On this day in 1956, innovative guitar builder Leo Fender was awarded the patent for a "Tremolo Device for Stringed Instruments," commonly known as the "whammy bar." The device was misnamed — it's more accurately a vibrato bar (tremolo is a "wavering effect in a musical tone, produced by rapid reiteration of a note, by rapid repeated variation in the pitch of a note," according to the dictionary) — but that didn't stop musicians from using it in a variety of ways to create new sounds and techniques. The bar was introduced with Fender's Stratocaster, which was invented a couple of years earlier.
The Greater Cincinnati area has given the world two "twang bar kings" (or maybe "twang bar Picassos" is more appropriate) —pals and bandmates in The Bears, Adrian Belew and Rob Fetters.
On this date in 1962, a pre-performance speech by legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein, seen by some as an attack on guest pianist — the almost equally as legendary Glenn Gould — caused quite a stir in the Classical music world. The concert was to feature Gould performing Brahms' "First Piano Concerto," but apparently the pianist and music director (Bernstein) disagreed on how it was to be performed. The New York Philharmonic concert came towards the end of the orchestra's final season at Carnegie Hall.
The disagreement was largely over tempo — Gould felt the composition should be played very slowly. Before the intermission, the orchestra played selections by Carl Nielsen. Fearful that Gould would not even show up (he was notorious for last-minute cancellations), Bernstein had the Philharmonic prepared to play Brahms' First Symphony just in case. Gould showed, but to prepare the audience for the unorthodox performance, Bernstein took to the podium and delivered the controversial introduction/disclaimer/diss. (Bernstein delivered the same speech at a preview performance the night before.)
Don't be frightened. Mr. Gould is here. He will appear in a moment. I'm not, um, as you know, in the habit of speaking on any concert except the Thursday night previews, but a curious situation has arisen, which merits, I think, a word or two. You are about to hear a rather, shall we say, unorthodox performance of the Brahms D Minor Concerto, a performance distinctly different from any I've ever heard, or even dreamt of for that matter, in its remarkably broad tempi and its frequent departures from Brahms' dynamic indications. I cannot say I am in total agreement with Mr. Gould's conception and this raises the interesting question: "What am I doing conducting it?" I'm conducting it because Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist that I must take seriously anything he conceives in good faith and his conception is interesting enough so that I feel you should hear it, too.
But the age old question still remains: "In a concerto, who is the boss; the soloist or the conductor?" The answer is, of course, sometimes one, sometimes the other, depending on the people involved. But almost always, the two manage to get together by persuasion or charm or even threats to achieve a unified performance. I have only once before in my life had to submit to a soloist's wholly new and incompatible concept and that was the last time I accompanied Mr. Gould. But, but this time the discrepancies between our views are so great that I feel I must make this small disclaimer. Then why, to repeat the question, am I conducting it? Why do I not make a minor scandal — get a substitute soloist, or let an assistant conduct? Because I am fascinated, glad to have the chance for a new look at this much-played work; Because, what's more, there are moments in Mr. Gould's performance that emerge with astonishing freshness and conviction. Thirdly, because we can all learn something from this extraordinary artist, who is a thinking performer, and finally because there is in music what Dimitri Mitropoulos used to call "the sportive element", that factor of curiosity, adventure, experiment, and I can assure you that it has been an adventure this week collaborating with Mr. Gould on this Brahms concerto and it's in this spirit of adventure that we now present it to you
Many critics wrote about the intro and viewed it as the conductor's way of saying, "If this sucks, it's his fault." And many took Gould to task for his interpretation of the music (though some musicologists later said Gould's version was a correct reading of the material). Gould, for his part, said he enjoyed the performance and liked that it caused some in the audience to boo. Columbia had planned to release a recording of the performance but backed off given the controversy. Bootlegs spread like wildfire and Sony Classical, years later (in 1998), released the recording with Bernstein's remarks in tact. In the liner notes, Gould is quoted as saying, "Soloists and conductors disagree all the time. Why should this be hidden from the public, especially if both parties still give their all?" Bernstein also didn't seem too bothered by the controversy and he never stopped praising Gould's unique talent.
