Category Archives: Steve Talia

Talia’s Notes: Thoughts On The Passing of Dennis Edwards (The Temptations)

There were two eras of The Temptations which really mattered. I hope that’s not going to anger people in saying this. It’s what I feel within my musical soul. There were the David Ruffin/Eddie Kendricks era, and then the Dennis Edwards era. In my eyes, both were equally valid. And when you came to start seeing the world around you like I did during the period of 1968 on up to and including the end of 1974, everything that Dennis Edwards was singing about during that period of time nailed you to the core with the realism of the material they were putting out back then. “Cloud Nine”, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)” propelled that period in their career to heights which made musicians around them take notice.

Dennis Edwards was helping to lay the groundwork for people to get more bold in their choice of subject matter throughout the Soul Music community. What was going on at Motown during this period of time helped to put in the minds of fellow label-mates Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye a greater extension of boldness which nobody knew was coming. Those two would end up driving Berry Gordy nuts. That was a good thing. We would be all the better for it soon enough. They wouldn’t have been able to do so without the help of this period of time in the history of The Temptations. Each thing builds upon the other.

As time goes on, I get a little worried that people are going to overlook what Dennis Edwards did with that voice of his and taking the lyrics the of the Whitfield & Strong writing team and taking them to places that people needed to listen to. I also get to worrying that people are going to remember the Ruffin/Kendricks Era only. If you really want to know why the period of time that Edwards was in The Temptations really reflected the dark side the 60’s and early ’70s, then do yourselves a favor and try to track down a copy of the 2-CD set from 2003 that Universal put out called Psychedelic Soul. It covers the Edwards Era exclusively. Where it really succeeds as a collection worthy of being in your collection is that you get the long non single-edits versions of some great classics. “Psychedelic Shack” is 6:00 minutes long. An alternate mix of “Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)” is also included.

There’s also the long version of late 1972’s “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”. If you’ve lived thinking that the single you grew up on was great, then you really need to listen to full 12:01 version that was on the All Directions album. The single gives you the snapshot of reality (perfectly so, I might add). The album version lets you slip into the nightmare and live it for a while.

During a year that was filthy rich with great music being released, “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” justified its inclusion among being mentioned as one of the best singles of the year. It certainly was released at just the right time of the year. The weather around the country was starting to get cold. But it was essentially one of the best mass consumption singles because it was so perfectly crafted as music and as a statement. What I’m grateful for is that fans of the Dennis Edwards period of The Temptations won’t have to say that all he was known for was just “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”. Dennis Edwards added to the immortality of a group who had already set a pretty damned high bar as it was.

Talia’s Notes: Thoughts On The Passing Of Tom Petty

One of the things that pops up in my mind when it comes to Tom Petty was his integrity  It goes back to when he was just about to release the Hard Promises album back in 1981.  He was engaging in a big tussle with then MCA Records over the suggested retail price for the album.  Tom didn’t want the price of his new album to be raised.  This always stuck in my mind.  He cared about his fans.

One of the other things which always stands out as well was when he released The Last DJ album back in 2002.  Though the album didn’t garner a lot of critical praise, I loved the fact that he centered his album around the sad shape of Rock radio and the whole industry which created something that all of us old music fans despise.  It was another aspect to his integrity.  He cared about the state of the music community at large and how it had been funneled into repetitious corporate nonsense of which no feeling was involved whatsoever.

I still remember how he was originally marketed as a New Wave act back in 1976 when the self-titled debut album came out.  Yet, whenever I heard “Breakdown”, I heard a guy who was more than what I heard with “American Girl” (and I liked “American Girl” a lot).  With “Breakdown”, I heard a guy who knew the roots.  It was in him.  I knew to keep this guy in mind when he released another album.  When I heard tracks off of 1978’s “You’re Gonna Get It”, I was saying to myself that I was hearing consistency.  I was hearing all of this while I was still living down in the Bay Area of California.

I moved up to Oregon on Labor Day of ’78.  When 1979 rolled around, Tom Petty’s Art took what was, in my eyes, a huge leap with the Damn The Torpedoes album.  Petty went from being someone to keep an eye on to someone to take very seriously.  The whole album jelled from one end to the other.  The lyrics took on added depth.  It was commercial and it had something to say.  “Even The Losers” was the song which told me that Petty had reached a higher status in the hierarchy of Rock.  He had become the perfect combination of being a serious artist while being commercially viable.  He had a niche in the marketplace.

It all got reinforced with the Hard Promises album.  “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me)” put him in my own personal high priority list.  Two albums in a row, he knocked it out of the park.  I sure hope a few of you reading this own the old Mobile Fidelity Gold discs of these two albums because the mastering on them has never been topped for those two titles of Tom’s.

Even when he ended up releasing albums which may not have been 5-star albums throughout the ’80s, he still managed to have at least a couple of really great songs on each one.  It’s like a roll-call of titles of which any self-respecting musician would have been envious of.  Through all of this, Petty ended up becoming not just one of those guys who was only known around circles of music geeks.  His forays into different areas of Rock made him well known to a lot of people while not being a superstar.  And when it all came down to the nuts and bolts of who he was, I thought roots.  He really was a roots guy at heart.

One of the greatest moves he ever made was seeing through that The Traveling Wilburys became reality.  His teaming up with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison gave all of us a two album shot of great humor and serious musical intent.  It wasn’t a superstar collaboration filled with overbearing egos to influence the outcome of an album presentation, it was a stars aligned perfectly project where the songs spoke more about themselves than about the music icons who created it.  The thing I’ll always carry about the first Wilburys album (especially) is that “Handle With Care” and “End Of The Line” seemed to hold me in its arms as I came to the realization that I was more battered and bruised from having endured the ’80s than I realized.  “Handle With Care” was the song which played in my head when I went to Las Vegas in very early 1989 for some much needed rest and relaxation.  Flying at (what?) 30,000 feet and I had this feeling that I was passing an important milepost in my life as it assisted me to a place where some personal history was to be made.  It was an ironic song to have playing in my head.  Las Vegas doesn’t have anything to do with “Handle With Care”, but it was perfect for me at the time.  Maybe it was what I was aiming for all along?

