Obituary: Walter Becker (February 20, 1950-September 3, 2017)

Walter Becker, co-founder, guitar, bass player, and songwriter for Steely Dan has passed away from and undisclosed illness.

I pretty much dismissed the band following the release of their first single, Reelin’ in the Years, thinking it was a solid enough pop tune, but not thinking that much of the band, kind of the same as I liked Radiohead’s Creep when it was released never thinking what an incredible and rich catalog of tunes the band would produce.

In fact the analogy works for me since I bought both bands’ first albums, Can’t Buy a Thrill (Steely Dan) and Pablo Honey (Radiohead) liking the works in general, but never really suspecting how sophisticated the development of the band’s respective music would become.

But, starting with Countdown to Ecstasy, Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied, and then The Royal Scam, the Dan produced four albums that are as good, interesting, musically listenable and challenging as anything any performer could make

In fact, I think when I noted bands with three brilliant consecutive albums, Tom rightfully put Steely Dan’s–named for a chromed dildo in William Burrough’s Naked Lunch–list from above starting and stopping wherever you want, even adding Can’t Buy a Thrill on the front and Aja the back end.

I have to admit that with the band’s final big commercial success with Aja I became disinterested, slightly because it felt like I had been there before with the band, and partly because I was seriously into Punk and British Power Pop by then.

And, I had no interest in the band reforming and was no more interested in seeing their reunion than I would have been The Doobie Brothers or The Moody Blues.

Still, the band killed it for ten years with fantastic melodies and obscure interesting lyrics and a cluster of albums I still love.

Later Walter. Thanks for an incredible body of work and hours of pleasure. Here is a fave of mine.

The Story of Sister Rosetta Thorpe Part 1

While looking at more of Sister Rosetta, I stumbled onto this little documentary which is wicked good.

Thought her guitar might be a Guild also, but one of the Dixie Hummingbirds said her axe was all metal so I thought it might be a Wandre a la Buddy Miller, but who knows? There are some other vids of her playing what looks like a 335 E but not totally sure.

This is really good, though. It is also the first of I believe four 15 minute clips, so if you like this, there is more on YouTube….

Lunch Break: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, “Didn’t It Rain”

I feel like a stupid ignorant fuck, having lived nearly 65 years, being a music junkie, and having never heard of Sister Rosetta Tharpe till a couple of days ago, but I got a link to some of her stuff via my weekly NPR music email push, and there she was.

Not much I can say but, “wow.”

Check this out and you will see what I mean. Swear to fucking god.

 

“Pick On” Pink Floyd

Every week on my show on FNTSY (the Tout Wars Hour, 9-11 PM, ET every Thursday night he plugged shamelessly) I ask my special guest to reveal a favorite album, movie, TV show, athlete to watch, and food and the list, as Fantasy now spreads generations, is big fun.

There are wonderful surprises like Tim McLeod loving Sunburst Finish  by Be Bop Deluxe and Eno Sarris, being a fan of his namesake’s Taking Tiger Mountain by Storm.

A couple of weeks ago my special guest was Jeff Zimmerman, and when I suggested  that basic script for the show that week I also noted that during our final five minute  segment we do indeed review those pop items like players we like to watch and music  we like to listen to.

Jeff warned me in advance that he was not that much of a music person, and I  responded no problem, and there must be a Beatles or Stones or some kind of album or song in his head somewhere he liked and just do the best you can.

But, never, ever, ever, did I expect his actual entry to the list which is a blue grass cover of The Wall performed by Luther Wright and the Wrongs.

So, I went digging a little, and found the album, and during my guitar lesson that same week I asked my friend and mentor Steve Gibson if he knew about Luther and his band’s treatment of the Floyd.

Steve did not know The Wall specifically, but he was more than hep to Nashville musicians gathering and deconstructing famous albums and bands in a phenomenon known as “pick on,” as in “pick on Aerosmith” or “pick on AC/DC.”

I cannot say that this revisionism is totally my cup of tea as much as I like both the Floyd and blue grass. Clearly these guys are knockout musicians, but I think I actually prefer to hear them cover the Carters and Irish jigs, but just discovering this subculture of music was a kick and a half.

This is Luther’s treatment of my favorite tune from the Floyd album. I still prefer David Gilmour’s chorusy guitar ripping through, but this is still pretty good.

 

 

 

You Really Got Me: The Locomotion, Little Eva

Of course, once again I was in the car, driving to the links, when the Locomotion came on my shuffle.

I can write a lot about the song, How it nailed me (as documented) at family camp. How it is just a killer Goffin/King song with that monster sax grooving with the machine gun snare to start, and then drive the song.

But, when I was listening the other day I thought “man, I first heard this song in 1962 and it still sounds as good to me today as it did then.”

So, I started thinking about other  songs like that, and the Kinks, You Really Got Me was the first to pop into my head and that seemed an apropos title for a new category of fun.

