Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Book Review: Beat Me Til I'm Famous by Billy McCarthy




If you’ve read Motley Crue’s The Dirt or seen the Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, you probably have a good idea what it was like to be in a hair metal band in L.A. in the late ‘80s.

But you didn’t learn about the day to day drudgery, desperation and infighting that the struggle for a record contract entailed.

Billy McCarthy’s Beat Me Til I’m Famous follows the career of a third-tier (or fourth-tier, depending on your criteria) hair metal band called D’Molls. McCarthy was the band’s drummer, and he went by the name Billy Dior. The book offers a blow by blow description of what it was like to be in a hometown band (or bands), and finagle your way out of the Midwest to make in big in mid/late 1980s L.A.

McCarthy joined the D’Molls in the mid-'80s in Chicago, and they soon moved to L.A. to vie for a recording contract with hundreds of other bands. By the time they signed to Atlantic Records, the public’s appetite for guys with big hair and makeup who sang about sluts was fading. And, of course, there were the usual management and record company screw-ups that added to the band's bad fortune.


The side characters in Beat Me Til I’m Famous are often as interesting as the main players. There’s Rodney’ Dangerfield’s songwriter son, Brian, various shady record company people, managers, groupies, professional rock star girlfriends, sneaky, cutthroat band members, drug dealers, and pushy hangers-on. In fame-hungry Hollywood, there was always someone willing to give a band money and a place to crash, and hope to get a piece of the action if the band made it.

Beat Me Til I’m Famous captures the sleazy minutiae of the hair metal era with an intelligence and self-awareness you wouldn’t expect to find from someone in that scene. 

In 2011, McCarthy sued Poison over authorship of "Talk Dirty to Me" and some other songs. The D’Molls Wiki entry says the lawsuit was settled with McCarthy receiving an “undeclared sum”, but this is the only mention I’ve found online about any settlement. (McCarthy played in a band called Screamin’ Mimis with C.C. Deville in 1984.)

Buy Beat Me Til I'm Famous on Amazon.com


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Book Review: Surviving Agent Orange: And Other Things I Learned From Being Thrown Under the Partridge Family Bus By Gretchen Bonaduce





Surviving Agent Orange: And Other Things I Learned From Being Thrown Under the Partridge Family Bus
by Gretchen Bonaduce
Rare Bird Books,  264 pages


Most people recognize Gretchen Bonaduce from the reality series “Breaking Bonaduce” with her ex-husband, ex-child star, and current DJ Danny Bonaduce. Her new book, Surviving Agent Orange: And Other Things I Learned From Being Thrown Under the Partridge Family Bus summarizes the good, the bad and the ugly from her 16 year long marriage to the erratic redhead.

Gretchen met Danny when she was a promotions assistant for one of the guests on his radio show in Phoenix. A day (or so) later, they were married in a civil ceremony. They toasted their new life together with champagne from a local 7-11.

 Shortly after the wedding, Danny managed to encounter and assault a tranny prostitute.  Well, Gretchen stayed with Danny even after this snafu. It didn’t take long, however, before Danny’s crack addiction became evident (Pieces of aluminum foil started appearing around the house, for example). And we all know the trail of shenanigans that followed until the couple divorced in 2007.

Why did Gretchen stick with Danny so long? (Remember, he was always an on-again, off-again pain in the ass with everyone.) Gretchen admits that she always seemed to attract men who were fixer-uppers, and Danny was the most challenging fixer-upper of all. 

 A few people I know refused to read this book because it has a suspicious subtitle  “And Other Things I Learned From Being Thrown Under the Partridge Family Bus”,  but would anyone read the book if  it had a boring title like” My Life with Danny Partridge?”

 The author’s self-deprecating humor and earthy take on life can be refreshing. She writes about a TV director critiqued her acting ability by saying “That was the most unnatural walking through the door I’ve ever seen.”

 There are bits in the book about Gretchen’s pre and post Danny life, and some of them are pretty funny, too. She had a stint as a bar band singer and worked a day job at a Pizza Hut between gigs. There’s also a heartbreaking bit about an ex-roommate whose life spiraled out of control, and a section about Gretchen’s early life as an Army Brat.     

It’s been almost a decade since the chaos of Breaking Bonaduce and the divorce, and both Danny and Gretchen are doing pretty well.  Danny has remarried and has a radio show in Seattle. Gretchen is the singer for a 1980s cover band, Fatal 80s, and has worked on several reality TV shows and pilots.

Bonaduce’s writing style is stream of consciousness, like conversing with a friend who has lots of funny stories and can’t wait to tell you all of them. The book doesn’t have a straightforward chronological framework and skips around occasionally. Some readers may find this casual style disconcerting.   

Another reality show star, former “Top Model” Adrianne Curry wrote the introduction.  She refers to Gretchen as the “Mother Teresa of Hollywood” and credits her with helping her through her divorce from her first husband, Brady Bunch actor Christopher Knight. (Curry left showbiz and now lives in Montana with her second husband, voiceover artist Matthew Rhode.)