The beautiful thing about Tom Petty is that he managed to pull off what some may consider to be the best album of his career almost 20 years into his career back in 1994.  That’s no mean feat.  Music artists almost 20 years into their career aren’t supposed to do that, are they?  The album was fully identifiable Tom and yet it had an edge which hadn’t been present for some of his previous material.  It was another 5-star album.  Wildflowers.  It is one of the best albums of the ’90s because of that edge and the fact that his terrific guitar player, Mike Campbell, was still coming up with so many good ways to expand Tom’s material through his playing.

I got to witness seeing Tom and a few of The Heartbreakers playing live for the first time at Neil Yong’s first Bridge Concert back on October 13, 1986.  He pulled off an acoustic set which was the equal of Neil Young, CSNY, Bruce Springsteen and Don Henley.  He was confident and he put it over so convincingly.  A few years back, I finally got to see a full band electric Heartbreakers show at Matthew Knight Arena.  He still had it and he nailed it.

So, when I look back on him, the biggest thing I always feel sorry for was that he got tagged with the Heartland Rock label back in the ’80s while he was managing to come out with gems like “Don’t Come Around Here No More”. I mean, come on now, is that song Heartland Rock? It had more feeling in it than the writers coming up with the tag did.  I detested this label because of the fact that a lot of dumb-assed journalists who did not follow music closely had to call it something after the popularity of Springsteen’s Born In The USA album and subsequent tour in 1984-1985.  The bandanna and blue-jeans stereotype got placed onto him, Bruce as well as John Mellencamp.  The morons couldn’t just say that it was something as both simple and profound as it was great Rock and Roll or just plain great music period.  If they couldn’t see a look on you, then I suppose some of these people wouldn’t have bothered at all.  But I think it was Tom’s integrity through the years which helped him to rise above it all.  Nobody calls him a Heartland rocker anymore.  His was just great music.  Thank God for that.

We’re going to have to see what kinds of decisions Tom’s family, the surviving members of The Heartbreakers and Universal are going to do now that Tom has passed away.  How are they going to approach his legacy?

For starters, the All The Rest project for the Wildflowers album is going to have to be addressed off the top of the bat.  I would like to see this long delayed project morph into a Wildflowers album box-set.  There should be a remastered album to go along along with the outtakes and unreleased songs from the sessions.  I can also easily envision 2-CD Deluxe Editions for most of his back-catalog as well as more unreleased live performances from his career.  It’s a matter of how things will be presented which becomes a concern.  I would hope that Tom’s old fight with MCA back in 1981 will be kept in consideration of what will be done with his back-catalog and archives.  He gave of himself with his integrity.  Will Universal do the same for him and his fans?  We’ll see.

In the meantime, it feels really empty right now.  I don’t think any of us expected Tom to pass before some of our huge icons who are still among us.  He was one of those guys who was great without having a lot of attention drawn to him like some of our other stars who are closely aligned with him.  It was so much so that I think we ended up taking him for granted.  The big celebrations always took place for every Dylan or Springsteen album.  And then there’s the people like Petty and Mellencamp.  It seems like they’ve always been just under the surface at a slow boil.  When they came out with great albums, they caught our attention.  When Dylan and Springsteen release albums, they get big attention whether they’ve released good ones or bad ones.  Petty’s consistency was almost too quiet for its own good at times-even when the albums were not his best.  Still, like I said before, you could always count on those couple of really great ones on each one.  You are going to be missed so much, Tom.

— Steve Talia

 

Talia’s Notes: Thoughts On The Passing Of Walter Becker (Steely Dan)

I was perusing Facebook posts this evening as I was taking in the news that Walter Becker of Steely Dan had passed away today.  There was a post amid the forest of others that made me think about what the passage of time might be about.  Sometimes I think the true mark of our aging comes from balancing what we’ve gained and then by what we’ve lost throughout the years.  I don’t know if I’m necessarily a lot older psychologically at this very moment now that I’m pondering Walter Becker and Steely Dan.  However, I think I’ve been educated by Becker and Donald Fagen into being ready for this moment because of the fact that I’m a product of a period in time when a harder edge to thinking took place culturally in the ’70s.

I’m feeling more prepared for this moment than I realize.  It’s because all of these articles I’ve been reading tonight about Becker have been mentioning about their sense of sarcasm and wit in their lyrics.  Yeah, there was that element.  That can’t be denied.  But it was also their sense of the obtuse which seemed to fit so perfectly with the ’70s.  The ’60s were literally over although it was still hanging on through in every other way at the end of 1974.  We had enough justification to let cynicism to creep into our daily vernacular and let it become a daily part of our lives.  We didn’t know where were going, but we sure knew where we had been.

So, if this column comes off more as being about Steely Dan than about Walter Becker, you must please forgive me.  As far as I’m concerned, the band that we knew as Steely Dan has officially passed away today.  And with it, cynical cool has gone into the ether with it.

