Category Archives: Music

Some Fascinating Music History I Wrote About For Billboard Magazine

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The following story is of historical note, especially for music fans. Some of the lore has been forgotten in the intervening years. I wasn’t always an Eagles fan, but hearing this story when I was younger made me appreciate them much more. I wrote a polished version of this bit of musical history for Billboard magazine in 2008.The 1998 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. For many fans, it was the culmination of years of hard work to get the band The Eagles recognized for its influential body of work. The band member’s infighting had delayed their induction. Fleetwood Mac and The Mamas and the Papas were also inducted with The Eagles. The Eagles had several hits which were going to be covered during the ceremony: Hotel California, Life In the Fast Lane, Take It Easy, New Kid in Town, and a couple of others.

The ceremony itself is quite the spectacle. Many of the artists spent several days in New York before the event. The record labels and the Hall of Fame made an effort to ensure that the paparazzi and the artists alike enjoyed themselves and treated it like a vacation.

During the 1998 trip, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts attended the festivities. Both were huge fans of not only The Eagles but also The Mama and The Papas. Don Knotts also enjoyed Santana. They had arranged to attend the ceremony and the pre-induction activities in costume from their roles on The Andy Griffith Show. Don Henley and Glenn Frey were both huge fans of the popular show. They had even unofficially re-recorded the theme song for Don and Andy and planned to give it to them as a surprise.

Due to the complexities of keeping some of the members of The Eagles separated, there were times in which Don Henley and Glenn Frey were the only members accepting the offers of being tourists in New York. Santana arranged to have an entire bowling alley available to anyone interested in knocking over some pins the night before the induction ceremony. Naturally, Don Knotts and Andry Griffith accepted. With a little prodding, Don Henley and Glenn Frey agreed to go, provided that the old-timers agreed to don their television costumes for the event. Surprisingly, Andy and Don good-naturedly agreed.

On the night of the event, a huge party bus arrived at the service entrance of the Waldorf. Santana, Don, Glenn, Andy, and a couple of other honorees climbed aboard the bus. They opened a bottle of champagne in celebration. Don Knotts was having a little trouble with his new hearing aid. Santana kept teasing him about shouting.

They arrived at the bowling alley, laughing and singing old melodies. After they went inside, they were surprised to discover that all 36 lanes were theirs. Only one member of the press was allowed to be there, and she had agreed that it was entirely off the record. Don Knotts, in his role as Barney Fife, pretended to wave his fake pistol in the air each time someone teased him about his hearing problem.

To warm up, Don Henley suggested that they throw a few balls randomly down the lanes to get a feel for throwing the ball. Glenn Frey laughed at this, as he was a renowned bowler and loved playing for money. Don Knotts was a little embarrassed about how badly he would throw the ball, so he walked the entire length of the cavernous bowling alley to use the last lane. “Holler when you all are ready to get down to business,” he told them. Glenn, always a quick wit, replied, “Just fire a warning shot when you’re ready.” Everyone laughed.

Glenn and Don took turns hurling the ball down the alley. Both were competitively eyeing one another. Santana stepped up and asked them, “Do you hear that?” They listened for a second. After hearing nothing, they continued throwing the ball. As they continued throwing the balls down the lane, they heard a couple of shouts.

All of them froze, certain they could hear someone shouting.

Andy stood up, smiling his huge smile that everyone loved.

“Ignore him. It’s Barney. I mean, Don.”

He paused, taking a moment to look directly at Don Henley and then Glenn Fry, his smile growing even wider.

“That’s just Fife In The Last Lane.”
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A Reverie For Then

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In a nearby cavernous auditorium, perchance in another cosmos, voices rose and fell, each youthfully jockeying for position. The camaraderie of teamwork still lit each of their souls in excitement. Youth is a fuse which can be subdued only with great effort. Its exuberance is a trumpet’s undeniable fanfare.

I could hazily sense the subtle vibrancy of life percolating through the concrete walls as I sat on the right end of a worn wooden piano bench in the chorus room, a place I seldom ventured. My own voice was broken and even in the moments that I might have something to herald, doubt dutifully clamped my lips. Caged birds seldom discover their voices.

The lights were dim about us. I sat in awe, next to a transcendent creature whose humble mastery of those eighty-eight keys hypnotized me. Her long, nimble fingers playfully and effortlessly waltzed across the keyboard. She smiled at me, in part in the simple pleasure of sharing music she had created and in part from the delight she noted written on my face. If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, I’m unsure how to compare fathomless wonderment.

