Category Archives: Music

Have You Heard The News? Springsteen Darkness Box Set Announced

Its like Chrismas morning in late August for fans of Bruce Springsteen.

After more than a year of delays, rumors, speculation and more delays, details of a Darkness On The Edge Of Town box set have finally been announced today. Springsteen and his record company, Sony, will release in November an enormous 6 CD and DVD collection containing just about everything a Springsteen fan had hoped for.

The Darkness Box Set will include (are you ready for this?): A CD featuring a digitally remastered version of the original album, PLUS two other CDs packed with outtakes from the Darkness sessions. But that’s not all. The package will also include three DVDs; one a full length documentary on the making of the album which will feature never-before-seen footage:

Plus a second DVD of the band then and now featuring various songs performed live between 1976 and 1978 along side with the modern day band performing the album start to finish at an empty Paramount Theater last fall, and a third DVD featuring a full concert from Houston in 1978. Holy Guacamole!

And to add to this embarrassment of riches, we also get pages and pages of Bruce’s notebook that he kept during the making of the album, full of lyrical re-workings, possible album and song titles and other doodling. In short this is a feast of plenty that is sure to delight both the hardcore Springsteen fan and casual fans alike.

It’s a plethora of sound, video, photos and handwriting from the Darkness On The Edge of Tour recording sessions and subsequent tour, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this news has me, a self-admitted Bruce fanatic, breathless. The set won’t be available until mid-November with a price tag of about $115.00 dollars , but I believe despite the cost this box set will be a huge seller.

For one things the bright marketing folks working for Springsteen are offering the elements of this set in various incarnations. For example, one can just buy the outtakes on vinyl or CD by themselves without the DVDs. And it’s perfectly timed for the Christmas gift buying season.

Springsteen’s official web site, http://www.BruceSpringsteen.net is already doing a fine job promoting the set with a brief video clip from the “making of documentary,” as well as an audio clip of one of the outtakes. The Darkness documentary is set to be premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September, with Springsteen himself scheduled to appear and take part in a question and answer with actor/huge Springsteen fan Edward Norton. Try getting a ticket to that session in Toronto. Here’s a sneak peak of the documentary.

Regardless of how you look at it, unless you hate the guy, this news today is major and long awaited. As many Springsteen fans have commented, this is “the holy grail” that so many have been hoping and praying for, literally for years. As somebody who considers “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” my “coming of age” album, I couldn’t be more excited.

So save your pennies and let the countdown to November 16 begin!

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Lone Wolf

When I lived in Boston it was not at all unusual to bump into rock and roll legend Peter Wolf.

The former late night DJ and the longtime front man of the J. Geils Band lives in Boston and often walks its streets. Whether meandering down the famed, exclusive Newbury Street or perusing additions to his vast music collection in Boston’s few remaining used record stores, the man was, to put it simply, not hard to miss. Dressed always in his ubiquitous black, from head to toe, and never without a chapeau of some sort, the slight and perennially pale Peter Wolf pretty much kept to himself. Pity the poor soul who chanced to approach him. The result was inevitably a disappointingly brief conversation consisting of a few brief words. So people would most usually leave him alone. He may have been the wild man of Borneo on stage or a mad gabber jabber on alternative radio all those years ago (“Wolfa Goofa Mama Toffa” was his nickname), but out in public and away from the spotlight, Peter Wolf is a man of very few words.

It’s really no wonder. The man born Peter W. Blankfield seems tailor-made to keeping his thoughts to himself. His own musical cohorts and influences, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, both make it a habit to speak in riddles and rhymes when they speak at all. The Chicago and Delta blues men who Wolf holds in the highest of esteem were men who spoke little and let the music do the talking.

Wolf’s history is a fascinating one. Once arrived in Boston in the 1960’s to attend art school, he was scooped up by recently acquired “progressive rock” radio station WBCN. Wolf said in a recent interview on NPR that he was offered half ownership in BCN for just $10,000. But Wolf, at the time was barely eking out an existence and says he barely had ten dollars. What Wolf did have was an incredible musical library, both LPs as well as an incredible variety of his beloved 45’s or singles. And so BCN, hoping to get their hands on all that music, offered him the overnight shift on the air. Wolf was on from Midnight until 7:00 a.m. and in addition to playing his own favorite mix of rock, blues and rhythm and blues, he also played requests. The program was a huge underground sensation and Wolf found a comfortable place behind the microphone where he discovered he had, well, the gift of gab.

