The Blog Is reviews Eliza Neals’ award-winning CD, ‘Messin’ With A Fool’
Messin’ With A Fool is Detroit music through and through, and Eliza Neals is a vocal powerhouse. The album is blues. It’s rock and more. It’s also a full spectrum of emotion with a decidedly modern, yet sparing production style driven by the ever present low volume percussive Telecaster sound of producer Martin “Tino” Gross. Tino has once again outdone himself on every track. What you get is a wildly successful collection of soulful songs that capture the essence of traditional and contemporary American music.
Terms like diva and chanteuse are often thrown around when her name comes up, but after a very close look at this album I cautiously think of her as the female Delbert McClinton, though such comparisons rarely do an artist in her league justice. Although this work is a thoroughly contemporary treatment of what is traditional, the subtext that unifies the material is blues and bluesy rock in the broad sense. Intertwined are elements of urban- and down-home soul, a trace of jazz, even traces of punk rock here and there, an occasional exuberant homage to the Rolling Stones in places, and even a flirtation with the “field holler” music that preceded the blues.
But wait, that’s not all. There is also New Orleans gris-gris, deconstructed Motown, mid-’60s rock ‘n’ roll (think Mitch Ryder), white Southern gospel, Holly Springs-style Mississippi hill country blues (think R. L. Burnside), one or two nods to modern dance music-style scratchy LP slips and slides, funky jazz, and playful absurdest avant gardeelements all designed to entertain. And there is the magic potion of Eliza Neals’ voice.
Good God, where to begin. “Can’t Stop” is the title track, so to speak, since the phrase “messin’ with a fool” actually takes place there. This is a Delbert McClinton-style song. It also contains swamp guitar licks with lead guitar pleasingly right on top of the vocals. It flows right into to the avant garde barn yard absurdity of “Pig.” Are all men pigs? I hope not, but what about the current discourse on the right? Oink, oink, dance music touches, too, the way Tino did R. L. Burnside’s very last record. Driving blues. Nice. That recording blended hip hop with hill country blues and it was ingenious. “Pig” is right out of the church, too, ironically enough. The song is good natured, but experienced, the persona Neals puts across throughout the entire album.
“I like pigs,” she declares at the start of the song. “I like me a cute old pig.” What’s not to like. They are the mainline smart critters of the bucolic landscape, the barnyard scene that is country blues. “I don’t care what you all says, I’m singing about a pig,” declares a voice at the start of the song, in spoken word fashion, that I think is most certainly Barrett Strong talking. He’s a famously affable critter, himself, a true Motown giant. I say he walks on water. “Barrett, do you like pigs?” she asks. This is funny stuff, “Pig.” It may be my favorite one.
But there are so many good ones. Take the Johnny Bee-authored song, “Rather Go To Jail,” that so supremely puts across his brilliant drum work formerly heard with Mitch Ryder back in the day, and now featured in both the Howling Diablos, fronted by Tino Gross, and the Rockets with Jim McCarty. This song starts off with a Latin rhythm and then breaks into a declarative horn, a trumpet. Wow. The horn punctuates throughout. And Eliza burns up the street. There’s a touch of gris-gris here, too, but not as much as track 4 and 5.
“ESP” will be a natural to vintage Dr. John fans the way the chorus starts out. “People, people,” they sing in several part dissonant harmony. It all takes you to a place you don’t know. Tino’s harp is a nice touch, too. The occasional modulation is also very nice. The mind transcendence thing has to have some voodoo to it, and some id. “It’s not about what’s real, it’s about the feel.” “In Charge” goes down the voodoo road even further. Holy gris-gris! Hot and cold running gris-gris. This is the anthem for an in-charge woman. “I’m in charge, I’m in charge,” repeat. Note the wha wha, too, this is a nice touch. And so is both is the overdubbing of Neals’ voice, and her percussive acoustic guitar.
That almost Stones feel is a Martin Gross hallmark. Consider Car Wash, for example. I want to do another review of that, a retrospective perhaps, with the last two Howling Diablos records combined in it. Are you listening Tino? Back to the review at hand. This is where “Shame” comes in. Detroit as rust belt is a constant here, with some of that Tino-style almost Rolling Stones thing anchoring it down. It’s kind of a Shame. “So I’m doin’ five years for robbing someone, ” Neals sings. “It’s kind of a shame, people got to do what they got to do.” You see the factory has closed down, it’s a Detroit thing. “He’s A Man’s Man” is great straight ahead rock. I like it. And there are songs “Misery” and “Love Hurts More,” too. So true.
“Rainin’ In Detroit” is a neo-Motown/blues song. Yes! But it also reminds me of that John Hiatt song that Buddy Guy recorded so well. The one about that big lake in New Orleans. It has lot’s of rain, too. Except this one is in Detroit City. “It’s rainin’ in my heart,” so it goes. Back to breakin’ a few rules. “Can’t Stop” is loaded with that Louisiana swamp content. Got to love it. “Every time I ask you a question all you do is put me down,” the singer laments. “I know when enough is enough.” Can’t get enough of that swamp, that progression. Crusin’ for a bruisin’. She goes though a lot. “Livin’ With Yo Mama” has that horn sound again. Bravo. I like the organ.
There’s a lot more here, but that’s all I have time for right now. What about “Money” and “Been a Long Time?” But who knows, after all, this is a blog. I might still get to it later on. All I can say is get your hands on the album. Twitter Eliza Neals @Eliza NealsRocks, call the executive producer, H. J Neals, at 646-522-0285, or visit The Detroit Diva on Facebook.
Naturally it’s an all-Detroit crew headed up by producer-collaborator Martin “Tino” Gross, who performs on guitar, and a mix of bass, some backup vocals and more on every track. As the producer, his masterful fingerprints are everywhere.
On piano are Leonard Moon and Jimmie Bones. Barrett Strong Jr. does some organ, Kenny Robinson is the trumpet man, and in addition to Tino, guitar parts are shared by Don Duprie and Mike Smith, as well as some acoustic guitar by lead vocalist Eliza Neals.
Backup vocals are provided by Barrett Strong Jr., Jimmie Bones, Carley Hartwell, Johnny “Bee” Badanjek and Gross. Bassists Mo Hollis and Don Duprie also contribute. It’s all about collaboration.
The team of producer Martin ‘Tino” Gross, and co-producers Barrett Strong Jr. and Eliza Neals have brought some really winning stuff to this fine indie CD. It is sparring, authentic and innovative with lots of cross-genre activity going on, but the entire package rocks on with the the blues tradition as a centerpiece. Gross is a much-in-demand producer and the front man for the Howling Diabos. Strong is a Motown legend. Neals is the diva. The CD was recorded at Martin “Tino” Gross’ recording crib, Funky D Studio, by Tino Gross, Detroit, Michigan, for E+ H Records, Detroit, Executive Producer, H. J. Neals, who can be reached at 646-522-0285.
The album cover photos and album design were conceived by HJN Consulting.com. The CD photo was taken by John Gnotek. It comes in a nice cardboard fold-over design with lot’s of valuable information, and with no jewel case to crack and break. There are also music videos of “Misery,” “Love Hurts More” and “Man’s Man” at Eliza Neals.com and posted on Youtube.com. Dig in, people, this is a good one.
1. “Misery” (D. Manchua) 2:47 seconds
2. “Man’s Man” (E. Neals / M. Gross) 3:07 seconds
3. “Shame” (M. Gross / D. Duprie) 3:19 seconds
4. “ESP” (E. Neals / M. Gross / B. Strong) 3:12 seconds
5. “In Charge” (E. Neals / M. Gross / B. Strong) 3:54 seconds
6. “Rather Go To Jail” (J. Badanjek) 4:03 seconds
7. “Rainin In Detroit” (M. Gross / E. Neals) 3:40 Seconds
8. “Livin’ With Yo Mama” (E. Neals / H. Neals) 2:28 seconds
9. “Been A Long Time” (M. Gross / E. Neals) 2:30 seconds
10. “Money” (B. Gordy / J. Branford) 3:08 seconds
11. “Can’t Stop” (E. Neals / M. Gross) 3:42 seconds
12. “PiG” (E. Neals / M. Gross) 2:33 seconds
13. “Love Hurts More” (E. Neals / M. Gross) 3:27 seconds
I first met Eliza Neals and co-producer Barrett Strong Jr. when they visited my radio show, City Arts & Sounds, in the late ’90s. Somehow I knew at the time that my acquaintance with them would prove fortuitous. It was 20 years after I first started doing radio (Art in Detroit, on WCAR-AM), and while I was a blues columnist at the Michigan Chronicleunder the late Sam Logan’s generous guidance, a blues writer at Big City Rhythm & Blues, and a Saturday night blues reporter for Dave Dixon (WXYT-AM). I renewed my friendship with Eliza Neals only last year at the most recent Detroit Music Awards. I was there with my cohorts from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Lawyer Show (WCXI-AM) at the invitation of entertainment lawyer Sheldon Kay.
