Top Posts Of 2017

A sure sign of the year being almost over are the inevitable ‘Best Of’ lists that start popping up everywhere you look. For the last few years here I have added my own top posts of the year. Not in terms of the numbers of views or comments, but top because I feel best about these posts in particular. Don’t get me wrong-at this point four years into writing, I am happy with everything I post, but it is probably inevitable that some become more meaningful and special.

It is also a useful time to take stock of where I am with this blog. Last year to add a purely photography side to it, I added Monochrome Mondays. Ironically that had started as doing just a short blurb about the photo chosen, but lately I seem to find more to write about on each photo. I thought about culling through some of those to possibly add here on the Best Of, but decided to leave them as a stand alone section instead. For those of you who have followed me for awhile, I have to say I regret not continuing with the ‘Photo Shuffle’ series. I squeaked out two of them early in the year, but I hope to resurrect this section again in 2018. For now though, here are my ‘Top Posts Of 2017’ in no particular order-

The Architecture Of Art -This was essentially a Part 2 to a post I wrote last year making the case for calling myself an artist. After spending a lot of time thinking about it, I defined this idea further. Featuring a song by Ani DiFranco.

Happy Landings Amelia-The true explanation for the disappearance of Amelia Earhart may never truly be known, but two great songs from a classic album by Plainsong will live on, together with the mystery.

Why Do You Listen? -One night coming home from work I had the realization that I know why I listen to music, but what about other people? I posed the question on Facebook and had an amazing response from friends. The answers were all personal but quite meaningful. Featuring a song by Roger Glover that seemed to sum it all up.

Mexico-Color & Passion– I wanted to write a post about my love of Mexican culture. The food, the beer, the art, the music. I love it all and have only really scratched at the surface. The musical side to this are two wonderful songs by Lila Downs.

Lark Rising-A Tribute To Flora Thompson-In this post I wrote about my favorite book-Lark Rise To Candleford and used music based on the book by another favorite group-The Albion Band.

Light Study-I chose a Water Tower on my street to do my own version of a ‘still life’ the way painters use a fruit bowl. I took photos of the same water tower at different times of day, in all different kinds of light to see for myself how a subject matter changes. With a song from the early days of R.E.M.

Musical Laughs– I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes my posts are a little serious, or thought provoking. Which is why I thought I would do something to lighten the mood a little featuring various musical comedy sketches. I think I will be doing a Part 2 of this post in the future!

Presenting: Toli Nameless– I have made a lot of connections and friendships with some of the musicians I have written about on here. I love them all, but this one is about my dear friend for years now who sings, plays trombone and other instruments, dances, writes, and just about anything else you care to mention. Featuring two of my favorite songs of hers.

‘Live’ Elements– For each anniversary, or ‘blogoversary’ I always try to do something special to mark the occasion. This year I imagined being an observer from start to finish for a live concert, shifting between all the different characters one might expect to see. The music comes from my favorite live album of all time, by one of my most favorite singers-Bob Seger.

It Ain’t Enough– A song by Alan Doyle (no relation) reminded me that when I am in a photography rut I need to move forward and fine new inspirations and ways of taking photographs rather than staying where I feel comfortable.

Terra Firma– One of the most popular tags for photos on Instagram these days is ‘cloudporn’ because people really just like photos of clouds, myself included. A photo I took one day reminded me of a topographical map and this post with wonderful music by the multi-talented composer Nitin Sawhney was the result.

Flying– I realized at some point in the year that I had not been seeking out new music much, which is surely one way to keep inspired and keep doing what I do here. Once I heard the guitar driven songs of Jackie Venson I was hooked and knew I would have to write about her.

Honorable Mention here for two of my favorite posts this year that I did NOT write. The blogging community consists of some amazing people from all over the world. I was completely honored that two bloggers, one from India, and one from the U.S. wrote fictional stories based around photos of mine. I wanted to include them here for you all to have a look yourself. Thank you Aakansha and Kaleya!

https://grimscrypt.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/the-change-part-1/– Make sure you read Part 2!

https://akansha1104.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/an-evening-at-coney-island/

 

Stay tuned next week for Part 1 of my favorite photos of the year!

Photograph By Carol Amezquita

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Monochrome Mondays

Smile For The Camera!

