Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations focus on 1970s and beyond

It’s been 10 years at least since I and a number of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee members were let go, ostensibly, the form email firing us said, to bring in younger ones more conversant in 1970s rock. Then a couple years ago there was a final bloodletting ridding the committee of virtually all nominators—many of whom had been on since the RockHall’s launch—who had any knowledge of the ‘50s and ‘60s, when rock ‘n’ roll really was rock ‘n’ roll.

Well, with today’s announcement of the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees, the turnover is pretty much complete. First time nominees Pearl Jam and Tupac Shakur, both in their first year of eligibility, are most certainly shoo-ins, with the other 17 nominees also coming mainly from the ‘70s and after.

Looking at the nominees from my g-g-generation, I’m happy to see The Zombies back on the list—one of the few ‘60s artists who sound just as good today as they did 50 years ago, when they broke artistic ground in the British Invasion. The MC5 are back, too, and also deserve to go in—though neither are no-brainers for RockHall voters with fading memories or who are just too young to remember. Other pre-‘70s nominees are first-timers Steppenwolf and Joan Baez—both deserving but likely too far back in the past, and five-time nominee Joe Tex, who will likely have to wait at least for his sixth.

The two other ‘80s acts—Jane’s Addiction and Depeche Mode–are both first-timers, and thanks to short-term memories would seem to have a good shot at going in unless Pearl Jam and Tupac cancel them out. That leaves 10 nominees—all from the ‘70s–which it’s been determined that I know little about, no matter that I wrote the first book on The Ramones.

Starting with punk/new wave, then, first-time nominee Bad Brains are worthy, but probably too obscure for a more mainstream electorate, who might prefer The Cars, back with their second nomination. On the R&B tip, I just don’t feel it for Janet Jackson and Chaka Khan (both second-timers), though disco’s Chic, with their record-setting 11th nomination, just might turn the trick this time, if only to put them out of their misery—plus Nile Rodgers and his late Chic co-founder Bernard Edwards just went into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Chicago went in last year, which may bode well for the softer ‘70s rock of Yes, now on its third nomination, and first timers Journey and Electric Light Orchestra, with ELO getting the nod here on merit.

The final two nominees—Kraftwerk and J. Geils Band—are significant, for sure, but probably also limited in the glitz factor that is now such a major part of awards recognition, even by what should be such a credible organization as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But credibility, as everyone knows, disappeared from the RockHall long ago.

A.R. Rahman’s U.N. tribute to M.S. Subbulakshmi


It was a tribute to legendary Indian Carnatic vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi, but at the event’s Monday afternoon press conference, at least, the big event was as much a tribute to its equally celebrated performer A.R. Rahman, who appeared in concert at the United Nations General Assembly Hall Monday night in celebration of Subbulakshmi’s birth centenary and India’s 70th Independence Day.

India’s U.N. ambassador Syed Akbaruddin lauded Rahman for fitting it into his extremely busy schedule, itself a tribute, he said, to Rahman’s humility and his reverence for one of India’s greatest music artists. He recounted how Subbulakshmi, who died in 2004, had performed in the General Assembly Hall 50 years ago at the invitation of then U.N. Secretary General U Thant, thus becoming the first Indian to perform there.

Subbulakshmi sang the Sanskrit world peace benediction “Maithreem Bhajatha” and earned a standing ovation. Akbaruddin noted that the peaceful global values expressed in her U.N. repertoire, which he said were atypical at the time, were then carried forward in her ensuing international performances, and remain relevant today.

Hailed as “Queen of Music” by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the “Nightingale of India” by leader/poet Sarojini Naidu, she was also the first Indian musician to receive the Bharat Ratna—the Indian government’s highest civilian honor—as well as the first to win the Ramon Magsaysay Award, which is considered Asia’s Nobel Prize.

But Subbulakshmi’s compassion and philanthropic activities were also extolled at the press conference. Rahman was likewise praised for his own humility, generosity and respect for everybody.

“One of my duties is to come celebrate her,” he said, and he did so that night with a three-hour concert focusing on Subbulakshmi’s music but also including popular Rahman originals from hit Bollywood films like Dil Se and Bombay. He also performed Sufi songs and “Jai Ho,” the big song from his Oscar-winning soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire.

