eavesdroppings: George Lucas

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eavesdroppings: muse-nourishing s**t i hear musicians
(and other creative artists) say

My need for control is interlinked very much with my creative process. I cannot stand people to come over my head and say ‘No, you can’t do this, no you can’t do that, I think it would be better if you did this.’ And not to say that an artist is a special person, but an artist is a person who has a vision for something that is a very personal vision. And to have outsiders come in and criticize it before it’s finished and say ‘I think it would be better if it was green / I think it would be better if it was blue / I think it would be better if it was taller’—that’s counter to what you do.

—filmmaker George Lucas, to Oprah Winfrey in Oprah’s Next Chapter interview, January 2012

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eavesdroppings: “Weird” Al Yankovic

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eavesdroppings: muse-nourishing s**t i hear musicians
(and other creative artists) say

Al doesn’t need any drugs. I mean, if he took drugs, he’d probably turn normal!

—Joel Miller, friend of “Weird” Al Yankovic, on VH1’s Behind the Music Remastered

today’s songinmyhead: Written in Sand (Santana)

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One of my Facebook friends, David Walmsley (the Funkfather), is a bassist. One day he posted on his page a YouTube video of singer Alex Ligertwood in concert, singing Hold On.

Well, my jaw dropped. Not only because that song had been one of my favorites off Santana’s 1982 Shangó album, but because I hadn’t heard anything of Alex in years! (Don’t you just love the Internet?)

Santana’s been a favorite of mine since the early ’80’s, thanks to my Nigerian then-boyfriend who used to play Santana day and night. He was especially impressed with the vocalists; his opinion was that anyone who wanted to be a singer in that band had to have a powerful enough voice to cut through the screaming guitars! His favorite Santana singers were Alex Ligertwood and Greg Walker, and they became mine too as I got more into Santana and filled my shelves with many Santana albums throughout the ’80s. (Who knew that years later, I would be hired to write publicity materials for Greg Walker’s first solo CD? It was a real treat to meet him, lemme tell ya! But that’s another story for another entry.)

When I saw the YouTube video, of course I ended up doing Internet searches to see what Alex was up to. Delighted to learn that he was still performing. As I cruised the Internet, another Alex tune popped into my head and stayed.. for weeks!  It was Written In Sand  from the Beyond Appearances album from 1985. I love how his voice carries everything that goes on here. Beautiful!

Your eyes are the color of the sea
You look my way and the waves wash over me
Your body shivers with the fading light
And you say baby, let’s just make it last tonight
And when the morning comes
You take me by the hand
And see our love is written in sand
Written in sand
We hear the ocean roar
We’re swept away onto some distant shore
You whisper secrets of the heart
To keep us close when the world keeps us apart
Until tomorrow comes
Time is in our hands
Because this love is written in sand
Written in sand
[Santana guitar solo]
Nothing lies between
A woman and a man
Who find their love
Is written in sand

Written in Sand by Mitchell Froom and Jerry Stahl

Nikki Romillie: An Appreciation

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Nikki Romillie

Nikki Romillie, photo from the Pride ‘n’ Politix CD insert

“Oohhhhhhhhh…”

It’s one tiny word. but once you hear it come from Nikki Romillie, you ain’t gonna forget it.

To call Romillie a mere singer is somehow inaccurate. He is, of course, a man with a voice. But for me, what’s cool is that he’s a man who has creative autonomy: there’s no one telling him what songs to write, what keys to sing them in, who to sing them with, what to name them, and what to call the genre he’s singing within. For an artist–as well as a Listener–that’s pretty damn freeing.

I first heard Nikki’s voice over 20 years ago, but I didn’t know whose voice it was. Back in 1991 when I was an entertainment journalist, I received in the mail a pre-release cassette with a plain, white insert card on which was typed “Pride & Politix/Atlantic 5/23/91” and below was the list of tracks on each side, twelve total. Nothing more.

When I saw that one of the tracks was What You Won’t Do For Love, a chill went through me. Because I hate covers–they’re never better than the original, and the Bobby Caldwell original was a favorite of mine. So I made a mental note to stay close to the player so I could skip over that one.

After popping the cassette in the player, I stepped away to go about my business. But I didn’t get far: the very first note of the very first tune yanked me back, demanding that I pay attention to the soulful male lead vocal. It sounded like it was from someone who knew how to sing yet wasn’t pretentious. Although there were harmonies, that lead vocal held me through all twelve tunes.

When What You Won’t Do For Love came up, I positioned my finger over the MAKE IT STOP! button. (If *you* want to listen, click “play” below.)

But once again, I was mesmerized. Damn! I thought. That’s not just a cover, it’s an effing *interpretation*–that is how you are *supposed* to do a cover! So my respect for this mystery group increased a million-fold. I’m a sucker for language and words, and every song on the tape impressed me.

