Recently, as I have been exploring the world of jazz, I have come across a number of great artists that I can recall my parents listening to hosting cocktail parties in the 60's. One of those was Ms. Dusty Springfield. Give this a read and perhaps stream a recording or two of hers and give it a listen !
Hailed by many critics and fans as perhaps the best pop and soul singer Britain has ever produced, Dusty Springfield charted several 1960’s hits in the US and the UK. Unfortunately, her soulful work is often overshadowed today by that of her contemporaries like Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick while her pop style is often confused with fellow female singers Petula Clark and Jackie DeShannon among others.
Springfield was born Mary O’Brien in 1939 on the outskirts of London. Her love of music came early, and by the time she was a teenager she had developed the husky, bluesy voice and style that would eventually dub her as the “Queen of Blue-Eyed Soul.” Dusty took her stage name after joining a folksy trio known as “The Springfields” which achieved some success on the British charts in 1962-63 as well as some rare success (for a pre-Beatles British act) in the US with their song “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” reaching the Top 20 here. In late ‘63, the trio disbanded allowing Dusty to pursue a very successful solo career. Over the next five years, she became a staple on the charts with a string of classic hits such as “I Only Want to Be With You”, “Wishin’ And Hopin’ “, and “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” to name just a few. She made regular television appearances on both sides of the Atlantic and came to somewhat personify the “Swingin’ 60’s.” It was a role and stereotype that she did not relish.
Despite her run of success, Dusty was not incredibly pleased with her body of work. Long an admirer of Motown and the Memphis soul sounds epitomized by Stax Records, she came to the US in search of new music and recording techniques that would capture her soulful side. Her search for her “true sound” reached its’ pinnacle in 1968-69 with the recording and release of her classic album, still often overlooked, titled simply “Dusty in Memphis.” The album, anchored by the sultry classic “The Look of Love” and the seminal and soulful “Son of A Preacher Man” did not find commercial success initially, but eventually gained wide acclaim as one of the great recordings of the 2Oth century. In 2020, the album was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant---and for being one of the most important recordings produced by a woman in the rock era.”
Springfield’s career after “Dusty in Memphis” proved to be inconsistent. She moved to America in 1970 and was beset by drug addiction and other personal issues which included persistent questions about her sexuality. She continued to record and had a career renaissance of sorts when she provided vocals on the Pet Shop Boys 1987 hit “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” which reached #2 on the charts in both the US and Europe. More notice came as her songs were used in movie soundtracks and discovered by new fans. This included the use of “Son of a Preacher Man” in Quentin Tarantino’s film “Pulp Fiction” in 1994. Dusty passed away in 1999 following a long battle with breast cancer. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two weeks later by her friend, Elton John. A biopic of Dusty Springfield depicting her career and her fight for sexual equality is currently in the early stages of production.
Originally published in 406 Woman magazine - Off Key Notes January/February 2024
I am a life-long lover of rock, pop and soul music, and admittedly, I perhaps have too much time on my hands these days.
This has, however, allowed me to keep exploring new musical paths—like my recent “baby step” forays into the world of Jazz! In perusing my music collection recently, I asked myself some questions. From the drop of the needle to begin side 1 to the final notes of the last song of side 2, which albums moved me in some way? Opened doors to new ideas? Helped me to evolve? Altered my perspective or previously held perceptions about something or someone? Like a good book, transported me to another place? Made me the most happy--or perhaps even altered the course of my life?
