Baconwrap-up: 2016’s Tastiest Tunes

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By Steve Hochman

The choice for the No. 1 album of 2016 was pretty much set on Jan. 8. It was set in stone two days later, when we learned that the maker of that album had died. We had no idea that there would be so much more loss to come, not just among our “stars,” but in our lives. Even those of us acutely aware that the Boomer generation — my generation — had lodged itself squarely inside the mortality zone were overwhelmed, uncomprehending of the toll it would take on our individual and collective psyches. We held on so tenaciously to our youth, cherishing our toys and our heroes alike as we aged sometimes-not-so-gracefully, that this all messed up our sense of self, and sense of perspective.

There were certainly far greater tragedies in the world this year than the deaths of some pop stars, even the most poetic and impactful of them. And yet the works of some of them can help us regain that perspective, both on the small and big scales, if we let them. David Bowie and Leonard Cohen come to mind in particular for each of their album-for-the-ages with which they left us. In that perspective is a reminder that while we honor the dead, we should exalt the living. And in 2016 artists from across generations, across cultures, across perspectives, stepped forward with works of vital spirit that define the year, not just the bad but also much good, every bit as much as the work of those who left us.

The One:

David Bowie, “Blackstar.”

Oh I’ll be free

Just like that bluebird

Oh I’ll be free

Ain’t that just like me.

 

The Next Nine:

Adia Victoria, “Beyond the Bloodhounds”

From my review on KPCC’s Take Two: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/10/48678/new-music-from-adia-victoria-ravi-coltrane-and-mor/

This is dark, probing stuff, as the song titles indicate (“And Then You Die” is another). But it’s vibrant and vivid, threaded with a sense of her fighting personal and cultural bonds — she was raised in a strict Seventh Day Adventist family and the album title comes from Harriet Jacobs’ autobiographical 1861 novel “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” Comparisons are tough here. She cites early blues-jazz star Victoria Spivey, and there are hints of a southern Patti Smith here (the spoken climax of “Invisible Hand”), a folky Nina Simone. But those are fleeting images, giving way to an artist taking her own path. If one song even comes close to capturing the whole, it’s the dense, banjo-accented, swamp-Gothic climax of “Stuck in the South.” Victoria Spivey by way of Flannery O’Connor? Or just Adia Victoria.

 

Xenia Rubinos, “Black Terry Cat.”

My review on KPCC. http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/31/49235/new-music-from-allen-toussaint-xenia-rubinos-and-f/

As the debate over just what, and who, is America only intensifies, there may be no sharper, more pointed, more witty, more forceful portrait than “Mexican Chef,” a new song by Brooklyn’s Xenia Rubinos. And more danceable.

 

Allen Toussaint, “American Tunes”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/31/49235/new-music-from-allen-toussaint-xenia-rubinos-and-f/

As pointed out in the astute liner notes by Tom Piazza, a New Orleans music critic, novelist and one of the writers on the HBO just-after-the-flood drama “Treme,” on one hand Toussaint brings a New Orleans tinge, with its subtle funk and delightful flourishes, to such jazz classics as Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” and Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” (somewhat perversely played in 4/4 rather than waltz-time), while transforming such New Orleans standards as Prof. Longhair’s “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” and Earl King’s “Big Chief” (best known from Longhair’s repertoire) into elegant etudes and concisely imaginative sonatas. 

The sequence unfolds like a vibrant novel or film. And at the end, Simon’s “American Tune” is epilogue. Here we get not just Toussaint’s piano, but finally his voice, too, conversational and eloquent with Simon’s portrayal of the complex cultural mix of our nation that brought about the music we’ve just heard, born of struggle and perseverance, of fears of dying and dreams of flying, of transitions and uncertainties, of destinations and destinies unknown. Toussaint brought it into his repertoire in the first few years after the flood, one of several New Orleans musicians who latched onto it as a song that expressed what they, and their city were experiencing as they fought to rebound and rebuild. Here, though, as many in New Orleans and beyond still mourn his loss, hearing him sing this caps this final album with a perfect measure of both celebration of a life of music and sadness at its ending. His life was a truly American tune. An American symphony.

