Friday, April 26, 2013

My George Jones Memories

April 26, 2013 will be remembered as one of the most important days in music history.   I speak of course of the surprise passing this morning of the greatest country music singer of all time, George Jones.  

It's hard to describe the impact of George Jones on country music.  It's just so great.  His legacy has been well documented -- roughly 200 albums recorded, 50 years in the music business,  and an astounding 168 singles charted on Billboard ... more than any recording artist in any genre in history.  From what I can gather, he's the only country singer that would cause the great Frank Sinatra to step aside and allow to take center stage.  He has influenced countless singers in all genres over generations, from the Garth Brooks to the Oak Ridge Boys, Elvis Costello to Clint Black, James Taylor to Jason Aldean.  It's tough to measure the loss of this artist whom Patterson Hood of the Drive-by Truckers rightly described as a Genius country singer.  

The music of George Jones had an immediate impact on me growing up.  As a kid, country music is what I listened to, mainly because that's what my parents listened to.  It was really the only music I was exposed to until I reached high school.  While I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, I spent a great deal of my youth growing up in Minden, Ontario which is where both sides of my family come from.  Playing music in those parts was a way of life and a way of entertaining yourself on the weekends.  We spent many, many nights in my grandmothers' kitchen at the old farmhouse playing some great country music, much of it classic George Jones songs such as "She Thinks I Still Care" and "Tennessee Whiskey."  On a day such as this, I'm taken back to those times.  And I smile.  They're such great memories.

I know that I'm not alone when I speak of the family sing alongs and kitchen parties with George Jones tunes at the forefront.  I know I'm also not alone when I speak of hopping in the family car with the radio on and mom or dad popping in a cassette tape, and that tape was the "Same Ole Me" album, or one of his many greatest hits albums and being mezmerized by the beautiful ebb and flow of George's voice.  George had one of the most unique vocal stylings of any artist in history.  His voice could start soft and rolling, then soar to heights that just aren't reachable by many artists of today or any day for that matter.  There was always real emotion in his voice and performance that led to chill bumps for the listener.  His voice contributed to the production, it really was another instrument on the record.  

As I listen to the Grand Ole Opry broadcast tonight, I'm reminded of why I love country music.  It's because of the history of this great genre.  I love the stories, the vocal performance, the writing and the personalities of the artists.  I love that my family introduced me to this great and historical style of music.  And a lot of that has to do with the greatest vocalist of all time, George Jones.  

Country music will live on and will endure.  No one single artist or group entity is bigger than the genre, not even the greatest, George Jones.  But the reason country music is where it is today is because George Jones was so big.  He was a larger than life figure in music, crossing so many boundaries that Kid Rock and The Rolling Stones consider him one of their heroes.  And I personally will be forever grateful for the wonderful catelogue of music, and the wonderful memories of listening to his records and sharing that time with my family.  It was George's music that brought us together.  Just like George, they're priceless.   

Friday, April 19, 2013

Some Pre-Record Store Day Suggestions

A great spring tradtion for music buffs everywhere takes place tomorrow with Record Store Day 2013.  No matter where you are, come on out and support your local independent record store.  Many record stores will be holding special in store promos with special releases and performances from local and national artists.  Some record stores, such as Grimey's in Nashville and Sonic Boom in Toronto will be holding all day performances inside and outside the store.  Vinyl Alibi, our local record store in Bowmanville, is also an active participant.  I will be passing by Vinyl Alibi, as well as Sonic Boom.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions if you're out and about participating in Record Store Day and looking for some great music:

