As part of its 50th anniversary year, Rolling Stone magazine’s May 4th “special issue” included a lengthy article on The 50 Greatest Concerts of the Last 50 Years. I’ve been avoiding some of the “top N” lists that constantly flood social media, being so many are seemingly dreamed up by guys in their basement fishing for “click bait,” and some deemed dangerous to our privacy. But this article from the venerable rock magazine is entertaining and informative, well worth seeking out.
Over the years I’ve disagreed many times with critic’s music choices in Rolling Stone; they are so often focused on artists from the 1960’s and so frequently biased towards more commercial acts, weighted towards those hailing from the U.S. But the coverage is in depth, and the political analysis suits my beliefs nicely. I’ve been a long time subscriber.
The list of top 50 concerts in part drew my attention as I’ve recently released a book on the greatest concerts of the 70s entitled Rockin’ the City of Angels which features 36 acts from that decade, nearly all of whom played in my home town of Los Angeles, California. Was curious to see where our lists would match, and where they would diverge, and if that would be predictable for Rolling Stone. Due to the article covering 5 decades, there were 18 shows specifically from the 70s to consider.
Not surprising RS focused primarily on the type of bands that have nearly always appealed to their writing staff, six of which, in bold, matched mine, including:
The Who (Leeds, February 14, 1970) Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Fillmore East March, 1970) Elton John (Troubador, August 25-30, 1970) Aretha Franklin (Fillmore West, March 5-7, 1971)
B.B. King (Cook County Jail, September 10, 1970)
The Allman Brothers (Fillmore East, March 11-13, 1971)
The Band (December 28-31, 1971) The Rolling Stones (North America Tour, 1972) David Bowie (World Tour 1972-73) Van Morrison (North American Tour, 1973)
Patti Smith Group & Television (CBGB 1975)
Bob Marley (The Lyceum Theater, July 17-18, 1975)
Bob Dylan (Rolling Thunder Review, 1975-76)
Grateful Dead (North American Tour, 1977)
The Ramones (European Tour, 1977) The Eagles (U.S. Tour 1977-1978) The Clash (North American Tour, 1979) Pink Floyd (The Wall Tour, 1980-81)
A 30% hit rate wasn’t a complete miss! In fact, as my own selection filtered out American R&B and the burgeoning punk movement (saved for future books), I match on about half of these artists. In addition, Van Morrison and Bob Marley are both artists I would have covered had editorial considerations not limited the book’s length!
A few particulars:
The Who Live at Leeds is indeed legendary as noted in RS, and it kicks off the first chapter in my book, as the Tommy album, the now expanded Live at Leeds recordings, and the film Live at the Isle of Wight rate highly in my collection.
Elton John’s record-breaking shows at Dodger Stadium in 1975 are featured in my book, but I can absolutely back the argument that his first, intimate shows at the Troubadour launched him in the City of Angels, and make sense as the focus of the RS list.
David Bowie’s seminal concerts during his Ziggy Stardust period in 1972-73 absolutely rate highly, and the movie taken from this tour is the primary official release of this artist on film during the decade. I struggled with the choice between this tour, and the 1976 shows in support of my favorite Station to Station. While Ziggy meant everything particularly to my friends in Hollywood and downtown, back in my suburban valley, I was more attuned to Station’s lush, disco-infused wares. The performances on that tour were striking – as one writer put it, Bowie appeared as a “hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonized intensity… ice masquerading as fire.”
Ultimately these lists are a difficult undertaking – always there are forgotten favorites, and when it comes to musical art, how does one define “greatest” – it’s largely subjective, yet occasionally we labor to piece them together and support our conclusions.
If I were pressed to make a similar list of the 18 “greatest” concerts of the 1970s, as experienced my original home town of Los Angeles, understanding that all of the other 18 I cover in Rockin’ the City of Angels rate in my book, the list below would be my conclusion:
The Who – Tommy tour Anaheim Stadium June 14, 1970
The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street tour L.A. Forum, 1972
Jethro Tull – A Passion Play tour L.A. Forum July 20–22, 1973
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Brain Salad Surgery tour California Jam April 6, 1974
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black tour – Shrine Auditorium June 19, 1974
Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour Shrine Auditorium January 24, 1975
Cat Stevens – Majikat tour L.A. Forum, February 2, 1976
David Bowie – Station to Station tour L.A. Forum February 8, 9 & 11, 1976
Ambrosia – Somewhere I Never Travelled tour – Santa Monica Civic 1976
Paul McCartney & Wings – Wings Over the World tour L.A. Forum June 21, 1976
Queen – News of the World tour L.A. Forum December 22, 1977
Led Zeppelin – Presence tour L.A. Forum June 23, 1977
Yes – Relayer Tour – Anaheim Stadium – July 17, 1976
Supertramp – Even in the Quietest Moments tour L.A. Forum April 28, 1977
Heart – Little Queen tour Universal Amphitheater July 17, 1977
Kansas – Point of Know Return tour Long Beach Arena December 31, 1977
ELO – Out of the Blue tour Anaheim Stadium, August 26,1978
Fleetwood Mac – Tusk tour L.A. Forum December 4–6, 1979
Pink Floyd – The Wall tour LA Memorial Sports Arena February 7–13, 1980
Caveats – not many – I trimmed out the bands such as Happy The Man, Kate Bush and Camel who did not make it to L.A. for their greatest tours (in the case of Ms. Bush, never forever!). Also gone were some of the more progressive acts, such as Gentle Giant, Frank Zappa, PFM, U.K., Dixie Dregs, which were amazing live, but did not garner a wider audience during the period of my focus. Even with the edits, I cheated and listed 19 bands.
