his proficient hands, the instrument transcended its original bounds. It became both a melodic and harmonic instrument. Mr. Squire transformed it into a compliment to and a rival for the lead vocals, lead guitar and keyboards. That was an astounding accomplishment while playing alongside virtuosos like Jon Anderson, Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman.

It’s difficult to define Mr. Squire’s style. Not to overdo it, the word progressive would be an apt description. When it fit the song he played “traditional” bass lines extremely well. Thundering chops like the bass line from “Roundabout” came blasting out of his amplifier with ease. He added a jazzy walking bassline to the rock anthem “Yours in No Disgrace”.  Always seeking new musical horizons I enjoyed his use of a fretless bass on a number of the tracks from 1983’s 90125.

I’ll remember him most for his myriad innovations to the bass guitar. He took the instrument to a completely new level on “The Fish”. On that track, every instrument except the drums and the vocals was a bass guitar. I’ve been listening to that song for over 40 years. It impresses me just as much now as it did the first time I heard it. This unique approach to the instrument laid the groundwork for future innovators like Jeff Berlin and Michael Manring.

Mr. Squire was the first bassist I ever heard use distortion pedals. To this day, I feel he’s the bass player who used them the most creatively. To paraphrase the lyrics from 1994’s “The Calling”, “In the beginning is the future.” His use of a Wah-Wah pedal on 1969’s “Survival” gave fans a sample of the many creative practices to come. (The riff sounds uncannily like the chorus to the 1971 Led Zeppelin classic “Stairway to Heaven”.)

Playing the bass guitar through a Leslie Amp on “And You and I” really stood out as original. I’ve never heard another bassist play the instrument with a rotating speaker effect. I doubt they would do so as well, either.

I don’t typically like it when bass players use picks. Mr. Squire was an exception. This choice as well as the use of a 1964 Rickenbacker 4001 Bass defined his signature sound. The man innovated throughout his entire career. In the late 1990’s he used a Carvin 6-String Bass. He tuned the low B-String down to A.

My deepest condolences go out to Mr. Squire’s friends and family.

Theatre Review – Ten Times Two at Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage

Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage Productions treated me like royalty last night. They sat me so close to the production that I felt like I was on the stage with the actors. It gave me the same sensations of importance I imagine an aristocrat at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre experienced. In addition, I got to sit next to the performance’s director. Initially, I didn’t recognize her. When Ms. Deal arrived I got up to offer her my seat. It had a better view of the stage. She told me to stay where I was since she’d “seen it (the play) before.” This group took VIP treatment to a whole new level!

David Belke’s Ten Times Two: The Eternal Courtship told the story of Ephraim’s (played by D. J. Hedgepath) 676 year pursuit of Constance (Corrine Hower-Greene) with the Host (Paul Sollimo) acting as a sort of matchmaker. As one can guess from the time frame, which began in 1399, this love affair possessed an unusual twist to it. Ephraim spent his life in pursuit of evil which led to his being cursed with immortality. The Host made a bet with him: if Ephraim could win Constance’s love, he’d lift the curse. This quest would lead Ephraim back to the same inn every 75 years to woo her various reincarnations.

Elizabeth Deal made her directorial debut with this three-character comedy. What a job she did. Each thespian delivered such outstanding performances that I thought I was watching community theater’s equivalent of an all-star game.

D. J. Hedgepath delivered a stellar performance. Mr. Hedgepath is on his way to being known as “The James Brown of South Jersey Community Theatre.” He played a key role in Burlington County Footlighters recent production of Bonnie and Clyde. Once Ten Times Two wraps, he’ll be starring in The Addams Family at the Maple Shade Arts Council. This thespian could claim the title of “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” right now.

Mr. Hedgepath’s passion and commitment to his craft really came through last night. He delivered his lines in a flawless British accent. I found his character’s transition from selfish thug to sensitive romantic very believable through his interpretation. The way he broke down while telling Constance’s 2000 incarnation he was “giving up” nearly brought me to tears. He managed to deliver exceptional comedic chops while still bringing delicacy and tenderness to the role. That’s quite an accomplishment. After all, at the audience’s first introduction to his character, Ephraim was malicious and unlikable.

