Instrumental album now in stores
Brian Setzer knows where the big money lies -- reforming the Stray Cats and going out with a tour that revisits the greatest hits of the '80s. And he's certainly not above doing that once in a while.
But a restless creativity has always fueled his work, be it leading a big band, doing socially conscious albums such as "The Knife Feels Like Justice" or playing with Jeff Beck. Now living in Minneapolis, he's back with "Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL!," a disc of guitar-based rockers, covering old rockabilly chestnuts along with new originals.
So a tour would naturally follow in that stripped down mode, right? Wrong. Setzer's new tour will take him out with his old Cat compatriots and other musicians -- the band will feature two stand-up basses and two drummers, for starters. Setzer took a few minutes to discuss his life these days.
MSN: How did you end up in Minneapolis?
Setzer: "My wife. She's from here. I kept coming back here. I'm a cold-weather guy. I really missed the change of season. I actually like cold. I don't like 30 below, but I like snow and winter activities. It's a really good city to live, a really good music scene. Musicians are people who don't have to live anywhere. We don't have to be in Nashville or L.A. We can live where we want."
When you have big hits people don't remember you're a guitarist. When they think of ZZ Top and Billy Gibbons, they think "Sharp Dressed Man" rather than a guitarist that Hendrix was in awe of. Do your hits overshadow your guitar skills?
"In the early days it did. We had such a strong image. This kinda glammed-out rockabilly look. People see it as just an image, as fluff. In the early days people didn't realize how good we all were. As you make records and time goes on, people listen to you play. I never expected to be this guitar kind of guy, especially given the music I like, rockabilly music. I'm very grateful with the success I achieved. I'm not doing what would be considered arena rock."
When you broke up the Stray Cats the first time, did you consciously try to shake off that image?
"I can't work or live like that, to be constantly thinking of how to keep my image right. I do what I like. I have a kinda short attention span which can work against me. I can get something going well, then get bored with it and move on to something else. That's really how I do it. I do it from my heart. I've made mistakes and looked back on stuff and said 'Boy, that wasn't very good.' But I've also looked back and said 'Boy, that was pretty good!'" (laughs).
When you get a notion like this instrumental album, can you just do it and not worry about the finances or commercial success of it?
"I'm pretty lucky at this point in my life. I can pretty much do whatever i want. A big-band project is a lot of money. That's top dollar, it costs a fortune. But i can sell enough and do enough where I make a little bit of change. I've established myself as a touring artist and they do well worldwide. That's pretty much how it goes for me."
So where did the instrumental album come from?
"People have clamored for it on the Internet. I don't really cave into that stuff but it just kinda happened where i was writing songs, six or seven songs, and I started playing around with this 'Blue Moon' song. No one plays that style of melody chords anymore. That's kind of a lost thing in the jazz world, and i was doing it rockabilly style. I wrote all that down and went onto the next one. When you've got an idea that makes sense, it's kinda like dominoes falling down. They just keep coming and they just keep working for you."
How hard is it to re-approach classics? What do you take away from a song like "Blue Moon of Kentucky" or "Be-Bop-a-Lula?"
"You have to accept the fact that you're never going to do it better than the original. You're never going to do 'Be-Bop-a-Lula' better than Gene Vincent. You've got to do it different and keep it your style. I'm surprised no one had done 'Be-Bop-a-Lula' after all these years. that's the best guitar solo ever. That's the guitar solo that just grabbed me from across the room when I heard it on a jukebox in a pump club in New York. That rockabilly and blues just grabbed me. the only way to do a song like that is just stay within your realm. A song like 'Blue Moon,' a lot of those songs I substituted some chords behind it. It really makes it sound like me when I do stuff like that. Someone could listen to it and say 'That's Brian Setzer.'"
How do you write songs in the same vein and have them mix in with the classics?
"That's a good question. Let's say I did two songs in a row that were rockabilly-esque. Rather than hunting for one, it would just come to my head. Or a jazz cover that needed a rockabilly sound. The songwriting genies show up. Before you know it you've got six or seven you wrote yourself."
Tell me about the upcoming tour, with two drums, two basses and all the rest.
"That's what I live for, to do stuff like this. Like I said earlier, that's where it works against me. The Stray Cats would be a slam-dunk tour. But I had the idea - what if I used two stand-up basses? We just rehearsed in Nashville, and it worked!"
