Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: Music (page 1 of 13)

And the walls came tumbling down…

Friday's SaloonFriday’s Saloon is no more.

Today, I came across a photo on Facebook, courtesy of WLPO, a radio station in the Illinois Valley (an area 90 miles southwest of Chicago) that showed the building where Friday’s had been located with the roof caved in with debris strewn on the sidewalk.

The bar, which for one brief moment in the late 1970s and early 1980s became synonymous with the resurgence of “live music” in the Illinois Valley following the demise of disco. It was there that bands like The Jerks and Longshot, (composed of former members of Buckacre, that darling band of the area) who called the bar home, played before packed crowds every weekend and inspired other musicians to follow in their footsteps. And it just wasn’t Fridays that had everyone jumping, pogoing, slam-dancing, and bopping on the wooden dance floor (which thankfully held up!) either. On the corner was the Delta Queen, part of the Red Door Inn complex, across the street was The Rusty Rail (Originally called The Whistle Stop, it was a rail passenger car converted into a bar) and down the street, Murphy’s Bar where The Jerks, Longshot, and later The Libido Boys played.

It was a happening time.

In October of 1980, the Daily News Tribune (now the News Trib) thought so when the paper published an article, “The Boys Are Back in Town” about the resurgence of live music in the Illinois Valley. The article talked about some of the local bands and the bar scene which had seen more live music following the demise of disco. I just so happened to be home for the weekend from Southern Illinois University and decided to check out one of the bars mentioned in the article.

 

That weekend I went down to Water Street (appropriately named Water Street because when the Illinois River crested whenever there was a lot of rain or flooding, the street was usually under a foot or two of water) in Peru where one of these bars, Friday’s Saloon was located. It was located in a cluster of buildings at the far end of the street, (past a few factories and other industrial complexes) which also included the Delta Queen and The Red Door Inn, a popular Illinois Valley eatery (now since closed). Rumored to have been a “speakeasy” during Prohibition, Friday’s had become a popular hangout for younger crowds (many who could get in without having their ID’s checked) and was the “official home” of The Jerks and Longshot.

I guess that’s what made the place special, located on Water Street along the Illinois River, past all these factories. If you were to stand in the street (which at one time had been a brick street) and look east you could see these factories rising up underneath the Peru Bridge (U.S. Route 51, a major North-South artery—before U.S. 39 was completed—ran across the bridge). At night, and especially when it was raining there was an almost surreal aura to the place. This was a working-class neighborhood and I suppose it was only fitting that the three bars located on Water Street—Friday’s, the Delta Queen, and Murphy’s Bar (which had been a grocery store years before) rocked on the weekends.

Whenever The Jerks or Longshot played Friday’s it was an exciting time to be down on Water Street. During the heyday of this “resurgence of live music” in the Illinois Valley, people would be lined up outside waiting to get in. Inside, it was just wall-to-wall people. You had to fight your way through the crowd gathered around the bar to an adjoining room where the bands played. When it got too crowded inside, many people walked across the street to The Rusty Rail, and waited until the crowds thinned out.

The interior of Friday’s Saloon was long and narrow with a bar that ran the length of the room. Actually, Friday’s was two rooms—part of the wall had been knocked out to make an opening into this adjoining room that was on the right. The bar itself was a throwback to another era with the high embossed tin ceiling and funky retro wallpapered walls (the lower half was paneled with dark stained wood). After pushing and fighting my way through the crowd, I entered this second room that was just as crowded as the first one. The air was heavy with smoke and perfume. A large group of people was standing in the back while others were sitting at tables on either side of the room. The dance floor was packed. One person in particular stood out. He was standing near the entrance to this second room. He wore a leather jacket, with spiked black hair, and a small padlock and chain around his neck who reminded me of Sid Viscious. I didn’t know it at the time, but the man was Bruce Kowalski, a.k.a. Bob Noxious. He had his own radio program Alternative Opposites at a local radio station and was known for doing a wicked rendition of “Gloria” with The Jerks. I was definitely in the right place.

On a small stage at the other end of the room, The Jerks were playing a cover of a new wave hit by the English band The Vapors. The band was good, very good. This was a seasoned band. They were tight. With a pounding, staccato backbeat and driving guitars and booming bass, The Jerks were playing high octane rock and roll that had—judging from the way the speakers were swaying back and forth from the vibration of all the dancers on the crowded dance floor—energized the crowd. This was what rock and roll was all about. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of that dance floor, dancing and sweating and caught up in the excitement and allure that only rock and roll knows.