  • Blackberry Smoke, The Whiphoorwhill:  The latest release from the veteran Southern rockers is bringing new fans to this fantastic group on a daily basis, and why not?  If these guys are good enough to be on Southern Ground Artists, a record label owned by Zac Brown, then clearly they're worthy of your time.  "Pretty Little Lie" and "Left of Me", as well as the title track, are key pieces on this wonderful album
  • The Deep Dark Woods, The Place We Left Behind:  Last year's release from this outstanding band from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan stands as one of the best and unique sounding records from 2012.  Watch for the vinyl copy of this album in your local store
  • Elizabeth Cook, Welder:  This outstanding 2011 release from one of the most wonderful and beautiful talents in Americana brought Ms. Cook's career to a whole new level.  Elizabeth Cook put her heart on her sleeve with this album, ranging from fun tracks like "El Camino" to a song that is a true story about her sister, titled "Heroin Addict Sister."  This album was among those nominated by the Americana Music Association for Album of the Year in 2011.  A fantastic record.
  • Jamey Johnson, Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran:  I'm the first to confess that I'm a huge fan of Jamey Johnson.  Not just for the great music that he continues to release, but for what he seemingly stands for as an artist.  He's the modern day answer to Waylon Jennings, in that he records what he wants, how he wants and always keeps his music true to himself.  It's a quality that is deserving of respect, and he is well respected among his peers and fans alike.  This 2012 release was a bit of a risk for Jamey following the gold selling success of his two previous albums, That Lonesome Song and The Guitar Song.  This wonderful tribute to his longtime close friend, and one of the greatest songwriters in music history, Hank Cochran, features duets with Asleep at the Wheel, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Vince Gill and several others.  Jamey does a couple of tunes on his own, including a great cover of Hank's "Would These Arms Be In Your Way", which was originally recorded by the late great Keith Whitley.  If you're a fan of music that focuses on the strength of the lyrics in a song, this album is one of the best you could ever find.  It's a treasure, and one that I'm proud to have in my collection
There are so many great albums out there by so many great artists.  Record Store Day is a great day to celebrate the beauty of music in all its artistry.  From the singers, to the instrumentalist, to the songwriter, to the producers and engineers of the album, all the way up to the great community hub that is the independent record store, all play a part in celebrating this great artform.  What can you expect when you go to your local record shop on Record Store Day?  Who knows, you could be surprised.  And really, that could be the coolest part about going.  You never know what could happen next.

I'll leave you with a great little column from a great web site, CMT Edge, which highlights 12 more albums for your perusal.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Christmas in April! Record Store Day 2013, April 20!!

How many of you reading this still go to the record store to buy your albums?  How many of you gave up this practice in favour of the "conveniences" of modern technology like downloading, streaming, and the like?  Well, for those of you who still do the former, you already know how great going to the record store is.   For those of you who do the latter, wow, you don't know what you're missing.

But this Saturday, April 20, 2013, is a great day for everyone to get out and discover their local, independent record store.  Record Store Day is fast approaching and for music fans everywhere, this is like Christmas is April.  This isn't so much for the HMV's or FYE stores of the world, although there are some chain stores that are participating.  This is for the local store, the independent store in your hometown.  Places like Sonic Boom in Toronto, Ontario, Vinyl Alibi in my hometown of Bowmanville, or the king of all independent record stores, Grimey's in Nashville, Tennessee.  Record Store Day is a celebration of music and artistry, as well as celebrating the place of the local record store in ones community.

There was a time, long before the internet, iPods and music "sharing", the local record store was one of the most important gathering places in a community.  It was a place to talk and truly listen to music.  It was a place to celebrate the art of music.  Growing up in Toronto in the 1970's and 1980's, our place to celebrate the art of music was at Sam the Record Man.  Sam's was, in every sense of the word, an iconic record store.  With its famous spinning-record neon sign that measured about 50 feet in the air over Yonge Street in downtown Toronto,  it was truly the most famous record store in Canada.  It would host record release functions and host concerts by the famous and not so famous promoting their works.  If you needed to find a rare release, you went to Sam's.  That original Sam the Record Man store has long since closed, and it left a void on the record store scene in Toronto that I'm not so sure has been filled to this day.  There are many independent stores that are successful, but there is nothing like Sam the Record Man.  

But this write up is about Record Store Day and celebrating your local record store.   What's so good about a record store?  Well, if you haven't been or are not in to buying records or CD's, then truly you don't know what you're missing.  A record store is a lot like a book store.  You can touch and feel the albums, check out the song titles and songwriter credits, as well as find out about the musicians who played on the record.   The artwork on some of the album covers is incredible.  The only way to truly appreciate that artwork is to physically hold it in your hand.  Perhaps the best thing about buying an entire album, is that you get to hear the entire album.  Most of the time, some of the best songs on an album are the ones that don't get released as a single to radio.  The only way you get to hear them is by purchasing the album, and there is nothing wrong with that.  At the very least purchasing the album shows that every now and again, some patience and investment of time has its reward ... it doesn't always have to be about the instant gratification of downloading one song from an artist.  

Saturday April 20.  Record Store Day 2013.  If you don't have plans this Saturday, go and check out your local record store.  Click here for the web site to see about participating stores in your area.  Many stores will be having live music all day, as well as other events to mark the occasion.  Head on out and celebrate music, local talent and one of the most important yet underrated establishments in your community.  I'll even have some suggested albums for you to purchase when you're out and about.  Don't worry, if your local store doesn't have the album that you want, chances are very good they will order it for you.  That's the beauty of an independent store ... they can do what they want.