Despite the sub-title, Surviving Agent Orange is no hatchet job. It’s pretty even-keeled, and alternates between complimenting Danny’s good points and exposing his devious side. Danny often credited Gretchen with putting him on the road to redemption, both on-air and in his 2001 autobiography,  Random Acts of Badness.

For its honesty and humor,  Surviving Agent Orange: is a fun read for anyone who is curious about Danny Bonaduce, the Partridge Family, wacky B-list celebrities, or any dispatches from the outer edge of pop culture .

Buy the book here.



Sunday, August 19, 2018

Why Do So Many People Hate the Eagles?




Some of the most hated rock groups of all time are also the most loved. People can’t hate you unless they know you, and they’re not gonna know you unless you’re successful. Look at that modern-day phenomenon, Nickelback. Many people who have never heard Nickelback’s music know that they are the most hated band of the 21st Century.

Even after Glenn Frey passed away, many writers couldn’t help but lambaste the Eagles as the most hated successful band of the 20th Century.

Yacht Rock is hip now,so how can Eagles music be “horrific”, as a NY Daily News article described it after Frey’s death? “Hotel California” is more horrific as compared to what, “Feelings” or “Afternoon Delight”, two other songs that shared the chart with Eagles hits in the mid-70s ?

People hate the Eagles because:

  • Songs are overplayed
  • An unlikable duo helmed the band (Henley and Frey)
  • Songs are too wimpy
  • It’s hip to hate them, gives you street cred
  • Lebowski hated them 
The popularity of the “The Big Lebowski” was the deal-breaker that turned the public reaction to the band from, “They’re OK,” or “Meh” to “I hate the Eagles, man.”

But a lot of music fans aren’t quite as cynical. Marc Eliot’s beautifully written article about Glenn Frey’s passing reminds us that youth has long gone for fans who liked the band and their music in the ‘70s. ( Read Eliot's book "To The Limit: The Untold Story of the Eagles" for an in-depth look at the band.)

YouTube commenters tend to come up with the most poignant assessments, though, as Baby Boomers move closer to that Great Gig in the Sky.

“Makes a grown man cry... Everyone is so happy. Everyone in the building is young, in their prime, and full of life. I wish every day could be half as perfect as these moments.”



Imagine the World Before Sirius, the Internet, MTV or Walkmans!

I can’t listen to the ballads, because like everyone else, I heard them too many times in the ‘70s. Even though I haven’t heard some of the songs for decades, I still get out of earshot when I hear one start to play. Everybody bought Eagles records in the ‘70s, which meant your irritating, non-musical classmates and co-workers, including the squarest of the square, counted the Greatest Hits 71-75 among their albums.

I bought the single “The Best of My Love” in high school, but I listened to the flipside, “Ole 55” instead.



Despite being crazy about bands as a teen, my friends and I never got into the Eagles that way. We didn’t care about their personalities, looks, etc., just the music. I studied the Hotel California gatefold sleeve with my friend Mary, (before we made fun of my John Travolta album and after I proudly introduced her to the Runaways’ first album).  We did like Joe Walsh, however. He was the only animated person in the band, and we appreciated his sense of humor and hotel-trashing skills.

I was particularly intrigued by the lyrics to “Life in the Fast Lane” and wrote a novel based on it in my senior year of high school. Thankfully, the only manuscript I had is long gone now, but it would have fit right in with the exploitation flick craze of the 70s/early 80s.

You think “Take It Easy” is overplayed on classic rock radio now? Ha! Were you even alive in 1972? I was. The summer between sixth and seventh grade holds many fond memories for me.  I identify it with that transitional period in my life, so I like the song, no matter how many times I hear it. (The song reached #12 on the Billboard  Top 100 in July 22, 1972.) The Eagles songs were popular when I was in junior high and high school, and their music just happened to be everywhere.

However, Eagles songs don’t rate that high on the list of the offensively overplayed. “Take It Easy” is number 19 on this list. The worst offenders, to my ears, are “Black Water,” “Old Time Rock n Roll”, “Stairway to Heaven”, and “Don’t Stop Believing”. Enough already!




  On my Bucket List: A trip to Standin’ on the Corner Park

In the ‘90s, I watched the Hell Freezes Over tour on MTV. I was more interested in hearing the Henley solo songs, but I did watch the whole concert. I didn’t know, however, that the band included original material on the Hell Freezes Over album. I also had no idea the Eagles released an album in 2007 – sold exclusively at Walmart!  


