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Best I've Ever Seen

Talking with artists about concerts they'll never forget

Gary Stoller is an award-winning editor, author, and journalist. He's written for USA TODAY and loves Bob Dylan and Blue Rodeo.

Best I've Ever Seen

Talking with artists about concerts they'll never forget

Gary Stoller is an award-winning editor, author, and journalist. He's written for USA TODAY and loves Bob Dylan and Blue Rodeo.

Donovan Was Shaken by Neil Young and Martin Carthy

Donovan's usual hippie twaddle - how many more times can he recount his time with 'Paul & John'? A career based upon one trip to India.  Can you imagine Graham Nash in the same room as Donovan?

Although I haven't listened to any of Donavan's newer music, I still enjoy listening to my vinyl copy of Sunshine Superman and Donavan's Greatest Hits.  Yes, he was/is a hippie, but nothing wrong with that as I still consider myself one.  His songs spoke of innocense and love and how can you not dig Season of the Witch and Colours?  I've never seen him live, so hopefully he will come to New England on this tour.  

Be careful Robert in praising Donovan on this site or at least be aware of the consequences. I have defended Donovan many a time here and got into heated discussions/arguments regarding his significance and almost felt like I needed to go back into the "Donovan-Fan Closet."  But I still say "Mellow Yellow" and "Sunshine Superman" are two of the best albums released in the late 60s with fascinating, intelligent arrangements of songs including bits of jazz, blues, rock and classical along with his obvious English troubadour folk roots. Some of the best songs on those albums are not the big hits but obscure songs that many of the Donovan-haters have probably never heard.

I agree with the fellow who posted this article that "Open Road" is a fine album too. There is a song on it called "A Poke at the Pope" addressed to the then Pope who was cosiderably less-enlightened than the current one. It's a song which shows that Donovan wasn't all shallow love & flowers but could put a bite into his songs when he wanted to.

 

I stumbled on to this article looking around the site...I was guessing you had posted something here Dennis...you are a faithful defender of Mr. Leitch...well done!

You are trolling Jim to run across this site and no surprise that I had to put in my two-cents worth to defend this underrated artist. He's coming to Seattle in October and I'm trying to decide if I should go.  The first commentor to this post also dismissed Graham Nash, another sensitve soul cynics love to lambaste but who I admire. His song "Cathedral" about dropping psychedelics and going into a medieval cathedral and having an epiphany about the brutality of Christianity is one of my favorite songs and doesn't fit into the cynics' usual dismissal of his work. I think his new album, "This Path Tongiht," is better than Crosby's recent release but then those who dismiss Nash usually hate Crosby too but love electric Neil Young. I also really like electric Neil but I think his mellow stuff is great too.

Dennis...you have to go see Donovan...how could you not?  You aren't wrong about Donovan...when I was in about 8th grade, I'd put on my Nehru jacket, a medallion, some granny glasses (Roger, then Jim McGuinn), and I'd play "Lalena", "Wear Your Love Like Heaven":...yep, the girls liked that...they didn't like me all that much but they loved Donovan and those songs...Donovan was cool as hell, surrounded by beautiful women, and he was the first guy that got busted that I can remember, which made him an outlaw too...I'd go, even if I went by myself, which I sometimes do...

Yep...Graham has allowed himself/appointed himself to be the mouthpiece of the CSN days, and as such people tend to think he's more than a little full of himself, and maybe Marrakesh Express and Our House, aren't Almost Cut My Hair, Wooden Ships, Suite:Judy Blue Eyes or Carry On, but they aren't chopped liver either, and Chicago was a great pissed off topical song...on the other hand he almost had to be the voice of the band, if you've ever seen them interviewed, he does have the best memory of the 3...Stills doesn't know which end is up, and Crosby has it together, but he's missing some large pieces from the various times he got strung out so badly...people are entitled to think what they want I guess...I haven't bought Nash's latest...I do have "Croz"...I love Neil's mellow stuff too, and originally "Time Fades Away" was unlistenable to me, I didn't start to get Neil's different directions after Harvest until "Tonight's the Night"......ultimately, if you can't play a song on just an acoustic or a piano, I'm not sure you really have a song...

Go to Donovan Dennis...If he comes to Indy, I'll go see him too!!

 

I must admit I never cared for "Marrakeh Express" which struck me as almost bubblegum music but Nash's solo album "Wild Tales" is wonderful and full of great songs like "On the Line" a line from which my wife, who has a very stressful but high-paying job, often quotes: "Is the money you make worth the price that you pay?" And "PrisonSong" about people going to jail for drugs, has a line that could be  quoted in the Black Lives Matter Movement: "There's not a rich man there who couldn't pay his way/ and buy the freedom that's a high price for the poor."