I have been reading an autobiography of Paul Auster, a favorite writer of both my wife and I. Actually in clever Auster fashion he has written two ‘autobiographies’. The first-Winter Journal which I have not read is described as a second person look at his physical self. Report From The Interior is the one I am currently reading and it is a recollection of the inner workings of his development from an early age. For fans of his work it is a revealing look at some of his earliest fascinations in life, interspersed with true stories about growing up. All I can say in describing it is that it is unlike any autobiography I have ever read. One of the reasons I like it is because at the end of the written part of the book is an ‘Album’ which tells the same exact story of his life through the eyes of cartoons,  vintage photographs, magazine advertisements, newspaper stories, and even motion picture stills. I found myself skipping back and forth to see the visual side of what he was writing about. Surely one reason for this device in the book is because at one stage he laments that as a result of moving a lot he lost a lot of mementos and photo documentation of his youth. Surprising because he mentions that in the postwar U.S. every family was gripped by ‘shutterbug’ fever.

It made me think about the times we are in now, when everyone is seemingly a photographer. From masters of the selfie to Instagram accounts with thousands of followers, everyone it seems is representing their life in a ‘visual’ way. The difference from what Auster described is that though cameras may have been readily available, the means of sharing them to people was not. I am old enough to remember the dreaded ‘slide shows’ your neighbor might invite you over for to see of their trip to the Grand Canyon. Other than that, photography was either commercial-family portraits, newspapers, magazines, etc or artistic. The lines did not really intersect with one another but they sure have now. This blog would not exist if they did not intersect after all. The question I wonder about is-does having so much visual representation  harm the more thought driven way we used to think? Instead of describing how awesome the pizza was at a restaurant to a friend, we show them a photo we snapped of it on our phone. Instead of describing a cool exhibit we saw at a museum, going over the high points we tend to rely on the visual.

By no means am I above this, but sometimes I like to take a step back. To ‘think’ about photography rather than doing it. When I saw these figures standing on a hill on Roosevelt Island with the Manhattan skyline behind the figure to the right above, I thought it would be interesting to take a photo of people engaged in the act of photography. Photographer and subject matter together. I could describe to you in detail what was behind that figure on the right. What buildings would be in view, what color the sky was, that sort of thing. And sometimes I think that is actually more interesting.

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Monochrome Mondays

Late Night

Well depending where you live, the cooler days are already with you or on the way. Here it has been a bit of a see-saw requiring odd combinations of jackets, gloves, scarves and hats to compensate. One recent Friday night the temperature dropped rather quickly and surprisingly. Which if you take a minute to observe people usually means the hands go in the pockets, the jacket gets zippered all the way up the head gets scrunched down into the marginal warmth of the coat. You also tend to walk briskly between points. On this particular night I ventured deep into a part of our neighborhood I hadn’t ever really been to before. Certainly at night I had not.

My destination was a taproom I had been meaning to go to for some time and it was a very long walk I don’t mind telling you! After staying for an hour or so I headed out and crossed the street. It was there I noticed that on the other side just before the taproom was this sheet metal fence protecting some sort of commercial yard. Immediately I had the idea that it would make an interesting backdrop for someone walking past, but I would have to do it in monochrome. Unfortunately due to that chilly night it was awhile before I saw someone. I took a few test shots of the fence itself and then waited across the street leaning against a tree. Finally someone walked past and I took my shot. It is inherently an urban photo with the fence. As I thought about it more you also seem to sense the chill in the air when I took it.

Well at least that is what I thought as I was taking it!

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Flying

‘From the ashes something new grows’

By my recollection this is the third bird related post I have done up to now. I’m actually not much of a nature photographer. That requires lots of patience. Because I do a lot of landscape shots, birds inevitably work their way into my photos…whether I want them to or not. The truth is I am truly fascinated by birds of all shapes, sizes and colors but my restless nature with photography makes me avoid time setting up and waiting for the mere chance of a great photo of them. I prefer going with the flow, capturing things on the go without a lot of fuss.  But lately in an attempt to really go outside the box both in my writing and photography and trying new things, I realize that I may need to learn some of that patience. I also realized recently that something I said on social media was really true. I have been lamenting the fact that I actually haven’t written about music as much here this year. I decided to fix this in two ways.

