Archive | May 2012

The Weight

May 26, 1940 Remembering Levon Helm on his birthday.

Maria. She's deaf.

I pulled in to Nazareth

That’s the first line of The Weight.  I know now this is a town in Pennsylvania, but in 1970 I thought this was the theme song for my high school, Nazareth Catholic High School in Brooklyn.

When I pulled into Nazareth for the first time it was like entering a frat house. An all-guys high school with young hip teachers and a couple of stuffy brothers (religious brothers, that is).

I entered the music room downstairs and that’s where I met Kenny Kirkland.  He and Lenny Sinisgalli (arranger, sax player who wrote….some jingle….Schaefer beer?) were playing a blues.  I knew I was in the right place.

There was a room down the hall from the music room called S.A.C. (student activity council).  This is where the magic happened, where all the debauchery was planned.  In my class I had a great gang of real dudes who became very close.  There was Dennis Cheng (he passed away some years back. I wonder if his dad is still alive…) and Mark Boyle (both he and Dennis were best men at my wedding) and Tommy Ryder and Joe Bonacci.  There was Jude Hayes, and Higgy and Neil Spadaro who became a top cop in NYPD and Tim Gallagher who I’ve reconnected with on facebook and Michael Deering, one of the funniest dudes ever, who passed away in 2008. We were a crew to rival Belushi’s on Animal House.

Well, this song, The Weight, was played at every dance in high school, and I’ve listened to it for thirty years and today is the first time I’ve ever sang it.

Happy Birthday Levon.  Rock history.  You were the soundtrack of my life.

 

A Whiter Shade of Pale

May 25, 1967 Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’, entered the UK chart for the first time, where it went on to become a No.1 hit. (via thisdayinmusic.com)

me & my sis

I found a picture of me and my sister Alyson (she’s 3 years older than me) when I was I’m guessing 17. Yeah, that’s my Afro.  I remember pickin it out. My sister was the hippie and I suppose I was a disco queen or whatever the 70’s term was.

We lived in Brooklyn at 908 East 19th street in a big old house.  It was a predominantly Jewish neigborhood and I had a good friend Nathan Birnbaum living next door and Eddie Miller directly across the street and Larry Cohen down the block. (I wonder where they are now? Helloooo?  Are you out there?)

Days were spent playing stickball, punchball, stoopball and football, pretty much all in the street. It was a dead end block. We had the LIRR freight trains at the end of the block (we called them THE TRACKs and there are a lot of stories that involved the tracks. I’ll get to those another time)

Anyway, after playing ball most of the day we would then listen to music at night, usually in my room because I had the loudest and largest stereo possible – amazing I’m not deaf – which brings me back to Procol Harum.  We’d listen to Procol Harum and Jethro Tull.  Remember Aqualung’s nasty lyrics? Sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent… Snot running down his nose…! A Whiter Shade of Pale had the deep, cool lyrics. Even if I had no idea what they meant.  Still have only the vaguest idea.  We skipped the light fandango!  What?

But it’s a beautiful song.

 

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

 

kawai

May 24, 1941 Happy Birthday Bob Dylan!

I wanted to do All Along the Watchtower today but I just couldn’t make it translate to the piano. I have Jimi Hendrix’s version in my brain. I always wanted to be the Hendrix of the keyboard but could never play loud enough! 😉

Bob Dylan’s songs, to me, always sound better on another artist  – for example Hendrix.

I’m sitting at my 6 ft grand Kawai piano.  I remember my Dad taking out a loan for it thirty years ago. It was 6 thousand dollars, which might as well have been a million.  I can’t remember now if I ever finished paying off my Dad for it.

My Dad, Harold, used to drive me to gigs when I was 15 years old. He would wait outside until I was finished then help me pack up and drive me home.  It didn’t matter how late it was or if he had to work in the morning.

I learned how to be a father from Harold.  Now I wait outside clubs for Dylan (my son, not Bob) to finish his gigs and I drive him home, maybe grab a slice a pizza from Italian Village (our favorite pizza place-open till 3 a.m.) Same thing with Casey.  We’ll pick him up at the airport whatever time he gets in, and we always try to have Italian Village pizza or a calzone with us in the car for him.

Claudia and I have supported our kids in whatever they wanted to do and I love to encourage kids to find their interest and go after it.  I have some young students now — kids —  and instead of teaching them stuff I sort of teach them HOW to learn stuff.

Anyway, Don’t Think Twice is in my top five Bob Dylan songs.  I’m sure before this yearlong blog is done I will have hit them all.

I Can’t Stand the Rain

May 23, 1984 Tina Turner releases the album, Private Dancer.

I'm the Dad

Three singers who are among my favorite singers of all time, and who have had their successes but to me should be huge superstars are Peggi Blu, Alyson Williams, and Ebony Jo-Ann. Playing for singers like these are an accompanist’s dream.  When they sing, they have such a distinguishable feel that you know just where you fit in — like a puzzle.

With the amazing Peggi there is a gospel sensibility where you lead the singer, with Alyson a jazz sensibility where she leads and you fill in behind, and with Ebony you just lay it down on the beat and she will glide right over you.

Tina Turner has elements of all these qualities.  And her songs are a great choice for a great singer.

Peggi used to rip apart “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”

Ebony had “Private Dancer  —  another song I love but it didn’t seem right for me to sing “I’m your private dancer.”

And Alyson would sing “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

Every time these women sing a cover song they make it their own, which is the sign of a legend.

Here’s my stab at “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”

Your Song

May 22, 1950 Bernie Taupin is born in Lincolnshire, England.

sing then do dishes

First of all, happy birthday to my father-in law, Mike Levinton. We just got back from a beautiful birthday lunch downtown.

And happy birthday to Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s lyricist.

Your Song is the first Elton John song I ever learned.  I was still living in Brooklyn (born and raised) and I was probably a senior in high school.  There was a Beefsteak Charlie’s on Ocean Avenue and Avenue Z close to Sheepshead Bay and I played solo piano there for about a month. It was one of those places where I was tucked away in some corner with my Fender Rhodes and a mic.  The gig was 4 hours long and nobody paid any attention to me at all.

It was a loud restaurant. They kept the tv’s on with various sports games and there were noisy big tables and silverware clanking about, so on these kind of gigs I would just go through my repertoire and think of it as practice.  One night after I played Your Song some guy came over and gave me a $50 bill and told me it was his wife’s and his favorite song and that his wife had died last year and then he proceeded to tell me his life story until the manager came over and asked why I had stopped playing.

So I told the guy we’d chat later but when I finished my set he was gone. It’s strange how little interactions with people stick with you.

Elton is very lucky to have a great lyricist, as I am to have Claudia who writes my lyrics and makes me look smart.  It takes a village.

and this song’s for you…