Thursday, November 17, 2016

Buddy Holly & The Picks story

"Meet Me at the River, Buddy Holly" (2013) by Bob Lapham is a novel, except the prologue and Chapter 13 titled Buddy Holly and the Picks are true; throughout he book the name of the guy I call Trebor Maple. Trebor Maple is Robert Lapham spelled phonetically backward. That’s me. Bob Lapham, the last surviving member of the pop-R&R trio that was Buddy’s primary vocal backup group on the original Crickets songs, mainly an album considered one of early rock ‘n’ roll’s classics that won the 1958 Billboard best new vocal group award.

Treb lies in the back seat. His eyes close. Immediately he shudders, blinking in the semi-darkness. He is certain he can see Buddy Holly, unsmiling as he stares straight ahead, seemingly oblivious. Treb fends off encroaching sleep, surprised to see the rock ‘n’ roll figure unchanged in his wide-awake vision and wondering if he should initiate conversation. Louise looks back, over the seat. “I’m talking to Buddy,” he whines. “Holly? Be sure to tell him I always liked Elvis better.” Treb concentrates, deciding that if this is a valid vision, he can communicate closer to a spiritual level. He can’t see Buddy’s lips move, but he hears, as plain as the whirring Chevrolet differential just below him. “It doesn’t matter anymore…” Treb replies¨: “You mean, after all these years, you’re gonna answer me in song titles? you rank second only to Elvis in the list of influential rock ‘n’ roll pioneers!”

Treb is really feeling sorry for himself now. The old recording sessions at Norman Petty’s studio in Clovis, New Mexico used to take their toll on him, both physically and mentally. “So, get ready to meet me at the river, Buddy Holly.” “What?” Louise Maple asks. But her husband has fallen into the deepest sleep he’s ever experienced. “Your father is in la-la land,” she tells her daughter, taking a drag on her cigarette. Being a Texas Tech student for four and a half years, with a journalism degree, as well as being well versed in the strange nature of Lubbock, he had got a kick out of remembering the night a teenaged Buddy Holly lost his virginity in the back seat of a car parked on a dirt road that paralleled an irrigation ditch in a South Plains cotton field.

Coral was a subsidiary of Decca Records, which originally had Buddy under contract for a horribly produced country album recorded in Nashville earlier. Decca gave approval to let Buddy try rock ‘n’ roll stuff with Coral, and good riddance, it seemed was their attitude in the Nashville country music end of the label. But not That’ll be the Day, which had been on the Nashville album. As I understood the situation from studio gossip in Clovis, Coral was starting to spread its independent wings. It had latched onto an old abandoned label from the 1920s and ‘30s. Brunswick Records was picking up offbeat releases. Somebody in Coral’s office, upon Norman Petty’s prompting, decided to cover Decca’s That’ll Be the Day by Buddy Holly on Brunswick, with the newly formed Crickets as the artists, when Decca and the record-buying public got around to figuring out the end play. 

The result was the birth of a rock ‘n’ roll legend with That’ll Be the Day, prompting Brunswick to hastily make plans to put out the Chirping Crickets album, all while Buddy Holly’s separate rock ‘n’ roll solo career was taking off on Coral with Peggy Sue and Everyday. “When Norman re-recorded That’ll Be the Day in his Nor Va Jak Studio in Clovis, he lowered the key for Buddy that Decca had produced. For that little production suggestion, Norman cut himself in on songwriting credit, sharing three ways with Allison and Buddy, where Buddy had written the song that Decca recorded. It must’ve been a nightmare to sort out, money-wise, but in later years royalties from that one song alone, a classic that would be covered by dozens of artists through the decades – notably Linda Rondstadt – provided hundreds of thousands of dollars for the three shareholders.

Norman’s soon-dominant cutting himself in for credit as songwriter was born with That’ll Be the Day, I believe. But it sure didn’t end there. Also, he had already formed his own publishing stable, working through Southern Music Publishing in Nashville. So if you came to Clovis to peddle a song, chances are Petty would agree, if he could publish it and record it through Nor Va Jak. And if he could get it recorded, well it seemed only fair to him that he be cut in for songwriting credit. That’s where the real money in music recording came. Royalties for air play made a lot of non-performing songwriters very rich. This started in the Big Band era, but the practice really got sophisticated when rock ‘n’ roll became a producer’s and publisher’s paradise.” True Love Ways proved to be perhaps the best ballad the Picks ever did with Holly.

