Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Had hoped to write a longer second installment about Rock City by now but have been swamped.    So just go to and download the song "Seems So Long" – a song that should have been an FM classic rock standard.   Crank it up in your car and we'll talk about it next week.  

Thursday, July 16, 2009

ROCK CITY 2009.  Any serious Big Star fan knows about Rock City, the pre-Big Star "band" that included Thomas Dean Eubanks on bass as well as Chris Bell, Terry Manning, and Jody Stephens.  But was it really a band that morphed into Big Star (on the first Rock City album that was finally released a few years back on Manning's Lucky Seven Label there are even a few Bell songs that ended up on #1 Record) or something else entirely?  In the liner notes to the recently released second Rock City album "Who Can Find The Dreamer?", Eubanks aims to set the record straight.  Like any successful enterprise, musical or otherwise, there are people who will try to horn their way into the picture or claim credit after the fact.  Big Star is no different.  One undercurrent I picked up in my interviews for the book was a fair amount of exasperation with various individuals who over the years have trumped up their association with Big Star or their importance to the band.  That's why in the book I only interviewed the people who were actually "in the room."  I don't want to steal Eubank's thunder but he's very clear on what Rock City really was: a solo studio project based around his material that Chris Bell brought into Ardent and engineered to get the hands-on experience.  Jody was there because he was a friend and a great drummer.  Because it was an informal project and there was a shortage of material, Chris added a few songs (as well as a tune by guitarist Jeff Smith).  Terry Manning liked what he heard and pitched in.  This was in the all-hands-on-deck spirit that characterized Ardent during this time.  There was no label interest in the demoes, Chris went on to Big Star, and the material languished in a tape box marked (by Chris Bell) "Rock City".  As Andy Hummel explains in my book, adding "city" after something was a really common expression of the day.  Thus if you had a record you thought was radio friendly, you might indeed call it Radio City.  Eventually the demand for any material with a Bell / Big Star connection brought the material to the light of day, but according to Eubanks, in a somewhat skewed light.  As he concludes in the liner notes..."No on else should attempt to take credit for Big Star save these five individuals [the four band members and John Fry]."

Next installment: the newly-released Rock City album.  

Friday, July 10, 2009

Hey Everyone - Happy July!  It's mid-July and I still haven't turned on the AC.  (I know, I know, the fact that the Earth has gotten cooler over the past decade and this is one of the coolest summers on record is just more proof that the Earth is getting warmer...just like the weak sales of the latest U2 album is proof that they're getting more popular...and Boston isn't a college town).  Just back from cleaning out 40 years of accumulated stuff from my wife's family home near Boston and it's been hard to concentrate on anything other than endless trips to the dumpster.  Driving back home I listened to the Beach Boys Today! / Summer Days and Summer Nights.  I'm not a good enough guitarist to be able to explain it in words, but I could definitely hear more of how Carl Wilson influenced Alex on guitar when I focused on his parts.  There's this subtle little flourish thing Carl did that Alex picked up and...well, I told you I couldn't describe it...

By now I'm sure you've perused the track list for the Big Star box set (link to Amazon below if you haven't – they're also starting to lower the price for pre-orders).  What's my take?  I'll be thrilled to get it.  My only concern before hearing it (CAVEAT!  PLEASE NOTE! I'm not one of those obsessive fans who freaks out and criticizes a recording / movie / whatever before they see or hear it.  This is just idle musing for entertainment purposes.  Got it?)  the use of alternate mixes for some of the tracks for #1 and RC to the exclusion of the LP versions (it appears that 3rd is presented intact).  There's an assumption made that you have the original recordings (and I'm sure that few who buy the box set won't have the originals).  But knowing at least some of the people involved, I'm sure there was good reason for the way things were done.  I'll probably just load all the discs into my Mac and then make discs that edit out all the original versions, not wanting to mess with the perfection of the original discs in my head.  Even if the alternate mixes are better (who knows?  they might be...) I'll still want to hear them separately rather than in the flow of the album.     

As I've noted before, Big Star fans are going to freak when they hear Alex's acoustic demoes for Life Is White and What's Going Ahn.  The only track not on the box that I would have lobbied to include would be an instrumental track for September Gurls without the vocals.  It's an absolutely stunning testament to the band as creative musicians and John Fry as a brilliant engineer.  Maybe a little too "inside" for some, but for anybody who's ever been in a band, it would be revelatory.  A textbook example of how it's done...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Brief postscript on Michael Jackson.  There's an excellent article in today's (7/01) Wall Street Journal by Jim Fusilli (one of the best music writers around) that delves into the making of Off The Wall and Thriller in a very 33 1/3 manner.  Who played what.  How the tracks came together.  Interesting little tidbits.  All focused on the music.  A nice antidote to all of the media madness.  And when you separate the cream and wheat from the hype and chaff, Big Star produced in their short time more minutes of great recorded music than MJ recorded over his solo career.  Hard to believe...just like the fact that Wilt Chamberlain NEVER fouled out in 1045 NBA games.  Use that little nugget to win a few bets at your family barbeque this weekend