To quote Pete Townsend of The Who, “Rock is dead they say”…whatever. This is a tired old chestnut that “they” bring up over and over. I’m not sure who “they” are, and I’m not sure what “they” mean by “rock”. Are we talking ROCK from the 70s, 80s or 90s onward? Or since the turn of the century? It’s a very broad term for a particular kind of music. For the sake of this blog post, I’ll be talking about the original “rock”—Rock’n’Roll.
Since I’ve already made certain statements in interviews about my intention to bring RnR into the 21st century, I’ll back it up. Rock’n’Roll is a totally other animal than “Rock”. As Tom Petty said earlier this year about his discovering RnR, “Not rock; this was Rock and Roll. The roll designates a swing — there’s a swing in the roll.”That’s what I’m talking about. There’s a difference between Rock and Rock’n’Roll, and just to be clear, it’s RnR that I’m putting out there.
All that aside, I intended the Rock’n’Roll Romantic album to be my statement about RnR in the 21st century. I took over a year to build up to the release of it and when I finally did release it on CD in October 2016, it proved to be my most successful release to date. The CD starts off with 2 of 3 songs that feature RnR Hall of Famers Max Weinberg & Garry Tallent—the rhythm section from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. In fact DownTown Mystic is the only artist in the world that can make that claim. Not even Garry Tallent and Little Steven can say that about their new solo records. Not too shabby! 🙂
A big part of the success of Rock’n’Roll Romantic was at Radio. The previous release of the DownTown Nashville EP at Americana Radio in the spring last year was easily DownTown Mystic’s biggest release at the format and helped to set the stage, so to speak, for Rock’n’Roll Romantic. But I also knew that Rock’n’Roll Romantic had a broader appeal to it than just Americana. The strategy of going to the AAA and College formats along with Americana garnered DownTown Mystic its largest radio audience, going from 16 to 36 Adds and more than 70 radio stations playing the music. For me, these results show that RnR in today’s marketplace is not dead, to say the least.
2017 started out by continuing the success of Rock’n’Roll Romantic when DownTown Mystic signed a deal with UK indie label Nub Music to release Rock’n’Roll Romantic in Europe. How apropos for 2017 to be the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the 1st Concept Album. Besides the noise of “the death of rock” is the noise about “the death of the album” and “the death of the CD”. Besides being a true RnR album, Rock’n’Roll Romantic is also a true concept album.
The truth is Rock’n’Roll is here to stay…it will never die. Wait, that sounds like a song I once heard. Nevertheless, it’s true. There’s something undeniable about an electric guitar playing along to a groove that’s being put down by a real drummer and bass player. It’s an irresistible force. Sure, it might not be what’s popular on Top 40 Radio but who cares? There are millions of people who don’t listen to Top 40 Radio.
Meanwhile in the UK, Nub has already released the Side 2 EP to help set up the release of the full Rock’n’Roll Romantic album later in the year. What better place to release some new RnR than in the UK? Oasis has been the biggest band there since The Beatles and they’ve been around now for 20 years. So it’s safe to say that Rock’n’Roll is still alive and well there. This next chapter with Nub Music may turn out to be even more exciting than the success at US Radio for Rock’n’Roll Romantic! 🙂
It occurred to me that just about everyone involved in the making of Rock’n’Roll Romantic is, like me, a Rock’n’Roll Romantic at heart. I think that’s very cool and it certainly helped make the project come alive. Since I’ve made it my business to help promote all those kind souls who have helped me, my way of “paying it forward”, I wanted to talk about one of them who has been a big influence—Garry W. Tallent.
