What I say about ‘Danny (Fields) Says’

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I’m very happy that Danny Says, a documentary on the life and times of Danny Fields that’s been in production for the last couple years, is finally coming out via Magnolia Pictures on Sept. 30. Based on attending an early screening, I can say it’s very good.

But it’s also missing my four hours of interviews-two of me, two of Seymour Stein that I did, though at least Seymour does get a few onscreen seconds. As the director has the tapes, I don’t know what I said verbatim. But I did say a few important things about Danny that no one else said-neither Seymour nor the stellar likes of Iggy Pop, Judy Collins, Jonathan Richman and Alice Cooper–so I’ll try to recapture them here the best I can.

I definitely recall my main point about Danny Fields, since it’s one I often use when I speak about him–which is often–and that is, there’s no telling what music of the last 50 years–from the mid-1960s on to this day–would be like without him. I mean, this guy had a hand in nearly every key music development post-Beatles–and even had a hand in The Beatles, too.

Indeed, Danny “is an expert arbiter of culture–music being his main focus,” Timothy Young, curator of modern books and manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, told me a couple years ago when I wrote about the library’s acquisition of truckloads of Danny’s papers–along with his vast collection of interviews and photographs, audio and video tapes, films and memorabilia.

“But we have to keep in mind that he has been writing all of his life. His articles for 16 Magazine deserve a close reading for how they promoted and shaped youth culture in the 1960s and 1970s. His several books detailing the lives of his friends–Linda McCartney, [Andy Warhol’s Bad star] Cyrinda Foxe–were the result of an amazing amount of research. His role in creating, promoting, and managing the public personas of The Ramones–one of the most influential rock groups of the 20th century–is a case study in how music culture operates.”

Yes, Danny discovered and managed The Ramones, for which he remains best-known to most people, probably. But long before that the Phi Beta Kappa Harvard law school dropout was deeply embedded in Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory scene in New York (he wrote the liner notes for the Velvet Underground’s Live At Max’s Kansas City and lived with Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick) prior to becoming publicity director at Elektra Records, where he worked with acts like The Doors, Nico and Judy Collins and managed The Stooges and MC5. He also worked with artists including Cream, Lou Reed and Rufus Wainwright, and if you ever get the chance to stroll through his West Village apartment hallway you’ll see a wall lined with his photos of a young Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Divine and many of the aforementioned.

And as Young noted, Danny played a not insignificant role in Beatles history—aside from being a close friend of Linda McCartney. He’s the one who published John Lennon’s infamous “We’re more popular than Jesus” quote (in the August, 1966 issue of Datebook).

Danny Says, of course, takes its name from the Ramones song on the band’s landmark Phil Spector-produced End of the Century album. But Danny is a true Renaissance man, with interests far beyond pop music.

“It’s odd to go from Shakespeare folios and 18th Century prayer books to posters of Dee Dee Ramone!” he told me, and now I’ll tell you what I’m sure I said in my interview: Danny can go from Shakespeare folios and 18th Century prayer books to posters of Dee Dee Ramone–and just about anything cultural, historical and intellectual you can think of. He and I actually go to the opera together, which is great for me on two counts: Not only do I get to spend quality time with him, but he actually knows opera and can explain to me what we’re seeing.

Of course, my close friendship with Danny Fields isn’t based on opera, but even though I wrote the first book on The Ramones (Ramones—An American Band) and thanked him in it and interviewed him at length, it isn’t based on The Ramones or punk rock, either—though I obviously knew his name from both.

No, when I first met Danny Fields—and I was so thrilled to meet him, knowing full well who he was—it was in, of all places, Nashville. To be precise, it was at a Warner Bros. Records party at some country club during what was then called CMA Week, in reference to the week of performing rights society banquets and other celebrations culminating with the Country Music Association Awards. Must have been 1984, because I was full-time at Cash Box magazine as retail editor, in New York only a year or two and hadn’t managed to break in as a freelancer anywhere—until that fateful night.

