Strummin’ my six-string, on my front-porch swing

When I turned 12 in 1967, I was, like many American boys with even an inkling of musical ability, eager to learn guitar and become a rock and roll star.  Or so I thought.

I persuaded my parents to buy me an electric guitar for Christmas…but I would have to save up to buy an amplifier.  (I think they hoped I would lose interest before I could

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amplify my lame caterwaulings throughout the neighborhood.)

I took lessons in the hope of learning how to be the next John Lennon, or Eric Clapton, or whomever.  But I quickly saw my limitations as a lead guitarist, and soon decided to alter my goals.  Perhaps, instead, I could become an acoustic strummer like Paul Simon.

So I sold the electric, and instead chose an economy-line 12-string acoustic guitar, slowly learning the songs of Simon and Garfunkel, Peter Paul & Mary, the acoustic Beatles material, and more.

By 1971, my parents felt I was serious enough about playing guitar that they agreed we should invest in a D-12-28 Martin 12-string, one of the better instruments available.  Over the next few years, I expanded my repertoire to include songs by James Taylor, Neil

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Young, Cat Stevens, Jackson Browne and other singer-songwriters of that musically fertile period.

In college, I joined forces with a talented pianist named Irwin Fisch, and we played at coffeehouses around the Syracuse University campus.  With piano now in the mix, I learned even more songs, adding The Eagles, Dan Fogelberg, Jonathan Edwards.  What a blast we had.

I thought it might be fun to assemble a playlist of 20 songs I love to play on guitar.  Of course, I know plenty of the well-known hits by the artists mentioned here, but I decided it might be more interesting to dig into their catalogs and feature some acoustic lost classic deep tracks instead.

Maybe someday, if we cross paths, you can feel free to twist my arm to play one of these long-lost songs that bring back fond memories from your distant past.  Enjoy!

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“The Weight,” The Band, 1968

The-Band-Music-From-Big-Pink-Album-Cover-web-optimised-820Comprised of four Canadians and one Yank, The Band helped bring the counterculture back from psychedelia to more simple, homespun music with a prototype “Americana” style.  Never a chart success, The Band still came up with iconic material, particularly “The Weight,” since covered by more than 50 other major artists.  Everyone loves to sing along on the chorus, “Take a load off, Fanny, take a load for free…

“Follow Me,” Mary Travers, 1971

Mary_Travers_-_MaryJohn Denver wrote this ode to love and recorded it on one of his early albums, and Travers, branching out on her own after the breakup of Peter, Paul and Mary, did a marvelous cover on her 1971 debut.  I sang and played it to my fiancée at our wedding rehearsal dinner, so it’s clearly a special song in my family:  “You see, I’d like to share my life with you and show you things I’ve seen, places where I’m going to, places where I’ve been…”

“Beautiful,” Gordon Lightfoot, 1972

Album_Don_QuixoteCanada’s musical icon got his start in the early ’60s, and saw cover versions of his songs become hits in the US.  He finally broke through here himself with “If You Could Read My Mind” in 1970.  He went on to enjoy multiple hits throughout the ’70s, and is still performing today despite health issues that sidelined him for a while.  I always love to go back to “Beautiful,” a gorgeous track from his 1972 LP, “Don Quixote.”

“Longer Boats,” Cat Stevens, 1970

Tea_for_the_Tillerman.jpegGreek-British hybrid Steven Georgiou began his recording career slowly in 1967, then exploded in the US and UK with the back-to-back “Tea for the Tillerman” and “Teaser and the Firecat” albums in 1970 and 1971.  More great albums followed, then Cat’s conversion to Yusef and a lengthy commitment to the Muslim faith before returning to pop music in 2010.  From Cat’s “Tillerman” LP is the wonderful singalong track “Longer Boats.”

“Sandman,” America, 1971

Unknown-28As it turned out, I lost interest in America and their songs, but the debut LP is incredible, and I listened to it incessantly.  I think “A Horse With No Name” is boring and overrrated and has rather ridiculous lyrics, but there’s a hypnotic track on the album called “Sandman” that became a sort of signature song for the “Hackett and Beard” duo I played in during my high school years.  It’s always fun to play in group settings.

