The incredible story of an 81-year-old blues rookie
When Leo â€œBudâ€ Welch burst onto the blues scene with his debut album Sabougla Voices, he was both an 81-year-old rookie and an elder statesman. The story of how he flew under the radar for sixty years, was discovered by a fan (who was subsequently thrust into the role of manager), recorded for a label that had all but given up believing there were any more blues unicorns in the wilds of Mississippi, and was feted in the last few years of his life, is as authentic and unexpected as is his music. The film weaves together interviews with Welch, his family and his manager, Vencie Varnado, along with performance and studio footage. The film looks at Welchâ€™s background as a lumberjack, his church life, the separation he kept between the devilâ€™s music and the lordâ€™s, and the incursions of age into Welchâ€™s daily life.
You probably heard a Bert Berns song today. If you heard â€œTell Him,â€ â€œTwist and Shout,â€ â€œCry to Me,â€ â€œHere Comes the Night,â€ â€œHang on Sloopyâ€ or â€œPiece of My Heart,â€ you heard a song he wrote. If you heard â€œBaby, Iâ€™m Yours,â€ â€œUnder the Boardwalkâ€ or â€œBrown Eyed Girl,â€ you heard a record he produced. Bernsâ€™ enormous catalog of deeply-felt songs and deftly-produced records puts him in a league with the best of the Brill Buildingâ€™s songwriters and New Yorkâ€™s golden age pop producers. When Phil Spector lost the Latin soul of Bernsâ€™ â€œTwist and Shoutâ€ with a frantic rendition by the Top Notes, Berns picked it back up the next year and minted a classic with the Isley Brothers. And when Berns felt heâ€™d accomplished everything he could as a writer and producer, he founded Bang records, stormed the charts in 1965 with the Strangelovesâ€™ â€œI Want Candy,â€ and signed Neil Diamond and Van Morrison.
Born in 1929, Berns was thirty-one when he finally found his way into the music industry as a $50-a-week songwriter for Robert Merlinâ€™s publishing company. His first hit came the following year with the Jarmelâ€™s â€œA Little Bit of Soap,â€ and over the next seven years he minted more than fifty pop chart singles. Bernsâ€™ early love of Afro-Cuban music permeated his songs, as did the deep, personal feelings he poured into his lyrics. Labeled by his African American artists as â€œthe white soul brother,â€ he pushed them â€œto sing it like he meant it.â€ Session dialog of Berns coaching Betty Harris, as well as Van Morrison during the recording of Blowinâ€™ Your Mind!, give the viewer a feel for his artist rapport. Testimony from family, artists, production and business colleagues testify to the exalted status in which he was held. The interviews are highlighted by his savvy and tough widow, Ilene Berns, and the tough but artistically sensitive Carmine “Wassel” DeNoia.
Bonus-laden reissue of stellar 1987 all-star tribute to Roy Orbison
Rarely have stars aligned so figuratively and literally as for this Roy Orbison concert. More than a gathering of famous fans, the performance was a testimonial to the Big Oâ€™s lasting impact and enduring artistry. Backing Orbison was Elvis Presleyâ€™s TCB Band of Ron Tutt (drums), Jerry Scheff (bass), Glen D. Hardin (piano) and James Burton (electric guitar), augmented by Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Alex Acuna, Tom Waits and T Bone Burnett, a backing chorus of k.d. lang, Jennifer Warnes, Bonnie Raitt, J.D. Souther, Steven Soles and Jackson Browne, and a quartet of violins and violas. Recorded at the Cocoanut Grove in Hollywoodâ€™s Ambassador Hotel, the program was cablecast on Cinemax and released as a live album. Itâ€™s subsequently been reissued on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, CD, SACD and was turned into a PBS fundraising perennial.
