Archive for May, 2010

Gil Scott-Heron: The Revolution Will Be On YouTube

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2010 by pulmyears

Maybe it’s because I’m in New York as I type this. More likely it’s because I just read got around to reading, on the flight from San Francisco, Rob Fitzpatrick’s excellent Gil Scott-Heron piece in the February issue of The Word. Whatever the reason, Gil Scott-Heron’s words, grooves and vibes seem to echo beneath my sneakers as I pound the cracked and scarred pavements of Manhattan. As such, I just got around to actually buying a copy of I’m New Here, Heron’s stunning new album on XL Recordings. Apparently, you can stream it here courtesy The Word and or The Guardian.

Here’s a couple of YouTube clips for stuff from the new album.

Here’s “Me And The Devil”

And this is “New York Is Killing Me”

“I’ll Take Care Of You”

If you don’t know Gil, here’s a couple of must hear/see tunes/jams from the past…

I’ll never forget when Richard Pryor hosted SNL and introduced Gil doing “Johannesburg”

Here’s “The Bottle”

Here’s “Whitey On The Moon”

Here’s “Lady Day And John Coltrane”

Here’s an awesome live take on his Reagan meditation, “B-Movie”

And finally, Gil’s best known jam, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”


Got Milk Day? A Martyr’s Playlist.

Posted in Uncategorized on May 22, 2010 by pulmyears

Happy Harvey Milk Day!

May 22 is the birthday of the former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978) a camera store owner in San Francisco’s Castro District who gradually became an equal rights activist before becoming the  first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, and eventually a martyr to the cause. On November 27, 1978, a disgruntled and criminally deranged former Supervisor named Dan White, who had recently been ousted from government, had entered City Hall through a basement window (he had a handgun on him and wanted to get past the front door metal detectors) and went hunting for Mayor Howard Moscone. White shot and killed Moscone at point blank range and then went looking for Milk, the man who symbolized to him the shift away from his straight conservative principles, and arguably the emblem for White’s own demise as a politician. White shot Milk five times, including twice in the head at close range. Milk was 48 years old. Moscone was 49. Dan White managed to walk out of building and was later arrested, eventually pleading temporary insanity owing to depression and a bad diet of junk food, mocked widely as “the Twinkie defense.” White had come from the first responder community, and according to historical accounts many police officers were seen wearing “Free Dan White” T-shirts in the days after the assassination.  White showed no remorse during his trial and his lawyer, Doug Schmidt, argued that he was not responsible for his actions, claiming “diminished capacity.” It sort of worked. White was merely found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to just over seven  years, and with good good behavior, he would be out in five. When word spread that the murderer of the so-called “Mayor Of Castro Street” was going to get off so lightly for assassinating two elected officials, a vengeful mood swept over the activist community and the city at large, and a mob marched back to City Hall, the scene of the crime, where the more violent among them set police cars and the front doors of City Hall ablaze. When asked by the press about the mob violence, one clever rioter was said to have told them “We ate too many Twinkies!” Whether they helped or hurt the image of the “movement,” The White Night Riots had made their point. And history recalls the outrage as a pivotal moment in civil rights history.

As Milk’s former campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg, wrote: “What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us.” He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and last year Sean Penn portrayed him in Gus Van Sant’s Milk.

For further information check out Randy Shilts’ 1982 book, The Mayor of Castro Street and Rob Esptein’s documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, which won the 1984 Academy Award for Documentary Feature.

But this is a Music Blog, so here are a few songs that I think fit in for today…

Of course we gotta have some Tom Robinson Band…

Here’s “Glad To Be Gay”

and “Power In The Darkness.”

While it’s not strictly a gay song, I always thought that Iggy Pop’s “Cry For Love” could be construed as a rallying song for the rights of lovers…

Of course, Jello Biafra and The Dead Kennedys knew that the vulgarity of Dan White’s relatively mild sentence did not require a good taste response, so they went for it in their post-Milk cover of “I Fought The Law” which is strictly not safe for work, even today.

Let’s close with  The Kids In The Hall’s Brain Candy, “I’m Gay”…

And KITH also appear (in drag) in this greatly misunderstood song by my pals Odds, “Heterosexual Man”

Happy Milk Day.

Synthetic Bliss: Movies About Electronic Music

Posted in Uncategorized on May 21, 2010 by pulmyears

It’s Friday and time for another edition of Rock Docs And Biopics, a look at films and stuff that deal with music – from documentaries to concert movies and biopics (where actors recreate musical history) so you have something to watch this weekend.

I just got a press reminder about a screening tomorrow night (which is/was this SATURDAY May 22), of Dianna Dilworth’s documentary Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie at 7pm at Cinefamily in Los Angeles. Here’s the trailer for the film, which is also for sale on DVD here.

