Welcome to Rock of Agers

Welcome to Rock of Agers

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dana Fuchs: Sexy Devil, Serene Angel or Both?

Dana Fuchs gets up and down
Given that it's the musical child of the sacred - gospel - and the supposedly sacrilegious - blues - it's not surprising that rock n' roll often reflects a spiritual crisis that plays out in both its music and its musicians.

Take song titles, for example. What if God was one of us?  Jesus is just alright. Sympathy for the Devil. Stairway to Heaven. Knockin' on Heaven's door. Friend of the Devil. God only knows.

Or lyrics.
  • "Devil or angel, I just can't make up my mind". (Bobby Vee)
  • "Imagine there's no Heaven".  (John Lennon)
  • "I am the God of Hell-fire and I bring you ... fire"  (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown)
  • "In the Bible Cain slew Abel. And east of Eden he was cast. You're born into this life paying, for the sins of   somebody's past". (Bruce Springsteen)
Or torn musicians. Jerry Lee Lewis - soul-saver like his cousin TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart or piano-pounding wild man? Little Richard - Apocalyptic vision-seeing preacher or flamboyant, falsetto-screaming Tutti-Frutti ivory-tickler?  Bob Dylan - powerful folk singing prophet of protest or righteous, just singer for Jesus.

Sometimes, you can see these two spiritual sides play out in one performance. Such was the case earlier this year if you were on the Rock Legends IV Cruise and saw Dana Fuchs, the very last artist listed on the bill, perform.

Now if you don't know who Dana Fuchs is, stop reading this post right now, open your browser, search her name, and read, view, and listen to as much as you can about her.

Fuchs, a transplanted-Southerner who now calls New York City home, is best known for her performance in the Beatles-inspired movie All Across the Universe and as Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway play about the tragic 60s blues singer.

To me, Fuchs is also one of the three best (Joan Osborne and Grace Potter being the better-known two) females keeping the classic rock tradition alive today.

On one day on the ship, Fuchs and her band, were sandwiched between a morning performance by Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown fame and the Artimus Pyle Band, which is led by the original drummer for Lynard Skynard.

In a soulful, stirring performance Fuchs, alternately prowling the stage and sitting provocatively on the monitor speakers, took  her audience through many the many facets of the spirit captured in classic rock.

Sounding like a sage from the 60s, Fuchs intoned at her stage intro: "I've been feelin' the love since I was on the boat. Let's all share the love".

After a forceful howl in one of her songs, a laughing Fuchs exclaimed: "That's my Exorcist voice. I saw that movie when I was like six years old and it scared the shit out of me".

In the intro to her song "Livin' on Sunday," Fuchs explained. "We seem really nice to each other on Sunday, but the rest of the week is something really different. Okay, boys, let's take 'em to church ..."

After that, it was look at the raw passion of life as Fuchs sang what she termed her "booty call sex song".

Before playing her final number, Fuchs left the crowd with a final spiritual thought:

"We've all experienced a lot of loss. We think about all that we have lost in our lives. But we bring the spirits of those that we've lost with us wherever we go. They're right her with us right now. So I want to thank you for celebrating life with me today. And let's keep on feelin' that love".

Dana Fuchs sits in with Devon Allman and his band later in the cruise ...

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Artimus Pyle: A Great Drummer, A Simple Man

Artimus Pyle keeping Lynard Skynard alive
If famed former baseball manager and player Leo Durocher had known Artimus Pyle, he might not have been so certain of his noted quip: "Nice guys finish last".

Pyle, 67, is the original drummer for the classic Southern Rock band Lynard Skynard. He survived the fatal 1977 airplane crash that claimed the lives of 3 band members. For more than a decade now, Pyle has been leading his own group of early Skynard-song players in the Artimus Pyle Band.

Pyle and his bandmates, who produce sets of crowd-pleasing recreated versions of such Skynard staples as "Free Bird" and "Sweet Home Alabama" performed earlier this year as one of 22 bands on the Rock Legends IV Cruise. The band had played on the three previous cruises and has already been named as one of the bands participating in the 2017 sailing.

