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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Tag

Soul Serenade - Allen ToussaintWhen Allen Toussaint died this week he was far from the city he loved. He had played a concert in Madrid and then suffered a heart attack. Toussaint was revived once, but a second attack took his life. Although he was an ocean away at the time of his death, the truth is that Allen Toussaint took New Orleans wherever he went, and any place he played was transformed into New Orleans for just a little while.

Soul Serenade - Isley Brothers


I spent last weekend in New Jersey. It’s always good to be back in my home state, but I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a place for me there, if I still fit in. It’s been over four years since I moved to Rhode Island, and each time I go back to NJ I feel a little more removed from the place that I lived for nearly my entire life. This week I’m going to take a look at the Isley Brothers, a group that was not from NJ, but eventually made the Garden State their home. It was while they were headquartered in NJ that they had some of their greatest success. There must be something in the air.

A lot of things have changed over the years, but some things have remained, albeit in a different form. As I write this I’m on a train headed for New York City. I left Rhode Island this morning for a trip that will eventually take me to Florida and back again. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a long distance train, and the thought of being on a train for four of the next six days is a daunting one, but what a great way to see the country, get some work done, and just kick back.

There are lots of trains songs, and I thought it would be appropriate to feature one this week. Of course “Midnight Train to Georgia” came to mind immediately, but I thought I’d go for something not quite as well-remembered.

There’s a lot of talk about girl groups, and rightfully so. Girl groups made some great music in the ’60s. But if you ever try to journey back to where it all started it’s inevitable that you will run into the Shirelles as you’re passing through Passaic, New Jersey. They were still at Passaic High School when they got together in 1957 in order to perform at the school talent show. The original lineup was Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Micki Harris, and Beverly Lee. They called themselves the Poquellos and performed a song that they had written called “I Met Him on a Sunday.” One school friend was so impressed that she introduced the group to her mother Florence Greenberg who had a small record label called Tiara.

Soul Serenade

Wilson Pickett - Ninety-Nine And A Halr (Won't Do)There are many sides to soul music. There is the pop-soul style of Motown, the sweet soul of Philadelphia, and the streetwise sound of New York City. But if you prefer a little more grit, a little more growl, a little more funk in your soul, then I have a record for you. This week’s featured record is a classic Wilson Pickett side from his golden era with Atlantic Records in the mid-late ’60s. I’ve wanted to feature Pickett, and this record in particular for quite some time and this seems like a good week to do it.

You know the story of the “Wicked” Wilson Pickett by now. You know that he first hit it with the Falcons, a group which also included the luminaries Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice, and how they got some attention with “I Found A Love,” a song co-written by Pickett. It was a minor hit for the Falcons, but a bigger one when Pickett re-recorded it on his own some time later.

Soon Pickett went solo, and sent a demo of a song he had written to Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records. Wexler gave “If You Need Me” to Atlantic artist Solomon Burke who had a big hit with it. Pickett was not happy that the song had been given away, but solo success was not far off for him. He was recording for Double L Records when “It’s Too Late” became a big R&B hit in 1963, so big in fact that it convinced Wexler to buy Pickett’s contract from Double L and sign him to Atlantic.

Chickenfoot.  When word of the band name of Sammy Hagar’s new “supergroup” leaked out, half the internet responded by saying “that’s the dumbest band name I’ve ever heard…..and just when I thought Sammy couldn’t get any cornier!”  The other half of the internet said “you know what?  That band name is pretty funny.”  The official word from band camp was that “Chickenfoot” was merely a working title for the project, and the real band name would be revealed later.

But the buzz about the “name” was large enough, that Hagar and crew quickly realized that they had the attention of their audience, and when you’ve got that, you pick it up and you run with it.  So “Chickenfoot,” the temporary working title, became Chickenfoot, the band.

(And for those that remember Sammy’s HSAS project from the ’80s, take note that the members of Chickenfoot happen to spell out H.S.A.S. as well.  Cool!)