The song list mixes Orbisonâ€™s biggest hits with a few lesser-known selections, including the B-sides â€œLeahâ€ and â€œGo! Go! Go! (Move on Down the Line).â€ The latter finds Burton, Orbison and Springsteen trading guitar solos, and the look on Springsteenâ€™s face as he plays for Orbison is priceless. Throughout the program thereâ€™s an overarching sense of admiration as the band and guests are spellbound by Orbisonâ€™s operatic flights and emotion-drenched songs. Springsteen is giddy as he sidles up behind Orbison to sing harmony on â€œSweet Dream Baby,â€ and when Orbison nails the climax of â€œCrying,â€ the band stops to applaud along with the audience. Although the group rehearsed twice before the show, you get the feeling that these artists had been singing and playing these songs their entire musical lives, and that they werenâ€™t just paying fealty to Orbison, they were paying back a debt.
So why another reissue? Aside from leveraging the thirtieth anniversary to introduce this one-of-kind performance to a new generation, the new DVD and Blu-ray include previously unseen performances, newly integrated camera angles and a mini-documentary, and the running order has also been restored to reflect the set as it was played. The new performances include â€œBlue Angelâ€ and a shorter alternate take of â€œOh, Pretty Woman,â€ and five songs (â€œ(All I Can Do Is) Dream You,â€ â€œThe Comedians,â€ â€œCandy Man,â€ â€œClaudetteâ€ and â€œUptownâ€) performed after the audience left for the evening. The 37-minute documentary includes rehearsal footage, along with pre- and post-show interviews with Springsteen, Costello, lang, Raitt and Browne. All together, the new cut of the concert and the generous extras provide a terrific complement to (though not a replacement for) the original release.
Peter, Paul and Mary was born in 1961, amid the artistic ferment of New York Cityâ€™s Greenwich Village, and it was in that highly-charged atmosphere that their art sharpened into advocacy. Brought together by manager Albert Grossman, the trioâ€™s debut album topped the chart in 1962, and led them to perform songs of social import at protests, strikes and political rallies around the world. They championed the early works of Bob Dylan, sang â€œBlowinâ€™ in the Windâ€ at the 1963 March on Washington, endorsed Eugene McCarthyâ€™s 1968 campaign with an original song, protested nuclear power at Diablo Canyon and documented the plight of El Salvador in the 1980s. They lived up to Mary Traversâ€™ edict, “if you’re going it sing the music you have to live the music.â€
Though their hits ended with 1969â€™s â€œLeaving on a Jet Plane,â€ and they started a seven-year hiatus in 1970, they regrouped in 1978 and continued to record and perform until Traversâ€™ passing in 2009. Jim Brownâ€™s 78-minute documentary focuses primarily on the salad years of 1961-70, capturing the groupâ€™s deep conviction in live performance and interviews. The period footage, often in full-length songs, is incredibly moving as the trio sings with a strength of sentiment rarely seen on todayâ€™s national stages. The way in which Mary Travers was physically gripped by the music remains enthralling to this day. Their folk music galvanized a broad international audience in ways nearly impossible with todayâ€™s balkanized world of personalized streams. But in 1963, music was a rallying point that had wide societal impact.
Eight years after the 1978 death of Nancy Spungen, director Alex Cox turned Spungenâ€™s dysfunctional, death-courting relationship to then-former Sex Pistol Sid Vicious into the well-regarded film Sid and Nancy. The story of psychological damage, drug use, domestic violence and death made for compelling cinema, but the opacity of its central drama – the death of Nancy Spungen – also proved to be catnip for unsolved murder buffs and conspiracy theorists. Magnifying the unproven allegation against Vicious was his overdose death while awaiting trial, and the subsequent closing of the police investigation. Did Sid kill Nancy? Or might it have been one of the coupleâ€™s drug dealers or even a suicide pact?
The film does consider â€œwho did it?,â€ but the unresolved theorizing isnâ€™t the core value. What sets this documentary apart are the retrospective descriptions of the sordid milieu in which Sid and Nancy lived. The documentary is told in interviews with more than two-dozen people who were on the scene, living in the Chelsea Hotel, touring and playing with Vicious and socializing with the couple, and itâ€™s those recollections that are the draw. The conversations are interwoven with archival film, television and photographs to tell Sid and Nancyâ€™s story as it led to the fateful morning of October 12, 1978, and the subsequent fallout for Vicious.
