Category Archives: music

Stevie Nicks: Way Back Before The Mac

Fleetwood Mac’s evolution from a blues band to a pop entity has been well documented. Most know the story of how Lyndsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks came to the attention of Mick Fleetwood. For those who want a refresher, Fleetwood, looking to fill a spot in his band, heard Frozen Love, a track from Stevie’s and Lindsey’s self titled debut as a duo, and asked “Who’s the guitarist?” After the discovery, Fleetwood rang up Buckingham and made an offer. Lindsey insisted on a package deal, so Buckingham and Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac and soon helped turn things ’round big time.

I picked up on Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks soon after the release of the Buckingham Nicks album back in 1973. My copy credits Stevi Nicks. I was never able to officially confirm if that was a typo or the way she spelled her name at the time. She gave herself the nickname, Stevie, because, as a kid, she couldn’t pronounce Stephanie. Hard to believe, but there was a minute where some were unsure which one was Stevie and which one was Lindsey, (non-gender specific names, I presume) though that was quickly clarified by the jocks who played cuts from the album on local rock radio. It was obvious that Buckingham and Nicks possessed an abundance of talent as singer-songwriters.

Stephanie Lynn Nicks met Lindsey Adams Buckingham while in high school. She left Changing Times, a group similar to the Mamas and the Papas, when she moved from Phoenix to San Francisco. Time passed before the two met again and kick-started their long-term professional relationship with the Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band, simply known as Fritz, a psychedelic rock band. Buckingham was already their guitarist. Fritz played covers at high school dances, fraternity parties, then focused on their own material. They group became proficient enough to open for Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Nicks played guitar on stage and worked to develop her stage performance, a glimmer of her future stage presence evident on her interpretation of Buffy St. Marie’s Codeine.   Fritz disbanded in 1971. Nicks left San Jose State University, where she majored in speech communication, to concentrate on music. Stevie and Lindsey committed to each other romantically and continued to forge a musical career as a duo. Buckinham invested some inheritance money to record a few demos on what would become the Buckingham Nicks album.

Toni Brown’s Rabbit Hole Soul

Caterpillar: “Who are you?”

Alice: “I-I hardly know, sir, just at present –at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

“What you achieve through the journey of life is not as important as who you become.” – Anon

Toni Brown

Some time back I took a break from rock journalism and public relations to pursue other interests; classes in animal care, private investigation, paralegal, and happily ending up in library school. Occasionally I felt like Alice plunging through the rabbit hole and watching things become curious and curiouser. I wouldn’t commit to saying what a long strange trip it’s been, but I would say the journey, so far, has been an intriguing one. Ultimately, all points converged in proper order and I ended up, well, as a grad student in library school. I’m precisely where I want to/should be. When the urge to journal returned, I sent off emails to several handfuls of those who once possessed some influence over my writing life. Surprisingly, all responded with updates; some had remained on the same track; others, like me, made leaps to new destinations.

Once upon a time, Toni Brown published a few of my rock interviews in her Relix Magazine. Relix focused on The Grateful Dead and extended music scene. It became a great outlet for writers who offered interviews with the likes of Pat Benatar, U2, and Flo and Eddie, along with anything related to the Dead. Relix also provided coverage for many new bands. Relix Records was launched to gain exposure for the artist covered in the magazine. As the owner, Publisher, and Editorial Director of Relix, Brown was a major supporter of the “improvisational jamband scene.” After 15 years of putting her heart and soul into all things Relix, Brown took a break from the empire to record and perform with many of the artists covered in the magazine and/or signed to the record label. She shared the stage with Blues Traveler, Hot Tuna, Vassar Clements, Merl Saunders, Bela Fleck, New Riders, Commander Cody, and scores of other notables. Brown sold Relix in 2000 and concentrated on other projects: publicity, songwriting, performing, and producing. She’s covered a lot of ground on the tour circuit: U.S. France, Japan, and Barbados. She mentions in her email that she’s co-writing a book, working on a new CD, and launching a “Classic Rock Enthusiasts” club for people of a certain age. Her journey continues.

While I was first waiting for Brown’s response to my where are you now email, I got a hold of Rabbit Hole Soul, her third, and most recent, solo project (and I also listened to a few tracks from her first two). It’s a great collection of acoustic folk songs, marking a different direction than her first two solo projects (Blue Morning and Dare to Dream). There’s a cover of Donovan’s Catch The Wind; the other 11 tunes are written or co-written by Brown. She’s had years to master time management, so it comes as no surprise that these wonderful compositions were written in the studio. If you didn’t know that bit of info or didn’t actually know Toni Brown, you’d swear that these songs were among a collection that was crafted during a much longer time period.

