Jim Nash – Les Paul, Nashville and Media RecoveryPosted: August 14, 2009
Jim Nash is an gifted writer and we welcome him for what we hope will be a weekly column. Take it away, Jim!
REMEMBERING LES PAUL
Les Paul, born Lester William Polfus, was the man who created the nucleus for modern recorded music. Along with his wife, Mary Ford, he developed the concept of echo and musical overdub. He also put together the concept of electrifying the hollow body guitar. Think about the importance of his innovations. Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, Dick Dale, Duane Eddy, Link Wray and thousands of others took Paul’s creativity to the next level. Along with Jim Marshall and Leo Fender, they laid down the bedrock for modern recording and playback through multi-track overdubbing and playback, and the ability to create a world on a six-string instrument.
For most of his 93 years, he remained an obscure icon. He played in an obscure and unheralded pickup jazz trio at Iridium in mid-Manhattan, and guitar heroes from around the world would come, listen to him and pay homage. Without his initial creativity, one has to wonder what the music would have sounded like.
John McLaughlin, Wes Montgomery, B.B. King, George Benson, Gabor Szabo, Eric Clapton, Chet Atkins are among the millions in every genre. Overdubbing helped create things like the legendary harmonies of Jan and Dean, The Four Seasons, Delaney and Bonnie. It gave rise to the multi-track studio and remote recording, editing and overdub.
Rock and roll was the baby that Paul, along with Marshall (and those early cumbersome amps) and Leo Fender brought to commercial music. It helped create the blues on Chicago’s Marshall Street and the country soul in Muscle Shoals Alabama. The wonderful overdubbing that Jim Guercio brought to those early Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears sessions in that small Gramercy Park studio in Manhattan.
There would be no modern rock heroes like Rick Derringer, Jimi Hendryx and Stevie Ray Vaughan, no Phil Spector Wall of Sound, no heavy metal without these early innovators. Rest in peace Les Paul – 1905 2009
THE NEXT NASHVILLE INVASION
In London, New York and Hollywood, everybody seems to be bemoaning the death of commercial pop music. Sub-categories like jazz, gospel, and classical, as well as ethnic music still has a limited market, but pop music and the behemoths (namely corporate record labels) have mostly fallen to the wayside.
In the era of commercial rock (late 1960’s, early 70’s) the gold record, and then the platinum and multi-platinum record was the measure of success. At Black Rock (Columbia) any group or artist who did not sell 50,000 units was dropped. The major record corporations (Columbia, RCA, MCA and WEA) not only owned the airplay share, but they owned the distribution networks as well. The smaller independent record companies had to scramble for the crumbs.
Numerous factors played a part in the demise of the commercial record companies. The first came with the introduction of the cassette tape. A consumer could re-record over an existing tape, and with the advent of more sophisticated home equipment, could actually duplicate a commercial recording.
Around 1990, the record companies began moving into corporate mergers. Columbia bought out Sony, WEA became part of Time Warner. MCA, Capitol and RCA all were submerged into corporate conglomeration. Then, the internet came along and the consumer could download music, legal, and illegal on a home computer.
Further, rock and pop were becoming boring. Nashville, never a creative center, began releasing music that was watered down folk and rock, and an audience, tired of a mixture of pabulum began buying records that were neither urban grunt or industrial noise. Though never an innovator, Nashville moved from tape and vinyl to compact disc. They also began to incorporate Soundscan, a computer system that could track via barcode.
The music was watered down, but acts like Brooks and Dunn, Garth Brooks, and Shania Twain could incorporate rock showmanship and Vegas hype into the act. By 1991, there were over twenty major record labels in Nashville, and while the rest of the industry was downsizing, the place was a boomtown. It was the last house on the block.
Like much of the industry, Nashville faced the ultimate industry downsize; Columbia and RCA merged, while the remnants of Arista, Atlantic, Mercury, Elektra, were gobbled up by the corporate owners. Yet, it might well have been the backwoods, conservative nature of the beast that saved Nashville.
Unlike the other bastions of commercialism, Nashville’s bread and butter was always publishing. The music pitching business kept the city alive for the better part of a century. It is an industry within an industry. There are few poetic bards on the scene. Just journeymen who get together five days a week and write clichés. Song pluggers pitch these ditties to producers, advertising agencies and television. The writer could barely give a damn about a record deal. Often, they are under contract to create on an assembly line. The writer spends the day jetting from session to session, often in small offices, meeting with others and throwing around ideas. The idea is not a hit single, but a hold on a song.
Over the past two decades, thousands of dreamers have moved to Nashville, not as concerned with the record deal, as a publishing one. Demo studios flourish to knock out writer publishing tapes. Because of the conservative nature of the audience, product coming out of Nashville is less likely to be swapped or downloaded on the Internet. There are still record companies in this Tennessee city. The most successful are the Christian and Gospel ones. Archival records from a catalogue can be sold to an audience that remembers. Nashville sells product through discounters like Target and Wal-Mart. They sell those trite songs to any buyer for commercials, film or television.
Lately, there has been a pilgrimage to Nashville. Dissatisfied punk rockers from everywhere, boring angst composers, illiterate songwriters all see Nashville as the last frontier. There are still record labels in this place. There are actually booking agencies and music publishers. Yes, while the music industry has become a has-been in other places, the place that they call Music City is thriving.
But the reality is that for all of the hype going on, there are problems. These newcomers might not be willing to face the demands that Nashville imposes. Songwriting is not an art, but rather a craft. Are these people willing to spend sixty hours a week sitting in close quarters, writing with others? The reality is that Nashville songwriters create for markets, not for art. The record labels in Nashville are not looking for artistes. They have a specific audience. Nashville is into image, not creativity. The same holds true for the booking agencies.
Still, the hopefuls are flocking to Music City. What they discover beyond the veneer of hipness on Demonbrian Street, Five Points and Hillsboro Village is a conservative money orientated music industry. The performers are dancing puppets, created for markets. The tourist spots like Lower Broadway demand human performing jukeboxes who play for the crowds. That is the reason that Nashville has survived. It plays to the market and resists trends, and fads. So, the pilgrims go to the new Mecca, but they better leave their creativity back home.
There is this character on Fox News Channel by the name of Glenn Beck. He is a righteous character, who always seems on the verge of having a stroke. He is also a divorced member of the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints (Mormons), and a recovering alcoholic. There is also a recovering drug addict on syndicated radio who seems to have daily cardiac arrest while on the air. He seems as paranoid as Beck. His name is Rush Limbaugh. He loves his paranoia. Thousands of loyal listeners share this fear of the world, and his conspiracy theories. . What Rush fears most is the reality of why he was fired as a disc jockey on KSHE radio in Saint Louis two decades ago. Like Beck, he has secrets in the closet. A third addict in recovery is Alex Jones, the man behind the Inside Job paranoia in regard to 911. Jones insists that Bush and Cheney were somehow involved in the bombings.
All three believe in the conspiracy theories. All three are in drug recovery. These three have a massive army of true believers. A basic tenet of 12 Step recovery is admitting guilt. So, millions of listeners share their paranoia about Big Brother. They all fuel this fear of a militia style government that will take away the freedoms that they never had. Jones, Limbaugh and Beck are crazies who have become the new truth dispensers. This is on air tabloid journalism. The reality is that these three men have a massive army of followers. A further reality is that they spread paranoia and innuendo to others who elaborate this madness. They exist, because their rights are protected by the constitution and their freedom to speak. They have gained a public trust. They have become the talking heads of the underground.