Music Makes My World Go ‘Round

Sitting with my brother at Damian Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock tour about six years ago at the Electric Factory,sipping on Mount Gay and pineapple, I was suddenly transported to a different era. Damian launched into his own rendition of “Exodus”, and for a moment it was if the legendary reggae performer (and one of my all-time favorites) was on stage. He sounded exactly like his father, Bob. In that moment I decided I would be traveling down to Baltimore the next night to keep this feeling going. Music moves me like that.

Since 1975 I have been to an average of 40-50 shows a year. I just can’t stop chasing the buzz. Almost 35 years have passed, but Pink Floyd’s The Animals Tour at the Spectrum is still number one on my list.

It was the summer of 1977. I was going into 10th grade and it was quite a carefree time. For the first time ever my mother didn’t make me go to camp, so I was on my own. I would meet my friend Betsy most mornings at General Wayne Park where we smoked cigarettes and hung out counting down the days until the show. Dark Side of the Moon had been on the charts for years and Wish you Were Here was constantly on my turntable. With the release of Animals, I couldn’t have been more excited. The show was simply amazing. It was one of the first to use a video screen, but most people only remember the giant pig that floated overhead throughout the show. I floated too.

The Pink Floyd Spectrum concert in the summer of  ’77 featured a giant floating pig – See if you can spot the one on this album cover.

Image of recent flying Pink Floyd Pig

Image of more recent flying Pink Floyd Pig

Later that summer my brother and I went down to Miami to stay with my father as we did every summer. AC/DC was playing at the Hollywood Sportatorium, a convenient 10 minutes from dad’s place. Not so convenient was the fact that unless I agreed to bring my younger brother along, the show would be a no go. Chris, who wasn’t quite 11, was not interested at all. After days of bribing him he finally gave in. Years later when his friends were just discovering AC/DC, he would brag about how he saw the band in Miami when Bon Scott was still alive. I can still see Scott sitting on Angus Young’s shoulders galloping through the arena and into the crowd. My heart raced.

And then it broke.

In 1982 JFK Stadium held a multi-billed concert like never before: Santana, The Clash, with local band The Hooters opening, and The Who in what was billed as their “farewell” tour. Today we call them “music fests” with a corporate nametag. Although I was a big fan of Santana and The Who, I came to see The Clash. They had recently gone mainstream thanks to MTV and the video for “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” I wanted to see if they still had their punk edge. They ended up getting booed off the stage. Philly fans can be as tough on their music as they are on their sports teams. Still, every time I hear “This Is Radio Clash” or “The Magnificent Seven,” my soul stirs.

My son Cody has inherited much of this same passion for music. And while I still chase the buzz, I sometimes let him lead. It was Cody who urged me to get tickets for Damian Marley & NAS at the House of Blues in the summer of 2009. A great show made even more special because NAS would announce that he and Damian were in the studio and set to release a joint album together. We were overcome with anticipation.

In November 2010 the magic struck again. This time it was Roger Waters and The Wall tour at the Wachovia. Just minutes into the first song I knew I would have to go back and bring my kids. Sadly Cody couldn’t go (due to a wrestling meet, his other passion) and I had to talk my daughter Julia into coming. She too became immediately transfixed, so much so that she didn’t hear me mention the spring tour in Italy. Like I said, music moves me.

This blog post originally appeared in the Ardmore-Merion-Wynnewood Patch….

Do you remember your first time?

My son texted me the other day and asked how I discovered the group Portishead.

Beth Gibbons of Portishead

Beth Gibbons of Portishead

It got me thinking about the first time I’d heard a particular song, remembering exactly where I was and what I was doing. His mother and I were in the car, driving to the city for dinner at Dmitri’s, and about to turn onto West River Drive when I heard “Sour Times” for the first time.

That night a DJ saved my life—or at least enhanced it. The haunting vocals of Beth Gibbons, backed by multi-instrumentalists Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley, were at the forefront of creating a new genre of music called trip hop that would captivate me for the next half dozen years.

There was the first in an art gallery.

I discovered Morcheeba in 1996 at the Owen Patrick Gallery in Manayunk and was immediately smitten. I asked the owner who it was. Main Street Music was only a couple of blocks away and I was able to fulfill the urge immediately. I caught their first U.S. show at the TLA a few months later and wasn’t disappointed: the Godfrey brothers (DJ Paul Godfrey and multi-instrumentalist Ross Godfrey) teamed with vocalist Skye Edwards, blending trip hop, rock, R&B, and pop to create their own blend of hypnotic sounds. Their self-titled debut is one of my favorite records of the mid ’90’s.