Given the more mainstream focus of RS, I still would have expected the staff to cover a few more bands that make my top choices, such as Yes, Queen and Jethro Tull who I personally witness delivering the most spectacular live concerts of the decade. Having said that, I’ve come to predict the view of this magazine and their favorites over the years, which to be fair has in fact grown to include artists they would have skipped in the past. The article is a fun read, full of quotes from those who were there, and it may prompt you to reflect on your past concert experiences, and maybe grab a seat at an upcoming show, to again bask in the glow of stage lights.
Jon Downes, editor of Gonzo Weekly interviewed me last week about my new book, Rockin’ the City of Angels. Here is the transcript, also up at GonzoWeekly.com:
Tell us about the book
When I was a teenager (way back in the 1970s), I was lucky enough to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, (aka the City of Angels). Rock music was life to me, and probably due to 7 years of piano lessons I was in love with prog rock. My collection of records and concert tickets included Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd, along with what I felt were the highest quality rock bands like Zep, The Who, Queen, and Kansas. Music patronage became a lifelong passion for me. The concerts at that time were becoming amazing spectacles, with elaborate theatrical productions. As the lyrics were often as important as the music to me, the fact that many bands dramatized the themes of certain songs, or even whole concept albums made for artful theater.
I wrote this book as a “love letter” to rock musicians of the ‘70s— focused ultimately on the concerts and the films that captured them. I used only photos of the bands live in concert – no portraits. I wanted to show and tell the story of these concert performances from the standpoint of a fan, hoping a reader would relate to a guy who might have been a few seats down the row at these shows, who might have raved about what we just saw on the way home.
As an example of a chapter, one covers the Genesis tour The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There are fantastic shots by Armando Gallo, a Melody-Maker cover showing Gabriel’s grotesque Slipperman costume, pages from the concert program, a ticket stub from the date at the Los Angeles Shrine auditorium, and sample frames from the film. The written material illuminates the album and tour, the special effects, and the film of the production’s slide show, which many fans might not realize exists (it’s on the 71-75 box set). This was a blueprint for all 36 bands covered.
How long has it taken to research and write?
At one level its taken 45 years of “field research,” record collecting, and study. But from the time I started writing and finding the photos it all took 2.5 years. I spent a lot of this time tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from around the world, sometimes digging through archives at agencies, others directly with the photographers of that day. I was fortunate to meet several of those photojournalists including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Neil Zlozower, and Lisa Tanner, who opened their archives for me at their studios or homes. I could not believe how many amazing shots exist that have never been seen by fans, shots that captured our musical heroes in their prime.
Another thing that took a lot of time was combing through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. You and I know that TV appearances, professionally filmed 35mm movies—even celluloid left in the can for years, sometimes decades after light hit the film—are finally getting home video or streaming media release. I remember going to see many of these films at the local cinema that featured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings, and so many others. Now, just about every major band of the rock world can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive. I’m still that guy, the one who collects the high quality digital transfers available on media, rather than streaming them. Having said that, many of these films are available on streaming services like YouTube.
Were there any gigs you didn’t go to which you wished you had seen?
Oh yeah! For each band I had to select what I think in retrospect was their finest hour –the best album and concert, and the best film covering that band, hopefully for that same tour. In the case for instance of Jethro Tull, I had not seen the Passion Play tour, but I knew through older friends and research that it would have been for me their best, and that is my favorite Tull record after all. Same with Genesis’ Lamb tour, though tribute band The Musical Box recreated it professionally just recently.
In a few examples, I did not get to see the band in the ‘70s but instead did catch them later. Only three bands out of 36 eluded me completely. I was never inclined to see AC/DC (although I did enjoy the great film, Let There Be Rock!), and Happy The Man never toured the west coast (and, there is no film!). The worst mistake was missing the mighty Led Zeppelin. In the case of the Zep ‘77 tour, I loved Presence, and that was the concert to see, but I was instead booked to see Pink Floyd’s Animals concert just weeks before and budgets kept me from seeing more than one show every couple months.
What was the best gig you ever saw?
All of that is in the Genesis family – I will never forget the Wind & Wuthering tour in 1977, and the first time I saw Peter Gabriel solo at the Roxy Theater the next year. But number one was Gabriel’s tour for his 4th album (also dubbed Security) which came early in the ‘80s – it’s a bit of a cheat as I cover that show in this “70s” book, but it’s really for me, the epilogue of the ‘70s decade. He absolutely stunned the audience and finally emerged on his own at the level of performance he had achieved while in his former band. Armando Gallo’s unbelievable shots give a very good idea of the drama. As there is literally no film of this seminal tour, we examine the So movie, particularly those songs he performed in the same way as that prior tour (like “Lay Your Hands On Me”).
