What I’ve Been Listening To: David Bowie/ Ziggy Stardust

When it comes to David Bowie, I’ve always felt more drawn to his early years. Space Oddity, The Man Who Sold The World and Changes are among my favorite tunes. Ditto for Starman, Ziggy Stardust and Suffragette City. I was less fond of his Tin Machine venture and didn’t pay much attention to music he released thereafter. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is Bowie at his best, in my opinion. So guess what happened when I recently spotted a used audiophile vinyl copy of this gem at a small record store close to my house? Yep, I just couldn’t resist taking it home!

Often simply called Ziggy Stardurst, the record is Bowie’s fifth studio release and appeared in June 1972. Wikipedia characterizes it as a “loose concept album” revolving around a bi-sexual alien rock musician who becomes widely popular among teenagers before his fame ultimately kills him. Ziggy Stardust also became Bowie’s most notorious alter-ego during the massive tour that supported both this record and the follow-on Aladdin Sane from April 1973. Spanning the U.K., North America and Japan, the extended tour lasted from late January 1972 until early July 1973. One of the U.S. gigs, performed for radio broadcast in Santa Monica, Calif., became a fantastic bootleg. Since 2008 it’s been available officially as Live Santa Monica ’72.

David Bowie & The Spiders From Mars
David Bowie (second from right) with The Spiders From Mars (left to right): Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey and Mick Ronson

Driven by his fondness for acting, Bowie liked to create on-stage personas for his music and totally immersed himself into the characters. In the case of Ziggy Stardust things got so intense that eventually he could no longer distinguish between himself and his alter-ego. Wikipedia quotes him from the biography Bowie: Loving The Alien (Christopher Sanford, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997): Stardust “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.” Time for a another cheerful topic – music about earth’s demise! 🙂

The album opens with Five Years, which like all other tunes except one was penned by Bowie. Telling about the planet’s upcoming destruction, musically, the song is a great built. Generally speaking, when it comes to music, to me the lyrics tend to be second to the melody and musical arrangement – in other words, usually, it takes the two latter for a song to grab me.

Next up: The excellent Soul Love, a tune with a distinct cool groove. In addition to singing lead and backing vocals, Bowie is also playing acoustic rhythm guitar and alto saxophone. I admire people who can master various instruments and always wanted to be a multi-instrumentalist myself. I only managed to learn the acoustic guitar and electric bass, each with moderate success, but I’m getting off topic here!

Starman was the last song Bowie wrote for the album, after RCA had noted it was lacking a single. Really? How about the catchy rocker Suffragette City? In any case, I’m glad Bowie obliged, since the result was one of his all-time greatest tunes: Starman. It ended up replacing a take of Chuck Berry’s Around And Around, simply called Round And Round. That cover eventually became the B-side to Drive-In Saturday, an April 1973 single from the Aladdin Sane album. BTW, Suffragette City ended up as the B-side to Starman – I think it should have been it’s own (A-side) single!

The record’s title track is another highlight. I’ve always loved the guitar riff – simple yet effective! Plus, it’s about a guy playing guitar. Did I mention guitarists are cool dudes? 🙂

The last tune I’d like to highlight, perhaps you guessed it, is Suffragette City, the tune on the I album I like best and perhaps my favorite Bowie song overall. It’s simply a kick-ass rocker – ahhh, wham bam, thank ya man! (taking some creative license here). Initially, Bowie had offered the song to then-struggling Mott the Hoople. His condition: Don’t break up, guys! While the band declined that tune, they went with Bowie’s All The Young Dudes instead, another catchy song. Oh, and it became their biggest hit in the U.K. and extended their career for more than five years (until 1980) – not a bad outcome!

The album’s music arrangements are credited to Bowie and Mick Ronson (guitar, piano, vocals), who was part his excellent backing band The Spiders From Mars. The other members included Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums). I need to check out whatever happened to these guys after their last performance with Bowie. That show at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on July 3, 1973 was captured in the 1973 documentary Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars by D.A. Pennemaker, a film I’ve also yet to watch!

