Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Waltzing Through Tennessee's Music

Christmas came early for me when the new Southern Music issue from the Oxford American arrived. I confess that the last few compilations had seemed a little uninspired to me  but this year’s salute to Tennessee had me at the first cut: "That’s How I Got To Memphis” by Sid Selvidge.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the Volunteer State represents the mother lode of American music but seldom has it been mined so intelligently and the hidden gems so burnished. The stars are here on Disc One: Charley Rich, John Hartford, Emmy Lou, Bob Dylan, and of course Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Cash’s voice is haunting on “Monteagle Mountain,”  as it seems to reverberate through an empty train station. Presley’s recording of the gospel song, “Known Only To Him,” is a nod to the Statesman Quartet and the arranger Jake Hess.  Hess later sang the song at Elvis’ funeral. Another spiritual, “Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down,” was performed by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers at Johnny Cash’s funeral in 2003.

It’s not all mournful music (although the blues runs through everything like the Tennessee River).  Big Maybelle kicks it up a notch with “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” and Bessie Smith’s “Need A little A Little Sugar In My Bowl” made my wife blush. That was 1931. Ten years later Sleepy John Estes wrote a tribute to an attorney, “Lawyer Clark Blues,” with this great line: He say if I just stay out of the grave, he see that I won't go to the pen.

The magazine provides the liner notes or the CD with some fascinating trivia. Before John Buck Wilkin recorded his first solo album in 1970, he had been Ronnie of Ronnie & the Daytonas (“Little GTO”) and his mother was Marijohn Wilkin who wrote “Long Black Veil.”

Bobby Hebb who wrote (and performs) “Sunny,” once played spoons at the Grande Ole Opry behind Roy Acuff.

There is a great story behind every track or artist, including a new release done especially for this CD by Buddy and Julie Miller with the McCrary Sisters. “Something Within” is a gospel song written by Lucie Campbell in 1919.

I am not sure that copies of the two-cd set are available other than through a subscription to the magazine. Their website at may provide some further clues.

TV SOUNDTRACK NOTE: The December 8 episode of  Showtime’s, “Masters of Sex,” ended with a song and clever twist. In the final scene, Virginia Johnson is singing, “You Don’t Know Me,” in a make-your-own-record booth at a county fair. (The classic by Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker was a huge hit for Ray Charles.) But at the end when the screen goes to black, you hear the slow click…click…click of a needle circling the inside and last cut of a vinyl record. It’s the only sound as the credits roll.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Arlo Guthrie Day

The golden era of rock in the late 60’s and early 70’s produced much great music and many pop stars but it led to only two epic poems.
Don MacLean’s American Pie was a mega hit in 1972 that is still in regular rotation on classic rock radio today. It’s music history that began with a lament for the lost careers of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper who died in a plane crash in 1959.

Arlo Guthrie’s saga about his brush with the law on Thanksgiving Day in western Massachusetts is a send up of his trivial misfortune that he whips around into a stinging protest against the much larger tragedy of Vietnam.  As an undergrad, I helped wear out the grooves on Alice’s Restaurant (and Massacree) and many of his most memorable phrases (27 8X10 color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph about each one on the back…a typical case of blind justice…shrink, I wanna kill…have you rehabilitated yourself?) became the parlance of our generation.

As the war and the draft faded, Arlo’s incredible monologue drifted into the memory shadows except for a few loyalists. One group was the deejays at the DC area alt-rock station, WHFS, who made a point of playing it every Thanksgiving. We programmed our schedule to include time to listen (and sing along) for the 25 minutes it takes Arlo to wait for the chorus to come around again. As our kids got older they incorporated the tradition and the lyrics in their routines. Then a colleague  bought me the CD version just as the radio station went under so we could listen while driving over the river and through the woods.

Over the years, the Alice saga has crossed my path is some wonderful ways. I met Venable Herndon who co-wrote the screen play for the movie (directed by Arthur Penn). I have a great t-shirt from the Group W Bench Head Shop in New Haven from my friend Elizabeth. As recently as this summer I started an email thread about “picking up the garbage” left by kids on one of our beach areas. My neighbor wrote how he hated the song because as a 14-year-old he had a camp counselor who sang it in its entirety. All day long.

That might be a little much even for me. I can recommend listening to it at least once a year and Thursday is the perfect day. There’s always some garbage that needs to be picked up and a war that needs ending.  And it’s nice to know there is still a place, “you can get anything you want.” So Happy Thanksgiving and thanks to Arlo Guthrie for capturing a moment in time and spirit.

Here’s a youtube link if you don’t have a copy handy.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jimi (Hendrix) We Hardly Knew You

When I started watching the PBS special on Jimi Hendrix I was asking myself why I did not consider myself a big fan. After watching two hours of “American Masters,” I realized that his career had flashed across my music radar like a burning meteor and was gone before it could grow on me.

It was barely more than three years from his explosive debut at the Monterey Pop Festival until his death in September 1970 in London. He released only four original albums while alive and prudish producers kept him off the Ed Sullivan show. Despite that, he connected with the Woodstock generation in a way that transcended race (bass player Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell were both white) and musical genres.

Listening to him play during the show, I realized how he led the way into psychedelic music and created the mold for heavy metal bands while not losing his blues and rock roots. He certainly was an American original as a guitarist, songwriter and performer. And when Jimi covered a song, he owned it (“Hey Joe,” “All Along The Watchtower,” and “The Star Spangled Banner”).

His back story is well-told in this documentary. His parents separated and later reunited. He joined the Army and became a paratrooper until he broke an ankle on his 25th jump.  He played the Chitlin Circuit backing up The Isley Brothers, Little Richard and Wilson Pickett among others.  His first break came when Chas Campbell left the Animals to manage him and took him to England where he wowed fans and rock stars in clubs.

When the Monterey promoters tried to get the Beatles to perform, Paul McCartney suggested they invite Jimi Hendrix.  It was there the world got to see his tricks of the trade: playing behind his neck, playing with his teeth, using the amp and the mike stand as finger picks. It is fascinating to see how he keeps the music moving forward as he does all these gyrations. Then of course he lights the guitar on fire (and the band plays on).

Jimi’s humor comes through in the rare interviews he did.  Asked about the gimmicks he used on stage, he replied,  “The whole world is a gimmick.”   When Dick Cavett lauds him as one of the best guitarists in the world, Hendrix demurs.  “Maybe the best guitar player sitting in this chair.”

