Tag Archives: Johnny Cash

Heartbroken: Tom Petty, RIP

4 Oct

Tom Petty in a vanWith all the literal disasters that have happened in the last month – three hurricanes, an earthquake, the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas – it seems almost silly to be bereft over the loss of a rock musician.

And yet … Tom Petty seeped into all corners of my life. Sure, everyone has to go sometime, but his death came so abruptly without warning, it’s like the air has been sucked out of me. Jeez, I just saw his 40th anniversary concert in July. Even as he’d intimated this could be his and the Heartbreakers’ last large-scale tour, he also admitted he didn’t like to stay still and probably would renege on that vow. He had promised to release another album of songs from Wildflowers – his best era, in my opinion – and maybe do concerts in which he’d play the entire thing. He had so much more ahead of him. He was having such a good time.

TPATH photo - 1979

Petty became my reference point for all other music: you can connect him to practically any other major act in two steps. He recorded with two Beatles; he backed Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash; he shared the stage with everyone from Bo Diddley to Eric Clapton to Prince. His SiriusXM Buried Treasure show championed artists I now love: Lucinda Williams, Big Joe Turner, Ann Peebles, Louis Jordan, the Shangri-Las. He had incredible taste, which was a remarkable contrast to the bloated acts that clogged the 1970s when he came up in the business. And he kept up his songwriting chops throughout his career. Someone I read years ago pointed out that every one of his albums rated at least 7 out of 10; that was as true of Hypnotic Eye as his eponymous debut.

He also had a sense of humor. Witness his appearance on The Larry Sanders Show trying to clock Greg Kinnear and Clint Black:

 

And a flair for animation V/O:

 

There are any number of respectful obituaries that list Petty’s hits and talk about his talent for championing the underdog in his songs and his fights with his labels. Thing is, he was rarely included in critics’ lists of the “best” American rock musicians: that is an honor bestowed on Elvis, Dylan, Springsteen, and possibly Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry or other pioneers. That is probably because he was less an innovator than a craftsman. He and that insanely talented band of his, the Heartbreakers, could play just about anything, original songs or covers, from muscular chord-based rock to devastating ballads:

After that night in Vegas/ And the hell that we went through
We went down swingin’

Throughout the last 24 hours, I’ve received a lot of genuine condolences from friends and coworkers. My daughters have been checking on me often, offering support and shoulders to sigh on. My elder daughter pointed out what a privilege it is to connect deeply to an artist’s work during his lifetime, especially since he inspired me to create my own. (This blog and Love and Other B-Sides would not be here without me falling head first into his catalog.) I’ve also gotten some solace from listening to SiriusXM’s “wake” on his channel, with famous fans (Cameron Crowe, John Fogerty) and regular folks calling in to share what Tom Petty meant to them.

Means to them.

Means to us.

Means to me.

This is going to take a long time to get over, folks. Thank God we have each other.

See you on the flip side …

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Notes from Nashville

20 Apr

At last, I have made the pilgrimage to Nashville, and I’m still basking in the barbecue-basted afterglow.

Nashville string bandThis city is teeming with talent, since this is where musicians and songwriters from all over the world come to make their fortunes. In the meantime, they have to make a living, keep their chops up and be ready for the next gig that could be the big break. So no matter where you go, music squirts out of every doorway and windowsill and pours out of bars and burger joints, and it’s almost always crazy great.

Want bonafide old-timey music with a side of sleeve tattoos? You got it outside of the Boot Country store on Broadway (see above). Want to hear Stevie Ray Vaughan’s take on “Little Wing” even though he’s moved on to the Great Beyond? Order some sweet potato fries at Paradise Park Trailer Resort and give a listen to the house band at 3:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon. Need to unwind after a long day of driving? Go to your hotel lobby and hear a gal do a credible acoustic version of “Angel from Montgomery” as you take in the exhibition of works by painter/musician Ray Stephenson that includes a portrait of John Prine.

Rock came up from country music of all stripes – gospel, Texas swing, hill music, blues – and that bloodline is being celebrated now at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in their current exhibit, “Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats.” The logo and other poster art was commissioned from Jon Langford, a musician with the punk band the Mekons:

Nashville Cats artwork

Even without this terrific exhibit – showcasing the time in the 1960s and early 1970s when Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash came to Nashville to record, followed by Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Linda Ronstadt and many others – I would have gotten a kick out of the place. I grew up in the early 1970s watching The Porter Wagoner Show and Hee Haw. Plus, my brother lived the Urban Cowboy life in the early 1980s when he worked in Houston, and I spent a lot of time with that film’s soundtrack. The fiddles and banjos, the wigs and rhinestones, the Qiana and the cowboy boots: it’s part of my childhood. (Sadly, the volume on the Hee Haw video clips at the Hall of Fame was so low, my daughter could not fully appreciate the comic stylings of the Hee Haw Honeys.)Hee Haw Honeys

Still, I sped up once I got to the displays featuring stars of the 1990s and beyond. I have no time for Garth Brooks or Brad Paisley or the other Top 40 country guys. Also, no matter how many articles I read about how Taylor Swift is a critical favorite as well as great person on and off stage, I just can’t bring myself to give her music a listen. Just considering it makes my neck stiffen.