Others in the top tier include Paul McCartney’s Wings Over America tour, Queen’s News of the World tour during which Freddie held the audience in complete awe, Kansas Point on Know Return featuring Steve Walsh giving the most physical performance I’ve ever seen, Dixie Dregs with their stunning virtuosity, Camel, ELO – so many incredible shows I will never forget. For the Floyd, while Animals was spectacular, I suffered a bit of “bad vibe” that night in the gi-hugic Anaheim Stadium, and it was eventually to be Roger Water’s restaging of the Wall this decade that became the ultimate live experience of that band’s music for me.
How did you go about the picture research?
This was the most difficult part of the book’s production, hands down. Thank God for Google, but even with all the search engines in the world, it was amazingly difficult to find some of the photographers and shots that eventually did appear in the book. One snap alone, of Camel in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra on the night they recorded The Snow Goose together, took 7 months to find and it was sitting in the vaults at The Daily Mail, having also been recently unearthed by a researcher at PROG magazine (RIP). I never found shots of Ambrosia and Happy The Man until I actually reached a member from the band themselves, who had boxes “in the attic” with old shots and memorabilia. A lot of the shots in the book came from slides I was allowed to borrow and scan at Dickermans in San Francisco.
What is your next project?
Well, this book was so expensive to produce that I have to sell all the copies I ordered during this year. Provided that happens, I will move to the next decade, sliding into the ‘80s with late ‘70s punk, then covering the era of New Wave music, including bands like Depeche Mode, The Cocteau Twins, Japan, Echo & The Bunnymen and so many others that were part of the second “British invasion!” I’m really looking forward to that as I’ve not seen any great ‘80s genre books that include what for me were the best bands of that decade with any kind of stunning photography.
Thank you to Jon Downes and his long time support of my work at GonzoWeekly.com
In a year that saw the sad loss of so many musical artists, entertainers and sports heroes, there was concurrently much to celebrate, as go on we must. For this patron, there were more than two-dozen amazing classic, progressive, or goth/new wave rock concerts by legendary artists, along with some fantastic shows from more recent bands that carry the torch of rock in all of its forms.
These are a holy trinity of artists that together comprise most of the core members of Yes. First up, Mr. Wakeman absolutely nailed his one-time performance of the King Arthur album redux at the O2 earlier this year, with orchestra, choir and narration. Then, the Steve Howe / Geoff Downes led version of Yes arrived to faithfully play renditions of half the double album Tales From Topographic Oceans paired with Drama, which sounded fantastic live. But the capper was seeing ARW who played Howe and Rabin era Yes music with a fever that brings a new appreciation to the work. It was a heartwarming, wonderful experience to see Jon Anderson so happy, and sounding as good as any night I’ve witnessed in over 20 years. This topped the year off in style.
In the Genesis camp, while we wait for Phil, Mike and Tony to put something together, we always have Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel as working musicians – the former working often, the latter not so much! Hackett has been absolutely on fire, both during his Genesis Revisited performances, and with his solo work. The night we saw him here in San Francisco at the Warfield was by far, and I am not padding here, the best show I’ve seen from him since Wind & Wuthering. His renditions of classic songs from the Genesis catalog, along with his first four albums, and newer work from Wolflight, have never been bested. He is my true prog hero. Gabriel went out with Sting this year, in a fun and pleasant show – different for him – I think both better on their own, but it was nice to see the camaraderie. Chills when Sting teased us with the first few bars of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.” Chills.
The Cure on this year’s tour played crowd-pleasing set lists that changed each night, with a core of consistent selections from their most popular mid period work. The band played several tracks off Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987), Disintegration (1989), which included career highlights “Lullaby,” “Fascination Street” and “Pictures of You,” about which my daughter says “If you wanted to play one song to someone who did not know The Cure’s music, this would be it – so sad but beautiful.” Truer words. The other featured album was Wish (1992) from which the band pulled off a most unexpected pleasure, set closer “End.” Leader Robert Smith’s uncanny way of putting words to music, making the sum of the two something more than its parts, awakening dread, a cry for help, and ultimately survival, even transcendence is unparalleled. And, fortunately for us, he is a survivor and, as seen this year in concert, he continues to thrive, in apparently good health and surprisingly strong voice.
Watch for The Cure in my next book, should this sell out!
Witnessing Gilmour rock and roll at the Hollywood Bowl was absolutely perfectly awesome (in the 70s we would have said, “bitchin!”) The lighting and sound was fantastic, the film projections, which were programmed to the contours of the stage’s bowl shaped awning, were amazing. And we had close up seats and the pleasure of attending with great company, photojournalist Armando Gallo and his wife Cheryl, which will forever be a special memory. On this night, Gilmour seemed on fire, grinding out his brand of searing guitar solos gracefully, matching his alternately gravelly and silky smooth voice. He absolutely owned the stage, and the moment, blowing away this crowd of Angelinos, young and old alike.