Two things stand out, over 30 years later. First, Conway Twitty was there! Second, so was Danny Fields! But what on earth was Danny doing at a country music event in Nashville?

What I didn’t know was that Danny, who was no longer managing The Ramones, was now editing a country music magazine called Country Rhythms—having famously edited 16 Magazine–and was starting up a magazine to capitalize on the new MTV craze, Rock Video. I was an avid MTV viewer at the time, but was ambivalent about the quality of rock videos–though extremely opinionated. So when Danny said he was starting up a magazine called Rock Video, I practically begged him to let me write for it, specifically, review rock videos.

He asked how I got to the party and I told him I drove there in a rental car. He said if I gave him a ride back to his hotel—and got him back safely—I could write for him and Rock Video.

Thank you, Avis.

I’m pretty sure I was the first writer to review rock videos. And Danny let me contribute to Country Rhythms, too, country music being, ironically, what brought us together in the first place.

So not only do I not know what popular music would be like without Danny Fields, I don’t know what my career writing about it would be like. And I’m absolutely sure I’m not the only writer who would say that, let alone musician, let alone Yale library curator.

“He teaches me something every time we meet,” said Young, “and I’m glad to have his papers here at Beinecke with those of Gertrude Stein, Thornton Wilder, Robert Giard, Richard Neville, Ezra Pound and other talents who reshaped the way we see, read, and hear the world.”

Concert Highlights–The Fab Faux at City Winery, 12/28/15

“We’ve been doing this since 1998 and we’re still trying to get it right,” said Will Lee early in the Monday night Book of Paul show at City Winery, which followed Sunday’s opening night’s Book of John and preceded Tuesday night’s Book of Harrison, Wednesday’s Rubber Soul album in its entirety, and New Year’s Eve’s early show of The Beatles at Shea Stadium and late show of mixed Beatles favorites.

After what, 17 years of doing this?, the Fauxs constantly come up with ways to make it fresh. Then again, as anyone who was with me in streaming Beatles albums over Christmas–when they first became available for streaming, finally!—The Beatles always sound fresh, and there’s always something new to learn from listening for the millionth-plus time.

Jimmy Vivino once likened listening to The Beatles to archaeological science, saying something to the effect that there’s always more to learn, always more “information” becoming available. That explains how Fab Faux somehow keep sounding better and better—that, of course, and the fact that they’re some of the top players in the world, who have studied The Beatles catalog like it was the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A few from a full evening of highlights from Monday’s show:

“Paperback Writer” replicated the Beatles’ great layered harmonies, and after an outstanding guitar break from Vivino in which he even threw in a guitar bit-—maybe even the backward solo from the 1966 two-sided single’s flip “Rain”–Lee asked the sold-out audience, “Don’t you just love the versatility, the dependability?”

Indeed, I was thinking the exact same thing. Every time I see Vivino–and I’ve been seeing him in differnt groupings for decades–I’m even more astounded by his versatility and dependability.

“Blackbird” had Lee and electric guitarist Frank Agnello switching to acoustic guitar, drummer Rich Pagano clicking sticks, and keyboardist Jack Petruzzelli coming out dancing and blowing into a bird whistle–with Pagano also whistling along. And when Agnello sang “We Can Work It Out,” I remembered that it really was a McCartney/Beatles song and not Valerie Simpson’s—since she’s made it her own in closing out Thursday Night’s Open Mic events at the Sugar Bar with her own touching take on it.

For “Yesterday,” Lee and Vivino both played keyboards. Petruzzelli wailed so hard on “Oh! Darling” that everyone in the room was on their feet, same with “Get Back,” so thoroughly researched by the Faux that both the lead guitar and piano parts sounded right off the record player–the only difference being vocalist Vivino’s brief cuts to “All Right Now,” “Satisfaction” and “I Can See for Miles” while Lee traipsed around the room while playing bass, returning to the stage in the nick of time for Vivino to get back to “Get Back.”

