Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Creedence Summer

Back in the 1960’s, when I was a young teenager, I had my favorite bands. There was lots of music that I liked, but a few bands were special to me. The Doors were the first band to ever attract my attention. I was just 13 when I first heard them and their raw sexuality was a siren’s call I couldn’t resist. Spirit was another band that I just loved to death. I actually bought their first album in 1968 when it came out. I had seen a billboard on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood one day while traveling with my mother. The band’s look shocked me. For some reason, I thought having an older, bald guy in the band (drummer Ed Cassidy) was the height of non-conformity. So I bought the album unheard and found an atmospheric collection of psychedelic, jazzy songs the likes I had never heard before. I was hooked. And, of course, there was the Beatles, who I never got seriously into until the “Sgt. Pepper” album came out in 1967.

Then there was Creedence Clearwater Revival. I first heard CCR when the edited single “Suzie Q” became a hit in 1968. I loved the song, but I didn’t pick up a CCR album until 1969 and the release of their second collection called “Bayou Country”. “Proud Mary” was a huge hit and I just couldn’t resist the old time country/blues feel of the music mixed with the overt psychedelic sounds of the time. I was surprised when I brought the album home and put it on the tiny turntable I had in my bedroom. Usually, the first thing that happened when I put a record on was that my parents would start yelling at me to turn it down. But this time my mother knocked on the door and asked what it was. She actually liked it. She was into country music and the influence it had on CCR’s music was enough to attract her attention to it.

Over the years, CCR had quite an impact on me. Their music brought me around to country and blues. They broadened my mind at the time in ways few bands had been able to. I spent my teenage years going to school in Southern California’s Orange County, and spent the summers in Northern California at my grandparent’s house in Marysville. I would usually work for my grandfather in his grocery store in Yuba City. (One of his best customers was notorious serial killer Juan Corona, whose car I packed with groceries several times.) Most of the time my whole family would make the trip, but there were a few times when I was packed onto a Greyhound bus and sent through the Central Valley overnight to be met by my grandparents at the bus depot. I was always in amazement as we passed the city of Lodi. CCR did a song about it, so to me it was an exotic, unknown place that I longed to visit. I would stare out the bus window at the Lodi city sign and wonder what mysteries laid beyond it. (Of course, in reality the place was a dump and I was probably very lucky that I never saw it in the real light of day. I actually have visited the city many times now in the last decade as it’s quickly becoming one of California’s best up-and-coming wine regions.)

One of the biggest disappointments of my teenage years is that I never managed to see any of my favorite bands live. My father would periodically take me to the Anaheim Convention Center and drop me off to see whatever band happened to be playing there that evening. I can remember seeing such bands as Iron Butterfly, Blood Sweat & Tears, the Bee Gees (in 1968 when they were still a pop/rock band), Vanilla Fudge, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Donovan, and being amazed by them all. Remember, I wasn’t even 16 years old yet and all these bands seemed new and fascinating to me. But I never managed to see my favorites, although they all played the Convention Center at one time or another. The reasons for this are lost in time, but I regret missing those bands to this day.

Over the last several decades, I’ve been able to catch various members of my favorite bands in the live setting. I saw Paul McCartney in the 70s during his first big Wings tour. I caught Ringo Starr with his All-Star Band only a few years ago. I saw Spirit in one of their Randy California led later incarnations, as well as singer Jay Ferguson and bassist Mark Andes’ later band, Jo Jo Gunne. And I’ve seen various Doors in solo settings as well as all three surviving members backing up Iggy Pop on stage. But I had never seen any of the CCR members play live.

Until this summer, that is.

I’ve talked before about how much I love the summer seasons at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s a great place to see someone perform and I always look forward to seeing what musical legends are going to play there when they announce the summer schedule each March. I also like the fact that you can still attend the Bowl for a rather cheap price ($5 to $15 depending on the show) if you don’t mind sitting a quarter mile away from the stage. There are giant screens so you can watch the action on stage close up. They also allow you to bring your own food and wine or beer to the Bowl. So it can be a very inexpensive evening out under the LA summer sky if you choose to do it that way. Skip and I usually end up going to at least a dozen shows there every summer, usually in the cheap seats, but sometimes spending more if the headlining act calls for it.

