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Kennedy-Leever Blues Project 

June 2018 - Me on the left with the Kennedy-Leever Blues Project (middle: Trent Kennedy, right: John Leever)

I recently played a show with a really good friend of mine, John Leever. I've known John ever since he was my sales rep for Acme (a t-shirt company) back in the 1990s when I used to run record stores. Oh, those were the days! Before that John used to work for Festival Records which among his jobs was picking up international touring artists from the airport. He would pick them up, feed them and generally look after them. What a great job.

I hadn't seen him since the record shop days until I saw an advertisement in Beat Magazine (a local music press rag in Melbourne). I spoke to this guy on the phone as I was looking for a back up vocalist/guitarist. The man at the end of the phone had this strangely familiar New York accent which I knew so well. I said, "is this John Leever?" He responded..."yes!" What are the chances that we would hook up again without trying? Anyway that was in 2002 when I was launching my debut album with The Methinks.

John was born and grew up in the U.S. Every time I talk to him he tells me more amazing stories from back in the day. One was that he was actually in the audience for George Harrison's Concert For Bangladesh in 1971. Apparently, the  Indian sitar master, Ravi Shankar, told John off for smoking! It's probably on the video. What a gig that would have been...George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Ringo, Jim Keltner and three members of Badfinger; Pete Ham, Tom Evans, and Joey Molland.

 

Muddy Roger at the Grocery Bar in St Kilda circa 2010 (left: Terence Richardson, middle: John Leever, right: Victor Stranges)

John and I have played many shows together. We had a stint in the early days at the Muse Bar in St Kilda East, a few other venues as well as John's own cafe/venue, The Grocery Bar in St Kilda. We have shared many wonderful memories and jam sessions under the name Muddy Roger, which included many other talented musicians. You see, John loves people and music...and he just loves to play as much as possible. So long as we have a good time, everything else is just detail. Our shtick was blues/soul/rock 'n' roll based and it's backed by great songs from the best including Muddy Waters, Leiber and Stoller, Tom Waits, Neil Young, Alex Chilton, Gerry Goffin, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Van Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. So much fun.

I had taken a break from performing and just recently John invited me to play with his new duo, the Kennedy-Leever Blues Project. John has a knack for discovering talent and he found one in the guitarist that he now plays with, Trent Kennedy. He is one amazing blues lead guitar player and he is self taught. We played a show a few weeks ago at the Elwood Lounge and it was great to get back to performing. We all had turns at singing and playing different instruments which was a real treat. We sprinkled the sets with some of mine and John's original material. John is a very talented songwriter. A couple that come to mind are Come Back To Me In The Spring and Fire And Ice. Hopefully they will get a good going over in the recording studio one of these days. Looking forward to our next jam.

Not Fade Away - Patti Smith in Melbourne (Australia), 1997 

It was probably the best rock 'n' roll show I had ever seen. I like not having expectations before a gig. I like being surprised. This was before You Tube and streaming videos on the internet gave us access to whatever we wanted to see. Sure we had MP3s online but I was a CD aficionado. It was my job as well. Managing record stores was what I did and I eagerly listened to customer recommendations and studied Mojo, Vox and Q magazines They were certainly a lot better than Rolling Stone who had succumbed to inane cover shots of Spice Girls, Salt 'N' Pepa and Brad Pitt. Actually some of the record company reps were a really good source of good music. Although they had a job to do, a lot of them were secretly music fans, and not just record company mouthpieces. 

1997 was a time of discovery and appreciation of re-issues but if you wanted to see live footage, you had to go to the show or buy a video cassette. So when I heard Patti Smith was playing at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne, I thought.....hmm. Should I go? I only had her 1975 album, Horses, which I had bought several years earlier from this cool little record store in Dandenong, of all places. It was such a good store. I even bought a Bo Diiddley t-shirt there. I mean who in Dandenong sells Bo Diddley t-shirts? I wish I can remember the name of the store. They certainly were brave. It probably only lasted six or twelve months in the early 1990s. 

So back to Patti at the Palais. I had second row seats. My memory is really vague now and I wish I had written an account of the night because it was life-changing. What I remember was the spirit of the show and how it progressively got better and better and better with each song. By the time she came to her last few songs she had stripped to a crumpled t-shirt and was barefoot. It's really hard to explain but she seemed dangerous and I was quite taken at how she encouraged the audience to get out of their seats. I don't know what it was but her conviction was absolute and she seemed to have some sort of authority while she was on stage; a power. I didn't know what it was but I think she mentioned the passing of her late husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, who had died a couple of years earlier. I also knew what it was like to lose someone when my father passed away in 1989. That understanding combined with the rock 'n' roll spirit of sticking it to the man and being of independent thought really resonated with me. She didn't say those words but I suppose it's her humanity and the fact that you can't pidgeon hole Patti Smith that attracted me to her art. I was deeply moved.