And what a band it is!  After an aborted attempt at a similar project a few years back underneath the name of Planet US, Hagar made sure that the associated players for this new project would actually have the time to commit to a proper album and the subsequent touring.  Which is important, when your colleagues in said new project are virtuoso guitarist Joe Satriani, former Van Halen bass player Michael Anthony and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith.

R&R BoxThere seem to be two camps of people when it comes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: those who feel that rock and roll deserves a permanent place to showcase the important effect it’s has had on popular culture, and those who believe that the intention of rock music was rebellion against the mainstream; that a stuffy old shrine goes against everything the music stands for, and screw you if you don’t agree with them. I belong to the former group, partly because I’m from Cleveland, Ohio and got caught up in the hysteria of bringing the Rock Hall to the north coast, and also because I feel that there needs to be a place where people can look at rock and roll as an art and examine its history. I’ve been to the museum, and could have stayed for days marveling at Hendrix’s guitar and fragments of Keith Moon’s drum kit.

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and there’s a star-studded concert in Madison Square Garden to celebrate the occasion. In conjunction with the anniversary, Time-Life has released a nine-DVD collection called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Live. It includes eight discs of Hall of Fame inductions and a DVD featuring some of the performances from the 1995 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert that took place in Cleveland. Since the very first induction back in 1986, we’ve seen and heard about the induction ceremonies (usually in New York) that are a gathering of music legends. They get up on stage and perform their biggest hits; give speeches that are sometimes emotional, sometimes raucous, sometimes spiteful, and at the end of the night all of the inductees and presenters come together for one kick assjam session. With this DVD collection, it appeared as if music aficionados — you know, you and I, the people who made these rock stars legends — were finally going to be included in these events, and not just through the chopped-up versions we’ve seen on VH1.

Well, not quite.

Although he’s known to many simply as the eccentric bespectacled guy who serves as the band leader for the CBS Orchestra on The Late Show with David Letterman, Paul Shaffer’s career has been a wide and varied one, taking him from the position of musical director for the Toronto production of “Godspell” in 1972 all the way to being the musical director and producer for the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony…and, trust me, you don’t get a gig like that without some serious music street cred. Shaffer has detailed many of his experiences – with the help of David Ritz – in his newly-released autobiography, We’ll Be Here For The Rest Of Our Lives, a light and breezy trip through his life and times in which he chats about Saturday Night Live, This is Spinal Tap, and many, many more topics which would appeal to the average Popdose reader. And what luck: although his press schedule was decidedly rigorous, your pals here at Popdose managed to score ten minutes to chat with Mr. Shaffer about his book and some of the topics contained therein.

It’s great to talk to you, Paul. I’m a big fan.

Hi! Thank you. How are you?

I’m great. I just finished your book yesterday, and it’s fantastic.

Thank you!

Now, how long was the idea of doing an autobiography gestating?

Oh, you know, I’ve wanted to do one for years. Some ten years ago, I got a book deal and tried to do it. I wrote three stories up, and I just never had time to go back to it. So this time, when I was re-introduced to David Ritz, who is the A-list celebrity biographer, just a couple of years ago, he said, “If you ever want to do a book”… I thought, “Well, that’s the way to do it: do it with somebody, and that way, he has the responsibility of turning it in on time.” And we did! But we had fun together, the two of us, and he…besides doing all of the music biographies, like Ray Charles and Smokey Robinson, he also did Don Rickles. So I knew he had me covered. And he was able to get my voice down and, of course, we worked well together as well. It really was co-writing.

It’s been a busy time lately for Marshall Crenshaw: He released his 10th studio album, Jaggedland, last month; it’s his first proper release in six years, and his first for the Santa Monica-based label 429 Records. In addition to keeping up his usual touring calendar, he contributed a slowed-down, moody rendition of “Supernatural Superserious” to the R.E.M. tribute concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall a few months back, and last month he became one of the first musicians featured in the “Drop” series of intimate performance/conversation events at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.

