Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Late Great Keith Emerson

Keith Emerson, the legendary keyboardist for The Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, died on March 10 2016. He was 71 years old. The cause was a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Mr. Emerson had been suffering from depression, as well as a degenerative nerve disease that made it difficult for him to play keyboards.

Keith Emerson was born in Todmorden, West Riding of Yorkshire on November 2 1944. His family had been evacuated to the town during World War II. He grew up in Worthing, West Sussex. His father could play piano by ear and young Keith Emerson took an interest in the instrument. From ages 8 to 12 he took piano lessons. Amazingly enough given his virtuosity with keyboards, he had no formal training. After hearing jazz organist Jack McDuff play "Rock Candy" he became interested in the Hammond organ. By his mid-teens he was playing with local bands, such as Gary Farr and the T-Bones. By his late teens he had moved to London and joined the band The V.I.P.s.

It was in 1967 that Keith Emerson left The V.I.P.s to form The Nice with bassist Lee Jackson, guitarist David O'List, and drummer Ian Hague Both Keith Emerson and Lee Jackson had been members of Gary Farr and the T-Bones. The band grew out of soul singer P. P. Arnold's unhappiness with her backing band of the time, The Blue Jays. It was her driver who suggested Keith Emerson as someone could put together such a band. Mr. Emerson agreed, but only on the condition that they could also play as the warm-up act. Ian Hague would be replaced on drums by Brian Davison.

The Nice eventually became a band all their own. In late 1967 they became part of a package tour that included Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Move, and Amen Corner. Their first album, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack, was released in late 1967. As the band's career progressed the reliability of David O'List came into question. It is a matter of debate whether Mr. O'List was dismissed or voluntarily left the band. The Nice afterwards continued as a three piece band. Their second album, Ars Longa Vita Brevis, was released in November 1968.

The Nice's third album, Nice, was released in September 1969 and peaked at number 3 on the British album chart.  That same year Keith Emerson participated in the "super session" known as Music from Free Creek that included such artists as Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and  Linda Ronstadt. He also worked as a session player with The Faces. In June 1970 The Nice's fourth album, Five Bridges, was released.

It was in late 1969 that Keith Emerson became convinced that The Nice had progressed as far as they could. It was then in 1970 that he left The Nice to form Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP) with bassist Greg Lake (formerly of King Crimson) and drummer Carl Palmer (formerly of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster). The Nice's final album, Elegy, was released in April 1971. ELP made their debut at  the Guildhall in Plymouth on August 23 1970. Several days later they performed at the Isle of Wight Festival on August 29. The band was immediately signed to Atlantic Records after their performance at the festival.

ELP's debut album, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, was released on November 20 1970 in the United Kingdom and on January 1 1971 in the United States. The album proved to be a success on both sides of the Atlantic. It reached no. 4 on the British album chart and no. 18 on the Billboard album chart. The band's second single, "Lucky Man", received a good deal of FM radio play in the U.S. and reached no. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer's second album, Tarkus, was released on June 14 1971. It performed even better on the charts than the first album. It went to no. 1 on the UK album chart and no. 9 on the Billboard album chart. The bands' first live album, Pictures at an Exhibition, was released in November 1971.

ELP's third album, Trilogy, saw the band at their peak. Released on July 6 1972, the album went to no. 2 on the UK album chart and no. 5 on the Billboard album chart. During 1972 Emerson, Lake & Palmer toured North America, Europe, and Japan. In 1973 the band formed their own record label, Manticore Records.

While the band would remain successful for some time, they would never repeat the success of Trilogy. While their fourth album, Brain Salad Surgery, went to no. 2 on the UK album chart, it peaked at no. 11 on the Billboard album chart. That having been said, the album contained one of their most popular works, "Karn Evil 9" (which occupied the whole of side 2 on the vinyl album).

