Baby Boomers to the 1960’s

25 Aug

A History of Spiritual Rock  Roll

john micheal talbot color #2

Baby Boomers to the 1960’s

By: Bob Gersztyn

The first of the “Baby Boomers” were born in 1946 to returning World War II veterans.  Those same soldiers fought Germany and Italy in Europe and Africa, along with the Japanese in the South Pacific and the Orient.  Harry Truman, the man who ordered the nuclear annihilation of two cities in Japan was president.  The returning veterans were happy to find work, after living through the joblessness of the “Great Depression” prior to going off to the work of war.   From the auto plants of Detroit, to the steel mills of Pennsylvania and the oil wells of California, Oklahoma and Texas, there was plenty of work.  For those that preferred a pastoral setting to that of a bustling city, there was an infinity of fertile farmland in between the coast’s to feed and employ the growing population.

 

 

The first memories of that early batch of “Baby Boomers” were formed through the lens of a new technological influence, the television set.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower expounded on the Communist threat and the American Dream, while Walt Disney marketed everything from Davey Crockett to Mickey Mouse and taught the young sponges to dream.  Most everyone had Sunday off from work, except for drug stores, movie theaters, bars and businesses related to the recreational/entertainment industry.  For most citizens of the USA, Sunday mornings were either spent in church or watching religious programs on television.

 

UFO sightings, beginning in 1947 were part of early childhood memories.  From flying saucer crashes in Roswell, New Mexico, to floating lights in Adrian, Michigan, earth’s attention was drawn to the sky and the possibility of extra terrestrial life.  Movies like “This Island Earth”, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “I Married a Monster From Outer Space” and authors like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury  and Robert Heinlien speculated the ramifications of human encounters with alien life forms, robot technology and space travel.

 

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), was first discovered in 1938, at the beginning of WW II, by Albert Hoffman, a chemist, working for Sandoz Laboratories, in Basel, Switzerland, on a cure for morning sickness during pregnancy.  Later the psychedelic mind expanding entheogen was used by the US government in mind control experiments under the CIA’s MKULTRA program, during the 1950’s and into the 1960’s.  The drug played an important part in shaping the Boomers vision of reality and spirituality, especially after receiving positive endorsements by admired and recognizable members of society, like the actor Cary Grant and the publisher of Time/Life, Henry Luce.

 

Pope Pius XII led the Catholics while Billy Graham donned the Protestant leadership mantle and eventually became the Protestant counterpart to the pope.  War broke out again, this time in Korea, with our new enemy, the atheist Communists, who now controlled North Korea with the help of the Chinese hoards, led by Mao Zedong.  The hot war in Korea ended, but the cold war with Communism continued and Nikita Khrushchev led the USA’s #1 arch enemy, the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” (USSR), as he pounded his shoe on a desk in the United Nations assembly.

 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe prefigured Madonna, Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah and every other future female musical rebel rolled into one.  To say that she was ahead of her time would be an understatement.  She was born the daughter of a Holiness minister in 1914, and was a child prodigy who mastered the guitar by the age of six.  In 1934 she married a Holiness minister, and in 1938 she was signed to the Decca record label.  Columbia record producer John Hammond included her in his “From Spirituals to Swing” concert, and her performance of Rock Me a remake of Thomas Dorsey’s Hide Me In Thy Bosom, laid the foundation for rock & roll nearly two decades later.

 

 

The new musical form, known as rock & roll, was born in the early 1950’s.  Pioneers like Ike Turner and the “Kings of Rhythm” along with Bill Haley and the “Comets” recorded the first 45 RPM records of the new genre.  The sound was derived from the merger of White country, Sothern gospel and bluegrass music with Black blues, gospel and R&B.  It was hard to distinguish whether the performers were Black or White by just listening to the recordings.  Some of the other early Black pioneers were Chuck Berry, Little Richard Penniman, Fats Domino and Bo Diddley.

 

Chuck Girard #2

 

Bo Diddley (Ellas Bates), like so many of the pioneers of rock & roll received his early musical training in the church.  When Bates was asked about why so many of the early rock & roll artists were involved in churches when they were younger, he responded with “That’s where we learned how to do something…but I wasn’t playing no Rock ‘n’ Roll in it then.  My pastor of my church was Reverend Smith and the man who took care of the music part was the professor O. W. Frederick, Oscar Frederick, and he taught me violin, so I played classical music for twelve years.  Nobody influenced me to play classical music. I saw a dude with a violin and a stick and that looked really cool, you know? And my church got together and took up twenty-nine dollars and that’s what it cost back then. Twenty-nine bucks was a lot of money back then.  You could get a sack of potatoes for like damn near ten cents.”  (6)

 

Their White counter parts, like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Dion Dimucci came out of their respective churches.  Dimucci was one of the early White rock & roll stars.  He was raised a Roman Catholic, in New York city, where he formed Dion and the Belmonts, after Belmont Avenue, in the Bronx, in 1957.  The style of rock that they performed was called doo wop, and used the vocal harmonizing style of Black music that originated in Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia.   Dion, as he was now known narrowly avoided death, by passing up on the opportunity to fly with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper on their ride to eternity, in 1959.  In a 2006 interview Dimucci talked about the different messages of Blues and Gospel music.

 

“A lot of Blues music seems like it’s moving away from God, or the center, and Gospel music is moving towards it. It’s embracing a higher reality. When you look a little closer, the way that I define it or explain it is that the Blues is the naked cry of the human heart, apart from God. People are searching for union with God; they’re searching to be home. There’s something in people that seeks this union with their creator. Why am I here? Where am I going? What’s it all about? Who am I? All this kind of stuff, but the Blues is a beautiful art form. It’s incredible that you could express such a wide range of feelings. You could use it to sell hamburgers or cars, or to cry out in sorrow, or joy. You could express yourself totally within the Blues. So there’s some kind of connection, but if you ask me exactly what it is, I think that it all comes out of the same place, so to speak.”  (1), (2).

 

Christian recordings were a marginal esoteric branch of the music industry produced by Christian record companies, like Benson Records.  In 1951, Jarrel McCracken, a graduate of Baylor university, in Waco, Texas began what was to become an important record label for the Jesus movement’s music – “Word”.  Southern Gospel was the dominant form of Protestant Christian music at the time, in White society.  Christian music was just a segregated as the rest of society, so Black gospel had its own record label, “Vocalion”.  Most Christian music was marketed by Christian bookstores.  In 1950 the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) was born, and included about 2 dozen stores.

 

 

Racism was the law of the land, in the form of Jim Crow, and enforced segregation.  It existed throughout the country in one form or another.  Some states, like Oregon, simply made it against the law for Negroes to move there, while others like Michigan, simply designated what areas they could live in, or gather.  The Southern states, like Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi had perfected segregation, and had separate facilities, including restaurants, bathrooms and drinking fountains for Negroes.  The mixing of the races in the music bled over into other areas.  After education was integrated, in 1954, through Brown vs. the Board of Education, in Kansas, the floodgates were opened.

 

 

Elvis Presley was the breakthrough act for rock & roll to hit the mainstream.  After being televised on some of the top TV programs in the mid 1950’s, including “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts”, “The Milton Berle Show”, “The Steve Allen Show” and finally “The Ed Sullivan Show” he became the most popular entertainer in the USA and ultimately the “free world”, during the last half of the 20th century.  Interestingly, Presley was a frustrated Southern Gospel singer, who signed with Sam Phillips and Sun Records, after failing an audition with Jim Hamill and Cecil Blackwood’s Southern Gospel group, “The Songfellows”.  At one point Presley’s popularity even eclipsed Senator Joseph McCarthy’s National Communist Witch hunt headlines.

 

 

The fear of communism and nuclear war were further exacerbated by films like “Invasion USA” and “On the Beach”.  One of the pop culture trends in the 1950’s was to build a bomb shelter for the family.   Using the same technology that launched destructive nuclear warheads, the USA and USSR began a space race, in 1957, after the Russian’s launched Sputnik 1.  Soon the space race escalated from launching dogs and monkeys to humans, into orbit around the earth.

 

 

Beatniks and the “Beat Generation”, in the 1950’s preceded the counter culture “Hippies” of the “Baby Boomer’s” 1960’s revolution.  Two of the leading literary icons of the “Beats” were poet Alan Ginsberg, the author of “Howl” an epic poem about man’s disconnection with his environment, and his novelist compatriot, Jack Kerouac, author of “On the Road”, and other equally hip tomes.  They wrote about the rift between the human soul and the industrialized world that the 20th century had produced.

 

 

Preceding the Beats were the Industrialized Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies.  They were union activists, who used literature, folk music and blues to carry their message.  One of the martyrs of the movement was an immigrant named Joe Hill, who was executed in 1915.  Singer/songwriter/activists like Woodie Guthrie sang about Joe, and the plight of the working man.  Even authors like James Jones wrote about economic injustice forcing the poor to join the military as their only option to poverty, in his novel “From Here To Eternity”.