Listening to Trebor Maple tell about his and co-Picks Bill and John Pickering's contribution to the Holly legend during the summer and fall of 1957.--- The early world of rock ‘n’ roll had been littered with hastily forgottens; those performers who had hit quickly, then took express trips to permanent obscurity. Nino and the Ebb Tides (Franny Franny), Patience and Prudence (Tonight You Belong to Me), Rosie and the Originals (Angel Baby), John D. Loudermilk (Language of Love), and Paul and Paula (Hey Paula). Even Kenneth Copeland had enjoyed a stand-alone teeny-bopper hit in the fifties, but a huge following as a TV evangelist years later kept him far from becoming obscure. 

Buddy was better off, but only temporarily. That’ll Be the Day, written by him, was strictly a Crickets hit. Two months later, on a companion label thanks to a bit of managerial chicanery by their manager-producer, Norman Petty, Peggy Sue (the greatest rock'n'roll anthem) introduced the world to Buddy Holly, a world that quickly figured out the same guy was featured vocalist on both records. The Crickets seemingly were a vocal group that sang and played with Buddy. However, with one exception involving Niki Sullivan, they were not singers. Two big hits in a period of three or so months, and no place to go. Buddy, Allison, young 17-year-old standup bass player Joe B. Mauldin, and rhythm guitar Niki Sullivan were quickly on the road, doing one-nighters.

Petty and his wife, Vi, had all but abandoned their modest regional enterprise of playing for dances in Lubbock, Amarillo, and elsewhere along the Texas-New Mexico border. Clovis, that large stucco two-story building next to the studio housed an apartment where Norman and Vi lived upstairs. Never far out of sight was Norma Jean Berry. She’d slip in and out of the studio. I got the idea early on that Norma Jean was a glorified housekeeper. But she never did any housework that I could see. Norman was a very secretive guy. Intermittent rumour had it that Vi Petty and Norma Jean carried on a lesbian relationship; that Norma Jean and Petty had once had an affair; even that the three participated in troilistic sexual acts. The truth appears to have been that all three, for different reasons, were virtually sexless, and that Norma Jean clung to the Pettys as her surrogate family.

The Crickets had helped Norman install speakers at one end of the garage, and microphones at the other, to make the echo effect that was remarkable, especially for a home-made fixture. Phil Spector later told an interviewer that his “Wall of Sound” was inspired by Norman Petty’s Clovis sound. Particularly what the “Crickets” (actually the Picks, both as arrangers and vocalists) did on Holly songs such as Oh Boy! It's March, 1957: Petty usually worked best at night, in the wee hours, when huge trucks or a train were less likely to rumble by and be picked up on tape in the not-completely-soundproof studio. The Pickerings would go out and have hamburgers with Buddy and the Crickets together in early morning hours, after an all-night session. 

Holly’s bridge between obscurity and certain stardom (Peggy Sue) was in the planning stages. And eventually, rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame status. Buddy and the Crickets, deservedly so. But not the Picks. Treb, John and Bill’s lone claim to recognized achievement was being named to the little-known Rockabilly Hall of Fame in the 1990s. At any rate, Oh Boy! took off when released in October. It anchored The Chirping Crickets album that emerged then too, with the Picks backgrounding on nine of the 12 songs. Included were the ultimately charted singles Maybe Baby and Tell Me How. Treb told Brad that his favorite among the throw-away songs was An Empty Cup and a Broken Date, a real weeper, written by Roy Orbison. Orbison, tiring of Sun Records’ facilities, was beginning to experiment with the Clovis sound.

On a hot day in August, 1957, in the tiny six-by-eight foot control room at Norman’s studio, we were prepared to listen to a playback of the final tape version of Oh Boy!, which Buddy and the band hadn’t heard yet. The Crickets were dressed almost identically, in faded blue jeans and white T shirts, and wearing penny loafers. Buddy was wearing the same attire, except for natural-leather moccasins on his feet. Chances were, he had made them himself. The sudden stars seemed unaffected by their rise to fame. They were a bashful sort, according to John Pickering’s assessment. They have been called "the true gentlemen of the rock 'n' roll" or "the good boys of rock 'n' roll".

