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These posts are the contributions of Brett to Selective Listening.

Exteme Feats of Musical Bad-Assery #5 Ravi Shankar Celebrates his 91st!

Rodger Daughtry, singer of legendary rock group The Who, once proclaimed that “I hope I die before I get old”. John Lennon himself said he hoped he wouldn’t still be singing “She Loves You” at age 40 (an age he sadly never made it past, RIP), and many popular musicians throughout the world revel in their youth. When our heroes get old, should they still be alive or remembered, we endlessly compare them to who they once were, which although is pure injustice is the status quo. While many go out revered, they go out with a fizzle, or at the least past their prime.

Ravi Shankar with Geroge Harrison

There is one man, however, who not only has persisted but has torn down the notion of age affecting the sharpness of a musical mind of the nimble ability of aged hands. He is one of my all time heroes: Ravi Shankar. Ravi Shankar is a held in esteem as THE best sitar player the world has seen (the sitar is a 20-ish string Indian lute), and is a composer of legendary status that has not only done the most for Indian classical music than any other single person, but has introduced it to the mainstream west and with his compositions masterfully blended the mathematical western traditions and the more philosophical traditions of the east that many thought were incompatible on any grand orchestral level. He is without a doubt, India’s most prolific and important musical ambassador, and through him many come to appriciate the country’s rich and vibrant culture. Here is a younger Ravi:

While Ravi was well-known throughout Indian circuits before the 60’s, it was during the 60’s, through his friendship with George Harrison, that he took America by storm, playing the Monterey and Woodstock music festivals. Where time has slowed some down, Ravi continued expanding his mastery and finesse, writing new pieces, including an awesome sitar concerto for orchestra published in 2008. April 7th, 2011 marked his 91st birthday, but unlike many 91 year-olds, Ravi is still out touring, sharing his love of his musical tradition and the deep spiritual devotion that comes with Indian music. As some may think, it is not just a freak show, a chance to see some awesome old person sit there and try and imitate themselves that you can brag about seeing. Ravi still has it. Despite his age and the complications that must come with it, Shankar has not lost a step. He still has an amazing ear for his ragas, and when needed he cans till rip up and down the sitar’s neck.

Here is the master in all his ripeness and glory:

Indian music (which will be explained in a later post) varies dramatically from western music in theory, and is all improvised from a set of ragas (until later, just think of them as scales or modes). The fact he at age 91 is still on the road and has a sharp enough mind to still keep producing his magic and have his body keep up with him is a strong testament to his devotion to his religion and music, which requires a vegetarian lifestyle, no drugs or drinking, and no illicit sex. Happy (belated) 91st birthday pandit Ravi Shankar. From the Selective Listening team, you da’ man!

Ravi Shankar, master of sitar

 

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Epic-sounding Collaborations You’ve Probably Never Heard of #5 Dylan and The Dead

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Dylan and the Dead

 

In search of the Holy Grail of Rock: the 5th Beatle

John, Paul, George and Ringo have become saints, as far as popular music is concerned. During their 8 year recording history, they have performed feats comparable to slaying dragons, converting the faithless and heralding in a new era of rock and roll. But just as the true identity, nature, and location of the Holy Grail has consumed the lives of crusaders and scholars alike, The Beatles have their own much disputed holy icon: the 5th Beatle. As I am not one in any place to declare the true member worthy of the title, I will display the candidates and in turn let you decide. Who do you think is the true 5th Beatle?

Left to right: George Harrison, Stu Sutcliffe, and John Lennon in Hamburg, Germany

 

  1. Stu Sutcliffe: Stu was John Lennon’s best friend from art school and a brilliant painter. When John was getting his small skiffle-rock group into shape to be a serious band, he found he needed a bassist. This is where Stu came in. He didn’t play bass or know anything about playing music, but he had just won a fair amount of cash in an art show, and was the only one John knew who could afford a bass. With some major convincing, he was able to get Stu on board, reassuring his friend that he didn’t need to know how to play: bassists just stand in the back anyway. Stu was the bassist when the band started making a name for themselves playing in Hambug, Germany. Towards the end of their stint, it became clear that his playing just wasn’t befitting the band they had become, and he was the first to say it. Paul McCartney, then one of the lead guitar players, took up the bass (which is why if you listen closely, Paul’s bass parts often sound like a frustrated lead guitarist playing bass. This is because it is.)  Stu died from a brain aneurysm in 1962 after leaving the group to return to his painting.

