Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I Still Miss Joe Strummer

“We aren't particularly talented. We try harder!”

Born August 21, 1952 --- Died  December 22, 2002 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Radio Radio

XL Sun Spot
As a Musical Immigrant, radio has played a big part in my life. When I turned 10 (or 11, I can't remember) I received a transistor radio for my birthday. I listened to Buddy B on CKXL spinning the top 40 hits in the late 60s.

Since underground FM hadn't made it to my small city on the Canadian prairie, Calgary, I had to settle for the late night radio show on "XL" called Groove Yard. The DJ used to play longer and heavy songs like Hendrix which frankly scared the crap out of me under the covers at night.

Like many of my generation, radio influenced me to make music a priority in my life. When I got to high school I spun records over the PA system but I was too shy to use the microphone to DJ. I just wanted to share my music with the kids in the lunchroom. Frankly I don't think they could hear it very well with the tinny speaker.

The "pizza" logo from the 80s. 
Fast forward to university. The day I walked onto the U of Calgary campus, I also walked into the campus radio station CJSW. I worked up the guts to DJ and had a blast. Same in Windsor Ontario at U of W. Volunteered at CJAM.

Earned a communications degree and a journalism degree. I worked at two private radio stations as a news reporter then for more than two decades at CBC Radio Calgary, Edmonton, Windsor and Sudbury in many capacities, mostly as a current affairs producer and as a features reporter. I even got to produce a one hour radio documentary about Canada's travelling rock festival - Festival Express. I'm very proud of that.

So add it all up and radio was my life.

Now it's not.

I don't work in the business anymore so that, and digital music, has changed the way I consume radio. While in the news business, I only listened to news radio - CBC and our private competition to see if THEY were onto something WE weren't. 

Now I work in communications for a college, I am liberated from news/talk in the morning so I usually start with CKUA, Alberta's community radio station that plays an eclectic variety of music. I find some of their on air people insufferable and overly sincere and they work too hard to be clever but their taste in music is impeccable. 

I also flip to CBC Radio 2 which is Canada's FM service that follows a similar format to CKUA. I even tune into a clone of the old 'XL which is programming to my demographic but as soon as a commercial or DJ comes on I'm outta here. And, okay, I skip back to our local CBC station for news etc. but if it gets the least bit annoying I jump to music.

Of course we live in the world of time shifting and podcasting so you can listen to all these radio stations even if you're reading this blog in Bulgaria, which is extremely cool. As a musical immigrant I had the pleasure of listening to my late friend David Gold being interviewed on a Finnish radio station via my computer. That would have been unthinkable when I first met David about 10 years ago.

My big new radio passion is American public radio via podcast. I am captivated by Fresh Air, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and This American Life. I am a loyal fan and they make up my nighttime listening.

I used to think Canadian public radio was far superior to US but I am sad to say our radio service has been left in the dust. I'm afraid the slashing and burning carried out lately by the Stephen Harper Conservative government will put the final few nails in the coffin of Canadian public radio - death by a thousand cuts as we said when I worked for the Mother Corp. and this makes me sad.

As for the future of radio in general? For one thing, private radio will pretty much always remain crap. But radio will survive and maybe even thrive. When it emerged as a force in the 1920s, people predicted radio would decimate the magazine industry and movie attendance. When television's popularity soared in the 40s and 50s, people predicted it would be the end of radio and movies. They're all still here.

When new media (like this internet "thing") bump into old media, the old seem to simply redefine themselves. Also, I'd like to remind all the young 'uns that podcasting is pretty much time shifting radio. 

I feel both fear and excitement for young people who are pondering future jobs in the media - DJs, newsies, video shooters etc. Conventional media radio, TV and yes of course newspapers are all in flux. Fear because those jobs are disappearing. Excitement because they may end up running their own radio/tv/newspaper on the internet as a blog. Something I couldn't dream of when I was a 10 year old listening to my transistor.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Press Play> Vol.22 Harris Eisenstadt Jazz Composer, Drummer, Improviser

I am pleased to add one of Canada's shining lights in the world of jazz to my blog.Harris Eisenstadt's reputation in the jazz world has blossomed.

His home base these days is Brooklyn N.Y. He grew up in Toronto, studied music at the California Institute of Arts and has spent many months in Africa studying with master musicians.

Here's a nice succinct biography from AllAboutJazz.com

One of only a handful of drummers equally well-known for his work as a composer, Eisenstadt is among the most versatile and prolific musicians of his generation. 

His eclectic resume includes studies with some of the most respected names in both improvised music and West African drumming, and performances in genres ranging from film and theatre to poetry and dance to contemporary classical and opera.

