Tag Archives: Leon & Lulu

Johnny Harlow Rides Again

18 Sep

C. J. Harwood

C. J. Harwood

C.J. (a.k.a., Chris) Harwood is a friend of mine through our day jobs. A Ferndale native, he’s a multi-talented lifer musician who just released Johnny Harlow Rides Again, a new album featuring original songs by Harwood backed by his compatriots Jim Nicholls, Tim Sheldon, L.B. Winowiecki and JoJo Reyes.

I like the album a lot. Listening to it makes me positively nostalgic. It reminds me of what KFOG was known for when I lived in San Francisco in the 1990s, and what The Loft now features on SiriusXM: good-natured, well played rock and roll – think Bonnie Raitt, Luce, Chris Rea and the like. Harwood’s down-to-earth delivery and easygoing guitar conjures up warm Sunday mornings on the deck, pancakes cooking in the kitchen, a lover fixing you a mug of coffee, and the day full of possibilities.

One of my favorite tracks is “Ordinary Day,” Harwood’s ambling ode to simple gratitude featuring Nicholls on harmonica and Sheldon on banjo. John Hiatt would probably like to cover “Don’t Wait on Love” on his next tour – and Harwood’s strolling slide guitar pairs beautifully with his best friend and writing partner Nicholls’ cheeky harmonica on “Ginger Sun.”

Johnny Harlow is an album made by a guy who’s been in and around the music industry for decades because 1) he’s really good, 2) he really enjoys it, and 3) he’s been able to keep his sense of humor even when things got weird, starting in 1968. Let him tell it:

Hippy+with+Guitar

Chris’ caption to this photo: “Hippie with Guitar”

I played drums in a band called The Motives for Existence for a year until I contracted Hep A (probably from sharing joints and swapping spit with every damned stranger hippie in the area). During six months of quarantine, I sat in my bedroom playing an old acoustic guitar every day and night … and I mean every single moment available. After recovery I entered back into the human race as a lead guitarist.

By 1976 he joined the band Energy – all he’ll say about the group is “blue jump suits” – which earned him a less than lucrative record deal. He also played more than 100 uncredited guitar sessions:

The deal was either you play the session and get the full rate of pay but no credit on the record or you play for half rate and get credit. I was STARVING and needed things like food, medical attention and the occasional bag o’ herb. That record deal went completely south, and I was extremely bitter and dropped out of the music scene completely for the rest of the ’70s and the early ’80s … call it a “leave of absence for the soul.”

Still, some songs he worked on got local airplay, including “Come Tonight” by budding disco diva Kaiya Matthews. She mentions Chris by name – listen carefully around the 3:00 mark before the bitchin’ awesome guitar solo:

Later, he played with The Motor City Blues Project, an offshoot of the WCSX radio blues show of the same name:

I loved that band and the players. We played all the blues dumps and dives during the late ’80s and got to open for a lot of great acts: Mitch Ryder, Lonnie Mack, Junior Wells and Savoy Brown, to drop a few names.

While in that band I got to play for the first time to a massive audience at the Blues Festival at Hart Plaza. We were at the top of our game. After we hit the last note of that first tune, the gigantic, percussive sound of 20,000 people screaming, whistling and clapping was so incredibly energizing. I was so naturally high it was the best drug ever in life, and for me that is saying something.

After it was over, I totally realized why so many old rock stars keep going at it even when they are bloated and done. They can’t live without that super rush.

Johnny Harlow track listFast forward to 2002. Harwood hankered to get back on stage but not to do the “same old rock star loud shit anymore.” With Mike Novack, he formed The Dirt Bros., an acoustic group featuring two guitars, violin, harmonica and four-part harmony.

We played mostly coffee house-type places filled with neo-hippies who were profoundly affected and were mostly annoying … but one thing that they did do was LISTEN to the music. We produced the album: you can buy it on CD Baby

Which brings us to the present day and Johnny Harlow. This album isn’t for sale: he’ll share it with whoever wants it. Look him up on his site for more details.

Thanks, Chris, for sharing your story with me. I’m fascinated by creative types like you who, amid kids and marriage and day jobs and a lot of personal and professional ups and downs, keep hauling out the guitar and dreaming up something new and wonderful. That’s an inspiration to us all.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Mark your calendars for Leon & Lulu’s Books & Authors event, coming to Clawson on Oct. 25. I’ll be selling Love and Other B-Sides as part of their fundraiser for literacy programs – see you there!

Rocking and rollerskating: Books and Authors Event at Leon & Lulu

27 Oct

Cross that item off my bucket list: I have now sold my book to complete strangers!

My first-ever book signingLeon & Lulu - 102614 was a total delight at Leon & Lulu. The store, which offers an eclectic mix of gifts, clothing and furniture, is in a former roller rink in Clawson, Michigan. Clerks often zip around the store on skates; signs outlining proper skater etiquette decorate the bathrooms. It’s one of those stores where you go to get presents for people you don’t know how to buy for; it’s a lot of fun.

Leon & Lulu hosts an annual Books & Authors event featuring local writers, many of whom like me are self-published (or “independent,” as one author was quick to point out), with a percentage of proceeds going to a local literacy charity. The 30+ of us were stationed at furniture displays around the floor. As you can see from the photo, I scored a sectional with side chair which, after sitting on them for six hours, I highly recommend for comfy-ness. (Store management also trusted me to be tidy to an amazing degree: I used the sectional’s $3400 price tag as my coaster so I wouldn’t have to take repairs out of my limited royalties.)

