Saturday, June 16, 2007

It was 40 years ago today...

...the Monterey Pop Festival got underway.  Can you believe the "Summer of Love" was 40 fucking years ago already?  Don't mean to make youse guys feel old or anything, but Sgt. Pepper is now 40 years old.  So is Are You Experienced? and "I Can See For Miles" and "Happy Together" and "Incense And Peppermints" and The Doors' first album—these and many many more!

Meanwhile, back at Monterey, the first of the big-time festival concerts was a smashing success, organized by the late John Phillips of the Mamas & The Papas, and featuring his group, as well as Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Hairpie—er uh—Airplane, Booker T. & The M.G.'s, not to mention the legendary breakout performances by the late Otis Redding (just six months before his untimely death), The Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (featuring "Bob Dylan's grandmother", aka bassist Noel Redding).  This turned out to be probably the most well-organized and well-run of all the big '60s mega-fests.

I love the stories I've read about the dispute between Pete Townshend of The Who and Jimi Hendrix about who would play first on the bill.  Neither act wanted to follow the other one, given their (literally) explosive nature on-stage, so it came down to a coin flip (which Jimi lost), but it didn't fucking matter—both bands emerged as stars after this gig, even though de 'orrible 'Oo blew the place up first, then Jimi set his guitar on fire at the end of "Wild Thing".  Roger Daltrey of The Who also related a great story about an impromptu jam session that took place under the stage that included himself and Pete, as well as Hendrix, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones (one of the emcees of the show), Mama Cass and several others that Roger totally regrets wasn't caught on tape.  He claims it was better than the concert itself, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's right.

While I'm on the subject of concert anniversaries, it was 28 years ago tomorrow that I attended my first legitimate Rock concert—Summer Rock '79 at Arrowhead Stadium (are you with me, Brother Raley?)—featuring Ted Nugent, Heart, The Cars, Sammy Hagar and Missouri.  I was only 15 at the time, so my old man had to drop me and my friend Tom off and pick us up after the show.  I still have pretty healthy memories about the show:

—I distinctly remember Sammy Hagar coming back for his encore and screaming into the microphone, "Turn this fucking mic back on!"  Uh, Sam, I think it's on...

—The Cars weren't terribly well-received because this was their first K.C. appearance, and they all kinda stood still on stage while they played.  I do recall to this day how Greg Hawkes' synthesizer echoed around the stadium on "You're All I've Got Tonight", but the band didn't come off well at all that day.  The Cars were actually a damn good live band in the right venue—i.e. smaller clubs and theaters—as evidenced by the recent DVD release of various live performances from their career.  I always thought they should've toured with The Police.  Get it?  The Police Cars Tour?  Har-dee-har-har...

—Heart was quite good during their set, although I don't remember much about it.  They were on their Dog & Butterfly tour, or "Dog & Butt", as the receipt read when I later bought the album...

—Ted Nugent was the headliner, and he was quite adequate, but slightly subdued because of an ankle injury he'd sustained earlier that week.  The highlight of the show was the impromptu trash-throwing session during Nugent's set, wherein the majority of the crowd just started throwing anything they could get their hands on all around the stadium.  Tom and I survived the melee unscathed and unharmed...

Travelblog--Part 3

Got into the Capital of Country Music around lunchtime on Sunday, and quickly realized that I had chosen a rather inopportune day to tour downtown, as there was a big CMA Fan Fest hoop-de-doo taking place, thus downtown was a clusterfuck of people.  I wound up parking on the other side of downtown away from all the action in a garage across the street from Municipal Auditorium, where Ted Nugent recorded parts of Double Live Gonzo! (and paid homage to all that "Nashville pussy").  This actually worked out rather nicely, because it gave me a chance to roam along the bluffs overlooking the Cumberland River and the Tennessee Titans football stadium (whatever it’s called this week) before wandering down through the masses.  I was very impressed with Nashville’s very underrated skyline and its distinctive architecture, especially the BellSouth tower (the big tall rascal with the matching lightning rods).  And once again, Kansas City gets upstaged by a smaller city with a far more exciting downtown, as there is so much to do and see in downtown Nashville.  Even without their big Country hoedown thing last weekend, I imagine there would still have been a fair amount of people hitting all the attractions, whereas downtown Kansas City on a Sunday afternoon would put people to sleep faster than your average Kenny G CD.

