News From The Woods - January 10, 2014

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published January 10, 2014


"Full Circle and Over The Top"

As a diabetic, exercise is very important in keeping my sugar levels down. But since last year's total hip replacement jogging is pretty much out of the question for me. I enjoy walking but get bored very easily, not to mention what to do on those cold or rainy days, so we purchased a nice treadmill and put it in the den downstairs. Now, every morning, I do 30-60 minutes on the treadmill, but the boredom factor was still there (perhaps more so as I had no scenery to view as I walked). I tried watching television programs but that didn't work. Movies are simply too long and I hate shutting it off right in the middle of some key scene. One day I put in one of my recorded music concerts and it all came together. As a musician I tend to get lost in concerts, taking in the show, the performances, and the stage and light set up. I found that I could breeze right through a 45-minute workout as my mind was occupied with the music and visuals. It was actually an enjoyable experience. After stopping I am always sweating profusely (a good thing for a diabetic) and have very little memory of getting to that point. Ever since that day I discovered the secret I always use concerts and music videos to keep me distracted. I started recording as many concerts as I could find, mostly on the AXSTV satellite channel. I use my DDR feature to record the concerts while I am working, and then play back the ones I want every morning. A 2 hour concert usually gives me a 2-3 day supply of distraction. When I am done watching a particular concert I usually delete it from my DDR unless it was a particularly good one, and then I record it to a DVD and place it in my ever-growing library of music videos and concerts.

This morning I started a newly recorded concert featuring Bachman-Turner. Remember BTO? (Bachman/Turner Overdrive). They were huge in the 70's, with hits like "Takin' Care of Business", "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet", and "Let It Ride". Randy Bachman was an original member of The Guess Who, also from Canada. After leaving that band in 1971 he got hooked up with Fred Turner and continued his star-studded career for another 6 years before BTO began to wind down. Several versions of his band came and went up to the millennium when he went on hiatus. Due to the intense interest in a Bachman-Turner reunion, they announced their reteaming in 2009. Today the band is touring heavily, assisted by a new group of players (hired guns) in a 5-piece band consisting of a new drummer and three guitarists (including Bachman) and Turner on bass.

As I was keeping up with the treadmill and watching the video, it occurred to me that MANY popular bands and artists from the 70's are enjoying a renewed interest in live performances. In the business, we refer to these bands as "Legacy Bands". Some, like Aerosmith, The Stones, U2, Z Z Top, and Rush have the original band members. Others like Heart, REO Speedwagon, Journey, Foreigner, and John Fogerty (Creedence) don't have ANY original members. Both types are Legacy Bands, led by either the sole composer or a core duo (like Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson).

As I continued watching the video I could not help but notice how 'ol Randy and Fred had aged. They were both craggy and totally grey-haired. They still played the hell out of their instruments, and their singing was still spot on, but the support players youthfulness seemed to accentuate their leader's age.

I can recall back before the Millennium when people made fun and criticized once great and powerful rock and roll stars about their impending mortality, but that has seemingly all changed today. The Rolling Stones are prime examples. It wasn't that long ago that rock publications (typically youth-driven rags) were dissing these pioneers and wondering aloud how much longer they could stay in the spotlight - based solely on the fact that they were past 50 (and older).

Back in the early days of rock (and I was there)… the term "Rock and Roll" was a youthful occupation. That's because the people who introduced the genre were ALL young (Elvis, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, Don & Phil Everly, Ricky Nelson, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley, etc.). Rock and Roll became synonymous with the (then) young generation. It was originally the youth rebelling against the establishment (parents, class boundaries, politics, and government). Even in the 60's and 70's - the introduction of the Beatles and thousands of popular groups - it was still the "youth against the world". That was an integral part of the genre.

Even today, the target market for the music business is aimed squarely at the young. All one has to do is to tune in to the MTV Awards and Pop Music Awards shows to see scores of teens (and many of them Urban followers) with iPods in hand, downloading their favorite artists from iTunes. The old model for music distribution is dead, replaced by the instant gratification of a $.99 download (or worse yet… free). It will still be some time before the smoke clears on this issue of free music. Composers and songwriters are still reeling from the effects of having no way to collect any income from their labors. Strangely enough, live performances have again become very important to a musicians income. It is the only way to see any type of return on their investments (music).

However, something has changed in the paradigm. Somewhere along the way (probably right after the disco craze died), music itself changed from the garage band songwriting model to a studio environment. This was helped along by technology of course, with cheaper computers and software and instruments that talked to each other. It became less at the hands of a group of composers working together to create a songscape, and more into the hands of a single composer sitting in a room all by themselves and fleshing out a composition aided by computers, sequencers, and exotic software designed to enhance the process and mask all the deficiencies of the composer.

The end result - as we see it today - is that music has no soul to it. It has become a contrived machination designed to emulate the original feeling that one gets when one hears something new and refreshing. It is beat-driven, and holds every clever new sound that the very latest software can belch out. Lyrics mean nothing - even if the vocals were loud enough for you to hear. It is a cookie-cutter kind of composition. And the worst part is that the young people of today have accepted and even embraced this bastardization of music, aided by the MP3 audio compression format and a pair of $9 Wal Mart earbuds.

Music used to be an aural experience best shared with others, preferably on a decent stereo system, but not compulsory. While the LP record spun on our turntables we poured over the liner notes and images included with each new release. We read with great interest where and how the album was recorded and what gear was used. Recording engineers and record producers who we knew were responsible for the sound of the release became household names in certain circles. The back story of each LP was important because it was a part of the social consciousness of any music lover.

The best a kid can do today is pop out one ear bud and share half the mix with a friend. How can one really enjoy music that way today? And yet, they seem satisfied with it. My own son does not have a stereo system in his possession. He has a computer with speakers and yet chooses to use his iPhone as an entertainment center. I've tried it. I even have my own MP3 player, which works fine while I am out mowing the lawn or out on my boat with the motor running. Ear buds work well at drowning outside noise. But in the comfort of my own home, there is still NOTHING like playing my music on a nice pair of speakers. And in case you've forgotten how GOOD a record album sounds, you don't know what you are missing.

But I digress (yet again)……..

Back to the original intent of this article, I have noticed a distinct rise of the number of live concert videos of Legacy Bands being broadcast. No one these days seems to notice (or care) that these "Geezers" are old and gray! What happened to that "Youth angst" ??

I believe I have the answer. Today's music has become so stagnant and crappy that a huge segment of music lovers have turned their backs on it and are seeking "real" music again. But VERY few modern groups are writing that kind of music anymore. Oh, sure, there are some R&B groups getting attention, but for the most part no one is writing rock and roll songs with meaningful lyrics and clever arrangements…… At least any that we can find in the established music distribution network available to us - because the record business doesn't care: They are doing just fine with the huge youth segment conditioned to like whatever the business throws out there. But there is STILL a very large segment of the population (many now in their 50' and 60's) that longs for the day when they can once again hear "real" music. The Legacy Bands hear that calling, and media channels like AXSTV are clamoring for any new videos that will satisfy those needs. In turn, the Legacy Bands are jumping on the bandwagon. They are putting life back into their signature brands and reforming with young new players to project their particular identifiable sound and image on stage. Aided with the newest technology in sound and lighting, they are discovering ways to make them seem more exciting. They do some touring to get their song set stable and solid, and then they hire a TV production crew to record at the end of the tour. They then negotiate with media outlets to broadcast their "best foot forward" and in turn reach a vast new audience along with their original fans. Their videos are also made available through Netflix and other video rental and sales outlets.

Funny thing…. Their new fans… the younger ones … don't seem to mind as much that they are old and gray. Is it possible that rock and roll has outlived its own anger?

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