(Miller, 2008; retrieved from http://jeffreymillerwrites.com/meet-the-jerks-rock-roll-from-americas-heartland/)

Seeing the photo of Friday’s today, opened the floodgates to the memories I have of that time, the music I listened and danced to, and the many people who I met back then who are still my friends today. “Those were the days,” Mary Hopkin lamented in her famous song. “We thought they’d never end.” They did. We all moved on. But for many of us, Friday’s, The Jerks, Longshot…they will always be near and dear to us.

On the Passing of Glenn Frey and David Bowie

Glenn_Frey

The other day I saw this Twitter comment someone had left about the death of David Bowie that resonated strongly with me. The person said that the reason we feel sad over the death of someone we never met is that the person touched and influenced our lives through his of her art. No matter if it’s David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Alan Rickman, Lemmy, or Stevie Wright (lead singer of The Easybeats) we all feel this sense of loss in our own lives. It’s more pronounced in this age of social networking when as soon as it’s reported that an artist, musician, artist, or writer has passed away, we’re all updating our statuses, changing our profile photos, or sharing personal anecdotes of that person. In life and in death we are all brought together by these individuals who touched our lives.

One can only imagine what it might have been like if there was Facebook or Twitter when Elvis, John Lennon, or Kurt Cobain died. We are living in an age when we can express our grief more publicly than ever before. And it is through this grief that brings us closer.

At the same time, what exactly are we mourning? Are we mourning the loss of this person or are we mourning our own inevitable mortality? Although we might be, to paraphrase Allen Ginsberg, losing the best minds of a generation, we are in the case musicians like Bowie or Frey, also losing a part of our youth. We can all remember the first time we listened to these musicians and the soundtracks they provided for our lives. That’s why it hurts so much. I can still remember the day I slapped Ziggy Stardust on my turntable and played it over and over. I’m still playing it today: “Starman” is in constant rotation on my iPod.

Some are harder to take than others. I felt that way about David Bowie. Watching his final, haunting video, put the zap in me. Thinking about it now still sends a shiver down my spine.

However, we will always have their music, their movies, and their books. One of my friends, David Steele said it best upon the news of Glenn Frey’s death: “Their music is their artistic immortality, the gift to the rest of us. As long as it is played somewhere, part of the artist lives.” I like that.

If you’re feeling a bit down because the world has lost yet another music legend, listen to their music again and share in the joy, not in the loss that it brings. Just be sure to turn it up.

 

Photo Credit

“Glenn Frey” by Steve Alexander – originally posted to Flickr as Glenn Frey. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Glenn_Frey.jpg#/media/File:Glenn_Frey.jpg

Serious Rock ‘n Rollers

Jerks_1980Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite photos taken of the legendary Illinois Valley band, The Jerks. There’s no gleaming and smiling at the camera. These boys are serious about their rock and roll.

Those were some fun times in the early 1980s when the band was in their nadir and everyone wanted to jump with The Jerks. I remember talking to the band’s soundman, Tom Joliffe, one night after a gig, and he said, “Sparks, you and I came along when the band had reached its height.”

They might have just been another bar band, but these seasoned musicians breathed life into local music scenes like so many other bands around the same time.

They carried the torch for rock and roll like so many other bands who have kept the fires burning.

The Panama Affair — The Soundtrack

TPA_ebook April

It’s true that when I write, I often see a movie in a mind. And if I am seeing a movie in my mind, I need some music. At the same time, music from a particular period, such as the late 60s for Ice Cream Headache, also inspires me when I write.

For The Panama Affair, which begins in 1976 and ends in 1989, I had a lot of music to choose from which also was part of my musical growth, from classic 70s rock to Punk and New Wave.

