Decade of Difference

Decade of Difference: Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello came on the scene in the late 1970s in the same new wave invasion from the UK that brought Joe Jackson and the Police. In 1977 Costello released his first album My Aim is True the first of five consecutive albums produced by Nick Lowe. Lacking his own backing band, the US band Clover played on the album although they were not credited.

The album was recorded over 24 hours of studio time and cost less than $4000. Costello did not quit his day job until Stiff Records agreed to match his weekly wages, plus a modest advance, an amp and a tape recorder. After having spent about 7 years playing in London pubs, Costello went from office worker to next big thing in about three weeks after his album was released. He describes this situation as being “an overnight success after seven years”.

Elvis Costello’s debut album has been widely rated as one of the most impressive debut albums in pop history, and he was able to demonstrate on his following albums a knack for songwriting that separated him from most of his contemporaries and allowed him to prosper long after the fascination with new wave music ended.
For his remaining albums in the 70’s and through 1985 Costello’s band was the Attractions. By 1980 they had moved beyond the primary new wave sound and began to branch out into different musical genres, recording an album of country covers, one with a horns section and a soul infused album.

Tension in the band led to a breakup and a short lived retirement for Elvis Costello in the mid 80s. When he returned it was first with a different band. 1986’s King of America was recorded with members of the band that had backed Elvis Presley in the late 60s and 70s, the TCB Band. T-Bone Burnett co-produced the album and it’s Americana feel was far removed from Costello’s first releases.

2022-11-30T08:00:44-05:00December 2nd, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Tom Petty

When Florida native Tom Petty was ten years old, his uncle invited him to watch a movie shoot where he was working on the set. The film, Follow That Dream featured Elvis Presley and the young Petty had the opportunity to meet the star. From that point on he was a fan and it was not long after that he decided he too wanted to be a rock star.

First came the Epics, then Mudcrutch and when that group broke up in 1975, Petty pursued a solo career with a backing band, the Heartbreakers. Their first self-titled album saw modest success in the US but found greater traction in the UK. Their first single Breakdown failed to make much of an impact initially, but it was re-released a year later and worked its way into the US top 40 on the second try.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers saw each album sell better than its predecessor throughout the remainder of the 70s and the 80s. In 1988 Petty joined George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne to form the Traveling Wilburys for what was intended to be a one-off recording session to produce a B side for a Harrison single. The result was too good and the supergroup went on to record two albums. Petty incorporated song of the songs into his live show for several following tours.

Petty and the Heartbreakers entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 and in 2017 the band embarked on a 40th anniversary tour which ended in September at the Hollywood Bowl. In early October Petty was found unconscious in his home and died later that day.

2022-11-30T07:53:48-05:00December 1st, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Jerry Garcia Band

Photo Credit: Bob Minkin

Grateful Dead bandleader Jerry Garcia was involved in many other musical projects over his career, none more widely known than the Jerry Garcia band formed in 1975. Garcia was known to have widely varied musical tastes, and the Jerry Garcia Band served as an outlet for an alternate take on the rock played by the Grateful Dead, favoring an R&B flavored approach applied to a wide range of source material.

The group recorded only one studio album in 1978 and while the group was known for their covers the album features only original material. It was the fourth solo record by Garcia apart from the Grateful Dead, and critics at the time considered it his best. Jerry Garcia agreed, stating in the early 90s that “As far as I’m concerned Cats Under the Stars is my most successful record — even though it’s my least successful record! I’ve always loved it and it just never went anywhere.”

As with the Grateful Dead, the Jerry Garcia Band was primarily focused on live performances. Preferring clubs and smaller venues, the band played a repertoire including R&B, bluegrass, cajun, rock and classic country. For a time in the late 80s and early 90s the band performed in larger venues riding on the success of the Grateful Dead’s 1987 double platinum In the Dark album. During the same period the group continued a 15 show a year residency at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre.

After Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, longtime band members John Kahn and Melvin Seals continued the group and JGB. Eventually it was only Seals remaining and the group continues today as Melvin Seals and JGB.

2022-11-30T07:57:05-05:00November 30th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Blondie

Pioneers in the New York new wave scene, Debbie Harry and Blondie moved from the citys’ underground music scene to mainstream success with a series of hit singles in the 70s.

Guitarist Chris Stein joined the Stilettos, a city band and established a romantic relationship with the groups’ vocalist, Debbie Harry. Harrys’ diverse background included time in a folk band along with work as a waitress and a Playboy bunny. The pair formed a new group in 1975 named after the catcalls of ‘Hey Blondie’ from truck drivers passing Harry on the street.