Buddy listened intently until the all the “dum-de-dum-dum—oh boys” had faded. Then he beamed. “You guys did it!” he exclaimed, going to each of the Picks and shaking their hands. To Buddy, Maple had been the bumbling, stumbling and often off-key foulup of the several sessions they had worked together. Now, Holly was ecstatic and animated. “You guys were really great!” Holly said. “We got ourselves another hit!” Later in the year, Holly would confide to an interviewer that he liked Oh Boy! more than his signature song, That’ll Be the Day. “That’s as good as anything Pat Boone ever did,” John Pickering offered, after Oh Boy! had been played again. “Pat BOONE!?” Buddy shot back. “Man, Pat Boone ought to be standing in the background, doing doo-wahs!” John pretended to take offense. “Thanks a LOT, Buddy.” The rest of the room erupted into laughter. All except Holly. He was concerned that his remark, intended to put down Boone, had been misinterpreted by the Picks. “I didn’t mean it that way,” he said. Buddy would be the first self-deprecating rock-star. 

From that time on, around the studio the Picks were dubbed The Doo-Wah Boys. Soon after Oh Boy! was released, Buddy and the Crickets were booked on The Ed Sullivan Show. American audiences who saw Buddy and the Crickets never seemed to mind that half the songs they sang didn’t sound like the record i.e. didn’t have vocal background. It wouldn’t be until their tour of England that fans began demanding to know what was going on here. They found out, thanks to John Beecher. So to this day, the Picks are virtually unknown in America, in reference to Holly. But England’s more loyal fans are quite familiar with them. Then, disappointment riddled the Picks’ euphoria. They came to the studio a week or so prior to “the big shew,” and Norman had a telegram from Sullivan to show them. “Don’t bring the other boys unless they belong to the union,” Sullivan said. “We’re making money, but we can’t afford that. Not yet,” penny-pinching Petty told the Picks with a frown. It would cost about five-hundred dollars apiece, he claimed. None of the Picks could afford it either. Buddy was disappointed as much as they, Treb said. Norman retained control of all money coming in. 

We knew Norman was lying. But the darker sides to his personality began turning the Camelot in Clovis into failure, shortly after that storied summer of 1957. Buddy got married to Maria Elena, against the wishes of Norman, who had assumed near-parental attitudes with the Crickets. He had an even tighter hold on their money. After Buddy’s marriage, he and the Crickets began drifting apart. Allison and Mauldin tried different sidemen, and returned to Clovis. Meanwhile, Buddy was in the process of severing ties with Norman and was recording in New York. His actions, it was reported, led Petty to angrily tell one of the Crickets, “Let him try! I’ll starve him out!” Buddy was threatening legal action to get to what he claimed was considerable money owed him.  

Both Pickerings got to know Maria Elena fairly well, particularly John (who, at the request of Buddy’s family, sang two Baptist hymns during Buddy’s funeral). Treb said he didn’t meet Buddy’s widow until they had lunch together in 1999. “We told each other stories about Norman Petty,”  Treb said. “She loved it.” Buddy was on the low-paying Winter Dance Party tour because he was broke, with tens of thousands of dollars belonging to him lying unattainable in a Clovis bank. “Buddy’s in his room,” Mrs. Holley told Treb. “The last time I saw him, Buddy wore a black leather jacket over a white T-shirt. He had black motorcycle boots over tailored Levis. He was slowly combing his coal-black hair. He looked at me. He wasn’t wearing his horned-rim glasses at the moment.”

“I had one more meeting with Petty, almost thirty years later. That was in a Lubbock hospital, a month before Norman died it 1984. Bill Pickering was living with his mother in Lubbock, and the first Buddy Holly & the Picks compilation album was about to be pressed. I did comment about all the many people Norman’s money-hungry ways had hurt; perhaps even killed, in Buddy’s case. How many dreams he had not respected enough to give a fair shake.”

Tommy Allsup: Buddy Holly was very likable. Very confident. He was more reserved off stage than people would think. He was truly a creative genius, not just as a songwriter or performer, but in the way he approached making records and doing the music business. ("The Flip of a Coin", 2010)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Untamed Youth: Buddy Holly & Eddie Cochran

Buddy Holly was terribly shy; he tended to complicate his alienation because of his extreme shyness, his self-consciousness about his 'homely' looks.  He never seemed at ease with the lime light of the show business scene. Buddy not only knew rock 'n' roll would last, he also understood it had to evolve over time. Buddy was our superior from a musical theory aspect.


