By G.H. Harding
MONKEE JAM 2016 — Last weekend fans from all the world celebrated 50 years of The Monkees music and TV show. Monkee Jam 2016 held at the Clarion Empire Hotel in Secaucus, New Jersey was in full swing when fans got a big surprise (thanks to organizer Jodi Ritzen) -Micky Dolenz sent in a pre-recorded Skype introduction for Romeo’s Delight, a Van Halen tribute band led by his brother-in-law Buddy Blanch.
Then later, right before Christian Nesmith and Circe Link’s performance, Michael Nesmith Skyped in to say hi to a roomful of delighted fans. Other special musical guests included Monkee tribute bands, The Drunkees, The Characters, The Blue Meanies and Pepperville. Micky’s talented daughter, Emily Dolenz brought her one of a kind canvas art pieces to the vender’s table. Fans also enjoyed Monkees trivia games, raffles and a massive lobby salute sing-along. This was the third official Monkees Convention, the first was in 2012.
What with the success the group is enjoying with their new Good Times! Collection and their 50th anniversary tour – which by the way is still adding dates, it was a perfect event.
SIRIUS DARNELL — Yesterday, August Darnell, tub-thumping his tremendous play Cherchez La Femme, did three interviews back-to-back at NYC’s SiriusXM headquarters. First up, the always dazzling Sandra Bernhard – her show Sandyland is a half-hour talk show that with Darnell on was almost like a trip back to the 70’s. The two discussed the much-beloved Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band album (which came out in 1976!) and how still today it stills remains as a standard-bearer for the entire dance music/disco music genre. August said that the album still stands today as a personal triumph for him. He said it set a very high bar that he still emulates today. “Every project I do, I always compare it to that first Savannah Band album.” Darnell noted that lead singer Corey Daye will be at his Cherchez show Saturday and would love to see her get up and sing. They closed out the show with a personal Darnell song selection, the theme from the movie Mutiny On The Bounty (1962) scored by Bronislau Kaper. It was a stunning choice and actually (as I was right there!) the perfect closer to the show.
Next up was a DJ stint for the cablenet’s 70’s show (tentatively titled 10 Tropical Treat from the 70’s, where August picked some of his favorite tracks for a much-inspired Guest DJ slot. Starting with “Funky Nassau” from Beginning Of The End (what a great song from 1971) and continuing with “Calypso Breakdown” from Ralph MacDonald, “Deputy of Love,” (produced by Darnell and written by his junior high school buddy Ronnie Rogers) and “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow (who Darnell actually recorded a song with in the 80’s) it was a truly inspired show. He closed out the show with one of his favorites, from Jack Jones, “The Theme From The Love Boat.” Madcap fun for sure; but, Darnell sure knows his way around a playlist. Just amazing.
Finally, August’s last stop was with former-Billboard dance music editor Larry Flick, who is now conducting the absolutely brilliant radio portion for Entertainment Weekly magazine. Flick knows his stuff and the first 10-minutes was spent discussing that first Savannah Band album. Flick asked him about his favorite track from the album “Sunshower,” and Darnell relayed the tale: Stoney (August’s brother) gave him the music and he went to Central Park for inspiration and as it looked as if it might rain, Darnell drew the lyrics from that magical moment between the sun shining and the clouds breaking. I actually listened to the track again later in the day and found the meaning even more important. Brilliant discussion. Darnell also said that the club DJs played an important play in making that first album such a success and gave them a nice shout-out.
All three interviews were nothing short of brilliant. His play closes this Sunday after 4 weeks of performances at La Mama and plans are afoot to re-stager it at another theater …. quickly. My take on it is that it would be perfect for Las Vegas. Stay tuned! Thanks to Darnell’s PR-man David Salidor and Tracey Jordan for the always fun Sirius-access yesterday. Tremendous time!
SAY YES AGAIN — A quarter century after they shared the stage as members of Yes on the Union tour, singer Jon Anderson, guitarist and singer Trevor Rabin and keyboardist Rick Wakeman are coming back together for a run of shows in the fall, an outing billed in an alphabetically democratic fashion as Anderson, Rabin & Wakeman.
As Wakeman has said, “There’s a lot of excitement stirring around news of the collaboration, which he has labeled as the ‘Holy Trinity of Yes’ “ – and it’s something that initially caught them a bit off guard.
