I’m so sick of musicians and their wretched excesses. Wretched healthy excesses, I mean. The more any great artist improves their personal condition, the more their professional work tumbles in bland decline. It never fails: They get their crap together and their music goes into the toilet.
Who could deny that their emotional vulnerability, inappropriate rage, distorted perspective, egomaniacal point of view and chronic inability to manage even the simplest aspects of their lives in any rational manner... has produced some great music
Eric Clapton was on fire when he was on heroin. Bob Dylan’s greatest writing occurred when he was neurotic and reclusive. Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Bon Scott, Kurt Cobain and Jerry Garcia never got it together and their music will live forever even if they clearly won’t. Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Billie Holiday were either wrecks or recovering wrecks throughout their careers and their music stayed real and deep. It’s as capable of divinely transporting us at Starbucks today as when it was originally recorded in a painful, besotted haze.
Jimmy Page got off hard drugs and recorded an album of old Led Zeppelin songs with The Black Crowes. You call that a benefit of drug-free thinking?
We love our favorite musicians and we don’t want to see them hurt themselves by no longer hurting themselves. The Who lost nut job drummer Keith Moon and who cares about anything they’ve done since? Tom Waits stopped living in lonely bachelor squalor at the Tropicana Motel with only a bottle of beer and jar of mustard in the refrigerator. He got married, moved to Sonoma, and these days his music is revered by critics—but in those days it was revered by a bunch of people who actually listened to it and bought it. At the height of their fame, Jabbaesque Blues Traveler harp player John Popper lost 200 pounds and the band has never sold more than 200 copies of any album since. The Stones are kept alive not by their music or marketing but by Keith Richards’ ongoing shtick of snorting his father’s ashes or getting his entire blood supply transfused. I like to listen to Oasis and I don’t want to hear that the Gallagher brothers are getting along at last.
It’s better to burn out than to fade away, said Neil Young -- a guy who should spend more time listening when he says things like that. Maybe if Rod Stewart had accidentally strangled himself in some humiliating attempt at sexual asphyxia back when he was in The Faces we would still be listening to him. Or at least we wouldn’t have to.
Of course, we celebrate when someone triumphs over their personal demons and demonstrates the awareness, determination and individual integrity that become life-affirming examples of the best that human beings are capable of. But not these human beings. It’s not fair, it’s not right and it’s not a very good financial return for all we’ve invested in them. Who supported their bad habits in the first place by buying their records and concert tickets when we never knew what we were going to get? It was us. They owe us.
What is the future of our music if all our favorite musicians begin living organically, raising children and getting all American Idol and corporate on us?
The slap offices are closed on Thursday, August 30th for our annual celebration of Charlie Parker’s birthday.
We love Charlie “Yardbird” Parker’s intuitive genius, deconstruction and reconstruction of the established mathematics of his field and unrelenting passionate pursuit of the new.
Our kind of guy.
Bird’s remarkable prowess and vision earned him a reputation as the best alto saxophone player in history and one of the founding fathers of modern music. If you play music or like music or maybe have just heard of music, we urge you to listen to him.
The slap offices will be bopping as usual on Thursday, August 30. We will respond right away to you at that time.
This is a very bad day for rock and roll. The members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot have just been sentenced by a Moscow court to two years in jail. Their unspeakable crime was an uninvited five-minute performance at Moscow’s main cathedral, singing a song that called for the Virgin Mary to protect Russia against Vladimir Putin, the provably oppressive and corrupt president of their country. “Hooliganism driven by religious hatred,” declared the judge. “Vladimir Putin is a miracle from God,” declared the church.
So these three young women – some of them mothers with young children, most of them vegans, all of them musicians using their art as a selfless plea for the improved lives of others –– sat in a courtroom cage for the last five months under armed guard. There’s only one real pussy here and that is Putin, who is intimidated by the power of the people and their music. As Nadezhda (Nadia) Tolokonnikova said from the cage before sentencing, "I am not afraid of you. You can take away my 'so-called' freedom, but you can never take my inner freedom." Spanked that ass, Nadia.
