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Entries in Music (78)

Wednesday
Feb292012

Davy Jones 

Chalk it up to good timing. What hasn’t been penned in regards to the legendary crooner and charismatic enigma that is Davy Jones? Although most heralded as the dashing front man for The Monkees , the iconic pop rock quartet that shattered global sales records and notched an Emmy for the television series that bore their name, the eternally youthful and engaging Jones is a trivia buffs dream. Perhaps I might focus on the noted equestrian’s unlikely role as a cowboy from Manchester. Possibly, I sink my teeth into the entertainer’s roots as a child star on the BBC. Even better, I might divert my efforts to the celebrated and Tony nominated theatrical performances that have spanned the course of his 50 plus years in show business. Author, humorist, composer…endless possibilities. Then it dawned on me; the single greatest teen idol that ever was possesses more than a polished bio and endearing allure. He holds something no contemporary has ever managed to amass-staying power.

Davy recently opened up for an AmericanProject.TV exclusive, and we as a staff swear up and down that suddenly our own “cool factor” has gone up, hip by association. We are probably lying to ourselves, but there are truths in this life that cannot be held back; death, taxes, and Davy Jones. Of the three, one is endeared, and none show signs of stopping.

Davy you’ve been working in the entertainment business most of your life starting with a role on Coronation Street, the longest running, and most watched, British Soap Opera, then theatre with Oliver!, and of course, The Monkees. This all happened for you by the age of 21, could you have ever imagined such a journey?

Yeah you know I actually started before Coronation Street. My Auntie wrote the local television station which wanted kids for a radio play, that really opened the door, and before long I began reading the morning story on the BBC. “ And now the morning story is read by 11 year old Davy Jones from Manchester”. That sort of thing, I still have them on tape.

Were your parents onboard?

Yes. My Father wanted more for me, a different sort of life. Back then, everyone worked to help the family, including my three sisters, they always had jobs. Most kids did some kind of work and gave wages to the family to help with household expenses, keeping maybe 10 shilling to play around with for the week. Seems that everyone was in some sort of apprentice program. But he wanted me to be able to travel and really see things, something he was never able to do.

Sounds like the BBC was good to you.  

Yeah, but my Dad took me to the race track in Manchester and we came up with the idea of me being a jockey. He wrote the local newspaper about my ambitions, they introduced me a trainer, and at 14 that’s what I decided to become. It was during this time, hanging around the stables, I met theatrical agents and actors that owned horses.

I’d already done several plays and broadcasts, and was told by an agent about an audition in London for the Artful Dodger. I went that weekend, auditioned, got the part, six weeks later joined the cast … and basically never came back.

So you were just … well, a kid traveling with the cast of Oliver!, as the Artful Dodger. 

Yes, and about eight months later David Merrick, the famous producer came to London to see the show. It was the first time he could understand what the Artful Dodger was saying. I was from the North of England with a clearer accent.

He liked it and took the show on the road, first to Canada, then two years on Broadway. It did very well and Merrick put me in a couple of his other shows like Pickwick, then Columbia signed me to a long term, seven year contract.

That was some launch, what followed?

At 18 or 19 I moved to Franklin St, in Hollywood. Under contract I auditioned for movies like the Wackiest Ship in the Army, TV shows, like Hogan’s Hero’s, the role of Robin in Batman, I worked, stayed busy, and eventually landed The Monkees part. Unfortunately, (laughs) The Monkees ruined my acting career.

I was going to ask about that since you were an actor well before joining.

Well look, I got everything I asked for. It may have been a different path if I would have left Broadway, then jumped straight back to England, instead of doing The Monkees. People always see you in one light. But good things happened.

In 1985 I played the part of Jesus in Godspell, then in 1986 that was followed by The Monkees reunion tour which was backed up by a 24 hour MTV Monkee Marathon … once again the power of television. It was the highest grossing tour of the year. About 10 years ago I had one of my most treasured moments as an actor, going back to play the role of Fagin.

So you’ve come full circle with Oliver! , and the entertainment business has afforded you the opportunity to move about and do what you want.

