Posts Tagged ‘Pittsburgh’

“Vincebus Eruptum” by Blue Cheer (1968)

Anyone who’s been attending rock concerts for 36 years might have trouble pinpointing the most memorable ones. But I sometimes give it a stab.

In November 2007, I paid all of $15 to gain entrance to the Rex Theater in Pittsburgh for something I’d wanted to do for decades: see Blue Cheer.

The re-formed version of the band had been touring here and there since the ’80s, and when I learned about the Pittsburgh show I canceled some other plans and headed to the South Side. The show was unfortunately sparsely attended, but those in the audience were treated to a memorable performance: a time warp of sorts, back to when a trio of musicians, their instruments and their amplifiers were sufficient.

That was rock at its most basic and, not coincidentally, its most exciting.

Blue Cheer was touring to support its first new studio album in 16 years, “What Doesn’t Kill You …,” a title that became chilling in the wake of subsequent developments.

On Oct. 12, 2009, vocalist-bassist Dickie Peterson, the one consistent in Blue Cheer since its 1967 formation, died of prostate cancer. Longtime guitarist Andrew “Duck” MacDonald wrote on the group’s website: “Blue Cheer is done. Out of respect for Dickie, Blue Cheer (will) never become a viable touring band again.”

I still often wear the Blue Cheer T-shirt I bought at that Pittsburgh concert. And I still often listen to the album that put the band on the musical map, way back in 1968.

“Vincebus Eruptum” – the title is supposed to mean “controlled chaos” – is the least technically accomplished album on the Harry’s Hundred list. As Peterson wrote in the liner notes to a CD re-release: “To say the recording standards were primitive would be an understatement. ‘Vincebus Eruptum’ is what can happen when you set three young men in a room, give them all the gear they want and three chords. Then leave them alone … there are no rules and no holds are barred.”

The result is what may well be the birth of heavy metal. Watch this video of Blue Cheer mimicking Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” on a German TV show: Each of the guys is cranking it up as loud as he can, with Paul Whaley particularly bashing it out on the drums. (Fortunately, he was part of the band again as of ’07.)

“Summertime Blues” kicks off “Vincebus Eruptum” and also reached No. 14 on the charts as a single, probably because of the novelty of a band playing that hard and loud on what began life as a rockabilly song. The decision to play instrumental solos in lieu of some of the lyrics is questionable, but it’s kind of apropros to hear the line, “I went to my congressman and he said, quote, ‘Take this, boy!’,” followed by a wall of guitar feedback.

Next, Blue Cheer covers the blues standard “Rock Me, Baby,” with all the subtlety of a flying mallet (to borrow from the title of a Dave Edmunds album). Actually, in some places Whaley sounds as if he, indeed, is drumming with a mallet, providing minimalist backing to Leigh Stephens’ feedback-laden guitar stylings.

Peterson’s “Doctor Please” is purely and simply about drugs, as the singer implores: “Without your good livin’, Doc, I believe that I’ll be dead.” The song became a longtime concert staple, with extended instrumental sections.

Another original, “Out of Focus,” lyrically leans toward the psychedelic music in vogue at the time, with Peterson writing passages like: “And then from out of a mystic dream/There came an angel, she spread her wings.” But the instrumental backing continues to be pure sledgehammer, and outright chaos in a middle section during which none of the band members appear to be paying attention to what either of the others is playing.

Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm” – Blue Cheer calls it “Parchment Farm” – receives the over-the-top treatment, as well, with Peterson seeming to particularly enjoy shouting the line, “I think I’ll be here for the rest of my life/All I did was shoot my wife.” Toward the end of the song, he switches it around for another drug allusion: “I’m sitting over here on Parchment Farm/All I did was shoot my arm.”

For anyone whose eardrums have sustained the onslaught to that point, “Vincebus Eruptum” concludes with one more original, “Second Time Around.” The lyrics pertain to a temporary break in a relationship, but they’re secondary to the instrumentation, which gives each band member a chance to solo during a lengthy outro that seems to fulfill Blue Cheer’s mission, according to Peterson:

“Our thing was to be so powerful that the music became a physical experience, to activate all the listeners’ senses.”

