STEVE HACKETT: REVIVING GENESIS

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 24, 2014 by midliferocker
Courtesy Lee Millward

Courtesy Lee Millward

The late 60’s-early 70’s, it was a time of explosive and profound musical experimentation. The Beatles were leading the charge into “progressive” rock music and would inspire many of their peers to use both their expanding minds as well as new technology to create music that was uniquely powerful, that was new, that was, well, different.

“I was a huge Beatles fan, and they really set the template for what we called ‘progressive’ music,” says Steve Hackett, legendary guitarist for progressive rock kings Genesis from 1971 to 1977. “The most interesting period of the Beatles for musicians is basically ‘Revolver’ through ‘Sgt. Pepper’ through ‘Magical Mystery Tour.’ That was the golden period for production, ideas, the beginning of what was being called ‘progressive.’ Much of what followed with British music was in the wake of that. I owe a huge debt to the Beatles.”

But as Hackett remembers, the same people who were profoundly influencing him and his bandmates were also becoming their admirers during the same time period. “Genesis has been through a number of incarnations, but that 1970s era truly inspired other musicians, not just rock musicians, but ones in other areas and in other genres,” Hackett said. “Back then, bands like Weather Report listened to us, and we listened to them. John Lennon even said he liked us. And it’s that era of the band that was really respected that I’m taking on the road.”

Hackett has taken the very best of the Genesis music from that influential period — a period where he helped mold the band’s sound and direction — and crafted it into a tour calledGenesis Extended,” a concert experience that even the most diehard Genesis fans say is as good as the original band, if they were to get back together. Or maybe even better, given Hackett’s profound influence on the band during the seven years he was one of their driving forces, and also the fact that he hasn’t seemed to have lost even a step on guitar. The current incarnation of the show hits the Lincoln Theater this Wednesday night.

Hackett, 64, cites not only the Beatles but a diverse group of influences for helping shape his musical direction, from early on in his life, up to when he was a full fledged musician. “Early on, I got hooked on two different kinds of music,” Hackett told me from his recording studio in England. “I listened to pop from a very very early age, and as I was growing up, much of the music I listened to was classical music. I didn’t have any formal training, but my father played several instruments. Then I think when I was 12, I found myself listening to a lot of radio, some of it the work of pure genius, like the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, The Shadows, The Ventures, and Jan and Dean and The Beach Boys. Of course The Beatles and the Stones. It all just took off for us in such a huge way.

“Then in 1965, I got to hear (classical guitarist Andres) Segovia play,” he continued, “and suddenly, that was another revolution for me. It’s a bit like going through the turnstiles and suddenly life was never the same again after I’d heard that. I was completely besotted by that. For many years I was learning these main three licks I was picking up, from Chuck Berry to Keith Richards and so on. I never imagined I’d be adopting the articulations and the harmonies like on the stuff from Segovia. Rock music started to amalgamate and change itself, and many bands had started to do things in the wake of what the Beatles had done.”

Genesis in the early 70's (Clockwise from bottom: Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford)

Genesis in the early 70’s (Clockwise from bottom: Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford)

Hackett joined Genesis in 1971 after being approached by Peter Gabriel, who had seen Hackett’s “guitar for hire” ad in Melody Maker magazine, and he immediately made an impact on their sound with the release of the band’s ’71 album “Nursery Cryme.” Over the course of the next five years, he help define the band’s sound. However, although he is very grateful for the time he had with the band, Hackett felt increasingly disposable. Much of his material was dismissed and his overall role diminished, largely by what he intimates were larger egos and a one-sided process.

“Being a part of taking the band from free shows and clubs to doing stadiums was pretty amazing,” Hackett said. “We managed to totally expand the fortunes of the band during a six-year period, 1971 through ’77. Six and a half years of my life were in the middle of that. I was really hot to keep the [momentum] flowing with Genesis but felt that the band wasn’t evenly balanced. I felt like I was kind of just another member of the band, just another guitarist. What I really felt like doing was to be a tad more virtuosic and collaborative. So I really don’t think I could have stayed with it. There were changes in the air, plus it was a bit easy to get into a confrontation, and things were just not solved democratically. But I was privileged to work with great, great people.”

Life after Genesis has been plentiful. Hackett has recorded several solo albums, formed a short-lived yet successful supergroup called GTR with Yes’ Steve Howe, and consistently took on side projects and guest spots while also embarking on different incarnations of  the “Genesis Revisited” tour. Participating in a Genesis reunion has always been something that has been bandied about. Hackett’s been interested, but it has never come to fruition for him largely because of one main factor: Peter Gabriel’s involvement, or lack thereof. “I was approached in 2005 to be part of the Genesis reunion,” Hackett said, “and for me, it was going to be both Peter Gabriel and myself, or it wasn’t going to happen. That was a condition made to the other guys. But there was no real offer. I mean I’ve been extremely flexible about this, but I might be waiting a lifetime and it may never happen. I actually saw Mike and Tony last week at a lunch for Mike’s biography, and I asked them if they were going to reform with Phil, and both of them said, ‘Oh I don’t know, doesn’t look like it.’ So they don’t even know any more than I do.”

“But that’s part of the reason that I decided to go out and play what I thought was the best music of the band, those early years, and when I play these concerts,” Hackett continued. “I get feedback from people about songs they absolutely adore, so I’ve made that the music of “Genesis Extended.”

Hackett has stayed vital and active, playing both his own music and that of his epic band, and his revered guitarist status remains intact. And even though he is bringing that classic old Genesis music to fans all over the world on this current tour, he says he is on an even bigger quest, one he seems firmly dedicated to. “Seems to me that music’s gotta broaden out, and if I’ve got a mission in life, it’s to rid people of prejudice against all the things they think they don’t like. So that’s my calling,” he said.

HUMBLY CARRYING THE ROCK AND ROLL TORCH

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2014 by midliferocker

derek Rock music’s current guitar master Derek Trucks triumphs with his new band while paying homage to those who came before.

By Steve Houk

I want to be Derek Trucks. I mean, I like who I am, mostly. But to be Derek Trucks right now? Wow. For starters, he’s co-leader of  the Grammy-winning Tedeschi Trucks Band with his wife, blues siren Susan Tedeschi. He’s also trading solos, at least for the time being, with mentor and friend Warren Haynes as part of the legendary Allman Brothers Band. And he often sits in with admirers like Eric Clapton, with whom he has toured as co-guitarist several times. Heck, he even played the White House with other guitar greats like B.B. King, Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy and others not that long ago, paying tribute to the blues and jamming in front of a swaying POTUS.

So, with all this success, glory, admiration and reverence, what does Derek Trucks call his favorite thing in the world? Home.

“There’s a few things really, I guess it’s kinda tough to pick number one,” Trucks told me from St. Louis recently. “But we were just home for about a week and a half — which is rare for me — and being home for baseball practice and baseball games, my son is 11 [he also has a 9-year-old daughter], and walking up to the bus stop, man, those are the simple things that I think are hard to beat. Or havin’ a cigar on your back porch, little glass of rum [laughs], there’s nothing wrong with that either.”

Yep, add a palpable air of down-home Southern humility and a dash of genuine sincerity to this guy’s already envious life resume, and you really have someone who’s got it all. Watching this virtuoso play, even hearing him speak, there is such an effortlessness about him. Even when his slide guitar screams like a modern-day Elmore James (his slide idol), or when he masterfully plucks previously untouchable Duane Allman solos out of the air like no one has since Allman’s death in 1971 (Derek was named for the ’70s Clapton/Allman supergroup Derek and the Dominoes), he seems so at ease and so comfortable in his own skin, it’s stunning, even disarming. Not a bad way to be, though, for arguably the greatest rock guitarist of the modern era and carrier of the ever-burning rock-and-roll torch.

