Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Quick Blurb: Three Things I Learned From The New Gordon Lightfoot Documentary (Now on Prime)!

What did I NOT know about Gordon Lightfoot before I watched this documentary, "If You Could Read My Mind" (streaming now on Amazon Prime)?

- One of the great loves of his life was the same woman who, for lack of a better description, killed John Belushi.
- If he and Dylan were at the same party, which they were on more than one occasion, there would be some words between the two and then the guitars would come out.
- The breadth of artists who've covered his material over the years is stunning. I'm guessing that when Elvis does one of your songs, well, there might be a check or two coming your way. If Lightfoot still owns his songwriting share of the publishing (there was no mention to the contrary in the film), he should have more money than Jeff Bezos.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Only Thing My Dad & I Ever Agreed On: Rick Nielsen And Cheap Trick!

As Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen turns 72 today, I am once again given opportunity to praise Mr. Nielsen for his contributions to popular music, yes, but also to world peace. You see, growing up in the Robbins household, I found myself at constant loggerheads with my dad.

In many ways we were much the same (we both played drums and dug garage rock), but on the few key issues where it really mattered to my pops (pitching in with chores, getting decent grades, arriving home before curfew), I just could not make it happen for him and that was a great source of strain in our relationship.

In hindsight, I could and should have paid more attention to such things, but, then again, that would have just made me him and not I would later go on to become the guy who released an album called Rules Get Broken.

I could never get it through his thick head that I wasn't showing disrespect for his authority, I was shirking ALL authority. Trust me, as curfew time approached, I asked myself "Do I stay here on this boat in the middle of this lake with my girlfriend and get in big trouble ORRRRRRRRRRR do I go home now and avoid all confrontation?" and, wouldn't you know it, willingly locking myself in a box always lost.

Thankfully, through those combatant times, there was one thing that brought peace between warring factions: The music of Cheap Trick, but, more importantly, the musical and visual aesthetic of one Rick Nielsen.  

You see, my dad's workshop was right outside my bedroom in the family basement, so, if the man wanted to work on his black powder pistols, he was going to have to listen to my music. I knew this, of course, but, unbeknownst to him, I would make a point to try to play something that fell somewhere close to his rock & roll comfort zone.

The only way I could tell what bands of my era dad liked was if he wandered over, knocked on my door, and asked, "Who is that?"

With Cheap Trick, though, it was something different. He actually let my younger brother and I play their music IN THE CAR, ON HIS STEREO SYSTEM, which was normally reserved for driving we kids absolutely crazy in the back seat with all of that old school blues (John Lee Hooker), new school blues (Canned Heat), Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker.

I happen to love all of those artists NOW, but, as a kid, it was literally MY JOB to hate everything from my parents' era and there was no one more repulsive to my mid-80's sense of cool than sweaty Joe Cocker...and that was before I had ever seen the man perform.

Yet, somehow, here we were slowly rocking down the back roads of Michiana in our wood panel station wagon on the way to one of two shopping malls LISTENING TO CHEAP TRICK.

Not only that, you see, my dad had actually requested that we bring the 8-track tape upon which my brother and I had recorded a radio broadcast of a Cheap Trick show from Providence, Rhode Island in 1980 and, believe it or not, that tape never left the car.

In fact, "somebody" accidently forgot to remove it from the tape player when we sold the "Wood Panel Monstrosity" later on, at which point my dad and I both got in the NEW family monstrosity and hauled ass to the buyer's house to retrieve it.

At one point we got pulled over by a state trooper for doing 125 mph the wrong way down a one way street - in a school zone, no less - but, when we calmly explained the situation to the officer, he gave us a warning AND a police escort.

Small towns, huh?

When my brother and I, along with an entire car-full of our friends, wanted to go see Cheap Trick on their 1982 One On One tour, who gladly chaperoned us?

And when the tour came back through the area six months later, who came with us to the show?

In fact, over the years, my dad was responsible for making sure we got to see Cheap Trick anytime the band came within three hours of our address and, for that, I will remain forever thankful.

When my dad began struggling with serious health issues right around the same age that I am now (mid-fifties), there were many times during my days in L.A. that I would come home to a tearful phone message from dear ol' mom informing me that dad had been hospitalized once again and that "it didn't look good".