Then there are the ones you pick up in a bar. In July of 2002 I was in Ottawa, Canada, walking towards a string of outdoor bars, when I heard the luxurious intro to the O’Jays “Backstabbers,” and decided that this was where I would be drinking my Canadian beer that day. To my surprise, it wasn’t the O’Jays at all, but it was one hell of a Sound-of-Philly sample. The bartender informed me that it was Angie Stone’s “Wish I Didn’t Miss You.” Her sultry voice and some very personal lyrics make this one of the most-played songs in my music library. Definitely not a one-night stand.

And sometimes a first time happens while you’re watching TV. This time it wasn’t a DJ or a bartender who hooked me up—the Internet had come of age.

On August 12, 2007, I was sitting in my living room watching an episode of Entourage and about to fall asleep. As the show reached its conclusion, I heard a killer instrumental that worked like caffeine and sent me on a 90-minute hunt to find out what it was. Ironically, after all my searching, I realized I already owned the CD. Initially I went through my iTunes library and played all 150 Cat Power songs, but it wasn’t there.

Cat Power - Credit: Wikipedia

Cat Power – Credit: Wikipedia

I was sure I heard her voice. So I Googled Cat Power and found out that she had teamed up with Prince Paul, producer of De La Soul and Handsome Boy Modeling School. He also performed on the latter. It had been a recent purchase for me, but only because of a collaboration with Barrington Levy; I never made it past his song. If I had, I would have noticed the Cat Power track that was on the same CD: “I’ve Been Thinking.”

Sometimes what you’re looking for is right in front of you.

All of my firsts are special. It’s that combination of newness and discovery that gets your heart beating in time with the tune. And eventually they all become part of the classics you love, but you never forget the moment their rhythm first met your ear.


This blog post originally appeared in the Ardmore-Merion-Wynnewood Patch….


When You’re Right You’re Right.

When you’re right you’re right.

I love being right; then again who doesn’t. Although this is more about a gut feeling and an instinct than being right. Even though I was.

It was a beautiful late spring night, so my girlfriend and I decided to go out to eat; the mandate was to dine outside. I didn’t want to go to Center City, as we’d been there two days in a row. I wanted something closer.

Manayunk’s Bourbon Blue

Our travels brought us to Manayunk. We hadn’t been since last summer. As I turned onto Main Street I saw a new outdoor cigar bar/lounge. I made a mental note to stop in on the way back home. We ended up at Bourbon Blue. After a dozen or so oysters and some paella, I had one thing on my mind, and it wasn’t healthy.

After that quick stop on the way home, I found out that the place had been there for about a year, but would only be open this evening for another hour or so. My time was limited, maybe just enough to run home for a Bolivar torpedo and my portable Bose system. When I told Jenna of my plan, she replied, “Just let them relax. They don’t want to listen to your music.” Having been a DJ in another life, I sized up the crowd immediately, knowing what they would want to hear. I guaranteed her that if I was able to play 20 songs before they closed, each one would be met with applause. Her look simply said, “Whatever.”

We sped home, I grabbed my cigar, a cutter, a bottle of sake (did I mention it was a BYOB?), my system, and we were headed back to Manayunk.  We parked next door and walked the 35 feet to the bar. I wanted to surprise the patrons so I tucked the Bose under my arm wrapped in my jacket. There were no longer any tables available, but a nice guy sitting by himself asked us to join him.

As soon I sat down, I put the portable sound system on the table and hooked the iPod to it. The gentleman that invited us to sit asked if I had any R&B. I chose the latest playlist I made that week which included “Good Man,” the stellar track from Raphael Saadiq’s new album, Stone Rollin, but first I wanted to introduce them to something I was sure they would like: K-OS and his nod to old school R&B, “The Rain.”

From the opening piano solo at 9 p.m. until the 10:30 last call, I watched as they all grooved to the beat and looked my way, acknowledging one selection after another. It was a great way to end the evening: smoking a fabulous cigar, drinking some sake, energizing a crowd of strangers that soon would become friends, and, of course, being right.

This blog post originally appeared in the Ardmore-Merion-Wynnewood Patch….

‪John Coltrane: Blue Train‬‏

John Coltrane’s ‪Blue Train‬‏ – YouTube.