Polar Prize Pickin’ Berry

Chuck Berry, along with opera director Peter Sellars announced today as winners of the Polar Music Prize.   Why?

In its citation for Mr. Berry the award committee wrote that “‘Nuff said.   Now, do you suppose the esteemed Mr. Berry will he hiring a Swedish bar band to back him up when he comes to Stockholm to accept his prize from King Carl Gustaf himself?

I do love the eclectic nature of this Swedish prize.  As the Times puts it,

Last year’s winners were Kaija Saariaho and Yossou N’Dour; in 2006, they were Valery Gergiev and Led Zeppelin; and in 2004 they were B.B. King and Gyorgy Ligeti. (In 2003, Keith Jarrett – who works in both  classical  music and jazz, became the first and so far only musician to win the prize on his own.)

Now, back to Chuck Berry:  The album pictured above is from his second LP, released in 1958, and one of my prized vinyl collections.   Sure, it’s got the hits “Sweet Little Sixteen,”  “Rock & Roll Music,” and “Reelin’ and a Rockin'”….but have you ever heard this classic before: “Rockin’ At the Philharmonic?”  I tend to agree with the All Music Guide characterization:   “Rocking at the Philharmonic” is a rippling guitar/piano workout, a compendium of the sounds that lay beneath those hit singles, and a killer showcase not only for Berry, but also for Lafayette Leake at the ivories, and also a decent showcase for Willie Dixon‘s bass playing.”

Emmylou Harris: For No One

So after writing up the Paul McCartney – Loma Mar Quartet connection the other day, there he was on the tube last night, as part of the WGBH “Beatle Month” of programming.  Last night was a re-airing of the 2010 Gershwin Prize Concert for McCartney, held at the East Room of the White House in 2010 – with an additional concert at the famed (and tiny) Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, which administers the prize on behalf of the Gershwin estate.  (That’s where the footage of “Yesterday” was shot.)

A dizzying (and somewhat baffling) array of special guests sang and played Macca tunes before the honoree and the First Family, including Stevie Wonder, the Jonas Brothers, Faith Hill, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl (an uncanny ability to channel McCartney’s high tenor in “Band on the Run”), and even pianist Lang Lang.

But my hands-down favorite interpretation of the night came from Emmylou Harris, who managed to turn “For No One” into a convincing Appalachian ballad:

When Bad Names happen to Good Bands

Funny blog post today by Bob Boilen of All Song Considered about Bad Band Names…a perpetual source of amusement for musicheads. What got Bob going was a band called The Dodos, whowere DOA until he heard them play at South by Southwest in Austin.

Of course, poorly-named bands have been around since Bill Haley launched his Comets. And by pure coincidence, I had just happened to run across another post in the Web-o-sphere the day before called The 25 Most Ridiculous Names in Rock History -broken down into “Stealth Ridiculous” – (Porno for Pyros, the Alan Parsons Project) “Lazily Ridiculous” (Of Montreal, W.A.S.P.), “Just Plain Ridiculous” (The The, Mr. Mister, The Mr. T Experience), and finally, “The Painfully Ridiculous,” (Archers of Loaf, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Numero Uno, !!! (or Chk-Chk-Chk, in tribute to the 80s cult classic movie The Gods Must Be Crazy)

Common to both lists: bands inadvertantly named by members of the Monty Python troupe, including my personal favorite, Toad The Wet Sprocket. Both a Brit and American band took the name after a hilarious Eric Idle skit on (“Rock Notes”) on Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album.

And Death Cab for Cutie was coined by Pythoner Neil Innes, during his days with the gonzo Bonzo Dog Band. Don’t remember Neil? He’s the smart-aleck minstrel chronicling the adventures of chicken-livered “Brave Sir Robin” on Monty Python and the Holy Grail….

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PS – Click here for more than you ever wanted to know about Band name origins…

Life imitates….Video Games? The Guitar Zeroes

The Guitar ZeroesI am perhaps the only person in the blogoverse to look at this and think immediately of the shape-note singing tradition that was developed in America in the 19th century. Back then, they used differently-shaped notes to teach people who couldn’t read music to sing; today, thanks to Guitar Hero, all you need are five color-coded buttons….

Okay, it’s not like I’m obsessed with this game or anything, but isn’t this yet more proof of the the game’s game-changing impact? Watch this entire video from the Plasticky Goodness blog on Current.tv and see if you don’t agree….