In 1974 ELP took an extended break. They reformed in 1976 to record their album Works Volume 1. Released in March 1977, it would chart lower than any ELP album before it on the British album chart, only going to no. 9.  In the United States it only went to no. 12. It was followed by Works Volume 2, which only went to 20 in the UK and no. 37 in the U.S. Emerson, Lake & Palmer were clearly in decline. Given the performance of other progressive rock acts of the era in 1977, it would seem that the era of prog rock was over.

With their fortunes in decline ELP decided to disband. They recorded one last album to  fulfil contractual obligations. Love Beach was released on November 18 1978 and proved to be a commercial disappointment. It only reached no. 48 in the UK and no. 55 in the U.S. Critical reception of the album was uniformly negative.

Following the break up of ELP, Keith Emerson released two solo albums in the Eighties: Honky in 1980 and The Christmas Album in 1988. In 1985 Keith Emerson and Greg Lake intended to reform, but Carl Palmer was unavailable due to a commitment to the supergroup Asia. They then recruited Cozy Powell, formerly of The Jeff Beck Group and Rainbow.  Emerson, Lake & Powell only released one, self-titled album in 1986. In 1987 Keith Emerson, Cozy Powell, and Robert Berry formed the band 3. They released only one album, To the Power of Three, in 1988. In 1990 Mr. Emerson toured with The Best, a short-lived supergroup also consisting of bassist John Entwistle (of The Who), guitarist Joe Walsh (formerly of The James Gang and The Eagles), guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (of Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers), and drummer Simon Phillips (formerly of The Jack Bruce Band, 801, and The Jeff Beck Group). The band never released an album. During the Eighties Keith Emerson also served as the composer on several movies during the decade, including Dario Argento's Inferno (1980), Nighthawks (1981), Murderock - Uccide a passo di danza (1984), Best Revenge (1984), and La chiesa (1989). 

In 1991 Emerson, Lake & Palmer reformed. They released two more albums: Black Moon in 1992 and In the Hot Seat in 1994. They continued to tour until 1996. Disagreements over a new album led to ELP to break up once again. In 1995 Keith Emerson released another solo album, Changing States (aka Cream of Emerson Soup).

In 2002 Keith Emerson reunited with The Nice for a series of concerts. That same year he released the solo album Emerson Plays Emerson. In 2008 he released the album Keith Emerson Band featuring Marc Bonilla. In 2010 Keith Emerson toured the United States and Canada with Greg Lake. On July 25 2010 there was a one-off reunion of ELP at the High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park, East London. Their concert at the festival was released on DVD as Welcome Back My Friends. 40th Anniversary Reunion Concert. High Voltage Festival – 25 July 2010 in 2011. During the Naughts Keith Emerson also served as the composer on the films La Chiesa (2002) and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). In the Teens, Keith Emerson released The Three Fates Project with  Marc Bonilla, Terje Mikkelsen.

Over the years there have been those who have criticised Emerson, Lake & Palmer as representing the worst in progressive rock's excesses. While ELP has long had their critics, I always thought their early work as among the best that progressive rock has ever had to offer. Such compositions as "Lucky Man", "Nut Rocker", and  "Karn Evil 9" still stand up today as prime examples of what a progressive rock band could do. Beyond ELP, Keith Emerson did some remarkable work with The Nice earlier. The band was among those who pioneered prog rock with such compositions as "Flower King of Flies", "Diary of an Empty Day", and "The Five Bridges Suite".

Even if one does accept the criticisms regarding ELP, there can be no doubt regarding Keith Emerson's virtuosity with keyboards. He has been called the "Jimi Hendrix of keyboards" with good reason. Keith Emerson produced sounds from keyboards that no other person ever had, before or since. He was known to reach inside pianos to pluck their strings, and was even known for playing one style with one hand and a completely different style with the other. Indeed, he was known for blending genres, drawing classical music, jazz, and blues. Keith Emerson was among the first commercial musicians to utilise Moog synthesisers, raising their use to an artform. Of course, he also played practically every keyboard in existence:  Hammond organs, pianos, and pipe organs among them. While ELP will probably always have their critics, there can be no doubt that Keith Emerson was among the most talented keyboardists of all time.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Godspeed Sir Ken Adam

Sir Ken Adam, the production designer best known for his work on the James Bond movies as well as such films as Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) and Barry Lyndon (1975), died on March 10 2016 at the age of 95.

