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Music in American Culture

Commonly known as "records" in their era of greatest popularity (c. 1896–1915), these hollow cylindrical objects have an audio recording engraved on the outside surface, which can be reproduced when they are played on a mechanical cylinder phonograph (below).

The first phonograph was used to play cylinders.

The phonograph disc record was the primary medium used for music reproduction until late in the 20th century, replacing the phonograph cylinder record–with which it had co-existed from the late 1880s through to the 1920s–by the late 1920s. This is the 78 RPM version.

Nipper contemplates the big sound of a record.

This is similar to my first record player. Albums hung over the side of the machine.

The MiniDisc was a magneto-optical disc-based data storage device offering a capacity of 74 minutes and, later, 80 minutes, of digitized audio. The Sony-brand audio players were on the market from September 1992 until March 2013.

Follow the Technology

Music in American Culture 8:00-9:15 am. C199.

Basic idea is that music ALWAYS follows technology.

1945, just more than $100 million worth of records on discs made of shellac were sold. 1958, with 45 rpm singles and some albums, reached $500 million. 1965 sales had rocketed to more than $1 billion. Music industry changes, multi-billion dollar cash cow.

Before recorded music, the only way to hear music was live.

Here’s where technology begins to change music.

1) Cylinders and 78s, then 45s

2) Vinyl albums, introduced in 1947, gone as major music storage source by 1985.

3) CD: 1985-gone by 2000.

33 1/3 vinyl album=The real breakthrough.

From a business point of view, it was simple mathematics: Albums generated a lot more money than singles. It upped the financial ante considerably.

Everybody bought into albums as albums. For record companies, it was a godsend, meant selling something for $2.99 instead of 79 cents. Artists could make music that lasted longer and told stories. Consumers bought into them because they were cool.

It was part of a new form of communication.

Changed the way artists approached music. It was an era when musicians toured to sell albums, completely opposite of today.

Advent of instrument and live music technology: electric guitars an synthesizers, speakers and equipment.

The Rock Era, roughly 1965-1995, as the exception, not the rule.

©Leland Rucker 2016

Sweet Lunacy: A History of Boulder Rock on Vimeo.

Coming on 420: Debut issue of Sensi magazine.

Leland Rucker on KGNU-FM, Boulder Community Radio.

March 30, 2016   No Comments

Bob Dylan’s Modern Times and Tell Tale Signs

We'll be celebrating Bob Dylan's 70th birthday (it's May 24) early on Roots & Branches April 3.

I just finished Sean Wilentz’s “Bob Dylan in America,” a series of essays that looks at Dylan’s career, many of them about the later parts of it.  Like Wilentz, I have been fascinated at Dylan’s reincarnation after a period of confusion that lasted through much of the 1980s as a kind of minstrel, performing regularly as well as becoming involved in other kinds of creative expression.

Dylan is marking 70 years next month, so I put together a special KGNU (88.5 FM) Roots & Branches show for Sunday, April 3, 9-11 am MT that will argue that the last twenty years of Dylan’s career will be a period that be considered one of his most fruitful. (Download the show here until April 17.)

Nothing could possibly match the evolutionary path Robert Zimmerman took from the moment he first stepped onto New York streets fifty years ago in January to the release of Nashville Skyline nine years later. But he hasn’t done so bad of late, either.

In Chronicles Dylan relates that he realized by 1987 that he had been coasting, riding the laurels of his legend, performing erratically and releasing albums that seemed little more than pale reflections of his glorious past. He minced few words about his predicament, which coincided with an injury to one of his hands that he feared might end his playing days. “Always prolific, never exact,” he wrote, “too many distractions had turned my musical path into a jungle of vines.”

At the same time he writes that he realized that he would have to change the way he wrote and presented his music. “By combining certain elements of technique which ignite each other I could shift the levels of perception, time-frame structures and systems of rhythm,” he wrote, “which would give my songs a brighter countenance, call them up from the grave – stretch out the stiffness in their bodies and straighten them out.”

He also describes a musical numerical system, which I still don’t understand, that he says the guitarist Lonnie Johnson taught him. But for whatever reasons, things began turning around for him.

In 20 years, he’s released two albums of traditional songs (Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong, four albums of original material (Time Out of Mind, Love & Theft, Modern Times and Together Through Life) and eight editions in his bootleg series that includes a couple of three-disc sets. He published the first of a three-part memoir, Chronicles, which offered his own memories of his early days in New York City and two other periods of his life where he felt at a crossroads. He let Martin Scorsese direct No Direction Home, a three-hour-plus documentary on his life to 1966, that included two more albums of outtakes and other interesting material.

