(Acts I have seen in Bold. No hyperlinks. But every single one deserves it)
Reading Keef's autobiography and his repeated and unabashed affection for Bobby Keys, the Rolling Stones horn man, got me thinking. Bobby Keys was a young man when he put those horn riffs on "Bitch" as well as the tracks on Exile on Main Street. But he didn't start with the Stones. Bobby Keys Played with BUDDY HOLLY. He played with Bobby Vee. And he is still alive.
In fact, Rock and Roll is the very same age I am, and despite the cry "Rock and Roll will Never Die" it appears I am going to outlive it.
Though I have all the vanity of a woman and then some, I will admit to being 57 years old. Hank Williams died the same year I was born. That is, if you believe his chauffeur's account that he made it until the stroke of midnight. We do know he was still in his boots the morning of January 1,1953 but they were as cold as his cold, cold heart.
Like Dylan (and the Rolling Stones) I was alive when Elvis made his first recordings. When the Beatles played Sullivan, I was not only old enough to know who they were, I was already a fan. The first record I purchased on my own was Sherry by the Four Seasons and I played it so often, my falsetto is as comfortable to me as a pair of warm socks.
Bob Dylan in his autobiography writes of how fortunate he was to have lived when the greats were alive. He played with many of them. He played harmonica on a Big Joe Williams and Victoria Spivey album in 1962. He too performed with Bobby Vee and I was alive when he did. Dylan pretty much believes he represents the last generation of authentic rock, blues and such, I am afraid he is correct. But what a privilege to have lived through it. It is an unearned honor of my own to have been here too.
I have almost managed to avoid being a grumpy old man. Those of you who know me may snicker, but when it comes to music it could be true. When you grow up seeing Iggy Stooge and the MC5 perform live, and not just once, somehow anything which follows is acceptable (and often, by comparison, trite.) But i was lucky then too. I have closed my mind in many places, but not in music.
This article is meant to laud the wonderful thing known as Rock and Roll and not my own life. I was just fortunate to be there, and anyone my age will have their own glory tales. I will avoid listing everyone I have had the privilege to see and the genres I have followed from the start. But it might seem like they are all here...it's been a long time. These are personal highlights, Allow me some boasting, it will help illustrate my point.
I saw Muddy Waters play live. He was performing then on a stool, but I was there and it counts, trust me. I saw the same band without Muddy play again some 35 years later. I sat close enough at an Ike and Tina Turner Review show to blow smoke up the Ikettes skirts, and if we had cam phones then, Ike might have kicked my ass.. (As an aside, those of you who persist in thinking of Ike only as a wife-beater should have been there...as not only did Ike perform on the first rock and roll single in history* without him I dare say Tina would still be Anna Mae Bullock and living in Nutbush instead of Monaco.) He also discovered numerous quality juke-joint bluesman while acting as a scout and of all the guitar players I have seen, the axe seemed most comfortable in his hands. A cool dude I will cut a little slack.
I saw the Byrds when they had David Crosby. I had to sneak out of my window and sneak into the club, but I did it. I then immediately begged for what was known as a "Ponderosa" shirt. There is a 1967 clip of them playing "Eight Miles High" on YouTube around the same time, it's great. You can see they were all adults, but I wasn't.
I have been hit with Patti Smith's saliva and without exaggerating, felt anointed. I've seen her more than once, but with Lenny Kaye from the front row of the Village Underground was the best.
I've seen Dr. John play in a club with no more than 50 people, one of whom was the District Attorney of New Orleans who had kicked him out of New Orleans for junk use decades earlier. The good doctor was kind enough to point him out sitting directly behind me anyway and I shook his hand. (He is Harry Connick's father by the way.) If I am not mistaken, I believe the D.A. had Mac teach Harry to play. I am remembering here, not fact-checking, but I believe this is true.
I saw Alice Cooper so early, we literally didn't know if he was a man or a woman until he came out..
I was alive when Reggae was invented. Most of you probably think it is ancient, but no. The island folk could barely pick up New Orleans radio, and when they heard Fats Domino (who is still alive, although most white folks didn't even KNOW it until Katrina forced him out of his house) sputtering through the air, they picked it up with the skips and beats they thought were there and created a genre. During my life.
I saw James Brown when he played to African-Americans pretty exclusively, and it was long before his problems. I saw Chuck Berry play with a pick-up band...the name of the boys escapes me, but they pretty much just stood there in Beatle jackets while Chuck did the show. It was before "My Ding-a-Ling" I am proud to say.
