Tag Archives: pop

David Bowie: Hero, young dude, oddity

I was taken aback when I heard that David Bowie has left us. Only a couple of days after the release of his mysterious and seductive final album Blackstar, the legendary performer suddenly set sail for his personal afterlife odyssey, no doubt floating in a most peculiar way

I should confess that I was not always a huge Bowie fan. As much as I enjoyed and appreciated his singing and songwriting, I always had mixed feelings about his image and multiple personas, and was never quite at ease with his eccentric stage presence, especially during his glam rock years. I often found his hermaphrodite look and exaggerated make-up aesthetically dubious, feeling that it somehow distracted from his otherwise remarkable art and brilliant music.

Having said that, as time went by I came to increasingly like his performing style as well as his diverse and multifaceted activity as an artist – apart from being an influential singer and songwriter, Bowie was also a record producer, painter, and talented actor (his performance on Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, for instance, is truly exceptional).

I remember watching him live as he headlined the Isle of Wight Festival back in 2004, one of the best gigs I have had the luck to witness. I can still recall very vividly his cool, youthful look -despite being almost 60 at the time- and the effortless way in which he could tease and excite the audience.

David Bowie was way more than just a great pop singer and charismatic performer. His extraordinary music and visionary art inspired successive generations of restless teenagers, providing the backdrop for their craziest fantasies, dreams and nightmares.

He was an oddity, and will remain a young dude and a hero – for much more than a day.

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Singing it like it is

Meet Lara Eidi and the band

Lara Eidi is a singer-songwriter of Lebanese-Canadian-Greek background. She first got involved with music the moment she “learned how to mimic” through trying to sing and recreate any sound she happened to hear. She started with classical piano at the age of 8 and also had harmony and theory lessons at the conservatory. Next to her piano and singing skills she is also an accomplished guitar player and the founder of Lara Eidi Band, a small jazz-folk-pop trio comprised of Lara, Stavros Parginos (cello, loops) and  Giotis Paraskevaidis (guitars, loops, beatboxing).

Tell it like it is

The band just released their second EP  Tell it like it is to an amazing crowd at Athen’s Numismatic Museum, and it seems like the musical adventures of the promising trio are only beginning to unfold.

So how did Lara Eidi Band come about? Here’s the story in Lara’s own words:

It came at a point when I was close to packing it all in, music wise, after being disheartened by how little one could accomplish in the music scene in Greece. I had just returned to Greece from Scotland naively thinking I could achieve something. So after being a session singer, piano player and songwriter for a multitude of bands I retreated from the music scene thinking: ‘What can I do to change this course I’ve chosen?’ And then it hit me: 2 years ago I stayed at a friend’s house in Athens, locked inside a beautiful musical basement, writing tons of songs and feeling like a kid discovering toys for the first time. After that I called Stavros Parginos, a wonderful cellist and multi-instrumentalist who I had worked with before, and asked him if he would like to work on some of my songs with his cello. He said yes with a smile. So a year ago we started gigging around Athens, traveled abroad to Beirut, Lebanon, and Edinburgh , and recorded my first EP, “Little People” (Irida Studios). Then we met the third member of our band, guitarist Giotis Paraskevaidis. I heard him play at a gig, not knowing who he was, and approached him to ask if he would like to play my music. He was super positive about it – and also turned out to be a very good friend of Stavros! All of a sudden the music was reborn with this incredible energy. After doing a few cover songs on YouTube (incl. Nina Simone’s Be my Husband, filmed on a rooftop in Athens by videographer Dimitris Stamatiou and our sound guy Iraklis Vlachakis), we were eventually inspired to create “Tell it like it is” (Sierra Studios, In a Jam Studios) which is about just that: My personal way of saying that the music I write, and the way it’s developed together with the guys, doesn’t really fit into an roster and that’s OK. And so we found ourselves going from a singer-songwriter to a band formation. I told the guys I wanted to call the band LSG (laughs) but they insisted on Lara Eidi Band!

A beautiful challenge

Music for Lara is a “life force”, a kind of challenge that “needs to be embraced in its fullest and most beautiful forms”. And it seems she is indeed taking up the challenge – Lara will be going to London to follow a Masters in Jazz Voice Performance at the Guildhall School of Music, while at the same time keep performing with her band in both UK and Greece.

And what if Lara’s record collection was on fire? Here’s what she would save first:

I would save my Woodstock Full Two Volumes CD. I have to zone out to this more times than I care to mention! I’m a girl. I also have to save Sheryl Crow, Sarah Ann McLachlan and Alanis Morissette .

You can find Lara Eidi Band on:

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The geniuses behind the hits

In the history of popular music there have been certain groups of musicians with a profound impact on the making and recording of hit records. They consist of the session players largely responsible for the sound of many great songs we all know and love, but never cared to look beyond the names of the star performers they’re usually associated with.  So let’s get to know some of these unsung heroes…

Hidden in the shadows

Known as The Funk Brothers, the Detroit-based session musicians who performed on Motown recordings from 1959 to 1972 played on more No.1 hits than The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined! Despite this astonishing feat, they were essentially uncredited  as Motown did not list session musician credits on their releases until 1971.

Consisting of phenomenal talents such as bass player James Jamerson and drummer Benny “Papa Zita” Benjamin, The Funk Brothers played on a long string of classic recordings including I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone and Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Their extraordinary story is told in the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002).

Looking back at their list of achievements, one indeed understands why they have been called “the greatest hit machine in the history of pop music.”

Meet The Wrecking Crew

Another group of session musicians that played a big part in how American pop music sounded during the 1960s was The Wrecking Crew. This assembly of highly skilled and versatile musicians, many of whom were formally trained in jazz or classical music, recorded practically every style of pop music in existence and worked with artists such as Nat King Cole, Nancy Sinatra, The Mamas & the Papas, The Carpenters and Simon & Garfunkel.

Moreover, The Wrecking Crew was used by legendary producer Phil Spector for his trademark “Wall of Sound”, while songwriter Brian Wilson also worked with the Crew to materialize many of his sonic visions during the 1960s, including the album Pet Sounds and songs such as Good Vibrations and California Girls.

The remarkable story of The Wrecking Crew was also made into a film, which can serve as a great introduction to the musicians responsible for the sound of some of the most successful pop music the world has ever known (such as guitarist Tommy Tedesco, drummer Hal Blaine, and bassist/guitarist Carol Kaye – one of the few female session players of that period).

The secret of Muscle Shoals

There are some special places where the conditions for making great music seem to be just right. One such place is Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The musicians largely responsible for what came to be known as the “Muscle Shoals Sound” were The Swampers (aka The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section), a group of soul, R&B, and country studio musicians based in Muscle Shoals who have appeared on more than 75 gold and platinum hits in total.

The Swampers worked originally at the legendary FAME Studios, established by American record producer Rick Hall. Some of the artists they recorded with at FAME were Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Duane Allman, Paul Anka and Tom Jones.

FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals

Immortalized in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic Sweet Home Alabama (“Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers / And they’ve been known to pick a song or two”), The Swampers left FAME in 1969 to form The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, becoming first time rhythm section -consisting of Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and David Hood (bass)- to own a studio they could use for recording and production purposes.

Several rock and pop artists arrived to record at the new studio, including The Rolling Stones, Traffic, Elton John, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. The incredible story of  Rick Hall, The Swampers and a small town that would become the mecca of America’s most celebrated recording artists  is the theme of the recent documentary Muscle Shoals.

The High Fidelity lists

“As everyone knows, Al Green Explores your Mind is as serious as life gets.”

(Nick Hornby, High Fidelity)

In case you are already familiar with Nick Hornby’s work, High Fidelity (published in 1995) needs no further introduction. A brilliantly entertaining and yet remarkably insightful take on life, relationships and pop music, it remains a classic of its genre. In 2000 it was also made into a film starring John Cusack as the audiophile Rob Gordon. Rob (whose last name in the book is actually Fleming) is the novel’s main character and a music geek who takes pleasure in coming up with top 5 lists of ex-girlfriends, records, films, artists and pretty much everything else.

A big plus to Hornby’s novel are the many musical tips scattered across the text. A whole playlist full of soulful and funky tunes that can still be enjoyed long after the reading is over, and which also served as a basis for the film’s groovy soundtrack.

So here are my all-time, top five most memorable musical references in High Fidelity in chronological order:

1) Solomon Burke – Got To Get You Off My Mind

2) Otis Redding – You Left The Water Running

3) Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – It’s a Good Feeling

4) Donny Hathaway – The Ghetto

5) Elvis Costello – Alison

Followed by my top five, most memorable quotes from Hornby’s book in order of appearance:

1) “What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?”

2) “I reorganize my record collection; I often do this at periods of emotional stress. When I’ve finished I’m flushed with s sense of self, because this, after all, is who I am.”

3) “To me, making a tape is like writing a letter – there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do.”

4) “You know the worst thing about being rejected? The lack of control. If I could only control the when and how of being dumped by somebody, then it wouldn’t seem as bad. But then, of course, it wouldn’t be rejection, would it? It would be by mutual consent. It would be musical differences. It would be leaving to pursue a solo career.”

5) “How can you like Art Garfunkel and Solomon Burke? It’s like saying you support the Israelis and the Palestinians.”