Friday, May 22, 2015

Ronnie James Dio 5th Year Remembrance Weekend Celebrates Legend's Life

Story by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ronnie Lyon
On May 16, 2010, Ronnie James Dio passed away from stomach cancer. He was 67 and still rocking hard as the lead vocalist for Heaven & Hell, featuring guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Vinny Appice — the same lineup known as Black Sabbath in the early 80s. Since that time, Dio had risen to the top of the heap with his own band, becoming an elder statesman of the hard rock and heavy metal scene. He had also earned a reputation for being a friendly and approachable guy who mentored and befriended dozens of singers and musicians. It’s no wonder fans and friends from all around the planet still mourn his passing.
Celebrating Dio the legend and the man on the anniversary of his death has become an annual event. For the fifth anniversary, Wendy Dio, the singer’s wife and manager, pulled out all the stops and staged a “Remembrance Weekend”. Rather than mourn his death, it was a celebration of his life filled with fun and great music for both fans and friends. There was “Bowl For Ronnie” at the Pinz Bowling Center in Studio City on Friday; a memorial and musical celebration at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills where the singer was laid to rest in 2010 on Saturday; and a “Ride For Ronnie” followed by a barbecue and more music at Los Encinos Park in Encino on Sunday. All money raised — from food, drink, T-shirts, swag and a number of exclusive items auctioned off — went to the Ronnie James Dio Stand & Up Shout Cancer Fund.
“I’m overwhelmed by the amount of support,” Wendy Dio told me. “We’re celebrating Ronnie’s life and his legacy, and it’s for a good cause.” She and her late husband did a good amount of charity work, so it was a no-brainer when she and 14 friends set up the Ronnie James Dio Stand & Up Shout Cancer Fund, as a way to bringing awareness to the devastating disease that ended her husband’s life. “Our cancer fund is for prostrate cancer, colon cancer and pancreatic cancer,” she said.

Beyond the music, Wendy Dio described her husband as a regular guy when he wasn’t on the road or in the studio. “When he was home, we used to spend time at home, watching sports,” she recalled. “We’d go to an English pub and have a beer.” It's those kind of simple moments that Wendy remembers the most about Ronnie.
Everyone I spoke with has a place in their heart for Ronnie James Dio. Eddie Trunk from That Metal Show hosted the weekend’s events. Since Dio passed away, Trunk says he’s hosted a number of events for the Ronnie James Dio Stand & Up Shout Cancer Fund. “I’ve auctioned off tickets on That Metal Show,” he said. “I’ve done some benefits.” He pointed out that the Ronnie James Dio Stand & Up Shout Cancer Fund T-shirt he was wearing sold out after he wore it on That Metal Show.
Many of those who turned out for the weekend’s events were, of course, musical cohorts with special memories of Ronnie James Dio. Drummer Simon Wright, who played with Dio in the late 80s and then again from the late 90s until 2010, has nothing but good things to say about the singer. “I was lucky enough to be in his band for a quite a while,” he said. “It’s something I’m very proud of.”
Wright, along with other former Dio players like guitarist Craig Goldy, bassist Rudy Sarzo, and keyboardist Scott Warren, played at the memorial and the barbecue as Dio Disciples. “I wish it wasn’t Dio Disciples, I wish it was Dio,” Wright remarked offhandedly. The drummer’s first encounter with Dio was at a Rainbow concert in the 1977. Years later, when he joined up with the singer, the Dios treated him like family, even letting him stay at their house after a divorce. “He was like a brother and a father to us. I’ll never forget him and I miss him.”
Singer Oni Logan, who's been making the rounds with Lynch Mob, also developed a friendship with Dio. “He was the main reason I came out from Florida,” Logan said, adding they met at a show and ended up chatting about singing into the night. “I told him I would love to come out to LA, but I don’t know anybody, and he said, 'You do now.'”
Logan sang the Rainbow classic “Stargazer” with Dio Disciples at the memorial. “We try to keep his music alive,” he said. “It’s great music — those songs he cultivated with Dio, Rainbow and Black Sabbath.”
Lisa Margaroli, who sings with Hollywood favorites Celebrity Trash and was helping out with the weekend’s events, is another one who cites Dio’s impact on her career. “He was such a huge influence on my life as a singer,” she said, adding that they met after a Heaven & Hell show at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “I told him I was moving to LA to become a rock star and he said, 'I’ll see you in Hollywood baby’ and he gave me a hug. It was an amazing moment for me.”
With over a million dollars raised for the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up & Shout Cancer Fund, and more to come from this weekend’s festivities, it's obvious that Ronnie James Dio transcends his public persona as a singer, performer and songwriter. He was, by all accounts, a kind and giving man, inspired to help others achieve their dreams. His legacy lives on through his music, his friends, his family and a fund to save lives. Not a bad way to be remembered.