I also enjoyed the adjacent entertainment district along Broadway, which reminded me a little of Beale Street in Memphis, only a tad more subdued.  They don’t emphasize the drinking and partying here quite as much as in Memphis, but there are plenty of bars, restaurants and clubs lining the street, and I partook of a dandy pork sandwich at Rippy’s BBQ that really hit the spot.

THE HALLI was pleasantly surprised by and impressed with the Country Music Hall of Fame, which is right next door to the Nashville Predators’ hockey arena (whatever it’s called this week), and just a couple blocks from Ryman Auditorium.  I’m not a big Country fan by any means, but I do have a few Country artists in my CD collection (Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Jerry Reed, et al), and I certainly respect the history of this genre of music, given that it’s all interconnected with Rock history.  The Country HOF was damn near as cool as the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and well worth the visit.  They had tons of artifacts on display—everything from stage outfits worn by the different artists, various musical instruments (like Buck Owens’ red, white and blue guitar from "Hee Haw"), and cars of the stars, like Webb Pierce’s badass ride with the cow horns and Elvis’s custom Caddie that I featured a few posts back.  Speaking of "Hee Haw", they had a rather humorous display in tribute to the show, featuring the mock cornfield and mannequins with the costumes worn by Grandpa Jones, Junior Samples, et al.  I also enjoyed their temporary exhibit on Ray Charles and his successful foray into Country music.  Also included in the Hall of Fame complex is a massive three-story music archive that looked pretty ambitious—evidently they’re trying to preserve every last Country recording ever made!

One area where the Country HOF clearly outshines the Rock HOF is the actual shrine itself where the inductees are honored.  Each honoree has their own plaque on the wall in this cathedral-like room, very similar to the ones at the Baseball Hall of Fame, complete with their likeness in bronze and a detailed description of their career achievements (minus their lifetime batting average).  The Rock HOF has this spiral ramp that you ascend with the inductees’ names emblazoned on the wall along with their signatures, but there’s nothing to detail their careers or explain why they’re in the hall.  Also, it’s kinda dumb to see blank spaces for the signatures of the deceased artists—i.e., it’s a little hard to get Buddy Holly’s or Jimi Hendrix’ autograph posthumously.  The Country Hall got it right for sure, and I highly recommend a visit there, especially to my friends who are big Country fans—Mr. Jefferies, attention!  Hell, if I enjoyed it, I know you would.  Yet another A+ in my book…

Before I hit downtown, I made it a point to drive just south of the city to check out the WSM transmitter tower, and their website wasn’t kidding—it truly is a sight to behold.  This behemoth is 808 feet tall—that’s 178 feet taller than the Gateway Arch, folks!  It is any wonder you can pick that station up everywhere?  I also spent some time listening to this very historical radio station while in town, and it was actually fun to hear "old-school" radio on AM again.

I’d also been dying to see this thing in person.  This is the main scoreboard at Nashville’s minor league baseball park, Greer Stadium.  What do you suppose one would use as a pick for this thing, a manhole cover?  I love the strategically-placed linescore on the guitar’s neck, too. There’s been talk of building a new ballpark downtown to replace this aging stadium, but I hope they transplant the scoreboard if they do move.

I’m not sure why, but I’m rather fascinated by famous people’s gravesites, so I paid a visit to the graves of Johnny and June Carter Cash in suburban Hendersonville.  It was kinda surreal to find their graves in such a small cemetery in modern suburbia amidst all the strip malls and convenience stores.  Nothing real fancy here—just very humble and tasteful—and their graves didn’t stand out at all amongst the others, which I found rather refreshing.  R.I.P. Johnny and June...

Yet another educational stop on my trip was the famous Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, original home of the Grand Ole Opry.  I knew a little bit about the rich history of this place—turns out it was very little.  Anyone who is/was anyone in Country music has stood on this stage at one time or another, and it's amazing to think that this place was almost torn down.  After the Opry moved in 1974 to its new soulless country club digs out in the suburbs in shopping mall heaven, the Ryman closed down and sat dormant and decaying for 20 years.  Fortunately, the Gaylord Entertainment people (owners of the Opry and most of Tennessee) kicked in the money to refurbish, renovate and resurrect this musical temple, and managed to pretty much perserve its essence, right down to its original wooden pews.

