Only in Tennessee

While Dave Barry has his sewage lift station, Carl Perkins and Sam Phillips have a “rest stop” on I-40 between Nashville and Memphis as I learned while on my “tornado seminar” circuit. 

While it seems like a perfectly nice place, I don’t think I’d wear my Blue Suede Shoes in there.

"Standing in the Shadows of Motown"

Taken this morning with flurries falling. The Snake Pit is in the basement.
Barry Gordy, Jr.’s apartment was upstairs. There are three bottles of
Coca Cola in the apartment. Mr. Gordy and I share similar taste in pop.
The summer of 1964, I found the music that I would love for the rest of my life: Four Seasons, Beach Boys, and Motown. Loved the Four Tops, Temptations, Mary Wells, and all of the other great Motown groups. Tuneful, upbeat, infectious music. That made me just about like every other teenager in the 1960′s.
Fast forward to the 1990′s: I had to go to Las Vegas at least twice yearly for trade shows. They opened the “Motown Cafe” in the New York, New York Hotel (should have been Detroit, Detroit). Every time I visited Vegas I would go to the cafe at least once because not only did they have memorabilia, they had live Motown music at least once each hour. Unfortunately, it closed in 2000 and was replaced with the vastly inferior ESPNZone. 
In 2002, an absolutely amazing movie came out: Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Shadows asked a question I (and probably 99% of Motown’s other fans) had never considered: Who played the music for all of these vocal groups? The Supremes didn’t play instruments. Neither did the Tops, the Temps., etc, etc. Yet, there was this identifiable sound associated with Motown. Where did the music come from?

Screen capture from “Standing in the Shadows of Motown”
Joan Osborne singing “Heatwave” with (from left) Funk Brothers
Joe Hunter and Jack Ashford
The movie is absolutely wonderful, even if you are not especially a Motown fan.  Unfortunately, I cannot embed this clip of Joan Osborne singing “Heatwave.” So, click the link, listen and come back…I’ll wait. 
Even though it is not Martha & the Vandellas it is clearly the Motown sound – your ears would recognize it anywhere. Turns out it a small group of musicians — black and white — known as “The Funk Brothers” played on every one of those songs! Collectively, the Funk Brothers had more hits than the Beatles, Elvis, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys, combined! But, until the book and movie, they never received any recognition (more about that below). 

Once I heard and saw their story, I decided I had to get to Hitsville, U.S.A.

That is what Barry Gordy, Jr., the founder and entrepreneur, called his little complex of homes on West Grand that became the offices and studios of Tamla then Motown records. It is now officially called the Motown Museum. Gordy borrowed $800 from his Mom and Dad on condition he pay it back in a year. He did, and much more.

Standing in the Snake Pit

I met some absolutely wonderful people this morning and learned so much. The most thrilling part was getting to go into the Snake Pit, where every one of those songs was recorded. The original instruments and equipment are still there. They don’t allow photos but I found this video that I could embed. 
Seeing Funk Brother Jack Ashford’s vibes, for example, was a complete thrill (pictured in the video above). Or, the organ where they played the intro to Heard It Through the Grapevine. The Snake Pit piano was a loaner. When Paul McCartney visited recently, he wanted to play (sure…they’ll let him touch the instruments!). He was told the piano was in such bad shape, they would prefer he did not. So, Sir Paul sent the original off to Steinway for refurbishing.  They have a loaner in there now. 

Seeing the Snake Pit and all of the little techniques they used to polish the sound would have been enough. But, there is so much more.

The Reason Dianna Ross Could Always Perfectly Pose for Pictures

I was going to teach them how to act and how to walk.
I wanted them to be able to meet kings and queens.
They all thought I was crazy. They’d say, “I
just want a hit record.”
                       — Maxine Powell, artist development

When Little Stevie Wonder started with Motown he was 11. Diana Ross was 14. Kids.

So, Gordy realized that their vocal talent was not sufficient. He hired a number of people, like Maxine Powell (above), to coach them on their voice techniques, pose for pictures, move on stage (there is an area where they explain how the choreographer taught The Temptations to move) and how to conduct themselves. There is even a video of some of them being introduced to Queen Elizabeth.

There are displays of how the original album art was created. In the early days, the artists did not appear on the album covers. Gordy was afraid that showing the artists as being black would limit their appeal. That changed when Ed Sullivan embraced them. Gordy, and the artists, found white America loved their music.

