Archive for December, 2009

THE KIDNAPPING OF JIMI HENDRIX

December 31, 2009

Apparently plans are afoot to create a fictional drama about a curious chapter in the life of Jimi Hendrix – an incident which probably never happened, but detailed in a book written by Monika Dannemann, Hendrix’s girlfriend at the time of his death. In her book – amongst other controversial unsubstantiated claims she tells of Jimi being kidnapped by four gangsters in September 1969.

The kidnapping was apparently orchestrated by Jimi’s own manager, Mike Jeffries, who then sent three other men to “rescue” Jimi, all in an attempt to prove how indispensible he was, to keep Jimi from firing him as manager, which he had done on a previous occasion. The writer and director R H Greene of the proposed film admits there’s no definitive version of what actually took place, but says the story offers an opportunity to show Hendrix from “a unique place”. In Greene’s admitted fictional account of the events Hendrix ends up teaching one of the gangsters about honesty, and Hendrix learns to clean up his act. (Huh?)

Actual events really are worthy of a film adaptation, although all the truth will never be known.

A year after the “kidnapping” and two days before he died Jimi DID sack Jeffries. He was considering alternatives. When he first signed Hendrix to management Jeffries had encouraged Jimi to let his money be placed in off-shore accounts. Despite his subsequent success Hendrix was always broke. The suggestion is that Jeffries syphoned off the money and three years after Jimi’s death, he disappeared, reportedly killed in a mid-air collision over Nantes, France. Strangely too, in the hours after Hendrix’s death all the London apartments Jimi frequented were ransacked.

R H Greene might care also to look at a couple of other music “kidnappings” for potential film plots – like John ‘Nowhere Boy’ Lennon and wife Yoko Ono’s attempt to kidnap Yoko’s daughter Kyoko from her second marriage. John was husband number three. And there’s the kidnapping of Fats Waller in 1926 so he could entertain Al Capone for his birthday.

THE DEATH DEFYING ADVENTURES OF THE LAST RECORD COMPANY MAN

December 30, 2009

American music industry legend Clive Davis is a survivor. He’s just survived again, even though his latest high profile project, the much-heralded comeback album for Whitney Houston ‘I Look To You’ is a relative failure. The 77-year old’s contract as Chief Creative Officer with Sony Music was up earlier this month, but he’s re-signed.

The story is not that Davis is prepared to carry on at his advanced years. The story is that despite the desire of others to get rid of Davis and attempts to discredit him as “too old” for the modern music business he has again dodged all the bullets.

 He is, as has been said, the Last Record Company Man. For good reasons and bad.

Some of the big names associated with Clive Davis are there purely by association, by virtue of his executive position with record companies. He got lucky – or showed his initiative – in 1969 when he attended the Monterey Pop Festival to hang out with his friends Simon and Garfunkel and the Mamas And Papas, he saw Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company as well as singer-songwriter Laura Nyro and signed both to recording contracts, stealing them from smaller labels. History says what a good move that was, but to put it into perspective, Monterey was a landmark event anyway, the first important outdoor rock festival. Canned Heat was discovered and signed by Liberty Records during the same three days. The Who and Jimi Hendrix gained a foothold with American audiences following their performances at Monterey and became superstars as a direct result. SOMETHING was going to happen to Janis Joplin no matter what. After her first performance she and the band were persuaded to perform again the following night so they could be filmed by D. A. Pennebaker for his document of the event.

Anyhow, Janis and others, including Clive Davis, became music legends from that day forward.

His world came crashing down in 1973 when CBS Records sacked Davis for financial impropriety, accused of using company funds to bankroll his son’s bar mitzvah. He quickly bounced back by merging three labels and creating Arista Records, whose biggest star would be Whitney Houston.

