My Take On 2017 In Rock Music: Part I

Industry news that moved me

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to believe that another year is coming to an end. Yesterday, when I looked through my blog posts over the past 12 months, I noticed it’s been a quite eventful year on the music front. Between broader industry news, newly released music, concerts and great artists who passed, there is a lot of fodder for a year in music review post.

When I say music, I mostly mean ’60s and ’70s style rock and blues. You won’t find anything about Kendrick Lamar, Kesha, Selena Gomez and Jay-Z, to name a few contemporary artists who are in the charts these days. I don’t want to judge them, I just don’t listen to these guys.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as I started putting together my thoughts, I quickly realized that doing so in one shot would either be very lengthy or not do much justice to the above topics. Since I have to admit I’m not particularly patient myself when it comes to reading long pieces, I decided to break things down into four parts. Here is part I, in which I’m looking at broader industry stories that moved me. Parts II, III and IV will cover new music, concerts and artists we lost, respectively.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame celebrates 2017 and announces 2018 inductees

In April, the 32nd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony took place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Inductees in the Performer category included Joan Baez, Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur and Yes, while Nile Rodgers was honored with the Award for Musical Excellence.

The induction festivities recognized Chuck Berry, who sadly passed away in March at the age of 90 and who was among the first group of artists inducted in January 1986. In his honor, ELO performed their cover of Roll Over Beethoven. I still haven’t quite made up my mind about this band, which I find weird and intriguing at the same time. No matter how you feel about them, Jeff Lynne certainly demonstrated he can play guitar solos that would likely have made Berry proud. Here is a clip of the spectacle.

Earlier this month, the class of 2018 was officially announced. Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Nina Simone made it into the Performer category. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, one of the coolest rock & roll pioneers I know of, will be inducted in the Early Influences category.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2018 Inductees

I won’t get into a discussion about whether the above artists deserve the honor or why others still haven’t been inducted. What I will say is that with an ever-growing pool of eligible artists, the task of selecting the inductees is formidable. You can read more about the class of 2018 here.

Is the electric guitar becoming an endangered species?

In June, a story in The Washington Post declared the electric guitar is dying a slow and secret death. As a hobby guitar player, the article got my attention and triggered broad discussion. The stats cited in the story certainly painted a grim picture. Annual electric guitar sales are down by one-third from 1.5 million to just over one million over the past decade. Legendary guitar makers Fender and Gibson are in debt, while PRS Guitars was forced to lay off people. The largest chain retailer Guitar Center is $1.6 billion in debt and was downgraded by Moody’s in April.

Death of the Guitar

Paul McCartney’s take? “The electric guitar was new and fascinatingly exciting in a period before Jimi and immediately after. So you got loads of great players emulating guys like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, and you had a few generations there. [pause] Now, it’s more electronic music and kids listen differently. They don’t have guitar heroes like you and I did.”

But is the situation really that grim? The Dallas Observer said the death claim may be exaggerated. Nashville guitar dealer George Gruhn, who has sold guitars to McCartney, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Taylor Swift, was also quoted in the Post story as saying, “What we need is guitar heroes.” But he saw the published article, he was surprised about the Post’s overall take. “I would say that the guitar market is under stress from oversaturation,” he told the Observer. “But by no means is the market for the guitar simply dying.”

While I certainly don’t have the answer, I feel McCartney’s comments are well taken. In a society that is dominated by digital devices and increasingly seems to be looking for instant gratification, I suspect trying to motivate young folks to invest the time and patience to learn the guitar (or other instruments for that matter!) is a tough proposition. Moreover, the guitar is an afterthought in most of the electronic dance music today’s young kids listen to. On the other hand, I’m encouraged by the debate the Post story triggered. Plus, as will become obvious in the next installment of this four-part series, the guitar is very much alive in my kind of music that came out this year, and it’s not only old rockers who released new material.

Jann Wenner gives up ownership of Rolling Stone

Earlier this week, Variety and other media outlets reported that Penske Media Corporation acquired the 51% stake in Rolling Stone that Wenner Media still owned for just over $100 million. This means Jann Wenner, who co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967 with music journalist Ralph Gleason, will give up all ownership in the wake of the storied magazine’s 50th anniversary.

Rolling Stone Covers

“I am so proud of our accomplishments over the past 50 years and know Penske Media is the ideal match for us to thrive in today’s media landscape,” said Wenner in a statement, which also noted his company will retain “majority control and editorial oversight” of Rolling Stone. Variety is part of Penske Media.

Stay tuned for part II, in which I will look at music that came this year, including new recordings and anniversary editions of albums I dig.

Sources: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website, The Washington Post, Dallas Observer, Variety, YouTube

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