This particular version of "Many Rivers to Cross," featuring Greater Cincinnati greats Kelly Thomas and The Mudpies, has been haunting me all week (in a great way). It was recorded as the third episode in a brilliantly conceived yearlong project by Thomas and several of her creative pals, The Sacred Harp Sessions, in which she documents her musical inspirations in monthly installments.
"Many Rivers" is such a great song, with its uplifting and optimistic Gospel vibe shining through the lyrical desperation. Thomas and The ’Pies version might just be the best I've heard outside of Jimmy Cliff's original version (sorry, UB40). And I thought it kind of fitting for New Year's Eve (or, perhaps more fittingly, New Year's Day morning) because, although there is a bittersweet aura, Cliff wrote and sang about overcoming his heartbreak and moving on to cross many more rivers in his future. Though he's devastated that his "woman left … and … didn't say why," he knows he'll live through it thanks to his strong will and pride. If you had a tough 2012, make this your theme song on your way to a better 2013.
The Sacred Harp Sessions (produced, on the video end, by Alex and Tiffany Luscht of Mind Igniton) is an engaging passion project, with Thomas choosing songs, area musicians and even local studios she admires and appreciates. Ultimately, it's a tribute to the things that have made Thomas who she is today as an artist (and person).
In the accompanying videos, Thomas talks about what the songs mean to her, but the short films are not purely autobiographical — they can also be educational. The first episode, for example, discussed Cincinnati's King Records and the city's Hank Williams connection; Kelly recorded Williams' "Lost Highway" with Arlo McKinley at the location of downtown's former Herzog recording studio, believed to be the last standing building in which Williams recorded.
Episode 2 of The Sacred Harp Sessions found Thomas teaming up with Cincinnati Blues piano legend Ricky Nye at downtown studio Sound Images for a great take on Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen."
Click here to subscribe to Thomas' YouTube channel so you know when the latest installments drop and can watch and re-watch your favorites. And keep an eye on Thomas' website for any updates and for limited-edition free downloads of the latest tracks recorded for the project ("Many Rivers" is currently available).
Thomas is currently singing in three bands — her longtime Kelly Thomas and the Fabulous Pickups crew, the classic Country outfit The Tammy WhyNots and The Lonesome Sound (which formed recently after the aforementioned Hank Williams sessions). She'll be starting off 2013 with free shows with all three acts — The Fabulous Pickups join Sassy Molasses at Northside Tavern Jan. 4, on Jan. 5 The Tammy WhyNots play with Tex Schramm and The Radio King Cowboys and Doctor Bombay and The Atomic Bachelor Pad at Over-the-Rhine's MOTR Pub and The Lonesome Sound has a gig on Jan. 12 at downtown's Taqueria Mercado.
On this day in 1973, the musical act Richard Nixon dubbed "young America at its best" performed at The White House. At Nixon's request, Adult Contemporary superstars The Carpenters performed for the Pres and visiting German Chancellor Willy Brandt.
Laugh now, but that will seem cutting edge after the fourth or fifth time The Osmonds play Mitt Romney's White House.
Meanwhile, at the Obama White House, Bob Dylan will be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, later this spring, along with Madeleine Albright, John Glenn, Toni Morrison, basketball coach Pat Summitt and several other honorees.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May Day birthday include vocalist (best known for her rendition of "God Bless America") Kate Smith (1907); Country/Pop crossover star ("Young Love") Sonny James (1929); the Charlie Parker and/or Jimi Hendrix of Blues Harmonica, Little Walter Jacobs (1930); Jazz singer/pianist Shirley Horn (1934); singer/songwriter Judy Collins (1939); the singer forever tied to Ghostbusters, Ray Parker, Jr. (1954); half of Wang Chung, Nick Feldman (1955); Country star Tim McGraw (1967); original bassist for The Smashing Pumpkins, D'arcy Wretzky (1968); late Garage Punk artist Jay Reatard (1980); and singer Rita Coolidge (1945).
Along with her hits with versions of Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" and Boz Scaggs' "We're All Alone," Coolidge was something of an artistic muse in the ’70s. Leon Russell wrote "The Detla Lady" about her, she was married to Kris Kristofferson for seven years and Willie Nelson's refers to her in "Devil in a Sleepin' Bag" ("Just got back from New York City/Kris and Rita done it all/Bought perfection there for all the world to see/Lord, I heard an angel singing in that Philharmonic Hall/Rita Coolidge, Rita Coolidge, cleft for me").
