Thursday, September 30, 2010

Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King Blues Summit Coming To DVD

On December 6, 1983, legendary blues guitarist Albert King joined his disciple Stevie Ray Vaughan on a Canadian sound stage for the live music television series In Session.

Magic happened.

The highly sought after video footage from that one-time legendary summit becomes available for the first time ever on November 9 with the release of Stax Records’ deluxe two-disc CD/DVD In Session.

The DVD contains three classic performances unavailable on the previously issued audio disc: “Born Under a Bad Sign,” the landmark title track from Albert King’s biggest Stax release written by William Bell and Booker T. Jones; Stevie Ray’s “Texas Flood,” the Larry Davis-penned title track of Vaughan’s immortal debut album; and “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” made famous by Louis Jordan and later, Ray Charles.

“It was evident from the first choruses,” writes liner notes author/musicologist Samuel Charters, “that they were playing for each other. And that was the best audience either of them could ever have. The music never lost its intensity, its quality of something very important being handed back and forth and there was time for Stevie and Albert to see where their ideas took them.”

Accolades have showered upon this momentous encounter.

“As a document of what was probably one of the greatest nights in the musical life of SRV, this belongs in the collection of every true fan,” said the Austin American-Statesman.

Sonic Boomers added, “Both men are gone now, but rare recordings like In Session remind us of a time when blues giants still walked the earth side by side.”

Elmore magazine called it “an indispensable part of any blues fan’s collection.”

BluesWax add: “Thank goodness, this disc lives on and on.”

This one-of-a-kind visual document featuring two giants of American blues can be enjoyed by audiences all over the world. Sadly, King and Vaughan would not share a stage together ever again. Vaughan, 31 years King’s junior, died in a helicopter crash in the fog on the way back from a concert in 1990. King outlived him by two years, dying of a heart attack in 1992.

They didn’t meet often, and their careers took different paths. But we can all be grateful for that one long day in a television studio when sparks flew and this timeless performance was forever captured.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jerry Lee Lewis Lost For Words As He Turns 75

The Killer" is running low on ammo as he marks his 75th birthday.

Jerry Lee Lewis can still pound out "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire" on his piano, and he just released a new album with help from the likes of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ringo Starr, Kid Rock and Willie Nelson.

But a recent Q&A session with the rock 'n' roll legend at the Grammy Museum was an uncomfortable experience as a blank-faced Lewis sat at a piano and mumbled brief answers to a moderator's questions that he had heard a million times before.

How was his Sun Records labelmate Carl Perkins? "A great guy, a very dear friend."

How about Chuck Berry? "Awesome, fantastic."

His reaction to meeting the Beatles? "Those boys are gonna be big."

Does he play piano at home? "A little bit."

Lewis is on the promotional trail for the album, Mean Old Man," whose Kris Kristofferson-written title track has generated some laughs. Lewis was quite the hellraiser back in the 1950s, and modern-day fans would still like to picture him as a wild child spreading the devil's music.

Is he, in fact, a mean old man? "No," he said to laughs. "I just heard the demo on it and I said, 'That is a hit.'"

Moreover he did not even know that the song, featuring Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, would become the album title.

At any rate, the CD artwork suggests that a better title might have been Dirty Old Man. Lewis, seated in an old limo, is greeted by four fresh-faced young women evidently eager to get their hands on him. Lewis is smiling.

One imagines his collaboration with Sheryl Crow on "You Are My Sunshine" was a personal highlight. He described the 48-year-old rocker as "a good looking little girl."

He struggled to remember the names of any of his other guest collaborators, and brushed off a lengthy question about his cover of Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," saying its inclusion was a management decision.

The brains behind the project were Phoebe Lewis, his daughter and manager, and its producers, session drummer Jim Keltner and property heir Steve Bing.

Just as Lewis does not like to waste words, he also wasted little time in the studio, Keltner said. Most of the songs were done in one take, just like "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire."

"When we got into studio with Jerry Lee he took over," Keltner said. "He sat down and played, we fell in with him and God help the guitar players, see if they could make all ... the chord changes happen."

Referring to the title of Lewis' previous all-star album from 2006, Keltner described him as "the last man standing ... There's three guys from that era left. There's Chuck, Little Richard and Jerry Lee, and that's getting slim.

