Progressive Rock

Yes to be Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

“Does it really happen?” YES it does. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame decided to “awaken” finally. The pre-eminent progressive rock group of the 1970s will be enshrined in its walls “soon.”

Whenever I’ve said Yes deserve an induction, people told me, “’Leave it’ go.” I replied, “’Hold on.’ ‘It can happen.’” Now “we have heaven.” “I would’ve waited forever.” I’m just glad it occurred before the “turn of the century.”

I’d go through “remembering” Progressive Rock royalty such as Genesis, Pink Floyd and Rush getting enshrined in the hall. “I get up, I get down” about it since Yes couldn’t claim the same honor. That oversight brought me “close to the edge.”

Now that they’re in, I’m at the “gates of delirium”! This news helped to “lift me up.” It sure put me in a great “mood for a day.”

I have “real love” for Yes’ music. There are no “parallels” to its complexity.  I feel like an “astral traveler”, a “starship trooper” if you will, on a “sound chaser” mission whenever I listen to it. The lyrics tell such “wondrous stories,” too.

This band’s “survival” astonishes me. It certainly took a “roundabout” way to stay on the music scene. Their line-up’s “perpetual change” has been a source of jokes for decades. But when judged by the end result, guys: “yours is no disgrace.”

If I may borrow a title from a Yes song: “Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day.” I’ve wanted the “ancient ritual” of thinking “I am waiting” “to be over.” “Then” “I’ve seen all good people” at the Hall. I thank them for making “your move.” All the “disillusionment” is behind me. The fans can now “rejoice”! I’ll be having “sweet dreams” of a lot of hands coming together in “the clap” until the band is formally enshrined. Now it’s “onward” to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for Yes.

Advertisements

In Memoriam – Epitaph: Greg Lake

Confusion will be my epitaph

As I crawl this cracked and broken path

If we make it we will all sit back and laugh

But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying.

From “Epitaph” by King Crimson. Lyrics by Peter Sinfield

 

Today Progressive Rock fans shed tears at the loss of a legend. One can only react with confusion that for the second time in 2016 a member of that paragon of progressive power trios Emerson, Lake and Palmer has left us. On December 7th, Greg Lake passed away less than a month after celebrating his sixty ninth birthday.

It is ironic to write that the music scene will not be the same following his passing. The music scene has not been the same since he entered it. We first heard Mr. Lake’s extraordinary talents on King Crimson’s eclectic masterpiece, In the Court of the Crimson King. The 1969 album sounds ahead-of-its-time even today. That’s a remarkable observation for a record originally released almost fifty years ago.

Mr. Lake’s vocals augmented Crimso’s innovative style; and the band’s repertoire provided him with myriad opportunities to display his capabilities. He added soft crooning to the ethereal “I Talk to the Wind” and haunting vocals to the lesser known “Moonchild.” His somber rendition of “Epitaph” brought the disillusionment in Peter Sinfield’s lyrics to life. That’s quite a challenging task with words this powerful.

The wall on which the prophets wrote

Is cracking at the seams.

Upon the instruments of death

The sunlight brightly gleams.

Mr. Lake’s vocals made King Crimson a Classic Rock icon. His bass playing made the band legendary. During “21st Century Schizoid Man” he, guitarist Robert Fripp and drummer Michael Giles performed the best instrumental jam ever recorded. He anticipated Heavy Metal bass lines through his thunderous bottom end on the live staple “Mars, the Bringer of War” from Holst’s The Planets. The origins of progressive rock came about through the melding of classical music with hard rock in tracks such as this one.

Mr. Lake achieved more musically during the two albums he recorded with King Crimson than most could in several lifetimes. Had he retired following his all-too brief stint with the band, he still would have assured his place in music history. To the delight of Progressive Rock fans, he harbored higher aspirations.