Now while many well-known rock stars (and during their heyday Lynard Skynard was one of the most famous bands on the planet) are recognized for their arrogance or off-putting behavior, Pyle defies that description.

Offering the "Free Bird" salute
The Kentucky-born drummer is widely acclaimed for his accessibility on the ship. In fact, most fans begin talking about him with a statement something like this: "He's a great drummer, but what a nice person, regular person., too. Really easy to talk to and he seems interested in what you're saying".

Take Bill from North Carolina, who was on his 3rd Legends Cruise. On his first sailing, Bill had gotten a chance to talk to Pyle. He told him that he and his brother, Tim, had been huge Skynard fans since their teenage years. They had planned to take the cruise together, but Tim had died of cancer before the trip.

Each set, the Artimus Pyle Band closes with "Free Bird," the rock classic that vies with Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" as the most popular rock song of all-time. Before the song's musical intro, Pyle comes from behind the drums to center stage and addresses the crowd. The day that he talked to Bill, he dedicated the song to Tim with a short, but moving story.

"Now he didn't have to do that," Bill says. "But he did. And it meant so much. In a way, it made it like Tim was right there next to me to hear the song".

I have my own personal story to attest to Pyle's generosity and friendliness.

When I first wrote on Facebook that my wife Judy and I were going on the 2016 cruise, I listed some of my favorites that would be appearing.

My South Jersey friend and fellow keyboard player Floyd Dyer immediately contacted me after he saw my post. "You have to see Artimus and thank him for what he did for us," Dyer said. He went on to explain that in February, 2011 he and his band In High Gear were playing the Golden Nugget, not the Atlantic City casino but one South Jersey's premier bars for country music. In the early morning hours between their Friday and Saturday performances, the bar caught fire. The bar was all but destroyed and In High Gear's equipment was ruined or badly damaged.

Pyle, who was friendly with the bar's owner, played a benefit for the establishment and In High Gear.
"He didn't have to do that, but it really helped out a lot," Dwyer said.

On board the ship, Judy and I kept an eye out for Pyle so I could relay Dwyer's message. We checked out the line when Pyle and the band had a meet and greet, but it was too long and we wanted to see another act.

Finally, on the third day of the cruise, we ran into Pyle on the top deck of the ship. He was chatting
Drummer turned drawer
with a small group of fans and friends. I stood outside the circle, waiting for him to finish. I was joined by a young man in his early 30s who was carrying a guitar he wanted Pyle to sign.

When the crowd dispersed, I nudged the young man forward so he could go first.  Pyle took the guitar, sat down, and began drawing a bird in flight (for Free Bird) and while signing told us the story about how that song came to be and what it means to him today.

I told Pyle I had a message from New Jersey from Floyd Dyer and then delivered it. At first, the drummer looked at me blankly. "Was that David Bowie's guitar player, the one from New York?" he asked, a puzzled look on his face.

"No, "I said. "It was a bar in South Jersey".

Suddenly, Pyle's face lit up with recognition. "That's when we played in the parking lot on that flatbed trailer, right?," he said, obviously pleased that he had recognized the event out of the thousands he has played in his career. "Sit down, let's talk".

So for the next 10 minutes or so Pyle and I talked about a wide range of musical subjects. His son, who now plays percussion in his band and his grandson ,who was also on the cruise ,walked by. "Hey," he said to his grandson. "Did you go snorkeling today? You've got to tell me all about it after dinner"

Artimus and me
A couple of minutes later Pyle stood up. "I've got to go. They have a dinner scheduled for the band tonight. Then we have to play. I suppose we'll close with 'Free Bird'. We always close with 'Free Bird,'" he said with a smile as he shook my hand.

