Alone In A World So Cold

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And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. ~ John 1:32

How can you just leave me standing?
Alone in a world that’s so cold? (So cold)
Maybe I’m just too demanding
Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold
Maybe you’re just like my mother
She’s never satisfied (She’s never satisfied)
Why do we scream at each other
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry

In 1979 I was invited to attend (actually practically begged to attend) a “listening party/ meet-n-greet” for a new Warner Music act called Prince. Apparently, ticket sales for the event were sparse and the reps from WB wanted to fill the house for this guy and his band from the Twin Cities.

The party was held at a small venue in Atlanta called, at that time, The Agora Ballroom, which was a nice place for smaller acts in a fairly intimate setting.  You could probably put 500 people in there, and on this particular night, there were maybe 150 of us in attendance, most of us music industry folk.

I had a bit of advance notice on the band, having just recently received a copy of his self titled LP, which contained the soon-to-be hit single “I Wanna Be Your Lover”.  I thought the album was really good and rated it pretty high during a call from Billboard magazine, asking how it was selling. I even took time to find a copy of his first album; the relatively unknown For You. Nothing special there and no hit singles, but I could hear the promise of better things to come.

Needless to say, I was absolutely blown away by his live show. It was as if Jimi Hendrix had come back to life and had a love child with Sly Stone and James Brown, clothed him  head to toe in paisley splendor and elevator boots. It was rock, it was funk, it was like an adrenaline injection by sound. Everybody in the place left happy, sweaty and in utter amazement at what we had just witnessed, which, looking back on it, was just a preview of what the world would see at halftime for Super Bowl XLI.

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Prince never forgot those of us from the industry who showed up for that showcase and reached out in a variety of ways over the coming years to favor us. A couple of years later, his breakthrough album, 1999, came out and that, as they say, was that. His follow up, the soundtrack to the box office smash movie, Purple Rain, cemented his superstar status. A personal high point for me was getting on stage with him at a record store grand opening party and grooving along with his Purpleness and his new band, the New Power Generation. When his prodigy/honey du jour, Apollonia, came to Atlanta to promote her new movie, Black Magic Woman, I’m quite sure it was Prince who pulled the strings and got me a lunch date with her. Just WOW!

And now, as John Lennon once sang, “I heard the news today, oh boy.” In a time when way too many of our rock icons are falling, this one was a shock. At only 57 years old and seemingly on a roll with new artists, sounds and styles, he’s gone, felled by complications from his recent bout with the flu. A old friend of mine from the music biz said it best when she commented on Facebook; “It’s hard to believe we’re talking about Prince in the past tense.”. Yup.

There’s purple tears on earth today and purple rain in Heaven. Sadness rules.

RIP Prince…you will surely be missed.

 

 

 

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How Does Your Light Shine?

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In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~ Matthew 5:16

Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain
With the rain in Shambala
Wash away my sorrow, wash away my shame
With the rain in Shambala

With the recent passing of lead singer, Cory Wells, I felt compelled to include a post featuring one of my favorite bands of the 70’s, Three Dog Night. I hate to admit it, but having spent a great portion of my life in and around the music biz, I had a habit of using TDN as a benchmark, of sorts.  When comparing band success, I would often times use TDN as the “dividing line” between good and great, over and under. Thus, the measure of a rock band’s success was above or below that of TDN, the perfect middle line. The question became: Did a band have more – or less – hits than TDN? Maybe it wasn’t fair treatment, but I never had anyone dispute me on the validity of the idea.

Ah, ooh, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Ah, ooh, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

As the Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, once sang, “If there’s a rock n roll Heaven, you know they’ve got a hell of a band.” That song was released back in 1974, just as TDN’s run was coming to a close.  Back then, the song featured artists that had died far too young like Janis and Jimi, Otis Redding and Jim Croce.  But these days it’s all to common. Forty years have gone by since then and it seems like another rocker passes every other day now. A sign of the times, for sure.

