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The Rock & Roll Three-Way: Peter Wolf’s Couch

If I could be anyone in rock and roll history, a very strong case could be made for being Peter Wolf.

I admire the guy for many reasons: his work as a musician, his work as a DJ, his Dean status at the College of Musical Knowledge and the friends he keeps. If you don’t know his story, you really should read his bio on his website.

He has been there, done that and then some. I’ve always said that if there were any bands I could have played in they would be The Band and The J.Geil’s Band. They are my poles; anything from either end and in between is where I want would to be. Though I have no realconnection to him whatsoever, I do feel a bit of fan-kinship with “The Wolfa”.

He’s not Boston born and bred, but he spent a quite a bit of his life there and is synonymous with the Boston music scene. I grew up in NH and Boston was always my music-beacon. I read everything Steve Morseever wrote in the Boston Globe and dreamt of being at all the legendary clubs, dives and concert halls that I laid eyes on.

He started out as a the music and program director and late-night, deep-cuts, mile-a-minute DJ for Boston’s then renegade rock and roll radio station, WBCN. When I was growing up in Keene, N.H., my radio was always pegged to 104.1. Wolf had long since hung-up the headphones by the time I started listening, but for me ‘BCN was still the station. I wanted to be a part of everything they talked about; no internet then, so the only way to do this was to listen. I listened everyday. I was so affected that I remember when I first moved to Boston I was hell bent on living as close to the (my) two Boston icons that drew me there: Fenway Park and the ‘BCN studios. I lived in walking distance of both.

 

Wolf loves the blues and classic R&B and Soul music. That is my wheelhouse; my music collection is testament to that. Wolf has a huge rock and roll rolodex. In the Sweet-Spot Sixties, Wolf made friends with everyone that past through Boston’s music scene; his work as the ‘BCN DJ gave him much access to interview all of them. Apparently he was quite the host at home, too. He had an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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His apartment was a who’s who of guests, roommates and hangers-out. Shit, even Barry Tashian of the Remains lived at Wolf’s place (Please, please  check out the Remains if you don’t know about them. A hugely influential and unheralded Boston band…they opened for the Beatles on their Fab Four’s last tour). The First Wolf…Howlin’ Wolf was a frequent visitor as were Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Not good enough for you? Van Morrison moved to Cambridge around the same time Wolf lived there. Legend has it that Van couch-surfed at Wolf’s place and penned the songs that would end up on Astral Weeks while doing so. Hot Damn. The Folks and the Lore of Rock and Roll all stayed at Wolf’s place…the stories are endless.

Most of Peter Wolf’s fame comes from the Geils days. I love that stuff. Love it. My true fave rave Wolf material comes from his solo albums, especially his last three: Fool’s Parade, Sleepless and Midnight Souvenirs. If I could make music, if I could write and play, if I could produce vibes…I would make music like these Peter Wolf solo albums. There is such integrity and feel in all of these albums. They are personal albums; they are party albums; they are proclamations and presentations of influence, admiration and skill…and you can dance them.

He puts all of his first hand experience, learned wisdom and tacit knowledge into these suckers. He create the feel and works in the music. Speaking of the music…it is time to unveil The Rock & Roll Three-Way I promised you.

Here are three songs from artists that spent time either sleeping on Peter Wolf’s couch or kicking back on it while listening to records and greeting the sunrise.

The Remains(with Barry Tashian) – “Don’t Look Back”, Glorious garage rock at its finest.

Howlin’ Wolf - How Many More Years. Take a few moments to hear Ol’ Wolf tell us what the blues really is and then rip into a classic live performance.

Van Morrison- “Astral Weeks”.  You think Van wrote this one while couch-surfing?

So there you have it my friends, another Rock & Roll Three-Way: 1 >> Barry Tashian of the Boston garage band, the Remains used to be Peter Wolf’s Roommate 2 >> Howlin’ Wolf was a guest at Wolf’s place (as seen in the included picture) 3 >> Van Morrison couch-surfed at Wolf’s place and spent many a night there listening to music and penning classic tunes. 