 

Anderson.Paak, “Malibu”

From our year-end wrap-up on KQED’s The California Report. https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/12/18/from-anderson-paak-to-magikmagik-california-artists-defy-labels-in-2016/

Coverage of Anderson.Paak’s nomination for the Best New Artist Grammy this month often saw him called a rapper. But despite an association with Dr. Dre, his music more often than not isn’t rap. That’s abundantly clear not just on his bracing album “Malibu,” but in live performances including a delightful, playful NPR Tiny Desk Concert appearance, Paak on drums leading his sharp compact band the Free Nationals as they flow between soul and jazz and pop and rock, even surf, with grace and wit and a sense that anything is possible. EVERYTHING is possible. In what in many ways was a very tough year in the music world, a year filled with loss and sorrow, this is a positive note.

 

Shirley Collins, “Lodestar”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/10/25/52823/tuesday-reviewsday-shirley-collins-afro-rock-and-w/

There is much sadness in the album, and much death — the traditional “Death and the Lady,” for which she’s done a “Seventh Seal”-inspired video, explicitly so. And she closes with “The Silver Swan,” a 17th century madrigal by Orlando Gibbons, in which the titular bird “thus sung her first and last and sung no more.” But in her song notes accompanying the album, Collins thinks back to nights in the early ‘50s at home in Hastings around the piano, singing that song with her sister and their mother, the three collapsing in laughter at their vain attempts to get through the intricate parts. The version here is sparer, just her voice, a harmonium and a viola. But for the song’s twilight melancholy, you can almost hear that laughter still in her voice these decades later.

 

Zomba Prison Project, “I Will Not Stop Singing”

Second volume from producer Ian Brennan’s recordings of inmates in the unimaginably horrible conditions of Zomba Central Prison in Malawi. “60 Minutes” reported on it in depth: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-grammy-nominated-music-zomba-prison-anderson-cooper/

 

Noura Mint Seymali, “Arbina”

From my BuzzBandsLA feature ahead of the Mauritanian artist’s Royce Hall show in March, which previewed several songs from this then-unreleased album: http://buzzbands.la/2016/03/03/noura-mint-seymali/

Her music is a swirling modern presentation of ancient Moorish griot sounds, with her forceful, trilling vocals weaving in the interlocking curls of her ardine (a nine-stringed harp reserved specifically for women) and swirling electric guitar lines of her husband, Jeiche Ould Chighaly, along with pulsating bass and drums. It’s also to some extent an attempt to present something that represents a good deal of the country — not an easy task.

 

Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matthew Garrison, “In Movement”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/10/48678/new-music-from-adia-victoria-ravi-coltrane-and-mor/

Here, senses of space and atmospherics are key, Garrison’s subtle use of electronics and effects providing as much a signature to the trio sound as DeJohnette’s tuneful touch and Coltrane’s bright runs, at once wild and controlled. The interplay through a variety of tones and tempos, from the floating title piece to the stutter-funk pulse of “Two Jimmys,” is seamless, the three clearly mutually inspired. So here, more than 20 years after they first played together and more than 50 years since DeJohnette played with their dads, this trio feels like something new beginning, with wonderful possibilities in front of them.

Ruby Friedman Orchestra, “Gem”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/06/21/49798/new-music-from-charlie-parker-ruby-friedman-orches/

You don’t need to know Ruby Friedman’s life story to get a sense of who she is. Just hearing her, and better seeing her perform, tell enough. Her voice and manner are as bold and brash as her flame-red hair. But she’s telling you anyway, with “Fugue in L.A. Minor,” the opening song of her long-in-coming first album, “Gem.” Part unflinching biography, part unapologetic confessional, the song briefly accounts various things on her road to this point, overcoming alcohol, having a child and giving her up among them. And she asked God, she tells us, “What am I doing here?” His answer: “Keep singing, well you better!”

It’s quite the curtain-raiser, fitting as what follows has some theatrical punch, Vaudevillian in some spots, Brechtian in others. Well, really it’s Vaudeville-y and Brecht-y, not fully either, or any one thing at any time. Bluesy also applies. Jazzy maybe. But brassy, always. Ethel Waters with a pinch of Ethel Merman — via Dusty Springfield and maybe even some Patti Smith.

 

Another Dozen:

Leyla McCalla, “A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/10/48678/new-music-from-adia-victoria-ravi-coltrane-and-mor/

 

Dawes, “We’re All Gonna Die.”