“Duncan,” Paul Simon, 1972

PaulSimon-Front-1Simon’s first foray into a solo career was met with some skepticism, seeing as how his final work with Art Garfunkel had been one of the biggest successes of 1970.  But the new songs were well received, from “Mother and Child Reunion” to “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.”  For me, the sleeper track “Duncan” has always been one of my go-to songs.  Great story-song about a guy leaving home and searching for love and a new life.

“Younger Girl,” The Lovin’ Spooful, 1966

81otQJlCuIL._SL1500_John Sebastian wrote all the classic hit tunes for his East Coast band The Lovin’ Spoonful, which dominated the airwaves in the 1965-1967-period.  Everyone knows “Do You Believe in Magic,” “Daydream” and “Summer in the City,” but not everyone is as familiar with the minor hit single “Younger Girl,” a wonderfully dreamy song that always gets an “awww” reaction whenever I play it.

“Fountain of Sorrow,” Jackson Browne, 1974

s-l300-1The poet laureate of the Laurel Canyon scene (other than Joni Mitchell, of course) was Browne, who wrote some astonishingly candid tunes that made us all examine our own paths and dreams a bit more deeply.  From “Rock Me on the Water” to “These Days” and “The Pretender,” Browne wrote some of the best introspective pieces of the ’70s, and most near and dear to me has always been “Fountain of Sorrow,” from his iconic 1974 “Late For the Sky” LP.

“Sit On Back,” Livingston Taylor, 1970

Livingston_Taylor_coverBrother James became such a star that his talented younger brother couldn’t possibly match up.  Consequently, his delightful albums therefore slipped under the radar of most fans of the singer-songwriter genre, which was a shame.  He has continued to perform at small clubs and venues, mostly in the East and Midwest.  From Livingston’s debut LP is this effervescent track that’s bound to bring a smile to your face.

“Tupelo Honey,” Van Morrison, 1971

17a16f4310f5299c244170f5846584a2--my-music-music-mixMorrison, a titan of songwriting since his late ’60s debut, has released three “Best of Van” collections over the years, and it has never ceased to amaze me that he has neglected to ever include this lovely tune on any of those collections.  From his 1971 album of the same name, “Tupelo Honey” — melody, lyrics, arrangement, all of it — are simply sublime, and I always get a warm response when I include it in my set.

“There’s a Place in the World For a Gambler,” Dan Fogelberg, 1974

220px-Dan_Fogelberg_-_SouvenirsLike so many singer-songwriters, Fogelberg arrived slowly, offering gorgeous, introspective songs on his 1972 debut “Home Free,” which stiffed on the charts.  Then he recruited Joe Walsh as producer and guitarist, with guest appearances by Graham Nash, Don Henley and others to produce the 1974 gem “Souvenirs,” featuring his first hit single “Part of the Plan.”  Also on that LP was the stunning closer, “There’s a Place in the World For a Gambler,” which is so much fun to play on guitar.

“Wondering Aloud,” Jethro Tull, 1971

JethroTullAqualungalbumcover-1Tull was a progressive rock giant, known for aggressive flute-driven anthems like “Aqualung,” “Minstrel in the Gallery,” “Thick as a Brick” and “Locomotive Breath.”  Still, singer-songwriter Ian Anderson loved to sprinkle every album with a few delightful acoustic numbers to keep everyone guessing.  On the “Aqualung” LP, “Wondering Aloud” was always the one that grabbed me.

“Cloudy,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1966

2667835I learned virtually the entire Simon & Garfunkel catalog, and sang their stuff with my guitar compatriot Ben Beard in my formative years.  Beyond the obvious hits (“The Boxer,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Homeward Bound”), there were so many other hidden treasures.  From the duo’s third LP, 1966’s “Parsley, Sage Rosemary & Thyme,” I’m very partial to “Cloudy,” a special favorite of my dear departed friend Chris Moore, who loved to harmonize on it with me.

“Working Class Hero,” John Lennon, 1970

JohnLennon_PlasticOnoBand.jpegLennon was a rocker from the very beginning, and although his Beatles songs were mostly inspired by Elvis and Chuck Berry rock ‘n roll knockoffs, he was plenty capable of more introspective acoustic numbers like “Norwegian Wood,” “In My Life,” “Julia,” and “Across the Universe.”  Upon the band’s breakup, Lennon chose to release a debut solo LP full of raw, emotional tracks that many found tough to absorb, but I was entranced by the haunting “Working Class Hero.”