“It leaked out, what we were going to do, as things always do,” he says. “But what stunned us all was the response that we got when it leaked out. I mean, all of our individual websites, Facebooks and Twitters and whatever, went absolutely crazy with so much warmth and love and support from the Yes fans everywhere. It really hit us hard, and we realized that what we wanted to do, was perhaps something that an awful lot of people wanted us to do as well. That played a massive part in us getting the tour together and making it happen.”
For the keyboard legend, the opportunity to tour with Anderson and Rabin helps to fill a musical gap that has been missing. “I haven’t had the opportunity to play with a proper band, with Yes or whatever, in America, since 2005,” he notes. “It’s been 11 years, so I’m thrilled to be back doing it again. Because sometimes you wonder as the years go by, Will that ever happen again? American audiences are pretty special, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
The proposed collaboration had been brewing for several years, and Wakeman says that it was the 2015 death of “dear friend” Chris Squire that made them realize that they shouldn’t hold off on pursuing the idea. “I think it hit home to us all, certainly to me, that, ‘Hold on a minute, we’re not immortal,’” he explains. “Anything can happen almost overnight, and if there’s something that you want to do and you feel you have to do, you have to do it. You can’t say, ‘Well, when we’ve got a bit of time, we’ll do that.’ You’ve got to act on it. We all spoke to each other and went, ‘We’ve got to do this.’”
There has been talk of new music as part of the reunion, but Wakeman downplays that a bit, saying that they’re focused on the planning of the tour as their main priority presently. “Trevor, quite rightly, said ‘Hey guys, we’re not going to rush into all of this. This is nuts. It’s going to take us enough hard work to put a great show together.’” he recalls. “Yes, we can send music backwards and forwards and start working on bits and pieces, and maybe if we’ve got a couple of tracks ready to perform onstage or to do whatever, yeah, that would be great. If not, it’s not the end of the world, because we’ve got all of these months of working together and living in each other’s pockets. If we’re going to produce a full album, it’s got to be absolutely a cracking album. It’s got to be fantastic. So we decided not to rush into it, but just to make sure that when we do it, it’s really, really the right thing.”
Wakeman adds that there will be some “new bits and pieces” included. “One of the things that we want to do with the music is look at each of the tracks individually and look at the strengths and highlights of each of the tracks and try to take it to another level,” he says. “We don’t want to do it as it was on the record or indeed, as Yes music has always sort of been played. We want to try and take it to another level. But we’re certainly not taking away all of the elements and the sound that the songs made.”
He also has his own thoughts as far as what he’d like to see on the set lists. “I’d like it to be a real mixture, obviously. I want to see everything from ‘Roundabout’ to ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ thrown in there and maybe ‘Changes,’ one of Trev’s great songs,” he says. “I’d like to see some stuff in there from Fragile and from Going for the One, and there’s a couple of tracks on Tormato I wouldn’t mind seeing thrown in. But one of the difficulties is that we’ve got a plethora of music to choose from. I think the thing will be, How do we balance it out? How do we showcase the Yes music and showcase what we want to do with it? We’ve got two months where we’ll be sorting that all out. I think to some extent, it will start to take its own shape. The difficulty is that we’ve got such a massive choice of what to do.”
Longtime Yes associate Brian Lane, who’s managed Wakeman for the past five years, was an important part of pulling the Anderson/Rabin/Wakeman union together. “I mentioned to him about Jon and Trevor, and Brian said, ‘You’ve got to make this happen,’” Wakeman recalls. “I said, ‘Look, you’ve got such a connection with Yes over the years. … Why don’t you give them a ring and put forward your ideas about how you think it could come together and see what they say?’”
Despite some complications — “You’ve got to get all of the musicians together,” Wakeman notes — the tour is falling into place. Wakeman says they’re still working on who’ll play drums and bass, as well as a secondary guitarist and keyboardist. Those additional members should be announced soon.
“You’ve got to look at all sorts of things,” Wakeman points out. “I know this might sound really daft, but you’ve also got to look at the fact that between Trevor, Jon and myself, our ages total over 200 years. So it’s something that we have to look at very closely to go, ‘Hang on a minute, if we’re going to set about this solid two-month tour, we want to be really fit,’ because if you’re really fit, then you can play to your best and you can be really strong.
