My Vietnam Soundtrack

doorsMore than any other war, Vietnam had a soundtrack. It didn’t start with Apocalypse Now or any other Hollywood production. It began with the soldiers who brought the music with them. For the men and women like me (1) who served in Vietnam, music was a link to home. It was part of our hopes and dreams to make it “back to the world” (as we called the United States). The music became inseparable from the war. I still can’t listen to The Doors’ first album without thinking of ‘Nam. The music connected us to hopes of getting us back to “the world.” Some songs even spoke directly to us, like The Animals We Gotta Get Out of This Place, which became every soldier’s personal anthem.  There were others like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son and Country Joe and the Fish’s I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag. Jimi Hendrix’s People Haze and Hey Joe, The Turtles’ It Ain’t Me Babe, Martha and the Vandellas’ Nowhere to Run, and Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’. All mainstays and had connections to the war experience. The music and the war united us. I listened to some soul music before the war, but I met many black soldiers in ‘Nam and thru them, I was exposed to many great Soul songs that did not make the top of the pops. For the first time, I also heard Country music. While I never became a fan of Country, it exposed me to artists like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and others.

animWhile the Armed Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) played the Top 40 of the day, the soldiers had cassettes or reel-to-reel tapes, purchased at the PX, to share. It opened up another world. We were separated from the world, but the music united us. It was a way for us to cope and for a few moments an escape from the insanity. There were also small clubs where Filipino bands played the hits all wanted to hear, Ring of Fire, Proud Mary and the inevitable finale of We Gotta Get Out of This Place which by the end of the night every soldier was on his feet singing along with.

Collectively, the music united the Vietnam soldiers who bore the burden of an unpopular war. The music of The Doors, Aretha Franklin, CCR, Johnny Cash, The Temptations, and many others mattered more to the Vietnam soldiers, maybe more than to any generation since. Even after returning home, the music stayed with us.


(1) I was not an infantryman. I spent my time in a base camp as an armorer, small weapons, assigned to the 124th Signal Unit, part of the 4th Infantry Division. The base camp, Camp Enari, in Pleiku, located in the Central Highlands. It was relatively secure compared to being out in the boonies.


Aretha – Let it Be

So sad to hear about the passing of the iconic Aretha Franklin. Tributes are pouring in from all over, so anything I can add is of little consequence. I just wanted to post this video of Aretha’s version of the Beatles, Let it Be. A huge fan of Franklin’s, Paul McCartney sent a demo to Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records in hopes he would pass it on to Aretha.  Like many, The Beatles were big admirers of the Queen of Soul and were thrilled when she recorded many of their songs.

Here is a link to the Rolling Stone article, Why Nobody Sang The Beatles like Aretha. 

Elvis and The Clash

In 1979, The Clash were still relatively new on the music scene. London Calling was their third studio album. The cover photo was shot by Brit photographer Pennie Smith. She caught Clash guitarist Paul Simonon  bending over smashing his guitar. Smith did not want to use the photo because it was a bit on the blurry side. However, the album’s Graphic Designer Ray Lowery liked the idea and convinced Pennie it caught the mood and fury of the band. It was Lowery’s decision to closely duplicate the style, lettering and colors of Elvis Presley’s debut LP symbolically linking the rock legend to the new guard.

The Elvis cover was photographed by Tampa’s  William V. “Red” Robertson during the second of two shows at Tampa’s Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. The date was July 31, 1955. The show’s headliner was Andy Griffith. Elvis was billed 6th. Below is the original uncropped photo.



Ten Days Ten Album Covers

On Facebook I was recently tagged on a meme called Ten Days, Ten Album Covers. You only needed to list the albums with no explanation. But, I just could not do that and had to write an explanation. About halfway through, I realized I had a post for my blog.

Remember, it about the covers, I focused on the photography and art design, and not necessarily the music. Two albums on the list I never listened to, then some of the others (Beatles, Springsteen, Dylan, Lennon and The Rolling Stones) are favorites.

Starting with number ten and working my to number one.