"When you have these great original guys that created this stuff still alive and you're asked to be a part of it, or if there's an opportunity for you to ask to be a part of it, you don't pass that up," Keltner said.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond Make List For Rock Hall Of Fame

Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond and Bon Jovi and were among the 15 acts nominated on for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

"We believe our nominating committee has put forth a list of artists that truly represents the wide variety of music that defines rock and roll," Joel Peresman, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation said in a statement.

Also on the shortlist were Chic, Donovan, Dr. John, J. Geils Band, LL Cool J, Darlene Love, Laura Nyro, Donna Summer, Joe Tex, Tom Waits and Chuck Willis.

To be eligible for nomination into the Hall, acts must have released their first single or album at least 25 years prior to the nomination year. The 2011 nominees had to release their first recording no later than 1985.

Ballots will be sent to more than 500 voters. Inductees will be announced in
December. The 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held on March 14, 2011 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Doobie Brothers Go Indie For First Album In 10 Years

One August night a few weeks ago, as the Doobie Brothers were playing before 18,000 ardent fans in Montana, founding guitarist Pat Simmons looked out into the audience.

"I see this guy in dreads; he's probably 18 years old. He's got his fist up in the air and he's shaking his head. And right beside him is a bald guy, probably 65 years old, and he's got his fist in the air and he's shaking his head. It's all the same; we're making a connection," Simmons says. He skips a beat before adding, "They were right in front of the girl who was pulling her blouse off."

For nearly 40 years the Doobie Brothers have been rocking down the highway, selling some 40 million albums worldwide, according to its management, and delivering more than two dozen charting singles, including such classics as "Black Water," "Listen to the Music," "China Grove and "Long Train Runnin'."

And the Northern California band -- which also includes founding vocalist Tom Johnston and two other longtime members, multi-instrumentalist John McFee and drummer Michael Hossack -- is far from done. The Doobies remain a strong live draw, and they're releasing their first album since 2000's Sibling Rivalry.

World Gone Crazy arrives September 28. The set features such classic Doobie-style songs as "Nobody" (a remake of a tune that appeared on the group's 1971 self-titled debut) but also sees the band stretching musically, such as on the gospel-inflected "A Brighter Day" and the New Orleans brass of the title track.

"It's the best thing we've done musically in forever," Johnston says of the album.

The set was recorded during a three-year period. It was co-produced by the band with Ted Templeman, the producer behind all of the group's classic hits, who was with the band in the beginning. It features guest appearances by Willie Nelson and former Doobie Michael McDonald.

"We'd been talking about some other people and then Ted came in," Simmons says. "We knew that would be a good partnership and just fun for us to return to our roots."

To release World Gone Crazy, the Doobies turned to HOR Entertainment, a new independent company launched by industry veterans. Although initially leery of signing with an indie after the band's long career on major labels, longtime Doobies manager Bruce Cohn says, "HOR just surfaced as people who seemed to have genuine interest in bringing the band back into the forefront of their audience and gaining a new audience, and seemed to really have the fire."

The HOR deal includes a live CD/DVD package, as well as a concept album with the band re-creating its hits with special guests.

Still a staple on classic rock stations, the band is going to radio with new tracks for the first time in more than a decade. The opening salvo is the rollicking "Nobody." Plans are to take as many as four singles to various radio formats, including, Cohn says, possibly remixing "Far From Home" for country radio.

In concert, the Doobies perform three of the new songs -- "Nobody," "Chateau" and "World Gone Crazy" -- and are finding that the material blends in perfectly with the classics. "I was shocked" by the reception, Johnston says. "In the old days, when we'd start playing new songs, (the audience) would just sit around and stare at you. (Now), they've been very accepting and it's very rewarding."

With the new album come new touring opportunities. In October, the Doobies start their most expansive tour of Europe in a decade, headlining on their own and touring with ZZ Top in a three-week outing.

Even when they haven't had new material to showcase, the Doobies have kept their loyal concert audience on the strength of their catalog and their tight live show, which is bumper-to-bumper hits.

The Doobies played the Allman Brothers' Wanee Festival this year, alongside such acts as the Black Keys, as well as Louisville, Ky.'s Hullabalou Festival, which also featured Dave Matthews Band and Kenny Chesney.

At the end of this record cycle, Cohn says he'd like to see the band be able to fill amphitheaters on its own without having to co-headline.

Johnston hopes songs from the new album get significant airplay, but, if nothing else, he wants it to build enough awareness for the band that he no longer has to answer one particular question.

