Category Archives: Industry News

Dear John

John Wetton just passed away. Many fans have known that this brave and talented artist had been fighting cancer, going through successive treatments that did not lead to recovery. I didn’t know John, only met him twice, but I love his work and have great respect and admiration for his life and journey. The verses and choruses of his greatest music have been running through my head this morning since waking to read the sad announcement. He was and will be remembered as one of the most important and prolific rock artists of our time.

Just want to say a few things, without a deep encyclopedic review of the man and his work. While John lent his time to several projects early in his career, the first really impactful music I heard from the man was from his work with King Crimson. Back when we used to accost our friends to exclaim, “listen to this record!” one of mine handed me two LP’s – wettonjohn2017_crimson_lark_72dpiCrimson’s Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (1973) and Starless And Bible Black (1974). I found this music cast a kind of strange spell while at the same time being aurally shocking, challenging beyond belief, utterly lacking in the kind of sound that would attract anyone but serious musicians. It captivated me and made me a lifelong fan of those who contributed. These two albums capture almost everything that made John such a compelling songwriter, player and vocalist. To be sure, his work on that thunderous monster bass was often stunning – take “The Talking Drum,” a relentless dissonant instrumental driven by Bill Bruford’s tuned toms and John’s four-string attack. The momentous sound of his bass could and sometimes did overwhelm the mix in concert. Full stop… one great bass player.

But what always stuck with me, and kept me collecting John’s work through the next 40 years was his truly golden expressive voice. There was a majestic power to that voice, an incredible sustain and phrasing that alternated between sarcastic and sublime, often with a touch of vibrato but more frequently long clear pitch-perfect tones. This was a voice tailor made for progressive rock, particularly on those songs that seemed to come from an earlier time, that pre-industrial acoustic-meets-electric modern renaissance. Take his gorgeous vocal on “Book of Saturdays” and lines such as “Every time I try to leave you, You laugh just the same.” Or, something more intense and biting from “Easy Money” “Getting fat on your lucky star… Making easy money.” John had an uncanny ability to deliver what dynamic prog music demanded, a lead vocal that could easily flex between gentle and more violent passages. Right from the start, that voice had everything in its arsenal -a yearning that brought the blues, a bite, a howl for justice, a plea for sanity, or just a call to celebrate.

wettonjohn2017_uknancover_72dpiAfter Crimson’s untimely disbandment in 1974, John cast about a bit, eventually forming U.K. with prog luminaries, a band that racked up just two albums followed by a live one taken from the tour I saw, their sophomore outing supporting Danger Money when they opened for Jethro Tull in 1979 as a three piece. This legendary band, though short-lived, tops my list for great Wetton compositions played with maximum dynamics by virtuoso musicians Eddie Jobson, Bill Bruford, Allan Holdsworth and Terry Bozzio. To a great extent, while similar to Crimson in dynamics, this work finds John in his best voice, alternating between near ballads like “Renevous 6:02” and “Ceasar’s Palace Blues.”

When this outfit also broke up, John released his first solo album, which made clear that he was well capable of writing music that was easier on the ears, more major tones, a bit less minor. With this under his belt, John went on to form “super group” Asia where he found the commercial success that had eluded his more musically challenging work of the 70s. With the debut Asia album John finally made a more accessible form of pop music that also captured a wider audience. The concert in support of the album was unforgettable, a master class in prog and pop that I will never forget. I’ve seen him live in concert numerous times over the years, and never saw a lazy or subpar performance, even when he had a cold or off night.