Despite the antics and costumes, Hendrix remained dedicated to his music and worked at this craft around the clock. As Rolling Stone writer, David Fricke, put it, “Jimi had the faith the guitar could take you someplace you’ve never been before and he made you believe it.”

Jimi reached the top of the music mountain when the 1968 release, “Electric Lady Land,” hit number one on the charts and brought along “Are You Experienced” and  “Axis: Bold As Love” into the top 20.

The stage show clips are riveting but the quiet ballads and blues riffs are the scenes that showcase the purity of his voice and playing (don’t miss the acoustic song at the end).

The story builds to that watershed event, Woodstock.  Jimi didn’t hit the stage until 9 Monday morning when he began by greeting the soggy diehards with: “I see that we meet again.”  He ended the set with the iconic version of the National Anthem that still seems as fresh and innovative as it did 44 years ago. He spoke of the time and to the young people caught up in the sixties.  “(I did it) the way the air is in America today,” he told an interviewer. “The air is slightly static.”

“American Masters, Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train Coming” is airing on PBS stations this week, is available on line at and for sale on DVD.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Don't Know Much About History

 But I am still learning thanks to the latest wave of books, stage shows and documentaries about rock and blues music.  This weekend is the opening in D.C. of the documentary, “Muscle Shoals” from director Greg Camalier. Most of us know of the Alabama town where The Rolling Stones recorded  “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” but the history of producer Rick Hall and his house musicians, The Swampers, also includes some major milestones.

Percy Sledge was an unknown amateur when Hall got him in for his first recording session. The result: “When A Man Loves a Woman.” Duane Allman pitched his tent in the parking lot until they let him sit in on sessions, including one with Wilson Pickett doing “Hey Jude.” Etta James and Aretha Franklin laid down hit tracks there and Lynyrd Skynyrd came up with “Freebird” while on the banks of the Tennessee River.

A documentary released earlier this year, “Born in Chicago,” looks back at the work of Muddy Waters (“The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll”) Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry and their influence on a younger generation. Marshall Chess, founder of the namesake studio and record label, narrators the film which focuses in part on Mike Bloomfield.  No less an authority than Bob Dylan pays tribute to his standing by describing him as “simply the best guitarist I had ever heard.”

The history lessons continue on stage. In Chicago, the Black Ensemble Theater Company is paying homage  to Curtis Mayfield, lead singer with The Impressions and funk pioneer, with “It’s All Right To Have A Good Time.”  On Broadway the tribute shows to Janis Joplin (Vinyl Stats August 14) and Billie Holiday will be joined by “Beautiful,” the Carole King musical.

In addition to new memoirs from Graham Nash and Neil Young, there are two books out that deal with music that may have changed history and not just music. In Ready for a Brand New Beat, Mark Kurlansky argues that the super hit of 1964, “Dancin’ in the Street” from Martha & The Vandellas became a political anthem that helped spark the social upheaval and urban riots of the sixties.

And did Bruce Springsteen have more to do with the end of the Berlin Wall than Ronald Reagan? Erick Kirschbaum thinks so and outlines his argument in Rocking the Wall.  The date was July 19, 1988 and The Boss was allowed to do a live concert in East Berlin. Between songs, Springsteen, in German, told the crowd of 300,000 (and millions watching on TV),  “I’ve come to play rock and roll for you in the hopes that one day all the barriers will be torn down.” He then launched into “Chimes of Freedom.”

Whether you buy Krischbaum’s thesis or not, it gives new meaning to the Great Man theory of history.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Live in Peace Linda Ronstadt

Like millions of fans I was saddened to hear the news of Linda Ronstadt's Parkinson's disease, that is effectively ending her singing career, one of the most amazing musical journeys of her (and our generation). Although she had faded from the dizzying heights of her glory years  (TIME covers, dating Jerry Brown and George Lucas), Linda  pretty much did it all and reinvented herself so many times that she seemed to have multiple personalities. She was present at the creation of folk-country-roots rock, did the Pirates of Penzance in Central Park, had platinum  albums of pop standards with Nelson Riddle, sold  millions of copies of traditional Spanish songs and co-anchored the power-pop Trio albums with Dolly and Emmy Lou.

My first reference book, Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia, lists her as Linda and The Stone Poneys with two interesting facts. Different Drum (still getting airplay after 46 years) was written by Mike Nesmith of the Monkees fame and her guitarist then was Kenny Edwards who rejoined her on all the hit albums of the 1970's.

Has anyone had a better string than she did during that era? Heart Like A Wheel, Prisoner In Disguise, Hasten Down the Wind, Simple Dreams, Living in the USA.  She had the voice and the emotional involvement to make classics out of work from the best song writers of the time, whether it was Warren Zevon, Roy Orbison, J.D. Souther, Lowell George, Jagger & Richards, James Taylor, Neil Young, or Anna McGarrigle. They could perform their songs, she could sing them. Her voice was magical and it seemed to soar out of the stereo speakers.

Our paths sort of crossed three times. The first was at the Indiana State Fair in 1977 when she was wearing red white and blue tops and hot pants. She was the rock star who could croon the paint off your pickup with a Hank Williams song.

The second time was in DC when we saw her at a theater during the Canciones de Mi Padre tour. Our lack of Spanish language skills made the evening less than expected.

The third connection was in the mid-90s during a video shoot in Tucson, Arizona when the sound guy we hired turned out to be her brother, Mike (her other brother was the sheriff there for ten years). Mike was a nice fellow but his beat-up old International Scout ran out of gas enroute to our location and nearly sabotaged the day.

The Trio albums are still some of my most listened to as well as her  1995 CD, Feels Like Home, which includes her takes on After The Gold Rush and High Sierra and has Alison Krauss on fiddle for several cuts.

Linda has enough Grammys and gold and platinum albums to fill a museum.  No doubt she has more than enough stories to fill her new memoir, Simple Dreams. She certainly captured a little piece of my heart with her music.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

One Night with Janis Joplin

Whether we know it or not, we want our blues singers to be miserable.
In fact, we want them to die.

--One Night With Janis Joplin

Our musical memories tour continued this week with a trip to Washington’s Arena Stage to spend One Night With Janis Joplin before it heads to Broadway this fall. I arrived with some skepticism about just another tribute show for boomers willing to pay for nostalgia.
I left with my ears ringing and the semi-exhaustion of a rock concert.

