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Decade of Difference

Decade of Difference: T-Bone Burnett

T-Bone Burnett is best known for his multi-Grammy winning work as a producer, working with Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison, and Gillian Welch, as well as Rhiannon Giddens, Imelda May, and Los Lobos.

Soundtracks have also played a large role in his career. In 2000, the Coen Brothers recruited Burnett as musical director and producer for the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and more recently he produced and played on the soundtrack for The Hunger Games.

This in no way diminishes his recording career. Beginning in 1980, T-Bone Burnett released his first solo album, after recording three as a member of the Alpha Band, a group formed from Bob Dylan’s 75-76 touring band.

T-Bone Burnett traces his musical roots back through his parents’ 78″ collection, which was diverse and led him to bounce between genres. His childhood friend, the late musician Stephen Bruton, was also an influence through his father, a jazz drummer and record store owner.

After seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Burnett began learning the guitar, playing with Bruton and writing his first song. Burnett got into session work, appearing on the novelty psychobilly hit Paralyzed in 1968.

In addition to his Grammy-winning music production work and his release of thirteen solo albums, Burnett is involved in Code, an audio format intended to bring studio quality sound to CDs and DVDs, and a real estate development in Nashville aimed at redeveloping a stadium site into a 21-acre mixed use community.

2022-01-14T17:19:00-05:00January 14th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Wavves

San Diego’s Nathan Williams started Wavves as a recording project in 2008, releasing several confusing 7” and cassettes over the next couple of years.  Mostly due to his inexperience with the recording software, the tracks were mangled. Rather than abandon them, he chose to promote the work, accompanied by simple artwork or scanned photos. The press praised the immediacy and DIY nature of the work.

After gaining some traction, the band had a setback when Williams suffered a public meltdown, fighting with a bandmate on stage, insulting the audience and ultimately was pelted with bottles by the angry crowd. By 2010 the band rebooted and released a surprisingly polished and successful record, King of the Beach.

In the early 2010s Williams spent time with Wavves and several collaborative projects involving his brother Joel, the band Best Coast and a new group, Spirit Club.

The pandemic threw the band out of their normal routine of non-stop touring. Like most of the indie music world—those acclaimed and well-known acts who don’t need day jobs if they’re touring regularly—bassist Stephen Pope had to get a “day job” as an Amazon delivery driver. Even Wavves’ frontman Nathan Williams had to move in with his folks in San Diego.

“I felt out of my element a lot of the time,” Pope says. “I don’t thrive on routine. I was thankful I was able to land a job during that time, but at the same time, it was driving me crazy.”

2022-01-14T17:06:13-05:00January 13th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Long John Baldry

As a teenager in 1950s Britain, Long John Baldry was one of the first local musicians to sing folk and blues music. In the ’60s, he was a vocalist with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated with whom he recorded the first British blues album.

At times the band included Mick Jagger, Jack Bruce and Charlie Watts and on occasion Keith Richards and Brian Jones played with the band. When the Rolling Stones made their debut in 1962, it was Baldry who organized a group to support them.

Baldry struck a friendship with Paul McCartney, and sang on one of the Beatles’ BBC television specials. Baldry added a young Rod Stewart to his band after hearing the artist busking a Muddy Waters tune. In his band Bluesology, Baldry featured a young Reg Dwight on keyboards. When Reg went solo, he drew his stage name partially from Long John Baldry, becoming Elton John.

After recording a UK number one pop song in 1967, Baldry found resistance in his band to performing a song so far removed from their blues roots. The band refused to perform the song, leaving the stage to Baldry who sang to pre-recorded accompaniment.

Baldry’s biggest record came in 1972 in a return to blues on It Ain’t Easy. The album was produced by Elton John and Rod Stewart, who each produced one side of the record.

In 1978, Long John Baldry relocated to Canada, where he continued to record and tour. He also performed voiceovers, including the role of Dr. Ivo Robotnik in Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. A severe chest infection that Baldry fought for months finally killed the musician in 2005.

2022-01-12T11:15:50-05:00January 12th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Ronnie Hawkins

Here is a trivia question for you – what band featured Levon Helm on drums before The Band? It was Ronnie Hawkins’ backup group The Hawks, and when Hawkins moved from Arkansas to Canada, he took Helm with him and replaced the remainder of his band, adding new members who along with Helm would go on to form The Band.

Hawkins was raised in Arkansas where he toured and owned a nightclub. On the advice of Conway Twitty, he took his act to Canada, and the reception was so positive he moved there. Hawkins was highly influential in the early establishment of rock and roll in Canada, and toured extensively throughout North America. Hawkins peaked on the US charts in 1959.

Ronnie Hawkins rockabilly performances earned him the nickname “Mr. Dynamo,” and his influence has been long lived. In 1969, he hosted John and Yoko at his home while they toured on a campaign to promote world peace. In the ’70s, he pulled a young Pat Travers out of an Ontario club and put him in his band – a stepping stone for Travers to a successful career. You can see Ronnie Hawkins featured in The Band’s farewell concert documentary The Last Waltz.