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Oh yeah…one other Wolf connection: In the sixth grade there was this girl that loved the then popular J.Geils Band’s song, Centerfold. I was a fool for her. She used to love to roller skate it when it came out of the speakers on Friday nights at the YMCA (that’s when I learned to skate backwards). She always loved that song. I always longed to have her star in it.Do you have any fave rave Wolf songs or experiences?

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Funny/sad story for you. Back in May I flew from London to Boston. I was there to meet an old friend and now, new business partner. I hadn’t seen him in a while…near 20 years. The night I flew in he suggested we meet. Cool…happy to…wanted to. We needed to, actually. We needed to talk shop at bit and we was being a damn good host. What I didn’t and couldn’t tell him was that I would have been happy to have him just meet me the next morning.

See, that night I had a ticket to see Peter Wolf at the Wilbur Theatre, a small and legendary Boston venue. Peter was playing a one-off to promo his latest release, Midnight Souvenirs. It was a dream gig for me: fly in from London, check in at hotel, kick around in Boston and soak in the scene and then see Peter Wolf play in his backyard.

I had obligations and didn’t want to blow off my buddy. I was hoping it would be a quick drink and then I could flash over to Cambridge to catch the gig. Nope. We ended up having dinner, drinks and lots of conversation; a very good catch-up. Was it the right decision? Yes, it was. We’re walking a long a winding trail right now and we needed to get off on the right foot. Plus, I had a great time.

A few nights later, one of the artists on our label was having an album release party at Boston’s House of Blues. None other than the afore mentioned Steve Morse showed up(!). That was cool. I got to say thanks for all the turn-ons from all his columns. That felt good. I was asking about the music scene and what he was seeing/hearing that was good. Yup, you guessed it…he said he was at the Peter Wolf gig a couple nights prior.

Yup, the same one I had a ticket for. He told me, “I’ve seen a lot of Wolf performances, but that one ranked as one of the best”. Ohh…gut-punch!

The Return of Lunch Break Lacquer (Boston Edition): Inhabiting Planet Records

At my old job I used to work in the London borough of Camden. Right next door to Camden is London’s Soho. There are all kinds of used record shops in Camden and Soho. During lunch I would head out of the office…not to eat, mind you, but to visit some of the nearby used vinyl vaults. Hey, I have my priorities. Food…vinyl…vinyl…food…I’d eat vinyl if I could taste the music. 

Whenever I made one of these lunch time record runs, I would write a blog post about it. I called it: Lunch Break Lacquer. It is about time we trotted out that segment again. 

I’m in Boston for work this week. I am staying in Harvard Square in Cambridge. I usually stay in this same hotel when I visit Boston. Harvard Square is full of activity, nightlife and good bars with great beers on tap. Everything I need is within walking distance: gym, bars, sushi and, best of all, Planet Records…a used vinyl joint. 

This is one of my first stops as soon as I check into my hotel. I arrived here Sunday night and by the time I checked in and ran over to the shop, it was closed. Crap. Plan B: get a ridiculous amount of takeaway sushi and watch the Eagles vs. the Redskins back at the hotel. Tomorrow is another day.

Tomorrow is here and today I decided that I would drop by Planet Records at lunch time; a perfect opportunity to post a Lunch Break Lacquer update…U.S.A style.

Planet Records has been in Harvard Square for almost 30 years. They also have an eBay and Amazon shop; convenient, but nothing beats flipping through vinyl bins. I flipped through bins for close to two hours today. I found some buried treasure, too. I am curating a vinyl collection that focuses on two things: breadth and album quality/vinyl listening worthiness. I want to have a variety of albums that are either classic, multiple listen albums and/or albums that are great vinyl experiences. 