Lee, by the way, always astounds with his singing, since you never got to hear much of it when he was on Letterman. But as he related after the show (and Valerie Simpson avouched the next night at the Sugar Bar, where Lee’s Letterman band mate Felicia Collins held court), he sang on tons of jingles back in the day (as did Val), including Stroh’s Beer. And while Vivino acquitted himself very well on McCartney fare, he got the night’s biggest laugh by confessing that he always favored Lennon, who was “much closer to the Italian guys we like—Dion and Elvis Presley.”

Incidentally, though he’s not tributed with his own special night during this run, Ringo has been given the encores, Monday night’s being “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “I Wanna Be Your Man.”

But really, it was the show’s opening song that renewed my appreciation for Paul McCartney, as I’ve never forgotten the thrill of opening the White Album in 1968 and putting on Side One of the first disc and hearing, for the first time, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” Even now I think it’s the most revolutionary song in rock ‘n’ roll history, matched maybe by “God Save the Queen.”

When I got home I went straight to Wikipedia. Sure enough, it said how The Beatles had been “officially derided in the USSR as the ‘belch of Western culture,’” while at the same time “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was seen in the U.S. as pro-Soviet, particularly by anti-communist groups.

“It was a mystical land then,” McCartney said when he arrived in Russia to perform in 2003. “It’s nice to see the reality. I always suspected that people had big hearts. Now I know that’s true.”

Even in the darkest days of The Cold War, that’s how I figured it. Sure enough, in the mid-‘80s I met some Russian TASS correspondents based in New York who have remained lifelong friends.

And no surprise, they loved The Beatles as much as we did.

Reflections on Nick Ashford–Part 13

I’ve been thinking about Nick a lot lately, but then again, it’s that time of year.

It was a month or so ago when Darlene Love played B.B. King’s and did her wonderful tribute to Marvin Gaye, whom she’d sung behind back in the day. Two of the songs are classic Ashford & Simpson compositions: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need to Get By,” the latter featuring one of my all-time fave A&S couplets in “There’s no looking back for us/We got love sure ‘nough, that’s enough.”

Sure ‘nough, that’s enough.

Shit.

Why can’t I write something so complete?

Full context:

I will go where you lead
Always there in time of need
And when I lose my will
You’ll be there to push me up the hill
There’s no, no looking back for us
We got love sure ‘nough, that’s enough
You’re all, you’re all I need to get by

Compounding it all, Dionne Warwick was there. Reminded me how Nick and Val had hosted a party for her at the Sugar Bar years ago, for an album release. I don’t remember the year, but I remember the day, December 8. I brought my friend Beefy—the legendary Troy Charmell of Dr. Bop & the Headliners, who always loves going to the Sugar Bar, and then we made our annual Dec. 8 walk over to nearby Strawberry Fields to observe with joy and song the death day of John Lennon, who gave us the Nick-like “All You Need is Love.”

And now I’m in the air nearing L.A. and get an invite to the Sugar Bar to attend a showcase Aug. 22 for Lili K, described by her publicist—who knows how I love the Sugar Bar—as “Chicago’s jazz infused ‘throwback soul’ songstress.”

August 22. A date like December 8, the day Nick died, in 2011. Ironically, on that day four years ago I was flying back from L.A., and upon landing, headed directly from Kennedy to Nick and Val’s house, in shorts and t-shirt carrying my bags. Such a sad occasion, yet even then, somehow full of the joy and song and life that was Nick then and now.

And on this Aug. 22—Saturday night—it’s the annual Bessman Bash—a wonderful backyard party thrown by my pal Bob Merlis at his house in Larchmont. There will be plenty of great people and music and fun, as it always was at the Sugar Bar, whenever Nick was there. Or anywhere that Nick was.

Nick will be there, of course. As he always is.