It’s a simple satisfaction of life to share a moment with another soul, one which transcends personality and place. Everything extraneous falls away, leaving people to face one another. The overlap of engagement is the subtlest of all possible harmonies. If the metronome of the universe finds the perfect synchronization, each person walks lightly and without recognition that their guards have yielded.

She continued to play as I sat, mute, imagining that I could see the notes float from the opened piano into the spectral air. Absent the vocabulary to express it, I realize now that I was living one of my first moments of bittersweet experience.

After a few sustained minutes, the tumult from the nearby hall spilled out and someone entered our shared sanctuary of the chorus room. The spell was broken as her devout hands moved away from their natural home above the ivories. She instinctively knew that the interloper had ruptured whatever interlude we had experienced. The notes which were magically suspended in the air dissolved and fell to the floor.

She and I smiled at one another – and for a breathless moment, I was rendered floorless.

I returned to my bestial life, one whose existence was the antithesis of that shared melodic moment. That the savagery of my separate life had suffered a momentary rest deepened its claw into my soul. I had managed to peer out the smudged window of my life for a moment.

As the years bury their minute-filled corpses in the past, I am able to sporadically recapture those minutes of rapture, listening. Out of time, out of place, she sits unhurriedly beside me, sharing the gift of presence and music. That moment resides forever in an absent place. In other moments of fanciful experience, I can feel its vacancy beckoning me, though I know it will be but a pale shadow of an iridescent memory of youth.

The gift of experience is that we often fail to appreciate the moments as they wash over us. The agony of wisdom is to discern how fleeting the sublime sensation of joy can be.

And so, we look back, away from the monumental gray of our mundane days.

Our lives often lack cadence and tempo except when sleuthed in reverse, in reverie, and in reverence.

Those melodies, though, they remain; eternal, and accompanied by the decrescendo of our bodies.

 

Nothing New?

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The stupefaction of those who say things like, “Great, another remake!” Or, “They don’t have any new ideas anymore.”

Like you, the guy saying it.

We’ve heard it before. We’ll hear it again. And again. From you.

The entire development of the human species, in conjunction with some amazing technology, movies, music, and literature, demonstrates that you are full of cow dung. It’s impossible for an engaged and attentive person to be bored at this buffet the world provides.

There’s a movie remake you aren’t interested in? Don’t see it. A song was redone by a new artist? Don’t listen to it. An unexpected revival of an old show that you don’t want to see ‘ruined’? Don’t watch it. I could write 50 such snarky extensions of my point. But I won’t – and not just because I’ll know you’ll complain about that too.

People have always complained about rehashing old ideas. Generally, the people who do it with the least creativity are older and tend to seldom contribute anything innovative to their surroundings. I’m generalizing, of course, and there are exceptions. Not everyone watches “The Office” 43 times or refuses to listen to any new music or mashups of old classics. Find a new genre, a new crowd, a new book, a different perspective.

The world is an interesting place. Not all remakes are worthy. Not all originals are, either. Sometimes, though, someone takes a new perspective on an old idea and breathes life into it. It’s a sight to behold.

So, before you bitterly opine about something being redone again, stop and consider: you are inflicting the same agony on us by voicing such an opinion.

Go out and create something. Anything.

The world is too full of interesting people with something to say for you to blame them for your lack of appreciation of what’s at your disposal.

A Rescued Audio Recording from 1994, Pastor James Huffman

This is a recording that pastor James Huffman made with his wife Jean, and his daugthers Jené and Jenise.

They recorded it in Bandy Brownlee’s studio in Virginia in 1994.

James rescued this recording from a copy of a copy of a copy before it was lost forever.

James E. Huffman is pastor of Christ’s Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Christ’s Church Website

Christ’s Church Facebook Page

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YesOrNo.com

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Note: this is an older post. Seeing Netflix and a few other sites adopt an idea I’ve had forever makes me smile – as I recommended exactly this course of action several years ago in this blog post.

I’m going to start a website called “YesOrNo.” It will cover websites, restaurants, vehicles, tourists spots, movies, music and anything under the sun. It will be a testament to minimalism and focus in a world of too many options. If you are neutral to the website, movie, or restaurant, you don’t vote. No fence-sitting is allowed.

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Instead of being weighed down by too many details, there are only going to be 2 options: “yes” or “no.” No comments. No categories to obfuscate the response. No Yelp-like lawsuits alleging vote-fixing or reviews. Studies have shown that too many options reduces our happiness and satisfaction.

