Thursday, July 28, 2011

Forgotten Music: July 2011

Welcome to the July 2011 edition of the Forgotten Music Project. As always, if I missed someone (or if someone joins in for the first time), I'll add you to the summary.


Sean Coleman
Bill Crider
Eric (Iren)
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
Charlie Ricci
Richard Robinson
Paul D. Brazill

Forgotten Music: Chicago Transit Authority (1969)

First albums can be tricky and they usually come in one of two forms: fully-formed or the first step to something else. Take Bruce Springsteen, one of my favorite rockers. While his first two records (Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle) are good records for what they are, you could argue that it was only with his third record, Born to Run, that Bruce arrived. That is, he got on record what all the fuss about his live shows was all about. The same holds true for David Bowie, Genesis, Peter Gabriel (solo), and other rock acts throughout the years.

In the former category, certain acts spring from the speakers fully formed. The Beatles come to mind. Hendrix of course. The Doors, the Police. The first records by these bands grab you by the collar and force you to reckon with them. This is what we are. We hope enjoy it. But if you don’t, get out of the way because someone else behind you does.

This attitude brims over during the 12-song sequence that is Chicago Transit Authority (1969). Regardless of all the changes that have occurred in the past forty plus years, the eponymous Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) was, and still is, a force to be reckoned with. Some long-time listeners hear CTA now and lament the loss of one of the tightest bands in rock history. The seven members of Chicago, all in their early twenties, excelled at their instruments but, combined, created something greater than the sum of its parts. It created something magical. And it’s all there for the listening.

When one thinks of Chicago, the one differentiator is the horn section. When the seven guys met, they had one mission: create a rock band with horns. Sure, other bands had horn sections but they were usually relegated to playing riffs in the background. Not so the trio of Walter Parazaider (saxes), Lee Loughnane (trumpet), and James Pankow (trombone). Together, they made up the fourth “voice” of Chicago, alongside Terry Kath’s soulful cry, Robert Lamm’s smooth-as-silk voice, and Peter Cetera’s clear-as-day tenor. Together on CTA, these four voices take you on a whirlwind tour of what is possible in music. And it all starts with an introduction.

“Introduction” is my favorite Chicago song. Period. End of story. And it’s the first track on side one of CTA. It’s a biography song, sung by Terry Kath, that lets the listener know who Chicago is and what they are all about. This one song almost has it all (the only things missing are Lamm’s and Cetera’s vocals). After two verses, you get this great syncopated rhythmic bridge by the horns over Danny Seraphine’s wildly improvisational drumming. After a short break, the song segues into a nice ballad with the lead “vocal” handled by Pankow and his trombone. Loughnane’s trumpet picks up where Pankow ends, melodiously taking the listener through an imagined summer landscape. And, lest you think Cetera is only a good singer of ballads, just listen to his moving and melodic bass lines throughout this slow section. All of this is merely prelude to Chicago’s ace in the hole: Terry Kath’s frenetic guitar work. This is where words like "blistering" and "scorching" come to mind as Kath gives the listener merely a taste of what’s to come on the rest of the record. The rest of the song returns to a last chorus and then, the coup de grace: all seven instruments (including keyboards) join in on a final chord. The essence of Chicago is really all there, in one song. The cool thing is Chicago gave you 11 more ‘bonus’ tracks.

Lamm’s piano skills are featured in the intro to “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”, a concert staple since the 60s and one of the most fun songs Chicago has ever recorded. “Beginnings” is next, with Lamm’s silky vocals hovering over Kath’s 12-string guitar strumming. Beautiful as a California beach. “Questions 67 and 68” establishes Cetera’s tenor as a counter to Lamm and Kath and demonstrates, again, how the horns form the fourth voice.

The twofer of “Poem 58” and “Free Form Guitar” are a one-two punch in the gut at the brilliance of Terry Kath’s guitar playing. “Poem 58” is a ten-minute guitar jam surrounding a Lamm-sung love song. The background vocals of “I Do Love You” stayed in their subconscious, reemerging on the next record in “In the Country.” “Free Form Guitar.” What can you say about that? It’s six minutes of Kath, a guitar, an amp, and noise. It’s a shot over the bow at the rock world saying that Hendrix and Jimmy Page, as brilliant as they were, were not the only guitar gods out there.

