Staff Picks: Music
In the early 1970's, three African-American R&B musicians from Detroit transformed their sound after being inspired by local musicians, Alice Cooper, the Stooges and MC5. The trio called themselves Death, which did not sit well with the Columbia Records executive who funded their first recording session in 1974. The unwillingness to change their name was literally the "Death" of the band and their debut record was never released commercially.
Music critics have hailed Death as being "visionaries" in the punk movement. Their sound straddles the line between punk, funk, and arena rock. Death could have been playing to sold out shows at Cobo Hall, but instead ended up being a footnote in the history of Detroit music.
The Drag City label has rescued the never released record For the Whole World to See for fans of the early punk sound. Check out this Motor City band who was way ahead of their time and should be considered a catalyst for punk music in America.
For the Whole World to See
Tonight’s third annual Kalamashoegazer festival, organized by local dreampop icons glowfriends, confirms that a rock style long thought to be out of style is enjoying a healthy afterlife. Anyone unfamiliar with shoegazer music (named after shoegaze guitarists’ tendency to keep their eyes focused on their effects pedals) can initiate themselves with any of the glowfriends’ ethereal CD selections available for loan at KPL.
The uninitiated can also go straight to the groundbreaking 1991 release by shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine, Loveless, to hear what’s generally regarded as the shoegaze masterpiece. Lush vocal harmonies float above a wash of searing guitars, distorted at an incredibly high volume, pitches bending wildly. However strange the mix sounds, the end result is, to my ears, quite beautiful - despite the overwhelming effect of the wall of guitars, melody is not sacrificed.
Live, MBV has been known to play so loudly that some audience members have claimed permanent hearing damage (earplugs are routinely offered for free at their gigs). It’s doubtful any of the bands playing Kalamashoegazer 3 will generate such dangerous volume levels, but it’s likely that the rush of sound will still awe those in attendance, and make shoegaze believers out of newcomers.
The Courteeners hail from Manchester. The four childhood friends' music shows the familiarity they have with eachother. They've gained popularity here in the states and played the Main Stage at Coachella 2009. St. Jude has both catchy and moody songs; you'll be humming "Not 19 Forever" for days (and that's good).
To say that music lost another of its heroes today seems a shallow understatement. But a visit to the Gibson guitar company’s website says it best, where a page-wide banner proclaims, “In loving memory of Les Paul, the world’s most influential, innovative guitar player and inventor.” Les Paul passed away on August 13th at the age of 94.
Les Paul had strong connection with Kalamazoo - or at least with one of Kalamazoo’s more famous manufacturers, the Gibson guitar company. Together, Les Paul and Gibson profoundly altered the face of popular music.
Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in 1915, Les was already a professional performer by the age of 13. His guitar playing technique became second-to-none, but it’s said that a music critic changed the course of his life by suggesting to Les that his guitar should be louder.
During the 1930s, Paul worked up an electric prototype (affectionately called the “Log,” actually a pine board with homemade electric pickups!) and in 1941, presented it to the Gibson company in Kalamazoo. This first attempt was a miserable failure—Gibson laughed at him—but he never looked back. “I took the Log to Gibson and I spent 10 years trying to convince them that this was the way to go,” said Paul. By 1950, Gibson’s management sensed growing competition and according to Paul, said, “Go find the kid with the broomstick and the pickups on it!”
Eventually, Les Paul formed a partnership with Gibson that not only affected his own career, but dramatically changed the face of the entire music industry. Alongside the Fender Stratocaster, Gibson’s Les Paul model is perhaps the most widely known, highly acclaimed and best loved electric guitar ever made. Period.
“The men up at Kalamazoo are working overtime to fill all the orders…”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 1951
But Les Paul’s talent for invention wasn’t limited to the guitar alone. During his career, Paul pioneered such cutting edge technology as multi-track recording and overdubbing, plus commonly used sound effects like reverb and echo.
After cutting his teeth on the radio in the 1930s, Paul’s performance career skyrocketed during the 40s and 50s with partner Mary Ford. He produced his own television show in the 1950s, and did more recording during the 60s. In 1976, he released the highly acclaimed Chester and Lester, a country and jazz fusion album with Chet Atkins. Though his hands were nearly crippled by arthritis, Paul performed actively right up until the end.
A 2007 film, Chasing Sound, celebrates Les Paul’s 90th birthday by documenting some of his final performances and highlighting his incredible contributions.
According to Gibson, Les Paul is the only individual to share membership into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He was also an honorary member of the Audio Engineering Society.
“He put the tools in our hands,” says Keith Richards. According to B.B. King, “...he’s the Boss!”
Les Paul (Associated Press photo)
Forty years ago this summer, American popular culture was changed forever. The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair in Behtel, New York, gathered a who’s who of 1969’s most popular entertainers before crowds estimated at half-a-million. Nothing before or since has matched.
Some festival performers went on to become famous stars who to this day remain definitive of the era; The Who, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Jimi Hendrix.
Others are all but forgotten, except by purists and collectors; Sweetwater, Quill, Bert Sommer, Incredible String Band.
And there are still others who, although certainly well known, we sometimes forget to associate with the festival because their performances were (for various reasons) omitted from most commercially released festival recordings until recently; Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Band.
Some didn’t even make it to the festival (Iron Butterfly was stuck at the airport), while others just didn’t care to do it; The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull. Regardless, the festival remains a cornerstone of popular entertainment and a snapshot of life as it was at the end of a tumultuous decade.
Arlo Guthrie remembers (something about) Woodstock, and his “big Checker cab.”
