Tales of Rock: Who’s Libretto?

Philadelphia, PA – 1968

My uncle Jack used to work for Columbia Records back in the 60s. He was a well-known producer and had lots of connections in the music industry. When I lived in Los Angeles in the early 80s he was out there on business and called me to meet up with him for lunch.

I was happy to meet up with him. It would be nice to not only see a member of my family because it was my first time far away from home. But also because he was my favorite uncle. He was a brilliant guy with a lightning-fast wit. He was an easy-going dude that everybody liked.

I drove out to Century City in my 1969 VW minibus to meet him for lunch. We were joined by the former president of Columbia Records who was a buddy of my uncle’s. I remember it was cool to hang out with these guys and listen to their stories of the glory days of popular music in the 60s.

During his time in the business, my uncle met many musicians and celebrities like Andy Williams, and Barbra Streisand.

One story that stand out in my mind is when his buddy told a story about how the Jefferson Airplane had recorded a demo for Columbia and they didn’t like it and turned it down flat for a record deal. He said one of the guys in the band urinated into the planter in the corner of his office upon hearing the news. He said they later signed with RCA Victor and got an unheard of $25k advance to get on board with them. (which was a fortune in 1965)  “They were a bunch of crazy people.” he said about the band.

Anyway, I always loved my uncle and still miss his wry wit to this day. But back to the story at hand.

Because my uncle was in the industry he would be given lots of vinyl demo albums to check out and review. Anything that was popular or mainstream he could relate to, but when he was given anything relating to classical music or opera, he would give them to his brother.

Which was my father. My dad loved classical music and opera and it was probably his favorite kind of music. Since my uncle was clueless to that kind of music he’d pass them to my dad to give him the lowdown on each orchestra and album.

This went on for many years and my dad got loads of free music to add to his collection. As a kid, I always wondered why on many of his record albums there was always a red stamp on the back. It read: “Not for Sale. This album is for demonstration purposes only.” Those were the ones my uncle gave him. If for some reason there was some unknown rock band in one of the many albums he gave him, my dad would pass it to me. Even as far forward as the late 70s. I remember my dad handing me the soundtrack to the animated film, Heavy Metal based on the comic magazine. It’s where I first heard the song, Mob Rules by Black Sabbath. There was even a record that consisted of a collection of songs by different artists, and one of them was a really old recording from the German metal band Scorpions (Whom I loved) it was a song called “Am I Going Mad?” from the album Lonesome Crow, which I didn’t even know existed back then.

Anyway, back in 1968, my uncle was chatting with my dad about music, and an interesting question came up. He said he had a buddy over at Decca Records that was working with a somewhat popular band from the UK. The group had been generating some buzz as an up-and-coming mod/rock band. They were trying to find their voice and identity and had released a few small hits.

Back in the 50s and early 60s, bands and singers only released singles. Short songs that were never longer than 3 minutes long. If that artist had generated enough popular songs in a period of time, the label l would put the songs out as a collection on an LP.

But the Beatles changed all that when they started to release albums of all-new material. No longer would albums be collections of hits but bonafide creative works of music.

But the main guy in the band over at Decca was a brilliant songwriter and wanted to take his band’s music to the next level. He came up with a unique concept. He ran the idea and played a few songs for his producer. It was a groundbreaking idea for an album that hadn’t ever been done before.

The producer over at Decca ran the idea by my uncle to get his thoughts on the subject. He of course spoke to his brother, (my dad) about it. My father listened intently to the idea and gave him this response:

“Do they have a libretto?”

“A what?”

A libretto. Every opera has a libretto. It’s the text and the substantive ideas that inspire the composition, including the dramatic structure, characters and scenario of the opera.

“Okay…”

“Well, tell your friend that if this band is going to do some kind of opera, they’ll need a libretto so when people buy the record they can read along and know what’s going on with the story of the songs even if it’s in a different language.”

So my uncle goes back and tells all of this to his buddy over at Decca, and he tells the guy in the band who’s writing the album. He loves the idea and they decide to include a libretto with the new album. My uncle tells my dad and he’s happy he was able to help out based on his expertise with classical music and opera.