While these questions seemed simple, I had unexpectantly given myself a huge and rather unwieldy task. I love so many different artists, songs and recordings. How could I possibly narrow it down to just one or two ALBUMS in my effort to answer these questions? This column is my awkward effort to provide some answers. I am sure of only two things at this point. The recordings that I have considered in my quest are all truly “albums” in every sense of the word as originally intended by the artist(s). That is, they are not compilations or greatest hits packages. Secondly, I can assure you that this list of albums (a ridiculously small number of just 3) will forever be changing for me as time goes on. So in no particular order, here we go:
Led Zeppelin “Physical Graffiti”(1975)
Like a lot of kids in high school in the 70’s, I came to worship this powerful British quartet! This double album was loaded with Zep classics from end to end. It ultimately became my gateway to the world of album rock, and before long I purchased all of Zeppelin’s other albums at the gaudy price of let’s say $7.99 each. Prior to this, I was mostly listening to Top 40 on AM radio. “PG,” as we called it, opened up a whole new world. I would much later find out that music on “PG” was heavily influenced by Middle Eastern, swing, blues and 50’s era rock n roll. At the time, I just knew it sounded heavy and loud as well as tender and mesmerizing all at once. Jimmy Page’s guitarwork on “Kashmir” will never be duplicated.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young “Déjà Vu” (1970)
After arriving at college in ’77 armed with a stereo system that played all the contemporary bands (Aerosmith, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, etc.) perhaps a little too loudly, I was introduced to this album by an older hippie-ish guy in the dorm. In short, it changed my world. First, this music was by this time all of SEVEN years old. Nothing that “old” could be any good, or so I naively thought. Secondly, the lyrics, harmonies, storytelling and the MESSAGE that CSNY delivered became important and very relevant to me then and moving forward, and it was done with tenderness and passion. Listening to this album invited me to explore music from the previous generation (50’s, 60’s & early 70’s) and to realize that song writing was an art form. I think I became a collector of music because of the door that was opened here. “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” and “Teach Your Children” remain two of my favorite songs ever.
“American Beauty” Grateful Dead (1970)
Talk about literally altering the course of one’s life...In the spring of ’79, I recall being invited to a gathering at an off-campus house notorious for its’ rathe bohemian atmosphere and partying ways. As the lights got low at some point in the middle of the night, a guy put on an album by a group I had never heard of. I ask, “Who is this?” The response is “It’s Jerry, man. You know, the Dead, man.” Actually no, I don’t know. But as the album concludes 41 minutes later and after guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir have led me on a musical journey that includes touches of folk, country and psychedelic rock, I do, in fact, “know.” Four days later, I attended my first Grateful Dead show in Boston—indeed the first of many over decades. And the rest shall they say is history. Perhaps there’s fodder for another column here LOL.
A Very Incomplete List of Albums That Changed My Consciousness
“Abbey Road” The Beatles
“The Stranger” Billy Joel
“The Doors” (debut album)
“Who’s Next” The Who
“Imagine” John Lennon
“Infidels” Bob Dylan
“Tapestry” Carole King
“Alone Together” Dave Mason
“John Barleycorn” Traffic
“Innervisions” Stevie Wonder
“Life for Rent” Dido
“Exile on Main Street” The Rolling Stones
“Dark Side of the Moon” Pink Floyd
“Scarecrow” John Mellencamp
“Are You Experienced?” The Jimi Hendrix Experience
“After the Gold Rush” Neil Young
“Revolver” The Beatles
“Tracy Chapman” (debut album)
Originally published in 406 Woman magazine - Off Key Notes (January/February 2024)
After a rather extended hiatus, it is my pleasure to return to 406 Woman with my musings regarding the world of music.
I had the great pleasure to experience a pretty unique and extraordinary event this past summer at the Park City Song Summit---a relatively new event on the musical circuit. My wife, Kristen, had accepted a position for the event a few months earlier coordinating housing and transportation for the numerous artists performing and giving talks at the event. I was “convinced” to accompany her and work there as a volunteer, but the real incentive for me was a scheduled performance by Bobby Weir of Grateful Dead fame. As a longtime “Deadhead,” I was excited to see him perform in a smaller, more intimate setting. Beyond that, and after visiting their website, I was not really sure what to make of this event as the organizers’ approach was a bit different than that of other festivals I had attended and compounded by the fact that I simply did not know who many of the participating artists were. As we hit the road for Utah driving from the Flathead Valley, I openly wondered how I would spend all my time, over the better part of week, wandering around the Song Summit grounds. I was soon to be pleasantly surprised…
So what exactly was it that made this event in Park City so refreshing in its’ general approach to putting on a musical event/concert? The event’s “mission statement” provides strong clues.
“The Park City Song Summit is a multi-day MUSIC and WELLNESS event featuring intimate conversations and musical performances. It was started out of a passion for music and a mission to bring clarity and normalcy to the struggles that musicians, artists and music lovers alike face around mental health and dependency. It was built as an immersive hangout in the beautiful mountains of Park City, Utah and offers audiences a chance to explore and celbrate the myth, inspiration, passion, and history of song with a group of musicians, creatives, songwriters, and industry pioneers. We celebrate the healing power of music!”
