Month: December 2015

2015 in review

Thanks to all those who helped make my blog much more successful than I’d anticipated.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,100 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Funky Christmas Miracle

It’s that special time of the year when I commemorate the life of the main man. Typically, I spend a couple hours on Christmas listening to music reflecting his accomplishments. It adds a tinge of sadness to this otherwise festive day. I think about how he left us far too soon. I’m referring, of course, to Mr. Dynamite himself, Soul Brother Number One, Mr. James Brown. This past Christmas marked the ninth anniversary of his passing.

While listening to his music on Christmas Day, I thought about how much he and his various bands influenced me as a musician. I’m sure many people are surprised to read that I’m a James Brown fan. I’m sure many more are shocked that I’ve been inspired by his music. After all, when I started playing bass guitar in the 1980s “Hair Metal” was the dominant musical form. A steady barrage of eighth notes (many on open strings) spewed forth from my cassette player. Understandably, I got bored. I sought out other musical genres. After stints with Classic Rock, Blues and Jazz, I discovered “the funk”; first through Motown Bassist James Jamerson and then through James’ many back-up bands.

In the course of my musical journey, I also taught myself how to play the guitar. When I played I mentally journeyed to Madison Square Garden in the summer on 1974. I’d take Jimmy Page’s place during The Song Remains the Same recording. Other times, when Mom and Dad left me home alone, I cranked my amp and travelled to Leeds University on Valentine’s Day 1970 and jammed with The Who.

When I matured musically, I started playing more challenging pieces; at least ones that would challenge an Irish-American kid from South Jersey. Following a love affair with (loud) Classic Rock, then Blues (played loudly) I graduated to R & B and Soul. That’s when I first encountered The Godfather’s music.

As Christmas Day dawned, I hadn’t seriously approached the guitar in months. I hadn’t played bass in at least a year. I yearned for a “Christmas miracle” in seeing if I could remember some of James’ cuts, let alone play them well. I took my Telecaster out of its gig bag. I stared at it for a while. It beckoned as if saying, “Try Me.” “Please, please,” it seemed to say. “I got the feeling” I should.

I was “bewildered.” My memory surprised me. (In addition to being a musician in my youth I drank like one, also.) I still recalled the chops to such tracks as “Lickin’ Stick-Lickin’-Stick” and “Mother Popcorn.” After a few run throughs I thought, “ain’t that a groove”? I never would’ve thought I’d say “I feel good” about my playing.

I wanted to focus on my guitar playing, but the lure of the bass was “out of sight.”  James had an ear for talent comparable to Miles Davis. He worked with a host of gifted bassists among them Bernard Odum, Charles “Sweets” Sherrell and Sam Thomas, “Bootsy” Collins took the instrument to a new level. I didn’t have anything to “think” about. I had to tackle the simulated live version of “Give It Up or Turn It Loose.”

I told myself that I’m not in the same class as Bootsy. “I know it’s true.” “I don’t mind,” I thought. “It may be the last time” I try to play this song. Bass is a fun instrument.  That’s what’s important. It didn’t matter if I was “super bad”. Sure enough, as fast as Bootsy’s riffs were, I pounded them out of my P-Bass.

I figured I’d paid the proper homage to my idol and wanted to avoid “doing it to death.” I put my guitar and bass away and went back to enjoying the Holiday Season. I’d managed to give a decent tribute to the man and musicians who gave me great direction along my musical journey. It was a funky Christmas miracle; and people it was bad.

 

Whitesnake – The Purple Album

I tell fellow Deep Purple fans that some of these renditions of the band’s songs on this album “mistreated” the originals. You “might just take your life” after hearing some of them. The Purple Album features this week’s line-up of the band Whitesnake performing songs from the three albums their lead singer, David Coverdale, recorded as Deep Purple‘s lead vocalist. This seemed like a really good idea at its inception.