Of course, living up in the San Francisco area, I can’t be there, but if you are in L.A., try to get to this screening because not only will the director give a brief Q&A session, but there’ll be a live Mellotron performance by Brian Kehew of Moog Cookbook (he’s also played with Air and even backed The Who.) The film’s distributor has helpfully included the following endorsements:

“If you’re interested in the history of electronic musical instruments, Mellodrama is not to be missed.” –Electronic Musician

“Mellodrama …is a largely successful attempt to tell a fascinating story, one that does in fact contain elements of drama.” –The Wire UK

“The Mellotron stays cool.”—Brian Wilson

Jon Brion from "Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie"

“This is where sampling started.” —Jon Brion

Mellotrons and Chamberlins, tape loop based samplers, are close to my heart and I go back a relatively long way on the subject, having written a feature on them for Electronic Musician magazine, entitled Days Of Future Passed, which ran in their September 1998 issue. In that piece, Jon Brion told me one of Harry Chamberlin’s advantages was the fidelity of his tape loops. “The recordings are exceptional,” Brion raved, “and I don’t think they could be recaptured with the same warmth using today’s equipment. Harry miked his instruments with a Neumann U47 in a room with great acoustics, and he recorded them directly into a mono Ampex tape machine. Those old Ampex machines had beautiful mic preamps with fantastic , utilitarian designs. He also didn’t use any EQ or compression, so the samples are very clean.”

By the way, if you aren’t familiar with Brian Kehew’s band, The Moog Cookbook, you really should be. I also interviewed Kehew for that September 1998 Electronic Musician piece, where he admitted that the obvious drawback of these mechanical devices was their tendency to break down from everyday use, especially the Chamberlin. “Most Chamberlins sound great,” Kehew told me, “but work poorly. The M1 is probably the only reliable keyboard that Chamberlin made. Unfortunately, its basic housing structure is much less durable than a Mellotron’s, so it, too, is prone to some maintenance problems.”

I had first interviewed Kehew and his duo partner Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. (Jellyfish, Beck), for another Electronic Musician piece, entitled In The Kitsch-en With The Moog Cookbook, for the March 1998 issue. In that piece, both Kehew and Manning discussed the pros and cons of working with vintage synthesizers and mechanical tape delay keyboards. “Our first album, The Moog Cookbook,” said Manning, “was used at the Berklee College of Music as an example of what not to do with a synthesizer!” They had a playful approach to musical history that went over some people’s heads, and as Manning confirmed, a lot of people didn’t get it. “People are sometimes afraid to tell me that the records made them laugh…but Brian and I..want you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sonic freak-out!”


MOOG (2004) Directed by Hans Fjellestad

Featuring Rick Wakeman, Charlie Clouser, Keith Emerson, Robert Moog, Edd Kalehoff, Mix Master Mike, Bernie Worrell, Money Mark, Gershon Kingsley, DJ Spooky, Bootsy Collins.

Description from Netflix: “Inventor of the synthesizer, Robert Moog revolutionized modern music and culture. In addition to tracing the roots of electronic instruments, this film, through interviews, photos and archival footage, offers an up-close look at the maverick responsible for integrating technology and art. A philosophical eccentric complete with wild hair and intense gaze, Moog shares his sometimes mystical views on creativity, interactivity, music and machines.”

Sam Graham, on Amazon says: “A man who genuinely revolutionized late-20th Century music gets his due with Moog, writer-director Hans Fjellestad’s absorbing documentary about Robert Moog, inventor of the synthesizer that bears his name. In his seventies when this 2004 film was made, Moog began working with electronic music in the late 1940s, when he designed and built theremins (the source of the wavy sci-fi sound heard on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”). But it was the development of the Moog synthesizer, an analog instrument with electronic components, that put him on the map. Unsurprisingly, it was initially dismissed as a soulless novelty, a notion not helped by its use in silly commercial jingles; Moog himself was regarded as nothing less than a dangerous anarchist out to destroy music as we know it. That all changed when he added a keyboard to his machine and musicians of all stripes gradually began using it for more serious ends. Moog credits Walter (now Wendy) Carlos’ Switched-On Bach as the first important milestone, and the list of major artists who have used it since then includes the Beatles (on Abbey Road), Stevie Wonder (a vital early proponent who for some reason goes completely unmentioned here), Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Rick Wakeman of Yes. The latter two perform briefly in the film, as do many others (P-Funk’s Bernie Worrell, Sun Ra, Charlie Clouser of Nine Inch Nails), but Moog is the star here. Indeed, it’s hard not to believe this genial, self-effacing man when he talks of the “spiritual connection” between his invention and the people who play it.”

THEREMIN: AN ELECTRONIC ODYSSEY (1995 ) Directed by Steven M. Martin

The fascinating tale of inventor Leon Theremin and the his wailing, whining operatic sounding musical instrument, which Amazon accurately describes as the “the secret link between sci-fi films, the Beach Boys, and Carnegie Hall.” This film was a hit at  Sundance the year it entered, and features a rare interview with theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore and praise from Bob Moog. The film also has a weird dark side, discussing the time Leon suddenly went missing inside the Soviet Union.

Here’s a clip of Clara Rockmore performing “Habaner” by Ravel

OHM: THE EARLY GURUS OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC (2005) By Thomas Ziegler, Jason Gross, and Russell Charno

Features interviews, animations and experimental video works by the pioneers of electronic music, including, Clara Rockmore, John Cage, Jean-Claude Risset, Steve Reich, Morton Subotnick, Holger Czukay (Can), Bebe Barron, Paul Lansky, Leon Theremin, IannisXenakis, Milton Babbitt, Laurie Spiegel, David Behrman, John Chowning, Robert Ashley, Max Mathews, Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Lucier, Mother Mallard and of course, Robert Moog.

And finally, a film that I’m dying to see…


Amazon customer “J. Warden” from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: “First of all, I loved this movie. Then again, I, I am very much into the Krautrock scene that Kraftwerk sprang from and found that very fascinating. The first hour of this movie is not really concentrated on Kraftwerk, but on how electronic music and Krautrock – anti-popular, avant-garde “rock” – came from Germany, and how it developed on different levels (academic, cultural, and ‘normal’ music channels) I think most Kraftwerk fans will be interested but if you’re thinking “I don’t give a damn about Popul Vuh, tell me about Kraftwerk” you will find it VERY boring. The filmmakers I think did Kraftwerk a great service by this, however, because they show that while Kraftwerk were amazingly innovative and fresh their cultural context was not a vacuum, however it seemed to the West when “Autobahn” was a hit. All that said, all the popular Kraftwerk stuff from Autobahn on was dealt with as well as can be expected with no big surprises to uncover. When specific pieces of equipment were discussed, I found that fascinating, but the obligatory talking heads (“Krautrock expert”, “Music Reviewer”) discussing records got a little bland. All the discussions by the actual musicians in the Krautrock scene (and 1 former Kraftwerk member, a coup I imagine for the film makers) were great. The post-Kraftwerk explosion and influence I thought would be uninteresting but it was actually very watchable and engaging – starting with the drum machines on Donna Summer’s hit, to Bowie’s experiments in Berlin, and then to 80’s pop music.

I have one tiny thing to complain about, and that’s with all the talk about some great and obscure Krautrock artists, why did Faust get shafted? FAUST!?!? Only mentioned once, in passing? Maybe they weren’t “typical” Krautrockers but as the movie showed, there were only a few threads linking all the Krautrock bands together and they weren’t musical as much as they were conceptual……anyway, yeah, good movie”


Givin’ It Up For Indie Bookstores…

Posted in Uncategorized on May 21, 2010 by pulmyears

There’s nothing like discovering a really cool bookstore filled with music magazines and music books.

Sure, I go to Amazon a bit. I also go to Borders and Barnes & Noble a bit, and when I’m back in Canada I’ve been known to hang out at Chapters or an Indigo too. So don’t think I’m immune to the charms of the big chain bookstore or high volume website. But as my narrow life-focus dictates, I do have one kind of rule of conduct: You’ll rarely see me in a store that has no music books and/or rock magazine section. That’s why, wherever I’ve lived (Toronto, San Francisco, Vancouver and Berkeley) or places I visit (L.A., New York, Portland, Seattle, London, Barcelona, Tokyo), I’ve always tried to find the local independent bookseller, a place where you can hang out a bit and get to know the books and magazines, and if you’re really lucky, the staff too.

The recent success of Record Store Day got me thinking about bookstores again.  As many of the “Bricks and Mortar” establishments go the way of dinosaur, it’s even more important to spend a little time and money on your cherished local indie bookseller. Certain shops, whether they’re gone or still slogging it out, will forever stay in my memory and in my heart.

In Toronto, where I spent the first two-thirds of my life, I had great fondness for the now defunct Pages bookstore on Queen St West, a spacious and well-lit emporium, they never failed to have the coolest music, film and design titles (as well as fiction and sociology and all the other bases covered). The owner was never nice to me, but the store made up for his social shortcomings even if I never made the A-list socially. They’re strictly online now.

Also in Toronto, I frequented This Ain’t The Rosedale Library which I thought had also gone out of business, but a brief Google search has just informed me that they merely moved locations from Church St (east of Yonge) to their new location on Nassau St. in Kensington Market. I’ll check them out next time I get back to my hometown.

A recent trip to Portland gave me an excuse to finally visit one of the true giants of independent retail, Powell’s, the multi-floor juggernaut downtown. I have previously written about Book Soup in Los Angeles, and you can read about one of my recent visits in this post (click here).

