Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hoyt Axton

Interestingly enough the WKRP In Cincinnati DVDs that I bought a couple weeks ago are still inspiring music related blogs. Anyone remember the episode when Jennifer's childhood sweet-heart arrives, guitar in hand, expecting her to honour the marriage proposal he made when they were kids? Turns out that character was played by singer/songwriter Hoyt Axton, who wrote a bunch of songs that others covered, the most popular being 'Joy To The World' (Three Dog Night), 'The Pusher' and 'Snowblind Friend' (Steppenwolf), 'Greenback Dollar' (Kingston Trio), and 'No-No Song' (Ringo Starr).

His mother was Mae Boren Axton, who co-wrote 'Heartbreak Hotel', so we know where his song-writing talents came from. Beyond his abilities to write songs, he was also quite a talented musician and singer (I'm a huge Kris Kristofferson fan, and I'm sure Kristofferson himself would agree that his songwriting talents supercede his vocal and guitar abilities). Primarily a country musician, he was also a fantastic blues and folk singer and occasionally got into some jazz too.

This song is 'Della and the Dealer', which was the song the WKRP gang helped his character record a demo tape to send to Nashville:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

WKRP and Music

I picked up the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati on DVD the other day and I've already watched almost half of the season. What a fantastic show! WKRP was always one of my favourite situation-comedies, and now that I've had the chance to watch it from the beginning all over again, I really am struck by how well the actors and writers had the characters nailed down, even in the pilot episode. When I watch first season episodes of some of my other favourite sit-coms I have many moments of discomfort as I see the actors struggle to find their roles. Seinfeld, Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond are three examples of high quality sit-coms and three of my favourites of all time, yet there are many examples of poor characterization in the early shows. I'd have to say that Cheers compares to WKRP in terms of having character roles fairly polished right from the start. In my opinion each of the five programs mentioned had fantastic character development over their respective runs, I just feel that WKRP and Cheers had a head start.

Wondering what the hell a discussion about sit-coms has to do with a music blog? Well, the entire reason it has taken so long for WKRP in Cincinnati to be released on DVD is due to the licensing issues of all of the snippets of the great songs that Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap played on-fictitious-air. I could go on at length about how stupid this is, but this page does a much better job than I could. I'm fairly certain that if the decisions were completely left to the original artists that the vast majority of them would be happy to have snippets of some of their songs introduced to a younger audience. Of course since most of the licensing issues would be decided by the labels, the bottom line of the precious dollar is more important than keeping an amazing show like WKRP in its original form. Unfortunately the powers-that-be decided that dubbing generic music over all of the original recordings would be the best course of action. And if that's not bad enough, they even dubbed some of the original character voices if any of the dialog took place over the original music. One of the most classic moments in all of the show's history is when Johnny was first allowed to change the format and play rock music. As he spins up the record he grabs the microphone with one hand and kinda "rock star's" with it, and unfortunately the generic music dubbed over is a completely different tempo, making Johnny Fever look like he can't keep a beat!

Anyhow, as much as the lack of original music does lessen my excitement, it's still great to be able to watch the show whenever I want.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lynyrd Skynyrd

I was almost 38 years old before I finally realized what a fantastic band Lynyrd Skynyrd was, at least back in the original Ronnie Van Zant days. Man, but that dude could write lyrics, and the triple guitars of Allen Collins, Gary Rossington and Ed King were phenomenal. Here's where I once again have to completely admit that before I started to play guitar, my musical tastes were very shallow. I had written-off Lynyrd Skynyrd as a two-hit-wonder band of Confederate flag-waving red-necks. What a moron.

As an enthusiastic beginner guitar player, I was bound to get into Lynyrd Skynyrd just because of their emphasis on the instrument. I still had a bias against them due to the whole lyrical spat with Neil Young in Sweet Home Alabama due to Young's Southern Man and Alabama, but I was really starting to get into their groove. Of course all one has to do is scratch the surface to find documentation that Young and Van Zant were good friends, and that Ronnie had tongue firmly in-cheek when writing his lyrics. Anyhow, the more I listened, the more I liked, and based upon the lyrics of many of the songs, it was also becoming quite clear that my prejudice was unfounded (as prejudice usually is).