It was great seeing her again. Next thing I knew she and Martin Gross were cooking up a new album, and she was kind enough to send me an advance copy of it to be reviewed. That’s when I decided to re-configure my just-started blog into an Arts & Entertainment Review, from what was an existentially absurdest running commentary, which was too obscure to really take hold outside of Paris. “If is, is, is not is not, isn’t?”
For that I am eternally grateful because I would not have made that format change without her kind presence. That is when I decided I would end a five year hiatus from music writing. It was time to come back from obscurity, myself, and this is my first in a series of CD reviews, and what I hope will become a burgeoning online Arts & Entertainment Review. Your comments and suggestions are most welcome at theblogis.wordpress.com. Artists that wish to submit their CDs for review can contact me at Facebook, or at 248-652-4759, and send their discs to me at The Blog Is, 911 Medford Court, Rochester Hills, Michigan 48307-3089, Attn. George Seedorff, Editor. Keep those cards and letters–and CDs–coming in, folks. And now I must return to the joyful grind of a one-man band.
–George Seedorff, Copright 2012
Ultra Sonic Gas Can is a brilliant piece of work. Why? Tino Gross and the men and women at Funky D Studios hold the Detroit sound in the palm of their hands. The Detroit sound is formidable, but how amorphous is it, how multifaceted? The Motor City certainly has its jazz, blues, Gospel, soul, rock , doo-wop, rap, punk, techno and country heritage. It’s not much of a folk music town, you have to go to Boston for that.
In Detroit there is a cultural aura where one can imagine a Baptist preacher looking down from the pulpit at the music’s blue collar pageantry, giving it his tacit approval. This man of the cloth is permissive when it comes to compassion in the the great social struggles. But is about old time religion when the word of the Lord is about socioeconomic justice. The struggle between good and evil. The struggle of the common man.
At root there is a Southern connection in the Motor City that follows the route taken in the Great American Migration of the 20th century, from South to North, from injustice to justice, from poor to less poor. The music also follows this path. From the Delta to the factory. Now what if somebody in the here and now came alone and made the Detroit sound even more eclectic by adding to all of the above-named genres, plus some decisive elements of California surf, California slide, house music, hip hop, and even a trace circus music, the big top, the big time, and the big town, stepped on by an apocalyptic industrial free fall. Isn’t surf music a kind of a circus sound with the sun beaming down on the the waves to light up all the performers?
Amid that Motown morality tale, what if the music still stood taller than ever after the fall, as a sort of conscience statement for all that has taken place, like a preacher might do. What do you call this phenomenon? Try urban Gothic. Southern Gothic going North, from rural to more urbane. In Ultra Sonic Gas Can there is dark humor, secular existentialism, and a motive for social justice along with a pretty progressive brand of religiosity. Now consider Gas Can as an example of urban Gothic music, like Southern Gothic, but urban and more Northerly. The city is different, it is radioactive and funky.
The music of the Howling Diablos is on the same trajectory as the New Orleans sound, but the frigid cold of the Detroit winter, the big panoramic rust belt flavor, disintegrating housing, burned out storefronts, and abandoned skyscrapers all serve to give the Detroit sound a blizzard-like Northern polarity, except in the summer. Detroit feels like the South in the throes of July and August, with all the gritty humidity and almost unbearable, stifling heat. Most of the year a gray overcast rules Detroit’s weather. The people of Detroit climb inside of the music to turn these meteorological disparities into a great, smooth ride, with AC, super suspension, a super smooth transmission, even on a half rusted out old hoopty cruising the inner city streets, east and west, south of Eight Mile Road.
Ultra Sonic Gas Can captures all of this with 13 tracks that define the modern Detroit sound. It may be about struggle, but it’s also about a great rewards. If it was light and airy, the sound would be from somewhere else. Tino Gross, the Howling Diablos band leader, guitarist, lead singer, producer and either author or co-writer of each song on the album as gone all the way here. Funky D Studios seems to have coalesced as the successor to Motown and is the new gold standard for the Detroit sound. The “people talent” on board is like an artist colony.
Before there was Motown Records, there was Fortune Records, its precursor. That was in the days of old school R&B, doo-wop, Detroit blues, rock-a-billy and more. At the center of it all was Devora Brown. The second track onUltra Sonic Gas Can is devoted to her. It starts with some novel guitar distortion punctuated by some tight wha wha, and driving harmonica. Then the lyric, I was so alone, didn’t know which way to go, spent the whole day by the pay phone, I never heard nobody except myself. Self reflective in a way that the Detroit street was about to have a voice. That is followed by the chorus, Devora, Devora Brown, she’s the one makes the deal go down, Devora Devora Brown, she pushing that Detroit sound…I never heard nobody, except my self. Then reference is drawn to never having to go back to the Detroit House of Corrections, or DeHoCo, as it was commonly called during the Fortune era. Is this not a statement about musical emancipation?
It was late one night, I was so uptight, I didn’t know wrong from right, everywhere I looked the sky was on fire, those needles on the record, and needles in my arm, somebody went and pulled the fire alarm, the bums in the street wanna know why… Fortune was located along Third Avenue in the Cass Corridor, known for its junkies, whores and derelicts. Out of this forlorn footprint was born the Detroit Sound. Track seven, “Detroit On My Mind,” takes the storyline further. In a funky blues rock fashion, it suddenly occurs to this listener that Funky D Records is the new Motown, and that’s quite a statement.
The proof of that is encapsulated in track 12, “Sold Out,” an exquisite rap. Here among the foreclosures and mean streets, it seems apparent that Detroit is like a battlefield. Spoken word. Sold us out, no doubt, livin’ on the front lines, hah, it’s like a war zone out here, man we just the soldiers. And then the rap. Times got tough in the land of plenty… hookin’ up cheap meat, tryin’ to make ends meet, living in your car, startin’ to [draw the] heat, East side to West side where the Mustangs roam it’s foreclosed homes, you know they sold us out, no doubt. With these images, the only place to go is back to Marvin Gaye’s immortal words, makes ya’ wanna holler, makes ya’ wanna shout. This becomes the refrain. A choice like this, no accident, joins this effort to the very best that Motown Records produced when it was thriving and still in Detroit. Selling these ideas, persuasively, calls for a rap, and Tino Gross, and a rap artist who goes by the name of Hush get it done. Detroit’s a strong rap town, and this is a strong rap tune.
That sound and sentiment feeds directly into track five, “House Party,” where it’s house music and party time, brilliantly constructed. That along with some driving funky rock seems to harken back to Hastings Street in the Black Bottom section that once stood as a testament to black music in the 1940s and ’50s. It is gone but not forgotten today, nor are the house parties forgotten that helped the locals make ends meet. John Lee Hooker was part of this scene. The dance music turntables are well oiled and screeching here. There are strong raging Gospel elements as well, thanks to the incredible backup singers, which is also pervasive throughout the entire record. “Hook-Up,” track three, hooks into this grove as well, but in more of an R&B, almost comic way. It is the hook-up that puts an end to misery, after all.
“Funky Parade” is all about New Orleans. Here Louisiana is the promised land. Professor Longhair, Fats—it’s all there. Johnny Evan’s R&B-style sax rules here. Take me down to New Orleans to the parade, I gotta let my mind unwind in the shade. There are also a couple of country-based tunes, too, with that poignancy that only a pedal steel guitar can produce. One is a real heart breaker. If “You Make Me Good” is sweet, moving and sentimental, with a note of spirituality to it (and a lot like the past 15 years of Bob Dylan’s current muse), then “Too Broke To Break Up” is pure hilarity and so true when you are at the bottom. It’s hard to move into the post matrimonial state and go “splitsville” when you just plain don’t have the cash to make it a clean break. Hello Heartbreak, I guess it’s just me and you, I got the blues ’cause I just got the news, my baby said that we are through, now wait a minute darlin’, ain’t no need for you to cry, we ain’t got no money, we’re kinda broke, can’t afford to say good bye. This is reality for a lot of people
My favorite songs on the CD ironically travel to the West Coast in more than just spirit. One in particular, “Blues King,” speaks of a supreme blues man who once reigned over East LA in the glory days, in the era that also witnessed Diz and Bird at their creative height under the bright lights of Hollywood. It’s not about Walt Disney, here. It’s a then and now story, too. These days this king of the blues is elderly, has diabetes, and has a grandson who is into rap. One spectacular element of the song is its brilliantly executed California-style slide guitar–it has to be a Les Paul. It is a driving and horn-like force just like it ought to be. And there is “Surfin’ In Detroit,” what is to Detroit what the song about surfin’ in Rockaway was to the Ramones. It features lots of classic surf guitar, but somehow this morphs into something akin to circus music. This song is satire. Now, on to hard driving rock. That would be track 11, “Wiskey River, which is also a hangin’ judge song where the protagonist does not want to go back to the penitentiary, or even more likely, wants to avoid to being hung from an apple tree. Here a hard-driving Duane Eddy-like style guitar steps right out front.