My first clue that we were in for something different was the eight-piece band (all with 60s style shoulder length hair) which sounded as good or better than I remember the muddy studio albums from Big Brother & The Holding Company. And they were much more versatile, easily moving back and forth from ballad to hard rock to blues.

The star, Mary Bridget Davies, embodies Janis so convincingly (after a national tour of Love,Janis and tours with the current Big Brother band) that you are no longer making comparisons with the original; you are just enjoying the ride. She can move from sad reflection to foot-stomping, hair-flinging blues shouting in the space of a guitar lick.

After warming us up with My Baby and Down on Me, she tore into Piece of My Heart like a freight train out of control. It was all the audience could do to chant, “Come on, Come on,” and wait for the aural crash. Not sure whether it was the rush of nostalgia or the authentic sound but it gave me goose bumps.

The musical numbers were tied together by soliloquies in which Janis talked about her childhood (listening to the Chantelles on 45s) her love of the blues (The blues is just a bad woman feeling good) or her frustrating search for love (No man will be able to do to me what that audience does).

Woven through her musings were reflections on her musical influences and heroines. This is where the show kicked everything up a notch in the person of Sabrina Elayne Carter in the role of “blues singer.”
Her opera-trained voice and fabulous costumes traveled a parallel track as she took on the songs of Janis’ personal heroines. Starting with Summertime from Porgy and Bess, Carter took turns as Odetta, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin. Each time the songs segued from the traditional versions to a Davies/Joplin blues-rock interpretation. Carter’s beautiful voice often overshadowed Davies’ but the contrast seemed intentional. The smooth stylist versus the blues belter; the traditional versus the rebel. When they teamed up on Aretha’s Spirit in the Dark to close the first act, it was like a battle of the bands.

Songs of the second act underscored the irony of Joplin’s instant fame and personal demons with a cloud of irony hanging over several, including I Shall Be Released, Me and Bobby McGee, Ball and Chain and the incredibly sad Stay With Me.

This show was about the music not the tragic ending but throughout the monologues Janis is reminding us of what the blues are about. It’s the carrot, you never get to, she notes. Or this thought, which seemed apt given the age of the audience.

The blues are about time. One day you wake up and look in the mirror and wonder where it all went. That’s the blues.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than four decades since Janis left the live stage that she so electrified with her full tilt boogie approach to music and to life.

Despite the passage of time, we still know all the words to Mercedes Benz so we sang it a cappella back to her as part of the encore (and standing ovation) and as a thank you for the music and the memories.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bruce, Mick, Sting (and Darlene): 20 Feet from Stardom

It’s unusual to see a rock music film in which Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and Sting are not the front and center stars but rather the genial patriarchs praising their backup singers and ruminating on the fickleness of music success.

That is just one of the turnabouts in Morgan Neville’s great new documentary about the men and mostly women who have shaped modern musical history from the back of the concert stage and recording studio.

The film grabbed me a few minutes in when Darlene Love joined the original Blossoms in an empty studio and broke into song:
I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still
Da Do Ron Ron Ron, Da Do Ron Ron.

Time has not stood still for Love, and her golden-voiced fellow singers, Merry Clayton, Claudia Lennear, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill; their ups and downs would make for many a blues song. As tempting as it is to try and recount their fascinating (and frustrating) careers, I won’t spoil it. Just go see it.

Okay I can’t resist. Here are some of my favorite highlights
--Luther Vandross singing backup for David Bowie
--Billy Preston playing organ for Ray Charles (and the Raylettes)
--Tina Turner & the Ikettes

Finally there are the album covers serving here as means of preserving history and used creatively to track the careers of the singers, the groups and our personal history, which seems inextricably benchmarked by the music we grew up listening to.

20 Feet from Stardom manages to chronicle the era, tell some wonderful human stories and showcase the music they gave us…all at the same time. The blending of vintage clips with modern musical reunions is flawless.

Do see this in a theatre as the Dolby Surround Sound alone is worth the price of admission.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rock Musicals: Grease to Mormon

Attending two musicals in four days based on rock and roll but were created almost two generations apart got me thinking about how much the music once created for records and radio play has become such a huge creative influence in our culture. The experiences, seeing Grease done by a community theater in a high school auditorium and Book of Mormon by a national company seemed to bookend the spectrum of production values.

For starters, guess which musical this Wikipedia description refers to: “Raunchy, raw, aggressive, vulgar.” That was a reaction to the earliest version of Grease when it began in Chicago in 1971. Clearly it has been homogenized and sanitized over the years although it can still hit some “taboos” for the sake of humor. By the early seventies, recreating the music (and teenage traumas) of the 1950’s could find an audience.

It was on Broadway for a then record 3,388 performances, then twice on film (look for Stockard Channing in pajamas) and then revived again twice on Broadway. The stage version has winning numbers like, "Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee" and “Born to Hand Jive” and the film gave us top-40 hits like "Hopelessly Devoted To You" and “You’re the One That I Want” and today’s productions mix songs from both. In watching the Alliance Theater production at Chantilly High, it was great to see actual kids playing kids, enjoying the same music as their (grand?) parents and reminding us of those days of sock hops, drive-ins, and malt shops that now we only see on television or film.

Book of Mormon is a different breed of cat but when they dimmed the lights and a light show swam across the walls and ceilings, it was vintage psychedelia from the golden age of Hair and Woodstock. Clearly the South Park guys and their collaborators are products of a rock and roll generation (or two) and know how to tap into that music for energy, nostalgia and comedy.

So it seems like this music is everywhere. On Broadway it is Berry Gordy’s Motown The Musical and Cindi Lauper’s Tony winner, Kinky Boots. In Washington, there is a rock musical called Spin and the Arena Stage’s One Night With Janis Joplin is in its second run before heading to Broadway this fall. Million Dollar Quartet is returning this fall

Stephen King and John Mellencamp have conspired with T. Bone Burnett to create a musical called Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. It is on a limited tour this fall but it’s also a CD and ebook. When the threesome appeared on Stephen Colbert earlier this summer, Colbert summed up the project this way: “You’ve got a ghost story of murder and death, you’ve got love lost and someone with their head eaten off. Are these upbeat summer fun songs?”