John left behind a large catalog of solo work, and collaborations with so many peers, including most notably keyboard player Geoff Downes and guitarist Phil Manzanera. These albums explore every facet of the rock art – some jazz-infused, some progressive, most really essential rock music with some pop to balance it all out. He worked tirelessly, releasing numerous albums, touring frequently. Sure there were some bumps in the road, but there is so much treasure in the man’s large catalog of music that it will stand the test of time as a major contribution to the form.

wettonjohn2017_arkangelcover_72dpiMy favorite moment of John’s is on his 1998 solo album Arkangel. It reportedly came at a time of personal challenges for this artist, and it’s hard not to consider the title track and some of the content overall as autobiographical. Opening with a crack of thunder, this powerful tome includes fitting lyrics for the fighter:

You are my arkangel, my heart and my right hand
When in the face of danger we stand

The danger is over, the artist now quieted, rest in peace John Wetton, safe journey.

wettonjohn2017_withuk_72dpi

Because John is featured in my book for his work with both U.K. and King Crimson, I searched for months for photos of the man, and fortunately discovered Lisa Tanner, one of the great photographers of the era, who captured this really beautiful shot of John and his frets…thank you Lisa!

Rockin’ the City of Angels: What?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

_______________________________________________

Titled Rockin’ the City of Angels, the book was a 2 year labor of love for this long time rock fanatic. I described it on the back cover in this way:

genesis_lambitboth_72dpi

STROBE FLASHES PIERCE THE DARK STAGE to reveal a NYC street punk as he faces the other half of his fractured self. A father’s WWII fighter plane crashes into a wall, temporarily slowing its ascent around his son’s troubled heart. A fiend clad in a white tuxedo steps out from the frame of a graveyard scene onto a haunted stage welcoming all to his many nightmares. A woman, weapon drawn, tells the story of James and his very cold gun. The top drummer from the top 70s rock band in the world pounds out the opening beat that tells us it’s been a long time since he rock ‘n’ rolled . . . a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely lonely time.

rtcoa_bowiepage_144dpi
David Bowie photo (c) Neil Zlowzower / Atlas Icons

THESE IMAGES ARE SEARED into my memory from the rock concerts I witnessed in Los Angeles, the “City of Angels” in the 1970s, a time when rock bands were making expansive concept records with sweeping themes. Rock albums at the time promised “theater of the mind,” and their creators were inspired to mount elaborate stage shows that brought these dreams to life. These artists used every available piece of stagecraft—lights, projections, backdrops, props, and costumes—to create awesome spectacles for arenas packed with adoring fans— fans like you and me.

rtcoa_yesbookopeningpage_144dpi

This book celebrates more than thirty of these incredible performances including key tours by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Heart, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Who and Yes. We’ll share memories of those legendary concerts and my reviews of the best video documents of the era, each band illuminated by a hand-picked collection of brilliant images—some never-before seen—by the best photo- journalists of that time including Richard E. Aaron, Jorgen Angel, Fin Costello, Armando Gallo, Neal Preston, Jim Summaria, Lisa Tanner and Neil Zlowzower along with many others.

rtcoa_who1spread_144dpi
Who photo (c) Neal Preston

This coffee-table book is nearly the size of an LP album cover, 396 pages, over 500 images, written by Douglas Harr, designed by Tilman Reitzle. Forword by Armando Gallo.

rtcoa_toc_144
The bands, order by category, then the date of their key performance in L.A.

THE BOOK

For the last two years I have been working on a book with the working title of Rockin’ The City of Angels. It’s an account of my experience in the clubs, concert halls, arenas and stadiums in and around Los Angeles, bearing witness to the greatest rock concerts of our time.

Today, it is available for pre-order here: Gonzo Multimedia US
Customers pre-ordering before December 20 will receive a signed commemorative postcard, which can be used as a gift, just in time for the holiday season.

DSP_BookAd_FIlmClipsd_144dpi

The Pitch: At the dawn of the 70s, massive music festivals were born – Monterey, Woodstock, and others launched a decade that would feature some of the greatest musical performances of all time on rock ‘n roll stages. All across the world, rock bands had to take their shows to the next level – lighting, stagecraft, props, films, everything writ large for huge venues packed with adoring fans. The hippie oriented rock of the 60s gave way to epic concept albums packed with fantasy, fiction, and drama, the shows became mega-entertainment experiences. I saw these phenomenal shows in my home town of Los Angeles, at clubs like The Roxy, arenas like The Forum and larger sports venues such as Anaheim Stadium. The bands that excelled offered up entertainers, flamboyant stage antics, rock God presence, virtuosity, or theatrical spectacles combining rock, orchestra, ballet, opera and choir…. Their records promised “theater of the mind” while the shows brought these dreams to life….