That just leaves the album’s signature songs, track one, “Mr. Right Now,” and the final track , “After Party Re-Mix” of the same basic tune. Both tunes share the same lyric line. I may not be Mr. Right, right, but I’m, Mr Right Now, right now. First time through it is done as a rap tune with a deep R&B shadow voice, and the track 13 is another take on rap, but more sinister. No romantic ballad is this. What ya’ say you and me and that body head back to the crib for and after party that’s right. Outrageous, funny, bold and sexist, what more can be said. As I previously stated, Super Sonic Gas Can is a brilliant piece of work. It has to be owned from coast to coast.
The Production and Personnel
Back to the innovative cross-genre nature of the album. It’s all there, and integrated with the taste of a musical sheriff that has come to town to make the town safe for things to come. It is without precedent. All the tools are used to create a masterwork and, Tino Gross has done the City of Detroit proper. The spine of the recording is the Gospel-style collection of amazing backup singers. They are Kymberli Wright, Eliza Neals, Carley Hartwell, Valerie Taylor, Chris McCall, Pat Baron, Uncle Kracker and Hush.
The core of the Howling Diablos are Tino Gross on vocals and guitar, Erik Gustafson on guitar, Mo Hollis on bass, Johnny “Bee” Badanjek on drums and tambourine, Johnny Evans on sax, flute and harp, and Jimmie Bones on Keyboards. Additional musicians include Jim McCarty on guitar, Kenny Robinson on trumpet, Jim Morris on pedal steel, Mike Smith on guitar, Gary Indiana on guitar, Tim Diaz on guitar and B-3 organ, and Shannon Boon on drums.
All tunes were produced at Detroit’s own Funky D Records by Tino Gross, and engineered by Nigel Burnside. The assistant engineer was Dave Linden. Additional studios include Mike E. Clark’s Fun House, Steve King’s 54 Sound Studios, and the Tim Diaz’ Soupcan Studio. Mastering was done by Jeffrey Reed at Tap Root in Oxford, Mississippi. The superb artwork and cover design was provided by Bette Chapelle. Ultra Sonic Gas Can was recorded in 2011.
1. “Mr. Right Now” (M. Gross/Zwara) 3:05
2. “Devora Brown (ooh mow mow)” (M. Gross) 3:23
3. “Hook Up” (M. Gross) 3:22
4. “Blues King” (M. Gross) 4:20
5. “House Party (M.Gross/Clark) 3:30
6. “You Make Me Good” (Based on a poem by C. Mayo) 3:36
7. “Detroit On My Mind” (featuring Uncle Kraker and the Detroit Wheels) (M. Gross/Shafer) 3:33
8. “Too Broke To Break Up” (M. Gross) 3:23
9. “Surfin’ In Detroit” (M. Gross) 3:46
10. “Funky Parade” (M. Gross) 3:41
11. “Whiskey River” (M. Gross) 3:59
12. “Sold Out” (featuring Hush) (Gross/Carlisle) 4:26
13. “After-Party Remix” (featuring Robert Bateman) (M. Gross) 3:40
This review is the second in a three-part series of all Funky D material that has already included Eliza Neals’ album called Messin’ With A Fool. The final CD for consideration is Hart County by the Horse Cave Trio, which will be posted on theblogis.wordpress.com in the very near future.
I first met band leader and producer Tino Gross in the early to mid 1990s sitting at a table at the old Sully’s music hall, at the time truly Detroit’s home of the blues. It was located in Dearborn, Michigan, where the Mustangs roam. The Howling Diablos was already an established cross-genre star band out of Detroit with a following well past the city limits.
This is a band that steadily just keeps on keepin’ on with constant growth and a superlative record of achievement. The Howling Diablos has gone on to achieve a world-class place in American music with the last several string of monster albums. Tino has always been most kind to me and a very approachable cat. His Funky D Records is jointly operated by Gross and his partner, Linda Lexy.
I wish to thank Tino, Linda and all the folks at Funky D for making it possible for me to review this extraordinary album. As I said twice in the review, I believe that Funky D Records in its current form is the logical successor to Detroit’s legendary Motown Records of 50 years ago. It is been a while since we have had something quite like this in the Motor City.
— George Seedorff, copyright 2012
Detroit, Michigan, USA
George Seedorff is Editor-in-chief at "The Blog Is" (theblogis.wordpress.com), an Arts, Entertainment & Music Review Blog.
Online Radio Moving Up The Charts
Online radio is the fastest-growing music-listening category among U.S. consumers, according to new findings from NPD Group.
The market research firm found that 43% of U.S. Web users in 2011 chose to listen to music via Pandora, Slacker, Yahoo Music and other online radio services -- up nine percentage points from 2010.
At the same time, music-listening on AM/FM radio and CDs remained relatively steady, at 84% and 74%, respectively.
NPD’s annual music study found the number of online radio listeners grew by 18 million last year. The format is most popular among people in the 18-25 age bracket. But strong growth was also seen among people ages 36 to 50, which suggests that young listeners may be turning their parents onto digital radio.
While demand for free online radio is increasing, the appetite for paid options remains low.
Some 42% of Web users listened to free radio in 2011 compared to just 3% who paid for online radio. Sites like Pandora have benefited directly from the growing audience for online radio. Despite lower-than-expected revenue in its fiscal fourth quarter, the company still saw ad sales climb 74% to $72.1 million from a year ago.
Privately held Spotify likewise made a successful entrance into the U.S. market last year. The U.K-based company, however, recently extended a promotion that allows U.S. users to continue to stream music for free, underscoring the challenge of converting people to paying subscribers. Outside the U.S., it also lifted a restriction imposing a five-song limit on free users.
The NPD research indicated Facebook doesn’t play an influential role when it comes to online music. Only 12% of Web users listened to music integrated into Facebook or other social networks by services including Spotify and MOG. Spotify, for instance, has only about a dozen apps on its platform to date.
“There’s no doubt that Facebook has helped drive music listening and discovery,” said Russ Crupnick, senior vice president of industry analysis at NPD. “But what is not yet clear is the platform’s importance, in terms of ongoing music usage and purchasing.” Facebook has long been rumored to start its own music service, but so far has relied on outside partners to supply music offerings through the site.
The NPD study results were based on online surveys of 5,799 U.S. consumers age 13 and up, between December 14, 2011 and January 3, 2012.
Read more: http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/171672/online-radio-moving-up-the-charts.html?edition=45326#ixzz1rMFTd5nd
from the interesting-ideas... dept
Jay Frank wrote the book FutureHit.DNA a few years back, and it's really a fascinating look into the music business. Frank, who formerly was the Senior VP of Music Strategy for CMT (part of MTV) as well as VP of Music Programming at Yahoo! Music, basically tried to scientifically breakdown what it took to be a "hit" song in the modern digital age. Of course, some might dismiss this as formulaic (and perhaps cynical), but I can't recommend the book enough. It's not just about "oh this is what makes a hit song," but it takes a look at how listening habits change in the digital era, and how even that may impact what makes a hit and what doesn't.
It appears that Frank doesn't just want to write about this, but he's about to put his theories to the test. Today he's announcing a new record label, called DigSin, that will be focused on releasing singles for artists rather than full albums. But here's the interesting bit: all of the music will be released for free. What he's looking to do is build up a base of subscribers who will want to be pushed new great songs that he's releasing. In effect, rather than a "label" in the traditional sense, you can think of it as a "tastemaker," or even a filter or trusted friend.
