Going Deep With “Shallow”

star_is_born

Would you like 300 cover versions of the song Shallow from the film A Star Is Born? Of course you would. After exhaustive and exhausting research, I’m proud to present this list of some — repeat, some — of the too many cover versions of this Oscar-worthy tune, performed in the film by the Oscar-worthy Bradley Cooper and the Oscar-worthy Lady Gaga. Many of these renditions rival the quality and emotional resonance of the film version. Many do not. Some have thousands of views; others low single digits. Some are just inexplicable. Enjoy this time-suck. You’re welcome.

  1. Alyssa Shouse
  2. Allie Sherlock
  3. Moniqué, Justinas Jarutis
  4. Brian Justin Crum
  5. Jess & Matt
  6. The JLP Show
  7. Kurt Hugo Schneider
  8. Cimorelli
  9. Mackenzie Johnson
  10. Lynnea M.
  11. Flavie Léa
  12. Angela Vazquez
  13. Lewis Capaldi
  14. Alexander Stewart
  15. AJ Rafael ft. Shoshana Bean
  16. Fran Coem & Andrea Guasch
  17. Cheska
  18. Lyrical Jazz’s choreography of Cheska cover of Shallow
  19. Fran Lopez
  20. Sonny & Hannah Grace
  21. Cody & Lexy
  22. Emma Heesters
  23. The Marlows
  24. David Alvareeezy & Alex Aiono
  25. Greg Gontier
  26. Kingdom Street
  27. Maria Demian
  28. Sophia Scott
  29. Sam Woolf
  30. Nguyen Kien
  31. Madysyn Rose Cover Ft. Tyler Ward
  32. New Hope Club
  33. Lyam Neal
  34. Sam Mangubat ft. Gidget dela Llana
  35. Always Alessandra
  36. funtwo
  37. Ben Siskin
  38. Valerie Varela
  39. Tayla Mae
  40. Rajiv Dhall
  41. Leadley
  42. Lawrence Park & Ali Brustofski
  43. The Light Parade
  44. Sofía y Ander
  45. Žan Sercic & Sara Lamprecnik
  46. Melissa Y Eureka
  47. Hannah Alex
  48. Della Firdatia ft. Felix
  49. Victoria Skie
  50. Cheryl K
  51. Jasmine Clarke
  52. Konah Raynes
  53. Luiza Gattai
  54. Sophie Pecora
  55. Melissa Walker
  56. Fatma Rizaldi
  57. Lisa Onuoha
  58. Chase Fouraker & Lena Stone
  59. Gabriela Toklowicz
  60. Casi Joy
  61. Jake Mackay
  62. Davi Music Official
  63. Arlene Zelina & Printz Board
  64. Renn Miko & Ashira
  65. Peter Gergely
  66. Toni Pirosa
  67. Voncken
  68. Luis Busho / Monsster Holland
  69. Robert Grace
  70. Eduard Freixa
  71. Kevin & Karla
  72. Musicality
  73. Carla Laubalo y Claupasal
  74. Heru Lee
  75. FLYGHTS
  76. Valentin YOMBA
  77. Kyle Meagher and Dalila Bela
  78. Demi van Wijngaarden
  79. Alexander Stewart
  80. Kitty Kathusky
  81. Sydney Simpson
  82. Fiddlerman
  83. Liv Bevan
  84. Break Out The Crazy
  85. Siren Gene
  86. Madu Hisaoka
  87. Jake Davey & Kylie Jane
  88. Steph La Rochelle
  89. Andres Colin & Kindred
  90. Bella River
  91. Mario Spinetti
  92. Fun Factory TV
  93. Evynne Hollens & Peter Hollens
  94. Francesco Parrino
  95. Ethan
  96. Lily Schub
  97. Ellina Styliadou
  98. Yuval Salomon
  99. Denis Kalytovskyi
  100. Camelia Crisan & Titus Homei
  101. Ben Woodward
  102. Ben Platt
  103. Gabriela Toklowicz
  104. Nanda Pratiwy ft. Troy
  105. Alex Kautz
  106. Maria Pina Cavezza ft Claudio
  107. Maíra Amorim
  108. Josh Lewis
  109. Katharina Schwerk & Guillermo Campoy
  110. Justin Capps and The Cavaliers ft. Erin Newman
  111. Yasam Chyne
  112. Lloyd Griffiths
  113. Halyss & Marina Odessa
  114. Šárka Tonarová feat Cory Smallegan
  115. Jaune Papillon
  116. Hannah Hobbs
  117. Brooklyn Duo – cello and piano
  118. Zoe Moreton
  119. Axelle Thays
  120. Omar Afuni
  121. Evi Christina, Liset Michel & Silvester Pool
  122. Abby and Sarah
  123. The Lars
  124. Nika Zorjan
  125. Julia Carlile // merseygirls
  126. Jimena Amor y Álvaro Hdez
  127. Emeline
  128. Shelley Mill
  129. Charlee Polidano
  130. Signe goffygang
  131. Logan Alexandra
  132. Amy Astrid