Here he is, in one of his last performances, singing, with Val, “You’re All I Need to Get By”:

Concert Highlights: Jane Siberry, 11/18/14

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No, Jane. I didn’t mean, when I said it was like seeing you for the first time—30-plus years ago—that you aren’t any different now. What I meant is that your new band show is as spellbinding as the first one in terms of presentation—and music, of course.

At least, I think that’s what I meant, now that I think about it: That incredible show at The Bottom Line, when you came out with a band and the two female backup singers, and the three of you had those microphones that you wear around your head so you can move around. To this day it was one of the most memorable shows I ever saw.

Anyway, I told this to Jane Siberry in the Green Room after her hour-long show at the East Side apartment of prominent, if not notorious, New York criminal defense attorney Gerald Shargel. Said Green Room was really an office/study lined with incredible photos of Che Guevara, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Joan and Martin Luther King, and the like. Also framed on one end of the room was the famous Milton Glaser psychedelic poster that was included in the 1967 Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits album, which I used to have tacked up in my bedroom, you know, the one with the multi-colored hair on the black silhouette.

Framed on the other end were the somewhat famous—if you’re a New Yorker–New York Post front pages of secretly taped John Gotti quotes railing against his defense attorneys, of which Gerry—and I hope it’s okay to call him Gerry, since we’re all Friends of Jane–was one. Presumably, Gerry never turned the Teflon Don on to Jane.

But Gerry had previously turned on a number of his friends to Jane and other highest quality music acts by holding these “salon” concerts at his home. This was Jane’s second appearance, and she remembered one of the 25 listeners in the living room from her first one a couple years ago, and that legendary New York columnist Jimmy Breslin had been there as well.

She came out with longtime collaborator/bandleader/pianist/composer Peter Kiesewalter, cellist Kevin Fox, and backup singers Ali Hughes—who met Jane in her native Australia when Jane did a salon there—and Rebecca Jenkins, like everyone else, a Canadian—whom I saw with Jane that first time at the Bottom Line.

There! That’s what I meant about how it was like seeing you for the first time! Even though all the music was different—but just as great!

Gerry introduced Jane by noting that her biggest album, When I Was a Boy, which includes her most famous song “Calling All Angels,” was one of his Desert Island Discs. I told him later that I’m thanked on that album next to John Lennon. I also told him that I always say how when you think of John Lennon, of course, you immediately think of Jim Bessman, but in all honesty, I’ve never said that to May Pang.

Jane started by saying how her job was to make us all forget, the best we could, what we were thinking about for 60 minutes. She began with “All we like sheep have gone astray” from Handel’s Messiah, this salon being a preview of her upcoming Holiday Hoes and Hosers tour—though Jane explained that it’s really simply about garden tools. She also pointed out that in Handel’s case, the entire Messiah was written two weeks prior to its first performance in a pub—with people likely calling out for beer by the time they got to the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

“That’s the way I like things to be—real,” she said, and real it was in Gerry’s living room, where Christmas came early. Other seasonal songs included “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which she released on her 2003 album Shushan the Palace (Hymns of Earth), and a personal favorite, “Hockey,” from 1989’s Bound by the Beauty, in which Jenkins jingled a tambourine, and Hughes hit a block to the lyric “You skate as fast as you can ’til you hit the snowbank–that’s how you stop.”

“People from Canada and cold climates really fly into it,” Jane said of the song. I’m from Wisconsin.

She also sang When I Was a Boy’s ethereal “Love is Everything,” so beautiful with Kiesewalter’s piano backing, and a few songs from her upcoming album Consider the Lilies, a single-CD summary of her three-album trilogy Dragon Dreams (2008), With What Shall I Keep Warm? (2009) and Meshach Dreams Back (2011), mixing music and spoken word in songs like “When We Are Queen” and “Then We Heard a Shout.”

“It’s about questioning how we keep ourselves warm–if we let go of everything,” she explained, noting that the title derives from the Gospel of Matthew’s instruction in regard to material provisions.