My coverage of their Grammy Museum appearance: http://buzzbands.la/2016/10/29/dawes-new-sounds-spotlighted-vibrantly-grammy-museum-show/

 

Sturgill Simpson, “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/03/29/47583/new-music-from-sturgill-simpson-caetano-veloso-and/

 

Leonard Cohen, “You Want it Darker”

 

Luisa Maita, “Fio da Memória”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/08/23/51483/tuesday-reviewsday-teresa-cristina-mariza-and-luis/

 

La Santa Cecilia, “Buenaventura”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/02/16/46423/tuesday-reviewsday-la-santa-cecelia-rokia-traore-a/

 

Rokia Traoré, “Né So”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/02/16/46423/tuesday-reviewsday-la-santa-cecelia-rokia-traore-a/

 

Lucinda Williams, “The Ghost of Highway 20”

KQED review: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/01/31/ty-segall-lucinda-williams-and-anderson-paak-kick-off-the-years-musical-highlights/

 

Esperanza Spalding, “Emily’s D+Evolution”

 

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, “A Man Alive”

KQED: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/01/31/ty-segall-lucinda-williams-and-anderson-paak-kick-off-the-years-musical-highlights/

 

Radiohead, “A Moon Shaped Pool”

BuzzBandsLA concert review: http://buzzbands.la/2016/08/09/radiohead-fiiiiiine-shrine/

 

Nik Bartsch’s Mobile, “Continuum”

10/16/16

Sixty years ago today, Louis Hochman was working on an oil well near Durango, Colorado — “sitting on a well” is how they said it. He was a petroleum geologist employed by Conoco. At some point that afternoon he climbed a telephone pole, tapped into a line and dialed a number in Casper, Wyoming, more than 500 miles away, to get news that I had arrived. His first child.

The anxiety he felt must have been intense, not just from being so far away for the blessed event, but that just two years ago, while he and my mom were living in Olympia, Washington,  she had nearly died in pregnancy from a kidney infection. The baby girl was stillborn. After that, a doctor had told them that it was too risky to try having kids again.

A couple of years ago, going through things after Mom died at age 84, having had me and two more kids, we found a letter Dad wrote around that time indicating that he drove to Casper as soon as he could, caught a look at me in the newbies ward, said hello to Mom, then turned right back around to head back to work. That was paternity leave in the Eisenhower years. We also found the photo shared here, likely the first one of him with me, probably a few days later.

Imagine what thoughts went through his head on that 1000-mile round trip. He was elated, certainly. But also likely worried. He was 36 at the time. Not only had he lost a child and nearly lost his wife, but he’d lost his own mom not long ago then, to cancer. He’d landed at Utah Beach 12 years before, returned to grad school at Stanford to get a degree in the field he loved, reenlisted as a Corp of Engineers officer in Korea mapping the topography to let the grunts “build bridges so that the Koreans could blow them up.” And now he was based in Wyoming, with a new son, and an uncertain future — the oil business had taken a bit of a dip and the company wanted to transfer him, a Jew, to Saudi Arabia. Transfer us to Saudi Arabia.

Instead, they (we) moved back to Santa Barbara, where Mom was born and raised and where Dad’s dad had moved after his wife died. Dad wound up giving up his beloved geology and became an hotelier, running a hotel his father-in-law built. We never heard him express any regrets, and disappointment in how his life had turned, though he jumped at the chance to talk geology with us — every family driving trip would feature lessons along the way: “See how that strata is angled up? That’s from the pressures of the continental plates coming together.” “Out there across the valley, look at how those alluvial fans spread out across the base of the hills…” And I very well remember walking in while he was watching news footage of Mt. St. Helens erupting, a look of pure joy on his face, before he had to sheepishly note that yes, this was a great event for geology, but at the cost of peoples’ lives.