  133. Rei Cover Videos
  134. Jerry & Yuki
  135. Georgia Box
  136. Dani Octa
  137. Morgan Mattheis
  138. Aaron Odell
  139. Luke Moskowitz
  140. Jahne Dreams Jesse Linn
  141. The Oceanic Aria
  142. John Buckley
  143. Danny Rey
  144. Suzanne Samson
  145. Charlotte Hannah
  146. Jon Pumper
  147. Line Gosselin
  148. Trent Bell
  149. Katia
  150. Kfir Ochaion
  151. Gara González
  152. Alec Chambers
  153. Zainab Darong
  154. Sup I’m Bianca
  155. Maximedro
  156. Giselle Rivera
  157. Cecilia Pascal
  158. Cherry Lita
  159. Deborah Ghiddi
  160. Megan Tara
  161. Alexis Pinney
  162. Macià Pallarès Pallarès
  163. Abigail Frances
  164. Chiara Cami
  165. Taylor Duarte
  166. Gary C
  167. Jackie Foster
  168. Beth O’Reilly
  169. BTWN US
  170. Alessandra Patané, Salvatore Alderuccio
  171. Nischal Nepal
  172. Harmonie London
  173. KarLita Dinni Kadiin
  174. Wesley Li
  175. ELISKA + Martin Cisar
  176. Jon G.
  177. Kolton Stewart and Abigail Winter
  178. Malgowski Michel
  179. Marko The Piano Man
  180. heather_xoxo _101
  181. Chad Graham Feat. Fallon Graham
  182. Joyful Luisa
  183. Léo Quentin
  184. Amir Brandon
  185. Alison Sparrow
  186. Cerita Nusantara
  187. Thomas and Audrey NVH
  188. Ania Deko & Grzegorz Hyzy
  189. Toni Pirosa
  190. Itcho Pcelár
  191. Little Lyrebird
  192. Dylan Fraser
  193. Bagus Cahya Wibawa
  194. Sara Bentes
  195. Omar Chirinos
  196. Mandy Dickson
  197. Adriana Colón
  198. Fabiana Sousa
  199. Will Faust
  200. Sophie Hastings
  201. michiamberg
  202. Jonathan Tilkin
  203. Disney65Fan
  204. Micle’s Piano
  205. BALÉ_TV
  206. Nayara Portela
  207. Brae Cala
  208. Andrey Sado & Yuliya Dementyeva & Damien Safronov
  209. Saskia Eng
  210. Fergie Lian
  211. Lina Frances Music
  212. Jamie LeRose
  213. Frank Cotty
  214. Hannah Adams
  215. Mark Fantasia
  216. David Stanyer
  217. Kaiennenhawi Cross
  218. Melissa Martin & Alex Grenier
  219. Laís Araújo
  220. swiftcovers
  221. Evan & Mary-Jane
  222. Ana Horvat & Dino Antonic
  223. Larve Limbagan
  224. Vi Franks
  225. we winqa
  226. Natalie & Chloe Music
  227. Emily Price
  228. Elliott
  229. Erica Lazo
  230. Matthew Lin
  231. Celine Norambuena
  232. George Cisneros
  233. Alexandre Gallet & Inès Serra
  234. Ari Nao
  235. Victoria Anthony Music
  236. Iva Curic
  237. Thames Band
  238. Michelle Vinic
  239. Davina Michelle
  240. Amelia Rosa Butterworth
  241. AMÉ
  242. Steph Willis
  243. Bruno Araujo
  244. Matty Queen Bee
  245. Maddison Mian
  246. Bree Lenehan
  247. Julia Omelko
  248. munyehkels
  249. Tyler Costin and Siena Streiber
  250. Emily Summers and Leo Luck
  251. Ria Ritchie
  252. JD Larsen
  253. Ellen Dowse (Elliott Dowse)
  254. Maria Laroco
  255. David Calabrés
  256. Osher
  257. Aine Carroll
  258. Allie Sealey
  259. Giuseppe de Simone e Claudia Irto
  260. Jett Blyton
  261. Emma Jayne
  262. harmonyjo
  263. Aimee Music Official
  264. Dalton Russell
  265. Riyandi Kusuma
  266. Chandler Berardi
  267. Amanda Defacendis
  268. Rapluvi
  269. Jonash
  270. It’s Alex
  271. Adelia Mahaffee
  272. Junior Paez
  273. Dani Octa
  274. Anastasia Papas
  275. Daphne Snow
  276. Yoel Sanchez
  277. Simon James
  278. Claire Rxse
  279. EKA SPS
  280. Zoe Alexander
  281. Paulene May
  282. Lynsay Ryan
  283. Arno K
  284. Sergio Tur
  285. Lise DARLY
  286. Spence Cater
  287. Yazmin Aziz
  288. Savannah Van
  289. Oly Green
  290. Yahto Kraft
  291. Daphné R.
  292. Christian Oscarsson
  293. Marisol Luna
  294. OMJamie
  295. Daniel Alkato
  296. SeriouslyChris
  297. Darien Bernard
  298. Caitlin Simone & Lloyd Snyder
  299. Elle Smarzinski
  300. And of course, this:

  301. Wanderson Prudencio oficial

Soul Man: Larry Kidwell, 1947-2017

lawrence and the arabians

Larry Kidwell has passed. Larry was the singer/piano player for the legendary D.C. band Lawrence & the Arabians. (That’s him in Jesus pose behind his bandmates, circa 1967.) Before the term blue-eyed soul, he was its embodiment. As Michael Dolan wrote about the band in Washingtonian in 1988, “They were the original soul rebels, white kids who grew up on black music and in turn played black music for other white kids to grow up on.” One of those kids was me.

Larry and the band get their own section in Mark Opsasnick‘s essential book, Capitol Rock, deservedly so. In the era of teen clubs and dances at the fire hall, before there was such a thing as a concert industry and professional music venues outside of classical halls, the band routinely drew 1,500 or more kids every weekend.

Lawrence and the arabians card

Of course, there were no Arabians in the band. As with many band names of the time, it was a play on something current, in this case the film. Yes, it was a more innocent time; please put your comments about “appropriation” aside, especially if you never heard the man sing. The few recordings that Larry and the band made don’t really do him justice. As with so much about music, you really have to hear it live.

Larry generously gifted me with the original photo of the band after I interviewed him for City Paper. He wrote on the back:

“If this picture means anything good to you, please keep it that it would give me pleasure, too.”

Larry, this picture means the world to me. And I hope I thanked you enough.

Condolences to his family. This town lost a bit of its soul.

R.I.P., Mickey Toperzer

(NOTE: Reposting this by request. The original post, itself a repost from a Washington City Paper piece I wrote in 1994, got lost in the Great WordPress Upgrade Disaster of ’13)

Frank “Mickey” Toperzer passed away on Oct. 12. He was the owner of Drums Unlimited on St. Elmo Avenue in Bethesda, when Bethesda was a place where you could open a small shop selling only drums.

Below is the article I wrote about him for Washington City Paper, almost 20 years ago. I was still fairly new at the journalism game and I started the interview with some question that did not meet Mickey’s approval. “Stop. Turn of the recorder,” he said sternly. Startled, I did as he ordered. He then informed me that my question was so foolishly broad and uninformed that it was impossible to answer and that it would only make me seem foolish. Then he told me the question I was really trying to ask and we started again.

mickey toperzer

I’ve been told that Mickey kept a copy of the article in his shop, framed a bit sideways–because he felt it would catch people’s eyes better if it was off-kilter and then they’d stop and read it. A perfect example of how how Mickey’s mind worked.

The reason I wrote the article is that I worked at Drums Unlimited right after high school and knew Mickey to be an entertaining raconteur, among other things. It was a great experience and Mickey taught me many lessons that I didn’t know I was learning until years later.