“Is there anyone who is Jewish who’s offended by ‘Savior’ songs?” she asked Gerry, who assured her no, to which she added, “They offend me, and I’m a Christian!” But she loves the “beautiful old Christmas songs, with beautiful melodies and images of donkeys and stars” that have long since been banned from public schools because of religious content.

“I wrote a song that I hoped was neutral that kids could learn—that’s been done by choruses,” she said, leading into and closing with her very beautiful and “neutral” “Are You Burning, Little Candle?,” from Child: Music for the Holidays (1997).

She encored, of course, with “Calling All Angels,” after relating that when she recorded it with k.d. lang in separate vocal booths, both realized at the same time that they needed to come out and sing together next to each other, despite the producer’s preference to keep them apart and stanch any audio bleeding.

“There’s so much more you can get when you’re singing and playing music in close proximity,” she said.

“Calling All Angels” over, I suddenly remembered what it was I was thinking about 60 minutes earlier.

Just like the first time, Jane.

Trust me: Don’t miss any of her Holiday Hoes and Hosers shows.


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Concert Highlights–Tammy Faye Starlite’s ‘Broken English’ at Joe’s Pub, 5/13/14

Tammy Faye Starlite as Marianne Faithfull at Joe's Pub (photo: Kevin Yatarola)
Tammy Faye Starlite as Marianne Faithfull at Joe’s Pub (photo: Kevin Yatarola)

With Tammy Faye Starlite’s Broken English/Marianne Faithfull presentation, which she reprised Tuesday night (May 13) at Joe’s Pub after debuting it in March at Lincoln Center, she takes her embodiment of brilliant but troubled rock chanteuses—the first being Nico—to a new level.

Her interpretation of Faithfull is indeed that, to be sure, but the monologues that lead into the songs give her more of a chance to extemporize with topical material, being of course, that unlike Nico, Faithfull is still alive. Different, too, is that while both were once beautiful, drug-besotted blonds who struggled to step out from the shadows of iconic male artists, Nico was a tragic figure, Faithfull triumphant.

Fearless as ever, Starlite held nothing back, even making light of the recent suicide of Jagger’s lover (“Too soon!” groaned one audience member, though not without full approval) and jabbing at name writers in the house–hitting this one especially close to home when singling him out for not really living so much as observing. Ahead of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” she even gratuitously broke character in referencing “Jew New York”—a standard crack from her uproariously anti-semitic, pornographic and Born Again Tammy Faye Starlite country shows—and still in Faithfull English accent, copped to the confusion.

As a whole, Broken English is a masterwork. But listening to Starlite’s verison some 35 years later, the lead titletrack takes on new significance.

First, was there ever a song more fitting of the word “roiling”? Or “churning”? That’s how it opens, that’s how it stays. Faithfull singing—often croaking–with stark directness lyrics including

It’s just an old war,
Not even a cold war,
What are we fighting for?

Lose your father, your husband,
Your mother, your children.
What are you dying for?
It’s not my reality.

Don’t say it in Russian,
Don’t say it in German.
Say it in broken English,
Say it in broken English.

Starlite sang it perfectly, as she did with the entire album, as she did with Nico.

Reagan ratcheted up the Cold War when he took office shortly after Broken English came out in 1979. He ordered a massive military buildup, condemned the Soviet Union as “an evil empire” and instituted the so-called Reagan Doctrine of foreign policy, which heavily supported Afghanistan’s pre-Taliban mujahideen groups in their war with the Soviets, and engaged in the illegal sale of arms to Iran in order to fund the anti-communist Nicaraguan Contras (the Iran-Contra Affair).

Who knows what’s going on clandestinely today, that is, besides the use of drones—often with tragic collateral damage consequences. But we do know that we have a president—a “Dahomeyan pinko octaroon,” as Starlite has identified Obama in her Tammy Faye shows–who hasn’t resorted to name-calling, or to any kind of nationalist adventurism. In fact, he’s done everything he can to avoid the militarism of the previous administration, much to the contempt of those of it and its supporters.

