Saturday, June 16, 2012

Old Guys Rock: Volume 2 (B Side)

I remember when rock was young.
--Crocodile Rock

Recently my friend John the guitar man tipped me to the music specials running during the PBS fund-raising specials under the My Music banner. This one was called the British Invasion. The format invovles video clips from the kinescopes made of live concerts back in the day intercut with recorded performances of the bands current incarnations along with some background interviews.

These were clearly most of the players who came off the bench to fill the gaps between singles from The Beatles and The Stones (who bookended segments with snippets from the Ed Sullivan Show) and, in most cases they paled in comparison to the the superstars.
Back then, we thirsted for anything with a British accent or a Carnaby cut suit. And it’s hard not to like the smooth sounds of Gerry and The Pacemakers, Chad and Jeremy or Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits.

Some have aged pretty well and can still belt out the hits, like the Zombies whose “Time of the Season” and “She’s Not There” still sound authentic after years of radio overplay. Others, like Eric Burdon don’t have much left and the producers were forced to cut back and forth over a forty-year time warp, making the modern version even more painful to watch.

But it’s interesting how many songs have entered our culture in ways we did not expect. Is there anyone who can watch Manfred Mann reprise “Do Wah Diddy” without seeing Bill Murray leading the troops on a drill field?

And “Wild Thing” occupies space in everyone’s head after it sold five million copies in 1966 with what the RS Encyclopedia called “…a seminal garage-punk hit.” Has there ever been a high school dance without it? I did not remember that among its parodies, according to the RSE, was a version done by two actors: one imitating Everett Dirksen and the other Robert Kennedy.

I also did not know that Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde were from upper class backgrounds and attended Eton and the Sorbonne. They performed a forgettable song,
“Yesterday’s Gone” but it reminded me of one my favorite albums, “Of Cabbages and Kings,” their concept album released in 1967.

Denny Laine was there to remind us of what the Moody Blues were before becoming a super group and their hit, “Go Now” seems emblamatic of the British take on blues ballads. As he said, “There’s something about the 60’s music. It’s all coming back, all at once.”

For the most part, that’s a good thing because the music left from the British Invasion has aged better than the performers (with a few exceptions who were on hand to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee.)

John had asked me if watching these old rockers made me feel old. In most cases not, because they bring back youthful memories. What did make me feel old was watching the old duffers in the audiences for the made-for-tv concerts. I guess I just don’t’ like to see graybeards (like myself) waving their hands and clapping for other old graybeards.

That feeling was driven home to me as I watched the wonderful mix of today’s Brits dancing and waving tiny Union Jacks as some giants paid their musical respects to Queen Elizabeth. “Isn’t She Beautiful?” from Stevie Wonder, “Momma Told Me Not To Come” from Tom Jones and Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” kept folks of all ages on their feet in a state of nostalgic exuberance.

Was there ever an EP four pack like the one that Paul McCartney delivered? “All My Lovin,’” “Let it Be,” “Live and Let Die” and “Obladi Obladah.” What a desert island disc. Life does go on.

One final note. The Queen didn’t let her hair down during the concert but she did take off her hat (her gloves remained on throughout the evening).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Old Guys Still Rock

Bob Dylan comes to Washington a couple of times a year, once to play a concert and once to pick up an award. This latest trip was for a Medal of Freedom award (the nation’s highest civilian honor) and the picture of the occasion stopped me in my tracks when I saw it on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. An African American President of the United States hanging a medal on the quintessential protest singer of the 1960s for his civil rights songs. SPIN magazine called the shot “amazing.” For me, it’s more like: “Never thought I would live to see the day.”

While the peripatetic troubadour continues his victory laps (Did you see the Life Magazine tribute issue in your grocery? Or see this exhibit in Paris?, he is one of many seniors still going strong. Last year was a good one for Paul Simon, Emmy Lou Harris, and Sir Paul McCartney. This year Bonnie Raitt is back with a new CD, as is Neil Young and even Tom Jones looked stellar performing at the Queen’s Jubilee concert.

Someone else going strong after sixty is Grandpa Elliott Small who is a New Orleans street singer catapulted to international fame when Mark Johnson took his cameras and audio recorders to the French Quarter several years ago. “Stand By Me” was first a hit for Ben E. King, then a popular movie and finally this viral video that put You Tube on the map.

The smash hit launched Playing for Change as a music business (CD’s, DVD’s and a film) a philanthropic foundation (music schools and programs in seven countries) and solo careers and group tours. Opening singer Roger Ridley died in 2005 but Small and others have kept the tradition and the music alive. The latest CD, “PFC #2,” is a blend of young and old voices and classic songs from “Try A Little Tenderness” to “Gimme Shelter” and “Imagine.”

Grandpa Elliott recently toured for PFC, performing along with Clarence Milton Bekker and Jason Tomba. Bekker’s solo album is called “Old Soul” and Grandpa’s is “Sugar Sweet.” One of their songs, called “Music is My Ammunition,“ includes the following lyrics:

Peace and dignity are not very far out of reach
It just comes down (it just comes down) to what I and I choose to teach
Truth and honesty will free our hearts
And free our minds (and free our minds)
So then our children can live together as one
Until the end of time.

Not a bad anthem for a foundation ( whose motto is “Connecting the world through music.” That is certainly something to which both Bob and Barack can relate. By the way, the original "Stand By Me" video has recorded some 43 million hits and counting.