One of the most unusual and innovative new performers of the day chooses you for his band, insists you wear eyeliner, satin, and 6-inch platform boots, and then proceeds to engage in deviate sexual activity with your guitar while you stand on stage churning out searing licks. Sound demanding? Well, it’s all in a day’s work when your name is Mick Ronson and you’re making rock-n-roll history with David Bowie. Mick was an arranger, producer, songwriter and classically-trained multi-instrumentalist who became the most recognized super guitarist of the glam rock era. Bowie may have ushered in a whole new brand of performance art with his space-age song themes and colorful alter egos, but it was Mick who legitimized the spectacle with his rock solid musicianship.
Images of the old American West and scenes of Southern country life have inspired countless British rock recordings through the years, none more so than the early albums of Elton John. And no wonder. His lyricist Bernie Taupin was in love with romantic visions of Americana…scenes of cornfields and cattle towns, frisky colts and fringed-front buggies, gunslingers and Pinkertons, field bosses and chain gangs, Roy Rogers and Geronimo. All of Elton’s songs began in the mind of Bernie, who turns 64 today. He wrote the lyrics that the pianist-showman set to music – creating vivid sound portraits of days gone by.
In the early 1970s I was rounding out my collection of Beatles LPs, when I stumbled upon one called “The Beatles Featuring Tony Sheridan – In the Beginning, Circa 1960.” I considered this a real find! I hadn’t been aware of any pre-1963 Beatles recordings, and I had never known the boys to collaborate on vinyl with anyone. Who the heck was Tony Sheridan? Well, if you’re a follower of Fab Four history, don’t miss this chapter on one of The Beatles’ early, influential mentors, who was born on this date in 1940.
Who was the youngest person to perform on a U.S. top ten hit record? Thinking Michael Jackson or Jimmy Osmond? No, it was Susan Cowsill, 56 today, of The Cowsills – a family band that proved you could make psychedelic music even while promoting milk for the American Dairy Association. Susan had just turned 9 when she sang background vocals on the group’s “Indian Lake,” which reached #10 on the Billboard charts in 1968. The Cowsills featured siblings Bill, Bob, Barry, John, Paul and Susan, plus mom Barbara. The band was the inspiration behind the ’70 TV sitcom “The Partridge Family.”
“Pete Townshend’s suicide note” is how music critic Roy Carr once described The Who’s October 1975 release “The Who By Numbers. “The band’s founder, songwriter and lead guitarist bared his tortured soul on this LP like no other. Yer blogger bought the record at the height of her teenage existential crisis…and needless to say, she loved it.
Man, I can’t tell you how many times my shrink has had to listen to me recount this dream: I’m strutting down the street decked out like Joan Jett — carrying a guitar/amp/tambourine/harmonica – when a car pulls over and a famous, seasoned musician asks me to stop by a recording studio and rehearse with him. Instant stardom, based on nothing more than IMAGE. Hey, it’s no more far fetched than grabbing 15 minutes of fame by being anointed “star du jour” by the glam-bam-thank-you-ma’am “American Idol” judges. Being swept off the street by a rock star may be nothing more than a wet dream for yer blogger, but this really did happen to a young violinist named Donna Shea, better known as Scarlet Rivera.
Those of us who embrace the adage “vanity trumps sanity” know it’s often necessary to suffer for beauty. But who among the world’s leading fashionistas would or could endure the discomfort of performing in an outfit that weighs 200 pounds? Flamboyant pianist-showman Władziu Valentino Liberace, of course. His famous, weighty King Neptune ensemble was one of many extravaganzas on display at the now-defunct Liberace Museum in Paradise, Nevada.
With a nickname like “Magic Dick” you’d better be damn good at what you do. And Richard Salwitz is one of the best — harmonica players, that is. Today’s the 70th birthday of the man who helped put the whammer in the jammer of the J.Geils Band — from the group’s 1965 origins in Worcester, Massachusetts, through their breakup in 1985. In “The Rolling Stone Record Guide,” music journalist Dave Marsh described Magic Dick as possibly “the best white musician to ever play blues harmonica.”
“Had me a real good time.” That’s the title of a song by Faces, and it totally sums up my feelings every time I rock and roll to the music of that premier British bar band. Their keyboard player Ian McLagan, who died suddenly of a stroke on December 3, 2014, would have been 70 today. I know I refer to a lot of performers as “my favorite” this or that, but you can be certain of this: “Mac” was my favorite band keyboardist. I was thrilled to meet the charismatic musician in June 2013 after his intimate gig at The Tin Angel in Philadelphia (I even got a kiss – Ooh la la!).
The Rolling Stones’ 1966 release, “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” isn’t a song normally thought of as a Mother’s Day tribute tune. Nor was it intended as such. Its ambiguous lyrics hint that mom’s doing something of a shadowy nature. Mick Jagger sings the narcissistic lyric, “tell me a story about how you adore me.” Shouldn’t that line be the other way around? Okay, so although this is definitely NOT a song you’d want to include on your mix-tape for Mother’s Day, it does serve as a reminder: have YOU seen your mother lately, baby? Today let’s take a look at the women who gave life to some famous entertainers.