Monday, January 5, 2009

Blues Musician & Ohio Players Founder Robert Ward Passes Away

Blues singer and guitarist Robert Ward, who was also a founding member of the Ohio Players, passed away back on Christmas Day at the age of 70. His wife, Roberta, said he had suffered a stroke in 2001 and had never fully recovered.

Ward first played guitar at the age of 10 in rural Georgia and, after a stint in the Army in the mid-50's, formed the Brassettes who opened for artists like James Brown. While he gained great experience on the road, he wanted more and soon moved to Dayton, Ohio where he formed the Ohio Untouchables.

The group played area clubs for two years until 1962 when they signed with Lupine Records of Detroit. At Lupine, they started by playing backup for a young Wilson Pickett and the Falcons, including their 1962 top ten R&B hit, I Found a Love. The group eventually cut three singles, none of which went national. This led to a few years of them bouncing between small labels with no success on the charts.

Ward left the group in 1965, three years before they would change their names to the Ohio Players and record Trepassin', the first of their 29 records to reach the charts. His first stop as a solo artist was with Grove City Records where he recorded Fear No Evil and My Love is Strictly Reserved for You, two songs that had little impact upon release but have gone on to be recognized and admired by soul aficionados.

During the 70's, Ward became a session guitarist at Motown, playing behind some of the biggest artists on their roster but, after the death of his wife in the late-70's, he disappeared from the music scene.

In 1990, a long forgotten Ward met Dave Hussong, a guitar shop owner in Dayton, who hooked him up with Hammond Scott of Black Top Records. The results were two critically acclaimed albums, Fear No Evil and Rhythm of the People. Ward's final album, New Role Soul, was released in 2000.


Music retailers gird for one last spin

By Rita Savard -- Lowell Sun (Massachusetts)

Spinning carbon black.

When the needle hits the record it takes Mike Dreese back. Back to 1978. Back to flipping burgers at McDonald's and hawking at comic book conventions. Back to the birth of punk rock and the birth of an independent record/comic store on Newbury Street in Boston.

Dreese, the co-founder of Newbury Comics, prefers listening to records. It takes more time than scanning tracks on an iPod. It reminds him to slow down and think of the world around him.

"It's a different experience," he says. "A difference in the quality of sound, and in the way you hear the music."

But a lot has changed in music retail since Dreese opened his first store in a converted studio apartment more than 30 years ago. Sales of recorded music continued to fall sharply in 2008 as more consumers turned to digital downloads, according to data from Nielsen SoundScan, a service that tracks point-of-purchase music sales.

Gone are the days of audiophiles gathering to mine bins of music for hidden gems. Now they mine the Internet for a la carte downloads.

Virgin. Musicland. Sam Goody. Strawberries. All relics of the past, swallowed up by the age of the iPod. Newbury Comics' 28 stores, along with retailer FYE, remain one of the last music retailers.

"Music retail has largely ceased to exist already" Dreese says. "I'd say there's probably no more than two to three years left because of the way demand has changed."

In 2008, total album sales in the United States, including CDs and full-album downloads, were 428 million, a 14 percent drop from 2007, reports SoundScan. Since the industry's peak in 2000, album sales have declined 45 percent, while digital purchases grow rapidly.

More than one billion songs were downloaded last year, a 27 percent increase from 2007. Some record companies say they are finally beginning to turn significant profits from music on Web sites like YouTube and MySpace.

So how does the owner of a music store stay in business when "most people younger than 25 have little interest in buying albums?"

Just walk into your local Newbury Comics in Nashua or Burlington and look at the walls. They're loaded with pop-culture for sale. Everything from Barack Obama action figures and T-shirts, to lunch boxes and talking key chains. Kitsch sells and kids are buying. Need a plastic yard penguin or a leg lamp night light? Look no farther.

In recent years, the sales of pop culture merchandise has commanded better margins than music sales, and Newbury's Web operation is fully profitable. But even for a business mogul like Dreese, the flip side of the times forecasts inevitable trouble down the road.