As in most portraits of the couple, Spungen doesnâ€™t fair well. Although a few interviewees identify themselves as her friend, the adjectives most regularly applied are angry, depressed, controlling, suicidal and unlikeable. Vicious is depicted initially as a puppy-dog man-child image, but separated from drugs by incarceration, a more canny Vicious emerges from the heroin fog. How much of his earlier doe-like innocence was feigned become an interesting question in the shadow of his post-incarceration wrist slashing, re-jailing on a battery charge, and his OD on smack that his mother bought. Just when you think the story couldnâ€™t get more tawdry, it manages to take it down a few more notches.
Forty years after punk rock exploded on the UK scene, many listeners have lost the visceral sources of its creation. Itâ€™s surface style rejected the excesses of mainstream rock, but deeper anti-establishment and nihilistic currents were rooted in societal ills that dwarfed the bombast of popular entertainment. The clothing and hairstyles provided tribal badges, but it was the economic brutality of a mid-70s recession, crippling unemployment and the specter of Thatcherism that bound the scene together in hopelessness, anger and idealism. Itâ€™s in this milieu that Derrick Borteâ€™s film is set, with music, politics and social upheaval providing the backdrop to a coming-of-age story.
While the Ramones and Sex Pistols lit the fuses of a thousand bands, the wider punk rock scene lit the fuses of a million personal awakenings. One such fuse is attached to the filmâ€™s teenage protagonist, Shay, whoâ€™s estranged mother, overworked father and young sister require him to quickly outgrow his childhood. A cassette of the Clash and a serendipitous meeting with 15-year-old punk rocker Vivian open Shayâ€™s eyes to a world beyond his working class suburb, a wide open and often contradictory world of skinheads and progressives, police riots and squats, love and preternatural maturity. All of that might be enough to permanently bend a teenagerâ€™s trajectory, but a chance encounter with Joe Strummer, and the unlikely friendship they form, proves an even bigger catalyst.
The seeds planted by Bill Graham at the original Fillmore in San Francisco bloomed in many other cities, but few flowered as brightly as Detroitâ€™s Grande Ballroom. Inspired by Russ Gibbâ€™s 1967 visit to the Fillmore, the Grande became a melting pot of flower power and urban grit, and a centerpiece of Detroitâ€™s music and cultural scene. When Kiss sang â€œDetroit Rock City,â€ they were singing about the Grande. The cityâ€™s industrial culture bred tough workers and industrial strength, no bullshit rock â€˜nâ€™ roll. Gibbâ€™s fortuitous connections to Detroitâ€™s art scene and alternative community led to John Sinclair, and ultimately the MC5 and numerous other local luminaries. The Grandeâ€™s imaginative booking policy turned the venue into what Don Was calls â€œThe Mecca of Hip,â€ hosting local and national bands, and establishing itself as a lynchpin in the U.S. tour circuit of British acts.
The high flight and quick descent of Tower Records
A five year fall from billion dollar sales to bankruptcy is a startling denouement, but not the message of Colin Hanksâ€™ documentary on Tower Records. At the heart of the story is founder Russ Solomon, the staff he nurtured with his business, and the customers, artists and customer-artists they served for over fifty years. Solomon and crew tell the story of Towerâ€™s rise from a counter in a Sacramento drug store to an international chain, and the technological advances that at first spurred growth, and later conspired with debt-financed expansion to prompt reorganization, bankruptcy and liquidation.
Tower was both a beneficiary and victim of major technological and social changes. Throughout the 1960s and â€˜70s, baby boomers came of age, music became a cultural rallying point, and record stores turned into social gathering places. Towerâ€™s first standalone store opened on Sacramentoâ€™s Watt Avenue in 1961, and their second on Broadway in 1965; but what really signaled the future was the 1968 opening of the San Francisco store at Columbus and Bay and the 1970 opening of the Los Angeles store on Sunset Blvd. Filled with vast inventory, knowledgeable staff and billed as â€œThe Largest Record-Tape Store in the Known World,â€ Tower Records was unlike any record shop ever seen.