This is a very good day for rock and roll. We can now be reminded of the reason that rock and roll exists and that it is not about tour grosses, boy bands and new streaming apps. It means something. It is the language of a culture, originally used to express the terrors and exhilarations of first freedoms; to confirm the questions and answers that belong to a generation in its time of becoming; to identify who belongs to the culture and who doesn’t.
Chris Rock says that, “Your music is the music you first got laid to.” We may believe that our relationship with rock and roll has since matured, gone to a softer, more companionable place. But what Pussy Riot has reminded us is that if you don’t know what’s true for you, everyone else has unusual influence. If you’re not on your own agenda, you’re prey to everyone else’s. We each need to have a strong sense of what is right in the world that must be protected and what is wrong with the world that must be corrected and we need to use all of the opportunities and abilities given to us to help protect and correct in every way possible. You must know who you are, you must live your values, you must use whatever stage you have – including that of a manager – to extend your humanity to others.
“I don’t care what people say; rock and roll is here to stay,” once sang Danny and The Juniors. That’s true only if we protect it and translate it into what we do every day.
If you have a young son or daughter, this is a very good day to buy them a guitar. If you just listen to music when you work or work out, this is a very good day to turn it all the way up and remember why it reached you in the first place – rediscover the fire down below. And this is most definitely a very good day to thank Nadia, Maria and Katya and wish them the best. Hang tough: We’ll be waiting at the gates for you in 2014.
Jim Marshall, the English inventor of the famed Marshall amplifier used often by major guitar rock artists, also known as the "Father of Loud", died yesterday in the Buckinghamshire home. He was 88 years old.
Marshall started developing his amplifiers in the 1960's, answering the request from customers like Pete Townsend and Ritchie Blackmore who needed a unique type of amplifier for blasting their heavy rock chords. In 1962, the first Marshall amp, the Marshall JTM 45 30-watt amplifier, stood a distorted sound--different from the clean sound of rival Fender amps -- and very soon became a favorite of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, among other musicians.
Marshall, together with 18-year-old electronics apprentice Dudley Craven, toiled night and day to perfect the sound. After six attempts he finally created something he liked.
The 1st Marshall amps were standard, a black box using a speaker inside and a few controls on the top. Marshall is credited with inventing the "amp stack" where musicians stacked his amplifiers one along with another, creating towers that can produce huge sound.
Marshall's intention was to produce an amplifier with a rough, fuzzy sound to fulfill young rock musicians as opposed to country and jazz musicians who often used Fender amps.
He turned his invention in a highly successful business, manufacturing the majority of his amplifiers in a tiny factory near his home in Milton Keynes north based in london.
He became a rock legend along the way, being named through the Marshall Amplification website--along with Leo Fender, Les Paul and Seth Lover--as being one of the forefathers of rock music equipment.
"Jim's ascent into the history books as 'the father of loud' in which he responsible for 'the sound of rock' is a true rags-to-riches tale," the Marshall Amplification website said. "In accessory for the creation of the amps chosen by countless guitar heroes and game changing bands, Jim has also been an incredibly humble and generous man who, in the last several decades, has quietly donated many millions of pounds to worth causes."
Several rock musicians paid tribute, including Motley Crue bass player Nikki Sixx, who asserted he was in charge of some of the greatest audio moments in rock history, and then for causing "50 percent for all those our hearing loss."
Through the years, Marshall became a larger-than-life figure. He enjoyed smoking Cuban cigars and single malt Scotch whiskey.
He began developing health problems late in your life, suffering several strokes before developing cancer late recently. The cancer was removed however it came back. Marshall died regarding his son Terry and his wife by his side.
Marshall seemed to be a drum teacher and an avid drummer. He or she is survived by two children, two stepchildren, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
One of the main influences of the slap Company and member of the MC5 Michael Davis died last night of liver failure. He was 68 years old and with his wife in Chico California at Enloe Medical Center at his time of passing.
