JUDY COLLINS, AMAZING GRACE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn and I had been looking forward to the Judy Collins concert for months. Marilyn bought the tickets last January before her complicated heart surgery. At the time, I wondered if she was being extravagant given our tight budget. I was very wrong. Marilyn figured the concert would give us something to look forward to in the months while she struggled to recover from the surgery.  It’s taken a toll on her body and spirits.

The concert? She was right.

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It didn’t seem particularly right during the long drive into Boston yesterday. Intermittent heavy rain showers made the usually easy Sunday drive a challenge. Often the traffic looked like something out of “Wagon Train.” Yet, by the time we got to Boston, it was all good. A handicapped parking space was available directly in front of the theater — like on television or in the movies. And the rain stopped, just like that.

judy collins concert

We took a quick scan of nearby restaurants and Japanese got our attention. We chowed down on sushi and tempura with plenty of time to spare to make our 7 pm curtain. Marilyn took pictures and we watched as the crowds arrived for the Collins concert. The audience appeared to be three-quarters casually dressed baby boomers. Our kind of folks.

And suddenly, it was time to pack up the camera and find the tickets. Showtime!

wilbur theater judy collins

The Wilber is an old theatre. Built in 1914, it’s rather cozy inside and they have arranged the orchestra level as a dinner theater. Both of us had been to the Wilbur in the past, though not recently, so it was a bit of a shock to see how it had changed. Instead of theater seats, there were high, padded bar stools. Wait staff brought refreshments.

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Sometimes you anticipate, but are disappointed. The moment Judy Collins walked on stage, the evening turned magical. Judy Collins has — at 74 years old — not only kept her voice, but improved it. I had not realized what a skilled pianist she is, either. Her musicianship was remarkable and it perfectly suited the cozy theater.

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She entertained with a preferred list of her most popular songs. Folk, Broadway and Standards. There was no forced chit-chat but shared stories and memories of professional life across half a century. Most of the audience, including me, were nodding and smiling. It was our story too. The artists and  music of our generation. The music that was the background to our lives.

The songs brought back a flood of memories. “Send In The Clowns” reminded me of my days in TV news dealing with politicians. “Danny Boy,” always a sentimental favorite, took me back to our honeymoon in Ireland where I discovered my Irish roots. I was smiling with tears in my eyes.

theater district judy collins

I thought the concert was over as Judy Collins thanked her pianist-music director while blowing kisses to the audience. It couldn’t be over. Not yet.

It wasn’t over!

Marilyn reassured me as Judy Collins began to sing “Amazing Grace.” Our song. That was the song the bag piper played at our wedding. That our friend sang. Apparently it was everyone’s song because Judy invited the audience to join in and go for the harmony. We sang and filled the 100-year old Wilbur Theater with our voices.

Magic time! We held the last words of “Amazing Grace” for long minutes, the music and our voices echoing through the venerable theater.

A night to remember!

HURT SO BAD

The silencing of Linda Ronstadt, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

All through the 1970’s, you could not leave your transistor radio on for long without hearing the distinctive voice of Linda Ronstadt.  She emerged from her early time with The Stone Poneys from the mid 60’s as broke, from paying for much of their third and final album, but with a solo career emerging.  Her cover of Mike Nesmith’s “Different Drum” became a hit and she was on her way.

After assembling a strong group of musicians and friends, she went ahead with both covers of songs from the 50’s and 60’s as well as some new songs.  The combination brought her hit after hit and made her one of the best-selling female artists of all time.  She posted 10 top ten songs and one of her hottest was a cover of the Little Anthony and the Imperials song, Hurt So Bad,” which peaked in 1980.

In a career that lasted until 2011, Ronstadt sold over 100 million records and her voice can be heard on an astounding 120 albums.  She has an impressive collection of awards, including 11 Grammys.  She remained popular until her retirement in 2011 when she declared herself “100 per cent retired.”  While some walk away from their careers as they get older, it is always somewhat of a surprise when a famous person retires.  You really expect them to come back at some point.  That was never going to happen for Ronstadt.

She could no longer sing.  She was physically unable.  In 2012 she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and in August 2013 the news was stated publically.  Her induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came too late in her career.  In April 2014, the disease progressed to the point where she could not perform at her induction, or even attend.  Her friends took her place on stage, singing out her biggest hits in tribute.