The Ziggy Stardust album was recorded at Trident Studios in London, U.K., and co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, one of the five main recording engineers for The Beatles. That in and of itself is already pretty cool, but there’s more: Scott has also worked with other big names, such as Elton John, Pink Floyd, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck and Kansas. And he co-produced additional Bowie albums, including Hunky Dory (December 1971), Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups (October 1973).

Ziggy Stardust has been called Bowie’s breakthrough album. It peaked at no. 5 on the British Official Albums Chart and no. 75 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart (now called the Billboard 200). The album has received numerous accolades over the years. It is ranked no. 35 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 2013 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 1997, it was named the 20th greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll in the U.K. In 2017, the U.S. Library of Congress selected the record for preservation in the National Recording Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

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If You Can’t See The One You Love, See The One You Can

According to my good music blogger friend Music Enthusiast, who only not writes a great blog but also seems to be a pretty good guitarist, I’m the King of the Tribute Band. As such, I thought I have to live up to the kind title and do a piece on tribute bands.

In 1970, Stephen Stills wrote the lyrics, And if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Since this pretty much captures how I generally feel about tribute bands, I used a variation of Stills’ words as the headline for this post.

I know some folks are only mildly excited about the concept. While I acknowledge it’s hard to find tribute bands that sound exactly like the real artists, as long as they don’t sound terrible, I enjoy seeing them. Since I usually do some research before going to a show, I’ve yet to have a bad experience.

Here’s how I look at it. With today’s oftentimes outrageous ticket prices, I simply can’t afford to see everybody I like; and even if I could, many of my favorite artists or bands are no longer around. Some of the best tribute bands I’ve seen performed at free summer-concert-in-the-park type of events, or music festivals with very reasonable cover charges. So for little or no money I can listen to music I dig – not much of a downside here, in my opinion!

Following are some tribute bands I like and have seen over the past couple of years.

Who’s Next

Their name already pretty much says it all. Who’s Next is a tribute to The Who. Like The Who, I’ve seen them twice and thought they were dynamite. Their members include Bill Canell as Pete TownshendDave McDonald as Roger DaltreyMike Conte as John Entwistle and Rich Savarese as Keith Moon. Apart from nicely capturing the sound and energy of the British rockers, these four guys also look a bit like their heroes. All of this is pretty remarkable, given the band doesn’t appear to perform frequently. For more information, check out their website. Here’s The Real Me and 5:15 I captured earlier this year during a British Invasion festival in Atlantic City.

Britain’s Finest

As a huge fan of The Beatles, of course I need to include a tribute band in this post! There are many tribute acts to the Fab Four, and I must have seen at least half a dozen myself. One of the best if not the best is Britain’s Finest. Similar to Who’s Next, their show is about both recreating the sound and the looks – they even mimic The Beatles’ humor. According to their Facebook page, Britain’s Finest were founded in Los Angeles in September 2011. Their lineup features Ruben Amaya (John Lennon), Benjamin Chadwick (Paul McCartney), Robert F. Bielma (George Harrison) and Luis G. Renteria (Ringo Starr). Here’s a clip of She Loves You.

The Glimmer Twins

Adopting the nickname of the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the Glimmer Twins hail from Philadelphia. The band is led by Keith Call (vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitars, vocals), who bring to life the sound and looks of Jagger and Richards in the ’70s. While the band’s remaining musicians don’t resemble the other members of The Rolling Stones, they sound pretty awesome:  Michael Rubino (guitars), Bobby Corea (drums), Rob Ekstedt (Bass), Rocco Notte (keyboards), Valorie Steel (vocals), Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute, organ) and Carl Crabtree (saxophone, organ, acoustic guitar). For more information, check out their website. Here’s their rendition of Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

STARMAN: The Bowie Tribute

Formed in 2014, STARMAN is a tribute band to David Bowie. While Bowie obviously was a very well-known artist, I was still intrigued when I learned about these guys recently. Unlike The Beatles, I don’t think there are many Bowie tributes out there, which was in part why I decided to catch one of their recent gigs. In addition to Bowie’s songs, this Jersey band captures the looks and stage shows during different times of his career. STARMAN are Johwie Bowie (lead vocals), David Citron (keyboards, vocals), Tom Coughlin (saxophone, guitar, vocals), Jody Lynn Lisa (vocals, percussion), Mark Christopher (lead guitar), Dan D’Elia (drums) and Phil Liebergall (bass, vocals). Additional information can be found on their website. Here’s a clip of Ziggy Stardust and Suffragette City from the above mentioned show I attended.