I have to admit that I've been fascinated by this concept for a little while. I've written in the past about how I've paid a small label/distribution company a yearly subscription in the past for a "CD of the month" club, because I trusted the guy who ran it to find me awesome CDs. In that case, it was a small operation, where the guy who ran the label would take into account each of the subscriber's tastes and try to match music to what they liked. It was like having the guy at the record store who knew your tastes picking out what you should listen to. It was fantastic. In this case, Frank is trying that on a larger scale... and not charging for it.
In this case, it appears that Frank is going to be looking at alternative revenue sources. If he can bring together enough music fans, that's certainly an opportunity. I would bet there will be some sponsorship opportunities that make sense, but I could also see some more creative efforts, such as upsell opportunities for merch or concert tickets.
The timing of this is interesting, as he's launching it at the same conference where Ian Rogers, the head of TopSpin -- and also a former Yahoo! Music exec -- gave a talk on the race to be trusted, noting that he believes that's the next stage of the music business. Basically with so much content out there, finding the right content for you is key, and that's going to be a trust issue. If you trust someone to bring you good music, that's a powerful connection.
Of course, it's worth noting that Rogers, in his speech, tells the record labels that they cannot be that trusted partner, because people will always doubt their sincerity on whether or not the musician that they're pushing, who's signed with them, is really that good. It is an interesting question. I think it's possible for a label to be trusted, but it's difficult. Though, I actually go back to an open letter that Ian himself wrote to then head of EMI Music, Guy Hands, about why he should turn the label giant into a trusted filter based on affinity groups around existing big name artists (i.e., build a mini label around... The Beatles, for music that Beatles-lovers would like and then build out that brand as a trusted brand). It's possible. It's just difficult.
On the artist side, DigSin is also focused on being a better partner -- an enabler rather than a gatekeeper. It's signing artists to very short term deals, with agreements around songs, not the artist. That is they'll share in the monetization of the specific songs. And the songs will still be available via traditional channels -- iTunes, Spotify, etc. -- for people who want them that way. But the real focus is on DigSin's ability to bring together a core group of people who are really into hearing the next great song first, and to help connect those people with musicians making those songs.
It's definitely a big challenge -- and one where there may be many hurdles. But if it's done right, it could be quite useful. I'm intrigued that Frank is attempting this, and if his notions on what makes a hit are correct, and he's able to execute on that with the artists who release singles through DigSin, it could become a very interesting model to pay attention to.
People blog all the time...you need to blog... you have something to say that people want to hear....just some of the things I have been hearing lately about getting me to do a weekly blog. I’m not of fan of movie and music critics, I want to form my own opinion. So I think why should I voice my opinion about what I play or who I interview on my daily show on UDetroit. Well, I’ve come to the realization that many people do value my musical tastes.
I have heard many times over the years how my Over Easy listeners on WCSX have acquired many new CD’s, or checked out many live shows because they heard that artist on my show. To all that I am humbled and I thank you for trusting me and what I like in music. So with that said I will officially start blogging. If anything, just to share my thoughts on new music I am playing, old gems I found, and especially things about my live musical guests from the week. Heck, I am right there on that stage with them and get to hear them pour their hearts out through their music. We have great conversations and we all learn a thing or two from the infamous Pam Exam...
So each weekend I will wrap up with some insights about the past weeks shows, in particular the guests and what was brought to the table. I hope you will follow my blogs on a regular basis.
Mon 9-19: Seth Glier and Ryan H stopped by after their Ann Arbor Ark show from the night before to do a bit more entertaining before heading back to their home state of Massachusetts. I am thrilled they decided to hang around so they could be on the show. What a great singer/songwriter. Seth was like a friend just sharing some great music. It was fun to watch him perform as he had some great facial expressions and body moves that really showed he was in the moment and totally entwined in his great songs. We learned when he is not in the music mode, he likes to fish and his junk food guilty pleasure: anything BBQ. Tues 9-20:Nate Jones, local singer/songwriter was back on our stage to share his musical talents. His covers of Johnny Cash’s Hurt, Maroon 5’s She Will Be Loved and Mumford & Sons Little Lion Man certainly were a hit with the lunch crowd. He’s our local cover guy!! Fri 9-23 I was a bit anxious for todays interview with the legendary, Dennis Coffey, an original Funk Brother. The man who introduced the hard rock guitar sound to Motown. Then I thought I won’t interview him, rather just have a visit with him. What a great person and good stories. We learned about his man cave where he does his songwriting, how Chuck Berry’s Maybelline, was the first record he owned, fishing is his favorite non music pastime and one of his most memorable music moments was getting the call that his song, Scorpio, sold a million copies and went gold.
Thank you Seth, Nate and Dennis, and Eric for the lovely flowers.
Esther Edwards Gordy, keeper of Motown legacy, passes away
Published on 8/25/2011, 12:48 PM Last Update: 9 second(s) ago by UDetroit Network
Esther Edwards Gordy, keeper of Motown legacy, passes away
Published: Thursday, August 25, 2011
By GARY GRAFF
For The Oakland Press
When Berry Gordy, Jr.'s family loaned him $800 in 1959 to start what became Motown, it did so under the condition that his sister Esther Gordy Edwards gave him the hardest time, pressing him about his plans and particularly about how he was going to repay the money.
"So my parents said to her, 'If you're so worried, then you go work with him and help him out," Berry Gordy recalled during Motown's 50th anniversary celebration in 2009. "She kept me honest. Whatever I did had to meet up to her standards."
Edwards, 91, who in addition to working for Motown also founded the Motown Historical Museum in 1985, died after a long illness on Wednesday night (Aug. 24) at home in Detroit, surrounded by family and friends.
In a statement, Berry Gordy saluted his older sister as "a top Motown executive, businesswoman, civil and political leader, who received numerous awards, commendations and accolades. She was the most educated in our family and was the go-to person for wisdom in business."
He added that, "Whatever she did, it was with the highest standards, professionalism and an attention to detail that was legendary. She always came out a hero. Esther wasn't concerned with being popular. She was dedicated to making us all better -- the Gordy family and the Motown family."
Stevie Wonder also issued a statement saying that Edwards, "meant so much to me as a human being....She believed in me -- when I was 14 years old and many other people didn't or could only see what they could at the time, she championed me being in Motown. I shared with her many of my songs first before anyone else. She was like another mother to me, she was an extension of that same kind of motherly love."
Smokey Robinson added that "because of her wisdom and foresight..we have a pictoral and itemized history of Motown, the Motown Museum, which allows people now and for generations to come to have a first-hand look at our legacy."
Edwards was born April 25, 1920 in Oconee, Ga., and came to Detroit with her family in 1922. She was educated at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and at Wayne State University in Detroit, later partnering with brothers Fuller and George in the Gordy Printing Company. She married Michigan state Rep. George Edwards in 1951, and worked as one of Motown as an artist manager, corporate secretary, Director of International Relations and a senior vice-president.
"She was a pioneering businesswoman without whom Motown as we know it may not have existed," said Howard Kramer, a Detroit native who's now a curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum in Cleveland. "She had the mind of a politician and the business vision of a hawk."
Berry Gordy remembered his sister as "probably the toughest one of all of us there" at Motown, occasionally chaperoning the early Motortown Revue tours. But Edwards herself once said the hallmark of the company was "love -- just love for each other, for the music, for what we were building and creating." Wonder also noted that Edwards, "embodied the idea of never giving up. She was ever determined in everything she did, she was full of energy and her spirit will continue live on. She loved the idea of what we were creating in Motown." Continued...
Larry Kramer is the author of C-Scape: Conquer the Forces Changing Business Today. Larry is the founder and former CEO of CBS MarketWatchand also the first president of CBS Digital. We talked at length about the challenges media in general – and radio in particular – face amidst a torrent of change.
Watch this video and see Larry’s answers for Radio.
(You can subscribe to all the MRM video and audio via iTunes and get the goodies before everybody else. You can also get advance notice of this content if you “like” MRM on Facebook or follow me on Twitter).
The title of the book is C-Scape: Conquer the Forces Changing Business Today. What is the C-Scape and what are the forces that are changing business?
The “C-Scape” is named after the four themes of change that have ripped through media and all start with the letter C:
The first one is consumer. The consumer is in much more control than he used to be and has taken a much more aggressive role in the relationship now.
You may want show people a TV show at 10 o’clock Tuesday night, but they’re going to watch whenever they want to because they can, so now there are so many different choices that the consumer has at his fingertips that he really has a much more dominant part in the relationship now with the programmers.