After working primarily in home studios and with makeshift assemblages of musicians over his last several records, Crenshaw laid down most of Jaggedland at the Sage and Sound studio in L.A. His band included legendary drummer Jim Keltner and former Soul Coughing bassist Sebastian Steinberg, and the album was helmed by Jerry Boys. A prolific producer/engineer whose resume dates back to the early ’70s, Boys cut his teeth on folk-rock (Steeleye Span, Richard Thompson, 10,000 Maniacs) but came to Crenshaw’s attention via his sterling work on recordings by various members of the Buena Vista Social Club collective – particularly 2003’s Mambo Sinuendo, by Ry Cooder and Manuel Galban. That album’s dark exoticism is evident all over Jaggedland.

Stormy River (from Jaggedland)

Popdose caught up with Crenshaw last week; he was at home in Rhinebeck, NY, beginning a brief respite from the road that precedes more extensive touring later this year (starting in September in the upper Midwest). He proved ready to talk about matters both old and new – including a detailed analysis of his rise and stall as a Next Big Thing during the early ’80s.

How did the gig at the Grammy Museum go? I was sorry I missed it.
I thought it was nice. I was appearing with a guy named Bob Santelli [the museum’s executive director, and a longtime journalist and author, who hosts the “Drop” programs]. I’ve known him since day one – he was one of the first people to write an article about me. I figured it would be a cool experience where I could cover a lot of bases. I played a few songs, and half of it was Q&A. Some interesting questions, too.

Such as?
One guy asked me if I thought I’d make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! That question blew my mind, that anybody would come up with that as a possibility and ask me about it.

Well, we did a story last year about people who send around petitions to get various acts into the hall. Anyway, we all know you’re a student of pop, rockabilly, honky-tonk, and god knows what else. As such, are you a fan of the Hall of Fame, or the various music museums in general?
(thinks for a minute) Yeah, I guess so. I’ve been to the Hall of Fame a handful of times, and I tend to enjoy myself there. My favorite tour I ever got there was of the storage lockers, the stuff that’s not on public display. We were rummaging around there and we found Eddie Cochran’s guitar case! There was all this stuff in there from when he was touring, and it was fascinating — there were all these European string brands, miscellaneous little things. We also found one of Ike Turner’s Stratocasters, so I played that for a little while. There’s this ancient bootleg video of Ike and the Kings of Rhythm playing in a TV studio in St. Louis, and that’s the guitar he was playing in the video. I also played Buddy Holly’s banjo for a little while. One of my favorite things, coming from Detroit, was a document signed by all five members of the MC5 acknowledging they’d been dismissed by Elektra Records.

Sounds like the makings of a great History Channel documentary.
Yeah, somebody definitely could do that. You know, it’s easy to be cynical about that whole thing, of memorializing the music of the past, but whenever I’ve been there I’m always moved. The people there are really smart, and care about what they’re doing and about preserving these artifacts. One part of me thinks it’s a crock of shit … but, like I said, I’m always moved, so there must be something to it.

Leonard Cohen has been referencing his own mortality in his lyrics for decades now, and on his current world tour the first such hint arrives about a half hour into the show. Near the end of his 1988 classic “Everybody Knows,” he sings, “Everybody knows it’s coming apart / Take one last look at this sacred heart / Before it blows…” One couldn’t help but sense that Cohen’s mortality – he’s 74, after all – was part of what packed the house on two consecutive nights this weekend at Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre. It was, perhaps, our last opportunity to watch pop music’s most poetic singer/songwriter do his thing, and we treated the occasion with all the reverence it demanded.

Why, then, was this septuagenarian skipping – literally, skipping – on and off the stage every chance he got? And how on earth does he manage to pull off a show far longer (three hours plus) than we can reasonably expect Bruce Springsteen to go during his L.A. shows later this week?

Cohen’s clearly enjoying his extended return to the public eye, and he’s eager to wring every moment (and every ounce of irony) from his ability to attract such large audiences at his advanced age. Reminding us on Saturday night that it’s been 15 years since his last major tour, he noted, “I was 60 then – just a crazy kid with a dream.”