Drums Unlimited made much of its money renting equipment, any and everything for a band, school, and orchestra. For a symphony gig at the Kennedy Center, the store came up short for seats. So Mickey gave me the keys to his house and told me to grab the bar stools from the basement. And I was also to pack up his son’s drum set. He’d rented that, too.

When Burt Bacharach was playing the Kennedy Center, his drummer complained that the cymbal stand he’d rented from Drums Unlimited wasn’t tall enough. Highly annoyed by this affront to common sense, Mickey cobbled together a frankenstand that was probably 12 feet tall. I got in the van and drove it down to the KenCen. Because I was a clueless teen with no perspective, I just burst into the rehearsal room, interrupting the musicians, and walked the ridiculous piece of hardware right to the drummer. There were some laughs and a confused, then stern look from Burt. I don’t know who the drummer was–he could have been one of the Wrecking Crew who played on many of the original Bacharach-David songs. I hope I didn’t get him fired.

Much of my time was spent delivering equipment to and picking it up from the newly-opened Kennedy Center. In fact, Drums Unlimited rented several tympani and a large bass drum to the National Symphony for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Mass,” which officially opened the Center. Even though Jackie Kennedy was just one floor above me, I remember being annoyed that the ovation went on and on and on, making me wait so long to pick up the gear.

That was the real treat of the job — wandering around the still half-completed building, underneath the public spaces. One day I poked through a door and found myself standing on the stage in the empty Opera House. I took in the grandeur, took a bow, and snuck out quickly.

In exchange for the keys to the van, I had to wear overalls with a Drums Unlimited logo. One day after a delivery I was heading to the vending machines by the dressing rooms when I spotted a tall man with long but well-coiffed hair who was wearing platform shoes and carrying a purse. Well, it looked like a purse. It was probably a standard messenger bag, but in the early 1970s guys did not carry bags, nor wear platform shoes. At least none of my high school pals did.

But, because I watched The Tonight Show religiously, I recognized Robert Klein, who was appearing in a play. As he passed, I smartly called out, “Robert Klein.” He gave me and my overalls a snooty once-over and replied, “Drums Unlimited,” and continued on his way. I never much cared for him after that.

Also, when I tried to score points by bragging to my friends that I had seen Robert Klein, nobody knew who he was. Rubes.

Then there was the time I was hauling a couple of tympani drums back to the van, I got snagged trying to lug one down the stairs, tripped, and fell head-over-tympani. Bang, crash, boom, indeed.

Another time, I peeled out from the light at Wisconsin and Bradley on my way to the KenCen. At the next light, a driver frantically caught my attention — the 28-inch bass drum had fallen out the unlocked back door and rolled down the road.

I believe I was making $1.35 an hour — minimum wage at the time. After a while, tired of Mickey calling me at home at night to give me instructions on where I had to be the next morning, I asked for a raise — to $1.65 an hour. I was promptly told that my services were no longer required.

Bang the Drum Profitably

It’s been 32 years since Frank “Mickey” Topics hung the small sign over the door of his shop on St. Elmo Avenue in Bethesda. For any business to last three decades is a feat; it’s especially remarkable for one with as narrow a product line as Toperzer’s. The blue-on-white letters on his modest marquee read “Drums Unlimited.”

Perhaps the “Unlimited” part of the sign explains it best. The wee retail store is but the tip of the drumstick in an almost sprawling empire that includes a rehearsal space, a mail order and instrument manufacturing business, and a musical-equipment rental service.

All of which arose from the typical drummer’s complaint; having to lug carloads of equipment for the same paycheck as a less-burdened flute or guitar player. “I’m a musician, not a truck driver,” Toperzer scoffs.

In the ’50s, Toperzer was one of the busiest drummers in town, working hotel one-nighters with dance bands and orchestras nearly every evening—this after putting in a full shift as a public-school music teacher. The grind took a toll. “I don’t show up three hours early and leave three hours late for the same money as somebody who walks in with a fiddle, or a piano player who walks in with nothing,” declares the drummer, a trace of aggravation in his voice even now.

So Toperzer had the audacity to demand that promoters not only pay him for showing up, but shell out an additional rental fee for his station wagon full of gear. Surprisingly, it worked—to the point where Toperzer was soon contracting out equipment for other musicians. He quickly found himself with a house full of musical tools and a burgeoning rental business. He opened the retail shop partly to store his clattering collection. Eventually, he quit teaching, believing that he could have more impact providing materials to educators than teaching tots where the one-beat is.