This band performed at San Francisco’s Outside Lands, August 5th, 2016 to an anxiously awaiting crowd, once again taking their place a the top of the electro-funk pantheon, delivering an explosive concert consisting of 14 tracks that were also played at their “farewell” concert five years ago at Madison Square Gardens, chronicled in the exceptional film Shut Up and Play the Hits (2011) and the live album Live at Madison Square Gardens. The music as presented was incredibly tight, each musician playing his or her part with aplomb. Their songs progress, contrapuntal lines are drawn, the beat is intensified, bass, guitar or treated electronics are added, until the drone or melody comes clear and captivating, and Murphy adds vocals, working his rich baritone, ultimately building into ecstatic abandon. This is the main recipe for the band, and it’s done wonders for space rock, afro funk, new wave and alt/indie bands past and present. See this band in 2017 if you possibly can.
Seeing ELO last September 10, 2016, on the second of three sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl was like stepping back in time, as Lynne, band, and orchestra faithfully replicated every note of the original ELO compositions, along with a few newer tracks from Lynne’s most recent album. At around 80 minutes, incredibly, nearly every track on the set list was originally a hit or at least massively popular FM radio staple for ELO, including “Evil Woman,” “All Over the World,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Telephone Line,” “Turn to Stone” and on through seventeen songs, ending inevitably with “Roll Over Beethoven,” which as one would expect, highlighted the immense contribution of the Hollywood Bowl orchestra let by conductor Thomas Wilkins while fireworks lit the night sky.
Coldplay brought their A Head Full Of Dreams Tour to our 49ers (Levi’s) stadium in Santa Clara, south of San Francisco this year, and they will be back in 2017. It was an amazing night of lights, confetti, stagecraft, and music, courtesy of Chris Martin and band. Followers of Coldplay take no issue with their often-sentimental lyrics and gut-wrenching delivery by heartthrob Martin. I’ve read some number of critics who are dismissive of this band and their music exclaiming, “There’s no crying in a rock concert!”. Fair enough, Coldplay’s songs veer towards “adult contemporary,” with few gritty guitar licks, in favor of acoustic guitar and piano. This is, after all the man who very publicly decided to undergo a “conscience uncoupling” with ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, then penned a song called “Fun” featuring the lyrical refrain “Didn’t we have fun” to honor what they had together. Very adult…and, excellent!
We saw Adele this year, yes we did! It was truly amazing – what a talent. Her voice was in perfect shape. The songs she close spanned her catalog sounding as good as or better than the original studio versions. Adele generally stood in place, whether main or b stage, swaying or turning a bit while her image was projected on front and rear stage screens to get everyone in the audience a great view. What was unexpected for this uninitiated punter is just how personable and funny Adele is. She greeted fans warmly, even pulling one couple on stage for selfies. She told stories from different points in her career, often in a self-deprecating way that was very endearing. There was a lot of this between song chatter, but it never wore thin, particularly since so many of her tracks are melancholic, a fact Adele herself pointed out, admitting that a lot of her songs are depressing. Yet there were enough upbeat songs in the playlist, and between those and the banter, there was a celebratory air in the room.
We caught the most recent, maybe last tour, of the Who, one which comes at the heels of the seminal band’s 50th anniversary, and wherein they ”play the hits.” The Who, after a delay a several months, made it to the Oakland Arena here in the San Francisco Bay Area last week on May 19, 2016. The delay was due to health issues with singer Roger Daltrey, which involve his voice, limiting his ability to sing on consecutive nights, causing quite a logistical challenge during the tour. The show was fabulous. Daltry is still in fantastic shape, a real inspiration for clean living and fitness! Townsend still hits his vocal marks and his guitar technique is immaculate. Though he understandably does not leap into the air as in times past, he still executes his windmill-arm attack on the frets mightily. And he has attitude to spare. We were lucky recipients!
Of the many rock groups in the 70s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. The man brought his crack band, stage props, dancers and costumes to San Francisco this year. While much of the stagecraft has been presented consistently throughout the years, the show is amazingly well rehearsed yet still fresh — a sonic and visual success. Musically, this was a straight-on hard-rocking show, highlighting the chops of the band’s three guitarists, most notably L.A. resident Nita Strauss, whose searing solos and flowing blonde hair punctuated many of the most metal-laden tracks. Cooper sustained his own still-intact gravelly vocals from start to finish, enthralling the crowd as the well-fashioned master of macabre ceremonies. The set list was peppered with some deep cuts and many hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” along with encore “Elected” during which Cooper made a fairly good case for his election to U.S. President, as a third-party candidate fronting the “Wild Party.” If only he had actually run and won!
Bad Company is one of the most important rock bands of the 1970s. They topped a hard rock core with silky smooth yet gritty production values, hooks galore, and pedigree in each musician. They are a band I had to, regrettably leave out of my upcoming book Rockin’ the City of Angels. The omission is due in large part to a few issues – most importantly that the book is a celebration of the outstanding concerts of the ‘70s including classic rock and prog bands, and I did not get to see them in concert until recently. This show, which included opener Joe Walsh, was absolutely amazing. Importantly Paul Rodgers has kept himself and his voice in perfect shape, and the band is as tight as ever, pinned down by Simon Kirke’s “rock steady” percussion. Catch this band while you can!