 

 

By the 1950’s Chrysler, Ford and GM, the big three auto corporations, along with major supporting industries, from the rail road and trucking to steel production, were unionized.  This resulted in wildcat strikes that sometimes turned violent, as the unions demanded better wages and working conditions.  As wages got better, the rural Southerners, both Black and White began immigrating to the larger industrial cities, like Detroit and Cleveland, Philadelphia and Pittsburg.  Although the cities were segregated, there was a mixing of the races at the workplace, and sometimes in recreation, resulting in a new musical hybrid as sounds and ideas merged.

 

 

The Grammy Awards began in 1958, referring to the invention of the gramophone, which sparked the soul of the recording industry.  So from Thomas Edison, to Alexander Graham Bell and eventually Emile Berliner, who invented the gramophone and sold the patent to the Victor Talking Machine Company (RCA) (11), the recording industry evolved into a lucrative business.  Gospel music wasn’t recognized until the 4th annual Grammy Awards, when Mahalia Jackson won the “Best Gospel or other Religious Category” for Every Time I Hear the Spirit.

 

Darden 001

The Civil Rights movement began, with the passing of “Brown vs. the Board of Education” by the Supreme court, May 17, 1954, calling for the desegregation of public education.  In 1955 Rosa Parks started the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, that brought Rev. Martin Luther King to his leadership role, as co-founder of “The Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  In 1960 Ella Baker founded “The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee” (SNCC), which was the beginning of an expression of what became known as “Black Power”.

 

American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark, in Philadelphia, via the television set, became the first national TV show to showcase rock and roll and its culture, in 1957.  By the end of the 1950’s, Elvis was drafted into the army, and a tragic air plane crash claimed the lives of three early rock stars, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper.  In 1960, Chubby Checker released a cover of Clyde McPhatter’s song called the twist, which initiated a dancing craze, that got unhip white people shimmying and shaking on the dance floor.  It was even reported that President Kennedy did the twist in the white house. One of the major unexpected results of this new musical phenomenon was the integration of American society.

 

 

Bo Diddley #2

If rock & roll was the soul of integration then folk music was the mind.  By the early 1960’s the Black rock & rollers were marginalized, and top 40 AM radio stations played pop rock that had lost its earlier edge.  Fabian and Franky Avalon replaced Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly.  As rock & roll was on the descent in the late 1950’s folk music began its ascent.  Folk music was inspired by Woody Guthrie, and his student, Pete Seeger, whose group the Weavers and career were put on a temporary hiatus, when he was blackballed by Senator Joseph McCarthy, as a Communist.

 

 

The Kingston Trio was the first major act of the new folk fad, to receive national recognition and air play.  After them came the Limelighters, The Highwaymen, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary.  The music was acoustic in instrumentation, and used guitars, mandolins and banjos.  It employed a wide range of vocal styles, both solo and in harmony, and its lyrics dealt with gritty subject matter. Topics like adultery, exploitation, murder, robbery, swindles, extraordinary exploits and broken promises told stories that captivated its audience.

 

 

Peter, Paul and Mary were made up of Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers.  Their debut album in 1962 was inspired by the same social, cultural and political tradition that Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger followed.  Their first hit off the album was “If I Had a Hammer”, recorded over a decade earlier by the “Weavers”, who were made up of Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman and Pete Seeger who first recorded it in 1949.  They represented the musical conscience of the nation, supporting the struggling civil rights movement and the anti-Viet Nam war faction.

 

 

At one point folk music upset the status quo in New York city so much that they banned folk singing in Washington square, which precipitated a protest that successfully, reversed the decision.  Popular folk singers of the day participated in the civil rights movement, and sang about its struggles.  The biggest folk ensemble of the 1960’s, the “New Christy Minstrels” performed at the White house for President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

 

 

This thought provoking music reflected the mood of the country, as it continued in the Ideological war with the Soviet’s.  There were multiple Cold War confrontations with Communism, in the early 1960’s, from the Marxist conversion of Cuba, the crisis with Russia, over nuclear warheads in that island nation resulting in the “Bay of Pigs” fiasco, the invasion of the Dominican Republic and escalating US military involvement in Viet Nam.

 

 

Barry McGuire began a solo career in 1960 after he purchased his first guitar.  He spent some time in the Navy, and got into Woodie Guthrie, Ledbelly and Pete Seeger until he started gigging at Santa Monica bars, where Peggy Lee discovered him, and got him a recording contract.  In 1962 he joined Art Podell’s group, the “New Christy Minstrels” as the lead singer.  He wrote and sang lead on the group’s biggest hit 45 rpm single, “Green, Green”, and eventually went solo again, which produced the biggest hit of his career, when he recorded P. F. Sloan’s song “Eve of Destruction, in 1965.

Mavis Staples #2

 

Black music groups began receiving more air play, on White radio, after groups like the Mills Brothers and the Inkspots broke the ice, back in the 1930’s.  By the 1950’s when Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry came on the scene, the White market was being integrated by Black music. Columbia records producer, John Hammond signed a Black Gospel singer from Detroit, Michigan, named Aretha Franklin in 1960.  At the same time Detroit produced the most important Black record label of the 1960’s, when Berry Gordy established “Motown” records with Smokey Robinson singing You Got To Shop Around.

 

 

Sam Cooke was 1 of 7 children born to a Baptist minister in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  After the family moved to Chicago he became part of the family’s singing quartet, and by 1950, at the age of 19, joined the “Soul Stirrers”, a black gospel group.  Through his success with the “Soul Stirrers”, on Specialty records, he achieved fame and fortune within the Black gospel music community.  He signed as a secular artist with Keen records where he had his first hit, with “You Send Me”.   He started his own record label, SAR, and finally signed with RCA, where he had a string of hits, until his untimely death in 1964.

 

 

In an interview in 2002 Clarence Fountain, leader of the “5 Blind Boys of Alabama”, who was a contemporary of Cooke, explained – “We had plenty of chances to go with rock & roll.  We had plenty of chances for doing the things that all the rest of the people had done.  We could have did that too, but we didn’t want to.  I was in the studio with Sam Cooke when he signed his contract.  The man offered me one just like he did him.  But I turned it down because that ain’t what I told the Lord I wanted to do.  I wanted to sing gospel.” (8)

 

 

After his discharge from the army, Elvis Presley became a movie star, only singing songs in his own films, that he starred in, with titles like “Blue Hawaii”, “Follow That Dream” and “Kid Galahad”.   His impact on music now wasn’t from his style and manner of performance, but from the direction that he took.  Music films, featuring artists like the Beatles and Bob Dylan would soon begin to make their way to the screen, as an important way to satisfy and create fans.

 

The 1950’s ended on a sour note, as Fidel Castro established a Marxist government in Cuba, after taking power, and became an ally of the Soviet‘s.   The next conflict with the Communist’s occurred when U2 spy plane pilot Gary Powers was shot down over Russian air space.  Everyone was ready for a change, when a youthful looking John F. Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic president elected, and ushered in an era of optimism, along with the Peace Corps.  Kennedy’s inaugural speech in January 1961 set the tone of his administration when he said, “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

 

 

Mylon LeFevre was a member of his parents Southern gospel music group, “The Singing LeFevres”.  “The LeFevres” were pioneers of Southern gospel music, and owned their own recording studio, as many of the early groups did.  They also embraced the potential for ministry using the new medium of television.  While Mylon was in the army, in the early sixties, he wrote a song titled Without Him, which was recorded by Elvis Presley, and over 100 other artists. (2), (3), (4) A few years later Mylon formed a secular Southern Gospel Rock group named after himself, and spread the gospel in secular venues, through his music, in the late 1960‘s and 1970’s.

 

Reduced Oregon Country Fair #1

The next major breakthrough that would change the social structure of the country was the advent of the FDA approved birth control pill, which began the sexual revolution.  Sex without the consequence of pregnancy never had been readily available before.  This liberated women, as they never had been before, which in turn augmented the women’s rights movement.

 

 

The Roman Catholic Church convened Vatican II, in 1962, to discuss the birth control pill among other issues of the day.  Pope John XXIII was in office at the time and at least four future popes were council members.  Some of the key issues that impacted church members were, no longer requiring them to abstain from eating meat on Friday, allowing the mass to be spoken in the language used by attendees, instead of Latin and economic justice.