David Bowie and Iggy Pop were big fans of Blondies’ first record, inviting the band to play on Bowies ‘The Idiot’ tour. It was not until the bands’ third album that they found their audience in the US, led by the international hit Heart of Glass.

The late 70s saw Blondie release several hit singles and record platinum sales of their albums. In 1981 the band went on a hiatus and on their return they recorded The Hunter which was poorly received.

The early 80s saw pressure on the band increase to a level that forced a breakup. By late 1982 the band had dissolved into a flurry of legal actions, and Harry was forced to sell her New York mansion due to mounting financial issues. She and Chris Stein finally broke up and Harry pursued a solo career.

By the early 2000s, enough time had passed for a new generation of fans to discover Blondie. The band reformed for new records and a Parallel Lines 30th Anniversary tour and continues touring today.

2022-11-29T01:18:57-05:00November 29th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: The Dictators

The early 1970s saw the start of the on again, off again New York punk band the Dictators. Andy Shernoff led a trio originally into auditions in a rented New York house, joined by an occasional drummer. Stu-Boy King settled in as drummer for the band’s first recording, along with ‘secret weapon’ – vocalist Handsome Dick Manitoba. Their first release The Dictators Go Girl Crazy was a poor seller but has become the album that many critics declare to be the starting point for punk rock.

The Dictators recorded a second 70s album. Bloodbrothers featured Manitoba on all vocals although Bruce Springsteen – a big fan of the group – can be heard on one song. While the album had one minor hit single, overall it was a sales failure. This led the group, discouraged by the poor sales, to disband. Manitoba went on to drive a taxi and Shernoff became a record producer working the first demo for Anthrax.

Occasional reunions started in the early 80s, accompanied by a cassette only release. In 86 Shernoff and Manitoba reunited in a new band called Wild Kingdom. In the late 90s Shernoff announced that the band was recording new music, eventually released in 2001.

Life moved on for everyone, and the Dictators continued their occasional reunion performances through the 90s, before releasing a live album in 2005. In 2020 Shernoff again announced that the Dictators were working on new material. It will be a very different lineup should anything be released. Manitoba has been out of the group since 2008 and two of the original band members have died.

2022-11-28T07:54:37-05:00November 28th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Donald “Duck” Dunn

Donald “Duck” Dunn grew up in Memphis playing sports and riding his bike with future guitarist Steve Cropper. When Cropper decided to play guitar Dunn decided to teach himself bass. According to Cropper, Dunn would play along with records adding what he thought should be there and in time developed his own unique style. The two along with other classmates recorded a national hit in 1961 as the Mar-Keys.

When Booker T Jones and Cropper formed Booker T & the M.G.s, the original bassist left and Dunn quickly stepped in. In addition to their own records, the M.G.s served as the house band at Stax Records, working on many hit records with artists including Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Albert King. When Jones and Cropper left Stax Dunn remained working on later Elvis Presley recordings.

After Stax, Duck Dunn went on to lay down bass lines for many famous recordings of the 70s and 80s including Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton and Stevie Nicks. Dunn finally reunited with Steve Cropper when they both played in Levon Helm’s RCO All Stars in the mid 80s.

For most fans, Duck Dunn is best known for being in the Blues Brothers band. He was frequently smoking a pipe while playing and uttered this famous line from the movie: We had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline!”

Dunn died in 2012 after finishing a double show at the Blue Note nightclub in Tokyo where he was appearing with Steve Cropper.

2022-11-22T08:06:54-05:00November 24th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Mike Doughty

Mike Doughty is best known as the driving force behind the popular 90’s band Soul Coughing, but his solo career has produced 21 albums in 22 years and he is a successful author with multiple books published.

An Army brat, Doughty grew up moving around Army bases, spending his teenage years living on grounds at West Point. While working as a doorman at the New York club The Knitting Factory, Doughty formed Soul Coughing and the group released three successful albums before the pressures of band life led him to break up the group in 2000.

After Soul Coughing shows, Doughty would remain on stage and sell copies of his solo acoustic record Skittish for a total of 20,000 copies. The album had been recorded in 1996, but was rejected by his record label. Skittish helped Doughty develop a following independent of Soul Coughing.

After the Soul Coughing breakup and resolving his substance abuse issues, Doughty focused fully on his solo career, His first album to use a full band Haughty Melodic was heard in demo form by Dave Matthews who signed Doughty to his ATO records. Later albums have appeared using a variety of sales and funding models, including crowd funding and a subscription model.

Doughty has recently returned to playing his Soul Coughing material, which for years he had avoided. Earlier this year he and former Soul Coughing bandmate Sebastian Steinberg performed together onstage in LA for the first time in 22 years. The full band has not played together since their split in 2000.