I saw the Everly Brothers (!) I saw Pinetop Perkins. I saw Honeyboy Edwards, probably he last person alive to have taken a leak with Robert Johnson.
I saw Mitch Ryder play outside to a hill of 100 hippies...and if he doesn't get in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one day the organization is a sham. Speaking of the hall of fame, I've seen a lion's share of those in it, including even Allen Toussaint and manager Albert Grossman. I'm not actually sure Grossman is in the hall, but he could be, and it is a great celebrity sighting, right?
I've shaken the hand of a man who not only sang in a group with Woody Guthrie, he was sharing a sleeping bag with Woody when he wrote "This Land is Your Land." When I gazed up at his wall to see pictures of him with Woody, I almost fainted. His name was Millard Lampell, he survived later to be blacklisted during the 1950s, and I didn't wash my hand for a day.
I've also seen and shaken the hands of George Jones (who thanked me for liking him both when he was drunk and sober, as I have been, and called me "son" as he said it) and Levon Helm, who called me "his brother" but was just being polite. He didn't even know me, but when he was recovering from cancer and opening his place for small shows, I went as often as I could.
Del Shannon was born 15 miles from where I live today.
I have towered over Paul Simon in line at an antique show. I worked out on a slant board next to Madonna (who said to me "it smells like pork chops in here") and she was right, the gym had a deli below. I've shared a pull-down lat bar with Bruce Springsteen when he was pumping up for the "Glory Days" photos. He worked out in his boots and didn't smell too good. I didn't blame him, and I didn't wipe the bar.
I've seen Van Morrison. I have seen the Neville Brothers, who if it weren't for institutional racism would be today considered one of the greatest groups ever formed in this country. Aaron Neville had his first hit in 1966 and he is still a saint and still on the road. His older brother Art goes back even further. Go see them while they are here.
I saw the Beach Boys perform long before the Kokomo days, thankfully, and saw Brian Wilson years later reconstruct Pet Sounds. I've seen Willie Nelson throw his hat into a crowd many times and each time with Paul the drummer. Neil Young passed me on his way to accept an award. I saw Dave Brubeck play with a harmonica player named, I believe, Peter "Madcat" Ruth and I wonder where he is today.
I've seen Eminem, who is simply astounding. I've seen Gaga, who is not, though it was only one song so...nope...sorry, she sucks.) I've seen the Talking Heads and met David Byrne twice. I stood next to him in a cramped church for the performance of one of Glenn Branca's symphonies (Look him up, if you haven't heard 12 electric guitars played at full volume with mallets, you need to) When the last chord faded, I shouted to Mr Byrne "Well...That was good" and we both laughed out loud though neither of us could hear it) I've seen the Ramones. In fact, I've seen dozens of bands who played CBGBs and hell...i've seen CBGBs. Now it exists only as a Las Vegas sham. And yes, like many notables and not sos, I have used the CBGB bathroom, many times, and i'm still alive.
I used to squeeze past Doc Pomus as he rested in his wheelchair in a record store on Bleecker street. Doc Pomus! My God..just go look up the songs he wrote.
I've seen Steppenwolf. (STEPPENWOLF!) They were all in nasty, nasty black leather except the keyboard player, who was wearing a dress. A giant beer hall, and I spent the last half-hour making out with a girl I met at the show behind the speaker stand. I tried for a month to find her again, but couldn't.
I've seen James Cotton. Otha Turner. Yep... and owned a flute he carved but sold it for thirty dollars.
I saw the Duke Ellington Orchestra and heard Cootie Williams blow his trumpet like an elephant. I saw Violent Apathy play a Polish VFW hall in Grand Rapids, they scared me. I saw Devo on their first big tour.
Lucinda Williams. The Cramps at least five times. The Bush Tetras. I've seen the Feelies, one of the great forgotten bands, and they only played on holidays for God's sake. The Gang of Four. I was invited to the Public Image Limited Show at the Ritz but didn't go. I saw Jonathan Richman play a golf course clubhouse with maybe ten tables. I saw Bob Seger with the Silver Bullet Band and BEFORE the Silver Bullet Band.
I've seen Tony Bennett sing right out on the street at 6th Avenue and 48th. I've seen him also in Carnegie Hall and he didn't even need a microphone. Tony not only has the best rug in the business, he smiles at everyone he meets and buys his own paint supplies on 57th Street. I've seen Tito Puente.
Son Ford Thomas played Delta blues for me in his bedroom. When he died several years later, I am sure he was the poorest man the New York Times ever gave an obit. Sterling "Satan" Magee also played for me in his rent-controlled Harlem apartment. I'm a sucker for authenticity, and you can't be any more than that.