The title track leads the way. Piano, fiddle, and Brown’s clear vocals join together and set the pace. “Fell right down the rabbit hole; time to settle down rest my soul; life was moving a bit too fast; I found myself at home at last.” Brown’s songs are intimate. She sings about a silver tongued devil in Way You Talk; the spark of romance in Night; a love derailed in Sounds So Clear; hope that love still exists in Lights On; missing love in Blue Morning; love’s pain in Come To Me. Her anguish is apparent in Stolen Kisses, “The rains came and you left me alone; one day I woke up and away you had flown; left me with more pain than I’d ever known; you’re free, though you’ve imprisoned me.”

By the way, this isn’t a piano and fiddle project. Brown sings, plays rhythm guitar and percussion; Paul Harlyn’s on bass, keyboards, piano, organ, percussion and on guitar on Night, Sounds So Clear, and Bad News; Corey Dwyer plays mandolin, fiddle, lap steel, dobro, lead acoustic and lead electric guitars.

Brown writes that “I’ve found a creative niche in the singer/songwriter tradition.” I strongly agree and look forward to her next project.

Another Day

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s all sit down at the table, raise a glass, and toast the music. Many of us listen to a lot of it. A zillion songs, more or less, floating around our collective consciousness. Some songs are dismissed right off, others burrow into our brain, and a few delve deep into our soul. Blame it on the melody, the lyrics, a particular time and place connected with the song, or something else. Everybody has a story connected with their favorites. One such tune, for me, is none other than Roy Harper’s Another Day.

Roy Harper, the bloke immortalized by Led Zeppelin in Hats Off to (Roy) Harper is a British singer-songwriter. Well, he’s more than that, better known in the UK than stateside. Another Day is from Harper’s fourth studio album, 1970s Flat Baroque and Beserk. He said “Another Day is one of the greatest love song I ever wrote.” The record, unhappily, escaped my notice then. I did catch on to the next one, though, Harper’s scathingly brilliant When An Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease (titled HQ in his native UK).

It took the better part of the decade for another chance with Another Day. A video of the song surfaced on Kate Bush’s 1979 Christmas Special tv show (shown in the UK). The video, a collaboration between Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, offers a poignant illustration. The clip opens with Bush and Gabriel sitting at a kitchen table. They look straight ahead Behind them, a video backdrop of Gabriel and Bush, acting as their own inner thoughts. Gabriel begins “The kettles on, the sun has gone, another day. She offers me, Tibetan tea, on a flower tray. She’s at the door, she wants to score, she really needs to say.” Bush picks up “I once loved you a long time ago, you know. Where the winds own forget-me-nots blow, you know. But I couldn’t let myself go. Not knowing what on earth there was to know. But I wish that I had cause I’m feeling so sad that I never had one of your children.” Their anguish is absolute.

This is the version I knew first. I’m a KB fan since her Wuthering Heights debut and a Gabriel fan since he sang about Carpet Crawlers. The musical collaborations between the two have always been special. Perfect for this song and video. Later, I sought out Harper’s recording so I could make the comparison. Both versions were haunting and both were different. Both are superb. However, Elizabeth Frasier (This Mortal Coil/Cocteau Twins) presents the one I prefer. She coos, soars, and envelops her voice around the lyrics, “Across the room, inside a tomb, a chance is waxed and wained. The night is young, why are we so hung-up, in each others chains-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh. I must take her, I must make her, while the dove domains- heh-heh-heh-heh-heh- heh-heh.” Frasier’s delivery slightly holds back the affectivity, but it’s the most ethereal. I’ve always liked ethereal.

Copyright © October 06, 2007

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U2, A HOTEL ROOM, AND ME

When I head out on the highway I usually bring along my own mix of music. Depending on a particular radio station to play my favorite tunes is an exercise in futility. I didn’t always feel this way. Never worried about taking my eyes off the road to glare at the radio, hoping that I’d find one station that played the songs I liked best. It worked out much of the time. That’s how I first discovered U2’s I Will Follow. I really liked their Boy album and went scouting for anything else they released. Soon found U2-3, a 12-inch import EP. When October was released, I had the record company send over a copy. Then the band came to the states to promote it and I made sure I got an interview.

U2’s publicist directed me to the hotel where the band was staying. Larry Mullen, Jr., Adam Clayton, and the Edge were there. Bono was not. I considered myself lucky, anyway. I’m waiting for one of them, or all three, to sit down and tell me things. Clayton and the Edge are deciding who will sign for room service. Then they talk. The interview first appeared in Relix Magazine and then was changed around for several other publications.

I’m looking at the Relix piece and remember the buzz. There was a string of press people scheduled to meet the band that day. We patiently wait in the hotel lobby ’til we were tapped to meet the band. It was like meeting royalty. They were a few years away from major rock stardom, but were on the way. Constant touring and rounds of press interviews were simply part of the plan. Mullen said, “We play five dates in a row that are 200 miles away from each other, so we don’t see much of anything.”