Eagles Songs I Listen to On Purpose

Rock and Rock-ish

Witchy Woman
Outlaw Man
Already Gone
James Dean
Victim of Love
King of Hollywood
Too Many Hands
Those Shoes

Ballads

The Last Resort
King of Hollywood
Try and Love Again

Country-esque

Doolin Dalton
Seven Bridges Road

 If You Never Heard It before, You’d Like It

Hotel California
Life in the Fast lane
Take It Easy
I Can’t Tell You Why
Take It to the Limit
Tequila Sunrise
Desperado

With all the emphasis radio and mainstream media place on just a handful of songs, it’s probably been years since you’ve heard “Outlaw Man” or “James Dean” and maybe decades since you’ve heard “Too Many Hands”.  

“Witchy Woman” hit #9 on the charts in November 1972, and it was played almost as much as “Take It Easy”. It had that sinister vibe which was intriguing to a junior high girl. It’s the closest the band had to a sexy song. Ugh! I said Eagles and sexy in the same sentence.

Waiting for Randy Meisner to hit that high note on “Take It to The Limit” or Timothy B. Schmidt on “I Can’t Tell You Why” is a lot more pleasant than listening to “Best of My Love”  yet again. 

Also, “Desperado”, later covered by Linda Ronstadt, is dismissed as country rock tripe by idiots who don’t listen to the lyrics.

$$$$$$$$

I read Don Felder’s book, and he comes off as a really thoughtful guy. Of course, he seemed too nice and a bit of a push-over in some situations (well, that is until he sued them), but when you’re up against Azoff/Henley/Frey, you don’t have much bargaining power. One non-lawsuit subplot in the book involves a male stalker and is a reminder that weird, overzealous fans can make life hell for even less-conspicuous celebrities. 

The facts, as laid out in Felder’s book, state that the band had an agreement in the early days wherein monies would be split between the members equally.  Of course, then things changed, as Henley remarked in the History of the Eagles. The fact that there was a pesky legal document in the way was a minor inconvenience, and Azoff took care of it, with only Felder putting up a fight. 

This brings to mind the same situation that occurred when Van Halen cut Michael Anthony out of their original agreement. Once the band reached a certain point, the main songwriters figured they should get a bigger slice of the pie, regardless of any agreements made at the beginning of the band’s career.

The Eagles’ business choices may not endear them to many people, though. Here’s an entertaining bit from Letterman, where Dave wants to play an Eagles song but the show can’t afford it.



As I look back, I’ve always been more interested in “New York Minute” and other Henley solo songs than Eagles songs because of the lyrics. Yes, the lyrics are more mainstream than New York intellectual, but more haunting because of their simplicity. “Sunset Grill”, “Boys of Summer”, “I Will Not Go Quietly” are undisputedly well-crafted and poignant. I wore out my cassette of The End of the Innocence in ’89 and ’90.

I managed to make it all the way through a Youtube video of Billy Joel interviewing Henley at the 92nd Street Y. A few minutes in, I thought, “Ya know, Henley has so much Virgo in his chart, it’ll make your head swim." I checked his horoscope and yes, his Ascendant and Moon are in Virgo and he has three planets in moody Cancer.  Frey had his Sun in Scorpio (like you couldn’t tell from his facial features) and Moon in Capricorn. That’s a match made in hell if you’re on the wrong side of the twosome. And I don’t even want to know Azoff’s chart.

Henley made a comment about seeing a Lawrence Welk concert as a kid. He said he saw Welk backstage with two groupies – nuns. His delivery and expression were so deadpan it took me awhile before I realized it was a joke. It’s hard to tell with those Virgos. Roger Waters is another classic rock Virgo (Sun sign and Venus) who is not known for his rollicking sense of humor.

The Eagles in 2018 consist of Henley, Walsh, Timothy B. Schmidt, Travis Tritt and Frey’s son, Deacon. 

The band (such as they are) will be playing three nights at the Forum in September. Ticket prices range from $59 for nosebleed seats to $700 for main floor, according to a recent look at Ticketmaster and StubHub.


Verdict: No, the Eagles aren’t horrific. Bland maybe, when compared with some of their overplayed contemporaries. (Which group has more interesting songs/personalities, Fleetwood Mac or the Eagles?) Try listening to one of their lesser known songs if you can’t stand the overplayed ones. Don’t be afraid. You won’t lose your coolness factor by listening to a few Eagles songs.








Sunday, May 06, 2018

The LOOP, Disco Demolition, and the Wild Days of Chicago Rock Radio


Jonathon Brandmeier, Kevin Matthews, Steve Dahl & Garry Meier, mid-1980s  

I finally watched the Twisted Sister documentary on Netflix a few weeks ago. I’d been avoiding it for awhile, but figured, “Well, I’ve watched every other rock doc, I’ll give this one a try.” The doc was almost three hours long, and it covered the band’s slow climb to MTV fame.

Twisted Sister’s tale of slogging it out on the Long Island club scene in the ‘70s was more interesting than you’d expect. The tackiest part of a pretty tacky story involved scenes about the band’s onstage anti-disco tirades.