But Wolf was not long for that vampire radio shift, which brings many men and women to their knees, and in 1966 Peter Wolf became part of a popular Boston-based band, The Hallucinations. A year later he went to see a performance by the J. Geils Band and quickly joined that group, becoming the hopscotching, fast on his feet, charismatic front man. That band lasted from 1967 to 1983. They played both blues standards and originals and they had a legendary live show, captured on three different live albums, all recorded in Detroit Rock City. Geils, as they were sometimes called, were soon one of the hottest rock bands in the country, playing to packed theaters, auditoriums and arenas from coast to coast and even garnering the coveted cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

I had a chance to see Wolf at his most outrageous, two times and both in Syracuse, New York. The first time was at the cozy Landmark Theater, where Wolf and the rest of the J. Geils band nearly blew the roof off the place. At one point during the climax of the show, Wolf left the stage and danced and weaved his way up and down the aisles of the theater “high fiving” with his fervent fans. The second time I saw him, he looked like a different man in 1982 when the band was on top with huge hits like “Centerfold” and “Freeze-Frame.” Wolf had shed his long locks of hair and streamlined his stage show. But behind the scenes the band was, unknown to many, ready to implode because of “artistic differences” between Wolf and keyboard player and fellow songwriter, Seth Justman.

I worked at a rather large local college radio station I remember foolishly going backstage after the show. “Oh Jesus,” I remember thinking in the middle of the clumsy introductions, “what in God’s name am I doing here.” Wolf politely shook our hands staring blindly into the distance, barely even there. He seemed ten million miles away. And I felt bad for his discomfort.

With the band no longer a going concern, Wolf was left to retreat into the blackness of the Boston night, showing up here and there at bars and occasionally joining in to jam. I remember seeing him take the stage many nights in Boston with his pal Bruce Springsteen, but he never seemed comfortable in the guest spot, especially at larger gigs. He used to rule that city and now he seemed a drifter and a stranger in a strange land. Wolf eventually teamed up with some local musicians and made a series of solo records, none of which seemed to click until he finally found his way on 2002’s excellent solo album, “Sleepless.” It was ranked on Rolling Stone Magazines, “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.” Meanwhile, with rumors all the time of a J. Geils reunion, Wolf stayed silent on that subject, instead seeming comfortable to perform with his own group of new musicians and living off royalties.

During the 1990’s and into the new Millennium, Wolf continues to be seen around town. I would often be surprised when I got to a show early, only to see Wolf already seated, by himself, and waiting for the show to begin. I began to feel bad for him. Was this a chosen land of exile or did it reveal some deep loneliness. Nobody knew but Wolf and he wasn’t talkin’.

One night I went to see Bob Dylan and Merle Haggard at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. I bought a ticket from some guy about ten minutes before the show and it was in the very last row of the theater. During the opening acts, I was scouting an empty seat closer to the stage and out of the corner of my eye I spied one next to the soundboard. I asked a very attractive young lady if the empty seat was taken, she said no and invited me to sit down. It wasn’t until after I had taken off my coat that I realized that I was two seats away from Peter Wolf and the attractive young woman was his date.

During intermission, I introduced myself to this woman and to Peter Wolf and he greeted me with a thin smile and handshake. I had just happened to have finished reading a book about rock and roll called “Mansion On The Hill,” in which he was quoted extensively. So I asked Wolf about his impressions of that book. Speaking softly he told me he thought it was “just okay.” Conversation over? Not quite. Wolf actually surprised me by asking me what I thought about it. I told him I believed the author was too critical of Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau, who Wolf knew from days long ago in Boston. Wolf responded saying he thought it was too critical of a lot of people, including his friend Bruce. Then he got up and went backstage alone, ostensibly to say hello to Dylan, leaving me to have the most pleasant conversation with his knockout beautiful date.

I stayed and watched Dylan’s entire set sitting next to Wolf, looking over occasionally to see a man deep into the music. I left the theater, with the nice buzz that comes after a great show. But I was also happy to see that Wolf was not alone on this particular night.

After all, one can’t remain a lone wolf forever.

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“Caravan” – Van Morrison


Since it’s Friday, here’s a treat. It’s the Belfast Cowboy singing “Caravan” from The Band’s “The Last Waltz.”

Sit back and get into the music!

Love ya,
John

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John Mellencamp’s “No Better Than This” – Way Down The Road

John Mellencamp continues to age like good whiskey with a satisfying swig of rootsy folk and blues on his latest release, “No Better Than This.” If you’ve enjoyed the direction Mellancamp has been traveling, deeper and deeper into the heart of yesteryear with producer T-Bone Burnett, you’ll get a strong kick from what the two have brewed this time around. Mellencamp follows the stripped down feel of 2008’s Life Death Love and Freedom with 13 more new songs that sound and feel like they were written and recorded a long, long time ago in the heart of Americana.

Mellencamp and Burnett accomplish this feat of sounding both old and new at the same time by literally travelling back to a much earlier place and time. These songs were recorded completely in mono in studio’s crowded with ghosts of music’s past; places like Sun Studio in Memphis, a hotel room in Texas where Robert Johnson laid down his version of the blues and the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia. The songs are mostly dry as a bone, with only a minimum of help from a few musicians who have already lived the blues; people like stand-up bass player David Roe, who played with Johnny Cash on the Man-In-Black’s last couple of albums and former Tom Waits’ guitarist Mark Ribot. Crammed into Sun Studios or that San Antonio hotel room with barely room to play, this group lays down a slow and bluesy sound over which Mellencamp can growl a little.

