CD Review: “Searching for Sugar Man” by Rodriguez

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on July 2, 2013 by 30daysout

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By George Kovacik

Most of us musicians make albums that, for one reason or another, never seem to find their place in the world. They are filled with songs that we have spent years writing and thousands upon thousands of dollars recording. We think they are the next Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds and we have big dreams of money, girls and everything else that goes along with being a superstar. Back in 1970, Sixto Rodriguez was a singer-songwriter who had these same dreams. Then he made a record.

Rodriguez, as he was billed, put out his first album, Cold Fact, in March 1970 and a year later followed it up with, Coming from Reality. Both albums bombed in the United States, and Rodriguez quit music and worked manual labor jobs in Detroit where he lived at or below the poverty line.  Unbeknownst to him, both albums caught fire in South Africa. His songs became hits with the anti-apartheid movement and he became a hero no one knew anything about. In fact, tall tales circulated about how he had died. One said he shot himself to death on stage, while another said he doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire.

In 1997, South African record store owner, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, set out to find out what happened to the elusive Rodriguez and to see if he was still alive. This is where I’m going to leave you hanging. I encourage you to watch the excellent documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, for the rest of the story.  However, I will tell you about the music that makes up the incredible soundtrack.

When you listen to Rodriguez, it’s hard to believe that he didn’t become a huge sensation. He’s a cross between Bob Dylan and Jim Croce. His songs were socially conscious with great melodies. They drew me in the first time I heard them. The catchy “I Wonder” should have been a huge hit. The sad “I Think of You” is a beautiful love song. The psychedelic “Sugar Man” showed his love for more than one kind of mind-altering substance, “Cause” is as brilliant and sad a song as you will ever hear, and his lyrical prowess is firmly on display on the Dylan-esque “This Is Not A Song, It’s An Outburst (Or, The Establishment Blues).”

The story of Sixto Rodriguez gives all of us musicians hope that there is some kid halfway across the world who cannot wait to get home from school to listen to his iPod and learn one of our guitar licks. I’m sure there is some other guy out there right now trying to find the balding guy on the back cover of the Orange Is In Another Lame Semi-Tragedy CD. I’m right here, buddy. Give me a call.

“I Think of You” – Rodriguez

“Cause” – Rodriguez

“Crucify Your Mind” – Rodriguez (Live on “Late Show with David Letterman)

“I Wonder” – Rodriguez (Live on KEXP)

Live: Barry Manilow, Houston

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on July 1, 2013 by 30daysout

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By George Kovacik

In this time of venom-filled abortion debates, Paula Deen’s 30-year old racism, the Trayvon Martin trial, 19 Arizona firefighters losing their lives and other disturbing events, it was nice to spend an pleasant evening outside under the stars with Barry Manilow.  Before an energetic crowd who packed the seats and part of the hill at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, TX (40 miles north of Houston), Manilow broke out the songbook and cranked out hit after hit during his 95 minute set.

“It’s A Miracle” and the disco mix of “Could It Be Magic” kicked off the night and in between that and the dramatic closer “I Write the Songs,” Manilow gave us “Can’t Smile Without You,” “Weekend in New England” (complete with women screaming after the line “when can I touch you” and Manilow responding “I’ve still got it), “This One’s For You,” “Mandy,” which started out with his first appearance on The Midnight Special, a powerful version of “Tryin’ To Get the Feeling,” the showstopper, “Copacabana,” and a new tune from a musical he has written called “Harmony,” which received a thunderous applause.  The night’s most moving ballad was  “I Am Your Child” from his first album. He talked about the cutting of school music programs and encouraged the crowd to get behind one of his passions, the Manilow Music Project, a fund that gathers, fixes and donates musical instruments to school districts around the country.

Manilow has always been a master showman, but to be honest with you, I wasn’t expecting much from the Brooklyn native who turned 70 last week (that should make you feel old). However, he more than proved me wrong. His voice was strong, he moved up and down the stage and he genuinely looked like he was having the time of his life singing songs that still stand up after all these years.