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rev. Paul McCartney’s Revival Meeting

This weekend Brother Beatle brought his traveling musical salvation show to the nation’s capital to try to end the rainy season and lift our spirits with the kind of rollicking music he’s been making for more than five decades. And it worked. The music was marvelous and the magic kept the children dry.

From his opening songs, Eight Days A Week and All My Lovin, he had us under his spell, which he kept going through more than two hours of ballads, up-tempo toe-tappers and hard rock riffs. His current band, while not up to the vocal harmonies of the original Boys from Liverpool, is tight and gives him such solid support; you stop comparing them to The Beatles or Wings.

Paul still has the mellow voice, the boyish good looks and charming patter that made him a heartthrob in 1963 and the musical abilities that made him a superstar songwriter and musician.

Unlike some performers who speak in three word sentences to live audiences, Paul told stories, cracked jokes and paid brief moving tributes to John and George. He told about how Jimmy Hendrix liked Sgt. Pepper so much when it was released on a Friday, he learned it in time to open his show with it on Sunday. He read an audience sign that said, “My son is named Lennon Paul Thomas,” and cracked, why didn’t you go all the way and add George and Ringo?

He talked about how George Harrison had written Something In The Way She Moves on his ukulele and winced as he said Frank Sinatra called it his favorite Lennon-McCartney song. He started the song on his uke, part of a mini-set that began with Your Mother Should Know, All Together Now, Lovely Rita Meter Maid, Eleanor Rigby and followed by Obladi Oblada, Band on the Run, Back in the USSR and Let it Be before knocking us back on our heels with an ear-popping Live and Let Die that exploded into a crescendo of fireworks.

Part way through that masterful mix of songs, I decided that things had gone beyond nostalgia and great music: I was listening to the Gospel according to Paul (and John). I don’t think they intended to do much more than move beyond skiffle tunes when they began, but the body of work in retrospect carries a fascinating philosophy. Whether it is the social observations of Lady Madonna or Eleanor Rigby(all the lonely people) or the chin-up be happy sentiments of “life goes on,” there’s an overall impact that is hard to ignore.

It got clearer as Paul took to the piano for the mournful but inspiring, Let it Be. The religious overtone is up front with Mother Mary but she fades as the burden to survive falls on us.

And when all the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree.
There will be an answer, let it be.

Things could have gotten a little heavy when he segued into “Hey Jude,” a virtual handbook for young people on how to cope with tragic change.

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better.

Then Paul the showman took over to get the audience to sing the endless chorus of Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah…Nah, Nah, Nah. All right now the men only. Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah. Now the girls, come on ladies. Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah. While we are singing, he’s pantomiming men showing off their muscles then women dancing, shaking their hips and outlining a curvy female form.

Talk about making a sad song better! He had us then and I am sure we would have followed him if he asked us to march out of the baseball stadium and head toward Capitol Hill.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Summer Reading: Telegraph Avenue

If you are looking for a good escape this summer, there is no better place than the East Bay area of Oakland, California and the world that Michael Chabon has created around the Brokeland Records Store. No one draws characters as well as Chabon and when he uses the music business as a setting for their hopes and dreams, foibles and failings, the result is rich reading.
Here are some of the characters you will meet in Telegraph Avenue.
Archy Stallings, “moonfaced, mountainous, moderately stoned…wearing a tan corduroy suit over a pumpkin-bright turtleneck that reinforced his noted yet not disadvantageous resemblance to Gamera, the giant mutant flying tortoise of Japanese cinema.”
Nate Jaffe, his partner and fellow musician, “who showed up for work under a cloud. His bad mood a space helmet lowered over his head, poor Nat trapped inside with no way to know whether the atmosphere was breathable, no guard to tell him when his air supply would run out.”
One of the regulars at the store was Cochise Jones, “with that inveterate hunch to his spine from fifty years conducting experiments at the keyboard of the Hammond B-3.”
Jones travels with a parrot named Fifty Eight on his shoulder, who could give out “a note-perfect reading of Jones’ take on the old Mahalia Jackson spiritual, Trouble of the World.”
There are more, like the ex-NFL star turned record store and real estate magnate, a funeral director who’s linked to Archie’s dad Luther Stallings (the star of kung fu blaxploitation films in the 70s trying to find the money for a comeback with his co-star Valletta Moore: “Do what you gotta do. And stay fly”) and Archy’s pregnant wife, who is a midwife.
The basic plot is pretty standard. The record store is going under, and the developers will try any trick they can to get them to sell out their anchor position for the new “mall.”
While this is not the paean to life in a record store that Nick Hornby created in High Fidelity, it is an admirable entry in the genre. Here are some samples of Chabon’s use of the music mystique.
--The science of cataloging one-handed. Pluck a record from the crate, tease the paper sleeve out of the jacket…waiter the platter out with your fingertips touching nothing but label. Angle the disc in the morning light …to tell you the truth about the record’s condition.
--Archy tended to make up for his hypercritical attitude toward the condition of vinyl records by going too easy on human beings.
--Only Mr. Jones had always stopped to drop a needle in the long inward spiraling groove that encoded Archy, and listen to the vibrations.
--Cochise began his vandalism in earnest, snapping off bright bunches of melody and scattering it in handfuls, packing it with extra notes in giddy runs.

Chabon broadens his story from the confines of the record store and its crates of musical history to offer comments on the struggles of the civil rights era and the cultural habits of today’s Berkeley hipsters. At times his plots and characters careen from crisis to crisis like Keystone Kops eventually to be reined in by enduring ties to family and history and music.

Telegraph Avenue is the age-old story of people pursuing dreams while trying to figure out the rent. Can we keep the band together? Can we hold on to music etched onto vinyl?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rock Hall of Fame Surprises

One good lyric line can hook me on a song or a performer in a New York Minute. The other night on The Daily Show it was the ageless Mavis Staples when she sang, “I like the things about me that I once despised.” That seemed a hopeful pick-me-up for aging boomers.
And if laughter is the best medicine, Dr. (Randy) Newman was making house calls recently during his set at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame presentations in Los Angeles. Don Henley, looking like a psychologist from central casting in black frame glasses and white goatee, noted that Newman once told him he thought rock and roll was too serious and needed some good laughs.
Newman, who opened the show with “I Love L.A.” featuring those spring chickens, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and John Fogerty,” then proceeded to bite the hand of his contemporary peers with the song, “I’m Dead But I Don’t Know It.”
Newman said he wrote it because he was concerned that youngsters in the music business couldn’t get ahead because the touring stages and recording studios were filled with his buddies who wouldn’t retire. Here are some samples:

I have nothing left to say
But I'm gonna say it anyway
Thirty years upon a stage
And I hear the people say
Why won't he go away?