Industry experts project that the steady decline in in-store sales will lead to inventory reductions at retail stores. Big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy account for up to 65 percent of all retail purchases, and many of those stores are sharply reducing the floor space allotted to music.

"There's no doubt we'll eventually be closing stores too," Dreese said.

Although, he isn't singing a swan song just yet. Last summer, Newbury Comics opened two stores, one in Faneuil Hall, a larger space to replace the former store in Boston's Government Center, and a Norwood superstore in a former Boch Kia dealership, complete with a coffee bar, movable stage and Wi-Fi.

CD releases are no longer driving teens -- the biggest consumers of music -- into the store on a Tuesday, but Dreese believes superstore model is one for the future.

"The consumer still has a thirst for this stuff, so they will drive to a destination store if it's worth their while," Dreese said.

The comeback of vinyl has helped.

Last year, 1.88 million vinyl albums were purchased, more than in any other year since SoundScan began tracking LP -- that's long playing record -- sales in 1991. In contrast, CD sales plummeted over the past three years, from 553.4 million in 2006 to 360.6 million in 2008. MP3 sales grew from 32.6 million to 65.8 million during the same time period.

"Records are just a cool thing to collect," said Joshua Birch, 16, of Nashua, who was eyeing Radio Head's In Rainbows on vinyl. "And they sound way better than an MP3."

The uptick in vinyl is music to Dreese's ears, because a world where the brick-and-mortar music store ceases to exist sounds a bit empty.

"It's a social experience for kids to interact with people that may not be like them," Dreese said. "When you walk into a music store, you're hearing things that you don't get to choose. Maybe that causes you to think a little bit more about the world around you."

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

Copyright 2009 MediaNews Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Reprinted by permission


Classic Rock Videos

The Monkees- Valleri

Rock & Roll Tidbits

I am starting a new feature, each day I will post ten "odd and whacky" facts about rock & roll songs and artists. Let's have some fun with it :O)

The night before their recording session, The Kingsmen played a 90-minute version of "Louie Louie" during a gig at a local teen club. Once they got into the studio, the song was recorded in one take.

Courtney Love of the band Hole gained the distinction of being the first AOL subscriber to have her e-mail account shut down, mainly for the death threats she posted against people she thought deserved them.

Eagles' bassist Timothy B. Schmit sang backing vocals on Firefall's 1977 hit, "Just Remember I Love You".

Anne Murray's 1969 hit "Snowbird" was released as the "B" side of a 45 RPM single, with a song called "Bidin' My Time" as the "A" side. A radio station in the Eastern United States flipped it over and "Snowbird" caught on. Record sales soon topped one million copies, marking the first time in history that an American gold record was awarded to a solo Canadian female.

Although singer / songwriter Harry Nilsson placed eight songs on Billboard's Top 40 chart, including the Grammy Award winning, million seller "Everybody's Talkin'", he disliked performing in public so much that he seldom appeared in concert and rarely made televised appearances.

While Elvis only recorded twenty Christmas songs, his holiday albums have sold more than twenty-five million copies in the US alone.

Scotland's hard-rock group Nazareth recorded a tune called "Love Hurts" as a B-side filler, never intending it to be a hit. Record buyers felt differently and the single rose to number 8 in the US and number 15 in the UK. One count revealed that over 42 different artists have recorded the song, including The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison.

Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock" entered the Billboard Pop chart only two days before Christmas in 1957, but still managed to climb to number 6 during a six week stay.

Elvis Presley's 1957 LP "Elvis' Christmas Album" is the top selling holiday release of all time, racking up over nine million in sales.

The chords and structure of Tommy James' 1967 Billboard #10 single, "Mirage", were actually the chords to his previous hit, "I Think We're Alone Now" in reverse, created when it was accidentally played backwards during a writing session.

A Man Who Sees What Others Hear

Just found this online, a rather old article from the New York Times. Nonetheless, I thought it would be an interesting read, I was sure curious about it. Amazing stuff!