With both you, Jim, and Hal encouraging me to  go see Donovan perhaps I do need to get a ticket. It will be quite different seeing him in the converted movie theater, the Neptune, in Seattle compared to the huge auditorium filled with thousands in Fresno where I saw him in the late 60s.

My faith in all things Dennis would be destroyed if you don't go see Donovan.  The No Depression Donovan meme was all in good fun and although I don't like his music as much as you do it should be a fun show (flashbacks included!).

I am with you on that...Dennis has to go to see Donovan, and of course there will be flashbacks...hey I went to see Hall and Oates a couple of years ago...and the casino here in town has ZZ Top, Chicago, and Steve Miller all coming this year (not that I am going to those...but they have Asleep at the Wheel coming too and you bet I'll be at that...and I saw Boz Scaggs there a couple of years ago...as long as nostalgia isn't all you got, you are good to go...).

 

 

Dennis, you gotta go, if you have enjoyed a musician for this long and he's coming to a smaller venue nearby, and tickets are reasonable, sounds like the makings of a good night.  Hope you make it.

And yeah, the periodic Donovan eruptions are all in good fun.

Yes, and of course we expect a Dennis and Donovan photo! What size venue would book him?  Small enough that he might do a meet and greet?

I haven't been to this venue since it got changed from a movie to a music theater so I don't know how big it is but it wasn't a huge movie theater. Regardless, unlike you Hal, I'm to shy too meet these musical artists I admire. I'm quite amazed at your ability to interview them. I also don't own a smartphone with a camera to do a walkby selfie so if I go you'll just have to take my word for it. (I may be one of the few dinosaurs around who still just has a flip phone.)

Last I knew, the Colts' quarterback Andrew Luck still had a flip phone...so it isn't just you Dennis...

Truthfully, I've not found most musicians to be standoffish at all...I don't necessarily try to meet them at all the shows I go to, but many of them, particularly the older ones still playing, are very open to the meet and greet thing...recently saw Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen...there were tons of people there with old Byrds records and a friend of mine had a Manassas poster...Hillman signed everything and couldn't have been much nicer...I've recently spoken with the Brothers Landreth, Aoife O'Donovan, Mark Erelli, Radney Foster, Marshall Crenshaw, John Gorka, Shawn Mullins, Chuck Cannon, Chris Trapper, Amy Speace, Ari Hest, David Wilcox, Roger Clyne...I had beers with a couple of the guys in Del Amitri (Justin Currie was a great funny guy), and Ellis Paul and Don Conoscenti invited everyone at a small show to a jazz bar down the street from the place they were playing for a drink to celebrate Ellis' birthday,a dn probably 30 poeple went...the subdudes were all really great guys, I've talked to them after shows a number of times.  Probably my wife's and my favorite concert memory was speaking with Jackson Browne for maybe 20-30 minutes after a show at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis during the "Late For the Sky" tour in 1975...we waited for half an hour afterwards, but he came out and talked to a group of about 10-15 of us for a long time, they finally came and got him when the bus was ready to go...I talked to Bruce Hornsby once in an airport...Donald Fagan too...most of them are just regular people (Fagan wasn't, but he wasn't a bad guy either, just sort of snarky in general)...Over the Rhine is having concerts on their farm (in a converted barn) in Ohio over the Memorial Day weekend...they invite their friends and fans to their house for concerts, and they are playing, plus Joe Henry, The Blind Boys of Alabama...artists have a different relationship with their fans today than they used to...the people who come to see them live are how they make a living these days...so the ones who depend on touring are willing to meet you if you are willing to meet them...if Donovan does a meet and greet, you should do it Dennis!  And even if you don't, Jack and Hal are correct...you write well enough to review the concert, and you should...I posted a review here once, and I've thought about doing it several other times but didn't get to it timely enough...

 

Go Dennis!!!

I don't doubt Jim that most musicians are just normal, fairly freiendly people willing to talk with whoever approaches them but I'm not shy because they're celebrities, I'm just shy period and find it very difficult to talk to strangers. I'm the guy on the bus that sits alone and talks to no one whereas if my wife rode the bus she would make friends with whoever sat next to her. I'm almost neurotically introverted which may explain why I like to write instead where I can be annoyingly loquacious. You, Jim, with all the shows you see and artists you talk to and musical kowledge you possess should post more concert reviews. I'm sure they would be fascinating.

This reminds me of that interview Hal did with Eric Brace in which he talked about meeting and playing with his musical heroes and how they all turned out to be just normal people with no mytery to them. But then he amended that by saying except for Dylan--he is a mystery.

Dylan, no doubt, is a mystery...I'm guessing that is by design too...smart guy, with a tactic to keep people at arms length...