Coolidge continues to record and tour. She formed a group with her sister and niece called Walela, which performed in a traditional Native American style (Coolidge is part Cherokee). Check out Rita's Facebook page to see what she's up to lately.
Here is Coolidge and Kristofferson on the U.K. show The Old Grey White Test in 1972.
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.
Today's a big one for synthesizer fans. You know partly what I'm talking about if you've visited Google today (see below). But today also marks the 30th anniversary of a drastic and controversial move by the UK Musicians' Union. The union proposed a ban on synthesizers and drum machines because, to quote South Park, "Thur takin' our jaabs!" This is 1982, mind you, when Synth Pop and New Wave were huge and Hip Hop was beginning to find its legs in the mainstream. Musician unions worldwide struggled to come to peace with the existence of electronic instruments, many proposing tax hikes on the instruments to discourage use (like the U.S. does with cigarettes now).
The UK union's support of a ban caused a splinter group to form — the Union of Sound Synthesists was created to protect Electronic musicians' rights (or anyone else who wanted to use a "non-traditional" electronic instrument).
The attacks on synthesizers and drum machines due to a fear that one day a computer will be able to make ENTIRE SONGS seems a little funny given today's electro-heavy musical landscape.
On this date in 1977, there was another attack on "electronic" (or perhaps more appropriately "electric") instruments. Jefferson Starship's planned concert at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park was cancelled by the city because it violated a ban on electric instruments being used in the public park. The greatest tragedy of the incident was that it partially inspired one of the worst songs ever made, Starship's "We Built This City" (the song was not written by the band, as many have cited; Elton John songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, J. Geils Band singer not-the-J.-Geils-Band's Peter Wolf, Martin Page and Dennis Lambert are to be credited/blamed for the tune).
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 23 birthday include regional native and legendary vocalist Rosemary Clooney (1928); singer for ’80s Pop band Baltimora ("Tarzan Boy"), Jimmy McShane (1957); former MTV VJ Karen Duffy (1961); Radiohead drummer Phil Selway (1967); Maroon 5 drummer Matt Flynn (1970); modern Soul singer Maxwell (1973); singer/songwriter Jewel (1974); original blink-182 drummer Scott Raynor (1978); singer for Indie Pop girl group The Pipettes, Gwenno Saunders (1981); singer/songwriter Tristan Prettyman (1982); and Electronic music pioneer Robert Moog (1934).
First things first — it's pronounced "Mogue" (rhymes with "vogue"), not "Mooo-g."
After manufacturing theremins, Mr. Moog (who passed away in 2005) founded Moog Music and invented the Moog synth, one of the first widely used, commercially available synthesizers. Early Moog users like Wendy Carlos (who did the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange with Moogs and helped Bob design the machines), Keith Emerson, John Cage and Rick Wakeman helped popularize the instruments.
The instrument can be heard on hundreds of thousands of popular tracks since Moog first showed off his concept in 1964 at the Audio Engineering Society's annual convention. Paste magazine picked its Top 10 "quintessential" Moog moments last year, which included tracks by Kraftwerk, Rush's "Closer to the Heart" and this one from the late Donna Summer.
Paste also made a cool list of the best of today's Moog boosters, including St. Vincent, Wilco and Mastodon.
Google today has one of its best "Google Doodles" yet. In honor of Bob Moog's 78th birthday, the search site features a fully playable Moog synth on its front page; you can even record your Moog squiggles!
Today Moog Music Inc. is donating 50 percent of all clothing and merchandise (though not instruments) sales proceeds to the Bob Moog Foundation. The online shop has some very cool new T-shirts and other goodies.
"Moog Music and our customers celebrate Bob’s pioneering legacy. In a time when science achievement is declining in this country, we are proud to support the Bob Moog Foundation in their efforts to bring science alive through electronic music. We invite all of our customers to make a purchase online on May 23rd and support the Foundation’s important work,” said Mike Adams, Moog Music President & CEO, in a press release.
Boston’s Barrence Whitfield & the Savages have returned to Cincinnati in a big way this week. The R&B/Soul-rockin’ crew has several local ties, including employing prolific locally-based drummer Andy Jody on the skins. The group also features Peter Greenberg of pioneering Boston band DMZ (as well as The Lyres) and groundbreaking Cincy Garage rockers The Customs (fellow Custom Jim Cole records with the band but doesn’t play live). The Savages recorded two albums in the ’80s; their 1985 Rounder Records release, Dig Yourself, was their last until the group's recent reunion activities.