A very “hands on” record executive now emerged in Clive Davis. From the moment he spotted Whitney on stage with her mother in a New York City nightclub he groomed her to success, spending more than a year finding songs for her debut album as “executive producer”, probably another (questionable) Clive Davis legacy to the recording industry. He added a clause to Whitney’s contract that if he ever left Arista she would go with him. In 2000 Arista Records DID oust Davis, not because of any scandal this time, but in the industry’s first attempt to sideline him. He responded by getting BMG records to finance the formation of J Records with $150 million dollars. He brought with him an Arista signing who’d been overlooked, Alicia Keys. But Clive Davis major “contributions” to J Records was the rejuvenation of the careers of Santana and Rod Stewart. Santana was another of Clive Davis’ early signings. Davis now put Carlos Santana into the studio with the big names of the day to make him “creditable” again, made him hugely successful, more than ever before, but in fact a sideshow and caricature of himself on his own records. Rod Stewart he turned into a jukebox for the songs of yesterday. More recently he’s tried the same “trick” with Harry Connick Jr.

In the meantime, in April 2008, once again there were backroom moves made against Clive Davis. He was replaced as as chairman and chief executive officer of the BMG label group by a younger man. J Records had been swallowed up in the meantime in corporate manoeuvres. Clive Davis was handed a “creative” role – read “go away gracefully old man”

But he just won’t take the hint.

MAINTAIN THE RAGE

December 27, 2009

X-Factor winner Joe McElderry has his English No.1 after all. The Facebook Rage Against the Machine campaign which successfully kept McElderry – more specifically his mentor Simon Cowell – from the coveted Christmas No.1 spot had done its work and its power is spent. So was it all a lot of noise about nothing in the end?

Not really. The fact that the campaign was mounted in the first place, and that it achieved its aim so spectacularly, is a symptom of a dissatisfaction with the music “industry”. Joe McElderry and Susan Boyle are not artists we’ll still be listening to in five, ten years time. A harsh assessment? The proof is in the history. Where are the X-Factor winners of the past now? – Steve Brookstein, Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Leon Jackson? Where are American Idol winners like Rubben Studdard, Fantasia, Taylor Hicks?

You might say that there’s lots of evidence in the past , throughout the history of popular music, of artists who shot to fame, and disappeared just as quickly. In fact, statistically the average hit single count an artist can expect in a career is just four. But, before the reality show fame machine generated artists the music industry has become addicted to, the focus was generally on artists who promised a career. No-one is interested in these new artists’ future. Maybe their managers and family, but not the record companies, not the media, obviously not even the fans who will find themselves drawn to the next fame-generated phenomena.

Five million copies of Susan Boyle’s CDs have been sold world-wide at the last count, in just five weeks. What was the last five million seller without a hit song?, with virtually no “airplay”? Boyle’s CD is being played in at least five million homes however, an album filled with familiarity. Is that the other big failure of the music business over the past decade or so, the failure to add to songs to the stockpile of familiarity? Leonard Cohen’s ‘Halllelujah’ aside, what are the “standards” of this recent era of music?

Maintain the rage.

ALTERNATE DREAM

December 24, 2009

Statistically Susan Boyle’s “I Dreamed A Dream’ is the album of 2009, but it is not the 2009 album we will take with us into the future, not the album which might influence what’s to come, the album which might take its place alongside the acknowledged all-time great albums – (in no particular order) ‘Blood On The Tracks’. ‘Revolver’, ‘Astral Weeks’, ‘OK Computer’, ‘The Doors’, ‘What’s Going On’, ‘London Calling’, ‘Nevermind’, ‘Born To Run’ ‘Music From Big Pink’ and so on and so on.

If the truth be known not much we’ve listened to this year HAS placed itself far up that list. The longer we go the harder it gets. Every time a new technology comes along – compact discs, digital audio files – we rediscover that old music all over again. But Susan Boyle’s isn’t THAT kind of record. It’s not a record that wants to reinvent anything, not a record that wants to be new, not a record that says anything about its time, intentionally or by existing . I’m sorry I keep railing against the poor woman, it’s not her fault, but there it is..

So what ARE the best albums of 2009? – the ones that HAVE made some kind of difference? I’m not here right now to give you my personal 2009 favourites. That’s not the point of the exercise. I’ve looked around and the albums that stand out with the people who are looking and listening for the best music around seem to have decided on (in no particular order) Animal Collective’s ultra-creative ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, Grizzly Bear’s textral ‘Veckamist’, the pop finesse of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘It’s Blitz’ and ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ from the danceable Phoenix. These seem to be the “best” albums of the year. They’re certainly not to most successful.