Recently I spent an afternoon taking photos with my friend Carol in Long Island City, Queens. We went to a few spots and though I was happy with the end results, I decided that first I needed to return to small scale with my photography. Instead of the big sweeping vistas I seem to have gravitated towards recently, I want to return to something more simple and less ‘big picture’. Of course there is plenty of room for all types of photos and I find that the best photographers have a diverse portfolio, utilizing both large and small scale. But maybe a deliberate focus shift will steer me back towards finding more ideas for writing about music.

The next and probably most obvious other solution is to listen to a lot more music. To find inspiration from artists both new to the scene and new material from established ones. I used to read about music a lot. Used to listen to alternate sources of music as a way of discovering something fresh sounding. I seem to have gotten away from that in the last year or so, and as I look back on my posts during that time, they tend to be from artists I have been familiar with for some time. Combined I hope both of these things will push me into new territory to get back to doing what feels right. The reason I am writing this now is because sometimes someone suddenly and unexpectedly comes into view who you swear has been there forever and pushes you in that direction.

‘See where I am going, and I’ve seen where I have been’

A month or so someone liked a photo I put up on Instagram I hadn’t heard of before. Like most people do, I clicked on the name to see who it was. Maybe a fellow blogger or photographer, or maybe someone from my neighborhood. Instead it was someone by the name of Jackie Venson out of Austin, Texas and on seeing her account, it was obvious she was a singer and guitarist. But what kind of music was it? Off to YouTube I went. And I have to say that weeks later, I’m still digging through the huge number of clips of Jackie has recorded over the last few years. I also have to say that I have not heard a bad track yet. Not only is she a soulful singer but she is one amazing guitarist. I mean truly. There are a lot of them out there, but sometimes you come across one where the guitar seems to be naturally forged into the player’s hands, as if it was meant to be there right from the start. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Jackie Venson, and I’m telling you right now-remember this name.

As I started digging through clips getting a sense of how her music and career have evolved I was astonished to learn that she really has only been playing the guitar for just a few years now, after playing piano since childhood. Then you add in that soulful voice, the songwriting and above all, her exuberance as a performer and you have one irresistible  combination. Jackie is out there touring pretty much nonstop, and I hope to catch her soon myself. I also knew I had to buy some music of hers, and I started with an EP released earlier this year-Transcends. The first track is the catchy ‘Flying’ with a pop soul groove throughout before Jackie takes the song off into another hemisphere with that dynamic guitar. Transcendent indeed.

While watching the video for Flying  I had the not so original idea for the photography side of this post. But I’m okay with that actually. I’ve always wanted this blog to be about finding connections between photography and music. Sometimes obvious, sometimes ones that require a bit of explanation and a lot of introspection on my part. Both types are driven by the song. And as I thought about Jackie’s song I realized that in the one line quoted above she was inadvertently telling me about the past and the future of this blog, about where I want to go, and where I’ve come from with it. I can’t think of a better way of going forward than ‘flying and spreading my wings’ than with this amazing guitar slinging Texas woman. Tomorrow, next week, who knows where it will come from? But the ideas will come from being flexible, just like those magic fingers of Jackie Venson.

Jackie has a prolific presence across social media, so follow her on your platform of choice to stay up to date on her music.

Flying-Written By Jackie Venson

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Monochrome Mondays

Looking Out

This is one of those moments where I feel the photograph needs to do most of the talking. I have a lot on my mind lately. Some good, some not so good. Neither of which will keep me silent on here for having this space is a very helpful thing to have to get thoughts out. That is why I think writing or any outlet of creativity is so vital, and its a lesson I learned late. But I suppose that is what still fuels me to keep going here, even when there are gaps of time between posts, even if I’m not writing about music so much. Even if my words here are fewer, the camera in my hand is a powerful tool of expression. It can be happy, sad or introspective.

As I mentioned last week I was at the beach recently. Early on my last morning there I went out for a walk, clutching a cup of coffee and enjoying the sun on my face. When I stepped on to the beach I saw this solitary figure on the pier gazing out. It reminded me of…me. Actually if this person had not been there I would have been standing on that pier as well, looking out on the passing ships and sea birds flying about. But instinctively I took a few photos, and then I realized the reason it felt that way was that I was feeling a sense of it reflecting on my own mind these days. Before I carried this camera with me, I would have had only one half of this equation-I would be looking out without understanding WHY? Now at least when I have thoughts I can reason them out a little more clearly because I see things on both sides of the lens. And that helps.

