Still the top ranking

“Ranking Roger” of the bands The Beat (a.k.a. The English Beat for U.S. audiences) and General Public passed away a week ago at the age of 56, after a stroke and a battle with brain tumors and lung cancer.

Image result for ranking roger

Ranking Roger (real name Roger Charlery) started out as a London punk rocker before teaming up with Dave Wakeling in The Beat, part of the Two Tone “second wave” of bands that fused ska with punk rock, new wave, reggae and pop music. After The Beat broke up, Roger and Dave formed General Public, while two other Beat members teamed up with Roland Gift to form Fine Young Cannibals. Roger later formed The New Beat and performed with his son, and later still The Beat featuring Ranking Roger.

Image result for the beat band

It’s worth noting that Ranking Roger was black and Dave Wakeling was white. Well before Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney were teaming up for that schmaltzy “Ebony and Ivory” tune, the Beat were uniting fans of all colors.

“When the Beat were originally going ’round,” he said, “our audiences were so mixed — black, white and Indian, young people and older heads. It was brilliant, and I think we have kind of achieved that today. It is a bit different, obviously, but it is a very friendly crowd and everyone walks out sweating and happy, and I tell myself that’s the most I could ask for.”

Source: New York Times

They also tackled political topics in their songs, most famously in “Stand Down Margaret”… a comeuppance to Margaret Thatcher with the last lines of “love and unity, the only way.”

From the NYT obit: The Beat was born in part out of frustration with the conservative turn in England’s politics.

“To the English Beat,” Robert Palmer wrote in reviewing the group’s second album, “Wha’ppen?,” in The Times, “unemployment, ecology and the antinuclear movement are not separate issues; they are interrelated.”

“Anyone who would like to understand more about the attitudes underlying Britain’s inner-city rioting,” he added, “would do well to start here.”

This nine-minute interview is a great glimpse into Roger’s humble demeanor and his dedicated approach to performing.

Even in his 50s, he was still giving it his all.

That sort of free-spirited yet socially conscious attitude toward life ranks high in my book.

Oblivion is the best medicine

An early contender for album of the year is eponymous debut from Better Oblivion Community Center. The band is a collaboration between Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst. Phoebe is on a roll: in 2017, she released her debut album, Stranger in the Alps, , to well-deserved critical acclaim, and last year she worked with two other rising stars, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, to release a fantastic EP under the name boygenius. Both releases are well worth multiple spins. Listen now and thank me later.

Now Phoebe has teamed up with Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk) to put out an album that’s stellar from start to finish. The tune “Dylan Thomas” is the song of the year, sez me. Love the lyrics.

And here’s another stellar track, “Didn’t Know What I Was In For.”
It’s much mellower but again so strong lyrically and musically.

We may as well complete the CBS This Morning trifecta with “My City.”

And for bonus indie cred, the video for “Dylan Thomas” was directed by Michelle Zauner… a.k.a. Japanese Breakfast, another dubbatrubba favorite band.

Looks like I’m not the only card-carrying member of the Better Oblivion Community Center fan club, though. If you want to catch them in concert, you’ll have to visit a scalper or Scandanavia.

Blues: The Next Generation

Here’s a photo of two blues legends… and two future legends.

L to R: Bob Margolin, Phil Wiggins, Joe Tellmann and Ben Levin

The dude at far left is “Steady Rollin'” Bob Margolin, who played with Muddy Waters from 1973 to 1980, and has been performing under his own name since, garnering Blues Music Awards along the way. The gentleman on harmonica is Phil Wiggins, a master of the”Piedmont Blues” style, most notably in the duo Cephas & Wiggins, which performed for 32 years until guitarist John Cephas passed away in 2009. Phil is still actively performing, and was awarded an NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 2017.

The kid on guitar is Joe Tellmann. I worked with his dad Dave in the early 90s, at a tiny indie rock station called 97X. (Shameless plug: Dave & I do a podcast about our days at the station.) Dave and I have been friends ever since. The kid on piano is Ben Levin, a neighbor of ours. He and our oldest son Gabriel went to school together in junior high. Now Joe, Ben and Gabriel are all freshmen at the University of Cincinnati.

Joe and Ben are blues wunderkinds – musical prodigies with more chops than a Bruce Lee movie. The photo above is from a Pinetop Perkins Foundation MasterClass performance last summer in Clarksdale, Mississippi (“crossroads of the blues”). The Pinetop Perkins Foundation supports young artists who are interested in the blues, and provides opportunities for them to learn from seasoned pros.

Image result for the blues meme

But let’s set aside the musical talent for a moment. Both Joe and Ben are great kids. Even if they couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, their parents would have ample right to be proud of the young men they’ve become. Their musical talents are just icing on the cake… or maybe the discipline required to learn and master an instrument also comes in handy off stage. When schools face budget cuts, the music program is one of the first ones to walk the plank. That’s a shame, because music has myriad benefits.

