Bob Dylan and me

NOTE:  I began writing this story several months ago, but put it aside.  It’s published now in honor of Bob Dylan receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I first heard about Bob Dylan in 1963 when a radio disc jockey played Peter, Paul and Mary’s record, Blowin’ in the Wind.  I didn’t know what a cover version was in grade school.  But I recall the DJ talking about a young protest singer named Bobby Dylan who wrote the song, a name I initially misheard as Bobby Darin.  Dylan’s name came up some time later when the station played another Peter, Paul and Mary record, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.  Though I still hadn’t heard Bob Dylan, I did begin to appreciate folk music thanks to Peter, Paul and Mary.

The March on Washington was all over the news later that summer and while Martin Luther King had a dream, Bob Dylan had a song.  I finally saw him in a television news piece singing a few lines of Only a Pawn in Their Game.  It began, “A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers’ blood…”  Whoa!  Who the heck is Medgar Evers?  I knew about the the man who shot Liberty Valence, but I’d never heard of this guy Evers or the guy who shot him.  It would be a few more years before I understood the awful truth behind that song, long after Dylan penned his more topical works.

That fall I entered eighth grade and had other things on my mind like girls, cars, and anything California.  Thank you, Beach Boys.  All those things important to a young teenager came crashing down in November with the assassination of a beloved U.S. president.  The accompanying void was filled by homework and more thoughts of girls, cars and anything California.  Until February 1964 when the Beatles changed my world.  I wanted an electric guitar.  I wanted not only to listen to music, I wanted to play it.

Top forty radio — Motown, the Beatles and the rest of the British invasion bands — filled my musical world through freshman year in high school and starting a band became my new pursuit.  The summer of 1965, out of a tinny radio speaker, a new song captured my attention.  If any description of “mind blowing” could be more apt, Mr. Tambourine Man by the Byrds was a perfect fit.  The jangling electric guitar, steady beat and obscure lyrics painted enough vivid pictures in my head, to compel me to get their debut album.

I’m a reader.  So naturally I read the liner notes on the back of the album sleeve.  Bob Dylan’s name was mentioned several times as he’d written four of the album’s twelve songs, including Mr. Tambourine Man.   I liked the album, but was especially knocked out by those four Dylan songs that also included Spanish Harlem Incident, All I Really Want To Do and Chimes of Freedom.  Thus began my pursuit of more Dylan.

The first Bob Dylan album I bought was his newest release at the time, Bringing It All Back Home.  It contained eleven songs, four of them longer than five minutes, including the original Mr. Tambourine Man with more verses than I ever imagined possible.  It got even better when I finally heard Dylan on the radio that summer singing a new one, Like a Rolling Stone.  I was hooked and Dylan was my drug.

Since that time, I’ve never lost my appreciation for Dylan and his music, even though some of his albums garnered few, if any, critical accolades.  I’ve added nearly all of them to my collection, whether in vinyl, compact disc or digital download.  In browsing through my  Dylan vinyl, I even found two different copies of Great White Wonder, the first authentic bootleg album that I still believe might be worth a few bucks someday.  As for Dylan concerts, I’ve only been to three.  They were in 1978, 1986 and in 2008.  I haven’t attended another for a variety of reasons but I listen to enough music any given day to hear a bundle of Bob quite regularly.

His songs remain a part of my acoustic repertoire, a repertoire I performed in campus coffee houses long ago.  Now, I play them for my own enjoyment and to entertain a few friends on occasion.  When you read great literature, you can sometimes quote specific lines or even entire passages from memory. When it comes to Dylan, I once was able to recite all the lyrics to most of his pre-1970 catalog.  Those memories have faded a bit, but I’ll always recall these, among the first I ever learned and, in my admittedly biased view, of Nobel quality…

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands, with all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves.  Let me forget about today until tomorrow.  Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me.  I’m not sleepy and there ain’t no place I’m going to.  Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me.  In that jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you.”

My Mother Should Know: A Beatles Moment

We weren’t all that innocent. Not like the media would have you believe.  We already had rock ‘n’ roll, the very name of which implies a loss of innocence. We had Elvis, though he wasn’t someone who excited me.  I was a little too young to fully appreciate what an older sibling Elvis fan might have liked about him.

