ART NOTES – the first career retrospective about the late concert impresario (via memorabilia, photographs and psychedelic art) in an exhibit entitled Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution is at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California through October 11th.
Stop in for some more art, foreign news and whimsy.
NOT TOO MUCH ELSE TO SAY about the death of B.B. King – although he sang “Nobody loves me but my mother …. and she could be jivin’, too” ….. his death was mourned around the world. The All-Music Guide referred to as the “single most important electric guitarist of the last half-century” and for whom Rolling Stone cited “Ten legendary acts that wouldn’t exist without B.B. King”.
But there is one story worth noting, after his audience base began to change during the 1960’s from mostly-black to mostly-white …. which in his autobiography he dated back to a 1968 appearance at San Francisco’s Fillmore West – a venue at which he had performed years earlier (when it bore a different name and used to have an African-American clientele). Upon arrival and seeing the audience entering he said, “When we first pulled up, I thought we’d come to the wrong place!” and backstage even asked for alcohol, he was that nervous.
“All these white kids, long-haired kids,” Mr. King recalled. “I never played to people like this before. My knees were trembling.
When I got near the stage, Bill Graham gave me the best (and the shortest) introduction I ever had. He said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen …. I bring you the chairman of the board, B. B. King.’ Everybody stood up, everybody. It was the first time I ever got a standing ovation in my life. It was so touching that I cried. Big grown man crying.”
He later added, “If there’s any such thing as a crossover, that was the night it happened”.
THURSDAY’s CHILD is Pippa the Cat – an Australian kitteh who survived 49 days without food or water after getting trapped in a moving truck that travelled more than 2,000 miles …. but has recuperated and will be reunited with her family.
IN A BREAK with the past: Italy’s post-war system of constantly-falling governments may drawing to a close: as the prime minister Matteo Renzi has passed electoral changes to give a political party winning 40% of the vote additional seats to ensure a majority (and his center-left Democratic Party may well benefit from this).
A NAME TO WATCH in the future is the six year-old Norwegian girl Lykke-Merlot Helliesen – winning an exhibition match against a seven-time Norweigan champion grandmaster, who believes she may be better at her age than the relatively new world champion Magnus Carlsen (who is also from Norway).
FRIDAY’s CHILD is the late Olly the Cat – an English kitteh who greeted passengers at Manchester Airport since 2007 when she wandered in (and was adopted by airport staff) ….. who has died from a lung infection.
OUTDOOR ROCK MUSIC FESTIVALS in China seem to be running into more interference from the authorities – fearful of Western influence – unlike the president of Indonesia, who is apparently fond of Napalm Death (a British heavy-metal band).
BRAIN TEASER – try this Quiz of the Week’s News from the BBC.
CHEERS to the NFL Hall of Fame player Bobby Bell – who won an NCAA title at the University of Minnesota, a 1970 Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs and owned a chain of BBQ restaurants. Now at age 74, he finished the 9 credits he needed to graduate this past Thursday.
…… and finally, for a song of the week ………………………… someone whose music career actually preceded two other “angry young men” of the British punk/New Wave scene of the mid-70’s on (but was not as commercially successful as Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson) was Graham Parker – who blended influences such as Van Morrison to R&B, along with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Always enjoying acclaim from music critics, he suffered from constant battles with record labels (leaving him sidelined at critical stages of his career) and an inability to write that breakthrough hit. Yet he has never gone away, and has a steady audience that has sustained a forty-year career.
Born in London in 1950, he worked at odd jobs (including one on the island of Gibraltar) while writing songs … and in 1975 placed an ad in Britain’s music paper Melody Maker that made him known to a band manager named Dave Robinson. Robinson would the next year launch Stiff Records – the main label for punk/New Wave in the UK. But at the time, Robinson heard some of Parker’s demo tapes and helped him recruit bandmates who were (mostly) leaving disintegrating bands.
Two members (guitarist Brinsley Schwarz and keyboardist Ron Andrews) came from a pub-rock band that Robinson previously managed, Brinsley Schwarz – named after its lead guitarist. Side note: another bandmate was Nick Lowe, whose song Cruel to be Kind was a flop when recorded by Brinsley Schwarz …. but became a hit for Lowe (four years later) as a solo artist.