Before I lived in the East Bay, I spent quite a bit of time in San Francisco‘s Phoenix Books on 24th in Noe Valley, and later at Red Hill Books, on Cortland in Bernal Hill.

When my last book, It Ain’t Easy: Long John Baldry And The Birth of The British Blues came out in 2007, I did an event at The Booksmith in the Haight, and while they’ve changed a little in the past year, I still highly recommend it. We also did an event for It Ain’t Easy here in Berkeley at Black Oak Books on Shattuck but over the last year, that store fell victim to a lethal combination of recession, developers greed and the general trend away from large retail spaces. Luckily, I recently discovered two bookstores in the East Bay that are even cooler. One is Diesel: A Bookstore, on College Avenue in the Rockridge section of North Oakland.

I have to admit, I only discovered Diesel recently, when two friends had one of their wedding reception events there (they had met each other there, awwww). A really great place and the staff clearly loved books and seemed pretty hip too.

Then, only last weekend, I discovered Issues, a tiny shoe box sized store in Oakland’s Piedmont Ave area, that specializes in magazines but also has all “the right” books, vinyl albums and even super cool silkscreened T-shirts. They had all the rock magazines I loved and millions more that I’d never heard of, plus all kinds of other magazines too. The owners, Joe Colley and Noella Teele were not only super friendly and super helpful, they were also super enthusiastic about all the stuff in their shop. I really felt like I’d walked into an oasis (I know this sounds like a Yelp! listing, but I really loved this little store).  By the time I’d left, I’d picked up the new issue of The Word magazine, a hardback copy of How To Wreck A Nice Beach (the Vocoder book I heard about on NPR) and this really cool black T-Shirt with a vintage synthesizer on it.

Speaking of independent bookstores, I got the final artwork for my next book, A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio, from Jawbone Press this week.

My book comes out in October, so why not ask your local independent bookstore if they’ll order it.



…Before I Get Old, For The Love Of Pete.

Posted in Uncategorized on May 19, 2010 by pulmyears

“The things they do seem awful cold / Hope I die before I get old.” These words from “My Generation” were written by Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend, who is 65 years old today.

On May 19th, 1945, in the Chiswick, London area, a sax player named Cliff Townshend and his singer wife Betty had a little boy and named him Peter. By the  age of 11 the boy had become enchanted with rock and roll, via the juke box film, Rock Around the Clock, starring Bill Haley and the Comets.

A year later he was bashing out tunes by Bo Diddley, Link Wray, John Lee Hooker and The Shadows on a cheap nylon string acoustic his granny gave him for Christmas. Where there’s a will there’s a way, however, and by the time 16 year old Peter went to Art College (in nearby Ealing) he had already formed a few bands, including a Dixieland jazz outfit (as was the fashion in late 50s early 60s Britain) with his schoolmate John Entwistle, eventually forming a skiffle combo with pal Roger Daltrey and another mate named Doug Sandom, called The Detours. After Sandom was sacked in favour of madman drummer Keith Moon they became a Mod inclined dance band, The High Numbers who would of course change their name to The Who after being discovered by the management team of Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert.

All of that is merely the backdrop for what was a revolution in rock. Quite honestly, The Who changed everything. They may not have meant to do it but they revolutionized the power chord, setting the template for progressives in the field from Rush to Todd Rundgren, and they invented Power Pop on songs like “Pictures Of Lily” or “I Can’t Explain.”

But for me, long before punk and the next wave of power pop, The Who represented the repressed sexual energy and artistic passion of a young man. I’m sure women could relate, but there’s no denying that Pete’s form of rock, articulate, emotionally direct and fragile while at once bombastic, aggressive and menacing, was like ripping open my teenage heart and spilling all manner of gooey confusion all over the strings of my out-of-tune imitation Les Paul.

If  I wanted to play as cool as Pete, I also wanted to find a singer who could sing like Roger. Roger is Pete’s secret weapon, the street kid who can put the boot in to Pete’s Eel Pie poetry. Pete singing Pete is a very different affair than Roger singing Pete, and a song like “Baba O’Reilly” illustrates the contrast perfectly. The main body of the song puts the man in manifesto with mic swinging Roger decrying the teenage wasteland all around him. The middle section, however, belongs to Pete. His solo vocal, frail and careworn speaks to the underlying sensitivities often obscured by Daltrey’s bluster.

Pete’s solo stuff was even cool.

Yep, Roger may be the balls of the Who, Keith was the heart, John was the blood, but Peter’s the soul and spirit.  Keith didn’t make it to old. John didn’t make it to older. Peter and Roger are still here, and they’re still The Who.

Happy Birthday Pete, glad you didn’t die before you got old.