The parms are just that: a song that nailed you first time and always, but, the caveat is that you have to remember distinctly where you first heard it.

So, here are six of mine in no particular order (and, though both You Really Got Me and the Locomotion match the category, I went to other songs for my list):

Drug Test, Yo La Tengo: I read about Yo La Tengo for the first time in the Utne Reader as their critic, I think named Jay Waljasper, waxed on for a couple of albums worth about how great this band I never had heard of was. So, kind of like Steve went to see Baby Driver to prove to himself it was lousy, I bought President Yo La Tengo/New Wave Hot Dog to prove to myself that the Tengo were nothing. This was 1998, and the opening track, Banaby Hardly Working was ok, but the second cut, Drug Test came smoking out of the car stereo and it remains an all-time favorite song. Needless to say, Waljasper was right: I own seven of the bands discs and have seen them three times.

Please Please Me, The Beatles: My family all lived in London and my cousin Eve sent us a copy of Please Please Me on Parlaphone records in 1963 and it completely knocked my socks off. I remember putting on our little Philco phonograph, and that we didn’t need to use the little center spindle thing for 45 rpm singles because British singles did not have that gaping hole in the middle. The couplet “It’s so hard to reason, I do all the pleasin’ with you…” still stands as one of my all time favorites.

Holidays in the Sun, The Sex Pistols: I had heard of Johnny and the Sex Pistols, as they were referred to in the San Francisco Chronicle and was dubious. But, in October of 1977 I went to London for the first time to meet my cousins and travel some. I was taking a bath in my grandmother’s house which was a 150-year old Victorian, listening to Top of the Pops on my aunt’s funky transistor which was on the floor and pow, the #1 song of the week blew me away.

Borrow Your Cape, Bobby Bare, Jr: I hit pay-dirt with an Amazon order around 2007 when I bought my niece Lindsay a couple of discs from Amazon for her birthday. At the bottom of the page was one of those, “people who liked this, liked that” and The Longest Meow by Bobby Bare, Jr and his Starving Criminal Brigade was the disc. “What the fuck?” I thought to myself and I bought it (a lot of four and five star reviews on Amazon) and man is it a killer album. And, Borrow Your Cape is my fave. The Biletones even covered it for a while.

Complete Control, The Clash: I was totally caught up with the punks and saw every band I could in the process, including the Pistols final performance at Winterland, and the Clash four times. I was going to sleep, though, shortly after my return from my European trip of ’77, smoking a doobie when Complete Control came on during Richard Gosset’s evening show on KSAN. By the time the second solo began I was totally lost in it. Still am.

Modern Love, Peter Gabriel: I was standing in Odyssey Records on the Ave in Berkeley in late 1977 when Gabriel’s first album came out, and the crew at the record store put the album on. So, as I was browsing Modern Love and Solsbury Hill came on and I bought the album without having ever heard any of the rest. I still love Modern Love.

Obit: June Foray (September 8, 1917, July 26, 2017)

June Foray certainly does not spring to mind as a name anyone would associate with music, let alone rock’n’roll; however, she was an integral part of the aging of the Boomer Generation.

June, who passed away a couple of days ago, just months shy of the Century Mark, was the voice of the following cartoon characters:

  • Rocket J Squirrel
  • Natasha
  • Granny on Looney Tunes (owner of Tweety)
  • Nell Fenwick
  • Witch Hazel
  • Daisy Duck
  • Mother Magoo
  • Betty Rubble
  • Cindy Lou Who (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
  • Jokey Smurf

And, a host of other voices, participating in a list of shows that is, to say the least, overwhelming.

I am indeed a huge fan of animation, dating back to the first Jay Ward show, Crusader Rabbit wherein at the age of six I got my first puns. Crusader Rabbit featured a two-headed dragon named “Arson/Sterno” which didn’t really mean anything to me. I knew what Arson was, but it was a cartoon. (There was also a villian named “Dudley Nightshade,” a pun I never got till I was a lot older!)

One evening my mother was having a cocktail party and she had a chafing dish that needed a Sterno can to keep the contents warm and I saw her prepare the dish, read the label and a light went off in my head (it might still be going off).

From that all the cartoons of my youth became the filter for my  viewing and reading and interpretation of literature and movies and TV, for it not only taught about puns, but also how characters define themselves, often by action and nameAdditionally, I got the author gets to play with characters and names and situations to emphasize things like irony, hypocrisy, and many other personality traits.

As I delved deeper into literature as an undergrad, then grad student, and learned that Charles Dickens, for example, was among the best at portraying his characters as round or flat, modifying their names in deed and action. So, I got that the Arson/Sterno tradition was pretty old, going back at least to Chaucer in the English language.

I still watch toons. I love Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers and Adult Swim in addition to old Looney Tunes because they still push art in areas where live action human stuff cannot go.

