Sunday, February 7, 2010

Another Excerpt from Upcoming Book

Shortly after signing his contract with Columbia Records, Bruce played a brief gig at fabled Max's Kansas City in New York, acoustic, as he had not yet fully formed what would become the E Street Band (he had signed as a solo act). In the above video you get the first two numbers he played. And below, from the forthcoming companion volume to my new Incompleat History of Rock 'n Roll web series -- watch the trailer here, which includes more on "discovering" Springsteen back then:

Preparing my monthly “works-in-progress” box for Crawdaddy, I consulted the usual trades searching for one-liners. It seemed that the latest new Hammond discovery was about to come out with his first album, so I wrote for an upcoming issue: “Solo Jorma Kaukonen, acoustic, produced by Jack Casady….debut album of the heralded Bruce Springstein….live Stones-Stevie Wonder….James Taylor’s One Man Dog.”

Hey, if he was another Dylan signed by John Hammond he had to be Jewish, right? A few days later, in early December 1972, I got a phone call at the office from a brash, fast-talking fellow who claimed to be Bruce’s manager (and song publisher). The manager’s name was Mike Appel, and even before his client’s first big gig or album he was declaring him the surefire hottest act of the decade. He wasn’t afraid to drop the name of Dylan – plus Keats, Wordsworth, Byron and, maybe, Shakespeare. Right. And he also had a bridge he wanted to sell me. On the other hand: I was probably one of the few people in the biz who knew who this kid was, and remembered the Hammond connection. So I kept listening as he shouted in my ear.

What was he offering? Press party? Test pressing? Payola? Well, no. It seemed that Bruce was no longer a solo act. He now had a band and they were about to perform their first show, a publicity event (I guessed) disguised as a do-gooder appearance: behind the walls of fabled Sing Sing Prison up in Ossining, N.Y. Sort of an East Coast version of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison – minus a star at the center. Well, I’d always wanted to see the inside of a heavy duty prison (as a guest) and the gig was set for two days later on my birthday. So I said yes to the Sing Sing along.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

First Episode of Series Is Here

Just posted first episode of the "Incompleat" series, following up on the popular trailer. And it's timely too, in this Super Bowl week, as it focuses on New Orleans music, most notably, the Fat Man himself. More exclusive excerpts and text here in the weeks ahead!

Another Excerpt from The Companion Book

Thanks for watching the first episode (and if you missed it, scroll down a bit). Here's another excerpt from my forthcoming book, describing my "covering" the famously canceled Powder Ridge rock festival in July 1970 in Connecticut for Zygote magazine, where I served as an editor.

It was to be held at the Powder Ridge ski area in Connecticut, which the ads said formed “a natural amphitheater.” Even after day one, a Friday, got called off, due to an injunction secured by local residents in Middlefield – the year after Woodstock saw the vast majority of fests killed this way – Lenny told me to go anyway, since thousands were already showing up and some musicians were vowing to arrive to show solidarity with the huddled masses. The New York Times was covering the festival daily as a big local story. Would ticket-holders get stiffed? So off I went on Saturday morning.

Ignoring signs posted on roads leading the site reading “Festival Prohibited—Turn Back,” I arrived to find the parking wasn’t too bad. Scattered across the slopes, looking down at a stage at the bottom, were 20,000 or more people, with the ratio of drug pushers to users about 3:2. (It would take more than an injunction to keep dealers away from longhaired rock fans.) Sellers of acid and mescaline posted signs next to tents advertising their wares—or was it “bewares”? The price of a buck for a tab was hard to pass up. I didn’t see, but heard about, a barrel where everyone was encouraged to toss extra tabs, or god knows what, into a punch that you could then drink. Also: all utilities had been shut off and the food service abandoned.

The schedule for day two, besides Van, included the Allman Brothers, Joe Cocker, Little Richard, Jethro Tull, surely the largest collections of weirdoes to ever perform on a single day in the great state of
Connecticut. No announcements came from the stage so rumors were all we had. I roamed around, taking notes, spotting a nude couple here and there, some serious bad tripping in the woods, and the general order, and odor, of despair. It seemed to feature the “brown acid” from Woodstock without the music or good vibes.