My first issue concerned the song selection. Deep Purple is primarily known for the guitar driven classic rock staple “Smoke on the Water”. The band went through, and continues to evolve through, various musical phases. During the Coverdale era, Deep Purple transitioned their music into a funky, soulful direction while still retaining their hard rock edge. The musicians on The Purple Album nailed the hard rock part, but lacked soul. The solution? Play everything much, much louder. The mastering on this recording is unbelievable. Even when I listen to it on my Kindle I need earplugs.

With personnel such as guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra along with drummer Tommy Aldridge, I thought heavier Purple tracks such as “Speed King” and “Child in Time” would’ve accommodated their strengths better. Coverdale limited the song selection to tracks from Burn, Stormbringer and Come Taste the Band. When he played with Deep Purple in the 1970s, earlier tunes such as “Smoke on the Water”, “Highway Star” and “Space Truckin’” were part of their set lists. Why not include them in the “tribute”?

David Coverdale undoubtedly deserves to be ranked among rock’s greatest vocalists. The version of “Mistreated” from Deep Purple’s Made in Europe sounded like an anthem. He deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for that recording alone. It bothered me to hear him struggling through it on this album. I’m not attacking his talent. The man’s been singing and touring for the last 40 years. That wears on one’s voice. It’s just a shame to listen to someone so talented having trouble hitting notes he nailed with ease in his heyday.

My biggest issue with the album concerned the personnel. How, and I mean how, can a group possibly do a tribute to Deep Purple without a keyboard player in the band? (Derek Hilland added keys on this CD, but he wasn’t formally a member of the group.) While no musician can mimic Jon Lord, adding a second guitar player didn’t serve as a comparable substitute. I’m sorry, but Lord’s organ on “Stormbringer” made that song heavier than a dozen guitarists could have.

I did like some of the new arrangements. Bassist Michael Devin added a harmonica intro to the beginning of “You Fool No One.” The group also included a bluesy slide guitar to the opening of “Might Just Take Your Life”. That harkened back to the R & B days of Whitesnake with guitarists Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody. I wish Coverdale made this kind of music a bigger part of the modern Whitesnake’s repertoire.

I felt torn when I heard “Sail Away”. Coverdale scrapped the funky guitar riff. (For those who haven’t heard the original: think “Play That Funky Music White Boy” pushed into overdrive.) He transformed it into a slow acoustic ballad. The new version is much different, but it’s as strong as the original. It goes to show you: a great song is a great song no matter how it’s played.

When David Coverdale fronted Deep Purple, Glenn Hughes sang back-up vocals. With the greatest of respect to the Righteous Brothers, those guys sang the best rock duets ever recorded. It made me glad to hear Hughes join Coverdale on this album. He still has an outstanding voice, albeit without the high notes anymore. I liked hearing the two of them sing “Burn” together again.

Deep Purple and Whitesnake are two of the best bands in rock history. In the latter’s early days, three of the members of the former played in it. Some fantastic music resulted. I had similar hopes for this album. Deep Purple is still together. Maybe they’ll do a tribute album to Whitesnake with better results. For now, I’ll listen to my Coverdale era Deep Purple albums.

The Dog Days of Christmas

There’s nothing quite like the Yuletide season. It features great food, family and fun. Since the first often accompanies the other two, I do my best to keep in shape during the Holiday Season. When you think about it, what better time to go jogging in the evening? Aside from burning off those (many) excess calories, it gives a person the opportunity to take in the Holiday atmosphere. Since it gets dark early this time of year, one can experience the full effect of the Christmas lights.

That’s what I did this past weekend. While frost bite becomes a major concern for joggers in the waning days of autumn, this time I faced a more familiar adversary from the summer: dehydration. You read that right: dehydration. Keep in mind I live in the Philadelphia area: not in Australia. A balmy haze settled over town last week. The dew point reached August-like proportions. Upon returning home, the profuse sweat made me look like I’d just gotten out of the shower. Santa wouldn’t need his thick red and white suit this year…or would he?