Sir Ken Adam was born Klaus Hugo Adam  on February 5 1921 in Berlin. His mother ran a boarding house while his father ran a clothing store specialising in haute couture. Young Mr. Adam attended the Französisches Gymnasium Berlin. It was in 1934 that the family fled to England in the wake of the Nazi's rise to power. He attended St. Paul's School in London and then the University College London and Bartlett School of Architecture with the goal of becoming an architect.

With the outbreak of World War II Sir Ken Adam joined the Royal Pioneer Corps. In 1940 he joined the  the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was only one of three German-born pilots to serve in the RAF during the war. Among other things during the war, he supported ground troops at the battle of the Falaise Gap.

Following the war he broke into film, working as a draughtsman on This Was a Woman (1948). In the late Forties he served as a draughtsman on such films as Brass Monkey (1948), Third Time Lucky (1949), The Queen of Spades (1949, and Golden Arrow (1949). He served as assistant art director on the films Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949) and Eye Witness (1950).

During the early Fifties he continued to work as an assistant or associate art director on such films as Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), The Crimson Pirate (1952), The Master of Ballantrae (1953), The Intruder (1953), Star of India (1954), and Helen of Troy (1956). His first work as a full-fledged art director was on Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), although he was uncredited. For his work on the film he was nominated for the Academy Award for Oscar Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Colour along with James W. Sullivan and Ross Dowd. He served as an art director on Night of the Demon (1957), The Angry Hills (1959), The Rough and the Smooth (1959), Let's Get Married (1960), and The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960).

The Sixties saw what was possibly Sir Ken Adam's most famous work. He was the production designer on the very first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962) and during the Sixties served as production designer on the Bond films Goldfinger (1964) Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967). James Bond movies were not the only Ian Fleming property on which Mr. Adam worked. He also served as production designer on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), the film very loosely based on Ian Fleming children's book of the same name. For that matter, James Bond movies were not the only spy films on which he worked. He also worked on the first two films featuring Sir Michael Caine as spy Harry Palmer: The Ipcress File (1965) and Funeral in Berlin (1966). Aside from his work on the Bond films, Sir Ken Adam's best known work may have been on Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), which included the rather impressive War Room. During the Sixties he also worked on such films as Sodom and Gomorrah (1962), In the Cool of the Day (1963), Woman of Straw (1964), and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969).

During the Seventies Sir Ken Adam worked on two more James Bond films: Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and Moonraker (1979). He was nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for The Spy Who Loved Me. Mr. Adam won the Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for his work on Barry Lyndon (1975) with Roy Walker and Vernon Dixon.  He also worked on such films as Sleuth (1972), The Last of Sheila (1973), Salon Kitty (1976), and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976).

In the Eighties Sir Ken Adam worked on the films King David (1985), Agnes of God (1985), Crimes of the Heart (1986), The Deceivers (1988), Dead Bang (1989), and The Freshman (1990).  In the Nineties Sir Ken Adam was nominated for the Oscar for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for Addams Family Values (1993) with Marvin March. He won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for The Madness of King George (1994) with Carolyn Scott. He also worked on the films The Doctor (1991), Company Business (1991), Undercover Blues (1993), Boys on the Side (1995), Bogus (1996), In & Out (1997), and The Out-of-Towners (1999).

Sir Ken Adam's last film was Taking Sides (2001). He worked on the video game GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, which was released in 2004.