He wrote, directed and produced Masked & Anonymous,  an apocalyptic film that starred some of Hollywood’s finest acting talent. He curated and was host of Theme Time Radio Hour for three years, producing 100 hour-long programs that featured his obvious love for all kinds of music and American history and featured his oddball sense of humor. He let Twyla Tharp try to adapt his music for dance.

He plays about a hundred concerts a year, which isn’t an unusual number of shows except, it seems, in Dylan’s case, when it’s called the Never Ending Tour. His paintings are now hung in galleries around the world. He made Christmas in the Heart, a fantastic Christmas album and donated the money to charity. You probably wouldn’t have called Bob Dylan charitable in 1965, but you might today. He seems to have grown comfortably into old age with the same instincts and curiosity intact that have, except for a period in the 1980s, always sustained him.

And his most recent work, as Wilentz relates, recasts him as part of a long American tradition. In many ways, it’s no more than an extension of what he has always done. In Chronicles Dylan relates, as a voracious reader from an early age, how he dug into historical texts in friend’s apartments and the New York City Library. Early on he paid tribute to his heroes by copying them – his own tribute, “Song to Woody,” steals the melody of Woody Guthrie’s own “1913 Massacre.” Today, he finds different ways to connect with music and literature from, as Greil Marcus once dubbed it, the old, weird America, and spit it back out at us in different ways.

I think I make a strong case for his recent success, but the proof is in the music. Time willing, here’s the playlist for Sunday morning. The show will stream from kgnu.org, and I’ll post the link to the podcast Sunday afternoon.

Introduction, Bob Dylan Concert 2009
Blind Willie McTell, Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Vol. 1, Disc 3.
Tomorrow Night, Lonnie Johnson Bluebird single
Tomorrow Night, Bob Dylan, Good As I Been To You
Money Honey (take 2), Bob Dylan Unreleased
Nashville Skyline Rag, Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline
Love Sick, Bob Dylan, Time Out Of Mind
Not Dark Yet, Bob Dylan, Time Out Of Mind
Tryin’ To Get to Heaven (Oct. 5, 2000, London, England), Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Marchin to the City, Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Things Have Changed, Bob Dylan, Wonder Boys
Having Myself A Time, Billie Holiday, Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933-1944 (Disc 4)
Bye & Bye, Bob Dylan, Love & Theft
Po’ Boy, Bob Dylan, Love & Theft
High Water, Bob Dylan, Love & Theft
Come Una Pietra Scalciata (Like A Rolling Stone), Articolo 31. Masked & Anonymous
Down In The Flood (New Version), Bob Dylan, Masked & Anonymous
Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking    Bob Dylan & Mavis Staples, Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs Of Bob Dylan
Spirit On The Water, Bob Dylan, Modern Times
Beyond The Horizon, Bob Dylan, Modern Times
Cross the Green Mountain, Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Checkers by Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour: Dogs
Sinatra and Kennedy, Theme Time Radio Hour: President’s Day
Dylan GPS rap, Theme Time Radio Hour: Street Map
Life is Hard, Bob Dylan, Together Through Life
It’s All Good, Bob Dylan, Together Through Life

April 2, 2011   2 Comments

Sweet Lunacy Comes to YouTube

It was ten years ago, on March 24, 2001, that Sweet Lunacy: A Brief History of Boulder Rock, was first screened at the Boulder Theatre, the opening act for the 25th reunion concert of Dusty Drapes and the Dusters.

Don Chapman and I had worked on and off for more than two years on the documentary, commissioned and funded by a grant from the Boulder Arts Commission for Boulder Municipal Channel Eight. We filmed a host of people who had been part of the music scene in Boulder from the 1950s, when Ray Imel Sr. and Rex Barker opened Tulagi, through the Astronauts, Flash Cadillac, the Dusters, Michael Woody and the Too High Band, Judy Roderick, Zephyr, Firefall, Big Head Todd and the Monsters and many others  into the 1980s, when the Fox Theatre began hosting live shows, and boiled down more than 30 hours of interviews into a one-hour documentary.

Don put the finishing touches on it that morning, and standing there watching it amongst my friends and more than a thousand people for whom it was made was one of the great hours of my life. It has been showing regularly since its release on Channel Eight.

But for ten years, that’s the only way people could see it. Because of budget and staff cuts, Channel Eight no longer makes copies of the film available. At present, it is only available if you have access to Channel 8, and it is not on a regular schedule, so it is truly accessible to only a scant few people.