The song that clinched it for me was Saturday Night Special, from the album Nuthin' Fancy. My complete lack of depth combined with my anti-Skynyrd bias caused me to assume that this was a pro-gun song; again, what a moron. This has to be rated as one of the coolest (whatever that means) pro-gun-control songs of all time. The following snippet is just the final verse and the chorus:

Hand guns are made for killin'
Aint no good for nothin' else
And if you like to drink your whiskey
You might even shoot yourself
So why dont we dump 'em people
To the bottom of the sea
Before some ol' fool come around here
Wanna shoot either you or me

It's a Saturday Night Special
Got a barrel thats blue and cold
Ain't no good for nothin'
But put a man six feet in a hole

Great stuff. I always thought it was "Mister Saturday night special", but the first three sites I checked stated "It's a..." I'm not finished talking about Lynyrd Skynyrd yet. I'll either come back and add to this entry, or I'll just start a new one.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What I Don't Like About Pop Music

"Pop Music". Quite the term isn't it? Ask 10 people what pop music means and you'll receive 10 different answers. I mean when used with the widest umbrella, 'popular music' includes everything that is just that: popular. The Wikipedia page claims:

Popular music is music belonging to any of a number of musical styles that are accessible to the general public and are disseminated by one or more of the mass media. It stands in contrast to art music, which historically was the music of the elite and upper strata of society, and traditional music which was disseminated orally. It is sometimes abbreviated to pop music, although pop music is more often used for a narrower branch of popular music.

It is the very last part of that quote that I'm talking about, the "narrower branch of popular music". This is the type of pop music that I often don't like. As Bill Hicks would say, any wanna-be performer who wants to be a star but has no talent is a "sucker of Satan's c@ck". Back in Hicks' day, he name-dropped performers like MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice. Today he could substitute Paris Hilton and the Pussy Cat Dolls without changing another word of his skit. Some would call me a "rockist" but I disagree. Christina Aguilera is a highly talented singer, and I guess I would place her under my own arbitrary label of "good pop" ;)

Last summer Ontario Tourism ran an add campaign using 4 different Canadian artists to sing a song called "There's No Place Like This" over a video montage of various beautiful Ontario locations. I absolutely loved the first three interpretations of the song. Molly Johnson, Brian Byrne and Tomi Swick each made the song their own, while not attempting to be the center of attention. On the other hand in my opinion Keshia Chanté's rendition is lacking in... something, while annoying me with her choreography.

Check out each of the vids to see if you know what I mean. Just to be clear, I'm not saying Keshia Chanté's version sucks, it's just that 'm much more drawn to the three other versions, particularly Tomi Swick's.

Tomi Swick:

Molly Johnson:

Brian Byrne:

Keshia Chanté:

So what do you think? Each of these four Canadian performers can definitely be placed under the pop music label, but does anyone else see my point about how Keshia's version compared to the other three?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I Dig Music

Yep, for those who have seen Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, this blog is named after Russell Hammond's acid-induced exclaimation from the roof-top, before he jumped into the pool . His first choice was "I'm on drugs!", but since this will be my outlet for anything to do with music, the title I chose seems more appropriate.

I have loved music all of my life, but over the last couple of years it has become a passion (some would say obsession). Without getting into details, I've been suffering from an undiagnosed illness for the past 4 or 5 years that, while not life threatening, severely limits my energy reserves, and in turn, my activities. One of the main issues is that I often feel light-headed and/or dizzy after exerting myself at all, which at times even prevents me from reading effectively (so you'll have to excuse some of my grammatical missteps as well!).

Initially I fell into the TV-trap, and it was sucking my soul, lemme tellya. Then one night my wife and I were out at a club and a woman approached us and asked if she recognized me as the singer of a local band. She wasn't the first person to mistake me for a musician. Over the years I've had to disappoint many folks who were convinced that I had talent! One drunken guy just refused to believe my claims to the contrary, and insisted on buying my buddy and I a pitcher of beer. At that point I gave in, and we told him many fictitious stories about my debauchery of groupies while we enjoyed his gift. As always, fantasy is just so much more fun than reality!

In any case, it seems this last time was the catalyst that would transform at least a small part of that fiction into reality. I decided, boom, like that (sorry couldn't resist plugging in one of my favourite Knopfler tunes), that I wanted to learn to play guitar. For my next birthday, my lovely wife bought me an acoustic, and with the help of the internet I began teaching myself to play. Two years and two additional guitars later, and I'm still having a blast almost every time I pick one of them up. In addition to the obvious satisfaction of learning to play an instrument, the bonus prize has been the drastic widening of my musical tastes. I'm much more open to actually listening to various types of music now, whereas in the past I was prone to being prejudicial and/or shallow in my tastes. It's very freeing to give up the notion that the artist is duty-bound to keep us happy with the entirety of their work!

To wrap things up, the plan is to use this blog to write about the "new" music in my life. That obviously includes recent releases, but also all of the fine music I either overlooked, or simply didn't have access to in the past.