California Dreamin’ – VIDEON

Santa Monica, CA – 1983

I always loved music and films, so at some point, I decided that working in a music store would be better than working at a restaurant. I applied at several around Los Angeles and got an interview with a chain called Music Plus. They sold albums, tapes, videos, and concert tickets. I remember acquiring tickets to see David Bowie on his Serious Moonlight tour from there! But that’s another story.

Here’s another author’s memories in regard to Music Plus:

https://www.championnewspapers.com/opinion_and_commentary/chino_memories/article_4d1201f6-23d7-11e8-88aa-9faa52530da0.html

They liked me well enough but told me they didn’t have anything available in their music stores. But they were opening a flagship video store on Lincoln Blvd. in Santa Monica.

I knew that VHS and Beta were emerging in the home video market and thought it would be a cool job. Music Plus was a retail chain around LA, and since video was growing they decided to designate a whole store to just videotape sales and rentals.

It was a great idea at the time and the owner was truly a visionary for coming up with the idea. (We all know what happened in the coming years with the arrival of Blockbuster, but this was at the very beginning of the home video craze.)

VCR’s cost over $1500 back then and were the size of old electric typewriters. They weighed a ton and I think Beta was the only format in the beginning. Sony invented Beta and VHS but Beta was the better format. More compact with a simpler mechanism with better sound and video. They sold off the rights to VHS because it was inferior. But more companies bought it up and started making VHS VCRs like crazy. VHS ultimately won out in the format wars simply because more companies manufactured the machines and they were more available to the public. Funny, how the superior format failed to the inferior one simply based on availability. Man-made selection at its best!

I was 20 years old and just happy to not be working in a hot, sweaty kitchen in a bar and grill until midnight every day. This was a cool, clean job in a new industry.

The day manager was this super French guy who was easily well into his forties. He knew a lot about film and especially foreign films so that was cool. In the evenings they had another manager named Renee who was probably around twenty-five. She was short with brown hair and eyes. Kind of cute, but that was ruined by her bitchy personality. She seemed over her head in the position and was always short-tempered and stressed. She was always scheduling me to close with her because she liked me. Even though she was cranky a lot of the time, I knew she dug me. She would always ask me to smoke a joint with her out in the parking lot after work. I obliged because I figured maybe she’d be nicer if I hung out with her.

One night that parking lot smoke turned into a bit more and we ended up back at her place. I was young and didn’t possess the moral compass I have today. (Come on… who am I kidding? You’ve read this blog.)

There was one other girl who worked there most days with me, who was the quintessential 80s girl. (Think one of the members of the band The Go Gos) She was after me as well. Where were all the available men in LA back then? Nothing ever happened between us because I just wasn’t that into her. She seemed weird.

We had a good time working there and it was fun being around all of those movies all day. I learned a lot about film and the video industry working there. The whole store was arranged by studio, not by subject. So we had a section for Warner, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, etc.

The best part was, at lunch you could go in the back and watch a video while dining on your sandwich.

But here’s the interesting part. This was a legit spin-off from a big music store chain. Everything was above board. For the most part.

You won’t believe what the home video experience cost back then. It was a fledgling industry and everything was new, so that means expensive. The machines were a fortune, and the tapes were really pricey as well. Most videotape movies started at $59.95 to purchase. But we did have a rental program. It was $100 to join and to rent a movie it was over $20 and you had to leave a huge deposit on your credit card every time you rented some movies. Isn’t that crazy? It was like renting an automobile!

I remember when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out on videotape. It had made so much money worldwide, they released it for $39.95 on VHS and Beta. This was unheard of. A groundbreaking low price for a blockbuster film.

Next was the making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video and the music video all in one tape. That was released for only $29.95. The lowest price ever offered for a home videotape ever. We sold the hell out of them.

There were NO Disney titles of any kind on VHS and Beta. I think they were waiting to see what the NEW format would do for their stockholders. (Now they own everything!)

We didn’t have hundreds of copies of popular movies back then. Most of the films available were from the past. So everything in the store was from the 70s and back. New movies were in the theaters and it would be years until they landed on video. But there were plenty of great films to watch. But the only place I could check out titles was during lunch in the back.

But here’s the twist to this upstanding business called VIDEON. We sold the occasional tape to some wealthy people who wanted to own some quality films to show their friends and family.

