In Memoriam of Emil Pflaumer

Unlike most of the rock bands and artists I usually write about, my grandpa was not famous, but to me, he surely was a big rock star as well!

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While I enjoy sharing my thoughts about rock music, I rarely write about personal stuff. Today I’d like to make an exception and reflect on an amazing man who had a deep impact on my life and my love for music: My grandpa, Emil Pflaumer.

He was instrumental in enabling me to learn the guitar. When he heard that I wanted to start taking lessons, he immediately supported the idea and paid for my first instrument, a Spanish guitar. In fact, I think he was very happy that one of his grandchildren had discovered what was near and dear to his heart – music!

Music was my grandpa’s passion and profession. For many years, he was a music teacher at a high school in Heidelberg, Germany. In addition, he was an accomplished pianist and piano teacher, as was his wife, Klaere Pflaumer. With so much music in the family gene pool, perhaps it’s no wonder that I got bitten by the music bug as well!

My grandpa loved classical music, though as a very tolerant man, he was always open to other styles. Every time he visited my house, he asked me to play something for him on the guitar.

While it’s safe to assume he preferred listening to the simple classical pieces my guitar teacher had taught me, he also wanted to know what else I could play. I would happily oblige and play for him the latest Beatles songs I had learned. Later on after had I gotten my Ibanez electric guitar, which my grandpa also financed, I would expose him to my attempts to play Deep Purple, putting my overdrive pedal to maximum distortion. And even though it was probably pretty awful, my grandpa was always a great sport and patiently listened. To my defense, I was a young teenager!

My grandpa also spent a lot of time with me while I stayed with my other grandma in Heidelberg during nearly every school break. He took me on long hikes through the woods and to the public swimming pool where he taught me how to swim.

During my vacation stays in Heidelberg, I also oftentimes visited my grandpa’s apartment. A particular attraction was his music room. Among others, it had a grand piano. At around the time I started taking guitar lessons, my grandpa showed me how to play the melody of two simple German children’s songs, Alle Meine Entchen (rough translation: All of my ducks) and Kuckuck, Kuckuck, Rufts Aus Dem Wald (rough translation: ‘Cuckoo, Chuckoo,’ Coming From the Forest). As I grew older, I tried figuring out Imagine by John Lennon and a few other piano-oriented pop songs. Needless to add that without any formal piano training, I did not get very far, but I enjoyed it anyway!

Another thing I well remember about my grandpa’s music room was his stereo system and a sizable collection of vinyl records with classical music. Admittedly, symphonies by Beethoven and Mozart were more of an acquired taste. One record I liked from the very beginning was Peter and the Wolf by Serge Prokofiev. The composition’s main theme caught my immediate attention. I also liked the fact that it had a narrator telling the children’s story.

As I grew up, my grandpa kept supporting me in buying additional guitars. After the Ibanez electric guitar, which was a pretty good copy of a Gibson, he paid for my acoustic guitar, also an Ibanez. I own that guitar to this day, and it still sounds awesome, though I’m playing it much more rarely than I used to and have become a bit rusty.

When I discovered the electric bass guitar in my late teens, my grandpa also paid for my first bass – yet another Ibanez. Yes, I suppose I really liked that brand! Without getting the bass and an introduction from my great guitar teacher, I would likely not have joined a band and missed what became an important period during my late teens and early twenties.

I still oftentimes think of my grandpa, even though he passed away more than 20 years ago in 1992 at the age of 91. I feel very fortunate to have known him. The many beautiful moments we shared will always stay in my memories.

 

 

Buddy Guy & Jeff Beck at PNC Bank Arts Center, NJ

The second show of my concert summer season featured guitar legends (and cool septuagenarians) Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck.

Last night (July 26), I had a chance to see Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ. From the moment I started exploring Buddy’s music in greater detail earlier this year (admittedly very late!) I wanted to see this amazing blues guitarist live. And when I learned he is doing a summer tour with Jeff Beck and they are playing in my neck of the woods, it was an easy decision.