I was shocked at how vicious the Long Island anti-disco movement was, or that they even had such a movement in the first place. After all, I grew up in Chicago, where the most infamous anti-disco event of all took place, and I was there.

Disco Demolition

The stoner, Dazed and Confused ethos of my college days was accompanied by non-stop music, visits to Rose Records and Wax Trax, and wacky DJs. The soundtrack to my first year in college was provided by WLUP, and to a lesser extent by the other rock stations in town, WXRT, WLS and WMET.

Known more commonly as the Loop, WLUP was the home of Steve Dahl and Garry Meier. Steve and Garry were the dynamic, shock-rock duo that gained infamy – and a rowdy audience of teens and 20somethings - in Chicago and environs in 1979 and throughout the 1980s. 


Their biggest bit was an anti-disco spiel, which involved blowing up disco records via sound effects on their radio show. They brought their anti-disco message to listeners in person at public appearances, and more fans showed up than the venues and the station expected. The biggest anti-disco rally of them took place at the old White Sox Park (Comiskey Park) in 1979. 

 I thought that blowing up disco records was a comedy bit. I didn’t think it was a pop culture revolution. (Apparently, other people did.) My friends and I loved Steve and Garry and the Loop, so we penciled in the night of July 12, 1979 for a visit to Disco Demolition Night at Sox Park.

I owned lots of disco records, and I had a hard time deciding which record should be blown up. I wasn’t going to part with my “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You, Baby”, and certainly not the Blondie ten-inch disco version of “Heart of Glass”. I finally decided on the single of Peter Brown’s, “Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me?”
 
We traveled from my friend’s parent’s house near Midway Airport to Sox Park. As it turned out, we were part of a contingent of what seemed like thousands of kids swarming the city buses headed to White Sox Park. They all wore the same uniform- a black Loop T- shirt, jeans and sneakers. (A jeans jacket was optional if it got chilly.)

I wore the same uniform as the other kids, but I carried an additional item with me- a copy of Newsweek, in case I got bored during the first game of the Twi-Night double-header.

A sea of kids descended from city buses and stormed Sox Park in droves. It was like the Day, or rather, the Twi-Night, of the Locust, right there at 35th and Shields. When we got out of our bus, we saw kids scaling the side of the stadium like some kind of artificial mountain.

I don’t even remember if the ticket takers were bothering to collect the 98 cents (WLUP’s frequency was 97.9) entrance fee by the time we got there. I remember throwing my record into a bin. I felt sad about that, and looking in, I could see a copy of Saturday Night Fever.  It looked brand-new, like someone had specifically bought it to be “blowed up.” That, of course, would have actually helped disco’s bottom line.



The stands were full of kids drinking beer, smoking pot and flinging disco records like Frisbees. We sat down in the grandstand, passed around a joint and a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps, and watched the craziness around us.  

My friend Kathy and I escaped the vinyl Frisbees for awhile by hanging out on the ramps between levels. When she told me Minnie Ripperton had died (that’s Maya Rudolph’s Mom, for you youngsters out there), I almost fell off the ramp railing I was so shocked. (She died on the same day, July 12).

When we returned, a young married couple sitting in front of us, who had obviously come to see the game with their kids, couldn’t take it anymore and left. They shielded their bewildered children from the flying records as they walked to the exit.  I wonder if they asked for a refund.  I’d be mad if I were in their position.

Finally the first game ended, and Steve, Garry and Lorelei, the station's sexy spokeswoman, took the field.  It was great to finally see the guys we had listened to on the radio for the last few months get their due. The between game record blow-up was louder and more intense than I expected. I  didn't expect them to literally blow up the records, but they did, right there in center field.

I sat next to an Indian engineering student from my friend’s dorm. We spent most of the first game talking about a Newsweek article I was reading about how the world was going to hell in a handbasket. The moment the interlopers stormed the field, right on cue, the kid said “Now, see, this is what I was just talking about.” 

People said it was a riot, but it looked like a bunch of kids standing on a baseball field not quite knowing what to do. Some kids turned over the batting cage and started a small bonfire. That was the riot part, I guess. Future celebrities Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) and Michael Clarke Duncan (Green Mile) were in attendance, though not necessarily on the field. White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray couldn’t get the kids to disperse, and then the cops cleared the field.

Most of the barbs on the radio and from the kids I knew were directed at John Travolta and the BeeGees, white upper middle class guys at North Side discos, rich celebrities at Studio 54, disco records by Cher, Rod Stewart, Charo and Ethel Merman, and the radio programmers and management types who catered to the trend. Anybody who made disco records was a target. If the Village People or Donna Summer made hard rock records instead of disco records, I doubt the kids or DJs would have complained.

Kids hated the music for two intertwined reasons – it wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll, and it was taking over the culture. Funny thing is, what we would call disco music was around in the mid-70s. "Disco Duck", "The Hustle", hits by the Hues Corporation, George McRae, Barry White, Shirley and Company, Thelma Houston and Donna Summer’s "Love to Love You Baby" constantly saturated the airwaves then, and no one complained about the music. (Well, except for “Disco Duck.”) The anti-disco movement didn’t start until Saturday Night Fever become a hit.