Along with guitarist Martin Belmont (formerly of Ducks Deluxe), drummer Steve Goulding (of Bontemps Roulez) as well as free agent bassist Andrew Bodnar, collectively they became known as Graham Parker & The Rumour – who remained intact for the rest of the decade. With help from DJ Charlie Gillett, they garnered a contract with Mercury Records by the end of 1975.
The band’s first album Howlin’ Wind (produced by Nick Lowe) gained immediate good reviews upon its summer of ’76 release, with the closing tune “Don’t Ask Me Questions” a hit in the UK. Later that year they followed-up with the album Heat Treatment which helped establish him as part of the British New Wave in the US, partly on the strength of the title track.
This is where bad luck and trouble began to have an effect on his career. His next album, 1977’s Stick to Me had to be delayed due to defective tapes, and Parker felt that he lost some ground just at the time the British punk/New Wave was running full-throttle (with Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson gaining more popularity) due also in part to what he saw as a lack of support his label gave him in North America. Frustrated, Parker met his album quota to Mercury Records by releasing a double-live album – which most critics panned, believing that The Parkerilla was a half-hearted effort.
His new label (Arista) was the beneficiary of what many critics believe to be his finest album, 1979’s Squeezing Out Sparks – with hit singles such as Local Girls as well as a dig at his previous record label, Mercury Poisoning – and this recording was ranked by Rolling Stone as #344 in its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
His 1980 follow-up The Up Escalator had a guest performance by Bruce Springsteen, yet suffered from poor production and did not sell well. It also marked the last album with The Rumour, who parted ways with Graham Parker afterwards.
After two more middling-success recordings, he left Arista for Elektra and (once again) had a ‘comeback’ album of sorts with a new label: 1985’s Steady Nerves which saw his only Top 40 US hit, “Wake Up (Next to You”) … yet the album did not earn his usual praise from the critics. He left Elektra for Atlantic Records …. who dropped him without releasing a single album.
He was not able to regain his footing until 1988, when (yet again) his first recording for a new label (RCA) entitled Mona Lisa’s Sister found him with a college radio hit, [Get Started (Start a Fire) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUb_1rFWZag] – and was the first time I’d heard his music in years.
But it turned out to be his last major commercial success, as he transitioned from an angry-young-man into a more mellow curmudgeon – releasing critically praised albums (now, on minor labels) that sold less, but to a more devoted fan base. All along, he began publishing some of his non-musical writings. These included a science fiction novella in 1980, a set of short stories from 2000, and a music novel in 2003.
Due to the multiplicity of record labels (all with their “Best Of” releases) it took Rhino Records to release a comprehensive 1993 compilation album of his best work.
In 2012, he reunited with all five of his bandmates from The Rumour to record Three Chords Good – their first album together in thirty-two years.
That same year, they appeared (as themselves) in the film This is 40 produced by Judd Apatow.
Graham Parker will turn age sixty-five this coming November, lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, is the subject of a documentary film Don’t Ask Me Questions: The Unsung Life of Graham Parker and The Rumour, plus he and The Rumour have a new album due for release this month, and they begin a US tour over the summer beginning in Minneapolis on June 5th.
Bruce Springsteen was once quoted that the only band he’d pay to see live was Graham Parker and The Rumour …. and in 2015, it looks like they may have a new lease on life.
Of all of his work, my favorite remains *Pourin’ It All Out* from his second album. And below you can hear The Rumour perform it at the BBC in 1977.
It’s cold and hot and the rain came tumbling down
Like a wild December night
No love left out on your front doorstep
All gone and out of sight
Then I found myself in a New Year’s celebration
crying alone in a crowd
That really was some New Year’s celebration
All bravado was strong and loud
But I don’t mind telling you what I’m going through
I don’t mind telling you because every word is true
Sometimes I feel like pourin’ it all out
Sometimes I feel like pourin’ it all out
Sometimes I feel like pourin’ it all out
Tonight, all night, all right
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