Number 10

Psyical Grafitti

The album’s art designer for Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti was a man named Peter Corriston. He wanted to use a New York City tenement for the cover, but needed one that had no distractions like lamp posts or street signs. The layout would also have to fit the square design of an album cover. He found what he needed at St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. The resulting cover actually consists of two buildings, 96 and 98 St. Mark’s Place. While they were close in appearance they were  not as identical as your see in the final photograph. The original photos were shot by Eliott Erwitt, B.P. Fallen and Roy Harper (no mention is made of which photographer shot the various photos in the album). There was a lot of pre-photoshop doctoring to make the two buildings look as a close as possible. Below is what the two buildings look like at the time.

Number 9


The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street. Photographer Robert Frank’s photograph of a collage of photographs, supposedly taken at New York tattoo parlor, was used for the cover. Frank was born in Switzerland. After coming to America, he became part of the Beat Generation. Like the other members on the Beats, Frank with his photography was searching for the forgotten Americans, those exiled to the edge of nowhere. Mick Jagger, familiar with the photographer’s work, contacted Frank. The Stones were working on Exile on Main Street, an album that featured a lot of raw outlaw style blues. They wanted the same outsider feel for the album cover. Originally, Frank was going to use photos he took of the Stones on the seedier streets of L.A. But after art director John Van Hamersveld saw the tattoo parlor photo, he knew he had his front cover. Many of Frank’s other photos of the Stones were used on the back cover and inside.
Number 8

Janis-Joplin-Pearl-photographer Barry Feinstein

Janis Joplin’s Pearl was released posthumously. It contained some of her finest work including the classic Me and Bobby McGee. The photograph was by Barry Feinstein. It’s beautifully lit with the light falling perfectly on Joplin’s face. The Victoria style chair, her clothes and the drink in hand (most likely Southern Comfort) add to the atmosphere.

Number 7

Robert Mapplethrope

Patti Smith’s debut album, Horses, was photographed by her close friend/lover/artistic cohort photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The photograph, taken in an apartment in Greenwich Village, is from the mid-1970’s. During the session, Mapplethorpe took about a dozen photos of Smith with a jacket slung over her shoulder and skinny tie flung around her neck before he caught the perfect image. It’s a delicate depiction of the singer off-setting the punk rock image she embraced at the time. Mapplethorpe died in 1989 from complications from aids. Patti Smith would write about their life, per Mapplethorpe’s request, in the excellent memoir Just Kids winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2010.
Number 6
Henry Ditz
The Doors Morrison Hotel – The album cover was by photographer Henry Diltz (art direction Gary Burden).  Two years ago my wife and I attended a presentation titled Behind the Lens. The guests were Henry Diltz and Patti Boyd, aka Patti Harrison. Diltz part of the talk was the more interesting, as were his photographs. Boyd’s photos, she admitted were snapshots she took over the years of ex-husband George and other celebrities. Diltz though is a professional photographer who has many album covers to his credit. His stories were fascinating. The Morrison Hotel was an actual hotel in a seedy part of Los Angeles. Ray Manzarek and his wife were riding around looking for potential locations to shoot the album cover. He recommended the third rate Morrison Hotel. The day of the shoot, the desk clerk told Diltz and company they could not come inside and shoot. The group set up outside and began to take a series of photographs hoping for that one special shot. Then came a moment when the desk clerk left for a break and the grungy lobby was empty. Diltz got the group to run inside and pose in front of the window. He shot about a roll of film and then they all got out before the desk clerk returned. They got their cover shot.
Number 5

Daniel Kramer1Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home is one of rock’s true classics. The cover photo was by Daniel Kramer. The photo shoot was done at the home of Albert Grossman, then Dylan’s manager. The lady in red, seductively lounging in the background, is Grossman’s wife, Sally. Note Dylan’s previous album (Another Side of Bob Dylan) behind her. When asked why this photo was selected, Kramer responded, it was the only one where the cat sitting on Dylan’s lap was looking at the camera.