When will I end this bitter game?
When will I end this cruel charade?
Everything I write all sounds the same
Each record that I'm making
Is like a record that I've made
Just not as good

And the chorus in a call and response (with Henley and the band)

He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead
I don’t know it.

The Hall of Fame Show was a slick Hollywood style production that despite its three plus hours entertained with nice biographies of the honorees, tight musical productions and a few surprises.

--John Mayer displaying some hot guitar chops while presenting Albert King. I knew Gary Carter Jr. was good but my image of Mayer was as a heartthrob crooner.

--Harry Bellafonte still carrying the banner for equal rights and looking as young and handsome as when he was singing on stage with dock workers unloading bananas. He presented Public Enemy as “radical, revolutionary and fearless artists,” Chuck D reminded everyone, “Let’s all not forget, we all come from the damn blues.”
--Heart’s mega hits, "Crazy on You," "Magic Man" and "Barracuda" can still sound fresh when performed live, despite years of being scorched into your brain from top 40 radio. They, too, took a respectful tone for the evening when Nancy Wilson said, “Music is the real church. Music makes us all equal and perfectly human.”
--Rush, another radio staple, has not lost a beat or a step after 45 years on the road and 47 million albums. Guitarist Alex Lifeson’s acceptance speech, “Blah, Blah,Blah” was an instant classic, the perfect send up of every award ceremony ever. Look it up on You Tube.

It was nice to see Quincy Jones honored as well as Lou Adler, the legendary record producer who brought us The Mommas and Poppas and Carole King and led Paul Simon to write the line, “I’ve been Lou Adlered.” Donna Summer’s untimely death last year may have helped vault her to the head of line after others had been kept waiting for decades.

The finale included one last tribute to the blues with an all-band jam on "Crossroads." The show, which aired on HBO, may get another rotation in summer reruns.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Janis Joplin at Wesleyan

Every five years at my Wesleyan Reunion, I learn a few more facts about the visit of Big Brother and The Holding Company and Janis Joplin to our secluded campus on the Connecticut River on March 9, 1968. Five years ago John Lipsky, former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, revealed he had hosted the band at lunch and found the experience less than scintillating (“So what’s your sign?” she asked).

This weekend I got a new version of the event from Bob Isard who regaled me with several tales of the post concert party hosted by Delta Kappa Epsilon. As house steward he was at the center of things. When Janis arrived, she demanded, “What’s to eat, I am starving.” (I guess the university lunch was not very filling.)

Isard then told of tapping a fresh keg and filling the beer cup of a young lady who was a regular visitor at the DKE house because she had been dating one of the brothers for more than a year. He described her as “Sweet Sally,” the typical preppie undergrad clad in miniskirt, while blouse and sweater. Unfortunately when she turned to leave she bumped into the guitar player for Big Brother and dumped the beer all over him. The guitarist, without missing a beat stepped forward to get his cup filled.

The funny thing was that Sweet Sally was never seen again after that night. Isard has concluded that there was room for her in one of the two Volkswagen Campers the band was touring in so she joined the guitarist on the road.

Another campus concert, this one by the Grateful Dead in 1970 was the subject of a symposium and mini-reunion for those who made that scene. The event offered insights into the work of archivists who try to authenticate bootleg audiotapes. It was reported that the Dead were paid $4,000 for the gig but everyone was admitted for free. The concert took place on May 3. Shortly afterwards the Wesleyan students voted to go on strike in support of the students killed at Kent State. The school was shut down for the year.

One other Dead connection. John Perry Barlow, Wesleyan ’69 (a religion major) was a childhood friend of Bob Weir and began co-writing songs with Weir in 1971. He is also credited with introducing the band members to Dr. Timothy Leary. In 1990, Barlow founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a platform he has used for education and legal activism on Internet issues.

And last but not least, I learned that Louis Armstrong played a concert at Wesleyan in 1958. I’ll bet the Chapel was jumping that night.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

April Milestones: Memories of Richie Havens

As we move away from April, that proverbially cruel month, I was touched by the passing of a couple of musical greats and the anniversary of the death of a third.
Richie Havens and George Jones, when paired in the same sentence seem so opposite as to be almost comical. Havens, soft-spoken and weary-voiced, the hard working balladeer.
Jones, the hard-living, outrageous showman whose antics became as legendary as his voice and his career. One toiled on the club circuit (with a brief moment of world fame) and the other had his string of hits, the Grand Ole Opry and the ultimate country music partner in Tammy Wynette.

I got a chance to meet Havens in April of 1968. He was scheduled to do a concert at Wesleyan the weekend after Martin Luther King was assassinated. The concert was cancelled but no one had informed him before he left New York City. When he arrived, a couple of the guys hosting, brought him down to our fraternity house for a cup of coffee before he made the return trip. So we stood around the kitchen of the Beta House for a while, making awkward small talk about the tragedy and why we could not do the concert.

At this point, Havens' album, “Mixed Bag” (released in the musical magical year of 1967) had launched him with a series of great covers, including his rendition of Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman,“ the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and Tuli Kupferberg’s “Morning, Morning.” It also included a song Havens wrote with Lou Gossett called “Handsome Johnny.”

I don’t remember a lot from that afternoon (it was the 60’s and my thesis was due) but I still carry this image of his presence: Dressed in leather and beads, with rings on every finger and that soft voice and gentle manner that seemed to radiate a “Summer of Love” vibe. It was more than a year before he would make history at Woodstock.

The down home charm that made Havens so likeable also seemed to be one of the ingredients in Levon Helm’s propularity with fans and colleagues. He died in April of last year and there is a new tribute album produced by Don Was called “Love for Levon.” The concert was recorded in October, 2012 and the incredible list of guest artists (Roger Waters, Mavis Staples, Lucinda Williams, John Hiatt, Bruce Hornsby, etc., etc.) reprised much the The Band’s catalogue of hits.

As Don Was told Bob Edwards, “without the Band, there would be no Americana Music Awards.” They left “an eduring, irreversible legacy.”