The most important album of the year could however be Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless’. There’s nothing truly groundbreaking about the record, flawless rather than fearless, but of all the albums made and released in 2009 this might be the one which most people will treasure for the rest of their lives, and the album which will place 2009 in their lifetime of memories.

‘I Dreamed A Dream’ will be remembered, but not like that.

I OF THE TIGER

December 22, 2009

Does exception talent override personal responsibility and moral principals?

The two biggest celebrity stories of 2009 were the apparent death-by-misadventure  of Michael Jackson and the “careerocide” of Tiger Woods. Neither ended up as they did on their own. Michael Jackson did not trawl the streets for a doctor who would do his bidding and step outside professional boundaries for a price. Someone else would have found Dr. Conrad Murray . Tiger Woods could not have maintained his sordid harem without someone in charge of his schedule or his finances knowing. What price does someone put on turning their back on their benefactor and allowing them to do what is “not right” generally or specifically?

Is it enough for someone to just be “good” at something – performing or playing golf – for them to be allowed to use their money, power and influence to break the rules? Michael Jackson and Tiger Wood have paid a price they didn’t foresee, but how many others are out there – entertainers, sportsmen, politicians – whose activities are shielded by walls of deceit? And should those walls suddenly, unexpectedly come down, what of the people who’ve stood by and done nothing to prevent potential tragedy?

VACANT POSSESSION

December 20, 2009

Aerosmith is actively seeking a singer to replace Steve Tyler. This has become now more than just Tyler temporarily flipping out and the band angry at him for forcing them to cancel gigs.

At first we were told he’d fallen off stage and needed time to recover. Then we were told that he’d actually fallen off the wagon in order to fall off the stage and was refusing to communicate with the band members saying he needed a two year break to work on “brand Tyler”. Then there was a ray of hope when Tyler turned up on stage with guitarist Joe Perry’s sideline band and reassured fans he wasn’t going anywhere. Last week however, Perry sacked his current management – separate from the band management (always a dangerous prospect) – and appointed new management (still separate from the band’s), who also happen to look after rivals Motley Crue.

Interestingly the new manager Allen Kovac had a legal standoff last year with his band’s singer and his separate management!

That brings you up to date, where Aerosmith are saying they’ll just find someone else, which might be like what Led Zeppelin were attempting last year. A bluff. There was talk of a Led Zep reunion. Big money was on the table. But Robert Plant was having too much fun working and touring with Allison Krauss to even think about it. So there were actual auditions for a replacement. A couple of singers – including Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy – actually tried out. John Paul Jones’ involvement with Them Crooked Vultures seemed to put an end to all of that.

Before Aerosmith admitted seriously looking, a couple of suggestions were made. Kid Rock and Lenny Kravitz both had to say they weren’t interested.

Meanwhile Velvet Revolver is STILL looking for a replacement for Scott Weiland who decided to go back to his old band Stone Temple Pilots, and apparently back to his old wayward ways. Lenny Kravitz was rumoured in that case too, as were Royston Langdon of Spacehog and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. After a year and a half, nothing yet. Is it THAT hard?

What all this does illustrate is what scene stealers singers can be in the make-up of a band. Because they sing they end of spokesperson and media focus. You’ll often hear the “I’m just one of the band” platitude, but it’s just not as simple as that. A singer can hold a band’s career to ransom -as we’ve been witnessing.

JUSTIFIED RAGE

December 19, 2009

I have to admit that I’m enjoying Simon Cowell’s growing discomfort about the campaign to hoist Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ into the coveted UK Christmas No.1 spot over the latest Cowell Machine product, Joe McElderry of X-Factor fame.

Cowell had every reason to believe he “owned” the No.1 spot, having grabbed it last year with Alexandra Burke’s version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. At first Cowell laughed off the challenge to his latest bid for the top. Then he arrogantly said that he was doing everyone a favour by staking his claim on the Christmas No.1 spot. Now, as the campaign hots up and might just get Rage Against The Machine over the line, the focus is being shifted and we’re told that this is being cruel to Joe McElderry.