“By the way, Jack, what’s the opera about?”

“It’s about a deaf, mute, and blind boy who is abused as a child and becomes an incredible player at the game of pinball.”

“Okay, well that seems a little weird, but I hope they have success with that. Glad I could help.”

My dad obviously got a free demo copy of the album before it came out and turned me on to this incredible band and their music.

So my father had something to do with the creation of Tommy by The Who.

 

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Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 3 – Family Vacation

Wildwood Crest, New Jersey – 1960’s

A few years before my parents owned the summer place in North Wildwood, we stayed at a motel called the Villa Nova in Wildwood Crest. They would take a room each summer for 3 days in June, and 3 more in September. There was a restaurant next door to the motel called The Captain’s Table. To me, that was a cool exotic nautical-themed place. Even though we were only a two-hour drive from our home in Philadelphia, going to the shore was traveling to come exotic locale back then.

The world was a bigger package than our little neighborhood in Lawndale.

Wildwood Mid-Century Modern Motels & Hotels | RoadsideArchitecture.com

Villa Nova Motel, Wildwood Crest, NJ - Booking.com

Wildwood, NJ was an amazing wondrous place. We all loved it. I remember I’d be watching TV as a kid and a commercial would come on for Dorney Park. I’d say to my dad, “That place looks fun, why don’t we ever go there?”

“Because that place is a junkyard, son.” my dad would say. (Back then the place was a dump. Nothing like what it is today.

We’d always go to the beach as a family in the morning. It wasn’t as hot then, and not as crowded. By the time lunchtime rolled around we were back at the motel.

I was never a fan of the beach too much when I was little. Big waves, crabs, and deep water were things I didn’t want any part of.  There is old home movie footage of me as a toddler walking back towards the car because I hated the sand.

I remember once I was working on sandcastles with my dad and the backs of my legs got really sunburned. It really hurt and my mom applied some vaseline to take out the sting and soothe the burn. But the best part was when everybody else went back to the beach or the pool in the afternoon, I got to stay behind in the air-conditioned room to lie on the couch and watch TV. (Which is what I preferred to do anyway.)

I think even back then they had cable TV down there, so there were channels and shows I’d never seen before which I found facinating.

But by the time dusk arrived we were all dressed and ready to go to the boardwalk. It was the mid to late 1960s and we’d actually get dressed up nice to go to the boardwalk. Mom and the sisters in dresses, and dad and I in button-down shirts and slacks. It was a different time, but as a family my parents always dressed us up to go anywhere. “I don’t want you all looking like a bunch of slumgullians,” my mother would say.

Wildwood always had the best boardwalk in New Jersey.

Each summer evening, the American dream was played out along the boardwalk’s more than 70,000 wooden planks. Classic rides and old-fashioned amusements stood toe-to-toe with 20st-century innovation and excitement. Five amusement piers boasted more rides than Disneyland, complete with world-class rollercoasters, beachfront waterparks, family-friendly attractions, and cutting-edge thrill rides. In addition, a seemingly endless array of restaurants and shops offer everything from classic boardwalk fare like funnel cakes and homemade fudge to seafood specials, gourmet pizza, and contemporary casual beach fare.

As I said, back then it was like traveling to an exotic wonderland.

The idea of a boardwalk originated when a railroad conductor, Alexander Boardman, got tired of cleaning beach sand from his trains. He suggested constructing a wooden walkway for seaside strolls. Atlantic City dedicated the first boardwalk in 1870. Thirty years later, the City of Wildwood laid its first boardwalk directly on the sand along Atlantic Avenue, from Oak Avenue to Maple Avenue, just 150 yards long.

The world-famous Wildwood Boardwalk is home to a dazzling display of lights, colors, sounds, and smells that awe the senses and offer an unsurpassed level of excitement and energy. As it has for over 100 years, the boardwalk stands as a living, thriving, pulsating celebration of the American imagination.

