Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Led Zeppelin



This is another one that I'd heard at the Blue House for the first time. Angie and I were running around and climbing underneath the pool table while the grown-ups played, drank beer, and were listening to the stereo playing. There was an album cover that was mostly brown, with some people standing around while a large, white thing was pointing up in the sky, emerging from colorful clouds of smoke. I liked the big, golden blimp that was on the inside, although I had no idea what the object really was supposed to be. One thing that struck me as odd was one song where the singer sang something that (to me) sounded like "You need Kool-Aid!".



Next thing I know, it's bedtime, and we were sent off to bed...and the music played on. It was dark in the room, and I could still hear through the wall what was being played. Dad had put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV, but I had no idea what it was, what the cover looked like, and wasn't even sure if it was the same band. When "Black Dog" was playing, I remember being a little weirded out when the music would stop and the singer was going "Ah-ah, Ah-ah, Ah-ah, Ahhhhhhh.....!".

Sometime after that was one that was starting out kind of quietly, and I was hearing what sounded like was about someone "borrowing" a stairway to heaven...whatever that was. The song went on, getting a little louder, more electric, and then rocking out really hard, coming to a sudden stop, with the final line about borrowing that stairway again, and then...silence. I lay there in the dark, completely blown away at what I'd just heard.

It wasn't until we'd moved into the Green House that we really started playing them a little more, and more often. They were one of Red Fred's favorite bands, and you could count on Zeppelin being played whenever he was around.

Not long after we'd moved into the house, Grandma had come to the house, and brought over some stuff that was down in the basement, and needed a new home. Most of what she'd brought over was a small cache of ultra-cool blacklight posters that Dad had put up on the walls of the basement...the way he would talk about it, he made it sound as if it were quite the Party Central spot! Among these posters were ones of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, a massive coiled-up cobra...and Led Zeppelin!



This one was really cool, all done in blue, yellow and green, against a black background, with a peace-sign, and even a little blimp flying overhead in the back. The old black-light was dutifully attached to the wall, and this one was placed right underneath it. Somewhere, in one of the photo albums, is a picture of the family in the living room, and this poster is fully visible on the wall behind us.

They were one of Dad's favorite bands throughout the '70s, and he even got to see them in Seattle in late 1972 or so. He said it was a great show, almost four hours long. He would always tell me about making his way down to the front of the stage, looking right up at Jimmy Page in front of him. Joints were being passed around all over, and he suddenly found himself with one in each hand. Decisions, decisions!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

This is another one that stems way back from hearing it for the first time at the Blue House. This time, however, was different. I was lying in bed, supposed to be asleep while Dad and Mom had some company over, and Angie and I had been sent off to our room for the night. I remember hearing a song about a "lucky man" of some sort, and then the song dissolved to a siren-wailing Moog synthesizer, with the drums carrying it along, until they both collapsed in a heap at the end. I liked what I was hearing...the only bad thing was, I had no idea who it was!

Sometime later, at the Red House, Dad pulled this one out, with three guys on the front cover, who seemed to be Siamese triplets, gazing into a setting sun on the back cover. He played "From The Beginning", which was very impressive, with awesome acoustic-guitar figures, wonderful vocals, and--again--with fizzy, gurgling Moog sounds bringing it to a close.

This was another one that intrigued me, but had never heard. On the outer front cover was a gallery of gold picture frames with nothing in them, but on the inside, they now contained some pretty lurid images of strange landscapes and structures. What could this sound like? Now that I knew how to use the turntable, I put it on one afternoon, and had to hear what it sounded like. From the start, it was a live album, recorded in front of a loud, cheering crowd who definitely loved their heroes.

I had never heard anything from Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition, and this was my first introduction to a major piece of classical music. Although the music was written by a Russian composer, it was like a little trip to Europe, as listening to the music filled my head with images of castles and cathedrals. The sounds coming from the synthesizers and Hammond C-3 organ hooked me in, and I couldn't believe that it was just three guys making all of that sound. I loved the entire album, and it was soon one of my most-played and well-loved albums.

Brain Salad Surgery had not only the strangest title, but also a suitably strange album cover that opened up down the center in the front. The first thing that Dad had played for me from it was something called "Karn Evil 9: 3rd Impression", a 9-minute epic that almost sounded like the soundtrack from a Superman movie, with frantic tempo changes, churning organ solos, and a bizarre synthesizer loop at the end that spewed from speaker to speaker. This became another favorite as well. The keyboards sure sounded like a fun and interesting instrument to play someday, with limitless capabilities to them.