Was, when asked about the volatle life cycles of rock and roll bands, offered this explanation: “Bands are crazy. They get together with this dream of conquering the world. If they make it, then they set out to conquer each other.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

Celebrate! Record Store Day

Add to the list of spring high holy days (NCAA Final Four, Easter, Masters, Earth Day) a music event: National Record Store Day is tomorrow, April 20. It has become a crossroads between old vinyl (collections sold in the few remaining stores) and new vinyl (pressings of new recordings and remasters from famous artists).
In one of my earliest posts on January 26, 20111 I offered my thoughts about ( the joys of time spent flipping through cardboard sleeves and listening to music in your neighborhood record store. While the stores continue to disappear from the landscape they assume an almost iconic status in our musical culture. They are where dreams of fame and fortune (High Fidelity) are nourished or where musicians are discovered (Alabama Shakes found their drummer, Steve Johnson, working in a record store). And they become the metaphor for the conflict between the good old days and the steamroller of progress (Michael Chabon’s, Telegraph Avenue).

I discovered Record Store Day thanks to an article by David Lindquist in The Indianapolis Star profiling some vinyl collectors in Indianapolis.
Lindquist offers a nice look at Dr. Spin: The World’s Only All Vinyl DJ, aka, Doug Babb, who claims his trove of 200 albums featuring the Moog synthesizer is the world’s largest. It must also be something of a record for Indianapolis to have three record stores, Indy CD & Vinyl, Luna Music and Vibes Music.

The stores have jumped on this bandwagon with live concerts and exclusive sales of new releases sold on the big day. Check out their website ( for an amusing video of Jack White taking you on a tour of a vinyl pressing plant or new releases from Billy Bragg, MGMT and the Doors, plus a screening schedule for the film, Last Shop Standing.

The Washington Post reports these special issue vinyl albums are proving a mixed blessing for the stores because their orders are not returnable and if the owners don’t guess right about what the fans want this year, they are stuck with the unsold records.

Even if record stores are not here to stay, it appears that vinyl records are. The Recording Industry of America reports that sales have jumped from just over 1 million to just over 7 million in the past five years. That’s only two percent of recordings sold but at least you can’t pirate vinyl.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Steve Jobs Rock Star

Just as our grandparents could remember life before airplanes, we can remember listening to music before it became portable (unless you had a car wrapped around an AM radio). Today being able to listen to any kind of music, anywhere, for hours on end seems as natural as breathing.

Such a cultural change kind of creeps up on us (or rather steamrollers us) in the microchip/internet/social media age. Still, it struck me as time flying when I learned that Apple’s I-Tunes Store will be ten years old this month.

How that came to happen is another fascinating chapter in the Steve Jobs saga as retold by Walter Issacson in his biography of the Apple legend. The story has all the elements of a Gordon Gecko movie with corporate intrigue, personal ambition, millions of dollars at stake and the superhero doing battle against all odds.

Of course the saga began with the arrival of the I-Pod: the slick, shiny cigarette box that Jobs unveiled in October of 2001, saying, “This little device holds a thousand songs and it goes right in my pocket.” In musical parlance, it was an overnight sensation.

Apple’s digital system…I-Pod, I-Tunes and computer… worked fine for taking music you owned and going portable with it. But the music industry was being buffeted by big changes. Napster and its followers were making it easy to copy and distribute songs for free and the big corporate players, Warner Music (AOL), Sony and others were watching CD sales drop. At first they tried lawsuits and then they went into partnerships to offer subscription services, but neither was successful.

In rides Jobs on his white horse with a couple of simple concepts. First, he believed that people wanted to “own” music not rent it. Second, he was opposed to theft of creative content. “It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character.”

Jobs then proceeded to write the rules of the new game: 99 cents a song, sold individually (not as albums), 70 cents to record companies. Then the super salesman turned on the charm to convince AOL Time Warner to get on board, then Universal, and finally Jimmy Iovine of Interscope-Geffen-A&M.

The biggest stumbling block was Sony whose chief then, Andrew Lack, wanted a cut on sales of I-Pods. Jobs refused and played his coalition off against Sony’s fractious divisions. Then he courted individual artists like Bono, Jagger and Sheryl Crow. One artist who became convinced of the symbiosis of I-Tunes to I-Pod, was Dr. Dre, who said “Man somebody finally got it right.”

In less than a year, Jobs had brought the I-Tunes Store to reality, opening its digital doors with 200,000 tracks in April 2003. The store manager had predicted the service would sell a million songs in six months. It sold that many in six days.

Two years later Apple sold its one millionth I-Pod and by 2012, Apple reported sales of I-Pods worldwide had reached 350 million units.

You say you want a revolution? Steve Jobs proved there was more than one way to become a rock star.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Phil Ramone & Paul Williams: Makers of Rock History

In reading the recent obituaries of Phil Ramone and Paul Williams I was struck by how the rock producer and the rock writer were connected by only degree of separation: Paul Simon.
In the first issue of Crawdaddy(named for a London Club where the Stones played), Williams reviewed Simon & Garfunkel’s new release, "Sounds of Silence", which he had to buy himself. A copy of that seminal, mimeographed issue in 1966 made it to Paul Simon, who called Williams in his dormitory at Swarthmore to thank him for the review. Crawdaddy predates Rolling Stone and Creem but was eventually overwhelmed by the glitzier magazines. Still, Williams, who also wrote a trilogy on Bob Dylan, set the bar pretty high for writers like Jon Landau and Peter Guralnick, both Crawdaddy alums.

In writing about rock music, my intention was not to judge the records (like a critic) or report on the scene (like a journalist) but to explore as an essayist, the experience eof listening to certain records and feeling the whole world through them.

Phil Ramone crossed paths with Paul Simon a few years latter, producing “There Goes Rhymin Simon” and then helping win three Grammys for “Still Crazy After All These Years.” Reading the list of artists he worked with, first as an engineer then producer, one can’t help but consider him as a giant of late 20th century music. It began with John Coltrane and Count Basie and came full circle with a Grammy for Ray Charles’ duets: "Genius Loves Company." In between, besides Simon, were Dusty Springfield, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Billy Joel and Tony Bennett and many others.

For several decades, in the music business, Phil Ramone was the answer to the question: Who you gonna call? No doubt, one key to his success was his willingness to let the artist have the spotlight. As reported in the NY Times, he wrote that a record producer’s role was much like that of a film director: to bring out the best performance.