Still, Toperzer retains something of a professorial air. Offering advice, criticism, support, and strong opinion in his lilting Boston brogue, he clearly enjoys engaging all who enter his store in hardy debate—and not merely about percussion. You may think you just stopped in to pick up a new pair of drumsticks, but if he senses you’re a bright student, Toperzer will hit you with a pop quiz. (Example: What’s the difference between a piano and an organ? You play a piano, you operate an organ.)

As philosophical as Toperzer can become, he is surprisingly dispassionate when discussing the mainstay of his business. “A drum is a drum is a drum,” he says with indifference. “It goes boom boom. If it doesn’t, you’re in trouble. If it does and you can’t play it, you’re in trouble. Otherwise, it goes boom boom boom.”

Of course, Toperzer is not entirely without sentiment. He points out an old red bass drum. “I bought that for $5 in 1945. At that time, it was about 40 years old. It was built by George Stone,” he says. Stone is one of the seminal figures in modern percussion, a drum maker and teacher whose books are still in use. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful drum,” he says affectionately. “The drum next to it is almost 100 years old,” he continues, indicating a scruffy wooden bass drum. “And they’re still working. I got my five bucks back a couple of times.”

Toperzer speculates that his old-time beater might have been used in John Philip Sousa’s band. “And of course that music is still played and that drum sounds like the drum should sound.”

Toperzer dispenses these heresies and verities from the Kensington warehouse/headquarters of Rehearsal Spaces and Professional Rental Services, the Drums Unlimited subsidiary run by his son, Michael. Conversation vies with the constant sound of musical instruments being tested and loaded onto one of five trucks that deliver them to such disparate places as Georgia theme parks, Atlantic City casinos, and the stages of Wolf Trap and the Kennedy Center. The clanging concerto of chimes, drums, bass, piano, and electric drills and sanders provides a suitably percussive background.

But we don’t spend much time talking the usual drum talk—Buddy vs. Gene, Ludwig vs. Yamaha, blah blah blah. We talk of history, discipline, and the cycles of nature. In explaining the complexities of sending musical instruments around the world, Toperzer mentions the half-dozen sets of tuned automobile horns that he supplies to orchestras intent on correctly playing Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

But to fully explain how one tunes automobile horns, Toperzer must first go back to the 1890s and the celeste, which, he points out, did not exist until Tchaikovsky heard it in his head and thought it might be nice for “The Nutcracker Suite.” “Somebody had to invent what he heard,” Toperzer says, beginning a story about the composer traveling to France to find a man who could build his imaginary device. “George Gershwin heard these taxi horns in Paris and found a guy in Germany who made things like foghorns and sirens.” He pauses slightly, knowing he has a good punch line. “And that man still makes them,” he says, before adding with a grin: “He’s hard to find.”

Not content to pick up the usual catalogs and order the usual soundmaking machinery, Toperzer acquired some of his inventory by roaming through Europe “finding lots of these fellows”—ancient artisans including “the man who tunes cowbells. And the man who makes the cowbells that the other man tunes,” he says. “The cowbells are made on an island in Bavaria. And a man 200 miles away goes to this island and goes through bins of these Swiss cowbells, and finds things that are close to a note. And he collects these and he puts them in his van and he goes back to Germany. And they have a little shop there and stroboscopes, and they bring these into tune by cutting them and reshaping them and so forth and so on.”

Simple. But Toperzer’s Indiana Jones-style adventures cover the percussive gamut. Though the more reliable plastic drum head has been the norm since the late ’50s, there are, says Toperzer, “purists out there who want calfskin or goatskin or monkey skin or snakeskin—or sturgeon skin even, which the Egyptians use—on different kinds of ethnic drums. And so we’ve had to find sources for these things.”

“It’s not just a primitive catch-as-catch-can,” he asserts, maintaining that there is a skill and an art to both the making
and the buying of musical exotica. He adds, almost sadly, “I never did find a safe source for fish skin that wasn’t rotten.”

In an age of digital sampling, where anybody can be an “artist” with the push of a button, this sort of insistence upon authenticity is refreshing. It also goes a long way toward explaining why that small sign in Bethesda is still beckoning after all these years. Another example: When Modern Drummer magazine published a list of “The 25 Best Drum Books,” all 25 could be found on Toperzer’s shelves, a fact the former educator is proud to announce.

