Author Archives: Jude Warne

Bobby Whitlock
and CoCo Carmel,
The TVD Interview

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, All Things Must Pass, and Exile on Main St.—three rock and roll albums with several captivating commonalities. All were recorded and released in the early 1970s. All are now widely regarded as some of the most remarkable albums ever made in the history of popular music. All were included on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list, too. And all featured singer-keyboardist extraordinaire Bobby Whitlock.

He was Eric Clapton’s right-hand man during their membership in Derek and the Dominoes, the outfit responsible for Layla (1970). At a time when Clapton sought to distance himself from the powerful rock trio format established with Cream, Memphis-born Whitlock served as the ideal partner with whom to co-create a warmer and bluesier sound. Derek and the Dominoes, with Eric as frontman, was born. Whitlock produced, co-wrote, sang, and played keyboards on the Layla record; “Thorn Tree in the Garden,” the exquisitely heartbreaking album-closer, was Whitlock’s own. He was an essential player in the collaborative All Things Must Pass (1970) sessions, providing George Harrison’s post-Beatles masterwork with plenty of organ, vocals, tubular bells, and even a whistle. He was the main source of “I Just Want to See His Face,” an otherworldly standout track on what many consider to be the Rolling Stones’ finest record, Exile on Main St. (1972). To note, Jagger and Richards have yet to properly credit Whitlock for his contribution.

Bobby played crucial supporting roles on these seminal rock records, but he’s also accrued a slew of session creds and released several solo records since then. Of late—over the past sixteen years—he has worked and played with multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, producer, and ladylove CoCo Carmel. Saxophonist, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, CoCo’s struck with a plethora of musicality of her own. Dr. John, Jon Bon Jovi, and her ex-husband Delaney Bramlett (who wielded a hand on her 2003 solo release First Fruit) are just a few of the sonic giants she’s worked with. Possessing a shared passion for blues rock music—and each other—Bobby and CoCo combine their rich artistic pasts to create raw, emotional, and spiritually-charged music of the present. Carnival, their stellar live-in-Austin album, was released in 2013, and there’s another record in the works too.

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America’s Gerry Beckley, The TVD Interview

“Days, where’d you go so fast?” Gerry Beckley asks in “Bell Tree,” his bittersweet beauty-soaked song on America’s Hearts album. The band’s fifth studio recording, which also featured Beckley’s chart-toppers “Sister Golden Hair” and “Daisy Jane,” was produced by George Martin and released in 1975.

Beckley’s latest solo record Carousel is due in stores next month (September 9th) via indie label Blue Élan Records. Over the course of the album’s nine original tracks and three cover songs, Beckley offers up more seasoned articulations of his “Bell Tree” question. The irresistibly-catchy “Tokyo,” the Beatles-ish “Lifeline,” and the poetic “Once a Distant Heart,” all deal directly with our mortal inability to transcend the weight and power of time passed, passing, and soon-to-be-passed.

Other artists who have come to the same philosophical conclusions that Beckley has on Carousel might have been tempted toward anger, regret, fear, or perhaps worst of all, to wear Cynicism’s Crown of Superiority. Consider what its tracks titled “Minutes Count” and “Serious” may imply.

But Beckley seems to have taken the other road, the one on which happiness and personal power reside. His McCartney-esque gift for melody still reigns supreme on Carousel and his lyrics showcase a healthy dose of realism and inventiveness, at one point even daring to utilize the logistical word “Zihuatanejo,” a move worthy of Warren Zevon himself. Beckley’s thoughtful renditions of Spirit’s “Nature’s Way,” Gerry Rafferty’s “To Each and Everyone,” and Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” jive well with the rest of Carousel’s thematic content and allow the listener to reconsider the familiar songs in a newly visioned light.

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The Storyteller’s Story: Testimony: A Memoir by Robbie Robertson

“At the age of nine I told my mother that I wanted to be a storyteller when I grew up. She smiled and said, ‘I think you will.’”
Robbie Robertson

“He got what he wanted but he lost what he had.” Rock writer Greil Marcus, aficionado-scholar of American music, cultural history, and of The Band, uses this Little Richard quote as a jumping off point to tell the story of American rock ‘n’ roll music in his 1975 work Mystery Train.

Little Richard’s line is the quintessential punishment that often seems to accompany American success stories, like those of Jay Gatsby or Charles Foster Kane. It doesn’t seem to apply to that of Robbie Robertson however, co-founder, main songwriter, and lead guitarist of The Band. (Robertson is Canadian after all.) From a reading of his recently released autobiographical work Testimony: A Memoir, one can conclude that Robertson got a great deal of what he worked for and managed to not lose everything that he began with.

