Archive for October, 2011
Little Feat were one of the very best rock bands of the 1970s, as evidenced by classic albums such as Sailin’ Shoes, Feats Don’t Fail Me Know, and Dixie Chicken. The band could spit out a catchy three-minute pop song if they saw fit, or segue into extended jams, highlighting their adept musical chops. Their songs were glorious musical concoctions of rock, blues, soul, funk, country, and jazz. Little Feat was an incredibly versatile band and their live concerts were lively, wondrous experiences. Yet due to a lack of hit singles and little radio airplay, few mainstream music listeners ever knew who they were. Little what?
After band member Lowell George tragically died in 1979 at the age of 34, the consensus was that Little Feat would either cease to exist or become a shadow or their former selves. After all, George was the group’s main songwriter and lead singer, as well as an accomplished guitar player. Although he had released a solo album only a few months before his death, George had no intention of leaving the band. Main man or not, he was only one cog in the wheel and the rest of the musicians in the band showed that they could more than hold their own in his absence. Billy Payne, Paul Barrere, Sam Clayton, Ritchie Hayward, and Kenny Gradney were all outstanding musicians — and a few of them could hold a note too — and they weren’t about to sit around and rust or retire in their thirties. And so they carried on. Although most fans acknowledge that the band’s best material was written by George, it can be argued that they became an even stronger band after his passing. During those post-George years, the original members weren’t always onboard at the same time, but no matter what the lineup, Little Feat continued to be a formidable musical force, especially in concert. The problem, though, was that many of their old fans dropped off the bandwagon.
I was one of those fans who were guilty of abandoning the band during the 80s and 90s, listening mostly to the alternative and indie groups on the scene during those years, and ignoring older bands like Little Feat. But Little Feat soldiered on during those decades, recording new albums and making the audacious move of adding a female lead singer, Shaun Murphy. This young woman had a strong voice (she’s been compared by many reviewers to Janis Joplin), belting out the blues and soul with the best of them, so she fit perfectly with the rest of the band. Before they added her, the band recruited another excellent vocalist, Craig Fuller — most famous for being the singer on early albums by Pure Prairie League — and an additional guitarist, the talented Fred Tackett. Let it roll!
Little Feat’s double live album from 1978, Waiting for Columbus, is revered by many as being one of the best live albums better. But it’s quite possible they topped that album with another concert recording, Live at Neon Park, a double-CD set that was released in 1996, and featured both Shaun Murphy and Craig Fuller on vocals. It’s tempting to say that the presence of Lowell George is sorely missed, but you know, that’s not really the case here. It may be musically sacrilegious to say this, but the band sounds great without him. Clearly, Little Feat is so good, and so deep in musical talent, that they know how to compensate for the loss of a member as special as Lowell George. Although George is not personally present on Live at Neon Park, his spirit resonates throughout, especially on beloved compositions that he wrote, such as “Dixie Chicken,” “Willin’,” and “Fat Man in the Bathtub.” And to further add to that vibe, the great man’s daughter, Inara George, shows up to sing on the classic “Sailin’ Shoes.” I loved Waiting for Columbus but I think the band is even more spirited on Live at Neon Park. No matter who is handling lead vocals, or which song they are playing, they sound like they are having a thoroughly wonderful time. And as any fan of live albums will tell you, such joyful exuberance infects the listener too.
Wayman Tisdale was one of those rare talents who made his mark excelling at two different careers. Most sports fans know that Tisdale was an outstanding basketball player at the University of Oklahoma and later an all-star in the NBA for many years. But in addition to playing power forward he also played the bass and enjoyed a successful run as a jazz recording artist during, and after, his NBA career. Sadly, Tisdale died of bone cancer in 2009 at the relatively young age of 44.