From their first album in 1972, Can’t Buy A Thrill, on up to and including 1977’s Aja album, Steely Dan was as vital a force in the music business as any of their time.  The beautiful thing about Steely Dan was that you could take their sense of the obtuse and make it your own.  Steely Dan was a great band to protect yourself with. If you liked them and took them to heart, their mystery was your mystery.  You couldn’t figure them out and at the same time you couldn’t figure yourself out either.  You could take it with you and not reveal your own insecurities while while trying to figure out how it was that they managed to be so damned cool while, at the same time, being so damned hard to figure out.  Both on the AM and FM sides of the dial, they had the market cornered on mysteriousness.  Across the land, they were the subject of many a discussion at High School recesses and lunch periods regarding just what their songs actually meant.  And for those kids who were still in Grade School, they were a subject of discussion in general without letting your guard down too much because none of us knew what they were about. It’s just that they were so cool that we had to borrow some of their swagger whether it fit like proper fitting clothes or not.  For our times, it was just right.  We were all feeling a little harder edged and we didn’t even fully know why.  Because of their influence in my life, I can honestly say that I still don’t fully know why.  I’m now 55.

Back in late 1972, I started out on the single-edit of “Do It Again” and occasionally had the good fortune of having one of the Bay Area AM stations give us a treat and play the full album version.  I slid into the groove from the moment I first heard it and never let go.  The electric sitar break dazzled me.  All I had to do was make my own adjustments to the lyrics.  Once I did that, I was ready to go along with the ride in full (or until they made an album I didn’t take to-that came in 1980 and Gaucho).  “Reelin’ In The Years”, also from Can’t Buy A Thrill, was one of my major theme songs to my last season in Little League in the Summer of ’73 when my team won the Westside Little League Championship in Santa Clara.  I’d walk out over to third base and have it playing in my head while fielding grounders during practice.

When the Pretzel Logic album came out in 1974, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” was one of the calming (to me) songs of the Summer when I got sent off to Summer School and I rebelled against it with everything I had.  It was one of my pool-side and keeping company with mockingbird songs which will stay with me for eternity.

In the Summer of ’76, when The Royal Scam album was out and getting airplay, I would end up taking to heart “Don’t Take Me Alive” and then let it gradually grow into a song that defines some of the parameters about being stuck in Oregon that I deal with to this day.  It was if the song was placed into my own private little incubator and didn’t really get born until after I moved up here again.

In late 1977, Steely Dan released the Aja album.  It is still amazing to consider how that album was solid enough to grow into a major force clear through to the end of 1978.  That was the period of time when I moved back up to Eugene (Labor Day of ’78).  I can still remember listening to “Deacon Blues” on KSAN-FM San Francisco as I was packing my bags before the plane ride up.  When I got to Eugene, “Josie” and “Peg” took me through some of the transition to living up here for a second time and the great regret which was to sink in over doing so over time.  I’d see “Josie” and “Peg” as these fuzzy women whose faces I couldn’t see taking over the space in my thinking.

Sadly, it was in 1980 and when they released Gaucho that I hopped off.  I started seeing a distinction about Steely Dan that I hadn’t seen before.  Instead of being my cynical and obtuse heroes that they had been, I began to see them in a different light.  In my discovering people like Bruce Springsteen and, eventually, The Clash, I needed people with a hard edge who also could philosophically fight in my corner.  With Gaucho, I couldn’t see that Fagen and Becker could get through it all the way with me anymore.  I felt like Fagen (especially) wasn’t putting the sharp observations to good use anymore.  I realize that this all sounds very vague, but it was a distinct feeling I was having about them at the time.

I would not trade the period of Can’t Buy A Thrill on up to and including Aja for anything in the world.  It has been one of my big wishes that Universal would remaster their entire catalog and release their albums as Deluxe Editions.  I honestly don’t know if they left enough in the can to warrant Deluxe Editions of their albums.  It needs to be done. In the meantime, I plan on taking the protection they gave me and put it to use as much as I can wherever appropriate.  You will be missed, Walter Becker.  Thank you for the great taste in your personal musical choices and how it helped to shape your craft.

–Steve Talia

Talia’s Notes: Thoughts On The Passing Of A Rock Vocal Legend: Gregg Allman

It is as obvious as anything could possibly be. It is engraved in the minds of anybody who’s ever given it any thought. Gregg Allman will go down as one of the undisputed great vocalists in Rock history. It can even be made into a legitimate argument that Gregg Allman may have been the greatest of all of them all. I honestly think nobody would ridicule you if you proposed it.

Gregg was one of the exceptional rare ones. One didn’t think of his form. The overwhelming thing about Gregg Allman was that when he sang, you could feel emotional pain coming from him unlike any other singer. It was the angle he or God chose that set him apart from others. His was from a combination of Blues and Soul which blended into his own unique vocal signature. What came out of him came from deep down within himself. He never had to contrive a feeling. His was the real deal.

The incredibly beautiful thing about Allman’s vocals was that he could take a basic theme within a song and make it come alive as his his own. By simply using that God-gifted voice of his to create an illustration of the depths of pain and sorrow that only the rare ones can pull off, he created a vocal take on the human condition that nobody else did. He could also do a take on somebody else’s song and make it as authentic in feeling as the original. The version of “Stormy Monday” (originally done by T-Bone Walker and then Bobby “Blue” Bland) from At Fillmore East jumps out at me.
Two more which spring to my mind immediately are “Dreams” from 1969 and his solo version of “Midnight Rider” from 1973. My God! He covered some tortured ground. In “Dreams”, he brought it home to everybody who has ever woken up knowing that the things they wanted to see at the end of the day were just going to be a repeat of what you saw the day before and the realization that the chase was futile. The merging of his voice (and his great organ work which should never be overlooked) with his late brother’s guitar (Duane) ended up creating one of the greatest expressions of disillusion I’ve ever heard in my life. Future generations of kids should be made to listen to this song and learn what it’s like to merge emotion with musical brilliance in order to create a timeless work. Rock, Soul, Blues and Jazz all merge into one during “Dreams”. Is it any wonder that Gregg managed to pull it off? Duane expected only the best from his brother and he got it.