“We’re all very aware that we’ve got to make sure that we are really on the ball health-wise and musically and in every sense of the imagination,” he continues. “It is easier when you get older to some extent, because you no longer want to go out clubbing after a show. You don’t want to wander back to the hotel at five in the morning, you know, wondering what your name is. I think you realize that you’ve got to look after yourself a bit, which actually isn’t a bad thing at all. There’s a lot more that has to be taken into consideration.”
If you’re worried Wakeman might downsize his touring setup thanks to new technology, there’s good news. “It will be a pretty big rig,” he says. “The way my rig works, in the simplest terms, is that any instrument can play any other instrument at any time that I want. So I can actually move stuff around without physically moving the keyboards around. It’s quite a complex rig and it’s full of all of the sounds that I’ve created myself.”
Outside of the tour preparations, Wakeman has no shortage of other things going on. “It’s just ludicrously busy, and I like it that way. I work on the principle that if I’m busy, I can’t be dead,” he quips. He’ll release an updated take on his 1975 album The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table on June 19 and perform it live that same day at the O2 Arena in London. Wakeman performed the piece onstage only once before, in 1975.
Problem is, the promoters want a 90-minute show, and the original version is only 38 minutes. “So I revisited it, wrote a load of new material for King Arthur, which we recorded with orchestra, choir, band, everything,” he says. “That’s taken nine months of unbelievable work and a lot of expense, but it’s come together brilliantly and I’m thrilled to bits with it.” Also on tap for Wakeman: a tribute to Stephen Hawking, and a London concert with new meditation music for piano and string orchestra for people with autism.
Like many other musicians, Wakeman was saddened by the death of David Bowie earlier this year, and reveals that their connection went far beyond the studio time that they shared. “I learned really how to work and behave in the studio, thanks to David,” he says. “It’s not really common knowledge that he and I were neighbors for five years. We both lived in Switzerland and we saw each other a lot. Some of the discussions that we had, and the talks we had about music, fashion and art, I loved the man because of his passion for what he did. He believed in music, he believed in art, he believed in fashion and he believed in himself. One of the things that he taught me, he said, “Be your own man.” He said, “By all means, listen to advice and other people, but don’t let other people tell you what to do.”
And you can’t argue the fact that he and Bowie definitely both stuck with that thought process. Wakeman says that ended up being pretty important advice. “I thank him for that, because he said, ‘Stick up for what you believe in,’” he says. “Things like Journey to the Centre of the Earth would never have been done, if I hadn’t stuck up for it. Because apart from my manager, the record company, the agents and all of the people around me said, ‘It won’t work, you can’t do it.’ So it was really thanks to David that I went, ‘No, I can do it!’
“And it wasn’t to do it to prove anybody wrong, although we did prove everybody wrong, it was done because I felt, if it’s going to succeed or fail, it has to do that on my terms,” he concludes. “Not on anybody else’s.”
SHORT TAKES — While Glen Campbell’s performing career was ended by Alzheimer’s, his management tells Billboard that, like many classic artists, he has plenty of unreleased material “in the vaults,” some dating from the 60’s. There’s no word on what or when, but expect some new Campbell releases in the future … The Creedence Clearwater Revival compilation Chronicle has passed the 10-million mark in sales. The legendary band’s most successful album — with more than twice as many copies sold as their signature LP Cosmo’s Factory … Dave Mason, on tour with Journey and The Doobie Brothers, was joined by Journey bassist Ross Valory on “Dear Mr. Fantasy” Wednesday night in Atlanta, and John McFee, John Cowan and Marc Russo from the Doobies came out for “Feelin’ Alright” … Bryan Adams and his longtime writing partner, Jim Vallance, are working on the music for the Broadway musical Pretty Woman, which will open next year … The Rolling Stones have announced their first date following two weekends of Desert Tripin October. They’ll play the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on October 19th … Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits will be released on vinyl on July 29th … Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam releases their album The Queen’s Carnival this August. Miller and his band released the truly inspired re-booty of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” which featured 2013 The Voice semi-finalist Kat Robichaud. I’ve heard the album and it’s a stunner … especially the track “Gorilla.” Stay tuned!