 

 

In an interview in 2006 Christian social justice musician, Bruce Cockburn explained the impact of Vatican II on the world in general.  “One of the things that happened in the 1960s was Vatican II, in which Pope John XXIII convened all the bigwigs of the Catholic Church to decide what the destiny of the church should be and what role it should play in the modern world. It was decided at that time that the church would be the church of the poor. It was decided that I think because of the vibe of the sixties, the kind of philosophy and energy that was flowing around. It flowed through the clerics as much as it flowed through everybody else. I mean it was just in the air.  It touched everybody, whether they wore the uniform or not…of the hippie movement I mean. As a result of Vatican II the church began to teach people in Latin America to read. As a result of people in Latin America learning to read they started trying to overthrow the governments that were keeping them poor and malnourished and not getting medical attention and all sorts of stuff. Many church people became supporters of that kind of social change, and we’ve been living with the result ever since.”  (6)

 

65 Bruce Cockburn 1997 - Port, OR #10

Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth, as the Berlin wall was erected.  Freedom riders descended on the segregationist South, from Washington DC, as students begin protesting everything from nuclear testing to the escalating war in Viet Nam.  The CIA conducted experiments, under the code name MK Ultra, to find out the potential of psychedelic drugs like LSD, for mind control.  Ken Kesey, a Stanford graduate student in creative writing was given LSD, at the same time that he worked in a mental institution, and wrote “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

 

 

At the turn of the decades, with Elvis in the Army and rock & roll on the decline after the payola scandal ruined the career of New York DJ Alan Freed, and nearly derailed Dick Clark’s American bandstand, squeaky clean Pat Boone was the top pop star in the US.  Boone was a descendent of American frontier pioneer, Daniel Boone and was one of the most important performers, in the 1950’s, responsible for the integration of rock & roll into mainstream society.  He had his own TV show, and was a successful film and recording star, who was also a devout Christian. He began his singing career in the 1950’s, when he was a college student, and recorded sanitized versions of what was then called race music.  He had hits on the radio with songs like Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame” and Little Richard’s Tutti Fruiti.  He drew criticism from both sides, when some accused him of trying to pollute White society with Black music, while others claimed that he was exploiting Black songwriters by capitalizing on their compositions.

 

 

 

The human space barrier was cracked for the USA, when John Glenn orbited the earth in 1962, and the first communications satellite, “Telestar” was launched by AT&T, which producing a radio hit for the “Tornados”.  “Silent Spring” one of the first books, voicing concern for the environment was published by Rachel Carson.  Students began protesting more loudly, as they supported the civil rights movement, and began speaking with a louder voice, through the Free Speech movement in California and the forming of “Students For A Democratic Society” (SDS), in Michigan.  At the same time Bob Dylan released his debut album, which was produced by John Hammond, on Columbia Records.

49 Bob Dylan

 

Another genre of music, who’s popularity was waning in the early 1960’s was known as doo wop.  Groups like ‘Little Anthony and the Imperials‘, “The Drifters” “Dion and the Belmonts” and “The Coasters” were some of the top groups.  The Castells, with lead singer Chuck Girard had a couple of top 40 hits with “Sacred” and “So This Is Love”.

 

 

“I was pretty much a straight-laced young guy.  I was into the music thing.  I wasn’t really much of a student but I wasn’t really into religious activity or spiritual curiosity in those days.   I was more into the music thing, I got bit with the music bug about junior high school years, and by my senior year in high school I had put together a little vocal group.  I’m old enough to where I go back to the doo-wop days in 1961.” (7)

 

 

Soon afterwards Girard began working as a studio musician. and collaborated with Beach Boy producer, Gary Usher, and sang lead on Brian Wilson’s hit composition about a motorcycle, called “Little Honda” by the “Hondells”.   Motorcycles would play an important part in the 1960’s, after cheaper versions of Harley Davidson’s and Triumphs were marketed by the Japanese, in the form of Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha, allowing the average person to purchase one.  Then after an up and coming  journalist named Hunter S. Thompson published “Hell’s Angels:  The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, in 1966, Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels became celebrities.

 

 

Civil rights was the dominant issue during much of the early 1960’s, along with the escalating conflict with Viet Nam.  Bob Dylan wrote and recorded “Blowing In the Wind”, which not only became a top 40 hit when Peter, Paul & Mary recorded it, but an anthem of the civil rights movement.  Pop art took the stage and graphic television images of self immolating Buddhist monks in Viet Nam burnt themselves into the brains of the “Babyboomers”.

Stained Glass Zoom

 

Interest in mind expanding substances like psilocybin, mescaline and LSD increased after LIFE magazine published an article by R. Gordon Wasson, about the use of psilocybin mushrooms in the religious ceremony of an indigenous tribe in Southern Mexico in 1957. In 1954 writer Aldous Huxley published the Doors of perception, about his mescaline experience and later became friends with Timothy Leary when he was conducting his experiments with LSD at Harvard.  Leary and his associate, Richard Alpert were fired from Harvard, after their research with mind expanding drugs got out of hand.  The duo then moved the experiments with psychedelics to Millbrook, a private estate in New York. (9) (10)

 

 

President Kennedy’s proposed civil rights legislation is punctuated by violence, including the death of Medgar Evers whose murder Bob Dylan wrote a song about, and four Black girls that were killed in an Alabama church by a bomb blast, detonated by White supremist terrorists.  At the same time the UK, US and USSR sign an above ground nuclear test ban., as women officially find out that they are discriminated against, through a commission’s finding and a US supported coup condones the murder of president Ngo Dinh Diem, South Vietnam’s puppet president.

 

 

The era known as the 1960’s, was officially ushered in when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald, who in turn was assassinated by Jack Ruby, with Lyndon Baines Johnson being sworn in as the new president.  President Johnson declares an “unconditional war on poverty”, and signs into law, the “Civil Rights Act of 1964.  “Dr. Strangelove” is released and the Beatles come to America, appear on the Ed Sullivan show, while “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is number 1 on the radio charts.

 

 

  1. Welch, Brian “Head”.  Washed By The Blood, from “Save Me From Myself”, Driven Music Group, 2008.
  2. http://www.drivenmusicgroup.net/ 2 September 2009
  3. The Bible. King James version.  Matthew 11:28.
  4. Welch, Brian “Head”. “Save Me From Myself”, published by:  Harper Collins, 2007.
  5. Utube testimonial. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZlgrT0hfjE 31 August 2009.
  6. Blueswax Interview with Bo Diddley by Bob Gersztyn. February 15, 2006    blueswax.com
  7. Wittenburg Door Interview By Bob Gersztyn May 2007.  wittenburgdoor.com                 http://www.diondimucci.com/bio.html (4 November 2008)
  8. Dion Dimucci  Interview .  By:  Bob Gersztyn, in Blueswax. http://www.visnat.com/entertainment/music/blueswax/getarchivedfeature.cfm?aaa=zzz&featurenumber=685  (2 February 2006)
  9. Banville, Scott. “The LeFevres“, “Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music”, edited by William McNeil. Routledge 2005.
  10. http://www.mylon.org/homePage.php (6 November 2008)
  11. Powell, Mark Allan.  “Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music”, Hendrickson Publishers 2002.
  12. Bob Gersztyn.  Interview with Bruce Cockburn.  Folkwax, November 16, 2006.

http://www.visnat.com/entertainment/music/folkwax/backissues/folkwax_294.cfm (November 12, 2008).

  1. Bob Gersztyn. Interview with Chuck Girard.  Submitted to the Wittenburg Door 2007.

 

  1. Bob Gersztyn.  Interview with Clarence Fountain of “The Blind Boys of Alabama”.  The “Wittenburg Door”.  May/June 2003.

 

  1. Huxley, Aldous.  The Doors of Perception.  Published by:  Harper & Row, 1954.

 

  1. Solomon, David, editor. LSD: The Consciousness-Expanding Drug.  Published by:  P. Putnam’s Sons 1964.

 

  1. Bellis, Mary. “Emile Berliner – The History of the Gramophone”.

http://inventors.about.com/od/gstartinventions/a/gramophone.htm (14 December 2008)

Bob Dylan #1

John Fahey’s Rehearsal After Henry Vestine Died

28 Jul

John Fahey Solo066

By: Bob Gersztyn

One October evening in 1997, John Fahey scheduled a rehearsal for his new industrial noise project with two local musicians, from Salem, Oregon, where he had been living since the early1980’s. He and his wife Melody were living in Los Angeles during the heyday of his career, where they met after John and his second wife were divorced. Melody had a degree in Cinematography from UCLA, where she took classes with Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek before they formed the “Doors.” She was also a painter and inspired John to begin painting, but unfortunately he wanted to be free of all encumbrances, so he walked out of the house one day never to return. Instead he lived on the street with the homeless, out of a car that he bought and eventually the sleazy Oregon Capital Inn. He had royalty checks regularly coming in, but they just kept him at the poverty level. He said it was by choice, because if he had too much money, he’d spend it on prostitutes.