"One of the things that's really bugged me is the crowd goes crazy, (then) you hear after the show, 'You guys are great. When did you get back together?' That drives me nuts. You're out there doing 90 shows a year and they say that. It makes you wonder, 'What do I have to do to make people aware you're out doing this?'"

To be sure, the band has been back together for 17 consecutive years, but it's understandable that its somewhat fractured history could lead to some confusion among its more casual fans.

The group's earliest days are filled with memories of many laughs, but also hard times. "We were (living) on food stamps and brown rice," Cohn says. "I was taking guns and knives from Hell's Angels." His initial prediction for the band was that "they were going to go five years or so and we'd all be broke at the end," he says with a laugh.

The success of the 1972 single "Listen to the Music," on the band's second Warner Bros. album, "Toulouse Street," signaled an end to the struggles. "When we started getting songs on the radio, that changed everything," Johnston says. "We went from vans to a plane, a 1944 Martin. It's not like we were flying in Gulfstreams. We took the seats out and sat on the floor a lot. We played poker and played music. It was a blast."

And there were some odd stage pairings along the way, including touring with T-Rex, whose lead singer, the late Marc Bolan, Johnston and Simmons both remember fondly as "quite the character," Johnston says. "We were kind of this biker band, all in leather. And Marc was all in lace and a satin suit," Simmons recalls with a laugh. "It didn't take us long to have the satin suits and platform shoes."

The band was an unstoppable force, experiencing massive success on radio and selling out its 200 shows per year. The schedule wreaked havoc on Johnston's health, and by 1976, the self-avowed "homebody" had to pull off the road.

McDonald joined the band in the mid-'70s, replacing Johnston, and led the band into a more soul-influenced era, as well as a critically acclaimed one: The Doobies' 1978 album, Minute by Minute, captured an album of the year Grammy Award nomination, and "What a Fool Believes' won the record of the year award.

"I loved Michael's sensibility. I love his songs. I love his voice and what he brought to everything," says Simmons, the only member to have worked with every incarnation of the band. "For me, personally, it was just an enjoyable experience all around. I know the two styles are different, but in a certain sense, it held some of the same qualities."

Despite its success, the McDonald iteration of the band fell apart and the Doobies called it quits in 1982. Various members played an annual charity concert, but it wasn't until 1987, when drummer Keith Knudsen (who died in 2005) wanted to reunite the band for a veterans' charity, did it re-form for good.

"Keith called me and asked if we could get them together for a benefit, and I told him who to call first, one at a time, to get them to say 'yes,'" Cohn says.

The demand for the reunion, which included both Johnston and McDonald, was so great, that instead of one show, the group played 13, most of them for charity. "When they first came out onstage for the Sports Arena show in San Diego, they got a five-minute standing ovation," Cohn says. "The Hollywood Bowl sold out in 20 minutes, and I'm like, 'Do you think no one wants to see you now?'"

After that successful outing (and with McDonald enjoying a strong solo career), the group decided to go forward with Johnston as lead singer again. The Doobies signed with Capitol Records and returned with the successful Cycles. Another brief hiatus and change of secondary personnel occurred in the early '90s, but the band -- with Simmons, Johnston, McFee and Haddock (who's now on medical leave) -- has been touring continuously since 1993.

Neither Simmons nor Johnston sees any end in sight. "I think we play better than we ever did," Johnston says. "I can't recall hardly any nights where I've walked off stage and felt it didn't work."

Through it all, the band has stayed true to its roots without regard for fads or trends. "We weren't a disco band during the disco era; we weren't a punk band during the punk era," Simmons says. "We've always been who we are, and I think that's been important to our fans. It's always been important to us."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Is Video Killing The Concert Vibe?


n the audience at a recent Natalie Merchant concert at an 880-seat theater in Los Angeles, Adam Miles couldn't focus. The man to his left was holding up his cell phone, shooting video. "Please," Mr. Miles asked his neighbor, "turn it off." A few songs later, the phone lit up again, and the San Diego harbor police officer got more commanding: "Hey, dude. You're going to have to put that away. You're ruining the show for me."

Mr. Miles wasn't the only one distracted by the gadgetry. In the second half of the concert, Ms. Merchant paused to call out a man near the front who'd been brandishing his phone throughout. "I'm right here," she said with icy sarcasm. "This is live. This is where the show is." Then she told the audience to just get it over with, briefly striking poses as hundreds of devices clicked away.

At most concerts these days, when the houselights go down, the tiny glowing screens go up. As more fans mark the moments with smart phones, cameras and pocket-sized video recorders, a new kind of digital divide is emerging. Music lovers who try to document and share the essence of concerts are squaring off against those who think that just defeats the purpose. The debate is drawing participants from both sides of the stage.

Some bands, including the venerated rock groups Wilco and the Black Crowes, are asking their fans to go cold turkey on taking videos and photos at concerts. In movie houses, such edicts are meant to fight piracy and copyright infringement. In the music industry, where that ship has already sailed, these new policies are more about preserving the tribal atmosphere of a concert.

When the Black Crowes decided to prohibit pictures and videos for its current tour, the band took some flak. "How incredibly lame," wrote one of many Facebook users who speculated that the group was trying to protect its ability to profit from professionally shot photos and videos.

And indeed, artists don't want to alienate the very fans who pay to see them, and often proselytize on their behalf. In an industry where album sales continue to decay, social media is the hoped-for lifeline. Acts are all too aware of how their careers can be buoyed or sunk by a critical mass of exclamation-pointed Facebook postings and Twitter links to raw footage.

Plugged-in concertgoers are seizing new ways to participate in the show beyond simply clapping, hollering and maybe buying a T-shirt. For some, it's enough to fill hard drives with souvenir moments; others have found audiences of their own online, especially among passionate fans whose hometowns rarely show up on tour itineraries.

Chris Robinson, 44-year-old singer for the Black Crowes, isn't on board. "As a band we've been trying to string together these moments, the kind of moments I've had as a music fan that have blown my mind. That's not happening when you're texting or checking your fucking fantasy league stats," he says. "I personally think you should be too high to operate a machine at our concerts."

While there are still artists who cry piracy, many others have either thrown up their hands or pounced on the free promotion these videos provide. They range from young acts like Justin Bieber and Owl City, who were launched almost exclusively via online buzz, to the famously open-source group Radiohead.

Earlier this month, fans released a free two-hour, high-definition video recording of a 2009 Radiohead concert in Prague, edited together from footage shot that night by some 60 audience members with Flip cams. The band joined the project by providing its own master recordings of the concert for the soundtrack.

Artist manager Ian Montone, whose charges include the White Stripes and Vampire Weekend, says his bands aren't crazy about playing to a wall of cameras. "Having the first 20 rows of an audience standing motionless and acting as ersatz cameramen can be obnoxious to the artist, other fans, and takes away from the concert experience," says Mr. Montone.

But his acts don't want to play bad cop. "Within the last year and a half it became such a losing battle," he says. "You're not going to kick out the entire audience."

When fan footage goes online, his reaction involves quality control more than copyright. He often asks the creators of shaky, murky-sounding clips to take them down, and sometimes compliments the owners of great-looking footage—while reserving the band's right to make use of it in the future.

Los Angeles music fan Tony Kim has uploaded more than 300 homemade concert videos to his YouTube channel, showcasing everyone from Arcade Fire to the Ting Tings. None of these unauthorized clips have ever been removed by YouTube, he says. Yet he recently noticed advertisements popping up next to some of them, including footage of indie rockers Metric.

Since 2007, YouTube has provided a program that lets copyright owners monitor such fan-made music videos, allowing a record label, for instance, to drop in ads or "click to buy" links. Of course, they can also choose to remove the videos, or just look the other way.

Jeff Tweedy appreciates his tech-savvy fans. After all, they've made his band Wilco a going concern for more than 15 years. Like the Black Crowes, Wilco allows fans to make audio recordings at concerts and trade them online, for free. But video cameras, especially right up front, bother him. He says there's something more at stake than just distracting the lead singer (which is "just rude"). "I think you're surrendering your own memory to a very imperfect medium," he says. "Our memories are imperfect to begin with but that's what's beautiful about it."

Last winter, Mr. Tweedy took his family to see the illusionist Criss Angel. At the Las Vegas performance, recording devices of every kind were prohibited, enforced with a pat-down of audience members filing in. Inspired, Mr. Tweedy encouraged his band to institute its own no-cameras policy (minus the frisking).

"My sense of indignation was really roused quite a few nights," he says. "Once there was an established set of rules, I could stop talking about it during the shows."

The band posts signs inside venues and delivers an announcement over the public address system before show time. A robotic pre-recorded voice informs the audience that Wilco welcomes audio recording, singing along, shouting requests between songs and "general merriment." But "to avoid ending your evening with Wilco prematurely," it says, keep your camera phone stowed. The venue's security guards take over from there, usually targeting transgressors with a flashlight beam to the face.

Mr. Tweedy says so far most crowds are policing themselves, and that it's paying off: "I honestly feel the crowd's engagement with the show. There's a more audible kind of reaction to different musical moments, a kind of intangible energy."

Photo and video restrictions persist in the language of many artists' tour contracts, but the ubiquity of camera phones have rendered them moot. Concert venues must be ready for everything. "It's like playing Whac-A-Mole," says Ed Stack, who manages the 9:30 Club in Washington. "Holdout artists who are hell-bent on controlling their image are becoming a thing of the past," he says. His security team will go into enforcement mode if the band requests it, with guards often sidling up to the offending ticket holder. "You get real close up to their ear and say, 'I don't want to have to confiscate that.'"

Generation gaps are a given in music culture, but age seems to have little bearing on the urge to gather gigabytes of concert footage. At a recent sold-out concert by the popular avant garde rock act Dirty Projectors, very few of the 3,000 young fans were holding LCD screens aloft. Courtney Weisman, 22 years old, said she gets annoyed when she catches herself staring at her neighbor's mise en scene. Her own iPhone mostly stays in her pocket.

By contrast, Todd Morason, a 41-year-old eye surgeon from Syracuse, N.Y., says his high-definition Canon video camera has transformed his relationship with live music. He used to attend only a few concerts annually. He's been to more than 20 in the last year, spurred on by the popularity of his live clips of rock bands like Muse and Steely Dan , which he posts on YouTube. His greatest hit: a song by the young pop-punk band Paramore that he captured last year at the Electric Factory club in Philadelphia. Shot from the balcony, the nearly five-minute clip has pulled in more than 350,000 views.

With his online audience in mind, Dr. Morason has sought out bands he doesn't care for personally, including the prog rock group Coheed and Cambria. To keep his video quality high, he doesn't dance or sing along with the crowd, and he attends most shows alone. With his eyes trained on his camera screen, he's been walloped by crowd surfers. And sometimes the 5-foot-7 physician struggles to get a clear shot. Standing in a dense crowd at an Aerosmith concert, his fingers went numb from holding the camera at arm's length during a 10-minute jam. He recalls thinking, "I can't miss 'Dream On.' It's the anthem. I can circulate blood to my fingers later."

Some artists say the ever-present lens is forcing them to play it safer on stage, knowing that a sloppy set in front of a few hundred people can quickly ripple out to thousands of YouTube critics. Canadian indie rockers Broken Social Scene had test-driven new songs in concert for years, working out kinks on the fly. Now they only debut new material after it's been thoroughly rehearsed, largely for fear that a flubbed vocal or uneven guitar solo will draw fire online.

"We're grateful that people care enough to pay attention, but we want to be at our best," says front man Kevin Drew. He says phones and cameras are too important to the fan experience to ban them, but at a a show in Dallas last year, he leaned out and grabbed a camera from a particularly determined woman in the front row. (He says it was returned when the show was over.) Like many young people who grew up going to punk-rock shows, he was schooled in the unwritten etiquette of the mosh pit, including the importance of hoisting people up when they hit the floor. Cameras are different: "There don't seem to be any rules and people think they can do whatever they want."

Fans can now beam a live video feed from the sixth row, using just an app, a robust cellular connection and a free account on a site such as, Livestream or Ustream. These companies say such activity is still nascent, but catching on as technology improves. After released new apps for iPhones and Androids this month, the number of users broadcasting from their phones (as opposed to desktop webcams) surged to more than 30%.

In music, fans of the jam-band Phish were early adopters. Since the group reunited last year, many of its shows have been watchable online, thanks to a network of fans who capture the action live for outlets including Hoodstream and Phishtube. Phish says it's aware of the practice, but didn't want to comment on it.

Live video companies are wary that unauthorized fan streams could rankle the very music acts the sites are partnering with for official concerts feeds. For now, however, a live cellphone link from the cheap seats is hardly capable of Scorsese-style concert footage.

"If you look at cellphone streaming," says Livestream co-founder and chief executive Max Haot, "between the camera quality, battery life and network issues, it's usually not a great experience."