Readin’, writin’, reviewin’

I haven’t been writing much lately.  I’m not much of a writer anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.  Most of my time now is spent listening to music, new and old — and I use “old” in the very broadest sense, applying to recorded music from the 1920s onward — to determine what the next playlist for my radio show, Life Out of Tunes, should sound like.

Some folks experience personal catharsis from writing.  For others, like me, it becomes a task.  It’s frustrating to “think” wonderful prose and not be able to transfer it to actual words on paper or a screen.  My thoughts are fleeting.  Perhaps I should take a cue from James Joyce and simply let my stream of consciousness flow out on to the keyboard or the notebook.  That would work if I wasn’t so easily distracted by a tune playing in my head, or on the radio, or on the stereo.

Now, most of the writing I’m able to accomplish is in the form of brief reviews for new CD releases.  When I was a working library professional, I wrote more than a hundred brief (150 words or less) book reviews for Library Journal, mainly covering two subject areas.  One was humor.  The other could be described generally as the social impact of technology.  Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.

Al Franken

Here’s one of my book reviews from 1999 I had framed along with a personally autographed publicity still of its author, Al Franken.  Al’s book was titled Why Not Me? The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency.  If you’re wondering into what category his book fell, it was humor.  He was a just a comedian at that time and didn’t run for a senate seat until ten years later.  The book’s premise about a Franken presidency was funny.  Franken’s actual political career in the Senate was serious.  I wish he were still in office now and actually considering that run for a Franken Presidency.

No, I haven’t framed any music reviews. Yet.  They’re not actually published anywhere other than in a DJ discussion group for the community radio station, Asheville FM, where I volunteer as the host of my show, Life Out of Tunes, among other things, including as a new music reviewer.  In a year since starting there as a DJ, I’ve written and posted about thirty or so reviews.  The hundred book reviews I wrote for Library Journal spanned about twenty years, so I should be hitting my stride soon.

Beginning Saturday, October 27, 2018, Asheville FM will enter it’s week-long Fall Fund Drive.  The goal is to raise $30,000 during that time.  Even for a volunteer-driven, community radio station that broadcasts locally and streams its signal worldwide via the Internet, listener support is crucial for our ongoing operations.  Please consider giving any amount you can to support community radio.  And thanks for listening to Life Out of Tunes on Asheville FM!

~Joey Books, host of Life Out of Tunes

LOOT 1957 Orthophonic

Fifty Years Ago: Volume One

I attended my fifty-year high school class reunion recently.  Another one of those “golden anniversary” milestones intended to make you feel grateful you’re “not dead yet.”

The best part of the reunion gathering was reconnecting with classmates who also were members of a garage band I was in fifty years ago.  The band was “Volume One” and our legacy will remain largely confined to whatever each of the four remaining members recalls about the experience.  To that end, here are my recollections.

Volume One formed in May 1968, rising from the debris of two splintered garage bands, the Jaywalkers and the No Left Turns.  Classmates Dean (bass), Mike (rh gtr/kb), Joe S. (voc/tr) and I (voc) along with two other guys, Tony (ld gtr/voc) and Dick (dr/voc) picked up the pieces of our collectively shattered past, met together in my parents’ basement and launched a musical endeavor that lasted only through the summer of ’68.  But what an amazing summer it was!

In addition to each of us working conventional summer jobs, the band rehearsed in my basement twice a week. By the end of June we’d honed a repertoire of songs in front of various siblings, friends and neighbors who would stop by to listen.  The set list took shape and included songs by Hendrix, the Animals, the Stones and Cream among others.

In July, Volume One debuted as the break band for the One Eyed Jacks from Champaign, Illinois at the E.J. Dalton Youth Center in Rockton, Illinois.  August found us in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin playing at the community center for a teen dance.  Some city officials there harped about our decibel level being too high and demanded that we “turn it down.” When I asked them them to produce a decibel meter, they threatened to unplug us.  The hiring agent intervened and argued that the kids loved us.  She handed me a check for the contracted amount and told us to continue playing.  We finished the show without incident.

