Remembering Lennon

   john%20lennonPhoto by Bob Gruen

  On December 8, 1980 I was watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when a news bulletin interrupted the program; John Lennon was shot in front of the Dakota, where he lived, as he and Yoko were returning home after a late night recording session.

    I was in shock!

   I grabbed my small transistor radio and turned it on. The dial was already set on WNEW-FM, then one of the premiere progressive rock stations in New York. It was true. Lennon was shot and soon pronounced dead. The station was jumping from one report to another. It was a combination of  shock, disbelief and horror. I had a hard time sleeping that night.

  Over the next days, weeks and months tributes poured in, memories were talked about, dedications were made all trying to keep the dream alive. There were also the hucksters who sold phony memorial pins, posters and tribute magazines. A slew of quick paperback writers pasted together “biographies” that fans gobbled up.

    In the end though, and what remains with us today, thirty-six years later, is the music and its message.

  Sometimes art is at it best when it seems so simple, yet it carries a message that gets more powerful and important with each passing day. Imagine is such a song.


Blue and Lonesome – The Rolling Stones

blueandYesterday, I listened to The Rolling Stones first studio album (Blue and Lonesome) in ten years and its one of their finest works in a long time. A return to their Blues roots, the album, all covers, was recorded about a year ago in a three day period in London. Mick Jagger’s voice is still strong and grittier than ever and Keith and Ron’s guitars are on fire.

The album’s birth came from the band’s custom of warming up in the studio playing early Blues based tunes,  the kind they loved as young kids just starting out. The album is soaked mostly in Chicago Blues with cuts written by Willie Dixon, Little Walter, Magic Sam, Memphis Slim, Jimmy Reed and others.  They do not ignore the music’s Southern roots either, represented here by Otis Hicks, aka Lightin’ Slim, Hoo Doo Blues. Believe it or not, this is The Stones first all Blues album.

rolling-stones-to-release-new-album-blue-lonesome-500x310The three opening tracks, Just Your Fool, Commit a Crime and Blue and Lonesome set the mood and it never lets up. There is not a weak track on the album. Guest musician, Eric Clapton, plays slide guitar on Everybody Knows About My Good Thing and guitar on Hoo Doo Blues. Legendary session man, Jim Keltner  was on percussion for the Hoo Doo Blues track.

There’s a sense of been there and seen all that, that only comes with age and experience. The Rolling Stones have been traveling on that road for fifty years and unlike in many of their early Blues recordings, they are not imitating their heroes. It’s their own voice. You can feel it in Mick’s voice and the band’s music.

Book Review – Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero


bloomIt was back in 1962 when Michael Bloomfield heard Bob Dylan’s first album. He didn’t think much of it.  A year later, Bloomfield met Dylan and watched him perform when the folk singer was appearing in a Chicago club. This time he was knocked out by him. They spent some time jamming and evidently got along well. They met again in 1964 when Bloomfield was in New York for a recording session with John Hammonds Jr. In June 1965, Bloomfield received a phone call from Dylan saying he’s making a new album. Would he like to play on it? Bloomfield, at the time, was part of the still unrecorded Paul Butterfield Blues Band quickly agreed and flew to New York. The album would turn out to be Highway 61 Revisited. He didn’t play on all tracks, but his guitar was featured on Like a Rolling Stone, Tombstone Blues and Maggie’s Farm.   It was the start of a personal and professional relationship that lasted on and off almost until Bloomfield’s death in 1981.

1965 would turn out to be a pivotal year for the guitar man. Recording on Dylan’s historic album was only the start. During those sessions he met Al Kooper who would become an important part in Bloomfield’s career later on. The year would also see Bloomfield play at the famous Newport Folk Festival, not only as part of the Butterfield Blues Bland, but as part of  Dylan’s band during his infamous “going electric” set. Later that year, The Butterfield Blues Band, up to this point only known in their hometown of Chicago, would record their first album.

Ed Ward’s revised biography, Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero is an aptly titled, essential and absorbing read for anyone interested in the history of rock and roll. This edition includes new interviews as well as the complete Rolling Stone interview. Born to a upper middle class family, Bloomfield. like many artists, was an outsider growing up. By the time he was 15 he was frequenting Chicago’s Southside nightclubs where blues singers like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf performed.  The black musicians didn’t take him seriously at first and he admits that in the beginning he wasn’t very good. He learned quickly and he had the talent and style to convince one and all.

Bloomfield made two albums with Butterfield before differences between the two made him leave the group. Fortunately, that was not before the second Butterfield album, East-West, added to Bloomfield’s growing reputation.

After leaving Butterfield, he formed the Electric Flag which included Nick Gravenites and Buddy Miles. Their first project was the soundtrack for Roger Corman’s The Trip. They appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and also released their first real album. However, for  Bloomfield, it would not last long. He left the group soon after.  In 1968, he reunited with Dylan session player Al Kooper, and along with Stephen Stills, unintentionally formed what was essentially the first super group. Their album, Super Session, was an artistic and commercial success. It was followed by The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, recorded live at the Fillmore West. Bloomfield felt the albums were “scams” and calling it “super” was just a way to sell records.

Ed Ward (Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll) chronicles Bloomfield’s career with plenty of first hand accounts from family, friends and fellow musicians plus interviews the author did with his subject. Like many musician’s of the era, Bloomfield was plagued by drugs. Insomnia was also a life long problem he had since his teen years.

Compared to many of his contemporaries, Bloomfield is less remembered today than he deserves. One only has to listened to his work on Highway 61 Revisited or Super Session to realize this is a guy who could give Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix a run for their guitar money. This book, along with the 1984 album, Bloomfield: A Retrospective, which includes 27 essential tracks as well a documentary film, hopefully will remedy that.