At Last, Recognition

From left, Robert White (who played the guitar into to “My Girl”),
Dan Turner, Earl Van Dyke, Uriel Jones and James Jamerson

But, still, the Funk Brothers received no recognition. It wasn’t until Marvin Gaye’s (current featured artist in the museum) What’s Going On that any of the names of the instrumental artists even appeared on the album jacket.

Finally, in 2002, the Funk Brothers won two Grammies. One with Chaka Khan for her great performance of What’s Going On in Shadows and for the movie’s soundtrack. In 2004, they won for Lifetime Achievement.

Funk Brothers posting with the two producers (at right)
with their Grammies for “Shadows’” soundtrack.

Unfortunately, we’re continuing to lose the Funk Brothers to age. At least two (Uriel Jones and Joe Hunter) have passed away since the movie was made.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown, their story, came out 41 years after they first provided the instrumental music for all of those many, many, hits. I highly recommend the movie (it has been running on cable lately, also available on DVD). And, if you are ever in Detroit, go visit. You won’t be sorry.

Checking this item off my “bucket list” this morning was a tremendous thrill.

Tomorrow: I’ll have a couple of thoughts about Detroit itself.

ADDITION: Shadows is available on iTunes to rent for $3 or to purchase for $10. I’m right now purchasing a copy to watch on the plane back tomorrow, even though I have the DVD.

Some Christmas Cheer

As long-time blog readers know, I’m a huge fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the musical based on their life, Jersey Boys.

For the first time ever, a Broadway show cast has done a separate Christmas album. It is produced by the original Season, Bob Gaudio (who wrote most all of their hits), and features cast members from the various companies of JB throughout the world.

Some of the songs (“Santa Medley”) are done in Four Seasons style and others are done in a more typical style for Christmas songs.

I really enjoy it.

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Get Well, Andy Williams

Two weeks ago tonight, Kathleen and I were supposed to be in Branson watching Andy Williams and Ann-Margaret in a joint show. We got a call from Williams’ theatre informing us that Mr. Williams was ill and would not be able to perform that evening.

Now, we know why: He has bladder cancer and is undergoing treatment. We wish him well.

Full Length Version, "Big Bang Theory" Theme Song

Kathleen and I look forward to each new episode of the “Big Bang Theory.” I especially like it because I went to school with people just like Sheldon and his gang. In fact, I have to admit there was a time that, as a member of the University of Oklahoma’s Engineer’s Club, I thought young ladies would be impressed with the size of the slide rule I had attached to my belt.

I think the theme from BBT is very clever. There is the full version from the Bare Naked Ladies:

And, yes, I still have the slide rule upstairs in the Mike Smith Enterprises office. 

Lets Cool Things Off

…given yesterday’s scorching heat (scroll down) with a little dance number from Fred Astare and Ginger Rogers.

I read an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about a new book, “Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz,” which discusses that scene at length along with some of Fred’s other work its connections to American Jazz.

My friends know that I ask for motor skills every Christmas but never quite seem to get them.  When I played Prof. Harold Hill in “The Music Man” while in high school they had to dumb down the Shipoopi for me!  I greatly admire those that are so graceful they can dance on stage.

Dave Barry Goes to a Barry Manilow Concert

(With the break between major weather systems, I wanted to get a little levity on the blog. Enjoy!)

Like Dave and his wife, Kathleen and I have a similar, shall we say, “difference of opinion” regarding Mr. Manilow’s music. Dave tells the hilarious story of his attendance at the concert here.

Also, like Dave, I don’t think much of “opening acts.” However, Dave educated me on the real reason for opening acts when he wrote,

It was an excellent warmup act, not in the sense of being entertaining, but in the sense of making me actually yearn for Barry Manilow to get up there.

So, you are wondering, did Dave enjoy the concert? You’ll have to find out for yourself at the link above.

From the comments on Dave’s article, something even more terrifying than a Barry Manilow concert:

Bryan [the commenter's husband] took me to Celine three times.

A Clever Rendition: "Can’t Take My Eyes Off You"

My daughter, Tiffany, and I danced to Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” at her recent wedding reception. It was one of those peak moments in life.

Just brought to my attention is a very clever version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in a beer commercial. It will give you a smile.

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Which Came First????

Frankie Valli playing with his new “Four Seasons” in Florida

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. When Billboard magazine published its 50th anniversary issue, we learned the Seasons were #9 in terms of number of hit songs, higher than many other well known groups (i.e., the Beach Boys).