This book will raise the curtain on these classic performances with exciting pictures from some of the top photographers of the rock era to visually tell the story of these seminal bands, as I reflect on the music, art and performance that made them into legends. The most revealing films of these and other concerts will be reviewed for each artist.

Remembering Glenn Frey

Eagles_HCFrey_72dpiWhen I was a teenager in the 1970s, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing an Eagles song. They were practitioners of the “Southern California sound,” a mix of folk, country, bluegrass and rock played at a typically “mellow” pace (dude), made popular by artists like Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt. Like the Beatles, CSN, and Chicago they always had multiple songwriters and at least three strong lead singers who could also combine to create amazing harmonies. The Eagles lyrics always struck a chord; somehow they seemed so much older and world weary than us fans. Songs like “Desperado,” Tequila Sunrise,” “Lyin’ Eyes” poetically exposed the human condition in the way of great country records. “Take it Easy” admonished us to not let the sound of our own wheels drive us crazy, to “lighten up” while we still could. My first girlfriend chose their sweet ballad “Best Of My Love” to represent us, and the song continues to be meaningful to me after all these years. Eventually, the radio overplayed many of these songs, and we “burned out” on a lot of them. In fact, this overexposure kept me from bothering to buy tickets to any of their shows in the 70s. We finally saw the band in Oakland a few years ago during what was their final proper tour, supporting their excellent documentary The History of the Eagles. It was a great show, full of classic songs, guest appearances, and interestingly, interludes where clips from the documentary were played on large screens that flanked the stage.

Eagles_HC1_72dpi

Their classic album, Hotel California, the band’s fifth, hit the airwaves in 1976 finding a receptive global audience. Their most polished, accomplished recording, it eventually sold more than 30 million copies. Packed with their signature sound, it’s also a more rocking version of the band, which now included three guitarists, Frey, Don Felder, and new member Joe Walsh. Their excellent musicianship balanced grit and polish making huge hits of the title track, along with “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Victim of Love,” and “New Kid in Town.” The messages in the lyrics are clear cautionary tales of excess, drugs, and lost dreams, mixed in with more typical love songs. The title track was open to interpretation, as was the album jacket’s imagery, which led many to draw outrageous conclusions, Eagles_HC5_72dpiincluding accusations of Satanism. Yet the band was cagy about explaining the meaning, other than saying it was a metaphor for a “journey from innocence to experience.” Of the album as a whole, Don Henley told Rolling Stone “We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest. Hotel California was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.” A stark interpretation it was. The band embarked on a long and successful tour to support the album, which included a stop in Washington D.C. where the proceedings were filmed, and included in that recent documentary DVD.

Eagles_HC3_72dpi

A critic had accused the Eagles of loitering on stage, and it’s true that the band exuded the laid back California vibe so perfectly captured in their music. It’s one of the reasons they recruited rocker Joe Walsh into the band just before this album and tour. As the film shows, there were no duck walks, no stagecraft; the most animated player was Walsh whose facial expressions mimicked his winding guitar solos, demonstrated most aptly during his hit “Rocky Mountain Way.” The most memorable moment of the film is the signature solo for the title track “Hotel California” which found Joe Walsh and Don Felder delivering their dueling guitar solo facing each other in an exciting jovial moment. Yet their laconic style does not seem a disadvantage all these years later. It’s a pleasEagles_HC4_72dpiure to watch the band perform their many hits, including down-tempo classics like “Lyin’ Eyes” which demonstrates Frey’s ability to impress the audience, even with his eyes mostly closed! The professionally filmed wide screen movie is crisp and clear, caught by multiple cameras and edited to include wide shots and close-ups that are well timed to maximize the experience. Only eight songs are included, but it’s worth the price of the documentary set to have this content. Hopefully an unedited version of the film will eventually be released in the future.