Are they important? Just listen…

RIP June, and I hope where you are is as much fun as the shit you created!

Galaxie 500, “Blue Thunder”

Again, Spotify drops a band and album on me I never heard of. This one came up on my “Discover Weekly” playlist, and I looked the guys up on Wiki and it seems there is some relationship between the band and The Reverend Horton Heat, but I could not track it down.

Galaxie 500, named wonderfully for the car, released this song and album (On Fire) in 1989 and it is sort of sweet melancholy and haunts in the same way Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark–which I call music to slit my wrists too and is go-to when I am sad–does.

I guess Blue Thunder is in a minor key because that does seem to help but man, I cannot pinpoint, and the song and album just get to me. I am not even sure of the words in this one as the mix is thick and the words sort of mumbled/slurred, but shit, I do like it a lot.

Booker T and the MG’s “Green Onions”

Green Onions holds a particular place in my life.

Certainly, prior to Booker and the MGs releasing the hit in 1962, I had many brushes with the radio and records.

I loved Little Star, Peggy Sue, Sorry, I Ran All the Way Home, the Happy Organ, and Red River Rock among great tunes released prior to Green Onions, but that was before I had a radio in my room, or our family had a phonograph player let alone a stereo.

Meaning I had no regular or consistent means of channeling the hits of the day aside from Dick Clark and Ed Sullivan.

The summer of ’62, however, we went to Lake Tahoe for a week, staying at a University of California family camp. I was nine then, and  The Locomotion, Runaway, and Sherry were all huge hits that lived on the juke box in the dining room at camp where the collegiate staff ruled the roost at night.

That made it great for my brother and I to hang with the kids we had met, and listen to those great songs as the entry to regular exposure of pop music, something that then never left.

That fall I entered 6th grade, and also began Hebrew School, being just a little ahead of three years before my suspected Bar Mitzvah date. Hebrew class was held at our Temple, and usually one of my mates in school who also attended car-pooled me with them while either my mother, or Cantor Cohn, whose son Ron was a great friend, would ferry me back home.

But, on one particular day, Miriam Costa, a neighbor from across the street whose family’s life has criss-crossed with mine in strange ways over the past 55 years, was there to take me back to our house.

I was quiet riding in the car, and Mrs. Costa had the radio on, and truth was I wasn’t paying that much attention save suddenly Green Onions came on and that is the first time I clearly recognized a song on the radio I had heard, and identified it by name and performer in what became my ridiculous mental data base of music trivia.

So, the song has always held a special spot in my heart.

Well, last week I was watching the wonderful Barry Sonnenfield film Get Shorty, a movie I also dig a lot and during an airport sequence, Green Onions came on the soundtrack.

Knowing that I had heard the song in both American Graffiti and The Big Lebowski, I began to wonder just how many films had included the great instrumental as part of their production.

So, I went to the Independent Movie Data Base (IMDB) and discovered 34 movies and TV shows had borrowed the song, which I think is kind of a lot.

It is a great tune, and, it both reminds me of Miriam Costa, and also of my love of song really kicking into full gear just after that fall, when my brother and I got a little Packard Bell radio for our room, while our parents purchased a Philco phonograph player and there was no looking back.

Japandroids, “The House That Heaven Built”

I do like my Spofity shuffle and mixes because they do indeed jumble eras and genres up, although the band in question here is one our friend, Kyle Elfrink, of Sirius/XM, another baseball/music junkie, turned me onto.

They would be the Japandroids. And, Kyle was right, for I like them having added a couple of their discs to my continually growing Playlist. Which means their stuff pops up out of nowhere, which is good fun.

This tune crushes it for me. You?

CarTunes: Paul Simon, “America” and Lucinda Williams, “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road”

I thought hard during the last presidential campaign if I had ever seen a political ad that appealed to me more in substance and presentation than this wonderful Bernie Sanders ad which features the ridiculously beautiful Paul Simon penned song, America.

It is just a 1:00 minute splash, but so effective, somewhat because the editing feeds right into Simon’s composition, which is indeed such beautiful poetry,  the whole thing just sort of transcends the words of almost any other song/ad I can think of.

The whole tune came on my shuffle the other day as I was heading off the golf links and America is also a great car tune; that is, a song that is great to listen to while driving, so I decided to drop a new category for songs that are a great listen on a road trip.

I guess it goes without saying that arguably the greatest of the “Car Tunes” is Roadrunner by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, a song that has been featured here before, but another great reflection of travel and riding and life and the open road is Lucinda’s Williams fantastic painting of a tune, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road from the album of the same name.

As it was, Car Wheels popped onto my shuffle right after America the other morning making this whole mess fall together in some kind of prophetic way, but make no mistake, Williams words are just as beautiful and evocative as Simon’s, which is indeed saying something.

So, what else kills in the car on that long ride? Radar LoveDon’t Fear the Reaper? You tell me.