The second C is content is king. Content has always been important obviously. I’ve staked my life on it when I started MarketWatch – that content wasn’t a commodity, that you could create some content better.
Now you don’t depend on one distribution system or not. Now the power has shifted more to the content creators. If the New York Cable System was in a fight with ESPN and decided it was going to drop ESPN rather than pay the money ESPN wanted, people in New York could go somewhere else for ESPN and they would drop that cable system. They didn’t have that choice in the past. The Internet digital platforms do that; they match buyers and sellers and they squeeze middlemen. There are more and more ways for me to get what I want.
In your book you write “The future belongs to the entrepreneurs who are building new models around creating the content that consumers want and will pay to get. The old distribution models are doomed because they’re based too heavily on delivery methods.” What are consequences of this for broadcasters in the radio space?
Well they’re huge. The fact is if you were a radio broadcaster in Kansas City, you had X number of radio stations and that’s all I can listen to if I was driving my car down the block. Well, guess what? Suddenly there’s Sirius and Internet radio. The choices for me aren’t limited to what that broadcast license bought you before.
Okay, but there are still a ton of people listening to radio. The time they spend with radio may be declining, but there’s still plenty of usage, right?
Well, that’s true. I’m not saying that the medium dies. I’m just saying it becomes more difficult to be dominant.
More people are watching television than ever before, but they’re just watching it in different places in and in different ways and the network portion of television has dropped dramatically.
Today, if you have a bad year at NBC, there are probably 10 or 15 cable networks that could outdraw you and you’re in trouble. Ironically, when Comcast – a distributor – bought content [NBC/Universal] because they knew they needed to own some content, what they really cared about were those NBC-owned cable networks much more than they cared about NBC. The cable networks made much more money than the actual network. The actual network is bloated, expensive and carries with it a lot of broadcast baggage, licenses and things like that. The cable networks are more focused, there are better brands. What do the NBC, CBS, ABC brands mean? Almost nothing. They mean sort of quality generally, but that’s about it. What do all the cable networks? They all have brands that mean something. ESPN means sports, CNBC means business. They all have niches and the main networks didn’t because they never needed to.
So given this scenario, what action must the broadcaster take to respond?
Great content. You have to put on great content. There’s no way around it. You’re not going to be a success because you’re the only guy in town anymore.
The difficulty you have, far more difficult than anything in the past, is being heard in the first place. Getting out in front of people, getting people to know you have great content. It’s why brands matter and in this world, brands are still better built on media because old media is more passive, less interactive.
In interactive media, you generally go after what you want. In a passive media, things are put in front of you. You promote the new shows and the old shows. You turn a page of a newspaper and you see an ad for something you didn’t ask for. But in the new media, the interactive media, you’re getting very targeted products. You’re not going past things. You are going after something. For the serendipity, for the idea of learning about new content, new brands, new everything, it’s much harder to do. So you got to resort to things like social networks where word of mouth matters. Like it or not, that’s the way it is.
When you say “great content,” if I’m a radio station playing country music, I’m thinking you know I’m playing the best country music there is, is that what you mean by “great content?”
Sure, for the people who want country music.
But if I’m playing the best country music, then what makes me different from the thousand other country music stations I can tap into that you indicated as well as Pandora or whatever?
Well, if all you’re doing is playing commodity music, nothing makes you different except you have to surround it with criticism, with observation, with interviews with country music artists. You have to do something better.
For me I started MarketWatch. If all I ran were stock quotes, I would not have won that war because everybody has the same stock quote by definition, right?
So what you’re saying is that the music becomes the base of what you do but not the end of what you do. It’s the beginning.
It’s not just the music, it’s the whole experience. People want an experience. For bookstores, it’s meeting authors. Whatever the experience is. You need to understand and know your audience. That’s the bottom line here. You have to listen. You’ve got to really talk to your consumers, listen to them, and don’t think that the way that they’re going to want it is the way they’ve gotten it in the past.
If you ask people three years ago, “Would you watch video on your phone?” 95% would have said, “Are you out of your mind.” Three months later, the iPhone debuted and if you asked those same people six months after that, 40% would say “yes.”
You have to make it more interesting for consuers. You give them serendipity. “Hey, you like this guy? Let me play somebody for you that’s out of Memphis who you’ve never heard of, but this guy really has something. Listen to this…”
You spend a lot of time in the book talking about the mistakes companies make in framing what business they’re in and getting it wrong. If I’m a broadcaster in radio today, what business do you think I’m in?
I think you’re in the entertainment business or you’re in the news business. You’re one or the other.
The newspaper, they thought they were in the newspaper business and that’s what killed them. If they thought they were in the news business, they’d be doing something completely different. It’s the railroad example all over again, right? They thought they were in railroad business. If they thought they were in the transporting people and freight business, they would have been into cars and airplanes a lot sooner than they were which was never.
So if my consumer’s problem is that he wants to listen to Country music, I’ve got to give it to him and I’ve got to entertain him and I’ve got to delight him. That’s not necessarily easy.
What are the last two “C’s”?
Curation is the third one, and it’s really new art form built around the fact that there is so much information available now. What people desperately need is someone to help them sift through it.
It is part of what we should be doing as media for our customers. They need it, we need to help them do it.
The final one is convergence, which is what’s happening to the media that’s really at the heart of all this. We’re converging all platforms into one for the first time.
So you can tell a story now using words, video, audio, text, interactive graphics, anything in one place. That means that the storytelling process is going to change. It’s going to be better. There is no reason to just write a book or just give you a video story or just write a newspaper story. We need to focus on the best way of telling that story and bring all the elements together.
Why do you want to be a successful musician?
There are a lot easier ways to get rich than playing music. You're better off writing an app, or finishing college and entering the banking sector. If you're playing music to get rich, you're a chump. Or else you have no other advantages, no other skills. And the odds of success if this is true are incredibly long. It's like being poor and uneducated and desiring to be a professional athlete.
Used to be, music was a good route to fame. But now it's not incredibly difficult to get on a reality TV series and many people featured on TMZ or Radar have no talent at all. Paris Hilton perfected this paradigm and the Kardashian sisters have refined it. If your only desire is to be known by everybody else, it's a full time job leaving little time for practicing and there are easier outlets to media than playing music.
Society is rife with talented people who have not been successful in their chosen fields. Because success is about more than talent. It's about hard work and perseverance.
D. Creative outlet
You've got so many ideas inside that you need to express. You've got a belief that other members of the public will resonate. That they'll feel the same way or look to you for instruction. This is a good reason to become a musician. But this outlook is worthless without musical skill and hard work and perseverance.
E. A desire to prove something
Maybe to your parents or schoolmates, that you're not a loser. This has got little to do with music, but tons to do with motivation. And motivation is key to making it.
This is where those with vocal talent and good looks go to seek fame. Possibly a little money, but fame primarily. It's anathema to artists, a gold mine to those who don't know what artistry is. If you go on television many will know your name, it's the easiest way to reach a lot of people quickly. If you win, or come close to it, businessmen will put money behind your career and try to profit off of it, which will hopefully make you more famous, but may not make you a hell of a lot more rich. Television breeds instant ubiquity. And almost nothing which is instantly ubiquitous lasts. Which is why that guy Screech from "Saved By The Bell" is broke and we had a rush of TV stars holding up 7-11's.
TV makes music look small. To truly succeed long term, music must look big. Dave Matthews Band and U2 lose their charisma on television, but they appear giant in person. It's one thing to utilize television as the cherry on top, to take an already established career to bigger heights. But if you start on television, your career will probably be brief. Just like all those acts who made it via MTV videos. We're used to an endless smorgasbord on television. We remember the names, but we don't want to see them.
B. Major record label deal
This is first and foremost about money. For the label. But they spend to make it and what's thrown off, if they're successful, is fame and money. So if you're interested in those two, a major label is not a bad way to go. But despite the spending of money, you might still go unrecognized. And like every boss, the major label demands control. True artists are uncontrollable. So a major label is a bad fit.
If you're a true artist, it's the only way to go. But success, if it comes, will be slow. Fame will be limited. Money will be short. It's about building, persevering.
There's nothing wrong with raising money from your fans. But don't expect once you're through with your project anybody but fans will care. Don't see patronage as a way to build to the next level, but to survive on the one you're at.
You can't survive on selling music, you can't make any real money, unless people already know who you are. And this means you've got to give it away for free. Whether that be appearing on a TV show or streaming your music on your Website or offering free MP3 downloads. The issue is obscurity. Before you attack monetary issues, worry about getting noticed. Today your calling card is your music. An innovative video is done seemingly every day. We're implored to check something out ad infinitum. Unless you've got virality, unless people can check you out for free, you're doomed.