When Dad turned 60, I was midway between 23 and 24 and, after a stint in New Mexico taking a documentary film program, was temporarily back in Santa Barbara, living with the folks and working for Dad at the hotel. I’d worked a lot for him at the hotel starting when I was 10 — bell-hopping, pulling weeds, adding chlorine to the pool, helping the housekeepers, working the old PBX switchboard, doing the books, checking in guests, trouble-shooting. My greatest memories were just watching him interact with the guests. He loved that so much, getting peoples’ stories, where they were from, where they were going. Everything. And he was so at ease with that. He was unfailingly kind, always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, see their better nature. It took a lot to get him to think ill of anyone. That goes for him as a dad, too. Patience seemingly unbound, with a perfect instinct as to when to be indulgent, when to draw a line. Always interested in whatever we had to say, whatever interested us. Always eager to see our passions grow. And music. Oh, music. He played violin in various community groups, including the Santa Barbara Symphony for a while. And never cared what music I loved, just that I loved it.

This, though, was my first chance to be with him so much as an adult. Er, “adult.” Even if for just a few months before I moved back to L.A. to get going on my own again. And his kindness, his patience, his genuine, tireless interest in people made a deeper, more conscious impression on me. I treasure that time.

But one thing our parents didn’t tell us then was that Dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. They didn’t let us know for a few more years, when symptoms were hard to overlook. Never was sure why they didn’t tell us, but it doesn’t really matter. At the time, sure he had some leg shakes when he was sitting, and some hand tremors. And he took some medications, but that’s what grownups do, right?

As the Parkinson’s progressed (funny word to use for a disease, progressed) things got difficult, for him and mom taking care of him. He’d fall, of course. He had more and more trouble swallowing. The rotations of medication would stop working, or worse cause other problems, including some severe hallucinations that, understandably, freaked Mom out pretty badly. He’d get obsessed with the prospects of some new treatment or experimental operation, though it was clear that it would not help his particular condition and might be horribly harmful. We heard all this from Mom, not from him. He never said a word of complaint to us. Even when things were a struggle, he was upbeat, happy, to us.

When he could no longer play violin due to his tremors and diminished dexterity, he tried mandolin and harmonica, with enough success to give him pleasure at making music.  And there was tennis, the other passion alongside music. He played three, four, five time a week for as long as I could remember. If he was ever disappointed in his kids it was that he could never get us to share that passion on that level. But it got harder and harder.

For his 75th birthday we had a surprised tennis tournament for him — he was lured out to the courts on false, lame prospects, to see family and friends gathered. We all took turns playing doubles. Everyone wanted to play with or against him, of course. He still had some of his old tricks (he was the master of the spin-shot or sneaky drop). But just getting his feet to move was tough. Still, he had the time of his life. And when it was over, he hung up his racket. Never played again. Never expressed a word of regret, again. At least to us. And that was the case right to his death five years later, just a couple of days after his 80th birthday. We’d taken him to Disneyland for the birthday (his request). A wonderful day for all, him beaming throughout. A final image of him that sticks with me, capturing of his nature.

As I turn 60 today, I’m thinking of him a lot. My wish is that I could have more of his patience, more of his spirit, more of his kindness. There would be no achievement greater for me to honor him that way.

A Little Lanois (and Friends) in the night.

 

By Steve Hochman

Anyone walking around the Silver Lake Reservoir on Sunday night might have been struck by the sounds wafting from the hills on the eastern side. Not the coyote cackles that often punctuate the evenings there, but the somber weeps of gentle steel guitar.

That was Daniel Lanois, long-time resident of the area, sitting in the portico of his historic, castle-like estate, sitting face to face with partner-in-sliding-steel Rocco DeLuca. The two were performing in part to celebrate the release of their new somewhat-ambient instrumental steel duo album “Goodbye to Language,” and in part to celebrate Lanois’ 64th birthday, which it would become at the stroke of midnight. (The whole thing also was tied to the Art of Elysium, a non-profit working with hospitalized youth, homeless shelters, special needs centers and elderly and hospice patients in arts education and expression as a vehicle for social change. Contributions in exchange for vinyl copies of the album, donated by the artists, went to the organization.)

It calmed the coyotes. And it calmed, entranced, but also excited the guests here for this special occasion. While on the surface the music was calm, if contained many more layers of emotions — sadness, seeking, as well as utter joy, clear from the expressions of the musicians, face-to-face as they improvised around themes and motifs, at times joined by drummer Kyle Crane and bassist Jim Wilson, set up next to them looking out over the landscape.

And Lanois being Lanois, much of the music played for the friends/fans who crowded in around them is newer, unrecorded — not just a few things clearly created right on the spot (Lanois calling out changes to the others), but some new songs by DeLuca, the Long Beach guitarist and singer who has been a Lanois protege for a few years now and has made consistently gripping music on record and on stage in his own right.