Instead of sacrificing or wasting, he gathered, accumulated, and expanded. As an individual and as a writer, Robertson seems to be acutely aware of his vast past and how it shaped him, presenting it in Testimony with all the detail and vitality of yesterday’s events.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “storyteller”—and rather obnoxiously so—as “someone who tells or writes stories.” Sure, but what makes a good storyteller? Perception, awareness, insight, objectivity, passion, respect for truth, concern for communication, and an allegiance to an authentic representation of self experience.

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America’s Gerry Beckley, The TVD Interview

“Days, where’d you go so fast?” Gerry Beckley asks in “Bell Tree,” his bittersweet beauty-soaked song on America’s Hearts album. The band’s fifth studio recording, which also featured Beckley’s chart-toppers “Sister Golden Hair” and “Daisy Jane,” was produced by George Martin and released in 1975.

Beckley’s latest solo record Carousel is due in stores next month (September 9th) via indie label Blue Élan Records. Over the course of the album’s nine original tracks and three cover songs, Beckley offers up more seasoned articulations of his “Bell Tree” question. The irresistibly-catchy “Tokyo,” the Beatles-ish “Lifeline,” and the poetic “Once a Distant Heart,” all deal directly with our mortal inability to transcend the weight and power of time passed, passing, and soon-to-be-passed.

Other artists who have come to the same philosophical conclusions that Beckley has on Carousel might have been tempted toward anger, regret, fear, or perhaps worst of all, to wear Cynicism’s Crown of Superiority. Consider what its tracks titled “Minutes Count” and “Serious” may imply.

But Beckley seems to have taken the other road, the one on which happiness and personal power reside. His McCartney-esque gift for melody still reigns supreme on Carousel and his lyrics showcase a healthy dose of realism and inventiveness, at one point even daring to utilize the logistical word “Zihuatanejo,” a move worthy of Warren Zevon himself. Beckley’s thoughtful renditions of Spirit’s “Nature’s Way,” Gerry Rafferty’s “To Each and Everyone,” and Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” jive well with the rest of Carousel’s thematic content and allow the listener to reconsider the familiar songs in a newly visioned light.

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A jaunt around NYC’s Other Music with The Ludlow Thieves’ Dan Teicher

A short while back I went record-shopping with Dan Teicher, guitarist-producer-founder of pop-rock-plus-strings band The Ludlow Thieves. We decided to hit up Other Music, a high-end music store in Manhattan’s NoHo area.

The store takes vinyl seriously, selling brand-new records (amongst other items) of masterwork albums from yesteryear and yesterday, at exorbitant prices. Well, exorbitant for us vinyl enthusiasts whose sense of pricing halted its modernization when our musical taste did—i.e. 1994. Still, Other Music deserves kudos for matching lofty price tags with lofty musical principles, offering up a vinyl selection that Rob of High Fidelity could, theoretically, be proud of.

Teicher is quite into vinyl and quite into music history, which is evident in both his solo visual media scoring and the collective musical journey of his burgeoning band The Ludlow Thieves. He is the guitar guy and producer for the group—a band that has headlined the major venues in New York City.

The Thieves, an ensemble-first band that counts two vocalists and a violinist amongst its members, recently released their EP “Skyline” and will be celebrating yet another EP release entitled “Sing Me Back” this Friday with a performance at Webster Hall.

But there is more too—much more!—on the way. Teicher, like many of us, sees both the upsides and downsides of the digital age and its effects on musical consumption. Amidst our jaunt around Other Music, these up and downsides were discussed, as were the Thieves’ main influences, why modern-day listeners prefer intro-less songs, and what to do when your parents neglect to properly care for their own vinyl collections—the bastards.

Dan Teicher: I assume you must be a vinyl nut.

Well yes, but I don’t buy as many new records as I would like to—only because, look at these prices. Thirty dollars for one album? Like, what?!

It’s so cool to have vinyl. But—it’s hard to justify getting a new album unless you’re trying to seriously support a new band. My record player’s a shitty little record player too. It’s like a classic old-school player, and I’m trying to figure out a way to involve it in my studio set-up to get a better sound quality out of it. I’d almost rather listen to a CD if I’m going to support a band because for me and my audio set-up, a CD would have better sound quality. However, I’m all about raiding the racks for one-dollar used records. But it doesn’t look like they have too many of those here…

Yeah, this is pretty high-end. Which in theory is super cool—taking vinyl seriously. How did your band, The Ludlow Thieves, get started?

Well, I started performing under the name Ludlow Thieves by myself. I recorded something which will never see the light of day that I sang on. About two weeks after I recorded it, I listened to it with fresh ears and was like “Oh, I should not be singing at all.”

I tend to like guitarists’ voices though, even when they’re not typical singers, like when Keith Richards sings.

You like when Keith sings? Well, you know what—when we get to that Rolling Stones point, when we all go do our solo albums, maybe I’ll reconsider.

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Mellow Obsessions: The Record Store of the Mind by Josh Rosenthal

So nice, we read it twice. —Ed.

Genre-wise, Josh Rosenthal’s new book is a medley of memoir, music criticism, and a how-to guide on music listening.

Entitled The Record Store of the Mind, it loosely tells the story of Rosenthal’s musical life from his origins as a PolyGram intern right up until his recent-ish (2005) founding of Tompkins Square Records. Along that route, he had stints at larger operations—Columbia and Sony.

Rosenthal’s releases through Tompkins Square over the past ten years have largely consisted of reissued and long-forgotten musical material (i.e. Roland White’s 1976 album I Wasn’t Born to Rock’n Roll) and never-before-released-but-should-have-been-long-ago material (i.e. Tim Buckley’s Live at the Folklore Center, NYC – March 6, 1967). This chosen focus stays true to Rosenthal’s record collector character—forever seeking out a classic bit of vinyl that people have forgotten about and need to hear again right away.

This kind of mindset places worth upon history, it places worth upon the effects of passed time on a work of art. It places worth upon the voice of a narrow perspective that spoke directly from a given year, a year during which a myriad of events occurred, a year that was defined by statistics which determined its color and taste, statistics that could never be reproduced in that same way ever again.

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Pete Donnelly,
The TVD Interview

Pete Donnelly’s musical resume is pretty damn impressive. He’s the bass player firmly associated with legendary rock band NRBQ. He’s the singer-songwriter with several solo releases to his name. He’s the co-writer of “I Can’t Imagine,” the title track of Shelby Lynne’s recently released album. And of course, he’s the founding member of phenomenal rock band The Figgs, having worked with The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, as well as the great Graham Parker.

Along with Mike Gent, Donnelly founded The Figgs in 1987 and they are still going strong, with a recent album release that just might be their best yet. Other Planes of Here is an eight-track wonder of a record, a record that sets forth free-sounding tunes at once loyal to aurally stimulating melodies and compositionally new. While staying true to their rock-heavy roots, The Figgs have allowed their musicality to grow and their sound to evolve into one that incorporates and is influenced by a variety of instruments and genres. The result, manifested this year in Other Planes, is thoroughly, thoroughly good.

In conversation with Pete Donnelly, we learn more about The Figgs’ story and the making of Other Planes, as well as Donnelly’s numerous artistic influences and his warranted and well-articulated thoughts on the current state of the music industry.

First of all, congratulations on the new Figgs album Other Planes of Here, it’s really great. How did you devise its overall aural aesthetic? Because it seems to be a newer sound for you guys, incorporating more experimental musical components, more computerized effects.

Yeah, the Figgs certainly have an organic process. I think that we usually edit down quite a bit and focus on being sort of a pop band versus an experimental band. We tend to be tight and to the point, but we do have another side of us which is very experimental. I think in this case we decided to let it go and to not edit the process. We sort of wanted to take the audience into the process of recording, and I think the experimental side sort of opened a doorway into what gets our songs together. Often times we would edit that out of the final picture, but here we decided to leave it in.

How would you describe the band’s typical compositional process? Do you guys usually write together?

We do all kinds of things. I’d say that traditionally, Mike (Gent) and I write songs and come together in the studio or a rehearsal space, blast through a number of them and just see what clicks. As we’ve gotten older over the years, we’ve tried certain things where we’d write in the studio, come up with a theme or musical idea, just sort of experiment with it and write a song to it. It’s generally a more modern technique, making tracks and then writing to them. Sometimes we’ll have an unfinished song that one of us will come and finish. So it’s kind of anything goes. But because Mike and I write so much and come to the table with many songs, I think it’s the collaboration that makes it. Songwriting on paper is writing down a title, music, and lyrics, but the band contributes so much to, as you said, the aural picture. And I think on the new record, you can expect a lot more of that.

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TVD Live: Blackberry Smoke and The Temperance Movement at Webster Hall, 3/28

In the year 2015, it sometimes seems difficult to locate real and true rock and roll that’s new and isn’t just a regurgitation of rock and roll from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. This difficulty can be accounted for by any number of elements—auto tuning, the decreasing influence of record companies in the world of musical artistry, and MTV.

A while back Portlandia put forth a brilliant take on what had happened to MTV by placing a pre-teen girl in its leadership position as explanation of its ideological demise. The difficulty in question is just that however, a difficulty—not an impossibility. This past Saturday night at Webster Hall in New York City serves as exhibits A through infinity to attest to this latter fact.

Blackberry Smoke, having released four studio albums since its start in 2000, is most often described as a “southern rock” band, which it is—but this categorization seeks to minimize the band when it should be maximized and subsequently lauded. Blackberry Smoke is a straight-up rock and roll group. The band’s sound is derived from lead singer and guitarist’s Charlie Starr’s spot-on command of each song performed, along with support from fellow guitarist Paul Jackson, bassist Richard Turner, keyboard player Brandon Still, and drummer Brit Turner.

Holding All the Roses is the group’s latest release, and a number of tracks were showcased at the Webster Hall gig, including “Let Me Help You (Find the Door),” “Rock and Roll Again,” and “Living in the Song.” A terrifyingly gorgeous rendition of the group’s emotionally melodic work-of-art-track, “The Whippoorwill” would have stolen the show—if surprise guest Robert Randolph hadn’t stepped out to contribute to “Ain’t Got the Blues.”

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TVD Live: Ray LaMontagne at the Beacon Theatre, 11/14

For those of us who are retrospectively inclined music-wise, last Friday night at the Beacon Theatre was a dream come true. Ray LaMontagne put on a show akin to those we might imagine were performed back in 1971 when guitars reigned supreme, or perhaps back in 1968 when light shows were still a thing.

The collective emotions produced by those onstage and off vacillated between groove-yourself-into-feeling-good and self-reflect-yourself-into-feeling-reverent. Whatever end of the spiritual spectrum one found oneself on at any given moment during the concert, it was the hip place to be.

LaMontagne and his backup band, which included the excellent brother-sister duo The Belle Brigade (who also provided a stellar opening act of their own tunes), offered up selections from this year’s far-out(!) album Supernova; “Lavender,” “She’s the One,” “Airwaves,” and the show-stealer “Supernova” (the song) were of note. Ray’s greatest hits canon made up a large part of the show’s set list as well; “New York City’s Killing Me,” “Trouble,” “Repo Man,” and “Jolene” gradually generated eureka moments.

The best bit of the concert may just have been the acoustic set halfway through, when LaMontagne and his musical director, slash one of the wow-est bass players around, Zachariah Hickman, went to town on the best of Ray’s ballads. Stripped down and bare, the songs’ power was more immediate, and LaMontagne’s understanding of and allegiance to the history and evolution of the rock-pop-folk (ropolk?) singer-songwriter was undeniable.

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Another Top 10 list?
The History of Rock
’n’ Roll in Ten Songs

by Greil Marcus

“The story we’re telling is about imprisonment, but the music we’re making is about freedom, the tiny moments of freedom you steal from a life you don’t own, that doesn’t belong to you, that you have to live.”

Greil Marcus tells the rock ‘n‘ roll story better than most.

His 1975 book Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock n’ Roll Music managed to present an in-depth tracing of the essence of American rock music, choosing such artists as Harmonica Frank, Robert Johnson, Randy Newman, and Sly & the Family Stone as case studies. Marcus used these artists as jumping off points to tell his larger tale of the history of the American persona. His classification of “the worried man” as the constant character of The Band’s song catalogue is a testament to his ability to treat rock music as literature, giving the genre due analysis.

In The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs, Marcus does what he does best: he gives credence and worth to the world of rock and roll and its history. He reminds us that it matters, and he forces us to reflect upon what the history of rock and roll will look like to monorail riders of the future, when he lists the entirety (three-plus pages) of the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which covers most of the greats, some not-so greats, and leaves out many more (Warren Zevon! HARRY NILSSON! and so on and so on…)

Rock and roll is much more than this list of inductees. It is much more than ten songs. But there is a quark of its essence deep within each one; pick any ten rock songs and the history of rock is there. Marcus knows this; in a sense, he uses this playful title to simultaneously debunk the myth of the idea of the list and endorse the necessity of its creation in order to give it more gravitas.

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