As the years went on, I still played them regularly, but eventually wondered what the bands that the three members had once been in sounded like. That led me to seek out some albums by The Nice, King Crimson and Atomic Rooster; it was all great stuff, and the latter two would have immeasurable influence on me as both a player and a writer.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Guess Who

It was sometime in the start of my kindergarten year when Dad pulled this one out, and asked me if I'd ever heard "Bus Rider". I honestly had never heard this album before, though I had seen it in the collection, but it had never been played around me. It sounded like something we could identify with, since we didn't have a car, and pretty much traveled everywhere by bus, courtesy of Pierce Transit.

He put the album on the turntable. The first thing I noticed was that the album had a piece missing out of it on the outer part, as if it had been dropped, or something hard fell on it, and so the opening song on either side was permanently (and literally) cut out. "Bus Rider" played, a two-and-a-half-minute perfect explosion of Rock & Roll, great hooks, great chorus, and fun lyrics. A hit single, if there ever was one.

That did it, and I was hooked.

Dad also had the 8-Track tape of this album, and I began to play it on the stereo on days that I was at home from school, and he was at work. I could not get enough of it. Awesome songs all the way through it, and I loved Burton Cummings' bluesy rasp. When Angie saw the cover, she thought the guys were standing around in a sewer. The songs played through my head as Mitchell, Angie and myself played at Wright Park throughout that school year, and well into that summer.

When we got into the cassette format, I put this album onto cassette, and played it all the time. One interesting way to fill in the gap with the two missing songs was that Dad also had another "greatest hits" album that featured "These Eyes" and "Hand Me Down World", and I was able to record them onto tape in their original running order, and not miss a thing. Plus, it also had songs like "Star Baby" and "Clap For The Wolfman", which I also liked.

Dad also told me that he saw them in concert at the UPS Fieldhouse in 1971 or so, around the same time that The Best Of had come out, so it was the same lineup on the album cover. A great show, but the one thing that he always remembered was that Burton Cummings skulked around the stage all night, smoking a lot of cigarettes (one after the other), and made it seem like he didn't even want to be there. Later on, I felt that maybe it was around the time that he found out Jim Morrison had died, and maybe that's what put him in such a mood.

As I grew up, I still played it often, knowing all the words, and also teaching myself how to sing by singing along to them. And as time went on, I began to find their albums and picked them up as I found them. There were lots more great songs on albums like Canned Wheat, So Long, Bannatyne and Rockin'. I also began picking up some of their albums on 8-Tracks, which I would find at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. If I liked what I heard, then I would go and pick up the album on my next vinyl safari. One that I loved and played all the time was of their 1974 album Road Food, which I found at House Of Records on my fourteenth birthday.

A year after that, I found a vinyl copy of The Best Of The Guess Who that had a black-light poster included in it. I wasn't aware that the first pressings of the album had a poster included in it, but there it was; a similar shot of the guys underneath the pier, standing in shallow water. I bought it for that, and also to replace the copy at home that was pretty much worn out, and the poster went on my wall. It's still up there.

Flash forward many years, and one of Geoffrey's favorites is "Bus Rider", followed by "Rain Dance" and "Sour Suite". Why he likes the latter song is kind of a mystery, as it's a bit melancholy, but it's one of his favorites.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Harry Chapin

This is another one that actually harkens back to the Blue House, where I heard this for the first time. Dad went out with a friend for a beer-run one evening, and came back with not only that, but also a couple of big containers of popcorn. The next thing I know, side three of this album was playing. It started off with "Cat's In The Cradle", then "Taxi", and finally "Circle", which almost sounded like something from Sesame Street. I liked what I was hearing, never having heard it before, and this album got a few more spins while we were living in the next few residences.

Sometime toward the end of the summer of 1981, Dad came home with a page from The Seattle Times, with the headline that told about Harry Chapin's death in a car accident over in New York. I couldn't believe it. He just seemed like such a great and funny guy, as well as a wonderful songwriter.

One of my other favorite songs by him on that live album was "30,000 Pounds Of Bananas". I didn't quite catch onto the rather tragic story of a guy who jack-knifed while hauling all that fruit...I just enjoyed the chorus, the way the song sped up, and John Wallace's ultra-low voice when he was called on to sing. After reading the news, I went out for a spin on the sidewalk on my Bigwheel. I had the song going through my head, pedaling along, but as the song played faster, I began pedaling faster along with it. I was racing up and down the sidewalk like a lunatic before a neighbor lady stopped me, maybe out of genuine concern I wouldn't harm myself, but maybe she'd had enough of the noise as well. That was my tribute to Harry that day!