Born on June 5, 1943, the bassist gained attention in the revolutionary Detroit band MC5 and played in new version of the group called DKT-MC5 with former MC5 members Wayne Kramer on guitar & Dennis Thompson on the drums.
The original MC5 rocketed to prominence from 1964 to 1972, making waves with incendiary political activist lyrics and a blistering early-punk sound, beginning with their first album “Kick Out the Jams,” released in 1969.
A worlds top bassist and also producer, MC5's bassist was going to be in Belgium this week recording with punk rock musician Sonny Vincent, said Davis’ wife.
Davis had a scare in 2006 when he injured his back in a motorcycle accident on a Southern California freeway. He later co-founded the non-profit Music Is Revolution Foundation, dedicated to supporting music education programs in public schools.
In the last few years, Davis also returned to a love of painting, fostered when he first studied fine arts at Wayne State University in Michigan. He dropped out of the program in 1964 to play music, but started studying art again recently in Oregon and California, with the intention of finishing his bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
Davis is survived by his wife, their three sons, and a daughter from a previous marriage. Memorial plans were pending, said Angela Davis.
We started the second day with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum, located on the site of the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. The museum is an extraordinary interactive experience that tells the full story of the civil rights struggle in America. There is a huge wheel of chance you can spin that features all of the spurious reasons that African Americans were turned away by Mississippi officials when trying to register to vote, so you get an idea of the odds. There is the lawyer’s briefcase used to smuggle out Notes From A Birmingham Jail. There is a stunning photo essay showing James Meredith’s last walk and his assassination as it happens. There is a life-sized sanitation truck and statues of I Am A Man marchers facing off against gas-masked armed police. And on and on and on.
The museum takes hours to appreciate. Absorbed by the compelling narrative force of the displays as they bring history back to life, what you fail to keep in mind is where that history led and you also don’t notice you’ve been walking up a gradual incline all this time, until the museum ends at a glass wall when you remember all too well: On the other side of the glass is the actual balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. You are inches away from that iconic spot.
No, the museum is not done with you yet; this is just the first building. The building across the street is devoted exclusively to King’s assassination. This is the building where the trigger was pulled. It features the room with the sniper’s view to the Lorraine balcony and the complete FBI evidence file including the rifle. Words cannot describe the feelings this evokes.
Hours later, when we finally felt like doing something again, we journeyed across town to the former home of Stax Records. Stax is critical to the history of soul music not just because of its artists like Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Isaac Hayes but because it was the first major integrated soul label. It’s a fun tour—including Hayes’ fur-lined Cadillac!—and it has a great gift shop. But the biggest impact for me was to be reminded of the serendipitous nature of the birth of the music—the remarkable combustion of circumstances, coincidences and combinations that had to occur in a single city at one time to create it.
Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton (the ST and AX of Stax) bought a defunct movie theater in a run-down neighborhood because it was all they could afford and used it as the Stax offices, recording studio and retail record store. It happened to be located in a residential area and so it happened to attract the curiosity of young locals who included, in a ten-block radius, Aretha Franklin, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Isaac Hayes, David Porter, Dan Penn and Willie Mitchell.
We ended the day with a visit to Memphis Sound Recorders AKA Sun Studios, the actual physical location where, literally and without exaggeration, rock and roll was born. There are plenty of amazing things on display at Sun. One example: The first rock and roll song is generally acknowledged to be Rocket 88, composed by Ike Turner and recorded by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats. Legend has it that on the way to Sun Studios the day it was recorded, the band’s amp, which was strapped to the top of their car, slipped off and was damaged as it fell to the street. It was the band’s only amp and so when they arrived at Sun they frantically attempted to repair it by stuffing newspaper around the torn speaker cone. The resulting fierce buzz heard on the recording gave the song its unusual snarl, which was recognized as a new sound that became rock and roll.