Volume One played their third job at our beloved hometown Club Pop House.  It was the pinnacle of our short-lived career together as a band.  Our final gig was as a contestant in a “Battle of the Bands” at the Meadow in Janesville, Wisconsin.  We placed third, winning a twenty-five dollar gift certificate at the local music store.  I’m not sure what became of it before we finally split up for the last time, each of us going his own way.

On Monday, August 6, 2018 I’ll feature a segment of three songs from the original artists (People!, Cream and Vanilla Fudge) that my 1968 garage band, Volume One, played as part of its regular set list fifty years ago.  Tune in to Asheville FM (ashevillefm.org) Monday, August 6 at 2:00 pm EDT for “Life Out of Tunes” with Joey Books.

 

VolOne
Volume One (1968) Clockwise from left: Tony, Mike, Joe A., Joe S., Dean, Dick

 

 

Summerfest 1971 and beyond

Summerfest is an annual music festival held in a permanent, seventy-five acre Festival Park along the beautiful shoreline of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The festival runs for eleven days, on eleven stages, with performances from more than 800 acts with over a 1,000 performances.  Since the 1970s, it’s run from late June through early July.  Summerfest attracts between eight and nine hundred thousand people each year, making it “The World’s Largest Music Festival,” a title that’s been certified by Guinness World Records since 1999.

My first experience at Summerfest was in 1971. Though memories of these things sometimes fade, I located newspaper clippings published at that time to corroborate my recollection.  Among other things I recall, it was a very wet experience.

710726 MilJour Summerfest.jpg

Admission to the festival grounds was a dollar fifty at the gate or an even dollar if you bought a mail order ticket in advance. There  were no additional postage or handling charges.  Just mail a buck with a SASE.  Postage was eight cents back then.  A savings of just thirty-four cents, once you subtract the cost for two stamps, wasn’t even enough incentive for a college kid to plan ahead.  Besides, my summer job at the local cheese factory kept me in enough pocket money to enjoy an occasional concert spontaneously.

This event was on a Sunday, the final day of the festival.  Early on, it had been promoted as a “Surprise Rock Spectacular.”  The acts were revealed just two weeks before the show. They were John Sebastian, recently gone solo from the Luvin’ Spoonful; Poco, founded by some former Buffalo Springfield members; and Mountain, four loud, hard rockers led by behemoth guitar shredder, Leslie West.  A band named Tayles, from Madison, Wisconsin, and Mylon, a southern gospel-rock group were the opening acts.

Fifty thousand music fans were gathering at the Lakefront Amphitheater stage when my date and I arrived late Sunday afternoon.  It had been raining intermittently all day, leaving a sparkling sheen on every exposed surface.

Like today, Summerfest was sponsored primarily by Milwaukee’s famous breweries.  Miller High Life and Pabst Blue Ribbon are perhaps the only originals still around.  Unlike today, festival beer was served up in glass bottles.  A new minimum drinking age of eighteen had been enacted recently, so there was plenty of bottled beer consumption, resulting in plenty of empty bottles.

One newspaper account had listed John Sebastian as the concert headliner, clearly an error as we’d suspected and confirmed by handbills posted on the festival grounds.  Mountain would be the main attraction. We missed Mylon who, I learned recently, was managed by Felix Pappalardi of Mountain, the concert headliners.   We arrived instead near the end of Tayles’ set.

I’d really been looking forward to hearing Poco and hoped the concert wouldn’t be affected by the rain which had started up again.  After a lengthy delay, Poco came out on stage, tuned up a bit, and began playing.

After just two songs, Hurry Up and Hear That Music, frontman Richie Furay tersely announced that Rusty Young, their pedal steel guitarist, had been hit by a beer bottle.  To my great disappointment, Poco abruptly left the stage as loud booing and buckets of rain began to pour forth.

When the rain eventually eased up, a soggy audience cheered as John Sebastian, acoustic guitar in hand, strolled out to a microphone and announced, “I’ll play for ya. Jus’ don’t throw no bottles at me.”  He played an entire set and two encores without incident.  Memorable songs included Younger GirlDarlin’ Be Home Soon and Red-Eye Express.  Sometimes all it takes to tame an otherwise unruly concert crowd is politely asking not to be a beer-bottle target.