Well yes, but it doesn’t have to be about dollars and cents as long as you’re satisfied. Today I perform about 30 or 40 concerts a year. People have fun, I tell a few stories, maybe a joke, mix the old and new music, classics, maybe throw in a Nat King Cole song, Daydream Believer, even a couple of songs my father sang to my mother.

But after 50 years in show business I’m allowed to have a few luxuries, a little more flexibility and freedom. I bred two beautiful foals this year and my sites are set on the 2013 Darby.

You’ve been everywhere. Let me ask … It seems that as we get older we become aware of the moments we should be remembering. But as a younger guy, were you taking a mental snapshot of your time with The Monkees, or your appearance on Ed Sullivan the night the Beatles first played?

You know something … I have a great memory and remember about everything. This includes my time as a child with my Mother when she was ill, the birth of my children and grandson. I’ve also written two books to document, and keep a little Walgreen’s notebook with me to record my thoughts, and song ideas as I go. So yeah, I’m fortunate enough to remember these important moments.

All this and you’re a regular guy?

I’m busy and enjoying myself. I have a beautiful wife, four wonderful daughters, a close extended family, and a great band. We have weekly Bar-B-Ques, I shop at the local market, fish, bike, hang out, … but I can’t believe where the years have gone (laughs) and they’re going to have to put me down with a shot.

Davy thanks for your time today.

Thank you Michael, and have a great day.

Monkees Rock Hall of Fame

Davy Discusses The Monkees Reunion Tour

Tuesday
Feb142012

The Night Whitney Houston Sang The National Anthem

An icon has passed on, and Whitney Houston was more than what that already lofty status means; she was music royalty, the legend of the legends. Simply, she was the voice that a higher power loans to a mortal maybe once every couple of centuries.

Untold numbers of people, from every generation, every genetic make-up, every country and every town in the world, were impacted by the music of Houston; it was hard not to be. Her talents were celestial, and regardless of her own inner turmoil, her gift to our lifetime will forever be held as sacred.

And for an entire nation, there was no bigger contribution to our American psyche than what took place on the evening of January 27, 1991. We were ten days into the Persian Gulf War, a country unnerved and weary. The field at Tampa Stadium was electric because it was the Super Bowl, and if anything could ease our nation’s heavy hearts for a few hours, football’s finest hour was surely it. But no one wanted to cheer too loudly, no one wanted to breach human etiquette by smiling too broadly. It was the time of the great unknown, and our dominant generation did not know when it was appropriate to resume normalcy. A leader was needed, a conductor to steer the train down the tracks.

With over 79 million people tuning in to the ABC broadcast, Whitney stepped onto the field to a mild crowd. Draped in a red, white and blue tracksuit and her standard effervescent smile, the songstress strolled up to the podium and grabbed the mic. The announcer asked the audience to join in the “Honoring of America" and "Especially the brave men and women serving our nation in the Persian Gulf and throughout the world." The turf was athlete-free, replaced by military personnel dressed in their various uniforms to signify the solidarity amongst the different branches of service.

The rendition for what was to come was different than previous incarnations of the Star Spangled Banner. Longtime collaborator Rickey Minor was charged with orchestrating a version with jazz chords and a soulful, gospel rhythm. He took the song out of its standard waltz tempo and added an additional beat per measure, which would enable Houston to open up her lungs and 'breathe'. NFL brass initially feared that the rendition would be too flamboyant for wartime. Minor recalled that "They thought the harmonies were too different, that it was sacrilegious."

But in the face of doubt and uneasiness, fate stepped in.

As Whitney pulled the mic towards her angelic lips, magic happened. From the moment the words exited her mouth, triumphant and bold and pitch perfect, the audience mesmerized, trapped in a moment in time that seemed to linger forever. It was an explosion, a jaw dropping exhibition of a supernatural talent.

Even the casual Atheist saw God that night.

As the song came to a conclusion, Whitney thrusted her arms victoriously skyward as four F-16 fighter jets from the 56th Tactical Training Wing at MacDill Air Force Base soared above. And that leader, that train conductor we were all searching for had just told us that everything was going to be okay.