Right now,  the Tedeschi Trucks Band is in the midst of a barn-burner of a tour that includes a January 25th stop at Washington’s Warner Theater. They continue to wow audiences with Trucks’ soaring guitar, Tedeschi’s sublime blues vocals and a killer band to, well, beat the band. The couple, who married in 2001, combined their talents three years or so ago, leaving successful solo bands to form a unit that speaks to both of their impressive strengths. A risky move for some, but it seems to have paid off in spades.

Derek Trucks and wife and bandmate Susan Tedeschi (courtesy Mark Seliger)

Derek Trucks and wife and bandmate Susan Tedeschi (courtesy Mark Seliger)

“We had been tossing the idea around for years. It was unspoken. We’d both been thinkin’ about it,” Trucks said. “But I think for me, when the Clapton tour was done and I was trying to get the Allman Brothers to tour a bit less and just focus on one thing, I’d been with my solo band for about 14 years. I think I was 14 or 15 years old when we formed it. I was getting to a point where I was ready for a change. I never want to get stuck doin’ somethin’ that doesn’t feel like it did when you first did it. I just felt that comin’ to the point with [my solo band]. I was at such a great point musically and personally with everybody that it was a great time to kinda move on.”

And move on he has, right from the get go. The TTB’s 2011 debut album Revelator won a Best Blues Album Grammy and Blues Music’s Album of the Year. After releasing a well-received live album Everybody’s Talkin’ in 2012 (which includes a cover of that Harry Nilsson classic) and cementing themselves as one of rock’s best live acts, TTB put out their second studio release in 2013, Made Up Mind, a brilliant, diverse yet familiar blend of a special sound that the couple seems to have almost invented, yet it still has oh so many of those classic notes, riffs and vocal stylings that you’d swear it came out decades before. Trucks feels that as the band has begun to gel, every day they make music, whether in the studio or on stage, feels more and more special.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band circa 2014 (courtesy Mark Seliger)

The Tedeschi Trucks Band circa 2014 (courtesy Mark Seliger)

“I was really looking forward to the challenge of starting a band from scratch and not playing the same material,” he continued. “When [the Tedeschi Trucks Band] started, we really tried avoiding going to any of those safe spots like covers. We wanted to make sure the band could carry on on it’s own. Then we started finding our own vocabulary in the group, definitely in the last year, that’s just fully exploded. I think for me it was just that artist side of your brain, just wanting to keep it fresh and progressive and moving forward. Every once in a while you have to throw yourself, and I think your audience, a bit of a curve ball, just to keep it honest, ya know.”

As Trucks’ own career continues to skyrocket, his longtime collaboration with the Allman Brothers is coming to a close. He recently shocked some longtime Allman Brothers’ fans with the news that he and Haynes will be leaving at the end of 2014, after being a mainstay of the band for 15 years. It has to be bittersweet; he has been intimately involved with the Allman family his entire life. His uncle Butch was an original member and is still drumming for the band, and Derek grew up with the Allman kids and played live with the Brothers for the first time at the age of 13. But with this legendary Hall of Fame group, as with his own bands, Trucks feels there is a right time to bow out gracefully.

Derek Trucks (L) has played with Gregg Allman (middle) and Warren Haynes in the Allman Bros. for 15 years (courtesy hollywoodreporter.com)

Derek Trucks (L) has played with Gregg Allman (middle) and Warren Haynes in the Allman Bros. for 15 years (courtesy hollywoodreporter.com)

“The musical level, the history, the myth are all intact,” Trucks said with a touch of poignancy in his voice. “I feel they’re in a really unique place where they can go out properly, in a way that, ya know, the band deserves. I don’t want to see it fizzle. I want to see it go out with a few great shows, where everyone knows this is, ya know, a last waltz. I feel like everything’s lining up for that. It’s nice that all the pieces are still in place to do it. I think that music and that history is so important to American music, I think it deserves to go out the right way. That’s where my head has been for the last year. Just trying to ship it back into shape and make sure we can do this thing right.”

Derek Trucks knows he has a responsibility to carry on the long tradition of roots-based rock by virtue of not only his storied past, but also because of his dazzling present as well as the almost-certain legendary status that’s ahead of him, if it’s not here already. He proceeds proudly, yet of course humbly, and with caution, as part of a movement to keep the rock-and-roll torch burning. “To be able to keep it rollin’ in some way, shape or form, I know personally I take it very seriously,” Trucks said.  “You don’t take yourself seriously, but you take the work seriously. When you get on stage with some of those guys — doing the Clapton tour, doin’ the Allman Brothers stuff, or being on stage with B.B. King — they pass the baton to you in a way, and you have to honor that. It’s a bit of a burden at times, but not really. It’s what we would be doing anyway. We just feel lucky to be a part of it.”

And when I tell him that my 18 year-old stepdaughter Kate told me to tell him how much she loves his music, he laughs kindly and says, “That’s great, really, tell her that young ears keep [the music] alive.”

TORI NELSON: SHO ‘NUFF A WORLD CHAMPION by Steve Houk

Posted in Uncategorized on October 23, 2013 by midliferocker

by Neer&Far Photography

She rises at dawn each day in her Ashburn Virginia home, and she prays. “When I first wake up, I already know I have to use every second of my day wisely. Prayer is first.”

So she prays for the happiness and safety of her two teenage kids, Q and Simone, the lights of her life.

Then she likely prays a little for the children she watches over in her first job of the day as a school bus driver. Then there’s one for the kids she feeds in her second job as a school cafeteria worker. And then another for the ones she teaches at her third job as a boxing instructor. Lastly, she probably throws a prayer in there for when she next enters the ring.

Then she gets her kids off to school and starts off another day in the life of Tori Nelson. A day in the life…of a world champion.

Tori “Sho ‘Nuff” Nelson holds three of women’s boxing’s biggest titles and is defending one of them, her Women’s International Boxing Association (WIBA) welterweight crown, on November 7th in Cockeysville MD as part of former Baltimore Raven Jonathan Ogden’s 8th Annual “An Evening Ringside” to benefit his foundation and the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation. She recently won the vacant WIBA welterweight title in a main event bout in Rhode Island, becoming a world champion for the third time in her career; she had already captured the WIBA middleweight title in 2012, and won the World Boxing Council (WBC) middleweight crown in 2011. Last month, she also was named TheRingside.Biz’s Boxer Of The Month for September beating out male counterparts like Floyd Mayweather. She is currently undefeated at 7-0 with 3 draws.

Tori THREE Belts by Y&D Photography

You would be hard pressed to find a more affable, humble and religiously devout world champion than Nelson anywhere on the planet. Not only does she work the three jobs with a beaming smile on her face all to support her and her kids, but she also has to fit in a training regimen worthy of a champion. And she passionately credits one entity with getting her through each and every very busy and exhausting day.

“God. That’s the only answer I can give you. He makes it possible for me. He already knows who He’s made me. I’m just doing what I can do to please Him, so as long as I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and I’m taking care of my kids and I’m using the talent that He gave me, I’m hoping He’s pleased, then I’m very happy.”