Mr. Lake joined up with keyboardist Keith Emerson and drummer Carl Palmer. The three established a veritable Prog Rock super group. In addition to entertaining audiences with his singing, bass playing and even his proficiency with the guitar, he used the opportunity to showcase his songwriting skills. Cuts such as “Lucky Man”, “Still You Turn Me On” and “From the Beginning” showed that even “serious” musicians could resonate with mainstream rock audiences.

Mr. Lake had the misfortune, to use that word loosely, of working with poet Peter Sinfield. In addition to writing for King Crimson, he also penned the words to ELP’s tour-de-force “Pirates.” Because of the man’s talents Mr. Lake’s skill as a lyricist often gets overlooked. But who doesn’t recognize the opening to “Lucky Man”?

He had white horses

And ladies by the score

All dressed in satin

And waiting by the door.

Oh, what a lucky man he was.

Mr. Lake achieved the pinnacle of his lyrical abilities in “The Sage”; a track he added to the band’s version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The haunting opening stanza eloquently established the mood.

I carry the dust of a journey

That cannot be shaken away.

It lives deep within me

For I breathe it every day.

Like all progressive rock musicians, Mr. Lake always sought opportunities to expand the boundaries of his trade. During the late seventies, he experimented with an eight string electric bass guitar. He used it to full effect on Works Live. Since he couldn’t play both bass and guitar while on stage, the extra strings made the instrument sound like a bridge between the two. It gave early ELP classics like “Knife Edge” and “Tank” a fresh sound.

His musical peers showed immense respect for his skill with the instrument. It seemed fitting that the group which pioneered the “concept album” would invite Mr. Lake to join them. Following John Entwistle’s passing, The Who recruited him to play bass on their 2004 track “Real Good Looking Boy.”

Of course, Mr. Lake will best be remembered for his vocal talents. In addition to rock, he could sing jazzy tunes like “Show Me the Way to Go Home” and “Step Aside” with equal dexterity. He added an excellent Bob Dylan impersonation to ELP’s cover of “The Man in the Long Black Coat”, as well.

It’s sad that the person who wrote the Christmas staple “I Believe in Father Christmas” would pass away during the Holiday Season. I send my deepest condolences to Mr. Lake’s friends and family during this difficult time.

Just possibly, Mr. Lake wrote his own epitaph. For “The End” section of Pictures at an Exhibition he crafted the following lyrics.

There’s no end to my life   

No beginning to my death

Death is life.

In Memoriam – Keith Emerson

“From the beginning” it seemed as though “The Three Fates” predestined Keith Emerson to be an “iconoclast”. “The hand of truth” deemed that Mr. Emerson would become a veritable “tiger in a spotlight”. He approached the keyboards like Jimi Hendrix played the guitar: tilting and contorting the instrument and performing “the miracle” of melding feedback into a melody. Other keyboardists had to “step aside” after he entered the music scene. Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s sheet music became like “paper blood”. While I never possessed the skill to play Mr. Emerson’s compositions, I’m a “lucky man” for having had the opportunity to listen to them. I have immense admiration for the composer.

Keith Emerson passed away at the age of 71 this past March 10th. I send my deepest condolences to his friends and family during this difficult time. I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him personally. As with any artist I feel like I got to know him a bit through his work.

I first encountered his music in the early 1980’s. Synthesizer driven ditties were ubiquitous staples of pop radio. Based on what I heard over the airwaves I figured the instrument rather facile to master. As I matured musically and began exploring Progressive Rock, Mr. Emerson proved me wrong. He approached the instrument as a substitute for an entire orchestra on covers of “Fanfare for the Common Man“, “Mars, The Bringer of War” and “The Barbarian”. In fact, I first heard a rock group play with an orchestra on ELP’s 1979 release In Concert. The Third Movement from Mr. Emerson’s “Piano Concerto Number 1” inspired me to learn more about Classical Music.

