Strange Legends, Myths, and Rock N Roll Deaths Surrounding February 3rd

Rock and Roll Myths, Legends, and Curses

You can’t keep a good myth down.  Everyone knows February 3rd as “The Day the Music Died”, when Buddy Holly Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper all died in a plane crash.  However, this day has some other strange occurrences and legends surrounding it.  Legendary British producer Joe Meek was a huge Buddy Holly fan.  He even produced a tribute to Buddy Holly for recording artist Mike Berry.  (The excellent Tribute to Buddy Holly up above.)  It was claimed that legendary British music producer Joe Meek warned Holly of his death:

During his successful tour of England in 1958, Buddy was startled to find a note delivered to him personally by legendary British recording engineer and producer Joe Meek. Meek had become fascinated with the occult and had graduated from his Ouija board to tarot card readings. During a tarot session in January of 1958, vocalist Jimmy Miller of Jimmy Miller and the Barbecues joined Joe Meek. Miller had enjoyed using his Ouija board as a method to help pick up girls. He noticed it helped break the ice, and many of his dates found the spooky readings to be fascinating. It just seemed natural that Jimmy would graduate to higher forms of spiritualism with Joe Meek, especially since Joe was the band’s producer.

According to Miller, on this particular night Joe Meek had invited Faud, an Arab friend and another dabbler in the occult sciences, to make up the third party, and the tarot cards were brought out into an appropriately darkened room. Miller recalled, “That was the first time I had handled tarot cards, and even now I am getting tingles down my spine.” These slight tingles would later turn to petrifying fear as the evening progressed. Meek told Jimmy to shuffle and cut the cards with his left hand. The right hand of each man securely gripped the left of the man sitting next to him. Joe placed himself in the middle and Faud’s right hand was kept free to write down on a writing pad any spiritual messages that might make their way through the veil. Miller recalls that the cards felt strange and that he became nauseated.

Slowly, he turned each card with his left hand. Halfway through the deck, Jimmy grasped Joe’s hand so tightly that the singer’s fingernails dug deeply into the producer’s knuckles, cutting into the flesh. Faud began slowly writing down individual letters that created the message now being obtained from the beyond.

When the cards were completely turned, Joe Meek screamed in pain and wrenched his hand free from the now equally terrified Miller. In horror the three men looked at the spiritual message that had been recorded by Faud. The message stated a date — “February the third.” The date was followed by the name “Buddy Holly” and “Dies.” “The whole affair was amazing because the message was written in what looked very much like my [Miller’s] own handwriting,” Miller said.

As Miller recalled it, Joe Meek was now a man filled with a terrible urgency. Not only was he a fan of Buddy Holly, but now he had only a few short weeks to get the message to Buddy to be extremely careful on February the third. Meek contacted record companies, music publishers, and any other inside sources that could carry the prophetic message of doom to the popular American singer.

When February 3, 1958, finally came and passed without incident, Miller said Joe felt relieved but still felt it was his responsibility to personally deliver the message to Holly when the singer and his backup group the Crickets arrived in Great Britain in mid-February to begin their UK tour. When Meek told Holly the incredible events of the tarot reading the singer very politely thanked Joe for his concern and promised that he would always be extremely careful in the future when February the third would come around.

In an interview with the BBC at the tour’s end, Holly remarked that his tour of England had been very strange. First, a fan threw a brick with an autograph book attached through his dressing room window, almost hitting him, and then he received a message telling him that he was going to die. If only Buddy Holly had remembered Joe Meek’s warning the next year when on February 3, 1959, Holly climbed into a small chartered airplane on a cold winter’s night in Iowa. Fate would not present Buddy Holly with a second chance.

There have been different versions of this story told, and no one is certain what exactly happened.  However, there is no doubt that February 3rd would also feature heavily in Meek’s own life.  Meek also took his own life, and the life of his land lady, eight years later to the day of Buddy Holly’s death:

On 3 February 1967 Meek killed his landlady Violet Shenton and then himself with a single-barrelled shotgun that he had confiscated from his protégé, former Tornados bassist and solo star Heinz Burt at his Holloway Road home/studio. Meek had flown into a rage and taken the gun from Burt when he informed Meek that he had used it while on tour to shoot birds. Meek had kept the gun under his bed, along with some cartridges. As the shotgun had been owned by Burt, he was questioned intensively by police, before being eliminated from their enquiries.

Meek was suffering from depression.  He was accused of plagiarism, which was proved untrue after his death, which were adding to his financial problems. He had also been caught trying to perform a homosexual act at a time when being gay was still a crime in England.  (Meek was very afraid of his mother finding out, whom he loved deeply.)  Meek, probably bipolar, was also addicted to speed and other drugs that enabled him to work long hours, which greatly added to his depression at the end of his life.

………………….

There is also a strange connection to Del Shannon’s death, which occurred on the on February 9th.  However, Shannon’s last live performance was on February 3rd at the same venue that Buddy Holly played before his plane crash:

Del Shannon hit the rock charts in the early 1960s. His classic hit “Runaway” filled the radio airwaves in 1961 and introduced what sounded like a Moog synthesizer, but was most likely a Musitron, an organlike instrument. Other Shannon hits included “Hats Off to Larry” and “Little Town Flirt.” Sadly, Del Shannon was doomed to be yet another victim of the British invasion during the mid-1960s.

In the late 1980s, Del Shannon was attempting a comeback. Tom Petty had worked with him and included the line “Me and Del were singing ‘Little Runaway'” in Petty’s “Running Down a Dream.” Even though Shannon’s career was about to be rekindled, he suffered from severe bouts of depression. His last performance came at the Surf Ballroom on February 3, 1990, the thirty-first anniversary of the Holly plane crash. His backing band that night was the Crickets. Del returned home and on February 9, 1990, took out his shotgun and took his own life. Shannon was unaware that he had been just been selected to take the late Roy Orbison’s place in the superstar band the Traveling Wilburys. Some medical experts claimed that the antidepressants Del was taking might have contributed to his death, while others remembered another night just thirty-one years earlier when three young rock stars soared into the heavens to gain rock and roll immortality. The last performance for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper, and Del Shannon was at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Dion and Paul Simon

There’s nothing better than a great vocal melody, except maybe one with the perfect harmonies.  Here two legends, Dion DiMucci and Paul Simon, sing an ode to their city.  It’s a beautiful song that makes you remember that there is no instrument as moving as the human voice.  I am looking forward to Dion’s album, which comes out this month.  This song, New York is My Home, is also the title song for the album.

Add on:  Notice the phrasing of the singing, where it is slightly behind the beat.  The singing is also understated.  There is no showing off, though there are harmonies that are quite impressive in and of themselves.  The singers are not making a “meal” out of every note, which often happens in todays pop music.  The best singing almost always comes back to delivering the song.  It’s about letting go of the ego and giving over to the important thing at hand, which is the song.  

One of the Best Songs of the Year

I’m still gathering my thoughts on the whole album, but there is no doubt the last song, Hands Together,  on the I Don’t Cares (Paul Westerberg, Juliana Hatfield) new album, Wild Stab, will undoubtedly be one of the best of the year. I’ve read that Westerberg suffers from dyslexia, though who knows what is true these days, especially with someone like Westerberg, who is often far more direct in song than interview.  (His recent interview with Peter Wolf was a revelation, due to the length and directness of Westerberg’s answers.)  There are certain lyrics of his that have an almost dyslexic quality to them, and I’m not talking about his solo single Dyslexic Heart.  His words can have a jumbled feeling, although one that creates insight, rather than hinders it.  I thought about posting the lyrics to the song, but the way the words unravel in song on first listen, the sheer revelation of it, is one of the most powerful things about the song.  There is a beautiful rambling confusion to the words, which don’t seem correct at first, but upon repeated spins creates a deeply personal and poetic reflection of an internal emotional state.  The song is highly intelligent, but not because it creates clarity of the world at large.  In fact it is a complex, highly detailed painting of not what the world is, but how it can feel to face the world, a world such as our own, one that is often filled with confusion and meaninglessness.  It’s a beautiful, sad, yet occasionally hopeful song, of one seemingly trying to make sense of a world that often makes no sense at all.

That’s How the West Was Lost

Down off the interstate
In the middle of the fall
We killed off the Indians
And we put up a mall
And we claimed we did it
In the name of St. Paul

That’s how the west was lost

We paint the faces and names
Of those we kill
In theme restaurants
In bars and grills
And we get indignant
When it makes their ancestors ill

That’s how the West was lost

Manifest Destiny
Or “living space”
Is the same thing
By any other name

That’s how the West was lost

Lyrics from That’s How the West Was Lost.

These are the lyrics to a song on an album I recorded recently, that will be appearing later this year.  More on this to come.

Living space, or Lebensraum, is what Hitler wanted for his Third Reich.  You can read more about this topic and Manifest Destiny at this post I wrote last year:

Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum

 

Paul Westerberg Interviewed by Peter Wolf

Paul Westerberg Interviewed By Peter Wolf

Above is an hour long video interview of Paul Westerberg by fellow musician Peter Wolf.  Westerberg, along with Juliana Hatfield, released the new album Wild Stab under the band name The I Don’t Cares.  Anyone interested in music should check this interview out.  It’s not often that you see such a long interview in the music world that is also substantive.  Westerberg is one of our country’s greatest living songwriters and this interview takes him into his recording process, among other things.

David Bowie “Blackstar” Review

With his new album Backstar, David Bowie turned his passing into a work of art.  Everyone must die, but very few people are able to turn that inevitable decline into something beautiful.  There is no doubt that fortune, if there can be anything fortunate about dying, was on his side, but it is still quite an accomplishment, to have that kind of fortitude in the face of death.

How is the album?  It’s easily his best since Heathen and quite possibly his best since the criminally underrated Outside.  For the first time since that album, an album about fictional art murders at the end of the century, he has made a completely cohesive record where every track not only works, but works together.

The last three album (Heathen, Reality, The Next Day), while all featuring great material, have been somewhat flawed.  The production by Tony Visconti was too clinical.  Heathen, the first of the last three records, was the best and worked way more often than it did not.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, as Visconti is usually top notch, but they sounded like someone trying to catch up to new technology, without mastering it.  The instruments felt too separate from each other.  The music often didn’t feel distinct, nor did the instruments sound like they were played with passion.  (Pete Townshend, playing guitar on the song Slow Burn, provided the kind of fire that was missing on some of the other tracks.)   In the past Bowie has had phases where he was consciously trying to play in a passionless way, taking inspiration from Kraftwerk, but this didn’t sound like that.  That’s not saying that these records were bad.  Each had things to recommend them, and all had a couple great songs, but they weren’t up to Bowie’s normal standard.

With his latest he sounds like he was truly pushing the envelope again.  By recruiting younger jazz musicians, he added a distinct element to the new music.  Also, Visconti regained his touch, providing the right amount of atmosphere, while still allowing unique musical personalities to come through the ambience.  There is a sense of danger and adventure to the record.  Bowie was again combining pop with the avant-garde.  The record sounds extremely modern, but not self-consciously so.  It doesn’t seem like an attempt to stay current, but that once again, like so many times, Bowie was ahead of the curve.

It’s a dark, often disturbing record, both sonically and lyrically.  Bowie’s lyrics are highly interpretive here, but full of striking imagery.  Anyone that starts an album with a 10 minute, two part, song filled with bleak imagery is not begging to be loved.  He is as much painting abstract art with words, as he is writing traditional song lyrics.  I kept thinking of the painting of David Lynch when hearing this song and several others.  (Bowie has worked with Lynch in his movie Fire Walk With Me.  Lynch also used Bowie’s I’m Deranged in his film Lost Highway.)

When an artist goes this far out on a limb they are in danger of creating something interesting, but possibly not inspiring.  It’s always noble when an artist tries to make something unflinchingly artistic, but one risks making something that is listenable for a spin or two and quickly gets filed away.  However, I kept finding myself going back to this record, listening the entire way through every time.  I think this is due to the quality of the material, the exciting musical soundscapes, and the fact that the album sounds like one complete whole.  There is no doubt that some who are only interested in his pop singles will not like this album, but that will be at their loss.

The record is also beautiful in places.  The final song, I Can’t Give Everything Away, up above, has a gorgeous melody.

There are so few artists that can walk the high wire between pop culture and upscale art.  Many modern artists can seemingly do one or the other.  Bowie could seem at home in either an art gallery or on a FM station.  There is no doubt that Bowie’s death probably gave this album a life that it wouldn’t have had, due to the challenging nature of some of the material.  But people’s lives will be richer for having this playing in their home.  So often these days #1 records seem the work of focus groups, instead of some kind of artistic endeavor.  But this record is art with a capital A.  If we were all talking about such a thing more often, modern life might feel so meaningless so often.

 

Paul Westerberg is ‘Back’

Paul Westerberg has released a new album alongside Juliana Hatfield.  Their band, The I Don’t Cares, have put out Wild Stab.  I’m hitting the road today with Shinyribs, but more on this release soon.  It’s fantastic, with glorious melodies and hip shaking guitars.

Pamela Blue’s ‘My Friend Bobby’ – Return of the Teenage Death Disc

Anyone that has been reading along knows my obsession with the teenage death disc.  These are records, mostly of the early 60’s, that deal in tragedy and that were marketed to teens of the time.  Many times they are upbeat musically, despite the nature of the lyrics.

Here is one that is produced by legendary British producer Joe Meek.  I especially love the background vocal arrangement on this song.  It’s a thing of ecstatic beauty, adding a touch of the ethereal to this song.

If Leader of the Pack and Johnny Remember Me are numbers one and two, this might come in the number three spot for songs of this genre.

I haven’t quite solved the puzzle as to why I am so enraptured by these kinds of recordings.  I have always love the combination of a dark lyrics with a sunny melody, as there is something of life’s great comedy inherent in such a thing.  There is also something about taking on such a serious subject in a flippant manner that to me seems like a bulwark against fear.  I think also, compared to so many modern pop songs, there is at least an attempt to deal with something real.  They are like mini-movies, conveying an entire story in a very efficient time limit.  They are a memento mori, delivered with style. Maybe sometime I will be able to get to the heart of the matter, but in the meantime:  Enjoy!

One of the Greatest Record Producers of All Time

I have become fascinated with the work of  early record producer Joe Meek.  A true genius, Meek was ahead of his time sonically and helped to initiate a wide range of production techniques that would later go on to become widely used.  Due to the tragedy of his life, he never, unlike contemporaries Phil Spector and George Martin, never became a household name.  (Read his biography here.)  Meek produced an incredible amount of recordings in a very short time, the late 50’s through the 60’s.  Not only that, his recordings are extremely varied in style and emotion, yet always retaining an amazing amount of vitality in the emotional quality of the performances and sounds.  He made records when many people in studios were still wearing lab coats.  Yet, he built a home studio in a rented London flat and broke many rules, using compression, analog distortion, and reverb in new and unique ways.  He would also utilize every day objects and inventive performance techniques to give each record a unique sonic stamp.  Here are a couple highlights from his legendary career that will give you a sense of the great variety and vitality of his work:

Johnny Remember Me – This is the first number one record that Meek produced at his flat.  It’s a teenage death disc of the first order.  Remember that this was recorded at a home studio, in 1961!  The sound of the song is one of the reasons it is so effective, especially in the ghostly female backing vocals.  They give this pop song almost gothic qualities.

 

Telstar – Meek also produced a lot of instrumental music.  One of my favorites is Sunday Date.  But his most famous is Telstar, a space-age song that utilizes an extremely early version of a synthesizer called a clavoline.  This was the first number one song in America by an English band and was released in 1962.  Meek was great at creating sound effects and other sonic effects that made his productions sound like miniature movies.  Below Meek was trying to capture the space age, but he could just as easily create a pop song that created the vibe of a Western movie somewhere else.

Please Stay – The two songs above were two of Meek’s biggest hits.  But his catalog is vast and deep, with hundreds of songs released, and possibly hundreds more that have never been released.  Even on songs that weren’t big hits there was a level of craft that is unbelievable.  Listen to this later production of The Cryin’ Shames Please Stay.  (1966) There is no doubt that a great performance was captured.  However, listen to the great use of reverb on the vocals and the unique sound of the organ.  There are so many little details in a recording like this that add to the overall emotion that is translated to the listener.

There is so much more to say on the subject of Joe Meek, regarding his life and music.  There is a whole amazing compilation of just great early pop girl group kind of stuff that he did.  (Let’s Go! Joe Meeks Girls)  His personal life is also interesting to look at.  Meek was no doubt an eccentric, but his downfall can also be partially explained to the fact that he was gay at a time in England when it was illegal.   I am sure I will revisit other aspects of his career at some point, but this is enough to get your feet wet.

Ok, one more as his girl pop stuff, like so much of his work, is really fantastic.  Here is Glenda Collins singing Something I Got to Tell You:

A Strange Goodbye to David Bowie

Let me tell you a story.  During Christmas break I made an album with my brother, drummer Alex Moralez, and Dave and Christine from Marah.  (They produced, engineered, and played some of the instruments.)  It was recorded in their farmhouse in rural PA.  This isn’t really a story of that record, which is yet to come.  One of the songs I demoed was called Hand Coming Down.  (The title, as the song, was changed at the last minute.)  On the demo it has a bluesy feel, sounding somewhat like some of the work Paul Westerberg has done in the last 10 yrs, but slightly spookier.  It is a one chord song, which Dave had encouraged me to write some months earlier, long before there were any plans to work together.  The thing about a one chord song is that, due to its simplicity, you can take it almost anywhere.

Through the collective will of everyone, we decided to take it in more of a European direction.  Bands like The Cure, Joy Division, and Bauhaus were mentioned.  The musical track, recorded live, but without vocals, turned infinitely more spooky and menacing.

I sang the demo version, but when it came time to cut the vocal for it, I knew my brother was the only one that could do the vibe of the song justice.  We talked, before he cut it, about going in more of a David Bowie/Iggy Pop route vocally, as all of us love the work the two of them did together in the 70’s.  My brother knocked it out of the park.

The point of this story is not to talk about the record, but to point out that here in 2016, there is still music being made that is still directly influenced by the work that Bowie did many moons back.  We all know that, and we know it will continue.  Just last year I became fully reimbursed in the recordings of Bowie’s Berlin period.  This year, I started to also reinvestigate the albums that he made with Iggy Pop.  My brother has long been a torch bearer for Bowie’s work.

And although I see the world as random, last night, as I mentioned in my previous post, I was watching a movie about Marlene Dietrich.  The documentary was called Marlene.  In it she sings a slow melancholy version of Just a Gigolo.  Bowie is in the cafe with her, dressed stylishly, sitting at a table slightly removed from the main action.  It had a dreamy resigned quality to it.  And even though I don’t believe in such things, when I heard the news today, it seemed like last night the universe was speaking to me.  It was a goodbye to someone who’s work I have loved very much over the years.  It was one of those moments that makes you question things, if only for a moment, before you realize that you should know better…