PNC Bank Arts Center is a great outdoor venue, in my opinion – not too big, not to small. I’ve seen other fantastic gigs there, including Santana, Steve WinwoodThe Allman Brothers and Tom Petty. Yesterday, the weather was brutally hot, so luckily the show only started at 8:00 pm!

Buddy kicked things off, which almost made it feel like he was opening up for Jeff. While Jeff played the longer set, it should have been the other way around. After all, it was Buddy who was around first and influenced Jeff and many other great guitarists, such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards! I read Clapton once called him “the best guitar player alive.”

Buddy was truly on a misson, saying he wants to save the blues. His guitar-playing was simply out of this world. I also thought he had a pretty strong voice. Both certainly did not give you any clue that the man is close to 80 years old. In fact, his 80th birthday (July 30) is just around the corner! In addition to playing and singing with an impressive amount of energy, Buddy also went on a little hike off the stage to walk through the audience in the front of the venue – pretty cool.

I thought highlights of Buddy’s set included Damn Right I’ve Got the BluesHoochie Coochie Man and Blues in the Night (My Mama Done Tol’ Me). He also played two songs from his latest album, Born to Play the Guitar, including the title song. Unfortunately, he did not perform my favorite from that album, Whiskey, Beer & Wine, which currently is also my overall favorite Buddy Guy song.

Next it was Jeff’s turn. He certainly delivered as well! In addition to his amazing guitar-playing, I was mostly impressed with his band, especially singer Rosie Bones who also appears on his latest album Loud Hailer, singer Jimmy Hall and dynamite bassist Tal Wilkenfeld.

I think my favorite of Jeff’s set was the version of the Sam Cooke classic, A Change is Gonna Come. Jimmy Hall did an outstanding job on vocals. Other highlights included Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and the instrumental of The Beatles’ A Day In the Life, which was the final song of the night.

Perhaps the only thing that could have made the show even better would have been at least one song both of these fantastic guitarists would have performed together, just like they do in the above photo!

On This Day In Rock History: July 23

This is another installment of the blog’s feature that looks at events throughout rock history I find interesting

Let’s take a look at what happened on July 23 in rock history:

1964: The Beatles hit no. 1 in the U.K. with A Hard Day’s Night, the band’s fifth top single there after From Me to You, She Loves You, I Want to Hold Your Hand and Can’t Buy Me Love. Written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon-McCartney, A Hard Day’s Night was first released in the U.S. on June 26 1964 as part of the soundtrack album of the film. In the U.K. it was paired with Things We Said Today. The B-side to the American version of the single was I Should Have Known Better. Both B-sides were also included on the album. The song’s title originated from a statement Ringo Starr had made, which in turn inspired the title of the movie. Its signature opening chord makes A Hard Day’s Night one of the few immediately recognizable rock songs. Paul McCartney uses it to open his current One on One show – the first time he is playing it as a solo artist!

1969: The Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women reaches the top spot on the U.K. singles charts, the band’s eighth and last no. 1 single there. The song, which was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards during a vacation in Brazil, also hit no. 1 in the U.S. The B-side was You Can’t Always Get What You Want. In addition to the hit version, the Stones also recorded an alternate version called Country Honk, which was included in their 1969 album Let It Bleed. In my opinion, Honky Tonk Women remains one of the Stones’ best numbers to date.

1983: The Police hit no. 1 on the U.S. album chart with Synchronicity, their fifth and final studio album. It became the band’s most popular release and featured Every Breath You Take, written by Sting, and the biggest hit of 1983. Other singles included King of Pain, Synchronicity II and Wrapped Around Your FingerSynchronicity also topped the U.K. Albums Chart. At the 1984 Grammys, the album scored three awards: Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for the album and two for Every Breath You Take (Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and Song of the Year). Synchronicity was also nominated for Album of the Year, which was won by Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