This summer was opened by a three day 4th of July stint by CCR leader John Fogerty. When it was first announced, we were torn about it. There was no question that we were going to go. After all, it was a Creedence legend we had never seen. But it was also well known that he hated playing the old CCR songs live and most of his solo material just didn’t interest us all that much. But we bought tickets. $25 each, about half way down to the stage. We brought a couple of bottles of nice wine and relaxed, hoping for the best.

And the best is what we got. He opened his set with “Green River” and I was pretty ecstatic. I thought he didn’t do CCR songs and here he was opening with one. His voice was strong and the band sounded good. His set turned out to be almost 2/3 Creedence, with the rest filled out by his solo material. He played a good many of the hits and even pulled out a few surprises, like “Run Through the Jungle”, “Keep On Chooglin’”, “Fortunate Son” and a country version of “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”. He also did a four song set backed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra that included a beautiful “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and an incredibly rocking “Proud Mary”. We left that night in very high spirits. It was a great set by one of rock and roll’s great talents and we were glad that we had been there to see and hear it.

A few weeks ago, Skip and I were at the LA County Fair. We were looking at the list of upcoming bands playing there and we saw that Creedence Clearwater Revisited was coming soon. This CCR was formed 15 years or so ago to allow original Creedence bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford to capitalize on the music that they were so much a part of. The two guys, rounded out with several other musicians, had toured the world playing the hits they had originally recorded with John Fogerty. Creedence had ended on a sour note at the beginning of the 70s, with Forgerty going one way and the other three members (including the late Tom Fogerty, John’s estranged brother) going the other. Over the years, the relationship between the two camps has remained strained. This led to the incident during the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 where John Fogerty refused to let Stu and Doug play with him on stage. I found this to be petty, childish and extremely embarrassing. To me, John Fogerty may be a major talent, but he’s seems to be kind of a giant asshole as well. (I did meet Forgerty once. He was on his way out of Warner Bros Records as I was on my way in. A mutual friend introduced us and we talked briefly. He seemed nice enough, but his actions towards the other guys in the band are still inexcusable.)

Anyways, Skip remembered that his niece, Shannon, had once told him that she knew the son of one of the guys in the band. So, he gave her a call and before we knew it, we were on the guest list to see them play at the County Fair. (We’ve since found out that Shannon more than knows the guy. She’s living with him. And he’s the son of drummer Doug Clifford. I look forward to actually meeting him some day soon.)

We arrived at the Fair to find stage-side tickets and back-stage passes waiting for us. Those seats cost $125 each, so we were pretty thankful. (Lesser seats cost $25 each, but most of those were way in back and off to the sides.) The place was packed, which I found amazing. I had no idea that a band like this would bring in such a crowd consisting of so many people of all ages. We bought a couple of giant Fair margaritas and settled into our seats directly in front of the stage. We had no idea what to expect.

Now, I should break here to explain that I usually really have a problem with bands that continue on after their lead singer has left. It usually doesn’t work and I have bad memories of seeing the James Gang without Joe Walsh or hearing those horrible albums the Doors made after the death of Jim Morrison. I also have a problem with bands getting back together as a tribute to their old selves. Or I should say, I did have a problem. Lately I’ve been seeing lots of those types of bands, from X to the Human League to the Zombies, and I’ve found myself enjoying them tremendously, despite the lack of new songs. Sometimes, like in the case of the Human League, they’re even better than they were when I first saw them in their original form. Then, last year, I saw From The Jam, which is the original drummer and bassist of the Jam with a new singer, touring by playing the old songs. They were tremendous; as good as they were with their original singer/guitarist, Paul Weller. (Some people even thought they were better, although I won’t go that far out on the limb. The new material the band is working on may decide that for me.) It may just be nostalgia, but there’s room for that these days and I realized that I couldn’t condemn a band for falling back on that.