“South California Purples” is a straight-ahead blues jam, here featuring Lamm’s improvisation skills on the electric organ. After you have listened to the album version for awhile, check out the 15-minute versions on the fourth album, Chicago at Carnegie Hall. Back in 2003 when they remastered the Carnegie album, Chicago added a fourth disc of bonus material. There’s a second version of “South California Purples,” also clocking in close to fifteen minutes. It’s a treatise on guitar soloing and band cohesiveness. Chicago’s Latin-tinged cover of Traffic’s “I’m a Man”—complete with a 64-measure drum solo; yes, I counted one time back in the day—shows off their ability to take someone else’s song and make it their own.

“Someday,” the second-to-last track, shows off a side of Chicago prominent in the early days but has gone by the wayside in the years since: political commentary. Yes, the band that sings about inspiration, hard habits to break, and big surprises used to talk about bringing down the system. Don’t think so? How about this quote from the liner notes of Chicago II: “With this album, we dedicate ourselves, our futures and our energies to the people of the revolution. And the revolution in all of it's forms.”

“Someday” starts with a recording of the chants outside the Democratic convention in Chicago 1968. The chants—“The whole world is watching”—has its own rhythm which seamlessly blends into the opening drum beats of the song. The chanting reemerges later in the song, giving the listener the impression that Chicago the band agrees with the spirit of the protesters outside the convention hall getting beaten by the police. Some modern listeners will be sad that spirit died in Chicago. But look around. That spirit, the spirit of openness, of change, of the belief that the young really can change the world, died everywhere, not just in a band that now frequents the adult contemporary charts rather than the college music charts. The world changed, but Chicago persevered. (The chanting reemerges in the song "All the Years," on their long-lost, now released 1993 album, Stone of Sisyphus. Here in this song, Lamm mourns the loss of that late-60s spirit and the opportunities lost.)

The last track is the coup de grace of CTA. “Liberation” is a 14-minute guitar jam. And I don’t use that word “jam” lightly. If Kath’s guitar work throughout the album teased at his prowess, if “Poem 58” and “Free Form Guitar” was a one-two punch, “Liberation” is the knock-out blow. Just listen. You'll hear Kath going everywhere, trying different things, and Serephine’s drumming, Lamm’s keyboard riffs, and Cetera’s fantastic bass playing going along for the ride. The horns are mostly absent from this tour de force. But that’s okay. This is Kath’s time to shine and boy, does he shine brightly. As the song ends and you exhale, only then realizing you were holding your breath, read the liner notes about this song and you’ll find a whole new meaning of awe: This track was recorded entirely live. The performance embodied in this recording is complete and uncut.

One note on the recording itself. I don’t know recording technology at all but the sound quality is such that you get the impression all seven guys were in the same room at the same time recording these songs. It’s a quality that isn’t there starting with Chicago II and onward and it certainly isn’t there in modern music. You get the organic listening experience with CTA. It’s one to cherish.

If you have one Chicago CD in your collection, don’t let it be a greatest hits compilation. You can hear all of those songs on the radio. Buy Chicago Transit Authority. Buy it for the great songs, the great vocals, the soaring horn charts, the frenetic guitar work. Buy it for the spirit of the times that wrapped up seven guys and made something special.

In an age where we all make lists (favorite movies, TV shows, books) and those lists often change and vary, Chicago Transit Authority has been my favorite Chicago album for years now. Once I was old enough to understand what they were trying to put down on tape—magic and time in a bottle—I realized how special CTA really was. And is. You just can’t escape the feel of this record. I was alive, barely, when this album was released but the spirit of the times lives on through this recording.

I have attempted to write my impressions of CTA but, honestly, the liner notes of their producer, James William Guercio, do a much better job of it. I’ll end with his quote:

The purpose of this commentary, however, is an attempt at documenting the complete rejection of any name label, title or verbal reference relative to the performance contained herein. Corporately as well as individually, this artist endeavors to be judged in terms of contribution alone rather than through the tag affixed upon it. The printed word can never aspire to document a truly musical experience, so if you must call them something, speak of the city where all save one were born; where all of them were schooled and bred, and where all of this incredible music went down barely noticed; call them CHICAGO.