At a big New Year’s party, Eddie Cochran invited everyone. Don Everly brought a girl with him and they got into a big argument. The girl locked herself in the bathroom and refused to come out. Eddie watched Don’s dilemma and said, “You don’t have the right technique, Don. I’ll handle this.” Eddie knocked on the door... “Who is it?” “Buddy Holly.” She opened the door, there Eddie stood, beer in hand, laughing. She slammed the door shut again. At about this time, Buddy arrived at the party. He noticed Don and Eddie standing by the bathroom door. “What’s going on?” he asked. “Oh, this girl, she’s mad at Don and locked herself in the bathroom. Hey, Buddy, if anyone can talk her out of there, I’d bet you can,” Eddie suggested. “I’ll give it try,” Buddy knocked on the door... “Who is it?” “It’s Buddy, Buddy Holly.” When she opened the door this time she had armed herself with a hairbrush. Whoosh-bang! Poor Buddy, he didn’t know what hit him. Before she realized who stood there, she crowned him right on top of the head. Eddie stood by howling of laughter.

Later, back in Hollywood I had a date to go to the movies with Eddie. The August early evening air, stifling hot. What we Californians refer to as ‘earthquake weather.’ “Sharon, sit down, I want to talk to you,” Eddie said. His suite had two sofas across from each other. I sat on one, and he stretched out on his stomach, his chin propped on his hand, his mocassin’d feet dangling. He stared at me without mercy for a few moments. “Sharon, are you in love with me?” he asked in a very quiet voice. I could hardly bear it. I struggled to get a few words out, “Why...what makes you think that? Just because everytime you turn around I’m there? How rude! I— I don’t think that you have the right to ask me such an embarrassing question!” “Well... let me tell you... You’d damn sure better be because I’m in love with you.” A Hollywood screenwriter could not have written a better movie scene.

My heart thumped, then stopped, and I heard bells ringing in my ears. He got off his sofa and sat down close beside me. He put his arms around me and gave me a big luscious kiss. “I love you very much,” he said with passion. “When did you know?” “The first time I ever saw you.” “And you let me chase you around for two whole years? Why on Earth didn’t you tell me?” “Do you love Ricky Nelson?” Eddie asked. “No, of course not.” Ricky Nelson at the peak of his career idolized Eddie. “Do you love Don Everly?” “No!” I started to wonder where he was going with this. “Do you love me?” “Oh, yes!” 

“You see, Kid Cochran’s not so dumb. I had to make damn sure.” Eddie gave me his ring and ID bracelet to seal our engagement although he preferred to keep it a secret for now. Sure he dated, Connie Stevens, Julie London and the likes. I mean, with that kind of competition, how could I stand a chance with him? He never dated any of them more than a few times. His mother later told me that I was his first, and the only girl he ever loved. My competition as it turned out was not other women, it was music, his guitar... —"Summertime Blues: A True Rock 'n' Roll Adventure with Eddie Cochran" (2010) by Sharon Sheeley

According to Eddie Cochran's nephew Bobby Cochran: "there was definitely a mutual attraction between Eddie and Mamie van Doren and some hint of hanky panky between them." In 1986, Mamie van Doren told fanzine Kicks the film "Untamed Youth" (1957) was one of her favorite films: "Eddie Cochran appeared in the film and we rehearsed the songs at my place in Hollywood Hills. Buddy Holly accompanied him sometimes. Buddy Holly was completely crazy, Eddie was charming... Eddie was more handsome than Elvis, terribly sexy and cool."

Friday, November 11, 2016

Buddy Holly & Elvis Presley (Rock & Roll Memories and Goose Bumps)

A luncheon will be held Nov. 17 at Wellbridge of Romeo, 375 S. Main St. Lunch will begin at 1 p.m., followed by live Elvis and Buddy Holly-themed music from 2 to 3 p.m. The cost is $6 for residents or $7 for nonresidents. Register by Nov. 10. For more information, contact the Romeo Washington Bruce Parks & Recreation Department at 586-752-6543.  Source:

For Elvis fans looking to find a new place to dwell, a home which once belonged to The King could be the ideal investment. The Beverly Hills home he lived in between 1967 and 1973 has gone on the market for $30million - twice as much as it sold for just two years ago. Elvis lived in the plush home at 1174 Hillcrest Road in Beverly Hills, LA, with wife Priscilla and their daughter Lisa-Marie.