Getting back to the show, on walks Creedence Clearwater Revisited to thunderous applause. Stu Cook looked chipper and happy, and Doug Clifford looked fit and trim and not much older than he did 40 years ago. They were rounded out by three other musicians; Steve Gunner on keyboards, Tal Morris on guitar, and John Tristao on vocals and guitar. They immediately broke into “Born On the Bayou” and the crowd went wild. Their hour and a half long set included most of the band’s hits, including the biggest and a few of the smaller ones like “Travelin’ Band”, “Hey Tonight”, and “Lodi” which I found to be a delight.

I had a few problems with the set. There was a bit too much guitar pyrotechnics at times, which I don’t think was needed, although the crowd seemed to respond excitedly to those moments. And although singer John Tristao has the voice down, in person he’s kind of a solidly built, bald, biker guy and I just couldn’t place the face with the voice. I found that I was watching the set without watching him and I was enjoying it more because if that. Both of these problems were small ones though and the vast, crazy audience didn’t seem to mind them at all. I guess it’s just me.

But, Oh, that rhythm section!!! Those two guys are beautiful to watch and listen to. Fogerty owes those guys a lot more than he’s given them. He could never have pulled off what he was doing without those guys there to anchor him down. I watched and listened to them in amazement. I found myself wishing that we could have found a rhythm section like that for Thin White Rope. It would have been a beautiful thing. (These days I look back and think that we may have had that rhythm section in John and Joe if we just would have been a bit more patient.)

So once again I found myself glad to be where I was. I enjoyed the show tremendously and if I put the two parts together, I can convince myself that I’ve sort of seen Creedence Clearwater Revival play live now.

Afterwards, we went back stage and Doug, or Cosmo, a nickname he seems to prefer, came out to talk. He was friendly and talkative. There were a few times when I thought we were taking up too much of his time and would start to make our goodbyes when he would suddenly change topics to another subject that we would spend a good amount of time discussing. It’s been quite a while since I’ve felt so comfortable talking to someone I respect so much but don’t know. Topics went from family matters to John Fogerty to old memories of CCR to Lodi to Dolly Parton and on and on. It was really a pleasure. (And the thought that if all works out, he may become a distant relative boggles my mind.)

So there you have it. My Creedence Summer. I fell in love with the band 40 years ago and this summer reinforced the fact that I’m still in love with them now. And I know that if by some chance I live another 40 years, I’ll still be in love with them then.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fun at the Hollywood Bowl and Other Musical Musings

Once again I’m going to ignore the rapid descent into pure insanity that we are watching this country’s right wing fall into. Instead you’re getting several music oriented tales.


The other day Skip and I went to the Hollywood Bowl to see a concert. This isn’t unusual in the summer. We usually end up at the Bowl to see a dozen or more shows every summer season. And there was certainly nothing unusual about the show. It was jazz artists Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, three of the four members of the 70s jazz fusion band Return to Forever. I was a big fan of the band and wanted to catch them live again after three and a half decades to see what they had been up to lately. So it should have only been a nice evening out featuring some great jazz music. Instead we got one of the most bizarre, chaotic, and ultimately rewarding shows I’ve seen all year.

We started the evening by deciding to park up on Cahuenga Blvd, which is right around the corner from the Hollywood Bowl. We usually go to North Hollywood and park at the Red Line station and then take the subway to Hollywood Blvd, where we walk up the hill to the Bowl. That way we can avoid the traffic and the long lines of cars after the show due to the Bowl’s insane policy of stack parking. But we had decided to eat at the Loteria Grill on Hollywood Blvd before the show, so we were early enough to find parking on Cahuenga, which is the only legal place you can park near the Bowl. It fills up fast, but if you’re there early, you can usually find a space. We left the wine and water we had brought for the Bowl show in the car and walked down the hill to Loteria, about half a mile walk.