Since Blue Cheer’s inception, bands have played louder and they’ve played better. But if they’re playing what’s come down in history as heavy metal, their roots trace back to “Vincebus Eruptum.”

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As a follow-up to a post from last week, here are some videos about the Jazz & Blues Entrepreneurial Thursdays networking group founded and perpetuated by musician-entrepreneur Jessica Lee.

First, a 5-minute video about the networking group:

http://youtu.be/zAtPjE3V8B8

Second, a performance of “Why Don’t You Do Right”:

http://youtu.be/hzZbwm0FU7Q

And third, another performance, of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”

http://youtu.be/Qurbo2lx3B0

I had to play a bit with the audio portion of “Do Right,” so ignore any clicks, pops or changes in dynamics. “Nightingale” is fairly pristine.

Again, if you live in the Pittsburgh area, love music and enjoy networking, you might want to give the group a try.

Let’s hop into the time machine and visit the Pittsburgh Pirates as they prepare for Spring Training 1992.

The Pirates have come off two straight division championships are looking to do so again. Despite losing All-Star Bobby Bonilla to free agency, the team looks to have a solid lineup:

  • Catcher: Mike LaValliere. Spanky provided consistency behind the plate in 1991 while hitting .289.
  • First Base: Orlando Merced. His .275 batting average with 10 home runs and 50 RBI were enough to earn him second place in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in ’91.
  • Second Base: Jose Lind. The previous season, Lind logged his fourth consecutive 150-game campaign while hitting a solid .265.
  • Shortstop: Jay Bell. Showing plenty of pop for a middle infielder, Bell cracked 16 homers in ’91.
  • Third Base: Steve Buechele. Acquired at the trading deadline in ’91 to bolster the offense at the corner, Buechele re-signed with the Pirates as a free agent in December.
  • Left Field: Barry Bonds The 1990 National League Most Valuabe Player should have repeated the following year, but the voters opted for the Braves’ Terry Pendleton.
  • Center Field: Andy Van Slyke. Posting a bit of an off-season in ’91, Van Slyke still drove in 83 runs.
  • Right Field: Kirk Gibson. The NL’s 1988 MVP signed with the Pirates after a 16-homer season for the Royals in ’91.

The starting rotation was missing John Smiley, traded to the Twins, but still looked decent for the long haul:

  • Doug Drabek. The 1990 NL Cy Young Award winner compiled a 15-14 record the following year, but led the team with a 3.07 ERA.
  • Zane Smith. The lefthander justified his acquisition from Montreal for Moises Alou by winning 16 games and posting a 3.20 ERA in ’91.
  • Randy Tomlin. In his first full season, Tomlin led Pirates starters in ’91 with a 2.98 ERA.
  • Bob Walk. The future Pirates broadcaster was coming off a 9-2 season.

Returning to anchor the bullpen were Stan Belinda, Bob Patterson and Roger Mason.

Fast-forward to the end of the ’92 season, when the pirates advanced to the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

Bonds carried the offense, leading the team with 34 HR, 107 RBI and 36 stolen bases while batting .311 to win MVP honors. Van Slyke hit a career-high .324, leading the league in hits and doubles. Drabek (15 wins), Tomlin (14) and Walk (10) led the rotation, joined in midseason by Danny Jackson from the Cubs and Tim Wakefield from the minors. Wakefield was particularly impressive, going 8-1 with a 2.15 ERA down the stretch.

On the other hand, Gibson lasted only 16 games before his release. Buechele gave way at third to former No. 1 draft pick Jeff King, who batted .231 with 14 HR, which tied him with Van Slyke for second on the team; only three Pirates hit more than 10 homers.

Whatever the case, the Pirates managed to carry a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning of the seventh game of the National League Championship Series. What happened next … well, everyone in Pittsburgh knows and doesn’t want to remember.

Nor does any Pirates fan want to remember what happened after 1992.

I had the pleasure of attending a Jazz Networking event at Little E.’s on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh.