I was very familiar with the career and life of Buddy Holly and it was a nice surprise to hear Patti close with "Not Fade Away." It segued into "Rock 'n' Roll Nigger" then "Gloria." She jumped off stage and ran into the audience to beckon a real connection with everybody there, including me. Those moments I will never forget. I'm not sure what Patti was like in 1975 at CBGBs in NYC because I was only five at the time. It was 1997 and it was a glorious moment.

I was reminded of her greatness a few years later when a friend at a record store encouraged me to buy her 2000 album, Gung Ho. I love that record. I have quietly followed her and admired her in increasing increments. Last year I purchased her most recent work, Banga which is a beautiful record and a glimpse into the heart and mind of a wonderful artist. You know you really like someone's songs when as a songwriter yourself, you wish you had written them. Banga has several. It is my favourite album of hers (so far) and worthy of your time if you are looking for something interesting to listen to. I recently bought a heap of her previous albums which are packaged at a low price on CD. I think it was $20 for 5 albums. That's insane. I'm looking forward to hearing more from the great Patti Smith.    

Some links for you:

The set list from Patti Smith - 24 January 1997, The Palais, Melbourne, Australia (original source)

Piss Factory, Dead City, Radio Ethiopia, Dancing Barefoot, Ghost Dance, Beneath the Southern Cross, Wing*, Wicked Messenger, Kimberly, About a Boy, Because the Night, Summer Cannibals, Ain’t it Strange, People Have the Power (spoken)/Gone Again, Wild Leaves, Not Fade Away, Rock n Roll Nigger/Gloria

Note: * with guest Kerryn Tollhurst on guitar.

"Patti Smith at the Palais, 24 January", by Richard Plunkett, The Age, January 28, 1997


 

Ballad Of El Goodo 

I first heard of Big Star when I was going through an R.E.M. phase in the 1980s. I think I heard Michael Stipe (or maybe it was Peter Buck?) mention them in an interview. I forgot all about them for a few years. In 1992 I did some travelling in Europe and Canada for a few months and I got back to Melbourne and somehow landed a job in a record store, though it was mainly CDs by then - and maybe some cassettes if I recall correctly.

There was no internet back in the day so I had to manually look up album releases in the "Platterlog" which is kind of like a bible of all album and single releases available in Australia. It was by no means exhaustive and there was a much bigger version for international releases but it was hard ordering those titles as there were very few distributors for them. If you ordered something you sometimes had to wait six months only to be told it was still on back order or possibly deleted. Those were the days that made music exciting. You didn't have the convenience so the absence (of the album until it came in) made the heart grow fonder.

I think it was Festival Records that occasionally reissued relatively obscure albums back then and I was thrilled to see that the first two Big Star albums, # 1 Record" and "Radio City" were available to buy on one CD. Of course I bought it. I couldn't believe it was available. In the years to come I went through a bit of a spiritual journey after my father passed away and the songs started to jump out at me. Were they talking about God in the lyrics? Did he mention Jesus? Wow. How could a seemingly cool band talk about religion? It was a real inspiration because I thought rock ‘n’ roll and spirituality didn’t mix. All of a sudden I had some pretty decent music piercing my soul in a way that I never experienced.

I’m not sure about Alex Chilton and Chris Bell’s exact stance on things not of this world but it seemed to be a common theme in their writing. Even when the lyrics weren't overtly religious, there was a sense of a higher ground to aspire to such as in the song My Life Is Right. I always thought it was about God but it's probably about a girl. Unfortunately Chris Bell died in a car accident in 1978 and Alex Chilton passed away three years ago yesterday. But thankfully music is forever.

Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3 

In 1979, Ian Dury & The Blockheads released the single, Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3. It's a virtual list of er.... reasons to be cheerful. According to Ian Dury, the inspiration for the song came when one of his road crew was involved in a near electrocution in Italy while leaning over a mixing desk in Italy. Perhaps a moment of clarity for Dury? Maybe he was thankful that another roadie saved his friend from being electrocuted. There is a line in the actual song, "no electric shocks" which most likely pays tribute to the incident. It's good to be thankful and I usually am.

The spirit of this blog is unchartered territory but it's my first serious attempt to speak from the heart, without all the dripping practised sincerity (I hope). Sure, there's going to be a lot of reasons to be cheerful. Maybe some music appreciation apologetics, observations about art, film, TV, etc. And maybe some reasons not to be so cheerful too, like the state of the world, its ills and ailments (though I am an optomist at heart). I am not beholden to any man or corporation so I'll call things as I see them. I encourage you to do the same and think for yourself.

Here is the video of the song I mentioned. I wish they had a HD version of it on You Tube. Oh well. This will do.