The 5,400 sq/ft property has retained much of its the out ward stone decor from when Elvis lived there as well as the swimming pool and front gates where he would meet adoring fans. It was previously sold in 2014 for $15 million and is now on the market for $30 million. The King paid $400,000 for the home in the 1960s. Source:

Buddy Holly's home was 4-H, a corner apartment at the Brevoort, 11 Fifth Avenue [at 9th Street]. The 2-bedroom unit with a wrap-around terrace rented for $900 per month. Married life with MarĂ­a Elena and Greenwich Village set Buddy Holly aflame. According to his widow, he loved listening to jazz at the Village Vanguard and poetry at local coffeehouses. He also wanted to write movie scores. Source:

Maria Elena Holly: "Elvis called when Buddy died, and I spoke to him on the phone. I remember that. He called to say how sorry he was. Buddy was able to meet Elvis because he went to Lubbock. The story goes... he told me that Elvis did not have drums at that time. When he started, he didn’t have a drummer. And Buddy said, “You know Elvis, you need a drummer in your band.” It was one of Buddy’s touches."

Harrell Rudolph (an old school friend of Buddy Holly from his time at Lubbock High School): "In autumn 1954, Elvis Presley came to town as the star attraction at the Lubbock County Fair. At this time, Presley was not yet a national phenomenon. As is well known, Buddy and his band was the opening act. The next school day, we were interested to know what Buddy thought of Presley, did he talk to him, etc. I was surprised that to me he seemed a bit negative if not scornful of Elvis. He certainly was not in awe of him. From that day forward, we began to press Buddy to do an “Elvis imitation” at the Spring Round-up."

Buddy Holly felt the only way his dreams would become reality was to break from Norman Petty and move to New York. Buddy wanted to compose and perform music that was not of the rock and roll genre. Living at The Brevoort, Apt 4H, 11 Fifth Ave. Buddy would set up a small area for his Ampex reel to reel recorder where he could try out new song ideas. Buddy recorded six new compositions in December 1958 and in January 1959. 

Jean Daniels (Lubbock High School - Class of 1955): "My family moved from Los Angeles to Lubbock during April 1952, and I was enrolled in the 9th grade at JT Hutchinson Junior High School. This was not the most comfortable day in my life. I didn’t know a soul and I was a pretty shy guy. I wandered into a nearby drugstore and found a seat at the soda fountain. A dark haired fellow with horn-rimmed glasses sat down next to me and introduced himself. He knew I was the new guy in school and welcomed me to Lubbock and JT Hutchinson. I am happy that Buddy Holly was my first friend and school mate in Lubbock. But that’s the way Buddy was, just a very nice, quiet, unassuming friendly guy. We remained good friends through out high school.

Despite the multiple names listed as songwriters on his tunes, many sources report that Buddy Holly's songs were, indeed, his. The other credits were mostly added as business arrangements.  The industry had tried to manipulate his career, his bandmates had betrayed him, his manager had robbed him... He had tousled dark hair and those horn rims. His complexion was amazingly white and the expression inscrutable yet knowing. One of Buddy's favorite things to eat was tomato soup. His favorite architect was Frank Lloyd Wright.

Michael Shelley (D.J. at WFMU Radio Station, New York): What was Buddy Holly really like?

Sonny Curtis: He wasn’t anything like he was portrayed in "The Buddy Holly Story". Gary Busey’s portrayal of Buddy was more like Chuck Berry than Buddy. He also depicted Buddy as a sloppy dresser and an unsophisticated rube. Buddy was neither. Another thing I didn’t like: Buddy sometimes could be a smart alec, but he was always a gentleman.  

Norman Petty: I found Buddy to be "respectful" and "responsible". And even though I did not necessarily understand rock and roll, I liked it, although [my wife] Vi did not, and above all, I appreciated Holly's talent. I didn't know if I was going to be able to understand what he was trying to do and I have been criticised for not really understanding, but I think that we pretty well respected each other's capabilities. Buddy was the type of musician that never repeated an error. An excellent musician.

Sonny Curtis: I’m not a fan of Norman Petty. He told me once that I was wishy-washy and (paraphrasing) a person of low character. He said that I would wind up in this business with (his words) “a big goose egg.” When you are young, broke, doubting yourself anyway, and struggling to figure it all out, those are words that can break your heart. I’d love to meet him face to face and say, “Man, the way you treated me was not cool.”