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Monochrome Mondays-The Void

As the autumn chill starts settling in and layers of clothing are added to outfits.  As the leaves start falling from trees, there is a feeling of starkness. Not just darker in the sense of waking up or coming home to darkness after the long light of spring and summer. But combined with the chillier air things start feeling more barren and lonely. Not being a particular fan of winter, I don’t relish when this starts happening, but it is unavoidable…short of moving to Miami that is! I had another one of those accidental photo opportunities a week or so ago. Accidental in the sense that I don’t believe I ever tried it before, but I liked the end result.

I was walking home one night from the pub on a very quiet residential street. There was a slight slope to the street, and at the top of the slope tree branches were overhanging the sidewalk, just enough that even with my short 5’7″ frame I had to duck under them. But something made me pause. The street was illuminated by street lights, but the nearest one was behind me. In front of me was nothing but the dark, offset by branches with some leaves bare and others still clinging on. But it was the dark void beyond those branches that seemed so striking to me. The illumination of the branch and leaves stood out, but the dark was compelling to me. This weekend I was at the beach for a weekend of writing. I went to get some air one of the nights (it was really cold!) and along the boardwalk I saw another example of this into the void sensation. Again the boardwalk was lit, but just beyond the dune grass in the photo was that void again. Instead of being on a street in Queens, this time that void was headed straight out into the Atlantic Ocean. When I saw what it looked like combined with the other photo, I realized that the darkness and void of winter could be made to look beautiful as well. And I thought that maybe the void isn’t so bleak or dark after all.

 

‘Live’ Elements

I honestly cannot believe I am typing this, but it has been four years now almost to the day since I nervously sat and wrote my very first blog post. Once again I am humbled by the fact that this idea of mine continues to be enjoyed by so many people literally around the world. Even when I have my quiet moments and am not able to post with the frequency I hope for, I still enjoy it so much. As I have done each of the past ‘blogoversaries’ I wanted to do something special once again. For my first one I took a walk across the Manhattan Bridge accompanied by the drums and brass sounds of Red Baraat. For the second I imagined being in the editing room of a movie working on my own soundtrack with music by guitarist Dan Ar Braz. Last year for the third, I wrote a letter to the young ‘me’ from the old ‘me’ with a song by Jack Lukeman. So here we are again.

This time, I wanted to capture the feel and energy of a live concert. Be it a tiny club stage, a festival or a huge concert arena, music truly comes alive at a live show. My account is purely fictional, but gleaned from watching and listening to some of the crucial elements in a lifetime of  attending concerts. I imagine a band that has made a name for itself with a dedicated bunch of fans who will attend any show within a certain radius of where they live. A band that some may know by name, but don’t know much about. A band with some airplay, but nothing close to a number 1 hit and a video with 2 million hits on YouTube. On the technical side, I imagine this fictional band being solvent enough to be able to comfortably go on tour with their own equipment and a road crew. Finally, I imagine that this particular show is in a ballroom-those somewhat dingy, but always enjoyable venues with a bar at the back of the room, questionable bathrooms, and a large open space in front of the stage for a standing room only crowd. The show I write about takes place on the East Coast of the United States, where bands can really capitalize on the short distances between cities and pack in a bunch of shows to good size crowds. So sit back and pretend you are there observing it all with me…

 

It is late morning when the truck pulls down a dark and dirty city alleyway. A couple of guys stumble out, clutching coffee cups and the remnants of breakfast sandwiches and donuts. One proceeds to give a couple of loud thumps on the metal shutter covering the loading bay. After a few minutes an equally tired and grumpy face looks out the side door. ‘Yeah?’ he says. ‘Setting up for tonight’ says the most alert member of the truck crew. ‘Give me a minute’ says the grumpy guy at the door. From somewhere inside the building a button is pushed which automatically lifts the metal gate, and grumpy is waiting on the other side, squinting in the late morning sun. The guys in the truck know the drill. One of them backs the truck up into position, and once in place the other unlocks the back of the truck and starts removing the maze of straps that keep the delicate contents of the truck from shifting around. Before long all manner of shapes and sizes of cases start rumbling down the ramp and into the building. Grumpy ‘helps’ by lighting a cigarette and motioning the general direction for them to place the gear in a series of monosyllabic grunts.