And, of course, the anti-disco movement didn't kill dance music. It just helped repurpose it in a better way as house, techno, trance, etc. by putting an end to the mainstream "blanding and corporatization" of disco.


I woke up on the floor of my friend’s dorm room the next morning, hungover, and heard Steve and Garry on the radio. “You were bad little Cohos,”, Steve  gleefully admonished. (The anti-disco army was called the "Insane Coho Lips".)  We listened to as much of the show as we could, guzzled coffee, and headed for class.  When we got home, we had to explain to our parents, grandparents and siblings that we did not go on the field and were not wooed into a vortex of juvenile delinquency, never to return.

The Rest of the Loop

There was much more to WLUP than Disco Demolition. To me, that was probably the least interesting aspect of the station’s heyday.

It was 24/7 wall to wall hilarity, with Steve and Garry, Les Tracy, Mitch Michaels, Sky Daniels, and Patti Haze. And, of course, Joe Walsh subbing for Steve and Garry when they were on vacation.

I teared up hearing this sound bite for the first time in close to 40 years. “Get jaked and blow lunch tonight.” Good times.


The station even had a Loopfest (not to be confused with Chicagofest) in the early 1980s.  One year they had the biker band The Boyzz from Illinois introduced by Ma Nugent (Ted’s Mom), but the event also featured local bands Pezband, the Hounds and Tantrum.   

And I somehow missed this comic book, released in 1980, which featured the Loop DJs in nonsensical adventures.

Steve & Garry’s newscaster Buzz Kilman did the Blues News - Buzz played harmonica as Steve read "down on their luck" news stories. (Buzz would later become Johnny B’s newsman). Steve's musical parodies included “Heal Me”, a parody of Blondie’s “Call Me”, which addressed the underhanded shenanigans of preacher Ernest Angley and his “faith healings” and “Another Kid in the Crawl”, about serial killer John Wayne Gacy, set to the music of “Another Brick in Wall.” (For obvious reasons, this parody was quickly shelved.)

Stan Lawrence did the All My Children report; there were traffic reports from “Tyrone”, complete with helicopter sound effects. Steve and Garry lambasted old-school Chicago radio heroes like Wally Philips and Cliff Mercer, the WGN announcer. Most of the bits were silly and harmless. However, Steve and Garry’s calls to Iran would result in an international incident or possibly World War III today. Eventually, Steve and Garry were fired for “violating community standards.” They then went to WLS and continued their affront to decency.

The great thing about the Loop in those days is that they played all types of bands - AC/DC, Van Halen, Graham Parker, Ian Hunter,  Pat Benatar, Tom Petty, The Police, Cheap Trick, Journey, The Stones, and local bands like Off-Broadway and Pezband. I even remember hearing an interview with Annie Lennox when she was in band called the Tourists.

 It was a mix of rock music, regardless of genre. The other rock stations in town did the same. We’d listen to WLS, WMET, and WXRT, too. (If you wanted the greatest mix of genres, that was up the dial at WXRT. They played Kate Bush, the Raincoats, obscure prog rock and even some jazz.)

I taped an interview one of WXRT’s jocks did with REO Speedwagon in 1978, so there was a lot of musical crossover between genres and stations. It was hard to keep track of what you heard and where sometimes. This was a time where you didn’t have to choose your party and stick with it, forsaking all others.


The Loop, Part 2 – Late 1980s/1990s

In 1983, I left for Los Angeles. Friends would occasionally send me cassettes of shows, but the Loop was always there when I came back home. By the time I returned in 1987, things got wackier, and less subversive.

The hyperactive Jonathon Brandmeier was the new wacky radio guy now. Brandmeier’s humor was more frat boy than current events. I remember him commenting on a news story about a new exhibit at the Art Institute saying he didn’t understand that “art crap.”

A recurring bit on Johnny B’s show involved sidekick/show producer Jimmy "Bud" Weiser trying to locate visiting celebrities checked into hotels under aliases. Johnny’s band, Johnny and Leisure Suits, had local hits with “We’re All Crazy in Chicago” and “The Moo-Moo Song” inspired by a guy who romanced a cow at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Kevin Matthews (who I thought was the most talented of them all), did a whole slew of character voices and celebrity imitations. Pee Wee Herman did the traffic, and there were rock lyrics with Ronnie Reagan.

Matthews voiced the sportscaster character/sidekick Jim Shorts, a foul-mouthed know-it-all with no self-editing abilities. This surly character wouldn’t work in any other city but Chicago (and parts of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana).


(Most people would wrinkle their noses at this and dismiss it as infantile. I’m looking for more episodes.)