That’s an amazing story well known to anyone who knows music, but it isn’t anywhere as amazing as seeing the amp on display, stuffed with the newspaper.
Of course, that’s only foreplay because the tour ends in the actual one-room studio that first recorded Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Charlie Rich. The studio is the size of a large bedroom and looks exactly the same as it did the day a young Elvis first walked in to record. Nothing has been changed: The tiles on the walls and ceiling were personally installed by owner Sam Phillips and the lighting fixtures and window blinds are all original. The microphone used to record Mystery Train, Great Balls of Fire and I Walk the Line is standing in the middle of the room—they let you touch it!
This is the room where Elvis and musicians Scotty Moore, Bill Black and DJ Fontana—three guys whom he had just met—couldn’t come up with a song they all knew and were yelled at by Phillips for wasting his valuable studio time. Ordered to go eat lunch down the street and not to come back until they had something to sing, they returned and launched into an impromptu That’s All Right, Mama, flooring Phillips, who lunged for the Record button as rock and roll was laid down right then and right there.
They have an ultra-rare recording of what happened next as Phillips, recognizing that something out of this world had just occurred, rushed the tape directly to the cutters to make a demo disc and then directly to Dewey Phillips (no relation), the white disc jockey at local WDIA who was renowned for playing black music. You can hear Sam try to explain what he has in his hand to Dewey and then hear Dewey agree to play it for the first time in history and hear how for the first time in history the life reporting and sexual energy that was black blues is translated by a white teenager to other white teenagers. Dewey ended up playing it fourteen times in a row in response to the more than 200 calls that flooded WDIA that day from astonished teens and their outraged parents.
Again, it is difficult not to be struck by the coincidental nature of how rock and roll happened. It might not have happened at all if Sam Phillips didn’t own a local studio that would record amateurs, if someone with Elvis’ talent—nascent but unique and urgent—hadn’t been exposed to the root music and wasn’t able to sweet-talk his way past Marion Keisker—Phillips’ secretary and the most important woman in rock and roll history—with a fabricated story of wanting to record a sweet song for his mother’s birthday (his mother’s birthday was in May and this was in July and his parents didn’t own a record player), if Sam Phillips didn’t have the sharp ears to recognize the impact of what he was hearing and the fast hands to record it and if Dewey Phillips wasn’t a local DJ who would play the result unheard.
And it is again difficult not to be struck by the poignancy that was Elvis, a global sensation but forever a local boy, who spent the rest of his life living just 20 minutes away from where he was first discovered.
FULL GOSPEL TABERNACLE CHURCH
Our last day was Sunday and in the morning we journeyed outside of town to the poor residential neighborhood that houses the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church. There weren’t any tourists in this run-down funky place of worship but there were about 75 church members, mostly large, formidable, older black women in big hats. They had come to hear their pastor, who preaches whenever he’s not on tour: Al Green. Yeah, that Al Green.
Al Green is one of the best performers I’ve ever seen live and that’s when he’s doing something he doesn’t care about as much as this. We sat front row center, a couple of feet away from him, as he delivered a passionate evangelical sermon from the book of Matthew. “I know you feel alone,” he cried out to his parishioners, then dropped to his knees singing a few verses of I’m So Tired of Being Alone in that famous falsetto, then thundered through more of the sermon.
“You’re from the North,” he said to me. “We’re from the South and in the South we say, ‘Hallelujah!’”
Memphis is not in the deep South and this is credited with allowing the integrated efforts that created rock and roll and some of the world’s best soul music, setting the foundation for what both of these genres were to become.
It is a special place. People are uniformly nice to strangers and to one another. There are not a lot of salad bars and fruit there—I’m surprised people aren’t dying of scurvy and we saw a sign in one small market window advertising “40 pounds of chicken wings for $20”—but what they do eat is sure worth eating.
This is a city where things that have affected us all first happened and where you are haunted throughout by history as sad and glorious as humans can create.