On February 15, 1981,  Michael Bloomfield, like Hank Williams,  was found dead inside an automobile. He was 37 years old.


Going to the Movies with John Lennon – Sorta Of…

john-lennon-yoko-ono_650It happened on September 30, 1976. Martin Ritt’s film, The Front, starring Woody Allen, opened that day at the Coronet theater in New York. I have been, and still am, a huge Woody Allen fan since his standup days when I first saw him on the Ed Sullivan Show.

coronet44At the time,  I was living and  working in New York. Being the Woody fan that I was, I took a half day off from work to go see The Front. The Coronet theater was located on Manhattan’s Eastside. The Coronet, its sister theater, the Baronet along with the Cinema I and Cinema II were high end  theaters. All the studios and distributors wanted their big films to be booked into these theaters.  Foreign films like Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Antonioni’s Blow-Up to domestic works like The Exorcist and The Graduate had their premiere engagements at one of these fours theaters located on the Upper East Side. The four theaters filled the entire block, between 59th and 60th streets, except for  a Bookmasters store in between.

baronet-coronet-theatres_cr1The theater was fairly crowded for a weekday afternoon. In New York, Woody was always a big draw. After the film ended,  everyone began filing out. It was at this time, I suddenly noticed walking out right in front of me among the crowd were John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Growing up in the 60’s, and a Beatles fan, I pretty much stood there stunned. In truth, while I saw the both of them, it was Yoko who I first recognized. I had to take a second look at who was standing next to her. Of course,  it was Lennon.

They and everyone continued to slowly leave the theater.  A few folks said hello and he returned the acknowledge. Most people just looked and gawked, like I did. Some, I am sure didn’t even recognize them, though they are hard to miss. New Yorker’s can be a jaded bunch and seeing famous people in the street is not an uncommon experience. A few famous people though can even shake up the jaded New Yorker. Lennon was one of those.

 I purposely stayed a few steps behind them all the way out of the theater until we all were out in the street. For those who are unaware, that block of theaters were located directly across the street from Bloomingdales. That was John and Yoko’s next destination. They crossed over 3rd avenue and disappeared in the department store. I stood by the theater watching them, cursing to myself that I did not have my camera with me. This naturally was in the days long before cellphones.

I never saw The Beatles in concert, but over the years I did get to see Paul, George and Ringo separately in concerts. Never did with John, however, I did get to go to the movies with him. Sorta…




The Importance of Rick Nelson


Rick Nelson and his band that included guitar legend James Burton (right)

Rick Nelson has always been underrated as a rock and roll singer. He was both helped and hindered by his show business family. Rick was practically raised in the public eye as the youngest and cutest of the Nelsons. The 1950’s TV show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was a mainstay in many American homes. It ran for 14 seasons from 1952 thru 1966. Prior to this, it was on the radio where it began in 1944.(1)  When he first began to sing on the show, Rick was not taken seriously because of his show business background. However, he soon became one of the best-selling artists of the 1950’s.

His father Ozzie had a strong influence on Rick and old Dad hated rock and roll. In the early 1960’s he would steer Rick away from the rockabilly tunes he favored in his early records (It’s Late, Believe What You Say and My Bucket’s Got A Hole in It) toward more standard pop oriented tunes like For You and The Very Thought of You. These songs were old standards from the big band era that Ozzie knew well and favored. The songs were produced with a bit of a pop beat for the teen audiences of the day. With these songs and his cute teen idol looks Rick soon got lumped into the Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Fabian, Bobby Darin school of boy next door teen idols moving away from the threatening Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Carl Perkins wild boys of rock and roll.

Parents of  lily white teenage girls did not like those wild rockers who sang about a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On or Good Golly Miss Molly who knew how to ball. They preferred their daughters listen to Frankie and Bobby or to virginal Pat Boone who gave us a horrible, just horrible, white bread cover versions of song like Tutti Frutti and Ain’t That a Shame.

Pat Boone’s  pale “clean” version of Tutti Frutti. Notice the change in the lyrics.

Little Richard’s original hard rockin’ version.

Unlike Boone, Fabian and the others, Rick was a true rock and roller. He was an important component in the acceptance of rock and roll during those early days. Parents hated their kids listening to Little Richard, Jerry Lee, Elvis and the other wild men. Suddenly, there was Little Ricky, with a guitar strapped around his shoulder, right there in their living room on their black and white TV screen. Little Ricky! There he was singing, Believe What You Say, with the amazing rock guitarist pioneer James Burton on lead guitar as part of his band.(2)  Hey, maybe rock and roll wasn’t so bad. This wasn’t one of those greasy, long haired boys singing, it was little Ricky. Cute little Ricky who always got into some sort of adorable trouble every week. Let’s face it, if Oz and Harriet liked it, Most of America liked it.

 Rick Nelson brought rock and roll into the homes of all Americans on a weekly basis.  He made it more tolerable for parents to accept.  That was something no other rock and roller of the day could do.



(1) Rick, and his older brother David, started on the show in 1949. Prior their joining the cast various child actors portrayed the boys. David was 12 and Rick was  8 at the time.

(2) James Burton would go on  in the late 1960’s to become a main stay in Elvis’s TCB band.  Burton ranked number 19 in Rolling Stone magazines list of 100 Greatest Guitar Players.

Bruce Springsteen’s Tribute to Prince

Bruce Springsteen, performing at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, the other evening (April 23rd) paid tribute to Prince. He opened up his show washed in purple lights as he sang Purple Rain while Nils Lofgren played a mournful guitar behind him. Just a few months earlier, The Boss paid tribute to two other fallen rock heroes, David Bowie (Rebel, Rebel) and Glen Frey (Take it Easy).