2022-11-22T08:04:38-05:00November 23rd, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Hoagy Carmichael

Hoagy Carmichael was a pioneering musician, composer, songwriter, actor and lawyer who became one of Tin Pan Alleys’ most successful songwriters of the 1930s. Later in his career he was amongst the first singer-songwriters to utilize new technologies like television and electronic microphones.

Hoagland Howard “Hoagy” Carmichael was born in Bloomington, Indiana and his parents named their first child after a circus troupe. The ‘Hoaglands’ had stayed at the Carmichael house when Hoagys mother was pregnant. Mostly trained by his mother, Hoagy began singing and playing piano at an early age.

Through coronetist Bix Biederbecke, Carmichael was introduced to Louis Armstrong with whom he collaborated on early works. After graduation from college, Carmichael moved to Florida to work as a lawyer, but returned after failing the bar exam.He did pass the Indiana bar exam, but by then his interest was in music and not law.

Hoagy Carmichael wrote and recorded hundreds of songs over his career spanning seven decades. First in the hot jazz style popular in the late twenties, then jazz influenced standards during his New York years then mostly instrumentals, often composed for soundtracks during his California years.

He survived the Great Depression on income from songs written for Louis Armstrong, then the hugely successful Georgia on My Mind written in 1930. Hired by Ralph Peer, he moved to New York and was amongst the first group of songwriters to occupy the new Brill building. During his time in New York he launched a performing career to complement his songwriting.

With more than 50 hit songs to his credit, Carmichael made a good living in his later years from royalties. He was not satisfied when on his 80th birthday he said “I’m a bit disappointed in myself. I know I could have accomplished a hell of a lot more… I could write anything any time I wanted to. But I let other things get in the way…. I’ve been floating around in the breeze.” Carmichael died from a heart attack at age 82.

2022-11-22T08:03:05-05:00November 22nd, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Lone Bellow

First conceived as a songwriting project by Zach Williams after a horseback riding accident left him with temporary paralysis, Williams turned his journaling experience into songs accompanied by guitar, after he learned how to play it.

Along with two friends, he formed Zack Williams and the Bellow and began performing in 2011. By the release of their first album the group had shortened their name to the Lone Bellow. Their debut self-titled album made 10 different best of lists for 2013.

The Lone Bellow built a devoted following through their five albums and an energetic live show. Unusual for what is primarily a folk act  – their shows are intense. One reviewer described the group on stage as always featuring at least one of the band mates singing so hard it looked like they were running a marathon.

On their latest album, this year’s Love Songs for Losers the band has taken the concept of a song about a loser to another level. The band convened for eight weeks in the former home of Roy Orbison which is rumored to be haunted, to write songs about love and loss, life and death and how we are all doomed to die. While most of the songs follow the title and refer to lovers, Gold does not. The main character is an addict who “puts his paycheck in his arm”.

2022-11-18T08:38:05-05:00November 18th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Ike Turner

Ike Turners’ first recording, Rocket 88 is a legitimate contender for the title of first rock and roll song. Recorded in 1951 the song, like many aspects of Turner’s life, is surrounded by controversy.  The song was recorded by Turner’s band, but it is unclear who wrote it.

Turner was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi and had a troubled childhood. He saw his father beaten almost to death and was sexually assaulted as a six year old. After seeing Pinetop Perkins play at a friend’s house, Turner wanted to learn piano. His mother agreed to pay for lessons, but Turner instead took the money to a pool hall where he convinced Perkins to teach him in the boogie-woogie style.

Turner and his band recorded Rocket 88 in Memphis, but the record was sold on to Chicago’s Chess Records. It reached number one on the R&B charts but was not credited to Turner, with the band credit mixed up in the transfer.

Ann Bullock accompanied her sister to see Ike Turner perform in New York. When Turner was told she could sing he said he would bring her on stage, but never did. Eventually Ann forced her way on stage and when she sang Ike was impressed. After assisting in her first recording, the record executive who heard it told Ike he should make her the centerpiece of his show. After renaming her ‘Tina’, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue was born.

From 1960 to 1976 Ike and Tina Turner had numerous hits. The group disbanded abruptly after a violent altercation. Tina Turner moved on to a very successful solo career.

Ike Turner saw his own attempts at furthering his career impacted by his cocaine abuse and frequent legal problems. Ike and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 while Ike was in prison.

Ike’s last record came in 2006 and at the time of his death in 2007 he was working with Danger Mouse on new material.


2022-11-14T22:33:37-05:00November 15th, 2022|