When you meet Tori Nelson, who is a very youthful looking 37, you don’t automatically think “this woman is a boxer and could take me apart.” In fact, the first time I met “Sho’nuff”, she smiled that “Tori” smile, opened her arms wide and hugged me tight, like she’d known me for years. It’s that disarming yet thoroughly genuine niceness of being that strikes you first, way before you think one of her gloved fists might. And that’s the way she conducts herself in her everyday life.

“At (one of my jobs), people (would) say, ‘Why you smilin’ when people bein’ rude to you?’ I tell them, you never know what people went through before they walked through that door. They don’t mean to be takin’ it out on you, they just haven’t changed yet. Before they came in, they may have had a terrible day. so my job is, I see you have a bad day, I need to make you feel welcome, you OK, you’re loved, it don’t matter how bad you treat me. You’re OK with me. That’s how I live.”

Tori Nelson didn’t set out to be a champion boxer, she was a mother first. But she serendipitously met her manager-to-be Craig Fladager when she hit a local Virginia gym to lose baby weight, and while working the bag and her fists, he noticed the makings of something very special in her skill, attitude and determination.

 

Courtesy Jeff Riegel

“After having two kids, your body don’t look the same,” Nelson said. “I had gained a little weight, and I wanted to do something. So I went to the gym and started working out and Craig was watching me and he said, ‘What would you do if you competed?’ And I said ‘Well, I’m gonna be the world champion if I compete,’ because I always set my standards really high. He looked at me real crazy, and then the night that we won in Trinidad, he said, ‘You remember that day you came to the gym and you said you’d be world champion, you remember the look that I gave you?’ I said, ‘Yeah’ and he said ‘I have to apologize.’ He was just so excited, and he said ‘You certainly did it, and now you’re the world champion.’ I said, ‘I told you I would be!’Nelson has to work the three jobs largely to pay for the time she doesn’t work while training for her bouts, all with no substantative sponsorship or endorsement deals in place, something she and her management are working hard and would be elated to land. But it’s her role model of a mother who gives her the will and the desire to emulate by just working hard and keeping at it.

“In life, my hero is my mother,” Nelson says. “Because like me, she was a single mom, ‘cept with (four) kids, it was three boys and me. She did what she had to do to raise us. I look back now and I think, ‘I’m going in my mother’s footsteps.’ She’s a strong lady, she’s so strong, she was the best mom that anybody could ask for.”

by Neer&Far Photography 2

Her other role models are both legendary boxers with very different reputations who motivate her in different ways. “As far as a boxing hero, it’s Joe Frazier. I train like Joe Frazier, because we have the same styles. Even when I was raw, when I had just started, Craig said to me, ‘You know who you look like? Joe Frazier.’ I love the way he fights, it’s fun to him, he takes it to heart. And I love Mike Tyson, he goes full speed ahead. He and I met privately, and then for a long time I would look at the picture of him and I before I fought, and it just gave me the drive to know that if you get hurt, you get hurt, but they can’t kill you. You just go in and do what you do.”

And what do her two kids think about their mom being one of boxing’s top world champions? They differ in their support styles but both give their mom everything she needs to succeed.

“They are two different personalities — my daughter, she all for it, she loves it, my mom was actually sitting beside her (at the last fight) and she was goin’, ‘Throw the left’ and sayin’ ‘Why are you worried Granny, mommy’s gonna beat her anyway,’ she has so much faith in me. My son on the other hand is a mother’s boy, he is so sensitive, and he’ll cry or he’ll keep his head down, and once it’s over he’ll be like, ‘I knew you were gonna do it, Mom, I just didn’t want to see it.’ But they were both gym babies. They are my biggest fans. They love it.”

So Tori Nelson’s ascent into boxing’s pantheon goes on, replete with that winning smile, her deep devotion to God, and her innate kindness, at least when she’s out of the ring. And what does she want people to know most about who she really is behind the facade of a world boxing champion?

“I’m a mom just like the other moms, I do what I have to do to take care of my kids, and I’m a hard worker just like everyone else. And I’m a child of God.”  Sho’nuff.

For tickets to “An Evening Ringside” featuring Tori Nelson’s title defense, click here.

To visit Tori’s website, click here.

PETER WOLF: STILL NUTHIN’ BUT A PARTY by Steve Houk

Posted in Uncategorized on October 17, 2013 by midliferocker

Image

For many musicians, even seasoned ones, having Keith Richards and his entire family make a special effort to catch one of your gigs is a pretty stellar moment. Probably kinda hard to top.

But for Peter Wolf – legendary front man of 70’s/80’s rock & soul kings The J Geils Band, and for the last 30 years a successful solo performer — that’s a drop in the bucket. Just Stones-wise, he’s not only had Richards and his clan catch his solo show, but he’s cut tunes in the studio with Richards, including a duet with Mick Jagger, and J Geils hit the road with the Stones as their opening act on their Freeze Frame tour back in the day. But as far as being in touch with musical heavies, that’s the only the tip of the iceberg.

Even before he stepped onto a stage to sing one note, Wolf has been awash in a glow of musical luminaries that crosses the rock and roll spectrum, it’s a great story, the stuff of legends, really. How a teenager from the Bronx moved to Boston in search of a new life as an artist (I mean paintings), got woven into the burgeoning FM radio and Boston music scene, then sang a song at a party and soon became one of rock and roll’s top front men working with dozens of legends in a music career spanning decades and still going strong. It’s classic, really. Classic ROCK. 

Wolf’s early years in New York were not without some amazing education in the college of musical knowledge. Way before he actually became a rock star, he was absorbing some of the greatest music ever by living almost within earshot of the one of music’s hallowed halls. “When I was going to high school, man, it was ten blocks away from the Apollo Theater. I’d go to the Apollo every week, and I got to see all my favorite artists. It was one of those experiences that really helped me later.”

Like has been the case with many great rockers, Lennon and Bowie among others, Wolf’s journey away from home started out with the dream of being an artist with a brush, not a guitar. Oddly enough this quest would soon cross paths with another yet to be unknown superstar from another genre: film.

roommates- wolf and lynch“Painting was my first love. I was really a very dedicated artist and took many lessons, What got me up to Boston was I got a scholarship to the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, and I was hangin’ around, actually livin’ on the streets for a while, so I needed a roommate and found one, and it turned out to be David Lynch. We were sort of like ‘The Odd Couple’, David was a very neat guy and I was a slob. I had not gotten into performing music, I was only a music fan, and it was before he got involved in film, so we were both just serious art students at the time.”

With his deep love of music continuing to be his driving force, Wolf became part of the burgeoning FM radio scene in Boston, getting a jock job at WBCN, which would rise to be one of the top FM stations in the country in its heyday. But it was an unexpected moment at a college party that would morph Peter Wolf from music fan into rock star almost overnight.

wbcn2

“It happened at a party that was basically made up of art students. Sort of not unlike David Byrne and the Talking Heads, they were at [Rhode Island School of Design] and it was kinda the same deal. People at this art school I was going to would have these loft parties so I went to one, and the admission was you had to bring a jug a’ wine. So I brought a jug of wine and everyone was drinkin’, and there was this band of art students playing, and they were very much into R & B, that blues stuff that I was into. They were starting a song and no one could remember the words to the song, and I could, so I jumped up and started singing. That was the moment. We got together and from that point on, we started what became my first band which was called The Hallucinations, and the drummer (future Geils drummer Stephen Jo Bladd) and myself later went on to put together the J Geils Band.”