With the huge success of Jersey Boys, a new generation is enjoying this uniquely American

Attending performance #6 of “Jersey Boys” on Broadway, 2005
“Jersey Boys’” Theatre, Las Vegas


So, I was amused to read the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons became popular because of Jersey Boys. This is a photo of the Seasons in their heyday (1960′s):

From left, Tommy DeVito, Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi

And, Frankie Friday night:

Note the caption above.

It is great seeing Frankie look so good, he will be 77 in May. I got to hear him in Kansas City last summer.

Time Out for Trivia

If you watched Today on NBC this morning, you saw Ann Curry learn to be in a marching band at Bergenfield, NJ High School.  The featured song throughout the piece was Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Who Loves You.”

Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

If you have seen Jersey Boys you know that Bob Gaudio was the songwriter of the Four Seasons’ numerous hits. Bergenfield High was the school he attended but didn’t graduate from. So, it is natural Bergenfield is partial to Four Seasons’ hits.

The surviving Four Seasons at the opening of “Jersey Boys.” From right,
Bob Gaudio, Frankie Valli and Tommy DeVito. Nick Massi
passed away in 2000. 

In a ceremony on February 3, 2009, Bob Gaudio received an honorary diploma from Bergenfield High School.

ADDITION: The video of Ann playing “Who Loves You” is here.

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Happy 5th Anniversary Jersey Boys!

The Four Seasons. From left, Tommy DeVito, Franki Valli, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi

I have been a huge fan of The Four Seasons since the first time I heard “Rag Doll” in the summer of 1964. According to Billboard magazine, they rank #9 in hit songs (number of records on the Hot 100) of all artists since the magazine was created in the 1950′s. In spite of that huge success, they were never “trendy” and didn’t get the acclaim of many of the other artists of that era.

In 2004, Kathleen and I traveled to La Jolla, California to see a show about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons called “Jersey Boys.” We were blown away. People were — literally — dancing in the aisles. Night after night the show was selling out and its run was extended multiple times. We got to stay after the show and talk to its creators and were excited when we learned they were going to take it to Broadway.

On November 6, 2005, “Jersey Boys” opened on Broadway. Six days later, Kathleen, Tiffany and I were in NYC to see the show and it was immediately obvious it was going to be a blowout hit. I spoke with boxing promoter Don King and CBS’s Julie Chen that evening; they loved it, too.

The Jersey Boys Theatre in the Palazzo Hotel, Las Vegas

Now, 5 years, four Tony Awards (including best musical), one Grammy (best cast album), and $852,000,000 later, “Jersey Boys” is one of the biggest hits in the history of Broadway. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you make it a point to see it when you are in New York, Vegas, the touring company, Sydney or London. 

This interview with Bob Gaudio, writer of most of their hits and the group’s keyboard player, tells the story well.

Here in Wichita, we will get an appetizer version of “Jersey Boys” on December 17 when the original cast comes to Hartman Arena to perform the music from the show.

Where are the original Four Seasons now? Frankie Valli still tours, Bob Gaudio is still producing, Tom DeVito lives in Vegas and is in the music business, and Nick Massi passed away Christmas Eve 2000.

Congratulations to the Seasons and the show’s creators on five smash years.

UPDATE: Coverage of the many fifth anniversary activities here.

BULLETIN: "Jersey Boys" Original Cast Comes to Wichita!

Hoff Longoria Reichard and Spencer LIVE IN CONCERT Has Been Cancelled.

Due to shceduling conflicts, Hoff Longoria Reichard and Spencer Live In Concert “HOLIDAY TWIST” has been cancelled. If you purchased tickets and paid by credit card on line or over the phone, you will be automatically refunded. If you paid by cash or at an outlet please bring your tickets… Read More

UPDATE:  Event has been moved to December 17, 2010
“It’s just too good to be true!”… the original cast of Jersey Boys is coming to Wichita with their four man music show.

If you have not seen “Jersey Boys” at one of its many venues (Broadway, Las Vegas, Touring, London, Sydney), you have missed a smash musical that celebrates its fifth year on Broadway in early November.

Kathleen, daughter Tiffany, and I got to see JB six days after it opened on Broadway with the original Broadway cast and — wow. As Tiffany said when it ended, “that was amazing!”

Pictured from left to right, Michael Longoria, J. Robert Spencer, Christian Hoff and Daniel Reichard

The original cast members of Jersey Boys will be in Wichita October 15 at Hartman Arena to sing the songs from JB as well as many non-Four Seasons songs. I got to see a little of their show on television a few weeks ago and it was terrific. This is a one time event. Tickets go on sale tomorrow.