Even after Gregg lost his brother, he managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat and shake everybody to their core. Case in point. I was walking past the bedroom of my oldest brother in the house I lived in back in Santa Clara during the ’70s. He was playing the Laid Back album and I just happened to walk by just as “Midnight Rider” was on. I walked just a slight tad past his door and stopped dead in my tracks. I can still see it perfectly in my mind. It is often said that there’s the myth of being caught by a spirit or the devil at the crossroads. Well, something caught me. It was Gregg’s singing. It changed my outlook on vocalists. His voice helped me to come to the conclusion that I needed to never expect anything less than authenticity from a vocalist. It is on this particular version of the song that Gregg manages to convey the perfect encapsulation of what it is to want to escape from the trap of being the lonely outsider.

It goes way beyond just the three songs I have mentioned here. Just listen to all of the great Duane Allman Era Allman Brothers albums. Even on some of the post-Duane material over the years where I felt like the music wasn’t serving him as well as it could have, one could still find the gold in his voice. It is so easy to write about Gregg Allman tonight. It’s just too obvious. Really! It’s that simple.

It must be mentioned here as it is being mentioned in so many other music columns and music forums as this news has started sinking in. If there is one thing which we can all take away from the news of his passing is that we should all be happy that Gregg has now been reunited with his brother Duane and that they can now catch up on each other. Tonight, I feel especially sorrowful for Gregg’s niece, Galadrielle Allman. She was especially close to her Uncle Greggory (he preferred to be called Greggory in private). He was one of the people with whom she was able to learn more about her late father and develop an even deeper spiritual bond with him. She was still a baby when Duane passed away. Staying close to her Uncle made her become an even better Allman. For that, we should all be grateful. We can never forget that musicians are people too. If they are survivors and they have even half of a head left to use after all of the crazy years behind them, to help along someone who is close family is an accomplishment as great as their art.

It really hurts that we have lost someone as monumentally huge as Gregg Allman. However, I am so grateful tonight that I lived in a world that had a musically alive Gregg Allman in it.

Man! I am so damned lucky.

 

 

Thoughts On The Passing Of Cuba Gooding, Sr. of The Main Ingredient

One of the beautiful things about Soul Music during the early to mid-70s period (up to and including 1974) was that artists and groups could take their material in different directions freely. At least, it was the impression which one got as a result of different sounds becoming so progressively expansive as you flipped through the AM Top 40 dial. Lyrically, you could be as tough or as vulnerable as you wanted. However which way you chose, it was a period of time when one did not have to play to any musical stereotype. The Main Ingredient were one of those Soul outfits who stayed true to themselves. In looking back with hindsight, I could never figure out why their work was sometimes maligned by critics. If it wasn’t working, then why did “Everybody Plays The Fool” and “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” do so well in the charts?

Cuba Gooding Sr. put it over for all of us in a way I could relate to. And with “Everybody Plays The Fool”, he did it like he was a friend to all of us. He was saying he’s been through the same thing as you in your longing for that lady you had your eye on. “How can you help it when the music starts to play?/ And your ability to reason is wept away”? In another passage of the song, it has never gone out of my head of the image of how much love can take over your life and how it can stay with you so vividly that you could practically reach out and touch it. “Love runs deeper than any ocean/It can cloud your mind with emotion”. These were plain and simple words sung with confessional honesty to a friend.

“Everybody Plays The Fool” was released in the late Summer of 1972. It became a greeting song for all of us getting back to school in September. It didn’t matter what age you were. You knew you were going to fall down that path. There was going to be that one who was going to sweep you off of your feet that year in school. Cuba was just letting you know that you had a soundtrack to follow along to as you made that same trip into your own personal chaos that you could never break the habit of getting into in the first place. I thank him for being there to help me through because I did some serious falling myself back then. I still carry it with me because I still do the same thing 45 years later. It’s a continuous circle like everything in life.

And then came that last great year before,1974, just before the advent of Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” changed the dynamic of Soul Music and things began to morph into what we would come to call Disco. “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” continued with a great groove. He had the lady in that one and he had all of the cool to show for it. If that wasn’t enough, the guitar in that song just took the song where it needed to go. I wish more people could bring back the subject of all of the cool guitar players in Soul Music back then into the subjects of their conversations in music forums. The one in “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” had that great sting to it. Combined with Gooding’s vocal delivery, the Spring and early Summer of ’74 became that much better for its being there for you to shuffle along to in your mind or if you were riding on your back and had a transitor radio to get you through neighborhoods and traffic. I don’t know if it was the same for you, but ’74 was such a mellow and smooth-cool attitude time of the ’70s. I’ve said it before in tributes in the past that I’ve done here, but I’ve always thought that ’74 was the last year of the ’60s. Once the year was out and things worked their way towards the middle of ’75, the ’70s as a lot of us came to know had begun to set in. It had a different feeling and it was sneaking up on all of us-no exceptions.

For those of you who don’t know about it, there is an SACD hybrid (multi-channel) release of the Euphrates River album from the Vocalion label out of the U.K. which was released recently which any self-respecting Soul Music fan should own. It is the definitive sonic version of the album and a must have. Seek it out before it goes out of print (if it hasn’t done so already). It is fervently hoped that Vocalion can score the rights to release the Bitter Sweet album in the same format. “Everybody Plays The Fool” deserves to have a multi-channel release. We are so fortunate to have have had “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” make it.

There’s also another great release out there on CD which people should pick up from the U.S. label called Real Gone Music. It’s a two-fer CD (two albums on 1 CD) of the L.T.D. and Black Seeds albums from before 1972’s Bitter Sweet album from before and just after Gooding joined the group (after the passing of one of their original vocalists). The material stands up quite well up against the Bitter Sweet and Euphrates River albums. As with anything having to do with Real Gone Music, if you have any inclination for picking it up because you are serious about listening to this phase of the group, then you’ll want to get it as titles from Real Gone Music go out of print pretty fast.

