Jerry Velona

Does Music Today Suck?

 

First off; dumb question! Way too broad and general. Right now as I type this, there are probably hundreds of thousands of musicians all over the world playing music and the odds are that a lot of it is at least good.  So, we need to refine the question and define some terms. 

 

 

Spring Cleaning the Musical Mind

 

So today was opening day at Fenway Park (Sox won!) and it was an absolutely perfect spring day with sunshine and temps in the 70's. These kind of days are much appreciated after the epic winter we just experienced in the Boston area. I'm one who really enjoys all four seasons including winter. But this year? All I can say is: so glad it's over!

So with spring upon us, I'm downloading the thoughts I had while being cooped up in my study practicing and dreaming of sunnier times. To wit:

  • Urge for Going by Joni Mitchell is one of the best songs from the past fifty years; period, end of story. I grew up listening to the Tom Rush version which was a bigger FM hit. I always assumed he wrote the tune but then heard Joni's version a number of years ago and was bowled over. Like many of her songs; the melancholy runs thick but the beautiful tone of her voice juxtaposed with the simple, sad poetry of the lyrics is perfection. To me the song encapsulates the passage of time and things coming to an end in a way no other music quite captures.  I have a hard time not getting choked up every time I listen.
  • Another song that has that effect on me is Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Francisco Tarrega. Played on nylon string guitar by many but none better than John Williams. My roommate at Berklee many years ago used to practice that song for hours trying to master the tremolo technique. I never got tired of hearing it even as he worked at it.
  • The version of I Can't Stand the Rain by Ann Peebles might be the most soulful vocal ever. Ann Peebles is a very underrated singer. You generally don't hear her mentioned when the top soul singers are discussed but in my book, she's one of the greats. If only more singers these days would emulate her understated emotion and effortlessly smooth tone. Unfortunately that style of singing just doesn't reap big rewards today. Everyone is impressed by the power singers with the unending melismas and over-the-top delivery.
  • Can anyone tell me exactly when recording became "tracking"? Was it around the same time that invitations became "invites"?  Not exactly sure why but "tracking" has a pretentious air to my ear.
  • Another annoying trend is the ubiquity of puerile sing-song syllables in just about every pop song these days. I'm talking about things like "uh-oh" and "oh-ee-oh-ee-oh" and stuff like that. Those used to be reserved for  Old MacDonald's farm and such to please the ears of tiny tots and little kids. I know these phrases have been around for a while and used in more than a few classic rock tunes like TVC15 by David Bowie and Love Comes to Town by Talking Heads. But seriously, on the pop satellite station they play at my gym every other song has some version of this ear wormy attempt to embed some phrase in your psyche for their commercial benefit. My PRO is BMI and I get their monthly newsletter. The last one had an article about songwriting where this technique was mentioned as a must. Count me as not a fan.
  • And finally, so sorry to hear that the great Stan Freberg recently died. He was a favorite in my family and a real pioneer in postwar musical satire. I remember as a kid hearing radio commercials for Salada Tea and other brands with his comedy bits and songs used to promote the products. They were as entertaining as anything on TV or radio and I'm sure he helped sell a whole lot of tea and other products with his talents as a comedy songwriter. RIP

 

Love Radio - The latest!

 

 

Greetings from snowy Boston!  Happy New Year and I hope everyone is moving smartly into 2015.  I'm curious what the statute of limitations might be for wishing Happy New Year. I'm guessing you don't do it once January is over so I'm rushing to get this blog published lest I be found guilty of excessive Holiday greeting or some such nonsense.

Love Radio has been released for a few months now and is starting to get some notice.

Just got this nice capsule review from Steve Morse who was a staff music critic at the Boston Globe for many years and now teaches a course at Rock History at Berklee:

"Jerry Velona is a superb craftsman. He shows a striking versatility on his new album by moving easily from energized rock covers of the Long Ryders and Robbie Robertson to original songs with a Southern-style Memphis grit. The variety is entirely believable as Velona teams up with an all-star cast of Boston musicians such as Duke Levine, Billy Loosigian, and David Minehan. This is music for music's sake -- and Velona's honest spirit is refreshing and blissfully indifferent to trends."

My song Just Don't Feel Like Christmas enjoyed a nice run of airplay on a whole bunch of stations in the US, Europe, and as far away as Russia, South Africa and Australia.  I received an e mail from Serge Tikhanoff who broadcasts at Radio Penguin in Siberia (no joke). He asked me for a copy of the CD and said "I think you will agree that living in Siberia, even in such large and quickly developing city as Novosibirsk, it is so hard to watch most interesting and important events in contemporary music scene."  He signed the e mail "Snowy Yours".  Now really, how could I not send this guy a CD?  It cost twenty-six bucks to mail it to Siberia but he got it and said he loved our version of Lewis and Clark.

Patty Patrick, based out of Radio RSF1 in Austria also programs for a network of over 5,000 stations that broadcast all over Europe, the southern US and New Zealand has become a fan of the record. She played the Christmas song as well as When I Wake Up and I just got word this week that she's starting to spin Our Own Devices.  I recorded a promotional liner for her to use on-air and she sent me a note saying, "Oh you are so sweet, Jerry Velona.  Sounds so good, danke-danke-danke. Send me some more songs from you, please-bitte-bitte. You make me smile. I love artists, who make me smile."  I smile every time I read it!

