I Got Them Dancing

Back in my high school days in the 1980s, despite my mullet I listened to a variety of music. My hairstyle just happened to fit one of those types–cranked out by what many call “black t-shirt” bands. A friend of my brother once called it “that long-haired shit.”

A friend who was into the modern rock, or alternative, music scene invited me to co-deejay a junior high dance. He played mostly club-inspired tunes by Depeche Mode, The Cure, and similar bands, while I threw in the occasional popular Prince song from my collection.

He lamented that so many boys were in wallflower mode, watching the girls do all the dancing. I knew that was my chance to pull my ace card from my heavy metal hand. It got more boys out on the dancefloor than anything else, even though they had never heard it before. I’m sure everyone can guess why.

It was an instrumental ballad by a heavy metal guitar virtuoso. A self-aggrandizing solo at its heart, it featured classical acoustic and electric guitars on blazing arpeggios and enough bent strings to give it real feeling. A simple bass line anchored it while cheesy, gothic keyboard chords wandered over the top.

The couples did that one dance all the boys knew, the sway to the left on one, right on two, and so on. If feeling particularly amorous, they might go left on one, hold it there a beat, and then go right on three.

When the song ended, Robert Smith started meowing “Love Cats,” and the couples split to return to their unofficially appointed places.

A boy broke his stride and approached the deejay table. He leaned in as if to speak. I leaned in to listen.

“Hey, what song was that?” he shouted.

I smiled and gave my co-deejay a knowing look. “‘Crying,’ by Yngwie Malmsteen,” I yelled back.

“Who?”

“Yngwie.” I shouted more clearly. “Y-n-g-w-i-e. Malmsteen.”

“Loved that song. Thanks!” he said and returned to his spot near the wall.

That night, I had done my job, and enjoyed that rare moment when someone else shows a similar level of enthusiasm for a song I typically enjoyed alone in my room or my car.

I hoped that the boy’s parents wouldn’t mind the album cover, which featured Yngwie using his Stratocaster to ward off flames from a fire-breathing, three-headed dragon. It doesn’t get much more ’80s metal than that.

Caress of Steel – Rush

Recently, a friend of mine was tagged when one of his friends asked a few to name 1970’s albums that are good for a full listen, end-to-end.

I was a child in the 1970’s, but in the 1980’s I was exposed to much of the previous decade’s music. Many of those bands, of course, still were making music well into the 1980’s, and beyond.

After reading through several comments suggesting Led Zeppelin, Yes, ELO, Pink Floyd, and others, I realized there was no Rush in there yet. Back in 1988 or so, I was made aware of Rush’s Caress of Steel. I listened to the cassette in my car and at home. That particular medium made it difficult to skip from one song to the next, but this particular album didn’t contain very many tracks, due to the length of the final two, a theme containing sections fast, slow, wild, and controlled.

It’s beautiful. It rocks. It’s original.

The music is the result of the hard work and artistry of musicians who spent countless hours becoming good at playing their instruments. They didn’t take shortcuts nor sample someone else’s work. Every note, every lyric on the album is theirs.

Instead of being remembered by the masses for work like Caress of Steel, Rush will be the band who recorded the hit “Tom Sawyer.” That song is great, for what it is. I’m not trying to detract from the effort, talent, and skill it took to make that and the rest of Moving Pictures.

Sitting here listening to Caress of Steel, not on a cassette this time, but from a high-quality YouTube version of it, I just felt inspired to put in my plug for this album. It’s truly an accomplishment.

Link I used (no guarantee it still works):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxUAzTvcoTQ

Letter to a Jazz Man

Dear Jack,

This morning my iPod chose an instrumental track from one of your albums, and at first I admit I didn’t realize who it was. Jack Mitchell and His Big Band. What a talented group of geezers.

Jack Mitchell and His Big Band

I took my iPod out of shuffle mode so that I could hear the rest of your album.

The random selection had been a bit of a coincidence, because my wife and I signed contracts just this past week to sell our home in Texas and return to Bella Vista, Arkansas — the town where you and I met.

I interviewed you for The Weekly Vista, and wrote a review of your CD. Living and working in that retirement village, I met many folks I would have been proud to call my grandparents. Former NASA workers, CEO’s, artists, professors, and musicians. With your soft-spoken demeanor and kindness, and your exuberant drumming, you were tops among them. When you showed up in Bella Vista, you joined and later took the lead in a jazz band that played two presidential inaugural balls.

Curious about getting back in touch with folks after we settle back in Bella Vista, I looked up your name online and was glad to see a Facebook page for your band, a YouTube video, and online articles about your band’s various notable performances.

I hoped you would remember that time that I arranged to have your band play for a Chamber of Commerce fundraiser for the needy. My new friends happily dancing to your band’s smooth tunes, I approached the stage and requested “Big Bad Bill.” You either misunderstood me or just went with what you thought a 30-something might request. The band launched into, “Jump, Jive, and Wail,” a song that The Gap commercial had made popular, and the most dancers all night shook a leg.

Your drum solo that night left me amazed that a man nearly 80 years old could still wield the sticks with such dexterity. Your work on the track “Drummin’ Man” amazes me, too.

As I perused the Google results, I found an article in the Cleveland Banner that indicated you had moved back up north after more than 20 years in Bella Vista. You continued to play drums and joined a jazz band. It also told of how you served in WWII in the Air Force Band, and invented board games including “Know Your America.”

That same article, sadly, also told me that you had passed away in 2011.

I am glad that I got to know you, Jack, even just the least bit. Although I hadn’t seen you in at least 12 years, I felt a loss when I read of your death. The world lost not only a great musician, but a great American and a true family man. Your music lives on in my iPod.

Source of his later life details:
http://clevelandbanner.com/bookmark/16143900-Jack-Mitchell

Waiting for Maroon

I sit waiting to leave for a concert. The show features Train and Maroon 5, playing a venue with three walls, a ceiling, and a sloped seating area that leads to a grassy knoll with nothing but the sky overhead. Not the grassy knoll, even though it’s in Dallas. Family from Tulsa and Little Rock have come down for the event.

Although Maroon 5 is not one of my favorites, they’re talented, and Train has always sounded good to me. Plus, it’s kind of cool to see the band who currently has the number one single in the country.

I will try, as usual, to get some decent photos. The weather is beautiful, so an open-air venue will be nice. Here we go!

Digging Deep Elm

There’s a small record label called Deep Elm Records, with headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. The company easily hooked my ears with its Deep Elm Samplers, available for free download in various file formats and compression levels. I can’t describe the musical styles because they vary widely, and my eclectic taste finds something to like in all of them. If you are looking for music that sounds like top 40, then don’t even bother.

So, without further rambling from this type-happy music lover, here is the link to free music goodness:

http://www.deepelm.com/free.html

I have and highly recommend Bonfire of Trust (sampler 8), We Dream Alone (sampler 9), The World Won’t Spin Forever (sampler 10). If you download mp3 format, then the lyrics and the album covers will display on your iPod Touch (and maybe other devices).

To help support these artists, I am going to buy a few full albums from Deep Elm’s site. Honestly, I could see doing so for pretty much every band and solo artist on the samplers listed above.