The Funeral Jam in the Court of the Crimson King is the Jam That Never Ends

When I first really found my footing in popular music listening, it was in the vast soundscape of 1970s progressive rock. I didn’t really understand what exactly I was hearing when I listened to Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer (or, later, when venturing into darker waters with King Crimson), but it truly captured my imagination. On Wednesday, one of the pillars of that genre, Greg Lake, lost his battle with cancer. With Robert Fripp, a childhood friend, Lake founded King Crimson, the ur-band of progressive rock. Lake then took his considerable vocal talents, along with his bass guitar, and joined on with (the recently late) keyboardist Keith Emerson and later drummer Carl Palmer in ELP, “progressive rock’s first supergroup.” The band’s two-CD live compilation, King Biscuit Flower Hour: Greatest Hits Live, was in heavy rotation in my car stereo and, once I expanded my radio-format horizons at WHCL, on the airwaves. The second disc contains only one song, and I used a portion of it for the intro to every show. The full version, recorded at a live concert performance in Anaheim in 1974, constitutes today’s Jam:

Analyzing college football coaches’ favorite musical artists

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ESPN conducted a survey of all 128 Division I college football coaches, asking them to name their favorite musical artist. The full list of responses is here. My cursory analysis is here:   Continue reading

The End of Tulsa Jam

The Tulsa Sound is defined in large part by the work of its two principal pillars, J.J. Cale and Leon Russell. Cale passed three years ago, and, on Sunday, Russell too returned to the eternal dust bowl:

Russell, known as “The Master of Space and Time,” was a master of the blues, country, rock, gospel — whatever styles of music were put in front of him and whatever he could pull from his creative mind. With dozens of albums, hundreds of songs recorded by musicians at the top of their game and thousands of contributions to recordings from The Beach Boys to J.J. Cale, Russell’s influence on music in the last 50 years has been profound.

In 1969, Russell performed in the Delaney & Bonnie and Friends band, with several members of the band coming on with Joe Cocker for the Mad Dogs and Englishmen recordings and iconic tour. That tour put a spotlight on fellow Tulsa musicians, with Jim Keltner and Blackwell on drums and Carl Radle on bass performing on the tour and on the album.

Russell launched his solo career with the release of his self-titled album in 1970, an album that included one of his best-known songs, “A Song for You.”

Russell moved back to Tulsa in the early 1970s to establish Shelter Records and build recording studios in Tulsa and near Grand Lake. A memorial to Russell grew throughout the day Sunday on the steps of his old Tulsa studio, The Church Studio on Third Street, which the city renamed Leon Russell Road in 2010.

His solo career produced multiple hit albums and songs, including “A Song for You,” “Tight Rope,” “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Lady Blue.” His work spanned genres from the rock sounds of his self-titled 1970 album to the honky-tonk of “Hank Wilson’s Back,” incorporating blues, gospel and soul across his albums.

“He played and recorded with the heavyweights of country music — George Jones and Willie Nelson — and of course rock ‘n’ roll royalty — George Harrison and Eric Clapton,” said Jeff Moore, director of the forthcoming Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, to which Russell donated a large part of his work for future display.

Relix adds this note from Russell’s appearance at the 2015 Lockn’ Festival:

But when it came down to brass tacks, he was straight business—playing and singing with all his might, giving tips to the musicians, beaming with joy as Derek [Trucks] ripped a solo or Susan [Tedeschi] wailed on the mic, and even leading the troupe through some surreal improvised jams. He was fully engaged with everyone in that rehearsal room, even though it must’ve been an overwhelming experience for him (he was working with dozens of people he hadn’t seen in over 45 years). He was like the elder statesman of the experience and treated everyone with love, respect and humility, which ultimately guided that massive collective to deliver one of the finest and most memorable shows any of us had ever seen or any of the musicians had been a part of.

Enough chatter. I’ve featured the exact same take of this first jam in this space before, but its opening makes it too perfect to omit this time around:

Russell also played a featured role in Ravi Shankar and George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, and this spotlight medley is a highlight of the night:

I’m not sure what’s going to happen now to the Tulsa Sound and scene without these two, and I’m hardly in a position to say, but I know that they made something special, authentic, and perfectly delivered. We don’t deserve more, and we probably don’t even deserve that.