The last go round for the crazy, personality-oriented LOOP was in the mid-1990s .Danny Bonaduce, Brandmeier, Kevin Matthews and Liz Wilde were the weekday DJs, and porno star Seka had a show on the weekends.



The gags weren’t mean-spirited like Howard Stern's, but they were silly and annoying. When Kevin Matthews or Brandmeier made prank phone calls, you could almost hear the person on the other end going, “What the hell was that?” after hanging up the phone.


I made a pit stop back to Chicago just in time for the 1994 charity boxing match between Donny Osmond and Danny Bonaduce. (Danny won.) Also, I got to hear the DJs do a play by play of the OJ slow-speed Bronco chase. Between that and the Howard Stern regular Captain Janks’ prank call to Peter Jennings, the commentary was like the pre-internet version of memes and social media, and could turn anything, even a tragedy, into a circus.   


In 1992, Eddie Schwartz joined the WLUP staff. (You’re setting yourself up for problems when you’re on the same station as a guy who makes fun of you.)



When I was about 12, I first listened to Eddie Schwartz when he did overnights on WIND. I had no idea what he looked like.  I was sitting in one of my college radio classes waiting for the teacher, when he walked in as our guest instructor for the day. To say he was larger than life is an understatement. He was morbidly obese, and weighed maybe 500-600 pounds. He had the class in stitches, telling a crude story or two and swearing a lot, in contrast to his nice guy radio persona. RIP Big Guy.

In the mid-2000s, terrestrial radio faded away, as podcasts and  internet radio took over. I found the Loop online, only to discover Mancow was the star DJ. I couldn’t stand the guy when he started on another Chicago station, WRCX-FM, in the early ‘90s. The station’s only other claim to fame was their sexy calendar girls, like a Lorelei for every month of the year. Otherwise, it was classic rock as usual.  

By the time the Loop was purchased by a Christian broadcasting company in March, the irreverent DJs of the ‘70s-‘90s were working at other stations or no where to be found. (Steve and Garry broke up in the mid-90s. Steve currently occupies the drive time slot at WLS-AM.)   

The Loop lives on the internet without all the fanfare and comedy, and you can still buy the Loop logo T-shirt.  In keeping with the spirit of the original Loop, the last song played before the station’s segue into Christian pop was “Highway to Hell.”

Today’s youthful comedy podcasts are more sophisticated and user-friendly, and music is optional. Yes, the radio we grew up with was cheeky and juvenile, but boy, did we have fun.

Read more about Disco Demolition in Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Documentary Review: The Terry Kath Experience



The Terry Kath Experience
Documentary
Directed by Michelle Kath Sinclair


When I mention the band Chicago, what do you think of? Syrupy love songs of the ‘80s and ‘90s and endless tours of the nostalgia circuit? That’s the recent and quasi-recent past, but that’s not the Chicago I remember.

The jazz-rock hippies of my childhood released double albums with songs in odd time signatures, with a prominent horn section and 12-minute songs based on classical music song cycles. And their original guitarist, Terry Kath, was deemed to be better than Jimi Hendrix by none other than….Jimi Hendrix. Unless you’re a musician or a longtime Chicago fan, you may not have heard of Terry Kath. He died in a freak accident in January 1978 when he was cleaning out one of his handguns.



The Terry Kath Experience, a documentary directed by Kath’s daughter, Michelle Kath Sinclair, retraces her Dad’s life via interviews with his friends, relatives, bandmates and fellow musicians. She was only two years old when he died and has little recollection of him. She produced the documentary through Kickstarter donations after traditional funding fell through due to the usual complaint - “limited appeal.”  

A daughter interviewing friends of the Dad she never knew gives the film an emotional appeal most other documentaries lack. (Of course, there are a few documentaries where an unrelated filmmaker interjects himself or herself into the subject’s life during the course of filming.) Even Peter Cetera showed up for this one. (He declined to be interviewed for the Netflix Chicago documentary.) There’s a clip of Kiefer Sutherland, Sinclair’s stepfather, at her wedding, recalling the day Kath died. 

There’s lots of archival footage - notes Kath was taking for his solo album, family photos and home movies, a concert filmed at Caribou Ranch and New Years Rockin’ Eve with the Beach Boys (both Dick Clark Productions).

In addition to her father’s bandmates in Chicago, Sinclair interviews all the usual suspects (Jeff Lynne, Joe Walsh, Mike Campbell, etc.) She also talks to a Chicago high school student who recreated Kath’s famous Fender Telecaster guitar after studying articles about the instrument in old guitar magazines. (Yes, there’s hope for the youth of today.)

Chicago at Caribou Ranch


The band’s first manager, James Guerico, bought Caribou Ranch, a recording studio/playground in Colorado for the band, and put them in Electra Glide in Blue, a movie he financed. But he also performed that obligatory rock manager move - cheating the band out of money. Like Cetera, he passed on the Chicago documentary, but grants Sinclair an interview

The documentary film crew pays a visit to the ranch on the day it’s slated for demolition. Camelia Kath recalls some of the memories in between the wood paneled walls. (The chivalrous way he wooed Camelia, whom he married in 1974, is endearing.)

