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! 🙂
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. ?
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. 🙂
On August 5, 1966 The Beatles released their 7th album—REVOLVER. I bought it the next day when it was released in the US. It was a somewhat odd time for a Beatles album…in the middle of summer. Making it a bit odder was the fact that all we had been hearing on the radio was the single Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby. We had pretty much forgotten that Paperback Writer/Rain had been released months before to herald the coming of their next album.
Adding to all this was the fact that Capitol Records had just released in June, arguably, the best Beatles album to date called Yesterday And Today (the Butcher album). So when I got my copy of the album with the cover of the black and white drawing of The Beatles, I was a bit underwhelmed. It definitely wasn’t as good as Yesterday And Today. Why not? Every Beatles album had always been better than the one before it. How could this be?
About the only thing that I remember about the REVOLVER album in 1966 was my friend showing me the import Revolver album from England he had just got. I had never seen an import album. What was different about it? As it turns out, there was a lot that was different. For one thing the record company was called Parlophone, not Capitol, and there were 14 songs on the album! 14 songs?? We only got 11 songs on a Beatles album! Plus 3 of the songs that were on Yesterday And Today were also on REVOLVER…WTF??
We had no idea that Capitol had been trimming down the UK releases so that they could create an extra release that the band had nothing to do with. I mean on one hand it was great. We here in the US could not get enough of The Beatles. So the more albums, the better!! But it all kind of came to a head between the band and Capitol Records with the release of Yesterday And Today. Again, IMO, the best album the band ever released in the US. It would also be the last US-made album from Capitol.
Yesterday And Today became known as the infamous “Butcher Album”. Capitol really did a number on the band with this album. The Beatles started to get serious, entering their artistic phase with the release of Rubber Soul in 1965. This was the album that Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys had credited with inspiring him to create Pet Sounds. How would you feel if you had created the best album of your career and the Record Company in the US decided to cut off the 1st track of that album? Amazing, right?
So now Capitol Records wanted The Beatles to shoot a new cover for their made up album, Yesterday And Today. Famously, The Beatles did a photo shoot wearing butcher’s coats, holding various cuts of raw meat mixed in with parts taken from toy dolls’ anatomies. It was bizarre, to say the least, especially in 1966. Even more bizarre, a cover shot was chosen and went out on a 1st run of the album before the company stopped the presses on it. That album is worth some $$ if you have a copy.
That “Butchers cover” made its point to the executives at Capitol and Yesterday And Today would be the last US-made Beatles album. Starting with the next album, Capitol would only issue the albums that The Beatles gave them. But Butcher’s album was totally correct. To create Yesterday And Today, Capitol had taken Drive My Car and If I Needed Someone off of the UK Rubber Soul as well as I’m Only Sleeping, And Your Bird Can Sing and Doctor Robert off of Revolver, which was still being recorded when they did it!! You can see why Revolver, as released in the US by Capitol, was a bit underwhelming missing those 3 songs.
It really wasn’t until they released all of The Beatles UK albums on CD in the 80s that REVOLVER started to get the well-deserved acclaim it had been missing. Now you could hear the 14 songs the way The Beatles had recorded them together. Today it is considered to be their best album. Next year will mark 50 years of Sgt Pepper, which got ALL the acclaim, but Sgt. Pepper was not a ROCK album. It was their best POP album.
As a young teen it took a bit to get into REVOLVER. The songs were very different from anything the group had put out before. Even the sound was different. It was clearly The Beatles, but there was something different about them. John Lennon called it their Guitar Record. That was the message that the Paperback Writer/Rain single was meant to send to the fans. You could expect to hear more guitars like never before and rock’n’roll like never before. REVOLVER delivered on its promise.
The #1 song that has always represented REVOLVER for me has been the last track on Side 1—She Said, She Said. It was also the last song to be recorded for the album. This was John’s track about an LSD trip in LA with George and Ringo, along with David Crosby and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, who brought along actor Peter Fonda. It was Fonda who kept telling George that “ he knew what it was like to be dead” because he thought George was having a bad trip, Of course nobody knew that was what the song was about. Clocking in at a tick under 2 minutes with the odd time signatures and the odder lyric “she said I know what it’s like to be dead” was very weird for a Beatles song.
For me, She Said, She Said has always been one of John’s hippest songs. So one day when Ozzie Caccavelli, who was playing lead guitar at the time with The Discontent, said that he had a killer arrangement for the song I had to hear it. #1, because Ozzie didn’t strike me as a Beatles kind of guy and # 2, I couldn’t imagine what he would come up with. What he played me was a straight ahead rocking version that kicked ass! Ozzie’s arrangement was actually more commercial sounding than Lennon’s version and it showed John’s creative genius for writing hit songs, even when he wasn’t trying. I knew we had to record it and so we did!
Earlier this year DownTown Mystic released the recording of Ozzie’s arrangement of She Said, She Said as an exclusive video single on YouTube as a tribute to honor the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles greatest album—REVOLVER.