The Hallucinations would become a late 60’s Boston club staple and things would begin to steamroll. Wolf befriended iconic bluesman John Lee Hooker one night in his dressing room and convinced him to let Wolf’s band support them on their tour. Wolf would also befriend other blues greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Son House because his apartment was right near the Boston club they’d all play at, and he’d invite them to come back to his place given the club’s dressing room was so small. Surely one way to engrain yourself into the best that music has to offer.

1965_The_Broadside_Hallucinations_900

Meanwhile, Wolf’s new musical life would take off like a plane at Logan, and the manic onstage persona that would be part of his entire career took shape. “The Hallucinations was a band that was ahead of the curve, like a neo-punk band, before there was punk. We were all attitude, and we would jump into the audience, the guitar player would have a 60 foot cord, and he’d jump into the audience, and our first gigs were backing up John Lee Hooker, and then we started playing with bands like The Shirelles, The Kinsgmen and all those bands that were on the circuit at that time. Then we worked in an area in Boston called the Combat Zone, we would do five sets a night, and that’s where I got alot of my musical training, playing those kinda clubs. That and my earlier experiences in New York as a kid all really kinda helped me do what I ended up doing with the Geils band and with the solo band.”

The J Geils Band would record their first album in 1970 after Wolf and Bladd joined forces with guitarist Geils, and their musical imprint would begin in the shape of a searing hot rock brew of soul, blues and R & B. Stones-like but even rawer, a blend of Detroit R & B muscle and Boston rock and roll brashness, led by Wolf’s wild man frontage. Starting from those manic Geils days when you could feel the sweat pouring off the gyrating Boston Garden rafters, he has always left it all onstage and owes that to those he witnessed doing the same years before.

“Growing up as a young kid seeing people like Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis live, they were just such great showmen, and then when I went to the Apollo and witnessed people like Tommy Hunt and James Brown, you just realized that look, you can listen to a record and hear the music, but if you’re going to go out and see somebody, it was one for the money but it was two for the show, and I learned from those artists the importance of putting on a show.”

origJ Geils and Wolf would find bigtime fame from the mid 70’s to the early 80’s (he would even briefly marry actress Faye Dunaway) and would grow to play arenas and warm up the Stones, becoming a major US act. But like many of its kind, their staying power fell victim to the many claws that pull down even the great bands of the moment.

“With a band, it’s a very unique experience. As Bruce Springsteen said at one of the Hall of Fame inductions, I think when he was inducting U2, it’s easy to start a band, but real hard to keep a band. There were what we call ‘artistic differences.’ So once I found myself forced to kinda pursue a solo situation, and it wasn’t really my choice, I found that experience to be really as engaging.”

Wolf would reluctantly leave the J Geils Band to enter the solo life, and lucky for him, his innate talent and sense of what rock and roll really is has kept him vital and active for the three decades since Geils split up. He has kept his collaborative routine going strong, working with everyone from Jagger and Aretha Franklin to Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, Neko Case and Shelby Lynne. He has written songs with giants like Lamont Dozier and Will Jennings. And overall, he has embraced the solo gig with open arms.

“With the solo band it’s a lot more intimate, I think it’s a lot more personal. The Geils band was exciting and great for what it was, it’s a different kind of movie and something I got alot of artisitic pleasure from. They both have their merit, but I really enjoy the solo groupings and the solo performances because they are more intimate and I can be more personal, and connect with the audience in a more personal way which I find an interesting challenge.”

Wolf has done a couple reunion shows with Geils over the years and all seemingly went well, including the huge Boston Strong concert this year to benefit victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Those who follow Wolf or who just want to enjoy a truly special evening of kick ass reverential rock and roll are lucky: he comes to The Birchmere in Alexandria on October 28th. “I find The Birchmere to be a very special room, it’s a great atmosphere for artists that are doing what I’m doing. I find it really unique and the audience seems to be really serious about the music, they’re very respectful. And yeah, by the end of the night, we tend to rock down.”

What strikes you about Peter Wolf is that this is a man who has appreciated the innate magic of music for a long long time, and that his lifelong encounters with music royalty, as well as his own illustrious 50-plus year music career, has all been something that was meant to be. It’s refreshing knowing that a rock and roll mainstay like Wolf appreciates all that music has been and will be, and can point to his own experiences to tell the tale.

But I had to ask him, after crossing paths and working with so many of music’s true legends, who’s left as far as Wolf’s musical idols?

“Well, Steve, if I was to answer that question, I think we’d be talking for three and half more hours. Between the people I admire so much in the jazz world, or the country world, or in the rockabilly world, and in the rock world, even in the classical world, there are just so many great artists that have affected me, from Hank Williams to Elvis, to the great singers and songwriters from Johnny Ace to Jackie Wilson, Van Morrison….that’s a tough question. That’s one I’m gonna have to take the Fifth Amendment on.”

For tickets to Peter Wolf at the Birchmere, click here

HE’S OURS, BUT HE’S THEIRS TOO by Steve Houk

Posted in Uncategorized on September 19, 2013 by midliferocker

Image

Bruce Springsteen, to his very deepest core, is wholly American. Raised in New Jersey and brought up writing his miraculous songs nestled in the bosom of the American landscape, the majority of his musical canon is steeped in images of America, in all its glory, its suffering, its struggles, its hopes and dreams. Sure, he’s conquered the world for decades and is an adopted champion of those around the globe as well, but to many stateside, he remains largely our American hero.

But in the last month, the man who was Born In The USA has struck a stunningly intimate and genuinely touching chord in two places where suffering has been an almost daily occurrence on and off for decades: Chile and Argentina.  War, torture, oppression, strife and death have been the way of the world in these countries in ways most Americans cannot even fathom. And this fact is clearly not lost on Springsteen, who deeply touched the hearts of those in these two countries, and also of those hopefully around the world, over the last week by presenting two songs that one would typically never hear in a rock concert setting, or perhaps ever, really, unless perhaps you grew up in one of these countries. But then again, Springsteen often does things most rock stars would not typically do.

In Santiago, Chile last week, Springsteen and his beloved E Street Band kicked off the final leg of their epic Wrecking Ball tour, it was his first stop in South America since his appearance on the Amnesty International tour in 1988. In returning to the stage for his encores, he paused, and then said this: “In 1988, we played for Amnesty International in Mendoza, Argentina, but Chile was in our hearts, We met many families of desaparecidos, that had pictures of their loved ones. It was a moment that stays with me forever. A political musician, Victor Jara, remains a great inspiration. It’s a gift to be here and I take it with humbleness.” Springsteen then, yes very humbly, played a stunningly beautiful version of “Manifiesto”, one of the last songs Jara, who was tortured and killed after the coup there, wrote before his death.

Two days later in Buenos Aires, Springsteen had intended to honor the political heroes of Argentina as well by playing “Solo Le Pido a Dios”, a song by Argentine folk-rocker Leon Gieco that Springsteen had learned from the late folk singer Mercedes Sosa. But being so sapped of energy after another almost three hour show, he could not, as he put it, “do it justice”, so he recorded the song the next day an posted it to his website.

“My memories of that time are still very much alive,” he said in Spanish, according to a translation posted by AP. “We came to Argentina when the country was going through a difficult time, and fighting for its future. For a foreigner, Argentina was very much alive, promising. So it’s a huge inspiration for me to return here, and I want to leave this song to the people of Argentina.” After singing first in Spanish, he switched to English on a song that Gieco wrote in 1978 in protest of the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976-83.