November 19, 1981

A Man Who Sees What Others Hear


Some talents elevate humankind. Others are sublime in their very pointlessness. An example of the latter is Dr. Arthur B. Lintgen and his astonishing ability to "read" musical recordings.

Before an audience in the auditorium of Abington Hospital, near Philadelphia, two weeks ago, Stimson Carrow, professor of music theory at Temple University, handed Dr. Lintgen a succession of 20 long-playing records chosen by Mr. Carrow and 10 of his graduate students. All identifying labels and matrix numbers were covered over, but Dr. Lintgen, simply by taking the records in his hands and examining their groove patterns in a normal light, identified the piece and the composer in 20 cases out of 20.

The event was arranged and filmed by the ABC-TV program "That's Incredible," which plans to air the segment early next month. Mr. Carrow had "never heard of Dr. Lintgen" before ABC called and asked him to administer the test. "We chose mainstream music - the Beethoven Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' by Strauss, the Tchaikovsky 'Nutcracker' - things the audience could relate to. Not only could he do it, he could recognize some of them 15 feet across the room."

In the Grooves

ABC's test was child's play next to the one witnessed by this writer in the doctor's suburban home in Rydal, Pa., a year and a half ago. It took place In the presence of Patricia Prattis and Marna Street, two reputable musicians occupying principal chairs in major American orchestras - both of whom had heard of Dr. Lintgen through a colleague treated in his hospital. Dr. Lintgen sat in his easy chair under an ordinary bridge lamp and identified, within 15 to 30 seconds and using only the record surfaces as a reference, the Bruckner Fourth Symphony, Rachmaninoff's "The Bells," Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony, Orff's "Carmina Burana" and the Saint-Saens "Organ" Symphony. For his piece de resistance, Dr. Lintgen spotted the Strauss "Alpine" Symphony, adding with pride - and astonishing correctness - that Strauss was conducting.

Dr. Lintgen's abilities do not include ESP or X-ray vision. Nor has he acquired his talent through hard work, study or memorization. A phone call to his home last Sunday was delayed for a few moments while he turned down the volume on his new recording of the Vaughan Williams Seventh Symphony. Then he explained, "I was at a party five years ago and friends of mine said, 'You know so much about music, I'll bet you can read the grooves of records.' I said I bet I could too - and I did, without any prior idea it was possible."

How does he do it? All is explainable - up to a point. First, Dr. Lintgen is a dedicated audiophile with an extensive knowledge of the record catalogue past and present. He can identify only music that he knows, and he guarantees a high rate of success only in orchestral music ranging from Beethoven to the present. Earlier music has a less demonstrable contrast of dynamics, he says, and chamber and solo instrumental music create erratic patterns to the eye. He also prefers newer recordings to the narrower sonic range of early LPs. "I get a lot of these right," he said. "But I'm much surer within my own limits." This range excludes excerpts or suite arrangements, because the length, structuring and order of different movements are part of the doctor's deductive processes. "I have a knowledge of musical structure and of the literature," he said. "And I can correlate this structure with what I see. Loud passages reflect light differently. In the grossest terms, they look silvery. Record companies spread the grooves in forte passages; they have a more jagged, saw-tooth look. Soft passages look blacker.

"I also know how the pressings of different labels look, so I can often figure out who is conducting." Given a Haydn symphony in the earlier test -a composer outside his ground rules -Dr. Lintgen noted the four-movement spacing, the A-B-A pattern in the minuet movement and the slow introduction at the beginning, and correctly identified the composer.

'I Don't Know How I Do It'

Yet his exactitude elsewhere as to composer and specific work (his colleagues swear he recognized Messiaen's "Turangalila" at a glance) defies mere processes of elimination. "Friends of mine with more scientific and musical knowledge than I have tried it unsuccessfully," he said. "I don't know how I do it. I have terrible eyesight."