Instead, I counted Del Shannon’s Runaway among my favorite songs.  Having memorized the lyrics, I’d sing it aloud bicycling around the neighborhood.  Over time, Gene Pitney’s Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa took over the top spot in my “bicycling aloud” repertoire.  The lyrics to both songs were emblazoned on my brain.  To this day, I still play and sing them whenever the urge to pull out my guitar creeps over me.  Only rarely do I sing either of them aloud anymore while bicycling.

That internal playlist changed on the day I accompanied Mom to the Bonnie Bee Supermarket.  I always enjoyed going to the grocery store with her because I’d get to hang out in the magazine aisle and leaf through the latest issue of Song Hits magazine.  Occasionally I’d make a halfhearted attempt to scan Hot Rod magazine.  What captured my attention on this day, however, was a nearby record rack that housed the week’s top ten hits on 45s.

I’d seen picture sleeves on records before.  Some singles by the Beach Boys had them.  There were other groups with picture sleeves as well.  On this day the one that attracted me had on it a black and white photo of four guys in collarless jackets, the guy on the left sporting a lit cigarette in his fingers.  These were the Beatles I’d been seeing on television news and was hearing on the radio.  That sleeve containing their record, I Want To Hold Your Hand, called out to me.

I walked down one aisle after another, record in hand, to find Mom.  If I could just sneak it into the cart unnoticed, I’d nonchalantly slip it on to the conveyor belt at the checkout as I helped unload groceries.  I chickened out and simply asked her if she’d buy it for me.  My reasoning must have been sound.  In 1963, Mom bought me the first Beatles record I ever owned.

Tonight we saw the Ron Howard film, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years.  The first few minutes of the movie stirred up such a visceral response that I almost pulled out a handkerchief.  My thoughts were drawn back to that day in the Bonnie Bee Supermarket and how Mom gave in to my begging.  Little did she know I’d eventually be asking for an electric guitar.  (I got that too.  Man, I must have been good.)

See the film.  If you’re so moved, post a comment about your first memorable Beatles moment.  And by the way, thanks Mom!

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years official UK trailer

Fun with Electronic Music

A few evenings ago I was sitting in the garage, settled into one of those folding camp chairs, enjoying the warm summer evening and sipping from a bottle of cold, locally crafted beer.   A white Chevrolet drove slowly by.  As it passed, I could hear some pounding drum beat accompanying electronic music.  The car pulled into a parking space around the corner from where I was sitting. A young couple on their way home from work got out and walked past me.  As we glanced at each other, I asked them who I’d just heard coming from their car stereo.

They stopped, and just for a second I’m almost certain they thought I was just some “get off my lawn” grumpy old man who was about to give them crap about their loud music.  Just as quickly they realized that wasn’t the case and that I was really interested in whose music I’d heard.  Smiling, they responded “Alice in Wonderland.”  That’s what I thought they said, but the quizzical look on my face only served to broaden their smiles as they spelled it out, “A-l-i-s-o-n” Wonderland.  I thanked them and they continued their walk home.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for researching a name in the music world.  I already had my tablet with me in the camp chair, just starting on a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories I’d downloaded earlier that day.  Hemingway would have to wait.  Instead I Googled “Alison Wonderland.”

Alison Wonderland, whose given name is Alex Sholler,  is an Australian-born “DJ,” a disc jockey in its truest form.  Otherwise known as a turntablist, Alison is a musician who mixes music and sounds to create electronic dance music (EDM) or “trip hop.”  Regardless of what label it goes by, it sounded pretty good to me, so I checked out some clips of her work.  This clip is from her track called “Run,” released in 2015:

(Alison Wonderland – “Run” [clip])

Some time ago I might have mentioned the first album of electronic music I bought way back when I was in high school.  It was the eponymously titled Silver Apples.  Here’s a clip from the opening track, “Oscillations,” released in 1968:

(Silver Apples – “Oscillations” [clip])

No one I can recall in 1968 ever referred to this as electronic dance music.  In fact, it would be impolite for me to repeat what some of my friends called it back then.  In spite of my half-hearted insistence that it was really worth a listen, my plea fell mostly on deaf ears.  It certainly wasn’t anything to which we felt compelled to dance along.  Today, if I was a DJ, I’d slip a little Silver Apples into my dance mix just to see if anyone would notice.  It just might sound like this:

(Alison Apples – Runscillation [mix clip])

Makes you wonder if Thomas Edison and the pioneers of volts, watts and amps ever imagined dancing to the blips and beeps they discovered.  I suspect they’d be blown away for sure.