Hunt’s Pier was pretty much our go-to stop on the boardwalk. It had the best family-oriented rides, and theme park attractions. I’ve gathered a few pieces here to give you an idea of what they had on that concrete pier back then. They’re at the end of this post. Some great videos!

My dad would go on any ride they had. My sister April was fearless, and my sister Janice would go on any ride my dad was willing to venture upon. My mother and I both don’t like heights, things that can make us dizzy, or move too quickly. But there was something for everyone at Hunt’s Pier. I think that’s what set them apart from the other amusement piers. They had the twirly ‘up in the air rides’, and the like, but also had stuff the kids could go on. (Or the scaredy cats)

They had a little classic wooden rollercoaster, called The Flyer. I remember my mom telling me that the ride only lasted 1 minute long. My father and sister Janice would go on that, and also my dad’s favorite ride, the airships.  They were these cool two-seater little jets that went around and around but then you could go high up in the air as the ride spun. (You can see it in this old ad)

That is a lovely glimpse into the past, right?

As I said, I didn’t like rides like that, but one time my dad kind of forced me to go on it with him. He told me it was a wonderful experience. He loved that ride so much. He knew if I went on it with him I’d love it too. I yielded to his wishes and went on it. “Look at that incredible view of the whole boardwalk” he would say as the ride went higher and higher. I would agree with him how great it was, but my eyes were tightly closed the entire ride, so I couldn’t really describe to you here what it was like at all. I just know I was terrified. There are those of us who are brave enough to venture forth in this life and take risks, and those of us who are hard-wired for self-preservation. The same goes for deep water and food for that matter. I spent most of my days growing up trying not to be nauseous or dizzy.

But I loved the boardwalk and Hunt’s Pier. My favorite was the Pirate Ship. The SKUA was built in 1962 and was amazing. A lot of people didn’t know that it actually was built on a hydraulic system that allowed it to rock back and forth while you were walking through it. It was so cool. You walked through it and there were all of these neat pirate-related things inside of it. Galley, and floor effects that would make skeleton hands pop out of a box in front of you, a mirror maze, and even a tilted room, that was insane. It really felt like you were on a big boat out in the sea. You could even go out on the deck and see the whole pier and boardwalk. Not scary at all. Just a really awesome Disneyland-like experience. Thinking back, my favorite part of that attraction was the dungeon. The song, 15 men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum, played on a loop in the background. It was really bizarre. It looked like a torture chamber. All animatronic characters that moved. There was this one character in the corner of the room. It was a blonde woman chained to a wall. The only thing she did was breathe. So when she moved you could see her robotic chest heaving through her ripped dress. Strangely erotic, but I was too young to know why I loved her, but I just did. Even as a child I loved the female form.

If a ride wasn’t too wild I would definitely try it. I liked the Whacky Shack and the Keystone Kops. You rode in little cars through them on a track and banged through doors and they had animatronic attractions inside. Based on amusement rides now, it was all very primitive, but we loved it all just the same. Some kids like the wild rides that go fast and high but don’t like rides that had primal scares in them. I had a high tolerance for visually scary rides and always liked horror movies. We all have different fears as children and they all manifest in unique ways.

The Golden Nugget Mine ride was probably the most awesome ride on the pier back then. It was a dark ride, which is sort of an enclosed rollercoaster with cool animatronic attractions inside. It was amazing. Depending on how I was feeling I might go on it.  I loved the southwestern desert, gold prospector theme, but it was a three-story ride that had two hills in it. I liked it because it had so many neat things in it, which were groundbreaking for the time. But that ride wouldn’t come into play until a decade later in my life.

Overall just lovely memories from our childhood. We would sometimes venture down to Sportland Pier and my dad and the girls would go on the Supersonic rollercoaster. Or up to Marine Pier, (Later called: Mariner’s Landing) to ride the Wild Mouse. They were both new German-built steel coasters that would be predecessors of what was to come for all rollercoasters. But like everything else, I wanted nothing to do with any of that stuff. Too afraid I’d throw up on it. I liked the dark ride called The Monster’s Den. It was a spooky ride without any hills or dips. If I remember correctly, you could ride, or walk through the attraction.