Record Store Day 2011 is Saturday, and the vinyl will be flying
But as vinyl continues to make a comeback, some survivors across the country change with the times and keep the stores alive. Record Store Day has become an annual rebirth for many stores, and this year will be no different: Everyone from Nirvana to Bob Dylan to the White Stripes and Death Cab for Cutie are going to have rare vinyl releases in stores on Saturday; for a complete list, go here.
“Last year it was the biggest day we’ve ever had in the 23-year history of the store,” said Paul Epstein, former board member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores and owner of Twist & Shout Records in Denver. “That should tell you something that in 2010 we can have our biggest day ever.”
With that in mind, we asked a swath of musicians and artists – what was the first record you ever bought, and what happened to it?
David Johansen, New York Dolls
You wouldn’t know it from his early New York Dolls punk explorations and Buster Poindexter persona, but as a youth, David Johansen was obsessed with the blues. “I always liked the old stuff. One of the first records I ever bought when I was 12 was Lightning Hopkins. I loved him and so many singers from even the ‘30s and whatever.”
North Mississippi AllstarsGiven their style of music, you’d swear brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson grew up on a steady diet of Alan Lomax field recordings and the occasional early recording from the Carter Family. Nope. Says Luther: “Two big ones: in 1981 I bought the cassette of Van Halen – ‘Women and Children First’. Then in 1984 I got the Black Flag ‘Six Pack’ 7-inch.” As for Cody, he joined the masses that made it the biggest album of all time: “’Beat It,’ Michael Jackson, 1982.”
Says country singer Clint Black, "The first record I bought was, Uriah Heep, 'Look At Yourself'. I bought it in 1970 after finding a twenty dollar bill on the ground, my older brother, Brian took me to a record store and said, "You have to get this!" I do still have it, in a box in the attic!"
Half of David & David and an accomplished solo artist, David Baerwald found his inspiration early: “The first record I bought was ‘Rocket Man’ by Elton John on .45... I used to ride my bike to a little mom-and-pop shop and bother the young hipster behind the counter with endless questions. I think it went the way of all flesh when I first left my parents' home.”
You'd think any member of R.E.M. would have incredible hipster credentials when it came to the first records they bought. You'd be wrong. Mike Mills recently told Uncut Magazine "At the risk of ruining my reputation, the first records I bought were 'Seven Separate Fools' by Three Dog Night, 'Summer Breeze' by Seals and Croft, and 'You Don't Mess Around With Jim' by Jim Croce."
Musician Peter Case was a founder of The Nerves and The Plimsouls before embarking on a folk-tinged solo career filled with heartfelt songs. Like many, he started with The Beatles “The first record I ever bought was a 45 of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ b/w ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ in a picture sleeve... I was nervous about going into the store alone, but I did it, 'cause I had to have that record. Lost it in the waves, eventually... the first album I ever bought is in my collection, now: a used copy of ‘Shutdown Volume 2’ by the Beach Boys, which has some of my favorite songs by them, still. As is the first album I ever saw, my sister’s first Everly Brothers album (the first one, on Cadence.)”
Great minds apparently think alike. E Street Band guitarist and solo artist Nils Lofgren also snagged “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in his youth. “I was a classical accordion player. I fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll through the Beatles. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ was the epiphany. I bought that album. God knows what happened to it. But that opened the floodgates for the British invasion for me.”
Mary Chapin Carpenter
As part of the boomer generation growing up in the ‘60s, she latched on to a lot of what everyone else latched on to: “’Rubber Soul’ by the Beatles, and yes, I still have it.”
When he’s not fronting the Stray Cats, Brian Setzer is playing with his big band or releasing new music, including the upcoming instrumental album, “Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL!” He was a Beatles fan too. “First vinyl I had was ‘Meet the Beatles.’ But it was on Vee-Jay Records, so it was ‘Introducing the Beatles.’ Funny I can remember that label but I can’t remember what I had for breakfast. That was the first record I bought and my brother and I played the hell out of it. Listen to what we did with it: We put it out on some kind of stand and shot BBs through it with our BB guns. We were 12 years old. That’s the stupid stuff kids do.”
The “How to Save a Life” hitmakers are all pretty much hands-on old-school technology guys, with most of the band earning degrees in music and business while learning to record on an old analog tape mixing desk. Lead singer Isaac Slade, however, credits drummer Ben Wysocki as being “the vinyl guy” of the group. Wysocki’s first record purchase was cut mercifully short: It was “MC Hammer, ‘Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'em.’ And no, my mom confiscated that pretty quick.”