At first it looks like chaos inside the building, but it is actually a well oiled machine. With no instruction from anyone, the guys from the truck instinctively start spreading the cases around. To an outside observer, the shape and size of this gear would be cause for confusion, but these guys know exactly where everything has to go by the feel or weight of the case or a label slapped across the front of it. Of course it also helps that it was only a few hours before that these same guys loaded up the truck and know what is what. PA cabinets over there, Mixing Desk there. After an hour or so, a van pulls into the alley and a few other people step out. They too are clutching coffee cups, but seem a little less groggy than the guys still chugging along and unloading the truck. They say hello and commiserate about  the traffic on I-95 before this second group heads inside and takes in the scene before them. Just like the night before, they have been to this venue before, but it takes a few minutes to dig back in the memory to what makes this place different. In this business, each building presents different challenges. Hell, each person they work for presents challenges with different equipment and their own ideas about how things should work. Its not easy, but life is good living on shitty fast food, shittier motels and the shittiest of pay doing this for a living.

More specific actions start to gradually happen once the ‘boss’ gets there. When he first shows up he surveys the scene in front of him, instinctively looking for the problems he know will be an issue. All this stuff is supposed to be worked out with the promoter before the show, but its always like this. Always some unexpected headache that pops up and makes his job just a little more challenging. Today it is the in-house lighting rig. He’s not an electrician, but he knows that everybody better get their stuff together soon. He gets together with the various technicians and goes over the plan of attack. Standard setup- house lighting rig, drum and keyboard risers. Opening act is a singer-songwriter doing a solo set so they can set up everything now instead of doing a quick turnaround between acts. Soundcheck at 4 P.M. so we have a few hours to get it right. As if on cue the band’s manager calls-how’s it going there? The show is close to being a sell-out but there are some tickets left. Being a Friday night he’s not worried. Album sales have been a little sluggish but the shows are selling well and the merch table has been crowded every night. Always good signs for the rest of the tour.

On stage among the maze of cables, monitors, pedals, stands and other paraphernalia the instruments start coming out of cases. Once the drum riser is in place the drums come first. Bass drum, floor tom, snare, hi-hat, cymbals all start coming together in the familiar pattern, A case containing other bits of percussion like tambourines, dumbek, cajon and shakers sits nearby for the drummer to sort out the way he wants them. Close by on the keyboard riser the technicians work on getting the Leslie cabinet in place for the Hammond organ. On stage the guitars start delicately coming out of their respective cases and placed on stands. Lot of money in these beauties-the Rickenbacker bass, a shimmering red Gretsch hollow body electric, a Fender Telecaster. For acoustic there is a Martin 0018 (of course), a Takamine and a Yamaha. A mandolin and ukulele lurk nearby as well. Each time one is removed from the case, a technician gives it a quick wipe down before gently putting it on its stand and ensuring that the strap gets placed in just the right way. He’s been known to get death glares for not getting that part right from the musicians before.

As the day goes on, more people come and go but there is a constant stream of activity around the stage. Cables of all sorts are everywhere as is the ubiquitous  gaffers tape. Occasional electrical pops and feedback happen regularly. Since this is a ballroom show, the mixing desk which at a larger show one might see in the middle of the arena, is instead out of sight in a control room above the floor at the back. Which means that for setting up walkie talkies and headsets are in use among some of the crew. Backstage a small team that work for the promoter start laying out the spread specified in the bands rider.  Shortly before 4 PM the band shows up, escorted in from their bus. They too know the drill and they begin milling about the stage, checking everything out, lazily picking up instruments and making adjustments…to everything. After awhile, when all members of the band are on stage together, someone calls for a ‘song’ the band sometimes uses for sound checks, which isn’t really a song, but more of a jam, chosen so instruments can be checked against the natural acoustics of the room. When the band is satisfied enough, they begin drifting off. Some mill about chatting and making subtle changes and suggestions, others head down the maze of corridors behind the stage. Individually they will spend the next few hours working on the set list, doing some social media interaction, having a quick snooze and sorting out other sundry band related business.