I was just happy to be there among all of that visual and audio excitement. It was like nothing else I’d ever seen before. I think my dad may have thought if I didn’t experience all of the things he knew were awesome, I’d somehow be missing out on something. He wanted to offer us all of the joy he felt. But if you don’t have any interest in doing something, there isn’t a loss. You’ll find fun doing something else. I didn’t want to feel the fearful rush of a thrill ride, I’d rather move through an attraction at my own pace and experience different feelings. Something I could control and manage.

It was really a wonderful time for our family. The classic 1960’s experience of piling the kids into the car and taking them to the seashore for a few days in the summer. Escape the heat and pollution of the city, and breathe that sweet sea air. Days frolicking on the beach and building drippy castles in the sand. Watching as the tide rolled in and the ocean once again reclaiming its property.

These fun times continued each summer through the late ’60s and into the ’70s when my dad bought a house at the shore and we got to stay down there all summer.

Hunt’s Pier already loomed large in our collective legend, but the real fun for me would come many years later. 

Take a stroll down memory lane with me and check out these links:

10 Rides You Miss From Hunt’s Pier

And as always, here’s a little song to close out this chapter.

Special thanks to Joe Doyle for his video work

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Tales of Rock – The story behind the writing and recording of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’

Since 1964, the songwriting partnership between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards has been controversial, innovative, and legendary. Throughout the turbulent political mire of the ’60s, The Rolling Stones both shied away from their adversity and attacked it head-on.

For instance, when Street Fighting Man was released, various radio stations banned the track due to the racial and student protests it helped inspire. As you can imagine, when The Rolling Stones released Sympathy For The Devil all hell broke loose, cementing the legacy of their most iconic song.

Sure, presenting yourself as the devil to the public might be pretty daring, but Mick Jagger pulled it off with style and not a second thought. Declaring his inner demon “a man of wealth and taste”, Jagger confessed to being the culprit of some of the most wicked deeds in history. Leading the Nazi blitzkrieg raid, spurning the Russian revolution, assassinating JFK, and encouraging Jesus’ crucifixion – that one’s a no-brainer – all with a suave backing choir seemed like a jolly old gag to Mick Jagger.

But how much do we really know about Sympathy For The Devil? Here are the song’s darkest secrets.Sympathy For The Devil

One of the most controversial songs in rock history doesn’t go without its fair share of secrets. This is the tale of Sympathy For The Devil.
Birth of the Devil

In 1967, The Rolling Stones were under fire from the press, religious leaders, parent groups, and government officials on a variety of moral corruption charges. The most extreme claim was that the Rolling Stones supported Satanism. Ridiculous in hindsight, though the band had just come out with Their Satanic Majesties Request. 

The Rolling Stones sealed their fate the following year with Sympathy For The Devil. Mick Jagger drew the central lyrical inspiration from a collection of sources that he stumbled upon in 1968, explaining:

“When that song was written, it was a time of turmoil. It was the first sort of international chaos since World War II. And confusion is not the ally of peace and love. You want to think the world is perfect. Everybody gets sucked into that.”

One known reference point is the writing of French poet Charles Baudelaire. Another major and more obvious influence is Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master And The Margarita. Jagger’s girlfriend at the time, Marianne Faithfull, gifted it to him.

Bulgakov’s book is hailed for its ability to seamlessly blend fantasy with social satire. For example, he compares the life of Jesus Christ to that of an artist in Soviet Russia cast against a backdrop of arbitrary arrests and mental hospitals.Sympathy For The Devil

This concept of reverse values and the confusion of reality is prevalent within the lyrics of Sympathy For The Devil. The cops are all criminals and all the “sinners saints”. He even references the pain of Jesus Christ and his “moment of doubt.”

Another influence in the composition of the lyrics is Bob Dylan. By referencing major moments in history such as the execution of the Romanov family in 1917, the October Revolution, WWII and, the assassination fo the Kennedy Brothers, Jagger assumes a Dylanesque poetic verse heightened by the elucidation of archetypal figures as a focal anchor.