Gary & Ramona Tollett: Gary's cousin, June Clark, who was Don Lanier's sister, wanted to help Gary become a recording artist like her brother. (The Rhythm Orchids had the first West Texas hit and million-seller from Norman Petty's studio in Party Doll.) She introduced us to Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison. Buddy was very shy. He was an extremely talented young man. We soon got together at June Clark's house and rehearsed numbers for Gary. Later on, Buddy suggested that we sing back up for him on some recordings that he had scheduled to do at Norman Petty's in Clovis, NM.

Jerry Allison: Buddy Holly affected me the same way than Elvis: he gave me goose bumps. I don’t think Buddy would have followed Elvis into the casinos. Buddy liked writing songs and he was into producing, I’m sure he would still have been amazing.

Jerry Allison never really got over the loss of Buddy in the Bonanza air-crash flying between Mason City, Iowa, and Fargo, North Dakota. Ironically, the promoter of the next event had been trying to get it cancelled due to the weather, not knowing that the three singers had already chartered a plane. Allison did "really regret that it worked out the way it did." ―"The Crickets: Six Decades of Rock ‘n’ Roll Memories" (2016) by Gary Clevenger & Tony Warran

R.I.P. Leonard Cohen (Parasite of Heaven)

Leonard Cohen, the hugely influential singer and songwriter whose work spanned nearly 50 years, died at the age of 82. Cohen was the dark eminence among a small pantheon of extremely influential singer-songwriters to emerge in the Sixties and early Seventies. Only Bob Dylan exerted a more profound influence upon his generation, and perhaps only Paul Simon and fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell equaled him as a song poet.

Cohen's haunting bass voice, nylon-stringed guitar patterns and Greek-chorus backing vocals shaped evocative songs that dealt with love and hate, sex and spirituality, war and peace, ecstasy and depression. He was also the rare artist of his generation to enjoy artistic success into his Eighties, releasing his final album, You Want It Darker, earlier this year. Cohen visited New York in 1966 to investigate the city's robust folk-rock scene. He met folk singer Judy Collins, who later that year included two of his songs, including the early hit "Suzanne," on her album In My Life. His New York milieu included Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, and, most importantly, the haunting German singer Nico, whose despondent delivery he may have emulated on his exquisite 1967 album Songs of Leonard Cohen.

Cohen's relationship with Suzanne Elrod during most of the Seventies resulted in two children, the photographer Lorca Cohen and Adam Cohen, who leads the group Low Millions. Cohen was well known for his wandering ways, and his most stable relationships were with backing singers Laura Branigan, Sharon Robinson, Anjani Thomas, and, most notably, Jennifer Warnes, who he wrote with and produced. After indulging in a variety of international styles on Recent Songs (1979), Cohen accorded Warnes full co-vocal credit on 1984's Various Positions.

Various Positions included "Hallelujah," a meditation on love, sex and music that would become Cohen's best-known composition thanks to Jeff Buckley's incandescent 1994 reinterpretation. Its greatness wasn't recognized by Cohen's label, however. By way of informing him that Columbia Records would not be releasing Various Positions, label head Walter Yetnikoff reportedly told Cohen, "Look, Leonard; we know you're great, but we don't know if you're any good." Cohen returned to the label in 1988 with I'm Your Man, an album of sly humor and social commentary that launched the synths-and-gravitas style he continued on The Future (1992).

The final act of Cohen's career began in 2005, when Lorca Cohen began to suspect her father's longtime manager, Kelley Lynch, of embezzling funds from his retirement account. In fact, Lynch had robbed Cohen of more than $5 million. To replenish the fund, Cohen undertook an epic world tour during which he would perform 387 shows from 2008 to 2013. He continued to record as well, releasing Old Ideas (2012) and Popular Problems, which hit U.S. shops a day after his eightieth birthday. When the Grand Tour ended in December 2013, Cohen largely vanished from the public eye.

In October 2016, he released You Want It Darker, produced by his son Adam. Severe back issues made it difficult for Cohen to leave his home, so Adam placed a microphone on his dining room table and recorded him on a laptop. The album was met with rave reviews, though a New Yorker article timed to its release revealed that he was in very poor health. "I am ready to die," he said. "I hope it's not too uncomfortable. That's about it for me." "I’ve always been into self-dramatization," Cohen said last month. "I intend to live forever.” Source:

Perhaps his most memorable song from Canadian poet/songwriter & performer Leonard Cohen. Cohen specified, notably in a BBC interview, that the song was about encountering Suzanne Verdal, the then wife of sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, in a Montreal setting. Indeed, many lines describe different elements of the city, including its river (the Saint Lawrence) and a little chapel near the harbour, called Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours (literally Our Lady of Good Help), which sits on the side of the harbour that faces the rising sun in the morning, as it is described in the song.

