Tag Archives: music

Never a Dull Moment by David Hepworth

Hot on the heels of Jon Savage’s book 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded comes another book which focuses on a specific year. David Hepworth’s new book is entitled Never a Dull Moment – 1971: The Year That Rock Exploded. Whereas both of these books share a similar format in that the months are used as the twelve chapter of the books, that is where much of the similarity ends.

Both writers present stories about music of the year within a framework consisting of the cultural, social and political climate of the time. However, Savage’s book is around 25% music and 75% social conditions contrasted with Hepworth’s 90% music and 10% cultural framework. (For a more in depth look at Jon Savage’s book, please check out my article elsewhere on this blog.)

For his book, Hepworth generally begins each chapter with an overview of the times. This is followed by several stories about artists, songs, albums, producers etc… on whom he focuses his direct attention.

He begins his journey into the year by relating the fact that it began with the official dissolution of The Beatles. So, 1971 was the first “post-Beatles” year after the conclusion of the ’60s.

Since Carole King’s Tapestry was one of the biggest breakouts of the year, he explores her place in the blossoming world of the singer/songwriters of the year. These include people like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and Carly Simon. He also talks about one of the most enduring figures of the time who made little inroads in the way of popularity at the time – Nick Drake.

By way of the Rolling Stones, he relates stories about the release of Sticky Fingers as well as the band’s excursion to France to record the following year’s sprawling double album release – Exile on Main Street.

The state of music coming from the African American community is explored with tales of Motown label boss Berry Gordy Jr. and his stable of artists including Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. He also writes about Isaac Hayes as well as American TV host/producer Don Cornelius who brought Soul Train into the living rooms of the youth.

Producers like Ken Scott and Glyn Johns hook up with David Bowie and The Who respectively and breed the top albums Hunky Dory and Who’s Next. These were both milestones in the careers of the artists in 1971.

We also learn how producer Tom Dowd convinced the Allman Brothers Band to ditch the distracting horn section which was being used during their series of dates at the Fillmore East. This helped the band turn the corner and produce their double live LP set At Fillmore East which is still regarded as a classic today.

There are tales of Led Zeppelin, Roxy Music, Harry Nilsson, Don McLean, Frank Zappa, Black Sabbath, The Beach Boys, T. Rex, Big Star, Rod Stewart, Carpenters and even a name-check for German Krautrock pioneers Can.

Festivals were also the order of the day in 1971 as the long-lived Glastonbury Festival got its start. There are also other tales of (much) less successful events such as the Weeley Festival and the disastrous Celebration of Life Festival in Louisiana.

1971 was also the year that the first rock concert charity event was organized by George Harrison. The ups and downs of this new type of venture venture are examined.

Reading through this book reminds the reader about so many watershed moments that occurred in the music world at the beginning of the 1970s. To a generation accustomed to auditioning the latest sounds via the internet with the click of a mouse, these times music seem like some ancient distant land. Music fans used to find themselves reading about interesting music and, if they were lucky, being able to catch some of the sounds on an adventurous underground FM radio station. It was a time when people congregated at record stores and took in the artwork and liner notes of the LPs filling the bins.

I was there… and it was damn fun!

Classic Rock? In my day it was called New Releases! 

 

 

 

The Tefifon – Obscure Audio Playback from Germany

While recently doing a search for something audio-related on youtube, I came across an interesting video about an audio playback device of which I was totally unfamiliar. It’s a device called the Tefifon.

The Tefifon got its start back in the 1930s as a recording and playback device much like the Dictaphone. Towards the end of the 1940s, the company decided to enter the commercial market and began producing consumer-oriented machines as well as music cartridges to play on them.

Cartridges for the machine could hold up to four hours worth of recorded material. Unfortunately, they were unable to license audio recordings by popular artists and had to make do with cover versions of material that was popular at the time. This put the company at a bit of a disadvantage.

As you can see in the video, the cartridges for this player are somewhat like the endless loop 8-track tape cartridges that were fairly popular back in the 1970s. However, the Tefifon cartridges do not contain magnetic tape. They contain a thin plastic band which contains parallel grooves like a phonograph record. You can think of the playback medium as something like an old thin flexi-disc record. Instead of the grooves being pressed into a circular format, they are simply located on a very long piece of thin plastic.