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Users will need to learn to be discerning with their votes. There will be neutral option. Either you vote or you don’t – but you’re going to need to decide between “yes” or “no.”

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There will be technical issues to address governing how to identify participants and/or lessen abuse of voting. That’s true of any website or business idea. Clever, motivated people combined with technology should eliminate all the major hurdles.

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With a social element, users can choose to add “trusted voters” to their logins so that they can refine their trusted opinions over time. This will allow you to ask the website to recommend a new place or experience to you, based on input from you and others who are similarly minded. In my scenario, however, the data will be limited to tallying without superfluous detail.

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Unlike Angie’s List, users won’t be expected to pay – as such services exclude much of the population. It does tend to cause an uptick in the “crazies” noticing your website, but again, technology can overcome most of the stupidity that will ensue.

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It’s so strange to see Tinder doing well. I’ve joked about yesorno.com for a long time, especially after an old-school website called “checkthegrid” died. On my old blog I had this idea designed, with screenshots and graphs. Like most people, though, my enthusiasm usually sputters at the implementation of an idea.

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At it’s heart, the website would be simple categories, with “green” indicating “yes,” and “red” equating to “no.”

 

Don’t Take Notes! A Cautionary Tale

When I attended the University of Toledo I took 4 semesters of music theory. It’s a world-renowned musical arts university, eclipsing even that of the famed Cincinnati Arts College. As part of the curriculum, I was required to attend several lectures by prominent composers and music composition experts. I considered opting out for religious reasons, as the university adopted a policy that stipulated that music theory was just a theory, like evolution, and if you wanted to pretend it wasn’t a real thing, no one would stop you. Even percussionists were allowed to invoke the rule but due to their chronic lateness, we couldn’t be sure they ever heard about the exemption.

Before each outing, the professor would always look at the students sitting in front of him and insist that we take notes. It was a refrain we heard as often as “good morning.” I knew he was going to be a pain in the ass the first time I heard him speak, right after he told us that he started learning music on the clarinet. Reed instruments are the byproduct of devilish design – a fact well-known in music circles but seldom expressed so as to not harm the delicate feelings of those unlucky enough to have been cursed with reed instrument afflictions.

In my last semester of music theory, I was lucky enough to get an invitation to Fred Winnebago’s solo performance at the Nancy Drew Arts Project. Fred had just had his 6th major symphony recorded and was doing musical presentations around the country. Interestingly, his prosthetic leg didn’t slow him down very much.

Before the performance, Fred Winnebago took 30 minutes to lecture the audience about his musical methods. My professor had already done the introduction and once again reminded us to “Take notes!”

As the curtain opened, Fred sat at an ornate piano. The lights dimmed. As Fred’s fingers began to press the ivories, no sound emerged. Fred seemed confused and removed his hands from the keyboard. After a moment, he once again dropped his fingers lightly to the keys and began to move his fingertips over them. No sound whatsoever.

The professor stepped out from backstage, tentatively, holding a microphone up so that he could speak.

“It seems as if we are having technical difficulties,” the music professor began.

“Yes, you shouldn’t have told us to take notes – now there aren’t any left to play,” someone shouted from the back.

After a long, loud collective groan of mock disgust from the audience, we broke out in applause.

Even the professor, who now seemed uninterested in anyone taking more notes.

 

The Rhinestein Cowboy

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Part of this story is true, part is an embellishment. As I was telling jokes today, someone reacted contrarily to my contention that Glen Campbell was a member of the Messianic Judaism sect, something I learned about him when I was going back through his music a couple of years ago.

(One of my jokes I sometimes tell is this: “Did you know Glen Campbell has a brother who is a comic? His name is Grin Campbell.”) It’s okay to groan for reasons other than who occupies the White House.

As I was growing up, I had a viral aversion to country music. My Uncle Buck, who had been immersed in the country music scene, told me more than once that I should have followed guitar and bass to music, rather than orchestral instruments. As I’ve aged, I acquired a taste for a huge variety of music, including a lot of country music. It’s true I’m just as likely to listen to Japanese Yodeling as any other genre. I used to loathe “Rhinestone Cowboy” like it was an assault on my eardrums. That turned out to be the case with a great deal of music, as I associated it with the drunken brutality of several of my family members.

My favorite Glen Campbell memory was the time I recorded a duet with him in Topeka, Kansas. He had been invited to do a couple of cover tunes. That’s how we ended up recording “Rhinestein Cowboy” for the Jewish Musical Alliance.

PS: For those who like actual facts, Glen didn’t write and also wasn’t the first person to record “Rhinestone Cowboy.”