Eagles_HC2_72dpi

We lost Glenn Frey this week, and while it means no more reunion tours for the Eagles, his music will surely live on all over the world. At the time of his 80s solo career success, Frey said he realized, “You don’t have to give this up when you turn 30, 35 or 40. I’ll always make records and write songs. I gotta do them, otherwise I’d go nuts.” He needn’t have worried. Even after the band broke up in 1980 the classic rock format dominated radio stations in the U.S. where the next wave of British punk and dance music was being relegated to niche status. The format continues to this day, and the Eagles are still played frequently all over the world. Frey once said, “even though the band broke up they kept playing our songs all the time. It was like we never went away….we were still on the radio…” And it’s still true. Frey and his body of work will remain in our hearts. R.I.P.

CRUISE TO THE EDGE OF TIME

CTTE_Poster_72dpiWhew, I did it again. Year number two taking a cruise out of Miami, something I thought I would never do. Once again the third annual Cruise To The Edge featured Yes along with performances by over 15 old and new progressive rock bands. It was another chance to rock to the jagged beat of prog, pop seasickness pills, collect some new t-shirts, and catch God knows what in the process.

Part of what drives me to these shows is the desire to see some of these artists while they are still gigging. At this point, several bands from the 1970’s continue on with just one or two original members, restocking the ranks with new recruits. While decried in some circles, this continued perseverance still results in some spectacular concerts. I prefer to liken it to the fact that symphonies all over the world still play the music of Bach, long after his death. I’m coming away from the experience with a renewed interest in some older acts, along with a few new bands to add to the collection. By all accounts, cruisers had a good time, and the event was again a success. The following is a summary of all the bands we witnessed over the 5 days, in alphabetical order:

Anglagard

CTTE_Ang_Band_300dpi
These Swedish prog-rockers topped the bill for this voyager, featuring their brand of moody, atmospheric tunes that take their cue from early King Crimson while remaining uniquely their own, steeped in the strong musical scene of the Netherlands. At center stage, Anna Holmgren leads or colors the mostly instrumental pieces with warm expressive flute, saxophone, and other wind and percussion instruments, with bursts of Mellotron for good measure. Founding bassist Johan Brand is a focal point, putting muscle into the mix via his Rickenbacker bass guitar and towering stage presence. Founding guitarist Tord Lindman also provided vocals on two tracks. Jonas Engdegard (guitars,) Linus Kase (keyboards) and Erik Hammarstrom (drums) round out the group. The band comes across as a very integrated, tight unit, giving voice to each musician in kind. At times their studio recordings can sound a bit cold and distant – not so when performed live – all the nuance and beauty of the pieces shine, balanced favorably against ample dissonance. I’ll do a whole article on this wonderful band in the coming weeks.

Martin Barre

CTTE_Barre_Band6_300dpi
This long time Jethro Tull guitarist led his crack band of blues-rockers through a roots-oriented show on Saturday’s pre-cruise concert, focusing on new songs from his latest solo album, the excellent return to form Back To Steel. A follow-up Monday morning gig featured more Tull classics including a very condensed version of a Tull epic they called “Thin As A Brick” after which Martin expressed the desire to carry on indefinitely, threatening to play the 1973 opus A Passion Play backwards! On the new album and in concert, vocalist and second guitarist Dan Crisp shines, bringing his own style to the new tracks, and the older Tull songs. It’s refreshing to hear cuts like “To Cry You A Song” and “Minstrel In The Gallery” interpreted anew and sung once more with passion and punch. Clearly, all members of the band, which included skilled drummer George Lindsay and veteran bassist Alan Thomson were in fine form. Martin looked happy and relaxed, joking that it was the first gig they played on coffee, and announcing, “Thank you for choosing us over porridge…were going to be the best breakfast you ever had!” Truer words…