My experience at this event met this criteria and beyond. It was such a positive event and often, a moving and spiritual one. I spent my days as a volunteer working various event programs, directing and providing information to attendees and artists, troubleshooting a few things, and just helping out wherever necessary. Daytime events took place in large outdoor tents, hotel ballrooms, and on small outdoor stages. Evening performances were held at a large open-air amphitheater, accessible on foot or by a ski gondola, and in downtown Park City at a couple well known venues. The event’s organizers were going for a quality rather than quantity approach, and they succeeded. Rather than just “packing ‘em in,” it seemed to be about each attendee having a great experience. Sometimes less is more! Gatherings during the Summit ranged from a few dozen attendees at some event programs to a few thousand at evening performances. I was present for several “Summit Labs” hosted by such songwriting notables as JD Souther (who singlehandedly wrote a whole bunch of The Eagles “Greatest Hits”), the legendary folk artist Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and rap icons Chuck D and Darryl “DMC” McDaniel, among others. Artists seemed to enjoy the laid-back nature of these labs. They dropped their guard a bit, shared background on their lives and music, performed tunes, and answered audience questions. As mentioned earlier, this event is also all about “wellness.” While alcohol was available at evening events, it was there, almost it seemed, as an afterthought. Unlike many music venues and concerts that I have attended over the years, alcohol consumption was neither encouraged or strongly marketed at the Park City Song Summit. Rather than a drunken party, it was a celebration of life and music. Daily wellness activities included yoga, stretching sessions, recovery hangs, biking and hiking, and these were available to all guests and artists. Additionally, many of the performers donated items, and an auction was held to benefit local music education.
Most importantly of course, there were many great musical performances including many from artists that I just had not heard of before. Among the highlights were the following: Lukas Nelson (yes, Willie’s son!) just completely mesmerizing a room with only his songwriting talent and an acoustic guitar in hand; Celisse Henderson, whom I dubbed “the future of Rock n Roll,” wowing an audience with guitar work that reminds one of Hendrix and Clapton; and Eric Krasno and Anders Osborne, great guitarists and songwriters in their own right, leading an all star band which included Brad Walker & The Hornstars as well as members of the famed New Orleans Neville Brothers, in a last night finale that I will not soon forget. So sure, I got my eyes and ears opened to some new sounds. This “festival” made me hopeful. There is still some great music and talent out there. I am glad that I got reminded of that fact. And yes, that Bob Weir fellow that I mentioned earlier, I got to hear him too.
Montana is offering some great music festivals too. A few that have been around for years and some that are newer. Personally, I think the Whitefish Songwriter Festival in September holds the most promise for an event that has the right idea of offering a quality, intimate experience for the visitor. I couldn’t make it this year but heard amazing feedback, and you can bet I’ll be there next year (September 12-14, 2024)! Visit whitefishsongwriterfestival.org.
By the way, next year’s Park City Song Summit is scheduled to take place August 15-17, 2024. Info will be made available at parkcitysongsummit.com soon.
Remembering Sirens of Song
By the 1960’s, the music industry, especially in the genres of rock, pop and jazz, had begun to mature and grow significantly enough to allow female singers and songwriters to be regarded for the great talents that they were, and to be, at least at times, considered on an equal footing with their male counterparts. No longer was it entirely necessary to be a “pretty face” although that probably didn’t hurt. Many of these female music pioneers have been forgotten-- or nearly so despite their accomplishments.
“Jackie DeShannon” was born Sharon Lee Myers in Kentucky in 1944. As a child, she performed country music locally, and by her teens she knew that she would pursue a career in the music industry. She took her stage name and talents and began writing songs at a small record label, ultimately penning “Needles and Pins” in 1963 which became a huge hit for the UK group The Searchers. Jackie’s own recording career remained somewhat stalled until her breakthrough recording in 1965 of Burt Bacharach’s “What The World Needs Now (Is Love Sweet Love).” This song would become almost ubiquitous with the 60’s culture and can be heard in numerous film soundtracks since which depict the period. Her 1968 LP “Laurel Canyon” became one of the very first albums completely conceptualized, performed and produced by a woman on a major record label. Jackie scored again in 1969 when she penned and recorded “Put A Little Love in Your Heart”--- a song which again reflected the times and touched the hearts of many and with a message that continues to endure. Jackie would continue to write and record for many years to come. In 1982, she won a Song of the Year Grammy for “Bette Davis Eyes” which was an international hit for singer Kim Carnes. Today at 82, Jackie continues to thrive and occasionally perform.