Home video was in its infancy and it was like the wild west back then. Here’s what they did at VIDEON. Say, someone rents a few films. They watch them and return them after the 3 day allocated time. We take that tape in the back room. There is a table with a spool of shrinkable cellophane on a roll and an industrial blow dryer. We rewind the tape and rewrap it in our own little shrink wrap. We sear the creases on the spool so it seals the wrap. We then hit it with the blow dryer and that shrinks the wrap so that it clings to the original box with the tape in it. Does it look brand new? Does it look like it came from the factory? No. But do the customers know that? No.

So basically they were renting movies all the time and then repackaging them and selling them as new to unsuspecting customers. I wasn’t comfortable with this practice because it just didn’t seem right. People were tricked into thinking they were buying something brand new and paying the top retail price. But in actuality were being sold a used product. That smells like fraud to me. It had to be illegal. But like I said, back then it was the wild west. I was getting a paycheck every week so I never said anything about their diabolical criminal enterprise.

The way to tell was, I knew what the rewrapped shrink wrap looked like, and if you looked through the window on the tape, the tape on the spool was slightly uneven. When they’re new, this is not the case.

I don’t know what happened to that company, but I’m sure they were devoured by Blockbuster some years later. (It was the last job I had before leaving California)

It’s funny how when something’s new, it costs a fortune and feels so exclusive. But in a few years, it’s all cheap and available to everyone. Now, it’s all gone. You can simply stream everything. DVDs aren’t even a thing anymore.

But it was a fun job and a peek at was to come in the world of home video in the future.

I recommend you watch the documentary The Last Blockbuster on Netflix. Very interesting. The best bits are about the business and corporate end of that industry. The rest is just a bunch of self-absorbed clowns talking about their love for Blockbuster and home video.

But I will say this one last thing. I do have some wonderful memories of picking up my little daughter on a Friday night and heading over to the local Blockbuster. We’d pick out some movies, popcorn, and candy for the weekend. It was a fun ritual that just about everyone I know once did together.

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Type. Tune. Tint. – LAWNDALE Podcast with Tom Kranz

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a gentleman I didn’t know. His name is Tom Kranz, and he’s an author and has his own podcast called Type. Tune. Tint. He asked me if I would be a guest on his show, and of course I agreed!

We talked about my latest book, LAWNDALE and how we’re from the same part of the city and some of our collective history. It was a great experience and I’m really grateful that Tom reached out to me.

I decided that I should share it with you all and hope you enjoy listening to this short piece as much as I did making it with Tom. It’s entitled: Creativity Born in a Philadelphia Row home.

Enjoy!

You can listen to it here:

Here’s the link too:

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1208186/11295399

Here’s some more links to Tom’s work. He’s an accomplished author in his own right! Below is a link to his blog where he talks about LAWNDALE and the process.

Tom’s blog. He wrote a really nice post about me and my creative life. Check it out!

Thank you, Tom!

I’m super excited about being on his podcast and I hope you all enjoy it. I owe this fellow Philadelphian and neighbor a drink the next time he’s in center city!

If you’re one of the few who hasn’t gotten your copy of LAWNDALE, you can order it below.

Thanks once again to everyone who bought my book!

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Star Wars Is Cool Again

Star Wars has always been a love of mine. Since it came out in 1977, I’ve been a fan. It was such a huge part of my teenage life just like the band, Aerosmith. We loved Star Wars and everything about the whole mythology for years. But then something occurred in the 90s. George Lucas decided to produce the prequels. If you’re a fan you know how badly that went.

Then there were the sequels in the last few years. Not as bad as the prequels but they just felt like a nostalgic retread to please all the Star Wars fanboys. Just updated versions of the original gems. Sad knock offs for any true fan of the original trilogy.

But a couple of years ago something wonderful happened. They made Rogue One which is a new prequel to the events leading up to the 1977 original, A New Hope. It was a really good and unique story. I liked it and so did my friends. But the sequels were still happening and they just didn’t feel right.

Then they came out with the series The Mandalorian. I watched it and LOVED it. It looked and felt like the original Star Wars from my youth. That’s pretty hard to do, but it’s been done. This is how it all should have gone down after Return of the Jedi, but didn’t. But now here we are exploring these new characters and it has the look and feel of the classic originals. I’m very pleased.

Then last year they came out with the Book of Boba Fett. I didn’t know how that was going to be but my fingers were crossed. I LOVED that too!

I think after 20 years the guys who were teenagers like me when we first encountered Star Wars are now making the new movies and shows. If that’s what it took, then so be it. I’m happy and it’s nice to see that there’s a group of artists that know what they’re doing and are expanding the Star Wars universe the right way.