"I met Peter at The Customs reunion in 2008, drummed for them the following year, which led to him contacting me to record Savage Kings upon the reformation of the original Savages," Jody says about his initiation into the band.
The Savages are in town to record a new album, returning to Ultrasuede studios, where they recorded Savage Kings.
"We decided to record here, partly logistics and partly in tribute to King Records," Jody says, "and it was the same studio where The Customs cut (their trademark tune) 'Long Gone.' "
Last night, Whitfield & the Savages debuted some of the new material at Shake It Records. Shake It, the label, released the Savage Kings in the States; The Customs' "Long Gone" single was the first release on the Shake It imprint.
The Savages will be warming up for recording this weekend with a two-night stand (Friday and Saturday) at The Comet in Northside. Both shows are free and kick of at 10 p.m. (Friday a DJ warms things up and Saturday Customs-inspired local rockers The Long Gones fittingly open the show). Click here for more info on the band. Below is a live clip filmed in Paris last year.
And here's a clip (with performances and interviews) from the band's earlier days when they were featured on the BBC.
On this day in 2000, brilliant Icelandic musician/singer/composer Björk won the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival for her starring role in Lars von Trier's gloomy "musical" Dancer in the Dark. The film also won the festival's highest honor, the Palme d'Or.
The movie is amazing but also difficult to watch because of its emotional weight. Björk played an impoverished Czech immigrant who moves to the U.S. with her son and gets a job at a factory. Her character, Selma, is going blind and she's sure her son will also inherit the disease that caused it, so she saves all her money to pay for an operation for him. Through a series of unfortunate events, she gets the money, but at a high price — she ends up being sentenced to death.
The genius of the film is in Björk's character's daydreams, where she imagines her life is like the Hollywood musicals she so adores. The singer wrote and recorded the soundtrack, which was released as Selmasongs: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack Dancer in the Dark. Reportedly drained from her physically and emotionally demanding performance, Björk announced that she'd always wanted to do a musical and that was the one — she said she was retiring from acting forever. So far, she's kept the promise.
Here is a clip of the film featuring the song "I've Seen It All." On the album, Thom Yorke of Radiohead sings the male lead. Here it's sung by co-star Peter Stormare.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 21 birthday include pioneering Jazz/Blues pianist Fats Waller (1904); Jazz tuba player (who appeared on Miles Davis classics Birth of Cool and Sketches of Spain) Bill Barber (1920); Jump Blues singer (and huge influence on Little Richard) Billy Wright (1932); influential British Folk singer and guitarist Martin Carthy (1941); Cincinnati native and hugely influential singer and songwriter with The Isley Brothers (and beyond), Ronald Isley (1941); successful ’70s Pop singer/songwriter ("You Make Me Feel Like Dancing," "When I Need You") Leo Sayer (1948); dynamic guitar wizard Marc Ribot (1954); singer/guitarist for noisy, influential Shoegaze outfit My Bloody Valentine, Kevin Shields (1963); singer and guitarist for cult faves Jawbreaker and Jets to Brazil, Blake Schwarzenbach (1967); half of Hip Hop twosome Mobb Deep, Havoc (1974); current hitmaker ("Somebody That I Used to Know") and satirist target Wally De Backer, better known as Gotye (1980); and slain Rap superstar Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G. (1972).
Biggie would have been 40 today had he not been murdered in 1997 when he was just 24. Here's a rare live clip recently discovered featuring B.I.G. and Jay-Z performing together.
And here's an interview with the Rap legend discovered last month.
What's your favorite Biggie jam? Pop Crush is running a poll; vote for your fave here. And here's a short interview with the late MC's mother reflecting on her son's legacy (from The Source).
Today is the 40th anniversary of the release of one of Rock & Roll's greatest albums, David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. The concept album based around the story of an alien rocker who's come to spread hope five years before the end of the world (but gets sucked in by the earthly treats being a Rock God brings) reached No. 5 on the U.K. charts, but only made it to No. 75 in the U.S. Rolling Stone called the album the 35th best album in the history of humankind on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
All 11 songs on the album are amazing and about half our bona fide classics, including "Ziggy Stardust," "Suffragette City," "Starman," "Moonage Daydream" and "Hang on to Yourself."