Number 4


The cover photo of John Lennon’s 1975 Rock ‘n’ Roll album goes back to the Beatles Hamburg days when they played in the city’s red light district. The photograph is by Jürgen Vollmer, an old friend of the group from those wild early days playing in clubs like the Kaiserkeller. Vollmer captures Lennon’s early rebel without a cause persona. He’s framed in an entrance way of an old brick building somewhere in Hamburg, wearing a leather jacket, hands in pocket and one foot casually over the other, a combination of early Brando and a young Dylan. The three blurred figures passing by are Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Stu Sutcliffe.

Number 3

220px-Born_to_Run_(Front_Cover) Eric Meola Photographer

The cover of Bruce Springsteen’s third album, Born to Run, has become one of the most iconic shots in the history of rock. It was Springsteen’s third album and his big breakout, selling more than 6 million copies in the U.S. alone.  The photograph was taken by Eric Meola who during a three hour photo shoot shot more than 900 photos. Meola, a self-taught photographer opened up his own studio in 1971. Four years later he was photographing Springsteen leaning on the big man, Clarence Clemons, for the cover of Born to Run. The cover photo has been often imitated, from Cheap Trick to the Muppets, but never duplicated.

Number 2


In the 1976 Joni Mitchell released Hejira, a fusion of folk and jazz; the album cover, like the music, was a mix. Three photographs: Wisconsin’s Lake Mendota, a superimposed image of the artist staring directly at you, and a second superimposed image of a long empty highway layered over the artist’s coat. The final blended image suggests the creative never ending journey Mitchell has been traveling. It’s self reflective, seductive and elusive.

Number 1


Like the music inside, the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover was revolutionary. The art designer was Peter Blake. Each of the four Beatles were asked to compile a list of people they admired and would want on the cover. The concept was that the group performed a concert and all these people were in the audience. Using cardboard cutouts of their selections, all would all be featured in a group photo. Permission needed to be obtained from the chosen before using their likeness. Some folks, like Leo Gorcey, demanded too much money and were axed. Not surprisingly, Bob Dylan made the cover. Just as surprisingly Elvis Presley, a significant influence on the group, did not.  Michael Cooper was the photographer of the final image. While this photograph would be his most famous, Cooper worked with many other musicians of the day, notably with the Rolling Stones. In 1973, Michael Cooper’s life spiraled out of control. Addicted to drugs and with bouts of depression, at the age of 31 he committed suicide.

Hail, Hail Chuck Berry


BerryEarly rock and rollers like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis have made claim to the title of king of rock and roll music, a title usually associated with Elvis. However, if there one rocker who can make a legitimate argument for the title, it was Chuck Berry.

berry1Unlike anyone before him, Chuck Berry wrote about and spoke to teenagers. Songs like School Days, Sweet Little Sixteen, Roll Over Beethoven, Rock and Roll Music, You Never Can Tell, Reelin’ and Rockin’ and much more addressed the world of America’s youth. Berry’s music, along with new film stars James Dean and Marlon Brando helped create the teen market as a dominant financial force to be reckoned with. While adults brushed aside the teen years as a phase that one would grow out of, the world of rock and roll said it wasn’t just a phase, it was a new world order where the youth market would emerge as a not just an economic force, but political and racial. White teens were listening to Chuck and other black rock and roll musicians. They purchased their records, made friends with blacks and found the world wasn’t going to end. Berry did not do it by himself of course, but he was an important spoke in a wheel that was just beginning to get rolling.

Across the Atlantic in England during Berry’s early days, a group of wannabe rockers heard Chuck’s music and knew that was the world they wanted to be part of. One of those young kids was John Lennon; another was Keith Richard. Lennon once said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, it might be ‘Chuck Berry’.” Early Beatles recordings paid tribute to their idol with cover versions of Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music. One of Lennon’s greatest honors was performing with Berry on the Mike Douglas Show back in 1972.


After hearing Chuck Berry’s music, a teenage Keith Richard knew what he wanted to do with his life, play the guitar like Chuck Berry. In 1986, for Chuck’s 60th birthday, Richard assembled a backup band that included Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, and Robert Cray for a birthday tribute concert in Chuck’s hometown St. Louis at the Fox Theater. Fortunately, it was all filmed and preserved for us to see. Released in 1987, Chuck Berry: Hail, Hail Rock and Roll, directed by Taylor Hackford is a must see.