Now, keep in mind that Southern California was experiencing a really bad heat wave at that time and also has one of the worst fires in recent history burning nearby, so the air was hot, muggy and full of smoke. We ate a delicious dinner and walked back up the hill to our car to get our packs full of ice, wine and water. After swinging the packs onto our backs, we walked part way back down the hill to the entrance to the Bowl, then walked all the way up this huge hill to get to our seats in the second to the last section up. By the time we got there, we were red-faced and out of breath, and we had probably worked off most of the calories we had ingested at dinner.

I knew we were in trouble when we first arrived. Sitting right next to us were a very enthusiastic Latino mother with her adult son. They were already drunk and I think quite a bit stoned and were very loud and friendly. “Hey!” “Sit Down.” “Take a load off.” “Here, have a beer.” And it wasn’t long until we were asked, “Hey, are you guys significant others?” “It’s cool, man,” “Sure you don’t want a beer?” We thanked them every time they offered us a beer and explained that we really weren’t beer guys and that we had brought our own wine and we preferred that, which was probably why they figured out we were significant others.

Everyone was distracted though when an older black man arrived along with three middle-aged black women and they sat right behind us. They were all very excited about the show and started devouring a large basket full of fried chicken, ham and booze to prove it, all the while talking about how excited they were about the show.

It was about this time that the opener, guitarist John Scofield hit the stage. Dear God, I hated him. He played a set of what he described as “New Orleans Gospel” except there was absolutely no soul involved. It was just four musicians sounding like studio hacks and they weren’t even that good of musicians. But the audience loved it. The young Latino guy next to us started “WOOing” immediately and it wasn’t long until he pulled out a tambourine to beat along with his WOOs. I looked behind us and the whole audience was on their feet, swinging their hips and dropping wine glasses and bottles, and probably themselves, onto the aisles with loud crashes. I have never seen an audience so set on partying.

Forty minutes later, the torturous music stopped and the lights went up. The young Latino guy looked at us and screamed, “I MEAN, HOW CAN YOU FOLLOW THAT?” We just grimaced back at him. I certainly hoped that Chick Corea, et al, would be able to follow that quite easily, but I was really worried that perhaps we had made a big mistake by coming to this show.

The young Latino guy got a phone call and announced he had to leave. His mother seemed upset and asked if it was “that girl” and he affirmed her suspicions. He told her that “that girl” was down in Section F and he was going to join her and with that, he was off and I was relieved as I had just told Skip that if he was going to keep up that WOOing and tambourine pounding through the rest of the evening, we were going to have to move.

Mom just sat there drinking beers and talking to us about past shows she and we had seen at the Bowl that summer. The people behind us were still eating and drinking and seemed pretty oblivious to anything else going on around them. It was about then that I noticed the crickets. They were all around us and they were damned loud. We couldn’t see them, but they could be heard all over. I was sure those crickets had to be the size of small dogs to make a sound that loud. They didn’t seem to mind all the people around them and kept up their gleeful chirping without pause. I mentioned to Skip that we should have brought a couple hundred hamsters to let loose to eat the crickets (hamsters LOVE crickets) and the thought of that sent him into insane giggles, so I wasn’t sure if I was happy I had brought it up.

Then the lights went down and Corea, Clarke and White walked out, promised a night of “illegal melodies and illegal chords”, and broke into a pretty great acoustic version of “500 Miles High” from the first Return To Forever album. Immediately, one of the middle-aged black women behind us started screaming, “I LOVE YOU, STANLEY CLARKE!”, like he could hear her a quarter of a mile back and over the music he was playing on stage. By this time, all I could do was laugh. But she quieted down after a couple of minutes and I relaxed and enjoyed the music.

The trio did a couple more acoustic numbers and then brought on violinist Jean Luc Ponty, starting into a beautiful version of Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba”, and then into a soaring version of Ponty’s “Renaissance”. (He announced the song by claiming that he pronounces the song title as “ren-e-sance”, while us American’s pronounce it “ren-a-sance”, which Skip and I found hilarious for some unknown reason.)