His humor, like his set list, is well-rehearsed — he’s been using that line for nearly a year now, and the order of songs performed at his L.A. concerts was nearly identical to the track listing on the recently released Live in London CD, which documents a show from last July. Nevertheless, Cohen’s marathon tour — launched in the wake of last year’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and set to continue at least through the end of September — has cemented his place in the pantheon of pop lyricists while reviving his reputation as a live performer. Best of all, it’s a showcase for all the elements of his legendary persona: the genius, the joker, the guru, the rake, the oracle, and (yes) the red-hot lover.

If nothing else, his performances serve as a reminder that we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the viability of even the most preposterous May/December romance – the kind Robert Redford and Woody Allen’s recent films beg us to believe in. When it’s Leonard Cohen we’re talking about, at least, it’s entirely feasible for a 75-year-old to be the sexiest, most intriguing man in the room.

Granted, it helps that he’s singing sublimely romantic ballads like “Suzanne,” hyper-literary epics like the ubiquitous “Hallelujah,” and deliciously wry come-ons like “I’m Your Man.” But the keys to Cohen’s allure as a performer are his humble, graceful interplay with his musicians and backing singers, and his willingness to match the passion of his lyrics with an intensity that dropped him to his knees on several occasions.

“All the lies, all the truth, all the things that I offer you / All the sights, all the sounds, all the times that you turned me down / Is it my name? / … Why don’t you love me? / Is it my name?” Todd Rundgren, “Is It My Name?” (from 1973’s A Wizard, a True Star)

A few weeks ago, when Jeff Giles asked Popdose’s writers to brainstorm the names of bands and artists who aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yet, I said I’d like to write about Daryl Hall & John Oates. Their albums are spotty, and Hall doesn’t seem to have a humble bone in his body, but I’m sick of their hits being called guilty pleasures by people who just aren’t man enough to admit how much they really like them. Hall & Oates should be inducted just to spite hipsters. (Eat it, skinny boys in tight pants.)

Then my mind made the leap to Todd Rundgren, the producer of Hall & Oates’s 1974 album War Babies. He’s been one of my favorites since I was a sophomore in college; his songs about girls, whether dressed up as guitar-driven power-pop numbers (“Couldn’t I Just Tell You”) or dressed down as sad, swooning piano ballads (“Hope I’m Around”), provided a perfect soundtrack for my years as a sensitive pussy. I figured he must be in the Hall of Fame already in some capacity, at least as a producer if not as a recording artist. But he’s not. Why don’t you love him, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

I’m a fan of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and feel that it’s important in preserving the history of the art form and recognizing important musical artists. However, they don’t always get it right. I mean, ZZ Top? Bob Seger? Whatever. Here are two that should be included and, with any luck, will be soon.

There’s a moment in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) where a character points out the various girls at school who dress like rocker Pat Benatar. It’s a funny joke, but there’s also an important point being made: Benatar was so influential in the early ’80s that girls wanted to be her. Moreover, her brand of mainstream rock had crossover appeal, with her records and concert tickets selling equally well among men and women. While Heart’s Wilson sisters, Fleetwood Mac’s Nicks and McVie, and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders — all important female artists — did their work within the confines of a band, Benatar has always been front and center bearing the success or failure of her music on her shoulders.

Independent, smart, and one of rock’s most powerful voices, she was able to take on the male-dominated AOR radio world and succeed time and again; “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Heartbreaker,” “Fire and Ice,” and her pointed, angry anthem against child abuse, “Hell Is for Children,” all continue to receive heavy airplay on the radio. When MTV suddenly ruled the universe, Benatar seamlessly made the transition to videos with hits like “Shadows of the Night,” “We Belong,” and, of course, “Love Is a Battlefield.”

Madonna, one of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees, receives a lot of credit for her determination and ability to change her musical approach throughout her career, but Benatar was doing it long before the Material Girl and was kicking ass in the process. (She even expanded her sound on 1991’s True Love to explore her love of the blues.) To this day, Benatar tours extensively (with Neil Giraldo, her guitarist for the past 29 years and husband for the past 26) and continues to prove that rock and roll isn’t just a man’s world.