Music Lessons. Life Lessons.

I spend most of my waking hours (typically 2-6 p.m. – I’m very sloth-like) listening to music. And on those rare occasions when I’m not listening to music, I’m listening to podcasts about music. (60 Songs that Explain the 90s is hilarious!) One of the shows in the regular rotation is Sound Opinions, co-hosted by longtime Chicago music critics Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis.

Their most recent episode is “Give the Drummer Some” – here’s the synopsis:

I enjoyed the entire episode (although I vehemently disagree with fellow-Jersey-City-born Jim DeRogatis’ opinions about The Who). But it was the final segment, an interview with influential R&B, soul and funk drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, that really caught my ear. Because it wasn’t just about music, it was about life.

Bernard Purdie has a signature drum sound: “The Purdie Shuffle.”

His session work can be heard on thousands of songs, especially ones from the mid-60’s through the early 80’s. Aretha Franklin. Steely Dan. Hall & Oates. Nina Simone. Miles Davis. The list goes on… and on. Here’s one legendary example:

Purdie’s handiwork (and footwork too – drummers put their body and soul into it!) has been sampled by plenty of hip-hop artists in the ensuing years. And here’s the thing: If you’re not the recording artist or the songwriter, you probably don’t get a nickel in royalties. If someone wanted to sample the “Rock Steady” drums, they’d have to cut a check to Aretha, not Bernard.

It would be easy for him to be “Bitter Bernard” instead of “Pretty” Purdie. But he’s not. Check out this two-minute clip from the interview on Sound Opinions where he talks about his approach to getting the short end of the drumstick:

Yes, I was bitter for a while. No more. I stopped being bitter because bitter means that you don’t live long… I just want to have fun. I want to enjoy myself and have a ball!

Bernard Purdie

That’s just beautiful!

I tuned in for some music, and got a life lesson in the bargain. Keep rockin’ steady, “Pretty” Purdie!

Cool Luke Hand

I think it’s cool that Luke Combs had a hand in putting Tracy Chapman and her 35-year-old song back into the spotlight.

Their Grammy performance is here.

Some have taken issue with the fact that a white country singer has “cashed in” on a song by a black female artist. But this is not a Pat Boone situation, where record labels would take a popular R&B song by a black artist and use white singers to create a sanitized pop version that was more palatable to predominantly white audiences. The most egregious example is Pat’s soulless cover of Tutti Frutti:

In this case, the cover came from the heart:

“My dad would play me that Tracy Chapman self-titled album, I just loved that song. So, when I went into the studio to record…I was like, what if we just did this cover of ‘Fast Car,’ just ’cause I want to do it?”

He clearly adores both the song and the songwriter:

“Tracy, I want to send my sincerest thanks to you for allowing me to be a part of your moment. Thank you for the impact you have had on my musical journey, and the musical journeys of countless other singers, songwriters, musicians, and fans alike,” the post continued. “I hope you felt how much you mean to the world that night. We were all in awe of you up there and I was just the guy lucky enough to have the best seat in the house.”

Luke Combs on his Instagram

It’s not like Tracy Chapman didn’t get recognition for the song when she released it – she won the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance back in ’89 for “Fast Car” (and she won Best New Artist and Best Contemporary Folk Album for her debut album on which it appears, and “Fast Car” also was nominated for record and song of the year, while her album received a nomination for album of the year). She’s been nominated for 13 Grammys overall and has won 4.

Not to mention the fact that Tracy Chapman wrote “Fast Car” and owns the publishing rights, so her royalty checks have been getting a lot fatter of late.

Billboard estimates that Combs’ version has generated about $500,000 in publishing royalties globally from its March 17 debut through June 8. Chapman alone is pocketing a sizable portion of that total.

Source: this Billboard article from June of last year… the Grammys bump will take those totals way higher

It’s not about the money, though. Luke Combs has introduced a great song to a whole new generation. And if his audience tends to skew less hipster and more hip waders, so be it. He’s building bridges, and we probably could use a lot more of that today.

In fact, Luke’s cover of “Fast Car” won a CMA Award for Song of the Year – an award that goes to the songwriter, making Tracy Chapman the first black woman to win a CMA. So he’s helping break down barriers too.

“I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I’m honored to be there,. I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.’ ”

Tracy Chapman in Billboard last July

“All of this was done to honor the amazing woman, songwriter, and artist that she is, The entire opportunity for us to even be on a stage with Tracy Chapman is what this was all about.”

Luke Combs’ manager Chris Kappy in this Entertainment Weekly article about the how the Grammy performance came together.