Not that Mr. Emerson’s capabilities were limited to that one genre. Had he so chosen, he would’ve made an outstanding Jazz Pianist. His playing on tunes such as “Step Aside” and “Show Me the Way to Go Home” exhibited his range with the instrument. One should also include his proficiency with ragtime playing, as well. He delivered a fine rendition of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” on ELP Works Volume Two. With the aid of a synthesizer he even covered Blues legend Freddie King’s “Hideaway”; a tune Eric Clapton also recorded.

In addition, the man had a fantastic ear for pop music. I can still recall the days in 1986 when Emerson, Lake and Powell’s “Touch and Go” received continuous play on MTV as well as the radio. His playing on “Karn Evil 9 First Impression, Part Two” served as a unique melding of classical and pop music. Of course, his addition of the modest synthesizer solo at the end of “Lucky Man” gave that track a unique character.

While not known as a balladeer, Mr. Emerson wrote the music for some of my favorites. “Farewell to Arms” from 1992’s Black Moon earned a special place in the band’s catalogue for its message. 1986’s “Lay Down Your Guns” featured the most intricate musical arrangement I’ve ever heard on a song about a troubled romance.

Musicians such as Mr. Emerson convinced me that the keyboards were too challenging for someone of my limited abilities. After trying to learn the instrument for years, to the relief of friends, family and neighbors, I gave up in favor of the bass guitar. The man even intimidated me at that! The bass line he played on his Moog during the “Battlefield” section of “Tarkus” on the live 1974 album would’ve given Bach a run for his money. The fact he managed to do this with one hand while playing the chord progression on an organ with the other made this achievement even more remarkable.

In addition to these outstanding attributes of Mr. Emerson’s abilities, he truly excelled as an arranger. The way he coordinated all the parts to “Pirates” made that song one of the best ever recorded. I liked how the orchestra, the band and the melody all worked together in such a way that didn’t clutter the mix. While a great accomplishment, he reached his true apex on 1994’s In the Hot Seat. On that album he directed an arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “The Man in the Long Black Coat”. (Yes, you read that correctly. Even ELP covered Bob Dylan’s music.) While ELP played numerous classical pieces, I always felt this one their best non-original recording.

I did have one issue with Mr. Emerson. On the cover of 1979’s Love Beach he showed off his washboard abs. The man was a classically trained rock musician who spent a lot of time on the road. The fact he managed to keep himself in that kind of shape took away any excuse I had for letting myself go when I worked as a performing musician.

The next time I hear Greg Lake utter the iconic line, “welcome back my friends to the show that never ends” I’ll feel a tinge of sadness. Perhaps Mr. Lake said it best in the lyrics he wrote appropriately enough for “The End” section of “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

There’s no end to my life

No beginning to my death

Death is life.

C’est la vie.

In Memoriam – Pink Floyd

August 16, 2015 marks a time of “sorrow”, but a “great day for freedom” for David Gilmour, apparently. He decided it was “time” to “run like hell” from Pink Floyd; a band he’d played with for the last 48 years. “Wot’s…uh the deal?” I knew it had to happen “one of these days”, but I’m “lost for words.” He’s made similar comments before, but this time he says it’s “absolutely curtains.” I harbored “high hopes” the band would reunite following the release of 2014’s The Endless River: the first occassion we’ve heard “signs of life” from the group since Live 8. I’m upset that album will serve as “the final cut”.

Does Mr. Gilmour have “brain damage”? Dave, “hey you”! Before you “have a cigar” I “wish you were here” “in the flesh”. “What do you what from me?” you wonder. I’d like you to “take it back.” Alright, I need to “breathe.” I’ll get “comfortably numb” soon. For now, I have some things to say “on the turning away” from one of rock’s greatest groups.

Pink Floyd’s fans were like “sheep”. We’ll all “remember a day” we first heard them. From then on out it was “us and them”. Those were “the happiest day of our lives”. They were “one of the few” iconic bands of my generation. Their influence is undeniable; one can hear “echoes” of their sound anytime a guitar player picks the strings between the “empty spaces” on a Fender Stratocaster. “What shall we do now?”

