The Venues: Beacon Theatre

In July 2017, I introduced The Venues, a category featuring famous concert halls, such as The Apollo Theatre and well known TV music programs like The Ed Sullivan Show. For some reason, the category fell off the bandwagon after the third post in November that year – not quite sure why. In any case, I felt the time was right for another installment. One of the venues that came to my mind immediately is the Beacon Theatre in New York City, in part because the beautiful historic theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is associated with two of my favorite bands: The Allman Brothers Band and Steely Dan, which both had frequent annual residencies there. The Dan still does! But first things first – a bit of history.

The Beacon Theatre opened as the Warner’s Beacon Theatre on December 24, 1929. It was designed by Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager as a venue for silent films. But when the original owners financially collapsed, Warner Theatres acquired the theater to be a first-run showcase for Warner Bros. films on the Upper West Side. By that time, the movie genre of silent films had already become obsolete. The Beacon, which subsequently was operated by Brandt Theaters, remained a movie theater over next few decades. It would take until 1974, when Steven Singer became the first owner who turned the Beacon into a venue for live music.

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Fortunately, an effort in 1987 to convert the theater into a night club was blocked in court, given its historic and protected architecture. In 1982, it had been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Through the ’80s and ’90s, the Beacon Theatre continued to fill a spot in the midsize category venue in New York between the larger Radio City Music Hall and various smaller clubs and ballrooms. In 2006, sports and entertainment holding company The Madison Square Garden Company started operating the Beacon. In November that same year, the theater began a 20-year lease by Cablevision, which also leases Radio City Music Hall and owns Madison Square Garden.

Between the second half of 2008 and early 2009, the theater underwent a complete renovation. As reported by The New York Times, the work involved about 1,000 workers, lasted seven months and cost $16 million. The result can be seen in the above photo and is certainly stunning. I was fortunate to experience the mighty venue myself when I saw Steely Dan there in October 2018.

In addition to pop and rock concerts, the Beacon Theatre has hosted political debates, gospel choirs, comedians and many dramatic productions. The 2008 Martin Scorsese picture Shine a Light, which captured The Rolling Stones live in concert, was filmed there. In January 2016, Joan Baez celebrated her 75th birthday with a show at the Beacon. She also played the venue in May this year as part of her now completed 2018/2019 Fare Thee Well Tour. Time for some music that was performed at the Beacon.

Let’s kick things off with the Grateful Dead, who performed two shows at the theater on June 14 and 15, 1976. Apparently, the following footage of Not Fade Away was captured during a soundcheck there, not one of the actual concerts but, hey, close enough! Plus, it’s a fun clip to watch. Not Fade Away was written by Charles Hardin, a.k.a. Buddy Holly. His producer Norman Petty received a co-credit. The tune was first released as a single in October 1957. It was also included on Holly’s debut album The “Chirping” Crickets, released in November of the same year.

Next up: The Black Crowes and Remedy. Co-written by lead vocalist Chris Robinson and his brother and rhythm guitarist Rich Robinson, the tune appeared on the band’s sophomore album The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion from May 1992. The footage is from late August 1992 when the Black Crowes played a series of four shows at the Beacon.

James Taylor is one of my favorite singer-songwriters. One tune I dig in particular is Fire And Rain.  He recorded it for his second studio album Sweet Baby James, which was released in February 1970. The song also came out separately as a single and became Taylor’s first hit, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. This clip was captured during a show on May 30, 1998.

Here are The Rolling Stones with Jumpin’ Jack Flash from the aforementioned Martin Scorsese concert film. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune was released as a single in May 1968. The film includes footage from two shows the Stones played at the Beacon. This performance is from their second night there on November 1, 2006.

Starting from 1998, The Allman Brothers Band played spring residencies at the Beacon for 19 years in a row except for 2010 when the theater wasn’t available. This performance of Dreams is from their March 2013 series of gigs. The Gregg Allman song first appeared on the band’s eponymous debut album from November 1969.