Several days later the temperature dipped into the upper fifties. It rained. And rained. And then it rained some more. By the weekend, the temperature plummeted into the more seasonal upper-thirties. A lot of people would get sick in this weather. I’m sure lucky I run and keep in shape so I don’t come down with anything for the Holidays, right? Not so.

They call New Jersey “the Garden State” for a reason. I’ve battled allergies my entire life. That’s another reason I like to run. It helps to break-up my congestion. It also acclimatizes me to the weather. Wild temperature swings aggravate my allergies more than anything else. When precipitation is involved, they get even worse. Most times, I handle these fluctuations without any problems. The fifty degree changes in the course of a day or two, I can’t. Not for the first time this season, I found myself visiting my neighborhood urgent care center for sinusitis.

Sudden bursts of unseasonal warm weather confuse my sinuses. They think it’s the height of August ragweed season. The back of my throat feels like a handful of newly mown grass clumped there. My voice has been so raspy from coughing that it sounds like a cross between Bruce Springsteen’s and Tom Waits’. I’ve had several sneezing fits that lasted for minutes. This can be troublesome especially while eating. (I guess that explains why I’ve been dining alone these past few days.)

I know I shouldn’t complain. There are far worse sinus related issues one could have. My great-grandmother passed away from carcinoma of the sinuses. (Even with this family history and my own allergy issues, I still smoked like an idiot in my youth.) Besides, thanks to the immediate access to medical attention the urgent care center provides, I’ve been able to do most of my regular routine. Without their assistance, I would’ve been confined to bed for days.

As I’m writing this, it’s 39 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I checked the latest weather forecast. We’re getting more rain next week. On Christmas Eve the temperature will rise into the mid-seventies. Christmas Day it’s going to “cool off” to a more modest 60 degrees. This tells me two things. 1) I’ll probably be having Christmas Dinner with the folks at the urgent care center. 2) For those wondering what to get me: tissues and decongestants would be good choices.

While I prefer warmer weather, I’m actually looking forward to winter. I’m not excited about another muggy warm spell. I’ve had enough of the Dog Days of Christmas.

 

Purple Encomium

My “woman from Tokyo”, a “gypsy” named “Anya” looked at me with a “demon’s eye.” She’s a “strange kind of woman”. “You fool no one,” she said. “Don’t hold your breath.” I’d told her that, although I’m not a “fortune teller”, someday Deep Purple will wind up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The place may seem like a “castle full of rascals” for their “wicked ways” in keeping them out so long, but “lady luck” finally came through. No one on the admissions committee had been a “speed king” about it. They thought we fans had “time to kill”, but “halleluiah!” The group will be inducted in 2016.

Some may think I’ve got a “bad attitude” and should “hush”. It’s unfair to criticize the hall for their “wicked ways”. Sorry, but this affront won’t be “soon forgotten.” “Sometimes I feel like screaming” about it. But then again, no longer can I say “the battle rages on.” Deep Purple will no longer be “mistreated” by the hall. For some the “truth hurts”, but they’re in.

The guys weren’t “lazy”. They worked their “fingers to the bone” to get enshrined in Cleveland. This is something every rock group “burn”s to do.

I can’t stand people who try to cleverly insert names of bands’ songs when they write about them. Just about anyone who does that is an “almost human” “ramshackle man” who’s a “nasty piece of work”. Just this one time, I can’t resist. I’m thinking the guys may decide to “abandon” “Don’t Make Me Happy” from the set-list when they jam at the ceremony.

Congrats go out to all members of Deep Purple past and present. I hope this achievement doesn’t mean they’ll “sail away” into retirement “this time around.”

“Talk about love,” I’ve been a huge Deep Purple fan for years. I am in “Seventh Heaven” and “any fule kno that.” I’m heading out to the pool with my copy of Deepest Purple. I’m going to grab a cigar, hop on my raft and have a “smoke on the water.”