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Previously
J.J. Jam
Stranger in Town Jam

Zappa plays Zappa and you can too

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Frank Zappa is one of the greatest and most interesting musicians America has produced. From 1966 until he died in 1993, he released dozens of albums bending various musical genres around his acerbic wit. FZ’s M.O., as I understand it, basically was to trick people into consuming high art by dressing it up as low art. His bands were one part orchestra, one part Foley studio, and one part rock & roll outfit. Creating the appearance of radical spontaneity on stage or in the recording studio merely was a crowning achievement of what undoubtedly was a very organized process. Zappa may have held extreme political views, but he was no anarchist. In light of the complexity of the music and the number of people it took to make it, everything– even kazoo honks and beach ball bounces– had to be carefully composed, or the project wouldn’t work. Was radical spontaneity involved in the initial generation of the ideas the songs would convey? Surely, and that’s what made these songs exciting and (attractively) dangerous to fans: even though the execution of these concepts necessarily was an orderly process, it still was Frank at the helm, and the audience didn’t know how far he would push the limits or if he’d steer them entirely off the rails.

All of that is what makes it a little bit difficult to digest what Dweezil Zappa is up to. Continue reading

Taylor Swift and Phish deserve 2016 World Series rings

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Taylor Swift’s influence on this year’s historic World Series is well-recognized. First, she cleared the Chicago Cubs’ path through the National League side of the playoff draw by failing to release a new album in an even year for the first time since 2006, thereby removing the true and powerful source of the San Francisco Giants’ even-year magic. Things wobbled a bit when, on the day of game three of the NLDS (in which the Cubs held a 2-0 series lead over the Giants), Swift announced that her first concert in nearly a year would take place later that month and, some thought, hinted at a new album release that would spirit the Giants to another world championship. San Francisco avoided elimination by beating Chicago that night.

Swift performed her concert, but she ultimately declined to release a new album, thereby halting the Giants’ playoff run and allowing the Cubs to advance to the World Series.

As all baseball fans know from the parable of the angels in the outfield, though, a team’s supernatural helper– be it Christopher Lloyd or T-Swizz– only will carry the team so far. In the World Series, the Cubs faltered again. Their offensive power, which had floated them to a regular-season-best 103 wins, suddenly became scarce in the playoffs, and they quickly found themselves in a 3-1 hole against Cleveland in the final round. Backs against the wall, Chicago would have to win three straight games in order to claim the title. To do that, their first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, would have to start hitting.

At twenty-seven years old, Rizzo qualifies as a wise old veteran on this young Cubs team, and he knew a change was necessary for the Cubs to have a shot at winning the series, so he made one. All year and throughout the playoffs, Rizzo had used Swift’s “Bad Blood” as his walkup music, and it had served him well. With one game left at Wrigley Field, the first of three consecutive must-wins, Rizzo hit shuffle on the jukebox, swapping “Bad Blood” for the Rocky theme. It worked. Rizzo hit a key double and scored a run, and the Cubs won 3-2, sending the series back to Cleveland, where they would win twice more, including a dramatic game-seven victory in extra innings. And it’s all thanks to Taylor Swift.

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Almost all of it, anyway. The touring phenomenon that is the band Phish has been making music together since 1983. In the more than thirty years of their existence, they have performed in Chicago numerous times. In fact, prior to this year, they’d played in Chicago twenty-eight times (I’m counting their five appearances in Rosemont), including a 1991 gig at the famous Cubby Bear bar. (For more on that storied venue’s history with music and baseball, enjoy this brief video from 1984.)

Until 2016, though, they never had performed inside the (helping) friendly confines of Wrigley Field. In the 108th year of Chicago’s north-side championship drought, however, Vermont’s finest made their Wrigley Field debut on June 24. We joined them on night two of their two-night Wrigley run, and they were excellent. The second night’s second set, in particular, was sublime.