How High’s The Water Mama? – Flood And Treasure Swept Away In Music City

Posted in Uncategorized on May 18, 2010 by pulmyears

I was struck by a story by Randy Lewis, in today’s LA Times, (,0,7376955.story) just as in New Orleans, the hidden cost of the recent flood in Nashville may be the loss of priceless musical instruments and recording facilities, which has claimed the gear of the everyday joe musician and the famous alike.

The big names affected, according to Lewis, were folks like the Who’s Pete Townshend (who had stuff stored there) and Nasvhillians Vince Gill, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban (who report having lost most of their stuff) a . The flood even affected the stars of the past, with gear belonging to both and Johnny Cash submerged for just under one week.

Most of this occured in just one warehouse, Soundcheck Nashville, a 160,000 square foot space that is both the rehearsal hall and storage facility of choice for over 1,000 musicians, making it, in the words of Randy Lewis, “something of the Fort Knox to the city’s music community.”

Here’s a really sad clip from Lorrie Morgan, on her way to Soundcheck to see what happened to her own stuff…

Lewis spoke to Joe Chambers, founder of the newly opened Musicians Hall of Fame, who sagely points out that gear, no matter how priceless, is still not the same as losing one’s life. “So many people lost the pillow they lay their head on at night,” Chambers tells Lewis, “much less a guitar. But the fact is, a lot of historical instruments were stored at Soundcheck.”

Two basses, once belonging to Opry bass player Lightning Chance, were lost, including the one Chance used on Hank William’s “Your  Cheatin’ Heart.”

Lewis also speaks to a member of Vince Gill’s band who lamented on behalf of non-famous, rank and file, guitar pickers who had invested in their vintage gear the way Manhattan folks invest in the stock market (in fact, he says, the guitars appreciate far better than stocks!) only to see their investments washed away, biblically, in the Cumberland river waters.”

Lots of people are helping, and help is always welcome.

Jack White of the White Stripes is auctioning off this marimba!

The Nashville Musicians Union has set up a fund and is soliciting donations to help musicians get their gear replaced and keep working. The Recording Academy MusiCares program is also doing something to help. And there’s always the Red Cross,

Somehow it seems appropriate to go out with a little Johnny Cash…

Five Feet High And Rising by Johnny Cash

My mama always taught me that good things come from adversity if we put our faith in the Lord.

We couldn’t see much good in the flood waters when they

were causing us to have to leave home,

But when the water went down, we found that it had washed a load of rich black bottom dirt across our land.

The following year we had the best cotton crop we’d ever had.

I remember hearing:

How high’s the water, mama?

Two feet high and risin’

How high’s the water, papa?

Two feet high and risin’

We can make it to the road in a homemade boat

That’s the only thing we got left that’ll float

It’s already over all the wheat and the oats,

Two feet high and risin’

How high’s the water, mama?

Three feet high and risin’

How high’s the water, papa?

Three feet high and risin’

Well, the hives are gone,

I’ve lost my bees

The chickens are sleepin’

In the willow trees

Cow’s in water up past her knees,

Three feet high and risin’

How high’s the water, mama?

Four feet high and risin’

How high’s the water, papa?

Four feet high and risin’

Hey, come look through the window pane,

The bus is comin’, gonna take us to the train

Looks like we’ll be blessed with a little more rain,

4 feet high and risin’

How high’s the water, mama?

Five feet high and risin’

How high’s the water, papa?

Five feet high and risin’

Well, the rails are washed out north of town

We gotta head for higher ground

We can’t come back till the water comes down,

Five feet high and risin’

Well, it’s five feet high and risin’

They Say It’s YouTube’s Birthday: Ten Cool Covers Of Beatles Songs In An Eleven Song List

Posted in Uncategorized on May 17, 2010 by pulmyears

Happy Fifth Birthday YouTube. When I was Five years old, I asked my parents for a Beatles’ album. In that spirit, here are 11 BEATLES songs plucked from the Fab YouTube, Ten of them are good, one of them is horrible. They are in no particular order. Goo Goo Goo Tube!

First we have Paul McCartney himself, covering “Birthday” in Quebec!

Franz Ferdinand doing “It Won’t Be Long”

Regina Spektor gently tackles the Lennon/Threetles hitReal Love”

The Fab Faux (with Will Lee and Jimmy Vivino) on David Letterman doing an eerily accurate “I Am The Walrus”

Elliott Smith (audio only) with a lovely “Because”

Elvis Costello at Live Aid doing “All You Need Is Love” backed only by a guitar, a chorus box and thousands of Wembley patrons…

Fiona Apple, I believe backed by Jon Brion, with a nicely distressed “Across The Universe”

Matthew Sweet & John Hiatt really get into “If I Needed Someone”

Michael Hedges, sadly departed, left us with so many great moments, like here on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

And if you think THAT was great, listen to Jake Shimabakuru do it on ukulele…eventually.

