Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Back to the Chicken Shack!

One of the best by-products of all this scribbleScribbleSCRIBBLING herein the past few years is that it enabled me to meet jazz pianist John Wood. If for no reason, that’s made it all worthwhile. Now, John has a brilliant new CD, with equally brilliant liner notes.

John’s collaborators on the CD include Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Anthony Waters, Eric Von Essen, Tony Dumas, Scott Colley, Mark Drury, Billy Mintz, Ralph Penland, Carl Burnett, Lenny White. It can be found at better record stores everywhere.. . .if there are any left. Or from Cadence Distributors.

Courtesy of John Wood, here are the liner notes---let’s call it a manifesto---- accompanying his new CD:

“I spent my life around recording. The first twenty years (I was born in 1950) they had it right, from '50 to say,'69. From then on, they had it all wrong. Let me explain: From the time Edison invented the phonograph 'til the middle and late sixties, all recorded music came from a disciplined group of musicians going for a take. No remixing, no overdubbing, and that is what made it great. It brought out the best in everybody. From '70 on, multitrack tape machines were in place and, essentially, musicians, in the vast main, no longer played together, everyone doing their parts separately; eventually, many musicians being replaced altogether by synthesizers. Sounds absurd, doesn't it? But it happened. Machines became central, musicians were marginalized, and music went right down the tubes. The unqualified were empowered, and the qualified were disempowered. In my view, that is the great tendency of rampaging technology. And music was the first casualty of the technology avalanche.

We had been listening to Bobby Darin, Patsy Cline, Sam Cooke Jackie Wilson, The Everly Brothers, Andy Williams, the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Leonard Bernstein, Chubby Checker, Perez Prado, Richie Valens, Dinah Washington, Doris Day, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, Dave Brubeck, Booker T. and the MG's, etc. etc.. Let's just say that this list, were I to continue, would go on pretty much forever. It was incredible, the depth and scope of American popular music. It was the height of our culture, and a beacon of hope to the world. But now, with the arrival of multitrack recording, it began Disco, Rap, what I call "phony country," where you know their hats and belt buckles and those headsets they wear, but you don't know any of their songs. That could apply to U2 also. I know Bono, his rose colored glasses, 5 o'clock shadow, sitting around with world leaders, but I don't know any of his damn songs. Now I know that Tim McGraw's fans and Bono's fans might not like what I'm saying here, but, I'll guarantee you that everyone in America knew Marty Robbin's EI Paso, knew the Beatles' songs. That's the only real criterion: knowing the music. In most cases we never even saw the artists whose records we bought and loved, it was the music we knew and wanted. It was about substance. For decades now, it has been about image more than the real thing.. What had been boxing became professional wrestling; what had been real had become unreal.

We were on our way down, big time down. Hey, Madonna ain't Frank Sinatra. And where we once had Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Joe Louis and Max Schmelling, now, I don't think people even know who the heavyweight champion of the world is. It seems that, without great music, there is no really great fighting.

Another huge byproduct of the loss of greatness in recorded music, was the rise of talk radio. Now, instead of Miles Davis or Elvis Presley, you were hearing Rush Limbaugh all day everyday, it seems, and so many others of his ilk. But I guarantee you, music used to be a point of unity for republicans and democrats, for young and old, for all cultures, for men and women. It is the purpose of art in human society to break down barriers and bring people together. Talk radio doesn't exactly do that. And what about these music award shows that seem to never end? Did you ever see Elvis or the Beatles waiting for someone to tear open an envelope and say, “And the winner is. . .?" Sorry, folks, it never happened. It never could have happened. Music succeeded on its own merit. It was about individualism and independence of thinking. It was about freedom. Had those artists gone on national television every 12 months and had their arms filled with trophies and then gone to a Pepsi commercial, they would have been neutered on the spot. They would have become a property of the state, the party or the corporation. No longer would they have been forces for social revolution, which they were. So, I believe it would be fair to say, that, without great music, front and center in our culture, we are on a fast track to the loss of our freedoms and of democracy. We need to get back to the chicken shack and get some home cookin' goin' on!”

--- John Wood Society For The Rehumanization Of American Music

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