On April 1 and 2, 2016, Bonnie Raitt played the Beacon Theatre as part of her extended Dig In Deep Tour, named after her most recent studio album from February 2016. I caught her during that tour in August 2016, which thus far was the first only time. Her gig at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark remains one of the best shows I’ve seen. Co-written by Gordon Kennedy  and Wayne KirkpatrickGypsy In Me is one of the tracks from Dig In Deep. Not only is Raitt a superb guitarist and great vocalist, but she also is as genuine as it can get. There is no BS with this lady. What you get is what you see!

From The Allman Brothers it wasn’t a big leap to former member Derek Trucks, his wife Susan Tedeschi and the group they formed in 2010: Tedeschi Trucks Band. My knowledge of their music is fairly limited, and I definitely want to explore them more closely. Here’s their take of Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, another great tune written by Gregg Allman. It first appeared on the Allmans’ third studio album Eat A Peach from February 1972, long before Trucks joined them in 1999. The song was also released separately as a single in April that year. This clip was captured on October 11, 2017 during what looks like a six-date residency the band did at the Beacon that year.

The last and most recent clip I’d like to feature is footage of Steely Dan from their 2018 U.S. tour, which ended with a seven-date residency at the Beacon. Of course, I couldn’t leave out the Dan! This performance of Pretzel Logic was from their final gig on October 30. Co-written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, Pretzel Logic is the title track of Steely Dan’s third studio album that appeared in February 1974.

Until last year when I saw them twice, which included the Beacon for an October 20 show dedicated to my favorite album Aja, I had never seen Steely Dan. Both concerts were fantastic. Fagen and co are currently touring again, which will bring them back to the Beacon in October. While the thought of returning to this beautiful venue is tempting, I can’t justify it to myself, given I saw them twice last year and other shows I’ve been to or still consider for this year.

Sources: Wikipedia, The New York Times, setlist.fm, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: July 28

Recently after a longer break, I decided to do a new installment of this recurring feature. Perhaps I got bitten by the rock & roll history bug, so here’s another one.

1957: Rock & roll pioneer and honky-tonk piano wizard Jerry Lee Lewis made his national TV appearance on the Steve Allen Show, a variety program that at the time aired on Sunday nights at 8:00 PM on NBC, directly competing with the mighty Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. Lewis’ performance of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On took sales of the tune from 30,000 to six million copies. He returned to the program twice, but I doubt he was able to repeat that kind of sales shake-up.

1964: The Beatles topped the Official Singles Chart with A Hard Day’s Night, scoring their fifth no. 1 single in the U.K. The title track of the band’s third studio album and soundtrack to their first feature film also became a chart topper in many countries elsewhere in Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia. Credited as usually to John Lennon and Paul Cartney, the song was mostly written by Lennon. It’s one of those magic tunes that’s instantly recognizable by its signature opening chord. According to The Beatles Bible, there have been multiple suggestions how to describe the chord, which was played by George Harrison on his Rickenbacker 360/12. For all the guitarists out there who’ve played this sucker but never knew what the heck it is, Harrison confirmed in February 2001 that it’s called an Fadd9. If anything, I thought it was some G chord – I suppose it depends on how high you tune your guitar!

1966: Chris Farlowe hit no. 1 on the U.K. Official Singles Chart with Out Of Time. Not only was the track a cover of a Rolling Stones tune, but it was also produced by Mick Jagger. Additionally, the song appeared on Farlowe’s third studio album The Art Of Chris Farlowe. Released in November that year, the record was solely credited to him, even though he was backed by his band The Thunderbirds. The album also featured covers of three other Stones songs: Paint It Black, I’m Free and Ride On, Baby. When the Stones had initially released Out Of Time as a single in April 1966, it hadn’t charted. It would take more than nine years until September 1975 to finally do so, with a two-week run that saw the song peak at no. 45.