Layers.  Stacks.  Platters.  Records.  Music.  It’s a word association game played in my head that invariably ends up leading to music.  To a classically trained musician, layers comprise the texture of music and determine whether the piece is monophonic, polyphonic or homophonic.  I’m not a classically trained musician, so my image of music layers is mainly limited to a stack of vinyl records sitting on a phonograph spindle waiting for their chance  on a spinning turntable to impress a pair of ears.

A surrealistic interpretation of a record stack was created for the cover of a Rolling Stones album, Let It Bleed.

If you examine all the layers stacked on that record-changer spindle you’ll likely see a cake plate, an open reel tape canister labeled “Stones – Let It Bleed,” a clock face, a pizza, a small tire and an elaborately decorated cake, complete with miniature figures of the band members.  Now those are some layers!

As for the music inside that cover?  Definitely melody-dominated homophonic layers of voices, guitars, drums, piano and more.  I’d love to write more, but I’m lying in bed under a layer of sheets, drifting off to sleep.  Sometimes there are just too many layers to think about and besides, You Can’t Always Get What You Want.



Ok.  I’m late.  I signed up for this WordPress thing called “The Daily Post,” the main purpose of which is to present blog writers with an inspiring word each day.  From there, authors are expected to become inspired enough by that word to write a captivating blog entry, preferably 250 words or less.  The word that inspired me, “clouds,” came up on the day we were preparing to travel 750 miles by car to another state.  Since then, a couple more days have passed.  I’ve had to ignore newer Daily Posts so I could think more about clouds.

Clouds was the first Joni Mitchell album I ever heard, but not the first time I’d heard her song from that collection, Both Sides Now, in which she mentions having “looked at clouds from both sides now.”  If you’ve flown, you’ve likely shared that exhilarating experience.  Judy Collins scored a hit with Both Sides Now in 1967, two years before Joni Mitchell released it herself on the Clouds album.

Looking at “both sides now” appears to be a major problem with a lot of people these days.  It’s especially an issue among those of us who’ve climbed aboard a political or religious bandwagon, parading around wearing blinders to avoid looking at different positions or beliefs held by others.  As the song goes on, “I really don’t know clouds at all.”  More folks might consider owning up to that… and then doing something to rectify it.


Summer’s here and the time is right…

On this first day of summer, with a full moon rising at the end of a long day, I’m reminded of two songs.  Each of them includes the identical phrase, “Summer’s here and the time is right for…”  But the similarities stop there.

Martha and the Vandellas brought us an uplifting Dancing in the Street in 1964 during the peak of the civil rights movement.  Most of us heard a good beat that was easy to dance to.  And dance we did, at times with great fervor!  But an undercurrent of racial tensions that summer led to the song being banned from some radio stations whose management feared the song fanned the flames of civil unrest and would lead to rioting in the street.  Nonetheless, Dancing in the Street climbed to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  It’s now one of 50 songs preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”

Four years later, the Rolling Stones provided a more strident take on summertime in their 1968 song, Street Fighting Man.  In place of dancing, the Stones sang about “marching, charging feet” and “the time is right for fighting in the street.”  The song became a passionate anthem of protest against the Vietnam war during my college years.  Street Fighting Man was covered by Rod Stewart on his debut solo album the following year.  When I attended his concert in Chicago not long after that, he refused to perform the song, fearing (perhaps with some justification) reprisals even two years after the Democratic National Convention debacle there.

On this first day of summer, which will it be for you?  Marching or dancing?  Whatever you choose, do it with fervor and with passion.

Note: Here are links to the two songs mentioned in the article.  Each will open in a separate tab in your browser:
Dancing in the Street by Martha and the Vandellas (Buy the mp3 download)
Street Fighting Man by the Rolling Stones (Buy the mp3 download)

Snowflakes Are Dancing

It snowed in northern Wisconsin recently.  A bit unusual for mid-May, but not entirely unheard of.  I couldn’t help thinking those snowflakes, swirling in the chilly air, were dancing in tribute to yet another fallen artist.  Isao Tomita was a Moog synthesizer virtuoso who died at the age of 84 on May 11, 2016.  Forty-two years ago I was introduced to what became his most famous work.