Sir Ken Adam was quite possibly one of the greatest production designers of all time. With the James Bond films he virtually invented the cinematic cliche of the master criminal's vast, secret hideout. His designs for SPECTRE's secret base in You Only Live Twice would set the tone for nearly all supervillain hideouts to come. His designs for Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb remain among the most iconic in film history, particularly the War Room. It is difficult to understand how he was not nominated for an Oscar for the film.

While Sir Ken Adam was at home creating huge, futuristic sets such as the War Room in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb or the various secret hideouts in the James Bond movies, he was also capable of subtler designs. He was particularly talented as art direction for period pieces. His work on such films as Barry Lyndon (1975)  and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) remain a benchmark in production design to this day. What is more, he could do work for any time period, whether it was 1000 BCE (as in the case of King David) or Nazi Germany (as in the case of Salon Kitty). Sir Ken Adam created some of the greatest production designs in film history. For that he will be remembered.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

My Birthday 2016

For those of you who don't know, today is my birthday. I was born March 10 sometime in the late 20th Century. Now most holidays and specials days I post vintage pin-ups devoted to that particular holiday. Unfortunately Hollywood never saw fit to make any pin-ups devoted to my birthday. It might have had something to with the fact that I wasn't born yet, but really that is no excuse! Anyhow, I thought today I would go ahead and share some of my favourite pin-ups as my present to you.

First up is a WWII era pinup featuring my favourite pinup girl, Ann Miller

Next up is the leggy Cyd Charisse

One of my favourite blondes (and brunettes and redheads...), Barbara Eden

Brigitte Bardot looking very French

A more modern pin-up Mary Elizabeth Winstead

And finally my dear friend and birthday twin Scarlett O'Neil (it's her birthday too)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Late Great Sir George Martin

Sir George Martin, the legendary record producer, arranger, conductor, recording engineer, and composer best known for his work with The Beatles, died yesterday, March 8 2016, at the age of 90.

Sir George Martin was born on January 3 1926 in London. His father was a carpenter while his mother was a cleaner. They had wanted "a safe civil servant's job" for their son, but young Sir George's destiny lay elsewhere. He was six years old when his family got a piano. The instrument launched his lifelong interest in music. When he was eight years old he persuaded his mother to enrol him in piano lessons. The piano lessons ended after only eight because of a disagreement between his parents and the teacher, but young Sir George taught himself to play.

Young Sir George won a scholarship to St Ignatius' College in Stamford Hill. When World War II broke out his parents moved out of London proper and he attended  Bromley Grammar School. It was a concert that The London Symphony Orchestra, under Sir Adrian Boult, played at the school that furthered his interest in music. Despite his ambitions in music, Mr. Martin took a job as a quantity surveyor and then worked as a  Temporary Clerk (Grade Three) for the War Office. After he turned 17 he joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. He qualified as a pilot, became an aerial observer, and earned a commission as an officer. Fortunately the war ended before he could see any combat.

Following the war Sir George Martin played the oboe professionally and was accepted into the Guildhall School of Music even though at the time he could not play music. Following graduation he worked for the BBC's classical department for a time before joining EMI as an assistant to Oscar Preuss, then head of EMI's Parlophone Records. When Mr. Preuss retired in 1955, Sir George Martin became the head of Parlophone. In his early years at Parlophone, Mr. Martin produced an eclectic mix of records. He produced everything from original cast recordings to classical and Baroque music. He produced records for a number of comedy acts. In fact, his first hit was a novelty record with Peter Ustinov, "Mock Mozart". He worked with Peter Sellers on two comedy albums, as well as Spike Milligan on Bridge on the River Wye. He produced Charlie Drake's hit single "My Boomerang Won't Come Back"and Bernard Cribbins's hit single "Right, Said Fred", among other hit novelty records. Sir George Martin also produced more serious, pop music records with such artists as Shirley Bassey, Johnny Dankworth,  Humphrey Lyttelton, and Matt Monro.