Saturday - May 16, 2015

Sunday - May 17, 2015
Ride For Ronnie & BBQ

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Rolling Stones Brings Laughs, Lies & 'Sticky Fingers' To Intimate L.A. Show

Mick Jagger was in a cheeky mood -- as if he ever isn’t, at least publicly -- as The Rolling Stones opened their 2015 tour Wednesday with a surprise set at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. The 1,200-capacity theater is “a bit smaller than the Staples Center,” he pointed out. “We’re at the Fonda, and of course we’ve got Jane Fonda…” The audience on the floor followed his sightline to the VIP balcony, searching in vain. “…and her father, Henry. And Miley Cyrus, and Clark Gable. Taylor Swift’s here with Dean Martin. Thank you, Dean; love your work.”

In fact, Swift was simultaneously opening the U.S. leg of her own tour 1,600 miles away, while all the other visiting dignitaries Jagger mentioned were either MIA or, in the manner of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, still dead. The real guest list was good enough not to require any fabulist stretches on Jagger’s part, though, with Jack Nicholson, Harry Styles, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Willis among the very important people. Non-VIPs included a few hundred fans who’d gotten sweaty fingers going online at noon to buy $5 tickets for a show based around the 1971 Sticky Fingers album, unzipped in its entirety for the first time on stage.

Jagger previously told Rolling Stone the band is considering playing all of Sticky Fingers -- which is getting a deluxe reissue on June 9 -- on their upcoming 15-date Zip Code tour. Whether that will happen remains to be seen: A press release issued just after Wednesday’s pop-up gig described it as “a one-time-only set.” So when Jagger told the crowd that in playing a full album “we’re gonna do something we’ve never done before,” he may also have meant that it was something they’d never do again. Sunday’s previously scheduled official tour opening at Petco Park in San Diego will tell the tale.

Following three opening standards, Jagger got to the part fans were salivating for. “We used to make these (records), and they went round and round and round. There was a cardboard cover people would stare at for ages, reading inferences in that had nothing to do with anything… We’re gonna do Sticky -- in the order of the 8-track tape,” he announced. Perhaps noticing some too-dutiful nodding on the part of the fans, he added, “A lot of this is a joke, so don’t be too literal.” The running order of the album was significantly changed, not in honor of primitive technological restrictions, but because there was no way the Stones were going to do a set-within-a-set that started with “Brown Sugar” and ended with four slow songs in a row. So the group started the album performance with “Sway” and ended with “Sugar,” with Jagger sounding nearly apologetic about some of the less frenzied material that came in-between.

“I should’ve warned you before, there could be a lot of ‘60s drug references in this record that could confuse some people,” the singer cautioned, before the band went into “Sister Morphine.” (Not to worry: the cocaine references in that song and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” could be explained to the younger people in the audience as that stuff Joan tried on the Mad Men finale a few nights earlier.) After “Morphine,” he quipped, and/or apologized, “Yes, indeed, that’s a bit of a down song. And, there’s more to come! It must have been a down period.” No apologia required when the following number had Keith Richards breaking out the 12-string acoustic for “I Got the Blues,” capped by a moaning sing-along that elicited Jagger’s first full grin of the night.

For much of the Sticky Fingers run-through, Richards held back and let Ron Wood take the guitar leads, at least the ones that originally belonged to Mick Taylor, who re-joined the Stones for guest spots on their 2013 tour but apparently will not be participating in this one. Richards finally came to the lip of the stage for the touring staple “Bitch,” only to let Wood take over again and expertly emulate Taylor’s style on the most expansive number, fan favorite “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” which had new addition Karl Denson replacing the recently deceased Bobby Keys on the famous sax-solo coda. “A bit of jazz, almost jazz, there -- a rarity,” Jagger vamped afterward.

Just as the show opened with three non-Sticky numbers, there were three unrelated encore numbers, including covers of B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” and Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose.” There was no “Satisfaction,” but a surfeit of actual satisfaction, as diehard devotees on the floor (and maybe even a few of the VIPs in the balcony) enthused that they might’ve just seen the Stones show of a lifetime.

“Thank you, Los Angeles! I hope you all got your $10 back,” Jagger said, referring to the fact that fans who’d spent that much for a pair of tickets online had their money refunded when they went to pick up their tickets… a favor that presumably won’t be repeated when the stadium part of the tour gets underway. As with many great one-night stands, some false promises were made: “Next year we’ll come back and do the whole of Satanic Majesties,” Jagger fibbed.