On one such occasion, shortly before his passing, I called home to discover that dad was neither at home nor in the hospital. Instead, he'd checked himself out of INTENSIVE CARE and gone to see Cheap Trick.

That's right, the man literally got up and out of his death bed, snuck past the nurses, and went to see Rick Nielsen and the boys bring the noise at a local club when most of us would have been flat on our backs and pressing that button for more pain meds.

In Cheap Trick and, more importantly, in Rick Nielsen, my dad found a kindred spirit with the same love for the Stones, the Blues and the damn Bowery Boys, which he just wasn't going to find anywhere else in my record collection, to be honest.

With my dad gone almost twenty years now, those memories of losing my shit at a Trick show only to turn and see him standing a few seats down with a shit-eating grin on his face are some of the best memories of him that I have and for that I will always have Rick Nielsen and Cheap Trick to thank.

Monday, December 21, 2020

All I Want For Christmas Is An Eco-Friendly Physical Format!

If you're one of the few, but many, who go about the experience of listening to vinyl albums in much the same way Steve Carell's "40 Year-Old Virgin" went about preparing to dig into the ginormous "box o' porn" he'd been gifted, then you've probably also wondered why, with the planet teetering on the very brink of no return, there is not yet an eco-friendly alternative to all current physical music formats, which rely upon fossil fuels, to varying degrees, for their production.

Like you, I presume, my love affair with vinyl records is downright Pavlovian: The crackle of the needle touching down alone can make the hairs on the back of my arse stand right on end. There is no greater joy than hearing those speakers coming to life as you grab the album cover and immerse yourself in the visual representation of the musical journey you are about to take.

Sit back, relax, but don't get too comfortable, though, because you'll need to flip the album over in about fifteen minutes or so.

Also, is there any other product where the exterior packaging was retained after opening and considered a vital part of the overall experience? I ask only because, when it came to CD long boxes later on, we couldn't wait to chuck those things in the trash. 

Yet there are many who cannot truly enjoy Pink Floyd's The Wall, Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run, or, for that matter, Starz's Attention Shoppers, without holding the album cover and assorted contents in our hot little hands.

Hell, half the reason I find myself cheering on the continuing comebacks of vinyl is so that I can READ THE FUCKING LINER NOTES.

So why, some fifty years after we first put a man on the damn moon and The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" on the back of a cereal box, are we not up to our naughty bits in eco-friendly physical music formats? 

That would be at least some small consolation for the compete absence of flying cars in the 21st Century, which we were also promised!

While I applaud those traditional pressing plants that are now "attempting to make their process as eco-friendly as possible", he/she who finds a sustainable physical format will determine the course of modern music.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Derp Thoughts: Are Most Bands Only As Big As Their Influences?

 "You're only ever gonna become as big as your influences."

It was 1985 and my dad had just said something that I knew would stick with me after I had just pleaded my case for taking a semester off from college just to see how far the band could get with everyone making it their sole focus. To him, being in a moderately popular local band was one thing, but even aspiring to be one of the bands played on MTV was a whole other enchilada. To prove his point, he pointed to the nearest stack of records: "Near as I can tell, your influences are Platinum Blonde, The Jam, Angel City and Off Broadway so you might have a tough go of it if you're expecting to be the next Beatles." Hey, I'm not greedy, I thought at the time, just the one or two Top 40 hits will do. In and out, bada-boom, bada-bing, then just stick to playing street fairs and rib fests every summer. But, for the most part, my dad was absolutely right: If your biggest influence is Clan of Xymox, you should probably not be disappointed if your band didn't get any bigger than Clan of Xymox. A band like R.E.M. is a rare exception, though, comprised of four individuals all coming from completely different directions, musically, with the two guiding forces (Stipe and Buck) being heavily influenced by... Big Star and Velvet Underground? Excuse me while I still remain completely surprised that R.E.M. was able to become one of the biggest bands in the world on their own terms while everybody else was out buying synthesizers and skinny ties. Obviously, R.E.M. was that rare exception where the band's odd nature and obscure cultural and literary references were a big part of who they were as a band. As great as Chronic Town may have been, nobody who heard it could have possibly foreseen the band's gradual rise to the fourth most popular band in the world (or was it third?) just a few short years later.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Beatle Battle: 'Help!' Vs. 'A Hard Day's Night' (And Why 'Help!' is The Better Movie)!

