It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me: Gary Clark, Jr. Resurrects Classic Rock Vibes

While most kids ran around the park, scrapping elbows and playing Pirates, I sprawled out on my bed and copied the lyrics of my favorite Petula Clark song. My name is Melanie, and I am the oldest 25-year old that ever lived.

I was born with the heart of a 1960s hippie, twenty years too late. I blame my folks for this. My parents spent their youth as bell-bottomed teens with a penchant for the classics, particularly music birthed from Great Britain. In turn, they passed their “peace and love, man” ideals to yours truly. In middle school, I was the musically misplaced ‘oldies fanatic’ during ‘NSYNC mania. I hummed doo-wop songs before I even knew what  ‘hip-hop’ was, and Justin Timberlake had nothing on a young Paul McCartney, bowl-cut and all. (To this day, I’m pretty sure I can belt out any Beatles tune if you ask nicely.)

What’s the point of this pretentious anecdote? To showcase the moment I nearly lost faith in contemporary music, upon stumbling across Justin Bieber’s “Baby” video on MTV. Once I had processed the mind-numbing chorus of: “Baby, baby, baby, oh // Like baby, baby, baby, no // Like baby, baby, baby, oh // I thought you’d always be mine, mine,” I could only sit on the sofa, absolutely dumbfounded. I felt as if I had just witnessed the decline of all human effort, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the only person in the world who would actively campaign to get his songwriter fired.

To my relief, Bieber soon went bye-bye and a new video emerged like a musical Godsend. A solo artist named Gary Clark, Jr. swooped in to restore my optimism in the modern music industry. For the next five minutes, I was in guitar-riff heaven; captivated by this musician who shredded his way into my heart with a classic Gibson ES335.

Brazenly referred to as the modern-day Jimi Hendrix, Gary Clark, Jr. is the Texas-based crooner making waves with his commanding “cool cat” persona and fuzzy guitar rhythms. Though he has gained some notoriety on the indie-blues rock scene, Gary Clark, Jr. is relatively under wraps. For someone who has harnessed old-school influences to produce a modern blues vibe, this is one artist truly deserving of global recognition.

Listen to his first single, “Bright Lights,” a song chronicling his journey of self-exploration in the unforgiven metropolis of NYC. What’s your take on this up-and-coming artist? Is Gary Clark, Jr. the reincarnation of old-school rock?

2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees: From Doo-Wop to Disco and Everything in Between

The 28th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees were announced on October 4, 2012, offering a list of 15 groundbreaking artists who have circulated the music scene for a minimum of 25 years, as required for the ballot.

This unprecedented event was further marked by first-time fan voting, which allowed music lovers to vote on their preferred inductees. Though voting was concluded on December 5th, fans don’t have much longer to wait; the total nominations will be revealed sometime in mid-December, serving as a pre-holiday surprise for the musicians who made the selective cut. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place on April 18, 2013 at Los Angeles’s notable Nokia Theatre.

In anticipation of the event, check the list below to revel in the revolutionary talents of the past quarter century:

Albert King, Chic, Deep Purple, Kraftwerk, Donna Summer, Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, The Marvelettes, The Meters, N.W.A., Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Procol Harum, Public Enemy, Randy Newman and Rush.

From doo-wop to prog-rock to gangster rap, the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees fulfill a wide-range of experimental genres that have surpassed the last two decades; culminating in triumph as musical legends, regardless of the ultimate victor.

Lollapalooza Pre-Day One: Chicago, The City That Doesn’t Give Receipts…and kills its favorite sons

I lived here for ten years, so it should not surprise me in the slightest that things will not go according to plan when I pop into Midway. Even a transaction as simple as a receipt for some Combos would be easy…right? Wrong. The credit card-paying woman in front of me got a receipt with no trouble, while I watched the same woman that helped her hit an infinite series of buttons over and over, only to get the “beep beep” sound again and again…and again. I eventually let it go, thinking it was just a buck and change. I collected my suitcase from baggage claim and headed for the Orange Line.

There are multiple options for riders when you are looking for train passes at the CTA. I was looking for a five-day pass, but all I saw were three-day passes, seven-day passes, and the ‘give us all your money and it will never be enough’ passes. I reluctantly bought a seven-day pass, since I knew I had a hell of a lot of train traffic in my future, and to my benefit, I at least got a pass, which the person in front of me did not, because his transaction “timed out.” I asked the machine to print a receipt, and it said ‘Okay’…then did nothing. Damn, man. I paid for two extra days of travel, and you can’t print me a receipt?