Thanks, Chuck and long live Rock and Roll!

Remembering Lennon

   john%20lennonPhoto by Bob Gruen

  On December 8, 1980 I was watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson when a news bulletin interrupted the program; John Lennon was shot in front of the Dakota, where he lived, as he and Yoko were returning home after a late night recording session.

    I was in shock!

   I grabbed my small transistor radio and turned it on. The dial was already set on WNEW-FM, then one of the premiere progressive rock stations in New York. It was true. Lennon was shot and soon pronounced dead. The station was jumping from one report to another. It was a combination of  shock, disbelief and horror. I had a hard time sleeping that night.

  Over the next days, weeks and months tributes poured in, memories were talked about, dedications were made all trying to keep the dream alive. There were also the hucksters who sold phony memorial pins, posters and tribute magazines. A slew of quick paperback writers pasted together “biographies” that fans gobbled up.

    In the end though, and what remains with us today, thirty-six years later, is the music and its message.

  Sometimes art is at it best when it seems so simple, yet it carries a message that gets more powerful and important with each passing day. Imagine is such a song.


Blue and Lonesome – The Rolling Stones

blueandYesterday, I listened to The Rolling Stones first studio album (Blue and Lonesome) in ten years and its one of their finest works in a long time. A return to their Blues roots, the album, all covers, was recorded about a year ago in a three day period in London. Mick Jagger’s voice is still strong and grittier than ever and Keith and Ron’s guitars are on fire.

The album’s birth came from the band’s custom of warming up in the studio playing early Blues based tunes,  the kind they loved as young kids just starting out. The album is soaked mostly in Chicago Blues with cuts written by Willie Dixon, Little Walter, Magic Sam, Memphis Slim, Jimmy Reed and others.  They do not ignore the music’s Southern roots either, represented here by Otis Hicks, aka Lightin’ Slim, Hoo Doo Blues. Believe it or not, this is The Stones first all Blues album.

rolling-stones-to-release-new-album-blue-lonesome-500x310The three opening tracks, Just Your Fool, Commit a Crime and Blue and Lonesome set the mood and it never lets up. There is not a weak track on the album. Guest musician, Eric Clapton, plays slide guitar on Everybody Knows About My Good Thing and guitar on Hoo Doo Blues. Legendary session man, Jim Keltner  was on percussion for the Hoo Doo Blues track.

There’s a sense of been there and seen all that, that only comes with age and experience. The Rolling Stones have been traveling on that road for fifty years and unlike in many of their early Blues recordings, they are not imitating their heroes. It’s their own voice. You can feel it in Mick’s voice and the band’s music.

Book Review – Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero


bloomIt was back in 1962 when Michael Bloomfield heard Bob Dylan’s first album. He didn’t think much of it.  A year later, Bloomfield met Dylan and watched him perform when the folk singer was appearing in a Chicago club. This time he was knocked out by him. They spent some time jamming and evidently got along well. They met again in 1964 when Bloomfield was in New York for a recording session with John Hammonds Jr. In June 1965, Bloomfield received a phone call from Dylan saying he’s making a new album. Would he like to play on it? Bloomfield, at the time, was part of the still unrecorded Paul Butterfield Blues Band quickly agreed and flew to New York. The album would turn out to be Highway 61 Revisited. He didn’t play on all tracks, but his guitar was featured on Like a Rolling Stone, Tombstone Blues and Maggie’s Farm.   It was the start of a personal and professional relationship that lasted on and off almost until Bloomfield’s death in 1981.

1965 would turn out to be a pivotal year for the guitar man. Recording on Dylan’s historic album was only the start. During those sessions he met Al Kooper who would become an important part in Bloomfield’s career later on. The year would also see Bloomfield play at the famous Newport Folk Festival, not only as part of the Butterfield Blues Bland, but as part of  Dylan’s band during his infamous “going electric” set. Later that year, The Butterfield Blues Band, up to this point only known in their hometown of Chicago, would record their first album.

Ed Ward’s revised biography, Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero is an aptly titled, essential and absorbing read for anyone interested in the history of rock and roll. This edition includes new interviews as well as the complete Rolling Stone interview. Born to a upper middle class family, Bloomfield. like many artists, was an outsider growing up. By the time he was 15 he was frequenting Chicago’s Southside nightclubs where blues singers like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf performed.  The black musicians didn’t take him seriously at first and he admits that in the beginning he wasn’t very good. He learned quickly and he had the talent and style to convince one and all.

Bloomfield made two albums with Butterfield before differences between the two made him leave the group. Fortunately, that was not before the second Butterfield album, East-West, added to Bloomfield’s growing reputation.

After leaving Butterfield, he formed the Electric Flag which included Nick Gravenites and Buddy Miles. Their first project was the soundtrack for Roger Corman’s The Trip. They appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and also released their first real album. However, for  Bloomfield, it would not last long. He left the group soon after.  In 1968, he reunited with Dylan session player Al Kooper, and along with Stephen Stills, unintentionally formed what was essentially the first super group. Their album, Super Session, was an artistic and commercial success. It was followed by The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper, recorded live at the Fillmore West. Bloomfield felt the albums were “scams” and calling it “super” was just a way to sell records.

Ed Ward (Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll) chronicles Bloomfield’s career with plenty of first hand accounts from family, friends and fellow musicians plus interviews the author did with his subject. Like many musician’s of the era, Bloomfield was plagued by drugs. Insomnia was also a life long problem he had since his teen years.

Compared to many of his contemporaries, Bloomfield is less remembered today than he deserves. One only has to listened to his work on Highway 61 Revisited or Super Session to realize this is a guy who could give Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix a run for their guitar money. This book, along with the 1984 album, Bloomfield: A Retrospective, which includes 27 essential tracks as well a documentary film, hopefully will remedy that.

On February 15, 1981,  Michael Bloomfield, like Hank Williams,  was found dead inside an automobile. He was 37 years old.


Going to the Movies with John Lennon – Sort Of…

john-lennon-yoko-ono_650It happened on September 30, 1976. Martin Ritt’s film, The Front, starring Woody Allen, opened that day at the Coronet theater in New York. I have been, and still am, a huge Woody Allen fan since his standup days when I first saw him on the Ed Sullivan Show.

coronet44At the time,  I was living and  working in New York. Being the Woody fan that I was, I took a half day off from work to go see The Front. The Coronet theater was located on Manhattan’s Eastside. The Coronet, its sister theater, the Baronet along with the Cinema I and Cinema II were high end  theaters. All the studios and distributors wanted their big films to be booked into these theaters.  Foreign films like Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and Antonioni’s Blow-Up to domestic works like The Exorcist and The Graduate had their premiere engagements at one of these fours theaters located on the Upper East Side. The four theaters filled the entire block, between 59th and 60th streets, except for  a Bookmasters store in between.

baronet-coronet-theatres_cr1The theater was fairly crowded for a weekday afternoon. In New York, Woody was always a big draw. After the film ended,  everyone began filing out. It was at this time, I suddenly noticed walking out right in front of me among the crowd were John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Growing up in the 60’s, and a Beatles fan, I pretty much stood there stunned. In truth, while I saw the both of them, it was Yoko who I first recognized. I had to take a second look at who was standing next to her. Of course,  it was Lennon.

They and everyone continued to slowly leave the theater.  A few folks said hello and he returned the acknowledge. Most people just looked and gawked, like I did. Some, I am sure didn’t even recognize them, though they are hard to miss. New Yorker’s can be a jaded bunch and seeing famous people in the street is not an uncommon experience. A few famous people though can even shake up the jaded New Yorker. Lennon was one of those.

 I purposely stayed a few steps behind them all the way out of the theater until we all were out in the street. For those who are unaware, that block of theaters were located directly across the street from Bloomingdales. That was John and Yoko’s next destination. They crossed over 3rd avenue and disappeared in the department store. I stood by the theater watching them, cursing to myself that I did not have my camera with me. This naturally was in the days long before cellphones.

I never saw The Beatles in concert, but over the years I did get to see Paul, George and Ringo separately in concerts. Never did with John, however, I did get to go to the movies with him… sort of.