Enter any music forum, ask "Which movie is better, 'Help!' or 'A Hard Day's Night'?" and you will inevitably be flooded with responses declaring the latter to be the better film. Those people are WRONG!

Once and for all, why "Help!" is the better movie:

- Just like the truly magical part of "The Wizard of Oz", it's in COLOR! 

- The old man (Paul's grandfather, played by 52-year-old character actor Wilfrid Brambell) ruins "A Hard Day's Night" because he's either a) brilliant and, thus, upstages the fabs, or b) he's an annoyingly obvious comedic prop that hints at the fact that the filmmakers did not have faith in the fabs to be able to act or be funny. They were dead wrong on both counts

- As far as shear innovation goes, how can you not be transfixed by THE BED IN THE FLOOR (my sole inspiration for becoming a musician at the age of 5) much less a functioning recording studio ON A BATTLEFIELD?

- Two words: Better songs. Singles "Help!", "Yesterday", and the movie debuts of "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" and "Ticket To Ride" show a new level of artistry and musicianship without sacrificing any of the immediacy of their early hits.

- Mo' betta quotes! "Go to the window" has been a "go-to quote in any band I've ever been in...what does ADHN have? "He's very clean"? Again, the crusty old man ruins it.

- The fabs in The Bahamas. On Bikes!

- Did I mention that it's in COLOR??

- Last but not least, miniature Macca!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

How Famous Did You Want To Be?: Live From The Ramada Inn Lounge!

When my first serious band began to go in search gigs in our little corner of the American rust belt, circa 1985, the thought of spending even one evening in a Ramada Inn lounge scared us straight and convinced us that the only way to avoid such a fate was by writing and performing our own material. 

A few short years later, there I was as a solo artist playing "TBA" opening slots for any number of major label acts on the hockey rink circuit.

Glamorous? Sure, but once the stage lights go down, all any high riding rock star who happens to find themselves spending the night in Boise, Idaho can do is head back to the local Ramada Inn, stop off in your room for a bit, and, you guessed it, wander down to the fucking lounge until closing time.

I recognized the irony immediately and fell into a momentary pit of despair as it dawned on me that my highly ambitious and costly quest for fame and fortune beyond my wildest dreams had led me back to the one place I was trying to avoid most of all.

It was in many a dark lounge, however, that I enjoyed numerous heart-to-heart conversations with rock stars both big and small, asking as many as I could the question that I always found most interesting:

"How famous did you want to be?"

On one occasion, there was a guitarist for a band that I very much liked as a kid whose hard exterior had made connecting with him after shows near-impossible. One night, though, with everyone sloshed and feeling no pain, I hit him with the question and he didn't stop talking until sun up.

It is the one question that no musician seems fully prepared to answer without first having to swirl it around in their minds for a little while.

The obvious reply is to state that you simply wanted nothing more than to be bigger than the Beatles as a kid, but as you commit more and more of yourself to this crazy dream, some of us revise our answers while others never seem to revisit the subject ever again, yet, in hindsight, there is no greater question a musician can ask themselves first thing every morning.

Especially if waking up to a fistful of phone numbers scrawled on Ramada Inn drink napkins.

So, how famous did I want to be?

As hilarious as it sounds, I was always shooting for a level of fame no higher than, say, the Hooters or the Outfield. You know, a couple nice radio hits to keep the royalty checks rolling in long after that first blast of MTV fame recedes. 

Truth be told, all I ever wanted was just a taste of the rare air and, lets face it, when was the last time Rob Hyman had to worry about being accosted by fans everywhere he went? 

Meanwhile, two decades after her last big hit, Madonna still needs a security team to run out and grab a gallon of milk at the corner store.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Soundcheck: Where The Real Performance Takes Place!

You can tell a lot about a band by the way they soundcheck.

While others pay good money to marvel at the finished product, some of us get endless kicks out of watching true artists conduct themselves in those moments before the stage lights go up and how a concrete lump of clay (your average sports arena) can be molded into a mind-blowing audio-visual experience for every single person in that arena, nosebleed section included.

Of course, soundchecks differ greatly depending on the level of venue and/or band.

Take your average fledgling middle-of-the-bill indie singer-songwriter who is backed by an ever-changing rag-tag team of nitwits and hired guns who approach their brief soundcheck as an opportunity to run through the one song everyone completely fucked up during the one and only rehearsal for this particular show because each member is juggling a minimum of four other bands. 