Caravan

CTTE_Caravan_300dpi
For one reason or another in the past I’ve never been able to catch this veteran act, one that was at the heart of the Canterbury scene back in the day. Instead, I’ve only seen individual members play live, as they came and went from fellow prog band Camel’s lineup. This was righted last week as Caravan’s founding member Pye Hastings (vocals, guitar) joined long time members Geoffrey Richardson (vocals, flute, violin, spoons) and Jan Schelhaas (keyboards) with Jim Leverton (bass) and Mark Walker (drums) for a set that touched on the band’s work over these last 45 years. The highlights for this fan were “Nine Feet Underground” from In The Land of Grey and Pink and the long song “For Richard” both demonstrating the enduring talent of this long standing group.

Haken

CTTE_Haken_Band_300dpi
Haken impressed with the raw power of their performances, at once rough yet often refined, particularly as their long form songs lead them to interludes that feature contrapuntal instrumentals and vocal madrigals. Lead singer Ross Jennings keeps the energy up, showcasing clean vocals and confident stagecraft.

Lifesigns

CTTE_Lifesigns_300dpi
This was the first band up on Saturday, the pre-cruise show, followed by a gig on the ship itself. They weren’t my cup of tea, but friends on the cruise reported loving their sets. It might be cause for repeated listening in order to “get it.”

Marillion

CTTE_Marillion_300dpi
Wisely, this band changed up their set list this year. Singer Steve Hogarth wrings emotional depth from song-stories that cover a variety of themes as he crisscrosses the stage to punctuate their delivery. The talented band hit many highpoints with the title track of their last album Sounds That Can’t Be Made, “Man Of A Thousand Faces” and a song about the vagrancies of fame, accompanied by film clips of departed artists from Marilyn Monroe to Elvis, John Lennon, Jim Morrison and many others who shone brightly but were taken too soon. Encore “The Invisible Man” was a spectacular way to close out the cruise on its final evening.

Moon Safari

CTTE_MoonSafari2_300dpi
No relations to the French band Air, this Swedish outfit ended up being my wife’s favorite, and it was easy to see why as this young band plays a slightly less angular, and definitely more accessible brand of progressive music than many of their peers. The musical chops are there, with solid bass and drums supporting excellent leads on guitar and synthesizers. But the real strength of this band are their vocals, presented live in energetic performances that find the front line alternating leads and harmonizing beautifully throughout, ending the show with a 5 part a’capella capper that had the audience on their feet.

Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM)

CTTE_PFM_Band2_300dpi
Another band that brought me back for a second year, Italy’s PFM lit up the poolside stage on two successive days playing a set list heavy on selections from their masterpiece Photos of Ghosts (1973), and other 70’s favorites. Two more recent tracks from their ode to Mozart “Pfm in Classic – Da Mozart a Celebration” rocked discerning attendees. The set list was nearly the same as last year, but the musicians delivered two fun, energetic hours of fresh-baked Italian prog gems. Founding guitarist and vocalist Franco Mussida retired earlier this year, and was replaced for this tour by two excellent musicians, one of whom sings Franco’s vocal parts, and both of whom play acoustic and electric guitars respectively. On Wednesday a bit of bad luck hit, as accomplished drummer, vocalist and band leader Franz Di Cioccio missed the second day’s show due to illness, leaving power-bassist Patrick Djivas to lead the show, which he did with aplomb, though reporting at one point that it was definitely strange to play without Franz.

Saga

CTTE_Saga_300dpi
This Canadian ensemble played an evening set on the last day of the cruise, taking the audience through a collection of their upbeat tunes, marked by the hit “On The Loose” finding vocalist Michael Sadler and band in top form.

Three Friends (Minus Two!)