I first saw Manilow at Illinois State University in 1975 when he was just hitting it big. At one point on Sunday he referred to himself as the “Justin Bieber of the 70s.” Somehow I don’t see Biebs sticking around as long as Barry.

“Mandy” (Live 2013)

“This One’s For You” (Live 2013)

Happy Birthday, Willie!

Posted in News with tags on April 30, 2013 by 30daysout

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Willie Nelson, one of the great treasures of American music, is 80 years old today. When I was in college we listened to Willie all the time – his classic Red Headed Stranger came out when I was a junior, and we spun that one till the record was virtually unplayable.

At the time I had the impression that Willie Nelson was a favorite only in Texas or the south. It may have been mainly true about that time, but when he put out the standards collection Stardust in 1978 it was quite obvious the man was a superstar.

I once thought I had more CDs of acts like The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Van Morrison than any other artist, but no. Willie’s CDs take up nearly an entire shelf of my cabinet, and that’s not counting the compilations he appears on, the special things like Live in Austin TX and of course LPs, cassettes, 8-tracks (!) and downloaded digital files.

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Willie performing at the 2012 Free Press Summer Fest in Houston.

Every year they have this big extravaganza in Houston, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and zillions of people go out to see rodeo events but mainly to see top-name music acts perform. It’s always cool to see the way artists are brought to and taken from the stage, which sits out in the middle of the rodeo dirt. Elvis had his own special pickup truck, Kool and the Gang once rode low riders, George Strait gallops off on a horse.

Willie played the Rodeo a handful of times, back when it was in the Astrodome, and he had the greatest stage exit ever. He pointed down to his cowboy boots – somebody had given him a wildly ornate set of manly footwear – and said, “How do you like my boots?” As the spotlight hit his boots and the video closeups showed up on the big screens, the crowd roared in approval at the sight of Willie’s pristine, sparkling clean cowboy boots.

Then he jumped off the stage into the dirt and just started walking toward the exit, waving at the crowd. It was a pretty long walk until he was out of sight, and I’m sure he broke in his new boots by stepping in cow pies along the way. On purpose.  The crowd kept roaring and suddenly, before anyone knew it, he was gone.

The sad news about George Jones this weekend made me think of that night at the Rodeo. One day, Willie will be gone too. And the world will be a much sadder, much less fun place. Here’s hoping that day is a long way away.

YouTube: “Funny How Time Slips Away”

YouTube: “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me”

George Jones, R.I.P.

Posted in News with tags on April 26, 2013 by 30daysout
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George Jones 1931-2013

It’s been a bad week for music. George Jones, the greatest of the old-school country singers, has died at the age of 81.

He was originally from Saratoga in deep East Texas and even after he became famous he was a familiar sight in places like Beaumont. When we worked for a newspaper in Southeast Texas it was almost a routine assignment for someone to go out and cover a George Jones performance – he pretty much played the same standard set during that period (late 1970s-early 1980s) but it was always big news when ol’ Possum came to town.

We also talked a lot to his wife Nancy, who was a key figure in getting George off the sauce in the 1980s. They opened a Branson-style music venue, Jones Country Park, in 1983, where you could camp (mostly in RVs) and walk over to see people perform at an amphitheater. George played some shows there, and they were great.

George was still living near Beaumont when the infamous “riding lawn mower” incident took place sometime in the 1960s. He was married to his second wife and she … let’s have  George himself tell it, from his book I Lived To Tell It All:

“Once, when I had been drunk for several days, Shirley decided she would make it physically impossible for me to buy liquor. I lived about eight miles from Beaumont and the nearest liquor store. She knew I wouldn’t walk that far to get booze, so she hid the keys to every car we owned and left.

“But she forgot about the lawn mower. I can vaguely remember my anger at not being able to find keys to anything that moved and looking longingly out a window at a light that shone over our property. There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat; a key glistening in the ignition.

“I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”

Sometime this weekend, treat yourself and play a George Jones record. He was one of a kind.

George Jones obituary and photos at the Beaumont Enterprise

BONUS: Listen and download songs about George Jones (thanks to WFMU-FM)

YouTube: “White Lightning” from 1959

YouTube: “He Stopped Loving Her Today” from 1980

YouTube: “Honky Tonk Song” from 1996

Live: The Wailers, Austin

Posted in Rock Moment with tags , , , on April 25, 2013 by 30daysout
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Guitarist Audley Chisholm, left, and singer Duane Anglin of The Wailers Band, playing at Austin’s Reggae Festival.