In hearing the classic antiwar anthem “Broken English” at this juncture and upon reflection, we have much to be thankful for, for not fighting for.

Reflections on Nick Ashford–Part Three

I’m ashamed I haven’t written a Reflection On Nick Ashford in so long, especially as I started two of them that remain, for the moment, unfinished. “More pressing matters got in the way,” and I put that in quotes to indicate how ingenuine it sounds—and that I recognize it as such.

But a few nights ago I had dinner with Beefy.

Beefy, as his old friends call Bob Kenison—Robert Kenison, as he used to intone on his bank voicemail when he worked for a bank as a computer guy of some sort. He’d always answer, “Systems,” when you got him live on the phone, and no one I know ever knew what that meant, Systems: I asked Beefy about it once and he just started laughing.

Beefy was a huge Beatles freak, which is pertinent on a number of levels, but for our purposes here, it relates first of all to laughing. At dinner I reminded Beefy, who brought along his lovely daughter Emily, how I took him years ago to a Ringo Starr record store CD signing, and had his publicist introduce us.

To put Beefy’s Beatles idolatry into greater perspective, let me back up to several years earlier, when McCartney did a press-only afternoon Q&A/gig at some Times Square theater, before doing a promo gig there a few hours later. I brought Beefy along, and after we both got ourselves soused at a bar across the street, we went to the event. I left afterward, but Beefy tried to hide out in the men’s room so he could stay for the second show. He climbed up on a toilet when they came in to make sure no one was there—but they found him anyway and kicked him the fuck out.

Besides his real name Bob Kenison, Beefy is also known to legions of Dr. Bop & The Headliners fans as Troy Sharmel, guitarist of the legendary Midwestern oldies show band Dr. Bop & The Headliners. Much has been written about Beefy and the band—most, if not all, by me—including the story of that Ringo in-store.

Like I said, Beefy and I were introduced to Ringo, upon which Ringo cracked up over something Beefy said. Just what it was that Beefy said that made Ringo laugh, however, neither of us can remember, in fact, Beefy and I had both forgotten what Beefy said probably within 10 seconds of him saying it.

Beefy blames me, not without reason, as I am a reporter, sort of, in a manner of speaking. I do remember the night I took Beefy to this hot party Madonna threw for k.d. lang at some outdoor space near Radio City, where k.d. was playing. Hot because it was a scorching mid-summer night.

“Who’s the blond?” Beefy asked, as paparazzi flashes popped away at the blond.

“That would be Madonna, Beefy,” I answered. Then Tony Bennett came in, pushing a wheelchair upon which regally sat Peggy Lee.

“That would be Peggy Lee, Beefy,” I said, cutting him off at the pass.

Beefy dutifully leaned over to Miss Lee and blurted, “Love your music!,” one superstar to another.

I wasn’t much better.

“Uh, uh, I’m a friend of Barbara Pepe!” I myself blurted, to a terribly unimpressed Martina Navratilova. Barbara was a wonderful former publicist for RCA Records who had introduced me years earlier to Billie Jean King. I was a little high here, but wouldn’t have done much better straight.

But Beefy is one of the greatest music minds I know, as Dr. Bop & The Headliners was one of the greatest bands. As Emily is now in college, we started talking about Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar as a place she should go, now that she was living in the Village.

Beefy remembered the night that he was at the Sugar Bar with me and Liz Rosenberg, and Nick took us upstairs to a studio apartment used for small gatherings.

Me and Liz had been up there with Nick countless times, partaking in the sacrament. We would sit there, at Nick’s feet, essentially, mouths agape, eyes open wide, looking up in reverence as the great saint spoke down to us.

Luckily, this time, Beefy was there, to remember, sort of, what he said.