Footnote: Once you’ve listened to CTA a few times, head on over to Wolfgang’s Archive and take a listen to a 17 August 1969 recording of Chicago at the Fillmore West. It’s a gorgeous soundboard recording of the tunes from CTA as well as “new” songs they’re still working on for their next album, including “25 or 6 to 4,” still the epitome of a rock band with horns. In fact, they are so new, they still call themselves Chicago Transit Authority, something they would abandon the following year. What you discover with the new songs is the band still working out the kinks and arrangements. For example, “Poem for the People” at the Fillmore is sung by Cetera. The official album version a year later has Lamm singing his own song. A magic time truly.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Calvin Carter Returns in The Traditional West:

Exciting news broke over the weekend. No, not news that the NFL lock-out was coming to an end. The first anthology from the Western Fictioneers, The Traditional West, debuted on the Nook and the Kindle.

Along with tales from such luminaries as James Reasoner, Robert Randisi, and L.J. Washburn, I've got a new Calvin Carter tale, "The Poker Payout." I am very excited to have this new story out for all to read, and I'm just as excited to read all the other stories in this anthology.

Head on over to Western Fictioneers to view the trailer and read the rest of the press release.

For all you paper folks, the trade paperback is coming soon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mercury Men is Here!

I've been waiting over two years for this web series to debut. As of today, it is up at

Here's what I wrote back in August 2009 when I first learned about this project:

It's difficult to overstate how much I'm looking forward to the new web series, The Mercury Men. I've written about it on my science fiction blog, SF Safari, but I think it also has a place here, considering pulp fiction is one of the topics I address here in this blog.

The Mercury Men is a glorious throwback to the Cold War days and science fiction adventure from the days long gone. If you like the Republic serials of the 1930s, the movies of Indiana Jones, or the new novels of Gabriel Hunt, then you enjoy good, old-fashioned cliffhanger storytelling. That's exactly what the creators of The Mercury Men are tapping into and putting up on the web this fall. What caught my attention was the varied influences writer/director Christopher Preksta distilled into his work on the Mercury Men, especially the original Star Wars movie.

Take a read at the synopsis from the Mercury Men website:

Edward Borman, a lowly government office drone, finds himself trapped, when the deadly Mercury Men seize his office building as a staging ground for their nefarious plot. Aided by a daring aerospace engineer from a mysterious organization known as “The League,” Edward must stop the invaders and their doomsday device, the Gravity Engine.

The look and feel of the project are pure Outer Limits or Twilight Zone. This serial would have found a home right next to these 1960s seminal SF programs.

Now, it's arrived. Be sure also to check out the behind-the-scenes stuff, especially the one about fleshing out the greater Mercury Men universe and how it relates directly to Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

The icing on this wonderfully nostalgic cake is the digital collectible stuff. That is, pictures of magazine articles, trading cards, collectible paraphernalia, etc. as they would have been back in the 1970s. The nine-year-old kid inside of me (that truly never went away) just drools. These guys thought of everything!

What better way to spend a few minutes each day in July?

Oh, and isn't that poster just the coolest thing? I'd easily hang that in my writing room.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Gig with Beat to a Pulp

As you might have heard, David Cranmer asked if I'd help out with the editing over there at Beat to a Pulp. It was a no-brainer. David is on the cutting edge of all things pulpy, and I'm proud to have had my first professional story published under the Beat to a Pulp banner. I'm looking forward to the job, and I thank David for his confidence in me.

Forgotten Music: June Summary

Yeah, I'm a bit tardy, but there you go.

Bill Crider - Jimmie Rodgers

Eric (Iren) - CQ (soundtrack)

Jerry House - Herb Jeffries: The Bronze Buckaroo

Randy Johnson - Rick "l.a. Holmes Holmstrom: Lookout!