The weekly sessions, starting each Thursday at 5:30 p.m., are led by Jessica Lee, a tremendous vocalist who also is a tremendous entrepreneur. She took the idea of mixing good music with good people, and ran with it!

I’m working on a mini-documentary video about Jazz Networking, and I’ll also process some musical clips from Jessica and the guys who backed her last night:

Mark Strickland, guitar, and David Pellow, bass

Jay Willis, tenor saxophone

Shout out to Martin the Troubadour, who let me borrow his guitar:

And a special thanks to Mel the bartender, who knows a lot about craft beer:

Now that football season is over, at least as far as Pittsburgh Steelers fans are concerned, let’s take a look at what the 2012 baseball season holds in store.

The Pirates are coming off a mixed bag of a season. You might remember them as being in first place in late July, then losing a 19-inning game on Umpire Jerry Meals’ bad call. It was all downhill from there, in a big way.

It’s only about another month or so until pitchers and catchers start reporting to Bradenton. Speaking of which, here are some of the new Pirates (for now) who will be traveling to Florida:

Erik Bedard. The 33-year-old lefty (pictured at left) posted two consecutive stellar years for the Orioles. He went 15-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 2006 and 13-5, 3.16 ERA (fourth in American League) in ’07. He has been plagued by injury and inconsistency since, winning just 16 games and missing the entire 2010 season. The Pirates signed him to a $4.5 million contract for ’12.
Rod Barajas. The good news: Barajas has hit 178 major-league home runs, including 16 for the Dodgers in 2011. The not-so-good news: He’ll be 37 before the end of this season and has a career .238 batting average. Given the Pirates’ track record with ostensibly power-hitting catchers – Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, for recent example – Barajas had better be careful out there to avoid major injury.
Clint Barmes. Another thirtysomething – he turns 33 on March 6 – Barmes posted some half-decent numbers in a few seasons for the Colorado Rockies. His numbers in Houston last year were underwhelming: .244, 12 home runs and 39 RBI. But he might prove to be an upgrade at shortstop for the Pirates.
Casey McGehee. Hey, here’s a guy who won’t turn 30 until October! McGahee was tremendous for the Brewers as late as 2010, hitting .285 with 23 homers and 104 RBI. His production fell dramatically last year, and the Brewers decided to sign All-Star (after his Pirates career) third baseman Aramis Ramirez and part ways with McGehee. He might provide a viable alternative if (when?) Pedro Alvarez tanks again.
Nate McLouth. Welcome back … maybe. McLouth, who’s 30, would like to forget his two-plus seasons with the Atlanta Bravers. So would we. But don’t look for a repeat of, say, his 2008 campaign, when he hit 26 home runs, stole 23 bases and led the league in doubles. Plenty of observers thought that was a fluke, and his performances in 2010 (below the Mendoza Line) and 2011 (.228 with 16 RBI) would seem to bear that out.
Yamaico Navarro. The 24-year-old infielder has had a few cups of coffee in the majors with the Red Sox and Royals, including hitting .304 in a handful of games for Kansas City in late 2011. The Pirates traded Brooks Pounders and Diego Goris to acquire him. I’ve never heard of those guys, either.
Jo-Jo Reyes. The non-roster invitee throws lefthanded and is 27 years old. But he has a lifetime ERA of 6.05. And he goes by “Jo-Jo.”
Jeff Clement. He’s baaaack. Well, maybe. Another non-roster invitee, Clement won the Pirates’ starting first-base job coming out of camp in 2010. He did hit 7 home runs, but his .201 batting average and 37 strikeouts in 144 at-bats cost him his job. He hasn’t played in the majors since.
Nick Evans. He’ll turn 26 on Jan. 30. Another non-roster invitee and primarily a first baseman, Evans had 176 at-bats for the Mets last year, hitting .256 with 4 HR and 25 RBI.
Jake Fox. A guy who’s split his time between catcher, first base, third base and outfield, Fox turns 30 in July. He hit 11 home runs for the Cubs in 2009, and nine since with the A’s and Orioles. Another non-roster invitee, perhaps his versatility can earn him a spot with the Pirates.

Associated listening: “Burning Bright” compilation of Ashley Hutchings’ work