You should still go see Donovan even if you don't meet him, or write a review...the only time I've ever been disappointed in an older artist that I saw later in the artist's life was Gordon Lightfoot...I saw him once several years ago (10 or so)...not good...voice shot and seemed uninterested...my buddy who loves him was more disappointed than I was, because he was never a favorite of mine anyway...we thought maybe he just was sick or had a bad night, but my friend went again two years later (I did not attend, citing the previous gig as my excuse to save 40 bucks) and said it was exactly the same as the time before.  So that could happen, but for nostalgia's sake, I'd give it a shot...

 

I saw Gordon Lightfoot in the '80's, wonderful show in the round (revolving stage, he called it a Lazy Susan) and again in a somewhat larger theater venue in the 90's, both were excellent shows.  One of my favorite musicians.  But he nearly died in the early 2000's, underwent several major surgeries and later had a stroke.  He hasn't released a new record since 2004 and it was material mostly finished before he took ill. His health may or may not explain why he's released no new material since. He's in his late 70's so I can see where his voice and guitar playing may have been diminished. I would think his band would remain first rate though.  

 

That could all be true...I was aware that he had had some bouts with illness...he has some songs that I like a lot, but he's not one of my favorites...his band was fine, and the sound too...there was a moment or two where he sounded like himself, but most of it was a long way from the top of his game...the stroke might have been part of it too...the words were hard to make out...I don't blame him for trying to get out there and play...but it frankly was not up to snuff, and if it had been good, it was too short, hair over an hour...it could have been any of the things you've mentioned that affected the performance...he still has some good recordings, though as you noted, not recent ones...

The theater we saw him in was a long way from here...Merrilville, IN...long way to go to see a subpar show, 3+ hours, much closer to you...I'll drive that anytime to see someone I love...that was an added annoyance, long trip...

Holiday Star?  Yeah, I'd be annoyed too with that long a drive for a short and sub par show.  I love his catalog, even the last few studio records were very good. Just looked him up, he'll be 78 this fall.

Yep, I've been there several times...Neville Brothers was probably the best show I saw there...maybe I should have paid more attention to Gord...he had some stuff I really liked...the Edmund Fitzgerald thing really wore on me...got played so much and it's got a really monotonous melody, though the historical events related are compelling...some of my musician buddies and I came up with alternate verses of that one, and none of it is printable, here or anywhere else...you'd be surprised what rhymes with "Gitchee Gumee".  I'm gonna give him a pass at 78...I actually had one of the people I work with tell me they saw him less than 5 years ago and he was really good...so maybe he was just ill...

I've been to Schuba's and the Old School of Folk a few times in the past...Chicago isn't that far from here, and one of my daughters lives in Naperville...but I'm careful about it...Indy gets most artists these days...so I usually don't have to go that far.

 

 

Speaking of seeing performers in their twilight years reminded me of when I saw the great jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd. This was sometime not too long before he died in 1999 and he must have been in his 80s. This was in the small club Jazz Alley in Seattle. When he came on stage he could barely walk and was helped onto stage. He sat down and you wondered if he could even hold the guitar let alone play it and when he started his first song I wondered what kind of sub-par, beyond-his-years performance I was going to witness. But about half way through that song he seemed to suddenly lose about a couple of decades of his age, his hands started working better and his playing suddenly improved immensely. It turned out to be a geat evening of superb acoustic jazz guitar. I'm sure it would be easier for a non-singing performer to keep his chops and not be so obviously handicapped but it was amazing to see how the music worked like a youth tonic for him.

My dad and I went to see Joe Venuti, the great jazz violinist, about a year before he died (he was 81 at the time)...same deal...some historical society in Cincinnati had a grant and brought him in for several shows...he could only play about 3 songs at a time before he had to go sit down, as his legs were a problem...but his fingers were magic, and the guys he was playing with were great..."Queen City Jazz Band"...they were all older guys save one (not as old as Venuti, but middle age and older, and vets of Dixieland)...they had a kid playing trumpet that was only about 25, and he was about to have a heart attack from playing with Venuti...he was shaking the first few songs...the longer the night went on the better Venuti (and the young guy) got...he didn't like to play sitting but he was having so much fun he finally got a chair and stayed up there for the last half hour or so...I was so glad my dad got to see him one last time...it is amazing to see what music does for people, the listener and the player...nothing like it...

Wow! To see the great Joe Venuti who started out it the 1920s with Eddie Lang would have been truly special. Reminds me of seeing Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson at Jazz Alley not long before he died. Unlike Charlie Byrd, he didn't seem so old or feeble but I don't think he was in his 80s yet either and he could still both play sax and sing like he always did.

Cleanhead Vinson...that would have been great.  Venuti was amazing, even at 81...he could still really play, and you could see he loved doing it...

My dad lived in NYC for several years long before I was born, and he knew a few of the great jazz players, he'd go see them play regular gigs with Paul Whiteman or some other outfit and then follow them to little dives where they'd jam till 3 or 4 am...Venuti was one, Jack Teagarden also...so that's why I heard so much of that music growing up...