The articles that are slowly trickling out are giving all indications that this may have been a particularly tragic passing. I don’t know all of the circumstances involved, but the passing of the Soul artists always hit me a little harder than some of the other music passings for the simple reason that their advancement in success was all of our success. My life is better for having had Soul artists and groups in it. They created a an important part of the tapestry of our musical lives which all too often gets forgotten.

–Steve Talia

Thoughts On Our Losing Chuck Berry

I won’t bother attempting to compete with all of the articles that are popping up like weeds upon the passing of Chuck Berry.  It would be pointless.  Those articles are bringing up all of the obvious and important points over why Chuck Berry was and still will be a musical institution around the world.  In light of this, I’d rather be short and sweet when it comes to Chuck and mention a few things not mentioned as often as they should.

First of all, anybody who could release a song like “Wee Wee Hours” could be forgiven for punching Keith Richards, tax evasion and setting up a camera system in a restroom at his place to watch women using the toilet.  With some artists, it’s not the songs which put them on the zenith of their craft in the eyes all of who followed them, it’s the songs they would plop themselves down into a chair for during the after-hours which can reveal to people where they really came from.  That Chuck Berry still managed to find the time and inclination to want to just hammer out a Blues tune is something which endeared me to him over the years.  It was painfully obvious to observe his genius-the combining of Country, Jazz and Blues into the drive which became Rock and Roll.  It was the Blues angle which I always wished got more attention.

In my eyes, “Wee Wee Hours” is the Chuck I will always take along with me for as long as I live.  I think of it as the true soul of Chuck.  It told me that he wasn’t forgetting where he came from while being an African American in this country and living through the hard game involving a real rigged system which was levied against him in his quest to become who he would become.  So much has been made of his imperfections in life.  Perhaps those hardships he endured during the early part of his career made him develop some really eclectic quirks?  He wasn’t perfect and he angered a lot of people because of those imperfections. Hell, I’d have loved to have punched him for some of the things he did-like changing tempos on famous name bands who backed him at gigs without notice and no rehearsals beforehand.

But as distanced as I was to chuck Berry and his orbit, as a fan, I could still forgive him for those transgressions because of his having the outright taste to do a song like “Wee Wee Hours”.  Hey, that’s my excuse.  We fans are nuts just for something like this that I’m explaining.  We have this strange thing we do.  We love to make saints out of people with whom you’d just assume strangle to death.  I just wish he could have cut whole Blues albums with Johnnie Johnson to go with all of the great Rock and Roll he gave us.  Universal would later compile an album of songs of his which were Blues cuts and made a CD out of it called Blues.  But he never, as far as I know, ever cut an entire Blues album.

Something also has to be said for his late great pianist Johnnie Johnson.  Let’s credit Keith Richards for saying it when Keith was trying to get Johnnie inducted separately into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Chuck would not have been who he was had he not had the framework of Johnnie’s Blues-based piano to work with. He never would have done his rhythm patterns like he did had he not had Johnnie to play off of.  It also influenced Chuck’s leads too.  In short, we might have never had Chuck combine the elements of Country, Jazz and crooning that he did and speed them up if it hadn’t been for Johnnie Johnson.

I am also thinking of a song like “Havana Moon” as well.  Again, for him to have come up with the great riffs that he did for all of the big hits, I can still think of him doing “Havana Moon”  It got him a little out of his element so that he could come back and be even better at the Rock and Roll gig with all of those elements coming gloriously together.

God!  I can still remember late 1972 and my being hit with Chuck Berry fever via my first copy of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out by The Rolling Stones and his then new version of the “Reelin’ And Rockin'” single during a small ’50s Roots Rock revival which was going on at Top 40 radio as a result of the popularity of the American Graffiti movie and the soundtrack which went with it.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, I was also hearing “School Days” being played on those AM stations for a short period of time.  I can’t even recall if it was re-released as a proper single that late Fall.  That revival helped me to make invaluable connections between the ’50s artists to ”60s artists.  I needed to make those connections.  My own evolution was calling out for it.  The timing was perfect and Chuck Berry played a huge role in all of it.

It was during that Fall that I fought with the meanest teacher I ever had during all of my years in school.  “School Days” gave me a great framework for rebellion.  It also gave me something to bang up against when I would discover other guitar players that I would develop huge admiration for.  Long live Rock and Roll.  Baby, you better believe it!  Over the years, all I had to do was remind myself not to think of Chuck’s problems with his own personality and let the music speak for itself.  I could save the subject of his quirkiness with all of my music friends I would develop over the years.  The music is what keeps you going when the friends aren’t there.

–Steve Talia

 

Talia’s Notes: Leon Russell

leon-russell-st-notesMy thoughts are so scattered as I type this. A short while ago, I found out that Leon Russell has passed away. For all of us in the music community, 2016 has felt like one long funeral procession. They’ve been coming one after the other.

There’s so many places where one could begin with Leon Russell. There are some great articles going around this evening from places like Rolling Stone Magazine and from The New York Times which can tell you all about Leon’s accomplishments as a singer, songwriter, pianist, session man, producer, bandleader and live revue leader. It’s all out there for people to learn about him if they choose to seek it. But I can’t go through all of his accomplishments here. I can only tell you about how I felt about Leon Russell over the years through my own prism.

Little did I know about it at the time, but Leon played on one of my favorite songs of all-time. It would take me many years later to learn that he played piano on Badfinger’s “Day After Day” back in 1971. He filled the spaces with such loving care for the song with those gentle waves emanating from the ivories. So many people focus, and rightly so, on the double guitar tracking of Pete Ham and George Harrison. Those guitars would not have had the natural fullness and effectiveness without Leon giving a deeper sound presence. His previous work as a session man gave him the gift of understatement when it came to working on the material of others. And in the case of this standout track from one of the greatest albums (Straight Up) of the early ’70s, Russell’s giving lift to a great song was no exception.