“Friends,” Elton John, 1971

FriendsElton and lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote and released many songs on various labels when they first started out, and fans were therefore astonished to find not one, not two, not three, but four albums of Elton John songs available in the spring of 1971, one of which was an obscure soundtrack LP from a slight but charming French film called “Friends.”  The title track has always been a huge favorite of mine.

“Blackbird,” The Beatles, 1968

The_Beatles_album_coverBecause so many songs in The Beatles’ catalog were acoustically based — “And I Love Her,” “Yesterday,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “Norwegian Wood,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Julia,” “I Will,” “Here Comes the Sun” — I learned many of them on guitar.  One of the best of the bunch is “Blackbird,” the McCartney-penned gem from “The White Album” that has been covered by dozens of great artists through the years (Crosby, Stills and Nash, Sarah MacLachlan).

“Every Woman,” Dave Mason, 1973

MI0000087322-1Mason was one two great songwriters that comprised the British folk/rock/jazz band Traffic, but after two albums (1967-68), he felt pushed aside by Steve Winwood and chose to head out on his own.  His 1970 debut, “Alone Together,” is full of great songs and performances, but I found his 1973 LP, “It’s Like You Never Left,” just as enjoyable.  Mason wrote and recorded “Every Woman” in a brief 1:50 arrangement, then re-recorded it in 1974 with pedal steel and other instruments in a superior recording.

“The Needle and the Damage Done,” Neil Young, 1972

Unknown-27Young’s songs are simply structured and are ideal for new, aspiring guitarists to master — “After the Gold Rush,” “Helpless,” “Cowgirl in the Sand, “Heart of Gold,” “Old Man” — and I could’ve included any of a dozen songs from Young’s catalog here that I enjoy playing, but this spare, haunting track from 1972’s “Harvest” is still among his best.  It’s brief, but harrowing, an ode to his friend Danny Whitten, who died of a heroin overdose in 1971.

“She’s a Lady,” John Sebastian, 1970

R-1712561-1455757831-6737.jpegSebastian’s 1970 solo debut is, in my opinion, one of the most sadly neglected albums of its time.  After all his delightful work leading the Lovin’ Spoonful, and his widely admired appearance at Woodstock the year before, his subsequent solo LP curiously never got the attention it deserved.  One of the prettiest tracks was the gentle folk ballad, “She’s a Lady,” which I take so much pleasure in playing.

“You Can Close Your Eyes,” James Taylor, 1971

mudSlimBecause his vocal range and mine are so similar, I can comfortably play almost anything in James’s catalog, from “Country Road” and “You’ve Got a Friend” to “Carolina on My Mind” and “Lighthouse.”  One of the prettiest songs he ever wrote is the lover’s lullaby “You Can Close Your Eyes” from the wonderful “Mud Slide Slim” LP in 1971.  I’m so thrilled that he still usually plays it in concert all these years later.

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And now, today, at age 63, I still really enjoy strumming and singing these old songs at

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living-room gatherings, back-yard parties, bonfires, and even the occasional stage when I’m lucky enough to be invited (or if the scheduled artist is a no-show!).  Indeed, this weekend, I’ve been asked to bring the guitar to two patio get-togethers, where some of us will take turns providing the foundation for group singalongs.

I also do music therapy at a seniors day care center a couple mornings a week, sometimes bringing a smile of recognition to the face of an Alzheimer’s sufferer.  And I regularly encourage, and sometimes give lessons to, aspiring young guitarists, perpetuating a time-honored tradition present in nearly every culture on Earth:  Playing and singing music is a universal language that brings joy and happiness to damn near everybody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I spent all my money at the record store

Less than two miles from where I live is a great little store on Santa Monica Boulevard IMG_2704called Record Surplus that bills itself as “the last record store.”

While this is clearly not technically true, it sure seems like it sometimes.  Ever since the iTunes Store debuted online in 2003, record stores began closing their doors all over the country, and retailers who once had sizable music departments have repurposed that space for other product categories.