Dr. Lintgen, who is 40, stresses that he is a happily committed man of medicine and views his strange sideline with mild amusement and nothing more. In the ABC test to be seen on "That's Incredible," he deferred two identifications until the end. One was a "Swan Lake" suite. "Tchaikovsky never made a suite of it, but I finally figured it out," he said. "With the other, I couldn't decide whether it was Schuman's 'New England Tryptich' or Ives's 'Three Places in New England.' It was Ives."

Music history has reported mysterious gifts in the past - Brahms, in concert, transposing into seven sharps to compensate for an out-of-tune piano, Liszt reducing the full score of Grieg's Piano Concerto to two hands at sight. Dr. Lintgen's talents perhaps serve music less nobly, if at all; but it is a gift almost Mozartean in its graceful infallibility, which allows a man to discern a New England landscape in the grooves of a long-playing record.

Top 5 eBay Vinyl Record Sales

Week Ending 01/03/2009

1. 45rpm - The Fingers "Isolation" / "Wanna Go" "Work It Out" Paradox - $4,895.00 - Start: $3,000.00 - Bids: 6

2. LP - Led Zeppelin "IV" UK 1st Press w/ label errors - $3,175.23 - Start: $122.00 - Bids: 18

3. 45rpm - The Fix "Vengence" / "In This Town" Go Rekords - $3,150.00 - Start: $1,000.00 - Bids: 13

4. LP - Damon "Song Of A Gypsy" Private - $2,999.00 - Start: $9.99 - Bids: 23

5. 45rpm - Olivia Newton-John "Mon Amour, Mon Impossible Amour" / "Home Ain't Home Anymore" EMI French Picture Sleeve - $2,550.00 - Start: $9.99 - Bids: 21

A rare punk 45 by The Fingers gets the #1 spot, bidding up to almost $4.9k. Next, a UK first press of the Zoso album, repleat with label errors, sells for close to $3.2k.

Another punk 45 gets the #3 spot. This one by The Fix goes halfway past $3.1k. A private press Psych LP from Damon bids up to one dollar less than $3k. And last, something that may be a sign of the apocalypse, or at least a breach of space and time, an Olivia Newton-John 45 makes the list. This 45 with picture sleeve was released in France, and contains "I Honestly Love You" sung in French. It sold for halfway over $2.5k.

As always, I want to thank Brian over at for this great data!

Revived 45 heads for 60th birthday

By Robert Plummer
Business reporter, BBC News

Sales of the vinyl single are now back up above the million mark in the UK

As the production line grinds to its own industrial beat, it's clear that music formats don't get any more physical than this.

Downloads and iPods are all very well, but for many musicians, your latest song just hasn't been released until it's been forced on to a small, grooved plastic disc at a pressure of more than 2,000 lb per square inch.

The Wombats and Franz Ferdinand are among the artists whose seven-inch vinyl records are being sleeved and boxed at the Portalspace factory in Hayes, on the edge of west London.

The first vinyl single, 60 years on

As it happens, they are the latest in a venerable tradition.

The 45 rpm single is about to reach its 60th anniversary and despite repeated predictions of its demise, sales are rising once again.

"Have a feel of that," says a passing engineer, handing over a white vinyl off-cut that has just been trimmed from the edge of a newly-manufactured disc.

It is warm to the touch - literally hot off the presses.

"That'll warm you up on a cold day," he says. "And we can recycle that and use it again."

Hue and cry

Most people think of records as being made of black plastic, but it turns out that coloured vinyl is as old as the seven-inch single itself.

The first 45 rpm disc, Texarkana Baby by country-and-western singer Eddy Arnold, was issued by RCA in the US on 31 March 1949.

It was made of green vinyl, as part of an early attempt to colour-code singles according to the genre of music they featured. Others included red for classical music and yellow for children's songs.

But such novelty features were left behind when the advent of rock and pop turned the 45 into the music industry's most prized product.

Seven-inch sales peaked in the UK in 1979, when a staggering 89 million of them were sold, but once the CD hit the market, vinyl of all kinds went into sharp decline. In 2001, annual singles sales dipped below 180,000.