The sheer profound intimacy and tragic yet hopeful beauty of these two songs would be strongly felt if sung by folk singers in either of these two countries on a street corner, balcony or cafe. But the fact that a superstar like Springsteen, who can take his pick from not only hundreds of his own songs but thousands of songs from songwriters across the world, chose these two strikingly powerful songs to honor these two countries, piercingly illustrates the kind of musician, the kind of artist, the kind of MAN that he is.  That he would choose to sing these songs, thereby putting them out virally just because it’s he who sang them and thus reintroducing the world to the past plights, the current struggles, the unforgettable challenges of these two countries and their millions of people, is, well, at the very least poignant and astonishing, and at the very most, deeply profound and important.

For years, Springsteen has gotten guff for expounding his political beliefs from his bully pulpit, and along with fellow courageous mindspeakers like Natalie Maines, Eddie Vedder and others has often received the “Shut Up and Sing” chorus from even some of his die-hard fans. But no one can possibly argue, dispute or debate the genuine and deeply caring gesture that singing these two deeply important songs at this time in these country’s histories is. Maybe, just maybe, people will take another look at the struggles of the Chilean and Argentinean peoples and find even more incredibly touching expressions, perhaps in song, in poetry, in art, or in journalism, that will remind the world of their struggles, and maybe it will open new dialogs about how to avoid such catastrophic oppression for future generations. We can only hope.

Oh, and after he played Jara’s song in Chile, Springsteen and the E Street Band erupted into a stunning version of “We Are Alive”, a song from “Wrecking Ball” that honors Americans who have died amidst struggles of their own. Man oh man.

Yes, world, it may feel to us Americans like he’s ours, but you clearly have a very big part of him, too.

THE BALLAD OF HENRY PAUL by Steve Houk

Posted in Uncategorized on August 18, 2013 by midliferocker

Image

It seems that in the annals of Southern rock, the story very often goes like this: wild and crazy times growing up, scraping to make the music work, hitting it big for a while, and then either tragedy strikes or the light burns out in place of another genre’s rise — at least that’s the way it often seems to go.

It’s happened with the best of them: the great Lynyrd Skynyrd — plane crash at the height of their fame — still plays today albeit with one original member as the rest have all passed, the Marshall Tucker Band — beloved founding bassist dies and band begins to fade — are playing county fairs and small clubs, and even the Allman Brothers had their share of double tragedy in the early 70’s — the motorcycle deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley — but after some up and down times, they’ve managed to stay the course and are selling out shows today, a true rarity to be sure amidst the many Southern rock fables.

In many ways, The Outlaws have lived that bittersweet story, too. Born out of Tampa, Florida, they recorded one of the greatest FM radio rock epics, “Green Grass and High Tides”, saw their fame rise to arena-size in the mid-late 70’s, then like many of their Southern brethren, faded out of the spotlight into relative oblivion, lost some members to drugs, only to see a glimmer of fame return as the baby boomers grew up and yearned for the music that made them feel young again.

Like a character in an old Western tale, Henry Paul was smack dab in the middle of that Southern rock lore with The Outlaws, and the ups and downs he experienced — making it big, getting kicked out of the band he helped make successful, charting a new musical course, and then mending fences and rejoining the Outlaws three different times — well, it’s the stuff of good ol’ rock and roll stories around the fire with a bottle of Jack.

But Paul’s story is unlike many of the other wild-eyed Southern boy tales that are commonplace with Southern rock bands. For one, he was born in upstate Kingston, New York, and instead of idolizing Hendrix and Clapton like many of the other Southern rock boys, Paul had another icon as his main influence.

“Bob Dylan was everything to me, I was one of those nut cases that absolutely flipped over his work”, said the open and amicable 63 year-old Paul during our very candid 45 minute interview in advance of The Outlaws August 31st show at the Birchmere. “Back in the day, seeing Bob Dylan in Kingston at the Pool Hall was like the second coming of Christ. And we worked at this farm owned by an Italian guy, it was oh 70 acres, they also had a roadside stand by the Thruway exit, and it turned out to be the subject of (Dylan’s classic) ‘Maggie’s Farm’, so in some crazy ass way, I worked at ‘Maggie’s Farm.’ “

Paul left the rural confines of New York State when his parents were divorced and would end up, yep, right in the middle of Southern rock territory when the family moved to Florida, but his zest for folk music remained, and he wouldn’t stay in Florida long.

“I was never in bands or anything in high school, I was more of a folk singer. There was a coffeehouse over in St Pete and I’d hang around and go up on stage and sing a couple songs. It was a famous coffee house, Jim Morrison had performed there when he was in junior college in the area, (folk icon) Eric Von Schmidt was a sort of an in-house celebrity there. But going back up to New York for me was kind of my stepping stone, I knew I was gonna be a singer some way around, so I said I’m gonna move to New York, I’m gonna get a place downtown, I’m gonna play the clubs. I did play venues like the Gaslight and Folk City, you know, just hung around there, and met people and starved, and ya know, spent a couple years in the city.”

Then a move back down South would change Henry Paul’s career forever, as he found a calling in a way he really never expected.

paul 8

“Eventually, an opportunity took me to Tampa in 1971. I put a band together, it was funny, I’d never been in a band but I kinda wanted to be in one. Sienna was born out of the Poco and Flying Burrito Brothers kind of thing. But it’s funny, I had never really performed in front of a live audience, so we played this place called The Armory in Tampa one evening and I stepped out in front of 1500-2000 people, and the light came on and the seas parted, and the rest was history. I was really good at being up there, my personality with the audience, it was just like, wow.”

Paul’s first band Sienna would soon begin to disintegrate with people leaving for other pastures. Fate would play it’s hand now — Sienna members Monte Yoho and Frank O’Keefe were in a high school band years before with this local guy, Hughie Thomasson, who like Paul, had also fled to New York on a quest to try his hand after his own musical forays fizzled in the late 60’s. But feeling homesick and broke, Thomasson drove back home to Tampa, and with no band to work with, was recruited by Yoho, O’Keefe and Paul and the Outlaws were “reborn.”

Original Outlaws (L-R) Billy Jones, Monte Yoho, Hughie Thomasson, Frank O' Keefe and Henry Paul (courtesy Henry Paul.com)

Original Outlaws (L-R) Billy Jones, Monte Yoho, Hughie Thomasson, Frank O’ Keefe and Henry Paul (courtesy Henry Paul.com)

“The logical thing to do was to bring Hughie into the band, and Hughie, Frank and Monte and I went out as Sienna for while, but Hughie and Monte and Frank had been in a high school band called The Outlaws so we said ‘maybe we’ll get more work with this name’, so we changed the name. Hughie wanted his friend Billy Jones in the band, so he called Billy and he loaded up his s—t out in Colorado and came down too.”

The die of what would be the most successful machination of The Outlaws was cast, a then-unique blend of country and rock that would err on the harder side but always retain that countryish tinge. They set out to play the local clubs as largely a cover band in suburban Tampa. But it’s the original material they would create that would be what would truly kick start their steady rise to fame.

“We had sort of an eclectic playlist of cover material, songs from artists who we loved like Badfinger, America, The Eagles, Dickey Betts, Eric Clapton, and we wrote songs and mixed our songs in. And eventually we just kept developing and writing and reaching a larger audience at home, the band grew into probably the most popular local band. And that sort of propelled us regionally, and then a few of the right people saw the group and got excited about it. It was really (Lynyrd Skynyrd front man) Ronnie Van Zant telling his manager Alan Walden, and Alan telling (Rolling Stones tour manager) Peter Rudge, who told the head of A & R at Arista. I mean I think Arista wanted a Southern Rock band ‘cause everybody had one. So this Arista guy flew down to see us at the Sportatorium, a dirt floor, metal roof concert hall, and by that time we had a really damn good band and were operating on that ol’ energy and we had some good songs, and he went back and said ‘this band’s f—ing great.’ So (Arista chief) Clive Davis came down to see us play and signed us then.”