A short interview clip reveals Kath wasn’t a connoisseur of groupies like many ‘70s rockers. Unfortunately, Kath did enjoy cocaine, another ‘70s vice, a bit too much, and that contributed to his early death.

The Chicago documentary Now More Than Ever (currently on Netflix) will fill you on the 40 years since Kath died. The band documentary also covers much of the same material in The Terry Kath Experience in more detail and with more era-appropriate drug and Playboy Bunny references.

Terry's famous Fender Telecaster


Sax player Walter Parazaider recalls Jimi tell him one night at the Whisky “Your guitar player is better than me.” (Probably the inspiration for the title The Terry Kath Experience.) The band’s keyboardist, Robert Lamm, among others, have said that Kath’s singing voice was that of a white Ray Charles. Those comments may sound over-the-top if you aren’t familiar with early Chicago. “Wait - this guy played guitar better than Jimi Hendrix and he sang like a white Ray Charles?” Here’s some supporting evidence.

25 or Six to Four (OMG Did they ever play this song on the radio ALL THE TIME)

After not hearing the song for years, you really appreciate it in all its glory.
If you doubt the accuracy of the statements about Kath’s guitar playing, this solo may convince you otherwise. 



Make Me Smile 




Question 67 and 68


Cetera lip syncs to a recording in this clip. Check the comments section for Danny Seraphine’s memories of the filming and a great revelation from one viewer – “Whoa! Who’s that on guitar? I thought Chicago was weak-ass Dad music. That dude’s an animal.”



Little One (written for his daughter, it was the last song Kath ever sang with Chicago)


“Wishin’ You Were Here” (not to be confused with Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”), and “Color My World” were other omnipresent songs in the early to mid ‘70s. There was no relief from Chicago ballads when I was in high school. Some kid played the intro to “Color My World” on the piano in the gym every damn day at the same time. Even the teachers complained, “Learn another song!!”

Listen to any pre-1979 Chicago album, especially Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago II, for more Terry Kath-era Chicago.

Michelle Kath Sinclair at  her father's alma mater, Taft High School in Chicago 


Friday, November 10, 2017

10 of the Best Tom Petty Deep Cuts





I never cried when a celebrity died before. Usually, I’d be shocked for a few minutes or there’d be a delayed response where the grief would come days or weeks later. With someone I’m not that familiar with, it’s merely a comment like, “Well, there’s another one gone.”

But when I heard Tom Petty was in cardiac arrest, the tears flowed immediately.

There were tributes saying the same thing - losing him seemed so personal to so many, even people who weren’t big fans. He seemed like a regular guy; someone you could have a few beers with at the local bar. He wasn’t flashy, involved in scandals, TMZ.com headlines or publicity stunts; he made music. That’s what he did.

Despite his superstardom as an individual, Tom kept his original band intact through the years. Only one original member left for good after 20 years (drummer Stan Lynch, who was replaced by Steve Ferrone). Bass player Ron Blair left in 1981 (to open a surf shop!) only to return in 2002. (Blair replaced Howie Epstein after Howie O.D’ed.) 

Petty and guitar player Mike Campbell got along for over 40 years! Imagine that, a singer and guitar player working together that long without recurring fistfights.

I first discovered the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers by reading a truncated review of their first album in Hit Parader. I keyed on the word Heartbreakers in the review section, mistakenly thinking the review was about Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers.

“That’s not the Heartbreakers!” I exclaimed after looking at the band photo. The critic,who seemed to be from the New York punk crowd, insulted the band's looks. The review told me nothing about the band or its music, except that they were from Gainsville, FL.

 A few weeks later I heard “American Girl” and lesser-known cuts from the debut album,  probably on WXRT, a local free-form station that routinely played all kinds of new releases. I instantly fell in love with the sound.

Some of my fondest memories of Tom were formed before most people had ever heard of him. I keep going back to these two concerts – Winterland and Santa Monica, New Years Eve, 1978 and reliving the soundtrack to my junior and senior years of high school.

Compiling a top 10 list of Petty songs, underrated or otherwise, is an arduous task. I could have added 20 more, but I’m sticking with this list – and a few bonus tracks. 

10. American Dream Plan B– Hypnotic Eye

The last TPHB album, Hypnotic Eye, released in 2014, melded the straightforward garage rock of the first two albums with the wisdom of age. It covered a lot of ground subject-wise, from religion to the deflating American dream. The crunchy, badass “American Dream Plan B” may just be one of the fiercest songs Tom’s ever written, and the band just wails on this.