I think I covered that criteria for the most part. Here is what I picked up today. 
  • Astral Weeks, Van Morrison: I have the recently released, “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” version of this classic; it breaks my mind every time I listen to it. I had to get the original studio version…long overdue. (I just paused from typing to put this on the headphones. Damn, I love this album…cue the chicken skin). I am seeing Van on the 24th of October at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Can’t wait to hear his pipes fill that palace. 
  • More Real Folk Blues, Sonny Boy Williamson II: I always check the blues section of any vinyl vault first. I have a “list of finds” with a number of blues albums on it. This one by Sonny Boy wasn’t on it, but nonetheless, it was a no brainer. Sonny Boy…original Chess pressing…the blues. Yep, had to be done. 
  • J.Geils Band, J.Geils: Hey, I am in Boston…gots ta buy some J.Geils. Actually, I have made it a tradition to buy at least one Boston band used vinyl when I am in town. This album cooks with gas. It has so much raw energy, you could power a small village with it. There are two bands that I would have loved to have been in: early Geils and The Band. 
  • Leon Russell and the Shelter People, Leon Russell: this is the guts-balls of Ol’ Leon. If he was a cow, this would be his prime cut.  
  • Easy Tiger, Ryan Adams: I am Ryan Adams fan. I’m not a fan of all of his schitzo-efforts, but I think this album ranks near the top of his heap. Halloween Head is a sick track.
  • Trans, Neil Young: When I was here last, I almost bought this from Planet Records. I have been thinking about it ever since. Now I don’t have to. I love the album cover. The name of my macbook pro is “Syscrusher“. Yes, I am a fool. Neil is fucking cool. 
Speaking of Neil Young and Trans…have you ever seen this video of Neil & Devo slashing and dashing through “Hey, Hey, My, My”. NO?! Buckle up ’cause the ride is about to get treacherous. This is 9:53 of some sick shit. “This is a story of Johnny Spud” and Devo and Neil tell it like it is. The story of how this came to be is cool, too. Devo thought Neil was an old fart…Neil showed them otherwise. Listen to Neil just hammer that riff into submission. YES!

   

So, all these albums for less than $40. Not bad, eh?  Believe you me…the damage could have been significantly worse. I put a half a dozen more of these black beauties back on the racks. Not too worry, I’ll be back for more. 

I am sitting in the window of my hotel room typing away. It is raining. The neon lights of the street below are reflecting off the puddles. I am halfway through Astral Weeks. Life is good.

 

6149 Turn-Ons: Paul Pena is one of the THE hidden folks in the lore of music

In 2000 I was living in Boston, MA. I was still listening to terrestrial radio back then. Boston has a long history of pushing boundaries in radio. I grew up listening (from over in good ol’ New Hampshire) to WZLX, WBCN and many, many college radio stations. Between all of those, I felt like I was in prime position to be turned on to any new sounds and any sounds that were older, but new to me.  By 2000, radio was changing and Boston radio was no exception. Even though corporate had crept in and changed the experience, discovery was still happening. 

I was driving home from work one day on RT.128. I had the dial pegged to 92.9 WBOS. I was cruising along when I heard a song that forced me to pull the car into the breakdown lane and listen. That had never happened to me before while I was driving. Right from the outset this song popped out of the dashboard and grabbed my attention. It was just so damn alive and real that I felt compelled to give it my undivided listening attention. 

That song was “Gonna Move” by Paul Pena. Wow. As soon as it was done, I exhaled and then got back on the road and made a bee-line for the record shop. I bought Paul’s album and sped off, racing home to listen. Little did I know, but this guy was a native son, born in 1950 in Massachusetts. Little did I know that this guy had a lot of rock and roll history on him. Little did I know that this album would be one of the coolest finds I had in the first decade of the new century…and it was almost 30 years old even though it was a new release
I’ll let this 2000 promo vid tell Paul’s story. I hope that after watching it you want to know more about and listen to more of, Paul Pena. His story is fascinating and effects your listening in a warm and rewarding way.

This is the album in question, “New Train“. Here is the excellent allmusic reveiw. In it they said:

New Train sounds fresh, essential, and invigorating, even 27 years after it was recorded, establishing this as one of the most magnificent, previously missing albums of that, or any, era. 

Please pause to have a listen…

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Here is a 2001 live performance on Conan O’Brien. Paul does his version of “Jet Airliner”. Of course you know the Steve Miller version…now hear the writer tell the tale HIS way…because the story in the song is Paul’s.