Out front this is now the critical time. Doors will open at 7:30. The opener will go on at 8:30. That’s if she shows up on time thinks the Tour Manager. We better not have a repeat of the New Haven incident where she left too late and got stuck in traffic and delayed the entire evening by half an hour again. He knows she is travelling alone but still… He shakes himself out of that thought and starts going through his list. He expects to see everything looking ready by now. Instruments all lined up-Check. Stage cleared of unnecessary cases and cables all connected-Check. Front of house, back of house-Check. Control room communication-Check. But he cannot relax just yet. He walks out to the front of the ballroom with a member of staff and confirms where the merch table will go. He goes over names on a list who are allowed in without a ticket-a few from the local press, a few friends of the band before making his way back to the band behind the stage. They are scattered about, but he makes sure they are all satisfied in general, especially with what was promised by the promoter. Did you grab a bite? Are the beers cold enough?

As it gets closer to Doors Open, staff of the ballroom start getting ready. Bartenders and wait staff making sure everything is in place. Security ensuring things look safe. Ticket people ready with the scanners and will call lists. On stage the singer-songwriter opening the show does a very quick soundcheck of her own. The tour manager nods in appreciation, both for her getting here on time, and for the song she is doing. Deep down, he knows she is good, and that the band chose well for her to open this leg of the tour. He looks at his watch and heads up to the sound booth, conferring with the technicians to make sure they are all happy. ‘Looking good boss’ they report. ‘Nothing we can’t handle.’ Which is the answer he expects on a nightly basis. When its not their answer then he knows there will be problems. Once again he makes his way behind the stage and finds a quiet place to make a few phone calls and answer some emails about the rest of the tour where it will be Hello Boston. Hello Worcester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Cleveland.

Outside the early birds start lining up, nervously shuffling about in anticipation. Months before when the tour was announced they had gone online for tickets, printed them out, and stuck them on the refrigerator door for safe keeping until tonight. Now they were just moments away from showtime. Not before hitting the merch table and getting a new T-shirt, that is. At 7:40 the burly guy standing outside the door unhooks the velvet rope in front of the door and motions for people to head in. Hey, its rock & roll, nothing is ever on time! By now the line has grown rather large, so a steady stream of people almost immediately fill the ballroom up about half way. The others are stocking up on CD’s and T-shirts at the merchandise table or standing in line at the bar before jockeying themselves into position and praying no one tall stands in front of them.

The stage is quiet in anticipation of the opener. At 8:33 she comes out to a polite, but somewhat restrained reaction following an announcement by an unseen voice backstage somewhere. Its hard to clap when you have a bottle of beer in your hand actually, but she hopes by the end of her set she will win over some new fans. That damned singer-songwriter label she gets hit with, just because she writes songs and um…sings. Her music is actually quite loud and aggressive and before long the crowd is right there with her. She knows she only has a half hour set so keeps the talking to a minimum but makes sure to thank the headliner for the opportunity to be the opener, which she knows people appreciate hearing. They are running a tight set tonight, so instead of doing the walking to the side of the stage and waiting for applause routine, she instead announces that she will be doing two more songs before the band comes out. The first is an upbeat number of her own, the final song is a well chosen cover, well suited to her voice and guitar attack. She finishes to  loud applause and knows she will be selling some CD’s later as a result of her performance. Gigs like tonight carry her through the touring slog and money problems.

This is now the moment of truth. Backstage the band starts making final preparations-checking out their appearance in the mirror, using the bathroom, having a cigarette, drinking some water. One member likes to have a few moments of quiet calm, while another is pumping himself up like a prize fighter about to hit the ring. On stage two roadies make final checks of everything. Guitars are gently picked up and one or two faint notes are played while simultaneously looking at the sound booth for an approving nod. Microphones are tapped and clicked and popped one final time-Test, test, test.  Drums are struck with a methodical chunka-chunka approach. At the organ, the horn inside the Leslie Cabinet which gives it that unique sound is rotating as it should like some sort of musical radar detector. Ground Control To Major Tom- funky organ grooves have been detected on stage. Copies of the set list are taped to monitors. Guitar picks are threaded onto the microphone stands. Towels and water bottles are placed strategically for each band member. The roadies drift away.