By the early 1960s, the Tefifon had finally had its day. Despite the introduction of stereo playback, the limited market in Germany (it was apparently never marketed internationally), the unimpressive music offered for the format and competition from the LP record, the Tefifon finally vanished.

Sit back and enjoy this video showing the Tefifon in action courtesy of youtube video producer Techmoan.

And if you enjoyed that, here is a follow up video with more interesting details.

 

 

David Bowie – Stardust, Diamonds, Heroes and Ashes

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The clock radio went off at 5:30 AM and the lead-off new story is about David Bowie. His latest album – Blackstar – was released just three days ago and the news reveals that Bowie’s voice is now silenced. Apparently, a well kept secret regarding 18 months of suffering from cancer has now become public.

While I may have initially been exposed to Space Oddity or some tracks from The Man Who Sold the World, my first real exposure to Bowie came with the album Hunky Dory in 1971. Many tunes from that album were constantly on the FM airwaves in the Windsor / Detroit area at the time. It wasn’t just Changes and Life on Mars. It was also Queen Bitch, Andy Warhol and Oh You Pretty Things.

And then there was Ziggy. He was seemingly the man who fell to earth and changed the face of music and style. A flaming red-haired alien who rocked like nobody else at the time.

Bowie seemed like a person who could single-handedly  both start and end an era. He had a vision that seemed unstoppable in an era of ever changing fads and fashions. Since nobody seemed to know what he would do next, there was an endless curiosity as to what would be his next revelation.

In the beginning, he played in short-lived bands who played R&B. By the time of his debut LP, he was planted firmly in a mode reflecting his admiration for popular singer Anthony Newley. But, it was his subsequent release of Space Oddity which would gain him more attention.

That led to his joining forces with guitarist Mick Ronson on the Tony Visconti produced The Man Who Sold the World. From there it was on to Hunky Dory and then the creation of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

After the “retirement” of Ziggy, Aladdin Sane took the stage. The dystopian world  of Diamond Dogs morphed into the plastic soul of Young Americans and then the Thin White Duke of Station to Station (and his appearance in Nicolas Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth).

It was his 1977 project with Brian Eno which changed the game once again. The album Low presented one side of rocking tunes with another side of spacey, avant-garde electronic explorations which would develop into what would become known as The Berlin Trilogy (along with “Heroes” and Lodger).

From there, Bowie jumped around into dance music, more rock and roll and drum & bass excursions. His restless creativity pushed and pulled him into whatever direction he considered interesting for many more years.

After a silence of nearly ten years, Bowie proved that he could still surprise and suddenly announced a new single and LP back in 2013. The Next Day was a stunning new effort which was kept under wraps until the last moment.

With the release of Blackstar last week, Bowie seemed to be aware of the fact that this would be his farewell gesture to his long-time fans. At least he lived to see its release.

I only got to see Bowie in concert one time. It was to become his final concert tour. The show on May 14, 2004 at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario featured some 26 songs spanning his long career.

One other Bowie event that I was pleased to attend was the David Bowie Is exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2013. Over the course of a two hour trek through this show, one could get a close look at everything from stage costumes to hand-written lyrics to abandoned album cover designs.

David Bowie may no longer be with us but, his legacy will certainly continue for years to come. His life and work will become one of the benchmarks by which others in the performing arts will be measured.

David Bowie 1947 – 2016 

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Wrapping up 2015

Well, I guess that 2015 has turned out to be an eventful year after all. Back in April, I celebrated my 25th anniversary on the radio at CHRW-FM here in London. I took that opportunity to announce my retirement from the airwaves. I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of the folks who I’ve known at the station over all of those years. It was a lot of fun to be able to share music with my listeners over all of that time.

Before I left the radio station, I decided to continue to share my thoughts on music and create this music blog. Since I’ve had several hundreds of articles and reviews of music published over the years in various publications, it seemed like a natural progression. Since it’s introduction at the end of April, the Wired for Sound Blog has received a steady stream of hits and I’m very pleased with the positive feedback. It’s also nice to continue to receive musical contributions from a number of the musicians and record labels who had previously sent me music to feature on the radio programme. Thanks to all of the folks who have continued to visit the blog over the months.