The record opens with the introspective dirge “Save Some Time To Dream,” a cautionary tune in which the narrator wonders:

“Could it be that this is all there is, could it be there’s nothing more at all,
Save some time to dream, cause your dream might save us all.”

Over the last several albums Mellencamp’s songs have matured to reveal an artist, far from his former pop stardom, who’s both hardened by the years and still optimistic, encouraged by the honesty and goodness he sees around him. The title track reflects that optimism as Mellencamp and his band jumps up and jams, as John Mellencamp calls out for salvation in the here and now. Mono has never sounded “no better than this.”

And even though Mellencamp sings on the following track, “Thinking About You” that “it’s not in my nature to be nostalgic at all,” this album like the one before it is thick in the comfort that memories bring. Mellencamp seems to finally be finding a comfortable place where he can stay for awhile. It’s been a long and often bumpy road for the Indiana native, but the past is the place he’s gone looking for on “No Better Than This” and, by God, I do believe he’s stumbled upon a home there.

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Backgammon, Bootlegs and Best Friends

In 1978, I was 17 and newly arrived at Syracuse University. SI can still remember how nervous I was that first day, as my Dad and I drove up the long driveway to Mount Olympus. That’s where my dorm was – Flint Hall. I didn’t know a soul in Syracuse. But I was fortunate to meet a guy in those first days who became my best friend in the world. His name was Kevin and from the time we first met, we were inseparable.

Kevin had it all and was everything a guy could ever hope for in a friend. He was incredibly kind and polite; he was deeply considerate, sensitive and sometimes shy. But what was most important was that we loved the same things. Kevin and I loved the same music, the same books, the same movies. And Kevin was from New Jersey, that mystical place in my mind from whence hailed my rock and roll idol Bruce Springsteen. Kevin also shared the same passion for Springsteen and he taught me all I needed to know. From then on it was Kev and Kel (me) and we made quite a team.

Except for when we were in classes, or on certain weekends when Kev would drive to visit a girl he liked who was going to school in Springfield, Massachusetts, we were always together. Whether we were going to see a film on campus, or spending some time being recruited by the fraternities that we secretly swore to never join, Kevin and Kel were pretty much one. We go to all the frats and drink their beer and eat their pizza while we secretely vowed to never join one. We’d go to “floor parties” in the dorms, where we met other great friends. Guys who lived on my floor like Mike and Eric, not to mention the girls who lived on the upper floors of Flint and all over Day Hall.

And the one thing that we both loved to do in those quieter hours after finishing with studies was to play backgammon.

I remember we played mostly in Kevin’s room (his room being “cooler” than mine that freshman year) and we played all the time! We were both about equally good (or perhaps equally bad) but we just loved to play. We played to beat the band and the band of course was Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

Of course we had to have a soundtrack on those halcyon evenings, and Bruce and the boys delivered on that. We had all of Springsteen’s regular releases and his bootlegs too. We’d listen to them over and over wearing out the grooves in the vinyl. He had an old fashioned turntable and stereo that he and his Dad had rigged up and it always sounded great. And when it came to bootlegs he had his favorite and I had mine.
His was a show from the Paramount Theater in Passaic:

Many Springsteen fanatics, like myself believe this to be his greatest recorded show of all time. But for me, well, I had another favorite that I found down on Marshall Street in the grimy, dusty used record store. It was know by just one word, but it was a thing of beauty and joy forever. It was “Winterland.”

And so there we were. The world could be coming to an end but it wouldn’t bother us. Kevin and I had our backgammon, our Bruce and our friendship. We’d sit and play game after game and talk. We’d talk about the girls we liked and some who liked us. We’d talk about our classes and goofy professors. We’d talk about our pasts, presents and we’d talk about our futures. Kevin swore that one day he would own his own Taco stand in San Diego (while he hardly owns a Taco stand, he currently lives just outside San Diego…how prophetic!).

Life was good. The wicked ways of the world hadn’t had their chance to turn us back. We were young, and free and having a hell of a time.

And the first snowflake hadn’t even fallen.

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James Taylor – “Still Crazy After All These Years”

On this Sunday I thought you might enjoy being serenaded by good old sweet baby James Taylor covering a song by Paul Simon.

Enjoy and Love y’all,

John

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Surfer Girl, covered by Paul Simon

Paul Simon, one of the great singing voices of our lifetimes, picks up the guitar and offers his take on a Beach Boys classic.

Grab a cool, refreshing drink, find a comfy chair and somebody or something (dog, cat, etc.) that you love and let yourself drift away….

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