Corrine Hower-Greene delivered a strong performance as Constance. She showed exceptional range as an actress. Every reincarnation entailed playing a completely different character; each with a totally different accent. She transitioned into each role flawlessly. I especially enjoyed the humor she brought to the country farm girl. While speaking in a cockney accent with her mouthful I could still understand her. That impressed me. With all the European characters she played, I was very surprised at how convincingly she performed the role of the drunken American flapper.

Paul Sollimo presented the Host role extremely well. He made a great artistic choice with the soft-high pitched British accent he used. It served as a neat contrast to the malevolent nature of his character. The Host addressed an imaginary audience in a few scenes. It took a lot of courage to be the only performer on stage and speaking to pretend characters. He did so very believably. In a number of scenes with Ephraim and Constance, the Host character kind of drifted off into the background. Mr. Sollimo remained relevant to the action through his deft facial expressions.

Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage Productions take place in a much smaller room than the main stage. The seating capacity is probably around thirty. Because of the size of the room and the time I got there I sat far to stage right. Because of the angle there were times when the performers had their backs to me. With that acknowledgement, my location meant there were times when the action took place directly in front of me. Since the director sat directly to my left, I don’t think it appropriate for me to raise too much of an issue about my own seating.

The air conditioner droned few feet behind me to the right. While all the performers broadcast their voices very well, there were times I had trouble hearing. As with any show, there were times when the actors’ vocal inflections needed to become quieter. When that happened I did struggle to understand the dialog.

I’d classify Ten Times Two as a theatrical version of a “chick flick”. While I’m not a big fan of light-hearted romantic comedies I did enjoy this show. The fact I can write that is a true testament to the cast and crew’s skill. The show runs through June 27th. See it while you can. I don’t know if Footlighters plans to host it again every 75 years starting in 2090.

In Support of Freedom

On June 6, 1944 the combined forces of the United States, Great Britain and Canada stormed the Normandy beaches of France. The object of this endeavor wasn’t simply to defeat Nazi Germany, but to defend the very concept of freedom itself. We owe the combined air, sea and land forces of the Allied forces an immense debt of gratitude for what they did for us that day.

American historian Daniel Walker Howe once wrote, “When looking back at the past, things have an air of inevitability about them.” To put it generously, victory on D-Day was uncertain at best. Landing craft faced stormy seas crossing the English Channel. The logistics of coordinating an invasion this complex without the benefit of computers or satellite technology astonishes the modern mind. Upon reaching the European mainland forces then had to contend with Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’ defenses. General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, even drafted a statement taking personal responsibility for the Allied defeat.

The fact that I have the freedom to write this and you have the freedom to read it shows that D-Day succeeded.

While drinking my morning coffee I reflected on this pivotal point in human history. I recalled the many afternoons I spent with my grandfather, Jack McKeon. He served in the 79th Infantry Division during the Second World War. Among the liberating forces, his unit was the second of what would become Lieutenant-General George Patton’s Third Army. While the “Cross of Lorraine” division didn’t take part in the initial landings, it did deploy in France on 12 June.

Several years ago on 6 June I told my grandfather’s story to a navy veteran with whom I work. Since my grandfather didn’t enter the fight on D-Day the man joked, “He had it easy!” Mr. McKeon and his two Purple Hearts would’ve disagreed.

While remembering my grandfather’s war stories I thought it sad so few WWII vets remain. I felt how nice it would be to thank one for his/her service on the 71st anniversary of D-Day. Just then an elderly African-American gentleman entered the café. The man wore a baseball cap with the words WWII Veteran embroidered on the front.

I thanked him for his service. He kindly smiled and shook my hand. “If it wasn’t for the support of people like you, we wouldn’t have made it,” he said.

I speak with a lot of veterans. They’re always very appreciative of the recognition, but this man’s comments really surprised me. I recall my grandfather telling me about the racism in the military during the 1940’s. All Americans know the social climate that existed here prior to the Civil Rights movement. It made me contemplate what kind of homecoming this veteran received upon returning from the war.

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to thank a World War II veteran today. If you don’t happen to encounter someone who served in that conflict, there are plenty of veterans around. When you see one, please let them know how much you appreciate their service to our country.

Let us never forget: without the support of people like them on 6 June 1944, our freedom wouldn’t have made it.