TUSK

TUSK, another band from New Jersey, is an excellent tribute to Fleetwood Mac I’ve seen a couple of times. While their website and Facebook page don’t mention when they were founded, it’s clear their members are longtime artists. The band, which captures Fleetwood Mac during their most commercially successful phase, features Kathy Phillips (vocals) as Stevie NicksKim Williams (keyboards, vocals) as Christine McVieScott McDonald (guitars, vocals) as Lindsey BuckinghamRandy Atiglere (bass) as John McVie, and Tom Nelson (drums) as Mick Fleetwood. According to their website, TUSK has a packed schedule and tours nationally. What struck me the most about them was how well they capture Mac’s harmony vocals. Check out this clip of The Chain.

Hotel California

To recreate the music of the Eagles, especially the harmony vocals, is a formidable task. While I’ve seen a few Eagles tribute bands, Hotel California from Toronto, Canada has been the most compelling thus far. Undoubtedly, at least in part this must be the result of their longtime experience – the band was founded in 1986. The current lineup includes  Andy Lapointe  (bass, vocals), Mike Dimoulas (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, double-neck guitar, Talk Box, vocals), Rick Spyder (electric guitar, vocals) and Kevin O’Donnell (drums, vocals). The band’s website reveals that they tour heavily throughout Canada and the U.S. Here’s a nice highlights reel. While it’s a few years old, this is how I recall they sounded when I saw them last September.

Get The Led Out

Get The Led Out, another band from Philadelphia, are an amazing Led Zeppelin tribute that got together in 2003. Rather than aiming to look like Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham or sound like they did in concert, these guys are all about bringing Zeppelin’s studio sound live to the stage. And that takes more than four musicians – six to be precise: Paul Sinclair (lead vocals, harmonica), Paul Hammond  (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin), Jimmy Marchiano (electric and acoustic guitars), Phil D’Agostino (bass, vocals), Andrew Lipke (keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, vocals, percussion) and Adam Ferraiolo (drums, percussion). In addition, Diana DeSantis serves as guest vocalist for The Battle Of Evermore. I saw GTLO last November, and boy did they kick ass! The band’s current national tour schedule is on their website. Here’s a clip of Whole Lotta Love.

Echoes

This Pink Floyd tribute band from Delaware was founded in 1991. I’ve had the fortune to experience the real Pink Floyd (minus Roger Waters) twice and was really impressed how well Echoes recreated their complex music when I saw them last September. The band includes John Cassidy (drums, vocals), Kyle Frederick (bass), Dan Long  (keyboards, sound effects, vocals), John Ratcliffe (vocals, guitar), William (Bill) Swezey  (guitar, vocals), David Fox (guitar, lap steel), Andrew Bedell (saxophone), Michelle Sumler Hover (backing vocals), Chris Tuminello Duncan (backing vocals, keyboards) and Kat Pigliacampi (backing vocals). Here’s a highlights reel from their website.

Yes, I’ve seen many tribute bands, and the king is ready to see more! One event I particularly look forward to in this context is Rock The Farm in Seaside Heights, N.J. at the end of September. This annual one-day music festival features an impressive amount of tribute bands. In addition to Decade and TUSK, the 2018 lineup includes tributes to AC/DC, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Aerosmith and Guns ‘N Roses, among others. Best of all, the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, which puts on Rock The Farm, leverages the event to raise money for addiction recovery programs and other related services. For more information, visit https://rockthefarmnj.com/

Sources: Who’s Next website, Britain’s Finest Facebook page; The Glimmer Twins website; STARMAN website; TUSK website; Hotel California website; Get The Led Out website; Echoes website; YouTube