Timothy B. Schmit
The Eagles have covered Chuck Berry and Tom Waits in the past, but in the heart of bassist Timothy B. Schmit, it all goes back to the King. His first vinyl purchase was Elvis Presley's double-sided hit 45 with "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel." "I have no idea where it is, but my guess is it will turn up someday because I can't imagine getting rid of it," Schmit said.
Chris Daughtry, former American Idol contestant and leader of the band Daughtry, found his life changed by Soundgarden’s album “Superunknown.” “I bought it on cassette tape before CD when I was 14. It was the soundtrack to my freshman year in high school.”
With the Buffalo Springfield reunion looming with Neil Young and Stephen Stills, singer/songwriter Richie Furay has had a lot of time to revisit the past of late, including his early musical influences. He owns 45s that would make collectors weep. “I don’t know if it was the first record I bought, but I’ve got a Jackie Wilson ‘Lonely Teardrops’ 45 from 1958, a Richie Valens 45 from 1959 ‘Come On Let’s Go’ and a Marv Johnson 45 from 1959 – ‘You’ve Got What It Takes.’”
Upcoming British Columbia singer/songwriter and social activist Hayley Sales is moved by the music of Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews these days, but it was a legend from Hollywood’s heyday that made her buy her first album. “I was over at my friend's house, running around dressed up in costumes, imagining all sorts of interesting characters into existence. My friend pulled out an old rickety cassette player and plopped in an equally ancient tape. The tape was of Judy Garland's greatest hits. I couldn't have been more than five years old at this time. But I was stunned, mesmerized, in love with her voice, in love with the music. That night I went home and dragged my mom out to the nearest record store, begging her to buy me a Judy Garland CD, which she did. It was 'Over the Rainbow - The Very Best of Judy Garland.' I listened to it every day and taught myself how to sing by listening to her voice… The case is a bit broken and the paper has been rippled by nearly a decade of use, but the CD still works and the melodies are still timeless.”
Dave Schools, Widespread Panic
Says guitarist Dave Schools, "My parents bought me Deep Purple's 'Kentucky Woman' 45 rpm and I still have it along with a seemingly monthly parade of the latest CCR #1's. The first LP I bought with my own cash was 'Houses of the Holy.' Still have it, still has the white paper band that slips around the LP too. I probably bought it 1974 or so...when I was 10 years old."
Given the Grateful Dead drummer’s obsession with rhythm and beats, you’d think an early Gene Krupa record might have been Mickey Hart's first. Nope, it was doo-wop. Says Hart: “’Castle in the Sky’ – the Bop Chords recorded for Holiday in 1956, first record I ever bought. I do not still have it.”
The former Men at Work lead singer says "I was lucky, my parents owned a record store from when I was between 5 and 14 years old, so I didn't have to buy records. I could listen to them in the listening booth. The first record I was obsessed with was the 7-inch vinyl of 'She Loves You,' for obvious reasons. It's the Beatles, after all. Great song, great melodies, great harmonies, great guitar parts. And I could dream that Janet Roos loved me. We did kiss, and then I moved to Australia," according to TwinCities.com.
Given drummer Deen Castronovo's work with Journey, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Rodgers, Social Distortion, Steve Vai and more, you know his first vinyl was something that was going to rock hard, and he doesn't disappoint: "It was Kiss, 'Dressed To Kill!' Yep, I still have it - signed by the original band members!"
Candidate Charlie Crist apologizes for taking the low "Road"
We knew they were after John Lennon, but John Denver?
“You may not know it, but this man’s a spy – he’s an undercover agent for the FBI!” Charlie Daniels warned in his 1972 hit, “Uneasy Rider.” Little did Charlie know….
OK, we all knew that the FBI was keeping tabs on John Lennon during the Nixon era over paranoid fears that he’d help overthrow the U.S. Government. Besides, as you can see above, some of those documents are so heavily redacted that you can’t tell what they’re talking about anyway. And we told you about Notorious B.I.G.'s file getting released.
But Duke Ellington? John Denver? Paul McCartney and Wings? Steve Allen? Jimi Hendrix? Janis Joplin? Liberace? Dinah Shore? Elvis Presley? Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead in separate investigations? Desi Arnez? Anna Nicole Smith? Marvin Gaye? Sammy Davis Jr.? Frank Sinatra?