1989: Ringo Starr performs for the first time with his All-Starr Band in Dallas, TX, kicking off his first tour since the break-up of The Beatles in 1970. The concept of this live rock supergroup was developed by David Fishof, the founder of Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, and a music and TV producer.The first All-Starr line-up included Joe Walsh (guitar, piano, talkbox, piano), Nils Lofgren (guitar, accordion, vocals), Dr. John (piano, bass, vocals), Billy Preston (keyboards, vocals), Rick Danko (bass, guitar, vocals), Levon Helm (drums, harmonica, vocals), Clarence Clemons (saxophone, tambourine, percussion, vocals) and Jim Keltner (drums). Over the years, the band has seen many variations, and Ringo continues to perform with them. They just finished their 2016 tour in Los Angeles on July 2, and more dates are expected to be announced for later this year. The present 12th line-up features Steve Lukather (vocals, guitar), Gregg Rolie (organ, keyboards, vocals), Todd Rundgren (guitar, harmonica, bass, percussion, keyboards, vocals), Richard Page (bass, acoustic guitar, vocals), Gregg Bissonette (drums, percussion, vocals), Mark Rivera (saxophone, percussion, keyboards, guitar, vocals) and Warren Ham (vocals, saxophone, harmonica, flute, percussion, keyboards).

Paul McCartney at Hersheypark Stadium

During the more than 25 years since I first saw Paul, he has not lost any of his magic!

Yesterday (July 19), the wait was finally over – Paul McCartney’s show at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa. was simply amazing. There couldn’t have been a greater kick-off to my summer concert season!

Another highlight was that I enjoyed the show together with my 14-year-old. It was his first big concert!

From the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night – the first time Paul performs this classic tune during a solo tour – to The End, Sir Paul gave it his all. And his all is still pretty magic! He certainly did not look or behave like a 74-year-old!

For almost three hours, Paul took the audience on an amazing journey through Beatlemania, Wings and his long solo career. Best of all, he really did appear to have a lot of fun doing so, and his joy to perform came across!

Of course, there were crowd pleasers you’d expect like Hey Jude, Let It BeBand On the Run and Live And Let Die, which were awesome. Other highlights included Maybe I’m AmazedLetting Go and Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five.

But to me the true standouts were the acoustic guitar pieces, such as BlackbirdHere Today and of course Yesterday. I’ve always loved Paul solo with just his acoustic guitar. He also threw in a great version of George Harrison’s Something, playing the first part of the song on a ukulele George had given to him many years ago before the band launched into the widely known version from Abbey Road.

Moreover, Paul played some songs by The Beatles I didn’t necessarily expect, such as Love Me DoYou Won’t See MeAnd I Love Her and especially Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!

Another surprise to me was Paul’s direct engagement with members of the audience. He asked a young girl on stage who had drawn a poster for him and signed it. July 19 happened to be her birthday – the coolest present ever, I suppose!

Paul also called a teacher on stage with a sign that asked, ‘Could you sign this for show and tell?’ He ended up signing two autographs on one of her arms! I guess taking showers just became more complicated for the teacher!

I would also like to share a funny anecdote that happened the next day. Together with my son, my wife had come along, and we decided to stay overnight close to Hershey and turn the concert visit into a mini-vacation.

So the next day we visited Hershey’s Chocolate World where we went on a historic trolley tour around town. The tour guide was a cheerful 18-year-old, who also apparently happened to be a big Beatles fan. So he started talking about the show, noting the Höfner bass Paul used was his second such instrument from 1963. His first had been stolen. He added he also he really wanted Paul to play Help, so he started shouting ‘Help, Help’ during the concert. Very quickly people around him had concerned looks on their faces and started asking him whether he was okay!

Last but not least, I’d like to acknowledge Paul’s fantastic band. Guitarists Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, who also plays bass on some of the songs; keyboarder, Paul Wickens; and drummer, Abe Laboriel, Jr. did an outstanding job backing up Paul!

Just like my first Paul McCartney concert I saw in Germany in the late ’80s, I will undoubtedly remember last night’s show for a long time! To all Paul McCartney and Beatles fans who haven’t done so yet, go and see Sir Paul if you get a chance. It will be one of your most memorable experiences that will stay with you for many years!