Not only is the Ryman open daily for tours, during which you can stand on the stage (as I did for this pic), it's still a viable concert venue, hosting acts from every genre of music—not just Country—-everything from Seal to Robert Plant.  Even Ted Nugent played there a week ago Friday—I hope he at least showed this place a little respect and refrained from doing his "get out of America if you can't speak English" shtick, but knowing him, he probably didn't.  They say that the acoustics in this building are damn near perfect, and I hope to get back down to Nashville again and see a show there.  I bet a John Hiatt concert there would be awesome.  A++ in my book on this one.  Special thanks to Brother Randy Raley for his recommendation of seeing the Ryman and Johnny Cash's gravesite—these suggestions helped to make this an awesome road trip.  Thank you again, sir—I owe YOU a burger next time I'm in St. Louis!

My little Magical History Tour concluded with a trip back home along the scenic route through western Kentucky and southern Illinois, passing through Clarksville (now I know what an Austin Peay looks like!), Paducah and Carbondale (home of the Salukis).  Just as I was about to cross back into the Show Me State, I stumbled across an old friend in the riverfront town of Chester, IL.  More education for me on this trip, as I was totally unaware that the world's most famous spinach eater was created by a Chester native named Elzie Segar (click pic below to enlarge and read all about it), thus they put up this dandy statue.  It's real easy to find if you're ever traveling in the area, right at the foot of the Mississippi River bridge on your right as you cross into Illinois on U.S. 51.  Now they need a Wimpy statue!  I yam what I yam...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Pimp My Muppets!

Statler and Waldorf be stylin'. They say these cats are bad muthas--shut yo' mouth!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Travelblog--Part 2

Another installment of my vacation adventures from this past weekend...
[Click on the pics to make them humongous.]

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN...Another highlight of my trip was my visit to the Sun Records museum, where Sam Phillips discovered and recorded the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison and of course, one young Elvis Aron Presley (who went to high school just a few blocks away).  The original recording studio has been preserved and is still in use (U2 recorded "Angel Of Harlem" and "When Love Comes To Town" there for Rattle And Hum) along with many of the original instruments and other equipment, including this microphone that more than a few famous people have sung into.  

Our tour guide was quite knowledgeable, and told a great story about the recording of Johnny Cash’s "I Walk The Line".  Seems the Grand Ole Opry had a stupid rule back in the day that to appear on their show, you could not use drums of any kind.  So, The Man In Black circumvented that rule by slipping a dollar bill under the strings on the neck of his guitar.  This made a rhythmic clicky sound as he simply strummed along while singing the song—ergo, Cash used cash to further his career!  Just like with my visit to Motown’s studio in Detroit last September, it was a real treat and privilege to stand in the same room where all those legendary songs were recorded—tons of Rock ‘N’ Roll history went down here, and I strongly encourage a visit. Another A+ in my book…

I briefly visited the Lorraine Motel/National Civil Rights Museum, site of the Martin Luther King assassination.  There was some big event going on there Saturday, and it was a sea of people, so I stopped back by on Sunday morning before leaving town and took photos.  They basically preserved the side of the hotel where the shooting took place (it actually remained in business until the early ‘80s) and attached the museum onto it, and even placed the two cars (or replicas, I’m not sure which) that were parked there to help recreate the scene during the shooting.  Always neat to get the visual perspective of where famous events took place.

And then there was Beale Street.  Plenty to eat, plenty to drink, plenty of music, plenty of people, plenty of Elvis impersonators, but NO reptiles, by golly!  Reptiles just don’t get no love these days...

For reasons unknown to me, I knew nothing about Beale Street when I first visited Memphis as an adult in 1996, but I brought myself up to speed this time around.  I ate and drank and ate some more and drank some more and did a lot of people watching.  For whatever it’s worth—I don’t think I’ve ever seen a higher concentration of amateur-looking tattoos on people in one place before.  I’m hardly an expert on (let alone a proponent of) body art, but I know cheap tattoos when I see them.  Geez Louise, if you just have to deface your body with graffiti, get a good tattoo instead of something that looks like it was drawn by Mr. Magoo!  But, I digress…

Beale Street is kinda like Kansas City’s Westport and St. Louis’ LaClede’s Landing combined (on steroids).  Public drunkenness is highly encouraged here, as they cordon off the streets to car traffic at night and most of the bars have handy open walk-up windows where you can order up a "Big-Ass Beer" without even having to go inside.  Many of them had live music that filtered out into the street, and it was a rather neat cacophony of sound.  There are also numerous record and gift shops along the way, and eateries that will satisfy most anyone’s appetite except Vegans.  I had lunch at The Pig ("Pork With An Attitude") and their BBQ brisket wasn’t too shabby, although it was a tad overpriced, but that was the general rule everywhere I ate.  I checked out Dyer’s Famous (deep-fried) Burgers (since 1912!) for dinner, and they were delightfully greasy, alright.  And for detox purposes at the end of the night, I got a rack of ribs at another BBQ place whose name escapes me now ("Superior"-something, I think), and they weren’t too shabby either.  Not too hard to figure out why Beale Street is a popular destination for folks.