In reality, the essence of Sympathy For The Devil is no different from that of Gimme Shelter. The philosophy of peace and love remains as true as ever as the political instability as war efforts of 1960s America bled into the ’70s.

Capturing the devil

It’s logical to assume that the Jagger/Richards songwriting partnership is divided so that Mick pens the lyrics and Keith would track the music, however, this was rarely the case.

In this instance, Mick Jagger wrote both the lyrics and the music to Sympathy For The Devil. Keith Richards’s major influence was assisting Jagger in determining the rhythm.

“I was just trying to figure out if it was a Samba or a goddam folk song,” Richards recalled in 2002. “Sympathy’ is quite an uplifting song. It’s just a matter of looking the Devil in the face. He’s there all the time. I’ve had very close contact with Lucifer – I’ve met him several times. Evil – people tend to bury it and hope it sorts itself out and doesn’t rear its ugly head.”

Another crucial addition to the song came from Keith Richard’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg – previously Brian Jones’s girlfriend – who stopped by the studio.

“Anita was the epitome of what was happening at the time. She was very Chelsea. She’d arrive with the elite film crowd,” says Stones producer Jimmy Miller.

After 32 takes of the folk rendition, they gave it a spin with a Samba beat and Anita Pallenberg began singing “Whoo-whoo” in the booth. The Stones immediately took a shine to it and eventually recorded the part as a gang vocal with Palenberg, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, Marianne Faithfull, and Jimmy Miller.

The creation of Sympathy For The Devil is remarkably captured in Jean-Luc Godard’s film of the same name. The movie exquisitely documents the evolution of the song as it slowly incorporates elements of Brazilian dance. Jagger and Richards are seen running the show with flair and passion while Brian Jones sits alone in an acoustic booth for much of the session.

Aftermath

When Beggars Banquet hit the shelves on December 6, 1968, the world was astir. With the assassination of Bobby Kennedy exactly six months earlier Jagger’s lyrics took on a whole new meaning. Critics and fans alike began calling the band ‘devil worshippers’ or ‘messengers for lucifer’. Of course, this was great for publicity and went on to calcify the song as one of the Stones’ immortal tracks.

On the devil, however, perhaps Keith Richards should have the last word:

“When that song was written, it was a time of turmoil. It was the first sort of international chaos since World War II. And confusion is not the ally of peace and love. You want to think the world is perfect. Everybody gets sucked into that. And as America has found out to its dismay, you can’t hide. You might as well accept the fact that evil is there and deal with it any way you can. Sympathy for the Devil is a song that says, Don’t forget him. If you confront him, then he’s out of a job.”

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Tales of Rock – Steppenwolf – First Love

“You’ve got love a Farrah Fawcett before you can truly love an Alessandra Ambrosio.”

Philadelphia, PA – Early 1970s

When I set down to write this piece it was going to be about my most beloved rock band, Aerosmith. But as I began I realized you just can’t jump right into Aerosmith. I realized for me it was an acquired taste that I grew to love. So I started to write about the band that inspired the type of music I would always love. Hard rock and eventually Heavy Metal. It’s a musical progression.

So now it’s about these guys. It’s like, you’ve got to love a Farrah Fawcett before you can truly love an Alessandra Ambrosio.

(Don’t worry. I’ll get to the Boys from Boston next.)

When I was a kid, the first time I heard hard rock was probably the song, Born to be Wild, by the band Steppenwolf. My father had an 8-track player in the glove compartment of his 1969 VW Minibus. (Which later became mine and I drove that beast to California) He had an 8-track cassette of the soundtrack to the film Easy Rider. The album would open with Steppenwolf’s song, The Pusher, and then you’d hear the roar of motorcycle engines, and then it would go into Born to be Wild. I remember bouncing up and down in the seat beside my Dad rocking out to the sheer fury of that song. No other song that I had ever heard in my life up to that point made me feel that way.