It was in June 1962 that Sir George Martin signed a little known band known as The Beatles. While The Beatles' audition was not particularly promising (Ron Richards, who produced the audition, was not impressed), Mr. Martin signed the band anyway, largely on the strength of their personalities. Sir George Martin's first recording session with The Beatles was on September 11 1962. The Beatles recorded  "How Do You Do It", a song by Mitch Murray that The Beatles were not particularly keen on. The song went instead to  Gerry and the Pacemakers (for whom it would be a no. 1 hit in the UK) and The Beatles' first single would be another song they recorded that day, Lennon and McCartney's "Love Me Do". It was on November 26 1962 that The Beatles recorded "Please Please Me". It was Sir George Martin who recommended the band change the song from a rather slow, Roy Orbison-style ballad to a song with a faster tempo. At the end of the recording session Sir George Martin told The Beatles, "Gentlemen, you have just made your first number one record." To a large degree Mr. Martin was right. "Please Please Me" hit no. 1 on NME and Melody Maker's singles charts, although it only reached no. 2 on other charts.

"Please Please Me" would mark the beginning of The Beatles phenomenon in which Sir George Martin played a pivotal role. It was Sir George Martin who recommended music publisher Dick James to The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein. It was also George Martin who acted as an arranger for many of The Beatles' songs and who also moulded their talent as recording artists. It was at his suggestion that a string quartet was added to Sir Paul McCartney's song "Yesterday", although Mr. McCartney was initially reluctant. He scored and conducted the strings for another Sir Paul McCartney song, "Eleanor Rigby". He was also responsible for the strings on John Lennon's "I Am the Walrus".  It was also Sir George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick who provided much of the technical wizardry necessary for such albums as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road.

During the Sixties Sir George Martin also did work outside of The Beatles. He produced the early works of other Beat bands, including Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Fourmost, and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. He produced the Mod band The Action.  He also produced such mainstream pop acts as Cilla Black, Shirley Bassy (including the classic "Goldfinger"), and Ella Fitzgerald. He also did some work in film. In addition to providing the instrumental scores for The Beatles films A Hard Day's Night, Help!, and Yellow Submarine, as well as the Gerry and the Pacemakers song Ferry Cross the Mersey, he scored the films Crooks Anonymous (1962) and The Family Way (1966). In 1965 Sir George Martin founded Associated Independent Recording (AIR), an independent recording company. Its first London facility opened in 1970.

Sir George Martin continued to be busy after The Beatles broke up. He continued to work with Sir Paul McCartney on and off including the title track to the James Bond movie Live and Let Die. He produced work by Paul Winter, America, , Elton John, Jeff Beck, Robin Gibb, Neil Sedaka, Gary Brooker, UFO, and Cheap Trick. He scored the movies  Pulp (1972),  Live and Let Die (1973), and  The Optimists of Nine Elms (1973). In 1979 Mr. Martin opened AIR Montserrat on Montserrat Island, in the West Indies. Sadly, it would be destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

In the Eighties Sir George Martin produced works for Ultravox, the Little River Band, and Kenny Rogers. In the Nineties he produced works for Kate Bush and Celine Dion. He produced Elton John's tribute to Princess Diana, "Candle in the Wind". It was in the mid-Nineties that he returned to work on tracks for the band for which he was best known, The Beatles. Sir George Martin produced the previously unreleased tracks that composed the three albums of The Beatles Anthology. He also compiled The Beatles compilation album 1. From 1997 to 1998 he produced and co-hosted the documentary series The Rhythm of Life.

With the 1998 album In My Life (a collection of Beatles covers by other artists), George Martin meant to retire. As it turned out he continued to do some work in the Naughts and Teens. In 2002 he was a member of the team responsible for the Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace. With his son Giles Marti he remixed The Beatles' songs for the Cirque du Soleil production Love in 2006. A documentary film, Produced by George Martin, aired in 2011 on the BBC.