Meanwhile, requests for it have remained pretty steady over the years. It was originally made for VHS (remember that?), and in a digital world many people who only have it in that format might no longer be able to access it. Others who were interviewed or played a part in the film have never seen it. I get emails inquiring about it, but beyond burning and sending a physical copy, there is no legitimate way for people outside of Boulder to see it.

The arts commission’s only charge to Don and me was to get it in front of as many people as possible, and the way to do that today is to make it available on YouTube. It needs at least the chance to go viral.

It’s now at sweetlunacyboulder, chopped into four easily digestible 15-minute segments, thanks to the lovely and talented Lauren Winton. I have added some notes so you know what’s in each segment, and I’m sure I’ll be playing with annotation and other stuff to make it more easily understood. More about Sweet Lunacy and its making here.

If you are interested in screening the film, please contact me at leland.rucker@gmail.com. But most of all, please, enjoy.

April 1, 2011   1 Comment

The Band: Roots & Branches 02-27-11

Here’s the set list for a special Roots & Branches look at one of rock’s most beloved and influential groups. Hope I can get through all these in two hours. I also direct your attention to a piece I wrote about Music From Big Pink that graciously wound up on the unofficial band website.

The house at Big Pink.

“Ain’t Got No Home” (Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry) Clarence “Frogman” Henry The Complete Buddy Holly, Vol. 10
“The Great Pretender” The Platters Rock N’ Roll Era: 1954-1955
“Saved” LaVern Baker Atlantic Rhythm & Blues Disc 4: 1947-1974
“The Third Man Theme” The Band Moondog Matinee
“She’s Nineteen Years Old” The Hawks A Musical History
“Who Do You Love” The Band A Musical History-Selections
“He Don’t Love You” Levon Helm & The Hawks Across The Great Divide [Disc 3]
“The Stones I Throw (Will Free All Men)” Levon & The Hawks A Musical History
“I Ain’t Got No Home [Live]” Bob Dylan & The Band A Musical History
“Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” Bob Dylan The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert [Live] [Disc 2]
“Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast)” (Outtake – Demo) The Band Music From Big Pink
“See You Later, Allen Ginsberg” Bob Dylan & The Band Genuine Basement Tapes Vol 4
“Yazoo Street Scandal (Outtake)” The Band Music From Big Pink
“We Can Talk” The Band Music From Big Pink
“To Kingdom Come” The Band Music From Big Pink
“The Weight” The Band Music From Big Pink
“Look Out Cleveland” The Band The Band
“Rag Mama Rag” The Band The Band
“The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show” The Band
Stage Fright
“Life Is A Carnival” The Band Rock Of Ages [Disc 2]
“The Last Waltz Refrain [Live]” The Band Across The Great Divide [Disc 3]
“The Shape I’m In” The Band & Friends The Complete Last Waltz
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”  The Complete Last Waltz
“Stage Fright” The Band & Friends The Complete Last Waltz
“Go Back To Your Woods” Robbie Robertson & Bruce Hornsby Storyville
“Ragtop” Danko Fjeld Anderson Ridin’ On The Blinds
“You Don’t Know Me” Danko, Manuel & Butterfield Lone Star Cafe, New York City NY, September 19, 1984
“Atlantic City” Levon Helm Band FestivaLink Presents Levon Helm Band MerleFest Ramble At MerleFest, NC 4/26/08 [Disc 1]
“I Shall Be Released” The Band Live At Watkins Glen
“Acadian Driftwood (Neil Young & Joni Mitchell)” The Band & Friends The Complete Last Waltz
“Theme From The Last Waltz [Live]” The Band Across The Great Divide [Disc 3]
Slippin And Slidin’ [Live]The BandAcross The Great Divide [Disc 3]

February 26, 2011   1 Comment

Morning Sound Alternative: Jan. 24, 2011

Here’s the playlist for the Morning Sound Alternative for Jan. 24, 2011 on KGNU. The only restriction for this show is that the singer is not the author of the song.