Clearly I am one of those insufferable snobs Chuck Klosterman called out in “Toby over Moby,” a 2003 essay in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs:

[T]hey’ve managed to figure out the most rudimentary rule of pop sociology; they know that hipsters gauge the coolness of others by their espoused taste in sound and they know that hipsters hate modern country music. And they hate it because it speaks to normal people in a tangible, rational manner.

Klosterman goes on to call alternative country “the most popular musical genre of the last twenty-five years that’s managed to remain completely unpopular.” (I have at least half of the albums featured in the Hall of Fame’s alt-country display … ahem.)

But the sincerity of pop country gets dulled by bro country‘s formulaic songwriting and singers Auto-tuned into sameness. There is so much better stuff available. Classic material from Hank Williams and Willie Nelson hasn’t lost its luster, and 21st century musicians – the Punch Brothers, the Old Crow Medicine Show, and Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, to name a few – are reclaiming and reinterpreting the old-time catchiness of roots music without being precious about it. Plus, musicians on the rock-and-roll side of the spectrum like Jack White and Dan Auerbach make Nashville their home, soaking up the traditions and giving a platform to lesser known yet absurdly talented locals.

And on top of all this is the Grand Ole Opry, still exemplifying the best in country and roots music after 90 years on the air. More on that to follow.

See you on the flip side …

Lyrical Genius: 10 Great Snippets of Rock

22 Jan

Top 10One of the articles I’ve read about how to attract online readership suggests creating top 10 lists. I’ve avoided this for a long time, not for some noble reason like I don’t want to stoop to using gimmicks to trawl for readers … or to beg them to read and share … and post comments … pretty please?

Anyway, I don’t do top 10 lists because I’m a wimp. I can’t stand the pressure. I choose nine solid entries then panic. I don’t want to make a lame final choice and leave out something worthy. I don’t want to slight my other favorites by not including them. I can’t prioritize them, either; it would be like choosing which of my children is my favorite. (Don’t worry, honey: it’s you. Keep reading … pretty please …)

But hey, anything to attract online readership.

I tend to be drawn toward words and phrases rather than the sweep of an entire verse or the story of an entire song. Some are clever, others conjure up vivid images. I like what sticks in my brain.  So, in no particular order, here are my choices for ten of the best snippets of lyrics in rock.

Tom Waits1. “don’t you know there ain’t no devil that’s just god when he’s drunk” – Tom Waits, Heartattack and Vine
(First time I heard this, once I deciphered what Old Golden Throat was singing, I cackled.)

2. “I said, ‘I’m so happy, I could die.’ She said, ‘Drop dead’ and left with another guy” – Elvis Costello, (Angels Want to Wear My) Red Shoes
(Always has been one of my favorites … 1980s snark at its best)

3. “When I get 400 dollars, I’m goin’ to see Melinda” – Tom Petty, Melinda
(All that’s standing between him and this guy’s happiness? Four hundred dollars. Wow.)

4. “I bet there’s rich folks eating from a fancy dining car/ They’re probably drinkin’ coffee and smoking big cigars” – Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues
(This one hits me for a similar reason. What describes freedom for this prisoner? Drinkin’ coffee …)

Cash and Petty flanking Carl Perkins who was no slouch in the lyric department, either

Cash and Petty flanking Carl Perkins who was no slouch in the lyric department, either

5. “Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks” – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Walls (Circus)
(Tom Petty said this line was inspired by something Johnny Cash said to him … no wonder it works)

6. “Life is what happens to you/ While you’re busy making other plans” – John Lennon, Beautiful Boy
(Word.)

7. “I could build me a castle of memories just to have somewhere to go” – John Prine, Clay Pigeons
(John Prine is one of those lyricists who tosses gems like this into so many songs, and his voice is so unassuming you don’t realize how beautiful they are at first.)

8. “I live my life like I wasn’t invited” – Wilco, Candyfloss
(Been there. Done that. May still be doing that.)

9. “I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention” – Jimi Hendrix, Taking Care of No Business
(Jimi probably stole this from some other blues guy. No matter – he delivers it with a smile)

And, oh hell, let’s just put this out there as #10:

“Now I walk with a man in my face/ Ooh, a woman in my hair
“I’ve got you all lookin’ out through my eyes/ My feet are a prayer”

The Who, Sister Disco
(All I can say is, Pete, what were you on?)

So, please read, share, post, discuss and let me know your favorites … pretty, pretty please!

See you on the flip side …

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