I nearly weeped watching B. B. King play solo runs he had certainly done a thousand times before and can see the colors and flash of the show still as I write.
I've seen so many...but did miss a few. No true regrets. I never saw Nirvana, but was around to be pleased they kicked radio ass, and did see the Foo Fighters but liked opening act The Breeders more.
I saw Gwen Stefani, who wasn't so good...but I also saw her husband Gavin play Roseland from behind the stage the night before they closed Woodstock Two (the fake one) and they were great.
I could go on and will. If it seems I'm tooting my own horn, I am. (Speaking of horns, I've seen Wynton Marsalis in a small venue and if you ever get a chance, go) I don't care if he is just there to introduce an act, you'll want to tell your kids one day you saw Wynton Marsalis and there aren't too many performers around today I would say that about.
What were the best shows? Surprisingly, one was the Guess Who in a gymnasium. You might laugh, and it could have been the pot, but I sat there slack-jawed as hit after hit after hit rolled at me so pure and perfect I was stunned. Crosby and Nash in 1971 acoustic was astounding...the whole place was rapt and it felt like church, even they were amazed and kept thanking us.
The J. Geils Band around the same time, and I didn't even LIKE them, but what a show. I was converted in a night. Peter Wolf is another fellow who has been here long enough to know the greats, and he doesn't get anywhere near the attention he deserves. No, it didn't start with "Centerfold." There are scant few clips of the band in their glory, but they are worth finding. Find one either in black and white or before 1972 and you will thank me. It is time for a box and an autobiography, Peter.
John Fahey solo electric was both good and special, as it was a club of 50 and he didn't live long after.
The first few times I saw a very young Alison Krauss I couldn't believe it...I thought an angel had fallen to the stage in front of me. And both times were free and outdoors.
The B-52s in a roller rink (and yes, I was wearing skates) was great.
Some of my favorite shows were Ricky Skaggs and his giant bluegrass group, and If Lyle Lovett comes to your town, that is a treat you should not miss. It is easy to see how Julia Roberts (yes...walking ahead of me on 17th Street...she can't sing, but still) fell in love with him. Steve Earle acoustic with Emmy Lou in the small room at Carnegie was right up there, but he can rock a show too.
The Human Switchboard was always great and I count them among the best shows I have seen. R.L. Burnside with his white son Kenny Brown was outstanding, and you should look up Kenny Brown. I honestly believe he and Mick Jagger are the only Caucasians who play blues rather than replicate them.
Cheap Trick (!) at a show which was almost canceled due to an ice storm...I think my little sister gave me the tickets and there were probably no more than 100 in a hall which would have fit 10,000. They played the show, they were great and they probably spent the night at a hotel rather than driving back to Chicago. There were almost as many guitars on the stage as people in front of it.
The Talking Heads at Park West one year around Christmas, maybe 1978. I remember David Byrne staring at the tiny Christmas tree on the stage in a trance. I was too...I had all 4 wisdom teeth pulled that morning but went to the show anyway. The pain killers wore off just about at the encore.
I saw Elvis Costello play a few of the now much admired solo shows at Avery Fisher Hall...not only was he at the peak of form, he played onstage with a giant spinning wheel of songs and did whatever the arrow landed on.
The Specials around 1978. I remember them literally climbing up the stage curtains like monkeys (if that sounds racist, it is, but Howlin' Wolf used to do it too and he was like 300 pounds) Ska music is great, and if it hadn't been ruined by some California bands in the 80s we would still be listening to it.
Another favorite which will surprise you? HANSON! I had tickets to Letterman and they were the musical guests. Okay, fine, whatever. But after the show, the three brothers came out with acoustic guitars and played a set from the fire escape for two hundred Puerto Rican and New Jersey girls below who didn't have tickets to get in the Ed Sullivan Theater. They didn't have to do it. They did. It was just charming.
Another "best of" which might surprise you was a series of Jesus freak tent shows I saw one summer in high school. I lived in a beach town with plenty of beer-drinking kids like myself, and the city fathers thought it a good idea to put on a regular show with religion to counteract the times. The preacher/performer was a Brit named Jonathan Guest and as I recall, he had a former "Mother of Invention" or two in the band with him. Fellow converts. They put on a great show, it was warm, we could smoke and there were sand dunes behind the tent to make-out in.