But just as Beefy is one of the greatest music minds I know, Nick was probably the greatest. Easily up there with Paul Simon, whom I spent an illuminating afternoon with in the studio years ago as he mixed Rhythm Of The Saints—his 1990 Latin American follow-up to Graceland, for which I was brought in to write the bio.

Easily up there, too, with Elvis Costello, every word from whom is loaded with musical genius. And right up there with Ned Engelhart, the Ferret de Monte Christo of Dr. Bop & The Headliners, who is right up there with Beefy.

But Nick—and Val—lived music. I first noticed this a million years ago when they had Twenty-Twenty, their first restaurant/nightclub, at 20 West 20th. They would sit together at a center table upstairs overlooking the stage and sing along and dance in their seats to whomever was performing. No one enjoyed music more, no one enjoyed other performers more. Surely no one was more supportive.

At the Sugar Bar, Nick would sit at the center table—his table—upstairs in the Cat Lounge, reveling in the music while watching it on the wall monitor. If it was good—and it usually was—he would wave his arms to the rhythm, as would Val when she joined him (when she wasn’t downstairs singing backup).

It was just so wonderful.

I sat with Nick a lot. I talked with Nick a lot. If I had only written down everything he said. Or better, taped it.

He talked about life. He talked about music.

“He was just talking music and songwriting, and he started talking about arranging voices,” said Beefy. He had that special glow in his eyes that everyone gets when they talk about Nick.

“He started talking in general, and then he started talking about background voices and when you harmonize background voices and make them into chords depending on the chords of the song.”

My eyes were probably glazing over at this point, as I had downed two margaritas in relatively short order to catch up with Beefy and Emily, who had started drinking without me. And I wasn’t about to pretend that I understood what Beefy was talking about, let alone Nick. But I was glad Beefy apparently did.

“Alto, soprano, tenor—whatever,” Beefy continued. “His point was that the high voice on those chord harmonies should always be a little flat. I never heard that before—never. But for some reason, to his ears, it works. We were talking about male background voices, and I’m pretty sure he was saying the high voice.”

To be sure, I didn’t understand any of this. I wondered if Beefy did.

“I knew what he was saying, but not exactly why that would work in making it sound better,” Beefy said, then ruminated while gulping down another margarita. “But sometimes when you’re playing 12-string guitar…you have two notes on a 12-string that are basically the same note, but they tune one a little out of tune.”

I’m not a musician—though I know what a 12-string guitar is. But Beefy was still good enough to dummy it down.

“You have six pairs of strings,” he explained. “It’s not so much on the lower ones, but on the upper three strings—pairs–one will be in tune and the other slightly out of tune, because it gives a thicker sound. So maybe there’s something going on there in getting a similar thickness in background vocals from doing that—though that probably has nothing to do with anything that Nick was saying!”

But Beefy the Beatles Freak then put it in a Beatles context:

“Even Lennon used to de-tune his D-string on his guitar a little. He’d say to his Aunt Mimi, ‘When you hear Beatles songs, you know which guitar is mine because I always de-tune my D-string a bit.’ I guess he wanted his own sound.”

In all the years I knew Nick, which was close to 30, I never got over my awe of him—much, I know, to his amusement. Beefy had met him before at the Sugar Bar, but was no less overwhelmed.

“He took the time to talk to someone he really didn’t know from Adam, who for no reason could be considered in his league, about music,” Beefy recalled. “But he reached out to me as if it was just two guys talking, not as an equal, maybe, but including me without any sense of pontificating—one-on-one. He was a very inclusive guy.”

He sure was, Beefy.

“And he was so modest. Not at all full of himself. The fact that he would just sit there and talk to some local yokel! And he was into it, too! He wasn’t talking down to me! There was no pretension, not even for a such a super writer, musician, singer. He was just a regular, warm fellow.”

Yes, Beefy. That was Nick Ashford, all right.

So glad you remembered.