Finally, as rain continued to fall, Mountain took the stage.  Leslie West, Felix Pappalardi, Corky Laing, and Steve Knight simply blew us away.  If any bottles were thrown toward the stage during Mountain’s set, the high decibel sound waves might’ve stopped them in flight.  I could still hear Nantucket Sleighride, Mississippi Queen, and For Yasgur’s Farm ringing in my ears on the long drive home after the show.  It helped me forget about how wet and cold we were.

In four decades of semi-regular Summerfest attendance since then, I’ve heard such notable artists as Roy Orbison, the Moody Blues, Robin Trower, Linda Ronstadt, Kansas, Michael Franti, the Freddy Jones Band, Green Children and many others, including jazz, folk and blues musicians from all over the world.  There were rising stars and those at the end of long careers.  I saw comedian Billy Crystal perform there early in his career, and heard Linda Ronstadt announce to the Milwaukee crowd, “It’s so great to be here in Indiana!”  We were quick to correct her geography.  My wife saw comedian George Carlin arrested by Milwaukee police for performing his Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television routine.

The biggest stars continue to perform at Summerfest in what’s now a 25,000-seat amphitheater at one end of the festival grounds for which tickets are sold at much higher prices than Summerfest’s nominal gate cost.  And though it’s no longer just a buck fifty for general admission, Summerfest remains one of the best bargains for live music around, still hosting hundreds of musical acts on eleven different stages, over eleven consecutive days.

On my July 2, 2018 radio show, Life Out of Tunes on Asheville FM, I’ll be spinning songs from that first Summerfest experience and from other artists I’ve heard at the festival over the years.

Memorial Day: I ain’t marching anymore

My father and his brother both served their country in the Army during World War II.  My uncle, who was based in Australia, saw combat action in the South Pacific.  Dad was training to be a tail gunner in the Army Air Force, but missed combat as the war ended prior to his deployment.

While in college during the Vietnam war, I took part in anti-war demonstrations, marches and rallies.  I still have a letter from U.S. Representative Les Aspin in response to concerns about the war I’d written in a missive to him.  He understood and promised to work toward ending the war.  The continuing anti-war movement resonates with me today.

In 1971, over a Memorial Day weekend when I was home for the summer from college, my uncle and his family came to visit.  Being an occasional coffeehouse folksinger, trying to learn a handful of new tunes whenever the opportunity arose, I’d brought home with me some sheet music.  I’d set the pages to one song, an anti-war anthem titled I Ain’t Marching Anymore by Phil Ochs, on my mother’s spinet piano.  My uncle spotted it there, picked it up and stared at it.  I braced myself for the blowback.

A few long seconds passed, when to my great surprise he turned to me and said, “This is really good.  How does it go?”  I sang I few bars a cappella for him.  He picked up the tune straight away and we both continued to sing the next couple of verses together.  Dad even joined in.  Soon we were discussing the Vietnam war and concluded that future wars should be avoided at all cost.

Let’s not forget why we enjoy this long holiday weekend.  Memorial Day is observed to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military.  The holiday wasn’t established for businesses to promote “mattress sale extravaganzas” or for car dealerships to offer “holiday blowouts.”  Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated sometime after the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971, the same day my dad, my uncle and I sang I Ain’t Marching Anymore together.

The message of the song is clear.  Let’s cease adding to the roll call of those who fall in battle, to be honored for a few hours one day a year.  It’s time to give peace a chance… every day.

Fundraising or Fun-raising?

Most of you know I have a weekly music show on a local community radio station in Asheville.  As a matter of fact, it goes by the same name as this blog, Life Out of Tunes.  It’s a joy for me to play music for a listening audience and it’s fun to know those listeners are not only from here in Asheville, but from anywhere in the country and perhaps the world.

Spring Fund Drive Logo by Jess Speer

In order to make that happen, many resources are needed — human, technical and financial.  The community radio station for which I volunteer, Asheville FM, is no different with regard to those needs.  That’s why twice each year we hold fund drives.  With spring now in full swing, we are celebrating the season with new ideas and new goals to make our commercial-free radio station even better and stronger than it is now!