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Moody Blues

It was at the Red House, when I got stung by a bee outside. I'd seen a bumblebee sitting on a leaf on the rose-bush next door. I wondered, Is it dead? Is it sleeping? I reached out and poked it with my finger to see if it would do anything. It woke up, got onto my finger, and stung me. Damn, that hurt!

Dad was in the living room, playing this album that showed a sheaf of album covers stretching out into the night sky. The Threshold labels were almost matching: dark blue, with some sort of swirly fireball-looking logo. The song that was playing was some sort of ghostly, haunting song about a guy named Timothy Leary who was not only dead, but was "outside...looking in". I was drawn in by the bending Mellotron notes, and the different instrumental sections. My hurt finger was completely forgotten about as I heard some more cuts from this album: "Ride My See-Saw", "Tuesday Afternoon", "I'm Just A Singer In A Rock & Roll Band" and "Nights In White Satin".

This was the only thing that Dad seemed to have by them, though I would see pictures of their other album covers on those London/Deram innersleeves that were inside of albums by the Rolling Stones and Ten Years After. I was intrigued by the cover for In Search Of The Lost Chord, although I wouldn't hear that until some time later.

In that summer, just before entering school, there was a new album by those guys that just came out. A little more poppy than the material I'd fallen in love with, but there were some good cuts on it, such as "The Voice" and "Gemini Dream".

As I was in my final year of high school, I was teaching myself how to play the keyboards, and one of the first things I showed myself how to play was the Mellotron lines from "Nights In White Satin", whilst playing along with the album. My Casio PT-100 was no Mellotron, but it was something to play along with.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

If only for a moment...

There is one moment that is permanently etched onto my memory, and though it was just a short-lived realization, it will always live on whenever I am in the area, and particularly that time of year.

It was October of 1983, sometime in the mid-afternoon. Dad had taken me to a dentist appointment down at Bates Technical College, and after it was over with, Dad decided we would walk downtown and go to Woolworth's, just to take a look around. We made our way down 13th for a few blocks, walking by the old Samson Apartments, making a left onto Fawcett Avenue, and then down a few more blocks down 11th Street.

As we walked down this street, with the afternoon sunlight turning gold as it was just beginning its descent, everything just felt right at that moment. We had just been through some rough seas within the last number of months; after he and mom had divorced, the family had been ripped in half as a result, and you can't forge ahead as if nothing had happened, even though we had both been doing that for a while. There would be some more rough seas ahead of us as we forged ahead in the new household situation, but for a moment, where we had been bonding together pretty good, everything just felt right at the moment, with no worries to be had.

We had just seen the Beach Boys at the Puyallup Fair the month before, and had a great time. We were having fun watching a plethora of new movies on TV, and were soon going to appear on The Rock Show. Plus, Halloween was on the way, and that (along with the subsequent holidays) was always a great time to look forward to. Down at Woolworth's, we looked through the albums section, and one of us found a copy of Richard Pryor's album That Nigger's Crazy, which went home with us.

Flash forward 27 years later to October of 2010. I found myself walking down 11th Street one golden afternoon, the sun beginning to set as I was heading to the bus transit-center, and the long-ago memory of that afternoon came to me. I was now a dad myself, and I was wondering if I was going to be walking down this hill with Geoffrey one day, with him taking it all in and enjoying the moment. As the sun was setting that afternoon, I later reflected on this moment that the sun was now setting on the final days of having Dad around, which wasn't going to be that much longer before he was taken from us. He really loved Geoffrey, perhaps thinking of the days when I was that young, and maybe it was like having me from that time back home again.

Funny how a fleeting and seemingly insignificant moment from so many years ago seems to last forever.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Paul Revere & The Raiders

This was one of Dad's favorite bands, while in his teens, not unlike the Rascals. I often wondered what it must have been like to have grown up with all of these great bands out there. It must have been hard to choose what the hell to go out and buy, what with so many picks out there!

He played this one for me, and I found that there were some great garage-rock cuts on it. Kind of a shame you don't hear them much anymore, not even on the "oldies" stations, apart from "Kicks", the only song they seem to be remembered for these days. They rocked a little harder than they got credit for, but always got stuck in the "teen band" penalty-box.