Garry is Bruce Springsteen’s bass player. That’s something nobody else in the world can say. He’s a quiet easy going guy and you would never figure he was the 7th son in a family of 13 kids. He’s also a great musician and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Rock’n’Roll. Of course, being in The E Street Band definitely has its perks. One of them is you get to play alongside Bruce Springsteen (not too shabby). His rhythm partner in time is drummer Max Weinberg, not to mention playing with the other great musicans in the band…not too shabby either. 🙂
On Rock’n’Roll Romantic, Garry and Max play on 3 songs—Way To Know, And You Know Why and Hard Enough. I can kick myself for not getting a photo of us together in the studio but I wanted it to be cool for them without walking around snapping pics like a fanboy. It was quite an experience working with them, watching how they work together. I learned a great deal in the process, and you might say, they were somewhat responsible for my creating DownTown Mystic. It’s also easy to figure out why Bruce has been so successful, particularly live. Having Garry & Max as your personal rhythm section has got to be a perk for The Boss as well. These guys can rock with the best of them. 🙂
Now, after many years of playing bass, Garry has put out a solo album called Break Time. He is now stepping up to the mic, both figuratively & literally speaking. This was not something I would have ever expected from him. Singing out in front of a band has got to be a new experience for Garry and it’s been very cool to see it happen. I asked him why now, and in typical Garry fashion, he replied “why not”? Truth be told, he said getting older was motivating him to finally get his music out there. Truth be told, it’s good having good timing too. 🙂
He’s got a built-in audience with E Street fans from around the world and he’s made a very good record for them. As far as I’m concerned, whatever was on the wax when I listened was going to surprise me, and Garry didn’t disappoint. On the other hand, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise, given that Garry is somewhat of a Rock Historian. Going back to the music that caught his attention as a kid, early RnR, makes perfect sense. He delivers authentic sounding old school 50s RnR in a style that recalls so many of the greats from that period, as well as show his dry sense of humor. Hearing Garry sing Ants In Her Pants is worth the price of admission! lol
Of course, playing in The E Street Band and putting out a solo record has got to be somewhat of a daunting task for everyone in the band. There’s been a very high bar that they’ve set for themselves and then there’s also that guy named Bruce. His name alone brings so much attention to anything in its orbit. That can be a double-edged sword of sorts, but for Garry it only enhances what he’s done.Break Time is a great testament to the talent (no pun intended) that Bruce has placed around himself.
Hearing Garry’s influences gives one the feeling that Bruce could throw anything at him and get 3 or 4 styles to choose from in return. That has to inspire confidence in The Boss to have a guy like Garry manning the Bass behind him. Also, I think it’s important that guys like Garry are around and still interested in putting out music that might be in danger of going extinct. He was an eyewitness to that initial Big Bang and let all that music wash over him . Putting together the crew of musicians to help bring out the authenticity of those influences is also a talent (pun intended). 🙂
If you have the chance, get yourself a copy of Break Time, and judge for yourself. Also, keep your eyes out for Garry on tour this year and if you see him, tell him DownTown sent you. 🙂
February 28, 2017 would have been the 75th birthday of the man who started The Rolling Stones—Brian Jones, the man they called the Golden Stone because of his perfect blonde hair. There’s a reason why I wrote the song Brian Jonesand why it’s the centerpiece onthe Rock’n’Roll Romantic album. The main reason for the song being at the heart of the album is that Brian epitomizes the Rock’n’Roll Romantic. Brian was the trendsetter for Swinging London in the 1960s. It’s been said that Brian lived the life that Mick and Keith only wrote about. For me, it was Brian Jones who caught my attention when I first saw The Stones, just as it had been John Lennon who I immediately gravitated to when first seeing The Beatles. Now there are 2 Bad Boys to idolize! ?
There have been many books written about Brian’s short life and demise. The most recent is Paul Trynka’s excellent book, Brian Jones—The Making of The Rolling Stones. In the UK the book is called Sympathy for the Devil! One of the main points made in the book is that Brian was far more important in not only starting the band, but in the overall British Blues explosion that changed the UK music scene. I found it to be the best account of what it must have felt like being around The Stones in the early days. This was not a bunch of school chums getting together to form a band, but rather a group of individuals who could be very calculating with each other. For Brian, you get the feeling that none of them really had his back. But you also sense that Brian played a big part in setting that in motion.
It feels a bit odd talking about Brian and The Stones as being together because the band has been around for so long as the current entity that it’s hard to picture Brian in this band. When you looked at The Stones, Brian was the odd man out. He was his own brand for sure. Even with Mick Jagger out front singing and bopping around, it was Brian who would catch your eye…by simply standing there! Over the years there’s been a good deal of revisionism in The Stones camp as it pertains to the band’s history, with Brian’s role being minimized to that of a bit player. The truth is something that has gotten, shall we say, muddled.