We’ve been “round and around” this before. I hope Mr. Gilmour reconsiders before he goes to “the great gig in the sky”. “It would be so nice.” Maybe the band will be “coming back to life” at some point. While I think the guys are “poles apart” I’ll “keep talking” about how “the show must go on”. The way things look now, another Pink Floyd album won’t come out until we see “pigs on the wing”.

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.

Music Review – Pink Floyd The Endless River

Appropriately enough, I purchased The Endless River on a rainy day. As I drove around through the flooding rain storm, it put me in the right frame of mind to absorb this album. David Gilmour and Nick Mason decided to release it as a tribute to fallen band mate Richard Wright.

David Gilmour has proven repeatedly that he’s one of the greatest rock guitarists who ever took up the instrument. It delighted me to discover he felt the need to prove it once again. Every track except for one on The Endless River was an instrumental. Gilmour showcased his dexterity on the acoustic, electric and slide guitars. Let this be a lesson to all those great guitarists out there with aspirations of becoming ‘singer/songwriters’: stay focused on what you do well.

While Dark Side of the Moon came closest to a ‘definitive’ Pink Floyd album, everyone was original in its own way. Endless River continued this tradition. Only one of the eighteen songs featured a lead vocal. The band originally recorded these fragmentary tracks during jam sessions for the Division Bell sessions. Still, the Floyd and their team of producers did an outstanding job of melding them into a finished album. Endless River sounds like a new age album recorded by Pink Floyd. The arrangement allowed each tracks to segue into the next one a la Echoes. The overall whole reminded me of such progressive rock masterpieces as “A Passion Play” and “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull as well as “Supper’s Ready” by Genesis; all this without the prattle of inane vocals.

This album pleasantly surprised me. At first I anticipated a loose compilation of out-takes from Division Bell. Some of the tracks did exhibit the germination of songs explored more deeply on the album. Gilmour used the guitar synthesizer from “Take It Back” liberally on these tracks. “Talkin’ Hawkin’” featured voice overs by Dr. Steven Hawking. His observation that, “All we need to do is keep talking”, later appeared in the eponymous song. Most of the song titles related to the theme of communication. A concept later explored lyrically on the completed album.

The album also included some pieces that harkened back to ‘vintage Floyd’. I heard shades of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” in the piece “It’s What We Do.” While Roger Waters didn’t join the band for this outing, Gilmour’s bass work on this track sounded just like him. I also enjoyed his addition of an acoustic guitar to the mix.

“Anisina” served as the true highlight of the album for me. In the beginning I thought Wright borrowed his piano part from “Us and Them”. Upon reading the liner notes, I realized that Gilmour played it! He did an outstanding job paying tribute to Wright. Fans will also recognize the synthesizer riff from “Comfortably Numb” on this track. This song also called to mind the instrumental piece “Terminal Frost” from Momentary Lapse of Reason. The guitar orchestration on “Anisina” was much better, though. I really enjoyed Gilmour’s addition of a slide guitar to this song.

I can’t leave out Nick Mason’s contributions. His drumming on “Skins” showed that age hasn’t dulled his skills since his tour-de-force performance on Live at Pompeii.

As with any Floyd offering, the album featured phenomenal artwork. The front cover showed a young man on a boat in the clouds rowing towards the sunset. The back cover displayed the same picture only with an empty boat. I interpreted that to mean that while the band itself may be headed into the sunset, the music would remain.

The late Richard Wright’s keyboards sounded absolutely ethereal on The Endless River. While listening to the album, I recalled a line from Miles Davis’ drummer Jimmy Cobb. He remarked that Kind of Blue, “sounded like it was recorded in heaven.” The same could be said of The Endless River. It served as a fitting encomium to an outstanding musician.