May 20, 2015 Rolling Stones set list:

Start Me Up
When the Whip Comes Down
All Down the Line
Dead Flowers
Wild Horses
Sister Morphine
You Gotta Move
Can't You Hear Me Knocking
I Got the Blues
Moonlight Mile
Brown Sugar


Rock Me Baby (B.B. King cover)
Jumpin' Jack Flash
I Can't Turn You Loose (Otis Redding cover)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Lou Gramm To Embark On North American Summer / Fall Tour

If you listen to classic rock radio on a daily basis, you'd be hard-pressed to go a full day without hearing the distinctive and powerful vocals of Lou Gramm blasting through your speakers.      

As the voice of Foreigner, one of rock's most popular and successful bands, Gramm can be heard on every single one of the band's classic hits, which includes sixteen Top 30 songs and nine Top 10's over the years. For those into chart success, that's one less than the Eagles and the same as Fleetwood Mac.  

Here are the Top 10's: "I Want To Know What Love Is," "Waiting For A Girl Like You," "Double Vision," "Hot Blooded," "Urgent," "Feels Like The First Time," "I Don't Want To Live Without You," "Say You Will" and "Cold As Ice."

You know them well.

And let's not forget "Head Games," the rock anthem, "Juke Box Hero" and other rockers such as "Dirty White Boy," "That Was Yesterday," "Blue Morning, Blue Day," "Long Long Way From Home" and "Break It Up" that cracked the Top 30.

By 1980, Foreigner's first eight singles (from their first three albums, Foreigner, Double Vision and Head Games) entered the Billboard Top 20 charts, making them the first band to achieve that feat since the Beatles.                    

On Friday, June 5, fans are in for a real rock and roll treat as Lou will performing a vast selection of those Foreigner hits, along with such solo hits as "Midnight Blue" and "Just Between You and Me," with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Guest Conductor: Brent Havens) and his band at the Delta Classic Chastain Park Amphitheater in Atlanta, Georgia.        

One hit after another.
In 1978, shortly after the release of "Hot Blooded," Circus magazine remarked that Lou had a voice that Robert Plant might envy.

Of course, the rest was rock and roll history as when all might have been said but not yet done, Foreigner would join Led Zeppelin on the Atlantic Records label as one of the most successful artists ever on the imprint.              

In May of 2013, Lou, with the help of writer Scott Pitoniak, released a must-read autobiography titled, Juke Box Hero: My Five Decades in Rock 'n' Roll (Triumph Books).

A month later, he would be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.      
Gramm and his band -- currently featuring brother Ben Grammatico on drums, Michael Staertow on guitar, AD Zimmer on bass and Andy Knoll on keyboards -- have been on the road since the beginning of the year and have already performed a few dozen shows to date.

Here's what's coming up.

Lou Gramm Tour 2015*

May 21 - Snoqualmie Casino - Snoqualmie, Washington
May 23 - Bakersfield Rockin Country Festival - Bakersfield, California
June 5 - Chastain Amphitheatre with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra - Atlanta, Georgia
June 6 - Old Shawnee Days Festival - Shawnee, Kansas
June 20 - Hard Rock Rocksino - Northfield, Ohio
June 27 - Rockin Ribs Festival - Augusta, New Jersey
July 4 - Sun Peaks Concert Series - Sun Peaks Village, British Columbia, Canada
July 10 - Peacefest - Peace River, Alberta, Canada
July 11 - BobStock - Fort Morgan, Colorado
July 16 - La Fete Du Lac Nations - Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada
July 19 - Great S. Bay Music Fest - Patchogue, New York    
July 27 - Olds Agricultural Grandstand in Olds, Alberta, Canada
July 31 - Rockin on the River Series - North Tonawanda, New York    
August 14 - Wisconsin State Fair - West Allis, Wisconsin
August 28 - Beacon Theatre - Hopewell, Virginia
August 29 - DeKalb Corn Festival - DeKalb, Illinois
September 2 - Minnesota State Fair - St. Paul, Minnesota
September 3 - Minnesota State Fair - St. Paul, Minnesota
September 12 - Clovis Music Festival - Clovis, New Mexico        

*Additional dates to be announced.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Yes Bassist, Sole Original Member Chris Squire To Undergo Treatment For Leukemia

Grammy Award-winning bass guitarist, vocalist, and founding member of Yes, Chris Squire, has been diagnosed with Acute Erythroid Leukemia (AEL), an uncommon form of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). 