Don’t miss it!!

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"Best Opening Ever"

UPDATE: Los Angeles Times has behind-the-scenes details here, including that the spectacular opening number (subject of the post below) wasn’t staged until the morning of the show!

Also, there are two episodes of “Glee” scheduled to air on Fox after the President’s speech tonight. The first, “Home,” stars Kristin Chenoweth and is one of my favorite episodes.  

We don’t write much about television and entertainment because there are so many other sources for that type of information. That said, if you didn’t see the live telecast of the 62nd Emmy Awards last night, go here to watch the opening number. It is sheer genius — perhaps the best opening number ever for one of the major awards show.

Especially if you are a fan of “Glee,” take six minutes to watch the number.

Why? Don’t Know!

I enjoy Norah Jones’ music and was pleased when I learned she was coming to Wichita. So, Kathleen and I bought tickets and were looking forward to the evening. Curtain was 8pm yesterday.

At 7:55 the house announcer did the usual “turn off your cellphones” announcement and ended with “Norah will be out momentarily.” At 8:01, the lights came down and a young woman walked out on stage…but it wasn’t Norah. It was (in my world) the dreaded unannounced opening act. She performed for 30 minutes. Then, the roadies came out and reset the stage (after solo vocalist/guitarist) for 30 minutes! Finally, at 9:07, out came Norah.

While I didn’t care for the opening act, it wouldn’t have mattered if it was Eric Clapton. Concert promoters should list the performers and the times. In my opinion, it is rude and disrespectful of the audience’s time for the main act to keep everyone waiting for more than an hour.

If you want an example of doing it right, go see Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. They arrive on stage at the appointed time and perform for an hour and fifty minutes…without a break! Frankie is an old time performer (at age 75) with far more on-stage energy and enthusiasm than Ms. Jones.

UPDATE:  Here is the man himself singing “Sherry” at the Westbury Music Fair in October, 2009.

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Attention Sirius Subscribers

I heard the most extraordinary program on “Siriusly Sinatra” yesterday. Recorded 45 years ago this week in St. Louis, Johnny Carson hosted a benefit performance by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. The quality of the recording and the performances are terrific. It will be repeated at 8pm Central tonight. More information here.

"And the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day"

Yesterday was the annual Symphony in the Flint Hills and it was simply stunning. As guest artist Lyle Lovett said, “once you have seen the Flint Hills you are changed forever.”

My teammates at WeatherData were doing the forecasting and storm warnings and I was the on-site meteorologist for the event (the subject of a posting tomorrow). The weather was quite cloudy at the time the gates opened.  However, I was confident the sky would not be “cloudy all day.”

As background, please go to my posting of ten days ago to see the site before the tents and other structures were constructed. One of the goals of the organizers is to give people the opportunity to get deep into the Flint Hills to see their incredible beauty.

Because the weather was quite questionable during the morning, I was extremely busy until I took a quick lunch break. Before you is the view from the food tent before the gates opened.

The atmosphere is quite a bit different from most symphonic concerts.

The Kansas City Symphony and Lyle Lovett performed an exquisite program of music appropriate to both the occasion and location. Click on the photo to enlarge.

The closing number was Mr. Lovett leading the crowd in a stirring rendition of the state song of Kansas, “Home on the Range.” Men were so moved, they put their stetsons over their hearts. The sky was not cloudy all day.

People come from all over the United States for this event and I highly recommend it. If you are interested in tickets for 2011, click here to sign up for information (lower right).

UPDATE: A friend of mine attended for the first time yesterday and emails me the following:  I was completely, totally blown away. It was so beautiful, and the music was so wonderful that I find myself using the word “magical.”

Oh, What A Night!

I have been a huge Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons fan since I first heard “Rag Doll” in the summer of 1964. Not only are they members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, according to Billboard magazine, they rank #9 in number of hits, more than the Beach Boys and many other more “fashionable” groups.  And, with the success of Jersey Boys, the smash hit Broadway musical that tells the story of their lives, a new generation of Four Seasons fans has begun.

Last night, Kathleen, Brandon (son) and Mary (daughter-in-law) and I got to see Frankie and the Seasons at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City. As always, they gave a great show. Frankie is now 75 but is the consummate performer. If you would like to see them, a schedule is here. And, if you would like to see the superb Jersey Boys, the schedules are here.

To make the evening perfect, we were treated to a spectacular lightning show driving back to Wichita. 

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