As he walked away, I couldn't help but think of Mr. Durocher and his saying about nice guys and their place in life. Others might agree, but I think he was wrong and people like Artimus Pyle disprove his contention every day.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Bruce Springsteen and Donald Trump: 2 Bosses, 2 Bases, and the Future of the American Dream

Donald Trump in Atlanta Sunday 
Bruce Springsteen was not in Atlanta Sunday, but he had been 3 days earlier.
How is a Donald Trump political rally like a Bruce Springsteen concert?

Let me count the ways.

Now I admit before last week, I had never really considered comparing the two. But on Thursday, I attended a Bruce Springsteen concert at the Phillips Arena here in Atlanta with about 20,000 enthusiastic Springsteen fans. Three days later, I was at a Donald Trump for President rally at the World Convention Center just across the street from the Phillips Arena with more than 10,000 equally rabid Trump followers.

Here's what I discovered:

1. In a post 9/11 America, you have to go through detection screeners when entering a venue to see either Springsteen or Trump.

I passed through the Springsteen screening with no problem, but I was detained by a Secret Service Agent for additional body screening with Trump. Maybe it was because I looked more like a Springsteen supporter than a Trump fan. Or maybe it was just the metal in the belt I was wearing Sunday.

2. Both Springsteen and Trump use music before their shows to set the stage and pump up the crowd's anticipation and excitement.

Rock stars almost always employ music they admire as pre-concert background. Candidates do the same. Trump claims he personally selects the music played before he takes the stage.  On Sunday, the pre-show playlist leaned heavily on the Rolling Stones ("You Can's Always Get What You Want," "Time Is on My Side" etc). The Daily Beast has labeled Trump's choice "arguably the best, most fantastic, and most eclectic campaign list of the 2016 election". But there is a problem. Apparently, Trump has not asked the groups including the Stones for permission to use their songs. Interestingly, Springsteen has also been at the center of a political song choice. Ronald Reagan had to stop using Springsteen's anthem "Born in the USA" when he ran for president in the 80s.

3. Springsteen and Trump are greeted with standing ovations involving thunderous clapping, shouting, and screaming the minute they are seen on stage.

If you've ever been to a big concert or packed rally with a popular politician you know the noise level we're talking about here.

4. Opening questions are often used to get the crowd focused on what's coming next.
During his Radio Nowhere tour, Springsteen would shout: "Can anybody out there hear me?" For Trump on Sunday it was "Are we going to win Georgia or what?" In both cases, the answer was a roaring "Yes1"

5. New "bits" and old "hits" are mixed into every performance.
On his current tour, Springsteen and the E Street Band are performing their double album The River in its entirety.  Several of the River's tracks have rarely been performed. However, the 2nd part of the show is given over to more familiar songs such as "Thunder Road," "Dancing in the Dark" and "Born to Run".  For Trump on Sunday, the new came from the fact that one day earlier he had convincingly won the South Carolina primary. Here's what he had to say about that: "We won with women - I love the women. We won with men. I'd rather win with women to be honest with you. We won with evangelicals. Tall people, short people, fat people, skinny people. We won. It was a beautiful day".
Of course, the candidate interspersed his message with such tried Trump themes as winning ("When I'm President you are going to get so tired of winning") and losers ("They're such losers. Just losing all the time".

Ed Edwards and his son Matt. Both are 100% for Trump. Wife and daughter-in-law Michelle Nelson
isn't so certain. She is currently debating between Trump and Marco Rubio. But she does dismiss the
 3rd frontrunner for the GOP nomination Texas Senator Ted Cruz. "Ted Cruz is evil," Michelle says.
6. Fans are adamant about their admiration.
Noted rock critic Jon Landau wrote these famous words about Springsteen in 1974: "I have seen rock n' roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen". In 2016, 69-year-old Ed Edwards of Fayetteville, Georgia, and his 36-year-old son, Matt, of Acworth have seen the future of the America they want and its name is Donald Trump. The father: "He's not a politician. We don't have control of our borders. And if we don't have control of our borders, we have no country. Our country is going to hell in a hand basket. Donald Trump will change that". The son: "I don't think he can be bought. I think he's our last hope. We're screwed without him".