The concert film/documentary Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars came out the following year, directed by the great D.A. Pennebaker. The film captured Bowie's surprise announcement that it was "Ziggy" and the band's last show. Just before playing "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," Bowie says, "Not only is this the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do." Some thought Bowie himself was retiring (including several U.K. newspapers), but he was only retiring the character.
Here's the film — one of the best concert docs ever — in full.
On this day in 1943, chemist Albert Hofmann embarked on the first LSD "trip." As a Swiss chemist working in the lab of Sandoz pharmaceutical company in Switzerland five years earlier, Hofmann was the first to create the psychedelic drug. But the psychedelic aspect of wasn't discovered until April 19, 1943.
On that day 69 years ago, Hofmann took .25 milligrams of lysergic acid diethylamide and not long after asked a coworker to take him home. He did, on a bike, and Hofmann kind of freaked out before he was able to reel in the anxiety and enjoy the "colors and plays of shapes that persisted … Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me," as he later wrote.
Today is known as "Bicycle Day" because of the historic trip. Fans of psychoactive drugs have celebrated today by indulging in the chemical. (I sprinkled eight microdots into my morning coffee today, for example.) Tomorrow, of course, is 4/20, the pot-smokers celebration of … an established excuse to smoke pot all day. Saturday (April 21) is Record Store Day. That's quite a three-day holiday for the counterculture!
LSD has inspired a lot of music. It famously influenced The Beatles' mid-’60s musical expansion; their song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is widely considered an acid tribute, though John Lennon said it wasn't, the "L," "S" and "D" in the title merely a coincidence. The songs "She Said She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" from Revolver were confirmed to be about the drug, though. The Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" was another huge LSD song, and bands like Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead became forever associated with the drug thanks to their trippy sounds.
There are, of course, as many songs about doing acid as their our Country tunes about lovin' America and drinking beer. More than anyone could ever listen to, in fact — from Syd Barrett's entire solo discography to some of today's top Dance music makers.
WHOA! Does everyone else see that? Please tell me everyone else sees that.
Here's a short film documenting (allegedly) Syd Barrett's first acid experience (NSFW, I suppose, but only for druggy silliness).
Happy birthday, tripping balls!
On this date in 2006, Taylor Hicks won that year's American Idol karaoke contest, laying waste to runner-up Katharine McPhee. Soul Patrol!!!
McPhee would bounce back and is currently starring in the hit network TV show Smash. Hicks, of course, went on to superstardom, scoring major hits with songs like … oh, wait. What ever did happen to that guy? Best guess: manager of a suburban Applebee's somewhere?
Post-Idol, Hicks did score a role in the traveling production of Grease and his self-titled album went platinum, but Hicks was dropped from his label in 2008 and hasn't been heard from much since.
Last night, a fella named Phillip Phillips (no lie! that's his name!) won this year's American Idol, beating a lady named Jessica Sanchez. I must confess I've not watch one second of American Idol this year (or the year before, or the year before, etc.), but reading The New York Times story on him from today, it appears Phillips actually can play guitar pretty well and covered songs by Damien Rice and The Box Tops when he was allowed to chose his own material to perform.
Will Philly Phillips be a star, post-Idol? These things are hard to predict (ask Taylor Hicks), but it seems — from my admittedly peripheral view — that Phillips is more David Gray or Dave Matthews than Clay Aiken or Adam Lambert.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 24 birthday include creative Jazz saxman Archie Shepp (1937); American music icon Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan (1941); big-voiced and bigger-haired R&B diva Ms. Patti LaBelle (1944); producer and guitarist (with Stevie Nicks, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon and others) Waddy Wachtel (1947); singer/songwriter and eldest daughter of Johnny Cash's, Rosanne Cash (1955); frontman for Soul/Funk group Cameo ("Word Up"), Larry Blackmon (1956); former keyboardist for Beastie Boys pals Luscious Jackson, Vivian Trimble (1963); bassist for Redd Kross and current member of old-school Punk supergroup OFF!, Steve McDonald (1967); guitarist for rockers The Black Crowes, Rich Robinson (1969); and singer/songwriter and Country artist Mike Reid (1947).
Born in Altoona, Penn., Reid attended Penn State, where he excelled on the football field. The tackle finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting his senior year (1969) and earned a Bachelor's degree in music.
In the 1970 NFL draft, Reid was the Cincinnati Bengals' top first-round selection (seventh overall). Known for his pass-rushing, Reid was a dominant defensive player selected All-Pro at his position in 1972 and 1973 (both years he made the Pro Bowl, as well). In ’74, an injured Reid posted lower numbers and retired at the end of the season as the Bengals all-time leader in sacks with 49. (Remember, the Bengals had only been a team since 1968.)