Then guitarist Bill Connors joined the group and it all started going south. They started playing “Senor Mouse”, but the only guitar the audience could hear was a crunchy feedback sort of thing that took any energy out of the music the band were trying to perform. The band didn’t seem to notice the sound problems and just kept at it and after 5 minutes or so; roadies started scurrying around the guitar amp, trying to solve the problem. They eventually got it sorted out, but by the time they did, the song had been ruined. Halfway through the song, the young Latino guy came back. I guess he hadn’t scored well with “that girl”. But he got right back into it by screaming “JEAN LUC PONTY” over and over again, obviously hoping that would get the band through their sound problems and back into the groove of things.

Then things really started to get weird. Chaka Khan was introduced and out she bounced. Skip and I had seen Chaka perform at the Bowl earlier this summer and thought she was pretty good. But she wasn’t cut out for this performance. I know she has sung with Corea, et al, on the album “Echoes of an Era” in 1982, and by all accounts, it’s a good album. But she’s no Ella Fitzgerald, and I found her attempts at scat singing and jazz in general to be sorely lacking and just downright irritating.

She announced that they were going to perform a song from the first ever black opera and the old black guy behind me yelled out, “CARMAN”. I turned around and yelled back, “NO, PORGY AND BESS”, and he just stared at me before yelling out, “SUMMERTIME”. I turned to Skip and said that they were probably going to do “I Loves You, Porgy” just as Chaka announced they were going to do just that. I didn’t hear another word from the old black man that night.

But it was just at that time that Chaka Kahn decided to talk about how much she loves working with that band and ran over and started hugging Stanley Clarke. The middle aged black woman behind me screamed, “I WANT TO HUG STANLEY”. Chaka said, “I love you, Stanley” and the woman behind me screamed, “I LOVE STANLEY”. Then Chaka saw Lenny White sitting behind his drums and said, “I love you too, Lenny”. And the woman behind me screamed, “NO. I LOVE STANLEY.” Then she continued to scream “STANLEY” over and over for the next five minutes or so until she lost her voice or passed out or something.

The band started into “I Loves You, Porgy” which is a beautiful song that wasn’t quite jelling, when a stir went through the audience. Over at the side of the stage a man was being led on stage and in moments the whole audience could see that it was a black-clad Stevie Wonder. This brought the audience to its feet as Stevie pulled out his harmonica and played a perfect solo over the band. Then he joined Chaka on vocals and the song suddenly seemed to soar. Stevie sang and the crowd went wild. I have to say, it was a pretty beautiful moment. (My favorite part was when Stevie finished singing his lines and tried to hand the microphone to Chaka. But she was excited and running all over the place. Stevie just kind of waved the mic around in a confused manner, then shrugged his shoulders and started singing again. Always a professional, that Stevie.)

The young Latino guy was screaming, “STEVIE, OH, STEVIE” over and over through all this and his mother turned to us and screamed, “NOW ALL WE NEED IS AL JARREAU”, the thought of which sent shivers of terror down my spine.

Then the song ended and Stevie sat down at the electric piano across from Chick at the acoustic piano. “OH MY GOD! WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO PLAY? CHOPSTICKS?” screamed the young Latino guy and Skip told him it was going to be the best damned version of “Chopsticks” any of us had ever heard. He just looked back confused.

They started playing while the audience was still going wild. The Mom turned and screamed “IT’S SPAIN” and “THIS IS SPAIN ISN’T IT?” and “SPAIN IS MY FAVORITE SONG” before screaming again, “THIS IS SPAIN, ISN’T IT?” I assured her it was. In fact, I think a couple other people behind us also assured her it was, hoping she would shut up and listen to her favorite song.

It was a beautiful version and I was surprised at how well Stevie held his own playing jazz chops. Chick Corea threw in a bit of Stevie’s own “Ribbon in the Sky”. The audience was going crazy. And then it was over. Corea thanked the audience and Stevie was led off the stage and everyone in the audience turned to each other to talk about how amazing it had all been. I was happy. It wasn’t a perfect set, but it was full of its own fireworks and I found it to be extremely beautiful when the band was one and at least fun when they weren’t, possibly due to the company around us.

As we were leaving, the young Latino guy and his Mom told us that they enjoyed spending time with us. “Hope to see you again soon”, they said. We nodded and walked away down the hill. I was glad we had come to this show, but if I ever see those people again, I’ll run screaming in the opposite direction.


This year’s FYF Fest was a whole different affair than past years’ have been. First, there was a name change. They used to be the Fuck Yeah Fest before becoming the F Yeah Fest. Now they’re just the FYF Fest. The organizers also took the Fest away from the Echo Park clubs, The Echo and the Echoplex, and moved it to the Downtown area’s LA State Historic Park. This enabled the Fest to be more of a legitimate, commercial-type Festival and it paid off as there were hundreds more people attending than I saw at last year’s Fest.

But the basic premise of a festival featuring up-and-coming to unknown indie rock bands is still in place and that’s a good thing. I usually go to this yearly Fest as a way to check out bands I might not have heard yet and there were a number I discovered this year.

My favorites included Woods (
http://www.myspace.com/woodsfamilyband), the Thermals (http://www.myspace.com/thethermals), Eat Skull (http://www.myspace.com/eatskull), and Times New Viking (http://www.myspace.com/eatskull).

I also quite liked Dios (
http://www.myspace.com/diosmalos), Darker My Love (http://www.myspace.com/darkermylove), Crystal Antlers (http://www.myspace.com/crystalantlers), Wavves (http://www.myspace.com/wavves), and the Strange Boys (http://www.myspace.com/thestrangeboys).

I was rather ambivalent about the typical punk rock of the Carbonas (
http://www.myspace.com/thecarbonas) and the faceless electro-pop of Cold Cave (http://www.myspace.com/coldcave).

And I absolutely hated the chaotic noise of Lightening Bolt (
http://www.myspace.com/laserbeast), which surprised me since so many people seemed to be into them.

I really wanted to see, but missed Kurt Vile (
http://www.myspace.com/kurtvileofphilly), Nobunny (http://www.myspace.com/nobunnylovesyou), Avi Buffalo (http://www.myspace.com/avibuffalo), Telepathe (http://www.myspace.com/telepathe), and Glass Candy (http://www.myspace.com/glasscandy).

Dan Deacon (
http://www.myspace.com/dandeacon) cancelled due to illness or I would have seen him.

I’ve seen both Mika Miko (
http://www.myspace.com/mikamiko) and Peanut Butter Wolf (http://www.myspace.com/pbwolf) before. I loved Mika Miko. I’ve seen Peanut Butter Wolf do much better, but his travels through 90s hip-hop was fun and had the audience going apeshit.

We left before No Age (
http://www.myspace.com/nonoage) and Black Lips (http://www.myspace.com/theblacklips) played. I love both bands, but have also seen both of them recently and just decided to get home at a decent hour.

All-in-all, I had a great time and certainly got my $20 worth. I’m already looking forward to next year.


Finally, I just want to make a couple of movie recommendations.

“It Might Get Loud” was one of the best rock music documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s basically a conversation between Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (White Strips, Raconteurs, the Dead Weather). During this conversation, the three guitarists touch on their early years and what brought them into music in the first place. There is some absolutely amazing footage of the guys as youngsters just getting started. There is also footage of all three talking about their influences and the best footage comes out of that. The look on Page’s face as he plays and talks about Link Wray’s “The Rumble” is just priceless. More than any other movie I’ve seen, this one shows the pure joy and excitement in the love and creation of music. See it.

“Taking Woodstock” isn’t even close to being the best movie that Ang Lee has made, but it’s still a very likable and enjoyable film. It’s the story of how the Woodstock Festival came to be. Some people have complained that it didn’t include a lot of the music and performances, but that’s not what the movie is about. It’s about how some people with big dreams made them come true. There are some problems. Some of the characters aren’t properly fleshed out and at times the story seems to meander a bit. But I still enjoyed the movie quite a lot and so I’ll recommend it. You can wait for this to come out on DVD, but some of the cinematography is beautiful and is better suited for the big screen. Either way, try to see it eventually. I think you’ll enjoy it as well.