The Buzz...

The ALBUMS...

Social Media...



 “Ladies and Gentlemen…Honored by their country, decorated by their Queen, and loved here in America…here are The Beatles.”  So went the introduction by Ed Sullivan standing on the makeshift stage built over second base on that hot August night in Shea Stadium.  At that point, the crowd’s frenzied screams of anticipation pinned the needle at a level that would continue for the next thirty-plus minutes, blocking out even the ability to recognize what songs they were singing.  But let me step back for a minute.

 I was a fan from the first moment I heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” coming over the transistor radio at the end of December 1963. I was playing touch football with some of my friends and, so taken was I by the unique sound, energy and harmonies, unlike anything at the time, that I had to stop and walk over to the radio that sat playing on the hood of a car nearby and just listen.

 By April of ’64, their songs held the top five positions on the Billboard charts and, in my bedroom, I was stringing together old radio speakers pulled out of junked cars to plug into that same radio so I could hear those inspiring sounds bigger and clearer.  Soon, I would go to Eclipse Music and F.W. Woolworth’s in downtown Paterson, New Jersey to buy my first three long-play vinyl albums, “Meet the Beatles”, “The Beatles Second Album”, and “A Hard Day’s Night”.

 That August, along with my fellow high-school rock and roll band mate, Paul Blum, I took a bus to the Port Authority building in New York City, and walked to one of only two movie theaters in the entire metropolitan area showing the film “A Hard Day’s Night” on the first day of its USA release.  There they were on the big screen, with big sound, acting like themselves, with all that cheeky, sarcastic humor, being adored and chased by fans, and singing all of those amazing songs. That was it.  They were just too good to be true. How could they possibly be real?

 One year later, on August 15, 1965, along with over 55,000 other fans, I had a chance to find out.  With a ticket in my pocket that cost $5.75, I had a seat waiting for me in the second level behind third base.  Now 17 with a three-month-old driver's license, I drove my friend Paul and Beatle-obsessed girlfriend, Michele, to the Port Authority Terminal in Manhattan where we parked the car and took the Number 7 train out to the Shea Stadium/Willets Point stop. The excitement was thicker than the August humidity.  We found our way to our seats and, over the next hour, the crowd impatiently sat through opening act performances by King Curtis, Cannibal and the Headhunters, Brenda Holloway and Sounds Incorporated (the band that, only two years later, would play on the Sgt. Pepper’s album track “Good Morning, Good Morning"). 

 Finally, it was time for The Beatles to appear and prove that they were actually real…live…people!  Ed Sullivan made his twenty-word introduction that triggered the unprecedented explosion of human-generated noise, and John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr emerged from the third-base dugout, instruments in hand.  As I mentioned earlier, and as the story has often been told, for the next thirty minutes, screams were the only thing that those of us in the crowd could hear… for this was the first stadium rock concert ever and no sound system had yet been built that could handle it.  Yes, it was very frustrating not to be able to hear them play, but we all knew their songs by heart.  The real reason we were all there was to see them and prove to ourselves that they were real… and to be there in the same place and time with those four lads from Liverpool who would still be bringing us incalculable joy and a stadium full of memories fifty years later. 

 I’m very sad. Once again, I’m about to lose an icon… someone I admire… someone who has made my unconventional, often isolated mind and soul feel like I belonged.  Many times in the past, the loss of those rare people I could relate to, people who gave me joy and hope, was tragic and premature… Ernie Kovacs, John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, John Lennon, and George Harrison to name a few. This latest loss, while thankfully not tragic, to me remains very sad nonetheless. Tomorrow night is the last Late Show with David Letterman.