The Panama Affair Playlist

1.       Welcome to the Jungle – Guns ‘N Roses

2.       Bad Company – Bad Company

3.       Sonic Reducer– Dead Boys

4.       Psycho Killer– Talking Heads

5.       Desperado –Alice Cooper

6.       Fortunate Son– Credence Clearwater Revival

7.       I Can’t Get No Satisfaction – Devo

8.       We’re Not Going to Take it – Twisted Sister

9.       Life During Wartime – Talking Heads

10.    Hotel California – Eagles

11.    Love Hurts –Nazareth

12.    Happy Hunting Ground – Sparks

13.    Jet Airliner –Steve Miller Band

14.    Roland theHeadless Thompson Gunner – Warren Zevon

15.    Storm the Embassy– Stray Cats

16.    Refugee – TomPetty

17.    Lawyers, Guns,and Money – Warren Zevon

18.    Ballroom Blitz– Sweet

19.    Highway toHell – AC/DC

20.    Search and Destroy – The Stooges

21.    Slow Motion –Ultravox

22.    Bad Reputation- Joan Jett

23.    Mad World –Tears for Fears

24.    Let’s Have a War – Fear

25.    Hey, Hey, My My (Into the Black) – Neil Young

26.    Free Bird –Lynyrd Skynryd

27.    Wait for the Blackout – The Damned

28.    Born to Lose– Heartbreakers

29.    Highway Star –Deep Purple

30.    Paranoid –Black Sabbath

31.    Hotter thanHell – Kiss

32.    Wasted Days and Wasted Nights – Freddy Fender

33.    Dangerous Type– The Cars

34.    Come Back Jonee– Devo

35.    Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits

36.    Commando –Ramones

37.    Boys of Summer– Don Henley

38.    Livin’ Thing –ELO

39.    Blinded by theLight – Manfred Mann

40.    Fernando –ABBA

41.    Don’t Fear the Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult

42.    Ghost Riders in the Sky – The Outlaws

43.    I Wanna Be Sedated – Ramones

44.    White Lines –Grandmaster Flash

45.    Surrender –Cheap Trick

46.    Bad to the Bone – George Thorogood

47.    Poor Boy (TheGreenwood) – ELO

48.    GoingUnderground – The Jam

49.    Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die – Jethro Tull

50.    I Fought the Law – The Clash

51.    Heartbreaker –Pat Benatar

52.    Show Me the Way – Peter Frampton

53.    Dream Weaver –Gary Wright

54.    Rock and Roll– Led Zeppelin

55.    We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel

56.    Run Like Hell– Pink Floyd

57.    Running with the Devil – Van Halen

58.    Homicide – 999

59.    Gut Feeling/SlapYour Mammy – Devo

60.    Havana Affair– Ramones

61.    Cum on Feel the Noise – Slade

62.    Waterloo –ABBA

63.    Rumble in Brighton – Stray Cats

64.    They Don’t Want Me – Wall of Voodoo

65.    Let’s Lynch the Landlord – Dead Kennedys

66.    Living Next Door to Alice – Smokie

67.    La Grange – ZZTop

68.    Black Betty –Ram Jam

69.    Prisoners of Rock and Roll – Neil Young

70.    You’ve Got Another Thing Coming – Judas Priest

71.    One –Metallica

72.    Eye of Fatima –Camper Van Beethoven

73.    Shanghai’d in Shanghai – Nazareth

74.    Orange Crush– REM

75.    Beef Boloney –Fear

76.    It Takes A Worried Man – Devo

77.    The Heat is On– Glenn Frey

78.    You Got Lucky– Tom Petty

79.    Beds are Burning – Midnight Oil

80.    Don’t You Forget About Me – Simple Minds

81.    Hang em High –Van Halen

82.    Flirtin’ With Disaster – Molly Hatchet

83.    Pretty Vacant– Sex Pistols

84.    Back in Black– AC/DC

85.    Cretin Hop –Ramones

86.    Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who

87.    No Thugs inOur House – XTC

88.    For Whom the Bell Tolls – Metallica

89.    Big Shot –Billy Joel

90.    Immigrant Song– Led Zeppelin

91.    Burning Down the House – Talking Heads

92.    Running on Empty – Jackson Browne

93.    Games Without Frontiers – Peter Gabriel

94.    Hair of the Dog – Nazareth

95.    The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum – Fun Boy Three

96.    Breaking the Law – Judas Priest

97.    I Remember Death in the Afternoon – Ultravox

98.    Generals and Majors – XTC

99.    Because the Night – Patti Smith

100.Who Are You –The Who

 

 

Classic Album Cover Art: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

MI0003237416Starting in the 1970s, when I started buying albums, there were many albums which were defined by the artwork which graced the front and back. Much of the album art was spectacular, intriguing, surreal, visionary, breathtaking and in many instances, simply gorgeous.