During a break between sets, Lanois, chatting alongside his menagerie of motorcycles (he’s fully recovered from his nasty wreck a few years back) was clearly excited about the new music, both on the record and that in process. It’s all about moving forward, he said. All about trying to touch something as an artist, something that touches something in an audience.

“Goodbye to Language” does that in ways that have been part of many of Lanois’ more prominent work, both as an artist and producer of definitive works by U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, the Neville Brothers and so many others. Most profoundly it connects with the ambient works he made in partnership with Brian Eno in the ‘80s, recordings that first brought Lanois to public attention. As wonderful as those records remain, there’s more depth, more emotion in what he’s doing now in that realm. But then, one would hope that would be the case with any artist having grown and accumulated, well, life over the course of several decades. Of course, that’s not always so. And not that the new sounds were all gentle — some of it got downright raw and aggressive, other emotional avenues. In the latter regard, “Language” serves as a complement to 2014’s “Flesh and Machine,” a powerful collaboration with drummer Brian Blade incorporating various electronic manipulations and textures.

Two songs featuring DeLuca’s singing were remarkably moving. “Nightingale” was the poetry of distance, of yearning for love and affection that had faded with time. As he sang he gestured with his hands as he hunched over his steel guitar, sometimes poking his chest, sometimes sweeping his hand out as if gathering something in, the words and feelings seemingly forcing him to portray them physically. A little later, “Congregate” had a quiet gospel feel, Lanois and Wilson provided harmonies, the song a celebration of the salvation of community, of coming together. Which is what was happening here at the house.

Until the cops came.

Seems those sounds wafted a bit too much for a Sunday evening. Lanois being Lanois, he worked that into the performance, not so much taking on the police for doing their jobs, but riffing stream-of-consciousness-wise and not-a-little sarcastically on the contrasts of the challenges of community, of art, of beauty — The many trees he’s planted on his estate: “Evil!” The sidewalk tables at local hangout Cafe Tropical removed: “Evil!” The Art of Elysium: “Evil!” Making music that babies could fall asleep to rather than the sound of jackhammers that’s been in the neighborhood with the reservoir renovation project: “Evil!” It was pure Beat poetry, interwoven with music in which he led his cohorts, at times calling out changes. And with each Evil! came a mischievous smile from Lanois.

Somehow it made for a perfect capper to the night, at least the musical part, as many guests stayed for mingling.

The coyotes remained calm.

Cubed.

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By Steve Hochman

The young man in the mesh-screen cube was improvising some Beethoviana on an upright piano, drawing strongly on the Pathetique, when I walked toward it Sunday evening. The cube has been constructed around a tree, which goes up through the top and canopies overhead. The music coming from within was gorgeous, expertly guided by the gent through ebbing and flowing emotions, the contours seemingly shaped in the moment to incorporate the sounds of traffic along this stretch of Sunset Blvd., the cube sitting in a patch of grass in a West Hollywood city parking lot, just east of the old Tower Records.

He finished, got up, exited the cube be pushing aside one of the mesh “walls” at a corner, shrugged off the visitor’s compliments and explained that the piece was just a little warm-up for the real performance, coming shortly. We talked a little about his day (he’d just had dinner at a nearby restaurant), about his approach to his music (he mentioned a past devotion to the music of minimalist composer/performer Charlemagne Palestine, and amusedly cited a performance at which the cognac-loving Palestine insisted that the audience keep up with his consumption).

“Well, I need to get started,” he said, excusing himself. And with that, Manuel Lima, a slight-built man with Harpo hair and a lilt to his voice imported from his native Sao Paolo, re-entered the cube, sat back at the piano, put a red scarf around his head as a blindfold and started playing.