Oh, wait, we’re OK on Sammy and Ol’ Blue Eyes – those two were clearly up to no good. The inclusion of Michael Jackson doesn’t raise any eyebrows either. Nor does the inclusion of those rabble-rousers Jefferson Airplane and The Doors (the latter of whose music was described as “the filthiest and most vulgar thing the human mind could possibly conceive.” Take that, Marilyn Manson!).
That ne’er do well Helen Keller even got her own file. It says a lot when they have way more material on Anna Nicole Smith than on Ted Bundy or Charles Manson. But hey, peruse the whole list and see if your favorite artists made the cut.
Thanks, but we'll stick to Buffalo Springfield
Oh, now that’s just not smart. No matter what you think of Bruce Springsteen’s politics, you don’t slag him, especially if you’re the governor of New Jersey. Even Ronald Reagan knew enough not to pick a fight after the whole “Born in the USA” dust-up. But Governor Chris Christie took what the press is calling “a cheap shot” at Springsteen after the Boss wrote a letter to the editor about the poor. Sayeth Christie: “Bruce is liberal. Doesn’t mean I like him any less. But you know, Bruce believes that we should be raising taxes all the time on everyone to do all the things that he’d like to see government do.” If he sounds like he’s mumbling, well, that’s just his foot in his mouth.
Bobby Whitlock has written a book about his time in Derek & the Dominos, and it looks like a must-read. Here he talks about it, including some facts about the song "Layla" that fans probably would have never guessed: “The recording was made using very small amps played at low volumes, and no headphones. At that point in time Eric was really just defining his sound and his craft. [Producer] Tom Dowd was expecting big stacks of Marshalls and piles of guitars and instruments, and here we came in and Eric’s got his guitar in one hand and his amplifier in the other, and he couldn’t believe it… My talking voice now is louder than Eric’s guitar amp was.”
Finally, do you want to see Bob Seger live in concert? Better do it on this tour. He’s about ready to give up the road again, this time for good.
Tasty tidbits about the Beatles break-up
Sunday marked an anniversary most Beatles fans would rather forget: the day in 1970 when Paul McCartney announced to the world that the Beatles were essentially over. To promote his first solo album, McCartney, Paul issued a four-page interview with himself. The band, McCartney wrote, was divided over "personal differences, business differences, musical differences," adding, "Temporary or permanent? I don't know." To his own question, "Do you foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney become an active songwriting partnership again?" he bluntly answered, "No."
What was Paul's motivation and what was the immediate fallout? While researching my upcoming book Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970 (Da Capo, June), I went in search of documents I'd long heard about but had never seen: the court papers of Paul's lawsuit to dissolve the Beatles, filed Dec. 31, 1970.
The papers documenting the legal end of the Beatles aren't easy to examine. They're stored an hour outside London at the National Archives, home to historical documents dating back 1000 years, and I had to look at them in a windowless room, locked from the outside. I wasn't allowed to photograph any of the papers and could only use a pencil to take notes.
Despite these restrictions – and with the help of some interviews of some crucial players – I was able to put together a timeline of the last days of the Beatles. Here's some of what I gleaned.
March 20: Allen Klein, then handling the Beatles' business affairs, asks EMI to delay the release of McCartney, which Paul wants out on April 17. With the Let It Be album already scheduled for that month, and Ringo about to unveil his solo album Sentimental Journey, Klein is concerned about a glut of Beatle product in the stores.
March 23: Unaware of Klein's maneuver, Paul finishes up McCartney at EMI Studio. The same day, Klein meets personally with EMI and repeats his (and other Beatles') demands. EMI agrees to postpone McCartney.
March 31: John and George write a letter to Paul to explain their actions: "We thought a lot about yours and the Beatles LPs – and decided it's stupid for Apple to put out two big albums within seven days of each other. … We're sorry it turned out like this – it's nothing personal." Later that day, Ringo hand-delivers the letter to a shocked Paul at his London home; Paul reads it, yells at him and asks him to leave. "I got really angry when Ringo told me that Klein had told him my record was not ready," Paul says in his court affidavit. Ringo convinces John and George to let Paul's album come out as planned and to delay Let It Be by a month.