Over the year, we’ve lost a number of important musicians and composers. I’ve written about many of them in the pages of the blog including Daevid Allen, Ornette Coleman, Dieter Moebius, Chris Squire, John Renbourn etc…

While I didn’t see a lot of concerts during the year, it was a great pleasure to attend the 50th anniversary performance of the Nihilist Spasm Band at Museum London. It’s always a special event to hear them play. Joe McPhee was a special guest at the show, too.

As a music fan, I’m always pleased to discover music by new artists. This year, two of my favourite new discoveries were Courtney Barnett and Ryley Walker. Their recent LPs have been spinning quite a bit around here during the year.

It’s also been another great year of sharing information and stories about music over at the Steve Hoffman Music Forums. Many thanks to all of my friends there who enjoy spinning vinyl and relating their stories. It’s my favourite place to visit here on the webernet.

It’s also been another productive year of music making for me, as well. I’ve had many enjoyable recording sessions with my friend and music partner Richard Moule with a number of excellent pieces of Transmorphous Sound Ensemble pieces now in the archives. We also had a great time performing at Grooves for Nuit Blanche back in June, Thanks to Troy and the folks there for allowing us the opportunity to perform in their space.

The year also presented some challenges. Back in March I had a scheduled surgery but, that was accompanied by another unexpected emergency surgery two weeks before that. Thanks to Richard for his help at that time. Also, thanks to all of my other friends for their well wishes and support. It was greatly appreciated.

So, now it’s time to look towards 2016. I’m looking forward to heading to England once again. It’s always a great time staying with my friends Simon and Ann. I’m also looking forward to performing again with my musical friends Martin Archer, Nick Robinson, Mick Beck and Charlie Collins.

Wishing everybody a happy and healthy 2016!

 

Your Questionable Questions Answered

As someone with an interest in a wide variety of musical forms, I am often asked questions about all types of musical trivia. The WfS mailbox has been overflowing with questions lately and I will attempt to address some of the queries now. Sorry if I do not get around to your question this time around.

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To George S. –

What you have discovered in your brother’s collection is an example of a mercifully short-lived genre of music called Strap – an abbreviation for Stuttering Rap. In the early days of rap, many folks tried to create a unique form of the genre. In this case, the concept may have been a bit too off-the-mark. With Strap, the stuttering and stammering of the vocalist over a steady percussion track created a beat that was not so much “break” as “broken”. The artists did not suffer any sort of speach impediment in real life. It was simply an affectation for their creative endevours. Luckily, the whole thing seemed to blow over rather quickly.

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To John C. –

What you have stumbled upon is the puzzling third album by the band. After two relatively successful releases, this drastic change in artistic direction had both fans and non-fans scratching their heads. After two LPs of relatively straight-forward rock, the release of an album of 1940s standards played on kazoo and Jew’s harp came as a bit of a shock. The press had a field day and their fans ran away in droves. The record company was not very happy, either. They pressed a huge number of copies in anticipation of a real big break-through in the market. The few copies that sold quickly made their way onto the shelves of charity shops while the rest hit the dollar bins. Even today, you can still find abandoned copies littering the bins.

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To Fenton Q. –

What you have is a unique album which was recorded when the band were utterly obsessed with President Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes scandal. It was certainly a questionable decision to record an entire LP’s worth of material using hidden microphones hidden in an office utilized as a make-shift studio. To call the results Lo-Fi is a bit of an understatement. Another nod to the Watergate tapes was the erasure of 18 minutes of the recordings. This lead to the entire second side of the LP being blank. Oddly enough, this album has gained quite a cult reputation in the ensuing years. DJs have been known to pay top dollar for a copy in order to incorporate the surface noise from the blank side into their dance club sets.

 

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To Peter S. –

What you have is a prime example of things going wrong. After three modestly successful releases, the band’s record company managed to convince them that it was time to refine their sound in an effort to break into a much larger market. So, they changed from a hybrid of metal and power pop to acoustic balladry focusing on sea shanties with a specific bent towards whaling songs. The band actually seemed fairly pleased during the recording process but, in the end they were not so thrilled. If fact, they had the mastering engineer etch their feelings into the text of the LP run-out grooves. The first side bore the inscription “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” and the second side said “Wake up, you bastards”.