Also getting some nice feedback from Roberto Rossi who does a very cool show called Mystery Train on Radio PNR, a public radio station in northern Italy. He really likes the album and has played the Christmas song, When I Wake Up and also Baby Whatcha' Got (for me) which you can hear here at around 20 minutes into the show. He goes on and on about the record in Italian so if anyone can translate I'd appreciate it.  I hear "bellisima" every so often so I'm thinking it's all good!

Brian Owens who edits and publishes Metronome Magazine out of Billerica, Mass has liked my last three records and has been very complimentary and supportive over the years.  Love Radio was listed as one of the Top 5 albums for January in Metronome. Some excerpts from the review:

"Jerry Velona always manages to reinvent himself from album to album...but in his latest offering Love Radio, Velona rocks out with a vicious...sentiment that's reminiscent of well-produced 70's/80's radio rock...JV hits it way, way out of Fenway on Love Radio."

I'm hoping for a few more reviews in the upcoming months (fingers crossed) and also am putting a band together to play a bunch of my originals along with a bunch of cool covers.  Hopefully you can come check that out when we are ready and have a gig lined up.

Lastly, I'll be doing a live performance and interview on with Mike Stewart on WMFO - 91.5 (Tufts University Radio). The date is Saturday, February 7th at approximately 1:00 PMBilly Loosigian and Richard Gates will join me to do acoustic versions of a few of the songs from Love Radio and I may debut a new tune that I composed for my birthday recently - something about being a sexagenarian or something.  I hope you can tune in for a bit.

Oh, one more thing: please check out the video we put together for Looking for Lewis and Clark which was produced and directed by the very talented Sara Doering (aka Xavery Robin). We've got just over 500 hits and I'm trying to build on that so please feel free to post it on your social media and spread it around to friends and anyone you think might enjoy it. We had a lot of fun making it and I think it came out great. Sid Griffin of the Long Ryders who composed the tune said of our version: 

“Jerry Velona once again proves his musical worth in a balls-to-the-wall cover version of the Long Ryders’ ‘Looking For Lewis & Clark’, a pounding yet melodic take which begs the question: where are the great and fearless leaders of the present day? Velona’s committed vocal and approach to the lyric may not provide a complete set of answers but oh Mercy, they frame the question so very, very well.”  S Griffin

More later!

Love Radio! New Album release

 

Love Radio by Jerry Velona album cover

 

So I was asked: why "Love Radio"?  I was actually all set to name the record "Snide and Seek" alluding to the theme of the lead track "Looking for Lewis and Clark" (the seek part) and my generally sarcastic side (the snide part) but then my mastering engineer Bill Bromfield started labeling things "Hide and Sneak" and I took that as a sign that I needed a better name.

I picked Love Radio because, well, I LOVE radio and I would like radio to love me back. That's about the size of it. As I've written in other blog posts, I have loved listening to the radio since a very tender age and it's one of the constant joys of my life. Like most things, radio has changed a lot over the past fifty years or so (what hasn't?) but when it's done well; like on satellite, it's a beautiful thing.

I'm very excited about this record. It contains four straight ahead rock tunes that I recorded at Woolly Mammoth studios with the estimable David Minehan engineering and mixing. David also played some guitar on a couple of the tunes.  The rest of the cast for those is Richard (The Great) Gates on bass and Billy Loosigian on guitar.  I've always loved Billy's playing and decided one day that I'd call him for the sessions and I'm so glad he agreed. His playing really is pure rock at least as I define it. 

After hiring drummers to play in my bands and on my most recent recordings over the past couple of decades, I realized that I missed playing and wanted to get back to it; not just freelancing with others but with my own projects. So I started practicing regularly again and decided to play a bunch of tunes on this record. It was a blast.

I included three covers: Forbidden Fruit by The Band (Robbie Robertson songwriter), Baby What'cha Got (for me) by Darrell Banks (J.J. Barnes songwriter) and Looking for Lewis and Clark (Sid Griffin songwriter). Lewis and Clark is a tune I've always loved but I felt there were some lines in the lyric that I would have trouble singing so I re-wrote a few and sent the demo over to Sid Griffin. Luckily Sid's a great guy and really liked our version, had no problem with changing some of the lyrics and offered to promote it at the BBC (he's based in London these days) which I will of course take him up on.  One of the other tunes on the record, The Ghetto (ain't going back) is sort-of a cover in that we borrowed the groove, the bass line and some of the instrument sounds (Wurlitzer piano) from the  mid-70's Donny Hathaway tune "Ghetto" but then really made it completely our own. I wrote lyrics (sung wonderfully by the talented Debbie Pierre who also sings on many of the other tunes) added strings and, most notably incorporated a spoken word section by the great J Ivy from New York by way of Chicago. It's quite a production if I may say so and I'm quite proud of how it came out.

The other two songs are originals; both recorded at Q Division in Somerville and engineered by Sean Cahalin. The first is Our Own Devices which has a great funk groove influenced by the song Skin it Back by Little Feat. It concerns our obsession with those great little things we keep in our pockets and talk into and type onto; suggesting perhaps a way out. (don't tell anyone, but it has to do with up close and personal contact!). Lastly is my ode to Christmas blues called Just Don't Feel Like Christmas. Duke Levine contributes some great guitar and Paul Ahlstrand wrote a fantastic horn chart on which he played along with one of my faves Phil Grenadier on trumpet.

I've done a video for Lewis and Clark which is getting its finishing touches in post production at the moment but should be released toward the end of October. More on that in my next blog post. Love Radio should be available for sale and download by the first or second week in November. I hope you'll check it out and that it gives you some pleasure. I sure enjoyed making it!