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

By condensing the sonic explorations of Meddle to actual songs and adding a lush, immaculate production to their trippiest instrumental sections, Pink Floyd inadvertently designed their commercial breakthrough with Dark Side of the Moon. The primary revelation of Dark Side of the Moon is what a little focus does for the band. Roger Waters wrote a series of songs about mundane, everyday details which aren’t that impressive by themselves, but when given the sonic backdrop of Floyd’s slow, atmospheric soundscapes and carefully placed sound effects, they achieve an emotional resonance. But what gives the album true power is the subtly textured music, which evolves from ponderous, neo-psychedelic art rock to jazz fusion and blues-rock before turning back to psychedelia. It’s dense with detail, but leisurely paced, creating its own dark, haunting world. Pink Floyd may have better albums than Dark Side of the Moon, but no other record defines them quite as well as this one.

Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music

There are some albums which define the 70s better than other ones. This is one of those albums.

Classic Album Covers: David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

MI0001507428

Starting in the 1970s, when I started buying albums, there were many albums which were defined by the artwork which graced the front and back. Much of the album art was spectacular, intriguing, surreal, visionary, breathtaking and in many instances, simply gorgeous.

David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

Borrowing heavily from Marc Bolan’s glam rock and the future shock of A Clockwork Orange, David Bowie reached back to the heavy rock of The Man Who Sold the World for The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Constructed as a loose concept album about an androgynous alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust, the story falls apart quickly, yet Bowie’s fractured, paranoid lyrics are evocative of a decadent, decaying future, and the music echoes an apocalyptic, nuclear dread. Fleshing out the off-kilter metallic mix with fatter guitars, genuine pop songs, string sections, keyboards, and a cinematic flourish, Ziggy Stardust is a glitzy array of riffs, hooks, melodrama, and style and the logical culmination of glam. Mick Ronson plays with a maverick flair that invigorates rockers like “Suffragette City,” “Moonage Daydream,” and “Hang Onto Yourself,” while “Lady Stardust,” “Five Years,” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” have a grand sense of staged drama previously unheard of in rock & roll. And that self-conscious sense of theater is part of the reason why Ziggy Stardust sounds so foreign. Bowie succeeds not in spite of his pretensions but because of them, and Ziggy Stardust — familiar in structure, but alien in performance — is the first time his vision and execution met in such a grand, sweeping fashion.

Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music

Not only is that a classic album cover, it is classic album, and Bowie’s best.

Are you noticing a trend here: some of the more classic album covers surround a concept album?

Classic Album Art: Klaatu’s 3:47 EST (1976)

MI0001852649 (1)Starting in the 1970s, when I started buying albums, there were many albums which were defined by the artwork which graced the front and back. Much of the album art was spectacular, intriguing, surreal, visionary, breathtaking and in many instances, simply gorgeous.

Klaatu’s 3:47 EST:

Once all of the hype about Klaatu being The Beatles  is disregarded, 3:47 EST (aka Klaatu) surfaces as an entertaining debut album made up of light, harmonic pop songs which harbor a little bit of a progressive rock feel in a few spots. Because the album revealed no information about the band whatsoever, this fueled accusations by newspaper reporter Steve Smith that the band was actually the Beatles’ pseudo group, and there’s no denying that the similarities are bewildering. But Klaatu was actually three studio musicians from Toronto, fronted by drummer and singer Terry Draper. Klaatu’s “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” became a Top 40 hit for the Carpenters in 1977, but the other tracks from the band’s debut are just as congenial if not more compelling.

Composed of poppy horn work and inventive instrumentation, tracks like “California Jam” and the quaint- sounding “Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby” (which sounds like an early Genesis title) offer up a unique blend of bright, glistening strings and placid vocals. The lengthy and progressively cosmic “Little Neutrino” is a an entertaining instrumental stew that beautifully wanders about in almost free-formed style, while “Anus of Uranus” and the most commercial-sounding track, “Sub Rosa Subway,” revealDraper’s songwriting prowess. While 3:47 EST is Klaatu’s strongest release from nearly every aspect, their second album, entitled Hope, contains less of a pop-infused recipe but has greater progressive depth and leans toward more of an experimental sound, especially where the instruments are concerned.

Review by Mike Degagne, All Music

Remember when we all thought that Klaatu might be The Beatles resurrected?