As if Simon Cowell ever cared! Hasn’t he made cruelty his shtick? I’m enjoying HIM feeling the heat for once.

As I’ve said before, Cowell and Simon Fuller have a lot to answer for. They’ve made a lot of money finding and promoting artists “the machine” may not have discovered. But those artists have been signed to dead end contracts. Cowell and Fuller are manufacturing fame not music, and the music industry has been bullied into submission.

 The rage is justified.

HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER)

December 18, 2009

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke showed up at the last minute at the climate talks in Copenhagen to see for himself what’s happening. Good on him, but gone are the days when “pop” stars are players on the political stage.

 If John McCain had managed to keep the Republicans in power there’s no-one the CIA would be told to keep in check – as Richard Nixon did with John Lennon. He was very mistaken of course. The counter revolutionaries might have paled up with Lennon, but despite ‘Power To The People’ and the ‘War Is Over’ posters, John was NOT an activist. His contribution was lip-service, but at lease he tried, or more accurately he felt that he HAD to try for the sake of his place in the cultural make-up of the times.

 U2’s Bono is one contemporary rock star who tries to exert influence. But probably not since ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ – I stand to be corrected if need be – has Bono been moved to say something politically contentious in song. His band’s not into it, so you have to accept that he’s part of another kind of democracy and been outvoted.

 Looking back we have to lament the fact that music was not instrumental in the fight against the Iraq Invasion and despite anti-Bush music from REM and Pearl Jam’s actions Bush was re-elected.

 Where has music potency gone? It lives on in repressed cultures, but as far as Western popular music is concerned the fist waving is just theatre.

I GOTTA (BAD) FEELING

December 17, 2009

Out of the frying pan? Earlier this month singer/songwriter Kelis, former wife of Nas, announced a new recording contract with Interscope via Will I Am Music. Famous for her 2003 single, “Milkshake,” she was reportedly dropped by Jive Records in late 2007. Having also secured nearly $44,000 in monthly support from Nas for their son, Kelis would have been looking forward to 2010.

But a week is a long time in music. Will I Am Music might be one of “corporate entities” which have been “suspended” by the Franchise Tax Board in Los Angeles for failing to file tax returns. The Black Eyed Peas themselves are not named in court documents but it hasn’t been hard to join the dots after the group’s business manager Sean Michael Larkin was accused of failure to file ANY federal and state tax returns for the group.

 This is all according to the legal filing by Helen Yu, an attorney for several members of the group. Yu was responding to a lawsuit filed last week by Larkin, who accused her of attempting to destroy his reputation as part of a $US 5 million defamation claim.

Suddenly, after an incredible history-making year, the Black Eyed Peas’ career has become awfully messy and complicated.

I DREAMED A DREAM TOO

December 16, 2009

OK I’ll admit it. I come from that Sixties era of music when popular music was more than just entertainment. It was – or could be if you wanted it to be – a cultural thing. Art even. The voice, or soundtrack of a generation, music made while building a better world than the one our parents handed over in the aftermath of World War II.

But we lied. We lied to ourselves, and we let the next generation – our children – down. We didn’t build a better world. We didn’t end wars or poverty. We stopped dreaming about what was “out there” and instead of investing in space programs we made more weapons and more atmosphere-polluting products. We sold our principles out to the almighty dollar.

 When we look back on the music of the 2000s, there’s a lot to be enjoyed, creativity to be admired, but culturally not a lot to be proud of. Rap music has undeniably been the soundtrack to violence and chauvinism. Pop music has contributed significantly to the sexualisation of children. I’m not looking back at the past with rose-coloured glasses. I’m looking at the present with sadness .

I want to hear music that inspires thought. I want to follow music “stars” who are decent human beings and use music to express that. I know it’s there, but we’ve shoved that aside for the few to indulge in while the majority applauds gaudy mindlessness – music NOT to think to. Maybe that’s it. Music STILL expresses its time.