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Fiddlin’ Around – November 2015

By Nancy Buchan

Led ZepplinThis last decade or so there has been an odd—at least I find it odd—urge to bring back the bands and performers who were so important to the soundtrack of our lives. I’m talkin’ tours with rock and roll dinosaurs—the hair bands that now have lots of grey, or none at all. The bad boys who survived but are more likely to be chewing Mylanta than ‘ludes. But there was a lot of musical freedom and excitement going on back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, when lyrics were important and melody still reigned. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the baby boomers want to re-connect with the music and spirit of those days, and they can now afford the couple hundred bucks for tickets, so make way for the dinosaurs! I saw a guy the other day with a button that said “I’m not old, your music really DOES suck! And pull up your pants!” Hard to argue with that.

Now some bands get back together because they miss playing and creating with their old musical partners and genuinely want an opportunity to create new music. But new music isn’t what the promoters are selling. Not in the casinos, not at festivals and certainly they want old bands to sing their old material out on a major tour. It’s challenging to hit those high notes after 30 years of smoke and booze, and it’s tough to wear those too-tight leather pants and not feel silly. Often the band members who were not the songwriters are the ones most eager for a reunion tour, as they aren’t still getting royalty checks in the mail and want to get out on the road so they can make some money. Ah yes, money. There are shameless, greedy and narcissistic musicians out there willing to get down in the mud and negotiate with lawyers, record companies, publishers, ex-wives, the press and their old bandmates—all for the almighty dollar. The list of acrimonious and bitter band dissolutions is long, and it’s amazing how those big paydays can make someone forget how they said they would never play with that wanker singer again—or play that annoying hit song ever again…

You gotta love the guys who quit while they were on top and who aren’t continually looking back but have kept on making music. Hopefully they had enough smarts to stash some of their dough. Unlike many 70s rock bands which had a changing roster of musicians, Led Zeppelin only ever had 4 members, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones. Bonham died in 1980 and the group disbanded, coming back together in 2007 for a charity show in London with Bonham’s son Jason playing. More than 20 million people entered the lottery for tickets—clearly there is plenty of interest in hearing these guys play together again. The death of a band member is certainly a permanent problem to overcome, especially for real ensemble bands that need everyone’s participation.

The Beach Boys have had a long and complicated history, which began in California in 1961 when brothers’ Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson started the band with their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine. They became the definition of the ‘California Sound’, with their distinct kind of jazz-based vocals and their early preoccupation with the youth culture of surfing, cars and romance. Brian led the band into experimenting with all kinds of different approaches, from pop ballads to psychedelic to baroque music. He was one of the first producers to use double tracking in recording vocals (giving them a fatter sound), and used all kinds of oddball instruments and electronic gadgets to produce what was playing in his head. His creativity and sophisticated songwriting abilities dominated their musical direction, but he also had profound mental health and substance abuse problems, so around 1965 he gradually ceded control to the rest of the band members to focus on writing and producing. Glen Campbell was a temporary replacement for him at one point, but there have been many musicians over the years playing with the core group. The lawsuits with their record companies, managers (including their father who was their manager at one point), publishers, producers and each other started as far back as 1969. They continued recording and even touring in fragmented versions of the band, sometimes while they had pending lawsuits. It’s amazing to me they got anything accomplished at all—let alone selling over 100 million recordings and becoming one of the most respected and biggest money makers in history. Dennis drowned in 1983, Carl died in 1998 and Brian remained the troubled genius, so Mike Love has basically been running the show ever since, despite continued disputes about who owns the name. As I write this they are playing somewhere in Indiana—apparently dislike and distrust and death can’t quite stop that train.

No one can fight like brothers. Imagine spending decades with your sibling as a business partner and creative collaborator—there’s no relief! The Jackson family wrote the guide book for family musician dysfunction, and the Allman Brothers couldn’t stand not playing together, yet couldn’t manage to get on the same page and play together. The Everly Brothers held together for some 20 years, but in 1973 things came to a head when brother Don showed up drunk for a show in Hollywood. Phil smashed a guitar over his head and walked out—the next time they spoke was at their father’s funeral. They patched things up enough in 1983 to go on a nostalgic and lucrative tour, but their animosity tainted everything. They did another brief European tour in 2005, for the money, but then that was it. Finally over. Noel and Liam Gallegher, the brothers who spent a couple of decades playing to huge audiences as the band Oasis, finally called it quits in 2009 after a backstage fight. Years of frustration boiled over into a guitar-breaking gig-canceling fight and they haven’t spoken since. No tour plans there.