U2 shrugged off any attempts to label them as a certain type of band. The Edge explained, “I would never want to label the band. We’re a three-piece band with a vocalist. We use bass, drums, and guitar. The three primary colors. We approach it in that type of way because each instrument is individual.”

The press did label U2 with a psychedelic tag and grouped them alongside Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes. Mullen continued, “We tried, right from the beginning of the band, to avoid any boxes. I think we succeeded.

The hotel room is getting crowded and noisy. A publicist stops by to check on things. I worry if I’ll hear the interview when I play back the tape and how I can get the band to provide quotes that will impress my editors. Clayton offered, “We grow and we’re going to change. The reason that some people like Boy and not October is because it’s a different album. For others, maybe some of the reasons they didn’t like Boy changed for October and they could relate to it better.”

Everything stopped for the briefest moment when Bono walked in. He smiled and headed right back out. I sure would have loved to have a sit down with him. At least I’m able to exploit that moment now and title this U2, a hotel room, and me!

Copyright © October 01, 2007

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Lost at Watkins Glen

Watkins Glen Summer JamIt was steaming hot that particular weekend in July of ’73, the time of The Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. A ticket to this one day jam, with The Allman Brothers, The Band, and The Grateful Dead, cost $10, half the price of admission charged for Woodstock, which covered three days. The Jam’s promoters and the town of Watkins Glen remembered Woodstock, especially the problems of crowd control. Some new friends and I grabbed a few rides, joined a caravan, and ultimately walked past miles of traffic jam, which stretched out forever. In terms of numbers, we were 600,000 strong and surpassed the Woodstock figures by 100,000. Many of us did not buy tickets, but it didn’t matter. We would get through the gate, somehow, despite rumors about security guards turning away those without tickets. Campers arrived earlier in the week and made things easier by knocking over the fence designed to keep out freeloaders. We simply walked along with hundreds of others, and eventually put down our blankets to claim the space.

I didn’t get to Woodstock, but a year before the Jam, I did make it to the Festival of Hope, a three day mega-concert for charity held at Roosevelt Raceway in Long Island. I was allowed to go because it was close to home. Dozens of rock, pop and soul acts were crammed into this one weekend festival. I went specifically for Jefferson Airplane. The Festival was the biggest thing that happened in Long Island during the summer of ‘72. News crews in helicopters flew over Roosevelt Raceway to document that hundreds of thousands came to party. It was a blast and I didn’t worry about a thing. A different story with Watkins Glen, though, I made the journey without telling anyone and I was a long way from home.

The first hours of the jam were sublime. Everyone soaked up great music blasting from colossal speakers. We were also soaking up the sun. It was bloody hot. My group was too far from the stage where hoses kept things cool. I drank up everything in sight until I realized that it was time to seek relief at one of the portable stations placed somewhere on the grounds. I made a mental note of my friends’ proximity to the stage, unaware that I wouldn’t be seeing them again until the next morning. I don’t remember which band played first, nor if I missed Duane Allman, who had died in a motorcycle accident in ’71. The bands played on, but I wasn’t able to camp out and enjoy the experience. When I found a spot, the person next to it claimed it for a friend. There was no space for me; no community to join. Day turned to night and the temperature dropped. I was lost. No choice but to head to the security tent for a rescue. Not quite saved, but, I did fend off the advances of a scruffy security guard. I was on my guard. At the next sunrise, I ambled around without a clue on how I was going to make my way home. Thousands of people were heading out. Against the odds, I spotted my so called friends. They had forgotten to look for me and were leaving the grounds. Lucky day for me. I caught up with them and trekked back home.

Copyright © September 30, 2007

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Where It All Began

My story begins years back, one Sunday evening in February. Most of my mom’s side of the family are in the house. We bustle about, like 73 million other souls across the USA, waiting for the Beatles to do their thing on the Ed Sullivan show. It’s a very big deal. I was a couple of years away from the double digits, the youngest in the house, and the one who was the most excited about what was coming down the pike. Mom likes when Ed announces VIP audience members and makes them stand up and smile for the camera. Dad likes Topo Gigo, that cute little puppet mouse. I like the musical acts.

The hysteria begins seconds after Sullivan begins his intro of the Fab Four. Miraculously, the screams from those lucky girls in the tv studio audience are contained and we all hear the songs. The universe slowed down, the stars alligned, and my world was changed forever.

“Meet The Beatles” was the first album I ever bought with my own money. My mom patiently tolerated my emerging musical tastes; dad never did.. He believed his musical icons crushed my icons to dust and ridiculed most of my world during his lifetime. No gems from the girl groups, the Beatles, the Stones, the Brit invasion, the Beach Boys, the California sound, and the rest, pleased the man. A minor tragedy rectified only by gift he gave me, a strong appreciation of other types of music. His collection included lps from Dolly Parton, “Man of La Mancha”, “HMS Pinafore”, and precious 78s containing the classics. I scoffed at the time, but am forever grateful to his insistence that I listen.