Most active in jazz and improvised music, as both an in- demand sideman and a bandleader, he has performed all over the globe, earned commissions from organizations such as Meet The Composer and the American Composers Forum, and appeared on more than 40 recordings over the past decade.

You can get some insight into Harris' music when he talks about his Canada Day II project in this video. (He has since released Canada Day III

Harris visited Calgary on a recent tour through Canada playing most of the major jazz festivals and venues as a member of the François Houle Quintet plus Benoît Delbecq. I asked him if he would PRESS PLAY> I am pleased to tell you he complied. Here's Harris' answers to some questions about the records that have influenced his music.

What have you been listening to lately? What is on your iPod, CD player, turntable these days?

Cuban Bata, Senegalese Mbalax, Radiohead, Feist, Bjork, 1970s Springsteen, Craig Taborn, Benoit Delbecq

What is the record (okay maybe two or three or four or more ) that influenced your music the most?

All of the 1960s Miles Davis Quintet and John Coltrane Quartet records. The revolutionary drumming of Tony Williams and Elvin Jones... as well as the visceral power of the music and the beyond-distinct instantly-identifiable individual voices and group sounds.

What was the first record you bought?

Eric Clapton Time Pieces There was definitely a classic rock influence from my dad, who played the drums in a rock band in the '60s, though it was Time Pieces because I had somehow fallen in love with the song Layla. I don't remember my dad having Clapton tapes. I remember him playing along to Rolling Stones, J. Geils Band, Men at Work and CCR.

What’s your favourite cover tune? (Song and covered by whom?)

My One and Only Love John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman - This was actually one of the 60s Coltrane records I wasn't deeply into already when I met my wife Sara. She loved it and we listened to it endlessly for years. We still put it on regularly. (Written by Guy Wood and lyrics by Robert Mellin, recorded by Doris Day and Andre Previn in 1962)

What is the record that you count as a guilty pleasure?

Sade, Lovers Rock Guilty because the electro/smooth jazz/pop vibe can sometimes be a little much. Lots of chord suspensions, etc., but seriously, I love Sade's singular sound. It's as distinct as Miles or Coltrane. As soon as you hear it you know it's her. Guilty pleasure also because the beats/loops are pretty clean and surgical. It's not really my approach to groove playing at all, but I love it nonetheless.

Currently, what’s your favourite record to listen to on the road?

Mbaye Dieye Faye, Rimbi Rimbi pop star Senegal. I just downloaded a couple of his records on emusic.com. I heard him live in Dakar and I studied with his extended family, one of the handful of famous traditional drumming families in Dakar.

Which of your records is your favourite?

Canada Day III (Songlines) and Canada Day Octet (482 Music), my two new leader records III is a continuation of my working group's concept, adventurous and accessible song forms with lots of different structures for individual solo voices to emerge.
Octet is another in a series of long-form compositions for medium-sized ensembles and the first time I've tried expanding my already-existing working group rather than building a new ensemble from scratch.

What’s the record you bought that you wish you didn’t?

I can’t remember (maybe that’s a good thing!)

You can find him on facebook and on twitter @HEisenstadt and on YouTube

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Canada's Festival Express - The Radio Documentary - Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, The Band

In June 1970 a bunch of musicians gathered in central Canada. They boarded a train and headed west.
It was no ordinary group of travellers. 

There was Janis Joplin, the Band, the Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy and a host of others. It was Festival Express. The train was full of the most popular musicians of the day. It was chugging its way from city to city for a series of concerts. Sort of a movable Woodstock. And it was heading for my home town.

I was so excited I was vibrating. 

I read everything I could about the concert. I got my hands on a round "rumpersticker," Yes you read right  "RUMPersticker" - to wear proudly on the the back pocket of my Lee jeans.  

There were free concerts on weekends on an empty lot in "East Village" (Where they created a mini Hait-Ashbury on a section of 8th Avenue S.E. in Calgary where the municipal building stands today). 

I was barely a teenager but I was hoping upon hope that my parents would let me go to the big show. No way. 1) I was too young to hang around with with a bunch of pot smoking hippys. 2) The ticket price ($10 advanced, $12 at the door) was OUTRAGEOUS. 

I may not have gone to Festival Express when it came to Calgary's McMahon Stadium on July 4, 1970 but 30 years later I did get to produce a one-hour radio documentary about Festival Express for the program DNTO on CBC Radio One. It aired about three years before the documentary film came out. Here it is on YouTube for your listening pleasure.

The movie Festival Express was supposed to come out one year after my documentary aired on CBC but it didn't come out until 2003. I was pleased that the producers invited me to the premier at the Toronto Film Festival. Thank goodness this movie finally made it. Festival Express is a piece of Rock and Roll history particularly because it was Janis Joplin's final concert tour. It is also Canadian history. Thank goodness the story has been told and the music has been preserved. I hope you listened to my radio documentary and enjoyed it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Death and Rebirth of Rock n Roll.