Here's a clip of Bernstein and Gould getting along just fine in 1960, performing Bach's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor."
Click on for Born This Day featuring Warren Haynes, Gerry Mulligan, Merle Haggard and Cobra Starship's Alex Suarez.
Two of Cincinnati's most tuneful, melodically-rich bands perform tonight for the Cincinnati Zoo's weekly, monthlong Tunes & Blooms music series. Poptastic groups The Seedy Seeds and The Newbees perform at the 6 p.m. concert. Admission to the Zoo is free after 5 p.m. (parking is $8 in a Zoo lot).
The series runs until the end of April. The rest of Tunes & Blooms will feature The Comet Bluegrass All Stars and Magnolia Mountain (April 12), Shiny and the Spoon and The Tillers (April 19) and The Turkeys and Jake Speed and the Freddies (April 26).
The Seedy Seeds were supposed to perform atop a float for this afternoon's Opening Day parade, but now will not because, according to a post on their Facebook, "there was some nonsense, some paperwork, and a few exploding toilets, but in summation, somebody or something has absconded with our mount. The float is now assumed to be roaming wild in the Forbidden Forest." On the plus side, you can still see the Seedys today for free … and you won't have to run alongside a float through the streets of Over-the-Rhine and Downtown to do so.
It'll be your last chance to catch The Seedy Seeds in town for a while. The group sets off on an extensive tour with The Winter Sounds tomorrow. The tour opens in Bloomington, Ind., and will take the trio throughout the Midwest, down South and up and down the East Coast. As of right now, the next Seedy Seeds local show is July 15 at the Bunbury Music Festival.
The photo above comes courtesy of the Let's Get Serious online audio series, a creation of former Cincinnati musician/artist/filmmaker Kendall Bruns (who's currently living in Chicago). Check out his extensive interview with the group here.
Here's the group's superb video for "I Am the Conductor" to get you in the mood for tonight's free gig.
On this day 18 years ago, Kurt Cobain decided he was done with life and ended it with a single shotgun blast to the head. While it's fun to play the "What if?" game with brilliant artists who died too soon — like, "Would John Lennon have followed Yoko's lead to become a Dance music superstar?" or "Would James Dean be doing stereotypical 'cool old guy' roles today if he was still around?" — it is, of course, a pointless exercise.
But crystal-ball wonderings of a person who actually knew the artist? That's at least a little more interesting. Spin has a piece this morning about the vague musings of Cobain's widow, musician/actress Courtney Love, in an interview a year ago with Mark Yarm, author of Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge. Love told Yarm, "We'd probably live on the Upper West fuckin' Side now and have three fuckin' kids. We might even have a divorce, like both be on our third marriage. I don't fuckin' know. He might be a playwright, (or have) his latest show in MoMA." (Read more here and check out the links featuring other Cobain remembrances.)
I like to think the couple would have starred in a really bad Everybody Loves Raymond-type sitcom on CBS. But mostly I wish Cobain would have stuck it out. As they say a lot nowadays, "It gets better."
I was lucky enough to see Nirvana a couple of times before Kurt made that impossible — once at Shorty's, the tiny subterranean club on Short Vine in Corryville, with about 50 people in attendance and once at Dayton's Hara Arena (see: poster above) with … quite a bit more people in attendance. Both shows were memorable. I think I got kicked out of Shorty's because some guy wanted to stab me that night (long story). (Nirvana played a few times in our area in those get-in-the-van-and-go, pre-stardom days, including a show at Clifton Heights bar Murphy's Pub. They were scheduled to play with the great AmRep band The Cows at the Top Hat in Newport but their van allegedly broke down on their way. I remember it well ’cause this local band opened up.)
In Dayton (memorable in hindsight because Cobain would be dead within a year), Kurt thought former drummer Chad Channing (who lived in Ohio then) was in the audience. The band called for Channing to come up and play "School" with them, but he never showed. Turns out, he wasn't there.
The band did play "School" later in the set and dedicated it to Channing. Check out the audio below.
Click on for Born This Day featuring Peter Case, Pharrell and Joe Meek.
