Meeting a Sandcastle at High Tide

It was a warm summer afternoon in a small town in southern New Hampshire, back in the summer of ’79, and it had finally arrived. Summer vacation had just begun, and for this group of friends gathered around the family pool, the air was ripe with the kind of optimism and mystery that only a teenager can have – you know, that “anything can happen” feeling that occupies the youthful soul. Staring at the pool in cheerful content, they basked in the warmth of the sun while listening to the “Woodstock” soundtrack booming out a bedroom window. The youngest in this pack, a couple of eleven year old boys who were a few months away from starting junior high, seemed more than intrigued by some of these “new” electric sounds permeating this virgin summer air.

“What’s the name of this band?” asked one of the youths.

“That’s ‘Sly and the Family Stone”, answered Dave, the boyfriend of one of the younger lads’ older sisters.

“Wow, this is really cool!” the excited boy answered.

Up until this moment, these youngsters, like most pre-teens from this era, had been mostly hearing the corporate radio music of the day – a post-disco fallout period with bands and artists like E.L.O., Michael Jackson, and The Eagles providing a daily dose of saccharine for the masses – “Don’t bring me down…..Brrrruuucccce!”

“If you like Sly, you’re really going to love the last side of this record!” he confidently announced, and a short while later, everything changed.

It was as if a bomb had gone off – suddenly, the music coming out of the speakers sounded more like a science fiction movie soundtrack than it did the groovy “freedom rock” that had played just minutes before. Sounds that seemed to begin as single guitar notes ended as explosions – harmonic cascades and otherworldly sounds swirling into the stratosphere – “sheets of sound”. This music spoke of the epic joys and tragedies of the human struggle – war, hunger, love, peace, poverty, anarchy, inequality – it was all there, yet not a single lyric had been sung.

Near speechless, one of the 11 year olds turned to his friend and managed to say “this is amazing!”

“I thought you might like this” was the response, and they continued to marvel in the sonic wonderment, this new discovery rendering a near out of body experience.

With each passing moment came a new level of heightened awareness for the one boy in particular. It wasn’t as if he had never heard great music; many years before, his dad had turned him on to Santana, John Lee Hooker, and many other greats from the golden era of blues and rock. But this was different. This music transcended all of the traditional music forms that he had heard before. Melodically, it was free from the constraints of the pop song, or even blues format, yet it was bluesy. Rhythmically, it seemed connected to the earth in an intangible way, kind of tribal, with roots going deep into the African jungle. It was as if these sounds came right out of the sky, from the heavens, not a speaker in a window.

This music “spoke” to the young boy with a clarity he had not yet experienced in life, rendering this otherwise insignificant summer day the birth of the universe for him. It felt like a calling, like this was the day his life really began, the birth of an endless pursuit to the new sense of self and spirituality that permeated his being on that warm day in the sun long ago –  like ocean waves meeting a sandcastle at high tide.

That was the day I first heard the music of Jimi Hendrix.

Top 25 Greatest Rock Albums of All-Time

Just for fun, I thought I would make a list of what I consider the top 25 greatest rock albums of all time. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, this music was the backdrop of my life, and I listened to most of it on vinyl, the medium in which I still prefer most today. In fact, I still own most of these albums and listen to many of them regularly. First of all, this was a hard list to compile. I have so many favorites and it was hard to whittle it down to just 25. What makes a great album? I think it comes down to the songs, performances, production, staying power, and popularity. Of course, excluding popularity, all of these criteria are a matter of opinion.

The following albums, in my mind, are all gems. They are all outstanding collections of great songs performed by brilliant musicians, and deliver a monumental sonic imprint to the universe. You might notice, barring a few exceptions, that most of this music was recorded before 1980. Once again, just my opinion, but I think that the majority of all great rock music was recorded during the 60s and 70s. Although some great rock records were made during the 80s, advances in recording techniques led to the tendency to “overproduce” which unfortunately dated many recordings from that period. By the 90s, the rock ‘n roll party was pretty much over. While grunge and alternative did have some elements of rock, the feel-good factor (along with guitar solos) seemed to be missing.

So here it is. The music that rocked the masses, the songs that inspired so many of us to grow, the sounds that made me want to learn guitar, the records I cranked full blast on my bedroom stereo after school before the parents got home, the music I listened to in my car while cruising the beach with my buddies late at night, the songs that helped solve many of life’s problems, the music of my generation and the generation just before – The greatest albums by the greatest bands from the golden era of rock!


Boston – Boston


Van Halen – Van Halen


Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix


Led Zeppelin IV (Zoso) – Led Zeppelin


Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd


Electricladyland – Jimi Hendrix


At Fillmore East – Allman Brothers


Led Zeppelin I – Led Zeppelin


Van Halen – Fair Warning


Montrose – Montrose (Sammy Hagar’s first band circa 1972)


Bad Company – Bad Company


Abraxas – Santana


Rubber Soul – The Beatles


Band of Gypsies – Jimi Hendrix


Moving Pictures – Rush


Revolver – The Beatles


Whitesnake – Whitesnake


Back in Black – ACDC


Wheels of Fire – Cream


Doctor Feelgood – Motley Crue


Machine Head – Deep Purple


Woodstock Soundtrack


Get Your Wings – Aerosmith


Van Halen II – Van Halen


Who’s Next – The Who

What’s your take? Do you think all of these albums belong at the top of the pile? Do you think any are missing? What are your favorites? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

If you had an hour with someone who works at a major record label what would you ask them?