Another album he had was called Something Happening, which had almost a completely different band lineup, but a few very strong cuts on it, kicking off with "Too Much Talk", with gnarly fuzz guitar and some very cool basslines. "Don't Take It So Hard" was also another favorite of mine from it. I remember seeing this one back at the Blue House, where I'd heard it for the first time. Angie's school friends were there when Dad played it, and I was more impressed with it than they were.
A few years onward, in the second grade, we were visited in our class during the course of a week by a guy named Jim Valley, who sang, played the acoustic guitar, and wrote songs like "Rainbow Planet" and "The Computer Song", also singing songs for us like Bobby Darin's "Splish Splash". What I didn't know right away was that he had once been the lead guitarist for the Raiders for a few albums, and he was one of the guys on the cover, wearing the red slip-on shoes. Wow, how cool was that? Stupidly, I never brought it in to have him sign it!

EDIT I was shocked to hear of Paul Revere's passing not long after I originally posted this. There were loads of tributes to him by many musicians and friends of his on Facebook, which was touching. I had to go and score vinyl copies of the two original Greatest Hits collections. Geoffrey absolutely loves "Don't Take It So Hard"; I'll hear him singing it around the house, sometimes even just the middle section of it, word for word.

Johnny Rivers

This was one that Dad plonked onto the turntable, and it drew me right in. The cover, not so much. It looked like one of those sort of generic labels one would see on a bootleg 8-Track cartridge. The back cover was not much better, having the song titles listed again, flanked by a few hand-drawn trees, which reminded me of Wright Park. The run of songs on there inlcuded a handful of Chuck Berry tunes, "Secret Agent Man", "Mountain Of Love" (still a longtime favorite), and "Rockin' Pneumonia / Boogie-Woogie Flu". Great stuff. Mom also played this album, but seemed to favor the ballads on it, such as "Poor Side Of Town" and "The Tracks Of My Tears".
The album art was so generic that there wasn't even a picture of the artist himself anywhere on it. Dad had only one other album by him called Realization, kind of a psychedelic/introspective album, with the excellent "Summer Rain". On the photo-collage on the back cover was a guy with dark hair and thick glasses; for a second, I thought it was Doug from The New Zoo Revue!
Much later on, reminiscing about some of the classic stuff with Winter while we were in The Pace, he half-jokingly suggested that we should over-dub a gang of girls to shout, hoot and whistle while the songs were going on, sort of like the cover versions of "Maybelline" and "Memphis". Too bad we never did that!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

MTV

I don't remember seeing it from the first day of its initial broadcast, but the TV was now all but permanently anchored onto this new channel called MTV, which showed music videos all day and all night, hosted by a revolving gang of cool people who introduced videos, or told the latest about who was putting out a new album or touring.

It was an interesting mix within the first year of the channel starting out. We saw videos by old favorite bands who were still plugging along (The Who, J. Geils Band, the Rolling Stones), new bands and singers coming out (Asia, John Cougar Mellencamp, Survivor, the Eurythmics, Bryan Adams), and a plethora of "new wave" bands, often one-hit wonders (Human League, Madness, Bananarama, A Flock Of Seagulls, Romeo Void, ABC, and the Buggles, who launched the whole thing off with "Video Killed The Radio Star").

Some of the stuff was good, as well as stuff that was rather questionable; one that was hated around the house was "I Know What Boys Like" by the Waitresses, but would soon be followed up by another new band called Huey Lewis & The News, which was much more tolerable. And then, almost as comic relief, there were videos by funny guys like Madness, and Men At Work, whose videos were not only hilarious, but the songs were equally as good and memorable.

As the years went on, the channel got a little more complex, with live concerts being broadcast via satellite, like the Asia In Asia concert in late 1983. Another feature we enjoyed was a half-hour show called Closet Classics, which showcased a lot of videos from the German music show Beat Club, and I got to see clips by bands like Cream, and Blue Cheer. And a few years after that, they broadcast the now-legendary Monkees marathon over an entire weekend, and I was hooked from there (more on them later).

Like anything else that starts out great, it went to rack and ruin over a quick period of years. They introduced "Yo! MTV Raps", game shows, movies, reality shows, and then by the time the channel was twenty years old, anything that made the channel what it once was didn't even seem to exist anymore: the music video. Not that there was anything left that I wanted to see or hear (I'd given up years ago), but what it was built on wasn't there anymore. VH-1 was another great music channel until they, too, caught the same plague. Another childhood memory left to dry out. Ah well, there's always YouTube if I want to see the old videos again.