Squire will be receiving treatment in his hometown of Phoenix over the next few months.

Yes will be honoring their commitment to their North American summer tour with Toto, as well as confirming their performances on the Cruise To The Edge in November.

Squire's role in the band will be covered by Yes alumnus Billy Sherwood.

To quote the bassist, "This will be the first time since the band formed in 1968 that Yes will have performed live without me. But the other guys and myself have agreed that Billy Sherwood will do an excellent job of covering my parts and the show as a whole will deliver the same Yes experience that our fans have come to expect over the years."

Friday, May 15, 2015

B. B. King, Defining Bluesman For Generations, Dies At 89

From the New York Times

B. B. King, whose world-weary voice and wailing guitar lifted him from the cotton fields of Mississippi to a global stage and the apex of American blues, died on Thursday at his home in Las Vegas. He was 89.

His death was reported on his website, which said he died in his sleep. Mr. King, who was in hospice care, had been performing until October 2014, when he canceled a tour, citing dehydration and exhaustion stemming from diabetes.

Mr. King married country blues to big-city rhythms and created a sound instantly recognizable to millions: a stinging guitar with a shimmering vibrato, notes that coiled and leapt like an animal, and a voice that groaned and bent with the weight of lust, longing and lost love.

“I wanted to connect my guitar to human emotions,” Mr. King said in his autobiography, “Blues All Around Me” (1996), written with David Ritz.

In performances, his singing and his solos flowed into each other as he wrung notes from the neck of his guitar, vibrating his hand as if it were wounded, his face a mask of suffering. Many of the songs he sang — like his biggest hit, “The Thrill Is Gone” (“I’ll still live on/But so lonely I’ll be”) — were poems of pain and perseverance.

The music historian Peter Guralnick once noted that Mr. King helped expand the audience for the blues through “the urbanity of his playing, the absorption of a multiplicity of influences, not simply from the blues, along with a graciousness of manner and willingness to adapt to new audiences and give them something they were able to respond to.”

B. B. stood for Blues Boy, a name he took with his first taste of fame in the 1940s. His peers were bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, whose nicknames fit their hard-bitten lives. But he was born a King, albeit in a sharecropper’s shack surrounded by dirt-poor laborers and wealthy landowners.

Mr. King went out on the road and never came back after one of his first recordings reached the top of the rhythm-and-blues charts in 1951. He began in juke joints, country dance halls and ghetto nightclubs, playing 342 one-night stands in 1956 and 200 to 300 shows a year for a half-century thereafter, rising to concert halls, casino main stages and international acclaim.

He was embraced by rock ’n’ roll fans of the 1960s and ’70s, who remained loyal as they grew older together. His playing influenced many of the most successful rock guitarists of the era, including Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

Mr. King considered a 1968 performance at the Fillmore West, the San Francisco rock palace, to have been the moment of his commercial breakthrough, he told a public-television interviewer in 2003. A few years earlier, he recalled, an M.C. in an elegant Chicago club had introduced him thus: “O.K., folks, time to pull out your chitlins and your collard greens, your pigs’ feet and your watermelons, because here is B. B. King.” It had infuriated him.

When he saw “long-haired white people” lining up outside the Fillmore, he said, he told his road manager, “I think they booked us in the wrong place.” Then the promoter Bill Graham introduced him to the sold-out crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the chairman of the board, B. B. King.”

“Everybody stood up, and I cried,” Mr. King said. “That was the beginning of it.”

By his 80th birthday he was a millionaire many times over. He owned a mansion in Las Vegas, a closet full of embroidered tuxedoes and smoking jackets, a chain of nightclubs bearing his name (including a popular room on West 42nd Street in Manhattan) and the personal and professional satisfaction of having endured.

Through it all he remained with the great love of his life, his guitar. He told the tale a thousand times: He was playing a dance hall in Twist, Ark., in the early 1950s when two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove. Mr. King fled the blaze — and then remembered his $30 guitar. He ran into the burning building to rescue it.

He learned thereafter that the fight had been about a woman named Lucille. For the rest of his life, Mr. King addressed his guitars — big Gibsons, curved like a woman’s hips — as Lucille.

He married twice, unsuccessfully, and was legally single from 1966 onward; by his own account he fathered 15 children with 15 women. But a Lucille was always at his side.

Riley B. King (the middle initial apparently did not stand for anything) was born on Sept. 16, 1925, to Albert and Nora Ella King, both sharecroppers, in Berclair, a Mississippi hamlet outside the small town of Itta Bena. His memories of the Depression included the sound of sanctified gospel music, the scratch of 78-r.p.m. blues records, the sweat of dawn-to-dusk work and the sight of a black man lynched by a white mob.