 

In Memoriam of Jon Lord…

Jon Lord was a giant in rock music and perhaps the best hard rock keyboarder of all time.

Four years ago today (July 16, 2012), Jon Lord passed away at the age of 71. This giant keyboarder may be gone, but his music and enormous contributions to rock music undoubtedly are here to stay.

To me as a rock music fan and hobby musician, Jon was one of those guys who make me think, ‘Man, if I ever would learn their instrument, this is how I’d love to be able to play!’ John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) and Clarence Clemons (The E Street Band) do the same to me when it comes to the drums and the saxophone, respectively. Obviously, this list is not meant to be complete!

Jon Lord was born on June 9, 1941 in Leicester, England. His father, Reginald Lord, instilled Jon’s interest in music early on. When Jon was five years old, her started taking classical piano lessons. This provided an important foundation to his later professional work.

Jon is best known for being the keyboarder of Deep Purple. In fact, he was the first recruit to what was supposed to become a “supergroup” called Roundabout, a vision of former Searchers drummer Chris Curtis. He was followed by guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore. After Curtis left the band, Jon suggested bringing in his friend Nick Simper on bass, with whom he had played as backup in the Flower Pot Men – yep, that 60s British pop band known for their hit single, Let’s Go to San Francisco, though Jon and I believe also Nick did not participate in the recording of the song.Later on, Ian Paice joined Roundabout as drummer. Rod Evans was the singer of the band, which in April of 1968 changed its name to Deep Purple.

During the first three years of Deep Purple, Jon developed his signature organ sound, relying on a Hammond C3 and Marshall speakers. The combination created a growling, heavy and distorted sound that was simply made for rock! Jon also started fusing rock with classical music, which resulted in Concerto for Group and Orchestra. It was performed live by Deep Purple and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and released in late 1969/early 1970.

My most favorite work of Jon with Deep Purple is on Machine Head, the band’s sixth studio album released in March 1972. In particular, Jon shines on the songs Highway Star, Pictures of Home and Lazy, which all feature organ solos that are simply out of this world. Just the other day, I listened to the album in its entirety. Once again I realized it’s a true gem that is certainly also a highlight when it comes to Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar playing for the band! BTW, Pictures of Home also includes one of the coolest bass solos by Roger Glover.

While it’s probably fair to say that Jon is best remembered for his work with Deep Purple, he also played in English rock band The Artwoods, which like the Flower Pot Men predated Deep Purple;  Pace Ashton Lord founded in 1977 after the first break-up of Deep Purple the previous year; and of course Whitesnake, formed in England in 1978 by former Deep Purple singer David Coverdale. Jon joined them during sessions for their first studio album Trouble and stayed until 1984 after the release of the band’s sixth studio album Slide It In. He plays the Hammond on the original version of the iconic Here I Go Again. After his departure from Whitesnake, Jon joined the reformed Deep Purple, reuniting him with Ritchie Blackmore, Roger Glover, Ian Gillan and Ian Paice in the group’s so-called Mark IIb line-up .

Jon also released numerous, mostly orchestral/classical/instrumental albums that are not associated with the above bands, such as Gemini Suite (1971), Sarabande (1976), Durham Concerto (2008) and To Notice Such Things (2010).

Jon has received accolades from many rock musicians, including Metallica’s Lars Ulrich (drummer) and fellow keyboard giants Rick Wakeman (Yes) and Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), who died in March 2016 – an apparent suicide. In April 2016, Jon was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Deep Purple – a long overdue recognition.

 

On This Day in Rock History: July 16

I suppose by now I can call this category of posts a regular feature of the blog.

Let’s take a look at some of the things that happened on July 16 in rock history:

1962: The Beach Boys sign a seven-year contract with Capitol Records. In Oct that year, they released their debut studio album, Surfin’ Safari. In addition to the title song and Surfin’, which had both come out as singles prior to the album, Surfin’ Safari also includes 409, one of my favorite early Beach Boys tune and the first in a series of car-themed songs from the band.