Finally, in late afternoon, I felt I’d done my duty and beat a hasty retreat after finding my car not blocked in. The next day on the radio they reported that one artist did show – folk singer Melanie, who arrived after dark and performed her hit “Candles in the Rain” as hundreds held up candles. She plugged into the only electrical generator near the stage – a Mr. Softee truck. Sweet, but you couldn’t have paid me to stay for that (even if Zygote wasn’t paying me).

Comedian Lewis Black would later recount his drug-soaked days at Powder Ridge after walking off his post as a parking attendant there. He claimed that a Black Panther leader gave a fiery speech just as a thunderstorm broke out, causing many to blame the Panther and freak out even more. It would go down in history as the most famous canceled rock fest. Well, that was something anyway. In any event, my career as a rock journalist could only go up from there.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Cooke's Tour

Rare film on the great Sam Cooke tonight on PBS, blocked for while, now airing. His gospel work among greatest American music of century. Small sample:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Welcome to the New Blog -- and Web Series!

Welcome to the first post on the first weekend of the new blog, named after my brand new Web video series. It draws inspiration from my early life, and career roots at the legendary Crawdaddy (during nearly all of the 1970s). The just-released trailer for the series, "An Incompleat History of Rock 'n Roll," features everyone from Roy Orbison and John Lennon to Springsteen, Dylan, Talking Heads, Neil Young and...Jeff Goldblum?. David Wild, the longtime writer and contributing editor at Rolling Stone, calls it "the most promising upcoming Web music series." I've posted about it at Huff Post, where it received star billing. Will Bunch of the Philly Daily News tips his hat here.

This blog will feature the videos but also some of my writings, past and present, on this subject, including excerpts from my forthcoming memoir, a kind of companion volume to the series (first one just below on this page). The trailer for the series, shot and edited by my son Andy Mitchell (of "MacAwesome" fame) follows, and then the excerpt:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Another Excerpt from the Book

As I've noted, an "Incompleat History or Rock 'n Roll" book is in the works and I will be publishing brief excerpts here, out of chronological sequence, of course.  The first one is down the page a bit, along with the trailer for the web series. Here is number two.

By 1961, Roy Orbison had supplanted Ricky Nelson at the top of my pops, even as the decade of the rock group arrived with early Motown and the Beach Boys, Phil Spector’s Ronettes and Crystals and all the rest.  Orbison’s first big hit, "Only the Lonely," was a template for his future themes.

I had no idea where he’d come from or what he looked like and probably was soon surprised to see that the confident sounding singer looked a little squirelly -- thick horns rim, oily pompadour, lumpy features. Despite these drawbacks,  more hits followed.   Unlike many rockers of the day, Roy wrote or co-wrote most of his own hits. But even more distinctively, he had an almost operatic voice. He could hit the highs, lick the lows and invigorate the in-betweens, and his lyrics were always spooky, from the despair of “Crying” to the tortured triumph of “Runnin’ Scared.”

He was the Caruso of rock. You knew that almost without fail that in every single he was going to wail, and when he did, or your car radio or transistor speaker was going to tremble like a windowpane caught in high-C hurricane. It was a voice from the other side, unearthly in the majesty of its emotion, almost oppressively powerful, yet in the end fragile and only too human. He was, after all, almost always singing about losing his woman – “It’s Over” unless he was “In Dreams.”

Friday, December 25, 2009

First Excerpt from the 'Companion Volume'

From my forthcoming "My Life in Music" book:

It was becoming plain by early 1970 that Rolling Stone had become a lifeline for me, and perhaps, as I neared the end of my journalism schooling, a possible destination. Partly with that in mind, I had written someone there about possibly writing reviews for the magazine. To my shock, Ed Ward, one of the magazine’s regular writers, who I believe was filling in at the review desk at the time, wrote back: Send in a sample. In my mind it was like Norman Mailer suggesting that I send him my unpublished novel.

So I wrote a little pan of the new Simon & Garfunkel album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, which most people, including my girlfriend, loved. I’d soured on the pair, feeling they’d gotten more and more sappy as the decade grew harder and wilder and more creative. Amazingly, Ed replied with a note saying they would publish it in an upcoming issue, I’d get paid about $15, and did I have anything else in mind?

A few weeks later, the fateful issue arrived in the mail. It was the same week we had forced my college to join hundreds of other campuses around the country in shutting down for a couple of days in the wake of the Kent State massacre. Tearing open the magazine, I was so pleased I didn’t even much mind that my byline was misspelled over my first national magazine piece: Gregg Mitchell.