 

At the same time that he was living on the streets of Salem, Oregon, and he stayed at “Union Rescue Mission,” on occasion, but he disliked the place and said that he’d rather sleep on the street. He befriended the homeless and indigent while he was continuing to create. His prowess in playing a steel stringed acoustic guitar with finger picks earned him Rolling Stones #35 position as the Greatest Guitar Player of the 20th Century, in 2001. In 1997 he won a Grammy Award, not for music but writing, when he wrote the liner notes of the Smithsonian Institute’s Anthology of Early Blues musicians. At the same time he released “City of Refuge,” an “Industrial Noise” project that  was completely antithetical to his previous work. It was called a comeback album by Rolling Stone, Spin and Entertainment Weekly.

The album presented a completely different side of Fahey than anything else he had ever done. He discarded the acoustic guitar and finger picks for a Fender electric guitar that he translated the pain and suffering of street life through. By changing, he alienated many of his old fans, but made new ones, as a cult godfather figure to alternative Avant-garde musicians like Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. When you contrast that with the time that Country Joe McDonald told this writer that he and his wife walked out in the middle of a Fahey Christmas concert in the late 1990’s because it was so dissonant. John and Joe, shared a room in Berkeley and even the same girlfriend, when the former first moved there from Takoma Park, Maryland in the early 1960’s. McDonald said that when Fahey played at the “Jabberwock,” he was mesmerizing and he was musically influenced by Fahey’s  guitar playing style, which is evident in his guitar playing on “Country Joe and the Fish,” albums.

It was Wednesday night, October 22, 1997, and when the rehearsal began in Tim Knight’s basement recording studio, as a member of the “John Fahey Trio” he sensed an uneasiness in John that seemed to translate itself into a more dissonant sound in Fahey’s guitar, if that was possible. Soon after they began to follow John’s lead and were jamming together, John stopped and began to talk about Henry Vestine. He and Henry grew up together in Takoma Park, Maryland and although John was a few years his senior they both had a passion for the guitar, and connected through the limited music scene that was happening there at the time.  Vestine played electric, while Fahey stayed acoustic, but they experimented with guitar techniques together and even listened to old 78 RPM recordings of seminal blues musicians. Vestine preferred electric artists “like B. B. King, Hound Dog Taylor, T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulson, and John Lee Hooker,” while Fahey liked finger pickers, like “John Hurt, Charley Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Sam McGhee.”

John continued to reminisce, but now he began to play his guitar again, by periodically striking a dissonant chord, which Knight and Scrivner followed as Fahey continued to narrate. He spoke of how all the kids who were into music would go to get guitar lessons from one of the only Black families in the area, by the name of Williams. There were two brothers and if you were lucky old man Williams would come out with his fiddle, five string banjo and guitar. Then Vestine who was in Jr. High moved to Southern California with his parents, but Fahey corresponded with him by mail. Fahey was also corresponding with California record collectors Bob and Richard Hite and in 1964/65 and when he moved to Los Angeles to study for a Masters degree at UCLA he introduced Vestine and Bob Hite to Alan Wilson, who he met in Boston and even lived with for 6 months, at a jazz and record show.

At the time Henry Vestine was one of the hottest electric guitar players in L.A. and had his own band called the “Henry Vestine Trio.” They were playing at a small club in West L.A. by the San Diego Freeway , on Sepulveda Blvd., where Fahey, Hite and Wilson began to hang out at and eventually jam with Vestine’s band. The result was “Canned Heat,” named after an old blues song about winos drinking “Sterno,” a wood alcohol based cooking fuel. While all this was going on John would sit with some of Henry’s friends, who included a well dressed black man who introduced himself as Jimi Hendrix. John said that Hendrix’s eyes would follow every move that Vestine made when playing his guitar. Soon after that “On The Road Again,” was released and the band became pop stars. By 1969 Henry (The Sunflower) Vestine left the band and then so did a disillusioned Al Wilson who died of a brain aneurism in 1970.

Over the decades Vestine floated in and out of Canned heat, for which he is primarily known, until his death in Paris, France October 20, 1997. Although Fahey felt that Vestine’s true boogie style was never completely manifested in “Canned Heat,” he did feel that the best thing that Henry contributed to “Canned Heat,” was his guitar duets with Alan Wilson. In the early 1980’s, around the same time that Fahey migrated to Oregon, so did Vestine, who did it to be with a woman and to escape the insanity of L.A.. He was living in Eugene, Oregon, about 70 miles South on the I-5 Freeway from Salem. About two months before Henry died he invited John to come see his aquarium filled with Coelecant fish, just like he told Fahey that he would one day have, back in the 1950’s when they were teenagers in Takoma Park, Maryland. A few weeks later Henry called John and told him that he had a dream about Alan Wilson, who told him that they would soon see each other again and he wanted John to have his Coelecants. When Fahey took possession of Vestine’s Coelecants he declared his union with them to be symbolic of Henry’s Union with Alan.

All information in this article is based on a combination of firsthand experience with John Fahey, recorded interviews by this writer, “How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life” and a tape of the “Henry Vestine Memorial Rehearsal,”    dated 10/22/97

Samantha Fish Concert Review

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Samantha Fish Concert Review

By: Bob Gersztyn

All Photography Copyright By Bob Gersztyn

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ymsb_4Z3uy0

 

I know that I did a blog where I declared myself  no longer a member of the elite cadry that comprise the army of rock photographers and journalists that perpetuate the rock & roll myth. However, after one is addicted to the art of that craft, it becomes impossible to kick the impulsive habit, especially if it doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t require a photo pass. Such was the case on Thursday night, July 7, 2016, at Monteith River Park, in Albany, Oregon, where they’ve been having free summer concerts for the past 30 years. http://riverrhythms.org/ This was the first week of the season, and Samantha Fish was the featured act. I wasn’t familiar with her, so I Googled some of her Utube videos and was impressed, so I made plans to attend the concert, since Albany is less than 20 miles by the Interstate 5 freeway

It wasn’t supposed to rain, but this is Oregon and we live in the valley surrounded by rain forests, so you never know when some precipitation might form. Fortunately it was the fine mist type of rain rather than the torrential deluge brand. I invited one of my friends who has a green thumb and grows cannabis to accompany me. He’s accompanied me to many of the concerts that I’ve shot over the past 22 years and since recreational weed is now legal in Oregon we enjoy the events with much less paranoia.

 

It seems that the rainy weather kept a huge crowd away, so when we arrived there were places available in every location, including right in front of the stage. Since I didn’t know for sure whether the crowd would augment or not I set my blanket on a place directly in front of the stage, left of center, as I faced it. I almost always chose this location if I was limited in movement, since most guitarists are right handed and this gives you the best angle for photographs. I still wasn’t sure whether anyone would hassle me for shooting with a telephoto zoom in front of the stage. At first I shot judiciously, but as it became apparent that nobody cared what I did, I began to shoot nonstop, especially since it doesn’t cost any more to shoot 1000 images than it does 10. Of course you have to edit everything, but with an excessive amount to go through, you can just pick the ones that jump out at you, to reduce your inventory.

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When we first arrived there was an opening duo performing, as I spread my blanket and place my unopened umbrella, monopod and camera bag on it. I took a few shots of the duo and then put my camera in my bag, which I slung over my shoulder and went to the lawn chair section where my friend was sitting on top of a bucket with a 2″ thick piece of foam rubber. Next to him was another bucket with foam that he set up for me. I told him that I would spend most of my time on the blanket, where there was room for him, but would alternately come back. He said that his back couldn’t handle sitting on a blanket like in the old days.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0rx-6g3jU8

 

The duo began at 7:00 PM and played for half an hour, then the stage was set up for “The Samantha Fish Band,” which began at 7:45 PM. and played some fantastic blues and rock for the next 2 hours. To say that Samantha Fish is phenomenal is an understatement, but in the age instantaneous recognition on the internet, there is still nothing like a live show. Her guitar playing ability rivals any male counterpart, from Buddy Guy to Joe Bonnamassa, while her crystalline vocals are permeated with influences ranging from blues and rock divas, to country and folk queens.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc7wPH-sbGg

 

As soon as Fish began to perform I returned to my blanket, which was now completely covered with rain drops, that hadn’t soaked in yet, so I shook them off and opened my umbrella. I put the open umbrella down on the blanket and put my camera bag and monopod under it, to keep them dry, as the mist continued to condense on the ground. At first I took my camera out for a song and then put it away, until people were coming up and taking photos using everything from  cell phones to telephoto lenses bigger than mine. By that time I was taking as many photos as I wanted and even used the repeat shoot mode that was like the old film motor drives, but instead of costing $10.00 to $15.00 to shoot a 36 exposure roll of slide film in 6 seconds, there was no cost to shoot 360 a minute or even 3,600 images in an hour.