A last-minute development at work left us free a little early on a Friday afternoon, and that was all the time and motivation needed for a two-hour drive to Austin for that city’s venerable Reggae Festival. (Note: Our home base is Houston, about 165 miles away, but a drive from our house in the burbs to the Texas capital city is exactly two hours.)

That jaunt was solely to see The Wailers, the backing band that performed behind the great Bob Marley back in the day. Now this is not the original Wailers, who included Bunny Livingston (Wailer) and Peter Tosh, but a representation of the lineup that performed as Bob Marley and the Wailers from 1974 until Marley’s death in 1981.

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We all love us some Bob Marley.

I say a “representation” because The Wailers are now led by Aston “Family Man” Barrett, the sole original member remaining, on bass. Duane Anglin has been the band’s lead singer since the beginning of this year. This was one funky jammin’ reggae party, with classic Marley tunes like “Jammin’,” “One Love/People Get Ready,” “Rastaman Vibration” and of course, “Three Little Birds,” which is one of the best-known reggae songs of all time.

Singer Anglin (“Danglin”) is more than up to the task of carrying Marley’s torch, he offered some nice vocals on “Ride Natty Ride” and a nicely stoned version of Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff.” At one point in the show Anglin announced from the stage that the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings had been apprehended, adding “Send Jah praises,” in relief that no more lives were taken.

This was one of the friendliest, most mellow gatherings I’ve ever attended at Austin’s Auditorium Shores. Sure, there was a lot of smoke wafting in the air, and it was a beautifully cool and clear evening for live music. We headed for the parking garage as the set wound down with an encore of “Redemption Song” and “Exodus.”

The festival continued for two more days, but we opted for only the Wailers experience. The Wailers themselves turned up in Houston two nights later to play at our excellent International Festival, and we chose not to go to that either.

Instead, we enjoyed the buzz from Friday’s sparkling set by riding around sunny Austin on Saturday with the car windows down, and Maestro Marley himself in the CD player. Beautiful.

YouTube: “Three Little Birds” at the Austin Reggae Fest (thanks to Obed Gonzalez)

Richie Havens, R.I.P.

Posted in News with tags , on April 22, 2013 by 30daysout
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Richie Havens at Woodstock, 1969.

Richie Havens, the bearded troubadour of Woodstock, has died at the age of 72. Born in Brooklyn, the singer is perhaps best known for his fiery “Freedom,” which he improvised onstage at the Woodstock Festival in 1969.

Havens toured and recorded for decades until complications from kidney surgery left him unable to tour after 45 years in 2012. In addition to putting out 21 studio albums and touring the world numerous times, Havens also devoted much of his time to charity. In 1991 he won the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award.

Here’s Richie performing “Freedom” at the Woodstock 40th anniversary at Bethel, N.Y. in 2009.

 

Video Du Jour: Patty Griffin w/Robert Plant

Posted in News with tags , , on April 16, 2013 by 30daysout

Verbiage taken straight off the site of KUTX-FM, the coolest radio station in Austin, Texas:

Singer-songwriter Patty Griffin has become known for her stripped-down folk sound and her heartfelt and emotional lyrics. It’s those factors that brought her the fan following she has now, including some bigger name fans such as Emmylou Harris and the Dixie Chicks, who have taken Griffin’s songs and recorded some fantastic covers.

Patty Griffin started writing songs when she was 16. She went out, bought a $50 guitar, and set out to singing and playing with absolutely no intention of becoming a professional musician. It wasn’t until later in life, after ending a short marriage, that she took a crack at playing professionally. And now, she’s a Grammy award-winning artist.

On May 7th, Patty Griffin will release her latest album, American Kid. Patty recently stopped by Studio 1A and brought a couple of talented friends with her (spoiler alert: it’s Robert Plant). Listen to the entire set right here, and make sure to stick around for the last song!

Patty Griffin official web site