The brotherhood of the Southern rock bands would be in full force at that time, Van Zant’s “promotion” of The Outlaws being one example of the kinship these bands have always felt towards each other.

“It was real, and it was very geo-political, social, the Confederate flag…pre-racist connotation…just rebel rock, and the Allman Brothers with all their tattoos and s—t, we were just trying to be them. Everybody was just musically tied…Marshall Tucker, their original band was like, whew. And for our audience, it was novelty of sorts, and it was sociological, I think the Confederate flag, the schtick with the whiskey, kids kind of gravitated towards the rebel persona, it just came down to timing with cowboy hats and boots, it was just a moment.”

The Outlaws pre-show as they begin their rise (courtesy Henry Paul.com)

The Outlaws pre-show as they begin their rise (courtesy Henry Paul.com)

Clive Davis called them “the first full tilt rock band signed to Arista” and The Outlaws would go on to write some of Southern Rock’s most classic compositions, with the songwriting being shared amongst the members. As Paul tells it, “Billy was kinda like the Neil Young of the band with his tragic lyrics and high voice, Hughie was the Stephen Stills with his odd but attractive vocals and he wrote some freakin’ great songs like ‘Breaker Breaker’ and my favorite, ‘Hurry Sundown.’ We were trying to write in character, some of my compositions like ‘Girl From Ohio’, they had a very poetic quality to ‘em that was uniquely my own.”

In 1977, after FM radio, album and touring success had found it’s way to the band, Henry Paul’s time as an Outlaw would come to an end. And it’s not something he really expected or wanted to happen, leaving a hot band on the way up. Paul is not shy about his feelings toward being asked to leave a band that he helped grow into a Southern Rock force, and speaks deeply and openly about the experience.

“I was forced out of the band so to speak, by Hughie and Billy, and of course I was crushed. I was very, very, very, very hurt, it was devastating because I’d put so much in to it. Ya know, there were so many reasons for any of us to be expelled from ‘school’ (laughs), the liquor and the women, and the whole rock and roll trap, but I think my control issues with the band, my personality, being the front man, I was very ambitious that way, I always took the responsibility of doing interviews and going to radio stations, putting a face on the band, and I think they may have been, ya know, a little bit beaten down by some of it. I think then after I left, the band sort of unfortunately lost some of it’s musical direction, the band became more hard to define. All the fans that were accustomed to me being there were a little bit vocal about me not being there. I think it was a lot more damaging than anyone knew. I think if we all were a little bit smarter we woulda found out a way to communicate better. I think we were operating on the premise that it was about me.”

“When a band goes from becoming a struggling club act to a more recognizable national musical entity, fame and fortune have a way of contaminating the experience of any band. It’s a very shopworn story that I think that the Outlaws fell victim to. I wish we had known more about how to communicate with one another rather than build up resentments and overreact. But I love those guys and have a deep respect and admiration for ‘em.”

Paul would shake off the pain of the breakup from the Outlaws and form The Henry Paul Band in 1979, calling it “an answer to the notion that I wasn’t needed.” After finding moderate success with his debut Grey Ghost, the title song dedicated to his late buddy Van Zant, he went on to record a couple more albums with the band before breaking it up in 1983 and reuniting with Thomasson in the Outlaws, cutting an album, Soldiers of Fortune, and staying together until 1989.

“Fans embraced the idea, whatever was left of the whole musical phenomena, they embraced Hughie and I being back together in a band. It had gone from playing the Capitol Theater to playing a club, so it wasn’t very glamorous but it was certainly rewarding to me to kinda come back to the band, I felt a little bit, ya know, sort of, vindicated. We messed around and played and cut a record, it was kind of an odd awkward record of us trying to fit into the 80’s MTV musical landscape, it never caught on, but I had a great time playing with Hughie in clubs in the 80’s.”

After parting ways with Thomasson again, Paul would head to Nashville, rekindle his fortunes with Arista records, and form the more countrified rock band Blackhawk in 1991, where he’d find success again with the self-titled debut going multi-platinum. Paul laughs when talking about his days in Nashville feeling his oats that had ties to his Southern rock hey day, but also had another path in mind that would vindicate him once again.

Image

“When I got there, even at 42, I had a youthful personality and look, and a lot of energy, and I was always out at night in town with my little rebel jacket and some cute little girl, just being a womanizing piece of s—t Southern rock star. The Arista rep there said he wanted to sign me, he liked my voice, he knew what I was about, and wanted me on his label. I was like ‘F—in’ a.’ So we went into the studio and cut a multi-platinum album, and wow, talk about exonerated.”

As Paul was finding new success with Blackhawk, he saw his old pal Thomasson’s Outlaws “flaming out” in the clubs, but was elated when Thomasson was asked to join Lynyrd Skynyrd, another Southern rock band trying to hang on to the glory days.

“I was really happy when Hughie got into Lynyrd Skynyrd, I knew that he needed to get out of that downwardly spiraling rut. I thought it saved him. Otherwise that was the end, the end of ends, there was no coming back. I thought the real Skynyrd band was the original band really, but this was good band, a good cover band and I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but a good band, and for the fans that maybe missed it, and came a little later, or still loved it and wanted what they wanted, it was a very respectable evening of music. And it was great seeing Hughie find success again.”

The reunited Outlaws in 2005 including Thomasson (in hat) next to Paul (courtesy Henry Paul.com)

The reunited Outlaws in 2005 including Thomasson (in hat) next to Paul (courtesy Henry Paul.com)

But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, like many other Southern rock fables before them, The Outlaws wouldn’t die, and in 2005, Paul was asked to do a 30th anniversary Outlaws tour with Hughie and Monte, as well as another former Outlaw from the 70’s David Dix, to which he accepted. Some of the old magic surfaced to be sure, but so did some of the nagging issues.

“I kinda split my year between The Outlaws and Blackhawk. I’d lost my founding Blackhawk member Van to cancer, so The Outlaws was kinda of a fun distraction. Then eventually there some kinda old, longstanding problems, it wasn’t a fun year, it was exciting to be on stage with Hughie and Monte again, and see and hear and feel what that was, but I’d come a long way with some, well, lifestyle issues, and it was a little bit wild and wooly for my taste. And I had gone in telling Hughie we should write some songs and do a new Outlaws record, and then out of the clear blue I heard through the grapevine that some studio time had been reserved and ‘some people’ weren’t invited, and I was like, ‘You got to be f—ing kidding me.’ So I finished out the year, it was largely my band and my crew and no one was having that much fun.”

Thomasson would stay with The Outlaws through 2006 and would pass away from a heart attack in 2007. Even though he knew about Thomasson’s penchant for the wild life, Paul was stunned at his old friend’s death.

“Old habits die hard, but I was shocked. Monte called me around 2 in the morning and said, ‘Hughie died tonight at around eleven o’clock.’ And I said, ‘You’re…kidding.’ So not long after, Monte and I decided we were gonna put the band back together, but we hit some legal turbulence and that was extremely disturbing. I got drug down this long winding expensive legal road, cost me hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we got it done. I mean, man, I was hoping to reignite the fan base and see if The Outlaws could go another decade, that’s all. We released what I think’s a pretty good record, It’s About Pride, in September of last year.”