Next week I’m conducting one more interview for my book project ‘The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide’. Upon a recent review of the book’s manuscript I realized I haven’t thoroughly addressed the role that record labels play in the Nashville music industry. So this has prompted me to set up an interview with one of my colleagues at MCA/Universal Group. I’ve got a full hour to discuss the current state of the ‘record industry’ and would like your input.

I have a few questions I already plan on asking;

  • In regards to signing new artists and acts, what are record companies looking for?
  • Are solo artists more attractive to the label than bands?
  • How important is it for a prospective artist or band to have a following prior to signing with a record label?
  • How does an obscure startup artist in Nashville gain the attention of the labels in a community that is so oversaturated with talent?
  • Do you think FM radio has any future?

These are the first questions that come to my mind, but as I’m not interested in pursuing a record deal I may not be as tuned in to this world as someone who is. I want to know what you want to know. Pretend for a minute that you have the ear of someone at MCA for five minutes. What three questions would you ask? And please, no smart aleck questions like “Will you come see my band next Wednesday at the Cadillac Ranch?” or “Can I give you one of my CDs?”

If anyone out there can present me with some intriguing questions, I’ll include them in my interview next week and post the responses.

Thanks for participating!

For the Love of Vinyl – the Sounds of Inspiration

Where do you get your inspiration from? As a lifelong musician, I’ve now been playing music since the age of eight, about 34 years. But I’ve been listening to music even longer. As a young child, some of my earliest memories are of my dad playing records in our Boxford, MA home. Many an evening or weekend the sounds of the Woodstock era filled the air – Santana, Derek and the Dominoes, John Lee Hooker, even the Woodstock soundtrack. The mysterious black discs spinning around created a sense of wonderment, and even more alluring were the sounds they put forth.

I love music, and I especially love the sound of music that originates from vinyl recordings. There’s really nothing like it. As a teenager growing up in southern New Hampshire in the early 80s, I owned my own stereo and turntable and began buying albums regularly. In fact, I worked at an afterschool job just to support my vinyl habit (okay, maybe a few other habits at that time as well). Every week I would venture to the strawberries record store with my weekly pay burning a hole in my pocket. A short time later I would arrive home to give the new disk a spin, the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, BB King, Led Zeppelin, and others permeating my world daily. It wasn’t just an auditory experience, many records came with amazing artwork, of course you have the great double album which additionally lent itself to a variety of uses. Some albums even came with songbooks or posters.

Several years into this foray, along came CDs. They kind of looked like mini albums, but with noticeably less artwork. They also had a few other tendencies, for instance the unmusical sound of a digital skip. It took me a while, but I eventually climbed aboard the “CD wagon”, albeit kicking and screaming. It only took me a couple of years to realize the shortcomings of this new “digitally recorded music”, but I eventually did notice. The music just didn’t sound quite as real, warm, or friendly, but this was fast becoming the new medium. It wasn’t long before all my favorite record stores had replaced the bins for records with CDs. Not long after that point in time I stopped listening to my vinyl, as all new music I was purchasing was on CD.

Fast-forward to 2010, and CDs are now being phased out in favor of MP3s, an even harsher sounding representation of music. And of course, the MP3, often living in “the cloud” or an ipod, is completely void of artwork.

Stop, I’ve had enough! Earlier this year I made the realization that I wasn’t listening to music as much as I used to. At first I thought this might have been because I listened to so much music in my earlier years that I might be just “all listened out”. But then I got my turntable repaired, something I had been meaning to do for some time, and slowly, began rediscovering the magical world of vinyl.

I set up the turntable in my living room and began to check out some of my favorite old records. Right away I noticed they sounded so good, noticeably better than their harsh digital counterparts my ear had become accustomed to. This rediscovery led me to a few recent trips to a local used record store – let the bargains begin. I can’t believe some of the gems I’ve purchased for just a dollar or two. One in particular was a mint condition copy of “Montrose” Sammy Hagar’s earliest band, and this gem was just 68 cents! Delbert McClinton, James Taylor, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata – all for just a dollar apiece?

Among some other recent scores were a mint condition copy of AC/DC’s Back in Black, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, and BB King live in London. A couple of weeks ago I found a yard sale with a collection of 4000 records all from the mid-70s or earlier. Kelly and I spent about an hour pilfering through about half the collection and walked away with 25 gems for $20.

I’m hooked, what can I say. Since this recent vinyl resurrection I am listening to more music regularly than I have in years. It really does sound better. Listening to music like this reminds me of why I became so involved with music in the first place – why I became a musician. When I put a record on, it feels like I’m in the room with the band. The drums sound real, the guitars sound right, the bass is tight, and the vocals are deep. I know I can’t listen to these sounds in my car, and beyond the walls of my home the rest of world continues to suffer from the sounds of the sterile digital status quo and all of its shortcomings.

I know a lot of people enjoy digital music, I’m not saying it can’t be done. But if you haven’t ever ever experienced the joys of vinyl, check it out if you ever have the chance. If you’re ever over a friends house and you spot a turntable, request a side. I challenge you to listen to your favorite artist on vinyl and not be able to hear something new in their music.

Well I’ve got to go now, it’s time to give my new Ray Charles record a spin.