 My first exposure to bizarre, live-format television was when I was three-years old and broadcast television wasn’t much older.  Back then, when TV screens were black and white and only nine inches wide, there was no round-the-clock programming.There weren't even continuous programs from early in the day until about one o’clock in the morning when, years later, the networks would sign off for the night to images of a waving American flag and the strains of the nation anthem. Back then, on weekdays, there were some programs on in the morning, mostly quiz shows like “Strike It Rich”, “The Big Payoff” and “Queen for a Day”, followed by a short segment of “The Les Paul and Mary Ford Show” or Liberace behind his piano and candelabra singing to the mothers out there watching while they made lunch or did their ironing.  But even at that young age, there was one TV personality with whom I felt a real connection. Ernie Kovacs, an amazing and inventive talent, had a show in the afternoon where he sat at a desk on a dark set smoking a cigar while delivering some of the funniest, strangest, and most fascinating material ever, interspersed with his wife, Edie Adams, occasionally singing a song. The way I remember it, whenever Ernie felt like he was done for that day, he signed off. Since no programming immediately followed, a static black and white test pattern would appear along with an annoying tone that would last until the evening when the nighttime programming would begin with programs like Your Show of Shows, I Love Lucy, Jackie Gleason, and others. Some years later, Ernie Kovacs would have a weekly half-hour show that consisted of a series of bizarre, innovative, thought-provoking and hilarious characters and sketches. I think that show was on at 8 o’clock Tuesday nights, and I never missed it.  Then, one night in January 1962, Ernie Kovacs was killed in an automobile accident.

 My other comedy idols included the Marx Brothers whose films of chaotic humor I would watch on television.  Later, there was the comedy of people like Shelly Berman, David Steinberg, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, Bob and Ray, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, early George Carlin, The Firesign Theater, Steven Wright, and Jerry Seinfeld, along with those magical early years of Saturday Night Live.

 But they were all occasional guests in my life. David Letterman was different. I first saw David Letterman when, for four short months, he had a morning talk show from June to October of 1980.  It was strange, irreverent, intelligent, silly, and hilarious.  I loved it, and I think I may have written a letter of protest to NBC when they took it off the air.  Thankfully, two years later, Late Night with David Letterman debuted on NBC, and his 33-year run as my favorite late-night host began.  To me, he was a hip version of Johnny Carson with a dash of Ernie Kovacs and Groucho Marx thrown in for good measure.  He was clever, intelligent, genuine, and inventive with an amazing talent for generating delightfully humorous anarchy night after night.  

 One Thanksgiving eve on November 25th 1992 when Dave was still at NBC, Diane Smith and I had tickets to see the taping of “Late Night”.  I remember that night Dave’s guests were Jim Belushi, Martha Stewart and the Jeff Healey Band.  Diane loved Letterman, too, and during the warm-up before the show, when Dave came out to briefly mingle with the audience, I called him over to shake her hand. He seemed genuinely appreciative.

 Then, about eight years ago, I started having a series of dreams with a recurring theme.  In these dreams, I was always in the theater while Letterman’s shows were being taped and, afterwards, Dave and I would hang out together, just the two of us, watching television, eating pizza, or just talking.  It was the strangest thing, until later when watching his show, I heard at least two of his famous guests admit to having had the same recurring dreams.  While David Letterman is probably the last person who would want to “hang out” with even the most famous celebrities, to me, and obviously some others, there was something about him that made him feel like that friend with whom you could relax and just have a good time…like the friends many of us had in college. 

 In my lifetime, there have been many late night TV hosts…Steve Allen who I found unconventional but mostly just silly, Jack Paar who was extremely intelligent and wry, and Johnny Carson who was great but who had more of the Rat Pack generation of humor.  Then, later, there was Jay Leno who, to me, never said or did a single funny thing in his life, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon who were too hyper for me, and Jimmy Kimmel who I’ve heard is pretty good but whom I haven’t seen.  Just speaking for myself (and of course the hordes of top celebrities who have been paying tribute to him the last few months since he announced his retirement), David Letterman has said and done more to make me laugh, feel good, and agree with…than all of the others combined.  His Top Ten list, Stupid Human and Stupid Pet tricks have become part of our media culture, and his freewheeling style, both inside and outside of the Ed Sullivan Theater, have forever changed the late-night television genre. Beyond that, he presented, respected and appreciated the finest musical performers of our time…whether famous or little known.

 A word about Paul Shaffer and the band…  Speaking as a musician, for my money…they’re the best.  Sure, Paul often teetered on the line of being a bit obnoxious…but musically he and the band were brilliant.  Maybe you have to be a musician with an unnatural grasp of even the most esoteric of songs over the past sixty years to fully appreciate what Shaffer has done…but for nearly 20,000 guests on over 6,000 shows, for the music to play as each guest walked on stage, Paul came up with a song that uniquely connected with each guest’s name or accomplishments.  Sometimes the connection was obvious (as when the band played “Hanky Panky” as Tom Hanks walked out last night), sometimes it took some thinking before the wonderfully clever choice became apparent, but Paul’s vast grasp of musical knowledge and history was amazing.  No matter that 98% of the audience didn’t get it…to this musician at least, each walk-on musical selection was a little gem that put another smile on my face.