Everyone is helpful, everyone is kind
On the road to Shambala
Everyone is lucky, everyone is so kind
On the road to Shambala

TDN was originally formed in 1967 when Cory, Danny Hutton and Chuck Negron, three very talented singers decided to get together as a cover band playing the local L.A. club scene. The band soon filled out with the addition of Jimmy Greenspoon on keyboards, Joe Schermie on bass, Mike Allsup on guitar and Floyd Sneed on drums, and the group was off and running, signing a contact with ABC-Dunhill records. They focused mainly on recording interesting material from a new crop of – then unknown – artists, like Elton John, Randy Newman, Laura Nyro and Harry Nilsson, among others. For five straight years between 1969-74, the band released a new album – and a new crop of hits – every single year. They scored a total of 21 Billboard Top 40 hits during that period.

How does your light shine
In the halls of Shambala
How does your light shine
In the halls of Shambala

One of those hits, appearing on the album Cyan in 1973, was the song “Shambala” which rose to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart. It had a rolling, chanting gospel feel and was somewhat religiously, if not just mystically, inspired by the mythical Hindu/Buddhist kingdom of Shambala, which was said to be located somewhere in the Himalaya’s. TDN’s – and original songwriter Daniel Moore’s – vision of Shambala appeared to be based more on a state of mind reflective of walking a certain spiritual path, than as a physical kingdom or place.

I can tell my sister by the flowers in her eyes
On the road to Shambala
I can tell my brother by the flowers in his eyes
On the road to Shambala

Here’s a few interesting notes about TDN and “Shambala”:

  • Everyone has probably heard the story of the band’s naming, but just in case, I’ll repeat it here. Danny Hutton’s girlfriend had been reading an article about early native Australians and learned that, on cold nights, they would find a hole to sleep in and pull in a dingo or two to keep them warm. A really, really cold night was thus called a “three dog night”.
  • Only one week prior to TDN’s release of “Shambala”, a version by country singer B.W. Stevenson was released. His version was shorter, with a bit more country twang and it did pretty well, but was greatly overshadowed by TDN’s version. Stevenson later “stole” some of the melody from “Shambala” for his smash hit “My Maria”. Check them both out and you’ll see just how much they sound alike.
  • “Shambala” has been so popular throughout the years that it has been used in 15 movies, 2 TV shows and – most recently – in a 2014 Bank of America commercial.

How does your light shine
In the halls of Shambala
How does your light shine
In the halls of Shambala
Tell me how does your light shine
In the halls of Shambala
(Tell me how) How does your light shine
In the halls of Shambala

So, let’s all wish Cory a sweet rest and remember him fondly via one of TDN’s greatest hits. Listen to a great live version here:

Sources for this post include:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shambala

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Dog_Night

 

A Band Of Brothers

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What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? ~ Luke 15:4

99
I’ve been waiting so long
Oh 99
Where did we go wrong
Oh 99
I love you

With the recent and untimely passing of yet another one of the famous Porcaro brothers – Mike this time – I felt compelled to feature a Toto song this month. I thought this song, in particular, might be a good one to share.

99
I keep breaking your heart
Oh 99
How can we be apart
Oh 99
I love you

Of all the parables in the Bible, those that feature the “Good Shepherd” theme are some of my favorites. And this one, with it’s message of unconditional love and concern is particularly touching. Isn’t this the perfect picture of agape love? That He would turn his back on the whole tribe just to find a single lost member? Does that not truly express the value that God places upon each and every one of us?

I never thought it would happen
I feel quite the same
I don’t want to hurt you anymore
I never knew it would work out
No one to blame
You know i love you 99

The Porcaro’s (Jeff, Mike and Steve) truly were a “band of brothers”. The three were sons of Joe Porcaro, himself an established LA studio percussionist who passed his musical talent and passion on to his three sons.

Jeff got his start as the drummer in Sonny & Cher’s touring band and went on to play with Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Michael McDonald and dozens more before founding Toto in 1977 with his brother Steve, and buddies David Paich, Steve Luthaker and David Hungate. The third brother, Mike, joined the band in 1982, replacing David Hungate on bass after the recording of Toto IV was finished.

