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Monday, October 1, 2018

Capricorn Records: Southern Rock’s sounding board

Badlands of Indiana (October 1, 2018) WHR — In the musically-rich history of Macon, Ga., families like the Waldens and Allmans left a huge mark on American rock history with Capricorn Records. The local business with major label ties provided a global sounding board for Southern rock in the 1970’s. Decades later, it remains a symbol of excellence for fans of jam bands, Southern rock and other forms of roots-based popular music that predate Americana.

The Allman Brothers from their "The 1971 Fillmore East recordings" album cover

In the 1960’s, brothers Phil and Alan Walden found a niche in the music business as managers of regional R&B talents, including Clarence Carter, Johnny Jenkins and local treasure Otis Redding. Initial plans for a record label that’d revolve around Redding had to be reconsidered after the singer’s 1967 passing.

Phil’s music business involvement often paired him with Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler. Through that work relationship, he discovered a different building block for a Georgia-based imprint in Atlantic session musician Duane Allman.


Duane, his brother Gregg Allman and the rest of The Allman Brothers Band relocated from Jacksonville, Fl. to Macon in 1969 to become the cornerstone for Phil Walden and co-founder Frank Fenter’s Atlantic/ATCO Records-distributed Capricorn Records. The Allmans and their  supporting cast need no introduction as classic rock artists, bluesy proto-Americana innovators or the granddaddies of the jam band scene.

Late ’60s and early ’70s releases by The Allman Brothers, Bonnie Bramblett, Wet Willie and others served as stepping stones for Southern rock as it emerged from the smoky clubs that hosted both country music and the blues. After the smash success of the 1971 Allman Brothers live album At Fillmore East, Walden moved the label to Warner Bros. Despite the 1972 death of Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers’ short-lived 1976 breakup, the Southern rock imprint barely lost a step as the home of  The Marshall Tucker Band, Cowboy, Elvin Bishop, Dixie Dregs, Stillwater and even country singer Billy Joe Shaver.

From outside of the South and Southwest came heavy rock supergroup Captain Beyond, a psychedelic answer to Black Sabbath called White Witch and two of James Taylor’s brothers, Livingston and Alex. Those exceptions aside, the Capricorn catalog reminds us that Southern rock was the Americana of its time–a country and rock-leaning interpretation of regional folk and popular sounds.

Although these acts probably held bluegrass masters, the Rolling Stones, country blues greats and peers like Charlie Daniels in similar regard, each sounded at least a little different from their label mates. For example, The Marshall Tucker Band’s guitarist and lead songwriter Toy Caldwell and Wet Willie’s frontman Jimmy Hall were cut from similar musical cloth, but their bands had separate identities from their label mates.

Second Helping

Changing trends and other factors forced Capricorn’s final distributor of its original run, Polygram, to cut ties in 1979. Walden rebooted the label in Nashville in 1990. The success that followed built around Athens, Ga.’s own Southern-flavored jam band giants, Widespread Panic. Their label mates ranged from Col. Bruce Hampton’s Aquarium Rescue Unit and Lynyrd Skynyrd to 311 and Cake. Kenny Chesney’s debut album In My Wildest Dreams was also released on the label in 1994.

Decades later, the label’s original run represents a creatively free time when hippies and rockers took country and roots sounds to a broader audience as Southern rockers, “newgrass” pickers and members of some of the earliest jam bands.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Led Zeppelin to face retrial over 'Stairway' theft claims

San Francisco, California  (September 28, 2018) WHR — A U.S. appeals court on Friday ordered a new trial in a lawsuit accusing Led Zeppelin of copying an obscure 1960s instrumental for the intro to its classic 1971 rock anthem "Stairway to Heaven."

A federal court jury in Los Angeles two years ago found Led Zeppelin did not copy the famous riff from the song "Taurus" by the band Spirit. But the three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the lower court judge provided erroneous jury instructions. It sent the case back to the court for another trial.