 Maybe it’s because I’m older that my sense of loss is more profound, having already lost so many who meant so much…but watching David Letterman’s last show tomorrow night will not be easy.  How will it end?  I don’t know, they haven’t announced who the last guests will be…but if I had to guess, Paul McCartney would show up to play one final song for Dave in the theater where The Beatles first played to millions of Americans on February 9, 1964…and the song would be “Hey Jude” with the lyrics changed to “Hey Dave”.  But however the show ends, for the first time in 33 years…I won’t be smiling.

 Back in the early 1960s, I often found myself at the Fair Lawn Star Diner on Route 4 in North Jersey.  It was conveniently located about half way between the east side of Paterson and Paramus, NJ, which was home to some of the very first shopping malls in the country.  There in the diner, at the far end of each booth, sat a magic silver and glass box. It contained page after page of current song titles, a coin slot and a speaker, and the red and white alphabetical and numerical buttons that would mysteriously place the 45rpm record of your choice on the turntable of an unseen juke box, and play it through the speaker where you sat.

 It was a few years after I’d started playing the drums and I was already hooked for life on the way popular music made me feel.  But sitting there in that booth, at the rate of three plays for a quarter, I was transfixed by the drama and passion of the songs performed by one artist by the name of Roy Orbison.  I’d pump those quarters into the slot and listen to him sing “Only the Lonely”, “Crying”, “Running Scared”, “In Dreams”, and “It’s Over”, over and over again. Each song began low and soft…then gradually built to an amazing crescendo with Roy’s astonishing voice soaring beyond all human expectation, and the drums pounding…boom…boom boom boom boom….boom boom boom boom!  The effect was mesmerizing.

 Some fifteen or twenty years later, when Bruce Springsteen spoke about what he most hoped to achieve when he began writing and recording, he listed three goals.  He wanted to write like Bob Dylan, emulate Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production, and sing like Roy Orbison.  Some could make an argument that he achieved the first two. Chris Isaak made a career of his respectful and respectable attempt to emulate Roy. I even gave it a try, doing my best Roy Orbison voice on one of my own songs “Heading Down the Shore”…but no one could ever sing with the power, majesty and range that Roy did so effortlessly, song after song.

 Roy was a great songwriter, too. His songs were largely about heartache and vulnerability, and after his meteoric rise during the first half of the Sixties, Roy suffered more heartache in his life than anyone should have to endure when, in 1966, his wife Claudette was killed in a motorcycle accident and, in 1968, his two oldest sons were killed in a house fire.  But, in the Eighties, Roy made a comeback that included winning a Grammy for a duet with Emmylou Harris, then there was the success of Van Halen’s remake of Roy’s number one song “Oh, Pretty Woman”, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, ultimately joining George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne to form “The Travelling Wilburys”.

 Roy was on tour in 1988 and I was really looking forward to seeing him when, word was, he would be coming to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA.  But tragedy struck once more when Roy died of a heart attack on December 6, 1988 at the age of 52.  But today is Roy’s birthday, and what a great day that is for music and all who love it... for, when Roy sang, it was more than just music…it was magic!

I was seventeen in the summer of ’65 when I first walked into a professional recording studio. It was A-1 Sound Studios at 234 W. 56th Street in New York City. I was there along with the other members of my high-school rock band “The Flames”, soon to be called “The Living Ends”, to record our first original song titled “Self-Centered Girl”.  Our manager, Jack Peters, had booked just one hour of studio time, which was not uncommon back then, and the musicians who were in the studio ahead of us were running long with their session. At that time, I was the drummer so, to save time, I started putting my drum kit together out in the hall while we waited for them to finish.