1969: According to police reports from Moscow, thousands of public phone booths had been vandalized in the Russian capital when people were taking parts from phones to convert their acoustic to electric guitars. Apparently, a feature in a Russian youth magazine had described how to do it. This must have slipped the censorship by the Russian authorities. One wonders what happened to the editor of this publication, as well as the censors who had missed the article. While I don’t condone vandalism, admittedly, I had to smile when I learned about this story. Rock & roll scored a rare if short victory in a totalitarian state that suppressed it. Of course, censorship continues in Russia to this day and seems to be worse than ever. Meanwhile, the leader of the free world and his supporters have come up with the concepts of alternate facts and fake news if they don’t like media coverage.

Long Live Rock 'N Roll

1973: The Summer Jam at Watkins Glen was held at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway near Watkins Glen, N.Y. The outdoor music festival drew an estimated 600,000 rock fans to see The Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead and The Band – what a line-up! The one-day event ended up in the Guinness Book Of Word Records for “largest audience at a pop festival.” While in some regards Watkins Glen was comparable to Woodstock (upstate New York location, terrible traffic, bad weather), the latter “only” attracted more than 400,000 people. Here’s a clip of Come And Go Blues by the Allman Brothers, which apparently was recorded at the festival.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Rock, This Day In Music.com, U.K. Official Singles Chart, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

From Bonehead To Deadhead

My late discovery of the Grateful Dead

For a guy who has listened to music for now more than 40 years, I have to make a somewhat embarrassing admission: Until a few days ago, essentially, I hadn’t known anything about the Grateful Dead. Then, fellow blogger Intogroove, who had done a two-part series on the Dead, was kind enough to give me a few recommendations to start my long overdue exploration of the band. While after two days of fairly intense listening to some of their albums I certainly haven’t become a Dead expert, I’m ready to boldly declare myself a Deadhead – even if all the music I’ve yet to hear (and there is plenty left!) should turn out to be horrible, which I highly doubt!

So why the hell did it take me so long to realize how grate, I mean great, these guys are? For some reason, I always thought that with their marathon concerts and endless instrumental jams, the Dead would be a hard-to-acquire taste. Sure, some may find a 15-minute-plus jam of Fire On The Mountain on their Cornell 5/8/77 live album a bit heavy, and I know there are even longer tunes, but I don’t find anything terrible about it – on the contrary, I actually love that song! And then, of course one needs to realize there’s a significant difference between the studio Dead and the live Dead.

Grateful Dead Press Kit for 1967 Debut Album
Press kit for Grateful Dead eponymous 1967 studio album. From left to right: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzman, Ron McKernan and Phil Lesh

At least I had been aware of Jerry Garcia (lead guitar, vocals), who together with Bob Weir (rhythm guitar, vocals), Ron McKernan (keyboards, harmonica), Phil Lesh (bass, vocals) and Bill Kreutzmann (drums) founded Grateful Dead in the San Francisco area in 1965. I’m not going to recap their history here. I had first heard of Garcia in connection with the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu, one of my all-time favorite records, for which he played pedal steel guitar on Teach Your Children Well. According to Wikipedia, in exchange CSNY helped the Dead with their harmony singing on their albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. Both are among the Dead records I’ve listened to and come to dig immediately.

Following is a playlist of Dead songs I like, based on what I’ve heard thus far. Obviously, this is by no means meant to be complete. Considering the band’s prolific output, I don’t think it’s even possible to come up with a playlist that’s completely representative, unless perhaps one does the equivalent to some of their live jams! So here we go.

One thing I noticed is that in addition to original tunes, the Dead had some great covers. One I like in particular is Good Morning, Little School Girl from their debut The Grateful Dead released in March 1967. The tune, which has been covered by many artists, was written and first recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson in 1937.

Casey Jones is from Dead’s forth studio album, the above mentioned Workingman’s Dead, which appeared in June 1970. The track was co-written by Garcia (music) and Robert Hunter (lyrics), who frequently worked with the band. I was also happy to realize that I had heard the tune before.

The follow-on album to Workingman’s Dead was American Beauty from November 1970. Two records released with barely six months in-between is pretty amazing, especially by today’s standards! Anyway, here’s the seductive, groovy Truckin’, which is credited to Gracia, Lesh, Weir and Hunter.

