OLDIES BUT GOODIES
Debbie Kruger defiantly comes our and pays homage to that derided group, the dinosaurs of rock
Groups such as the Eagles, Chicago and Crosby Stills & Nash sold millions of records here in their heydey the Eagles still do but devotion to them now is considered very unfashionable. Rock music snobbery is rife in Australia as the music press and their disciples scorn so-called "dinosaur" bands, and their fans, too.
But while they may have their blinkers on, my Byron Bay radio program attracts many callers endorsing my unashamed American 60s-70s music bias, and big city FM radio thrives on classic rock.
It's different in the US, of course. There I fit in very nicely, as a recent visit confirmed. In San Francisco, for instance, I walked into Borders Books & Music and found Roger McGuinn, founder of seminal 60s group the Byrds, doing an in-store appearance to promote his latest CD. He was just as personable away from the microphone as behind it. We exchanged business cards. "I want to come to Australia," he said. "Can you help?" (McGuinn comes to Australia in April to perform at the East Coast Blues & Roots Festival in Byron Bay as well as in Sydney and Melbourne.)
The ghosts of groups such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane wafted in the San Francisco air. A Summer of love 30th Anniversary Celebration concert in Golden Gate Park drew some 30,000 people to relive the original experience. The event was short on authenticity Jefferson Airlplane without Grace Slick, Country Joe without the Fish. Sons of Champlin played a fabulous set, but my interest in them was because their leader, Bill Champlin, is also a member of the group Chicago.
Ah, Chicago. Much derided, much misunderstood. Try explaining that Chicago had a body of politically edged, musical experimental work long before "If You Leave Me Now." Every time I visit Los Angeles, Chicago is playing. They tour year-round, ending up at the Greek Theater every autumn. Here they were again, sounding bold and brassy. Really. I even drove out to Las Vegas a week later at the invitation of Chicago's fan club president to watch the band perform at Caesar's Palace. Well, why not? The last time they played in Australia was 1979.
The Eagles visited Australia in 1995 with their Hell Freezes Over tour, selling around 100,000 tickets, much to the distaste of the local media who covered it begrudgingly. In the US, the Eagles were the top-grossing touring act in 1994 and 1995. Last year the hot ticket was Fleetwood Mac's The Dance, the reunion tour featuring Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. But it won't be coming to Australia, as the group has disbanded again, so the dinosaur slayers can relax.
In Los Angeles I made a pilgrimage to Doug Weston's Troubadour, where the Byrds first jingle-jangled and Linda Ronstadt once put together a backing band who went on the become the Eagles. The Troubadour is so legendary there is no need to even say its name in full. Its manager answers all calls abruptly: 'Troub! Lance!"
These days the Troub mainly hosts heavy rock acts, but I chose a night when a gentle Joni Mitchell-esque singer from the UK, Julia Fordham, was strumming her stuff. I couldn't exactly close my eyes and pretend it was Linda, or Joni for that matter, but I could imagine was it once was like.
I hooked up with rock photographer Henry Diltz, himself a musical veteran of the Troub. His group, the Modern Folk Quartet, still records now and then. But Diltz's fame is more due to the album covers he has shot, from the first Crosby Stills & Nash album to the Doors' Morrison Hotel, the Eagles' Desperado, and many others.
Diltz asked me to meet him one afternoon outside the Guitar Center on Sunset, where Stephen Stills was being inducted into the RockWalk of Fame. Diltz and Stills are lifelong friends; Stills even named his youngest child Henry. With a laminate and free access, I was in a great position to take pictures of Bruce Willis introducing Stills, and of Stills sticking his hands in a tray of cement. Later, Stills' publicist gave me a few minutes with the star. "Where is Byron Bay?" Stills asked. "Then, "Oh! Cool! We want to come and play there. We want to come to Australia and play every nook and cranny. Can you help?"
The following week Crosby Stills & Nash played an electrifying concert at the Universal Amphitheatre. Their musical excellence, after 28 years, amazed me. Joe Walsh and Tom Petty joined Stills onstage for some serious guitar-hero stuff. If Stills is a hero, David Crosby is a miracle of life, having defied death repeatedly through years of deterioration due to drug abuse; "Croz" is a zombie who sings like an angel. Graham Nash is a miracle of endurance he was having hits with the Hollies while I was still in nappies and his stage presence is pure exuberance.
Crosby and Nash spent much of their time onstage declaring their love for each other, and later, backstage, Nash took the time to chat and sign autographs for scores of fans. Diltz took my picture with Nash and I was rapt.
"Graham is the nicest guy in the music business," I was told a few days later by J. D. Souther, a rather more enigmatic figure, a songwriter/performer who influenced much of the LA country-rock scene in the 70s. Souther likes to be "elusive and hard to find." I found him open and talkative, but his low profile is deliberate and contracts with the obvious popularity of his good pals and fellow Troubadour alumni Don Henley and Jackson Browne.
Browne must be a close second to Nash for the nicest-guy award. Through a student friend I heard about an appearance he was making at a UCLA volleyball match. Volleyball? Sure. After the evening game, the Hamilton High School choir would sing. Browne, it turns out, participates in a mentor program, advising the choir's director, and he offered to perform with them. I bought my $5 ticket and endured a three-hour match. No one expected the game to go on so long, least of all Browne, who wandered around behind the court stifling yawns.
I approached him to say "hi". We had met nine months earlier in Brisbane, and he remembered. "What are you doing here?" he asked, genuinely surprised, as the vollyball match dragged on. Fitting in very nicely, thanks, I said to myself.