Some folks claim the blues are a dying art form, but I disagree. Check out this clip and you’ll agree that with Joe and Ben involved, the blues are in extremely capable hands.

Monday morning music

Tanya Donelly rocks. Period. End of discussion. You’d be hard pressed to find someone with more indie music cred. She was a founding member of not one, not two, but three seminal bands: Throwing Muses (with her stepsister Kristin Hersh), The Breeders (with Kim Deal from The Pixies) and Belly. Quick, name another artist who can claim that feat…

All those bands had their heyday back in the 80s or early 90s. It would be easy to traffic in nostalgia. But Tanya is looking forward instead of backward, and encouraging all of us to do the same. In 2018, her band Belly released Dove, their first album in 23 years. They haven’t missed a beat – it’s fantastic.

The song “Human Child” is on the new release, and it’s all about looking forward:

We let ourselves be owned by things long gone
Old photographs, old songs
Wrap us in ghosts

Oh human child
Your face to the wind, your back to the sun
Oh human child
You’re digging up bones and miss all the fun

I’m not here to save you I’m just trying to get you outside
Get yourself out of your way and pull your head out of the shade

Belly’s bassist Gail Greenwood created a video for the song, using mostly footage from a 1993 tour.

And here’s their live performance from KEXP, with a career-spanning set list.

Meet the artist

I had lunch with a world-famous artist yesterday. OK, he’s not world-famous yet, but he’s certainly nationally-famous. More importantly, he’s one of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet.

photo credit: Corrie Schaffeld, Cincinnati Business Courier

Keith Neltner and I worked together at a Cincinnati ad agency (ahem, “design studio”) for about five years, more than a decade ago. He was a brilliant graphic designer and I was a hack copywriter… your classic Odd Couple storyline. Keith’s skill level, his talent, his “eye”… is off the charts. Yet it’s matched by his work ethic, which came from spending his entire childhood (and beyond) working on his family’s small farm in Northern Kentucky.

Keith hung his own shingle several years ago – Neltner Small Batch is the name of his company. He’s still working his magic, but instead of doing it for the P&Gs of the world, he’s doing it for smaller, more craft-oriented companies like LIC.

Keith also does artwork for musicians, including the album layout for Shooter Jennings’ most recent release.

Which is great, but I still think his art is underappreciated because it’s typically intertwined with commerce. However, a recent project that Keith and his Neltner Small Batch collective worked on is pure heart and pure art. They (Keith, Tom Post, Chris Dye, Andi Bussard and Andy Sohoza) created a 63-foot wall mural in graphic novel style to share stories from holocaust survivors at Cincinnati’s Holocaust & Humanity Center.

Photo credit: Hailey Bollinger, CityBeat

You can read more about it in Cincinnati CityBeat , the Cincinnati Enquirer (and the Cincinnati Business Courier if you have an account).

I feel like this is just the start of the next phase of Keith’s career. Stay tuned…

It’s Ladies’ Night and the feeling’s right

On Monday evening, Erika Wennerstrom, leader of the band Heartless Bastards, played an intimate set at a bar in the hipster part of town. Actually, she played two sets – the original gig at 6 p.m. sold out quickly (not surprising – the room capacity was well under 100) so they added a second set at 9 p.m.

I’m a bit slow on the uptake (if you read this regularly, that shouldn’t come as a shock), so I missed out on getting tickets to the 6 p.m. show, whose starting time was much more conducive to my Middle-Aged-Man-On-A-School-Night schedule.

I know the feeling, Liz Lemon.

However, I’m a live music super trooper, so I sucked it up and hit the late show with my friends David and Sandy. (“David & Sandy” could also be the name of a ’60s duo…)

Erika was the star of the show – a pint-sized dynamo with a majestic voice. But she shared the stage with two other women: Beth Harris (from the Cincinnati band The Hiders) provided angelic harmony vocals and Lauren Gurgiolo (formerly of Okkervil River) played lead guitar in an understated-yet-amazing way.

L to R: Beth Harris, Erika Wennerstrom, Lauren Gurgiolo

Erika’s used to playing large clubs and festivals with her band… and I’m used to seeing them in that setting. This was a wonderful opportunity to see her at a more casual, more personal gig. (She’s from Dayton, Ohio and formed her band in Cincinnati.) It didn’t disappoint. The set list consisted mostly of songs off her new solo album, and they sounded great live. And it’s always a treat to be so close to the stage.

Actually, I have no regrets about the late evening. It was totally worth it because it was so extraordinary.

There are no second acts in American lives

I spent some time crate-digging over the weekend, looking through the albums at the thrift shops near my house. (Yes, thrift shops – plural – we live in a classy neighborhood!) Two albums from 70s pop idols caught my eye.