The latest Outlaws incarnation brings it back alive (courtesy rocklegendscruise.com)

The latest Outlaws incarnation brings it back alive (courtesy rocklegendscruise.com)

Paul continues to do double duty with The Outlaws and Blackhawk to this day and feels that he and old buddy Monte Yoho have managed to keep The Outlaws fire aflame with dignity and respect to the past.

“Our band is tight, and Monte and I are very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish with [The Outlaws], and we’ve kept the professionalism and level of musical play at a very high level. We miss Hughie, and we miss Billy, and we miss Frank, but they went on a long journey to another place.”

AND YES AND I

Posted in Uncategorized on August 5, 2013 by midliferocker

yes logo 2

Dateline Wilton Connecticut. Around 1975 or 6. They were one of those bands that if you heard them at a party, or maybe driving around in the car, they’d make you  stop and think, “Wow, that’s some wild s–t.” Whatever song of theirs that you heard, it was this “new music” with a “new sound” that was a constant staple at parties and everywhere else in our midst back in the mid-late 70’s. It was music that rocked hard but had this different thought and depth to it. Plus they had this wild logo that was all connected. The music…the art…the feel…it was all…Yes.

Yes would become more a part of my life with their 1977 Going For The One record, the first ‘new’ Yes album I ever bought, one of my all time headphone faves, it would become a staple of my burgeoning early prog rock fandom. The songs Wondrous Stories and Awaken from that record were masterpieces to me, and they would end up being standard throw-on-the-headphones-after-coming-home-from-a-party songs that to this day still make me feel a bit “elevated” when I hear them. Yep, hearing Yes meant something grand, it meant discovery, wonder, and oh yeah, it meant another way to enjoy some really kick ass rock and roll.

Yes was different enough to stand out from the other rock music that I had become so enamored with in the 70’s and early 80’s, including the full blitz of Southern rock bands plus the Dead, the Eagles, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin & Aerosmith, and then of course in 1978, Springsteen and then soon after, U2.  But I really found this thing called “progressive rock” pretty cool, pretty exciting, new, and even fascinating. I kinda liked the deeper more fantasy-invoking orchestral arrangements and elaborate compositions, the cosmic lyrics, the almost interplanetary feel, not to mention the jaw-dropping musical virtuosity. Because even though their music was something that felt a bit more complicated than what I was used to, it was still firmly steeped in the rock and roll stew. Same happened with fellow prog-rock leviathans Genesis and Peter Gabriel, my dear friend Todd Jones would be instrumental (pun intended!) in converting me into an educated fan of all of these incredible proggers that I just hadn’t been exposed to yet. Though I never gave up the harder rock foothold, I was able to allow this progressive stuff in just far enough to let it seep into my psyche where this music still resides.

yestival-logo

So attending the first annual Yestival right outside of Philadelphia this past weekend (with that same Todd Jones) was not only a great chance to see Yes live and harken back to those formative years with an old friend, but to also experience the music of some of progressive rock’s other legends, whether done by the artists themselves or by worthy imitators. And a bountiful feast it was: we gleefully dined on a sumptuous endless prog rock buffet and came away belly full, soul satisfied and ultimately elated, thanks to both expected treats and mindblowing surprises.

Captivating drummer Danny Carey (formerly of Tool) rocks with Volto.  (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www. LiveshotsPhotography.com)

Captivating drummer Danny Carey (formerly of Tool) rocks with Volto. (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www. LiveshotsPhotography.com)

The first band we would imbibe at our prog rock repast was Volto, the LA based power proggers featuring drummer Danny Carey from alternative metal band Tool. Guitarist John Ziegler carved a wide presence, not only due to his seated Victor Buono-esque bulk but much moreso for his tasty prog rock licks and high-end technique that were a joy to watch. Surprise #1?

Exceptional Volto guitarist John Ziegler tears into a solo (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

Exceptional Volto guitarist John Ziegler tears into a solo (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

The absolute highlight of Volto’s set, and a major highlight of the entire day, was an almost twenty minute version  of Led Zeppelin’s epic No Quarter which started, oh, five or ten seconds after we sat down. The keyboards were vintage John Paul Jones, and their version featured a mesmerizing wafting middle section that went far away…and then ultimately returned as No Quarter’s main melody. Just a stunning and unexpected cover, and I told Ziegler just that when I met him (surprise #2!) by chance out on the concourse afterwards. “Was it OK?” he asked humbly.  “OK???” I said, “Dude, we happened to be listening to Zeppelin’s version from Celebration Day on the way here, and you you…just killed it!”  “Thanks so much, that means alot”, Ziegler said smiling. What a nice way to start this concert experience, with one of my very favorite live tunes and then a band member hello.

Carl Palmer drumming away at the Yestival with his ELP Legacy Band (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

Carl Palmer drumming away at the Yestival with his ELP Legacy Band (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

Next up was legendary ELP drummer Carl Palmer along with his stellar ELP Legacy band, playing a short set high on classical music melodies and seemingly perfect for the good amount of ELP fans in attendance.  There was obviously no Lucky Man or From the Beginning, two ELP vocal standards sung by Greg Lake, but on his formidable drum set with “Carl” on one drum and “Palmer” on the other in big red letters, Palmer brought forth over and over a thundering instrumental blitz punctuated by his still powerful playing and a superb band, featuring guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and bassist Simon Fitzpatrick. Karn Evil 9 Pt 2 was the major bone thrown to the ELP crowd, yet the overtly classical music overtones of Pictures At An Exhibition and Fanfare For The Common Man reminded the crowd that ELP’s high place in the annals of this genre was one part hard rock and one part classical music, a feeling Palmer evoked throughout his strong set.

Renaissance's Annie Haslam soars at the 2013 Yestival  (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

Renaissance’s Annie Haslam soars at the 2013 Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

After a walk back for a pit stop and a truly obscenely priced beer (shocker), it was time for Annie’s Song. Annie Haslam has always been a beloved figure in prog rock circles and she brought the most recent version of her 70’s band Renaissance to the Yestival and received a warm and sustained response. Haslam has had to go it alone after the 2012 death of her longtime bandmate and fellow Renaissance rejuvenator Michael Hunsford (whom I interviewed the year before his death, true gentleman), yet this current machination does justice to the sweeping melodies accompanied by Haslam’s capable if not a bit shrill vocals (time will sometimes do that). But judging by the adoring response from the AnnieHeads in the audience,  Ms. Haslam did the Renaissance canon — and the memory of dear friend Hunsford —  just right. Sad smiley face here: They didn’t play the only Renaissance song I know — a beautiful Haslam tour de force called Carpet Of The Sun that college friend Ron Swirson seemed to play every time I came to his dorm room – but it was still a sweet satisfying foray into Annie’s World, and her own renaissance of sorts.

The Musical Box' Peter Gabriel doppelganger at the Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

The Musical Box’ Peter Gabriel doppelganger at the Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

“Good evening” was what we next heard out of the dark, and this simmering cauldron of a prog rock crowd was then magically transported back to the formative years of progressive rock giants Genesis, courtesy of a band many call the best Genesis tribute band on the planet, the French ensemble The Musical Box. This band is successful for several reasons — they totally nail the costumes, the set design, the feel of early Genesis as well as the complicated musical compositions the early band was so well known for. But they are resoundingly who they are thanks to exquisite Gabriel doppelganger Denis Gagne who stunningly and perfectly conjures up the notoriously strange and cosmic lead singer with an exactness and flair that many Genesis fans feel is frighteningly dead on to the original Gabriel, even replete with that Hitchcockesque intro: “Good evening.”

The Musical Box performs classic Genesis at the 2013 Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotProductions.com)

The Musical Box performs classic Genesis at the 2013 Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotProductions.com)

On a stage that die hard fans knew was made to almost exactly resemble the stage setup from the 1973 “Foxtrot” tour, down to the white curtained backdrop, the white covering on the keyboards, down to the seated position of the band’s “Steve Hackett” guitarist Francois Gagnon, the band began with Foxtrot’s opening number Watcher Of The Skies and immediately recreated the band so perfectly that you really did feel like you were somehow back there seeing the real thing. But in a night that would be full of surprises (here’s #3!), instead of covering the entire “Foxtrot” record as advertised, The Musical Box then launched into, fittingly, The Musical Box from 1971’s “Nursery Cryme.” Gagne continued to replicate Gabriel’s every gesture, every note and every move as the band roared back into the “Foxtrot” album with Get ‘Em Out By Friday and then one of Genesis’ most epic creations, the phenomenal Supper’s Ready. Replete with painted white face and black clothes, Gagne alternately donned a full orange flower headdress and then later a geometric box mask & cape as the band soared through these tunes, ending with “Nursery Cryme’s” The Return of the Giant Hogweed. By the time this magnificent retro Genesis set was over, you had forgotten this was a cover band, you felt like you were back in the days of Rael, dancing with the moonlight knight on the firth of fifth, all the while selling England by the pound. Well done, gentlemen.

Roger Dean's Yes 'Relayer' cover.

Roger Dean’s Yes ‘Relayer’ cover.

Artistic interlude: Quick run to the concourse and who’s sitting out there but brilliant artist Roger Dean, signing copies of his works. I stood and just watched him sign his name, knowing that hand had drawn some of the most exquisite album art of all time including so many stunning Yes covers. Nice sighting.

yes-close-to-the-edge

OK, we ‘re back just in time. as Yes triumphantly takes the stage, arguably the most successful progressive rock band in history (if you take away the stratospheric later years of the Phil Collins’ driven Genesis) ready to embark on an advertised set list that would cover two of Yes’ earliest and most classic records in their entireties: first, “Close To The Edge” (1973) followed by “The Yes Album” (1971). The band surged into the 18 minute title cut with all engines at full speed, and you knew that after about 6 hours of hearing other glimpses of the genre, the real kings had arrived. There are only three songs on “Close To The Edge” and all three were flawless, with the gorgeous (and yes, tear invoking, I admit it) And You And I coming next, opening with the incredible Steve Howe’s plaintive acoustic notes, then the 6 plunks of  Chris Squires’ bass, the one note tinkle of the triangle, and you’re in for the song’s 10 minutes of heaven. It was amazing, a letter perfect version. “Close To The Edge” finished with the churning and soaring Siberian Khatru, the album’s shortest tune at almost nine minutes but not coming up short in any other way. band members traded licks and reminded this tired but elated crowd why this was called the Yestival.

Steve Howe showing his genius at the 2013 Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 www.LiveShotProductions.com)

Steve Howe showing his genius at the 2013 Yestival (courtesy Buster Harvey (c) 2013 http://www.LiveShotsPhotography.com)

Next was the evening’s most incredible and truly unexpected surprise (#4!): After a brief greeting by Squire, he passed the night’s big secret on to Howe to reveal, and the 66 year old guitar man promptly announced that tonight the band would be playing THREE albums in their entirety, not just the aforementioned two. Whaattt? Are you kidding me? Just then the band launched into the gloriously manic opening guitar strains of…yep, that first album I bought in 1977 – Going For The One. We were totally floored, not only would we get the entire two hugely influential early Yes records, but sandwiched in the middle would be that album from our truly formative years, the one that shouts Wilton youth, from over three decades ago. “I’ve never heard them…do this…live”, Todd muttered as the band blasted through the title cut. Turn Of The Century would be next, another concert rarity, followed by the churchlike organ strains and bass riffs of the powerful Squire-penned Parallels, which ends abruptly and knocks the breath out of you.

yes going

Picking ourselves off the floor, the show would take an intimate turn with the gorgeous Wondrous Stories, perhaps Yes’ most beautiful song if you could isolate one out of so many of their other beautiful songs. It is necessary to mention that here, as he did all night, lead singer Jon Davison was truly masterful at recreating Jon Anderson’s soaring vocals, reaching the highest highs and really nailing the necessary notes from beginning to end.  But especially on an Anderson gem like Wondrous Stories, Davison joyfully gave Yes fans that unforgettable voice that is so necessary in order to carry on the Yes mantel.

Next up is that song I mentioned earlier that was my high school post party headphones crash song extraordinaire, Awaken. A song as engrained into my brain than almost any other.  I had seen Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman do the song live a couple years ago in their solo tour together and that was an amazing surprise too, but this full band version would be beyond belief, starting with the familiar cascading piano of (Rick Wakeman via) Geoff Downes, and off we went, 15 exquisite minutes of Awaken. My favorite and most nostalgic moment of the entire day. It was so dead on to the LP version I had heard so many times in those clunky headphones up in my room falling asleep, that I swear I could smell the fireplace in Wilton which would always pervade my room with the scent of its smoky embers. No, I was in New Jersey 35 years later with 10 thousand other people, but I was also home again, it was a feeling music never fails to provide.

The Yes Album

As if that wasn’t enough — I mean we were speechless — the band then catapulted into the unmistakable power chords of Yours Is No Disgrace, and wham, we were in to the third Yes album of the night, “The Yes Album.” After Disgrace’s ten minute barnburner, with the always great refrain “silly human, silly human race”, Steve Howe would take a solo turn on the album’s second cut Clap, the acoustic guitar ode he wrote many moons ago when his son Dylan was born. From there, a Yes tour de force, as they steamed through the incredible Starship Trooper (the song that the DJ before me on my shift at the University of Hartford’s rock station would play as his last song every time), then FM radio staple I’ve Seen All Good People, followed by the concert rarity The Venture, and then wrapping up this unprecedented three album tornado (or Tormato) with the thundering Perpetual Change. It was an unbelievable cross section of Yes’ masterful music all performed exceptionally live in front of a captive and adoring prog lovers crowd. Balloons fell from the ceiling as the band churned through the encore, their most recognizable and most popular tune, Roundabout from 1971’s “Fragile.”  The band was clearly elated at this very special three-album plus Roundabout night, joyously kicking the balloons back out to the crowd and smiling their big 70 year old grins.

Epilogue: In almost poetic perfection, on a small side stage outside between acts, we were able to catch some of the incredible School Of Rock All Stars, about 20 music students from the well known rock school, and yes, there is hope for the future. These truly gifted talented, rock-in-your-soul kids nailed song after song out there, interchanging band members flawlessly and mixing it up perfectly. There were cheers for Zep’s Since I’ve Been Loving You, Zappa’s Joe’s Garage, Edie’s What I Am, The Who’s Long Live Rock & more...and yes, (pun also intended), a true to the record version of what else, Yes’ Long Distance Runaround. It really reinforced that there are young vibrant kids out there living to play rock and roll, they only need the chance to get up there and do it. And hey, these kids just may have a festival named after them some day, like those grey haired marvels on the main stage.

It was one for the ages, the rock of ages. Time to go throw on Going For The One and grab the ol’ headphones. For ol’ times sake. Or new. Your move.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.