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I don’t recall any explicit baseball references from the band that evening, but the first set offered some clues:

  • Waiting All Night (a World Series game seven preview)
  • 46 Days (sung as a reference to the days of 1946, the year after the Cubs’ last World Series appearance)
  • I Didn’t Know (You Were That Far Gone – from a World Series championship)
  • Good Times Bad Times (acknowledging that the Cubs and their fans have had their share of both)

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Are there musicians more closely associated with the Chicago Cubs than Taylor Swift and Phish? Probably. Eddie Vedder comes to mind. Michigander and ostensible Detroit Tigers fan Jack White has had his public flirtations. It is clear from the foregoing, however, that no musicians did more to help the Cubs break their various curses and claim a World Series title for the first time in 108 years than Swift and Phish. If Manny Ramirez is getting a World Series ring this year, then so should Taylor, Trey, Jon, Mike, and Page.

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Related
World Series Game 7 in two tweets
Book review: Chicago Blues: The City & The Music

Dusty Baker, John Lee Hooker, and the Fillmore District (via Ephus)

Excerpt from Kiss the Sky: My Weekend in Monterey at the Greatest Concert Ever by Dusty Baker:

When I met John Lee Hooker that took it to another level for me. John Lee was born in Mississippi. His daddy was a sharecropper and a Baptist preacher. He played down-home Delta blues and no one did it better, as you know if you’ve heard his versions of “Crawling King Snake” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” He moved around a lot in his life, but spent a lot of time in California, especially as he got older. He was here so much that later in 1997 he opened John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Room in San Francisco’s Fillmore District. But John Lee and I go back farther than that. I played for the Dodgers for eight seasons starting in 1976, and John Lee was a Dodger fan. He had a house in Long Beach and would come to games. I signed a Dodger uniform for him – and I found out later he had that framed and on the wall of one of his houses in the Bay Area.

John Lee would sometimes come see me at Candlestick when I was manager of the Giants. He was a real baseball fan. At home he’d have three TV sets on at a time, each tuned to baseball, and he would pay close attention. He’d been a catcher way back when and always loved to talk baseball with me. He came to a game as my guest in September 1995 and had himself so much fun, talking to the players in the clubhouse, wearing a fedora hat made of felt with diamond and gold pins shaped like musical notes. He watched the game from a broadcast booth up in the press box, then came down afterward and we talked in my office for hours. My dad was there, and my youngest brother, Millard, from my dad’s second marriage, who picked up a love of the blues from my dad, too. Deion Sanders played for the Giants that season and he was there in my office to hang with John Lee, too. Asked who his favorite Giants player was, John Lee said, “Royce Clayton.” And why was that? “Because he’s cool.” Royce was cool. He had that right.

The next August John Lee invited me to a big birthday party he was having. He was turning seventy-nine year old, but you’d never know it from talking to him. He was having himself so much fun all the time, he might as well have been a teenager. That was John Lee. He was still performing regularly, too. I went to that birthday party and met all kinds of people, including Elvin Bishop, whose guitar work I’d first seen at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. He’d actually seen John Lee’s “Baker” Dodgers uniform and asked about me and John Lee said he’d introduce us.

Elvin was my kind of guy. He’s lived up in Marin County for years, and was actually born in California, but grew up in Iowa and Oklahoma and earned a National Merit Scholarship to attend the University of Chicago and study physics starting in 1960. He met Paul Butterfield a few years later and started playing guitar in his blues band. Elvin formed his own group before long and had a hit with “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” (he didn’t sing on that one, though). Elvin has played with everyone you can think of. He played with Muddy Waters. He played with Lightnin’ Hopkins. He and I could have talked music all night, or baseball, but instead we started talking fishing, which we’re both serious about. After that we became fishing buddies.