Your more stable line-ups are smart enough to have their shit down cold, musically, but scarred enough by past nightmare gigs to all but take matters into their own hands to ensure their stage monitor levels are dead on the fucking money. 

Once you reach the level of, say, a Schuba's or Metro, you're probably also finding your way onto the occasional concert stage from time to time, which is where soundchecks become an altogether different beast.

The first time a baby band soundchecks in an arena can be a little intimidating, but highly entertaining for who keep their eyes on the drummer, for whom that first arena soundcheck can be a near-orgasmic experience. 

After having mics thrust into air holes that had never been mic'ed before, the sound guy will invariably ask the drummer to give him some kick drum. Seconds later, the kick drum that has gone mostly unnoticed during years of sweaty basement rehearsals is suddenly transformed into a deep and thunderous beast.  

That's when the drummer's entire demeanor changes and they begin viewing themselves through the audience's eyes. Thankfully, soundcheck ends before the newly emboldened drummer can unleash yet another tom-heavy ode to "In The Air Tonight".

At that point, all the openers can do now is watch how the headliners carry themselves as they arrive at the venue in a fleet of stretch limos.

That's when it becomes gloriously obvious that one of the many fringe benefits of being an arena-level rock star is that you don't have to carry jack-shit.

Also, unlike you and your "Les Paul in a gig bag", the headliners have road cases for




Also, each member has their own stage tech and dozens of roadies at their beck and call. 

The more frantically a band's roadies run about the stage with flashlights and gaffer tape in preparation for their band's performance, the more casually and nonchalant that band's members will saunter onstage, one by one, completely oblivious to the apparent coup attempt that their crew successfully thwarted. 

The next thing you'll notice is that guys like Keef, or Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers haven't strapped on their own guitar in at least forty years. That, my friend, is living the dream.

Some say life on the road is glamorous for about a week and then it becomes an endless slog, but, if you happen to find yourself opening an entire tour  for a well-known band - say, 30 or 40 shows - that band's soundcheck will become your daily soap opera.

Not only might you be lucky enough to watch them casually jam out on some of their well-known cuts, but you might even catch Slayer bust into an impromptu "Tush" in shorts and flip flops.

For bands with two or three decades of hits, entire soundchecks are often devoted to songs they would never think of playing live for fear that one of those hits wouldn't be played.

It was widely known for decades that the Stones would go on lengthy blues jams or dive into all sorts of deep cuts during rehearsals for their own amusement and, for those die-hard fans who were as sick of hearing the hits as the band was of playing them, VIP access to a Stones soundcheck became a sort of holy grail.  

The coin flip was whether Mick would soundcheck at all. 

Nothing against Keith as a singer, but if you called in a huge favor to land a "now we're even" VIP pass and Mick was a no-show at soundcheck, but then you hear through the grapevine that the next night's soundcheck at the same venue was a Mick, Keith and Bobby Keys delta blues tour de force, you'd be rightly disappointed.

My biggest thrill was watching bands work up new material during soundcheck over a period of several weeks that you just knew was going to be their next big hit, or, at the very least, the musical high point of their next album.  

For other bands, soundcheck can be a bit of a mixed bag.

Take your average '80s new wave act caught in a seemingly endless tsunami of nostalgia-themed pleasure cruises. 

Resigned to the fact that nobody gives a flying fuck about their latest album, but thousands will actually plan their vacations around hearing just the one hit from 1982 in a booze cruise, members of The Fixx or Naked Eyes will run through their songs in a manner that is as spiteful as it is detached, with little to no acknowledgment of their fellow bandmates.

Of course, my favorite soundcheck cliche of sorts is the guitarist who has played a million shows with the exact same set-up, yet wander onstage and fiddle endlessly with his dozens and dozen of stomp boxes, as if having never seen or used them before.  

Also, is it federal law that all lead singers have to be the last to show up, whether they play an instrument or not?

The true oddity of the rock world, however, remains the band that is uniformly horrible at soundcheck - to the point that other people are starting to catch eyes with one another as if to say "Can you believe these guys are famous?" yet always manage to pull it all together by showtime. 

One thing is for sure, while the shows themselves might be choreographed and scripted right down to the "Hello Cleveland" after the first song, no two soundchecks are ever the same.