Saturday, May 29, 2010

'They say it's your birthday, we're gonna have a good time..'

Thanks, among other sources, to the daily updates from Paul Shaffer's Day In Rock, I was struck that this past week was quite an amazing one for musical birthdays...

On Monday, Robert Allen Zimmerman celebrated his 69th birthday. I've only seen Bob play live once, at Wembley Arena in London in October 1987 on the Temples In Flames tour, with Roger McGuinn and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. (I've also heard him once, in Prospect Park in Brooklyn two years ago, like thousands of others who couldn't get near the bandshell.) The London show was a great gig - even for a venue as cavernous as Wembley. There's a movie of a show from Melbourne, Australia, which I think was shot later in the tour.

The same day, the beautiful - and generously social Tweeter - Rosanne Cash marked her 55th birthday. Her 1993 album 'The Wheel' is one of my all-time favorites and this is a particularly lovely version of the title track.

Talking of great female voices, on Wednesday Stevie Nicks turned 62, but to many people she'll always be ageless. I saw her in 1982 at the Civic Coliseum in Knoxville, TN. She had the sort of stage presence that meant you couldn't take your eyes off her for a second, but her band was just brilliant - the great guitar player Waddy Wachtel, drummer Russ Kunkel, Bob Glaub on bass and Professor Roy Bittan on a vacation from E Street on piano. (I know Tom Petty's keyboard player Benmont Tench played some shows on that tour but I can't remember if he was there that night).

Tuesday saw the birthday of one of the most influential figures in the last three decades of British popular music: Paul Weller turned 52. Through his work with The Jam, The Style Council and his subsequent solo career - his latest album is 'Wake Up The Nation' - he has delivered sharp, clever observations of British life that have resonated with and inspired a successive generation of songwriters. Here, he plays a 1980 Jam classic with Noel Gallagher of Oasis - who incredibly also had a birthday this week.

Two other great songwriters from opposite ends of the globe were celebrating: New Zealand's own Neil Finn is now 52 - his band Crowded House have a new album, 'Intriguer' out on June 11 and are playing in Dublin this weekend.

At 65, Canada's national treasure Bruce Cockburn's career has been characterized by a commitment to musical integrity and activism in the pursuit of justice. Now he's going to finally write a book about his remarkable life. There's also some new recordings and a solo tour on the way next year, it appears. He's one hell of a great guitar player and probably the only person to have written a song about the International Monetary Fund.

Here, he performs one of his best-known songs at a 2001 benefit, along with Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies.

The amazing Levon Helm, drummer with The Band and inspiration for the Midnight Ramble, turned 70 and is currently in the middle of a nationwide tour - including Radio City in New York on July 28 and the Newport Folk Festival on August 1st - as well as having been nominated for 2010 Artist of The Year by the Americana Music Association.

On Friday, former Creedence frontman John Fogerty turned 65. I've seen him a couple of times in recent years - 2004 in Orlando on the Vote For Change tour with Bruce and REM, and then again last year at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Anniversary show. The guy sure wrote some great tunes and still rocks the house.

Friday was also the birthday of Dobro-meister supreme Jerry Douglas who is 54. I saw him play with Allison Krauss at the Beacon Theater in New York a couple of years ago, and he was just incredible. He did 'A Tribute To Peadar O'Donnell' and it brought the house down.

As if all that wasn't great enough, today is the 49th for the beautiful and courageous Melissa Etheridge

as well as the 43rd for the aforementioned Noel Gallagher, one of Britain's greatest pop songwriters (who, for what it's worth, thinks next month's England-US World Cup game will end up a draw..)

Among others, there were also birthdays this week for Jewel, Ramsey Lewis, Gary Brooker of Procul Harum, Gladys Knight, and Mike Porcaro of Toto, as well as an appreciative nod to Dr Robert Moog, inventor of the synthesiser.

And just to round things off properly, tomorrow rockin' Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine turns 46.

Next week is looking a bit thin by comparison I guess, but nevertheless many happy returns to Johnny Paycheck and Corey Hart...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

'Strange as it may seem, I once had my football dreams..'

So, in the unlikely even that you haven't seen this yet, Nike's new viral ad for the upcoming World Cup is pretty remarkable:

And it's all the more cool for a soundtrack that includes 'Hocus Pocus' by the Dutch prog-rock band Focus, from the early 1970s, featuring their much under-rated guitar player, Jan Akkerman. It's a great track that, when you're eleven years old and see them performing it on the OGWT, sounds, honestly, like nothing you've ever seen before...

In any case, I can't wait for the World Cup to kick off in a couple of weeks. And it gives me a chance to play my absolute favorite football-related song:

(I'm just guessing, but it's possible the German host is saying something about losing on penalties..?)


Pete Townshend celebrated his 65th birthday this week. When I was just getting into "serious" music, maybe the album that blew me away more than any other at the time was "Tommy". Here, Pete talks about the filming of the movie, which is coming up to its 35th anniversary.

The Who will always be among my favorite bands, and Pete will always be one of my favorite songwriters. A real visionary.


I mentioned the other day about two gigs that Victor and David, were playing this weekend under the name Passport Without Nation. Turns out their Saturday night show has been cancelled, but they're still on for Sunday at the National Underground.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

'Gonna get on up and fly away..'

Music Matters - John Martyn (23-3-10) from Music Matters on Vimeo.

I came across this little animation the other day on the Folk Radio UK site - an excellent read and well worth checking out. And it got me thinking about and listening again to John Martyn, a truly great guitar player who died last year and is sorely missed.