Welcome to Chicago, kids. “The city that works.” So I took my seven-day pass and went to get on the Midway stop on the Orange line. Out of curiosity, I asked the woman at the handicapped entrance, “Did they get rid of the five-day pass?” “They sell those at currency exchanges and Jewel/Osco’s,” she told me, about 30 seconds too late. How convenient, I think. That would have required me to buy a pass to get on the train, get off the train, find a currency exchange or Jewel/Osco, buy a five-day pass, then reboard. Again, welcome to Chicago, the city that works…but doesn’t print receipts.

So I jump on the Orange Line train for my hotel, and the second the doors close and the train heads on its way towards downtown…there is an inescapable whistling sound on the train. It has nothing to do with the train’s velocity – it’s just…there. So even as I try to forget everything that has happened up to this point, the damn subway train is taunting me. “You didn’t get a receipt, sucker! Ha ha hahahahahahahaha!” To make matters worse, my wife texts me later in the day and says, “Sit down,” then tells me that John Hughes is dead. This, after I saw some guy tear around the Sears Tower (technically the Willis Tower, but sorry, it’s way too soon for that) in a convertible, which instantly made me think of the garage attendants from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” taking a joy ride with a similar car. Creepy.

Friday’s forecast: Chance of thunderstorms, high ’80s. Sorry, but the day after John Hughes dies, it should rain in Chicago. The entire world lost a brother, a son, a father, an uncle, and their best friend. I know that I’m supposed to be excited about covering a music fesitval, and I am…but damn, man, I just lost John Hughes. In fact, I just talked with English Beat singer Dave Wakeling, and happened to ask him about John Hughes, Man, this makes me sad.

BE: When John Hughes contacted you in 1987 and asked you to write the title track for his latest movie, did you think that you had just been touched by the hand of God?

DW: Well, that god had touched my hand a few months before. He came backstage in Anaheim after we played a concert. And as he shook my hand, he said, “Anybody who’s got the balls to put a bassoon in a pop record, and get it in the charts, is my man.” He was referring to the bassoon part in “Tenderness” [mimics bassoon line]. We became good friends and I went to his house a few times, and he’s got a wall of records, 50 feet long, 12 feet high. You could point to anywhere on it, and he knew exactly which record it was. Far more serious about music than I ever was, that’s for sure. It was before I had become computerized – and probably before a lot of people had – so we’d talk about this idea of “She’s Having a Baby.” We both had young children and we discussed the ways it makes things better and some ways it makes things worse, and the changes it brings to couples once they start having kids. And then we started writing each other, so I wrote the first draft of “She’s Having a Baby,” and I would send it to him, and he wrote back with suggestions, or angles, where he thought the movie was going. We wrote back and forth three or four times, which I thought was one of the most exciting co-writes I’ve ever done, really. Brilliant man. I don’t even know what he does now. Did he just retire, or what?

BE: He pops out a script about once every seven years. It’s weird. He pulled a Terrence Malick; he just disappeared.

DW: I wonder what he does. I’d like to see him. Is he a happy chap, or is he a reclusive type?

BE: I honestly have no idea. I know that I miss him.

Damn. If I only knew.

Less Talk, More Music: The Beautiful South on “Wogan”

When the Housemartins bit the dust not long after the release of The People Who Grinned Themselves To Death, many a fan of pale white British jangle-pop wept a tear or two. Thankfully, they were able to take solace in the band which rose from the ‘Martin’s ashes: The Beautiful South. Paul Heaton’s voice was still just as heavenly as ever, but the music was more mature, less about the three-minute pop song and more about musical exploration. Their debut album, Welcome to the Beautiful South, was the perfect introduction to the band’s sound, with epic tracks sitting alongside quick and simple pop numbers, plus a cover of Pebbles’ “Girlfriend” for no discernible reason. I’m not sure when this “Wogan” performance took place, but this song – “I’ll Sail This Ship Alone” – is definitely from the group’s debut.

Be sure to hold onto your hat when the song reaches its final line; it’s a doozy.