7. Fans not only voice their support, they wear it.
On Thursday, I wore this favorite T-shirt to the Springsteen show.

This is the back of my favorite Trump T-shirt I discovered at his venue.

8. The thematic idea of a river and all it can symbolize ran through both performances.

In his song about loss "The River," Springsteen sang these lines on Thursday:
Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse
That sends me down to the river
Though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight

Or Trump on loss and the American Dream:
I thought to myself
I'm angry
People are angry because they're tired of being the stupid people.
We have a right to be angry
Because we have been sold down the river.

9. Since both events were live, glitches can, and did, happen.
Springsteen failed severely to hit a note. On the giant monitors above the stage, you could see him chuckling at his failure. For Trump, it was the case of the Day the Lights Went Out in Georgia, which you can see for yourselves by clicking here.

10. Despite the fact that they are incredibly wealthy (Trump a billionaire, Springsteen a multi-multi millionaire) both superstars have come to stand with and speak for the common working men and women of this land.
Don't believe me - run a quick check on Springsteen's song titles or lyrics. For Trump, look at the economic statistics of his most staunch supporters. Or their musical listening favorites.

11. Both are famous enough to have songs written about them.
For Springsteen, it was the Eric Church hit "Springsteen" with lyrics like "When you think about me, do you think about 17? Do you think about my old jeep? Think about the stars in the sky? Funny how a melody sounds like a memory. Like a soundtrack to a July Saturday night. Springsteen, Springsteen, woh-oh-oh Springsteen". It wasn't played on Thursday. For Trump, it was this unnamed song played by an unknown artist on Sunday with lyrics like "Don't be a chump, vote for Trump. He's got the power up in Trump Tower".

12. Because of their power and success in their respective fields, Springsteen and Trump have both earned the title "The Boss."
The Boss has been Bruce Springsteen's nickname since he first began directing bands at the Jersey shore in the 1970s.  For Trump, it's a sobriquet he was bequeathed when he began building his real estate empire in Manhattan and solidified when he became the host of the hit reality TV show "The Apprentice". As the Boss, both had to fire people. Springsteen once fired the entire E Street Band to explore a solo career, but thankfully brought them back together again. "You're fired," became a Trump catchphrase on "The Apprentice".  NBC then proceeded to fire Trump himself over derogatory remarks he made about immigrants as a candidate.

I can hear it ....
 I could go on.  But I think I have established my premise. There are a lot of similarities between a Trump rally and a Springsteen concert. Now, I'm not saying they're identical. There are obvious differences. But in many ways, Trump and Springsteen are mirror images of one another. The words of Trump and the lyrics of Springsteen may be quite different in tone and text, but they are addressing many of the same issues - loss, economic instability, change and uncertainty, fate and the future.  Both talk about the restoration and reaffirmation of America and the American Dream.

One comes at problems from the right; the other the left. Both, I would argue, want to make America great. Trump would add "again".  Springsteen might be more comfortable with "truly for the first time".  Both have expressed ideas how to accomplish that; one through fiery, simplistic oratory, the other through image-enhanced song lyrics. Both want to lead people to their vision of America's promised land.

... I can see it ...
But, as of right now, while both are touring the country, only one is running for President. Ed Edwards and his son have their man and his name is Donald Trump.

No offense to Ed, or his son Matt, or the thousands here in Georgia and the millions across the country who are joining them, or even Mr. Trump himself, but I'm much more of a Springsteen guy. Maybe, despite his lyrics, Bruce just wasn't born to run. At least politically.

But hey Boss - from one Jersey guy to another - how about it? You and the Donald in a winner-take-all struggle for the direction of the American Dream and the very soul of our country. Now that's a series of shows between two great showmen that would definitely satisfy my hungry political heart.

...  My American Presidential Dream Team