Samantha Fish is in her early twenties and hails from the city that Leiber & Stoller immortalized in their 1950’s R&B hit, Kansas City; “They got some crazy little women there…”  “The Samantha Fish Band,” took the stage by storm as a power trio consisting of Samantha Fish on lead guitar and lead vocals, along with drummer Go-Go Ray and Chris Alexander playing bass guitar. They performed a 2 hour set that covered songs from all 3 of her albums, released on the Ruff Record label. “Runaway” and “Black Wind Howlin’,” came out in 2011 and 2013 respectively and were produced by blues producer and musician Mike Zito. Her most recent release is “Wild Heart,” which came out in 2015 and was produced by Luther Dickenson, lead guitarist and singer of the “North Mississippi All Stars. His father, the late Jim Dickenson was a legendary record producer and musician, that worked with everyone from Bob Dylan to the “Rolling Stones.”

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After a few numbers the crowd was on its feet dancing and at one point an excited fan, dressed in biker leathers ran up to the stage and handed Samantha a rose that she accepted as he danced in front of the stage. Her guitar playing was phenomenal, as she continually switched instruments for each song. She alternated between 2 fender electric guitars with a fish decorating the top and what looked like a red cigar box banjo sized instrument made from a one gallon can from a flammable liquid, along with occasionally using an acoustic guitar. Her voice was as polished as her guitar playing as it soared into the stratosphere. There was supposed to be a fireworks display immediately after the concert ended, so after the encore Fish was asked to perform one more song, before the fireworks show began. She willingly obliged and asked the crowd if they were ready to have some fun and then the band began the intro to “Black Sabbath’s” anti war song “War Pigs,” as Fish began to sing:

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“Generals gathered in their masses,

just like witches at black masses…”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M-VxlRBbcc War Pigs

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By the time that the band concluded their sonic pyrotechnics, the sky lit up with the visual counterpart.

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http://www.samanthafish.com/

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Ted Nugent

23 Jun

Ted Nugent Collage

 

Ted Nugent

By: Bob Gersztyn

Ted Nugent 2007

I’ve seen Ted Nugent perform live 2 different times in the course of my life. The first was on Labor Day 1969, a mere 2 weeks after the Woodstock festival, when the Amboy Dukes played on the porch of the Detroit Public Library. I had only been going out with my future wife Kathy, for 3 weeks when I took her to the concert. It was the time period when the band’s hit “Journey to the Center of the Mind,” was still being played by the Motor City’s  radio stations.  It was in rotation on Detroit’s new cutting edge underground FM radio station WABX. They sponsored many of the free concerts that took place at various venues, like this one.

Nugent crowd

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xue5iGIoTtA

The Nuge

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TokYdNmOt3s

Ted Nugent Silverton, Oregon 2007

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEJp2BsaeiE

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The band played on the porch at the top of the steps of the library, while we stood at the foot of the stairs watching “Terrible Ted” wailing on his guitar as he religiously reproduced the guitar solo from the band’s hit song, “Journey To the Center of the Mind,” just like on the record. It always blew my mind the way that musicians were able to reproduce a song, note for note and do it for a whole concert day after day. At the time the drug drenched Hippie culture became part of mainstream America, while the U.S. was embroiled in the war in Vietnam, and anti-war demonstrators protested against it, in the streets and in song.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXzVzxdwYxo

Ted Nugent Silverton Gardens 2007

In the Summer of 1971, I moved to Los Angeles, California and got married. I completely left my Hippie and rock & roll past to become a born again Jesus Freak, got married and eventually began a family, as I studied the Bible, history, photography and theology. One day in 1975  as I was driving home from my classes at L.I.F.E. Bible college, to become a Protestant Pentecostal minister, I was turning the dial on the AM radio and I heard a mesmerizing guitar solo that I let play as I drove.  After the tune ended the radio announcer said that it was “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent.  I was pleasantly surprised, as I was with the popularity of other Michigan artists, like, Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Seegerm Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop. Over the next 3 decades I heard the Nuge’s hits on the radio and P.A. systems of places that I frequented. At the same time I was later surprised to hear Nugent deny that he used drugs during the 1960’s. When I heard the denial it disappointed me, just like when Bill Clinton said that he never inhaled. I had been a drug user, taking over 100 LSD and mescaline trips during a period of nearly 3 years. So I was disappointed, since I thought that Ted was an enlightened inner space astronaut communicating his experience through music.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaQFC0h91zQ

Ted Nugent pointing 2007

Ted Nugent became known as the “Motor City Madman,” and by the 21st century was also known as a right wing conservative Republican, who was even friends with ultra conservative radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh. At the same time he’s sold more than 40 million albums and performed in excess of 6500 concerts during the past 53 years. Nugent began his professional career in 1963, when his band the Lourds opened up for the Supremes at Cobo Hall, in Detroit. Today he spends as much time, if not more, hunting, than  he does playing music. Firearms and archery equipment are the ying of Nugent’s guitar’s yang.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaQFC0h91zQ

Ted Nugent Oregon 2007

So 37 years later, on a hot summer night  in August 2007, when the Nuge appeared in Silverton, Oregon, about 25 miles from my home in Salem, I decided that I wanted to go see him. At the time I was working as a freelance journalist for a few different publications that I covered music and religion for. So I applied for a press pass and ticket and I got them. When I arrived at the venue, the stage had weapons strewn around from a 50 Caliber tripod mounted machine gun to small caliber rifles, along with camouflage netting, a giant grenade and a skull.

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Ted Nugent Website: http://www.tednugent.com/

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I shot the concert using film, in a Nikon 8008 body, with both a telephoto and wide angle zoom, with both a roll of Fujicolor 200 ISO, as well as a roll of infra-red color slide film, since the show began when it was still light out. Alex Winston, a Detroit, Michigan female singer was opening up with her band before “Terrible Ted” took the stage. The outdoor venue at the Silverton Oregon Gardens was filled to capacity while the sun descended into the horizon while Nugent ripped through his repertoire, churning out hits ranging from “Journey to the Center of the Mind” and “Stranglehold” to “Wango Tango” and “Cat Scratch Fever,” along with everything else afterwards and in between. By the time the encore was over and the lights came on, a couple thousand exhausted and sweat drenched fans trudged back to their vehicles to make the journey back to their homes in the beautiful Pacific Northwest’s Willamette Valley.

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Alex Winston:  http://www.atlasmusicgroup.com/artist/MzEwMzQtNjRjYmZh/

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqFUEcM9wR0

Jon Fro And “Room Four Productions”

30 May

Jon Fro and “Room Four Productions”

By: Bob Gersztyn

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            On Saturday night, April 16, at the Triangle Inn, on the T corner of Triangle and Liberty, across the street from what used to be Beamer’s Can Can Lounge, but is now a Cannabis  dispensary, an “Underground Hip Hop” show took place. The event began at 9:30 PM, and included artists from the “Room Four” record label, until the early hours of the next day. It was produced by Salem music scene impresario, Jon Fro, who just released his 10th eponymously titled album. The show included Underground Hip Hop performances by DJ Galactic and DJ Swone, rappers McGrawski, That Kid Cry and MC Grew, along with vocalist Rachel Blair and Jon Fro.

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            The show began promptly at 9:30 PM as DJ Galactic took the stage and set the pace that proceeded to evolve into a night of impressive proportions, considering the fact that the venue wasn’t equipped with the best acoustics. Shooting in a bar was always a challenge and over the decades I’ve experimented until I’ve found the best combination to capture some images that are not only usable, but aesthetically interesting. With the advent of digital camera and faster ISO speeds, low light photography  became more accessible.

Before 1980 1600 ISO was the max that pushing development would allow, and that was only for black & white, without using specially processed Konica slide film that was rated at 6400 and cost a fortune to buy and have processed, but today, in 2016, medium and top of the line SLR’s commonly have ISO’s of 3200 and 6400 and higher. This allows ambient light to be used with minimum blur, but in cases that blur is desired the shutter speed is reduced as the aperture is increased, along with an off camera strobe unit to freeze action.

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            The results are as follows with images that reflect the night with Jon Fro filling a multitude of roles, as he did everything from controlling all the technical aspects of the sound to filling in on drums to keep the beat. I included some links for more information about the artists and Room Four Productions and who to contact below.

