Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Here's what Ric Menck, drummer extraordinaire for Matthew Sweet, Velvet Crush, Liz Phair, Marianne Faithfull etc., had to say about the book on Facebook. (Thank you, Ric. And EVR for the heads up.) The book had its best week yet last week due to comments like this one. If you see a review in print or online, please let me know....

"Bruce Eaton's 33 1/3 book about Radio City by Big Star is an astonishing read. Along with being the most insightful portrayal of Alex Chilton and the Big Star phenomenon I've ever read, it also explains quite clearly why one should never approach music or musical artists with preconceived notions or expectations. A must read for anyone who considers them self a fan of Big Star or music in general. Thank you Bruce."

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Quite a week, huh? Maybe the best week for the collective Big Star community ever. It's been great participating in various forums and just reading what everyone thinks and feels about the band the box set. I'll say this: it's one of the very few boxes that exceeds expectations and is "all thriller, no filler." I've made a habit over the years of borrowing box sets from friends in the business or getting them from the county library and then reducing them from four or five discs to maybe two. No way with this one. Four essential discs.

Nice review linked above. I remember buying Trade Mark of Quality bootlegs by mail from some guy in North Carolina in the mid-70s. He had a small ad in the back of Rolling Stone. Still have some of those records. And thanks to all for your kind words about the book this past week. The book zoomed back into the Top 20 Rock Books at Amazon. (And it was an honor for the book to be noted by Bob Mehr in the liner notes for the box set.)

A lot of discussion about the sequencing of Third / Sister Lovers / Alex Chilton. I have to say that the original PVC vinyl sequencing really works for me. It's not the first configuration I heard it in (I had a lo-fi cassette of the test pressing) so it's not a case of what I heard first and just got used to. It just flows really well in my ears. One of these days I'll try to find out who sequenced that version. They nailed it...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Maybe you once had this feeling as a kid. You really want a special toy for Christmas. You wait a long time for it. Finally the big day arrives and there it is...you're ecstatic. And then a few hours later you accidentally break it and it can't be fixed. Remember being that bummed out? The crushing, almost irrational disappointment??

This morning I slipped discs 3 and 4 from the box set into paper sleeves so I could listen to them in the car while I went to an appointment. Picked up a book, some papers, and the disc from my desk and headed out. Got in the car...no disc 3. "Must have left in on the desk," I'm thinking.

Arrive home two hours later. There's disc 3 in my driveway, run over by my Volvo wagon, and COMPLETELY RUINED. Arrgggggggggghhhhhhh!!! (Even more irrational...even though I can probably get a burned CD-R copy from a friend, it won't be the same as having an intact set...)

I'll have to calm down a bit before I wax poetic / coherent about those Alex solo demos at the end of Disc Two. Magnificent for sure...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Got it...finally. Love the "tapebox " packaging. The photos are great. Lots of shots I've never seen before (nore has probably anyone else but a few). The essays don't break any new ground but are an excellent summation on all three fronts. Nice message from J. Fry (although he told he didn't care much about the photo they used of him at the board...so I dropped it from the book). Just getting into the discs but I would say that some of the alternate mixes are really revelatory, some are just interesting, and some were passed over for obvious reasons. At some point over the next few days I'm going to make a disc that matches them with the originals for an easier A/B comparison. But there are so many cool things that any concern I had about the original albums not being presented as released kind of went right out the window...Too bad the back picture of Radio City didn't show Alex in his tennis shorts...we could have blamed the album's failure on that.

Good morning all...listening for the sound of the UPS truck delivering the box set (unfortunately, there's not a decent record store in the Buffalo area). Here's the first of two links I'm going to post from the Memphis Flyer about the box set - this one being an interview with Adam Hill, Ardent engineer and archivist. Adam was of immeasurable help when I was writing the book. One of the most memorable moments over the 18 months was sitting with him in Studio C listening to some of the tracks channel by channel. Breaking down September Gurls and hearing what went into the track – especially Alex's guitars – was a real thrill. At any rate, Adam is a great guy, a huge Big Star fan, and it's nice to see him in the spotlight...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Star Live Part II. Frank from Memphis recently sent me a scan of a review of Big Star playing at the famous Rock Writers Convention from Phonograph Record magazine (thanks, Frank). I tried to track down any reviews of the gig while writing the book and came up short (this wasn't in the Ardent archives nor available through Rock's Back Pages). It's a long (and glowing) piece by Mike Saunders. Here's the partial set list based on Mike's account:

Feel (opener)
In The Street
My Life Is Right
Don't Lie To Me
When My Baby's Beside Me
[after "six or seven songs" Alex switched to acoustic]
Ballad of El Goodo
[after four acoustic songs Alex back to the Stratocaster]
rest of set included:
My Life Is Right (again)
Come On Now (Kinks)
Around and Around (Chuck Berry)
The Letter [Alex introduced as "This is a song you may remember..."]

What was that English band that released a bunch of stuff last week??

Well, today's the day for the children by the millions (okay, thousands) have been waiting for.

Regarding the live disc, I've read some comments elsewhere by a few who are disappointed that the entire recordings weren't presented in their original order. What I can tell you is that a total of 36 songs were recorded. Four songs were performed three times each. Eight songs were performed twice. Eight songs were performed once. So with the twenty songs on the disc, you're getting the best take of the twelve songs performed more than once and not missing out on any one song. The running order seems to have remained fairly close to the order in which they were originally performed, accounting for the combined performances of course.

Having heard the unedited tapes while doing research for the book, I can tell you that there is a lot of dead space between some songs – often longer than a minute – while the band tunes up, changes instruments etc.. I'm sure you've heard or read by various people associated with Big Star over the years that they didn't have any following to speak of in Memphis. Here you can actually hear it. They finish a song and there's almost NO reaction. Maybe one person randomly applauding. Mostly just conversation and the clinking of glasses and ice. Chilling. Wouldn't we have all loved to have been there and made things different?

I'll be back as soon as my copy arrives – might even be today...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hi Everyone...the countdown begins to release date. I'll have the box-set on the 17th (ordered through Amazon Prime) but if anyone has it already or gets it the day of release, weigh in by all means. I briefly (three seconds) entertained the notion of trying to get a promo copy (after all, I've been out doing advance work for months) after the scribe for the local arts weekly let us knew on Facebook about already having his copy (jealous...who me?) but my bottom-line motto has always been "the most radical form of supporting the arts is to actually buy a darn ticket (or record)". (In fairness to the local scribe, his review will sell some copies.) Everything costs a lot these days and money is getting tighter. But if you're a Big Star fan, this is a way to vote with your wallet and get some mighty fine payback to boot. If all of us who have derived so much pure pleasure from second-hand and cut-out copies of the original LPs over the past 35 years ponied up this time, the band might actually see some significant revenue from sales.

Friday, September 4, 2009

HWS Concerts Winter / Spring 1974. Going to wrap up the stroll down memory lane so I can keep an eye on the sky...the Big Star box set just around the corner.

Earl Scruggs Revue / Country Cooking. This was the Winter Weekend concert. You don't see Earl's name much these days (and the Revue's recordings are out-of-print and not available digitally) which is puzzling given that he is one of the true innovators and pioneers of country music and still living (maybe that's why – he needs to announce that he only has so many years to live and put out a box set and hire Rick Rubin to record him). The Revue was exploring the boundaries between country and rock at a time when most of the acceptance of that was stemming from the rock side (The Byrds, Grateful Dead, Dylan etc.) and the country establishment still looked at the long hairs with disdain (not knowing that a few decades later that "country music" would basically sound like Foghat with some lyrics about pick-up trucks laid and the secret that grandma told to grandpa and kissing your high school girlfriend tacked onto it). Country Cooking was a bluegrass group out of Ithaca with Pete Wernick, Tony Trischka, and Russ Barenberg. These guys have all gone onto to big things in the bluegrass world and Country Cooking is revered as sort of a supergroup in reverse.

We actually did some promo on the local country music station and brought in some of the "townies" from the surrounding farm towns for this one. I don't remember much about the concert itself except that Earl was great guy, the band was really good, and a fine time was had pretty much all – the townies and the freaks got on well. The only bad note was that Country Cooking insisted on performing Anne Murray's Snowbird. They did it in soundcheck, I told them it would not go over well, and they shunned the advice. When they played it for the audience, a lot of people made bird noises in protest.

Chick Corea and Return To Forever. I'll let you decide the cause and effect and just tell you how I see it: Chick Corea's work before Scientology is infinitely better than what came after. This version of RTF (the quartet with Bill Connors > pre-Al DiMiola) came after and pretty much defined pretentious, self-indulgent fusion. Rebuffed by the concert committee, a student on campus who was Chick's #1 Fan went to the student government and got the extra $2000 for the show. My one memory of the show was Chick twiddling the knob on his synth and making all these exaggerated faces like he was about to give birth to a cinder block. Those first two RTF albums (with Airto and Joe Farrell) are really nice though...

Stanley Turrentine. This was the feature show for Third World Weekend...back when campuses actually had separate living facilities for minorities (at their demand), which always struck me as odd coming right after the civil rights battle to do away with those sorts of things. I was way into my Pharoah Sanders period (never left it actually) so I didn't give Stanley his due. I later came to really appreciate his work on Blue Note and his much-maligned at the time work on CTI (which were urban hits and thus this booking). I've got Don't Mess With Mr. T on my iTunes right now...

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention / Dion. Spring Weekend. May 3, 1974. When the opportunity to book Zappa for $7500 crossed my radar during the winter, the notion of the traditional student poll went right out the window. Zappa for this price was too good to pass up. Zappa's manager (Herb Cohen) dictated that we book Dion (who also recorded for WB at the time) as an opening act. He was in his post-rehab solo folkie phase. One of these days I've promised myself that I'm going to delve into Dion's long and multi-faceted career.

We were well aware of Zappa's finicky and somewhat demanding reputation so Peter Kapp and I thought it would be a good idea to go see the band two nights before our show at the Broome County Arena in Binghamton. We asked the crew what the band really wanted backstage in terms of food and drink and learned that they were all really big on organic / health food type stuff as well as good beer. We came back, cancelled our catering plans, and went to the local health food restaurant (run by Robert Ward's wife as I recall) planned out a huge dinner. A really fantastic spread complete with gallons of fresh-squeezed juices. I think the total came to around $200 which seemed astronomical at the time but we knew it would be worth the investment. Then we went to the local beer distributorship and stocked up on brew like Bass Ale – imports that weren't all that common. $4 for a six-pack! The food paid off as the band was knocked out, the roadies got over their hangs up about the gig (they thought the venue was too small for a band of their stature), and I knew that all was well when Frank stopped me in the hall and said "You guys are doing a good job." Only the road manager (who else?) was less than completely satisfied, asking "Got any guac?" (a phrase I still use today to express faux-dissatisfaction). This was my last college show but when I started producing world-class jazz artists in the early 90s the lesson stayed with me. I always make sure that the musicians are well fed before the show, going beyond what it says on the rider and getting the preferences from the artists or managers. It's the best investment a promoter can make (besides great sound). A well-fed musician is a happy musician and a happy musician hits the stage ready to deliver.

Frank had a great band with George Duke, Chester Thompson, Ruth Underwood, and Don Preston to name a few. You can hear the group doing the same set on Live At The Roxy and Elsewhere (some of the album was recorded within days of our date) and if you look at the photos on the original album cover you'll see the trademark heating radiators on the back wall of the Geneva Theater stage in a few of the live shots.

Unless Zack Chaikin comes up with a show that I forgot about, that's then end of my run as concert chairman. Springsteen played the theater twice more – in December '74 with a woman violinist in the band and then July 1975 (promoted by Springsteen's manager with help from Peter Kapp). It was a really wild experience pulling into the parking lot. School was long out of session but kids had driven from all over the region to be at the show (on a weeknight), the second night of the Born To Run tour. Springsteen hit the stage like a running back at the five yard line about to explode into the end zone. I'm surprised the theater was still standing by the time he finished the encore.

All of these successful rock shows planted the seed that the Geneva Theater – a run-down movie theater that was eventually sold for back taxes – could be a regional performing arts center. The name has reverted to its original moniker – The Smith Opera House – and there's been a lot of renovations but the theater still feels (and smells) the same as it did back when these monumental shows took place. A few years ago my son and I attended a sold-out performance by the Derek Trucks Band and absent the mushroom cloud of smoke, it felt just like 1973. Looking down from either side of the stage were the backlit statues of Mozart? Bach? Beethoven? The ghosts of performances past hovered in the air. The sound was crystal clear and there still wasn't a bad seat in the house. After two sets and an encore, we walked to our car (past 410 and 385 Main Street, where I'd spent much time) and headed home. Over thirty years had passed and it felt like maybe...three?

Okay...holiday weekend and then back to Big Star...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

HWS Concerts December 1973. Livingston Taylor / Billy Joel. We had booked Livingston Taylor to do two shows in the on-campus auditorium (the fee was somewhere in the $2-2500 range). You don't hear Liv's name much these days but his first two albums (debut on Atco and then Liv on Capricorn – both produced in Macon by Jon Landau – partially making up for the abysmal jobs he did with the first Boz Scaggs LP and MC5's Back The USA) but those records were great in their own right. In retrospect, he would have been better off not being James's brother. We were happy about the booking.

About ten days before the show I woke up one morning (a Sunday) feeling like someone had kicked me really hard in the lower abdomen. Went to the college infirmary. They sent me to the emergency room at Geneva General. They looked me over, gave me some antibiotics and some pain pills. I went back to my dorm room and rolled around in agony while trying to watch a Buffalo Bills game (this was the year that OJ broker the rushing record). Within a few hours I'd gone through what was supposed to be a few days supply of pain pills. Back to the hospital and this time I was admitted where I would spend the next few weeks before finally having surgery.

After I'd been there for a few days I got a call from the agent I worked with, wanting to know if I'd booked an opening act for Taylor. I hadn't planned on one but he proposed Billy Joel - a guy with a debut coming out on Columbia shortly who was looking for work at any price. I had actually heard Billy's Cold Spring Harbor album and immediately thought that he was worth $500 for two shows but that decision might have been made easier by the fact that I was bored and medicated.

I didn't get out of the hospital in time to see the show...just heard a few minutes of it over a pay phone. But Billy came, saw, and conquered, previewing most of Piano Man and proving to be quite the entertainer with his between song raps. For the second time in a few weeks, musical lightening had hit HWS. Everyone went home for Christmas break and came back with copies of The E Street Shuffle and/or Piano Man. A few weeks later I was sitting in my surgeon's waiting room and the radio station was playing Piano Man...a huge hit.

I've been producing jazz concerts in the Buffalo area for the past 19 years and for me, nothing is better than booking an unknown new artist long before they go on to big things. The trick is knowing who is going somewhere and who isn't. Any one can write a big check to Chick Corea or Sonny Rollins. I'd much rather be the first person to book The Bad Plus outside of New York City. Or book Joshua Redman and Christian McBride almost a year before their first album is out. I'm still carrying on the HWS tradition, just in another arena. (By the way, my current favorite new band is Most Other People Do The Killing – coming in early 2010).

I've said this before, but one of the reasons that popular music isn't as good as it used to be is that colleges no longer provide a strong touring circuit for new acts to get exposure. Springsteen lived off of colleges before he hit it big. And here was Billy Joel, going from school to school for motel and gas money. Tickets were cheap, it was a receptive environment and people responded immediately by buying records and spreading the word. It worked for everyone.

What do you want to bet that this tape spend some time lodged in the dash of a Camaro? I love how 8-tracks destroyed the sequencing of an album (the second side of this 57th Street > Rosalita > New York City Serenade is still Springsteen's peak in my book) and broke songs in two. Kind of like Robert F. Moses ramming an expressway through an urban neighborhood.