Venuti was reputed to be sort of a gruff guy, but a legendary practical joker...I saw the singer songwriter Michael Johnson live once and he told a story about Venuti...somehow Venuti got hooked into going on some tour with Roy Rogers, can't remember if it was state fairs or what...anyway, Venuti was supposed to play some well known piece (William Tell Overture maybe) when Roy was introduced and then Roy would ride Trigger out and have him rear up on his back legs as he did in the movies...apparently Venuti got annoyed with the whole tour thing pretty quickly as it was all about Roy and Trigger, so when he'd warm up back stage before they went out he'd stand next to Trigger and use the violin bow to "stimulate" Trigger...so when Roy would ride him out and rear him back, people really got a show...I guess another time he called every bass player he knew in LA and told each of them he had a gig for them on a certain Friday and they were to meet him at a certain place...so like 20 bass players show up on the same corner in Hollywood, and Venuti never shows...supposedly Venuti got fined by the musicians union for that one because every bass player in LA was out of work that night...

Bass players a lot of times feel like outliers anyway, so I suppose wouldn't have been as funny as if he called every trumpet player in LA...

Those are funny stories about Venuti, glad you added them.

Joke:  a guy is walking with native tour guides down a jungle path, all he hears in every direction, front, back, either side, from above, is the sound of drums.  He asks a tour guide why they hear drumming coming from every direction, who says "drumming good, if drumming stop, very bad".  The guy got nervous about being attacked.  Ten more minutes of walking and still drums coming from everywhere.  He asks again, same answer.  Another ten minutes down the path, same question, same answer. Finally, ten more minutes further and still drum sounds everywhere, he decides to ask a different guide hoping for a better answer, so he asks "I know it's good if we hear drums everywhere, and it's bad if they stop, what bad thing happens if the drums stop?".  The reply: "drumming good, if drumming stop, then come bass solo".

That's my favorite musical joke...I love that...I've heard various iterations of it over the years...even bass players laugh at it...please, anything but that...

I remember seeing 3 Dog Night as a kid, and the drum solo was a part of almost every concert...Floyd Sneed used to play his kit with his hands as well as drumsticks, and he mixed it up about as well as anyone could...it literally lasted 10 plus minutes, and it was impressive I suppose but I'd have liked a bass solo or anything else about halfway through...I really could live without a solo on either...I later found out from a friend who worked for a concert promoter that everyone else in 3 Dog Night was smoking dope duing the drum solo and they'd cue him when the guys were ready to come back on stage, so some nights the solo was even longer than others...apparently they were some legendary potheads, which was a bit scandalous to me at the time, and I know Chuck Negron, one of the lead singers, got completely strung out on drugs later on and barely recovered...you could probably have burned through a lot of weed as long as the drum solo was...interesting times they were...

I heard Venuti was an infamous practical joker but hadn't heard what any of them were. Thanks for the entertinment Jim.

What size venue?  Starbucks.  Ha!  A theater show sounds perfect.  Dennis, you write well, you should put a review of the show on ND.  I can't promise total restraint but it would be interesting to read how it goes.  I hope you get there.

Well, thanks to all of your encouragement Mr. Leich will have one more person in his audience and I am (after all the service charges etc. added to the supposed $33.50 ticket) $45.25 poorer. I didn't opt for the VIP ticket which included a meet & greet and was only a measly $433.50 + applicable fees. Call me cheap but although I defend Donovan, I'm not THAT big of a fan.

Dylan gets $75 and up before the service charge.  Just sayin'.

Sorry, Dennis, couldn't resist.  Great that you are going, hope you'll report back with a nice write up of the show.

 

 

Many, Jack, including myself, would say Dylan is at least 3 times the artist that Donovan is. I'm glad the last time I saw Dylan in 2003 ticket prices hadn't yet got insane for these living legends and I think I paid a little over $40. That was the tour when Dylan was throwing in covers of Warren Zevon songs shortly before his death which I was glad to witness. (I suspect many there thought they were unknown Dylan songs since he made no introduction.) I heard when Zevon got word Dylan was doing this his response was that maybe it (his sickness) was worth it. 

Sweet...can't wait for the review!   Well done Dennis!

We should have crowdfunded you for a VIP ticket, as you are the devoted to the defense of Donovan...I guess when it is our disposable income, we figure out how big a fan we really are...I've done Jackson Browne's Guacamole Fund a couple of times (you don't get a meet and greet, you just get really good seats and his favorite charities get the markup)...and my wife wanted to go see the Eagles one last time and we did VIP for that one...I'd never reveal what that cost, but I actually had to rathole money away for it...I got lucky because the date was announced a while before the tickets went on sale...but mostly I'm a no for VIP too...I can go see Steve Poltz and the Comatose Brothers next week for 15 bucks, venue holds 92...hard to beat that...