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi are big Paul fans having covered him in live shows many times. Here is Derek and crew doing the song that pulled me over, “Gonna Move”:

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Homegrown’s Alright With Me: Back To Basics in Beantown

I’m about to head over to Logan Airport to fly to London. Before I do, here is a bit of old school posting from my perch atop a bar stool at the old towne tavern.

I went notebook on this one. Hope my five-pint chicken scratch is easy to read.

Cheers to you…figuratively and literally.

Cheesey at Cheers: the Beantown Send-Off

My last hours in Boston before I hop a flight back to London will be spent playing tourist.

I’m at the Cheers tourist trap in Boston’s Faneuil Hall. I’m surrounded by memories and merchandise. If I get drunk enough I will buy a t-shirt.

I’m drinking a delicious Sam Adam’s Boston Brick Red and eating a bowl of chilli. “You don’t miss yer water, ’til yer well runs dry”.

New England vs. Old England…no contest. Maybe I could delay my flight…

(Aerosmith’s, “Mama Kin”, just came on the tune box. Perfect)

Wishing all Those Old Things Were New: “First-Feelings”

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I was standing out infront of my old apartment in Boston yesterday. I last lived there in that specific spot in 2000.  “Wishing all these old things were new” is a song by Merle Haggard. It is off his 2000 album, “If I Could Only Fly“. The song is less of a lament than it is a reflection on those “first” feelings. I was thinking about this song while standing out infront of my old Boston place. My time in Boston was chock full of first-feelings. 
 
It is Monday morning. I spent the weekend in Boston on a journey through my past. I ran into the ghost of many first-feeling while I was there. I caught up with old friends and retraced some steps that I took when I was Beantown bachelor. One of my fave first-feelings I tried to recapture was attending a Red Sox game. When I lived in Boston I went to dozens of games. I love taking a Sunday Boston Globe sports section to my seat, sipping on a ice cold beer and watching the Sox “Play Ball!”. I remember the first Sox game I went to when I was a kid. I might as well have gone to Jupiter to meet aliens. Everything about it was awe-inspiring, overwhelming and flat-out thrilling. 
 
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Of course, I couldn’t hit that same raw nerve again yesterday, but it was still a great feeling to be out there in the stands backing the hometown team. In between innings at games they play random songs. They played a lot of country songs yesterday. I was surprised, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. Country is a consistent seller these days. Today’s country is a lowest common denominator play: BBQs, Gap influenced cowboy and cowgirl garb, cheesy lyrics and a pop sound. It’s not my thing, but then again, I am not part of the lowest common denominator crowd. 
 
One song that came blaring out of the speakers was the Stones, “Jumping Jack Flash”. I hadn’t heard it in a long time. I have heard it countless times. Hearing it yesterday was jarring and exciting. It sounded fresh. You here old songs that you have listened to so much that you build up a callous to them. You forget how damn good they are and how much you like them. They don’t hit bone like they used to.  Yesterday’s serendipitous Stones song surprise felt like a first-feeling. 
 
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Music, unlike other media (movies, books, magazine articles, photo books, etc.) has repeat use. You play certain songs to invoke memories, to fuel a workout, to send a message to a lover, to kick-off a Saturday night’s partying…you fave tune is always a play button or needle dropping away. You can’t replicate the first feelings of a first listen. You can try and conjure them up when you fire-up that fave song.
 
After the game I went back to my hotel room and trolled through my itunes library and played some other old faves. The difference this time is that I listened to them. I listened for those bits that struck sparks with me so many listens ago. It felt good. Do that this week. Go find old faves and actually listen to them as if you’ve never heard them before. It is a refreshing and exciting. 
 
I thought back to my old Boston apartment again.  It was amazing to me to think about what I’ve done since I lived there. In eight short years, I got married in the Dominican Republic. I moved to Florida. I moved to Australia and lived and worked in Sydney for five years. I moved to London where I live today. I have traveled to many cool places around the world. There are lots of first-feelings mixed in there. I’m not big on living out my past over and over again. The past is just a record of where you’ve come from. I’m most interested where I am going next…looking for more firsts. 
 
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