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https://www.reverbnation.com/jonfro

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s05RaJoLeW4

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https://www.youtube.com/user/JonFroMusic https://www.facebook.com/roomfourproductions/

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https://www.facebook.com/roomfourproductions/

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https://www.reverbnation.com/roomfourproductions

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jonfromusic@gmail.com

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Joe Bonamossa and Blueswax/Bluesreview

10 Apr

Joe Bonamossa and Blueswax/Bluesreview

By: Bob Gersztyn

All photography copyright by Bob Gersztyn

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I’ve got to get back on track, which is writing about about music and religion, either together or separately. So now I will re-begin with a reprint of both my concert review and an interview with Blues superstar, Joe Bonamossa, back in 2011, for Blueswax and its parent publication Blues Review. The editor in chief was my good buddy Chip Eagle, who ran it until 2013, when it discontinued publication. Chip was to hardcore, real blues at the turn of the 21st century, what people like Dick Waterman and John Fahey were, back in the early 1960’s. So I was able to get in any blues or blues related concert and event that I wanted to cover. From 2002, beginning with my interview with Ike Turner, to my coverage of the 2013 Waterfront Blues Festival, in Portland, Oregon, I photographed, reviewed and interviewed hundreds of current and upcoming artists. Blues is the profane counterpart to the sacred sounds of gospel music with some jazz thrown in for good measure. So without further ado, let me present a reprint from Blueswax/Bluesreview, from 2011, reprinted with permission, just a mere 4 1/2 years later.

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Joe Bonamassa Concert Review

Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Portland, Oregon

December 14, 2011

By: Bob Gersztyn

 

The last time that I saw Joe Bonamassa was in 2008 when he played at the Waterfront Blues Festival, in Portland. His performance was one of the most outstanding of over 100 acts that played at the festival and drew fans from all over the Pacific Northwest. Some of them said that they travelled hundreds of miles to see Joe before he headed across the ocean for what became a hugely successful tour in Great Brittan. At that time Bonamassa was promoting his 2007 release, Sloe Gin. Three years later he was back in the City of Roses, playing at the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall, one of its most sonically perfect venues, which would provide a good contrast to the day time outdoor festival that Bonamassa played at last time.

There was no opening act and the band took the dark stage promptly at 8:00 PM. The auditorium was pitch black as the quartet made their entrance, with Joe walking out last and standing silhouetted by blinding stage lights shining off the floor. The stage was an array of Marshall amplifiers adorned with Joe Bonamassa bobble head’s, keyboards, drum kit and towers with lights. Joe was wearing a charcoal gray suit and a white shirt, open at the neck, without a tie, spit shinned brown wing tips, along with his trademark sunglasses. He began to play his guitar with opening power chords, which were soon joined by drums, bass and keyboards, until Joe began to sing.

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“If I was a cradle, would you let me rock? If I was a pony, would you let me trot?”

            “Cradle Song” was off 2002’s A New Day Yesterday and it became a blazing inferno of sound that eventually led into “When the Fire Hits the Sea, off 2010’s Black Rock. Bonamassa used both numbers to assault the audience’s olfactory lobes with enough decibel damage to initiate them to what they could expect for the rest of the night, if they didn’t already know. The next song was “Midnight Blues,” a cover of the late Gary Moore’s composition in a tribute to one of his influences. Unlike most American blues artists, Bonamassa cites British and Irish blues rockers as his primary influences. Bonamassa’s smokey blue voice is as much a part of his repertoire as his guitar, so when he began singing the words…

“It’s the darkest hour of the darkest night It’s a million miles from the morning light,”

            They seamlessly segued into rolling guitar licks as he shredded his axe until it began hemorrhaging torrents of ear shattering emanations and perfect sonic phrasings duplicating the lyrics note for note.

 

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            Regular instrument switches from Bonamassa’s arsenal of guitars took place periodically throughout the night’s performance, beginning with “Slow Train,” off his current 2011 release, Dust Bowl, as he temporarily switched the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst for his custom made Gibson “Bona-Bird. Drummer Tal Bergman looked like a Viking warrior, as he sat behind the drum kit with long curly flowing blonde locks and began playing the driving rhythm intro to the song, when he suddenly stood up and threw his drum sticks into the crowd, as he turned and walked off the stage, only to immediately return with a new set of drum sticks. The stage was darkened with flashing lights as Bergman sat down and once again began beating out the rhythm that simulated the sound of a chugging train, as Bonamassa accompanied him with the driving rhythm of power down stroke chords. Joe’s plaintive voice broke in and began singing, “there’s a slow train coming…, until it broke in peals of guitar licks that ran up and down the scales and exploded into crescendo’s of sound that seamlessly wove together with lyrics that traversed the history of the railroad and its associations with the blues.

            As on the album the following number was the title song, “Dust Bowl,” which continued the train rhythm, to a spaghetti western theme as Joe dove into the song with an intensity that soon had the entire band joining in. Bass player, Carmine Rojas strutted around the stage like he was caught up in an ecstatic frenzy, as Bonamassa sang “taking me up, taking me down.” “You Better Watch Yourself,” the next selection, was another cut off Dustbowl, as Joe continued dancing, prancing and strutting us and down the stage while putting the Gibson signature Les Paul prototype, “Bonamassa Burst,” through ear shattering string bending. The stage lighting was superb, and complimented the musical selections with colors ranging from blue to green with touches of red, interspersed with bright spotlights. Over the past 5 decades stage lighting has progressed from simple spot lights to elaborate light arsenals containing every color of the rainbow, in every shade and intensity available to the wonders of current electronic technology.

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            Tal Bergman and Carmine Rojas left the stage and only Rick Melick remained, on keyboards, quietly playing, as Bonamassa began the intro to “Sloe Gin,” while various members of the audience kept screaming “Joe,” as he continued to play undistracted. The guitar piano interplay continued until Joe’s voice broke in “Sloe Gin, Sloe Gin,” and Bergman and Rojas took their places again and rocked it into the stratosphere. After the song concluded Bonamassa spoke to the audience for the first time, as he told them “thank you, thank you very much,” and talked about a performance in Portland, 10 years earlier, at the “infamous” Roseland Theater,” as he called it. He was the opening act for Buddy Guy, and a local DJ was going to introduce him. Joe was concerned that he pronounce his name properly and the DJ demonstrated his skill by quickly repeating “Bonamassa” 3 times. Then when the DJ introduced Joe he said, “Our first performer is John Bonamassa.”

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaCjPdtDBxo

            Bonamassa introduced “The Ballad of John Henry,” from the album of the same name as the closest thing to a hit that he ever had, out of the 12 studio albums that he’s released, containing 134 different cuts. As he talked to the audience he walked to the left side of the stage and reached his hand out to a single rod theramin that emitted a high pitched oscillating sound that Joe controlled my with his limb proximity. He moved his right hand around the device, which continued to scream, until he was pointing straight up in the air, when he suddenly brought his hand down on his guitar to duplicate the sound of the theramin. The sound of the driving guitar was joined by the rest of the band who played steady and hard, with Bergman beating out a driving rhythm as Rojas thumped the counter beat. Bonamassa’s soaring voice broke in, “Who killed John Henry , In the battle of sinners and saints…” “Lonesome Road Blues” gave the band another opportunity to rock the house, as Bonamassa and Bergman played off each other. The tempo went down a notch as the band broke into “Happier Times,” to Joe’s sweet sounding guitar echoing vibratos and pealing licks that danced in the ether to the audience’s delight.

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            “Further Up the Road” brought out guest musician by the name of Eddie Martinez, who was an old friend of bass player Carmine Rojas’s. Joe explained that Martinez performed on the same stage 30 years earlier when he played with Labelle. They rocked out the house with the same song that Eric Clapton played on, when Bonamassa performed at Royal Albert Hall in London. After the song concluded, Martinez stayed on stage as Joe began playing the intro to “Blues Deluxe,” until Eddie jumped in and began wailing on his guitar. Joe’s raspy voice soared as Martinez played off it, until Bergman’s driving drums exploded and drove everything up a couple of notches. The song concluded in a thunderous jam that left Bonamassa and Martinez frantically playing off each other.

            Everyone left the stage except for Bonamassa, who exchanged guitars again for a Gibson double neck and drummer Tal Bergman. Joe began playing “Stairway To Heaven” and then transitioned into Mose Allison’s classic blues song from 1959, “Young Man Blues.”

“Well a young man He ain’t got nothin’ in the world these days.”

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            Bergman put aside his drum sticks and began playing with his hands as he and Bonamassa played off each other, until they were both interacting like they were possessed by the same spirit. Joe then traded the double neck for an acoustic guitar as he remained the only one on stage and stood front and center. He began playing by alternating between picking and strumming as he built up intensity and transcended into flamenco, until he began singing, “woke up dreaming I was going to die…” Bonamassa is a virtuoso of the guitar, regardless of its amplification system, and his digital gymnastics exuded orgasmic emanations that continued to delight the audience, as evidenced by the whistles, hoots and screams every time there was a lull in the instrument’s intensity.

