November 12, 2020
This blog will roam over the subjects of childrearing, psychology, postmodernity, the dangerous state of American politics, the Bible, the church, and rock ‘n’ roll music. That’s the short list. I reserve the right to add a topic as the whim overtakes me.
Today’s post is about rock ‘n’ roll music. My wife tells me I’m a repository of useless rock trivia. I once won a rock trivia contest by naming the conga player on Traffic’s “Welcome to the Canteen” album. I played in a working rock band for seven years. Early on in their career, we beat REO Speedwagon in a Battle of the Bands. It took place on our campus, so the outcome was foregone, but isn’t that impressive! Nonetheless, we rocked the house.
I can’t name my favorite rock ‘n’ roll band, song, album, lead singer, songwriter, guitarist, etc. Changes depending on my mood, I suppose. As for bands, Led Zeppelin is my answer on most days, but then there’s The Beatles. And then there’s that band I first saw in a 1000-seat theater in Chicago in 1966. Jagger was singing through the house PA. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. No one could. I appreciate a lot of bands, but my appreciation begins to run out in the mid-1970s and is gone by 2000. Dave Matthews? C’mon, man! He’s got zero soul. Listen to Eric Burdon during the early days of the Animals. Listen to The Allman Brothers Band. Jimi, Cream. Listen to “Bless Its Pointed Little Head” by the Airplane. Grace set the bar for female lead singers. Only Ann Wilson comes close.
Best concert for me was the Stones on November 16, 1969 in Chicago. Best band I ever heard live was The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the version one encounters on “In My Own Dream.” Saw The Beach Boys in 1972 in Quincy, Illinois in a college gymnasium. Willie and I were sitting on the floor, right in front of Carl, who was clearly leading the band. Even without Brian, who was back in California trying to figure out where to go next, they were mind-blowing. They were a rock ‘n’ roll orchestra of sorts. They probably had twelve musicians, including themselves, on stage. Ricky Fataar on drums, for example. Blondie Chapin on background vocals with Dennis. They did the obligatory Top-40 medley and then got down into deep album cuts like “’Til I Die,” “Sail On Sailor,” and “Surf’s Up.” Absolutely magical evening. Occasionally, I meet someone and discover he was in that same audience and we always agree it was one of the best concerts we ever witnessed.
I had the sublime pleasure of seeing Willie DeVille in a club in San Francisco in the late 1990s. He just held the crowd spellbound for two hours. If you’re not familiar with Willie, I highly recommend that you check him out. Lots of musicians regard him as the single most underrated, unsung singer-songwriter of our time. Sort of like Roy Harper, whom Zeppelin immortalized on their third album with “Hats Off to Roy Harper.”
I discovered Van Morrison when I was a senior in high school. In 1965, he was fronting the great Irish band Them. The first time I heard Van was at a friend’s house. His mother put on the 45 with “Gloria” on Side A and “Baby Please Don’t Go” on Side B. What a cool mom! I even remember what she was wearing. I immediately fell in love with her and Van both.
My favorite Beatles’ song is just about anything they ever did, but “Paperback Writer” pops immediately to mind. Some folks say The Beatles weren’t really a rock ‘n’ roll band. If that’s what you think, you haven’t been listening closely enough. Listen to Paul’s bass lines, listen to Ringo’s drumming, listen to John’s rhythms, listen to George suddenly turn a bouncy pop ditty into a rockabilly rave. They were a rock ‘n’ roll band all right.
When I return to the subject of rock ‘n’ roll music, we’ll take up The Four Seasons. At the peak of their powers, The Beatles came along and that was that. Too bad. “Rag Doll” is right up there with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Copyright 2020, John K. Rosemond