Requiem For A Mensch: Gary Stewart, 1956-2019

by admin  17th Apr 2019 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik

 

I am so deeply saddened by the death of Gary Stewart, a veteran music and recording executive who had a lifelong devotion of service to the music in any capacity he held, starting out at Rhino Records (later Rhino Entertainment, where he became senior VP of A&R) and later at Apple iTunes.

In 1976 I first met Gary when he was a student at Cal State Northridge. He politely asked to use my name as a reference on his first job resume in 1978 when I was West Coast Director of A&R for MCA Records. In 1982 I recorded him for an album I produced.

One time in the mid-eighties I had a backstage pass for an Elvis Costello show at a theater in Beverly Hills. Gary came up to me in the lobby and said, “I know you can bring any girl or A&R guy in this place backstage to meet Elvis. But can you try and introduce me to him? I’ve never met Elvis and have a business proposal regarding Rhino Records and his catalog that I want to speak to him about.”

I took the laminate off my jacket, and immediately gave it to Gary.

He then asked for Costello’s management contact information. Gary had a Mel Torme box set he wanted to send him.

How many box sets over decades did Gary Stewart constantly give to people?

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Brownsville – Air Special

by admin  12th Mar 2019 Comments [0]

By Doug Sheppard

 

BROWNSVILLE – Air Special (Rock Candy) CD

Brownsville Station hit the big leagues with the success of “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room” (#3) and “Kings of the Party” (#31) in 1974, but by 1976, they were in a lull. With their recent Motor City Connection album failing to chart and a parting of ways with their label, Big Tree, the trio format (adopted after their second album) had seemingly run its course. They needed a lift and got in the form of a new label (Private Stock) and especially the addition of second guitarist Bruce Nazarian, a monster player who’d been on countless Detroit soul records.

Nazarian proved to be the perfect complement for fellow axe men Cub Koda and Michael Lutz (with whom Nazarian alternated on bass), invigorating the resulting Brownsville Station album with tons of slide guitar wizardry, blues boogie riffs befitting Koda’s formidable record collection and the loose vibe inherent on all Brownsville recordings. Famed producer Eddie Kramer knew how to get it all on tape, and the track lineup was their best yet, featuring a killer remake of “Lady (Put the Light on Me)” (a glam rock obscurity by Big John’s Rock ’n’ Roll Circus) and especially “Martian Boogie.”

Recorded live in one take, “Martian Boogie” was B-movie sci-fi, urban blues and riff rock fused into one rocket that the band was sure would take them back to the moon—if not the home planet of the song’s protagonist. Indeed, it spent seven weeks on the national chart and grabbed the top spot in a number of markets. But just as that rocket entered the top 60 at #59, it smashed headlong into an asteroid, exploded into 1,000 pieces, fell off the charts and left its creators stunned. Not long after, Private Stock folded. As Koda recalled in the liners to Rhino’s 1993 Brownsville compilation, “it took all the fight out of the band, just like air escaping from a punctured tire.”

Morale may have been down, but the chemistry was intact when they recorded their next album for Epic Records, 1978’s Air Special. Another hotshot producer, Tom Werman (of Cheap Trick and Ted Nugent fame, among others) was at the helm—giving the resulting album a big arena rock feel, with the drums of Henry “H-Bomb” Weck in particular booming in the mix (thankfully not ’80s-style). Much to their chagrin, the band were also forced to record Hello’s recent hit, “Love Stealer” (ironically, penned by Phil Wainman, also the coauthor of “Lady” from the previous album) as a gambit to get on AOR radio.

It failed, as did Air Special, but it wasn’t for lack of quality. “Taste of Your Love,” “Tears of a Fool” and “Never Say Die” are biting hard rockers—the latter taking on an ironic, almost eerie quality thanks to the state of the band, not to mention subtle synths. And befitting a band with so much contempt for the disco and AOR dominating the charts, Brownsville covers “Who Do You Love” Diddley-style, “Down the Road Apiece” and even a Benny Goodman instrumental, “Airmail Special”—rocked up like a ’70s Johnny & the Hurricanes. The swamp blues of “Cooda Crawlin’” follows the same thread, and if Air Special doesn’t quite have another “Martian Boogie” like its predecessor, it’s a solid, commendable effort. Predictably, however, it wasn’t what the record-buying public wanted to hear, and a 1979 breakup was inevitable. (Doug Sheppard)

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Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper Remembered 60 Years On

by admin  2nd Feb 2019 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik

 

February 3, 2019 is the 60th anniversary of tragic airplane crash that subsequently became known as “The Day the Music Died,” sadly referenced in Don McLean’s song, “American Pie.” Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson a.k.a. The Big Bopper died along with pilot Roger Peterson. After a February 2, 1959 “Winter Dance Party” show in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson took off from the Mason City airport, in a three-passenger airplane that Holly chartered piloted by Roger Peterson during inclement weather. It crashed into a cornfield in nearby Macon City, Iowa, just minutes after takeoff.

I will always remember the February 3, 1959 front page headline in The Los Angeles Evening Mirror-News, a daily newspaper who reported this accident.

Ritchie Valens’ death was a very big regional loss. He was from Pacoima, a suburb in Southern California. Ritchie’s records were very popular in Los Angeles and the surrounding communities. It was KFWB-AM deejay Gene Weed who first spun his music and the radio station held what seemed like an all-day shiva celebrating the life of Valens, whose record label, Del-Fi, was based in Hollywood.

I knew Buddy Holly from his appearances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and from 1957 when he was on The Ed Sullivan Show. Holly’s records were also spun on KFWB. “Chantilly Lace” by the Big Bopper was a national hit.

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