The Bobby Rock Newsletter #77 (9-24-22) - Kind of Genius!
The Bobby Rock Newsletter #77 (9-24-22) - Kind of Genius!
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Hey Everyone -
Back in a Lone Star state of mind this morning, at the hotel, getting ready to hit with Lita Ford in San Antonio tonight. I appreciate you guys dropping in for a little update, info, and diversion. Let’s step right into it…
In this Issue:
- In This Moment: In San Antonio today, contemplating life’s endless full-circle reckonings.
- The pure genius of one of the great LPs of all time: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis
- Journal Work: Pull the best of your past into the present with this kick-ass exercise.
In This Moment:
In San Antonio, as those full circles keep on circling!
It’s another Saturday morning, on the road with Lita Ford and company. It’s also Newsletter day, so I’m engaging my typical last-minute creative processes of getting this beast ready to publish, while I also tend to my show-day preparations. Love it all.
Drinking some Dirt, doing some work...
The theme today? Those full circles keep on circling. Although I’m a California native, I grew up in Houston and have a lot of San Antonio memories… starting with the first time I ever played here, in ’79, at the Trinity University auditorium with Carol Burnett’s daughter, Carrie! (That’s a whole other story…) Since then, I’ve lost count of all the shows here: with a few different cover bands pre-VVI, with VVI opening for Iron Maiden, with Nelson, with my own solo band, in multiple clinics throughout the 90s, and more, all the way up to most recently: at a rowdy rock club with Lita Ford in 2016.
Now, we throw it all the way back to two legendary 70s bands: Moxy and Legs Diamond. I had their records and caught each in concert back at the Sam Houston Coliseum a time or two in the 70s. And now, in 2022, we are all playing a show together. Full circle.
Also, it looks like one of my original drumming mentors (and big brother figure), Cole Newbury, might make the show tonight. I’ve talked about him extensively through the years and mentioned his impact on my life in my book, The Boy Is Gonna Rock. Would be great to connect with my bro! Let’s see if the logistics gods smile down on us. If so, to hang with Cole (the guy who got me into drumming) as Moxy plays in the background (a band he turned me on to in like ’75 or some shit)… well, that might be the ultimate full circle moment.
PS. Catch BR Newsletter #11 for a quick refresher on the band, Moxy. I talked about one of their newer records in that issue.
PPS. A bit later, from soundcheck today, fully in our full circle theme:
That’s Ken Mary on the left, playing with Jack Russell’s Great White tonight, and Blas Elias in the center, playing with Kingdom Come. Ken was playing drums with Alice Cooper during that first tour the Vinnie Vincent invasion did with him. And, of course, Blas and I go all the way back to the early days in Houston. More full circles!
Kind of Genius:
Behind-the-Scenes with One of the Greatest Jazz Records of all Time
From time to time, I will binge-out on a favorite record and listen to it often and intently over a one or two-week period. I will crank it on several different systems at home and then spend some “deep isolation” time with it on a flight somewhere (with my custom-molded in-ear monitors) and really get lost in the tracks. These LPs are usually classic records that I’ve heard a thousand times. But part of my fascination with them is that they are almost always built around the capture of really great “live performances,” even if it was a studio record.
Here lately, the chosen two have been Van Halen’s self-titled debut and Kind of Blue from Miles Davis, two very different records with several major things in common, including great songs, stupendous performances, and exceptional band chemistry. I’m guessing most of you have heard the epic Van Halen debut by now (it’s almost 45 years old!) and, very soon here, I intend to illuminate a behind-the-scenes detail or two about how that fiery VH magic was captured in the studio.
Today, I thought I might offer up a few fun facts about the recording of Kind of Blue, largely considered the most influential jazz record of all time, and certainly the best-selling at five million copies. Why? Because I think it’s useful to revisit the mundane particulars of these sessions through the filter of just how huge the record would become. This is yet another thing Kind of Blue has in common with the VH debut: It appeared to be just another day at the office where, the right group of folks, merged with the right collection of songs, at precisely the right time, in the right studio, and with the right producer.
Most sobering about it? What you are hearing are five guys in a room playing complete takes of the songs! Of course, this is pretty much standard protocol for any traditional jazz record, even many recorded today. But in this current era where digital recording technologies are the norm—and individual performances can either be cobbled together or “tweaked” to varying degrees—capturing complete, unaltered performances has become something of a rarity. And this is precisely why I believe I still lean into the older records. I wanna hear motherfuckers play, imperfections and all. I wanna feel like I’m seated behind the glass, in a darkened control room, watching that serendipitous and mystical confluence of creative and logistical x-factors unfold before my eyes and ears!
A Few Field Notes
Logistics: Kind of Blue was recorded in only nine hours, over two different days, on three-track tape, at Columbia Records' 30th Street Studio in NYC, in the spring of ’59. Although there were some false starts and, perhaps, an alternate take here or there, each of the five classic tracks that wound up on the record was a complete start-to-finish band pass, performed live together in the studio.
The Band: Miles on trumpet; John Coltrane on tenor sax; Cannonball Adderley on alto sax; Bill Evans on piano for four tracks, Wynton Kelly on one; Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums.
From the Kind of Blue sessions
The Budget: Miles was supposedly paid a standard three-thousand dollar contractual advance as the signed artist, while his band—including Coltrane and Adderley—worked for standard union wages: $48.50 per three-hour session, of which there were three (over two different tracking dates). That’s $145.50 per guy (although it was rumored later that Coltrane and Adderley received an additional $100 as a “bonus”). Point is, for the price of a small advance, modest session fees for six guys, a little studio time, four reels of tape, and a piano tuner, Capitol Records has profited nicely on this project through the decades!
The Influencer: Pianist Bill Evans was at the end of his short tenure with the band as they were recording this record, but his influence on Miles to take a deeper dive into “modal" composition and improvisation was a key component in making this record so special. Evans supposedly also felt like he should have gotten a writing credit for two tracks on the album (where all royalties went to Davis exclusively). But no worries. It’s been said that Miles cut Bill a single check for $25 at some point to appease him. (I doubt he was appeased!) Sadly, they would never work together again, although it’s hard to say if the biz arrangement was a definitive factor in this.
“Oops”: The album sequence was selected by album producer, Irwin Townsend… who got confused by the session notes and incorrectly listed tracks four and five as "Flamenco Sketches" and "All Blues” (when “All Blues” was actually first). 50,000 albums (all now collector’s items) were out there before this was corrected. Also, Cannonball Adderley's last name was misspelled (listed as Adderly) but, for reasons unknown, this was not fixed until 1997!
Bottom Line: If it’s been a minute since you’ve heard this record, give it a hard listen ASAP. It is magnificent on every level. If you’ve never heard it, check it out pronto. And if you’re not really a jazz fan but are open to owning just one “go-to” jazz record, I say, this would be The One!
An Unfortunate Twist of Fate
On August 25, 1959, eight days after the release of Kind of Blue, Miles was nearing the end of a two-week run at Birdland in NYC. After his set that night, he was accompanying a white woman out to a cab, when he had some kind of an exchange with a couple cops. Next thing you know, the fucking nightstick came out, and Miles took some blows to the head before being carted off to jail, battered and bloody. He was charged with disorderly conduct and assault, and his “cabaret card” was taken away. (The cabaret card was a required form of ID for anyone working in NY-based entertainment establishments that served alcohol back then.) Without that card, Miles couldn’t work. And so, instead of stepping into a rocket-ride fast track toward musical immortality with his bad-ass Kind of Blue line-up, the band split up!
News of this went around the world
It would take a minute for his “charges” to be reduced and his card given back. But by then, it has been noted that creative mojo and momentum was lost for Miles over the next several years. He would still play and record, but there wasn’t any new writing to speak of, and he didn’t expand on the moody modal approaches he had explored so beautifully on Kind of Blue.
What if? What if that bullshit never happened?
A Happy Coda
In 1964, Miles put together what became known as his Second Great Quintet in a classic line-up featuring Herbie Hancock on piano, Wayne Shorter on sax, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. Their first record together, ESP, came out in ’65, and man, this shit was crazy over-the-top and way ahead of its time. In fact, not only was this line-up my favorite of Miles, but it might be my favorite ensemble of all time—period. But that’s another story. The good news here? Miles got back on track in a big-time way and would shake up the jazz world through ’68 with this unit… before reinventing himself several more times prior to his passing in ’91.
What a legacy.
Which leads us to...
Here’s another contemplative journaling exercise to try:
The Eulogy-Now Exercise
In Stephen Covey’s landmark book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, he talks about “Beginning with the End in Mind,” and offers up what I believe he refers to as the Funeral Exercise. This is where you step into the future and envision what you would want friends and family to say about you and, essentially, what your legacy might look like in its grandest light. This is an effective exercise because it conjures up the ultimate end-game perspective on what you would like to create with this life and, by extension, how you should live each day moving forward in anticipation of this endpoint. All good.
Our variation today, however, is this: What if you checked out of here tomorrow? What would be the top five or ten things about you—your achievements, your unique life experiences, your strongest traits or virtues, etc—that you would like mentioned during your eulogy, as a way of best encapsulating your legacy as a human thus far? What might that look like?
The point? We are here, right now, all still works in progress, but with a lot of evolution under our belts already. Let’s own that. There is only ONE of each of us on this planet. Let’s acknowledge what we’ve gotten right so far, and what makes us unique. And by owning this in a visceral way, I believe we can actually proceed more confidently and effectively to our grander legacy objective down the line.
So again, what are five to ten things you would like mentioned at your eulogy in the present?
Write that shit down!
Thanks again, everybody. Connect next week!
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