Beautifully. Building slowly at first, single notes and short phrases, spare harmonics, now playing not just off the traffic and other ambient noises, but specifically with a preprogrammed, composed loop of white noise and subwoofer surges coming from speakers next to the piano — and those in turn triggering bursts and surges of red light from a dozen or so bulbs strung in the cube from the tree branches, at times turning the whole cube a bright, saturated red. Over the course of an hour or so, the music continued through many phases, flowing readily from hypnotic to jarring to somber to giddy, all tonal and inviting, classical in roots, modern in spirit, always inviting a visitor’s attention, but allowing that attention to wander into its own musings, as the music did the same. A video I shot, which you can see below, is a bit more than 19 minutes of it (the phone’s storage maxed out) and gives a pretty good idea of the sonic and visual splendors — you don’t even need to watch the whole thing to get a reasonable sense of it, just dip in anywhere.

A few people wandered up from the sidewalk at the musical invitation — two French tourists out on a walk before heading back to Paris the next morning, a young couple who live nearby (he, it turned out, a fellow Brazilian musician, trained in composition but in recent years the drummer of the hard-rock band We Are Harlot, she the director of the childcare program at a nearby health club), another neighborhood couple walking their bulldog, Winnie. And just by being there, they became part of the performance/experience.

Call it “Sonata for Piano and Sunset Blvd.” Or really “Sonata for Piano, Cube, Sunset Blvd, Neighbors, Electronic Sounds and Red Lights.” All created and delivered for whoever cares to drop by, under the visage of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, glaring down from a billboard overhead.

This is “The Cube,” Lima’s distinct music/art installation/experience in conjunction with the City of West Hollywood. It started last Friday and will end on Sunday (Aug. 21), Lima basically living (and sleeping) in the cube, following a daily schedule including a morning and afternoon performances of “Sunset Blvd.” involving going from left to right on the radio dial and improvising short piano pieces based on things he’s heard, and the evening variations officially titled “Red Light Piano,” which will increase in length each day, with plans for it to be a full five hours by the end. And from 5 to 7 p.m. he is hosting tea just outside the cube, during which he takes great joy in talking about this project — and anything else — with whoever might care to join him. (And yes, he gets breaks during the days to go shower, eat, etc.) It all will change, evolve in some ways through its course, as the experience changes the artist too.

Lima developed the project while finishing a doctorate in musical arts from CalArts (on full scholarship from the Brazilian government), doing a test run of the project on a hillside near the school’s Valencia campus earlier this year.  Laura had been telling me for a while how great a guy Lima is, how fascinating the concept is and in the first days of it how much of a treat it was to have this in West Hollywood. (She is working with the city to promote the project and to help get local residents and businesses aware and involved.) But it needs to be experienced to really grasp its delights. And those delights start with and bloom from the artist. Come by for music. Come by for tea. Come by to chat, with him and others who have come by too. A charmingly hand-written/drawn score, which you can see at this link, gives further sense of his take on what he’s doing

When Lima stopped playing, it was time for some wind-down visiting — he and the other Brazilian musician conversed about their thoughts and experiences in mellifluous Portuguese, while we all took turns petting Winnie (her owners, it turned out, having come by the Cube every night it’s been up). It’s public art with as much public as art. Which is the point.

As we got ready to leave, Lima and I talked more about some of the influences and musical relationships, some direct and others not so much. We talked about John Cage, about LeMonte Young’s “Well Tuned Piano” using alternate “just” tuning. I asked him if he knew the music of late guitarist John Fahey (he didn’t, but was interested), and if he knew John Schneider, the L.A. guitarist and Harry Partch and Lou Harrison devotee who also makes use of “just” tuning and other unconventional set-ups (he did). He told me about his Cal Arts composition teacher Michael Pisaro, who has developed a very personal style involving some long, indeterminate stretches of silence, or near-silence.

It’s all, we agreed, about playing with time, with perceptions of time. Spending time at the Cube and with Lima is time well spent.

… and Counting.

On Aug. 13, 1966, my dad took me to my first rock concert. He had no idea what he was starting.

Aug. 13, 1966

Santa Barbara, California

The capes. It’s the capes. The first thing that comes to mind about that day. We’d gotten there early, pulled into the sparsely occupied parking lot — which car would we have been in? The ’57 Mercury Monterrey with the push-button panel for the automatic transition on the dash to the left of the steering wheel? Probably. Or was it the still-new ’65 Chevy Impala wagon, white body with turquoise top and interior, the backward-facing seat in the way back folded down in wait for some special occasion?