In August of 1972, I became a fan of The Rolling Stones. Again, it would take me until I got my first vinyl copy of Exile On Main Street before Leon would enter into my life again (even though my two older brothers had a copy of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs And Englishmen and I was getting bits of exposure to it at my young age at the time of which it was released). “Shine A Light” is one of the beacon performances on a 5-star album of which all of the players were key to the success of the album. What always knocked me out about the song was how the reverb in Mick Taylor’s lead guitar playing and Leon’s piano on that track seemed to come together so perfectly. Leon’s piano was the river of life running through it and Taylor’s guitar was the expression of love, pain and burnout all at once. It all seemed to flow together effortlessly just as the life we live and the river which takes all through the same places was destined to be the paradox which binds us and puzzles us all at the same time.

It was at the end of 1972 and into the early months of 1973 that Leon Russell specifically took root in my mind as someone I knowingly liked. He released the Carney album then. The single that came with it was “Tight Rope”. As someone who was in 5th Grade at the time, it puzzled the living hell out of me. But I sang along to as much of the lyrics that my hearing impaired ears could figure out and took it to heart. I’ve spent the better part of over 40 years trying to figure it out what it means. It takes on different meanings to different people. Some can see it as a performer’s career struggle between its own existence and ever-present possibility of being snubbed out. And there are those of us, like myself (when I finally got to see all of the lyrics through the magic of YouTube), who see the tune as being about the balance between life and death we all struggle with. Frankly, the song has grown so much more with me as it ages. It has an honest poignancy for those of us who need to frame our private fragile realities within the larger scheme of things. What has been taking me back to this song this evening is that “Tight Rope” was released back when the American public was bracing for all of the hell that would break loose two years later when a certain tricky guy was going to resign from an awfully big post. We were living our own individual lives on a tight rope. We also thought the American landscape was walking one of its own.

There was one more time when Leon would make a huge impression on me back in the day. This was in 1975 and the Will O’ The Wisp album was released. The single that he released from that album nailed me right between the eyes and knocked me completely out. “Lady Blue”. Oh my God! If there was ever a reason to enshrine this man into a balladry hall of fame, he got my vote in this song. He created perfection. Plus, that sax solo to go with his piano playing made for a mid-’70s production lesson of which I wish more had payed attention to upon looking back in hindsight. This was that period of time in the ’70s when production methods applied to records would tragically turn into much too dry results. Leon made the song sound like it sprung naturally from within a musical garden. As I was morphing from a child into my teenage years, the musical sounds within the song honestly planted a lot of Eros within me. It would play in my mind when I used to see beautiful women around me. And when I was alone and I was outside at night, it was one of those songs that had the ability to have you stop and look up into the night sky as it was playing in your head. It took you places.

As I am thinking of Leon Russell tonight, I am thinking of all of the musicians he came into contact with during the course of his life. I can’t think of anytime that I ever heard a bad thing come out of anybody’s mouth when it came to talking about him. There are a plethora of musicians still with us who are feeling a gaping hole in their hearts right now. They owe a great debt of gratitude for what he did for their records. Go ahead and look it all up. You can start from when he was a member of the famed Wrecking Crew and work your way out from there. He was one of the most valuable musicians that we have ever known. His loss is the loss of all of the musicians who ever toiled for that one perfect moment. That is to say, it is gigantic.

 

Talia’s Notes: In Fond Remembrance Of Billy Paul (Paul Williams)

Billy Paul RIPContrary to popular belief, it actually does get cold in California-especially the Bay Area. The nights were definitely chilly. I remember it so well. There was a period in December of 1972 when a new dimension was added into my 5th Grade mind while laying on the floor of my bedroom. My left ear was smashed up against the speakers of my little portable system I had while listening to the radio in the dark. December of 1972 was when “Me And Mrs. Jones” took off like a rocket and charted all the way to #1 in the United States. Not only was I getting to hear another then new to me Philadelphia International label artist and a stunning voice to go with it, but “Me And Mrs. Jones” was the song which made me begin to think about how the music was arranged. I took notice of how the bass was meeting up with the orchestra in ascension and then in descending patterns. I was also getting my first rudimentary thoughts about how orchestration was used to magnify emotional intensity within a song. I loved how the sax was used to emphasize the building intensity at points. What I didn’t know then was that this song was going to grow exponentially in meaning to me as time went on. And here in 2016, the song has taken on multi-dimensional meaning to me emotionally and in my own personal life to go with the musicality of it. I can’t even begin to tell you of how many married women I’ve had crushes on over the years. I can tell you that the song has helped me through having intense feelings for women who were not married too.

“Me And Mrs. Jones” proved to me, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and PIR were a force to be reckoned with. I was introduced to their music with “Back Stabbers” and “999 Arguments” from the O’ Jays. And then I saw another side of Gamble and Huff when “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” from Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes came out. All of these were released in ‘late ’72 before “Me And Mrs. Jones”. And when d.j.’s at KFRC and KLIV kept putting the names Gamble and Huff and Philadelphia International in the same sentence together, it was certified in stone that a new and very big new musical identity in Soul had been forged and was not going away. Billy Paul put the exclamation point on that.

Beyond that, Billy Paul’s vocals hit me like a ton of bricks. He seemed to be in complete command while conveying vocal power as well as laying back all at once in one song. As a kid, I knew what the song was about, but not in its full adult essence. It didn’t matter. Just his incredible way he was conveying the urgency and the depth of the need in this relationship, in turn, gave me added emotional depth just by listening to it. I latched onto this song on those cold December nights in the South Bay Area. I still have not let go on this rainy night in the Pacific Northwest after all of these years.