Snowflakes Are Dancing

Snowflakes Are Dancing was an album of Claude Debussy’s “tone paintings” interpreted by Tomita on the Moog.  It wasn’t the first album of electronic music I’d heard.  Just before graduating high school, I was flipping through the “Psychedelic” bin in the record section of a local department store one day, searching for some unconventional music.  (I was already a fan of the Mothers of Invention.)  A shiny, silver cover bearing the title Silver Apples grabbed my attention.  It was recorded by a duo bearing that name and has since been cited as the first collection of experimental electronic music.

I plunked down a couple bucks and brought it home for a trial listen.  At first I didn’t care much for the pulsating, sometimes discordant, driving beat of synthesized sounds.  Nonetheless, I continued to play it occasionally just to hear something different.  Until my freshman year in college.  It was then the album was sold along with some others in what would be the first of several record purges over the next few years.  How much I regret purging some of those albums is a story for another time.

Most of my college listening (and occasional performing) involved serious folk-rock music, much of which carried with it a message of protest.  But a spark of interest in the strange and exotic sound of electronica was rekindled after college, fueled in part by movie soundtracks like A Clockwork Orange.  The film featured works performed on the Moog synthesizer by Walter Carlos.  (Later he became Wendy Carlos.)  Carlos had already gained notoriety with his 1968 Grammy-winning album, Switched On Bach, a collection of music by Johann Sebastian Bach played on the Moog.  He composed the electronic music for A Clockwork Orange three years later.

I picked up both albums and shortly after that acquisition, purloined one track from Switched On Bach to use as background music for a National Library Week promotional film I co-produced in the mid-seventies.  It featured card catalog drawers opening and closing on their own, created with stop-action animation effects that appeared to be in sync with the music.  The spot aired for a brief time on local cable television.  I wish I knew whatever became of it.

In the meantime, on November 2, 1973, I attended my first Moog synthesizer concert, promoted as a “multimedia performance of light, film and synthesized music.”  The soloist was Morton Subotnick, whose press kit highlighted his contribution of electronic effects for the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey.   It turns out my expectations were fulfilled neither in sight nor sound.  2001: A Space Odyssey it definitely was not.

A few months after that concert, undaunted by my disappointment with Subotnick’s performance, I acquired Tomita’s Snowflakes Are Dancing album. The atmospheric interpretations of Debussy’s works blew me away.  I loaned it to an amateur filmmaker friend who used it as the soundtrack to a short work he entered in an international film festival.  He had cast me in the lead role, so it was the least I could do in return.  After that, I played the LP until it wore out.  For years I’d be reminded of Tomita upon hearing a Moog synth in prog rock music.  Lucky Man, by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, for example.

Only recently did Snowflakes Are Dancing rejoin my playlist after noticing the recording among a listing of digital titles available online.  Who would have thought the electronic music produced forty-two years ago is now downloaded electronically and paid for electronically as well?  Far out!

Perhaps those late snowflakes in northern Wisconsin were dancing for Isao Tomita, who forever left his footprints in the snow and his fingerprints on the Moog.


Statistics, More Statistics and Cover Versions

My friend and neighbor, Caryl (Home Sweet Abbey), sent me an article from Chart Attack, a Canadian music publication, titled Old Music is Outselling New Music for the First Time in History.  The piece was published online January 20, 2016 and cites A.C. Nielsen’s annual year end music sales report for 2015 compared to 2014.  For the first time in music sales history, albums released more than 18 months ago outsold current releases by more more than four million copies.  It’s important to note this phenomenon involved physical album sales.  Digital sales of current album releases were still slightly ahead, but individual track sales were predominantly “oldies,” which now defines music more than 18 months old.  Among other things, the author cited another Nielsen report stating that “Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon sold 50,000 records this past year, the third highest selling album on vinyl.”

Digging for more information on this topic (and stretching an analogy), I determined the article cited above is a “cover version” of a previous report.  Let me explain.

On Stereogum, a daily Internet publication focusing on music news, there was an article titled Old Albums Outselling New Albums For The First Time Ever published way back on July 19, 2012 by a different author who cites similar Nielsen statistics.  Dark Side of the Moon is also mentioned as a big seller in this piece, and both articles use Pink Floyd’s album cover as the primary graphic.  But what’s interesting is that in spite of nearly fours years separating publication of these two articles, each claims the same phenomenon to have occurred for the “first time.”  The earlier date of this article might distinguish it as the “original version.”