Everybody Wants To Rule The World    Patti Smith    Twelve    4:07    2007
Rebel Rebel    Seu Jorge    The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou    2:24    2004
Coffee, Coffee, Coffee    Freedy Johnston    Real: The Tom T Hall Project    3:02    1998
The Third Man Theme    The Band    Moondog Matinee    2:49    1973
It’s A Long Way To The Top    Lucinda Williams    Little Honey    4:56    2008
Angel Of The Morning    The Pretenders    Pirate Radio [Disc 3]    3:32    1994
Words (Between The Lines Of Age)    Chip Taylor    Harvest Revisted (MOJO )    5:09    2010
A Day In The Life    Jeff Beck    International Forum, Tokyo JP, February 6, 2009    5:14    2009
This Wheel’s On Fire    Neil Young and The Sadies    Garth Hudson Presents A Canadian Celebration Of The Band    3:28    2010
Lean On Me    Eric Bibb, Rory Block & Maria Muldaur    Sisters & Brothers    4:07    2004
Superstition    Old School Freight Train  Heart of Glass      3:23
Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky    Peter Wolf    Midnight Souvenirs    2:12    2010
Gonna Move    Susan Tedeschi    Wait For Me    4:26    2002
Never Gonna Give You Up    The Black Keys    The Black Keys (Brothers)    3:41    2010
Angel Dance    Robert Plant    Band of Joy    3:49    2010
Run Through the Jungle (Gunmen soundtrack)    Los Lobos    Rarities, Covers & Radio Shows    3:46
Garden Party    John Fogerty    The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again    3:51    2009
She Belongs To Me    Rick Nelson    Legacy (Disc 3)    3:03
Lonesome Town    Bob Dylan With Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers    Lonesome Town [Disc 2]    5:30    2002
Burn Down The Cornfield    Charlie Musselwhite    Sanctuary    3:30    2004
Louisiana 1927    Sonny Landreth        3:59
Losing You    Mavis Staples    You Are Not Alone    2:52    2010
Just One Smile    Al Kooper    Soul of a Man (Disc 1)    6:09    1994
Gone Dead Train [Movie-Soundtrack]    Randy Newman    CD 3: Odds & Ends    2:54    1970
Everybody’s Talkin’    Harry Nilsson    Greatest Hits    2:46    1968
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood    Nina Simone    Broadway Blues Ballads    2:48    1993
Hey Gyp    The Animals    Retrospective    3:50    1966
Voodoo Child (Slight Return)    Angelique Kidjo, Buddy Guy, And Vernon Reid    Lightning In A Bottle. A Salute To The Blues Soundtrack Recording [Disc 2]    5:17    2004
I Am Waiting    Ollabelle        4:15
Walk Away Renee Linda Ronstadt & Ann Savoy    Adieu False Heart    3:26    2006
When Doves Cry    The Be Good Tanyas    Hello Love    4:02    2006
Soul Serenade    Aretha Franklin    I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You    2:39
State Trooper    Deana Carter    Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska    3:46
Paint The Town Beige    Bill and Bonnie Hearne    Watching Life Through A Windshield    3:39    2000
Glad & Sorry    Golden Smog    Down By The Old Mainstream    3:34    1996
Don’t Knock    Tom Jones    Praise & Blame    2:15    2010
Perfidia (Guitar)    The Ventures        2:03    1960
Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)    Tim O’Brien    Red On Blonde    4:03    1996
Al Vaivén De Mi Carreta    Afrocubismo    Afrocubismo    5:00    2010

January 24, 2011   No Comments

Television Time: No Boob Tube

After reading a recent series of posts on a KC music fan listserv about a concert at the Uptown Theatre April 1, 1977 that featured Television opening for Peter Gabriel, who was touring in support of his first solo album, I remembered this article, which was never published and now includes original photography from Darrell Lea, who must have been sitting over a few seats from me taking pictures that night (thanks, Darrell). And btw, it wasn’t a crime to do that back then — we took photos of many bands back in those days and nobody said a word. It was a different time.

April 1, 1977

Television at the Uptown (Photo by Darrell Lea)

Television at the Uptown (Photo by Darrell Lea)

Tom Verlaine is sitting across from me in a booth in a Holiday Inn coffee shop in downtown Kansas City on an especially overcast April Fool’s Day. Verlaine is the leader and songwriter for the band Television, which last month released its first album, Marquee Moon, on Elektra Records to critical acclaim. The band is in town today as the opening act for Peter Gabriel’s show at the Uptown Theatre.

Verlaine is 27 years old and has been playing since 1966, when he bought his first electric guitar, a used Gibson model. He is wearing the same shirt he is pictured in in stories I have read about him in New Musical Express and Village Voice and on the cover of Marquee Moon.