No one remembers who won that Super Bowl. Most cannot recall who played in the game three years ago. But everyone remembers the heaven sent performance of Whitney Houston. We will always remember. It was, as she once crooned so elegantly, one moment in time.

Wednesday
Feb012012

Don Cornelius, 1936-2012

Legendary conductor of one of the most celebrated dance & music television shows in history, Don Cornelius, is at the center of global reportage regarding his death — an apparent instigator of his own demise in the form of suicide.

As the influential host of Soul Train, Cornelius had created a franchise that encouraged and enabled anyone to celebrate the power of music, especially the younger generations. With his silky, deep, baritone stylings Cornelius gave rise to the resounding black voices that changed the landscape of popular music culture. Timeless musical wonders like the King of Pop — Michael Jackson — were beneficiaries of Cornelius’ greatest creation.

Despite Cornelius’ own soul train passing under the heavy shadow of suicide, his words will continue to inspire, “…and you can bet your last money, it’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey! I’m Don Cornelius and I’m always parting — we wish you Love, Peace, and Soul!”

Friday
Jan202012

Legendary Artist Etta James Passes 

Etta James at Chess Records, Chicago, 1960

Etta James, member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame, and even Rockabilly Hall of Fame passed. Her iconic, bellowing song "At Last" became as ubiquitous as Queen's "We Are the Champions" as an anthem of a long awaited victory of a sports team or political candidate. James' voice and songs carried a distinctive, plaintive tone that would build and swell with emotion from the depths of the soul, zapping the listener down to the marrow. Ultimately, her artistry seemed to transcend genres in American Music.

Sunday
Jan152012

T-Model Ford

He had been known simply as James Lewis Carter Ford for the first seventy seven or so years of his life-his exact year of birth has long ago vanished from the banks of his memory. Seventy something years of plowing fields, driving trucks, and literally working on a chain gang, as murder convictions tend to yield. Sunday mornings spent in county lock up more than in church. By all accounts, it was seventy odd years of debauchery and sub blue collared angst. As the man now known as “Taildigger” recalls, in his ever so eloquent draw, “I could really stomp some ass back then. I was a sure enough dangerous man”. True artists seem to find themselves when ready, even if it takes three quarters of a century. Witness T-Model Ford.

Few, if any, musicians wander into their golden years at a peak, with most leaving their relevance within the mental archives of the generation they served. No one has dipped a toe into the uncharted waters that James “T-Model” Ford has taken a swan dive into. The juke joint/electric/Delta/rock blues maestro from Mississippi BEGAN his career in his seventies, and is still laying it down at the ripe old age of 90(ish). Hardened and war torn, it is no shock that Ford is a blues man. It is one thing to play a riff or jot down some broken- soul lyrics; it is another to be a living prototype of a genre in its entirety. Simply, Ford has lived and breathed the blues. Ford IS the blues. Gruff, tough and gritty, T-Model has consistently recorded his life’s soundtrack with Fat Possum Records since 1997, raising a middle finger to the forces that have tried in vain to thwart him, including a pacemaker and a stroke induced limited mobility on his right side. Oh, and Johnny Law.

After a summer on the road with his backing band, GravelRoad, the oldest freshman to ever turn a six string into magic is set to release an album in 2011. A lifetime of trials and tribulations has culminated into one extraordinary finale, although with Ford, who’s to say it’s nearing the end? Time is relative, and no amount of time could possibly soften who T- Model Ford truly is. Simply ask any studio musician who has crossed paths with the surly man- child and his unforgiving confidence. As the legend goes, he greets each well meaning artist with the same heartfelt declaration, again with his own tainted grammar and highly effective directness: “T-Model Ford is going to remember you sorry (expletive) how it’s done”. To be 90 and leave able bodied twentysomethings quivering in their trendy shoes. Benjamin Button, eat your heart out.

Saturday
Jan072012

Ready, Steady, Go!