We got out of the car, between the early-afternoon traffic buzzing lightly on Las Positas Rd. up at the top of the succulent strewn slope and the mild activity at the entry to the yellow-domed Orchid Show Hall here at the Earl Warren Showgrounds complex. I’d been here many times for said Orchid Show, for gem shows with Aunt Hester and Uncle Harold, I think for a car show once. We’d been to horse shows in the adjacent open-aired ring, though we’d come regularly in the next decade when Karen became a mainstay on the youth horse-show circuit here. We’d even come in a few years to see the L.A. T-Birds roller derby team making a road-trip appearance, Mom, Dad, Karen, Daniel and me the odd-fit upper-middle-class white family in the largely working class, largely Hispanic and wildly exuberant crowd.

But here, today,  as we got out of the car and started toward the dome, were the capes, being carried on hangers, shrouded in flimsy clear dry-cleaner plastic, from a car a few slots away. Red with black trim. The capes. Or were they black with red trim? Whichever, I was excited just to see them. I probably said something to my dad.

“It’s what they wear! The Count Five!”

Or maybe I just thought it to myself. In any case, I was buzzing, bursting. It was great already. And we were still in the parking lot.

I don’t remember how I talked Dad into this. It wasn’t the kind of thing my parents had shown inclination to allow before. They weren’t nasty about it or anything. It’s not like a lot of 9-year-olds were going to rock concerts in those days.

I’d hear concerts promoted breathlessly on Santa Barbara’s KIST-AM and KACY-AM from just down the coast in Pt. Hueneme, by “Barron” Ron Harron and the other disc jockeys — I can still sing the jingles: “K-I-S-T… thirteen forty!” “Fifteen-twenty, K-A-C-Y” And there were the “Get KIST” bumper stickers around town. I was devoted to the stations, listening any chance I had on my little, black Sears Silvertone transistor radio my parents got for me the year before. Karen and I made signs to put in the car window in hopes we’d be spotted by the KIST Patrol and given whatever fabulous prized they had. Once I even sat in the front yard with a sign, thinking that maybe the Patrol would just happen by and see me. I tried to call in for giveaways, but never won:

“We’ve got something special for the sixth caller who can tell us the name of the group playing this new song. Here’s a hint… it rhymes with ‘Kind Fenders.’”

Busy signal. Busy signal. Busy signal. RINGING!

“The Mind Benders! The Mind Benders!”

“That’s right, but we already have a winner. Better luck next time….”

Awww.

It was a world I wanted to be in, but could not. The shows advertised on the station, or on the marquee of the Earl Warren, seen from the school bus many morning as we passed along, were as distant as the moon. Once the Animals were going to be there. Eric Burdon! I wanted to go so badly. I asked my mom.

“You’re too young. They have an age limit.”

I called the station to find out. They would have to know, right? Who else could I call?

“It’s open to any age, we think,” I was told, and I told my mom that.

“They mean any age older. Not younger. You are not old enough. It’s too late. It wouldn’t be safe.”

But then came word of this Saturday matinee. I asked. They said yes. Here we were.

It must have been a 15 minute wait for the doors to open, though it likely felt much longer. When they let us in there couldn’t have been more than two dozen people there. Inside, straight ahead about three-quarters of the way across the plain concrete floor — no seats, just standing — was a stage, nothing fancy, just a platform with a curtain along the back and some instruments ready for the opening act, a group from Ventura (I think) called the Melody Men (I think). When they started playing there were maybe 60 people inside. They sounded, well, I don’t really have any memory of how they sounded.

When the second band came out, introduced by Harron, then of KACY but later to be on KIST, there were perhaps 150 people inside. And I remember how they sounded, as well I should. You may have heard of them. The Rascals. Though they were still the Young Rascals at that time.

But as soon as they started they had to stop. Felix Cavaliere’s B3 crapped out after just a few notes. It felt like it took half an hour to get it fixed. Given that this was all new to me, I’m sure I figured this kind of technical difficulty was business as usual for rock concerts. Fifty years and thousands of concerts later, I was right.

My dad and I walked around the inside of the hall a little in that time. All those people there looked so…. mature! Teenagers! Some of them must have been at least 16! Guys in slacks, ironed Oxford shirts, black-rimmed glasses, hair just slightly out of trim. Girls in skirts or summer dresses. So this is what a rock crowd looked like, though I already knew that from watching the afternoon dance shows we got on the L.A. stations: Lloyd Thaxton’s “Dance Party” on Channel 13, “Boss City” on KHJ, and of course the weekend national “American Bandstand,” which I’d probably watched that morning.