I first heard of him through Eric Clapton's cover of 'May You Never' on the 'Slowhand' album in the late 70s, but when I subsequently found John's original it was like a different world. It was one of the most enjoyable songs to play last year while I was busking, but I could only ever dream of doing it like he did:

There was an excellent BBC documentary a few years back, 'Johnny Too Bad' that chronicled his work and difficult life, which is well worth seeing if you get a chance. But my all-time favorite song of his is the amazing 'Small Hours' from the wonderful album 'One World'.


A couple of weeks ago, I met Victor and David, two young guitar players in the subway. They're playing a couple of shows in the city this weekend under the name Passport Without Nation: Saturday night at the Recoup Lounge and Sunday at the National Underground. Go along and take a look.

Friday, May 14, 2010

'Hold on to that feeling..'

As the kids today say, OMG..!

This amazing clip is from the Rainforest concert at Carnegie Hall the other night. Sadly, I didn't take it, but nothing says 'save the environment' like dancing dudes in speedos...

And just as jaw-droppingly surreal as that was, this is awesome. Have a beautiful weekend.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

'These songs of freedom..'

Today is the 29th anniversary of Bob Marley's death. He lived a fascinating musical life - that continues through his kids and associated performers - and left a remarkable artistic and cultural contribution.

He performed his last concert in Pittsburgh on September 23, 1980, during his 'Uprising' tour (which incidentally had included his first-ever appearance in Ireland). Two days earlier, he had collapsed while jogging in Central Park after two shows at Madison Square Garden on Sept 19 & 20 (setlist here) when he and The Wailers had opened for The Commodores.

Friday, May 7, 2010

'There's hope for me yet..'


The wife and I went to see Dierks Bentley the other night at the Highline. It's always a good venue, with decent views no matter where you end up on the floor. We'd seen him play about four years ago at a small venue in London and that was definitely a rocking show. I remember almost immediately learning two of his songs: 'Hope For Me Yet' and 'The Heaven I'm Headed To' and playing them has never gotten old.

We were blown away by his voice that night and I remember thinking he had much more to offer beyond the formulaic country-rock genre. So the Highline show was very different, and brilliantly so: bluegrass was the order of the day, with the backing of a couple of Del's offspring in the Travelin' McCourys and a support slot from Hayes Carll.

After the sad events in Nashville recently, I've been thinking back fondly on the time I got to spend in Tennessee, and how great it was - especially on my first visit to the US - to be surrounded by such an outstanding regional musical heritage, and this show helped rekindle some of those emotions.

Good playing and a good time.

Finally, it was my wife's birthday recently and she happened to be away on a 'girls weekend' in the Napa Valley on the day so we celebrated when she got back, with a bit of karaoke at our friends bar. They have a very cool and imaginative installation on at the moment, featuring toy pianos and a video montage of subway buskers. Definitely check it out if you're in Manhattan.

For some reason. I just adore this particular photo... full of energy and mystery in equal parts, just like her. Happy birthday babe!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

'This summer I hear the drumming..'

Today is the 40th anniversary of the deaths of four students at Kent State University in Ohio, during a protest over the war in VietNam, an event often described as a 'wound in the nation's history'.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is hosting a panel tonight on the Kent State campus examining the relationship between music, the war, and protest.

(*there's a stunning live version of Neil Young's 'Ohio', recorded by CSNY in 1970, here via Wolfgang's Vault - it's as powerful and melancholy as Young's solo version above)

Monday, May 3, 2010

'Lost in the flood..'

In the early 80s I lived in Tennessee for a year, in the foothills of the beautiful Smoky Mountains, and while I unfortunately only managed to visit Nashville a couple of times, it was always a special experience rolling in there. What's been happening over the last couple of days has been just heartbreaking to watch.

The tragic situation has already seen several deaths and according to the AP tonight, the Cumberland River crested at nearly 12 feet above flood stage and at its highest level since 1937.

Local musical institution the Grand Ole Opry has moved its shows to other venues in the city. As Peter Cooper writes at the Tune in Music City blog, for the musical community the city's losses are still untold. Meanwhile, local singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters will have a 'tip jar' at her upcoming gigs in the UK for British friends who want to help.

There has been some dramatic footage and images - look on Twitter under #nashvilleflood - and it's impossible not to be moved by the extent of how nature has ravaged the city.

Check out this this video montage by Michael Deppisch (via Mashable), or this Flickr series of stills via Barry Walsh.

To donate to the relief efforts, visit the Middle Tennessee chapter of the Red Cross, or to volunteer go to Hands On Nashville.


Talking of Americans who go the extra mile to help their neighbors, today is the great Pete Seeger's 91st birthday. I was lucky enough to be at Madison Square Garden last year for his 90th birthday tribute concert, celebrating a remarkable life filled with music and a pursuit of justice.

One of the standout performances at that show was, unsurprisingly, from Bruce Springsteen, who had a few months previously joined Seeger to sing 'This Land is Your Land' in Washington during President Obama's inaugural weekend.

Now, Columbia Records has announced that Bruce's open air show with the E Street Band at Hyde Park in London last summer will be released on DVD next month. Here's a taster...

Also, on this day in 1972, Springsteen recorded a series of demos for Columbia after famously auditioning for John Hammond the previous day.

There was another interesting Bruce-related story this week by ProPublica looking at the number of members of congress who attended fundraising events with DC lobbyists at Springsteen shows in the nation's capital last year.


Today was also James Brown's birthday. The Godfather of Soul would have been 77.

This is a pretty remarkable piece of footage I'd never seen before:


Finally, after what happened in Times Square at the weekend, a sincere note of thanks to the NYPD, emergency services and everyone who keeps us safe. Thanks for doing what you do. My heart also goes out to those affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As if Louisiana hadn't suffered enough...