Unfortunately, Jeff passed away suddenly in 1992 after suffering from insecticide poisoning ingested from treating his lawn. There has been debate that the underlying cause for his death may have had something to do with drug use, but the family has maintained that was not the case.

99
You keep holding my hand
Oh 99
They don’t know who i am
Oh 99
I love you

Mike Porcaro was also an accomplished LA studio musician; a bass playing wizard touring with Boz Scaggs, Michael Franks, Larry Carlton, Seals & Crofts and Joe Walsh, among others.

And now we have another brother, Mike this time, leaving us way too soon. Mike was diagnosed with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2007 and had to give up touring with the band at that time. Toto wound up disbanding in 2008. Mike finally passed quietly, in his sleep, at his home in LA on March 15th.

I never thought it would happen
I feel quite the same
I don’t want to hurt you anymore
I never knew it would work out
No one to blame
You know i love you 99

Which leaves us with Steve, the keyboard player and last survivor of this band of brothers. Steve always seemed to be more in the background, more of a composer and writer, and more closely fitting in as a “behind the scenes” studio player, albeit an extremely talented one. Steve was the composer for Michael Jackson’s hit “Human Nature” and wound up leaving Toto in 1986 to further pursue his writing and composing interests. He currently is deeply involved with writing film and television scores.

99
I can’t take it no more
Oh 99
Oh we were so sure
Oh 99
I love you

Pure is the word, I think, for Toto and much of their work. The lineup for the band has evolved continually throughout the years, but the Porcaro bloodline runs clearly through it.

So, take a minute to toast the musicianship on this classic cut and all the years of hard work – in studio and on the road – that forged this great band. Here’s to the memory of Jeff and Mike and cheers to the one brother who labors on…alone.

Listen to the original here:

Fantastic live version with the reunited brothers here:

 

Into a Dancer You Have Grown

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A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. -Ecclesiastes 3:4

“Keep a fire burning in your eye
Pay attention to the open sky
You never know what will be coming down.”

I’m getting to that age, you know. That age where people I know are starting to leave. It seems like more each year. Or is it just that I’m listening more?  That it’s more real?

“I don’t remember losing track of you
You were always dancing in and out of view
I must have thought you’d always be around
Always keeping things real by playing the clown
Now you’re nowhere to be found.”

And contrary to the righteous Bobby Hatfield, time does not go by so slowly. No, it rushes by now, hurtling forward…no emergency brake here.  And those that you think will be here forever, suddenly no longer are.

It’s so easy to lose touch. Even with the power of social media. And speaking of that, I’ve got three Facebook friends who are no longer with us. Yet their Facebook pages live on (and sometimes even make posts) to remind me. It’s strange, but also somewhat comforting.

“No matter how close to yours another’s steps have grown
In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone.”

Frank and Elvis said they would do it “my way” and they surely did. But when the time comes, we’re all on our own. Life begins with the closest personal relationship most of us will ever have, and ends (for most) without it.

“Into a dancer you have grown, from a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
But you’ll never know…”

Jackson Browne was one of the founding fathers of the SoCal “country-rock” scene in the 70’s, and along with John David Souther, helped show Glenn Frey and Don Henley a little bit about songwriting. As much as I loved the Eagles, I never thought they were able to match the pure lyrical genius of either of those guys.

“For A Dancer” has long been my favorite cut off Jackson’s third album, Late For The Sky.It seems just a bit ironic that this song came out two years before the death by suicide of his first wife, Phyllis Major, in 1976. The following “landmark” album, The Pretender, solidified Jackson’s grip on the genre, and his next, Running On Empty, was his biggest commercial success, but I always thought LFTS was superior.

Fellow SoCal rocker, Linda Ronstadt, covered only two of Jackson’s songs; “For A Dancer” with Emmylou Harris and “Rock Me On The Water”, both from Jackson’s earlier, less popular, works. Her versions of both, with that voice as big as the house, actually trump Jackson’s originals. But, then again, I’m a little biased when it comes to Linda!

Life, as they say, is short. So, as JB urges here, go on and sow some seeds of your own; go on and make a joyful sound!

Listen here:

Linda and Emmylou: