By Mike Greenblatt
John Denicola has his Oscar and his Golden Globe sitting on the mantle above the fireplace of his living room (he would have won the 1988 “Song of the Year” Grammy, too, if it weren’t for Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and James Horner winning it for writing “Somewhere Out There” by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram). Ever since co-writing the song that Righteous Brother Bill Medley and Leonard Cohen muse Jenifer Warnes took to the top of the charts in 1987 (“I’ve Had the Time of My Life”) for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack (as well as “Hungry Eyes,” a second song in that film that former Raspberry Eric Carmen took to No. 4), he’s started his own label (Omad Records), and discovered Adam Levine (Maroon 5) when they were first called Kara’s Flowers. Plus, playing bass in the bands of Paul Young and Corey Hart just made him realize that songwriting and producing was where it was at for him. This Long Islander has had a long and successful run with his good friend Franke Previte (remember Franke & The Knockouts?). As the 1988 ASCAP Songwriter Of The Year, he parlayed his success into writing hit songs for Eddie Money, Annie Haslam, John Waite and funkster supreme Bernie Worrell.
His first solo album is The Why Because and it’s filled with the kind of sumptuous pop smarts that should sound good on the radio, especially revitalized versions of the two Dirty Dancing songs. It’s sophisticated adult-contemporary fare that truly rises above the dreck of this most critically-despised sub-genre. Cat’s got an ear.
In talking to him, it’s fairly obvious this behind-the-scenes guy has much to contribute as an out-front personality. The scope and breadth of his knowledge about rock and roll history belies his chosen genre. He's informative, entertaining, self-effacing and tends to adhere to tried and true musicbiz dictums in knowing what’s what. In 1981, Tower of Power asked that musical question “What Is Hip.” John Denicola is hip and I look forward to his next project whatever that may be.
In 2018, I wrote my first book (Woodstock: Back To Yasgur’s Farm) about a weekend I had in 1969 when I was 18. In 2019, I had the time of my life promoting it. In 2020, everything turned to shit for everybody. How could 500,000+ hippies have kept it together when the food ran out, the bathrooms overflowed and the monsoon ravaged us all? How could there be no violence with no security? Woodstock: 50 Years of Peace and Music (Hourglass Press), by Dan Bukszpan, answers some of those questions. It’s a wonderfully entertaining, lavishly photographed hardcover trip back in time, keying in on the performers and people like Bill Graham, Abbie Hoffman and the people who actually made it work despite all odds. My favorite story in the book comes in the section on Mountain. I mean, sure, I knew that bassist Felix Pappalardi’s wife shot him dead in 1983, but I didn’t know that she had both her cats killed just so their ashes could be buried with her when she died in 2014. Way to go, Dan, for bringing nuggets of info like that to the fore!
I remember the first time I heard the Marshall Tucker Band. I got the same feeling the first time I heard The Georgia Thunderbolts. They’re so obviously the real deal that it almost gave me a lump in my throat at such pre-ordained Southern Rock, the kind of which has evaporated in the modern zeitgeist. ”We feel we can bring it back,” says guitarist Logan Tolbert, half of that twin-guitar attack with Riley Couzzourt. The five songs on their self-titled five-song EP (Mascot Records) hints at even greater things to come in their near-future. It’s that good.
Most of the kudos have to go to superfine vocalist TJ Lyle. With an instrument similar in tone and phrasing to the MTB’s Doug Gray, he has knocked it out of the ball park here. Then I discovered this thing was produced by Headhunter Richard Young who knows a thing or two about pickin’ on Nashville. Tennessee may be on the back burner for these boys as there’s nothing anymore to rebel against anyway (except for the paucity of real rock’n’roll on the airwaves these days). If anthem “Spirit of the Working Man” recalls Merle, that’s about as country as they get. “Set Me Free” may be over seven minutes long but it could’ve been even longer. It’s a jam-happy good time groove and I bet they tear it up live.
Back in the ‘60s, we had a saying that many of us wore on buttons: “Make Love Not War.” Y&T Music has now released a similar sentiment with songs of that earlier era and beyond. Put Down That Weapon: Make Music Not War presents a message of peace’n’love with the emphasis on the compositions as folks you never heard of interpret the stirring words and melodies of PF Sloan (“Eve of Destruction”), Bobby Darin (“Simple Song of Freedom”), Bob Dylan (“Masters of War”), Buffy Sainte-Marie (“Universal Soldier”), Phil Ochs (“I Ain’t Marching Anymore”), Yoko Ono (“Now or Never”), Stephen Stills (“For What It’s Worth”), Pete Seeger (“Where Have All The Flowers Gone” and “Turn Turn Turn”), Neil Young (“Ohio”) and five others in the kind of stirring versions that will give you pause for thought or, in the case of those who lived through the original anti-war protests of Vietnam, make you rise up and sing along. This is great stuff. The artists herein have sublimated their own egos in service to each and every song. In fact, the only singer I heard of here is on the one recording that is not new and that’s the great folksinger Eric Andersen interpreting Ochs. Just to hear this particular composer’s words again gave me chills. Ochs is ripe for a bio-pic because at one time he was THE voice for disaffected youth and when there was nothing to protest anymore, he lost his sense of himself, became homeless, and finally hung himself in his sister’s house on Long Island. It was April 9, 1976 and that, right there, was when the ‘60s really ended. These songs, though, really do bring back that sense of change-the-world optimism. We need that right about now. Bravo!
The Milwaukees are from New Jersey. Go figure. They thought it cool to name their band like their favorite geographically named bands Chicago, Boston and Kansas. That was 20 years when they were still practicing in the garage. The Calling (Mint 400 Records) is their sixth album. It only took them nine years to follow-up their fifth. As produced by respected rock critic Tom Beaujour (who has also produced Juliana Hatfield and Guided By Voices), the sound is crisp, sharp, filled with exquisite trebly highs and with the kind of sonic bass that doesn’t muffle those highs…in order words, it’s perfecto. Dylan Clark sings lead, plays guitar and writes the songs. His longtime foil is Jeff Nordstedt who stings his six-string with passion and fury making these tunes come alive with action-packed profundity. The two new guys on bass and drums fit right in with the comfortability of a well-worn pair of sneakers. This is a new chapter of the kind of American rock that Tom Petty pioneered. The 10 tracks grow on you: catchy, thought-provoking, rousing and solid.