April 1: Phil Spector, hired by Klein to finish Let It Be, overdubs strings, a harp, a choir and additional drums onto "The Long and Winding Road" without McCartney's knowledge.
April 7: Paul's lawyers announce the release of McCartney, and the four Beatles agree to meet for the first time in months on Friday, April 10, to discuss the Let It Be movie. The same day, Paul's statement – which the other Beatles are unaware of – is delivered to the Apple press office, for distribution with the first 100 press copies of McCartney.
April 8: Xeroxes of Paul's press release are hand-delivered to writers at the London Evening Standard and the Daily Mirror, who are told not to publish it for two more days.
April 9: A day early, the Daily Mirror runs an article declaring Paul has left the Beatles. Paul calls John, who's already heard about the announcement from theEvening Standard's Ray Connolly. Beatle associate Mal Evans hears a radio report and tells George at his Friar Park home outside London.
April 10: Paul's announcement goes global and fans begin congregating outside Apple headquarters; a TV reporter on the scene declares, "The event is so momentous that historians may mark it as a landmark in the decline of the British Empire." Not surprisingly, McCartney's team sends a cable to Apple canceling the planned Beatles meeting that day.
April 16: Stung by the way the public is blaming him for the Beatles' breakup, Paul calls the Evening Standard's Connolly for an interview. Over lunch, Paul claims Yoko Ono's presence played a role in intragroup tensions and admits he threw Ringo out of his house. "I didn't leave the Beatles," he says. "The Beatles have left the Beatles. But no one wanted to be the one to say the party's over." When John reads the interview in print a few days later – especially the part where Paul complains about the female choir added onto "The Long and Winding Road" – he cracks, "Is that what this is all about—those bloody girls?"
Biggie's murder files released by feds
The FBI has released hundreds of pages of recordsfrom their investigation into the 1997 slaying of rapper Notorious B.I.G. The records, which contain FBI files spanning eight years, come from a civil rights probe the bureau launched into the killing.
The records were posted on the FBI's website and are heavily redacted.
The New York rapper, whose real name was Christopher Wallace, was gunned down outside the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997, as he was leaving a music industry party.
Who killed Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls, has remained a mystery. At the time of his death, he was one of the biggest stars in rap music. His slaying came on the heels of the fatal shooting of another marquee rapper, Los Angeles-based Tupac Shakur.
Various theories have linked the two homicides, neither of which has been solved. Some believe the two men were killed as part of a rivalry between East Coast and West Coast rappers, or between their two music labels at the time, Marion "Suge" Knight's Death Row Records, based in Los Angeles, and New York-based Bad Boy Entertainment.
A federal judge last year dismissed a wrongful-death suit filed by Wallace's rapper’s family against the city of Los Angeles charging that officials covered up police involvement in the rapper's slaying.
Willie Nelson sings for his freedom
A melodious end is in sight in the marijuana case that ensnared the country singer Willie Nelson when a search of his tour bus last November by keen-nosed West Texas troopers turned up a small stash of the prohibited weed: he will be let off on condition he sings for the judge and prosecutor in court.
The novel deal was cooked up by the attorney Kit Bramblett, who had been chosen to prosecute the case. "You bet your ass I ain't gonna be mean to Willie Nelson," he declared this week, revealing that he had even selected the song he wanted to hear, also a favourite of Judge Becky Dean Walker.
Thus the next time Nelson travels anywhere close to the tiny town of Sierra Blanca in western Texas, he will be required to show up in Judge Walker's courtroom and give his best rendition of his own classic number, "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain". There are no plans – as yet – to sell tickets.
It sounds like a sweet deal for the performer, who in theory faced as many as 150 days behind bars if convicted of the original charges for possession of six ounces of marijuana. Upon his arrest he was taken to a county jail and only released upon payment of $2,500 bail.
Mr Bramblett later concluded that there had not been as much weed on the bus as originally estimated. Exactly how that discrepancy arose is not clear, though Mr Bramblett offered one explanation to a local paper that presumably was not said entirely in earnest. "Between me and the sheriff, we threw out enough or smoked enough so that there's only three ounces," he told the Big Bend Sentinel.
"Willie Nelson is 77 years old and I'm 78," Mr Bramblett added. "He's been my favourite artist all my life. We all know he smokes a little pot."
Nelson, who has campaigned to legalise marijuana, will also have to pay $378 in fines and court fees.
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