So to my friends and me there really are only a few true Star Wars projects:

Rogue One – A New Hope – The Empire Strikes Back – Return of the Jedi – The Mandalorian – The Book of Boba Fett.

That’s it so far. If there is anything else after Boba then I haven’t seen it yet at the time of this writing. But we’re headed in the right direction and I think the true fans will agree!

Thank you, Jon Favreau!!!!

Update: The next Star Wars show that is coming out will be on Disney+ and is called Andor, dropping on September 21st. So… YAY!

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Tales of Rock – Who Invented Speed Metal?

Speed metal is an sub-genre of heavy metal music that originated in the late 1970s from NWOBHM and hardcore punk roots. It is described by Allmusic as “extremely fast, abrasive, and technically demanding” music.

Motörhead is often credited as the first band to invent/play speed metal.[1] Some of speed metal’s earlier influences include Deep Purple’s “Fireball” and Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” (which was eventually covered by the thrash metal band Metallica), from their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack,[2] and Deep Purple‘s song “Highway Star“, from their album Machine Head. The latter was called ‘early speed metal’ by Robb Reiner of speed metal band Anvil.[3] Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown“, first released in January 1969, could also be said to be an early template for speed metal as mentioned in Mac Randall’s.[4]

Speed metal eventually evolved into thrash metal.[5] Although many tend to equate the two subgenres, there is a distinct difference between them. In his book Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy MetalIan Christe states that “…thrash metal relies more on long, wrenching rhythmic breaks, while speed metal… is a cleaner and more musically intricate subcategory, still loyal to the dueling melodies of classic metal.”

I’m going to have to say, Queen’s song, Sheer Heart Attack from their LP News of the World does it for me. It’s a mix of punk and metal played at breakneck speed. It is an absolutely furious song that I used to jam out to in my bedroom on my guitar.

Listen to this tune and prove me wrong.

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Theater of the Mind

Philadelphia, PA – 1974

I hated school and I hated everything about Fel’s Junior High School. But, I was always a good reader and loved books and comic books. I had a class at the end of each day called Reading. It was my favorite class. The teacher, Miss Ruscoff (Later Mrs. Dembitzer when she got married) was a nice lady who was actually a good teacher and patient with us kids. I was surprised at how many of the students were poor readers. That must have been stressful for them having to read aloud in class but I never minded doing so. I would not only read aloud, but I would also add feelings and inflections into the story to make it more interesting. I did this naturally because I knew it just sounded better and more interesting that way.

On Fridays, Miss Ruscoff would haul out an old reel to reel tape recorder and play old radio shows for the class. I think most kids put their heads down and napped during the recordings but I loved them.

Radio was king before the advent of television and I thought the shows and stories were really cool. The ones she played were from the 40s and 50s. I sort of wondered why this form of entertainment had gone away. The stories were from series like X Minus 1, Suspense, Inner Sanctum, and several others.

What I liked most about them is that the stories were usually scary and I had a vivid imagination. I loved that they would have the actors doing their roles and they would add sound effects to make it more real. Often the roles on the shows were performed by hollywood stars because many of them got their start on the stage and then on the radio.

When you watch a movie or television the whole thing is spelled out for you. You can see the actors and what they look like, the sets, and all of the action appears before your eyes. It’s all someone else’s vision as to what this story should look like. I’m not knocking TV, but radio shows are brilliant.

They could be darker in content and scarier than anything on TV. Because you couldn’t see anything you had to use your imagination to picture what the characters looked like and what was happening in the story. I just felt it was a far more riveting form of entertainment and the networks could get away with more.

I always remembered listening to all of those great stories and in the 80s I bought a box set of X-Minus 1 old radio shows on cassette. I loved listening to all of those cool stories and it was a bit nostalgic for me even back then.

Philadelphia, PA – 2020-present

During the pandemic, I discover a whole channel of old radio shows on Sirius/XM radio. A whole channel! 24/7 of old radio shows. I discovered so many more shows I had never heard of, like Dark Fantasy, The Whistler, Escape, and Johnny Dollar.

Now I can flop on my bed and listen to all of my favorite stories and use my imagination to create the scenes in the shows. I really find this a great exercise for my creative mind and it’s so restful because it’s a passive activity. I sometimes fall asleep during them and have to listen to them again.

My mother always told me she loved listening to the radio as a kid and would practice her penmanship while she absorbed all of the great stories adapted from good American literature.

It’s a lost art form that still exists today in the form of podcasts. People like podcasts and it’s basically the same thing. You don’t have to watch anything. Just use your imagination and feel the story the way you want to.

Spotify also has all these shows available too. It’s a great way to tap into a lost art form.

Former Fels HS building to be demolished

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Tales of Rock – Origins of the Hard Rock sound of AC/DC

Hard rock is a manifestation of garage rock, surf rock and psychedelic rock, and British blues of the 1960s. It was not until the kinks did this kind of guitar sound begin. Old speakers in London clubs provided a banged-up ratty sound. After a while, the bands started to like the sound the punctured and torn speakers in old amps made. That was a growly sound that would get you fired from a club gig until they started to like it and use it to their advantage.

Listen to what Howlin’ Wolf does with a guitar. Early distortion.

Howlin’ Wolf – How Many More Years – 1951

Link Wray – Rumble – 1958

Distortion, tremolo, and the guitar are dominant. It’s a riff.

Surf and garage coming together. Hard rock is developing.

The Chessman – Cant’s Catch Me – 1966

A hard, customized soundsystem. Volume to kick it in. A disaster at Woodstock and Altamont, crowds moving, in the wake of these two concerts. Rock and roll moves into arenas and out of outdoor parks. You can load up with gear and blast out your music.

Let’s go to Australia. AC/DC doesn’t form until 1973. But there’s a working-class youth that’s coming up that wants out of their lives. The bar scene is about rock music. Sounds a little like mid-70s Foghat.

Carson County Band-Morning Train – 1971

Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs -1971

Now we’re talkin’… That’s starting to sound like hard rock for sure. I love this!

Buffalo – Suzy Sunshine – 1972

The Valentines – Build Me Up Buttercup – 1972

Yea, that backup singer is Bon Scott. Hard to believe that one of the premier voices of 70s hard rock started out singing backup and dressed like that!

Marcus Hook Roll Band – Watch Her Do It Now -1973

Malcolm,  Angus and their older brother George. So we’ve got two of the founding members of AC/DC. You can already hear the pull in the band between pop and rock happening.

Their older is working on her sewing machine and looks down at the steel label hammered into the machine that says, AC/DC – (alternate and direct current) and suggests it to Angus as a name for his new band.  She also suggested the school outfit for Angus. She said he looked so cute in it but it became a snub at authority and school. He only zig-zagged on stage to dodge the bottles thrown at the bands in the hardscrabble roadhouse bars they played in.

Which brings us here…

Oh yea…

There you have it.

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Tales of Rock: Did Kurt Cobain Steal the Riff for Come As You Are?

Happy Memorial Day everyone. Please remember those who gave their lives in this world’s terrible wars.

We all know the song, Come As You Are by Nirvana. It was one of the many hits from their landmark record, Nevermind. That record has achieved triple diamond status. Gold means 500k in album sales. Platinum means 1 million! Diamond status is 10 million units sold. But they’re at triple diamond on this album. That’s 30 million records sold! Phenomenal!

But I was in a store the other day and the song, Eighties by the post-punk group, Killing Joke was playing on their Spotify. I heard one of the employees start singing the lyrics to Come As You Are along with the song.

It got me thinking… did Kurt Cobain hear that song back in the 80s and consciously or subconsciously lift that riff from the song and slow it down in his song, Come As You Are?

Listen to both songs, and you be the judge!

Here’s Nirvana…

Now check out this great song by Killing Joke entitled, Eighties…

Very similar right? I’ve never heard of this comparison before and normally I can pick up on anything similar in songs I hear. Led Zeppelin was famous for stealing songs from other artists and turning them into gold. But this one sounds blatantly similar.

Just thought it was worth sharing. Maybe I’ll do a series on all of the stolen songs in rock!

 

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Shipwrecked with Alessandra – 5 Minutes

Here’s an unfinished fiction series I once started to write. I wanted a series that was 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days, 5 months, and 5 years. But I never made it past 5 minutes. It sat in my drafts for years, so here it is.

The name’s Erik. I’m a photographer. I shoot mostly fashion stuff for magazines and shows. I’m out on assignment today. We’re on a boat somewhere west of Australia. It’s a beautiful day. I’m doing a shoot for a new swimsuit line worn by model Alessandra Ambrosio.

I work with models all of the time. After a while, it’s like working in a bank. You’re surrounded by millions of dollars in cash, but after a while, it’s just the thing you work with every day. It’s not yours, and it’s just business. All of the women are beautiful. Probably some of the most beautiful women in the world. But it’s just a job like any other. You work, you hope you get the right shots, and you get paid. Sometimes you put in long hours. The travel wears you out, and life on the road gets lonely.

What concerns me today is the skipper was complaining that the port engine on this 1996, 37-foot flybridge motor yacht just wasn’t right; the gas engine was running rough and losing power. Something about loose valves or pistons. He’s below now taking a look at it.

It’s just the four of us out here. Me, the captain, Alessandra, and her makeup artist, Sidney.

Out of all of the models I’ve ever worked with, Ale’ has always been my favorite. She’s a sweet woman with a great sense of humor. Always on point and ready to work despite her fame.

Right now I’m out on the bow with her. She’s wearing a lovely multi-colored bikini. My Nikon D3X Digital SLR camera is clicking away. These shots are going to be great. They better be. This baby cost me seven grand.

“Sidney! Can you help me out a sec?” The captain shouts from below. Sidney rolls his eyes and heads to the back of the boat. “Coming!”

I turn my attention back to Alessandra. “Ok, dear. Give me a little smile. Turn. Little more to the left. Okay, look up just slightly. Perfect.”

Out of nowhere, there’s an explosion. Ale’s eyes were wide as she clutches the grab rail on the bow. I fall backward onto the deck. “What the hell?” she exclaims.

That’s when the screaming began. Screaming from below deck. Screaming I’ll never forget. It was the captain.

“Fire! The boat’s on fire!” Alessandra cried.

I looked backward, still reeling from the shock. Flames burst forth from the hold in the back of the boat. I scrambled to my feet. I glanced back at Alessandra. “Stay here.”

This was a fuel fire. I could smell it. Large billows of black smoke poured skyward from the flames. I could hear them screaming, but I couldn’t get to them. The heat was so intense. I clambered to the bridge looking for a fire extinguisher. I got inside and looked wildly about. Then I saw it. The metal hook on the wall to where the fire extinguisher was supposed to be but wasn’t.

I went towards the helm. I located the distress button and lifted the cover. I pressed and held the button until it beeped. Hopefully, the DSC signal will tell the Coast Guard the ship’s information. I grabbed the radio. “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is the Lady Louise! We’re on fire!”

I could feel the panic clutching me like a giant claw. I couldn’t give a location. I didn’t even know where the hell we were!

God, it’s getting hot in here. The heat is taking me and I can’t stop coughing. Smoke is filling the cabin. I looked out the windshield at Ale’. She had a terrified grimace of mute protest on her beautiful visage. A look I had never seen before. Then she said something I wished I’d never heard.

“We’re sinking!”

I grabbed what I could and threw it in my bag. Then reached for the only two things that could keep us from dying here in the next few minutes. I scrambled out the side door of the cabin. The flames licked my left arm. Searing it instantly. I screamed in pain and made my way toward Ale’.

The boat was going down, and the screaming from below had stopped. The thought turned my stomach. Hopefully, they didn’t burn to death and the smoke took them instead.

“Put this on.” I could see the tears streaming down her cheeks and her lower lip quiver as she put on the bright orange life jacket. She snapped it in place. She was hyperventilating. I grabbed her by the shoulders to steady her. “We’re going to be okay, honey. We’re going to get out of this.”

“Are we going to die?” She squeaked.

“No!”

“What about Sidney and Captain Pike?”

“They’re dead. We have to go.”

She started crying more, but then suddenly stopped. “Wait. Look!” She pointed behind me. I wheeled around. Strapped in a rack at the foot of the bridge was what appeared to be an inflatable raft and two oars.  I yanked it out. “How are we going to get it inflated in time?” she said.

“With this.” I affixed the CO2 cartridge into the nozzle. Thankfully it began to inflate. The ship was now tilting to the side. Lady Louise was going down for the last time. But we were going to get out of this if we could just get off her and into the raft.

“Alessandra. I need you to listen to me. I’m going to lash this raft to the side of the boat here. Then I’m going to throw it overboard. I’m going to drop this bag here into the raft. Then I’m going to go in. I’m going to ask you to then untie the raft and jump. I’ll catch you. I promise.”

“What about women and children first?”

“Just do it, Ale’!”

The raft went into the water. Followed by my bag containing my camera and what supplies and tools I grabbed from the cabin. I then climbed down and dropped into the raft. I looked up at her crouching on the deck. “Okay, Ale’. Come on!”

She was about to climb over when she suddenly hesitated, glancing backward. “What are you waiting for? Come on!”

“One sec.” She said, holding up her perfectly manicured index finger.

Then she was gone. Just the sun glinting in my eyes as I looked upward. “Ale’! Come back! What are you doing? They’re dead! You can’t do anything. We have to go! Please!

Suddenly she reappeared, coughing and gasping. “Here. Catch.” A huge duffel bag landed on me, knocking me to the floor of the raft.” I pushed it to the side, as it was followed by the slender 5’9″ 119 lb frame of a global supermodel. She fell into my arms as I broke her fall. Her face was inches from mine for a moment. She didn’t move. Her breath came in short gasps of fear.

“Jesus, You scared the hell out of me, Ale’. You could have been killed running back for that!” She could sense the anger mixed with terror in my voice as I gazed into her lovely feline eyes.

“What? If you’re entitled to one carry-on bag, then so am I,” she said, rolling off me.

I just shook my head but was somewhat relieved. The raft drifted away from the sinking Lady Louise. She was engulfed in flames now. Maybe someone will see the column of black smoke that poured from her, I thought.  We both watched as she disappeared beneath the waves. The ocean hissed, mocking us. Extinguishing the flames in a final puff of smoke.

“Grab an oar. I’ll try to get our bearings as to where we are.” I said, looking around. I squinted in the hot sun.

Ale’ scanned the horizon. “Look!”She turned toward me. “Land! See it?” She pointed to what appeared to be a small island in the distance to our west. She grabbed an oar and locked it in place. I did the same. “Well, let’s hope there are people there that can help us.”

So here I am. Out in the middle of the ocean. Miles from the mainland of Australia with a gorgeous, international supermodel. Possibly one of the most beautiful women in the world. Here we are. Shoulder to shoulder, paddling an inflatable orange raft to who knows where.

Should I finish this? Let me know in the comments if you think it’s worth pursuing!

(If you click on the link of her name in the story above you can read the blog post from a few years ago when I met her in New York!)

 

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Tales of Rock: Who’s Libretto?

Philadelphia, PA – 1968

My uncle Jack used to work for Columbia Records back in the 60s. He was a well-known producer and had lots of connections in the music industry. When I lived in Los Angeles in the early 80s he was out there on business and called me to meet up with him for lunch.

I was happy to meet up with him. It would be nice to not only see a member of my family because it was my first time far away from home. But also because he was my favorite uncle. He was a brilliant guy with a lightning-fast wit. He was an easy-going dude that everybody liked.

I drove out to Century City in my 1969 VW minibus to meet him for lunch. We were joined by the former president of Columbia Records who was a buddy of my uncle’s. I remember it was cool to hang out with these guys and listen to their stories of the glory days of popular music in the 60s.

During his time in the business, my uncle met many musicians and celebrities like Andy Williams, and Barbra Streisand.

One story that stand out in my mind is when his buddy told a story about how the Jefferson Airplane had recorded a demo for Columbia and they didn’t like it and turned it down flat for a record deal. He said one of the guys in the band urinated into the planter in the corner of his office upon hearing the news. He said they later signed with RCA Victor and got an unheard of $25k advance to get on board with them. (which was a fortune in 1965)  “They were a bunch of crazy people.” he said about the band.

Anyway, I always loved my uncle and still miss his wry wit to this day. But back to the story at hand.

Because my uncle was in the industry he would be given lots of vinyl demo albums to check out and review. Anything that was popular or mainstream he could relate to, but when he was given anything relating to classical music or opera, he would give them to his brother.

Which was my father. My dad loved classical music and opera and it was probably his favorite kind of music. Since my uncle was clueless to that kind of music he’d pass them to my dad to give him the lowdown on each orchestra and album.

This went on for many years and my dad got loads of free music to add to his collection. As a kid, I always wondered why on many of his record albums there was always a red stamp on the back. It read: “Not for Sale. This album is for demonstration purposes only.” Those were the ones my uncle gave him. If for some reason there was some unknown rock band in one of the many albums he gave him, my dad would pass it to me. Even as far forward as the late 70s. I remember my dad handing me the soundtrack to the animated film, Heavy Metal based on the comic magazine. It’s where I first heard the song, Mob Rules by Black Sabbath. There was even a record that consisted of a collection of songs by different artists, and one of them was a really old recording from the German metal band Scorpions (Whom I loved) it was a song called “Am I Going Mad?” from the album Lonesome Crow, which I didn’t even know existed back then.

Anyway, back in 1968, my uncle was chatting with my dad about music, and an interesting question came up. He said he had a buddy over at Decca Records that was working with a somewhat popular band from the UK. The group had been generating some buzz as an up-and-coming mod/rock band. They were trying to find their voice and identity and had released a few small hits.

Back in the 50s and early 60s, bands and singers only released singles. Short songs that were never longer than 3 minutes long. If that artist had generated enough popular songs in a period of time, the label l would put the songs out as a collection on an LP.

But the Beatles changed all that when they started to release albums of all-new material. No longer would albums be collections of hits but bonafide creative works of music.

But the main guy in the band over at Decca was a brilliant songwriter and wanted to take his band’s music to the next level. He came up with a unique concept. He ran the idea and played a few songs for his producer. It was a groundbreaking idea for an album that hadn’t ever been done before.

The producer over at Decca ran the idea by my uncle to get his thoughts on the subject. He of course spoke to his brother, (my dad) about it. My father listened intently to the idea and gave him this response:

“Do they have a libretto?”

“A what?”

A libretto. Every opera has a libretto. It’s the text and the substantive ideas that inspire the composition, including the dramatic structure, characters and scenario of the opera.

“Okay…”

“Well, tell your friend that if this band is going to do some kind of opera, they’ll need a libretto so when people buy the record they can read along and know what’s going on with the story of the songs even if it’s in a different language.”

So my uncle goes back and tells all of this to his buddy over at Decca, and he tells the guy in the band who’s writing the album. He loves the idea and they decide to include a libretto with the new album. My uncle tells my dad and he’s happy he was able to help out based on his expertise with classical music and opera.

“By the way, Jack, what’s the opera about?”

“It’s about a deaf, mute, and blind boy who is abused as a child and becomes an incredible player at the game of pinball.”

“Okay, well that seems a little weird, but I hope they have success with that. Glad I could help.”

My dad obviously got a free demo copy of the album before it came out and turned me on to this incredible band and their music.

So my father had something to do with the creation of Tommy by The Who.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. 

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Tales of Rock – Black Sabbath & Me

Manhattan, New York – 2007

These were my final day in New York. I had moved up there in 2005 for the company I was working for. By this point, I was working as a consultant for a firm that cleaned up smaller banks and credit unions. My office was at the corner of 34th and 5th Avenue, across the street from the Empire State Building.

My friend Duncan, who I’ve been friends with for over 20 years now, found out that Black Sabbath would be kicking off their latest tour at Radio City Music Hall.

Black Sabbath are the godfathers of heavy metal.

I’ve written about their guitarist, Tony Iommi before in this blog. It’s quite interesting and will give you insight into how the Sabbath sound was accidentally created. Check it out!

Black Sabbath began in the late 60s and played with singer Ozzy Osbourne for most of the 70s. But when Ozzy became too drunk and drugged out he was kicked out of the band. He was replaced by Ronnie James Dio another godfather of metal.

I love the early Sabbath albums. The first four to be specific. But two of my favorite albums the band ever made are Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules made with Ronnie. They’re perfect bookends of the Dio Years.

The band was reuniting with Ronnie for a special tour called The Dio Years and we had to attend. The tour of North America would debut in Manhattan and that show would be recorded for an upcoming live concert DVD to be released in 2007. But they had just released a CD to refresh the memories of the fans of the Dio years.

One of the things that Duncan and I have always had in common was our love for hard rock and heavy metal. You can find our stories here.

He bought the tickets and flew up to the city and stayed at my apartment in Jersey City. We met up and hung out in the city. We went out to lunch together and even flirted with some old ladies in the restaurant. We were just being our usual mischievous selves. Two metalheads wandering around the city.

But by nightfall, we were gearing up for the show. After several drinks and Duncan smoking from a little one-hitter I got for him, we were ready to rock.

We went to the show and to be honest it wasn’t like any metal show we’d ever been to. Most shows we attended were a sweaty, drunken, drugged-out mess. I mean, we were always well behaved and just banged our heads in metal fury, but this was Radio City Music Hall. Security was super tight, and there was no smoking in the theater. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to RCMH but it’s a nice place. Really nice. Great acoustics to play and record a live show, but there would be no monkey business at that show. So the crowd was subdued.

Whenever the band played anything from Heaven and Hell or Mob Rules we would rock out. But if they played anything else they did with Ronnie, that was my cue to go get us two more beers.

The show was great and we had a great time as always. We got out of the concert exhausted. Of course, Duncan had a strong case of the munchies and immediately headed for a food cart. I stayed away from street meat but Duncan wasn’t hearing it. He proceeded to devour a couple of kabobs.

We made our way to the PATH train to get back to Jersey City, where I was currently residing. I was surprised how many people were on the same train at that hour and we were sausaged in there with a ton of other people.

We finally made it back to my house, and it was a race to the bathroom for Duncan. I told him not to eat food from a Roach Coach, knowing this could happen. But he was fine.

He crashed at my place, and the next morning he was to head back to Charlotte, North Carolina where he lives. I asked him if he could stay longer because the band was going to be at Best Buy in two days to do an album signing.

But Duncan being the consummate employee to the bank where he’s worked since 1993, said he had to go.

But, I was determined to go back to Manhattan and meet the band if possible.

Two days later, I headed back over to Manhattan. When I got there, the line of fans went out the door of the store, around the corner, and down the street. I got at the end of the line around 5 pm.

The great thing about having to wait in a long line to see your heroes is, you get to meet and chat with a bunch of other people that all have the same thing in common. We are all there for the same thing. So it’s not boring because you can trade stories and talk about the band’s music. It was a nice day, so I was happy to be there with my rock n’ roll brethren. I wished Duncan had stuck around but I really wanted to see if I could meet them.

After about an hour or so, I finally got inside the store. The limit was 3 copies of their new album. So, of course, I bought 3. When I finally got up front I took a couple of photos.

Of course, once I was in the eye and earshot of the band I made sure they heard me say in my best Dio impression, “I’ve been waiting so long to see you guys, I feel like I’m the last in line!

(That’s a line from a Ronnie James Dio song and I got a laugh from the band!) Yes!

 

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But the best part was actually meeting the godfathers of heavy metal. When it came to my turn, I had all of the CDs open and had pulled out the liner notes to get them signed. I dropped them onto the table in front of Tony Iommi. I put out my hand and he took it to shake.

“Thank you for 40 years of joy, Mr. Iommi.”

“Your welcome. It’s been my pleasure.”

I was so caught up in the moment of meeting one of the gods of rock, I wasn’t paying attention to where my liner notes they were signing went. I looked down and they were gone.

“Hey, where’s my stuff?”

A voice came from the man sitting next to him. “I think they’re moving down that way.”

BLACK SABBATH | Black Sabbath: The Dio Years Autographed

I looked over, and those words came from the mouth of the man himself.

“Thank you, Ronnie James Dio!” I shook his hand and it was a glorious moment to stand before the golden voice of all British heavy metal. He looked really old and small, but I knew in my heart that tiny gnome held great power. He signed my stuff and passed it down to none other than Geezer Butler! The man who wrote many of the great Black Sabbath songs.

I shook his hand as well and thanked him for all of the joy he and the band had brought my friends and me over the last four decades. Vinnie Appice had replaced drummer Bill Ward for health reasons so it was no big deal to meet him. (Sorry, Vinnie)

I walked outside with a guy I had met in line, and we carefully held all of our liner notes out to let the sharpie signatures dry. We headed over to a bar and shared a laugh and a beer.

It was a beautiful few days in my life and a nice cap to my time in New York. In two months I’d be living in Pennsauken, New Jersey with my ex-mother-in-law. But that’s another story.

But there’s more… keep reading!

Philadelphia, PA – 2010

I was living in Philadelphia by now and working at Philly.com. I was doing well, had a beautiful girlfriend and everything was right in the world. (As much as it could be)

I heard that Ozzy Osborne was going to be at the Borders book store at the corner of Broad and Chestnut. (Now a giant Walgreens) After work, I headed over there. I bought a copy of his new book and got in line. It started on the first floor and went around the store and upstairs. Ahh… always a line to see the gods of rock.

Here’s some stuff about him from the blog.

When I finally got up to meet him, I couldn’t believe I was standing there in front of the amazing OZ! I handed him my copy of his book.

“Thank you for 40 years of joy, Mr. Osbourne!”

(Mumbles) “Your welcome.”

And security pushed me along so the next fan could get their book signed.

Not as great as seeing his former bandmates and Dio three years earlier, but  I was at least happy to get his book and autograph. I did get some better pictures at this event though.

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This band made so much great music over the years I’ll listen to their records until the day I die.

 

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. 

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

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