Hawkins won a Juno Award as Canada’s best country artist in 1984 and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2004.

2022-01-12T11:26:42-05:00January 11th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Steely Dan

Steely Dan never fit the mold that formed most big bands in the ’70s. Usually the bands worked hard through the club circuit, established themselves in their region, then went national. Steely Dan did none of that. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, with the assistance of producer Gary Katz, shaped their accessible mix of melodic hooks, complex harmonies and time signatures in the studio. While they did initially work as a performing band, it was in the studio that their popular sound was crafted, supported by a cast of top flight studio musicians.

Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker were the core of the band, formed after their meeting at Bard College. After playing in a variety of different jazz and rock bands, the pair began composing songs together with the idea of going into songwriting. Next they played in the backing band for Jay and the Americans.

Finally in 1972 they formed Steely Dan with four additional musicians, including guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. The first album was a success with two top 10 singles, but the supporting tour was not, mainly due to the poor preparation of the band.

Almost all of the Steely Dan albums in the ’70s featured a different cast of supporting musicians recruited to record and perform a single album. The members included Michael McDonald and for the jazzier records, notable jazz musicians including Wayne Shorter, Lee Ritenour and the Crusaders.

Their still was no working band, but the records were all big sellers. 1977’s Aja hit the top 5 within three weeks of its release and featured three hit singles. The album won a Grammy and has won praise as an outstanding example of a jazz-rock album.

In 1981 Becker and Fagen announced they were splitting up. Each artist released their own solo albums, and it was not until 1993 that the pair reformed for another Steely Dan album. From 2003 thru 2017, the band prepared more effectively for touring and launched several successful tours.

Walter Becker died of cancer in 2017, and Donald Fagen has been true to his statement after his death that he would keep their music alive by continuing to tour.

2022-01-12T11:40:43-05:00January 10th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Lester Flatt

Born near Sparta, Tennessee, Lester Flatt was one of nine children. His father attempted to teach him banjo, but he was never able to master it and switched to guitar and singing. As a teen, he left home to work in a rayon mill and spent several years as a journeyman worker in mills in Tennessee and Virginia. After struggles with arthritis left him unable to work in the mills, Flatt heard Bill Monroe’s brother Charlie and his band playing on the radio in Bristol, Tennessee. Eventually he caught on with the band while his wife continued working in the mills.

In March 1945, Flatt quit Charlie’s band, and brother Bill Monroe offered him a job. Their first show was on the Grand Ole Opry – with no rehearsal. By the end of the year, Earl Scruggs joined the group. Fed up with the demands of travel in Bill Monroe’s band, Earl quit the Blue Grass Boys in early 1948, followed within two weeks by Lester and Cedric Rainwater.

Earl says that “When I got home, Lester called and said, ‘I don’t think we’d be happy going back into the mills. Let’s think about it.’ He said we could stay close around home if I wanted, so I could look after my mother.” Lester invested $3300 of his life savings into a car and a sound system and they were on their way. Flatt and Scruggs played their first show in Danville, Va.

Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs broke up their band in 1969. Lester took most of the members of the Foggy Mountain Boys into his new band, Nashville Grass. The new band outlived Lester Flatt who passed away in 1979. Amongst the notable musicians who played with Flatt in the band over the years was a young Marty Stuart, who joined the band as a 13 year old.

Lester Flatt’s long career earned him membership in the Grand Ole Opry and a place in the Bluegrass and Country Music Halls of Fame.

2022-01-12T11:54:16-05:00January 6th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Earl Scruggs

The late Earl Scruggs popularized a three finger banjo picking style, now called the Scruggs style, over his seven-decade career. Scruggs began as a 21-year-old hired to play with Bill Monroe in the Blue Grass Boys, the band whose name became shorthand for the genre of music – bluegrass.

Scruggs was born and raised in North Carolina in a musical family where everyone played something, starting with his mother’s pump organ. As a young boy he heard a banjo player play a picking style and loved it, and spent his following years perfecting his version.

When he auditioned for Bill Monroe, his playing style floored the musician and he was immediately hired. It is Scruggs you hear on the Bill Monroe version of Blue Moon of Kentucky that is in the National Recording Registry and the Grammy Hall of Fame. Scruggs and bandmate Lester Flatt independently decided to leave the group later in the ’40s and the pair would the form Flatt and Scruggs, the most popular bluegrass band of all time.

A disagreement between Flatt and Scruggs led to the breakup of the band – Flatt wanted to remain close to traditional bluegrass while Scruggs wanted to broaden their musical horizons. The split was not harmonious and the pair did not speak for a decade, until Flatt was critically ill.