In retrospect, and not unlike the K-Tel albums I'd been subjected to in my earlier days, there was more trash to rummage through in order to get to the good stuff, but I gave up after a point. Even then, a lot of the new stuff coming out had a superficiality that I couldn't get into, with new styles coming and going at alarming rates. Less and less to hook me in, or even hold my interest.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

"The Shining"

I had just started kindergarten in September of 1981. I don't think I'd been more than a week into starting my schooling when something happened that not only polarized my future upbringing, but also blew out the inside of my mind completely.

I was playing outside in the backyard by myself one evening, and it was just starting to get a little dark; Angie was next door with friends, and Mitchell wasn't there. Dad came out of the shed that was tacked onto the rear of the house; he invited me to come in, and that there was something on that I had to come and check out.

What could it be? I came into the living room, and there was a movie on, showing something I hadn't seen before. It was about twenty minutes into it, so I had to sort of piece together what was going on as I was watching. It seemed to be about a family who was in this massive (and empty) hotel somewhere in the mountains, looking after it. What drew me in right away was a tight shot of a kid around my age on a bigwheel, riding all around through this huge hotel, almost in a huge circle. I had myself one of those, but--damn, that looked like fun!

What was being shown was Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of Stephen King's novel The Shining. I had never heard of it, nor had I ever heard of those two names before. I recognized Jack Nicholson vaguely from the movie version of Tommy, where he was the "specialist" who tries to cure Roger Daltrey by having electrodes taped all over his face, and melon-ball cutters over his eyes. This time, he was actually acting in a movie, and I was impressed by his performance. In one sitting, I was introduced to Stanley, Stephen and Jack...wow, talk about a crash course! This was going to be an interesting ride!

All I can say for my fist-ever viewing was that I was drawn in. Completely. I didn't move, didn't get up to get something to eat, or go to the bathroom. I couldn't take my eyes away from the screen for the remainder of the time that it was on. I was mesmerized by all what was going on, the settings, the atmosphere, the music...everything.

The music...now that was an interesting facet of the movie. I was astonished years later to find out that the music (apart from the Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind synthesizer compositions) was not composed for the movie; it was selected from Kubrick's own picks, and all of them went perfectly with what was going on. Hearing things like Bartok's "Music For Percussion, Strings and Celesta" and Penderecki's pieces during the latter half were opening up some new doors in my head. Even hearing something like "Midnight, The Stars and You" was a little on the haunting side, almost ghostly in a way.

I had some seen some stuff in the "horror" genre before, such as Damien: Omen II and The Amityville Horror, but this was something different entirely. For me, it was more "haunting" than scary. There were lots of scenes and/or images that stayed with me long after it was over. You could never forget the image of the Grady girls lying dead in the hallway, the encounter in Room 237, the conversation with Grady himself in the men's room, Hallorann's fate, and the final image of Jack frozen in the snow. So many others, and everyone has their favorite, but this was definitely unlike anything I had ever seen before, or virtually anything after that. I knew I had to be the only five-year-old watching this; actually, it was almost like seeing it from Danny's point of view, as I was exactly his age at that moment. We thought he was great, and wished he lived nearby, so we could hang out with him!

Well! I couldn't wait to see it again. It might have been a week later when we asked if Mitchell could stay the night at our place, and--as luck would have it--the movie was on again, and this time I got to watch it from the beginning. And there we sat, the three of us, right up front, for the next 144 minutes. Everything really fell into place for me this time. And it was great to share the experience with Angie and Mitchell. I know they liked it. The next morning, when we went outside, Mitchell wanted to play a game (of some sort) based on the movie. Of course, he wanted to be Danny, and so I got to chase after the others with an imaginary axe! Oh, if only someone had a camcorder on us at the time!

Another time, not long after that, we watched A Clockwork Orange (typical of the cable channels, they were showing Kubrick's other films as well). Definitely not something to be watched by a small gaggle of grade-schoolers, but we did, and were equally as mesmerized, even if we didn't understand everything that went on in it (let alone the "nadsat" slang throughout it). Although I didn't catch that Kubrick had directed this one as well, I noticed that the two films sort of went hand-in-hand for some reason!

Another seed of influence had been sown into me gulliver.

When it snowed a few months later, I was out in the backyard, and I suddenly remembered the part with Danny in the maze, making fake footprints in the snow. I went and did that myself, leading my tracks halfway toward the garage. Unfortunately, no-one noticed, and they got covered over by more snow rather quickly.