26 July 2009

Happy Birthday to Me (and some musicians)!

So...today is my birthday. And Mick Jagger's birthday. But everyone always talks about him because he's probably the most famous person, musician I should say, born on July 26. There are others who share the day and I want to acknowledge them:

Roger Taylor
The drummer from the UK band Queen is pretty famous, sure, but his birthday is not really mentioned if you're in America like I am. Mick runs roughshod right over him, even in Mick and Roger's native England.

Dobie Gray
His most famous song is "Drift Away" which was remade into a big hit by Uncle Kracker a few years ago. You can find a million different posts of the song on YouTube so I decided to link two other songs, "Out on the Floor" and "The In Crowd." If you click on "more info" under the poster's name for "Out..." you can read a little bio about Dobie. "Out", "In"...heh, heh, oh I love it.

Bobby Hebb
I honestly don't know much about this gentleman but his song "Sunny" has been one of my favorites since I was a kid. I do know that he has his own website and you can click on the little video on the homepage and hear the song "Sunny" with assorted pictures of Hebb. I suggest you also check out James Brown's exquisite cover of the song as performed in Paris in 1971, which I've embedded below.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Screaming' Jay's birthday was actually July 18, but I was on vacation all last week and didn't get to post for his day. If he hadn't died in February 2000, he would've been 80 years this year. Now who is Screamin' Jay Hawkins, you may be asking. He's the fella who did the song "I Put a Spell on You." Born Jalacy Hawkins in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1929, Screamin' Jay recorded the tune in 1956 and, in a move that predates the creepy stage antics of Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, and Marilyn Manson by at least 15-20 years, he would lay down the pseudo-voodoo vibe with a trowel and often perform the song after emerging from a coffin with a bone in his nose. Check out this video of Screamin' Jay on The Arsenio Hall Show back in the day, which features a moving disembodied hand atop his piano and his trusty smoking skull on a stick named Henry.

At the end of the clip, Arsenio mentions the song "Constipation Blues." Yes, it's just as gross as it sounds. Actually, let me rephrase that: it sounds gross because of Screamin' Jay's sound effects. Here he is performing the song with the French music legend Serge Gainsbourg. Can you imagine if Elton John and Billy Joel put their pianos together and covered this tune on tour? Yeeesh.

Here's Screamin' Jay's Wikipedia page and if you read this transcript of an interview he did in the UK in 1983, you'll find out how he got the nickname "Screamin' Jay."

...And is it just me or does Screamin' Jay look like yet another musician that the actor Leon could someday portray in a movie? They look like father and son, man!

13 July 2009

30 years of... Eardrum Damage?

Did you know that this month is the thirty year anniversary of the Sony Walkman? But what would we be celebrating: thirty years of personal musical mobility or thirty years of first- and second-hand deafness? If you've ever been, for example, on the subways of New York City and sat next to someone using their loud-ass iPod, then you know exactly what I mean by "second-hand deafness." When someone is using his or her headphones, one would think that others shouldn't suffer. At least when you're near a loud boombox, you have no illusions about your impending hearing loss. As for the "first-hand" part, all I can say is,"Geez Louise, people! Turn that mess down! I could hear your music from the other end of the subway car! Hey! Didn't you hear what I just said to you?!"

08 July 2009

Brought to You By the Number 7

TMZ posted some eeriness about Michael Jackson and the number seven. One thing though: as I mentioned last month, Michael wasn't the seventh of nine children, he was the eighth of ten. Marlon even alluded to this at the memorial service when he asked Michael to "give our brother, my twin Brandon, a hug for me" in heaven. Just because someone dies as a baby, it doesn't mean that person never existed. The rest of the list is kinda creepy though.

MJ's Memorial Service

I caught bits and pieces of it at work yesterday but I caught the whole thing online at MSNBC.com last night. I was going to link it up for you all but unfortunately the video has been taken down. But you can still see clips and highlights from the service. The coverage clocked in at 177 minutes and it was exhausting to watch. I don't mean that it was boring because it sure as hell wasn't. I meant that I felt like I was at one my relatives' funerals, like Michael was family and I had all these memories of him in my life and I could laugh and cry along with everyone there, which seems crazy because I didn't actually know him. I couldn't even post about it last night as I was still emotionally overwrought. (Every time I watch the part with Paris Jackson, I start to cry, even though I've seen it about ten times and I'm not a big crier. Even reading about that particular moment in the paper today made me start crying.) So I took a day to process it all before talking about it here.

One question: how do people ever pull themselves together to perform at these things? I can't imagine trying to sing a song for a loved one who had just passed. Jermaine started to waver at the end of "Smile" but the audience applauded in order to rally his composure (I got choked up along with him but somehow managed to stop the tears from flowing). Usher touched Michael's casket and almost didn't finish his song "Gone Too Soon," which Michael had written about Ryan White. When Usher took off his sunglasses and just stared at the coffin, crying, the Jackson family rushed over to comfort him (I almost cried at that, too). Mariah Carey actually apologized on her Twitter page for not delivering a better performance. But does anyone really blame her for it? I don't. I couldn't help thinking back, though, to when she and Trey Lorenz first did the "I'll Be There" duet on her MTV Unplugged special. When was that, like '93? MJ's kids weren't even born yet! Her current husband was just breaking into puberty! She still wore her hair curly! MTV still played music videos! Amazing. And when Stevie Wonder was doing "I Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer," I remembered hearing the song in the movie Poetic Justice which starred...Janet Jackson. Weird.

It was a relief to have the humorous moments. Magic Johnson saying that finding out that MJ, his boyhood idol, loved Kentucky Fried Chicken was the "greatest moment of my life." Marlon recalling how he recognized his brother in a music store even though Michael was in heavy disguise as an older man with an Afro, crooked teeth, and baggy pants. Smokey Robinson admitting that Michael did a better job singing "Who's Loving You" than Robinson himself, the song's writer, and how kids today think it's actually Michael's tune. And, even though this wasn't classified as a funny moment, just an observation, I was heartened by the easy rapport that seems to still exist between Jermaine and Berry Gordy although Jermaine and Gordy's daughter divorced a number of years ago.

Anyway, what else can I say about it? It was amazing to witness and I'm glad that I took the time to watch the whole thing online last night. And to those who missed it, don't worry, someone, somewhere, will probably start selling copies of it in the next few months. That's show business.

07 July 2009

Ringo & Maxwell

Because of MJ's memorial service today, I'm sure that two other artists got lost in the shuffle: Maxwell and Ringo Starr. Maxwell's first CD in years, BLACKsummers'night, dropped today. The NY Times did this piece on him last week.

And today is Ringo's 69th birthday! He's my favorite Beatle but for some reason, he's always shunned as though his contribution to the band was unimportant. I don't understand how anyone can underestimate the power of a good drummer; just how much a band sucks is in direct proportion to how much their stickman (or woman) sucks, in my opinion. His or her job is to keep time for the whole band and to be the foundation of the whole outfit. The fact of the matter is John, Paul, and George knew Ringo from around Liverpool when he was known as the best drummer in the city and he was playing for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. The other Beatles wanted him and it was only when Ringo joined that the band started to become so huge. Ringo Starr is a rock solid drummer and he was the Beatle with the most number one hits after the band broke up. I love you Ringo! Happy birthday!

Here are videos of two of his big hits. You might notice in the "No No Song" a picture of Ringo with a white streak in his hair. He was a sickly child and he started going grey by his late teens. The mop top haircuts hid that streak for years but around the time of Let It Be , Ringo's hair wasn't brushed forward as much and the white part was more visible.