Rahman’s two sisters joined him in performance, along with Bollywood playback singer Javed Ali and students from Rahman’s Sunsine Orchestra, an AR Rahman Foundation organization that teaches eastern and western classical music to underprivileged kids.

Rahman said that Subbulakshmi was the inspiration for the Sunshine Orchestra, calling her “a case study” for aspiring artists seeking to achieve “ultimate icon” stature. At the press conference earlier, he noted that Subbulakshmi, who had performed at the U.N. a year before his birth, was the “God of my culture” growing up in Chennai and listening to her on radio and television.

(At the Doubletree Hotel press conference, Aug. 15, from left: Dr. Tarun Sharma, director of Sankara Nethralaya, Chennai; Syed Akbaruddin, A.R. Rahman and Prakesh M. Swamy)

He remembered “looking at the aura” of Subbulakshmi, who was also trained in North Indian Hindustani classical music.

“I grew up with an open mind,” he said, “[with] music all around me. My interests were wider, and as I grew older I started to respect foundation of music north and south–and she comes on the top for that, and is one of the reasons I’m here. I was very, very busy but we wanted this to happen because it was such a great honor for us, all the musicians and India.”

Rahman’s U.N. concert was presented by the Sankara Nethralaya nonprofit opthalmological charity organization based in Chennai–which operates the top eye hospital in India (where over 50 percent of outpatient services and 35 percent of eye surgeries are performed free of charge for the poor)–in conjunction with the Sankara Nethralaya Opthalmic Mission Trust, which is also plannng six September “Voice for Vision” concerts by Carnatic vocalist-composer Sudha Ragunathan (in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Chicago and Washington, D.C.) to raise funds for its activities.

Sankara Nethralaya is also arranging a concert by Carnatic vocalist and Padma Bhushan honoree Sudha Raghunathan at the U.N. on Oct. 2, and a concert with composer Zubin Mehta, sitarist Anoushka Shankar and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Lincoln Center on Nov. 5.

Subbulakshmi was one of the main patrons of the Chennai hospital. According to Dr. S.S. Badrinath, chairman emeritus of Sankara Nethralaya, the celebration of her centenary is meant to perpetuate the memory of “not only one of the greatest musicians India had ever produced but that of a greatest soul who lived a life of philanthropy and goodwill for all humanity.”

Additionally, a photo exhibition documenting the life of Subbulakshmi debuted Monday night at the U.N., and Rahman said that a recording of Monday night’s U.N. performance may be released to raise more money for Sankara Nethralaya.

Scrubby Seweryniak: An appreciation

One of the greatest bands in my purview, Brave Combo, also has one of the most accurate names. Brave because they’re a Texas (Denton) rock band that focuses primarily on polka, and is so good at it that it won a Grammy—when there was a Grammy polka category—and it’s leader Carl Finch was just inducted into the International Polka Association Hall of Fame.

I contacted Carl after finally opening my Les Blank: Always for Pleasure five-DVD box set of the late Les’s great music and culture documentaries, which was released by Criterion Collection in 2014 and includes his wonderful award-winning 51-minute 1984 docu In Heaven There is No Beer?, an examination of the high-spirited polka subculture featuring polka greats including Jimmy Sturr, Eddie Blazonczyk and Walt Solek. Watching it inevitably set me off on watching YouTube vids of my late pal Eddie B, then discovering, to my dismay, that Dave “Scrubby” Seweryniak of legendary Dynatones polka band fame had died on July 22 at 68.

“Yeah, Scrubby’s gone,” said Carl—one of the few people I can talk polka with. “If I had to boil down Brave Combo’s major influences to, say, five or six musicians or bands, Scrubby would be on that list, right there with the likes of [conjunto accordion great] Esteban “Steve” Jordan. We learned so much from him and his Buffalo-based polka upstarts, The Dynatones. He and his band made the polka funkier and gave it a new edge. The Dynatones amazing rhythm section combined with Scrubby’s voice and charisma created a polka shock wave in the 1970s and ’80s. That special sound is beautifully demonstrated by their recording of the Polish classic, ‘Zosia,’ from their Live Wire album. The first time I saw The Dynatones perform live, at Polkabration in New London, Conn., was as good as the first time I saw Led Zeppelin.”

Kinda reminds me of the time I gave up backstage passes at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison for Bruce Springsteen in 1980, I think it was, and drove to Milwaukee to see Slim Whitman. The power move.

“I often bugged Scrubby about doing some recording with us,” Carl continued. “So sorry we never got around to it. He was a very cool, gracious guy. I always thought his story would make a good movie, if the power of the music could actually be captured. Maybe it would be too esoteric for the average person, but there’s got to be a great story there.”

No shit.

“Larry Trojak, The Dynatones drummer, was a left-wing vegetarian, like me. With Scrubby being openly gay, that’s an odd pair for an American-Polish Catholic outfit. Also, do you remember the time we played Midsummer Night’s Swing and we had a Polish accordionist join us? That was Al Piatkowski, who was The Dynatone’s accordionist. That band was full of big-ass talent!”

Big-ass talent, indeed! And yes, Carl, of course I remember! How could anyone forget?

Happy 90th birthday, Tony Bennett!

Just a few words on a most special artist and human being on the occasion today of Tony Bennett’s 90th birthday.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Tony, having milked my position as a trade music journalist for all it was worth. I’ve interviewed him, hung out with him in recording studios, at meet-and-greets after concerts, in New York, L.A., Vegas, in art museums and on the street. I’ve gotten to know his family, his friends, even his heroes. He’s gracious and kind to all, including—and especially—his fans.

I remember one fan in particular. It was during the session for his 2006 album Duets: An American Classic, for which he recorded “For Once in My Life” with Stevie Wonder—who actually released it after Tony charted with it in 1967. Stevie (with Tony) would receive a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, but after the session he was barely able to speak about the honor of just sitting next to the outspoken humanist and pacifist who had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King.

I’m not much different. When you’re with Tony Bennett, no matter how comfortable he makes you feel, you’re still in the presence of an icon, an institution, a hero. And as an artist, I’ve seen him sing songs countless times, yet never the same way twice: He always finds something new from deep within himself.

He likes to tell his audiences that he’s been singing professionally for over 60s years, and if they’ll let him, he’ll do it for 60 more. I’ll be there, for sure.

Eric Burdon adds two August shows to City Winery schedule

(Photo: David Weimann)

With a pair of already sold-out new York shows slated for October (Oct. 10 and 11), City Winery has added two more Eric Burdon shows for this month.

Legendary Animals frontman Burdon, backed by a new band of enthusiastic and energetic young Animals (aptly called the Wild New Band of Animals and starring guitarist Johnzo West, keyboardist Davey Allen, trombonist Evan Mackey, saxophonist Ruben Salinas, drummer Dustin Koester and bassist Justin Andres), is now at City Winery Aug. 8 and 9, with Alberta Cross opening. The Wild Ones are ready, willing and able to perform Animals classics including “House of the Rising Sun” and “We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place”), Eric Burdon & the Animals hits like “When I Was Young” and “Monterey,” his huge “Spill the Wine” hit with War, “Bo Diddley Special” from his latest album Til Your River Runs Dry, and “some songs I’ve always wanted to sing and never got the chance to” by such writers as David Bowie, Randy Newman, Leadbelly and Ian Dury.

Of his own songs on Til Your River Runs Dry, Burdon notes that they’re “certainly some of my most personal: Every song I wrote reflects a real feeling, for the environment, for my wife, my friends, my role models, and some subjects that I avoided for years.”

Burdon, who turned 75 on May 11, is touring more than ever. He’ll return home to Newcastle upon Tyne on Sept. 7 for a celebration concert at Theatre Royal.

Lafayette fundraiser set to complete ambitious ‘First Cousins’ Cajun/Creole music docu

Courtesy of First Cousins Film

Lafayette, La.-based folklorist Moriah Istre’s ambitious eight-year documentary project, First Cousins: Cajun and Creole Music in South Louisiana, is almost finished.

The 51-minute film only needs final editing, promotion and distribution, the costs for which will be sought via a GoFundMe campaign commencing shortly. Meanwhile, Istre is holding a “FUNdraiser/Unveiling” Aug. 4—appropriately at Lafayette’s 23-acre Vermilionville museum/folklife park, which showcases the regional Acadian, Native American and Creole culture of 1765-1890.

The First Cousins movie trailer and its forthcoming DVD cover artwork will be shown for the first time at the Vermilionville event.

“We’re really excited about the First Cousins Film FUNdraiser and Unveiling, because the audience there will be the very first to view the trailer, watch artist Tony Bernard unveil his DVD cover artwork, and enjoy music by [Zydeco great] Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie–with special guest Goldman Thibodeaux,” says Istre, who directed and produced the film with her sister Elista Istre acting as assistant director and historian. The sisters both earned doctorates in Arkansas State University’s Heritage Studies Ph.D. Program in Jonesboro, during which they were heavily involved in the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home restoration project in the nearby farm community of Dyess.

“In a time of national crisis where cities are being torn apart by violence, we are fortunate to be in a place where we can stand together and celebrate our similarities instead of criticizing our differences,” notes Elista, who like her sister hails from Lafayette. “As Cajuns and Creoles, we are family. We stand united as family in celebration of the rich cultural heritage we share. Regardless of how we came to Louisiana, whether through the historical [Cajun] Acadian Exile or the [Creole] African Diaspora, we are here now. We made the best of what we had to work with and we have thrived for the last three centuries. We are, in fact, ‘First Cousins.’”

First Cousins: Cajun and Creole Music in South Louisiana, then, explores the rich, interrelated musical traditions of the region’s French-speaking peoples, which traces back to Africa, Europe and French Canada over the past 300 years.

“A little too distant for siblings, these communities and their music are surely related enough to be considered first cousins,” explains Moriah, echoing her sister. “Our Cajun and Creole ancestors did not choose Louisiana. Forced here by tragedy, either through the Acadian Exile or the African Diaspora, they made this place home: They made the best of what they had, and here we are today because of them–and very proud of who we are.”

Adds Elista: “We are all part of the same family tree. Many of us are Cajuns or Creoles or a mixture of both, and our music reflects our shared heritage.”

D.L. Menard (Photo courtesy of First Cousins Film)

The featured musicians in First Cousins are Delafose, Jeffery Broussard, Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr., Thomas “Big Hat” Fields, Terry Huval, D.L. Menard, Steve Riley, Wayne Toups, Cedric Watson, Lil’ Nathan Williams, Nathan Williams, Sr. and Creole accordion player Goldman Thibodeaux—Moriah’s “adopted papaw [grandfather],” who turns 84 on Aug. 5, the day after the Vermilionville event.

“He’s the most gentle soul you’ll ever meet, and I’m in constant communication with him,” says Moriah, “and he’s the last living legend playing ‘La La music’–the roots of modern day Zydeco. I’d visit him all the time in Lawtell—where he lives—and one day he told me, ‘Cajun and Creole music are cousins,’ and I said, ‘Well, Papaw, you just named the film!’”

Thibodeaux was actually the reason Moriah pursued her doctorate, in addition to being the inspiration for the documentary.

“He told stories about when he was a kid and seeing Amadie Ardoin play at house parties—and it blew my mind!” she continues, invoking the pioneering Creole accordionist, who recorded in the 1920s and ‘30s. “I felt I’d be selfish if I kept it all to myself, because he’s the only one around who remembers it—and there aren’t many living legends left.”

But First Cousins, Moriah adds, “turns into something a lot bigger.”

“My initial goal was to get Papaw’s stories on film. Using a tape recorder is one thing, but film reaches a bigger audience. It grew into a really cool film that not only describes the history of Cajun and Creole music, but provides the context for both music genres in a different way than other films: We really wanted to address not just the Acadian story but the African Diaspora.”

And again echoing Elista, Moriah observes that First Cousins is “being released at a time when the country is being torn apart by violence and racial animosity. With the film title and the fundraiser, we’ll definitely be celebrating our similarities and not criticizing our differences!”

The Vermilionville event was chosen specifically to coincide with Thibodeaux’s birthday, and will also involve merchandise for sale, a silent auction and sponsorshiop opportunities. It will be followed by the First Cousins premiere on Oct. 13 at Angelle Hall on the University of Louisiana campus in Lafayette.

Lake Martin (Photo: Ezra Istre)