Originally published in 406 Woman magazine - Off Key Notes November/December 2023
On October 21, 2014, my mother Joan died rather suddenly at her home of complications related to lung cancer.
She never smoked a day in her life.
Mom was a kind and generous woman who possessed a great love for life. Generally, she had taken good care of herself throughout her life, but her courageous fight against her cancer would prove to be a short one. Her life ended a mere 10 weeks after she was given the stunning and devastating news that she had Stage 4 lung cancer. What was a persistent nuisance, a cough and some bothersome pain in her side for a period of time virtually overnight became “three to six months to live.” Her doctor delivered the news rather clinically and coldly. Perhaps she could buy a bit more time if she opted to pursue an aggressive regimen of radiation, chemotherapy and drug treatments and suffer horribly with all the side effects and symptoms that each of these treatments surely would deliver. She declined these treatments preferring to live out the rest of her days on her terms more or less. Our family was very proud of Mom’s decision. My mother created a “bucket list” of sorts with the help of family, but most notably by Mom’s “best friend” who happens to be my sister, Mary. The best friend status between Mom and Mary was always mutual for as long as I can remember.
In the coming weeks, the “bucket list”, consisting mostly of little things that Mom wanted to do, see or experience again, was pursued as aggressively as her condition would allow. There were good days, and there were days of great suffering. Living here in the Flathead, it became increasingly difficult to be far away from the situation. I returned to Connecticut in late September to help out my family with Mom’s health needs and work further on her “bucket list”. I spent a week, in hindsight one of the most special and precious times of my life, doing things that she wanted to do----taking the ferry across Long Island Sound and having lunch, visiting a great winery in the northwest hills of Connecticut, exploring the autumn countryside, and singing old Neil Diamond and classic country songs along the way. Most importantly, we talked a great deal about a wide range of topics. She worried about what would happen to us, months hence, after she was gone. What is your father going to do? Your brother? … and on down the line. She had long been the foundation and ultra caregiver our family and was not comfortable with the idea of giving up that role.
I saw Mom alive for the last time on October 4th as I headed to the airport. I needed to return to Montana. I promised her that I would see her again for the holidays, and I truly believed I would. It was not to be. Instead, the lung cancer became more aggressive still, and I returned to Connecticut 17 days later to attend to her affairs and deliver her eulogy.
My mother was always fond of writing down little sayings and quotes on slips of paper, and often, leaving them around for people to find and read. I found two of these on the desk in the guestroom where I would stay and write her eulogy during her funeral week. I believe in my heart that Mom left them there specifically for me to find. The first stated simply, “Live each day to the fullest for NOTHING is promised.” On the second in obviously weaker and shakier handwriting, the words “When you are down to nothing, God is up to something.” My guess is that shortly after writing that line my mother found out what God planned for her. Mom is in a better place now.
I am proud of you Mom. I love and miss you desperately. I would give anything to spend another 10 minutes with you sitting on that bench overlooking the Sound, or to receive one more of your weekly phone calls, and to say some of the things that I forgot to say before you left.
You were right Mom. Nothing is promised. I am still dealing with the swiftness of your departure from this earth.
In the wake of my mother’s passing, and after doing research into lung cancer and its causes, I was surprised to find out that my mother’s case was like that of many others---a NON-smoker who never suspected that she could have lung cancer and did not find out until it was much too late. Like many lung cancer victims, she exhibited no symptoms until only a short time before her death. I was stunned by much of the information and statistics that I found regarding lung cancer and its increasing pervasiveness especially among women. This despite the fact that the number of women who smoke has been declining significantly in the United States for decades. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is in fact the #1 cancer killer of women in the United States. Over the last ten years, lung cancer killed more women in America than breast cancer and colorectal cancer combined according to the Center for Disease Control, and the slight majority of these lung cancer victims were women who did not smoke.
Unfortunately, because of the stigma often attached to lung cancer and its link to smoking, funding for research into the disease and its causes aside from smoking is paltry in comparison to other forms of cancer. There are few, if any, runs or walks or events of any kind to raise lung cancer awareness. There are no football players wearing specifically colored uniform accessories to promote lung cancer awareness during televised games. On the contrary, public awareness is minimal as a majority of people feel that lung cancer is a “self-inflicted” disease----and perhaps some times it is. I can tell you from my personal experience with my mother that “self inflicted” is not always necessarily the case. Why do women who have not been smokers get lung cancer? Many studies suggest simple genetics and family history as contributing factors. Others suggest exposure to pollutants, second hand smoke, and a myriad of other health factors. In short, it is very often completely unfair to blame the victim when it comes to lung cancer.
What can you do? Most importantly, get tested! Smokers and nonsmokers, make a lung x-ray a regular part of your annual medical checkup. Insist on it even if you exhibit no symptoms of deteriorating lung health. Such an x-ray early on might have saved my mother’s life. Secondly, get aware!
Additional information is available through the American Lung Association’s Lung Force at www.lungforce.org. Lung force is a national movement to unite women in the fight against lung cancer and for lung health. Join the Lung Force teams led by national spokespersons actress Valerie Harper as well as singers Jewel and Kellie Pickler. Your voice, your support and your passion are all needed to stop lung cancer.
The Sound of Silence By Simon & Garfunkel
Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted
In my brain still remains
Within the sound of silence
In restless dreams, I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
'Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash
Of a neon light that split the night
And touched the sound of silence
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices
Never shared and no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
"Fools", said I, "You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, The words of the
prophets are written
On the subway walls and tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence"
Originally published in 406 Woman magazine - Off Key Notes February/March 2015
So what exactly makes for a great “cover” song-----by definition the performance or recording of music other than one’s own material. I asked myself this question as I enjoyed a marvelous and very springlike March afternoon outdoors at the annual Bigfork Brewfest. The musical entertainment was being provided by Bigfork’s own Fetveit Brothers. The Fetveits are a high energy acoustic duo who have the uncanny ability to take nearly any popular song from the 1960’s through to current material, make it fresh, alive ,and in the case of older material, completely relevant once again. In essence, the boys were, in effect, turning these songs into “original” material and often making me, and seemingly others in the audience, nearly forget that these tunes were in fact created by someone else. I was watching the ultimate cover band! It was fascinating to hear these young musicians, who have an obvious and deep appreciation of popular music history, engage a crowd and breathe new life into the songs, the creations, of others. Congratulations boys on a job well done!
After some careful thought as well as decades of attendance at perhaps thousands of musical performances ranging from local bar bands to concerts put on by superstars of the industry, I attempted to solve the great mystery I posed to myself on that afternoon in Bigfork---what makes a great cover song? Upon careful examination of my own music collection, I was stunned to see just how much of the music that I owned was actually “Cover” material performed by otherwise creative “original” artists. I didn’t know, for example, that “Love Hurts” by Nazareth was originally performed by The Everly Brothers, or that “Red Red Wine” by UB40 was written and performed first by Neil Diamond. In short, cover music is everywhere. The list of cover songs from my own collection seemed endless.
What conclusions did I finally draw about the making of great cover music?
First and foremost, the cover artist must bring something fresh to the original song whether it be by supplanting the song into another genre (ex. From reggae to rock as Eric Clapton did with Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”) or by, at the very least, casting it in a different light by changing the arrangement or tempo. Why should I listen if the song is to be performed as a note for note carbon copy of the original? Secondly, at the same time the cover artist must walk a fine line and “respect” the original. Removing a song too far from its’ roots and original essence can backfire on the cover artist and result in a backlash from an audience, but a good rendition of a cover song can save an artist staggering through a show in front of an indifferent or hostile crowd. A poorly conceived cover song can actually hurt a performer’s career and legacy. Did Michael Bolton’s version of “When a man Loves a Woman” really aid his career in any way? Usually, a cover artist is covering a song that is well-known and was once popular to some extent. The cover artist must show some degree of respect for the fact that the original songwriter knew what they were doing. It is certainly a tightrope that must be walked by the cover artist. You cannot be a carbon copy, yet you must in some way be “original” without hurting the original’s essence. Wow! Sounds a little bit like a comment a talent judge might make on the very popular “American Idol” or “The Voice” television programs whose very premise is how a contestant performs using the music others. PS. Where have you gone Judge Simon Cowell? You are missed!
Great cover songs have launched careers of otherwise original artists (Van Halen’s version of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” comes to mind). They have sustained the careers of many others both in the recording studio and in live performance. Covers of classics by Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry remained staples of the Grateful Dead’s live shows for decades while no one was better than folk guitarist Richie Havens at reinterpreting and making the songs of The Beatles and Bob Dylan literally his own. These are just a couple of examples of the significant impact of the “cover song” on popular music. Besides the Fetveit Brothers mentioned earlier, we are indeed very fortunate to have many talented musicians in the Flathead Valley who perform great cover material (and often as well as their own great original tunes). The very talented Halladay Quist performs some fantastic acoustic versions of classic Neil Young. Brent Jameson provides superb covers of Paul Simon material. If you have not heard the reggae style version of Steve Miller’s “The Joker” performed by God Fearing Women, you are in for a musical treat. Too numerous to mention, there are many great straight cover bands (no original material) in the
Flathead playing classic rock, blues and jazz standards—all putting their own spin to great music. Check them out!
Great Cover Songs…
An extremely incomplete list!
“All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix (original recording: Bob Dylan)
“Twist and Shout” by The Beatles (original recording: The Isley Brothers)
“I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Creedence Clearwater Revival (previous recordings: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and Marvin Gaye)
“Stop Your Sobbing” by The Pretenders (original recording: The Kinks)
“Baby, Now That I Found You” by Allison Kraus (original recording: The Foundations)
“Take Me to the River” by The Talking Heads (original recording; Al Green)
“I Fought the Law” by The Clash (original recording: The Bobby Fuller Four)
“Summertime Blues” by Brian Setzer (previous recordings; Eddie Cochran and The Who)
“Hard to Handle” by The Black Crowes (original recording: Otis Redding)
“I’m Losing You” by Rod Stewart (original recording: The Temptations)
“I Love Rock and Roll” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (original recording: The Arrows)
“Walkin’ the Dog” by Aerosmith (original recording: Rufus Thomas)
“Superstar” by The Carpenters (original recording; Delaney & Bonnie)
“Try A little Tenderness’ by Otis Redding (original recording: Ray Noble/Bing Crosby)
“Mustang Sally’ by Wilson Pickett (original recording: Mack Rice)
“Pretty Woman” by Van Halen (original recording: Roy Orbison)
“Jersey Girl” by Bruce Springsteen (original recording: Tom Waits)
“Wild Night” by John Mellencamp (original recording; Van Morrison)
“Hallejah” by Jeff Buckley (original recording; Leonard Cohen)
“Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds (original recording: Bob Dylan)
“La Bamba” by Los Lobos (original recording; Ritchie Valens)
“Mad World” by Donnie Darko (original recording: Tears for Fears)
“Proud Mary” by Ike & Tina Turner (original recording; Creedence Clearwater Revival)
“With a Little Help from my Friends” by Joe Cocker (original recording; The Beatles)
Originally published in 406 Woman magazine - Off Key Notes April/May 2015
In a 21st century that seems completely awash with selfies, Kardashians, Black Fridays, self-absorption and the general need for instant gratification, it is important to take a big step back and slow down long enough regularly to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, and to truly recall what is really near and dear to each of us in life. The Holidays fortunately return each year to afford us this opportunity should we be smart enough to seize the chance. Admittedly, it does take a significant commitment on our part to rise above all the craziness and commercialism of the holiday season. It is extremely easy to get caught up in all the chaos----the mad dash to an often anticlimactic December 25th as we tie how good our holiday is to how much we did (or didn’t) receive! At the same time, the holiday season offers many opportunities for a respite from all the craziness—namely in its family traditions, annual events, personal decorating and cooking rituals and favorite holiday music. All one has to do is embrace them each year. Make these annual rites fun rather than chores or tasks! Work to preserve and nurture these time-honored things, and pass them on to the next generation. Doing so will help to ensure great “Christmas Futures.” This is what truly makes the holiday season special, unique and personally rewarding.
Enjoy “Christmas Present.” While the holiday season may be spread out over five weeks Thanksgiving through the New Year), it does not have to be all about the commercial aspects. Since moving to the Flathead 14 years ago, I have come to enjoy many great holiday events that I would not consider missing each year. Events such as viewing the Christmas tree at the Conrad Mansion, throwing our own annual holiday bash, doing the Kalispell and Whitefish downtown holiday strolls, enjoying the various holiday parades, concerts and tree lightings, doing annual volunteer work for the Salvation Army, and thinking outside of the “ice” box, being a participant or a spectator in the annual Polar Bear Plunge in Woods Bay on January 1st (the fastest 2 minutes in the Flathead for obvious reasons and a great party before and afterward). These have all become traditions in a short period of time, and are extremely important because like many of you, I cannot always spend the holidays with family members far away.
Honor, reflect upon, and most importantly, enjoy “Christmas Past.” Try to utilize as much of it as you can in your yearly holiday celebrations. Having recently lost my mother to cancer, reflecting on the past holiday seasons is very significant for me this year. She was a great celebrator of the holidays as were many long deceased relatives whom I remember so fondly from my youth. I was fortunate.
Large amounts of money were not spent by my family each year. Rather, they all did the little things that made the season so warm and special. Caroling from door to door with the neighborhood kids, turning our kitchen into a “cookie factory”, recording our annual rendition of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” on my father’s reel to reel tape recorder, going ice skating together on a local pond, and always getting that one great gift that I wanted are among my many cherished memories of holidays past. I will miss you Mom.
And of course, what would the holiday seasons of years past, the present or for that matter the years to come be without music-----the soundtrack to a great holiday season? Am I forgetting something, or does it seem like a long time since a holiday song has been released that has become a major hit? While there have been some good efforts over the last decade or so by the likes of Sheryl Crow, Harry Connick, Jr. and numerous country stars, I can’t remember a holiday song rising up the charts and sweeping the nation since “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in the mid 1980’s. I am hoping that we have not forgotten how to make great holiday music. Unfortunately, much of the holiday music we are fed on the radio for weeks on end is the rather soulless stuff that doesn’t really stand up very well. It doesn’t have much “feel” and is very bland and forgettable. Most of the time for me, the yardstick for measuring the quality (or lack thereof) of any particular holiday song is based on a simple question as follows: If I could remove/change the holiday oriented lyrics and the sound of sleigh bells if present from the song, would I listen to it at all regardless of the time of the year? If my answer is “yes”, I have a great holiday tune to add to my collection. The accompanying list of “Cool Yule” holiday selections features many of the classic great artists of their time singing their hearts out with sincerity and jazzy sophistication. Download away and enjoy!
Cool Yule Holiday Cocktail Party
Music menu… party like your parents used to do!
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (60’s version) – Bing Crosby
“Sleigh Ride” – Ella Fitzgerald
“Let It Snow” – Dean Martin
“Winter Wonderland” – Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
“Cool Yule” – Louis Armstrong
“Christmas Serenade” — Johnny Maestro
“The Christmas Song” — Nat King Cole
“My Favorite Things” — Tony Bennett
“Holly Jolly Christmas” — Burl Ives
“2000 Miles” — The Pretenders
“Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me” -Elvis Presley
“Little St. Nick” - Beach Boys
“Jingle Bells” (50’s version) - Frank Sinatra
“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” -Brenda Lee
“Baby It’s Cold Outside” - James Taylor & Natalie Cole
“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" - Jack Johnson
“Charlie Brown Christmas” - (entire album) Vincent Guaraldi Jazz Trio
“Jingle Bell Rock” - Hall & Oates
“Last Christmas” (80’s version) – Wham
“Do They Know It’s Christmas” (80’s version) — Band Aid
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” - Bruce Springsteen
“White Christmas” — Sheryl Crow
“Christmas Time Is Here” — Ray Parker Jr.
“Here Comes Santa Claus” - Gene Autry
“Merry Christmas Baby” - Southern Culture on the Skids
Originally published in 406 Woman magazine - Off Key Notes December 2014/January 2015
While motoring down Highway 93 in my new car equipped with satellite radio one fine sunny day recently, I had a bit of an epiphany. As the radio played Johnny Cash’s “If I Were a Carpenter” and the great lyrics of the song came rushing back from the deepest recesses of my memory (I can remember these, but I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday?), I came to the startling realization that there is a treasure trove of music out there from the past that I had simply forgotten about over the decades or just plain put aside for some reason or other at some point in my life. Call these songs “deep tracks”, pieces of “classic vinyl” or a host of other terms. Had I “outgrown” these great rock n roll, blues, and soul tunes because they were “for kids”? Had I whittled my vast collection of vinyl records down to too many very generic and basic “greatest hits” packages in my haste to convert to the CD format in the 90’s, and then of course, to the age of downloading in the 21st century—and thereby eliminating from my collection even more of my favorite artists more interesting “deep tracks” as they say on satellite radio. Downloading and repurchasing music can be expensive and time consuming. Had I simply decided to downsize my music collection with each new wave of technology in an effort to save money and /or time? That track that I used to love on Deep Purple’s Machine Head album, in this case ironically entitled “Lazy”, maybe I believed that I just didn’t need to hear that one anymore now that I’ve got an IPOD. Perhaps I simply had too many better things to do now that I am middle-aged than collect and maintain my collection of music. In any case, I am thankful for my discovery of satellite radio and its’ many musical formats. I have gotten back in touch with many great songs of the past----music that in many cases I had literally forgotten about--- and relived some of my youth through music that unless you still own it, you are very unlikely to hear. With all due respect to today’s popular artists and in deference to current
musical tastes, I encourage you to search your musical past deeply. Get away a bit from the musical selections that you hear often. Explore! It is not always about how many units a particular piece of music sold. Sometimes it is all about something significantly deeper and more profound---a message in a song, a feeling that a long lost track reignites, or the instrumentation that gives us a glimpse of an artist’s true heart and soul.
Wow! What a fabulous summer all of us had the great opportunity to enjoy here in Western Montana! From the big names (Paul McCartney, ZZ Top, John Oates, and Robert Cray among others) to the countless outdoors festivals and fairs, it was great summer season musically. I would like to extend kudos to all those who work so diligently to put these events on --- most often without pay. Support your local musicians and venues whenever and in whatever way that you can. Locally, it was another great summer season to hear music at some great newer venues including Brookie’s Cookies in Bigfork (what a great setting along the river) as well as at Stillwater Landing north of Whitefish and situated on Stillwater Lake (incredible sunsets and room to dance). The Who’s musical Tommy, presented by the Alpine Theater, was also absolutely fantastic.
Though summer has passed, it does not mean that the fun has. Keep your eyes and ears OPEN for some great upcoming music events as the calendar turns to autumn. One such event that I plan to support is the “Groovin’ on a Sunday Afternoon” concert series at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts and taking place in its’ beautiful lobby. Join me there for an intimate musical experience with some of the Flathead Valley’s best musicians. Most importantly, each performance is a benefit to support a local non-profit organization. Tickets for each performance are $15 and include champagne upon arrival, great socializing opportunities and FUN! Additional food and beverage will be available for purchase. The series premieres on Sunday, October 12th at 2 pm with additional installments on November 16, January 11 and February 8. Ticket info and purchasing is available at www.bigforkcenter.org See you there!
Yes indeed! Halloween is a musical holiday.
Download some of these classics and liven up your up Halloween Bash this year:
“Monster Mash” Bobby “Boris” Pickett
“I Want Candy” Bow Wow Wow
“Werewolves of London” Warren Zevon
“Somebody’s Watching Me” Rockwell
“Ghostbusters” Ray Parker Jr.
“Superstition” Stevie Wonder
“Witchcraft” Frank Sinatra
“Thriller” Michael Jackson
“Time Warp” from “Rocky Horror Picture Show” soundtrack
“Frankenstein” Edgar Winter Group
And finally, some food for thought… I believe in the healing power of music. Is there a better
medicine or therapy? Unlike other treatments for melancholy or illness, it has only positive side
effects, soothes quickly if one is open to it, and provides moments of hope and inspiration.
Some DEEP TRACKS enjoyed recently…
“Polk Salad Annie” Tony Joe White
“Between A Laugh and a Tear” John Mellencamp
“Go and Say Goodbye” Buffalo Springfield
“You’re My Home” Billy Joel
“Abandoned Love” Bob Dylan
“Good Shepherd” Jefferson Airplane
“Set Me Free” The Kinks
“That’s the Way” Led Zeppelin
“Go Back Home” Stephen Stills
“Love Alive” Heart
“Follow” Richie Havens
“Lighthouse” James Taylor
“The Ways of Love” Neil Young
“One Tree Hill” U2
“Move On Up” Curtis Mayfield
“Try and Love Again” The Eagles
“Siberian Khatru” Yes
“Pagan Baby” Creedence Clearwater
“Cry Baby Cry” The Beatles
“It’s So Easy” Buddy Holly
Originally published in 406 Woman magazine - Off Key Notes October/November 2014