Those of you than have known me for any considerable length of time know that music has been a huge part of my life, both in my professional work as the Director of Product Design for Baldwin Piano & Organ Company for almost 30 years, but perhaps even more so through a lifetime of enjoyment from making music, through high school, college, and for many years after, up until I finally retired from my time as an amateur musician and performer. It was maybe the most fun I have had in my life, spanning an era of some 52 of my 71 years. I still think of myself as a musician. My body however, strongly disagrees. I can no longer even come close to hoisting that 150 lb. Ampeg Bass Amp onto the stage. And I am totally deaf in my left ear, from standing to the right of Johnny Freeman’s hideously loud twin guitar amps. And the lyrics to many of the songs I have sung for 52 years, are mysteriously missing in action when I need them. But I still like to think I could do it once more, with feeling, if someone one would supply a nurse and standby team of paramedics with oxygen.
And I was lucky enough to have been a part of that period of musical history in America when the really good music was being produced, by thousands and tens of thousands of guys and girls just like me (well, actually a lot better than me) were producing some of the best music styles ever. Music that shaped a nation. From Chuck Berry, to Elvis Presley, to the explosion of Rock n Roll in the mid sixties, the Beatles, Motown, all the great solo stars and groups we all grew up with.
What got me to thinking about this was a brief conversation I had today with a good friend who now lives in LA, who is from Greenwood. In fact he was a sort of road manager for our group, the Curb Service Band back around the early 1980’s, when we were just starting to have some success, and lots of fun, playing all over the Delta.
Jim asked me what was gonna become of the music business in the next 10 to 20 years, as fewer and fewer kids took up the guitar, or drums, or digital keyboards, to PARTICIPATE in making music like we did, but instead opting to be just a spectator, walking around with a phone in their hand, or an X-box at home, or spending hours on mindless video games.
I told him that I was afraid his fears were well founded, as I had seen first hand as my time of employment at Baldwin was drawing to a close at the beginning of the 21st century. At that time, Baldwin had already seen a significant reduction in demand for our upright, or console acoustic pianos, as more and more families were not encouraging their kids to take piano lessons. Demand for Grand pianos was not nearly as impacted, but we could see the writing on the wall that did not bode well for the music industry in general, as kids were surely losing interest in taking any kind of a participatory role in music.
And I could see a link to the quality and type of music issuing forth in the post 2000 era as well. It seemed to me that the whole industry was undergoing a massive change, in the way music was sold and marketed, and how it was produced. It was no longer a situation of who had the most talent, or wrote the best songs, but more of a generational shift to who had the most money behind them to promote them as the stars of a new era. Examples that come to mind are the Monkees, and some of the “Boy Bands”, that were mostly pretty faces, with little talent. And it was not limited to the guys. Hanna Montana, started out as a sweet kid who made millions with Disney, but later followed the Jekyll and Hyde path to become Miley Circus, uh, Cyrus.
So, then came the rappers, and people finally started to wonder, are we done with having music to enjoy? Is that all there is ? Did it really die, or at least START to die, when the plane went down with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper?
I can remember back to how much music meant to me, growing up, playing it, participating in it with close friends, and some of the bands I really appreciated. Some of my favorites were of course, the Beatles, Beach Boys, the Temptations, Four Tops, and later on the Doobie Brothers, and a special favorite, Earth Wind and Fire. I learned to appreciate the musical skills some of these groups displayed.
I took a special interest in preparing the repertoire of music that the Curb Service Band chose for our performances. I had pretty much one rule… for a song to make it into our playlist, it had to be GREAT DANCE TUNE ! That’s what we were known for, DANCE MUSIC. We rarely played clubs or bars, and almost exclusively private parties… weddings, graduations, Country Club parties, etc, and people that followed us knew they would get a workout if the came to hear us. Sadly, DJ’s have moved into that market, and now you hear a mix of some old Motown favorites and a good bit of rap music.
Anyway, as I was thinking about this post, and what I wanted to say, it dawned on me that music had begun to lose some of its attraction for me. I was shocked to admit that to myself. It’s certainly not that I no longer love music, but more that I no longer have the opportunity to enjoy it so much. I RARELY listen to the car radio anymore…. not much to listen to, other than a few bad talk radio stations. What little music you do have is mediocre at best. Then I made the connection I think that Jim was getting at. There is no worthwhile music being produced anymore, primarily because there is such a short supply of accomplished musicians to populate the bands the record companies used to attract, and most musicians that are still willing to try find nothing but resistance in today’s music market, that most resort to trying to sell their stuff on the internet, with pretty disappointing results for themselves financially.