Radio Radio

 

Well, I'm officially calling the end of a long winter here in Boston. Spring is in the air and everything's blooming and it feels good.  Of course I'm listening to the Red Sox game on WEEI radio as I write this and it's about 50 degrees and raw but that's just what spring is like up here.  When my son Chris was growing up I spent a lot of time coaching and helping out with his Little League games. When I think about those days, my main recollection is freezing my ass off in the early evening as some poor kid walked the bases loaded while we exhorted him to "just throw strikes".  Ah yes, spring in Boston!

Speaking of the radio (an artful pivot if I say so), I just paid for my annual subscription to Sirius/XM radio. I first discovered satellite radio on a family road trip out west a number of years ago. We rented a nice car which came equipped with the magic radio and I was hooked. Nothing like driving around the buttes and mesas of the great American southwest listening to some obscure but cool Led Zeppelin tune on "Deep Tracks".  Plus being able to listen uninterrupted while you drive from Lake Tahoe to LA is pretty amazing. These days I listen mostly to Little Steven's Underground Garage, The Loft, and Outlaw Country.  Deep Tracks also has one hour shows hosted by Tom Petty and Bob Dylan which are fantastic. It's radio the way I like it; eclectic , challenging, interesting and with knowledgeable and entertaining DJ's. 

I also LOVE WFUV-FM in New York City. It's a public radio station broadcast out of Fordham University. Boston has a plethora of great college radio stations; WMBR, WERS and WHRB out of MIT, Emerson College and Harvard respectively are my favorites. But I reserve a special place for WFUV which I listen to regularly on line.  The playlist skews toward indie rock and singer song writers with a fair amount of older rock and soul but not the usual fare. The DJ's are all great; they spin their own tunes and know their stuff.  One of my favorites is Dennis Elsas who was on perhaps the original and maybe the greatest FM rock station ever WNEW-FM. Dennis still sounds great and he brings such a breadth of rock music history along with an appreciation of the best of what's out there now.

Saturdays at our house means sleeping in and having waffles for breakfast. It also means listening to WMBR; specifically The Lost Highway with Doug Gesler and Backwoods with the inimitable John Funke.  Sometimes I will switch to Hillbilly at Harvard on WHRB which I daresay would hold up against any country station in the land. It's a weekend dilemma but there's no bad choice.  John Funke is one of the great characters in Boston media and he plays very obscure and sometimes humorous tunes from the very early years of rock and soul. His shtick is pure camp and his use of silly and deliberately corny sound effects along with copious punning wrapped in a droll delivery is how I rock and roll on Saturday mornings. I've been listening for a long time and I can't imagine waking up without him. John also DJ's at Zuzu in Central Square and The Independent in Somerville and spins a more danceable selection of the same tunes to an enthusiastic audience of mostly 20-somethings which is a pleasure to see.

While I have over a thousand songs on my ITunes account and listen to my faves on my Ipod Nano (an older version shaped like a thin BIC lighter - perfect size), I have to have my radio on a daily basis. I was a precocious kid in many ways and I remember listening on my transistor radio with the single earplug to some of the great old AM stations in NY like WABC and WMCA in the very early 1960's. As I became a young teen, I was entranced by the aforementioned WNEW-FM in NYC. I don't know the history but I believe that was one of the first FM rock stations in the country. I remember when it literally first came on the air. There were no DJs; just continuous freeform music of all the great rock of that time. Eventually the DJs came into the picture and they were some of the great ones: Johnathan Schwartz, Scott Muni, Rosko, Alison Steele (the Nightbird!). There was also a local TV personality named Zacherle who did a sort of comical monster show dressed up like Dracula. He had his own shift on the early NEW-FM I believe. I remember listening at night in my bed with real headphones by that time and the only light in the room being the FM dial to bands like The Nice, King Crimson, Humble Pie, Frank Zappa, Jethro Tull, the Dead and on and on. It was called "progressive rock" and I breathed it in like pure oxygen.

FM in the mid to late 60's featured strictly classical music. Some of the best rock stations morphed from those. WBCN in Boston is an example. "BCN" stood for "Boston Classical Network" (or maybe "concert network", not sure) in its previous incarnation.  I loved BCN in the late 70s and throughout the 80s when I came to Boston. At one point they had Charles Laquidara followed by Matt Siegel followed by Mark Parenteau; what a great lineup!

These days AM radio has become a virtual wasteland. Other than talk and the all news and traffic of WBZ, there's not much there but that's been the case for a while. Talk radio saved AM from oblivion; specifically Rush Limbaugh whose unprecedented success pretty much keeps AM radio viable. FM commercial radio has really gone down the tubes in the past 10 years or so.  Most of the stations are cookie cutter formats run by corporate conglomerates that pretty much play the same songs in every market throughout the country. The songs are chosen through focus groups and computer programs and many of the stations don't even have live DJs anymore and the ones that do are there to play the pre-programmed selections. The last commercial station I listened to in Boston was WFNX.  Since they've gone, all I listen to is college radio and, as mentioned, we're fortunate to have some of the best around here in Boston.

Internet radio is OK. Pandora can be cool. I haven't tried Spotify but I know that many people like it. I find satellite to be the closest thing to the golden age of radio still going. It's not a surprise that the DJs who are still around from that era are mostly now on satellite. I highly recommend spending the $15 a month to subscribe if you're a radio lover like me. The music business depends on radio and I can say that some of my biggest thrills have been hearing my songs played on the radio. Airplay legitimizes you in a way that few other things do and I've been fortunate to have had some over the years. I hope to hear my latest tunes on some station in the near future along with lots of other new and interesting music.  Play on!