The real story is an epic tragedy, almost Shakespearean in its unfolding. But as I write in my song Brian Jones, he did not understand his circumstances and certainly never took responsibility for his actions. He was a mojo man who fathered 6 kids with 6 different girls! He had an innate talent for playing musical instruments and he left a distinct imprint on the recordings that he played on. He gave The Stones sound an extra dimension that other bands didn’t have. But he also lived a decadent life, like nobody else around. They had to coin the term sex, drugs & rock’n’roll to describe his lifestyle!! ?
There are many who put Brian’s downfall on Mick and Keith. Did Mick and Keith, along with manager Andrew Loog Oldham, deliberately plot against Brian to take the band away from him? Maybe…probably…but the reality was that The Stones wanted to be in the same arena as The Beatles. That meant they needed to write their own songs and become more pop oriented. Oldham’s choice of putting Mick & Keith together as the main writing team has proven to be an inspired one. Given the personalities involved, Brian certainly saw the writing on the wall for himself.
In recent years it seems like there’s been a whole cottage industry that has sprung up around Brian. Many see him as a multi-talented hero who was “stabbed in the back” by his band, but part of the problem is that we always tend to see our idols or heroes in 2 dimensions. We see them live in concert or on TV, and we read what other people write about them. We don’t know them personally and what they’re really like, so we form our opinions based on assumptions based on a 2 dimensional portrait. There’s a whole school of “oh poor Brian” this and “oh poor Brian” that, but in the end we don’t really know him and what he brought on himself.
In his book, Paul Trynka writes that nobody saw much of Brian in the last year of his life. He went on drug binges for longer and longer stretches and had blackouts. He was seen nodding out on quite a few occasions, even in the studio when he did show up. Just look at the changes in his physical appearance from 1965 to 1968. He goes from being the trendsetter for the hip and beautiful people of Swinging London to an overweight drugged out mess in just 3 years! Take a look at the photos on Between The Buttons, one of my fave Stones albums. Brian looks totally out of it and disconnected from the rest of the band.
I think the real reason they shelved the Rock’n’Roll Circus TV show in 1968 (Brian’s last public appearance with the band) was because of Brian’s physical condition. He was a train wreck! Mick, Keith and Brian had already been busted by the police for drugs. They were public enemies to the UK Establishment, so the last thing that was needed, was for any of them to show up on BBC TV (the only TV in the UK) looking completely stoned! If you’ve ever been in a band with one of the members always being fucked up, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They’re unreliable and bring everyone down. At any rate, whatever went down between them personally is their business.
I once spent an afternoon talking with David Dalton, a Stones biographer, about Brian. He said an interesting and somewhat telling thing—that Mick and Keith were very superstitious when it came to Brian and would get very uptight at the mention of his name. I’m sure, deep down, they harbor some guilt. As for all the conspiracies about murder in Brian’s death, he wasn’t murdered. When you look at the cast of unsavory characters who hung around Brian in the last weeks of his life, one thing is clear, he was the last person they would want dead. The main reason being, he was famous, and that was why they were there. If he was dead, no more hanging out with fame.
However, I do think he died of un-natural causes on the night he joined the 27 Club. Before I continue, there’s 1 thing that can’t be emphasized enough—DRUGS. Since it was the 60s, there’s a kind of playing down of the amount of DRUGS that were being consumed back then. Like tee-hee (yes I used tee-hee), everybody was getting high back then…NO! The amount of drugs involved with this particular individual was almost inhuman. Brian took more and did more of everything in massive quantities. Eventually, this had a serious impact on him. So contrary to the lore about Brian being in shape and getting ready to form a super group with the likes of Hendrix, he had no interest or ability in forming another band.
Brian was done. Brian had abused his body to such extent that all he needed was to have a nightcap and then float in his pool, that was heated at 80-90 degrees, nod off and float away. It’s real easy to fall asleep in a pool like that totally straight. Brian may have shown a bit of wear on the outside, but his inside was worse. The autopsy revealed that his liver was shot and that he had the flabby heart of a 60 year old man despite being only 27. I’d say that qualifies as un-natural! This is something that most people seem to overlook, his actual physical condition. He took drugs by the handful and drank on top of it, and everyone thought he was immortal. He wasn’t. There’s a physical toll to be paid.
As I said earlier, there is a reason I wrote the song Brian Jones. I was in contact with his spirit when I wrote the song, and this was many years after his death when he was all but forgotten. No cottage industry, no Brian was murdered books being written. Of course, it’s hard to know when you’re in contact with the other side. For years I wondered about what I had written in the song and how I knew it. Paul Trynka’s book helped me to understand that I was right. That and a Channel, who I’ve been working with for about the last 8 years, have helped me to understand that I am also a Channel via my music. Things that came through in the song were not things I could have possibly known about at the time.
Now I know I’m opening myself up to a good deal of skepticism, but this is my reality as an artist. I know ideas and creativity come from another place and that we are all capable of tapping into them if we are open enough to receive them. So I will share my experience with those who are open to it. In a recent Channeling session I asked to contact Brian and his spirit came through. I asked him (via Dr. Peebles) what happened on that night he died. Here is an MP3 of the session and you can draw your own conclusions:
It’s somewhat ironic that it’s the conspiracy theories have helped to keep Brian’s name alive and create a legend. “The Truth will set you free”. On the day of what would have been Brian’s 75th birthday, I want the Truth to be known by those with ears to hear it. In his short life, Brian burned bright and then burned out like a comet falling to earth. He deserves to be remembered in a Good Light, as a true Rock’n’Roll Romantic. ?
I did not expect DownTown Nashville to get the reaction at Americana Radio that it got. Within the first 4 weeks of its release it had surpassed everything I could have hoped for. Compared to the DownTown Mystic release 3 years earlier, it was a smash! This was a total surprise! If I had serviced the entire panel and worked it harder, DownTown Nashville might have made the AMA Top 40. That probably would have been more than I had bargained for. 🙂
Ok…so I’ve been waiting for what I feel will be the right moment to release Rock’n’Roll Romantic. I could have done it in Sept./Oct. 2015, but it didn’t feel right. And the more I waited, it allowed me to continue to release & promote, getting the songs heard and keeping my name out there. In my mind, the album is a bit intense to listen to in 1 sitting. It’s a concept album that needs to be heard in its entirety and that’s not an easy sell today, especially for Radio. So exposing the songs little by little was a good strategy. I always heard the album as Side 1 & Side 2, so I wanted to have all the singles on Side 1. Every song had been played at Radio somewhere in the world and every song kicked in its own way. So to hear these singles all in a row would be impressive. 🙂
In the summer (late July) I finally released Rock’nRoll Romantic as a digital album, with the announcement that the CD would follow in the fall. I figured this would give me a chance to finally get the CD together. The digital release was greeted with rave reviews from the press and occupied the #2 slot for July and August on the AirPlay Direct Global Rock Albums Chart. With the CD now slated for release in the fall, I knew that it was now or never. In September I called Rene Magallon at M:M Music, the #1 indie AAA Radio Promoter. It had been 8 years since I last worked with them at AAA/Non-Com Radio and I was somewhat apprehensive.
Hiring M:M Music to promote to Radio is not cheap, especially for indies like myself. But they’re the best at what they do and they don’t need to take on everybody that calls them. I would be moving up to another level working with them. So I call Rene to tell her about the new CD and to let her know that I think the album can appeal to a broader audience. Especially because of some of the names involved like The E Street Band rhythm section—“Mighty” Max Weinberg & Garry Tallent.
Rene wants to hear the album, so I send her a link and she listens. She tells me she’s very impressed with my writing from what she remembers and really likes what she heard. This is cool news! Rene hears EVERYTHING that’s out there, so coming from her, this is a BIG complement. She doesn’t think it’s an Americana release and commercial AAA is not in the picture yet. Rene thinks it has a chance at Non-Com and College Radio. The idea of college kids listening to the CD really interested me because they would be a good way for me to judge the music as being contemporary or not.
Rene asked me if the CD was ready to go and I told her no, but that I would have it ready for release in October. She was cool with that. She also wanted to know my thoughts about what she had said. I told her that I always have a problem about promoting to Radio, if it was worth it. In the last couple of years I’ve been played on 10-15,000 stations around the world. When you’re talking in numbers like that, getting played by a few more radio stations doesn’t seem like that big a deal. Especially with the cost of promo that’s involved here in the US.