When the Grammy Awards were broadcast in 1973, Billy Paul sang it for an audience of millions. I watched it while being totally enraptured by his performance. On top of it, I thought he looked like the coolest guy on the planet that night. He came out in a suave green suit and matching hat and just killed it. For about 5 months after that broadcast, I wanted to be Billy Paul. I had been a fan of Soul Music for a good solid two years by then and my thinking was this was where it was at for the definition of cool. I found the picture I could put into my own personal dictionary. Years later, I was able to get a hold of the musical director for the Grammy Awards throughout the ’70s, Martin Pasetta, and I conveyed to him how envious I was of him to have been able to be a part of that specific moment while communicating with him almost 10 years ago. (A side note: I knew Martin as a child at the Grammar School I went to in Santa Clara. He was my Mom’s organist in the choir for the church I used to go to across the street from my school).

What made Billy Paul so unique was that he came from a Jazz background and applied what he learned in context of Soul Music. He even used to say that he preferred being referred to as a Jazz singer even though he was singing in context of the Soul genre. Being a Jazz singer is what gave him his unique stamp on the Soul scene of the time. He had a completely different range compared to other Soul guys. To this day, I’ll never understand why he never made it back to the Top 40 charts and the Bay Area AM stations I was listening to at the time. The follow-up single was “Am I Black Enough For You?” In scanning my memory, I can’t recall ever hearing it back then. Billy continued making great albums, but his singles career stopped cold in its tracks after the humongous success of “Me And Mrs. Jones”. At the time, there was still racial sensitivity going on among programmers even though Soul was selling big units. For some markets, “Am I Black Enough For You?” was considered too controversial and wasn’t played. The same could be said for “Me And Mrs. Jones”. I’m sure it wasn’t played in some Southern and Bible-Belt markets. It is one of the great tragedies in Soul Music history because Billy had a good solid two more years of putting out another possible smash before things would change once Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” would alter Soul afterwards in May of ’75.

The album, from which “Me And Mrs. Jones” came, 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul. is a stone-cold Soul classic. It should be in everyone’s music collection. There’s not a bad track on the entire album. All of the early albums of Billy Paul’s were classics and you would do well to search them out and get them. If you want to get the full scope of Billy’s Jazz background, you should get a copy of his first album. It came out in 1968 (and re-released in 1973) and is called Feelin’ Good At The Cadillac Club. You’ll be able to hear how he could push his voice. You’ll hear all of his vocal parameters on this album. Two years later, his great run of early ’70s Soul albums began. Ebony Woman came out in 1970. His fantastic precursor to 360 Degrees of Billy Paul came out in 1971 and is called Going East. It stands equally alongside 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul. 1972 was the year for 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul. And then in 1973, he came out with War Of The Gods.

What reveals themselves to the listener is that Billy Paul had a gift for picking out well-chosen covers and make them purely his own. This can especially be heard on Ebony Woman and on 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul. The best mastering for 360 Degrees Of can be found on the Sony/Legacy label Total Soul Classics series while all of the other aforementioned titles can be found on the U.K. BBR label. If Legacy was wise, they would start releasing the stuff BBR has put out and do it right. Obviously, he made more albums than the ones I’ve mentioned, but these were the ones which present to a listener the height of his powers.

It has been my dream for the past 10 years or so that the 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul album would come out as an SACD hybrid. It still hasn’t, but I suppose one could hope. I’ve always wanted to hear “Me And Mrs. Jones” in 5.1.

I wish I could have met Billy Paul (real name-Paul Williams). I really wanted to have a discussion with him about how the arrangement came together for “Me And Mrs. Jones” and how many times he took a stab at laying down his vocal track before he nailed the final take. I have read some vague statements from people over the years who claimed that he could be a little difficult to work with. If that’s true, then the fights had to have been worth it because he left a body of work that was also socially relevant. Throughout his albums, he dealt not only with relationships. He also dealt with social and spiritual issues. He was not a one-dimensional artist.

He should have gotten to be known for more than one song and one album. For all of my knowledge of Soul Music, I am terribly saddened that I never got to know and own the albums put out by the BBR label earlier. It wasn’t until only recently as each were reissued that I was able to discover just how complete an artist he was. It depresses me that his music and his catalog will likely never get another go-around. There is no magic wand which could help great numbers of people learn who this man was. He was a magnificent talent. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried upon reading the news that Billy Paul passed away after a bout with cancer this evening. He wasn’t young. I knew that this day was eventually going to come, but it hit me with great force anyway. God Bless Billy Paul. His was a great achievement.

–Steve Talia

Talia’s Notes: Observations On The Passing Of Prince

Prince and I were both nearly the same age. He was three years my senior. He and I both both shared one thing in common. We both loved Soul Music of the ’60s and the ’70s. At the time that Prince decided to get a professional contract, I had pretty much dropped out of full-time scanning of the radio airwaves for new Soul that I could fall in love with. During the late ’70’s period, it was pretty much set in concrete within my mind that the Soul and Funk that I had listened to up the pre-Van McCoy-“The Hustle” period was gone. I was resigned to a fate of only hearing a Soul song here and there that gave me some temporary enjoyment and hope. I regret that things had changed enough in music that I came to this feeling. It laid the foundation for me to miss Prince begin the process of putting Soul, Funk & Rock elements together and to do it respectfully while changing the entire musical landscape of the times that he lived in.

My doses of Prince were very small. I read and heard about the 1999 album back in 1982. In particular, I read about the attention being paid to “Little Red Corvette”. As the ’80s progressed and musicians were taking in what this guy was doing, none other than Bruce Springsteen cited “Little Red Corvette” as being a favorite of his. He would even go on to perform it at least one time (that I know of).