Less Talk, More Music: Manic Street Preachers on “Friday Night with Jonathan Ross”

The Manic Street Preachers are kinda the alt-rock version of Status Quo, given that they’re an institution in the UK but barely cause Americans to raise an eyebrow, but as a dedicated reader of Q Magazine in the ’90s, I’ve followed them since the beginning of their career, back when Richie Edwards was carving slogans into his flesh and trying to be his generation’s Sid Vicious. As it turned out, he was a bit closer to being his generation’s Amelia Earhart, given that he vanished into thin and and is presumed dead, but that’s beside the point. The band’s music is arguably more powerful now than it was when Edwards was in the band, probably because they’re a decidedly less self-destructive unit without him in their ranks, but their debut album, 1992′s Generation Terrorists, nonetheless captured lightning in a bottle, combining the best bits of The Clash and Guns ‘N’ Roses and making them into one of the classic records of the decade. This performance of the epic “Motorcycle Emptiness” is actually from the ’00s, so it’s without Edwards, but a decade on, the song itself remains just as powerful.

Less Talk, More Music: Mutual Admiration Society on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”

Take the lead singer from Toad the Wet Sprocket, get him to write a song with Jon Brion, and then let Toad-boy record it with some guys from Nickel Creek. Voila: you’ve got Mutual Admiration Society’s “Sake of the World.” This live version, however, gets bonus points for having John Paul Jones (late of Led Zeppelin) on bass and Pete Thomas from The Attractions on drums. If only MAS would do another album together…

P.S. Yes, I know “Toad-boy” is actually named Glen Phillips. But it made me laugh to call him “Toad-boy.”

Less Talk, More Music: Paul Shaffer on “Late Night with David Letterman”

Paul Shaffer might play the part of the oft-befuddled but always fawning bandleader to perfection on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” but the guy’s a musical legend. He spent 1975 to 1980 as the musical director of “Saturday Night Live” band, did the same duty for The Blues Brothers, is regularly called upon to provide backing for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, and, of course, played Artie Fufkin in “This is Spinal Tap.” He’s also a songwriter (he co-wrote “It’s Raining Men,” you know) and, on rare occasions, he’s even stepped out and been a recording artist in his own right. In 1990, Shaffer released an all-star collaborative effort entitled Coast to Coast, where he attempted to take listeners on a cross-country musical expedition which blended different musical genres, often within a single song. The album’s first single was a little ditty called “When the Radio Is On,” and when Shaffer premiered the track on “Late Night with David Letterman,” I was watching in awe as the breathtaking harmonies washed over me.

The first couple of minutes of this clip are strictly Shaffer introducing his crew for the song, so if you want to skip ahead to the 2:26 mark, I’ll save you the time by providing you with the roll call: Will Smith (then still known solely as The Fresh Prince), Daddy O (Stetsasonic), Jay Siegel (The Tokens), Johnny Maestro (The Crests, The Brooklyn Bridge), songwriter Ellie Greenwich, actress Carol Kane (filling in for Carole King, ho, ho), and the King of the New York Streets himself, Mr. Dion DiMucci.

As Shaffer describes it, “It’s doo-wop, it’s hip-hop, it’s a nutty thing.” Me, I’m not saying the song’s perfection, mostly because Shaffer shouts his vocal contributions, but the overall enthusiasm is downright contagious…which, I suspect, is why I still have Coast to Coast in my record collection.

Less Talk, More Music: Dionne Warwick on “Pebble Mill”

“Pebble Mill” was a daytime chat show in Great Britain which regularly featured appearances from the current musical artists of the day, as well as a few who weren’t exactly top of the pops anymore, if you take my meaning. In the case of Dionne Warwick, she was and remained a huge worldwide superstar in 1982, a full two decades on from her first big hit, “Walk On By.” This was one of the many compositions from the brothers Gibb that was taken to the upper reaches of the charts by someone other than the Bee Gees themselves, but it’s got their trademark sound all over it.

Less Talk, More Music: Beastie Boys on “The Late Show with David Letterman”

All I’m saying is this: if you think you know of another talk-show performance that starts out in a more awesome manner than the Beastie Boys rapping their way up from the subway, down the streets of NYC, and into the Ed Sullivan Theater, I’d damned well like to see it. Until then, I’m gonna presume that there is no such animal and just tell you to sit your ass down and ch-check this shit out…

Less Talk, More Music: Paul Anka on “The Late Show with David Letterman”

Sure, it reads as a novelty – Paul Anka does swing covers of mainstream and alt-rock hits – but if you’ve ever actually heard Rock Swings, you know it holds up for the long haul as an instant party in convenient CD form. Rather than take the easy way out, most of the tracks have been dramatically rearranged to work within Anka’s concept, but if you’re convinced that he couldn’t possibly accomplish it with one of the most anthemic songs of the 1990s (if not all of music history), take a listen and enjoy being proven wrong:

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