Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Me and Tom Petty

When I was a teenager, my friends and I headed to the downtown record stores to check out the new releases for that week.  Some of these were the latest from our favourite band while others were records we had been reading about in Circus Magazine.  And, sometimes, we just picked up a record whose jacket looked interesting.  The first Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers album fell in to that last category.

It was the Fall of 1976. The sneer and black leather jacket on the cover said "punk rock."  That was good enough for me.  When I got the album home "Rockin Around With You" was close enough. Of course "Breakdown" came next and it certainly wasn't punk but, damn, it was great.  I was hooked by the songs and Mike Campbell's guitar playing.  Of course it was "American Girl" that sealed the deal and Tom Petty was one of mine!

July 5, 1980 New York City.  Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers play the Palladium (the Joe Perry Project opened the show).  It was the end of my first year at NYU and I was staying in the city to play in Born Ready.  This was the first time I saw the band live and it was mind blowing.  There were no bells and whistles and no fancy costumes.  You couldn't take your eyes off of Tom. This was straight up rock and roll and the energy of the band made the whole thing feel relentless.  At the end of the night I was exhausted and inspired.

It was September 2003 when I took Melanie to see the band for the first time. They played at the Molson Amphitheater in Toronto.  Melanie thought that she didn't know any of their songs.  Boy, was she wrong.  The band was on fire, as usual.  Tom was a total shamen that night.  It was magic.  They could do no wrong.

July 2014.  Career highlight. When you meet your heroes it can go one of two ways.  I've been lucky most of the time.  I brought CBC to LA to talk to Tom about their latest album and the upcoming tour. Prior to the start of the interview, I got to spend 10 minutes alone with him while we waited for make up to arrive.  I got to tell him my story and he smiled appreciatively and talked enthusiastically of the impending re-issue of the expanded Wildflowers.  I commended him on never writing any shitty songs.  He sniggered and said "Oh, we've written some real stinkers.  We just don't play them for anyone."

This past summer Tom and the troupe pulled in to Toronto on their 40th anniversary tour.  The band was excellent, as always but I didn't stay for the whole set.  The folks sitting behind me kept talking and it was distracting.  And, as much as I love the band, I'd seen them at their best and it felt too much like nostalgia to me.  I have no criticisms.  I have Top Petty radio programmed in my car.

I didn't get upset when I heard the news.  I sighed and posted a thank you for all of the great songs.  Tom Petty never released a bad record.  It was a remarkable run.  If you haven't already, watch the doc and read the biog. "She was an American Girl, raised on promises" and he delivered on the promises he made in 1976.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Jimmy F'n Page!! What was said in the car?

It's been a few years since I posted anything in this blog but the time has come to return with another story.  Coincidentally, my previous post was about an encounter with Jeff Beck. This story is about one of his best friends and co-conspirators in the Yardbirds - Jimmy Page.

Jimmy came to Toronto last week to play selected tracks from the remaining Led Zeppelins re-issues he's been working on for the past few years.  Between interviews and at dinner we had a chance to chat and, I'm glad to report, he's a fantastic and engaging person equally interested in the people he is talking to as we are in talking to him.  He had fantastic tales to tell with remarkable recall of being a teenager discovering great blues records at house parties attended by the likes of a young Keith Richards and Mick Jaggar among others.  Of course we talk guitars and he shared a number of great Zeppelin stories too.

If you read my Jeff beck piece you'll recall me telling Jeff that watching him smash his guitar in the film Blow Up was my inspiration to picking up the instrument.  I told Jimmy the same  and he told me a great story about the audience member who was to grab the guitar pieces up off the floor and how he'd get the shit kicked out of him during every take, coming up with his glasses askew.

It was impossible for me to not geek out and ask some questions that only he could answer.  The burning question I had was "Where does the inspiration come from?  What was the spark that led to the riff?"  When I asked specifically about "The Ocean" he would only acknowledge that the riff had unusual notes but would give me no more. I thought better than to push so I left it alone - until the next day.

At the end of his CBC interview he told them to play "Achilles Last Stand" because Zeppelin was known for long songs and this was the longest (he said that with a chuckle).  Back in the car I decided to try again and asked about the opening notes of the song.

"It's an unusual sequence of notes," I said.

"Yes, it is," was his brief reply.

""So, where does that come from?  Are you just noodling around and the note just show up?"

He turned to me and with a stern voice and arched brow said "Well, maybe, calculated noodling."

That was it.  I was shut down.  "Okay.  I have nothing else.  I am an empty vessel. I will shut up now."  But after a few seconds of silence he turned around and put his elbow on the seat back.