During the off-season, Reid played piano with orchestras in Utah and Dallas, as well as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. With some help from Larry Gatlin, he was ready to go into music full-time after retiring from professional football. Focused on songwriter, Reid won his first Grammy in 1984 for writing Ronnie Milsap's "Stranger in My House." We would go on to write several songs that hit No. 1 on the Country charts, including "Walk On Faith," the only No. 1 he also performed.
Reid's songs were recorded by the likes of Etta James, Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson, Alabama, George Jones, Wynonna, Lee Greenwood, Kenny Rogers, Shelby Lynne, Shania Twain, Oak Ridge Boys, Collin Raye, Alabama and Tim McGraw over the years. But his "time capsule" tune has to be his 1992 hit with Bonnie Raitt, "I Can't Make You Love Me," his biggest Pop chart success.
Reid is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In honor of his 65th birthday, here's Reid's biggest song sung by himself, followed by a pretty chilling more recent version by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
Though today he is known as one of the strangest characters on "celebreality" TV, Gary Busey was once thought to have the potential to be one of the greatest actors of his generation. On this date in 1978, The Buddy Holly Story — featuring Busey in the title role — premiered. The film covered Rock legend Buddy Holly's all-too-short life, up through when he died in a plane crash in 1959 at the age of 22. Busey was 34 when the film came out, but his portrayal was very strong. In fact, it earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Busey never quite had that kind of critical reception again, going on to appear in such films as D.C. Cab, Predator 2, Point Break and the upcoming Piranha 3DD. Busey is known to younger generations as the "out there" guy from Celebrity Rehab, Celebrity Fit Club and Celebrity Apprentice. Is there a Celebrity Mental Institution yet?
There is allegedly a "Buddy Holly Curse" that may explain Busey's jagged career path since starring as the singer. This site details some "proof" of the curse, including the deaths of many artists who had some connection with Holly (Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Ronnie Smith, Cowboy Copas, David Box, Joe Meek and many others.)
Busey was involved in a serious, near-fatal motorcycle accident after he completed filming on the Buddy Holly movie. The film's screenwriter Robert Gittler committed suicide just prior to the movie's release. (The Who's Keith Moon made his last public appearance at a preview screening of The Buddy Holly Story; he was found dead the next day.)
Luckily, only Busey's career has suffered since the film and his close-call wreck. Here he is in his greatest role doing "Oh, Boy!" Busey was praised for singing his own parts instead of lip-syncing over Holly's originals. I have to agree with that praise. Maybe Gary needs to make a Rock & Roll album?
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 18 birthday include one of the men most responsible for Rock & Roll ("Shake, Rattle and Roll"), Blues shouter Big Joe Turner (1911); founding guitarist with Art Punk greats Wire, Bruce Gilbert (1946); singer/songwriter/producer and pops of The Strokes' guitarist, Albert Hammond (1944); keyboard wizard for Prog kings Yes, Rick Wakeman (1949); cofounder of New Wave renegades Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh (1950); Country legend George Strait (1952); Power Pop/New Wave rocker "(I'd Go the) Whole Wide World") Wreckless Eric Goulden (1954); singer with Christian Rock band dc Talk, Michael Tait (1966); Hip Hop artist ("It Takes Two") Rob Base (1967); and two Easy Listening giants of two very different eras — Perry Como (1912) and Jack Johnson (1975).
Como and Johnson both had/have a very easy-going way about themselves, musically and personally. That opened them up for a pair of pretty funny parodies on television.
In 1981, the brilliant late-night sketch comedy show SCTV ran the skit "Perry Como: Still Alive," which presented the way laid-back host making a Disco comeback. Eugene Levy — known today as "the dad from American Pie" — does a brilliant borderline comatose Como.
Former surfer (because what else could he be?) and smooth Pop singer/songwriter Jack Johnson has gotten the business from another late-night NBC program. (Cargo shorts) Saturday Night Live's (soon to be gone?) Andy Samberg has played the super-mellow Johnson in a few sketches, notably as the host of his own talk-fest The Mellow Show. (Flip flops.) Here, "Jack" interviews fellow mellow yellows Dave Matthews and Jason Mraz, as well as Ozzy Obsourne (played pretty well by Mr. Matthews himself). (Vegan cookies.)