These days, the globe-trotting is left mostly to his inventory. And as he has backed up the likes of Billy Eckstine, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peggy Lee, and Julie Andrews, you won’t find this sixtysomething stickman pounding out a fox trot at some wedding. But the lure of the traps remains.

Toperzer mentions a recent party where he ascended to the drum throne. “A number of wonderful players were there,” he says, including Ray Bryant and bassist Keter Betts. His face brightens as he remembers the fun. “Except Keter and I were exhausted. There were three piano players. They each played an hour nonstop, showing everything they could do. And we played for all of them.” He laughs softy. “That kind of thing is wonderful for me.”

Of course, he still had to set up all those drums himself. —DAVE NUTTYCOMBE

From Washington City Paper, Sept. 23, 1994

The Sound of Our Town

Red Fox Inn Bethesda Md Nuttycombe Archives

C&O Canal
Eric Brace & Peter Cooper
Red Beet Records

Hometown tunes from the 1970s and ’80s are the unifying theme of Eric Brace and Peter Cooper‘s heartfelt and nostalgic new album, C&O Canal. A love letter to the musicians who inspired the D.C.-raised duo, C&O Canal is a set of cover tunes penned the likes of the Seldom Scene‘s John Starling, Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Joe Triplett, Karl Straub, and more; it’s an ode to a particularly fecund era for the local music scene.

C&O Canal Eric Brace Peter Cooper

The liner notes connect the many dots tying these D.C.-area musicians together, and hearing the songs filtered through the mesmerizing harmonies of Brace’s mournful baritone and Cooper’s high-lonesome tenor reveals the depth of craftsmanship and artistry this area has produced. “Washington history is as rich with genius-level roots music as it is tricky politics,” Brace writes, correctly. The album is dedicated to, among lots of inspirations, many of the D.C. clubs that hosted live music every week: The Birchmere where the Scene had its residency for so many years, Bethesda’s Red Fox Inn, where Emmylou started (pictured; I played there, too!), Gallagher‘s on Connecticut Ave., where Carpenter hosted an open mic (pretty sure I played there in the late ’60s when it was called Sam’s Place), the fabled Cellar Door (so many nights there; so much magic).

Almost every week in the ’70s, you could hear the Rossyln Mountain Boys‘ Joe Triplett sing his lament, “Been Awhile.” B&C bring it back with just enough reverence, while putting their own stamp on the song.

Likewise, if Cooper’s plaintive version of “Boulder to Birmingham” won’t make you forget either Emmylou’s definitive original or the nearly-definitive version by co-writer Bill Danoff‘s Starland Vocal Band, he acquits himself well.

I’d somehow missed Carpenter’s “John Wilkes Booth,” and so thought at first that the song was taken from some 1870s tract. But this recitation of historical perfidy manages to be both haunting and jaunty. Jauntily haunting? Is that a thing? On this album, yes.

From the opening title track, John Starling’s “C&O Canal,” B&C establish a consistent tone and mood, a celebration not only of this particular town, but of honest music made by and about real people. In this age of individual downloads, C&O Canal is one of those too-rare releases that work as a unified whole. The result is a listening experience to be savored at length, even on shuffle-repeat.

Brace and Cooper bring their Americana goodness to Jammin Java on Friday, June 3, for the official record release party.

The Greatest Radio Spot Ever Produced

I say so because I remember it vividly some 35 years later. It’s a vivid ad, but the fact that it was a promotion for a one-time concert that probably ran only over the course of a few weeks, at most, makes it all the more remarkable that I could recall every sensationalized second. (Sadly, I did not go to the show.)

This airing was recorded from Steve Lorber‘s infamous Mystic Eyes show on WHFS, which I was in the habit of taping because one never knew what to expect from Lorber. Insistently unprofessional, Lorber flaunted both his lack of a “DJ voice” and his enthusiasm for and encyclopedic knowledge of the then-current punk/new wave/weirdo music scene. I’ve left some of Steve’s back-announcing at the end of this transfer so that you can get a taste of his refined taste. Eventually, I’ll transfer the entire tape, and several more filed away in the Nuttycombe Archives.

You have been warned.

How To Make a No-Stress Commercial

Here’s the new commercial I produced, shot, and edited for Middle C Music, D.C.’s only full-service music store. (Also played the swingin’ hi-hat cymbals.) The spot is running on Me-TV, the channel that airs all of the TV shows that were broadcast in the years before cable.

