Tag Archives: Beatles

Joe Cocker and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

22 Dec

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame logo

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of 2015 was announced recently, and the carping began immediately thereafter.

Here are the inductees, according to category:

  • “Former Upstarts Who Became Mainstream Stars”: Green Day
  • “We’re Embarrassed that Brian Epstein was Inducted Before Him”: Ringo Starr
  • “It’s About Damn Time”: Lou Reed
  • “Wait, He’s Not Already In?”: Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • “Any Other White Blues Guys We Missed?”: Paul Butterfield
  • “Great Voice, but, uh, Why?”: Bill Withers
  • “We Have to Induct a Girl with a Guitar – Who’s Left?”: Joan Jett
  • “Uh, Who?”: The “5” Royales
Kiss Action Figures

Perhaps you’re more likely to get into the Hall of Fame if you have your own action figures

As usual, there were seminal acts on the ballot much worthier than the winners, and even more weren’t even considered who should have been ensconced in Cleveland years ago. You gotta wonder how the induction committee determines who gets in and who doesn’t. Beyond having recording at least 25 years prior to consideration, the criteria is purposely vague:

We shall consider factors such as an artist’s musical influence on other artists, length and depth of career and the body of work, innovation and superiority in style and technique, but musical excellence shall be the essential qualification of induction.

For my money, the key phrases here are,”musical influence” and “musical excellence.” Anyone who gets in should have moved the medium forward … which ought to excuse Ms. Jett from consideration in the first place. This would also justify 2014 inductee Kiss, which – despite critics’ deep distaste – inspired numerous (male) musicians at a formative age, ranging from ?uestlove to Rivers Cuomo (as a snippet of tape from his middle school days attests).

Joe CockerWhich brings me to Joe Cocker, who died Dec. 22.

Cocker is not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Perhaps he isn’t because he was influenced more than he influences. By his own admission in a documentary I saw a few years ago (was it Across From Midnight?), he idolized Ray Charles so much, he imitated him down to rocking back and forth as if he was playing Ray’s piano. He was also a singer who didn’t play an instrument and rarely sang his own compositions.

But man oh man, how he sang: that’s the definition of “musical excellence” right there.

As much as his appearance at Woodstock cemented his place in rock history, the magnificent Mad Dogs & Englishmen exemplifies his power as a vocalist and musician. Backed by a phenomenal band led by Leon Russell (featuring 20 Feet from Stardom star Claudia Lennear, and saxophonist Bobby Keys, who also died recently), Cocker rolled through tunes by the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan and a crushing “Blue Medley,” with the fervor of a revival preacher. Here’s a sample from the documentary of the tour:

 

Cocker had scattered hits later in his career, including the Oscar-winning “Up Where We Belong,” but it’s that sweaty, scorching, full-body singing in the late 1960s/early 1970s that was his gift to rock and roll, and to us.

Rest in peace, Joe, and may you be the first name on the 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ballot.

See you on the flip side … and Happy Holidays!

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Beware of Darkness

29 Nov

Nearly a year after it premiered on HBO I finally watched George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Martin Scorsese’s expansive documentary. For two weeks I’ve had an amalgam of “My Sweet Lord,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Here Comes the Sun” running through my head: sadness and bliss.

There’s not a lot I can say about Harrison or Scorsese that hasn’t already been said, other than to share my utter awe. When you have one of the world’s foremost music documentarians chronicling one of the most obscenely famous and talented musicians/spiritual seekers of the 20th century, it’s going to be good.

Before watching this I didn’t know much about George Harrison apart from the basics: regarded as one of the most influential rock guitarists ever; left the Beatles to explore Indian music and transcendental meditation; had a huge, semi-controversial hit praising Krishna; invented the megastar charity rock show with The Concert for Bangladesh (and strengthened its fundraising success by insisting on creating a film and double album); became a Traveling Wilbury; died way too soon and too young.

The secret of this telling of an almost too familiar story was how many surprises there were, some delightful and some dark:

  • He was a huge fan of Formula One car racing and became a good friend of Jackie Stewart.
  • His doppelganger son Dhani rebelled against his parents by going to military school.
  • He financed all of Life of Brian when the original producers backed out fearing the controversial content
  • When a mentally unstable man attacked George in his own home, stabbing him severely, his wife Olivia fended off the intruder by beating him with a poker and lamp. George later told his wife that during the attack, he had the awful realization that he was in the process of being murdered.

(Olivia is someone I’d love to have dinner with. She comes off as a grounded, intelligent and deeply compassionate woman who was well suited for the task of being married to George: an otherworldly man who, for all his pursuit of perfection, also committed all too common sins like infidelity. She also got the best line of the film: “What’s the secret to a long marriage? Don’t get divorced!”)

It would be wrong to say the best thing about watching this documentary is learning more trivia. George Harrison: Living in the Material World connects you musically and viscerally to his passionate world view, which he deftly made part of our own. That was made clear in one of the extra scenes available on the DVD, in which Dhani sits at a mixing board with Beatles producer George Martin exploring the various vocal and instrumental tracks that were used or discarded in the production of “Here Comes the Sun.” As George Harrison’s acoustic guitar offered the indelible final notes, Dhani points out that his father used an Indian rhythmic structure throughout the song.

If you transcribe that rhythm using Western time signatures, it’s hard to wrap your head around it. It traipses through 11/8, 4/4 and 7/8. It’s irregular and alien, so difficult to grasp that Ringo Starr said he had to plow through it because if he thought too much he just couldn’t play it. Yet Dhani points out it’s actually very simple. It’s  just : 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2, 1. The beats resolve themselves from 3 to 2 to 1.

The One.

See you on the flip side …

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