I present a short list, followed with a trivia question. The Beatles, The Who, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Beach Boys, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, The Zombies, Marvin Gaye, The Dave Clark 5, Dusty Springfield, Manfred Mann, The Surfaris, and Jimi Hendrix. Now, which national televised program featured the aforementioned artists, amongst numerous others, from 1963 to 1966?

Rolling Stones

Dave Clark Five & The Supremes

It is quite correct to answer “The Ed Sullivan Show” or “American Bandstand” if you bleed Red White and Blue, but in an era that pre-dates satellite and cable, throngs of Brit teens knew where the party was every Friday night. Ready Steady Go! was THE locale to view chart toppers and matinee idols early each weekend. Shaped from a different mold than its Yankee counterparts, RSG! was innovative from A to Z, with both its unique blend of camera use and talent deployment. Where else would someone witness unedited, full length studio versions of their favorite performers, or Mick Jagger miming the lyrics to the Sonny and Cher ‘tween pleaser “I Got You Babe”?

The Who

The Byrds

The Yardbirds

Dave Clark purchased the rights to the program, though for millions the music that served as the soundtrack to their lives still lives on through their RSG! memories. Ready Steady Go! carries forth as a time capsule of an era when society and music were in the throngs of revolution, a movement so immense that an ocean could not block its path. If a road trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame proves too costly in these belt tightening times, simply view an episode or two of the UK’s early foray into the 60’s golden era of sound, and enjoy the rock and roll fantasy on your La-Z Boy.

Jimi Hendrix Experience

Exclusive Mary Wilson Interview

Exclusive Eric Burdon Interview

Thursday
Dec292011

Showtime at The Apollo

Lodged at 253 West 125th Street in Gotham exists one of the remaining physical remnants of the Harlem Renaissance, nesting on a bridge midway between yesteryear and today. Since 1914, the Apollo Theater has been the epicenter of the African American experience.

The Great Migration of the 20’s and 30’s was a logistical, cultural, and sociological shift, mitigated by the arrival of southern African Americans and their wealth of artistic gifts to major northern cities. The pilgrimage of the people and their talents became a springboard for change in social mores, emerging as a rejuvenation of the soul for many African Americans, while garnering unprecedented esteem from the untutored Caucasian community.

Separatist attitudes of the era being what they were, this explosion of Afro centric expression was stifled without a venue, and in lieu of allowing the stylistic mojo of jazz, blues, gospel and soul wither into a footnote, the enriched Harlem neighborhood reshaped entertainment forever.

Buddy Holly 1957

It’s hallowed stage launched the legendary life work of James Brown, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight to name a few. Unknown virtuosos who have, as tradition dictates, brushed hands with the “Tree of Hope” and reigned supreme during the renown “Amateur Night” (an unflinching test of guile before a raucous and unabashedly frank audience, precursor to American Idol) includes Jimi Hendrix, Lauryn Hill, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holliday. White performers, spurred by an affection for the vibrant and alternative grassroots sound, broke self imposed and antiquated barriers, starting with Buddy Holly’s gig in 1957.

Bo Diddley 1964

Briefly closing shop in the 70’s, the Apollo rose from the ashes, becoming a Historical Landmark. Dutifully living up to its own moniker of “The place where stars are born and legends are made”, The Apollo itself is both a star and a legend. Its acoustics have been home to more masterpieces than any museum. The key that opened the gateway to a musical/cultural revolution, the landscape of our modern era exists in part to this cradle of passion in uptown Manhattan.

The first and last of its kind, the centennial aged collection of concrete, pipes, and timeless marquee remains a birthplace of performance genius, while humbly bowing to the Gods that created it.

King Records

Sunday
Dec182011

Phil & Ronnie Spector

In an age of interchangeable doo wop performers and cookie cutter rock and roll groups, a tour de force known as “The Wall of Sound” did not merely explode onto the scene-it was a nuclear detonation in a phone booth. An unconventional pairing of brass, woodwinds, strings, and large orchestral groups, the movement was captured in an echo chamber to create a full, rich and complex sound which emitted a natural reverberation on the AM dials.