Three things I loved about this event:

  1. Mary Liz Curtin, who co-owns Leon & Lulu with her husband, Stephen Scannell, championed us from the start, swooping through the store on crutches (due to a recent tumble) and rearranging store displays to reflect the authors’ works. Also, the staff was utterly terrific, bringing us drinks and food and acting as our cheerleaders throughout the day.
  2. The other authors, who were nothing but friendly and kind. Some of us were hawking our first book; others had series that are nationally known. They were eager to share their tips on writers’ conferences, printers and other sales opportunities, and their lack of ego proves that art is never a zero-sum game: instead, when one wins we all do.
  3. My friends and family who turned out, picked up first copies for themselves or second copies of my book as presents for others, and walked through the store with my book prominently displayed.

I sold well, particularly for my first such experience. Perhaps no sale meant more to me than one late in the afternoon to a woman I’d never met before. She confessed in hushed tones – as a lot of us do – that she was an aspiring writer who had a book she’d love to publish some day. I told her what I’d been told all day: “Congratulations and keep going because, hey, here I am as proof it can be done.”

See you on the flip side …

P.S. If you weren’t able to make it to Clawson or you prefer an electronic version of Love and Other B-Sides, you can pick it up on Amazon 24/7!

New to the Rock and Roll Bookshelf: Memoirs by Graham Nash and Lisa Robinson

29 Sep

For someone who purports to being a novelist, I read very little fiction. I should probably do something about that.

Instead, I read biographies, autobiographies and memoirs about people in show business, many of whom are in the music industry (natch). For instance:

Lisa Robinson's backstage passes, or, another reason to wish you were her/ VanityFair.com

Lisa Robinson’s collection of all-access backstage passes, or, another reason I wish I was her/ VanityFair.com

There Goes Gravity: a life in Rock and Roll by Lisa Robinson 

Let’s get one thing straight: Lisa Robinson knows more rock stars than you ever will in your entire life. It’s up to you to get over your seething jealousy and enjoy the fruit of her labors as a journalist by reading this entertaining, intimate memoir about making a living by writing about the biggest names in rock and roll history.

Robinson is still one of the few women in her line of work. She got her start as the editor of several rock magazines then became a columnist for the New York Post and now is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. She was also on the nominating committee for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 18 years.

Robinson championed Led Zeppelin at a time when they were being savaged by Rolling Stone and others, and that – and her deep knowledge of jazz and blues – earned her a seat on their private jet the Starship during their tours in the mid-1970s. Holding her own with those “lads” led to her covering the 1975 Rolling Stones tour along with Annie Leibovitz (riding the Starship again, as it turned out). Since then she’s covered everyone from John Lennon and Bono to Eminem and Lady Gaga.

She credits her knack for gaining her subjects’ trust to being a journalist rather than a critic, and she was able to offer a uniquely up-close perspective on the artists and their lifestyle by not getting swept up in the debauchery:

Often, I was the only woman in the room and certainly the only one who wasn’t sleeping with any of [the musicians]. I wanted to keep everything professional, to get the stories. For me, the lure was always the music. But if you’re not having sex with someone on a tour, or participating in the drugs, you really are on a different tour than everyone else.

Yes, she drops a lot of names but she’s earned that right. The photos from throughout her career – pointing a cassette recorder at an 11-year old Michael Jackson; sitting on David Johansen’s lap to chat to Freddie Mercury; reading a newspaper with Joe Strummer – are proof.

I liked this book so much I bought it after I returned it to the library. Check it out yourselves!

Graham Nash's Wild TalesWild Tales by Graham Nash

Graham Nash rightfully earned his place in rock history as a founder of  2 1/2 seminal bands: The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and occasionally & Young). He was one of the organizers of the No Nukes concerts in 1979 that brought rock music together with environmental  fundraising. He has also enjoyed success as a solo musician, a photographer, book publisher and visual artist. Despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars he blew on cocaine, he has survived and saved enough to enter his 70s living in Hawaii … with the time and means to fly into New York to participate in Occupy Wall Street.

Wild Tales chronicles Nash’s rise from the council projects of Salford to becoming a British Invasion sensation with the Hollies. Then the action moves over to nearly five decades of his ins and outs with various combinations of Stephen Stills (whom Nash depicts as a relentless egotist), David Crosby (best friend and cringe-inducing drug addict) and Neil Young (infuriating musical genius). Along the way, many women were loved (including Joni Mitchell and Rita Coolidge) and many drugs were done and, as Nash tells it, he was usually the one  stuck waiting for his friends to show up or sober up to perform. When contemplating reuniting with the Hollies in the early 1980s, he took the gig because

God almighty, was it easier to sing with the Hollies than with CSN! It was certainly more fun, less plagued with personal bullshit. No freebase, no egos, no Neil Young.

Humility is not his strong suit. Neither is literary finesse. That’s what makes this a rather tiring read.  At best Nash’s book, like his lyrics, demonstrate his straightforward charm, but often he gets preachy and pedestrian. Also, his overuse of nicknames (“Clarkie,” “Croz”) and his hippie grandpa phraseology – for instance, he refers to “smokin’ it” (it being marijuana) constantly – does him no favors. Still, he does have an insider’s view of the California music scene and all its unwashed glory, and his celestial harmonies should be celebrated and enjoyed two generations later. Rather than read about why he thinks they’re great, put your copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash on the turntable instead and experience Graham Nash’s best talents for yourself.

What’s on your nightstand these days? Let me know … even if it’s fiction.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Do you use the Facebook? Stay up to date on the doings associated with my novel by liking the Love and Other B-Sides page there – and I hope to see you at my first author event on October 26 at Leon and Lulu in Clawson!

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