During Bruce’s Born In The USA Era, Price came roaring back with the Purple Rain OST and prevented Bruce from reaching Number 1 when Bruce released “Dancing In The Dark” as a single and had to compete with “When Doves Cry”. This was where I was most exposed to Prince. You could not get away from the Purple Rain soundtrack. I admired what he was doing from a distance. My personal tastes prevented me from taking a complete plunge, but I appreciated that I was hearing in his music a kind of seriousness and respect for his peers which was emanating from the craft of melding together genres to create his own blend.

So, why am I writing a tribute column to Prince this evening when I wasn’t much into his music? It’s very simple. I didn’t have to like the music completely in order to really respect him for bringing up some very important issues as an artist and to also, knowingly or unknowingly, throw a mirror in front of the radio and record industry in order to reveal to them what they really were and are to this very day.

Prince and I split into two different directions during that fateful time in the late ’70s when I saw that AM radio was tightening their playlists. Prince decided to attempt to reunify it in brave fashion while carrying the music further. It is here where I feel that Prince’s existence as an artist was most important. He revealed the hypocrisy of the radio and music industry by proving that radio only wanted hits and that both radio and the industry in general only wanted a repeat formula of anything successful. He got foot in the door airplay with 1999. And then he got massive airplay with the overwhelming success of Purple Rain back in 1984. He got cursory airplay from FM Rock radio programmers for Around The World In A Day in the hopes that the iron was still hot. Sadly, the programmers weren’t bothering to play much Soul music from both the past or the present in order to make sense for audiences of what his success meant. By the time the Parade album rolled around, Rock radio had swept him under the rug. I certainly didn’t get to more fully appreciate why the guy was creating these great heights of achievement.

Like I said, whether knowingly or not, he exposed the radio industry for what they really were. As a result, we were all made the poorer in the process. There has been a consistent and overbearing willingness on the part of the radio industry over the years since the mid-70s to shut out Black artists, both past and present, out of relevance in the eyes of a sadly musically uneducated public. And if the radio industry and the music industry is ever going to regain any modicum of respect in the eyes of the guys like me who know better, it is about to time to tell programmers that the days of boring and repetitive playlists are over and to fully integrate Rock radio to include Soul Music, R&B, Country, Jazz and even Classical elements into fully functional playlists. It’s up to the programmers to decide whether they want to concentrate on only certain time periods or if they want to include music that is being made today into the equation. But it’s time for the terrestrial radio industry (and even satellite radio) to wake the hell up and show people why people like myself pine away for the days when we lived through those days when radio really was integrated. The kids today deserve integration of music. Instead, they are being fed institutionalized racism.

The other big issue I’ve always respected Prince for was his staunch support for the rights of artists. His fight with Warner Brothers over the rights to own his masters are legendary. He reminded aspiring musicians, for what seemed like the billionth time as a result of so many musician business-end casualties, to make damn sure that you came into the industry loaded with spectacular talent and one hell of a good entertainment lawyer in tow.

It is my great hope that the vast amount of unreleased music that Prince created will be curated with loving care and presented in careful context and not haphazardly released in packages that have no organization or unity. I would hope his family, his friends, his fellow musicians, technical workers, the lawyers and record industry will do right by this man and knock heads because he absolutely stood for integrity of the highest order. Hell, I didn’t know much about his music, but the message of his integrity came through loud and clear to me over the years. The word is that the officially released music that the public got to hear in his lifetime as an artist was only a sliver compared to what he has stored away in his vault. So, be forewarned music industry people! Do it once and do it right when you begin the mining! Otherwise, the mirror will be held up to you once again.

–Steve Talia

Prince

 

Talia’s Notes: Thoughts On The Passing Of Andy “Thunderclap” Newman

Andy Thunderclap NewmanThere are so many of us out there who are now taking this moment to be eternally grateful to Pete Townshend for getting the band together and made the one and only album (Hollywood Dream) from Thunderclap Newman. He helped create what grew to become a cult music classic from its birth in 1969. Townshend produced and played bass on the album. But he did so much more. He allowed a quintessential English sensibility to permeate throughout the entire Hollywood Dream album. To my ears, it was never watered down in any shape or form to be made more accessible to the American market.

And with that English flair hanging over the proceedings, I was able to envision the eccentricities in a microcosm through that piano solo during the middle of “Something In The Air”. And as the years went on and I was able to view old footage of the band performing that song for the BBC, it was confirmed to me that I was seeing the genuine article while seeing Newman and being able to accurately draw his specific place in the band. Alas, he was the older guy playing the piano.

I am mournful of the fact that the song “Something In The Air” had the misfortune of coming out in the same year as “Gimme Shelter” from The Rolling Stones. As far as a song helping to define the late ’60s period, it could have been king. And yet, it had its own staying power in spite of the incredible number of classics which were released during the course of that year. It always makes me think about how the period of 1968 and 1969 became one where a lot of people split off and made their own choices. Some stayed to fight the good fight while knowing that there was the reality that there were no promises made and no promises kept by this point of the decade. The disillusion had firmly set in by then. Within that group of people, some started up and kept growing what would become the environmental movement and the seeds of the Women’s Liberation movement. The second group of people hit and run over by disillusion broke off and became much more introspective with their lives. “Something In The Air” was for those in the former group. The song encouraged people to take things into their own hands. It was optimism with a harder and more realistic edge. At that point, people were generally still kind to each other. But there was an individual and collective sense that the optimism was to help keep people to stay in the game rather than the optimism itself being the all-encompassing be-all end-all.

As the ’70s came and kept going on, this song gathered up steam and kept being played on FM stations. Those early movements became primary movements and served as a reminder to keep carrying on. The revolution was already there-whether we wanted it there or not. We had to keep carrying on within the framework of whatever conditions were thrown our way and continue to be thrown our way to this very day.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea that we now no longer have Andy, Speedy and Denny in our lives. There’s a finality to this that is very hard to swallow. And this is only from a band that made a single album.

 

–Steve Talia