My father also had Iron Butterfly’s record, In A Gadda Da Vida. Iron Butterfly’s sound was heavy and more psychedelic, but this Steppenwolf song was on fire. I was maybe 9 years old at the time. Something about the energy and power of the song and its lyrics really moved me.

It was almost as if that was what my soul sounded like.

Screaming in silence to escape.

We were out as a family one night. Probably stopping at a store after eating at Burger Chef on Cottman Avenue in Northeast Philly. The store was called Korvette’s. I suppose you could compare it to maybe Kmart of their day. I remember they had an abundance of electrical appliances. Record players, radios, TVs, etc. They’re out of business now but very popular in the mid 20th century.

So we’re in the store and I see some records (Vinyl, LPs) in a rack. There was one that really caught my eye. It had a photo of a real wolf’s face that took up the whole cover. That LP was entitled, “Steppenwolf Live.” It was a double album! It had Born to be Wild on it and The Pusher, but it had a bunch of other songs I’d never heard. The best part was it only cost $3.99! My mom was a big believer in if you like that one song so much you should probably get the whole record to hear what more of their music sounds like.

I love you, Mom.

She bought me that record and I went home and listened the shit out of the album. I turned all of my close friends on to Steppenwolf’s music and still love all of their work to this day. They marked me deeply and forever. This band shaped the type of music that would speak to my soul and inspire me to make music.

Thank you, John Kay and the rest of you guys. You’ve brought me 50 years of joy!

That’s producer, Phil Spector! That crazy bastard!

If you have a chance, check out the film, Easy Rider. It doesn’t hold up all that well over time but is a solid work that sort of is a final signature to the sixties. Altamont, the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, the Manson murder all signaled that the summer of love was long over.

While searching for the above video I came across a few cover versions of the song. Here’s one that caught my eye, but not so much my ear. About 30 seconds in I turned the audio off on this one and put the original back on!  Enjoy!

 

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Tales of Rock – Edgewater Hotel Incidents

The Edgewater is a hotel in Seattle, Washington that is located on a pier over Elliott Bay. It is currently the only hotel in Seattle that sits over-water. In the 1960s the Edgewater became a popular destination for famous rock stars. Some of the bands to visit the hotel include the Beatles in 1964, the Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, and Led Zeppelin. The Edgewater is unique because in the past it allowed customers to fish from their rooms on the north elevation.

On July 27, 1969, Led Zeppelin performed at the Seattle Pop Festival and stayed at the Edgewater. The band was known to have wild parties and was often joined by groupies. According to Zeppelin’s road manager Richard Cole, during one incident, things between a fish and a sexy red head got a bit intimate. On the day in question, Cole was in his room fishing with drummer John Bonham when they were joined by some women. Cole and Bonham had caught a large collection of sharks, at least two dozen, stuck coat hangers through the gills and then left them in the closet. The hotel room was also scattered with various types of smaller fish.

As parties go, one thing led to another and people began to lose their clothing. One particular woman in the crowd with red hair found herself with Cole. She made a unique request, so he decided to reach for a fish and the shark episode was born. Cole was later quoted: “Let’s see how your red snapper likes this red snapper.” It was the nose of the fish and the girl liked it. There was nothing malicious or harmful and Mark Stein of Vanilla Fudge filmed the whole thing. After the story was published by the media a large collection of rumors began to circulate, but many were exaggerated. The band received bad press so they stopped talking about the event.

In 1973, Led Zeppelin returned to the Edgewater and the band was officially banned from the hotel after it was discovered that they had caught some 30 mudsharks and left them under beds, in closets, elevators, hallways, bathtubs, and all over their rooms. They threw stuff out the windows into Elliott Bay, including beds, TVs, mattresses, lamps, drapes, and glassware. Since that time Robert Plant has been welcomed back to the Edgewater. The mudshark incident remains one of the most popular rock stories from the 1960s.

Here’s a version of this song I’ve never heard before. It’s a rough mix. Interesting imagery by Brandy and Coke.

 

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