He grew up in Delaware with drummer Billy Ficca, and moved to New York in 1967 with vague hopes of putting a band together. He played mostly with friends until 1973, when he formed Television. The only change in band members since then is the bassist, which was originally Richard Hell, now of the Voidoids, who “didn’t practice enough,” Verlaine said, and was replaced by Fred Smith.

Verlaine is intense and quite proud of the album. I told him how much I liked it right from the first listen, and he could barely conceal his pleasure. “You thought it was pretty good?”

“I thought it was fucking great,” I said. “I don’t take it off my stereo for very long.”

Another concealed smile. I know it feels good to hear that.

I ask about the sound of those two guitars, so crisp and clear and strong, a Fender Telecaster coming out of each speaker like dueling cobras out of a charmer’s basket. He said that live it doesn’t sound that way except in a small club, because the air inside larger rooms muffles the crispness and sharpness that you hear on Marquee Moon. He said he has a new Plexiglas guitar to try and recreate that studio sound onstage.

Some songs have been with them since inception, the most prominent being “Venus de Milo.” That they have been together almost three years accounts for the tightness of the album’s sound. There was little overdubbing on Marquee Moon, he said, just some organ and piano that Verlaine, who produced with Andy Johns, added later. “We changed some of the parts as we went along.”

Tom Verlaine looking rather unhappy with the mix -- or something. (Photo by Darrell Lea)

Tom Verlaine looking rather unhappy with the mix -- or something. (Photo by Darrell Lea)

I asked if it worried him that bands that get high acclaim often crash and burn (thinking N.Y. Dolls), he replied that hype was just that, and that he was misquoted most of the time anyway. It could hurt or help them, he said, but that at this point he was just glad that he got his shot.

I suggested some influences that I heard on Marquee Moon. He said that, yes, he did like the first few Kinks LPs, and added that he really liked the Byrds, beating me to the punch, since a lot of the textures of his guitar style can be traced to McGuinn. But he said that he listened to a lot of tenor saxophone players, especially John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. I mention that I hear some Tony Joe White on “Friction,” and said he hadn’t heard of him. I mention “Polk Salad Annie,” and he said he remembered that tune and that White played “some mean guitar.”

Was the music a reaction to the popular sounds of late, made with banks of synthesizers, mellotrons, keyboards and string sections? He said he wasn’t a synthesizer fan, but that the sound only reflected what he wanted to hear. Elektra gave him the freedom to work with a producer of his choice. Other companies, though offering more financially attractive packages, “wanted to stick us with a certain producer or put us in a certain category,” Verlaine said. “Elektra said they liked the group and would let us do the record the way we wanted.”

Peter Gabriel looks, well, young. (photo by Darrell Lea)

Peter Gabriel looks, well, young, doesn't he? (photo by Darrell Lea)

It’s pretty obvious later that night at the Uptown that everybody else is here to see the headliner. And Peter Gabriel does not disappoint. I was expecting the elaborate costuming and staging of his Genesis days, but he was in a sweat suit, explaining onstage that he had just seen Bruce Springsteen perform and that it made him want to work harder on his performances. The band makes the songs on Gabriel’s first solo album come alive onstage. The line-up is impressive: drummer Allen Schwartzberg (who I identified as Jim Gordon), legendary guitarists Robert Fripp (almost hidden stage right), Steve Hunter (that’s him on acoustic guitar on “Solsbury Hill”) and Dick Wagner, with Tony Levin on bass and tuba (!).

For Television, however, the sound is frightful and the band a knot of onstage contradictions. Verlaine seems impatient, like he’s on the verge of hitting someone with his guitar. When he cries in “Friction” that “you complain of my DICK–SHUN,” he accentuates it with little short bursts of guitar that emphasize the lyric.

Otherwise, he mostly stares down at the stage, venturing a look up every once in a while in the direction of Richard Lloyd, who along with Fred Smith, in dress and appearance, reminds me of what the early Zombies or Manfred Mann looked like in their Mod coats and suits. Lloyd stands motionless in front of his amplifier except to shake his head every once in awhile, like he’s just trying to stay awake. Then the lead swings over to him, and his body reels and staggers across the stage like a drunken marionette ash he picks out the notes as if in trance.

The set is chaotic and frantic, from the stammering chords of “See No Evil,” a song which seem to be on the verge of falling completely apart until they finally bring it to a finish four minutes later. But it’s also very exciting in its chaos. I am reminded of something that Verlaine said in the coffee shop, grinning widely, about how he can’t play a lead the same way twice. “My fingers just won’t let me do it.”

March 10, 2010   No Comments