CTTE_TF_Band4_300dpi
Last year Three Friends played the complex, thrilling music of Gentle Giant led by two original band members, guitarist Gary Green, and drummer Malcolm Mortimore, down from three after the departure of original master keyboardist Kerry Minnear. The band was a second major reason for me to return to the cruise, and the news that Gary Green suffered a heart attack a few days before the launch was disappointing, though fortunately by all accounts he is recovering swiftly. Instead of cancelling, the band played on, led by Malcolm front and center on drums, joined by vocalist Pierre Valentin, winds and violin player Charlotte Glasson, bassist Jonathan Noyce, and keyboard wizard Neil Angilley. While Gary was clearly missed, their gigs on pre-cruise Saturday and again on the ship demonstrated their chops, and in fact allowed for a bit of additional focus on the keyboard parts, so ably interpreted and augmented by Neil’s talented, percussive playing. The set list was not greatly changed from the last voyage, but a standout track was added from the album Octopus, as “Think of Me With Kindness”, pulled at audience heartstrings with a beautiful vocal rendition from Pierre. Also, the inclusion of “Mobile” from Free Hand, gave Charlotte a chance to step up on violin. The show was great, and all hands on deck wished Gary a quick recovery and a return to the stage, while we enjoyed Three-Friends-Minus-Two!

Yes

CTTE_Yes_Band_300dpi
I wasn’t certain what to expect from Yes this time out. Original bassist Chris Squire passed away earlier this year, having named Billy Sherwood his successor for a summer tour headlining with Toto. The tour found the band focusing on some of their more popular songs, and most of that set list remained for this show. It’s somewhat unfortunate, as long-time opener “Siberian Khatru,” and closer “Starship Trooper” were in place once again, as well as “Don’t Kill The Whale,” “Your Move,” “Time and a Word,” “Tempus Fugit” and other familiar choices. Given this a Yes cruise, packed with avid Yes fans, it would make more sense for the band to alter the set, prepare a list of rare cuts and make the event more unique and special. Also the band continues to slow the pace of their pieces for live performance. While ensuring maestro Howe hits every note on the original records, it robs the proceedings of immediacy and leaves drummer Alan White to keep a steady beat that never seems to change during the show.

Having said all that, the performance was otherwise strong, and a new track from Heaven and Earth, along with a couple of rarely played songs made it onto the set list, namely “White Car” from Drama, and the beautiful masterwork “Soon” from Relayer. The latter in particular demonstrated the care and skill brought to bass leads by Billy Sherwood, with runs that defined the track alongside Howe’s slide guitar in equal measure. It reminded me of how unique and wonderful Squire’s playing was, and I rooted for Billy along with the rest of the audience, as he not only did justice to Squire’s legacy both on bass and vocals, but also was able to inject a new energy and a unique personal style to the proceedings. In addition, Jon Davison at this point sounds like Jon Davison, not an echo of Mr. Anderson. It seems this has been true from his second outing on, but we really noticed this time how Davison brings his own personality and voice to the evening, along with his heartfelt, uplifting stagecraft.

________________

Honorable mention goes out to artists we missed this time out at sea. As always it’s impossible to get to every single band on a cruise that is essentially a moving festival with multiple stages, as there are bound to be scheduling conflicts. This time out we missed Jolly, Thinking Scientists, Spock’s Beard/Neal Morse, and IO Earth to name a few, each of which landed positive reviews from the other cruisers that attended their sets. I didn’t talk to anyone who caught Alan Holdsworth’s sets, so can’t report on that, though rumor was he almost bailed on the cruise before it’s launch.

As to the collection of bands this year, it was a great, if not exceptional lineup for those who have attended in the past. Circumstantially, several acts such as PFM, and Three Friends staged shows that were very similar to last year, and the absence of marquee names to replace Steve Hackett and U.K. was unfortunate. Still, Marillion changed it up quite a bit with a very different set and a performance that continues to draw us into their circle. Plus, Martin Barre, Anglagard and Caravan were all excellent, and the cruise overall must be deemed a success.