The Beatles - Yesterday and Today

 

I was one of the 73 million Americans watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show fifty years ago, February 9th, 1964. I was nine. My big sister was fifteen and had her camera out looking to snap photos of Ringo when he came on the screen. My recollection is the pictures didn't come out that well. She was ahead of her time in that regard except that the photos would have gone in her scrap book rather than on Facebook. My parents were in their mid-forties, which in those days was the pop-culture equivalent of being in your seventies today. Like most adults, they were not fans of the band but sat tolerantly and mostly silently as we all gazed at the images on our black and white Philco. It was one of those moments in the 60's (there were so many) where the time, place and memories are still firmly rooted in the brain.

We wore out the first American album Meet the Beatles. My favorite songs were Little Child, Hold Me Tight and the George Harrison tune Don't Bother Me. I still have all three of those in my IPod and hear them randomly on my shuffle playlist. I recorded a rockin' cover of Little Child a couple of years ago and you can purchase it here.  The longest song on the album, I Saw Her Standing There, clocked in at a robust two minutes and forty-nine seconds. Several of the songs were at or under two minutes. Interesting that at a time when people in general had longer attention spans, the pop songs were so short.

My Dad took my sister and her friend Star (no relation to Ringo) to see them perform at Shea Stadium in August of 1965 for her 16th birthday. To say this was a sacrifice for my straight-laced Dad is well beyond understatement. There's a fantastic video of this concert on Vimeo which I highly recommend. It's in color and HD and the sound quality is fantastic. Watching this video I was struck by how well they played and sounded with those tiny Vox amps and the pitiful sound system that was mostly drowned out by the screaming of tens of thousands of teenage girls. It's a shame that they mostly stopped doing shows after 1966. They were really an excellent live band.

I started studying the violin with my grandfather at the age of seven and began the piano with my Uncle Eddie, a good player and music teacher shortly thereafter. However, once the Beatles came to America, I didn't want to do anything other than play the drums and guitar.  Like most kids I had a tendency to have fast but not lasting enthusiasms about many things so my parents were skeptical about my newfound passion. But when I wore out the bongo drums they bought me and started building my own drum set out of various size boxes I found around the house, they decided I was serious.  They bought me a blue sparkle set of Ludwigs and I was off and running. I think there were many, many kids growing up in those years that got their start playing rock music in the same way and for the same reason.

In high school I played and sang in a band called The Happy Melons. We did a whole set of Beatles music including the entire Abbey Road medley. We played a lot of weekend dances and this was always the highlight of the evening for everyone. After leaving Berklee in the mid-70's I played in a group called The Space Opera Band. We also did a ton of Beatles and British invasion tunes which were always the best received - even the more obscure ones like How Do You Do It by Gerry and Pacemakers (also recorded by the Beatles).  Those songs have such resonance with so many people. It's no wonder there are still a lot of Beatle tribute bands around who do great business and make a lot of people happy.

I saw Paul McCartney at the Worcester Centrum in the late 80's when he finally decided to do some Beatles songs. He had a great band with a couple of guys from the Average White Band and Ringo's son Zac on the drums. Hearing Paul sing those great songs was a thrill, even with Linda on background vocals (sorry...may she rest in peace!).

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Berklee Performance Center to see a great live band perform The White Album in its entirety. It was put together by bassist Tom Appleman along with guitarists Joe Musella, Corin Ashley and others. They did it up right with strings, horns and all the quirky arrangements of those (mostly) fantastic songs. I took my two daughters Robin and Nina. One thing I've done well as a parent is to instill a love of good music in my kids. All three of us had a blast and Tom, Corin, Joe and all the musicians did a fantastic job and recreated the tunes extremely well - not an easy thing to do with such an eclectic record.

A couple of days before the big fiftieth anniversary of their performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Dennis Elsas, DJ on WFUV in NYC did a half-hour retrospective on what it was like when the Beatles landed at JFK and the hysteria it engendered. Dennis has been around for a long time and was a DJ on one of the great, original FM rock stations WNEW-FM. He worked with some of the AM DJ's at the time like "Cousin Brucie"Morrow, Dan Daniels, Scott Muni and the inimitable Murray the K who proclaimed himself "the fifth Beatle" and pretty much glommed onto them the entire time they were in New York. Dennis played clips from some of the stations like WABC, WINS, and WMCA and you could get a palpable sense of the excitement surrounding the band at that time. I was listening to all that at a tender age and it brought back a bunch of great memories and many smiles.

Finally, it was fun to watch some of the Grammy Salute to the Beatles on Sunday night - on the same station, same time, exactly fifty years later - pretty amazing. I enjoyed the cover of Something with Jeff Lynn and Joe Walsh and Dhanni Harrison. A friend remarked that Dhanni should have sung it as he sounds just like his Dad and I agree. Paul and Ringo still look and sound great and obviously have a tremendous joy for life and music that has come across right from the start. I loved hearing about the stories when they walked through the Ed Sullivan Theatre with David Letterman.

Anyone who's a big fan should watch The Beatles' Anthology where they talk about their career in depth along with great footage and backstories. One of the things that struck me as I watched this years ago was how regular, dare I say "normal" the individual Beatles seem to be. When they talk about their fame they often do so with a sort of amused detachment that is appealing for it's lack of ego. I mean, after all, they are the frickin' Beatles for gawd's sake. Maybe the fact that they were brought up in modest, working-class households in England has something to do with that.  Someone supposedly asked Paul once if he could share two things he does when he sits down to write a song. Paul's reply: "First I sit down, and then I write a song". That's enough reason to love him right there.