Black Sabbath, basically the inventors of heavy metal, have had over 25 members in their 44 years as a band. The original 4, Ozzie Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and the perpetually absent Bill Ward have re-united many times in different line-ups, and almost had all of them for a tour in 2011, but once again Bill Ward bowed out at the last moment over—go figure—money! The Police have tried touring together, but control clashes between Stuart Copeland and Sting de-railed them again. In one fight Copeland broke one of Sting’s ribs and said, “The mighty Sting momentarily looks like a petulant pansy instead of the god of rock”. They still don’t like each other and musically Sting has really strayed from their common ground and seems content with his solo projects.

Guns and Roses couldn’t even manage to get together for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so you probably won’t see them on tour together anytime soon. They have lots of old baggage and there are really 3 camps in the band—Axl Rose, Slash and everyone else. David Byrne doesn’t seem interested in getting Talking Heads back together—they’ve had years of bad blood and lawsuits and tension over musical direction. Despite a very credible solo career, John Fogarty is still angry at his bandmates from Creedence Clearwater Revival, who are out touring as Creedence, which pisses him off even more. Pink Floyd has gotten together for some charity events, performing together in 2005 for the first time in 24 years, and I think a tour is currently being planned for them. It may not happen—they’ve turned down huge tour proposals before, and they have had their share of crazy members and anger management issues. But boy, what a great band.

The EaglesAnd then there’s the Eagles. Formed in 1971, they are the 5th highest-selling music act ever and the highest-selling American band in U.S. history. The original members—Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner—have endured their well-publicized feuds and wild behavior, have won about every award there is in the entertainment business, and quite literally are the soundtrack of our lives. Think about these hit songs—Take It Easy, Witchy Woman, Peaceful Easy Feeling, Desperado, Take it to the Limit, Tequila Sunrise, Already Gone, Best of My Love, One of These Nights, Lyin’ Eyes, New Kid in Town, Hotel California, Heartache Tonight, The Long Run, I Can’t Tell You Why—what a legacy. They called it quits in 1980 for 14 years, before coming together for a new tour and album. It was called “Hell Freezes Over”, after Don Henley’s public comment that that is when the band would get back together. They’ve had several personnel changes over the years, currently Joe Walsh is playing with them, and Frey and Henley like their Hollywood lifestyle way too much to quit. I have a couple of friends in their crew, and another who was bass player for their front act band—word is they can’t stand each other, arrive and travel separately in their own planes, and do not mingle or share warm fuzzy feelings. Or even talk to each other. Tickets to an Eagles concert are a couple hundred bucks, and I’ll bet it would be a slick and nice event with great sound and lighting and merchandise and excellent musicians. It would be nice if they were still having fun.

You know, for a bunch of musicians who started out singing about love and freedom and peace and all that good stuff, we sure can be a bunch of litigious jerks. But there are a few dinosaurs who never really stopped, through death and personnel changes they kept right on recording and touring. The Stones are a classic example, Bruce Springsteen, the incomparable Carlos Santana, Paul Simon, The Neville Brothers, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Aerosmith, The Doobie Brothers, Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Third World, Little Feat—bless ‘em all! The persistence award surely goes to the Grateful Dead—there will probably be great-grandchildren of the members out there jamming decades from now.

In my more modest world, I’ve been invited to take part in several re-unions of bands that I played with who had regional impact and loyal fans. Predictably, the bands who ended well and whose members still like each other were the most fun and produced the best music. I’m really glad I bowed out of a couple of these events—I would have been hard pressed to keep my mouth shut with a couple of the old bandmates… It also helps when nobody has sued anyone else!

Well, Ben Orton and I and the rest of Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers are still having fun every Friday night at the Roca Verde bar in lovely Dominical. Come on down south, and please make an effort to go out and support the fine musicians playing in our area—and go see the dinosaurs of rock if they pass by! Me, I’m going to San Jose with a couple of teen-agers to see Katy Perry!

“The soul of touring and the heart of it is basically every day is like putting up a circus tent.” Pat Benatar”

“If I knew I had to play this song the rest of my life I probably woulda wrote something else.” Joe Walsh (Rocky Mountain Way)

“I’ll be like Bob Hope, touring when I’m 100.” Dolly Parton

“I’ve had a very, very interesting view of the planet over the last 30 years, touring as excessively as I have. And music is the most evocative, transformative, connective force in humanity, man.” Richie Sambora (guitarist, singer, songwriter, Bon Jovi)

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