Roger Hodgson performed again this year in the states to audiences of adoring fans. Our show down at Coachella was a heart rending, spiritual journey through a bit of Hodgson’s fine solo work, topping a generous helping of the songs he wrote for the band Supertramp. Hodgson was in fine voice, still able to hit all those soaring high notes, and also waxing philosophical between the hits and deep cuts, which included four from my favorite, Crisis? What Crisis? He spoke plainly and warmly about the meaning of these songs, to him and to others, sometimes reading notes he’s received from fans or sharing his thoughts about how music can bring back memories, and heal troubled spirits. Truer words.
Styx is a Chicago based rock band that released nearly a dozen records from the start of their most enduring lineup in 1972, through 1983’s Kilroy Was Here. Three multi-talented singer-songwriters Dennis DeYoung (vocals, keyboards, accordion), Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), and James Young (vocals, guitars, keyboards), backed by brothers John Panozzo (drums) and Chuck Panozzo (basses) penned a dramatic blend of rock and pop that placed them in league with stateside brethren Kansas and Journey. This author caught the group on tour supporting the Pieces of Eight album on January 27 1978 at the Long Beach arena. It was an exciting, powerful presentation, featuring a tight performance that showcased the soaring vocal prowess and instrumental credentials of each principal musician. As of the time of this writing Shaw and Young represent Styx on annual tours while DeYoung tends to his solo career. We saw the Shaw/Young band this year and several times this decade and every time they were absolutely fantastic!
The band Ambrosia was founded in southern California in the early 1970s. Today they would be best known for their most popular albums Life Beyond L.A., and One Eighty each including a mega-hit single, respectively “How Much I Feel” and “You’re The Only Woman (You & I).” These hits highlighted the group’s more melodic tendencies. However, their first two albums, and much of their unjustly overlooked fifth and final release Road Island would be best filed under the progressive rock heading. Ambrosia was back on tour this year, and we caught their exceptional show in Pleasanton, California on Saturday January 23rd. Last year we caught cofounder David Pack who also continues to perform solo shows amongst many other pursuits in the music business. These musicians remain at the top of their game, and it’s been amazing to see them perform again.
Special mention goes to Ian Anderson’s multi-media concert about the original Jethro Tull – very innovative use of filmed sequences which help with the vocals and storyline – and, I finally got to meet Ian, one of my musical heroes! Jethro Tull of course features in my book as well, focusing on their 1973 epic, A Passion Play!
Other shows this year that were similarly fantastic included Bryan Ferry, Radiohead, The Specials, X, Ra Ra Riot, American Football, Beach House, St. Germain, Album Leaf and Steven Wilson, who made a final victory lap in support of Hand.Cannot.Erase. All in all a big year for live music!
This is the third in a three-part piece about my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels, and I want to answer the question – how did all this come about, for a guy that worked in the tech industry for so many years, and became a writer so late in life?
In earlier posts, I established that I am a die-hard fan of classic and progressive rock from the 1970s and beyond. I saw almost every one of the 36 artists in the book in Los Angeles (the City of Angels) in the 1970s. But my first written piece on a rock concert was inspired by seeing Rick Wakeman live in London in 2009 with orchestra, choir, and Brian Blessed telling the stories of the six wives of Henry the VIIIth: https://diegospadeproductions.com/2009/05/16/six-wives-live-live/
From this meager beginning my friend Jeff Melton, a writer for Expose magazine, helped me get the article accepted and into print. On that basis, I contacted several zines, determined to write about these concerts as they came along, and maybe about new and legacy record releases. Jonathan Downes at Gonzo Multimedia liked what he saw and picked me up as staff writer for his magazine: http://www.gonzoweekly.com
After years writing for Gonzo, and also contributing to SomethingElse! I put a pause on my tech career and started the process of writing the book that is about to be shipped. It was a long two year process of incorporating to become a self publisher, locating photos, completing the manuscript, getting editors (Mike Edison, Courtney Lee Adams), a musicologist (Tim Smolko), and a designer (Tilman Reitzle) and others to take the journey with me.
One of the best aspects of the effort was the nearly two years I spent looking for photographs and memorabilia to illuminate the manuscript. I searched through thousands of slides in the basement of a photo agency in London, housed in the same building that was a workhouse, which inspired Charles Dickens’ portrayal of David Copperfield. I trolled websites figuring out how to find photographers from the day, Neal Preston, Richard E. Aaron, Neil Zlowzower, Lisa Tanner, some purely by accident, some who had photos already placed inside album sleeves and music magazines, others carried by agencies like Getty and Rex Features.
I will never forget the 2 hours Neal Preston spent with me on the phone talking about his experiences in the day following Led Zeppelin, The Who, and so many classic bands around the country as part of their posse and at times with best friend Cameron Crowe. He had never met me, but nonetheless was generous and enthusiastic on the phone. Also, I was lucky to find and connect with Italian photojournalist Armando Gallo, someone whose work I revere back to the days when his shots
were the only way to see what Peter Gabriel-era Genesis was all about. I never expected the chance to visit both of these artists at their home studios, working together to pick out slides for this book, so many of which are theirs.