The WORST? Well, who can complain of any rock and roll show...but Dylan with flute in 1978 sucked big. Plus it was in a Hockey Rink, the folding chairs were clamped together and he was wearing sparkly bell bottoms. Dylan should not play with a flute. Budokan be damned. I've saw him once before that and many after, but that show belongs deeper than an off-shore oil drill. An "on the pipe" (or something) James Brown at Radio City was pretty bad too, with distended stomach, and since the other time I had seen him Michael Jackson was a squirt, that was dismal and unfortunate. And like James Brown, I also saw Crosby and Nash at their best and worst, but the latter may qualify mostly because the girl in front of me barfed.
Who did I miss? Gosh, plenty. I never saw the Allman Brothers with Duane, but I sure wish I had. Especially as there is so little footage of him. At least I CAN say I never saw Humble Pie, Foghat, Yes, ELP or ELO. Yuck.
I never saw the Stones...by the time I realized how good they were tickets were hard to come by, and there is little worse than being in the last row of anything. I do thank them for touring every five years to give me a shot, but it never happened.
I am embarrassed to say I never saw the Clash, but I heard them through my bathroom window and they sounded great. I lived a few blocks from the outdoor pier shows off the West Side Highway, and they were the only band loud enough to reach me. If I hadn't been drunk, I would have walked over to the abandoned elevated highway and watched with my dog. I saw some good shows up there for free looking right down on the stage. I could see the spreads set out for the performer's food clauses too, that is until crack was invented and they tore the highway down when it filled with addicted squatters.
Now there were a few before my time I would swap much of the above for. I would trade about 3/4 of them to see three performances by Charlie Patton. I guess I would do the same for Robert Johnson, but then I have the feeling he was kind of a little prick. I would love to have seen the Swan Silvertones at their prime.
I would literally cut off a finger to have heard Buddy Bolden...a New Orleans trumpet player who never recorded but they say was so loud the whole city could hear him. I never saw the King, but I did get yelled at for asking the tour guide at Graceland if we could see the room he died in. Appropriately, on the throne. I never saw Sly Stone or Prince...two genius artists I believe are in touch with each other through space and time.
One of my favorite musical experiences was the day I snuck into the Miami Beach Fontainebleau Hotel swimming pool from the beach. I was staying at a far, far cheaper hotel a mile away and getting sober. It was, let's see...I gave up counting, but 15 years ago, maybe 20 years ago. Ask my liver. Just before Miami Beach got cool again. But my pool was a pit, and if the lifeguard was looking the other way, one could go right off the beach to the greatest swimming pool in the world. You could swim right up to a bar and I resisted!
One day I sat there while two "wise guys" (and I mean it like you think.."made") with tan stomachs, neck chains and Speedos played a tiny cassette bootleg recording of the Chairman of the Board from 1965. I know it was a bootleg as they said so, I sat close enough to hear every word and note. Their bleached wives were fruggin' to it. (Now that I reconstruct it, maybe not their wives...but anyway) The music was crisp and strong, so was Frank.
Now all this might seem special, and every one certainly is to me...but most folks of my generation have their own stories. I know folks who saw so many Springsteen shows they've lost hearing. The point is how lucky we all have been to be there for it, and to have the opportunity even if we didn't use it. Somehow, staring into a hand-held device to see your heros just doesn't seem the same, and no amount of Verizon or Apple commercials will convince me.
Through some lucky quirk, I managed to be born at the precise time Rock was invented and to have lived through its entire cycle. I am afraid it is gone, a mere blip in music history to be sure...but how great it was to be there for it.
There may be still a few of the genuine article around today. Not many, but a few. Jack White is the real deal, but he is more of an interpreter than an originator. Eddie Veder is one of the best rock singers ever, and he still has a few years left in him, I think. Maybe. To be sure there are thousands of great, really great and talented performers in the country/pop/rock/R&B genre out there, and I will always hope for one more great garage band to surface. They are there.
I don't go much anymore. I've left New York City, where many of the above took place, but I've returned to Michigan where many did as well, so my fingers are crossed. I haven't been back to New Orleans since the flood, it is too painful. I sure hope they can somehow recreate the atmosphere which literally gave our music life. I suspect there are some young pups making noise right now in Detroit who will kick some ass, that city has never let me down musically, from John Lee Hooker all the way to Kid Rock..but it is a three hour drive each way and I'm old and my lungs are shot.
Anyway, I am glad to have been a face in the crowd in so many good places.
Read this again, dude....I saw freaking STEPPENWOLF at their peak in a beer joint with Harleys out front and a young blond I didn't know in my arms. Suck it!
*I admit, "Rocket 88" came out two years before I was born...but that's the only exaggeration in here.
By Jim Linderman
Photo: Press Photograph of Chuck Berry 1971 Publicity Still, Embellished by Hand Collection Jim Linderman