I find it profoundly sad that the majority of music purchases made today are downloads.  Quick and convenient, to be sure, but without any of the fun, the wonder, the sense of discovery and community that made a trip to the local record store in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s such a warm and enriching experience.

I grew up in Cleveland, one of the nation’s hotbeds of rock record purchasing.  As in ba92f54e4bb9aa93b811d39f2a634dba--tobacco-shop-schools-inmany major American cities, we could buy albums from many kinds of retailers.  They were available at Woolworth’s, appliance stores, department stores, traditional music shops like John Wade Records (where I bought my first few albums), and even trendy clothing stores like J.P. Snodgrass.

Then there were the major chains like Peaches, Record peachesTheatre, Coconuts, Record Rendezvous, Camelot Music, and Disc Records, each with multiple locations across the region.

But the best record-buying experience was at the independent record store, and in Cleveland, the #1 place was Record Revolution, a very hip shop in the Coventry Village neighborhood of Cleveland Heights.  You could find all the new releases, comprehensive back catalogs, an enormous amount of imports unavailable elsewhere, and eventually, used albums.  The guys behind the counter were walking encyclopedias of knowledge and opinions, and they played the best stuff on the store sound system, which featured massive “Voice of the Theatre” speakers.

For music-loving record collectors like me, it was a slice of heaven.  I recall visiting Record Revolution at least once a week throughout my high school years, and for many years afterwards.  I could spend hours there, scouring the bins for rare releases, and 0071e8a4785a344ffa6403279c0efaf0--vinyl-records-old-schoolfinding albums by unfamiliar artists with cover art that mesmerized me.  I don’t think I ever left without at least one new album under my arm, often one that was recommended by an employee there.

“Record Revolution gave me a sense that I was entering a new world,” recalled Chris Abood, a longtime Cleveland friend and sometime disc jockey whose voluminous record collection rivaled mine.  “I wasn’t just buying records, I was having an experience there.  The records I bought there seemed more valuable because it was the coolest record store in Northeast Ohio.”

There were plenty of other independent record stores around Cleveland — The Shoppe, Melody Lane, Wax Stacks, Budget Records, and shops specializing in used records like The Record Exchange — and they all had people working there who had a passion for music.  They were helpful and genuinely interested in talking about, and recommending, bands and albums, both past and current.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all this because I’ve been reading a book called “Record Store Days” by Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo, first published in 2010.  Both authors have Record-Store-Days-hi-res-coverbeen heavily involved in the music industry, starting as record store customers, then employees, eventually major music writers and TV/film music supervisors.  Their book, subtitled “From Vinyl to Digital and Back Again,” goes into great detail about the history, culture, evolution and resurgence of record stores, with numerous photos and stories from the retail segment’s heyday.

With the birth of rock and roll in the mid-’50s came the phenomenon of the record store as community center, a place where teens would congregate to pore over, listen to and purchase the latest hits as 45-rpm singles.  Those of you who came of age in the ’50s and ’60s may remember that some records stores offered “listening rooms,” where buyers could take a MattatuckMusichandful of singles from the store’s racks and give them a spin on the turntables before deciding if they wanted to buy them.  (Some small shops like the aforementioned Record Surplus offer this convenience today.)

As the record-buying audience increased, and the favored format evolved from singles to albums in the late ’60s, many independent stores opened in cities large and small across the country.  Some specialized in blues records, or jazz, or country, depending on the preferences of the local market.  At the same time, general interest record stores born from humble beginnings grew to become national, even international success stories, such as Tower Records in California and Sam Goody in New York.  In Los Angeles, Wallichs Music City was the leading music retailer.  In Toronto, Sam The Record Man was considered THE place to go for any avid collector.

The mainstream outlets offered the more conventional records (Sinatra, movie soundtracks, classical recordings) and some of the most popular pop/rock releases (The Beatles, The Stones, Simon and Garfunkel), but they had to be persuaded by popular demand to stock the so-called “rock underground” music being played on the burgeoning FM rock radio stations (Frank Zappa, Canned Heat, Lou Reed).