But this is Rock’nRoll Romantic and I’m making a statement with it. I told Rene that at the very least I wanted to establish myself as an artist at Radio with this album, so I need to get it heard beyond at what I had been doing. She agreed and thought that the best way to go was getting it out to Non-Com and College which would require between 500-600 cds. That would definitely get it heard. I told Rene I was in.
As an Artist I still believe in Radio because it allows me to judge certain things with the music. Also, I want to compete in the marketplace with the other labels, Major or Indie. Hiring M:M Music would take me to the next level and up my profile out there. You might think you’re great, but until you go out to where the real competition is, you’re just blowing smoke, right? 🙂
Rene gave me a deadline for when the cds needed to be mailed out and set an impact date for October 10 at Radio. Now all I needed to do was create the cd artwork and get the cds made. The 1st thing I did was change the opening track, adding Way To Know, which was not on the digital release. In July I had come up with a track listing for a possible release in Europe that included Way To Know, which had been #1 there earlier in the year. I thought the track listing was better than the digital release and the addition of Way To Know made the concept of the album stronger. Plus as a label, I wanted the CD to be different from the digital album.
I knew the main part of the artwork would be the inside of the cd, which were all credits. Working with digital releases, the only thing that matters is the cover art. It’s only with a physical release that all the credits can be listed. Everyone involved with the project likes to see their names on it, which doesn’t happen with digital releases. In this case, Rock’nRoll Romantic had 15 musicians who lent their talents to its creation and a half dozen co-writers, not to mention the recording engineers and studios that were involved.
I thought that it was all of the credits I had been putting off but I finally realized that it was all about the artwork…in particular—the cover art. I had been waiting for the right time to put out this cd. Now I had the promotion team in place and all the credits were done. But the front cover artwork that was used for the digital album was not doing it for me on the cd. My graphics designer, Larry Bentley, had come up with a great back cover, which I loved. At the 11th hour I just asked him “to try and fuck with it” (the front cover). Larry came back with 3 or 4 ideas, one of which really caught my eye. I asked him to make a few tweaks to it and voila—we had the new cover art! 🙂
With the new cover in place, everything went as planned. The CD was mailed out and promotion began in October. What I hadn’t planned on was the high number of 4th Quarter releases that were out there, making for some stiff competition. The initial going at Radio was slow, especially Americana. The success of DownTown Nashville had spoiled me. Part of the problem at the format is that Non-Com/AAA stations that report to the AMA Chart outnumber the more Americana leaning stations. This meant that Crystal Ann Lea, who works Non-Com for M:M Music, would be promoting to those Non-Com stations on the AMA Chart as AAA.
Even though I knew going in that many wouldn’t think it was an Americana release, I still wanted to take it to the stations that had supported me. I knew they would listen and they did. In Europe I’m known as American rocker Robert Allen, which is great. They don’t understand the term Americana the way it’s used here as a US music genre. If I tell them I’m Americana, the Europeans think I mean Rock’n’Roll. So it’s kind of weird that not everyone at the Americana Radio format here thinks RnR is Americana, or it just seems that way at times.
After 4 or 5 weeks I had 8 stations playing Rock’nRoll Romantic and finally broke into the Top 100 on the AMA Chart, about half the time it took 3 years earlier. Crystal Ann also had 8 stations that added the CD but by December, she had an additional 30 stations that had it in light rotation. Add to that the 17 college stations that Ian Murray at M:M had gotten and the overall picture was an impressive one—over 30 total Adds and over 60 stations playing Rock’nRoll Romantic! Rene had been correct. M:M Music had gotten the music heard and the result was a much broader audience for DownTown Mystic. What makes this even better for me is that this was accomplished in a very tough competitive 4th Quarter. 🙂
As I said at the start of Part 1, 2016 turned out to be a very good year for DownTown Mysticand I want to give thanks to all of the people at Non-Com, College and Americana Radio for their support, as well as everyone at M:M Music for making Rock’nRoll Romantic a success. Now I’m going to celebrate the holidays and look forward to what 2017 has in store. 🙂
It’s that time of the year again when we take some time to look back and assess what we’ve done before heading into a new year. As usual, it’s hard to believe we’re at this point again as another year just seemed to fly right by. You think we’d be used to it by now. 🙂
As crazy as 2016 was for the world in general, it turned out to be a very good year for DownTown Mystic. As the year started, I had this feeling that something “big” was coming. I don’t know why that was, but I could definitely feel it. In 2015 I was focusing on a strategy to release the Rock’n’Roll Romantic album. It felt like the absolute right time for it, but I decided to take a long term approach, promoting digital releases such as singles and EPs to build up to the release of the album.