Working with the fine purveyors of rare rock photography at the San Francisco Art Exchange, I was able to connect with many photographers, and one of their special clients Roger Dean, the artist who painted so many Yes album covers among many other achievements. Through this connection, it came to pass that Roger invited my wife and I over to his studios in Essex England while we were in London on vacation. Visiting this studio and meeting Roger and his brother Martyn (who worked with me to select his shots of Yes on tour in 1976) is now a cherished memory.
To top that off, I was able to work directly with musical heroes of mine from Ambrosia and Happy The Man to unearth ’70s photographs from their private collections. This we did, and I was also able to interview band members and document their fantastic stories. For Ambrosia, we focused on their classic Somewhere I Never Travelled, https://diegospadeproductions.com/2016/01/28/ambrosias-early-travels/
Another somewhat tougher climb, the five-month, seven-person introduction effort it took to find one photo of Camel in concert on the night they recorded The Snow Goose live with the London Symphony Orchestra. Oh, elusive photo….
I could go on, but should stop here. It’s been a terrific ride, and here’s hoping that everyone who comes across this book sees the devotion that went into it, and loves what they see and read… Doug
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
A nice kitschy title for the most recent, maybe last, tour of the Who, one which comes at the heels of the seminal band’s 50th anniversary, and wherein they ”play the hits.” The Who, after a delay a several months, made it to the Oakland Arena here in the San Francisco Bay Area last week on May 19, 2016. The delay was due to health issues with singer Roger Daltrey, which involve his voice, limiting his ability to sing on consecutive nights, causing quite a logistical challenge during the tour, and a long delay of our show due to a resulting shuffle in the schedule.
The show was fabulous, despite Daltrey’s evident struggles with the vocals. The large backing band were all singers as well as instrumentalists, and they helped immensely with multi-part harmonies and solid backing vocals, particularly during tracks like the opener “Who Are You,” “The Kids Are Alright,” and “I Can See for Miles.” Daltrey covers his parts as best you can imagine, often nailing even a high gruff note, while at times needing to hang back in the mix a bit. Though he now struggles during challenging passages, he is still in fantastic shape, a real inspiration for clean living and fitness! I read that Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder stood in for Daltrey at an event in Chicago, and that he directly sought out Daltrey at the end of the long set. He told the legendary vocalist that he could not fathom how the man ever delivered those vocals throughout the very long tours the Who staged over the years, so challenging was it to hit those notes on just one night. Sweet thing to say, and one can imagine how true it is, given the experience of all us fans, and our flawed attempts over the years to sing along! Townsend still hits his vocal marks quite well, though at bit gruffly as during “The Acid Queen,” but perfectly well on “Eminence Front.” His guitar technique is immaculate, and though he understandably does not leap into the air as in times past, he still executes his windmill-arm attack on the frets mightily. And he has attitude to spare.
The backing band is filled with a who’s who of stellar musicians. Townsend’s son Simon plays guitars, Pino Palladino plays the bass, Loren Gold and John Corey are on keys all led by musical director Frank Smiles who adds more keys (did the Who really have that many keys on the albums?) and assorted instruments, including very strong backing vocals. Critically, Ringo’s son Zak Starkey played drums, and while no Keith Moon (who is?) he did an amazing job of interpreting and covering some of Moon’s most roiling, propulsive leads. As any fan knows, Moon used to play with almost reckless abandon, seldom pinning down a beat with single snaps of the snare, instead nearly always substituting a roll where others would place a note. He was one of the greatest drummers on the planet, maybe the best rock drummer ever (okay, right next to Bonham?), and it’s impossible not to miss him, even though we’ve had nearly 40 years to get used to the fact. Nonetheless, Starkey was top of his class and his assertive and stylized playing hit the marks as well as any drummer imaginable, a truly worthy heir.
Due to circumstances, poor timing and other factors, I’ve never seen the Who. Back in the day I was drunk on complex progressive rock, and prioritized concerts by Genesis, Yes, Tull and others given limited budgets. In retrospect, the Who’s music edged into that progressive category, as even though their focus was dead-on rock ‘n’ roll, their compositions were deceptively complex, the musicianship and vocals driven and unrelenting in their sheer power and audacity. Besides The Pretty Things’, SF Sorrow, Townsend’s masterwork Tommy was one of the first long form rock operas, certainly affording him and the band a place at the pinnacle of rock god heroism.
Alas, as I recently shared within these pages, Tommy both excited, and repelled me, particularly after viewing Ken Russell’s love-it-or-hate-it movie version of the album. I realized recently that all my friends had the soundtrack alum to the movie, and it crowded out the memories I had of the original Tommy cassette tape I played endlessly at ten years of age. I recently rediscovered the album and it’s charms, and the story behind it, influenced by Eastern philosophy much as my brother was at the time, as soon after this album’s release he left home to go into seclusion, and become a monk in the Self Realization Fellowship church. Townsend plowed serious ground with Tommy, arguably more personally and more effectively invoking a spiritual story than any of his counterparts including the Beatles who touched on these themes though never as expansively. And, in case you’ve forgotten, there is an almost complete lack of shrieking vocals or angry guitar on the album, quite unlike the movie soundtrack. Townsend primarily plays acoustic guitar, and clear, clean electric while he and Daltrey sing through relaxed vocal cords, innocence and emotions laid bare. Add to that Entwistle’s natural ability to lead or color everything he touched, and Moon’s unrelenting rolls, and the result is an album that is fresh, impactful and eminently listenable, particularly as an adult — it’s simply a masterpiece.