Another solid free show tonight in Over-the-Rhine at MOTR Pub as Brooklyn band Milagres returns to perform with local heroes The Fairmount Girls. Milagres was last at MOTR just after the release of their latest album, Glowing Mouth, through Kill Rock Stars Records. The album came after songwriter Kyle Wilson seriously injured his back in a Canadian rock climbing adventure. While laid up, Wilson (who was considering quitting "the biz") found himself re-inspired and he reassembled his bandmates when he recovered to recorded Glowing Mouth.
Interview magazine has compared Milagres to everyone from Prince and Peter Gabriel to Bon Iver and Radiohead. It's a fair assessment of the band's eclectic collection (but, mostly, it's probably because there's falsetto singing on the record). Check out some of the group's glistening Indie Pop here, then enjoy a couple of video clips below, including a recent appearance on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series.
Huge in the U.K. and Europe, Irish Pop/Rock band Snow Patrol has been gradually catching on in the U.S. since its first album release in 1998. The band's 2003 album, Final Straw, went Gold stateside, but five-times Platinum in the U.K. But 2006's Eyes Open notched Platinum sales in the States (thanks in part to the hit single, "Chasing Cars") and the band's most recent album, Fallen Empires, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard album charts last year.
Final Straw was an eclectic release that was reminiscent of everyone from American Indie rockers Sebadoh to superstar acts like Coldplay and U2. Wisely (in terms of their career, at least), the band members went in the epic Coldplay direction on subsequent releases, which has surely helped them break bigger.
The band performs tonight at Bogart's at 8 p.m. with British singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran opening up. Tickets are $40.86. Read more here.
Here's Snow Patrol's great early single, "Spitting Games," the band's latest, "New York," and Ed Sheeran's recent single (and funny video), "Drunk."
On this day in 1964, The Beatles had the top five singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It's been said that it's an unrivaled feat that will likely never be duplicated but those sorts of records always seem to eventually be broken (especially in the the ever-evolving music biz). The kids on Glee will probably occupy the entire Top 20 this year sometime or Vanilla Ice will die and spark a massive revival, smashing any and all previous chart records.
Until then, here are those Beatles singles in their chart positions the week of April 4, 1964:
1) "Can't Buy Me Love"
2) "Twist and Shout"
3) "She Loves You"
4) "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
5) "Please Please Me"
The group had a remarkable 12 songs on the chart that week. The other songs in the Top 100 were "I Saw Her Standing There" (No. 31), "From Me To You" (No. 41), "Do You Want to Know a Secret" (No. 46), "All My Loving" (No. 58), "You Can't Do That" (No. 65), "Roll Over Beethoven" (No. 68) and "Thank You Girl" (No. 79).
The chart even contained two Beatles-inspired novelty ditties — "A Letter to The Beatles" by The Four Preps (No. 85) and The Carefrees' "We Love You Beatles" (No. 42).
Curren$y and Jill Scott.
On this day in 1989, Pepsi dropped Madonna as a spokesperson after complaints about her "blasphemous" video for the single (also used in the Pepsi commercial campaign) "Like A Prayer." The Vatican condemned the video for its imagery of burning crosses and Madonna kissing a black man, while religious groups called for a boycott of all Pepsi-affiliated products. The soft drink manufacturer caved and cut and run from the Pop princess. But Pepsi gave Madonna a nice parting gift — the company was so eager to get away from the controversy that they let her keep her $5 million (yes, million) advance.
Thirty years earlier, another music-related controversy erupted in the U.K. when the BBC decided that The Coasters' song "Charlie Brown" was not fit for airplay. Was it that the Peanuts comic strip was too controversial? Peppermint Patty's sexuality has always been a topic of debate. Were they afraid the youth of England would all mimic Charlie Brown's sparse curly-Q hairdo, essentially killing off the hair-care product industry? Was Pigpen's personal hygiene deficiency deemed a bad influence?
Nope — the BBC was worried about the song because it contained the word "spitball" and they were fearful kids all over would be inspired to destroy society with saliva-drenched missiles. Unlike Pepsi, the Beeb reversed its decision a couple of weeks later, apparently realizing how ridiculous the "ban" was.
Here are clips relating to both controversies. Watch at your own risk!