No doubt master-of-ceremonies Jon Kirkman has already received countless suggestions as to bands that might be invited next year. It would seem that another headliner is in order, such as Rush or a similar major act that would change things up a bit. I for one would also vote for adding quality jazz-fusion acts, such as Zappa Plays Zappa, Al DiMeola or Simon Phillips for example. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this year’s fusion axeman Alan Holdsworth drew many attendees. Also prog from North America is under represented, and organizers could include Oblivion Sun (former members of Happy The Man) or even Kansas or Styx, as both bands have staged strong tours this past year. Possibly the Dixie Dregs could be reunited? It’s got to be increasingly hard to assemble enough veteran acts to join the neo-proggers, so hat’s off to Jon and the organizers of this event for delivering the goods!

This was definitely a memorable event, well run, on a well-appointed cruise ship from Norwegian Cruise Lines. The organizers of the Cruise To The Edge floating festival threw a lifeline to old and new progressive rock acts alike.

Supertramp Cancel European Tour

Supertramp_Davies_SF_AdRecently I wrote glowingly about one of my favorite bands, Supertramp and their recently recovered film of the Breakfast in America tour. Last year they released that stunning video Live in Paris ’79 – one of the best-filmed concerts from any rock band of the era, coming to the market 34 years after the event. It’s about to be re-released along with a CD set of the complete unedited concert. This group was led by a marriage of the uniquely talented principal members, Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies. Both founders planned tours this year, an exciting development for fans of their work.

Supertramp_Davies_Together
Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson in Paris 1979

Supertramp’s radio-friendly sound was a mix of progressive and pop – incorporating elements of rock, blues, jazz, and lots of honky-tonk piano, they balanced light and dark compositions to an exquisite blend. Joined by the accomplished John Helliwell on winds, Dougie Thomson on bass and steady drummer Bob Seibenberg, their core work from Crime of the Century (1974) to Famous Last Words (1982) brought the band increasing success. Their breakup in 1983, which ended with Rick taking over the band, and Roger taking the highway, is one of the saddest in rock history.

Supertramp_DaviesV
Rick Davies

After a long absence from the stage, ending around 2005, Roger has been taking the songs he wrote for Supertramp out on the road, staging a continuing series of exceptional concerts, as a duo or with band, his voice and skills as a musician undiminished by time. It’s been more difficult to catch Davies, as travelling under the moniker of Supertramp has been a rarity, particularly in the states. In fact, this year Supertramp booked a series of concerts across Europe, 5 years since they were last seen live there. Unfortunately, just this week, the “Supertramp Forever” tour has been cancelled, citing health issues impacting Davies, who was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma and is fighting the disease. Davies issued this statement:

“I was really looking forward to returning to Europe and playing with the band again and I’m sorry to disappoint everyone who has overwhelmingly supported the upcoming tour.  Unfortunately my current health issues have derailed me and right now I need to focus all of my energy on getting well.” 

Supertramp_DaviesSad news to be sure, and fans immediately took to the blogosphere to wish Rick well in his recovery. Without these shows we will also miss seeing the accomplished John Helliwell on winds and the rest of the remaining band. Most importantly, as the principal writers hew to their own songs in current shows, we will miss hearing many of Rick’s most enduring compositions, such as “Bloody Well Right”, “Asylum” and “Downstream” to name a few, along with his amazing skills as a pianist most impressively displayed on “Another Man’s Woman”.

Supertramp_RogerG
Roger Hodgson

Rick and Roger added different skills to the group – Rick a tougher edge – more cynical lyrics backed by a mean honky-tonk piano or roadhouse blues every bit as tight as Elton John. Roger more frequently displayed a gentle, spiritual personality, imploring listeners to open their minds and hearts. His vocals and accompaniment on 12 string acoustic and electric guitars as well as keyboards are stellar. The two composers, when they collaborated, when trading off ideas, alternating vocals – at times even speaking to each other within a song, created a sum that was bigger than the parts, even when they seemed to be coming from different walks of life. Witness lyrics from the bluesy ballad “Just a Normal Day,” from their under-appreciated masterpiece Crisis? What Crisis? (1975):

Rick: Well, I just feel, that every minute’s wasted, My life is unreal….