As soon as they were done recording, we began moving our equipment into the studio while the previous group of musicians, four older black men, began packing up theirs. As we were setting up, their guitar player turned to one of our guitar players, held something up in his hand and, in what I now recognize as a distinct southern plantation drawl, said, “Do you know what this is?”  Our guitar player said “No.” and, to that, the older gentleman responded by saying, “You can’t play the gertar without one of these.” He was holding up a bottleneck slide.  Of course, at the time, we four high-school kids from North Jersey didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

He and his fellow musicians finished packing and, as we began to lay down our instrumental track, the older guitar player, the one with the bottleneck, went into the control room with the recording engineer and listened for a while. We recorded a few takes, and by the time I walked into the control room to hear the playback, the older guitar player had left. The engineer turned to me and said, “He really liked your drumming.”  I said, “That’s nice.” “Do you know who that was?”, the engineer asked.  I said, “No.”  He said, “That was Muddy Waters.” and I said, “Who’s Muddy Waters?”  The engineer turned to me and said, “Someday, that’s going to mean a lot to you.”  An understatement.  Within a few years my musical awareness expanded and I learned of “The Man”, McKinley Morganfield, who was born in Mississippi, went by the name Muddy Waters, and who was, essentially, the father of modern Chicago Blues. 

Happy Birthday, Muddy.  Now the whole world knows who you are. You’re the Man…and that’s spelled M. A. N.

 

  On October 19th, 1968…forty-six years ago today, I came face to face with Janis Joplin.  The circumstances were unlikely and unplanned…but isn’t that the way so many peak moments happen.  The band Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis were scheduled to perform a concert at Penn State’s Rec Hall which held about 6,000 people. The concert was to begin at 8pm and the energy in the hall was high…probably in more ways than one. 8pm became 8:30 and the crowd was getting restless when an announcement was made that the band’s plane was late, but to please be patient, they would definitely be performing that night.

  I was there along with my bandmates from our senior-year band, “The New Old-Time Wooley Thumpers”, a group that performed a strange conglomeration of original songs and covers infused with a somewhat twisted but often hilarious sense of humor.  As 8:45 became 9:00 and the crowd became more impatient, we were approached by one of the people in charge of the concert.  “The crowd is getting restless,” they said… “Would you guys consider getting your instruments and performing an opening act until Janis and the band get here?”  Up to that point, the largest crowd we had played for was 1,100 in Schwab Auditorium, another venue on the Penn State campus. 6,000 people was a bit more intimidating, especially when they were impatiently waiting to hear Janis belt out her songs as only she could… but, what the heck, we said “Sure.”

  We hustled out of the building to the car we’d arrived in, made the circuit to each of our apartments, loaded up our equipment, and made it back to Rec Hall in record time.  Next came setting up the equipment on stage in front of the full house, which we accomplished in chaotic fashion, but record time.

  We performed about half a dozen songs with the crowd in, maybe, the front third of the hall paying attention and applauding, and those in the far reaches continuing to talk and wait impatiently. After the first song jitters were gone…it was fun.  Finally, around 10:30, we got the signal that Janis and the band had arrived.  We tore down the equipment, got it off the stage with the help of the organizers, and took a front-row seat for the rest of the concert…our perk for helping to keep the crowd entertained and calm.

  Out came Janis, walking up the steps to the stage a few feet from where I sat.  The band struck the first chord and she sang her heart out for nearly two hours, reaching for her famous bottle of Southern Comfort between each song…but oh, that woman could sing.  She reached down deep, bared her soul, and blew the roof off the place. When they were done, Janis came down those same stairs a few feet away, staring glassy-eyed into space like a deer caught in the headlights. Later, after the crowd left, Janis came back out to the stage area and someone handed her one of those yo-yos with bulbs inside that would light up when you'd spin it. She started to play with it, smiling and laughing like an innocent child. When she was on stage singing about relationships, love and heartbreak, she was all woman…but afterward, with that toy to play with, she was like a little girl. Just under two years later, Janis was gone. She was one of the musical Super Novas that burned with blinding light and then vanished at the age of twenty-seven…like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, and later Kurt Cobain… but that night she gave it all in every note she sang until she had no more left to give. One of her biggest hits at the time included the lyric, “Come on take it!…Take another little piece of my heart, now baby.”  That night… she took a little piece of mine.

In the Summer of 1970, my partner Ken Mathieu and I were just about to sign a recording, publishing and management contract with the Robert Stigwood Organisation, managers of Eric Clapton, the Bee Gees, John Mayall, the Staples Singers and a couple of other class acts. One of RSO’s other new artists was Elliott Randall, guitar player extraordinaire.

At the time, Elliott was in the process of recording his album for Polydor titled “Randall’s Island”. One evening after a meeting with Rik Gunnell, president of the Stigwood Organisation here in the states, his assistant Eddie Choran invited Ken and I to go down to the studio to watch Elliott work on a track for his album.  The album was being recorded at Electric Lady Studios in lower Manhattan.