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To Sheila T. –

What you have there is the first single that the band released on their own label before signing to the majors. It was recorded when they were still a three-piece as their second guitarist would not join until six months down the road. The original single was pressed in a very limited run of 99 copies and the band assembled the picture sleeve cover themselves in the kitchen of the bass player’s mother. For an original copy, you could name your own price. However, the coloured vinyl edition that you have is one of the many illicit pirate editions. This is particularly evident from the words “fake piece of shyte” inscribed in the deadwax. People have been known to pay fans to take copies off their hands.

 

Please note: Any resemblance to truly factual events is purely coincidental. Or is it? 

Remembering Ornette Coleman 1930 – 2015

Ornette Coleman passed away on June 11th at the age of 85. He was a jazz legend who ranks among the greats such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis. While he probably sold less records than those two other artists, his influence on music certainly rivaled them.

Coleman’s 1958 debut album called Something Else!!!! in 1958 caused a stir in the jazz world that would continue to divide listeners and critics for years to come. His approach to melody, harmony and rhythm was part of his own view of what he called “harmolodics”.

His music was unique, inspired and inspiring. As with Davis and Coltrane, his sidemen over the years reads like a Who’s Who of jazz innovators. People like Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins all traveled though his groups.

I first heard Coleman’s music at some point in the 1970s. It wasn’t until some years later that I started adding his music to my collection. The advent of the CD era seemed to make it easier to find his recordings. These often included extra tracks recorded at the same sessions.

I also tried to track down copies of his albums on vinyl whenever possible. In the end, I managed to amass quite a large selection of his work in both formats (sometimes with duplication).

As my friend David Lee (jazz writer and former editor of Coda magazine) has mentioned, Coleman’s death is not a time for sadness. He was around producing his own personal style of music for decades. So, it is more a time to celebrate the work that he left us over so many years.

Luckily for us, Ornette Coleman did not die at an early age like Jimi Hendrix. In the latter’s case, we can only be left to speculate on what he would have done had he lived beyond the age of 27. In Coleman’s case, we were truly blessed to have heard his world of sound evolve over many years.

Ornette Coleman’s obituary from The Guardian

John Renbourn (1944 – 2015)

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In 2015, we lost another one of my favourite musicians. John Renbourn was probably best known as one of the founding members of the band Pentangle (along with Bert Jansh, Danny Thompson, Jacqui McShee and Terry Cox). Together, they created a wonderful addition to the growing folk-rock genre happening in England in the late ’60s into the ’70s.

I saw John Renbourn in concert three times over the years. The first two times were as a solo artist but, the last time (2005) he brought along the wonderful Jacqui McShee to sing. It was a magical night as they performed many familiar numbers (many of which are included on the live LP in the double album set Sweet Child).

After that concert, I was lucky enough to chat with both John and Jacqui. They also signed a few Pentangle LPs for me.

Here is a link to his obituary in The Guardian.

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Daevid Allen (1938 – 2015)

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Daevid Allen passed away on March 15, 2015. I first heard his music with the group Gong over 40 years ago and acquired many of the albums over the years.

Allen was also a founding member of the band Soft Machine but, left the group early on. Luckily, the early recordings featuring him were recorded for posterity and are still available today.

I never thought that I would have the opportunity to see Gong but, I did manage to finally catch them at a small club in Liverpool called The Lomax in 1997. It was a magical night with the band playing two long sets which included a great deal of the music from their classic era of the early 1970s.

Here is a link to the obituary which appeared on the website of The Guardian.

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Wired for Sound blog

April 2015 represented my 25th anniversary on CHRW-FM (London, Ontario, Canada). I decided that this would be a good milestone at which to bid a fond farewell to the radio airwaves.

However, I still wanted to have a way in which to relate my thoughts on music to my audience. So, I have now created the Wired for Sound blog. I realize that there are other blogs out there with the same name but, that was the name of the radio programme so, that’s the name of the blog.

In this space, I will take the opportunity to post about recent releases, discuss records, books, videos and whatever concerns music.