Welcome to Rock of Agers

Welcome to Rock of Agers

Thursday, July 21, 2016

1966: A Great Year in Rock - The Sound of Silence

If you're a long-time music lover, you probably have a favorite music year, a period when the songs stand out for multiple reasons. For me, that year is 1966
In 1966, I was 14 years old and a freshman in the South Jersey high school I attended. 
Although I didn't know it at the time, it would prove to be one of the greatest years for garage rock, a type of music named because bands just starting out would learn and practice these 3- and 4-chord songs, which were relatively easy to rehearse and then perform live at local dances. And most of these bands would rehearse either in the garage or the basement of whatever member had the most tolerant parents.
I should probably add one more thing here. 1966 was the year I joined one of these garage bands as a keyboard player. It's a role I would find myself in off and on for the next 40 years. And even though I'm no longer performing live, I still keep a couple of keyboards set up for my enjoyment in my writing office.
So periodically here in Rock of Agers I want to highlight some of my favorite songs from 1966. I'll tell a little about the tunes and sometimes a little about myself. But more importantly, thanks to YouTube, you can listen to the artists and see if you can hear some of what I and the rest of my generation first heard then.  
 The Sound of Silence - Simon and Garfunkel 


"Hello darkness, my old friend.
I've come to talk with you again".

"The Sounds of Silence," one of the great classics of alienation and people's lack of communication with others in modern-age society, would probably have never made the charts except for the fact that it was re-recorded as a folk rock electric song in 1965 and re-released. It hit #1 on the charts on New Year's Day 1966.

"It (alienation) wasn't something I was experiencing at some deep profound level," songwriter Paul Simon told National Public Radio (NPR). "It's a thought I gathered from some college reading material or something. Nobody's listening to me, nobody's listening to anyone. It was post-adolescence angst and it had some level of truth to it and it  resonated with millions of people."

I think the song contains one of my favorite back-to-back stanzas in all of rock:

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said “The words of the prophets
Are written on subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy July 4th 2016: Here's Some Red, White, and Blue American Bands Just for You

To kick off a Rock of Agers special July 4th post, let's bring on Grand Funk live.


Of course, Grand Funk, or Grand Funk Railroad as it was originally called, isn't the only American band coming to your town to party down. Here is an A to Z list of some great American classic rock/soul bands. Which one(s) is your favorite? Do you have a band you would substitute for one of ours?

A - The Allman Brothers
B - The Beach Boys
C - Creedence Clearwater Revival
D - The Doors
E - The E Street Band (w/Bruce Springsteen)
F - The Famous Flames (w/James Brown)
G - The Grateful Dead
H - The Heartbreakers (w/Tom Petty)
I - Iron Butterfly
J - The Jefferson Airplane
K - Kiss
L - Lynard Skynard
M - Mountain
N - The Neville Brothers
O - The Outsiders
P - Parliament Funkadelic
Q - ? and the Mysterians
R - The Ronettes
S - Sly and the Family Stone
T - The Temptations
U - The Union Gap (w/Gary Puckett)
V - Vanilla Fudge
W - Johnny Winter And
X - The 'Xperience (w/Jimi Hendrix)
Y - The Young Rascals
Z - ZZ Top

Thursday, June 30, 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

Monday, June 20, 2016

5 for Summer 2016

#5 "Cruel Summer" - Bananarama


#4 - "Summertime Blues" - Blue Cheer


#3 - "Sunny Afternoon" - Kinks



#2 - "Summer in the City" - Lovin' Spoonful


#1 - "Summertime" - Janis Joplin

Friday, June 10, 2016

Re-Ranking the Great Guitarists: Eric Clapton

Rock music is obviously created as something to be enjoyed. But, as with all creations, it then becomes subject to subjective ratings. Do you like this album? Not like this song? What is this songwriter's best self-penned tune? Who is the better singer? Which is the best band? Some of the most influential ratings in rock come from Rolling Stone magazine. The magazine has rated rock's 100 greatest guitarists.  Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees with the ratings. Here I'll Rock Your Festival's resident guitarist James Gilbert takes issue with a few of the highest placements. 

Eric Clapton #2? Maybe a few decades ago but certainly not now.  

Clapton's playing with The Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, and Derrick and the Dominos cannot be ignored.  It was groundbreaking to say the least, but the drivel that has come from him lately is just god awful.  

Do us all a favor, Eric.  Put the acoustic away, buy back " Blackie " and make some more great music. 

#2? Not even close.


Finally, I note that Danny Gatton did not make the list of the 100 best guitar players in rock.

Why would he ?  

Gatton didn't smash his guitars, set them on fire, strum his guitar like a windmill, or stumble onstage in a drunken drug-induced stupor.  

No. He just beat the hell out of his battered Telecaster every time he stepped on stage like a real guitar player should. 

Oh by the way, Joni Mitchell came in at #75.  Go figure.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Re-Ranking the Great Guitarists: Jimmy Page

Rock music is obviously created as something to be enjoyed. But, as with all creations, it then becomes subject to subjective ratings. Do you like this album? Not like this song? What is this songwriter's best self-penned tune? Who is the better singer? Which is the best band? Some of the most influential ratings in rock come from Rolling Stone magazine. The magazine has rated rock's 100 greatest guitarists.  Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees with the ratings. Here I'll Rock Your Festival's resident guitarist James Gilbert takes issue with a few of the highest placements.

Jimmy Page rated  #3 best guitarist in rock and roll? That's a disgrace. 

Page is overrated.


He was by far the worst of the big three guitarist to work with The Yardbirds.  Of course, it would be kind of hard for anyone to walk in behind Eric Clapton in his prime and Jeff Beck who's playing is unbelievable still to this day.   


Page has played the same in the box blues riffs for the past 40 years. 


My guess is he stole them right along with the songs Led Zeppelin put on their first LP.  


When something works why change it might sometimes be good advice, but it makes for a boring, stagnant guitar player.  And I believe that what Jimmy Page is, despite the legion of Led Zeppelin who would disagree.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Re-Ranking the Great Guitarists - Keith Richards

Rock music is obviously created as something to be enjoyed. But, as with all creations, it then becomes subject to subjective ratings. Do you like this album? Not like this song? What is this songwriter's best self-penned tune? Who is the better singer? Which is the best band? Some of the most influential ratings in rock come from Rolling Stone magazine. The magazine has rated rock's 100 greatest guitarists.  Not surprisingly, not everyone agrees with the ratings. Here I'll Rock Your Festival's resident guitarist James Gilbert takes issue with a few of the highest placements. 

Keith Richards rated #4? Are you kidding me? This is a real smack in the face to every guitar player not in the top 10. As a sideman to one of the best frontmen to ever
take the stage, Richards would certainly make the top 100. But not the top 10 or even the top 20. Richards has songwriting skills which are evident with the success of the Rolling Stones. He also has the stage presence that crowds seem to go for. But songwriting and stage presence and the ability to play the guitar are different animals. I think many real musicians wonder how he has achieved the overrated recognition he has. I guess it's pretty clear that I'm not a big fan of the Rolling Stones. Keith Richards lack of guitar skills is one of the major reasons why.