The organ finally fixed, the Young Rascals resumed, Cavaliere coaxing those cool soul sounds from the keys, Eddie Brigati in a sporty cap, shaking maracas as he sang, and making the biggest impression, Dino Danelli at the drums, twilling his sticks like a baton, bouncing them on the drums and letting go so they flung 20 feet into the air, catching them as they came back down without missing a beat. (Poor guitarist Gene Cornish. I can’t recall a single thing about him.)

They played “In the Midnight Hour” and “Mustang Sally.” They played “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” and, my favorite of theirs at the time, “Good Lovin’,” both songs having been and national hits, the latter hitting No. 1 earlier in the year. They played “You Better Run,” which had made it to No. 20 nationally that spring. And I think they played “Groovin’.” though that may be a faulty memory, as the song wasn’t even released until the next March.

And then…. what I was there for. San Jose’s Count Five. The capes. The hit. Destined to be their only hit, though we didn’t know that at the time. Harron even came back on stage to introduce their “new single,” a song called “Double Decker Bus.” I remember later hearing it on the radio…. never. Not once. Zippo. One hit and Count Five was down for the count.

But that day? Excitement! Elation! Funny thing, what I remember being most interested in from their performance was to see just how they made that chicka-chicka-chicka sound during the frantic instrumental rave-ups in the middle and at the end of “Psychotic Reaction.” I perked up every time the song came on the radio, lived everything about it, the bluesy twang of the electric guitar lick, the thumping drums, the what-the-hell-does-that-mean words …. and those rave-ups — blasting into high gear, verging on total chaos, and then stepping down back into the song proper. Whew! What a ride! Did I get at the time how much it was all a Yardbirds cop? Not sure. Maybe. Doesn’t really matter.

Oh, that sound. The rhythm guitarist damped the strings way up by the pickups with his left hand while strumming rapidly with his right. Genius! Well, no. Pretty simple and hardly original. But I was 9. It was an epiphany, first of its kind in a series of…. any counting. Count Five.

And it was over. No memory of exiting the hall. No memory of the drive home (about a mile). No memory of asking my dad what he thought, or of him volunteering same. We must have talked. He must have said something about it being loud. But I know with absolute certainty that he had a big smile, as big as mine, sharing my joy. He loved music. He didn’t love my music (though over the years our tastes intersected, with some delight). But he loved that I loved music, that I shared a passion he had for it, even if it manifest in different tastes.

I wonder if he ever thought back to that day, if when he watched my life as a professional concert-goer develop he connected it, saw his part in it. I hope he did. I think of it often, and more than anything else about it, I cherish the mental picture of being in that parking lot, seeing the capes, Dad at my side.

——-

Many, many years later I was visiting my friend Tony Berg at the Beverly Hills offices of the Virgin Records label, where he was then the head of A&R. He introduced me to his new assistant, Brandon, and quickly I noticed a poster at the assistant’s desk, a classic ‘60s style advertising a Doors concert at, of all places, Earl Warren Showgrounds.

“Where’d you get that?” I asked.

He said, “Oh, my dad was the promoter for that show.”

I said, “Your dad is Jim Salzer?”

Indeed he was. Jim Salzer Presents was the name attached to all those shows I wanted to see, the name on the radio ads of as mythic proportions as the names of the artists. I told Brandon about that ’66 afternoon of my first concert and he was thrilled. The next day he emailed me and asked if I had a fax number. Within an hour the fax spat out a treat from him, a copy of the Rascals’ contract from that date, though it was for the evening show at the same locale, in which they were headlining. At some point over the years I think I figured out that the show I saw was just a little KIST-sponsored event, but the “real” concert had been that night. And of course the Rascals, with multiple hits, had the top billing over the new kids.

I’m sure that was great too. There were probably kids there attending their first rock concert. I hope their memories are as good as mine of the afternoon show. I hope that started something big for them too. But for me, Aug. 13, 1966 is all about Count Five — now plus five decades, with thousands of concerts. And counting.count_five_psychotic_reaction_psychedelic_rocknroll_garage_punk_nuggets_san_josehouse_dracula