1966: Jack Bruce (bass, vocals), Ginger Baker (drums) and Eric Clapton (guitar) form Cream. Over the course of just two years, this amazing power rock trio would release four studio albums and such unforgettable classic blues/rock tunes like I Feel Free, Sunshine of Your Love, White Room and Crossroads. I was fortunate enough to see Jack and Ginger perform with blues dynamo Johnny Winter in Germany in the 80s – one of my first live concerts. Mr. Slowhand remains on my concert bucket list! July 1 6 (2014) also sadly happens to be the day when Johnny passed away at the age of 70.

1969: The Beatles are working at Abbey Road studios on two of my favorite George Harrison songs: Something and Here Comes the Sun. Both tunes were included on the Abbey Road studio album, which was released in September that year. While Let It Be was the last studio album that appeared in May 1970, shortly after the band’s break-up, most of that album had been completed prior to the release of Abbey Road. Originally, the latter was meant to be The Beatles’ final masterpiece. It foreshadowed their break-up with the song The End, the final song in the amazing medley that makes up most of the album’s side two.

2012: Jon Lord passes away at the age of 71. He was best known for being the keyboarder of Deep Purple, the defining hard rock band of the late 1960s/early 1970s, together with Led Zeppelin. Jon also played in a few additional bands, most notably Whitesnake. I think he was perhaps the best rock keyboarder of all time. His fusion of rock with classical and baroque music was pioneering. Jon also demonstrated that hard rock can be so much more than just distorted electric guitars, and what a cool solo instrument a Hammond organ can be! Also see my separate “In Memoriam” post.

My Summer Concert Season Is Heating Up

This is a little preview of shows I’m going to see later this month and in August.

It’s going to be a busy summer for me on the concert front. Following is what I’m planning to attend over the next couple of months:

Paul McCartney, Hersheypark Stadium, Hershey, PA, Jul 19: Sir Paul is going to kick off my summer concert season. I went to one of his shows in Germany in the 80s, and I’m beyond thrilled to see him again! A great friend of mine from Germany told me his previous gigs there earlier this year received rave reviews and even made the evening news! Apparently from the signature opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night until the end of the last encore about three hours later it’s an amazing journey from the 60s to the present. Some say The Beatles are overrated – they don’t know what they’re talking about. And Paul has also written some pretty good music thereafter. He has helped change rock music forever. In my of course completely unbiased opinion, there’s no doubt about that!

Buddy Guy & Jeff Beck, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ, Jul 26:  Two guitar legends in one show – it doesn’t get much better than that! Admittedly, I’ve got some catching up to on Jeff Beck. The fact that Jeff played with the Yardbirds, which he joined in March 1965 to succeed Eric Clapton, already makes him totally cool in my book. And Buddy Guy? I also only started exploring his music in greater depth more recently. Wow, is all I can say – it’s like Jimi Hendrix never passed!

Bonnie Raitt, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark, NJ, Aug 13: Bonnie has been on my concert bucket list for a long time. My above friend from Germany has seen her three times and told me each show was fantastic. A friend of his caught Bonnie during her current tour in Frankfurt, Germany earlier this year and called him thereafter to rave about the concert. I’ve always been fascinated by Bonnie’s amazing slide guitar playing. And she’s released many great songs over the decades as well. It should be a lot of fun!

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, Aug 30: This show will be part of The River Tour in connection with Springsteen’s 2015 box set, The Ties That Bind: The River Collection. I read the concerts feature performances of all or most songs of Bruce’s iconic album from 1980 and other tunes. The River was Bruce’s fifth studio album and includes two of my favorite Springsteen tunes: Hungry Heart and The River! I saw Bruce for the first time in Frankfurt more than 25 years ago, together with my above friend. It was truly an unforgettable gig that lasted close to four hours, including some 1.5 hours of encores. Very few artists put on a rock & roll show like that. What a way to end my summer concert season with a home play of The Boss!

I’ll be sure to post my impressions from each of the above shows, so make sure to check back if you’re reading this!