Archive for June 2012
Kent Hartman’s new book The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock N Roll’s Best Kept Secret (Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin’s Press) is the multi-fold biography of a group of musicians who found themselves at the center of the perfect storm during the heyday of Top 40 Radio. This loose conglomeration of players became the go-to sessioneers for West Coast music producers during the 1960’s. Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Lou Adler all counted on them for their accurate and intuitive skills during recording dates. We all know the music they helped create, but who they were is looked at in depth, between two covers, here for nearly the first time.
During the course of this history you’ll meet Bassists Carol Kaye and Joe Osborn, drummer Hal Blaine, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and many others. People whose names you don’t know but whose handiwork you have probably loved for 40 years. For instance, do the names Louie Shelton or P.F. Sloan ring a bell? It’s Shelton’s key guitar lick that drives The Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville,” while Sloan’s twelve string filigree adorns the intro of The “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and Papas. Others, like guitarist Glen Campbell, will be familiar. As one of the few “crew” members to rise to individual fame his biography is a cohesive thread throughout the book.
Rather than delineate each player’s biography on a chapter by chapter basis or write the book as a series of interviews, Hartman intertwines their formative histories during the outset of the book. This makes for an interesting narrative as seemingly disparate occurrences coalesce to bring these folks together. A series of small serendipities and coincidences – we’d call it networking these days – ultimately converge in the recording studios of Los Angeles at just the right moment in time. We know what’s coming, but how it gets there – well that’s the entertaining part.
As a “boomer”, a life long music collector, and a musician myself, I did not come to this book without prior knowledge of many the players and some of the stories. From the Wrecking Crew’s origins at Spector’s Gold Star Studio sessions, through Don Peake’s tenure as the only white player in the Ray Charles Orchestra and drummer Jim Gordon’s sad homicidal breakdown, Hartman affords a timeline and a series of vignettes that make sense of the often incongruous pieces. His new interviews with key players add fresh information and clarification of some of the previous apocrypha. Highly recommended, The Wrecking Crew is a brisk read, filled with informational and inspirational anecdotes. Along with Always Magic In the Air, Ken Emerson’s Brill Building overview, it’s a book I’ll keep within quick reach as a reference.
Miles of Styles…
Last year the focus was on the reverently researched and replicated George Harrison DuoJet model. This year the show highlighted the breadth of styles played by Gretsch musicians. A full stage was erected in the midst of Street Sounds’ well stocked shelves and the show was broadcast live worldwide via the internet. In addition to the musical acts Ms. Kim Falcon, Gretsch’s very own pin-up gal, helped choose the winners of two beautiful guitars and signed copies of her newest poster.
Like a revival meeting preaching the soul of Rock n Roll, Fred and Joe introduced talented players from Austin, Nashville, Canada, another “outer-borough”, and just around the corner (literally.) The audience got a dose of fiery rockabilly from The Octanes, dazzling fingerpicking from Paul Pigat with his band Cousin Harley and some sparkling country harmonies from sisters Nik and Sam. The next generation of Gretsch players was represented by local gang The Foxy Studs who opened the afternoon with the iconic licks of The Beatles’ “Daytripper.” Performances were framed by fun 1950’s news clips decrying the awful effect of “the beat, the beat, the beat” on the youth of America. Oops, too late.
Headliners (and personal favorites) Fountains of Wayne powered up the proceedings with their signature style of bright pop melodies and witty word play. I’d call ‘em The Kinks of Queens. I was happy to hear them do “Red Dragon Tattoo” from the super Utopia Parkway album. Can’t get better than a tune that references the N Train, Coney Island, Basil Hayden Bourbon, Easy Rider, .38 Special and William Blake’s titular iconic engraving. It is that Red Dragon, right – or am I projecting? The compact set included crowd pleaser “Stacy’s Mom”, FOW’s 2003 radio hit, which had everyone singing along to its undeniable chorus. They clearly had fun extending their final tune “Radiation Vibe” with a medley of bits and pieces of everything from Frampton to Foreigner.
OK-Go’s Damien Kulash signed autographs and chatted with fans while his band’s always unique videos played on the big screen. OK-Go used 300 Gretsch Electromatic CVT III guitars in the making of their wacked-out promo for “Needing/Getting.” Many of those actual instruments, battered but collectible and authenticated, are available via Street Sounds while they last. Check out the video and the story behind it here.
Have It Your Way…
Master Luthier Stephen Stern gave attendees a technical tour of the company’s wares. He detailed aspects of fit, finish and hardware and pointed out how the Gretsch Custom Shop can make the instrument of your dreams. In turn Stern got an up close and personal look at some vintage models brought out by local collectors.
A very special surprise this year was a visit from Mr. Vincent Ottaviano. “Vinnie” was a driver for the Gretsch company in the heyday of its borough tenure and spent part of the afternoon reminiscing with Mr. Gretsch. He delivered Gretsch products; guitars, accordians and drum kits from the Williamsburg factory to music stores and distributors. In 1957 on one such trip to the legendary Manny’s music store on 48th street in Manhattan Vinnie delivered Gretsch Duojet Serial Number 21179. Sold to a merchant seaman, the guitar eventually found its way to Liverpool England and into the hands of teenage rocker George Harrison. You know the rest. It’s the kind of “butterfly effect” story that makes you realize how a simple everyday task can go on to change the world. You can read all the details here.
SkeletonPete Says… Eat To The Beat
Once again Gretsch and Street Sounds offered up an amazing get together.As if all the musical goodies were not enough to sate appetites, abundant trays of delicious culinary creations from the folks at Artisan Food Valley (conveniently located right next door to Street Sounds) were passed through the crowd. The tempting sandwiches of grilled vegetables, fresh mozzarella and sausages put the shoppe on my short list of must explore places. It was also great to see the always jubilant Joe Carducci beaming at the chance to savor a classic Brooklyn chocolate-covered cannoli.
A special thank you to Ken Pierce, of PiercingMetal.Com who graciously got me a singed Fountains of Wayne set-list, something I’m much too shy to attempt myself. His videos of the afternoon’s performances can be viewed here.