The crowd senses the show is about to start.

Energy in the ballroom is electric.

Slowly the lights dim.

Applause, whistles and shouts grow.

Familiar silhouettes of figures appear on stage.

Guitars come off stands and slide on to shoulders.

A few deliberate, fumbling notes to make sure the ‘tools’ are in working order.

Lights come up ever so slightly.

Figures on stage look at each other, nodding.

‘HELLO! ARE YOU READY?’

1, 2….1234……

Now we need some appropriate music for this post. I know some people dislike live albums typically, but I really enjoy them. The best ones capture some of that excitement and energy for those that were not there. Others are interesting for the ability to bring the studio versions of songs to life despite not having the same sort of instruments or studio trickery available to use on stage. Others pinpoint a specific time or moment in an artists career. Rare is a live album that manages to do all three but my own personal favorite live album does-Live Bullet by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band.  Released in 1976,  and recorded on his home turf at Cobo Hall in Detroit a year before it marks the turning point of his career. Prior to its release, Bob was known for years throughout the Midwest for his hard driving songs but barring a few songs that touched the national charts, not much further than that. Six months after Live Bullet came out though, the Night Moves album was released, and with the title cut leading the way, Bob Seger has never looked back since.

It opens with a barnstorming version of Ike & Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits.  Later is that killer drum beat to Ramblin’Gamblin’ Man and the rocking Get Out Of Denver. The band could lay down some serious funk on songs such as Bo Diddley and Heavy Music, then switch gears to the war-weary tale of living on the road in Turn The Page, with the shimmering saxophone work of Tommy Cartmell (aka Alto Reed). The classic version of his Silver Bullet Band shines throughout. Together with Cartmell there was Drew Abbott on guitar, Robyn Robbins on keyboards, Charlie Allen Martin on drums, and Chris Campbell on bass. You can hear in the course of the album how Seger had clearly mastered the art of getting the crowd into it. “I was reading in Rolling Stone where they said Detroit audiences are the greatest rock & roll audiences in the world.” On Heavy Music- “If you’ll sing with me I won’t guarantee it, but you juuuuust might wind up on an album” in a sly manner, before it gets quiet and Seger belts “I got to go somewhere….somewhere where nooobody knows my name……1,2,3,4- I THINK I’M GOING TO KATHMANDU, launching into another well known song.

The second and third songs on the album though are what really made me love this album from the first time I heard it, well over 30 years ago now. At the time Bob and the band were touring around their current studio album-Beautiful Loser. On Live Bullet the songs Travelin’ Man and Beautiful Loser were joined together, but are dramatically different then their studio counterparts. I could write another 1000 words about these 9 minutes of music. Instead I will just say that the moment Travelin’ Man shoots out to the stratosphere in a transcendent churning of sound from musicians working hard and working together, led by the distinctive, gravelly voice of Bob Seger is one of my favorite moments of music of all time. And that is no lie.

It isn’t just that it realizes the criteria I mentioned above, Live Bullet goes well past that. It captures the essence of a live show without actually having been there. In my head I can see Bob leaning on that microphone stand and getting into it. I can see the rhythm section nailing it all down, I can hear that organ moving around the arrangement, the sax punctuating the beat, and the guitar leading the charge.It feeds from the crowd, and feeds the crowd, then back again. The best live recordings such as ‘Live Bullet’ capture moments like that.  Whether you were actually at the show or not. Whether you were even alive at the time a live album was released.  There is nothing more glorious and satisfying than moments where it all comes together. And though my little imaginative story may have sounded a little romantic, I know that those moments are what make it worthwhile for all involved in making music for a living.

Cheers to the roadies and technicians and crews that make live concerts sound so great! Thank you to all of you who read, like and share my posts. It means a great deal to me. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again-As long as there are songs to hear and photographs to take, this project will continue.  Extra huge cheers to my friend Dan Ogus for some terrific behind the scenes info used in this piece. Be sure to check out Dan’s excellent radio show Scattering The Roots right here.

Travelin’ Man and Beautiful Loser-Written By Bob Seger

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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