            Rick Melick returned to keyboards, as Bonamassa traded the acoustic guitar for an electric Gigliotti axe. Joe began playing “Mountain Time,” as Melick lightly accompanied him on the electric piano. A couple of minutes into the song, Rojas and Bergman also returned to the stage, and the song built in intensity as Bonamassa’s soaring vocals challenged the volume of his guitar’s metallic emanations, and Eric Johnson’s influence was hinted at in the style that the song was delivered in. The band jammed until it reached maximum volume and intensity and it seemed as if the drums were simulating 105 howitzer detonations as Joe’s guitar screamed into the stratosphere. As the song concluded, to thunderous applause, Bonamassa thanked the audience and walked off the stage with the rest of the band, only to be brought back a minute later.

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            “We’ve been on the road for 13 weeks now,” Bonamassa told the audience and thanked them for coming out to see him on a Wednesday night. He explained that a book was being written about the last 10 years of his career, and how he remembers playing to 10 people in a dive bar in upstate New York, after driving there in a beat up van. “It’s like a dream come true,” he told the crowd, “playing at the sold out Portland theater that holds 2,500 people.” Bonamassa began playing Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire,” that he recorded on his Black Rock album, as the rest of the band joined in. When they finished the poetic melody, Joe’s guitar tech handed him a Gibson flying V that he donned for “Just Got Paid, as he walked to the theramin with his right arm extended over his head with the index finger pointing up. As he lowered his arm and pointed at the theramin rod it emitted a high pitched oscillating sound that Bonamassa began duplicating on his guitar as he walked away and began playing and singing “Well I just got paid today, got a pocket full of change…” Bonamassa and the band cooked the auditorium with their 10 minute jam that even included a short segment of another Bonamassa influence, when he segued into Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” for a brief interlude. At the songs conclusion, Bonamassa called out the names of the members of his band as they locked arms at the foot of the stage and took a bow, before turning and going back stage as the auditorium lights came on, to thunderous applause.

 

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Joe Bonamassa Interview December 4, 2011

By: Bob Gersztyn

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Joe Bonamassa is one of the hottest blues/rock guitaritst/singer/songwriters on the scene today. Since his debut in 2000 Bonamassa has come a long ways, through relentless touring and by releasing 17 albums. As a child prodigy he was opening shows for B. B. King at the age of 12 and has recently graced the covers of Guitar Player and Blues Review as the leading generation X blues axe man of the 21st century. Billboard Magazine called him the #1 Blues Artist of 2010 and in 2011 he released Dust Bowl, which was recorded in Santorini, Greece. Blueswax contributing editor, Bob Gersztyn caught up with Joe in between gigs during his final U.S. appearances, prior to the holidays and a tour of Europe the first half of 2012. They talked about the new album and some of the influences that have impacted Joe thus far.

 

Bob Gersztyn: How did you decide on the mix of songs that you used for Dust Bowl?

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Joe Bonamassa: On a lot of these things you start out with a concept, and then sometimes you kind of bail on them as the record kind of shapes up and the thing is more so than anything we had a chance to record with Vince Gill and John Hiatt and I think some of the songs took shape because of that opportunity. There is no master plan with a chalk board room where you decide these concepts. It’s a weird thing when all of a sudden in the context of a “blues album,” and it’s a pretty liberal use of the term blues, it’s not a straight ahead blues record by any means. There’s Beth Hart, John Hiatt, Vince Gill and Glen Hughes on the same record, but it all seems to kind of work, as we kept going, finding songs, or I would write something, and it just kind of went from there.

 

Bob: “Tennessee Plates” is a John Hiatt (Dave Porter) composition and it’s not the first time you’ve covered John Hiatt (“I Know A Place” on Black Rock), what is it that you like about his songs?

 

Joe: There’s something about the lyrics that he writes that are really deep. He’s like the ultimate I wish I thought of that, and then you are saying wow, what a great song, what a great concept, what a great lyric, man I wish that I had thought of that. John’s a super nice guy and he just came to the Beacon theater. We did 2 nights at the Beacon theater, and we recorded it, in New York. We invited 3 guests to come and one was John, and the other was Beth Hart and then the great Paul Rogers. So at the end John came out and we did “I Know A Place” from Black Rock, and then he did one of his new songs, from his new record with the 4 of us. It’s called Down And Around My Place. If you listen to the lyrics of it, it’s like poetry, it’s on the level of like Leonard Cohen, because it’s just poetry set to music, and it’s wonderful. I have an affinity for John Hiatt songs, and I’m not the only one, his stuff has been by everybody, and rightfully so, because it’s just a wonderful wealth of American music. John is great, he’s a total legend and a total star, and I was really honored to work with him on the album and DVD.

 

Bob: Yeah, John really is a poet. I’ve seen him perform a couple of times. He was at the Waterfront Blues Festival a few years ago with the North Mississippi All Stars backing him up.

 

Joe: John is like a troubadour. He could be with the North Mississippi All Stars or have his own killer band, or does acoustic shows with Lyle Lovett. It’s just like himself and Lyle Lovett, and everything works. It just all works.

 

Bob: Another question I had was about train imagery in songs. The first song on Dust Bowl is Why are trains in the imagery of so many songs? From “500 Miles” and “Casey Jones” to Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming and a plethora of other blues and folk songs?

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Joe: To put it in the context of our world, Kevin (Shirley) came in one day, when we were in the studio and he said, “you know Joe, you need a song about a train, all blues artists have songs about trains. So pick a key and let’s just start a song, a vamp, but we’ll start it like a freight train would start, so slow, and then slowly get going.” And that’s how the whole thing started and lyrically, I put the lyrics on afterwards. This may sound cliché’s but I just kind of like wanted to write my train song. It was more kind of like tongue and cheek. “You call yourself blues Bonamassa, but you don’t have a song about a train. No self respecting blues man would play the blues without having a song about a train, and it’s a real star, live, it comes off like the Jeff Beck Group, and that’s what it kind of sounds like to me, early Jeff Beck group stuff, and that’s cool. It think that it’s a really cool song and I knew as soon as it went down in the studio in one take that it was a real star, and we’ll be playing this live, until nobody wants to come see me anymore.

 

Bob: And then the next song, “Dust Bowl” continues with that chugging train sound.

 

Joe: That was like the spaghetti western. So it was a one, two punch where we had to check off two of the things, a spaghetti western and a song about a train. It was little Duane Eddy king of stuff.

 

Bob: The title Dust Bowl immediately brought to my mind John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Have you ever read it?

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Joe: That was kind of the whole concept of it. It was the Steinbeck reference of it and the other thing was, how sometimes you get into your own little world and you feel like you’re in this pressure cooker where there is a constant tornado. I was feeling that way when I was writing, because I was really under the gun to write and produce some stuff, and I looked outside the windows of the studio and it was like a dust storm, like the wind had kicked up, because it was very arid, where we were recording in Santorini, Greece and it was a dust bowl.

 

Bob: While you were in Greece did you visit Athens and the Parthenon?

 

Joe: Santorini is an island about an hour flight off the coast of Greece, but I’ve played in Athens several times and it’s a fantastic gig and we had really great fans there, just smoking. So that was cool, but I have not seen the Parthenon, other than flying over it when we were arriving. I really wanted to, but on show dates you’re really under the gun. But Santorini is where the lost city of Atlantis is supposed to have been before the volcano took it out.

 

Bob: That’s even better than the Parthenon. Your popularity and that of the blues, in Greece and other parts of the world is phenomenal. I mean there are blues bands in Poland and Australia and it’s crazy the way it’s spread around the world.

 

Joe: It really is a universal language, because when you start a slow blues song in any country in the world, people cheer. You know what I mean? It’s such a universal language. It’s just one of those things where you just go, my god, you know? We do a song called “Blues Deluxe” and I can start that in Moscow, and they go, “oh cool,” or you can start it in Phoenix, which is where I’m at now, and they go “oh cool.” It’s like the difference in climates and cultures are from the American Southwest to the capitol of Russia, and for some reason that kind of music speaks to everybody on some kind of level, and it’s no different when you play Greece or Turkey or Israel or Australia or India. It’s that kind of thing. It’s a very cool thing, overall.

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Bob: It is amazing the way that blues has traveled around the world. I met someone who had a blues band in Paris a few years ago. With the worldwide impact that the blues has had, how would you describe what the blues is to a musical novice?

 

Joe: Blues has a different definition to a lot of different people. I can tell you what my definition is it’s everything from Zeppelin to the late great Hubert Sumlin. I just got a text before I called you. I guess Hubert died today or something.

 

Bob: He did?

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Joe: It’s even on my website now. He was a sweetheart too. I guess it was heart failure, but it’s now just starting to come out.

 

Bob: I just saw B. B. King a couple of weeks ago and I can’t believe that he’s still playing.

 

Joe: Plus he’s 86 now, right?

 

Bob: Yeah, he just had his birthday about a month ago.

 

Joe: He’ll never stop! There are 2 constants in this world, that the sun will rise and B. B. King will do a gig.