I’ve never heard any of the early jazz albums Tisdale recorded, always dismissing them as probably being nothing more than innocuous “Smooth Jazz,” but after reading about The Fonk Record, a project he was working on before he passed away (and released in 2010), I was intrigued. I had considered ordering a copy online but was happily surprised to find the CD here in Bangkok at the Gram music shop in the Emporium. This album, as its title suggests, steers firmly into funky waters, and was clearly a labor of love for Tisdale. It features legendary funk masters George Clinton and George Duke, along with other kindred musicians, gloriously dealing up the “fonk”. Besides being a lasting musical memorial to Tisdale, this is simply a joyous, unrestrained musical romp; fun and funky stuff to make your rump shake, and a few slow jams to make you smile. One description from the label put it quite succinctly, calling this “a wild ride into the glory days of funk, when Parliament-Funkadelic, Earth Wind & Fire, and the Gap Band ruled the scene.” Say no more. You know need this one.
I enjoyed The Fonk Record so much that I may even explore some of the other CDs in Tisdale’s catalogue, even if they are closer to smooth jazz. Hell, they can’t be that bad. Tisdale was obviously a talented musician and loved what he did — both on the court and in the studio — and further evidence of that can be seen — and heard — next month when the Wayman Tisdale Story, a special CD/DVD package, is released. This set will include a music CD with 13 tracks and a 66-minute documentary about Tisdale’s life, in his own words.
I recently read a thought-provoking book about the music business called Appetite for Self-Destruction by Steve Knopper. The book, sub-titled “The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age,” attempts to explain why the music biz went to hell so quickly and what, if anything, can be done to keep the industry from totally imploding. The author takes the major labels to task for failing — or rather, waiting too long — to take advantage of Internet technology and selling downloads of music to customers. Instead, of course, many people discovered the ease of free downloads and got hooked on that “service” instead. Naturally, the author cites the dramatic advances in technology and the equally dramatic rise in illegal downloading as the biggest reasons for why the music labels saw their profits evaporate nearly overnight. But he also cites the obliviousness of the executives at the major labels as another factor.
Let’s face it; what we are seeing now is a generation of thieves who don’t have the slightest bit of remorse about obtaining music for free. These kids have grown up with the Internet and think nothing of downloading songs and not having to pay for it. Thanks to the wide availability of free files, music has been devalued to the point that most of the kids nowadays would never think of paying money for it. They might think that they are “sticking it to” the big, bad corporations, but what about the artists who make the music?
Of course the advances in technology and Internet access created an entire new culture of bootlegging, but I think that’s only part of the problem. In this digital age, not only is there a mind-numbing variety of new products to spend your money on, but the whole culture and the way that people spend their free time has changed. The masses are now more mobile, and are easily distracted; constantly multi-tasking and not really taking the time to focus on things like they used to. Attention Deficit Syndrome is all the rage. How many of these people have time to sit at home and listen to an entire CD without interruption? Oops, gotta check my e-mail; gotta read this tweet; gotta send this text message; gotta download this file; gotta attach this photo; gotta update my Facebook page; gotta check out that video clip on YouTube. People are all over the place. Sadly, I think that listening to music is not as important to people’s lives as it used to be.
The author of this book also trots out the old tired argument that consumers got tired of paying $15 for a CD with only one or two good songs on it. Really? What sort of insipid music were there idiots buying? Maybe a Britney Spears album or some other disposable Top Forty crap has only a few decent songs on it, but any serious artist is not going to put out an album with “only one or two good songs.” I own over two thousand CDs and I don’t have a single one that has “only one or two good songs.” Most of them are wonderful from start to finish. Sorry, but that “only one or two good songs” argument simply doesn’t hold up.
But there certainly are some consumers who only WANT to hear one or two songs by an artist. These types of listeners were never real album buyers in the first place, but without the availability a CD single, many were forced to buy the entire album to get the song they wanted. Obviously, with their short attention spans, they don’t have the patience to listen to unknown songs that aren’t certified “hits.” But hey, now they can download all the songs they like with wild abandon.
But what about the serious music fans and collectors who prefer listening to entire albums and will gladly pay money for quality product? I’d much rather peruse the albums in a well-stocked shop and buy real CDs than surf online or download digital files. We are the consumers who were burned by over-priced CDs for far too many years, but we’ll gladly still buy CDs, and buy lots of them, if the price is right. It’s not just the technology; it’s also the greedy business practices of the major labels that have created this situation. It’s sad for legitimate consumers, but especially crippling for the musicians who make the music we love to listen to.