It wasn’t until I received the finished CD, titled Changes, that I had any further clues to who Pride ‘n’ Politix were, although apart from the names of the high-quality session musicians, the CD insert was pretty damn cryptic. Sepia-toned photos of three dudes named Robyn Smith, Nikki Romillie, and Carlton Romillie. Presumably, these three were the group. A few credits for the session musicians–Jerry Hey, Alex Acuña, Bill Reichenbach–names I recognized as veterans of the Los Angeles side-musician scene. Some acknowledgements. But no artist bios. No liner notes. The clues I was forced to rely on led me to conclude that they were British: a London recording studio was mentioned. The cravat (or was that an ascot?) on Smith. The phrases in the lyrics and the impeccable pronounciation of the words. And, I took a wild guess that the Romillie men were probably brothers–as well as brothas.

But that’s where it ended. I was completely unsuccessful in finding out anything about Pride ‘n’ Politix. Every now and then I would take the most unusual of the names–which was Nikki’s–and check to see if there was a new album or something; but I came up with nothing. Still, I respected that. Because sometimes, a brother just needs to focus on his work without being pulled and tugged in a million directions. And in the end, all I could do was just listen and appreciate the music. Which, after all, is what music is for, right? The musician should just keep honing, keep creating, and be in control of whether, and how much, he is left the hell alone.

Fast forward to 2011. Somehow, in clicking around on the Internet I found an artist who matched Nikki’s description–except that this dude was living in Europe, recording under the name Colonel Red. After some forensic listening and photo-comparing on my part, I was convinced that Colonel Red and Nikki Romillie were one and the same.  I was tickled to find that he seemed to be making music when, how, and with whom he damn well pleased. And technology had risen up to meet him: he don’t need no steenking record company! From listening to the online clips, I could just feel that he was reveling in his independence, and that made me smile. He had just released a new solo CD, Sweet Liberation, and after listening to it once (particularly Deny, the tune that finally convinced me it was really him), I purchased the download.

As I listened,  I squealed with delight. Because that “thing” was still there–that “thing” that’s the reason that after over 20 years, Changes is *still* one of my favorite CDs, in both my physical and electronic libraries, on “random” play, so I get to hear it many times a day. I went to his Facebook page and posted a small, gratitude-filled mention.

I’ve now learned that since the days of Pride ‘n’ Politix, Nikki has been working nonstop. Because he’s independent, he can criss-cross between jazz, funk, hip-hop, latin, soul, whatever his muse dictates. He can work with anyone he wants, without losing the base. In fact, he’s in charge of building the base, and technology is his friend. Social media and the Internet allow him to directly connect with his current and potential fans, through downloads and videos.

Nikki’s music is affected by this too: he sounds joyful because he is. freedom is definitely euphoric. as he recently stated, “major label success is no kind of success… I love my now kinda success! I can give a personal touch to everything I create.”

And I’m proud, delighted, and honored to say that Nikki Romillie and I have become close friends, connected through the magic of our kindred spirits–and cyberspace.  I appreciate how he trusted his intuition to allow that to happen… intuition that is, always, the artist’s best friend.

Colonel Red

Nikki Romillie, twenty years later: the artist now known as Colonel Red… voice still stunning (Photo credit: Femke Van Heugten)

The Babe Ruth Band: Reunited After 36 Years!

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The reunited Babe Ruth Band! L-R: Ed Spevock (drums/percussion); Dave Punshon (pianos); Jenny Haan (vocals); Alan Shacklock (guitars); Dave Hewitt (bass).  Photo: http://www.baberuthband.net

Pinch me, pinch me, pinch me! Do you KNOW how momentous this photo is? Yes, people: it’s the Babe Ruth Band, reunited!

Or maybe I should say “kick me, kick me, kick me”–because I missed their reunion concert! It was in July 2010, in Ottowa. If I’d known, I would’ve dropped everything to get on a plane. So, I’m feeling kinda bittersweet.

See, I’ve been listening to their tune The Mexican since back in the ’70s, when my young nephew Kevin brought home the brand new First Base LP.  Just like everyone else who heard the album, I was instantly attracted to The Mexican—except that while the kids were enjoying the deejayability of it, I was enjoying the STEREO of it. From the first notes, I was mesmerized not only by the guitars that went from seductively strumming to raunchily rocking, but by the way they bounced between the left and right speakers.

When Kevin moved across the country to California, he took the album with him, and it went out of print.  In the mid-80’s, I did see it at a record store for over twenty bucks, but since that was not in my budget, all I could do was fondle it. Luckily, I found a Jellybean Benitez mix of The Mexican, with singer Jenny Haan on it. To have anything with her powerful, don’t-fuck-with-me voice that could cut through any screaming guitar out there, was consolation enough for not having First Base in my library.

Jellybean 'The Mexican'

My precious 1984 remix album–four juicy versions!

Time passed. In 1995, First Base was reissued on CD, and I bought it. Now that I had a chance to listen to the whole thing, in addition to The Mexican my new faves were The Runaways, King Kong, and Black Dog.