There may have been no reptiles, but there actually were goats on the premises!  I have no earthly idea why, but in between one of the bars and the open-air courtyard area of another bar sits this fenced-in mini-barnyard where this pair of goats resides.  I thought I’d seen everything until I got a load of their little palatial layout, complete with a one-of-a-kind goat pagoda.  The white goat, who reminded me of Julio’s buddy Chico on "Sanford & Son", was particularly amusing as he started humping on something at the top of the pagoda.  Goats are none too subtle about defecating, either—they take a dump while they walk, just like horses.  I did say that this trip was highly educational, didn't I?

About the only downside to Beale Street is there are way too many panhandlers to deal with.  This one ugly bitch actually tried to grab my chest and I had to shove her away.  I hate to seem like a heartless bastard, but I take a real dim view of these mongrels.  Most of them are drug addicts and losers anyway, and there are legitimate places they can go for help, but they won’t because booze and drugs aren’t allowed in the homeless shelters.  I also feel like I have the right to enjoy myself in public places without being hassled.  To their credit, Memphis has signs all over downtown discouraging people from giving to panhandlers, but they don’t seem to help much.
Tales from the Nashville portion of my trip are forthcoming soon...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A few chalant sequitors

...because those damn nonchalant non-sequitors get all the glory!

Belatedly, anyway. I turned 43 on Monday, against my better judgment.  I share that rather special birthdate with cool famous folks like actor Chad Everett, HOF quarterback Joe Montana, drummer Frank Beard of ZZ Top and actress Adrienne Barbell...

Nearly all I heard about on the radio (even on the sports stations) the whole weekend during my trip was the vaunted "Sopranos" finale.  No offense intended to youse guys who are into dat show, but dose of us who don't watch it (let alone don't even have HBO) couldn't give an aardvark's sacrum about it!

I saw a poster at the President Casino in St. Louie for an upcoming performance by a band called the Well Hungarians.  Best band name I've heard since My Dixie Rect...

Kudos to the station I picked up in Southern Illinois on Monday called 97.7 The Bear that played Van Halen's "Everybody Wants Some!!" and "Tears Are Falling" by Kiss during a 20-minute span.  I dare our K.C. "classic" Rock stations to deviate even slightly from their regimented playlists to play songs like these now and then in place of "Jump" and "Rock And Roll All Nite"...

Speaking of radio, one thing I always make it a point to do on road trips is scan through the dial (esp. during middays) to see what's going on in the way of talk radio, and all these people who complain about the "liberal media" are full of it when it comes to talk radio—it's nothing but conservatives!  I'm not just talking national names like Limbaugh/ Hannity/Dr. Laura, either—it's local people too.  And it's all this "us-versus-them" mentality, as opposed to actually discussing the damn issues.  And if I didn't know any better, I'd swear that conservatives want this Iraq war to just go on forever and ever.  Liberal media, my ass...

Memo to the states of Kentucky and Illinois:  Please lose the damn 65 MPH speed limit on the Interstates!  Everyone else does 70, why don't you?  As the late John Lennon once said, "It gets on my tit!"

"Iron Man"--BLACK SABBATH (1969)  Minor misinterpretations here, but worthy of note.  I thought "Heavy boots of lead..." was "Having boots of lead..." and "Does he walk at all?" was "Does he walk and talk?"  Ozzy never has been terribly easy to understand, has he?

Seems that the Kansas City Royals are looking for suggestions for a signature tune to play during the 7th inning stretch right after the traditional "Take Me Out To The Ballgame".  Apparently, the obvious choice of The Beatles' "Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey" isn't good enough, and they are soliciting other suggestions.  Tony's Kansas City blog suggested The Beatles' "I'm A Loser" and Phil Collins' "I Missed Again", among others, and I have a few choice picks of my own:

10) "Road To Nowhere"—Talking Heads
9) "Low Budget"—The Kinks
8) "Funeral For A Friend"—Elton John
7) "I'm Tore Down"—Eric Clapton
6) "No More, No More"—Aerosmith
5) "Rock And A Hard Place"—Rolling Stones
4) "I Can't Stand It"—Eric Clapton
3) "Crawling From The Wreckage"—Dave Edmunds
2) "Beautiful Loser"—Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
1) "Rock Bottom"—Kiss

Travelblog--Part 1

"Alright, kids, now that I've recovered from the trip I've been on, time to share a few highlights from it...