Millions of new fans have found and embraced a great song by a stellar songwriter. Let’s give Luke a hand, because that’s cool!

P.S. My favorite Tracy Chapman cover is still this one:

May 2024 be Golden

Jim James is the lead singer of My Morning Jacket, a great band that started in Louisville, KY. He can be a bit “out there” at times, but the email he sent out to the My Morning Jacket mailing list yesterday is worth pondering as we flip the page to another year.

Maybe it’s a bit too “Successories posters” for you.

But there’s probably a nugget or three you can latch onto.

Be generous and compassionate. Pray for an end to all wars, an end to all violence and hatred. Work and pray for equality and love and universal human rights. Try to be honest and kind to everyone you meet – even if you are sad. Help someone along their way. Sing a simple song. Listen to the wind. Listen to the birds. Learn something new. 

May your 2024 be “Golden.”

Shop Local. Listen Local.

It’s Small Business Saturday. It’s also Support Local Musicians Year. OK, the first one’s legit, and the second one is something I just made up. But if you go out to a locally-owned bar, restaurant, or club to see local performers, you’re supporting local businesses and you’re a patron of the arts.

Sure, you could drop a month’s pay on tickets to the next Taylor Swift stadium show. But for that same cash, you could support dozens of local musicians who are just trying to get by. Or doing what they love in the evenings while working a day job or three.

You don’t have to buy the merch… you can just drop some cash in the tip jar. Maybe it’ll help them put some gas in the van, or record their next release.

On Thanksgiving Eve, I went to Arnold’s Bar & Grill (Cincinnati’s Oldest Tavern) to see Maria Carrelli and her band play an album release party. The album was recorded live at Arnold’s back in the spring. The album artwork was done by my good friend Keith Neltner, who runs his own design studio. The record was pressed at MusIcol in Columbus. The record sleeve and jacket were printed at Otto Printing in Newport, KY. All small local businesses. (I need to note that the album giveaway was sponsored by Maker’s Mark, which is semi-local but far from small.)

“These aren’t just regular albums. There is a ton of work that goes into them. Releasing these Thanksgiving Eve albums for free has been a passion project for Arnold’s owner Chris Breeden and celebrated graphic designer Keith Neltner for over 5 years now,” the press release says. “They handle every aspect of this release from the vinyl pressing all the way to stuffing the records into the sleeves at the end. The project actually won multiple Cincinnati Addy awards over the years as well.”

From this article in CityBeat (a local news source)

The album went on sale yesterday at a bunch of local record stores:

Shake It Records, Everybody’s Records, Plaid Room Records, Torn Light Records, Phil’s Records, Hail Records and Oddities, Morrow Records, Black Plastic Records, Hey Suburbia Records, Three Feathers Records and Spiral Groove Records.

So before you go dropping a bunch of cash on “stuff”… think about spending some $ on the live, local music experience. It’s much more memorable, and much more rewarding.

Word. Smith.

Patti Smith, the punk rock poet priestess. She gets it.

27 little words that say so much. Gratitude. Beauty. Wisdom. Love. Peace.

Envisioning that world is a great start. Working toward it is even better. You have the power. I have the power. We have the power.

 I believe everything we dream
Can come to pass through our union
We can turn the world around
We can turn the earth’s revolution

Patti Smith

Beatles? More like Beat(en-to-death)les!

Well thank goodness the powers that be are using Artificial Intelligence to solve climate change and make healthcare more equitable… oh wait, no, they’re using it to create a “new” Beatles song.

Because that’s what the world really needs… yet another song to go along with every other song in the Beatles catalog that has been overplayed over the past 60 friggin’ years.

I could go the rest of my life without hearing another of their songs and would be fine with that.

Me, about a year ago…

America, please stop with the Beatles obsession. For me. For you. For all of us. Two of them are deceased. It’s time to move on, not time to run some lyrics and melodies through AI and generate something that sounds vaguely like a Beatles song being performed by the Starland Vocal Band or the Ray Conniff Singers. It’s not just a bit cheesy, it’s full-on two-tons-of-Velveeta cheesy. It’s the aural equivalent of this:

The alleged song already has 17,635,546 spins on Spotify. And if you think I’m going to link to the recording of this Drab Four song, you’re more delusional than the folks who think the new song is good.

Here’s a song from an artist named Chris Catalyst. It has 6,516 listens on Spotify. But it’s a million times better.

Maybe Chris Catalyst isn’t your cup of tea. That’s fine. But please, for the love of music, go find another new artist… any new artist… and stop living in the past!