Japanese Film Crew, First to Last and Musical Resolutions

 

Well, first of all Happy New Year to everyone!  May you have your best year ever and, if so, please tell me all about it. I'm always looking for new ways to make good things happen.

I couldn't think of a good title for this blog entry; one which tied everything I wanted to say together in some clever way. So, I took the easy way and just made hash of it. One of my resolutions for 2014 is to procrastinate less. There's my rationalization for the title; just wanted to get right to it!

I remember reading an interview with Paul McCartney where he said he rarely would agonize over a song. He'd just get it down and recorded and move on to the next one. I guess that explains some of his less than stirring output but I kind of like that approach to a point. Then there was Mozart who also I read did very little editing but then most everything he put out was perfect. We can all strive to be Mozart I guess.

I just finished a new song called First to Last. It came about in kind of an interesting way. I decided to cover the song Looking for Lewis and Clark by the Long Riders. It's always been a favorite of mine and I didn't see that anyone else had covered it so I thought it would be a good choice. However after reading the lyrics, I wasn't sure I wanted to sing them. They were dated, somewhat obscure and self-referential. So I thought I'd redo the lyrics but after checking with some fellow songwriters, I realized you can't really cover someone else's tune and change the lyrics significantly unless it's a parody.

So after thinking it through a bit and getting some advice from Michael Anderson, the author of The Little Black Book of Songwriting and a guy who's become somewhat of a mentor/lyric doctor for me over the past couple of years, I decided to redo the song completely. Thus was born First to Last. It borrows a bit from LFL&C musically but contains some lyrics that mark one of the few times I've incorporated personal details. I've never been good at that but found it easy to write them in this particular song.  We recorded at Woolly Mammoth in Waltham with the estimable David Minehan at the board. Billy Loosigian plays most of the guitar parts with David throwing in some tasty tracks. Richard (the Great) Gates is on bass and I play drums, percussion and vocals. I'm very happy with how it came out and you can listen if you'd like.

Had a wonderful time in Germany over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Before I left I got another call from a Japanese film crew who wanted to interview me about my song parody of Sea Cruise entitled Koji on the Mound. The video has over 163,000 hits and it still seems to be big in Japan. Some show on Japanese TV was doing an interview with Koji and they wanted to include something from me and the song. They came over to the house on a Saturday night and we did the interview in my basement studio. Here and here are a couple of pictures.  As it turns out the interview never aired but it was fun to do.

I have a lot of exciting things planned musically this year. Among them are the release of another CD of original music including a bunch of cool rock tunes recorded at the mighty Woolly along with David.  I've also recorded a cover of the The Ghetto by Donny Hathaway which features J Ivy on a spoken word interlude which is just killing. J is a friend of my son Chris who shot some of his videos. He's a really talented guy and I'm honored to have him be a part of the recording. We've been trying to interest Lalah Hathaway, Donny's daughter and a very accomplished and successful singer in her own right to sing the lead vocal part (I wrote lyrics - the original is really just a vamp) but it doesn't look like she's going to do anything with it. Too bad but I'm very happy to release it on my own. You can check it out here.

I'm also putting the finishing touches on my idea for the Boston Rock and Soul Collaborative; a non-profit group that will mentor high school musicians and expose them to the music of the golden era of rock, soul and r&b. Stay tuned for more details on that - very excited about it!

Meanwhile I dream of summer while enjoying the brisk New England air. Take care and talk to you soon!

 

Koji On The Mound and other stuff

 

Happy Autumn everyone and greetings to you all!  Had a nice summer including a great last week of August bike-riding, paddle boarding and prowling the So Cal beaches.

I've been working on a bunch of new material for an upcoming release. Brought in a stellar rhythm section to Q Division studios back in May and recorded basics for four tunes.  We just finished one of them: my ode to non-digital fun entitled Our Own Devices. You can check out the tune by going to my home page and clicking on Songs.

Players on the tune are Kevin Belz, Dave Limina, Marty Richards, Anthony Vitti, Phil Grenadier, Gordon Beadle, Bertram Lehman and Debbie Pierre on the background vocals. Engineered by Sean Cahalin and Steve Flynn. The mix was done by Ducky Carlisle at Ice Station Zebra studios. Bill (The Master) Bromfield did the mastering.

On the rock side of things I've also been working more with dangerous David Minehan at his Woolly Mammoth studio. (David's currently playing with the Replacements on tour. How cool is that?) I'm playing drums on the Woolly sessions which is a blast as is working with David, Billy Loosigian and my pal and cyclist/beast Richard Gates. Also brought in Debbie to sing a bit on one tune.  She's graduating Berklee this year and is an impressive talent.  

Lastly but not leastly, I wrote new lyrics to the great old tune Sea Cruise which became “Koji On The Mound”. It’s been getting played regularly on WEEI and elsewhere and is being considered at Fenway and NESN for use in the post season broadcasts. I just did an interview for a Japanese newspaper which should be out shortly. We recorded the tune in a few hours at Straight Up Music in Arlington. My good friend Larry Luddecke engineered and mixed and played piano on the track as well. Other fellow Sox fanatics Paul Ahlstrand, Paul Lenart and Anthony Vitti contributed their time and talents to the project. My world-travelling. video producing son Chris (www.chrispproductions.com)  had a rare free night and banged out the video which has gotten over 1,300 hits this far. Check it out here.

Please feel free to spread the links around if you are so inclined.

Always great to hear from you if you have a minute and hope to see you all again soon!

Where Have the Drummer's Gone?

 

Yes, it's a rhetorical question. There are plenty of great drummers; too many to name. Just right here in Boston there are dozens of seriously great drummers. I'm proud to say I've played with many of them and studied with some of them. So, what's the point you may ask?

The specific point is that in rock music today, the role of the drummer has been diminished. Forget pop music. Many (most?) of those tunes don't even have live drummers any more. Lots of rock music is heard in the country category these days. That's a topic for another blog entirely. No, I'm talking about what is generally called alternative rock and straight ahead rock these days.

I grew up in the sixties and early 70's. I started listening to rock n' roll AM radio in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area at a tender age. In the late sixties when I entered my teen years, I listened to what may have been the first FM rock radio station in the country, WNEW-FM in New York. The range of music was breathtaking. "Rock" in those days consisted of all sorts of music influenced by classical, jazz, country, folk, latin, blues, jump and combinations of all those and more. It was a time of great experimentation. You actually went to a rock show to sit and listen.

Among my friends and many others, "commercial" in the context of music was a dirty word.  In my early high school bands we were doing covers by Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and other "progressive rock" bands of the time. These were difficult tunes to learn. They had lots of twists and turns, odd time signatures and complicated arrangements. The technical proficiency of the musicians in those bands for the most part was prodigious.

As a drummer, I had to learn parts played by the likes of Aynsley Dunbar, Michael Giles, Carl Palmer, Clive Bunker, Ginger Banker, Keith Moon, Ian Paice,Jim Gordon and on and on. These were great players:  all unique in their own way. Yes, sometimes they overplayed. That was kind of the thing back then. I think every drummer born in the 50's or 60's was on some level heavily influenced by Buddy Rich. The fusion drummers took it to another level: Billy Cobham, Lenny White, Alphonse Mouzon, Harvey Mason, and my favorite Steve Gadd just to name a few of the great ones.

I'm not quite sure when it happened; when drummers started taking the back seat in rock music. I would place it sometime in the 90's when "alternative" became big and style started replacing substance as far as the actual musical performance and skill-level of many rock musicians was concerned. I would read rave reviews of a certain band and then I would see them on Saturday Night Live and, well, they'd suck!  You know the bands I'm referring to; the bass slung way down low and played with a pick. The singer who seems more interested jumping up and down and flipping his hair back than actually singing. The guitarist who strums with a pumping arm motion. Yeah, those bands. The drummer would always have a self-conciously small set - usually retro drums with cymbals set flat and low. He would use his arms alot when he played - meaning not alot of wrist action - meaning not great technique. Those bands.

Now I hate to single out a certain style of band and use it cast aspersions on an entire genre. As I mentioned, there are still alot of excellent drummers out there. Not all rock bands are in the skinny jeans and twee vocal category although there are way too many of those for my own taste. Also, some of the trend toward minimalism in rock drumming is a reaction (revulsion?) to the over-the-top bombastic, 18 piece drum kit, fireworks and 30 minute drum solo excess of the 70's in particular. Spinal Tap did a good job deflating that balloon and justifiably so.  Needless to say there's alot to be said for just laying back and grooving the tune.

But all that said, I still wish there was a bit more personality coming from the drum chair in today's rock music. You can have great technique and use it judiciously. You can maintain the groove and do it musically and tastefully within the context of what the other players are laying down. That's the real art of drumming in my opinion. I'd like to hear more of it!

Politics anyone?

 

So I just unsubscribed from another Facebook Friend (someone I don't know and have never met but was connected as a friend of a friend). He's one of those guys who just has to post something political on a regular basis  (usually angry or sneering) and I get very tired of having to see this stuff even if it's just scrolling by it. It's like an unsightly billboard, or a loud radio playing awful music.

Being a musician in the Boston area, I am literally surrounded by Liberals. This is fine as even though my politics are on the right, I don't take it personally. I have many friends on the left; some of them good friends. With some of them we can debate issues which I enjoy and with others we don't get into it which is also fine. If I don't agree with someone's political views, I don't consider him to be a bad person -just mistaken perhaps!

When I first signed up on Facebook a couple of years ago I used to routinely get into political discussions with people I barely knew or didn't know at all. I soon realized what a colossal waste of time and energy this was so I don't do it anymore. Sometimes I'll see a comment from someone that is just begging to be rebutted but I take a breath, tell myself that it will accomplish nothing except maybe raise my blood pressure and resist the temptation.  I really do believe in the old adage about avoiding religious and political discussions with casual acquaintances. Tempers tend to flare and manners get lost; usually very uncomfortable for anyone else in the vicinity.

Which brings me to my latest song entitled The Bureau of Whatever. It's a song with a political subtext.  There's humor and sarcasm and I daresay a seriously rocking track. It's the first tune I've recorded at David Minehan's Woolly Mammoth studio in Waltham. I worked with David before to remix a couple of songs from my Random Emotion CD a few years back and enjoyed it alot. David is great to work with; a super nice guy and a really good musician and engineer. The studio is very comfortable and loaded with great gear. I highly recommend it.

I've always admired Billy Loosigian who has played guitar with many great Boston bands. So I was fortunate to get Billy and my good buddy Richard (The Great) Gates on bass and decided to play drums myself on the track which I haven't done in a while. In addition to pushing the buttons, I got David to lay down a very cool wah-wah guitar track. He also helped me with the finger snaps (quite the snapper!). I'm very happy with how it came out.

I got some excellent feedback and advice on the lyrics from Nashville's Michael Anderson who also helped me recently with the lyrics on Wishful Intuition. Being a writer of country hits, he's big on the storyline which has helped me write better lyrics.

I believe if you write a song with a political theme or message, it has to be done with a light touch. I'm generally turned off by guys like Billy Bragg and others who hammer you with their politics. I think I've walked that line with Bureau of Whatever but I'll leave the final judgement to others. There will be one more session to apply some finishing touches. I will be releasing it shortly after that. Regardless of who you voted for,  I hope you like it!. And if I ever become one of "those guys" who posts his daily political rants on Facebook, please come over and give me a slap!

CD Release - Dream Girl!

 

My latest CD is officially released and out there. It's called Dream Girl appropriately enough since the lead track is a remake of the tune of the same name which I recorded a number of years ago and which was on my full-length record Random Emotion.  I always thought the tune had potential in the Smooth Jazz genre' but most songs in that style are instrumentals. So, I enlisted the talents of my friend Paul Ahlstrand, a fine tenor sax player from the Boston area who plays with more bands than,...well, he plays with lots of bands!

The song is being promoted to nearly 200 stations across the country that play smooth jazz so we'll see how that goes. You'll be the first to know!

The second cut on the disc is my homage to dixieland entitled Wishful Intuition. It's about a guy who falls in love with every beautiful girl he sees (an occupational hazard for most males). It features a couple of the same guys who played on my cut Mozart a while ago: Billy Novick and Jesse Williams along with Zac Casher, Kevin Belz, Dave Harris and Larry Luddecke. There's a second version of Wishful which features a great performance by Dave Limina on piano.

Lastly is our cover of If You Stub Your Toe on the Moon. We finished the video I had mentioned in my last blog post this past July and it was edited and just released on You Tube. Please check it out and comment and "Like".  I'm really happy with how it came out and am in the planning stages of how I'm going to promote that. I'm thinking trying to get the interest of schools, PTA's and other educational groups. I think it could be useful and entertaining in sort of a Sesame Street kind of a way.

I'm hoping to put together a CD and video release gig in the not too distant future so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I look forward to your comments!

Stubbing your Toe on the Moon

 

At one point or another, all musicians and especially songwriters have uttered the words, "I wish I had written that song". Sometimes the words are uttered because the song is just so damn good (eg. Urge for  Goin' by Joni Mitchell - one of the greatest ever written IMHO). Other times it's because the song just happens to resonate so deeply on a personal level.

The latter feeling is what I've felt ever since I first heard Frank Sinatra sing If You Stub Your Toe on the Moon. The recording was on a Sinatra Columbia Years cassette my Mom gave me many years ago. She was ol' Blue Eyes' greatest fan and my childhood memories are filled with Sinatra tunes. Unlike most, my Mom's favorite Sinatra era was the 1940's when he recorded for Columbia Records. Mom was one of the "bobby soxers" - the girls who would attend his early shows at the Paramount Theatre in New York City and scream and cry. Unlike when the Beatles had the same spell over young girls 20 years later, the screaming was AFTER he finished the song, not during. When he was singing there was no sound but his voice.

Most of the songs Sinatra is best known for were from the 50's and early 60's when he recorded for Capitol Records.  This was the golden era of Fly Me To the Moon, Witchcraft, The Best is Yet to Come, etc. I don't even mention anything he did after that like My Way and New York New York. I consider the later Sinatra years akin to the later Elvis years. I'll be kind and leave it at that.

Although I LOVE all the songs from the Capitol years (especially the ones he recorded with Count Basie's Band), there's something about the Columbia-era that moves me very deeply. His voice was just so, well..., perfect. There's a recording of him singing Once in Love with Amy with a very spare band that, to me, is the pure essence of what pop singing is about.  Much of the accompaniment in those years was very orchestral with lots of strings and such. It didn't swing alot with a few exceptions such as Stub Your Toe. That one was recorded at the tail end of the Columbia years.  The Sinatra arrangement sounds very much like what the Nat Cole Trio was doing around that time with great sucess. I don't think it was a coincidence. Pop music has always been a copycat business.

Anyway, the song was written by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. Burke is one of the great, underrated songwriters in the Great American Songbook era. He wrote Pennies from Heaven and whimsical songs like Would You Like to Swing on a Star. Stub is in the latter category. As someone who has stubbed his toe on the moon often throughout his life, it has always touched me so I decided to record it.  I felt the Sinatra version and arrangement couldn't be improved upon so I enlisted my buddies and great musicians Bob Baughman and Paul Ahlstrand to help with the chart.  I was lucky to get a great band together including Jesse Williams on bass, Dave Limina on piano, Mike Williams guitar and Billy Novick clarinet. They did a fantastic job as you can hear.

In doing some research on the song, I saw that it was recorded by Bing Crosby and sung in the movie A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. In the movie, Bing sings the song to a bunch of children as kind of a friendly lecture. I always felt the song had a great message for kids; especially for today's "yoots" who too often get told how wonderful they are despite, (ahem) evidence to the contrary. Now having raised two kids into adulthood and one on the way to young adulthood, I'm all about encouragement, believe me. But you also have to try to instill the lesson that while you should "try and try again", sometimes you have to accept reality and make the best of it. That's basically the message of the song. It was written at a time when kids were expected to take more responsibility for themselves and were not as sheltered from the sometimes humdrum realities of life.