Hail to the King

There’s only one king of rock and roll. Fans affectionately know him collectively as “Crimso”, others attach the more formal appellation King Crimson. I recently pulled The 21st Century Guide to King Crimson Volume One 1969 – 1974 out of my archives. Even listening to it now, I’m struck by just how original and innovative their music was in their heyday. You know a band was ahead of its time when hearing music they recorded over forty years ago you think it would revolutionize music if recorded today. There’s no greater example of that than the tracks from In the Court of the Crimson King.

King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp did an exceptional job remastering these cuts. When I crank songs such as “21st Century Schizoid Man” and “Epitaph” I feel like I’m in the sound booth with the recording engineer. The box has every song from the album, although the version of “Moonchild” is abridged. I’ve heard most of these songs on previous releases, but the sound quality on the box makes it well worth the expense alone.

The box also included five live tracks recorded by the same line-up that recorded Court. The true highlight for me was “Mars: The Bringer of War.” It’s a version of the first part of Gustav Holst’s The Planets performed by a rock band. The arrangement would’ve made the composer proud. The piece increased in volume throughout building to a loud crescendo at the end. I swear my house shakes when I play it at full blast. The “Mellotron” does not reflect its name the way this group utilized it. Keep in mind this is from a band substantially influenced by classical music theory. All this in an era before Heavy Metal came to prominence.

While these songs make the box set well worth the cost and time to listen to it: there’s much more. Fripp included a disc of studio material from the Fripp/Wetton/Bruford/Cross era of the band. This one has some of my all time favorite prog-rock masterpieces. Crimso classics such as “Red”, “Easy Money”, and “Larks Tongues in Aspic Part II” appear in their entirety. A shortened version of “Starless” is on there as well. The way the disc is mixed makes it so all the tracks lead into one another. I thought that a very cool feature.

As with the earlier incarnations of the group, this line-up also has a live disc dedicated to it. The true mother lode on that one is a live instrumental improv called simply “Asbury Park” after the location the band recorded it. Imagine if you will a hybrid of classical music, heavy metal, and funk. If you don’t think a group of musicians could pull this off, listen to this track. It really defines the essence of what “Crimso” was all about in the mid-1970s.

The only real criticism I have of this box is the same critique fans have of any compilation: I don’t agree with all the song selections. The compendium has four different versions of “21st Century Schizoid Man”; one studio and three live performed by various incarnations of the band. None are of the same quality as the version the original line-up performed, but I can understand why Fripp chose to include them. To this day it stands as Crimso’s signature song. On the piece from the Earthbound album, Fripp chose to excise Boz Burrrell’s vocals in lieu of the instrumental parts. (The late Burrell went on to play bass guitar for Bad Company. To be fair to him, he was a great musician, but he was a much more proficient bassist than rock vocalist. Then again, so was John Wetton.)

I really liked the inclusion of a live version of “Easy Money”. It’s certainly one of the best tracks in the King Crimson catalog. I just didn’t care for this hybrid version of two different performances. The band played the song regularly during the early to mid-1970s. Fripp had myriad other renditions to choose from. He included some great recordings of it on the 1992 box set The Great Deceiver. I’m not sure why he didn’t go with a more powerful recording here.

And my big complaint: some songs from The Great Deceiver appeared on this box. I can’t wrap my mind around why Fripp didn’t include “Doctor Diamond”. That song had a mind-twisting time signature even by King Crimson standards. Since The Great Deceiver is now out of print, I don’t understand why “Doctor” wasn’t added to this box. It would have truly enhanced the song selection.

I would strongly encourage any Progressive Rock fan to give The 21st Century Guide to King Crimson Volume One a listen. I recall reading an interview with John Wetton (Bass/Vocals 1972 – 1974 ) back in the late 1990s. He said that whenever he played at Progressive Rock Festivals he’d listen to the new bands and smile. He thought they sounded a lot like Crimso did back in the 1970s. Based on Mr. Wetton’s observation, I’d say why listen to the imitators? Why not pay court to the grand-daddy of them all, King Crimson?