In July, President Obama handed out twelve 2013 National Medals of Arts and Humanities, including one for Linda Ronstadt.  This honor was not to be denied to her.  She was brought to Washington and wheeled into the East Room by a military aide, but she stood and walked up to the President of the United States to receive her award “for her one-of-a-kind voice and her decades of remarkable music.”  After the ceremony President Obama admitted to the crowd,  “I told Linda Ronstadt I had a crush on her back in the day.”  It’s OK to admit that.  Millions of others boys did too.

 

CHICAGO “NOW”

AKA Chicago XXXVI, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Chicago, the band, has done something most older bands are reluctant to do.  They have put out a new studio album of original music entitled “Chicago NOW.” Legendary bands with staying power such as Chicago make their living off their faithful fans at live performances and sales of older albums.  They know that only a select handful of older bands can actually sell new singles and albums.  The buying public for new music is mainly in the 13 to 34 age bracket and many of them tend to stream music rather than actually buy it.  The main buyers of CDs are in the 45 and over crowd but they are buying “catalog” music, or that is to say, classics from their favorite artists of the past.

Studio time can be expensive, both in terms of the studio cost and the lost concert performance time.  A touring band like Chicago, who spends most of the year on the road, does not like the idea of stopping for an extended length of time.  But Chicago is not ready to stop composing and recording, so how do they tour and record?  The answer came with a new recording system they call “The Rig.”  They have pushed the technology forward with a portable system so good, they record as they travel.  Much of Chicago NOW was done in hotel rooms across the country and around the world.

Founding member and trumpet player, Lee Loughnane, took charge of the project to put out a new album without stopping the show, so to speak.  Each composer of a song got to act as producer for his entry to the album and various band members helped with arrangements as well as select musicians from outside the group.  The group not only recorded on the move, they did not all have to be there at once.  Members would record their parts at different times.  Hank Linderman, a long time studio engineer, was the coordinating producer.  A “collaboration portal” was set up and tracks were sent at all times, from Chicago and contributing musicians.  The result is a stunning contribution to the Chicago catalog and worthy of their best early efforts.

The title track, released as a download prior to the album début, has now worked it way into the current tour performances.  Written by Greg Barnhill and Chicago band member Jason Scheff, the number was produced and arranged by Scheff.  It is an energetic start to the album.  Scheff also contributed “Love Lives On” and is co-composer to founding member Robert Lamm’s  song, “Crazy Happy.”

While the horns section technically remains in tact with founding members Lee Loughnane on trumpet and James Pankow on trombone, founding member and woodwind player Walt Parazaider appears in the videos but in fact only played on three of the recordings.  Now at age 69, a variety of health issues in recent years has limited Parazaider’s time on the road.  Long time fill-in Ray Herrmann is also credited on three of the songs, though he is not listed as a band member.  While Herrmannn is now a frequent performer, the audience does not always realize it.  From a distance he somewhat resembles Walt.  Other sax players contributed to the album as well.

Guitar player Keith Howland sings the song he composed with Scheff and drummer Tris Imboden, “Nice Girl.”  He also contributes, along with Imboden to Lamm’s “Free at Last.”  As expected, Lamm leads the way on this album, being credited with lead vocals on six of the songs and background vocals on others.

Previously, I wrote about “America” released last fall. It appears on this album.  Lou Pardini drives home the song and the social commentary on lead vocal and keyboards.  Also on percussion for the band is Walfredo Reyes, Jr., a more recent addition to the Chicago lineup, a talented nine guys.

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Chicago in Chicago, August 2014

I AIN’T MARCHIN’ ANYMORE

Phil Ochs said it. I agree. I served my time, marched my miles. Signed an infinite number of petitions. Fought on the right side, believed in the good guys.

Now … I’m retired.

You, younger people. Yes, you. The ones on the sofa swigging beer. It’s your turn.

Go protest. Carry signs. Fix the world, because I ain’t marchin’ anymore.

Peace and love my friends. Carry the torch for me!

Daily Prompt: Breaking the Ice

BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE

CEE’S FUN FOTO CHALLENGE – WINTER

Old #2 in winter

If there is one season we have more than enough of here in New England, it’s winter. It depends on the year, of course, Not all winters are created equal. Usually, we are buried under ice and snow from late November to early April. But there are exceptions.