The lyrics  tell the story in a very clever and singable way so I thought it would be a good one for a video. As I write this, we're filming various scenes and should have it complete by early August and edited and ready to release sometime late August or after Labor Day.  The players are members of the band, my family and friends. The main parts are played by my grandson Tye McCatty and my daughter Nina. The DP  is Ginny Riley, a very talented graduate student at BU film school. She's going to use this video for her thesis. She's great to work with and I think you're all going to enjoy the finished product.

Stay tuned!

What's new? Wishful Intuition

 

Yes, that's the name of the tune, not a general statment of my natural optimism! 

"I think I'm in love, at least twice a day. Alone in the crowd, and dreaming this way". That's the first line of the second verse of my latest and it kind of sums up the mindset of the main character - just a guy with his eys on the prize(s) and a cockeyed optimism that ultimatly gets him what he wants.

The arrangement was done in a classic New Orleans style. I enlisted a talented array of players including Billy Novick on clarinet, Dave Harris on trombone and tuba and a rhythm section of Larry Luddecke on piano, Jesse Williams on bass and Zac Casher on drums. Kevin Belz will add a guitar part in another week or so.

The song is being recorded at Q Division in Somerville with Pat DiCenso at the board.  I'll be posting a rough mix as soon as we finish the recording; sometime by the end of the month.

My hope is that the song with sound like Hoagy Carmichael meets Fats Waller with Dr. John and Randy Newman thrown in for good measure(s). Let me know what you think when I get the rough mix out there.

 

 

 

Cleaning out the musical attic

 

A few thoughts while thinking about the passing of Davy Jones:

  • Valerie was an underrated Monkees tune. The guitar riff in the intro was impressive. I wonder if Mike Nesmith actually played or if it was done by some LA studio ace. Me and my grade school musician buddies were in awe.

 

  • My daughter Nina is into American Idol. I was watching a little with her and Steven Tyler actually started tearing up during a very mediocre a cappella performance by one of the contestants. I know getting older can make you sentimental and we're in the new sensitive-guy age but, come on Steven; you sing Walk This Way remember?

 

  • I think one of the criteria to being selected to play on Saturday Night Live is that you not rock.

 

  • Satellite has saved radio. Two of my favorite stations are Outlaw Country and Little Steven's Underground Garage. I can't get enough.

 

  • Speaking of Little Steven; has that guy had great second act or what?  First the Sopranos and then starting one of the great rock radio stations on the air today (and doing a fantastic job as a DJ) and lately starring in a TV show streaming on Netflix called Lillehammer which is excellent.

 

  • My three favorite stations to stream while I work are KJazz in Long Beach, WFUV in New York and the mighty WMBR in Cambridge.

 

  • John Funke who does the Backwoods show on WMBR Saturdays at 10:00 AM is the funniest guy on the dial.

 

  • Springsteen has written and performed some great songs: Adam Raised a Cain, It's Hard to be a Saint in the City and Tunnel of Love are a few of my favorites. But his political shtick has completely turned me off.

 

Oh well, signing off for now. Feel free to tell me how full of crap I am.

 

A little more on Little Loaded

 

I continue to get positive feedback on the CD. Just got a nice review in...

Little Loaded CD release show

 

Well, we got lucky and had a perfect fall evening on Sunday, November 13th for the CD release show at Sally OBriens. The band was rockin' and we had some special guests including the Twin Tenors; i.e. Paul Ahlstrand and Mario Perrett along with Rosy Rosenblatt blowing the great bluesy harp he's known for.

Thanks to everyone for coming out and supporting me and the Joint Venture Band. Also many thanks to John Galvin and his DIFI video crew for doing the live webcast which was available for streaming on the night of the show.  I'm in the process of working with John to edit the evening and it will be available for viewing on my home page within a couple of weeks.

The songs are getting some airplay nationally on Live 365 Internet radio on several stations. I'll also be promoting it to a couple of hundred college radio stations after the first of the year. Brian Owens at Metronome gave the CD a nice review in the most recent edition. That's available for viewing on the Press section of the site.

 

Little Loaded

 

No, this isn't a status update, although I did have some really nice wine with dinner; love that Petit Shiraz!

Anyway, the latest 2 song CD entitled Little Loaded is now available everywhere. I just checked and it's for sale on Amazon Japan, and no, it's not listed as Rittle Roaded, that would be so wrong!

You might ask, "Jerry, why only two songs?". Well sunshine, it's because:

A. It's easier to market that way - I can target it more specifically to the stations and media that like that style of tune; in this case country/rock (I guess, it's hard to figure sometimes)

B. It took a while to get these tunes sounding just right and I didn't feel like waiting another year or so to release an album with more tunes

There, you happy now?

So, I'm heavy into promoting and getting it out there to media and radio. Just checked tonight and saw that the Pipeline Show on WMBR in Boston played it on Tuesday night. (Many thanks to DJ Jeff Breeze! That's a great name isn't it? Lots of possibilities there).

Also, I'll be premiering the tunes at a CD release party at Sally O Briens in Somerville on Sunday, November 13th at 8:00 PM. I'll have a fantastic band including Larry Luddecke, Anthony Vitti, Marty Richards and Tony Sarno along with some special guests coming by. We might be filming and doing a live webcast so it should be a real party, not just something that's called a party to make it sound like a party.

It would mean alot to me to have you and all your friends and family there. More details to come!

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