Fast forward to one recent night. I was playing the CD and BAM! the thought came: wonder what happened to Babe Ruth? I opened the booklet and began to read the liner notes. Now mind you, I’ve had the CD for all these years, yet I felt like I was learning this information for the first time. It was news to me that the group was British! It was news to me that they’d broken up very shortly after First Base came out! Some fan I was… I should have known those basics. how could I have been so stupid? had I been so hypnotized by the music that I didn’t care?

The liner notes, written by Chris Welch, were highly informative; his biographical sketches of the band members were just what I needed to give me a deeper understanding of the personality of the music. When I read the personnel list again I realized that Alan Shacklock, being the guitarist and arranger, was behind a lot of the complex and almost orchestral arrangements that even I could detect.

Of course, the Internet was my next stop. Since I knew that the band had broken up, I didn’t even bother to search the band name; I searched their individual names, starting with Shacklock. and that’s when I found out that the band had performed just recently in Canada–I couldn’t believe my eyes! (Did you hear me squealing with delight?) It took a few days for me to calm down, especially after I found that they were on Facebook AND that they actively post on their band page, which has enough photos on it to satisfy any Babe Ruth fan.

But wait: there’s more. There’s a new Babe Ruth CD, Que Pasa, released in 2009. It only took one short audio clip of the title tune to earn my order, which arrived a few days later. I dropped it into the player–and listened to it for six hours straight while cleaning house. (What can I say—I was motivated!) To me, they sound just like they sounded in 1971, and Alan’s love for the sound of Spanish-inflected guitar permeates the album so much that I feel like I’m in a Western movie, back in time, sitting in a dusty Mexican plaza, surrounded by ladies in mantillas and guys named Chico Fernandez. I love how his passion for this style just oozes out through the music…

Several reviews I’ve read have complained that Que Pasa is not up to the standard of Babe Ruth’s other albums. Whatever. Since I’ve only ever heard First Base, I’m not qualified to judge. Other reviews whined that Jenny Haan’s voice is not like it used to be. Oh yeah? Well it’s thirty-six years later, dude. Jenny sounds damn good to me, she gets the song across, and her voice and Shacklock’s guitar were made for each other.  That’s enough for me, so let the haters hate! Plus which, this is a happy story: a band has gotten back together to do what they did best. “Happy and thrilled” is so not sufficient verbiage to describe how happy and thrilled I am!

So party on, Babe Ruth Band!

The Tale of the Ticket Stubs

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I save all my ticket stubs, dear reader. But don’t act surprised. You already know I’m sentimental.

One day, my artist friend Richard was visiting. Whenever he visits, it turns into an art project, which is great because I’m not artistically inclined and I enjoy getting that push. Looking around the house for something he could inspire, I remembered that little box I keep all the ticket stubs in.

“So… how do you think I can display these?” I asked, handing him the box. In my head I envisioned a huge, custom-made wall piece.

But Richard used to be a Boy Scout. And Boy Scouts know how to do much with little. After a couple of minutes thinking, he looked down at my glass-topped coffee table. “Why not mount them on that?”

Immediately that struck me as a great idea. But… how? What special glue would be needed? And what special place would it need to be ordered from?

“Ordinary Scotch tape,” he said. HUH? But I know better than to question Richard. He da man.

So, after carefully curating the stubs, we folded bits of tape to the back of each one and just laid them down on the table. Randomly, yet artistically.

When we’d finished and stood back to admire our work, another question arose: how to protect the installation? What specially custom-cut piece of glass or Lucite would be needed? And what special place would it need to be ordered from?

“Do you have a piece of clear plastic?” he asked. HUH? But i know better than to question Richard. I thought about it.

And then it hit me: (BAM!) I have a clear plastic shower curtain, brand new in the package, that I could use. But… how to affix it?

“Ordinary Scotch tape,” he said.

Et voilà! The result became a popular conversation piece… and more importantly, an instant trip down memory lane. (see slideshow below.)

The moral of the story? Always keep an artist in your life to help you to see… and hear.

Do you have an artist in your life? How does this enhance the everyday ordinary-ness?

Aerial view of the stubbed-out coffee table

Aerial view of the stubbed-out coffee table

Occasionally I did buy my own tickets, like the one to my first Rick James concert! He'd just gotten out of the uh, joint.

Occasionally I bought my own tickets, like the one to my first Rick James concert after he’d just gotten out of the uh, joint.

 

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Every year I covered the JVC Jazz Festival... which meant lots of free tickets (and excellent seats!) to lots of great concerts.

Every year I covered the JVC Jazz Festival… which meant lots of free tickets (and excellent seats!) to lots of great concerts.

 

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(R): Ticket from a NIGHT MUSIC (renamed SUNDAY NIGHT) taping--a TV show that mixed musicians in unique ways. I wrote a cover story for JazzTimes, so got to be at many tapings!

(R): Ticket from a NIGHT MUSIC (renamed SUNDAY NIGHT) taping–a TV show that mixed musicians in unique ways. I wrote a cover story for JazzTimes, so got to be at many tapings!