By the end of the 1970s, Tower had more than twenty stores along the West Coast, and expanded successfully to both the East Coast (with a landmark New York City store), and internationally with stores in Japan. With expansion came opportunities for staff growth, and Solomon actively grew his clerks and junior employees into senior staff and executives. Towerâ€™s CFO Bud Martin provided the corporate yin to Solomonâ€™s more freewheeling yang, but it was Solomonâ€™s gregariousness that set the tone for the companyâ€™s culture, and made it â€œthe place to workâ€ for many young people. Each Tower store had its own personality, and within each store the major genres (i.e., rock, jazz, classical) often felt like independent shops.
Tower rode a wave of unparalleled musical creativity and concomitant growth in the record industry. They innovated in advertising, store displays (both inside and outside the stores), and developed the in-house music magazine, Pulse! When a recession hit the music industry in the early â€˜80s, Towerâ€™s fortunes were not only salvaged but accelerated by the high price point of the newly introduced CD. The late-80s and 1990s saw profits grow, but also planted the seeds of Towerâ€™s eventual downfall: over-expansion and digital music. The former included unsuccessful stores in Asia and Latin America, and bond financing that would turn into crushing debt. The latter provided the technological foundation that would obsolete physical musical retail.
Even before debt and digitalization took their toll, the entry of mass market retailers – Walmart, Target and Best Buy – created pricing pressure that deflated the CD balloon. Napster may be fingered for triggering piracy (the old saw â€œhow do you compete with free?â€), but its real impact was in salting the wound of listeners who wanted to buy songs from an industry that wanted to sell albums. To be fair to Tower, few in the industry saw how quickly MP3s would erode CD sales, or that on-demand services would subsequently erode downloads. Terrestrial retailers born to a culture of collecting couldnâ€™t pivot into a world of networked borrowing.
By 2000, CFO Bud Martin had retired and Russ Solomon had been sidelined with heart problems. Martinâ€™s replacement had taken on debt to fuel expansion, and Solomonâ€™s son Mike had taken the helm. The son hadnâ€™t the magnetic, rallying personality of the father, and with sales flattening (for the first time since 1966), the debt holders instigated management changes whose ideasfailed to prevent the downward spiral. The money-making Japanese stores were spun off, the American business pruned of its differentiators, and by 2004 the company filed for bankruptcy and was liquidated in 2006.
Seminal punk rock legends who didnâ€™t become icons
The Damned never get their due. Though present at the start of the UK punk movement, they never became icons like the Sex Pistols and the Clash. Despite having released whatâ€™s considered to be the first UK punk rock single, â€œNew Rose,â€ and the first full length punk LP, Damned Damned Damned, their legacy remains one known mostly by music aficionados, and their music by fans. But over the course of their forty years, through numerous musical and personnel changes, the bandâ€™s output has remained surprisingly transcendent. The fractured relationships, legal rifts and innate tensions of working together for four decades hasnâ€™t dimmed the musicâ€™s resonance, nor the bandâ€™s live appeal. Even when that live act only includes two original members. This is the story of a marathon, rather than just an initial sprint of brilliance.
Weaving together archival footage with interviews with the band, their contemporaries and those they influenced, the documentary tells several stories at once. At its heart is the story of the Damned as a seminal influence, whose chaotic, satirical style overshadowed their messages, and whose career failed to garner the lasting headlines of bands who wore discontent on their sleeves. That failure haunts the band members to this day, with drummer Rat Scabies sarcastically wondering if the Damned â€œwere just also thereâ€ while the Pistols and Clash were changing the world. Interviews with Chrissie Hynde, Steve Diggle, TV Smith, Clem Burke, Chris Stein, Glen Matlock, JJ Burnel, Billy Idol, Dave Robinson and others testify to the Damnedâ€™s place in punk rock history, while Ian MacKaye, Jello Biafra and Buzz Osborne testify to their influence.