Now, I’m going to make a big jump to July 1987, when Dead released what became their most commercially successful studio album In The Dark. Among others, it includes the catchy Touch Of Grey, another song I had heard before, which made it into the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 9 – the Dead’s only top 40 single. I also had known Throwing Stones. The tune I like to highlight here is Black Muddy River, which was co-written by Garcia and Hunter. Gregg Allman covered this beautiful song on his final studio album, which is where I had heard it initially.

Since I realize no Dead playlist could be called as such without any live material, I’d like to include two tracks. The first is from Europe ’72, a triple album released in November 1972: Jack Straw, a co-write by Hunter and Weir.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the epic Fire On The Mountain. This is the version from Cornell 5/8/77, which appeared in May 2017. Initially, the song was included on Shakedown Street, Dead’s 10th studio album from November 1978. It is credited to Mickey Hart, who became a member of the band in September 1967 as an additional drummer, and Hunter.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Cordovas, Seductive Americana Rock From Nashville

Last year, Rolling Stone included them as one of “10 new country artists you need to know.” Now, Cordovas are about to release their studio debut on ATO Records

It’s simply amazing what kind of bands you sometimes encounter when going to free summer-concert-in-the-park events, at least in my neck of the woods. Until yesterday, I had never heard of Americana/country rock band Cordovas. Since it was a beautiful summer evening and – big shocker – I enjoy seeing live music, I decided to go to Parker Press Park in Woodbridge, N.J. I’m glad I did!

While this central Jersey town may not exactly be a metropolis, they surely have an impressive summer concert series. Between late June and mid-September, there are frequent concerts each day of the week except for Saturdays. Most days even have a dedicated theme: Mondays are oldies, on Tuesdays they have tribute bands, and on Fridays it’s jazz. As the “king of tribute bands,” my eyes lightened up when I saw their Tuesday theme, so chances are I’ll be back! Anyway, Wednesdays appear to be reserved for artists playing original music. And last night, it was Cordovas.

So who the hell are Cordovas? A five-piece band hailing from Nashville, Tenn. While it’s not entirely clear to me when they were founded, these guys definitely are no beginners, and this isn’t their first trip to the rodeo! Pictured above, the band’s members include (left to right) Toby Weaver (guitar, vocals), Graham Spillman (drums), Lucca Soria (guitar, vocals), Sevans Henderson (keyboards) and Joe Firstman (bass, vocals).

Cordovas’ music features impressive triple harmony vocals and nice double-lead guitar lines. When Rolling Stone described them in the above story, they dropped names like Grateful Dead, Little Feat and The Allman Brothers Band. I could definitely hear some influences from all of these mighty bands last night. Some others that come to mind are CSNY, The Band and early-phase Eagles.

The band’s set included a mix of covers and original tunes. Following is a clip I recorded – frankly, not sure whether that’s one of their own compositions or a cover. In any case, it gives you a nice flavor of the band’s style.

Here’s a second clip featuring the two guitarists performing a nice version of Robert Johnson’s Sweet Home Chicago, while the rest of the band took a short break. Blues just never gets boring!

According to a May 6 announcement, Cordovas are set for their debut album on ATO Records for August 10. Based on the band’s website, this record doesn’t appear to be their first. The merchandise section lists their eponymous album on vinyl, adding it is out of stock. One can still get it on Amazon. Apparently, it’s from 2017 and weirdly listed as an import.

Anyway, speaking of the new album, two tunes already are out. Here’s a clip of opener This Town’s A Drag – more great harmony singing and a great Telecaster twang!

And here’s the second track: Frozen Rose. Does this sound great or what?!

I’ll be surely to keep Cordovas on my radar screen. BTW, the band has a busy performance schedule. They just returned to the U.S. from a European tour that had started in early June. Between now and the end of September, they have some 20 domestic dates lined up at what appear to be smaller venues. Some of their upcoming gigs are in Boston (Jul 20), New York (Jul 30), Chicago (Aug 16), Washington (Aug 23) and Cleveland (Sep 5). Frankly, while I never mind a free show, I’d pay money to see these guys!

Sources: Cordovas Facebook page and official website, Rolling Stone, YouTube