The Key(board) to the Stones



ON THE NE CORRIDOR LINE SOMEWHERE BETWEEN PHILLY AND NEWARK – While I’m wrapping up a day trip to NYC I stumble across a charming little article written by keyboardist Chuck Leavell buried in the “Business Travel” section wayyyy in the back of Tuesday’s New York Times.

I’ve always been a fan of Leavell’s, who has a pretty amazing resume: Since he joined the Allman Brothers as a teenager (check out his YouTube dissection of “ ), he’s played with Eric Clapton, Blues Traveler, George Harrison, and dozens more. He’s also a pretty fair jazz pianist, and has written books on tree farming and conservation.

But what he’s best known for (and the article is mainly about) is being the pianist and music director for the tours of the Rolling Stones. Which means he’s on the road, and in the air. A lot. Like two years for the most recent “Bigger Bang” tour of the Stones:

In an airplane you have a captive audience, which makes everything easier. I’m well versed in the huge catalog of songs the Stones have written, recorded and performed. Obviously we can’t get to all of them since there are more than 400, but I try to find a balance of the new, old, interesting and unusual. After writing up the set, I’ll consult with Mick, Keith and the others on the particulars of a concert. And a lot of work gets done while we are en route to various destinations.

Quite an image, innit? Chuck sitting down the Mick and the boys, going over a set list like a wedding caterer deciding on the menu.

For more on Chuck, check out this interview and performance from 2002 on the new NPR Music site….

EMI & Radiohead: “Sticking It” to The Fans?


Yesterday’s entry was about the news of a majority of fans deciding that the right price for Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want experiment was zero, although now the band is disputing those figures.

So, if zero is sublime for fans, what’s ridiculous? A poster to Wired’s Listening Post music blog the other day got it right: “wow, an idea that comes so very close to being good!”

The reaction was to the announcement by Radiohead’s (ahem, FORMER) label EMI, which, announced in an innovative “digital box set” approach to all six of the English band’s releases on its subsidiary Parlophone: Pablo Honey, The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail To The Thief, plus the live album I Might Be Wrong.

So far, so good. Making a little hay while the sun breaks out over the In Rainbows hoopla. The words of Wired pick it up from here:

Unlike the digital version of In Rainbows, this box set has several high fixed prices depending on which format you choose: downloadable MP3 (320 Kbps, $70), a CD box set ( 7 discs, $80), or a 4GB USB drive (WAV files and artwork, $160). It’s odd that the CD box set costs half as much as the USB version, despite containing the exact same musical data.

“Odd” is putting it mildly. The fans are not amused:

$160 for a USB stick with music on it? Is that some kind of joke? A USB with a band’s entire back-catalogue: awesome idea, step in the right direction. That price is beyond insulting, though.

Yet another reason why the record industry resembles the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight…


Somewhere, At the End of “In Rainbows….”

….didn’t lie a pot of gold for Radiohead’s “pay what you like” strategy. Give them props for trying, but as Digital Music News reported yesterday, 62% of the downloaders of the English progrock band’s seventh album (only available via Radiohead’s website) paid nada for it.

Bubkus.

Zilch.

On the other hand, that means that 38% DID pay something, so the experiment wasn’t a total bust. Average price: (according to ComScore) $6.00. But that’s a little deceptive: Turns out that in the US, the number of purchasers was slightly higher – 40% – and they paid an average of $8.05 for the album download…which means that 36% of the rest of the world paid an average of $4.64!

I think it’s too early to deem this a “success” or “failure” (I pointed out in an earlier post that mainly-classical boutique label Magnatune has been taking this approach for a couple of years now), save for the inescapable truth that the value of a recorded piece of music is being driven ever downward.

AND, I suspect that this is partly psychological, but this situation is exacerbated once the “physical product” is taken away. In other words, when there’s no old-fashined vinyl album, CD, or any other physical manifestation, just what is “it” that you’re holding in your hand?

An iPod or a cell phone, dummy. And they are selling quite handsomely, at a more-than-decent markup. So how do make any money selling music?

Jerry Del Colliano’s Inside Music Media post today puts it this way:

Some 62% of Radiohead’s fans stiffed them at the tip jar.

100% of AT&T’s cell phone customers pay them every time they text message someone.

Is it getting any easier to see the solution?

Music is priced too high. The marketplace is speaking and no one is listening.

Music for the price of a text message — addictive, compulsive and easy to collect.

Now that’s money in the bank.

In my next post: How Radiohead’s former label, EMI, is taking advantage of their Internet buzz….