The central Illinois music scene (the ostensible subject of my magazine piece this week) was amazingly fecund in the 1970s, and worthy of a self-indulgent blog post all its own. The alpha and omega of this time and place was REO Speedwagon, and Gary Richrath enjoyed an intensely loyal following around town even before he joined REO. Here's a clip of a live performance of 157 Riverside Avenue, which may enjoy renewed popularity in places like Colorado with the advent of legalized marijuana.
Cheap Trick is not a Peoria band, strictly speaking—the 100 miles that separate Rockford and Peoria represent a chasm to any central Illinoisan—but the band toured relentlessly in Peoria, Bloomington-Normal and Champaign-Urbana and their success there laid the groundwork for their breakout stardom. Here's their iconic song Surrender, performed on the Midnight Special in the mid 1970s.
Head East didn't quite enjoy the success of REO or Cheap Trick, but they did achieve a measure of popularity with There's Never Been Any Reason, and a follow up hit (at least in Illinois) called Since You’ve Been Gone. (Not to be confused with the Kelly Clarkson opus.) The band still tours every summer.
Two other Peoria acts that came a bit later never managed to break it into the big time but got signed by a major label. The first was Mackinaw—their song Surf’s Up On The Illinois went viral across central Illinois, naturally, and it holds up today as a nice bit of song craftsmanship. It also demonstrates what was the band’s fundamental problem: A rock band simply couldn’t veer that much into country music in the early 1980s and get anywhere with it.
Coming on the tail end of the Central Illinois music epoch was the Elvis Brothers, who were a cross between the Romantics and the Stray Cats, but a step better than either one, with a stage presence that no one has anymore. Here’s Fire In the City, which was briefly on rotation on MTV, and has a flavor of their showmanship. I Wonder Why was a hit from their second major label release.
Dan Fogelberg came from Peoria and went to the University of Illinois so he played these markets too, but he went to make it big in L.A as soon as he finished college. (That’s now the only viable path for a small town musician to make it.) Here’s a non-ballad from his first album called Illinois. Shortly after his death, the woman whom he encountered in the grocery store on Christmas Eve and wrote about in the Same Old Lang Syne came forward to admit that she was the one in the song, and that he didn’t release it for several years after he wrote it to save her any potential familial issues.
John Doe may be the epitome of California cool, but he’s from the central Illinois burg of Decatur. He achieved fame and fortune with X but he’s had a very underrated solo career, and the song Golden State might be the best thing he’s ever done.
Jason and the Scorchers have a central Illinois connection as well (Jason is from Sheffield, 40 miles north of Peoria) but they were never a big part of the central Illinois Scene. Absolutely Sweet Marie isn’t my favorite song of theirs but it seems to be almost everyone else’s favorite song.
Ike Brannon is the president of Capital Policy Analytics.
Jon Bon Jovi is nobody’s idea of a conservative. Indeed, the hirsute rocker is a well-known Democrat. And yet, when Chris Christie announced his bid for the Republican nomination for president on Tuesday, and played a Bon Jovi tune in the process, the musician didn’t complain.
With so many Republican candidates announcing their bids for the presidency these days, one our most hallowed election-year rituals can’t be far behind. I refer, of course, to when fading musical acts attempt to prove their progressive bona fides by making a stink when a candidate they disagree with plays their music at a rally.
B.B. King, born Riley B. King and also called the Beale Street Blues Boy and the King of the Blues, has died at the age of 89. Earlier this month, he announced he was in hospice care due to complications from diabetes. (Nearly 15 years ago, B.B. had become a paid spokesman for a blood glucose test device OneTouch. “OneTouch gave me everything,” he crooned in the TV ad.) Even at his advanced age, his death comes as a shock, since the blues legend toured well into his eighties.
Charlie Parker never achieved stardom, at least not by the standards of the music business. He never had a gold record to hang on the wall or enjoyed a significant radio hit. He never had a contract with a major record label. His face didn’t appear, even in a bit role, in a Hollywood film. If you measure a musician’s worth at the cash register—the ultimate arbiter of talent nowadays, or so it seems—Parker can only be called a minor figure, operating at the fringes of the entertainment industry.
IN BEYOND Good and Evil, Nietzsche rejoices that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, "the last chord of a centuries-old great European taste . . . still speaks to us" and warns that "alas, some day all this will be gone."
The State Department is presenting a global webcast on February 4, titled "From the Street to Mainstream: The Evolution of Rap/Hip Hop Music." The host of the webcast, rapper and State Department Music Ambassador Toni Blackman, will be joined by Pras Michel, a founding member of the hip hop group the Fugees, to discuss "how rap and hip hop have increased social awareness of the African-American experience — and raised even broader issues in contemporary society." Some of Michel's more inflammatory comments in the past raise questions about the appropriateness of his appearance with the U.S.'s music ambassador on a government-sponsored webcast representing America to the world.
In the East Room of the White House Sunday night, President Obama hosted the Kennedy Center Honors Reception to recognize five American artists: Martina Arroyo, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Shirley MacLaine, and Billy Joel. The president gave a brief synopsis of each artist's career, including making light of the drug-induced hallucinations of Carlos Santana as he was introduced to the music world at the 1969 Woodstock music festival:
There's a black and white photo, a little grainy and slightly out of focus, of Igor Stravinsky greeting Mstislav Rostropovich at the Royal Academy of Music, London, in June 1964. Standing in the background in the upper left hand corner is a tall lanky figure, a 20-year-old music student named John Tavener. Also in the photo, just to the right, is John's brother Roger who was friendly with Ringo Starr.
I met him once. Well, met in the loosest sense: I was introduced to Ray Manzarek at a Los Angeles restaurant in the 1980s and got to shake his hand. No more than that, but even at the time it felt like an encounter with passing greatness, a brush with the fading mythology of the age, and down through the years, I’ve never forgotten it.