Not surprisingly for me then, the Tommy segment of the “Who Hits 50!” tour was most compelling to me. The set kicked off with “Amazing Journey,” and continued through the instrumental masterpiece “Sparks,”(go straight to your stereo and spin that track if you have at all forgotten what an incredible piece of music that is!) then “The Acid Queen” (one of the tracks I felt ruined in the film by Tina Turner!), ‘Pinball Wizard,” (okay, Elton did nail that one!) and coda “See Me, Feel Me,” presenting what must be one of the greatest lyrics to end the 60s and start the 70s:
Listening to you, I get the music
Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet
The concert ended with two songs that followed the Tommy set, two of their absolute greatest, “Baba O’Riley” during which Daltrey’s signature scream actually hit the mark, and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” featuring those classic Townsend power chords. The lighting, and particularly the visual backdrops, rendered in hi-def imagery added mightily to the impact of the presentation. Overall it was a great night of music and a celebration of this legendary band, now more than 50 years in the making, and still rolling on.
p.s. while finishing up a chapter on the Who for my forthcoming book, I learned something interesting about what is possibly the greatest bit of film of the band playing live. It appears at the end of the documentary The Kids Are Alright, and features the Who playing a blistering version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” What I did not realize was the this is the last footage of drummer Keith Moon playing live, just shortly before his passing, and that it was filmed at Shepperton Studios by the movie’s young director, who felt that this song and it’s companion “Baba O’Riley” had not been properly captured on film….besides the other celluloid rarities the director collected for this doc, the inclusion of this footage alone makes the film worth collecting!
The Who were pure electric rock energy personified, most definitely Rock Gods in their time and after, and certainly the progenitors of the Punk movement that followed. They were an utterly fantastic band in concert; performances where you felt that at any time the guys might just levitate off the stage. The music was pushed to the very limits of what rock could acheive. As the 1960s came to a close, The Who released their masterpiece Tommy (1969). This seminal recording introduced the concept of a “rock opera,” delivering a complete story spanning the length of two albums, kicking off the 1970s movement that led to expansive, meaningful rock epics. The album made the band in America and all over the world, with its deeply spiritual message of hope, love and self-reliance.
I was just ten years old in 1970 when I first got a cassette tape of Tommy. I must confess I didn’t understand it then; it was too deep, sometimes overtly disturbing and parts of it actually scared me. I listened to this tape on a crappy cassette player over and over again for about a year, finally putting it away forever. I probably only heard the hits “Pinball Wizard” and “I’m Free” for the rest of the decade, and since that time. As I realize now, a big part of the album was just too disturbing for me to process then.
Now I realize that my aversion to this work was because at that time my family was also in somewhat of a crisis. My brother Bill, who was 19 years old in 1969, was part of that generation’s “perfect storm.” He had lost his way in life to drugs, a failed attempt at college and the Vietnam War draft. He suffered from a deep seated anger, and finally found peace through Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings at the Lake Shrine, a beautiful retreat on Sunset Boulevard near the Santa Monica beaches, soon becoming a monk in the Self Realization Fellowship (SRF) church. He had been terribly troubled, and left home to find peace. I was not yet in my teens. We only saw him twice a year after that, sometimes visiting him at the SRF church in Los Angeles, or sometimes when he could come back to our house. All I could comprehend was that he went away to become a monk, and was gone. It seemed to my young mind that life was somehow so challenging and dangerous that powerful emotions could cast you out of society, changing your course eternally. Pretty heady stuff for a preteen.
Once I got older I realized that while so foreign to our Christian family, this departure from “normal” society saved my brother. The teachings of SRF were to help students gain a “direct experience of truth” as opposed to blind belief. Those messages and their practices changed Bill forever. I knew the lyrics to Tommy were plumbing the same territory, and again, at that young age I was alternately drawn in, yet somehow repelled by its powerful messages. Today I also realize that this album was and remains one of the most transformative, important records of our time.
As I prepared to write this article, I experienced a coincidence that has to be telling me to look inside myself for some truth as well. My wife and I just purchased a historic landmark property in Santa Cruz, California. There is a “yogi temple” on the property, a decorative archway as an entry, and other structures built by a mason named Kenneth Kitchen in the 1940’s. No one over the years seemed to know what his architectural influences where – they seemed vaguely Indian or Turkish. I was somehow drawn to this property; the structures spoke to me, and I kept coming back to the idea of going through with the purchase for more than a year, despite the challenges I knew we would face. Just after we bought the property, a historical architect in the area sent us a book he was working on. Get this. Kenneth Kitchen had terrible “anger management issues” as we might say today, just like my brother did thirty years later. In Kenneth’s case, his brother took him down to the Yogananda’s temple in Los Angeles where he stayed and studied in the SRF church (yes, the same church my brother retreated to in his time of need!) When he returned to Santa Cruz he bought the property I now own, and built these structures as homage to the SRF church and the peace he attained from his studies there. Reportedly he raised goats, sold their milk, did his brick work, and tried to live a more simple, humble existence. Was I drawn in to this mysterious property and its structures because of my long lost memories of visiting my brother at the yogi temple, and the sights therein? Or was I ready to move a bit outside of the Silicon Valley, to focus a bit more internally, a bit outside the hustle of hi tech? I think so.
