Once a band achieves fame, it becomes fairly easy to read a variety of articles about the members, or the music. If a band’s early days gets addressed, often those details are relegated to two to three paragraphs of a profile. So a while back comics creator Cully Hamner intrigued me, when he made folks aware that Greg Renoff‘s upcoming book, Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal, was to be released in October 2015. Renoff’s book title makes clear part of what he sets out to reveal, but the aspect that really hooked me into learning more was the author’s decision to focus on Van Halen’s pre-1978 days (aka before they were famous and successful). To get a glimpse of Renoff’s writing style (as well as a taste of his post-1978 Van Halen knowledge) be sure to read his recent Medium piece, which also features legendary photographer Helmut Newton. If that is not enough fun for you after reading this interview, please be sure to peruse Renoff’s Van Halen Rising website.
Tim O’Shea: This book was researched partially by 230 interviews you conducted. How long did it take to conduct all of them?
Greg Renoff: I did my first interviews in 2008. When I first started, I was spurred on by curiosity about Van Halen’s early days more than the idea I’d write a book. I talked to a LA nightclub owner who’d booked Van Halen in 1976 and then to a Pasadena drummer who’d seen the Van Halen brothers perform live long before David Lee Roth joined the band. Then about a year later, I had a break from teaching and decided to dig into the topic some more by doing more interviews. After I started hearing more tales of the band members’ wild days before they were famous, I saw that there was a great story here that needed to be told in book form.
It has been almost a week since our return from Cayamo 2015 (the eighth edition of the Americana music cruise, hosted by Sixthman, and the fifth one my wife and I got to attend). So many musical highlights there is no chance I can list them all. But for me, the nicest moment was getting on an elevator only to find Buddy Miller on it, and getting to say “Thank you” to him for all the great music. The genius musician and producer is so modest he actually thanked me in return. Rather than trying to summarize the musical experience with any more words, I am going to merely opt for a sampling of social media photos from Cayamo 2015.
This morning while running errands, I heard Eric Clapton’s 1974 cover of the song, Please Be with Me, for the first time. Despite the fact I was aware that the late Duane Allman’s daughter, Galadrielle Allman, recently released a memoir about her father of the same name (Please Be with Me–A Song for My Father) I did not realize Allman’s connection to the song.
I first saw The Mastersons play on the Cayamo cruise in 2011. When I found out that the Austin, Texas-based musical duo of Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore were appearing August 7 at Eddie’s Attic (at 7:30 PM), I reached out to Whitmore for a quick email interview to help spread the word. We discuss the new album, Good Luck Charm, which was released by the husband-wife team in June (and is available on iTunes, Vinyl or your local record store), as well as the advantages of playing a legendary cozy venue like Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Georgia.
Tim O’Shea: How much do you enjoy getting to play more intimate venues like Eddie’s Attic (as opposed to the larger venues you play when opening for or playing with Steve Earle)?
Eleanor Whitmore: It’s easier to connect with your audience when they’re close around you. It’s a lot of fun to play places like Eddie’s Attic because you can interact with the crowd more, but there is a certain challenge to winning over a bigger audience in a large venue and we like doing that too.
I rarely do things like this. But I attended a funeral/celebration of life today–and I noticed there were going to be bagpipes played for the processional hymn.
I contacted a friend who was not there (before the service began) and offered to tape it for him. Here it is. Out of respect for the family, I am opting not to identify them on the blog. My friend noted when he listened to my recording that the bagpipes were uilleann pipes (the national bagpipe of Ireland, apparently). Apt for two days before St. Patrick’s Day.
I must emphasize it is an amateur recording effort on my part. Enjoy.
As she co-wrote it, I think Peebles is the default winner–but I have always been partial to Young’s version. As I get older, my appreciation of Graham Parker’s version increases however; particularly as the 1980s Young version becomes increasingly dated with every passing year.
When I can make it, once a year I try to make the Sixthman Cayamo cruise. This year it was a seven-day musical cruise with a lineup that cannot be easily summarized (but can be found here). It just wrapped yesterday–and in the next couple of days I hope to post videos of past performances from some of the talent that caught my attention this year.
First up is Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams–and a video from Cayamo 2013. Judging by this video, I am supremely bummed that I missed last year. Glad I caught it this year. Williams’ voice is a powerhouse that could fuel the cruise ship all by herself.
The day of the MST3K Turkey Day Marathon seems like the perfect time to tell folks about Mary JoPehl‘s (aka Pearl and so much more from MST3K, as well as Cinematic Titanic) Kickstarter for Awesome Music For Awful Movies. This is a project she has planned to record (as described by her) “an album of original songs that pay homage to bad movies of Mystery Science Theater 3000 . . . The songs will be written by veteran Twin Cities musicians Michael Warren, Claudia Hankin, and Tony Balluff, and performed by yours truly in a variety of genres such as power pop, ballad, pop-country”. There are seven days left in the Kickstarter, which seemed like the ideal time to chat with her about her plans. I consider myself fortunate enough when I get to catch up with Pehl.
Tim O’Shea: When and how did you decide you wanted to team with Michael Warren, Claudia Hankin, and Tony Balluff to pursue this project?
Mary Jo Pehl: Over the past several years, many people came up to me after Cinematic Titanic shows and told me how much they loved “When Loving Lovers Love” from “Overdrawn At The Memory Bank.” I’d been trying to come up with a new project that might push me past my comfort zone, and let me work with people who were smart and funny and whose work I admired.
It is always good to catch up with a musician I interviewed in the past, to see how their work had evolved in the interim. The last time I interviewed Karyn Oliver was nearly three years ago. The mid-2013 release of Oliver’s new CD, Magadelene, prompted this new series of questions. A great deal has changed for Oliver in the past three years–but I will let her tell you about that.
Tim O’Shea: Since we last spoke in late 2010 (for your previous album, Red Dress) you got married. Has that major life change influenced any of the songs you wrote for this new album?
Karyn Oliver: Well, sure. Anytime you change, your writing changes with you. “Red Dress” was all about a major life change – I was getting divorced, so the album was all about transition and overcoming and becoming. I think “Magdalene” is a far more empowered album. Even the heartbroken songs have some sense of personal power. My narrator is a bit more mature, a bit more confident.