Uber producer/Wall innovator Phil Spector created the new sound as a result of a neurotic aversion to stereo productions, believing the quality of the art suffered a breach in the process. He would describe the Wall as “A Wagnerian approach to rock and roll…little symphonies for the kids”. It was not uncommon for him to apply the dual use of electric and acoustic guitars in unison to capture a layered and dense vibe. The temperamental Spector would produce albums for John Lennon with The Wall’s employ, but the most dynamic application of the acoustical goldmine would come from Phil’s one time wife and her angelic trio, The Ronettes.

Helmed by the quavering vocals of Ronnie Spector and her sister and cousin, the songbirds from Spanish Harlem would become known as the “Bad girls of rock n roll”, due to their bee hive coifs, tight skirts, and heavy eyeliner. While contemporaries such as The Supremes were renowned for smooth harmonies, the perfect collision of The Wall and The Ronettes separated the ladies from the pack.

Possessing chops that were futuristic and otherworldly against the back drop of Phil Spector’s wizardry, a legend was conceived, the birth of a song that tugs at the heart to the point it becomes delightfully intolerable.

The emblematic model of the Wall of Sound that captured the attention of the world lives in The Ronette’s “Be my baby”. So influential was the arrangement, Beach Boys crooner Brian Wilson penned the smash “Don’t worry baby” as a tribute rebuttal to the Ronette’s imperative styling. When the girls would execute this soundtrack of pleading love, the listener would bear witness to a seductive larceny of their audio senses.

Ronnie’s gorgeous expression was not merely an oration of lyrics on a sheet; it was a soulful yearning that made all who listened FEEL her words as they flowed amidst the symphonic chaos of The Wall. As a writer prone to flowery adjectives and fawning reverence, I begrudgingly hold back the several page essay I easily could scribe regarding the evolutionary sexy sound and the emotion it evokes.

Pop life is cyclical by nature. For every Michael Buble, there was a Frank Sinatra, for every Lady Gaga, a Madonna, and every boy band, a Jackson 5. No exception to the rule, Phil Spector employed his genius sound of The Ronette’s with The Beatles and John Lennon, and The Wall of Sound heavily influenced the likes of Amy Winehouse, Billy Joel, The Beach Boys, Dusty Springfield and Bruce Springsteen.

It was a plethora of noise and confusion the ear was not apt to process, yet plowed through with sweet gusto. Like an overdose of Halloween chocolates, it was a pleasure that required indulgence, an auditory tornado unguarded by shelter.

Old souls and music aficionados alike shall forever adore the brilliance that was conceived in a diminutive enclave yet yielded a massive contribution to the annals of music. Such were the faculties of The Wall of Sound. Ronnie once sang “Oh since the day I saw you…I have been waiting for you”; Truth is Ms. Spector, it was you and the gals we had been waiting for. Thankfully you arrived, honored guests in our lives forever.

Ronnie Spector Tribute To Amy Winehouse

Monday
Nov212011

The Ricky Nelson Story 

Ricky Nelson was the sole inspiration that coined the term “Teen Idol”. In his brief life, he was an influence upon the likes of Bob Dylan, earned a Golden Globe, recorded 20 Top Ten smashes, was the first artist to strike #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and was granted enshrinement into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Accolades and shiny awards aside, Ricky Nelson as a brand was the pioneering force behind the now-essential marketing tool that is cross-promotion.

It was iconic father Ozzie Nelson's shrewd grasp of cross-promotion that led Ricky Nelson into the annals of legend, but do not cry nepotism; without the musical chops and smoldering good looks, the entire concept would have flopped. But Ricky did posess these qualities, and the collaboration’s effects have been felt for decades. Nelson became the first teen idol to employ the still novel medium of television to promote hit records, ultimately culminating into a rock and roll music career in 1957. Ozzie’s future world vision was to have Ricky close an Ozzie & Harriet episode by singing his current hit tune. Soon, most episodes of the Ozzie & Harriet television show ended with a musical performance by Ricky, most of the time non-congruent with any plot stoylines; essentially, it was free advertising on an already grossly popular franchise.