In a similar way, after learning of Townsend’s motivation for writing Tommy, I have been drawn back into that work. I’m not making this up people, it’s been a bit overwhelming and I’m listening now. You might know the story of Pete Townsend’s pathway to his ultimate masterpiece, which itself is informed by a spiritual teacher from India.
By the end of the 1960s, principal composer, guitarist, and vocalist Pete Townshend and the band, Roger Daltrey (vocals), John Entwistle (bass), and Keith Moon (drums) felt that it was time to develop something more substantial than the short pop songs they had been releasing. At the time, The Who was a singles band that felt they were going nowhere. The challenge was on to move past the short singles into something more substantial. Pete could write for a bigger stage, something more serious. Many believe this was the moment that saved the band. Townshend in particular knew that rock fans, and people in general were searching for answers to the woes of the day, the spiritual emptiness that accompanied sex, drugs, and gratuitous behavior. Co-manager Kit Lambert was completely behind his artist, even helping with the story’s development and other matters. Similarly, the band remained steadfastly behind their leader. “Nothing was off limits…I knew it would be okay… [and] that Pete would go on to write this kind of work,” explained Daltrey in retrospect.
As Townshend relays the situation, he experienced a “bad trip” after taking the powerful hallucinogenic LSD while on an airliner from the States back to Britain, and felt he left his body. “There was nothing good about it” he said later. But it suggested to him that there was more to life than what we see, because at some point during the trip, “he was not his body.” As Townshend went looking for answers, a friend told him about spiritualist Meher Baba and the book, The God Man: The Life, Journeys and Work of Meher Baba with an Interpretation of his Silence and Spiritual Teaching, by C.B. Purdom. The book and its messages struck Townshend as containing answers to the questions going on in his head. “It was the simple stuff, I liked. It was, don’t worry be happy, do your best, leave the results to God. All the pieces came together and I was able to start on Tommy in earnest,” he later stated. Tommy would tell the story of a spiritual journey; “a boy that grew up in difficult circumstances, becomes a teacher, and misuse his powers, paying a price” said Townshend.
As most readers will know, the arc of the story begins with Tommy’s mother and lover killing his father right in front of him. The trauma causes the boy to become deaf, dumb and blind. Tommy suffers unbearable traumas, including child molestation, the kind of subject matter that was taboo at the time. He becomes an iconic pinball wizard, and loses his way spiritually, becoming a type of false prophet. In the end, Tommy regains his senses, and he and his followers gain spiritual enlightenment by learning to look inside of themselves for the answers to life’s mysteries. Townshend summarizes, “We are deaf, dumb and blind when it comes to our inner spirit. One life is all I know. The present life. And yet because of my ignorance, of the infinite, I cannot enjoy it. I am sad, poor, wrapped in indignity.”
Townsend’s epic story of Tommy strikes me as a bit like the story of Kenneth Kitchen and of my brother Bill, and I’m feeling open to these messages. After watching the documentary about the making of Tommy, I did grab a fresh copy of the double LP and couldn’t believe I had set this one aside for so many years. It’s full of beautiful songs mostly featuring acoustic guitars, gentler, thoughtful placement of electric punctuation, creative bass leads, and the roiling drums of Keith Moon behind it all. Roger Daltry’s vocal performance and that of the work’s principal composer, is amazing, their voices still young, belying innocence yet wisdom beyond their years. In studio, then on stage, Daltrey began inhabiting the role of Tommy, delivering the impactful lyrics with an amazing power and grace. And, now, so many years after my brother gave me the book “Autobiography of a Yogi,” I think it’s time to read it.
The Who performed most of the album in concert many times around the world, at a time when some of the largest rock festivals were staged. It was perfect timing, as the band played Monterey Pop, Woodstock and two years in a row at the Isle of Wight. South of my hometown in Los Angeles, they played Anaheim Stadium on the 14th of June 1970, just one month after releasing one of the most revered live albums of all time, Live at Leeds. Fortunately, the festivals, and some defining Who concerts have been filmed over the years and there is a wealth of documentation on the band, certainly one of the richest and varied celluloid collections of any rock band before U2, including media darlings The Rolling Stones. Arguably the best of these is the film capturing the band in full flight at the Isle of Wight.
Live at the Isle of Wight (1970) Eagle Rock, 85 min., 1.33:1, DVD
The Who topped their Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock appearances with this amazing concert at the Isle of Wight Festival. Taking the stage early in the morning, they played several songs, then most of the Tommy album to 600,000 people.
Tommy (1975) Sony Pictures, 111 min., 1.85:1, DVD
Love it or hate it, this Ken Russell film is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest rock films ever made. The film adaptation stars lead singer Roger Daltrey and features Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Jack Nicholson and Elton John. The imagery in this film, which includes Ann Margaret rolling around in gushes of pork ‘n beans, no doubt fuelled my aversion to it’s strange content at the time! But hey, it’s only a movie, and only rock ‘n roll….or maybe, it does mean a bit more…