If you’re interested in knowing more about the “ins and outs and whats and whys” of the Woodstock Festival, or perhaps you’re simply feeling nostalgic, the library has loads of material to guide you on your journey.
The Road to Woodstock by Michael Lang
(from the publisher) On the ground with the talent, the townspeople, and his handpicked crew, Woodstock organizer Lang had a unique and panoramic perspective of the festival which became legendary. Enhanced by interviews with others who were central to the making of the festival, this book tells the story from inspiration to celebration, capturing all the magic, mayhem, and mud in between.
Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock by Pete Fornatale (Hardcover, 336 pages)
(from the publisher) Back to the Garden celebrates the music and the spirit of Woodstock through original interviews with some of the era's biggest musical stars, as well as those who participated in the festival.
Woodstock: Three Days that Rocked the World by Mike Evans
(from the publisher) With interviews and quotes from those who were there, along with photographs and graphic memorabilia, "Woodstock" is the ultimate celebration of a landmark in modern cultural history.
Young men with Unlimited Capital: The Story of Woodstock by Joel Rosenman.
(from the publisher) It started with this ad, placed by Joel Rosenman and John Roberts as a way to find interesting work after college. It led Rosenman and Roberts to stage a gathering that changed the face of popular culture: the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in August 1969. Woodstock is rightly remembered as the pivotal event that united a generation, but the behind-the-scenes story is less utopian--and absolutely fascinating.
Woodstock: An Inside Look at the Movie that Shook Up the World and Defined a Generation by Dale Bell
(from the publisher) This unique book is a collection of remembrances and perceptions from the filmmakers, performers and festival producers who created the Academy Award-winning film that defined a generation. 100 photos.
Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music Director's Cut (40th Anniversary Two-Disc Special Edition DVD) Coming soon!
(from the publisher) Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock - Three Days of Peace & Music finds the best rock stars of the 1960s performing at the historic Woodstock Music and Art Fair, the most celebrated rock concert of all time. Shot over the course of three days in August 1969, the film conveys the unique spirit of the once-in-a-lifetime, communal event, and in turn, captures the mood of an entire era. Amazingly volatile, electrifying performances are included by such timeless artists as Richie Havens; Joan Baez; The Who; Sha Na Na; Joe Cocker; Country Joe and The Fish; Arlo Guthrie; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Ten Years After; Santana; Sly and the Family Stone; Jimi Hendrix; Canned Heat; John Sebastian; Jefferson Airplane; and Janis Joplin. In addition to the music, the film's historical relevance is what makes it such an important time capsule, thrillingly eternalizing the legendary event for generations to come. This digitally remastered, widescreen director's cut of the Academy Award-winning documentary features 40 minutes of footage not included in the original film, and was released in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the legendary music festival.
Woodstock - The original 1970 film on 2 videocassettes (184 min.).
Select documentary footage of the 1969 Woodstock rock music festival.
Woodstock : the lost performances – 1 videocassette (69 min.)
(from the catalog record) When the 20th anniversary of the festival neared, archivists set out to find what remained of the 120 miles of film exposed on the project. What they found is cause for an all-new celebration - more great Woodstock performances, some by artists not seen in the original release.
Jimi Hendrix: Live at Woodstock 2 DVDs
(from the catalog record) This presentation features all of the existing film footage from Jimi's unforgettable August 1969 Woodstock concert newly re-edited and presented uninterrupted and in its original performance sequence.
The music world lost two of its favorite veterans last weekend.
Willy Deville was a singer and songwriter, whose 35-year career produced a significant body of work that was revered by a legion of faithful fans, especially in Europe. His band, Mink Deville, was a mainstay at New York’s legendary club, CBGB. In 1980, critic Robert Palmer wrote this of Deville in the New York Times; “He embodies (New York’s) tangle of cultural contradictions while making music that's both idiomatic, in the broadest sense, and utterly original.” Deville passed away on August 6th. He was 58.
A half-brother of folk legend Pete Seeger and brother of renowned folk artist Peggy Seeger, Mike Seeger was himself an inspiring songwriter, performer and folklorist. Co-founder of the New Lost City Ramblers, Seeger received six Grammy nominations, and influenced a generation of faithful followers, including Bob Dylan. Seeger passed away on August 7th at the age of 75.
Mike Seeger - Southern Banjo Sounds
Andrew Bird’s music is in many ways unremarkable, in the sense that he like so many other musicians working today, crafts quirky, folk-pop with lyrics that strike you as urbane and literary. What differentiates Bird’s sundry brand of high-indie folk within this excessively saturated genre, packed full of overhyped, one-dimensional signer songwriters, stems from his classical music training, specifically his employment of the violin and other non-traditional rock and roll instrumentation (whistling and glockenspiel e.g.). Such an eclectic background provides Bird’s music with so much more compositional depth and textural nuance than his contemporary peers. Sample some of Bird’s material in this video clip at Pitchfork Media. If you’re a fan, Bird is slated to play the Kalamazoo State Theater on October 18th.
Noble beast [sound recording]
If there’s a common thread running through most of my favorite music, I would have to say that it’s the piano. I love nothing more than rock/pop songs laden with piano, so of course I love Regina Spektor's music. Russian-born, Brooklyn-raised Spektor composes songs around the piano and pairs them with her oscillating vocals and narrative lyrics to create a distinctive, fun sound. I often hear her described as quirky, but that simple interpretation of her music undermines her classical training and complexity of sound. Her latest album, Far, explores themes of alienation in daily life. I enjoy it immensely, though I am fonder of her previous two albums, pop masterpiece Begin to Hope and folk-infused Soviet Kitsch.