But unlike a director (who is visible and often a celebrity in his own right), the record producer toils in anonymity. We ply our craft deep into the night, behind locked doors. And with few exceptions, the fruit of our labor is seldom launched with the glitzy fanfare of a Hollywood premiere.

For a guy who spent his life working with rock stars, he says his personal highlight came from a gig with a Hollywood screen legend. He was running sound when Marilyn Monroe cooed Happy Birthday Mr. President in 1962.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Fan's Notes: Bob Dylan to Mumford & Sons

Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Killing time in a bookstore recently (not as easy as it once was) I thumbed through the latest Rolling Stone effort to make a few bucks off rock nostalgia, “Bob Dylan’s 100 Greatest Songs,” before putting it back on the rack. It was mostly old interviews and vintage photos of Bob when he was young and handsome. And the jury picking songs was all male.
Before I could pat myself on the back for resisting temptation, my daughter arrived with her delayed Christmas present. You guessed it: A book of photos by Daniel Kramer of Bob Dylan. It was a souvenir from the 2012 Paris show, Bob Dylan Rock Explosion, which tracked his career from 1961-66. Kramer spent a year on the road with Dylan from which he produced many of the iconic photos that fueled the Dylan marketing machine and mystique and you have seen them in magazines and on album covers. For more on Kramer’s story, here’s a link.

The gift got me thinking about fandom and how once it sets its hook, you are stuck for life whether it is reliving youth when listening or thanking friends and relatives for their gifts. And while I resisted Life’s 96-page paean to Bob, Forever Young: Fifty Years of Song, I did indulge myself in one Dylan 70th birthday souvenir. The clock pictured above was purchased from a shop dedicated to the music, clothing and lifestyles of 60's called IMAGINE in Mystic, Connecticut (

Whenever I start to chastise myself for such foolishness, I run across other examples of fan fanaticism like this passage from Walter Issacson’s biography, Steve Jobs.
Jobs and his pal Steve Wozniak spent a summer tracking down bootleg tapes of Dylan concerts. “I had more than a hundred hours, including every concert on the ’65 and ’66 tour, the one where Dylan went electric," Jobs boasted. “I bought a pair of awesome headphones and would just lie in my bed and listen to that stuff for hours.”

Then of course there is the 60’s counterpart to the Justin Bieber phenomenon, The Beatles. My sister was one swept up by that cyclone, covering the walls and ceiling of her bedroom with photos cut from magazines (something Dad would never let me do). She and her friends each had a favorite but I am not sure whether they drew straws or arm wrestled to get the one they wanted.

More recently, I have empathized with Governor Chris Christie’s uncontrollable fanatic behavior toward Bruce Springsteen. We’ve all been there and are likely to be stuck there as long as someone needs to get us something for a birthday.

News Note from Britain: An obituary of Bruce Reynolds who masterminded the Great Train Robbery in 1963 on the Glasgow to London mail train, noted that his son, Nick Reynolds was a member of the band Alabama 3. Their song, “Woke Up This Morning,” had the good fortune of being the Sopranos theme song. Wonder whether father or son got the bigger haul.

Program Note: Showtime cable will be rerunning next week its music documentary, The Big Easy Express. It features Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros training from California to New Orleans. It is a high end production that won a Grammy with some fun moments (“we’ve come 2800 miles in a week and a half and had the time of our lives”) and none of the amateurish production issues noted in my last post on the Mellencamp doc. However, after watching the fans enjoy trackside concerts I was left wondering why people would rather make I-phone videos than listen to the music.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

John Mellencamp: Better Heard Than Seen

Years and years ago, before MTV and before CDs, my friend Tom Cochrun told me about this young rock and roll singer from Seymour, Indiana who was about to go on a national tour. He thought I should get a video camera and follow John Mellencamp around the country. For a lot of reasons (no money, no market for a film and fear of ending the tour in rehab), I instead headed to Washington, D.C. and became a bureaucrat for a while.

As John’s career took off into the super star stratosphere, I often wondered what if I had gambled on the film. That is, until now when I watched a Showtime release of a movie completed in 2010 by Kurt Markus and his son, Ian, “John Mellencamp: It’s About You.” The title is a play on John’s challenging Ian, saying this won’t be about me, it will be about you (the filmmaker).

Markus was an old friend from John’s New York days who John invited to film the tour of historical venues and concert gigs with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson (neither of whom appear). The result proves that best intentions often lead to unwatchable results. The film includes endless trucking shots through the countryside, some live concerts and some studio sessions. All of it is so grainy that it looks as if Final Cut Pro has come up with a Georges Seurat-Pointilist Filter effect. At first I thought it was a matter of low light problems using Super 8 film but it was still there when they were shooting outdoor audience shots before a live concert. I have seen better docs about Mellencamp when he actually talks about his career, his painting, and his music but this fly-on-the wall approach made you felt that at the end of each scene, you were going to be swatted (and in San Antonio they closed the curtains and the film went to black in mid recording session). Markus laments his difficulty in making this work when he says he had “no screenplay, no plot, no control.” Sounds like the definition of a home movie.

The off-putting visual look and the frenetic editing obscure some nice moments as Mellencamp and T. Bone Burnett use old RCA mikes and 1950’s Ampex mono recorders to try to recreate a classic sound in places like a Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia or the hotel room in San Antonio where Robert Johnson made his iconic album in 1936. (“It’s weird being here.”)

And even through the graininess, it was nice to see the interiors of the Sun Studios in Memphis where longtime session players like David Roe are still turning out the hits.

Despite some snippets here and there (“This is my least favorite song on the whole f---ing album.”) we never get much insight into the music making process, which is too bad. From what clips I did hear for the album, John is still going strong--searching for soulful musical roots rather than the pop hooks and youthful anthems that have sold 40 million albums and led to 22 top forty hits.

Even though Markus did not travel on the tour bus, there are some revealing moments. After the session at the Baptist Church, John and then wife Elaine don white robes and are baptized in the full immersion tank (with no explanation). And John still chain smokes, even when he is recording in the historic studios. And T-Bone Burnett, when given the screen time, can still play.

Despite the shaggy dog nature of the film, I did hear enough to want to get the CD they produced from this tour, No Better Than This.

John must have liked this film better than I did. I read where he played it at the start of each concert for the next tour. I hope it was an edited portion because paying customers deserved better.