9. Something Good Coming - Mojo

Unless you’re a completist, you probably don’t know a lot about Petty’s post-2000 albums. With the advent of the new millennium, the music industry didn’t just change – it pretty much ceased to exist as we knew it. 2002’s The Last DJ indicted music industry for its greed and corruption. This was different than the legal wrangling that surrounded Hard Promises and DTT. No one else really cared about fixing the music business anymore. There wasn’t much of an industry left to preserve.

The blues rock of 2010’s Mojo doesn’t rehash old blues tunes, but proves that you can write brand-new blues with the spirit of the originals. Some are convincing as new songs and others are predominantly a showcase for the band without much of a framework. There’s plenty to groove to here, but my favorite is a slower song “Something Good Coming” with its message of hope.


8. The Damage You’ve Done – Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough

No one escaped the neon malaise of the late 1980s, not even Tom. Yes, the TP and the Heartbreakers toured with Dylan, but they still had time to record the underrated Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough. The songwriting and playing remained natural, there were no swirly synthesizer-heavy songs or any other missteps into trends. Tom would never fall for that, but this album still stalled at #20 on the Billboard 100.

Perhaps the only song from this album most people recognize, “You’re Jammin Me” wasn’t included on the first Greatest Hits package. The video for it is a primer in early computer graphics editing.

My favorite, though, is “The Damage You’ve Done”, a vitriolic sentiment set to a breathless rock beat. It was passed over as a secondary single in favor of “Runaway Trains”.  


Bonus: For some silly end of ‘80s video hijinx, check out this clip from the VHS compilation “A Bunch of Videos and Some Other Stuff”.  Hilarity ensues when clips of golf lessons by a Paraguayan golf pro pop up on the band’s video compilation. And Stan chops up the ‘ole drum machine .

7. Magnolia – You’re Gonna Get It


If you were a teenage girl in 1978, there was an unwritten rule that upon first seeing a band on their album cover, you had to choose the guy you thought was cute. The front cover of "You're Gonna Get It", the Heartbreakers' second album, made it hard to decide who was the cutest. To our young eyes, the Heartbreakers were all hot (or were we still using the term foxy back then?), but the songs kept us interested long after we moved on to new rock star crushes. 

Magnolia concerns subject matter that would be addressed with more authority on Even the Losers, but this tale of unrequited love was still bittersweet in its own right. I wanted to include either this or Luna from the debut album on the Top 10. “Luna” was more poetic, (Black and yellow pools of light /Outside my window/ Luna come to me tonight/ I am a prisoner /Luna glide down from the moon),  but since “You’re Gonna Get It” was the first TPHB album I bought, I’ll go with Magnolia .



6. Fooled Again- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers


Tom gets all snarly with the vocals here. I love it as much now as I did when I was 17.

Even though we had yet to see the extent of his talent (and the Heartbreakers as a unit), there was still something there, an earthiness you didn’t see from other bands touted as new-wave or power-pop at that time.

I also believe this mini-concert was filmed is after bass player Ron Blair, swallowed a block of hash to avoid getting hauled in at customs. See the documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream for details.




5. Wooden Heart – Playback

With and without the Heartbreakers, Petty performed dozens of covers. Most of them were the usual suspects – “Mona”, “Baby, Please Don’t Go”, “Gloria”, “Psychotic Reaction” (with Stan on vocals), but Tom’s tender rendition of “Wooden Heart”, the Elvis hit from GI Blues, is my favorite.

Bonus cut – from the aforementioned Winterland 1978 concert – Clarence Carter’s “Makin’ Love (at The Dark End of the Street)” It totally floored me to see this skinny white boy channel the blues with so much conviction.



4. Face in the Crowd –Full Moon Fever

One of his saddest songs, it has that twinge of longing for that something, which differs with every listen and to every listener. I vacillate between this and “Love is a Long Road” which is a rocker, but melancholy all he same.

When I first heard Full Moon Fever, I said to a friend, “Hey! Is Tom going through a bad divorce? Cause this album has a lot of depressing songs on it.” Well, actually, the divorce album was 1999’s Echo, which was more dirge-like.    


3. Honey Bee - Wildflowers

Raucous, bluesy hard rock blasts out on SNL with Dave Grohl as guest drummer. With all the ballads and wistful songs Tom recorded in the ‘90s, it was good to hear an all-out rocker again. Note the amused look at Mike’s face as Dave launches into his drum histrionics.


2. Nightwatchman –Hard Promises

A few nights before Tom died I was noodling around on YouTube trying to find different live versions of Nightwatchman, a funky reggae number from Hard Promises I hadn’t heard in 30 years. I was overjoyed to hear it again.


1. Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid) - Damn the Torpedoes

Tom had a great way of writing about women. His lyrics were about real women in everyday situations, and always seemed to be written with reverence for the female involved. There were no signs of classic rock cliches like the conniving whore or untouchable goddess.  

“With that little bit of mystery, she's a complex kid, 
And she's always been so hard to live without.
Yeah, she always likes to leave me, with a shadow of a doubt."