Suzanne Verdal was interviewed by CBC News's The National in 2006 about the song. Verdal claims that she and Cohen never had sexual relations, contrary to what some interpretations of the song suggest. Cohen himself stated in a 1994 BBC interview that he only imagined having sex with her, as there was neither the opportunity nor inclination to actually go through with it. In any case, its lyrics first appeared as the poem "Suzanne Takes You Down" in Cohen's 1966 book of poetry Parasites of Heaven (1966).

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Gifted Guitarists: Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Lou Reed, Johnny Thunders

Not a one-hit or two-hit wonder, but a 27-hit wonder, all in about 18 months of worldwide fame, Buddy Holly's songs will live until there is no more music. Some artists shape their sound from what came before; others create new sounds. Buddy Holly did both. Prior to the release of “That’ll Be the Day” in May, 1957, there were very few recordings that managed to combine elements of country, pop, and rock ‘n’ roll. The sonic qualities of the record were friendly but different from anything heard on the radio. Perhaps they were different from anything ever played.  Source:

Band: the Traveling Wilburys
Iconic Guitar: Gibson ES-335
Classic Riff: “Oh, Pretty Woman”—The Essential Roy Orbison

Most people think of Roy Orbison as the super-smooth crooner who sang songs like “Crying,” “In Dreams” and “Only the Lonely.” But Orbison was also a wicked guitar player, who ripped out several impressive solos on early Sun Records singles like “Ooby Dooby.” In fact, Sun owner Sam Phillips was more impressed with Orbison’s guitar playing than his singing.

By 1964, most of Orbison’s early rock and roll contemporaries were either dead, strung-out on drugs, in jail or making crappy movies, but Orbison’s musical career still hadn’t reached its peak. In between the ballads, he recorded singles like “Mean Woman Blues” (check his wild guitar solo) and “Oh, Pretty Woman” that showed upstarts like the Beatles, the Animals and the Rolling Stones that Americans still could rock harder than any Brit.

Band: The Velvet Underground
Iconic Guitars: Gretsch Country Gentleman (Velvets), Schecter, Klein, Sadowsky and other customs
Coolest Riff: “Sweet Jane”—Loaded (The Velvet Underground)

Emerging in the mid Sixties at the helm of the Velvet Underground, he offered up a gritty black-and-white alternative to the rainbow-colored pyschedelia of the prevailing rock culture. He brought us along, albeit reluctantly, to meet junkies and hustlers. He was one of the first rock guitarists to embrace chaos truly and wholeheartedly. But the avant-garde din of Velvet Underground rave-ups seemed a genteel curtain raiser compared with the cacophony of Lou’s 1975 solo opus Metal Machine Music. The noise-guitar side of Lou’s legacy set the stage for cutting-edge genres like industrial, art damage, dream pop, grunge and present-day noise exponents.

But Lou’s edgy lyrical stance and image spawned something even more fundamental to deviant aesthetics: punk rock. He graced the first cover of Punk magazine in 1976 and was subsequently dubbed the Godfather of Punk. Lou embodied a new kind of rebel hero, an amalgam of two distinctly different but equally vilified social pariahs: the disaffected intellectual and the scumbag street hustler. In recent years, he added a third persona: the grumpy old man. Still, there can be no underestimating Lou’s immense contribution to rock or the fierceness of his commitment to obtaining guitar tones and lyrical images that cut like a knife and leave a permanent scar.

Band: New York Dolls, the Heartbreakers, Gang War
Iconic Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Jr.
Coolest Riff: "Chinese Rocks" — Blank Generation: The New York Scene (1975-78)
Johnny Thunders’ snot-nosed New York take on Keith Richards’ cool is one of the pillars on which punk rock was built. An Italian-American guy (birth name John Anthony Genzale Jr.) from Queens, he was born a little too late to be part of the Sixties rock explosion. But the bands of that era were his influences, and he put his own spin on them in the early Seventies.