4. Who makes it
A. Those who desire it most. It's just that simple. Major labels want someone who works. Anybody who's going to invest in you wants to believe you're going to work around the clock. And if there are no investors, if you're doing it yourself, you must work around the clock.
B. Those pushed by the system. TV can make stars overnight. Major labels can get beat-infused acts on Top Forty radio, which a large number of people listen to. Neither of these paradigms has much to do with music.
C. Those with great music. Great music is different from what's out there already. It can percolate for years before it hits the tipping point. It might never hit the tipping point. It hits the tipping point primarily because its fans spread the word. TV contests are only about voices. Major labels are only about Top Forty music. They're not about true artistic greatness, certainly if it doesn't sound just like everything else.
A. Too many people who are not about music are clogging up the system, making it more difficult for artists to be noticed.
B. Major media, although dying, reaches more people than anything else, and is interested in artistry last. Major media is interested in train-wreck value, hopefully sold by a trusted source, i.e. the major label, the TV network, those with mainstream track records.
C. There is no filter for artistry.
6. Avenues for artistic success
A. Television, major labels and major media come last. It's all about building a fan base, which initially no one may recognize the size of but you. But if you've truly got a fan base, promoters will want to work with you, because they're all about selling tickets and booze, and if you can get bodies in the building, they're interested. AEG and Live Nation are interested last. Because they're about the money. Since you're about artistry, those who will help you will probably be living for the music too, the club booker making bupkes, the person in a lousy job who lives to spread your music. Enable these people.
B. Since you're an artist, you're probably a lousy salesman. Focus on the music more than dunning potential fans. If you Tweet, make it about your personality, your viewpoint, not about selling. Hook people on who you are, not the fact that you're frustrated you're broke and want to make it.
7. The way it was
A. Used to be major labels were interested in signing artists, believing people would resonate with the music if they were exposed to it. Radio was open to this artistry, as was print media. And the public trusted both. Now the major label is interested in money and money only. And if you don't believe this is true, you haven't checked out Lyor Cohen or Irving Azoff's salaries, running companies that lose money making millions for themselves. They could invest this money in breaking artists, but why sacrifice? The moguls of yore might have been crooks, but they were passionate music people. And they promoted what they were passionate about. But today's music executives want to be rich and famous too. Otherwise, explain to me why Jimmy Iovine gets so much airtime on "American Idol". Yes, the executives are as bad as the wannabe acts, artistry comes last. And the public tunes out. TV shows are not about music, but competition, no different from sports, with winners and losers. Whereas artistry is never about competition, other than losers trying to illustrate to the rest of the world that they are winners.
8. The future
In order for artistry to triumph, our whole nation must change. Inner values as opposed to bank accounts must be seen as number one. But they're not. Money not only changes everything, it trumps everything. You can't criticize someone who is rich, you can only be pissed off that you're not rich too. If you criticize someone's art, the agent, manager and label will respond by saying LOOK AT HOW MUCH MONEY THEY'RE MAKING! Bon Jovi hasn't written a decent song in decades, he's the biggest touring act, don't you think that's a problem? Lady GaGa is a big star, but her music doesn't sound much different from everybody else's music. She's selling the trappings, and shock value.
This history of modern music was written by outsiders with something to prove. And once they were successful and realized fame and money still didn't solve their problems, once they were anointed by the masses, they just couldn't do that thing that got us all heated up in the first place. Which is why Bruce Springsteen hasn't done anything of note in decades. Experience and talent count, but not as much as drive, with a desire to prove.
So if you're entering the music game, honestly appraise where you're coming from, who you are. If you're truly all about the music, if you're truly an artist, chances are you're gonna starve for a really long time, if not forever. You may not give up, but the fact that you've worked forever still does not mean you're great. Greatness comes from the damaged testing limits because they just don't give a crap. So I'm gonna be homeless and have no teeth and die at a young age? If you want creature comforts, if you want a safety net, you're probably not going to make it, even though you practice all day long. Because we're interested in something elusive, from the outside, a perspective that might be in our hearts but that we are unwilling to live. Can you risk playing original music instead of covers? Can you risk sounding like nothing else? And can you be so interesting, so good that people start following you anyway?
Used to be there was a whole system, a whole apparatus there to help you.
Now, you're on your own.
by Lex Kuhne
Hi, everybody. I've been a lurker here on the BuzzBoard for a long time. As they say, longtime listener, first-time caller.
I have long wanted to commit to words the story of how 89X came to life, and was close last fall when my dear friend, Lem Payne, died. I believe that 89X is the last great Detroit radio story. Corporate consolidation and rampant over-paying for signals fostered the decades of no creativity in the industry since Lee Abrams created AOR and Fred Jacobs applied his take to it to create Classic Rock. Yet, the 89X story gives hope that radio (or any medium) can occasionally get it right when the audience's need matches up with the content provider's desperation to get something, anything, right, for a change. (Like ABC a few years ago with "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost.")
The chief reason for my not writing this for so long as been that there are so many threads to the story, I just didn't want to deal with putting them together. It was an awesome experience, but in the end became a bit unfulfilling for me personally. But this thread, and the nice comments that have been posted – even about me! -- have been the tipping point. So here goes.
Though necessary pieces were in place before I got involved, 89X started with me meeting two guys who would become my two partners and co-founders of 89X -- Greg St. James and Lem Payne -- and putting them together. I met Greg sometime in 1988-9 at various local music awards meetings, which I was invited to as a result of my writing for the Metro Times. Greg got invited due to his then doing 10P-2A at WRIF. A recurring theme then of the "Word of Mouth" column I was co-writing with Stewart Francke was the sad state of Detroit radio. In chatting with Greg, who was living in Grosse Pointe Woods (where I grew up), we discussed how things could get better. (By that time I was newly-married to the Lovely Dawna and had moved to Royal Oak.) I did some small legal work for him (I was then, and still am, an attorney in private practice, doing media, business, family and estate planning law), which allowed us to talk radio and brainstorm. Greg mentioned that he had some years before developed a format concept with Mike Halloran, Detroit ex-pat who by that time had achieved great success with 91X in San Diego, but that he'd tossed it into a drawer. Could I help him sell it? I loved the idea, liked Greg, and we started working together. Greg and Mike had called the format concept "8OR," for eighties oriented rock. Essentially, "eight-oh-are" became first-generation alternative (not yet Capital A, proper format name Alternative), the template for 89X, probably closer in spirit to WABX than what the format has evolved into.
Probably around late '89 or early '90, Greg got a call from Al Pervin, who was the GM of what was then "Laser Rock 88.7 FM, CJOM" (I always loved that the guy who founded the chain before CHUM bought them named all his stations "OM" because he was into yoga and TM.) The station did not register in the Detroit ratings -- an asterisk. Fetuses, in theory, were tuning out. So, Al called Greg pitching him the idea of doing a morning show for their format, which we now know as Hot AC, but on CDs! Ooooh! Wow! Greg, having what was essentially a job for life at Riff with Greater Media, was wary of making the "upgrade" to mornings at an unknown station with a sucky format. So, we discussed, he passed. But he countered to Pervin that he would do mornings if they'd flip to the 8OR format that he'd created. That's where the idea for 89X took seed.
Pervin was a Canadian citizen who wanted to make a splash in the CHUM chain and in the market, with an eye (I think) toward becoming a US citizen. Al was a sales guy, but he, too, could see the market that we saw was being under-served, if not flat-out ignored: people who went to college in the eighties. Many college-educated people who were married and buying houses (i.e.like me), and who had watched Clash and DEVO videos for years on MTV, were wondering why they couldn't hear that music on the radio. While Greg and I saw the need, we had to give Al proof which he could show his suits in Toronto. (BTW, CHUM ownership did not view their Windsor stations as "Detroit" stations; they were stations operating in a Windsor-sized market, with the according expectations and goals. As it turns out, those lower expectations probably helped us to sneak in under the radar.)
So, Greg and I had to generate proof for Al and His Suits that there was an advertising market for the station. Enter Lem Payne.
