Getting Famous and Getting Fired

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(Pictured: Bob Dylan at Newport, plugged in and ready to blow up the world, 1965.)

I haven’t done one of these “Links and Notes” posts for a while, recapping interesting articles I’ve mentioned on Twitter, because the longer I go without one, the more daunting it seems to do one. But since the content well has been a little dry around here lately, let’s do it today.

—Fifty years ago this summer, Bob Dylan shocked the Newport Folk Festival by playing “Maggie’s Farm” and his new hit, “Like a Rolling Stone” with electric instruments. It’s one of the most famous events in rock history, but there’s more to it than what we’ve heard, and a lot of what we’ve heard is distorted or wrong. Elijah Wald, whose books Escaping the Delta and How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll are required reading for fans of this blog, has written about it in Dylan Goes Electric! Slate reviewed it; I’m reading it right now. The book takes a long time getting to Newport, first tracing the dual histories of the folk movement personified by Dylan and Pete Seeger, but it’s a worthwhile trip.

—On the subject of famous rock events, you may not know that the very first act to go on at Live Aid in Philadelphia 30 years ago this month was somebody named Bernard Watson. It turns out that Watson was an 18-year-old kid from Florida, not actually named Bernard Watson, who got to be on the bill simply because he asked promoter Bill Graham if he could. Live Aid’s impact continues today, not just on people who continue to benefit from the money it continues to raise, but musicians too.

—Ken Levine wrote about radio remotes. Every jock has done them, and every jock can tell you vividly about the worst ones. He also wrote about radio contests, including the legendary “Last Contest,” and the infamous “cash call.” I once gave away $1000 to a listener who answered the phone with the phrase that pays instead of saying “hello.” That same week, the station gave partial paychecks to some of the staff because there wasn’t enough cash on hand.

—On the subject of radio, I know who Willis Conover is because I’m a geek like that. If you don’t, it’s not your fault: he was forbidden by law from broadcasting to the United States. Nevertheless, he’s one of the most influential radio personalities in history, and you can find out why right here. Also influential: Los Angeles DJ Art Laboe, still rockin’ on the radio as he approaches age 90. Then there’s Chuck McKay, who was working at CKLW in Windsor/Detroit in 1975, but received a offer from another station he much preferred. So, he tried to get himself fired. And succeeded.

—I recently discovered Rebeat Magazine, which posts interesting material almost every day. Their article about Bobbie Gentry on her 70th birthday was loaded with music and insights; “In Defense of the Great Tom T. Hall” is the Tom T. post I threatened to write years ago but never did; and I wish with all my might I’d thought of two-hit wonders.

—Steely Dan pursued precisely the right sound for their album Aja like Captain Ahab chased the whale. For example, they spent six hours one night reworking the words “well the” on the refrain of “Home at Last.” It took jazz saxophone superstar Wayne Shorter considerably less time to lay down his magnificent solo on the title song—after turning down the invitation once.

—The story of how Merry Clayton came to lay down her chilling vocal track on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” is something I’ve mentioned before at this blog, but if you don’t know it, read it.

—Rolling Stone published a list of 34 occasions on which rockers objected to politicians using their songs. Memo to Republicans: just don’t.

—Is the Grateful Dead the most important American band of all time? Saving Country Music (a highly recommended site) makes a persuasive argument.

—Guaranteed clickbait, but a worthwhile read: “The great rock ‘n’ roll swindle: 10 stolen pop songs.”

—The Hall and Oates album Voices was released 35 years ago last week. Legacy Recordings took a break from spamming its Twitter followers with junk about Mariah Carey to link to a list of 35 facts about the album.

This takes us back to the first of July, which is far as I can go, and probably as much as you can stand. To see more, scroll through the Twitter widget on the right side of this page, or follow me on Twitter.

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