Yet another author covered the topic in greater detail on a UK Internet website, Music Business Worldwide, titled ‘Old’ Albums Now Outsell New Albums on iTunes in America on January 29, 2015.  In its extensive sales analysis, this article examined declining physical record sales when compared to digital download sales.  Interestingly, the author points out the difference between the 2012 stats, for which “oldies” sales were only a momentary blip, and 2015 stats, which showed a full year trend.  Instead of Pink Floyd, he chose Bob Marley’s classic Legend album for the main graphic.  Apparently, Legend was the fifth biggest-selling vinyl album of 2014 in the U.S.  Let’s say this “cover” article is analogous to Eric Clapton’s soft-rock cover of Marley’s reggae song I Shot the Sheriff.  Clapton’s version captured Grammy Hall of Fame honors.

Finally, on January 25, 2016 a fourth author who, after only a five day waiting period, used the same title as the first article mentioned above, Old Music Outselling New Music For First Time in History, took a completely different approach, essentially offering an opinion which, in a nutshell, was “new music sucks.” That pretty much summed it up.  The online publication, Western Voices World News, isn’t devoted solely to music, which perhaps made a difference in the depth of analysis.  This particular “cover version” might be comparable to keeping the same song title, but using kazoos instead of voices to replace the lyrics.

Searching around, I found several other “covers” of the same article. Fortunately, I was listening to the radio during this investigation and heard some surprising cover versions of old songs breathed new life by contemporary bands. The first was Little Honda, a 1964 Beach Boys tune (first covered by the Hondells) more recently covered by Yo La Tengo.  Next was the 1964 Grammy winning, country-pop novelty song that I never really liked much, Dang Me by Roger Miller, brilliantly covered by alternative country artist, Buddy Miller (no relation).  A wonderful band called Whitehorse just released an EP with a sultry cover of Chuck Berry’s 1964 Nadine.  And in just the past hour, I heard Laura Love do justice to the memory of Kurt Cobain, covering his 1992 Nirvana composition Come As You Are.  Not two minutes after that, it was Sly & the Family Stone’s 1969 Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself Again recorded in 1970 by jazz saxophonist Maceo Parker & All the King’s Men.

One thing is certain.  The lines of music sales graphs start to blur slightly when we discuss what’s old and what’s new and what’s selling right now.  But when you listen to those songs on the radio, it doesn’t really matter.  After 18 months they’re all considered oldies anyway.


Rockin’ My Valentine

Quick!  Name your top ten favorite rock ‘n’ roll love songs.  Got ’em?  Okay, here’s my list.  Not in any particular order.  It’s a mix of sad and happy (sappy?), rock and soul, mostly dusty old tunes.

1.  God Only Knows – The Beach Boys.  I truly believe in my heart this is among the best songs ever written. Period.  “I may not always love you.  But long as there are stars above you, you never need to doubt it.  I’ll make you so sure about it.  God only knows what I’d be without you.”  I rest my case.

2.  Crying – Roy Orbsion.  A masterpiece of pure melancholy.  This guy runs into an old flame and it stirs up a firestorm of emotions in his still broken heart.  “Yes, now you’re gone and from this moment on, I’ll be crying, crying, crying, crying.  Yeah crying, crying, over you.”  Holy crescendo, Batman!  By the way, Rebekah Del Rio’s cover of Crying (Llorando) from David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive is hauntingly awesome.

3.  Something – The Beatles.  From the moment the Beatles sang Love Me Do until their 1970 breakup, they were all about love.  Nothing bearing the Lennon/McCartney writing credit quite matches up to George Harrison’s heartfelt homage to his wife, Patti Boyd.  Not even Yesterday.  Just my humble opinion.  “Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover…

4.  Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones.  Maybe they didn’t get much satisfaction, but when they did, they didn’t want to let it go.  And this song is a reflection of that and so much more.  “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.  Wild, wild horses.  We’ll ride them someday…”  You can almost feel those horses pulling on your heartstrings.

5.  In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel.  If eyes are the gateway to your soul, then this song is the gateway to your heart.  I  prefer the eleven minute live version on his Secret World Live album.  “In your eyes I see the light, the heat in your eyes.  Oh, I want to be that complete.  I want to touch the light, the heat I see in your eyes…”  The Jeffrey Gaines acoustic cover of In Your Eyes is a masterpiece to behold.