Lem Payne was a lifetime sales guy. I had met him when he sold my mom her Volvo 240 at Seymour Cadillac/Volvo downtown and he recognized my name from the MT column. Lem was a sweet, cool, awesome guy, and I miss him being around. Anyway, I remembered that he had mentioned a work history in media sales. So I called him and asked him if he had any ideas. After getting Lem and Greg together, I came up with the idea of creating non-binding "Letters of Intent" that potential advertisers could sign for us, and we could give to Al. I wrote them up, and Lem hit the bricks, and I think we got about 50 signed copies from agencies and creatives. Meanwhile, Greg and I were trying to convince Al that WXRT in Chicago was a valid market comparison; at that time, the only New Wave stations were (I think) 91X, XRT (which was/is more like ABX), WLIR in NYC, KROQ in LA and (maybe) WHFS in DC. We had to get past the pre-conceived notions that this would work only on the coasts, and that it wouldn't only be listened to by blue-mohawked skateboarders. Let's say this was late 1990/early l991.
After back and forth, we pitched to Al a compromise: a nightly specialty show. Greg had a track record with "Dangerous Xposure" on ABX, so it was salable. We cut a share of the spots, got Greg a base salary, Lem got a sales gig, and I (employed elsewhere) stupidly didn't come along for the day-to-day ride.
So, around Labor Day weekend, 1990, we launched the "The Cutting Edge" as a specialty show; I think it was 10p-2a. For credibility and name recognition, Greg did a nightly phoner with Halloran. I did pre-taped commentary and event listings ("Word of Mouth" and "What's Happening"), and cross--promoted them via my Metro Times connection. We created the purple and orange logo, and Lem, Greg and I kept the merch rights for our new company, The Rialto Group, Ltd., named for the Rialto Café where we'd meet, because its Ferndale location was centralized. I did the merch fulfillment in my basement in Royal Oak. Because of CRTC regs, Rialto, which I oversaw, had to basically act as a sales and operations sub-contractor for the US.
Needless to say, it made a splash. The music was new, fresh, multi-racial (yes, we played Prince!), not just current hits (yes, we played the Kinks!), and local (yes, we played See Dick Run!). It was entrepreneurial, with Greg taking such a chance leaving Riff. It was exotic, the first cross-border cultural phenomenon of its type since CKLW. Because of the CRTC, there were all sorts of disclaimers involved in the advertising, especially with rock radio's life blood, beer, so it was noticeable.
In short order, the show was expanded to (something like) 9p-3a, then 8p-2a, then 8p-6a, then, I think by 1991, it was 6p-6a. It was what we had planned as our Trojan Horse Plan: once we were in, it was going to be rough to kick us out, as both ratings and revenues were increasing. Also, we knew the other rock stations (WLLZ, Riff, who else then?) were so narrowly programmed that if they countered us, they'd alienate their core and lose them to the other rock stations.
Among those there at the very start: Greg Gnyp and Dave Deroches came over as interns from CJAM. Kelly Brown came over as an intern straight from Specs, (I think) via Riff. When I tired of doing the "What's Happening" feature, I passed it on to Kelly, and am proud that that was her first on-air presence.
The two-stations-in-one thing wasn't going to work, obviously, so the Trojan Horse finally opened up on the Friday before Memorial Day, 1991, when 88.7 became 89X. We re-did the logo with the tear in the middle, as "the cutting edge." We wanted the rectangle to be as recognizable as the Riff oval, and the chubbier oval that Halloran used at 91X, which they would then put band names on. The stunt was, I recall, 24 hours of "Stairway to Heaven." As it says elsewhere online, the first song was the Chili Peppers' "Stop." Also in that first set: "We Want the Airwaves," by the Ramones and "Radio Radio" by Elvis C. I have a cassette of the flip somewhere.
From there, Greg became PD and did the morning show. Lem started selling. Scott Brown came over from Riff to do amazing guerilla promotions, along with ace sales guy Jim Edelman. Darren Revell continued doing a shift he'd gotten in the special show expansion, and also continued with the inherited Michelle Denomme. Greg adopted Vince Canova from Halloran's tutelage in San Diego. Greg found John O'Leary and brought him back for afternoon drive, to get that ABX heritage vibe. Caeri Bertrand got a shift. Gnyp and D-Man would do weekends and fill-ins. Paul Sevigny was a listener and computer guy who just called up one day, and ended up coming over to build awesome programs for programming and sales. I did phoners on the morning show and continued lawyering in another, unrelated job, and overseeing Rialto. In the second wave of evening show interns was Vertical, who Greg put on as his voice guy on the morning show after the full-time flip. Geez, Vert was straight out of Specs -- he did a great job in a hard gig, and is an awesome guy who's done well.
There are so many little stories that don't fit chronologically, but which I love remembering:
> My best memory is the first Lollapalooza in summer of 1991. Being sort of like the Kurt Loder of the station, I was all prepped to do the interviews. But O'Leary did the first one, with Living Color, who he asked, "So, doooods, this show was all your idea, right?" Oy. (No, that would be Perry Farrell.) So when John got up, I took his seat and stayed there, doing the rest of the remotes, including Trent Reznor and Ice-T. Those pics are in my office. An awesome, crystallizing day; I knew we were doing something that wasn't disappearing anytime soon.
> Before launching the specialty show, we all raided our CD collections to build the library. We sat on the floor of the Cabana Road studio/chalet/dump Memorial Day weekend, and put stickers on the front to ID whose was whose, to get them back when the label service (hopefully) kicked in. "Hey, kids, let's put on a show radio station!"
> Greg and I diagrammed the first clock in my kitchen in Royal Oak, on a speaker phone with Halloran.
> The outstanding production we got from another Halloran protégé, Tattoo. "This is the Cutting Edge. Who the hell are you?" "What this town needs is an enema." The voice we used was an American living in London named Quasar, and the station still uses his "89X" in some of their positioners.
> The three of us arguing over who would go onto the New Wave band list as the background for our first full page MT ad, "Take Back the Radio." I still have some of those posters. Ebay, anybody?
> Me ghosting the "Top 10" lists copy for the MT ads, which were mostly occasionally funny.
> Me going to the law library at the University of Windsor to give Pervin free legal advice on how to deal with the CRTC, before he approached The Suits in Toronto.
> The first Detroit sales office was in my father-in-law's office -- he's an architect. So, my extended family made a few bucks, though the office activity was far more than he bargained for -- what was supposed to be just the sales office also became the prize pickup office, even when he was the only one there – Scott and Jim were out on the road. (His tolerance was awesome.) The US sales office remains in that building.
> Seeing the first Cutting Edge sticker on a car, on Main St in RO, a few blocks from our house, and honking and waving at the guy, and feeling very proud.
> My wife's favorite story is that one morning, I'm doing the phoner, our landline was out, and I was out in her car, with her big bag of primative cell phone, doing the call in my robe.
So, after the flip, the new 89X went from an asterisk to a 2.2 in 18 months. Our TSL was 13 hours. Yes, 13 hours. For various reasons, the two-year consulting/sales agreement we signed wasn't renewed by Pervin, which is always a risk when consulting stations, which we basically were doing. "Thanks for showing us how, we'll take it from here." Also, egos, personalities, turf and money kicked in. I always thought Rialto could leverage 89X into a consultancy, to catch the next wave of New Wave flips that Jacobs hadn't yet caught. But Lem was content selling 89X, and Greg got involved with a group that bought the Edge in Lansing. Me, I have continued lawyering, wrote for MT until 1995, did some stuff with Channel 56, would love to do more on-air, and have some awesome stories. And my 12-year-old daughter thinks I'm a musical loser.
After we were relieved, 89X went adrift in so many ways. I felt like wolves had stolen my baby and raised it in the wild. Michelle Denomme became PD, which was I thought was brutal -- she was young, in over her head, but someone who had always been a loyal CHUM employee. They went Alt Chick, Alt Grunge, Alt Thrash, everything other than just being good music. Remember the Mike Harrison morning show? A great guy, but Detroiters like Detroiters on the air, not out of towners, and especially not from another continent. Wayne Stafford became GM after Pervin . . . yikes. They alienated their core so much that the Edge came to town -- remember them? Why Greater Media thought it was worth trying to either blow out 89X, or split their three or four shares, I never understood. The Edge bailed, and I'm gratified and proud that 89X is now a heritage station in the market. That only came into focus, though, IMHO, in the last 5 or so years, when, despite Murray, they started listening to their jocks and sales people -- all true believers in the music.
I still consider everyone CHUM in Windsor and the Detroit friends, even if we rarely see each other. Eric Proksch was a sales guy when we first got there, and he was the first salesperson after Pervin who "got it." Eric is now GM of the Windsor group, which expanded to four stations. I only ever helped raise their ratings and make 'em gobs of money. I'd love to help them out again someday, on any of their stations, but who knows?