 

Left to right: Paul McCartney, John lennon, Pete Best, and George Harrison

Pete Best:  you’ll recognize a similar vein here… when the band that would become the Beatles started getting serous about rock and roll, they needed a drummer. Not unlike any other young band, they weren’t looking for a drummer as much as a guy who had drums, which were expensive and hard to come by in 1950’s England. They found their man in Pete Best. Pete had a new set of drums, could play them well, and his loving mother owned a small club in Liverpool that they often played at. Pete, like Stu, was on board with the group as they played the club scene in Hamburg, often sharing the stage with a band Rory Storm and the Hurricanes who had a drummer who went by the name of Ringo… As they boys returned to England and began to look into prospects of recording and making it big they ran into a problem: Pete was a great drummer, but didn’t share the same vibrant personalities and humor as the other 3. He was a great drummer, but not a great Beatle. He was much more dark, moody, and introverted. this drove the girls crazy, but at this point, they had been transformed into the clean-cut, charming and humorous nice-boys we know today. Not being able to dump a friend themselves, the Beatles asked their Manager, Brian Epstein, to do the dirty work for them: a decision that really hurt Pete, and that the other Beatles regret.  

Sir George Matin on left, at the mixing board with Sir Paul and Ringo.

Sir George Martin: Sir George Martin was the recording engineer at the small EMI label that agreed to record the Beatles. He knew nothing about rock and roll, and the band knew nothing about recording, so in their mutual discoveries, greatness ensued. George had some very good ideas about how to record things, and either wrote or was very involved in the writing of the orchestral scores that were overdubbed onto many of the Beatles most well-known tracks.

Brian at George Harrison's wedding to model Patty Boyd

Brian Epstein: Brian made the Beatles. He was the owner of a record store in Liverpool who was asked if he had “My Bonnie”, a cut of an American vocalist Tony Sheridan backed by some English band from Germany called the Beatles… he didn’t but was always willing to meet the demands of his clients. He decided to look these “Beatles” up, and found they were playing regular lunch hour shows at a local club. He stopped in, saw a show, and fell in love. He offered the boys his services as a manager, and got them on the train to success. It is of his doing that the Beatles, then with messy hair, bad additudes, and clad in leather, came to have matching “Beatle cuts” and dress in matching suits, putting on the charm they are so famous for. Without Brian, the Beatles would not have been the Beatles we came to know, and very well might not have been heard of at all.

Billy Preston in the studio, 1972. One cool dude.

Billy Preston: Preston was a VERY soulful organ player who got signed to the Beatles record label (Apple) in 1969. Long story short, he was a great guy and the Beatles took to him quick. He sat in on their Let it Be and Abbey Road albums, providing the organ work. He can also be seen and heard during the Beatles last live appearance together: their concert atop the Apple office in 1969, which can be seen on their “Let it Be” movie and subsequently on youtube.

Who do you think is the true 5th Beatle?

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2011 in Brett, Uncategorized

 

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Extreme Feats of Musical Bad-assery #4 the Hula

Hope you brought your appetite, because you and yo' crew are about to get SERVED (some delicious spam)

I’m not much of a clubber. I don’t go clubbing, dance the night away, get slizzerd, nor can I relate to anything Ke$ha has sung about, ever. I’m not condemning it, it’s just not me. Closest I got was a Ratdog concert in the front of a giant grooving mob of hippies pushed against a barrier, but that is neither here or there. I have however, listened to lyrics and have heard popular dance and hip-hop tunes dealing with the lifestyle, and from this I feel I am comfortable with how that club culture presents itself. I have also watched the South Park episode with the “dance off” with a rival dance crew, so I am pretty sure I can safely say that in comparison with a true dance culture, the western club scene is empty of any real power (except the roofies. Powerful, powerful roofies).

This is, of course, when compared to a true dance-culture, a culture that embraces the full power of dance and has elevated up to a pinnacle of social and mystical power. I am talking about the native population of Hawaii. Now, again I reaffirm I do not know the modern attitude towards dance that most 19 year-olds have, but I’m assuming that “hula” is not in the top-5 list of badass power-dances, but it could not be more true. Predating western discovery, occupation, and westernization of Hawaii, the native tribes used dancing as a substitute for outright combat and warfare.

Hula Hoop

pictured: WMD

What today in a club is a dance-off when someone disrespects you and your crew, had a much more amazing predecessor. There was so much mystical power associated with their holy texts, and their vocal and physical expressions, that rival tribes would demonstrate their superior mastery of the magic powers by dancing and chanting better than the other tribe. The tribe danced better had more magical power, and therefore obviously could whoop more butt than the other one could, should it come to fisticuffs. It never did. No one would dare cross the winning tribe, but to dance again.

Having people [sic]“get out the way of me and my crew crew crew crew” so you can do what you [sic] “do do do do” can at best get you beat up in the alley, or branded a king douche. Having glitter all on your eyes and ripped stocking in a place where the freaks all come to dance and “take it off’ sounds like a recipe for rape. No lands are won and lost, no slaves are taken and freed, no precious resources are trading hands, and no governments rise or fall in a club, but in ancient Hawaii when you and your “crew” got mad props and respect from dancing, it meant something much more than our western black eyes, hangovers, and special victim units. It meant you were THE big Kahuna. Now that’s what it really means to have to “represent”.

 

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Mr. Spock and Bilbo Baggins

Some bands make it big. Some bands have huge followings that display an almost religious ferocity in their devotion. There are few people, however, few single-bodied mortal beings that have risen to such status in the world of music and culture. Grateful Dead guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia comes instantly to mind, and I can only really think of one more man who has attained such status: Leonard Nimoy. That’s right, I brought Spock into this, so set your phasers to stun and just hear me out.