There can be no doubt that Sir George Martin was pivotal to The Beatles' success. In his statement on Mr. Martin's death, Sir Paul McCartney said, "If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George." Even John Lennon, initially critical of Sir George Martin in the angry days of The Beatles' breakup, admitted the band's debt to him. In a 1975 interview for the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test, John Lennon said, "Some people say George Martin did all of it, some say The Beatles did everything. It was neither one. We did a lot of learning together." The Beatles and Sir George Martin very much had a working partnership. At the time The Beatles were signed, Sir George Martin had not done much work with regards to rock 'n' roll. At the same time The Beatles were totally unfamiliar with working in a recording studio. The Beatles and Sir George Martin then had to learn from each other.

The end result of that partnership was the most famous oeuvre in rock music. Sir George Martin took The Beatles from the early, simple proto-power pop of "Please Please Me' and "She Loves You" to the more sophisticated sounds of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour. What makes this even more remarkable is that at the time Sir George Martin and EMI's recording engineers were working with equipment that would be considered primitive today. He had to use four-track tape machines to achieve what could now be easily done with a multi-track studio. Often The Beatles and Sir George Martin had to perform a good deal of recording wizardry to achieve the sounds they wanted. Music was recorded at different speeds (slowed down or sped up). Sounds were spliced together. A lesser producer might not have been able accomplish these things and or even willing to do so, but Sir George Martin, like The Beatles, was open to experimentation.

Of course, Sir George Martin produced many more artists than The Beatles. In the days before The Beatles he was known for the many comedy records he produced. Indeed, he produced some classics of the genre: Bernard Cribbins's single "Right, Said Fred", Charlie Drake's "My Boomerang Won't Come Back", Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren's "Goodness Gracious Me", and many others. Sir George Martin truly had a gift for producing comedy records. Mr. Martin also produced many other rock acts besides The Beatles. He produced seven albums for America and two for Jeff Beck. He produced one of Cheap Trick's best albums, All Shook Up.

It must be pointed out that in addition to his work as a producer, Sir George Martin composed various film scores. What is more, he was very good at it. Live and Let Die boasted one of the best scores of any James Bond movie. 

Indeed, it seems likely that even if he had not been associated with The Beatles that Sir George Martin would have attained fame as a producer. He had a real talent for producing comedy records and mainstream pop songs. It seems likely that in the Sixties he would have moved into producing rock music even had The Beatles not come along. With his talent as a producer and arranger, it would seem that it would be inevitable that Sir George Martin would become famous. Certainly The Beatles owed a good deal of their success to him.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"Glad All Over" by The Dave Clark Five

It was today in 1964 that The Dave Clark Five made their American television debut. It was on The Ed Sullivan Show and they performed their song "Glad All Over". This was significant as The Dave Clark Five were the second British band to appear on the show, this only two weeks after The Beatles had appeared for a third time. Just as they had been in the United Kingdom, The Dave Clark Five were initially regarded as serious rivals to The Beatles in the United States. This was not without good reason. While The Dave Clark Five would have only one number one single in the United States ("Over and Over" in December 1965), they would have a string of hits beginning with "Glad All Over". Ultimately from 1964 to 1967 The Dave Clark Five would have eight top ten hits in the U.S. and many other singles that reached the top twenty. Strangely enough, they tended to be more popular in the U.S. than in their native UK for much of their career.

Sadly The Dave Clark Five's last major hit in the U.S. would be "You Got What It Takes", released in April 1967. By that time the proto-power pop and outright power pop of the British Invasion bands were giving way to psychedelia. While many British bands, among them The Beatles, adapted to the change in musical styles, The Dave Clark Five did not. The Dave Clark Five would have a few more hits in the United Kingdom and broke up in 1970.

The Dave Clark Five's historic performance of "Glad All Over" on The Ed Sullivan Show does not appear to be available online. Here then is another video of the first Dave Clark Five song most Americans on March 8 1964 ever heard.