The year was 1973. I was a wee lad (actually not so wee I was in high school) and American Graffiti was all the rage.

The movie was a big hit.

So was the soundtrack.

High schools and night clubs held 50s themed dances. Boys and girls rolled up the legs of their jeans. Boys put water in their hair to look like greasers. Brave ones actually used Brylcream. And we all danced to the best and the worst of 50s early 60s pre-Beatles rock n roll.

Also, remember Sha Na Na?

In retrospect it was all pretty cornball and quite embarrassing. It was media hype and manufactured nostalgia that promoted a comic image of the era without paying respect to the rhythm and blues and country and western that defined the music. That kind of overly sentimental Disneyfication of American roots music was the kiss of death of rock n roll.

But something happened. Maybe it was John Lennon's 1975 Rock 'n' Roll album that breathed new life into the art form. It certainly gave it back some credibility.

Fast forward to punk in the late 1970s that shocked  rock and roll's heart back to beating, a movement that inspired one of my all time favourite bands that revived traditional rockabilly rock and roll with all its rough edges intact - the Blasters.

I am pleased to report the Blasters have released a record as of June 2012, the first new material in years. Fun on a Saturday Night.

Here's a link to an NPR report about their return. I'll post links to new video material when it's available but meanwhile here's an early performance, a Blasters classic (a Little Willie John cover) and below that, a video from a 2010 show, one of their great songs - American Music.

The Blasters first record came out in 1980. They were part of scene some refer to as Cowpunk  that includes X, Rank and File (Alejandro Escovedo was a member) and Los Lobos.  And for the record, when people mention 80s music THESE are the bands I think of. (Musical Immigrant note: Look for X's John Doe at the 2012 Calgary Folk Music Festival.)

Musical Immigrant news update: As of June 2012, word via Dave Alvin on Facebook that his brother Phil Alvin, the lead singer in the Blasters, fell ill in Spain, while the band was on tour. Wishing Mr. Alvin, his family and the band all the best.

At the same time as The Blasters are making new music, more artists are emerging to breath life into this style of rock and rock. My newest find is J.D. McPherson. His debut Signs & Signifiers is terrific. It reached the top of the Americana charts soon after it's release.

As a musical immigrant, my earliest memories are of a time when rock and roll was rebel outsider music, then it became the main-est of mainstream, then a parody of itself and now, well, in some respects it has become part of a redefined folk/roots tradition where country, R&B and soul music mish and mash and comes out as indie-alt-country-roots-rock-Americana (see No Depression the online magazine for more of this stuff.) and I couldn't be happier with its latest reincarnation.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Calgary Folk Festival: Four To Look For - Bradley, Barr, Brown and Carpenter

I was asked to help out with the Calgary Folk Music Festival podcasts again this year. The talented, clever and all around wonderful Johanna Schwartz and I sat down in the University of Calgary's CJSW studios to talk about some of the artists I am looking forward to at this year's festival. Listen to the podcast here or on iTunes.

I have always said the ones I am looking forward to are the ones I don't know yet but I did come up with these four artists coming to perform on Prince's Island in Calgary July 26 to 29.

Charles Bradley

The Barr Brothers

Junior Brown

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Find podcast produced by the Calgary Folk Music Festival here and soon here.




Saturday, June 16, 2012

God Save Neil Young

I love Neil Young, particularly for all the musical chances he takes, but it took an interview on National Public Radio (NPR) to realize how Canadian he remains even though he has lived most of his life in the United States.

He was appearing on Fresh Air. It's a daily interview program with host Terry Gross. Imagine a combination of Peter Gzowski and Vicki Gaberau. That's Terry. She's as much beloved by her American fans as Vicki and the late Peter are and were loved by their Canadian fans.

Terry was talking to Neil about his new record Americana and she seemed quite perplexed by his cover of God Save the Queen. I must admit I was too, until I heard Neil's explanation of why he decided to record a collection of old folk songs with his band Crazy Horse.

You can hear his explanation in the interview but it was plain to me that the interviewer REALLY wanted to hear Neil say he recorded the American folk songs because they were from his childhood and, well, the God Save the Queen thing was just lost on her. I'm not sure she really understood why he didn't record My Country 'Tis of Thee. (Musical Immigrant's digression: During another interview with a Canadian expat, the fellow mentioned John Diefenbaker. I was shocked when Terry Gross drew a blank and said. "Who's he?")

What this interview confirmed for me is that Americans don't understand the "otherness" that Canadian artists bring to the table. Young and many other artists who border hop to make a living never really lose their "outsider's" view of the United States of America. It shapes their world view and influences their art and it makes me appreciate them even more when they come home for a visit.