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.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Music on the Internet.

Of course there were places to find out about music before the digital revolution. We bought Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, NME and the Georgia Strait to read record reviews. Word of mouth worked like "Hey did you hear the new Chilliwack record? It's wicked."

It was clunky but word about great new music that wasn't in the mainstream did travel but I sure like it better now.

I've recently had two great experiences of how a simple Facebook post and a Google search put great music in my hands within minutes of coming to my attention.

For digital natives (born after the invention of email) it's pretty much a 'meh' experience but for we digital immigrants (who remember the world before email) it really is amazing how news about a new artist is lightning and how easy and quick it is to snap the music into your ipod.

One night I was poking around on Twitter and Facebook and my friend Helen posted this video on FB along with "You should see this." Boy am I glad I took her advice.

As soon as I watched this and tweeted it to friends, I went in search of her music to download. A name like LP makes Googling a bit of a challenge. I looked for her music on my subscription download service site first, but no luck. I then checked iTunes and she has a five song EP that includes a video for each of her songs for $5.99 - Into the Wild (Live at East West Studios) EP  as well as a single. a studio version of the above song. And yes I also found her website. And what do you know, she also has an interview in Rolling Stone.

Funny thing too. The next day I was tweeting about her to a friend and damned if @lprock isn't now following me on twitter.

My second great online music experience was discovering this duo from Quebec called DobaCaracol and their song Etrange.

This time I heard it the old fashioned way, on CKUA. My 10 year old daughter and I were bopping to this song all the way to her school. The announcer's French was lousy, probably slightly better than mine, and I couldn't make out his pronunciation of the artist's name or the name of the song. 

Luckily I took note of the time I heard the song. The first chance I had I looked on to see if they uploaded their playlist for that day and they did. (Another good reason to donate money to them every few months when they have their fundraisers.) The artist DobaCaracol and song Etrange were listed and lo and behold a quick search on turned up the record. It's called Soley. Downloaded it on the double. ---- They say good news travels fast. I say good music on the internet travels faster and I'm so glad it does.