"They are Flamenco chords," he said.

"What?"

"They are Flamenco chords where the notes are plucked appegio as opposed to playing the chord."

That satisfied my curiosity.  Jimmy Page wrote songs.  He didn't wait for magical inspiration.

Later that night, during the playback to the music, I sat in the back of the room two seats over from Jimmy.  I watched him as he listened and seemed to relive the recording of each song.  When it got to "Achilles Last Stand" I started playing air guitar and air drums cause you just can't not.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Jimmy going the same.  We both kept going and going because - well, you just can't not.  And, when the song finally ended the audience in the room erupted and Jimmy and I high-fived one another!  Holy shit, I can't believe it either!

Jimmy Fuckin' Page!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Me and Jeff Beck

Earlier this year I had the honor of working with Jeff Beck. As you know from a previous post, I think that Jeff Beck is the greatest guitarist of all-time. We released his latest album, Emotion & Commotion, in April but back in February he came to Toronto for a tour date with Eric Clapton. Hours before the concert, following some interviews about the new record, I got to have a few minutes with Jeff, just shooting the shit. After the concert was over, in a room filled with gawkers, we finished out "talk." It went something like this:

Pre-concert

Me: "I don't want to embarrass you by gushing (Jeff smiles), but you're the reason I started playing guitar."

Jeff: "Really?"

Me: "Yeah. back when I was growing up they used to play Blow-Up on TV all of the time and, even though the movie scared the crap out of me, I would always watch it for that scene in the club where the Yardbirds played "Train Kept A Rollin'."

Jeff: "But all I do is break my guitar."

Me: "Yeah, but it's the way you break that guitar." (we both laugh)

Post-concert

Me: "That was really great."

Jeff: "Yeah. Thanks."

Me: "You know, I just wanted to mention that even though you were who inspired me to start playing guitar, I didn't dare try to learn how to play like you."

Jeff: (smiling broadly) "Yeah, well, what would have been the point, really."

Fuck yeah!! Jeff beck was exactly as I would have hoped he would be - charming, funny, willing to accept the compliment he's heard a million time before and, most importantly, slightly self-effacing. Good times.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Me and Michael Jackson

I never met Michael Jackson but I did have a number of Michael Jackson experiences.

Michael Jackson is only 18 months older than me. When I was in grade school and the Jackson 5 had their first hit, "I Want You Back," guys like me were labelled jealous by all of the girls that swooned over pictures of him and his brothers. I was already a Stevie Wonder fan so it wasn't a stretch to like the Jackson 5 though I would never admit it to my classmates. And who could resist the Saturday morning cartoons? Not me. I even liked the ballads though I thought that "Ben" was just plain weird.

In college, Michael Jackson's Off the Wall was the record that broke the monotony of Pink Floyd's The Wall (hmm, coincidence?). Any party that was in the least bit subdued was sparked to life by "You Better Be Startin' Something."

I was already working in the music industry when Thriller came out. I was one the the millions watching the Motown 25 Special that night he busted out the moon walk. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was talking about it the next day. When he slid across the stage that night you knew that you were watching one of the most important TV moments in history. I remember sitting in the offices at Chrysalis Records reading the story of how he planned on spending a million dollars to make the video for "Thriller" and thinking that he was insane.

Back in Toronto, I saw the Victory tour at the CNE. Ask anyone who saw that show and they will tell you that it was one of the most incredible things you could imagine. Parliament/Funkadelic built the mothership but Michael and his brothers flew it that night! But no amount of pyrotechnics could over shadow the dancing. The evening was otherworldly.

The videos for "Bad" and "Dirty Diana" made Michael look cool.

I remember that ABC premiered the video for "Black or White" and Michael started looking freaky. It took a while to appreciate the song but it did eventually sink in. Most of what Michael recorded after "Black or White" was too sappy for me. I hated his duet with Janet on "Scream."

I always thought that Michael was a good looking guy and never understood why he started with the cosmetic surgery. His troubles with child molestation accusations and random bizarre acts always threatened to take the shine off of his star. feel sorry for him. Maybe because we're of the same generation. If only he had a chance to have a normal life, perhaps he'd be alive today. Perhaps he would have made many more interesting records.

I have nothing else to say.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

My First Rocket Launch



When I was three, I remember my brother keeping a scrapbook of John Glenn's first orbits in space. For years afterwards I would crack open the yellowed pages of his black covered composition book into which newspaper clippings were heavily glued (he was only eleven at the time after all).

When I was seven I built a large model replica of the Saturn Five rocket all by myself. The model, when finished, was about three feet high and all of the stages separated and there was even a lunar module that folded up and tucked inside the final stage.