Their reluctance to do so brought about the many hundreds, even thousands, of eclectic hole-in-the-wall stores with names like School Kids, Orpheus, Criminal Records, Mars images-22Music, Zodiac, Streetside Records and Mojo Music.  These shops, with a savvy eye on their clientele, typically created unique environments, often covering every inch of wall space with album covers and psychedelic posters, and they would add headshop-type paraphernalia and alternative magazines to their mix of products for sale.

Lenny Kaye, responsible for the groundbreaking “Nuggets” garage-rock compilation, worked at Village Oldies in New York in 1970.  “There’s a vast fraternity of record collectors, and the record store was their hub,” he said, “There was not a lot of information on these groups or the labels, so you’d gather at the record store, and it would be like a library.  You could browse at will for hours and hours, and share stories and trivia about the songs and the bands.”

These kinds of stores thrived throughout the 1970s, and even endured the introduction and eventual dominance of CDs over vinyl that took place during the 1980s.  By the 1990s, record store chains consolidated, and their retail spaces all started to look homogenized.  The employees working the counter at these stores were no longer passionate music people who knew about obscure albums by little-known British bands.  The big box stores — Circuit City, Best Buy, Borders, Wal-Mart, Target, Barnes & Noble — became the retail leaders, even though they made most of their money on appliances electronics and household goods.  They became bigger and stronger, hoping to eliminate the competition.

images-23The independent stores remained the industry’s neglected heroes, carrying, for example, grunge records before the genre became widely popular.  Many of these stores, or their generational successors, today remain popular niche outlets for the serious music lover looking to buy something beyond the “American Idol” artists and boy bands.

“Record Store Days” points out that the owners of smaller niche stores were, in effect, curators, carefully selecting their stock based on their location and clientele — beach towns, college towns, funky urban neighborhoods.  Kimber Lanning, owner of Stinkweeds in Phoenix, explained her strategy:  “I’ve made a career of being one lap ahead of the competition.  I have always sold things that will be popular a year later.  The more popular something became, the fewer copies we sold.”  Rand Foster of Fingerprints in Long Beach agreed.  1414304-360x240“The important part of retail music is the culture you’re selling.  It’s the museum element that stimulates people.”

In their book, Calamar and Gallo offer many sidebar stories about specific contributors’ remembrances of first visits to record stores.  Here’s one from early 1969:  “I found myself in another world — rows and rows of records, the smell of incense, and T-shirt iron-ons in the air.  The store was mystery upon mystery.   The Who had so many albums!  Who are Led Zeppelin?  Is that a pipe?  I brought the first Who record home and lost my mind…  I soon became incapable of displaying any fiscal responsibility in the face of a record I was curious about.”

The book quotes famed screenwriter/director Cameron Crowe, who wrote and directed the coming-of-age rock movie “Almost Famous” (2000).  “Record stores are a community of shared passion.  You see the look in people’s eyes and know that everyone is there for maxresdefault-21the same reason.  Record stores were way more personal than radio.  The music just sounds better.  And you feel like you’re in the beating heart of the thing that you love.”

In “Almost Famous,” Crowe wrote this line for the character Penny Lane to deliver:  “If you ever get lonely, go to the record store and visit your friends.”  Says Crowe,  “I did feel that those records in that store were my friends, and I really miss that.”

With the return of vinyl, record stores are starting to sprout in cities everywhere these days.  If you do a Google search of “record shops” in your area, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised to see how many options you have.  Here in Los Angeles, the supersized amoeba-musicAmoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood is in the process of relocating and downsizing, but they intend to remain a dominant force in record retailing (vinyl and CD), including continuing their tradition of sponsoring release-day appearances and signings and even concerts by the artists.

As “Record Store Days” notes, “In chronicling the evolution of record stores, it’s a bit astonishing how often history repeats itself.  The creation of vinyl-only stores in the 21st Century neatly parallels the creation of LP-only stores 60 years earlier.  The number of owners who were employees and then bought the store they worked in continues to this day.”

So, although well over 75% of all music today is acquired through online sources, there are still stores you can frequent — to hang out, chat about music with like-minded souls, and purchase an actual record album that you can hold in your hands and cherish forever.

Meet me at the record store, even though it ain’t there anymore, you can sing to me that song about time moving on…”  — “Record Store,” Butch Walker, 2016