The Portalspace factory has experienced both the highs and the lows of the single's history. It used to be EMI's main manufacturing site, churning out million-sellers by the Beatles and Queen, among others.

At its zenith, it employed 14,000 people, but EMI sold off the factory in 2000 when it decided to get out of the vinyl business. Now Portalspace has just 30 employees on much smaller premises.

Roy Matthews, who used to run the factory for EMI and is now Portalspace's general manager, says production of the seven-inch format dwindled to "almost nothing" at one point, but is now healthy again.

"Although we almost pronounced its death eight or nine years ago, it's now revived itself enormously," he says.

That rebound is reflected in UK sales figures for seven-inch discs, which have now risen to more than one million a year, most of them pressed at Portalspace.


But who is actually buying all these singles? According to the British Phonographic Industry, which represents the British music business, a new generation of bands is attracting younger buyers.

The BPI says the "popularity of bands such as Oasis, White Stripes [and] Arctic Monkeys" is reviving sales of the seven-inch, while record companies are also credited with using "innovative" strategies to highlight the format.

In 2007, the White Stripes and their label, XL Recordings, gave away a red vinyl single mounted on the cover of the NME weekly music magazine.

It came in a gatefold sleeve with space to hold the band's commercial release, Icky Thump - a promotion that resulted in the highest sales for a vinyl seven-inch in more than two decades.

Another XL artist, 24-year-old singer-songwriter Jack Penate, is an especially keen fan of the 45, despite the fact that he wasn't even born when the format was in its heyday.

To launch his career, he released a limited-edition single that featured a unique Polaroid photograph stuck to the front of every copy.

As well as making singles, he also collects them and even DJs in clubs using just seven-inch records.

"What I love about seven-inch singles is the sound quality and the warmth, and also that they're physical, and I will keep them forever and I cherish them. They're not throwaway," he says.

"I always feel that if you download music, you rarely listen to it over and over again, whereas most of my singles have been played hundreds of times."

Independent sales

The BPI admits that seven-inch singles may be even more popular than its figures suggest, since they are based on shops that report to the Official UK Charts Company, which compiles the weekly Top 40.

As it acknowledges, many singles are sold through specialist retailers, which do not necessarily have their sales figures canvassed for the charts.

At one such retailer, Rough Trade East in London's Brick Lane area, seven-inch singles are prominently displayed.

The shop's co-owner and manager, Nigel House, says they are an important part of its stock.

"They get people into the shop, buying records," he says.

"Obviously, you make more money selling a CD, but there's nothing like seven-inch singles, especially for the music aficionados.

"They're tactile, they have fantastic sleeves, they sound great, they're concise. Pure pop."

But despite the healthy sales figures, today's vinyl record buyers may be treating their purchases as cult objects, rather than actually playing them.

"A lot of the kids who buy these seven-inches probably don't have record players," says Jack Penate. "I think it's a lot more that they love looking at them.

"For them, it's something from a lost era. Maybe it makes them feel more like a real fan. They've got something physical, instead of MP3s, which are completely 'non' - there's nothing to hold or see."

Singles barred

That lost era took another step further into the past recently, with the demise of one of the most important stockists of old vinyl singles.

Beanos of Croydon, in south London, used to be the biggest second-hand record shop in Europe, with its Singles Bar department boasting copies of virtually every seven-inch to make the charts since their inception in 1952.

But the shop has been struggling to survive for the past two years, and is set to close by March 2009. Beanos has already disposed of its last remaining singles, with only CDs and vinyl LPs still in the racks.

Owner David Lashmar plans to open an indoor market in the same building, but he admits he will miss his 30 years as a dealer in seven-inch 45s.

"Back in the late 1950s, buying a seven-inch single, having it at home, taking it down the youth club and impressing the birds with it was a really important thing to do," he says.

"That was all I could afford. A seven-inch single was pitched dead right. It was an indulgence, but it would give you status."

Those heady days will never return. But for many music lovers, the snap, crackle and pop of vinyl remains very much alive.