The Asheville FM spring fund raiser begins Saturday, April 28 and runs through Friday, May 4.  Our focus this time is GROWTH.  Community radio is a powerful medium, but we need your support to continue presenting more than sixty shows spanning virtually every genre of music, as well as providing news and community interest programming.  Our goal is $23,000.  It’s ambitious, but attainable.  So please consider contributing any amount by clicking on the DONATE button next time you visit AshevilleFM.org(If you call the station at (828) 259-3936 and pledge or donate during my show, Life Out of Tunes, on Monday, April 30 between 2:00 and 3:00 pm Eastern time, I’ll be especially grateful!)

That brings to mind some memories.  In 1982 I was associate director of the Janesville (WI) Public Library.  I also fronted a band named Heavy Chevy & the Circuit Riders.  We were a fifties and sixties rock ‘n’ roll revival band that specialized in working fund raisers for schools and other non-profit organizations.  Here we are rehearsing just before a library fundraiser.  (That’s me in the green shirt.)

Heavy Chevy & the Circuit Riders (1982)

Later that year I was asked to co-host local televised segments of the annual Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon alongside Janesville school district’s PR manager and the manager of Total TV.  During the telethon I offered to shave off my mustache while on camera for a specific donation.  I don’t recall the dollar amount.  A donor called to offer the requested amount, but asked me to shave only half the mustache.  His hope, he said, was that someone else would call with the same donation amount to shave off the rest.  Someone brought me a can of shaving cream and a razor. I continued the telethon with only half-a-stache until a second caller made the rest come off.  Another caller who recognized me from a Heavy Chevy gig requested that I recite the spoken interlude of a song, Little Darlin’  by the Diamonds.  It was a song from the Heavy Chevy playlist, so I accommodated her request and she made her donation.

Telethon ad from Sept 5, 1982 Janesville Gazette

Isn’t it a shame no visual archive of that telethon show exists?   Well, perhaps not.  Unfortunately, though, there is an audio-visual archive of Heavy Chevy & the Circuit Riders on YouTube.  Here is:

The Ballad of Heavy Chevy

Please give generously to support community radio on Asheville FM !
Thank you !

Good Friday. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

For this solemn time, I’m resurrecting a true story of Good Friday I first recounted two years ago…

I used to be an altar boy.  The prerequisites weren’t complicated.  Attending a Catholic grade school, being male and having a pulse were the basic requirements.  Most boys who’d made their first communion were expected to become altar boys and most parents expected their boys would serve.  We were called Knights of the Altar.

Sister Mary Marcelia was adviser to the Knights of the Altar.  Under her guidance, prospective altar boys memorized Latin responses to numerous prayers comprising the Mass.  We’d stand before Sister and repeat Latin supplications from memory until they were flawless.  Woe unto any boy who didn’t learn the correct responses.  Long, solitary sessions raising random three-digit numbers to the twelfth power were typical reparations for serious Latin infractions.

My neighbor Jim was a year younger than me.  He was my partner on this Good Friday, the most solemn day on any liturgical calendar.  I was in the eighth grade and a seasoned altar boy by that time.  Together, Jim and I were to process into the church nave and proceed to a side altar.  Once there, our task was to kneel for half an hour in vigil,  relieving two of our fellow Knights who were finishing their thirty-minute shift. This ceremony had begun earlier and was repeated throughout the day.

The church and the school were adjacent, the school hallway extending through double doors into the church narthex.  On this Good Friday afternoon, Jim and I donned red cassocks and white surplices in the school library which was the furthest point from the doors leading into the narthex.  Our robes had been moved into the library from their regular closet behind the altar.  With altar boys shuffling around every half hour, it was thought the potential for noisy traffic behind the altar might distract the dozen or so faithful parishioners praying, dozing or daydreaming in the pews.

Jim and I arrived separately for our shift.  Upon robing in the library, we trotted down the long school hallway and through the double doors of the church narthex where we immediately slowed our pace, folded our hands and solemnly processed side-by-side down the center aisle.  As rehearsed previously, we approached a kneeler in front of the side altar where, in a series of well-choreographed genuflections, we relieved our two colleagues.

Our shift ended without incident.  After thirty minutes, Jim and I were relieved.  A few more genuflections and we soberly processed out of the church.  Upon exciting, we raced up the school hallway and back into the library to hang up our robes among the others on a portable chrome rack stationed there.