Led Zeppelin aboard the Starship 2 in 1975

Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the estate of late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, filed the law suit against Led Zeppelin in 2015.

Jurors returned their verdict for Led Zeppelin after a five-day trial at which band members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant testified. Page and Plant, who wrote the "Stairway" lyrics, said their creation was an original.

The jury found "Stairway to Heaven" and "Taurus" were not substantially similar, according the 9th Circuit ruling.

But U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner failed to advise jurors that while individual elements of a song such as its notes or scale may not qualify for copyright protection, a combination of those elements may if it is sufficiently original, 9th Circuit Judge Richard Paez said.

Led Zeppelin performing 'Stairway to Heaven' live in 1975

Klausner also wrongly told jurors that copyright does not protect chromatic scales, arpeggios or short sequences of three notes, the 9th Circuit panel found.

"This error was not harmless as it undercut testimony by Skidmore's expert that Led Zeppelin copied a chromatic scale that had been used in an original manner," Paez said.

The panel also found another jury instruction misleading.

The trial took jurors and lucky observers who managed to pack into the courtroom on a musical journey through the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Spirit, a California psychedelic group that blended jazz and rock was achieving stardom as the hard-rocking British band was being founded.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Cannabis prices plummet throughout Oregon

Astoria, Oregon (September 26, 2018) WHR — It’s a buyer’s market for recreational marijuana across Oregon. Wholesale pot prices have plummeted to record lows in recent months, concerning growers across the Pacific Northwest as customers continue to find more value at the counter. “Lots of people aren’t used to having $3 gram deals,” said grower Josh Staley, owner of Astoria Farms. “It’s attracting a lot of the business right now.”

Growing concerns

 Nearly 1 million pounds of marijuana remains unsold from 2017 in a saturated market. “Oregon has a huge oversupply,” Staley said. “Right now in the system there’s three times the yearly consumption (of the amount that was bought last year) sitting out there.” Increasingly successful grows by established farms, coupled with more producers coming online, have culminated in a glut. There are currently more than 1,000 licensed growers in Oregon with nearly 1,000 more seeking a license. “There’s a lot more being produced than the state consumes,” Staley said.

Processed Cannabis buds from Oregon

Prices to plummet

Growers fear the fall harvest could trigger a further price collapse. Staley has seen his wholesale price fall 25 percent over the past year from $2,000 to $1,500 per pound. “It’s had an impact industry-wide,” he said. “It drags everybody’s prices down.”

The steepest drop occurred in January, just after fall 2017 harvests hit store shelves. “The fall harvests came in and just flooded the market,” Staley said. “Once it was flooded, it never stopped.” With another fall harvest looming, producers are concerned what impact another major influx will have on wholesale prices.

“I think it’s just going to be a matter of riding the market out and letting go of some of the big growers who are losing big money,” Staley said. “It will just have to settle out. People will go out of business as it shakes down, but you’ve just got to ride it out right now.” ‘Micro’ grower focuses on positive experiences

Craft cannabis

Staley, 43, was born and raised in the area, a graduate of the Astoria High School, class of 1993. In April 2016, he acquired a license to grow recreationally as a micro tier-1 grower, the smallest of three classifications designated based on canopy space. He is permitted to grow up to 650 feet of canopy, but has kept it much smaller and more manageable. His entire operation is contained inside a refurbished woodshed.

“I’m tiny,” Staley said. He has about 60 plants in different stages of growth at a given time. “It was basically what I could do here. The medical side was looking like a dead-end street. I had to either do that (micro Tier 1) or give it up entirely.” He harvests about a dozen plants in three- to five-week cycles. His goal is to harvest around 1.5 to 2 pounds of pot per plot. He estimated that he harvested a total of about 20 pounds in 2017.

Benefits of being small

Bigger marijuana growers typically have a several employees assigned to different stages, including cloning, flowering, harvesting, trimming, packaging and marketing. But Staley handles each step alone, which he considers a benefit. “I know each plant from start to end,” he said. “I have a close eye on it through the whole process.” Staley said he has more flexibility and freedom to allow each plant to reach its full potential, instead of harvesting on a strict cycle. “Bigger operations have to treat plants more like machines,” he explained. “But they’re living organisms — they’re not always ready on day 56 to be cut down.”

Fourteen flavors

Staley grows 14 unique strains including Electric Velvet, Walluski Sour, Pacific Sunrise, Spruce Goose, Thai Pearl and Fizzy Pop. He also grows classic strains such as Williams Wonder, Bubba Kush, California Orange and Blueberry. Schrom, a rare sativa variety born from crossing Santa Maria Columbian Gold and Romulan featuring a soaring energetic high and a strong odor of lemon and cedar, is among his personal favorites. Staley also grows a strain called The Haog, also known as Hells OG Kush, a strain once reportedly run by the Hells Angels biker club that inspired its name.

Photo of a strain called "Hells OG Kush" named after the Hells Angels MC

The strains have been personally chosen over time for their ability to consistently provide positive experiences and effects, Staley said.

“I like good flavors,” he said. “But most important is a good experience.”

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Devon Allman Project: An Allman Brothers Reincarnation

Asheville, North Carolina (September 23, 2018) WHR —  In early May this year, at a gig in Asheville, North Carolina, the Devon Allman Project were 33 minutes into their set list when Duane Betts joined them on stage as a surprise guest. Betts, skinny and long-haired, sat on a stool with his guitar, as the band launched into Friend Of The Devil, the well-known Grateful Dead song from 1970. Betts didn’t play the first solo riff that came up after the first verse; it was the band’s full-time guitarist Jackson Stokes who did that honour. But when Betts’ guitar finally kicked in a couple of minutes later, the crowd erupted.

His licks were incredibly sweet sounding and subtle but you could tell right away that this was a master rock guitarist. When Devon Allman, lead singer, guitarist and frontman of the band finished singing the last verse of the song, Betts launched into a concluding riff before raising his guitar over his head to the crowd and quietly stepping off stage.

Allman, Betts, and Duane...these are dear names for rock fans, especially those who were weaned on a diet that was heavy with the sound of southern rock. For many music fans like me, the Allman Brothers Band, formed in 1969, rank very high on their list of all-time favourites. That band had its share of tragedies: its leader and ace guitarist Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident just two years after the band was established; and months later, bassist Berry Oakley died in similar circumstances. 

The band carried on though with the other founding members, including Gregg Allman and the second guitarist Dickey Betts. Later, and not amicably, Betts was replaced with other guitarists, including Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks and Jimmy Herring, and the Allman Brothers Band toured and recorded till they disbanded in 2014, three years before Gregg died.

Devon, 46, is Gregg’s son; and Duane Betts, around 35, is Dickey’s son. After that guest appearance on the Devon Allman Project in May, he’s now touring with the band on its journey to keep southern rock’s legacy, and especially that of their fathers’ storied band, alive. Devon, older and more seasoned of the two, is already a veteran of two other bands: Honeytribe, a blues-rock band that he leads; and Royal Southern Brotherhood, a sort of blues-rock super group. But with the new Devon Allman Project, he is reviving the legacy of the Allman Brothers. 

That, however, doesn’t mean that his new band only does covers of Allman Brothers’ songs. True, they do versions of some of them but their repertoire has mainly original compositions that recall the southern rock genre that Allman Brothers pioneered: Electric guitars and vocals play a central role; and long jams are typical, especially during live performances.

Devon’s musical evolution has been interesting. His parents divorced when he was an infant and Devon finally met his father for the first time only in his late teens. He grew up liking heavy metal and, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, says that among the bands he liked were The Cure and The Smiths—whose proximity to southern rock of the type his father’s band played was remote. But when he picked up the guitar at 13, he also explored the blues for which his inspiration was stars such as B.B. King and Buddy Guy. He has at least nine albums (from solo and collaborative projects) out and a distinct guitar-driven blues-rock sound but with influences also of heavier genres, including metal.

Duane Betts, who has played with his father Dickey’s band (Dickey Betts and the Great Southern) and with Dawes, a folk rock band from Los Angeles, has a style and sound that is closer to early southern rock—more bluesy and folksy. On his debut solo EP, Sketches Of American Music, which came out this May, his guitar-playing style evokes those of his father’s as well as his namesake, the late Duane Allman. Sketches is a superb first album that provides a glimpse of the huge potential that he has. Two songs, Taking Time and Downtown Runaround, are standouts that every blues-rock fan should check out.

Devon and Duane are believed to be working on an album that they’re writing together but it will be out only in 2019. Till then there are the shows from the tour that they’ve embarked upon from July this year. Besides the US, they’ve played in Europe and Britain, drawing audiences that include ageing southern rock fans as well as younger converts. Then there are their albums to check out. Allman’s most recent solo is the full-length Ride Or Die whose 12 songs also include a cover of The Cure’s A Night Like This. 

Devon has looks that are similar to his father—Gregg’s dirty blond hair—and in his distinctive voice you can discern elements of the senior Allman’s vocal style, yet there is a hard rock dimension to his singing and guitar-playing that works rather well in his quest to further the legacy of southern rock but also bring to it something more contemporary.

Just before Allman Brothers disbanded, they had a stunning line-up at live shows with star guitarists such as Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks. If you were lucky to catch some of their gigs during those last years, it always was a treat. I caught one on a rainy night in 2011 at New York’s Beacon Theatre and was mesmerized. When they decided to stop touring or recording, fans worldwide were disappointed and saddened further when Gregg died. But with their new project, the second-gen combination of an Allman and a Betts promises to bring back some joy.

More information including show dates are on their website: The Devon Allman Project

SOURCE:  Live Mint

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Actor Mickey Jones Dies at 76

Los Angeles, California (February 7, 2018) WHR — Mickey Jones, who was a popular character actor in both film and TV along with being a drummer for Kenny Rogers and the First Edition died on Wednesday (February 7) morning at the age of 76.  No cause of death has been released but he had been in and out of the hospital a few times in the past months.

Jones was born in Houston and attended Sunset High School outside of Dallas where he first started playing drums in local bands.

In the late-50's, he became the drummer for Trini Lopez but left in 1959 to go to North Texas State College, getting a degree in business administration. After graduating, he moved to San Diego to work in industry but wasn't happy with the job and moved to Los Angeles to get back into show business.  Soon after, he once again became Lopez' drummer.

By the mid-60's, Jones started working with other artists including Johnny Rivers and Bob Dylan, taking the place of Levon Helm for his 1966 tour of Australia and Europe. That position came to an end when Dylan had his motorcycle accident and had to take an extended period off, so Mickey decided to try acting, getting a few bit parts.

Mickey Jones, Dead at 76

In 1967, he was asked to become the drummer for the new group The First Edition which included lead singer Kenny Rogers and other former members of the New Christy Minstrels. Before the end of the year, the band would have a top ten record with the psychedelic tinged "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" and followed with such hits as "But You Know I Love You", "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town", "Reuben James", "Something's Burning" and "Tell It All Brother".  He was also part of the group's variety hour, Rollin', which ran from 1971 to 1973.

In 1974, the group appeared in a made-for-TV movie, The Dream Makers, but the exposure wasn't enough to revive their career and, the next year, they broke up with Jones pursuing an acting career.

Mickey Jones (L) on the set of Home Improvement 

Jones' film career was marked by a number of big hits among lesser fare, including Wild in the Streets, National Lampoon's Vacation, Starman, Total Recall, Tin Cup and Sling Blade while his television credits included a number of appearances on The Incredible Hulk, a recurring role on Home Improvement, a regular spot on Justified and guest spots on over two dozen other shows.

He also released his autobiography, That Would Be Me, in 2009.