I don't know why this has taken this long to write. I've feared that I'll forget something. Maybe because there might be disagreements about some factoid or an opinion of mine. Geez, I get enough of that lawyering in my day job, and from my kids. I have even been called out by people for telling this story, because the "Start of 89X" story they first heard from someone else didn't include my name, and they thought I was being a self-promoting hanger-on.
I'm proud of my contributions to the 89X story, and am gratified that so many of you have fond memories of something that we all loved doing, some more than others, and some for longer than others. For me, though, it's an old radio story, and I need a new radio story. (Anybody need a talk show host? Or a lawyer, even?) This story and four bucks gets me a Venti Mocha, y'know?
I, however, made some wonderful friends, many who I have to this day. I got to do things that a music-loving, lawyer by training really had no business doing in a Top Ten market, especially in such a DIY fashion. I'm proud that so many broadcasting, sales and ad careers were launched and/or boosted, and so many good memories were created, both behind the mic and in front of the radio speaker. I never got to be Fred Jacobs, Jr. or Larry King, Jr. (yet), but this was a great part of a life I would never trade with anybody. I honestly believe that none of the radio memories would have happened, nor many millions of dollars of sales generated, nor careers enhanced and salaries paid, without my contributions. Too, I love Detroit and its awesome broadcasting history, and I'm thrilled to be a footnote in it.
Please feel free to stop by at my MySpace. You should also go say hi and thanks to Jim and Scott for their amazing 89X contributions when they're playing in their outstanding band, Free Beer. They have their own great stories, too. Check out
Thanks for enjoying then, and remembering now. Peaceout
Since Snyder effectively slit the throat -- simply by his declaration of changing the film tax incentive -- of the film industry here, I have yet to hear an argument that would convince him to change his mind. A significant number of legislators disagree with him, and might vote to either keep the incentives as legislated, or amendsome of its provisions in such a way as to NOT cause film production to cease... but will their debates and decisions make a difference at this point?
I don't think so. Snyder will not be deterred and will stick to his guns. So, is there an argument that would cause him to see things differently? What is that one fact or factor that would show his stance is not in the best interest of the state? Identifying that is essential to any effort to save the program.
If the E&Y "Six for One" study wasn't sufficient, logic notwithstanding, will emotional testimonies, lobbyists, threatened recall petitions, or thousands of persons descending on Lansing in a huge rally make a difference? No, sad to say. Snyder is a cutter -- he did it at Gateway and he's doing it here. He is not a leader, nor a representative of the people. He is an unflexable potentate.
Anger, threats and protests do not affect him. No, only numbers that show a positive return --for the long haul -- could, or might, convince the narrowly-focused chief executive. So,from where would those figures come from? A trend line projecting outward the full five years of the incentive program? Maybe. A report from financial consultants whom he acknowledges are unbiased? Maybe. An astrologer who he believes sees Michigan's future in the stars? Come on.
This governor is driven by decision. Once made, the plan is laid. Right or wrong makes little difference. Snyder is the kind of guy who, realizing he left his wallet on his dresser, would rather continue to his destination than return home. And, I don't think he's one to stop and ask for directions, either.
I think, if the legislators can't -- by their actions --convince Snyder to leave the incentives alone, the fate of the film industry here will have to be in the hands of those who have equipped themselves the past three years with the wherewithal to continue the re-invention. An even steeper climb, yes, but maybe it's time we pull together, take stock of our capability, form an independent coalition, choose our own visionary to lead, and develop a self-sustaining industry without government interference or take back. Cutting edge or cutting room floor...that's what we face. I know which choice I'd make.
Big government is not going to provide for me, so I'd better find a way to sustain myself
I’ve been writing songs for over thirty years. I don’t write hits. I don’t send out demos to famous singers. I just write songs. They’re my diaries. I had everything I’ve ever written in this big, black notebook. Some of them were typed, some were in long hand, but all of them had a time and a place that marked some moment in my life. If you really wanted to get to know me, you’d find me in there.
A few years ago, I was in New York finishing up the Final Mix of ESCANABA IN DA MOONLIGHT. For those of you who’ve never mixed a film, it makes watching paint dry interesting. So while Steve Curran was slaving over every single sound in our epic tale of deer hunting in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I sat in the back of the room typing three decades of my musical life into my computer. Like the teacher you never saw coming, I looked up and suddenly he was there.Through weary eyes, he asked me what I thought I was doing. I told him I was organizing my songs, getting ready for this little fundraiser at thePurple Rose Theatre in a couple months. It seems someone had suggested that if I were pushed out onstage with a guitar, people might actually pay money to see what happened. In the non-profit world of fundraising, this is known as a “good idea.” Steve stared down at me with the stress of an eighteen hour day and no end in sight oozing from his pores, and he said, “You really should record the shows.” I told him to turn around and finish tweaking the fart scene. He asked me what I was afraid of. I told him that in case he’d forgotten, I make my living as an actor, not an actor who sings. I said if I put out a CD there’s a very good chance I’d be compared to William Shatner, to which Steve replied, “Sounds like a song to me.” And then he turned around and said something about adding more bass to that flatulence.
So, in yet another desperate attempt to raise money, here it is. Along with the three years of sold out shows from which this CD was recorded, all proceeds from what you’re about to hear go straight to the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, Michigan. And for those of you who love burning copies, do me a favor. Please try to remember where the money would go if your friends actually went out and bought it for themselves.
All of us at the Purple Rose will greatly appreciate it.
Hope you enjoy it.
New Songs and CD availible from the Keep It Right Herealbum
Jeff Daniels Featuring Brad Phillips & Dominic John Davis
Thoughts, remarks, links, ideas, & notes on music, film, culture, friendship, love, sex, literature, sports, women, wine--from my mind and the minds of many others. Add your own...
Monday, February 28, 2011
This is another piece from Between The Ground & God, a collection of writings published in book form in 2005 by Ridgeway Press. This piece first appeared in the Metro Times in 1994.Yorke also tosses jabs at popular culture and the alluring promise of the ad world--"I want a perfect body"--before sullenly addressing the object of his desire and the distance of his alienation: "You're just like an angel, you float like a feather in a beautiful world."
Radiohead's "Creep" is an amazing record; it may be post-punk rock's most fully realized link with the varied elements of early rock and roll. Even though Radiohead writer/singer Thom Yorke may have been attempting to distance himself from the clutches of classic rock traditions, "Creep" cements a deal between grunge and pre-Beatles rock.
And like a lot of the most interesting rock songs, "Creep" is something of a one-off, an isolated event. Originally hidden on a 1993 album called Pablo Honey, the song is now a re-released hit on alternative radio. It came well before Kid A & OK Computer, Radiohead's twin masterpieces.
Slurring out a story of immense alienation, Yorke's singing sounds like the sluggish dissolve of a fading siren. Where blues singers use broken cadence and the dropped word to match the feel of the rhythm section, Yorke uses the punk's swollen alliteration to sound even more like the ugly outsider. He's not the classic rock anti-hero who will one day be redeemed by a large audience for the purity of his stance; the guy in "Creep" is too consumed by self-loathing and misanthropy to even strike a pose.
"I wish I was special, you're so fucking special
But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here."
The singer is trapped first by his alienation, then by his desire, and finally by his lack of humanity. Yorke whispers the final chorus without any guts or vision. He (the singer's character, which may actually be the singer himself) is a creep, not to be admired or dismissed. What "Creep" is really about is loving the refuge that rock and roll provides, loving all of its stylistic and emotional possibilities. The creep does belong, finally, in a song with virulent guitars and the general dis-ease of a Dostoyevsky story.
But it's not the world Yorke dwells in. His is a world of masks, of the spiritually dead. The social contradictions in the song are nearly hopeless--what's left after the failure of innocence? We guess that Yorke is crushed by the plasticized consumer culture while the girl, via her unrequested beauty, is naturally included.
About mid-song Yorke breaks into a chilling falsetto, as if there was nowhere left for his physical expression to go. Howled over gristle and bone guitars, this middle eight ties together rock's great antiquarian highlights--Elvis Presley's "Blue Moon," Jimmy Logsdon's really weird "Midnight Blues," Roy Orbison's "In Dreams," even Marc Bolin's elegant explorations of exclusion--with the anti-romantic punk of the Sex Pistols and Nirvana. "Creep" progresses on as well as it recalls earlier music; in this sense it has an achieved beauty that's as rare as it is difficult to sustain.
Posted by Stewart Francke