 

Bob: You called B. B. King the possible connecting point between blues and rock. Why?

 

Joe: He is mutually agreed upon that not only is he the king of the blues but he defines the genre. I hear B. B. King in Iron Maiden songs. I hear B. B. King in Zeppelin songs. I hear B. B. King in all kinds of music. Kanye West with some of that stuff that is more bluesy. Moby, I mean like that guy. I think that he sampled some of B. B’s singing, and it’s a connecting point because, it’s like one of those things you know that if you don’t feel B. B. King, then chances are the blues are not for you. If you listen to live at the Regal, and you go this doesn’t do it for me, then chances are, the genre of the blues isn’t your bag. Which is fine, but I think to me it’s like when you ask anyone about B. B. King, whether they play heavy metal music or they’re a rapper or a straight up hard rock guitar player, they go, yeah, B. B. King, he’s the king, and it’s mutually agreed upon, and everyone has listened to a B. B. King song and has gotten something from it. That’s my theory.

 

Bob: Taking guitar players, and since you already named B. B. King, who are your all time top 3 guitar players of any genre and why?

 

Joe: Of any genre? The 2 Eric’s, Eric Johnson, Eric Clapton and probably B. B. King. Those are probably the guys that I look up to the most, as far as their careers and the music and just the way that they carry themselves. One of my favorite guitar players of all time is Jeff Beck and Paul Kossoff and Peter Green and Rory Gallagher. I met Jeff a couple of times and he was super cool. I wasn’t alive when Paul Kossoff was alive and I never got to meet Rory Gallagher, but I respect their music to the umpteenth degree. Fantastic! I have so many guitar players that I look up to, but those are probably the ones that come up in conversation the most.

 

Bob: You named Jeff Beck and I read how you were influenced by Rod Stewart’s first solo album from 1969, after he and Ron Wood left the Jeff Beck Group to join the then Small Faces. An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down is a great album – I saw Stewart perform it with the Faces in 1970.

 

Joe: It was essentially the Jeff Beck group, sans Jeff Beck, with Ronnie Wood playing guitar and Mick Waller and I think it was Ronnie Lane playing bass. It was very incestuous.

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Bob: Okay, but exactly how did Rod Stewart influence you? I once read an interview with Rod Stewart where he said that he modeled his singing style after Sam Cooke.

 

Joe: Yeah, and you can hear a lot of that, well one of Rod’s biggest songs was “Having A Party.” Rod Stewart’s music, just in general, take the voice off the table for just a second, just the way he was able to do the heavy blues rock, but with the acoustic element in it. So that acoustic guitar was very strong so he was very organic, almost an Americana feel to it, but it was all these British guys doing it. And then when he sang it was just unbelievable, I mean he had just had such a soaring soulful voice. It’s like listen to “Let Me Love You Baby,” from the “Jeff Beck Group” or “Old Man River.” Serious stuff. Serious stuff.

 

Bob: Who are some of your other influences for songwriting and performing besides the people you’ve already named?

 

Joe: I think that Warren Haynes is a big influence on me, songwriting wise, singing wise. I think Paul Rogers is a big influence on me, singing wise, songwriting obviously. I think Chris Whitley is another one, the late great Chris Whitley and I even get into guys like Harry Connick Jr. who made a couple of records that were really New Orleans based. Some of his jazz, big band stuff, and just the way that he puts melodies together, and lyrics and stuff like that. Really cool stuff. I’m an equal opportunity thief. I’ll take a good idea from anybody.

 

Bob: How would you describe your approach to playing guitar philosophically, emotionally and technically?

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Joe: I don’t really know. At this point, I just pick up the thing and play. I just pick it up and play. My theory is I give 100% of whatever percentage that I have. If I’m not feeling great and I’m going out there with 60%, then I’ll give 100% of the 60%. And that’s my philosophy as I play. There’s some night’s when we’re out for 10 ½ almost 11 weeks, here, and your hands are tired, everything is tired, your voice is tired, but you give 100% of it, and people will understand if you make a bad note, or your voice squeaks once or a couple of times during the gig. When they see you’re giving it your all, in some ways make people actually think it’s cool, then if it’s just a gig by numbers. Like you make it look too easy. Some of the gigs that I think go really well, like I feel like I’m playing really well and singing and people say, yeah it was okay. Then other nights where I think that I was like struggling a little bit, are the one’s that mean the most to people, and you’re going, I just don’t get it. I start thinking of it from the pundits point of view, well you know what? They can see, they can sense the struggle and they can see that you’re fighting a little bit, but you’re giving it your all. That kind of is more endearing than not breaking a sweat. That’s kind of like my theory.

 

Bob: Before we conclude the interview I wanted to ask you if Vince Gill brought Amy (Amy Grant, Gospel music Hall of Fame superstar spouse) along?

 

Joe: No he did not. She had to watch the kids.

 

Bob: That would be interesting to have her on the album too.

 

Joe: Yeah, she’s great. What a singer she is. It’s a talented family. It’s a very talented family.

 

My last question is, why do you feel that it is important for the legacy of the blues to be taught to future generations?

 

Joe: At the end of the day, for me, it’s 60%, going if you don’t teach the next generation about this music, will there still be a genre? Will there still be people playing it in a hundred years? That’s like 60% of my concern. Then on the other hand, in terms of our situation, if we don’t have new fans coming to the gigs, 20 or 30 years from now, will we be able to do gigs? And you have to kind of cultivate that now. You have to start early and go into schools or do these public service announcements or whatever and just go, hey listen kids, everyone likes Led Zeppelin. Everyone knows “Whole Lotta Love,” but do you know who Willie Dixon is and do you know who Robert Johnson is? Do you know where it all came from? Basically you kind of get in the door using something that they know, and then kind of plant the seed, hey there’s a lot more where that came from. It’s just a web. It opens up the world of this kind of music to a kid. Not all of them are interested and some people frankly could care less, but the ones that are interested that need just kind of a push, you know? Those are the ones that are going to make up the generation of fans that are going to come to gigs for the next 20, 30 40 years, and that’s important.

 

Bob: Okay, we’re all done. Are you playing tonight in Pheonix?

 

Joe: No, no, we’re off tonight. We’re doing 2 nights at the Orpheum Theater, here in Pheonix, and it’s great, both shows are sold out. I remember starting here in a little dive bar, called the Mason Jar, with like 3 people, but that was a decade ago.

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Election Similarities

1 Apr

Election Similarities

By: Bob Gersztyn

. The 2016 presidential election campaign, is in full swing and many feel that it is the craziest election, ever. With Donald Trump pushing every hot button that he can find, from allowing non atomic nations to protect themselves by having nuclear weapons and forcing Mexico to pay for a wall at the U.S. border to Bernie Sanders promising everything free, through taxation, in an expanded manifestation of socialism, it seems a stark choice. Then there is Hilary Clinton, who may or may not be indicted for violating security laws concerning emailing top secret documents on her private server. Watching the Republican debates with 17 candidates to begin with became a reality TV show that resulted in the most watched television debates in television history.

If you live long enough and remember what happened as the years proceeded, you have a vast resource to draw on, and you can actually see history repeat itself, maybe not in every detail, but in enough areas to see some similarity. Back in 1968, on March 31, president Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) announced that he would not seek re-election, even though he was eligible for another 4 year term. So George McGovern and Robert Kennedy became the primary candidates, until Robert Kennedy was assassinated on June 5 and died the next day after winning the California primary.

At the same time Alabama governor George Wallace ran on the American Independent Party ticket, as an independent using segregation as his platform, in an attempt to reverse civil rights. He talked about many of the same issues that Trump uses today, like pulling troops out of Europe unless they pay more for our presence. His vice presidential running mate, retired air force general Curtis LeMay wanted to use nuclear weapons to end the war in Vietnam. He was even more controversial than Trump.

Then the entire Democrat party self destructed when the convention in Chicago was attended by an army of protesters comprised of Hippies, Yippies, Black Panthers and anti war advocates. Mayor Richard Daly, unleashed the Chicago police department on the protesters with orders to terrify, hurt and arrest as many of them as they could. All the above added up to victory for the Republican party candidate Richard Nixon, who defeated vice president Hubert Humphrey in November.

The difference between then and now is that the craziness is by the candidates themselves, because even if the Republicans self destruct, the Democrats have their own issues. Back in the 1960’s millions of young men were drafted into the army and many of them were shipped over to Vietnam, where 50,000 of them died trying to defeat the Communists of North Vietnam. Today we’re involved in an entirely different kind of war and with all the candidate craziness, there is a chance that we will elect the closest thing to a real Communist that has ever had a chance of being President. Capitalism and Communism have morphed into a brand of Socialism that is completely acceptable to many U.S. citizens, which may determine who our next President is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fga6ZkKr8r8

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