For those of you who may not know, Electric Lady was Jimi Hendrix’s studio. Here’s a brief description of its origins from the Electric Lady Studios website… 

In 1968, Jimi Hendrix and his manager Michael Jeffery had invested jointly in the purchase of the Generation Club in Greenwich Village, but - their initial plans to re-open the club were abandoned when the local mafia added pressure for fees to compete in the neighborhood. It was an unwelcome association, and since commercial studio fees for Electric Ladyland sessions were so lofty, the pair instead decided to convert the space to a highly specialized and custom-built recording facility.

Designed specifically for Hendrix, the studio had round windows and a machine capable of generating ambient lighting in colors to fit any mood. It was a relaxing atmosphere, and the studio provided a creative space for Jimi to draft and perfect his songs - while engineer Eddie Kramer upheld the studio’s unparalleled professionalism in the background. The opening party was held on August 26, 1970.

Before boarding a flight for London to perform at the Isle of Wight, Hendrix created his last ever studio recording at his Electric Lady - a cool and tranquil instrumental known only as "Slow Blues".

That evening, a warm summer night, Eddie, Ken and I drove from Stigwood’s offices at 1700 Broadway to the studio at 52 West 8th Street. We walked in the entrance and past a barber’s chair bolted to the floor in the reception area. Someone said it was a favorite chair of Jimi’s. As we entered the studio control room, Elliott was playing in the studio on the other side of the control room glass and Eddie Kramer was behind the console both engineering and co-producing the album.  We sat down and were listening to Elliott play a smooth, fuzz lead, I thought very much in the style of Hendrix, when Jimi himself walked into the control room and sat down next to us.  I remember being struck by how very skinny his body was and how very large his head seemed to be.  He appeared both smaller than I imagined and bigger than I imagined at the same time.  As I remember, he sat there listening for about fifteen minutes… fifteen minutes that I’ll never forget. 

Jimi died in London just a short time later on September 18th, 1970 at the age of twenty-seven.  But today is his birthday and it’s his life and his music that I’m remembering. Happy Birthday, Jimi...and thanks for the “experience”.

I'm thankful for so many things... for friends and family, for music, laughter and love, for cats, for our five senses, for the abilities and the good fortune I've been given in this life, for the good and kind people all around the world, for the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the trees, for those who watch over us in this world and the next, for hot fudge on cold ice cream, for electric guitars and shooting stars, for drum sticks and magic tricks...but most of all for life itself with all its mixed emotions. To everyone out there, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving...and all the best that life has to give.

I thought, what better day to do my first blog than today, John Lennon’s birthday.  I still remember where I was the first time I heard a Beatles song on the radio.  It changed my life.  It made me want to switch from playing the drums to playing guitar and learning how to write songs.  The band he started brought so many of us a decade of wonder, and still brings me immeasurable joy.  I was fortunate to see them perform both times at Shea Stadium in ’65 and ’66. They influenced not just music, but style and attitudes.

In his solo years, John’s messages of peace and love were profound and heartfelt… so many great songs…so much compassion.  Back in 1971, I was signed briefly with The Robert Stigwood Organisation, managers at the time of Eric Clapton, The Bee Gees, John Mayall, and a few others. Their offices were one floor below The Beatles’ USA offices of Apple Records at 1700 Broadway in New York City.  One day as I left the building, I saw a Silver Cloud Rolls Royce waiting at the curb. I had heard that John and Yoko were in town and I knew that John owned a Silver Cloud Rolls.  I turned back toward the building and out came John and Yoko.  They walked right past me as they got into the car.  So many thoughts raced through my mind but I said nothing.  Mostly, I would like to have said “Thank you.”  John closed the door of the car and then looked out at me through the silver-tinted window.  In the reflection, I could see my own face next to his as rain drops began to fall and run down the glass.  He’s been gone for 32 years now…hard to believe.

In 1999, I was fortunate to win a Grand Prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for a song I wrote titled, “We’re All a Part of It All”…a song that expressed sentiments that were close to his heart.  Recently, some have said he would have liked my song “Greed”. I like to think so, but mostly I’m just thankful that he was born and that I was able to get to know him through his music.  Happy Birthday, John… and “thank you.”

If you’d like to see a music video of the song “Greed”, you’ll find it on my website at www.davidfoxmusic.com/video

RSS feed