Roger: …I don’t know what to say; It just seems a normal day

By the time of their best selling release Breakfast in America (1979) Supertramp were mega stars, finally getting a #1 record in the states (#3 in the UK.) Many of the songs from that album are pure pop, and became radio staples, including the title track, “The Logical Song,” “Goodbye Stranger,” and “Take the Long Way Home.” The album also contained several deeper cuts including Roger’s “Child of Vision” – the fabulous workout for dual keys, Roger on Wurlitzer electric keyboard (a signature part of the album’s sound) and Rick on grand piano. Among other tracks, Rick wrote one of his prettiest ballads, “Casual Conversations” sporting the lyrics:

There’s no communication left between us
But is it me or you who’s to blame?

Supertramp_DVDThough the details are debated, it’s clear that Rick and Roger’s union was a fractured affair. They mounted a huge international tour to support Breakfast in America – breaking attendance records at the time – and they released their first live album Paris (1980) taken from the shows at the Pavilion de Paris, 1979. This is the album and now accompanying video that will be re-released this year. The centerpiece of this concert is the one-two punch of Rick’s brilliant vocal and piano work on “Another Man’s Woman” which then leads into Roger’s “Child of Vision.” In the latter, the two play their dual keyboards in harmonic perfection, reminding all viewers that though the union was difficult, great art was created during their time together. After one more album, the aptly titled …Famous Last Words… in 1982 and the tour that followed, Roger and Rick split. The only way to catch these artists since that time has been to see one of them separately. To see Rick Davies, fans will obviously have to wait until a recovery is complete, provided he returns to the stage thereafter. If Roger comes to town, or nearby, consider going out of your way a bit even if you must travel to a concert, as his shows are highly recommended. Any live show with either of these artists is a treat but for now the newly minted Paris concert video is now the best way to see what Supertramp was about when they were still together.

Wakeman’s Gonzo Weekend

rickjourney2At the early age of 12 years, I went to the record store to buy my first two albums.  One was “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Rick Wakeman.  This began a lifelong appreciation of all the works by this brilliant keyboard wizard.  Journey and it’s followup, “The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table” were pure magic to my ears. Deftly blending rock, classical, and theater, these albums fueled my young imagination and continue to provoke wonder today.  I played these same records for my own kids, and one of my son’s early first purchases was Rick’s “Return to the Center of the Earth” which sported the exhilarating “Dance of 1,000 Lights.”

Last weekend after a prolonged period making the arrangements, Rick played most of these masterworks on two nights in Cheltenham at the Centaur. The night before these, he gave an intimate performance with three of his children, now young adults, Oliver, Jemma, and Adam Wakeman.  I took my son, now 19 out from California to Britain to see these shows – they were everything we hoped and more.

This intimate show held at Black Friars club in Gloucester, part of a restored Dominican Friary, allowed each Wakeman to play a few of their own compositions and covers from their catalogs.  Rick played his Nursery Rhymes, Beatles covers, and one from Rhapsodies.  Most notably the guys all played “Jemma” from “The Family Album” teasing Jemma about her bedtime ritual, ultimately ending with Rick reading a modified, sweet and humorous bedtime story. The audience was invited to add new lyrics, filling in suggested actions for the bedtime ritual, expanding on ones like “Jemma, Jemma, brush your teeth!” [See an audience video here on YouTube] Many who read this will know of Adam and Oliver’s work – what was a surprise to us is how talented Jemma is – great keys, guitar and beautiful voice.  The family shared stories and quite a few barbs at Dad on that Father’s day eve, for his many marriages and other foibles.  Heart warming, endearing, and a rare glimpse into the private life of these amazing artists.

Rick and family are now preparing for the upcoming Wakemanfest weekend, taking place this coming 30th October to 1st November at Lincolnshire’s Boston Gliderdrome. Already announced for the weekend are Mike Livesley’s version of Vivian Stanshall’s Sir Henry At Rawlinson End, The English Rock Ensemble, the Strawbs, the Cadbury Sisters and others. Q&A sessions will take place throughout the weekend. It promises to be another opportunity to catch a special concert including Wakeman and guests, a welcome chance to celebrate their work.