At one point, Markus narrates: “the simple way to look at this film is to recognize that all it takes is the arm strength to lift the camera to my eye and finger strength to pull the trigger…” Recording images does not make a film, much less a documentary.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tom Waits Hall of Famer

Some of my favorite artists often get lost in the library because their names start at the end of the alphabet and I don’t browse far enough to find them. Something similar is happening on my DVR: music programs get archived and gather digital dust. That’s why the other day I was wondering why I had saved the induction ceremony for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2012. (It was not for Alice Cooper). Then I came across Tom Waits and a video bio in which a interviewer asks: “How does a guy with a voice like yours decide to be a singer…and succeed?” Cigarette in hand, Tom replies:
“Well it was a choice between entertainment or a career in air conditiong and refrigeration.”

Ever since my friend Tom introduced me to Waits back in the seventies, I have been a fan of his ability as a wordsmith as he rapped, skatted, and poetry slammed his way through some pathbreaking songs and developed his persona as a beat poet, jazz singer and creature of the night that made more from movie roles and sound track credits than album sales.

As a singer, he makes Mr. Dylan sound mellifluous but as a song writer and music maker, he is a true Hall of Famer. And a lot of his contemporaries would toast his induction with thanks for giving them hit songs like “Old 55” (Eagles, Ian Matthews), "Downtown Train" (Rod Stewart), "Blind Love" (Bob Seger) and "Heart of Saturday Night" (Dion).

The video led me back to the vinyl and I was rewarded by his early work. Closing Time seemed to confirm my First Album is The Best Album Theory. But Heart Attack and Vine gave Mr. Springsteen one of his anthems with “Jersey Girl.” Tucked on that side is an amazing organ solo on a cut called “In Shades” and the song “Downtown” offers this quintessential Waits turn of phrase: Drinking Chivas Regal in a four-dollar room, just another dead soldier in a powder blue night.
Here is one more good one from “New Coat of Paint:”
Our love needs a transfusion
So let’s shoot it full of wine
Fishin for a good time starts with throwin in your line.

His send-up of television ads, radio come-ons and the commercial society on “Step Right Up” from Small Change is as laugh out loud funny as it was when he recorded it in 1976.
For the lyrics, he invited you to “send a photo of yourself, two creepie charlies and a self-addresed, stamped envelope to the Tropicana Motor Hotel, Hollywood, California.” Ironically, Waits won a $2.5 million settlement from Frit-o-Lay for using “Step Right Up” as the concept for a radio jingle.

Waits’ signature humor came through in his acceptance speech. “They say that I have no hits and I’m difficult to work with and they say that like it’s a bad thing.” (Cut to a shot of presenter Neil Young laughing.)

He asked if he could get a key chain version of his trophy, “So I could keep it with me just in case I hear someone say, ‘Pete take the cuffs off, I think he’s a Hall of Famer.’”

He touched a chord with his peers in the audience when he noted, “Songs are really just very interesting things to be doing with the air.” And finally, “We all love music, but we really want music to love us.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Madonna, Cher and Billie H: Women Who Rock

On Capitol Hill last week, the media was reporting how a record number of women had been elected to the new Congress. A few miles down New York Avenue, there was an exhibit dedicated to the women who made records and it was a fascinating catalog of nine decades of music history.

"Women Who Rock" filled the second floor of the National Museum for Women in the Arts as part of its 25th anniversary celebration in a co-production with Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Part fashion show, part tribute and part history lesson it brought back a lot of memories of women who have sung the stories of young love, tangled webs and lost opportunities.

While the exhibit ended with the costumes and instruments of Brittany and Taylor, Madonna other top pop phenoms, it began more touchingly with a tribute to Mother Maybelle Carter with her story and her Gibson L5 guitar. She played it from 1927 until the early 50's when June and Johnny Cash decided it ought to be in a museum so they bought her this replacement. The only guitar that could match it for playing time was Odetta's, circa 1951.

As good keepers of the flame, the Cleveland curators devoted solo exhibits to the early blues and jazz greats. There was a fox fur stole worn by Billie Holiday as well as a poster for two shows in 1948 at Carnegie Hall. Prices started at $1.20 and topped out at $3.60. It was her first appearance after being released from prison and both sold out.

Next was Bessie Smith's case complete with 78 records and session cards for her 1925 hit, "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate." I learned that the first person to record "C.C. Rider" (See See Rider) was Ma Rainey in 1925.

From there, the exhibit paired women which proved interesting. Wanda Jackson and Ruth Brown, Lavern Baker and Brenda Lee (1964 telegram from Dusty Springfield: "I know you'll be a smash"), Bonnie Raitt and Loretta Lynn, the Ronettes and the Shirelles, Mavis Staples and Odetta.

Laura Nyro was with Joni Mitchell along with their lyrics in notebooks. Laura's "And When I Die" was neatly hand lettered with only two words crossed out. Joni's song ended with this dedication: "For Barry in memory of those bread and butter days. No Gravy, just bread and butter."

It was great to see song writers honored in addition to Carole King like Cynthia Weil ("Kicks," "On Broadway," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'") and Ellie Greenwich ("River Deep, Mountain High,""Leader of the Pack" "Do Wah Diddy," and "Be My Baby").

As with any compilation...someone has to get short shrift and to cram Heart, Donna Summer, Cher, Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks and Pat Benatar into the same display case seemed a little crazy. On the other side was Cyndi Lauper,Janet Jackson, Madonna, Sheena E, Gwen Stefani, Britany Spears and Shakira. Linda Ronstadt was an afterthought.

Despite those problems it was still fun to see Cher's Indian feather dress and Madonna's get up.

Then there was Queen Latifah's high school year book photo (1987) and a piano that Lady Gaga's grandparents bought her when she was a baby. Do you think they thought it would lead to a meat costume for the MTV awards? That was on display also but it was hard to tell if it had become beef jerky or red leatherette.

Recognition of the roles women play in rock history is long overdue and one hopes this exhibit will be traveling elsewhere. In the Rolling Stone anthology, "The 100 Greatest Artists," there are only six women and two female groups. Only Aretha, Madonna, Janis and Patti Smith cracked the top fifty and the others were Joni Mitchell, Tina Turner, the Shirelles and Diana Ross & The Supremes. Of course of the 55 "Voters", only two were women. Here in Washington, we're familiar with that kind of balloting.