As a family we watched the space flights of Apollo 7, 8, 9, 10 and on that fateful day in July 1969, we sat transfixed in front of our black and white TV at the cottage, transfixed to the ghostly images coming from the moon as Neil Armstrong floated down the LEM's ladder.

As I got older, my fascination with space flight never abated. I read Mitchner's Space and Wolf's The Right Stuff. I joined NASA's junior space program that came with a library of books you could fill with stickers that were regularly sent to you. My favourite toy was astronaut Major Matt Mason. I wanted to be the first man on Mars.

I've been to he Kennedy Space Centre 3 times. 10 or 15 years ago I had the good fortune of meeting Buzz Aldrin (the second man on the moon) in the green room at the Dini Petty Show and ended up with an autographed photo.

The one thing I was missing though was watching a live rocket launch. That finally happened last week.

The family and I drove to Florida for a March break vacation. Because we couldn't get in to our rented condo until Monday, the plan was to drive to Titusville (outside the Kennedy Space Center) to arrive Sunday afternoon, tour the Kennedy Space Center on Monday and then drive in to Orlando to set up shop for the week. I knew that there was supposed to be a shuttle launch a few days earlier but I didn't know that it had been delayed because of a hydrogen leak. At dinner on Saturday night, Mason said that his grandfather told him that there was going to be a launch on Sunday. I was stunned. I grabbed the blackberry and googled Nasa and sure enough there it was...7:43pm on Sunday night - the launch of Discovery. The boys had never seen me so excited and I began to obsess for the next 20 some odd hours.

We checked into the Super 8 in Titusville around 4pm (we paid $55 for a room that was now going for $135) and the boys had a quick swim before we headed out to pick up a pizza and head down to the Indian River to get a prime spot from which to watch the launch.

Though we had to wait over two hours, it was well worth it. I don't know that pictures or video can do it justice but it was great to be able to scratch this off the bucket list. Now Mason says he wants to be the first man on Mars - could happen!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

My first band

I always considered myself musical. I took piano lessons when I was 8 (from the daughter of my mother's best friend who then sent me home with keys drawn on a piece of paper to practise on since we didn't actually own a piano). My mom likes to tell stories about how I banged on pots and pans in lieu of having toys. The first time I actually asked for anything extravagant it was for a banjo after having seen Flats and Scruggs on the Beverly Hillbillies. One day after school, on a whim, I bought a mandolin at a bookstore just because I figured I could figure it out. Now, I didn't say that I was any good at playing any of these but at least I showed some enthusiasm.

In the Spring of 1976 I was in the living room of my parents house listening to my favourite album, Cat Steven's Tea For The Tillerman. My brother played guitar and it just so happened that he had the songbook for the album and it just so happened that the songbook was in the living room. I opened it up and followed along with the songs. When I saw the illustrations of the chords printed above the staffs of music I had an epiphany - "I can do this." With a great deal of that previously mentioned enthusiasm, I leaped to my feet and rushed in to the den to get my brother's Ovation guitar. It is with some embarrassment I tell you that he was in the room with his girlfriend and I saw things that I probably should not have seen. But as a boy on a mission, I ignored the obvious and took the guitar without asking and headed back to the living room. Over the next few hours I was able to learn a couple of songs from Tea For The Tillerman as well as Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence." I was so excited about my new found prowess that within a week I had bought a knockoff Les Paul imitation electric guitar made by Mann.

Two weeks later I found myself in a friend's basement auditioning for his band, Phlox. Phlox means flame in Greek. This was the seventies so finding a name with a second meaning was very important. For instance, Rush could mean "hurry" or "unexpected thrill" while Rhinegold could mean...something or other. I don't really know what Rhinegold means it's just that's the ma,e of Larry Gowan's band from the seventies and they used to play the Piccadilly Tube all of the time. But I digress. Back to Phlox...

I wish I could remember the names of the guys in Phlox. But I do remember that Ansley Dunbar was the lead guitarist because Ansley was black and played an upside down white Stratocaster just like Jimi Hendrix. No, Ansley did not play like Hendrix. When I showed up at the audition I could play exactly five open chords (A, G, C, D and E). That got me through the first few songs but then when we got to "Pinball Wizard," I suddenly had to learn how to cope with barre chords. I didn't want to get kicked out of the band for being inept so I studied Ansley's hands intently and suffered cramps trying to keep up.

I went home and spent the next week practising those chords every waking moment and when I came back to the basement seven days later I was ready to move on. Sadly, though, the other guys were ready to move on as well and the band disbanded right there and then before the second rehearsal even began. That's rock and roll, I guess.