Donny Osmond and David Cassidy… it doesn’t get any more 70s than that. No, I did NOT purchase them! Mainly because I don’t care for bubblegum pop… and also because the Donny album cover seems a bit too, shall we say, pedophile?

But those album covers gave me a chance to contemplate a few things:

  1. Why am I spending weekends in thrift shops?
  2. Why is Donny’s album twice the price of David’s?
  3. What’s the price of fame?

Donny and David had a lot in common. Hit songs, hit TV shows, multiple TigerBeat covers, huge fan clubs… and amazing hairstyles. But they wound up on different paths. Donny fell off the pop culture radar for most of the 80s, but has had top 10 songs since then, done musical theater, hosted TV game shows and syndicated radio shows, won a season of Dancing with the Stars, and has been appearing in Vegas (where else?) with his sister Marie since 2008.

David Cassidy‘s post-teen-idol path was a bit rockier. He had modest Top 40 success after the Partridge Family, dabbled in musical theater and acting… and had the requisite reality TV appearance (Celebrity Apprentice, 2011). He also had multiple drunk driving charges from 2010 on, filed for bankruptcy in 2015, and died of liver failure (due to alcoholism) in 2017.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “there are no second acts in American lives.” In Donny’s case, he was wrong. In David’s, he was correct. Fame is fleeting, and it can extract a heavy toll from your life. Gaining fame is great fun… but losing it isn’t.

Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we’d like to be

Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee….

When it’s time to change…

Our youngest child is 13 and a half… and his voice is starting to crack. Of course, the first thought that springs to mind for someone my age is the Brady Bunch episode where Peter’s voice was changing.

But then when I clear the TV Land cobwebs from my puny brain (it takes roughly three hours to lose that stupid little Sha-na-na-n-na-na-n-na-na… sha-na-na-na-na! riff), I realize that our youngest child… our baby boy!… is leaving childhood behind.

That makes me sad, because if he’s moving to another phase, that means I am too. The phase where parents aren’t needed as much. We’re becoming accessories rather than necessities. Heck, we already have a kid in college (and another who will be there by August), two teenage drivers and another with her temps… They can fend for themselves. They’ve been off school for the past three days thanks to frigid temperatures and snow — and they probably didn’t even notice their old man was gone.

I’m not ready to be an empty nester just yet. In fact, the “failure to launch” concept is starting to sound appealing.

I know change is inevitable.

But that doesn’t make it enjoyable. At least not for parents.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste… on musical minutia

An email from my friend Steve:

Our office men’s room has a paper towel dispenser…

….that makes me think of Peter Tork of The Monkees at least daily.

You are one of the few people who can understand my daily frustration of picturing that goofy chap in my head!

Yes, that’s true, Steve. I do understand your frustration, perhaps better than anyone else, because I grew up just outside of Clarksville, Arkansas.

Thank goodness neither of us live in Pleasant Valley.

Something fresh from The Bakerman

After publishing yesterday’s post, I realized it was an inadvertent rerun – it had the same “inspirational quote” content as a post from mid-December. Clearly, I need to stock up on gingko biloba or some other memory aid (real or imagined).

To make up for yesterday’s stale post, today we have something piping hot and fresh from The Bakerman. Also known as Steve Baker… or just plain “Bake.” He’s a broadcasting legend, and I don’t use that term lightly (just ask Joe Buck).

“The Bakerman”

Steve’s current role is Assistant Athletic Director – Director of Broadcasting for Miami University. But in a prior life, he worked at 97X for 20 years, as a news reporter, midday host, morning show host, station manager, play-by-play man for Miami U. football and basketball (he still does that in his current role), assistant engineer, only person with any technical expertise for live/remote broadcasts, etc. I had the privilege of working with him for a few years back in the late 80s and early 90s. He’s one of the best play-by-play people in the universe, and a great guy to boot.

My friend Dave (with whom Bake and I both worked at 97X) and I have started a podcast about the good old days at 97X, a tiny station in Oxford, Ohio that was one of the first in the country to play “college rock/indie rock/alternative” music and did so for more than 20 years, earning national accolades in the process. The station had a crappy, hard-to-pickup signal, but it also had an oversized influence on its listeners (and employees).

In our most recently published episode, we spend 20 minutes chatting with Steve. If you listen, you’ll hear some great stories from Steve – including how he started at “that damn punk rock station” and how his stellar voice (“great pipes” as we say in the business) wound up in the Academy Award-winning Tom Cruise/Dustin Hoffman movie Rainman.

If you’re so inclined, you can visit the podcast home page for three other episodes, and you can even “follow” it to be alerted when there’s a new episode (about every two weeks… provided the co-host/recording engineer/editor known as dubbatrubba doesn’t have too much other stuff going on.)