But beware, Beatles songs are not cover proof, as evidenced by this cover of “Let It Be” by a Russian Nautical Newt Gingrich impersonator (or the Sta-Puff Marshmallow Man)

Happy Birthday to you.

Process, Process, Process: Some Films About Making Music.

Posted in Uncategorized on May 14, 2010 by pulmyears

It’s Friday, time for Rock Docs And Biopics, a recurring feature on The Pulmyears Music Blog, where I suggest a few easily rentable titles (in most cases) for your weekend amusement. Where indicated some of these may be rare or as yet unreleased on home DVD. Many are available to stream directly from services like Netflix. Today we’re looking at Docs about the processes of musicians or producers, and the common theme is that they all take you inside the world of these people. Any one of these titles will open your mind to the folks behind the recordings – or compositions – you love. As usual this not meant to be a definitive list, just a starting point for your own cinematic musical journeys and I welcome any additional suggestions (on todays theme) in the COMMENTS section below.

TOM DOWD AND THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC – (2003) Directed by Mark Moormann

The story of  but despite many hits for Atlantic, the career of  Tom Dowd – the late, great producer and recording engineer – started with a bomb. Rather, it started with THE A-Bomb. In his teens, Dowd was in the Army when he was recruited to work on the top secret Manhattan Project, which resulted in the atomic bomb. Having learned a lot about physics and engineering during that time, Dowd turned his attention to recording, eventually catching the ear of Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler, and became the maverick engineer at Criteria Studios, working on hits and near hits by Ray Charles, The Drifters, The Coasters, Ruth Brown, Booker T. and the MGs, The Drifters, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Darin, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rod Stewart, The Allman Brothers Band,Willie Nelson, Diana Ross, Dusty Springfield, as well as jazz cuts by Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and more. Under Dowd’s guidance,  Atlantic Records became one of the first recording companies to go to eight tracks, and he is said to have been a strong proponent of “going stereo” and the move to linear faders over rotary dials on recording consoles. But as important as those technical innovations were and are, it’s the story of the man and his commitment to music and recording that makes Moormann’s documentary so revelatory. And when you’re done, check out the other great sonic architect of the mid-twentieth century…

LES PAUL: CHASING SOUND – (2007) Directed by Les Paul

Thanks to the guitars he helped invent and market under his own moniker, Les Paul is a household name, but beyond the guitar stylings and innovations in guitar design, and pioneering use of tape manipulation (he invented overdubbing and tape speed tricks) there is passion. Passion for music, passion for technological advancement and passion for his former musical partner Mary Ford, with whom he made so many classic recordings like “How High The Moon.” Paul’s documentary, made for the PBS American Masters series follows the man from his impoverished childhood to the later part of his life when rock royalty, like Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Steve Miller and Bonnie Raitt would frequently come to his gigs at Iridium to sit at the feet of the master. Here’s the sequence where Les and Mary demonstrate the “sound-on-sound” recording process…

ATLANTIC RECORDS: THE HOUSE THAT AHMET BUILT – (2007) Directed by Susan Steinberg

In 1947, Turkish born Ahmet Ertegun borrowed $10,000 from his dentist and co-founded Atlantic Records with Herb Abramson. By the next decade, with help from his brother Nesuhi Ertegun and their aforementioned co-horts Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd, the label became synonymous with quality Rhythm & Blues recording.  Steinberg’s compelling film, also from the PBS American Masters series, gets the story straight via interviews with the likes of Robert Plant, Phil Collins, Mick Jagger, Solomon Burke, Ben E. King, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler, Ray Charles and even Kid Rock (!) all of whom, owed their careers to a little Turkish man with great ears. By the end of the 1950s, Atlantic’s only true rival for deep southern soul, was the multi-racial hothouse on 926 East McLemore Avenue, in Memphis, the one and only Stax Records…

RESPECT YOURSELF: THE STAX RECORDS STORY – (2007) Directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville

From 1959 to 1975, Memphis, Tennessee-based Stax Records, founded by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton was the premier soul music label in America, the place to find Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Rufus and Carla Thomas and Booker T. and the MGs. Eventually, Atlantic came knocking and a distribution deal saw the two great powerhouses merge for a time. This film has it all, human drama, race riots, bad business decisions and the best thing of all, the wonderful, soul packed music. Eddie Floyd, Sam Moore, Otis Redding, Mavis Staples, Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas all appear in interviews and Samuel L. Jackson narrates. Check it out, then head up north to Detroit, where soul and pop wore winter coats…

STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN – (2002) Directed by Paul Justman

One of the great unsung heroes of the Motown records was the house band who played on most of their hits, (featuring players like Earl Van Dyke, Benny Benjamin and James Jamerson among them) collectively  known as The Funk Brothers. Paul  Justman’s film finally tells their story with actual clips (and dramatic recreations, which I didn’t need). Narrated by Andre Brauer, the documentary culminates in a reunion concert featuring the surviving Funk Brothers fronted by folks like Ben Harper and Joan Osborn. Here’s a bit with Harper and the living Funk Brothers, riffing on “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”…

Speaking of unsung heroes, the guys who played on Phil Spector’s records (and on Brian Wilsons Pet Sounds sessions) finally get their due in a film that isn’t available on DVD yet, but that I nonetheless urge you to mark down on your have-to-see list….

THE WRECKING CREW – (2008) Directed by Denny Tedesco

Spector’s go-to guys (and one lady) were known collectively as The Wrecking Crew, (don’t rent the Dean Martin film by mistake), and among them was the father of filmmaker Denny Tedesco, son of Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco. The dutiful son gets the straight scoop on session life from folks like Glen Campbell, drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye (they coulda made a whole film about her alone) as well as the artists they backed such as Cher, Brian Wilson, and the Monkees’ Mickey Dolenz. Veteran American Bandstand host and rock deejay Dick Clark is even on board. Wait for this one.

Changing gears from R&B and Rock, a few “serious music” documentaries reveal the process behind major pieces of musical work.

GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS – (2007) Directed by Scott Hicks

Filmmaker Scott Hicks (Shine) shadowed composer Philip Glass around the world for a whole year, as he composed and recorded his work. Then he obtained exclusive interviews with Glass himself as well as his family and friends to humanize the man, shedding a lot of light on one of the most dynamic modern composers of the past 30 years.  Ravi Shankar, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Koyaanisqatsi director Godfrey Reggio, all sing Glass’s praises.


There are two great Bernstein docs, one is another from the excellent PBS American Masters series, this in-depth biography of an American composer, conductor who elevated musical theater with his vigor and directness. Archival footage and interviews with family and collaborators traces Bernstein’s life from his early successes (including his work with Stephen Sondheim on West Side Story) to his later triumphs. Featuring Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Stephen Sondheim, Isaac Stern, Michael Tilson Thomas, John Maucer and Seiji Ozawa.

Also check out…

LEONARD BERNSTEIN: REFLECTIONS – (1978) Directed by Peter Rosen

Recently released on DVD, Peter Rosen’s revealing film begins with Bernstein’s high-profile debut at Carnegie Hall (in 1943) and continues until his later years. Filled with great first-person interviews with Bernstein himself, we hear his musings on childhood, artistic development, his just who has influenced his own career.

TOUCH THE SOUND: A SOUND JOURNEY WITH EVELYN GLENNIE – (2004) Directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer

Solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie is a fascinatingly fascinated, and curiously curious, explorer of “the connections between human sensation, time, sound and rhythm.” That’s because Glennie, hearing impaired since childhood, uses her heightened, compensatory sense of vibration to “hear” the beats and frequencies. Riedelsheimer’s film captures Glennie in improvisational solo and group performances in a variety of different ambient spaces, from a rooftop in Manhattan to a Zen garden. Also featuring avant garde musician Fred Frith.


An affecting look at the tortuous recording process that lead to Wilco‘s nearly aborted fourth album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, from photographer Sam Jones. In the wake of the recent death of original Wilco member Jay Bennett, one year ago, this film, which captures Bennett’s ongoing estrangement from Jeff Tweedy, seems even sadder. And yet it’s kind of a happy ending story as their rejected album eventually became a classic (arguably) when released later by Nonesuch Records.

While I wholeheartedly recommend almost any of the Classic Albums series, here are a few must-sees…
CLASSIC ALBUMS, THE BAND: THE BAND (1997)  Directed by Bob Smeaton

A 75-minute look at the self-titled album from 1969, with , which examines the making of the group’s 1969 self-titled album, featuring interviews with Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson along with critic Greil Marcus and friends and admirers like Bernie Taupin, Eric Clapton and George Harrison, and performances of hits such as “The Weight,” “I Shall Be Released” and “Rockin’ Chair.”

CLASSIC ALBUMS,  STEVIE WONDER: SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE  – (1997) Directed by David Heffernan

It was Stevie Wonder’s 60th birthday on May 13th, so why not say “Happy Birthday to ya” by watching this engrossing exploration of his 1976 double-disc masterpiece, Songs in the Key of Life. The show also features Quincy Jones, Motown founder Berry Gordy and Herbie Hancock, expounding on the album’s lasting influence, and we see Stevie”s daughter, Aisha, who we last heard as a giggling baby on “Isn’t She Lovely”.

CLASSIC ALBUMS – PINK FLOYD: THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON – (2003) Directed by Matthew Longfellow

Inside the studio and going to the Dark Side, we look back to 1973 with Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and the late Richard Wright (this program was made in 2002-3). The earlier bluesier version of “Money”, played solo acoustic by Waters, is worth the price of admission, but it’s a revealing layer-by-layer glimpse into the music that became the theme to every stoner basement party I ever attended in my teen years.

Smart Air: Spending Time At NPR Music

Posted in Uncategorized on May 13, 2010 by pulmyears

The only thing better than, or as good as, a good radio station is if that broadcaster also has a great website. This is true of the CBC and the BBC (both of which I will look at in subsequent columns), but today we’ll point our magic attention wand at National Public Radio’s NPR Music site.

Just on a random visit today, I saw at least THREE things that were worth investigation, within seconds on the site.

There’s this feature marking the 38th anniversary of The Rolling Stones’  Exile On Main Street and the much-hyped reissue featuring unreleased outtakes, remastered originals and alternate versions, ( took it one step further and asked a bunch of other musicians to cover some of the Stones’ material for the site. These include a cover of “Rocks Off” by Liz Phair, “Shake Your Hips” by Robert Randolph, “Sweet Black Angel” by Spoon’s Britt Daniel, “Happy” by Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and “Shine a Light” by Alejandro Escovedo. Not stopping there, they’ve also posted Exile bonus tracks, “Plundered My Soul”, “Dancing In The Light”, “So Divine (Aladdin Story)” and “Loving Cup (Alternate Version)”.

Then there’s this story, ostensibly about the history of the Vocoder, but really about so much more, tied into the release of  a new book by Dave Tompkins, called How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II to Hip-Hop. The story is fascinating and traces the technology back to Bell Labs (for use in long distance calling systems) where it was apparently never intended to have a musical application at all. As the story continues, it was World War II where the Vocoder technology first found practical use in espionage, as a way of encoding conversations (Churchill was being eavesdropped on!) and the National Defense Research Committee needed help to stop the Nazis. Later, the pioneering electronic musician Wendy Carlos featured the sound on the soundtrack for Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and the world was never the same. The robot voice was cool, cold even, and before long Kraftwerk were employing it to simulate the interface betweeen man, machine and music.

Michael Jonzun, Mission Control Studios circa 1996 (from NPR site, credit Jonzun and Dennis Ackerman)

According to Tompkins, it was funk musician Michael Jonzun who delivered “what is said to be the first hip-hop vocoder album, Lost in Space, in 1983.” Of course, he finishes by explaining how of all of this robotry lead to the rise of the evil Auto-Tune. Listen to the NPR piece here:

NPR Music also has their great First Listen feature, where in the past I’ve had a chance to preview albums by David Byrne, Joanna Newsom and LCD Soundsystem.   I was pleased to hear a warm and friendly voice from Everything But The Girl is back to recording, as First Listen features the new album by Tracey Thorn, Love And Its Opposite. Listen to it here:

There’s plenty more to be found on NPR Music, including features with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Public Image Ltd, an actual interview with Tracey Thorn, and a playlist for an awesome “sweatin to the 80s” workout mix.

Log on and enjoy.


Conjunction Junction, Vol. 4 – Send In Your Own!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 12, 2010 by pulmyears

Time flies. It’s been over a year and a half since I last played my strung together band name game, Conjunction Junction. There were the three entries I wrote myself, in May and August of 2008, with comments by you the reader (special mention goes to Michael Cooper who always fires back with lists of his own) and we even had a rare Celebrity Guest entry when Andy Partridge gave me his list in November of 2008.

Here then is the much delayed Volume 4. The rules are simple, string together as many band -or solo musical artist – names into a mutant new name, and then try to describe what they might sound like. I will go first, but as always, please do send your own to the COMMENTS section below!


Reverb drenched alt-chamber pop with disco strings, lover man growling, no bass, a distorted blues guitar and naive drumming.


Autotuned Michael Stipe fronts ne0-psych alternative jams.

ARIEL PINK LADYTRON (pictured above)

The logical coming together of Pitchfork’s favourite sweater wearing American singer and Japan’s beloved girlpop duo, with electronic backing from legendary UK synthband.


Retro MTV band tackles pretty chanteuse covers, remade in black t-shirt boy rock image.


Chilled out, reverb drenched SoCal punk rock with unmistakably British pastoral hooks and quirky lyrics.


Nerdy electropop of 60’s TV show group with sped up vocals


Victoria Legrand’s ” husky but ethereal” voice, over nineties altrock featuring Dave Edmunds on guitar.


Shakey singer fronts rap group with three piece power blues band behind him.


Liverpudlian Pete Wylie moves to New Orleans and hooks up with Canadian U2 producer and atmospheric folkie.


It’s Damon Albarn’s cartoon party and he can cry if he wants to.


Vagabond folk songs, sung in breathless bedsit angst and backed by reverby Johnny Marr guitars.


Clever power pop reworkings of MC5 standards, inlcudes “Kick Out The Jams (And The Style Councils Too).”


Five girls from Los Angeles. On treadmills.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Send them to my comments section.

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