Scruggs went on to form the Earl Scruggs Revue, a band that included two of his sons. Their progressive sound was heard at anti-war concerts – Earl Scruggs was one of the only bluegrass artists to oppose war in Vietnam. He was also instrumental in attracting classic country and bluegrass artist to play on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s classic Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Scruggs retired from live performances in 1980 but continued to record. He returned after a 17 year gap to release Earl Scruggs and Friends in 2001, a collection that had a long list of superstar collaborators, including Elton John, Sting, Don Henley, and Johnny Cash.

2022-01-12T12:02:57-05:00January 6th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Iris DeMent

Iris DeMent was born in Arkansas, the baby of 14 children. Growing up in Los Angeles, DeMent sang in a Pentecostal church choir, and as a teenager was exposed to country, folk and R&B which all influenced her songwriting.

Moving to Kansas City for college, DeMent began songwriting as a 25-year-old. She wrote “Our Town” while driving thru a boarded up Midwestern town and says she made no changes to it from that initial writing – and realized she had found her calling.

Despite no support from country radio, DeMent’s first album Infamous Angel sold well through word of mouth and landed her a major label record deal.

In addition to her solo albums, Iris DeMent has had some very successful collaborations. She joined John Prine for 4 songs on his In Spite of Ourselves album, including the title track, which was the most widely played song from the album.

The songs for the album were written at a time when Prine, suffering from throat cancer, was not sure if he could sing again. The title song was inspired by a request from Billy Bob Thornton for use in a soundtrack, and DeMent had this to say about her involvement:

“I was laughing because the song was so funny, such a quirky John Prine song; I was crying because John was singing…. I just looked at John and said, ‘You’re back! Your voice is back!’ and he smiled his biggest ever John Prine smile. It was one of the happiest days of my life. We soon jumped right back into the studio to finish what we had started nearly a year earlier. We had learned a big lesson in patience.”

2022-01-12T12:09:24-05:00January 5th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Brett Dennen

Brett Dennen grew up listening to the music his parents loved, late ’60s and early ’70s folk rock, and it had an influence on his career.

Relocating from Northern to Southern California after college, Dennon released his first song and drew enough interest through local radio airplay to spur a follow up album.

Working in the Southern California singer-songwriter scene that produced Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz, Dennen had his first national release in 2006 and received strong support from John Mayer, who included Dennen on his tour and praised the album.

Citing Paul Simon, Cat Stevens and Van Morrison as major influences, Brett Dennen has released seven studio albums. Now a father, Dennen says that parenthood has influenced his songwriting, but that even with that, he finds himself always writing in his free time.

Dennen has five top 10 singles to his credit including the title song from his newest album, See the World. Dennen describes writing the song and others on the album this way “Well, my son had been born, and he would just crawl around. That first year, it was easy because he would lay on the floor, and I’d play guitar. And I came up with ideas for songs…I would play guitar while he would roll around and crawl around on the floor. Most of the ideas weren’t that great, but I thought See the World was special, because it started out as a song, talking to my son. “

2022-01-12T12:15:23-05:00January 3rd, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Michael Nesmith

The most musically experienced of the four artists assembled for the 60’s sitcom The Monkees, Michael Nesmith had already written and recorded after his tour of duty in the Air Force. Nesmith grew up in Dallas but returned to San Antonio where he played solo and in bands performing folk and country.

Getting more into songwriting, Nesmith moved to LA where he got a songwriting deal with the New Christy Minstrels. Nesmith had several records out before responding to an ad soliciting musician/actors for the show. The hugely successful show made the Monkees one of the largest selling acts of the 60’s, despite the band not performing much of their music. Nesmith was harshly critical of the Monkee’s second record calling it “probably the worst record in the history of the world”, partly due to rushed, shoddy studio engineering.

As the band approached its end, Nesmith was saving his best compositions for a solo career he planned to launch.

Michael Nesmith finally bought his way out of the Monkees and paid a high financial price to do it. It was several years before he would return to the many band reunions that occurred over the next decades.

His solo career helped usher in the country rock era. With his First National Band, Nesmith had some moderate chart success and also wrote some classics, including Different Drum, a song popularized by Linda Ronstadt. And I’ve Never Loved Anyone More, a country hit for Lynn Anderson.

Michael Nesmith was the first winner of a Grammy for long form video with 1982’s Elephant Parts, his hour long creation. It inspired a short run TV Show Television Parts  that featured up and coming comedians including  Jerry Seinfeld and Whoopi Goldberg.

His production company Pacific Arts Corporation managed and developed media projects but most famously sued and won a dispute with PBS over licensing rights and payments. Nesmith was quoted about the case, saying “It’s like finding your grandmother stealing your stereo. You’re happy to get your stereo back, but it’s sad to find out your grandmother is a thief.”

Micheal Nesmith died from heart failure on December 10th.

2021-12-28T23:29:13-05:00December 30th, 2021|