Our first mistake was to explore the open door at one end of the library from which we could see only darkness in the room beyond.  Naturally, we walked over and flipped on the light switch just to see what was in there.  In an instant we spotted a massive, gray desk and control panel with switches and dials.  An office chair on wheels was tucked under the desk.  Upon that desk stood a glorious public address microphone on a stand into which was set a large, black push button.

By virtue of some careless adult leaving this door ajar, Jim and I had stumbled into an inner sanctum where bus announcements, accolades, admonitions and daily prayers were broadcast daily.  Eyes wide, we approached the control panel with unbridled curiosity.  “Let’s see how it works.” I suggested.  “Okay!” Jim agreed.

We depressed the main power button, flipped a couple of numbered switches and turned up a dial.  The panel lit up and meters began to glow.  “Let’s sing something,”  I said.  I was a showman even then.  We decided on the biggest hit song of the day.  If we could get through one chorus, we’d quickly shut everything down, grab our jackets and hustle out the door.

Pressing down the microphone button, we crooned, “She loves you.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  She loves you. Yeah, yeah, yeah!  She loves you.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeaaaaah!”  Whoa!  We could hear our voices echoing over speakers in the deserted school hallway.  Releasing the button, we shouted “Let’s get outta here!”

We hadn’t yet removed our cassocks and surplices.  It was a crucial oversight.  We tore off our robes and flung them on the mobile rack, chattering madly about hearing ourselves sing over the school P.A. system.  Jim walked out, heading toward home.  I stalled a few seconds to peruse the library bookshelves for nothing in particular.  In a flash, Father Fagan burst through the door, red-faced and bellowing “Who did that?”  He stared directly into my face.

Given time to find my composure, I might have responded more contritely.  Instead, I blurted out, “He did!” pointing out the window toward the parking lot where Jim was scurrying away.  For a second, I thought Father believed I wasn’t involved.  He stomped out without another word.  I buttoned up my jacket and hurried out, following Jim’s route toward home.

On Saturday morning my mother answered the phone.  I watched as the expression on her face changed from day-before-Easter, dye-the-eggs pleasantness, into a formidable scowl.  The cat was out of the bag and Sister Marcelia was informing Mom of our indiscreet vocal performance.  You see, the school P.A. system also broadcast into the church.

I spent much of the following week mindlessly raising random three-digit numbers to the twelfth power after school, under the watchful eye of Sister Marcelia.  It provided an opportunity to reflect upon the seriousness of what I’d done… also to hum Beatles songs and consider what a great name Knights of the Altar would be for a band.

Eighth Grade

 

Dust-to-Digital

Saint Joseph’s Day, a Sicilian holiday, is March 19 and coincides this year with my Monday “Life Out of Tunes” radio show.  So I’m re-posting this article about my Grandfather Giuseppe, originally published more than two years ago.  I’ll take a few minutes on Monday’s show to feature Grandpa, his music and some Saint Joseph’s Day traditions…

Today, I received a pleasant surprise.  A year or so ago I was contacted by Professor James Leary from the University of Wisconsin.   Jim is a folklore historian who was researching material for a book about the ethnic folk music of Wisconsin.  We chatted about my Grandfather, who I wrote about here previously, and of his recording session in 1946 that was part of a federally-funded project begun in the 1930s to collect and preserve folk songs of native Americans and immigrants in their own languages.  (See my previous blog post: The Sicilian Wedding Singer.)  Our email exchanges also revealed that Jim and I had been classmates at Notre Dame.

About a month ago an envelope arrived from the office of professor Leary in which a letter was enclosed offering a discount on his newly published book and CD collection entitled Folk Songs from Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946.  The mailing targeted descendants and family members who served as “research informants” for the individuals whose voices and stories appeared in the book.

I ordered a copy without hesitation and it arrived today.  Jim included a photo and a story about my Grandfather Accardi in his book.  Not only that, an accompanying CD contains a track of Grandpa Giuseppe singing one of the Italian songs he recorded, Tic-ti, Tic-ta.  The song’s lyrics, in Italian with English translation, along with its history are described also.

What an honor it is to know that my Grandfather’s songs and the folk songs of many other immigrants and native Americans, continue to be relevant decades later in Professor Leary’s “Dust-to-Digital” research and book.  Thanks, Jim!