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Every once in a while, we have a mild winter. We had one a few winters ago where there was nothing more than a dusting of snow for the winter … and then we had a drought in the spring because there was no melt-off to fill the rivers, aquifers, and lakes. Still, I was personally grateful for the break.

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Last year was horrendous. It was not the coldest winter I can remember, nor the snowiest, but it had the most ice. And bitter weather when you most needed a thaw to reduce the weight of snow on roofs, to make roads and walkways passable.

Hadley Snow Farm

Fortunately, spring was not accompanied, as it often is, by torrential rains so we avoided the annual flooding of everyone’s basement in all the valley’s towns.

Vintage snow through wintdow

Yet winter is magnificent. When that first layer of white comes down from the skies and wraps the world in its soft blanket, it’s hard not to hear music and poetry in your head. If only it weren’t so bitter … or last so long.

Hadley Winter Grove

How about we strike a deal? One month of winter … say January? Start right after the New Year then melt in time for Valentine’s Day. That would be more than sufficient.

Dec 2012 snow 1

SUNFLOWERS FOR ME

Garry thought it was high time I got a new bouquet and this time, he chose one of my favorites, sunflowers. Is there any flower that better symbolizes summer? That looks as if it contains its own sunbeam?

Here is my bouquet of sunflowers. On the last day of July, in the late afternoon sunshine on the deck.

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THE TIME IT IS TODAY – RICH PASCHALL

Enter The Young, When Songs Had Meaning

There was a time I will describe as late Beatles up to pre-disco when many songs had a deeper meaning, that is to say, a “social commentary”.  The air was filled with thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics.  Some will argue that these songs helped to sway a nation toward greater equality and away from a war of questionable merits.  For a while, many songwriters abandoned “Ooh baby, baby,” to write about war, race, poverty, inhumanity and life in the ghetto rather than life on “easy street”.  This was the era in songwriting where the words were as important as the notes being played.

Here they come, yeah
Some are walking, some are riding
Here they come, yeah
And some are flying, some just gliding
Released after years of being kept in hiding
They’re climbing up the ladder rung by rung

Bob Dylan had been speaking to us for years, but suddenly so was McCartney and Lennon, then John Lennon on his own.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Carol King, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Curtis Mayfield, Lou Reed, Marvin Gaye can all be added to the list and on and on.  There were many more with just a few hits but big social impact.

Enter the young, yeah
Yeah, they’ve learned how to think
Enter the young, yeah
More than you think they think
Not only learned to think, but to care
Not only learned to think, but to dare

My absolute favorite among the thoughtful lyrics were those done by a group called The Association.  They are probably best known for their hit songs “Cherish,” “Windy” and “Along Comes Mary.”  These songs are filled with clever rhymes and many unique “play on words.”  “Cherish” taught me I could rhyme that word with “perish” and I used it for a wedding lyric years later.

Yeah, here they come
Some with questions, some decisions
Here they come
And some with facts and some with visions

Of a place to multiply without the use of divisions
To win a prize that no one’s ever won

They also commented on society in songs like “The Time It is Today,” “Enter the Young,” and the biting and rather haunting sounds of “Requiem For The Masses.”  This was filled with the symbolism of those that died for the red, white and blue as well as dealing with the issues of race (“Black and white were the questions that so bothered him, he never asked, he was taught not to ask, but was on his lips as they buried him.)  Yes, the same group that gave us “Never My Love” could come around again and whack you with a social message…hard.

Here they come, yeah
Some are laughing, some are crying
Here they come
And some are doing, some are trying
Some are selling, some are buying
Some are living, some are dying
But demanding recognition one by one

They did get recognition, along with many other such groups, if only for a moment in musical history.  Where are  the meaningful song lyrics of today?  I wonder.

Not only learned to think, but to care
Not only learned to think, but to dare

I wore out this album as I found every song to be worthy of constant replay.  I was a teenager, I thought it was great.  All these years later, I still do.  I chose the video above as I could find no performance of this song except a weak cover version and this one rendered the best sound.

Enter The Young by Terry Kirkman 1966 Beachwood Music Corp.