(via Ephus)

Baker’s Washington Nationals are in a decisive NLDS game five tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Braves finally strike a positive note in move to new stadium

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My opposition to the Atlanta Braves’ departure from their downtown home in Turner Field is well-documented in these digital pages, and it’s unlikely that we’ll make it to many games once the team moves to the corner of I-75 and I-285 (not exactly Michigan and Trumbull or 1060 West Addison). In the event we do hack our way through the asphalt jungle and make it to Cobb County, though, there’s good news. No, the team’s not likely to be much better next year, but at least Turner Field organist Matthew Kaminsky will be joining the Braves’ suburban exodus.

I didn’t know his name back then, but I remember Kaminsky’s work from my first Braves game, back in 2013. I even wrote about him here, in my post about that game:

It was good that we were closer to the game, too, because the Royals and Braves, who were off on Monday, were celebrating a belated Jackie Robinson day by having everyone wear uniform number 42 in his honor. This made it difficult to keep track of the players, particularly hitters and pitchers, a difficulty the apparent lack of an active stadium announcer compounded. Swinging hard in the other direction, though, was the overly detailed digital scoreboard in straightaway center that had almost too much information on it to be readily intelligible. Mitigating all of this, thankfully, was an organ player who kept the whole scene loose and made me smile by playing his or her own version of “Call Me Al” every time K.C.’s Alcides Escobar came up to bat.

Kaminsky’s signature is his musical puns or references played for the opposing batters’ walk-up songs, creating a fun game within the game for fans trying to follow his thought process. Other memorable selections include “Take Five,” a Dave Brubeck recording composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond, for Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, and various fish-related songs for Angels outfielder Mike Trout.

Kaminsky was a guest on a recent episode of The Ringer’s MLB podcast, hosted by Ben Lindbergh, which you can stream below. He discusses how he first was hired for the job; how he prepares for, envisions, and executes his role during games; and the particular musical equipment he uses. As mentioned above, he also discloses the news that he will be a part of games at the Braves’ new park next year, and that, as part of the move, the team will be supplying him with a real organ.

The segment with Kaminsky begins at roughly the halfway point, and is preceded by a Statcast conversation with Daren Willman (Baseball Savant) and Tom Tango (The Book) that also may be of some interest.

Kaminsky, who also plays for college teams (including Georgia Tech, Georgia, and Auburn), performs in a salsa band and a jazz band, and teaches music, takes suggestions for his baseball selections on Twitter.

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Previously
The political costs of a new baseball stadium
Previewing the 2016 Atlanta Braves
The Braves are failing on their own terms
New Braves stadium project continues to falter
Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Cobb’s Braves Stadium Bond Deal
Braves Break Ground on Baseball Boondoggle
The yard sale at Upton Abbey continues
From Barves to Burbs: What’s happening to baseball in Atlanta?

Catching Fire: It Don’t Come Easy

With just under a month remaining in the 2016 MLB season, this is a good time to take stock of the Detroit Tigers and some of their key players.

Team Playoff Odds

Today, the team sits 5.5 games back of Cleveland in the AL Central, and one game out of the second AL wild card spot, behind Boston and Baltimore. At this point, the division likely is out of reach, but the wild card is in play. Over the last two weeks, the Tigers have moved in and out of the second wild card position, and, although it’s served them well to this point, the Orioles’ volatile combination of bad starting pitching and overreliance on home runs is subject to collapse at any moment.

Three sites– Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, and FiveThirtyEight– take varying stances on spaces and the capitalization of letters in their names, but all three provide MLB playoff odds for every team. These represent the percent chance, based on to-date performance, that a given team will make the playoffs. Here’s how the Tigers’ playoff chances look today:   Continue reading

Swansongs, Vol. 2

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The first entry in this series featured a three-pack of defensive highlights from Atlanta Braves rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson. This series, like this website, is all about the hits, though, and now we’ve got one of those to share, in the form of Swanson’s first career MLB home run, which he hit last night in Washington.

For his first big-league four-bagger, Swanson made like fellow SEC-man James McCann and earned it the hard way. Video evidence of his inside-the-parker is here. Statcast’s breakdown video is available here. The humans who monitor that robotical statistical machine also posted this nugget:

Here’s another nugget from a non-robot-subservient human:

Call it a long-distance runaround? Yes.

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Previously
Swansongs, Vol. 1