Which means not widescreen hi-def. So, I got out my trusty Panasonic AG-DVC30 miniDV camera, which was expensive state-of-the-art before inexpensive widescreen hi-def became the state-of-the-art. The Panasonic shoots in the same nearly-square aspect ratio (4:3) as the programs that air on Me-TV. So it was a good fit.

The downside production-wise is that the camera records to tape, which has to be transferred in real time for editing. I shot an hour-and-a-half of footage, so had to sit staring at the computer for an hour-and-a-half while the tapes played back.

But I finally used my last two DV tapes. So the camera is now for sale.

The song, or jingle, was created almost instantly by Middle C staffer Michael Sweeney, who is the fellow singing in the video. Darn catchy. I cut 60- and 30-second audio versions of the jingle and I’m trying to convince the store to run radio spots as well. I think this jingle will give Mattress Discounters a run for its money.

Give the Drummer Some

Life in Double Time: Confessions of an American Drummer
By Mike Lankford
Chronicle, 264 pp., $22.95

This is an unexpected pleasure—a book about musicians that concentrates on what it means to play music and not on the tragic consequences of twisted genius or the cruel wages of fame. There is nothing about the recording industry, no tales of hotel rooms petulantly trashed in Mike Lankford‘s Life in Double Time: Confessions of an American Drummer. Lankford was carefully watching the crowds who were watching him and has written as authentic a report from the bandstand as I’ve come across. Who would suspect such insights from a guy who smacked things with sticks for a living?

Though the book does indeed go into depth on the subject of drums and drumming (and is therefore a must for any percussionist), Lankford makes his personal obsession charmingly accessible. If you’ve never considered playing an instrument, his wry and perceptive storytelling will at least let you understand “the tribal joy of breathing with others and seeing the results magnified.”

life in double time mike lankford

Born in 1951, Lankford belongs to a generation of musicians for whom craft was as important a guiding principle as art—often more so. As improbable as it sounds, the highest compliment you could pay to a high-school band in the ’60s was that it sounded “just like the record.” A pimply 16-year-old kid could count on plenty of girl reaction if his onstage Mick Jagger impression was deemed “authentic.” Many a white suburban Otis Redding found out what r-e-s-p-e-c-t meant, too. Believe it or not.

In this post-punk world, one can become a musician by the sheer act of proclaiming it so. The punk revolution so thoroughly tore down the wall between stage and audience that now it’s not how well you play, it’s that you play that counts. If you are in the know, you are in the band. Fiddle with an instrument until it produces enough sound for your purposes, and count on getting booked into a club to perform. Craft is not the issue it once was.

Which makes Lankford’s book almost an archaeological report—from the distance of 30 years. None of the many bands that Lankford played with wrote an original song. That wasn’t their purpose. The point was to play a variety of music together and to play with precision. By that standard was satisfaction judged. When a musician isn’t offering much that is obviously new, but is lost, as Lankford puts it, “so deep inside a tune, it became like four walls around me,” critics not unreasonably dismiss the result as “mere” musicianship, selfish expression.

But when the band is on, locked in the pocket, a willing audience will respond and join in the fervor. This was Lankford’s goal each night when he picked up his sticks: to connect with the beat and his bandmates until they found that “special something that puts a twirl in a girl’s skirt.”

Double Time is filled with charming observations, as Lankford describes his development from geeky gawker at the teen club—paying closer attention to the stage setup of bands like “Dewayne and the Belldettas” than to the girls—to accomplished journeyman. When the drum bug fully hit, “melody ceased to exist for me,” he writes. On his first exhibiting drummer tendencies—while listening to a song on the car radio—his mother was so startled she drove home and took his temperature. “That was the start of my becoming a suspicious person,” he notes.

Lankford nicely charts the dynamics within the high-school music community—a fragile hierarchy where a fortuitous solo at a jam session can solidify a reputation. For a week. Lankford and his fellow fledgling musicians also confront “the girlfriend factor”—the irony that guys start bands to meet girls, but that, once met, girls have a tendency to “complicate things” to the point where bands fall apart. Some may wish to dismiss the Yoko Paradigm as sexist twaddle, but all my experience confirms Lankford’s. Then again, as he admits, “nothing is as unstable as a band.”

