Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"...If There's Such A Thing As A 12 String Harp, I'm Sure He's Already Mastered It..."

CNN won't be offering this as breaking news.

But they should.

Billy Strange passed today.

Unless you're a pop music aficianado and/or over the age of fifty, you very likely don't know who he was.

And even if you are a pop music aficianado and/or over the age of fifty, you likely don't know who he was.

The old expression "here's someone who needs no introduction" is especially poignant and fitting at the moment because Billy managed, as he did with so many other things, to be the exception to the rule.

His resume' is so, literally, staggering that he really does need no introduction.

And yet, his modesty and sincerity negated any chance that he would ever become a household name.

This article doesn't begin to do him justice, but it's a good place to start.

Hearing the news today was one of those "sad and shocked but not surprised" life moments. Billy had been in poor health for a while and was 81 years old, so, obviously, our grief is offset somewhat by the knowledge that he is at peace and pain free.

Still, in a world that has evolved into doling out celebrity and accolade like flyers in a parking lot, the passing of a genuine class act like Billy Strange is a loss that defies measure.

Whitney Houston's death last week triggered an avalanche of tribute and homage unparalleled since Michael Jackson's death three years ago. And while its apples and oranges to compare celebrity passings, the irony isn't lost on me that in 1958 when Michael Jackson was born, Billy was already an established and respected studio guitarist, playing on sessions with Ricky Nelson and Tennessee Ernie Ford, among many others, had already made several acclaimed albums of his own while also appearing regularly on the popular Ernie Ford TV series of the 50's....and by 1963, when Whitney Houston was born, Billy had become a sought after studio player, producer and arranger working with superstar acts from, among so many others,  The Beach Boys to Glen Campbell to Nat King Cole to Nancy Sinatra to a fellow whose name even today's youngsters know....


For sixty years, Billy was a behind the scenes essential to an amazing list of popular music history.

And he was singularly the nicest, most loving man I have ever known.

But his passing won't be considered breaking news.

I posted today, on Billy's website ( that "there are no words...." and, for several many paragraphs now, I have rambled on in an attempt to find some.

Billy would have liked my desire to keep it short and sweet.

He wasn't much for accolades.

He just let his talent, his spirit and his heart do the talking.

That heart has been stilled by time.

The talent, though, is going to be available for generations to come.

And the spirit...

That spirit will be around for sixty times sixty years.

That may not be what CNN considers breaking news.

But it should be.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"...Familiarity Used To Breed Contempt....Now It Just Makes It Easy For Radio To PIck This Week's Adds..."

Old show business joke.

The four phases of a career.

Who's Taylor Swift?

Get me Taylor Swift.

Find me a young Taylor Swift.

Who's Taylor Swift?

The inevitable all knowing chuckle aside, there's a subtext to be found at the end of that circle of logic.

A feeling, admittedly found, to some extent, in all walks of show biz but most assuredly in popular music, that, more and more often, the name of the game is bring me more of the same.

Let's not kid ourselves.

There's a reason they call it the music business.

And any successful business is, ultimately, built on a foundation of profit and not posturing.

So it makes reasonable business sense to accept that if at first you succeed, do it again and again and again.

Here's a thing, though.

Art, in this case defined as music, is about envelope pushing and original vision.

Say what you will about Gaga, for example.

There's only one.

And it's unlikely that anyone would hear Gaga's work and mistake her for anyone else.

Yes, her music has now and then splashes of days gone by and, let's not kid ourselves, more than just an occasional downright homage to early 80's Madonna, but, again, you hear Gaga, you hear Gaga.

Seldom do you need to wait for the jock to back ID the song or go jumping on the Google to try and track down the name of the singer you just enjoyed.

Or endured.

Different strokes and all that.

Meanwhile, in country music....

Cranking out new versions of the tried and true is nothing new in Music City. It's been going on for decades.

Anybody remember SheDaisy?

Who seemed to literally appear right out of the dust cloud kicked up by the mega success of The Dixie Chicks?


I came across a piece hyping a new Curb Records singer by the name of Rachel Holder.

Here's a link to the piece that includes a sound clip of her first single.

Loth as I am to diss anybody's dream, here's what I heard when I listened to the track.

A little Faith Hill.

A soupcon of Carrie Underwood.

And a whole lotta Shania Twain.

And a song idea that has been written about twenty five times that I'm aware of, not counting the couple of times either I or some of my co-writers and me have taken a shot at it.

All in all, very professional, very pleasant...

And I would like to say I enjoyed it but the truth is I was pretty much tired of it before I finished listening.

Because I've heard it all before.

And before.

And before.

Evidence to the contrary, I really do wish Rachel Holder sincere good luck in her quest to find fame and fortune.

But I'm not likely to invest any personal funds in that quest be it via record store or download.

Not because she's not a good looking girl with a good voice.

Mostly because I'm not asking someone to "find me a young Shania Twain."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"...Starlight...And How To Best Use It...."

Every fourteen minutes.

The brightness of the spotlight shining on the details of, and reaction to, the death of Whitney Houston is of an intensity we haven't seen since Michael Jackson died.

This is, to be sure, a sad time.

But not just because a gifted performer has passed.

Because, once again, the forest gets lost.

While it will be a few weeks before medical evidence verifies the cause of death, one way or the other, it's not, given her very public history, an unfair or unreasonable assumption that Houston died as a result, directly or indirectly, of her struggle through the years with substance abuse.

And while any life being cut short is always a tragedy, this particular tragedy is, of course, magnified by the celebrity.

A celebrity that was born from a God given gift of talent.

That this gift has been silenced is, of course, a cause for sadness.

But, as is often the case with celebrity, the mixture of admiration, adulation and grief that pours out over the airwaves and news sites and blog sites creates the incorrect, and unfortunate, impression, no matter how unintended, that this death is any more tragic than that of a soccer mom who struggles with addiction and dies.

Or a school teacher who struggles with addiction and dies.

Or a local convenience store clerk who struggles with addiction and dies.

Every fourteen minutes.

Someone dies of substance abuse.

In less than half the time it will take for you to read what I have written here, someone else will die from that struggle.

But the odds are sure that you won't see their name come up as breaking news on CNN.

You won't see or read or hear thousands lamenting these lives cut short or the silencing of whatever gifts God gave them.

You won't see a moment of silence in their honor on prime time television.

And that, from any reasonable point of view, is a sadness on a par with the loss of a famous singer.

A sadness that occurs every fourteen minutes.

For over twenty four hours now, I have watched and listened as the tributes have poured in, as hundreds/thousands of people, on TV, on radio, on blogs, on websites, on Facebook, et al offer accolades to Whitney Houston and the songs she sang through her life.

And I can't help but feel like we gave Whitney Houston every standing ovation she deserved during that life.

And that now is not the time to leap to our feet yet again.

Perhaps a more fitting tribute would be to do, in memory of Whitney Houston's struggle, whatever we can to aid and assist the soccer mom who still struggles.

Or the school teacher.

Or the convenience store clerk.

Perhaps, when all is said and done, that would turn out to be "the greatest gift of all".