The theory was brilliant; the weekly family sitcom attracted millions of viewers, mostly families, and by incorporating Ricky’s music, teenagers would flock to the record shops for Nelson’s latest 45, while simultaneously softening the adult demographic on what was perceived to be a dangerous genre-Rock and Roll. Ozzie Nelson’s crystal ball told him that by winning over the teen audience, the Nelson dynasty would be gaining the approval of the parents as well. And the groundbreaking ventures did not stop there. Thirty years before the notion of Mtv sprouted wings,Ozzie Nelson had the idea to edit footage together to craft what would be some of the first music videos. This unchartered editing is seen in videos Ozzie produced for tracks such as"Travelin' Man", which still draw enormous views on media sharing sites such as YouTube.

During the sitcom's tenure, Ozzie Nelson brilliantly barred his son from appearing on other TV programs that could have enhanced his public profile, such as American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. The idea was simple; why advertise The Wall Street Journal in Forbes Magazine? By keeping the talented Pop star in-house (and in-family), the Nelson’s found themselves, at the time, morphing into a stand-alone kingdom-entertainment royalty.

The cross-promotion, marketing and brand ingenuity engineered by Ozzie Nelson is not only rampant in today’s competitive game, it is standard. Seemingly every established act has an undiscovered talent on some branch of the family tree, seemingly every actor is a singer, every singer an actor. The Brady kids tried to synthesize what came natural to the Nelson’s; the “show within a show” further exploited with modern hits such as Glee. Even product placement (think recurring character on a sitcom holding a can with the Pepsi logo pefectly visible) owes a gratitude to the genius of Ozzie Nelson.

And perhaps the biggest debt, whether he was talented or not, was owed by Ricky Nelson. The duo would have fit in well with another television giant of its time; Father Knows Best.

Tuesday
Oct182011

Mark Wahlberg - Producer

It is not uncommon for an actor on a strong sitcom to direct an episode or two during its run. Equally common is for a series star to inherit a “producer” title as part of a contract renewal.

And then there is the real deal.

We all know actor Mark Wahlberg from films such as Boogie Nights, Three Kings and The Perfect Storm. One of Hollywood’s elite leading men, the ageless thespian has carved a career out of diverse projects and eclectic roles. If one were to look further down the credits, though, past the marquee … he might be shocked.

As a Producer, Wahlberg has been the force behind such television giants as Entourage and the recent HBO acclaimed smash Boardwalk Empire. In film, he has produced the critical gem The Fighter, as well as We Own the Night and the upcoming Contraband. For Mark Wahlberg, the change of pace is a good thing. In Tinseltown, where even the most in-demand players have minimal control over a script’s vision, the role of producer has allowed him to break free from creative chains. When working with Director David O. Russell on The Fighter, he learned about the personal connection to a project (and its sometimes overzealous trappings) first hand.

“I was really only a producer on this for the sheer desperation that I wanted to see the story get made. This time, I was so close to that world, it was a different dynamic. But I've promised him (Russell) that I will not do that again. I promised him that our next collaboration would be back to me saying, "Yes, sir," "No, sir," where I would be there strictly to service his vision.”

After the unexpected success of his productions, Wahlberg finds himself in a strange place. With several more television and film vehicles in the future with his name attached to it as a producer (Entourage film included), he still serves two masters; his career as a leading man is still very much in full-swing. His take? Why not do both. He is pegged to produce and star in When Corruption was King and the remake of Billy Jack in the near future.

His career has always been a miracle to start with, a troubled Bostonian who was set on the wrong path before a few twists and turns steered him right. As implausible as his run as an actor has been, he has parlayed bit roles and cameos into superstardom. Now, it appears, when the Superman abdominals and the brooding youthful face vanish with time (he once guaranteed retirement at 40), the incredible journey of Mark Wahlberg will continue behind the camera. In some ways, it is Wahlberg at his most natural. Then again, maybe he will do both-he has surprised us before.

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