My first stop on Saturday morning in Memphis was the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and it pretty much set the tone for the entire trip, as it turned out to be a very educational experience for me, even though I consider myself pretty knowledgeable when it comes to popular music—just goes to show that you're never too old to learn.  Even I had never quite realized how prolific Stax and its associated labels were in the late '60s and early '70s—Booker T & The MG's, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, The Bar-Kays, Al Green, early Ike & Tina Turner, Johnnie Taylor, Rufus Thomas—they were basically the Motown of the South, and their output was more prodigious than I ever realized, thus prompting me to buy the book that chronicles the history of Stax.

I always thought the name "Stax" was a play on words as in "stacks of wax", but it was actually an amalgam of its founders, Jim STewart and Estelle AXton.  Not unlike Motown, the Stax recording studio was active day and night in the late '60s, and local white musicians like bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and guitarist "Play it" Steve Cropper (you may know them better from the Blues Brothers) would work together with black singers, musicians and producers like Isaac Hayes and David Porter, among many others, to produce some damn fine music, and color was never an issue, even in the racially-divided Deep South.  I was also totally unaware of an event that took place in 1972 at the L.A. Coliseum called Wattstax--a soul/R&B Woodstock featuring Mr. Hayes (aka "Chef" to you "South Park" fans).  You can read all about it on the 'net, but suffice to say that this museum did a great job of resurrecting the history of Stax, right down to the building itself, which is a replica of the old movie theater they converted into a recording studio, which was subsequently torn down in the late '80s after Stax went out of business.  The museum was built on the exact same spot, and it's totally worth the trip through a rather seedy neighborhood to get there.  An A+ in my book!

I paid a courtesy call to Elvis next, but being as it was Saturday and there was a two-hour wait for the mansion tour, and being as I'd done it before anyway, I decided to pass.  I merely roamed around and snapped a few photos of Elvisland, which is a major tourist trap.  The graffiti on the outer walls of Graceland is mildly entertaining, mainly because most of these people can't spell worth a damn...

I was rather impressed with Memphis' new minor league baseball stadium, Autozone Park, located just a couple blocks from the Beale Street entertainment district.  Looks like a great place to watch a ballgame, and it fits in perfectly with its surroundings.  I also checked out a nice park on the west side of downtown that features several Civil War-related statues and overlooks the mighty Mississippi and Mud Island, which houses an outdoor amphitheater.  Between all that and Beale Street, I find it rather pathetic that a city the size of Memphis can blow away Kansas City when it comes to downtown attractions.  I hope to hell this new Power & Light District/Sprint Center helps reverse that trend...

Attached at the hip to the new FedEx Forum arena is the Smithsonian Rock & Soul Museum, which is rather generalized, but still worth a look.  One major thing I took away from it was the impact of the first black-owned radio station in America, WDIA AM 1070 in Memphis, which still plays old school R&B to this day.  I had never ever heard of them before, but apparently they were quite instrumental in the success of Stax Records, as well as Soul music in general (the black version of Country music's WSM in Nashville, if you will).  If nothing else, the Smithsonian thing was worth it alone for having Isaac Hayes' gold-plated 1972 Cadillac pimp-mobile on display!

More to come later...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Thus endeth another road trip...

I have returned!  As you can see, I did indeed find the Cadillac with Tennessee plates, and I had an awesome sojourn through the Mid-South and enjoyed myself thoroughly in Memphis and Nashville.  Let's put it this way, about all I have to complain about on this trip was the weather (muckin' fuggy, esp. in Memphis), the traffic lights (they suck in Tennessee), too many panhandlers in Memphis and a few noisy knuckleheads at the hotels I stayed at.  Beyond that, I accomplished pretty much everything I set out to do in what was the first road trip I've ever done that didn't involve a sporting event.  This wound up being the Musical History Tour for me, and it turned out to be very educational, too.

It doesn't appear that I missed a whole helluva lot while I was gone, either—all I heard on the radio and TV all weekend was "Sopranos"-this and Paris Hilton-that—great timing on my part.  I will share more photos and stories from the trip, but I'm beat and reality is setting in that it's time to put the cow horns back on the Cadilliac (Pontiac?) and change the message on the Code-A-Phone, i.e., I gotta go back to work tomorrow.  Much more to come later...