To boldly go where he probably should have never went... the recording studio

Trekies have been known since he dawn of Star Trek in the 1960’s to take fandom  to a whole new level of whacked-out-ness, and I think I am about to make the day of those of us who appreciate the finer things in life (and then go to conventions in their mom’s minivan). Not only did Mr. Spock, in the experimental spirit of the era, test the waters of a pop musical career, he did so by evoking the name of another saint of the genres: Bilbo Baggins. The most widespread, or at least the most popular surviving, single of his career was “The ballad of Bilbo Baggins”, a tale recounting the life and adventures of one of the coolest little people in literature. I could go on and examine the music and video, talk about clichés of the decade and this kind of music and make some sarcastic commentary, but I assume you can too. Instead, I’m just gonna sit back and let Spock, his vibrant go-go line, innovative harmonies and his love of all things short, hairy and that just wanna be left alone have their moment as Shire-folk everywhere cringe at that dark time in their history, not when the forces of evil threatened their peaceful way of life, but when Leonard Nimoy shook their world. Rumor has it that every year since Nimoy quit doing music, the Bagginses and the Proudfeet have held an annual Hobbit-kegger where they smoke pipes, shoot fireworks with Gandalf and tell tales of how short-lived and non-prosperous Leonard Nimoy’s pop music career was.

And to those of you who have never heard of this, you’re welcome.

Spock sings about effin’ Hobbits… Seriously.

 

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Epic-sounding Collaborations You’ve Probably Never Heard of #4 Ringo and Ozzy

 

 
 
 

Ringo Starr - ex-Beatle/ advocate of "peace and love"

 

Ozzy Ozborne and Ringo Starr: that’s right, you didn’t misread anything. 1998 saw the beloved ex-Beatle and the Prince of Darkness share a song on Ringo’s 11th studio album Vertical Man. They both sing on the title track, well, kinda. Being a Ringo album, Mr. Starr takes the lead and he doesn’t give it back. If you didn’t know Ozzy was on the track, it would be a little hard to figure it out for yourself (but then again, most anything his royal Darkness says or does is a little difficult to decipher).

Ozzy Osbourne - Prince of Darkness

Ozzy, for being a world-renowned front man and a very talented singer, resides himself to take the role of a forgettable background singer. He only harmonizes during the chorus, a few lines here and there, and he sings in the coda, mostly just repeating the name or making noises. The mixing was a little unfair, but I assume that is because this is a Ringo track. There is nothing “Ozzy” about it, and it just seems like Ringo had an odd session musician step in. All this said, it is actually pretty good for a modern Ringo song and the only thing overshadowing it is what you expect when you hear about a duet with a Beatle and Ozzy.

 

Epic-sounding Collaborations You’ve Probably Never Heard of #3 Rick James and Neil Young

 

Neil Young (left) and Rick James (right) later in their respective careers

 

Neil Young and Rick James: now, a lot has been said about Canadian songsmith Neil Young, but I’ve not heard him called a superfeak. You know who is? RICK JAMES. Legendary funk bassist had a 1981 hit with a song by that name and the riff was sampled by the likes of MC Hammer. What connects these two? They had a band in the mid-60’s that almost made it to the big time. You’re probably thinking, much like the author when this was made known, HESAYWUTNOW?!? Neil Young has a healthy repertoire of genres, from influencing singer-songwriter folk to becoming one of the “godfathers of grunge”, but funk, let alone working with Rick James? Surely material was just running low for the column and this was fabricated… but it happened.

the Mynah Birds: James is singing, Young can be seen second from the right

The Mynah Birds were comprised of Neil Young, Rick James, Goldie McJohn (future Steppenwolf member), and Bruce Palmer, who would go on to play with Young in Buffalo Springfield. Having heard “Superfreak” and being very familiar with Neil’s work, I was AGAIN surprised with the groups sound and style. With their yellow boots, black jackets, and yellow turtlenecks, they must have fit in well with the 1966 crowd, and had a sound eerily similar to the Rolling Stones of the era. Even though Rick was singing, it would be hard to tell these recordings apart from studio outtakes from Mick, Keef and the boys. All available accounts of live performances were stunning, as to be expected by anyone familiar with Young, James, or any other of the members and their future careers. Given the time period and the stage of these men’s careers, these tracks are everything you’d expect them to be. This band was the final jumping-off point before Young delved into the waters of the singer-songwriter acoustic art, where his fame really took off.

Recorded in 1966, Motown chose not to release the album because James was taken from the studio for being AWOL from the US Navy. The distribution of their single “It’s My Time” was halted the day of release, and the other recording have never been officially released (again, which really surprises me). As videos are available on Youtube of at least 3 tracks, obviously somebody got a hold of a bootleg and it made its rounds. Happy hunting! Here is their single, “It’s my Time”:

 

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