Now that 2016 was here, I knew I would have to finally release the album. In January, Way To Know was released as a single in Europe. It had been released there in December but an error had caused there to be a problem with the upload to Radio. Luckily, I caught it and had the problem remedied with a new release in January. Way To Know steadily climbed the Official European Indie Music Chart, eventually making it all the way to #1 (here’s a previous post about it). In late January, the video single She Said, She Said, celebrating the 50 year anniversary of The Beatles REVOLVER album, was released exclusively on YouTube.
A pattern of doing 2 releases at the same time was starting to develop. With the release of She Said, She Said as a single, a spring release for Rock’n’Roll Romantic was scheduled. Rock’n’Roll Romantic would be the 1st full album since the self-titled DownTown Mystic album in 2013. Being that it was going on 3 years since DownTown Mystic had been at Americana Radio, there was a worry that Rock’n’Roll Romantic might not be Americana enough for the format. It was around this time that a new idea popped up.
The new idea was to create and release something that would be more conducive to the format. That release would become the DownTown Nashville EP. The original idea I had was about creating a CD to send to the music industry people (A&R, Managers, Publishers, etc.) in Nashville. I had some songs plugged down there and with the sound of modern country going more rock & pop, I wanted to introduce the music of DownTown Mystic for publishing purposes. But the idea soon morphed into creating a CD release at Americana Radio. This would create a story to interest the music people in Nashville and set up the release for Rock’n’Roll Romantic.
Steve, Robert & Paul
I had recorded a bunch of songs with Steve Holley & Paul Page (the rhythm section from Ian Hunter’s Rant Band), along with additional help from guitar ace Lance Doss, that were inspired by the many influences I had gotten over the years from the music made in Nashville. The more the idea for the release began to become clearer to me, the more I wanted to make a statement with it. I needed something iconic for the cover art, something that everyone in Nashville would immediately recognize. Then I realized that I had the perfect cover photo from my last visit to Nashville—the famed Oak Bar Men’s Room in the Hermitage Hotel! It was perfect! I had visited the Men’s Room one afternoon when it was empty and was busy taking photos when the cleaning lady showed up. She was nice enough to take one of me since my selfies weren’t too good. 🙂
Robert in Oak Bar Men’s Room
Now that I had the cover, I wanted to be able to fit the song lyrics on the inside, but that meant I would only be able to fit 5 or 6 songs. That made an album out of the question and the DownTown Nashville EP was created. I decided to release the EP digitally, but only print up 100 CDs, and make them for RADIO ONLY. This would tie in nicely with the visual on the cover (my graphics guy Larry Bentley did an amazing job!). Meanwhile, the single Way To Know kept gaining momentum, climbing the Top 20 in Europe. 🙂
In early March I mailed out less than half of the cds to less than half of the Americana radio panel. For the 1st time I would be promoting the release by myself and I decided to just concentrate on the stations that had played me before, plus some of the stations that weren’t there 3 years ago with the DownTown Mystic release. I had scheduled the DownTown Nashville EP for release on the 1st day of spring—at the Vernal Equinox.
On March 21stDownTown Nashville debuted in the Top 5 Most Added on the AMA Chart…the 1st time that had happened! In just 2 weeks it broke into the Top 100, something that took the DownTown Mystic release from 2013, 8 weeks to achieve. 2 weeks later it was at #60, blowing by the 2013 release, which took 12 weeks to reach #65!! DownTown Nashville would reach #53 and stay on the AMA Chart for 7 months, becoming DownTown Mystic’s best release at the format yet. DownTown Nashville would also be #1 on the AirPlay Direct Top 50 Global Radio Rock Albums Chart in March and April, beating the mark set by the DownTown Mystic on E Street EP the year before as DownTown Mystic’s most downloaded release on APD!
Meanwhile, the single Way To Know was about to start a 3 week run at #1 in Europe. It was only April and the year was rockin’ in a big way and there was still the matter of releasing Rock’n’Roll Romantic. 🙂