So, what IS going on with my music? It seems that the plane crash was just the beginning, of a slow and pitiful death, that is now coming to light as more of a general starvation, than death by sudden impact. Is there anything we as old school music lovers can do ?
I find that I may have just let myself drift for a few years, thinking that the music was indeed gone, or at least going. I sort of lost interest in what was out there. I mentioned Earth, Wind & Fire earlier as perhaps my favorite band of all time. especially since they had such world class musical talent in folks such as Maurice White, the leader, and his two brothers, who were the backbone of the group. Their arrangements were unique in all of the music world, and they had a horn section that was the best in the business. But what made them stand head and shoulders above all the others, in my humble opinion, was when they hit the first note, you wanted to get up out of your seat and dance! Right? You’ve heard them ! You could not sit down, and you could not keep from smiling when they played SEPTEMBER, or maybe SING A SONG. AM I RIGHT ?
I was fortunate enough to hear them live one night in Frankfurt, Germany, in a creepy old, ornate wrought iron metal Gothic church that had been bombed out during WW2, and later restored and rebuilt as a modern concert hall. EWF literally blew the house down, in a three hour non-stop show that left the German crowd of equally creepy young Visigoths utterly exhausted from dancing for the entire night.
So, I mentioned all this for one reason, and as a precursor to my appeal to not give up hope. I did kind of let my attention lapse in the five years since I gave up performing in the Curb Service Band, and a few names I should have noticed kind of slipped up on me while I was drifting in my semi-depression from musical withdrawal. One of these bands was a group named Bruno Mars. I think Bruno is perhaps a Cuban fellow, and likewise for probably most of his band. You know… probably a bit hot blooded… “Anejo and knives a slashing”, as Mr. Buffet once said. Much like one of his famous predecessors, a young man named Ricky Ricardo. He’s the fellow that had the red headed wife, back in the 40’s and 50’s, when TV was getting started. Yeah, that guy! It’s likely you remember them. And while Ricky had an exceptional orchestra, they lacked one key ingredient that Bruno Mars guys have….. Ricky’s band probably ran on a lot of Cuban rum, and a good supply of those left handed Lucky Strikes. Bruno Mars’bunch runs on rocket fuel mixed with dynamite and pure plutonium !
I never in my entire musical life thought I would see a band that could match Earth, Wind and Fire, in pure talent, excitement, and raw energy. Bruno Mars not only matches them, they snatch the crown off their heads, and run off into the sunset at about Mach 2.
You probably were exposed to Bruno Mars about the same time as me, 2 or 3 years ago at they halftime of the Superbowl, where they almost burned the stadium down from the friction from peoples’ shoes dancing on the concrete seats of the venue.
I am not going to continue to gush about how good these guys are. I will simply post one link below, to the title track to their new album. “24K MAGIC”. I ask that you listen, preferably with a good set of headphones, and the volume turned up to the EXTREME DANGER level !
And take note of the performance of the bass player. He is actually not a Cuban, but an alien from one of the outer planets. His brain and his fingers operate on a plane so much higher that you or I that it is difficult for mere humans to truly appreciate. I think you will agree that Bruno Mars gives us hope for the future of music, if parents will please stop giving their kids i-Phones for their 11th birthday or Christmas, or X-boxes, and at least buy them a digital keyboard or a trumpet, or drums, or even a piccolo (well maybe not a piccolo, it’s too nerdy), whether they want one or not. Maybe they will grow up to play the bass like this guy… Everyone knows that the bass player is the FOUNDATON of the band… and yes, I was a bass player
And so, I present, the reason I have hope that music is not yet dead, just maybe clinging by its fingernails, on life support……. Bruno Mars. Listen to the exceptionalism, the soaring musicianship, the perfection of the harmonies that erupt from the vocals, the horn arrangements, the power of the percussion, and the mastery of the sound engineering, even on a lowly FB audio setup. I wish you could hear it as Jennings and I heard it through our 5,000 watt sound system at the Debutante Party we did last night at the Country Club !
After you have listened, go get your wife, or husband or daughter, or your cranky old neighbor. and make them dance with you the second and third times you listen… And stop that grinning ! And help me search for more like this alien bass player. He has the FORCE, heck he IS the FORCE !!!
PS – The album is exceptional, all cuts, and if you like it, download one from i-Tunes for only $ 9.99, and then you can drive around town in your car, singing at the top of your lungs, and playing steering wheel drums, and thinking no one can really hear or see you. !
— JOE SEAWRIGHT