George Kelley - Neil Diamond: The Bang Years, 1966-1968

Evan Lewis - The Bee Gees: Odessa

Todd Mason - Aretha Franklin's soul recordings for CBS

Charlie Ricci - Thelma and Louise (soundtrack)

Scott D. Parker - Clarence Clemons: Peacemaker

Perplexio - I-Ten: Taking a Cold Look

Until 28 July...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Review Club: Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles by Edward A. Grainger

(This is the July 2011 edition of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For the complete list, click on the icon at the end of this review.)

Present at the creation. Those are the words that came to mind when I downloaded and read Edward A. Grainger's Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles. This writing business is a funny thing. No matter when you start--either reading or writing or both--there are, at that moment, old masters, seasoned veterans, and fresh-faced rookies. It's natural to form a professional bond with those who find themselves at about the same place you are when you start, each with a similar goal: write stories that others want to read.

David Cranmer, the man behind the pen name Edward A. Grainer, is one of the first writers with whom I made a connection back in 2008. In preparation for this review, I went back and read through some of our earlier back-and-forths. It's a fun little time capsule. Over the years, he and I realized that we like similar stories, and we traded reviews and recommendations back and forth. When David saw an opening for an online pulp e-zine, he created Beat to a Pulp as a showcase. I'm proud to say that my first published story found a home within those illustrious pixilated covers.

Somewhere along the line, as writers are wont to do, David asked if I'd be game for reading one of his short stories. It featured a U. S. Marshall in the old west named Cash Laramie. I said sure and he passed along one, then another, and another. I enjoyed each adventure of Cash and his partner, Gideon Miles, and, frankly looked forward to additional requests from David.

But I read those tales piecemeal, in rough drafts, with endings that weren't entirely sussed out. The beauty of this first anthology of the adventures of these two marshals is progression not only of the characters but of the writer.

Cash isn't completely John Wayne, all good and honorable, but he isn't William Holden from the Wild Bunch either. He is, not to put too fine a point on it, merely human. He wears a badge and that badge dictates many of his actions. His job, with his partner, is to bring in the outlaws. Now, the means by which he accomplishes this feat is left largely to his discretion. I've just finished reading the new James Bond novel, Carte Blanche, and there's a good deal of that outlook spicing these tales. Cash and Miles recognize the validity of law, but also the vicissitudes of the real world. "Under the Sun" is a good example of the partners dealing with life as they find it rather than life as it should be. One of the greatest pleasures in reading a new Cash Laramie story is, after being presented with the crime or the mystery, wondering just how Laramie and Miles will react.

For fans of the traditional western, Cranmer has you covered. "The Wind Scorpion," the opening yarn, opens with Cash in a world of hurt. After being nursed back to health by a lonely woman, he sets off to find his quarry. Lead flies in all the stories, and the body count rises. That's the spirit of the spaghetti westerns that Cranmer writes, in the introduction, were a large inspiration for the character of Cash.

It is Cash's humanness that often shines through and takes a story to the next level. He gets hurt. I like that in a character, for it is the hurting that often dictates a man's actions. When Cash hurts on the inside that he can be most dangerous. "Melanie" tells the story of a young girl who sells flowers in town. After Cash rescues her from being trampled, he discovers evidence of abuse. Infuriated, he seeks justice for the young lass. I will not spoil the ending here, but I'll say that this story's ending is, probably, my favorite here in this collection. Then there is another type of justice, as shown in "The Outlaw Marshal." It is a testament to Cash the character and Cranmer the writer that most readers will find themselves liking and identifying with both of these stories.

Now, some of you reading this review might demur on this collection with the statement "I don't do westerns." On the whole, I don't either, but I'm branching out and reading more. Despite my father and grandfather devouring westerns and having just about all the Louis L'amours printed and despite me inheriting my grandfather's numerous boxes of non-L'amour westerns, I'll go on record and say that the number of westerns I have read up to now can still be counted on one hand. But here's the secret: good stories are just that--good stories. Yeah, they may take place in the 1880s. But that doesn't change the fundamental nature of the tales nor the fundamental nature of the characteristics of a good protagonist.

If you like westerns already, this anthology is a no-brainer. But if you've never given westerns a try, I urge these adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles to be a nice sampler. Who knows? You might start liking westerns so much that you might even go out and buy yourself a pair of boots. If you do, I know a good place here in Houston that'll give you a good deal.

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