Classic Album Art: Electric Light Orchestra’s Eldorado (1974)

Elo_Eldorado

Starting in the 1970s, when I started buying albums, there were many albums which were defined by the artwork which graced the front and back. Much of the album art was spectacular, intriguing, surreal, visionary, breathtaking and in many instances, simply gorgeous.

ELO’s Eldorado (1974)

This is the album where Jeff Lynne finally found the sound he’d wanted since co-founding Electric Light Orchestra three years earlier. Up to this point, most of the group’s music had been self-contained — Lynne, Richard Tandy, et al., providing whatever was needed, vocally or instrumentally, even if it meant overdubbing their work layer upon layer. Lynne saw the limitations of this process, however, and opted for the presence of an orchestra — it was only 30 pieces, but the result was a much richer musical palette than the group had ever had to work with, and their most ambitious and successful record up to that time. Indeed, Eldorado was strongly reminiscent in some ways of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not that it could ever have the same impact or be as distinctive, but it had its feet planted in so many richly melodic and varied musical traditions, yet made it all work in a rock context, that it did recall the Beatles classic.

It was a very romantic work, especially on the opening “Eldorado Overture,” which was steeped in a wistful 1920s/1930s notion of popular fantasy (embodied in movies and novels like James Hilton’s Lost Horizon and Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge) about disillusioned seekers. It boasted Lynne’s best single up to that time, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” which most radio listeners could never get out of their respective heads, either. The integration of the orchestra would become even more thorough on future albums, but Eldorado was notable for mixing the band and orchestra (and a choir) in ways that did no violence to the best elements of both.

Bruce Eder All Music

I first started listening to ELO in 1976 right before I went into the Air Force. Their album Face the Music had just come out and Evil Woman was getting a lot of airplay. From that moment, I became a huge ELO fan. It would be another year before I bought Eldorado and I couldn’t get enough of it. I still can’t get it out of my mind. The album art is brilliant. Of course, anyone who grew up during this time was treated every year to the annual showing of the Wizard of Oz, which is represented in the album’s artwork.

87 Men and Modern English — It was thirty years ago today

Band Newspaper Photo 1979.jpg.opt836x593o0,0s836x593Modern English

It was thirty years ago today when 87 Men (formerly The Jerks) opened for Modern English at Augustana College.

It was also my best friend, Chris Vasquez’s birthday.

That was a fun and wild night that lasted until the next morning.  The lead singer of the band was really cool, coming up to us after the concert and asking us if everything was okay. Later, we ended up at the Mad Hatter in Davenport, Iowa and then someone’s house and a party that was still going on the next morning.

87 Men, which already had a loyal fan base in the Quad Cities (thanks to all those shows they played at the Mad Hatter), pumped up the crowd (which included a large contingency from the Illinois Valley). It was also the first time for Chris and Tony Innis to play with Dick Verucchi and Alan Thacker. Who would have thought two years earlier that two members of the Libido Boys would team up with two members of Buckacre/The Jerks/87 Men?

Gotta love those New Wave days of the early 80s.

 

Geef Voor New Wave

Geef Voor New WaveI’m at the gym the other day working out and I’ve got my iPod loaded with classic new wave tracks. When one of those tracks, “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” by X-Ray Spex comes on, I am immediately teleported back in time, back to December 1980 and January 1981 when I first heard this song on a new wave compilation album I bought at Plaza Records in Carbondale, Illinois.

As compilation albums come and go, it was a pretty decent one. Though for the life of me, I can’t figure out why Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were included with some of these bands and artists, unless Tom Petty’s Hearbreakers were confused with Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers. Big confusion, I know.

Whenever I hear any of these songs from this album (which is out of print and has never made the jump to CD) I always think back to that time. Indeed, when I think about those songs, I always think the time I went to the Space in Chicago to see David and the Happenings. I think of cold, gray days. For some reason, I have always associated my indoctrination with punk rock and new wave with those cold winter days. Warehouses converted into punk clubs, broken down buildings, steam rising up from sewers, winter blue-gray skies ringed with grayish white clouds. Pasty-faced men and women dressed in black; their eyes wild with anticipation. Safety pins, skinny ties, buttons on a lapel. I think about “Style Before Gel” in Damaged Goods–one night at the Space Place.

Sometimes all it takes is one song to take you on a journey.

Geef Voor New Wave Back

Who’s up for a journey back in time?

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