The meat of the book begins in the early ’70s, when fresh-faced 20-year-old Lankford answers a blind phone call and finds himself sitting in with the group Salt & Pepper. He becomes the “salt” in a trio that includes two middle-aged black veterans from Chicago, Vince and Dennis. (Why they didn’t just change the band name instead of always insisting on hiring white drummers is not explained.) Dennis operates a Hammond B-3—that singular-sounding furniture-size keyboard that underscores so much of rock, R&B, and jazz—playing bass parts with attached pedals. Vince is an apparently inspired guitarist.

After the first week, the trio packs the van and drives immediately to the next gig, 1,200 miles away, nonstop. Lankford spends the next three years on the road with Salt & Pepper, playing six nights a week, every week of the year. There are no vacations.

Vince and Dennis had played together 30 years by the time Lankford joined and seemingly knew every tune ever written. To their young protégé, life on the road was an exciting adventure. The elder duo had a handyman’s approach to music: It’s a skill with which to earn money. So they spread their talent as broadly as possible. In some clubs, Salt & Pepper was a soul band, in others a rock band, in others a country band, and in certain swanky hotels, a mellow jazz group.

Lankford, on the other hand, was carried away by the “idea” of the road: “Without an idea you just got a van and equipment and a couple of weird guys in front and a job you’re driving to. This was different. After a gig we wouldn’t go home but drive to some place else, and then some place else. An endless string of some place elses.” The most important thing about going on the road, he writes, “is that you go and stay on the road. It has to be open ended or you’re missing the flavor.”

One of those flavors was heroin. Lankford tried it, once.

The not-unexpected reason why Vince never completely traded on his talent was his fondness for drugs. That was also why Dennis kept the band booked 365 days: idle veins, etc.

Lankford is curiously blasé about his decision to sample. He professes to hate needles, but he didn’t just say no when offered the chance. Equating the drug’s effect with “slipping into angel skin,” Lankford makes a strong case for the complexity of the drug issue. That night the band’s performance was particularly inspired—Lankford claims to have experienced an epiphany about keeping time. Addiction is not just a moral weakness, he contends, noting that “the danger with heroin lies in waking up that one taste bud you didn’t know you had.” Lankford was aware enough to recognize a lesson and move on.

Claiming immunity to stage fright, Lankford relates clear-eyed accounts of performing in places that should have scared him. He witnessed murders, nearly got stabbed, and was branded with a white-hot coat hanger. Lankford’s account of van-club-hotel, van-club-hotel—with gas-station rest stops and diners in between—is exhaustingly exhilarating.

Ultimately, the grind took its toll, and Lankford said goodbye to Vince, Dennis, and the road. When he left Salt & Pepper, Lankford abandoned music completely, to the point where he claims to have virtually stopped listening to it or seeking it out in clubs.

While Lankford’s notes from the stage are engagingly specific, the “confessions” part of the book’s title is a bit misleading. We have no idea what he did in the 15 years he wasn’t playing music, nor what he does now. Press materials mention that he’s a graduate of the Iowa State writer’s program, which shows.

As Mick and Keith have demonstrated, giving up rock and roll is difficult. Eventually, Lankford’s now-middle-aged friends talked him into joining a weekend group. Slowly, reluctantly, he found his way back into music.

At first he scorned his contemporaries for “pretending” to make music. But finally, timekeeper Lankford came to a deeper understanding of the nature of time—that life is to be savored moment to moment, not with an eye to the set list. Playing music is a great way to spend time. And there’s only one reason to play: for the hell of it.

So the next time you’re at some wedding, don’t laugh too hard at the band. They may be having more fun than you.

Rock & Roll Will Never Die — If The Fabulous Hubcaps Have Anything To Say About It.

hubcaps washington post

My piece on the Fabulous Hubcaps takes over most of the front page of the Washington Post Style section today. The assignment called for 1,200 words. I wound up with nearly 13,000 transcribed words. So I think I undersold the piece. Coulda been a magazine feature, ’cause there was sooo much fascinating, fun, and relevant info that did not make the cut. I will say that I’m glad to be able to use the serial comma again. Also, when will publications stop putting a K in the abbreviation of microphone? It’s mic, not mike. Mike is a person.

But these are personal peeves and not aimed at any of the fine staffers and friends at the Post. Go, newspapers!