6.  I Want You – Bob Dylan.  I confess to having an affair of the heart with Dylan and his music.  In a recent commercial, “Your major themes are time passes and love fades,” IBM’s artificial intelligence software dubbed Watson tells Bob after a computer analysis of his songs.  “I want you.  I want you.  I want you, so bad.  Honey, I want you.”  Blonde On Blonde contains the definitive version, but the oft-scorned Bob Dylan at Budokan interpretation reveals a wistful Dylan accompanied only by ethereal flute and organ.

7.  Moondance – Van Morrison.  “Van the Man” captures the perfect autumn evening, perhaps with a campfire and a shared bottle of Pinot Noir.  I know.  I’ve been there.  Guitar in hand, serenading my sweetheart.  She knows.  She wouldn’t let me forget.  “It’s a marvelous night… Can I just have one more moon dance with you, my love?  Can I just make some more romance with you, my love?

8.  My Girl – The Temptations.  One of the great prom songs.  Just about every garage band I knew played their hearts out on My Girl.  Some even tried to copy the Temptations’ choreography.  Most failed.  “I’ve got all the riches, baby, that one man can claim.  I guess you’d say, what can make me feel this way?  My girl.  Talkin’ ’bout my girl.

9. All I Have To Do Is Dream – The Everly Brothers.  A guilty pleasure shared between my sweetheart and me.  Oh, those long days and weeks between our rendezvous.  “When I want you in my arms.  When I want you and all your charms.  Whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream.  Dream, dream, dream.”  Living two hundred miles apart can leave you dreaming your life away.

10.  Let’s Stay Together – Al Green.  Arguably the last of the great soul singers, Al Green transforms any cozy evening in front of a warm, glowing fireplace into a romantic tryst in Paris.  When no one else can warm your heart, Al can.  “Ooh, baby.  Let’s, let’s stay together.  Loving you whether times are good or bad, happy or sad.”  Years after the original version, Tina Turner made it her own as well.  Al and Tina.  Ooh, baby…

❤️  What are your favorite love songs?  ❤️


Best Singer in the Business…

I shook the hand of “the best singer in the business.”

That’s a bold claim that was brought to mind while watching the Frank Sinatra 100th Birthday Tribute televised last night.  No, I never shook Sinatra’s hand.  Nonetheless, it was something he said in the 1960s that supports my claim today.  Back then, I’d hear an occasional Sinatra song on the radio or see him perform on a late night variety show.  Was he egotistical enough to claim the title “best singer in the business” for himself?  He certainly had the swagger, the impeccably tailored suits and, most importantly, the talent that had earned him nicknames like “The Voice,” “Chairman of the Board” and “Ol’ Blue Eyes.”  But he wasn’t referring to himself, even though he perhaps really was the best.  He was talking about Tony Bennett.  Sinatra had once said of Bennett, “For my money, Tony Bennett is the best singer in the business.”

Sylvia and I saw Tony Bennett perform with Diana Krall at Ravinia on their “Two for the Road” tour during the summer of 2000.  By that time, having known his real name was Anthony Dominick Benedetto, we’d begun referring to him as “Uncle Tony.”  Before the Ravinia concert I’d only seen him perform on television, including an appearance on MTV Unplugged in 1994.  For my birthday later that year, I scored a CD soundtrack recording of the MTV show.  It won a Grammy the following year in 1995.

When his autobiography, The Good Life, was published in 1998, I wanted an autographed first edition.  Luckily for me, Uncle Tony was appearing at a Barnes & Noble bookstore signing event nearby.  The line waiting to buy his book from one of several tables stacked high didn’t appear nearly as long as the line that coiled around the store aisles, fans like me pursuing an autograph.  A sales clerk handed me a book as I completed signing the credit card receipt.  Then I joined the slow-moving snake of shuffling feet winding their way around bookshelves to a low platform where Tony Bennett was signing autographs, flanked by men in dark glasses looking like Secret Service agents.

He appeared almost trance-like until, catching him off guard, I greeted him in Italian, “Zi’ntonio!  Come stai?”  His eyes blinked a couple of times, then he smiled broadly and responded, “Sta bene!”   He signed my book as well as the MTV Unplugged CD I’d brought along.  Looking me in the eye he said, “That Unplugged CD is my favorite recording.”  I replied that it was my favorite too as he grasped my extended hand.

So, I’d have to agree.  Uncle Tony is the best singer in the business.  Just ask the Chairman of the Board.