By early 1940 Mr. King’s mother was dead and his father was gone. He was 14 and on his own, “sharecropping an acre of cotton, living on a borrowed allowance of $2.50 a month,” wrote Dick Waterman, a blues scholar. “When the crop was harvested, Riley ended his first year of independence owing his landlord $7.54.”

In November 1941 came a revelation: “King Biscuit Time” went on the air, broadcasting on KFFA, a radio station in Helena, Ark. It was the first radio show to feature the Mississippi Delta blues, and young Riley King heard it on his lunch break at the plantation. A largely self-taught guitarist, he now knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: a musician on the air.

The King Biscuit show featured Rice Miller, a primeval bluesman and one of two performers who worked under the name Sonny Boy Williamson. After serving in the Army and marrying his first wife, Martha Denton, Mr. King, then 22, went to seek him out in Memphis, looking for work. Memphis and its musical hub, Beale Street, lay 130 miles north of his birthplace, and it looked like a world capital to him.

Mr. Miller had two performances booked that night, one in Memphis and one in Mississippi. He handed the lower-paying nightclub job to Mr. King. It paid $12.50.

Mr. King was making about $5 a day on the plantation. He never returned to his tractor.

He was a hit, and quickly became a popular disc jockey playing the blues on a Memphis radio station, WDIA. “Before Memphis,” he wrote in his autobiography, “I never even owned a record player. Now I was sitting in a room with a thousand records and the ability to play them whenever I wanted. I was the kid in the candy store, able to eat it all. I gorged myself.”

I have been a passionate blues fan my whole life and it all started when I was in fifth grade and I heard my first B.B. King track. I got so...

On the air in Memphis, Mr. King was nicknamed the Beale Street Blues Boy. That became Blues Boy, which became B. B. In December 1951, two years after arriving in Memphis, Mr. King released a single, “Three O’Clock Blues,” which reached No. 1 on the rhythm-and-blues charts and stayed there for 15 weeks.

He began a tour of the biggest stages a bluesman could play: the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Howard Theater in Washington, the Royal Theater in Baltimore. By the time his wife divorced him after eight years, he was playing 275 one-night stands a year on the so-called chitlin’ circuit.

There were hard times when the blues fell out of fashion with young black audiences in the early 1960s. Mr. King never forgot being booed at the Royal by teenagers who cheered the sweeter sounds of Sam Cooke.

“They didn’t know about the blues,” he said 40 years after the fact. “They had been taught that the blues was the bottom of the totem pole, done by slaves, and they didn’t want to think along those lines.”

Mr. King’s second marriage, to Sue Hall, also lasted eight years, ending in divorce in 1966. He responded in 1969 with his best-known recording, “The Thrill Is Gone,” a minor-key blues about having loved and lost. It was co-written and originally recorded in 1951 by another blues singer, Roy Hawkins, but Mr. King made it his own.

Mr. King is survived by 11 children. Three of them had recently petitioned to take over his affairs, claiming that Mr. King’s manager, Laverne Toney, was taking advantage of him. A Las Vegas judge rejected their petition this month.

The success of “The Thrill Is Gone” coincided with a surge in the popularity of the blues with a young white audience. Mr. King began playing folk festivals and college auditoriums, rock shows and resort clubs, and appearing on “The Tonight Show.”

Though he never had another hit that big, he had more than four decades of the road before him. He eventually played the world — Russia and China as well as Europe and Japan. His schedule around his 81st birthday, in September 2006, included nine cities over two weeks in Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg. Despite health problems, he maintained a busy touring schedule until 2014.

In addition to winning 15 Grammy Awards (including a lifetime achievement award), having a star on Hollywood Boulevard and being inducted in both the Rock and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame, Mr. King was among the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995 and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006, awards rarely associated with the blues. In 1999, in a public conversation with William Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Mr. King recounted how he came to sing the blues.

“Growing up on the plantation there in Mississippi, I would work Monday through Saturday noon,” he said. “I’d go to town on Saturday afternoons, sit on the street corner, and I’d sing and play.

“I’d have me a hat or box or something in front of me. People that would request a gospel song would always be very polite to me, and they’d say: ‘Son, you’re mighty good. Keep it up. You’re going to be great one day.’ But they never put anything in the hat.

“But people that would ask me to sing a blues song would always tip me and maybe give me a beer. They always would do something of that kind. Sometimes I’d make 50 or 60 dollars one Saturday afternoon. Now you know why I’m a blues singer.”