Thunders had the riffs to match the glam-trash group’s mascara. He took rock guitar and cooked it down to its essence, playing open chords and switchblade riffs that laid bare the amphetamine urgency behind the Dolls’ concise, catchy tunes. The Dolls had split up by the time punk rock got underway in New York and London, but their influence was profoundly felt on both shores. While Thunders shared Keith Richards’ appetite for excess, he sadly was not blessed with Keef’s monumental endurance. Thunders died in New Orleans in 1991 under mysterious, although most likely drug-related, circumstances. Source:

Jonas Akerlund will direct the film adaptation of Nina Antonia’s seminal rock biography, “Johnny Thunders in Cold Blood,”  with production slated for early 2017. “Rock n’ Roll movies are always something of an awkward beast to nail. Do you get an insider or an outsider to direct? Finally we got both in Jonas Akerlund,” Antonia said.

Imagine, if you will, a band that wrote perfect rock n' roll songs, played them with furious abandon, and featured no fewer than two outrageous personalities whose charisma was only matched by their raw power, one of whom was one of the most gifted guitar players of the punk rock era. This band you're imagining is the New York Dolls. If you're not familiar with Johnny Thunders, the three essential albums are the first, self-titled New York Dolls album, L.A.M.F. (with The Heartbreakers), and his first solo album So Alone. Source:

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Sam Phillips biopic with Leonardo DiCaprio, Buddy Holly's individualism

Leonardo DiCaprio is to produce and star in a film about Sam Phillips, the Memphis music producer famous for launching the careers of Elvis Presley, Ike Turner, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Paramount Pictures has acquired rights to adapt Peter Guralnick’s book Sam Phillips: the Man Who Invented Rock’n’Roll, and has enlisted DiCaprio to co-develop it as a star vehicle for himself, according to Deadline. Mick Jagger will reportedly co-produce alongside DiCaprio. He last produced HBO’s rock series Vinyl that was canceled after one season. DiCaprio has yet to lock down a writer and director for the project.

Sam Phillips – who worked as a record executive, music producer and disc jockey – is credited for playing a vital role in the emergence of rock’n’roll in the 1950s, largely by discovering Elvis Presley. Source:

It wasn't Elvis who handed Sam Phillips his first real smash. Carl Perkins did that, with "Blue Suede Shoes," after Phillips, who perpetually needed money, sold Presley's contract to RCA. He demanded $40,000 for his star, which included $5000 in royalties Phillips owed Presley—more than a popular singer's contract had ever brought. After brokering the deal, Colonel Tom Parker, the wily manager who used the honorary title a Louisiana governor had conferred on him, made Elvis a commodity.

The welcome infusion of capital let Phillips crank up the volume for other Sun artists, who included Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and a brash, boundlessly energetic Louisiana boy initially billed as "Jerry Lee Lewis With His Pumping Piano." When Phillips first heard Lewis, "he practically jumped out of his skin."In 1969, Phillips sold his 80% interest in Sun Records, formally putting his glory days behind him.

Although Guralnick admits that his use of Invented in his book's title is an overstatement, he makes it clear that Sam Phillips exerted considerable influence on rock'n'roll, in recording sessions spurring and steering his seminal artists through take after take. If the artists thought some of the touches that made it onto their records were mistakes, Phillips deemed them "original." For him, that was the heart of the matter: "Most of all, individualism... individualism in the extreme," insists Guralnick. Source:

Read my previous post: Sam Phillips and Buddy Holly: The Men who invented Rock 'n' Roll.

By the end of the 1960s, except among older fans and hardcore oldies listeners, Buddy Holly was a largely forgotten figure in his own country. The tide began to turn at the very tail-end of the 1960s, with the beginning of the oldies boom. Holly's image constituted a haunting figure, frozen forever in poses from 1957 and 1958, bespectacled, wearing a jacket and smiling; Holly stood there seemingly eternally innocent, both personally and in terms of the times in which he'd lived. Until "American Pie," most Americans equated November 22, 1963, the day of President Kennedy's murder, with the loss of national innocence and an opening of an era of shared grief. Don McLean pushed the reference point back to February 3, 1959, and an astonishingly large number of listeners accepted it.

Buddy Holly is perhaps the most anomalous legend of '50s rock & roll. Among his rivals, Bill Haley was there first; Elvis Presley objectified the sexuality implicit in the music, selling hundreds of millions of records in the process, and defined one aspect of the youth and charisma needed for stardom; Chuck Berry defined the music's roots in blues along with some of the finer points of its sexuality; Jerry Lee Lewis, often known as The Killer, had been described as "the rock & roll's first great wild man." Holly's influence was just as far-reaching as these others, if far more subtle. In a career lasting from the spring of 1957 until the winter of 1958-1959, Buddy Holly became the single most influential creative force in early rock & roll. Source: