Tag Archives: music

Music, Part 1

One day in 1973 or 1974, I went to the Mercer Island Public Library. I don’t recall if I was there for a school assignment, to look for something to read, or another reason, but while there I started to look through the bin of LPs. The pickings were slim, but one record jacket caught my eye, “Country Cassanova”, by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen.

On the front was a photo of a pretty rough looking guy leaning on a 60s vintage Lincoln Continental. Flip to the backside and the same guy is posing with seven others in front of an old Greyhound tour bus. They were a matched set with the one on the cover. Long hair, disheveled, a touch greasy looking, they looked like the guys mom warns you about.

Now, I had heard of Commander Cody due to a big hit a couple of years before, “Hot Rod Lincoln.” But that was it. The album in my hand was more recent, and contained tunes I didn’t know, with the exception of “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” which I had heard performed by another artist. But I checked it out, took it home, and slapped it on the family turntable.

What came out of the speakers was definitely not what I was used to listening to.  I owned a few albums by such artists as Cat Stevens, Elton John, and Jim Croce, but that was pretty much it. I had been heavily influenced by popular radio like many my age.

The title track opens the album with a single strike of the snare and a steel guitar riff which initially turned me off. Steel guitar, that instrument which seemed to me designed simply to evoke weepy emotions, was the last thing I wanted to hear. Put simply, it wasn’t cool.

The funny thing is, I kept listening. As the tracks went by I heard a wide range of musical styles. I wasn’t used to that, as the albums in my collection were mostly by singer-songwriters and all in a certain style depending on the artist.

Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, January 2, 1976, Gold Creek Dome, Woodinville, Washington - Bruce Barlow, John Tichy, Bill Kirchen

But Commander Cody had multiple songwriters and did numerous covers of songs by other artists. Plus, some members of the band were multi instrumentalists. Besides lead guitar, Bill Kirchen played trombone, and fiddler Andy Stein doubled on sax. Steel guitar player Bobby Black often added a third voice to the horns making it sound like a full horn section. Rockabilly, swing, country, gospel, and more than I can remember filled the record with a lively set of tunes.

On top of all that, four voices shared lead vocals. Cody’s proto-rapping of his numbers really didn’t define the band’s overall sound, but added to a diverse song catalog. Billy C. Farlow was essentially a rockabilly singer and nearly channeled Buddy Holly on a cover of “Rave On.” Bill Kirchen’s baritone is heard on a number of leads and backups, often the harder edged numbers. Rhythm guitarist John Tichy seemed to prefer the traditional country and gospel tunes.

“Country Cassanova”, in my opinion, is not the best of the albums produced by this crew. That honor easily goes to their first live album, “Live from Deep in the Heart of Texas.” But it started me on a lifelong journey with music.

I discovered that I didn’t need to listen only to what my friends listened to, or to what the Top 40 gurus deemed good enough to sell advertising. Sure, I bought popular music and saw concerts by popular artists, but I was open to just about anything. I also soon discovered that local musicians didn’t just do covers of what was being played on the radio.

I will continue this topic in future posts.

Music is more meaningful when it has a close, personal connection

The following was originally published in the Puyallup Herald.

Did you catch PK Dwyer’s show recently at the Puyallup Farmer’s Market? I didn’t. Had I known he was performing, I’d have been there.

Dwyer was a significant figure in Seattle music in the 1970s and 80s. Credited with being the first busker at the Pike Place Market, he also fronted the groundbreaking Seattle band, The Jitters. I know this because I own their 1980 LP, which leads off with the memorably titled song, “Don’t You Remember That You Are the One That Burned Down the Bridges That I Built Over Rivers of Tears That I Cried Over You.”

Once, when I was working at a fast food place in college, Dwyer and the other Jitters walked in and ordered some road food. He wore sunglasses, and if I recall correctly, jeans and a sport coat. But what made him memorable was his hair. It was light-brown or blonde hair, styled in a sort of unruly shag-do, his head nearly disappearing in its immensity.

Dwyer has been making music on his own terms for decades, preferring to perform on the street or in small, unique venues. His occasional recordings have garnered great reviews and an award or two. Oh, and nowadays that immense hair has migrated south to his chin, where he sports a Meeker-esque beard.

Kim Field in the 80s

But he wasn’t the only northwest musician I’ve been catching up with in the past couple of years. While digitizing some old negatives I shot at Bumbershoot, I wondered about the subjects of those pictures, a blues outfit called The Slamhound Hunters. With a little research I found out the harmonica player and lead vocalist, Kim Field, now fronts The Mighty Titans of Tone in Seattle, and published a terrific book on the history of the harmonica.

Then, while browsing Facebook looking for Field, I came across a duo known as Funk Mason. Carl Funk and Larry Mason had been key members of The Allies, one of the most successful Seattle bands of the 1980s, gaining national exposure on MTV’s Basement Tapes. After spending some time in New York, both came back to Washington. For ten years or so they played regionally as an acoustic duo.

A little more than a year ago they teamed with local boy and Grammy winner Eric Tingstad to form The Halyards. They released a well-received CD, “Fortune Smiles,” and have been performing regularly in the Puget Sound region.

The Halyards

At the U2 show at Qwest Field recently, I had my wife Laurie take a picture of me proudly displaying my Halyards t-shirt, with the gigantic stage in the background. U2 was an almost overwhelming experience, with the high tech audio-visuals and crowd of 70,000 roaring for the biggest rock band in the world. But the importance of musicians like Dwyer, Field, Funk, and Mason looms large in my life, pushing the megastars down the list of music I can’t live without.

Lesson learned: Check the Puyallup concert listings regularly.

All photographs by Michael Brown